Revolt of the Machines

One of the great unanswered questions in science is how did the first building blocks of life arise from the primordial soup of early earth. It is believed that before even the simplest of life forms existed, earth was something like a thin stew that was getting thicker as more complex chemicals formed. At some point, and no one knows how, the first DNA molecules formed. The prevailing theory is that the first genetic molecule was a primitive form of RNA, which evolved into more complex RNA and then DNA.

No one knows how this could happened only that it did happen. The proof of which is all around us, including in the mirror. Life exists and it is based in DNA. Further, RNA is created from DNA to put that information to work, like controlling the creation of proteins and performing other chemical functions. How DNA became the code of life, while RNA, its predecessor, became its tool, is a great mystery in science. It is the question J.F. Gariepy tackles in his book The Revolutionary Phenotype.

Gariepy or “JF” as he is known by his fans, is an enigmatic YouTube personality, known for his willingness to talk with anyone. He has had everyone from science deniers to holocaust deniers on his show, as well as lots of normal people. His YouTube career is recent, as until 2017 he was a neurobiologist and post-doctoral researcher at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences. In this book, he endeavors to explain the origin of life 4 billion years ago and predict the end of DNA-based life on earth.

One of the challenges facing writers of science books for a general audience is they must first simplify the presentation. It’s not that the audience is dumb, but that they are unfamiliar with the jargon and unfamiliar with the way people in science communicate information through mathematics. A book full of complex proofs and splatter charts is not going to be popular with most readers. Gariepy gets past this first obstacle by sticking with a straight forward narrative format that is easy to follow.

The second challenge for science writers is to follow the old rule about essay writing that kids learn in school. The book should always be like a woman’s swimsuit; big enough to cover the important parts, but small enough to keep it interesting. This is probably a good rule for all writing in this age. Thanks to the internet and cable television, everyone’s attention span has collapsed. Gariepy gets past this hurdle, as the book is just 138 pages and written in a brisk style that makes for easy reading.

The question is, of course, does Gariepy deliver on his promise to explain the origin of life and how it will end. The answer is an unequivocal maybe. On the positive side, he does a very good job of explaining one possible narrative for how primitive RNA evolved into RNA and then DNA. He offers up an interesting theory as to how DNA came to be the master and RNA the slave, which is an important event in the history of life. The presentation here is a nice primer for the general reader on the basics of genetic theory.

What really works here is his use of simple concepts that he stacks together to explain more complex ideas. For example, describing the relationship between your genes and your body as something like the relationship between a machine operator and the machine, is useful in understanding why our bodies will evolve over time. Our body is there to serve our genes, so any innovation that is better for our DNA is adopted, while changes that are not useful are discarded. Our body is a vehicle for DNA.

The negative here is that the language and analogies don’t always work. Using the office printer to explain how gene mutation works is clever, but calling it a trickster printer will give the American reader the wrong impression. The same is true for his use of the phrase “fool replicator.” This is probably a language issue, as Gariepy is French. The word trickster and fool have different connotations to French speakers than they do to English speakers, especially Americans, who think tricksters and fools are immoral.

Another complaint about the book, and one of the trade-offs with brevity, is it assumes the reader has recently read Daniel Dennet and Richard Dawkins. In fact, it is probably a good idea to read The Selfish Gene before reading this book, as Gariepy refers to it extensively in the first third of the book. Again, this is the trade-off that comes from brevity and summarizing the material for a general audience. In this case, it is a minor complaint and it does not ruin the book or invalidate his arguments.

The final complaint about the book is that he spends 80% of the text explaining the transition from simple RNA molecules to the complex DNA-based life. That’s about 100 pages, which is a great short primer on a difficult to understand subject. The rest of the book is a dash to the finish line, explaining how the rise of artificial intelligence spells the end of DNA-based life. There’s a strong impression that this part was rushed in order to get the book done and ready for sale. The book sort of ends with a thud.

Without giving too much away, Gariepy argues that RNA used DNA as sort of a bank vault for its code base. When it needed to copy itself, it did so from that copy stored in the DNA molecule. Eventually, the DNA molecule was able to replicate itself, without help from its RNA master. This set off a battle between RNA and DNA, which DNA won, turning RNA into its servant. This same process is about to happen with artificial intelligence, as AI becomes self-aware and able to self-replicate.

That sounds like the premise of a lot of science fiction stories, but it is both an interesting entry point to understanding artificial intelligence and the dynamic between environment, humans and man’s ability to alter his environment. There’s enough there for another book and maybe that’s the plan, but Gariepy only gives it about twenty pages and it felt very rushed. Given his YouTube audience, most of his readers are more interested in how life ends, rather than how it begins. They will undoubtedly feel a bit cheated.

Overall, the first half of the promise, to tell the story of how life began, works pretty well for the intended audience. It’s not a research paper or a bold new hypothesis to explain the origin of life. It is more of a summary of current thinking in a style that the general reader can follow and understand. The second promise could have worked, but it needed a fuller treatment than what Gariepy delivers. Otherwise, it is a book worth reading, if you have an interest in evolutionary biology or the origins of life on earth.

Hanging Alone

The great social blogger Heartiste did a post a week or so ago on the four types of loneliness. It was a take-off on a Twitter exchange on the subject. The original Twitter exchange listed loneliness for a woman, loneliness for brotherhood and loneliness for a lord, as in God, as the three forms of male loneliness. Heartiste adds a fourth, which he calls the loneliness a man feels for the man he has yet to become. This form of loneliness seems to be correlated to the distance one is from their true self.

One interesting thing about this list is it tracks closely with John Derbyshire’s description of the normal modes of thought. There’s no form of loneliness that corresponds with the desire for revenge, but perhaps personal thought could be broadened to include more than revenge fantasies. If so, then it works out well. The list from the Heartiste post then corresponds to personal, social, religious and magical thinking. The implication of that correspondence is that loneliness, or fear of it, is an integral part of man.

Some would argue that the keystone to male loneliness is the personal. A man who gets married and has a family, will never be alone. He will never be forgotten, because some of him will carry on in his children. This raises his social standing and makes for more meaningful relationships with his fellow men. The miracle of family life inevitably leads to a fuller, richer spiritual life. That seems plausible, except that divorces rates and the number of unmarried males suggests a different causal relationship.

Of course, the more spiritually minded would start with the need to have a relationship with the universe. Maybe this is in the form of some esoteric spirituality or the more concrete relationship man finds in Christianity. This connection to the universe, the relationship to God, provides the foundation for personal relationships, brotherhood and fulfillment of potential. As with personal loneliness, the facts on the ground suggest this is not the correct causal relationship. The pews are empty for a reason.

Heartiste, it appears, makes his first mover the loneliness a man feels for the man he has yet to become. He describes this as “Thwarted passion, a decision to avoid a risky venture, procrastination…these things will deprive a man of the ideal he always strives toward, and in the depths of that deprivation he will feel lonely for the company, and the mentorship, of his idealized self.” If you are all the man you imagine yourself to be, you will have all the women you want, all the brotherhood you want and the love of the universe.

The benefit of thinking of it this way is that it makes the fulfillment of your true self as the glue that binds the other forms of thought to one another as co-equals. There is a romantic quality, where this fulfillment of the true self completes a man in a perfection of the personal, spiritual and social. The flaw though, is that a homicidal sociopath reaching his full potential is a very different thing than what Heartiste has in mind. The ring cycle can just as easily end in horror as a romantic sense of fulfillment.

The final combination starts with brotherhood. The man who has established fulfilling relationships with other men, will inevitably share the spiritual life of his peers. He will believe what they believe and feel that the universe cares for him, as it cares for his brothers. An assumption here is that the only way for a man to find brotherhood is if he has completed himself in the personal domain by finding a woman. This golden triangle, so to speak, is what unchains a man to reach his full potential as a man.

Up until recent, western society was held together, to a great degree, by the voluntary associations we call brotherhood. It may have been organizations for former soldiers, fraternal organization or social clubs organized around a particularly male activity, like hunting or sporting. What we now think of as male loneliness and the degradation of male roles, corresponds with the collapse of brotherhood. The war on sexism was always a war on brotherhood, which in turn was a war on the bones of society.

The argument against this is that brotherhood does not necessary free a man to reach his potential as a man. Anyone who has been in the service or played team sports knows that talent is often sacrificed for the goals of the group. Organizations always take on a life of their own, putting the group ahead of its constituents. At the same time, organizations tend to devolve into politics, resulting in factionalism, which inevitably reduces the effectiveness of the group and the individuals within the group.

That’s not brotherhood though. That’s simply organization, which is different from brotherhood. In fact, in order to forge the bonds of brotherhood a man has to voluntarily sacrifice something of his self. It is this sacrifice, often a sacrifice of blood and sweat, life and labor, that makes brotherhood possible. The man who willingly gives his life for his brothers, so his brothers may live, is a man making the ultimate sacrifice. There is a reason such men are held in the highest honor by his brothers.

Of course, this assertion suggests a universal. In order to have personal, spiritual and social fulfillment, man must first find brotherhood. It is the pivot point upon which the balance of a man’s life rests. The collapse of the male domain in western societies, has then brought down with it the personal, the spiritual and the social. In order to avoid hanging alone, in the loneliness of modern despair, men will need to rebuild the structures that allow for brotherhood and most important, make the sacrifice it demands.

Old Movies

When I was a kid, we did not have cable, mostly because it did not exist, at least as we understand it. Cable TV existed as far back as the 1950’s, but it was not common and the selection was no different from over the air offerings. It has been a long time, but I recall we had two network channels we could reliably receive over the air and two or three minor channels. UHF channels were local and played mostly re-runs of old shows and some local broadcasting. VHF channels had the national network offerings.

From the vantage point of the 1970’s, “old” TV shows were mostly things from the 1960’s, but old movies from the 40’s and 50’s were common too. In other words, if you wanted to peak back in time to the previous eras of American culture, you could reliably go back a decade and selectively go back a few decades. Bad old TV shows like Get Smart and Star Trek would go into syndication, but bad old movies were just forgotten. The old movies that were shown on TV were usually the good ones that people liked.

What that meant is if you wanted to know what it was like to live in 1945, you had to ask someone who was alive in 1945. You could get a little taste of it from watching old movies on a Saturday afternoon, but that was a stylized version. To really get a feel for the age before color movies and television, you had to rely on the fading memories of grandma and grandpa. Of course, this was true for all of human history until recent. It’s why old people are good at telling stories about the old days. They’re built for it.

Today it is different. I watched The Thomas Crown Affair the other night off the Kodi machine. This was the 1968 version with Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen. There was a remake of this in 1999 with Pierce Bronson. I had seen the remake a few times, but I never saw the original. In fact, I did not know there was an original. That’s a bit of interesting cultural data right there. Just about every movie produced over the last twenty-five years is either a remake or made from a children’s comic book.

What I found remarkable about the movie is something I notice whenever I watch old movies and that is the maturity. A movie about the cat and mouse between a male and female today will have at least half an hour of rutting and humping, along with some explosions and lots of vulgar language. The modern presentation of male-female relations is so crude, that porn makers of the past would have been offended. In the old days, the film maker and audience expected a more sophisticated portrayal of sexual relations.

That is the other thing that turns up in old movies and television. Hollywood made assumptions about the cultural awareness of the audience we don’t see now.  In the Thomas Crown Affair, there is a long scene around a chess game. It was supposed to be a stand in for the sexual tension between McQueen and Dunaway. It’s a bit ham-handed, but vastly more sophisticated than anything you would see today. One reason is the typical viewer today knows nothing about chess, so it would be lost on them.

Part of that is due to Hollywood relying on international audiences to make money. You can’t expect to make money in China or India when your film is full of essential references to Anglo-Saxon cultural items. When you make films for the universal culture, you are making movies for a culture that does not exist. That means the goal is to remove cultural references, rather than rely on them to tell a story. There can be no subtlety and nuance without common cultural reference points understood by the audience.

The main thing that jumps out in old movies is the respect people had for themselves. The reason Steve McQueen was a star was because he played a role that was something men could aspire too. He would never have played a homosexual junkie or some other type of degenerate. People knew these sorts of people existed, but they expected them to be on the fringe of their lives and therefore on the fringe of their stories. Watch old movies and you see references to degeneracy, but it is always oblique.

Again, this goes to that respect for the audience. Just as the audience did not require thirty minutes of sex scenes to know the male and female were intimate, the audience did not have to see the gritty details of degeneracy to know it existed. The old movies assumed the viewers were adults who knew about the reality of life. Today’s film makers have to assume the viewers are retarded and need everything explained. Movies in late empire America are made for the recently arrived, provincial barbarians.

Finally, the thing that makes watching old movies worth the time is they offer a window into that long forgotten country of our ancestors. Unlike when I was a kid, young people don’t have to rely on old people telling them stories of the old days. Today, you can watch anything and everything ever made by Hollywood, even the bad stuff. Young people can watch YouTube clips from that country where humor was still legal. Most of it is crap, just as today, but it reveals what it was like in the bad old days.

More important, watching those old movies and TV shows, you can’t help but notice the early signs of poz being introduced. The stuff from the 1970’s is much more degenerate than the stuff from the 1960’s. In the 1980’s, the dumbing down becomes obvious as the makers started courting non-white audiences. It’s a good way to see how where we are now did not happen overnight. It was a long, deliberate war waged with patience and purpose. The fight for freedom will be long and require patience too.

Technology And Social Trust

People working in criminal law have been saying for years that Hollywood’s portrayal of forensic evidence has made it more difficult to prosecute criminals. They call it the “CSI Effect” named after a TV police drama. It is where jurors demand comprehensive forensic evidence, which effectively raises the burden of proof in criminal cases. Instead of eye witness testimony placing a suspect at the crime scene, jurors now expect physical evidence and testimony from an expert on the use of DNA to identify the suspect.

There’s no data to support this observation, but it is something that gets said a lot on TV, so everyone believes it. The increased expectation of what science can do has effectively raised the standard of proof. Another way to look at this is better technology has lowered the standard of trust. It used to be that people could trust themselves to judge the testimony of a witness. They could count on citizens being honest to them. Now, they want physical proof before taking the word of anyone in criminal court.

Of course, now that people in the legal system think this phenomenon is true, they operate on the assumption that no one will take anyone’s word for anything. That means the state invests in high tech forensic labs and pays a lot of experts to testify to jurors in criminal trials about the physical evidence. On the other side, the defense thinks simply being innocent is not enough, so they require experts and private labs to both provide an objective denial of guilt, as well as a counter to the state’s battery of experts.

It is a great example of how new technology can have unexpected results when introduced into a complex system like the criminal justice system. The underlying assumption of our system is that regular citizens can weigh the evidence and decide the guilt or innocence of the accused. Now the assumption is no one can weigh the evidence, other than specially trained experts. Technology has conjured into reality the idea of the fair witness from Stranger in a Strange Land.

The courtroom is not the only place where technology is causing us to lose faith in our senses. The advent of the hyperlink has made it so that any controversial assertion on-line is assumed to be false if it does not have a link to an authoritative source. In every on-line community you see demands for links to authoritative sources, whenever there is a dispute over something. These appeals to a neutral authority correspond to a decline in the lack of trust between people. It’s not true unless you have a link.

Something similar may be happening in the news. Take the Jussie Smollett incident in Chicago. Exactly no one believed him, because there was no video and no corroboration from a neutral technology source, like a cell phone camera. As soon as the cops revealed they could not find confirmation on their surveillance cameras, everyone just assumed it must be a hoax. There were plenty of doubters to begin with, given the number of prior hoaxes, but even the gullible are now expecting proof from technology.

The proliferation of cameras and now listening devices on public streets means it is increasingly difficult to do anything without being seen. Even if that is not true, it is assumed to be true. That means if there is no video, it did not happen. It also means if there is no video, there is no investigation, as the cops will soon figure out that it is waste of time to investigate crimes unless you can get video. The criminal mastermind of the future will be the guy who figures out how to avoid being identified by CCTV.

Another way the proliferation of technology changes social trust is seen on the college campus. In order to avoid being accused of rape, males now tape their interactions with coeds. They may have a buddy record audio so they can prove the encounter was consensual. Young people are growing up to expect everything to be recorded and to not trust anyone unless they can see video or hear audio. People mock the idea of getting consent in writing, but that’s probably better than everyone taping their encounters.

The other side of this coin is the casual way in which people allow themselves to be recorded by others. Every internet drama seems to involve one party publishing chats, video or audio of another party. Super villain Jeff Bezos is an obvious example. He broke the cardinal rule of super villains. Never write when you can speak. Never speak when you can nod. Most important, never send pics of you wiener to people. He was cavalier about being recorded and now is the world’s silliest super villain.

The result of all this is two things. One is the total lack of privacy. The only place that will be safe for anyone to imagine bad things is in their own head. When the internet of things is quietly spying in every home, car and public place, there will no longer be the concept of privacy. Imagine a land where there are no walls and no clothes. Everyone walks around naked and in full view of everyone else. It sounds crazy, but people adapt. The citizens of the future custodial state will get used to a word without privacy.

The other thing is no one will take anyone’s word for anything. This will include people in authority. If you can’t trust your own senses, you’re unlikely to trust the senses of some guy on television claiming to be your leader. Civic duty will have to be replaced with some form of coercion. Perhaps nudge technology will reach a point where the nudged will think they are acting of their own free will. Maybe the people in charge will fit everyone with a WiFi enabled technology collar that ties them into the internet of things.

It is assumed that technological advance always improves the material world. It certainly seems that way. It’s possible, however, that the trade-off for technological advance is the decline in social trust, maybe even a decline in empathy. In order for these new technologies to thrive, people have to abandon their ability to share the feelings of others and maybe even abandon their sense of self. The future will be a world of indifferent automatons, living in glass houses, under the eye of the state.

Free Will

Early humans, as best we can know, did not have a conception of free will, at least not in the way modern people think of it. Instead, they assumed the gods controlled the destiny of man, often directly interfering in the lives of people. What appeared to be your choice, was really just part of a bigger narrative that had been written by others. This is why it was possible for fortune tellers to exist. After all, if the future is not written, then how could anyone divine the future? Obviously, the future was already written.

The funny thing about these early notions of destiny is they did not exempt people from punishment for wrong doing. The thief was still punished, which does not make a lot of sense if his destiny was determined by the gods. Of course, the remedy here is to conclude that his destiny is to be executed and the destiny of the executioner is to be the one who punishes the thief. Even so, it suggests that people have always accepted some degree of free will, even in the age when people believed in gods controlling destiny.

The Greeks, of course, were the first to think about free will. They sort of crept up on the idea by first suggesting the natural world operated by fixed rules. A Greek philosopher named Anaximander proposed that there were ideal laws that governed material phenomenon in the physical world. The famous line from Heraclitus that “you can’t step twice into the same river” did not mean that the world was random. He meant that world is in constant flux, but the changes observed in nature follow a fixed set of laws.

It was not until a generation after Aristotle that the Greeks moved from the position where a set of laws controlled the physical world to a position where the atoms flowing through the void could suddenly swerve from their determined path. This ability of the physical world to deviate from the determined path meant that people could swerve from their determined path. Eventually, this chain of reasoning arrived at the conclusion that people could act from something other than chance or necessity. That’s free will.

The concept of free will has been essential to Western thought since the Greeks and it is an essential element of Christianity. You can’t have sin without free will and you cannot have communion without free will. People have to possess the ability to transcend chance and necessity in order to be held responsible for their actions. This is the fundamental assumption of Western society. Everything from civic morality to political organization is based on the belief that humans possess and exercise free will.

As is true in many aspects of this age, science in starting to question that old notion of free will. Genetics is revealing that our genetic code controls more than just our physical appearance. Our cognitive abilities are also controlled by our genes. Just as we cannot choose to be taller or be of another race, we cannot choose to be smarter or more patient or more prudent. It’s not just the larger aspects of pour personality that are fixed by our genetics code. Everything about us is written in our DNA.

People can accept something like intelligence being genetic. That’s something we begin to notice as children. When it comes to something like patience, for example, that’s where it gets more difficult to accept. It seems like you should be able to change that. The same is true of something like prudence. It seems like as we get older we become more prudent, more cautious about our actions. The mounds of self-help books all depend on the ability of people to alter these sorts of aspects of their personality.

Even though researchers are just scratching the surface with regards to the genetic causes of human cognitive traits, there are people ready to say free will is a myth. The HBD blogger Jayman argues that your choices can’t be “free” if they are so easily predicted by behavioral genetics. If we can predict behavior statistically and all human behavioral traits are heritable, it follows that what you think is free choice, is really just the complex execution of your code in response to external variables.

Again, the science of behavior genetics is just scratching the surface, but the data thus far certainly suggests this is correct. It’s certainly more complicated than what Hollywood imagines, but science says everything about us is in our code. There is probably not a criminal gene or a bad with girls gene, but there are a series of traits that influence these measurable qualities in positive and negative directions. Where you are on the spectrum of these cognitive traits is determined by your code.

Most people will find that rather monstrous, because of the implications. The most obvious is that genetic determinism rules out morality. People cannot be rewarded or punished, unless they can transcend chance and necessity. If their choices are simply the result of their code executing in response to environmental factors, they have no agency and therefore no responsibility. This also means there can be no such thing as sin, unless you believe God creates people coded to sin. The same is true of piety.

On the other hand, people with a background in math will know that not all algorithms produce a single result. A simple formula like f (x) = x² has the set of all positive integers for all possible values of x. Even though the result must always be positive, there is a qualitative difference between three and a billion and three. Something similar may be true about human genetic code. The possible result set is large enough to present a qualitative difference that is important to how we evaluate those results.

In other words, our code may make us like ice cream, but the range of ways that urge could express in our daily life is between murdering someone for ice cream and simply having some after dinner. Another bit of code, let’s call it the free will algorithm, controls how these cognitive traits express, based on the inputs from society. Just as random number generation is not actually random, but can be treated as such, the free will algorithm is not actually free will, but can be treated as such.

This notion of free will is certainly something that evolved. Your house pets do not have a concept of free will. This is a uniquely human trait. That means it may have arisen by chance, but it has a very important purpose. Rewarding and punishing people for their behavior must be essential to what defines as us people. Perhaps just as genes can arise from mutation, the replication process swerving from the path, our actions can also swerve from the path, based on some unknown capacity to choose.

Rugged Individual Sociopaths

Imagine in a discussion about the sex abuse that goes on in Hollywood, someone said, regarding the victims of the abuse, “I guess I’m meant to cry tears of sympathy for all of these people who were molested. Somehow I just can’t muster a single tear. You made your choices. Nobody put a gun to your head.” That would no doubt elicit gasps and a good deal of the familiar point and sputter. If nothing else, people are expected to show a little empathy for the victims of predators, especially when it is kids or young adults.

Empathy is essential to a high-trust society. It allows people to cooperate, rather than spend their time defending themselves from others in society. Empathy allows people to engage with others, trusting that the other side is acting in good faith and not trying to cheat the other party. It makes it possible to engage in things like charity and social improvement. When you can put yourself in the mind of a person outside your kin-group, share their feelings about things, cooperative society is possible.

It’s why liars and cheaters can never be tolerated. Their actions put the trust of society into question, which means their lack of empathy costs everyone. In some respects, the lack of empathy is worse than the crime itself. A man who kills another man in a dispute, but feels remorse, can be rehabilitated. A man who steals from another man and is unable to understand why it is wrong or celebrates his act, can never be rehabilitated and can never be a part of society. He can never be trusted, because he lacks empathy.

This basic insight into the nature of society has been a central element of the Western Right since de Maistre. It was always the radical that imagined human society as based entirely on self-interest. Humans would either cooperate because it worked to their advantage or not cooperate because it was to their advantage. Humans were infinity selfish and altruism was just a consequence of society and culture. Therefore, set the conditions of society just right and people will cooperate with one another.

The Right has always rejected that, until recently. The quote at the start of this post is a variation of this tweet from Matt Walsh. He is, according to his handlers, “a writer, speaker, author, and one of the religious Right’s most influential young voices.” In addition to that, they claim “He is known for boldly tackling the tough subjects and speaking out on faith and culture in a way that connects with his generation and beyond.” In reality, he is reproducing official dogma for the Official Right, what remains of it.

What that tweet reveals is that Official Conservatism™ thinks it is perfectly fine for sophisticated parties to prey on unsophisticated parties. In his case, it suggests the religious Right would be OK with the strong preying on the weak, as in the example at the start of the post. After all, pederasty is by definition a crime because one party, the adult, is sophisticated, while the other party, the young person, is not. Therefore, it is assumed they cannot bargain in the sexual marketplace on fair and equal terms.

Now, there is nothing in the writing of Matt Walsh to suggest he is in favor of pederasty, but there is no reason to think he would oppose it. After all, if he is so utterly lacking in empathy that he cannot muster even a bit of sympathy for people saddled with egregious school debt, his fitness for society is in question. His brand of flamboyant sociopathy is what we would expect from a serial predator or maybe a banker. You have to wonder what is wrong with someone who is so proudly callous toward his fellow citizens.

This is exactly why Official Conservatism™ is headed for the dustbin of history. It no longer offers a philosophical alternative to radicalism. Instead, it embraces the same callous and materialist view of society as the radicals. It starts from the premise that we are just random strangers flung together by serendipity, ruthlessly trying to advance our self-interest. The only difference between the radical and the so-called conservative is the former still thinks this can be remedied, while the latter embraces it.

A civil society is one in which the individuals naturally balance their interests against the interests of the whole. Popular government assumes this to be true. The people will debate and persuade one another about the proper balance. A democratic society composed of sociopaths quickly descends into gang warfare, where ever-shifting alliances of individuals makes war upon one another in a zero-sum game, ruthlessly exploiting the available resources. That’s a prison yard, not a high-trust society.

That’s why people with a soul should look at the student debt problem with sympathy and horror. It’s not just that these kids are saddled with debt. It’s that they and their parents are being preyed upon by sophisticated parties, with the aid and protection of the state. It is a form of economic piracy, in which the crown is quietly supporting the pirates, at the expense of the people’s commerce. Conservatives have always rejected this. Christians have always rejected this. Today, the “religious right” embraces it.

This inability to comprehend the basic building blocks of Western society is also why they cannot understand how open borders are a disaster. For someone like Matt Walsh, people are interchangeable, not only with one another, but with other economic units. In the materialist world view, social capital matters only in that it can be exploited for economic gain. In the zero-trust, Hobbesian world of the modern conservative, the greater the diversity, the greater the openness, which makes exploitation easier.

Authentic conservatism has always understood that Western society is built on trust and trust comes naturally to the familiar. Our greatest natural empathy is toward our family and then our kin group. From there is extends, but weakens, to those who look and sound like our kin. It breaks down entirely when it reaches those who are alien in appearance, speech, and custom. Therefore, high-trust societies can only exist in societies with a shared heritage and a shared biology. Diversity and trust are mutually exclusive.

Normal Is Not Forever

If you watch a movie from the 1970’s or maybe look at old family photos from the period, you’ll notice that people dressed funny. The men wore tacky looking polyester suits in odd colors, like lime green and powder blue. Women were also in polyester. They liked high-waisted pants with a bell-like shape to the trouser leg. Both men and women would wear denim or suede jackets on purpose. From the perspective of our age, the fashion of the 1970’s is quite hideous, but the people in that age thought they looked great.

Fashion is a form of public morality. We don’t think of it that way, but public morality is just a set of rules and customs that everyone assumes to be true. Some parts of public morality are informed by religion. In America, rules governing when and where it is acceptable to drink alcohol have their roots in Christian ethics of the 19th century. In the case of other rules, no one knows the source of authority. Like fashion trends, they just seem to be the set of rules everyone accepts at the moment.

If someone turns up in your office, dressed in a denim leisure suit, you’re going to assume they are crazy or maybe going to a costume party after work. It’s not that wearing a denim leisure suit is against the law or causing anyone harm. It’s that is so far outside of present sensibilities, about how people are supposed to dress, that you would assume there is some motivation other than taste. If it was just a bizarre sense of fashion, or lack of fashion in this case, the wearer would exile himself by doing it.

Fashion changes quickly and for no obvious reason. Why did people suddenly decide that velour jogging suits looked great and then suddenly decide they looked silly? Most likely, some famous person was talked into wearing a velour track suit on television and all of a sudden everyone had to have one. Maybe some clothing maker just took a shot and all of a sudden it was a trendy thing. A big part of the fashion business is simply trying to figure out how to create a new trend, so people will rush out and buy new clothes.

Just as fashion can change on a dime, other parts of public morality can change quickly for no obvious reason. It used to be that homosexuality was known, but best kept out of public view. It was perfectly acceptable to mock homosexuals. Today, of course, lack of reverence for homosexuals is on the list of unforgivable sins. Mark Steyn was purged by National Review, because he repeated an old Dean Martin joke about homosexuals. His crime was not being properly offended by a decades old gag.

In this area of public morality, it is popular to assign nefarious motives to the people pushing these changes in public morality. Some of it is true, for sure. Just as famous people wear strange costumes in an effort to signal their trendiness, people pushing trendy social fads are hoping to signal their virtue to good whites. Some of it though, is just the weird way in which trends change. Hollywood has been littered with homosexuals since the start, but it was OK to mock them, then all of a sudden it wasn’t.

Of course, even though something like wearing a denim leisure suit was fashionable in the 1970’s, you can still get mocked for it after the fact. John Derbyshire thought he looked great when he was taking on Bruce Lee, but there’s no doubt his kids still tease him for the hair and clothes. A stock part of family life is the parents showing their kids old pictures and the kids making sport of their parents for their weird costumes. The hideousness of the 1970’s is a nightmare from which the people of that era will never awake.

Would the people in the 1970’s have been more discriminating if they knew their future selves would so ashamed of those outfits? Most likely. If you know that in twenty years, heretics will be made to dress like you dress now, and be treated as pariahs, will you change things up? Most people would certainly like to avoid that sort of humiliation. They would absolutely want to avoid being associated with people being ostracized from future society. That knowledge would certainly change present behavior.

The same applies to other areas of public morality. The Left now goes through the social media time lines of newly famous people looking for blasphemy. Every once in a while an athlete has to issue an apology for something he said in high school or college. The whole “me too” movement was about traveling back in time to find things that were in violation of present morality. Thirty years ago, the casting couch was a fixture of Hollywood. Today it is a crime against humanity, at least it was until it stopped trending on Twitter.

Today, the fickleness of public morality regarding a wide range of issues has created a culture of fear. It’s not just that people are afraid of saying something blasphemous by today standards. They fear holding an opinion that will be blasphemous by tomorrow’s standards. The assumption is that the current trends with regards to human nature, human organization and politics will keep going in the same direction forever. Today it is immoral to laugh at a man in a dress. Tomorrow it will be immoral to not be a man in a dress.

As we saw with the fashions of the 1970’s, public morality can head down a cul-de-sac and then reverse course. Into the mid-60’s, fashion trends were fairly consistent, then all of a sudden they went off course. By the late 1970’s, people were dressing like clowns and goofballs. Then all of a sudden, the trend reversed and people quickly abandoned those goofy styles and got back to dressing like sane people. The fever broke and public morality regarding sartorial sensibilities returned to normal.

Something like that can happen with other areas of public morality. The residue of the cultural revolution is still with us, but the bellowing and shouting we see today could very well be a rear guard action to hold off the inevitable retreat. Antifa enforcers patrolling social media could very well be the velour track suit of this period. The people sporting those ideas today, will be mocked mercilessly in the future. Amy Harmon will be the William Jennings Bryan of this age, a symbol of primitive obscurantism.

It is impossible to know, of course, which is why our old picture albums are full of men in hats and women wearing weird outfits. Public morality, like fashion, does change and in unpredictable directions, because we are not good at seeing the future. With regards to public morality, covering things like science, reality is the ultimate check on these spasms of fashionable lunacy. The same is true of human organization. Multiculturalism is the decorative cod piece of this age. It has no utility and will eventually fall out of style.

The Egalitarian Pill

There are many reasons to hate libertarians, all of them valid, but the most compelling reason is their totally misplaced self-assurance. Libertarians walk around sure they have gained access to the book of secret knowledge, while everyone else is staggering around in primitive darkness. In reality, modern libertarianism is mostly just window dressing for the oogily-boogily that comes from the Left. Libertarians start from the same misplaced beliefs about the human condition, but seek a different end.

A good example is this post from Reason Magazine (clown horn) celebrating the start of National School Choice Week. According to their website, it is “a week of celebration to raise public awareness of the different K-12 education options available to children and families while also spotlighting the benefits of school choice.” Reason Magazine is a big fan of school choice, so they are doing some celebrating of their own, promoting various studies about the glories of school choice.

Nowhere is the magical thinking of modern libertarianism more evident than in the area of education. While they don’t go so far as to embrace magic dirt theory, like their Progressive counterparts, they do believe in the magic of location. For example, the first bullet point of that post says, “Eighteen empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the gold standard of social science. Of those, 14 find choice improves student outcomes.”

Without reading a single study, anyone with the least bit of math and science knows that these studies are nonsense. There’s simply no way to net out certain immutable facts about the human condition, to isolate the effects of choice. For example, smart parents, who invest in their children, are much more likely to take advantage of school choice programs than dull or indifferent parents. Parents who like learning and value knowledge, will have kids who like learning and value knowledge.

The only way you could really test these various education theories, including school choice, is to do a twin study. One twin is ripped away from his parents and placed with some dullards, who are happy to send him to the local public school. The other twin is ripped from his parents and placed in a home with high parental investment and access to school choice. Then maybe you could get some useful data. That’s monstrous and no one would ever agree to anything close to it, so it will never happen.

Another point on the list states, “Ten empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of those, nine find school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools.” Since we know the number of parents seeking to send their kids to majority black schools rounds to zero, this is actually a point against school choice for most people, but the modern libertarian has slugged down the multicultural ambrosia, so they can’t follow their own arguments here.

Look. Education is a function of biology. Smart kids tend to have smart parents and dumb kids tend to have dumb parents. Intelligence correlates with things like parental investment, peer selection, community involvement and so forth. The reason the kids at the school in the white suburb do better than the kids at the ghetto school is they came from better parents. Their parents built a stronger community, invest in their children and passed on their intelligence and social fitness to their kids.

The amusing part of the whole school choice debate is the Left fully understands what’s really going on here. Middle-class white parents want to avoid subjecting their kids to vibrancy. They will accept some of it, as long as the vibrancy has to pass through a filtering mechanism to weed out the really vibrant. The Left gets this, while libertarians and conservatives are drunk off their own fumes. If there is such a thing as “systemic racism” it is school choice. Everyone gets this except for the advocates.

This highlights the fundamental flaw of libertarianism. It’s the same flaw that has made Buckley-style conservatism utterly worthless. They accept the Progressive premise that there is no such thing as biology. People come into the world as amorphous blobs that can be shaped into proper citizens with the proper public policies and civic institutions. Once you take the egalitarian pill, the world stops making sense. From there it is an endless search for the right set of policies to make everyone equal.

The fact is, there is no fixing the schools. John Derbyshire brilliantly made this point in his global best seller We Are Doomed. Tens of billions have been poured into every conceivable education scheme. None have done anything to address the achievement gap and none have done anything to mitigate the inheritance gap. The best way to become a smart, educated person is to be born to parents who are smart and well educated. The schools can do nothing to make this happen.

That does not mean schools should be ignored. Public education, like public health, is a thing we expect government to manage. Instead of flushing billions down the drain fighting biological reality, vocational schools and the availability of jobs for people on the left side of the curve is the answer. No society can tolerate an excess of idle men, so fixing the schools in the ghetto means giving all those idle men something to do other than make babies, who will follow in their path. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

The Tyranny Of The Stupid & Mendacious

The great Greg Cochran will often point out that a smart person is someone who says smart things, but more important, they don’t say many dumb things. Everyone, no matter how smart, will get a dumb idea in their head or get carried away and say something stupid on occasion. It’s just not common with smart people, at least not as common as it is with dumb people. Being smart is as much the absence of stupidity as it is getting right answers or having a long list of brilliant insights.

This comes up often in public discussion of the human sciences. It is remarkable how often an allegedly smart person will say things that are laughably wrong about something in biology or human evolution. A favorite example is Cordelia Fine. She is a Full Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at The University of Melbourne, Australia. That is quite impressive, but she writes books that are full of nonsense about biology. Cochran’s review of her book, Testosterone Rex, is a great read.

Is Cordelia Fine stupid? Well, if you look at her credentials, you have to think she is pretty smart. She has a degree from Oxford and PhD in psychology. It’s not physics, but it’s not nothing. She has advanced in her career to a very high position. Presumably, she is a smart woman. Yet, she routinely writes and says things that are wrong and not just a little wrong either. As Cochran pointed out in his review of her book, she makes the sorts of errors one expects from undergraduates. That’s not smart.

The point is not to pick on Mx. Fine. She’s probably a delightful woman, who would be a pleasure to know. It’s just that she is a great example of the plague of incredibly stupid smart people we see in public life. In fact, it seems to be a requirement of the modern public intellectual to have a long list of credentials and an equally long list of statements that are obviously wrong. We live in an age in which the greatest barrier to success as a public intellectual is not having enough mistakes on your record.

In fairness, you can be smart and have a lot of crazy ideas in your head. The Unibomber was a genius. Ted Kaczynski graduated high school at 15 and was a professor of mathematics at Cal Berkeley at 25. His tested IQ was 167. There’s no denying he was a brilliant man, but he also sent bombs to people in the mail. The old line about there being a fine line between genius and madness always comes up in these cases, but the truth is, you can be both a genius and have a head full of nutty ideas.

Similarly, you can be a genius and be extremely weird or unpleasant. Richard Feynman was a brilliant physicist and a terrible human being, by most accounts. He was often described as ruthless and amoral. Another brilliant physicist was Paul Dirac, who is counted as one of the weirdest people in the history of science. He was so strange that someone wrote a book about him called The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac. Smart people can be so strange, people confuse them for stupid or nuts.

The problem we have today, however, is not an excess of evil super-geniuses or even a glut of eccentric ones. There’s no doubt that many of the pseudo intellectual posers we see in public life are mendacious and immoral. Ben Shapiro says things all the time he has to know are false, but mendacity serves his agenda. Like the Unibomber, he graduated high school early and zoomed through college in three years. He is not sending bombs through the mail, but he says a lot of ridiculous and dishonest things in public.

Everywhere you look, we have people with credentials that strongly suggest they are quite bright, yet they advocate for things that are quite dumb. Even after all these years, we still have “foreign policy experts” demanding we stay in Afghanistan and the Middle East, in order to turn them into democracies. Like Shapiro, they could be saying these things because they are paid to say them. That’s been known to happen. Still, it means our public intellectuals are smart people without scruples.

It’s also possible that the credentialing system we have been using for generations has gone horribly wrong and it now selects for charismatic sociopaths. Not to keep picking in Shapiro, but he is mostly a Hollywood creation. Perhaps the vetting system of college and graduate school has been corrupted to select for the sorts of people, who fit a role in the propaganda machine. Whatever the case, the people who are supposed to help the public sort through things are mostly stupid, crazy or mendacious.

Humans are by nature inclined to look to authorities, in order to understand the world around them. At least it seems that way. In every society that we know of, there were people in positions of authority to whom the people looked for solutions. The shaman or witch doctor may have been nuts, but he knew more about curing ailments and appeasing the gods than anyone else, so everyone looked to them for answers. To put it in modern terms, being less wrong used to count for a lot in human societies.

In the current age, “being smart” automatically bestows authority on someone. It even grants them authority on topics well outside their area of expertise. Yet, our shamans and witch doctors seem to have been selected for their propensity for error. As a result, people are walking around thinking there’s no biological difference between boys and girls, because they heard it from Cordelia Fine. They think James Watson is history’s greatest monster because some enlightened dingbat said so in the New York Times.

Maybe it does not matter that the public is made dumber by the new class of stupid, dishonest public intellectuals. The Aztecs made it a long time thinking human sacrifice was a good idea. Perhaps it really does not matter that the public is clueless, just as long as the people in charge are not clueless. The Iraq War, Bill Kristol, open borders and a whole host of recent public polices suggest the ruling class is suffering from the same malady as the intellectual class. Rule by stupid liars can’t possible end well.

The Citizen In A Democratic Empire

When most people think of citizenship, they think of their nation’s constitution or the rights guaranteed to them in the law. They will think of their obligations to their country, like paying taxes, obeying the law and defending the nation. In the West, a citizen is pretty much as the dictionary defines it, “a native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to protection from it.” It is a reciprocal set of obligations in the law, animated by a sense of duty by both the rulers and the ruled.

Additionally, at least in America, citizenship comes with a belief in equality between the people and the office holders. Every American grows up hearing that anyone can be President. The House of Representatives is known as the people’s house, because it was designed to not only represent the people, but be populated by representatives from the people. In other words, the citizens are ruled by their fellow citizens, not strangers or hired men paid by strangers. You can only be a citizen in your nation.

In the post-national world, that old definition of citizen no longer works. In a world where foreign people can just move in, claim the benefits and protections from the government, citizenship loses all value. At the same time, the state is increasingly alien to the people over whom it rules. In the European Union, the people are no longer ruled by their national governments, as all of the big decision are made in Brussels. In America, political offices are increasingly being filled by exotic weirdos with no connection to the natives.

The question then is what does it mean to be a citizen in a democratic empire?

The most obvious thing about the new citizen in the new post-national world is that the relationship between the citizen and the state is transactional. The state looks at the people as assets and liabilities. Theirs is a custodial role. The people that serve the interests of the state are treated differently from the people who depend on the state for their existence. It is a corporate relationship, except that people cannot be fired, so the useless ones will be stashed away while the productive are put to work.

Similarly, the citizen looks at his government in terms of what it can provide to him. He owes the state no more than he owes the coffee shop. The rules promulgated by the state are to be navigated around, rather than respected. If the rules work for the citizen or his group, the law is supported by the citizen or his group. On the other hand, if the law is an obstacle, then the law is subverted or ignored. In a post-national world, respect to the spirit of the law makes no more sense than having loyalty to a country.

This means that patriotism has no role in the democratic empire. Loyalty to your country only works if you actually have a country. The residue of patriotism will last for a while, as people will still think of their neighbors and friends as their countrymen, but in time, as those people are replaced by strangers, patriotism will disappear. In a transactional world populated by stranglers, your primary loyalty cannot be to the state, as it is just as much a stranger to you as the new neighbors, who just moved in from over the horizon.

The sterile transactionalism is already evident. Consider the change in relationship between employers and their workers. Everywhere in America, employment is at-will, which means an employee can be dismissed by an employer for any reason. Further, local business is atrophying as global enterprise monopolizes the marketplace. It used to be local business was a part of every community, sponsoring little leagues and charity drives. You’ll never see your kid’s little league sponsored by Google or Amazon.

Of course, this will have unforeseen consequences. For example, the military will no longer be able to rely on patriotism for recruitment. Since no one is a citizen in the old sense, the military stops being a citizen military. Instead, it takes on the characteristics of a mercenary army. The decision to join is no different than the decision to take one job over another. This will also apply to the police. The cops will no longer be citizens protecting and serving their community. They become free range prison guards.

Humans are social animals so the loss of national and regional identity means something will replace it. In a transactional world where everyone is a civic stranger, the old fashioned loyalties will become more important. Family, community, and tribe will be the only identities that have meaning. Again, we see the beginnings of this with the administrative layer of the managerial class. Those FBI agents plotting to overturn the 2016 elections were motivated by the emerging new identity politics.

That’s the thing that gets overstated in discussion of identity politics. The old identities will surely play a role, like race, ethnicity, and religion. New tribes resulting from the post-national relationships will emerge. The managerial state will begin to fracture and balkanize, as the rival power centers begin to jockey for power. Again, this can be seen in the obstruction of the Trump agenda by career bureaucrats in the government. They have become their own tribe and they have become class aware.

This paradise comes with a cost. Nations hold together for the same reason communities hold together. The social capital, those invisible bonds between people, breathe life into the organizing structure. Patriotism and civic duty are what animate the republic. Duty to king and the people is what animates a monarchy. This social capital is what binds the rulers to the ruled. In a highly transactional world, where social capital has been monetized or pushed to the margins, something else must animate the system.

That something else must be force driven by the self-interest of the people occupying positions in the power centers. We see some of that with the censorship campaigns by the tech giants and banks. This will become more overt until everyone has a natural hostility to everyone outside their social group. The cost of maintaining order will increase, but the means for imposing order will increase the cost of imposing that order. The empire will have no choice but to become more ruthless in its dealings.

If one wants to a preview of the post-national world, look at Lebanon. Every hill and every valley is its own nation, so to speak. Groups of the same religious sect or political persuasion can form temporary alliances, but Lebanon is not a coherent country with a common purpose. It’s just a place on the map with meaning only to those completely removed from the realities of Lebanese life. The future citizens will highly local and covetous of the small benefits he and his group can extract from the whole.