Kejda Gjermani her miscellaneous musings

12Jan/111

Are Chinese Mothers Superior?

Amy Chua and her daughter

Amy Chua and her daughter

A certain essay appeared in the Wall Street Journal last Saturday, titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," to which one excerpted reaction from the Journal community itself was "I am in disbelief after reading this article." What I am in disbelief about, after reading the article, is that the Journal published it. The author is a Chinese mother, Amy Chua—a professor of law at Yale perhaps best known for writing the New York Times bestseller World on Fire.

The essay affirms that stereotypical Chinese parenting produces stereotypical cases of success for the children raised in that fashion—impeccable grade reports, precocious competence in the violin and piano (but mind you, those instruments and no other!), and fortitude of mind in the child to boot—and it explains how all this can be achieved by drawing on representative episodes from the author's own experience as a Chinese mother. The most instructive and blood-chilling of these is the story of how little Lulu, Chua's youngest daughter, was compelled to learn, just in time for her piano recital, how to play "The Little White Donkey"—a most difficult piece, apparently requiring uncommon ambidexterity and, one would think, rapid and fluent communication between the hemispheres of a seven-year-old's brain, across its not fully developed corpus callosum:

Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off. "Get back to the piano now," I ordered.... She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.... I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress.... Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

The author beams with pride over this "success story" and seems to consider it a vindication of her school of parenting against all naysayers. And throughout the article, starting from its title, she does little to disguise her scorn for Western parents, their tolerance for underachievement in their own children, and their squeamishness at the sight or report of the treatment other (luckier) children undergo everyday in the hands of their Chinese mothers.

Having been long convinced that nothing harms stereotypical Western children more than their parents' stereotypical laxness, I nevertheless find appalling much of what Chua states and even more of what she implies. Perhaps the foibles of modern Western parenting have grown so obvious and so ridiculous that any criticism of them is allowed to stick and any proposed alternative is welcomed; the more diametrically opposed to the status quo, the better even. But what Chua is prescribing in her article should not be rashly applauded by even the most frustrated critics of modern parenting mores.

Read the rest in Commentary.

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25Nov/081

Racialist Passive-Aggressiveness

I found this lovely political cartoon while browsing through the pages of The Courier Journal on a recent trip to Louisville.

Kentucky's journalistic elites reveal holding a rather bold view of their state's electorate. Contemptuous insinuations of 'racism' charges have been seen and heard plenty of during this electoral race, but this cartoon is so painfully lacking in subtlety that it reminded me of an insightful article from The Los Angeles Times.

For the first time in human history, a largely white nation has elected a black man to be its paramount leader. And the cultural meaning of this unprecedented convergence of dark skin and ultimate power will likely become -- at least for a time -- a national obsession. In fact, the Obama presidency will always be read as an allegory. Already we are as curious about the cultural significance of his victory as we are about its political significance.

Does his victory mean that America is now officially beyond racism? Does it finally complete the work of the civil rights movement so that racism is at last dismissible as an explanation of black difficulty? Can the good Revs. Jackson and Sharpton now safely retire to the seashore? Will the Obama victory dispel the twin stigmas that have tormented black and white Americans for so long -- that blacks are inherently inferior and whites inherently racist? Doesn't a black in the Oval Office put the lie to both black inferiority and white racism? Doesn't it imply a "post-racial" America? And shouldn't those of us -- white and black -- who did not vote for Mr. Obama take pride in what his victory says about our culture even as we mourn our political loss?

Answering no to such questions is like saying no to any idealism; it seems callow. How could a decent person not hope for all these possibilities, or not give America credit for electing its first black president? And yet an element of Barack Obama's success was always his use of the idealism implied in these questions as political muscle. His talent was to project an idealized vision of a post-racial America -- and then to have that vision define political decency. Thus, a failure to support Obama politically implied a failure of decency.

Obama's special charisma -- since his famous 2004 convention speech -- always came much more from the racial idealism he embodied than from his political ideas. In fact, this was his only true political originality. On the level of public policy, he was quite unremarkable. His economics were the redistributive axioms of old-fashioned Keynesianism; his social thought was recycled Great Society. But all this policy boilerplate was freshened up -- given an air of "change" -- by the dreamy post-racial and post-ideological kitsch he dressed it in.

This worked politically for Obama because it tapped into a deep longing in American life -- the longing on the part of whites to escape the stigma of racism. In running for the presidency -- and presenting himself to a majority white nation -- Obama knew intuitively that he was dealing with a stigmatized people. He knew whites were stigmatized as being prejudiced, and that they hated this situation and literally longed for ways to disprove the stigma.

Obama is what I have called a "bargainer" -- a black who says to whites, "I will never presume that you are racist if you will not hold my race against me." Whites become enthralled with bargainers out of gratitude for the presumption of innocence they offer. Bargainers relieve their anxiety about being white and, for this gift of trust, bargainers are often rewarded with a kind of halo.

Obama's post-racial idealism told whites the one thing they most wanted to hear: America had essentially contained the evil of racism to the point at which it was no longer a serious barrier to black advancement. Thus, whites became enchanted enough with Obama to become his political base. It was Iowa -- 95% white -- that made him a contender. Blacks came his way only after he won enough white voters to be a plausible candidate.

Of course, it is true that white America has made great progress in curbing racism over the last 40 years. I believe, for example, that Colin Powell might well have been elected president in 1996 had he run against a then rather weak Bill Clinton. It is exactly because America has made such dramatic racial progress that whites today chafe so under the racist stigma. So I don't think whites really want change from Obama as much as they want documentation of change that has already occurred. They want him in the White House first of all as evidence, certification and recognition.

Read the rest.

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7Nov/0828

JihadwatchWatch: Robert Spencer’s amorous flirt with European Fascism

The election is finally behind us. After initial sighs of relief and disappointment many are already beginning to re-examine the American electorate’s fault lines. What pundits call a “center-right” nation is actually a diverse culture characterized by respect for individualism, freedom, ingenuity, and by aspirations toward American exceptionalism. Articulating the tenets of this culture had been the driving force behind Ronald Reagan’s landslide electoral victories and this same ideological vigor is bubbling up again in certain parts of the Republican mosh pit.

Other elements within the American Right are insinuating corrosive tactics into the political discourse, and seek to counter Leftist-induced capitulationism with crypto-fascist madness. The ideological dilemma facing the Right is being played out in the political arena but also in the cultural microcosm of the blogosphere. The recent fallout between the libertarian Charles Johnson of LGF and the religious supremacist Robert Spencer of JihadWatch offers instructive perspective into the fractures of the Right.

For Johnson it wasn’t much of a blog-war rather a series of restrained guerrilla attacks on his open threads, where he announced the rift and reported on incoming hate mail from Spencer’s camp. However, Spencer himself along with the ever bellicose Pamela Geller did take the battlefield with public announcements or shall I say, denouncements, on their respective blogs.

Inquiring minds need to know how it got to this, so let’s trace back this affair’s developments chronologically, shall we?

September 8th, 2008: Charles Johnson posts an article denouncing the so-called Anti-Islamization Conference in Cologne, which was nothing but a congregation of European neo-fascists under the convenient shell of “opposition to Islamization.” Among the most prominent participants/organizers/speakers we can count Markus Beisicht of the Pro NRW (Pro North-Rhine Westphalia), blaster of “the-fags-running-down-his-fatherland” and fascist-slogan-waving Henry Nitzsche, white-Europe-choosing and hypothetically-black-man-mating-daughter-disapproving Filip DeWinter of Vlaams Belang, Moroccan-child-beating arsonist Mario (the “bourgeois”) Borgheze, Nazi-insignia-wearing and falafel-ophobic Heinz-Christian Strache of The Freedom Party, and the no-hyperlink-needing infamous Jean-Marie Le Pen.

In the comment section of this article, Charles posts a lone link to a JihadWatch post supportive of the conference, silently indicating that his eyebrows are raised at Robert Spencer.

September 12th, 2008: Robert Spencer pulls down the original article from his site, offering a detailed explanation of his reasonsan account conceding that the individuals and organizations involved in the Cologne Conference have pan-fascist agendas, which no respectable counter-jihadist ought to support. His explanation for why the post was ever published in the first place and had remained on his site for four days, essentially boiled down to its author Raymond Ibrahim having been unaware of “all the issues involved” while he Robert Spencer himself had been too distracted to notice the post. From Spencer’s clarification:

One of the advantages of having other people write for this site is that it allows me, every now and again, to do other things. But that also means that occasionally I miss things that are posted here. It was brought to my attention this morning that there was a favorable post here a few days ago about Iran protesting against an upcoming anti-jihad conference in Europe that features Jean-Marie LePen, the FPO of Austria, and other prominent European far-right politicians. I took it down just now, as we do not support European neo-fascism or race supremacism (and the person who posted it didn't know all the issues involved), but I didn't want simply to take the post down without explanation.

Charles Johnson seemingly bought it, but none of this squared off with me. It certainly didn’t help that from my initial cursory glance at the vanished article, the “Raymond” author signature had been blurred with “Robert” in my mind. Deciding that my memory was more trustworthy than anything coming out of Robert Spencer’s mouth, I accused him of being the original author of the article and of scapegoating Raymond for the debacle. Despite my good reasons for deeply distrusting Spencer, Google cache proved me wrong on this instance. My visual memory is by no means infallible and I retracted my accusation when presented with compelling evidence. Robert indeed screeched that this undoubtedly proved me a liar, while it merely proved me wrong: I knew at least Charles Johnson had read the article before it disappeared and that he would have noticed the author. I wouldn’t have charged Spencer of being the author unless I was convinced that others who had also read the article before it was pulled down would also vouch for what I thought I had seen.

Sometime Between September 12th and September 27th: Said article is stealthily reposted and live on JihadWatch the same article that Robert Spencer wrote a 922-word backpedaling “clarification” to announce the retraction of. I was right not to put dirty internet tricks above him after all. I noticed it on September 27th, but who knows how much earlier it had been reinstated…

Didn’t Robert Spencer owe his readers another 1000-word enlightened clarification of why he re-posted the same article he had earlier repudiated as ill-conceived and ignorant of the disreputable people involved? Or was the initial retraction coupled with the public repudiation of the European neo-fascist participants of the Cologne Conference an insincere attempt to appease Charles Johnson nothing but a farcical little show?

September 28th 2008: Robert’s conference-crashing buddy Andrew Bostom emphatically proclaims so:

Following Johnson’s e-mail threat to another close friend — the brilliant scholar and author Robert Spencer — after Raymond Ibrahim (editor/translator of The Al Qaeda Reader) simply blogged a favorable discussion (subsequently removed by Spencer, pace Johnson’s threat!) of Diana West’s September 18, 2008 Town Hall.com column at the Jihad Watch/Dhimmi Watch website — I noticed that National Review Online had a featured link (on 9/19/08) to the same West column.

Spencer has recurrently uttered vicious personal invectives against both myself and my husband on numerous occasions, with labels including but not limited to dishonest, smearing, mendacious, swamp-fevering character assassins, malicious and slanderous, liar liar liar, inveterate and consistent liar, manifold, intricate, and subtle liar who uses formidable intellect only for evil, and my favorite, Nazi emulator. Most of Spencer’s seething attacks, not included here due to their dull redundancy, tend to compulsively charge me with ‘libel’ over the contents of my report, which barely deals with Spencer personally but rather airs out the dark closet of his friend and associate James Jatras of the so-called American Council for Kosovo the front group for a radical and violent organization called the Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metojiha.

Spencer’s reaction has been so oversensitive and overblown, that I am amazed he hasn’t virulently charged Bostom (who supports the participants of the Cologne Conference and clearly alludes to Spencer also sharing such sympathies underneath the lip service paid to Charles Johnson out of fear) with making libelous accusations and smearing his character! For what could be more libelous, more smearing, more demeaning and shaming for an aspiring "scholar" than to be accused of prostituting his public assignment of grave characterizations (such as "fascist," "racist," or "race supremacist") to various people and organizations just in order to salvage his personal relationship with some blogger?!!

If I were a public figure and anyone publicly stated or implied that I don’t mean what I write or what I retract but merely act under coercion against my true convictions, I would: consider it a grave insult, vehemently deny the charge, demand an apology, and if not granted, entertain a lawsuit. In fact I would react the same way even in my own shoes of obscurity, minus the lawsuit part which I cannot afford to even entertain. Bostom has essentially ruled that Spencer does not actually believe the organizers and participants of the Cologne Conference to be neo-fascists worthy of being shunned, but “being vulnerable” (in Bostom’s own words), he acquiesces to Johnson and toes the line. If so, Spencer would ironically be guilty of the charge he loves to hurl at others libel namely making allegations he knows to be false, which give various individuals (the alleged/disputed crypto fascists) a bad reputation!

If, on the other hand, Spencer knows these organizations and individuals to be neo-fascist in agenda and character (as his post suggests), yet believes that’s all fine and dandy so long as he can subvert them toward his holy crusade again Islam his pet-boogeyman what then? What would that make him? A fascist apologist? A fascist sympathizer?

But Robert does expliticly state the anti-jihad movement should not indulge that side of the political spectrum in Europe or elsewhere. Only that Andrew Bostom claims Spencer doesn’t really mean this, and the pro-Cologne article sneakily crawling back up on JihadWatch shortly after the curtains went down on that little show Spencer put for Johnson certainly reinforces such impression. What does that make him then? A spineless hypocrite?

What kind of "scholar" triangulates his public positions so tightly between hypocrisy, fascist sympathy, and cowardice-induced libel? Then again, what kinds of "scholar" foams at the mouth over an obscure blog post of a 22-year-old college girl and goes as far as to call her a Nazi-emulator over it? Well Robert Spencer the Beetlejuice of Internet forums who magically appears anywhere his name is invoked more than twice in order to furiously intimidate any critics does.

But perhaps the points raised so far are too tangential. Robert Spencer discredits himself through his own words in much less equivocal terms. He writes:

The post in question was written by Raymond Ibrahim. I have discussed it with Raymond, who was not aware of the affiliations of the people involved when he posted it, and he was fine with my taking it down.

The only problem here is that forgetting for a moment what Raymond did or didn’t know Hugh Fitzgerald himself, the vice president of JihadWatch (whatever that means) made the following comment on the post in question on the very first day it was published:

If this Conference is left solely in the hands of those who are not only certifiably "right-wing" but lepenesque, and therefore disreputable, then it is the duty of others, the respectable anti-Islam legions, not to ignore the Conference or to stay morally pure, but rather to attend, even to swell its numbers, and change its nature, by appearing in force. Show Cologne, show Germany, show the E.U. that one can be just as sweet and liberal and anti-Fascist as all get out, and also want, for those very reasons, a complete halt to Muslim migration to Europe, and a deliberate policy of countering the Money Weapon, campaigns of Da'wa, and demographic conquest -- all over Western Europe, resulting in a greatly diminished Muslim presence in the Lands of the Infidels. This has to be done. It will have to be done now, peacefully, or later, less peacefully. It can't be avoided. It's what's to come. It is not still unsure. But, to quote an old poet, and to appropriate his more traditional use of the carpe-diem imperative, in delay there lies no plenty.

So get cracking.

Hugh knew of the lepenesque character of the conference’s protagonists and was clearly instructing his minions to not “stay morally pure” notwithstanding the neo-fascist agenda of the upcoming Cologne rally. In a lunatic leap of logic, he proposes that rallying up behind fascists and appearing in force at their events will show Cologne, Germany, and indeed all of Europe, that not only fascist agitators, but also sweet liberal anti-Fascists are concerned about Islam.

Wait… I thought anti-Fascists would never ally with fascists by definition. What about that rant regarding the inevitable clash of civilizations, demographic battles, and the need to greatly diminish Muslim presence in the lands of the Infidels? It can be done peacefully now or less peacefully in the future he says but done it must be. Is it me or this fatalistic tone foreshadows a borderline genocidal scenario Hugh sounds to be creaming his pants at the contemplation of?

Spencer’s 922-word backpedaling clarification for pulling down the pro-Cologne article from which Hugh’s comment is drawn, also absolves Hugh himself and in fact uses his articles as an example of how opposed to fascists “we at JihadWatch are.” In the meanwhile, Hugh has been drifting in an entirely different direction as we’ve just seen. So what happened? Did Hugh acquiesce to Spencer or to Johnson in towing the line? Are the internal affairs of JihadWatch so chaotic that Spencer cannot learn from his "VP" what is happening at his own blog, but rather needs problematic content to be second-handedly reported to him by readers of other blogs?

Again, why has the post been put back up on JihadWatch since at least September 27th without explanation?

Satisfied that no rational reader at this point can escape the conclusion that this has been a disgraceful flip-flop on Spencer’s behalf, I will move on.

October 25th, 2008: Spencer posts a rather awkward article lionizing a certain long-winded smarmy European pseudo-intellectual by the penname of Fjordman, whom Charles Johnson has long exposed as a fascist sympathizer. Robert Spencer’s justification for so unexpectedly standing assuredly by Fjordman and vouching for his character must have struck his readers as out of place:

The learned European essayist Fjordman here reviews Ali Sina's Understanding Muhammad. Since Fjordman has been accused of being a white supremacist and a neofascist, some people have also accused me of being a white supremacist and neofascist, because I publish his fine essays on jihad and the Islamization of Europe. So I thought I would take this opportunity to say that while white supremacism and neofascism are wrong and should everywhere be opposed, I do not believe Fjordman is a white supremacist or a neofascist.

Who are these people who have smeared poor Fjordman with such naughty epithets? And who is trying to drag Spencer down along with him? This is a passive-aggressive thinly-veiled affront to Charles Johnson and me, respectively, though I have never called Spencer a neo-fascist or white supremacist to date, and I believe Charles has characterized Fjordman as merely a sympathizer and apologist of said unsavory ideologies.

Johnson has made his repudiation of Fjordman public for almost a year now, so why did Spencer take so long to absolve Fjordman? He was obviously trying to play nice with both sides but finally tipped over the edge. This was his way of telling Charles he had chosen Fjordman, along with the associations the latter’s endorsement carries with it (Vlaams Belang, The Austrian Freedom Party, Sweden Democrats, The National Front, the BNP, The Brussels Journal, Gates of Vienna, etc.). In fact shortly thereafter, Spencer re-blog-rolled the last two, despite their well-documented support for European fascists.

I find curious Spencer’s choice in illustrating Fjordman’s anti racialist worldview: He quotes an excerpt which Fjordman had written Spencer says long before any allegations of race supremacism were uttered against him. In this very chosen passage Fjordman defines the challenge for cultural preservation against Radical Islam in racial and xenophobic terms!

We shouldn’t idealize mass-immigration too much. When one group of people move into a territory where another group of people already live, this has usually throughout human history ended in war. Either the newcomers will be expelled, or they will subdue or wipe out the previous inhabitants, or the groups will divide the country between them.

What a gem of historical determinism we have here: classic collectivistic chauvinistic European xenophobia. Hegel would be proud! Fjordman treats people in terms of groups moving into territories, as flocks of sheep or wolves in a perpetual struggle for territorial supremacy.

He advocates “sticking with one’s own kind,” one’s "culture," one’s "race," and resisting assimilation a very ideologically and literally inbred worldview. I wonder what Fjordman makes of the American experiment where people from all cultures and races flooded into the melting pot: no invasions, no ethnic cleansing, no expulsions, no subduing, no wiping out of anybody. Fjordman is clearly stuck in cultural medievalism and considers all potential immigration as an invasion of his pure genetic and ideological pool by hordes of barbarians.

I see little reason to expect any different result where the indigenous population happens to be white. I do not see why I should have to choose between White Supremacy and White Worthlessness. It is one thing to reject the idea that your culture should be forced onto others, it is quite another thing to say that you shouldn’t be allowed to retain your culture even in your own country. The latter is simply a matter of self-preservation, the most basic instinct of all living things down to bacteria level.

No talk of institutions, no talk of what European culture is supposed to consist of: only racialist remarks and allusions to White Supremacy as the politically incorrect term for legitimate self-preservation. Yes, I can and do read between the lines.

I have a right to preserve my culture, too, even though I have blue eyes, and cannot see anything “racist” in not wanting my children to become a persecuted minority in their own country through mass immigration. That you are denounced as a White Supremacist for just stating the obvious shows how deeply entrenched and internalized this anti-white bias has become.

And what is it that your culture consists of, Fjordman, other than your blue eyes? You never elucidate on it beyond that. Why are you even bringing up unfair accusations of White Supremacy before anyone has implicated you? Are you making any "preemptive" moves in that direction?

Is this passage the best Robert Spencer can find toward exculpating Fjordman? Just what is Robert Spencer trying to get at here? He continues on:

More recently (two weeks ago), the genuinely neofascist VNN Forum (an evil site to which I will provide no link) criticized one of Fjordman's articles about Europe for not blaming Jews for the problem. VNN Forum writers called Fjordman "a neocon jew-ass-kisser who is either oblivious of the fact that jews are responsible for what is happening or is aware but doesn't have the guts to name the jew." They also pointed out that "the Brussels Journal is never critical towards the Jew" and went on to complain that "multiculturalism stops when the Jew is down and out. Those Islamophobic 'nationalist' parties accomplish nothing....I would rather see anti-synagogue marches over anti-mosque ones. The mosques become a non-issue if you defeat the wretched sheeny." I would rather stand with Israel, and Fjordman, than with those racist neo-fascists.

He would rather stand with Israel, and Fjordman, and Markus Beisicht of Pro NRW, with blaster-of-the-fags-running-down-his-fatherland and fascist-slogan-waving Henry Nitzsche, with white-Europe-choosing Filip DeWinter of Vlaams Belang, with Moroccan-child-beating arsonist Mario Borgheze, with Nazi-insignia-wearing and falafel-ophobic Heinz-Christian Strache of The Freedom Party, and with Jean-Marie Le Pen, because they too are opposed by some hard core neo-Nazis on the grounds of going after Muslims rather than Jews.

Impressive argument: So because Wahabbis claim Shias are apostates or otherwise infidels and we know Wahabbis to be indisputably Muslim, then we must conclude that Shias are indeed not Muslims because Wahabbis say so. Yes, that makes a whole lot of sense. So because the “genuinely evil” VNN Forum (as opposed to what, the “evil lite” Le Pen et al?) disavows those neo-fascist parties that are shrewdly picking their battles and choosing to demonize Muslims wholesale rather than Jews (the latter being a much less tenable target these days), then said parties cannot actually be neo-fascistic. Because they target Muslims, that is.

How mighty convenient for Spencer, who would just about sell his soul in order to witch-hunt Muslims and Islam all the world over, to have the definition of “fascist” so elegantly rewritten: “if you are anti-Muslim, you cannot be fascist because the VNN Forum would oppose you and one fascist/Nazi cannot be against another.” Whatever is going to happen now to JihadWatch’s long record of opposing Le Pen, the FPO, and Vlaams Belang? They’re magically not fascists now because they are anti-Muslim, and the two are mutually exclusive as we know from the VNN’s annals of wisdom?

It is on the comment section of this very post that Robert Spencer bursts in unprovoked despicable insults against me and starts compulsively scratching a spot that must have been itching for a while: He makes the following fascinating contention:

I went back and took a look at Kejda Gjermani's libelous "expose."

Much of her case hinges upon this assertion:

"The deceptively named American Council for Kosovo is in fact a front group for the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija, whose president Milan Ivanovic was arrested by the UN administration (he took his sweet time to turn himself in after initially going into hiding) on charges of attempted murder (later dropped) and of leading a violent demonstration, during which at least one hand-grenade was thrown at the police (Ivanovic has been personally accused of this act but evidence was inconclusive for a conviction, hence the dropped charge of attempted murder), and 22 mainly Polish peacekeepers were injured. [...]

Mr. Ivanovic is a hard-line nationalist by anyone’s definition, a staunch supporter of the neo-fascist Serbian Radical Party— an ultra-nationalists‘ melting crackpot of greater scale and proportion than even its name suggests. For starters, the Party organized the recent rallies in Serbia to protest Radovan Karadzic’s arrest, in which the same Ivanovic was visibly involved...

The only problem with this is that her basic assertion, that the American Council for Kosovo is a front group for Ivanovic's group, is false, and she provides no evidence to establish it. ACK spokesman James Jatras says this:

With respect to the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija as identified in the American Council for Kosovo's disclaimer, and the suggested relationship with Dr. Milan Ivanovic: in Kosovo today there is more than one organization operating under the name "Serbian National Council," or some variant of that name. These groups, some of them quite small, have differing political perspectives -- though all categorically reject separation of the province from Serbia -- and accordingly may align themselves with different Serbian political parties. As already noted, the American Council for Kosovo reflects the views of the Kosovo Serbian community as voiced by Bishop Artemije. I am unaware of Dr. Ivanovic's affiliation with any organization connected with the Bishop. If the implication of the comment is that the American Council for Kosovo is somehow controlled or directed by Dr. Ivanovic, that absolutely is not the case. However, I have met Dr. Ivanovic in the course of my visits to Kosovo and believe the aspersions cast against him are unwarranted. There is nothing "radical" or "anti-American," much less "supremacist," about him as far as I am aware, unless one regards opposition to Washington's illegal, pro-jihad anti-Serbian policy as being anti-American.

Kejda Gjermani is an accomplished liar, but in the final analysis that is all that she is: a liar.

Cordially
Robert Spencer

Like momma said: “Don’t scratch that itch or it will only get worse!” Robert didn’t have to go there. If the investigative digs of an unknown college girl made him uncomfortable, the most sensible response for him would have been to ignore them and wait for my post to fade away in the vast cold blogo(atmo)sphere. But Robert just couldn’t let it go. He frantically calls me an “accomplished liar,” but I haven’t accomplished anything noteworthy and I only post articles at my private website once in a blue moon on miscellaneous topics of my interest.

Robert is the one who has built an entire career out of selling demagogic incendiary books demonizing Muslims and extolling the Crusaders, and out of giving public speeches trying to convince Muslims that their religion is indeed inherently and incorrigibly violent and supremacist and that they better get consistent in taking seriously any and all genocidal verses of the Qur’an quite an accomplished demagogue, wouldn’t you say? Yet Robert’s career and, most importantly, his self-esteem, depend on his ability to maintain an aura of respectability and an image of erudite “scholar.” Exposed associations with vile extremists chip away at such carefully crafted public image, so Robert can’t help foaming at the mouth and impulsively suppressing anyone shining the spotlight on his putrid closet. Indeed he is outraged that I have not been banned on LGF and has even sent his sock-puppets to intimidate me with legal threats at my own blog.

Oh, but he has done it now! I have supposedly asserted without proof that A equals A: that the Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metohija whose leader is the outrageous violent-protest organizer, alleged hand-grenade thrower, Radical Party supporter and flaming Karadzic devotee Ivan Milanovic, is the same Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metohija for which Robert Spencer second-handedly works. As if linking organizations of the same exact name with the same identity begs any proof…

When doing my background research on Jatras, I was so struck by this man’s sheer maliciousness, callousness, and pathological lying pattern that I assumed he was some sort of evil mastermind concocting genial campaigns of nauseating Belgrade propaganda. But in Robert’s comment I am reminded again of the banality of evil. The claim that somehow there are many small organizations in Kosovo by the same exact name which act independently of one-another and bear no responsibility of each-others’ members’ and leaders’ acts or statements is a laughably desperate (and just plain laughable) attempt to evade the scrutiny that naturally comes with Ivan Milanovic’s disreputable background.

The claim doesn’t stand even at face value: Who has heard of multiple unaffiliated organizations by the very same name operating within the boundaries of a 10,908 km2 region? Wouldn’t people confuse them all the time among each other? Wouldn’t the self-respectable ones among these organizations, if there be any, adopt a different name in order to distance themselves from the anarchic ones which are staging riots against the police? How do they keep track of one-another? Do they have separate serial numbers by any chance?

Leadership of the Serb National Council at press conference in Belgrade Media Center, May 30, 2003 (from left to right: Dr. Marko Jaksic, Dr.  Rada Trajkovic, Bishop Artemije, Dr. Milan Ivanovic)

Leadership of the Serb National Council at press conference in Belgrade Media Center, May 30, 2003 (from left to right: Dr. Marko Jaksic, Dr. Rada Trajkovic, Bishop Artemije, Dr. Milan Ivanovic)

Perhaps Jatras is banking on casual examiners getting confused upon seeing the acronym for the Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metohije appear as SNV in some places and SNC in others, and concluding that there must be at least two different organizations by the same name. This is not, however, the case: SNV is merely the Serbian-language-equivalent of SNC and they both refer to the same organization led by Ivanovic and by the Bishop. I invite everyone to look at the source of this photo of the leadership of the Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metohija, posted at the dear Bishop’s own website, with the caption “Leadership of the Serb National Council at press conference in Belgrade Media Center, May 30, 2003 (from left to right: Dr. Marko Jaksic, Dr. Rada Trajkovic, Bishop Artemije, Dr. Milan Ivanovic)”. That ain’t half bad for a smoking gun, now is it?

In short, Robert: You and Jatras are the liars, though I would not deign you with the “accomplished” prefix, because as fevered demagogues spouting off way too many lies to keep track of, you have accomplished nothing other than discrediting yourselves anew. And don’t bother pulling down the article or deleting the cache, because I have saved everything.

Robert Spencer is the stooge of an organization whose leaders have been blacklisted by the US government for providing support to war criminals, violently opposing legal institutions, and undermining the peace process in the Balkans. What a maverick of a "scholar" Robert is!

October 31st, 2008: Robert Spencer announces the break with Charles Johnson, violently echoed by the manic fascist supporters Pamella Geller and Gates of Vienna. In his long-winded diatribe against Johnson, Spencer wraps it up like so:

Is that not absurd? I have gone on record many, many times explaining why I reject race-based approaches to the jihad threat -- most recently in connection with the Cologne conference.

But Hugh did support the Cologne conference, and JihadWatch stealthily reinstated the post it supposedly pulled down.

Hugh and I have been clear here in our rejection of LePen, the BNP, and all those who traffic in such approaches.

But Le Pen and the BNP are anti-Muslim, and by the VNN Forum’s argument which Spencer employed earlier to absolve Fjordman, they cannot be neo-fascists. Also Vlaams Belang, the FPO, Sweden Democrats, et al. all traffic in “such approaches.”

The controversy here is over whether or not some other individuals and groups belong in that category, not over whether one should support race supremacism and genocide or not. Charles has done a grave disservice by acting as if those who reject his judgments about these groups and individuals, or who even -- like me -- are willing to entertain differing points of view on these matters, are ipso facto neo-Nazi or white supremacist sympathizers.

What would these different points of view of yours on the matter be, Robert? It is nothing but unsustainable middle ground that you are willing to entertain. You either believe these European parties have neo-fascist agendas or you don’t.

Meanwhile, I note also with sorrow that the mendacious Kejda Gjermani ("medaura") is spreading her libelous attacks on me at LGF yet again, as she has been allowed to do for months. It is telling.

So mendacious that medaura, eh? It is telling she hasn’t been censored for repeating inconvenient yet indisputable facts regarding Robert’s associations.

I want to emphasize that I have not endorsed the Vlaams Belang. This whole controversy is not about the Vlaams Belang, but about whether or not one can disagree with Charles Johnson and not be defamed as a result. I have merely recognized that people of good will, who are not "seriously deluded" (as someone calls them below) and are not racists or neofascists, have mounted a case opposing Charles Johnson's assessment of the Vlaams Belang. In other words, the question is not whether or not we should support neofascists, but whether or not Vlaams Belang is neofascist. That question is hotly disputed, and those who think that Johnson has not made his case are not evil just for thinking that.

Typical Robert Spencer “open-mindedness”: his official stance on Kosovo is one of only-time-will-tell skepticism, yet he aggressively works on behalf of the Serbian lobby in order to revoke the world’s newest country’s independence. That’s so neutral indeed. He is vehemently opposed to neo-fascists and white-supremacists (and who isn’t, on record?) yet he keeps an “open mind” as to which individuals and organizations deserve such labels. While he keeps his mind perpetually wide open, he supports everyone so long as they can be instrumental to him in attacking Muslims. It is oh-so-easy to vacuously oppose fascism when you don’t believe fascists are fascists, because the opposition can thus remain purely theoretical and abstract!

Spencer also fervently opposes Serbian genocide on principle, yet his closest associates (Jatras, Trifkovic, and Gorin) are Srebrenica genocide deniers. It is easy to vacuously oppose Serbian genocide if you never believe it happened. The genocide Spencer believes in supposedly took place in Kosovo, was perpetrated by the Albanian Jihadists against the poor Christian Serbs indeed, and was aided and abetted by NATO, the UN, and the EU. Yes, they were all in on it!

Of course, it has been exposed by only an anonymous individual claiming to be a current member of the international mission in Kosovo (the unverifiability of such claim due to the writer’s anonymity somehow escaping Spencer) writing under the penname of Iseult Henry. That’s right! After all, he has to be anonymous, otherwise his life would be endangered by the evil spies of the US, UN, and EU entities which are all in on the genocidal master plan and would fall short of nothing to suppress the truth from leaking out!

What kind of "scholar" toys with genocide? Even Albanian supporters do not claim that genocide against Kosovars took place, however more reasonable such proposition would still be compared to the reverse claim made by Spencer. Stephen Schwartz writes:

Ms. Gorin states that NATO bombed Serbia “to prevent a genocide that forensics turned up empty.” Yes, the genocide was prevented. It did not take place. Nobody claimed it had taken place, only that it was attempted. Genocide means the murder of a whole people; obviously, the Albanians were not wholly murdered.

Charles Johnson, whatever one may think of his political leanings, has unequivocally exposed thinly-disguised fascists and repudiated them wholeheartedly again and again. He was never so desperate for allies as to turn a blind eye to the ideological demons swarming right under these European political conglomerates’ insincere pretensions toward "mainstreamness" and moderation. Johnson’s endorsement had been Robert Spencer’s last main reputational anchor into the sane respectable intellectual world. Now that he deservedly lost it, let him agitate away at the fringes where he belongs.

The spread of Radical Islam poses an eminent threat to the civilized world. Anyone knows it. Even brainwashed cultural-relativist Leftists know, hard as they may try to airbrush the elephant in the room.

Highlighting the need for formulating a strategic response to this menace is not rocket science. Yet it should take no towering genius either to categorically reject and denounce certain ideological proposals for being at least as abominable and dangerous to civilization as the militant islamism they purport to protect it from. The resurgence of neo-fascist activism across the Old Continent is alarming. Such regressive ill-conceived reaction to the rise of Radical Islam is yet another living testament to Europe’s ideological sterility. Disturbing shades of brown are agitating the zeitgeist of many European countries these days. Robert Spencer, James Jatras, Julia Gorin, Andrew Bostom, Pamela Geller, Fjordman, Baron Bodissey, and Dymphna are more than welcome to coalesce toward this violent brown where their ideological affinities truly lie, so long as everyone knows where they stand. It would be nice though, in fact too nice to ask, that they at least not lie to themselves about the nature of the choice they have made. Far from being friends of peace, freedom, prosperity, and civilization, they in fact belong to a hateful and subversive stripe of agitators. which must be marginalized if both progress against radical islamists and future electoral success are to be achieved.

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17Mar/0819

Beyond Conservatism: Freedom in a Godless Future

GOP debateThat the GOP is experiencing an identity crisis is self-evident. Over the last few months the Party cannibalized herself as one candidate after another tripped over his feet trying to climb on top of her shaky political pedestal. No one can convincingly say what Republican voters were looking for, but we must infer they’ve pretty much found it in John McCain. Yet there is restiveness in the so-called Conservative sector, once hailed as the core ideological constituency of the Right but now finding itself marginalized to the peripheries of the Republican Party whose political headquarters are being rebuilt Leftwards.

Most Conservative icons have criticized the Arizona senator’s controversial Conservative credentials, but some have gone as far as to boycott the Party over his nomination, thus translating the Conservative tantrum into a highly leveraged ultimatum. So Conservatives indeed feel betrayed by the GOP’s leadership, but have they ever scrutinized their faithfulness to their own principles? Most importantly, have they ever coherently articulated what Conservative principles represent? …Can they?

GOPThe notion of a true Conservative is farcically reinvented ad nauseum by the latest self-proclaimed specimen, the same way that “change” has become a politically prostituted mantra for the Left, devoid of any substance or pretense thereof. Yet change can ultimately mean anything to Leftist “revolutionaries” preaching overhaul for the sake of overhaul: nothing ideologically uncomfortable about it. While the Party of perpetual “progressive” reform need not be bothered with the intricacies of well-defined “change,” conserving for the sake of conservation just doesn’t fly as well. The future is necessarily open-ended, but anyone invested in preserving valuable aspects of a supposedly cherished past, ought to be able to coherently pinpoint what is worth preserving (or even restoring, if the past is remote enough) and fluently articulate why.

The Conservative movement has lost its conceptual anchor into the essence of America’s greatness and is now consumed with merely conserving the Conservative movement. The future has historically been unkind to reactionaries; hence Conservatives’ recent fall from relevance should come as no surprise.

Vague platitudes of a Conservative golden era are ludicrous. There was never such a thing as a glorious way of life Americans ought to have preserved like an insect captured in the amber of history. Allusions to morally airbrushed “good old days” founded in sound “Judeo-Christian” values are nothing but blurred second-hand collective hallucinations of a generation disastrously failing to grasp modern-day ideological challenges. Before ever being entitled to a dominant voice in this country’s future, Conservatives must sever their romantic attachment to this idealized fabricated past.

Freedom is AmericaAmerican traditions and lifestyles always have and always will be in a vector of flux and experimentation toward modernity. However, the political recipe for human flourishing and sustained prosperity is timeless. America’s founders lucidly articulated it throughout the Founding Documents and embedded it in the early American institutions. This philosophical prescription for maximal individual liberty and limited government has transcended centuries as America’s fundamental nature.

The fathers of Modern American Conservatism—Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and William Buckley Jr.—are now all dead. Instead of bemoaning their loss as tragically irreplaceable and praying in vain for a second coming, Conservatives better adjust their intellectual rear-view mirror until the founders of the American Nation come into clear sharp focus. Ironic corruption of language notwithstanding, it is Liberalism, as it is classically understood, that Conservatives better get in the business of conserving, and in so doing, shed some ideological dead-weight of their own.

Judeo-ChristianityThe inane treatment of Judeo-Christianity as a proxy for Western Civilization should be first to go. Tying the moral foundations of the American Nation with cultural archetypes of prehistoric Biblical Jews, or with those of devout Europeans emulating them is beyond preposterous. The dogmatic authoritarianism inherent in Judeo-Christianity and its ubiquitous tradition of framing Man as a wretched sinful creature fallen from grace since birth, are antithetical to a societal infrastructure built around individual freedom and dignity.

The Fall of ManJudeo-Christianity provides no coherent moral justification for why humankind deserves freedom. The Bible presents men and women as fundamentally unequal and incorrigibly flawed, offhandedly condones slavery, and offers absolute monarchy as the sacrosanct form of government prescribed by God.

The reference to the Creator in the Declaration of Independence by the Deist Thomas Jefferson was appropriate in so far as it further legitimized the proverbial self-evident truths through divine pedigree. Free enterprise is not the coincidental result of collective utility maximization by enlightened social engineers. It is rather the inescapable byproduct of the enshrinement of individual rights, which are inalienable and morally absolute, and which deserve philosophical protection as such. The loose mention of a non-denominational Creator served as a rhetorical shield to the indisputability of natural rights, through appealing to Colonialists’ lowest common philosophical denominator. But nothing in the founding documents insinuates individual rights to be derivatives of religious dogma.

The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion. John Adams

Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together. James Madison

Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than on our opinions in physics and geometry... The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson casually defines the protection of citizens and their property from aggression to be the only legitimate domain of government intervention. Such negative rights retain their internal consistency even when scaled up for large complex communities and are always straight-forward to enforce.

Parody!!Social Conservatives seeking to use government to legislate morality to the masses have been poisoning the well for too long by destroying the consistency of negative rights, thus opening the door to government co-optation by demagogues with various agendas and malignant vested interests from all sides of the political spectrum. Their religiously inspired diatribes against full American freedoms continue to alienate people in droves, particularly because most Americans today are rightfully oversensitive regarding matters of conscience, religion, social institutions, and private behavior.

Until it extirpates this reactionary faction, the Conservative movement’s defense of free markets is hopelessly doomed to intellectual impotence. Economic self-reliance through free proud enterprise on the one hand, but moral paternalism in matters confined to the bedroom or uterus on the other hand, are ideologically irreconcilable positions both of which sound hypocritical when preached by the same voice.

Natural LawJudeo-Christian values are neither sufficient nor even necessary components of Americanism. Conservatives with a mental blind spot to this reality often try to justify the institutionalization of Judeo-Christianity by deeming it to be the only absolute ideological shelter for freedom. Plato alone has spoken with more clarity and conviction about absolute transcendental values such as Justice and Goodness, than there can be found throughout the entire Bible. Natural Law has enjoyed a fertile tradition in Western Philosophy, originated by Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, carried out by the Stoics, and augmented by many great thinkers up to the present day.

Not only is the firm binding of natural law with religion not dictated by any philosophical necessity, it is also a strategically self-defeating position for Conservatives to take in the ongoing battle for hearts and minds. I cannot think of a more dangerous proposition for the future of American institutions than the prospect that their desirability and justification depend on the dubious existence of Abraham’s God.

Atheism on the RiseDidn’t Conservatives get the memo? Organized religion is dying at a head-spinning rate not only in this country but across the entire Western world. The proverbial writing on the wall could be seen for decades but reality checks for Social Conservatives come with a time lag. The Religious Right has been running on very tenacious fumes against the demographic tide of events thanks in part to the politically convenient tendency of its base to vote as a block on pet issues. The levels of bi-partisan pandering Social Conservatives have enjoyed in the past are no longer sustainable.

Religion never provided a particularly satisfying map of reality for its subscribers, its main redeeming quality being community building. Churchgoing used to be an essential social event for millions of interaction-starved Americans. It is no longer so. With new lanes being added to the information highway, increasing opportunities for remote social networking, and free access to scientific materials, the Church cannot compete with the sophisticated social outlets Americans can afford today.

modern religionThat is not to say the new generation is ready to live without dogma, but modern outlets for mysticism cannot be so blunt. The religionists’ children are rejecting their parents’ stale Judeo-Christianity only to fall prey to “secular” new-age religions. These new cultural bubbles can be harder to burst than organized religions because proud “secularists” aren’t self-aware of their own mysticism and violently resist being called out on it. Reality escape-routes unmarked by 6,000-year-old Earths and Noah’s Arks are necessarily and conveniently more elusive.

If religion ever was the opiate of the masses, the “secular” Left is crack cocaine for the ideologically-vulnerable apostates of organized religion. New generations are laughing Judeo-Christian superstitions out of the cultural scene but are also rejecting economic freedom and limited government by association. The Religious Right nearly drowned the baby in the filthy bathwater, and the “secular” Left is ready to throw both out altogether.

Many thumbs sticking in the wind are becoming increasingly sensitive to the “spiritual hunger” aspect of the Zeitgeist. Al Gore and Barack Obama are already successfully exploiting it to bootstrap their own glamorous personality cults. Feminism, radical environmentalism, animal rights, anti-globalization, anti-Americanism, global-warming hysteria, and all-encompassing Statism, are all very much in vogue.

Such developments should attune Conservatives to the cultural necessities of our times: Americans are experimenting with many templates of morality, but they would rather succumb to nihilism or moral relativism than return to the “caves.” Judeo-Christianity is going to die and unless Conservatives genuinely reform their movement to develop enticing modern ideological propositions, the Left will undoubtedly win by default and civilization will succumb to the void.

The name Conservatism should be second to go. Its taxonomic subtleties don’t scale well across long periods, as the ideological reference-point can be easily lost with such a term that doesn’t directly address what it is conserving, but only that it is conserving it. This inherent vaguery is a potential melting crack pot for multidenominational reactionaries. The mental associations are not sexy either in a world where Saudi Arabia can claim conservative as a label.

Liberalism may be a suitable replacement, though I am not convinced enough Conservatives can be de-programmed to call themselves Liberals. It would certainly be an interesting exercise in ideological self-assertion, forcing a public fight over what true classical Liberalism stands for and who deserves to call oneself a Liberal. Putting the Left on the defensive would allow today's Conservatives to define the boundaries for tomorrow's battles.

The stance on abortion must also go, and I don’t care about the order in which it does. There are intelligent arguments on both sides of the fence, but in so far as the anti-abortion cause is religiously inspired, it is lost. What is worse, Conservatives are earning compounded surpluses in the hypocrisy department with shady political maneuvers. Nowhere does the Constitution address the issue of abortion, therefore the Tenth Amendment spells doom for universal anti-abortion activists.

It's not a convincing argument against abortion...Lacking the kind of demographic muscles needed to erect a Constitutional Amendment for their pet issue, Social Conservatives have repeatedly tried to pressure the Supreme Court as a backdoor toward their ends. Conservatives who spiritedly call out Democrats on their big-government insinuations that flagrantly violate the Tenth Amendment need to look in the mirror first. There will never be popular support for an anti-abortion amendment, and such political middle-ground is clearly unsustainable. Abortion is an unfortunate issue for Conservatives to tarnish their reputation as committed defenders of the Constitution.

embryo vs fetus vs personIndeed, the sanctity of life is a moral topic deserving great political attention. Just as there may genuinely remain environmental issues to be dealt with collectively after, but not until, full property rights are conferred and enforced, there may remain hues of uncertainty to be settled politically (preferably at the state level), as to when an embryo becomes a fetus and when a fetus becomes a person. However, this issue is hardly worth political priority until full Constitutional rights are restored for non-uterus-bound citizens, or at least a general contraception/early-abortion alternative is secured for all women. In any case, no cause is worth the corruption of Constitutional channels.

The Conservative position on immigration is also overdue for a makeover. The need for secure borders is a forgone assumption, but most other problems and solutions are open-ended and politically challenging. Under current arrangements, illegal immigrants largely subsidize a thoroughly corrupt Mexican government, thus indirectly supporting a vicious cycle: destructive socialist policies keep Mexico’s economy paralyzed--in turn further promoting more employment-seeking adventures across the border.

America has invaluable leverage for pressuring Mexico’s government to reform. Here the proverbial stick is not as effective as a politically-engineered carrot. Offering realistic guest-worker programs contingent upon Mexico meeting well-defined milestones could spark an economic renaissance in Mexico and greatly discount economic despair as a motive for illegal immigration. Only the cream of the crop of today’s Conservatives could devise a coherent platform of concentrated classically liberal measures for Mexico.

Other pro-capitalist templates for combating the roots of illegal immigration are available. Undocumented workers are attractive to American employers because as a source of labor, they exhibit none of the problematic rigidities of the domestic labor pool: they don’t unionize, are not owed social security or other benefits (though millions of undocumented workers pay payroll taxes), absorb below-minimum-wage positions, cannot sue the employer over work-related damages, and provide much needed overall labor liquidity. Undocumented workers are meeting a demand which only a free labor market could satisfy by itself. Domestic reforms dismantling labor’s internal barriers are not only very American per se, but would also essentially dissolve the comparative advantage illegal immigrants currently enjoy.

Such proactive solutions require leadership of a level currently unknown in the Republican mainstream. Even if immigration reform were successfully implemented, it would not be more than a patch-up solution. Establishing a principle of citizenship is the only final answer.

Declaration of IndependenceThe Constitution outlines an implosion-proof political structure that leaves virtually no channels for economic parasitism by any groups or individuals. To an American it isn’t supposed to matter much who her fellow citizens are, their culture, customs, race, or language, because the only way they can legitimately affect her is through voluntary trade and cooperation, which are mutually beneficial by definition. The corruption of American institutions through collectivist meddling in general and welfare statism in particular, turns every American into a partial slave to his fellow citizens. It is not fashionable to resent such arrangement, but who wants the collective pool of burden to grow!

ImmigrantsNativist immigration policies chronologically coincide with the rise of the Welfare State, but this is more than a coincidence. Aspiring Americans get the short end of the stick, which is regretful because Americanism by choice is nobler than merely by birth. Immigrating to America is itself a highly entrepreneurial act and the Right ought to welcome the many millions of worthy aspiring Americans from across the world.

The Left has astutely cultivated the victimization, destructive subsidization, and exploitation of every under-class into a politically lucrative enterprise. When Democrats screech out for unconditional amnesty for the twelve million illegal aliens, don’t think they mean it! The Left needs this permanent under-class to remain such, but these outbursts earn sympathy from minorities and force Republicans into the ugly nativist role, a role which many have displayed great natural talent for.

Republicans cannot afford to be the anti-immigration Party, and no, insincerely squealing against “only anti-illegal immigration” will not cut it if they are clearly unwilling to propose any practical channels for foreigners to legally settle into the country. Until these rhetorical attitudes are drastically revamped, the Left will win over new Americans by default.

Full circle back to the current election…

The brief taste of political relevance Conservatives enjoyed with Reagan may be ironically preventing them from moving forward. Their movement seems tragically chained to the past by a delusion of bygone grandeur. For many, the Reagan administration symbolized the triumph of unadulterated Conservative principles, a golden era they nostalgically evoke the return of, a glorious legacy not to be compromised. Having once had it their way, the prospect of ideological reformation is now an unpalatable concession, akin to selling out.

McCain is the chosen oneI don’t think most Conservatives have an appreciation for the unrepeatable constellation of historic factors, all the odd stars perfectly aligning to momentarily propel their movement into prominence in the 1980s. As powerful as Reagan’s appeal was, the 1980 election was equal parts a rejection of Nixon and Carter’s destructive Statism. Even the supposedly untainted Conservative principles implemented during the Reagan years were largely divergent elements cobbled together in an unstable mandate. Those times will be no more because they can be no more. “True Conservative” principles are too ideologically explosive for any Republican executive to handle consistently (e.g. the failed Contract with America). Something’s got to give. Unless they are content with perpetual scraps from their own Party (i.e McCain), Conservatives need to challenge the nation to get excited about freedom, individualism, entrepreneurship, the dignity of self-reliance, and the future.

Grazing ElephantsInstead Conservatives have chosen to overextend their electoral reach with a stubborn bluff from which their movement can only emerge bankrupt. The tantrum is unsatisfiable because their demands are helplessly incoherent. They won’t get their cake and are politically starving no matter how obnoxiously they want to both have it and eat it: low taxes but swelling deficits, individual freedoms but moral paternalism, limited government but virtuous intervention, a strong military but the equivalent of suicide in the battle of ideas, attacking terrorists overseas but refusing to coherently communicate how and why.

Amidst resentment and overall stupefaction, the GOP’s ideological foundations are cracking louder and louder as the presidential election approaches. One thing is clear in this mess: The GOP is haphazardly dragging her dirty political consciousness further to the Left with her candidate choice, despite sparkling friction from the Conservative base.

Judging by the relatively far-fetched and often unrelated or even contradictory explanations presented over the course of the nomination race, I suspect that even pundits are just as confused as everyone else by what’s happening. Some rightfully emphasize that none of the more ideologically appealing candidates were interesting or inspiring; others contend that the leadership has fallen out of touch with the base over core issues, and cite the Republican record on spending in recent years to corroborate their case.

Communist DouchesThis macro-scale shift to the Left cannot be blamed on any renegade political actor usurping the electoral spotlight. Unhappy Conservatives are giving too much credit for the Republican fallout to John McCain, the reheated electoral left-over from the 2000 campaign. The nodes on the cause-effect chain can be elusive to trace, but we must not get this pivotal issue backwards: The shift to the Left has already happened in America, the witnessed reflection into politics being a mere manifestation of this deeper sadder reality.

Eight years of vacant leadership, blurred sense of purpose, and compromised half-measures by the Bush administration have left America confused, disheartened, and hyperpolarized. Republicans simultaneously slammed on both the gas and the brakes of their political machine through very curvy terrain.

A politically expedient immigration plan was unconvincingly presented and quickly swept under the carpet. The administration halfheartedly fought Democrats over spending, only to outdo them with reckless Republican deficits, thus absurdly equivocating the principles behind the otherwise greatly beneficial tax cuts.

Leftist ClownsGeorge W. Bush sleepwalked through his ambitious mandate in the Middle East, unwilling or unable to communicate to the nation the strategic purpose of the fight in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond, failing to defend the many successes, and refusing to provide assertive counter-narratives to the “Bush lied, people died” hysterics. Unchallenged, the Left has monopolized nearly all communication channels assessing the progress of American foreign policy and has compoundingly invested its political comeback in the debasement of America’s efforts abroad in general, and in the framing of Iraq’s war as a meaningless failure in particular.

And now a giant sore economic boil is imminently bursting, leaving many intelligent and well-meaning Americans confused, vulnerable, and in many cases helpless, from their last taste of this politically constipated Republican rule. The themes running through Barack Obama’s campaign are evidence to how attuned the vanguard Left is to this moral void. Soothing tales of collectivist utopias are creeping into the nation’s cultural subconsciousness through the widening cracks of the Republican status-quo.

America Pondering Her Future…America is the world’s highest-philosophical-maintenance institutional experiment, but many of her traditional defenders are unworthy of today’s challenges. The problem is that the Right doesn’t know what it is fighting for. Freedom isn’t free, but until freedom is even properly understood, let alone defended, America’s future is in urgent jeopardy.

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6Nov/0735

Rome Didn’t Fall in a Day: an analysis of Western Europe’s cultural demise

Burqa Bandit

The burqa/headscarf is unfortunately becoming so ubiquitous in the US and Canada that I am starting to get tired of getting outraged every single time I spot it. Being rightfully appalled can be exhausting business. I have noticed that I tend to bypass the appropriate emotional response (read: repulsion) increasingly more often lately, and instead just silently proceed to make more additions to my deportation wish list. I do make a distinction between the headscarf and the full-body burqa: while the former is simply disgraceful, the latter should be illegal to wear in public because it covers the face along with enough loose space in the gut area for its wearer to comfortably squeeze in a concealed weapon, which has practical ramifications for criminals on the run and would-be bank robbers. I also differentiate with respect to the nuances of disgust reserved for the spread of the burqa in Western Europe on the one hand, and across the US, Canada, and Australia on the other hand. How so?

European Union

In short, Europe stands for nothing today. Ethnic nation-states in the Old West are crumbling under a scary moral void. Too many European citizens have no such thing as a comprehensive set of principles behind their various national identities; all they’ve got is their measly “Germanness”, “Frenchness”, “Britishness” or whatnot to hold on to, all of which are rapidly eroding in the acid of Cultural Relativism that the Europeans have been so eager and so stupid to embrace. Europe cannot stomach the backwardness of its Muslim Immigrants, yet it has no new cultural home to offer them. The French want their immigrants to participate in their “Frenchness” somehow, but “Frenchness” is inherited, it can never be acquired. Of course Sarkozy’s father was an outcast because of his Hungarian last name. There’s no way to get around it: Europe never forgets anyone’s ethnic otherness. The Holocaust is very eloquent on this subject. The European identity is ethnic/tribal at its core, not ideological. Europe has no moral shelter to offer even its natives, let alone its immigrants. Now that the church has been dethroned from its historic position of moral hegemony, the Old Continent is mutely agonizing like a giant headless cockroach awaiting slow starvation.

So what do Europeans have to say to burqa wearers, or to female circumcisers for that matter? “That’s not how we dress/do things over here”?? Europeans have no firm conceptions of why some of their traditions and practices are objectively superior to the new influx from the savage world. That’s because the moral foundation of their civilization has been a mix of Christian theology (now increasingly irrelevant) and pure ethnocentricity (Cultural Relativism has rendered ethnocentric supremacism impotent.) So I do not feel as strongly about defiant burqa-girls in Western Europe. I think it would be in their best interest to renounce their backward ways and embrace the less backward European tradition, but there is no guarantee that they will be fully accepted by the nationalistic establishment even if they do so. Furthermore, because Europe advertises its culture as a nationalistic dogma instead of a cogent moral argument, of course there will be poor penetration within the Muslims: they’ve already got their own big fat dogma! It also makes European culture less appealing to defend, thus I am less outraged when I spot burqa-girls flagrantly defacing it.

USA

By contrast, the former British colonies are not ethnic nation-states. They are essentially membership clubs, the belonging to which is based on clear ideological commitments. For example, the national identity of the US is nothing but a moral profile outlining American values. That’s all there is to it. If you don’t like freedom, then why do you come to the US? If you don’t value self-realization, then what are you doing here? The burqa/headscarf and the subjugation they imply, of women to men, flies in the face of the American tradition of freedom and equal moral entitlement of genders. It is an uncompromising culture of freedom that is supposed to make Americans “American”. A lot of Americans themselves skimp on the “all men created equal” statement here and there but at least pay it due lip service. Now if someone so visibly refuses to partake in that culture, then what is supposed to make them “American”? They clearly do not belong in the country.

Until the day comes when national boarders are obsolete and anyone can freely go/live anywhere, the US will have to discriminate between peoples of the world with respect to their admissibility into the country. Because America is not an ethnic nation-state, it would be racist to select on the basis of ethnicity (the Diversity Visa Lottery is preposterous, I know). All that remains then is ideology, and to a lesser degree, skills. Being American should not be a matter of arbitrary background circumstance, though it’s sadly becoming more and more fashionable for disaffected youths born in the country to view it as such, but rather a conscious choice affirming one’s embrace of a free life and the moral entitlements and responsibilities stemming from such a life. A similar argument goes for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand too, although these countries’ values are perhaps less explicitly outlined than in the case of the US constitution.

Back to Europe... Well you know what they say: there’s eurotrash and then there’s Euro Trash. I must confess that for practical reasons I consider most if not all of Europe to sadly be trash. I exhausted a good part of this topic above, but there’s plenty more to be said. Western Europe is plagued by rampant political correctness and a Fallen Empire syndrome: what a deadly mix!

The former is manifested in hasty and pathetic attempts by Western European countries to reinvent their identities within a contrived culture-neutral neo-leftist frame. This confirms my gut suspicion that neo-leftism is the popular fallback of the half-assed apostates of Christianity. The nanny state is increasingly replacing the Church’s traditional social and moral functions in European countries.

The latter haunts the conscience of nearly every European but they are so repressed about it that you wouldn’t have a clue, and probably wouldn’t believe me unless you have some first-hand experience with Eurobullshit. We need to remember that it’s been less than a century since the Old West gave up its imperialist status quo. The European public image has been drastically sanitized since, maybe too drastically in too short a time for the European sub-consciousness to catch up. The Old Continent is torn between its emerging proletarian neo-leftist identity and the burning shame from its fall from relevance.

A lot of it is sublimated into raw leftist strife, but underneath it all Europe deeply resents not being a superpower: it misses its old glory, its colonies. This motivation can be traced back to the foreign-policy inclinations of the former superpowers: they keep supporting their traditional vassals of centuries ago, no matter how much the dynamics have changed since. The European stance on Serbia is a prime example of this. There is no practical reason to maintain these positions because the imperialist intentions of exerting influence by proxy in any given region have almost completely disappeared. Europe sticks to its antiquated positions/favoritisms for nothing but continuity’s sake. It’s a way of reassuring itself that it’s still relevant in the world, that it can still decide the fate of smaller nations, that it has the cojones to stick with its stubborn and arbitrary nation-building (or “nation-destroying”) initiatives without being made to flinch (take that, America!). Defiance and rage against the US are outlets for Europe’s sour grapes mentality.

European Youths

The bottom line: a growing army of passive-aggressive drones in chronic collective-identity crisis. So many European youths feel helpless, have no light in their eyes, lack an ideological back-spine, and are brainwashed into State worshiping. Europeans like thinking of themselves as cultured, tolerant (I’m probably repeating myself, since the conventional wisdom maintains that cultured and tolerant are synonyms) worldly, classy (unlike those brute Americans) and progressive. Yet they obsess over petty nonsense like attacks on the purity of their languages (the perpetrator being of course, English), commonly despise avant-garde entrepreneurship as plebeian vulgarity, but value the study of dead languages, equation-drilling, their regional literature, and pedantic academicism.

The truth is that while Europe has been the driving locomotive of Western Civilization for the major part of the latter’s existence, the amazing philosophical evolutions (revolutions?) it spurred have found room to burst only at the seams of Europe’s backwardness: the greatest most progressive ideas originating from the Old West were only grudgingly and halfassedly accepted by the establishment, often not before vigorous attempts to repress them. Socrates got served, the Athenians almost had Aristotle’s head on a plate, Galileo was persecuted, Roger Bacon was imprisoned, John Locke was intimidated, and the list goes on and on. The revolutionary thinkers who carried the Western tradition forward were very often cutting against the grain of their own culture, and to this day Europe has yet to fully accept and adopt what its best minds have suggested it…

There are meaningful historical reasons for Europe’s decline:

Under many variations, ethnocentrism has been ubiquitous in the world since the dawn of civilization: to view essential aspects of oneself as derivative from the collective, and not only to prefer one’s way but also to believe it best, superior to all others, has been the natural status quo for millennia. Collectivism and the firm binding of the good with one’s own way through refusing to see a distinction between the two, form the very cultural fabric of ethnic nation-states.

School of Athens

Greek philosophers were the first men we know to address the problem of ethnocentrism. Distinctions between the good and one’s own, between nature and convention, between the just and the legal, are signs of this movement of thought. They related the good to the fulfillment of the whole potential of the individual and were aware that few, if any, of the nations of men had ways that allowed such fulfillment. They were open to the good: They used reason to seek it out. They wanted to be able to evaluate themselves and others, and thus had to use objective standards to judge even their own practices (The Closing of the American Mind, p.36-38).

Fast forwarding to the end of Medievalism: Eventually, in as far as curious objectivity was applied to the physical world through the quest for finding new and better ways, the advancements in technical knowledge/engineering yielded such staggering tangible results to the benefit of the population at large, that most of Europe eventually embraced this new fashion of thinking (to the Church’s great discontent). It even became fashionable for wannabe enlightened monarchs to cultivate their own “pet scientist-philosophers” in their courts.

Vitruvian Man

The application of rational objectivity began to spread by contagion to the conception of human nature. The fruits of this experiment were thornier than their counterparts from the natural sciences: The emergence of Man in a new ethical frame that conceived of him as a free rational agent with inalienable moral entitlements derived from his very nature as Man, with his life, liberty, and happiness as paramount values, was an ideological stab to the heart of the collectivist ethnic nation-state and its authoritarian power structure. So this re-conception of ethics on a universal individualist plane appeared as a threat to ethnocentric culture and a dangerous uprooting charm. Politically, the development of these heretical ideas inspired administrative transformations: mostly on an incremental basis but also through bloody revolutions.

There is no national science just as there is no national multiplication table; what is national is no longer science.Anton Chekhov

Yet friction from Europe’s tribalistic heritage was enormous, and certainly sufficient to considerably damp down the impact of these advancements. Compromises with the establishment were sought, which often corrupted the essence of the proposed liberal values for the sake of preserving social order: at the end of the day, it meant conserving the status quo. This resistance to liberalism didn’t originate from just the ruling class with indeed much to lose, but sadly from Europe’s masses, the people with so much to gain from the adoption of liberty. National identity pointed them back to the passionate attachment to their backward provincial ways, and away from Western Thought that was trying to liberate them from it. Science chipped away at subjectivity while universal individualist ethics eroded collectivist chauvinism, but the bulk of Europe’s population could not bring itself to turn the page.

The people of Europe had been split into fanatic religious sects at constant war, isolated in ethnic factions, pitted against one-another for centuries, trapped in puddles of provincialism infested by superstition. Embracing liberalism meant giving up the immense pride derived from the minuscule differences between their customs and myths and those of their neighbors. It meant giving up their collectivist identity with its perks of supremacist righteousness and feelings of superiority, which they had no felt need to objectively scrutinize.

They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance.Edmund Burke

Countries like England and Holland did experiment with economic freedom with great results, but only on a fickle discretionary basis and for purely consequentalist reasons. They never accepted the moral foundations that supported free markets and free societies. Lacking firm ideological and institutional commitments to universal individual rights, these countries’ courtship of these classical Man-centric values did not stand the test of time. In short, Europe had too much cultural baggage for liberalism. The seeds of freedom had to be sewn somewhere else.

Declaration of Independence

After failed efforts to conceive a new society within sterile Europe, the United States of America was Western Thought’s first love child: a country conceived in liberty, self-determination, and natural law. Indeed its initial political formulation wasn’t flawless: slavery and deficient political rights for women were ugly incumbents. Yet it’s noteworthy that the Founding Fathers never specifically banned women from voting (but the states did have that power and used it). Many of them were also vocal abolitionists throughout their lives. Most importantly, they drafted the Constitution as such an airtight argument for freedom, that with time it successfully transcended all the leftover debris of Old-Continent tyranny that were originally incorporated into the country for the sake of expediency.

Whereas Europe’s kinky flirts with freedom revolved around the whim of kings, queens, political coalitions, or angry mobs, America’s political heart was always in the right place. While Europe was still consumed by its ethnic wars well into the 20th century, America was busy getting prosperous through commerce. While Europe was preparing to butcher millions of its own, America was becoming a new home to thousands every year, affording them opportunities never dreamt of in their old caste-based societies.

So I wonder: How and why exactly did Europe pull a 180 and get so hard-core PC in just a matter of decades? What catalyzed such a drastic surgical detachment from the tribalist undertones of its billennial culture? I think it was mostly an implosion:

Self-Similar Fractal

Marxism had an ideological binding-effect on European nations. It consolidated international strife into an intra-national dynamic of factions in perpetual state of struggle and discontent: from the old chauvinistic rivalry between the English and the French, to the more intimate strife between the proletariat and the capitalist class within the same country. Note that the Marxist paradigm is an elaboration of, and qualitatively self-similar to, the original looser frame of ethnic hatred: Like the latter, it interprets people in collectivist and dehumanizing terms (ethnicity/class), pits them against one another over grievances that are often imaginary or second-hand (differences in language, religion, regional customs/ transient relative positions in the labor market), and encourages them to consume their hatred (ethnic cleansing/class war). Marxism was a fractal refinement of ethnic conflict. It brought it physically closer to the hearts of those who had craved hatred for its own sake throughout generations. It was a deeper more “nuanced” drill into the same direction of projecting hatred inwards.

Communist Poster

One important trait Marxism doesn’t share with classical ethnic chauvinism is self-victimization. While ethnocentrism is usually supremacist, leftist strife acknowledges a deep inferiority complex through its obsession with the “exploitation” of the proletariat. This partly explains why Marxism spread like fire in Russia and Eastern and Southern Europe: these nations were history’s rejects. Their powerful western neighbors, the Ottoman Empire, and other transient regional superpowers had brutalized and humiliated them for centuries, often using them as pawns in international conflicts. Marxist self-victimization appealed to these countries’ peoples on a very intimate level.

By contrast, Western Europe was too invested in its grandeur to immediately succumb to an oppressed and dispossessed internal vision of self. But around the middle of the 20th century, the Old West woke up with a terrible headache from a hangover of lost greatness. A few remarkable things had happened:

First of all, Europe practically lost all its colonies. So used were the former colonial powers to their international limbs, that they now felt stubbed. This certainly took a toll on their collective self-esteem.

concentration camp

Most importantly, America saved Western countries’ political viability after both world wars, besides saving their people directly from annihilation. The vital and one-sided reliance on their unrefined transatlantic cousin was hard to swallow. Both wars had exploded from the major western powers’ unhinged ambitions of world dominance. By the end of WW2 all the initial contenders were devastated to the bone, while the insolent fresh-faced USA emerged as the world’s supreme powerhouse among international applause for saving Europe from its homicidal lunacy.

USSR looming over Europe

The pendulum of power had permanently shifted away from the Old West, but the humiliation did not end there. Adding insult to injury, as a bonus consequence of their insane war, the USSR was now looming like a giant cancerous nuclear mole right on Europe’s ass. The troubled continent had to look for protection from the US, again.

The prospect of being vassals to the US does things to the sub-consciousness of a people whose primary notion of identity for centuries had revolved around the ability to dictate submission to the rest of the world. If you’re an American who has felt European rancor first-hand, this might explain a few things.

When the USSR ceased to be a threat, there was a collective sigh of relief, and then just silence. With no imminent threats to distract it, Europe could finally fully digest the realization that it was now irreversibly light years behind America in just about every relevant respect. Europe did slowly succumb to a pitiful internal vision of self, which allowed socialism to creep in like a virus since the end of WW2, infiltrating the severely weakened immune defenses of national pride.

Cultural Relativism

Cultural relativism is an interesting highlight of Europe’s neo-leftist disposition. It’s generally touted as an umbrella to shield the mostly Muslim immigrants from cultural scrutiny but in reality it’s largely a self-serving construct. It serves as an outlet for collective neurosis through escaping reality. In a world dominated by pragmatic dynamics, led by the USA and trailed by Eastern emerging powers, Europe has to face everyday what it missed out on: the opportunity to be relevant, to institutionally embrace freedom and capitalism, and to be part of the new world order. Instead the Old West cannibalized itself in the last century over supremacist collectivist dogmas, and its consolation is now that at least its priorities were correct: that everything is culturally relative, that there is no such thing as natural law dictating what man’s proper mode of existence is, that one politico-economic system is just as good as any other (so long as a collective culture backs it) no matter the objective level of prosperity it can afford its people (so Europeans can proudly refuse to acknowledge failure or back away from their societal miscarriages), that cultural hegemony is the only thing worth fighting for (as Europe bloodily did), and that their delusions are not deluded so long as they really believe in them.

Islam is only the facilitator. Western Civilization will have to decide by itself whether to pull the trigger

The core of Europeans’ passion for political correctness lies in their psychological need of escaping reality, of hiding their heads in the sand, of refusing to acknowledge their ideological failures, and avoiding a much needed objective assessment of their situation.

Many Europeans channel these repressed needs by applying the sophistry of cultural relativism to their backward immigrants, but in reality it’s themselves they are trying to shield and protect. When the clash between their culture and the savage Islamic influx is truly shocking, most Europeans don’t know how to react. They are so invested in cultural relativism that the path of least resistance is often appeasement.

There is a minority that fights fire with fire, counteracting the pressure from Islam with ultra-nationalistic fascist sentiment. This goes to illustrate that the European identity is mostly tribal/ethnic, not ideological, and that itself is the main problem. The most popular defense of Europe’s identity comes as a resurgence of ethnic chauvinism, rather than as an appeal to Western values on their own objective merits.

Rome Didn’t Fall in a Day

Europe needs a reality check urgently. It is sad to see America becoming more and more like Europe, when Europe is the one in dire need of looking up to what America is supposed to be. Rome didn't fall in a day, but until Europe acknowledges its big problem, gives up the stubborn and irrational attachment to its collectivist ways, and develops enough character to challenge radical Islam on a moral plane, it will remain the sick man of the Free World.

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24Oct/0715

Dissecting the Burqa

burqa coffin This Islamic garment is a symbol of oppression for a variety of mostly straightforward reasons, and as such is morally reprehensible. What I just said shouldn’t be controversial at all to uphold, were it not for the raging storm of political correctness that has swept through our culture lately. So I’m not going to go through the ideological reasons of how and why the burqa sucks, because to me it’s so trivial. Plus I don’t even invoke any of that when I see a woman in a burqa: the silent war of cultures, the sickening throwback to a savage era of female subjugation to men, etc…

Laura Bush next to the burqa babeMy immediate reaction whenever I spot a burqa-girl comes as an intimate shocking shudder down my spine. What an awkward and obtrusive image! It ironically generates the same kind of silent tension in common social settings as would the presence of a completely naked person sitting next to you in the bus, or nonchalantly walking into a bank or a restaurant. Whether one tries to mingle with people while naked or hermetically covered from head to toe, the absurd contrast to what everyone else is wearing screams out loud at the crucial subtleties we commonly take for granted in the spectrum of human relations.

Our clothes keep us warm, seal off and protect our most delicate body parts from environmental damage, conceal our genitals and breasts so as to not rub in everyone’s faces our crude sexual attractiveness or lack there of, but also allow us to invent a public identity through a personalized combination of designs, accessories, and possibly symbols and slogans. So our clothes enhance our individuality but it’s our face that forms the epicenter of our public persona: we cognitively anchor the representation of anyone’s personality to that person’s unique facial features. We are prone to recognize faces out of random mixes of objects whenever possible, so our brains are primed for this. The face takes up a disproportionately large chunk of our mental representation of human beings as children’s drawings illustrate. Eye contact and facial expressions play an important role in how we relate to others during conversations and even in how we warm up to strangers.

Laura Bush next to the burqa babes The burqa is a monstrous device because it effectively shaves off the most basic and accessible dimension of identity: the face. The woman hiding underneath it is dehumanized in the eyes of her beholders: she is reduced to an indeterminate object of unspecified form and features. A horse can hide under a burqa, or a clown, or a monkey, or a coffin, or a thief, or a ghost, or a mummy, or a giant noodle. Not only does the burqa erase the wearer’s most human and recognizable trait, her face, but it also razes to the ground all other external symbols of identity: the distinctive combinations of clothing items, styles, accessories, jewelry… How can I empathize with someone in a burqa if all I see is a monochromatic faceless shapeless bag? The wearer is practically interchangeable with anyone else wearing a burqa. There is zero potential for deep or subtle interpersonal relations through such a discomforting barrier. It’s alienating on a human level to be the one who is fully open and exposed while your interlocutor is hiding behind an opaque veil. This makes any kind of interaction with burqa-girls intrinsically awkward.

burqa coffin The burqa has also a perverse X factor that elicits laser beams out of my eyes: in its underhanded way it’s so self-righteously slutty! The entire rationale for it is that you need to fully cover every square inch of your face and body lest any random male passerby spontaneously breaks down and starts to compulsively drool (or worse) all over you. You really think you’re such hot shit that it’s a big deal whether anyone can see your hair or face? Nobody cares! Nobody is aroused by your stupid hair! Get over it!

Not only does wearing the burqa imply an overly sexualized sense of self, but it also silently spells out a moral condemnation of all women who do not abide by such anal and self-demeaning standards of “modesty”. If your standards for socially proper attire are so far removed from the norm that you are practically living in your own moral planet, and that planet is collapsing into a black hole under its own warped field of ‘judgmentality’, there will be a point where the principle of general cultural relativity breaks down in an asymmetric fashion: As viewed from the PC planet, your style is kind of weird and no fun, but perfectly equivalent to whatever they’ve got over there, and while they might not go out of their way to bond with you for one politically correct excuse or another, you must surely be a great girl underneath and the PC crowd wishes you all the best in life. As viewed from your planet, however, the PC crowd is roaming with lustful immodest sluts who seduce every male in their path by flaunting their face and hair, and are so going to burn in hell for it.

The burqa is eerie, alienating, judgmental, demeaning, dehumanizing, and is calling everyone else a whore.

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16Aug/070

A Quasi-Repenting Liberal’s Beautiful Rant: The American Left’s Silly Victim Complex

This post is so impressive that I would feel compelled to reproduce it in its entirety if that was cool, but it's not. so here's the link to the full thing. While the author, Matt Taibbi, doesn't seem to have any good solutions to the problems he himself brings up about Liberalism (perhaps because he is still too invested in it), his exposé is nevertheless very relevant:

...The American left has turned into a skittish, hysterical old lady, one who defiantly insists on living in the past, is easily mesmerized by half-baked pseudo-intellectual nonsense, and quick to run from anything like real conflict or responsibility.alt

It shies away from hardcore economic issues but howls endlessly about anything that sounds like a free-speech controversy, shrieking about the notorious bugbears of the post-9/11 “police state” (the Patriot Act, Total Information Awareness, CARNIVORE, etc.) in a way that reveals unmistakably, to those who are paying close attention, a not-so-secret desire to be relevant and threatening enough to warrant the extralegal attention of the FBI. It sells scads of Che t-shirts ($20 at the International ANSWER online store) and has a perfected a high-handed tone of moralistic finger-wagging, but its organizational capacity is almost nil. It says a lot, but does very little.

The sad truth is that if the FBI really is following anyone on the American left, it is engaging in a huge waste of time and personnel. No matter what it claims for a self-image, in reality it’s the saddest collection of cowering, ineffectual ninnies ever assembled under one banner on God’s green earth. And its ugly little secret is that it really doesn’t mind being in the position it’s in – politically irrelevant and permanently relegated to the sidelines, tucked into its cozy little cottage industry of polysyllabic, ivory tower criticism. When you get right down to it, the American left is basically just a noisy Upper West side cocktail party for the college-graduate class.

Here’s the real problem with American liberalism: there is no such thing, not really. What we call American liberalism is really a kind of genetic mutant, a Frankenstein’s monster of incongruous parts – a fat, affluent, overeducated New York/Washington head crudely screwed onto the withering corpse of the vanishing middle-American manufacturing class.

The people who are the public voice of American liberalism rarely have any real connection to the ordinary working people whose interests they putatively champion. They tend instead to be well-off, college-educated yuppies from California or the East Coast, and hard as they try to worry about food stamps or veterans’ rights or securing federal assistance for heating oil bills, they invariably gravitate instead to things that actually matter to them – like the slick Al Gore documentary on global warming, or the “All Things Considered” interview on NPR with the British author of Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.

alt

Another dirty little secret of the left: at least when it comes to per-capita income, those interminable right-wing criticisms about liberals being “elitists” are actually true. According to a 2004 Pew report, Americans who self-identify as liberals have an average annual income of $71,000 – the highest-grossing political category in America. They’re also the best-educated class, with over one in four being post-graduates.

What makes the American left silly? Four pimply college students wearing I READ BANNED BOOKS t-shirts are taking up a collection to agitate for dolphin-safe tuna... Things that in a vacuum should be logical impossibilities are frighteningly common in lefty political scenes. The word “oppression” escaping, for any reason, the mouths of kids whose parents are paying 20 grand for them to go to private colleges. Academics in Priuses using the word “Amerika.” Ebonics, Fanetiks, and other such insane institutional manifestations of white guilt. Combat berets. Combat berets in conjunction with designer coffees. Combat berets in conjunction with designer coffees consumed at leisure in between conversational comparisons of America to Nazi Germany.

We all know where this stuff comes from. Anyone who’s ever been to a lefty political meeting knows the deal – the problem is the “spirit of inclusiveness” stretched to the limits of absurdity. The post-sixties dogma that everyone’s viewpoint is legitimate, everyone‘s choice about anything (lifestyle, gender, ethnicity, even class) is valid, that’s now so totally ingrained that at every single meeting, every time some yutz gets up and starts rambling about anything, no matter how ridiculous, no one ever tells him to shut the fuck up. Next thing you know, you’ve got guys on stilts wearing mime makeup and Cat-in-the-Hat striped top-hats leading a half-million people at an anti-war rally. Why is that guy there? Because no one told him that war is a matter of life and death and that he should leave his fucking stilts at home.

Then there’s the tone problem. A hell of a lot of what the left does these days is tediously lecture middle America about how wrong it is, loudly snorting at a stubbornly unchanging litany of Republican villains. There’s a weirdly indulgent tone to all of this Bush-bashing that goes on in lefty media, a tone that’s not only annoyingly predictable in its pervasiveness, but a turnoff to people who might have tuned in to that channel in search of something else.

But to me the biggest problem with American liberalism is that it hasn’t found a new legend for itself, one to replace the old one, which is more and more often no longer relevant. I’ve got no problem with long hair and weed and kids playing “Imagine” on acoustic guitars at peace marches. But we often make the mistake of thinking that the “revolution” of the sixties is something that rightly should continue on to today. American college types don’t have to fight for shit anymore. Remember the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill album? Remember that song “Fight for Your Right to Party”? Well, people, that song was a joke. So was “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “And the Cradle Will Rock.” The only thing American college kids have left to fight for are the royalties for their myriad appearances in Girls Gone Wild videos. Which is why they look ridiculous parading around at peace protests in the guise of hapless victims and subjects of the Amerikan neo-Reich. Rich liberals protesting the establishment is absurd because they are the establishment; they’re just too embarrassed to admit it.

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11Jul/0732

Waterloo’s Larry Smith and his disciples: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I wish I had some sort of backhanded entry into the Larry Smith phenomenon, but here I am without any tangent to get started on. After all it’s been a long time since I last showed up for his class.

I'm afraid that ramming into the topic cold-turkey in reverse might stir up my already strong ambivalence toward him to a point that I find myself unable to write a single intelligible sentence. Indeed writing about Larry Smith in any other fashion but drooling babbling adoration is a task of epic proportions and I’m afraid I am already way in over my head. However, this influential figure deserves to be followed and analyzed in the annals of his greatness by someone who wouldn’t get lost inside.

…If not now, then when? If not I, then who?

No better pictures online? What a shame...For those of you who didn’t attend my school (University of Waterloo), suffice it to say, Larry Smith is the second coming as far as whoever has taken his class is concerned. Genuine boss of charisma. Students love him. I loved him too, but I’m talking about an evangelical glow in the eyes of his worshipers.

He’s got his own sinister Politburo, roaming with zealous spies planted throughout the Fortune 500, tipping him off about the latest and greatest plots to subvert markets around the world. His courses of intro economics are a legend, probably the most likely experience for any two random Waterlooians to have in common. Every other sentence coming out of his mouth is a classic quote belonging on the wall. But what is Larry Smith’s universal appeal? What does his magic really consist of?

Two different types of people are magnetically attracted to him for different reasons, and sometimes within the same person two conflicting character traits compete for the perk-up effects of his rhetoric. For those on the margin, which of these two inner drives ends up prevailing by the time their ride in Larry’s ideological tornado is over will probably mark a turning point in their lives.

And the funny thing is I suspect Larry has no idea about the full extent of his power. Oh I know he knows he’s damn influential, but I don’t think he really understands what he does to people.

The Good: Larry’s appeal to the free spirit in all of us

This is the part I bet Larry is most aware of. It’s the reason he loves recruiting snot faced frosh into his class. He picks these comfortably confused kids, indoctrinated from their years in high school, most of whom have probably already picked a major but probably for the wrong reasons, and whose intimidation by what’s all out there has cornered them into their current pathetic expectations about life. Oh my God! He WAS young once!

Larry Smith just loves bursting these kids’ haze bubble. He teaches his students that life is a friendly experience for reasoning people, and the world is an exciting and intelligible place that you can make sense of! He makes you sense it in your gut that the real world can be figured out, that you are responsible for your life.

That’s all he teaches, really. He makes you see that you don’t have to be a follower to get by, that nothing is beyond the reach of your abilities if you employ your reason and imagination, and, well, growing a pair of balls wouldn’t hurt either.

And there, suddenly nothing seems mystical about value creation. For many students that’s the first spark of the spirit of entrepreneurship right there. He’s a spectacular motivational speaker.

For those of you who find this cliché or trivial commonsense, I’d like to smack you off your pedestal so you can come down and smell the coffee: The half-baked pseudo intellectuals with a license to spread cynical and self-victimizing bullshit are the norm at universities; no-nonsense professors trying to instill a dignifying sense of life in their students are the exception. In that regard Larry has little to no competition that I know of at Waterloo. Many of his alumni make the best out of his teachings and go on to start successful multi-million-dollar enterprises: hard core entrepreneurs.

The Bad: Larry’s appeal to the little authoritarian in most of us

Now you all know this is what I’m dying to get to. After every class Larry attracts around him a little crowd of zealots who stay and talk for at least another hour about all sorts of things. Well, most of the time it’s Larry talking, and I can’t say he seems to mind the sound of his own voice.

I used to go up to listen to him too, but I usually kept my mouth shut because there was a weird vibe to that little crowd: They were all so uncritically enamored with Smith that a lot of things coming out of their mouths were just excuses to flatter him in some way, and there was something embarrassing to that.

So I felt uncomfortable engaging him in front of everyone, assuming that at least on a subconscious level, he would have expected me to pay lip service in one way or another. As much as I admired the man, I could not bring myself to have a conversation where I didn’t feel an equal.

In a way it was good though, because I focused all my attention in observing Larry’s interaction with the others instead of worrying about sounding smart. I was more comfortable talking with the zealots on the side, and I befriended a bright Serbian guy and a hysterical Taiwanese girl among others. The girl would scream at the top of her lungs that people are sheep who don’t know what they want or what’s good for them and need the government to protect and guide them. It was funny, she quoted the results of the Penn & Teller Dihydrogen Monoxide hoax, which was actually a scathing attack on environmentalists, leftists, and the type of people who generally are the first to think we need the nanny state to keep the citizenry in check.

In the “Penn & Teller” example, a fake activist asks random hippies at a hysterical environmentalist crap-fest to sign a petition to ban Dihydrogen Monoxide (H2O) and they sign in droves without even asking what it is. She saw this segment as the perfect example of how people are idiots who need a paternal government to get by in life.

Here she was, shouting this at my face, as I was trying to tell her that all her example showed was that people are quick to make idiotic policy decisions involving banning something, regulating something, or basically telling others what to do. The irony of using this example was certainly lost to her, but that was really the point of the hoax.

Policy decisions often have very considerable yet unforeseeable micro effects which are hard to discern because they get spread out across many sections of the market. Henry Hazlitt explained how we must consider the true opportunity cost of any government policy on the marketplace and society. (I preferred to talk markets; she liked ‘society’ better so I kept alternating between the two)

Typically, there is no immediate feedback loop to provide a reality-check for the ‘legislator’: deliberations are made from his office desk, often in the company of interest group lobbyists. In time, the negative effects are incrementally diffused across society, often while the public has forgotten the initial law, and the legislator is on to the next pet project. Unable to factor in the true costs of knee-jerk prescriptions to purported market problems, “corrective” market interventions are often just as bad.

So I was trying to explain her that her argument boomeranged because it showed only just how stupid people can be at making universal decisions for everyone else, i.e. being authoritarian cocks. The market has shown time and again that people are not such stupid sheep whenever it comes to budgeting for their own lives. I challenged her to repeat the experiment, only this time she should try to sell people some Dihydrogen Monoxide; then I’d be curious of the findings she’d report back: how many shelled out their cash, and how many and what kind of questions were asked.

Larry was standing a few feet away and heard some of the commotion. He said professors will usually promote levelheaded discussions, but he actually liked it better when people screamed and swore at each-other. I don’t know if he was being sarcastic. I’ve got to say, she was the one doing all the swearing, and jeez, for conversing with me, that’s noteworthy.

But I mean, these were most of the people who gloated over Larry Smith’s charisma, this is the kind of people he’d throw a bone at once in a while. They weren’t all as annoying as this girl, but there was a definite underlying pattern in their thoughts. When in doubt whether any of them belonged to this category, my test was to confront them with the flaming ones: if they were not annoyed at any significant level by the flamers’ bullshit, then they were all in it together as far as I was concerned.

I have often been asked about my libertarian epiphany and I never had a good answer. I don’t remember a specific moment. It span more across days, or actually weeks, like a slow but confident chain reaction in my brain. The first node on the chain was this particular sense I got from getting to know some of these Larry Smith zealots.

How do I say this? They just sounded so stupid! Many of them were bright kids too but there was something off about them, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. After talking candidly for a bit, something would always get on my nerves, a deep antipathy that made my lips curl up.

It was their arrogance stemming from utter lack of epistemological consideration for the prescriptive bullshit they’d spew out. Their deliberations were so cheap because they never ever considered the possibility of… Being wrong! …and the human and moral cost of that possibility. Neither did they seem to ask themselves “How do I know for sure?” The people at the bottom were fine to experiment with and apply their half-baked ideas to.

They were all signing blank petitions on Dihydrogen-Monoxidic-equivalent economic matters with total disregard for the principles of human action. In this context they were all very similarly minded, however strongly they happened to disagree on concrete matters. And at one point or another during any serious conversation most of them exhibited this distinct though subtle (sometimes not even much so) contempt for ‘people’.

I didn’t want to be one of them —that much I intuitively decided. And such people shouldn’t be the ones making decisions for everyone. I began analyzing what made them that way. I have concluded that it's principally sheer megalomania expressed as irrational subjectivity and intellectual arrogance. I wrote an entire essay as an appetizer to this post, where I explain in detail my thoughts on the authoritarian personality. At the end of the day, people lacking even the basic sensitivities of the vigilant unpretentious mind can be found sitting on top of their own self-generated smug clouds, making outlandish deliberations with an unjustified sense of authority and appearing like utter dicks to those who do posses such sensitivities.

Intuition can be a shortcut to reason, and at the time I only loosely sensed that there was something malignantly arrogant about a lot of these Larry Smith zealots. But my formation in economics was not sufficiently robust for me to confidently rebut many propositions being thrown around which I felt were full of shit. The class was ECON 101 after all.

However I did get all stirred up because the supremacist traces of thought in the zealots’ discussions must have been inconspicuous to a noble and untainted intellect such as Larry’s. To me he was an unknowing victim. I wasn’t comfortable being in the middle of it so I stopped staying after class.

The Ugly: Maybe they are a perfect match?

About a year and a lot of econ-literature later, I returned once more to introduce my friend Saad to the joys of Larry’s inspirational rhetoric as well as to get a Larry-fix for myself, for which I had grown nostalgic.

I was in a constant state of déjà vu throughout his lectures: being an exceptional stand-up performer, Larry can effortlessly deliver a memorized speech and make it sound like he’s coming up with every line on the spot. I remembered everything from the year before, but I was absolutely shocked and overwhelmed by how much between the lines I had completely missed the first time around! The subliminal messages Larry was sending through the ether were disturbing to say the least.

In an illustration of inelastic demand Larry reveals his advocacy of the thug-state: he thinks it’s preposterous that George W. Bush does not intervene to cap the profits of pharmaceutical companies. Nonintervention in this market must be the result of the crony pharmaceutical lobbies bribing legislators into betraying their constituents’ interests. The state can and should approach the industry and be like:

Yo, bang-up job inventing and manufacturing this cool drug that’s saving people’s lives, but I’ve got citizens who can’t afford it at the market price. That’s unacceptable! I understand you’ve been making some serious monopoly profits here with your fancy little patent exploiting the inelastic demand for your good, so it’ time for us to negotiate some reasonable profits for you. We’ll get together and talk about it… What? You don’t like the sound of it? Dude, I’ve got legal monopoly over the use of force, I can jail your ass! Nah, I don’t need to do that, I can just revoke your patent so everyone else can manufacture your drug.

Stunned, I raised my hand and asked if it wouldn’t perhaps be more effective and less arbitrary to just make patents expire sooner, so the public at large would be deprived of the generic drugs for a shorter period of time, or maybe just subsidize the bottom income bracket thus making drugs affordable for all without brutalizing the market. He bit the bait, disinterestedly replying that those were all fine alternatives.

He couldn’t have meant it! Being an economics PHD, Larry must know the purpose and effects of patents. He must be aware of the colossal investment involved in R&D: entire teams of the best chemists, molecular biologists, technicians, and computer scientists that money can buy, expensive computer technologies for simulations, state-of-the-art logistics for large-scale experiments and their countless replications, legal costs, the risk of harming research participants, the risk of reaching a dead-end, the risk of sudden obsolescence from a new competitive drug entering the market, the years of accumulating interest on debt and no revenues waiting for the FDA to finally approve the product. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

We are talking about great but calculated costs and risks, which pharmaceutical companies decide to undergo based on the prediction that they will be able to sell their new drug at a markup for 20 years, or until whenever the patent is supposed to expire. Until they recuperate their colossal fixed costs through monopoly margins they won’t even see any profits, regardless of how cheap it is to actually manufacture the drug.

So would they invest billions of dollars if they knew they could keep their monopoly for only 6 months, or even 5 years? It obviously disrupts the incentive structure, so no, Larry, shortening the patent’s life would not be a long-term solution. Not if you want there to remain such a thing as a private pharmaceutical industry that will continuously take investment risks and put those drugs on the market for the government to have anything to regulate at all.

I am sure Larry knows all this, and he would either like to eventually nationalize the pharmaceutical industry to complement his beloved universal health-care, or (and this is even more sinister), he likes predatory discretionary state policies. I'd put my money on the latter: the state making rules of thumb, issuing patents and guaranteeing their enforcement, but reserving itself the right to break its own rules once in a while to ‘promote the public good’; a policy that ignores the extraordinary costs from the resulting stifling of innovation and investment...

Discretionary Thugerry

This evokes the image of the cheetah waiting in the bushes for the antelopes to come prancing around in herds; they will run for their lives once they see the cheetah is for real, and one of them is going to get it. But the cheetah knows they will be at it again tomorrow, each feeling that the chances of being the one out of the entire herd to get clawed in the ass are small.

After all, discretionary thuggery is how central banks roll! I would argue that there’s plenty wrong with the government at large taking after central banks but that’s not even the point. What disturbs me is how liberally (deliberately?) Larry slips such controversial tidbits under the table. Blemishes of legal and moral considerations are airbrushed into irrelevance so that Larry’s conceited solution can pretend to be self-evident and logically necessary. Perhaps it is acceptable for an economist to deliberate in a moral and legal vacuum, but how can he keep a straight face giving his students a piece of mind while conveniently neglecting to mention the very economic dynamics of incentives which his 'solution' would blast off?

He won’t tell students that companies wouldn’t keep investing in proprietary material if they knew the government would steal their hard-earned intellectual assets, so such a 'solution' cannot work in the long run. These are subtle economic issues ECON-101 students wouldn’t need to be bothered with if Larry could manage to refrain from presenting his personal master plans for humankind in class, but since he chooses to indulge them, he has an ethical obligation to fully inform his students of the common side-effects of his prescriptions.

The student who knows nothing of economics just sits in class taking notes with the filter of criticism completely turned off, absorbing like a sponge everything coming out of the trusty instructor’s mouth. It’s upsetting to hear Larry feeding his students so many subjective prescriptions, rarely if ever hinting at the difference between fact, mainstream economic theory, and pure “Larrysmithonomics”. He polishes his value judgments with iridescent charisma until the unwitting student sees only a gem whose value and splendor are self-evident and indisputable.

Does Larry know his effect on students? If so, it’s reproachable that he instrumentalizes his influence to indoctrinate and deceive them. I am not talking about just a few odd cases, since objectivity can temporarily betray any of us. Unfortunately Larry Smith’s indulgences in pompous subjectivity are systematic. Below are just a few eyebrow-raising instances.

In his seemingly innocent recap of the industrial revolution, I caught an innuendo of the overtired Marxist theme of ‘alienation’. Although the medieval farmer lived in destitution, his sense of ‘self’ and perceived place in the world was cohesive. How romantic, but then automatized mass-scale manufacturing turned him into a brain-dead appendix of the machinery he was to operate. This notion helped Erich Fromm sell books but I don’t see how it belongs in an introductory course on economics.

In a subsequent turn of thought Larry contemplates the possibility of custom-programmable robotization replacing mass-manufacturing in the near future. His forecast is that of a classic technophobe: machines will put people out of work, this next wave of automatization will be for real, and so on and so forth. Once we have programmable robots doing customized work craftsmanship will go extinct. There will be no room for unskilled labor so only highly creative intellectual work will have any market value; the same old Marxist argument repackaged for the 21st century.

He was using this prospect as a warning that we better be prepared to use our heads very hard in our careers, which is of course good advice. However the alternative to fully using our intellects is unlikely to be starvation, like he proposes!

If anything, robotization will bring down the real cost of production in all sectors, affording abundance especially to the poor. Unskilled labor will shift to tasks involving basic cognitive operations in new industries Larry Smith or I cannot even fathom at the present day.

Man as a nano-engineered machine, which he technically is, cannot be exhaustively replicated in his full spectrum of faculties by any conceivable man-made robot. Abilities like ours come bundled with a consciousness. The duplication of our neural-network is impossible even with futuristic nano-technology.

Human reproduction as prescribed by our DNA and as implemented by coitus, is the most efficient way of generating beings with human abilities. The fully-and-creatively-using-intellect elite will certainly find innovative ways of making plain people useful: feeding, sheltering, and providing social interaction for unskilled workers will always be more cost-effective than fully replacing them by robots.

What else… Larry loves using the hint of externalities as a pretext for nationalizing industries. If fire departments worked for profit then no one would bother putting out fires in uninsured buildings which would quickly spread across insured buildings, and everybody would fry. So fire services must be owned by the state.

A bit radical, don’t you think, since a similar argument for car-insurance only dictates that insurance be mandatory, at most, not that the state must provide it. Fire departments don’t need to be state owned and operated. Simply making subscription to fire service compulsory would do: let the market actually provide it.

But even this conclusion is too radical, because the imminent possibility of fires spreading across uninsured to insured apartments in one building would be sufficient incentive for the owner to contractually mandate fire service for all tenants. Conversely, the insured tenants and buyers of individual apartments would themselves put pressure for such contracts to be extended to everyone in the building. Neighbors can treat the few remaining uninsured buildings pretty straightforwardly: they can put the fire out to prevent it from spreading to their own property, cover the immediate fire-service expenses if need be, and then demand the court to freeze the uninsured’s assets to pay through the nose for the effort and expenses they had to incur on his behalf.

Externalities find no room to emerge when third parties at risk can flex their transactional muscles to guard themselves from the eventuality. The market knows how to close such gaps all by itself. Of course externalities do exist but not in the liberal range Larry describes them to students: a lot of his examples are only plausible if property rights of third parties are not respected or enforced by law, which render his arguments straw-man attacks against free enterprise.

It’s manipulative to not provide any context on what kind of society he places his examples. If he’s talking about anarchy, then of course, almost everything is an externality in the war of all against all. But under free enterprise externalities can potentially occur only in cases where property rights are hard to define. So if he wants to keep it straight, Larry would have to shave off a lot of his examples in which state intervention doesn’t have to go any further than enforcing contracts and protecting private property.

But all of this is small potatoes compared to his ‘boo-hoo’ exposé of the supposed economic evils of collusion, natural monopolies, and predatory pricing. Antitrust legislation is championed by ‘progressive’ capitalists who see competition as a tame game which no one should lose, and therefore no one should win. It’s just an excuse for big government to orchestrate a grotesque rat-race in the big-business world for its own gain. If your prices are lower than your competitors’ then they’re predatory, if they’re the same as your competitors then you are colluding, and if you can afford to charge higher prices you must be conspiring to establish a monopoly. Damned if you do, damned if you don't!

Give me a break! The little farts who can be bled to death by the big guys deserve to go under. ‘Predatory pricing’ would be ineffective if the small competitor’s product/service was truly superior: investors would back his venture through the times of pressure until the incumbents realized they could not forever operate at a loss. The little guy would eventually succeed in tearing himself a hole in the market.

Collusion only invites newcomers. Sharks smell the blood and bite themselves a piece. There is no such thing as long-run abnormal profits for a cartel, unless of course, it owes its existence to government license.

A natural monopoly is a living testimony of great technological efficiency in a niche market: Either the upfront fixed cost (usually of buying excess capacity) is so high that the seemingly everlasting profits barely cover the initial investment if taken in perpetuity with the interest rate of capital factored in, or the monopoly is temporary and will eventually crack under competition. Some ‘monopolies’ are great because they provide a common platform in areas where a good standard is more efficient than a multitude of competing poorly-integrated differentiated products. One example is the standard keyboard design. Another one is Windows being the central node of the market for operating-systems.

…Which brings me to Larry’s scathing attack on Microsoft for being such a big bully. A lot has already been said about it and yet more remains to be said. I would wrap up my position more or less like this. Ultimately Netscape didn’t make it because its browser was crap and incompatible with Windows. It was Netscape’s responsibility to go out of its way and adapt its product to Windows, not the other way around. Look at the market for browsers today. With Microsoft off its back, where is Netscape now? And most importantly where are Microsoft’s coercive superpowers now that Firefox is taking over the internet? There has been nothing but continuous innovation online since this debate started over ten years ago.

Microsoft was very deliberate in its attempt to take over the web browser market, yet no one was ever forced to purchase Windows. What right does the state have to dictate how Microsoft should bundle its products, and how is it economically sound to prevent it from offering consumers Internet Explorer for free? Oh but it would hurt Netscape: same argument for protectionist tariffs. One thing you can’t say is that they benefit the consumer.

In a world with no legal antitrust considerations, try to imagine if Microsoft could yet get away with blocking Google, its greatest competitor, off of Internet Explorer or Windows altogether. Ask yourself if consumers would stand for it. Only shitty products and companies need antitrust protection, but to hear Larry exuberantly airbrushing the bumps and holes of his argument you wouldn’t have a clue.

Canadian Healthcare

He fervently supports Canada’s nationalized health-care system, but I think he talks about it only after class, which is forgivable. The economic preposterousness of backing universal health-care is perhaps not so forgivable to an economics professor. If groceries were nationalized, I’d consider it animal cruelty to not feed my cat caviar every night. Likewise, making health care ‘free’ effectively fuels the demand for it to a point where shortages are inevitable, hence the 12-hour average waiting period at Canadian hospitals. The entire industry degenerates into slack incompetence from lack of internal competition, with an extensive range of specialized services ceasing to be provided at all since they are vital to only small fractions of the population. Of course the bulk of the population would be best served by directing those funds toward more generic treatments. Universal health-care is so democratic, isn’t it? Without any alternatives to mass-scale generic health-care, no wonder so many Canadians have to travel to the U.S for proper, timely, specialized medical care every year.

Nonetheless Larry vaguely brings up this gigantic high-cost structure inherent in private health-insurance which would be crushed to a pulp if only the industry were nationalized. He couldn’t possibly be talking about the asphyxiating regulations that forbid private providers from differentiating their coverage rates according to risk, or force them in some states to include absurdities such as hair-transplant surgery in their coverage plans. Nor couldn’t he be talking about the legal cartel of pharmacies. It must be some other kind of intrinsic high-cost structure which has got nothing to do with idiotic government regulations but which is just so convoluted and puzzling that Larry doesn’t care to elaborate on what it actually is.

But perhaps the most outrageous statement Larry Smith has ever uttered, in class or otherwise, perhaps in his entire life, is that... ... ... Lack of foresight into the usefulness of electronic databases for central-planning applications, held the soviets back from investing into the IT sector, and because of this bad investment decision, they were unable to manage their central-planning databases once their complexity started growing out of proportion, and this was consequently responsible for the collapse of communism in the USSR.

hint?I don’t even care to comment on the stupidity of such a theory, except that seeing a politico-economic problem and its alleged forgone solution as a technical issue, is the classic mark of an authoritarian (see my essay). Being a granddaughter of communism myself and having some personal idea of what it means, it’s distasteful to hear my economics professor present such a ‘theory’ in class. For him to even entertain such a thought seriously enough to voice it is unjustifiable. Food for crazy thought… Who knows, maybe it will stick with a few, —most likely some of the little authoritarians who drool all over him after class—and it will be up to the pointy headed software engineers among them to bring Neo-Communism into the Web 2.0 era. I’m sure it will work out much better this next time around, with slick electronic databases and all.

I have partially confronted Larry about some of this, his explanation being that his hero is Adam Smith, who was a social revolutionary. Lame… Perhaps Adam Smith was his economic-childhood hero but he found himself much more resoundingly in Keynes as a grown-up. His charismatic authoritarianism must have been yearning for an ideological shelter and Keynes’ theme of the interventionist hero perpetually saving the Capitalist day from itself was right up his alley.

I still respect Larry in many ways, but I am deeply disenchanted. His skill at making everything he says sound like common sense can be a sweet stroke to the ego for those who like the tone of what they hear. Little authoritarians adore Larry Smith because he makes them feel smart and important for having all sorts of master plans of their own for humankind, his arrogant charm validating their arrogant stupidity. They want to be just like him, prescribing solutions to everyone with effortless charisma and being listened to with awe and respect.

Identifying with him makes them feel superior to those who challenge their dogmatic 'solutions' to world problems. They close their eyes and abandon themselves in this larger-than-life figure’s river of allure, and when that river eventually discharges in their own ocean of complacency they see only its majestic delta of intellectual aftertaste. With Larry’s holy image as a continuous source of inspiration and facilitation in their daily attempts to prescribe humankind what’s best for it, they emerge as a born-again authoritarians.

I understand now how this student walked up to Larry after class and asked with a laid-back smirk on his face: “Then why doesn’t the US government intervene? I mean, we can all absolutely see that capping pharmaceuticals’ profits is the way to go. It’s so obvious. How come they don’t see it?” Of course, everything you want to prescribe becomes oh so blatantly obvious, even though he himself didn’t see it as such until Larry Smith told him and the rest of the class that it was. I replied that the U.S constitution doesn’t allow for that kind of intervention because it was founded on libertarian ideals that are irreconcilable with one politician’s or another economist’s whim. In return Larry claimed that most constitutional scholars would disagree with me. Sure Larry, whatever.

The good in what Larry Smith has to teach is very straightforward and easy to grasp, but it is also commonly accessible to everyone who has set some time apart for reading in university. The subversive, controversial and misleading ideas he also teaches are equally easy to absorb but very hard for most students to discern for what they are.

Both the closet entrepreneur and the closet authoritarian in all of us are receptive to Larry’s magic: He is a catalytic force to be reckoned with. What’s the bottom line? I remain unconvinced one way or another whether he ultimately does more harm than good. Perhaps a more important question is: Does he subvert students on purpose or are his slips from objectivity largely subconscious? I don’t know, but I suspect that he is not aware of the full extent of his deceptiveness. It would be constructive to hear Larry’s own thoughts on the matter. We have heard great things about the entrepreneurs he has cultivated, but I dare not even imagine what kind of people his authoritarian disciples grow up to be. I know of only two:

One of them is the boring and pedantic Prof. Van de Waal who seems to have sprained an ankle in the dark basement of Plato’s Cave of Ideas. He stares at the shadows on the wall with dilated pupils, mentally masturbating at the patterns of utility curves as they vary across utility functions. He passively exercises his authoritarian streak by punishing students who try to think outside the box and who dare divert from his formulaic lecture notes ever-so-slightly. Only his way of solving what essentially are mathematical problems is legitimate. He clings to irrelevant rules, making an issue out of petty things for lack of creativity and decisiveness in devising an actual master plan for the world at large.

The other one is the malignant and deranged Prof. Picard who has desperately and embarrassingly turned his persona into a disturbing Larry Smith clown: he steals Larry Smith’s quotes, ideas, mannerisms, and lecturing approach. This man is evil, with a keloidal chip on his shoulder, having embarked on a sloppy career in economics for the sick sake of being closer to Larry, and now seeking professorship for the pure sadistic joy of harassing students. If you dare challenge him intellectually he will go after your average. And he’s not repressed or passive-aggressive about it either: his vindictiveness is so premeditated that he will openly confide in his officemate that he intends to do everything in his power to destroy you. All he really wants is to be loved like Larry Smith but it never works: the genuine allure, the beautifully-sculpted intellectual muscles, and the quirky sense of humor are simply lacking. Being loveless brings Picard down, and his impotent emotional response is to sublimate frustration into cruelty toward students.

These are examples of failures: pseudo-intellectual douche-bags who couldn't make a decent living in the real world outside the bubble of a university environment. Who knows what the star pupils will achieve…

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9Jul/070

The Ring of Power

Ring of PowerI have never read The Lord of The Rings. When I first watched the movies I found them unworthy of any consideration, never mind their hype. The escapist incoherence of the film seemed to suggest that it didn’t even pretend to have a point emphatically enough for me to care. My boyfriend is a huge fan however, and as it happens, I decided to give the Lord of The Rings another shot for his sake.

So I liked it better the second time around. Most importantly, I didn’t get that “this plot is just an excuse to go back to mythological times in the hope of pulling some pseudo-epic shit” aftertaste from watching. I actually think I got the point of the movie, and it was very interestingly close to a conclusion I had been brewing for a while.

I saw the gist as a metaphor for the corrupting nature of authoritarianism. It’s not too far fetched to see The Ring of Power as a universal promise to dominate, offered to individuals by circumstance. It tempts most, from hunchback losers with self-esteem issues like Gollum, who can’t even keep hold of it, to valiant and charismatic leaders, men and women who believe they can use the Ring for good and most importantly, either consciously or subconsciously think they deserve it—that they deserve the will and power to rule over all.

The way the movie depicts the approach of various characters who covet the Ring subtly reveals that their naïve belief that they can control it, that they have the rectitude it takes to curb its power for good, is not just an honest miscalculation, but rather a self-deceiving rationalization for reaching out for the Ring. So their raw conviction is not their reason for wanting the Ring; on the contrary, they induce themselves to believe it as a justification for craving its power in the first place, and craving it for the sake of power only.

Boromir is the classic example of a man who tried to instrumentalize his own perceived self-righteousness, using it as a rubber glove to pick up the Ring. But his integrity was highly ambiguous at best. The reason no one is able to use the Ring for good is that the mere act of desiring it precludes you from the ranks of the honest righteous types who would be inert to its corroding power. What it says to me is that there is no good kind of authoritarianism. Righteous people intuitively know that no omnipotent however benevolent ruler is needed to foster our civilization’s most honorable values like universal freedom and prosperity.

Labeling them as “The Greater Good” cannot change this fact…

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27Jun/0712

A word on modesty — Theory of (Authoritarian) Mind

ConsciousnessI understand that I am just a person, and however smart, rational, and well-guided I might be, there are others out there like me. I have changed my mind many times in life about many issues, as I explored and experimented with various currents of ideas growing up. I have abandoned many positions when I realized they were unfounded, and I don’t find it hard to conjecture that as I was mistaken in the past, I can find myself being wrong again in the future. My mind is fallible therefore I have no privileged epistemological access to universal truth.

Others around me have opinions and attitudes about everything. I agree more with some, less with others. Some I think are complete idiots. I don’t know of a single person I agree with 100% about everything there is to discuss or speculate over. I am the only person I fully agree with all the time about everything (at times even agreeing with myself goes wrong). That’s a statistically certain indicator that I am wrong at least on some counts: What are the odds that while not having any privileged access to truth in general, I am always right about everything while everyone around me is wrong at least on their point of disagreement with me?

Why can’t I tell what exactly I am wrong about right now? Just like I can push almost anyone to a point where I am certain they are being irrational about something but just can’t see themselves being foolish, I too, being just another person, must be vulnerable to the same unaware-bullshit-harboring tendency.

In my mindThis makes me humble in my approach to truth. I keep the engine always running on the bulldozer of skepticism at the base of my most crucial intellectual pillars. Entire neighborhoods can turn out to be hastily-put-together public-housing-thought projects, with no business being in my metropolitan mind. While the government might have some life-long commitment to the parasitic beneficiaries of its stupid decisions, I have no intention to stick with my idiocies once I discover them to be such. Knowing that I have the guts to tear them down once I spot them, and the strength to erect new skyscrapers over their ruins, and most importantly, knowing that I can manage to know this without falling into complacency is my most effective formula for intellectual sanity.

So I constantly ask myself “How do I know?” about everything important. When something under consideration either implicitly or explicitly prescribes rules for others, my skepticism is attuned ever more so to its justification because telling others what to do is kind of a big deal! For starters, it's almost universally backed by a looming “or else”. I don’t care who these “others” are. I am able to empathize with them, to conceive of them as people with an identity, consciousness, free will, and potentially legitimate points to the contrary. How can I possibly know that what’s being proposed is just and necessary?

What moral and epistemological authority do the proponents of this rule have, to defy the will of those to be ruled over, who might disagree? What can they properly be justified in replying to someone who tells them to just mind their own damned business? Applying this skeptical approach with fresh rigor to innumerable cases, my evaluations have historically converged to a rather consistent position which can be safely summarized as “Nothing is superior to freedom. Only negative rights are legit. Live and let live, and screw those authoritarian cocks telling you they’ve got something better figured out for everyone.”

Not everyone thinks along those lines… I wasn’t always this way either. I don’t mean so much about the pan-libertarian conclusions I have arrived at, but the actual train of thought that happened to lead me there. Most people just don’t scrutinize themselves with such modesty or skepticism and subsequently incur a high risk of screwing up.

The ThinkFuture Radio Show is my favorite podcast (sort of by default, since it’s the only one I listen to). The host, Chris Future, has this theory that almost everyone is a libertarian underneath. It goes something like this: “Do you like having other people telling you what to do, how to live your life? Do you want the government interfering with you and pulling money out of your pocket? The bottom line is that most people would like to be left alone.” So there, most of us are closet libertarians.

The crucial counter consideration to this argument is that while most people don’t like to be told what to do, they would nevertheless love to dictate others what to do. It might very well be true that most of us want the IRS out of our pockets, but we’d still love to dig our hands into others’ pockets for all sorts of reasons. We intuitively seek freedom for ourselves but find it hard to genuinely extend that courtesy to others. Accordingly, most of us are not closet libertarians but rather closet authoritarians.

But why? Don’t we know that we can’t both have our cake and eat it? I find it incredible just how eagerly most people will renounce their own freedoms just for a chance to have a say in other people’s lives. Instead of identifying with one-another and regarding arbitrary interferences with anyone as harbingers of unjust intrusions into our own lives, we usually find it intuitively easier to identify with the invasive authority. I suspect there are psychological reasons for this.

Ah, the intriguing authoritarian personality. I keep meeting these people especially at school, la crème de la crop of authoritarianism, with many passionate convictions and one or two master plans for humankind or the country. They tend to be engineers, but this might be purely coincidental given the career demographics at the University of Waterloo. They are generally pretty smart but almost always unwarrantedly smug, a sense of self probably reinforced from repeated victories in intellectual horseplay with kids not as intelligent as themselves. They think they’re hot shit, alright.

mind sparkI find them reverse-engineering human nature or the global economy, with all sorts of ideas which I even might find interesting until I realize how seriously they take themselves. They are almost exclusively determinists: human relationships are exhaustively explained through caricatures of rationalized instincts, scale-free networks and intricate feedback loops. People are puppets bound by deterministic strings: their actions predictable and fully captured by reductionist analysis. Although they see free will as a naiveté, they usually are not perplexed at the corollary of their own thoughts and convictions being epiphenomenally preordained. They indeed see themselves as being above all this.

It is typically fashionable for them to have some background in economics or history, and they advertise the shit out of that knowledge. Contempt for ‘the ordinary person’ can be found bursting passively-aggressively at the seams of their statements. Of course people are like sheep, unable to cope left to their own devices.

Authoritarians hate free enterprise. They see poverty, progress, and social cohesion as a technical problem that can be fixed (by them) with top-down intervention from the natural sciences. Human institutions are mechanical organisms to be operated on with the incisive touch of a surgeon. Naturally the view that social problems are essentially technical in nature leads authoritarians to administrative solutions. The emphasis is on creative master plans as they are to be decreed at the top, with little concern for their implementation at the bottom. They simplify or ignore reality if it clashes with the effects of their 'right interventions’.

It seems almost cognitively impossible for them to grasp the main opportunity cost of central planning: the cumulative creativity of the ‘ordinary people’ they despise so much. They can’t understand that innovation cannot be planned. They see free enterprise as doomed to fail because it’s so stupid, without a controlling intelligence behind it, but they don’t consider how stupid and myopic their “smart” planning is, doing away with the creativity of all the interconnected ‘little people’ at the bottom. The authoritarian par excellence cannot conceive of an unspecified anonymous ‘ordinary person’ to come up with an unpredictable good idea.

This kind of person might deeply disagree with a government policy but they generally regard it as a matter of trial and error before getting it right. The issue is getting the brightest leaders in power so that the best policies are implemented to make it all right. They have an elaborate plan of what everyone should be doing to achieve the greater good and they would love to tell you about it…

I know from personal experience that this kind of person tends to be very condescending to anyone who will challenge him. Persisting rational counter-arguments can easily be interpreted as a personal attack to be responded with a personal counter-attack. If you go as far as to question their authority to prescribe everyone what to do, contempt and cynicism might ooze out of their pores before they sever all ties with you.

There is a lot to be said about the authoritarian personality. My most noteworthy personal observation is that authoritarian types tend to suffer from a poor theory of mind. I am not sure whether it is a building-block of their character or merely a consequence of deeper psychological factors, but the problem of other minds is certainly problematic for them.

the problem of other mindsDuring early childhood we emerge from our egocentric shell and start to understand that other people are not us, that everyone has a mind of one’s own and others might have different opinions and feelings from ours. This childhood revelation is just the foundation. The theory-of-mind edifice is still shaky in most adolescents, making reality checks very difficult for them and leaving little room for objectivity. The maturation of one’s personal theory of mind is marked by the realization that one's own mind is fallible just like everyone else’s. This is the first step toward dismantling our inherent megalomania. It results in an overall epistemological modesty, and an ability to vividly conceptualize being in other people’s shoes. We can respect the consciousness of others, perhaps even empathize with them, and interpret reality from multiple perspectives.

brain.jpgI vaguely remember outgrowing the authoritarian state of mind sometime in my mid-teens. I used to be very radical about everything I believed in. The truth of my convictions, whatever they were, was self-evident to me, but of course it was only so because I happened to believe in what I believed. Whoever disagreed was an idiot for not being able to see what I saw. Condescendence was a natural attitide. Only now as I think back I realize I used to be a little authoritarian girl.

Overcoming that stage was a great achievement which unfortunately is not a routine developmental milestone. A lot of teenagers never make it. In my case I suspect it had something to do with reading classic novels with great characters. Getting in the head of robust fictional personalities who can feel, think, be aware of the world around them no less intensely than I can, and plausibly convince themselves of being right when they are not, helped put other people’s minds as well as my own into perspective. Being a sucker for movies where I had to put myself in the shoes of all sorts of characters also had a strong auxiliary and catalytic effect, as certainly did the epic turmoil of the transitional period in Albania after the fall of communism. Escaping reality or my own stupidity in that environment became too dear a luxury.

Therefore I scrutinize my authoritarian friends with a certain autobiographical amusement. The subconscious assumptions underlying their thought patterns evoke these crude megalomaniacal ideas from childhood, which stripped of their innocent romanticism sound as crazy as “Maybe I will never die: so far only others have”, or “Maybe I am the only person who is ‘real’: others in the world are just cardboard-cut figures who come in and out of illusory existence as they appear and disappear from my sensory field”, or “I am always right: truth is my state of mind”, or even “Reality is all in my head: I can learn to ignore it into nonexistence or wish it into change”.

EmpathyThere are people who still hold on to this kind of regressive egocentric bullshit to some degree or another. Theory of mind can be a developmental precursor to a theory of reality. Some realizations need to happen for others to follow. Our inherent childish subjectivity is an obstacle to learning.

If at some level your sense of reality is still that of a colorful background encapsulated in your mind, then why should you bother challenging your beliefs? It’s not like there is an objective state of affairs outside your head on which you could possibly be missing out. Outlandish statements will find their way out of your mouth much more comfortably without any counter considerations to weigh them down. Other people? How can you truly respect them for being persons of their own if you cannot conceive that there are true minds like yours, thinking, feeling, and wrestling with life’s existential puzzles inside their skulls?... How much different from sheep are they to you?

They’re just ‘people’; they’re not ‘you’! They’re complicated figures bouncing around, bound by deterministic principles. But you’re not, you’re something else, you can see through it all, you can tell them what to do! Presenting your solutions to world problems can be done with unbelievable nonchalance if the people at the bottom are just grains of sand.

Theory of mind is important. Without its sensitivities cementing genuine interpersonal relationships, someone’s ability to build bridges across his own interests and those of others is fundamentally hampered. Such a person’s mode of dealing with people can easily degenerate into a regressive state of psychological functionality based on the instinct of domination: alpha male or alpha butch bringing down the house and putting the other inferior apes in their place, hence the ‘authority’ in ‘authoritarian’.

connecting with other mindsI would call it one psychological step backward from human nature. It makes evolutionary sense for the instinct of domination to be aggressively displayed in healthy animals, since they have to fight for their limited resources. But man has reason, creativity, and craftsmanship. Survival is not a zero-sum game for us. We can use our intellect to discover ways to manipulate nature in our favor and thus pull plentifulness out of scarcity’s ass. Trade is infinitely superior to domination. We take it for granted, but you need to acknowledge the other person’s mind in order to understand the value of what it has to offer. You need to recognize that it can think of something innovative which you might have not thought of yourself, in order to realize that you have something to gain from it. Without being able to respect other minds for their own sake, in your eyes your fellow men will be little more than potential threats, beasts of burden, or pieces of ass.

Did I take it too far? Is this too psychologically farfetched? I’m not sure…

I used to ask myself what the world must look like through the eyes of a genius. I am talented in mathematics, but there are people who can see in a few seconds what would take me minutes, as there are areas where I can just follow with a lot of effort but a few minds can lead, proving excruciating theorems and whatnot. So what about the world at large, all the complex patterns appearing chaotic to the profane, the beautiful structure of reality baring its secrets to those who can see through the superfluous? What kind of wisdom would that be? Impossible to even fathom, but I think I ultimately just wanted to establish if I had reason to be jealous.

beyond megalomaniaAnd well, I have met people with specialized areas of intellect close to genius. To both my disappointment and relief, their minds are very fallible. An abyss of megalomaniacal subjectivity lies between their mighty intellect and the beauty of the world awaiting to be conquered. Crossing that abyss seems to be beyond the capacity of intellect alone. I know too many intelligent people who talk like idiots when their buttons are pushed. It’s disturbing to see great minds being too cocky to take things rationally, nonchalantly taking the soundness of their positions for granted, leaving indignant emotionality as the only appropriate response to any intellectual duel. In all its impressive depths and heights, the human mind seems to be chronically vulnerable to irrationality. Modesty and skepticism can mark the line between the intelligent and the wise, or that between the intelligent and the insane. Reason is a fragile and shaky hanging bridge, of which the life-long traversal can be accomplished by only the perpetually vigilant and humble mind.

Update: These select writings from Karl Popper speak truth to power; shame I didn't learn about Popper's ideas until very recently.

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