Sunday, August 02, 2020

Lockdown Review of Books

This is the list of books I've read so far during the lockdown, although it includes a few entries from just before things got serious. In fact the first two I remember reading on my last BART commutes back in February, which seems like the distant past now.

It's kind of all over the place, for better or worse. I'd like to say it represents my wide-ranging intellect but it could also just be randomness. But if you think this list is random, you should look at my stacks of unread books and wishlists!

On second thought there's quite a bit of thematic unity to be teased out here. The literary novels (White Noise, Wittgenstein's Mistress, Blood Meridian) are all more or less obviously about nihilism, all are attempts to face nothingness, meaninglessness, and death head-on.

This bleak topic is counterbalanced by a whole slew of visionaries who are untroubled by the nihilistic disease and instead create elaborate, vast, and questionable systems of occult meaning (Blake, Moore, Woodring, Vimalakirti).

If that stuff is too far off into hippie woo, to contrast with it we include one book that has something to do with my day job in software (Brooks). He was the architect of IBM's System/360, and you can't get much more straight-mainstream-rationalist than that!

And interestingly, a couple of books play around on the border between rationality and the lands beyond. Though one is fiction (Crowley) and one nonfiction (Kripal) they both are about academics who lose their faith in hardnosed rationality and materialism and end up exploring more ethereal domains.

Wow, I am really impressed with my ability to come up with post-hoc structure and rationales! Swear to (the possibly dead) god that I didn't plan any of that out! I guess the influence of the last book I blogged about is pretty obvious (in fact Kripal was Erik Davis's thesis advisor).

Here's the list. I hope to write more detailed reviews of at least some of these, and will expand or link here.

  • Wittgenstein's Mistress, David Markson, 2/11
  • The Flip, Jeffrey Kripal, 2/16
  • The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman, 2/23
  • Promethea v2, Alan Moore / J. H. Williams, 3/11
  • Distraction, Bruce Sterling 4/2
  • Congress of the Animals / Fran / Weathercraft, Jim Woodring, 4/22
  • White Noise, Don Delillo, 5/3
  • Why William Blake Matters, John Higgs 5/20
  • Black Sunday, Thomas Harris 5/25
  • Ægypt, John Crowley 6/21
  • The Vimalakirti Sutra, tr. Robert Thurman
  • The Design of Design, Fred Brooks, 7/14
  • Fearful Symmetry, Northrop Frye
  • Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee, 7/16
  • Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy, 8/2

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Blogyear 2019 in Review

The blog is obviously close to death, but somehow refusing to die. Two posts this year, barely.

I՚m doing just as much thinking, and presumably have about the same level of somewhat-blogworthy ideas as I always did. But the shape of the media landscape has changed. It՚s weird because I never really thought of this blog as part of a trend or movement, but I started it when blogs got started and it died when blogging as a medium died. As someone who generally feels out of step with everything, it՚s kind of strangely pleasurable to find myself part of a wave, even if I only noticed it after the crash.

The Minsky book came out with an introduction I wrote (I got the gig on the strength of this earlier blog post), which gave me some momentary kvelling opportunities. Then shortly thereafter his name got ensnared with the Epstein/MIT sex scandals. Eeesh. (I mostly resisted commenting on this sad situation, but here՚s my thoughts).

That was a blow, and it wasn't the worst of last year, not by a long shot. It՚s been a rough one.

I՚ll close it out with some thoughts from some of the weirder neighborhoods of Twitter:

Weird Tales from the Seventies

Erik Davis՚ recent book High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies is an engaging work of cultural history, focusing on the lives and works of three important countercultural intellectuals: the ethnobotanist Terence McKenna, the writer Robert Anton Wilson, and SF writer and later visionary Philip K Dick. These three psychonauts all inhabited California in the seventies, a moment when the druggy revolutionary energy of the sixties was in the process of mutating into a wild variety of spiritual practices and strange belief systems.

Davis draws a common thread through these pioneers and their stories. Aside from their obvious similarities (they shared a time and place, they were all writers, they all experimented with drugs and esoteric practices, they were all somewhat fringe figures who went on to have impacts on the mainstream culture) – they also all underwent strange experiences where fiction and reality start to bleed into each other, resulting in feelings of confusion, deep ontological crises, ambiguous spiritual revelations, and new writings that attempted to describe and understand their weird experiences. Their works began as fiction but looped back to intertwine with their real lives in unexpected and uncharacterizable ways.

This looping quality is a key aspect of the common thread that Davis identifies as high weirdness – defined variously as a textual genre, a subcultural mode; a realization of that mode at a particular time and place; a style of ironic self-reference; and a particular kind of personal quasi-religious experience. If it՚s a bit hard to pin down, that is another of its inherent qualities – it resists precise definition. But to me the most interesting aspect of it is how it starts to be a theory of how the relationship between text and reality breaks down at the extremes. As Davis puts it, they “pushed hard on the boundaries of reality – and got pushed around in return.”

Given the theme of strange loops and the structural strategy of viewing this deep and far-reaching idea through the lens of three different thinkers, it՚s hard not to think of High Weirdness as Gödel Escher Bach for acidheads. And while it isn՚t that obvious from its official presentation as a work of cultural criticism, it also shares Hofstadter՚s high ambition of capturing important but elusive glimpses of something fundamental to the structure of reality.

But where Hofstadter՚s metacircular loops tend to be orderly quasi-mathematical formal patterns, the loops of High Weirdness are subtler, stranger, and harder to pin down. They are viral and agent-like; they are darker, more personal, more like narratives than beautiful patterns. They begin as texts and but then leap off the page to enfold their authors. They take on aspects of a Landian hyperstition, a myth that has independent agency and can somehow act to call itself into being. They pose a challenge to mainstream metaphysics in a way that Hofstadter՚s more purely cognitive loops do not.

If High Weirdness is a viral construct that has a tendency to infect authors and readers, and can transmit itself by way of texts, then High Weirdness itself is a carrier. Davis is quite explicit about this, at one point comparing his text to bubble gum on the shoe, something sticky that just won՚t go away and is passed on from one carrier to the next (of course making this review another potential carrier of the infection – sorry about that! But you can blame the weirdly irresistible agency of the idea).

In other words, the book is not just a breezy biography of some colorful cultural figures, but also a quite serious attempt to absorb, synthesize, and reflect on their actual ideas and works and their broader meaning for the culture and for the nature of existence. It՚s based on genuine academic work (originally a dissertation in comparative religion) but does not patronize its somewhat disreputable subjects. It enters into their world of “garage philosophy” and their quests and connects it to more institutionalized forms of discourse. (Bruno Latour, Peter Sloterdijk, Graham Harman and Timothy Morton are prominent touchstones). It is a highbrow view of the lowbrow, and quite self-aware of the contradictions that generates.

Davis՚s philosophical framework for encompassing the experiences he writes about he calls “weird naturalism”: basically the position that weird things (UFOs, spirit visions, machine elves, etc) are real but not supernatural. They are not spirits from another plane of existence, but irreducible features of the one reality that we actually inhabit. Certainly the experiences they engender are real enough. One might consider them, especially given the generative role drugs play in producing them, as tricks of the nervous systems – real like an optical illusion is a real phenomenon of vision. But it՚s key to Davis՚s story that they are somehow realer than that, that they aren՚t mere hallucinations, but instead glimpses of unseen aspects of reality:
The… most substantial sense of the word is ontological. In this view, weirdness is a mode of reality, of the way things are…Weirdness here is not simply an artifact of our bent minds but a feature of the art and manner of existence itself…More than a genre, more than a psychological mode, the weird inheres in the loopy, twisty, tricksy way whereby things come to be. (p 9)
That all sounds very abstract, but one of the strengths of High Weirdness is connecting up these metaphysical speculations with the concrete details of the lives of the particular individuals involved, and with the specific cultural context they lived in. I can՚t say much about the Terence McKenna parts since I just don՚t know his work that well, but I՚ve been a big RAW and PKD fan for decades and even so there was a lot of new detail and insight into the lives and works of these author/visionaries, as well as the connections between them. I can՚t readily summarize these sections, which are dense with personal history.

RAW Illumination

But I can՚t resist saying a little bit about Robert Anton Wilson, who had an outsized influence on my own thinking. He՚s best known as co-author of the Illuminatus! trilogy, an underground classic that explored drugs, anarchism, cults and conspiracy theories at time when these topics were very much underground, rather than the stuff of pop culture cliche like they are today. While I was a big fan when I found these books, which would be late 70s at MIT, it՚s a little hard to read Wilson today, in part because this stuff has permeated the mainstream so thoroughly. Also, certain standards have shifted and both the sex and the epistemology, which seemed rather daring back then, are kind of dated. But that really means that he was in the vanguard of an important cultural shift.

Wilson՚s philosophy might best be encapsulated as epistemological anarchism – rather than cleaving to a single belief system, an enlightened mind had to treat belief lightly, recognizing that there are many possible conflicting belief systems that all offer something of possible value, and having a single vision is the death of thought “If one can only see things, according to one՚s own belief systems, one is destined to become virtually deaf, dumb, and blind”. Or in the words of the Discordian writer Malaclypse the Younger “convictions cause convicts”. Wilson himself was interested in occultism, drugs, fringe politics like anarchism and libertarianism, and fringe scientists like Timothy Leary and John Lilly. One of his minor causes was rehabilitating Wilhelm Reich and describing his “persecution” at the hands of the government for his orgone boxes.

When Wilson was writing, the idea that freakish alternative world views should be taken seriously was quite radical; today it՚s part of the cultural background assumptions. In the 60s and 70s, it might have seemed like a great idea to break free of the master narratives of mainstream culture and go seek your own truths. In the world of Trump and Fox News – well, like in so many revolutions, the outcome was not quite as liberatory as was hoped for. [I՚ve been warned all my life that I՚ll become conservative with age. It hasn՚t happened in politics for obvious reasons, but maybe I՚m becoming an epistemological conservative in my old age, looking back with a bit of embarrassment at the radical posturings of my youth.]

Davis dives into Wilson՚s career and writings, but the thematic focus is on a period in his life where he believed he was receiving transmissions from a higher intelligence from Sirius, an experience he detailed in the book Cosmic Trigger. He found himself in what he termed Chapel Perilous – a state of psychic confusion, where the synchronicities pile up and overwhelm rationality and skepticism:
Wilson awoke from a dream and scribbled down the following phrase: Sirius is important. This dream prompt, inserted like a virus into Wilson՚s already wacky weltanschauung, triggered a series of coincidences, paranormal experiences, and interlocking references that drew Wilson into what Lovecraft called “a structure of indefinite possibility and promise.” (p 246). … This “discursive network” produced for Wilson a wide variety of edifying teachings, prophecy, and gibberish.
Wilson was fully convinced that contact with an alien Higher Intelligence had begun…Wilson often slipped into what cognitive psychologists would describe as delusions of reference, confirmation bias, and off-the-hook agency detection…[he] considered the possibility of madness, but rejected the idea…
As Wilson said later, you either come out of Chapel Perilous as a stone paranoid or an epistemological agnostic. Wilson was fortunate to find the later path, due in large part to his inherent humanism and good humor. After his experience, he was able to write about it with an attitude of bemused detachment, and no firm commitment to its ontological status.
For Wilson had in many ways scripted his own extraordinary experience. Cosmic Trigger describes what happens when the sort of mischievous mindfucks that Wilson had unleashed in Illuminatus! come home to roost…unlike the many naive example of such self-scripting, Wilson was perfectly aware of the elements of “fictionality” that were shaping the “four-dimensional coincidence-hologram” his life had become. The irony was that this critical awareness did not dissolve the entities who seemed to be pulling the strings. (p 253)

Weirding the Wider World

The final section of High Weirdness attempts to trace the consequences of these writers and their experiences up to the present age, in no small part due to their influence on the technology culture of Silicon Valley and the general rise of “network culture”, which means not only the Internet but various New Age beliefs (Marilyn Ferguson՚s famous Aquarian Conspiracy apparently heralded the rise of networks as an organizing principle) and the rhizomatic epistemology of Deleuze and Guattari. This part I had a bit of trouble with. If the world is indeed shifting to a more networked and less hierarchical organization, it՚s not clear to me what the visions of three spiritual seekers had to do with it. The drivers are largely technological, and if these writers sensed the changes and incorporated them into their work they were not that unique in doing so.

There՚s also some discussion of the unavoidable fact that these concerns which used to be fringe are now rapidly becoming mainstream. Psychedelics are the stuff of bestseller self-help books, conspiracy theories are the stuff of mainstream movies. The weirdness of the world seems to have caught up or lapped the visionary experiences of the 1970s, making their struggles seem a big quaint. But High Weirdness is quite openly a work of cultural history, trying to draw a picture of the state of things in the recent past, so that is expected.

More ominously, the mindfuck media hacking techniques pioneered by the early Discordians are now industrial-strength tools of political warfare and intelligence operations, to the point where they have damaged the fundamental trustworthiness of long-standing political institutions – and not for the liberatory purposes that drove them originally.

The lesson may be that epistemic revolutions run into the same problem that plagues political revolutions: destroy the existing institutions of power, and the wrong people will rush in to fill the ensuing vacuums. The consensus reality that Wilson and others challenged seems like it might have been worth saving, after all. But this book is about a time when we were all more innocent. If some of their explorations seem foolish and embarrassing in retrospect, well, it՚s hard to imagine a more nuanced, sympathetic, and relevant attempt to retrace their steps and link it to the broader struggle to understand and improve the world.

Related posts: musings towards weird naturalismmy visit to a PKD festival. And maybe relevant if a bit a field from High Weirdness: my conflicted relationship with psychedelic culture.

Monday, September 02, 2019

On Koch and Monsters

[ this blog is pretty much comatose, but every so often my pet mission of anti-anti-politics comes up and I can't resist. ]

Some people are horrified and disgusted that people are celebrating the death of David Koch. It՚s distasteful – wasn՚t he a fellow human being, with a family and people who cared about him? And isn՚t reveling in the death of a political opponent rather extreme? Should one really wish death on people just because they hold different political views?

I think this betrays a fairly shallow view of politics. The people who say this think it՚s just some unimportant shouting game, or just a sort of intellectual disagreement. This is wrong. Politics is a cousin of war, war breeds enemies, and fuck if I don՚t want to see my enemies dead. They are, after all, trying to kill me.

This is obviously true of the Nazis, fascists, ethno-nationalists and all their enablers. These are obviously people who don՚t merely have a “difference of opinion”, they are devotees of ideologies that would murder me and my family in a heartbeat. This is not a hypothetical; their predecessors did in fact murder a huge swath of my ancestors, not that long ago.

David Koch was not a Nazi*, but he put his enormous wealth in the service of climate denial, which if you multiply everything out is probably going to do a lot more damage to humanity than the Nazis ever dreamed of. He supported a vast number of odious causes, but that one in particular seems like a direct threat to my own life and to everybody else՚s.

This is the stakes of politics in our era, and perhaps every era. Life and death. Existential struggle. It՚s not a debating society, it՚s not an intellectual game, it՚s not a club or identity, although it includes all of those as aspects.

And let՚s be clear – Koch is despised not merely for his “views”, but because he put his wealth and power into the service of promulgating those views, which conveniently were designed to help him maintain that wealth and power. He wasn՚t an intellectual; he bought the services of intellectuals by the truckload.

Sometimes I wish I were more of a doctrinaire Marxist or Foucauldian or something like that, because in cases like this the links between class interest and ideology are so painfully clear and they at least have the language to talk about it. A Marxist would have no qualms about pissing on Koch's grave, but also would not be so prone to think of him as evil -- he's simply pursuing his narrow class interests, which just happen to be opposed to mine.

Politics can be very ugly and stupid. But it's also an inescapable fact of life, and when things get hot you have to figure out what side you are on. Koch had no qualms about promoting his side, and I don՚t have qualms about being opposed to him. He did enormous damage and now he՚s gone, leaving only his family, his institutions, his hangers-on, and untold quantities of money to continue his project of making the world a worse place.

On the other hand: I՚m currently in a situation where  a recently dead person who I respected a lot is under attack by an enraged public mob. Fairly or unfairly, I can՚t say – I have very mixed feelings, the facts are still being hashed out, and I haven՚t yet been able to write about it directly. But it gives me a bit of empathy for the other side, for the people in David Koch՚s life who didn՚t see him as a monster but as a whole person. The cases aren՚t very parallel for dozens of different reasons, but in both cases you can see the machinery by which societies, or factions within society, deal with defining, judging, and punishing purportedly monstrous behavior.

There՚s something primal about this process; it seems both a necessary part of social cognition (that is, it is part of how a society constructs itself; how it establishes its rules for normalcy and deviancy) and also kind of ugly, scary, and anti-intellectual. And it doesn՚t even do a good job of suppressing monstrosity, which seems to get stronger the more it is rejected, repressed, and projected outwards.

*while he wasn՚t a Nazi, part of his fortune came from his father working for Nazi Germany and he՚s got other Nazi-adjacent items in his history, so there՚s that.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Blogyear 2018 in review

A new record low number of posts, yet this blog isn՚t quite dead.

The past year obviously sucked politically but also sucked for me on a personal level. Details don՚t belong here, but in the good news department I started a new job in October which is infinitely better than the last one. I՚m once again hacking Lisp for science which seems to be my professional destiny, one I can live with.

I had a few postings about politics in the abstract, mostly drafting off of SlateStarCodex. I still think this is an important and interesting topic but I haven՚t found a good way to talk about it. I think this is what “attracted” me to NRx writers (to their writings, not to their beliefs) – they are raising fundamental questions about the processes of group formation, social cohesion, conflict and violence. They have the right questions but the wrong answers. SSC also raises deep questions, and comes up with answers that are not as obviously wrong but still, IMO, wrong and dangerous. But the times are too fraught; trying to pick arguments in blog comment threads, which always seemed kind of dumb, is more of waste of time now than ever.

This year I rediscovered Italo Calvino and read a bunch of his books, which I highly recommend. Good places to start: If on a Winter՚s Night a Traveler (fiction and metafiction), or Six Memos for the Next Millenium (personal esthetics and philosophy).

And just yesterday the Twitter group mind seems to have founded the new field of patarationalism which I find describes what I՚ve been doing for decades, more or less.

Monday, November 05, 2018

The Conflict

I՚ve recently composed a number of aborted posts relating to “conflict theory”, arguing for the importance of the political, or speculating on the nature of political conflict, etc. None of them made it past a few paragraphs, because we aren՚t in a time for high-minded meta-level thinking. Shit is getting real. So I՚m pointing to a couple of writers who are making that point.

First, by Jacob Bacharach, a Jewish writer who lives in Pittsburgh, which states as plainly as possible “They are coming to kill us

Second, by Paul Campos, a law professor and blogger at Lawyers Guns & Money:

I don՚t know what else to add, except to exhort people like myself, who are prone to abstraction and meta-level thinking, that the time for chin-scratching about the relationship of speech and action or whether or not Nazis should get punched is long past. The guns and violence are coming out, and whether or not you are interested in politics, it is interested in you. Please vote against fascism tomorrow, it's the best thing we can do now to avoid having to fight it with stronger means in the future.

Monday, April 16, 2018

You know who else was a conflict theorist?

In my last post I declared that in the meta-conflict between conflict-theory and mistake-theory, I found myself on the side of the former. I had plenty of justification, but I also tried to acknowledge the best arguments of the mistake-theorists (steelmanning their position, in the rationalist lexicon). I tried to credit not only their arguments, but their motivations. They seem well-intentioned, striving towards peacefulness, whereas the motives of the conflict-oriented seem inherently less pure.

But ultimately I think SSC is making a confusion between meta- and object-levels. Conflict itself is rightly regarded as something generally kind of bad, something that most well-intentioned people try to avoid. But conflict-theory doesn՚t necessarily inherit that moral valence. It is not about promoting conflict, it is merely acknowledging the omnipresent and necessary reality of conflict, and trying to come up with better ways to understand it and deal with it.

That being said – if I am being honest about my own motivations, the different levels are not so clearly separable. I am, after all, seeking out conflict, not merely theorizing about it. I՚m starting to wonder if it is, in fact, obnoxious. Spoiling for a fight is OK only if you are among fighters; if you try to pick a fight among those who would rather not, it՚s just being a jerk.

But maybe conflict theory is even worse than obnoxious. For instance, it appears to be a foundational component of the worst, most dangerous political ideas known to mankind. From the introduction to Timothy Snyder՚s Black Earth, a recent new history of the Holocaust:
Human races, Hitler was convinced, were like species…Races should behave like species, like mating with like and seeking to kill unlike. This for Hitler was a law, the law of racial struggle, as certain as the law of gravity. The struggle could never end, and it had no certain outcome. A race could triumph and flourish and could also be starved and extinguished. 
In Hitler’s world, the law of the jungle was the only law. People were to suppress any inclination to be merciful and be as rapacious as they could. Hitler thus broke with the traditions of political thought that presented human beings as distinct from nature in their capacity to imagine and create new forms of association. Beginning from that assumption, political thinkers tried to describe not only the possible but the most just forms of society. For Hitler, however, nature was the singular, brutal, and overwhelming truth, and the whole history of attempting to think otherwise was an illusion. Carl Schmitt, a leading Nazi legal theorist, explained that politics arose not from history or concepts but from our sense of enmity. Our racial enemies were chosen by nature, and our task was to struggle and kill and die.
Snyder presents a rather shockingly coherent portrait of Hitler՚s world view, making him seem quite different from the inexplicable charismatic madman we are used to. Hitler՚s views made a certain internal sense. This shouldn՚t be that surprising, in that any ideology has to have enough internal logic so that people can understand and adopt it.

And what is most disturbing about it is that it is not, as a theory, obviously wrong. It՚s not hard to imagine its appeal, especially if you aren՚t aware of the historical consequences. Conflict and racial enmity are pretty powerful forces, after all. Hitler theorized them up to 11, and created an ideology in which they were able to override the seemingly weaker values, such as humanity, universality, generosity, caring.

Snyder continues:
[Hitler՚s opponents] were constrained, whether they realized it or not, by attachments to custom and institution; mental habits that grew from social experience that hindered them from reaching the most radical of conclusions. They were ethically committed to goods such as economic growth or social justice, and found it appealing or convenient to imagine that natural competition would deliver these goods. Hitler entitled his book Mein Kampf — My Struggle . From those two words through two long volumes and two decades of political life, he was endlessly narcissistic, pitilessly consistent, and exuberantly nihilistic where others were not. The ceaseless strife of races was not an element of life, but its essence. …. Struggle was life, not a means to some other end. It was not justified by the prosperity (capitalism) or justice (socialism) that it supposedly brought. …. Struggle was not a metaphor or an analogy, but a tangible and total truth. The weak were to be dominated by the strong, since “the world is not there for the cowardly peoples.” And that was all that there was to be known and believed.
If this is what conflict theory is in the extreme, maybe we should be wary of it even in all forms. But I don՚t think all forms of conflict theory are equivalent.

For one thing: Hitler՚s notion of conflict was reductively brutal. His conflict was based on competition for the most basic things (reproduction, land, food) and necessarily fought through the most violent means, that is, war and mass murder.

I am against that sort of thing. The conflicts I՚m seeking are intellectual or political or moral in nature, things Hitler didn՚t really care about. And while my politics aren՚t terribly consistent these days, they are grounded in opposition to war, specifically opposition to the Vietnam War which is where I got my start. That was a conflict, but it was a conflict between a war machine that was killing both foreigners and Americans, and a generation of peaceniks who wanted to stop that.

For another: I don՚t think that races are necessarily the groups who are in conflict, or the most important dimension of conflict. This can be the case, of course, but groups can form around many other shared properties. The racist aspect of Nazism was obviously pretty fundamental to what it was doing, and reinforces its brutality.

In fact, didn՚t we have a war between the Hitler conflict theorists and his bitter enemies (the USSR and western powers) who were also most assuredly conflict theorists themselves? And to state the obvious: the good guys didn՚t win WWII by reasoning with Hitler, they won by pounding the shit out of him. Mistake theorists like Chamberlain didn՚t come out looking very good.

It՚s almost as if “conflict theorist” isn՚t a real thing or useful idea. It՚s an artificial category that includes everybody from Gandhi to Hitler in the same very large bucket – the bucket of people who believe conflict and struggle are fundamental.

While mistake theory includes, I don՚t know, a handful of seasteaders, technocrats, and rationalists? If 99.9% of the world is conflict theorists then I don՚t feel so bad about being in the same bucket as Hitler. On the other hand, maybe all believers in utilitarianism can be classed as mistake theorists, and there are a lot of those.

I am not sure what I am getting at with this post. Introducing Hitler into a discussion rarely helps clarify things. But it՚s the struggle against the really bad ideas he personified and that outlive him that gets me going. This blog doesn՚t exactly kill fascists, but it certainly is obsessed with them and figuring out how to fight them. If I՚m going to be in a conflict, I need enemies, and this stuff certainly fits the role.

The SSC crowd are not fascists, not in the slightest! But they also don՚t seem to see creeping fascism as very significant. They are much more concerned about the excesses of campus SJWs than, say, the rise of white supremacist groups. They are more concerned with overreaching charges of racism than the underlying racism. And they think political conflict is merely regrettable, not an absolutely basic and inevitable part of social life, something which everybody is involved with whether they like it or not. And to the extent that their ideas are wrong and distract from the actual struggle at hand, I՚m against them as well.

But have no special standing to preach political responsibility to anyone. I՚m not some exemplar of engagement and don՚t want to be; and I՚m certainly not a recruiter for the Resistance. I'm arguing here, not to convert or accuse anybody, but because SSC has found a new approach to some very basic issues that I care a lot about, and I can't resist engaging with them. And as a conflict guy, engagement tends to look like a fight. It's a different sort of fight, since as far as values go, I think we're basically on the same side.