Here’s a story that might not have made it across the oceans and interrupted your usual feed of anti-Trump, pro-globalism propaganda. In September of 2018 tiny needles were discovered in strawberries around Australia and a massive recall was instigated. Now a suspect has been arrested and it looks to be the doing of one 50-year-old Viet woman.
Before we discovered the culprit this was all us Australians could talk about. It was the word on everyone’s lips in every office in Australia. Why would someone do this? Who would do this? As the contamination spread we asked if it was a conspiracy, an army of agile-handed needle implanters working diligently to give Australians appendicitis. Thankfully only one man went to hospital, but the fear that our beloved fruit, our staple pavlova topping, could contain sharp objects put the fear in us all. Like with all conspiracies the truth is more mundane than we could imagine.
Take stock of this. One old woman with a little bit of spite managed to throw a big old spanner into the works and caused a national news cycle that lasted longer than your typical terrorist attack. The escapade prompted our Prime Minister to announce that, ‘If you do that sort of thing in this country we will come after you,’ and come after them we did, with a very large police operation set-up to sniff out the criminal. What can we learn from this?
That it doesn’t take much to upset the apple cart. Accelerationists, anarchists and other protestors talk about disruption, but how often do they upend an entire industry? As ISIL and the Strawberry Needler have proven the future of terrorism is isolated lone wolf attacks. Like blockchain attacks could be carried out on lines of trust, each cell separated from the larger body but able to put fuel on the fire wherever needed. This example was a haphazard revenge attack by a disgruntled worker; imagine a coordinated effort with the sole purpose of hijacking the news cycle. It is completely surprising that groups haven’t made an effort to impact the system in any meaningful way. Instead we get Occupy Wall Street.
Is it because the average protestor doesn’t want to risk hurting their fellow citizen? Surely our Strawberry Needler only went ahead with the plan because she reasoned the chances of actually hurting someone were slim. It now seems so easy that with such a complex system such as the one we have courtesy of global neoliberalism an individual effort can have much larger consequences. Ted K might have thought he was doing something by targeting and killing certain people, but it appears to me that he would have been better off actually disrupting the faceless, inhumane system (the fact that he didn’t perhaps points to his egoism). What other ways can the pine trees break down technological society? It must be non-harmful methods. Perhaps people could burn down post boxes. Breed cats and just let them go wild until there is an utter infestation of ferals in your neighbourhood. Or as I saw on Twitter, plant bamboo shoots in random places. And never forget Sky King who proved just how much one man can do. Things that are achievable alone but will definitely but stressors on various systems.
This is all purely hypothetical and theoretical, an interesting study of the ‘lone wolf’. I would be very interested in the psychology behind such cases. Mass shootings, terrorist attacks and needless in berries: what is the connection? Resentment? Is it that simple? That must be the only common thread between all three. You can blame Islam, and access to guns, but how do you blame an old woman? It’s almost as if you have to sympathize with her, just a little. We all know how much work sucks.
The future seems to belong to the lone wolf, the individual who has just had enough.
‘Purgatory surpasses heaven and hell in poetry, because it represents a future and the others do not.’ ― Chateaubriand.
I. I begin with an allegory
Modern publishing is ironically dystopian given the current preponderance of the genre. There are all the hallmarks. For example, a huge divide between the tiny minority of rich, bestselling writers, and the vast swathes of unwashed self-published authors, some of whom nonetheless manage to rise-up and challenge the system. Or what about the fact that published books often fits a very narrow band of what is acceptable, so much so that group think is rife in the literary world. This would be obvious to anyone who has attended a writers festival where the guests and the audience are almost always in lockstep. In addition the Cathedral operates in publishing just as in other media, the few right-wing titles either an exception or controlled opposition. The masses of readers are plied with trends and fads – what the gatekeepers decide is worthy – and the elusive word-of-mouth spreads ‘good’ books through mimetic desire. Finally, the reader is stuck on a treadmill, every month bringing another couple thousand new books, but always the nightmare of what to read. It is like some sort of absurd purgatory where no matter what you do there is no escape.
This pitiful condition of the publishing industry is reflected in the state of the dystopian fiction that is published in the current year. In the past if you picked up a dystopian novel, you could be confident that it would be a sound social critique, but the word has now become little more than a marketing term. When genre pioneers like Yevgeny Zamyatin or Jack London created their hopeless futures they synthesized a real possibility from the ugly trends around them. The 21st century, on the other hand, began with a spate of fiction aimed at teens, and now even Joyce Carol Oates is writing literary dystopian stories. That said, there is little point in writing a warning if no one listens to it. For example, many late 19th and early 20th century dystopias brought up the fear of the communal raising of children, and today we pass our offspring to daycare centres without a second thought. Current writers inject moralising and doomsaying as is a genre staple, but they also cry-wolf as they hunt for imaginary social ills.
II. Definitions are hard, man
The word utopia is derived from ou-topos, meaning ‘not a place’. It is homophonous with eutopia, which would mean ‘good place’, a possible influence on its contemporary denotation of paradise. The juxtaposition of these two meanings should be clear: the ‘good place’ is nowhere to be found and creating the perfect society is impossible (Samuel Butler’s utopian satire Erewhon is the word “nowhere” scrambled). Commentators inherently understand this as when the socialist utopia of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: 2000-1887 was published it provoked a vast number of dystopias that attempted to disprove or satirize it. Thomas More’s pioneering Utopia was an earlier attempt at imagining paradise, but even in that adventure the distinction between Heaven and Hell is negligible and the line between utopia and dystopia becomes apparent. Huxley, in the new introduction to Brave New World written after World War 2, says, ‘…it looks as though Utopia were far closer to us than anyone, only fifteen years ago, could have imagined.’ Utopia in this context is not a good place and what he is referring to is a theme of many utopian visions: societal trade-offs. As the protagonist in Zamyatin’s We puts it: ‘There were two in paradise and the choice was offered to them: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness.’ You cannot reach perfection without sacrificing something, and it was the encroachment on human freedom that inspired most dystopias. A dystopia by its very nature is not something to be escaped, but is an endless future, a purgatory after civilization has died. It is with this in mind that we can start exploring the poetry of dystopian fiction.
So what makes a good dystopian novel? The magisterial Dystopia: A Natural History offers us some clues, but makes it clear that the definitions shifted over time. Drawing on this book and close readings of specific texts some common threads become apparent. Dystopias often have the technological elements of science fiction or the collapse of a post-apocalyptic novel, but differ in that they are always, in some way, political. The most vital part of a dystopia is that it extrapolates events into the future. Early dystopian books attacked Jacobinism and Enlightenment ideals, such as Publicola and The Vagabond, and were a precursor for the classics like 1984 in the same way that the Reign of Terror was a precursor for the Holocaust and the communist slaughters of the 20th century. Claeys in his book also says that, ‘”Dystopianism”, in the sense of a “popular discourse about fear”, is sometimes used to describe “anti-Jacobin” (radical) literary efforts of this type.’ It wasn’t just political events that authors tried to speculate on but also technological advances and their consequences. Take E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops. It features a rudimentary Internet where civilians are cocooned in their rooms and only able to interact virtually, a precursor for our current age of the web and atomisation. The subterranean world was also run by the Machine, a mechanical overlord that was no doubt one of the earliest fictional descriptions of the Singularity. Thanks to the author’s uncanny perception the book is more relevant today than when it was published. These early books also relied on ideas of group psychology such as Gustave Le Bon’s theory of the crowd, and the most frightening element of the nightmare worlds was the fact that so many people went along with the affronts to human dignity, which came to real-life fruition in Nazi Germany. Often the tyrannical world of the dystopia springs up after a disaster, such as in We where the world’s population is homogenized at the conclusion of a two-hundred year long war. What is obvious when reading many books in this genre is that if you truly want a dystopia you have to revel in the idea of no exit. Think of the Savage’s suicide in Brave New World or Winston’s submission in 1984, or even the endings of earlier stories such as Paris in the Twentieth Century and The Machine Stops. As Atwood puts it, ‘Forced re-education, exile and execution are the usual choices on offer, in utopias, for any who oppose the powers that be.’ Finally, it was the contrast of the perfect society with obvious faults and degradation that was the key, and at the very heart of the genre is the idea that when looking for perfection you will always be met by tyranny. Many of these books are still discussed, studied and enjoyed today because not only were they well-written adventures, but they wrestled with difficult questions that unfortunately manifested themselves in history.
As should be clear, the traditional dystopian novel was written to explore larger problems in society and as a warning against fear, groupthink and progress for progress’ sake. It was at times of the most upheaval when the genre flourished: it started properly with the French revolution; then there was a flurry during the 19th century revolutions (1848 and the Industrial); and finally a world at war produced the 20th century classics as the boundaries of both human depravity and of the genre were achieved . As civilization was turned upside down, authors looked for new ways to express this turmoil. Darkness at Noon and 1984 were explorations of totalitarianism and the police state, while Brave New World discussed the progress of technology cutting us off from our humanity as a result of ‘the inevitable acceleration of American world domination.’ There were also anti-fascist novels like Swastika Night, It Can’t Happen Here and In the Second Year showing that there were prescient warnings against every nascent mass ideology (all of which, let us not forget, were a result of the Enlightenment, liberalism and democratization). These were genuine worries of a world upended by Nazism, Stalinism and genocidal technology (including, for later dystopias, the bomb), and the reason these books have managed to become lasting classics is because the concerns have never gone away. Every other week some new technology or regime is called ‘Orwellian’ and Huxley’s soma-induced dream state isn’t dissimilar to our dopamine-filled lives. In contrast to these, modern dystopian novels explore facile subject matter that do not warrant book length treatments, except possibly as a way for readers to remind themselves that they live in the best of all possible worlds.
III. Did Satan Spend a Time in Purgatory?
While there was a sense of purpose in early dystopias and utopias, modern dystopian fiction does not hold true to many of the tropes discussed above. For a long time we were fed with the dystopias of the Hunger Games, Maze Runner and Divergent which are all aimed at teens and offer an escape from the oppressive social systems. These young adult books are pure fantasy, not conjecture, with crazy systems like fights to the death and giant mazes that have zero semblance to anything in the real world. They are examples of Hell, not Purgatory, imagined realms of torture that can be avoided if you are virtuous enough. If you read them literally they appear as Purgatory, and yet all they do is flip from Hell to Heaven and do not remain as a warning to struggle against. They paint pictures of resistance, of the power of youth and the conservative folly of adults, and this mentality has crept into adult fiction.
As our political dialogue degraded and our living standards increased, our ability to write believable dystopias waned and many books are no more than one-note talking points. On the technological side of things a book like The Growing Season – where artificial wombs mean that men, too, can bear children – is unable to go beyond the premise of the technology, and the book can’t maintain itself with a real plot. Some books don’t even bother with an interesting technological projection, such as Perfidious Albion which is a post-Brexit novel that could basically happen today, leading to a lazy statement about the ‘future’ of Britain. When it comes to the gloomy endings even the Resistance Bible The Handmaid’s Tale is guilty of not being pessimistic enough, the postscript of the book stating that the horror is a blip when it comes to the long arc of history. Rather than go into the future, some books posit alternative histories. Recent books like The Underground Railroad and Underground Airlines explore worlds where slavery never went away. These are books built on fear, a liberal fear that slavery will rear its ugly head again. Could there be anything more dystopian than the publication of texts that stoke unfounded alarm among the reading public? What is the purpose of these books but to allow an upper middle-class reader to nod their heads in agreement as they discuss things-that-never-happened in phony horror over a glass of pinot at their monthly book club? As Gregory Claeys discusses in Dystopia: A Natural History, a climate of fear is one necessary element of a true dystopia. It helps if it is a substantiated fear.
The inherent problem, I think, lies in what Northrop Frye calls ‘naive allegory’. This is ‘educational literature on an elementary level: schoolroom moralities, devotional exempla, local pageants, and the like.’ Our dystopias today are washed down and extremely literal, and they have a tendency to date in their efficacy. What they are is ‘transient spectacle’ and as such they are published simply because someone, with or without ability, has a grievance to express, and publishers are always looking for that publicity angle. The following two recent publications are great examples.
In a world where the Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in as US Supreme Court justice, a very clear trend right now is publishing female phobias. Here is just a short list of feminist dystopias released in recent years: Future Home of the Living God, When She Woke, Gather the Daughters, Red Clocks, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, The Water Cure and Vox. What they all have in common is that they portray the projection of a woman’s neuroses when it comes to reproduction. In particular, Vox, an obvious The Handmaid’s Tale rip-off, imagines a world where hard-right Christians come to power in America and immediately set about undoing decades of liberalism and social justice, the crux being that women are not allowed to speak more than 100 words per day without being electrocuted. From a genre point-of-view there are many issues. There’s no technology element aside from the ability to torture women. The idea of a male-dominated society being voted in is not a legitimate forecast, but a hysterical projection. The events of the book all take place in the space of a year, and magically our protagonist manages to save the day and everything goes back to normal, a far cry from the depressing conclusions to older dystopias. Yes, it tries to make a statement on American politics but the author is woefully ill-equipped to deal with the issues and puts too much of herself into the story. There are multiple segments where the Mary Sue hero grinds her teeth as her son eats everything in their home. She also leaves her insipid American husband for a sexy Italian linguist. The book is full of deep philosophical questions and appeals to resistance, and the resentment towards men oozes off every page. The writing is haphazard at best, a great example being when our protagonist is attacked by a caged chimpanzee for apparently no better reason than to make the plot a little more exciting. What is very clear from reading this book is that it was plucked out of the slush pile because it is political. There is little originality and a lot of stolen, stale ideas. While the marketing department will insist it says something important, how likely are we to consider this book in ten years time?
Adjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk is another take on current events, focusing more on identity politics. On Twitter the book was picked out by a few on the Right saying Chuck is /ourguy/. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chuck is a charlatan and this book is merely a way to make a quick buck. If you listen to his recent interview on the Joe Rogan podcast this becomes apparent. First, he recently had a lot of money embezzled, so writing the literary equivalent of clickbait to get an advance seems like a smart option. Second, his entire career is based on ripping off other people’s stories (he openly admits to this on the podcast), and this is no different, only he is pillaging an entire ideology. He admits to browsing Stormfront as entertainment and it becomes very clear that Adjustment Day is nothing more than a caricature of Alt Right fantasies and anything that sounds like it has a grain of truth to it is actually making fun of them (yes, even as he satirizes journalists). On the surface it appears to be making a profound statement on the USA as it heads towards civil war. In this world, men rise up on ‘Adjustment Day’ by killing politicians and other people with clout, and splitting the USA into three territories: Gaysia, Blacktopia and Caucasia. This quickly turns into farce as the residents of Blacktopia suddenly regain the ability to build flying pyramids and cure cancer, and the Caucasian population return to their way of life of wheat fields, baby-making and ye olde English. Chuck is the epitome of the postmodernist writer, the novel so packed with pastiche and self-references it becomes grating. Anyone who writes lines like ‘poop-raped’ or ‘Foiled had been any attempt at castration’ has to be having a laugh. This novel paints dystopia as a joke, as something unworthy of the beauty of collapse and control. Very serious writers have turned their hand at dystopia, and it does them a disservice to have Adjustment Day under the same label.
Is this all publishing has to offer? Projection and perfidy? Purgatory is poetical because it allows for some future, and yet these two examples are hollow, ugly stories that depict impossible Hellscapes. Any point the books try to make are lost because the scenarios are credulous, lost in post-ironical malarkey. As Frye says, ‘The basis of poetic expression is the metaphor, and the basis of naive allegory is the mixed metaphor’. The writers stumble on their own literalness.
IV. When Does Cthulhu Make an Appearance?
It is curious that the first dystopias and the classics that have lasted remain relevant in their attacks on the Enlightenment and the tyranny of the invisibly totalitarian state, where citizens breathe in propaganda like fish swimming in the sea, and yet these modern dystopias explore disasters that will never happen and attack crude dogmas and strawmen. What does it say that old books lambasted socialism and technology, and yet we now live in a more socialist and technologically driven world than ever before? What does it say that often the novels of today look to the past and backward ideas in order to create their ordeals? George Orwell actually fought fascists and travelled to India. Today’s writers weave their books from the same mainstream news headlines as everyone else. In Antifragile, Taleb laments the ‘modern disease of touristification’ which is ‘the systematic removal of uncertainty and randomness of things, trying to make matters highly predictable in their smallest matters’ and it is difficult to think of a better summary of modern dystopias as neatly packaged tourist destinations that appeal to our sensibilities and don’t explore to any depth. We are only allowed to discuss Heaven and Hell, not Purgatory, because the former two don’t require imagination, only fantasy.
The purpose of a dystopia is to not escape it, because only when the worst is unnavigable is the reader able to be actively work against the forces arrayed against them. As civilization succumbed to these forces, the possibility space for good dystopian novels shrank considerably. Chesterton, notable stalwart of civilization, says of Wells that, ‘the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man [original sin] and assume it to be overcome.’ The original dystopias challenged this, but we have come full, perverse circle. Now dystopian fiction is the realm of leftists who, while living in comfort, pretend that there are monsters on their doorstep while ignoring the reality of original sin. The scariest idea of all is that we very well may already be living in a dystopia without our knowledge, but leftists attack easy, ‘lesser’ sins such as the patriarchy. What should be encouraged are dystopias that will last. The classic dystopias don’t have a get-out-of-jail-free card for a reason: so that we might be shocked into action, not given false hope.
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For a lot of us this whole right-wing Twitter/accelerationist/NRx thing started with Moldbug who wrote about America and American politics and old books over 10 years ago now. When I was reading Moldbug for the first time at around the time of the 2016 election it really opened up my mind and expanded the realm of possible explanations for what I was witnessing. I’d considered myself Left wing for years, voted for the Greens every election since coming of age. I mean I fucking walked around at university parties with a copy of Mao’s little red book in my bag and read out sections I found particularly enthralling. And I wasn’t beaten up on the spot – which says a lot about the people I was hanging out with. But then I got a job and woke up. Or did things really change that dramatically? Was I looking at things with a parallax view?
So, Moldbug. Between Open Letter, Gentle Introduction, Brown Scare and Dawkins I highlighted over 400 sections of his work. His ideas per paragraph really are only rivaled Robin Hanson, the output is immense. I got some real red pills from Moldbug. The main one is probably that democracy doesn’t work, or at least it could but in its current form there is little chance of that happening. There’s the notion of reading old books, going back to the sources and never trusting history. The entire idea that the Allied forces could be construed as the Axis and the Axis forces could be construed as Allies really shook me up – why hadn’t I been told this? Why had I swallowed the easy narratives of middle school? I credit my ability now to be able to hold and entertain two separate ideas in my head, while hesitantly but firmly siding with one or the other, entirely down to Moldbug. But I think the hardest pill to swallow that Moldbug came up with is the idea that America is a Communist Country. It doesn’t make sense when you hear it like that but take it further: Capitalism is just communism that works.
For example, when Engels says that the revolution will transform society ‘gradually’, and that only at a certain stage will it be ‘able to abolish private property’, do you think this relates to the sharing economy instigated by capitalism? Abolishing private property! Do you own your Kindle books, Steam games or iTunes music? Technically, you don’t. My God, communism working as intended. And this is what I mean. You might not think we are under communism, but if the end results are the same, then we’ve just found another route there. Tyler Cowen in the above-linked article worries that the sharing economy means that people will lose their notion to private property. People immediately think of Cultural Marxism as the obvious link to communism, but it goes deeper than that. At first, communists thought that if you owned the economy, it would naturally bleed into other elements of life. Wrong! What Cultural Marxism has shown us is that by using the same tactics on identity, you can then take over the economy. Tyler Cowen is right to be worried. The end result is that soon we will all be sharing our houses, our cars will not be owned and even our jobs will be passed around as a requirement for UBI.
Why do so many people struggle with the concept that capitalism is essentially communism? There’s a Quora thread on this with reply after reply scoffing at the idea. How ridiculous, they decry, don’t you know they’re two completely different systems? People can’t reconcile the two: ‘But in communism there isn’t a free market!’ as if the markets under capitalism are entirely free. Democracy is just a tool by which communism can be employed with a capitalist-in-theory jumpstart. Perhaps it is better to see these concepts in terms of paradox. Someone famous made the point that even billionaires drink Coke, and so capitalism has brought the communist ideal of no classes. And when it comes to the means of production, under so-called capitalism we already have common ownership. At first it was the State taking our taxes and creating roads, hospitals and other ‘public’ institutions. With our liberal democracy it means that everyone has an equal vote and we ‘own’ the politicians. Though like in Soviet Russia or Maoist China we just think the politicians are working for us. Under capitalism we all have a computer and a smart phone, and we quite literally are walking around with the means of production in our pockets. Value is now created by our preferences, not our labour. It’s like investing in futures: the algorithms mine value from our projected future consumption. Communism wanted to bring the people together, and under capitalism that is happening – our collective intelligence unleashed.
And where does capital spring from? From the Valley. Observe the tweet thread below. Note the similarities, both in a cultural sense and a practical, economic sense. As the Valley slowly creeps into every aspect of our lives all over the world, I think it is time to break out that old octopus meme. Communism no longer originates in Russia, but in California.
Now, if you take the hardcore leftists on face value, you would think that communists didn’t want profits or private ownership or a strong state, but all this is plainly both not possible and a lie they tell themselves. Communists may like to think they can get rid of money and ownership and the state, but the only way to do that is to become a reactionary trad, an ecofascist, an anarchist. You could say this is the revealed preference of communists. They want – and I know this because they willingly admit it all the time – free access to everything. They do not want to have to work. Under Communocapitalism all borders are open, all refugees own a smart phone, all types of people can fuck whoever they want. In return for responsibility communists want all access welfare, and let’s be honest, we’ve been saying the same about those nasty capitalists for a long time, particularly when the State bails them out of a Recession. Neither capitalists nor communists want to get rid of anything, especially nothing in the current system. They both become one.
Both communism and capitalism want a state of affairs with no ruling body. Communists think they can live in harmony with each other, and capitalists (though perhaps I mean libertarians) think the same. But both of them require capital to do this. A universal basic income has to be derived from something, and if it’s the robots that allow us to live all day in a weed haze or in virtual reality or in a never-ending orgy then so be it. The only true exit is to put the lid back on intelligence, and both communism and capitalism are intent on unleashing intelligence so that they can enjoy their brief sojourn in a fleshy body.
But hold up a moment, if I’m making such bold claims I need to back it up, right? So, let’s start with science fiction. Peter Watts in his Firefall series touches on some of the underpinning psychological flaws of Communocapitalism. Echopraxia is the involuntary repetition of other peoples’ actions, and I see this under Communocapitalism. The memespace means that people are unable to think for themselves and just follow the herd, and the herd is heading for full space communism. Weaponised memetics. Whether you call yourself a communist or believe in capitalism, the end result is the same. The end result is the only thing that matters, fuck the means. Stop thinking like a woman and concentrating on definitions and word play. That is GAY. Real men concentrate on results, and the end result of communism and capitalism is exactly the same – abandonment to the machines. The other concept explored by Watts is blindsight, which is when people are aware of a change in stimuli even if they physically cannot see something. Blindsight challenges the common belief that perceptions must enter consciousness to affect our behavior. This explains how propaganda works – I’m a big proponent of everyone reading the book by the same name by Edward Bernays – but in reverse. We see things but aren’t aware that they shift our consciousness. If only we moved our head and looked out the side of our eye we might see what is actually happening, see the processes at work. Alone, we can’t see the demons of intelligence beckoning us on to our own destruction, but together, if enough switched on people try to catch the demon in the act, we might be able to defeat it. Or at the very least keep it contained.
This is all theoretical, an interpretation of fiction. The key aspect of Communocapitalism is Cultural Marxism, as already mentioned. Capitalism is tied up with the social realm far more than we think, and hence leans towards communism in more ways than just the economic. You just have to check out Woke Capital to get a sense of how social justice and capitalism go hand in hand. At the end of the day, socially liberal and economically conservative just leads to communism.
Let’s take this extract from Empire of Things by Frank Trentmann:
The intellectual discovery of the consumer was the crest of a rising wave of social activism that swept across industrial societies around 1900. Received wisdom is to see citizenship as a series of steps, from civil liberties in the early modern period, to the political right to vote in the nineteenth century, to the social rights established by the welfare state in the middle of the twentieth century. This story misses a critical state: that of the citizen-consumer. The 1890s and 1900s were not just the golden era of the department store and shopping for pleasure. They were also the time when social movements began to mobilize consumers to reform society.
Now, remember that I mentioned Propaganda by Edward Bernays, and in that book, he goes into exactly how large bodies can manipulate the mass of consumers. Or should I say the commune of consumers. Communism and capitalism are both obsessed with consumption. And because we should always be wary of women, this part a little later in Empire of Things:
Ethical consumption was a metropolitan affair, in the sense both that it involved mainly middle-class women in European and American cities and that their causes were local.
Always blame the women and always blame the cities.
Vote with your wallet, purchase with your vote. The democratic ideal combined with consumer capitalism is just communism writ invisible. Allowing women to go out shopping meant they soon got the right to vote.
But ethical consumerism was also about rights. For the growing number of educated, reform-minded and ambitious women, it was a way to demonstrate their public spirit. Suffragettes on both of the Atlantic saw a symmetry between choice and the vote. If a housewife on a tight budget could choose wisely in the marketplace, day in, day out, and feed her family, how could she not be competent enough to make a cross on ballot paper every few years?
As if somehow that’s all there is to voting. As if somehow there aren’t repercussions and serious decisions to be made.
One suffragette named Teresa Billington-Greig (note the hyphenated surname) sums up Communocapitalism nicely when she said in regards to complaining about capitalist profiteers, ‘We are all more or less profiteers.’ Amen sister. The consumer is woman, and woman is god. There is a lot more in the book, but clearly you can begin to see that as intelligence was unleashed by capitalism, it latched itself on to the social justice movement and hasn’t stopped since.
But you don’t need to get this detailed to see in what ways the systems are similar. Take David Graeber’s new book, Bullshit Jobs. Here’s a great quote that I think Nick Land would appreciate, or at least understand when he talks about capitalism as intelligence:
Capitalism is not a single totalizing system that shapes and embraces every aspect of our existence. It’s not even clear it makes sense to speak of ‘capitalism’ at all (Marx for instance, never really did), implying as it does that ‘capitalism’ is a set of abstract ideas that have somehow come to take material form in factories and offices.
This supports my argument, because if capitalism is just an abstract, then so too must be communism. They are merely words that circle the same phenomenon, and the result is the same: factories, offices, products, etc.
I find further support when Graeber says, ‘…this is why doctrinaire libertarians, or, for that matter, orthodox Marxists, will always insist that our economy can’t really be riddled with bullshit jobs…’ Notice how he conflates both ends of the horseshoe? And finally, the phenomenon of bullshit jobs is found under both systems, when Graeber points out that, ‘A Soviet official issuing a planning document, or an American politician calling for job creation, might not be entirely aware of the likely effects of their action.’ What he is saying here is that in Soviet Russia, you had three butchers when all you needed was one, and in Corporate America, you have three desk jockeys when all you need is…well, probably none.
Graeber still considers himself a communist, and I think, like libertarians, these people can’t deal with the fact that actually you need a state, and therefore under either system you will see abuse of power. You need a state in absence of religion or tradition. Actually, that’s another similarity: both communism and capitalism push out religion by necessity. Materialism: not even once.
That is the crux of the argument here. What do the pine trees yearn for? The abandonment of riches in order to live with nature. Jesus called for the rich to forgo their wealth in order to find the Kingdom. Both communists and capitalists live solely in the material realm and both seek to further wealth and technology. Even if the ecofascists don’t believe in God, they are at the very least trying to live by his precepts. Whatever way you cut it, Communocapitalism is what we are heading towards. So forget your old enemies, left or right. The real foe is the beast we unleashed centuries ago.
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Hysterical Women: The Fortress by S.A. Jones
‘Don’t let the bitches grind you down.’ – Margaret Atwood’s first husband, probably.
If you haven’t noticed, women are getting more hysterical by the day. I mean that very much in the general. I’m sure some specific women have managed to keep their heads, but in between all the abortion praising and hand-wringing over misogyny, it’s getting a little out of hand. And what do women do when they’re breaking down in hysterics? They project. And the novel is a brilliant medium through which to project. The ur-text of the hysterical woman is most definitely The Handmaid’s Tale. While not the first, it is the contemporary Schelling point (consider, a Schelling point is ‘a solution that people will tend to use in the absence of communication’ which perfectly sums up the state of modern politics) when it comes to discussing female bodies. This series of book reviews will explore the aftermath of a post-Trump world. Specifically, just what are women complaining about now?
Imagine a world where women ruled. No, not a world, as such, but a neocameral state, a patch for the feminine to flourish. In this patch women are in control, and their histrionics are on full display. Their every desire, fulfilled. Their every fear, confronted. Men are literally bent over and ass-fucked if the women so desire, and all for the benefit of the man. It’s enlightening, you see. Welcome to the world imagined by S. A. Jones in her novel, The Fortress.
Where to begin with this convoluted raving? Our protagonist is called Jonathan and we are first introduced to him when he is entering and subjecting himself to the Fortress. This is a place separated off from civil society. The whole set up makes very little sense. On the one hand it appears the Jonathan comes from our world, a world of corporations and families. But on the other, the use of made-up words and history makes it seem like a poorly wrought fantasy world. Compounding this phony feeling world, the entire novel takes place over the course of a year, dipping back in time to showcase what a reprehensible little sod Jonathan was, and why he has to repent for his crimes against the feminine. This arbitrary time period again sets up the whole book as nothing more than a diatribe – Jonathan has a year to change! Spoiler alert: he does. Nothing in the entire set-up feels authentic, and the author relies on caricatures and clichés, whether directly or frail attempts to ‘flip’ the narrative.
I think women writers have forgotten that fantasy should be used as a metaphor, not a stand-in. The book begs many questions. Is there a purpose to this mish-mash of real and unreal? Is the author trying to make a comment on modernity, where our world is just a step away from a fantasy? The reader won’t be able to tell. Instead, both possibilities are juxtaposed weakly, and the world never feels real enough to care. In addition, the author employs a horrible fantasy trope, that of coming up with random words in place of what it’s actually called. In between words like ‘goosen’ and ‘oorsel’ – make-believe plants – are sentences discussing credit cards. It’s bizarrely forced, a female creation in which to inject her politics. It’s also lazy. For example, when Jonathan first enters he is told, ‘Every eleventh day you will have half a day to spend according to your inclination and wishes. This is known as “the half”.’ So imaginative. When the author does try to add a little flair, she trips over herself – my eyes bugged out when I read, ‘He could feel her concentration from the seat next to him. Empires rose and fell in the seconds before she answered.’ How can women expect us to not call them melodramatic? The author also has a real problem with the obvious, in particular her over reliance on exposition. I suppose being a woman does mean that she feels the need to explain herself. The lengthy opening segment lays it all out in the first chapter, a pandering attempt to build a world. ‘Here is how everything works,’ she seems to be saying, ‘Now with that out of the way, let me preach.’ And boy, does she preach.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter that there is little coherence to the world of The Fortress because the author is trying to make a point. Take for example the credo of the women. Work. History. Sex. Justice. That’s it. That is literally what they believe in. But it’s worse than that, because of course they pervert all four. So far as I could tell they take sex the most seriously, and instead of a world where (apparently) men have complete control over the sexual marketplace, the women of the Fortress are ravenous sluts on the constant prowl for a good dicking. There’s so much sex in this book, it’s like the author is saying, ‘See, women like to bang too!’ I mean, sure, but the depravity is ridiculous. Either it’s the least subtle gender reversal of all time, or the author is really randy. But mostly it’s distracting, these constant digressions to (honestly, rather vanilla) sex scenes. As I mentioned earlier it all ends with man-on-man butt sex (‘Breathe, Jonathan. You need to breathe.’). It’s clear to me the author is trying to humiliate the male characters (‘It hurt and it was strange and it was also…good.’) by subverting at every opportunity how ‘men see themselves’ (in quotes because I don’t think the author actually understands that in the slightest). Isn’t it obvious that the only way for a lady’s man to repent is to be on the receiving end of rape and sexual manipulation? Geez, duh!
And as for the other quadrants that make up the Vaik outlook (Vaik is the name for the women of the Fortress)? Their sense of work: let the men do it, and make it as meaningless and/or painful as possible. Their understanding of history: men are evil and sisters have always done it for themselves. The justice they hand down: typically indeterminate and mysterious – maybe this, or maybe that. Oh yeah, and they definitely don’t believe in God! (‘The Vaik had no god and worshipped no supreme beings, but they did believe in the infinite nature of life.’ Damn pagans are at it again.) Perhaps the author is trying to say that even with women in control, the world wouldn’t be perfect, that if women had control they’d still be power hungry and sex-craving lunatics. That seems like the least feminist take possible. This doesn’t stop her denigrating men in the process. Of work, she notes that Jonathan, ‘…had a horror of timelessness, those marshy spaces between deadlines. He must always be attaining the next goal or he felt himself dematerializing, a science-fiction character stuck in a malfunctioning teleport.’ Aside from the awful (again, forced) metaphor, the assumption of course is that men only think about work and goals, never love. Like most women the author doesn’t understand that any obsession with the job is solely down to providing for family, and so this comes across as a self-own, particularly since the Vaik are so heartless when it comes to the day-to-day ordering of life. These four quadrants are meant to be some grand theory of women, but it comes across as lame and poorly thought out.
Overall it is painfully clear that the book wants to be a social commentary, but instead it makes women look terrible. What woman would let her husband be used as a sex toy to make up his extra marital affairs? The illogical nature of this punishment of course belies the utterly female narrative: revenge for revenges sake. Where is the justice in that? You, the reader, are never going to touch a book like this, but for your sake it is good to know what women are writing about, and what is being published. Ideology trumps aesthetics in the modern world, and The Fortress is a great example.
Is publishing in the tech industry or the media industry? Perhaps neither, since it always likes to see itself as both inside and outside the paradigm at once. Books are ostensibly a technology, one of the greatest and most versatile inventions of all time. What they communicated, though, was art, or at the very least entertainment. But since the corporate takeovers from the 1980s onward, book publishing has become increasingly a media business. It’s about revenue, it’s about numbers and it’s about riding the zeitgeist, not creating it.
Publishing has always been about producing what is important, and each publishing house or imprint has always had its own mission statement. But if all of the major houses are going to start going the diversity route, then I foresee an environment of same-same books. The interesting thing to note is that it is the smaller publishers who have pushed this most forcefully, so much so that it has trickled up to the big guys. However, it should not be that publishing has to be forced to reflect society, no matter how mixed and muddled it becomes; it should be that as society changes, the books begin to reflect it, naturally. This still leads to the inevitable problem of trying to please far too many specialty groups at once. And that is bad for the bottom line. Ironic, given that companies push for diversity thinking it will help business.
I’ve written about the push for diversity in publishing before, but now it has come home to roost. Yes, the CEO at work has instigated a Diversity and Inclusion committee, no doubt to be entirely made up of the most woke white girls in the office. I knew this day would come. Perhaps I should volunteer so as to undermine the whole project, accelerate the process as it may be. But no, I cannot drag myself through that. This push comes at the same time as we are seeing a series of incidents pop up around diversity within the publishing microcosm.
Specifically, the world’s biggest publisher is going all in. It wants to represent what the future society of Britain will look like. The Spectator article by Lionel Shriver has been contested, though I think on superficial points, but what Shriver really does is show how absurd the entire notion of identity has become. Race, sexual preference, none of this matters when it comes to doing the work. You should not be relying on quotas to fill a publishing schedule, unless you want to admit that the author’s identity is a marketable genre. (Truth be told, it apparently is at this stage.) The new mission statement of Penguin Random House reads thus:
‘new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2025.’
Nothing Shriver said was wrong, just a little hyperbolic. The responses were then hyperbolic in turn. Shriver never says that minorities can’t write good literature, only that their identity should not take precedence. Of course her critics somehow infer that she means exactly this, as a straight white female. She is slowly becoming unpersoned: she has even been removed as judge of an upcoming writing competition. And yet for all this publishing companies are covering their arses. Authors have always had moral rights to their work, but now their contracts are containing morality clauses. They are giving themselves protection in case any of their authors act out. Say, like Lionel Shriver.
But I digress from the issue here on whether publishing is tech or media. Let’s take PRH again. In their push for diversity, they are opening the field by not requiring degrees. Fine in theory, but I hardly see this opening up the field that much. The people who tend to want to work in publishing…tend to get degrees in publishing. And the entry level jobs are still going to be mindless grinds until you can get up that first rung of the ladder, degree or not. While it is clearly a branding exercise for the company to say ‘look at us’ there is something to it – namely that doing a degree in publishing is a waste of time. That might be endemic of the whole thing.
How much of the book business is useless? David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs looks at many of the factors surrounding jobs that suck the life out of us, and I think much of publishing skirts this. One of the reasons Graeber gives is that in the FIRE industries, there is so much money it pays to make up jobs:
The moral of the story is that when a profit-seeking enterprise is in the business of distributing a very large sum of money, the most profitable thing for it to do is to be as inefficient as possible.
The corporate publishers have a lot of money, and they tend to shuffle it around. We pay huge advances for authors that are never going to sell enough copies to earn out the cash. Unlike academia or finance though, we seem to have to cut staff if we don’t make appropriate profit. But that doesn’t stop us from punting on useless crap. Publishing is made up of committees of people pretending they know what people want to read, but actually having no clue. The best use of money that I never see happen would be consumer insights. Instead, decisions are made by middle-aged women and male directors. That’s not to say that great books aren’t published, but they happen in the cracks, in between the corporate bullshit and easy titles. The entire industry revolves around trying to convince a bunch of gatekeepers that certain books are better than others, but very few salespeople ask the people. That’s why most stand out successes are word of mouth ventures. Where tech companies try to make something people can use, more and more publishing is just an industry trying to advertise itself. And it feels bullshit, because as Graeber says, ‘A human being unable to have a meaningful impact on the world ceases to exist.’ Your impact in publishing is likely zero, or if there is some small impact, you aren’t even aware of it. How much impact do you have in your job? (Don’t answer that, I value my self esteem.)
As so many companies get woke, publishing, I think, might resist it, or at least not embrace it fully. Unlike movies and music, there actually aren’t too many people spoiling the soup. Books are still made by single authors, for the most part. The people making the decisions still mostly like good writing, even if progressivism is the flavour of the hour. And readers are really liberal; there isn’t much to change. Counter-intuitively I think the majority of people in publishing don’t think there is that much to do. The danger is that this means it is very easy for those with the levers to push things in the direction they want. Diversity in a hum-drum and sanitised sense is inevitable.
But you know what? It’s perfectly possible to get diversity without forcing it, like with the English football team. Woo! This make it feel like everyone is just confused when the Spectator allows Lionel to decry enforced quotas, but the same rag praises the changing of an English sports team. Diversity here, not here. Patchwork when? As the diversity push grows and grows we are going to see continual need for separation. And yet publishing houses want to become homogeneous. Most books now have gay characters or gay themes. Abortion is all good. Fuck religion, right? It all feels so tepid, so samey. Yet another book about #TheResistance or a Trumpain dystopia. The medium of the book could push more and more readers into the progressive mindset. But conservatives and religious folk still have some outlets, particularly in the States where religious publishing can still make decent bucks. In the end publishing companies have always been gatekeepers. We want gatekeepers, but these gatekeepers have to focus on quality, not the individuals. This fracas is also coinciding with another diversity debate, this time at Harvard.
Diversity is bad, full stop. As Bishop Robert Barron says in his book Catholicism, ‘If God is a great gathering force, then sin is a scattering power.’ Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have diverse groups, but mingling groups is going to end in misery. Diversity expends energy and leads to entropy. What diversity does is precisely the opposite of what we should be doing. It looks for those on the margin not in terms of quality, like a work of genius, but those who just haven’t been given a voice. There is no predicate here that that voice is worth listening to. I know progs will agree with me and say that Nazis should be punched, not listened to. But they want to enforce their rules for their in-group, and not allow a healthy ecosystem. What really gets me is that if the West wanted diverse books, it would ask for them. I can tell you right now that stories about African immigrants don’t fucking sell. The problem with letting in hordes from the impoverished, non-English speaking countries? They don’t read books, or at least ones written in English. Publishing is going to have to cater to every niche market – a different book for every reader! Publishing only works when it can appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
Diversity is just another power play. Publishing as a media business is merely putty in the hands of those who take hold. It can be influenced by the whispers from the HR department and the shouts of a handful of very loud consumers. But how do you counter power plays that are based on, essentially, kindness? Show that any supposed advantages are but illusions. Diversity not only diverts energy and attention, but disperses any and all sources of energy. Publishing is 100% a media business, one that is inherently part of the Cathedral. Each publishing house is a lumbering beast that knows not what it does, only that it wishes to please as it succumbs to a thousand cuts. and collapses to the left.
Books, blogs and tweets all collide, the news stream is part of our personal narrative. Thoughts swirl in a giant vat as more are pumped in, never able to reach critical mass. Let me attempt to fold all these ideas together.
1 – A tragedy in endless parts
Economists are different from the rest of us, but as time goes on you begin to realise they are the more interesting than everyone combined.
One such economist is Robin Hanson. You might have heard of him. Hanson’s entire schtick is postulating on obtuse thought experiments. He goes quite out of his way to write and think about things that no one else is writing or thinking about, if only to show how limited the average writer or thinker is. I have to admit that sometimes I have a hard time comprehending his posts on Overcoming Bias, but at the very least I try to work through over and over what he is trying to say. That’s kinda the key here, folks. You gotta try and understand what the other person is saying, not ‘read into’ their words. I mean, it’s a bit of a fine line, but go on, surely you’re a smart cookie. Demarcation is very important.
But of course if you talk about rape or sex a certain subset of people are going to assume you are being ‘creepy‘. All the articles that have come out against Robin are great examples of emotioneering fronting as journalism. It’s a weird form of literalism in that there are certain words that trigger a response, and context or nuance goes completely out the window. I don’t necessarily agree with Robin’s ideas of equality, but taking his ideas seriously is important. Unfortunately for the majority of his detractors this does not even occur to them. In Robin’s Tweet above, what he is getting at is that – and I can attest to this, right now, in fact, because my mental capacity strains to haul it all in – people are incapable of doing everything at once. That is, you are either able to take a thought and see it from every angle because you care about truth, or you narrow your vision because you care about what other people think. And there are a lot of people to care about. Your average internet user is too busy worrying about how they appear to others (i.e. nice and respectable) to have even the capacity to think about something a little outside the bounds of regular thought structures. And they are already so hyper alert that just reading the word rape or something not overtly ‘anti-x’ will spin the outrage machine into action.
As an economist, I am sure Hanson would appreciate the idea that people are invested in certain modes of thinking. The human brain does not have unlimited energy nor hard drive space. Whenever one of these outrage mobs coalesces, a lot of energy is able to be directed at the target, as scores of minds are directly bootstrapped together. And the real tragedy lies in the fact that at the end of the day they are all going to forget about Robin and move their energy on to another target. The laser either breaks through the shield or gets diverted to a new target that has appears on the radar.
That is not to say that in the meantime there is not plenty to leverage. Since the initial incident there have been countless think pieces by the intelligent and not so intelligent. Like with Trump, the media love a good bit of outrage. It gives them clicks and ad revenue. But the problem is it creates a feedback loop. You can’t necessarily trust the word of any writer these days, least of all someone quickly writing a hit piece. Often these journalists or writers are emotionally invested in the topic. See Example A. This woman a) completely misses the point and b) delights in the suffering of others, so long as she and hers get results. It’s about power, as evidenced from her concluding line, ‘…I can sometimes see just how much of that power is already long gone.’ Never mind any long term downsides, all that matters is that now and in the near future women are able to be completely single and independent and still get all the sex they want.
Through all of these attacks Robin managed to not only weather them, but absorb them and fire their energy out again. He used every objection as a case study to further contemplate our motivations. He, along with Kevin Simler, even wrote a book about our hidden motivations, called Elephant in the Brain. These people were not even aware that they were taking part in an experiment. They were always on Robin’s terms. See, the thing everyone missed is that there is a system at work and you can see it if you know what you are looking for, if you are able to peek behind the words and outrage and see things as they really are. Allow me show you.
2 – Uruk, hi.
Lou Keep has written an absolutely riveting collection of posts on his blog called the Uruk series. It is ostensibly about nihilism in society, but through the lens of four books we see its aspects: the state, the crowd, the individual. These bodies play off against each on other and accelerate nihilism to its end point, which of course is still over the horizon. There is plenty more despair to go around yet. Death is not nihilistic. Death is a release valve. It could also be a goal depending on your view point (certainly not the case with transhumanists). Each entry in the series builds on the last, with exponential increases in realisation. Keep manages to string the ideas of each book together cohesively, even concisely despite the massive amount of knowledge he is distilling.
What has this got to do with a tenured economist? The attacks on his person are mostly from narcissists, screeching women and male feminists. Society has destroyed our metis or common ways of seeing things. Good manners have completely gone out the window. All that matters is reaction time and never backing down. Everyone is frustrated as hell. To these narcissists there is nothing but appearance, and if you appear to be a Bad Man, well, your time is up.
There are a number of interesting ideas covered by Keep, so let’s whip through and compare. Metis is an important one.
Metis, on the other hand, is a kind of accumulated, experiential knowledge.
This is what communities build. This is what tradition is. What economists tend to do is upset metis, though I would give it to Robin that he is at least one economist who tries to see our underlying motivations and accounts for that, hence his tendency for left-field thoughts. They are only left-field because the State has put its hand into every aspect of our lives. The woman in the above Medium piece (let’s call her Subject H as in hysterical) is happy that the State has intervened. Or so it appears. What is more apparent is her frustration at the system, and her desire to see metis upended.
Uruk also explores the effects of the Industrial Revolution. The author of The Great Transformation, Polyani, explores some related themes, namely the double movement:
The people will want protections, and they’ll be pushing for political power, but the only acceptable political terms are “economic” in this very restrictive sense.
Now where I have seen this before? Oh right, in the rantings of people like Subject H. All economic power needs to be redistributed to women, consequences be damned! Economic equality for all, but let’s not even contemplate how we deal with sexual inequality. This builds off the previous idea of the State messing around with how things have always worked, because then the people push back and try to fix things (usually through such wide-eyed utopian ideals like democracy). It’s very easy for the state to make things better ethereally, but not in ways that matters. How does greater poverty and a growing GDP pair? As Polyani explains:
The paradox vanishes once you realize that “richer” means only in terms of wages, and that the full range of wealth that existed before is not taken into account.
The curse of policy.
We see in Subject H and everyone who spoke out against Robin being very, well, frustrated. This is caused by the above meddling, and it leaves them open to mass movements. This is where the Russian Revolution came from, this is where Fascism came from, this is where current populism has arisen from. And it is also the cause of modern day feminists and SJW politics. People are frustrated as hell by all the meddling of the State and, heck, they just aren’t going to put up with it any more. Keep sums it up:
If the base of a mass movement is supplied by frustrated people, then any “good” movement will be outcompeted by one better at impossible, frustrating goals. It’s just a numbers game, the one with more frustrated individuals is the bigger movement. Hence, the type of actions that a “successful” movement (as in, successful at being a movement and nothing more) uses are meaningless, repetitive, and aimed at solidifying identity without achieving anything else. They frustrate the base more. The very best are those that frustrate a whole lot of outsiders, too, whether by actively interfering or at least convincing them that the things they find meaningful are really meaningless. The movement that does this recruits from the biggest pool possible.
The worrying thing is that Subject H and her ilk are going to stay frustrated for a very long time. And so will the incels.
The final step along the road to nihilism is narcissism, and never has it been more abundant that in our society today.
Keep describes it as follows:
Narcissism is essentially about the weird tension between making everything about you while also hollowing out the self.
We think modernity invites narcissism willingly, but it is actually a defence mechanism against the modern world. Not a very good one, and there are other options, but it is defensive nonetheless. Subject H is a great example. Her rant appears to focus on all those other women. You don’t deserve sex so other women can gain power! But it is projected for an image of herself. All those people ranting against Robin can barely comprehend what he is trying to say, and in responding they show their narcissistic inclinations – how they interpret his words is not protecting others, but a reflection of their own self-image. They have to take a side, a predetermined side in many cases. Their outrage is always taking him literally, never seriously. And it is foolish to never take a reflection seriously. It isn’t about Robin at all, but about each and every person mirroring each other.
The issue that Lou Keep touches on, and which the Hanson debacle is a microcosm of, is one of interpretation. No one understands each other, and yet everyone is spouting their own truth on the matter. These truths are used as power plays (and in the case of the State, they have a monopoly on power already). This is remarkably similar to how the Bible has come to be interpreted; everyone has a different opinion on the Word of God. (No, I am not comparing Robin to God.)
(Or am I?)
All this reminds me of Thomas Aquinas. Let me explain.
Aquinas discusses in quite some detail the difference between respecting a person and respecting their nature.
It follows, accordingly, that respect of persons is opposed to distributive justice in that it fails to observe due proportion. Now nothing but sin is opposed to virtue: and therefore respect of persons is a sin.
What we tend to focus on is merely the dressing over the people. The state doesn’t see the true worth of tradition, mass movements rise up and give everyone a voice, and narcissism is nothing but imagery. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the welfare state, and nor am I in favour of sex redistribution. The reasoning is touched on by Aquinas. None of this shuffling of resources is given out because of the nature or actions of people, but in mere respect of them being persons. Modernity forces us to focus on persons and not actions as the State isolates us from communities, economics harries us, mass ideologies flow and narcissism provides the mindset of adhering only to appearances, and even reflections of appearances. We live in sin; we respect people too much.
3 – We are all very far from normal
Loneliness, narcissism and nihilism are all tied together. We might think that just because we live in a large city we are automatically connected with other people. Most likely, far from it. What’s the difference between being alone and loneliness? The ability to detach and the inability to attach, respectively. But how do we get this message across succinctly?
I recently read a book that I urge you all to pick up. I would almost go so far as to say it is a modern classic. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a recent bestseller in the UK and it is ostensibly about how Being Kind is a net good for society and the individual.
For me, whether the author intended it or not, it is the perfect portrait of the typical modern citizen, and more importantly, the typical modern woman. Eleanor suffered a great tragedy in her youth, and we see her life now touched by the State: she was moved between foster homes and now has regular meetings with a social worker. She has a perfectly competent job, but is socially poor. She, like everyone else, gets swept up in ridiculous notions such as romantic love and ‘going to gigs’ as some form of fulfillment. And finally, Eleanor is extremely narcissistic in the sense that Lou Keep describes in the Uruk series. It is a defence mechanism, and she thinks she is special and unlike others. The author does a remarkable job of actually showing the way she makes everything about her, in her own mind, while never quite acknowledging the complete emptiness of herself (until the end when she embraces normie life).
There is an incredible materialism to her outlook on life, and at one point she says, ‘I’ve never made a sausage roll. I don’t suppose it’s terribly difficult, though. It’s only pastry and mechanically recovered meat.’ Never mind the skill and love that goes into making any worthwhile meal, no, it’s all just matter. She is content to eat pesto pasta every night because it contains enough nutrients. She floats herself in vodka every weekend, but she isn’t an alcoholic, of course not, she’s not a real alcoholic. By the end of the book she still doesn’t find a partner and is living with a cat. She is the literal embodiment of the hopeless case that is many modern woman. She can say she is OK all she wants but it doesn’t make it true. It’s a sort of willful blindness, and at one point she remarks that:
Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself.
There is much more in the book. For example, Eleanor goes on about how manners have disappeared from the world (“I find lateness exceptionally rude.”), and Lou Keep in the Uruk series notes that:
Manners have run their course, in Lasch’s time but even more for us: now you can wear sweats to the park, the concept of a salad fork activates dyspepsia, and the boss goes by “Jeff”.
The book shows us what is important in life: having community connections. Knowing people and more importantly knowing yourself. But in order to achieve this one has to change. Like so many modern people, Eleanor struggles to break out of her safe routine. She is stuck in stasis. But stasis doesn’t save you from death. There is an interesting theory that depression and other disorders are actually defence mechanisms against suicide, and when they fail we kill ourselves (so depression is a symptom of suicidal thoughts, not the other way around). Eleanor does attempt to kill herself when the reality she created falls apart, but thankfully she is saved. This is when her self-awareness kicks in. She muses:
I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.
It is only when she stops pretending that she is Completely Fine and embraces change (i.e. in her case, making friends) that she is able to stave off death. And here, I think, we get to the crux of the Robin Hanson debate:
Eleanor Oliphant thinks she wants a romantic relationship, but in the end realises this is a lie. In the book she never has sex, nor even enters a loving relationship. Instead she receives a platonic friendship and a connection with her peers. Interestingly, one of the main male characters in the book is depicted as an ‘incel’. He plays videogames, dresses slovenly, and has a bad sense of humour. And yet in this book he still manages to bang the hot girl (no, not Eleanor). Something, something, subconscious-desires-of-the-author. But back to Eleanor. One of the main demons she defeats is loneliness. Human contact of any sort, something Eleanor does not even understand at the start of the book, is vital to our continued survival. And Robin Hanson is talking about this. Sure, he mentioned sex – gentle rape and cuckolding – but what incels really want (heck, what all of us really want) is human connection. And the modern woman, after all their liberation, refuses to give it. To her it is just about sex, consent, harassment and male privilege. If all of the writers above have taught me anything, it’s that the system tries to atomise us. It’s only now that this process is finally creating an negative externality. Economic factors always have a delayed reaction.