Saturday, January 1, 2011

Answers to the Four Tough Questions

Bruce Charlton recently wrote an open letter directed at me (among others), asking four tough questions, presented below in italics (there is additional explanatory test at his site):

1. What do you want? And what do you not want?

I want a stable society with minimized violence, predictable order, and contented citizens.  I want to defeat mob rule, rule by hostile elites, and the destructive ideologies that support them.  I do not want mass immigration, enforced race-mixing, affirmative action, or a centralized surveillance state.

Is your list any more than a mere wish list? If so, what binds-together these core values and necessary exclusions? 

This is a fairly typical conservative-nationalist list of demands.  The demands were created by a clear-eyed understanding of the impossibility of having both a vital culture and infinite tolerance at the same time.

2. Having listed these requirements, is it possible to sustain a society which gives you what you want, and not what you do not want?

Certainly.  As a Moderate American Nationalist, the political framework I seek is open enough to accommodate many ideologies and cultures in different regions.  All that is required to build a mass movement strong enough to create this framework is the death of the PC multicult.  Put another way, I don't demand that every region of the country adhere to my every whim.  I only demand that the country allow every region to be itself.  At that point I could pick and choose.

What are the mechanisms by which your ideal society would be maintained? Are they plausible? Are they strong enough?

My ideal society harnesses human jealousy in defense of local and regional power.  The mechanisms can be seen as a modern answer to the Articles of Confederation, with a couple of simple dictums to make things work.  The first dictum: only people who contribute, either by putting their life on the line in uniform, or by paying out more in taxes than they take in in subsidies, should have the right to vote.  The second dictum is that lower levels of government can be trusted with more powerful than higher, as long as citizens have the freedom to move from place to place.  The third dictum is that the civil employees should only be leant to the central government, rather than permanently employed by it.  The fourth dictum is that central government legislators should serve regional governments, either directly or indirectly.

These mechanisms are plausible if the big thinkers are focussed, and if they are heard.  The sooner we quit fantasizing about disenfranchising women the sooner we can get down to the business of disenfranchising welfare mothers and civil servants, etc.

3. How would your ideal society stop itself recapitulating the course of all existing Western societies?

The all-important trick of harnessing jealousy of lower levels of government strengthens the whole system.  Both the European Union and the United States made the mistake of creating too many permanent central institutions and then trying to keep them from becoming too powerful.  All of the people with both power and expertise in the EU benefit when the EU grows in power.  Thus it continues to grow, way beyond the customs union that was originally intended.

4. In such a society as you conceive, what will motivate people? And are these motivations plausibly strong enough to resist relentless, implacable and dedicated foes who cannot be convinced of the virtues of your favoured society and who are prepared to sacrifice pleasure, experience pain, and even willingly to die to get what they want? 

I don't think people's motivations will change too much.  The ideological motivation to centralize, to make PC, to borrow-and-spend, etc., will remain, but the political/financial motivation to do so will be broken apart.  Law and order would be maintained by local and regional governments with a strong motivation to protect the taxpayer without overtaxing him.  The dedicated foes of this arrangement could sacrifice all they wanted, but their freedom of movement would become very limited.  I.e., the Fred Phelpses of the world would find they couldn't visit the San Franciscos; the Eldridge Cleavers would not be welcome in Idaho; the neo-Nazis wouldn't be welcome in Florida, New Jersey, or the New York islands, etc.  Very few people would really be motivated to strike at the heart of a decentralized system.

At root this is just one question: what would be different about your desired secular society which would plausibly make it self-maintaining when all previous secular societies have become progressively more self-destroying?

I don't but that Switzerland is progressively more self-destroying, even though there are directly-elected legislators in their central government, they have universal suffrage, etc.  Surely this is partly because their political culture is healthier than most, but I don't think they have any secret magic.

My desired non-clerical society would be self-maintaining because it would encompass the wisdom of the American founders plus experiences they couldn't have had.  For not much longer will we be blind-sided by cultural Marxism, "religion of peace" propaganda regarding Islam, illusions about meso-American culture, etc.


bgc said...

Thanks for this - it describes pretty closely my own views up to about five years ago (see or anything published up to about 2007).

The basic mechanism of non-religious societies such as that you (and I) described, is to use 'natural' human selfish motives (such as jealousy, greed, status-seeking) in a natural-selection framework which plays these off against each other, limits their operation and which tends to build complexity and efficiency.

The policy implications are related to establishing the framework or structure within which competition can operate.

Obviously, I found this model unsatisfactory and (reluctantly and with great difficulty) became a Christian which *then* (eventually - after a lot of thought and action) struck me as very obviously coherent and true, motivating, purposeful etc.; but it is hard to summarize exactly how this happened.

I think that a few factors were important: one was the recognition that all secular societies have been in such a rapid state of change that at any time their state is (merely) transitional to something else, and that this is intrinsic. The modern societies that I liked and regarded as models were in fact merely on the way to something else I did not like - within just a generation or two.

Another is that I noticed that I was wanting two opposite things: a society that conformed to the needs of 'human nature' (instead of thwarting and suppressing human nature) and also that human nature itself be changed radically (I was very influenced by transhumanism).

So that there was really no anchor point to say just what I wanted - and it doesn't make sense to say that for someone to say that they want endless change. (In fact I did say something like that; but it didn't make sense).


Bruce G Charlton

bgc said...
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bgc said...

...Then I realized how anti-human was a system based on natural selection. It doesn't solve any problem, but merely states that 'this is going on'. Humanity is just so much grist to the mill of the process.

As of now, I see much mainstream modern human behaviour as radically new, something that quite probably hasn't ever been seen before. Our moral, aesthetic and scientific views nowadays are just crazy: moral inversion, a science based on committee decision (aka peer review) rather than truth, and 'art' based on ugliness and shock (rather than beauty).

I always felt that these were crazy, but assumed they were a pendulum swing or temproary aberration - however it is clear now that they are self-reinforcing, and can only be eliminated by self-destruction (inevitable) or if taken over from outside before this works through.

How could be be so self-destructive? In a nutshell, because of secular materialism - which is not just an idea but a profoundly unnatural way of trying-to-think-and-live.

That's what I mostly write about now; trying to understand this.

I feel that any attempt to build a society on the psychology of modern, secular, materialist man as the competing units cannot succeed, because it is such a profoundly unnatural, psychotic base.

The strange thing is that for secular intellectuals such as we both are, ordinary common sense human nature (which everyone is born with, and such as was universal throughout human history) seems to stand in need of justification.

Intellectuals emerge from childhood intellectually maimed by modernity, with vital bits missing.

Modernity is now trying to (as it were) build a system of geometry without axioms; or (differently stated) modern intellectuals spend our lives wrangling over the axioms and can therefore never build a system nor even defend what we value.

But axioms are axioms: and these include a belief in the soul, in the persistance of the soul after death, some sense of providence, destiny, purpose etc. Without these and other 'inborn' human axioms our discourse is, strictly, insane.

Thanks again.

Bruce G Charlton

B Lode said...

Thanks for stopping by. I do intend to give your posts a real perusal and a thorough reply.

B Lode said...

(I axed your second post because it was identical to your third.)

I feel that any attempt to build a society on the psychology of modern, secular, materialist man as the competing units cannot succeed, because it is such a profoundly unnatural, psychotic base.

Okay, okay, this is good pithy stuff.

Let me clarify something I have often left too vague: when I advocate things for American writ large, I'm not doing any "nation building". I'm talking about running the country in the most efficient way; I'm not going to do any "we should be united" pontificating which would make Hume angry. At this point, America can't reallly be a nation in the old-fashioned sense of the term; it is best left as a purely political federation, with naught but an army, a flag, a language, and a judiciary interpreting a simple constitution in a textualist manner. The federation should be non-clerical, non-ethnic, meritocratic, and non-cultural.

The next level down, the nation, can be as clerical, as ethnic, as cultural as it wants to be. With the way they wrote the first amendment and the rest of it, the framers got this one right. The first amendment implicitly allows established religion! It just demands that Congress but out. This is the way it should be - a cluster of free but related states developing their own cultures without the central government shoving them around.

B Lode said...

My Commonwealth is a well-oiled machine. It is a product of the auteur theory that I adopted when I decided to pass the time pleasantly by writing it; it is way too complex to build a mass movement around, since few among the masses could even comprehend it. (Indeed, most of the masses think the First Amendment bans state religion!)

In short, I believe the minimal federation demands that the central government not be clerical, nor that it prevent any state from being clerical. States from two completely different religions shouldn't be in the same federation, which is why I support a right of secession.

Which doesn't directly address your point about religious guidance for public policy. That is something I have been thinking on. My first pass is - if all the states admitted that they are based on more than pure rationalism, secularism, etc., they would have to accept less central power.

Anyway, I know I'm rambling but it's family time at my house. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

bgc said...

I think you are correct to emphasize efficiency as the implicit basis of modernity.

For example, in economics this is termed productivity; and productivity increase is the basis of genuine economic growth; i.e. of improving standard of living per capita (potentially for everyone).

Yet, it seems clear from my experience that efficiency is of almost no relevance to human behaviour.

In my direct experience, political correctness has made education much less efficient in numerous ways.

(For examples, if you can be bothered - and I would not recommend it - my writings up to 2007 were full of efficiency-based arguments for educational conservatism or reform. Yet these arguments based on efficiency - and almost certainly correct in those terms - have zero traction on policy, and indeed making them sometimes got me into considerable trouble!

Or, economic efficiency is routinely sacrificed to mercantile or union-driven protectionism, to sustained mass immigration of (ahem) people with 'low human capital' (as the economists term it.

My point is that efficiency seems almost-always to be 'trumped' by other considerations - indeed, advocating efficiency seems to attract active moral disapproval.

This indifference to efficiency is so pervasive as to look-like a basic human attribute, such that those few individuals who believe that they are advocating efficiency may indeed by using this as a mask for some other agenda - as they are so often accused (by their selectivity in applying the demand for efficiency).

Also, there is the problem of defining the desired efficiency - I mean in comparing output with input.

Especially, it is often contentious what the desired *output* is or ought to be - human wealth? (if so, what kind of wealth and how is it measured), or should it be happiness, or the social conditions most conducive to moral behaviour or religious devotion?


bgc said...

It seems clear to me that the strength of political correctness comes from its conviction of being morally superior to the technical/ efficiency conception of society; and *in a sense* this is correct - however, in a very narrow and specialized sense of morality; but such narrow senses are (I now believe) the only senses understandable to the maimed, abstract, systematic, explicit modern consciousness.

And 'thus' I reach my conclusion that the underlying problem is modern consciousness, the root of which is secularism/ atheism/ this-worldliness/ and hedonism.

(Hedonism in the sense of conceptualizing good and evil in terms of gratification and/or suffering during the human lifespan as the *bottom line*; rather than the bottom line being 'salvation'.)

B Lode said...

This provokes an interesting line of thought - utilitarianism (what you're describing in terms of efficiency and hedonism) is only a very weak, though ubiquitous, guideline. Utility and efficiency are pretty quick to be jettisoned whenever a given pressure group is howling loudly enough.

So, secular/ utilitarian/ scholar-directed democracy is always promising clear-eyed, dispassionate pursuit of "public welfare" (have to call it utility nowadays because it doesn't mean a welfare transfer program). The reality is far different. In practice, we obey neither transcendent/ moral demands no utility - we obey interest groups.

Justin said...

"We obey interest groups"

Yes, echoing a post I did today. History is just one long collectivist/totemic war. Individualism was an Enlightenment fantasy, and stands as one of the central failures of the US Constitution.

Another was the unrestrained power of the judiciary. I think in the new constitution, judicial review should be specifically prohibited. What do you think?

B Lode said...

I am ambivalent about judicial review. As it stands now it has gotten way out of control, but I think it could be improved. First, textualism should be the rule for interpretation, rather than a choice to be made by judges themselves. Second, district judges should be selected by competitive examination the way civil servants are supposed to be selected. You could make the judicial examination sort of like the bar examination with the grading system tweaked to reduce the possibility of tied grades.

Above that level, judges should be chosen by official that serve states rather than the central government. Combined, those reforms could start to make judicial review an effective buttress against tyranny.

Kalim Kassam said...

For examples, if you can be bothered - and I would not recommend it - my writings up to 2007 were full of efficiency-based arguments for educational conservatism or reform

To be sure, Dr. Charlton, you're still making (quite compelling) efficiency arguments for educational reform well past 2007.

m4monologue said...

Hi B Lode, this is a very interesting discussion, but I think the flaw in your system is: At this point, America can't really be a nation in the old-fashioned sense of the term; it is best left as a purely political federation,...

It seems to me that a purely political federation not underpinned by race or ethnicity must inevitably become totalitarian.

Any government that is not of the people and for the people that constitute its people must resolve inevitable conflict with force and suppression.

Religion overcomes race and ethnicity by utilising a higher allegiance. Your system likewise, in order to overcome disparate race, ethnicity and culture, must appeal to a higher allegiance to unite those peoples.

Without religion your system will, must, become a dictatorship. I'm not opposed to that per se but that is the logical result.

I don't think we can escape our racial and cultural underpinnings through human agency, which is what a political system is.

B Lode said...

It's a very heavy thing you've written, and it may be true. In any case I don't know how to push religious revival any more than political reform. Christianity in America is at once more vital than in Europe, and more fragmented than in Europe. In high school, I was quite surprised to learn that in Germany there is a single big Protestant (Evangelische) church, and that it gets public funding. Lots of people check off that Prot. box on their taxes, so the church gets funding, but not many people attend. I doubt the Catholics are in much of a different boat.

I suspect that tough times will lead to something of a religious revival. This is fine by me, since with two major exceptions*, I am more or less in favor of all religions.

* The religions revealed by Mahomet and Hubbard.

As to the purely political federation, it seems like it worked 200 years ago for the US to be a (con)federation of states with different churches. Dutch Reformed, Congo, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, etc. By dropping Calvin they have largely converged into a mainline Protestant thing which I am supposed to be proud of, since in a way it is a home-grown American thing (a multi-church ideology, kind of like High and Low Church tendencies made the Church of England a multi-ideology church) ... but I can't stand the flimsy, PC ideology of the American mainstream. They can't even stand up to big government, they just serve it.

So I'm out of ideas.