Month: November 2014

Keep digging: ISI employee Stephen Herreid doubles down on character assassination

Grand inquisitor, Intercollegiate Studies Institute employee, and amateur blues musician Stephen Herreid feels very threatened that I said he should apologize to Artur Rosman for this disgusting post, so he decided to publish my email to him and insinuate that I’m guilty of conservative treason. You can read it here. Honestly I think I come off pretty well.

I mentioned that he works at ISI and that I hoped the number of articles — really, there are a lot, this is not a one-off thing — he has written going after trads and porchers hadn’t been encouraged by his superiors; he says he found that “menacing.” Boo hoo. I know many who share the concern that the institution, for which I have great respect and have benefitted from professionally, not devolve into GOP/conservative movement boosterism of the sort Herreid seems to wish he was the vanguard of. He edited the acronym ISI out of my email to him, presumably because he knows what he’s doing is shameful, so I note it here in the hope that this sparks some conversation.

There’s a lot wrong with Herreid’s post; I said if he didn’t apologize he could expect to hear from the blog, by which I meant this space, not the Daily Caller, which is not a blog. He knows that, but frames the piece around the Daily Caller so he can claim I’m holding a double standard, criticizing him for his ad hominem attack while working for a publication founded and edited by a person who defended Romney’s 47 percent remark. I suspect he also knows that there’s a big difference between making an intellectual argument about tax-payers and tax-receivers and attacking the character of the poor.

He claims:

J. Arthur Bloom … criticized me in an email sent to my place of work, made allusions to my employers that I found menacing, and seemed to me to be trying to use a reputable, patriotic, pro-free-market publication to intimidate me into apologizing for my defense of the American way. I cannot respect that, even if Bloom does claim to represent a publication that I very much admire.

If Herreid thinks it’s necessary to treat Rosman the way he did to defend the American way, then there’s really nothing further to be said. The ends justify the means. Vote GOP. And if Herreid feels intimidated that I said I’d blog about him, well, maybe he’s not the brave defender Christendom needs.

The Mitrailleuse will continue to be a place where well-intentioned people of the left and right can discuss ways to get away from people who conduct themselves like Mr. Herreid.

Update: I’m reminded of something a wise person once wrote to me: “It is very easy to convince yourself that you’ve dealt handily with the devil without selling so much as an inch of your soul. But the devil knows the difference, and so do you.” Just so.

Scenes from the Fourth Rome

Many thanks to Billy Newton for showing me and the lady around Dumbarton Oaks yesterday.

The house was covered in scaffolding and the gardens were battened down for winter, so picture-taking conditions were sub-optimal, but these two pieces from the pre-Columbian Mesoamerica section caught my eye. The first is Mayan, the second is an Olmec transformation figure of a man-jaguar:


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Reading Tainter on collapse at the moment so here’s a related excerpt for you:

Although this is a recent development, it has analogies in past collapses, and these analogies give insight into current conditions. Past collapses, as discussed, occurred among two kinds of international political situations: isolated, dominant states, and clusters of peer polities. The isolated, dominant state went out with the advent of global travel and communication, and what remains now are competitive peer polities . Even if today there are only two major peers, with allies grouped into opposing blocs, the dynamics of the competitive relations are the same. Peer polities, such as post­ Roman Europe, ancient Greece and Italy, Warring States China, and the Mayan cities, are characterized by competitive relations, jockeying for position, alliance formation and dissolution, territorial expansion and retrenchment, and continual investment in military advantage. An upward spiral of competitive investment de­velops, as each polity continually seeks to outmaneuver its peer(s). None can dare withdraw from this spiral, without unrealistic diplomatic guarantees, for such would be only an invitation to domination by another. In this sense, although industrial society (especially the United States) is sometimes likened in popular thought to ancient Rome, a closer analogy would be with the Mycenaeans or the Maya.


Occam and Me on JFK and 9/11

(Thank you very much to J. Arthur Bloom, Prop. for the opportunity to write for The Mitrailleuse. My personal blog is Neoreaction in the Diamond Age)

The first reference to Occam’s Razor I ever saw, age 12, was in Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel, which sent me to the encyclopedia (and yes, I’m that old), because who could read the mysterious words “Occam’s Razor” and not be dying to know what it was?

I began reading about the assassination of President  Kennedy when I was 14, my interest sparked by Josiah Thompson‘s book Six Seconds in Dallas, which I found through the proven technique of a random walk through the public library stacks, scanning spines for anything that caught my eye and grabbing it. Who knows why or how these fascinations begin, but by the time I finished Thompson’s well-written and reasonable book I was hooked, leaning toward the “second gun” theory, and on the prowl for more of the seemingly endless supply of fact (and especially, fancy) on the events of November 22, 1963. (more…)

We should send the Swiss to space

I started a new blog with a couple of my fellow George Mason PhD students and friends. Well, they started it, I tagged along. You know it’s going to be awesome because of the name, Calculus of Dissent. The blog will be a bit more technical and academic oriented than here, focusing on our research. Given this is my blogging home and it fits my eclectic tastes rather well, most of my blogging will remain here.

My first post was on who we should send to colonize space. Hint, its the Swiss.

Consider the following thought experiment. Earth is dying, unable to further sustain human life. Mankind has thrown their last resources into creating a space ship that can reach a habitable planet. However, the space ship can only carry 10,000 people and little is known about the planet beyond gravity and oxygen levels. With the literal fate of humanity lying before us, who do we send and why?

My post was picked up by Nick Land who expressed shock and bemusement at my tone, though I suspect he agreed with my reasoning. I took that tone because as an economist playing the outside observer helps alleviate bias, as well as my perhaps naive belief that most people are reasonable.

I do not believe anything I wrote was terribly controversial, though that is perhaps more symptomatic of my bubble than anything else. Land seemed most surprised by my nonchalant tone arguing for sending a single culture to colonize space. What I said is not particularly controversial among economists. There is a large literature on the (negative) relationship between ethnic homogeneity and various outcomes.

The economic theory is fairly uncontroversial. People tend to trust their in groups more than out groups. High ethnic fractionalization is linked to low trust, among other things. This become especially problematic with modern states as no ethnic group wants to trust the other with state power. Mark Weiner gives a persuasive account of how an important aspect of the creation of the modern nation state was wiping out tribal affiliations.

The common sense theory is similarly uncontroversial. We would not want to send a stone age tribe which murders strangers to colonize a new world. Similarly, we can rank, though there would admittedly be some disagreement, which cultural groups have traits that are most likely to lead to success colonizing a new planet.

Basically, this is a long winded way of saying you should check out my new blog. Here it is again in case you’re lazy.

(Image source)

You’re bad and you should feel bad: Against the self-esteem movement

Americans have been complaining about the narcissistic culture among our nation’s youth for decades. We’ve been inundated with opinion pieces griping about how by coddling our precious cherubs from the moment they exit the womb to the day they graduate college, parents are raising the next generation to be overconfident, hypersensitive, and self-absorbed. Moored in a crisis of expectations, Millennials today are paralyzed in a state of indignant indecision, or worse, hedonistic indifference once they enter the real world, directionless and crippled by hubris and student debt.

Depending on your political ideology, you might dismiss such critiques as misguided liberal hysteria over the “dangers” of selfishness or conservative nostalgia for an imaginary era of boundless freedom in which everyone responded to challenges by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Or, maybe you just think it’s a basic human tendency for people to believe that the next generation is doomed to rot in its own degeneracy.

While it’s true that many social commentaries on narcissism are superficial and overwrought, there are reasons to be legitimately concerned about the weight our present society places on the importance of self-esteem. Systematically stuffing heads both big and small full of their own wondrousness, to borrow Will Stor’s phrasing from this excellent Medium piece, has led to troubling implications for our individual well-being and our relationship to the state.

As the analogy goes, fish often don’t perceive the water they are swimming in. Today, the belief that high self-esteem is an unparalleled good is so ingrained in the bedrock of American culture that few people realize that for most of human history, self-regard was not considered an integral factor in motivating people to work hard and succeed. Instead, with religion serving as society’s primary source of authority, the emphasis was on personal restraint and self-sacrifice. In their book Willpower, Roy Baumeister and John Tierney illustrate how religion offered us a predictable system of rules and responsibilities as well as a community to monitor and enforce self-discipline.

By the middle of the twentieth century, this system fell out of vogue as modernization stripped traditional sources of morality of their power. In need of a new prism from which to make sense of the world, we adopted a new moral framework, what James L. Nolan calls “therapeutic emotivism” in which the self became the touchstone of cultural judgment. As Charles Rogers described, “No longer is society something the self must adjust to; it is now something the self must be liberated from…Where once the self was to be surrendered, denied, sacrificed, and died to, now the self is to be esteemed, actualized, affirmed, and unfettered.” (Nolan 19)

With the rise of the humanistic approach to psychology in the 1970s, psychiatrists and psychologists replaced priests and pastors by the dozens and the human potential movement was born. Nathaniel Branden, a Canadian psychotherapist and Ayn Rand’s closest associate for many years, ushered in the mainstream self-esteem movement in 1969 with his international bestseller, The Psychology of Self-Esteem. In it, he wrote that self-regard “has profound effects on a man’s thinking processes, emotions, desires, values and goals. It is the single most significant key to his behavior.”