Month: June 2014

Monarchists and libertarians

There is an odd development in some certain libertarian circles, an embrace of monarchy. The standard argument is that monarchies are more likely to have libertarian policies because the country is closer to private than in a democracy. The monarch has a long time horizon, wanting to maximize the value of his country for his children (first male child?), while the politicians in a democracy have a time horizon of just the next election. While the argument is plausible on its face, it contains many implicit assumptions which, once shown, demonstrate the silliness of the idea.

The piece that provoked my ire is by the Mad Monarchist, writing on libertarian monarchy. He begins with a misreading of history, or at the very least, very misplaced values:

In the past, I have touched on how the very monarchial Middle Ages was perhaps the closest the world has ever come to the totally privatized society that many libertarians dream of.

He does not name any of these libertarian monarchical societies, so I am forced to speculate on what they are. Nevertheless, it shows a very bad misreading of history. The most important event since the neolithic revolution was the industrial revolution. Prior to the industrial revolution man lived in the world of Malthus. Sustained per capita economic growth was unheard of. Any increase in production meant an increase in population, not the standard of living. This changed with England.


Nationalize pop music!

[Trigger warning]

So a ‘cultural theorist’ walks into Trader Joe’s:

As I was standing in line, I heard the jaunty marimba of the Rolling Stones’ 1966 smash hit, “Under My Thumb.” We’ve all heard the song 1,000 times — it’s a very catchy tune, from a talented, superstar band. But it also features lyrics that are not exactly friendly toward women. As I listened, I thought about how the song plays in the wake of Elliot Rodger’s killing spree, fueled, as the killer explained in a lengthy manifesto, by his rage against women and desire to control them.

The author is a senior editor at Alternet — a site most famous for listicles about how the right-wing wants to starve your children — and holds a PhD from NYU in English and cultural studies.

One imagines a moment in this kind of doctoral program, somewhere near the end of your coursework, in which you’re brought into a room and given the OT III (you know, the level in Scientology where you find out about Xenu and the volcano) of cultural studies, the powerful hex-like phrase “in the wake of,” which is used twice in this piece to connect two totally unrelated events; an allegedly misogynistic song, and a spree killer with four male victims and two female ones.

She continues:

What kinds of messages do we think are OK today in 2014? Why should I have to hear about a guy comparing his girlfriend to a dog while I’m buying vegetables?

I decided to ask Trader Joe’s this question. Just so they would know I wasn’t making things up, I printed out the lyrics to “Under My Thumb” and brought them into the store with me. I was directed to a young man named Kyle Morrison at the manager’s station, to whom I explained in friendly terms that I was a frequent shopper and that I had heard a song playing over the sound system which, in the wake of the Elliot Rodger killing spree, made me feel uncomfortable. I told him the name of the song, and offered him the paper with the lyrics.

The story is amusing on so many levels, from the befuddled staff, to Dr. Parramore explaining the feminist conceit that her disliking a song makes it “offensive to women,” to the young employee referring her to the company that actually put together the playlist, because what chain grocer of sound management would trust its workers not to offend cultural studies doctorates?


The priest in the civil religion



While some have argued that Christianity is the national faith, and others that church and synagogue celebrate only the generalized religion of “the American Way of Life,” few have realized that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America. This article argues not only that there is such a thing, but also that this religion-or perhaps better, this religious dimension-has its own seriousness and integrity and requires the same care in understanding that any other religion does.

— Robert Bellah, Civil Religion in America

Without Gods, no oaths may stand,” is the substance one of Aristophenes’ arguments — a false one perhaps — against Socrates, immortalized in his satirical play “The Clouds.” The Masons, though perhaps not believing Aristophenes’ accusation itself did understand his point. The point being, that when men with no interest in helping you agree to help you, if you expect them to keep their promise, there must be something that binds them to it. The Romans and Greeks very explicitly believed in the social technology of religion — even if they held in contempt various aspects of it.

Atheists do spend some time in apology against this point, since it would seem to them perhaps to be a ‘cheap argument’ like Pascal’s Wager is considered to be. The gist is that we religious folks are shoehorning religious superstition in on the technicality that without it, contracts that cannot be backed up with force become impossible. The arguments against this are numerous; personal anecdotes, kinds of agreements between kin, etc. However even Atheists would acknowledge that the principle of outside force — a third party of some sort — is necessary to ensure vows are fulfilled. Arguing one’s own personal nobility or praxis of kingroups is not a solution to the problem of a polyglot nation needing to ensure plundering is not routine.


Exits, left and right

In a previous post, exit and ideology, I argued that exit should be framed as a leftist value. My colleague, Ezra Jones, responded, pointing out my failure to define terms as well as attempting to counter my arguments. It is always interesting to read critiques of your work as readers often have a different impression than what one is trying to convey. Perhaps this is indicative of my writing ability more than anything else; however, I will attempt to clarify my meaning before responding to his objections.

I implicitly defined exit as a particular institutional arrangement of small separate communities with a low cost of exiting your community and entering a new one. This is a rather constrained definition, but the one Scott Alexander used in his essay which inspired mine.

I was admittedly sloppy in my use of left and liberalism. Part of the reason is an inability of mine to fully understand some distinctions. Another reason is my inability to articulate distinctions I have an intuitive understanding of. Here I will try to define the left through two aspects, change and progress. Change is the original defining feature of the left, coming from Paine’s arguments with Burke. Progress is more difficult, but I understand it as a general improving of the human condition.

Jones’ main charge is that exit, as I identify, is more interested in conservation than change. While a fair charge given what I wrote, I’m afraid I failed to fully communicate my vision. First, as a more technical point, exit itself is a radical concept given the current world order. Allowing peaceful secession, even if to preserve ethnic identity, is nearly unprecedented in history. This suggests a closer affinity to the left than Jones seems willing to admit.


Sacred Harp: ‘Dublin’

Well, OK, technically it’s called ‘Lebanon’ in what Sacred Harp books have it (there’s also another ‘Lebanon,’ in the more widely circulated ones, so try not to get confused). It’s called ‘Dublin,’ number 13, in William Walker’s Southern Harmony, which is the book I have. Still others have it listed as ‘Coleshill‘ or simply ‘England.’ The lyrics are by Isaac Watts, and it’s very old. This rendition by Shenandoah Harmony.

Lord, what is man, poor feeble man!
Born of earth at first;
His life a shadow, light and vain,
Still hastening the dust.

O what is feeble, dying man?
Or any of his race,
That God should make it his concern
To visit him with grace.

That God who darts his lightnings,
Who shakes the worlds above,
And mountains tremble at his frown,
How wondrous is his love!

Exits, the left, and liberalism

Earlier this week, my colleague Mark Lutter attempted to make an impassioned case for the left to embrace the political practice of “exit,” while not making much of an effort to define it in a way that a leftist could make much sense of it.  I say this not because the practice itself is incomprehensible to the left, but because leftist ideas of mass “exit” are already in existence in so many places.  The Scottish National Party leans heavily to the left, as do the Bloc et Parti Québécois*.  The current efforts for Catalan independence are being spearheaded by a leftist party, the Republican Left of Catalonia, with backing from the pragmatic Convergence and Union. SYRIZA, the leftist coalition in Greece led by Alexis Tsipras (above), is pushing hard for a general election after success in European elections last month, so as to set up a possible exit from the European Union after being under severe austerity in recent years. The list goes on.

Of course, with the exception of SYRIZA (which we’ll get to in a moment), one could argue that most of these secessionist efforts are ethnically oriented, and perhaps not what is meant by “exit” in Lutter’s mind. So, let us look at the more basic terminology, the act of free dissociation. Lutter rightly points out that exit was previously associated with the classical left. The Paris Commune of 1871 could be framed as one of the better leftist representations of that from the time period: A dissociation from the nascent Third French Republic in order to protect the interests and livelihoods of the city’s workers from the political machinations of the majority-rural French population.

However, Lutter is not interested in the left of modern times, even though it still exists — albeit as a marginalized fringe group — in American politics.  Liberalism and progressivism, strains of political thought that are often haphazardly associated with the left, are Lutter’s true concern. Yet, both those philosophies are completely incompatible with the concept of “exit.” Why? The answer falls on the basis of what purpose “exit” serves. Lutter’s use of the term “survival” nails the principle: “Exit,” in his mind, serves as an act of self-preservation from change, or from the pressure to change. It serves as a means to survive upheaval of one’s way of life because of these changes.

The important thing to understand about liberal thinking, be it economic liberalism or social progressivism, is that its purpose is to instigate change itself, or at least embrace it. In the liberal’s mind, to allow any and all persons** to opt out of these changes defeats the purpose of making changes to begin with. Their primary act of self-preservation, and often their means of advancing change, is accommodation and compromise. In essence, “exit” by Lutter’s terms is a defense against liberalism, even if one were to create liberal communities as he and Scott Alexander suggested.