An Open Letter To Mencius Moldbug

From: The Anti-Democracy Activist

To: Mencius Moldbug

Re: “The Cathedral”

Dear Mr. Moldbug;

Hi, Mr. Moldbug. Big fan here. And I really mean that – I’m not a leftist, so I don’t say things like that in the snarky, ironic way they do. I look forward to each of your new columns, and read them just as soon as they come out. I enjoy, and respect, the way that they’re not afraid to be long, complex, and a little bit difficult (without being pretentious or obfuscating just for the sake of it – I’ll have a lot to say about people who do that at a later date), thus rejecting demotism and egalitarianism by your columns’ very form as well as in their content. I dig it.

There’s just one small thing. It’s about your use of the term “the Cathedral” to describe the informally organized, yet ironclad, consensus among the leftist cultural elite, and the institutions which enforce its will. While it’s an important and groundbreaking concept, and deserves to be brought to light, the use of the term is troubling to me. Now that the Neo-Reaction is starting to get some mainstream attention, I’d like to take this moment – which may be the last moment possible – to try to convince you that using this term that way is a bad idea, and that you should use something else instead.

The first reason for this is relatively straightforward, and has, I’m sure, been brought to your attention by some of the more religious types of traditionalists and reactionaries before. Simply put, it’s that we really can’t quite let you repurpose that term to mean something new, since we’re actually still using it for what it was originally intended for. I know that many among the left would like to proclaim that God is Dead, and that religion as an institution is mortally wounded – I say “Not so fast”. Religion is not so dead as its enemies would like the world to think, and has more potential remaining in it than many would give it credit for. I urge you to consider the idea that appropriating one of its most important terms and repurposing it by attempting to attach it to a new meaning lends your (unintentional, I’m sure) support to the left’s contention that religion is completely irrelevant. By using that word for something new, you are, in effect, saying that its old meaning no longer has any currency. In other words: “No one important is using this word for anything important, so I might as well”. The way in which this declares the irrelevance of religion is subtle, but unmistakable. I know that you are not a man of faith yourself, but surely you realize that religious reactionaries are your natural allies, and that anything that undermines them or the basis of their principles – whether you believe in them personally or not –  is counterproductive to your own goals.

This brings me to the next point, which is a practical extension of the previous one. Though the left relentlessly tries to present all “conservatives” (I’m not happy with the term either, but bear with me while I make a point) as being “squares” and conformists, the truth is that it is the left who are by far more “team cheerleaders”, while those on the right tend to be unctuous, prickly, individualistic, and far too ready to turn on each other. This is one reason why the left wins elections – they stick together – and it is also a reflection of their traits of lack of principle (as opposed to ideology), of moral bankruptcy, and susceptibility to cults of personality (Obama’s being a prime example). We on the right (and especially the non-mainstream right), on the other hand, all too often turn our backs on each other, or even attack each other outright, over differences in viewpoints or philosophy (I call this “Jonah Goldberging”, or “Pope Francising”). That may make us principled, or it may make us bad at politics (or both), but it is the way we seem to be. I contend that by using this word, you risk alienating natural allies (myself included – I’m both rather alienated by your use of this word, and consider myself a natural ally of yours) over a small point that could easily be let slide. In short, it invites trouble and discord among people who are so small in number and relatively powerless at this point (let’s all hope that changes soon) that they really need to stick together as much as they can. The word is more trouble than it’s worth.

My last reason for disliking this term is one that has its genesis in the world of marketing: brand confusion. I realize that a movement that opposes Demotism has, as a matter of course, a certain elitism about it – and believe me, I’m the last one to see elitism as a bad thing. But as the Neo-Reactionary brand (there is nothing that is not a brand these days) starts getting more recognition, there are more opportunities available to persuade others and to attract them to the cause – and this is not a bad thing. The more people who swallow the Red Pill, the better, say I. Consider, then, what an “average Joe” who might define himself as a mainstream conservative or a libertarian in the Ron Paul/Tea Party mode – but who could perhaps be persuaded to take that last leap towards the waiting Red Pill – might think when he hears the term “The Cathedral” used the way you use it. Perhaps something like: “Wait – Cathedrals? You mean, like, Catholics? So is this guy anti-Catholic? Does he think they’re secretly communists? Is he one of those Da Vinci Code types who thinks that the Vatican is full of conspirators and undercover pinkos? No way I’m listening to another religion-basher!” That may be rash and shallow of Joe, but if half-considered decisions based on branding weren’t a common phenomenon, corporations wouldn’t pour billions of dollars into advertising and the establishment of brand identities. Company names, slogans, jingles, buzzwords… huge effort is expended on finding just the right ones that send just the right message, and that do so without too much thought needing to be put into it by average Joes. Even a term like “the Dark Cathedral*”, or “the Anti-Cathedral” would go a long way towards lessening the potential brand confusion here – the addition of a simple adjective signals that this isn’t, y’know, that other kind of Cathedral.

For all these reasons, I hope to persuade you to drop the term ‘the Cathedral” now – before the Neo-Reaction starts to get bigger, and its basic terminology gets into more common usage and becomes basically impossible to change. You’ve suggested “The Matrix”, and that’s fine with me. As I said above, “the Dark Cathedral” or ‘the Anti-Cathedral” would be better. How about “The Blue Pharmacy”, or “The International”, or “The Permanent Revolution”, or, if you wanted to be a bit lighthearted, even “The Blue Meanies” (because they represent the Blue Pill, and are utter shameless bullies)? Any of these – or any number of other terms – would be way less problematic than “the Cathedral” as far as I’m concerned.

Well, Mr. Moldbug, I can only hope that you will take all of this to heart; with any luck, perhaps I can persuade you to see things my way. I remain, of course, a fan, and should we ever get the chance to meet up at The Thirsty Bear or Kate O’Brien’s out in your San Francisco stomping grounds, the first round is on me.

Sincerely;
-The Anti-Democracy Activist

(*The term “the Dark Cathedral” does risk brand confusion with the “Dark Enlightenment” – but that’s another term I’m lukewarm about, and for similar reasons. Picture our average Joe encountering that one: “Wait – is the Dark Enlightenment like the Regular Enlightenment? So is this guy into Voltaire, or what? I hope not – I’m not a big fan of the French Revolution”.)

Too Dumb For Democracy

Today we have something a little different, and a first for this blog – a reader submission. Via reader Aristokles Smith (@Aristokles11235 on Twitter) comes this article from Live Science, which appeared on Yahoo News. This one is important, so I’ll reproduce it in its entirety here.

People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say

 
The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens (the majority of them, at least) can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea, when they see it. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies.
 
The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people’s ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.
 
As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, “very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is,” Dunning told Life’s Little Mysteries.
 
He and colleague Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now of New York University, have demonstrated again and again that people are self-delusional when it comes to their own intellectual skills. Whether the researchers are testing people’s ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar, or even their own performance in a game of chess, the duo has found  that people always assess their own performance as “above average” — even people who, when tested, actually perform at the very bottom of the pile. [Incompetent People Too Ignorant to Know It]
 
We’re just as undiscerning about the skills of others as about ourselves. “To the extent that you are incompetent, you are a worse judge of incompetence in other people,” Dunning said. In one study, the researchers asked students to grade quizzes that tested for grammar skill. “We found that students who had done worse on the test itself gave more inaccurate grades to other students.” Essentially, they didn’t recognize the correct answer even when they saw it.
 
The reason for this disconnect is simple: “If you have gaps in your knowledge in a given area, then you’re not in a position to assess your own gaps or the gaps of others,” Dunning said. Strangely though, in these experiments, people tend to readily and accurately agree on who the worst performers are, while failing to recognize the best performers.
 
The most incompetent among us serve as canaries in the coal mine signifying a larger quandary in the concept of democracy; truly ignorant people may be the worst judges of candidates and ideas, Dunning said, but we all suffer from a degree of blindness stemming from our own personal lack of expertise.
 
Mato Nagel, a sociologist in Germany, recently implemented Dunning and Kruger’s theories by computer-simulating a democratic election. In his mathematical model of the election, he assumed that voters’ own leadership skills were distributed on a bell curve — some were really good leaders, some, really bad, but most were mediocre — and that each voter was incapable of recognizing the leadership skills of a political candidate as being better than his or her own. When such an election was simulated, candidates whose leadership skills were only slightly better than average always won.
 
Nagel concluded that democracies rarely or never elect the best leaders. Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they “effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders.”
 

The science is in, as Adam Curry might say. And here’s what it says: The “wisdom of crowds” is a lie; there is no inherent excellence in democracies or their leaders; and democracy, like all forms of Demotism, cannot escape failure at the hands of its implacable nemesis, human folly.

P.S. Yes, I’ve seen the TechCrunch article on the Neo-Reactionary movement. If you haven’t read it, you should. More to come about it, and the mainstream attention that the Neo-Reaction has started to receive, soon.

Short Takes

This week just before the holiday seems like a fine time for another edition of Short Takes – ideas that I believe need to be expressed, but wouldn’t be quite long enough to have a column of their own. In the spirit of the season, let’s dig right in:

1. The more time goes by, the more I become convinced that American politics cannot be truly understood without a good working knowledge of professional wrestling. What’s that, you say? Professional wrestling is complete fakery? It’s a histrionic bit of badly-staged play-acting featuring terrible performers? That it’s full of one-dimensional “face” and “heel” characters that are completely phony and entirely predictable? That they mostly just pander to crowds to get cheap “pop” or “heat” and engage in pointless, playground-level smack talk devoid of any intellectually stimulating content?  That only the most unsophisticated of rubes could fail to look past the “kayfabe” illusion they’re being shown, and to see that the what is presented to them as “real” actually bears no resemblance whatsoever to the reality going on behind the scenes? That it’s all a fixed game – designed to distract fools from the fact that they’re being suckered by cheap theatrics?

Exactly.

2. Here is the essential difference between libertarianism and liberalism: Libertarians define freedom as being left alone to do as they please, and in return agreeing to take the consequences of their decisions upon themselves. Liberals define freedom as being left alone to do as they please, and being granted the ability to pass off the consequences of their decisions onto other people. Thus, while libertarianism may be unworkable in a real world that must deal with human nature as it actually exists, it is at least a philosophy of adults. Liberalism is no more than the philosophical and political arm of the desire for eternal adolescence.

3. Related: The older I get, the less I feel any desire to shield fools – and especially arrogant fools – from the entirely predictable consequences of their own obviously poor decisions.

4. Remember this, Christian, as you defend yourself against the sophistry of unbelievers and the wicked: Christian forgiveness is neither universal nor free from conditions. Specifically, there is no requirement to forgive the unrepentant. In fact, extending forgiveness to the unrepentant is, in itself, a form of sin and rebellion against God. Remember that Christian forgiveness is a two-step process. First comes repentance – then, only then, comes forgiveness. Don’t ever lose sight of this, and don’t ever allow yourself to get talked out of it.

5. I am not myself an Objectivist or Randian, for reasons I’m sure I’ll go into greater detail about at some point, but here’s some free, heartfelt advice to them. Objectivism needs its own version of the Communist Manifesto. Allow me to explain: The production of the Communist Manifesto was a stroke of genius by Marx. Though Marx had produced thick, dense, complex tomes describing his ideas, he also produced the Manifesto as a companion to them, which was primarily meant for consumption by the masses that he hoped to reach. It was short, direct, concise, worded in a way that anyone with a basic education could understand, easily translatable into other languages, freely distributable, and both easy and cheap to mass produce copies of. The works of Ayn Rand are none of those things, to say the least. Yes, I understand that part of Objectivism is a certain elitism that revels in the fact that Rand’s works are difficult and inaccessible to many. That’s great if you want your ideas to stay limited to a relatively small group of people. If you ever want them to gain popularity with a wider selection of the population, you’re going to need an Objectivist Manifesto.

6. The tech writer John C. Dvorak is right: the “Wild West” glory days of the internet are over, probably forever. By this, I’m not just referring to the Snowden/NSA affair or other nefarious actions of government. The internet, once raucous, has settled down into what is effectively a set of monopolies or near-monopolies – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and eBay being the most prominent examples. The last two are particularly telling. I cannot speak for you, gentle reader, but as for myself I can say that basically all of my online purchases of physical goods in the last five years or so have been from Amazon or eBay. Part of that is for convenience, part to limit the number of places that my credit card information is on file… all good and practical reasons, but all leading towards a corporatized, cartelized, monopolistic internet that is all too cozy with big government.

7. Speaking of the internet – much has always been made of the internet’s supposed resistance to censorship, with the saying about it being that “the net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. From a certain point of view, this is true: it is indeed very hard to stop information that has made it onto the internet from propagating. But that ignores the fact that censorship of the internet is rather simple if it’s done the “old-fashioned way”; i.e. by, once an undesired idea has appeared on the internet, tracking down who said it and punishing them personally. This can be done by outright arrest and imprisonment, by civil lawsuit, or by blacklisting and attacks on one’s ability to earn a livelihood (which is the preferred method in the United States). This not only shuts down the speaker, but the chilling effects of it ensure that few will take the risk of speaking out. In this way, the internet – a medium in which tracking and surveillance, and therefore finding out who said what, is relatively easy – is just as vulnerable to censorship than old forms of mass media were.

So if you’re going to speak out online, be wary, be careful, and be brave.

8. More interesting to me than the outcome of the recent “government shutdown” farce in Washington were the effects of the changed media landscape on how things proceeded. It is, in fact, a near-perfect microcosm of how the new media landscape had affected politics – a basically-identical situation happened in 1995, just as the internet was becoming mainstream but before it had seriously changed much of anything. The difference seems to have been this: That in 1995, with control of the media centralized in leftist hands, the “shutdown” was an utter victory for the leftist in power and a crushing defeat for the public perception and popular ratings of his opposition. This time, the effect of the “shutdown” was, not that it handed victory to the opposition, but that it seems to have badly damaged the perception and ratings of both sides. An interesting outcome – especially to those of us who see any erosion of the legitimacy and credibility of the current system as a good thing.

9. The American left has completely abandoned whatever genuine desire it may have had to protect American workers in favor of obsessions with race hustling, “freedoms” based in (often deviant) sexuality, and currying the favor of the ever-expanding welfare class. There is no major party in America that any longer truly represents the American worker, nor is there any realistic prospect of one arising anytime soon. That the middle class is being steadily eroded into nonexistence is not unrelated.

10. Another election apparently passed, and I did not vote in it. You should’t vote, either. Richard said withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy…

11. Do I hate homosexuals? My response is that I didn’t used to – not before they, as a group, declared open war on the traditions, morals, and religious teachings that I hold to and believe in passionately. My natural reaction to homosexuals is to pity them, but to think that they should be quietly left alone if they go quietly about their business. But what if they don’t do that? What if they try to upend society and destroy beliefs that I hold dear as a part of their obsessive quest for the validation of society at large, even if they must use coercive force to get it? Why should I not resent those who have chosen to make themselves my enemy?

12. Related: Leftists rely on sophistry, so understanding the language that they use is key. Now that they have gained power, it is obvious that what they actually meant when they used to say “You can’t legislate morality” was, essentially: “You – conservatives, traditionalists, Christians – YOU can’t legislate morality. WE, on the other hand…”

As always, I can be found on Twitter at @antidemblog – the more people follow me there, the more I’ll post.

Peace Is Conservative

I wonder if the “conservatives” who have spent Veterans Day “thanking our troops” past and present have considered the fact that basically every major war that the United States has ever fought has pushed the country noticeably leftward – often radically so – and towards what Murray Rothbard described as a “welfare-warfare state”. Let us consider:

The Revolutionary War took the country away from a genuinely conservative form of government – monarchy – and, having infused the young nation with the daft and ultimately disastrous ideals of the French Enlightenment, left it with a hideously badly-written constitution and a form of government guaranteed to eventually end up in ochlocracy, socialism, irreligion, and decadence.

The Mexican-American War, along with the Spanish-American War half a century later, gave America the first taste of empire that would lead it down the path to being the welfare-warfare state and global champion of secular socialist democracy that it is today.

The War Between the States put the final nail in the coffin of the decentralized, small-time farmers’ republic that the revolutionaries of 1776 envisioned, and ensured the victory of the forces of modernity, egalitarianism, and industrial scientism that were centered in the north.

World War I was the war that destroyed the west. William S. Lind was right when he said that in the summer of 1914, the Western Civilization put a gun to its head and pulled the trigger. The beautiful Victorian Age was destroyed, the era of enlightened kings came to an end in Europe, the stage was set for Lenin and eventually Hitler, and Europe was fatally and irrevocably destabilized. The hundred years since then have been nothing more than the long death throes of a once-magnificent civilization

World War II has sometimes been, rightly, called “The War to Save Stalin and Empower Chairman Mao”. Not only did it put Communism in power directly in something like half the world, but it also gave the forces of Communism in that half the time and opportunity to destabilize the other half.

The Cold War saved Western Europe from being forcibly taken over by godless Communism, so that they could vote a slightly rebranded version of it in of their own free will later.

The Korean War, mostly forgotten, was a halfhearted attempt to put right some of the horrors that America had itself caused by driving the Japanese from that part of Asia and leaving it instead to the tender mercies of men like Mao Tse-Tung and Kim Il-Sung. It mostly served to prove that we were nowhere near as serious about fighting against Communism as we had been about fighting for it a few years earlier.

The Vietnam War was really two wars – one a skirmish of little consequence in an obscure part of Asia, and the other a radical social revolution in the United States. The good guys lost both – badly.

The incredible events of 1989-1991 gave the world a chance to repent – a gift of grace that only Poland and Russia seem, slowly but surely, to be taking God up on. As for America, it had the chance to not only repent, but to withdraw from the empire business and work on fixing itself – morally, spiritually, politically, and economically. The First Gulf War demonstrated that it had no intention of doing that, but instead meant to establish a “New World Order”; a vaguely Trotskyesque state of permanent global revolution meant to establish secular socialist democracy worldwide, with the American empire at its head.

The 9/11 attack will be remembered by historians of the future as the moment that the “American Century” ended and the age of American decline began in ernest. The wars and the establishment of the ever-encroaching police state that followed the attacks, along with the capture of the mainstream right by the “neocons” (who are perhaps best described as the living embodiments of the welfare-warfare state) all of which were bad enough on their own, also led directly to the backlash that brought the country Barack Obama, gay “marriage”, and Obamacare.

For all of these outcomes, shall we “thank our veterans”?

The truth is that war is inherently destabilizing, and thus is always counterproductive for “conservatives”, as long as we define that term as people who want to “conserve” a political or societal system that has existed up to that point (this may not, therefore, apply to rightist revolutionaries). Peace is conservative, and to lose sight of that simply because the left briefly affected a passion against war when it was in their best interest to do so (note that the leftist antiwar movement basically vaporized the day that Barack Obama was elected) is to allow oneself to be defined by one’s enemies. It is to engage in counterproductive and ultimately self-destructive behavior out of habit instead of reason.

Peace is conservative, and the “conservative” passion for war and worship of the military, which is no more than a particular form of the worship of the state that they claim to oppose, is ultimately not just homicidal, but suicidal.