20150104

Religion, counter-religion, and the weirdness of modernity

I. Cultural Space and the Problem of Secularity
It can be supposed that in every age there are men who take for granted the peculiarities of the spatial-temporal location in which they happen to find themselves. But in every age there is also a connection to the past through living ancestors, myths, rituals, institutions, names, recorded history, and so on; and a connection to the future through concern for one's descendants, as well as the maintenance of myths, rituals, and so on.

Such a connection can be called vertical, as it extends up and down in time—as opposed to horizontal cultural connections which exist between people of the same generation. Today, of course, we are notably lacking in vertically transmitted ideas and practices, and rather than calling the past back into conscious (and unconscious) life through myth and ritual, we often see our own cultural past as a strange place with foreign values and customs. This is, in part, because older and younger people do not socialize with one another in the same ways, or with the same frequency, that they did only a century ago. As nydwracu explains:
The single most obvious and most important difference between our time and most others is the segregation of generations: the break in communication across age groups. People today spend the first two and a half decades of their life socially isolated from everyone not within five years of them, with very few exceptions, most of whom are authority figures barred by their position from exerting the subtler and more effective forms of social influence.
[...]
Our cultural reference points are no longer vertical, handed down over the centuries like a folk song or a nursery rhyme, but horizontal, stratified across timespans of decades at best. Very few creations of the mass media enter into the vertical cultural consciousness.
This means that as we are culturally severed from our collective past, horizontal cultural commonalities become stricter, more regimented, than they would otherwise be. As non-age-related peer groups diminish in importance, it becomes ever more socially disadvantageous not to fit in with people one's age. The postmodern condition could be said to have at its fundament the dissolution of vertical culture as well as the corresponding stratification of horizontal culture:
First, societies learn by the process of making mistakes and passing down regret. This regret collects as wisdom and forms social norms, which are then passed down to the younger generations. Generation segregation obstructs this transmission of social norms: children today cannot learn from the mistakes of their elders because they rarely interact with them. The younger generations are left to figure the world out for themselves, and the cultural respect afforded to the sex-and-drugs lifestyle proves that they don’t do a very good job of it.
Second, generation segregation outsources the function of cultural transmission to the school system and mass media. Cultural memory breaks down and is replaced by history classes, a poor and easily politically manipulated replacement. Identity stratifies generationally: children identify not with their cultural heritage, but with subcultures composed only of people their age and defined in opposition to their parents—who define themselves in opposition to theirs.
In other words, the most important vectors of cultural transmission are no longer families, face-to-face communities, and local institutions, but large-scale managerial structures which operate on an ideological or commercial basis. This allows the conditions leading to the conferral of high or low status to change intensely from one generation to the next, and allows the motivations of those operating the vectors to diverge from those of the people on the receiving end of the cultural broadcast.

It is possible that the conditions underlying this phenomenon of horizontal cultural stratification are significantly older than age-segregated public schools and youth media culture, and have roots in what were previously vertically important ideas. After all, the distinction between horizontal and vertical, in cultural terms, is analogous to that between what are called secular and religious. Secular things are, well, secular—of the age, that is, relating to what is temporal or even temporary—and thus horizontal. Religious things, as contrasted with the secular, are correspondingly vertical, not merely connecting people to the past but to the eternal; not to some period in historical time but to mythic time. Myths, as such, thus tend to extend vertically; if a myth doesn't last long enough to enter the vertical cultural consciousnessin other words, if it doesn't last longer than a generationit effectively doesn't become a myth.

But what about myths, or mythemes—the basic units of myths—that developed as part of a horizontal cultural split, but became vertically important anyway? We have, for example, the mytheme of the rocker or Hollywood star who dies young, the activist who delivers an underprivileged group from abjection, and the bullied kid who becomes a school shooter. Mythic elements like these stretch our understanding of what is "secular" in pop culture; how far apart are rockstar fandom and the ancient hero cults?

Such a clean division between secularity and religion breaks down even further when applied to certain other examples in history: in particular, those of short-lived religious movements and long-lasting "secular" ones. The Münster Rebellion of 1534 to 1535 was religious in the sense that it was inspired by antipropertarian Anabaptist theology, but its significance was far more horizontal than vertical—in other words, while it contributed to the character of the Europe of the 1530s, it did not leave a notable effect on the European experience of the following generations. It was an event of its age.

Marxism, on the other hand, is secular in the sense that it does not concern itself with gods or eternal souls, but it has made no small mark on the cultural y-axis. It contains mythsnot only the eschatological view of history culminating in the anticipated future revolution, but specific revolutions in the pastand has inspired martyrs. We can persist in categorically separating Marxism (or any ideology) from "religion"but would not doing so make describing Marxism more difficult, or less? Would a Marxist in the 1920s have sung the Internationale any differently if he had consciously considered himself to be a religious man singing a hymn? As Mencius Moldbug asks:
Should non-Marxist atheists, such as myself, be as concerned about separating Marxism from state-supported education as we are with Christianity? If Marxism is a religion, or if the difference between Marxism as it is in the real world and the version in which Marx was a prophet is insignificant, our "wall of separation" is a torn-up chainlink fence.

But there was a period in which Americans tried to eradicate Marxism the way they fight against "intelligent design" today. It was called McCarthyism. And believers in civil liberties were on exactly the opposite side of the barricades.

As non-Marxist atheists, do we want McCarthy 2.0? Should loyalty oaths be hip this year? Should we schedule new hearings?

This is why the concept of "religion" is harmful. If trivial changes to hypothetical history convert reasonable policies into monstrous injustices, or vice versa, your perception of reality cannot be correct. You have been infected by a toxic meme.

If memes are analogous to parasitic organisms, believing in "religion" is like taking a narrow-spectrum antibiotic on an irregular schedule. The Dawkins treatment - our latest version of what used to be called anticlericalism - wipes out a colony of susceptible bacteria which have spent a long time learning to coexist reasonably, if imperfectly, with the host. And clears the field for an entirely different phylum of bugs which are unaffected by antireligious therapy. Whose growth, in fact, it may even stimulate.
In the last two centuries, "political religions" have caused far, far more morbidity than "religious religions." But here we are with Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett - still popping the penicillin. Hm. Kind of makes you think, doesn't it?
But there have always been "political religions", that is, civic myths and ritualsand they have not always sought to clear the field of other myths and rituals. Those civic religions which have sought such a monopolysuch as Marxismcould not have done so without first having a self-perception as "secular" and thus categorically distinct from the "religious religions" they opposed. And if the distinction between "secularity" and "religion" is invalidand we therefore have an illusory, even dangerous, epistemic divide separating our horizontal and vertical cultural axeswhere does it come from?

II. Sacramental Exclusivity and Vertical Discontinuity
In medieval Europe, unlike modern Europe, the State did not see its power as entirely external to matters of "religion"; but this was because one had no civically sanctioned option other than Christianity (or, depending more precisely on time and place, Judaism). In the Communist countries of 20th-century Eastern Europe, the former State religion was suppressed, but Marxism took its place. We can imagine, then, a "religious" theocracy (such as the Holy Roman Empire) as well as an "ideological" theocracy (such as the Soviet Union); we can further imagine a "secular" State whose citizens practice various religions. But there is yet another way that "religion" can function in a society.

In the ancient world, the civic religion held no monopoly on myth and ritualyet it also did not see itself as merely "secular" and outside the domain of "religion"; it shared social space with various household and ethnic rites as well as mystery cults. For all the Greek cities to keep a fifty-five-day truce for the Eleusinian Mysteries was thus both a religious and a secular matteror perhaps more precisely, it was neither. The origin of the religious-secular distinction, then, lies sometime before Christianity became the Roman (and then European) civic religion.

Indeed, we first see the potential necessity for such language when Christianity began to establish itself in the Roman Empire. Christianity was unlike other cults in that it claimed sacramental exclusivity. Initiation into the mysteries of Demeter, Mithras, or Dionysus did not imply that one could not worship other gods, or offer incense to the Emperorbut Christianity did.
We struggle to understand the persecution of the Christians under the Roman empire. Roman society tolerated a great variety of deities and cults; worship of Christ as (a) God did not in itself threaten or offend, and religious innovation was not impossible. The emergence of Christianity itself coincided with the novelty of cultic worship of the Roman emperors or their tutelary spirits, which could be included alongside other deities in existing religious frameworks.

Christian beliefs and practices were, however, radically exclusive, or radically extensive in their claims over the whole of religious loyalty. The reactions of Perpetua’s father and the presiding magistrate at her trial demonstrate palpable frustration, not just with her personal intransigence, but with her apparent misconstrual of how personal belief should and should not have functioned, relative to the religious fabric of society itself. Loyalty to father and to son, as well as support for the well-being of the emperors, were matters of piety for Romans, not of secular duty – for the secular did not exist.

By the same token, neither did religion.
Today, American Christians tend not to see any problem with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or with telling their children about Santa Claus; this is easily understood, given that such traditions are safely classifiable as "secular", or perhaps as harmless traditional additions to a more fundamental religious perspective, and are therefore licit for "religious" people to participate in. Jehovah's Witnesses, however, do refuse such customs (and let us not forget the Puritans who banned Christmas in Massachusetts), and to that extent they reflect a view more like that of the early Christians in Romea view which existed by necessity once the premise of sacramental exclusivity had been accepted and as long as there was no category for "secular" myths and rituals which could be devoid by definition of "religious" significance. Like the early Christians (or anyone in the ancient world), Jehovah's Witnesses effectively do not recognize the concept of the secularbut also like the early Christians, they also do not recognize the legitimacy of myths or rituals outside of their own tradition. This attitude gave Christians, to the ancients, a strange understanding of piety:
The refusal of Christians to observe the elements of practice which were matters of pious duty in family and household life, and in the public sphere, led to the conflicts discussed. A profound disengagement from sociability, not merely refusal to acknowledge the gods of Rome, led to labelling as “atheists”. In their rejection of pagan religion Christians were not therefore regarded simply as upstarts or annoyances, but as actively irreligious, and subversive.
The early Christians' behavior, assuming a non-Christian State, thus logically implied the view Christians (and Westerners in general) tend to have today: one set of norms governing "religious" ideas, experiences, and so on, and another set of norms for the "secular". The Christianization of the Roman Empire—which, again, caused Christianity to fulfill singularly the roles of the popular, civic, and mystery cults of Antiquity—made such a division unnecessary or "moot" for a time, but it guaranteed that, once Rome lost its hegemony, civic norms (for example) would no longer by necessity be subject to the same social conditions as "religion". Once Europeans had had their sense of the sacred entirely contained within one system of belief and practice, it was not difficult for Europeans to come to allow that popular or civic myths and rituals which diverged from that system could be "secular" and therefore necessarily unconcerned with the sacred.

Thus we see the memetic mechanism at the root of our present condition of vertically discontinuous culture: Westerners today see the formalization of myths and rituals in relation to ideas of sacrality and piety as restricted to specific "religions" and outside of the "secular" sphere. This implies that if one does not adhere to any one "religion", his life is "secular" and he should therefore have no interest in what is sacred or pious, have no place to speak on matters of sacrality or piety, and so on.

III. The Mosaic Distinction and Intercultural Translation
If the distinction between religious and secular did not exist in the ancient world, and if this distinction is linked to—indeed, implied by—the notion of sacramental exclusivity, then what motivates the notion of sacramental exclusivity? It can only be the belief that other religions are false or impious. But we know from the Roman experience with early Christianity, not only that not all religions have held foreign rites or myths to be false, but that there was a time in Europe and the Near East when such a distinction—that between true and false in religion—was considered strange and offensive. Jan Assmann, in Moses the Egyptian, calls it the Mosaic distinction, given its origin in cultural memory—though not in history; that lies with Akhenaten, of Egypt's eighteenth dynasty—with Moses. He notes that the Mosaic distinction is not as historically normal as we might be inclined to think:
The space severed or cloven by this distinction is the space of Western monotheism. It is this constructed mental or cultural space that has been inhabited by Europeans for nearly two millennia.

It is an error to believe that this distinction is as old as religion itself, though at first sight nothing might seem more plausible. Does not every religion quite automatically put everything outside itself in the position of error and falsehood and look down on other religions as "paganism"? Is this not quite simply the religious expression of ethnocentricity? Does not the distinction between true and false in [religion] amount to the distinction between "us" and "them"? Does not every construction of identity by the very same process generate alterity? Does not every religion produce "pagans" in the same way that every civilization produces "barbarians"?

However plausible this may seem, it is not the case. Cultures not only generate otherness by constructing identity, but also develop techniques of translation.
[...]
Ancient polytheisms functioned as such a technique of translation. They belong within the emergence of the "Ancient World" as a coherent ecumene of interconnected nations.
This ecumene was held together by an understanding which is at least four thousand years old, namely that the gods worshipped by different peoples, though honored by different names and with different rites, could be equated by function. Thus the creator of universe was called Ammon by the Egyptians and Zeus by the Greeks, and by the sixth century BC there was a temple of Zeus Ammon. When the Romans conquered the Celts, they recognized their wisdom goddess Minerva (to the Greeks, Athena) in the Celts' native Sulis; the Roman temple at Bath is, accordingly, dedicated to Sulis Minerva. In the last book of Apuleius' Metamorphoses, Lucius calls upon the Queen of Heaven by several names, and in her answer to his prayer she offers even more:
Lo, I am with you, Lucius, moved by your prayers, I who am the mother of the universe, the mistress of all the elements, the first offspring of time, the highest of deities, the queen of the dead, foremost of heavenly beings, the single form that fuses all gods and goddesses; I who order by my will the starry heights of heaven, the health giving breezes of the sea, and the awul silences of those in the underworld: my single godhead is adored by the whole world in varied forms, in differing rites and with many diverse names.

Thus the Phyrgians . . . call me Pessinuntia . . .; the Athenians . . . call me Cecropeian Minerva; the Cyprians . . . call me Paphian Venus, the . . . Cretans Dictynna, the . . . Sicilians Ortygian Proserpinel to the Eleusinians I am Ceres. . ., to others Juno, to others Bellona and Hecate and Rhamnusia. But the Ethiopians . . . together with the Africans and Egyptians who excel by having my original doctrine honor me with my distinctive rites and give me my true name of Queen Isis.
Note that the Queen of Heaven having a true name or verum nomen, in this case, does not at all imply an antagonism towards other peoples and their differing rites and names; that a Christian might consider Her true name to be Mary is in this context entirely understandable, for it means only an inferior level of initiation, as Assmann puts it, on the part of those who call her by other names, and not at all a falsehood of faith.

There are innumerable other examples of such translations, because the Mosaic distinction was simply absent from the ancient worldview.
The Mosaic distinction was therefore a radically new distinction which considerably changed the world in which it was drawn. The space which was "severed or cloven" by this distinction was not simply the space of religion in general, but that of a very specific kind of religion. We may call this new type of religion "counter-religion" because it rejects and repudiates everything that went before and what is outside itself as "paganism." It no longer functioned as a means of intercultural translation; on the contrary, it functioned as a means of intercultural estrangement. Whereas polytheism, or rather "cosmotheism," rendered different cultures mutually transparent and compatible, the new counter-religion blocked intercultural translatability. False gods cannot be translated.
When Moses tells the Hebrews not to worship other gods and not to venerate images, he thus prefigures the knocking down of the statue of Athena in the Parthenon by Christians in the fifth century as much as the de-Christianization of France during the French Revolution; he also prefigures, for that matter, the destruction of the tomb of Jonah in Nineveh by the Islamic State last year. Any list of such iconoclasms in Hebrew, Christian, Islamic, and modern revolutionary history would be inexhaustive.

The reason for these various iconoclasms is at its fundament the same: the cultures in question do not, or did not, have the ability to translate what foreigners find sacred into their own cultural language-game, their own intersubjective understanding of truth. In other words, they observe, or observed, the Mosaic distinction.

If the early Christians had not observed the Mosaic distinction, they would have simply interpreted the statue of Athena in the Parthenon as a representation of Sophia or perhaps of the Virgin; if the French revolutionaries had not observed it, they would not have murdered priests, destroyed crosses, or forced farmers to mark the days of the year by minerals and farming implements rather than saints. And if there were no Mosaic distinction, there would be no Islamic State.

Even today, there are those—millions of Indians, for example—who do not observe the Mosaic distinction. Their ability to translate other cultures into their own through the commonality of the gods is still impeded, however, by other cultures' unwillingness to acknowledge such a commonality. Thus Sita Ram Goel notes that many Hindus are happy to call Christ an avatar until they are informed by missionaries that Christianity is sacramentally exclusive—at which point they might insist that Christ was indeed an avatar, and that as such he could not possibly have said what is written in the New Testament. But Christianity, generally speaking, insists to the contrary that the Bible is essential, and does not acknowledge Hindu worship as a valid means of accessing God, and therefore remains incommensurate with native Indian religion. Thus, again, counter-religion can be a means of cultural estrangement even for peoples who do not practice it.

IV. From Polyatheism to Postrationalism
In the absence of autochthonous systems of myth and ritual which can be translated around points of commonality into other such systems, the function of translation as a means of mediation of cultural difference is replaced by a function of lenition: cultural differences are effaced or ignored in order to facilitate a monoculture. In our case, this monoculture claims not to be a culture in the same way that other cultures are, but rather presents itself as an immanent "secular" frame in which all people(s) live, and which is added onto or concealed by "religious" frames of experience.

Narratives of secularism which present the "secular" frame this way, as simply the reality which remains when "religion" is taken away, are referred to by Charles Taylor as "subtraction theories"—and indeed the concept of "the secular" as most commonly articulated would seem to imply a subtraction theory, given that it distinguishes itself by its being outside of "religion".

Note that this is exactly what counter-religions do: present themselves as outside of, and even against, all other religions. Every counter-religion has its own sort of subtraction theory—that when the false gods of the infidels are abolished or subtracted, what will remain is the real, living god of the true faith.

Thus we see the origin of modern ideological thinking—or, as nydwracu calls it, monoatheism—in the Mosaic distinction:
Monoatheism can’t abide the Outside. Cladistic inheritance from religions of conquest manifests in a spectrum between genocidal fantasies and occasional incomprehension. Preserve the Union! Make the world safe for democracy!
Those who find themselves outside of the dominant monoatheism, but still living in the "secular" frame, are then polyatheists:
Polyatheism is a Marcusean monoatheism: it cannot tolerate a monoatheism that takes itself seriously, and when it cannot escape it or syncretize it into oblivion, it must declare defensive jihad. Get off my lawn!

Monoatheism preaches the end of history. (Fukuyama ignored the past and present of his own areligion.) Polyatheism awaits its return. Time and space shall rise again!
How might a polyatheist escape, not only socially but epistemically, from the "secular" frame and therefore from monoatheism? Enter postrationalism:
As you might imagine, postrationality has a lot in common with rationality. For instance, they share an epistemological core: both agree that the map is not the territory, and that concepts are part of the map and not part of the territory, and so on. Also, the two movements share some goals: both groups want to get better at thinking, and at achieving their object-level goals.
But the movements diverge in the way that they pursue these goals. In particular, rationality tends to give advice like “ignore your intuitions/feelings, and rely on conscious reasoning and explicit calculation”. Postrationality, on the other hand, says “actually, intuitions and feelings are really important, let’s see if we can work with them instead of against them”.
Thus the key insight of postrationalists is that people not only tend to ascribe emotional or narrative significance to their own actions, to the actions of others, and to the world in general, but also benefit from acting in accordance with these ascriptions (rather than aiming to work against them). Ashley Yakely articulates postrationalism similarly, but in terms of perspective:
Darcey writes, “actually, intuitions and feelings are really important, let’s see if we can work with them instead of against them”. I’ll go further: intuitions and feelings are inseparable from the texture of truth.

Perspectives have plurality. We adopt different perspectives in different contexts, even as they are part of a larger perspective. Culture is by-and-large commonality between perspectives. This is why cultural difference is so difficult and yet so interesting.
This means that ancient polytheisms allowed different perspectives to recognize the same truth; the multiplicity of perspectives in the ancient world was sustained by the agreed-upon unity of divinity. Given the lack of such a method of translation today, there is also no such multiplicity of thedish perspectives. Postrationalists notice this:
Post-rationalism has space for (pagan) religion in a way that rationalism doesn’t seem to. This is important to me not because religion is “accurate”, but because it is broadly healthy. We know this because of its ubiquity: people naturally tend to be religious, though as Blake pointed out, no one particular religion is natural.

Alain de Benoist says that pagan religion is not a matter of believing in the gods, but awakening to their presence. I consider this awakening as the gaining of a new perspective, one that admits the presence of the gods. For example, the Sun is a god, known by many different names (Sunna, Helios, Saulė, Amaterasu etc.), that one can literally point to on any sunny day. A religious perspective can allow and value all of these without dissonance:
  • The Sun is ball of hydrogen and helium plasma (per TMBG)
  • The Sun is the source of all energy and life on Earth.
  • The Sun is sacred.
  • I shall give thanks to the Sun.
  • I shall pray to the Sun, and at the right time.
  • It is said, the Sun sulked in a cave until she was lured out by a stripper with a mirror. (for example)
This may seem strange or trite to us, but the development of perspectives is a collective, social process as well as an individual process, and living in a deeply un-pagan culture it’s difficult to enter such perspectives in a genuine way (despite much effort from some quarters).
Therefore a postrationalist living in the West today might see before him a massive undertaking: that of not only awakening to the presence of God/the gods (as we'll soon see, these terms are best understood as interchangeable), but of allowing others to awaken similarly. He might have as his goal merely the mental and social health which comes with religious devotion (understood as systematic ritual based on ascription of emotional or narrative significance to the self, others, and the world); he may see the utility of ethnic religion in the preservation of presently threatened peoples among Europe and her diaspora; he may also have the sense that there is a certain sort of truth which only immersion in a religious perspective can offer, a truth above and beyond what is merely human.

V. Religiō
So what is religion, anyway? We've already determined that the distinction between it and secularity is tenuous at best, but we've avoided until now the matter of its definition. Perhaps the most helpful way to think of religion, especially for a postrationalist, is by understanding the Roman concept of religiō.
Despite some continuity of actual doctrine, what we call religion in twenty-first century Australia is not the same in structure or character as ancient constructions of the relationship between religious belief and the rest of life. Religio in Latin, Tertullian’s or anyone else’s for that matter, does not mean “religion” in the sense of one belief system among others, but the piety or scrupulosity with which cultic and other duties are carried out.

Roman “religion” (as we might persist in seeing or analysing it) was, despite its apparently pluralistic character, coterminous with culture and society itself, and hence left little room for genuine diversity or dissent. We can only understand it as “religion” in the modern or post-modern sense by the artificial excision, from the ancient set of beliefs and practices, of certain elements which make sense to us as religion. …

Constantine’s recognition of the Church involved discernment of the potential for the growing Christian movement to achieve for the Empire what the cultic worship of the Emperors themselves had not: namely a coherent belief and ritual system which was not ethnically-prescribed, but capable of universal relevance.
Thus when we speak of "pagan religion" we are really speaking of certain aspects of historically normal human culture, sans the Mosaic distinction. The terms "pagan" and "heathen", along with "gentile", "unbeliever", and "infidel", are counter-religious in origin, coined not as positive appellations but as terms of contradistinction. Due to their proliferation, we are now liable to reify "paganism" as some distinctive form of religion which is unlike the rest; it is crucial not to make this mistake.

Let us speak, then, not of religion—unless we take the time to define the term as the following—but of myth and ritual as well as the piety or religiō with which one carries out one's duties (including, but not limited to, rituals). A religious person, then, can be defined, not as one with a strong belief in a specific proposition about the divine, but rather one who acts dutifully, whether in regard to spirituality or another aspect of life.

Now we have a truly difficult question before us: how are we to redevelop such a culture that piety or religiō is not unthinkable? Relatedly, how are we to see the history of Europe given this understanding of religion? and what is a present-day Westerner to do if he is inclined toward spiritual practice but unsatisfied by Christianity? Furthermore, what of the Christian traditionalists who care deeply for their heritage and do not see themselves as "spiritual Semites", in the words of Pope Pius XI? And if Christianity has been European long enough to be irretractable from the European soul, what is to be done as the Pope calls for mass immigration into Europe—the Dalai Lama, notably, has spoken against it—and the low church kowtows to monoatheist orthodoxy?

The answers to these questions, and others, will be the substance of our next post.

20140809

The problem of pseudology

In any discussion of words and their meanings, a distinction must be made between denotation (the "literal" meaning of a word), connotation (a word's emotional associations), and exosemantics (a word's associations with group identity). Words differ not only in the quality of their denotation (e.g. red and green), connotation (e.g. stuff and shit), or exosemantic content (e.g. firefly and lightning bug); they may also differ in their degree of each of these qualities, and in some cases may be effectively lacking in one or more of them (for example, for words like damn and fuck to be used as expletives, as in "This damned toaster ain't working!" or "Get in the fucking car!", they are intentionally voided of denotational content). So a word or phrase with three different illustrations in the dictionary has a heavy denotational load; a moving or sentimental statement can be said to have a heavy connotational or emotional load; and a word strongly associated with a certain group has a heavy exosemantic, thedish, or associative load. This third element is less frequently discussed, its importance often underestimated.
Another clue that children find language difficult is that they become agitated when someone speaks the 'wrong' language. An English-German bilingual child, Danny, was speaking to a German-speaking researcher; trying to help, his mother (who normally only used English with him) asked, Was macht der Vogel? ("What's the bird doing?") Danny, startled, told his mother, Nicht 'Vogel'! ("Not Vogel!") He point[ed] to the researcher and said Du Vogel ("You bird"), and to his mother and said Du sag 'birdie' ("You say birdie").

Another example: an Italian-German bilingual girl, Lisa, became upset and started to cry when an Italian friend spoke to her in German. On another occasion, Lisa's father said something to her in German, and she responded, No, tu non puoi! ("No, you can't!") Keeping two largely unknown language systems separate is a tricky task, and associating each with different people helps: Lisa can count on knowing that whatever Daddy says is Italian. If anyone in her life could use either language at any time, the learning task would become much harder.
So Lisa did not simply know Italian or German; she knew each as a language-game limited to certain people. We see thus the importance of associative load. Now clearly Vogel and birdie do refer to very real things; in other words, they are denotationally sound. They are not emotionally loaded at all. The exosemantic content also cleaves perfectly between German and English, or more precisely in this case, between those meant to speak German and those meant to speak English, according to Danny, and it thus proves vital to Danny's ability to make sense of the world through language—and further, we thus see how an exosemantic mismatch, as it were, such as that of Danny hearing his mother speak in German, leads naturally to emotional responses, effectively coloring the connotation of anything heard in a language when it is spoken by the "wrong" person.

But not all words have the usage-convenience of having their exosemantic content superordinate and prior, and not subordinate or consequent, to their denotational and connotational content. Imagine a term with a broad, unclear denotational scope and a thousand-pound emotional load. Then imagine that its usage can expand to apply to what a certain group sees fit. Imagine that it is used to negatively brand a group who, in response, continually attempt to shrink the scope of the word, reinforcing its already established emotional load. Would this word not be a very dangerous thing?

Language is the scaffolding of thought—and, despite our best efforts at being reasonable and impartial, a scaffolding of emotion and of identity—and we cannot afford to lay meager or ill-formed foundations. If children growing up with two languages learn to rely on group identity markers to help keep them separate, how much more tenuous must our access to clear thinking be if we have different groups using the exact same words, within the same political system, to mean completely different things? Here we come upon the problem of pseudology.

Moldbug notes the problem of pseudology when he describes the language democratic governments have developed to describe democracy negatively.
One of the many divine paradoxes in our political formula is the double valence of democracy. This word, its declensions, its synonyms, carry positive associations well up in the sacred range. Deep in your medulla, warmth glows from everything democratic. Yet at the same time, we have a related family of words, such as politics and its declensions, which seem to mean exactly the same thing - yet reek of heinous brimstone.
So democracy is a positive pseudolog. It's supposed to mean something good, but bad things develop when we try to apply it. Its connotation is in a struggle against its denotation. The fine form of government we burden our imagination to conceive is being overwhelmed by negative input from reality. So, by some mystery, there's a filtering process: the negative connotational load is shifted onto other words. When the National Front wins even the smallest election in France, partisanship becomes the ostensible enemy of democracy. The wrong people won—that can't be true democracy! Likewise, the Soviet Union wasn't true communism.

In simply naming pseudology, we are doing linguistic magic. This magic comes in black and white:
The key of black magic is the art of naming the nameless, of showing that that which appears natural—that is, ideology in the true sense—is not. A secure ideology (in the man-on-the-street sense of “political memeplex”) is one that has no name. What is the name for that on which American liberalism and American conservatism agree? What is the name for that on which Americans agree? Liberalism is an -ism; conservatism is an -ism; but talk of justice, of human rights and freedoms, is not.
But practical politics relies much more on white magic: building an ideography, a set of words, or ideographs, with connotational/emotional and exosemantic/thede-signaling loads pointing in the direction desired by the ideography’s builders. This is the essence of Moldbug’s concept of ‘idealism’.
As a language evolves, its speakers gradually engage in unconscious versions of both kinds of magic. The English word cream, for example, comes—through the French crème—from a word that meant "skin" four thousand years ago. And when new technologies are developed, languages must adapt by establishing new terminology. These are natural and often unpredictable changes.

But words like democracy don't develop the relationship they have with words like populism for the same reasons cream doesn't mean "skin". That a pseudolog used as a positive ideograph would need to externalize its negative semantic baggage onto other words is far from unpredictable.

Simply naming words like democracy as pseudologs is only the first step in repairing our language from their distortion. It's the same black magic act Moldbug uses in naming the progressive latté-sipping crowd Brahmins, as opposed to the mere-middle-class Vaisyas who go to church and vote Republican, not to mention the other castes he names. But the next step, when it comes to pseudological language, is to perform the opposite operation:
There are two operations in black magic: definition and undefinition. Moldbug defines America’s castes; graaaaaagh undefines ‘racism’. Definition consists of redrawing the semantic map of the territory of the world—in rationalist terms, cleaving reality at its joints; undefinition consists of showing that an existing piece of the semantic map does not accurately represent the territory of the world, that it folds together things that ought to be separated, and that it obscures thought by doing so, such that, for example, an attack on one thing that falls under the term can be taken to refute another thing that falls under it, to which the attack at hand does not apply.
So the solution to the problem of pseudological language is to undefine it, as before with "racism". In that case, we noted the three common denotational uses or meanings of the word:

a. a preference for one's own race over others
b. an understanding that racial differences are of practical consequence
c. a hatred of other races

James Watson, the biologist who co-discovered DNA, is clearly accepting of b. He was recorded in 2007 as saying:
[I am] inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa [because] all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really.
This attracted "fury", of course—but why fury? Why not mere smug disagreement? Certainly a debate could be had about whether Watson's statement is correct. The heritability of intelligence could be discussed; the validity of the relevant data could be called into question; different hypotheses could be put forward as to Africa's future. Why didn't Watson get this kind of respect? Because Watson isn't just an "essentialist" or a "genetic determinist"—he's a "racist", as it were.

It would be bad enough if he were simply called an "essentialist", but that label doesn't have the presence, the connotational strength, of "racist". There are a lot of bad things you can call someone, but the stench of "racist" can make turpentine seem fit for a scented candle. When the other words throw parties upon the pages of Brahmin texts, they invite "racist" to roast him.

So under definition b., James Watson is a "racist". Adolf Hitler was also a "racist". But James Watson is not anything like Adolf Hitler. Watson, as far as we can tell, does not express either a. or c., but this does not absolve him of "racism". How useful can a term be if it lumps James Watson with Adolf Hitler? Monumentally so, as it turns out, so long as you've got the long end of the semantic stick. What better way to dismiss a dissenter from your group's ideology than to brand him with a label which, first of all, is universally acknowledged to be bad, and secondly, can be denotationally redefined as your group sees fit?
So "racist", in progressive discourse, is a negative pseudolog, just as democracy is a positive one. You will note the inverse relationship: When you're told that a certain electoral victory was not an example of "real democracy", the implication is of course that real democracy is a Very Good Thing. When a conservative says that progressives are "the real racists", the implication is that the real thing is a Very Bad Thing. In other words, the progressive wishes to distance his sweet ideal from the unpleasant results of its application, while the conservative who chooses to use progressive language must distance himself from what progressives hate. The contours of this language-game reveal the power dynamic behind it.

Thus conservatives who make use of progressive ideographs—pseudologs no less—are playing a fool's game. Because progressives have the power to enforce their definition of "racism" and conservatives do not, for the latter to use the word against progressives serves only to strengthen to negative connotation of the word—thus making it an even more effective ideograph for progressives to use against conservatives. If you speak your enemy's language, you have already lost the game.

Pseudology in general is not as easily avoided as simply refraining from speaking the enemy's language, however; it is natural for a thede to weaken a word's denotational specificity for the sake of maximizing its connoational and exosemantic utility against an elthede. But when you and yours are elthedish to a class whose political formula has a well-established record of success, the identification and undefinition of pseudological language takes on a certain necessity.

20140731

Excerpts from graaaaaagh's correspondence

To a fellow traveller:
The imperial 'American' culture (which amounts more or less to urban Yankee culture plus Hollywood) has impoverished America's distinct ethnic patchwork—and we are right to reject it—but that does not mean we need to ape European high culture. We're a new breed. We're a new continent. We are Western Man stripped down to his cultural-civilizational core, ready to be built back up again. We can develop high (counter)culture along different lines from what was done before, and we can do it with the ethical-aesthetical guidance of our ancestral traditions. Kentucky doesn't need a smattering of opera-houses; fuck Mencken.
In a conversation among Theden contributors:
The upper-middle class sneers with disgust at everyone below them (except non-Westerners, of course, whom they care about in a perverse sense but whom they harm in their 'help'), and pretends that the people above them don't have them in their back pocket. The upper-middle class, the Brahmins, are Yankees par excellence—they want to liberate the shit out of you in order to bring out the Yankee in you, yearning to be free, and if you resist or are categorically deemed unyankifiable, we will despise you; and anything we have not seen, other than the vast right-wing conspiracy to fund dinosaur museums and disenfranchise the illiterate, can be assumed not to exist—and the upper class and top-out-of-sight class are more removed, and seem content to let progressivism (the designated upper-middle-class ideology) pretend to oppose them while conservatism (the designated mere-middle-class ideology) pretends to oppose progressivism. They bankroll both, after all. Neoreaction focusses on the Brahmins, almost to the point of ignoring the upper class. And without the upper class, progressivism and conservatism would be most impoverished.
Between Theden's editors:
  • 17:35
    [graaaaaagh]
    if we want to advance at all, we have to exit an environment in which broad signalling is necessary
  • 17:37
    [nydwracu]
    right
  • 17:37
    [graaaaaagh]
    i.e. the dunbar unit
    people you actually know and give a damn about
    we have too many imagined communities, and they're impoverishing tangible ones
  • 17:38
    [nydwracu]
    imagined communities are a different sort of thing than tangible communities less 'communities' and more 'social technology'
  • 17:52
    [graaaaaagh]
    bingo

20140625

Extra-constitutional government in America

THE American Constitution has been for long a subject of admiration. Indeed, seldom has a people found amid the tempest which usually accompanies the establishment of liberty and independence leaders as sagacious and acute as were the founders of the Constitution of the United States. They knew history, they understood man, they fathomed the great political thinkers of the age, they gauged the noble as well as the petty passions which gave themselves free play during the period of the painful beginnings of the new nation. But they could not foresee the destiny of their country, they had no idea of the course along which it was to be carried by its economic evolution. Their work, therefore, has not altogether stood the test of time. The political and social evolution of the United States has rendered some parts of it obsolete. The Fathers did not anticipate the flood of Democracy rising above the gates erected, nor the all-pervading development of Party, nor the coming of conquering Plutocracy.

These
factors -- Democracy, Party, and Plutocracy -- taken together completely altered the direction of government and went far to reduce the Constitution of the United States to a paper constitution. Extra-constitutional forms developed, which have frequently superseded or encroached upon the constitutional order. It is impossible to understand the American government unless one has studied well those extra-constitutional forms. Nor is such study necessary only for more accurate knowledge. The constitutional mechanism itself would work in the wrong way or would revolve in empty space if the extra-constitutional machinery superimposed on it were ignored. The citizen who is supposed to propel that mechanism would fail in his task, to the great injury of himself and of the commonwealth.

Therefore
it is not only the student but the citizen too, the American citizen, who must study, along with the constitutional government, the extra-constitutional system. Its body and soul are to be found in the parties with their elaborate organization, which has grown gradually and almost concurrently with the Union.
Moisei Ostrogorski, Democracy and the Party System in the United States (1910). The extra-constitutional system consists of a good deal more than the parties, but what Ostrogorski implies here is worth consideration: an ideal of good citizenship which presupposes the necessity and utility of formal mechanisms of governing power which are not officially tied to the State, and which demands that the politically-empowered citizen be capable of understanding the workings of the system in which he is called to participate. This could be secured constitutionally by limiting suffrage to those who passed a small test on the extra-constitutional system, but in that case the vote may as well be restricted to the point that there is no longer such a cumbersome extra-constitutional system. There is always an informal side to public affairs, of course, and the one of the twentieth century's many lessons about political organization is that it is unwise to seek to get rid of it. It is equally unwise, it would seem, to place a mere "paper constitution" in charge of limiting the formal; Charles Francis Adams, Jr. tells us as much in An Undeveloped Function (1901):
Congress has all along been but a clumsy recording machine of conclusions worked out in the laboratory and machine-shop; and yet the idea is still deeply seated in the minds of men otherwise intelligent that, to effect political results, it is necessary to hold office, or at least to be a politician and to be heard from the hustings. Is not the exact reverse more truly the case? The situation may not be, indeed it certainly is not, as it should be; it may be, I hold that it is, unfortunate that the scholar and investigator are finding themselves more and more excluded from public life by the professional with an aptitude for the machine, but the result is none the less patent. On all the issues of real moment, — issues affecting anything more than a division of the spoils or the concession of some privilege of exaction from the community, it is the student, the man of affairs and the scientist who to-day, in last resort, closes debate and shapes public policy. His is the last word. How to organize and develop his means of influence is the question.
The twentieth century gave us the answer: a democratic society will, over time, undergo prestige formalization, that is, it will develop sociopolitically salient means of indicating one's class where the constitutional government had abolished them. A society with no inherited titles, few limits on suffrage, and a wide pool of human capital furnishes a massive testing-ground for signals of social status. Prestige formalization means that some of these signals will become established positional goods, gained at some cost as proof of membership in the prestige class. America, in theory, does not need knights, dukes, or princes because it has journalists, academics, and civil servants. Party, notably, has not historically been a sure indicator of class—membership comes at little cost—though it does help one guess.

Thus the most prominent positional goods in America have not only been extra-constitutional but extra-partisan; an insistence on nonpartisanism will thus not rid a democracy of the problem of politics-as-signalling. To return to the matter of limited suffrage, imagine that the United States limited the vote to males and females with at least a master's degree, a residence in a city of more than five hundred thousand people, and no more than three children. We would have a less democratic government, one less affected by the whims of the masses, and we would be no closer to changing the crucial matter of who generates prestige. In this case, it is the upper-middle class. The above qualifications, after all, are incontrovertibly bourgeois: to have paid for college, to have chosen the right place to live and the right number of children to have—these reflect a certain conception of prudence, the mercantile virtue par excellence. As the emulation of such virtuous behavior becomes more difficult for those not among the upper-middle class, commonality of norms and free competition of status signals among the middle classes—which to me are some of the most precious and interesting properties of American society—are lost, and the constitutional mechanisms of government become important vestiges of non-upper-middle-class power.

20140614

The Hajnal line of fire

In 1965, John Hajnal discovered that a culturally significant line could be drawn from St. Petersburg to Trieste. On the western side of the line, people often married late, and sometimes not at all; east of the line, women who remained unmarried for life were rare. The line can be seen almost as an ellipse, with Ireland, southern Spain, southern Italy, and much of Finland showing the same pattern as Eastern Europe. This was more similar to non-European norms; Hajnal found that the late-marriage tendency of the core of Europe appeared to be unique to the region for centuries. Later research has found several important demographic differences which seem to be associated with the Hajnal line:
here’s a map created by jayman of average european iqs (taken from here), and on top of it i’ve added the hajnal line:



the populations behind the hajnal line (i.e. the core of europe) are characterized by:
- late marriages (present since at least the early medieval period)
- small family sizes (nuclear or stem families versus extended families; also present since at least the early medieval period)
- higher average iqs, in general, than populations in the periphery of europe (see map)
- strong future time orientation, strong societal collectivism, strong preference for rules and order (Ordnung!), strong drive to succeed
- being more civic than populations in the periphery of europe
This wasn't always the case, of course. So what happened? hbdchick explains:
what happened behind the hajnal line starting in the early medieval period was:
- changes in mating patterns (thanks to the church) from close relative marriage to more distant marriages, thus breaking down clans and tribes
- changes in the economic structure from whatever the h*ll went before (i have no idea) to manorialism
- changes in family structures (thanks to both the increased outbreeding and manorialism) from extended families to smaller nuclear or stem families

all of these would’ve changed the selection pressures on the populations in the areas where these practices were adopted.

inbreeding and outbreeding probably select differently for genes related to altruism, so all of the outbreeding behind the hajnal line likely selected for different sorts of altruistic behaviors than those seen in other populations — strong societial collectivistic feelings, for instance.
The manorial structure is of particular interest here. hbdchick quotes Michael Mitterauer:
Households seem to have been a central ordering principle in this case. In a peasant society, at any rate, the primary social orientation was to one’s house, not to one’s relatives. This was an essential distinguishing feature vis-a-vis societies oriented toward descent; these kinship patterns were located around the periphery of Europe, but in the main they lay beyond Europe’s borders.
So we can imagine that in the first societies, the prime social unit was the family; in medieval and early modern Europe, it was the extra-familial household; now, in much of the West, it is the individual. We have moved from a state of clannishness to a high-trust or civic mode of organization, and then to an atomic mode, which is comfortable but, as data on civic behavior suggest, low in societal trust. The more clannish groups living in North America would appear to have an advantage in maintaining social capital within such an environment over most Whites, who—excepting Appalachia—are descended heavily from people who came from behind the Hajnal line, and are even more outbred, having a mix of ancestral European ethnic groups. The latter are adapted for civic conditions which no longer exist, while the former are well-placed to benefit from the very forces—notably the provisional State—which destroyed those previous conditions. The benefits of outbreeding seem to be undoing themselves.

20140517

To be frank

Americans of the Millennial generation—now ranging in age from, broadly, 14 to 34—are probably about as apathetic as we are said to be, on the average. But in this spirit of apathy there is a revival of the good old American intolerance for bullshit, for (with a tip of the hat to Salinger) phoniness. These are distinctly American terms, because frankness is a distinctly American virtue.

Another thing related to the general apathy is that Millennials are quite irreligious by any standard older than themselves. But I can't have that for myself. Not a fan of what my ancestors would think, not to mention failing God. I dream that I might be blessed with the sort of faith that motivated my forebears.

Religiosity only gets really weird, in American terms, with my parents' generation. With people my age, the Third Great Awakening has been reduced to a sort of drug-induced haze. We're rather lonely people, of course, and altered states of consciousness allow us to prevent this (by facilitating social interaction), while the Internet allows us to circumvent it (by allowing long-distance social interaction). But the atomization is still there.

I met an American man in Costa Rica named Warren who was somewhere in his 50s. He had been raised Catholic. I told him I was interested in the Church. That I wanted to be convinced to submit to it. That I craved blind faith. If I had more friends who went to church, I'd go, whatever the paradoxes I would have to accept.

Warren was a straight shooter, once again in good American fashion. He did construction work. He'd survived cancer. He'd worked in Taiwan and could carry on a small conversation in Taiwanese. His accent said Pittsburgh. He told me—probably after we'd both had a couple—"Hey, man. You're young. You may find that blind faith yet." There is no utterance or construction available in the repertoire of all English, as far as I know, that I could use to convey how humbling and yet honoring it was to hear that.

20140516

Gizzard stew à la graaaaaagh

My first venture into the world of gizzard cooking was broadly a success, but subpar: the gizzards were improperly fried. The gizzards from that first package which hadn't been fried were later put in a sparse and little-planned soup, however, which turned out quite well. For my next endeavor in gizzardry, then, a soup was clearly the optimal preparation. So I got another package of Tyson chicken gizzards and hearts (mostly gizzards) and got to work.

I threw about a pound of gizzards into a pot. Filled the pot with water till complete coverage of the gizzards was achieved. Boiled them for about two hours. Then I removed them and placed them in a plastic container, soaking them in a mix of olive oil, coconut oil, Cavender's seasoning, lemon pepper, a bit of honey, and a perhaps ineffectually minute spattering of cinnamon. Shook all this up in the plastic container. Then added Jack Daniel's pulled chicken to the mix and shook some more.

Now our gizzard broth was still waiting to be filled out. I added a few ounces of chicken stock, some V8 juice, a splash of milk, and a further assortment of spices and whatnot. Boiled carrots and then potatoes and then onions in this thickened base stock. Then added the gizzards and meat to the pot and simmered for another half hour or so. Once served in bowls, topped off with shredded sharp cheddar. Made for a nice thick soup. Alec, my housemate who acted once again as sous-chef, agreed that it was a meal well made.

Soup.
Stew.
This soup was already delicious, and then it got unexpectedly better. Having been left in the covered pot on low heat for several hours, the soup is now—at the time of this writing I still haven't eaten it all yet—a stew. And in taste and texture it is magnificent, better than even the original soup: as the water simmered away, the gizzards got much tenderer and looser, almost blending in with the pulled meat. A recipe to save, no doubt.