The Sophists

The word “sophist” has an entirely negative connotation today, owing mostly to Plato, who had Socrates debate the sophists in his dialogue Gorgias. In that dialogue, Socrates revealed the flaws of the sophistic oratory popular in Athens. The art of persuasion was popular with the Greeks of that age, as it was the key to success in politics and law. Socrates argued that rhetoric without philosophy, is just an effort to persuade for personal gain. Worse, it could justify falsehood over truth.

In ancient Greece, however, to be a sophist was something different than what we think today. They were teachers, often highly esteemed. They were hired by the wealthy to educate their children and prepare them for a public life. They also had a great deal of influence on the development of the law and political theory. Despite this, what has come down to us is a generally negative view of the sophists.  That’s because we have little of their writings, but we have a lot from their critics like Plato and Aristotle.

Despite this incomplete record, we can get some sense of what the sophists were about by looking around the current age for people we could describe as public philosophers for hire. We don’t have men walking the streets in togas, offering to persuade us of something for a fee, but we do have plenty of public intellectuals. The ones we see on television are not really philosophers for hire, as they work in universities, think tanks and media companies. They are not hiring themselves out on-demand.

We do have people on-line, however, who make a living selling books, videos and public appearances, in order to support themselves. Stefan Molyneux is probably the best example, as he actually calls himself a philosopher. He’s also written a book on persuasion. Scott Adams is another guy, who has carved out a career on-line, where he offers arguments you can use on friends and family. Coincidentally, he has written a book on persuasion too. Amusingly, he claims to be a hypnotist, not a philosopher.

Molyneux and Adams are a good starting place as both are explicit in their goals and they are both heavily invested in the personal presentation. Molyneux stands in front of a camera and talks to you as if you’re two guys at a party. It’s intended to relax the viewers and make them receptive. Similarly, Adams does his act from his kitchen table. The desired effect is that the viewer feels like he is sitting across from his old buddy Scott Adams, talking about the issues of the day. Relaxed people are more persuadable.

The other thing you see with both is they put that camera right up on their face, so the viewer is then up close and personal. This makes it possible to communicate with facial expressions, rather than just words. Adams puts the camera so close to his face at times it is a bit uncomfortable. His dentists does not get that close. Molyneux is more subtle and polished than Adams, owing to his theater training. He did a video touring his new studio and the sophisticated tools he uses to achieve the desired effect.

In fact, Molyneux’s performance cannot work without his exaggerated facial expressions to compliment the audio. This recent video he did, addressing criticism of his book, is incomprehensible without Molyneux’s exaggerated facial tics. If you just listen to it, it sounds like gibberish. Adams is a little less reliant on the facial cues, but as you see in this recent video, he needs them to make it work. Notice the ridiculously large coffee mug he uses in the welcoming phase of his performance.

The use of props and exaggerated facial expressions is not new. Jon Stewart got rich using exaggerated irony face on Comedy Central. Without the over-the-top clown face stuff, his jokes don’t work. His faces are cues to the audience.  You laugh, because you are smart and get the joke. The joke is always about how the people outside the hive are dumb and mean, unlike the people inside laughing at Jon Stewart doing exaggerated irony face, while watching clips of the bad people.

This is something Plato observed. Sophistry is a form of flattery. The sophist first establishes himself as a wise man. He then convinces you of something through his clever rhetoric. Once you agree, you become a wise man too. It’s why some people reading this will react negatively at what they view as criticism of their favorite guy. The teacher becomes a projection of the student’s sense of self, therefore, any focus on or criticism of the teacher is viewed as a personal affront to the student.

What this tells us is the sophist of ancient Athens were probably very charismatic people, who had very loyal followings. Socrates could easily be hated, because his criticism of the sophists was, in effect, a criticism of Athens. It also might explain why they left behind little in the way of writing. Their presentation was mostly visual. Writing it down not only would have made it easy to analyze, it would not have made much sense. The scribe taking notes could not capture the facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice.

Tone of voice is another aspect we can examine. The guy Molyneux addresses in that video is someone calling himself Rationality Rules. Again, a big part of his presentation is the visual. He stands in front of a camera doing the hipster douche bag act. You’ll also note the over-the-top sense of urgency in his voice. He’s almost pleading with the viewer to listen to him. Up-talking, emotive tones and so forth are highly effective on the millennials, so it is a persuasive tactic that compliments the rhetoric.

A fellow calling himself The Alternative Hypothesis combines the visual and the audio to create a sense of urgency. Instead of standing in front of the camera, like the other sophists on YouTube, he weaves in clips from movies and still shots from cool paintings, to complement his audio. It is extremely clever and quite effective. Seeing an excited Kevin Branagh, playing Henry V, as the narrator lowers the boom on JF Gariepy, is both flattering, exhilarating and convincing. It is a very clever presentation.

Again, what we can learn about the sophists of ancient Greece, by observing their modern analogs, is that the old guys were probably quite charming. A guy like Molyneux is impossible to hate, even if you hate what he says. It’s how he can be a race realist on Twitter and speak in public. The videos from The Alternative Hypothesis are a lot of fun and they are informative. Scott Adams makes people laugh with his observations and cartoons. Odds are, the ancient sophists were every bit as likable and charming.

Of course, there is that old charge of speciousness and dishonestly, with regards to the sophists of ancient Athens. Any comparison between our moderns and the ancients has to address it. Our modern sophists are prone to logical fallacies and they can be quite prickly about criticisms. We know the ancients were prone to logical fallacies and they did help condemn Socrates, so that is a useful comparison. It suggests our moderns are just as prone to placing rhetoric ahead of truth as the sophists of ancient Greece.

It also suggests that the range of quality among the ancient sophists was quite broad and they had their good days and bad days. Scott Adams is unlikely to argue that Molyneux should drink hemlock. The Alternative Hypothesis is not going to argue that it is an advantage of his profession that a man can be considered above specialists without having to learn anything of substance. For many of our modern sophists, the truth is important, so it is fair to assume the same was true in ancient Greece.

Still, there is the nagging issue of persuasion versus truth. The one thing we know about the sophists is they thought all knowledge is opinion. Therefore, if everyone believes X to be true, then X is true. That means there can be no rational or irrational arguments, because human beliefs are situational. It is simply what people believe at any moment in time. This is why persuasion was so important to the sophists. To be correct was simply a process whereby you convinced your fellows you have the correct opinion.

This is probably a symptom of democracy and another insight we can draw by comparing our modern sophists with those of ancient Greece. In a democracy, there is no arbiter of truth other than fifty percent plus one. In a monarchy, the king is the truth, so there is no need for debate, outside of his advisers. In a theocracy, dogma is the truth and the clergy are those who apply it to policy. What little debate required is not about the truth, but about the application of truth. Again, there is no need to persuade.

In a democracy the truth is what the majority says it is. There is no central authority to arbitrate and there’s no written text that cannot be debated. The law itself becomes a source of dispute and contention in order to bring the dispute to the people for a vote between opposing opinions. Similarly, the market place is about winning market share by convincing customers you have the best product. There’s no right product or service, just arguments and competition between them to win the crowd.

This is a good time to mention something the Persian King Cyrus the Great observed about the Greeks. Herodotus describes Cyrus’s meeting with the Spartan envoy Lacrines, who warns the Persian king against destroying a Greek city. Cyrus’s replied that he feared no people who cheated one another on the Agora. In other words, at the heart of the market place is a lie. The seller tries to deceive the buyer and the buyer tries to deceive the seller. The same can be said for debate in a democracy.

This suggests sophistry is a naturally occurring product of democracy. Sophistry is to a democracy what marketing is to the free market. When there is a product to be sold, a pitch man arrives to sell it. As soon as there is the first vote, a debater arrives to plead the case, on behalf of the highest bidder. If cheating is the true currency of the market, sophistry and deception are the currency of every democracy. There is no truth in the market place and there is no truth in public debate. There is only equilibria.

Finally, one unmistakable feature of itinerant YouTube philosophers is they have very thin skins, taking all criticism as an offense to their honor. A big part of the YouTube philosopher world is these guys doing videos attacking one another and responding to these attacks. Part of it is attention seeking. Most likely, the ancients relied on the same tactic to get noticed. People like drama and the best sort of drama is when two people get into a heated dispute in public. Again, it is safe to assume this was true in Athens.

Another part of it though is the fact that status within the sophist community is determined by how one’s persuasion game is judged. If other sophists are picking you apart, you have to defend yourself, as they are literally trying to harm you. Criticizing the argument is the same as criticizing the man. When rhetoric is the coin of the realm, someone appearing to diminish your rhetoric game is stealing money from your pocket. It’s why a Molyneux feels the need to respond to a two year old video ripping his book.

Spengler observed that there is a cosmopolitan condition both at the beginning and at the end of every Culture. The one at the beginning is the flowering of that culture that comes from the work of those who built it. The one at the end is more like a funeral march for the death of those who made the culture possible. The sophist flourished in the golden age of Greece. It was the full becoming of Greek culture. Perhaps we are experiencing something similar. Our explosion of sophistry is our denouement as well.

Revolt of the Machines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tribal Circus

Like a lot of people, I’m guessing, I am struggling to remain positive this week, after Trump once again blundered into making things worse on the immigration front. I think it is fair to wonder if he was not a Manchurian candidate all along. Hired by the usual suspects to pose as a populist, he was supposed to discredit anti-immigration arguments in the primary by presenting them poorly. Instead, voters were willing to look past his ham-fisted presentation, in order to make one last effort to avoid tipping into the abyss.

Now in office, the usual suspects have flipped some other switches in his programming so that he engineers these colossal legislative defeats. That’s a joke, I think, but you have to wonder what Trump would do different if he was actually trying to sabotage his own presidency. He is now everything we expected from Jeb Bush, except for two judges that may be OK. I guess you can call the new NAFTA a win, but that’s not the great departure from the prior regime that Trump has claimed. It’s more tinkering than repeal.

Still, it is easy to gobble down black pills, but that’s not very useful. Trump was never the solution to the problems facing us. At best he was just going to be a wrecker, who discredited the prevailing political orthodoxy, so we should always set our expectations accordingly. It’s also important to remember that the orthodoxy is not just the civic nationalist face we tend to see. The creature behind that Republican mask is the Progressive side of the orthodoxy, which is the Grendel in our saga.

That’s the focus on this week’s show. In order to keep it light, I’m taking a long look at the Democrat primary that is shaping up. We forget that the party actually wielding power, regardless of who is in office, is the Democrat party. They set the agenda and they control the Republican Party. The health of the Democrats is a good indication of just how effective the current vaccines are to the poz they are trying to spread. This podcast is a rundown of the Democrat tribes and the characters vying to be the new chief.

This week I have the usual variety of items in the now standard format. Spreaker has the full show. I am up on Google Play now, so the Android commies can take me along when out disrespecting the country. I am on iTunes, which means the Apple Nazis can listen to me on their Hitler phones. The anarchists can catch me on iHeart Radio. YouTube also has the full podcast. Of course, there is a download link below. I have been de-platformed by Spotify, because they feared I was poisoning the minds of their Millennial customers.

This Week’s Show


  • 00:00: Opening
  • 02:00: The Tribes
  • 07:00: The Vibrant
  • 17:00: The Festive
  • 27:00: The Angry
  • 37:00: The Mysterious
  • 47:00: The Legacies
  • 57:00: Closing

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Hanging Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology And Social Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zero Marginal Culture

A long running gag in popular culture is one where the adults complain about the fads popular with the younger generation. Adults supposedly have been complaining about the kid’s music since the birth of pop culture in the 20th century. The same is true of clothing styles and haircuts. Of course, part of that is the marketing of popular culture. The people peddling this stuff try to feed on the normal youthful rebellion, so an ideal result, if you’re in the business, is for the adults to really hate it. Then the kids will love it.

The assumption underlying this gag is that there is no objective difference in quality between pop culture trends. The perceived quality is relative. From the perspective of a teenager, the new thing is useful because it translates to status within their peer group or allows them access to a desirable youth subculture. For adults, these new trends have no social value. There may be some small value in hating it, but since all adults are tuned to not like teenage fads, the value in not liking it is minimal.

The makers of pop culture made up for this lack of qualitative difference in fads by maintaining a monopoly on the supply. Hollywood was controlled by a small clique from the start and remained a family business of sorts until recent. Music was similarly controlled by a relatively small number of record companies. Read the book The Wrecking Crew and you see how this used to work. This bottleneck on the supply side allowed the makers to keep down costs and therefore maintain a profit margin.

Technology has made it much more difficult for the people controlling the supply side to maintain this bottleneck. That’s mostly because technology has lowered the barrier to entry into pop culture. A great example of this happening in front of our eyes. Talk radio became a thing in the 1980’s. Conservative Inc. controlled middlebrow conservative opinion by controlling the radio networks. If you wanted to talk politics on the Right, you had to play ball with the people controlling the talk radio industry.

Today, some of the most influential voices on the Right are podcasters and live streamers. If you’re under the age of fifty, you’re probably close to abandoning the old radio model entirely, maybe listening to some of the old guys on-line. The audience for Rush Limbaugh is half of its peak now. Most talkers have seen their audience shrink and they are now seeing competition from below. People like Stephan Molyneux can produce high quality, professional content, from their home and reach a broad audience on-line.

The thing is though, supply does not create demand. Just because you can now produce your own music from a home studio, it does not follow that you become a pop star. That old assumption about there being no qualitative difference in trends works in the macro sense, but talent still counts. The fact that young people may prefer pop music from their grandparent’s generation suggests there is a qualitative difference in this area. To these young ears, that music is better, so they prefer it over what the style makers produce.

Alternatively, another way of looking at this phenomenon is that like the consumer electronics business, pop music is now fully commoditized. There’s little or no value added to the music from the producers and creators, so the only thing that matters in the music market is price. Since streaming is the platform of the future, producing new music makes less sense, when there is this vast library of existing music. The kids have not heard these old songs, so selling them the old stuff is possible.

Another aspect to this is the cultural one. Pop music had a peak in the 1970’s and has been in decline ever since. This tracks with the overall decline in the culture. This turns up in per capita music consumption. The aberration was the introduction of the CD, which had everyone re-buying their catalog of music. Otherwise, Americans have listening to less music than fifty years ago. Young people may simply prefer that which was created in peak America over that which is produced in post-America.

Putting aside the cultural angle, which is not unimportant, the economic issue raised by trends in popular culture is how does a market economy work when everything is a commodity? If technology makes it impossible to create bottlenecks and control artificial monopolies on supply, how can concepts like entrepreneurship and market competition still exist? After all, business is about creating scarcity and exploiting it. What happens when the Peter Theil model is no longer possible?

It sounds fanciful, and maybe it is, but it is worth thinking about, as the people who rule over us are thinking about it. The author of this book on the subject is an adviser to the European Union and is read by the western political elite. They are not worried about a world of zero marginal cost. They want to create it. The world of zero marginal cost is also a world of zero marginal culture. More precisely, it is post-culture world, in which things like pop music are simply things supplied by the system on-demand.

Beautiful Losers

The response to last week’s show was interesting, in that I got a few queries about people I mentioned from the old days. I’ve noticed this before whenever I talk about the paleocons and their battles with the neocons in the 80’s and 90’s. Everyone knows about the neocons, at least they think they do, but the paleos seem to be fading from memory as they fade from the scene. It is a case of the winners writing the history books, so I thought a show about the paleocons would be something worth doing.

The original plan was to do a segment on the various people who made up movement, maybe read from their best work, but that would have been too long and too boring. I like doing these sorts of episodes, but this is not a history podcast. What I settled on is the formula I’ve used for other episodes. What’s interesting to me about the paleos is they were right about a lot of things, especially their own flaws, but they failed anyway. It is a great example of how having the facts on your side is not enough.

Putting the show together, what struck me is just how much overlap there is between the alt-right and the paleos. Despite this, you never hear the alt-right talk about these guys or credit them for their ideas. There is an anti-intellectualism to the alt-right that is maybe a reaction to the academic aesthetic of the paleos. We have a library full of writting by the paleocons, while the alt-right has dated livestreams and podcasts. Given how things worked out, maybe that’s a good thing, but it is something to consider.

This week I have the usual variety of items in the now standard format. Spreaker has the full show. I am up on Google Play now, so the Android commies can take me along when out disrespecting the country. I am on iTunes, which means the Apple Nazis can listen to me on their Hitler phones. The anarchists can catch me on iHeart Radio. YouTube also has the full podcast. Of course, there is a download link below. I have been de-platformed by Spotify, because they feared I was poisoning the minds of their Millennial customers.

This Week’s Show


  • 00:00: Opening
  • 02:00: The Origin Of The Paleocons
  • 12:00: Paleoconservatism In A Nutshell
  • 27:00: Why The Paleos Lost
  • 42:00: Learning From Failure
  • 57:00: Closing (Link)
  • Links: (Link) (Link) (Link) (Link) (Link) (Link) (Link) (Link)

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The Inhumanity Of Openness

A core assumption of cosmopolitan globalism is that the ideal society is the completely open society. That is, there are no barriers between people and all transactions are completely transparent. Organizations are based entirely on neutral rules, so that anyone meeting an objective set of criteria may join. Goods and services flow freely, without regards to national borders or local interests. The open society is therefore transactional, where the friction of custom, national interest and tradition is eliminated.

To see how central the concept of the open society is to the globalist project, you just have to look at the chief global advocate for globalism, George Soros. He is a citizen of nowhere, but he meddles everywhere. Through his organization, The Open Society Foundations, he funds subversive organizations all over the West. The goal is to destroy borders, customs and traditions, in order to turn the West into an open, transactional commerce area for the world. Openness is central to post-nationalism.

If a society is fully open, therefore, it means all people have access to all things, all places and so forth. It follows, according to the logic of the adherents, that any organization lacking the diversity of its surrounding environment, must not be fully open. A fire house without vibrancy, for example, is somehow discriminating against the vibrant. There does not have to be proof of this. The lack of vibrancy is proof enough. After all, if the hiring process of the firehouse was open and transparent, it would be fully vibrant.

At first blush, this sounds sort of reasonable, but it is when you examine it in detail that this zeal for openness is found to be every bit as extreme and inhuman as the radical ideologies of the past. This post from Robin Hanson offers a good illustration. His first thought experiment, regarding discrimination against the left-handed, comes to the conclusion that busting up exclusionary group preferences is good for the world. The reason is, such discrimination offends the gods of efficiency.

This sounds fine in the abstract, until you think about it in practice. Hanson assumes insiders create rules for arbitrary reasons. They just like one another and foolishly create rules that favor themselves. If only they could see the beauty of openness, they would drop those rules, so let’s just bust up those rules for them. Attacks on free association and private discrimination are not just about liberating the excluded. They are about liberating the included, so they can enjoy openness and vibrancy.

He then gets into “gender” differences, by which he means sex differences. This confusion we see on the Left between biological reality and their fantasy constructs is an essential element of their world view. It’s a form of fallacy where they compare reality to some model of reality, then critique the model, rather than use the model to gain a better understanding of reality. Therefore they talk about gender roles and ignore biology, because the model of gender is easier to critique.

This passage from his post is where we see the extreme radicalism.

Some may postulate gender as an innate atomic feature of the universe of human concerns, so that when we desire that an associate have a certain gender that has nothing to do with their many other associated features. But that seems crazy to me. Much more plausibly, what we like about a gender is strongly tied to the set of associated features that tend to go along with that gender. That is, we like the package of features that “are” a gender.

He is taking the theoretical model of gender that is not based in biologic reality then imposing it on reality. The whole post is a great example of sophistry, but it is also an insight into the thinking of the people who currently rule over us. They really have accepted the blank slate arguments about observable reality being a social construct. When you start talking about society “assigning roles” based on packages of features associated with genders, you have slipped the chains of reality.

The monstrous nature of the open society lies in the fact it assumes choice, based in anything but objective criteria, is invalid. The male who marries a female because of biology is acting from bias. The male who marries a man, because of economic benefit is acting rationally, because his decision is based on objective criteria. This view of people strips them of their humanity and turns them into economic units, cursed with a sense of moral duty and a belief in free will. They must be broken of those beliefs.

This is what lies behind the sudden promotion of race mixing on television. Every ad must feature a mixed race couple. It’s not so much a denial of biology, it is a denial of choice driven by anything other than objective criteria. Preferring your own race or ethnicity is invalid, because it places a barrier between you and others. Breaking up these antiquated notions of choice is not about racism. It’s about destroying any barriers between people, as those are by definition invalid in an open society.

This is why they are so berserk about what is coming from the human sciences with regards to the nature of man. If people are wired to favor their kin over strangers, for example, the open society cannot exist. More important, biology is a more authentic authority than whatever is bubbling up from the soft sciences. Destroying science will become a crusade, as it is the only way to preserve the open society. The un-personing of James Watson is not a sacrifice. It is atonement.

There’s also an anarcho-nihilism quality to the open society. If all human relations are reduced to self-interest based in objective criteria, there’s no reason for anyone to sacrifice. Trust is not objective and it cannot be measured. Without trust, human cooperation is impossible, as no one has an interest in sacrificing today for the good of a whole he may not be around to enjoy. The result of the open society is a Hobbesian world where everyone is a stranger and everyone is a predator.

That is what makes the zeal for openness immoral. It violates the natural order. It’s why a people under siege will sacrifice rather than open their gates. They know without that barrier between them and the besiegers, they don’t exist. It’s why the first demand of the conqueror is for the conquered to tear down their walls. The people preaching the open society are similarly acting from the position of the conqueror. If the West tears down its walls, removes its borders, becomes fully open, it ceases to exist.