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.

 

This Blog: February 2017

I was in the elevator of a building where important people are known to frequent and I overheard an interesting conversation. Two men were talking about politics in a general way and one of them used the phrase “Cloud People.” In fact, he said “It is Cloud People versus the Dirt People and we will all have to choose sides.” The two men were unfamiliar to me and they did not have the look of important people. Although I have never been an important person, I have been in the same room with them and I can usually spot them.

I guess I was too obvious in my eavesdropping as it was clear to me they noticed I was listening, so I said, “I’m sorry, but I could not help but hear what you said. What did you mean by Cloud People?” The truth is, I don’t think anyone but me uses that term. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the whole Cloud People versus the Dirty People motif is my invention. But, you never know so that’s why I asked. That and I wanted to shift the focus from the fact I was listening to their conversation.

The guy who was doing the talking was quick to volunteer that he had picked up the phrase on Facebook from one of his friends, who he told me worked in politics. Why he volunteered the last bit is unclear, but my guess is he just assumes that’s the origin of the Cloud People stuff. Regardless, it was a funny moment for me. It is entirely possible that I have coined a phrase that is now getting some circulation in the wider world. These things have to start somewhere, but I’ve never put much thought into where or how they get going.

It did remind me that I have not posted a site update in a few months. In fact, it was back in November after the election. The readership keeps growing. According to the tool I use to estimate average monthly readership, I’m pushing 90,000 now, which is about ten percent increase since November. I’m never quite sure if that tool is correct, but it does seem to track with overall site traffic. In fact, traffic is way up setting daily records on a regular basis so maybe that’s why my pithy expressions are getting loose in the general public. I could be famous and not know it.

I am, of course, grateful that people take the time to read my posts and share them on social media. Facebook and Twitter continue to be big drivers of traffic. Gab is now starting to be a big source of traffic. Something I’ve noticed is I get a fair amount of links back to specific comments, meaning that part of the increase in traffic is the active and interesting comments here. I can’t help but notice that the volume of comments is way up too so that means more traffic and more new readers.

One thing I have noticed is that when I write about the Cloud People stuff, those posts get passed around a lot. This one broke a record for hits in a day. I thought it could be the Trump angle, but looking at the traffic numbers, the Cloud People/Dirt People topic is just more popular than I would have guessed. The great divide in America is never discussed in the popular press and even the hate thinkers tend to avoid it. My guess is the admonitions against class warfare from our betters is the reason few talk about it.

The plan going forward is more of the same. I have been looking at maybe doing a podcast or perhaps get on the GabTV ride. I listen to a lot of podcasts and internet radio, but I don’t know if I have the voice or the talent to actually do it. The video stuff has the advantage of being easy as the smart kids have worked out the technology to do it from a  phone or tablet. The downside is that all the ones I have seen look like hostage videos or really bad video dating examples. The result is I’m still mulling these options over.

The other bit of site news is I am working on a book. I’m looking at the self-publishing options mostly because I just want to see how it works, but also because I have no interest in dealing with publishers. I have a friend in the book game who says I am nuts and I’d have no trouble finding a publisher that would make the process simple. We’ll see about that, but I have to write the book first so that means I may stop posting on weekends in order to make time for the new project. We’ll see how that goes.

Otherwise, I thank everyone for reading and I’m grateful to those who pass the word and bring new readers into the fold via social media.

Essential Knowledge: Part V

Rome is such a big topic, it not only deserves a post of its own, but it can be studied in isolation as it encompasses so much of Western history. The most obvious reason for this is the Romans were around for a long time. The traditional dating of the start of the Republic is 509 BC and the end of the Western Empire is 476 AD. That’s roughly one thousand years and it was an action packed and dramatic thousand year run too. Rome features some of the most colorful characters in human history.

There is something else. The Greeks were a culture, but the Romans were a civilization that incorporated the culture of the Greeks. Culture is the spirit of the people, the world view that results from their shared history. The Greek culture was a product of the people and their place in the eastern Mediterranean. It is their literature and philosophy, their understanding of man’s relationship to other men and the world in general. It is the structure of their language, which is a reflection of how they thought about the world.

Civilization, on the other hand, is the end point, the destination of culture. It is the tangible product of cultural yearnings. Culture is the belief in self-governance. Civilization is a constitutional assembly. The Romans adopted Greek culture and built a mighty civilization. Because Rome carried the spirit of the Greeks throughout the known world, planting its seeds throughout Europe, knowing the Romans is to know the essence of Western culture. You cannot know the West, without knowing Rome.

Traditionally, you learned about Rome by reading Gibbon. You can buy the The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from Amazon for $133.00 or if you want to read it from a tablet, you can get it for two dollars, which is one million Canadian dollars.There are many better options than this, which we will get into next, but having some familiarity with Gibbon is a good idea, as you will find that later writers refer to him regularly. Spending a couple of dollars to have him in your digital library is a good idea, even if it is just as a reference work..

Then there is Latin. Learning some Latin is a good idea for anyone who likes knowing stuff. One of the worst things to happen to education in the modern age is the end of Latin instruction in the schools. Knowing even a little bit helps expand your language skills as an English speaker. In the case of Roman history, it is a good idea to have some basic knowledge of Latin, which means buying a primary school grammar used by home schoolers. You are not going to be reading Caesar in the original, but you get enough of the basics.It’s not necessary, but recommended.

The most basic way of thinking about Rome is to break up its history into three periods. The founding through the Republic, the Empire starting with Augustus and then the late Empire, when things got squirrely and the Empire was in decline. A recent book that will take you from the founding through the Empire, but stopping at the Late Empire, is Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. It was a best seller and it a great read. An excellent study on the transition of Rome from a Republic to an Empire is The Breakdown of the Roman Republic: From Oligarchy to Empire.

A particularly important period in Roman history is the third century, when the Empire was staggering from one crisis to the next. This is the period that gave rise to Diocletian and Constantine, two people who have cast a very long shadow over Western history. It used to be a topic of study in the US Army War College for both military tactics and crisis management. It is fair to say that without Constantine, there is no Christian West. The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine is the only book I know of that focuses just on this period.

A controversial book on Late Empire Roman military tactics is The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century CE to the Third by Edward Luttwak. It is controversial for two reasons. One is that Luttwak is not a historian or classicist, so he is treading on people’s turf. More important, he offers an alternative to the dominant view of how the Roman army managed to keep the barbarians at bay, despite the numerical advantages of the barbarians. It’s an interesting read on a topic that has implications for the modern era.

Finally, for those who like podcasts, one of the best history podcasts ever is also on the history of Rome. Mike Duncan’s podcast is incredibly well done and it covers the entire history of Rome to the fall of the Western Empire.  For those who like a long, dramatic retelling of history, Dan Carlin’s Death Throws of Rome is fun and informative. You can always get the narrated version of Gibbon from Audible, which is becoming a popular alternative to podcasts. Think of audio books as long play podcasts.

Finally, this brings us back to Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire has two interesting angles to explore. One is why it lasted so long despite the external stresses and the internal conflict. History books do a good job of covering that material. The other angle is why did the Western Empire collapse when the Eastern Empire continued on? That’s a subject that offers some insights into why a thousand years later the West was ready to roar past the rest of humanity.

The New Barnum

The Latin proverb audentes Fortuna iuvat is usually translated into English as “Fortune favors the bold.” It has been used by a variety a martial organizations in the West over the centuries. For example, it appears on the regimental insignia of the 3rd Marine Regiment. The British SAS uses “who dares wins” as their motto. The American idiom, “he who hesitates is lost”, is a mistranslation of Cato, but again, the appeal is obvious so it’s easy to see why it has become common.

The point being is that acting boldly has always been seen as a benefit. We associate it with the successful. It’s why mothers tell their sons to stand up straight. It’s why fathers teach their sons to have a firm handshake. The confident guy, who bounds into a room and takes charge will get little push back, because people naturally pick up on his confidence. Boldness is an essential element of leadership. Men will follow a leader who is confident, even if they have their private doubts about the plan.

Boldness is also a good way to rob people.

Victor Lustig was a confidence man living in Paris after the Great War. He read in the newspaper that the city was having trouble maintaining the Eiffel Tower. Lustig came up with an outlandish scheme where he would use that story to sell the Eiffel Tower for scrap iron. He forged some documents and cooked up an elaborate story about how he had been tasked to secretly find some buyers. He found some interested parties, had them picked up in limousines for a tour of the Tower and then convinced one of them, Andre Poisson, to make a bid.

That sounds quite ballsy, but he went further. Poisson’s wife suspected that Lustig may not have been on the level. Lustig decided to use this to his advantage so he met with the couple and confessed that he was actually a government employee, not an agent hired by the city. He made it clear that he was not paid well and was hoping to improve on that by finding the right buyer. In other words, he wanted a bribe. This sealed the deal and Andre Poisson, not only bought the Eiffel Tower, he paid Lustig a bribe to do it.

Every time I see a story about Elon Musk, I think of Victor Lustig. The reason for that is Musk often turns up in the news attached to some bold new scheme to do something most people see as futuristic or massively complicated. He’s sort of a Phileas Fogg, that is always announcing some grand new adventure. The publicity stunts have no real bearing on his alleged project, but he puts a lot of effort into getting public notice for them. There is a P.T. Barnum quality to it that does not quite square with the official story.

The tunneling under Los Angeles story is a good example. There’s nothing new about this idea. The Crossrail is a giant rail tunnel under the city of London that was done using boring machines. It is a 26-mile tunnel that was threaded between the exiting tunnels under the city. There was a recent documentary on it, which is probably where Musk got the idea. The London tunnel is an amazing bit of engineering because there’s a ton of stuff under the city that the tunnelers had to dodge as they dug the thing.

That’s not to say doing such a thing under Los Angeles would be easy, but it is hardly a brilliant futuristic idea. In fact, people have suggested this in the past, but such a project would require tens of billions in tax money. More important, there’s no real reason to do it, other than the fact California is a failed state so building roads and bridges the old way is impossible. Musk is levering that reality to propose his futuristic “solution” for the transport problems of Los Angeles. What a guy!

That’s probably the point of the hype. Tesla, Musk’s one big “successful” scheme is entirely dependent on tax dollars. Take away the subsidies and it goes bust. The same is true of the battery schemes, the solar plant, the space program. According to the LA Times, Musk has netted close to $5 Billion in government money. Not all of it is tax money, of course. A lot of it comes in the form of grants for research and credits for doing government approved projects, like making solar panels. It’s not unreasonable to say the Musk is a tax sink.

There’s also a good chance that like Lustig, Musk works both sides of the street. He gets a bunch of attention for some new project, like digging a tunnel under Los Angeles. He then gets investors lined up, promising tax schemes that will multiply their investment, in addition to getting government support for the project. Since Musk appears to have skin in the game and is wildly confident his plan will work, investors line up. Once it all comes together, Musk is a minority share holder, but in full control of the project.

The formula is to use the media to promote the idea to the public. He then gets some other billionaires to back it on condition that Musk can get the government invested. That is used to pure the state into the scheme, which seals the deal with the private equity guys. From there it is just a churn as Musk and his buddies get their seed money out with interests as new investors demand to get in on the action. Since these projects take decades, the risk of it unraveling in the short term in minimal.

The best part of a scheme like this is he can get his seed money out early and still have equity in the new project. The investors and the government are on the hook and they will keep putting money into it no matter how many times a Space X rocket explodes or a Tesla bursts into flames. That’s not to say Musk is a con man like Lustig. The main difference is that Lustig was breaking the law, while Musk is well within the law. In fact, his innovation is to make the law his partner.

Musk is a modern incarnation of P.T. Barnum, pitching the attractions of the technocratic state via public-private partnerships. Barnum would find exotic acts to put inside his act, while Musk finds big technology projects. Instead of getting the public to buy a ticket to see the bearded lady or wolf boy, Musk gets the public to support the expenditure of public funds for his latest whiz bang idea. In the process, he and his associates get an exclusive investment opportunity and make millions from schemes that tend not to result in much of anything, other than hype.

Essential Knowledge: IV

The traditional way in the West of teaching history is to start with the three phases of history. There is the beginning, the middle and the end. This is based on two assumptions that are unique to the West. One is that history is a process where the past casts a shadow over the present to shape the future. History is a long chain of causation. The other assumption is history works toward some end, as if it is by design. The idea of “progress” rests on this assumption. The world is progressing toward some end point.

For the student of history, the habit has been to start at the beginning and read forward, thinking about how each era led to and shaped the next. The tides of history have carried man to the place he is today, not by chance, but through the great chain of causality. Each new civilization was built on those that came before it. In this way, history is a stack of blocks and the story of man is a tower reaching to the heavens. To know what comes next means knowing every block in the stack and why it is there.

A better and more accurate way to read history is to think of each people as having their own beginning, middle and end. History is not one single ribbon in time, but thousands of bits and strands that often lead nowhere and have no influence on what comes next, other than to perhaps stand out as an example for modern people. The emphasis here as we get into the essential knowledge of human history is to stick with books and podcasts that avoid theories of history. Instead, the focus will be on the story of the people in question.

For Westerners, the story of history usually begins with the Greeks, but you cannot really understand the Greeks without knowing something about the Persians. Greek civilization and what we have come to know as the West was forged in the time between the Battle of Marathon and the heroic last stand by the Spartans at Thermopylae. That’s not true, but it is the way we like to imagine it. Still, to understand the Greeks, you need to know something of the Persians. While only lasting 200 years, the Persians are integral to the history of the Greeks and the Jews, which is why Cyrus gets mentioned in the Old Testament.

You could read Herodotus and it is a fun read, but you can also listen to the great Dan Carlin podcast on the Persians. Carlin is a great history podcaster and a great storyteller so it is a fun way to learn a bit about the Persians. An excellent book for the general reader is Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West. The Persians did not exist in a vacuum, so learning about the people they conquered is a good idea, especially for Bible studying Christians. Here’s a book worth reading and here is another one that covers the material.

For those who have come to prefer podcasts, there is this ongoing podcast about the Ancient world that covers just about everything. I’ve listened to some of it and it is pretty good. There’s also the Ancient Warfare Podcast. It a product from the Ancient Warfare Magazine and it is a fun way to get your feet wet with regards to the people and civilizations of the ancient world. Unless you intend to search for the Ark of the Covenant, these history podcasts are a good introduction to the essential knowledge of these people.

The big subject, when it comes to this part of the world, is ancient Egypt and we are spoiled for choice when it comes to books. Unless you have a desire to become an Egyptologist, a good survey book like The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt is a solid choice. A highly readable history is The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt, which is why it made it to the best seller list. Of course, there’s always the podcast route. This one is probably the most popular one at the moment. It’s well done and entertaining.

Finally, the Greeks. The main reason to know about the Persians, Egyptians, Babylonians and so forth is to have a better understanding of the Greeks. No people has cast a longer shadow and it is impossible to be an educated man without knowing about Greek history, culture and society. It is preferable to know Classical Greek. In a better age, Classical Greek was taught in high school, but that is no longer true. If you want to try and learn a bit, there are on-line course like this one and this one to get you started. You will not become fluent, but you can pick up enough to appreciate the grammar.

For the general reader or someone entirely new to the topic, Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times is a great choice. It is one of those books you can read at the beach or at the airport. For something a bit more advanced, a textbook like this one or this one is a good choice. We tend not to think of textbooks as good reading, but modern history texts are aimed at a generation brought up on smartphones so they tend to be a bit more readable. The key is to start with a general, chronological history of the Greeks.

You cannot be an educated man without having read Homer. You can get the Iliad and the Odyssey for close to free as an eBook. The same is true of Aesop’s Fables. Most people remember it from childhood, but in the context of Greek history is recommended reading. Plato’s Republic is also a must read and it can be downloaded free from any number of sources. Of course, you can always find an on-line course on Greek literature if you are the sort who prefers structured learning.

The Greco-Persian wars and the Peloponnesian War are probably the two most important topics in Greek history. You can and should read Thucydides, but Donald Kagan’s treatment of the Peloponnesian War is fantastic and perfect for the general reader. As far as the Greco-Persian wars, reading Herodotus is a must, but you can also read The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, by Robert Strassler. It is a big book, but it is a big topic and this treatment reads almost like a novel.

If you want to have a little fun while learning a little bit about Thermopylae, the Gates of Fire is a fun read. It’s not history, but it give you some sense of life in ancient Greece. A more serious telling is Thermopylae: The Battle For The West. If you prefer a podcast, then an excellent podcast on ancient Greece is this one that I have been listening to recently. The good thing about podcasts on ancient history is they tend to be done by people with the passion of a fan, rather than historians just making a buck.

Finally, a book that does not quite fit into the history category, but one I enjoyed reading is 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. It is not exactly a history book, more of an analysis of what happened at the end of the Bronze Age. Within a period of 40-50 years at the end of the Bronze Age almost every significant city in the eastern Mediterranean world was destroyed. The reason for this remains a bit of mystery, but it makes for a good transition to Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies, a must read.

Dummkopfs

Americans get their views of the world mostly from TV and movies. Being separated by two big oceans from the rest of the world means we don’t get to rub shoulders with strangers too much. The result is those caricatures of foreigners we see on TV get seared into the our mind, even though they are often wildly inaccurate. The most obvious example is the way in which Germans and Germany are viewed by Americans. Germans are either avuncular clock makers or cold blooded automatons that are ruthlessly efficient.

Of course, Germans are mostly OK with this characterization as it works to their favor, except for the constant Nazi references. Having a reputation for exacting standards and ruthless precision is a good thing if you are in the business of making things like cars or machine tools. It also works when it comes to government. Most people, not just Americans, just assume that the well known German efficiency translates into making the trains run on time and keeping the streets clean and orderly.

The phrase “German engineering” has come to mean high quality and high precision, as if the Germans never made anything stupid or poorly designed. The Beetle was a cheap piece of junk for the most part, but everyone believes the Germans make the best cars in the world. Yet, the Mercedes C-Class is an unreliable jalopy that costs too much to buy and way too much to own. If Germans were anything like we imagine, they would have had the engineers who made those cars sent to a work camp in Poland.

Volkswagen used to have the reputation as the builder of solid, inexpensive cars for working people. Then they came out with the new Beetle. Their marketing efforts made VW the car of choice for hairdressers and homosexuals. If that were not bad enough, they are now accused of committing massive fraud that could be lethal for its North American operations. Not only that, these dummkopfs may have managed to set back the cause of clean diesel technology to the point where it dies out entirely. Way to go Germany.

Even if you want to dismiss this sort of bungling as inevitable, even for people generally good at making things, you can’t ignore the mass insanity that is the current German policy on immigration. Angela Merkel’s decision to unilaterally flood Europe with low-IQ barbarians from the Middle East is going to go down as one of the dumbest decisions in the history of Europe. The fact that the response to the predictable unrest is to turn Germany into a police state suggests the Germans have gone mad.

Calling Merkel’s Million Muslim invasion the dumbest decision means overlooking pretty much everything German politicians have done since Wilhelm I walked into the Hall of Mirrors. There’s any number of reckless moves in the Great War, including the decision to back the Bolsheviks in Russia. Of course, the all time blunder was putting the meth munching morons called the Nazis in charge of the country. Is there another country on earth with a worse record of self-governance than the Germans?

The fact that the Germans and their record of ineptitude are now in charge of Europe does not bode well for the Continent. The Greeks should have been expelled a long time ago, but the Germans insisted they remain and now that dumpster fire is about to reignite. Then there is the fact that the Italians are headed to a crisis and the French may be about to elected a populist government, mostly due to mad Merkel and her efforts to flood the continent with Muslims. The French wanted to build and lead the EU to defend Europe, but now under German leadership, the EU has become a suicide pact.

Getting back to where we started, Americans and most of the world, judging from the international press, have this view of the Germans that is wildly out of phase with reality. The bill of indictment against Germany being anything but a fountain of mischief is rather long. In a little under 150 years, a unified Germany has managed to cause more damage to civilization than the rest of the western people combined. The temptation has been to assign this to a small portion of Germans who are evil. What if Germans are simply stupid? Perhaps to be German means carrying a gene for reckless stupidity.

Whether or not the Germans are the Minus Race is immaterial. The point is we need to seriously rethink our image of the Germans. Yes, they made some of the greatest art in Western history, but then they will tried to invade Russia in winter. They make some of the finest manufactured good in the world today, but they have also elected a collection of suicidal lunatics hellbent on blowing up Europe. Germany may be the land of engineers and chocolate makers, but it is also the home of the world most dangerous morons too.

Essential Knowledge: Part III

Probably the first paradox presented to a young person is the age old question. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? For most people, this is a fun puzzle, which is why it has remained a popular gag for so long. Aristotle concluded that both must have come into being at the same time, as to have either come first violated the logic of causality. Marxists used this example to “prove” that linear thinking was false. Instead, we have to admit that the egg creates the chicken just as much as the chicken creates the egg.

Evolution answers this by pointing out that eggs existed before birds existed in the fossil record, so the egg preceded the chicken. If you reject evolution, this apparent conflict can only be solved one other way. Some agent, outside of observable nature, was the first cause. It created either the chicken or the egg first. It created all of life, setting off the great chain of causality that controls the natural world. Plato believed that all things in the natural world existed in spirit, as an idea, before coming into being. Jews and Christians believe that God created the natural world just like a clock maker builds a watch.

This is not a post about abiogenesis, but rather a starting point for understanding the great debate of the modern age. What is the nature of man? What is his true and natural state, outside the artificial constraints of society? Did society naturally arise, or was it imposed? This is the question that haunted the minds of the Enlightenment thinkers and it is the question that has animated the great political movements since the French Revolution. If we can know the nature of man, then we can built a just society where virtuous men can be free.

One solution to this question, one that is at the core of every Leftist movement in history, is that man is born as a blank slate. Humans come into the world as a formless blob that is shaped into a person by their parents and community. Eventually they are shaped into a citizen by their society. The reason a person born in France becomes a Frenchman is he was shaped and formed by French society to become a Frenchman. A person born in Niger is what he is because he was raised by Hausa. It takes a village to make a man.

There are a number of implications to this that are critical to understanding the last three hundred years of Western history. The first is that all people are the product of their environment. Therefore, if a person turns out to be a criminal or a bad thinker, it is the fault of society. The good citizen was raised correctly and given the proper education, while the criminal was failed by his parents and society. Of course, it is never too late. The criminal can be rehabilitated and people can change. Our nature is infinity malleable.

That leads to the second implication of the blank slate ideology. The virtuous have a moral duty to remake society so that it creates virtuous citizens. Collective guilt is an inevitable byproduct of the blank slate ideology, because all of us are, by definition, our brother’s keeper. That also means we are collectively responsible for “fixing” the defects that arise from our social institutions. This is why Mussolini said “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Society is a unified living organism. When one bit fails, it all fails.

The alternative to this line of thinking is that people are born with qualities they inherit from their parents. Long before anyone knew about genetics, people could see that the son resembled his father or mother, sometimes both in various ways. People saw that the daughter would usually marry a man like her father and a son would marry a girl like his mother. It was assumed that each person was the result of their line of ancestors, which is why the children of great families took up places in the elite, when they reached adulthood.

This was the standard view of humanity up until the Enlightenment. People all over the world just assumed that the people in various lands were the product of their lands. They did not understand biology, but they knew that Africans were different from Persians and not just in appearance. They knew that the Welsh were different from the Angels and the North-men who showed up on long ships. It was always assumed that nature did not distribute her gifts equally among people or between peoples.

The result of this is that the customs and methods of rule are a reflection of the people who compose the society. Arabs have their ways, because they have their own unique history that has shaped their culture and people. China is the way it is because it is full of Chinese who have lived the way they have lived for thousands of years. In other words, there is no transcendent order that applies universally. There is only a natural order that is rooted in the local population. What works in China, will not work in Arabia.

Since the French Revolution, the great conflicts in the West have been over these two conflicting views of man’s nature and the nature of his society. The Left has always assumed that man is infinitely malleable and that virtuous societies make virtuous men. The Right has taken the other side, defending the natural order of man, which is hierarchical and diverse. Since the Enlightenment, the men of the blank slate have held the dominant position, winning the political fights and imposing their views on the West.

It is largely impossible to grasp the last 300 years of Western history without understanding this intellectual conflict. More important, it will be impossible to navigate the coming battles without grasping this. The new science of genetics is largely confirming what people used to know through observation. Not only are people not blank slates, their cultures are rooted in the shared biology of the people. The next era in the West is about the fight between Liberalism and science, the blank slate and the double helix.