In The Ominous Parallels, Leonard Peikoff makes the argument that relativism was leading the US to Nazism. It isn’t a great argument. It is based mostly on some really pathetic readings of Kant and Hegel that show that he doesn’t understand them. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that his analysis is nonsense.
But right now, we are in a situation where the US is moving towards authoritarianism with people justifying it with relativism.
This is not leftist relativism. It is the opposite of what Peikoff (or Paul Johnson or David French or any other “serious” conservative) told us. This is right-wing relativism.
In decades past, people criticized leftist for their relativism. And by and large, leftists thought it and turned against it. It’s very hard to find anyone on the left who accepts it today.
Authoritarianism Leads to Relativism
The right did not accept relativism in a general sense, however. Instead, conservatives got more and more authoritarian over the last few decades. Then they grabbed onto relativism as a post-hoc justification for it.
So it’s not relativism itself that led to authoritarianism. It was the other way around. Authoritarianism led to relativism.
And this shows the problem with people like Leonard Peikoff who complained that leftists were going to bring about authoritarianism. They may have been right that authoritarianism is coming but they totally missed the mechanism — and even where it was coming from.
It is also interesting that a lot of supposed libertarians who are anti-authoritarian naturally turn to someone like Donald Trump when he gains power. Fundamentally, philosophy of this nature is not strong enough to protect you. It seems to work the other way around.
The Limits of Ideology
Many people want to believe that they are Masters of the Universe. They think that they should have the right to do anything they want. So they grabbed on to Ayn Rand’s philosophy. It is not, as they almost always claim, the other way around.
People do not start with first principles and then base their political views on that. Philosophy is almost always used as a way to justify what people already believe not to guide them in what they ought to believe.
And that’s even more true on the right where they so limit the information that can get to them.
The entire world would be better off if people just tried to be decent. What we are seeing in the US is that vilifying groups of people and empowering demagogues leads to authoritarianism. And the people will grab hold of any justification available.
Leonard Peikoff and other conservatives and libertarians have spent decades predicting authoritarianism from the left. They ignored the growing authoritarianism of their allies on the right. I don’t think it was a mistake. It was just a question of priorities.
Ben Shapiro is an odd phenomenon. People who like him take the most facile arguments as genius. It reminds me that as a writer, you find that greater fame mostly leads to more people who don’t engage seriously with your work. But I guess that’s enough for Shapiro.
Over the weekend, I came upon his old argument that gender and age are the same things. You can’t choose your gender any more than you can choose your age. It is the most facile of facile arguments. But it’s actually a very useful comparison. If Ben Shapiro engaged with it, he’d learn a few thing.
Numeric Age and Sex
As most people should know by now, there is a difference between sex and gender. Sex is a biological term and gender is a sociological term. So if someone has XX chromosomes, their sex would be female. Their gender would be whatever they present as.
Of course, even sex can be difficult. Not all humans have XX or XY chromosomes.Some people have XXY or XYY chromosomes. Or X, XXX, or XXYY. Biology is varied and I’m frankly amazed that our bodies work at all.
So we can’t say that there are just two sexes. But you could say that there is some number of sexes. For ease, let’s say there are three: female, male, and other. This is quantitative and roughly equivalent to someone’s numeric age.
As far as I know, my sex is male and my age is 56 years old. It would be wrong for me to say that my sex is female and my age is 42 (much as I might like to).
But under most circumstances, people aren’t interested in the numeric age and sex of adults. These attributes just aren’t that useful.
Qualitative Age and Gender
On the other hand, people are interested in qualitative age and gender.
ContraPoints dealt with this subject in her video Pronouns. In it, she discusses the social use of gender. It’s not about chromosomes or biology.
It’s also confusing. To make a big deal of calling someone (who looks like a woman) a man doesn’t create clarity. From a social standpoint, if someone looks like a man they are a man.
(As for non-binary people, I think it is the same for many cis people who may not present clearly as one gender or the other: there may be initial confusion but this can be worked out with a little sensitivity and knowledge.)
Qualitative age works the same way and has many of the same problems. I think of myself as old but many people might consider me middle-aged. These are terms that are less clear than quantitative age. And even if octogenarians want to call me “young” I still feel old.
There is, of course, one way that qualitative age and gender are different. People who mis-age me do it to make me feel better. People who mis-gender do it to make the other person feel bad and generally to make some ideological point.
So in the video, Ben Shapiro is making a false analogy when he asks the young woman, “Why aren’t you 60?” It would be appropriate to say, “Why aren’t you old?” But had he done that, everyone would have see that it was no argument at all. If the young women felt old, that’s her business.
So Shapiro has to create a false analogy. And it’s particularly bad because he knows the difference between sex and gender. But he chooses to ignore gender. As he says in the ContraPoints video of he/she: “Biology is the nature of the pronoun.”
But it isn’t. Unfortunately, thinking about the issue with a little clarity would only help his endeavor to “Debate Leftists and Destroy Them.” It would only bring him closer to the truth.
Back in June 2013, I went to my first (and thus far only) NASCAR race. And I came away with a much greater appreciation of the sport. I saw it a lot like chess — a game that I played with a fair amount of seriousness for a long period of my life. It was fascinating to see how the racers won and lost their races just a little bit at a time — just like in a chess match between professionals.
I didn’t come away interested in the sport. Actually, given how evenly matched the drivers are and how subtle it all is, I’m amazed that it’s popular. But if people appreciate auto racing at even my simple level, I’m impressed. Good for them!
Confederate Flags at NASCAR
Of course, I wasn’t so impressed with the cultural elements of my time with NASCAR. It was filled with overt nationalism and public displays of religiosity that Jesus cautioned against in the Sermon on the Mount. But you will see much the same at any sporting event in the US.
What really stood out were all the Confederate flags. I have zero tolerance for this. The people who sport them are at very best deluded. But in general, they are racist to such an extent that they are beyond proud of it. It’s not enough that they don’t care if you know about their bigotry. They want everyone to know about it.
The Confederate flag is the symbol of an act of treason against our country in the name of one of our worst shames: slavery. And this is not helped because most people who display the flag think they are the “true” or “real” Americans. They aren’t. They don’t like America but rather some vision of an American past where white men were proudly on top and everyone else kept quiet.
NASCAR Says No to the Confederate Flag
So I was thrilled when NASCAR put out the following statement:
The Presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors, and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.
Don’t misunderstand me: this is a business decision. NASCAR could see two things clearly:
Most of their fans think of themselves as good people who are not in favor of overt racism and so will welcome this ban of the Confederate flag.
But mostly, people seem pleased. (Check out this parody tweet.) I suspect for a lot of people, even ones who may not especially like it, it isn’t worth contesting. As the poet said: the times they are a-changing.
Regardless, it says something when a large business like NASCAR decides that it will not tolerate the Confederate flag. It says the time is over for when people could claim this treasonous, racist flag is just about their “southern pride” or some other horseshit.
Congratulations America! You won NASCAR!
 Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”
The iconic political commercial of the 1964 presidential election was Johnson’s Daisy ad. It featured a little girl pulling the leaves off a daisy while she counted them. Then, in voice-over, we hear a countdown and a nuclear explosion.
Then we hear Johnson saying, “These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.” And we are finally told to vote for him because, “The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”
Everyone at the time knew what this meant: if Goldwater became president, he would start a nuclear war. That may have been unfair. And even at the time it was criticized, which may explain why it only aired once. Not that it needed to run again. The ad hammered home what most people were already thinking.
Confessions of a Republican
There was another Johnson ad during that campaign: Confessions of a Republican. It ran a number of times. And it was very intellectual. It’s for that reason and many others that it would never be used today.
It’s a remarkable ad in its authenticity. But I’m not sure that it moved many people. It seems like the kind of ad that would move someone like me. But we are unlikely to need convincing.
What I find most interesting is the actor, William Bogert. For people of my age, he will always be remembered as the father in War Games who butters his corn in an unusual (and somehow disgusting) way.
He’s telling the truth: he had been a Republican. In fact, he was indicative of the great party consolidation that was going on in the mid-1960s where liberal Republicans were becoming Democrats and racist Democrats were becoming Republicans. But I don’t know if he ever became a Democrat. I know that he was married to Muppet puppeteer Eren Ozker, so he must have been a liberal.
But what’s even more interesting about Bogert is that he did very little filmed acting until about 10 years after he did this ad. He’d been acting since about 10 years before the ad. But there isn’t much documentation. He could have been working in television but it’s more likely he was doing theater and industrial films. He certainly seem comfortable with the camera in the ad.
In 2016, Bogert filmed a follow-up ad for Hillary Clinton regarding Donald Trump. It’s also good. Very authentic. And it didn’t change anything. Because apparently a lot of Americans do like unpredictability in the use of nuclear weapons.
William Bogert died on 12 January of this year. I’m reserving judgement. If Trump wins in November, I’ll be glad Bogert didn’t live to see it. But if Trump loses, well, that will make Bogert’s death sad. But I’ll live with it — distracted as I am dancing in the streets.
Image cropped from the original ad, which is in the public domain.
Paul Tudor Jones made a splash recently by investing either “just over 1 percent” or “almost 2” percent of his assets on bitcoin.
That might be a great investment. After all, bitcoin enthusiasts are just the newest generation of gold freaks. The market in cryptocurrency is not driven by those who think it will one day be a useful currency. It’s driven by the ideology of debt hysteria. These people all believe that hyperinflation is just a short time away.
But unlike the Jehovah’s Witnesses who stopped making predictions about the end of the world after they were wrong a half-dozen times, the debt hysterics never admit defeat. It’s just a couple of years away!
If you follow the bitcoin press, you’ll see it’s more advocacy than news. While they do bring up troubling issues, the articles are always peppered with lots of happy horseshit from “industry leaders.” Unmentioned is that all of these people have strong incentives to keep the crypto bubble inflating.
The Value of Currencies
Think about currency in terms of its actual value. Those in the digital bubble refer to government-created currencies as “fiat.” It’s almost always used derisively. But it is true to some extent.
You see, even if all the world decides that the US dollar is useless, it will still have value. You and I can still pay our taxes with it. So the government, by law, provides its currency with value.
Where is the value of bitcoin except in the heads of its believers? The few things I can buy directly with bitcoin only exist because people are speculating on the currency.
But I understand: currency is a strange thing. The more you think about it the less you understand. But bitcoin advocates seem to think that it is some stable form of wealth whereas fiat currencies can’t be trusted. This is despite the fact that all the major currencies have been rock-solid over the last 40 years while the supposed great stores of wealth like gold and bitcoin have been all over the place.
“Whims” of Government, “Wisdom” of Markets
I said before that Paul Tudor Jones might be making a good investment. I am not, however, saying he is smart. His reasons for investing in bitcoin are based on the same old fact-free debt hysteria.
He noted that bitcoin wasn’t “subject to the whims of government spending.” First, the value of a currency is not subject to the whims of government spending. Japan, for example, has a 200% debt-to-GDP ratio but can borrow cheaply. The UK had a debt-to-GDP ratio that high or higher from roughly 1920 through 1960.
The second issue is this anti-government idea that what it does is bad. The whims of the market are supposedly fine. Bitcoin went from $15,000 at the start of 2018 to $4,000 at the start of 2019 to $7,000 at the start of 2020.
Think about that as a practical matter. Here are what you would have paid for a loaf of bread:
Wow! What a great system! You might as well live under hyper-inflation.
Inflation, Deflation, and Libertarian Fantasies
Paul Tudor Jones also said this:
If you take cash, on the other hand, and you think about it from a purchasing power standpoint, if you own cash in the world today, you know your central bank has an avowed goal of depreciating its value 2 percent per year. So you have, in essence, a wasting asset in your hands.
One of my first indications that libertarianism was nonsense was an article about the glories of the gold standard. It noted that inflation was a terrible thing that destroyed our precious wealth. It even talked about how great deflation (negative inflation) was. “Wouldn’t it be great if your money went up in value?!”
Well, no. It would be terrible.
If you are rich, a monetary system with no inflation or deflation might be great. If you have to work for a living, it’s terrible. The economy would not grow nearly as fast without modest inflation. If you knew that things would only get cheaper over time, you would hold off on purchases.
Now, that might be great in the abstract. We do a lot of useless consumption. But we need to set up an economic system where the lack of consumption doesn’t result in poor people starving.
Deflation would also be catastrophic for lending. Imagine if in addition to the interest you have to pay on a loan you have to pay it with money that is worth more!
The “Wisdom” of Paul Tudor Jones
People like Paul Tudor Jones don’t think this kind of stuff through. They don’t have to. They are like two guys running from a bear: it doesn’t matter how fast they are; the one who is slower gets eaten. In the bitcoin market, Jones can be an idiot as long as there are even bigger idiots for him to make money from.
That’s all fine. What’s not fine is that people like him are held up as oracles about the economy. And the fact that people see him on television results in something really odd.
People who don’t follow business at all tend to be slightly better informed on how the economy works. That’s simply because they haven’t swallowed all the debt scold nonsense that isn’t true but sounds so very Serious.
So invest in cryptocurrencies or don’t. I actually find them very interesting. I think the rise of stablecoins shows that they may be very useful in time. But the rise and fall of their prices is about speculation — mostly speculation based on nonsense reasoning.
If you invest in corn futures, you are doing something: helping corn get to where it needs to be in the global marketplace. What are you doing when you invest in bitcoin? I don’t think you are doing anything more than if you played poker.
Yes: some people are better poker players than others. Some people make a lot of money playing poker. But the world isn’t a better place because you play poker.
And so we end our Sheep in the Box playlist with the British punk band Toy Dolls.
They are a fun band. I can put them on and it’s nice: there’s a lot of energy and they play really well. They are a solid, professional band.
But there isn’t much too them. They are an awful lot like Richard Hell and the Voidoids but during their Destiny Streetperiod when Hell didn’t have much to say. They also sound quite a lot like generic Ramones.
I don’t mean to be difficult here. And I will admit: I’m biased towards California punk. I don’t think we got really great stuff out of England until the post-punk period.
But I appreciate any artists who even try to entertain — much less ones like Toy Dolls who succeed in spades.
Nellie the Elephant
Toy Dolls is known for their covers and they are best known for their cover “Nellie the Elephant.” It was originally released by child star Mandy Miller. Toy Dolls released a single in 1982 of the song, which was later included on their first album, Dig That Groove Baby.
The following music video is a rerecording of the song. It’s charming. But then, most things from Toy Dolls are.
Sheep in a Box next takes us to a particularly good artist for me, Laura Marling.
According to Wikipedia, she is a “British folk singer-songwriter.” That seems strange to me. I wouldn’t call her music “folk.” Just speaking harmonically, it’s much more interesting. Sometimes her work is almost modal. At other times, it seems like it was written on a piano with leading chords. But people call Jane Siberry folk so, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
It seems that I was familiar with her before. I’ve definitely heard Ghosts off her first album, Alas, I Cannot Swim. It’s a lovely song and typical of her early work. She has grown much more sophisticated over the course of seven albums.
Her most recent album is Song for Our Daughter. We’re going to listen to “Fortune,” which is one of those piano-kind-of compositions.
According to Wikipedia, it “is about a powerless woman unable to escape her circumstance.” All I can say is that I don’t get that from the lyrics. It appears to be a conversation between two people at the end of their troubled relationship. But I’m sure someone will be able to point me to an “interview where Laura Marling said…” You know how much I like that sort of thing!
You may remember back a couple of weeks, I talked about how I linked punk and no so much heavy metal because punk had a sense of humor about itself? Well, today’s song is “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” off Run The Jewels 2. And it may be hip hop but it I’d call it punk too because of its combination of anger and humor.
It’s by the band Run the Jewels, which is really just what rappers El-P and Killer Mike call themselves when they work together. In this song, they are joined by Zack de la Rocha.
I haven’t gone over the lyrics of the song carefully. But my take on it is that life is like living in a prison and the powerful people who keep us enslaved are the one constant. If there is justice, it is a temporary justice.
One part of the song references the film And Justice for All. It’s the end of the film where the lawyer enjoys what is at best a Pyrrhic victory. But more likely, it isn’t even that. Most likely, it’s just a moment of hubristic truth-telling that does no good at the cost of everything.
I like this song quite a lot although I’m a little old to want to listen to music that demands so much of my heart and left brain.
I recently discovered the Academy Award winning documentary feature Murder on a Sunday Morning. It tells the story of the prosecution of Brenton Butler for the murder of Mary Ann Stephens, a tourist to Jacksonville, FL.
It tells a story that we know far too well: a young black man is out walking and the police frame him for a murder. Of course, no one thinks they meant to frame an innocent man. But their casual racism and overt laziness created a narrative which they then did everything they could to make true.
The murder had happened about two hours earlier and they new they were looking for a six-foot tall black man between the ages of 20 and 25. Butler was black, but he was only 15 and considerably shorter than six foot.
Butler made the mistake of being on his way to a Blockbuster video store to apply for a job at the wrong time. The police decided to talk to him. Although there was nothing suspicious about him, the police put him in the back of a squad car and had the victim’s husband, James Stephens, identify him.
Stephens first did it at the distance. He said Butler was the man but that he would like to get a closer look. When he got a closer look, he repeated his identification.
A Terrible Eye-Witness
The film doesn’t go into it much, but this is a terrible set-up. If you show someone in the back of a police car, you are priming them to think that the person is a criminal. And why would the police be asking the husband if they didn’t have some indication that Butler was the guy?
Note that there was no line-up. The standard thing is to get a small group of people who look more or less alike. Then, if the witness identifies the suspect, it might mean something. This identification meant nothing at all.
The Real Killer
A couple of months after the state had embarrassed itself and lost in court, the defense team alerted the police to a young man named Juan Curtis. He not only fit the initial eye-witness’ description, his fingerprints were found on the victim’s purse. The police had not checked for fingerprints on the purse during their investigation of Butler.
As you can see in the picture at the top of this article, Brenton Butler and Juan Curtis do not look at all alike.
Building the Case
Once the police decided they had their man (The first person they questioned!) they set about proving it. That mostly meant interrogating a 15-year-old boy without representation or even telling his parents that he had been arrested.
After hours of this, Butler still maintained that he was innocent so they brought in a “specialist” who beat him up and eventually implied he was going to shoot the young man. That’s when Butler signed a confession.
Interesting thing about that confession: it was filled with a bunch of stuff that went against what was known about the case. But it didn’t matter.
Nor did it matter that the purse was found 9.5 miles away. Butler would only have had two hours to take the purse there and then return home. But this loose end, like all the others, was ignored.
A Bad Prosecution
According to one of the defense lawyers, he contacted the state attorney — basically to say, “You need to drop this case; it’s garbage.” But the state attorney said that they had to prosecute the case to defend the honor of the cops. As is clear in this film, these cops didn’t have any honor. They ranged from lazy to selfish to evil.
I highly recommend watching this film. Many of the courtroom moments are right out of a Hollywood movie. When the cops aren’t talking about what a terrible job they did, they are lying. And it’s good to see the lawyers tear them apart.
Image created from two frames in the film. It is taken under Fair Use.
I must admit that I don’t fully grok hip-hop in a musical sense. Grandmaster Flash in the 1980s is easy with its metronomic beats. Tupac in the 1990s is so much more sophisticated. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it but I don’t understand why it works in the way that I understand why Lisa O’Neill’s work does.
The Problem With Kanye
Kanye West represents some difficulty for me because of his public persona. For years, I really liked him just because he insulted Taylor Swift. I know: I’m a bad man. But I don’t think much of her artistically. And I understand: his insult wasn’t intentional. He’s just kind of an idiot.
In more recent years, Kanye West has not only been a big supporter of Donald Trump, he has also been a big source of some of the most stupidly toxic social analysis in the public square. It’s on par with Charlie Sheen when he was coked to the gills.
It’s just another example of how a great artist can be absolutely useless in almost every other aspect of life. But I don’t expect more. Some of my favorite films were made by rapists.
As for the song “Gorgeous,” I can’t say I’m a huge fan. I actually prefer most of Tupac’s work to most of Kanye’s. But that may be an indication of my lack of appreciation.
But there is no doubt that the lyrics are impressive. Hip-hop really has brought assonance to unprecedented heights. And that’s a great thing given that rhyme is pretty much played out.
The basic idea here is that a real man ain’t afraid of no germs. There are many aspects to this. For one, it’s anti-intellectual. No one would say welding with a helmet was unmanly because the potential harm is obvious. But a virus is invisible so wearing a mask is for sissies.
More important, wearing a mask shows care for others. And this is at the core of this toxic idea of masculinity. It is part of the “live free or die” ethos of American males that sees only rights and no responsibilities on the part of society’s supposed leaders. This kind of thinking is understandable among the young who are, by and large, selfish and stupid. But from our president who is in his mid-70s, it’s outrageous.
Roughly speaking, the Greeks presented us with two ideals of masculinity.
The first was Achilleus (more commonly, Achilles). He was a bachelor warrior. A man who cared only for himself and his glory.
When he doesn’t get his way during the war, he runs home to mother and refuses to fight. If it weren’t that he was definitionally a Hero, everyone would see him for the petulant child he is.
Remember: Achilleus chose to die young but to be forever remembered as a glorious hero. Yet what did he do? He didn’t defeat the Trojans. Mostly, he defeated Hector and then desecrated his body like an immoral fiend. (Admittedly, Homer seems to see the defeat of Hector as the defeat of the Trojans.)
I’ve never liked the character. From the first time I read The Iliad, I thought he was a total dick. It didn’t help that I saw way too many Achilleuses all around me — men who thought caring for their own desires was the alpha and omega of masculinity.
When Hector is killed in The Iliad, I was crushed. He represents a decidedly different view of masculinity. Whereas Achilleus choose a short and glorious life, Hector would have chosen the long and uneventful one. He was a reluctant warrior and a family man.
Hector is also a regular guy in that events affect him. Achilleus got to choose his destiny. Hector gets stuck with a brother who can’t keep it in his pants. And this results in his own death and the enslavement of his family.
To me, Achilleus is a child’s idea of what a man should be. Hector is the hero we should admire.
And if you read more serious conservative writers (or at least conservative writers when they are trying to sound serious), you will see that they talk about how men should act as protectors of the weak in society.
But for most Americans, entitlement is the essence of masculinity. What makes a man is his disinterest in those around him.
We see this with face masks today. I wear a face mask to protect others. I’m not concerned about myself. First, I’m in good health and would doubtless weather the virus well. Second, I’m not afraid to die.
At the same time, I hate wearing a mask. But doing so is a small thing compared to protecting others — especially the weak and otherwise vulnerable.
A Choice of Men
The American idea of masculinity is like the American idea of a lot of things: it’s a children’s complaint, “You can’t tell me what to do!” But we aren’t talking about enslaving ourselves for the purpose of helping others. In this case and many others, we are talking about the most minor inconveniences. Yet this is portrayed as tyranny.
I’m not saying that Achilleus and Hector are the only ways for men to be. But they are the traditional ideals. And they are the ones that conservatives appeal to when it suits them. But when it comes to it, they thoughtlessly choose Achilleus. Mostly, they seem unaware that Hector is an alternative.
It’s time for us to give up our obsession with Achilleus. No good society can be based on that kind of narcissistic personality. We elected a president who personifies this. And if we can’t get past this, we are doomed.
On we go through Sheep in the Book. This time we get Clown Core. When I first heard it, I figured it was a style. You know, like my beloved sadcore. And after all the bands we’ve visited, with many dozens of Viking-themed metal bands, why not a bunch of clown-based bands?
Sadly, this was not to be. Clown Core is a band that Sheep refers to as “utter madness.” He also says, “I’m fairly sure that Clown Core is just a joke thing.” That may be true, but I wouldn’t dismiss these guys.
Clown Core is an incredibly talented jazz duo. There are certainly comedic elements to the music like the sudden shifts in style — especially from a kind of free jazz with Bebop intensity to a kind of smooth jazz Kenny G would be proud of.
The thing that holds their pieces together is a commitment to minimalism. Yet they know just how much to vary this to never slide into boredom the way minimalism often does.
Here is their song “Brendan Fraser.” This is from over a decade ago. The stuff they are known for — their bathroom songs — are from a year ago. And I do think they’ve improved in that time. But their early stuff shows that this is serious music.