Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hiatus


 
The Second Class Carriage, Honoré Daumier (1808-1879)

 

I'll be on vacation until October and will probably have little time for my weekly column. I hope to profit from this hiatus to rethink my priorities for the next twelve months.

That rethink will include this column. Is it reaching its target audience? Are changes needed? A recurring suggestion is that I should write more simply and in a less pedantic style. Yes, plain language is best. A lot of academic writing suffers from turgid jargon, not to mention silly attempts to imitate the syntax of French deconstructionists. But it’s not as if I write my columns first and later try to impress folks by inserting “organizing principle,” “evolutionary trajectory,” and other bafflegab. That’s how I think. Jargon also allows me to squeeze complex ideas into a few words. A certain amount is unavoidable, unless you want to read columns that are twice as long.

Russia, Russia, Russia ...

Another suggestion is that I should write more pieces about foreign politics, like "Impressions of Russia." In The Unz Review that column got me 246 comments (My score was higher with only one other column “The Jews of West Africa”). Yet I wrote it off the top of my head.

So why not write about Russia? To be honest I don't feel qualified. I remember my first impressions of that country and how so many turned out to be incomplete or dead wrong. Nonetheless, those same first impressions turn up again and again in pieces by journalists and other writers.

Like the ones who go on about "grim-faced Russians weighed down by centuries of oppression." I've read that refrain so often it's no longer funny. Russians dislike smiling at strangers because it’s considered rude—and also because a stranger with attitude might take it the wrong way. But among friends and family they laugh and smile like anyone else. This is changing, to be sure. On my last visit I noticed many store employees flashing American-style smiles at customers.

Then there's that travel writer who said he knew he was being spied upon because the hotel maid looked like a top model. Uh, that's just the local demographics, and the fact that many young women work in services to pay for their university education. In the West, students are supposed to work as unpaid "interns."

Finally, many journalists have been writing that Russia is hell on earth for gays and lesbians. The real situation is like that of the West in the 1970s: homosexuality is no longer illegal but most people still consider it wrong. So gays and lesbians get disowned by their parents and beaten up by young toughs. On the other hand, they form a large and very visible community with its own bars, magazines, and festivals. I remember going to a night club where about a third of the clientele were openly gay or lesbian. It was no hole-in-the wall either.

So if some journalists think Russia today is evil, they should also think the West in the 1970s was evil. Maybe they do.

Of course, there is a big difference between us in the 1970s and Russians today. We had to wait forty years to see how things would turn out. They don’t have to wait. They can just look at us. That cuts two ways. On the one hand, Russian gays and lesbians look at the West and feel frustrated. They want change to happen faster. On the other hand, traditional Russians look at the West and feel dismayed. They want no part of this change.

Can you blame them? In the 1980s I supported gay rights on the principle of "live and let live." Gays weren't asking to be accepted by people who didn't accept them, least of all religious conservatives. They just wanted to be left alone, as consenting adults, and who could be against what consenting adults do in private?

The next three decades then saw a ratcheting upward of gay rights. For example, since 2012 all Ontario schools have had to allow gay/lesbian clubs on their premises, even Catholic and elementary schools. So much for freedom of religion. So much for "consenting adults."  Gays and lesbians seem to be like any pressure group: they make whatever promises are necessary to get what they want and then forget them when they get what they want.

So Russia is a bit like our past. Only it's a past where people have a better idea of the future.

Punditry, left vs. right, and globalism

That's about all I have to say about Russia. If you want to know more, ask someone from that country.

What about punditry on other topics? Again, I don't feel qualified, and there are columnists far better at that than me.

I also have mixed feelings about punditry. It aims not so much to change how people think as to confirm what they think. So the net effect is to polarize public opinion. Liberals become more self-assured about their ideology and conservatives likewise. Yet, as I see it, both groups are equally wrong, and both have betrayed their original principles. 

As I see it (again), the worst threat comes from the right. It’s the right that best articulates globalism and is best able to persuade everyone that it's for their own good. And globalism will be much more far-reaching—and devastating—than communism ever was. It is literally the abolition of all barriers to the free flow of capital, trade, and labor. In the best scenario, wages and working conditions will be levelled downward throughout the West. In the worst scenario, the whole world will be worse off because the conditions most suitable to wealth creation are in the high-trust societies of the West.

Those societies are not high-trust because of laws, constitutions, or charters of rights. They are that way because of their cultural, behavioral, and psychological characteristics—low levels of personal violence, high levels of affective empathy and guilt proneness, strong orientation toward the future rather than the present, and so on. It was that mental package that made the rise of the West possible.

That mental package is now being dissolved, not so much by "cultural Marxists" as by business interests that want to cut labor costs and increase GDP. They feel no animosity toward the West and its national identities. They just feel those identities have had their day. In their opinion, this is how we'll all move into a better and more prosperous future.

People are entitled to their opinions, but this one—globalism—isn’t competing with the others on a level playing field. It dominates the media, the think tanks, and even the entertainment industry. And it dominates both the left and the right. It’s an opinion that has succeeded not on its own merits but because it has much more money behind it.

This has always been a problem in open, democratic societies. It has gotten worse, however. This is partly because the top 1% have proportionately more money nowadays and partly because they have less sense of national loyalty nowadays. They’ll say it out loud: “Why should I feel more loyal to someone who works here than to someone who works in another country?” This sort of view is promoted by eminently conservative groups, like the Fraser Institute here in Canada.

Punditry becomes part of the problem to the degree it shores up the false dichotomy of “left” versus “right.” Today, the real one is globalism versus the forces it opposes.

Reference 

Ostroff, J. (2015). How Canada got its first Catholic elementary school gay-straight alliance, Huffington Post, May 11
http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/05/11/polly-quinn-gsa-catholic-elementary-school_n_7226896.html 

12 comments:

Beyond Anon said...

Enjoy your holiday. I do not have a problem with your writing style and I enjoy reading your columns.

Reader said...

My main criticism of this blog, which I otherwise enjoy, is that American "exceptionalism" isn't being acknowledged when discussing the white race. America turns many of the author's assumptions about whites on their head. The idea of whites surrendering self-defense to the state, for example, is absolutely wrong in the case of the US, as American whites are fiercely anti-government and pro-gun-culture. It's the US whites who want to arm themselves to the teeth, protect the 2nd Amendment, and who prefer the resulting gun violence to civil order, disproving the idea of "white weakness." Next, white Americans disprove the idea of "white empathy," for example. because they are pro-capital punishment (unlike all the other white nations), are largely racist and xenophobic, and their leaders are people like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

Peter writes from the point of view of Canadian whites who are similar to Europeans and Australians. American whites are an anomaly. I actually recommend a book called "The Eleven American Nations" by Colin Woodward, which explains this in detail and compares the two white populations (US and Canada) and how they each came about.

georgesdelatour said...

Dear Peter

I always read your columns. I look forward to their weekly arrival. I never comment, because they're just so well-argued and thorough, that I can think of nothing to add.

Please don't think you have to go down-market, and give us your manufactured opinion on chatty day-to-day matters. Others already do that.

Anonymous said...

Peter writes from the point of view of Canadian whites who are similar to Europeans and Australians. American whites are an anomaly. I actually recommend a book called "The Eleven American Nations" by Colin Woodward, which explains this in detail and compares the two white populations (US and Canada) and how they each came about.

The British populace has been consistently anti-immigration for decades:

http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/uk-public-opinion-toward-immigration-overall-attitudes-and-level-concern

"Immigration is currently highly salient and in recent years has consistently ranked in the top five ‘most important issues’ as selected by the British public.

Approximately three quarters of people in Britain currently favour reducing immigration.

Preferences for reduced migration are not new

Opposition to the arrival of immigrants in the UK is not new. Rising concern about ‘New Commonwealth’ immigration prompted the British Election Study (BES) to begin asking the public about immigration as far back as 1964, although in those early years it did not ask the question to ‘coloured’ respondents. Throughout this period, the overwhelming majority of people in Britain have agreed that there are too many immigrants in the UK."

Beyond Anon said...

I wonder if you have any comments on Monkey See, Monkey do and the spread of new techniques throughout a population.

It seems that mimicry is well established because the young need to mimic adults in terms of obtaining food.

Thus, if one individual comes up with a new technique, including new tool making techniques, monkey see, monkey do would enable other members of a groupe to adopt that technique as well.

Luke Lea said...

Do not write more simply and in a less pedantic style. Your style is already lucid and is basically plain. The footnotes are hardly intrusive. Your write some of the best expository prose around. I know it when I see it.

Luke Lea said...

BTWl, those Captcha questions are impossible for people with poor vision.

evolutiontheorist said...

Doctor Frost, I have read every single post on your blog and eagerly wait for more. You are one of my favorite bloggers, and personally, I hope you keep up the fascinating posts. I will understand, of course, if you chose to change style or focus; I will still read regardless.

Have a nice holiday. :)

Anonymous said...

Dont look at the number of comments as an indication of interest. I send on many columns but never comment .People will comment where they have a strong opinion. People have opinions where they have some (not necessarily a lot) knowledge. So often a much commented piece will be a lot of people know a bit. In a world of deliberate your columns are interesting and informative, so keep them coming.
Thanks

chris said...

Internationalism vs Nationalism.

(That is essentially what world war 2 was about).

Chris Crawford said...

I balk at your suggestion: "Those societies are not high-trust because of laws, constitutions, or charters of rights. They are that way because of their cultural, behavioral, and psychological characteristics—low levels of personal violence, high levels of affective empathy and guilt proneness, strong orientation toward the future rather than the present, and so on. It was that mental package that made the rise of the West possible."

The causal forces behind the rise of the West have attracted as much scholarly attention over the last 30 years as the causal forces behind the fall of Rome attracted a century ago. There have been a number of excellent books on the subject. Sure, the Industrial Revolution gave the West a huge edge -- but what caused the Industrial Revolution? Yes, the 18th century Enlightenment played a crucial role, but was it not the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century? But then, what caused the Scientific Revolution? And so on and so forth all the way back to the collapse at the end of the Bronze Age.

I'm also wary of your finger pointed at globalization as a detrimental development, and I certainly don't blame business for its attendant damages. To me, businesses are like sharks: mindless, amoral creatures that simply follow primitive instincts. We don't blame sharks for killing people, and we shouldn't blame businesses for exploiting flaws in our system. The blame falls on us for failing to correct those flaws in our social systems.

Lastly, as to the issue of the unequal distribution of wealth, I think that this long quote from Will and Ariel Durant sums it up magnificently:

"Since practical ability differs from person to person, the majority of such abilities in nearly all societies, is gathered in a minority of men. The concentration of wealth is a natural result of this concentration of ability, and regularly recurs in history. The rate of concentration varies (other factors being equal) with the economic freedom permitted by morals and the laws. Despotism may for a time retard the concentration; democracy, allowing the most liberty, accelerates it... In progressive societies the concentration may reach a point where the strength in number of the many poor rivals the strength of ability in the few rich; then the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealth or revolution redistributing poverty."

Anonymous said...

As a white Conservative American, I can assure you that we are NOT for the advancement of globalism any more than we are pro big-government. You are confusing the NeoCons with true Conservatives.
L.S.