Short Takes: April 2016

It’s been quite awhile since I posted an edition of Short Takes – my roundup of thoughts that are worth saying, but too limited to warrant a full blog post. But in this political season, there’s a lot that requires some attention to be paid. So let us pay it, without another moment’s delay:

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• I’m getting pretty sick and tired of the countersignaling against pro-life that seems to be fashionable amongst certain segments of the alt-right these days, as if saying that murdering babies is wrong is just too pleb-tier for edgy intellectuals like us. I have no patience for this. Murdering babies is evil, and should be illegal, with extreme penalties for violating the law. Full stop. If we as the alt-right can’t say that, then we’re worse than useless. Yes, some moral questions require subtle and nuanced thinking. But some do not, and in those cases, moral relativism is evil’s foot in the door. Abortion is one of those cases. Either abortion is murder, or it isn’t. If it is, then nothing justifies it except a direct and certain threat to the life of the mother, in which case one life is balanced against another – one will live, one will die, and the only choice is who. But if it is not, then abort away – one million a year, ten million a year, a billion a year, it matters not, and no more thought should be given to it than would be given to trimming a fingernail. Any other position – any half-measure, any “legal but rare”, any “in this case but not in that case”, is dishonesty both on a moral and a rational level.

• Related: Something to be cautious of is the increasingly large number of what I would call “racialist liberals” who are claiming to be a part of the alt-right. These are people who, politically-speaking, want all or most of what liberals do, but who are either (understandably) fed up with the disproportionate criminality of certain ethnic groups or who (correctly) believe that a liberal social order is unworkable with too many underperforming minorities acting as a drag on the system. Such people are, of course, entitled to their opinions. But they are not entitled to appropriate the term “rightist” (alt- or otherwise) without being called on it.

Being on the right means believing rightist things. If you don’t, then you aren’t on the right, and you shouldn’t claim that you are. So, if your claims that you are a rightist when you really aren’t are due to some sort of mistake or confusion, I’ll be happy to help correct any misconceptions you may have. If, however, they are intentional misrepresentation, then you are a left-entryist who must be revealed for what you are and ruthlessly denounced until you are hounded out of rightist circles. Again, you are entitled to your opinions. If you’re on the left, go be a leftist, and if the left is presently too racially egalitarian for you, then you’re welcome to agitate however you like to try to change that. But you aren’t entitled to acceptance under false pretenses, and I won’t extend you any.

• Also related: The Trump campaign is having all the effects on the alt-right that I predicted it would, for both better and worse. It must be conceded that Trump has had the effect of shifting the conscousness of the rank-and-file “normies” noticably rightward, or at least has made them far less afraid to speak out. In doing so, he has indeed moved the Overton Window. He has also caused the GOP establishment to be revealed for who and what it actually is, and few people (especially people under 60) will ever trust it again. These are all good things. Yet it must be said that the larger Trump phenomenon may all be based on illusion; it seems to me that Trump is something of a Rorschach test – the right (outside of the GOP establishment) sees him as the embodiment of all their hopes, while the left sees him as the embodiment of all their fears. In truth, he is almost certainly neither, and both those who need a hero to follow and those who need a dragon to slay are projecting those needs onto him.

On the other hand, the recent spate of anti-pro-life signaling has appeared largely because of Trump’s recent perceived “stumble” on an abortion-related question. Certain circles of the alt-right, having fallen into the trap of thinking that jettisoning principle to gain power is a sustainable strategy, have decided to throw pro-life under the bus as quickly as possible so as not to derail the Trump Train any further. These sorts never seem to stop and ask themselves what sacrificing principle for a chance at power has gotten mainstream conservatism. Thus, they inevitably turn into the very thing they’re rebelling against. In short, they’re every bit as much a bunch of cucks as Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, just on a different set of issues.

In the end, it may be fair to say that the Trump phenomenon has made the populist normies better and the alt-right elite worse. These elites, however, (by virtue of being elites) ought to have known not to let this happen to them, and there’s a lesson for all of us to be had here: this is what comes of a philosophical movement allowing itself to get too attached to a single leader, a political party, or even to power itself. Whether Trump is or isn’t the best of the available presidential candidates is beside the point; the excessive attachment that some on the alt-right have developed to him, combined with their renewed faith that they will ever get anything but defeat and humiliation out of mass democracy, represents a serious failing, and there will be consequences to this whether Trump wins or loses the election.

As for me, to misquote Christopher Hitchens, I’m not running for any office, so I don’t have to pretend to respect ideas that are foolish, hypocritical, or evil when I don’t. In this sense, having no aspirations to political power is freeing. Fiat justitia ruat caelum – I will continue to do my part by telling the truth, no matter what the consequences.

• The philosophy of “passivism” has been making the rounds lately in certain alt-right (and especially neoreactionary) circles, and with all due respect to those advocating it – many of whom are thinkers I deeply respect – I must admit to not being particularly impressed by the idea. It makes a certain amount of sense on paper, but in the real world, it is just too easy for it to degrade into lazyism and do-nothingism.

Most especially, I am puzzled by this: If passivism’s plan is, 1) Become worthy, 2) Accept power, 3) Rule, then what exactly is the strategy for making 2) happen? It looks to me as if this stage is glossed over in the manner of the infamous “underpants gnomes” of South Park. But it is not an unimportant question, and it would seem that passivism is all about avoiding it on the assumption that if we just become worthy enough, power will eventually come knocking on our door, hat in hand, begging us to accept it. I find this to be rather unrealistic, to say the least.

I understand, absolutely, saying that hippie-style protests will never work for the right. I understand saying that we should focus on the philosophical and meta-political, and leave the machinations of day-to-day politics to others. But when that turns into the idea of retreating from the world to spend our time in navel gazing and self-improvement schemes rather than trying to accomplish something in the here and now, my response is that if I wanted to do that, I would have joined a monastery. Instead, I started writing and speaking out because I wanted to change things, and I’m not planning to become “passive” anytime soon.

• Taikung Jen, in a conversation with Confucius:

“I’ll teach you how to escape death…

…there is a raven in the eastern sea which is called Yitai (‘dull-head’). This dull-head cannot fly very high and seems very stupid. It hops only a short distance and nestles close with others of its kind. In going forward, it dare not lag behind. At the time of feeding, it takes what is left over by the other birds. Therefore, the ranks of this bird are never depleted and nobody can do them any harm. A tree with a straight trunk is the first to be chopped down. A well with sweet water is the first to be drawn dry.”

•The city government of San Jose – heart of the Silicon Valley – has announced a campaign to crack down on unlicensed “massage parlors”, which they (correctly) accuse of being fronts for prostitution. While I carry no brief for houses of ill repute, I nonetheless find this move deeply disturbing. For as long as anyone I know can remember (going back to my grandparents’ time, and further) there has been an unspoken truce that has existed in every American city in which East Asian ethnic neighborhoods have formed. The terms have always been approximately this: the neighborhood will remain largely self-policing – violent crime among residents will stay rare, and violent crimes against outsiders (especially tourists) will remain virtually unheard-of. In exchange, the police (who, being no fools, surely know where to find it) will turn a blind eye to discreetly-operated dens of the sort of vices that East Asians particularly enjoy (gambling, prostitution, and the occasional opium den prominent among these). The new anti-vice campaign on the part of San Jose’s municipal government represents a violation of this long-established, stable, mutually-beneficial truce.

The Puritan left, of course, knows no honor, so any truce it offers will last only until they feel they have amassed enough power to break it with impunity. San Jose’s campaign fits in neatly with the left’s recent transgressions of other lines that, not long ago, they swore they would never cross – including those involving freedom of religion and even freedom of speech. And they will stop at nothing, nor will they respect any borderlines, in enforcing their new dictates. As Fred Reed noted, in the New Order, no one will be left alone – not anyone, not anywhere, not ever. There is no corner of the internet hidden enough, no small-town bakery obscure enough, no private sanctum deep enough within your own walls, no low-down barroom dingy and smoky enough, and no alley in Chinatown dark and narrow enough that the Puritan left’s Inquisitors – whether they are officials of the state or private vigilantes – will not insert themselves there in their hunt for demons to exorcise and witches to burn.

First they came for the Chinatown whorehouses…

• Related: The newest addition to the left’s long, long inventory of things that are triggering and oppressive and must be purged for the good of the children: Animanics. No, really.

Attention leftists – when you’ve reached the point where your enemies list has grown so long that it now includes Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, you’ve objectively gone batshit insane.

• There may, however, be a ray of hope out there in the darkness. Over at amerika.org, Brett Stevens has come up with a novel proposal for getting the lefties to leave us alone. He advocates a strategy of passing laws distasteful to them, not only because such laws are sane and reasonable, but also with the intent of getting them to boycott us (and thus to go away). Relevant quote from his article (which is very much worth reading in full):

“The only place safe from the ever-greedy belly of socialist-style government and the neurotic fatwas of Coastal liberals is the place that no one wants. Become that place. Make the South look utterly terrible to these Coastal neurotics and schizoids, and let them pull back. If they want a wall, let’s build that wall. Let us seal ourselves off from the North forever because we are so disgusting to their eyes.

In the meantime, cut free of their neurosis and the easy-money jobs of the cities that make people into robot zombies, we can rebuild civilization and eventually have enough tactical nukes to vanish them if they charge over the wall. Let the Coastal liberals face the fate of their reality-denying, misery-spreading Leftist mental health issues. We must break free, and it begins by making them not hate us, but be grossed out by us.”

At the moment, this seems to be working brilliantly, not only at keeping degenerate pornographers at bay, but in preventing attention-seeking show biz has-beens from pestering decent folk, and even at driving off crooked, predatory globalist banksters. So far so good then – I’ll lend my personal endorsement to the Stevens Plan. If it keeps undesirables from darkening our doorsteps, then it’s a win-win all around.

By the way, would it be silly of me to ask why the left suddenly finds millionaires and huge multinational corporations interfering in politics to be totally acceptable when that interference furthers the left’s own political aims? Yes, I suppose it would.

(UPDATE I: Washed-up 80s relic Cyndi Lauper says she’ll donate all of the proceeds from her next concert to a gay rights organization trying to get the North Carolina law repealed. So, there’s another $4.25 or so in the kitty! You go, girl.

UPDATE II: And now insufferable prog lardsack Michael Moore has announced that in response to the new law, he won’t be releasing his latest dismal propaganda film to theaters in North Carolina. This law just keeps getting better and better!)

• Has anyone else noticed that among leftism’s innumerable internal contradictions is the fact that their dogmatic belief in blank-slate theory directly contradicts their opposition to hereditary monarchy? If blank-slate theory is true, then there is no reason to fear a “bad seed” on the throne – all that will be needed to produce the ideal philosopher-kings of which thinkers since Socrates have dreamed will be to give them the right upbringing and education. (This latter is especially important, for the left’s belief in education as alchemy – able to turn any human material into any other kind of human material that may be desired – is essentially absolute.) So why then do they not, instead of opposing monarchy, devote their energies to advocating for the right sort of education for young princes?

Perhaps in their mind lurks the knowledge that Nero’s teacher was Seneca, and Commodus’s was his father Marcus Aurelius. Then again, when did “progressives” ever stoop to learning from history?

• The left is an engine of sadism and destruction; included in this is sadism and destruction directed inward – i.e. masochism and self-destruction. This is not incidental to leftism nor a by-product of it; the sadomasochistic imperative is in fact central to leftism. Nothing that the left does can be understood unless seen through this lens; looked at any other way, its actions seem random and bizarre. It explains both the left’s pattern of rewarding those who engage in behaviors destructive to society at large and even to the left in particular, as well as its otherwise-inexplicable alliance with Islam. For example, Muslims knocked down the Twin Towers; and as a result, the number of Muslim immigrants in the United States has been doubled since that day. Or consider that the massive sexual irresponsibility of gays spread an epidemic that killed tens of millions; and as a result, they were rewarded with gay “marriage”. Or that violent criminal predators have turned the streets of our once-gleaming cities into dystopian war zones; and as a result, they are getting handsomely paid off in exchange for a pinky promise to not do it again (contrast this to the penalties in technically-communist but non-self-destructive China for “hooliganism”).

The left desperately wants death, but the sadomasochistic imperative at its core means that its suicide will not be in the form of an otherwise-harmless self-immolation in the style of Thich Quang Duc. Instead, the left will destroy itself in the manner of Andreas Lubitz – intentionally taking everyone who they have trapped within their power along with them in their death dive; the helpless victims, in a rather more urgent version of William F. Buckley’s response to leftism, pounding helplessly on the cockpit door as the mountains get ever-closer, telling: “No! No! For the love of God, stop!”

Either we destroy the left, or it destroys itself and takes us along with it. In the end, which is more humane? More reasonable?

• I was 15 years old when the film Rain Man was released to theaters. I remember Good Morning America running a segment just before it debuted in which they had to explain what autism was, (being especially careful to make the point that it was not the same thing as mental retardation) because at the time it was such an unknown condition that most people had never heard of it. Over the intervening years, it seems as though autism, like homosexuality, has gone all the way from existing in the shadows to being the new normal. Scientists and physicians, I’m sure, have well-reasoned explanations for the increase in rates of autism over the last thirty years or so, and I have no doubt of the correctness of their explanations. But I can’t help but notice that autism seems to be the signature disorder of our age – a medical condition that perfectly reflects where we are as a society. Of course, autism is the apotheosis of the Whig thinking that, over the course of centuries, has become the central current of thought in the West (and, via the transmission lines of globalism, the world). Ruthlessly logical, humorless, uncultured, literal – it is the thinking of a cog in a system, but essentially nothing else. What could be more reflective of the computerized, post-industrial age – an age in which our lives are defined by interaction with machines, and in which thinking like a machine is increasingly considered to be the height of intelligence?

Whoever you turn into heroes, that is who people will seek to emulate. Now, think of all the high-functioning autistics who we have held up as the great heroes of our age – Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and others who built huge fortunes quickly in the Great Silicon Valley Gold Rush of 1975-2010. When the heroes we were all taught to emulate were cowboys, soldiers, policemen – men who reflected masculine virtue – what sort of men did our society produce? And now that socially-maladjusted, overly-literal machine-men – they who know circuits and cost/benefit analyses, but who can discern no use for God or philosophy or morality – now that these are our heroes, what sort of men is our society producing?

Perhaps the scientists will say that’s all a coincidence. If it is, it’s a remarkable one.

• From New York comes word that the NYC subway’s implementation of NFC payments will take at least five more years (and likely much longer), and that only $10 million of the projected $450 million budget for the project has actually been allocated. Behold the entropy of a decadent, declining, systemically corrupt system in action! New York City – so great a showpiece of advancement in the 20th century that the young Ayn Rand, fresh off the boat from Russia, wept when she beheld its towering skyline – cannot, in this century, find a timely and cost-effective way to implement a technology that Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, and even Bangkok have been using for years.

My prediction:The NYC subway system, which has for many years been desperately in need of a major modernization (not just in terms of new technology like NFC payments, but in basics like better ventilation and some escalators to replace endless flights of stairs in big stations), will not be getting significantly more modern anytime soon. The NFC project will crawl along for years, with nothing much coming of it. When it is finally finished, years late and tend of millions over budget, the final product will be barely-functional at best. Meanwhile, astronomical amounts of taxpayer money will disappear into politically-connected pockets (all in ways that are technically perfectly legal).

Bob Grant used to say that we are slipping and sliding into third worldism. This is a fine example of that trend. Do not expect it to be reversed anytime soon. An occasional rocket landing on a boat aside (every trend line has a few bumps in the opposite direction), we are not a society that can get things done anymore.

• Related: Will everybody please shut the hell up about Uber? Stop treating it like it’s the past decade’s most innovative development in tech. For heaven’s sake, it’s just a phone app that helps you to hail a gypsy cab; it’s not the freaking Apollo moon landing program.

• He’s back! After an absence of four years, the prognosticator of prognosticators, the badass of business – everyone’s favorite Texan investor, Johnnie Walker drinker, and secret brony – the man they call Ghost has returned with all-new episodes of True Capitalist Radio! I’m a big fan of the show, the host, and even (maybe especially) the trolls, so trust me here – if you listen to a few episodes, I’m confident that you’ll be hooked.

 

The Lion And The Ox

“One law for the lion and ox is oppression.” – William Blake

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When I tell people that I don’t believe in equality, the response I get is invariably one that combines horror with incomprehension. How, people ask, could I not be in favor of equality? Equality is, after all (and as Tocqueville ably illustrated) the very business of America! How could I not think equality the most desirable state to which mankind can aspire, and that which we must work together to build? How could I not wish the government to pass laws to grant us more of it, and to want it implanted as a value in every human heart?

My reply is that they have misunderstood me. I do not say “I don’t believe in equality” in the sense that I might say that I don’t believe in Objectivism or Communism or Juche. I say “I don’t believe in equality” in the sense that I might say that I don’t believe in unicorns, or the Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus. I mean that I see no convincing evidence that the thing being discussed actually exists, either at an individual level or at a group level. Thus, it is immaterial whether I support it, or wish for it, or think it would be a great idea if we had more of it. Perhaps it would be the most wonderful thing in all the world if equality really existed, and perhaps I can’t think of a single reason why it wouldn’t be. Similarly, I daresay it would be the most wonderful thing in the world if Santa Claus really existed, and I most certainly can’t think of a single reason why it wouldn’t be. And yet reality remains what it is.

This, of course, runs up against two of the left’s most anti-reality tendencies. The first is its consistent inability to comprehend the difference between the descriptive and the normative – between an “is” and an “ought”. To the left, if something ought to be, then it is – or perhaps more specifically, if something must be true in order for their beliefs to be valid, then it is true, and questioning it will be placed beyond the pale. The second is their belief in the power that laws passed by governments have to restructure reality. They protest: “But we have passed laws to ensure equality! We have had Supreme Court decisions! The law is clear!” Perhaps it is – but it is also meaningless in the face of implacable reality.

So here is some reality: You cannot pass a law that will make human beings equal. You can pass a law that will force everybody to act as if human beings are equal, but that is not the same thing. The government could just as well pass a law forcing everybody to act as if unicorns existed, and enforce it with penalties so harsh that virtually nobody would be willing to speak up against it. In fact, you can go even father. You could mandate teaching about unicorns at schools and universities, and indeed, you could even set up whole Departments of Unicorn Studies. You could make sure that films and television were careful to never question whether unicorns existed. You could get people kicked off of social networks for snickering at the idea of unicorns. You could make it so that those who dared to disbelieve in unicorns were fired from their jobs, blacklisted from entire professions, and rendered unable to make enough money to put food on the table for their children to eat.

You could do all of that, and it still won’t make unicorns exist.

It is at this point that I can imagine conservatives and libertarians responding: “Alright, we accept that individuals are not inherently equal. But we should at least grant people equal treatment under the law! That is the cornerstone of liberty! It is the key principle to which free men subscribe! It is what the Founding Fathers fought for!”

I am afraid that at this point, I will rankle them by not only disagreeing with the premise of equality under the law, but by illustrating my point with something else I’m sure they’ll dislike: a defense of Islam.

To do this, let us start by looking at the rape epidemic sweeping Europe – at incidents ranging from the Rotherham scandal to the Cologne sex attacks – and ask ourselves why they happened. Specifically, why does the arrival of waves of young men from Muslim countries in northern European societies consistently correlate with a wave of sex-related crimes in those countries? The obvious answer is that they feel empowered to commit them, but at the bottom of that chain of discoveries lies a stark truth: The reason that they suddenly feel empowered to do in Europe what they would not do at home is because the system of restraints (statutory, religious, and cultural) that is sufficient to restrain Swedes, Danes, and Englishmen from doing these things is not sufficient to restrain Syrians, Somalis, and Pakistanis from doing them. In their own countries, they would likely be lashed, beheaded, or otherwise face punishments for these acts that Westerners would consider draconian, and they would be subjected to them after far less due process of law than Westerners are used to. And this, of course, is over and above all the preventative restraints found in Muslim societies such as a still-intact system of patriarchal control over wives or unmarried daughters, the covering of women in clothing that reveals nothing, and an honor code that takes sexual impropriety as a serious matter calling for retribution (often delivered directly by the family of the violated woman). This is a serious system of restraints. Would you or I want to live under them? Would we want to wrap our women head to toe in black cloth and face the lash (or lynching) for sexual indiscretions? Of course not. But we are (either genetically or by citizenship) Europeans, and these restraints would be unnecessarily harsh if placed on us. In criticizing Islam as regards these cases, therefore, we may be confusing cause with effect. It is likely that instead of causing incidents like these, Islam (and the set of restraints that it represents) is in fact the only thing that prevents them from being as much of an epidemic among young men from Muslim countries in their homelands as it is among groups of them in Europe*.

(I will note here that the harshness of the American justice system has long been, of necessity, set at a level necessary to deal with the disproportionate criminality of blacks. This means that it is in general much harsher than the justice systems found in places like Sweden, which were set up to restrain basically all-white societies. Whether this generally higher level of harshness has anything to do with the fact that there has been no notable rape epidemic among Muslims in America is a conclusion I will leave it up to my readers to make.)

The obvious answer for the afflicted northern European countries (other than disallowing immigration from Muslim lands) would be to establish different sets of restraints for Pakistanis than for Englishmen and for Syrians than for Germans. In fact, many Muslim communities in their nations have openly requested this by asking to be allowed to set up Sharia-based law courts to deal with infractions in their communities. And yet they are consistently opposed in this by their European hosts, whose unshakable faith in blank slate theory, human equality, and equal treatment under the law cannot permit them to enact an answer so obvious that even the supposed “victims” of this inequality would eagerly welcome it.

(It is worth noting that the Muslims in these communities were so frustrated by the refusal of European authorities to allow them their own courts that they took to implementing vigilante-style “Sharia Patrols” in cities in Britain and Germany to maintain order in their neighborhoods. The authorities cracked down on these aberrations against equality with a swiftness and sureness that one might wish it reserved for the likes of Al-Qaeda or ISIS.)

And here we face the trap that Blake warned us about. While it is impossible to enact a separate law code to deal with each different individual, it is both possible and, if there is to be true justice, necessary to enact a separate law code to deal with each identifiably different group. What happens if we do not? Then we must have one law for everyone. But if we do that, at what level do we set the harshness of its restraints? If we set it at the level of those who need the least restraint, then we will have endless chaos caused by those who need more of it. If we set it at the level of those who need more restraint, we will unnecessarily tyrannize those who need less of it. If we slosh around between the two in a hopeless attempt to somehow split the difference, we get what Sam Francis referred to as anarcho-tyranny.

This is why the American south’s now universally-reviled Jim Crow system was in fact both sensible and necessary. And oh, yes, it is reviled! A national mark of shame! To think that we ever required blacks to sit in the back of the bus, away from everyone else! What barbarism! And yet… what have the results of the abolition of this system been? Let us consider the case of the buses. Half a century after desegregation, what do they look like? The sad truth is that our roads are choked with cars – many old, rusted, and belching smoke – because nobody who can possibly avoid taking public transportation in this country does take it. And while there are multiple reasons for that, one that cannot be ignored is a desire to avoid the swarms of loud, scary blacks that are ubiquitous on public transportation in any big city in America (it is not for nothing, after all, that Jay Leno once referred to buses as “rolling bad neighborhoods”). This has a snowball effect. It keeps ridership low, which prevents expansion. It makes existing routes outside of poor black areas economically difficult to maintain, and new routes outside of them politically difficult to create (Why did the St. Louis MetroLink – known to locals as the “CrimeLink” – never expand into the wealthy suburbs west of the city proper? Why did the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART commuter train system never expand into rich, white, liberal Marin County, despite initial plans for it to do so? The reason is both obvious and rarely mentioned.)

So much for the liberal dream of us all giving up our cars and using public transit! More cars on the road, more traffic, more expense for the working poor, more pollution – all unintended consequences of the ideal of equality under the law.

Let us consider another example: The left is absolutely correct that “stop and frisk” laws have disproportionately targeted visible minorities, especially blacks, in many cities (perhaps most notably in New York). And when they did, crime went down drastically. As a result, black neighborhoods became drastically safer. Many non-criminals who lived in these neighborhoods had their effective level of freedom increased, because they were no longer imprisoned in their houses out of fear of walking the streets. Whites, no longer afraid to come and spend money there, did. Businesses started to thrive again. Things got better.

And then Black Lives Matter showed up and demanded equal treatment under the law – or else. Cities burned, and policemen were put on trial (after intense pressure from BLM or its allies on the left) for doing their jobs. The new mayor of New York declared his support for the protesters and antipathy toward the police. As a result, policemen started staying in their cars instead of patrolling, and started to turn a blind eye to what they once would have stopped. Predictably, crime started to rise again. This will not end well for anyone.

In Europe, one law for native whites and for Muslims is a disaster. In America, one law for white and black is a disaster. It is obvious why. Middle easterners are not Englishmen; blacks are not whites. Nor are any two distinct and identifiable groups of people the same as each other. For example: Jews are not Arabs (a fact reflected in the law of the Jews’ own homeland) nor are they whites. Women are not men. Aristocrats are not craftsmen, craftsmen are not peasants, and peasants are not slaves**. Yes, exceptions exist to just about any generally true observation. But we can’t make sensible law based on exceptions and edge cases. The “talented tenth” may be inconvenienced by laws like Jim Crow, but the untalented 90% is a huge problem that must be realistically dealt with. Besides which, wisely-exercised human judgment among authority figures can more than adequately adjust for exceptions and edge cases. (Though this is exceptionally difficult under the current system, because Moderns have a horror of human judgment, preferring to believe instead that impersonal, automatic, universal systems of law and bureaucracy will provide us with just and wise leadership).

Everywhere we either find helpless acceptance of the anarcho-tyranny that inevitably accompanies equality under the law, or we find people engaging in elaborate schemes by which to treat different groups of people differently without letting it appear that that’s what we’re doing (often by finding ways to price certain groups of people out of certain markets, thus making the cost of living skyrocket for everyone). Aside from the patent ridiculousness and injustice of all this, it is not sustainable. So why do we not simply formalize the obvious solution, which is to treat distinctly different groups of people with distinctly different attributes differently? The answer is simple enough: Because that would be an arrangement based on truth, and we are a society that both fears and hates the truth.

But law that is not based on truth can neither ever be just, nor can ever stand very long. Lions are not oxen, pretending that they are is delusion, and having one law for both really is oppression. This is the truth, and in the end, the truth cannot be ignored forever. As the old saying goes: “Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret”.
(*I will go on record as saying that we in the West don’t give Islam nearly enough credit. It manages to keep some basic semblance of order in a lot of very rough places – and among a lot of very rough peoples – that would almost certainly be much worse off without it. Thus, I do not at all question the utility of Islam when practiced in those places. I question only 1) its validity as a genuine revelation from God, and 2) its compatibility with other – especially Christian/European – cultures.)

(**There are some people who are natural aristocrats of the soul, and there are other people who, as Aristotle noted, are natural slaves. Just as it’s true that it’s basically impossible to stop a natural aristocrat from becoming some form of elite within the society around him, so too is it true that it’s basically impossible to free natural slaves, because “slave” doesn’t describe their employment or legal status, but simply describes who they are. They will inevitably, invariably become some form of slave within the society around them. Witness, for example, the permanent welfare class – disproportionately the descendants of the slaves of 150 years ago – who live in a form of slavery in which they are utterly dependent upon their masters, who [the actual labor of slaves being obsolete in the post-industrial age] ask them to work only one day a year. That is, election day, when the time and effort they put into voting is required in order to maintain their masters’ power over them – a labor which they gladly supply.)

Good Friday

From The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, Chapter Two:

 

“In a white cloak with blood-red lining, with the shuffling gait of a cavalryman, early in the morning of the fourteenth day of the spring month of Nisan, there came out to the covered colonnade between the two wings of the palace of Herod the Great the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. 

More than anything in the world the procurator hated the smell of rose oil, and now everything foreboded a bad day, because this smell had been pursuing the procurator since dawn.

It seemed to the procurator that a rosy smell exuded from the cypresses and palms in the garden, that the smell of leather trappings and sweat from the convoy was mingled with the cursed rosy flux.

From the outbuildings at the back of the palace, where the first cohort of the Twelfth Lightning legion, which had come to Yershalaim with the procurator, was quartered, a whiff of smoke reached the colonnade across the upper terrace of the palace, and this slightly acrid smoke, which testified that the centuries’ mess cooks had begun to prepare dinner, was mingled with the same thick rosy scent.

‘Oh, gods, gods, why do you punish me? … Yes, no doubt, this is it, this is it again, the invincible, terrible illness… hemicrania, when half of the head aches … there’s no remedy for it, no escape … I’ll try not to move my head…’

On the mosaic floor by the fountain a chair was already prepared, and the procurator, without looking at anyone, sat in it and reached his hand out to one side. His secretary deferentially placed a sheet of parchment in this hand. Unable to suppress a painful grimace, the procurator ran a cursory, sidelong glance over the writing, returned the parchment to thesecretary, and said with difficulty:

‘The accused is from Galilee? Was the case sent to the tetrarch?’

‘Yes, Procurator,’ replied the secretary.

‘And what then?’

‘He refused to make a decision on the case and sent the Sanhedrin’s death sentence to you for confirmation,’ the secretary explained.

The procurator twitched his cheek and said quietly:

‘Bring in the accused.’

And at once two legionaries brought a man of about twenty-seven fromthe garden terrace to the balcony under the columns and stood him beforethe procurator’s chair. The man was dressed in an old and torn light-blue chiton. His head was covered by a white cloth with a leather band around the forehead, and his hands were bound behind his back. Under the man’s left eye there was a large bruise, in the corner of his mouth a cut caked with blood.

The man gazed at the procurator with anxious curiosity.

The latter paused, then asked quietly in Aramaic:

‘So it was you who incited the people to destroy the temple of Yershalaim?’

The procurator sat as if made of stone while he spoke, and only his lips moved slightly as he pronounced the words. The procurator was as if made of stone because he was afraid to move his head, aflame with infernal pain.

The man with bound hands leaned forward somewhat and began to speak:

‘Good man! Believe me …’

But the procurator, motionless as before and not raising his voice in the least, straight away interrupted him:

‘Is it me that you are calling a good man? You are mistaken. It is whispered about me in Yershalaim that I am a fierce monster, and that is perfectly correct.’ And he added in the same monotone: ‘Bring the centurion Ratslayer.’

It seemed to everyone that it became darker on the balcony when the centurion of the first century, Mark, nicknamed Ratslayer, presented himself before the procurator. Ratslayer was a head taller than the tallest soldier of the legion and so broad in the shoulders that he completely blocked out the still-low sun.

The procurator addressed the centurion in Latin:

‘The criminal calls me “good man”. Take him outside for a moment, explain to him how I ought to be spoken to. But no maiming.’

And everyone except the motionless procurator followed Mark Ratslayer with their eyes as he motioned to the arrested man, indicating that he should go with him. Everyone generally followed Ratslayer with their eyes wherever he appeared, because of his height, and those who were seeing him for the first time also because the centurion’s face was disfigured: his nose had once been smashed by a blow from a Germanic club.

Mark’s heavy boots thudded across the mosaic, the bound man noiselessly went out with him, complete silence fell in the colonnade, and one could hear pigeons cooing on the garden terrace near the balcony and water singing an intricate, pleasant song in the fountain.

The procurator would have liked to get up, put his temple under the spout, and stay standing that way. But he knew that even that would not help him.

Having brought the arrested man from under the columns out to the garden, Ratslayer took a whip from the hands of a legionary who was standing at the foot of a bronze statue and, swinging easily, struck the arrested man across the shoulders. The centurion’s movement was casual and light, yet the bound man instantly collapsed on the ground as if his legs had been cut from under him; he gasped for air, the colour drained from his face, and his eyes went vacant.

With his left hand only Mark heaved the fallen man into the air like an empty sack, set him on his feet, and spoke nasally, in poorly pronounced Aramaic:

‘The Roman procurator is called Hegemon. Use no other words. Stand at attention. Do you understand me, or do I hit you?’

The arrested man swayed, but got hold of himself, his colour returned, he caught his breath and answered hoarsely:

I understand. Don’t beat me.’

A moment later he was again standing before the procurator.

A lusterless, sick voice sounded:

‘Name?’

‘Mine?’ the arrested man hastily responded, his whole being expressing a readiness to answer sensibly, without provoking further wrath.

The procurator said softly:

‘I know my own. Don’t pretend to be stupider than you are. Yours.’

‘Yeshua,’ the prisoner replied promptly.

‘Any surname?’

‘Ha-Nozri.’

‘Where do you come from?’

‘The town of Gamala,’ replied the prisoner, indicating with his head that there, somewhere far off to his right, in the north, was the town of Gamala.

‘Who are you by blood?’

‘I don’t know exactly,’ the arrested man replied animatedly, ‘I don’t remember my parents. I was told that my father was a Syrian…’

‘Where is your permanent residence?’

‘I have no permanent home,’ the prisoner answered shyly, ‘I travel from town to town.’

‘That can be put more briefly, in a word – a vagrant,’ the procurator said, and asked:

‘Any family?’

‘None. I’m alone in the world.’

‘Can you read and write?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you know any language besides Aramaic?’

‘Yes. Greek.’

A swollen eyelid rose, an eye clouded with suffering fixed the arrested man. The other eye remained shut.

Pilate spoke in Greek.

‘So it was you who was going to destroy the temple building and called on the people to do that?’

Here the prisoner again became animated, his eyes ceased to show fear, and he spoke in Greek:

‘Never, goo…’ Here terror flashed in the prisoner’s eyes, because he had nearly made a slip. ‘Never, Hegemon, never in my life was I going to destroy the temple building, nor did I incite anyone to this senseless act.’

Surprise showed on the face of the secretary, hunched over a low table and writing down the testimony. He raised his head, but immediately bent it to the parchment again.

‘All sorts of people gather in this town for the feast. Among them there are magicians, astrologers, diviners and murderers,’ the procurator spoke in monotone, ‘and occasionally also liars. You, for instance, are a liar. It is written clearly: “Incited to destroy the temple”. People have testified to it.’

‘These good people,’ the prisoner spoke and, hastily adding ‘Hegemon’, went on: ‘…haven’t any learning and have confused everything I told them. Generally, I’m beginning to be afraid that this confusion may go on for a very long time. And all because he writes down the things I say incorrectly.’

Silence fell. By now both sick eyes rested heavily on the prisoner.

‘I repeat to you, but for the last time, stop pretending that you’re a madman, robber,’ Pilate said softly and monotonously, ‘there’s not much written in your record, but what there is enough to hang you.’

‘No, no, Hegemon,’ the arrested man said, straining all over in his wish to convince, ‘there’s one with a goatskin parchment who follows me, follows me and keeps writing all the time. But once I peeked into this parchment and was horrified. I said decidedly nothing of what’s written there. I implored him: “Burn your parchment, I beg you!” But he tore it out of my hands and ran away.’

‘Who is that?’ Pilate asked squeamishly and touched his temple with his hand.

‘Matthew Levi,’ the prisoner explained willingly. ‘He used to be a tax collector, and I first met him on the road in Bethphage,’ where a fig grove juts out at an angle, and I got to talking with him. He treated me hostilely at first and even insulted me – that is, thought he insulted me – by calling me a dog.’ Here the prisoner smiled. ‘I personally see nothing bad about this animal, that I should be offended by this word…’

The secretary stopped writing and stealthily cast a surprised glance, not at the arrested man, but at the procurator.

‘… However, after listening to me, he began to soften,’ Yeshua went on, ‘finally threw the money down in the road and said he would go journeying with me…’

Pilate grinned with one cheek, baring yellow teeth, and said, turning his whole body towards the secretary:

‘Oh, city of Yershalaim! What does one not hear in it! A tax collector, do you hear, threw money down in the road!’

Not knowing how to reply to that, the secretary found it necessary to repeat Pilate’s smile.

‘He said that henceforth money had become hateful to him,’ Yeshua explained Matthew Levi’s strange action and added: ‘And since then he has been my companion.’

His teeth still bared, the procurator glanced at the arrested man, then at the sun, steadily rising over the equestrian statues of the hippodrome, which lay far below to the right, and suddenly, in some sickening anguish, thought that the simplest thing would be to drive this strange robber off the balcony by uttering just two words: ‘Hang him.’ To drive the convoy away as well, to leave the colonnade, go into the palace, order the room darkened, collapse on the bed, send for cold water, call in a plaintive voice for his dog Banga, and complain to him about the hemicrania. And the thought of poison suddenly flashed temptingly in the procurator’s sick head.

He gazed with dull eyes at the arrested man and was silent for a time, painfully trying to remember why there stood before him in the pitiless morning sunlight of Yershalaim this prisoner with his face disfigured by beating, and what other utterly unnecessary questions he had to ask him.

‘Matthew Levi?’ the sick man asked in a hoarse voice and closed his eyes.

‘Yes, Matthew Levi,’ the high, tormenting voice came to him.

‘And what was it in any case that you said about the temple to the crowd in the bazaar?’

The responding voice seemed to stab at Pilate’s temple, was inexpressibly painful, and this voice was saying:

‘I said, Hegemon, that the temple of the old faith would fall and a new temple of truth would be built. I said it that way so as to make it more understandable.’

‘And why did you stir up the people in the bazaar, you vagrant, talking about the truth, of which you have no notion? What is truth?’

And here the procurator thought: ‘Oh, my gods! I’m asking him about something unnecessary at a trial… my reason no longer serves me…’ And again he pictured a cup of dark liquid. ‘Poison, bring me poison…’

And again he heard the voice:

‘The truth is, first of all, that your head aches, and aches so badly that you’re having faint-hearted thoughts of death. You’re not only unable to speak to me, but it is even hard for you to look at me. And I am now your unwilling torturer, which upsets me. You can’t even think about anything and only dream that your dog should come, apparently the one being you are attached to. But your suffering will soon be over, your headache will go away.’

The secretary goggled his eyes at the prisoner and stopped writing in mid-word.

Pilate raised his tormented eyes to the prisoner and saw that the sun already stood quite high over the hippodrome, that a ray had penetrated the colonnade and was stealing towards Yeshua’s worn sandals, and that the man was trying to step out of the sun’s way.

Here the procurator rose from his chair, clutched his head with his hands, and his yellowish, shaven face expressed dread. But he instantly suppressed it with his will and lowered himself into his chair again.

The prisoner meanwhile continued his speech, but the secretary was no longer writing it down, and only stretched his neck like a goose, trying not to let drop a single word.

‘Well, there, it’s all over,’ the arrested man said, glancing benevolently at Pilate, ‘and I’m extremely glad of it. I’d advise you, Hegemon, to leave the palace for a while and go for a stroll somewhere in the vicinity – say, in the gardens on the Mount of Olives. A storm will come…’ the prisoner turned, narrowing his eyes at the sun, ‘…later on, towards evening. A stroll would do you much good, and I would be glad to accompany you. Certain new thoughts have occurred to me, which I think you might find interesting, and I’d willingly share them with you, the more so as you give the impression of being a very intelligent man.’

The secretary turned deathly pale and dropped the scroll on the floor.

‘The trouble is,’ the bound man went on, not stopped by anyone, ‘that you are too closed off and have definitively lost faith in people. You must agree, one can’t place all one’s affection in a dog. Your life is impoverished, Hegemon.’ And here the speaker allowed himself to smile.

The secretary now thought of only one thing, whether to believe his ears or not. He had to believe. Then he tried to imagine precisely what whimsical form the wrath of the hot-tempered procurator would take at this unheard-of impudence from the prisoner. And this the secretary was unable to imagine, though he knew the procurator well.

Then came the cracked, hoarse voice of the procurator, who said in Latin:

‘Unbind his hands.’

One of the convoy legionaries rapped with his spear, handed it to another, went over and took the ropes off the prisoner. The secretary picked up his scroll, having decided to record nothing for now, and to be surprised at nothing.

‘Admit,’ Pilate asked softly in Greek, ‘that you are a great physician?’

‘No, Procurator, I am not a physician,’ the prisoner replied, delightedly rubbing a crimped and swollen purple wrist.

Scowling deeply, Pilate bored the prisoner with his eyes, and these eyes were no longer dull, but flashed with sparks familiar to all.

‘I didn’t ask you,’ Pilate said, ‘maybe you also know Latin?’

‘Yes, I do,’ the prisoner replied.

Colour came to Pilate’s yellowish cheeks, and he asked in Latin:

‘How did you know I wanted to call my dog?’

‘It’s very simple,’ the prisoner replied in Latin. ‘You were moving your hand in the air’ – and the prisoner repeated Pilate’s gesture – ‘as if you wanted to stroke something, and your lips…’

‘Yes,’ said Pilate.

There was silence. Then Pilate asked a question in Greek:

‘And so, you are a physician?’

‘No, no,’ the prisoner replied animatedly, ‘believe me, I’m not a physician.’

‘Very well, then, if you want to keep it a secret, do so. It has no direct bearing on the case. So you maintain that you did not incite anyone to destroy … or set fire to, or in any other way demolish the temple?’

‘I repeat, I did not incite anyone to such acts, Hegemon. Do I look like a halfwit?’

‘Oh, no, you don’t look like a halfwit,’ the procurator replied quietly and smiled some strange smile. ‘Swear, then, that it wasn’t so.’

‘By what do you want me to swear?’ the unbound man asked, very animated.

‘Well, let’s say, by your life,’ the procurator replied. ‘It’s high time you swore by it, since it’s hanging by a hair, I can tell you.’

‘You don’t think it was you who hung it, Hegemon?’ the prisoner asked.

‘If so, you are very mistaken.’

Pilate gave a start and replied through his teeth:

‘I can cut that hair.’

‘In that, too, you are mistaken,’ the prisoner retorted, smiling brightly and shielding himself from the sun with his hand. ‘You must agree that surely only he who hung it can cut the hair?’

‘So, so,’ Pilate said, smiling, ‘now I have no doubts that the idle loafers of Yershalaim followed at your heels. I don’t know who hung such a tongue on you, but he hung it well. Incidentally, tell me, is it true that you entered Yershalaim by the Susa gate riding on an ass, accompanied by a crowd of riff-raff who shouted greetings to you as some kind of prophet?’ Here the procurator pointed to the parchment scroll.

The prisoner glanced at the procurator in perplexity.

‘I don’t even have an ass, Hegemon,’ he said. ‘I did enter Yershalaim by the Susa gate, but on foot, accompanied only by Matthew Levi, and no one shouted anything to me, because no one in Yershalaim knew me then.’

‘Do you happen to know,’ Pilate continued without taking his eyes off the prisoner, ‘such men as a certain Dysmas, another named Gestas, and a third named Bar-Rabban?’

‘I do not know these good people,’ the prisoner replied.

‘Truly?’

‘Truly.’

‘And now tell me, why is it that you use me words “good people” all the time? Do you call everyone that, or what?’

‘Everyone,’ the prisoner replied. There are no evil people in the world.’

‘The first I hear of it,’ Pilate said, grinning. ‘But perhaps I know too little of life! …

You needn’t record any more,’ he addressed the secretary, who had not recorded anything anyway, and went on talking with the prisoner. ‘You read that in some Greek book?’

‘No, I figured it out for myself.’

‘And you preach it?’

‘Yes.’

‘But take, for instance, the centurion Mark, the one known as Ratslayer – is he good?’

‘Yes,’ replied the prisoner. ‘True, he’s an unhappy man. Since the good people disfigured him, he has become cruel and hard. I’d be curious to know who maimed him.’

‘I can willingly tell you that,’ Pilate responded, ‘for I was a witness to it. The good people fell on him like dogs on a bear. There were Germans fastened on his neck, his arms, his legs. The infantry maniple was encircled, and if one flank hadn’t been cut by a cavalry turmae, of which I was the commander – you, philosopher, would not have had the chance to speak with the Rat-slayer. That was at the battle of Idistaviso, in the Valley of the Virgins.’

‘If I could speak with him,’ the prisoner suddenly said musingly, ‘I’m sure he’d change sharply.’

‘I don’t suppose,’ Pilate responded, ‘that you’d bring much joy to the legate of the legion if you decided to talk with any of his officers or soldiers. Anyhow, it’s also not going to happen, fortunately for everyone, and I will be the first to see to it.’

At that moment a swallow swiftly flitted into the colonnade, described a circle under the golden ceiling, swooped down, almost brushed the face of a bronze statue in a niche with its pointed wing, and disappeared behind the capital of a column. It may be that it thought of nesting there.

During its flight, a formula took shape in the now light and lucid head of the procurator. It went like this: the hegemon has looked into the case of the vagrant philosopher Yeshua, alias Ha-Nozri, and found in it no grounds for indictment. In particular, he has found not the slightest connection between the acts of Yeshua and the disorders that have lately taken place in Yershalaim. The vagrant philosopher has proved to be mentally ill. Consequently, the procurator has not confirmed the death sentence on Ha-Nozri passed by the Lesser Sanhedrin. But seeing that Ha-Nozri’s mad utopian talk might cause disturbances in Yershalaim, the procurator is removing Yeshua from Yershalaim and putting him under confinement in Stratonian Caesarea on the Mediterranean – that is, precisely where the procurator’s residence was.

It remained to dictate it to the secretary.

The swallow’s wings whiffled right over the hegemon’s head, the bird darted to the fountain basin and then flew out into freedom. The procurator raised his eyes to the prisoner and saw the dust blaze up in a pillar around him.

‘Is that all about him?’ Pilate asked the secretary.

‘Unfortunately not,’ the secretary replied unexpectedly and handed Pilate another piece of parchment.

‘What’s this now?’ Pilate asked and frowned.

Having read what had been handed to him, he changed countenance even more: Either the dark blood rose to his neck and face, or something else happened, only his skin lost its yellow tinge, turned brown, and his eyes seemed to sink.

Again it was probably owing to the blood rising to his temples and throbbing in them, only something happened to the procurator’s vision.

Thus, he imagined that the prisoner’s head floated off somewhere, and another appeared in its place. On this bald head sat a scant-pointed golden diadem. On the forehead was a round canker, eating into the skin and smeared with ointment. A sunken, toothless mouth with a pendulous, capricious lower lip. It seemed to Pilate that the pink columns of the balcony and the rooftops of Yershalaim far below, beyond the garden, vanished, and everything was drowned in the thickest green of Caprean gardens. And something strange also happened to his hearing: it was as if trumpets sounded far away, muted and menacing, and a nasal voice was very clearly heard, arrogantly drawling: ‘The law of lese-majesty…’

Thoughts raced, short, incoherent and extraordinary: ‘I’m lost! …’ then: ‘We’re lost! …’ And among them a totally absurd one, about some immortality, which immortality for some reason provoked unendurable anguish.

Pilate strained, drove the apparition away, his gaze returned to the balcony, and again the prisoner’s eyes were before him.

‘Listen, Ha-Nozri,’ the procurator spoke, looking at Yeshua somehow strangely: the procurator’s face was menacing, but his eyes were alarmed, ’did you ever say anything about the great Caesar? Answer! Did you?… Yes … or … no?’ Pilate drew the word ‘no’ out somewhat longer than is done in court, and his glance sent Yeshua some thought that he wished as if to instill in the prisoner.

‘To speak the truth is easy and pleasant,’ the prisoner observed.

‘I have no need to know,’ Pilate responded in a stifled, angry voice, ‘whether it is pleasant or unpleasant for you to speak the truth. You will have to speak it anyway. But, as you speak, weigh every word, unless you want a not only inevitable but also painful death.’

No one knew what had happened with the procurator of Judea, but he allowed himself to raise his hand as if to protect himself from a ray of sunlight, and from behind his hand, as from behind a shield, to send the prisoner some sort of prompting look.

‘Answer, then,’ he went on speaking, ‘do you know a certain Judas from Kiriath, and what precisely did you say to him about Caesar, if you said anything?’

‘It was like this,’ the prisoner began talking eagerly. The evening before last, near the temple, I made the acquaintance of a young man who called himself Judas, from the town of Kiriath. He invited me to his place in the Lower City and treated me to…’

‘A good man?’ Pilate asked, and a devilish fire flashed in his eyes.

‘A very good man and an inquisitive one,’ the prisoner confirmed. ‘He showed the greatest interest in my thoughts and received me very cordially…’

‘Lit the lamps…’ Pilate spoke through his teeth, in the same tone as the prisoner, and his eyes glinted.

‘Yes,’ Yeshua went on, slightly surprised that the procurator was so well informed, ‘and asked me to give my view of state authority. He was extremely interested in this question.’

‘And what did you say?’ asked Pilate. ‘Or are you going to reply that you’ve forgotten what you said?’ But there was already hopelessness in Pilate’s tone.

‘Among other things,’ the prisoner recounted, ‘I said that all authority is violence over people, and that a time will come when there will be no authority of the Caesars, nor any other authority. Man will pass into the kingdom of truth and justice, where generally there will be no need for any authority.’

‘Go on!’

‘I didn’t go on,’ said the prisoner. ‘Here men ran in, bound me, and took me away to prison.’

The secretary, trying not to let drop a single word, rapidly traced the words on his parchment.

‘There never has been, is not, and never will be any authority in this world greater or better for people than the authority of the emperor Tiberius!’ Pilate’s cracked and sick voice swelled. For some reason the procurator looked at the secretary and the convoy with hatred.

‘And it is not for you, insane criminal, to reason about it!’ Here Pilate shouted: ‘Convoy, off the balcony!’ And turning to the secretary, he added: ‘Leave me alone with the criminal, this is a state matter!’

The convoy raised their spears and with a measured tramp of hobnailed caligae walked off the balcony into the garden, and the secretary followed the convoy.

For some time the silence on the balcony was broken only by the water singing in the fountain. Pilate saw how the watery dish blew up over the spout, how its edges broke off, how it fell down in streams.

The prisoner was the first to speak.

‘I see that some misfortune has come about because I talked with that young man from Kiriath. I have a foreboding, Hegemon, that he will come to grief, and I am very sorry for him.’

‘I think,’ the procurator replied, grinning strangely, ‘that there is now someone else in the world for whom you ought to feel sorrier than’ for Judas of Kiriath, and who is going to have it much worse than Judas! …

So, then, Mark Rat-slayer, a cold and convinced torturer, the people who, as I see,’ the procurator pointed to Yeshua’s disfigured face, ‘beat you for your preaching, the robbers Dysmas and Gestas, who with their confreres killed four soldiers, and, finally, the dirty traitor Judas – are all good people?’

‘Yes,’ said the prisoner.

‘And the kingdom of truth will come?’

‘It will, Hegemon,’ Yeshua answered with conviction.

‘It will never come!’ Pilate suddenly cried out in such a terrible voice that Yeshua drew back. Thus, many years before, in the Valley of the Virgins, Pilate had cried to his horsemen the words: ‘Cut them down! Cut them down! The giant Rat-slayer is trapped!’ He raised his voice, cracked with commanding, still more, and called out so that his words could be heard in the garden: ‘Criminal! Criminal! Criminal!’ And then, lowering his voice, he asked: ‘Yeshua Ha-Nozri, do you believe in any gods?’

‘God is one,’ replied Yeshua, ‘I believe in him.’

‘Then pray to him! Pray hard! However…’ here Pilate’s voice gave out, ‘that won’t help. No wife?’ Pilate asked with anguish for some reason, not understanding what was happening to him.

‘No, I’m alone.’

‘Hateful city…’ the procurator suddenly muttered for some reason, shaking his shoulders as if he were cold, and rubbing his hands as though washing them, ‘if they’d put a knife in you before your meeting with Judas of Kiriath, it really would have been better.’

‘Why don’t you let me go, Hegemon?’ the prisoner asked unexpectedly, and his voice became anxious. ‘I see they want to kill me.’

A spasm contorted Pilate’s face, he turned to Yeshua the inflamed, red veined whites of his eyes and said:

‘Do you suppose, wretch, that the Roman procurator will let a man go who has said what you have said? Oh, gods, gods! Or do you think I’m ready to take your place? I don’t share your thoughts! And listen to me: if from this moment on you say even one word, if you speak to anyone at all, beware of me! I repeat to you – beware!’

‘Hegemon…’

‘Silence!’ cried Pilate, and his furious gaze followed the swallow thathad again fluttered on to the balcony. ‘To me!’ Pilate shouted.

And when the secretary and the convoy returned to their places, Pilate announced that he confirmed the death sentence passed at the meeting of the Lesser Sanhedrin on the criminal Yeshua Ha-Nozri, and the secretary wrote down what Pilate said….

 

….Pilate drew into his breast as much of the hot air as he could and shouted, and his cracked voice carried over thousands of heads: ‘In the name of the emperor Caesar! …’

Here his ears were struck several times by a clipped iron shout: the cohorts of soldiers raised high their spears and standards and shouted out terribly:

‘Long live Caesar!’

Pilate lifted his face and thrust it straight into the sun. Green fire flared up behind his eyelids, his brain took flame from it, and hoarse Aramaic words went flying over the crowd:

‘Four criminals, arrested in Yershalaim for murder, incitement to rebellion, and outrages against the laws and the faith, have been sentenced to a shameful execution – by hanging on posts! And this execution will presently be carried out on Bald Mountain! The names of the criminals are Dysmas, Gestas, Bar-Rabban and Ha-Nozri. Here they stand before you!’

Pilate pointed to his right, not seeing any criminals, but knowing they were there, in place, where they ought to be.

The crowd responded with a long rumble as if of surprise or relief.

When it died down, Pilate continued:

‘But only three of them will be executed, for, in accordance with law and custom, in honour of the feast of Passover, to one of the condemned, as chosen by the Lesser Sanhedrin and confirmed by Roman authority, the magnanimous emperor Caesar will return his contemptible life!’

Pilate cried out the words and at the same time listened as the rumble was replaced by a great silence. Not a sigh, not a rustle reached his ears now, and there was even a moment when it seemed to Pilate that everything around him had vanished altogether. The hated city died, and he alone is standing there, scorched by the sheer rays, his face set against the sky. Pilate held the silence a little longer, and then began to cry out:

‘The name of the one who will now be set free before you is…’ He made one more pause, holding back the name, making sure he had said all, because he knew that the dead city would resurrect once the name of the lucky man was spoken, and no further words would be heard. ‘All?’ Pilate whispered soundlessly to himself. ‘All. The name!’ And, rolling the letter ‘r’ over the silent city, he cried:

‘Bar-Rabban!’

Here it seemed to him that the sun, clanging, burst over him and flooded his ears with fire. This fire raged with roars, shrieks, wails, guffaws and whistles.

Pilate turned and walked back across the platform to the stairs, looking at nothing except the multicoloured squares of the flooring under his feet, so as not to trip. He knew that behind his back the platform was being showered with bronze coins, dates, that people in the howling mob were climbing on shoulders, crushing each other, to see the miracle with their own eyes – how a man already in the grip of death escaped that grip! How the legionaries take the ropes off him, involuntarily causing him burning pain in his arms, dislocated during his interrogation; how he, wincing and groaning, nevertheless smiles a senseless, crazed smile.

He knew that at the same time the convoy was already leading the three men with bound arms to the side stairs, so as to take them to the road going west from the city, towards Bald Mountain. Only when he was off the platform, to the rear of it, did Pilate open his eyes, knowing that he was now safe – he could no longer see the condemned men.”

 

Why My Waifu Is More Fash Than Richard B. Spencer

Mai Waifu, Kiryuin Satsuki

Mai Waifu, Kiryuin Satsuki

Richard Spencer is one of the good guys. Richard Spencer is doing yeoman’s work over at Radix Journal. Richard Spencer can (and I hope does) count me as a fan. That said, there is one thing that Richard Spencer is given to saying that has always bothered me, and I hope he won’t take too much umbrage if I engage in a little disquisition on it here.

The bothersome item is Radix’s unofficial slogan: “Become who you are”. I know that Spencer doesn’t mean it this way, but it’s always seemed to me that this is a sentiment that could all too easily devolve into the sort of lazy, self-indulgent special snowflake-ism which the Baby Boomers pioneered and which their Millennial grandchildren have perfected. How is “Become who you are” really all that different from “Find yourself”? And to what does it call people? What if “what you are” is naturally kind of a schlub who likes sitting on a couch and playing Xbox games on an 80 inch television? Can’t we do better? Can’t we – don’t we really have to – inspire people to more than that?

That’s what got me thinking about my waifu. A waifu, for those who have not heard the term or who may be confused about its meaning, is a favorite female anime character – the one that you’d marry if you could (and no, it doesn’t mean those life-size hug pillows – those are properly called dakimakura, and should ideally have a picture of one’s waifu printed on it). Choice of waifu is a highly personal matter – some guys go for the shy, submissive type, others for the girl next door, and yet others for the nerd-girl (aka the Konata). But as for me, I love fascist chicks, so my waifu is Satsuki Kiryuin, the villain-turned-surprise-hero from Studio Trigger’s 2014 anime series Kill La Kill.

Spoilers below (and above, I suppose) for those who have not seem the show (if you haven’t, stop reading and go watch it immediately): In Kill La Kill, Satsuki, filled with righteous anger at her mother’s murder of her infant sister and plan to sacrifice the entire planet to a race of predatory aliens, spends years, starting from her earliest childhood, forging herself into a living weapon – honing herself physically and intellectually, building a highly-disciplined and fiercely-loyal fascist organization, taming the feral godrobe Junketsu, and waiting in cold, quiet patience for her chance to strike. When finally she does, it is with unhesitating, fearsome, ruthless action.

It is here that we should stop to note that there are three different paths that an individual can take:

1) Become who you are
2) Become who you want to be
3) Become who you need to be

Satsuki doesn’t become who she is. Yes, it’s true that she did (and only could) become what she had the capacity to be, but that isn’t the same as becoming who you are, because what any person ends up becoming is not merely a matter if capacity, but of capacity times will. Nor does Satsuki become who she wants to be. What that is can be seen in the closing credits of the final episode of Kill La Kill – with her enemy vanquished and her goal accomplished, we are shown that she is letting herself become a normal young woman; one who has friends, who goes out for fun days of shopping and girl-talk, who allows herself genuine happiness. That is who she wants to be, and who she wanted to be all along. No, Satsuki ran a cold, rational analysis of what would be required in order to avenge her sister, stop her mother’s plan, and save the world, and then, through the sheer force of an iron will, she became it.

Put a bit more analytically, we can say that first two of these paths, while different from each other, are similar (and different from the third) in one crucial aspect – they are both internally-focused. As such, they are highly subject to being coopted by selfishness, by laziness, by loss of focus, by lack of will, by rationalization, by despair, and by the pull of base desires. “Become who you are” too easily leads to the couch and the Xbox. “Become who you want to be” too easily leads to the sleazy life of the manosphere-trained Pick-Up Artist. It is only the external focus – the necessity to accomplish something for a cause larger then the self and more righteous than personal desire, that can motivate us to become who the world around us needs us to be.

There are many examples of this in mankind’s myths and legends – the journey both of the hero and of the prophet is rich with this theme. There’s Shakespeare’s Prince Hal, for example, who rises from a youth wasted on drinking, foolishness, and the company of low companions to become the Prince who is needed; the one who leads his men at the Battle of Shrewsbury, who kills the villainous Hotspur in single combat, and who eventually takes the throne as Henry V. There are Moses and Jonah – “reluctant prophets” who were called by God to become what His lost and despairing children needed – the ancient Hebrews needed a leader, and Nineveh needed a firebrand to warn them of the consequences of their sins. Through their actions, whole peoples were saved; the Hebrews were delivered from bondage, and Nineveh repented and was spared destruction. And there is Cincinnatus, who had the capacity for greatness in him but was at heart a humble farmer; when Rome was threatened, he did not stay on his beloved lands, but became what he needed to be, which was dictator of Rome, yet when the danger had passed, he gave up power to become what he wanted to be, which was once again a farmer.

This last example shows an important truth; that while one may be temped to think that the ideal is when what one is, what one wants to be, and what one needs to be all line up, this is not necessarily so. Cincinnatus is celebrated as a model of civic virtue precisely because he took power only when it was absolutely necessary and relinquished it as soon as it no longer was, yet this is just another way of saying that, whether due to personal reasons or to a sense of civic duty, what he needed to be was not what he wanted to be. No, the true ideal is a bit more complex than that: it is closer to the idea that during good times, who you are and who you want to be will align, and that during times of trouble, who you are and who you need to be will align.

The problem for us, of course, is that we live in very troubled times. And not only that, but we simultaneously live in times that rob us of any meaningful external focus. It is not merely that the hearts of Modern men long to be called by a leader to fight and sacrifice for a cause by telling us things like:

”Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears…
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’”

This stirs the blood of men, but in truth, nothing so dramatic is necessary, though something more than we currently have certainly is. Most men once found external focus in honest work, in healthy families of their own, in establishing and providing for a household, and in the idea that a man’s home was his castle. Yet this way of life is nearly dead; a recent poll by Pew Research has found that just 14% of American children live in a “traditional” household, with two parents in their first marriage, a father who works, and a mother who stays at home. The effects on men have been devastating – as I recently detailed in another piece, death rates for middle aged working class men have risen by 22% in the last 15 years, a trend driven entirely by alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide. The men that used to be the backbone of our society are are dying of despair in huge numbers because Modernity has denied them the chance to be who they are and who they want to be, and has no need for them at all. But perhaps these men are wrong that there is no hope. Perhaps the truth is that we are all Cincinnatus; called to fight against a system that has robbed us of everything that gave us meaning. Perhaps we must become who we need to be so that, like that great figure of old, we can someday return to home and hearth, to wives and children, and become who we want to be.

That system is powerful, rich, well-entrenched, and merciless. It will strike at us, wound us, grind us down, and do everything within its power to bring us to heel. The fight will seem endless, and, at times, hopeless. There will be plenty of occasions when the couch and the Xbox seems like a really nice option, and when we will hear a voice inside our heads saying: “Maybe who I am is someone who just wants to live comfortably for as long as I can”. To overcome this, we must focus externally – to remind ourselves that our people, our faith, our traditions, our way of life, and everything that our ancestors built and left to us are now threatened with extinction. To save it, we cannot merely become who we are, and we cannot become who we want to be – we must, to the maximum extent of the natural talents and capabilities within each of us, become who this cause needs us to be.

Just like my waifu.

(P.S. I hope Richard Spencer takes this in the spirit in which it was intended. Sorry for the clickbaitey title; it was too good to resist.)

Three Years Together

December 29th is the anniversary of this website, and I try never to let it go unremarked-upon. Many thanks, then, to all of you who make up my readership. It goes without saying that what I do here would be pointless without you. You all have my deepest appreciation – and most especially those of you whose donations helped me through the financial crisis that I faced this past summer. Be assured that there’s much more to come – I have not yet begun to fight!

As always, if you should want to contact me through other channels, you may find me at:

Facebook: AntiDem

Ask.FM: @Antidem

Email: antidemblog at gmail dot com

The Canterbury Tales And The Virtues Of Pauvreté

(Note: This piece may be a bit heavy on the lit-major nerdishness for those who haven’t read Chaucer and/or who aren’t so good with Middle English. Then again – what’s your excuse for these oversights? We’re talking about your cultural heritage here.)

Namedropping Geoffrey Chaucer in my last piece put me in mind to rework something I wrote years ago about the Canterbury Tales, and how it illustrates the attitude that the medievals held when it came to the subject of poverty. Their concept of virtuous poverty seems worth bringing up in an age in which it becomes increasingly obvious that the West’s excessive wealth has been a primary factor in making our society degenerate, decadent, and soft – neither strong enough to survive nor very much deserving of survival. Our ancestors, who were far wiser than we in every area except the technological, had attitudes toward this topic that were very different from ours, and this is reflected in the stories they have left us. Among these attitudes, the one perhaps most prominently displayed in the Canterbury Tales is the belief that poverty is the seedbed of virtue. Poverty was defined, in this context, not as wretched, ragged, starvation-level poverty, but rather as possession of a sufficiency of the necessities of life, without excess or luxury. In our own era, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn clarified the differences between these two sorts of poverty when he remarked that:

“[T]he notion of misery is different from that of poverty. Péguy has already drawn the distinction between ‘pauvreté’ and ‘misère’. To live in misery means to suffer genuine physical privation: to know cold and hunger, to have no proper dwelling, to be dressed in rags, to be unable to secure medical attention. The poor, by contrast, have the necessities of life, but scarcely any more. They can borrow books, no doubt, but cannot buy them; they can hear music on the radio, but cannot afford a ticket to a concert; they cannot indulge in little extras of food and drink, but should, by self-discipline, be able to save a little. The poor have, therefore, the normal material preconditions for happiness — unless plagued by acquisitiveness or even envy, which has become a political force in the same measure as people have lost their faith.”

A hardcore monastic order here or there aside, misère was really never seen as being conducive to virtue, as medieval moralists of Chaucer’s bent believed that it would simply cause the sort of desperation that would lead to crime. However, pauvreté (and this is what the reader should assume I mean by the term “poverty” going forward), which could even be achieved by members of the gentle classes by the exercise of self-denial, was believed to engender virtue by lessening attachments to worldly possessions and pleasures. Thus, while poverty did not necessarily always produce virtue, nor was it necessary to live in poverty in order to be virtuous, poverty did, according to this worldview, create conditions that predisposed people towards leading virtuous lives. It is in order to illustrate this point that Chaucer created characters, most notably among the warrior and priestly classes, whose stories directly tie poverty to virtue.

The most explicit example of virtue tied to a poverty caused by self-denial is that of the Knight. Though he is a nobleman, and thus a member of the upper classes, his possessions are described as being exceedingly modest. Chaucer describes the Knight’s goods thus:

“But for to tellen yow of his array,
His hors were gode, but he was nat gay.
Of fustian he wered a gipoun
Al bismotered with his habergeoun”

The Knight’s horse and clothing are of the good and rugged quality that his position requires, but without a hint of opulence to them; he has not so much as a bauble that might be called a luxury. This self-enforced austerity befits a man who: “loved chivalrye/Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye”, but is conspicuously not described as loving money, ease, or comfort.

The Knight is not the only one whose poverty is voluntary. Included in the party are a number of churchmen who are bound by the three vows of monastic life: poverty, chastity, and obedience. But while there are some among them who live up to those vows (the Parson and the Clerk primary among them), there are others who plainly do not. The first among these is a nun, who Chaucer refers to as the Prioress. While Chaucer’s characterization of her is unquestionably of one who falls very short of his ideal for monastic life, it is also a portrait of a perfectly decent woman of perfectly good intentions who has been consigned to a life for which she is simply constitutionally unsuited (people became monks or nuns in those days for all sorts of reasons; some good, some bad). Her trespasses are the stuff not of wickedness, but of worldliness. Her violations of her vows of chastity, for example, are not ones that involve the narrow definition of that term which imply sexual misconduct, but the larger sense in which that word is (and was, by the medievals) understood – of an immodest attachment to worldly pleasures. These include an undue attachment to appearances, as illustrated in Chaucer’s long description of her impeccable table manners. In addition, a hint of violation both of the Prioress’s vows of chastity and of poverty is illustrated by her concern with the wellbeing of her dogs (which bring joy to her heart), while so many of her fellow men go needy. This suggests a misplaced charity, a selfishness and concern with that which provides her pleasure, and a self-indulgence which call into question both her understanding of and her commitment to her vows of chastity and poverty. Further evidence is provided by the description of her “broche of gold ful shene/On which ther was first write a crowned A/And after, ‘Amor vincit omnia’”. This sentiment could be read in two very different ways, and Chaucer leaves it unclear whether the love in question corresponds more closely to the concept of agapé, or to that of eros. Beyond the issue of chastity however, a gold brooch is most definitely a luxury, one that may border on unseemly when worn by a woman sworn to a life of poverty.

We move father down the scale of unsuitable churchmen when we meet the Friar. While the Prioress was a bit too concerned with her own personal pleasures, it is obvious that the Friar is a man who is entirely out for his own interests. He has found a cushy and lucrative sinecure, and will allow no concerns such as ecclesiastical vows, love of Christ, or concern for his fellow man interfere in his enjoyment of it. He spends his time with carefully-selected members of his community, for as we see: “Ful wel beloved and famulier was he/With frankeleyns (prosperous freeholders) over al in his contree”. And he is just as particular in his selection of those he does not spend time with:

“For unto swich a worthy man as he
Acorded nat, as by his facultee
To have with seke lazars aqueyntaunce:
It is nat honest, it may nat avaunce
For to delen with no swich poraille
But al with riche and selleres of vitaille”

In this, we see both infractions against his vows of poverty (for his preference for the company of the rich certainly had much to do with the amenities available while in their company), and his vows of chastity (in his attachment to the worldly pleasures those amenities represented). In addition, his policy of going easy on those who accompanied their confessions with “a good pitaunce”, smacks of disobedience of, if not the letter, then at least the spirit of the church’s policies on penance. Indeed, it may be fairly said of him that, while he is not a man of malicious intent, his life is lived not one bit in accordance with the spirit of a dedicated clergyman.

Representing a complete contrast to this is the Parson, a poor preacher who is the embodiment of Christian virtue. We learn nearly immediately of his poverty, as he is described as: “a povre Persoun of a toun”. Chaucer describes him in terms that neatly describe his own ideal of poverty, telling us that the Parson “coude in litel thing han suffisaunce”. And though he could secure a more lucrative sinecure in London, it does not interest him. Instead, he “dwelte at hoom, and kepte wel his folde”. And well-kept they were, for as Chaucer relates: “A better preest I trowe that nowhere noon is”.

Accompanying the Parson is the Clerk, Chaucer’s ideal of scholarly virtue (In Chaucer’s time, a “Clerk” meant a full-time scholar. As all institutions of higher learning were, in those days, affiliated with the church, and there was no distinction drawn between secular and religious learning, Clerks were considered to be living a sort of religious lifestyle, although they did not take the vows by which nuns and monks were bound). He is a thin man on a thin horse, covered by a thin cloak that is “ful thredbar”. We learn that there is a reason for his privation, as: “Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre/But al that he mighte of his freendes hente/On bokes and lerninge he it spente”. As befits a true scholar, he eschews extravagance, loves knowledge above all else, and devotes every penny he can scrape together to the furtherance of learning.

It is fitting, then, that in the tale told by the poor and humble Clerk we meet the character that perhaps most explicitly embodies Chaucer’s philosophy on the power of poverty to engender virtue. As soon as the Clerk begins his tale of the fair Grisilde, we are told: “For povreliche y-fostred up was she/No likerous lust was thurgh hire herte y-ronne/She knew wel labour, but non ydel ese”. It is the hardship, labor, and poverty she has faced that has produced in her a countenance described as “rype and sad corage”, and it is this countenance that attracts the attention of the Marquis Walter. Once her marriage to him is complete, it also allows her to bear his cruelties. And bear them she does, for: “Disposed was, this humble creature/Th’adversitee of Fortune al t’endure”. Having never allowed herself to become attached to the worldly delights of wealth or status, Grisilde, when faced with the prospect of returning to poverty, stoically responds by paraphrasing Job: “Naked out of my fadres hous, quod she/I cam, and naked moot I turne agayn”. This is, by even the Clerk’s admission, positively superhuman fortitude in the face of more suffering than anyone should be expected to abide graciously. By repeatedly making a point of her humble upbringing, the poet transparently ties this fortitude to her poverty. Thus, when Walter reveals that all of his cruelties were mere tests designed to make sure that she was a worthy wife, and that from now on she could count on him to be a loving and generous (not to mention rich and noble) husband, she is shown to be a woman who, through a display of exceptional virtue, has earned exceptional privilege.

Though she is often presented as a near-opposite of Grisilde, and though it may seem bit incongruous for a character who herself seems to find little merit in the idea that poverty engenders virtue, the Wife of Bath’s Tale contains a philosophical digression on both the nature of virtuous poverty and on the topic of what truly makes a person noble. In her tale, a knight gets a well-deserved moral lecture from an old crone to whom he has found himself married. She reminds him that: “Heer may ye see wel how that genterye/Is nat annexed to possessioun”. She divorces true nobility from the idea of highborn status, declaring that “Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone”. Having done this, she addresses poverty, reminding her husband (and thus, the reader) of examples of poverty tied to virtue in sources both religious and secular. She turns to the authority of the Gospels to attest that: “The hye God, on whom that we bileve/In wilful povert chees to live his lyf”. She follows this by an appeal to the learning of philosophers: “Glad povert is an honest thing, certeyn/This wol Senek and othere clerkes seyn”. And indeed she seems to sum up Chaucer’s position on poverty, previously illustrated in the General Prologue descriptions of the Parson and the Plowman, when she says: “But he that noght hath, ne coveyteth have/Is riche, although ye holde him but a knave”.

(In a fine parallel to the Clerk’s Tale, the Wife’s Tale ends happily, as once his old, ugly, and mysterious wife tests him and determines that he has learned his lesson, she obligingly uses magic to transform herself into a beautiful young woman.)

It can be seen, then, that Chaucer takes every opportunity to extol the virtues that he associates with poverty. The characters that are richest in the qualities most admired by the poet are consistently the poorest and humblest among them. Poverty is, in his judgment, an ideal breeding ground for moral virtue, health, wisdom, long life, and cleanliness of mind, body, and spirit. Though these beliefs go utterly against the grain of the Whig/Modernist worldview, we should ourselves be wise enough to reevaluate the wisdom of our ancestors; in it, there is a great deal of lost truth.

Sponsored Post: Whaddaya Know?

The news is not good for The Daily Show, the ratings for which are down sharply from a few years ago. One might attribute this to its not-very-funny new host, but similar bad news is in for ratings of the Late Show with the widely-lauded Stephen Colbert. One gets the feeling that Jon “Stewart” managed to be the rat who left a sinking ship at just the right moment. The “Stewart”/Colbert brand of comedy was at the height of its relevance during the years of the Bush Administration, during which it was genuinely edgy and anti-establishment. The endless kissing up to power during the Obama Administration, however, took a huge chunk of the wind out of its sails. It isn’t too edgy to incessantly kiss the butt of the most powerful man in the world, and continuing to kvetch about a Republican administration that’s long out of power gets to be less interesting as the years of a Democratic administration roll by.

Not that this ever stops leftists. For heavens’s sake, they’re still complaining about the Nixon Administration! Christopher Hitchens wrote a book putting Henry Kissinger on “trial” for various alleged war crimes a full quarter-century after he’d left office as Secretary of State, and Futurama was still cracking jokes about Nixon and Agnew forty years after they were out of the White House (not to mention thirteen years after The Simpsons had remarked upon how out-of-date jokes about them were). Other than the fact – for which we can all surely be grateful – that they seem to have long ago realized that getting people to dislike Ronald Reagan is a battle they’re never going to win, the left seems incapable of ever letting old hatreds drop. Whether TV comedy shows will still be making George W. Bush jokes in the year 2048 is unclear, but what is very clear is that the left has an exceptional loathing of Bush and everyone who was in his administration.

(I’ve heard it suggested that this is for no other reason that leftists, who value slick sophistry above all else, simply hate the fact that they were beaten in elections – twice! – by someone as notoriously ill-spoken as Bush. All of their clever casuistry availed them naught against him, and it absolutely ate them up inside. He made verbal gaffe after verbal gaffe – and they still can’t believe that nobody cared! This, of course, is a much more plausible explanation than the idea that they genuinely objected to Bush starting unwise wars in the Middle East or establishing a horrifying surveillance state. The fact that mainstream leftist opposition to the government doing either of those things essentially vaporized the minute that Barack Obama was sworn in tells you everything you need to know about the sincerity of those sentiments.)

One way or the other, then, the left isn’t letting go of the Bush Administration anytime soon. This brings us to Errol Morris’s documentary The Unknown Known, which consists more or less entirely of snippets from an interview with Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s Secretary of Defense for all but the last two years of his administration. I think it’s safe to say that the interview didn’t go as planned. If smarm were smarts, the left would have colonies on Jupiter, but the truth is that they simply aren’t as clever as they believe themselves to be. The obvious aim of the interview was to catch Rumsfeld in a “gotcha” moment of the sort for which The Daily Show is (or was, I suppose) famous, and which forms nearly the entire basis of their arguing style. This was to come of Rumsfeld obligingly being as inarticulate as his former boss. No such luck for them, however. A good example of this can be seen in an examination of the film’s title, which derives from a quote by Rumsfeld:

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

Far from being nonsensical, this quote represents a solid management concept taught in any good business school. Yet in trying to be too clever by half, the filmmakers implicitly place this quote in the category of Bushisms, thereby to tar Rumsfeld with the same label of incoherent oafdom that they (not without some justification, to be fair) applied to Bush himself. But this is because they don’t understand what a Bushism is, and isn’t. Here, I propose three categories of (apparent) incoherence. Let’s call them 1) Derridaisms, 2) Yogiisms, and 3) Bushisms. Now, let’s define them:

A Derridaism is a statement that seems sensible, erudite, or even brilliant when one first hears it. However, when one subjects it to rigorous logical analysis, one finds that it is, in fact, utter nonsense. (For a good example of this, listen to Stefan Molyneux’s explanation of why the argument that language is meaningless – a favorite of both Wittgenstein and Derrida – is not just wrong, but inherently self-contradictory).

A Yogiism (named, of course, for the famous baseball player Yogi Berra) is the inverse of a Derridaism. It is a statement that seems like utter nonsense when one first hears it. However, when one subjects it to rigorous logical analysis, one will find that, slyly hidden under the surface, there is a nugget of wisdom that is sensible, erudite, or even brilliant.

A Bushism, however, is a statement that seems like utter nonsense when one first hears it; then when one subjects it to rigorous logical analysis, one will find that it really is utter nonsense after all.

Morris is so keen to catch Rumsfeld committing a Bushism that he doesn’t realize that what Rumsfeld said was actually a Yogiism. Not only that, but he doesn’t know that Rumsfeld is in on the gag – that he understands perfectly well what the difference is, and that people who don’t like him are (intentionally or not) misunderstanding it completely.

You see, that’s the joke – the infamous “unknown known” quote is, in itself, the unknown known. Pretty meta, isn’t it?

And that’s not the only problem that Morris ended up creating for himself. Just as big an issue for this documentary is a phenomenon that (as long as I’m coining terms) I’ll call the “Wife of Bath Problem”. The core of it is that if an author lets the villain of their piece talk long enough – especially if that villain spends that time delivering eloquent justifications for their actions – there’s a significant risk of the audience starting to identify with them. The trope namer here is from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – the Wife of Bath, who was almost certainly meant by Chaucer to seem lecherous and disreputable, comes across for the most part as strong and likable (which explains why many modern literary scholars have turned her into a proto-feminist hero). Arguably, Shakespeare ended up doing the same with Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, which ended up with the character transcending the stereotype of a greedy Jew and becoming an at least somewhat sympathetic character, justifiably angry at a long history of mistreatment. But the greatest example is that of Milton’s vision of Satan in Paradise Lost, which unintentionally turned the Father of Lies into an individualist hero who has inspired a wide spectrum of freethinkers, from William Blake to Anton LaVey.

So there’s real danger in letting your villain run his mouth too much, and that’s with a skilled author writing a fictional character. The situation becomes even worse when that villain has a mind of his own and is wily enough to stay out of whatever traps you’ve set for him. We see this unfold on the screen, as Morris’s (over)confidence in his ability to give Rumsfeld enough rope to hang himself ends up backfiring into a Wife of Bath Problem. Rumsfeld spent decades in politics developing a reputation as a shrewd survivor, and the interview makes it clear that, despite how things turned out for him in the second Bush Administration, that reputation was generally well-deserved. Far from seeming like a war criminal or a gun for hire in the service of greedy oil companies, Rumsfeld comes across at worst as a man who was simply in over his head, like the befuddled grandpa who calls you every few days for help because he can’t quite figure out how to use the iPad you gave him last Christmas. Is his grandfatherly smile just a bit to quick and practiced to be completely sincere? Perhaps. But if Morris is subtle enough to pick up on that, he’s never able to capitalize on it.

All of which brings us back to The Daily Show.

One thing you must understand about the left is that they have no principles, only ideology. Sultan Knish did a good job of explaining this in a recent column, when he wrote the following:

”You can’t find common ground with the left because it is an activist machine dedicated to destroying common ground, not only with the right, but even with its own allies on the left. Progress turns what was once progressive into what is reactionary. And what was reactionary into what is progressive.

These changes have the mad logic of a byzantine ideology behind them, but to the ordinary person their definition of progress seems entirely random.

A Socialist a century ago considered factories progressive instruments of the future and men in dresses a decadent reactionary behavior. Now factories are reactionary pollution machines of globalization and men in dresses are an oppressed victim group who have transcended biology with the power of their minds.”

Thus if you’re old enough, you’ll be able to remember when the left believed the exact opposite of what it claims to believe today. For example: I remember back in the 80s when the left used to complain about the trivialization of news and political commentary. I even remember the snide insult (of course – the left has a snide insult for everything) that they used describe it; they called it “infotainment”. It was apparently a bad thing, at least back then. But now in the age of “Stewart” and Colbert, when allegedly-powerful political leaders cower in fear of a professional comedian’s raised eyebrow, infotainment is where it’s at as far as the left is concerned. This is how we’ve ended up with the bizarre phenomenon of conservatives getting lectured about what a bunch of ignoramuses they are for getting their news and political commentary from Fox News (which, while I carry no brief for it, is at least a full-time professional news organization) by leftists who get their news and political commentary from Comedy Central.

The point of all this is that The Unknown Known is a piece of leftist infotainment that has signs of the trivializing influence of the Daily Show-ization of political discourse on the left all over it. This is evident in many aspects of the documentary. There’s the faux-symbolic, yet actually pointless cuts to scenes of the rolling ocean. There’s the inappropriately overdramatic score by Danny Elfman. But mostly there’s the laziness of it; staking his entire film on Rumsfeld making a disastrous gaffe meant that Morris skimped on both research and imagination. As a result, the questions he asked were predictable and obvious; I have no doubt that Rumsfeld saw them coming a mile away, and had answers memorized in advance for every last one of them. Thus, the interview is ultimately anticlimactic – the great “gotcha” moment never really happens, and Rumsfeld never does end up hanging himself with all the rope that Morris gives him.

Which is a shame. The moment at which my own journey away from mainstream conservatism and toward the alt-right started came sometime in early 2005, when it finally became undeniable that there wasn’t and never had been any WMDs in Iraq; and not only that, but that plenty of evidence had existed showing that there wasn’t. I had supported that lousy, useless war because I believed what the Bush Administration had told me, and in a single blinding flash I came to the awful realization that those fuckers had lied to me. I still believed in all the same moral and philosophical ideas that I always had, but from that point on, I could never again trust the party and establishment that had allowed this to happen. Thus began a journey that ended, well… here.

But there still remains the fact that the fuckers who lied to me back then ultimately got away with it. Others – American soldiers, countless Iraqis and Syrians, the Republican Party, the United States as a whole – ended up paying the price for what they’d done, but as for the decision-makers of the Bush Administration themselves, they all got away scot-free. Ultimately, Morris’s documentary has done nothing to change that.

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This post was sponsored by Murph and the MagicTones, who took a bit of time away from touring to send a few dollars my way. Many thanks, and keep playing that sweet, sweet soul music!