Category Archive 'Decadence'
19 Sep 2022

“Last Post for Christian England”

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Paul Kingsnorth wrote a very intelligent post reflecting on the symbolism and significance of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral.

What happened today was a rolling, dense mat of symbolism, replete with historical meaning, anchored in a very particular nation and time period. What did it symbolise? Above all, I think, it symbolised something that our culture has long stopped believing in, and as such can’t really process effectively, or even perhaps quite comprehend. This was brought home to me by one particular moment in the ceremony.

You can see that moment in the photograph above. It’s a view from the height of the tower of Westminster Abbey, looking down onto the Queen’s coffin below. The Abbey is, of course, laid out in the shape of the cross, and the coffin was set down at the meeting point of the nave and the transept, where the two arms of the cross meet. At one point in the proceedings, the camera showed us this view, and then focused in on the scene, and the impression was that of some energy flowing down from above and into the coffin, then out across the marble floor and into the gathered crowd.

It struck me then that this was an accurate visual image of the world which this Queen’s death marks the final end of, and it struck me too that this must be one of the reasons why her passing has had such a huge impact – one way beyond the person she actually was. What we were seeing as the camera panned down was a manifestation, through technological trickery, of the ancient notion of sacral kingship.

This notion was the rock which the political structure of all medieval societies was built, and in theory at least it is still the architecture which supports the matter of Britain, whose bishops still sit in parliament with the power to amend laws, and whose monarch’s crown is adorned with a cross. Authority, in this model of society, flows downward, from God, and into the monarch, who then faces outward with that given power and serves – and rules – his or her people.

Forget for a moment whether you’re a Christian, or a monarchist, or indeed whether you just think this is so much humbug designed to disguise the raw exercise of power. I’m not trying to make a case here: I am trying to understand something that I think at least partly explains how we have got here.

The point of the model of sacral kingship is that all true power resides in and emerges from the great, mysterious, unknowable, creative power at the heart of the universe – the power which we call, for want of a better word, ‘God.’ Any power that the monarch may exercise in this temporal realm is not ultimately his or hers. At the end of the funeral today, the orb and the sceptre, symbolising the Queen’s spiritual and temporal authority, were removed from the top of her coffin, along with the crown, and given over to the care of the church. At that point, Elizabeth became symbolically what she had always been in reality, and we all are – small, ordinary people, naked before God.

This notion – that any power exercised by a human ruler ultimately derives from the spiritual plane – is neither British nor European. It is universal. Pharaonic Egypt recognised it, and so did Native America. The Anglo-Saxons believed it and so did the Japanese Emperors. Cultures large and small, imperial and tribal, on all continents over many millennia, have shared some version of this understanding of what the world is. Power, it tells us – politics, it insists – is no mere human confection, because the world is no mere human confection. There is something – someone – else beyond it, and if we are silent, in these cathedrals or in these forests, we can hear it still. Those who take power in this world will answer to it at the end. It is best that they know this now.

What is meaningful about this royal death is that the late Queen really believed this. So, I think, does her son, the new King. But the society around him very much does not. The understanding now is that authority flows upward from below, from ‘the people’ and into the government, which supposedly governs on our behalf. In this model there is no sacred centre, and there is no higher authority to whom we answer. There is no heavenly grant of temporary office which will one day be returned, and a tally made. There is only raw power, rooted in materiality, which in itself has no meaning beyond what we ascribe to it. There is only efficiency. There is only management. There are only humans.

RTWT

21 Jun 2022

Die Zwölftonmethode

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HT: Karen L. Myers.

17 May 2022

Recruiting Ads: Russian versus American

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HT: Vanderleun.

04 Jan 2022

And Some of Us thought Gen X Sucked

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Harry Styles at the Met Gala in 2019.

The Daily Mail reports happily on our handbaskets speedy progress toward Hell.

Why pretty boys have ousted beefcakes as Hollywood hottest heartthrobs: Tom Holland and Harry Styles are the poster boys for ‘non-toxic masculinity’ who appeal to Gen Z with ‘enlightened’ views, experts say

Stars like Timothée Chalamet and Tom Holland are modern A-List heartthrobs
Younger fans are attracted to their anti-leading man looks, experts claim
Facial symmetry makes them popular on social media because photograph well
Changing attitudes towards gender and sexuality also made them popular

Ten years ago, baby-faced men were passed over in Hollywood for rugged looking stars with more traditionally masculine looks.

But today more feminine-looking actors with delicate features, shorter stature and symmetrical faces are more in demand because they appear to younger viewers, experts claim.

Gen Z audiences are drawn to celebrities like Tom Holland, Timothée Chalamet and Harry Styles who embody a ‘brand of enlightened non-toxic masculinity’, according to beauty expert Laura Kay.

Their symmetrical, heart-shaped faces also make them more photogenic and therefore more popular on Instagram, which has become a key part in the Hollywood marketing machine.

These non-traditional leading men also benefit because younger generations are more tolerant of things which would have seen as ‘abnormal’ in the past, such as height differences or attitudes to gender, says dating and relationship expert Alex Mellor-Brook.

Tom Holland, 25, who is dating his co-star Zendaya, also 25, for example, is 5ft 8in, shorter than one might expect for a Hollywood A-lister, while Harry Styles, 27, proudly steps out in feminine clothing and has released a range of nail polishes.

RTWT and then go out and throw up in the street.

14 Dec 2021

Éric Zenmour Announces for President of France

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France in recent years has lost a church or Christian religious building to demolition or arson every two weeks. Meanwhile, a new mosque is erected every 15 days.

The French native white birthrate is 1.4 children per woman, compared to the Muslim immigrant rate of 3.4 to 4 children. Charles Martel’s victory at Tours in 732 may be reversed within 40 years when France becomes majority Muslim.

Not since Ronald Reagan has there been such a political speech. It sounds to me like this guy is going to win. I agree with Gerard van der Leun that the American candidate who delivers the equivalent US version of this speech will win the presidency here.

My dear Countrymen— For years, the same feeling has swept you along, oppressed you, shamed you: a strange and penetrating feeling of dispossession. You walk down the streets in your towns, and you don’t recognize them.

You look at your screens and they speak to you in a language that is strange, and in the end foreign. You turn your eyes and ears to advertisements, TV series, football matches, films, live performances, songs, and the schoolbooks of your children.

You take the subways and trains. You go to train stations and airports. You wait for your sons and your daughters outside their school. You take your mother to the emergency room. You stand in line at the post office or the employment agency. You wait at a police station or a courthouse. And you have the impression that you are no longer in a country that you know.

You remember the country of your childhood. You remember the country that your parents told you about. You remember the country found in films and books. The country of Joan of Arc and Louis XIV. The country of Bonaparte and General de Gaulle.

The country of knights and ladies. The country of Victor Hugo and Chateaubriand. The country of Pascal and Descartes. The country of the fables of La Fontaine, the characters of Molière, and the verses of Racine.

The country of Notre Dame de Paris and of village church towers. The country of Gavroche and Cosette. The country of barricades and Versailles. The country of Pasteur and Lavoisier.

The country of Voltaire and Rousseau,of Clemenceau and the soldiers of ’14, of de Gaulle and Jean Moulin. The country of Gabin and Delon; of Brigitte Bardot and Belmondo and Johnny and d’Aznavour and Brassens and Barbara; the films of Sautet and Verneuil.

This country— at the same time light-hearted and illustrious. This country— at the same time literary and scientific. This country— truly intelligent and one-of-a-kind. The country of the Concorde and nuclear power. The country that invented cinema and the automobile.This country— that you search for everywhere with dismay. No, your children are homesick, without even having known this country that you cherish. And it is disappearing.

You haven’t left, and yet you have the feeling of no longer being at home. You have not left your country. Your country left you.

You feel like foreigners in your own country. You are internal exiles. For a long time, you believed you were the only one to see, to hear, to think, to doubt. You were afraid to say it. You were ashamed of your feelings. For a long time, you dared not say what you are seeing, and above all you dared not see what you were seeing.

And then you said it to your wife. To your husband. To your children. To your father. To your mother. To your friends. To your coworkers. To your neighbors. And then to strangers. And you understood that your feeling of dispossession was shared by everyone.

France is no longer France, and everyone sees it.

Of course, they despised you: the powerful, the élites, the conformists, the journalists, the politicians, the professors, the sociologists, the union bosses, the religious authorities.They told you it’s all a ploy, it’s all fake, it’s all wrong. But you understood in time that it was them who were a ploy, them who had it all wrong, them who did you wrong.

The disappearance of our civilization is not the only question that harasses us, although it towers over everything. Immigration is not the cause of all our problems, although it aggravates everything. The third-worlding of our country and our people impoverishes as much as it disintegrates, ruins as much as it torments.

It’s why you often have a hard time making ends meet. It’s why we must re-industrialize France. It’s why we must equalize the balance of trade. It’s why we must reduce our growing debt, bring back to France our companies that left, give jobs to our unemployed.

It’s why we must protect our technological marvels and stop selling them to foreigners. It’s why we must allow our small businesses to live, and to grow, and to pass from generation to generation.It’s why we must preserve our architectural, cultural, and natural heritage. It’s why we must restore our republican education, its excellence and its belief in merit, and stop surrendering our children to the experiments of egalitarians and pedagogists and the Doctor Strangeloves of gender theory and Islamo-leftism.

It’s why we must take back our sovereignty, abandoned to European technocrats and judges, who rob the French people of the ability to control their destiny in the name of a fantasy – a Europe that will never be a nation. Yes, we must give power to the people, take it back from the minority that unceasingly tyrannizes the majority and from judges who substitute their judicial rulings for government of the people, for the people, by the people.

For decades, our elected officials of the right and the left have led us down this dire path of decline and decadence. Right and left have lied and concealed the gravity of our diminishment. They have hidden from you the reality of our replacement.

You have known me for many years. You know what I say, what I diagnose, what I proclaim. I have long been content with the role of journalist, writer, Cassandra, whistleblower. Back then, I believed that a politician would take up the flame that I had lit. I said to myself, to each his own job, to each his own role, to each his own fight.

I have lost this illusion. Like you, I have lost confidence. Like you, I have decided to take our destiny in hand.

I saw that no politician had the courage to save our country from the tragic fate that awaits it. I saw that all these supposed professionals were, above all, impotent.That President Macron, who had presented himself as an outsider, was in fact the synthesis of his two predecessors, or worse. That all the parties were contenting themselves with reforms, while time passes them by.

There is no more time to reform France – but there is time to save her. That is why I have decided to run for President.

I have decided to ask your votes to become your President of the Republic, so that our children and grandchildren do not know barbarism. So that our daughters are not veiled and our sons are not forced to submit. So that we can bequeath to them the France we have known and that we received from our ancestors. So that we can still preserve our way of life, our traditions, our language, our conversations, our debates about history and fashion, our taste for literature and food.

So that the French remain French, proud of their past and confident in their future. So that the French once again feel at home. So that the newest arrivals assimilate their culture, adapt their history, and are remade as French in France – not foreigners in an unknown land.

We, the French, are a great nation. A great people. Our glorious past pleads for our future. Our soldiers have conquered Europe and the world. Our writers and artists have aroused universal admiration. Our scientific discoveries and industrial production have stamped their epochs. The charm of our art de vivre excites longing and joy in all who taste it.

We have known great victories, and we have overcome cruel defeats. For a thousand years, we have been one of the powers who have written the history of the world. We are worthy of our ancestors. We will not allow ourselves to be mastered, vassalized, conquered, colonized. We will not allow ourselves to be replaced.

In front of us, a cold and determined monster rises up, who seeks to dishonor us. They will say that you are racist. They will say that you are motivated by contemptible passions, when in fact it is the most lovely passion that animates you – passion for France.

They will say the worst about me. But I will keep going amidst the jeers, and I don’t care if they spit on me. I will never bend the head. For we have a mission to accomplish.

The French people have been intimidated, crippled, indoctrinated, blamed— but they lift up their heads, they drop the masks, they clear the air of lies, they hunt down these evil perjuries.

We are going to carry France on. We are going to pursue the beautiful and noble French adventure. We are going to pass the flame to the coming generations. Join with me. Rise up. We, the French, have always triumphed over all.

Long live the Republic, and above all, long live France!

HT: Rod Dreher via Vanderleun.

09 Dec 2021

An Unprecedented Dégringolade

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cole_thomas_the_course_of_e
Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1833-1836, New York Historical Society.

Michael Anton contemplates gloomily what form the hell towards which we are rapidly proceeding in a handbasket is going to take.

He is ultimately unable to arrive at a conclusion, other than noting that the folly and decline of no previous known people, state, or culture has ever featured anything like the same levels of irrationality, self-hatred, and elite treason as our own.

[T]here is the endless insistence that every new dawn must begin a fresh Year Zero; we must start continually anew. What was acceptable yesterday is anathema today and will be more so tomorrow. All that came before must be swept aside and destroyed with extreme prejudice, on a rolling basis.

The most ferocious revolutionaries of yesteryear didn’t do this. The Jacobins changed the calendar and guillotined a lot of nobles but otherwise allowed France to remain French. The Bolsheviks did not touch the Russian literary or concert canons; to the contrary, they celebrated both. Mao made an attempt to start over—until the more sensible Party bosses realized that the old man (and especially his wife) had lost their minds and were destroying China, sidelined him, and quietly put an end to the Cultural Revolution four years before formally declaring mission accomplished. The Ayatollah did not ban Nowruz or other cornerstones of Persian tradition beloved by the Iranian people, but which predated his puritanical version of Islam.

Our overlords, by contrast, insist on changing everything and will not stop until everything familiar is gone. When this is pointed out, they smirk about the “slippery-slope fallacy” and gleefully lie. That will never happen, they say, until they insist on it, and, once accomplished, move on to the next target. They are cultural locusts devouring everything in their path. If the internal “logic” (if one may use that word in this context) of their passionate hatred is allowed to play out, no statue can be left standing, no traditional holiday observed, no name unchanged. If that outcome does not come to pass, it will not be because those driving toward it have a change of heart, nor is it likely to be because the Right suddenly becomes effective in opposition. It will rather be because the locusts destroy too many of the country’s remaining functioning parts too soon, causing the system to collapse before their program is complete, thereby making further “progress” impossible.

Any one of the above elements would appear to be unprecedented; just a few of them in combination surely are. All of them together?

How, therefore, can anyone be confident that he “knows” what is going to happen—whether imminent collapse, drawn-out decline, or centuries of tyranny?

The end?

If forced to bet, I would have to place my chips somewhere between imminent collapse and drawn-out decline. I occasionally read theories of triple bank-shots and four-dimensional chess—they really know what they’re doing!—only to marvel. Our regime cannot, at present, unload a cargo ship, stock a store shelf, run a clean election, handle parental complaints at a school board meeting, pass a budget bill, treat a cold variant, keep order in the streets, defeat a third world country, or even evacuate said country cleanly. And that’s to say nothing of all the things it should be doing, that all non-joke countries do, that it refuses to do. If our ruling class has a plan, it would seem to be to destroy the society and institutions from which they, at present, are the largest—one is tempted to say only—beneficiaries. Do they think they can benefit more from the wreckage? Or are they driven by hatreds that blind them to self-interest? Perhaps they’re simply insane?

Whatever the case, couple all this unprecedentedness with all this incompetence, and going long on Wokemerica seems a sucker bet. But, to end where we began, the very unprecedentedness of our situation means that all bets are off.

Be sure to RTWT

20 Aug 2021

How We Lost Afghanistan

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Cockburn thinks he has found the key explanation: Western elites let Afghans see what Western elite culture is like. Naturally, and inevitably, they took down their AK-47s from the wall and fought tooth and nail to prevent being assimilated into that!

[A]longside the billions for bombs went hundreds of millions for gender studies in Afghanistan. According to U.S. government reports, $787 million was spent on gender programs in Afghanistan, but that substantially understates the actual total, since gender goals were folded into practically every undertaking America made in the country.

A recent report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) broke down the difficulties of the project. For starters, in both Dari and Pastho there are no words for “gender.” That makes sense, since the distinction between “sex” and “gender” was only invented by a sexually-abusive child psychiatrist in the 1960s, but evidently Americans were caught off-guard. Things didn’t improve from there. Under the US’s guidance, Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution set a 27 per cent quota for women in the lower house — higher than the actual figure in America! A strategy that sometimes required having women represent provinces they had never actually been to. Remarkably, this experiment in “democracy” created a government few were willing to fight for, let alone die for.

The initiatives piled up one after another. Do-gooders established a “National Masculinity Alliance”, so a few hundred Afghan men could talk about their “gender roles” and “examine male attitudes that are harmful to women.”

Police facilities included childcare facilities for working mothers, as though Afghanistan’s medieval culture had the same needs as 1980s Minneapolis. The army set a goal of 10 percent female participation, which might make sense in a Marvel movie, but didn’t to devout Muslims. Even as America built an Afghan army ended up collapsing in days, and a police force whose members frequently became highwaymen, it always made sure to execute its gender goals.

But all this wasn’t just a stupid waste of money. It routinely actively undermined the “nation building” that America was supposed to be doing. According to an USAID observer, the gender ideology included in American aid routinely caused rebellions out in the provinces, directly causing the instability America was supposedly fighting. To get Afghanistan’s parliament to endorse the women’s rights measures it wanted, America resorted to bribing them. Soon, bribery became the norm for getting anything done in the parliament.

But instead of rattling off anecdotes, perhaps a single video clip will do the job. Dadaism and conceptual art are of dubious value even in the West, but at some point some person who is not in prison for fraud decided that Afghan women would be uplifted by teaching them about Marcel Duchamp. (See above)

RTWT — Outline.com if you hit the paywall.

13 May 2021

Compare US Recruiting Videos to a Russian Example

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The CIA:

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The US Army:

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Russia:

Russian Military Recruitment Video from NORSKK on Vimeo.

Which side do you think would do better in a life-or-death armed conflict?

31 Aug 2020

Then and Now

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Daniel Lee finds in the memory of the historic Dixie Highway a reminder of the old America, the optimistic, enterprizing, Get-Things-Done America, that was so different than today’s endlessly complaining, obstructionist, afraid-of-everything America.

Martinsville, Ind. — Just visible through the trees off Indiana State Road 37, south of Indianapolis, there was for many years a derelict iron bridge carrying a fragment of an older incarnation of the highway.

You wouldn’t have known to look at it, but that old pony-truss bridge was an indirect ancestor not only of State Road 37, presently being converted to the southern-Indiana leg of Interstate 69, but of the whole American interstate system.

The conversion of Indiana 37 is the latest step in a controversial project that began near Evansville in 2008 and has been marching up the 142 miles between southwest Indiana and Indianapolis ever since. Presently there are about 30 miles to go.

Waiting in my car amid the dust and roar of earth movers recently, I noticed that the old iron bridge was gone, finally giving way to time and progress, cleared to make room for a county road exit ramp.

It’s too bad. The bridge was one of the last remnants of the old, winding two-lane State Road 37 that was replaced in 1976 by the four-lane on which I’m stopped in construction traffic. Old roads don’t just magically vanish when bypassed. Through the years they tend to fade slowly away, a bit like Cheshire cats, leaving traces of themselves behind. The bridge was one of those traces.

Old 37 today is just a lane here, a weed-covered track there; in places a longish driveway. A piece of it winds for a lovely ten miles or so through the Hoosier National Forest above Bloomington, along wooded ridgetops and past old rural settlements like Hindustan and Dolan, now just loose scatterings of well-lived-in roadside homes.

Some places it’s plainly marked as Old 37. Other pieces bear different names: New Harmony Road, Liberty Church Road, Hacker Creek Road. The practiced eye can spot these ghosts of the old highway by their character of meandering Indian trail (which they quite likely grew from) compared to the squared-off grid of county-road systems.

There are people who make a hobby of finding and tracing these old tracks — the forgotten slivers of crumbling cement, asphalt, and sometimes brick they call “alignments,” the tag ends of early motor-age roads like the old east-west Lincoln Highway and its successor, the more famous Route 66. These hobbyists are a bit like explorers of an America that is in the sad process of disappearing, buried by time and poor choices.

As it happens, the old, two-lane 37 was in its turn the descendant of one of these older traces, call it the ur-37, the Indiana portion of a route from the Midwest to Florida known as the Dixie Highway, which existed under that name from about 1915 to 1926, when the country moved to a more uniform highway-numbering system.

The brainchild of Indianapolis businessman Carl G. Fisher, a principal in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and an auto-parts inventor and salesman, the Dixie Highway was created to be an escape route from bitter Midwestern winters to warm, sunny holidays in the South — especially another Fisher creation, the resort city of Miami Beach.

The Dixie — at first merely a skein of loosely connected local roads — zigzagged through parts of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, labored up and through the mountains of Tennessee and northern Georgia, and then coasted down through the tobacco fields and pine barrens into Florida. At a time when roads almost invariably centered on and served rural America’s innumerable tiny villages, the Dixie Highway became in a sense the nation’s first primitive interstate-highway system.

It also prefigured and midwifed the birth of the automobile age and the explosion of travel by road. As detailed in the book Dixie Highway, by Tammy Ingram, an assistant professor of history at the College of Charleston, road-building then shifted from a chaotic, locally controlled process-on-the-fly to a high-priority national project.

But it wasn’t easy. Ingram describes the fractious process of choosing the Dixie’s route, with communities vying for its promised tourism dollars and access to regional markets. A 1915 planning meeting in Chattanooga brought the competing parties together and promptly devolved into a donnybrook that earned the nickname “The Second Battle of Chattanooga.”

Eventually, Fisher and the Dixie Highway Association simply chose not to choose, essentially doubling the communities it served by creating two north–south branches instead of one main trunk. Connector roads between the branches almost accidentally gave the Dixie its prototypical highway-system character.

Like the Dixie Highway, the planning process for Indiana’s southern leg of I-69 — the work presently underway here — was also a rough road, so to speak. There were lawsuits, protests, and angry slogans painted on the statehouse. But this time people weren’t clamoring to be included; they wanted out. They demanded that the highway project be stopped or rerouted away from them. …

Finally, a judge allowed the project to go forward, but the contrast between the enthusiastic can-do spirit of a century ago and today’s don’t-you-dare mood couldn’t be more stark. In the earlier era the impulse was to find a way to get something done. Now, it’s to find a way to get things stopped. Today, the Dixie Highway might have been stopped before it was started by a 60 Minutes exposé of millionaire Carl Fisher’s “hidden Miami Beach real-estate holdings.”

RTWT

13 Apr 2020

Five Lessons To Be Learned

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M. Brandon Godbey identifies what Americans ought to learn from the COVID-19 national freakout.

1) Incompetent bureaucracy: The CDC and FDA played hot potato with the COVID Crisis for months without any coherent strategy. It seems like the more government agencies become involved in the process the more muddled our future becomes. We have found that the medical bureaucracy, like all bureaucracies, eventually falls victim to entropy. At some unknown point in the last 20 years, it stopped functioning as a legitimate source of medical leadership. Today, it is a mass of purposeless tentacles that primarily exists for the sake of self-perpetuation.

2) The Corruption of “Experts“: Since the way to big money in the sciences is through government grants, the way you “hit it big” in science isn’t by finding empirical truth, it’s by repeating opinions that politicians want to hear. We have thus created a generation of quasi-scientists that feed off the government teat with the tenacity of even the worst parasites. When stressed by the pandemic, this system quickly devolved into competing scientific factions, each one pitching their own version of a doomsday scenario for the sake of money, prestige, and sheer professional vanity.

3) Feckless Politicians: Instead of leading in a time of crisis, governors and mayors are taking the path that absolves them from guilt instead what is best for citizens. Constantly in reelection mode, they make choices based on what they might be blamed for instead of what is right. When decisions are made through the “reelect me at all cost” framework, civil right quickly go out the window. Last night, my own governor reassured the Commonwealth of Kentucky that he was perfectly willing to use Gestapo tactics to record the licence plate numbers of those that attend Easter services and effectively put them under house arrest. Other governors have behaved in a similar manner, each one trying to one-up their neighbor.

4) Our Decadent Society: We have become a tragically unserious people, obsessed with celebrity and sorely lacking in critical thinking skills. Social media algorithms have spoon-fed us our own views over and over again. Mass media feeds our inherent cognitive biases, facilitating a surreal kind of mass paralysis that consists of one part hysteria and one part blind submission. We have become the grotesque inhabitants of the mindless hive from E.M. Forester’s imagination. The lessons of history lost on us, we behave like sheep walking to the slaughter, bleating in unison.

5) We are Coddled and Soft: Our lives are easy, and many of us have become detached from the world of hard-working men and women that make our lives possible. We want the truckers to deliver our food and the servers to bring it to us, but we gleefully clap when the economy that supports them is torn asunder. Our general lack of understanding of the collaborative nature of macroeconomics is appalling. Products arrive at our doorstep; food appears in front of us; entertainment is provided in multiple forms at any time or place. Yet the processes by which these miracles are created are so remote and alien to us that we are perfectly willing to watch them burn to satisfy our busybody natures.

RTWT

11 Feb 2020

Douthat Sees Decadence Without Drama

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Eric Fischl, The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog, 1982. –Our time’s version of The Raft of the Medusa.

Ross Douthat penned a pretty decadent essay last Sunday, contending that, yes, Virginia! we are living in a time of generalized decadence, and then, arguing that, though decadence ought to be resisted, at least, a bit, really decadence is not so bad after all. Yup, there is decadence for you, alright.

Following in the footsteps of the great cultural critic Jacques Barzun, we can say that decadence refers to economic stagnation, institutional decay and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development. Under decadence, Barzun wrote, “The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result.” He added, “When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent.” And crucially, the stagnation is often a consequence of previous development: The decadent society is, by definition, a victim of its own success.

Note that this definition does not imply a definitive moral or aesthetic judgment. (“The term is not a slur,” Barzun wrote. “It is a technical label.”) A society that generates a lot of bad movies need not be decadent; a society that makes the same movies over and over again might be. A society run by the cruel and arrogant might not be decadent; a society where even the wise and good can’t legislate might be. A crime-ridden society isn’t necessarily decadent; a peaceable, aging, childless society beset by flares of nihilistic violence looks closer to our definition.

Nor does this definition imply that decadence is necessarily an overture to a catastrophe, in which Visigoths torch Manhattan or the coronavirus has dominion over all. History isn’t always a morality play, and decadence is a comfortable disease: The Chinese and Ottoman empires persisted for centuries under decadent conditions, and it was more than 400 years from Caligula to the actual fall of Rome.

“What fascinates and terrifies us about the Roman Empire is not that it finally went smash,” wrote W.H. Auden of that endless autumn, but rather that “it managed to last for four centuries without creativity, warmth, or hope.”

Whether we are waiting for Christians or barbarians, a renaissance or the Singularity, the dilemma that Auden described is now not Rome’s but ours.

RTWT

07 Aug 2019

The Real Problem With America’s Elite

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Natalia Dashan brilliantly explains why the Radical Left is winning at elite schools like Yale and everywhere else in the National Establishment.

Western elites are not comfortable with their place in society and the responsibilities that come with it, and realize that there are deep structural problems with the old systems of coordination. But lacking the capacity for an orderly restructuring, or even a diagnosis of problems and needs, we dive deeper into a chaotic ideological mode of coordination that sweeps away the old structures.

When you live with this mindset, what you end up with is not an establishment where a woke upper class rallies and advocates for the rights of minorities, the poor, and underprivileged groups. What you have is a blind and self-righteous upper class that becomes structurally unable to take coordinated responsibility. You get stuck in an ideological mode of coordination, where no one can speak the truth to correct collective mistakes and overreaches without losing position.

This ideology is promulgated and advertised by universities, but it doesn’t start or stop at universities. All the fundraisers. All the corporate events. The Oscars. Let’s take down the Man. They say this in front of their PowerPoints. They clink champagne glasses. Let’s take down the Man! But there is no real spirit of revolution in these words. It is all in the language they understand—polite and clean, because it isn’t really real. It is a performative spectacle about their own morale and guilt.

If you were the ruler while everything was burning around you, and you didn’t know what to do, what would you do? You would deny that you are in charge. And you would recuperate the growing discontented masses into your own power base, so that things stay comfortable for you.

Yale students, if they weren’t powerful when they came in (and most of them were), they gain power by being bestowed a Yale degree. What would you do with this power? You don’t want to abuse it; you’re not outright evil. No, you want something different. You want to be absolved of your power. You are ashamed of your power. Why should you have it, and not somebody else—maybe somebody more deserving? You never really signed up for this. You would rather be somebody normal. But not, “normal,” normal. More like normal with options and vacations and money “normal.” Normal but still powerful. Or you want to be something even better than normal. You want to be the underdog. There is always a certain strange sense of pleasure in being an underdog. Expectations are lower. Whenever you accomplish anything at all—it is an accomplishment. You would rather have a narrative story of “coming up from the bottom.” Someone who not only does not have the responsibility of power, but someone who has a right to feel resentful of those who do. And better yet—someone who can use this resentment as a tool for self-interest.

How do Yale students give up their power? They do this in one of two ways. One way is termed selling out. This usually means taking a high-paying job at an institution that is at worst blatantly unethical, and at best not intentionally idealistic. A consulting job, a meaningless tech job, or a position at an investment bank. This is generally seen as the selfish route.

But there is more to selling out that nobody talks about. These jobs are the dream jobs of the middle class. They’re not supposed to be jobs for the sons and daughters of millionaires and billionaires—these kids don’t actually need the money. They want independence from their parents and proof that they can make it on their own—and prestigious work experience—but they have wealth acquired through generations that they can always fall back on. These people are generally as harmless as the middle class—which is to say completely harmless. They keep to themselves. They quietly grow their bank accounts and their 401ks. And just like the real middle class, they don’t want to risk their next promotion through being too outspoken. They have virtually no political power. This mindset is best encapsulated by: “I’ll go with the program. Please leave me alone to be comfortable and quietly make money.”

They effectively become middle class, because there is no longer any socially esteemed notion of upper class. They have a base of power, of f-you money, that they could use to become something greater than just another office worker or businessperson. But there is no script for that, no institutional or ideological support. What would it even mean to be an esteemed, blue-blooded aristocrat in 2019? So they take the easy and safe way.

How else do Yale students give up their responsibility?

They go in the other direction. These are the people who call themselves idealists and say they want to save the world. They feel the weight of responsibility from their social status—but they don’t know how to process and integrate this responsibility into their lives properly. Traditionally, structurally well-organized elite institutions would absorb and direct this benevolent impulse to useful purpose. But our traditional institutions have decayed and lost their credibility, so these idealists start looking for alternatives, and start signalling dissociation from those now-disreputable class markers.

But the capacity to really think through what an alternative should look like, and create one, is so rare as to be effectively nonexistent. Instead, idealists are forced to take the easy way of just going along with dominant ideological narratives of what it means to do good. They feel guilty about their wealth and privileges, and feel that they won’t be doing their part unless they do something very altruistic, and the idealistic ideologies reinforce these feelings. So they go overboard, and rush headlong into whatever they are supposed to do. They purport to speak for and be allied with underprivileged groups. They get their professors fired for minor infractions. They frantically tear down whatever vestiges of the old institutions and hierarchies that they can, and conspicuously feel guilty about the rest.

These are the people who buy clothes from Salvation Army and decline your Sunday brunch invitation because it’s too expensive, sometimes with the implication that they are saving their money to donate to more effective causes, if they aren’t pretending not to have it. They are the people who might attack or cut off their friends for ideological reasons. They discharge their personal responsibility by sacrificing everything outside of their distant mission, including friendships and social fabric.

It’s an understandable impulse. After all, given the state of legacy institutions, what else are you going to do with the energy of idealism? But ultimately, by going along with the narratives of an ideology that can efficiently capture these impulses, but has no structural ability to deliver on its promises, just diverts more energy from what a normal benevolent elite should be doing.

These people might sometimes say that they are “tired of fighting”—but this is not the full truth. Fighting is fun. It is always very fun to be a warrior—to have something you believe in that guides you. To be part of a tribe, working for the good of mankind. To be revered and respected for being on the bleeding edge of the paradigm.

Especially when you’re winning.

A must-read.

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