Bring Back Smoking

Are we getting stupider?

This is hard to know as we don’t have IQ exams from further back than last century. We have some ways to approximate IQ going back into the mists of time, but those will always get bogged down by debates over methods.Then you have the flat earth types who argue that IQ is not a real thing or that there are multiple forms of intelligence. Just sticking with the good data we have for the last 100 years or so, it does appear that the West is getting dumber. By how much and and how fast is the debate.

Why this could be happening is not much of a debate. There are three reasons related to biology. One is the Idiocracy example. The stupid are breeding like bunnies while the smart are reproducing at less than replacement levels. The high achieving man marries late and marries a high achieving women with a head full of feminist nonsense. They put off childbearing until she can only produce one child. Meanwhile, the guys that cut their grass are knocking up their girlfriends in high school and producing five kids.

Another reason is that stupid people are migrating into Western countries. This is an easy one as we just have to look at the news. The migrants flowing in from south of the equator into Western countries are bringing a mean IQ in the 80’s and sometimes, in the case of Somalis, the 70’s. They also breed like rabbits. A country full of 95-IQ white people that becomes 90% white and 10% Somali will lose almost ten IQ points. This is just an accelerated version of the above answer. It turns out that Magic Dirt is not real.

Finally, the hardest one to grasp is that something has happened to change the evolutionary pressure on the population that is now changing the rewards and punishments. Traits that in the past were punished, thus resulting in fewer children by those with those traits, are now neutral or maybe even slightly favored. We know smart people tend to live longer, so reducing the risk of death by misadventure or even death from common maladies could be lowering the over all IQ of Western populations.

If you want to read a bunch of smart people debating this, this post by Greg Cochran has a lively comment section. What you’ll note is that people focused on genetics tend not to consider environmental factors. In fact, they often veer into a form of genetic determinism that sounds a lot like astrology. The fault dear mortal is not in our stars, but in our genes, that we are just moist robots. People who tend to this sort of thinking are usually unfamiliar with 4GL programming languages or write JavaScript for a living.

That’s not to say free will is a real thing. Humans are not free to rewrite their personalities anymore than they can make themselves taller. We are the result of our wiring, plus some environmental factors like the community in which we were born, climate and serendipity. Someone born to the Amish will be raised to develop pro-Amish traits and ignore traits that are no useful to the Amish way. Environmental factors may play a small role over all, but they do play some role in what we are as people.

In specific cases, it could have an enormous role. Greg Cochran’s Gay Germ idea is a great example. Homosexuality is most certainly not genetic. Nature works against low-fitness. Males with a trait that sharply reduces their ability (or willingness) to mate will have far fewer offspring and therefore pass on this trait in low numbers. In just a few generations, the trait would die out. In the case of homosexuality, we know there were gay Roman emperors and Elton John is still with us, so this trait cannot be genetic.

Alternatively, homosexuality is either taught or the result of psychological damage done at a young by something like molestation. This is a popular idea on the Right, but it does not explain most cases. Lots of homosexuals grew up fairly normal lives and were simply attracted to the same sex once they hit sexual maturity. That’s where Cochran’s gay germ comes in. Instead of a trauma, it is a virus or parasite that triggers changes in brain chemistry, resulting homosexual behavior. That would provide an answer that fits the data.

Bringing this back to IQ, what if something like this is at work with Western IQ? Maybe not a germ, but environmental factors that are having a cascading effect on mean IQ. For example, such an idea has been posited to explain the spike in black crime. Many on the Left think the Tragic Dirt is contaminated with lead, leading to low-IQ and increased violence for the people living on the Tragic Dirt. It’s not a crazy idea, but like the Gay Germ, it is not proven idea. It’s more of a thought experiment at this stage.

Here’s soemthing else. Smoking rates began to decline in the middle of the last century, with the Baby Boomer interest in health. Nicotine is known to increase focus and increase your cognitive abilities. It’s why writers and computer programmers were all smokers. In fact, STEM fields in the 20th century were dominated by men who chain smoked at their desks. Anyone who has had to sit for hours working a math problem knows how exhausting it can be. Even a small boost in focus has enormous results.

What if the apparent uptick in Western IQ was accelerated by smoking? Tobacco was introduced to the West in the 16th century and its use increased steadily. By the 18th century, the use of tobacco was common. By the 19th century, smoking cigarettes was ubiquitous. Everyone smoked. It also corresponds with the Industrial Revolution. Once tobacco use became universal, Western technological progress took off like a rocket, culminating in a rocket literally taking off and putting men on the moon.

Once the anti-smoking crusades got a purchase in the 60’s and smoking rates declined, it does appear that the West began to decline. Perhaps that small boost to our cognitive ability had a huge impact on our intellectual achievements. Now that the crutch is gone, we’re doing idiotic things like putting minorities in charge and inviting in low-IQ barbarians from the fringes of civilization. Perhaps the lunacy that has gripped the West is simply the withdraw symptoms of kicking the habit.

Maybe we need to start smoking again.

Zed2K

Kevin Michael Grace contacted me a while back about doing a segment for his podcast, Grace & Steel. He and his partner, Kevin Steel, do a weekly podcast where they will often interview someone for an hour or two. I’m a listener to their program, so I was flattered and agree to do it. I’m also a believer in the adage, “support the media that supports you.” One way to help to turn the tide in this fight, is for our team to universally no-platform the media of the bad guys. I may be a bit player, but I can do my part.

Anyway, another reason for agreeing to do this was that I have been thinking about doing a podcast, but I was unclear about what was involved. Frankly, I was not sure I could talk coherently for 30 minutes or more. Listen to a podcast and they cruise along effortlessly for a full show and it always feels like they could do so much more. On the other hand, you can stand in front of a crowd, giving a speech and five minutes feels like five hours. I was not sure if I could actually talk about enough things to fill a podcast.

What I learned is a good interviewer can keep you talking for as long as he likes and Kevin is a good interviewer. The real challenge, besides the content, is the technical aspects. In order to not sound like you are in a well or a steamer trunk, you need some equipment and software. Cheap equipment and cheap software means the audio sounds weird. It’s also why many video podcasts look like hostage videos. The sound is bad and the people are looking at their screen instead of the camera.

In my case, I relied on the microphone in the laptop, which probably costs fifty cents for the Chinese manufacturer. The result was a I sounded a little muffled and nasally. I think if I was going to try my hand at this, I’d want to invest in the proper equipment. I don’t know this for certain, but my guess is there is a lot more to it than just the microphone. I just got a taste of what is involved to do it properly. The big shot podcasters who actually make a living at it probably have studio quality gear and know how to use it.

In order to do a first rate podcast, you need to invest in a high quality microphone and you need to learn how to use software to mix, edit and touch up the final product. Grace & Steel uses a method where I recorded my end of the conversation and Kevin recorded his end. After it was over, the other Kevin mixed the two, filtering out the bad parts and strange noises. That’s the other thing I learned. There is a lot of work involved in producing these things, if you want to do it right.

As far as the interview, it was more of a conversation and we could have gone on for hours. Kevin is an interesting guy with a lot of time in the ideological trenches. He has read and interviewed the big shots in conservative media so he knows the terrain. One of the many knowledge gaps between those inside conventional politics and those outside, is that the people outside know there is a rich and dynamic world outside conventional politics. The people in the bubble don’t know what they don’t know.

Anyway, here is the final product. Enjoy.

A Post About Feudalism

In the Middle Ages, feudalism was not thought of as a political system or even an economic system. The people using the term, and enforcing the rules, simply looked at it as a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the nobility. The lord or king, granted property, a fief, to a vassal, who then had military or economic obligations to the lord who granted it to him. The property could be land, titles or a right to collect taxes in a certain area of the realm. You’ll note that the peasants were not part of the discussion.

Just because the people ruling over the feudal system had no regard for the peasants, it did not mean the peasants were unimportant. The peasants worked the land, provided men for military service, operated the system of trade and food rents. Modern historians prefer to describe this period as manorialism. This a system that bound the peasants, the nobility and clergy together economically and politically through a hierarchy of economic obligations. Everyone kicked up to someone, in labor, kind or coin.

It’s easy to dismiss this organizational model, but it lasted for six centuries and provided the foundation for later developments like property rights and the rule of law. One big flaw in this system is it transfers the cost of society, and all the risks inherent in the human condition, to the lowest possible level of society. The peasants have to hand over food rents, even when there is a bad harvest or an invasion by barbarians. That’s because the lord of the manor owes his lord food rents or coin, regardless of the harvest.

Probably the biggest defect is it is a zero sum game at the top of society. The king can only have one heir. Similarly, his vassals can only have one heir. Usually, the goal was to have an heir and a spare. The spare served in the military just in case the first born son died or was an idiot. Extra kids and daughters would be sent off to the church. This is good for the church and military as they get high quality people, but the rest of society is locked into a swelling peasant population until nature culls the herd.

In his book A Farewell to Alms, Gregory Clark argues that Britain experienced an extended period where the peasants died off due to disease and violence. At the same time, members of the ruling class precipitated down to take up the positions in the lower classes. Downward mobility raised the mean IQ of British society until it reached an inflection point where it escaped feudalism and developed a market economy, and eventually the industrial revolution. Downward mobility birthed upward mobility.

Historians have argued that the black plague ended feudalism on the Continent because it knocked the foundation out from under the economic pyramid. When a third of the peasant population was killed by disease, the system ceased to be economically viable. Of course, the disease killed a lot of nobles too. Once the peasants were free to move about, they could go work for the highest bidder. The labor shortage caused by the plague gave the peasantry new economic power and that translated to political power.

The mobility of human capital, vertically as well as horizontally, coincides with the collapse of the feudal system. Whether it was the collapse of the system that unleashed this mobility or it was the mobility that undermined the system is debatable. Perhaps some combination of both. As the system became more fragile, mobility increased, which in turn made the system more fragile. The waves of plague that decimated the population finished off the process that started much earlier.

something similar happened in America in the 17th and 18th century. The second and third sons of land owners headed west looking for land. Of course, ambitious and talented men like Ben Franklin could literally go from rags to riches. Similarly, the post WW2 period was a time of high social mobility in America. Ambitious men could move up into the middle class or move west looking for a shot to make their fortune. It’s not an accident that the U-Haul Company started after the war. Americans are not moving much anymore.

Another interesting reality of the feudal system is that it was a rentier system. The people at the top did not make anything or improve anything. They were not particularly inventive or creative. The slow progress in agricultural technology is a good example of the technological stagnation. The nobles and the church lived off the rake. They skimmed from every layer of society. Feudalism was  a pyramid scheme, where each layer paid the layer above a portion of their take. It operated a lot like the modern financial system.

The real key to the system, the point of system, was the protection of asset values, which mostly meant land, but also mines, ports and fisheries. The chief concern of the nobles was the preservation of the asset base. Owning land meant owning rents, which meant a permanent place in the ruling class. Feudalism was, at its heart, a way to protect land from external threats, as well as internal ones. In the modern age, the monetary system works the same way. It’s primary purpose is to protect and promote asset values.

The challenge of the feudal system was not a lot different from the challenges of the current age, at least for those who sit atop the social system The key was maintaining the balance between the social layers of the pyramid. Too many people in the managerial class means too many idle hands doing the devil’s work. They could also start complaining about their economic status. Maybe they would try to rally the lower classes to support their demands for a bigger share of the skim.

The New Ways Of War

Early warfare, as best we can tell, was more like gang fights in the modern ghetto than the sort of stuff we associate with war in Antiquity. One settlement would round up some men, who would take on the men of the neighboring settlement. They went at one another in a melee, using axes, clubs and short swords, maybe, with the leaders right there in the middle of it, leading their war bands. A lot of it may have been ritualized, rather than actual combat, but that’s speculation. What’s clear is ti was small scale.

Prosperity changed that as better organization and better agriculture allowed for more men to be full time warriors. Greater prosperity also meant better weapons. Ranged weapons made the full speed charge, by men on foot, a losing proposition, unless you could put your men on horses or in chariots. Speed meant you could have formations and then flanking maneuvers, which required strategy and execution. Each innovation led to more innovations. The ways of war changed as military technology and tactics evolved.

Changes in military technology often have unforeseen consequences. The introduction of the machine gun in the Great War is the best example. Even with the new artillery, war was expected to be men advancing on one another over open fields. This was the way war was fought and the way the French were prepared to fight it. They even had their officers in colorful uniforms so they could be seen by their men. The machine gun made this style of war utter insanity, but no one thought about that until the bodies piled up.

The machine gun, along with fantastic improvements in artillery, resulted in trench warfare that was hopelessly expensive and bloody. That led to new tactics and new weapons. The tank, for example, was developed to counter the trenches and barbed wire. Eventually, planes became another answer to fixed defensive positions. All of these new weapons eventually led to new strategies.The Battle of Cambrai, in which the British used tanks, artillery, infantry and air power is one of the first examples of combined arms tactics.

The point to all of this is that war evolves and not always in ways that are predictable or even imaginable. Every new advance in weapons and tactics leads to responses and new weapons and tactics. The most recent example if the “little green men” that suddenly popped up in Crimea. Instead of an invading Russian army, a pro-Russian mercenary force appeared out of nowhere to lead a revolt against Ukrainian control of the region. It was, to a great degree, an example of Fourth Generation Warfare.

A question to ponder is what happens when energy weapons become a practical response to ballistic missiles and drones? The US military has been making steady progress developing mobile laser systems, able to knock out ballistic missiles. They are a decade away from anything usable, but it is not unrealistic to imagine a time in the near future when it is possible to knock out incoming missiles. This sort of technology has a funny way of advancing quickly after it gets deployed.

Of course, a weapon that can render another weapon obsolete is a very dangerous weapon. The reason ground-based, anti-missile systems are such a sensitive subject is because they throw off the balance of arms and require a response. A missile defense system in Europe, that could plausibly knock down Russian missiles, would require the Russians to make a lot more missiles, in addition to other plans to counter this new weapon. That’s a big unknown so everyone treads lightly.

Logically, the sudden advance in military technology 100 years ago, along with the lethality of the new technology, should have made war less likely. Cannonballs and bayonet charges are terrible things, but they pale in comparison to massed machine gun fire on advancing infantry. It would seem blazingly obvious that unless you have an answer for the machine gun, much less the new artillery, you don’t willingly go to war. That’s not what happened. Two great industrial wars latter and the West was just about dead.

That’s an important lesson to keep in mind while thinking about what’s happening with military technology, as well as military strategy. Laser weapons may be a ways off, but drone technology is here and changing how we fight wars. A sky full of flying death robots, capable of working in concert or independently, to bring death to an enemy is going to change how nations go to war. It means new weapons and new ways of fighting. Even the Arabs are adapting to drone warfare. Imagine what the Chinese are doing.

Of course, the new responses do not have to be strictly military. The Million Mohammedan March into Europe surely included jihadis willing to die for Allah. Maybe some of those jihadis were trained by Syria, at the behest of Russia. If you are Russia, you have to be looking at the truck attacks and thinking that could be an effective weapon. If you cannot win the technology fight, maybe the answer lies in some other area of the battlefield. New technology may result in a proliferation of asymmetric warfare waged by state actors.

It’s fun to speculate, but flying death robots alone change the way the world will be fighting wars in the future. Things like carriers can quickly become white elephants in a world where a swarm or drones can fall out of the sky or come up from the depths of the ocean. Everyone forgets about the coming proliferation of a independently controlled torpedoes that can literally roam the ocean looking for targets. The microprocessor goes from being a force multiplier to a force nullifier.

It would be nice if the proliferation of killing machines worked as a deterrent to war, but that is not the lesson of history. The one exception has been nuclear weapons, which probably kept the the Soviets from invading Europe and the US from systematically undermining the Russian government, as we see going on today. The new technology does not promise to destroy the world so it probably will not be much of a deterrent. If anything, as we have seen with the neocon warmongering, it will make everyone reckless.

Me and TV

I had been a DirecTV subscriber for years, mostly so I could watch sports, which is the only reason I have a television. I’ve gone long stretches of my life without a TV, but it is a nice convenience for when you’re stuck at home with nothing better to do. I do enjoy watching baseball and football. Some of the long form dramas produced by the big cable channels have been good too. Otherwise, I’ve never developed the habit of following sitcoms and serials. I doubt I could name one show popular in prime time.

Back in January I decided to cancel my subscription. The cost had reached the point where it no longer made sense. The game DirecTV plays is they slowly jack up the monthly fee until you decide you’ve had enough and call to cancel. They haggle with you and offer a discount if you stay with them. It is a crazy way to do business, but I suppose it works for them. Most Americans hate confrontations over money and most Americans hate haggling. My Arab friends love DirecTV.

The haggle to finally get free took exactly 25 minutes. I knew what was coming so I was prepared to enjoys it. I allowed the customer retention rep to think he had a real chance to get me to change my mind. We went back and forth for about ten minutes and then he threw me a curve by transferring me to his supervisor. He and I did the dance for another ten minutes and I finally prevailed. The remainder of the conversation was going through a surprisingly long list of details in order to cancel television.

The funny thing about cutting the cord, at least for me, is I’m probably watching more television now than when I had a subscription. I have an Amazon Fire and I have a Prime account. I no longer go to stores, other than for groceries, so I get good use of the Amazon account. I’m one of those people who gets more than his annual fee in free shipping. That also means I have access to all sorts of video content on the Fire. Amazon does offer a lot of video content on their system.

I also loaded the Kodi app on the thing so I have the underground streaming services for just about anything you can imagine. I’m fond of Pakistani cinema so it is nice to be able to get that whenever I want. The Kodi app is to television what Napster was to the music industry. It is a tool to allow the black market to undermine the oligopoly controlling the US television business. At some point, Big Cable will figure out how to shut them down, but the damage will have been done and the cost of winning will kill the cable model.

Anyway, the reason I’m probably watching more television now is that I have more to watch. It used to be that I’d fruitlessly scan the channels looking for anything that caught my interest. Unless a game was on, I’d end up leaving the TV on and wandering off to do something else. Other than sporting events, it was mostly just background noise as I got tired of the process of finding something worth watching. Throw in the excessive commercials and the whole process was more punishment than pleasure.

Now, I have a whole list of programs I’ve queued up so when I want to watch a show, I turn on the show or movie. The fact that it is commercial free makes the experience more enjoyable. I’m binge watching, as the kids say, the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. It’s nice to watch two episodes back-to-back. By the time I settle into watch TV, it is around 8:00 PM so I watch two episodes then go to bed. I usually read or write for a few hours before bed so it works out well, so it works for me to do both.

It sort of reminds me of what television was like when I was a kid. We watched TV in the same way people went to the movies. It was a planned event. After school, we only watched TV when the weather was bad. My dad would watch the evening news on occasion, but usually, the TV was off until after dinner and some popular prime-time show that we watched as a family. In other words, television was not the center of life. It was just one of many cheap entertainments.

It’s not hard to see where it is heading. The days of the cable subscription are nearing an end. Old people will continue to prefer that model, mostly because it is simple and familiar. In time, the on-demand model will figure out how to appeal to geezers who don’t like change. I’m not quite a geezer, but I appreciate that going cordless is a bit of hassle. I had to fiddle with the Fire and load the Kodi app onto it. Just as Facebook is now dominated by seniors, these cordless services will soon be common among the geezers.

The other change on the TV front is I had to get a new XBox. The old one died, mostly from lack of use, I suspect. I’m not much of a gamer, but on a rainy day or when I have people to the ghetto for drinks, it is a nice to have item. I bought a new one and it has a Blu-ray player, which is something I never experienced. Having watched my first Blu-ray disc, I’m not seeing the big difference. It’s a little better, but I suspect you have to have an Ultra-HD TV to really appreciate the higher quality.

The comical part of the XBox was that I had to download 1.5 GB of updates before I could use the thing. I’m old enough to remember when computer storage always had the letter ‘K” in it. Once that was done, I loaded my first Blu-ray only to learn that the  Blu-ray app need to download an update. Then the controller needed a firmware update. I bet it took three hours of prep just to use the stupid thing. A big part of modern life is waiting for your electronics to prepare themselves for your use.

Like a junkie just out of rehab, I’m off TV and I swear this is it for me.

Essential Knowledge: Part VIII

The great inflection point in Western history is probably the Renaissance, which was the start of the great flowering of European culture and intellectual life. There are endless arguments to be had on this topic, but there is no denying that in the 16th century, the West began to rocket past the world, moving from the “dark ages” into the modern intellectual era. When people talk about the Western canon this is the starting point.

It is impossible to be an educated man without having a familiarity with the important figures and events from the Renaissance through the 19th century. I say familiarity, because you can, and people do, make a career out of studying just one man or one period. The Scottish Enlightenment, for example, produced a library full of important texts that still resonate today. The Scots, arguably, gave the world empiricism, which is no small contribution.

Unless you intend to be an academic, a familiarity with the important people and texts is enough. One way to dive into these very deep waters is to examine the intellectual traditions in which our modern intellectual movements are rooted. A good place to start is with old Karl Marx. He was not some evil weed that sprang from the void. He was, in many respects, a result of the intellectual revolution that begin with the Reformation.

The first proto-Marxist book on the list is Utopia by Thomas More. In addition to getting himself executed by Henry VIII, Moore wrote one of the great works of political philosophy. It casts a very long shadow, having influenced works like New Atlantis by Francis Bacon, Erewhon by Samuel Butler, and Candide by Voltaire.  It’s also why we have the word “utopia” in our vocabulary and why we have science fiction today. That’s right. Modern science fiction has its roots in the works of a 16th century priest Lawyer.

Another work that influenced Marx and many other communists and socialists is an almost forgotten work written during the age of Cromwell. The Commonwealth of Oceana is not an easy book to read, even in its day. Harrington was, but all accounts, a terribly undisciplined writer. But, like a lot of the great books in the canon, the struggle pays off, even if you just sample it. It offers insights into the fevered mind of the radical egalitarian, that continues to wreak havoc on civilization to this day.

Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu has one of the greatest names in the Western intellectual tradition. He also wrote one of the great works of the Western canon. The Spirit of the Laws has been relied upon by radical republicans and radical Marxists. Montesquieu introduced two key concepts. The separation of the powers and despotism. He also introduced a different reading of history, one that explains great events in terms of mass movements, rather than just the deeds of men.

Despite what you may think, Marx studied the same political economist that allegedly influenced the free market economists of today. The first name on the list is, of course, Adam Smith. His massive, two volume The Wealth of Nations is actually not bad reading, even for the the short attention spans of today. For those libertarians obsessed with legalizing drugs, Smith’s discussion of the English corn laws is priceless. You can literally do word substitution with “corn” and “drugs” and get a great legalization argument.

Anyone who knows anything about Marx has heard the phrase “labor theory of value” even though Marx never used the term. That’s because the guy who did coin the phrase is David Ricardo. He not only gave us the labor theory of value, he gave us theories of rent, wages, and profits. He’s also responsible for the phrase “comparative advantage.” Ricardo is a giant in political economy, along with Smith, Mill and Malthus. The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation is the book to read.

Marx was not just focused on economics. Read the Communist Manifesto, and no, you will not burst into flames by holding it, and you see it is more than just an economic manifesto. Marxism, like communism and socialism, uses the vehicle of economics as a way to reach the just society. Of course, Marx was heavily influenced by Rousseau so reading The Social Contract is required. You can also read his Discourse on Inequality as it is short and popular with the modern Left.

Rousseau was building on the work of two of the most important philosophers in the Western canon. Thomas Hobbes gave us the term “leviathan” in the book conveniently title Leviathan, which established social contract theory, that has served as the foundation for most later Western political philosophy. To a modern reader, it is a tough slog, but worth it in the end. It’s also important to note that Marx largely rejected social contract theory in favor of utilitarianism.

Similarly, John Locke is a major influence, even to this day. Locke gave us republicanism, the theory of the mind, the concept of the individual, self-derived identity and the big one, the blank slate. Locke maintained that we are born without innate ideas, and that knowledge is instead determined only by experience. This is now known as empiricism, but it should be easy to see where this eventually led. That’s right, John Locke is responsible for trannies in the bathroom and female Marines.

Locke is a big deal so you have to read a few of his works to appreciate his contributions. Fortunately, Locke was also brief, so his works tended to be more like pamphlets. A Letter Concerning TolerationTwo Treatises of Government and An Essay Concerning Human Understanding are required reading. Luckily, you can get these free on Kindle or for a few bucks as paperbacks. It’s ironic that the most important works in Western history are usually available for less than the price of a trip to Starbucks.

There were have an introduction to political philosophy via proto-Marxism.

Space Aliens & Talking Monkeys

On the Twitter machine, I saw this posted by Chris Hayes, a liberal airhead, who makes noise on cable television. Given that the BBC is advocating the return of blasphemy laws, I naturally assumed American liberals were now agitating for a police state. But, that was not the point of the tweet. It was a link to his article on something called The Hive. The irony was completely lost on him. Almost two decades ago Joe Sobran and Tom Bethell coined the term to describe the Left-Intellectual orthodoxy that rules us.

Hayes, of course, is an incurious dullard so it is hardly a surprise that he was unaware of the irony. MSNBC could have people dressed up in bumblebee costumes, dancing around the set of his show, and he would still not get it. Still, most people under the age 50 would not be aware of Joe Sobran and his writings about Progressive fanatics. The great convergence of the so-called Left and the so-called Right has sent all the old paleocons down the memory hole. Vast swaths of conservative thought has been largely forgotten.

The point here is that it is easy for information to get lost between generations. Most of the people, who were around when guys like Sobran were active, are either old men now or they were too young to appreciate what was being said. That and the long neocon war against Anglo-Saxon conservatism has gone on for so long that multiple generations of people have grown up believing these ideas were outside the realm of respectable thought. This has happened to libertarians, as well. How many Reason Magazine types are aware of Lew Rockwell?

The modern assumption is that human knowledge is accretive, which means it builds up over time. Each generation adds another layer of knowledge upon which subsequent generations puts down their layer of knowledge. After all, the technology of this age is more advanced than the technology of a century ago. The people in the age of the Great War were far more advanced than the people of the Napoleonic era. It certainly feels like technological progress is a steady accumulation from one generation to the next.

While it is true that we are technologically advanced compared to people in ancient Greece, the progress has been in fits and starts. Further, the progress has not been universal. The Greeks knew more about human nature and culture, for example, than modern people. Our intellectuals are advocates of the blank slate, which is a few clicks more ridiculous than the flat earth argument. Further still, some knowledge possessed by the ancients has been lost to us. Damascus steel and Greek fire are two examples.

There’s also something called The Sapien Paradox, which means, why did humans become smart so late? We know that the human brain evolved to its current state about 60,000 years ago. It took 50,000 years for humans to figure out agriculture. Over the last 10,000 years, humans developed symbolic concepts like notions of value, number and measure. Abstract social concepts like status and power, along with the symbols associated with them are, relatively speaking, very recent developments

Even in this recent run of progress, there were long periods where humans not only stagnated, but regressed. Life in Rome at the time of Julius Caesar was vastly better than life in Rome during the fifth century or even the tenth century. Agricultural technology regressed for much of the medieval period after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. If you departed earth from Europe in 1900 and returned to Europe in 1950, you would have assumed society collapsed and fallen back into barbarism.

The fact is, the store of human knowledge has leaks and is susceptible to spoilage over successive generations. This is obvious in the current state of space exploration. Two generations of men went from zero to landing on the moon. Now we struggle to get payloads into space. Right now we can’t return to the moon. It will take a generation to accomplish what happened two generations ago. Imagine what would happen if some great calamity strikes the world like an epidemic or nuclear war.

What does this have to do with space aliens?

Given that humans needed 10,000 years to go from domesticating animals for the first time to making it to the moon, we have some idea of where visiting space aliens would be on the evolutionary timeline. They would be at least 10,000 years ahead of us, maybe more. The reason for that is the technological jump, from where we are now to effectively transporting anything to another solar system, is about the same as the jump from riding a horse for the first time to riding a rocket to the moon at back.

There’s also the fact that this alien race would have figured out the problem of knowledge boiling off between generations and especially between cataclysms. The most likely solution for former would be much longer lives. If humans lived for 200 active, vibrant years, a reasonably smart person could learn everything to be known in his field and have time to add to it. The latter problem would require accumulating enough knowledge to avoid the society destroying cataclysms that have been a feature of human history.

Of course, being a very long lived species would have an added benefit when it comes to space travel. Launching a human to Mars and back is a one year mission. Landing on the planet probably makes it a two year trip. That’s about ten percent of a man’s prime space travel years. If we assume space aliens can reach something close to light speed, they would still need 40 years to get anywhere interesting. If they had lives roughly equivalent to a thousand earth years, then a trip to visit us would be like us going to the moon.

There you have it. If space aliens are out there and able to reach earth, they will most certainly be a very long lived species. This is not just for the travel issue, but for the store of knowledge problem. They will also have to be a several orders of magnitude smarter than modern humans. To them, we will be a dumb version of our ancestors, who first left Africa. It’s entirely possible the space aliens will find the insects and fauna of our planet more interesting than the talking monkeys.

The Fading Star

Tyler Cowen posted his latest Conversations with Tyler. His guest was Malcolm Gladwell, the famous gadfly and popularizer of the blank slate. Of course, Cowen slobbers all over him, because that’s what good thinkers are supposed to do when they get to meet someone like Gladwell. It’s a way of letting the other good thinkers know you are not the sort that colors outside the lines. Gladwell is one of those guys who is more famous for what he represents than anything he has said or written.

Celebrity intellectuals are not famous because they have offered up a great insight or discovery. There’s no money in that. New ideas challenge the orthodoxy. The people with the money to help an aspiring celebrity intellectual live the sort of life they deserve tend not to like challenges to the orthodoxy. Instead they gravitate to people who confirm that the current arrangements are as the heavens ordained. That’s Gladwell. His celebrity is rooted in his ability to flatter the Cloud People.

The typical path to celebrity for these guys is not much different than the way mediocre comics get rich and famous. The game is to flatter the right audience. Making a bunch of bad whites in the hill country feel good about themselves is not a path to the easy life. You can make a nice living, but you’re not going to be doing Ted Talks or getting five figures to do the college circuit. Figure how to let the Cloud People on the Upper West Side feel like champions and you have the golden ticket.

People fond of biological realism and quantitative analysis tend to enjoy making sport of Gladwell, mostly because he makes some hilariously stupid claims. His 10,000 hour rule argument was so stupid it was not even wrong. Steve Sailer has made a hobby out of pulling apart Gladwell’s claims. Sailer is a smart guy, who understands that if he tossed Gladwell off a roof, Gladwell would eventually hit the pavement below, so I suspect he is offended by the idea of a bullshit artist like Gladwell getting rich by peddling nonsense.

The thing is, guys like Gladwell exist off a number of biases and one of them is that they are sincere in their intentions. They truly believe the things they are saying. The difference between a con-man and a moron is that the moron really believes what he is saying. The grifter not only knows he is spouting nonsense, but he crafted the nonsense to take advantage of people. A big part of the Gladwell act is that he presents himself as a sincere dork, who just happens to notice that his audience is on the right side of history.

Of course, what really helps Gladwell is the fact that he is mixed race and  the best kind of mixed race. His mother is black and his father is a English honky. Unlike Barak Obama, Gladwell can pass for white so he gets to play both sides of race street, sort of like how white women like to say they are part Native American. It is the dream of every Progressive white women to get all the victim points of being black, without having to actually be black. As a result, Gladwell makes an excellent totem.

In fairness, Gladwell did catch lightning in a bottle with his first book. It came out just as the Great Progressive Awakening was getting started. Many Progressives saw the Bush election as a tipping point. Bush winning the White House was the nightmare made real and it became a rallying point around which their great cause would be based, at least until that incarnation of the 12th Invisible Hitler was vanquished. Gladwell’s book confirmed what many Progressives were feeling, particularity those in the chattering classes.

As the Great Progressive Awakening comes to an end, so does the rock star status of Malcolm Gladwell. His last two books sold well, mostly due to his name, but both were panned by critics. He was never really an idea man, more of a zeitgeist man. From his perch at the New Yorker, he could take the temperature of his fellow Cloud dwellers and come up with ways to titillate them. The mood has turned dark and angry in the Cloud, so Gladwell’s child-like sense of wonder does not titillate like it did at the beginning..

He will get the same treatment as Jon Stewart, who was replaced as the Official Cloud People Comic by a colorful array of bitter losers. Stewart’s exaggerated irony face routine was replaced by a turkey-necked old hen, who spends 30 minutes a night screeching into the camera. Stewart’s comedy was for people who believed they were riding the tides of history to the promised land. Samantha Bee is for losers, who are being carted off to Babylon and a life of servitude. Somewhere, a blue haired lesbian with a face full of fishing tackle and an apartment full of cats is writing the next Cloud People best seller.

Essential Knowledge: Part VII

The great events of Western history almost always revolve around a revolution or a great war, where the nation, or even the West as a whole, comes out the other side as something radically different. The most obvious recent example is the first half of the 20th century, where Europe went in as a collection of empires and kingdoms and emerged as a collection of vassal states. Wars and revolutions are more often than not the result of a slow build up of pressure, like two tectonic plates bumping into one another.

The resulting earthquake reconfigured the map of Europe, not just geographically, but culturally and spiritually. The European culture of the 19th century was obliterated and replaced by a bland servitude culture. The impact of those two industrial wars was so immense that even today, Europe is afraid to stand up for itself in the face of a migrant onslaught. Anything that smacks of nationalism sends chills up the spines of Europe’s elite, as they remain in the shadow of the great wars of the last century.

One way to approach history is to treat the wars and revolutions like hubs from which radiate out spokes of history. Some spokes extend into the past, reaching back to antecedents that led up to the great event. The Great War, for example, was in no small part the result of the unification of Germany. Other spokes head of laterally, setting off events in other countries. The French Revolution, for example, had a great influence on the Bolsheviks, who studied the Jacobins and built on their tactics.

The first big upheaval on the list is the English Civil War. Most everyone knows about Oliver Cromwell, but the consequences of the war between the Roundheads and Cavaliers is still with us, particularly in America. One of the more popular recent books is from Peter Ackroyd, Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution. For those with short attention spans, this booklet is actually a pretty good summary. If you like podcasts, Mike Duncan’s Revolutions Podcast is a good choice.

The key figure is Oliver Cromwell. He is a remarkable guy in many ways, but for Americans he casts a particularly long shadow. That’s because his spiritual followers landed in New England. The reason the University of Virginia has a Cavalier as its mascot is because of the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell and the Rule of the Puritans in England is a pretty good treatment. If you are really serious about knowing the mind of Cromwell, then you can read his collected letters and speeches.

That brings us to the American Revolutionary War. The challenge here is in finding books that are not myth making or nonsense histories. One way around this is to focus on the key people and read biographies of them. It’s hard to write historical figures into the modern narrative, because historians tend to be covetous of the figures they have studied and they are quick to criticize attempts to remake historical figures. Plus, seeing the event through the eyes of the participants adds another perspective.

James Madison and the Making of America is a great place to start. Ben Franklin’s autobiography is a must read. Of course, Thomas Paine’s writings are also a must read because they were instrumental in two great revolutions. John Adams is a giant from the period. Of course, Thomas Jefferson is another giant. An interesting book on two critical figures is Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution. The serendipitous combination of Lafayette and Washington is a great story.

Interestingly, several of the key figures in the American Revolution played key roles in the next great upheaval in the West, the French Revolution. This is a huge topic with libraries full of books on it. For a straightforward chronology of events, a book from 25 years ago is a good choice. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. It’s a little dry, but it covers the basics without a lot of gratuitous commentary. Another older book is The Oxford History of the French Revolution. There’s also a short version.

Again, reading about the people is a great way to get a feel for these important events and no one is more associated with the French Revolution than Maximilian Robespierre. Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution is a good study of the guy who was arguably the West’s first fanatic. The second political fanatic would then be Jean Paul Marat. There are not a lot of good biographies of Marat. This is the only one I know of, but you can probably learn enough about him from general histories of the revolution.

Yes, Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is a must read.

The next big event, particularly for Americans, is the American Civil War. Readers of this blog will know that the long shadow of this war is a regular topic on the Dissident Right. Like the American Revolution, the volume of books on the topic is endless. The thing to keep in mind is that history is written by the victors, so, many books on the subject are really about modern topics. The go to source therefore is Shelby Foote and his three volume series on the Civil War. It’s long, but it covers everything and it is easy to read.

The official history is that the Civil War was about slavery and the North was forced to go to war in order to end it, but history is written by the victors. The root cause was mostly the abolitionist movement. For a view of the abolitionists, from the Left, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War is a good book written by and for the Progressive audience. Modern historians blame the never ending trouble with race on the failure of Reconstruction. Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution is probably the best modern book on the topic.

Finally, the last big event to cast a shadow on our age is the Russian Revolution. This is a funny one because in the fullness of time, the Bolshevik Revolution may fade away as a seminal event in Western history. Communism is dead and the Cold War is over, but understanding the Cold War, and its warping effect on the West, starts with knowing about the Soviets. A good book from twenty years ago is A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924. It’s 800 pages, but it covers everything.

The Cycle of Life

The other day I was listening to this interesting podcast from Keven Grace and Kevin Steele, two hosers from some place called “Canada.” Both had careers in the media and now they don’t, presumably due to the local blasphemy laws. I’ve listened to a number of their interviews I found on YouTube. For those interested in hate-think and the haters who founded hate-thinkery, their interviews of Gottfried, Sailer, Taylor and others are a good introduction to the hate. They ask good questions and get good answers.

The podcast on music is interesting if you enjoy thoughtful discussion of the business side of popular culture. If you are under the age of 80, you just assume that pop music is a feature of society. It’s hard to think about a time when there was no such thing as pop stars or hit songs played on the radio. The music business did not exist a hundred years ago, at least not in the way we think about it today. It was after the war that cheap radios, cheap record players and a prosperous middle-class birthed modern pop music culture.

If you read a book like The Wrecking Crew, you see that much of what we think of as rock and roll lifestyle was manufactured. The early years of pop music were dominated by old experienced guys from the jazz and big band scenes. They wrote the music, recorded the songs and made the hits. The acts that turned up on TV and radio were often just front men, hired to be the face of the act. From the very beginning, music was a business designed to make money, not music, for the people who owned the music business.

One of the things I found interesting from the podcast is that the music industry, the people involved in the business end of things, is about half the size it was at its peak. A couple of years ago I did a post on the state of music. Per capita music sales have collapsed from their peak 15 years ago. That peak was largely a bubble created by the advent of the compact disc. Everyone went out and repurchased their music collection in the new digital format. A lot of old stuff was remastered for the new format and that boosted sales too.

We are now in a time when selling songs is no longer very profitable. Often, bands will put their new releases on YouTube free of charge. The song itself is a form of marketing for their live shows. In my youth, the opposite was the case. Bands went on tour to promote their latest album. The tickets to the show were often cheaper than the album. Now, anything you want is on-line so trying to monetize the songs has become a lost cause. As a result, the focus is on making money from the live shows.

In many respects, pop music is back to where it was before the great wars of the 20th century. In the 19th century, sheet music was the item of value in the music business. Many of our intellectual property laws, in fact, come from efforts to protect the owners of sheet music. The main source of income for musicians, however, was the live act. They went around performing for customers. It is where the expression “sing for your supper” started. Often musicians were paid, in part, with a meal.

There are some important lessons in the history of pop music. One is that cultural phenomenon have a life cycle. They come into existence, blossom and then die off. The music business is never going to go completely away. There’s still money to be made marketing acts and managing the production of recorded music, but the boom times are over. It is, as they say in business, a mature sector now. It’s not a business attracting wild men looking for adventure. Instead it attracts MBA’s moving through the corporate system. “This is Josh, who came over from the petro-chemical division.”

Pop music’s impact on the greater culture is also largely over. There will never be another Beatles or Rolling Stones. That’s because “American culture” is over. Prior to the two great industrial wars of the 20th century, America did not have a unified national culture. It was federation of regions. New England may as well have been a different country from the Deep South or the Southwest. The South was very different from Appalachia. There was no unified “American” culture to which all the regional cultures submitted.

The great national project of conquering Europe and Asia opened the door for the flowering of an American culture after the war. Into it was drawn anything that could be sold as celebrating this new world power. It is why what we think of as American pop culture blew up after the war. In music, for example, producers scoured the land looking for authentic American sounds to package up and sell, in order to meet the demand of this new growing thing called Americana. It even went global, in search of spice to ad to the mix.

Like the music business itself, the great unifying national culture that blossomed in the 20th century has run its course. America is, to a great degree, falling back to its natural, regional state. Just look at the popularity of movies and TV shows by region and you see old weird America emerging again. Live acts now setup their tours to reflect the fact that they have greater appeal in some regions than in others. If you are a country act, for example, there’s no point in booking a lot of dates in the north, outside of the one-off festivals in the summer that feature a variety of acts.

That’s another lesson from pop music. The past is the actualized, the present is the actualizing and the future in the potential. Culture is that middle part, standing on the past in an effort to realize the potential that lies in the future. Once culture attains its natural end, it dies. What’s left is what it created. The grand unified pop culture of the Cold War era is now like an old factory building that has been renovated to be lofts, shops and boutique restaurants. It’s influence on what comes next is purely utilitarian.