Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wingnut of the week -- Lawrence Auster

I should explain that my fascination with wingnuts is fairly specific. There are dozens of right wing bloggers who are merely stupid or repellent, and there is also a correspondingly sizable army of leftists who take on the task of mocking them. I'm not very interested in playing that game. The right-wingers on my list are those that exert a peculiar fascination on me, those whose raving seem to say something about the human condition, or at least my condition. Those who seem to be radical enough, in the sense of wanting to get to the root of things, that they have something new to say. Mencius Moldbug may be the prototype of this class, but I am discovering others.

Today's wingnut is still not my current favorite; I am still leading up to that one. Instead, I am taking a look at Lawrence Auster, who I mentioned awhile back as one of the star kooks of the "Preserving Western Civilization" conference:
...people like Lawrence Auster, who calls "Darwinism" "the biggest intellectual fraud in history" and displays an unhealthy obsession with Michelle Obama's looks?
Auster divides his time between virulent racism and tired arguments against evolution. He's reasonably intelligent and literate (apparently related to the novelist Paul Auster). Why is he interesting?

Well, one rather trivial thing we have in common is that we were both censored at the Secular Right blog: see here. More interestingly, his attempts to disprove materialism verge perilously close to my own speculations on the nature of immaterial objects. Take this one:
Also, the problem of universals shows that there are indeed non-material existents. Most or all of math is a non-material existent. One cannot find math anywhere as a physical object. Thus, one must accept the existence of non-material existents, unless one wishes to claim that mathematics does not exist. One knows that the number two really exists, but where is it? Two tables before me and two chairs behind me both use the exact same existent "two." However, can we point physically to this number two? No, it is a non-material existent, as are most or all universals. Thus, one cannot reasonably claim that there is no such thing as a non-material existent. This opens us up to another realm where there are things that are real, and exist, apart from physical phenomena, such as mathematics and consciousness.

Thus, the evidence based-atheist who says that there is no evidence for God, and therefore God does not exist, is using an invalid method for the debate. One cannot use any purely material based approach to the question of a non-material existent, such as God.
[Actually this was written not by Auster, but by one his correspondents, J. Istre, but Auster gave it a stamp of approval.]

A collection of my own posts that touch on the idea of immaterial objects: here, here,here, here, here, andhere. I find any convergence of my ideas with those of reactionaries disturbing, but interesting. Does it mean that my own line of thought is going to inevitably lead to me becoming a wingnut? Hardly. I don't think there's a cosmic requirement that a taste for the transcendental must go hand-in-hand with being a hate-filled ranter, even if those appear to be locally correlated. Like what happened with the American flag: normal, intelligent, non-rightist culture has ceded a huge chunk of cultural territory to its enemies. I'd like to start to reclaim some of it.

Let's start by splitting the transcendent from transcendentally awful politics. A recognition that, let us say, there is something more to the world than "atoms and the void" is somehow supposed to automatically lead to the inference that traditional religion is true. There seems to be an awfully big gap there. Acknowledging that immaterial mathematical entities exist is one thing; using that to claim that you have direct knowledge about a gaseous vertebrate who made the universe and cares deeply about humans sexual configurations and whether we can eat shellfish -- that's something else. The transcendent says that simple-minded materialism is not true, ie, that the universe is not mere "stuff", but anybody who has even a cursory familiarity with modern physics knows that the stuff of scientific materialism is not mere stuff, either.

My goal (on the rare days that I think about this stuff) is to rescue the idea of the transcendental from such primitive superstitions. Traditional religion should not be dismissed entirely, as the New Atheists do. It should be considered as the product of early humanity grappling with realities that were much too difficult for them. To a desert tribesman, the transcendental appears as an alpha primate bigger than any other; it's the chief, warlord, lawgiver and judge writ onto the fabric of the universe. We have learned a lot since then. Being finite beings, we can still only grasp at shadows of the infinite, but we ought to have better shadows, or at least different ones. Traditional religions are intellectually untenable; materialism has deficits that even its best advocates have trouble papering over.

Oh well, this doesn't have much to do with Auster, but he is not, in the end, all that interesting anyway. Scipio is more entertainingly unhinged; the next blogger in this series has a more creative approach to metaphysics (and is also completely around several different bends). Auster's style seems too austere for his content.

Here is Auster's very latest, where he tries to explicate the links between liberalism and atheism:
Liberalism, as I define it, is the denial of any truth higher than the human self. From this denial comes the belief in the equality of all human selves and human desires, and the liberal program of rejecting the order of being, meaning the divine order, the social order and the natural order, all the dimensions of reality that are external to the human self. Under liberalism, the only legitimate order is a bureaucratic and technical apparatus aimed at supplying everyone's needs and ensuring everyone's equality....the dogmatic materalist atheists deny the entire order of natural and human existence. They close out, they exclude, they HATE, any reality higher than that which can be expressed in terms of genetic accidents selected via the survival of the fittest. They are at war with the structure of the world as normal human beings experience it.
Again, I am fascinated by the ways in which his post is not entirely wrong. There are bits of truth embedded in the nonsense and paranoia, like the seeds sparrows pick out of horse turds. There is much about the politics and spirituality of NPR liberalism (my default affiliation, having exhausted my radical tendencies decades ago) that I find dissatisfying; that gives me a (very small) measure of sympathy for the wingnut worldview. And while the nourishment of the seeds is hardly worth picking through all the shit, I don't see anybody else trying to give a systematic critique of what is more or less the consensus view of the educated mainstream.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Libertarianism is toast

[Image courtesy of Toothpaste for Dinner via tbogg.]

I used to spend a lot of time arguing with libertarians, back in the prehistory of the Internet, when that was the primary form of mental infestation found there. It helped me refine my own views a bit, but was mostly a waste of time, and aside from occasional sniping I don't do it any more.

On reading that Alan Greenspan has started muttering favorably about bank nationalization, which is akin to Genghis Khan becoming a pacifist or the Pope opening an abortion clinic, I realize that I have won. Libertarianism is dead, over, finished, kaput. Although if experience is any judge, its devotees won't realize it and will keep on churning out the same brain-dead arguments over and over, which will be even more disconnected from reality than before. In fact, the stronger the role of the state in the economy, the more they will have to complain about, and the more they can pile the blame for every evil in existence on its ample back. So maybe it's good times for them.

However, their role in the last couple of decades of being the useful idiots of the Republican Party will be over (as will, one hopes, the Republican Party). The governing style of Republicans from Reagan through Bush II was to spout small-government rhetoric while massively building up the state apparatus, and to preach fiscal responsibility while racking up massive deficits. Republicans who campaign on a small-government platform deserve to be laughed off the stage, and for at least the next couple of election cycles, might actually get what they deserve for a change.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wingnut of the week -- Scipio

[Updated below]

I have a new favorite wingnut, who is so good that I have to work up to him slowly. In the meantime, there's this guy, for whom the phrase "over-the-top" was coined:
Obama has effectively dismantled the entire constitutional basis of our republican government, opened up the economy to the socialization of health care, set the stage for a radical overthrow on the 2nd Amendment, laid the groundwork to re-institute the "Fairness Doctrine"™ to squelch dissent, moved the US Census into the White House to control the 2010 redistricting of political parties and so reduce the Republican Party into irrelevancy, tremendously expanded abortions overseas, put in place a cadre of anti-Semites to pressure Israel, moved to normalize relations with the terror regimes of Syria and Iran and began the gradual end of American law so as to replace it with international law emerging from the UN.

Obama accomplished all of this in two weeks.
Or his inaugural-day diatribe, when most of the country was feeling pretty good about itself:
The end of the Republic will be broadcast live today from Washington. Never have a people been able to witness in a mere few hours the end result of their decades of flippancy toward their own heritage. We have become as Esau. Liberty is too burdensome, too demanding, too hard to maintain, and so we have sold it for the mess of pottage promised by those apes in silk who rule over us.

Watch the mob gawk with hands outstretched as its new god draws near! Hear the teeming multitudes become as one as they cheer the coming of their messiah! See the media grovel and scrape as they perform their ablutions! We might even gape at the crass and vulgar idolatry of the thing.

Why, one would think that a Roman emperor was approaching!... We once produced a Lincoln. Now all we can offer up is a fey beast who revels in mendacity.

This creature adopts the outward trappings of Lincoln–”the train ride, the food, the Bible–but to those with eyes he looks like a boy child who puts on daddy'™s shoes and scampers about the house yelping, "œLook at me! Look at me!"

And that is exactly what hundreds of millions of gawpers will do this day. They will stare in reverent awe as that callow and grim thing climbs the podium and assumes the mantle once worn by Jefferson....

The Golden Age of our Republic is a distant memory, our Silver Age wasted upon a host of Asian land wars, Middle East phantasms and confiscatory taxation to fund myriad panes et circenses. Now we begin our Age of Iron, the very stuff from which are forged chains of slavery.
The level of froth this guy works himself into is quite amazing. And he's apparently a teacher of some sort. Scary to think that children are in the care of this guy, who is apparently only a hair's-breadth away from believing that Obama is the actual Antichrist.

Next week's wingnut combines this kind of seething hatred with a penchant for metaphysical speculation and punning that really defies description.

Update: well, on second look this guy looks more deranged and less entertaining than before:
Looking at them, there is not a one into whose guts I would not shove a sword if I could possibly get away with it.
In other words, he's an eliminationist, one of the horde of armchair killers that creates the atmosphere in which real violence takes place.

Reading these Christians who fantasize about mass-murder of their political opponents makes me dream about having a moment where I pull Jesus out like Woody Allen did with Marshall McLuhan so he can tell them "I heard what you are saying. You know nothing of my work."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go

I'm reading Cochran and Harpending's new book. I hope to have something to say about its scientific content when I'm done. But this post is just about the penumbra of political implications around it. The book seems to carefully skirt most of the really controversial implications of its thesis. There is a chapter devoted to the evolution of the apparently superior intelligence of Ashkenazi Jews, but nothing on the inferior intelligence of other groups, which is what really gets people excited or exercised. This seems prudent. Cochran and Harpending may plan on letting their fellows in the "Human Biodiversity" community tease out the racial implications.

But if that's the case, why is Harpending appearing at a conference with a collection of hardcore racists and lunatics? Doesn't seem like wise public relations to me. Does he really want to ally himself with people like Lawrence Auster, who calls "Darwinism" "the biggest intellectual fraud in history" and displays an unhealthy obsession with Michelle Obama's looks? This is not the strategy of someone who wants their ideas taken seriously.

Just to be clear -- the truth of whatever scientific theories Cochran and Harpending are putting forward is independent of the author's politics, character, or associations. In theory. In practice, however, science is a human institution like any other and the fates of theories are tied to a multitude of social concerns besides their factuality or lack thereof. If C&H's theories are true, it would be a shame for them to be ignored because of their author's politics.

The converse possibility is that the truth of C&H's theories will be powerful enough to make socially unacceptable racism acceptable again. That seems unlikely, to put it mildly.

Oddly, a major theme of this conference appears to be the purported existential threat to Western Civilization posed by the Islam, while Harpending's co-author Cochran is on record as dismissing that idea as laughable hysteria.

Another amusing thing about this conference: the organizer and about a third of the presenters are Jewish, which is causing some difficulties among those racists who would otherwise be on board with a project like this. It's pretty tricky, this effort to promote civilization-scale asabiya.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Report from Davos

I decided to skip Davos this year so am relying on reports like this one (via Whiskey Fire which has pointers to much more).

Two interesting factoids from this article: One, $25 trillion in market value has evaporated in the current financial crisis. That's a lot! Of course, the right interpretation is not that this much value vanished, but that that's how much fake value was hallucinated by an insane system that is now coming off of some kind of analog of a drug binge.

The other factoid is that you, dear reader, ar just as much to blame for this mess as the more obvious culprits, according to one of the economic luminaries at Davos:
One Davos regular, Washington-based Carlyle Group’s managing director David Rubenstein, said he thinks a key issue at this year’s gathering is “who is at fault.” Yet Rubenstein, who was saying at Davos two years ago that the outlook for leveraged buyouts was “very robust,” says responsibility shouldn’t be tied only to him or his industry.

“There are six billion people on the face of the earth, and probably about five billion participated in what went on,” Rubenstein said in an interview. “Everybody participated in some way or shape or form.”
BTW, if I were inclined to be a conspiracy nut, the Carlyle Group would probably be one of the major nodes in the network graph I maintained in crayon on my apartment walls. Oh wait, the internet is my wall.


Wikipedia on the biblical rule of Jubilee:
These Babylonian kings... occasionally issued decrees for the cancellation of debts and/or the return of the people to the lands they had sold. Such "clean slate" decrees were intended to redress the tendency of debtors, in ancient societies, to become hopelessly in debt to their creditors, thus accumulating most of the arable land into the control of a wealthy few. The decrees were issued sporadically. Economist Michael Hudson has maintained that the Biblical legislation of the Jubilee and Sabbatical years addressed the same problems encountered by these Babylonian kings, but the Biblical formulation of the laws presented a significant advance in justice and the rights of the people...this legislation was also eminently practical, in contradiction to many Biblical interpreters who are not economists and who have labeled it "utopian."
My naive reaction to the financial mess was to say, in my stupid way*, that the real economy (the part that actually produces and consumes useful stuff) should be at least capable of being unaffected. Banks may close, hedge funds may evaporate, but farms and factories and their inputs and outputs don't disappear overnight. Can't the real economy of valuable production and consumption continue while Wall Street shrivels into its own black hole of debt?

But of course the mystery of depression is that a disease of the fake economy causes enormous difficulty and hardship in the real economy. The two are inextricably linked, or so it seems. But let's imagine that they could be separated. If the problem is a collapsing network of debt, why not just ignore all that and get on with the business of living? What if we declare Jubilee and make all that ridiculous network of bad debt null and void?

Well, of course, you couldn't actually do that! Civilization would crumble. Even I'm not stupid enough to think that is practical. Except some people who might actually know something about economics are thinking along the same lines:
In the past, when excessive debt burdens were accumulated by government, they tended to do one of two things: either they defaulted-”this is the Argentine solution-where you say, "œAh, I'm sorry, I'm afraid we'™re not going to be able to meet the interest payments this month, and never again will we make the interest payments."

The other scenario is inflation, where the real debt burden is eroded because the money that it's denominated in loses value.

I don'™t think we'™re really going to be out of the woods here until something of that sort happens to the huge debt burdens of the U.S. economy. Either these debts will have to be fundamentally written off in some way, or inflation will have to reduce the real burden.
Inflating our way out of the problem seems like the most likely scenario to me. Hyperinflation sounds like a lot less fun than "Jubilee", but perhaps they amount to the same thing.

*I am quite willing to admit having very little understanding of anything involving money or economics. I used to feel bad about this until I realized that what William Goldman said about Hollywood applies. You can have a (pseudo) Nobel in economics and still bring about ruin.