Kim Philby, Matthew Crawford and Other Sundries

I don’t usually do posts that consist of a series of quick thoughts and short points. It seems time. Things have been accumulating in the mental queue and I need to get them out while they’re still useful. I call them “sundries,” from the root “sunder”: distinct, separate. There was the old phrase “torn asunder” which I’ve always rather liked, as long as it was applied to the right person or thing. When I was a child “sundries” were the little items one got at the “drug” store. The word is little used at present. So much the worse for the present.

My last post about writer/philosopher Matthew Crawford drew some interest, but Nick Land expressed healthy skepticism on Twitter:

@Nick_B_Steves I’m normally a huge @neovictorian23 fan, but this looks like a stretch.

— Outsideness(@Outsideness) February 22, 2016

I deeply appreciate the first part, and I think I understand the second. I called Crawford “Philosopher for the Dark Enlightenment” and I meant “A Philosopher…” One letter can make all the difference. Crawford has some insights that can add value to the conversation. He probably doesn’t consider himself “Darkly Enlightened” but his placement of our entire lives, and our most basic perceptions, within our relation to other humans is a bracing antidote to the Cogito ergo sum of Descartes and the Sum ergo cogito of Ayn Rand. He’s certainly no “collectivist” but his critique of the libertarian fiction of the Sovereign Consumer making rational choices while swimming in a sea of corporate persuasion is devastating. Neoreaction needs to pursue this line more thoroughly.

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Kim Philby, Commie Rat Bastard but helluva spy.

 

I’ve been reading an old book about (perhaps) the biggest spy scandal of the 20th century: THE PHILBY CONSPIRACY: Three (and more) of Britain’s Best and Brightest, graduates of the Finest Schools and so on, whose treason devastated British (and for that matter, CIA) intelligence efforts in the 1940s and 50s (La Wik’s summary is decent). Beyond the particulars of the weakness of the British intelligence community, the lesson here is just how foolish it is for an organization, or a society, to rely on credentials as proof of loyalty. Jonathan Pollard was, of course, hired by US Naval Intelligence despite his massive drug use, loyalty to Israel and propensity to lie about almost everything. But all of those problems have been fixed now…

Oh, yeah, Snowden.

It’s easy to buy into the myth of the hyper-competent “intelligence” services, British, Russian, Israeli, American or other; television shows, movies and novels all paint a picture that has seeped into the social fabric. The reality is that they fuck up almost as often as other government agencies. Everyone who works at them has a degree from university though. I hope you find that reassuring.

Most humans (and some bots, I suspect) feel the need to write about the how and why of Donald Trump’s success (so far) in the US presidential primaries. At the moment, I’m more intrigued by the failures of the many, many “experts” who began proclaiming that Trump had no chance about five minutes after his announcement. One who has got it right (so far) is Scott Adams, best known for his Dilbert comic. You can read the chronological sequence starting with his posts all the way back in August 2015 here. One of the things I was intrigued by in Adams’s book was his laconic description of how, back in the 90s, he was twice told by his corporate bosses that his climb up the ladder was going nowhere fast because “we’re not promoting white males.” He doesn’t seem bitter–in fact it got him directed toward other things like becoming a multi-millionaire writer and artist. Keep your eye on Adams, and definitely seek to learn from his persuasion reading list.

As for the crowd who kept repeating for months and months that Trump would fall any second now…why are they getting paid to predict and write? Yeah, I’m looking at you Nate Silver. But there are a hell of a lot of others, and a hell of a lot of Republican “consultants” who should never, ever find work again.

Finally, one more book of interest; at the office they were passing around The Anatomy of Peace so I went ahead and read it too. This isn’t your usual #NRx fare (heh) but some of that New Age-Feel Good-Hippie-Dippy-Bologna…except, okay, it was good for me to read it. I tend to think of a lot of people not as people, but as obstacles. Objects. Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill effing Clinton, hell, all so-called Progs, Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, hell all so-called SJWs, rappers and other strutting Blacks, every whining “minority” on television whining about every fucking thing that ever happened for the last 2,000 years, feminists inventing bullshit rape statistics and calling for my balls to be cut off, environmentalist billionaires flying on private jets to Paris and telling me to quit using fucking paper towels…etc., etc. How long could the list be, if I really tried?

And yet–they’re, all of ’em, human beings, not just objects and obstacles. They have what the book calls ” a heart for war” and there’s a reason for that, because they’re resentful and afraid. Afraid of their weakness, their thin and cracking façade, the raw primeval truth that if white men quit turning the cranks of technological civilization they would die.

We need to have our hearts for peace, which doesn’t mean doing anything different, exactly, in speaking out against the things that we see as destructive of order and civilization. Indeed, I think I’m more effective at fighting when my heart is at peace and I see things as they really are, the sad humans on the other side, not objects but sadly misled, incorrect human beings.

Only by knowing our opposition, empathizing with and understanding them, knowing how to see the world as they see it, will we be able to overcome. They’ll never be able to empathize and understand us. That’s our edge.

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Matthew Crawford, Philosopher for the Dark Enlightenment

I’ve been reading Matthew Crawford’s book The World Beyond Your Head and am stunned by the relevance and application of his insights to Neoreaction, or, more specifically, the “Dark Enlightenment.”

Crawford is a kind of Mike Rowe with a Ph.D., mca guy who left a think tank to restore and repair motorcycles. I had enjoyed his previous book Shop Class as Soulcraft and several times reading it thought “that point is positively reactionary.” But in World Beyond Your Head he has expanded his net to embrace the whole picture of modern Western WoMan and what ails Hir, and his most withering fire is focused on the “Enlightenment” ideas of radical autonomy and individuality that have produced the atomized consumption culture that the NRx critiques. Crawford is not just pointing out the symptoms here, he eruditely traces the root causes of our ailments back to their intellectual sources; not surprisingly, these sources include some named by Moldbug and Carlyle.

I haven’t even finished the book yet, but it got me excited enough to post this, hoping some of you will want to read the book and discuss it, or promote it to the DE community. Crawford gave an excellent interview last year about his ideas, with a plethora of quotables that will give you a flavor:

INTERVIEWER: Tracing the philosophical roots of our fractured mental lives to the Enlightenment and the modern liberal project, Crawford suggests that our very ability to become individuals is under threat — and likewise the possibility for genuine human flourishing. The World Beyond Your Head is a work of philosophy, and of urgency. Pay attention.
(…)
This comes down to a question of how useful the history of philosophy is for understanding the present. It is generally thought to be in bad taste — too idealistic — to assert anything like a necessary connection between the history of ideas and cultural developments. And indeed there are so many determinants of culture that pure intellectual history misses: natural resources, demographics, sheer dumb accident, etc. But I think it is fair to ask how the fate of Enlightenment ideas in the wider society, where they have trickled down and become cultural reflexes, reflects back on the moment of their original articulation. Viewing the Enlightenment retrospectively in this way, we can discern the seeds of who we have become. We may then develop a fresh take on those thinkers, and new reasons to quarrel with them, ultimately for the sake of self-criticism.
My critique of the anthropology we have inherited from early modern thought has a couple of dimensions. The first is sociological, simply noticing how autonomy-talk is pretty much the only idiom that is available to us for articulating our self-understanding, and how inadequate it is for capturing lived experience. It is the idiom of commencement speeches, of daytime talk shows, and also of marketing: You’re In Charge, as the message on the handrail of the escalator at O’Hare puts it. Living in a culture saturated with vulgar freedomism, you may develop a jaundiced view of the whole project of liberation inaugurated by Descartes and Locke. If you then revisit those thinkers, I think your irritation prepares you to see things you would otherwise miss. You are bringing a prejudice with you, but sometimes a prejudice sharpens your vision. Sensitivity to the present, and giving credit to your own human reactions to it, can bring a new urgency to the history of philosophy. What stands out for me, and for other writers I have learned from, is that the assertions those enlighteners make about how the mind works, and about the nature of the human being, are intimately tied to their political project to liberate us from the authority of kings and priests. In other words, it is epistemology with an axe to grind, polemical at its very root. Yet this original argumentative setting has been forgotten.

This is important, because Enlightenment anthropology continues to inform wide swaths of the human sciences, including cognitive science, despite that discipline’s ritualized, superficial ridicule of Descartes. We need to be more self-aware about the polemical origins of the human sciences, because those old battles bear little resemblance to the ones we need to fight. In particular, it is very difficult to make sense of the experience of attending to something in the world when everything located beyond the boundary of your skull is regarded as a potential source of unfreedom. This is, precisely, the premise behind Kant’s ideal of autonomy: The will must not be “conditioned” by anything external to it. Today we get our Kant from children’s television, and from the corporate messaging of Silicon Valley. Certain features of our contemporary landscape make more sense when you find their antecedents in serious thought, because the tacit assumptions that underlie them were originally explicit assertions.

According to the prevailing notion, freedom manifests as “preference-satisfying behavior.” About the preferences themselves we are to maintain a principled silence, out of deference to the autonomy of the individual. They are said to express the authentic core of the self, and are for that reason unavailable for rational scrutiny. But this logic would seem to break down when our preferences are the object of massive social engineering, conducted not by government “nudgers” but by those who want to monetize our attention. My point in that passage is that liberal/libertarian agnosticism about the human good disarms the critical faculties we need even just to see certain developments in the culture and economy. Any substantive notion of what a good life requires will be contestable. But such a contest is ruled out if we dogmatically insist that even to raise questions about the good life is to identify oneself as a would-be theocrat. To Capital, our democratic squeamishness – our egalitarian pride in being “nonjudgmental” — smells like opportunity.

And this gets back to what I was saying earlier, about how our thinking is captured by obsolete polemics from hundreds of years ago. Subjectivism — the idea that what makes something good is how I feel about it — was pushed most aggressively by Thomas Hobbes, as a remedy for civil and religious war: Everyone should chill the hell out. Live and let live. It made sense at the time. This required discrediting all those who claim to know what is best. But Hobbes went further, denying the very possibility of having a better or worse understanding of such things as virtue and vice. In our time, this same posture of value skepticism lays the public square bare to a culture industry that is not at all shy about sculpting souls – through manufactured experiences, engineered to appeal to our most reliable impulses.

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Philosophical facilitator of “Black Lives Matter”

The ongoing “creative destruction” of capitalism celebrated on the Right clears away settled forms of social life. Cultural progressives find their work made easier by this; they get to re-engineer the human landscape with less interference. They do this by moving the threshold of offense ever lower, creating new sensitivities and then policing them. The institutions of civil society (universities, corporations, etc.) then scramble to catch up with the new dispensation and demonstrate their allegiance to it — by expanding their administrative reach into ever more intimate corners of the psyche. This dynamic has given us a stunning expansion of coercive power over the individual, but it has nothing to with “the government.”
That should be enough to whet your appetite for the whole meal. I think Crawford deserves much more attention from the whole spectrum of Dark Enlightenment thinkers, and this post is my bid for him to begin to get it.