At war with the Gray Goo

Several days ago, a man named Richard Spencer was on camera, finding artful ways to respond to questions as to whether he is an advocate of genocidal violence against black people (by the way, he is very much an advocate of genocidal violence against black people.)  While he did his shtick, a masked person ran up, punched him in the face, and ran off.

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You might think that a minor physical assault on a minor public nuisance would figure in the news as, at most, a single line on the police blotter. Yet people are still talking about it. Today, Freddie deBoer, Rod Dreher, and The Nation magazine all weighed in on this incident.

I tweeted about it the other day:

And pretty healthy odds at that; Spencer’s only job is to get publicity, and with this incident he has gained a tremendous amount of that, as he recently gloated when reached for comment by The Independent.

Since people are still talking about this, I’ll add a bit to that tweet. Street-fighting is one area where Nazis have consistently enjoyed success. To meet them on that ground is to play to their strengths.

That isn’t to say that Spencer commands a street-fighting force; he doesn’t. His followers are guys on the internet, the proverbial fat guy living in his mother’s basement.  “Failsons,” as Chapo Trap House calls them.   Those guys aren’t likely to be much use in a street fight. Nor can they attract support from people who have not already given up on life.

The threat they pose is like the danger people used to talk about regarding nanotechnology.  One tiny machine might impose only a very small ecological cost, but as the number of these in use multiplies, it becomes conceivable that they might collectively cause a very large amount of environmental damage.  In a worst case scenario, a vast number of nanobots might coalesce into a “Gray Goo” that would render the surface of the earth uninhabitable. The Failsons at their keyboards have, figuratively speaking, coalesced into blobs of destructive goo.

Failson blobs floating around a bloodthirsty racist like Spencer stink up the comments sections of blogs and other social media platforms. That isn’t such a problem in itself; it’s easy enough to ban commenters, as I have had occasion to demonstrate to some of you.  Where Spencer’s following has the most potential to do harm is illustrated by something like Gamergate. A few years ago a Failson blob of gamers set out to harass three or four women who had been making a marginal living writing online about video-games. They succeeded in making their lives miserable, and probably did a great deal to discourage other women from getting into gaming journalism. Spencer’s crowd would certainly be capable of targeting particular members of groups they don’t like (blacks, Jews, women, Muslims, etc, etc, etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseam) and doing the same damage to their lives that the gamers did to Zoë Quinn, Brianna Wu, and Anita Sarkeesian, while intimidating other members of the same groups into silence.

To stick with the Gamergate analogy a moment longer, “Gray Goo” isn’t just a pejorative in discussing them. Supporters of the harassment of Quinn, Wu. and Sarkeesian called themselves a variety of names, including “the Grey Rebellion” and, most commonly, “Shitlords.” So if I were talking only about them, I might use the phrase “Gray Shit” rather than “Gray Goo.”

Punching people in the street isn’t going to drive the Failsons into hiding; as the trope about them living in their mothers’ basements indicates, they have been in hiding their entire lives. However, it will give Spencer and people like him an opportunity to recruit guys who like to express their hostilities, not by persecuting people from behind a computer screen, but in physical combat. Once they get a group of street-fighters going, that’s a whole new population from which they can draw support. And while street-fighters are as much a low-status population as are the couch-bound Failsons, physically violent people attract a following in ways that people whose aggressions are electronic do not. That’s why skinheads were a thing thirty years ago, to the point where there were anti-Nazi skinheads who would spend Friday nights fighting pro-Nazi skinheads.

The original Nazis, remember, kept going throughout all their electoral ups and downs in the 1920s as a street-fighting group. When the global economy collapsed at the end of that decade, Germany’s elite found that the only way they could restore public order and keep their positions was to put Hitler in charge. Hitler’s ascent had many pre-conditions; Germany’s defeat in World War War One, the mindlessly vengeful policies the victorious powers inflicted on Germany from November 1918 to January 1933, and the Great Depression were all bigger contributors to his rise than was the fact that he had an effective street-fighting force at his disposal. But that street-fighting force was certainly one of the contributors, and when I see leftists expressing pleasure at an event which, if it to have any consequence at all, can only have the consequence of building a street-fighting force loyal to Richard Spencer, I hope that the Trump years will not bring the kind of misery to the USA that the years of the Weimar Republic brought to Germany.

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Tyrannos

A tweet from this morning:

Here’s the video I’m talking about:

The biggest howler comes right at the beginning, when he says that Plato’s Republic is “the first book about politics ever written.” In fact, The Republic wasn’t even Plato’s first book about politics, never mind the first one ever written. That’s an ironic mistake, since the passage of the Republic summarized in this video includes a significant reworking of material from a political tract that predates the Republic by at least 40 and more probably 60 years, the so-called “Constitution of the Athenians” by an unknown author who may or may not have been named Xenophon (though he certainly was not the famous Xenophon, as once was thought.)  The text and its author are customarily referred to as “the Old Oligarch.” The Old Oligarch is very probably oldest surviving specimen of Greek prose, though even it is very unlikely to be “the first book about politics ever written”- the vast majority of written works produced in the mid-fifth century BCE must have been lost sometime before the fourth century BCE. The likelihood that any given work written in those days would survive until 2017 CE is trivial.

At any rate, the Old Oligarch is a quick read; it takes about 10-15 minutes to read the whole thing. When I was in school, my Greek professors were at something of a loss to think of a contemporary critic of democracy with whom they could compare him, someone who combined his extreme opposition to popular government with his concise and witty writing. They usually ended up going back several decades and comparing him to H. L. Mencken.  Nowadays the internet has brought us the anti-democratic bloggers who call themselves “Neoreactionaries” or “the Dark Enlightenment”; those writers may sometimes be witty, but they are rarely concise.  And frankly, few of them have much to say that the Old Oligarch didn’t say in those 15 minutes sometime around 445 BCE.

 

Illuminating the Dim Enlightenment

Looking through my archives, I see that I’ve been aware of “The Dark Enlightenment” or the Neoreactionary (“NRx”) movement since at least September 2007, when I slogged through a Mencius Moldbug post and selected some key quotations from it.  I read another post by MM in February 2009 and complained about it.

The September 2007 and February 2009 posts mark the boundaries of a time when I was spending a fair bit of time trying to get a handle on NRx thought. I’d largely lost interest in it by the spring of 2009, though I did bring the movement up again in 2014 in order to mention the snappy nickname for it I’d come up with,”The Dim Enlightenment.” During last year’s US election campaign, the prominence of Peter Thiel in Donald J. Trump’s campaign and Hillary Clinton’s decision to give a speech accusing Don John of Astoria of involvement with the “Alt-Right” brought the Neoreactionaries a significant amount of public attention.  The idea that Don John himself is directly influenced by NRx writings is risible, as the Hated Steve Sailer pointed out:

Nonetheless, I have had the vague sense that I ought to take another look at that stuff.

Heaven knows I’m not going to dig my way through another 35,000 words of unedited ramblings by Mencius Moldbug.  Fortunately, I remembered that in 2013 Scott Alexander had written a summary of NRx thought. I hadn’t read it when it was new; the title, “Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell,” had turned me away, since “enormous” and “planet-sized” are two things NRx writers consistently do themselves. As it turns out, Dr Alexander’s post is actually rather concise. And it is admirable in its fair-mindedness. Dr Alexander labors mightily to present the best possible case for NRx views, especially those with which he most strenuously disagrees. I chuckled when I saw the point at which his imaginative sympathy finally broke down: “Reactionaries also seem to be really into metaphysics, especially of the scholastic variety, but I have yet to be able to understand this. Blatant racism, attempts to clone long-dead monarchs, and giving a gold-obsessed alien absolute power all seem like they could sort of make sense in the right light, but why anyone would want more metaphysics is honestly completely beyond me.”

Dr Alexander followed this post up with an “Anti-Reactionary FAQ,” which by March of 2014 he was saying he no longer fully endorsed. Still, unless you’re planning to make an academic study of the Neoreactionaries or to engage in an exhaustive public debate with them, I think Dr Alexander’s posts should tell you just about all you really need to know about them.

Christ, Marx, Wood, and Wei

 

fawcettthisperfectdaybyiralevin565About a year ago, I was browsing in a used bookstore and saw an old paperback copy of something I’d never before heard of: This Perfect Day, a dystopian novel by Ira Levin. It looked interesting enough that I paid my 85 cents and took it home.

As soon as I finished it, I started writing a blog post about it. I abandoned that post when I realized that the plot is full of so many ingenious twists, and so much of what gives the book its enduring interest, can be explained only by describing events that take place after the most surprising of those twists, that it would be impossible to review it without ruining the story.

Those who have read the novel will recognize the title of this post as the first line of a rhyme that members of the society depicted in the novel habitually recite:

Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei,

       Led us to this perfect day.

Marx, Wood, Wei and Christ,

       All but Wei were sacrificed.

Wood, Wei, Christ and Marx,

       Gave us lovely schools and parks.

Wei, Christ, Marx and Wood,

       Made us humble, made us good.

Recently two bloggers whom I read regularly both reminded me of This Perfect Day. Regular visitors to this blog know that I like to get all points of view; I’m something of a leftie myself, and to check my biases I read, among others, Peter Hitchens, who is on the right regarding matters of sex and sexuality, and Steve Sailer, who is on the right regarding race and nationality. The other day, Mr Hitchens mentioned that he had read This Perfect Day and thought that it was a much-underappreciated book. I offered a comment saying what I said above, that perhaps the reason it is underappreciated is that it is difficult to review it without giving away too many surprises, and so it hasn’t been widely enough recommended. I suspect Mr Hitchens dislikes the pseudonym “Acilius”; he doesn’t seem inclined to approve my comments, so that one has not appeared at the site. I’m Acilius on so many platforms that it would seem wrong to adopt another pseudonym, and for reasons I’ve explained elsewhere I prefer not to use my legal name. So I suppose I won’t be contributing to his combox.

Today Mr Sailer posted an item about a New York Times story in which was hidden an implicit retraction of some reporting that had previously appeared in the Times; his remarks about it included this sentence:

That’s one of the joys of holding the Megaphone: You can redefine your behavior as Not Fake News in that you gave extremely curious and industrious readers a path to the truth without troubling the majority who like their News Fake.

Now, I am about to give away some of the very cleverest plot twists in This Perfect Day, but so as to ruin the story for as few people as possible, I will put it after the jump.  (more…)

Celebrity deaths in 2016, revisited

On 21 April 2016, I posted a list of celebrities whose deaths during the first 112 days of the year had been noted on Wikipedia and whose names I recognized.*  As the year has gone on, more and more people have remarked on the number of well-known people who have died in 2016. Maybe that’s because television and transistor radios became widespread in the 1960s, making a larger than usual number of people famous who are now in their old age. Or maybe it is because social media has led people to share more news about the deaths of their favorite celebrities. Or maybe it’s an illusion, and the sheer act of complaining about celebrity deaths has become a fashion. Or maybe something else is going on altogether.

I suppose one way to figure out if 2016 really has been deadlier for the famous than most years would be to take the number of people born in the last 80 years who have articles devoted to them on Wikipedia, divide by 80, and compare the result with the number of “Deaths in 2016” on the site.  Repeat that procedure for each of the previous 20 years; for example, you would compare the number of “Deaths in 1996” to the number of people born between 1916 and 1996. I’m not going to do that, but someone could.

That might be better than just comparing the length of “Deaths in 2016” to the length of Wikipedia’s other necrology sections, for two reasons. First, the rate at which Wikipedia acquires new articles is not constant from year to year; for example, it seems that the site used to be much stricter about its “notability” requirements. A person still alive in, let’s say, 2016 might have been much likelier to qualify to be the subject of an article than would an equally notable person who died in 2009.  Second, just because the “Come ON, 2016!” thing has been so widespread, obituaries have been getting a lot of attention, so more people than usual might have had articles added immediately after their deaths. For example, master chef Peng Chang-kuei’s Wikipedia article was created the day after his obituary appeared in the papers, as was art historian Yuri Bychkov‘s.

Anyway, here’s the list from April. Some of the links lead to obituaries, some lead to still photos, some to videos of them at work, some to other kinds of things:

  1. Prince, musician
  2. Guy Hamilton, filmmaker known for the James Bond films
  3. Victoria Wood, comedian
  4. Chyna, professional wrestler
  5. Milt Pappas, baseball player
  6. Billy Redmayne, motorcycle racer
  7. Pete Zorn, musician
  8. Duane Clarridge, highly publicized secret agent
  9. Yuri Bychkov, art historian with a name that makes teenage boys laugh
  10. Doris Roberts, actor who appeared frequently on Barney Milleramong other things
  11. David Gest, man who married Liza Minnelli
  12. Ed Snider, hockey team owner
  13. Howard Marks, marijuana smuggler
  14. William Hamilton, cartoonist
  15. Jimmie Van Zant, musician
  16. Merle Haggard, musician
  17. Ogden Phipps, horse breeder
  18. Antonin Scalia, jurist
  19. Henry Harpending, anthropologist
  20. Patty Duke, actor
  21. James Noble, actor who was in the movie 1776
  22. Winston Moseley, serial killer
  23. Mother Angelica, nun
  24. Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, military strongman
  25. Lester Thurow, economist
  26. Garry Shandling, comedian
  27. Nicholas Scoppetta, civil servant
  28. Tibor Machan, philosopher
  29. Earl Hamner, screenwriter
  30. Maggie Blye, actor whose films included 1969’s The Italian Job
  31. Tom Whedon, screenwriter
  32. Ken Howard, actor who was in the movie 1776
  33. Joe Garagiola, baseball player, media personality
  34. Rob Ford, mayor who openly committed crimes while in office
  35. Joe Santos, actor
  36. Bandar bin Saud bin Abdulaziz al Saud, nobleman
  37. Ralph Abernathy III, politician and son of a more famous man
  38. Frank Sinatra Jr., musician and son of a more famous man
  39. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, musician
  40. Martin Olav Sabo, politician
  41. Hilary Putnam, philosopher
  42. Louise Plowright, actor
  43. Pat Conroy, novelist
  44. Ben Bagdikian, reporter
  45. Anita Brookner, writer
  46. Ken Adam, set designer known for, among many other things, Guy Hamilton’s Bond films
  47. Sir George Martin, record producer
  48. Wally Bragg, footballer
  49. Paul Ryan, cartoonist
  50. Nancy Reagan, political spouse
  51. George Kennedy, actor
  52. Douglas Slocombe, cinematographer whose films included 1969’s The Italian Job
  53. Peter Mondavi, wine mogul
  54. Harper Lee, novelist
  55. Umberto Eco, philosopher and novelist
  56. Humbert Allen Astredo, actor known for parts in Dark Shadows
  57. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, diplomat
  58. Edgar Mitchell, astronaut turned crazy person
  59. Bob Elliott, comedian
  60. Buddy Cianci, mayor who openly committed crimes while in office
  61. Abe Vigoda, actor known for parts in Dark Shadows (where he played a character named “Ezra Braithwaite,” no relation to Guyanese diplomat/ author E. R. Braithwaite or Grenadian statesman Nicholas Braithwaite, both of whom also died this year,) and Barney Miller, among many other things
  62. Marvin Minsky, prophet of AI
  63. Cecil Parkinson, politician
  64. Dan Haggerty, actor
  65. Sylvan Barnet, art critic
  66. Richard Libertini, actor known for parts in Barney Miller, among others
  67. Kitty Kallen, singer
  68. Judith Kaye, jurist
  69. Florence King, writer
  70. Pat Harrington, actor
  71. Pierre Boulez, musician
  72. Helmut Koester, historian
  73. Dale Bumpers, politician
  74. Guido Westerwelle, politician
  75. Ronnie Corbett, comedian
  76. Cliff Michelmore, whom I miss every election night
  77. David Bowie, musician
  78. Carolyn D. Wright, poet
  79. Alan Rickman, actor
  80. Glenn Frey, musician
  81. Forrest McDonald, historian

And here are some notables who have died since, in no particular order:

  1. Drew Lewis, the archenemy of American organized labor
  2. Billy Paul, who sang “Me and Mrs Jones”
  3. Jenny Diski, novelist and critic
  4. Daniel Berrigan, priest and antiwar activist
  5. Abel Fernandez, actor
  6. Candye Kane, musician and sex worker
  7. Mark Laneeminence grise of the “Who Killed Kennedy?” industry
  8. Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, symbol of a forlorn hope
  9. Julius LaRosa, singer, actor
  10. Fritz Stern, historian
  11. Morley Safer, newsman
  12. Burt Kwouk, actor
  13. Mell Lazarus, cartoonist
  14. Ivor Robinson, physicist
  15. Morton White, philosopher, intellectual historian
  16. Muhammad Ali, boxer
  17. Theresa Saldana, actor
  18. George Voinovich, politician
  19. Ann Morgan Guilbert, actor
  20. Jo Cox, politician
  21. Anton Yelchin, actor
  22. Ralph Stanley, musician
  23. Bud Spencer, actor
  24. Alan Young, actor
  25. Michael Cimino, filmmaker
  26. William Armstrong, former US Senator from Colorado who moved to Maryland and explored the idea of running for US Senator from there
  27. Alvin Toffler, futurist
  28. Yves Bonnefoy, poet
  29. Elie Wiesel, writer and activist
  30. Noel Neill, the real Lois Lane, and apparently part of the visual inspiration for Lisa Simpson
  31. Abbas Kiarostami, filmmaker, central figure of the Iranian New Wave of the 1990s
  32. Abner Mikva, politician and jurist
  33. John McMartin, actor
  34. Norman Abbott, pioneering television director
  35. Sydney Schanberg, who told us about the killing fields of Cambodia, then kept telling us other things we didn’t want to know
  36. John Brademas, politician and educator
  37. Carolyn See, novelist and educator
  38. Billy Name, photographer and eccentric
  39. Garry Marshall, film-maker
  40. Elaine Fantham, classical scholar
  41. Mari Gilbert, who campaigned to make us remember homicide victims, dead as the result of a homicide
  42. Tim LaHaye, fantasy novelist
  43. Jack Davis, cartoonist and writer for Mad magazine
  44. Piet de Jong, onetime Dutch premier
  45. Patrice Munsel, singer
  46. Pete Fountain, clarinetist
  47. Marni Nixon, singer
  48. Gloria deHaven, actor who so perfectly embodied Old Hollywood as to have been cast in her first major part because Charlie Chaplin had the hots for her (no apparent relation to Bruce deHaven, a football coach who also died this year)
  49. Kenny Baker, who was often inside R2D2 when they were making Star Wars, and who acted in a number of films
  50. Fyvush Finkel, actor
  51. Ernst Nolte, historian
  52. Jack Riley, actor
  53. Antony Jay, co-creator of Yes, Minister
  54. Toots Thielemans, musician
  55. Steven Hill, actor
  56. Rudy Van Gelder, recording engineer
  57. Gene Wilder, actor
  58. Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan
  59. Phyllis Schlafly, arch-nemesis of American feminism and all allied movements
  60. Robert Timberg, journalist
  61. Edward Albee, playwright
  62. His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej, a.k.a. Rama IX, King of Thailand
  63. Dario Fo, who won the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature for reasons that have never been explained
  64. W. P. Kinsella, novelist
  65. Charmian Carr, actor
  66. Buckwheat Zydeco, musician
  67. Herschell Gordon Lewis, film-maker
  68. Curtis Roosevelt, author
  69. Gloria Naylor, novelist
  70. Irving Moskowitz, doctor turned businessman turned well-meaning menace
  71. Agnes Nixon, soap opera mastermind (no apparent relation to Marni Nixon)
  72. Shimon Peres, statesman
  73. Jim Zapp, baseball player
  74. Lowell Thomas, junior, film-maker and politician
  75. Arnold Palmer, golfer
  76. Neville Marriner, conductor
  77. Peter Allen, announcer of the Metropolitan Opera’s radio broadcasts
  78. Jacob Neusner, the most-published scholar in the world
  79. Andrzej Wajda, film-maker
  80. Patricia Barry, actor
  81. Phil Chess, record producer
  82. Robert Weber, cartoonist
  83. Donald Henderson, who led the project that eliminated smallpox (who died shortly after I mentioned that his portrait ought someday to adorn US currency)
  84. Jack Chick, cartoonist, crackpot
  85. Tom Hayden, activist, politician
  86. Bobby Vee, singer
  87. Nicholas Braithwaite, onetime Grenadian premier
  88. Tammy Grimes, actor, star of a show that was on opposite Star Trek in 1966
  89. Don Marshall, actor, one-time guest star on Star Trek (after Tammy Grimes’ show was off the air)
  90. Natalie Babbitt, children’s author
  91. Gene LaRocque, naval officer, antiwar activist
  92. Clive Derby-Lewis, pro-Apartheid politician and murderer (but I repeat myself…)
  93. Kay Starr, singer
  94. Leonard Cohen, poet, songwriter, singer
  95. Janet Reno, politician
  96. Robert Vaughan, actor, political scientist
  97. Pat Summitt, basketball coach
  98. Maurice White, musician
  99. Gordie Howe, hockey player
  100. John McLaughlin, Jesuit priest turned Washington pundit
  101. Leon Russell, musician
  102. Gwen Ifill, journalist
  103. Mose Allison, singer, songwriter
  104. Melvin Laird, politician
  105. Ralph Branca, baseball player
  106. Denton Cooley, heart surgeon
  107. Florence Henderson, actor
  108. Fidel Castro, tyrant
  109. Ron Glass, actor known for a part on Barney Miller, among other things
  110. Fritz Weaver, actor
  111. Van Williams, actor, star of a TV series spoofed by Burt Kwouk
  112. Bruce Mazlish, historian
  113. Grant Tinker, television executive
  114. Mark Taimanov, chess champion and concert pianist
  115. Don Calfa, actor known for parts on Barney Miller, among other things
  116. Peng Chang-kuei, the inventor of General Tso’s Chicken
  117. Philip Knightley, writer
  118. John Glenn, on two separate occasions holder of the record as the oldest man to visit outer space
  119. A. A. Gill, writer
  120. Jim Prior, politician (not to be confused with hockey announcer Jim Prior, who also died in 2016)
  121. Ralph Raico, economist and staunch disciple of Murray Rothbard
  122. Shirley Hazzard, author of The Transit of Venus
  123. Alan Thicke, entertainment personality
  124. Thomas Schelling, economist and geopolitiker
  125. Bernard Fox, actor best known as Colonel Crittendon from Hogan’s Heroes
  126. E. R. Braithwaite, diplomat and author of To Sir, With Love and Honorary White, among other excellent books
  127. Henry Heimlich, lifesaver extraordinaire
  128. Benjamin Gilman, politician who helped get people out of jail
  129. William Hudnut, former mayor of Indianapolis who moved to Maryland, and did William Armstrong one better by actually getting elected to a mayoralty there
  130. Zsa Zsa Gabor, who pioneered the art of being well-known for one’s well-knownness
  131. Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, dutiful grandson
  132. Louis Harris, king of the pollsters
  133. Lawrence Colburn, one of the helicopter men who stopped the My Lai massacre, saving hundreds of lives and preserving the honor of the American military
  134. George Michael, singer and songwriter
  135. Vera Rubin, astronomer who played a key role in the discovery of most matter
  136. George Irving, actor whose name I noticed for the first time just a day before he died. He played the Heat Miser in 1974’s “Year Without a Santa Claus.”  On Christmas I happened to be in a room where that was playing, the voice struck me as familiar, so I looked at the credits to see if it was associated with a recognizable name.
  137. Hans Tietmeyer, central banker who saw better than anyone what the Euro would mean
  138. Carrie Fisher, actor and writer, who had hilarious roles in both of the two good movies to come from Saturday Night Live.
  139. Richard Adams, novelist
  140. Duck Edwing, cartoonist and writer for Mad Magazine
  141. Debbie Reynolds, actor, mother of Carrie Fisher, whose most famous ovie role often reminds people of Marni Nixon
  142. Joyce Appleby, historian
  143. Chris Cannizarro, baseball player
  144. Edwin Goldwasser, physicist and administrator
  145. William Christopher, actor who appeared in TV military comedies such as Hogan’s Heroes and M*A*S*H

So that averages out to a little more than one person I’d heard of dying every 36 hours. That doesn’t really sound like all that high a rate of death, since the total number of people whose names I would recognize must run into six figures.

*Not including people whose names I didn’t recognize, but who became famous after death. So for example, Ambassador Andrei Karlov and his assassin were household names by the end of 2016, but I’d never heard of either of them until they were both dead.