Oh me, oh my! Vanity Fair’s James Pogue visits the National Conservatism Conference and finds conspiring Peter Thiel, Curtis Yarvon, Amanda Milius (who must be the daughter of John Milius) and the rest of “the American right’s ‘radical young intellectuals,’ as a headline in The New Republic would soon put it, or conservatism’s ‘terrifying future,’ as David Brooks called them in The Atlantic.”
‘Why is it that whenever I see Curtis, he’s surrounded by a big table of incels?’ [Amanda Milius] asked with apparent fondness.”
I’m fond of reading Curtis Yarvin’s witty, learned, and cynical screeds. He, of course, needs an editor more than anyone who ever lived. Even I drew the line at some of the tangential riffs in this one, and edited out a few paragraphs.
He’s still worth a read.
The great coup of 2021
Borges, thou shouldst be living at this day.
I am not one to hyperbolize today’s news cycle. Actually almost nothing ever happens.
But the Great Coup of 2021 is one of the most amazing storylines in years or even decades, a kind of syzygy of news—a perfect juxtaposition of not two but three totally different narratives, each of which regards both others as dangerously insane—must present a natural feast for any historiographer of the present.
I wrote about this remarkable story the other day, while it was still happening. Today the story is what it’s done to people, which is absolutely remarkable and far greater than even I would have predicted. My wife described the attitude at her e-job as “9/12”—zero work is getting done.
Well—the present can suck to live through. But what else is there? And if you want to study bats, you have to go into the bat cave. You will get bat crap on you. My friends—today is a good day for bats. Shall we?
The three stories I’m about to highlight—which we could call the histrionic story, the hypochondriac story, and the historical story—form a kind of prism of narrative which perfectly illuminates not just the real events, but the world in which they can happen. …
The histrionic story
The histrionic story is the story of a true popular uprising crushed by a repressive regime—of course, the Trumpist narrative. The other day I took a shot at a couple paragraphs in this genre. And thought I did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself. Maybe I can get hired by TASS, Goebbels, NPR or OANN.
What’s so fascinating about the structure and content of the histrionic story is that, put under a microscope, it reveals itself as a kind of historical pastiche—a mosaic made from shards of actual, historical popular uprisings.
Pieces of our own Revolution are there; also the Bastille and even the Paris Commune. The Tea Party sits nervously next to the White Rose, thinking about whether to make a move on Sophie Scholl—alas, she has her heart set on Spartacus. The whole pageant of insurrection across the last four centuries, from the Grand Remonstrance to the Arab Spring, returns in the mosaic-chips of the broad panorama of MAGA, Trump and Q. Read the rest of this entry »
I find whatever this really, really bright guy has to say worth reading, though laborious. His erudite and witty references are downright dazzling, but he hits the reader with so many of them that one feels like one has encountered the intellectual equivalent of a golf ball-sized hailstorm. It gets tiring.
He himself clearly tires of particular points he’s making. There will be a number of paragraphs filled with intellectual acrobatics, delivering rapier-sharp insights and simply showing off. His denunciation of “conservacon” losers amounts to a strong argument. But he never really seems to get around to identifying his preferred alternative. Armed revolution? A new Caesar crossing the Rubicon to end the farce that the Republic has become and to start the Empire?
The Moldbugian Revolution seems destined inevitably to bog down, unable to make progress through his prolix prose. He needs an editor in the worst way.
For those of my own readers lacking the stamina, allow me to summarize:
The Moldbug has no sympathy for us losers. Might makes right, and the democrats demonstrated their virtu, their deserving to win, by using force to steal the election.
Yes, Virginia, the election was stolen. America has a loosey-goosey, complicated, and wide-open electoral system that readily lends itself to fraud. Other countries are considerably more careful.
This election is sending some messages. The messages are: The most powerful branch of the US Government is the unelected Fourth Estate. The NYT was right: The winner of US Presidential Elections is declared by the news media. The media is far more powerful than the Supreme Court. People who voted Republican don’t matter.
Conservatives operate on the basis of an agenda dedicated to good faith operation and preservation of our institutions. Therefore, they will never win. Trump also could not possibly win.
Curtis Yarvin clearly is endorsing some form of undefined revolutionary change.
Read it for yourselves.
“Like all men in Babylon, I have been proconsul; like all, I have been a slave.”
Vae victis! If the election was indeed stolen, it was stolen fair and square. Whatever happened is as final as Bitcoin. 2020 remains a chef’s kiss from history’s meat-kitchen. You do get a year like this every few decades.
The Supreme Court has sent a clear and lovely Schmittian message. No court or other official authority will ever consider the substance of Republican allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 elections. All will be rejected on procedural grounds by the courts, and mocked with maximal hauteur in the legitimate press. Maybe some agency will even have to go through the tiresome kabuki of investigating itself.
These tactics will always work. They always do. There will never be any kind of neutral, official, systematic or forensic investigation into any real or apparent irregularities—not even one that goes as far as the comical 2016 Jill Stein recount. (Which had to stop because it found that someone, presumably Russians, had been stuffing ballot boxes (or more precisely, tabulators) in Wayne County.)
Moreover, no one should have ever expected anything else. Carl Schmitt told us that “the sovereign is he who decides the exception.” There was no exception here—so the sovereign has decided. Schmitt, a German and a gentleman (if a bit of a Nazi), would never have said: the sovereign is he who can say, “fuck you.” But he’d probably agree.
The world works this way. It has to work this way. It should work this way. We do have a few things to say—but first, you have to deal. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve never been a Hawaiian shirt man myself. Too demotic for me. But, if they’re going to be a symbol of anti-PC-ism, I’ll have to get some. The version Taj Mahal is wearing in “Six Days and Seven Nights” (1998) would be good.
The (Woke) Economist is indignant at a recent development in male fashion.
In the 1930s the Nazis designed their own shirts and commissioned Hugo Boss to produce them in black and brown. Their modern American cousins buy them off the rack at high-street beachwear boutiques. The â€œBoogaloo Boysâ€ as they are known, an amorphous coalition of gun-loving anti-statists, white supremacists, preppers and libertarians, have adopted the Aloha shirt as regulation. A garment once associated with golfing seniors and barbecue dads now wraps the bodies of American militiamen gagging for a second civil war.
The Boogaloo Boys are harder to classify than previous generations of right-wing militias. Some of their actions are predictable, like holding rallies against gun laws and coronavirus safety measures, but theyâ€™re also turning up in their tropical togs to Black Lives Matter (BLM) marches. This is not always, as some reports have suggested, to insist on the importance of White Lives â€“ but because they hate the cops. â€œWeâ€™re against the state,â€ a smooth-faced young man told BLM protesters in Texas on May 30th: â€œWe wonâ€™t stop you burning down the police station.â€ He was wearing a baseball cap, a Kevlar jacket and a short-sleeved shirt, hot with yellow and turquoise flowers.
This Aloha habit first became legible in late 2018, when Joshua Citarella, a visual artist who studies online culture, noticed the shirts adding colour to the plainer alt-right ensemble of streetwear, assault weapon and bottle of Jack Daniels. Like so much extremist culture, the trend developed from a confluence of internet jokes and memes â€“ the same kind of semiotic tangle that spawned Pepe, the amphibian mascot of anti-liberal politics, from 4Chan gaming slang and the image of Kek, the frog-headed Ancient Egyptian god of Chaos. The word â€œBoogalooâ€ is borrowed from a film, â€œBreakinâ€™ 2: Electric Boogalooâ€, a hastily shot 1984 sequel to a popular break-dancing movie. When an activist posts a picture of himself in a respirator and Aloha shirt and pronounces himself â€œready to boogâ€, heâ€™s casting himself in the sequel to a well-known historical event starring Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. A further pun, â€œbig luauâ€ â€“ the name for a Hawaiian hog roast â€“ encodes hostility towards the police and it leads, somehow, to cotton printed with palms, petals and piÃ±a coladas.
Want a less convoluted explanation? Youâ€™ll find it in a self-published novel from 2019 by an author who writes under a pseudonym, Carl Snuffy. (Nobody knows his real identity: heâ€™s the Elena Ferrante of alt-right gun-fan forums.) â€œBoogalooâ€ is set in the near-future during an internecine conflict in which armed American Marxists â€“ whose battle cry is â€œFor BERNIE! FOR AOC!â€ â€“ have taken refuge in the sewers much as the Viet Cong occupied the Cu Chi tunnels. On the eve of his first battle, the hero is issued with a Hawaiian shirt to ensure that no one mistakes him for a member of the hated Antifa, an amorphous group of anti-fascists: â€œIf we have these onâ€¦we wonâ€™t get shot at by the cops or vigilantes.â€
In Honolulu, which many of the Boogaloo Boys doubtless refuse to believe is President Barack Obamaâ€™s place of birth, there is understandable disquiet. â€œWeâ€™re Hawaiiâ€, thundered the capitalâ€™s main newspaper, â€œand we want our shirts back.â€
“These days, [Curtis] Yarvin [aka Mencius Moldbug] is best known as the founder of Urbit, a startup tech company providing, in its own words, ‘a secure peer-to-peer network of personal servers, built upon a clean slate system software stack.’ Or, perhaps more accurately, he’s best known for the astonishing levels of protest that take place whenever a tech conference invites him to speak, generally based on the accusation that he believes in reinstituting slavery and thinks that black people make especially good slaves. The reason for this is relatively simple: he believes in reinstituting slavery and thinks that black people make especially good slaves.”
His long-winded, but incredibly intellectually fertile, essays on his Unqualified Reservations blog stopped back in 2013, when Yarvin became involved in new tech projects.
This month, the announcement went out that Mencius Moldbug is returning, with a new book, titled Gray Mirror Of The Nihilist Prince, that he will be issuing in fragments, twice monthly. The first two chapters are free, kiddies. And, after you are addicted, you’ll have to pay.
The good news is: that if you subscribe, right now, before the end of June, Moldbug has promised to send you a signed and numbered limited edition copy, which will undoubtedly, ere very long, be fetching big bucks on the used book market.
I’ve been listening to Curtis pontificate. Surprise! Surprise! He’s a snob who does not like Trump. He believes Trump is failing and will lose in November. Otherwise, he’s sound on the NYT and the “flexible and docile” people.
â€œAs long as we only talk about economic classes, profit, salaries, and production, and as long as we believe that real human progress is determined by a particular system of distribution of wealth and goods, then we are not even close to what is essential.â€œ
Either Thomas Carlyle or Curtis Yarvon, hard to tell.
Jonathan Radclyffe discusses the latest instantiations of Moldbugism in the same delightfully learned, amusingly provocative, and ungodly prolix manner of the original, prose as dense and ultimately indigestible as a Christmas fruitcake.
Recently something rather unexpected happened. Curtis Yarvin began writing again. A decade ago, back in the spotty youth of the internet when blogs meant something, Yarvin, a Silicon Valley computer programmer, made a cult name for himself under the nom de plume of reactionary political philosopher Mencius Moldbug. Often memed, frequently cited as an important ancestor of the â€œalt-rightâ€ (but largely left unread) and father of the online political movement known as NRx/neo-reaction (which has been declared dead endlessly since at least 2013), Moldbug may well be the only notable political philosopher wholly created by and disseminated through the internet.
In his journey from Austrian Economics to attempting to update early modern absolute monarchy for the information age, Yarvin regularly churned out tens of thousands of word screeds on his blog Unqualified Reservations (UR) about the need to privatise the state and hand it over to an efficient CEO monarch to keep progressives out, the Christian roots of progressivism, and encomia to nineteenth century Romantic Thomas Carlyle. All of this was so liberally coated in rhetorical irony and Carlylean bombast that it was often difficult to tell what was supposed to be serious and what was not. Moldbug was among the first to discover the power of reactionary post-irony, though these days of course, playing long-read rhetorical games to affect ideological change seems a rather primitive affair. The work of post-irony can now be compressed into a couple of memes very easily.
Between 2007 and 2010 Moldbug was immensely prolific. Thereafter UR petered off as Yarvin turned his efforts increasingly towards developing a blockchain-based data-storage scheme called Urbit. By 2014, when Moldbug began to become a household name across the internet as the social media platforms were increasingly politicised, Moldbug was pretty much finished writing. In April 2016 UR was wrapped up with a â€œCodaâ€ declaring that it had â€œfulfilled its purpose.â€ The same month attendees threatened to withdraw from the LambdaConf computing conference because the â€œproslaveryâ€ Yarvin would be speaking at it (Towsend 2016). To this Yarvin (2016a) wrote a reply insisting on the innocence of his Moldbuggian stage as simply a matter of curiosity about ideology. The same year in an open Q&A session about Urbit on Reddit, Yarvin (2016b) was more than happy to answer some questions about Moldbug and defend both projects as parts of a dual mission to democratise the current monopolies controlling the internet and to dedemocratise politics for the sake of enlightened monopoly.
In early 2017, following Trumpâ€™s election, rumours began to circulate that Yarvin was in communication with Steve Bannon, though nothing came of this (Matthews 2017b). Around the same time Yarvin was quoted as supporting single-payer healthcare (Matthews 2017a). News also surfaced that Yarvin was on a list of people to be thrown off Googleâ€™s premises, should he ever make a visit (Atavisionary 2018). Then, early in 2019, Yarvin (2019a) quit Urbit after seventeen years on the project, causing some to wonder whether Moldbug might now make a return. Old rumours also began to get about the place that Yarvin was behind Nietzschean Twitter reactionary Bronze Age Pervert (BAP), especially after Yarvin passed a copy of BAPâ€™s book Bronze Age Mindset to Trumpist intellectual Michael Anton (2019) with the insistence that this was what â€œthe kidsâ€ are into these days. And now Yarvin has started publishing again, under his own name, a decade on from the salad days of UR. On the 27th of September 2019 the first of a five-part essay for the conservative Claremont Instituteâ€™s The American Mind landed, titled â€œThe Clear Pill.â€
If Moldbug/Yarvin is famous for one thing, it is that heâ€™s the fellow who put the symbol of the â€œred pillâ€ into reactionary discourse. The â€œClear Pillâ€ promises to be a reset of ideology in which progressivism, constitutionalism and fascism will each receive an â€œinterventionâ€ through their own language and values to show up how â€œineffectualâ€ each is (Yarvin 2019b). Thus far this â€œclear pillâ€ sounds all rather typically Moldbuggianâ€“for Yarvin it has always been about resetting the state and the rhetoric of undoing brainwashing. Anyone passingly familiar with the oeuvre of Moldbug knows that Yarvin is more than capable of speaking all three of these political dialects reasonably well, even if, as Elizabeth Sandifer (2017) astutely notes, Moldbug is so deep in neoliberal TINA [DZ: “TINA” is slang for crystal meth.] he is unable to take Marxism seriously as a contemporary opponent at all. For Moldbug the American liberal pursuit of equality was always more â€œcommunistâ€ than the USSR, which is to say, paranoid reactionary hyperbole aside, that he only ever regarded Marxism as an early phase of progressivism.
And yet, six months on from the first part of the â€œClear Pillâ€, only a second of the promised five parts has thus far been published. Part two (Yarvin 2019c), or â€œA Theory of Pervasive Errorâ€ appeared on the 25th of November, and, so one might surmise, even the most die-hard Moldbug-fans must have found it somewhat lacking. The initial purpose of the piece seems to be to outline a theory of human desire that utilises the Platonic language of thymos (courageous spirit), but ends up sounding far closer to a Neo-Darwinian Hobbes than anything else. Human beings are petty and selfish beasts, we are encouraged to believe. The essay meanders on until it finally arrives at the simple old Moldbuggian point that because liberal â€œexpertsâ€ in governance and science have a touted monopoly on truth, they should not automatically be trusted. Thatâ€™s it. By taking such the long way around to say something so simple and banal, the result is more than a little anticlimactic. Perhaps after all these years the bounce has gone out of Yarvinâ€™s bungy; his lemonade has gone flat.
The only other piece to appear on The American Mind from Yarvin since â€œA Theory of Pervasive Errorâ€ has not been part of this â€œClear Pillâ€ series, but a stand-alone essay published on the 1st of February 2020 titled â€œThe Missionary Virusâ€. In this Yarvin argues that the recent coronavirus pandemic offers an unparallel opportunity to dismantle American â€œinternationalismâ€ and reboot a politically and culturally multi-polar world while economic globalisation continues. Imagine, Yarvin asks the reader, what it would be like if the virus did not go away and the travel bans lasted not a month, but a decade, or centuries. One thing can be said about this essay that cannot be said of the â€œClear Pillâ€ so far â€“ at very least it is entertaining. Perhaps parts three to five of the â€œClear Pillâ€ will actually say something interesting after all.
Indeed there are all sorts of questions that are still left unanswered. Will the crescendo of part five simply restate the need to privatise governance and let the market system work? Will Yarvin take some drastic new turn or even disown Moldbug? Will he finally acknowledge eccentric death-cultist Nick Land, who, for the best part of this decade has largely been the â€œkingâ€ of NRx as a political ideology? We must wait and see.
The always intellectually provocative, and ever so prolix, Mencius Moldbug returned recently, after several years, with further doses of Dark Enlightenment.
[W]hen we think of historical Nazism, Stalinism or Maoism, we think of wartime or warlike atrocities. When we look at Czechoslovakia in the â€™60s, Germany in the â€™30s, even China today, we see far fewer atrocities. Yet we still see the same structure of hierarchical control, with one person or a small team unilaterally directing the entire state.
This structure is clearly absent in the Western democracies.
Whatever our â€œregimeâ€ may be, it has nothing remotely like the Chinese Communist Party or Chairman Xi. It has no hierarchy. It has no center. It has neither leader, nor politburo, nor cadre. Maybe itâ€™s not real democracy; itâ€™s not a monarchy or a dictatorship.
Aâ€¦distributed despotism? Is a decentralized Orwellian regime possible? If we can say no, weâ€™re done. It seems impossible. Can we show that? We canâ€™t, so letâ€™s try to design one.
Maybe there are two kinds of Orwellian regimesâ€”like two-stroke and four-stroke engines. Neither cycle is inherently better. A four-stroke leafblower is excessive; a two-stroke car, primitive.
Maybe a four-stroke regime is decentralized; a two-stroke regime, centralized. One is a reptile; the other, a mammal. One is a fish; the other, a whale. Both rule by shaping public opinion. Two-stroke regimes design their stories. Four-stroke regimes have no dictator, so they have no designer; their stories must evolve.
Generally, the two-stroke regime relies more on hard repression; the four-stroke regime relies more on soft illusion. But both, as weâ€™ll see, can and do use both stabilization tools.
The two-stroke regime is a one-story state. Everyone has to believe one narrativeâ€”one official history of the present.
This worked as well for Amenhotep as Chairman Xi. The two-stroke is an especially good fit for centralized monarchical regimes. It also fits the canonical cliche of Orwellian totalitarianism.
The one-story state is efficient, but unstable. Its chronic problem is that people hate being told what to believe. They often cause trouble even when the story is true!
Anyone whoâ€™s been to China has seen how efficiently classic totalitarianism can executeâ€¦in both senses. Not only does the PRC make all consumer goods, itâ€™s also the top destination for transplant tourism. Maybe you donâ€™t really want that Chinese two-stroke SUV, even if it does pop like a dirtbike.
Without oil in its gas, a two-stroke engine overheats. In the end it catches fire. Without active practice in hard repression, without serious enemies at home or abroad, the classic one-party state weakens. It rots from excessive success. In the end it is overthrown by little girls with flowers.
The ideal state might be a one-story state where the story was 100% true. But this is a dangerous level of idealism. (Nor would it repeal these axioms of regime stabilization.)
The four-stroke regime is a two-story state. When people hear one story, they tend to ask: is this true? When they hear two stories, they tend to ask: which one of these is true? Isnâ€™t this a neat trick? Maybe our whole world is built on it. Any point on which both poles concur is shared story: â€œuncontroversial, bipartisan consensus.â€
Shared story has root privilege. It has no natural enemies and is automatically true. Injecting ideas into it is nontrivial and hence lucrative; this profession is called â€œPR.â€
There is no reason to assume that either pole of the spectrum of conflict, or the middle, or the shared story, is any closer to reality than the single pole of the one-story state.
Dividing the narrative has not answered the old question: is any of this true? Rather, it hasâ€¦ dodged it. Stagecraft!
This is even better than supposing that, since we fought Hitler and Hitler was bad, we must be good. These very basic fallacies, or psychological exploits, are deeply embedded in our political operating systems. Like bugs in code, they are invisible until you look straight at them. Then they are obvious.
The key feature of the two-story state is much less reliance on hard repression. As in the four-stroke engine, the cost of the feature is a pile of parts and a drop in performance. The fundamental engineering problem of the two-story state is to contain the active, but innocuous, political conflict which distracts its subjects out of any real democratic power.
The modern two-story democracy contains two power cores: a civic core and a political core. The trick is: in theory, the political core is stronger than the civic core. In practice, the civic core is stronger than the political core.
A stable regime must maintain this power inversion. If stability is lost, the political core takes control. For an instant, the engine becomes a real democracyâ€”then it turns into something else, or just catches fire and explodes. Think Germany in 1933.
Yet the â€œinversionâ€ is, at bottom, a lie. The political core is presented as the ruler. The civic core is presented as the tool. The real flow of power is the opposite of the apparent flow.
Public opinion does not direct the civic core; the civic core guides public opinion. The one-story state needs continuous repression; the two-story state needs continuous stagecraft. Of course, the former can still lie, the latter still repress.
In current language, the positive label â€œdemocracyâ€ signifies the civic core. We must all defend â€œdemocracyâ€ from â€œpolitics,â€ a negative label. People really believe this newspeak. Since it is dangerous to reverse the power flow, they may even be right. …
Itâ€™s interesting to compare Western civil society to an Eastern ruling party. Both are organs outside the civil service proper. The latter is truly centralized; the former, decentralized.
Civil society has no single point of failure. Thatâ€™s cool. Yet it is impossible not to notice three disturbing facts about it. Weâ€™ll have to leave these phenomena as mysteries for now.
One: it has no arbitrary center, but its reputation system seems arbitrary, or at least static. The prestige of prestigious universities, newspapers, etc., does not seem to change. These institutions must be either impeccable, or unaccountable.
Two: some mysterious force seems to ideologically coordinate this system. All these prestigious institutions, though organizationally quite separate, seem to magically agree with each other. When they change their minds, all change together, in the same direction. We cannot say that Harvard is on one side of Yale; we can say the Harvard of 2019 is on one side of the Harvard of 1989. This force is not centralized, but works like a center. It could just be a totally sick level of collective wisdom. But is it?
Three: one tendency of this mysterious force is reinforcement of effective political formulas. Somehow civil society prefers to think thoughts that make civil society stronger. It is still a marketplace of ideas; it also prefers to think thoughts that are true. These preferences are not always aligned.
If we can explain all these phenomena, we can explain how a decentralized civil society, effectively protected from democracy, can, does, and indeed must become a distributed Orwellian despotism.
Why do the people in charge of all our elite institutions constantly surrender to the demoniacs of the radical left? Why do people at the top believe in nothing but success?
Brett Stevens argues that we have an educational system that selects for precisely those characteristics.
In democracies… we tell [the people] that they are equal and then set up a meritocracy which by narrowing the task at hand from success in reality (build a fire, run a farm, write a novel, raise a child) to what… selects for the obedient.
Responsive to the fear and ambition on which a democracy runs, the obedient are determined to do whatever is necessary to accomplish a task. They will ablate and erase their own personal opinions, needs, and morals in order to achieve what is assigned to them.
Your successful democratic citizen uses themselves as a means to this success. They use their time, their personal appeal, and even their bodies in order to become chosen by the system. This makes them both obedient and amoral.
Such a person will memorize reams of useless data, repeat it on command, and pretend it is real in order to get ahead; they will shame others who do not bleat the same things. They will attend jobs and school for however long is required to get that gold ring.
Even more, such a person learns to scorn their task. They are taught in school that nothing really matters in reality, since all that matters is having the right answer according to the system.
To such a person, that Communism fails â€” for example â€” has no importance. If preaching Communism is what the system rewards, this person will do it, just as they will endorse consumerism, diversity, atheism, or any other dogma.
They do not care if it is accurate or not. In their minds, it is simply what you do to be successful, and that is more important than it being true, because all they care about is being in the upper quarter of the people in the system.
For those who have spent time in American prisons, this order will seem familiar. Whoever does what makes him powerful has a good life, and it does not matter what it is, only that it is the right thing at the right moment.
These types of people comprise our current elites. They are experts in nothing but getting good grades, saying the right thing in public, and making money by telling people that what they want to hear is true (and supported by the product).
The Zman is not a big admirer of “diversity” and “inclusion.”
The first leg of my journey was a stop in London. When booking the trip, the cheapest flight took me through Heathrow, with a half day layover. I hate having to run to make connections, as that often ends in me missing my connection, so I donâ€™t mind a few hour gap between flights. Having almost a full day between flights was not ideal, but it beat the alternatives when I was booking the flight. My plan was to leave the airport and do a quick tour of London, but that plan got scuttled by British security.
When leaving the airportâ€™s secure area, I was pulled aside for the rubber glove treatment by whatever they call their security forces. I was taken to a room and asked the usual questions. Then they asked to examine my phone, which got them upset, as there is nothing on it other than some classical music I loaded for the trip. I keep nothing on my phone as a rule. This one is brand new, so the browser does not even have some history on it. That lack of a information seemed to upset them.
That led them to ask to look at my laptop. I use a travel laptop, so if something happens, Iâ€™m not missing important parts of my life. This one I just setup with Linux and a new solid state drive. This only increased their anxiety, so we spent an hour or so playing Petrovich and Raskolnikov. My Russian visa did not help matters. Iâ€™ve gone through this a couple of times in American airports, but this seemed different. Maybe Iâ€™m imagining things, but I got the strong sense of being on a list. Maybe it was just the culture gap.
You see, thatâ€™s the other thing. The British Starsky and Hutch were Apu and Mustafa, two brown guys from over the rainbow. Their English was fine, but it had the hint of the exotic, suggesting they grew up speaking something other than English at home. They also had the narrowness that is typical of the South Asian. Thereâ€™s always a barrier that exists between the Occidental and the Oriental, despite the degree of shared experience. There is an inscrutableness there that always leaves a degree of uncertainty between usâ€¦
After getting sprung from gaol, I was free to explore the giant shopping mall that is the Heathrow airport. The best I could tell, all of the employees were either brown people from over the horizon or Eastern Europeans. I got something to eat and all of the wait staff was not British. Given the international flavor of the passengers, you would be hard pressed to know you were in the heart of Britain. They donâ€™t even have televisions playing the BBC or local sporting events. Heathrow is a foreign country disguised as an airportâ€¦
Iâ€™ve been in a great many airports in my life and I have a weird fascination for them. Most airports serving big cities are really just complex systems that have evolved over many years to solve evolving problems of air travel. An airport is a solution for a problem of modern life. As a result, you can learn a lot about the evolution of human organization by observing what happens at the big airports. Their design is similar everywhere, but everywhere is not the same, so the airport says something about the local culture. …
On the fight from Lagos to London, a couple of Africans were across the aisle, one row up, from where I was sitting. Both were dressed up in what Hollywood tells us is traditional African dress for African royalty. Their accents suggested Ghana to me. At some point, the male got very agitated at the person in front of him, who had reclined her chair. He started violently shaking her chair-back and hollering something. Two stewards came over and gave him a lecture about his behavior and airplane etiquette.
Watching the two of them struggle to understand how to be passengers on an airplane, I realized what it would be like to bring Stone Age people into this age. The two of them were just too dumb to navigate plane transport. They were frustrated by the food service process. They struggled to understand simple directions. When the plane landed, they got up and started walking down the aisle, while the plane was still taxiing to the gate. They are primitives incapable of existing in a modern society, without constant supervisionâ€¦
Walking around Heathrow, it is easy to see why our rulers love multiculturalism. They look at the diversity you see at a big intentional airport and they think of it as the Casablanca of this age. It makes them feel worldly and sophisticated. That brown guy in their department with the perfect continental English is not just a colleague. He is a symbol of what makes them special. They are not provincials. They are worldly cosmopolitans. They never see the other side of it. They just see the good part of the transaction.
Meghan Daum (Vassar, Columbia) describes her breaking up with her husband and with the world-view of the urban community of fashion and her new romance with the “intellectual dark web.”
The night of the election, I sat on the sofa watching CNN and exchanging texts with my husband. The first text, from me to him, said something like, â€œRelax, itâ€™s still early.â€ The last, hours later and from him to me, was one word: â€œWow.â€
I hardly need to describe what happened over the next year. Racists became more racist. Sexists hardened into full-blown misogynists. In turn, those fighting their bigotry too often instituted their own kind of tyranny. Almost immediately, the resistance became not just a front line against Trumpism but its own scorching battleground. To be frothing with rage over one thing meant being insufficiently aggrieved over something else. If you were worried about women, you werenâ€™t worried enough about blacks. If you marched for immigrants, why didnâ€™t you show up for the scientists? For many, there was no amount of outrage that couldnâ€™t be outdone, no wokeness woke enough.
Nicholas Frankovich notes that youthful rebellion against stodgy, inhibiting norms and standards is great fun, until you find the fences are all down, the norms and standards have disappeared, in politics as in the arts.
Susan Sontag established herself as a public intellectual through original and incisive essays in which she exalted avant-garde over high culture in the 1960s. Late in her career, in the 1990s, she began to have second thoughts. â€œIt never occurred to me that all the stuff I had cherished, and all the people I had cared about in my university education, could be dethroned,â€ she explained to Joan Acocella of The New Yorker. She had assumed that â€œall that would happen is that you would set up an annex â€” you know, a playhouse â€” in which you could study these naughty new people, who challenged things.â€
The â€œnaughty new peopleâ€ were mid-20th-century artists, particularly American and European writers and filmmakers, who defied existing conventions of the novel and of narrative in general. In your creation or experience of art, try for a moment to stop asking what it â€œmeans,â€ Sontag advised. Relish the â€œsensuous surface of art without mucking about in it.â€ The aesthetic she was celebrating â€” it amounted to an elevation of form over content â€” was supposed to be exemplified by the â€œnouveau roman,â€ in which plot, character development, and all the empty promises of linear thought were minimized or, better, absent. â€œWhat is important now is to recover our senses,â€ she wrote. â€œWe must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.â€
Alas, what had appealed to Sontag about that kind of formalism â€œwas mostly just the idea of it,â€ Acocella observed. â€œI thought I liked William Burroughs and Nathalie Sarraute and Robbe-Grillet,â€ Sontag told her, â€œbut I didnâ€™t. I actually didnâ€™t.â€ And now she had regrets. â€œLittle did I know that the avant-garde transgressiveness of the sixties was to become absolutely institutionalized and that most of the gods of high culture would be dethroned and mocked.â€ In â€œThirty Years Laterâ€ (1996), Sontag, reflecting on what she had failed to foresee when she wrote the cultural criticism collected in her book Against Interpretation (1966), recounted that she hadnâ€™t yet grasped that
seriousness itself was in the early stages of losing credibility in the culture at large, and that some of the more transgressive art I was enjoying would reinforce frivolous, merely consumerist transgressions. Thirty years later, the undermining of standards of seriousness is almost complete, with the ascendancy of a culture whose most intelligible, persuasive values are drawn from the entertainment industries. Now the very idea of the serious (and the honorable) seems quaint, â€œunrealistic,â€ to most people.
The difference between the American and the European use of the term â€œliberalâ€ is often remarked. The former refers, on the whole, to the Left; the latter, to classical liberalism, which until yesterday was the political philosophy â€” free markets, limited government, individual liberty â€” of the mainstream American Right. The current populist revolt on the right has flushed to the surface a fact I had underestimated: that when Americans who call themselves conservative say â€œDown with liberalism,â€ classical liberalism is a large part of what many of them have in their sights.
Christian anti-liberalism â€” Alasdair MacIntyre, John Milbank, David L. Schindler, the Communio school â€” enchanted me somewhat until classical liberalism in the flesh began to manifest increasing vulnerability. It has to fend off enemies on two fronts now, the right as well as the left. Like Susan Sontag lamenting over the rapid dumbing down of American culture in the late 20th century, I see my mood has changed. What had appealed to me about MacIntyre, Milbank, and the whole crew of â€œnaughty new people who challenged thingsâ€ was not the possibility that their pictures and diagrams of anti-liberalism would ever escape from the page and the screen and result in political consequences. The idea of anti-liberalism, thatâ€™s all, is what I fancied. The realization of it, or the attempt to realize it, turns out to be messy, even ugly, and it appears to be tending toward the ever messier and uglier.