Totalitarianism

Back when the world made sense, we had a good idea where totalitarianism would come from and how we would recognize it. The socialist State, personified most often in the Soviet Union, would grind everybody up into a gray, utilitarian mass. This was hilariously satirized in a popular commercial from the glory days of Reagan’s America.

The satire works because of its element of truth. When profit is outlawed, the economic engine starts to misfire. Costs become impossible to calculate because the ultimate market clearing price has been eliminated. Producers, unable to gauge market demand, mechanically follow political mandates. Can you even imagine a bureaucracy trying to put together a hamburger? With condiments? All of society is transformed into a polluted, corrupt, tragedy-of-the-commons which people risk death to escape. Reality itself must be obscured by the gnostic regime which purports to rewrite the laws of the physical universe. Thus we get the Total State of  a socialist Stalin or Mao, as opposed to the merely authoritarian State.

cultural-revolution-1966-2 (1)

 

augusto
God rest the soul of His servant, Augusto.

The authoritarian State wields a firm or even brutal hand, but non-State institutions nonetheless operate and nobody has to kill themselves because citrus trees won’t grow on the tundra. The totalitarian State has a more daunting task:  its utopian vision above all must be maintained whether it conforms to reality or, more often, does not. Thus, the totalitarian State cannot content itself with merely imprisoning or executing dissidents. History, the sciences, reality itself must be propagandized, obscured and denied.

unpersoned

In retrospect, humanity sidestepped this grim, collectivist future rather handily. The conception of the individual and his inalienable rights triumphed over the dreary old USSR. So imagine the surprise of myself and other children of the Cold War to see totalitarianism rear up from a completely unexpected quadrant.

In many ways, Max is a typical 14-year-old. He eschews soft music in favour of rock and heavy metal, likes to wear hoodies, giggles when he’s nervous and has a flair for drawing animals. He can be opinionated and sarcastic one moment, shy and withdrawn the next.

His insecurities, however, run deeper than run-of-the-mill teenaged angst.

“I have a male brain that doesn’t match up with the body I’m in,” says the Grade 9, Surrey, B.C., student, who was the female gender at birth.

“It’s like being trapped in a cage.”

Max is now at the centre of a complicated legal fight over who gets to decide the course of treatment for his gender dysphoria. Max and his mom, Sarah, with the support of the gender clinic at B.C. Children’s Hospital, want to proceed with a treatment plan that would involve injecting Max with testosterone — a key step, they say, in Max’s desire to transition from a female to a male body.

In the time of ultimate individualism of course, the notion that a biological female can have a male brain is a fait accomplit, and the role of the State is to reinforce that notion over the objections of a mere parent. So society has come full circle, from the tyranny of the collective to the tyranny of the individual. The State, not content with the 30,000-foot view, now takes the scanning electron microscope-level view, displacing parental authority and purporting to legislate biological reality itself. North Koreans would be appalled.

chastity chaz
This is a man, bigots.

Secular democracy, as it turns out, has removed all intermediating institutions between the State and the individual. Who imagined within my lifetime that the Total State would be path-dependent on individualism?

Why are we still in Afghanistan?

hornet's nest

Does anybody know?

The three Marines killed Monday [April 8, 2019] in a car bombing outside Bagram Air Field died only days before there were expected to return home from Afghanistan.

Now friends and family of Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y.; Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., are left with memories and grief.

Officials are still investigating the incident, which wounded three other Americans, an Afghan contractor and five Afghan civilians. No specific details were available, Marine Forces Reserve said in a statement.

“Our focus in the wake of this attack is to support the family, friends and loved ones of our fallen Marines,” said Maj. Roger Hollenbeck, a Marine Forces Reserve spokesman. “These Marines are honored for their extraordinary bravery and for their direct contribution to the defense of this nation.”

The fallen Marines were assigned to 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. They deployed to Afghanistan in October 2018 as part of a program in which Marines train and advise Georgian infantry troops that the former Soviet republic contributes to the NATO mission there.

So the answer in this case is that US troops are in Afghanistan to train Georgian troops to be in Afghanistan. This makes sense because after all, freedom is a universal value and only some provincial bigot would ever think that Georgians don’t need their freedom defended too.

I’m personally skeptical of the Iraq-Afghanistan-freedom nexus. I don’t perceive that my life has gotten any less complicated or more free since Operation Enduring Freedom. But nobody wants to believe they lost an eye or had to bury their children for government propaganda.

I watched the 2014 documentary The Hornet’s Nest recently, which is a war correspondent’s account of a group of US troops in Afghanistan.

The film was thin on details and the bigger picture, but my impression from this small slice of the Afghan campaign is some Afghans really resent the US presence in Afghanistan, so they join the Taliban which lays low but pops up every now and again to kill US troops. On the other hand, some Afghans seem to really like the US troops and are glad to tell them about Taliban activity in the area. I suspect this is because the Taliban relies on brutal shakedowns of the locals in order to buy arms and explosives and to stay fed.

The whole thing seems kind of disorganized, with the word coming down from on high that the Taliban are “active” in some area so US troops need to go on patrol there to kick in doors and seize arms caches. Sure enough, when they go into an area they draw small arms fire and end up in these ad hoc firefights. They kill the bad guys, seize the caches, high-five each other, and head back to the base.

The troop count is small enough that we can outfit them in the latest gear. Like the photograph in the lede shows, everybody gets night-vision goggles and red dot scopes that practically aim themselves. Everyone in the documentary is the God’s-honest best of white male America: big, brave, good-humored, and armed to the teeth. But all it takes is one little bit of supersonic metal hitting the femoral artery and that young, fit 200-pound soldier just slumps down and dies within a few minutes.

I didn’t get the sense from the film that the troops are emotionally or ideologically invested in their mission. They love each other, they love the soldier’s trade, and Afghanistan is where they get to ply it. So I think as soon as they hear that we’re leaving Afghanistan then they’ll follow their survival instincts and tell their superiors to go on their own m—–f—ing patrols.

The withdrawal announcement will produce numerous cascade effects. The money to the big network of informants and local rajas will dry up, so they’ll start getting assassinated. Arms and money will start flowing in the other direction and patrols will become more dangerous. We’re already unwilling to commit expensive air support and tanks for ground campaigns, so everybody will find excuses to stay on the base and wait for transport home. At the very end, it looks like this.

saigon

And after the last helicopter takes off, then the Taliban get to roll into Kabul and declare victory over the biggest, baddest army on the planet.

So there’s your answer for why US troops are still in Afghanistan: nobody can think of a good way to end it. Everybody gets careerist credentials for participating but leaving just means humiliation and back to the petty bureaucratic world of Stateside postings. So we stay.

Post-Scarcity

post scarcity

Things have been quiet on my site, and on Porter’s site, and at Social Matter. The years at and around peak earnings (40’s through 50’s) are a busy time. Work, children in college, aging family members, and one’s own efforts to stave off decrepitude all distract from ranting on the Internet. Thankfully the indefatigable Z-Man, Brett Stephens and Steve Sailer soldier on for your reading enjoyment.

Because really, what else is there to rant about? Politics as we know it is over. We have piled up $22 trillion in federal public debt alone, re-financeable at negative interest rates. The monied class has run out of things to buy so they’re buying sovereign debt. It’s better than cash, literally, so why are we still paying taxes?

We are at a strange equilibrium where productivity is keeping pace with monetary inflation. For all practical purposes, we are Post-Scarcity. If you don’t believe me, declare yourself opposite-gendered, get a neck tattoo, alienate your entire biological family, reject your culture’s historic religious faith and taboos, and see if you have to go live under a bridge. You won’t. The rules that kept things together in a world existentially dependent on adequate rainfall don’t apply in a world of air-conditioned skyscrapers in the desert.

The only problem remaining in such a world is the equitable distribution of resources. Does anybody have a good answer for why Haiti is allowed to exist while the US and other governments spend out of their deficits to fund the F-35? Why must these same countries take in immigrants from all the places that are, as usual, failing, when we could swoop in with our F-35’s and save them from their own self-rule?

If you’re a free market economist, you’ll say these massive inequalities are a necessary corollary to uninhibited operation of the supply-demand curve. The human eco-system, so the argument goes, must operate free of externality other than consumer preference in order to incentivize capital formation and efficiencies.  It’s a good argument. Free market economic policy has produced unprecedented, astounding wealth. All attempts to replace the invisible hand of the market with bureaucratic management have failed, and they always will. Socialism can’t calculate. But the awkward issue for the free market-economist is that this hyper-abundance exists hand in glove with the large, omnipresent footprint of governments and their central banks.

The retort from the Austrian School is that the fiat money-generated boom cannot last. The artificially low interest rates and money-printing distort price signals and divert capital from the “real” economy to the “bubble” economy, the latter being parasitic on the former. Eventually, with the real economy starved of capital, the bubble economy collapses to the level which can actually be supported by real savings (current profits retained to fund future production). As Friedrich Hayek conceptualized it, the Keynesians and monetarists simply borrow from the future, and will eventually run out of future.

The Hayekian view is compelling, as it seems confirmed in Nature. Artificial interventions in biological eco-systems lead to disaster. Animals, not having fiat currency and public welfare, must work or starve. Soft times beget soft people beget hard times, as we on the Alt-Right love to remind everyone.

But what if we’re wrong? What if our economic baseline has reached a level of productivity that can support billions of people with far fewer inputs than previous? We spend kings’ ransoms keeping people out of the labor market until well into adulthood, and still have enough to park a number of them there permanently (we call such institutions “universities”). Large numbers of public and private jobs could vanish overnight with no effect on the cone of production. We have them simply because we can afford it,  but we could just pay these people the same salaries to stay home. Here’s Forbes’ list of top YouTube millionaires. Here’s the healthy, enthusiastic staff of the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement.

Clearly, I have been doing things dreadfully wrong.

The counter to all this remains that we are simply in the Everything Bubble. Like the bald eagles that stopped hunting when the humans arrived and built Dutch Harbor, we will become obese, dissipated, and ultimately incapable of maintaining the technologies upon which we have become dependent.

post scarcity2

And so, this strange, quiet Interregnum here in the vanguard of political thought. Are we marching toward a tolerant, borderless future of thermodynamically neutral energy sources overseen by wise technocrats? If so, the Enlightenment ideals and social conservatism of the US Founders do not apply, and I look forward to my YangBucks.

andrew yang fam
Mr. President Sir God-Emperor Yang and Family

Or is this just the Peak before the accrued capital runs out, and the old gods with terror and slaughter return?

joseph seed
I was right bichez

I don’t know. And you can contact Porter, Nick B. Steves or Happy Acres and they’ll tell you they don’t know either. We wait and see–Trump so far has proven to be a placeholder–so getting exercised over which wing of the Globohomo Party should govern the US (and from there, the world) is kind of pointless.

The Ecumenical Patriarch doubles down

On February 21, 2019 His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch responded to the letter from His Beatitude Patriarch John X sent on December 31, 2018 calling on him to convoke a synaxis of the primates of the autocephalous Orthodox churches in order to examine the Ukrainian issue and find a Pan-Orthodox solution to it. His Holiness states that “after four Orthodox churches, without reason from an ecclesiological and theological point of view, refused to be present during the work of the Great and Holy Council, for which there is no excuse– and your ancient church was one of them– the Ecumenical Patriarchate has good reason to refrain from such a meeting at the Pan-Orthodox level, which would be useless inasmuch as it would only lead to agreement that the participants are in disagreement with each other.” (From Notes on Arab Orthodoxy).

So there.

Readers of my long-neglected blog may recall the Ecumenical Patriarch’s unilateral recognition of a new Orthodox Church for the country of Ukraine, and going back further, the abortive “Great and Holy Council” which the Patriarch attempted to call in 2016. With respect to the former, imagine the American Antiochians doing an end-run around their Patriarch, +John X, and getting +Bartholomew in Istanbul to declare an independent American Orthodox Church. Greatly simplified, that’s what happened with Ukraine motivated, as it now appears, in no small part by the Local Churches’ slight of the Ecumenical Patriarch in 2016. The letter is astonishingly curt and vindictive; Church-speak, like diplomat-speak, is as a rule very rigorously and subtly couched. This letter is the ecclesial equivalent of an Eff You.

Unfortunately, this is a pretty big deal. Moscow is out of communion with Constantinople over Ukraine. Antioch is out of communion with Jerusalem over the latter’s incursion into its territories (over which she appealed, and was ignored, by Constantinople). The canonical Ukrainian Church (the Metropolitanate which answers to Moscow) will soon be outlawed leading to seizure of properties and further escalations on all sides, with the Local Churches inevitably forced into a public stand and, hence, more schisms. The conciliar model is blowing up, thanks to Hellenistic bigots and a Muscovite Patriarch who, with justification, regards the See of Constantinople as functionally vacant but, in his own turn, would very much like to be considered the Third Rome. At the end of the day of course, the Patriarch of Moscow is the one with the sanction of the nuclear-armed Russian state, and the Ecumenical Patriarch lives in a Greek ghetto in Turkey. If you have to remind people of your primacy, as +Bartholomew persists in reminding everyone, you don’t really have it.

I cannot even begin to describe the contrivances our archaic, ethnically tangled ecclesiology has created for itself in the modern world. Yet I am told repeatedly, vehemently, under penalty of excommunication, that even the faintest expression of ethno-nationalism is just the worst sin of all sins that any sinner can ever sin. “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek,” as St. Paul puts it. Now, the first part is undoubtedly true as I’m aware of exactly one Orthodox of Jewish ancestry in my area, but I have sat in the conference room of a Greek cathedral and heard a prominent congregant remark to Christians of English, Syrian, Palestinian, and Russian descent that “Christianity is Hellenistic.” I also observe that, day in and day out, every single Orthodox bishop and priest of the so-called diaspora Churches in the Americas and Europe is in violation of the 1872 Council.

To my observation, the most salient and consistent feature of the historical Church has been the evolutionary wedding of Her liturgy and hierarchy to the local culture. I have read that the earliest schisms, resulting in the venerable Coptic, Armenian and Assyrian Churches, were motivated in part by antipathy to Byzantine supremacists. The Germanics peeled off with Luther and Calvin from Rome. The only French Pope moved the See to Avignon, and the King of the British Isles quite easily if heretically slipped the leash of a Pope several months’ journey away. (What would Western Christianity look like if the Roman Patriarch had prudentially granted autocephaly to the nations of Europe and Britain rather than try to run everything from the Italian peninsula?)

There is an old English Catholic hymn, “Faith of Our Fathers,” which seems to capture the prevailing sentiment of peoples everywhere quite well. If  our beatitudinous Patriarchs are nationalistic–even, dare I say, imperialistic–then our shopworn “neither Jew nor Greek” dictum has to be an answer to some different question. I wish our bishops would get around to asking it but like I say, the more they have to deal with jurisdictional battles the less time they have to lecture us on immigrants and global warming.

Forgiveness Sunday and the beginning of Great Lent approaches. Let us pray for forgiveness, and the state of Christ’s Church and the World.