The Winds of Diversity Sweep Through the Halls of Publishing

“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”
― Socrates

Gossip kills. Or at least it kills careers. Whispering Hit Men have taken out a hit on publishing in the last week with another round of so-called scandals, but really are they any different to the ‘news’ that a Virginian democrat wore blackface thirty years ago? These sorts of stories are indicative of society at large. Whether it is fake news or personal vendettas, the news has been weaponised. They are simulacra, problems that merely look like problems and that resemble problems more with every angry Tweet and opinion piece. What has got everyone so riled up now?

First there is the sad case of Amelie Wen Zhao. She had a fantasy novel coming out, hotly contested by publishers at auction. Last week a Twitter mob attacked her, accusing the book of perpetuating racism, enabling ableism and other crimes against humanity. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before, and in fact I have previously written about such cases. The difference now is that Amelie is Chinese herself and should have plenty of experience with censorship. What is scarier about Western censorship is that we do it to ourselves. The mob looks for any discrepancy they can find and amplify it to such a degree if only to show in-group adherence. Amelie has now decided not to publish the novel and publicly apologised for her atrocious and unthoughtful behaviour. It is clear that many people were enraged but never even read the book (this selective fact finding is indicative of all  ‘important”political’ discussions) and merely jumped on a hate wagon to complain about, among other things, plagiarism (apparently whole sections were stripped from The Hunger Games). The fact these people don’t know their history and cannot see the similarities between this and being denounced by the Red Guard is not surprising, but it is frightening. This was her public apology, the equivalent of being made to stand in the town square with a board around your neck as your neighbors hurl rotten fruit at you.

From what I can tell the book seemed to be trying to tackle the issue of slavery from her unique perspective, but it seems blacks and black history is still top of the hierarchy and she didn’t do a good enough job. Oh well, live and learn, Amelie! May your dreams never be crushed again.

The second major case of gossip is the ‘unmasking’ of Dan Mallory. Author of bestselling book The Woman in the Window under the pseudonym A J Finn, he has had a tell-all hit piece published in The New Yorker by a journalist who not only digs up dirt on his publishing career, accuses the book of plagiarism and harasses his family, but takes way too long to read. Seriously, this could have been edited down just a bit. This kind of gossip masquerading as news is the new normal, and reminiscent of the Russian collusion stories that come out every now and then. Heck, both stories even involve urine which of course had the entire publishing industry giggling like schoolchildren. Of course, besides the fact that no one takes any of it with a grain of salt (how true is it, and how can we know when all we have to go on is the article), it was immediately picked up as an example of ‘mediocre white men failing up’. No, not of a literal psychopath scheming and getting what he wanted, but it was generalized to all white men in the industry, and presumably all industries. Like you could call this sort of heist mediocre, anyway. Bitches.

Events like this allow those with an agenda to beat their war drums and march on the White Man. Wei Ming Kam and others are calling for a witch hunt, stating that if Mallory was able to do this, then just think about how many others like him are out there. Of course, all this does is stoke paranoia rather than seeing it as an exception. Mallory has come out and said the lying about the brain cancer did happen, which means that some of his other tall tales are probably somewhat true, but overall does it take away from his book success? Don’t you get paid well and climb the corporate ladder by bullshitting anyway? What exactly did he do wrong except make some social faux pas most probably as a result of serious mental issues? That is for the crowd to decide. I am reminded of Jon Ronson’s book on shaming and events like the dentist whose business was destroyed on Yelp because he was a big game hunter. Things are much worse now.

The flip side to all this shouting down White Men is the articles and essays complaining about how hard it is to be in the industry if you aren’t a White Man. Take for example this quote:

But at her new company, Scholastic, she was one of few queer women of color.

No shit, that by its very definition is going to be a rare bird. Exactly how many queer woman of colour does a company need to be diverse? You want to give me a quota, sweet cheeks?  Now check out this delicious sentence:

A Black former editorial assistant says she was satisfied with her starting salary until she discovered a few months later that other women of color in the same role were getting paid more, even though they had less experience.

Don’t you just love the infighting? Newsflash, people, you get paid for what extra you bring to the table, not your ability to complete a set of tasks. And we notoriously overestimate our own ability anyway.

Complaining about the supposed inequalities is a deliberate tactic because suddenly the reader of articles such as this is made to think that this is a Bad Thing in and of itself. It’s insidious and constant and publishing is slowly succumbing. Just yesterday I walked past the meeting being held by our Diversity Committee (all white girls) and I shuddered as I felt their collective psychic energy wash over me. If it is deemed that there is a problem, well, you have to fix that problem! But is it about representation or do these women just want more money?

“I don’t think promotions correspond to someone else’s other life choices,” says Yee, who now works in San Francisco, Calif., as an editorial coordinator for a different academic publisher. “How well I do at my job should be based off of how I’m doing, not whether someone else takes maternity leave.”

The trope of the promotion is people competing for it. That is, competing for an opening. Promotions are not just handed out because you did a gold star job. Publishing budgets are tight, the competition for jobs is fierce and yet these brown girls think they deserve handouts for doing what essentially anyone could do and plenty of others want to do. They don’t want to pay you more because the big houses are beholden to shareholder profits, and the small houses literally don’t have the money. When someone like Mallory is earning $200,000 a year it’s because they are signing significant authors.

Fundamentally, Dan Mallory got promoted because he’s extremely clever and charismatic. Brown girls don’t get a promotion because they are none of those things, and in fact probably create resentment. Feeling entitled won’t help, but maybe being loud enough will.

That said, publishing houses are famously cumbersome beasts, giant tanker ships that take forever to take a new direction. That’s why companies like Wattpad are going to start to tackle this diversity issue head-on. They have started their own publishing imprint based on algorithms and with an eye on inclusivity. I say good luck to them, especially with those pesky racist AIs. But if small publishers and start-ups are going to take this market, why should the big houses bother? I don’t see much potential in the woke market. I mean, sure the white population that makes up the huge markets of the US, Canada and Commonwealth rights is slowly declining and being edged out by endless brown people, but as we see in the case of Amelie, they will eat themselves. There are too many markets to attend to. Yes, there are the odd foreign or immigrant stories that take off, but by and large men like to read thrillers and women like to read Liane Moriarty. Like a democracy, publishing requires a homogeneous reading public in order to work at scale. In order for this to work in the shifting demography of the West, expect books to get even more bland and inoffensive.

Publishing is legacy media, but it is and will outlast the news industry. Thankfully profits were never high in the book trade, so it’s not hard to keep expectations reasonable. But there is still a worry that publishing will follow the same mistakes as newspapers and digital media companies like Buzzfeed. Publishing is counter-intuitively safehoused because they offer one thing and one thing only: stories. The internet has too much noise at times to sell those stories, too little prestige to make them worth picking up. The technology of a paper book is yet to be surpassed. The only worry is that publishing houses will try to move outside of what they do best. The more you try to push LGBTQI themes or refugee sob stories, the more people you are going to push offside. Don’t get political; it is not our job to push a political agenda. It is our job to publish good books. This reminds me of a wonderful anecdote I overheard the other day. A WOC I work with (try saying that five times fast) said that her friend in another house voiced their opinion over the publication of a book about the First Fleet. This friend was told by management to ‘keep your politics to yourself’. There is hope out there, after all.

This is all to say that nothing above is new. Authors have always been censored. Publishing frauds are a dime a dozen. What is new is that a supposedly diverse book is self-censored, and a fraud is exposed that has nothing to do with the book itself. (The hit on Mallory seems more fit for the likes of a gossip rag if you ask me. The word ‘schadenfreude’ springs to mind.)  Publishing houses will always move into new markets but they need to keep scale in mind. Gossip hurts and it will end up hurting not just individual authors, but bottom lines too. If these examples are anything to go by the voices crying out to white-ant publishing are only going to get louder and meaner.

Marie Kondo and the Echoes of Outrage

“We are improved by reading books not by owning them.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

It’s hard to be a pundit. Heck, it’s hard to be an Average Joe scrolling through your social media feeds. Whether it’s the #TenYearChallenge on Instagram, the smirking kid on Facebook or Marie Kondo’s cleaning advice on Twitter, there is some form of outrage for you. This is our life. This is our consumption habit. Mobs have been around forever, but social media allows you to partake in multiple mobs simultaneously, cross pollinating the outrage into a storm of fury. But it is time to stop. As per Proverbs 20:3 –

Congratulations to the rightists who got the Vulture writer fired over the smirking boy. Congratulations to the conservative pundits and IDW lackeys who argue ceaselessly every day. But what for? Wherefore art thou holiness? It is certainly not to be found in outrage.

The Kondo Effect

Book porn. Shelfies. Reading memes. Social media is awash with the ideal of books, that is, fantasies and hazy recollections of a certain feeling that comes with being a book owner. Without it the book industry would surely collapse.

This ‘shelfie’ did the rounds on right-wing Twitter, with people mocking the absolute state of the woman’s ‘taste’. Overall it was but a blip on the outrage scale, but let me make my point.

Aside from the endless YA and Stephen King there are also a number of popular ‘must have’ books. The Nix, The Idiot, Michelle Obama’s biography, Bridge of Clay and many more are simply flavours of the month. This is much more an advertising space than it is personal collection. These are books that publishing houses have pushed hard (because they have paid million dollar advances). There’s nothing wrong with a bit of entertainment, but the self-righteousness of young women and their bookshelves is something beyond your usual narcissist. Since when was a colour-coded bookshelf made up of the latest pulp better than this?

Why does any of this matter though? Why did this blow up into a whirlwind of tweet storms for maybe 12 hours? The problem comes down to how we view books. For many on the right they are a form of knowledge and connection with the past, not a fleeting consumer choice. Shelfies on the other hand are shameless displays of books as objects, contrary to what the book fanatics would have you believe. For them it is about whether it is popular, or woke, or ‘takes them to another world’. What isn’t important is that a book introduces them to alternative points of view or new knowledge. It is this materialism that irked the Right.

Then Marie Kondo showed up.

A few years ago Kondo published bestselling books that expressed her philosophy, namely Spark Joy and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. This year her Netflix show came out where she went to people’s houses and tidied them up. Naturally, given that television is far more culturally important than books (this is actually what we should be outraged about), this sparked the conversation around keeping or hoarding books.

Leftists – the ones likely to have colour-coded bookshelves – came out to bat for keeping every book, such as the author of this opinion piece. Of course what they all missed is Kondo’s underlying reasoning. To keep a book it must spark joy. That is, we must appreciate it, not lust over it, not enjoy its pretty cover, none of these superficial things. It’s a much deeper, religious understanding of ‘joy’ where the meaning is closer to ‘grace’. What did the book teach us? Is this one you want to keep to be reminded of its lessons, or one you will re-read? This comes from Kondo’s Shinto background, and it not surprising that secular Westerners completely missed this. Instead people like Matt Haig go completely off the deep-end about books being portals to other worlds, which is much more grounded than the idea that objects must be respected. Secularists are both grounded in the act of materialist consumerism, yet justify it with lofty spirituality. The death of God, yadda, yadda.

The outrage was not just based on a misunderstanding of what Kondo believes, but also literally from fake news around what she said. At no point has Kondo insisted that ’30 books is ideal’ and yet this became a meme that further promoted outrage, disgust and incredulity. The echoes of outrage reverberated outward further and further from the truth. I’m sure the Bible says somewhere that when we are struck with the truth (in this case, that we are hoarders and own too many useless books that we will never actually read) we will cry out in pain, deny it and in fact try to justify obvious lies. The entire Marie Kondo affair, from the irony of the discussion emanating from TV and not the book, to the fake news and urgent hand-wringing, smacks of a culture gone completely wrong.

To lay it to rest, it is a fact that most books are bad. Most authors are not very good, and given that more and more books are being published every year, we should be wary about what we purchase. This is why the Right focuses on old books. They are tried and true. They are objective in that they are not speaking from the current milieu from which one cannot get any perspective. Do not buy books in the vague hope of reading them in the future. Buy, read, decide on its level of joy that it has sparked, and then keep, discard or giveaway.

The Smirking Boy Cometh

Mere moments after the Marie Kondo Twitter outrage had calmed down did we have yet more fake news events, and these were much more serious (apparently). First, Buzzfeed through shoddy reporting was rebuked by Mueller’s team regarding information from Michael Cohen. That another Russiagate scandal was quickly shot down is not surprising. More odious was the events surrounding a group of boys from Covington Catholic School.

For posterity, a quick rundown of events: video footage goes viral showing white boy in MAGA hat purportedly standing down Native American; journalists condemn boys; multiple death and violence threats appear on Twitter against the boys; more footage comes out debunking the initial take by showing that the Native American approached the boys and that the boys were being harassed; some journalists back down (including conservative outlets); some journalists and celebrity progs double down and dig into the background of the boys and their school; accusations of black face; accusations of black face proven false; accusations of throwing up white power sign; accusations of throwing up white power sign proven both ridiculous but also false. That’s not even all of it, but you get the picture.

The point I am driving at here is that we quickly move from one outrage to another. It doesn’t even have to be a different outrage. It just needs to be a new perspective on the same outrage. Think of the Smirking Boy saga as a film scene in reverse (so, a bad film). We started with a close up shot. People jumped to the wrong conclusions. Then we were allowed the long or establishing shot which changed the context. Then a bunch of subplots were uncovered that would have helped set up the story even further. It was a train wreck. Left and Right jumped from talking point to talking point. Whataboutisms and gotchas cascaded. It is far from over. Will this be a turning point?

I think not. The ‘echoes of outrage’ will diminish on this particular incident and be rung fresh and vibrant again on another. Dopamine needs new stimuli and the mob does not like stasis. Do you remember what the first example of outrage I used in this post was? I rest my case.

What I suggest is that we take our time, because if we take our time and process things properly we avoid the risk of anger and of memory holing. The worst thing is to forget what has come before.

Slouching Towards Dystopia

All this could be yours.

‘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 yearIn 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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Jacobite Is the Jacobin of the Right

‘When you see the genuine, you don’t deal with the fakes anymore.’ ― Nima davani

I want to be as open as possible with this short barrage against Jacobite. I am inspired by BAP who gives me the confidence to come forth with this. Nothing following is particularly incisiveness, though it is indicative of what we are dealing with. My sincerest request echoes BAP: do not submit to Jacobite.

My experience has been lackluster. I submitted two article ideas, one on dystopias and one on UBI. Mariani was more interested in the dystopian piece which was good since that is more in my wheelhouse. I got to reading and researching, including four novels and a very long non-fiction title so I had my head around the topic. You can see the blog article here. I’ve edited and added to it for the blog, but it is essentially the same piece. I made sure not to be biased in any way and cut anything that seemed a little too pro-right, as I had already sniffed out that Jacobite would be a hard sell on anything that veered too close to reaction. With that in mind I sent my first draft.

Now, Marinara is a competent editor, no doubt. He bashed my first draft quickly into place and made some astute editorial decisions. I listened and adapted. But given I was trying to avoid my own bias, I want to address what I see as a clear bias coming from the editorial process. Mariana took issue with my writing being too ‘spittle-flecked’ and too ‘wearing-a-cape-ish’ [sic]. Fine, but it would pay for a little consistency. If the issue is that too much opinion is coming through then I’d like to see the same standards across published articles. This article on NPCs essentially reads as follows: Personal anecdote; diatribe against right wingers; quotes from the Frankfurt school. That’s it. The point I’m making is that middle bit where the writer just goes off, completely opinionated, and yet here I am being told to remove an adjective. An interesting data point to note.

To call my use of the adjective ‘obnoxious’ spittle-flecked is, well, obnoxious. And OK, my opening allegory comparing modern publishing to dystopias is a little whimsical and I agreed to cut it, but it’s hardly worse than a lame, drawn-out story about some guy playing World of Warcraft. I get Mariani wants to come across as a legitimate journalist, but this is also the guy who hired Milo to write an opinion column. And we all know Milo ain’t right-wing.

I reject these rude comments, and I can confirm with confidence that there was no spittle around my mouth as I typed, nor did I laugh manically while twirling a shitty mustache (*cough*). What’s even worse is the professionalism around this editing as Mariani decided to subtweet my writing.

Hyperbole sure does get a lot of Likes. Clearly he is not a fan of my writing, and clearly I did not try hard enough to remove the bias. What he seems to like is very simply worded, straightforward articles. There is also this crutch for the articles to pick a philosophical/political text or two and quote bits and pieces to form an ‘argument’. These two pieces are good examples, and while I do not want to take away from the writers (both of whom are fine) they showcase the very narrow space that Jacobite articles want to inhibit (that is, shallow exegesis of possibly right-wing thinkers you might have heard of).  To be blunt, I used plenty of quotes and examples to back up my own conclusions and it is frustrating to be told that it is editorialized while other articles published on Jacobite lay on the opinion. It is quite rich to be told that my own conclusions are merely ‘bare assertion’ after I’ve spent a paragraph backing up the claim.

Even Kantbot will side with me, and below he’s talking about The Handmaid’s Tale while my example was as rip-off of that. Bare assertion my ass, Mariani.

While I do think Mariani is quite a good editor, at times it seemed he had trouble following my line of thinking (open to it being my fault, but as the process went on my doubts grew). If you look at the changes made below, the repetition of the word ‘state’ is a pretty obvious blunder, and the cliche to open the article is unimaginative to say the least.

I fully expect to be reprimanded in some way as a result of this exposé and I will no doubt be accused of ressentiment for not being published. I reject that claim; I am merely airing some dirty laundry. If you want to talk about ressentiment let us look no further than Mariani himself. That is, the WQ.

This piece by a mutual was published quickly, no discussion and little editing. Again, not to say it isn’t good, but notice what the subject matter is: women. More on women. Mariani’s piece on Kavanaugh, which was followed by another piece on the event.

Is it all a joke? Or an obsession? Well, there’s a little truth in every joke. And while you can find some truth on Jacobite, do not believe the gag that it is part of the dissident right.

Jacobite is really nothing more than a egotistical prank, a publication that purports to be above it all (the clue is in the nonsensical ‘post-political’ which implies they are better than mere politics) while wanting to feign its allegiance to the right. The whole project probably came from the whole Daily Caller incident and when Marianne discovered that Jacobites weren’t Jacobins (imagine the lightbulb moment). And like how Jacobin is just milquetoast articles from the left, Jacobite does the same for the right. Regarding Jacobin, the origin of its name ‘derives from the book The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by C. L. R. James in which James ascribes the Black Haitian revolutionists a greater purity in regards to their attachment to the ideals of the French Revolution than the French Jacobins.’ That is to say, more left than left. That is hardly the case as there are plenty of extreme leftist ideas they avoid publishing, much punching left (which might be a little to the right?) and even some articles that are downright reactionary.

Jacobite does the same for the right. It wants to coddle up, but can’t go too far, such as the aforementioned article on NPCs and the ‘review’ of BAP’s book. The excuse of overlapping ideas is weak, a ready-made escape pod should anything get too heated. Heck, even Quillette has more teeth than Jacobite (plus, they got an interview with Camille Paglia and Jacobite got another Logo review). Jacobite used Nick Land to get some early cred, but since then it’s been an constant litany of libertarian types and edgy communists. It’s unfathomable how anyone can read a McCrumplar piece without an aneurysm, yet I’m unintelligible? Fundamentally I think what Jacobite lacks is a sense of purpose. For example, Palladium Magazine appears to have purpose and it might do what Jacobite started out to do, but far better. If we look at Jacobite’s birth, it said that it wanted to feature articles on ‘…culture, politics and philosophy with a focus on “exit” — that is, building alternatives to systems rather than trying to lobby within them.’ Jacobite has lost its bearing. It isn’t rigorous with its science like Quillette. It does not care for the right like Social Matter. It does not fill any particular niche, and as such is little more than an outlet for various egos.

Do not be like me and follow your ego. It would be nice to have a byline somewhere, especially somewhere with considerable reach like Jacobite. But that’s just it. In order to have reach, it has settled somewhere towards the middle. Continue to blog and share and read fellow rightists work. Just don’t succumb to the lure of any false gatekeepers.  There is something to be said of false prophets, and as BAP says we do not need outsider curators.

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We Are All Communist Countries

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.

Rotate the globe so the octopus is over 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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Diversify Or Die

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.

Pulling Threads

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.

Screenshots from Westworld Season 2, Episode 2

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.