Whiteness is not property: deconstructing critical race theory

              By Lorenzo

              This is a long post, in part because I do not have time to write a short one. It is a response to a 1993 Harvard Law Review essay by Cheryl L. Harris arguing for the notion of whiteness as property. I not only critique that claim, doing so gives me an opportunity to demonstrate the?problems with?the?treatment of “race” by the critical race theory/intersectionalism/identity/diversity streams of thought that the essay is an example of.

              Normally, when I discover a Law Review article on a matter I am concerned with, I am pleased. Law Review articles tend to be thorough, strongly evidence-based, with careful interrogation of key concepts, being thus very useful. The?Columbia?Law Review?article “Polygamy, Prostitution and the Federalization of Immigration Law” (pdf) on immigration bars on Chinese entry, for example, epitomises these virtues.

              Read More »

              ‘The Earth Below’ – now available for purchase

              By Legal Eagle

              I’m proud to say that my debut novel, ‘The Earth Below’, is now available for purchase, through my publishers, Ligature Pty Ltd, here. There are also links on Ligature’s page to other outlets, including Amazon, iBooks and Kobo.

              I’d like to thank the illustrator of this brilliant cover, Terry Rogers, and Matt Rubenstein of Ligature for doing such a fantastic job with it. It looks AMAZING. And it has been polished until it sparkles by Matt and Helen Dale (our very own Skepticlawyer).?On Ligature’s website, the book is described as follows:

              “Almost a century after the Catastrophe, a group of survivors have built a new society deep in the safety of the underground network.

              Marri knows the rules are there to keep their population healthy and growing, but they don’t leave much room for attraction—let alone love. Her duty is no match for her desire, and now her life is in danger. Can she escape the world below—and what will she find if she does?

              The Earth Below is a dystopia, an adventure and a love story that introduces a thrilling new voice in young adult fiction.

              Commended for the Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript 2016.”

              If you read it and like it, please?review it on Goodreads here or on your local Amazon page. In any case, I do hope you enjoy it. And if you just want a taster – try before you buy! – a sample of Chapter 1 is available on my website here.


              Bravado in the absence of order

              By Lorenzo

              Areo magazine has published another essay of mine, Bravado in the Absence of Order, which examines why African-American urban communities have such high rates of homicide and other violence. The essay uses medieval history, and contemporary societies other than the US, to illuminate social patterns that are less clear if one just looks at the US in isolation.

              Taster: The Earth Below

              By Legal Eagle

              My novel,?The Earth Below, will soon be published (probably by the end of the month).

              It’s a Young Adult dystopian novel for older teens, following the adventures of Marri and her friend Felix as they try to survive in their oppressive underground community.

              I’ve put up an extract from Chapter 1 on my personal website at the bottom of the page. I’ll do another post when the book is released.

              Piety display not virtue signalling

              By Lorenzo

              I have an essay in Areo Magazine arguing that piety display is often a more accurate term than virtue signalling for what people are typically referring to. The piece then examines the dynamics of, and the reasons for, political correctness. Read it here.

              Migration complexities and the campaigns against social bargaining

              By Lorenzo

              This is based on a comment I made?here.

              Coming from a country (Australia) with a?much higher proportional?immigration flow than the US, I find US debates over migration odd.

              First, the level of illegal immigration in the US is clearly a huge problem. It distorts the debate, creates a black market in labour and gives lots of voters the feeling of having no effective say (because they don’t). Without effective border control, and with significant inflows of illegal migrants, the effective value of the lever of the ballot is greatly reduced, and and ordinary voters have no other lever other than the vote to influence a policy area fundamental to the future evolution of any polity.

              Second, treating immigrants as an undifferentiated mass is just silly. I know economics lends itself to that, with people as interchangeable utility-maximising machines, but what is missed is that culture affects framing, expectations and preferences so that the same situation can create quite different incentives to people of different cultural heritages. (See, for example, the?ethnic complexities?in who voted?leave?in the?Brexit 2016 vote.)

              It is an observable fact that, for example, (1) different groups of migrants have?different crime rates?and (2) mainstream Sunni Muslims, given that mainstream Sunni Islam is a religion of domination, create problems no other group of migrants do, and the more so the proportionately larger group they are. (As adherents of “permanent minority” forms of Islam?Ibadis,?Alevis,?Ismailis?and?Ahmmadis?are not an issue: they have gone down the same path that rabbinical Judaism did, abandoning the tendency to become homicidally enraged over God’s law being trumped by pagan/goy/infidel law.)

              Denmark, for example,?seems determined to be?not-Sweden and to minimise the welfare/crime/cultural difference costs of migration. Cultural difference costs are particularly significant when operating?a welfare model?which effectively requires high degree of cultural homogeneity to work in order to minimise?free riding?and maximise information flows between officials and recipients.

              Third, treating migrants as having no (negative) effect on incentives within the country of receipt is just silly. For example, the combination of lots of non-voting housing market entrants with?positional goods is more or less guaranteed to create regulatory restrictions on the supply of housing land, with consequent upward effects on rents and house-prices.?An effect likely to be particularly strong in coast cities with nice hills: economist Paul Krugman’s?Zoned Zoned versus Flatland?effect.?[Which means more of GDP?goes to land rent.]

              Fourth, I am deeply sceptical about “(all) migrants are (always) an economic positive” arguments. See the point about migrants not being an undifferentiated mass, the effect on housing markets, variable social welfare costs and differentiated effects on residents depending on access to capital and place of residence.

              Obviously significant migration is a positive to capital holders if it thereby increase the relative scarcity premium from such capital. The effect on labour income is rather more complicated.? For high levels of migration on labour income to?not?lead to lower-that-it-would-otherwise-be income from labour for the resident providers of labour requires that demand for?their?labour increase, even though the overall supply of labour is increasing due to the inflow of other providers of labour. Robert Fogel, in his?Without Consent or Contract?(which I reviewed?here) provided strong evidence that mass C19th migration to the US was not good for native-born workers.

              Australian migration policy is essentially set up to not disturb the capital/labour balance. (We are the only country in the Western world, that is not a micro-state, whose migrants?are a net gain to average human capital.)

              Fifth, even in Australia, where popular opinion is generally strongly pro-migrant (but not illegal migrant: conflating the two issues poisons migration debates[and polling results are tending towards?having less migration?[pdf]), the congestion costs are beginning to wear away at support for current levels of migration. Making sure your physical, social and political infrastructure is up to a significant migrant influx is actually quite difficult. Especially as aforementioned housing market effect actually militates against having adequate physical infrastructure (by raising its costs and lowering its tax revenue benefit). The US political system does not strike me as currently functional enough to well manage such. The EU political system(s) in some ways, even less so.

              Sixth, when reviewing “migration is a net positive” papers, relevant questions to ask are:

              (1) Does it differentiate between effects on labour income and capital income for the existing residents? If the answer is no, the paper is useless to the point of effective dishonesty, as who gets what benefit (and what costs) is crucial to understanding the effects of migration. Even if it does look at resident labour and capital income effects separately, does it incorporate wage stickiness effects? In particular, does it incorporate that the most likely negative effect on labour income from migration is not to lower wages, but to block their rise? Merely observing that there is little evidence that wages are being actually?lowered?is not, in itself, proof that wages are not being “flattened”.? See?here?for a relatively simple model which works from precisely that effect.

              (2) Does it measure the fiscal/welfare effects? Including any crowding or congestion effects on access to government services and support? Different migrants groups and profiles have very different effects on demand and use of welfare services. It is not helpful, or even analytically sensible, to treat immigrants, in the felicitous words of?one study?(pdf), “as a homogeneous huddled mass”.

              (3) Does it measure crime/distrust effects? Raising the level of ethnic diversity tends to decrease levels of social trust which tends to increase the level of crime?even if the newcomers commit less crimes on average?than the existing residents. If an incoming group has a higher tendency to commit crimes than the residents, the effect is magnified. (And popular views of relative level of criminality among different migrants groups can be?relatively accurate?[pdf], though in the US general stereotypes about migrants seems?to be dominated by?[pdf] perceived patterns among Hispanic migrants.)?These effects are, however, likely to be highly localised, with little or no impact on national crime trends, which again points to distributional effects mattering. Though enough localised effects can start adding up, as in Britain’s?rape gang scandals.?[CORRECTION: It appears that economist Bryan Caplan’s?criticism of?Putnam’s?original paper?on diversity was spot on, that it is not diversity per se which lowers trust, but?other features associated with?high migrant neighbourhoods: which adjusts, rather than refutes, the point.]

              (4) Does it incorporate infrastructure effects? If the paper effectively assumes that physical, social and political infrastructure is infinitely flexible, then it is pushing nonsense on stilts. Simply considering physical infrastructure effects alone, as noted above, the effect of raising the proportion of housing entrants who are non-voters in a situation of positional goods (normal in coastal cities, for example, particularly if there are also scenic-hill effects) greatly increases the likelihood of regulatory limitation of use of land for housing which raises the (opportunity) cost of building infrastructure (as the value of land-for-housing is increased) and reduces the net revenue value of building infrastructure (as regulatory restriction of land use drives up value of taxes on such land in itself).

              In my own city of Melbourne, for example, anyone outside the inner city “bubble” is well aware that (1) traffic congestion has got noticeably worse in recent years and (2) the main reason is the failure of transport infrastructure to keep up with the migrant inflow. So people are experiencing, from more and more time spent in heavy traffic, a significant daily cost to them from high levels of migration.

              As for political infrastructure, there was much pointing and laughing/sneering that anti-migrant sentiment was an element in the Brexit vote, yet support for leaving?was highest in areas with?the least number of migrants.?There is no contradiction here; if people observe that issues connection to migration take up a great deal of public debate and attention, but there are very few migrants in their area, then that means all that debate and attention is directed?away?from where they live. An example of the point about political infrastructure not being infinitely flexible.

              Status sacralising

              What makes all this worse is that members of what economic historian Thomas Piketty?calls?The Brahmin Left?(pdf), but I prefer to think of as?Brahmin Progressivism?(since key ideas are neither?Enlightenment-based nor class-framed, so not “Left” in the sense that applied from?1789?to?1991), have become addicted to using migration as a sacred idea (especially the sacred value of “diversity”) for Brahmin Progressivism’s moralised, taboo-generating status claims. (Taking the notion and use of ‘sacred’ from social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, see?here?[pdf].)

              Migration is moved out of the realm of social bargaining, operating according to various perceptions and calculations of costs and benefits, and moved into the realm of sacred status-markers where disagreement with any key status-marker position is direct evidence of?sin, and one does not, of course, bargaining with?sinners!?because that is to negotiate with evil. This secular sacralisation (in this case of diversity) creates, for example,?sinful books.

              Suggesting that diversity has costs, that different migrants groups tend to provide different costs and benefits, even that there should be effective border enforcement, all become attacks on the sacredness of diversity (which, being sacred, cannot be discussed in terms of trade-offs without being tainted). Diversity should also, of course, being sacred, reach everywhere. But not, “obviously”,?cognitive?diversity, because that means sin and evil. This despite cognitive diversity being the form of diversity which?studies regularly find?does?have positive benefits while?the forms of diversity which?are?sacralised have no identifiable?connection with, for example, better decision-making or group performance. But such benefits-and-costs analysis are not to be permitted to taint the sacred value of diversity.

              Economic papers that essentially “leave out” the hard bits of the effects of significant levels of migration become one-sided chips to be played in in these sacralised status games. They become, rather than contributions to public debate, weapons in a drive to undermine the operation, even the concept, of effective social bargaining?over migration conceived as manifesting the sacred value of diversity.?[And the politics of migration are?hard hard enough?as it is.]

              There is a religion-size hole in many?WEIRD?psyches and, to a significant degree, in Western societies in general. Using politics to feed that hole is disastrous, as politics is about the arrangement and direction of society via public policy, so politics-as-substitute-religion turns policy and politics, not into a system of bargaining and trade-offs, but an exercise in personal salvation centred around barred-from-trade-offs sacred objects and involving a (naturally escalating) war against sin and sinners.

              It would be helpful if economists played a little less into such games and rather more into grappling with the genuine complexities of migration.? After all, the Western world has previously gone through a period where politics became about salvation and wars against sin, and?it was not a happy experience.


              [Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

              Marx at 200 Robespierre at 260

              By Lorenzo

              This year is the 200th Anniversary of the birth of?Karl Marx?(1818-1883). A?recent biography?of Marx (reviewed?here) places him very much as a man of his time. It is a sign of the success of Marx that his legacy is still so debated; it is a sign of his failure that defending Marx involves separating him, and his ideas, from the record of mass murder and tyranny of regimes calling themselves?Marxist.

              The latter line of apologia has a major problem: the?prescient predictions?of various of his contemporaries about where his ideas (and his?praxis) would lead. If perceptive contemporaries could perceive the potential for disaster in his ideas in advance, it seems a bit otiose to deny the connection in retrospect.

              Conclusions becoming premises
              Part of the problem is that Marx was not ideologically consistent. His ideas of proper social goals become somewhat more grandiose and totalising over time. So, one can cite earlier writings as a defence against the implications and influence of the later writings. Which leads into the “good intentions” defence—if we cite Marx’s morally engaging statements, we can then claim that clearly he has nothing to do with what was done in his name (see?here). Marx, after all, did famously state that he was not a Marxist.

              But neither was?Freud?a Freudian, or?Kuhn?a Kuhnian and so on. This is the progression pointed out by?Etienne Gilson?(1884-1978)—the conclusions of the master are the premises of the disciple. Which is a very old pattern. When?Philo of Alexandria?used Greek natural law theory to effectively re-write the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), rejecting the rabbinical oral tradition and proposing a claim that sits poorly with the actual text, one can see both old and new interpretations in his own writing (in?On Abraham?XXVI-XXIX). Those that followed just took his natural law imposition on the text and dropped the complexities. As can be seen in?St John Chrysostom’s homilies?on?Romans. So, what had been a story about God destroying societies which were anti-moral, which actively punished good behaviour, became a story about how people of the same sex having sex was treason against the purposes of the Creator (hence worthy of death). Which Philo himself, in his polemical war with Greek religious and sexual culture, was clearly just fine with (see?Special Laws?III: VII).

              So, conclusions have consequences. Hence?Bakunin?(1814-1876) and other contemporaries picking accurately where Marx’s ideas would lead. It is misleading and dangerous to put so much weight on stated intentions, especially?moral?intentions as it is precisely the making-trumps element of morality which makes it so potentially oppressive. How things are framed (especially how other people are characterised), the means extolled, scale of the purposes embraced: these all matter at least as much, and often rather more, than intentions, however morally engaging they might be. But we live in an age where many people are deeply invested in moral entitlement status games based on their ostentatious moral intentions.

              The Left that was
              From 1789 to 1991, across the long C19th (1789-1914) and the short C20th (1914-1991), the term?Left?in politics had broadly consistent referents. The term started off with?who sat where?in the?French National Assembly. The 1789-1991 Left was, in all its forms, a product of the?Enlightenment?and largely framed its moral and social analysis in terms of class. It was divided between the Radical Enlightenment; those who believed that applied human reason could transform man, that human nature was plastic to applied social action: and the Sceptical Enlightenment; those who believed that human reason could improve human social conditions but nevertheless had to deal with humanity as it was and had been.

              This division, and associated (albeit often implicit) claims about human nature, went at least as far back as the Grandee-Leveller?Putney Debates?(1647) during the English Civil Wars with?Henry Ireton?(1611-1651) leading the Grandees, and?Thomas Rainsborough?(1610-1648), leading the?Levellers. The?antinomian?aspirations and totalitarian tendencies of the Radical Enlightenment Left went even further back, to the radical heresy movements so brilliantly analysed by historian Norman Cohn in?The Pursuit of the Millennium.

              But that the Left did not erupt?ex nihilo?does not invalidate that there was a coherent Left in European and European-derived politics across the two centuries from 1789 to 1991—a product of the Enlightenment among whom various class-framings of politics and moral action were dominant. That Left has remarkably little in common with contemporary progressivism, as it has abandoned class framings and embraced Post-Enlightenment ideas (often, somewhat over-narrowly, labelled?postmodernism). If one resurrected Karl Marx—or, for that matter?Lenin?(1870-1924) or?Keir Hardie?(1856-1915)—they would find familiar and congenial remarkably few of the concerns and obsessions of contemporary progressivism.

              Conversely, if one resurrected?Adolf Hitler?(1889-1945), he would absolutely find familiar the concerns of contemporary progressivism. He would, of course, have a somewhat different take (apart from blame-the-Jews and a functional preference for Islam and Muslims over Christianity and Christians) but the concerns of contemporary progressivism (sex, the stories we tell about sex aka gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, population movements, environmentalism and the valorisation of nature, identity, subjectivity and emotion over reason) were absolutely his concerns. Nor is this some sort of weird outcome; it flows naturally from the reality that the Post-Enlightenment, with its concern for emotion, experience and subjectivity, is the?Counter-Enlightenment?rebooted and Hitler was the embodiment of the Counter-Enlightenment as a political project.

              The Jacobin curse
              While I do not agree with anything close to an absolute separation of Marx’s ideas from the history of the attempt to operationalise them, it is still an error to put all the blame on Marx. For there was another figure whose influence on politics across those two centuries, and beyond, has been more disastrous.

              That was Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) who, along with his political associates, such as?Louis Saint-Just?(1767-1794), created, not merely as conception but as practice, the?Jacobin?model of politics. The Jacobin model of politics is politics unlimited in means and unlimited in scope. That, is, politics willing to engage in any level of killing and repression, and willing to expand into any aspect of society and social interaction, to achieve its ends. A model of politics which relies on its sense of profound moral purpose to justify its refusal to accept limits in means and scope and, somewhat more implicitly, relies on its sense of profound social understanding to give the required confidence that what what it does will lead where it intends.

              That Marx’s ideas were profoundly congenial for the Jacobin model of politics is obvious. They bring together both the sense of profound, trumping moral purpose and the sense of profound understanding of human social dynamics. Lenin very?explicitly?saw himself?as applying?Jacobin?politics?to Marx’s ideas as the necessary way to operationalise them. A bringing together that successfully established the first enduring explicitly Marxist regime and led to, at its height, a third of humanity being ruled by such regimes. A bringing together, furthermore, that many, many intellectuals who regarded themselves as followers of Marx implicitly or explicitly endorsed.

              Not all, of course;?Rosa Luxemburg?(1871-1919)?famously demurred. But her murder amidst the failure of the?Spartacus?uprising both silenced her voice and associated her ideas with failure. And those political Parties which were officially Marxist, but remained committed to democratic?praxis, came to abandon Marx’s ideas. Something of a hint there, methinks.

              The reality is, Marx’s ideas were ideally suited for the Jacobin temptation and it has been only by acceding to that path that they have come anywhere near implementation. Of course, the conjunction turned out to be nothing like any form of human liberation: a warning in itself. It is, moreover, a general problem: what looks like Morality’s Empire so easily and recurrently becomes Moral Tyranny and then simply Tyranny. Marx’s ideas had particularly weak barriers to that progression. On the contrary, they slid down it oh, so easily.

              But the poisonous influence of the Jacobin model extends well beyond the history of Leninism and its offshoots.?Italian Fascism?and?German Nazism?both represented the application of the Jacobin model to political projects: in the case of Fascism, to the project of Italian nationalism. In the case of Nazism, to the project of Aryan racial supremacy. If Lenin was Marx+Robespierre,?Mussolini?was?Mazzini+Robespierre and and Hitler was?Houston Stewart Chamberlain+Robespierre.

              Of the three meldings of the Jacobin model of politics to political projects, Italian Fascism was by far the?least?morally and humanly disastrous. That was because?Giuseppe Mazzini?(1805-1872) was by far the most liberal thinker, compared to Marx or?Chamberlain?(1855-1927), and Italian nationalism was by far the most limited political project of the three.

              Hiding from oneself
              One of the purposes in the promiscuous use of the term?Fascist!, even to claiming that German Nazism (whose victims number in the millions and whose ambitions ignited a world war) and Italian Fascism (whose domestic victims numbered in the hundreds and whose ambitions led to minor wars of opportunistic conquest) were just instances of the same phenomena, morally indistinguishable from each other, is to obscure the fact that, without Nazism, no modern political movement had remotely the record of tyranny and mass murder of various forms of Leninist regimes. It is deeply embarrassing to leave intensive manifestations of the Left as the peak of mass murderous tyranny, hence the endless invocations of?Fascism!?and of racism as the worst sin ever.

              It is even more embarrassing to note that what made Nazism so horrible was not how different it was from the radical Left, but how?similar?it was. The grandeur of its ambitions for social transformation, the intensity of its mobilisation of society, the depth of its organised penetration of social institutions, all these were far more like the radical Left than any part of the broad non-Left (aka Right).

              Nazi Germany institutionally resembled the Soviet Union far more than it did any of the Western democracies. Even now, as the People’s Republic of China retreats from command economics, it increasingly institutionally resembles Nazi Germany, without the Jew-hatred and?Lebensraum?ambitions (whatever its South China Sea ambitions, barely anyone actually lives there). Though the overseas Chinese communities provide some potential for?irredentist?politics.

              So, it is very expedient for progressivists to shout “Fascism!” a lot and treat racism as the worst-thing-ever; to talk about Marx’s intentions and ignore the prescience of his contemporary critics. And do it even louder so as to obscure the abandonment of the concerns of the Enlightenment Left and the adoption of those of the Counter-Enlightenment, politically personified in Adolf Hitler. With?Paul de Man?(1919-1983),?Heidegger?(1889-1976) and?Carl Schmitt?(1888-1985), not to mention environmentalism, even providing ideological bridges.

              A lot of the moral outrage and moral tub-thumping of contemporary progressivism is about hiding unfortunate political resonances and commonalities: above all, from themselves. But they are people obsessed with their sense of moral status and entitlement burbling endlessly on about equality; so there is a lot of cognitive dissonance to be hidden: above all, from themselves.

              Is-people versus Ought-people
              The history of the Jacobin model, of grand moral intentions and social understandings, gives us plenty of insights and warnings. But that is so only if you are an?is-person who thinks that history is what has happened; that human nature is fairly consistent, so history is a source of warning and insight. If you are an?ought-person, who elevates moral intentions as the measure of all things, for whom is history is about the glorious imagined and intentioned future, not limited by the constraints of human nature, then this is just a catalogue of past sins with which the well-intentioned need not concern themselves. And so they don’t, except to distance themselves from it.

              Which also makes then not the people you want in charge of anything serious, given how many facts and historical lessons they are hiding from; so it is worrying how much they are now in charge of the culturally significant. In their informative and fun?How Women Got Their Curves, the authors observe that:

              the?Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that?entropy?or disorder increases in natural systems unless energy is available to counteract this process, applies to organisms no less than to nonliving, physical systems.

              And also applies to social systems created by organisms. The assiduous efforts, in the name of morality’s empire, to exclude people and concerns from social life, the war on inconvenient facts, the pervasive attack on the wellsprings of culture: folk pursuing such are an increasingly pervasive force for social entropy, and not in any good way.

              A certain sense of impending slow disaster seems appropriate, this 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, 260th anniversary of Robespierre’s birth and 231st anniversary of Robespierre’s election to the?Estates-General of the Kingdom of France.


              ADDENDA: Branko Milanovic?reminds us that, without Engels Marx might have passed into obscurity and without Lenin Marx would have nowhere near the global significance his thought achieved.

              [Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

              A misconceived attack on libertarianism

              By Lorenzo

              Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay have produced a?Manifesto Against the Enemies of Modernity. There is much to agree with in it but at least one part is thoroughly misconceived, which is the attack on libertarianism.

              Such an attack is a strange thing to read in such a manifesto, for if any ideology seems a product of modernity it is?libertarianism, an intense form of liberalism. The heroes of libertarianism are very much modern figures, with the earliest thinker being regularly invoked being C17th philosopher?John Locke. Some of the more historically minded might cite the?Salamanca School, but for their economic reasoning, and perhaps some of their?natural law?reasoning, not their Catholicism.

              Indeed, the most potentially fruitful lines of attack on libertarianism would be to accuse it of being a particularly autistic manifestation of modernity. “Dissident right” blogger Zman let’s loose with a blast along those lines?here.

              Yet Pluckrose and Lindsay line up the libertarians (or at least a significant strain of such thought)?with the?premodern right:

              Premodernism valorizes simplicity and purity that it imagines in terms of Natural roles, Laws, and Rights. It feels these have been subverted by the growth of institutions and complex social structures. It also deeply distrusts expertise for a wide variety of complicated reasons, including a certain self-assured and yet self-pitying resentment of sociocultural betterment, the undermining of “Natural” roles, the questioning and challenging of traditional values, and engineering in the social, cultural, and political spheres.

              In the case of libertarians, particularly, a major influence is the political theory of Friedrich Hayek, who saw the increasing centralized regulation by government in the more recent Modern period as a gradual return to serfdom which threatens to bring about totalitarianism. In?The Road to Serfdom, he argues, mirroring the postmodernists, that knowledge and truth is, in this way, inextricably linked to and constructed by power structures. Here and in?The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek levied influential but profoundly dubious criticisms of rationalism in the forms of the expertise used in the planning and organization of socio-economic programs because, he argued, man’s knowledge is always limited. He warned that rationalism pushes a form of destructive perfectionism which disregards older traditions and values and restricts individual liberty.

              The Road to Serfdom?is not a very long book, yet remarkably often gets misrepresented. It is not a screed against regulation, still less against the welfare state, but against centralised economic planning. And if you think there is something wrong with the thesis that command economies and free societies (including democracy) are incompatible, I refer you to the right-in-front-of-our-eyes case?of Venezuela.

              It is many years since I read the book, but I do not remember any “mirroring the postmodernists” about knowledge and truth.?Hayek‘s point was that command economies, by their nature, suppress and distort information, a key claim in the?economic calculation debate.

              The dispersed nature of knowledge was a key part of his thinking, distilled in his classic (and highly influential) 1945 essay?The Use of Knowledge in Society.? Hayek’s point about the limitations of states as users and shapers of information have since been revisited by?James C. Scott?(no libertarian he) in his contemporary classic?Seeing Like A State.


              Modernity or modernism?

              It is useful to distinguish between?modernity, well characterised by Pluckrose and Lindsay, and?modernism?which can be distilled down to the presumption that new is always better. That before the?Scientific Revolution?and the?Enlightenment, before the rise of modernity, humanity had failed to discover any useful about the human condition or human societies, it was all a fog of ignorance and superstition which needs to be rejected root-and-branch. It is an arrogant vice of modernity, which has been at times highly destructive and given us the recurring horrors of modern architecture.

              To point out that our ancestors were?not?morons and failures just because they lived before modernity got underway is not to reject modernity. As some of those pre-modern legacies include?Roman Law, the?common law?and?Parliaments, not to mention?Euclidean geometry?and the?Pythagorean scale, we are not entitled to such arrogance. Indeed, the Enlightenment itself was yet another dipping into the memory well of the?Classical legacy, a feature?less than entirely absent?from the Scientific Revolution itself.

              Limits and confidence

              To explore the limits of reason and knowledge, and the limits of the human, is not to reject reason or knowledge. And there clearly?are?information limits on what states can manage to effectively do. The entire history of?command economies?is a lesson in that, which is precisely why the Beijing and Hanoi regimes have so profoundly wound back their command economies, to the great benefit of their citizens.

              One of the reasons libertarianism attracts such animus is precisely because it casts doubt on the capacities of the state, which threatens confidence in many people’s favourite social transformation toy. That does not remotely put libertarianism outside the realm of modernity, still less make it premodern.

              Lindsay and Pluckrose continue?their attack on?libertarianism:

              This dim right-leaning view of individual liberty is paradoxically shared in considerable degree by the more culturally permissive premodern branch of anti-modern libertarians. Libertarians, particularly American ones, are distinguished by their insistences upon individual liberty being an unrivaled good. Yet theirs is a peculiar view of liberty that, despite being based in many of Modernity’s values, is overly narrow in its focus only upon restrictions of liberty issued by the state and thus rapidly ceases to be compatible with the institutions that enable Modernity. The oft-quoted epigram on the rattlesnake-bearing Gadsden Flag, “don’t tread on me,” is a good summary of their naively optimistic view of society: just leave them alone and everything will be fine. A similar mentality is found in the kind of Brexiter who focuses on the big themes of “independence” and “sovereignty” (going light on the details), whilst accusing everyone still unhappy about it of being undemocratic.

              Which may make such folk wrong or misguided, but does not remotely make them enemies of modernity. Trying to insist that everyone line up in the “right sort” of modernity is quite different from a broad-based defence of modernity and is, in fact, somewhat antithetical to such a defence.

              Modernity grew up in a period when states did far less than they currently do; in fact less than most contemporary libertarians (and certainly less than Hayek himself) would be comfortable with them doing. The claim that libertarian’s “peculiar view of liberty”? “rapidly ceases to be compatible with the institutions that enable Modernity” is a deeply dubious one. The notion of?spontaneous order?that such view of liberty typically rest on may well be overstated, but is not remotely an anti-modernity idea: on the contrary, it is one of?the ornaments of?the Enlightenment. Yes, it has some premodern precursors, most obviously in?the Tao, but only those suffering from the modernist arrogance would see that as somehow disabling.

              Antipathy to commerce

              There is a long tradition of academics and intellectuals being antithetical to commerce. The superficial forms of the complaints change according to prevailing intellectual fashions, but the underlying complaints are remarkably consistent — merchants are amoral, they make outrageously more money than decent moral folk (such as academics and intellectuals), they get in the way of (the current scheme for) social harmony.

              Commerce is indeed dynamic, risky and generates high income variance as a result. But it would be nice if intellectuals and academics could get over their angst about it: though, at two-and-half-millennia and counting, they probably won’t. But that angst spills over into denunciations of that dreaded contemporary bug-bear neoliberalism and, in this case, libertarianism.

              Reading Lindsay and Pluckrose’s critique, I fail to see characteristics of actual libertarianism. One can read magazines such as?Regulation, and the other publications of the?Cato Institute, or?Reason?magazine (note the title) in vain for some attack on, or rejection of, modernity. To contest the direction of public policy, even profoundly, is not to reject modernity. Indeed, contesting the direction of public policy is almost a defining aspect of modernity.

              About that state

              What makes Pluckrose and Lindsay’s attack on libertarianism even more misconceived is that they complain that postmodernists are a “tiny minority” yet wield disproportionate power. Indeed, and how do they do that? Primarily through the ever-expanding organs and networks of the diversity state, notably hitchhiking on “diversity” operating?as a managerial ideology.

              The?recent memo from?the US?National Labor Relations Board?that stated that referring to psychometric literature on sex differences is “discriminatory and sexual harassment” is a direct attack on use of scientific evidence in debate from?within the bowels?of the diversity state. The attack on due process in campuses Laura Kipnis?so amusingly skewers?came directly from the famous US Department of Education?Title IX “Dear Colleague” letter.

              Where do the indoctrinated products of PoMo social constructionist university education go? Into University administration, the organs of the?administrative state, and corporate?HR departments?working off legal mandates. All those mid-level bureaucratic positions that the administrative state multiplies so steadily. Are Pluckrose and Lindsay still going to imply that modernity requires confidence, apparently expanding confidence, in the capacities of the state for social betterment?


              Having made these way-overplayed critiques of libertarianism, that critique subsequently disappears from the essay. Libertarians have nothing to do with the patterns critiqued in the rest of the essay.

              This is hardly surprising, as libertarians are something of an “in between” group, tending to be economic?and?social liberalisers. Pro-migration, pro-free trade, pro same-sex marriage, pro drug legalisation, police-power-sceptical: in terms of the left/right divide, this is something of an “offshore balancer” role. It clearly does not intensify the left-right debate and there is nothing in this list which is, in any way, anti-modernity.

              Pluckrose and Lindsay’s critique of libertarianism smacks of a lack of genuine familiarity with what is being critiqued intermixed with ideological antipathy that sits poorly with underlying message and intent of the essay which, in its own terms, is to encourage a broad coalition in defence of modernity. Sounds good to me, but let’s include libertarians in, where they belong.

              ?[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

              The dissident right and the race thing

              By Lorenzo

              The blogger?Zman?provides a?very useful summary?of the dissident right:

              If you were trying to reduce the main points of the Dissident Right with a few bullet points, it would be:

              • The people in charge have dangerous fantasies about the future of society and the nature of man
              • The mass media is just propaganda for those fantasies and can never be taken at face value
              • Race is real, ethnicity is real and evolution is real. In the main, humans prefer to live with their own kind. Diversity leads to conflict.

              There is a more to it, but those are the three main items that come up over and over among writers in the Dissident Right. The people in charge, of course, dispute these and consider them to be ignorant, paranoid and immoral. Question the browning of America and you’re a dumb racist. Notice that mass media often looks like a coordinated public relations campaign and you’re branded as a paranoid. Of course, anyone mentioning the realities of race and sex is the branded a Nazi or white supremacist.

              A useful summary, because pithy summaries of positions from the inside are almost always a helpful addition to understanding and debate. One of the ways, for example, you can tell that much academic writing about “neoliberalism”?is worthless is the lack of forensic analysis of what alleged neoliberals write.

              Pithy summaries tend not to be the places for nuance. But what I found useful in Zman’s summary is it pinpointed for me why I read a lot of “dissident right” stuff but do not identify with it.

              I read a lot of it in part because they often are willing to consider facts and concerns which conflict with the progressivist piety display politics that dominate so much?of the media?and elsewhere (and help provide strong coordinating effects). Also because I?do?think said politics include some dangerous fantasies about the future of society and human nature. And because I?do?think that ethnicity is real and evolution is real.

              Against social constructionism

              Continuing with points of agreement,?evolutionary psychology?tends to have not nearly enough history or comparative anthropology in it (see a useful discussion?here), but social constructionist viewpoints (which have been widely adopted in much of the humanities and social sciences) are both false and toxic. False because there are inherent structures which cannot be wished away by human will and action. Such as an inherited cognitive architecture, as famously put?by biologist E.O.Wilson?(pdf):

              What I like to say is that Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species. Why doesn’t it work in humans? Because we have reproductive independence, and we get maximum Darwinian fitness by looking after our own survival and having our own offspring.

              (Often paraphrased as “wonderful idea, wrong species”.)

              This inherited cognitive architecture (a result of the biology?required in order to have?big brains so anything can be socially constructed in the first place) extends to differences in the?distribution of cognitive traits?between men and women, differences which are actually?larger in prosperous, developed societies?(pdf), likely because less social constraint means underlying biological differences are more directly manifested.

              Another structural constraint is the limitations on knowledge, as discussed by economist-philosopher?Friedrich Hayek?in?The Use of Knowledge in Society?and by historical anthropologist?James C. Scott?in?Seeing Like A State. Which, combined with the incentive issues, generates the?economic calculation problem.

              Because toxic

              Social constructionist views tends to be toxic because they have a powerful tendency towards?manichaean?views of human society and action. If social structures are fully plastic to human action, then?all?bad outcomes are the result of human action (typically, someone else’s human action)?and?could be eliminated by correct human action.

              So, the evils and problems of the world gets analysed in terms of malign human action and are deemed to be soluble by unified human action. Hence the tendency to talk as if all the problems of the world as are the result of malign human action-and-feeling (racism, sexism, etc) which require unified action to eliminate, including the convergence of all forms of social action towards proper social harmony. Hence there is no part of human society that should be outside the convergence towards harmony, or the elimination of alienation, or whatever the end goal is that will, as the saying goes,?immanentize the eschaton.

              If one wants to know where the contemporary drive to find “sin” in everything (sinful jokes, sinful games, sinful?shirts, sinful words, sinful statues, sinful opinions, etc) comes from, the widespread adoption of social constructionist ideas is a key element. Particularly coming out of feminism, which has become a central driver of progressivism; hence the shift from talking of?sexism?to talking of?misogyny: criticising men is feminism, criticising women is misogyny.

              For those interested in historical patterns, the first great success of the women’s movement (women’s suffrage) was, in the US, followed by their next great success,?Prohibition, the war against the (mostly male) demon drink (see an amusing essay?here). In our time, the massive expansion in opportunities for women in recent decades (essentially,?since the pill?[pdf]) has been followed by the campaign against the (very male) demon domination (and who, unlike the demon drink, also has a race and a sexuality). As was the case with the war against the demon drink, the “cure” for the demon domination is proving to be much worse than the actual extent of the problem in Western societies.

              Needless to say, analysing all human and social ills in terms of malign will and bad feelings is toxic to open debate, or even elementary civility. Given that Stalinism was intensely social constructionist, and that,?especially in France, there was not much temporal gap between adhering to Stalinism and jumping into?postmodernism?and?post-structuralism, it is not surprising that we are seeing a revival of?Stalinist?rhetorical constructs, such as?hate speech?and massive over-use of the “Fascist!” label, and of neo-Lysenkoist?biological denialism.

              As an aside, while I disagree on a couple of points (patriarchy is not in the interest of every man, for example, particularly not in its?polygynous?form) what the authors of?this analysis?call their?biosocial theory?is an analytical approach I heartily agree with.

              But about that race thing

              Where I fail to get on board with the dissident right is the race thing. Yes, race is real in a (fuzzy boundary) sense, it is just not real in the sense they mean. That is, race does not usefully aggregate causal factors together, it is?not a causal unit. Ethnicity does: ethnicity reaches back deep into our evolutionary history. Ethnicity was how we scaled up beyond foraging bands.?Judges 12, the story of?shibboleth, is an ethnic cues story. We are?the cultural species, so of course ethnicity matters.

              From the C18th onwards, race was basically constructed within Western thought as a meta-ethnicity. The analytical trouble with that is, doing that takes us?further?away from actual causal factors. To the extent that?white?means anything analytically useful it means?of European origin: referring to civilisational and ethnic traits, not racial ones.?And, even there, it often makes a major difference?which Europeans. To put it another way, even if the US was “lily-white”, it would be unavoidably diverse, and unavoidably?ethnically?diverse.

              Terms such as?white?and?black?abstract away from people’s cultural and civilisational heritage. In the hands of the fighters against the demon domination, that is often the point, as it helps with the malign-feelings-and-will social constructionist?shtick. But no-one who takes the heritage of Western civilisation seriously should play that game for a moment.

              Nor, even in the US context, is the term?black?any better than?white. Do you mean recent African immigrants, who tend to be well-educated, have intact families and?do well in?the US? Do you mean Afro-Caribbean immigrants, who achieved their freedom from slavery a generation earlier and whose ancestors live and voted in polities where they were fully integrated into local politics? Or do you mean Ebonic-Americans, the descendants of slaves whose ancestors went through the oppressions of?Jim Crow? Because they are quite different groups. And the last are very much an ethnic group, an American nation, and can only be understood through the prism of ethnicity, not race.

              Diversity: it depends

              As for the problems of diversity, they are not generic or automatic. I seriously doubt that the importing of highly educated East Asians or South Asians is any threat to the fabric of American society. Nor are the various minority strains of Islam (Ismailis,?Ibadis,?Alevis,?Ahmadis) likely to be a problem. Their permanent minority status means that aspiring to domination (see below) is suicidal, and has long since been adapted out of their varieties of Islam.

              Hispanics in the US are a little more complex, but mainly because of the consequences of illegal immigration in creating black markets in labour and of blocking voter control over migration policy. Have effective border control plus explicit selection and the problem largely goes away. How am I so confident? Because Australia and Canada manage?much higher rates of immigration?than the US with far less social and political angst. (Though Australian states continuing to restrict land supply to drive up tax revenue while failing to provide adequate infrastructure, leading to mounting congestion issues, is putting that under some pressure.)

              Hispanic migration in the US is, by the way,?not a crime problem. Indeed, a plausible interpretation of urban progressive support for Hispanic migration, legal or otherwise, is not only because it provides cheap labour, but because if Hispanics replace Ebonic-Americans in an urban area,?the crime rate plummets.

              The serious problems with diversity in the US largely comes down to two things: Ebonic-American crime and [though the problem is obviously much larger in Europe] mainstream?Sunni Islam.? (Twelver Shia Islam?also, but that is a somewhat more complex story as much of the difficulty with that diaspora is the Iranian regime using it as a base for its violence.)

              Due to progressivist piety displays, it is very difficult have any sort of public conversation about the realities of Ebonic-American crime (that, for example, African-Americans are?about 13%?of the US population and generate?about half its homicides), even though such crime has been a major element in urban dynamics in the US?for decades. The dissident right will at least talk about it, if often not in a very analytically useful way.

              The problem with mainstream Islam is simple: mainstream Islam is a religion of domination (men over women, believers over non-believers) and the problems generated by Islam and Muslims around the world are overwhelmingly rooted in that. It is why the difficulties with mainstream Islam are orders of magnitude greater than those with Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, etc. But progressivist piety display makes it almost impossible to have any sort of public conversation about the difficulties that mainstream Islam being a religion of domination generates. And so back again to why I read the dissident right.

              Steep status hierarchies

              The irony is, that Ebonic-American crime and the problems with mainstream Islam likely have overlapping causes. In both cases, as is normal in human societies, the crime and violence problem is overwhelmingly concentrated in young males.

              Poverty?has less to do?with crime than is often thought, but income inequality has?quite a lot?(pdf). Moreover, if one thinks in terms of status or dominance hierarchies (which are connected to income inequality but not limited to it) the patterns begin to make more sense. (Effectiveness of police and criminal justice systems make a major difference–see?the New York success–but I am ignoring that for the moment.)

              Confront young males with a steep (i.e. hard to climb) dominance/status hierarchy and violent behaviour becomes far more likely as it shifts the threshold where aggression turns into violence. This is a major generator of violence?in polygynous societies, for example, where elite male acquisition of extra wives and concubines massively reduce the prospects of young, low status males for sex and marriage. Islam’s preferred solution was to export the problem, as?ghazis?fighting the infidel, degrading infidel border regions and taking infidel women. Hence Islamic martyrdom is?dying while killing infidels?and promises?houris?in Paradise.

              The contemporary polygyny of the Arab oil-rich states, reducing the number of marriageable women in other Arab societies (i.e. importing extra wives and exporting any resultant violence problem, a different way of exporting the problem), likely has rather more to do with endemic instability in the Middle East than the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has dwindled to a tedious border dispute. But, thanks to the Christian sanctification of Roman marriage patterns, European cultures have been monogamous for over a millennia (or, in the Graeco-Roman Mediterranean littoral, for over two millennia), so even considering that the dynamics of polygyny might matter does not occur to most Western folk, while “blame the Jews” is practically programmed in.

              Alas, the notion that Muslim men should be able to sexually exploit infidel women is a religious-cultural script that continues to be regularly activated: such as in the “grooming gangs” of Britain where the British state has racked up decades of failure because progressivist multiculturalism and anti-racist pieties were much more important than protecting thousands of indigenous British girls and some Sikh girls from rape, abuse and systematic enslavement for the purposes of prostitution. Even when the issue began to be broached, much of the media, led?by the BBC, continued to talk “Asian gangs”, thereby slandering Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs to avoid identifying that those convicted are at least?90% Muslim, though recent reporting is?a bit more informative. (In the Netherlands, such human trafficking,?also primarily of?underage girls, is known as?the loverboy?phenomenon, with the perpetrators tending to be Moroccans, rather than Pakistanis; though in both the UK and Netherlands Muslim men of a variety of ethnic backgrounds have been convicted.)

              [Criminals normally prey on victims within their communities. To systematically prey on victims outside their communities is highly unusual.]

              Given the range of difficulties with Muslim migration, that even in Australia, voters?are not keen on?(pdf) Muslim migration, and European voters?tend to be against it, is not surprising.

              Continuing on the status/hierarchy issue, it is not hard to see that the post-slavery history of young Ebonic-American male violence might have something to do with the very steep status hierarchies they have faced in US society. Nor that?significantly lower average IQ?as social rewards to education and cognitive capacity?have increased?might sharpen that effective steepness of status/dominance hierarchies even though overt, and particularly institutional, racism were massively declining. With the male status-seeking of gangs and the income opportunities of black market narcotics (and the?inherent violence of?[pdf] black markets) adding to the mix.

              Similarly, young Muslim men, raised as “golden sons” in Muslim families within the culture of a religion of dominance (men over women, believers over non-believers) might confront the gap between that and how status hierarchies in Western societies actually work and become potential ticking time-bombs.

              But to even consider these possibilities involves committing a plethora of thought crimes against progressivist pieties. So, back to reading the dissent right but not identifying with them.


              [Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

              ADDENDA Short version: as I say?here, as soon as a social issue is framed in terms of race, one has dumbed down the discussion.

              A comment on border walls

              By Lorenzo

              This is based on a comment I made?here.

              The success of?Israel?and?Hungary?in putting up border barriers has been cited as evidence in favour of President Trump’s proposed?Mexican border wall.

              West Bank barrier

              A counter-argument raised against such citing is that those walls are much smaller than the Trump proposal. It is true that the US-Mexican border is 3,201km long, while Israel has 1,004km of border barriers (708km on West Bank, 245km on Egypt border and 51km on Gaza border) and the Hungarian border barriers are 523km (175km on Serbian border and 348km on Croatian border)–actually, slightly less if one includes natural barriers.

              What is missing in this simple comparison is relative populations. Israel has 1,004 km of border wall with a population of 8.5m, so 8,500 people per km of wall.

              Hungary has 523km of border wall with a population of 9.8m, so 18,700 people per km of wall.

              Hungarian border barrier

              The?US-Mexico border?is 3,201km long and the US has a population of 325.7m, which would be 101,800 people per km of wall.

              Given that Americans are also, on average, richer than Israelis and Hungarians, the proposed Mexican border barrier is, in fact, “smaller” with respect to population and GDP than either the Israeli or Hungarian cases.


              Another argument sometimes mounted against border barriers or border enforcement is that a significant amount of illegal immigration comes from visa overstayers and other people who have legally entered for one purpose but extend their stay beyond their legal entitlement. While this is true, it is no argument against border barriers, which can (as the Israel and Hungarian cases demonstrate) be very effective in stopping illegal border crossings. That they do not?also?stop overstaying merely tells us that such barriers are not a complete solution to all illegal immigration.

              It is also reasonable to regard the two types of illegal immigration differently simply because the overstayers have at least passed?some?level of entry scrutiny. Moreover, it is a bit difficult to do things such as various forms of infrastructure when you?don’t even know?how many folk are in the country. (And the notion that the social infrastructure of being a successful country is infinitely flexible, so can deal with any level of inflow of any type, strikes me as just nuts.)

              Incorporating or denigrating

              The Australian and Canadian experiences suggest quite strongly that effective efforts against illegal immigration can actually help the pro-immigration cause because it does not make ordinary voters feel they have no say. Making voters feel helpless and ignored is not good for politics in general and the politics of immigration in particular. While de-legitimising considering the downsides from migration helps along the process of?spectacularly screwing up?migration policy.

              Design proposal for Mexican border barrier.

              Of course, if your main operative concern regarding immigration is to show how righteous you are, then making the “unrighteous” feel helpless and ignored, indeed, rubbing their noses in how much their views (and votes) don’t count, may be much of the attraction in the first place. (The term?undocumented migrants is a nicely?Orwellian?way of saying “and your votes shouldn’t count”, though it is only part of?the use of language?to promote voter irrelevance on migration matters.)

              But that sort of moralising arrogance, and contempt towards fellow citizens, is not helpful; however strong and appealing it may be among “progressive” folk. It helps give support for the very populist politics that they so deride; but even that can also be a good outcome for them, as it “confirms” their contempt for their fellow citizens which has become so much an integral part of contemporary “progressive” politics.

              Far from comparative size stopping the successful Israeli and Hungarian border barriers being evidence for a Mexican border wall, the Mexican border wall is (relative to population and GDP) actually as “smaller” proposal than either.


              ADDENDA: An unusually sensible piece on The Wall.

              An amusing post about?the success of?physical barriers.

              The latest poll is from 2012, but includes previous polls?and suggests strong support for enforcing laws against illegal immigration.

              [Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]