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.


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
    if we want to advance at all, we have to exit an environment in which broad signalling is necessary
  • 17:37
  • 17:37
    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
    imagined communities are a different sort of thing than tangible communities less 'communities' and more 'social technology'
  • 17:52


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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


Notes on Costa Rica: polychronicity and gringohood

When I was in Costa Rica last year, one of the first things I noticed was that the costarricenses or ticos have a rather different conception of time from that of gringos like myself. In tico time, a las siete de la tarde means sometime in the evening. As a Texan, it's not foreign to me to call someone over at supper o'clock, and I lack the Yankee time-is-money mentality—aside from professional matters, that is. But in Costa Rica, the polychronic attitude—"I'll get to it when I get to it"—extends even to the enterprising classes, and they joke about it with contented self-awareness.

It's worth noting that this difference cannot be entirely a matter of different demographics. Costa Ricans are often quite European in their features and ancestry. Accordingly, the word gringo in Costa Rica seems to imply Americanness or Canadianness, with a less general racial meaning than in parts of Latin America which have a higher proportion of Amerindian ancestry. So when a Honduran or Colombian calls me a gringo, he's referring not only to my Anglo-Saxon heritage or my supposed inability to speak intelligible Spanish, but more broadly to the fact that I'm White. When a Costa Rican calls me a gringo, he's referring primarily to my linguistic nationality—this is what I was told, at any rate.

There were other cultural and infrastructural differences, however, that seemed to be associated with the ticos' polychronicity. For one thing, when you eat fast food in Costa Rica, you're more or less expected to leave your tray on the table when you've finished your meal. Someone will come and throw it away for you. Likewise with the road—in San Jose, only certain main thoroughfares were clean, and they were kept that way by hired hands. This is indicative not only of polychronicity but of a low-trust society, and this impression was only heightened by the presence of police in storefronts and metal bars on windows. You have to be visually assessed by police, and sometimes patted down, one customer at a time, to enter any bank. Costa Rica hasn't had a military since 1948, but they make up for it with the way they employ their cops.

Crazy drunk dude was encountered here.
Perhaps the most visceral sign of low societal trust, at least to me as an American and especially a Texan, was that you couldn't look anybody in the eye on the street, let alone greet them. Twice in San Jose I saw hostility because of my ingrained willingness to make eye contact with strangers. The second time, the man was obviously drunk and stood in front of me for a good minute or so rambling on about putamierdagringo as I sipped my second or third glass of Imperial from behind some thin metal railing.

Costa Ricans are not terribly hard to befriend, though, if you have a reason to speak to them and one of you can speak the other's language—and both of these are necessarily the case when you're staying at a hostel. It was a pleasure getting to know the majority of the people I met there—natives, expatriates, and other travellers alike—and this made it easy to absorb and use the native speech quickly, gradually replacing English words and patterns with Spanish ones in conversation. I also listened to local radio stations most mornings and evenings and stuck to Spanish as much as possible when speaking with vendors, officers, and anyone else I encountered on the street. I probably learned more Spanish in Costa Rica than I've forgotten since leaving—and I've forgotten much.

So much for all that. I'll talk more about Costa Rica at remember o'clock.