The Wit And Wisdom Of Psycho Dish

It was just around midnight when I sat down at the bar to order a beer and wait for Psycho Dish’s shift to end. The brew pub was a nice place – sure nicer than a lot of other places he had worked. The buses didn’t run too late out in that part of town, and Psycho Dish was once again without wheels of his own, so I’d offered to come pick him up and drive him home. The bar closed at 2AM, but the kitchen closed at midnight, and even on a Saturday night they wouldn’t really need him at the dishwashing station after that. The next morning he’d come back, finish up any leftover dishes, take all the beer bottles piled up from the night before out to the trash, and maybe even chop some vegetables with the prep cooks before heading over to St. Giles for the 12:30PM service. But the buses would be running again by then, so he wouldn’t need me for that.

Everybody around me hates Psycho Dish. My dad says that he’s a bum and I shouldn’t have anything to do with him. My mom tells me that he’s mildly scary, though I don’t know that I’d go that far. My old girlfriend used to say that he’s a weirdo and a magnet for bad luck. I won’t deny that there’s a little bit of truth to that last part. But I guess I always saw something in him that they didn’t. Maybe I just have a higher tolerance for flawed people and hard luck cases than they do. Or maybe it’s that all of the most interesting people I’ve ever known have been weirdos.

I’d been nursing my beer and tapping away mindlessly on my phone for maybe fifteen minutes when the barstool next to me slid back and Psycho Dish settled onto it. He’s in his mid-50s, tall, with a beer gut and short, thinning hair that was once a dark blond, but is now as gray as not. He was still wearing his linens from the kitchen. He looked tired, but in good spirits.

“Hey, dude…”

That’s his normal greeting.

“You paid for that beer yet?”

It was an obvious offer to pay for my beer. Unexpectedly generous. Don’t get me wrong, Psycho Dish isn’t naturally stingy. He’s just naturally broke all the time. Some people are like that.

“Yup. Typical – when it’s time to pay a bill, you’re always late”, I answered.

Psycho Dish held up his right hand and raised his middle finger at me. Well, as much as he could, anyhow. The middle finger on that hand is missing above the center knuckle (it all had something to do with his having “borrowed” his dad’s WV Beetle without asking one snowy night when he was 16 on a quest to maybe get laid, and having ended up wrecked in a ditch), so all I got was the half-bird. He smiled though, and turned toward the bartender to order a beer for himself.

It was late, but we had time, and the crowd had thinned out enough already that it wasn’t too noisy to sit and talk. I still owed him one for flipping me off, so I decided to start with a topic that would really annoy him.

Psycho Dish on Interracial Romance:

“So… how’s The Empress?”

Psycho Dish groaned the way he always did whenever someone brought her up, and half-whispered “Aw, fuck…”

The Empress is Psycho Dish’s ex-wife. She came from China, and was the daughter of some army general back home. I guess someone that important not being able to find a husband for her should’ve been a bad sign. Man, the temper on that girl… what a hellraiser. She never learned that if everything is X, then nothing is X – if everything justifies a volcanic eruption, then nothing does. If you go straight to the redline over every little thing, then nobody has any way of telling when something’s really important and they need to pay attention. The important stuff just gets lost in the noise. And she was always really good at making noise when she flared up.

The story behind them goes like this: Sometime in his late thirties, Psycho Dish decided that it was time to finally get respectable and go to college. That’s where I met him. He was living in my dorm building and, being tall, pot-bellied, and almost 40 years old, he stood out. To tell the truth, college really did expand his horizons. He got fascinated with Asian culture – he ended up taking Japanese for his required foreign language and even joined the kendo club – and through all of that, he got fascinated with Asian girls, too. There were lots of them living in the dorm, but the fact that he was 1) chronically broke and 2) old enough to be their dad kept him from having much success with them until The Empress showed up. She was in her thirties too, still not married, and was being shunted off to school in America by her family for reasons that were not entirely clear. She was open to his advances, they had a whirlwind romance, and before long they were engaged.

She took him to China to meet her family (I couldn’t tell you where the money for that came from), and I think that’s where he really fell in love. For weeks after he came back, he talked about China – all the things he’d done and all the places he’d seen and all the people he’d met and all the food he’d eaten. He loved what he saw and he wanted to be a part of all that. When they got married, he finally was.

And then the reasons why her family had sent her a few thousand miles away from all of them started to become clearer.

By that time, she was pregnant with their son, and things were complicated. They kept it going for a few years, but in the end the divorce was probably inevitable. When it came, it was messy and nasty and made everyone miserable.

“I’ll tell you, this is what happens when you get married for all the wrong reasons,” Psycho Dish told me, as he stared down into his glass, “and it’s easy to do when you’re blinded by the other person being different or exotic. Relationships between people of different races or cultures are tough that way. I’m not saying that nobody should ever do it, but you gotta be extra careful – way more than you’d be otherwise. You have to make damn sure that what you’re marrying is the girl: not her culture, not her country, not a mystique, not your dreams of what Asian girls – or whoever it is that you’re involved with – are like. Marry the girl, or don’t, because in the end, it’s her – not any of that other stuff – that you have to wake up next to every morning.”

Psycho Dish on MGTOW:

Psycho Dish took a long swig of his beer, and waited a little while before he let his next thought pass his lips.

“Here’s the honest truth – women got two things: pussy, and bullshit. It’s all a matter of how much of one you’re willing to put up with for how much of the other.”

That one made me smile a little. “So the problem with The Empress is that she’s got a bad P over B ratio?”

“Right now, dude, all of ‘em do. Bad enough for me to stay away, at least. I did the husband and father thing, and I tried my best at it. I like to think I’m still a good father to the boy. But where I’m at in life right now, I’ve got my little place to myself where it’s nice and quiet, I’ve got my books to read, I’ve got an old laptop with Netflix on it, I’ve got a fifth of not-half-bad whiskey sitting on my shelf, and no offense to womankind, but I can’t think of anything much I need to add to that to be content.”

“Nothing?” I asked, with a little smile.

Psycho Dish smirked. “Yeah, okay, so maybe Netflix isn’t the only kind of videos I watch on that laptop. But getting the real thing just isn’t worth disturbing my peace over.”

I took a little sip from the drink I’d been nursing, and thought. Finally I asked: “Does that mean you’re done with women for good?”

“Hey, if the right one came along, who knows? But I’m not putting myself out on the meat market just for the sake of doing it, and I’m not going to chase after women I don’t really like just to not be alone.”

“So what you’re saying is that no company is better than bad company?”

“I’ll drink to that!” – he raised his glass, and so did I.

Psycho Dish on Personal Responsibility:

There was a little pause in the conversation, and when I looked back at Psycho Dish I saw that his smile had faded. He looked serious; even a little regretful.

“I’m not saying that none of it was my fault, though. I’ve made mistakes. Lots of ‘em.”

And that he had. I knew about a fair share of them. He had a talent for talking his way into jobs he couldn’t really handle and then getting fired after a few months when the bosses finally caught on. This was usually followed a long period of poverty. Sometimes serious poverty – there were stretches he’d spent in homeless shelters, some of them for months on end (he’d never landed The Empress in one when they were together, but they’d come close a couple of times). Even when he had money, he was never any good at keeping it. He had a bad habit of blowing the money in his pocket on nice things that he really couldn’t afford, and then not having any to pay his bills later on – a habit which he called the “Fuck-You Budget”. It didn’t make for a lot of financial security. The Empress might not have handled it the right way, but that kind of thing wasn’t going to make any woman happy.

But at least he knew about his faults, and didn’t make excuses for them. You’d think that his time living among the poor and the homeless would have given him sympathy for the tales they told about how they ended up where they were. But it was just the opposite; he’d heard too many of their stories, which were all basically the same and that all basically turned out to be horseshit. They usually weren’t completely untrue, mind you – but they always held back some important details and inflated some others, which left the impression of them being way less responsible for their own sad circumstances than they actually were.

“Everybody’s got a story that’ll make you cry” is what Psycho Dish would always say about them. And it’s true – the world is full of hard-luck tales. The people in the shelters had tons of them. They’d tell stories about losing jobs, going through divorces, ending up in bankruptcy, getting kicked out by relatives – all for no good reason whatsoever; never because of anything they’d done to make any of it happen. Always it was bad luck, or somebody else’s fault: a jerk of a boss, a bitch of an ex-wife, backstabbing friends, racist cops and judges, incompetent social workers, or any of a whole army of people who had it in for them and who were responsible for them being where they were.

Anyone can catch a bad break or two, and there are real traps to poverty: payday loans, check-cashing ripoffs, having to buy cheap merchandise that constantly needs to be replaced. But with patience, hard work, and good judgment, the bad breaks can be recovered from and the traps can be avoided. The thing that Psycho Dish had found out in the shelters is that what nobody can recover from is refusing to be honest with themselves, to take responsibility for their own bad decisions, and to work on improving themselves. It’s easier to blame the whole world, and to tell all the people you meet a story that’ll make them cry. But at this point, Psycho Dish was immune to those. And so was I, because I’d remembered something he’d told me once long ago: “Never trust anybody who always has a reason why all the bad things that’ve happened in their life are somebody else’s fault.”

Psycho Dish on the Work Ethic:

I realized there had been a long silence when I looked over at Psycho Dish and saw that he was plinking away at the screen of his phone. They’re cheap nowadays, and he’d finally been able to afford to get one. To tell the truth, I think he probably could have gotten one before he did, but he’d resisted it for a while. They’re the future of computing, that’s for sure. But they’re also prepackaged, sealed little boxes that you can’t really tinker with, and I know that bothers him. Psycho Dish was always fascinated with computers, and he’d always wanted to work on them – almost all of those jobs he’d talked his way into and gotten fired from had to do with them in one way or another. But the firings told the real story: as much as he liked working on them, he wasn’t ever very good at it. No, I’d only ever known Psycho Dish to be really good at two jobs: washing dishes and driving a cab. He was great at both of those, though. There was a cycle to his life these past few years. He’d get fired from a computer job, be poor for a while, grudgingly go back to dish washing or cab driving, build up some money and confidence, apply for another computer job, talk his way into it, and the cycle would start over again. At least it was predictable.

Normally, getting fired all the time might raise questions about somebody’s work ethic. But not with Psycho Dish. You could question his computer skills. You could question his judgment in not giving up at a kind of job he didn’t have any talent for. But you couldn’t much question his work ethic. As a matter of fact, the nickname “Psycho Dish” was given to him by the people back in the kitchen at some or another of the dishwashing jobs he’d had – they said he washed dishes like a psycho, and that was a compliment. You could’ve just as easily called him “Psycho Cab” too, though I’d imagine that wouldn’t have made any of his customers very confident about riding with him.

When it came to customers in his cab, Psycho Dish considered it part of his work ethic that he had some rules for them, too. But there were only two of them, and they were real simple:

1) Shut up

and

2) Pay up

Those two rules were negotiable to different degrees. Rule 2 was not negotiable at all. Rule 1 was a strong preference – he’d heard plenty of bullshit stories in his time, and didn’t really need any more of them – but under the right circumstances, he’d be flexible on it. For example, there was that one woman…

“Hey, what was the name of that crazy rich broad you used to have in the cab all the time back when you drove for Taxi Unlimited?” I asked him.

He answered without looking up from his screen: “Mary Parker”.

“Yeah, that’s the one.”

Mary Parker, that was her name – and a truly crazy rich broad she was. He’d told me all about her. She was a trust fund baby who had apparently decided to drink herself to death because she didn’t have anything better to do. At some point even her money and her family name couldn’t save her driver’s license from yet another DUI conviction, and that’s when she became a regular customer of Taxi Unlimited.

One night back in the early 80s when Psycho Dish was young and new to cab driving, Mary Parker got into his car someplace downtown and wanted to be driven home. She was drunk out of her mind, as usual, and probably had some impressive amount of cocaine in her system too (it was the 80s, after all). She blabbered on and on about one thing or another for the whole ride; a total violation of Rule 1, but she always paid and she usually tipped pretty well too, so as much as it annoyed Psycho Dish, he let it go. When they parked, she asked him how much money he’d made in his best night of driving ever. After he told her, she offered him the same amount to come inside and listen to her talk for the rest of the night. That was it – nothing weird, nothing kinky, and no sex – he just had to sit and listen to her until either the sun came up or she fell asleep (which, considering the amount of cocaine that Psycho Dish figured she’d done that evening, was sure to be a while). It was easy money, and better yet, it was guaranteed, which making money never is when you’re driving a cab.

So he came inside, got the money (even back then he was smart enough to know that you always make drunks pay you in advance), and sat down to listen to her talk. And talk she did – rapid-fire, on and on, not making a whole lot of sense. He couldn’t recall what she talked about, and wouldn’t even care to try – she paid him to listen to what she said, not to remember it. A couple of times she offered him some vodka, but he said no – she wasn’t paying him to get drunk, either, and eventually he had to drive the cab back to the garage. He did exactly, and only, what she was paying him to do: to sit there and listen to her booze-and-drug-fueled rantings about something or another the whole night long. In the end, she passed out on her couch right around daybreak. With her out cold and the sun coming up, the job he’d gotten paid to do was done, and it was quitting time.

When he got to the door, he turned around and took one last look back at her as she lay there on her couch in the glow of the morning sun. Poor little rich girl – she couldn’t have been a day past 30, wasn’t half bad-looking, and was rolling in cash, and yet she had to pay a broke cab driver money to keep her company.

Oh, well. Everybody’s got a story that’ll make you cry – but at least she had that and money. That’s better than a lot of people ever do.

Psycho Dish on Communism and Anarchy:

“So when are you finally getting a car of your own again so I can stop wasting my Saturday nights coming down here to get you?” I asked him. That was kind of a lie, though. I didn’t really have much of anything better to do on a Saturday night, and besides, the brew pub was a fine place to be.

By this time, he’d put his phone down and was back to concentrating on his beer. “Soon, I hope.”, he answered. “You know, I’ve been thinking of maybe driving for Uber or Lyft once I get back on the road.”

“That sure sounds a lot more respectable than Taxi Unlimited.”

Psycho Dish gave a little smile of approval, and then said: “Yup. And a lot more stable, too.”

When he was 18, Psycho Dish left home and hitchhiked to California with nothing but the clothes on his back, a hundred bucks saved up from a summer job in his pocket, and the address of one of his grandmothers – a woman he had barely ever met and who lived somewhere just outside of Berkeley. Once he got there, he set himself up on her couch and started looking for work. He found it with Taxi Unlimited.

Taxi Unlimited was one of the communally-run businesses that had been founded in Berkeley during the hippie era. There were no bosses or employees at Taxi Unlimited, it was all just members of the collective – everyone had an equal say in how it was run, with decisions being made by consensus at all-hands meetings. The original members were people who had been part of the Berkeley Food Co-op and the Free Speech Movement, but despite their hippie leanings they were still mostly bourgeois middle-class white kids who had some understanding of things like good financial practices, the need to follow local laws, and basic business ethics. But by the time Psycho Dish joined a dozen or so years later, things were very different. People had naturally drifted in an out of the place, and the change had not been for the better. The fact that it was a collective and there were no bosses meant that nobody could hire or fire anybody – people just sort of showed up if they wanted to and started working (It should be noted that Berkeley was and is what’s called a “free city” for taxis – it does not require cab drivers to get a hack license, a fact which which further lowered barriers to entry for employment at Taxi Unlimited). The quality of the people involved started going down until, by the beginning of Psycho Dish’s time there, it was essentially a collection of burnouts, addicts, and petty criminals (many of which used their cabs as delivery vehicles for their main business of selling drugs).

For the first little while he was there, Taxi Unlimited was (barely) functional. The real breaking point came when it became obvious that the business had become big enough that it needed someone sitting behind a desk full-time doing the kind of paperwork that businesses need to have done. In the early days, each driver had taken a little time away from driving (which earned them money) to do some share of the paperwork (which didn’t). The free labor they donated was a form of what’s called a “tax paid into the commons” – a sacrifice that each individual makes for the good of everybody. The original bourgeois hippies who’d founded the place understood why this was necessary. The burnouts, addicts, and petty criminals had a harder time wrapping their heads around it. They tended not to do the paperwork at all; or if they did, it would be a mess precisely because they were burnouts, addicts, and petty criminals – the kind of people not known for their good business management skills. Without any bosses in the company, there was nobody who could make them do it, or make them do it right.

So in came Ginnie, the lesbian ex-hippie with a brand-new degree from S.F. State in Management and Accounting. The first thing she found was that nobody had paid Taxi Unlimited’s insurance bill in long enough that if it wasn’t paid right away, the insurance would expire, effectively putting the company out of business. She paid it, and the money had to come from somewhere, so everybody’s next check was light. Not a good way to start, popularity-wise. The same members who couldn’t wrap their heads around why they should do any paperwork started to speak up at meetings questioning why a person who did do the paperwork ought to be in the company at all. Somebody who sat in an office all day while they were out driving and whose work wasn’t directly bringing any revenue into the business seemed a little too much like a boss to them. Some even accused her of secretly being an agent provocateur sent from the government to sabotage the collective. It was a stupid thing to say, but again, there weren’t any bosses, so nobody had the authority tell them to shut the hell up, which was really the only reasonable thing to do.

Things got worse, especially for Ginnie. She’d do something responsible, checks would be lighter than expected, and the usual suspects would complain louder. And that wasn’t all. A few of the drivers made crude passes at her that were inappropriate even by early 80s standards. Ginnie broke down in tears at a meeting and asked the more responsible members of the collective to back her up, and some wanted to, but there was really nothing they could do about it. Nobody was the boss, so nobody could discipline or fire anybody else, no matter how badly they behaved. Factions developed – roughly, pro-Ginnie (i.e. people who wanted the business to be stable so that they’d still have a job in the future) and anti-Ginnie (i.e. people who wanted to take every cent they could get, right now, and to hell with the future). People denounced each other at meetings instead of making decisions. Getting anything done became impossible.

“I understand why communism always ends up with a tyrant in charge”, Psycho Dish once told me, “I was just about ready for a Stalin to come in to Taxi Unlimited, kick some ass, and put things back in shape.”

But no tyrant ever came to save Taxi Unlimited. Ginnie soldiered on for about a year and a half, but when the economy started picking up and she could get something better, she left. Over the next few months, more people followed her out the door until one day Psycho Dish realized there was nobody sober or sane left in the collective. He knew a sinking ship when he saw one, and made for the exits himself. Taxi Unlimited foundered on for a couple of years after that before finally closing down for good. Today all that’s left of it is a Facebook group open to all the ex-employees who didn’t end up eventually overdosing on something or other. Psycho Dish is on it. So is Ginnie, so I guess that not all of her memories of the place were bad ones.

The lesson that Psycho Dish took away from the whole experience was that communism works fine at the scale of about ten people who all know and trust each other. Get past a dozen people, and problems start to appear; beyond about 25, it gets totally unmanageable, and either collapses or ends up in tyranny. Trying to run a big enterprise or even a whole country like that – well, that’s just a non-starter.

Psycho Dish on Capitalism:

These days, Psycho Dish is a proud, unapologetic capitalist. He’s even tried his hand at being an entrepreneur. Of course it was a computer-related business, and of course he wasn’t very good at it, and of course it failed in the end.

The story goes like this: one of his firings came with some sort of severance deal which meant that he left with an unusually large amount of money in his pocket. So he decided to open a small computer sales and repair shop where he’d be the boss and nobody could fire him for not knowing what he was doing. (This, of course, ignores a basic truth of being a small business owner, which is that you don’t have one boss – you have a thousand bosses. You can piss off any one, or two, or five of them, but piss off too many of them, and you end up just as unemployed as if a single boss had fired you.) The Empress, who he was still married to at the time, bitched him out over it, telling him that it was a stupid idea and that he was going to waste his whole severance on it and end up broke. As usual, I couldn’t quite disagree with her logic, and as usual, she turned out to be right, but also as usual, she couldn’t have handled it any worse. He got defiant and decided to do it anyway. He somehow talked the city into renting him out a small abandoned firehouse that they’d closed a couple of years earlier for dirt cheap. He set up a connection with a wholesaler, blew most of the severance on inventory, and set a date for the grand opening.

As soon as I drove up to the place for the opening celebration I knew the business was going to fail, and why. I also knew why the city had rented him the firehouse so cheap, and why they’d abandoned it in the first place. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the place was in the middle of the ghetto. That’s not to say you can’t make money selling tech in the ghetto. In fact, tech represents one of the four kinds of stores you’ll always find in the ghetto: fast food, the beauty shop, the liquor store, and the cell phone store. But that’s cell phone stores, not PC stores. There’s a reason why that one episode of The Boondocks coined the term “niggertech” to describe smartphones and tablets. It’s the same reason why Apple sells iPhones in a tacky gold color designed to match cheap bling. Ghetto-dwellers love cell phones. Desktop PCs and components like Psycho Dish was selling, not so much.

The first customer in the door on opening day was a grossly obese black woman with three unruly kids in tow. She wanted to pay her cell phone bill. He wasn’t set up to do that. She left. The next few were all young black men who wanted to buy cheap prepaid phones and SIM cards for them – burners for their drug businesses. He didn’t carry those, and they were unmoved by his explanations of the superior capabilities of a full tower PC with an Intel Core i7 processor. A couple even looked around the place with disappointed expressions on their faces, as if they didn’t even see anything worth coming back in the middle of the night to steal. And that was pretty much how the whole day went, as I sat there bored and The Empress sat there stony-faced, with her lips pursed and her teeth gritted. At dinner after closing that day, I decided to pre-empt The Empress and say the same thing I’m pretty sure she was going to, but a lot more gently. I suggested that maybe he ought to adjust his business plan in order to offer his customers products that they might actually be interested in buying, which seemed to be cell phones. He wasn’t having any of it. He had a dream of running a computer store, and he was going to stick with it to the end.

A couple of months passed. The Empress must have worked him over pretty good in that time, because eventually he agreed to carry a small selection of burners and some accessories like chargers and cases. That helped things a little, but not enough. On top of that, the clientele was hard to deal with. Maybe especially so there in the ghetto, but they always are, everywhere.

One day while we were driving out to lunch he told me: “You know the problem with customers? Customers want everything for nothing, and they want it right now.”

I let my politics show a little more that I usually do when I answered him: “Ain’t that the truth. That’s the problem with democracy, too. In a democracy, the voters are the customers, and they want everything for nothing, right now. They want all their government services, and their Social Security, and their subsidized health care, and their huge military that makes them feel like they’re a part of something powerful, and they don’t want to pay high taxes or have anybody tell them about inflation or the debt clock. They want to have all the weird sex they can but without any consequences, to hire cheap labor from the flood of immigrants crossing the border but still keep their country like it is, to buy cheap Chinese-made crap at Wal-Mart but still have an economy that includes working-class jobs, and to start unwinnable hobbyist wars that make them feel strong but still stay a functioning world power. Only a damn fool or a con man would actually go along with that, but they’re the only customers in the world who can elect the people they do business with, so they end up electing a bunch of damn fools and con men who will tell them whatever shit they want to hear. And they’re gonna run the whole damn show right into the ground someday.”

Psycho Dish stared out the car window, obviously only half paying attention. When I finished he said simply: “Yeah, it’s pretty fucked up, alright.”

Well, anyhow, I thought it had been a good insight.

The more the store struggled, the more things Psycho Dish tried in order to keep it afloat. He opened up an online store as a complement to the one in the firehouse, which The Empress pointed out wouldn’t ever take off because Amazon sold all the same stuff he planned to, cheaper, with free two-day shipping, and they already had everybody in the world’s credit card number on file. He did it anyway, and of course it didn’t do any business at all. He tried posting flyers around the neighborhood, but that failed to drum up any interest in the ghetto over high-powered desktop PCs or the repair thereof. In the end, and too late, I think he did figure out an important secret of entrepreneurship. Yes, customers do want everything for nothing, and they do want it right now, which really is unreasonable, and you really can’t give it to them (even if you’re the government, you’ll fail at it eventually). But on the other hand, you have to at least try to sell them things that they actually want, for a price they’re willing to pay.

It had all been a mistake, but hey – he’s always the first to admit that he’s made plenty of those.

I had a job that kept me on the road all the time back then, so I wasn’t around when the store finally closed its doors. It started a chain of events that all happened in rapid order. He went broke, the Empress kicked him out for good, his car got repossessed, and he ended up in a homeless shelter again. He even kept running the online store from the shelter for a long while after that. I’d wonder how he managed to do it, but the truth is that I know how – it’s because he never got any orders, so he never had to figure out a way to fulfill them. Eventually, he got the job washing dishes at the brew pub, which brings us right back to where we started…

Psycho Dish on the Inevitable March of Time:

“Last call!” the bartender shouted. It was getting late, and the place was emptying out. Soon it would be time to go, but we still had a few more minutes to sit and finish our beers.

I don’t know what it was, but something made me think to say: “You know, I was out in Berkeley not too long ago. Up in your old stomping grounds around Albany Hill.”

“Is that right?”

“Yup. The back side of the hill’s all built up now. A bunch of new houses already there, and even more under construction.” I paused and took a sip of my beer before continuing, “Catherine wouldn’t have liked that one bit.”

Catherine was Psycho Dish’s grandmother; the one he’d stayed with after he hitchhiked out west. She was a Communist, too. And by that, I don’t mean she was a Democrat, or a liberal, or a socialist – I mean she was a lifelong, card-carrying member of the Communist Party. She’d been a Wobbly and a Freedom Rider and an antiwar protester during Vietnam, and even went through a brief phase of being a wife and mother (Psycho Dish’s dad eventually rebelled against his Communist mother by becoming an engineer working for a defense contractor that built Aegis missile defense systems for the Navy). In her old age though, she’d turned all of her energy towards a local issue: keeping the back side of Albany Hill free from development.

In the 80s and 90s, flush with new Silicon Valley money, the entire San Francisco Bay Area had seen in a boom in building. New houses and new businesses went up everywhere, and what was already there was got more expensive every year. There was a lot of money behind wanting to build more housing on Albany Hill, but Catherine waged a one-woman war against it. She did it by making a general pest of herself in the way that people who want to affect local politics do: by attending and speaking up at City Council meetings, by submitting comments to the Planning Board, and by calling the Mayor’s office over and over until they were sick of her. And it all worked. As long as she lived, the back side of Albany Hill stayed undisturbed and undeveloped.

Then one day she died, and they started building there almost before she was laid in the ground.

There are all kinds of good reasons to build houses on the back side of Albany Hill. It’s already in the middle of town, surrounded by streets and houses and businesses. The hill itself isn’t especially scenic or historic. Demand is high, and people need a place to live. There are parks around, and they’re nicer.

And Catherine was an old crank and a commie to boot and if she and I had ever talked politics (I only met her a couple of times, and it thankfully never came up) we probably would have ended up with our hands wrapped around each others’ throats. But when I’d seen the houses they’d built on the back side of the hill, I couldn’t help but feel a little touch of sadness.

“No, she wouldn’t have liked it at all.” Psycho Dish said in a gloomy tone, “She spent years fighting it. All of her later life, and all the time I really knew her. 25 years at least. All down the tubes, just like that.”

He took one last swig, finishing off the rest of the beer in his glass, and then he continued:

“But you know, dude, those houses won’t be there forever, either. Someday they’ll be gone – crumbled into dust. And the whole town around it, too. And everything you and I know in the world. You can’t get too attached to any of it. That’s why I’ve never cried too hard when I’ve lost everything and had to start over. The Kingdom of God is forever, but everything in this world is temporary – here today, gone tomorrow. You do your best; you win some and you lose some and in the end, you trust in God, because that’s the only thing you really can do.”

“Truer words were never spoken.” I told him, raising my glass in the air in a toast, then downing the last of my beer.

* * *

And now, finally, it was closing time. They’d started putting the stools up on top of the bar, and Psycho Dish helped with the last of them while I went to take a leak. When I came back out of the mens’ room, they’d turned off the lights, and the owner of the place was standing by the door waiting for us to leave so he could lock up. As I made my way to the exit, a thought occurred to me. There’s a lot of wisdom to be found on barstools. And a lot of bullshit too, so you’ve got to be careful sometimes. But if you know where to look and how to listen, you can learn a lot of truths about the world from the people who sit on them. Even – maybe especially – from people you probably don’t spend a lot of time listening to: working class people like deliverymen and house painters and garbage collectors, and even the guy who washes your beer glass.

We walked out to my car – the last one left in the parking lot – and got inside. While I reached for my seatbelt, I heard Psycho Dish, in a voice that was quiet and sincere, say:

“Seriously, dude, thanks for coming to get me. You really helped me out.”

“Yeah, well, I really shouldn’t stay up this late. Speaking of the Kingdom of God, I’ve got church in the morning. But hey – we’ll just say you owe me a glass of that whiskey you were talking about, and then we’ll call it even.”

“Any time, dude, any time.”

I turned the key, the engine came to life, and Psycho Dish and I drove off into the darkness of the night.

* * *

UPDATE: I hadn’t seen Psycho Dish in a while when out of the blue I got an email from him the other day. The news is bad and good (Isn’t it always?). His son flunked out of college for the third time, and, as he’d promised the kid he would if he came back without a degree in his hand this time, Psycho Dish had Navy enlistment papers waiting for him when he got home. Well, that’s not so bad – they say the service will make a man out of you, though maybe that’s not all that true these days anymore. As for Psycho Dish himself, he’s somehow ended up with a job that suits him so well I can hardly believe it. His new gig is driving a camera car around for a certain huge tech company that lets you view what a street looks like on their map site – the perfect blend of driving for a living and working in tech. He said he was up in Maine somewhere, but this job’s going to take him all around the country. So if you’re out on the highways and by-ways and you see a car with a big round camera bolted to the top, smile and wave – you might just be having your very own encounter with the one and only Psycho Dish.

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Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Let’s face it – being on the right is tough these days. The left has completed its long march through the institutions – media, academia, technology, government bureaucracy – and stands dominant in all of them. Through these, they have come to utterly dominate not only much of public policy and the mainstream news media, but also to act as arbiters of the mainstream culture as well. As Mencius Moldbug noted, in the Modern state, culture is downstream from politics, and public morals are set by whoever’s army is guarding the television station. Through their machinery of cultural control, the establishment left (which is by no means antiwar or against police statism on principle) has manufactured consent on all manner of issues. Not only that, they’ve created and sustained a culture of leftism – the propagation, whether explicitly presented as such or not, of leftist memes, not the least important of which is leftism as hip and intellectual.

This leftist culture has become the absolutely dominant mainstream culture in not just the United States, but all of the West. And there’s no hope of changing it anytime soon – not with the mainstream academic and media cartels enjoying the legal protections (not to mention the favor of much of the political system) that they do. And where does that leave the right? It leaves it in a position that’s…

…well, that’s a hell of a lot of fun, actually. Because we are the counterculture now. For the left, in all of its dominance of establishment culture, has now run into what I call Bakunin’s Corollary to Flair’s Law.

Flair’s Law states: To be The Man, you’ve got to beat The Man.

Bakunin’s Corollary states: Once you do beat The Man, then you become The Man, whether you said you were going to or not.

And as it stands now, the left most definitely is The Man. Not only that, but they act the part, down to the smallest detail. A more moralizing, censorious, hectoring, endlessly instructive bunch of tut-tutting know-it-all pearl-clutchers you could not find anywhere. The left, long ago, when they were out of power, once understood the sheer joy of sticking a thumb in the eye of people like that. They understood both the necessity and the power of creating a counterculture. Now it is time for the right, and especially the alternative right – all manner of traditionalists, reactionaries, right-libertarians, separatists, monarchists, and elitists – to drop out of the establishment mass popular culture and work on creating a counterculture of our own. Not just because it is necessary in order to maintain and pass on our values in the face of the ceaseless onslaught of that leftist popular culture (Note that there is increasingly nothing – nothing – in popular culture that is permitted to be happily apolitical; to not incessantly parrot the left’s memes. Not television, not comedy, not music, not video games, not football or basketball, not web browsers or search engines, not even chicken sandwiches or hamburgers), but because it’s just plain fun.

You are the counterculture now. You get to flip the bird to The Man, to be anti-establishment, to get off the grid of pop-culture garbage and live the way you see fit. Those of the alternative right are not just in the positions of being the Marxes and Nietzsches and Gramscis opposed to bourgeois mass-culture morality, but we also get to be Kerouac in San Francisco, to be Wyatt and Billy on the open highway, to be Ken Kesey on his Magic Bus, to be Lenny Bruce making people faint from the stage.

Nearly everything necessary for this is already in place. In many ways, the alternative right community reminds me of my father’s descriptions of Greenwich Village circa 1964. It is filled with all manner of eccentrics and thinkers and radicals and rebels and misfits. Some speak deep truths, some seem half-crazy; some are charismatic and charming, others seem scary and dangerous. Sometimes it is the scary, dangerous, and half-crazy among them who speak the most deep truth. All throughout, there is a feeling of throwing off what the establishment gives us, of finding a better way. There is also a feeling that something big is inevitable, and coming sooner rather than later.

How exciting!

I’ve long said that the path to being a reactionary starts with conceding some points to the left. So let us start now, by admitting that many of the criticisms of the establishment and its machinery of cultural control that the left made when they were out of power (and now seem to have forgotten) were true. Their criticisms of the educational system, of how news is reported, of corporatism and consumerism, of the 9 to 5 rat race, of suburbia and its cultural and spiritual sterility, of the entertainment industry in general, and most particularly of television, were all absolutely correct. These aren’t the arguments of leftists, per se, but the arguments of those who are anti-establishment. By no means should they be rejected simply because they were once, long ago, voiced by the left. Remember that the left is demonic, and thus, like any demon, it will tell you whatever it thinks it needs to tell you in order to get you to do what it wants you to do. If that means lying to you, then it will lie; if that means telling you the truth, then it will tell you the truth; if that means mixing truths and lies, then it will mix truths and lies. If anything, the fact that the left said these things once, but threw them aside once they gained power, should indicate to you that there was some real truth in them. Beyond this, once one casts aside the foolish notion that an argument cannot possibly contain any truth just because one’s enemies once used it, the faculties of reason of any traditionalist or reactionary should make the truth of these ideas easy to discern.

So, then, the task before us is twofold: First, to reject the establishment mass culture. Second, to build a full and unique traditionalist/reactionary counterculture.

Sound familiar? It is, essentially, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”. A great figure of the left-counterculture made this saying famous, and it is a sentiment well worth revisiting for those who wish to create a right-counterculture.

Naming what exactly should be dropped out of is the relatively easy part, but still it bears saying.

First, as the leftists used to say, “Kill Your Television”. I am not one who generally thinks that machines are inherently evil. Television is an exception. It is no more and no less than a hypnotic mind control device. Don’t believe me? Sit a hyperactive toddler in front of a television and watch what happens. They freeze, turn away from everything they were doing, and stare at the screen. Gavin McInnes once noted that the “on” switch of his television was an “off” switch for his kids, and so it is. Do you think this device does not place ideas in the minds of those who fall into a trance in its presence? And what ideas do you think the Hollywood/New York axis wishes to place there? I recall reading one account of a father who, tired of his two under-10 daughters’ bratty attitudes, limited their television viewing to a DVD box set of Little House on The Prairie. The change in his daughters’ behavior was dramatic – within a couple of weeks, they were referring to him and his wife as “Ma” and “Pa”, and offering to help with chores. The lesson is obvious: people (and especially children) learn their social norms from television, far more even than from the people around them.

Ideally, one would cut oneself off from it totally. Many find this rather difficult (I must admit, myself included at times). Some keep a television set, but make sure it is disconnected from broadcast channels and use it only as a monitor for a carefully-selected library of DVDs. Others (myself included) don’t own a set, but download a few select programs from torrent sites and watch on laptops or tablets. My total viewership of television programs tops out at perhaps 3-4 hours per week during particularly good seasons. Any traditionalist should strive to do the same. In fact, traditionalists should reject – should “drop out” of – all popular culture (especially that produced after, say, 1966) to the greatest degree possible, and make sure their children are exposed to it as little as possible. Music, video games, even the web – either drop out of it completely, or, at very least, carefully limit the time and scope of it in your life and the lives of your children.

While we’re on the subject of children: DO NOT send your children to a public school. “Drop out” here too; by which I do not mean that your children should go uneducated, but that you should – you must – homeschool. To do otherwise is pure child abuse. Perhaps fifty years ago, this was not the case, but these times are not those times. The failures of the public schools need not be repeated here, but they are undeniable, and any reasonably smart ten-year-old whose attention span hasn’t been destroyed by television can learn more by being left alone all day with a stack of books than they can in any public school classroom anyway. As for the universities, there are not quite any suitable replacements for them yet, but some lurk just over the horizon and will appear before long.

To say that one should “drop out” of – not bother listening to and not ever trusting – the mainstream news media goes without saying.

One more thing to drop out of is the hamster wheel of consumerism and “career”. By this I do not mean to suggest that one should go on the public dole. Rather, be mindful of the old saw “Work to live; don’t live to work”. Defining oneself by one’s job is a soulless Whig horror, and yet everywhere in this Modernist world, “career” is thought to be everything. This should be rejected. Do something you don’t hate, and work only as much as you need to in order to get by. How much is that? This will shock many, but I assure you that, if you are single and don’t live in the urban core of a megacity, you can get along fine on $1000 per month. How? By living with what you actually need. Here I don’t necessarily suggest going as far as the Minimalist movement, though I believe them to be largely on the right track. Rent a room in a house instead of having a whole apartment to yourself. Drive a good-condition used car. Buy and keep only the clothes you’ll actually wear. Buy quality and make it last. This is getting possible even in electronics, now that desktop/laptop computers have passed the “good enough” threshold, with tablets and smartphones not far behind. Speaking of which, the only electronics you really need are a laptop and a smartphone, and even the need for the former is becoming questionable for many. As for the latter, they are getting cheap, and a decent service plan can be had for $50 a month. You can work less, and make less, and live with less, and devote more time to the pursuits that mean something to you.

Drop out of fast food. Abandon all junk food to the extent that you can. Leave that poison to clog the arteries of the lumpenproles. Eat like a human being, even if it takes longer and requires more effort. For your physical health, yes. But it’ll work wonders for your sense of self, as well.

Perhaps most importantly, drop out of the need to conform to the prevailing establishment culture; which includes dropping out of the need for its approval. When a culture is decent and virtuous, conforming to its norms is a good thing. When it is not, conforming to its norms is moral and spiritual suicide. Such is the case now. The prevailing establishment culture is a horror. Rebelling against it is a necessity. But more, it is fun. Revel in it. Go on – raise your middle finger to The Man. It feels great!

Which brings us to our next point: If there is to be a right-counterculture, what shall it look like?

This is a difficult question, and I do not pretend to have anything approximating a full answer to it. But I can start by confidently stating a couple of things that it shouldn’t be.

The first thing it shouldn’t be is an imitation of the leftist counterculture of the beatniks, the hippies, and the hipsters. Every time something rightist/traditionalist/reactionary tries to copy an artifact of leftist culture, it turns into a risible failure. Anyone who doesn’t believe that can try listening to some “Christian rock” – for as long as you can stand it, that is. Or try watching some episodes of The Half-Hour News Hour – the short-lived attempt to create a right-wing version of The Daily Show. No, a culture (or counterculture) that suits one faith, philosophy, or worldview will seem bizarre or out of place when adopted by another. For a right-counterculture to look like Woodstock, differing only in that copies of Evola’s works are substituted for those of Alinsky, would be ridiculous. And more, it would be falling into the trap that so consistently ensnares mainstream conservatives: allowing the left to define us. Ironically, the challenge for “reactionaries” is to stop reacting to the left – including by trying to copy them or produce “our own” versions of what they have done – and to start building that which is truly and uniquely ours. Our own ideas, our own art, our own (counter)culture.

The other thing it should’t be is an attempt to restore the pre-hippie “conservative” culture of 1950s America. I once heard Glenn Beck say that the world he wanted was “the 50s, but with civil rights”, and I daresay this captures the sentiments of most of mainstream conservatism. But (beyond the simple fact that Glenn Beck wanting it is a bad sign), there are a couple of fundamental things wrong with this vision. The first is that that world was neither truly traditional, nor did it have any real strength to it. It has been said that the hippies were pushing on an open door, and that was quite correct – the ease with which it crumbled when a few teenagers blew marijuana smoke in its face shows its essential weakness. It was a point along a path, and it is not possible that we shall tread that way again. And what made it unsustainable is that it, too, was an artifact of the Whig worldview. This worldview/philosophy, like all of them, has a logical endpoint; a destination that it cannot be halted from moving ever-closer toward (This is the true meaning of William F. Buckley’s remark that conservatives stand athwart history yelling “Stop!”, and of Spengler’s remark that time does not suffer itself to be halted). We cannot say that we didn’t like how the story ended, so we shall rewind the tape to a certain point in the tale that we did like, hit Play, and hope that it ends differently this time. That just won’t work. The honest truth is that the much-mythologized pre-hippie America was pure Whig/commercialist, and had much that was ugly about it, including the very lack of soul and a strong moral center that led to its easy demise. There was little to stir the soul in it.

No, we need something different. Something old-yet-new; something that both reaches farther back, and forward past the collapse of the current system.

What shall it be? Well, I don’t know, really. Most likely, it has to develop organically, and will do so – if at all – in a way that cannot really be predicted. That said, I have a few humble suggestions for starting points.

My recent visit to Maker Faire has convinced me that adopting/co-opting the Maker/DIY movement as our own would be a good place to start. Even if it’s not directed towards anything critical for survival, the very process of learning craftsmanship, inventiveness, patience and persistence – no matter what it actually produces at the moment – is something that will serve one well, especially in lean times. Learn to make something useful, or to fix something broken. This is not just as a means to further self-sufficiency, but as a replacement for television and other bourgeois/proletarian forms of establishment mass entertainment as well. If you have children, build something with them – a go-cart or a treehouse or a Raspberry Pi-powered omelette-flipping robot. Teach them, or learn together – but don’t stare separately at electronic screens.

Again, something akin to the Minimalist movement (though not necessarily as stringent) would be a good thing, especially if one does it alongside cutting mainstream establishment pop culture out of one’s life. What, for example, do you need a TV set for if you don’t watch television? Have less stuff, and make more of what you do have with your own hands.

In music, some strains of punk and heavy metal have a traditionalist/reactionary element to them, and if that is to your taste, then by all means listen to, or perform, that. A renewed interest in classical music can’t be viewed as a bad thing either. But perhaps even more promising, to me at least, is traditionalist folk along the lines of the Quebecois group Mes Aieux. Get to know and appreciate the musical styles of your ancestors, and perhaps even learn to play them or to compose in those styles yourself.

In clothing, men should reject the infantilizing manchild look that James Howard Kunstler has so bitingly condemned. Traditionalist women must rediscover feminine dress – skirts and dresses instead of trousers – as part of rediscovering the feminine in themselves. This is, in fact, far more important than anything connected to male modes of dress. How men dress is not a political statement – how women dress is. the left, as part of their motte and bailey doctrine, may deny that it is important, but one can easily watch them go into hysterics when one suggests that this “progress” should be undone. Rejecting masculine modes of dress rejects not just feminism, but the entire Whig paradigm of all people as “equal”, interchangeable cogs in the machinery of industrialized Modernity. It says that the uniquely feminine within you has an irreplaceable value; a value that you place above other concerns. To be truly feminine is to live life as art. Nothing could be more bold, or could challenge the Modernist world more stridently.

But the single most important task is to develop a unique traditionalist/reactionary aesthetic in everything. There is no aesthetic to mainstream conservatism beyond the aesthetics of a Wal-Mart. Traditionalists and reactionaries must break with this, and make it clear that they value the beautiful simply for its intrinsic goodness, apart from any “practical” concerns. We should – must – develop an aesthetic style that reflects our vision of truth and beauty. Like the intellectual ideas of the movement, it should be simultaneously old and new. It should evoke the best concepts of the past, without simply rehashing exhausted ideas. And it must be uniquely, recognizably ours.

Among other things, what all of this demonstrates is that the traditionalist/reactionary movement already has enough intellectuals; what it needs now are artists and poets. This should by no means be taken as an insult to the intellectuals we already have – just the opposite, they do such fine work that there is barely any need for more of them. But as for people who can produce the art, the music, the poems, the novels, the architecture, and the aesthetics that are needed by the movement in order to develop its unique (counter)culture, they are still sorely needed. The idea that the right cannot produce any such people is ridiculous leftist slander – the likes of Ezra Pound, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Samuel Johnson, H. L. Mencken, and Christopher Nolan are testament to that. Mainstream conservatism perhaps cannot produce them, but a soulful traditionalism can. And so I put forth a call to such people to make themselves known, and to lend their strengths to building something great.

For those who are not artists or poets, I say again: Recognize that you are the counterculture now. Live it, revel in it – throw off The Man and his constricting, bourgeois mass culture. Stick your finger in his eye, tell the truth, and live the way that you know is best. The left may have utterly conquered that mass culture and turned it into their most powerful weapon, but that means that they can no longer, no matter how they try to present themselves as such, be the one thing that we now can be: the authentic outsider, the dancer to a different drum, the rebel who rejects the whole damn thing and lives as he sees fit.

There could be nothing more enthralling; nothing more fun! And now – right now – is the time.

Dump Capitalism

The time has come for traditionalists and reactionaries of every stripe to break up with capitalism.

I chose the term “break up with” carefully, because what it implies is an emotional separation. This is precisely what is needed, because, especially for those of us who came to traditionalism and reaction from conservatism or libertarianism, there is a strong residual emotional attachment to capitalism. Even the word itself is evocative. Those of us old enough to remember the Cold War remember when it was “Capitalism vs. Communism”; in which the word “capitalism” stood in for the concept of all manner of liberties: freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of commerce, and freedom to not be dragged away in the middle of the night by secret police, tried in secret courts, and left to rot forever in secret prisons. We remember when it stood for faith in God, for yeoman republican virtues, for tradition, for Mom and apple pie. It was crude and inaccurate to lump those concepts together under the umbrella of that one word (just as it is to do so with the word “democracy” now), but anyone who came of age between the late 1940s and the late 1980s has had the association forever implanted upon their consciousness.

Yet times have changed. The Cold War is long over, and alliances have shifted. As they have, it has become possible to recognize that the mythos of capitalism being an acceptable stand-in for these ideas was always at best a bad analogy, and at worst it was a lie that served the selfish purposes of those who never truly believed in any of the ideals with which they gladly claimed association.

This becomes more undeniable every day, and yet, when someone speaks critically of capitalism, we still instinctively cringe. There is past baggage that is difficult to ignore – mental images of Khruschev or Castro shouting from a balcony; of greasy-haired hippies or of balaclava-wearing Occupy protesters smashing windows. Certainly, there’s a lot to recoil from in those images. And yet, we must overcome instinctive emotionality if we are to analyze the present situation rationally (And this, of course, is critical, for if there is one thing that reactionaries cannot afford to indulge in now, it is self-deception).

I’ve long said that the road to reaction starts with conceding some points to the left (because without doing so, one cannot move past mainstream conservatism, which papers over deep contradictions in its ideology with massive amounts of self-deception). So let us now concede that there are some points regarding capitalism about which the left was correct all along.

The first is that capitalism is inherently amoral. Not immoral, mind you, but amoral. And why wouldn’t it be? The purpose of capitalism is, fundamentally, to generate profits, not to propagate moral teachings. It is in acceptance of this fact that we may distinguish the difference between the proper reaction to capitalism of traditionalists vs. that of the left. The left is angry at capitalism for not being moralistic. They expect it to be, they are bitterly disappointed when it is not, and they loudly insist that it either become so (only in support of their particular morality, of course) or be destroyed and replaced by an economic system that is. This is insensible. Why would a reasonable person be angry at something for it being what it was designed to be and doing what it was designed to do, instead of being and doing some other thing? Is it reasonable for me to be angry at my toaster because I can’t browse the internet on it, or at my cat because it doesn’t fly? Of course not – these do what they are supposed to do, and I should expect them to do those things instead of other things. Shall I react by insisting that someone create an internet-capable toaster, or by trying to strap wings to my cat? How unreasonable that would be; how stubborn in refusal to accept the nature of things!

Yet this all implies understanding of what capitalist enterprises are, not trust in them. I am not angry at a shark because it swims in the ocean and bites things. That’s just what sharks do. If I am swimming in the ocean and a shark bites me, there is no point in being angry at the shark; it’s not being evil, it’s just being a shark. But it is for precisely this reason that I do not trust sharks, nor wish to swim too near them. I do not demonize them, but neither do I lionize them. They may have their place in the world and in the natural order of things, but I am under an obligation to myself to reasonably assess where their proper place is, and isn’t.

What, then, is the moral center of the marketplace? It has none. Here we must acknowledge that there are some (a very few, really) business that do have a genuine moral or ideological center, for better or worse – mostly Hollywood, some (but by no means all) players in the tech industry, and the odd hobby shop or purveyor of chicken sandwiches here are there. But these are rare exceptions. The essentially-universal rule that they are the exception to is this: That the only real principles of capitalist enterprises are their own self-preservation and self-perpetuation. Other than that, they will voice support for, donate relatively small amounts of money to, and make some token gestures (such as accepting a moderate number of Affirmative Action hires into noncritical positions) in the name of whatever cause will ingratiate them with the Establishment. The only time they will take a heartfelt moral stand on anything is when there is an element of self-preservation or self-perpetuation to it – that is what they believe in.

Evidence of this abounds. Let us take the aforementioned capitalist relationship to Communism. Early in the history of the Soviet Union, American capitalists gladly supported the new Bolshevik government any way they could. This was a rational business decision. Russia had been an agricultural backwater before 1917, and the Soviets embarked upon a crash modernization and industrialization program which provided an enormous market for American-built machines to help make that happen. Thus, American businesses gladly conducted commerce with the new Soviet government. The murders of millions of innocent peasants whose only crime was being in the way of “progress”, the destruction of churches and monasteries, the brutal repressions of dissidents – none of this mattered a bit to the American capitalists. The Soviets represented a market, and that was all that was important. It was only in the wake of World War II, when the Soviets had 1) conquered huge swaths of territory, including half of Europe, and denied it to the capitalists as a market, 2) developed atomic weaponry, 3) become obviously expansionistic, and 4) industrialized on their own to the point where they no longer really needed to depend on foreign-built equipment, that capitalists finally began to publicly fret about the horrible, repressive nature of godless Communism. And yet even that was only temporary. The Soviet Union collapsed, of course, yet China remains a Communist country to this day, and one of the most repressive governments in the world. But starting with Nixon’s visit, and really intensifying around the end of the Cold War, China’s status as an existential threat to western capitalists receded, while simultaneously, its potential as as enormous and lucrative market came to the fore. As this happened, capitalist concern for religious freedom and other human rights in China simply seemed to evaporate. If pressed, they may admit that yes, it’s a darn shame, but not anything worth more than a second in which to shrug and say: “That’s life”.

If one good example is temporal, another is geographical. Internet companies, notoriously, give in to the demands of the governments of places in which they do business incessantly (so long as these do not conflict with the demands of the governments of the countries in which they are headquartered). If Pakistan demands censorship or surveillance in support of Islamist theocracy, they get it. If China demands censorship or surveillance in support of Communism, they get it. If Western nations demand censorship or surveillance in support of some or another Politically Correct egalitarian utopian cause, they get it. There is sustained pushback only when the risk is minimal and is outweighed by some public relations benefits.

There is an important lesson in this for both left and right. If the Establishment was, say, virulently anti-homosexual (not in the “look the other way” Victorian sense, but in the Saudi Arabian sense), we would see televised public burnings at the stake of homosexuals that were sponsored by Pepsi, Geico, and Southwest Airlines. Instead, the Establishment is virulently pro-homosexual, so we see “Gay Pride” parades sponsored by the same entities.

Again, they are sharks. They do what it is the nature of sharks to do. The amoral nature of capitalism, other than in the areas of self-preservation or self-perpetuation, is a feature of its system, not a bug.

It is here that a great inherent danger to traditionalists in the drive of capitalism towards self-preservation and self-perpetuation is revealed, because once we move beyond obsolete Cold War-era rhetoric, we can clearly see that the interests of capitalism do not really conform to those of traditionalism. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the area of the rise of consumerism. Consumerism is toxic to faith and tradition, yet it is the lifeblood of capitalism. Let us be clear here – consumerism is not simply the acquisition of the necessities of life, nor even of a few simple harmless luxuries, in the marketplace. Instead, it is the placement of the marketplace not only at the center of public life, but at the center of personal life as well. It is gross overemphasis on the pleasure and status brought by the acquisition of goods. This is a fall into the sin of abandoning chastity, in the sense that the Medievals understood that word. Their understanding of it, which is different from our own, could be best defined as “excessive attachment to worldly pleasures”, of which sex was just one (an important one to be sure, but only one nonetheless). Putting worldly pleasures at the center of life leaves little room for other things, things that are more important and, in the end, more fulfilling – things like faith, family, community, friendship, study, self-improvement, charity, and genuine love. This leads, inevitably, to the loss of these things, or their replacement by shoddy substitutes (e.g. paternalistic big government in place of family, work in place of community, Facebook in place of friends, casual sex in place of genuine love). Consumerism has been a prime contributor to all of this; it has even co-opted the tribal instinct – people now engage in vicious, extended personal attacks on each other based on their tribal loyalties to the corporations whose products they consume: Microsoft, Apple, Google, Playstation, Xbox, AT&T, Verizon, Toyota, and Ford are all tribes to which one may belong, and which one may gain a sense of self-worth by defending from heathens, infidels, and other outsiders.

And the danger exists not only in the form of a deeply unhealthy overemphasis on the desire to buy, but in an equally unhealthy overemphasis on paid work, which represents the means with which to buy. Yes, providing a living for oneself and one’s family is a necessary thing, and doing so instead of expecting others to pay one’s way has a definite honor to it. But sitting in a cubicle and moldering away from 8 to 5 to be able to afford to acquire meaningless possessions that you don’t really need is no healthy society’s idea of the apotheosis of what it means to be a man, and even less of what it means to be a woman. The emptiness of defining oneself, or even measuring personal “success” in life, by one’s “career” is simply horrifying, and every traditionalist or reactionary should be able to discern that at the most casual glance. Yes, a few paid jobs – bold entrepreneur, erudite professor, hard-hitting journalist – may indeed have some element of self-realization or fulfillment to them. But, as women have begun to discover now that reality has collided with the feminist dream, the truth is this: most work sucks. It may be necessary, it may need to be done, it may even give some direction to those who, left to themselves, would not be imaginative enough to have any. But it still sucks. And it is most certainly is not something that should be the measure of a person’s worth or the center of their lives. In more sensible societies, the centers of life are faith, family, and community, with work (and sorry, that’s really all that your “career” is) grudgingly accepted as something necessary to maintaining what is truly important. Capitalism places these priorities exactly backwards, and does so for its own narrow benefit.

If this phenomenon is bad in the West, it is even worse in places like Japan and South Korea. The unsung villain in the demographic collapse of these places is the stealth destruction of the family. I say “stealth destruction” because it is not expressed in high rates of divorce or bastardy, as it is in the West. Instead, men (it is still largely men) are expected to make their workplaces into their ersatz families, and to devote their lives to their employers. Between work itself and constant, effectively mandatory socialization with bosses and coworkers, it’s not unusual at all for men in these places to leave their houses at 7AM and come home at 10 or 11PM, five nights a week. This leaves their wives to effectively be single mothers, and their children to effectively be raised by single mothers. Many there are reaching the entirely rational conclusion that in such an environment, having a family (and especially a large family) is simply not a proposition that can stand up to an objective cost/benefit analysis. For men, the math is especially bad – why have a family who you’ll barely ever see? Children who will effectively view you as a stranger? So they don’t bother, and the family is destroyed, and the nation slowly dies, to meet the needs of a society with the marketplace at its center. Has it made these countries rich? Unquestionably. But at what cost, both for society and the individual?

Throughout the world: How many innocent children have been aborted – sacrificed, in a very real sense, at the altar of Moloch – by women who did it because having a child would “hurt their career”?

It is enough to make a traditional say: If less conspicuous material wealth, less consumerism, less “stuff” in our lives to define who we are both by its acquisition and its possession – if this is the price of a society in which faith, family, and community have regained their proper place at the center of both the personal and public lives of men and women, then so be it!

So, then, what are traditionalists and reactionaries to do? Turn towards Marx, Mao, and Occupy protesters? Nothing of the sort. The proper thing to do is to make a distinction that should have been made ages ago. Much of the problem has to do with the fact that “capitalism” is a word that encompasses so many things that it lacks a usably precise meaning, and this is almost certainly due in part to some intentional obfuscation. To lump the hardworking, blue-collar family man who is trying to make a small business work in with corrupt Wall Street crony capitalists and slick Hollywood marketers is nonsense, but is politically useful for the crony capitalists and their enablers. If they are all one, then an attack on one is an attack on all, and what sort of terrible commie looter would wish to attack our hardworking small businessman? The answer to this muddle is to disaggregate what should logically be disaggregated. Totalism, which is the belief that only the extreme positions are valid, and that a thing must either be celebrated or banned, is a fallacy of Puritanism, either in its religious or leftist/secular humanist guises. For traditionalists and other non-Puritans, a place in between untrammeled corporatist consumerist capitalism and Marx is indeed possible. We can admit of the possibility that one can support the right of free commerce, especially for the humble independent tradesman or small businessman, while still not supporting the right of megacorporations and corrupt bankers to run roughshod over the rest of society, including – especially – by eroding the proper values of a decent society and replacing them with new ones that are conducive to their own narrow interests.

And the right of free commerce really isn’t the same as consumerist, corporatist capitalism. Consider: we have the latter now, but no longer effectively have the former. If a bureaucratic state of infinite reach can tell every baker, florist, and hobby shop owner who they must and cannot do business with, who they must and cannot hire, what they must and cannot compensate their employees with, what they must and cannot accept as payment for services rendered, along with thousands of other regulations covering every minute detail of how their businesses must and cannot be run, then who is really running those businesses? Is it their owners, or are all the decisions of real consequence made by distant, impersonal government functionaries? And if that is the case, then surely, the right of free commerce exists in name only. Lest we forget, large corporations often support these kinds of regulations, for precisely the reasons that: 1) they can absorb the costs of these regulatory burdens far more easily than can small businesses, which gives them an even greater competitive advantage over small competitors than they already had, 2) they are far less likely to have any moral concerns about complying with these dictates, and 3) their wealth and influence means that they can often get exemptions from regulations they find excessively burdensome. Thus is the right of free commerce actually subverted by the crony capitalist.

If we can thus admit that there is a proper bifurcation between the right of free commerce and consumerist, corporatist capitalism; if we can say that the marketplace deserves, and indeed must have, a place in a society, but that the proper place for it is not at a society’s center; if we can agree that merchant values, when applied to and limited to their proper spheres, can bring prosperity, and yet should not and cannot be the controlling values of a decent society; when we transcend Cold War nostalgia and the self-serving deceptions of those who are no true allies of tradition, then it becomes clear that one of the defining characteristics of the traditionalist and reactionary right (and what may be one of the defining points that sets it apart from mainstream conservatism) must be a proper distrust for and skepticism of those forces of cronyism, corruption, consumerism, and corporatism that we may refer to simply as: capitalism.

And so I urge traditionalists: Stand up for the right of free commerce, but dump capitalism!