The P. T. Barnum Economy

Way back in the olden thymes, when companies were getting on-line to sell stuff, it looked like Amazon picked a strange market to exploit. Buying books on-line was not a great leap forward, but Bezos knew something the rest of us did not. He knew that a business that flattered the beautiful people would have an army of beautiful people promoting it to the rest of us. It was the central insight of Steve Jobs. He was the post-modern P. T. Barnum, selling the glorious future rather than a glimpse of the wolf-boy or the tattooed lady.

Amazon never made money selling books, but before anyone could pay too close attention to that, Bezos moved onto selling other stuff. When that failed to turn a profit, he got into selling music, then it was movies and TV shows. Amazon eventually turned a profit, but the total profit for the firm over its history amounts to what a company like ExxonMobil generates in a good month. Now, Amazon is promising to have drone robots deliver your goods before you even decide to order them. The future will be glorious.

The key for Amazon making it all these years was to keep people focused on everything but their financials. This is not an exception. Faceberg will never have earnings to justify its share price. In fact, it will never have user rates to justify its ad revenue. It’s not unreasonable to think that everything about the business is fraudulent. That should trigger large scale audits and investigations into its business practices, but Facebook is on the side of angels in the cultural revolution, so its all good.

Probably the best example of our carny-barker economy is Tesla. To his credit, Musk has built a real factory that builds real cars. No one is going to say the Tesla is a work of art or even a practical car, but it is a car and the technology is impressive. The trouble is the company does not exist to make cars. It operates as a tax sink, where government subsidies flow into it and some portion of those subsidies turn into payments to the principles in the form of stock repurchases, debt service and compensation.

This only works if people think the venture will either one day turn a profit or the technology that it creates will result in something good down the road. To that end, Musk is regularly out doing his Lyle Lanley act, making all the beautiful people feel righteous by backing his ventures. He’s also telling Wall Street that he will soon be making and selling enough cars to turn a healthy profit, even without massive tax subsidies. The trouble is, that’s probably never happening, at least not with current management.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said last week the company has run out of space at its Fremont, Calif., plant and is looking to build a second factory.

“There’s no room at Fremont,” Musk said. “It’s bursting at the seams.”

But that statement left plenty of industry watchers scratching their heads.

Tesla’s Fremont plant is the old New United Motor Manufacturing plant, otherwise known as NUMMI. The joint operation between General Motors and Toyota began in 1984 and was intended to help the Japanese automaker learn about doing business in America and teach GM the principles of lean manufacturing.

The plant, 32 miles from Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto, is large enough to handle around 500,000 vehicles a year in 5.3 million square feet of office and manufacturing space. Tesla, meanwhile, produces about a fifth of the plant’s capacity.

So what gives? Why is the electric-vehicle manufacturer running out of room?

It’s because in this temple of lean manufacturing, Tesla uses far more workers than NUMMI employed to build far fewer cars. In 1985, its first full year of production, NUMMI had 2,470 employees and produced 64,764 vehicles — about 26 vehicles per worker per year. By 1997, it had 4,844 ​ workers and produced 357,809 vehicles — about 74 vehicles per worker per year.

Tesla, on the other hand, had between 6,000 and 10,000 workers in 2016 and manufactured 83,922 vehicles. That puts its vehicle-per-worker number between 8 and 14, about one-seventh the efficiency of NUMMI at its peak.

What we are seeing with Tesla is pretty much what we saw with Amazon. Tesla is a great show so the tax subsidies will not be shut off. Amazon avoided paying sales taxes for years this way. Rich people think Musk is cool and it is currently hip to have one of his cars as a toy, so there will be no push to cut the apron strings. That means Wall Street investors will stay in the game, even though they have people who know there is zero chance for Tesla to profitably make cars anytime soon.

In fairness, this sort of chicanery is not new. The industrial age saw similar rackets, which is how great public works projects were built. The government turned a blind eye to the cost shifting and corruption, as that seemed like a reasonable price to pay for a bridge or a hydroelectric damn. It was not just corruption. Railroads and power companies trampled on the rights of citizens to build out their networks. Despite all that, the people still got trains, electrification, bridges and roads. People can accept those trade-offs.

Whether or not that will hold in the technological age is debatable. The collapsed retail sector has left retail centers looking like ghost towns. Getting cheap stuff on-line is not exactly a great legacy, compared to rural electrification. On the other hand, maybe battery powered, self-driving cars will be seen as having been worth the massive debt and tax shifting that is so much of the modern economy. And, unlike the robber barons, guys like Bezos, Musk and Zuckerberg put on a good show, so there’s that.

The Age of the Two Laws

For as long as I have been alive, I’ve understood that the law does not treat everyone equally. We have the theory, all men are equal before the law, but in practice it is something different. This is the product of growing up poor. A poor man, who gets jammed up on a small crime, is going to get processed. That means he will get a public defender, who will negotiate terms with the state. If he hires an attorney, that lawyer will do the same thing, but maybe pulling in a favor from a buddy to get a better deal.

On the other hand, a rich guy will hire a team of lawyers and put so much pressure on the prosecutor, that the roles will be reversed. The state will cry uncle and take the best deal they can just to be done with the case. Joe Biden’s niece, for example, avoided serious punishment for a crime that would put most people in jail. The thing is, this is not a defect in the law. It is the way the world has always been. The rich and powerful have access to all the resources they need to get the best deal they can from the law.

That has always been tolerable as people have always accepted that human societies are hierarchical. The people at the top are at the top for a reason and being at the top comes with benefits, which is why people want to be at the top. Lately though, a new thing is turning up in the law. Slowly, we are seeing a second legal system, a shadow system, evolve alongside, and in some cases displacing, the old legal system. This new legal system is sort of like what anarcho-libertarians imagine. It’s private and transactional.

Instead of relying on the old law, large social organizations, like universities and corporations, are slowly creating a parallel legal system to adjudicate problems that are unique to them. The college campus is the most obvious example. The imaginary rape culture on campus has spawned a new legal system for addressing it. You see it in this story about Michigan State. The cops are in a secondary role, as the university addresses its more pressing issues, while relying on its own legal mechanisms.

Here we have four players accused of sexually assaulting a woman. Instead of the cops treating this like any other criminal complaint, the school is in charge of the investigation and the cops are on the sideline. The school brought in a law firm to do an investigation, provide the cops with evidence and then conduct a wide ranging evaluation of school policy and senior personnel. They have also tried and judged the players, removing them from campus and kicking them off the football team.

This is not an exception. Baylor University did the same thing when they had a similar issue with the football team. To date, one guy has been charged with an actual crime, but dozens of men have been cast into the outer darkness as punishment, for violating secret rules. The school president was forced into exile and the football coach as been banished. He will never work again, despite having done nothing illegal nor violating the terms of his contract. He was tried and convicted in the private legal system.

What we are seeing develop is a separate legal system for the managerial class. Unlike the criminal system, they are not going to have jails and incarcerate offenders. Instead, the land of the Dirt People will be their prison and you will be the tormentor of the condemned. For now, people accused of real crimes, like those MSU players, will be marched out of the kingdom and handed over to the “authorities” for prosecution, but they have been found guilty by the school and cast back into the land of the Dirt People.

The temptation is to say that the schools are responding to the threat of litigation, but that’s a trivial matter. A sad coed can be bought off for a few hundred grand, less than the cost of a low level administrator. The real issue is culture. The people inside want to enforce their values and will do so ruthlessly. The people sent into exile are a warning to those who remain inside. There’s a code of conduct and violations of those rules, as interpreted by those in charge, can result in the ultimate punishment, exile from The Cloud.

This is what we’re seeing with social media. Our rulers like to pay lip service to civil liberties, but they would much prefer it if they could do away with all of them. To that end, crack downs on political expression have been outsourced to media companies. When Theresa May promised to throw more yobs in jail for being mean to the Muslims, she was sending a signal to the big media companies that they need to crack down on dissent and that means banning people who say unapproved things.

This is anarcho-tyranny refined into a social system. The state is unable to perform its basic functions, but it is adept at working with private business to push around the law abiding citizens. There will now be a second legal system run by global corporations to police the speech of citizens. Instead of putting trouble makers in prison, however, they will put them on mute, making it hard for them to communicate their grievances. Users will not voice their complaints to the law. They will appeal to someone is customer support.

That’s where you see the motivation behind the evolution of this parallel legal system we are seeing with the Cloud People. Like so much of neo-liberalism, it is cloaked in libertarian arguments about private entities setting their own policies, but that’s only so it can avoid defending itself in open court or the court of public opinion. In the old law, the process determined your guilt and then your punishment. In the new law, the process is the punishment and a weapon to enforce conformity and submission.

Like so much of the managerial state, it is not clear if it is sustainable in the medium run, much less the long run. Increasingly, males on campus are using the old law as a weapon against the new law. Falsely accused males are hiring attorneys who will do what the new law is too afraid to do and that’s examine these accusers. Most of these claims by coeds are dubious and some are criminal, abetted by college administrators. Eventually, one of these will become a vehicle for a very big lawsuit and settlement.

On the other hand, the future is not written. Thirty years ago, it was laughable to suggest homosexual marriage was a right. The willingness of the old law to submit to the new law is what will be tested over time. So far, the indications are the cops and prosecutors are OK with handing over their authority to colleges and corporations. Maybe the courts, staffed as they are with Cloud People, will happily go along with this new shadow system and all of us will become serfs on one social media platform or another.

The Irrationality Of It All

A year ago, the life force of 49 carbon based life forms ceased somewhere on planet earth. Memorial services were planned comewhere to let Hate know that he or she, the sex and gender preference of Hate is unknown, that it was not going to win, whatever winning means, in the context of a war against an abstract concept. Media operations have posted stories about the triggering incident along with images of the faithful shaking their fist at Hate, which they appear to hate a lot, but in the good way, not the hateful way.

The “incident” is the mass shooting by a Muslim fanatic at an Orlando homosexual club that resulted in hundreds wounded and 49 dead. Reading the Progressive media, you would not know that. The Washington Post wrote that “49 people died” as if they just fell over from some strange illness. The Orlando Sentinel has the decency to tell us how they died, but then insults everyone’s intelligence by claiming the motive is a mystery. The motive is clear to everyone, including the lunatics working at the Sentinel.

It’s a good reminder that the Progs relentlessly rewrite the past, even the very recent past, in order to fit the current narrative. Right now, they hilariously hold onto the idea of building an anti-white coalition that somehow includes homicidal Muslims and homosexuals, who Muslims hate almost as much as they hate Jews. To that end, they have set about writing out the Muslim antagonists from the stories about Muslim terrorism. Here we are a year after the event and they are blaming guns. In another year, the killer will be a white guy.

This is why it is a fool’s errand to assign logical motives to Progressives. The goofy white woman holding the sign that reads “We Will Not Let Hate Win” in the Post story has no idea why she is there or even what she is saying with that sign. It is not even about a normal emotion like anger or sadness. People attending public memorial services for strangers can at least claim to feel bad for their community or humanity. That woman is there hoping to gain attention from the media so she can gain status among her coreligionists.

That’s the thing about this new religion. It is feminine. Their “war on hate” is more like a popular new diet craze or a fashion trend. The gals get into it because the popular gals are into it. Everyone gets into it more and more, until everyone is doing it to the fullest and it suddenly stops being popular. Some new thing is the new thing and the cool girls are into that and not the old thing. Today’s war on extremism is just the yoga pants craze, but for emotionally unstable single women. It gives them a way to gain attention.

It’s natural for people outside the Cult of Modern Liberalism to think that this weird religion has no future. No one wants to believe that something so insanely irrational could be the winning formula that organizes future societies. Everyone’s beliefs seem weird and delusional until you start to believe them too. The pagans of Europe thought early Christians were a bit nuts and then they converted, as that made more sense than worshiping the old gods. Christianity suddenly was not so crazy after all.

Given that this weird new religion defines the emerging global ruling class, the safe bet is they have staying power beyond what logic would dictate. It’s natural for people to look to their betters for status signals. The entire self-help industry relies on this truth. Tony Robbins presents himself as a wildly successful winner. He will help you emulate him, so you can be a winner too. Mike Cernovich is following this model and has gone far, despite never having actually done much of anything, other than self-promotion.

The passionate embrace of egalitarianism and multiculturalism by our betters is a powerful intoxicant. While it may be insane to think a coalition that includes Jews, Muslims fanatics and homosexuals can last very long, it may not really matter. It is the idea of it that matters and that’s what the new religion is selling. For our betters, they imagine a world that looks a lot like Chevy Chase Village in Maryland, where everyone is from all over, everyone is nice and the dining options are the best. Who could be against that?

On the other hand, there was a time when communism seemed like an inevitability. When I was a boy, most people assumed that in the fullness of time, humanity would sink into the darkness of international socialism. Instead, the cost of making it work exceeded the benefit and eventually, the whole thing collapsed. Today you are more likely to run into a lesbian druid than a communist. Maybe that’s where multiculturalism is headed, like a wave, it will eventually crest and then recede, leaving behind a lot of dead fish.

Still, it is hard to accept. How can people with the ability to manage their own affairs convince themselves that the cause of the Orlando gay club slaughter was evil spirits, rather than the Muslim, who actually did it? How can sane people protest the march against sharia and march in favor of the gay rights at the same event? It defies explanation, other than it is some new form of mental illness that spreads like the flu, causing people to lose their marbles. It really does seem like collective madness.

When I was a boy, I would listen to my grandfather and his brothers tell war stories. Most served in the Pacific theater, against the Japs. They never got over the fanaticism they faced by the Japanese soldiers. They laughed about it, as men of that age would, but looking back I suspect they never could square what they saw with what they thought they knew about the world. Some things just defy all rationality and our current age may be one of those examples.

Prog Kabbalah

One of the weirder aspects of the Cult of Modern Liberalism is the mysticism that underlies so much of it. It’s subtle, but pervasive. You see it here in this bizarre op-ed written by the president of the University of Maryland.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 20, a young man was murdered on the University of Maryland College Park campus, a senseless and unprovoked act. Richard Collins III, a student at Bowie State University, had just been commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was within days of his graduation. A promising life was ended all too soon, leaving families and communities to mourn.

The suspect is a UMD student. The state’s attorney of Prince George’s County is overseeing the investigation and prosecution of the suspect, supported by the county police, the UMD Police Department and the FBI. They will examine whether racial hatred was a motive, given the suspect’s association with an online white supremacist group; the victim was black.

National polls show that most Americans believe that expressions of hate are increasing and going mainstream. Sadly, such incidents have affected our campus before.

The point of the op-ed is virtue signalling. This guy is a hard thumping Prog, which is the only way someone can become the president of a university these days. Our colleges and universities are indoctrination centers for the Cult. Practical education is not on the priority list. So much so that students may actually get dumber as they go through their undergraduate training. A guy like Wallace Loh has spent his life proving he is completely given over to the one true faith. He does that by writing op-ed pieces like the one above.

That’s easy to see, but what gets lost in all of this is creepy voodoo that supports the whole thing. The good professor is warning us about “hate” as he believes that could have been the reason for the murder. In this context, he is claiming that “hate” has agency and exists outside of human beings. Replace the word “hate” with “the devil” and you have someone from Colonial New England demanding the witch be burned in order to rid the community of the evil spirit causing people to sin.

The professor is not a random nut-job with goofy ideas in his head. The Prog media is littered with references to evil spirits and dark practices. Racism used to mean acting against someone based on their race. Today, racism is a mystical force that undermines the efforts of the good-thinkers. Just look at his concluding paragraph.

These are fraught times on our campus, across the nation and around the world. It is on all of us to stand up and fight racism, extremism and hate. They are cancers in our body politic.

Prog mysticism is so pervasive that no one bothers to notice the use of words like “extremism” anymore. We just accept that it means whatever is currently vexing the Progs. No one bothers to explain what it means, because it is not really a thing. It is the cause of an emotional state in the same way a demon causes the little girl to vomit pea soup and spin her head around. It is so mysterious, that no one ever says how they will fight it, just that it is their holy mission to fight it.

There’s a tendency to assign logical motivations to the Progs. This piece in the American Conservative where I spotted the Loh op-ed does exactly that. It just assumes the good professor is using this tragedy as an excuse to crack down on dissent, as if any exists on the college campus. The headline even accepts the Prog mysticism about “:hate” being a lesser demon that walks among us, looking for a suitable host. The reality is, the Cult of Modern Liberalism is a mystery cult now. It is a religion.

The other day, Al Gore claimed he was told by God to fight global warming, and make a billion dollars doing it. It is tempting to write it off as a cynical ploy, but all the facts in support of his claim have been there for a while. Climate change is an apocalyptic nature cult. Al Gore had a nervous breakdown during, or soon after, the 2000 election and came back from it believing he was a prophet sent to redeem mankind. He’s not the first guy to snap and develop a messiah complex. He’s now the Ezekiel of climate change.

Human beings are believing machines. It is not inaccurate to say we are designed for the task. In fact, ancient people just assumed that humans were created to worship the gods. It seemed obvious to them. Our modern rulers may have abandoned the old gods, but they still have a desire to believe. They still have a need to think their lives have purpose and their exalted status is for a reason. Even though Christianity may have died out in the ruling classes, they still need a religion, one that provides them authority to rule.

What’s happened over the last few generations is the civic religion of American Liberalism has evolved into an esoteric and syncretic adaptation of Biblical mysticism. They have the old concepts, just re-purposed to exclude explicit references to the supernatural. Instead of God, they have the right side of history. Instead of the devil, they have a collection of evil forces like extremism and hate. They may not know who sent them on the mission, but they know they were sent to fight racism, extremism and hate.

The Coming Boomercide

The warning when you are young is to avoid falling in with a bad crowd. This almost always means staying away from the older crowd as they will talk you into doing things that you are not prepared to handle, like drugs or crime. The peculiarity of my upbringing meant that I spent my youth around an older crowd, that was all bad, but I avoided the worst of it. Now that I am on the down-slope of life, speeding down toward the inevitable, I find myself hanging around on-line with a younger crowd and they are all bad.

I’ve never cared for generational politics so maybe that’s why I have no trouble with the younger generation. In my youth, I was forced to sit through endless lectures by Baby Boomer teachers about how Generation X was a bunch of slackers. By the time I reached high school, I could, from memory, draw maps of the Ho Chi Min Trail and recite the playlist at Woodstock, despite having no interest in either. I’ve always thought that my generation’s disinterest was due to having to sit through so many Boomer sermons.

If you are a Boomer reading this, you are no doubt outraged, scandalized and offended at my comments. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about you. You are an exception. In fact, you are unique, like a snowflake, a special creation that stands in stark contrast to the conformity of your coevals. You’re special! That’s always been the amusing part about Boomer culture. They love talking about themselves, but hate it when others talk about them. Everyone is conservative about what think they know best, as Derb would say.

As I said, I’ve never been into generational politics. When I was a teen in the 80’s, having to hear lectures about Gen X being deficient, always left me wondering what they called the kids who came along in the late 70’s? They were technically Boomers, but they were nothing like the people who came of age in the 60’s. Now I’m told that kids who came of age in the 90’s are calling themselves Gen X, which is probably fine to a point. I suspect they are rejecting Gen-Y because it sounds feminine, as in [lacking] Y-chromosome.

Anyway, hanging around the bad kids on-line, I’ve noted their extreme hostility to Baby Boomers and Boomer politics. It’s not the normal youthful rejection of their parent’s stuff as their parents are not Boomers. In the case of the 20-somethings, their parents are my generation. Their grandparents are the Boomers. This means the so-called Gen-Z and Millennials literally want to push granny off a cliff. I’ve read screeds by youngsters to that effect. They really hate the Boomers and not in an abstract way.

The coming Boomercide, if it happens, is going to be triggered by some portly old guys in comfort waist slacks, showing up at an alt-right rally wearing tricorne hats, preaching “heritage not hate.” It is the Boomer impulse to accept the morality of the Left while pretending to reject the consequence of it, that enrages the youth. Whatever you want to say about the alt-right kids, they have this one thing right. Boomer politics is all about the so-called conservatives swearing that the liberals are the real racists, as if it matters.

A big part of this is the Boomer willingness to trust the media. I know. I know. You don’t trust the media. You know they are just a bunch of socialist liberal pinko Democrats. But, that’s just a way of trusting the media. There’s a big difference, a categorical difference, between thinking the media is honestly “biased toward one side” and thinking the media is just a deeply cynical public relations arm for the administrative state. Almost all Boomers will accept the former, while few accept the latter.

This is part of the great generational divide between the young hate thinkers and the Baby Boomers. The young have no trust in public institutions. This is not a thing particular to the alt-right. Bernie Bros are always moaning about the system. The stupid little girl jammed up on espionage charges acted on the basis that the system is illegitimate and lacks authority over her. That’s why she did not think twice about doing what she did. In her mind, the government and its agents are the enemy, with whom she is at war.

This trust in public institutions among Boomers is natural. Most of them grew up in a high trust culture. When they watched TV in the 50’s, the people making the shows were in love with America and promoted 1950’s values. Even into the 60’s, the mass media was supportive of America. When the culture began to collapse, the media seemed to be on the side of those good hearted Progressives trying to make things better for blacks, Jews, women and the disposed around the world. The media was all about good intentions.

Later generations came of age assuming that what was on television was a deliberate lie intended to have them buy stuff. Today’s youth have come of age in a time when the media is clearly the church choir for the managerial elite. Those who take the blue pill, get jobs in the media, singing whatever is in their hymnals. Those who take the red pill, view the media the same way the IRA looked at the Irish, who worked for the British security forces. As a result, they see the Boomers as gullible idiots.

Another aspect of the generation animosity is the Boomer enthusiasm for punching Right, in order to cozy up to the Left. Bill Mitchell is probably the most obvious example. He has turned himself into a cartoon in order to avoid being lumped in with the people the Progs have labeled “far right.” The other day a person on Gab pulled out this old take down of Bill Whittle by Steve Sailer, as an example of Boomer perfidy. In fairness to Whittle, he appears to have taken the red pill, but we’ll see if it holds when the Progs attack him.

All of this could simply be a bit of cosmic justice. The generally accepted theory is that Western culture collapsed in the 1960’s when the English speaking world allowed their kids to pull down the institutions that made all of it possible. That is certainly true. In fact, the Boomers have been like a wave of locusts, sweeping through each aspect of the culture as they aged, leaving nothing but waste behind them. In the 60’s and 70’s they destroyed social norms. The 80’s they destroyed education. The 90’s is was politics.

As the Boomers head into their golden years, they are prepared to bankrupt Western society by becoming a great financial burden, but the youth have other ideas. It would be amusing if the Boomers are eventually vanquished by a youth movement that is, at its heart, an embrace of everything the Boomers rejected. I cannot find an example of restoration genocide, but there is a first time for everything. The phrase “you have to go back” will become the slogan of this thing for a number of reasons.

Not being a boomer or a youth, I have no dog in this fight. I know, I know. “First they came for the Boomers and I did nothing because I am not a Boomer.” That’s a chance I’m willing to take. My guess is Gen-X will be just as easy for the kids to ignore as we were for the Boomers. There’s a lot of Boomers to push off a cliff, so my bet is they wear themselves out before they get to me anyway. At that point, I may have died from excessive amusement, so bring on the Boomercide!

Essential Knowledge: Part X

Note: I’ve taken a bit of break on these posts because they take a bit longer than a normal post and I’ve been busy on other projects. A normal post is maybe a half hour of writing and another half hour of re-writing. If I feel like proofreading it, then maybe another fifteen minutes. These Essential Knowledge posts require a little more thought and they require me finding the relevant links. The demands on my time meant a short hiatus, but I’ll try to get back to doing one every two weeks at the minimum.

We left off the literature portion of this series at the Romantic period. I’ve never been a big fan of this period in English literature. I think I can make the case that William Blake is history’s greatest monster. There are some writers worth knowing about and some works that a modern reader can enjoy. Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, especially for Rush fans, are easy reading and the sort of thing an educated man can sprinkle into a conversation to impress the ladies down at the rest home.

The Romantics were big into poetry so the big names are mostly poets. If you feel you must, then pick an anthology and sample the names that seem familiar, like Lord Byron, Wordsworth and Keats. These things are a matter of taste and maybe you are the sort that enjoys this type of literature. My view on literature is that you should aim to be a specialist on what you enjoy, but a generalist on everything else. That means having some anthologies around to poke through when you are looking for something to read.

There is some good stuff in the Romantic period. Jane Austen is not terrible and you should read at least one of her novels. Pride and Prejudice would be my recommendation, but you can download her complete works for a dollar, so take your pick. Robinson Crusoe by Defoe is a good read. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding is not bad. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the most famous work from this period. My favorite from this era is Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. It’s a fun read, even if you hate Romantics.

The Victorian¹ period is an embarrassment of riches, in terms of English literature. This was also when Americans really started to contribute to the English canon. Even better, the great talents of the era tended toward prose, so you don’t have to suffer through a lot of poetry. The big names on the poetry side are Browning, Carlyle, Wordsworth, Swinburne and Tennyson, but the way to go is with a decent anthology. Of course, you can just read your kids, or grandkids, Jabberwocky and leave it at that.

The prose side of the house is where things get fun. This was a prolific period in English prose and some of the giants of our culture wrote in this era. For the ladies, and the men with a desire to get in touch with their feminine side, you have the Bronte sisters. Jane Eyre is considered one of the top-20 novels of all time, but I’ve always been partial to Wuthering Heights. You can get the collected works of the Bronte sisters for a song. If you still need that feminine touch, then read Middlemarch by George Elliot.

Now the good stuff. I don’t think you can be a literate man without having read Charles Dickens. The Pickwick Papers is great, even if you are not comfortable reading hard fiction. Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities are also on the list of must read books. You can get all of Dickens for a buck on kindle. The same is true of the collected works of Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland is a great read even if you have seen all of the Hollywood treatments.

I think Oscar Wilde is an overrated degenerate, but The Picture of Dorian Gray is a great book. It’s also a great movie, as long as you stick with the 1945 version. This period was not just the great flowering of the novel. The short story was mastered in this era. The two names most associated with the development of the form are O. Henry and W. Somerset Maugham. I’m more of a fan of the latter, than the former, but that’s a matter of taste. As an aside, I’ve always thought the short story is the perfect format for modern audiences.

This is also the age when fantasy literature and science fiction came into existence as serious literary forms. Dracula is a great book, even if you have seen a million movie versions of it. You should get the complete works of Robert Louis Stevenson so you can read Treasure Island and Jekyll and Hyde, if you did not read them as kids. I recently re-read Treasure Island and it still works for me. Then, of course, is H. G. Wells. I’ve read Time Machine half a dozen times in my life and it just gets better each time.

The trouble with the Victorian era is it is big and not everyone agrees on the exact start and end points. This is especially true of the late Victorians and the American writers that were influenced by their English cousins, but had their own style. I’m going to cover American literature in a separate post so that makes the cutoff a little easier. Even so, there’s a lot of summers at the beach worth of reading just in that 60 year span. It’s fair to say that it was the peak of the English Empire and probably the peak of English culture.

¹I’m lumping some eras together here for the sake of brevity. Read “Victorian” as “post-Romantic up to the 20th century.”

The Glass Jaw

It used to be, and maybe it still is the case, that boys learned about bullies on the playground. There was always some kid, who would push around the other kids. The lesson kids learned was that merely standing up to the bully was usually enough. In some cases, you might have to duke it out, but no matter the result, the bully would leave you alone after it. What makes the bully possible is moral authority. They present themselves as the natural ruler of the rest. If everyone accepts it, then the bully gets to run the yard.

In much the same way, the slave owner has to maintain a moral authority in order to keep his slaves from revolting or running off. The whole point of slavery is cheap labor. If the slave owner has to employ an army to keep his slaves under control and on the plantation, there’s no point in having slaves. He would be better served by hired men. In order for slavery to work, the slaves must accept their natural condition. Like the bully, the slave owner may be outnumbered, but he has the force of moral authority.

One of the least remarked upon aspects of the collapse of Soviet communism was just how peaceful and swift it was in the end. The Poles standing up to their rulers broke the spell. In 1980, Lech Wałęsa scaled the fence at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, leading a strike against the government. Within a decade, the Soviet empire would collapse and Wałęsa would be elected president of Poland. In other words, the commies were morally and spiritually exhausted and they could not take a punch.

I thought about that when the little guy with the goofy haircut decked the Antifa girl at that Berkeley riot. Everything about her world made sense right up until she took a right cross to the puss and fell to the ground. All she had to do was show up in the right outfit and all the bad people would go away. Then, her bluff was called. The bad man was not intimidated. She no longer had moral authority over him. Her after action comments strongly suggest she had some sort of epiphany on the way to the ground.

The thing is though, the whole Antifa movement seems to have fallen apart after that event. Poor old Gavin McInness is begging them to show up at his events, but all he’s getting is some cranky coeds and a few old hippies. In one of life’s many ironies, the anti-fascists had to manufacture fascists to fight and now the alleged fascists are forced to invent anti-fascist that they can fight. Gavin is going to have to find a new act. It turns out that the Prog street warriors have a glass jaw. They can’t take a punch and they know it.

That may be what we are seeing with Conservative Inc. In the last week, homosexual activist and managing editor of National Review, Jason Lee Steorts, has penned over 10,000 words of criticism aimed at those to his Right, which is pretty much everyone on the Right these days. The first piece was a dismissive critique of neo-reactionary blogger Mencius Moldbug. The second, a much longer piece, is a not entirely coherent rant against what he calls the illiberal critics of grade school “freedom shrines.”

His post on Moldbug is revealing for a number of reasons. For starters, Moldbug has not posted in years. His last serious philosophical posting was half a dozen years ago. He and neo-reaction were a big deal on-line a decade ago. It’s not quite disco, but addressing it now in a serious way is a lot like demanding the record stores stop selling Bee Gee’s albums. What his post reveals, more than anything, is that he and the rest of the Buckley Mystery Cult have not been paying attention for a long time.

The longer post is a more serious attempt to address the many boogeymen and hobgoblins that haunt the minds of Buckley Conservatives. His essay reads like it was written by a committee. He spends thousands of words stroking various aspects of Conservative Inc, for no purpose other than flattery. When he gets into specific topics popular on the Dissident Right, he reveals a depth of ignorance that suggests stupidity has mass. His bit on IQ reveals he is a man who does not know what he does not know.

Whenever you are charged with defending the status quo against criticism, your job is to re-argue the case for the establishment. The rightness of the prevailing order creates its own moral authority, thus reducing even legitimate criticisms to mere quibbles. What’s striking about Steorts’ piece is he struggles to describe what it is he is defending, much less defend it. After 7500 words, the reader is just left with the image of a fussy prig, crinkling his nose up, as if he just caught wind of a bad odor.

For as long as anyone reading this has been alive, Buckley Conservatives have functioned as a palace guard. They defended the status quo by acting as a buffer between critics and the Progressive elites. At the same time, they served as a conduit for middle-class white grievances and objections. Taxes are too high! Government is too big! Pop culture is damaging to bourgeois values! That sort of thing. They were in the passenger seat of Progressivism yelling “slow down!” as the car zoomed forward.

For good or ill, their source of moral authority was as the voice of the white middle-class and the civic virtues that made it possible. They no longer talk about the actual people they used to represent, other than in the occasional genocidal rage. Jason Lee Steorts can’t even describe middle-class civic institutions. He has reduced them to the ridiculous image of a “freedom shrine.” The Buckleyites no longer have moral authority. They are simply another blemish on the face of the Progressive orthodoxy.

How aware of this they are is hard to know. It’s a lucrative racket so they are probably more concerned about keeping their spot on the Left than these larger matters. Perhaps like the Polish authorities, they will just stand aside as a new opposition movement, this counter-culture, grows up to challenge the Left. Perhaps there will be that moment of clarity that Moldylocks experienced as she hit the pavement. Either way, they are morally and spiritually exhausted. What comes next is inevitable.

Tactics and Money

Social movements go through phases, depending upon their scale and success at interrupting the prevailing order. If ten people become convinced that devil worship is critical to the survival of mankind, no one will notice until they start sacrificing goats in public. If ten million people take up this idea, then it is different. The movement has to learn to work within the prevailing order, then learn how to alter the prevailing order by infiltration and coercion. Tactics become as important as ideology.

The alt-right, Identitarianism, new right, or whatever you prefer to call the growing dissenter movement that has grown up the last few years, is reaching a point where the people in charge think something must be done. The sacking by Breitbart of Katie McHugh at the behest of a neocon mob looks like an orchestrated hit. There is a secret mailing list for neocon pundits in the media and all of their known members were immediately on-line celebrating, so the scheme was probably hatched by them.

The neocons are putting enormous pressure on their “friends” at Breitbart to abandon Trump and purge their ranks of anyone outside the orthodoxy. Back in the election, the odious carbuncle John Podhoretz accused Brietbart editor Joel Pollack of not being authentically Jewish due to his Trump support. Imagine members of your church threatening to ex-communicate you over your voting habits. Then there are the threats to staffers and advertisers. If they can’t kill the message, they will kill the messengers.

The point of this is that tactics are important. Katie McHugh is a nobody in the grand scheme of things, but her corpse on the sidewalk sends the same message as the Seth Rich bike rack outside DNC headquarters. As the Chinese say, you kill some chickens to scare the monkeys. You can be sure that people inside Breitbart are now working on their resumes and ready to rat on their friends in order to find a safe landing spot. It is the same tactic the Feds are using to fix the leak problem. Jail a nobody and the somebodies notice.

As they say in the crime business, it is all fun and games until the bodies start to drop on your side. That means the good guys better start to learn how to use the rules to their advantage. They are entering into the phase of the game where tactics matter as much, if not more than, ideology. They’ve picked the fight and now it is time to fight. In the context of this culture war, it means waking up every day thinking about how to ruin someone on the other team. It means turning the weight of the orthodoxy against itself.

For instance, when the mentally disturbed woman harassed Richard Spencer at his gym, he made the blunder of not looking for a way to turn this into a weapon. His first move should have been to call the cops on her. Then he should have insisted on filing a report. Then he should have gone to court seeking a restraining order. In other words, he should have used her enormous weight against her. Even if the court declined to grant him the order, he would have had a great chance to get it, the message would have been sent.

Similarly, the habit of Progs to use campaigns against people in order to cause financial harm should be met with legal action. Tortious interference is when one person intentionally damages someone else’s contractual or business relationships with a third party causing economic harm. A phony e-mall campaign, that is intended to intimidate a hotel, for example, from hosting a VDare event, is precisely the sort of thing that should be met with a lawsuit. Worst case is you get it out into the open, where the rats can’t hide.

There’s also the use of public accommodation lawsuits. The Left used Title II of the Civil Rights Act to gut free association. A clever lawyer could use the same law that forces your restaurant to serve ISIS sympathizers, to force Facebook into letting the alt-right have their own page. It would be a tough case to make, but it could be made with the right plaintiff. That’s how lawfare works. The point is to de-legitimize the rules and laws, but also to force the other side to live by their own moral code.

These efforts take money, of course, just as the efforts to build up alternative media require funding. That’s where the dissidents are making the most progress. WeSearchr is still trying to find its footing, but it has worked well as a proof of concept for fund raising outside the orthodoxy. The new site Counter.Fund is a very creative idea that could turn out to be a viable alternative to the establishment crowdfunding sites. By being explicitly ideological and open about its business model, it makes supporting it feel important.

Mass movements of any type have certain thresholds they must pass in order to become credible threats to the prevailing orthodoxy. If you’re building a religion, you better be provocative and you have to live off the land, so to speak. If you are building a political party, it is about working the election laws and getting your message out to a broader audience. Put another way, you have to demonstrate tactical savvy and the ability to finance your war against your opponents. Otherwise, people are reluctant to join.

Whatever your preferred term is for the brewing rebellion among the Dirt People, they have weathered the first punch from the Cloud People. The dismissive name calling that was a feature of Progressive commentary, has given way to attacks on the people on the front lines of the fight. The next step is to start going on offense using the rules against the establishment. That means coordination and that means money. There are some good signs so far, but the Dirt People are still a long way from being a credible threat.

Remember, support your local Dirt Person.

Iceland

Iceland is one of the weirdest places on earth. In fact, it may be the weirdest, at least that is what many Icelanders will tell you. Some of their weirdness is made up for the tourists, but some of it is made up for their own entertainment. The belief in elves and “hidden people” seems to be mostly for local amusement. The Icelandic Phallological Museum, on the other hand, is harder, so to speak, to explain. But, when you live on a volcanic rock in the North Atlantic, indulging in weirdness is probably to be expected.

The little island republic came to world attention back in the financial collapse when they went bankrupt. Iceland had managed to become a hedge fund with a fishing village attached to it. Michael Lewis wrote a fascinating and humorous piece on them back in 2009. When I was over there last summer, I mentioned this to locals a few times and they had never heard of it. When I mentioned some of the colorful anecdotes from it, they laughed at me like I was an idiot, so Lewis may have been liberal with the truth.

In addition to the Dungeons & Dragons vibe to the place, Iceland is interesting for biological reasons. It is a small and extremely homogeneous population located on an isolated island. That means it makes for a good place to tease out things about the human genome. The genetics company deCode is located in Reykjavik and has been doing a lot of interesting work for decades. The willingness of the population to participate in this research makes it a great laboratory for this type of work.

Another topic of interest is how the people have organized themselves over the last 1,000 years since settlement. Unlike most places on earth, human settlement on the island is very recent and it has been written down. We can only guess about the waves of humans that settled in the Ruhr Valley or along the Thames, but we have written records about who settled Iceland and how they developed their society. It is, in this regard, an interesting anthropological study.

A Norwegian chieftain named Ingólfur Arnarson is usually considered to have been the first permanent settler in Iceland. His legend says he threw two carved pillars overboard as he neared the island, vowing to settle wherever they landed. He then sailed along the coast until the pillars were found. There he settled with his family around 874 and named the place Reykjavík, which means “Bay of Smokes” due to the geothermal steam rising from the earth. As is always the case, historians are not sure if this entirely true.

Eventually, Ingólfur was followed by other Norse chieftains, who brought their families and slaves, settling all the inhabitable areas of the island in the next decades. The Chieftains were Norwegian, while their slaves were Irish and Scottish, according to the Icelandic sagas and Landnámabók, which is a written history of the settlement. This tracks with the findings of modern genetics. That’s what makes Iceland so useful, We have written records and archaeological findings, that are validated by genetic data.

There are two theories for why the Norse fled Norway and settled on a volcanic rock in the middle of the North Atlantic. Legend says it was due to people fleeing the harsh rule of the Norwegian king Harald the Fair-haired. Norway was undergoing a consolidation of power under one powerful family and the losers were heading off for new lands. It is also possible that the western fjords of Norway were simply overcrowded in this period. The general theory for the rise of the Vikings is simple over population.

Once there was enough people to farm the land and create an economy, they set about organizing themselves. In 930, the ruling chiefs established an assembly called the Alþingi that convened each summer. The representative chieftains made laws, settled disputes and appointed juries to judge lawsuits. Because writing down laws could lead to the use of force to interfere with an individual or individual’s property, the laws were instead memorized by an elected Lawspeaker until the next assembly.

Since there was no central executive power, it meant the laws were enforced by the people on an ad hoc basis. A land dispute, for example, would require hiring some third party to act as the judge. Violence against people or property would require the people temporarily banding together to address the problem. This is the sort of arrangement that results in blood-feuds. Consequently,  the writers of the Icelanders´ sagas had plenty of material. Trial by combat was a real thing when it came to disputes.

Iceland did pretty well into the 13th century when the growing power of a few families led to a break down in the system. Rather than adjudicate disputes the old fashioned way, for example, it was easier to go to the head of one of the powerful families for relief. Inevitably, the ruling families began to resolved things, like land disputes, in a way that benefited them over other rival families. This led to other powerful families doing the same in order to check the power of their rivals and soon Iceland was dominated by a few chieftains.

The start of the 13th century known by the very cool name Sturlungaöld, which means “The Age of the Sturlungs.” Sturla Þórðarson and his sons were one of two clans waging war for domination of the the island. This clan eventually won the support of the king of Norway who was looking to exploit the conflict. Sturla Sighvatsson became a vassal of Haakon IV of Norway in 1235, thus allowing the Norwegian king to exercise authority over the island, by backing the Sturlungs against their rivals.

In 1262 Iceland signed the Old Covenant establishing a union with the Norwegian monarchy. It was a nice run as a transactional society, but they ran into the problem of how to deal with inequality once their society was able to amass excess wealth. The rich were not satisfied with being rich, they also wanted power, which means authority over others. It is the natural human impulse and the ad hoc system of governance was unable to respond to this internal challenge. The result was domination by a few.

Of course, they also had the problem of how to deal with powerful neighbors looking to dominate the island. Norway could use a combination of force and political meddling to create the sort of conditions they could exploit. An iron law of the human condition, and of nature, is that the strong come to dominate the weak. In the case of Iceland, Norway was the strong neighbor determined to dominate the island. They were not going to be talked out of it so Iceland eventually fell under her dominion.

Free Speech and Other Stuff

I was one of the early users of Gab, the open alternative to Twitter, started by a renegade programmer named Andrew Torba. Whether or not Torba is alt-right or simply a normal male sick of the ritualized nonsense that dominates social media is debatable. He’s a Trump supporter, but that does not make him alt-right. He was part of Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley “seed accelerator” that helps young startup professionals. He was evicted from the club for being an unabashed Trump supporter and not playing nice with others.

That last bit was his mortal sin. In the managerial class, “being nice” has been weaponized, so that anything that contradicts the tenets of the faith is classified as threatening and harassment.  This allows the most sensitive, almost always women, to function as a canaries in the coal mine. When they begin to cry, it means someone is saying unapproved things and it is all hands on deck to root out the heretic. It’s not an accident that most of the speech enforcers on social media are women.

Anyway, Torba started Gab as a “free speech” alternative to Twitter. I put that in quotes because there is no such thing as free speech. There are always some rules. It’s like censorship. The state will always suppress subversive or revolutionary speech. The public will demand limits on speech that violates taboos. Similarly, Gab bans certain speech like child porn and criminal conspiracies. Otherwise, the goal of the enterprise is to provide an open platform for users to speak freely about their stuff.

Gab is an important experiment for a couple of reasons. One is that it is subtly demonstrating a truth about so-called free speech. That is, you cannot have free speech without freedom of association. Twitter, as the only short chat platform, could justify their crackdowns on users by claiming that other users were upset. In other words, the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, so they started policing what people posted on their platform. Coincidentally, the crackdown broke along predictable ideological lines.

The mere existence of an alternative means that users now have a choice. They can pick the ideological conformity of Twitter and its legion of SJW hall monitors or they can go out to the wild west of Gab. It’s easy to see where this is going. The sort of people who write blogs like this one are on Gab, while the people who fear being ostracized by the good thinkers will stay on Twitter and obey the rules. The result is a perfect example of how free association solves the problem of free speech and removes the need to police it.

The other important thing to watch is how the great blob that is the mass media responds to what it can only view as a threat. The evolution of social media was pitched as an organic, ground up communication medium free from corporate control. That was also the promise of the internet in the early days. Whether it was by design or by serendipity, Facebook and Twitter came to dominate the internet and become megaphones for the managerial state. Now they are trying to be enforcers for the managerial state.

It is not an accident that Facebook is heavy into being the comment platform for establishment media companies. Disqus, which is more open, resulted in a lot of negative commentary, so the big media companies partnered with Facebook to clamp down on dissent. It’s also not an accident that Facebook roots around in your e-mail and browser cache to spy on you. Facebook imagines a day when it is your permanent record, like the one school principles used to swear they had in their desks for each student.

Obviously, the great plans of the social media giants and their managerial class partners are not going to work very well if there are a bunch of alternatives sprouting up. Gab is off to a surprisingly strong start so far, but they are a long way from challenging Twitter, at least in terms of users and social impact. Taking on a Facebook or YouTube is orders of magnitude more difficult. Still, avalanches start with one snowflake so the early success of Gab has to be worrisome to the big social media companies.

Taken together, it could mean the managerial state is vulnerable to its own success. By that I mean the system that makes for rapid technological progress in the business of controlling and disseminating information, may make it very easy for rivals to spring up from within its ranks. The technology at the root of Facebook and Twitter is not exactly ground breaking. In fact, it is fairly crude. The edge for both companies is that they had the resources to scale up. If scale gets cheap, then anyone can scale up too.

Alternatively, what we could be seeing is the evolution of a way to resolve the conflict between the rise of tribalism and the spread of the supra-national custodial state. Big social media platforms will be the safe space that most people crave, while the tribalists will have their smaller silos out on the fringe. The folks who like their news and information with a healthy dose of instruction will get what they need, while the people convinced they are taking the red pill will have alternatives to indulge their needs.

It’s impossible to know how this unfolds. Gab could be a flash in the pan and not last more than a year. Or, it could be the butterfly flapping its wings that sets off a chain of events resulting in a great social hurricane. At the minimum, it is an excellent proof of the basic concept that has eluded us since the 1960’s. That is, free association is the key to maintaining civil liberties like free speech and maintaining social harmony. Once free association is removed, you have a prison and there are no peaceful harmonious prisons.