On Cults (2/2)

(Continued from On Cults (1/2); as previously noted, this dialogue was previously hosted elsewhere and is appearing on QL for archival purposes. -ed.)

What does the Left want? As someone previously indoctrinated in the cult, I must say it isn’t a question which is asked very often, which perhaps is revealing…

If we’re proposing that the Left is a cult, the first question is what do cults want in general?

True. I used the word in a throwaway way here, but basically to imply that a) the Left’s machinations are not obvious when you’re inside it b) it requires devotion c) there are leaders and acolytes, though the leaders are less explicit about their leadership than in other groups because of their rhetorical commitments to ‘equality’,’horizontalism’ etc. d) it perpetuates itself through recruitment and penalization for leaving (denunciation as a ‘fascist’, ‘abuser’ etc.).

You could say a cult is a strategico-organic entity. On an evolutionary timescale, they either survive, or they die, but different cults, and different kinds of cults, have different life-cycles; some are more sustainable than others, some more viral, some more lethal.

I also was raised in a kind of cult, and I noticed that the average cultist has a strong desire to be controlled. The more the cult told them what to do, the more it inspired their devotion and adulation. What I find strange about leftists is they seem to enjoy being controlled under the banner of freedom. The cultists I grew up with knew exactly who was in charge, but the leftist believes that no one is.

A cult must offer its membership something, or control them sufficiently to avoid total dispersal; thus it makes sense for cults to establish and maintain dependencies, both materially and psychologically, through a form of “robust action” in which a set of rules induce roles, which induce interests, which induce strategic exchanges, which lock in patterns of collective action that depend on the rules. Whether these rules are explicit or implicit represents an important distinction, but one can perceive how unwritten rules induce greater anxiety, and may be more enabling of tyranny. If you can’t know when you’ve transgressed you’re potentially already guilty. Kafka treats this theme exhaustively.

Robust action, in my opinion, cuts across the cult/non-cult distinction. You can have cults with a leader (particularly a charismatic prophet/guru/confidence man) or a central faction that are “robust” in the sociological sense, but you can also have cults that are heavily institutionalized and led by a Presbyterian/rabbinical process of interminable consensus-building, veto-points, etc.

It may be easiest to grasp the original definition of “robust action” from the negative point of view: non-robust action is that situation from The Jungle Book where the vultures keep saying “What do you  want to do?” “I dunno, what do yew want to do?” And they never get anywhere, because they can all keep talking to each other forever. You  can see this as a problem with forming stable coalitions (any time a coalition emerges in favor  of A, someone else can make an offer to detach a few members to get a majority in favor of B), or, alternately, as a problem with the potlatch – everyone has private goals, and everyone wants to win the goodwill of their neighbors by doing favors for them, or appearing to, so there is a strategic incentive to delay saying what you want to do until the other guy says what he wants to do first. In a non-robust situation, frankly stating exactly what you want everybody to do is, because undisguisedly selfish, a great sacrifice.

The term “cult” today is typically considered pejorative, but this is a departure from the original meaning. The Greek world was abundant with cults, not all of which were harmful, and some of which appear plainly benevolent, for example the cult of Ascelpius, which was devoted to medicine. A cult in the classical sense is simply a socio-religious organization. Cicero in fact defined religio as cultus deorum, “the cultivation of the gods.” The Greek term, λατρεία, means worship or service. The question from this perspective would be: “What does the Left serve?”, and secondarily, “How does it serve it?”

One may identify across the cultic phylum an efflorescent variety of material, symbolic or ideological structures, political, psychological, memetic and libidinal structures. In any given cult, some structures are more visible and obvious than others; one could speak of manifest and latent structures. 

The previous dialogue examined a variation of this question from a socio-evolutionary perspective applied to psychoanalysis, conceived of as an incipient cult-structure which was ultimately absorbed into Leftism through the Frankfurt School and cultural studies departments. With regards to the Left, speaking schematically, key material structures include significant parts of the education system, and the culture industry, Federal, or public sector employment, a doctrinal commitment to equality, and a social justice catechism conceived as an activist imperative. Justice must be “won” in the teeth of an unjust, oppressive world. A sense of oppression is critical, and it puts the Left close to gnosticism (which was Eric Voeglin’s analysis).

Sovereignty, or power within a cult is either unsecured or secured, locked or unlocked. It’s the difference between a monarch and a tyrant. If you murder the king, you don’t become the King automatically, but if you murder the Tyrant, you may indeed become the new ruler, at least until the next killer appears. Of course this “kill and replace” logic forms the heart of Frazer’s classic text on cults and myths The Golden Bough.

The difference in the stability and robustness of a tyranny and monarchy comes down to the fact that the tyrant, or the dictator, is insecure in his power, justifiably paranoid, and therefore far more oppressive. Because the tyrant must eliminate his enemies, or potential enemies, insecure power is motivated to attack competency. If your competent rival can replace you, in principle, you better eliminate them, and replace them with someone who can’t, in other words, someone controllable, through their incompetence, or their corruption, in line with the strategy of libido dominandi. How much of the Leftist elite is today animated by this principle?

Leftist politics is characterized by ressentiment in the exact way Nietzsche diagnosed (i.e. the claim that we are ‘good’ because the other is evil, the ‘seas of Nazis’ around every corner, the ‘racists’, ‘fascists’, ‘transphobes’, ‘whorephobes’ and so on that are apparently everywhere and especially in the dark hearts of others.

The structural instability of the Left coalition requires an external enemy to render it coherent. This is clearest in the United States, where “anti-white” ideology functions as what Steven Sailer describes as the “KKKrazy glue” holding together a “coalition of the margins” that otherwise does not share any interests or sympathy. Simply put, the interests of a LGBT+ computer programmer at Google and a black woman on welfare in Atlanta are far from being the same, except to the extent that both can be folded into a raiding party. Girard analyzes this figure mimetically in the form of the scapegoat, but economics and mimetics are not entirely distinct. The essence of Leftist politics in the United States is that it is directed at people who have something to take, to expropriate.

Being ‘left’ is a matter of permanent vigilance – despite ‘hating the police’, the left does a much better job of policing themselves than the Stasi could have dreamed of. One observes here, with regret, the collapse of the private/public divide, so private wrong-think can turn into a witch hunt in minutes, if a confidence is shared with the wrong person. There can be no inner life, or independent thought for the Left.

One could speak of a distributed panopticon, strangely consistent with the “policeman inside” introduced by the New Left at the end of the sixties. The New Left project, of course, was ostensibly to destroy this policeman, but it now seems clear that the opposite took place. Lacan’s famous retort to the 1968 students “as hysterics you are looking for a new master. You will get one,” has never seemed so prophetic. In his terms, the project of bypassing the ego, the ego-ideal, has engineered a kind of alliance between the superego and the id, the most desperate of all conditions. 

Leftism has always been an infantile culture even, and perhaps especially when its adherents have children, but in the last few years the crisis has matured. Via sterilization, prescription of lupron, and other damaging treatments, transgender politics has introduced an excellent opportunity for malignant narcissistic and Munchausen’s-by-proxy parents to acquire a lot of attention, even if it means destroying their child’s body and their future. Transgenderism is an experiment to test how far reality can be hijacked. If you can make people agree that men are women, you can make them agree to anything.

How many genders are there Winston? Probably the most important question is the nature of the conspiracy, or the political coalition which is pursuing this agenda. I don’t know if what we are looking at is a consciously directed process, or unconscious and inhuman. Gustave Le Bon writes in The Crowd about the desire to return to a condition of “primitive communism” as the original condition of all humanity before the beginning of civilization. The figure has something in common with the Freudian death drive, as well as the right-accelerationist theory of the Left as entropy, directed towards the production of chaos. The perspective finds its ultimate expression in the dictum “Cthulu swims slowly but swim’s left.” It’s interesting to consider here the connection between Conquest’s Law and the laws of thermodynamics.

The left is in a permanent state of reaction, and seems to have zero idea about what it might positively want. I think this is structural: the Left is composed out of weakness and sociopaths.

I don’t know if it is chaos, but some sort of zombie army run by priests, who today are into kink and polyamory and coke, because the super-ego injunction has shifted from ‘deny thyself’ to ‘indulge thyself’). The late Mark Fisher’s question “how do you hold immense wealth and power while also appearing as a victim?” is the right one for these ‘leaders of the left.’

Fisher of course analyzed this dynamic as well as anyone in his well-read text Exiting the Vampire Castle. In his analysis of a politics “united by hatred and fear, not solidarity” there’s an analogy with a crab bucket. If you put a crab in a bucket, they can find his way out, but if you put in a few, they will collectively prevent the escape of each other, by dragging them down into the bucket. This dynamic can also be modeled mimetically, in terms of an identity dependent on the recognition of the other to remain integral.

Still, Fisher never really himself succeeded in leaving the Left; what he wasn’t prepared to accept was that the door was on the right. His first book Capitalist Realism is a case study in the deadlock of Leftist psychology.

The other witness to call here is Ted Kaczynski, whose thesis on Leftism puts him close to our topic. “Leftism is not a religion in the strict sense because leftist doctrine does not postulate the existence of any supernatural being.” he writes, “But, for the leftist, leftism plays a psychological role much like that which religion plays for some people. The leftist NEEDS to believe in leftism; it plays a vital role in his psychological economy. His beliefs are not easily modified by logic or facts. He has a deep conviction that leftism is morally Right with a capital R, and that he has not only a right but a duty to impose leftist morality on everyone… The leftist seeks to satisfy his need for power through identification with a social movement and he tries to go through the power process by helping to pursue and attain the goals of the movement… Consequently the leftist is never satisfied with the goals he has already attained; his need for the power process leads him always to pursue some new goal.”

The left runs on guilt and fear, which is not news to anyone. It recruits people when they are weak, and it keeps them weak, and promotes those who promote weakness. By claiming to defend ‘victims’ of ‘trauma’ (trauma is the key word because it sounds dramatic, and can cover anything from being actually abused to someone looking at you funny…) the Left generates perpetual victims, and does not let them go. Self-abasement is also a central pathology. You cannot feel proud of anything, you must apologize perpetually, give all that you have to the cause (i.e. the person shouting loudest that they are a victim), you cannot get better, if you are physically or mentally ill or suffering from an addiction, you are not allowed to, although these things can be used against you later. The left is, furthermore, unbelievably boring and unable to have interesting discussions of any kind, not least because of all the inner and outer policing.

The contemporary Left could conceivably be described as a coalition of ugly women and weak men. The ugly women seek vectors for increasing their status, while the weak men incentivize sociopathic behavior by playing it safe, that is, avoiding or evading the issues to avoid themselves becoming targets.

On the topic of Conquest’s Second Law (that everyone is conservative about what they know best), let me suggest that far more than half of people have a conservative temperament – everyone knows their own life best – and that many of the inconsistencies in leftist thought arise from the fact that this ideology was originally articulated and invented by radicals, but once it spread to the masses it was filtered through the naturally conservative tendencies of the average person. What you end up with is the  sanctification of a very idiosyncratic type of transgression. The way that a small group of radicals chose to be subversive in their own milieu became the safe, default orthodoxy of the generation that inherited their ideas. This fact that the average person “plays it safe,” mixed with ideals that were selected for their danger, has given us a nauseating social orthodoxy. 

One is reminded of Heiner Mueller’s line from Hamletmachine: “I am a privileged person. My nausea is a privilege.”

(fin)

On Cults (1/2)

[This award-winning dialogue was previously hosted elsewhere. For basically uninteresting reasons it was taken down. I am archiving it here until I get a takedown request: this arrangement does not, of course, imply the collaborators’ agreement with any other material posted on QL, now or in the future. -ed.] (Part 2 is here.)

The fundamental goal of all State education is of course indoctrination, specifically, the indoctrination of the intellectuals into ideological compliance. At some point in the 20th century Freud and Marx clearly became very useful for that purpose. Why and how?

I’d start from a different point of view. Universities, research institutes, and the rest of the intellectual infrastructure of society are responsive to many pressures simultaneously. Researchers need to impress benefactors, they need to humiliate rivals, they need to market to the public, to draw in students; and on top of all this, yes, they need to respect the pieties of their neighbors, their peers, and their government monitors. So can we say a priori that at some point Freud and Marx became useful for creating ideological conformity in intellectuals? Well, only if we start by answering the question Ideological conformity to whom? I lean towards the view that Freud and Marx each established intellectual cults, which succeeded first in perpetuating themselves and then in infiltrating important institutions to the point where the orthodoxies of the cult started to become the focus of intellectual conformism.

When Freud first travelled to the US in 1909 he famously told Jung: “We are bringing them the plague.” I value that kind of pathogenetic perspectives: conceptual history as a movement of microbial agents – with Freud as a vector  instead of a master, or, as you say, cult leader. This dimension is in Freud’s theory too – this “Copernican revolution” in psychology which dethrones “his Majesty, the Ego” from it’s position in the centre of the mental cosmos and reveals the deeper realities of unconscious drives. The problem of what constitutes a cult becomes an open question: it turns into the issue of what isn’t a cult, or couldn’t be described as one.

I think we have a similar perspective — although it seems implicit in your description of the situation, first, that there is something uniquely pathogenic about Freud, and second, that there is an intrinsic connection between the corrosiveness of Freud’s lèse-majesté against the ego, and the infectiousness of his ideas. I try to conceive of the spread of ideas in general on a “pathogenic”, i.e. on a memetic model. The spread of species, the spread of languages, the spread of schools of thought — all versions of the same thing. Perhaps it would be perverse to turn this into a discussion of mimetics in general (too far from Freud, and unlikely to get to the root of our differences concerning him) so I will make one further comment: in a sense the Freudian (and Marxian) are a poorer fit for the “viral” model of propagation than many other ideologies, precisely because of the role of the cult in spreading them. That is to say, the ideas were not infectious in themselves, but only once they had had a few decades to incubate inside the cult. And thus the question of how the Freud-cult or the Marx-cult spread its ideas so effectively almost becomes a question of group dynamics rather than of mimetics per se.

Again, the underlying question here concerns what constitutes a cult, or cultishness more generally, and what part of the social body resists description on that level – or if any section does. From a certain point of view, it is possible to describe psychoanalysis, or Marxism, or any ideology, or language, even language itself, epidemiologically as a kind of virus and the organization around it as a community of infected and infectious vectors. We haven’t yet begun to scratch the surface of how pathogens can manipulate behavior, and questions of group dynamics and mimetics are perhaps not far apart. 

There’s a book called Origins of Group Identity by a virologist named Luis Villareal from which one can learn many things. Villareal points out that viruses are the most ancient, numerous and adaptable biological entities on earth. “We have long recognized them for the harm and disease they can cause, and they have been responsible for the greatest numbers of human deaths. However, with the sequencing of entire genomes and more recently with the shotgun sequencings of habitats, we have come to realize viruses are the black hole of biology; a giant force that has until recently been largely unseen and historically ignored by evolutionary biology. Viruses not only can cause acute disease, but also persist as stable unseen agents in their host. In this, they attain stability in evolution. It is from such a persisting relationship that viruses can inform us regarding the strategies and mechanisms of group membership. In order to persist in their host, a virus must be able to resist both themselves and all other competitors.” The key point from our perspective is “viruses can introduce into their host new genetic identities that create group identities and group immunity, including altruistic-like individual self-destruction used for the protection of the group. From this relationship, we can trace how genetic parasites and the strategy of addiction modules have contributed to the evolution of group identity, a pathway that leads us directly to humans.” 

I endorse everything in the passage from Villareal you quoted. In particular, I would reiterate his observation that a virus is not competing primarily against its host, but against other viruses of the same type. And this leads to a common observation about Freudian psychoanalysis: Freud took the ethical practices of auricular confession that had been at the core of Christianity for thousands of years, and Catholicism in particular, and imitated them. In some accounts it is an exacting and precise imitation; in others, Freud is a slapdash copyist. Is Freud’s psychoanalysis a perversion of the holy, or a profanation? I can’t give a definitive answer. But certainly a healthy share of the demand, not just for psychoanalysis but for all forms of investigation into psychopathology in the nineteenth century, came from secularists and socialists who, having rejected the authority of the Church for various  reasons, could no longer avail themselves of its highly evolved solutions to the suffering of the psyche. And a healthy share of the supply of psychoanalysts were Jews who would have been barred from the priesthood or the ministry – barred, that is, from the single profession that in the nineteenth century employed the lion’s share of university graduates.

There’s clearly a resemblance between psychoanalysis and confession; there’s also a relationship to Mesmerism, an earlier species of psychological praxis, not uncoincidentally also drawing principally on an upper-bourgeois, female clientele. And you’re correct in pointing out that psychoanalysis relates to the secularizing dynamic of the nineteenth century, the process Weber called “the disenchantment of the world”, the sharp decline in the cultural centrality of Christianity, and the formulation of the science of psychology in general. Where it fits precisely into these developments – was it scientific, pseudo-scientific, crypto-religious, etc – was a subject of controversy from the beginning. Between Freud and Jung, for instance, but not only between them. Plainly, different forms of institutional, political and social power inhere to different designations, now and then. As Régis Debray remarks, “Every social body of thought is a device for battle, and takes effect through its particular milieu.” The war, I think, is between the secularizing State, and everything outside of its control, such as the Church, but perhaps this too is just a surface manifestation. Today, of course, Freud, like Marx, is taught mainly in humanities departments, not departments of psychology or economics.

How would you encapsulate the conflict between Freud and Jung? In my former life as a shitlib, I shunned Jung because it seemed obvious to me that the characteristic features of Jungian psychoanalysis (archetypes, and so on) only made sense if they had a biological, genetic explanation. And of course a hereditarian theory of the psyche Was Not Okay.  As a result, I know less than I ought to about the politics of the Jung/Freud split — but I can hardly imagine a more revealing case-study in the development of quasi-secular crypto-Christian cult. Now, this personal anecdote would seem to suggest a straightforward “purpose” for Freud in the secular-liberal state: to dispose of hereditarian psychological hypotheses that were distasteful to the upwardly-mobile bourgeoisie even before 1789. But I’m dubious. In the first place, Freud’s theories are hardly the only ontogenetic psycho-theogonies available in the twentieth century. John Rawls’ Theory of Justice, for example, relies on Piaget. B.F. Skinner and his set had a whole research program around associationist psychology that could have served the same purpose. Dewey and the other progressive pragmatists were not true psychologists, but they dabbled in psychological theory and their dabblings were non-hereditarian. At the moment that Freud’s ideas were becoming contagious, there were other theories that were more accurate, more useful (in terms of providing quantifiable results to sister-sciences), and more free of socio-political sin (in that Freud’s ideas were still linked to the anti-liberal tradition of Stirner and Nietzsche). Again, rather than any ideological function Freud served in the liberal-secular state,  either initially, or later, my eye is drawn to group dynamics.

Freud maintained that the only way to “learn” psychoanalysis was to undergo psychoanalysis. This seems to be the conditio sine qua non for the kind of viral spread of an ideology; every agent is first a patient, and being a patient allows you to act as agent. (An idea brilliantly illustrated in the final scenes of The Master.) It’s also interesting that Freudian psychoanalysis attracted followers among literary critics very quickly — so quickly, in fact, that fiction was being written with Freudian subtexts before Freud’s basic concepts had become mainstream. Was this because there was some peculiar elective affinity between the Freudian fantasia and the daydreams of novelists? Or is it an outcome of a specific constellation of intellectual interests and commitments in the subcultures of Vienna, Frankfurt, and Bloomsbury?

Freud and Jung’s relationship was of course enormously complex. But as I understand it, their central split concerned the issue of the scientific character of psychoanalysis which Freud wanted to uphold. Defining psychoanalysis as a science implied a certain trajectory for its development; Jung had a different and arguably, a more expansive vision; subsequently his work became a major, if not the major, influence on the so-called New Age. I’m not a Jung expert by any means; like you, I tended to avoid him in my former life, but now am becoming more interested. Jung’s ideas about alchemy in particular seem intended to be understood as the basis for a potential myth to meet the challenge of the disenchantment of the world.

The irony is that Jung’s mythopoetic conception of psychic research was arguably a good account of what Freud was doing, whereas Jung’s less-constrained approach led him to turn up all sorts of interesting empirical regularities that could later serve as the foundation for genuine scientific research. But at the time, no one recognized that; or perhaps no one cared.

Like the question of cultishness, the issue of “genuine scientific research” and especially the idea of genuine psychological research opens up a complex field. As noted, Freud today is not widely used in clinical psychology — because it is cheaper and easier to treat patients with drugs. But the roots of psychology in fact come from magic. The question is bigger than Freud. The definition of science changes through time. Before the scientific revolution established experimental science as the paradigm of research, the conception of science derived from the conditions Aristotle set up in the Posterior analytics

The Freudian position on psychiatric pharmaceuticals was indeed, until recently, that drugs had eclipsed psychotherapy mainly because they were, as you say, “cheaper and easier”: with the implication that psychoanalysis might be harder and of course more expensive, but certainly better. This position was at least in part a reaction to a sensible but perhaps under-theorized attack on Freud, to the effect that if you could cure a disease with a drug, then the etiology proposed by Freud was clearly wrong. That attack, in its most naive form, isn’t logically sound, and the traditional response of Freud’s sympathizers is similarly misguided. There’s no reason, in principle, why you can’t have a psychiatric disorder with both a psychoanalytic description (in terms of the development of the disease, the form in which it is expressed in a particular patient, and the ascription of quasi-agentive status to psychological processes) and a biochemical description (of the chemical mechanism). It just happens to be the case that the psychoanalytic descriptions offered by Freud have no basis in fact, and no relation to what psychiatrists have discovered about biochemistry. But it would be possible to point to, for example, Freud’s involvement with cocaine, his very beginnings as a neurologist, and say “Well, there is nothing un-Freudian about biochemistry affecting the brain, Freud knew that psychoactive drugs could effect the brain, only in 1900 biochemistry was still too primitive to advance psychiatry in that way.”

But look, we don’t need to go back to Aristotle to diagnose Freud as a scientific failure. Every unhappy research paradigm is unhappy in its own way, so we don’t need to unearth the One True Methodology to diagnose Freud as junk science. The central problem is that there is now overwhelming evidence that most psychiatric conditions are highly heritable, as indeed most psychological and cognitive traits are; and the cross-variance between the traits/conditions provides strong evidence that they are inherited together. If Freud had been doing good research, he would have stumbled across this at some point; instead he claimed that the psychological disorder developed out of path-dependent events in childhood, and that understanding the original “tangle” of psychological motives was the key to unraveling it. There was an existing body of hereditarian literature which he and his followers explicitly repudiated. That literature was mostly guesswork at that point, true, but it was guesswork backed up by empirical observation, parallels to zoology, and thousands of years of common sense. Freud didn’t even have that; the real scandal is that, once you are driven to ask “How could he go so wrong?” and go back to look at his research practices, there wasn’t even anything that could be called empirical observation.

We keep returning to the problem of defining science. You say that we don’t need a definition of true science “the One True Metholodology” to dismiss Freud as junk science, but I think we do. You also argue more that Freudian psychology ignores biology and in particular what could be called psycho-genetics. I don’t know what the status of that field was at the beginning of the twentieth century, or today; what  I can say is that a major amount of psychological knowledge was lost with the shift from the scholastic to the modern scientific paradigm. Feyerabend makes this point in his famous defense of astrology. —— But we’ve digressed from our problem. Perhaps we can agree to bracket for the moment epistemological questions of science to acknowledge that Freud’s psychoanalysis dealt, in some form, with a real phenomenon, that the psychological forces which it utilized/theorized (utilized by theorizing) must on some level be real; in other words, that it’s describable as a social body of thought, that is, a device for battle, taking effect through a particular milieu.

Yes, yes. This is a good place to start. There is the (putative) science, and then there is its subject matter. The what, the thing it aspires to be a science of. We agree on that. Now, I’m guessing we can also agree that if someone gets his knowledge of this subject, the psyche, from Freud — let’s say an undergraduate who has been assigned some basic texts like The Ego and the Id and Five Lectures, and these psychoanalytic readings are his primary exposure to the study of the psyche — it will generate some expectations about how the world works? Some of these expectations are nothing more than his acceptance and affirmation of the phrases he read in Freud’s books, while the others are his inferences about their implication.

Popper writes in The Open Society about an object that he calls “The Spell of Plato” – we could conceivably discuss a “Spell of Freud”. What are the features of this spell? What is the Freudian conception of the world? Plainly there are more or less sophisticated variations, as well internal discontinuities: in particular, between Freud’s initial “hydraulic” model and his later “Ego/Superego/Id” scheme. 

Spells, conceptions of the world, models: complicated stuff. Like you said, we jumped out too far ahead first, and we kept getting stuck on this question, “What is science?” So let’s slow down and stick to the idea of “expectations” first, before we specify a particular connection between the Freudian paradigm and the expectations of the student who has just read a lot of Freud. If you take that paradigm to be equivalent to certain published works of Freud or his disciples, then you cannot explore the expectations of a student of Freud while identifying these expectations with the paradigm… unless you deny what I proposed, that some of the student’s expectations are implications of his reading, rather than its contents.

What is “the Desire Named Freud” — what does reading Freud give a student in the first place? Nobody is forced to read him. One explanation is that people come to him in order to explain a modern world that is already deeply Freudian. I proposed above that Freud can be seen as contributing to a de-centering of human psychology, but from the perspective of a student seeking expertise the reality is different — Freud becomes a kind of codebook, an optic for achieving psychological and social mastery. As Régis Debray puts it – addressing semiotics, but the dynamic is the same – “Whoever accedes to it is transformed into a cultural Grand Subject. Since this novel, this thriller, this poem declines (as one possible version among many others) into a generative model whose keys I possess, I become its master at a critical distance, at the very least its equal in inventiveness. The encoding on all fronts of the manifestations of human genius – with the translations and passings it authorizes from one to the other – places the Decoder at the upper reaches of the sources of meaning and makes him into the author of authors, a creator to the second power… The critic turns sunlike, pulling works and products one by one from his deconstructable discourse as if out of a hat containing a thousand secrets.”

“Nobody is forced to read him” — on the contrary. I was assigned three weeks of Freud in my second semester, I had to read him very carefully. That was my largest single dose of Freud, but there were other doses, and more broadly, there are many fields where to be informed you must be able to refer to Freud, which one hardly can except by reading him. And then there is a great deal of indirect necessity, where if it is necessary to understand e.g. Marcuse, the concepts and the vocabulary presuppose an intellectual moment drenched in Freud, and to understand that language one must return, again, to Freud.

Still, there is something legitimate in what you say. Yes, as a smart kid growing up inside a “a modern world that is already deeply Freudian”, you feel the necessity to understand Freud as some kind of initiation into adulthood (the adulthood of bourgeois “educated professionals”, at least) even before anyone forces you to read him. That is interesting to examine, but more as an epitome of the types of direct and indirect force I mentioned earlier than as a desire in its own right. What is still more legitimate, though, is to ask why it was that people read enough Freud to create an intellectual moment drenched in Freudianism in the first place. Or, if the answer to that turns out to be unenlightening: why that intellectual moment created tendencies and ideologies and schools that keep our education system anchored to Freud, and not to Mesmer, James, Browne, or a dozen other enterprising hucksters.

Let me throw out a few hypotheses. First, a sociological hypothesis about the rise of Freudianism as a psychological/theroretical clinical cult. In the late nineteenth century, especially in fin de siècle Mitteleuropa, a new demographic was entering the market for literate, credentialed labor. For nearly all of European history, the overwhelming “buyer” for this kind of labor was the Church. In 1900 the percentage of literate Englishmen going to Cambridge or Oxford was 5%, identical to the percentage in 1600; in the mid-19th century, the majority of graduates were going on to careers in the Church of England, 50% and 80% between 1830 and 1880. The traditional tithe of agricultural produce, where it was enforced, plus the land owned by the Church, supported a large workforce of vicars, abbés and their assistants, who met Europe’s entire need for intellectual  labor (or close to it). I don’t want to speculate about how much of the post-Petrarchan history of Europe is the history of lay professions trying to muscle their way into a priestly monopoly on clerical labor: but in fin de siècle  Vienna, there was most certainly a situation where a newly-emancipated, rapidly growing Jewish middle class wanted professional, white-collar jobs for their talented, educated sons. But a huge “lump” of the labor that these Jewish boys were willing and able to perform was the exclusive preserve of Roman Catholic priests or, in Northern Germany, Lutheran ministers, whose white collars entitled them to a share of the pastoral labor that needed to be done.

Freud took the pastoral duties of a Viennese priest and repackaged them into a professional career open to secular Jews. That’s my “tentative hypothesis” explaining the peculiar tenacity, the rapid growth, the cult-like structure of Freudian psychoanalysis, and in particular the ways in which it differs from other psychological and philosophical schools. Freudianism is not simply theoretical content, but the triadic relationship between the “school”, the pool of educated Jews in need of stable professional careers (Freud’s janissaries), and the niche in the white-collar economy that Freud opened up to them.

I see some issues with that model. Fundamentally, although psychoanalysis perhaps in some sense was in competition with the Church, the Church explicitly was in competition with the State. Rivalry for control over this sphere of human culture was mediated by changing demand structures and political expansion so a problem which was previously ecclesiastical became conceived as medical, or clinical, indeed consumerist – your broken mind can be fixed, not through Jesus, but through the skilled ministrations of a trained professional. You can see how this plays into the hands of the State and the capitalist economy. Psychoanalysis in that respect is a chapter in the history of atomization, and the idea of the individual unconscious a market-ready innovation 

Every civilization is characterized by overlapping rivalries and alliances, which shift into different constellations from arena to arena. For the French state, what you say is true: the Republic was baptized in the flames of anti-clericalism, and immediately seized one of the central functions of the clergy, primary education, along with its economic support.  The curé and the professeur were, proverbially, at war with each other in every village in France. But where else was there a war on this scale between Church and State? In Wilhelmine Bavaria, perhaps (the original Kulturkampf) but elsewhere the conflict took different forms. In Britain, for example, the conflict was between the established Church of England and the “low church.” And so on.

But we agree that medicalizing the psychic was a large part of the rise of psychology as a discipline, starting as early as the 1680s, when witchcraft prosecutions started to go out of style. Still, the failures of the eighteenth-century materialist model of “man the machine” meant that the late nineteenth century was arguably a time when the secularization of mental phenomena was at a low intensity! Seances and spiritualism flourished, extra-Newtonian forces like animal magnetism were “discovered” and many sober psychometric researchers tried to experiment with paranormal activity. Debray’s quote seems to be suggesting something similar to Ricœur’s hermeneutics of suspicion: in other words, that psychoanalysis is an example of a type of school (Marx’s and Nietzsche’s being others) that, by building a theory of deception or false consciousness into its theoretical axioms, easily dismisses its rivals and indeed can be adapted to “dismiss” or explain away any theoretical claim or cultural expression anywhere. Still, I think this “suspicious” type of theory doesn’t explain well this “Grand Subject” that Debray invokes. The idea that both critic and creator want to transform themselves into the Grand Subject, or submerge themselves in it, suggests something symptomatic. In a disintegrating society, lacking any coherent sense of “what one is thinking about”, the only way for a novel to take a position on the human condition is to offer itself as a vehicle for yet-another-rendering of the Freudian psyche or the Marxian production-relation. Whereas Dante or Milton could reflect on the soul without using a second-order theoretical vocabulary.

I agree with Reinhart Kosselleck that the key event was the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which granted confessional authority to Princes in order to shut down the religious civil war. As he describes it:

“The Stände agreed that a ‘stable, secure, unconditional, and eternally lasting peace was to be created.’ This was to hold even if (and while disputed, this was conclusive) the religious parties should arrive at no settlement and find no unity. Henceforth peace and religious duty were no longer identical: peace meant that the fronts of religious civil war were to be shut down, frozen in situ. Today we can only with great difficulty gain a sense of quite how monstrous this imposition seemed at that time.”

In the phrase of a French politician and lawyer: ‘L’heresie n’est plus auiourd’huy en la Religion; elle est en l’Estat.’ The treaty opened the way (Kosselleck concludes) to a new understanding of time, as historical time, and a new principle, that of “politics,” which set the parameters for the modern world, namely the long march of the State through previously religious institutions and the appropriation of their functions, especially education, towards the “Divine” State which we are faced with today. This process is clearly complex. At some point psychoanalysis enters the picture with the hermeneutics of suspicion; later Régis Debray’s semiotic “grand subject” emerges after Freud has already been incorporated into the matrix, and generally transformed beyond the scope of his original remit. How can we analyze these massive cultural shift? You point out the significance of Jews; of course the Jewish role in the elaboration of modernity fills libraries. At any rate, we can identify traces in Debray of the figure of Man as Magus which animated the Renaissance, and in Freud, the demonic (or what Jason Jorjani calls the spectral), which raises the question of to what extent the magical cosmos which predated the long march of secularism really ever ended. In the absence of the Absolute, relative contingencies – Hegel speaks of a “rationality puffed-up into Absolute Spirit” – arrive to fill the void. Freudianism can be understood as a substitute which achieved the degree of prominence that it did not because of the actions of a small dedicated faction, as you suggest, but because the previous institutional model had already collapsed. Understanding psychoanalysis from this perspective changes the focus of the problem from the actions of Freud himself to how he was received, which seems to me to represent a more plausible vector. Plainly, psychoanalysis could not have succeeded in a different cultural environment. 

I don’t deny that institutional support structures, or lack thereof, are part of the story. Rather, I take it that they need to be part of any story about how psychoanalysis supplanted auricular confession. Therefore we still need to ask: why Freud, and not a different ideologue? Why did Freud’s psycho-therapeutic institution accelerate the decay of guardian institutions, while other heresies provoked a coordinated reaction and retrenchment?

Bruno Latour in his book on Pasteur identifies the triangulation of cultural, macro-political and sociological forces that were necessary to create the conception of a “Pasteurian Century” and the same kind of analysis could be applied to Freud. To return to the viral model, we can see, in retrospect, that Freudianism was highly adapted to twentieth century social conditions which allowed it to colonize cultural market-share. In order to understand how that happened, we’d have to look at it closely, on an institutional basis, to understand what Discourse X does for Agent Y, in a clinic, in a Literature Department, or wherever. But I question your post-Ecclesiastical model and also the degree of industrialization implied by that. To start with, trying to research “the Renaissance theory of mind” isn’t impossible, there are multiple sources, to begin with Aristotle and his Scholastic followers, and then Plato and the theories of magic which were elaborated by people like Marsilio Ficino and finally people like Paracelsus, all of which constitute the long range backdrop to the psychoanalytic project. Shakespeare, we know, was influenced by Montaigne… But this is diverting from the point. 

Do we know that? I’m not doubting you, but I’ve read (for example) articles that confidently document Montaigne’s influence on Bacon, and also articles that tear apart and refute that older position in minute detail. In Bacon’s case it’s far from clear that he did more than skim Montaigne! I’ve seen reams of paper on Shakespeare’s implicit emotional theory and there are a nearly unlimited number of plausible influences. I assume you’ll grant that (even if you take some specific figure like Shakespeare as an exception) there is a world of difference between trying to sift through the overlapping influences of a dozen different branches of Aristotelianism, neo-Platonism, Augustinianism, hermeticism, and classical humanism, versus the comparatively simpler connect-the-dots project of Freudian literary analysis?

The hermeneutics of suspicion identified by Ricoeur and by Nietzsche certainly belongs to a specific phase of historical development, in which psychoanalysis participates. You can also see that it also encourages the formation of a dogma and a model so the suspicion isn’t absolute. What’s important about Freud is that to some extent his moment has already passed, or been reconfigured into a more thorough-going theory via the incredible synthesis of Freud and Marx completed around the middle of the twentieth century. Residues of Freudianism now are active mainly in a re-contextualized form – in the idea of the unconscious, for example, which is handled in a folk psychological way by the masses in a similar way to religious concepts. Rather then speaking of cults, we could identify Freudianism as one of the strata of a post-theological syncretic religion which has become the dominant ideology of the contemporary West. Voegelin describes it as gnosticism. Naming it is not necessarily straightforward, but social justice is a plausible conception. Freud himself, I think, would have been unlikely to support it, but that’s another matter. The essence of it, I think, is that it came to form a component of a larger machine.

We first should look to the timeline to frame the “how” and “why” questions we want to nail down e.g. when the Freud/Marx synthesis was attempted, in how many iterations, and at what point we are no longer looking at the synthesis, but at the viral spread of a prefabricated synthetic product. Same questions for Freudianism proper: putting aside our questions about its genesis, we can ask at what point it started being used in literary or art criticism, and at what point was that version of Freud articulated and put into circulation? Chronological questions, I think, help resolve the more subtle questions, or at any rate will expose our disagreements more fully.

I also had a thought about Telesio that may be relevant. Telesio wrote an immensely long, immensely complicated, immensely wrong, and even incoherent book — and his theories became immensely popular. The riddle is not about how a long, difficult book became popular, because it didn’t; no one read it, never mind tried to understand it or defend it. So a fortiori it was not some doctrine stated or expressed in Telesio’s De Rerum Natura that became popular, but rather a popular description of it that caught the imagination of the Renaissance cultural elite. What I’m highlighting is a form of dualism between two mimetic entities: the dominant description of a work in a given cultural ecosystem, and the doctrines contained in the work itself. These two entities — call them the exoteric and esoteric perhaps — are in a symbiotic relationship, but neither is strictly derivative of the other. Telesio’s outlandish views would never have been taken seriously by anyone but his personal acquaintances but for the existence of a forbidding tome in which they were (supposedly) explained and defended. The book, conversely, would never have been read by someone like Francis Bacon (and perhaps not even by Campanella) if there was not a widely-shared sense that the theory which it “contained” was widely-recognized and even respected or regarded as intelligent. The two proceed side-by-side, like a left foot and a right foot, or a dog on a leash.

… But the two moments make only one.

[Continued in Part 2]

Credibility-Goods, Scripts, and Sacramental Cost Disease

(A continuation of a dangerously overgrown blog-comment that will now veer sharply away from the empirical questions answered by RCADFMtowards a hypothesis about the economic implications of religion masquerading as technological progress.)

I left off yesterday with the claim there are not one but (at least) two ways to understand the claim that healthcare (or for that matter education) sells credibility-goods. To understand the second candidate, we must start with the observation that human life contains many phases marked by special tensions, in particular dependence, conflict of interest, honor (debts, promises, favors repaid in kind), transfer of authority, and entry into groups (particularly, where this involves coordination, conformity, and cooperation in addition to mere coexistence) or departure from them.

Because these phases of tensions involve so many uncertainties, irreconcilable interests and conflicting incentives – difficulties that place complex pressures on the families that navigate them – societies often develop stable cultural scripts for individual members to follow, and castes of ethical authorities (often priestly, sometimes martial) to propagate, supervise, notarize, and troubleshoot the performance of their library of scripts.

Death is one example. As the state of a dying man deteriorates, his chance of recovery grow dim. His likely future contributions to those around him plummet to zero as his dependence on their care grows more absolute. Questions arise about what extraordinary measures to save the dying man, or to relieve him of his pain, could be worth the price — especially given the rapidly diminishing probability of success. The transfer of any property and privileges to his heirs draws nearer. The ability of the dying man to project social authority falters just at the moment the desire to protect and perfect family and friends even after his own death becomes most real.

For this harrowing phase of life, the medieval Church prescribed the sacrament of extreme unction as a script for the laity to follow. It identified the most vital concern of the dying man as his entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, and prepared for him the soteriological equivalent of TSA pre-flight safety announcements. Reaffirming his faith, purging his anxieties, turning his eyes to the heavenly crown in his final days on Earth, the gravely ill believer can rest peacefully — with hope as his balm, and his family’s. Whatever powerlessness or confusion they feel about their prospects for saving the man’s life are put in proper perspective by their clear and easy responsibility for arranging the one final safety-check on his soul. They are absolved from their inevitable limitations by their attention to a small task that has communally-recognized priority and yet is within reach for even the most humble.

We have a different script for this phase of life today: it is called “end of life care,” broadly construed to include everything from the decision to spend the final months of life reeling with nausea from aggressive chemotherapy or convalescing rom some sort of multi-stage surgery, through colorful end-game variants like rib-cracking and (typically irreversible) intubation, or multiple colors of opium dream, before finally arriving at the medical team’s open-ended invitation to order them to withhold fluids.

The early Christians, eager to save the soul but resigned to the frailty of the body, could do little for the dying but give them water to drink. Yet even with so little to offer, and despite confidence that failure to save the patient would lead him directly to heavenly joy, they were indefatigable and sometimes valiant in continuing to succor the dying man until the bitter end. (Through this valor the early Christians inadvertently discovered that measles is not a death sentence, so long as someone cares for the patient while he is too weak to drink.) There is a macabre irony in the fact that now, after promethean efforts to keep the corpse pulsing, the hospitals raised up on the rubble of Christian civilization inflict dehydration as the most convenient way to finish off the bodies their machines will not allow to die. We have exchanged one version of last rites for another, hope for eternal life replaced with hope for indefinite prolongation of terminal illness, the credibility of Christ’s ministers with the credibility of a sales-pitch for experimental chemo or equivalent.

The old priesthood demanded a tenth of the harvest for its troubles. The new priesthood is up to 17.9% and climbing — and its temples, admittedly monumental, are not even beautiful. Whipsawing the mortally ill between feelings of invincibility and gnawing despair with exotic machinery and biochemical compounds it transpires, is, compared to infinite, unmerited grace, a more expensive way to establish the credibility of the shared scripts that bring resolution to life’s most dismaying moments.

The last rites provide a striking comparison, for our purposes, because a large fraction of all medical costs are incurred in the final months of life, but if I have dwelled on this example it was not with the intention to speak narrowly of societal scripts for managing grief and responsibility for death. At nearly every phase of life, one finds important decisions and transitions brought under the jurisdiction of one variety or another of credibility-merchant: if not professors or media celebrities, then usually doctors. Future societies will, I suspect, find the concentration of late-imperial America’s societal scripts in hospitals rather funny, and too idiosyncratic to even try to investigate rigorously.

And I should be clear that I am not trying to insinuate the hospitals are medicalizing human life; on the contrary, what is simultaneously embarrassing and unfathomably expensive is that they are trying to clericalize medicine.

To observe that clinical psychology is auricular confession with a more aggressive billing structure will probably not be news to anyone. Freud explicitly modeled the psychoanalysis movement militant on the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church (even down to apostolic succession in the ordination of new psychoanalysts). As psychologists gradually, quietly get rid of Freud’s pseudoscientific justifications for secular confession, fewer and fewer differences will remain between the sacrament and the knock-off. If we want to be more technical, we might say that the sort of kenosis that Freud expected to follow a truly adequate and salvific confession has affinities with the ultra-protestant conception of introspection and inspiration held by Quakers and Baptists. Every move away from Freud’s peculiar interior intimo meo brings latter-day psych’s conception of the goals of “therapy” closer to the attitude of medieval papism: 30 Hail Marys or 30 milligrams of poorly understood pharmaceuticals, a penance is a penance.

A Christian child must be baptized before he can be received into the Church; what does an American child have to do before he can enroll in kindergarten? A young Christian, before leaving the family home and starting a new independent, productive life, is ritually bound to a suitable partner for life in front of the eyes of the entire community; what is the ritual that now guides the children of the American elite as they leave their parents’ home, and to whom (or what) are they joined to accompany them on this adventure?

Wherever there is a phase of life marked my turmoil, there will be tension and confusion; where there is tension and confusion, there will be societal scripts to follow; where there are such scripts, there will be a priestly caste responsible for the production and distribution of credence. The demand they seek to meet is insatiable, the confidence they create priceless. The price the priesthood can extract for this service is constrained only by their integrity or by the limits of the caste’s power. A priesthood run on techno-scientific principles may benefit from the illusion that the technological marvels its clergy are taught to produce are a means to an end, that each marvel provides the final solution to a single well-defined, self-contained problem — but however efficacious this perception is at producing faith in the laity, throwing finite means at an infinite end is a piss-poor recipe for cost-control.

Reply to RCAFDM’s latest: or, What to consume when you’re consuming credibility

(QuasLacrimas is not back from hiatus. You’ll notice this post is written as though addressed to RCAFDM, and implicitly alludes to his previous work rather than recapitulating it for my reader.When I’m not using twitter I tend to write unjustifiably long blog comments. When they get disastrously long, I spare the OP my tl;dr and put it on my own blog instead. When I’m really going off – two posts.)

Sextus.jpg

I. This was a great essay, going beyond settling the relatively simple (!?) error Noah Smith made to summarize your previous conclusions and hammer in some of the bespoke distinctions. It also brought into sharp relief the triangular relation between [explaining health costs] x [explaining illusions about health costs] x [explaining the sentiment that rising health care costs are onerous].

> …is it really surprising we’d increasingly direct our resources to higher-order desires…?

This sentence in particular crystallized why I agree 100% with your model of healthcare costs (i.e., US costs dictated by same formula that determines other OECD costs, not an exception to them) but am still not sanguine about health care expenditures. Because: who’s the “we”, kemosabe? If the US had a ultralibertarian system where you paid à la carte in gold coins, then obviously “we” would be choosing to purchase more and better medical procedures. If the US had single-payer, we/our representatives would be choosing to allocate more medical care to citizens and budgeting the requisite funds for it.

But what we have is a mess and I don’t think anyone feels that they are choosing to “purchase more health”. If I understand correctly, you’re guessing that the whole phenomenon of rising healthcare expenditures is sort of like “people choose en masse to buy Lasik instead of glasses” — and if most health spending were out of pocket, this would be the most reasonable interpretation, and I would be perfectly okay with it. But it seems to me that the standard-of-care locked in by insurance contracts, medicare/-caid regulations, tort precedents, and first-responder obligation-to-treat has come to cover increasing amounts of tests, diagnoses and interventions as procedures are routinized and medical tech advances. So you get employees struggling to pay for insurance plans whose coverage they consider “the same”, you get Congress struggling to pay for “the same” coverage for old people…

(Voluntarily uninsured people wanting to buy, or facing a mandate to buy insurance is a variation on the same theme. It’s not like buying your car where you’re thinking about all the places you could go if you could drive, they just want the same access to the healthcare system they previously had, but the organizing logic of standard-of-care makes it increasingly unfeasible to let healthy people opt out of the buffet menu.)

This could be the simplest way of putting the intuition I’m sketching out: by definition US healthcare expenditures are rising because healthcare costs are rising net of healthcare prices (close enough?). I’m also willing to concede (for the sake of argument, and because it’s plausible) US doctors are performing more procedures: more billable activities are taking place. But can we can say what the patients are buying more of? More years of life? Superior physical condition? Delivery from particular diseases? The procedures themselves aren’t consumption per se, that’s not the consumer’s goal, procedures can’t plausibly be the object of a higher desire (MRI tourism??) and can’t by themselves explain why healthcare would be a strongly superior good. And if Americans are buying the same health outcomes but paying more for them, that suggests to me either the price levels or productivity growth in healthcare has been mismeasured. (I’d guess if it now takes three procedures to get the same result as 20 years ago, that’s a negative productivity shock to the medical sector, but no doubt there are technicalities I don’t understand.)

II. Tacitly of course I’m assuming the finding that all the extra spending in the richest OECD countries doesn’t improve health outcomes! Quite likely there is evidence pointing the other way as well; perhaps the truly massive scale of the white mortality uptick has been masked by a simultaneous improvement in mortality from all other causes besides deaths of despair? (Big if true. — Or maybe we should model higher-order medical purchases as more like bungee-jumping, and the smack high is the kind of thing we’re buying and the mortality is  ¯\_()_/¯ ) Conceivably you have a whole list of budget items like pills and SRS and …? that, taken together, paint a picture of these finicky higher-order desires. (Such a list wouldn’t strike me as unthinkable now that I’m aware HIV, a single virus!, can account for 8% of consumer Rx spending by itself.)

But so far as I know there is no clear positive case that shoveling money into the medical furnace empirically reduces mortality and morbidity, which agrees with anecdata and a scattering of suggestive facts like [% spending in last N weeks of life] and [marginal QALY-benefit of some screenings at or below discomfort of procedure]. I was one of the idiots who thought (back in 2010) the ACA was going to put a barefooot doctor on every ghetto block to hand out preventative medicine that was going to like, save money on… okay it’s embarrassing even to think about how it was supposed to work, but that’s another example of a discrete expansion of consumption for the sake of a certain good (disease prevention) that never actually materialized. I am also under the impression that administrative share of health costs are rising (but I vaguely recall you poo-pooing that last  year). These suggest to me that hospitals are selling a credibility-good, and credibility-goods are inherently prone to principle-agent problems and signaling spirals as incomes rise, so the level of spending is explained by US incomes but *not* by consumer’s desire to purchase better healthcare outcomes.

The credibility-good thesis restated with respect to its policy implications: it is possible US healthcare costs are increased by structural problems in the US health sector, yet the difference between US and non-US healthcare costs is not caused by structural features present in the US system and absent in non-US systems, but rather by higher US incomes triggering structural features present in US and non-US systems that predispose the sector to cost increases (or, if you prefer: to negative productivity shocks).

III. By the way: the most straightforward, directly plausible, and convenient-to-model way to understand the claim that healthcare — or for that matter education or journalism — sell credibility-goods is to say these sectors involve fiduciary relationships stemming from information asymmetries: you pay the doctor because he knows whether you’re  sick and how dangerous it is and you don’t, but by the same token when the doctor declares a certain course of treatment necessary and cost-effective for the price, you as patient have a limited ability to evaluate the truth of the matter.

(If you knew how to tell what diseases you have and how effective the alternative treatments are, you wouldn’t need to pay the doctor for his expertise to begin with. Ceteris paribus for ignorance and education, at least when the students make their own enrollment decisions.)

In a market in credibility-goods —— if patients trust their doctors unconditionally, prices rise; if each diagnosis requires seeking a second and third opinion to authenticate the authority of the first diagnosis, costs rise; if the doctors need to send costly signals of credibility, costs rise; if they need to extensively document and justify each diagnosis, productivity falls; if civil courts punish experts’ misdiagnoses and failures as breaches of fiduciary duty, the experts start to insist their patients pay for diagnostics and treatments previously classed “optional and slightly excessive”. When people are poor, the fact that they cannot afford even the most reliably effective treatments helps to impose price discipline on the whole system of credibility-goods, but the more expertise they can afford to buy, the more scope there is for the principal-agent problem to infect market dynamics.

I mention this to foreshadow my next post, which will consider an alternative (and rather more speculative) interpretation of credibility-goods, with different implications for why they’re getting expensive.

Note on Public Housing Statistics

I put together these statistics in 2016 when I occasionally encountered leftists making dishonest claims about the racial impact of American welfare policies. They are useful if you want to familiarize yourself with the lay of the land, but obviously base any detailed argument/analysis on more recent statistics.

Recent (as of 2016) stats on public housing recipients, broken down by ethnicity);

  • 2.0M families receive vouchers, of which
    • 35% white,
    • 45% black;
  • 1.2M receive public housing, of which
    • 32% white,
    • 45% black;
  • 1.3M receive project-based housing, of which
    • 49% white,
    • 33% black;
  • 0.4M receive some other form of public housing (for which there is no racial breakdown)
  • Taking vouchers, public housing, and project-based housing together,
    • 38% of all housing assistance goes to whites,
    • 40% to blacks,
    • and 22% to hispanics.

(If you need % hispanic for some subcategory of public housing, note that w+b+h = 100%.) The 2016 numbers are similar to older statistics as far back as Spring 1995, at which point  the beneficiaries of all forms of housing assistance were

  • 48% black (n.b. in 1995 blacks were 12% of population, 19% of renters, and 30% of qualifying poor families),
  • 39% white (in 1995 whites were 66% of total renters).

I probably don’t need to tell you that the game leftists like to play (for public housing, and for every other statistic) is to take the least representative subcategory and talk about it as though it were the aggregate.

Review: Reason After its Eclipse

[TAM has folded, so I’m reposting my review of Reason After its Eclipse here.]

Martin Jay, Reason After Its Eclipse (2016)

Martin Jay’s most recent book, Reason After Its Eclipse, continues and represents the culmination of Jay’s many decades of research into the intellectual history of critical theory in general and the Frankfurt School in particular, beginning with his definitive 1973 study The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950. Having made his name with his explorations of what the “Frankfurters” did and said, Jay is finally, in RAIE, ready to ask what they believed in.

What was the Frankfurt School? The Institut für Sozialforschung (Institute for Social Research) was a research center founded at Goethe-University Frankfurt in 1923 by a clique of Marxist sociologists,[1] financed by the Marxist son of the world’s richest grain dealer.[2] The original intention was for the Institut to defend and substantiate the theory Marx had advanced in “The Communist Manifesto” and developed in Das Kapital. But what started as a movement to create a Marxist sociology ultimately matured into what we now know as “cultural Marxism”: i.e., the extension of what in Marx was a claim about economic relations to all of human culture.

Adorno and Horkheimer

This “cultural turn” in Marxism which was the Frankfurt School’s legacy can be analyzed into two elements, namely an attitude towards social change (what Marxists sociologists study) and an attitude toward reason or logic (how they study it). Orthodox Marxism teaches that social change is fueled by technical advances in industrial production (the “base”) which govern the struggle for control of the state the legal system (the “superstructure”), and understanding society is a simple matter of stripping away mystical babble to get at the simple truths of political arithmetic. The Frankfurt School counters with a new emphasis on cultural mutations and the control of a complex web of institutions as drivers of social change… and with a peculiar taboo on any purely instrumental logic. This contrast between the orthodox Marxist and Frankfurt conceptual styles can be linked to Clifford Geertz’s distinction between “thin” (discrete, abstract) and “thick” (dense, embedded) concepts; briefly, the streamlined, practical character that Marx had associated with critical thought purged of all mystification was belittled by the Frankfurters as vulgar, naive, and simplistic.

The Frankfurt School’s social theory is, within Marxism, clear apostasy.[3] But their conceptual style, however much it differed from that of their orthodox opponents, was well-suited to a pre-established rhetorical convention within Marxism to the effect that one’s critics must always be dismissed as “one-sided” and unable to appreciate the nuanced balance of one’s own highly “dialectical” opinion.

In RAIE, Jay is not interested in the history of this cultural turn (the subject of his earlier books) but rather in the Frankfurt School’s underlying rejection of instrumental reason: what, exactly, was the nature of the alternative they saw, the “objective” or “substantive” reason which they championed but rarely deigned to define? What was it that the cultural Marxists (most notably, Max Horkheimer in his The Eclipse of Reason) thought had been eclipsed by the cancerous growth of its own “instrumental” aspects? This is the question Jay attempts to answer in RAIE, a question intelligible only in the context of the quest of post-Kantian “critical philosophers” to imitate what they took to be Kant’s method in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781).

Kant had identified a number of abuses of reason — degenerate cases, so to speak — where a (typically) useful rationalist principle was extrapolated beyond its proper domain of application. These abuses (and the “transcendental illusions” they inspire) are easiest to spot in pairs, where two principles each lead to the opposite result. For example, Kant demonstrates the abuse of two principles about causal sequences to “deduce” both that the universe is eternal and that it had an original beginning. In the critical turn, Kant’s successors increasingly applied the master’s framework to any sort of category error where they deemed reason to have been applied with more enthusiasm than judgment.

The critique of instrumental reason followed this general pattern. First, the target was absurd hypostases of means-end rationality; next, inappropriate means-ends considerations in general. But the impropriety of instrumental reason turned out to be highly elastic. What at first was a charge of logical impropriety (treating as means the things that could only be ends, the ultimate values for the sake of which we act) was diluted to mere accusation of uncouthness. This extension of “critique” certainly had its roots in Kant’s account of human dignity, and especially in his follower Friedrich Schiller’s account of the Spieltrieb. The human mind, Kant and Schiller concluded, must be allowed a certain playfulness, a certain space for freedom and imagination, lacking which it is neither useful nor accurate. But ironically the rote over-application of this concern by Feuerbach, Marx and their epigones fueled an illusion all of its own.

Ultimately not only the entirely Bolshevik movement, but even the kind of mainstream conservative apparatchiks who commute from Alexandria to their think-tank jobs in D.C. became intimately comfortable with a certain multi-pronged attack on “instrumental” reason. Fetishism, bad faith, and “unmasking” have become the bread and butter of mainstream social analysis. With any sort of consistent or systematic application, such rhetorical maneuvering soon amounts to a taboo on any grounds for abstraction, for impartiality, or for realism: in effect, a taboo on thought itself. Nothing is left of reason, once the supposedly “instrumental” part of it has been excised, but the sort of droning, cabalistic chant which has characterized the spiritless liturgy of progressive thought for the last century or more.

The Institute for Social Research

But this is to prejudge the question, nearly a century after the foundation of the Frankfurt School. The doctrine of the Frankfurters was that once they had ruled out all forms of reason infected by instrumental considerations, they would be left with a form of reason which would be free of the deformities of instrumental reason and suitable as a basis for a rational society. In RAIE, Jay goes to great lengths to recover this conception of reason.

Jay breaks up his narrative into chapters which tackle the debate over reason from the Greeks to 1776 (yes, in one chapter), in Kant, in Hegel and Marx, in the pessimistic tradition stretching from Schopenhauer to Weber and Spengler, and finally with chapters on the Frankfurt School as a whole, on Horkheimer, on Habermas, plus a conclusion that continues the focus on Habermas. As you can see, Jay attempts to cover an extraordinary amount of material in very few pages — far fewer than you might guess, because one-third of the book is devoted to endnotes.

Incidentally, Jay provides copious endnotes, and if you find a copy RAIE you might want to consider it as a 2-in-1: a conventional history of philosophy prefixed to an avant-garde experiment in the art of the citation bricolage. There are so many endnotes that you could read them continuously from the beginning without consulting the main text and get an impressionistic (or perhaps surrealistic) perspective on the development of the intellectual tradition of the West.

The purpose of Jay’s broad scope seems to have a doubled or reflexive aspect. On the one hand, the Frankfurters understood the viability of their conception of reason in contrast to what had gone before them; on the other hand, their conception of viability itself was founded on a historical theory about degeneration or enervation of reason in Western societies. The “viability” in question is neither a strictly logical unsoundness nor a strictly communal sickness unto death. Starting with ancient Greece allows us to enter into the critical theorists’ arguments about their philosophical predecessors (and their predecessors’ arguments about their predecessors) without getting lost, while also familiarizing us with the historical coordinates of the “eclipse of reason” Horkheimer and his allies claim to have observed.

That being said, it is unclear who is the intended audience of the early chapters of the book. At points it comes across as a literature review of every important or interesting intellectual history which has appeared in the last forty-plus years. Some people are in the market for a well-written analytic bibliography: if so, this is your book. But scholars who are already familiar with the outline of the “Democritus to Diderot” fairy tale will be dissatisfied by the breathlessness of Jay’s survey (he typically mentions the thesis, or only the subject matter, of several books without endorsement or analysis). Undergraduates and others who are trying to discover a new field will likely choke on the torrent of names, dates, theories, and scholarly interpretations Jay provides.

The breakneck pace of Jay’s narrative gradually relaxes in the second (Kant) and third (Hegel and Marx) chapters, but there is still a lot to take in. Jay’s style calls for manic levels of detail, although what overwhelms is not so much the volume of material as the difficulty of discerning any purpose in the assertions and asides Jay compiles. As a scrupulous reviewer, I attempted to unravel the exact significance of each of the details Jay insists on, to tease out what argument they advance. But consider the following example:

• On p. 48, “Idea for a Universal History is the most consequential” of Kant’s attempts to deal with one of the two “most urgent” of the “essential questions still open” after the publication of Kant’s First Critique.

• On p. 60, “Idea for a Universal History was only a marginal essay in Kant’s vast oeuvre.”

The flat inconsistency between these two statements is no crime (an academic of Jay’s stature is certainly entitled to use research assistants to assemble a book), but if Jay can assert both, neither description of the status of the essay in Kant’s oeuvre could have any serious role in an overall thesis about the relationship between Kant and Hegel (or between the German Idealists and the cultural Marxists). Perhaps Jay employs the stylistic conventions of the persuasive essay as a respectful nod towards a reader who might not enjoy a bullet-point list of factoids?

At any rate, it is safe to enjoy the energy of Jay’s prose without attempting to follow the twists and turns attentively. So for example when Jay attributes to Hegel a “fully non-dispositional notion of reason” and a paragraph later asserts that he imbued this notion “with the indulgent characteristics of an all-forgiving, merciful father,” Hegel-neophytes will probably wonder how something fully non-dispositional could conceivably be indulgent, forgiving, or merciful; Hegel-veterans will want some elaboration and defense of the claim, to understand Jay’s exact sense before moving on to the next step in the argument; but these are probably inappropriate instincts when dealing with the manic style in intellectual history.

Jay’s treatment of Kant ends with the questions that Kant’s resolution of the transcendental illusions raised about the unity of reason: first, about the unity of reason as a faculty (the unity of inductive and deductive reason, aesthetic and classificatory judgements, and especially theoretical and practical reason) and second, the unity of reason conceived as “timeless and irreducible to ephemera” with reason as “an ongoing project in the world”.[4] Hegel’s great contribution to these questions, according to orthodox Marxists, is contained in the maxim “What is rational is actual, and what is actual is rational.”[5] Friedrich Engels popularized an interpretation of this principle according to which what we see in the world around us can, if it is no longer necessitated by the entire network of social and historical forces which act on it, be logically unnecessary, i.e. non-rational, and thus “unreal”. But Lukács, Adorno and Horkheimer were to develop a sharply different understanding of the logical holism at work in Hegel’s system. Jay amply documents their contempt for Engel’s rough-and-ready interpretation of the dia- in diamat, a contempt which links critical theory’s reinvention of Marx (as “the young Marx,” a philosophically subtle Young Hegelian) to its drift away from mainstream Marxist socialism. Yet under the influence of Weber and Freud, the Frankfurt School took Engel’s question and laundered it as a question concerning our subjective feelings about the necessity/unreality of the social world.[6]

Standing above the fray, Jay presents a Marx equally attached to “scientificity” and to the Hegelian hypothesis that reason was embedded in practices and institutions.[7] There is a tension here, to the extent that Marx feels equally entitled to criticize capitalist industries (from an abstract standpoint of arithmetic efficiency) and to attribute to them laws of development (from a functional perspective). Likewise the self-emancipation of human reason and the “cunning of reason” whereby historical agents continuously produce effects they had not themselves intended, interrelated but distinct themes in German idealism, are conflated by Marx in the construct of a historical agent (the working class) which peeks from under its world-historical blindfold and produces exactly the effect it intends to. Or rationally ought to intend to. Or something.

Surprisingly, Jay skirts around Marx’s own contributions to the spirit of irrationalism which began to grow within the West in the nineteenth century. After offering us a glimpse of the terrible mind-virus incubating in the pages of Das Kapital, Jay quickly hurries on to the really fearsome opponents of reason, Lebensphilosophie and positivism. These schools of thought were the villains in Horkheimer’s account of the “eclipse of reason”, and Jay helpfully sketches out profiles of both. “Helpful,” I mean, in the sense that they help the reader follow and sympathize with (but not question) Horkheimer’s argument.

In its preface RAIE opens on a strong note, with Jay recalling an episode where, as a young man, he had pressed one of the still-surviving members of the original Frankfurt School (Friedrich Pollock) to explain what alternative, exactly, they had been defending when they attacked the supposedly instrumental rationality of their opponents. The original motivation for the research that became RAIE was apparently that Jay could never get any direct or satisfactory reply. But RAIE does not contain a direct and satisfactory explanation, either. Jay could perhaps plead “guilty by reason of disciplinary specialization”: he is an intellectual historian, is he not? And while a philosopher can expound the concept of rationality, perhaps a historian must limit himself to tracing out the genealogy of particular philosophers’ conception of rationality, in hopes of illuminating within its proper context what would be obscure in itself.

Perhaps. But I do not think disciplinary specialization can shield Jay, because Reason After Its Eclipse is in effect not a genealogy of the eclipse of reason, but rather a genealogy within the world of Horkheimer’s The Eclipse of Reason. That is to say, Jay does not attempt to offer a historical account of how the civilization which produced Scaliger, Newton, and Kant declined into its current boring incoherence (to describe the culture decline of the West as “madness” would not properly convey the ennui most people feel in 2017 as they attempt to navigate the taboos of intellectual life), but only a set of annotations to Horkheimer’s account of that same decline. And while the Frankfurt School was alway happy to cement its position within global Marxism by “diagnosing” rival Marxists as infected with corrupt forms of reason, this openness did not extend to asking whether Karl Marx himself might have been the most toxic of all the bacilli the nineteenth century spawned.

Jay’s later chapters are less interesting than the early ones because this restricted scope prevents him from addressing the questions his narrative raises. That cultural Marxists blamed their enemies for the intellectual darkness of their era is no surprise. Nor would it be particularly disappointing if Jay, whose sympathy for the Frankfurters comes through clearly, merely turned a blind eye to their intellectual deformities. But because his investigation is a genealogy of the crisis they imagined rather than the crisis they lived through, his account of the genesis of the protagonists of their books (the plucky philosopher-heroes who witness the eclipse) is not truly a genealogy of the Frankfurters themselves, or of their ideas.

What would help us understand the Frankfurt School’s ideal of reason would be an account of how they came to hold the views that they held: the good, the bad, and the ugly. An accurate account of their opponents would certainly be helpful, but not essential. It would be interesting to know, given its deep engagement with ongoing biological discoveries, whether the Lebensphilosophie-school developed any insights into natural teleology which remained inaccessible to Adorno, Horkheimer and the other “philosophers” who smeared them as “misologists” (haters of reason); the positivists might have a few sharp insights into the likely fate of “public reasoning” in the age of hate-speech laws. Yet it is possible to know very little about a school’s opponents, and still know enough about what the school itself believed about its opponents to interpret its arguments in light of the enemy it imagined it had to overcome.

What is not possible is to interpret a school of thought knowing only the story it tells about itself.[8] This story typically illuminates the school’s writings much less than the writings themselves; it even obscures them, to the extent that their own work may broadcast affinities and implications that they are at pains to avoid stating explicitly. If intellectual history can aspire to be anything more than the type of philosophy book one find in an airport, the historian must bring additional considerations to bear which are not in his subject’s polemical autobiography.

Had Jay suspended judgment about the dogma of critical theory for long enough to examine how the dogma arose, he might well have ended RAIE with the lucid exposition of emphatic reason which had long eluded the original critical theorists. Instead he concludes with a twenty-page synopsis of Habermas’s theory of the public sphere. It’s a solid synopsis; perhaps Jay will consider it a worthy capstone to his career. Had his approach to the roots of critical theory and its own account of “the eclipse of reason” remained open, he would have faced the challenge of groping about for a definition the “eclipse” of reason, in the abstract, independent of Frankfurter-orthodoxy; he would have needed to determine whether in fact reason was suffering eclipse, and over what time period. He would need to give testimony about what aspects of this culture of ours are objectively blanketed in twilight. And he would need to tell us — without citing the authoritative judgment of Adorno, Horkheimer, or even Lukács — what dark object had eclipsed reason, and how, and why.

These answers might not have been healthy for Jay’s confidence in the Frankfurt school; but they might have restored his confidence that there is still something like an emphatic reason, distinct from rationalization by the forces of progress, which will re-emerge some day. Perhaps he is satisfied with the Habermasian alternative (speech-codes and nagging lectures) which he summarizes so ably. The eclipse continues.

Meanwhile, we wait. As the inky black disc of Bolshevism slips over the radiance of the logos, the crown of faith pours forth from the hidden sun, arching across the stillness of the universe. Reason has been eclipsed so that we might witness its corona; we have been chosen to live in a dark century to treasure this sight in our hearts and to share with our descendants this memory of the sun and the other stars.

Notes

1. The Frankfurt School’s most influential members are no doubt Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and Erich Fromm. Other affiliates and hangers-on include Georg Lukács (whose defense of “totalized”, integrated knowledge directly inspired the Institute’s interdisciplinary focus), Walter Benjamin and (in the postwar generation) Jürgen Habermas.

2. Why did Hermann Weil, a Weimar plutocrats, consent to fund such a project? In his earlier research Jay highlighted two possibilities: either his son, Felix Weil, gave him the impression that the researchers would be “devoted to the dispassionate study of the worker’s movement and anti-semitism,” or else “the senior Weil was cynically hoping for access to the Soviet grain market.” (Force Fields, p. 14) Meanwhile Goethe-University Frankfurt, founded in 1913, was itself “funded by private contributors, often from the Jewish community, rather than by the state. The philanthropist Wilhelm Merton, an assimilated Jewish director of a giant metallurgical concern, was the major benefactor.” (Ibid., p. 13) — Incidentally, the reader who is curious about the Frankfurt School but daunted by The Dialectical Imagination will find the purely historical information about the school presented succinctly in the second chapter of: Martin Jay, Force Fields (1993).

3. As the reader might surmise from the peculiarity of their brand of Marxism, the Frankfurters were hardly typical Marxists. While in RAIE Jay focuses largely on the dialogue between the critical theorists and Marx, his work on the formation of the school led him to identify six “major forces operating to constitute the intellectual field of both the Institute [for Social Research] and the [Frankfurt] School”: “Hegelian Marxism, aesthetic modernism, cultural mandarinism, and a certain Jewish self-awareness” plus “psychoanalysis and a nuanced appreciation of Max Weber’s critique of rationalization.” (Force Fields, p. 11) Nor was this versatility restricted to the corridors of the Institut für Sozialforschung: “Frankfurt’s Jews were noted for their innovative response to the challenges of modernity.” (Ibid., p. 12)

4. Only after Kant could we find ourselves asking the question, “What has Athens to do with Yudkowsky?”

5. “Was vernünftig ist, das ist Wirklich; und was wirklich ist, das ist vernünftig.” Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1820/1), “Preface”.

6. The mélange of Freud and Weber in the psycho-social reinterpretation of the question about the reality of the world is most clearly on display in Adorno and Horkheimer’s The Dialectic of Enlightenment.

7. One wonders when the antifa will start using the slogan “I fucking love totality!”

8. Cf. Jay’s earlier statement: “I have never felt comfortable with the [Frankfurt] School’s reticence about exploring its own origin.” (Force Fields, p. 10)

War and demonization

It’s a commonplace of the right-wing thought that liberalism intensifies the destructiveness of warfare. In fact, this used to be a commonplace of liberalism, too. Michael Walzer was one of the earliest writers to suggest an explicit trade-off between ius in bello and ius ad bellum. The right to war infuses one side (the side which had a right to go to war) with an aura of purity that can be used to justify the pursuit of victory by any means necessary. But a standard of right conduct in an ongoing war presupposes some rule that neither side ought to break, and to apply such a standard we must not presuppose that one side or the other ought to win. So the attempt to replace gallant but senseless wars leads to judicious butchery. In an enlightened war, the belligerents begin with self-righteous posturing before war breaks out, and afterwards prove the strength of their principles by the shamelessness of their behavior.

Another commonplace: one aspect of this intensification is the demonization of the enemy. Nomadic herders who were nearly certain to die in one of their many skirmishes could view their enemies with respect (and aspire to fall before a worthy foe). Republican armies apparently won’t fight against anything less satanic than Big Cotton and the Evils of Slavery.

What is peculiar is that this demonization was not reined in but rather inflamed by liberalism’s own recognition of it! To blame governments rather than their peoples for wars appears to be a sound application of “don’t hate the player, hate the game”. But Woodrow Wilson’s doctrine, which became the orthodoxy of the liberal internationalist order, had strange implications. Hanging the Kaiser rather than the Kraut then became hating Hitler rather than his German Volk. From there, via the inner political logic of mass society, it became hatred of anyone “complicit in the Nazi regime”; and next, it became hatred of any and all adherents to the platform and principles of the NSDAP, or to any similar principles; and thus also hatred of all racists; which of course includes white people who don’t want their countries’ populations replaced by imported foreign labor. So in the end, loving the nations of Europe and hating only enemy governments has spread a venomous hatred, not only of the nations of our “enemies” (i.e., of nations we signed peace treaties with sixty years ago), but of the population of all white nations, within our ruling elite.

It’s a strange historical irony and I wonder whether it is logically connected to the Wilson’s “generosity” towards the defeated nations (heh), or was instead a contingent outcome of the political dynamics that spread anti-white ideology at each step.

World War I was a mess

The centennial of Armistice Day is coming up this autumn.

Ugh.

For eleven thousand years, as soon as any peasant could put his name to a few bags of coins he would grab his spade, run outside, and dig a hole in the ground. His talents were going directly into that hole, so that when the government came around to announce the latest round of taxes, he could shrug his shoulders and tell them there was nothing left to take.

Gradually the regular system of tithes and dues helped inject some predictability into the fiscal system, but farmers were still burying their valuables in the ground for centuries. You never really know when someone’s going to need to commandeer your cash and leave you with an IOU.

The shocking thing about the Great War wasn’t the death toll or the carnage of modern weaponry or even the ruinous trench-warfare strategies. The most shocking thing was simply how much the citizenry paid their rulers so they could fight one another. They paid taxes, of course. But stranger still, they voluntarily lent their states money on top of what they legally owed.

I’d be curious to know why, exactly. One possibility is that all the major European states had had stable finances for roughly a century. The bankruptcies of the Bourbons were a distant memory. Another possibility is that all of the citizens had soberly considered the costs of defeat (look at Weimar Germany; look at Russia) and made the civic-minded decision to cooperate for the common good.

A third possibility is that 1914-1918 unleashed modern propaganda on a naive and undefended continent for the first time. Propaganda has surely become more devious in the last century, but I suspect it has never truly regained its original potency.

The disaster of WWI wasn’t just that the European populations cheerfully lent their states whatever they needed to intensify the war, but that they truly expected to be paid back. There the propaganda succeeded too well.

Diversity Kiddies Create Their Own Reality

Once upon a time there was an argument between Bolsheviks and everyone else about how much of personal success is determined by industry and talent, and how much by sheer luck, prejudice, and connections. Now there is no more argument — or at least, not very much of one. No matter where you turn (corporate office-hives, the vast bureaucracies of the federal government, academia, show-biz) the delightfully Orwellian culture of “affirmative action” is spreading its tentacles. The more positions awarded to the lazy, the incompetent (blacks, women…), the more the Bolshevik thesis becomes partially true: personal success isn’t determined by industry and talent. At least not any more. And of course, the leftist cadres are the true believers. They know that every day they bullshit their way through professional problems that they are ill-equipped to solve; that makes it easy for them to imagine that all the remaining white males (the ones who, y’know, actually make the company profitable) are doing the same thing. The injustice of it probably makes their blood boil!

So, needless to say, they scheme all the more doggedly to have fewer positions awarded on merit and more awarded to their fellow diversity kiddies.