Monday, May 26, 2008

War sucks

To be specific, war is a vortex of destruction that sucks in human beings, territory, and material, until it burns itself out. Or a paired set of mutally-reinforcing vortices.

Conflict is a pervasive part of human existence, but only some of the time does it rise to the level of armed conflict. Just as we always have weather, but only under certain conditions does it self-organize into immensely destructive hurricanes and tornadoes.

At a sufficient remove, war just seems like something that happens. Sure, human agency is involved -- we woudn't be in Iraq if not for Bush and his cabal; we wouldn't have had WWII without Hitler -- but pull back for a long view and the leaders don't seem to matter that much, most of the time. WWI just seemed to happen because there were armed states waiting for an excuse to fight; ethnic conflicts have their own inescapable dynamics.

I've had a long-standing interest in the dynamics of conflict, but I can't say I have had any great insights into it since this, other than realizing that there is a reasonably good term for the main phenonmenon that catches my attention: polarization. The way to get rid of war is to subvert the human tendency to form conflicting groups. Don't ask me how that's supposed to be accomplished, but people try.

Anyway, just taking a moment this Memorial Day to remember all of those who have been sucked in and chewed up by this process: military and civilian, aggressor and defender, guilty and innocent.

25 comments:

AMcGuinn said...

I know fluid dynamics is complicated, but "a paired set of mutually reinforcing vortices"? -- I'm not really visualising this metaphor.

I thought two vortices would either cancel each other out or merge into one, depending on their directions.

mtraven said...

The metaphor is not perfect, to be sure. Fluid dynamics does not display polarization, and vortices do not come in pairs.

But the dynamics of conflict works that way. Each side becomes or creates a self-reinforcing whirl of hostility towards the other side. And the two sides reinforce each other.

I recently read Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke, which portrays the runup to WWII. The leaders of both sides are looking forward to bombing the fuck out of each other, with pacifists trying feebly to derail the rush to destruction.

Michael said...

Let us begin with two quotations. First, Clausewitz: "War is the continuation of politics by other means." Second, Lee:"It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it."

By "politics" Clausewitz no doubt intended international politics, or statecraft: the acquisition of new territories or other sources of strategic advantage and state revenues. These can be acquired by diplomacy if possible, by war if necessary; while the target of such efforts will try to prevent its acquisition by the same means.

Yet Clausewitz's observation is applicable to domestic politics as well, which often have and still do continue in some cases as civil warfare. Further, crime is a sort of war by its perpetrators against civil society, and as de Maistre pointed out in his Soiréés de St.-Petersbourg, the public hangman plays a comparable rôle in the state's defense against such domestic enemies to that played by the soldier in its defense against foreign ones. In more recent times we have tended to diminish the hangman's importance by replacing him with persons more like soldiers: uniformed and armed policemen, whose job it is to make war on behalf of the state against the criminal element of society. One effect of this substitution has been that the innocent are more likely to be killed at the hands of the state, but that's a topic for another time.

Is the converse of Clausewitz's assertion also true - namely that politics is the continuation of war by other means? Certainly the history of the twentieth century gives ample reason for so believing. The political manoeverings of the period between the two world wars, and the Cold War afterwards exemplified a political atmosphere that was just short of war, while in the Middle East today war is ready to break out just about everywhere it has not already done.

Similarly, domestic politics - though not yet at the brink of civil war, unless we except the "free fire zones" of inner cities effectively controlled by armed criminal gangs that cops and hangmen cannot, or are not permitted to, destroy - rather resembles a civil cold war, in which each side is firmly entrenched, and life is hazardous for anyone who goes over the top. He may not be killed, but his life can and will be ruined quite thoroughly enough to deter most from trying. The result is gridlock rather than violent conflict. Gridlock can last only as long as most people are content that nothing much should happen.

The continuity between war and politics is not perfect. Despite its horrors, war often elevates an ordinary man in unexpected ways, producing the most extraordinary and selfless heroism. Politics, by contrast, rewards the basest aspects of human nature and typically yields the most contemptible kind of behavior.

Lee's remark is, I think, a profound observation on human nature. The human race is devoted to conflict. There is a war, somewhere, going on almost all the time, and this has been the case since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. When we are not involved in war we are busily trying to simulate it. Xenophon and Arrian, in their treatises on hunting, both argued that it was a useful and beneficial pastime because it prepared men for war. If we cannot make war on each other, we make it on wild animals. Games, ranging from football to chess, are substitutes for war. We enjoy these activities without the terror of real war, but the thrill of victory in them pales by comparison with the genuine article - as Sir Winston Churchill famously pointed out, "There is nothing in life so exhilarating than to be shot at without result." Of course, sometimes one is shot at with result.

Finally, I cannot find the exact words but recall that Solzhenitsyn once said something like this: "There is a name for the person who thinks there is nothing worth fighting for. It is slave." The failing of pacifism is that it suits only those who are so dull and submissive as to accept the status of slave without rebellion, or those whose asceticism and other-worldliness are so pronounced that it does not bother them.

Anonymous said...

See also http://enthusiasm.cozy.org/archives/2006/03/1167 et. al. for conflicts; and http://enthusiasm.cozy.org/archives/2005/05/chasing-the-tail for the more generic cases; I know I have one for weather; but I can't seem to find it.

mtraven said...

First, I'm not advocating pacifism (in fact, in this post, I'm not advocating anything).

Second, war and politics may shade into each other, but they are clearly different. In (normal) politics, people don't get killed. Both rely on group identification and solidarity, a universal and powerful force which in war tends to get out of control. The somewhat awkward "paired vortex" metaphor I was putting forth is meant to describe soem of the dynamics underlying conflict, where the growing group solidarity of one side reinforces that of the other side, and vice versa.

Third, while war is a long human tradition, there is some evidence that it and other forms of violence are on the decline.

Further, crime is a sort of war by its perpetrators against civil society...
I'd agree in the case of organized crime, which is often takes on a quasi-governmenal role.

Despite its horrors, war often elevates an ordinary man in unexpected ways, producing the most extraordinary and selfless heroism. Politics, by contrast, rewards the basest aspects of human nature and typically yields the most contemptible kind of behavior.

Hm. War more typically produces unimaginable horror and brutality, and politics, while in general not a very pretty game, can on occasion result in genuine heroism. Anyway, politics is far more universal than war -- no office or group is without it -- so whether it's base or not is somewhat besides the point. You can have society without war, but it is impossible to imagine a society without politics.

Finally, I cannot find the exact words but recall that Solzhenitsyn once said something like this: "There is a name for the person who thinks there is nothing worth fighting for. It is slave." The failing of pacifism is that it suits only those who are so dull and submissive as to accept the status of slave without rebellion, or those whose asceticism and other-worldliness are so pronounced that it does not bother them.

Like I said, I'm not advocating pacifism. But isn't pacifism in the face of government violence exactly what M. Moldbug's views amount to? I don't know how far you agree with him, but his stance is that there should be one person who controls all the means of violence, and the rest of us should back off, foreswear both war and politics, and mind our own business. Not sure what Solzhenitsyn would say about that. Personally I would be drawn to rebellion. In the past you have advocated aristocracy and other systems that leave large parts of humanity in a submissive state; now you are celebrating rebellion. You don't seem to have thought your opinions out very well.

Michael said...

Rebellion is an interesting phenomenon. I neither endorse nor condemn it; I seek to understand human nature rather than to change it. You have misinterpreted my views on what is as being views about what ought to be. You often remind me of the puritan divines who railed against Machiavelli, or their secular descendants who similarly ventilated about the late Herman Kahn. I have thought my ideas through well enough, at least, to realize that moral indignation is no substitute for thought.

Most successful rebellions have been led by aristocrats. Peasant rebellions, like those of Wat Tyler and Lambert Simnel, were typically put down easily. Not so those of Cromwell (a country gentleman with distant connections to royalty and high nobility); the Glorious Revolution of 1688, led by Whig magnates; the American Revolution, led by Washington, Jefferson, and other Virginia gentlemen who proudly displayed their coat-armour on their bookplates, china, etc. The French revolution was started by the Girondins, many of whom were nobles, and descended into terror only after it fell into the hands of the canaille; and even Lenin was a minor aristocrat, his father having been ennobled, given the rank of Actual Civil Counsellor, the title 'Your Excellency," and the chivalric Order of St. Vladimir.

This is not to allege any moral equivalency amongst the mentioned revolutions, nor to pass any moral judgment on them at all: merely to state that they were led by natural leaders, who are most likely to be found in the upper ranks of society, as they were in all the above instances.

I think MM has some very interesting aperçus but do not believe that either war or politics can be eliminated, soon or ever, because they are inherent in human nature. I would rather fit politics to human nature than to try to make human nature fit some abstract political scheme - like egalitarianism, for example - that is vastly at odds with it, and bound to result in strife. A politics in tune with human nature would be content to leave those parts of humanity in a submissive state that are naturally dull and submissive, rather than permitting them to be used for the purpose of advancing the interests of one elite faction at the expense of another, which is the usual course of events under representative democracy with universal suffrage.

In politics people don't get killed? I don't think so. Political assassinations are commonplace. Of course violent death is far less frequent in politics than on the battlefield, but it does happen, has done so for years, and shows no signs of ceasing to do so. The Pinker article's suggestion that modernity is making humanity nobler is, I think, an overstatement.

There is, first, a technical aspect to the observed decline in mass death by violence: war can be fought by a technically-sophisticated armed force with fewer men-at-arms. The fewer soldiers there are, the fewer soldiers will end up as casualties. This development began long ago, when one man with a Maxim gun proved a match for a whole troop of cavalry armed with swords and pistols. Now it is possible to provide armed air support via remotely controlled craft - if one is shot down, it is only money, and not human life that is lost. Such mechanized warfare can be effective at inflicting heavy casualties upon a primitive enemy without great cost in human life to its prosecutors, although it cannot completely substitute for 'boots on the ground.' From a technical point of view there is a parallel here with agriculture, which once occupied a majority of the human population but which is now a highly mechanized and efficient industry that (in the U.S.) reportedly employs fewer farmers than there are bureaucrats in the USDA.

Secondly, and more importantly, prosperity and comfort (which have increased in the modern world in tandem with industrial productivity) make those that enjoy it less physically aggressive. This is easily understandable - why should one give up the comforts of which one is reasonably certain, to engage in activity that might well deprive him of the ability to enjoy them? Ancient Greece and Rome knew this phenomenon well. But there is always the barbarian at the gate - then as now. Prosperous and complacent Europe will soon be Islamized. It will succumb to the fate resisted by force of arms from the time of Charles Martel to that of Prince Eugène of Savoy. Its new rulers will not be peace-loving, tolerant, and self-indulgent exponents of modernity.

TGGP said...

"Eurabia" fears are overblown. Check out "God's Continent"

mtraven said...

I seek to understand human nature rather than to change it... You often remind me of the puritan divines who railed against Machiavelli.... I have thought my ideas through well enough, at least, to realize that moral indignation is no substitute for thought.

Uh-huh. If you remember, this long back-and-forth started out when I dared to compare the drug gangs of Chicago with our armed forces in Iraq, as two examples of organizations dedicated to the deployment of violence in the pursuit of quasi-poliical ends. As I recall, this produced nothing but spluttering indignation from you. So, while I applaud a stance that seeks to understand human nature without judging or changing it, I think I've done considerably better at that task than you.

Most successful rebellions have been led by aristocrats.
Interesting, but not particularly relevant.

I would rather fit politics to human nature than to try to make human nature fit some abstract political scheme - like egalitarianism, for example - that is vastly at odds with it, and bound to result in strife.

Pah. Simplistic claims about "human nature" is the sure sign of a pseud, in my experience. As for egalitarianism, a drive towards equality is just as much part of human nature as drives towards agression, dominance, and submission. There is experimental evidence.

There is, first, a technical aspect to the observed decline in mass death by violence: war can be fought by a technically-sophisticated armed force with fewer men-at-arms. The fewer soldiers there are, the fewer soldiers will end up as casualties.

On the other hand, modern warefare often produces mass civilian casualties. The forces behind the reduction in violence are not clear, but the phenomenon tends to undermine the standpoint of you and MM that modernity was a tragic mistake. Not only do we have science and technology, but we seem to have actually gotten more peaceful as well, by some measures, if you believe Pinker.

But there is always the barbarian at the gate - then as now. Prosperous and complacent Europe will soon be Islamized.
TGGP already answered this, but let me add -- there may be a problem in Europe with a growing Islamic population, but as far as I can tell the only people advocating your thesis are right-wing hacks. Seriously -- I'm curious about this phenomenon, but could find hardly any source on the question that I consider trustworthy. Weird.

Michael said...

TGGP, I do not suppose that Europe will be reduced to dhimmitude overnight. It may take several generations. But Muslims are fecund, and the native-born European populations are no longer reproducing at a rate that will even replace themselves. Demographics favor the Muslims in the long term.

The point made in the article that evangelical churches are "bouncing back" in Europe must be taken in the context of the decline of the old state confessional churches. For example, in Sweden, the "free church" is gaining members while the Church of Sweden, which mainly functions as the equivalent of a state bureau of vital statistics, is losing them. In Russia the Orthodox Church is losing members, whilst Baptists and Pentecostals are gaining them. These are net transactions, taking place within the declining native-born and traditionally Christian populations. They are unlike the increases in Muslim populations, which represent the addition of foreign immigrants or the positive growth of Muslim populations through new births within these immigrant communities.

The most telling passage in the article to which you linked is:

"Elites on the Left co-opt Muslims as tools in their own conflicts and culture wars with the Right, high and low. If Muslims serve as the new revolutionary class then it is in the Left's interest to promote them and encourage the perception of the power of this constituency, as well as to facilitate its mobilization under the leadership of individuals with whom other segments of society can negotiate."

In other words, Muslims are filling the role in European politics that MM's "dalits" and "helots" do in connection with his "brahmins."

In the U.S., we have seen that one consequence of the brahmin-dalit-helot alliance is that our inner cities are essentially abandoned to the control of black and latino gangsters. Our former political/legal order would have dispatched such people promptly to the gallows, electric chair, or chain-gang, but that approach is now politically incorrect. In the present political order, these people are too important a constituency in the left's dominance of urban politics to brook significant interference with their activities.

The consequences of the American left-wing elite's cultivation of these lower-class elements have been bad enough, but they are almost trifling compared to the mischief that the European left's cultivation of Muslim immigrants is likely to bring about. As the linked article notes, the population of Rotterdam is 50% Muslim; that of Brussels. the capital of the European Union, is 20%. What happens when these people escape the control of the European-bred left-wing elite and get hold of the municipal governments in the cities where they are concentated? The result will be Detroit to the nth power, with a nasty additional component of jihadism.

Let us not suppose, either, that an absolute majority will be needed to bring it about. A determined minority can accomplish a great deal. As the first earl of Clarendon observed:

"... three diligent persons are a greater number in arithmetic, as well as a more significant number in logic, than ten unconcerned."

Michael said...

Mtraven, I remember our exchange about criminal gangs rather differently. You compared them with armed forces in the service of the state; I responded, not with "spluttering indignation," but with the point that the two had been regarded differently throughout history by the great majority of human societies. Custom and long usage solidify into law by the tacit consent of both ruler and ruled, and that law distinguishes the normal actions of an honorable soldier from those of a murderer. Simply wearing a uniform is, furthermore, not a license to kill indiscriminately. See the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Your equation of gangster and soldier was specious. That is a simple representation of a broad historical and legal consensus.

Human nature is not simple, nor is suggesting that such a thing exists and is basically immutable "simplistic." Again, such a view has been broadly held by philosophers throughout history and there is plenty of evidence in human behavior, past and present, to support it.

Calling someone a "right wing hack" does not make him wrong and is hardly a credible refutation. Again, you try to make epithets substitute for argumentation. In any event, you might read "While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within" by Bruce Bawer. I believe you would be hard put to call him a "right wing hack" - he is an openly homosexual man who moved from the U.S. to Norway in order to marry his Norwegian boy-friend, and has written another book critical of the American religious right ("Stealing Jesus").

Thousands of car-burnings in France, the bombings in London and Madrid, the assassination of Pim Fortuyn, and the Beslan massacre were not made up from the whole cloth by "right wing hacks." They are easily ascertainable facts. How can you dismiss them? Are we to deal with them by having "empathy" for their perpetrators, as you wish us also to have for American inner-city gangsters?

mtraven said...

Your equation of gangster and soldier was specious. That is a simple representation of a broad historical and legal consensus.
I don't care much about "the broad historical and legal consensus", I care about understanding reality, which requires shedding received notions and seeing the world afresh. Imagine yourself to be an alien anthropologist visiting from Betelgeuse. You observe that the dominant hairless primate inhabitants of Terra are in the habit of forming armed coalitions that fight with each other for the control of territory. Naturally there is quite a bit of variety in these coalitions, but the basic similarity of these groups in structure and function is pretty obvious.

Anyway, I thought it was your point (and MM's) that gangs and politics and war all shaded into one another. So, I am agreeing with you.

Calling someone a "right wing hack" does not make him wrong and is hardly a credible refutation.
I wasn't trying to refute anybody, I am merely stating that I don't consider such sources reliable. Much of the dithering about Eurabia seems to be linked to FrontPage magazine, a notorious source of hysterical nonsense. And I haven't been able to find much in the way of reliable sources, so my opinions about the Islamic menace are unformed. Maybe Bower's book is worth reading, although he seems pretty firmly in the right-wing orbit and his title partakes of the hysteria. Ian Buruma's book on the murder of Theo van Gogh looks more promising to me.

Thousands of car-burnings in France, the bombings in London and Madrid, the assassination of Pim Fortuyn, and the Beslan massacre were not made up from the whole cloth by "right wing hacks." They are easily ascertainable facts. How can you dismiss them?
I don't dismiss them, but I am unconvinced that they herald the immanent collapse of Western civilization. (Also, the Beslan massacre hardly belongs in your list since Chechnya has had a Muslim majority for centuries).

Michael said...

Note that Beslan is in North Ossetia, not the Chechya (the Chechen Republic). Also note the difference between "immanent" and "imminent."

I don't believe the collapse of Western civilization is immanent or imminent. It has been underway for a good while. The fall of the Roman empire took quite some time as well.

Gangs and wars and politics do shade together, but what is relatively new is the tolerance, indeed the essential presence, of gangs as adjuncts to a particular élite's political ascendancy. This is a symptom of decline, just as the warlordism of early 20th-c. China marked a decline compared to the relative stability of the antecedent Manchu rule. That was of course decadent, and did not need much of a push to fall, but even so maintained a comparative semblance of order most of the time.

mtraven said...

I'm wondering at what fractal scale western civilization can be said to be declining, assuming you can define what it is and how to assign it a value. The US and Europe have an overwhelming economic and military advantage, and the Asian countries that are possible challenges to them are doing so by virtue of adopting Western approaches to science, technology, and commerce. The Islamic world is fractious, uneducated, and despite its ability to inflict occasional damage is in no way an existential threat. If anything is going to undermine the West in the next 50 years it is energy shortages and environmental crises.

To return to the original topic of this post: if the West and Islam are going to fight a war of civilizations, then they need to harden up their internal solidarity and external hatreds. Islam spends more of its energy on internal conflic than it does opposing the Crusaders, and the reason there is a Muslim immigrant problem in Europe at all is because both sides have an economic use for the other. Europeans are too busy employing Muslims to fight a war with them.

That's why the screeching of the right about the forthcoming war of civilizations sounds so fishy to me. There are no doubt elements in the Islamic world that would love a war with us. The people at FrontPage are their symbiotic counterpoints. If your business is whipping up hate and fear, it is obviously in your interest to increase the solidarity of your enemies as well as your own side. This is the only explanation, other than sheer incompetence, that I can come up with for the Iraq war. It obviously gave a huge boost to the prestige of Osama bin Laden and anyone else in the Islamic world who could paint themselves as an enemy of the US, while at the same time giving a huge jolt of power and funding to the US military and security apparatus, which has made out like bandits. War is the health of the state, and it's even better for the industiral side of the military-industrial complex. Who gained anything from the Iraq war? Not the Iraqis, not the US...but Halliburton, Bechtel, Brown and Root, and the Carlyle Group sure did OK. The economic interest of these firms lies not in winning wars, but in starting, prolonging and extending them. Hm. And of course, if you want endless war it helps to have a demonic yet amorphous enemy, an enemy whose is terror itself!

Michael said...

You write:

"The US and Europe have an overwhelming economic and military advantage..."

The same could have been said of Rome at the beginning of the fifth century A.D.

"The Islamic world is fractious, uneducated..."

The same could have been said about the Huns, Goths, and Vandals, at the beginning of the fifth century A.D.

"and despite its ability to inflict occasional damage is in no way an existential threat."

That's what the Romans thought about the Huns, &c., at the beginning of the fifth century A.D. Look at what happened to them!

"...the Asian countries that are possible challenges to [the U.S. and Europe] are doing so by virtue of adopting Western approaches to science, technology, and commerce..."

The Muslim conquerors of the Hellenized Near East appropriated classical Greek science and technology, and took over the commerce that had enriched the region since the time of Alexander, if not before. This led to a so-called Islamic Golden Age under the caliph Haroun al-Raschid, but despite its dependence upon Greek (hence Western) achievements, it could not be called Western civilization in the sense that the predecessor civilizations of the Greeks and Romans were.

One strong indication that we are in an age of decline is the likelihood that the U.S. dollar will soon cease to be the world's reserve/reference currency. It cannot hold that status long if it should continue to sustain the severe inflation of the past few years. When a nation's currency loses reserve or reference status that is a significant indicator of its issuer's loss of world dominance. Before the dollar, the reserve currency was the British pound. It had held this status since at least the end of the Napoleonic wars, and sterling's loss of it coincided with the fall of the British empire. Before the British pound the dominant currency was Spanish, the 'pieces of eight [reales]' famous from pirate lore, coined from Spain's immense resources in the New World. The deposition of Spain's currency from dominant status coincided with Spain's loss of its empire. Other dominant currencies - the Venetian zecchin, the Byzantine nomisma or 'bezant', etc., similarly rose and fell on the strength of their issuers.

The immediate successor of the dollar is likely to be the euro, which has appreciated from a low of about 85 cents to its current trading range of $1.55-$1.60. However, the euro cannot long sustain its value. Given the aging and shrinking populations of the wealthier European countries, they cannot be expected to maintain the high levels of productivity that have hitherto supported the value of the euro, while their over-generous social welfare programs will sooner or later run them into unsustainable debt. They will end by eating their seed corn.

Within a hundred years the world's dominant economies will be Asian, and the reserve currency will be that of one of the larger Asian nations, probably China, with a secondary possibility of India. When this happens it will be the first time since perhaps the Dark Ages that a non-Western currency has become the standard of reference. Yes, the Asians will have taken over those aspects of Western technical and economic practice that have proven profitable; they will jettison the rest. See remarks on the Abbasids, above. The result will not be recognizable as Western civilization.

"If anything is going to undermine the West in the next 50 years it is energy shortages and environmental crises."

The proposed energy shortages will be largely the consequence of self-destructive politics. Prof. Mackubin Thomas Owens of the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., wrote in the May 29 issue of the Wall Street Journal:

"[The] supply [of oil] has been curtailed by the cartel-like behavior of foreign national oil companies... Despite its pious denunciations of the behavior of U.S. investor-owned oil companies (IOCs), Congress by its actions over the years has ensured the economic viabilitiy of the national oil company cartel.

"It has done so by preventing the exploitation by IOCs of reserves available in non-park federal lands in the West, Alaska, and under the waters off our coats. These areas hold an estimated 635 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas - enough to meet the needs of the 60 million American homes fueled by natural gas for over a century. They also hold an estimated 112 billion barrels of recoverable oil - enough to produce gasoline for 60 million cars and fuel oil for 25 million homes for 60 years.

"This doesn't even include substantial oil shale resources economically recoverable at oil prices substantially lower than those prevailing today... anywhere from 800 million to two trillion barrels of oil are available from oil shale in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

"If Congress really cared about the economic well-being of American citizens, it would stop fulminating against IOCs and reverse current policies that discourage, indeed prohibit, the production of domestic oil and natural gas..."

You will probably dismiss Prof. Owens with your stock "right wing hack" epithet, which will mean nothing at all. If you have substantial evidence to contradict what he is said I should be most interested to know it. The world's navies have paid acute attention to the strategic importance of oil supplies since the days of Jackie Fisher, and we may expect they have a pretty good handle on oil-related issues at the Naval War College today.

Over the years Republican politicians have often been accused of being in the pocket of the oil industry; perhaps some (like the Bushes père et fils) have been involved in domestic oil production. What is little explored is how many Democrats have been suborned by foreign oil producers. Al Gore, Jr.., who presents himself as a great environmentalist, was the son of Armand Hammer's perennial bag-man in the U.S. Senate, Al Gore., Sr. The Gore family money originated in this connection. Occidental's production came mainly from the Middle East, North Africa, and South America. Naturally, it would be in the interest of such an operator to favor oil importation over domestic production. How many other opponents of expanding domestic production do you suppose have been subsidized by overseas producers? Maybe that's why they want to outsource oil overseas! Why hasn't there been more journalistic investigation of this question? Media bias is more tellingly expressed in the stories that are not deemed worthy of coverage than in those that are. Perhaps, as was famously said of Lord Nelson, the mainstream media have one blind eye and know when to use it. It is on their left side.

As for "environmental crises" - the global warming hypothesis seems to me to be very dubiously founded. Even if true, historic global warming episodes (like the Medieval Warm Period) have been demonstrably more benign to human societies than have those of global cooling (the Little Ice Age was bad enough, and the prehistoric ice ages had to have been tremendously difficult for the then-small human population).

Actually, though no one wants to acknowledge it very loudly, the domestic environment in fully industrialized countries is probably cleaner and mote salubrious than it has been at any time since the industrial revolution. I can remember what travelling through paper-mill towns such as Appleton, Wisconsin or International Falls, Minnesota was like forty years ago. The very air stank oppressively of effluvia from the pulping process, and the waste liquor was dumped into the river that was invariably nearby. Today there is no stench, and the water is returned to the river cleaner than it was taken out. Similar conditions now obtain in once badly-polluted vicinities where chemical manufacturing plants figure largely in local industry, like Steubenville, Ohio.

Outcry over the environment seems to be largely a cudgel employed by the left with which to beat private enterprise. This is amusing in a way because the two worst pollution sources in my state are not privately owned, both being government facilities - a badly maintained sewage processing plant in my state's capital, and an abandoned U.S. government munitions plant. The global warming hysteria appears to be an effort to stampede government into an extensive introduction of new social engineering schemes that will, incidentally, create huge rent-seeking opportunities for suitably positioned political operators.

"Who gained anything from the Iraq war? Not the Iraqis, not the US... but Hallibruton, Bechtel, Brown and Root, and the Carlyle Group sure did OK."

This sounds rather like the old saw that World War I was ginned up by Sir Basil Zaharoff, updated with a good dose of Bush/Cheney Derangement Syndrome.

Bechtel and the Carlyle Group are privately held, and I have no insight on their performance. However, Halliburton opened this morning at $47.84, down from its 52-week high of $50.29. KBR (formerly the Kellogg, Brown & Root Division of Halliburton - it has not been "Brown and Root" since 1962) opened at $36.00, down from its 52-week high of $45.24. If the Iraq war has been so lucrative for these companies, why aren't their stocks performing better?

mtraven said...

"...the Asian countries that are possible challenges to [the U.S. and Europe] are doing so by virtue of adopting Western approaches to science, technology, and commerce..."

The Muslim conquerors of the Hellenized Near East appropriated classical Greek science and technology, and took over the commerce that had enriched the region since the time of Alexander, if not before. This led to a so-called Islamic Golden Age under the caliph Haroun al-Raschid, but despite its dependence upon Greek (hence Western) achievements, it could not be called Western civilization in the sense that the predecessor civilizations of the Greeks and Romans were.

Who cares what you call it? The Islamic Golden Age contributed significantly to the development of mathematics and science, and certainly gave more to civilization in general than the Vandals and Visigoths. "Western Civilization", if it's anything, doesn't belong to a particular ethnic group. We don't have the same culture as the Greeks and Romans, everything changes, etc, etc. If in a hundred years from now the nexus of power and creativity is in China or India, I won't consider that a tragedy. I have a hard time imagining it being in the Islamic world but I could be surprised.

One strong indication that we are in an age of decline is the likelihood that the U.S. dollar will soon cease to be the world's reserve/reference currency.

I think we define "decline" differently. That's why I asked you what timescale you are thinking of.

The US Empire may be in decline, the US may lose its status as the predominant economic power. That's very likely, but it is a far cry from that to the fall of Western civilization in general. If there is an enduring Western civ, it seems to have survived the decline of Greece, Rome, Byzantium, and sundry European powers, so I imagine it can survive a weak dollar as well.

Within a hundred years the world's dominant economies will be Asian, and the reserve currency will be that of one of the larger Asian nations, probably China, with a secondary possibility of India.

Very likely, I agree...although I wouldn't write off Europe.

"If anything is going to undermine the West in the next 50 years it is energy shortages and environmental crises."

The proposed energy shortages will be largely the consequence of self-destructive politics. Prof. Mackubin Thomas Owens of the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., wrote in the May 29 issue of the Wall Street Journal:....ou will probably dismiss Prof. Owens with your stock "right wing hack" epithet, which will mean nothing at all.

Yep! An association with WSJ editorial page and the National Review, not to mention PNAC, is an automatic disqualification for being taken seriously. This does not prove him wrong, of course. You seem to have trouble grasping the distinction between disbelief of a proposition and distrust of its source (not surprising, although this ought to be common-sense it is hard to formalize and thus not taught outside of graduate statistics coursees).

So the sane thing to do would be to ignore unreliable sources and look for something more fact-based. Mackubin provides no sources for his numbers, which appear to be pulled out of his ass. But some work with Google found the likely source, this oil-industry lobbying document.

It turns out that the "112 billion barrels" are "Undiscovered Technically Recoverable Federal Resources", meaning that they may be in the ground and may be recoverable but with no guarantee that recovery is economically plausible.

The actual current proven oil reserves are around 20 billion barrels.

US oil consumption is 20.8 million barrels/day (in 2005), or 7.6 billion barrels/year:

So proven reserves are enough to power the US for all of 2.5 years. Under the most favorable assumptions (all of the hypotthetical 112 billion barrels is economically recoverable, and there's no growth in demand), we could supply ourselves for 15 years. Furthermore, there are 243 million passenger vehicles in the US, so the bit about "enough gasoline for 60 million cars" is an obvious attempt at obfuscation.

Reading that ridiculous WSJ piece would give you a very different impression, because it's a piece of worthless right-wing propaganda. Now, see, I didn't really have to look up all these numbers, because my pre-existing evaluation of the source turned out to be right all along.

What is little explored is how many Democrats have been suborned by foreign oil producers. Al Gore, Jr.., who presents himself as a great environmentalist, was the son of Armand Hammer's perennial bag-man in the U.S. Senate, Al Gore., Sr. The Gore family money originated in this connection.

Interesting, I didn't know that...but it doesn't really impact anything I've been saying or believe. I am not of the opinion that Democrats represent sweetness, purity, and light.
...

As for "environmental crises" - the global warming hypothesis seems to me to be very dubiously founded.

The fact of global warming is extremely well supported by evidence, so (as usual in mattters of science) you seem to have no idea what you are talking about. The anthropogenic nature of the warming is somewhat more controversial, but only slightly.

Even if true, historic global warming episodes (like the Medieval Warm Period) have been demonstrably more benign to human societies than have those of global cooling...
The world wasn't supporting a population of 6 billion during the Medieval Warm Period.

Actually, though no one wants to acknowledge it very loudly, the domestic environment in fully industrialized countries is probably cleaner and mote salubrious than it has been at any time since the industrial revolution.
I thought that was a generally recognized fact.

Outcry over the environment seems to be largely a cudgel employed by the left with which to beat private enterprise.
Um, if it wasn't for environmentalism the fact you just stated above would not be true. Do you think private enterprise would have cleaned up its act by itself? Why?

"Who gained anything from the Iraq war? Not the Iraqis, not the US... but Hallibruton, Bechtel, Brown and Root, and the Carlyle Group sure did OK."

This sounds rather like the old saw that World War I was ginned up by Sir Basil Zaharoff, updated with a good dose of Bush/Cheney Derangement Syndrome.

Never heard of Sir Basil, and anyone not deranged by Bush has not been paying attention.

I am not a conspiratorialist. One doesn't have to imagine Bush, Cheney, and a bunch of CEOs cackling together in a dark smoke filled room and plotting evil. But we can rely on people to pursue their interests and the interests of their friends. And Bush, Cheney, and their pals have profited both politically and economically from war. Could that have affected the decision to go to war? How could it not? There used to be at least a pretense of separation between the poltical and economic arms of the military-industrial complex; the genius of the Bush administration is in dispensiing with the fig leaf.

Bechtel and the Carlyle Group are privately held, and I have no insight on their performance. However, Halliburton opened this morning at $47.84, down from its 52-week high of $50.29...If the Iraq war has been so lucrative for these companies, why aren't their stocks performing better?

Halliburton's stock price has quadrupled since the start of the Iraq war. It took about 10 seconds to find this out.

The Carlyle Group is one of the largest private equity firms in the world, and I assume they are doing quite well. Making money is not a sin, but bending the power of government for private profit is. Carlyle is notorious for snapping up major political figures, mostly on the right, including George Bush senior, James Baker, and John Major. More here. We have the current president's father (himself a former president) shilling for arms manufacturers while the son gins up wars. One would normally call this a conflict of interest, if it wasn't so clear that there isn't even the pretense of serving the public interest in the Bush administration. There's no conflict all.

Michael said...

Mtraven, I do recognize argumentum ad hominem when I see it, and your dismissal of Mackubin Owens is an example.

Proven reserves always expand after exploration and exploitation begin, which they haven't been permitted to do. Why not try? Also, recoverability of oil depends upon the economies involved. I have friends in Wyoming who own oil wells. When Arab dumping of oil brought the price of oil below $10 per barrel in the 1990s, they could not even pay for the electricity to operate the pumps out of the proceeds from selling the oil they extracted. So the wells were capped. Re-starting a capped well is not as simple as turning on the pump and opening a tap. It typically involves drilling the well deeper, and the decision whether or not to do so depends on the price of oil, its market trend, and how long it will take to pay back the capital invested in re-drilling from the sale of oil that can be extracted at the price that can be expected.

As for deriving information from an oil-lobbying organization, who else would know better? Lobbyists are valuable sources of information for politicians. In an age when everything is politicized someone needs to educate the politicians about the consequences of their proposed interference with economic activity.

Western civilization seems to me to require Westerners: white Europeans who (since the time of Constantine, at least) are culturally Christian. Such people have been the source of the Western civilization that produced the art, science, music, and architecture of Europe and of European colonies throughout the world. These are unparalleled in history and I am unabashed in believing in their superiority.

Ethnically European populations in Europe are effectively committing suicide by failing to reproduce at a rate that will replace themselves. Circumstances are not so acute in the United States, but even here, the population would not be growing if immigration were excluded from the calculation. At least immigration to the U.S. is largely from Latin America, hence is Christian in its tradition, albeit mestizo in its racial composition. It should be easier to assimilate such people here than it will be for Europe to assimilate its Muslim immigrant populations.

I do not believe Western civilization can be propagated amongst Arabs, Chinamen, etc.; however much they may take from us, what they take will not include the essential cultural elements that have made Western civilization what it is. If, as I suspect, China ends up as the economically dominant nation, however much it may have appropriated from the West, its civilization will still be Chinese. Chinese civilization has a long and distinguished history, but it is assuredly not Western.

I should like now to come back to a couple of points in your earlier posts. You wrote:

"...a drive toward equality is just as much part of human nature as drives towards aggression, dominance, and submission."

Indeed! Before the Jacobins and Marxists embraced it as a political principle, it used to be called "envy," and numbered amongst the seven deadly sins, which have long been recognized as the predominant traits of human character.

Another aspect of human nature under which egalitarianism falls is credulity. Some people believe in flying saucers; some in astrology; others (like the Revd. Jeremiah Wright) that the United States government concocted AIDS as a means of genocide against the black race; and still others believe in egalitarian utopias.

Nothing could be morte obviously contrary to fact than the proposition that all men are equal. No amount of environmental change, special training, or government subsidy can make a person with an IQ of 85 into a surgeon or judge. It is like trying to polish a turd.

This difficulty explains why the political implementation of egalitarianism concentrates on levelling down rather than up - on afflicting the comfortable rather than comforting the afflicted. We cannot uplift the feeble-minded to successful professionals, but we can precipitate the successful man down to the same level as the half-wit; it is not possible to take his intelligence away (without killing him), but all the distinction won by that intelligence can be taken. Thus, under Mao's Cultural Revolution, teachers and engineers were compelled to become collectors of night-soil or to do stoop labor in rice paddies. Thus, under the scheme of "progressive" taxation, the incomes and estates of the successful are confiscatorily taxed. The difference is only one of degree, not of type.

And of course in their quest for equality, egalitarians do a lot of killing - for the one place where all men are equal is in the grave. Some supersitions are harmless. Astrology and flying saucers may be absurd, but hurt no one. The same cannot be said of egalitarianism, as Robespierre, Stalin, and Pol Pot have demonstrated.

"Imagine yourself an alien anthropologist from Betelgeuse..."

I do not claim to be widely read in the literature of anthropology, but what I have read seems to place a great deal of emphasis on customs and laws - which actions are licit and which are forbidden ("taboo"), noting that a given action may be permitted in some cases and taboo in others (e.g., killing in battle vs. murder with malice aforethought). "Historical and legal consensus" amongst a people, and amongst peoples generally, are indeed proper concerns of the anthropologist.

Certainly Tacitus must be considered a sort of prototypical anthropologist. His description of the primitive Teutons in "De origine et situ Germanorum" included extensive attention to their legal and political institutions, which were implicitly contrasted with those of the Romans.

So striking were these observations of Tacitus that in the eighteenth century Montesquieu pointed to them when comparing English common law and the British constitution to the politico-legal framework of his own country, which was founded in Roman law. We have only to read Tacitus, Montesquieu said, to see that the source of British government lay in the customs the Saxons brought with them from Germany: "ce beau système a été trouvé dans les bois" ("De l'esprit des lois," liv. XI, ch. vj).

Should we not expect our alien anthropologist from Betelgeuse to be as attentive to laws and customs as Tacitus and Montesquieu were?

mtraven said...

I do recognize argumentum ad hominem when I see it, and your dismissal of Mackubin Owens is an example.

Under Bayesian inference (a much better model of how thinking actually works than formal logic), ad hominem is not a fallacy. Credibility of a source is just one more input into evaluating the degree of belief of a statement. Really, this is just common sense. Surely you take into account the source when evaluating something you read.

Proven reserves always expand after exploration and exploitation begin, which they haven't been permitted to do. Why not try?

I guess you didn't read my last posting very carefully. Even under the most optimistic assumptions we can't supply our own petroleum needs for more than a decade and a half. Oil shale is uneconomic even at current prices, and an environmental nightmare.

As for deriving information from an oil-lobbying organization, who else would know better? Lobbyists are valuable sources of information for politicians. In an age when everything is politicized someone needs to educate the politicians about the consequences of their proposed interference with economic activity.
Do you feel the same way about the environmental lobby?

Your basic point is sound; politicians and the rest of us have to get our information from all sorts of sources, including biased sources, and if we know enough to account for the bias of a source when evaluating the information, then that's all good. But if you get all your information from a single biased source then you end up uncritically sharing those biases. Since most of us don't have time to do complicated information integration on every topic, we usually rely on sources that share our biases. Hence your devotion to the WSJ editorial page.

Western civilization seems to me to require Westerners: white Europeans who (since the time of Constantine, at least) are culturally Christian.

I supposed in Roman times it was thought to require Romans. Yet somehow it survived transplantation into very different peoples and cultures. Romans probably wouldn't have been considered "white" by the racial crackpots that seem to inform your thinking, and of course one of the pillars of western civilization has its orgins in a semitic culture that is genetically identical to the Arabs who you seem to think are incapable of absorbing the glories of western civ.

Ethnically European populations in Europe are effectively committing suicide by failing to reproduce at a rate that will replace themselves.
Oh well. Humanity will soldier on somehow.

I should like now to come back to a couple of points in your earlier posts. You wrote:

"...a drive toward equality is just as much part of human nature as drives towards aggression, dominance, and submission."

Indeed! Before the Jacobins and Marxists embraced it as a political principle, it used to be called "envy," and numbered amongst the seven deadly sins, which have long been recognized as the predominant traits of human character.

It is true that the drive for equality can produce ugly or evil results, similarly to the other drives that I mentioned (the drive for dominance can produce either excellence or thuggery, for example). Egalitarianism has its dark side, but it also is one of the founding principles of this country and of the Enlightenment in general.

Nothing could be morte obviously contrary to fact than the proposition that all men are equal.
Since equality is one of the founding principles of this country, why don't you leave? You must hate it here.

This difficulty explains why the political implementation of egalitarianism concentrates on levelling down rather than up - on afflicting the comfortable rather than comforting the afflicted.

Right, like public education, the GI bill, AFDC, and social security...etc. I fail to see how the purpose of these or other attempts at creating equality of opportunity are aimed at afflicting the comfortable.

Thus, under Mao's Cultural Revolution, teachers and engineers were compelled to become collectors of night-soil or to do stoop labor in rice paddies. Thus, under the scheme of "progressive" taxation, the incomes and estates of the successful are confiscatorily taxed. The difference is only one of degree, not of type.

You are really sounding like a boring crank now. Sorry, but I don't feel an obligation to respond to stuff like that.

"Imagine yourself an alien anthropologist from Betelgeuse..."

I do not claim to be widely read in the literature of anthropology, but what I have read seems to place a great deal of emphasis on customs and laws - which actions are licit and which are forbidden...

True enough. But what distinguishes gang violence from individual criminality is that it takes place in a subculture that permits and justifies it and imposes certain rules on it -- just as the military subculture does for its brand of violence. The Russian gangster gets his tattoos without displaying a flair for acts of directed violence; the military officer gets his insignia for much the same reason. Neither subculture tends to reward indiscriminate violence; you have to be able to distinguish friend and enemy; follow the cues of leaders; and have some judgement about which battles to fight.

The object of interest to an anthropologist is how culture gets constructed. Laws and taboos do not exist separately from the human beings who construct them; and so the existence of subcultures with different laws and standards is of course intensely interesting, because it brings this process into view more clearly than studying a single uniform culture can. But we should not expect our alien anthropologist to priviledge one set of customs over another, just because it has bigger buildings or crisper uniforms.

Michael said...

Your appeal to a system that justifies argumentum ad hominem is rather like that of the Marxists who, when their logical errors are pointed out, dismiss their critics as practitioners of "bourgeois logic."

Casuistry admits the practice of impeaching a witness. The testimony of a person who has been proved to have perjured himself in another instance, a person who has been convicted of a crime, a lunatic, an habitual drunkard, etc., is not going to be considered as credible in comparison with the testimony of a respectable citizen. However, you have not impeached the testimony of Prof. Owens in this fashion.

The point to be made about the Romans - who were, so far as I know, of similar ethnic stock to present-day Italians, who are assuredly white - is that they fell. A long dark age ensued. If Western civilization continued through it in some form it was because of the Catholic church, which was founded under the Roman empire and which preserved the knowledge of Latin. And have you any idea why the Renaissance is so called? It was a "re-nascence," a re-birth of that which had been thought dead, namely the classical Greek learning that was rediscovered in the fifteenth century. See Walter Pater and Jacob Burckhardt. From its revival stemmed all of the art, science, music, and architecture that we associate with the period.

As for the "semitic culture that is genetically identical to the Arabs..." the point should be made that the entire Near East was once much more civilized than it is today, when it was first under Greek and then under Roman rule. Asia Minor was colonized by Greeks; most of the churches to which Paul wrote his epistles were there. Pliny the Younger was governor of Bithynia. Hadrian travelled throughout the region during his reign.

From this deeply Hellenized cultural matrix, the "semitic culture" that gave rise to European Christianity emerged. The oldest text of the Old Testament we have is in Greek - the Septuagint. The original Hebrew is lost; the Masoretic text used by modern Jews is a later rendition than is the LXX. The New Testament was written originally in Greek. Paul, Philo Judæus and Flavius Josephus are representative of this Hellenized Judaic tradition.

Unfortunately, the Hellenized Near East was overrun by barbarians from the Arabian peninsula, from which nothing good has ever come. To the degree that Islamic societies achieved any level of civilization it was due to the influence of older and more considerable civilizations that they did not completely destroy, such as those of Greece and Persia.

I do not wish Western civilization to undergo another trauma like the fall of Rome, or the Islamic conquest of the Near East. I cannot dismiss that possibility with your insouciance, saying that "humanity will soldier on somehow." What institution now extant is going to preserve the knowledge of that which has been lost, as the Catholic church did during the last Dark Age? I do not think it is strong enough to reprise its past performance.

You write:

"Since equality is one of the founding principles of this country, why don't you leave?"

Most importantly, because my ancestors helped to found it. Both my father's and my mother's families have been here since before 1776.I have no place to which to go back. And those ancestors assuredly did not believe the lofty assertion in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal" to have been more than a rhetorical flourish. Jefferson himself did not. He was given to abstract pronouncements of this kind, which is why his cousin John Randolph of Roanoke nicknamed him "Saint Thomas of Cantingbury." Jefferson certainly didn't suppose it applied to his slaves. If you want to read what he really thought of the black race, see his "Notes on the State of Virginia."

Hugh Trevor-Roper, in his essay on the Anglo-Scorttish Union, speaking of the attempted conquest of Scotland under Edward I, and the successful resistance to it, which broke the feudal interdependence of the two countries, wrote:

"That successful resistance, which began as a baronial revolt - a revolt, as in eighteenth-century America, not of a people but of a planter class - ended by creating a nation, a national identity, a national myth."

I believe that Trevor-Roper's characterization of the American revolution is correct. It was, like the rising of the barons under king John, who forced Magna Charta upon him, and like the rising of the Scots under Wallace and the Bruce, an essentially patrician phenomenon. Our ancestors - or at least mine - intended that the country be governed by taxpaying freeholders - in Bagehot's felicitous phrase, "sensible men of substantial means." Such was the disposition of the franchise for decades after the Revolution. It would be better if it were still so. For more on the intentions of the founding fathers, see Mel Bradford's "A Better Guide than Reason" and "Worthy Company: Brief Lives of the Framers of the Constitution." The American revolution differed fundamentally from the French and Russian revolutions - though some may attempt to liken them, ours was not, as the other two were, based on such an inane confabulation as "libertty, equality, fraternity."

You write:

"...public education, the GI bill, AFDC and social security... other attempts at creating equality of opportunity..."

First, public education was not conceived as an "attempt at creating equality of opportunity." It existed on these shores before there was a United States and in Europe long before it, as an adjunct to the Church, in an effort to bring about sufficient literacy to understand religious teaching and to inculcate moral behavior. Look at an old McGuffey reader for examples. It has been claimed that there was a higher rate of functional literacy in colonial Massachusetts than there is in the Massachusetts of today. Whether or not this is true, public education in this country has been a disaster for the past three or four decades, largely because it has lost its original focus and has become the instrument of Deweyite social engineering.

Second, the GI bill as originally implemented was a no-strings-attached voucher program. I thought you leftists disapproved of vouchers! If government is to fund education, this is certainly the method by which the mischief it can do in the process can most successfully be limited. Why not extend the no-strings-attached voucher principle of the post-WWII GI bill to primary and secondary education?

Third, AFDC - really? AFDC was so structured as to encourage bastardy. This perverse incentive has probably done more to foster the criminality that today characterizes our inner cities than has any other government initiative in the past fifty years. The welfare state has, if nothing else, proven that poverty does not cause crime. The country was both poorer and more orderly during the Great Depression, when there was much less available in the way of poor relief, than it is today, with all these supposedly well-intentioned and expensive programs and their unintended consequences.

Fourth, Social Security - again, really? It is nothing but a Ponzi scheme. If I tried to run my businesses' retirement plans in the way Social Security is run, I'd be in prison. The Social Security system is fast approaching the point where its outgo exceeds its income, and the politicians exhibit paralysis when it comes to addressing this problem. It would have been far better to have privatized retirement benefits for younger workers when the Bush administration first proposed it, which would at least have limited the potential damage. But politicians want people to be dependent upon them (as they are under the present system) rather than independent (as they would have been with private retirement accounts, fully-funded out of their own earnings, which they owned). So the country heads at full steam towards the chasm! The inevitable disaster will probably be dealt with by further inflation and a hefty tax increase.

mtraven said...

Your appeal to a system that justifies argumentum ad hominem is rather like that of the Marxists...
Thank you for proving my point for me by employing a argument-by-association tactic. Feel free, of course, but it's a pity you don't seem to get the point, which (unlike most of this exchange) was actually interesting. I'll probably write it up as a separate post.

However, you have not impeached the testimony of Prof. Owens in this fashion.
I did to my satisfaction, and that was before I went through his numbers and showed that they were bullshit.

present-day Italians, who are assuredly white...
Didn't used to be.

If Western civilization continued through it in some form it was because of the Catholic church...

My impression is that the Catholic Church managed to merge the worst features of Christianity and Rome and produced an institution that inhibited human progress for a thousand years. No doubt a drastic oversimplification. I am regrettably ignorant when it comes to history (but I am acquainted with the etymology of "renaissance", thank you).

I do not wish Western civilization to undergo another trauma like the fall of Rome, or the Islamic conquest of the Near East. I cannot dismiss that possibility with your insouciance, saying that "humanity will soldier on somehow." What institution now extant is going to preserve the knowledge of that which has been lost, as the Catholic church did during the last Dark Age? I do not think it is strong enough to reprise its past performance.

Nonsense, it is much stronger, because it is far more widely distributed. You could vaporize the entire European and North American continents, and you'd still have Australia and New Zealand to carry on the traditions of white western civilization, since it seems that it's primarily whiteness that you are interested in. Me, I care about knowledge, and I don't much care about skin albedo.

As to the various public policies, I'm not interested in debating the fine points of them. Your point was that egalitarian policies were aimed at "afflicting the comfortable", I was pointing out that most of them are aimed at raising the status of the afflicted.

Michael said...

I pointed out the similarity of your justification of argumentum ad hominem to that of the Marxists' dismissal of "bourgeois logic" not as an argument by association but as a comparison of similar tactics. There is no winning an argument with a Marxist, not because he is right, but because he always can find some ground to ignore your points. So, apparently, can you. No other similarity is implied.

As for the racial stock of the Romans, I do not see much difference between the surviving depictions of ancient Romans and the features of present-day inhabitants of Tuscany and the Piedmont. They are undoubtedly of the same ethnic stock. I do not know how much credit to put in them, but genealogies are extant tracing European aristocractic families back to L. Calpurnius Piso. The descendants are assuredly white. The reference to which you link does not make this not so.

Your comment about the Catholic church says more about you than about it. "Anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the educated man." The diffusion of anti-Catholic prejudice, which used to be the province of Know-Nothings and Kluxers, into the bien-pensant left, is to me a sign that MM is right in his analysis of the origins of the Brahminate amongst the weirder followers of Cromwell. Paul Blanshard is probably one of the principal 20th-c. vehicles of this transmission. Our modern Hudibras and Ralpho are no longer Protestant - or any kind of Christian - but they still raise high the banner of "No Popery."

It is not "whiteness" that I'm concerned about so much as I am about European culture and Christendom, which go together to make up Western civilization. I do not believe they can flourish together amongst a population not ethnically European, because they have not done so to date. Look at sub-Saharan Africa, which was left by its colonial masters forty and fifty years ago with such paraphernalia of Western civilization as parliaments, prime ministers, robed and be-wigged barristers and judges. They were also left with plenty of missionaries. These former colonies have now sunk back into their pre-colonial savagery in one case after another. I read some years ago of a case in which a parliamentary candidate in the Ivory Coast was eaten by his constituents while campaigning in his district. I guess there were no missionaries left there - the larder being bare, a politican had to suffice. It did not take long for the veneer of Western civilization to wear away, did it? China, India, or other Asian countries that have some potential for future world dominance will take very little cultural from the West; they regard their own cultures as superior. Australia and New Zealand will participate in the same cultural collapse that Europe and North America will. The same virus infects them all.

You have missed the point of my examination of your asserted examples of "equal opportunity." Public education was not instituted to bring about equal opportunity. It is not therefore a valid example. The attempt to foist egalitarianism on public education has been an abject failure. Some children MUST be left behind, because they are simply too dumb or too lazy for anything else to be done with them.

Similarly, was the GI Bill really egalitarian in intent? It was a veterans' benefit. Veterans' benefits have been a common feature in American legislation ever since the land bounties granted to Revolutionary officers. Lobbying for them has been a feature of American politics after every American war; so doing was a project of the Society of the Cincinnati after the Revolution; of the General Society of the War of 1812 after that conflict; of the Aztec Club after the Mexican War; of the Grand Army of the Republic after the War between the States; and of the Military Order of Foreign Wars after the Spanish-American War. After World War I the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars became permanent lobbying groups for veterans' benefits instead of ad-hoc lobbies for the veterans of particular wars, as had been the function of the previously-named bodies.

The original GI Bill after World War II was, as I noted, a veterans' benefit in the form of a no-strings-attached education voucher plan. As such, it would be objectionable to most egalitarians today, who seem to object strenuously whenever such a proposal is advanced that would cover K-12 education.

AFDC was certainly an egalitarian proposal and it has turned out to be an abject failure. Social Security will not be long in following. If these are fine examples of uplifting egalitarianism, my response is - is that the best you can do?

mtraven said...

There is no winning an argument with a Marxist, not because he is right, but because he always can find some ground to ignore your points. So, apparently, can you.

Doesn't seem to keep you from trying.

The point about whiteness is that various ethnic groups now considered "white" in the context of the US used to not be. See here also. It's funny that I should be the one pointing this out to you, while you are accusing me of anti-Catholic bigotry.

Of course, the point I was making about the Catholic Church, regarding its role in history between Antiquity and the Enlightenment, has little to do with the treatment of Catholics as an ethnic minority in the US. Since this is obvious I assume you are making cheap shots for lack of any better tactic. I'm rather surprised, to tell the truth, since I would assume there are much better responses to my rather facile interpretation of the historical role of the Church.

The notion that our current political battles are mere echoes of the English Civil War is intriguing but farfetched. Quite a few things have changed since then. I suppose that certain political themes reoccur throughout history, but the idea that you can you judge a present-day political movement for the sins of its predecessors is kind of dumb.

Like I said, I'm not interested in arguing policy details. Social Security may be solvent, it may not be, I'm not interested in arguing the point here. If Western Civilization is as doomed as you make it out to be, the fiscal state of the SS trust is the least of our problems.

Michael said...

I pursue these arguments with no hope of persuading you, who are obviously a stiff-necked and obdurate partisan, but with the thought that any third party who reads these comments might benefit by seeing a challenge to your positions.

You are either ignorantly or deliberately confusing a nativist attack on Italian immigrants, based on a crude and erroneous racial argument, with the ideological attacks on Catholicism which have been made by low Protestants since the time of Calvin. Your anti-Catholicism is of the latter type. This variety of argument was at least as often made by Know-Nothings and Kluxers as the racialist type - in fact, it was probably the more usual one.

For example, your claim that the Catholic church is an "institution that inhibited human progress for a thousand years" is simply a variation on the theme of the Calvinists that Catholicism was the "whore of Babylon" and "antiChrist" because it used the liturgy and scriptures in Latin, allegedly to keep the laity in ignorance of "God's word" and to facilitate its prelates leading them by the nose. Your suggestion that the Catholic church is a pedophile ring is a variation on past allusions to priestly sexual misconduct in the eighteenth-century pornographer Edmund Curll's "The Nun in her Smock" or the nineteenth-century potboiler "The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk."

It is interesting to see how easily arguments once made by extreme Protestants can be adapted to the purposes of secular humanism. Blanshard is an example of this in one lifetime - he began as an ordained Congregational minister and ended espousing atheism. He died in 1980 (not that long ago) and the continuity of his arguments - and, really, yours - with those being made in Geneva in the sixteenth century and in the conventicles of ranting English Puritans in the seventeenth, is quite striking. As Santayana observed, liberalism is really nothing but Calvinism stripped of its Christianity, leaving behind only the Puritans' smug fanaticism.

If, as Prof. Shakeshaft indicates, physical sexual abuse of minors is 100 times more likely to take place at the hands of a public school employee than at those of a priest, why do you, great defender of "egalitarian" public education, say nothing about it? To paraphrase an "early Christian" - why behold you the mote in Catholicism's eye, but consider not the beam in that of your favorite institution?

I'm not trying to argue policy details - merely to point out that none of the illustrations you give of "uplifting" egalitarianism are very good ones. Public education and the GI Bill were not instituted with egalitarian intent, as their historical background makes clear. Thus they are not really relevant. AFDC and Social Security are flops. The one did not uplift anyone, but condemned generations to dependency. The other is going down the drain, and will carry the domestic economy with it. Have you no better examples?

mtraven said...

I pursue these arguments with no hope of persuading you, who are obviously a stiff-necked and obdurate partisan, but with the thought that any third party who reads these comments might benefit by seeing a challenge to your positions.

If you think I'm an "obdurate partisan" you really don't get around much. Just what am I supposed to be a partisan of? As for third parties, I think the readers of this blog number in the single digits (all quite valued -- especially the faithful reader from Russia -- spashiba, tovarich!). These facts are related, of course -- if this blog was about promoting a party line I'd probably be able to build an audience, but since it's just a collection of brainfarts on diverse topics it doesn't have much of a brand image.

You are either ignorantly or deliberately confusing a nativist attack on Italian immigrants, based on a crude and erroneous racial argument...

You obviously don't understand the point of those "How the Irish Became White" refernces, but let it pass.

For example, your claim that the Catholic church is an "institution that inhibited human progress for a thousand years" is simply a variation on the theme of the Calvinists that Catholicism was the "whore of Babylon"...

And you are simply a variation on a lamprey.

As far as I can see your entire response to my claim is to say that other, unpleasant people have made vaguely similar claims. This is not a very persuasive form of argument.

As Santayana observed, liberalism is really nothing but Calvinism stripped of its Christianity, leaving behind only the Puritans' smug fanaticism.

Is that where you and MM cribbed your ideas?

Here's a quote from Santayana I found:
But I love order in the sense of organized, harmonious, consecrated living: and for this reason I sympathize with the Soviets and Fascists and the Catholics, but not at all with the liberals.

This is quite interesting, because it draws a line that puts this flavor of conservativism on one side along with Fascist and Soviet regimes, and on the other side would dwell liberals, libertarians, and the anti-authoritarian left. The distinction is between those who insist on a single centrally-enforced moral order and those who value decentralization, diversity, and freedom. Makes sense to me.

Michael said...

I don't think MM came to his ideas by the same route that I did, but, as Montaigne said, par divers moyens on arrive à pareille fin. I did not actually run across the Santayana quotation until long after I had met Eric Voegelin and read his "New Science of Politics," in which he identified the Roundheads as the wellspring of political "gnosticism" in the early modern period. My old friend Mel Bradford used to say that the enemy was "secular puritanism," which seems to me an apt characterization of the modern left.

I don't know the context of the quotation you give from Santayana, but I certainly don't sympathize with communists or fascists. They were political gnostics in the Voegelinian sense, and illustrate the perils of social engineering designed to "immanentize the eschaton," to realize, in other words, heaven on earth. So, of course, did the followers of Calvin in Geneva, John of Leyden in Munster, and Cromwell in Britain. They, and modern leftism, seem good illustrations of the tendency of the modern left to

"Call fire and sword and desolation,
A godly thorough reformation,
Which always must be carried on,
And still be doing, never done..."

I believe we must, instead, accept human imperfection, and deal with it ad hoc, as traditional societies have always done.

Order is necessary, because it is impossible to exercise liberty without a modicum of order. That order is protected first and foremost by elevating and guaranteeing the right of private property, as our (or at least my) ancestors did in Magna Charta, and by assuring the freedom of the individual to excel by accepting and celebrating the inequality in which this must inevitably result.

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