The Christmas Bullet

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with airplanes, or really, with any man-made flying machine. Planes, helos, zeppelins, gyrocopters, what have you – I would, in those pre-internet days, spend hours reading books full of facts and figures and pictures and stories about them (that is, when I wasn’t busy building plastic models of them or watching reruns of Airwolf, Baa Baa Black Sheep, or Tales of the Gold Monkey). A few of the more colorful and interesting accounts of the early days of aviation have stuck with me through the years, and it has occurred to me that there is one in particular that may be of some relevance to my readers.

Toward the end of World War I, a charming but eccentric man by the name of Dr. William Wallace Whitney Christmas founded an aircraft manufacturing company in Washington, DC. This was perhaps a bit of an odd thing to expect him to do, as there exists no evidence that Dr. Christmas, who was a physician by training, had any background or practical experience in aeronautical engineering, or in fact in any kind of engineering at all. He claimed to have built airplanes before that point, but no record has ever been found to support this other than his own word. Despite his complete apparent lack of qualifications in the field he was entering, he nevertheless managed to find a pair of wealthy brothers – Alfred and Henry McCorry – who he was able to talk into providing him with financial backing while he worked on his projects. Since he did not actually own a factory at which airplanes could be built, he traveled to Long Island to visit the Continental Aircraft Company, where, trading both on his remarkable powers of persuasion and on the still-palpable war fever in which the nation had been gripped, he was able to convince its corporate leadership that his newest design, which he had named the “Bullet”, would be the key to the success of a daring plan he had developed to bring an end to the war by secretly landing an airplane behind German lines, kidnapping Kaiser Wilhelm II, flying him to Britain, and forcing him to sign a surrender. Having secured Continental Aircraft’s agreement to build his airplane for him, Dr. Christmas next needed an aeronautical engine, which in those days (and especially with all available production going toward the war effort) were both expensive and not easy to come by. Undaunted by this, Dr. Christmas visited Army headquarters in Washington, on a mission to get them to loan him an example of the most powerful engine they had. Here once again a combination of his personal charm and wartime desperation worked to his advantage, and he was able to talk his way into possession of an experimental Liberty VI engine, which developed a then-incredible 215 horsepower. To the Army’s credit, they were sufficiently skeptical of the entire matter that the loan came with the proviso that their engine was to be used only for ground testing of the prototype Bullet; he was not to take it into the air until the Army had gotten a chance to inspect and do a full evaluation on the new aircraft. Eager to get his hands on a Liberty VI, Dr. Christmas agreed.

As for the actual design of the Bullet, what Dr. Christmas called “innovative”, others would call “ludicrous”. He claimed that its weird-looking, flattened-egg-shaped fuselage – made of veneered wood – was  going to provide unprecedented reductions in aerodynamic drag, and that its flimsy wings, which he said that he had deliberately designed to flex and bend, were more than strong enough to support its weight. In an article about the Bullet in the British Flight magazine (which still publishes today, as Flight Global), Dr. Christmas even went so far as to declare that the Bullet had “a safety factor of seven throughout”, despite the magazine’s observation that “it would seem that such construction would result in a low factor of safety”. The editors of Flight were not, however, the only people who knew a lot about airplanes and who began to voice serious misgivings about the Bullet. When Dr. Christmas finally submitted his blueprints to Continental Aircraft, the company’s in-house head of engineering (Vincent Burnelli – who would go on to make some genuine innovations in the area of “flying wing” type aircraft, of which the modern B-2 bomber is perhaps the most famous example) came up with a long list of changes that needed to be made before the Bullet would be airworthy. Not least among Burnelli’s concerns was Dr. Christmas’s insistence that the Bullet be made out of cheap scrap wood and metal, which the Doctor claimed would minimize both the cost of building it and the strain that its construction would place on supplies of critically-needed resources during wartime. Once again, Dr. Christmas was able to convince others that his plans were sound; Continental’s management sided with him over Burnelli’s objections, and the Bullet was constructed exactly the way that Dr. Christmas wanted.

And then, suddenly, the war ended.

While the rest of the world celebrated, Dr. Christmas found himself with serious reason to worry. The end of the Great War meant that generous wartime contracts for new weapons would quickly evaporate, along with the willingness of the Army, industry, and investors to try just about anything, no matter how strange it might seem, as long as there was the slightest chance that it might contribute to victory. At this point, the first prototype had been finished and a second, for which an engine had not yet been found, was under construction. Dr. Christmas knew that he had finally had to show what the Bullet could do, and show it fast, before both the interest and the money that his supporters had been giving to him began to dry up. Of course, Dr. Christmas had never actually flown an airplane himself, so personally test-flying his airplane was out of the question. Fortunately for him, thousands of freshly-demobilized Army aviators were coming home from the war. The airline industry was not yet even in its infancy, and jobs flying the mail were scarce, so many of them found themselves unemployed and without any prospects of flying for a living. Dr. Christmas put out an offer of generous pay for any who would become a test pilot for his new airplane. Man after man turned up, took one look at the Bullet, spun around on their heels, and left, declaring that no amount of money was worth their lives. Finally, Dr. Christmas found one pilot – one Cuthbert Mills – who was either brave or desperate enough to try.

And so one cold day in January of 1919, the first Christmas Bullet took to the sky from the Continental Aircraft factory’s airfield. It climbed a few hundred feet in the air, at which point Dr. Christmas’s innovative thin and flexible wings broke off. What was left of the Bullet plunged to the ground, killing Cuthbert Mills instantly.

Vincent Burnelli was livid. Continental Aircraft was deeply embarrassed. The Army, which Dr. Christmas neglected to tell about the crash and the destruction of their expensive loaner engine, was beginning to get impatient. Dr. Christmas, however, was undaunted. Next time, he promised, would be a complete success – all he needed to do was make a few minor adjustments to what was an essentially flawless design. He turned on the charm again. Somehow, he managed to convince Continental Aircraft to finish the second prototype. Somehow, he managed to scrounge up an engine for it (this time, a much less powerful Hall-Scott model L-6). Somehow, he managed to find someone – this time, an Army pilot named Lt. Allington Jolly – to fly it. Somehow, he managed to talk his way into having the second Bullet displayed at Madison Square Garden as a way to gain publicity and public support. The display claimed that the Bullet had been demonstrated to achieve speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour – the fact that it had done so going straight down after its wings had fallen off was a detail that Dr. Christmas felt it unnecessary to mention to the gathered crowds.

And so one warm day in April of 1919, the second Christmas Bullet took to the sky. It climbed a few hundred feet in the air, at which point its wings broke off, and it plunged to the ground, killing Allington Jolly instantly.

Continental Aircraft walked away. The McCorry brothers walked away. The Army, which had thousands of now-unneeded surplus airplanes on its hands and no war to fight, and which probably wouldn’t have put any more money into the Bullet even if it had turned out to be everything that Dr. Christmas had promised, walked away without even bothering to sue Dr. Christmas for the lost engine. The world moved on; only two minor pieces of the story remained.

One of them was the grieving families of Cuthbert Mills and Allington Jolly. The other was Dr. William Wallace Whitney Christmas.

Dr. Christmas never stopped telling anyone who would listen that the Bullet was just one minor alteration away from being a historic, world-changing success. When, in 1930, Flight published an article giving a full account of the affair, Dr. Christmas had his lawyer send an angry letter denouncing them, calling their report “false and scurrilous”, stating that the Bullet had been a tremendous achievement and that it had only crashed due to careless flying on the part of Cuthbert Mills (the letter made no mention at all of Allington Jolly or the second Bullet), claiming that mountains of evidence (none of which he actually bothered to provide) attested to all of this, and vaguely but unmistakably threatening legal action if any further “injurious and libellous” articles about the Bullet appeared in their pages. In fact, to his dying day, Dr. Christmas continued to insist that he had hundreds of patents to his name (of which no record exists or ever has existed), that he had designed dozens of successful airplanes (the Bullet is the only one that there is any real evidence for), and that he was on the brink of revolutionizing aviation. A New York Times article from 1950 records the 85-year-old Dr. Christmas still darkening the doorstep of the military, this time trying to sell the newly-created U.S. Air Force on his design for a massive “flying battleship” (the Pentagon, in an unusual bout of sanity, passed on the idea).

Dr. Christmas died in the spring of 1960, at the ripe old age of 94, forty-one years after he had killed Cuthbert Mills and Allington Jolly and well into a jet age that had materialized despite him rather than because of him.

And thus ended the story of the Christmas Bullet.

*  *  *

So why am I telling you this?

Machines are made by humans, and thus the machines that we create are, whether we intend them to be or not, an extension of our own heart and soul. They come from us; they are creations of our minds, and therefore their stories are our stories. And while many of their stories have no great meaning, some of them become parables that teach us about ourselves and how our minds work. The most famous of these is, of course, the Titanic, which serves as a warning against the dangers of hubris in the face of nature. Was it really unsinkable, as all the smart men of its day – all the engineers and shipbuilders and sea-captains – said it was? No, and none of us have to be engineers or shipbuilders or sea-captains to be able to say that with authority. All we need to know is that it actually sank; the wonderfully complex and informed reasons that the wise, educated, experienced, and smart offered as to why it could not sink came to nothing as soon as it did. History is reality, and reality is final – as the saying goes, “let reason remain silent when experience gainsays its conclusions”.

The Christmas Bullet, too, serves as one of these parables, and it has its own lessons to teach us about modernity in general and Marxism in particular. Certainly, the parallels to the latter are exceptionally strong. Like Dr. Christmas, Karl Marx was a crank who had no qualifications whatsoever in the field into which he inserted his ideas. Like Dr. Christmas, Karl Marx simply sidestepped this rather obvious criticism by claiming to be self-taught, even though the discipline involved takes years of study and practical experience (none of which either men had a lick of) for men to to master (and, as the example of the Titanic proves, even then they are often wrong). Despite this, both men claimed to have hit on a scientifically incontrovertible answer to a difficult problem that the best and most qualified men of their time had all somehow overlooked. Like Dr. Christmas, Karl Marx told desperate people something they intensely wanted to believe – Marx that the terrible poverty of the early industrial age would inevitably give way to a workers’ paradise, and Dr. Christmas that the horrendous carnage of the Great War could be brought to a swift and easy end by a deus ex machina secret weapon. Like Dr. Christmas, Karl Marx’s invention crashed and burned every time it was tried in the real world, leaving an awful trail of death and destruction behind it. Like Dr. Christmas, Karl Marx’s defenders insist that if those ideas had not been interfered with by lesser men full of jealousy or malice, or if those who tried putting them into practice had not been incompetent, or if just a few more minor adjustments had been made, things would have gone exactly as they promised. But like Dr. Christmas, Karl Marx’s errors were not mere matters of detail; the whole concept behind their ideas was fundamentally flawed – their plans were ridiculous on their face, and any precocious schoolchild who wasn’t blinded by desperately wanting to believe in them could identify all of their glaring flaws.

There are two important differences, however. One is that the Christmas Bullet only killed two innocent people, while Marxism killed a hundred million of them (although there is no doubt in my mind* that Dr. Christmas would have, without a second thought, sacrificed that many, and more, to the cause of proving his ridiculous theories correct if only he had the chance to). The other is that precisely nobody in the field of aeronautical engineering still defends Dr. Christmas, whereas academia, media, and the arts are full of defenders of Marx’s ideas, and they never run out of reasons why history is not in fact reality and reality is not in fact final.

These reasons, of course, are ridiculous, as I can show by using the parable of the Christmas Bullet. Using the logic of these sophists, I can prove to you without a doubt that Dr. Christmas’s airplane never crashed. Let us start by offering a definition of an “airplane” that I believe we can all agree upon: An airplane is a device with wings that flies in the sky. Fair enough? Well then, as soon as the wings fell off of the Christmas Bullet and it ceased flying and started plummeting, it wasn’t an airplane anymore, because airplanes are things that have wings and fly in the sky. Thus, we cannot say that the crashes of the Christmas Bullet represent a failure of Dr. Christmas’s airplane, because at the moment it crashed, it wasn’t really an airplane anymore.

Ridiculous? Obviously so. But this same argument is used by the defenders of Marx. According to them, when Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot began to murder and oppress their people, then what they were doing became not-communism, because communism is defined as a thing that liberates instead of murdering and oppressing. Thus, we cannot say that what they did represents a failure of communism, because as soon as they did it, it wasn’t real communism anymore.

Dead-ender Marxists will also insist that, with just a few more adjustments, communism could be made to work. (A good example of this is the Venus Project, whose adherents serve up a warmed-over communism that they insist will work this time because computers). They will challenge you: prove that it could never work! And, to be fair, I cannot. But I also cannot prove that no way could ever have been found to make the Christmas Bullet work. I do know this much, however: There sure as hell isn’t any way that someone could ever talk me into getting into that thing and flying it. What about you?

Those who deny the validity of historical experience as a tool of epistemology and who insist that it does nothing to falsify their favorite theories ignore a truth that every adult should have a strong grasp of: Any crank, con man, or snake-oil salesman can make big promises – but it doesn’t matter what someone can promise, the only thing that matters is what they actually deliver.

(*Or perhaps I am being unfair to Dr. Christmas and he didn’t mean to kill anybody with his bizarre and unworkable theories (although I will note that unlike Howard Hughes, who flew, and sometimes crashed, his own designs, the good Doctor never did get in the Bullet and fly it himself). And perhaps neither did Marx. So what? What does it matter? Does it make any difference to Cuthbert Mills or Allington Jolly, or to the millions of victims of communism, most of whose names you will never know?)

Advertisements

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.

Short Takes: June 2015

It’s been a while since I posted an edition of Short Takes – my regular roundup of thoughts that are worth saying, but too limited to warrant a full blog post. For the past year or so, I’ve been using Twitter as a platform for such thoughts, but now that I’ve decided to leave Twitter, the long-overdue return of Short Takes has become a priority. So without further ado, here are my very choicest brief thoughts.

Let’s start with a couple of thoughts related to competition:

*  *  *

• In 1991, everyone believed that we had defeated communism forever. I remember the joyous triumphalism myself. Famously, the end of history was declared, and at the time, that did not seem all so very farfetched at all. But it is now obvious that 1991 was not an extinction event for communism, but an evolutionary event. It was the culmination of a competitive struggle for dominance between two closely-related subspecies, like that between Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals. Soviet-style communism hit an evolutionary dead end, but its failure simply allowed a competing subspecies – Frankfurt School Cultural Marxism – to prosper. And with its competition in its evolutionary space eliminated, that’s exactly what it did.

• What explains the burning hatred that the left/the New Atheists have for Christianity? Simply not believing in it is not enough to explain it. They do not believe in Buddhism or Hinduism either, but do not express the same hatred of these faiths – not even of Islam, which is arguably even more antithetical to their beliefs than Christianity is, receives anything close to the same level of hostility from them. And besides, are these not the same leftists and atheists who not so very long ago, when they were the underdogs and were pleading for tolerance, used to quote Thomas Jefferson’s pronouncement that “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”? If this is so, then the reaction of those who do not believe in God toward those who do (or those who believe in evolution toward those who, for religious reasons, don’t) should be only apathy. So their neighbors believe something that we regard as irrational – so what? The world abounds in irrational beliefs, both religious and secular. They will never all be eradicated, so why bother wasting time and energy in hating it and trying to talk people out of it? (Which the do, incessantly – one can barely say “God bless you” after someone sneezes without having some atheo-leftist who happened to be within earshot fly into an angry anti-Christian tirade).

The truth of the matter is that the left hates Christianity because the left is a fanatical utopian cult, and Christianity represents competition in its space. There can be only one utopia, and only one true path by which it can be reached. Either it will be the Kingdom of Heaven, reached by following the Holy Word of Jesus Christ, or it will be the Whig/leftist “end of history” eschaton, reached by following the Holy Word of Equality. There is no room for both – for one to be true, the other must be false, and in order for people to accept one as true, they must reject the other as false. Anyone who attempts to find a middle way is a fool who is wasting their time on an impossibility. Leftists understand this, which is why they despise anyone of genuine Christian faith and treat those who practice “progressive Christianity” as mere useful idiots (which is precisely what they are). The atheo-left passionately hates its competition, and works tirelessly to destroy it by any means necessary. The mainstream religious right does not fully understand any of this, merely dislikes its competition, and seeks ways to limit it via the gentlemanly rules of liberal democratic capitalism.

Who’s winning?

• Modern politically correct leftism is all Puritan, and Modern Puritanism is all politically correct leftist. But by what process does Puritanism turn into leftism? It does so because of a paradox that it cannot resolve any other way. Puritanism becomes leftism because it cannot abide hypocrisy, but it also cannot eradicate vice. As I have discussed elsewhere, most traditional societies understand that vice is ineradicable from the human condition, and thus accept as necessary a certain level of hypocrisy – that we keep vice in the shadows and condemn it publicly, even when we practice it privately behind closed doors. This was understood as a necessary compromise between idealism and reality. The Puritans, being idealist, utopian, and ideological – in other words, pure Modernists – upset this balance in the name of eradicating the tiniest bit of vice, no matter how hidden, in deed, word, and thought.

And yet they too eventually were faced with the unfortunate, yet undeniable reality that vice cannot be eradicated from the human condition. Prohibition was the last great experiment in eradicating vice, and when it failed the Puritans could no longer deny the obvious. But where did that leave them? Hypocrisy hides vice, and to eliminate hypocrisy means to bring vice out into the open; but if the purpose of bringing vice out into the open is to eradicate it, and if we must accept that vice cannot be eradicated, then what is there to do? One path would be to admit that their entire frame was faulty all along, and to go back to the proven, traditional way of tolerating a certain level of hypocrisy and turning a blind eye to discreet vice. That would have been sensible, prudent, and in accordance with the wisdom of our ancestors. So of course that was not what was done. Instead, the only other possible path was taken – that hypocrisy would remain intolerable, but that vice would be normalized. The paradox is resolved if it is declared that vice is not a bad thing after all; that the only wrong is being a hypocrite about it. And so modern Puritans continue to bring vice out into the open – only now to normalize it, to celebrate it, and to demand its acceptance.

In short, Puritanism now does the exact opposite of what it was created to do in the first place. That’s a common phenomenon in all the branches of Modernity (One may with difficulty recall that leftism was initially created for the purpose of protecting farmers and the working class – who were symbolized by the crossed hammer and sickle – from effete, decadent urbanized elites). This is because all Modernity prioritizes process over product. Modernity is heavily based on theory; specifically, on theories about social processes that will produce a good (or even a perfect) end product. The problem is that people come to believe so deeply in these theories that they lose sight of what the product was supposed to look like in the first place, and cling to their theories even even when it becomes obvious that they are not producing, and never will produce, the products that they are supposed to. Thus they will, in order to preserve the theories, either (like Marxist dead-enders) continue to delusionally claim that the desired product will show up any old time now, no matter how much evidence exists to show that it won’t, or they will (like the Puritans) adjust their expectations of the product until their definition of a good product is reduced to merely matching whatever the process is actually capable of producing.

Puritanism is unrealistic, utopian, heretical, and ignorant of human nature, and in the end has produced all that any such philosophy is capable of producing – decay and degeneracy.

• The left is licking its chops and reveling in the personal destruction of a family called the Duggars, who apparently (I am not much of a television watcher) are a traditional family that stars in a reality television program. The occasion for this destruction seems to be that, of their nineteen children, a single one of them made some exceptionally poor choices in relation to sex when he was an adolescent boy. Compounding this is the fact that, rather than instantly responding by having their son sent to prison for rape, thus ensuring that his life would be utterly and irrevocably destroyed, his parents tried every alternative they could think of to deal with the matter by other means. According to the left, that discredits all of them, their way of life, their religion, all of their beliefs, and anyone else who shares any of those beliefs or sympathizes with them in the slightest, forever. (Meanwhile, so we hear, though Stalin and Mao murdered tens of millions of people, that doesn’t count because they didn’t do that because they were atheists.)

No one should think that I mean to hold the Duggars blameless in this, because I don’t, but the mistakes they made were not the ones that the left (which apparently has no concept of trying to show mercy to an adolescent boy who made some terrible mistakes or to parents who wanted to not ruin their son’s life) accuses them of having made. No, their mistakes were ones which all traditionalists should take as lessons: Never, ever, under any circumstances, involve either the government or the media in your family’s private affairs. The media are jackals who delight in destroying even people who they were praising just yesterday; and if you are a traditionalist, they hate you like poison. They will look for any means to destroy you, as they have with the Duggars. Whether you’re in it to be a celebrity or to try to deliver some message you think is uplifting, it doesn’t matter – it’s not worth it. As for the government, if you love your family, DO. NOT. EVER. involve the government in your family’s private internal affairs, no matter how bad things have gotten. Government involvement will not make things better. Handle it yourself. That’s what men are for… what the expression “man up” means.

• The present-day leftist, unlike his more direct Stalinist forebears, does not seek to officially remove your rights, but to create so many burdensome regulations on them and exceptions to them that while in theory you still enjoy them, in practice you do not. If, for example, the government can tell you who you must or cannot hire at your business, what you must or cannot compensate them with, and who you must or cannot accept business from (not to mention taking a huge chunk of the money your business generates), then do you really “own” your business in any meaningful sense? Now the left is coming for the very free speech it championed while it was the underdog – the exceptions have started to appear: “Hate speech is not free speech”. First will come, not the thought police, but the thought vigilantes, saying: “No platform!” Later, well… the government does lots of things that twenty years ago I would have refused to believe that it would ever do.

So we enter the age of theoretical rights. This is the approach of the modern communist, who has learned from all the bad P.R. of showy things like the Berlin Wall and the Gulag Archipelago. Your rights will be taken away slowly, by stealth, and only de facto – you will still have all your de jure rights, but good luck trying to actually exercise them.

• In the wake of the Dylan Roof shooting, several retailers, including Sears, Walmart, Amazon, and eBay, have decided to stop selling Confederate-themed merchandise. According to the left, as private businesses, these outfits have every right to not sell such merchandise on principle. But your local bakery has no right to not sell a gay wedding cake. Because reasons.

Note that the Confederate flag is a symbol. That makes it important to the present-day left because they are obsessed with symbols and signaling. This, for example, explains their obsession with pop culture, and their constant vigilance about every tiny detail of pop culture remaining scrupulously politically correct. Despite their claims to intellectualism, they are shallow people who believe in insubstantial ideas because believing those ideas makes them feel good. It is no surprise that such people obsess endlessly over symbols, which are merely pointers to ideas instead of being actual ideas themselves. Evaluating actual ideas is hard; obsessing over symbols is easy.

• The removal of Confederate merchandise from important retailers is a presage of things to come. Soon, very soon, the left will start going after social networks, web hosting companies, and other internet platforms in earnest in an effort to have unapproved political speech effectively banned from the internet. The same logic will be used – that private companies have the right to refuse customers based on principle (again, unless it’s an unapproved principle). Free speech on the internet will then become yet another of the above-mentioned theoretical rights – in theory you will still have the right to voice whatever opinion you like online, but good luck trying to actually do it.

This push will be aided by the fact that the trend on the internet has been towards consolidation; towards effective monopolies, or at best towards having only a couple of serious competitors in any given space. There are, for example, online retailers other than Amazon and eBay, but few that matter, and even fewer that matter outside of a single specialty. Similarly, there are video sites other than YouTube, online payment systems other than PayPal, podcast hubs other than iTunes, blogging sites other than Blogger and WordPress, and social networks other than Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, but none that really matter. Once banned from these, having a meaningful online presence becomes far more difficult; people will have to go further out of their way to find you, and far fewer of them ever will.

A tech pundit (I think, perhaps, it was Robert Scoble) once said that for most people, the internet is Facebook, and while that may be a bit of an exaggeration, it is not all that much of one. For most people, the internet is a handful of high-traffic websites – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, eBay, YouTube, Wikipedia, Netflix – and that’s about it. This means that only a few pressure points need to be hit in order to, if not completely ban unapproved opinions from the internet, effectively push them into the shadows where few will ever see them. This is far too attractive and easy a target for the left to ignore. And they won’t. Expect them to take action – soon, very soon.

• The contrasting stories of Dylann Roof and Omar Thornton (Who, you ask? Exactly.) perfectly illustrate the precise manner in which the mainstream press lies to us. They rarely ever say anything that is outright false; this would be easily enough detected. Instead, they carefully select which news stories to hype and which to ignore, as fit the needs of the narrative. They then hide behind the idea that the decision as to which news stories deserve wide coverage, and which do not, is subjective. This, like the reporting they do on the stories they cover, is technically true. Yet when a consistent pattern can be seen in the selection of stories such that it portrays the larger reality of the world as being something different than it actually is, then their reporting, collectively, represents a lie. Remember that – it is perfectly possible to lie horrendously without ever saying anything that isn’t technically true. Look past the details, and see the Big Lie.

• Related: The alt-right, and especially the neoreactionary movement, has been flooded with attempts at entryism from Neo-Nazis lately, and the more I’ve seen of these people, the more I’m convinced that no respectable alt-righter should have anything to do with them. They are a bunch of proletarian dullards who cling to their own brand of utopianism – the idea that if only everyone around them were the same race as they are, everything would be perfect. Not only that, but they are obsessive about their perceived enemies, and like all paranoids, make those enemies out to be supermen of positively mythical abilities. This rather counterintuitive mental maneuver exists so that they can avoid any responsibility for their sad condition being laid at the feet of themselves or their own people. One thing I’ve learned in life is that whenever you meet someone who always has a story about how every one of the bad things that have ever happened to them in their lives are all entirely someone else’s fault, and never any of their own, you should be very cautious indeed and should treat the things they say with more than a few grains of salt. This is true both at the individual level and at the group level. Look, for example, at the black community, which has been blaming whites for all of their troubles instead of trying to fix their own flaws for the past half-century. How has that worked out for them? We can – we must – do better than that.

In order to survive and be relevant, the alt-right must be two things: ruthlessly intellectual, and deeply soulful. With the present political system lost, it should focus heavily on self-improvement, both at a personal level and at the level of creating more robust communities with a more robust culture. We can’t do any of that if we spend all of our time obsessing about how awful our enemies are and how badly they’ve done us wrong. Even if it’s true, and they did, who let it happen? Why? How can we change our own perceptions and the ways in which we operate in order to prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes which allowed that to happen all over again the next time?

This is a long, painful and difficult process of study, self-examination, and soul-searching. Theories about how to best improve ourselves will have to be developed, debated, and ultimately, tested. It’s much easier, and feels much better, to just go online and rage about the Jews, or the blacks, or the Mexicans. Yes, easier… too easy; another case where “If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is”. We should not allow ourselves to fall into that trap.

• So am I a White Nationalist? To steal a line from John Derbyshire when once asked if he believed in God, the answer is: “Probably not to the satisfaction of most people who would ask the question”. It is my belief (actually more my observation) that it is simply part of human nature for people to wish to be around others who they perceive to be like themselves. Though it is far from the only way in which people could perceive others as being like them, race and ethnicity represent one obvious and common way in which they do. Whether this is right, or fair, or just, or logically optimal is beyond the point. It is human nature, and our experience over the past century or two with systems that have tried to operate in direct opposition to human nature (on the theory that they could change or overcome it if they tried hard enough) should be enough to demonstrate that it is foolish at best to continue to attempt to make any such systems work.

What, then, is the solution? I am not much of one for “human rights”, but if there is any right that I am closest to being an absolutist about, it is freedom of association (Which is also, perhaps not so coincidentally, the one right that the current leftist Establishment hates the most and has gone the farthest out of its way to abolish). So long as they do so peaceably and are not engaging in a criminal conspiracy (as might be defined under reasonable laws, not under a leftist ideological tyranny), people should have the right to associate with whoever they wish, and to not associate with whoever they wish. This extends to the areas of forming communities, engaging in commerce, offering or accepting employment, and, really, basically every other area of human endeavor. The right to peaceably exclude others (and here we understand this to include the right to, with the minimum amount of force necessary, physically remove trespassers who refuse to leave when asked) is a fundamental and long-underrated liberty of free citizens. It is also a deep threat to egalitarian true believers, who know full well that as soon as the government boot is off people’s necks, they will filter out into groups of others (some, but not all, based on race) who they perceive to be like them, as it is human nature to do.

I support people in their right to act in accordance with their human nature in this matter. Which to some degree does make me a White Nationalist – and also a Black Nationalist, and an Asian Nationalist, and a Latino Nationalist. So the answer is yes, I suppose, but again, probably not to the satisfaction of many who might ask the question.

• Speaking of neoreaction: History tells us that no restoration movement ever succeeds completely. Nor should it – if something needs to be restored, that means it failed somehow, and if it failed, there must be some reason for its failure; some flaw that should be fixed to the best of our ability to do so. We don’t want to be a reflection of Talleyrand’s description of the restored Bourbon kings: “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing”. Neoreaction takes the conservative approach of a good engineer. Engineers understand that if there’s an existing solution that works well or a proven answer that somebody else has already come up with, then coming up with a new answer or a new solution is stupid, pointless, and wasteful at best, and potentially dangerous at worst. Engineers prefer the proven over the unproven, the tested over the untested, the known over the unknown, and for very good reasons. Where they do end up using something new and unproven because of some advantage it brings to the table, they’ll test the bejeezus out of it, over and over again, exploring and documenting every possible failure mode, noting both their likelihood and their potential severity, and coming up with redundancies in case it does fail, before they’ll sign off on making it an operational technology.

When it comes to social technology, good, functional systems have already been invented, but were abandoned for bad reasons in favor of new systems that don’t work well. That’s not to say that the old systems didn’t have any flaws – even good, proven systems fail sometimes, and even good, proven systems need to be adjusted and refined in order to minimize failure to the greatest extent possible. So let’s restore the old, good, functional systems, while finding ways to adjust and refine them to the degree necessary in order to correct their flaws and adapt them to new conditions. Investigating how to do that is what neoreaction is all about.

*  *  *

That’s it for Short Takes for this month. I’ve been away from the blog, busy with real-world goings-on, for some time now, but I’m positively brimming with ideas and will be back with a whole lot more to say in the weeks to come. Keep checking in! I hope to richly reward your patience with me.

Trading Places

Normally I wouldn’t post a long piece from another writer on my own site, as their thoughts should result in site views for them, not me. But this passage from Eugene Volokh, which I found via Moldbug, illustrates perfectly a point I’ve been making for years:

“I remember very little about my childhood in the Soviet Union; I was only seven when I left. But one memory I have is being on a bus with one of my parents, and asking something about a conversation we had had at home, in which Stalin and possibly Lenin were mentioned as examples of dictators. My parent took me off the bus at the next stop, even though it wasn’t the place we were originally going.

Perhaps I have some of the details wrong (was it just Stalin, or also Lenin?); childhood memories remembered 35 years later are like that. I’m telling this to explain why I feel so strongly about it, based on my memories; my personal account does not affect the soundness (or unsoundness) of my arguments. But my sense from all I’ve heard is that this is exactly how life was like there, and that no-one who lived there in the 1970s would think the scenario at all improbable.

What’s more, this is so even though most people, including most Communists, knew that Stalin was of course a dictator. The government itself had acknowledged as much. Even Lenin was widely understood to have been a dictator in the sense of someone who didn’t govern through democratic means.

But it’s not the sort of thing that you’d want to say in public, or even to your friends in private. Sssh! — people might hear! Those who hear might draw deeper inferences about what else you might believe. This might get back to the place you work. You might be fired, or blacklisted. By the 1970s, you probably didn’t have to worry much about being shot, or being sent to Siberia; these were not the 1930s. But lost jobs, ruined careers — sure. And a forced public apology: well, of course, that might help a bit.”

Consider that, dear reader, and tell me how it is any functionally different at all from the situation in the “free” West in the modern day? From this, or this, or this, or this? Or from innumerable other examples, all in the same mold? Here we see that the left is all fundamentally the same, and that wherever they take power, we can expect, to a somewhat greater or lesser degree, the same basic outcomes. As soon as they feel that their position is secure, all pretense of regard for freedom of speech or expression or conscience is shed. And so we arrive where we are now – with everyone knowing whom they are not allowed to offend or criticize. No, in America in 2013, you don’t have to worry about being shot or being sent to prison; but neither did one have to worry about that in the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union – a nation which operated under a system that we once said we’d obliterate the planet and annihilate the human race in a nuclear apocalypse sooner than live under.

And so we now see the truth: that in every way important to an average citizen other than perhaps the ability to produce consumer products*, the United States and the Soviet Union of the Brezhnev era have switched places. While Russia gradually recovers, re-Christianizes, drives out Cultural Marxism, and adopts rational foreign and trade policies, the United States  becomes, with every day that passes, more the image of the USSR from Volokh’s childhood memories.

We have met the enemy, and we have become him**.

(*No, present-day Americans don’t even really have that much more economic freedom than Brezhnev-era Soviets. Not in an age where the government can and does tell business owners who they must or may not voluntarily do business with, who they must or may not hire, what they must and may not compensate their employees with, and now, finally, what those employees must or cannot purchase with their paychecks. And those are just a few of the most egregious edicts – there are many more. If the government does not technically own the means of production, one could be forgiven for finding it hard to tell the difference.)

(**Yes, I agree with Moldbug that America has always been a “small-c” communist country. More on that soon. But the point is that it wasn’t nearly this bad not long ago… not even close.)