My Theory of Everything: Part V

After The Yankee North destroyed the South in the Civil War and assumed the dominant position in America, the first President following Lincoln was a Southerner named Andrew Johnson. He was born in the Tidewater but raised in Appalachia so you could say he was not really from the Deep South, but he was certainly not a Yankee.

Regardless, the ruling majority hated him and never trusted him, so they did everything to scuttle his presidency, even trying to remove him from office. When you hear Progressives talk about the worst presidents, they always include Johnson on the list, either by the transitive property through Nixon (Impeachment) or as a benchmark.

Johnson left office in 1869 and the next time a man of the South dominated the political culture of the nation was never. Benjamin Harrison was from Indiana, a state settled mostly by red necks from Appalachia, but Harrison was a proto-Progressive. Wilson, of course, was a man from the South, but no one in their right mind would consider him a man of the South. Most consider Wilson the model for modern Progressive politicians.

Wilson is an interesting topic for a lot of reasons, but for my purposes here his participation in the founding of The Presbyterian Church in the United States is instructive. Wilson went from being a Private Protestant to a Public Protestant, from a Cavalier to a Roundhead. His accent to the top of Progressive America was arguably the result of his conversion. Wilson was an inscrutable man and that is mostly due to him being a Yankee convert from the South.

Anyway, the point here is that American political and cultural life has been dominated by the northern regions, particularly the old Yankee region. The political culture that developed was explicitly exclusive of the defeated regions of the country. Instead, it was a battle between the more conservative midland culture on one side and the more activist Yankee culture on the other. German Protestants on the one hand and English Protestants on the other.

As the defeated parts of the country, we brought back into the fold, the two warring halves of the political elite fought over the new constituencies. Similarly, as the frontier populations of the West emerged as states, the ruling elite battled to bring these cultures into their coalition. These coalitions have never been fixed as we saw with Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

As times changed, the coalitions changed, but the organizing ethos has remained the same ever since the Reconstruction. One side is the Grover Cleveland wing and the other is the Teddy Roosevelt wing. They assemble electoral majorities from the scraps of the other regions of America. At one point the South was formally in the Democrat camp but had no voice. Now they are in the Republican camp and have no voice.

From Reconstruction through the World War II, one wing used moral crusades to force the other side into going along with their proposals. Prohibition, for example, was mostly about the old Yankee scolds trying to reign in the Catholic immigrants. Women’s suffrage was a tool to expand the voter base of one side at the expense of the other. This dynamic has been with us for over 100 years. One side starts a revival and the other cleans up after it runs its course.

In mid-century, what we now call the Left landed on the ultimate moral cause – race. Instead of hustling votes with promises to give the Negroes free stuff, Progressives figured out how to make race a moral issue that can pry open other areas of American life to their meddling. More important, as a moral issue, it forced the other side of the ruling coalition into a partnership.

The most obvious example to see this is with public education. From the founding, this was a local issue. The race angle allowed Progressives to make it a national issue on moral grounds. Blacks were not getting a proper education because of racism so that meant a federal takeover of the schools. Those who opposed them were immoral racists and therefore excluded from the debate.

This new weapon had the immediate effect of gutting American conservatism by taking freedom of association off the table. At its core, American conservatism has always been based on the idea that you have the right to be left alone. That can only be possible if you have the absolute right to associate or disassociate with whomever you please. Once racism became a mortal sin, freedom of association was lost.

The secondary impact was to permanently make “the south” morally inferior and therefore prohibited from joining the ruling elite. The sin of slavery and then segregation has forever stained the soul of every southerner and every conservative. In order for a man of the right to gain acceptance he has to grovel endlessly and abandon most of what it means to be a conservative. Racism as the highest sin made certain that The South could never rise again. At least that’s the theory.

The denouement of this historical cycle is coinciding with the unraveling of the ruling coalition. Part of it is the collision of the prevailing orthodoxy with biological reality. It turns out that all men are not equal after all. More importantly, diversity and proximity do not mix. Another part is demographics. The number of people without representation in the ruling elite outnumber the number of people with representation in it. There’s no avoiding mathematics.

My Theory of Everything: Part IV

In times of plenty, the weeds find life easy. The trouble is weeds flourish at the expense of everything else so the times of plenty are self-limiting. This is especially true in human society. In good times the soft and sneaky can be tolerated so they flourish, corrupting society over time until either some crisis requires reform or that crisis overwhelms the society.

Steppe people like the Mongols understood this. In fact, the genius of Genghis Khan was in truly understanding the dynamic. The hill people would raid the valley people because they were tougher and meaner. They would soon settle down and become soft and stupid like the people they conquered. In a generation or two a new hill people would come along and the cycle would repeat.

In America, a culture evolved in a world without fear of invasion. That’s an important thing to understand about America. It is a continental people with an islander’s mentality. Sure, Indians were some threat, but from the start the colonists knew who was on the winning side of history. It did not take long before the people understood it was their destiny to conquer the continent.

Internally, the country evolved with various cultural groups jostling with one another for influence. This natural competition for resources (land) made everyone better, bolder and more aggressive. For a country evolving at the dawn of the money era, a culture that rewards risk taking, creativity and experimentation is an enormous asset.

Think about it. The country comes into existence in 1789 and roughly 100 years later knocks off Spain and steals many of her overseas possessions. In four generations a collection of farmers and tinkerers was on the cusp of being the mightiest economic power in the world, with a military soon to follow and match it.

From the Civil War forward, America was becoming a land of abundance without any natural enemies. Sure, the Europeans could make war on American shipping or cause financial mischief, but there was no fear of being invaded or having land taken by force. The result was a ruling class that imagined no risk premium for policy decisions. No matter how boneheaded the policy, there’s no perceived downside.

The Civil War is a great example to use here. It was entirely unnecessary but made possible by the understanding that America had no reason to fear outside threats. Europe could fund one side on the other. Europe could muck about in American shipping and finance, but there was no worry that some outside power would take advantage of the war and seize Ohio.

That was the lesson of 1812. The young country could be boarded by pirates from over the horizon, but those pirates could only cause mischief, not sink the new country. Eventually, their supplies would be exhausted and they would flee or die. Therefore, two groups of fanatics within America could tear into each other in a bloodbath over slavery. The group of fanatics that won were left with an ecosystem to flourish in which there were no natural enemies.

That’s largely been the story of the last 150 years in America. For fifty years after the Civil War, Public Protestantism slowly morphed into Progressivism, mostly through various reform movements. With the rest of the country flattened by war, the old Yankee Protestants had no natural enemies and were free to outgrow the restraints of religion, through the Social Gospel and finally the Progressive Movement. By the time Europe was ready to commit suicide, American was a growing industrial power run by fanatics convinced it was their destiny to reshape the world in God’s image.

Again, without any substantial threat from outside, this mode of thought could flourish without consequence. If the Europeans had not tried to obliterate themselves in two great wars, America probably would have evolved into a slightly violent Canada. Instead, the massive void left by the implosion of Europe allowed the world’s remaining power to become the world’s dominant power.

The Pax Americana has been good for the world, but it has not been without consequence. In America, it has resulted in a warped political culture in which one side is always on the prowl for some new enemy in the world on which to unleash the world’s dominant military. The other side is turning over every rock domestically for any signs of the South rising again. Like a teeter-totter, one side dominates for a while and then descends while the other side rises.

This is fine as long as America and the West, over which America presides, are safe and secure militarily and economically. The Europeans have been able to indulge in one social welfare scheme after another because they have relied on American military might to keep them safe. Similarly, America has built an elaborate and dysfunctional domestic social structure because the dollar is the world’s currency. King Offa would be proud.

Nothing lasts forever and everything that must end eventually does end. Europe is now being invaded from the south at the same time that elements of her own population are becoming hostile to the developing social arrangements. If you scour the international press, you find a lot of signs that the natives are getting very restless. No people have flung open the doors to invaders without there being violent, transformative consequences.

In America, the South has finally rebounded and become as economically and culturally strong as the rest of the country. We are a generation away from there being a real challenge to the dominant mode of thought. Progressives can look at a map too and that’s why they are in a panic, hoping to flood the hinterlands with migrants in an attempt to dilute the opposition. Alex Tabarrok wants to fill your neighborhood with foreigners because he fears you more than he fears them.

Internationally, the economic arrangements are being challenged all over, with the currency arrangements running out of steam. Central banks are keeping the whole thing from collapsing, but the international appetite for maintaining the dollar as the reserve currency is waning. When that ends, the cost of Progressive rule in America will no longer be exported abroad through currency manipulation.

We are in the downside of a very long cycle that is now heading for an end. At the same time, what is bringing about that end is the first real external threat to Western Europe in centuries and the end of America’s economic dominance of the world. The dream of global government where ruling elites are untethered from national loyalties will never materialize. It is at odds with human biology. What comes next will be a settling of the greatest threat to civilization since the Black Plague. This time the plague walks on two feet and demands to go on the dole.

My Theory of Everything: Part III

The American domestic conflicts of the current age are unique in human history in that they are entirely caused by social reformers. In prior ages, reformers sprung up when there was a need for actual reform. Social conditions demanded changes so that the people could attain a higher degree of peace and prosperity. Today, peace and prosperity are the default, so reformers sow discord and mayhem, like firemen who set fires, so they have something to do.

It is tempting to assume this is by design, but as Goethe put it, “misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent.” While there are certainly cases where the people in charge swing the wrecking ball just for fun, more often it is due to incompetence, an incompetence that is the inevitable outgrowth of a universalist worldview.

One defect of the universalist mind is the inability to appreciate the complexity of life.  This is something most people understand intuitively. What works for you in your life is probably not going to work for everyone. The proletarian cliche of “different strokes for different folks” did not spring from nothing. It is a readily observable phenomenon and why restaurants have menus and cars come in different colors.

The great minds that rule over us just assume that everyone wants what they want, hates what they hate and loves what they love. There’s no room in their imagination for valid and legitimate alternatives to their ethics or even their aesthetics. Instead, when our betters hear the phrase “different strokes for different folks” they assume it means varying the application of the whip in order to achieve conformity.

This is the color of every great blunder made by the American ruling class over the last half century. They cannot imagine that anyone, at least anyone worth considering, would have different priorities, values, or passions. In foreign policy it means blundering into foreign lands handing out ballots at gun point. Domestically it means toppling over traditional institutions in favor of technocratic solutions that appeal to no one but their designers.

Another aspect of this is the inability to grasp the concept of scale. An old gag in statistics is that quantity has a quality of its own. Many things simply do not scale up or down very well. An obvious example is the New England town meeting system of governance. In a small town, getting the citizens together to hash out problems works very well. Try that in New York City and you end up with a riot. Try that in New Orleans and you have a hip-hop video.

The universalists cannot grasp that what works for them in their small groups of privilege and plenty cannot scale up to society as a hole. Caroline Swipple in Greenwich thinks it is great that Whole Foods does not sell sugary breakfast cereals. She thinks that should be the case everywhere so she demands government ban the sale of Fruit Loops. It is baked into the universalist worldview that their personal choices are universally good so they just assume they will work for everyone.

From the outside, it simply looks like the people in charge, the so-called social justice warriors, are just ignorant busy bodies obsessed with pushing people around. In some cases it appears to be spite that motivates them. Making smokers huddle in alleyways behind the pubs looks like the sort of thing one does to someone they hate. But that is not what is driving it. It is a blinkered view of life that cannot incorporate the great complexity and variety of human action.

This narrow view of life is the root of another defect and that is the lack of self-awareness. Stable, sensible people have some regard for their limitations. They know that some problems are not fixable. The best you can do is work around them. The people in charge, truly believe that all problems are solvable, including death itself. Not just that, but they are certain they are the ones to solve them.

The constant blundering in the Middle East is the most obvious example. Since the Bronze Age, the people living in and around Mesopotamia have been at war with one another. This is the nature of tribal people who have outlandishly high rates of inbreeding. Cousin marriage is near universal in some parts of the world, the most clannish parts of the world. Cousin marriage fosters clannishness, corruption and clan warfare.

Violent, tribal societies composed of low-IQ individuals is not the raw material for a liberal democracy. Despite these well known facts on the ground and 5,000 years of history, American leaders have been blundering around the Middle East for over 25 years. Bush gets most of the blame, but Obama has proven to be just as incompetent, despite actually being a Muslim of sorts. Obama, like Bush, just assumes he’ll solve thousands of years of problems in a few years.

When you roll it all up, America is a country with an abundance of peace and prosperity, but an overabundance of blinkered blunderers obsessed with conquering the human condition. Almost all of what ails us as a people is inflicted upon us by people who simply refuse to leave well enough alone. There is no version of the social contract that obligates or even permits the civil authorities to sow discord among the people. Yet, that is exactly where we find ourselves.

Thus, ends Part III

My Theory of Everything: Part II

Yesterday I got started on this project by blabbering on about my view of the dominant mode of thought in America. Today, I’m going to get into the chief alternative to it. I’m using the word “alternative” loosely as few people of any consequence subscribe to this view.  Those that do tend to come from the parts of the country and culture that are unrepresented in the American elite.

One of those areas, and one that is a convenient example, is the US military. The great innovation Americans brought to war fighting is the prioritization of training over discipline. Put another way, the prioritization of what gets done over how it gets done. Soldiers and officers are encouraged to be creative in their problem solving and be mission focused.

This was most evident in the Great War at the Battle of Belleau Wood. German commanders ordered an advance through the woods onto the Marine’s position. The French commander ordered a retreat, but American General James Harbord refused the order and told his men to hold their position. Both the French and the Germans marveled afterwards at the ferocity and improvisational tactics of the American Marines.

On the afternoon of 3 June, German infantry attacked the Marine positions through the grain fields with bayonets fixed. The Marines dug shallow individual trenches so they could lie concealed, but still fight while lying on their bellies. The Marines waited until the Germans were within 100 yards and then opened fire. The German infantry was mowed down and the remainder was forced back into the woods.

The legend of the United States Marine Corp was born in the Battle of Belleau Wood not because they had great leadership, or they had superior numbers. It was not technology that gave the Marines their edge. It was their tenacity, improvisational prowess and unrelenting ferocity in pursuit of the mission. “The deadliest weapon in the world is a United States Marine and his rifle,” was said by General Pershing after this battle.

The philosophy at work here is you solve problems by giving competent people the tools and the support to go solve the problem. How they solve the problem is secondary. In small business, this is the dominant mode of thought. The owner can be seen washing the toilets then signing payroll checks. Alternatively, his second in command could take over the toilet washing and then hire a new person for accounting. The point is to get the job done, whatever it takes.

It is in sales that this way of looking at the world is still dominant most everywhere. No matter the industry or scale, salesmen are always on some sort of commission system. They are also given more freedom of action than other employees. You hire a good salesman, train him on the product, give him a quota and let him go, trusting that your best weapon is a salesman and his commission check.

Hold on. My meth dealer is here.

The pithy and patriotic examples aside, this way of thinking is most popularly understood as using “the right tool for the job.” It may not be the perfect tool and the completion of the job may not be ideal, but often, good enough is, in fact, good enough. Underlying this mode of thought is the understanding that the human condition is immutable. Perfection is for the afterlife. In this life, human error is a feature, not a bug.

For most of Western history, this has been the dominant mode of thought. Even in the age of kings, finding the right man for the job was the way things were done. No one had grand, complex schemes for creating the perfect society. In fact, having grand schemes for creating heaven on earth was a good way to get burned at the stake.

The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.

The last time this utilitarian mode of thought was dominant in America was at the founding. The first shot at a national government was pretty much just leaving most everything to the states to figure out on their own. The Articles of Confederation did not work, because the impotent national government was the wrong tool for the job, so we got the US Constitution.

The men of the Tidewater who crafted it understood that we needed a strong central government for managing trade, national defense and the courts. At the same time, they knew the Puritan lunatics in New England would immediately try to pervert the national government so they could dominate the rest of the country. James Madison had no illusions about the nature of John Adams. The result was a government based on negative liberty.

While this mode of thought is common in the lower classes, the people who run the country reject this completely. Therein lies the rub. The people are asked to validate the decisions of the rulers with their ballots, but no one on the ballot thinks like the people standing in line to vote. To remedy this the parties make noises about American values and talk about the Constitution, but that’s just for show. Thus, the inevitable conflict.

Thus, concludes Part II

My Theory of Everything: Part I

Somewhere in the Clinton years I began to sour on official conservatism. Part of it was the odious carbuncle Newt Gingrich becoming the leader of the Right. If that loathsome human toothache was the Right, I was going to be something else. Part of it was the general incoherence of the official Right. How can you be in favor of small government, but in favor of an exotic tax code designed to alter behavior?

The other thing that bugged me was the hoard of B-school and J-school strivers taking up positions in the official Right. Naturally, they set about making culture into science! and loading up their language with meaningless jargon. Hearing a guy like Paul Ryan say, “proactively leverage other’s high standards in infrastructures” generates warm thoughts of Gavrilo Princip.

Anyway, I slowly concluded that the whole Right-Left dynamic was just a myth. One of things about working in Washington, even briefly, is you learn quickly that politics is nothing like you see on TV. Two people on a show ripping one another apart will be at the bar after the show laughing it up like old pals. That’s because they are old pals. The Right-Left narrative has simply become a convenient framework for the reality show called politics. This has been true since the 80’s.

Once you free your mind, if you will, of that framework through which you are expected to see your world, you have to make sense of what you see. If the Right-Left construct is just a version of good cop/bad cop where the people in the media hustle the rest of us so they can live above their utility, then what’s really going on in the world? How do things really work?

One way to understand the world is to think about the primary modes of thought that dominate the age. If you want to understand the Mongol Empire, for example, you have to learn something about the Mongol worldview, how they organized themselves and why they believed that was the correct way to do things. Just knowing what they did is not going to tell you why they did them.

In America, there are two dominant modes of thought that are not exactly in conflict, but they are incompatible. The primary mode of thought is best illustrated by an example from business. Every company in America of any size has some sort of quality initiative or business process improvement program. Big companies have whole departments to improve performance throughout the organization.

The basis for this is the belief that the human errors can be mitigated by arranging things in just the right way. For instance, you can stop Jose from putting the wrong stuff in a box by implementing software systems that physically prevent Jose from making that error. Jose’s machine supervisor stops him before he can sin against the firm by making a shipping error. Ideally, Jose gets eliminated completely and a robot does the job.

Everything and everyone in the company gets this treatment. If you read through the literature of the Six Sigma Cult that was popular at General Electric, it sounds like a pagan purification ritual. The financial incentives for reducing errors quickly give way to spiritual incentives. Being right 99% of the time is less fulfilling than being right 99.9% of the time. The last time I checked, salvation in Six Sigma comes at 99.999999% accuracy.

This scales up to social advocacy. Progressives, for example, are obsessed with the people they see as failures or victims, the human error rate. The former are people that, through poor choices, fail to have self-actualizing careers, achieving their full humanity. The latter are people who are prevented from fulfilling their potential due to structural impediments like racism, sexism, interstellar conspiracy, etc.

This is the crux of the dominant mode of thought and it even has a name, Positive Liberty. In politics, you see this with Obama’s health care plan. They fully believe that abundance can be had if they arrange the parts of the public health system a certain way. It’s also on display with the myriad of Conservative tax schemes. Arrange the incentives the right way and people will make the “correct” choices. The tax code becomes the enterprise software of the economy.

As an aside, what fuels the semi-sexual fantasies of the robot future types is the belief that the robots will remove human error and therefore human sin. Once the robots are in charge, there can be no more human error. The Christian conception of God and Heaven is perfection. You see how that works? Perfect the human condition, and you have created Eden. Alternatively, the robots slaughter everyone and the human stain is removed from creation.

There are few people in public life that reject this mode of thinking. Almost all of the so-called conservatives accept this as a premise. Progressives not only believe it, but they also view anyone who does not accept this world view as a mortal threat to civilization. The debate, therefore, in modern American politics is over how the central planners arrange things and whether or not to punish the refuseniks.

The revealing character trait of people who subscribe to this mode of thought is the refusal to ask why things are as they find them. If they talk about the “why” of anything, it is as a jumping off point to debate their preferred “solution” that they believe will solve some aspect of the human condition. “Why are the prisons full of blacks? Racism! Now, let’s talk about how we fix that.”

Thus, concludes Part I.