Christianity and Egalitarianism

After extensive and mostly-fruitless investigation, I’ve finally found some tangible evidence of that oft-alleged connection between the “universalism” of Christianity and the homogenous, egalitarian conception of humanity. In the Middle Ages, the Church defended – against the popular tradition that monstrous births were suppositious and/or the result of bestiality – the thesis that grossly deformed infants were every bit as human as healthy babies and thus needed baptism and so on.

As a purely scientific question, the medieval clergy hit this one out of the park. All appearances to the contrary, grotesque children are specimens of H. sapiens, and their disfiguring syndromes are the result of genetic defects rather than interspecies mésalliance. However, it is extremely difficult to find pre-modern examples of Christian authorities deducing the biological equality (and equal dignity) of empirically disparate human beings a priori from metaphysical principles; in the case of monstrous births, we have at least one. (But as Dissident Sociologist is fond of noting, Stoicism is still a much better match for the universalist strain in progressive ideology.)

Pro-Popery (#1: Monks)

I’m a good Anglo, and thus it is my obligation as a pathological altruist to take my opponent’s side from time to time. (And yes, I know the papists won’t reciprocate. It’s okay, I love our clannish para-Europeans.)

So: what is there to be said in defense of Rome? Let me start by restricting the scope of this question. I believe there were a number of features of the medieval Church which were extremely valuable, during the Middle Ages. (The eucivic effects of the extremely broad construal of incestum, for example.) This post is not about those features, which are an interesting topic in their own right. I also don’t consider every aspect of the medieval Western Church to be popish, but only those that were attacked and eventually abolished by the reformers, yet defended by the Counter-Reformation.

Similarly, there are certain things indifferent which ought to be organized differently in different dioceses with an eye on the different needs of each population. This too is its own topic and to the extent that Mediterranean countries have their own unique needs and so deserve their own autocephalous branch of the Church, I will leave that question for another day.

However, I’m not going to try to segregate the good of the Church from the good of a Christian society in these notes. (Hopefully the two distinct sets of concerns will come across clearly, but each note collects together concerns of both kind.) So without further ado:

I. Monasticism

Medieval monks intermittently came into ill repute because of their atrocious behavior. By the Renaissance, the monasteries were becoming something of a scandal. The reformers linked their criticism of the theology/ideology of the monastic orders to denunciations of monkish behavior, and Rome took the bait and defended the honor of the monks and abbots.

The rhetorical intuition that motivated the defense of monks is easy to understand. So is the group-unity dynamic that made it difficult to throw the monastic orders overboard in the midst of a crisis. But by holding up the monks as good boys who dindu nuffin, the papacy closed off an important perspective on monasticism.

Do monasteries protect monks from the laity, or laity from the monks? In the ideology of the monks, it’s the former. Outside the monastery is a fallen world, the City of Man, full of temptations: all paths lead to Sin. The monks are simply those who perceived this dire truth most clearly and retreated into the cloistered life for the good of their souls.

An alternate way to say this is that a certain group of people had been harming their neighbors and their communities so much that, out of their own free will, they elected to remove themselves far away from occasions of sin (i.e., victims) and live in cells in a closely supervised environment.

Now, nothing’s perfect. Obviously there were many entirely depraved sinners who never submitted to, nor were pressured into, the monastic life. And due to the self-aggrandizing ideology of the monastic orders and the reflected glory of the Desert Fathers and other early saints (whose spiritual experiments helped define the monastic tradition), many unusually pure and pious young men were drawn into the orders: an explosive situation. But on the whole, if a group of people withdraw from society because they cannot cope with how much they sin in ordinary life, and some of them remain fairly vicious even after withdrawing from the world, where’s the problem?

The tacit premise of the sixteenth-century debate was that monastic orders should be restricted if the monastic life is vicious and supported if the monastic life is virtuous. But what if any society has especially vicious men; can’t they receive support for openly confessing that they are in dire need of special restraint, even if they never reform?

In the quarrel over whether to honor work-family-autonomy or poverty-celibacy-obedience, the defenders of asceticism took for granted that if the monks were parasites on the body of a Christian society, they should be done away with. But don’t all societies have parasites? Parasites scheme tirelessly for the power and influence they need to leech off of others. Perhaps the best way to deal with a certain class of parasite is to reward them for removing themselves from public life. Scheming after three meals a day (give or take a few fasts) puts the parasite permanently* out of competition for political power.

(*Almost. Monks are a slippery bunch.)

 

Leftism and Inevitability

Here’s a lazy hypothesis for you: socialism is inevitable.

…because, inevitably, whatever comes to pass in the future will be called “socialism” by the Cathedral.

Does this seem like a cute point that merely dodges the difficulty of predicting how much damage the Left will manage to do to Western economic institutions over the next thirty to fifty years? Well, it’s more than that. If you understood this hypothesis inside and out, you would have a very strong grasp of the core dynamics of leftism.

Leftism — socialism, progressivism, bolshevism — is a movement which allows intellectuals to become momentum traders in a very unusual sort of prediction market. Leftist intellectuals win their reputations by prophesying the inevitable triumph of the left in some specific area when this seems improbable or even impossible, and then cashing in when the prophesy comes true… or even earlier, when it become common wisdom and their predictions are taken for as good as fact.

But who is to enforce prediction-contracts on questions like “the end of capitalism”, “the liberation of women”, “the death of the nuclear family”? Why, the intellectuals themselves. They are both responsible for making outrageous predictions and for policing whether the predictions have come true.

This is at the root of some of the more preposterous games that public intellectuals play. It’s Bernie Madoff cubed.

Once a leftist speculation has been accepted as the cultural equivalent of AAA asset-class, it can never again be questioned because the people who originally made the prediction now, on the basis of the acceptance of the prediction, have sufficient power to prevent anyone from questioning it ever again (and meanwhile, many members of the rank-and-file “bought in” when it was already near the top and have a lot to lose from being exposed as fools). So consensus about future events effectively replaces the events themselves. – Conditional predictions (“X if Y” or “W if not Z”) are particularly attractive because intellectual speculators can build up a consensus around the conditional prediction even if the members of the consensus are sharply divided between “X” and “not-Y”. Then you are free to “manage” the prediction in either direction. For example, if I predict “Blacks will have equal academic achievements to whites just as soon as systemic racism ends”, I am always free to interpret unequal academic achievements as prima facie proof of the persistence of “systemic racism”.

Isn’t it odd that radicals who are so quick to attack even the most benign and harmless institutions as vestiges of regimes like feudalism or Jim Crow are so confident that all currently existing institutions can be swept away? Logically, it would seem the two shouldn’t go together. Either you think old oppressive regimes were easy to get rid of and existing oppressive regimes will be too… or you think old oppressive regimes were insidious and near-impossible to purge from the fabric of social life, and the existing regimes will be just as hard… but why would TCY mark an enormous break between the insidious, obdurate forms of oppression of the past and the doomed, vulnerable forms of oppression of the future?

In the logic of momentum-trading, though, this makes perfect sense: “feudalism” has to disappear because “feudalism has to disappear” is AAA-rated. A leftist starts by making the implausible claim that an essential, currently-existing institution is unfair and totally problematic and basically doomed. (Wow! Unlikely!) Then after he stakes out a big position, he goes on to argue that the currently-existing institution is an insidious survival of some barbaric injustice. (Oh no! Eek!) If he can get people to buy into the “This is basically feudalism”-thesis at par, then what we already know about feudalism – that it has to disappear – can be extended to the currently-existing non-feudalism.

Once an activist gets media recognition for his “X is feudalism”-gambit he can swap all his “X has to disappear” junk-bonds for AAA verities, and he’ll look smart.  It’s not a paradox, it’s just the leftist version  of “Buy low, sell high”.

When Trump gets around to founding an Inquisition, he should probably make it a sub-division of the SEC. Leftism is a massively-distributed strategy for pump-n-dump collusion in the market for intellectual goods. Studying leftists shouldn’t, in principle, be any different from detecting the first signs of fraud in any other market.

Faith and Gullibility

G.K. Chesterton observed that people who rejected the Gospel as “superstition” were most commonly themselves believers in fairies, séances, or something equally peculiar. This is still true today; between DIY witchcraft, “no-religion-but-spiritual”, and lucky jerseys, the paranormal perspective on the world is flourishing in the twenty-first century like never before. (Recall that in the twelfth century, you would be condemned as a heretic for believing in witchcraft: this was the famous canon episcopi.)

But Chesterton’s point is in a certain sense a petty one to score: which of the trendy superstitions in circulation today is half as trendy as barren, godless materialism?

The vulgar errors of the plebs have actually become part of the metabolism of our godless society. As the Cathedral and its choirboys have gradually improved message-discipline on science and superstition (yes, they “freaking love science”), the contrast between the amusingly rustic ignorance of the commoners and the smug confidence of the overclass has become part of the status-structure that draws ambitious youngsters into the Cathedral’s cold embrace. Abandoning the poor to the torment of demons is now part of the Left’s plan; more room to tut-tut and demonstrate that you are a reasonable bugman, more misery to justify the next stage in the revolution.

But still, this fails to get at the root of the fairies and the séances and the horoscopes, which is neither faith’s relation to superstition, nor to the arrogance of those who lift themselves up above the superstitions they despise in others, but rather faith’s relation to gullibility.

Gullibility is a more general concept than superstition. Let us define superstition as gullibility with respect to opinions and possibilities that are held in contempt by the powerful, while gullibility itself is the epistemic equivalent of pettiness — an inability to dismiss highly improbable hypotheses.

I was visiting family friends who were insisting to me that they  had a (loud) appliance in their kitchen that would randomly turn on by itself — but only when they had been gone from the house for at least a full 24 hours. A gizmo that turned on by itself at random intervals could be explained as malfunction, but the fact that it had never turned itself on when they were home (or even when they were away at work for the day) they considered eerie.

The husband had given it some thought. He had been keeping track of how often it had happened, and over how many years. He seemed frustrated and uneasy, while his wife flat out stated it was the ghost of the previous owner of the house (and of the appliance).

Not because of any special piety or zeal, but simply because it was barely yesterday that I was an atheist, I had a vivid impression of the changes in my thinking process. It was not impossible that supernatural agency was involved, of course, but it was very implausible — because it seemed too trivial and indistinct to be worth the effort of a self-respecting angel. So I set that aside immediately, and stayed focused on thinking about what might actually be going on.

Putting aside the insignificant possibility lightened my mind almost in the way pouring water out of a jug would. I seem to remember that when I was an atheist confronting this type of “superstition”, I would keep the supernatural hypothesis in front of my mind, regulating my thoughts, considering the case from every angle but only from the perspective of what might disprove the superstitious opinion.

But a superstition is the opinion of a crackpot. Why was I worried about what crackpots believe? If Eddington has a hypothesis or Einstein has a hypothesis, then falsifying the hypothesis is science. Falsifying a crackpot’s hypothesis is proof that you place a low value on your time.

Even if the alleged anomaly is worth investigating in itself, there is no special reason that any evidence which contradicts the crackpot’s theory will bring you an inch closer to the truth. The “skeptical” approach that secular people are trained to take towards the paranormal may be solid virtue-signaling, but methodologically it’s cargo-cult science.

I also noticed something else new; as I was vaguely trying to imagine what sorts of explanation would be consistent with the facts (for example: someone sneaks into their house whenever they are out of town to turn on the appliance), and I was able to firmly discard the most implausible of these, too. The best account I can give: formerly, there seemed to be a world of difference between the implausible hypothesis I was duty-bound to reject (spooks) and the most implausible alternative hypotheses which were ideologically legitimate (strange men breaking into their neighbors’ houses to turn on appliances in statistically improbably patterns). The former had to be rejected; the latter had to be kept in reserve as a last resort.

Here is another possibility: I don’t know why the appliance turns on when it does. I wasn’t able to figure it out. It would be odd if I could, since I’m not an electrician or an engineer. The world would be a boring place if you could just suss out the answer to arbitrarily unusual questions without making any special study of the topic. Sometimes we don’t know. And often when we don’t know we don’t care. In fact, most of the time we don’t care about what we don’t know precisely because the insignificance of the topic is the very reason we never prepared ourselves to answer that type of question in the first place.

The Toolbox (A Little Learning IX)

As the years go by I’ve switched between multiple learning-strategies. Invariably when I experimented with a new strategy, and it worked, I would accept that as a vindication of its inventor’s explanation of the logic of his strategy. Then I would shake my head in despair that I hadn’t heard of it much sooner and try to share my amazing “discovery” with anyone who cared to listen.

Until the next strategy came along.

It took me a really long time to understand what was going on. There may be some study-methods that are strictly superior to others (especially for certain purposes or certain students). But in general, different approaches are just different. No advantage without a drawback. The eye can only see so much, the mind can only think so much, there are only so many hours in the day. Intellectual discipline is mostly about training your eye to ignore some aspects of a topic in favor of others.

When I was still a teenager a mentor mocked the editorial introductions that are typically found in front of classical books, and encouraged me to skip straight to the main text. What a revelation! I had been struggling with those dry, meaningless introductions with zero interest or insight. By the time I got to the main text, I was frazzled and running out of time. “Oh,” I thought, “there’s a reason why we read collections of Aristotle’s writings and not collections of editors’ introductions to Aristotle.”

Jumping straight into the text, I landed on my own two feet and quickly oriented myself to the questions that motivated the author. I worked out what was slightly puzzling (and finally started to learn how to reason) and skimmed over what was truly strange. I misunderstood most of it (not that I necessarily realized that at the time…), but I was enjoying the material I was studying, and finishing with time to go back, review, and reflect.

Many, many years later I had the opposite discovery. After coming back to certain of my favorite authors over and over again, trying to clarify my ideas, I realized that my experience of the editorial introductions was now entirely different. I zipped through them quickly and in the process was reminded of a great deal I had forgotten, learned many points that I should have been aware of already, and was able to neatly skim over various traditional or popular interpretations to see where my own reading resembled or diverged from these.

The editorial introductions weren’t useless, they were just useless to someone who was starting from zero. It was as though I had been browsing the index, from A to Z, before starting on the main body of the text. A good index is the literary equivalent of a sniper rifle, but it takes a long time to learn enough to have a reason to use one.

You can make the same point about reading history for understanding versus reading history for dates, names, and facts. You can’t possibly absorb history before you have some sense of why it’s interesting or important. At that stage it’s key to know, for example, that you can “repeat the material in your own words”, i.e. say the same thing multiple different ways (because what you grasped was an idea, not a sequence of letters). But when you’re saying something in your own way, you’re definitely dropping out all the details (1715, Sans-Souci, William of Moerbeke), because the details are precisely what can’t be changed without changing the facts. And you’re dropping out nuance and precision, because “your own understanding” of new material can at best be one of several reasonable opinions whereas the point of carefully piling up the evidence into a rigorous case is show that each plausible alternative to your thesis is ruled out by the available evidence.

Personally, I got used to learning material this way, reconstructing it in my own words to digest it. Then for a long time I was frustrated and handicapped by my spectacularly poor mastery of the detail. It turns out that once you start to fill in the gaps in your knowledge, you start to get your own ideas about what happened, and then it’s really important to know whether X happened before Y or Y happened before X, ‘cuz X didn’t cause Y if Y came earlier. I sort of half-expected other people just gradually sorted out these facts in their minds as they learned more and more about the world. Maybe some people do; but in my case, I was frustrated nearly to the point of shame that I couldn’t remember the basics.

That’s where drilling comes in. Earlier I had been drawn more and more into the view that any time spent drilling or memorizing, unless aimed at overcoming some petty hurdle like a test, was misspent. It always made sense to let the details slide and use extra time to acquire additional general knowledge (or review it). But again, that was only true to a limited extent, for a narrow reason.

When I was first studying human history, I had absolutely no business forming an opinion about whether or not X caused Y. So I didn’t really need to know whether X came before Y or after. And since I couldn’t do anything useful with the factoid it would have been tough to force myself to retain it. Once I had different needs, a different study-strategy quickly paid huge dividends.

(The funny thing about “general sense” versus “drilling” is that I independently “discovered” one strategy or the other in multiple different fields before I finally put together that the two approaches complement and facilitate each other in every field.)

Some strategies don’t sell themselves as study-strategies but rather as advice about what’s worth knowing or as introductions to a new field of study. But branding and being are two entirely different things; very often the popularity of a canon or a field turns out, on close analysis, to owe its popularity more to its success as a study technique than its formal claims.

Consider Read Old Books. Whether that phrase makes you think of multi-gig downloads from /pol/ or the Froude Society, at least half of the right-wingers I know have experienced the spiritual benefits of avoiding modern garbage for out-of-copyright gems. — But then when I see examples of what the most prolific old-book readers have been up to (what they’ve been reading, what lessons they’re drawing), I find it striking how often you could re-describe the project as Read Primary Sources. For people who have never read primary sources, taking a few shots of the top-shelf stuff can be a heady experience.

The reason it’s heady is because there is no way to understand a secondary source (where it’s right) or see through it (where it’s wrong) unless you have a good mental model of the kinds of primary sources the argument might/must be built on. When you’re used to pop-history (just two or three steps above Just-So Stories), primary sources are like manna from heaven. If you’re particularly enlightened by reading a certain source, it’s hard not to think you’ve unearthed a neglected masterpiece that ought to be memorized by high-school students. A few weeks later, maybe you realize there are thousands of letters or manifestos, or whatever, that are exactly like it. And then after you’ve gotten through five of them, you’re ready and willing to read the research of some poor fool who spent decades reading them all.

Try to scrutinize any amazing new approach to learning that seems to be working well for you. A hammer might seem like a god-send to you if you’ve been trying to build a house using only a saw. But once you’ve gotten sufficiently frustrated trying to build the house with only a hammer, it may be that you’ve hammered in all your nails and it’s time to switch back to the other tool.

 

[I’m still categorizing these notes together as “A Little Learning” to make them easy to find, but I’m going to try to stop developing themes across multiple installments in the series. From now on they will be self-contained.]

Unsolicited thoughts on dating

I haven’t “dated” anyone in a very long time and hopefully I never will again. (Ora pro nobis.) This makes me mostly unqualified to offer serious analysis, let alone advice, on questions of dating, mating, and courtship in TCY. But a friend was complaining about being a single reactionary in a degenerate city, and I might as well share these thoughts.

One reason dating is tough for right-wingers is because the whole concept of “dating” is a degeneration of our social institutions from traditions that had endured for centuries. Bracket the question, “How could we ever go back to pre-modern courtship?” That is a difficult problem, but even just focusing on the here-and-now:

  1. Women who were raised right-wing probably aren’t gonna participate in the degenerate contemporary practices around dating (not at the same rate as whores, anyway)
  2. Women who do participate will probably suspect that you look down on them for doing so (which you should)

The problem goes far deeper than whether you can bond over empty chatter about your least-favorite politicians and war criminals. (That is probably what most girls have in mind when they advertise their political orientation to potential mates.) Say your reactionary tendencies extend to religion: some of my readers aren’t religious, but run with it for the sake of argument.

Well, if you’re devout you probably aren’t gonna marry a girl who will object to raising your kids orthodox. That probably means she has to be orthodox herself, and in fact of the same denomination (because otherwise she’ll want to raise the kids in a way she considers orthodox, but you don’t). That means randomly meeting girls, you are unlikely to stumble on a match.

(Reminder: many “ills of modernity” are only vulnerabilities of modernity, exacerbated by the disappearance of ethnic homogeneity. The more ethnea you cram into a city, the less likely any two randomly chosen kids can start a life together.)

Now, if a girl really imprints on you she’ll convert to Tengrism to have your babies. Girls are hyperconformists that way. But ex ante, you are either:

  1. Dating a lot of girls who aren’t serious candidates for starting a family, or
  2. Restricting yourself to looking someplace you are likely to meet orthodox people, which would be someplace like a church where you’re unlikely to make a romantic match to begin with

That adds up to a lot of wasted time.

This is just exploring the difficulties of living in the City of Man from the perspective of one right-wing idea, that you want to raise your kids in a certain way and need someone compatible. Difficult! Multiply across multiple ideas…

 

Jaucourt on “la race”

RACE, s. f. (Généalog.) extraction, lignée, lignage; ce qui se dit tant des ascendans que des descendans d’une même famille: quand elle est noble, ce mot est synonyme à naissance. Voyez NaissanceNoblesse&c.

Madame de Lambert dit dans ce dernier sens, que vanter sa race, c’est louer le mérite d’autrui. Si le mérite des peres rehausse la gloire des enfans qui les imitent, il est leur honte quand ils dégénerent: il éclaire également leurs vertus & leurs vices. C’est un heureux présent de la fortune qu’un beau nom, mais il faut savoir le porter. « Je serai le premier de ma race, & toi peut-être le dernier de la tienne », répondit Iphicrate à Hermodius, qui lui reprochoit la bassesse de sa naissance. Iphicrate tint parole; il commanda en chef les armées d’Athènes, battit les Thraces, rétablit la ville de Seuthée, & tailla en pieces une bande de lacédémoniens. (D. J.)
Race, (Maréchal.) se dit des especes particulieres de quelques animaux, & sur-tout des chevaux. Les Anglois ne souffrent pas qu’on ait de la race de leurs guilledins. Pour faire race, il faut choisir de bonnes cavales. Cheval de premiere race, est celui qui vient d’un cheval étranger connu pour excellent.

One has to wonder whether the mot of Madame de Lambert would have been quite so charming, or the retort of Iphicrates quite as impressive, had either been applied to hounds or horses instead of to men. It’s quite strange that at the exact moment in European history when the scribblers decided to reduce man to a mechanical animal, they simultaneously averted their eyes from all the previously established parallels between humans and the other mammals.