A Taylorism For All Seasons

lasch on narcissism part 1; gaddis on modernity, part […]


Christopher Lasch – The Culture of Narcissism, part 1/X, current essay being more of an overview. 


Imagine a kind of masquerade.

It’s an acting contest at first, and everyone is assigned a mask. The guest is to playact the identity of the mask – so the person who gets a werewolf mask howls, the guest with a zombie mask groans, etc. The best actor wins. This being a party, assume that everyone is still vying for status and attention in the interim, but that may not be acting. People talk about all sorts of things at parties, even those with explicit contests. Most people won’t assume that the mask says anything about the person – it’s randomly assigned, after all. Those who do are missing the point. Both the judges and the guests will appraise character based on acting. The contest may not be equal, of course – there are differences in acting ability, perhaps some roles are easier or more prestigious than others – but these still relate to action.

Now imagine that the rules of the game change. There are no longer preassigned masks. Everyone is expected to provide their own. Perhaps this was due to concerns over fairness (easier/harder masks or prestige of role), perhaps there was arson at the mask-factory. It doesn’t matter – the contest remains but the rules change. There’s no longer one contest, but two: making a mask, and acting like it, and all of a sudden it starts making sense to focus on the mask. Pro-social behavior is both performance and making a good mask, but now the mask is more important. For one reason, if roles are easier/harder and this correlates with prestige (it will), people might begin to bring the most prestigious mask that they can still act as, that isn’t beyond their ability. For another, since you made the mask, it shows certain inner aspects previously hidden (desires, self-awareness, whatever). Still: there are limits, and you have to be able to behave in a certain way. You can’t simply gain status by making the most prestigious mask possible – the judges will make you fall on your ass. The opposite is also dangerous, albeit socially: Don’t say “I was too busy to put in the effort”, as though this is a successful social maneuver. This shows us that you’re lazy, or poor, or [thing]. For most people, social opinion is important for their own identity, and of course you’d start to identify with the mask. It increasingly signifies your role. Still: Nothing changes about the original dynamic. Some people are better actors and others are worse actors; some roles are harder (read: more prestigious) and others are easier. Some people still want to win the contest, but “winning the contest” is now a mix of acting talent, pro-social behavior, and proper self-estimation. This may still be unequal, but it’s less random.

Final transformation: hide the contest. It still takes place (somewhere), but is no longer the explicit public aim. Power-dynamics remain among the party-goers and these are more prominent than before. People still gossip at parties, winners and loser still emerge, the new game increasingly revolves around the mask. It signifies how you think of yourself, how you think of others, etc. There’s technically something important about playing the role behind it, but with a hidden contest all social prestige comes from the mask itself. Accordingly, the mask becomes a token of everything you are, even if everyone knows it’s just a mask. Suddenly, the game isn’t fun anymore.

You think narcissism is about grandiosity, that the narcissist delights in masks, that they will love the final form, but that does a great disservice to the masquerade. In all of these, the narcissistic response is the same, and it’s not caring for the mask. Narcissism is: “All of these idiots care about their masks. I am so much more. If they’d let me act, I could show them.” In our final contest, the narcissist then crafts an impossibly prestigious mask, one that would show “what their skills really are if they could use them.” But there’s no real contest, and they’re stuck in potential. They might be able to act, but who knows? They’ve never tested themselves. This is a double movement: They simultaneously distance themselves from the mask (“I’m so much more”) while overidentifying with it (“it still signifies what kind of person I am, because I could act this well”).

The first two iterations have some vaguely objective measure (acting, judges), and people will develop coping mechanisms accordingly. They learn their limits and adjust. They have to – everyone else can see them act. This may be unfair in some way, but there’s no getting around it. At worst they blame luck or their own meager talents, but it’s still a kind of game. There are also social defenses: people respect those who know their strengths and weaknesses, maybe the less-prominent cluster together for comfort, everyone assumes that they have other talents. I don’t care if those are “merely” social niceties, they’re enough. Only the third version encourages a narcissistic defense for everyone, regardless of an NPD diagnosis. It practically mandates it. After all: everything they are is on the surface, the judgment is no longer confined but constant, and there are no objective measures. You fall into fantasy, because… how else can you respond?

The first game looks sort-of like Junker heaven, the second is The Future That Liberals Want, and the third is how Lasch views our world. I don’t want any of them, but my wants are irrelevant. “I see what you’re saying, and it sounds anti-democratic.” Things can be more than good or bad. Explicit hierarchy (assigned masks, i.e. nobility by birth) is not better, and I personally dislike it, but don’t assume hierarchy evaporates without its explication. After all: only in the “most democratic”, final version does the entire party become a contest.

If you prefer the question phrased like a leftist would: why do power dynamics reproduce themselves as society liberalizes, why do they get worse, why do they always follow earlier patterns?


Don’t relax, this was just a game. Even the Greeks, notable inventors of Narcissus, understood them as a metaphor for life. See: Heraclitus and petteia (or pesseia). Lasch, in turn, devotes an astonishing amount of time to sport, and before that to manners. These are, after all, nothing if not a social mask.

Manners have run their course, in Lasch’s time but even more for us: now you can wear sweats to the park, the concept of a salad fork activates dyspepsia, and the boss goes by “Jeff”. Ignoring the easy question (“Was this for a good or bad reason?”), Lasch concerns himself with the aftereffects. Here he takes from Richard Sennet, though disagreeing with Sennet’s conclusions. The net result, according to Lasch, is a social invasion of the self:

In eighteenth-century London or Paris, sociability did not depend on intimacy. “Strangers meeting in parks or on the street might without embarrassment speak to each other.” They shared a common fund of public signs which enabled people of unequal rank to conduct a civilized conversation and to cooperate in public projects without feeling called upon to expose their innermost secrets. The romantic cult of sincerity and authenticity tore away the masks that people once had worn in public and eroded the boundary between public and private life. As the public world came to be seen as a mirror of the self, people lost the capacity for detachment and playful encounter, which presupposes a certain distance from the self.

Quickly – I assume people still win and lose socially, right? According to pop culture the platonic form of this will be the high school reunion. What kind of person wins the new game, the game of authentically “showing who you really are?” (“People with narcissistic personalities, although not necessarily more numerous than before, play a conspicuous part in contemporary life, often rising to positions of eminence.”) Moving on.

Lasch is using mask (just slightly) differently than in my metaphor, but don’t get confused: he’s talking about “creating an authentic persona (i.e. your own mask)” for society instead of earlier, artificial ones. This is the transition from preassigned to personal. What makes this invasive is also the same. Your appearance – your mask, your social role – comes to stand in for you, and the previous defenses are no longer available.

The most important word here is “authenticity.” This is against earler mores, which we know all about: aristocratic customs were the outward signifier of domination, petit-bourgeois manners reified capitalism, and the office hierarchy mirrored patriarchy. That’s bad, of course, but not necessarily connected with authenticity, and aristocratic disdain for plebs went out with velocipede. This tenuous connection between “authenticity” and the politics of (perhaps) “anti-dominance” or “leftism” or simply “democracy” is a modern one. It’s what Lasch’s book is mostly about. For Lasch, this is not merely sloppy scholarship: this is the founding myth of modernity. This is Athena blasting out of Zeus’s weathered brow, fully-formed and wise.

Follow the logic best you can, even if it’s mostly images: there’s a you, and that’s independent of [everything else]. The you strives to announce itself, and the hodgepodge of dusty traditions and stuffy religions and -isms play goalie. That might be political repression. More commonly it’s individualistic. No one is repressing [white male twenty-something], but Zooey Deschanel still needs to teach him how to belt out Simon & Garfunkel lyrics from the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s just [him] doing [him]! The only people who frown are The Olds and the Conservatives, always coded as such in popular representations. We’ve allowed you to flourish, and now you can be yourself: dress how you want, say what you want, buy what you want.

In other words: The language is implicitly psychiatric. You is somehow independent of society, an independent object of study. It’s not a social role, much less a political one. If something is “wrong” with it, then there’s therapy, and so the goal isn’t [broader change] but freeing this you. This changes your desires, of course. If the real problem is that society represses your inner-you, you don’t necessarily need political change. It’s just as good to be free “to be you” within a broader structure. It also means that whatever even smacks of “restraint” can be identified with an oppressive structure. Anything that encourages your “you” is, naturally, liberating.


Important to note for this entire review: Lasch despises therapists. He uses psychological jargon, but it’s never without some disdain for the modern form.

Related: Lasch is probably the least clear of all books in this series. He’s flawed in many (many) ways, and he contradicts himself the most. Oh well. At times he wants narcissism (clinical) to be proliferating, so he’ll quote therapists who note the tremendous uptick in narcissistic disorders as opposed to classical neuroses. There’s no way to make sense of this and the line quoted above (“may not be more…”). He relies too heavily on psychological jargon to combat “unsophisticated metaphors” while using narcissism primarily metaphorically. I should be clearer on that: Lasch means to describe a broader cultural shift that tracks with the clinical characteristics of narcissism, and he does occasionally make reference to the idea of “pathology as existing on a spectrum with normality”. But modern narcissism is a socialization much more broadly than what Kohut intended, and Lasch knows this even if he plays a little fast and loose with it.

Nevertheless, Lasch is possibly the most important of these four books, because he’s describing the defense mechanisms of society. This has obvious political significance, by which I mean: if the world collapses tomorrow, our failure mode is going to mean a whole lot more than anything else. It also has immediate practical significance: if you can’t  overcome a psychological defense mechanism, then everything else is for naught. I’m not nearly smart enough to write The Theory but even if I could then I’d still need to break down your walls. Yes, I mean you.

I promised that I was not going to talk about narcissism after this, but that was before I started this series. There’s no way to avoid talking about The Last Psychiatrist (Alone), so I may as well charge on in. Here’s your equation: Lasch:Alone::Averroes:Thomas. I’m not on there, in this metaphor I’m just a Catholic. When I started writing I adopted the parts of TLP I liked to try and write better (something else I learned from him). Then this all happened. I know, I know, it’s awful for me to write like someone else. Wait for it, how…. inauthentic.

The point is that the two are related, and I’ll occasionally make reference to both. For instance: many people read The Last Psychiatrist as though Alone has two fundamentally different projects, one “social/political”, and the other “psychological”. Lasch is interpreted similarly, with reviews of him describing The Culture of Narcissism as a mish-mash of “fucking Nanny State” and “here’s what Kohut thinks about your favorite celebrity.” These are the same thing. Narcissism reveals itself dialectically. If you hate words like that, just think “process”. Things have equal and opposite reactions, etc. The real origin is increased paternalism (see below), but the result of that is a more image-obsessed society, and the result of that is narcissistic defenses. In response, [think piecers] use “more image” as evidence of narcissism, running on the classic image of Narcissus and his reflection. What Lasch points out is simple: if this is a process, then origin, appearance, and psychology are all different and all of them feed into one another.

Which takes us to: “The DSM says one thing, you’re describing another.” True, to which I have two response: a) And?, b) what do you think the word “narcissist” means? The word didn’t just beach itself, it comes from a myth. That origin is important for all the early literature on narcissism – the term wasn’t chosen solely for self-obsession. Plenty of classical figures could have given their name for that. Don’t confuse the origin for the characteristics, and don’t confuse the external characteristics for the inner traits.

Alone already explained the myth, read it. Short version: Narcissus’s parents are given the warning that he’ll live long “only if he never knows himself.” His parents do their best to make sure he’ll reach senectitude. Rather than training him to be an adult (behave properly, generate healthy coping mechanisms, know limits, etc.), they keep him in a state of perpetual childhood. Narcissus is about socialization, specifically: what happens when someone never learns who they are, when they never test their boundaries, when they’re dependent on others. This isn’t not egomania, it’s practically the opposite. How can he be loving “himself” if there’s no “himself” to obsess over?

The only way to learn “who you are” is to find boundaries  – between the self and others, the self and the outside world, the self and the object. That means failing sometimes, and sometimes it hurts. It also means succeeding, albeit with initial struggles. One could assume a difference between “potential” and “actualization” here. Everyone has the “potential” for infinity within their own heads – every kid wants to be an astronaut. Admittedly, it’s hard to learn that you don’t have the right stuff. Kids bounce back, though, and it might be harder for parents to watch their initial failure. Regardless, that’s the only way to do something, to know yourself. Fuck parents, it’s hard to watch you friends fail, but that makes it no less important. They eventually find what they can do, as we all must, and enjoy our powers there. Even if they’re always unhappy, there’s a real world out there without any of your moral qualms. A kid cries if she can’t ride a bicycle on the highway. What happens if you let her? At the extreme of this comes narcissism, where the sense of boundaries blurs out, and even other people are just  creatures of the fantasy.

Ignoring the autobahn, most of learning boundaries is psychological. You aren’t good enough to do [thing], but you can do [this]. You aren’t [other person], but you can befriend and learn from them. Without learning this, the real world still swamps you, but you’ve never learned inner defense mechanisms. There’s no resillience in your core. Which should tell you: narcissism is essentially defensive. It’s a regressive psychological tic, something that comes from an inability to control oneself or one’s surroundings concretely, becuase you never learned your own powers, and so you try to control everything mentally. This is appearance because, after all, your whole world is appearance. You can’t do the thing yourself, so you require other people both to do it and to tell you you can – but that just makes you turn everyone towards you. You’re obsessed with images (that’s all you can do!) but that makes you contemptuous of them. Everyone else must be just as superficial, and something something phonies. You want to be “great, elite, powerful”, but you can’t risk imitating those you admire – to do so would be to risk your identity, would be to risk failure, another ego-wrecker. Anyway, you can’t even separate them from you, how could you suss out what they can do and you can’t in order to learn it? Hence you adopt the prestigious signifiers without any of the competence, convinced that it’s the only distinction between you. If any of that fails, you hulk out, because “failure” is not something you ever learned. All the while, the inside of you looks like WWI no-man’s land: vast emptiness punctuated by shells and explosions, by a rage that does nothing but roil the muck.


For Lasch, our society functions just like the parents of Narcissus. This comes from several angles, each of them further enforcing the others. All of these things teach you “how to live” without letting you figure that out on your own. Better: while actively destroying earlier habits, whether these are cultural or personal.

If this reminds you of James C. Scott, then good. I’m reserving “elites and politics” for next time, but what Lasch is talking about is essentially Taylorism. Taylorism, also called “scientific management” was a practice of determining the ideal work stances, break times, behaviors, etc. on a massive scale. The idea was to make work as efficient as possible, but also to cut down on bodily taxation. Hilariously, Taylor developed it by watching the motions of factory workers, and then developed a grotesque, platonized version to feed back to them. He also added various incentives, based around perfecting break-times, etc. for incentives. Finally, Taylor seeked to sort people based on their “abilities”, but rather than testing their limits preferred to decide who was/wasn’t intelligent and just place them. It didn’t go well (famously beginning a large wave of books on anomie), but it wasn’t necessarily “evil”. It did seek to “better” the workers, even if management really benefited. It wasn’t meant to be zero sum.

Taylorism continues in modern management techniques, and Lasch does talk about that. But the deeper sense is a kind of Taylorism that extends into every arena of life. Some of this undermines confidence (parent guides about how You Will Fuck Your Kid Right Up Without This Book), others destroy earlier competence (Taylorism, but also unnecessary education in all things). All of this weakens the individual, making previously metic activities pseudo-epistemic. In this way, Lasch is following Scott to the logical conclusion. Lasch:

Therapy legitimates deviance as sickness, but it simultaneously pronounces the patient unfit to manage his own life and delivers him into the hands of a specialist. As therapeutic points of view gain general acceptance, more and more people find themselves disqualified, in effect, from the performance of adult responsibilities and become dependent on some form of medical authority.

In ignoring the the psychological dimension, these authors also miss the social. They fail to explore any of the character traits associated with pathological narcissism, which in less extreme form appear in such profusion in the everyday life of our age: dependence on the vicarious warmth provided by others combined with a fear of dependence, a sense of inner emptiness, boundless repressed rage, and unsatisfied oral cravings. Nor do they discuss what might be called the secondary characteristics of narcissism: pseudo self-insight, calculating seductiveness, nervous, self-deprecatory humor.

Lasch’s term is “paternalism without fathers”, and that should horrify you. His point is twofold: 1) all the aspects of earlier dominance continues, even if doesn’t have a figurehead. 2) it continues for forever, and there’s no way to escape this prolonged childhood.

As John R. Seeley noted in 1959, the transfer of parental knowledge to other agencies parallels the expropriation of the worker’s technical knowledge by modern management – “the taking over from the worker of the sad necessity of providing himself with the means of production.” By “helpfully” relieving the worker from “such onerous responsibilities” as the provision of his own and his children’s needs, society has freed him, as Seeley wrote, “to become a solder in the army of production and a cipher in the process of decision.”

Lasch gives a lot of examples of this – he was a historian, and most of the book is about the increasing bureaucratization of American life – but I’m not going to get into all of them now. Some of them are governmental, but many are private. All share the same characteristic: removing the responsibility for failure from individuals and placing them in hands of a benign “expert”. Critically, all of them interact with and exacerbate one other. Also: all of them rely on image.

Consider work: Lasch lays out the underlying problems in a chapter called “Changing Modes of Making It”. If you’re competing for a job at [idealized past], then there’s a clear failure mode. You either can or can’t do the job. If you can’t, then you can train better next time. If you can, then you have it. But consider an increasingly disastrous economy, and especially one that’s dominated by “expertise” (read: school). Suddenly you’re competing with people who are their jobs. They don’t merely have the experience, they have a masters in it. They not only interned, they’ve done it for fun in Bermuda. They have fifty thousand certifications in [career], and they’re available on Sunday. They also dress perfectly, crack the perfect jokes, and [other things]. Suddenly, “image” starts getting a whole lot more important. This should immediately remind you of the manners->authenticity motion, and that’s not a mistake. As above, so below.

Sure, you can legislate some of it away, but a) paternalism, and b) are you for real? “You legally don’t have to disclose [thing],” which means that not doing so is a terrible idea. Even if something somehow becomes totally free from scrutiny, then what? They’ll just find another signal.

Everyone starts getting the certifications, which means that there are demands for government subsides (paternalism), and suddenly certifications don’t matter. We fall back into image. What else can you rely on if everyone has the cert? Piece by piece, your whole life gets absorbed; piece by piece you become your mask. So you turn to the market for solutions, and find that there are a billion ads designed to make you appear [however you want to appear]. This doesn’t make you less stressed, it just brings work home.

Personal life, no longer a refuge from deprivations suffered at work, has become as anarchical, as warlike, and as full of stress as the marketplace itself. The cocktail party reduces  sociability to social combat. Experts write tactical manuals on the art of social survival, advising the status-seeking partygoer to take up a commanding position in the room[…]

The recent vogue of “assertiveness therapy,” a counter-program designed to equip the patient with defenses against manipulation, appeals to the growing recognition that agility in interpersonal relations  determines what looks on the surface like achievement.

In other words: don’t worry, we have a Taylor for that, too.

Now everyone is assertiveness therapizing themselves, and so not only can you not rely on it, you see every interaction as faked. You hate them. Where can you turn? How could you even know? Nothing has an objective measure anymore, and the little that isn’t image is indistinguishable from what is. All the while, you know that you are not the mask, you are better than these idiots.

We have a cure for that. It comes in ten thousand flavors, choose your favorite: Maybe you like wellness centers, perhaps a seminar on transcendental meditation? At the very least, watch this television show about someone like you in every way, especially in the “better than the others but indistinguishable” way. The most common, though, is… well, notice how both Lasch and The Last Psychiatrist focus on the dominance of “psychology-speak” in every day life?


It’s easy to read Lasch here like a paleocon, and they did gobble his book up. It certainly sounds like he’s saying something like “Liberals decided to be nice, and it made a generation of wimps.” That’s the opposite of his point. None of this makes things nice. As each of those boundaries breaks down, it only makes life more warlike, because everything is suddenly up for observation.

Sure, you can tell how dated Lasch is by some of his references (“assertiveness therapy”), but that only makes his case stronger. How many “assertiveness therapies” have we passed through since 1979? Did any of them do anything, or were they simply a defense?

Read what’s underlying this passage: no one knows how to deal with the new conditions of social life. This may be because the conditions are new, it may be because they were simply never properly socialized, it doesn’t matter. The problem with capitalism isn’t that it doesn’t give you waht you want. The problem with capitalism is that it gives you exactly what you want, and if narcissism is defensive and social, then what we want most is a defense.

You want someone to explain to you, preferably with some kind of Science, that ” You are more than that mask. You’re better than them, you’re a good person underneath it. Here are some tips to best those dummies – remember, they’re the bad person for identifying with it.” They’re selling something, and what they’re selling is a defense mechanism. The entire society was training you how to desire something, and then it snaps back around to provide it. “Self-help book”, sure, but why not pop culture?

Societies have heroes – who are yours? Lasch’s point is that no one is competent, they just have image. “Sounds like the Office.” Exactly, and everyone’s boss is Michael and everyone is Jim. The secret of Jim is that he’s the best salesman in the office, i.e. the company makes its living on him, but he never asks for a raise. Instead Jim gets pranks. He gets to be Jim. He’s good  at his job, but it’s “not him”, so why should he care to advance in it? He, instead, receives the supreme joy of “not caring about this”.

Mind-blowing fact, but real-life Michaels watch The Office, and they love it. Moremind-blowing: they’re right to, because Michael is Jim to his superiors, and it’s Jims up and down the ladder, top to fucking bottom. All of them get to express themselves, and none of them gain power. Precisely because of that, in fact. “Soft power.” Sort of, but missing the point here, and you sound like a leadership seminar. Soft power implies a goal, or an aim, as though there was a secret plot to convince you to take a pay cut and ask for it. There is no goal here. The issue isn’t that someone brainwashed the office into not asking for a raise, it’s that no one knows how to get a raise. By which I mean: no one knows what they’re worth, materially, and that’s despite the laws there to make them ask each other. Knowing all of your coworkers’ salaries won’t help if you don’t know your position relative to them, and you don’t know your position relative to them if everyone is 90% better than everyone else at 100% of the tasks. Hell, that implies that you care. But you don’t, right? You’re Jim.

This isn’t a conspiracy – Jims don’t plot to screw the people under them. The very, very top benefits, sure, and so you can pretend it is, but that’s just a narcissistic defense. They didn’t do anything to you, they just benefited from [everything] doing it to [everything]. Whoops.

To intentionally screw someone over is “mean” and all of us know that Jim is “nice”, even though he’s exploding with hatred. “How?” What else would you say about someone whose entire life revolves around inflicting suffering on those weaker than him? Of course it’s barely presented that way, because that just looks ugly. You need [pick your Jim] not to eat a bullet, and the moment it gets too close to reality you get an itchy trigger finger. He has to look Powerful (albeit, over Dwight), but never be actually powerful. Then you’d start to wonder how you stacked up to him, then it would be a real question over worth.

Ignore the office, pop culture is useful but not everything.

Our question is more general. Not “why don’t you ask for a raise?” but “why do you always relinquish power for its image?” Keep it in the back of your mind. This isn’t about how narcissistic defense mechanisms work (next two parts), but where they come from.


How do you make a world of Jims? Well, what’s his other primary character trait? How do you differentiate him from the rest of them? Pam, yes, of course, she’s human jewelry (possibly not for him, definitely for the viewer). Not her, the other thing. Jim’s the only one who went to college. 

Education is critical for for several reasons. One, it’s where paternalistic aspects of the state come out most prominently, and where they mesh with consumerism. Two, it’s how the elites are trained. Three, both through authority figures and through peer groups are socializing mechanisms in schools. Fourth, Lasch conceives of the culture of narcissism as coming from developments in the 19th and early 20th century, and school is where you most see that.

So: Watch this all unravel.

The American ideal of education didn’t change for some time. It aimed to make a self-reliant, independent citizenry. Jefferson wanted independent farmers, Republican yeomen, equally adept at debating philosophy and cultivating according to the latest agronomic theory.

It doesn’t matter if this never existed. It’s an ideal for education, an image of what it’s “supposed to do”. And what it’s supposed to do is initiate men into culture and political independence. We still have this ideal: an ignorant populace cannot retain a republic, cf. every third think piece two years ago, and every other one during the election. What changed wasn’t the ideal, it was [anything else].

Public school starts with immigrants, specifically from Ireland. There are two theoretical  responses: No Irish signs, of course, and education. Unless you want to spam the comment section with references to a vague and historically untenable Hibernophobia, you’ll recognize that we did the latter. Lasch, now:

From this time on, the the problem of acculturating the immigrant population never wandered far from the center of the American educational enterprise. “Americanization” became the specifically American model for education conceived as initiation into modern culture. Because the task of initiation presented itself in this form, the American school, in contrast to the European, placed heavy emphasis on the nonacademic side of the curriculum. The democratic aims of bringing the fruits of modern culture to the masses gave way in practice to a concern with education as a form of social control.

It should be stressed that this had the same aim as the Jefferson ideal. Preserving the republic is tantamount. The issue is over changing definitions of “self-reliance” – namely, people who didn’t know their rights, or – more pressingly – lacked the skills, knowledge, and linguistic background of natives were bound to be second-class citizens. America was not designed for class-distinctions, which is of course why we’ve never ever had them.

Lasch is fundamentally incapable of describing anything without it sounding apocalyptic, but this isn’t as bad as it sounds. He relates stories of immigrants who really did prosper and who, moreover, really were initiated and integrated. It did help people to prosper and get some self-respect.

That ends in the progressive era. There were problems with high rates of academic failure that collapsed into protests against “genteel culture” on the progressive side. On the other side there were concerns that “culture” was being degraded by… well, being touched by the filthy fingers of the masses. This results in a new educational philosophy: “self-reliance” comes to mean “practicality”, and this being the progressive era, “practicality” mostly means finding a good job in a factory.

Of the three ways in which the schools train an efficient labor force – inculcation of industrialism, vocational training, and selection – the third henceforth became by far the most important: “fitting the man to the job,” in the jargon of educational reformers at the time of World War I.

Taylorism. Let several pages pass, CTRL-F “deadening”, the passage bursts like fireworks on the fourth. We’ve been Americanized.

Reformers soon realized that not only were people still failing to complete the “culture” parts of the curriculum, these courses were no longer “useful” at all. Drones don’t need Greek, to put it bluntly, and why let them try? Hilariously, though, we still need to put those people in schools. It’s only fair – the lottery of masks is unjust. Reformers now want to ensure that the man can survive around his job.

The introduction of courses in home-making, health, citizenship, and other nonacademic subjects, together with the proliferation of athletic programs and extracurricular activities, reflected the dogma that schools had to educate “the whole child”; but it also reflected the practical need to fill up the students’ time and to keep them reasonably contented. Such programs spread rapidly through the public schools in the twenties and thirties, often justified by the need to make “good citizenship,” in the words of a dean of Teachers College, “a dominant aim of the American public school.”


Dimly recognizing that in many areas – precisely those that lie outside the formal curriculum – experience teaches more than books, educators then proceeded to do away with books: to import experience into the academic setting, to re-create models of learning formerly associated with the family, to encourage students to “learn by doing.” […] Two educators wrote in 1934, without any awareness of the irony of their prescriptions:

“By bringing into the school those who are practical doers from the world… to supplement and stimulate the teaching of those whose training has been in the normal school, education can be vitalized…”


You think this sounds familiar, and it does. What was that meme that spread about how high-schools should teach us “important things” rather than [Dead White Book]? You claim to have parents, but where the fuck are they. Don’t answer that, they failed because there was never a “parenting class”. Obviously.

Reactionaries, of course, have their own memes: “The American Male – missing since 1950”, accompanied by a greaser doing… I don’t know, greaser things. There’s a jukebox involved. Lasch falls on the greaser’s side. So do I:

The more closely education approximated this empty ideal, however, the more effectively it discouraged ambition of any sort, except perhaps the ambition to get away from school by one expedient or another. By draining the curriculum not merely of academic but of practical content, educators deprived students of challenging work and forced them to find other means of filling time which the law nevertheless required them to spend in school […] Though teachers and administrators deplored their students’ obsession with popularity, they themselves encouraged it by giving so much attention to the need to get along with others – to master the cooperative habits considered indispensable to industrial success.

I would be a greaser too if the other option was classes in (Lasch listing from reformer prescriptions in Illinois) “selecting a family dentist” and “improving one’s personal appearance.”

Then we hit the ’60s.


Modern education reforms are well enough known that I won’t quote extensively. We move to college because this is when “college” starts to mean “college” as we know it.

Lasch calls this the birth of the “multiversity”. One wing for research, most for attracting consumers. Administrative costs skyrocket, making it even more necessary for students to attend. Two trends emerge: high-schools are driven by reform practices to teach students “creatively”, that is, to play to them as though they were a consumer class. This teaches students to be intolerant of failure. The second is radical justification of this. As we all know now, to lack a college degree is worse than death. It’s “inhumane” to allow students to… well, anything. Hence:

grade inflation

“That’s not the 60s!” No, it’s when those kids became the dominant professors.

All of this makes genuine sense, and don’t you fucking ‘snowflake” me. What’s happening here? This isn’t “socialism”, this is consumer capitalism. When the university becomes a commodity (admittedly, an important one for signalling), then you do exactly what any good company would: you meet the demands of the consumer, and the consumer doesn’t want to fail.

At the same time, “radicals” adopt identical logic based on the importance of “education for the masses”. This also makes sense. If you need the image for work, then pressuring the government to pass people and subsidize poorer students is a good policy. Shortsighted, maybe, but… well, so was Polanyi’s double movement, and this is the same thing.

Lasch rightly recalls that the revolutionary period of the 1960s begins with attacks on the university. Not attacks on it as in “make it go away”, but attempts to control it. Charges of “cultural elitism” and “exclusionary policies” were meant not to undermine the university’s credibility but to change its policies while retaining the credibility of it being a “university”. Why take charge of something that’s lost power?

Save it, I know the response about “cultural Marxism” or whatever. No one made classes “revolutionary”, they made them easier. Let no man fail. What the reforms of the 60s and 70s had to do with was not “communism”, nor was it even particularly radical. It was, in fact, a deep-rooted American tradition: acculturate the children into the world. Lasch:

When they proposed to enlist the university on the side of social reform, they echoed the service ideal that justified the imperial expansion of the multiversity in the first place. Instead of trying to hold the university to a more modest set of objectives, radical critics of higher education accepted the premise that education could solve every sort of problem.

We want to know “who’s responsible.” How about no one? Every aspect of society – radicals, capitalists, the state – was complicit.

“Who’s to blame, though?” No one, everyone, maybe three or four people, who knows? If you sussed them out, would that stop it? Is The Man just Rumplestiltskin with a monocle? “It’s all my dad’s fault, so it’s not my problem,” sounds like you’re building a really fucking bad future for yourself, but ok.

True, finding a Villain helps the movie in your head. It doesn’t help you act (it stops it), but it is a good defense mechanism. That Villain isn’t real. This is a natural phenomenon, and everyone is right in some way. There isn’t even metis for a factory, what makes you think one exists for the administrative class? There’s no traditional practice for raising a kid in this society, and whatever there was is gone. Are you asking parents to help their kids fail?

Besides, this is the Jeffersonian ideal, right? You genuinely did teach kids how the world works, the world just doesn’t work very well. What did they learn? How to get the trappings of power without power. What else? How to defend against themselves. Is there more? Yeah, you combined radical politics and psychology, handing all power over to whoever can best persuade you that the problem isn’t you. Last words? Lasch:

Far from preparing students to live “authentically”, the higher learning in America leaves them unable to perform the simplest task – to prepare a meal or go to a party or get into bed with a member of the opposite sex – without elaborate instruction.


Go back, return to power. What happened to it? Power doesn’t just disintegrate, it pops up all throughout human life. You legislate the contest away, but that doesn’t make you powerful. This has dire political consequences, both sides of the spectrum. I don’t care about Jim’s love life, I care about what he does to people around him. This being a democracy, there are political consequences to all of those actions, and more on those in the next parts.

Right now, a question: Which Lasch quote frightened readers off? My money is on one: “Therapy legitimates deviance as sickness”. Sketch, I know. Sounds a little bit like we’re drawing moral boundaries here. Worse: what if those people are sick? It’s not their fault, after all. Ignoring the politically imperious consequences of that: duh, kind of the point, and yes I know how bad that sounds. What’s your point?

We need a measure sooner or later. I’m writing about narcissism now, but the point of this series is nihilism. Nihilism is about losing values, losing anything to measure yourself again. What happens in the third iteration of our game? You lose the explicit presence of the judges.

Society no longer expects authorities to articulate a clearly reasoned, elaborately justified code of law and morality; nor does it expect the young to internalize moral standards of the community. It demands only conformity to the conventions of everyday intercourse, sanctioned by psychiatric definitions of normal behavior.

I know that [philosophy] says that values are subjective and arbitrary and etc. but that philosophy is asinine. Not because values aren’t arbitrary (open question), but because it didn’t think to ask the obvious followup: So what? “So like existentialism.” So like the opposite, at least of the common form. What does “choosing your own values” do for you? What do people choose right now? Narcissistic defenses, admittedly highly authentic ones. Blame capitalism if you must, but markets aren’t the problem. Nor are “defense mechanisms” generally. Every society has those, see: the concept of hell. Narcissism pops up only because it’s choice defense of a society that has no values, and there’s no way to pull back. To do that you need a measure, something solid to test yourself against, which is what all of it avoids. You need a value system and it can’t just come from you. The closest we have is money, which a) mostly used to buy defenses and, b) seriously, that’s the real problem? Is our world lacking money right now?

Word to the wise: you can’t draw values out of random factoids, stop trying. I don’t care how much data you have about the natural world, I don’t care how fine your comb is, “What is good?” will slip right through its teeth. Our model of science will not give you the values you need. 

Here’s your conspiracy, take it however strongly you want: why did narcissism aggressively overtake the humanities first? “The best defense is a good offense.”


William Gaddis, former advertising agent, king of extended metaphors, and noted expert on narcissistic defenses, opens The Recognitions with this line:

Even Camilla had enjoyed masquerades, of the safe sort where the mask may be dropped at that critical moment it presumes itself as reality.

I’m not telling you to read a thousand page book, but I’m not not telling you to. There are worse places to start, and Gaddis was a genius. You expect this metaphor to continue, or there to be a scene at a party, or Camilla to have a bad experience at some orgy. What else is that qualifier doing right up front? But Camilla dies next sentence, and what’s in the next line, the paragraph, the main plot of the book?

Nothing much about masks.

Part of the Uruk Series

image top and below, Wong Kar-Wai’s Days of Being Wild


Author: Lou Keep


38 thoughts on “A Taylorism For All Seasons”

  1. “Not her, the other thing. Jim’s the only one who went to college. ”

    Minor point, but I’m pretty sure Andy Bernard went to Cornell (an Ivy League!).

    The Ivy Leagues have a bias towards the liberal arts, i.e. teaching you how to learn so you can better handle novel situations rather than static professional knowledge. I guess you could argue Cornell is the most “practical” of the Ivies, but even then I think the point still stands.

    Your The Office metaphor is still fun and interesting, but not as apt as you make it seem. At least with Andy, education isn’t everything (or else he wouldn’t be at Dunder Mifflin). Still, thank for writing this – this is a great read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not to be that obnoxious reactionary who shows up on all of these blogs, but I have a hard time believing that the liberal arts are really about “how to learn”. In my experience, liberal arts programs and the departments in their orbit are about as dogmatic as a Catholic seminary. There are many completely rational political positions, and even scientific positions which are almost certainly correct, which will get you thrown out or punished immediately with no discussion whatsoever. Worse, even if you’re not in a liberal arts program but in an institution that has one, you can still be punished. That hardly screams “open mindedness” or “learning” to me; and seeing the various “social justice” movements and events around me does not inspire confidence that their adherents are equipped to “handle novel situations”. Sometimes they can’t even handle the thought that people with opposing political views are going to be speaking somewhere on the same campus as them – see UC Berkeley as the flagship of this.

      [I’ve had direct experience with one liberal arts program (via classes) and indirect experience with two (by seeing the events and lectures which were spun off by these departments)]

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is the current state of affairs. The traditional version (where you learned multiple languages enabling you to understand texts in those tongues, read the classics to understand the viewpoint of great men and partied across Europe) have a slightly better claim to functioning in that fashion.


  2. That’s the opposite of his point. None of this makes things nice. As each of those boundaries breaks down, it only makes life more warlike, because everything is suddenly up for observation.

    This is an extremely important point. I have a few related thoughts.

    An idle thought I’ve had is to wonder whether the increase in Autism Spectrum diagnoses corresponds to the decline of prescribed manners. Here’s what I mean:

    I’ve been nerding out lately about classic menswear, and every, I mean every person who writes about it has some version of a spiel that goes “If I was advising you on how to dress for an office job 70 years ago, I could definitely tell you exactly what would be appropriate to wear. Nowadays, though, I’m always going to have to say, ‘it depends’.”

    In the 50s, the answer to the question “Should I wear a suit and tie to the office?” was always “Yes, that’s appropriate office wear.” and you could figure that out by reading books. Nowadays, the answer is “It depends. What does your boss wear? His boss? What about your coworkers? If some of those people don’t wear suits, you should try to figure out if wearing a suit would make you look like a go-getter, or like an out of touch fuddy duddy who doesn’t understand the office culture.”

    In other words, developing a professional dress sense now depends much more on reading the social cues of the people around you, something that is by definition difficult for ASD people, and I wonder if there has been a general shift towards that kind of thing that makes it more difficult for autistic people to cobble together an appearance of normalcy through careful book learning.

    Far from preparing students to live “authentically”, the higher learning in America leaves them unable to perform the simplest task – to prepare a meal or go to a party or get into bed with a member of the opposite sex – without elaborate instruction.

    Hey, uh, if you find those instructions on how to go to bed with a member of the opposite sex, can you mail them to me?

    This is probably oversharing, but if Lasch is going to bring it up directly: I am incredibly neurotically frightened of initiating any kind of sexual or romantic action. So frightened I’ve never done it in my life. And being steeped in feminist and radical leftist thinking has only increased those neuroses. After all, I now know that all women have to constantly be wary that all the men they meet are rapists; that all of my preferences for appearance and personality are learned socially, and that if I’m not attracted to trans women or fat women I need to be unlearning those patriarchal mores; that women are constantly hit on and pressured by men no matter where they go; that sexualizing women is never okay; etc. etc.

    And, I shit you not, when the people who post all that shit on facebook hear that I have all this anxiety, their response is “It’s not that hard, you just go up to somebody cute and start talking to them.” I’m like, you JUST posted a bunch of articles about how “cute” is a social construction fueling patriarchal oppression and how that person is probably exhausted from the stream of constantly being hit on just for trying to exist in the world, what the hell are you even telling me anymore?! Am I supposed to just forget about all that shit? What?

    I say this partially because I’m desperate and confused, but also, there’s a defense mechanism (In the sense of “something that protects you from change”) there which I think is actually really prevalent in hikikomori types and also almost completely ignored.

    Like, if you’re on the internet it’s easy to see the places where this metastasizes into the narcissistic defense mechanism you’re talking about here: “I could be a lothario, but the damn feminists won’t let me! They’ve invented all these rules that prevent me from showing how potent I am!”

    But if you didn’t believe in those restrictions and rules at least a little they wouldn’t have so much prominence in your head, right? You’d just go out and get laid. So there’s also this defense mechanism, which I think is distinct enough from the above to be worth pointing out:

    “I bet if I read The Game I could go to bed with a pretty girl. But I’d just be increasing the amount of misogyny and patriarchal oppression in the world, it would be a negative experience for both of us, I don’t want to hurt people just to get my rocks off, I’d better not. ”

    In other words, “I’d better not try, because I already know I don’t have the correct training” is also a common defense mechanism in this modern order you’re describing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The dress code angle is very interesting, and I think you’re right: another instance in which the breaking down of old codes of conduct have made a previously-fixed aspect of life something that people are expected to put their identity into.

      If you and Lou will forgive a brief lapse into Roissy-speak, these codes of conduct and clearly-defined rules seem to create a social environment where beta males can punch above their weight with regards to social standing in general and the attentions of the fairer sex in particular. Because so much of behavior is guided by social rules, they (we – me, at least – if I’m being honest) won’t be consistently outshone by more-charismatic alphas. At least if we’re going by stereotype, and I see no reason not to, this is good for society because betas tend to be better child-rearers and more pro-social and productive (and therefore the loss of this pro-beta environment can cause real problems). I’m sure Roissy has actually talked about this explicitly (it’s been a while since I read his stuff).

      I’m also curious if you’ve read some of Scott Aaronson’s blog, Shtetl-Optimized. Your bit about being afraid of initiating romantic/sexual interactions reminded me a lot of some of the stuff he wrote.


      1. I think I read, like, one thing from that blog, and then a response from Amanda Marcotte who seemed bent on completely misinterpreting it, and then I got really angry.

        I’m not steeped enough in that part of internet land to know what you mean by “alpha” and “beta”, but I have some scattered thoughts.

        So, a lot of Trump’s fans try to cast him as the big alpha male ideal, but to me he seems tremendously insecure and socially awkward. Watching him trying to become an accepted politician has a real Nouveau Riche guy trying real real hard to get the old money to like him kind of flavor. He doesn’t really resemble the kind of American male ideal of the self-confident, self-sufficient, internally driven man.

        I’ve been thinking a lot about filters on behavior. If you have no filter, you turn into one of the heroine junkies who hang out in the park across from where I work. If you have too much of a filter, you end up an insecure do-nothing like me. It often seems to me that people (“People” in this case may be limited to already upper class white men, or maybe not.) still do better if they are calibrated for having too little of a filter.

        Trump constantly says nasty, dumb shit. He offends people all the time. 9 out of 10 people probably see him as a dumb knob, but not such a dumb knob that they need to do anything other than smile politely, maybe stonewall him a little bit, and then go on with their lives. That 10th person sees him as a super tough alpha daddy, and gets on board to help him in a more committed way than any of the other 9 people were committed to foiling him. Which is why he is a successful person. Maybe that’s who an “alpha” is? Somebody who makes everyone around them feel like shit, except for a few people who admire them?

        So, you run in the same circles I do, you’ve heard that feminist common-place “Just treat women like people”. Which in my experience is a great way to make friends with women that never ever leads to any kind of romance.

        Listening to women, I’ve heard a couple of thoughts repeated again and again:

        A) It’s really hot when a guy is confident, willing to take charge, and makes the first move.

        B) I meet a fucking ton of guys who try to do A), but end up doing it in a creepy/gross/inept/controlling/harassing/otherwise awful way that I get exhausted, and I would like a freaking break from that bullshit once and a while.

        Going back to my question above, like, I have crushes on a couple of the girls I work with. My obstacle to asking them out is not so much rejection; that’s scary, but I’m not obsessed with them or anything, it wouldn’t be so awful if nothing happens.

        My obstacle is that I don’t know how to not be the guy in point B) up there, and I really don’t want to be that guy, because that guy makes the world a shitty place to be in for people I like and I don’t want to add more shit into their lives.

        People who don’t live in a world suffused with radical feminist and social justice thought tend to lead with some variation, “Well, the fact that you do care about how other people feel will come through and help you not be that guy, focus on that thought and try to meld your actions to it.”

        But of course, for most of my life I’ve learned that privileged white guys like myself are constantly making unconscious, inadvertent micro-aggressions, and that women are socialized by the patriarchy to submit to men as a way of ensuring their own safety. Also I’m autistic, or something. So, fundamentally, that means I can’t trust my own perceptions, nor can I trust that women I’m talking to will communicate their discomfort in a way that I can pick up on.

        Your person who is really steeped in that radical feminist, social justice world does one of two things, in my experience: Either they do what seems to me to be a bizarre about-face, where after posting a bunch of Facebook stuff about how we all need to watch out for micro-aggressions and women are constantly made to feel unwelcome at all times everywhere, they go “Well, I didn’t mean for you to be THAT scared of micro-aggressions, yeesh” or, alternatively, they go “Well, it sounds like your extreme lack of self-esteem and self-confidence are the problem, you should work on those.” How I would do that: Not addressed.

        The third kind of person, who uses terms like Alpha and Beta, often is an escapee from that world of social justice, but their conclusion often seems to be that on some level you just shouldn’t worry about being the guy in B); after all, even if 9 out of 10 women think he’s a gross creep, the 10th will fuck him, so who cares if those other 9 women are miserable? They fucking deserve to be miserable anyway, those bitches.

        So, assume I don’t want to be a toxic, misogynistic creep, but I haven’t really succeeded in extricating myself from that social justice world, what’s the solution?


        1. I don’t usually comment anonymously on threads, particularly not when the argument has gone off-topic, but: man, I feel for you, I felt the same way for a long time. I got over it by 1) graduating from college, and 2) reading Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse. This book is where “all sex is rape” comes from. It’s so over the top that it might cure you, I don’t know. Your mileage might vary. But I do want to say please, please, please do not make any overtures to the women you work with. Not at work. Worst case scenario is the HR nightmare I’m sure you’ve run over in your mind a hundred times. Best case scenario is the special hell of dating someone you work with. Go out to more bars (go early, before they get sloppy) and/or join a book club. You sound like you’ve made friends with women; go out with your female friends. People want what other people desire, being seen with a female friend will make you more attractive. But also, don’t take dating advice from women; people in general (not just women) don’t know what they want and misrepresent it to themselves and others. But also: don’t date people at work.

          Sorry, admin, to drop dating advice on your blog. I am enjoying the blog, and I think the metaphor about the masquerade is spot on. I don’t want to say that liberal meritocracy is more cruel than aristocracy was, but is cruel in ways that were never at stake.


        2. “I don’t want to say that liberal meritocracy is more cruel than aristocracy was, but is cruel in ways that were never at stake.”

          Thanks for the advice.

          I tend to think that “more cruel” can be a red herring when you’re talking about something as wide-ranging as “all of society”. Because all human societies so far have been cruel to different people.

          I mean, Orwell’s essay about shooting the Elephant shows the difficulties of existing in a more stratified, class-conscious society.

          I will say the Internet has massively, massively worsened the problems being talked about here. I feel that as manners sort of disappeared but power imbalances didn’t, the way you act in public has become based less on the occasion or the classes of the people involved. and more on acting in a way that pleases the people with the most social capital.

          Right? In the 50s, you wear a suit to the office because it’s an office and that’s the appropriate attire for that place. Now, the question of whether you should wear a suit depends more and more on what your boss thinks of suits: Does a suit make you look like a serious person looking to get ahead, or a fuddy-duddy who doesn’t understand that modern business should be lose and casual?

          And then you add the internet, and suddenly you have no way of knowing who is even in your social circle anymore, because everything you do in public might make its way to the internet. Like, I remember a case of some NASA guy who wore a Hawaiian shirt covered in sexy bikini babes to a press conference, and took a lot of flak. The rules that would tell him not to wear that to the office were gone, and I imagine the kind of social rules that evolved in his particular office permitted, or even encouraged, that kind of loose, mildly offensive kind of aesthetic, but then once he’s on TV he’s being judged not by a sort of society-wide understanding of how a person should dress, but by every individual’s individual sense of what proper dress is.

          So even though there aren’t any rules, there are still rules. The rules are just made on an ad-hoc basis by whoever has the most social capital in your social circles. And now, with the internet, you have no real solid way of predicting who is even in your social circle; somebody might grab you on a cell phone picture or report you over twitter.


        3. My advice for interacting with women is probably not going to be terribly helpful given my track record. But I’ll try to clarify a few things, if I can. I’ve escaped the social-justice sphere in principle; but old habits die hard, and I tend to be pretty reserved in real interactions with strangers or quasi-strangers. Rando’s advice is also good.

          To summarize the Roissy stuff a bit, an alpha male is personally charismatic and a natural-leader type, commands attention (and knows how to handle it), while a beta male is more reserved, and crucially is usually too eager to try to please the girl. This applies to all interactions but is especially pronounced in interactions with women. Betas are usually thought of (as far as I understand) as being “ideal” on paper – courteous, smart (usually), hard-working, accommodating, etc. – but lacking a sort of je ne sais quoi which prompts endless “friend-zoning”. In reality nous savons quoi – it’s just that being overly accommodating or overly attentive signals fear of confrontation, desperation, weakness, etc. ergo low value. Meanwhile an alpha might deliberately provoke a mild confrontation (called a “shit-test”) in order to demonstrate his coolness under pressure, etc.

          In any case: this is a deep, deep pool to dive into and there is a lot of very gross stuff floating in there. Hold your nose! Roissy’s blog, now called Heartiste, can clarify further, but be prepared to find some truly vile stuff (even by my standards) mixed in – it’s a crazy brew of chauvinistic reactionary politics, dating advice, pop evo-psych, relentless self-aggrandizement, and X-shaming where X can be almost anything. But he’s not stupid, and buried in all the muck are some interesting ideas, which is why I read him back in the day (and might go back now in fact); I can tolerate a lot of awfulness in search of unique ideas. But I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you took one look at it and never opened it again.

          Among the less awful and more useful things he posts is stuff about body language. The idea is that a naturally confident person has a certain posture and body language (tone and cadence of speech too). So he analyzes the body language in various photos or videos. This was the easiest and most practical advice I got back when I read him back then.

          https://heartiste.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/alpha-male-vs-beta-male/ ; https://heartiste.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/spot-the-alpha/ ; https://heartiste.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/body-language-analysis/ ; https://heartiste.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/alpha-male-body-language/ ; https://heartiste.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/spot-the-alpha-8/ (not about body language but still useful)

          Common titles for this stuff are Spot the Alpha, Spot the Beta and Alpha of the Month. This is also a two-way street: if you are confident, your posture improves; if you adopt a good posture, you become more confident. It’s simple and doesn’t require major changes (it usually makes you more confident as you slowly get used to a better posture), but it really helps. And if you don’t like Roissy, I’m sure there are less awful people who’ve written body-language tips.

          Aside from that, I’d just recommend ignoring the radical feminists’ advice mostly. You’re not actually increasing the amount of misogyny in the world; and making one girl happy makes up for dozens you might make temporarily mildly uncomfortable (oh the horror!). Plus I think the SJWs are insulting girls by portraying them as so fragile and humorless. I mean, they’re not going to run shrieking from the room. My turn to overshare, about a thing that happened to me the other day: at around midnight, a friend and I went out to eat; we were talking about Fascism, which he didn’t know much about. In the middle of my explanation that Fascist states are incorrectly viewed as being all on the same side as Hitler (Austrofascism opposed Nazism, Fascist Greece fought Fascist Italy, Kuomintang China fought Fascist Japan, Franco refused to join Hitler in WWII etc.), a girl sitting at the next table over tapped my shoulder and complimented my haircut. I was admittedly too surprised to respond properly before her drunk friends pulled her away, but apparently my Fascist spiel hadn’t put her off.


        4. “Hold your nose! Roissy’s blog, now called Heartiste, can clarify further, but be prepared to find some truly vile stuff”

          We had someone’s response to “keeping blacks from murdering whites with Jim Crow is good” with “it isn’t that many whites; only a couple hundred a year”. Nothing Heartiste has ever said comes close to condoning children being bludgeoned to death. If you think what he says about people is ‘truly vile’, but don’t think such statements are worthy of comment, the fault does not lie with him.

          “You’re not actually increasing the amount of misogyny in the world;”

          This is where you go wrong. When it comes to misogyny you should care about 3 things
          -what is true
          -what parts are attractive to women
          -what parts you can get away with in public

          Thinking it is wrong to be misogynistic and you are removing the ability to think if reality is misogynistic. The only thoughts that are wrong to think are ones you know to be false. Not that you think are false, not that someone has told you are false, not that you’d prefer to be false, but that you know for certain.


        5. In the political sphere, a couple hundred dead out of a population of about 200 million isn’t a big deal. Especially not when the other option is “pursue a ridiculous policy with terrible effects”. Go cry about it, I don’t care about your tribal emotive politics. They’re shameful.

          In the personal sphere, treating half the human race as things of identity protection is a way to Really Fuck Yourself and Everyone Around You Up. That’s not moral, it’s just an observation about the way souls work. Assuming superiority without merit turns you into a worthless narcissist, doubly so when you need to rely on the desperate approval of strangers (women you bed and the men you brag about them to) to feel like “The True Alpha”. It’s pathetic.

          It may not be worthy of comment because Heartriste is not that worthy of comment.


        6. “In the political sphere, a couple hundred dead out of a population of about 200 million isn’t a big deal. Especially not when the other option is “pursue a ridiculous policy with terrible effects”. Go cry about it, I don’t care about your tribal emotive politics. They’re shameful.”

          Per year. Indefinitely. Note this is only black on white and ignores black on hispanic/asian, hispanic on white/asian or white on asian. So the actual totals of people killed by the change is higher.

          But I do like how you consider this ‘shameful’ and ‘tribal emotive politics’. Yes, murdering white people is tribal emotive politics- other races shouldn’t care about the deaths of whites. Well except Asians who also get murdered. And Hispanics. And basically anyone who isn’t black people because blacks have the higher murder rate. But it would benefit whites the most and we can’t have that!

          But in the end, the important thing isn’t how many children get their skulls smashed in. The important thing is that your kids aren’t getting their skulls smashed it. Making other people worse of is its own reward.

          “In the personal sphere, treating half the human race as things of identity protection is a way to Really Fuck Yourself and Everyone Around You Up.”

          The right deals with reality as it is, not the wonderful utopian vision you have in your head that is currently greased with the murder of hundreds of people each year. I cannot overemphasis this- your response to ‘people are being murdered’ is buzzwords. “This was a tragedy, but the real tragedy would be if our diversity was a casualty”.

          “That’s not moral, it’s just an observation about the way souls work. Assuming superiority without merit turns you into a worthless narcissist, doubly so when you need to rely on the desperate approval of strangers (women you bed and the men you brag about them to) to feel like “The True Alpha”. It’s pathetic.”

          Alpha is defined as ‘women want them’. The goal isn’t approval. The goal is to HAVE SEX WITH WOMEN. They don’t do any of that for approval. They do it because they enjoy FUCKING WOMEN. They brag about it for the same reason Lego hobbyist share their creations, gun owners show of their collections or chemists see who has made the largest explosion.

          You don’t grasp ‘murder is bad’, ‘people like sex’ or ‘men are competitive’. That is frankly impressive.

          “It may not be worthy of comment because Heartriste is not that worthy of comment.”

          Crime think generally looks like that.


        7. Every claim you’ve made on this site has been overturned, at which point you switch to a new one and pretend you didn’t make the first. I’m not actually sure if you realize that you’re doing this, but it’s pretty bizarre.

          “Tribal” is you spamming every comment section obsessively bitching about the poor white race, yet having seemingly zero empathy for black people. Demanding it all for yourself.

          “Emotive” is people showing you that black-on-white murder rate is so insanely small as to be a meaningless variable, and so you switch to yelling about “babies being crushed” as though that’s a response. And sputtering about genocide at a rate of…. a couple hundred a year. Out of two hundred million.

          “Politics” is a word you don’t appear to understand. You’re a child, and it must be frightening to be you. Crime think until you’re brave, but do it elsewhere.

          I said this about comments earlier: ” 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.”

          So far as I can tell, you’ve failed at all of those rules, and the way you argue is astonishingly silly. Honestly, though, it’s the “annoy me” part that’s most important here. I seriously don’t care what your politics are – the way you present them is obnoxious, and the way you fill threads is boring. I’m not trying to have the XS comment section happen, and you’re not pulling enough weight to make up for replying to every single comment in every thread with pale whimpering.

          Take a ban. We’ll call it temporary, because the rare times you’ve stepped away from grievance politics you’ve said decent things. Assume that the amount of time is “until you learn to keep it in your pants.” Your comments will now need approval, so I’ll notice if you decide to start being a decent member.

          If anyone has questions or would like me to lay out completely transparent commenting rules, ask away. I’ll consider appeals from others.


        8. Lou, I’m rather late with this, but you did write “I’ll consider appeals from others” – which I assume means appeals from other people on behalf of Samuel Skinner. I don’t know if this counts as an “appeal”, but I still feel obliged to write it.

          Okay, he annoyed you, he was abrasive, etc. No argument from me. But some of what you wrote is patently unjustified, and suggests to me that you’re not being completely honest with yourself about how his comments irked you. In particular, I don’t read any “pale whimpering”, as wrong as I think some of his ideas are. What I read in the phrase “pale whimpering” was that you were seeking a phrase which would be ‘cutting’, regardless of accuracy.

          Additionally, in another thread, you try to psychoanalyze him, asking him how much of his stuff is identity defense for him personally; you finished that with “why do you need that?”. This strikes me as a very unproductive line of inquiry. Surely psychological self-reflection is a useful thing for all of us, but it has to come from us, outside prods in that area are not going to help. He’s going to read that as you not having anything interesting to say in response to his arguments; and I don’t think it adds anything to any argument against his viewpoints.

          In general, I am suspicious of accusations that seem to apply equally to everyone [that Taleb quote you linked comes to mind, and btw thanks for bringing it to my attention, I liked it]. You could ask all those same questions about me, and call what I write “pale whimpering”, with roughly equal justification or effect. I could do the same to you.

          If you feel he is taking up too much space, being obnoxious, going off-topic, etc. then I have no quarrel with you banning him. It’s your blog after all, we’re guests here. But what you wrote does not seem totally justified or accurate to me, and since you did invite “appeals from other people” I figured I’d speak up about that.


        9. I accept this, and I did say the ban would be temp. It’s lifted as of this comment.

          Skinner’s original position was about black on white crime rates. This is a response that should have ended it: https://samzdat.com/2017/06/28/without-belief-in-a-god-but-never-without-belief-in-a-devil/#comment-1354

          In response to that, he switched to talking about Islamic Terrorism. I would call that “bad faith”. Worse faith is the fact that, now unable to recruit data to his side, Skinner switched to talking about “babies being bashed on rocks”. Appeal to emotion, what have you.

          I disagree with almost all of Skinner’s stated positions. Still, I would prefer to just ignore certain comments. I’m about as close to a straw-man for free speech fundamentalism as you’ll find. That said, if every third comment is explicitly white nationalist and I don’t respond, then that starts to reflect badly on my site. I think a common belief of WN would be, “This is discrimination against a political view and we should be able to freely express it.” Maybe, I don’t know, the world isn’t fair. Learn to deal with it or fail. I dislike all identity politics, racial forms are especially pernicious, and I’m not super invested in helping any form at any cost to myself.

          So Skinner not taking a hint puts a constraint on me that I don’t like. He puts even more of one if I want to write about controversial topics. So let’s say I want to talk about NRx relatively even-handedly, but I know that the comment section is going to fill with a bunch of stuff about “white genocide”, or I already have the reputation for hosting WNs. Does it matter what I say in the article? Really think through how that looks.

          This leaves me with three options: 1) close comments. 2) permaban anyone with viewpoints x number of feet outside the overton window. 3) respond in a way that allows for continued discussion but is explicit (perhaps bombastic) enough that anyone reading can catch the signal. Only 3 allows everyone to talk and preserves a (now-tighter) space for me. I did one of those three.

          Skinner is allowed, but if he doesn’t take the hint (I believe my tempban phrase was “learn to keep it in his pants”) then he’ll be permabanned. I care about his free expression less than my own, if you understand.


    2. Redpillers and the Pick-Up Community are narcissistic identity-protection on overdrive. To be fair, so is a lot of modern leftism. And, of course, so is the more subtle “Don’t try” that you bring up.

      Am I supposed to just forget about all that shit? What?

      This is going to sound bad, but kind of, yes. Think about the venue those articles get shared in. Your stereotypical cat-calling construction worker isn’t browsing Everyday Feminism in his off-time, and his facebook feed doesn’t include posts by “22, books, cats, they/them/she/her, [fandom reference], all yt cishets are illegal”. Those articles aren’t for him, they’re written for a different reason.

      Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying anything about the content of the articles. Cat-calling is gross, women aren’t objects, over half of the points made in [article] are valid, but the reason they get made is completely separate from whatever abuse they’re focusing on. It’s identity protection through and through, both in reading the article and sharing it. “Now you know what kind of person I am.” Most of them know it, too, because narcissism is hyper-self-awareness, hence their response to you. “Why are you taking it like that? This was about me,” even if that’s subconscious.

      I kind of went back and forth on whether to try and give dating advice, and decided against it. If you want some, email me, although I’m not sure that’s exactly what you’re after. If you just want to complain without fear of judgment, that’s also fine.


      1. “Redpillers and the Pick-Up Community are narcissistic identity-protection on overdrive. ”

        Is this like Freudianism where any possible critique is interpreted as move evidence that the claim is true? Because redpillers claim what you need to get chicks is confidence, strength and a willingness to take risks and that if you aren’t getting lucky you lack those traits. “You suck but can be better but if you fail to improve the problem is you” is the opposite of identity protection.

        “Cat-calling is gross,”

        Don’t generalize. Some women like to be cat-called, some don’t, some like it but only by some guys and some don’t care at all.

        “women aren’t objects,”

        No one has ever believed that. They’ve believed women don’t have agency and that if they aren’t controlled they will destroy civilization through following their base impulses. Given women’s lib, the drop of the fertility rate below replacement and the dysgenic current birth trend I’m inclined to believe it.


        1. “Because redpillers claim what you need to get chicks is confidence, strength and a willingness to take risks and that if you aren’t getting lucky you lack those traits. “You suck but can be better but if you fail to improve the problem is you” is the opposite of identity protection.”

          Mmmm… Yes and no. There’s a lot of focus on that Heartiste blog on shit-talking betas and cuckservatives, and I don’t actually see what that has to do with anything. Like, if he’s so alpha, why does he even give a shit what betas do? It barely even serves an illustrative purpose, a lot of the time.

          Come to think of it, why even have the name “redpillers” (Or Alphas, come to think of it)? It’s not enough to get lots of pussy, evidently, you have to advertise to everyone that you’re part of a specific, elite club, people with their own special metaphors and lingo who are part of the elite chosen few who can see through the lies and illusions that hold broader society in check.

          “I’m special, because I see through the matrix, unlike the rest of the sad sheep out there” very much is identity protection, even if that isn’t the entire purpose of the whole thing.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. @CH
          ” There’s a lot of focus on that Heartiste blog on shit-talking betas and cuckservatives, and I don’t actually see what that has to do with anything. Like, if he’s so alpha, why does he even give a shit what betas do? It barely even serves an illustrative purpose, a lot of the time.”

          Because most of the population is betas and the goal of alphas is to stand out. To be an alpha you don’t need to decapitate your enemies and attach their heads to the front of your car- you need to see where betas are backing down and not back down there.

          Also being alpha is about being an asshole and holding up people to mock is asshole behavior.

          “Come to think of it, why even have the name “redpillers” (Or Alphas, come to think of it)? ”

          Alphas come from studies on primates.

          Redpillers is because the Matrix is the best metaphor they have for their position- namely what you have been taught are lies. It isn’t to cement an ingroup; it is a natural metaphor for people of that age range since most of them saw the Matrix (which sadly had no sequels).

          “Paraphrasing here, the PUA community spends its time on increasingly daedal explanations for why “those bitches just don’t get it”.”

          I have no idea what PUA you are reading because what I’ve seen is ‘women lack agency’. That is astonishingly straightforward.

          ” spend an astonishing amount of time shoring up identity by treating people as tokens. ”

          They are a movement dedicated to optimizing the odds of having sex with women. Optimizing a goal over a large population inevitably involves treating individual motives as irrelevant because it isn’t possible to give advice or plan for every single exception. You aim for a wide enough band of the average.

          “Things like “go to a gym, maybe take more showers, talk to girls, have a sense of self-worth” are fantastic ways to better yourself, but they don’t come from the manosphere. ”

          Since the manosphere dates back to about 2000, it would be really hard for those things to come from them before that date. The situation has changed since 2000 and traditional methods of ‘have a sense of self-worth’ have stopped working (witness the increase in the white suicide rate); the manosphere offers a version that does work in the modern screwed up world.

          “But it’s totally swamped in this resentful posture that does nothing for the root of the problem.”

          Because they don’t care. Their goal is to have sex with women. And if they did care, they still wouldn’t ‘deal with the root of the problem’ because they disagree with you about what that is.


      2. I don’t think it’s meaningful at all to ask whether the Pick-Up Community is engaged in identity defense. Surely some of them are, and some aren’t. [And I do get the feeling that “identity defense” is such a broad term that you can just slap it onto any behavior you don’t like.]

        The real question is not about those guys over there and their psyches or whatever; it’s about whether or not adopting some pick-up techniques constitutes a change for the better for me. In the case of people like myself and Christopher, who are shy around women, I think the answer is clearly yes. If I’m afraid of interacting with women in a romantic way, either because I fear I’ll make them uncomfortable or I fear that they will rebuff me and thereby damage my ego, adopting pick-up techniques isn’t defense of identity. It can’t be, by definition, because by doing so I am exposing myself to those very things that I fear and that previously I was trying to protect myself against.

        When I look at a new behavior or habit or stance (call it X) I can adopt, I don’t think it is ever useful to ask, “is the community of X narcissistic?” The same behavior can function as a defense for one person and represent genuine change in another. The question is, “by doing X, am I improving myself or confronting one of my fears or breaking out of my shell in some way?”


        1. It is broad. It’s a description of what’s by far the most common mode of behavior in our age. But it’s not arbitrary. I’ve been trying my best to describe it – maybe failing, who knows? – but there’s also a reason I don’t make it the centerpiece of this blog. It’s a word that’s used so commonly – and incorrectly – as to make it look like it can be pattern matched onto anything. See: “Trump is a narcissist!” x1000 articles.

          Paraphrasing here, the PUA community spends its time on increasingly daedal explanations for why “those bitches just don’t get it”. Its online members – and what else can I judge by? – spend an astonishing amount of time shoring up identity by treating people as tokens. Narcissism is (as Chris put it): “I see through the matrix. I may act like these fools, but I am more. So I can do whatever I want with the sheeple.” The most common form of this is hyper-awareness of activity. Hence, PUA: “I’ve been redpilled. I may behave like all these dumb Chads and pamper these women, but I so much better for knowing it. I can do whatever I want to them.” PUA then offers a series of pseudo-explanations that in their essence don’t require you to expose yourself. There’s always a fallback, the action failed but luckily “it wasn’t really me, it was that stupid Roosh thing…” Or even if it succeeds: http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2011/07/jezebel_proves_scott_adams_is.html

          That’s a description of the community. That’s all my point was, and your objection wasn’t to that but to helpful behaviors one can learn. And, sure, you know, I do see this. If it makes you work out more, talk to people, better yourself in general, then that’s great. Things like “go to a gym, maybe take more showers, talk to girls, have a sense of self-worth” are fantastic ways to better yourself, but they don’t come from the manosphere. Those were standard male behaviors up until a short time ago. What is new to the PUA community isn’t getting swole, it’s basing your entire sense of self-worth on how many people you can manipulate to prove that you are – well, a Man. Needless to say, the way most do prove it is by instantly attacking anyone weaker than them in the community – betas, cucks.

          If anything has gone catastrophically wrong with modern culture for men, it’s that to look for certain types of advice they have to confine themselves to to communities like the manosphere. Those communities, perhaps by accident, do have some things to offer, even if it’s just an ear. But it’s totally swamped in this resentful posture that does nothing for the root of the problem. I have no idea if you took helpful things or not from Heartiste. I can only judge the writing and the community as it presents itself.

          You’re not wrong about new behaviors, and getting stronger is good. But you should add a question besides “is this breaking out of my fears?” It’s: “What does this do to other people?”

          EDIT: I just saw Taleb post this on twitter: https://twitter.com/nntaleb/status/890748148632743936

          It made me chuckle.


        2. Of course one should consider the effect on other people. Forgive me if I glossed over it in this case; I don’t think it’s likely that Christopher would fail to consider it, in fact for this issue it seems he is taking an exaggerated view, “If I try to approach women, they’ll get creeped out, better not do anything then”. So he’s already got that covered; plus, the effect of a conscientious shy guy taking up pick-up is usually positive anyway, because now he can romantically make girls happy.

          [As for me, I think I take it into account; but analyzing yourself, from the inside, is not terribly useful.]

          Again, my interest in pick-up as a community is effectively nil, I can ignore the hooting and cries of “cuck”, etc. My interest in it is purely as a collection of psychological insights and techniques, “this is the kind of thing a woman will respond positively to”. The most interesting PUAs represent something different from the old-fashioned “go to the gym” because they employed scientific ideas and even empirical testing of techniques – they brought rigor to the study of the psychology of human courtship. Erik von Markovik is the poster boy for this. And therefore the PUA “community” can be read as a sort of toolbox for human interaction.

          And as for any tool, there is a right way and a wrong way to use it. Are you using the psychological knowledge to mold yourself into the kind of person women enjoy being around? Or are you using it to prey on the psychological weaknesses in women you meet? Do the people you interact with generally become happier or unhappier, and by how much? etc.

          But one thing I will say for sure is that trying these ideas and failing almost never represents a terrible crime. So you came off as awkward and weird and she was put off; so what, it’s a very temporary interaction, making one woman happy will offset dozens of failed attempts. The real danger lies not in failure, being “creepy” or whatever, but in success – if you succeed using manipulative techniques you run the risk of making someone abjectly miserable, really hurting them, etc. But this is already determined by the kind of techniques you chose, and your motives.

          So the important consideration is not, “will approaching women make them uncomfortable?”; it’s “if this works, will she be happier or more miserable?”

          The thing I don’t understand about you is when you write things like “I can only judge the writing and the community as it presents itself”. Why do you need to judge the community? What purpose does that serve? I’d understand if you were considering joining a political movement; in that case you’re considering adding your effort to the community’s strength, so judging the community as a whole makes perfect sense. But this is different.


        3. I think your last formulation of the question is good, and I’m actually in agreement with you there as to what the danger is.

          I brought up the community because someone else did. The discussion was over which communities fall into narcissistic defenses, not over positive or negative aspects of those ideas themselves. We moved to a different conversation here, and I think it’s an issue of seeing responses from both.

          In general, judging a collection of ideas by what kind of people they create is an imperfect but decently quick heuristic. I admit that’s not without flaws, but I’m not interested enough in the various parts of the manosphere to decently differentiate. If you’ve adopted things that help you and you also recognize that “will this damage the other person in the scenario even if it succeeds?” is a serious question, then that’s a positive.

          I do think that what’s become of the PUA community is politically aligned now, like it or not. But that’s irrelevant, and it’s perhaps best to drop it now.


        4. Agh, threads within threads.

          @ Skinner: But in the end, the important thing isn’t how many children get their skulls smashed in. The important thing is that your kids aren’t getting their skulls smashed it.

          Says, the man whose response to lynching is a shrug of the shoulders. Also says the man who believes we should identify more with our own race than others.

          Also, and I want to keep harping on this, Jim Crow did not isolate black and white populations from each other, physically. You can’t have a Montgomery bus boycott unless black and white people are sharing the same buses in the same city.

          That said:

          @ Angry Philosopher “And I do get the feeling that “identity defense” is such a broad term that you can just slap it onto any behavior you don’t like.”

          I got Lasch’s book from the library, day before yesterday and while that can be true, so far what I’ve read of Lasch’s portrait of Narcissistic relationship ideas matches almost word for word Roissy’s own explanations of what he’s doing.

          Here’s Lasch:

          In the seventies… it appears that the prostitute, not the salesman, best exemplifies the qualities indispensable to success in American society… She craves admiration but scorns those who provide it… She exploits the ethic of pleasure that has replaced the ethic of achievement, but her career more than any other reminds us that contemporary hedonism, of which she is the supreme example, originates not in the pursuit of pleasure but in the war of all against all, in which even the most intimate encounters become a form of mutual exploitation.

          Here’s Heartiste:

          “All goal-oriented communication is a form of manipulation. When you try to convince a friend to see a movie that you saw and loved, you are attempting to manipulate your friend’s emotions so that he cannot resist the urge to go see it himself. Manipulation is as permanent and commonplace a feature of the human condition as is eating. Some of us are just better at it than others…

          Newflash: The mating market is inherently selfish. How many women are offering free pussy access to homeless bums or pining niceguys? How many women expect absolutely nothing from a boyfriend or husband? You are a product, on display in a window case, for potential mates to inspect and deem worthy or unworthy. This goes for men and women. Humans are not exempt from the basic laws of the market just because we have the mental capacity to gussy up the dismal bartering of our innate goods and services with soul-sparing pretty lies.

          This isn’t a borderline case; Roissy is using almost the exact same words to describe his philosophy of communication and relationships that Lasch does describing the narcissistic personality’s reaction to 70s social culture. All interaction is warlike and manipulative, which makes both intimacy and play impossible. All you can do is equip yourself with the proper tools to defeat your opponents.

          And, as I mentioned earlier, and Lasch goes into, the secondary thing is that it’s not enough anymore to have sex with lots of hot women; you have to be seen by others as a person who has sex with lots of hot women, and as somebody who has therefore defeated or out-competed the men who don’t have sex with lots or women.

          If your concern were inward directed, if having sex with lots of pretty girls was itself enough to make you happy and satisfied with yourself, the whole “red pill” metaphor would be nonsensical and irrelevant.

          @Lou Keep: If anything has gone catastrophically wrong with modern culture for men, it’s that to look for certain types of advice they have to confine themselves to to communities like the manosphere. Those communities, perhaps by accident, do have some things to offer, even if it’s just an ear.

          I think you’re seriously underestimating the amount of depressive and/or autistic paralysis that grips people in the teens. We’re 50 years on from Lasch.

          Look, I find that Heartiste blog reprehensible, but it does represent a genuine, thought-out attempt to teach a skill. I keep comparing it in my head to the little scraps I’ve been reading about the “Proud Boys” organization, you know, the “proud, western chauvanists”?

          I think that organization ALSO stems from a perception that socializing is combat, and that selling a certain perception of yourself is the main measure of success in the modern world, but I think they’re at a point of further despair than Lasch describes: One where personal success at social combat is impossible, because the connectedness of the internet creates a fog of war which makes it impossible to know who you’re fighting, and anyway your enemies have such hegemonic, well-directed power that fighting them one on one would be impossible anyway. You can only succeed at social warfare if you have a gang of metaphorical thugs with baseball bats to back you up.

          This kind of thinking is also incredibly prevalent on the Social Justice Tumblr left.

          Individual success on the social battlefield is now seen as both desperately important and probably impossible to achieve, and that man-o-sphere becomes one of the few places that actually does have elements who believe that personal success on the social battlefield can be taught, and, more importantly, have taken a concrete approach to doing so.

          I went through a very bad depressive episode a few years back where I didn’t leave the house. I could hardly do anything except get out of bed to use the bathroom and then fall back into bed. Take a shower and get dressed? You might as well tell me to climb Mount Everest or track down and kill the leader of ISIS.

          One technique I used to help myself climb out of it was to tell myself, “Okay, every day you have to get up, get out of bed, have a cup of coffee, and watch an episode of a TV show you like, and then if you still feel like it, you can go back to bed and spend the whole day there if you want.”

          And for the first couple of weeks I did go back to languish in my bed for the whole day. But eventually I got to the point where I could say, “Now that I’m getting out of bed everyday, I can force myself to take a shower, and then go back to languish in my bed”

          There’s lots of places you can go to get the advice “You should shower every day”. But in most of those places if you ask “Okay, how do I make myself do that? Can we break it into smaller tasks?” You will get a blanks stare. Isn’t taking a shower already the smallest you can break down a task?

          PUA types really have put thought into breaking the task of being a PUA into the smallest steps possible, and about how, if one seems too complex or strange, it can be explained in another way.

          I think the importance of that can’t be overestimated. I’ve tried to tell friends on the left that a lot of people don’t gravitate towards the PUA scene because they hate women, but because they are missing something in their lives and there just haven’t been any high-profile left-wing attempts to really teach it in a way that seems graspable.

          Imagine a world where there were all kinds of films, but if you asked people how to, say, make special effects like in Star Wars all they ever said was “It’s really hard and you have to keep trying.” or “You can’t be disappointed if you don’t win an Oscar with every film.”

          Meanwhile, there are a bunch of youtube videos out there that explain things in great detail: What editing software to use, how to light a scene, how to mic it so you hear what you want to, how to insert room noise, how to build prosthetics, all that crap, but those videos are only made by people who want to explain how to make really convincing Nazi propaganda movies.

          People are probably going to watch those videos and try some of those techniques, even if they aren’t Nazis. Because where else are they going to go? Maybe that tutorial on using latex to make your Jewish characters look especially grotesque can somehow be repurposed to make a non-racist alien costume, while “Special effects are kind of difficult and you can’t expect to make them convincingly every time” basically doesn’t help at all, even if your morality is much more in line with the people saying the latter than it is with Nazis.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Unbelievable. On my own blog (Medium account, same diff) I have a 95%-finished draft on the same topic (with some epsilon difference). Worse, it’s probably much less interesting and less well-written than yours. And worst, I even based a lot of it on Alone’s analysis (the Dove Sketches article). I guess I’ll still finish it though (I’ll post a link here when I’m done if you’re interested).

    Some quick (well, okay, not so quick) comments and questions, if I may:

    i. You argue against casting a Villain in our narratives – something I mostly agree with – but the qualification for what exactly constitutes a “Villain” is rather vague. Clearly you think something, somewhere, has gone wrong. Presumably you don’t believe Snidely Whiplash is cackling and twirling his mustache somewhere (nor do I believe this), but the problem is obviously in the way an important segment of people is thinking. My interpretation is that it’s a toxic mixture of naive utopian idealism, caste animosities, and power-seeking. Your interpretation, if I’m reading you right, is that it’s narcissism and nihilism (‘society with no values’) – which I think is close but not quite right (more on this in a second). In either case, there are people who are not evil per se but whose actions are fueling the problem. Maybe they’re not “villains”; nevertheless, my guess from reading you is that you’d think that it’s already deeply dangerous to identify the problem as primarily originating from other people, regardless of whether one ascribes evil intent or not. I confess that that’s the way I see things. But I’m probably defending my identity, it’s a defense against change, I’m giving up real power (did I ever have any?) for the trappings of power (do I have any?) etc.

    Okay. Suppose I accept that. I have to change. How should I change? Will it affect me, or others too? If it’s just me, can we really expect that by my changing, things will get better? If it’s others too, then am I wrong in seeing their thought process as largely the source of the problem? If I do make the change, can we then try to change society’s values? etc. etc.

    ii. The whole point of Alone’s analysis of Narcissus is that Narcissus destroyed himself because he had not come to see value in other people. But a lot of the most vicious Social Justice types – the ones who want regular struggle sessions for people to denounce their “privilege”, restrictions on free speech, etc. (echoes of Maoism) – are precisely those who believe most fiercely in an ideal of “humanity” or whatever. And they love their “underprivileged” brothers and sisters the most – at least as abstract concepts, and at least outwardly so. Maybe they’re all cynically exploiting the ideal to make a classic primate power play – certainly some are, but I doubt all or even most of them can be insincere.

    For trite proverbial explanations, there’s the classic line about loving humanity but hating humans, etc. and Solzhenitsyn’s line about how “men have forgotten God”. Nevertheless, the most rabid culture-warriors clearly have a belief in some sort of higher power or higher ideal (not God, though), which doesn’t sound much like Narcissus to me. It’s just that they’re using their belief in the classic way, as a justification for their witch-hunts, I mean “righteous fury against the oppressors”. So while I think the bulk of your analysis is on point, I don’t think in the end “narcissism” is the best word or model for what is happening. I don’t think that the “academic culture” that I keep railing against has “no values”; I’m part of that culture, I used to have all the same political and cultural opinions too. I just think their values are disastrous; a terrible mix of fundamentalist egalitarianism and intellect-worship
    (in order to hold these two non-compatible values, they have to adopt strange delusions like “the scientific method is [racist / sexist]” at the extreme end, as well as use suppressive tactics to prevent people from noticing the obvious contradiction).


    1. Yes, post it here when you finish. I’m interested to see it.

      I mean, there are clearly some people who benefit and others who don’t, and I don’t see a problem with saying that explicitly. I think it’s more dangerous to ascribe intention, or to focus on intention. I’m not a utilitarian, but you understand what I mean. Mills doesn’t have a monopoly on “real things are actually important”.

      I actually think it’s good to have enemies, with the caveat that you have enemies you respect or the weakness of your enemies weakens you. Find better enemies, and focus less on small and ugly things. They’re shameful. Despise no one, but hatred > indifference (love is still the best, but possibly so far gone from our time as to be comical).

      I think nihilism leads to the naive utopianism, which is one of the new factors in our time (caste animosities and power seeking are eternal). You said it yourself in as many words: culture warriors have belief in a higher power. I’d merely say “are trying to have a bellief in”. Which, admittedly, is why I can’t fully despise them. At least they’re trying. Narcissism is just the defense mechanism.

      I do fall into the trite line about “loving humanity but hating humans”. It’s also true. Dostoyevsky has a lot of fantastic stuff on that, and it’s eerie how accurate it pegs everything that came after him.

      I care more about affirming than, uh, “peaceful” loving. I think Alone does too – at least you recognize them, then, as an Other that is worthy of honor. You can affirm with hatred, and good enemies affirm. See above, and/or The Iliad.

      I want a not-ugly-and-meaningless world. We need more machiavels.


  4. “To do that you need a measure, something solid to test yourself against, which is what all of it avoids. You need a value system and it can’t just come from you.”

    But why not? If you follow through and choose your own values, in the Nietzschean, or at least Nitzschesque, manner where the act of choosing values is also an assertion that values are a matter of choice, it should avoid a reliance on narcissistic defenses. The relevant frames of reference for values and authenticity are obligately internal and they’re absolute within those frames. Others lack knowledge of the criteria, which are the only relevant criteria, so they legitimately cannot judge. So why do people get stuck in the peculiar rut between rejecting universal values and rejecting external values, necessarily adopting value systems to justify themselves to others that they can neither anchor in universal truth or personal choice?

    The narcissistic defense works as long as the value system is external from the perspective of the subscriber – you can reassure yourself you’re really a good person despite your actions, and others looking at you from the context of that value system would agree if only they could see what you’re like inside. The standards of external systems can be argued to be impossible, letting you off the hook for not meeting them. External systems can also include mechanisms for absolution, allowing violations of standards to be nullified by the proper authorities. Successful value systems provide these defenses to their adherents. Christianity provides impossible standards, absolution, and a judge who knows and will ultimately take into account your inner self but conveniently remains silent in the interim. The parallels of the first two items in the catechism of privilege are no coincidence. When you judge yourself by your own values, these defenses no longer apply. You know your inner self, are able to determine and set achievable standards for you, and self-absolution reduces to a post hoc lowering of standards. The standards are inarguably absolute, but only within your frame of reference. Looking at values as choices doesn’t just remove the need for the narcissistic defense, it removes its possibility, which can be too big of a risk to take. If Hell is other people, what dire destination is the match of having to take a good hard Look at yourself?



    1. Look up Behavioral Sink. A lack of eternal challenge caused the rats to have a population boom, go insane and then go extinct. I’m not betting humans evolved a defense against that since we last diverged from the common ancestor.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Nietzsche always emphasizes that the surest sign of power is overflow. People who are powerful enough to create values also spread them. He’s also (as I am) extremely skeptical of the idea that there’s a “you” somewhere within that comes up with things on its own. He sees massive processes behind every person and every thought, both biological and social, and I think that’s largely right. Nihilism is not a personal problem then, but a social one.

      I will be writing on Nietzsche in a matter of time, so I don’t want to get too into it here. I think you might be right in a certain sense, but you’re talking about a very limited (very limited) group of humans. Most people can’t set their own standards, as Nietzsche well knew. There’s a reason he’s only talking to a set few.

      The most important thing is that we spend quite a lot of our lives lying to ourselves constantly and pampering our little “selves”. The second most important thing is that there’s no way around that outside of others.


    3. I’m a big fan of Nietzsche, but I don’t think it’s an accident that he appeals to so many 17-year-olds. The assertion of the authenticity of the self against the slave moralists living in bad faith or whatever is exciting when you’re a bright kid discovering your own identity. So it’s great for that negative moment. But so you throw down your TCBY server’s apron and yell “Fuck you mom I’m punk rock,” and then what? Then you’re sort of at the end of The Graduate. And if you keep reading Nietzsche maybe you realize that the “internal” self is an invention of those self-same slave moralists…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “The first game looks sort-of like Junker heaven, the second is The Future That Liberals Want, and the third is how Lasch views our world. I don’t want any of them, but my wants are irrelevant.” I’d like to know what you want.


  6. Regarding college costs, there’s something very significant about the date 1983 (which is indeed when the costs started to rise). What happened in the 1983? Well, that’s when US News published their first College Rankings…
    IMHO this is a perfect example of the unintended consequences of legibility. No-one at US News intended to destroy the US social structure but…
    Before those rankings, every college had its justification, its way of being the right college for some students. After the rankings, there was only one true best, and one true second best, and god forbid the losers who have to settle for tenth best. Likewise there were only a few particular ways (almost all of them expensive, some of them downright self-destructive) to climb the rankings.
    So obviously the way to fix the cost of American health care is to produce similar rankings of every hospital and doctor…

    I think your Lasch musings explain part of what’s happened to higher ed since then. But Scott, properly understood, is much better at explaining the cost aspects.


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