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Doctorate in mathematics, specializing in probability theory, from the University of Georgia. Masters in AI from the University of Georgia. 15 years as a computer science professor at Texas Tech. Now I work as a logician for an AI startup. Married with one son. He's an awesome little dude.

I identify as an Evangelical Christian, but many Evangelicals would say that I am a deist mystic, and that I am going to Hell. Spiritually, the difference between me and Jordan Peterson is that I believe in miracles. The difference between me and Thomas Paine (an actual deist mystic) is that I believe the Bible is a message to us from the Holy Spirit, and the difference between me and Billy Graham is that I think there is noise in the signal.


User ID: 2940



3 followers   follows 0 users   joined 2024 March 18 00:39:23 UTC


Doctorate in mathematics, specializing in probability theory, from the University of Georgia. Masters in AI from the University of Georgia. 15 years as a computer science professor at Texas Tech. Now I work as a logician for an AI startup. Married with one son. He's an awesome little dude.

I identify as an Evangelical Christian, but many Evangelicals would say that I am a deist mystic, and that I am going to Hell. Spiritually, the difference between me and Jordan Peterson is that I believe in miracles. The difference between me and Thomas Paine (an actual deist mystic) is that I believe the Bible is a message to us from the Holy Spirit, and the difference between me and Billy Graham is that I think there is noise in the signal.


User ID: 2940

I cannot castigate cowards for preferring to bend when they cannot tolerate breaking.

How about we don't castigate anyone or label them as cowards when they are doing what most people do, but we recognize and promulgate what we seem to agree on: you are a better man if you tell the truth at that table and endure the discomfort than if you keep silent out of fear. I think there would be a lot more Riley Gaines's and Harrison Butkers (I pick them because they are not professional talking heads) if more people gave them a call and said, "Hey, I think what you are doing is heroic and I appreciate it".

crack a taboo shibboleth in a group conversation and you'll see the light of recognition in the eyes of kindreds

Most people, of course, are not famous and wouldn't get the platform Riley Gaines or Harrison Butker has. In this situation ("cracking the shibboleth") I think it's important to important to share the norm amongst ourselves that one of those "kindreds" is being courageous when he speaks up, and if we spoke up for each other when this happens and we are at the same table (even though it is uncomfortable) it would happen a lot more often. Not everyone has to be brave about this, but we should recognize those who are; and if we are not among them, we should recognize that they are better than us in that respect.

I thought #2 was self-evident. Perhaps I was mistaken. Do you believe it is false?

I think we can extend some charity to the normie prog

Extend charity by loving our enemies, yes, challenging as that is. Extend charity by not calling a spade a spade, I don't think so.

Most people just want friends

I think this oversimplifies something crucial, to the point of obfuscation. Every normal person wants friends, and every normal person wants to be truthful and benevolent. When someone wants friends far more than they want to be truthful and benevolent, to the degree that they recklessly, knowingly, or willfully spread falsehood and harm, what should we do about that? Should we regard them as subhuman and delight in their suffering? no. Should we speak frankly about the fact that they are doing that, even if the conversation is uncomfortable? yes. There are times when such frank condemnation is justified as I argue here, and indeed I think it is a duty.

My outgroup does not care about what they claim to care about is pretty much always incorrect.

Pretty much. But

  1. every group is someone's outgroup, and
  2. there exist group differences in intellectual honesty between ideological groups. Therefore,
  3. somewhere in the world there is a group G whose outgroup G' has a median level of intellectual dishonesty that is significantly above the median for the general population. But,
  4. everyone is tempted to think that they are group G and their ideological opponents are G', and so
  5. we should be very careful in reaching the conclusion that we are G and our ideological opponents are G'. On the other hand
  6. sometimes, by #3, when someone reaches that conclusion, they are right.

I think the argument in this case are strong enough to meet the burden of proof.

The average person simply does not invest much time in investigating causes beyond what their immediate social circle is doing.

That's right. Hence, what goes viral in a community depends on it being interesting enough to share with an average of at least 1.001 other people in your immediate social circle. What goes viral in a community tells you what really matters to people in that community. SJW's know about "Hands up don't shoot". They know about January 6. They know about Russian collusion. They know about the hockey stick graph of climate change -- but what they don't know about is the hockey stick graph of murder of blacks -- because, even if it comes to the attention of a random SJW in some dark corner of the internet, that is not important enough to share with at least 1 other SJW on average. Look at what they do have bandwidth for, and look at what they don't, and it tells you what they care about.

It is true that the average SJW doesn't know the facts of the matter we are discussing. It is also true that the reason he does not know those facts is that it is a group characteristic of his community not to care about those particular facts. The ones to who are not hypocritical on this issue are the ones who would be amplifying the issue if they knew about it, and of course there are some of those, but they must be a small minority (or else it would actually be getting amplified). You know what happens to those people? They grow up to be Michael Shellenberger, Thomas Sowell, and Amala Ekpunobi.

The average white progressive doesn't know many, if any people in black urban communities. So they are reliant on what movements like BLM say.

They would know better if they cared more. In fact, they would know better if they cared much at all. This isn't something that a person has to figure out for themselves; you just have to know somebody who knows somebody that heard about it on a podcast (or read it on a message board), and all three of you (you, the person you know, and the person they know) care about it enough to pass it on. And the podcasters and pundits themselves, whose job it is to know this and inform their audience, certainly cannot plead innocent ignorance.

This is an important theorem. It is the convergence theorem for so-called geometric series, and, to a first approximation, it describes how interesting information items spread in a community. Basically, if everyone who hears about the thing, on average, shares it with r other people, and r > 1, then it will spread until the community is saturated and r effectively becomes less than one (because a high proportion of people in the community have already heard it). That geometric growth to saturation is colloquially known as "going viral". The r-value for a certain piece of information, or video, or whatever has in a given community depends on how well that item resonates with the interests of the community. Long story short, what goes viral is what people find interesting. (Thanks for the tip. right?)

If black lives really mattered in woke culture, the discussion about the epidemic of black homicide would go viral faster than "Hands up don't shoot" -- and if they really didn't want to be patriarchal white saviors, so would the fact that white Democrats are the only group that wants to defund the police.

TLDR Progressives are not just black life utility maximizing machines, so when they don't do the exact things you think they should do, it doesn't mean they don't care, it means they have a whole stack of other moral precepts and beliefs to balance. J

Some underlying variable took off in 2015, which, as I noted, has caused more excess black deaths than the Vietnam war, the Korean War, and World War II combined, in a shorter amount of total time. This is not a nuance thing that could get lost at the bottom of the stack; it has literally had the effect of a war on black lives. You don't need to be a "utility maximizing machine" to notice that, amplify the issue, and look for an explanation. It would suffice to care, at all, about what they loudly claim to care about.

"If you really thought that abortion was murder and hundreds of thousands of innocent babies were tortured and killed each year you would do much more about it".

It's not just that they aren't doing enough (as might be said of pro-life activists); It's not even that they aren't lifting a finger; au contraire, it's that so many of them take to the streets to shout for a policy (defund the police) that predictably harms our community, harms blacks disproportionately, and that is not supported by most blacks -- and practically none of them are complaining about the others doing that.

One is clearly not obligated to be a "utility maximizing machine". One is obligated to exercise due diligence to be intellectually honest and not to do obvious net harm, all things considered. Qualitatively, you could make the same argument about anything, but whether that argument has merit depends on (1) the severity of the harm, (2) the severity of the hypocrisy in ignoring it, and (3) the clarity with which both of these can be discerned by a reasonable observer. In this case I submit that the harm is catastrophic, the hypocrisy outlandish, and the clarity crystal. Here I argue that there must exist cases like that, whether this is one of them or not.

@SSCReader if you want to give a convicting argument, I suggest you point out some of those cases and compare the woke movement to them. For example, you could say "Yes the Nazis were significantly more hypocritical than average (in 1935, before taking power), and yes the Bolsheviks were, too (in 1900, before taking power), but the woke are not -- by quantitative comparison with, say, evangelicals." I won't ask you for evidence; I'd just like to know your opinion of where some ideological groups stand on that continuum. Or do you believe we're all just human and no groups is any more or less hypocritical than any other?

They do care about the lives of black people. But they also care about not being seen to be racist and paternalistic to black communities. So they will defer solutions and conversations in that space to black people. White people telling black people that black on black crime is a problem absolutely stinks of neo-colonialism to progressives.

I can't tell whether you are saying that (A) this is what's going through their woke minds, or (B) this response has objective merit, so I will respond to both.

Regarding (A):
Telling blacks what what their problems are and how to solve them is the modus operandi of white radical progressives. "When a basic definition of each policy was provided [to 1300 blacks polled], 79% of Black parents supported vouchers, 74% supported charter schools, and 78% supported open enrollment." [source], but Democrats oppose school choice, and oppose it more the more woke they are, saying that they hurt black students [for example here]. Thomas Sowell's book Charter Schools and their Enemies establishes this pattern on charter schools beyond reasonable doubt IMO. I submit this is representative of the bigger picture of white progressives shoving problems and solutions down the throats of the black population. Progs claim that climate change disproportionately impacts disaffected minorities and push for "climate justice"; disaffected minorities want cheaper power bills and don't give an ass rats about climate change. This phenomenon also extends to the issue at hand. "Among those polled, 47% [of black Democrats] say federal budget spending should be “increased a lot” to deal with crime, compared to just 17% of white Democrats" source. It's disproportionately white woke liberals who call to defund the police on behalf of blacks, not blacks who want it.

Regarding (B):
The truth? There is no "black community". There is a shared community in which murder rates are skyrocketing, and skyrocketing disproportionately for our black neighbors -- and sitting on your hands about it because it is "their problem" and not "our problem" is depraved.

Aside from a few outspoken radicals, most blacks want more funding for the police, and almost half of them want "a lot more" (see above). So how, again, are white college girls holding up signs to "defund the police" because "black lives matter" not telling blacks how to solve their problems?

Why are yours so different? A quick search for Black mortality causes clearly shows homicide

I have the same search results as you. They surprise me a little (insofar as Google hasn't algorithmically downranked the #1 result) but they don't change my picture of what the conversation looks like. If you hear of the fact that the rate of death by homicide rate for blacks started to climb sharply in 2015, and climbed by 50% by 2020 with most of the increase coming before COVID, you probably heard that from a conservative outlet. I have never heard it from a progressive outlet and I don't expect to. If your mileage varies on that I would like to know.

It's the behavior of the on the ground individuals that I find bizarre. It sure doesn't seem like they're sophisticated enough to have a more sinister real goal and to be pushing the beliefs they claim as a cynical ruse to achieve that goal. They seem to be true believers, but about something that's completely fabricated and nonsensical.

When an animal gets rabies, it seems to decide to stop drinking water. That is why it is called "hydrophobia". This causes excess viruses to build up in the animal's mouth instead of being washed down, which would happen if it were drinking normally. The little spit that is left in the mouth is thick with rabies virus, so he is said to "foam at the mouth". Then the animal seems to decide to get mad at the world -- so mad that a skunk will attack a German Shepherd, and a German shepherd will attack its owner. To himself the rabid animal is probably thinking the equivalent, "You called my momma a name and I heard it". But what is really happening is that a rabid animal is not in control of itself; it is carrying out the plan of some other agent that has infected it, and the goal of that plan has evolved to spread the virus that carries it.

The locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; [Proverbs 30:27, ESV]

Rabbi Raphael Hirsch wrote,

Mankind, estranged from G-d, longs in vain for happiness and peace, longs for the garden of Eden, but they have chosen a way on which they will never find them! Cherubim and the flames of the sword of suffering "preserve" for mankind the road to Eden. Their message: Men cannot win Eden through his own strength; this road is saturated with blood; he will find Gan-Eden again if he is willing to be led and commanded by G-d. [Rabbi Raphael Hirsch: Commentary on the Torah]

I think Hirsh is right in that the story of Eden captures something that people, or something inside people, longs deeply for; and there are two paths that appear to lead toward it. One path respects our position as servants of a Higher Power, the position of our fellow man as being made in His image, and the constraints of the moral and causal laws of nature and human nature. The other does not -- and was aptly called the unconstrained vision by Thomas Sowell. Both are essentially spiritual in their composition. What does Marx's utopian vision look like? No divisions by class or country, no courts or cops, no private possessions, and plenty for all. Sound familiar? If you want to understand Marxists, you should think of Marx, not as a political philosopher, but as a self-anointed prophet. When Bertrand Russell met with Lenin, he unexpectedly found that Lenin regarded Marx that way:

If he [Lenin] wanted to prove a point, he thought it enough to quote a text of Marx. No fundamentalist was ever more addicted to scripture than he was to Marx. [Bertrand Russell, describing his meeting with Lenin in a 1962 interview with David Susskind]

Bolshevism is not merely a political doctrine; it is also a religion, with elaborate dogmas and inspired scriptures. When Lenin wishes to prove some proposition, he does so, if possible, by quoting texts from Marx and Engels. [Russell, Bertrand (1920): "The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism".]

when asked what they envision they're usually cagey on details,

I think Crosby, Stills, and Nash crystalized their motivating impetus pretty well:

Song: https://youtube.com/watch?v=1sH0uR2u7Hs

Lyrics: https://genius.com/Crosby-stills-nash-and-young-woodstock-lyrics

Which makes me think of the line from This is Spinal Tap: There's such a fine line between clever and... stupid.

I don't think this is true, though you use this as a foundational premise. The conversations just look very different and so you might not recognize them immediately as such.

I think if they cared about what they say they care about, they would be discussing, not just "too much gun crime", but the sudden spike starting in 2015 and what might be behind it, and whether the Ferguson contributed to it. They would be the ones starting that conversation if they cared about the lives of black people. They would be discussing that more than they discuss alleged police racism, or at least in the ballpark of as much.

I can see how the Bolsheviks weren't right, but at least has a point. Damned if I can see the point of modern Progressives though. How does it make sense that they get all up in arms over a police shooting of a black guy who, upon review of the situation, probably had it coming, but don't care at all about dozens of black men getting killed in the inner cities every weekend for decades, and it actually getting worse when their prescribed solution of "abolishing the police" gets implemented? [emphasis added by me, @NR].

Their behavior is indeed baffling if you assume that they are trying to implement a rational plan to achieve the goals they claim to have. But I don't think that is what is going on. If you ignore what they say and watch what they do, what objective does it point to?

As an aside, I think it's a bit cold blooded to say that the offender "had it coming". I suspect that if you or I had been his shoes, and walked in his shoes a while, we might have acted the same way he did -- or at least understood and empathized with his motives. I think it's more accurate to say that the shooting was justified.

And according to Pew, even the most strident progressives in the Democratic coalition still less than 50% say they want police funding in their area to be decreased. Other Democrats are way, way less supportive. So I don't think this whole anti-police leftist thing is as prevalent as it's pitched here. In other words, it's a caricature of progressives, and so the whole thing feels strongly of straw-manning.

I don't claim that most progressives want to defund the police. I do claim that if progressives, as a group, really cared about the safety of black people, then they would be talking about the dramatic increase in murder rates since 2014 (at least as much, for example, as they talk about alleged racism in policing) -- and they would be the ones asking the question of whether the Ferguson effect had a role in it.

It really kind of baffles me to imagine how they think that's actually supposed to work.

IMO this is the million dollar question. I think they are spoiled children grown up, and they absolutely take for granted the peace and prosperity "just happen" in an effortless, stable equilibrium. They think the only thing mucking it up is a few bad apples, and that if we can just put bullets in the backs of those people's heads we will get back to the Garden of Eden.

I don't really know what things were like in the 1910s Russia. Maybe the Tsars really were both incompetent and authoritarian themselves, and industry may have been dominated by a clique-ish elite who hoarded the wealth and kept the working-class down.

Basically, all of this is true. In particular, the use of Russian working-class men as cannon fodder in World War I, the inhuman conditions they lived under while at war, and the indifference of the upper classes to any of this, created morbid resentment among the lower classes toward the upper. While the common soldiers had to live under ghastly conditions of privation, cold, lice, disease, and lack of medical care, they witnessed first-hand the relatively cushy lives of the officers, and even more cushy lives of the commanders. It resonates with the American situation in Vietnam, where, because of the college draft deferment, working class and underclass men were often sent abroad to risk their lives for values held more closely by the upper classes. It also resonates with Plato's description of how the working classes lose respect for the rich when they serve side by side in war:

And often rulers and their subjects may come in one another's way, whether on a pilgrimage or a march, as fellow-soldiers or fellow-sailors; aye, and they may observe the behaviour of each other in the very moment of danger --for where danger is, there is no fear that the poor will be despised by the rich --and very likely the wiry sunburnt poor man may be placed in battle at the side of a wealthy one who has never spoilt his complexion and has plenty of superfluous flesh --when he sees such an one puffing and at his wit's end, how can he avoid drawing the conclusion that men like him are only rich because no one has the courage to despoil them? [The Republic, VIII]

The question is how to move forward from it. The Russians picked the wrong answer. Dead wrong.

Ask a progressive who is killing blacks, and they will inevitably say it is police who are responsible for black deaths.

Do you think this is a reasonable opinion? I think it is preposterous and obviously so. It is understandable for a single person in isolation to hold this opinion tentatively and weakly, but opinions aren't formed in isolation. If woke progressives actually cared about the health and safety of black people, some of them would find out for themselves that this isn't true; they would make noise about it because it is important; the people who hear that noise would make noise, and it would go viral. And/or the pundits whose job it is to know would find the truth of the matter and amplify it. What goes viral in a community is a function of the values of that community. If they cared, they would know; they don't know; ergo they don't care.

Black lives matter, ... or so you say
Radical progressives and law enforcement

Once when I was visiting my brother-in-law in Vietnam, I noticed his six year old son had picked up a stick off the ground and was playing solder with it. The little boy pretended the stick was a pump action shotgun, pointing it at one thing after another: click-clack-BANG... click-clack-BANG. I got his attention and, with my wife as a translator, showed and told him that the correct technique is to cycle the gun while it is in recoil, before acquiring the next target: BANG-click-clack,... BANG-click-clack. He tried it a few times and then looked to me, and I gave him a smile and a thumbs-up.

A few minutes later, the boy's father (my brother-in-law) warned me not to teach him things like that -- because if he repeats them at school, his family might get an unpleasant visit from the police. I apologized for the mistake and made sure not to repeat it. A few minutes later, my brother-in-law mentioned that his motorcycle had been stolen the week before. I asked him if he had reported it to the police and he said no; they wouldn't do anything about it. In a Marxist police state, that's not what the police are for.

In the United States today, a black person is about seven times more likely to be murdered than a white person, and murder is the leading cause of death among black males under 45. The problem of a high murder rate for blacks in the US is not new, but while it has received little media attention, that rate has skyrocketed over the last ten years. The rate of homicide against blacks increased by around 50% from 2014 to 2020 and has remained near the 2020 level up to the time of this writing. This translates to about 19,000 excess black homicide deaths from 2015 to 2023, over and above what would have occurred if the 2014 rate had continued. That is more than the number of black Americans killed in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined, in less time than the total duration of those three wars. Something changed in 2015 that is having the effect of a war on black people in America.

The public conversation about the epidemic of killings of blacks in America looks like something this: some researchers, such as Roland Fryer and Heather Macdonald, along with many if not most conservative thinkers on the subject, have argued that the sudden increase in the rate of black homicide is largely a result of the "Ferguson effect" -- in which police officers are reluctant to patrol and intervene in majority-black neighborhoods because of hostility toward police fomented by "Black Lives Matter" activists. Progressives, in response, say that the causal theory of the Ferguson effect is not true. If we step back and look at the debate, no matter which side one takes, what is striking is that it is generally the conservatives who begin the conversation about the problem. Homicide is the leading cause of death for black males under 45, and has increased dramatically in a short period of time -- and yet the very people who angrily shout that "Black lives matter" have little to say about the issue until they are pinned down on it by people on the other side of the political fence. What gives?

What gives, I believe, is twofold. First, Fryer and Macdonald are obviously correct: what do you expect to happen when you demoralize, and in many cases defund, the police -- and who do you expect it to happen to? Second, I submit that their silence on this issue demonstrates that woke progressives do not actually care about the safety of black people -- any more than Lenin cared about the safety of Russian proletariat. What they care about is the power-gathering narrative that white supremacy is the root of all evil. Black-on-black crime doesn't do much to advance that narrative, and so it is not of much interest to them, no matter how many black lives it takes, or how rapidly the problem grows.

But where did the ridiculous idea of abolishing the police come from in the first place? In fact, the dismantling of law enforcement by radical progressives is nothing new. In the fourth century BC, Plato described a political faction whose agenda included moral relativism, sexual liberation, open borders, treating aliens like citizens, redistribution of wealth, debt cancellation, silencing dissenting speech, the lax enforcement of criminal laws, and, finally, stripping private citizens of the right to bear arms. Sound familiar? Plato's name for this group was demokratiko ántras (Greek: democratic men), and he wrote that when a state is governed by such men, convicted criminals are free to walk the streets. He also wrote that such a state it is on the precipice of tyranny [The Republic, VIII]. In two previous Substack posts (here and here), I have written in more detail about the correspondence between Plato's narrative and the woke agenda.

The gutting of pre-existing law enforcement structures was also a common theme in the communist revolutions in both Russia and China -- though in China, the focus was on prosecutors and judges rather than police officers. I will discuss the Russian case in more detail below. In any case, it seems that going back to the time Plato, the playbook of leftist tyranny has included the following essential steps:

  1. Dismantle the existing structures of law enforcement;
  2. confiscate weapons owned by private citizens;
  3. establish a secret police force to terrorize political opponents.

The secret of the "secret police" is that they are not really police at all, but a gang of thugs who operate by whatever rules they invent as they go, and whose purpose is to terrorize and silence ideological opponents of the ruling party. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia said that on paper, the Soviet Union had a bill of rights that was better than the American bill of rights, adding "I mean it literally. It was much better" [source]. But the Soviet bill of rights didn't matter, because, in the Soviet Union, there was no de facto remedy for the violation of one's de jure rights. Indeed, a state terror organization like the Cheka or KGB cannot possibly operate alongside an organization that actually enforces the law. Thus, if it isn't really black lives that matter, but establishing a one-party police state, then abolishing the (pre-existing) police is not such a stupid idea after all. On the contrary, it is the first step in a proven plan with a long tradition!

Lenin's Abolition of the Police
Recall that in 1902 Lenin wrote,

The Social-Democrat's ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalize all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat. [Lenin (1902): "What is to be done?"]

In a previous post, I discussed how Lenin urged his followers to blame class exploitation for every problem in the world (and also, to view everything as a problem, even if it was never a problem before). In this article, I would draw the reader's attention to Lenin's description of the enemy that is to blame for all these problems, large and small: a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation. For Lenin, the class enemy of the bourgeoisie was intimately tied with the institutions of law enforcement.

The police forces that existed in Russia before the revolution were under the command of the Tsar, and included a repressive political police force as well as ordinary law enforcement. But in his picture of "police violence and capitalist exploitation", Lenin didn't distinguish between the two. In the Marxist view, ownership of private property was theoretically illegitimate in the first place -- and so the police's role in preventing Bolsheviks and their constituents from stealing money and other valuables that they wanted to steal (or "expropriate", as they put it) was, in their view, a form of oppression. The revolutionaries further regarded laws against assaulting whomever they wanted to assault as a form of oppression: after all their targets were capitalist bourgeoisie exploiters, or alleged to be as part of the justification of the would-be crime, and murder and theft were just what they had coming.

Lenin had advocated open war on the police for years leading up to the 1917 revolution. For example in 1905 he wrote,

Practical work, we repeat, should be started at once. This falls into preparatory work and military operations. The preparatory work includes procuring all kinds of arms and ammunition, securing premises favorably located for street fighting -- convenient for fighting from above, for storing bombs and stones, etc., or acids to be poured on the police, etc., etc.

...To launch attacks under favorable circumstances is not only every revolutionary’s right, but his plain duty. The killing of spies, policemen, gendarmes, the blowing up of police stations, the liberation of prisoners, the seizure of government funds for the needs of the uprising — such operations are already being carried out wherever insurrection is rife, in Poland and in the Caucasus, and every detachment of the revolutionary army must be ready to start such operations at a moment’s notice. [Lenin (1905): "Tasks of Revolutionary Army Contingents"]

Lenin knew that his regime would not be able to operate as planned alongside the existing system of courts and police. On the eve of the October 1917 revolution, he wrote,

The liberation of the oppressed class is impossible not only without a violent revolution, but also without the destruction of the apparatus of state power which was created by the ruling class. [Lenin (1917): “The State and Revolution”]

But what would function in place the “apparatus of state power”? This would be the subject of a diabolical bait-and-switch. Before coming to power, Lenin called for abolition of the police and their replacement by a collective of armed citizens [Lenin (1917): "Tasks of the Proletariat in our Revolution"]. Lenin's followers probably imagined something along the lines of the CHAZ autonomous zone created by BLM activists in Seattle in 2020. Lenin probably laughed to himself and imagined the Cheka.

As the revolution unfolded, the Bolsheviks initially delivered on their promise to abolish the police, including both the Okhrana (Tsarist secret police) and regular law enforcement. Not only were the existing police departments wiped out as government agencies; the 1918 Soviet constitution revoked the right to vote for all former police officers -- along with other alleged class exploiters, including clergymen, former business owners, and anyone deemed "selfish or dishonorable" by the Soviet authorities:

The following persons enjoy neither the right to vote nor the right to be voted for, even though they belong to one of the categories enumerated above [as having the right to vote], namely:

  • Persons who employ hired labor in order to obtain from it an increase in profits.
  • Persons who have an income without doing any work, such as interest from capital, receipts from property, etc.
  • Private merchants, trade and commercial brokers.
  • Monks and clergy of all denominations.
  • Employees and agents of the former police, the gendarme corps, and the Okhrana [Czar’s secret police], also members of the former reigning dynasty.
  • *Persons who have in legal form been declared demented or mentally deficient, and also persons under guardianship. *
  • Persons who have been deprived by a Soviet of their rights of citizenship because of selfish or dishonorable offenses, for the period fixed by the sentence.

The 1918 Soviet constitution further stipulated that "all workers be armed, and that a Socialist Red Army be organized, and the propertied class be disarmed". The collective of armed citizens was off to a good start, at least on paper, but this clause was also the beginning of gun control in the Soviet Union. In the initial phase, the Soviet government only disarmed their intended victims at the time, which consisted of people in categories designated as bourgeois.

Eventually, however, the entire civilian population would be disarmed, and the entire civilian population would also become victims or potential victims -- since anyone, at any time, might do something the authorities deemed "selfish or dishonorable" -- such as say something that the Soviet government did not want other citizens to hear, even if saying it was OK to say and hear the day before. In 1924, all private citizens, bourgeois and proletarian alike, were stripped of the right to own pistols and rifles, and private gun ownership was restricted to shotguns -- which were required to be licensed and registered, and could only be owned for the purpose of hunting. In 1939, the Soviet government confiscated all privately owned firearms. So much for a collective of armed citizens.

The wave of criminal savagery that ensued following the October 1917 revolution was beyond comprehension for most Westerners today. It is difficult to isolate the effect of Lenin's abolition of the police on this crime wave, because a civil war commenced in which atrocities including mass looting and, mass murder, and mass rape were routinely committed on both sides. However, within two months of the Bolshevik coup d'etat in October 1917, Lenin formed the Cheka -- the secret police agency of the Soviet Union that would later evolve into the KGB. So much for abolishing the police.

I am extremely skeptical of Dreher's claim to skepticism here.

I'm convinced. I changed it to "Dreher had good reason to be skeptical".

It is also, incidentally, what in my view makes Live Not By Lies such a tedious and intellectually sterile book - most of LNBL is just Dreher describing something in the USSR, then describing something in 21st century America which does not particularly resemble it, and then asserting that they're the same.

I don't think this characterization of "Most of the book" is accurate. That is what I expected the book to be from review and interviews, but I found that most of it consisted of stories of Eastern Bloc dissidents and their advice to fellow dissidents. Little of the text, after the introduction, refers to concrete events happening in America.

No matter what you agree with or disagree with in theory, I think it is worth reading for the stories of the dissidents alone, and I can't imagine describing it as "tedious" or "sterile". The book actually set me up for a serious change in my worldview. It so happened that I read Dreher's Live Not by Lies and Hazony's Conservatism back-to-back. Dreher's book convinced me that (1) leftist tyranny operates in a certain, seemingly strange manner, and (2) effective resistance to tyranny consists of living out certain principles -- but it did not explain why either of those things were the case. Then I read Hazony, and it was like reading Newton's Principia after studying Galileo's laws of gravity and Kepler's laws of orbital mechanics: Aha! This is the fundamental reason why this is this way and that is that way! I don't think any reading has ever changed (in my opinion, clarified) my worldview so much, so quickly.

On the other hand, I am also skeptical of Dreher's report about how his interviews unfolded, and I toned it down in my secondhand report. For example, where he said he talked to "many" (without saying how many), immigrants I said "several"; and I carefully claim that According to Dreher they all said yes [they see parallels], instead of claiming in my own voice that they all said yes and citing him. My guess is that his report is essentially true in its critical mass, but puffed up. FWIW the two Russian immigrants I know say the same thing.

the Department of Education has that great classic old seal with a tree on it that looks just fine

This is the Dept. of Education logo.

This is what it means to me.

As an aside, when I checked on the Julianne Hough thing, it appears she was immediately attacked and released an apology. While the pushback looks tame by 2020s standards, it’s not exactly ignoring the event, is it? Leaves me a little skeptical of your other links.

ah, darn. I did not see any stories about that prior to 2021 but couldn't find the date of the actual apology. I will have to replace that with another example when I have time. In the meantime, I just deleted the paragraph. Thanks for the catch.

With that said…doesn’t this argument work a little too well?

I don't think so. Every tribe, indeed every person, does that a little, and a few fundamentalist members of every tribe do it a lot -- but some tribes do it more often, with more severity than others. When the frequency and severity are categorically greater in one case than another, it makes for a categorical distinction. There was a real surge of this in the McCarthy era, which can be compared qualitatively to what Marxists themselves do -- but you would have to multiply the intensity of McCarthyism at least 10, and maybe 100, get something comparable with the Soviet version. Note, for example, that Lenin actually said to look for the action of the class enemy in "every event no matter how small". It's hard to imagine Reagan, or any other American president, saying any such thing.

At the fringe, there exist people who see the communist menace everywhere (as Bob Dylan wrote, red stripes on the American flag!), but I don't think there are enough of them to put that tribe in the same category with Soviet communism or wokeness in that regard. Dylan's satire is humorous precisely because real (right wing) Americans have never been that silly in any significant numbers; but it's hard these days to write satire that is crazier than SJW's actually are (or the Bolsheviks actually were). Hence, The Bee or Not the Bee.

Aye. Fixed now. Thanks for the catch.

Grandmother, what big teeth you have!
Part 3: Class oppression, everywhere, all the time

(Note: This is the third in a series of posts about parallels between Soviet communism and Western wokeism. The first two installments, on the issues of identity politics and censorship respectively, can be found here and here).

In 1902, Vladimir Lenin wrote,

The Social-Democrat's ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalize all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat. [Lenin (1902): "What is to be done?"]

This passage invokes two themes that would become part of the fabric of Soviet totalitarianism. First, Lenin presents us with an all-encompassing bogeyman -- described here as capitalist exploitation but usually referred to as bourgeois ideology -- that is associated with a particular class of people, who are held collectively responsible for every injustice that exists in the world. Second, the infernal influence of this class enemy is to be looked for and found in every event, no matter how small. Thus, Lenin urges his followers to see the specter of bourgeois oppression, not just events that would normally be seen as tyrannical and oppressive, but also in things that would, to the untrained eye, be seen as innocent and ordinary.

This article will discuss how these themes played out in Soviet communism, and, in parallel, how they are present in the modern "woke" cancel culture. The motivating impulse of both worldviews can be summarized as follows: every problem is class oppression, and everything is a problem, even if it was never a problem before. For Soviet communism, the invisible, omnipresent oppressor was bourgeois ideology, while for the woke it is white supremacy.

Every problem is class oppression
In Spring of 2015, journalist Rod Dreher received a call from a distraught stranger. The caller said that his mother, an elderly immigrant from Czechoslovakia, was warning him more and more urgently that current events in the United States reminded her of the emergence of communism in her home country in the 1940's. Dreher had good reason to be skeptical; if the world had really been going to Hell for as long as old people have been saying the world is going to Hell, we'd have been there by now. Yet, there was something about the caller's tone that stuck in his mind and made him keep asking himself, What if the old Czech woman sees something the rest of us do not? [Dreher (2020): Live Not By Lies. p. xi]. So Dreher decided to follow up. He found out and interviewed several American immigrants who had formerly lived behind the "iron curtain" of Eastern Bloc communism, and asked them if they felt that the United States was moving toward the sort of totalitarianism that they had experienced in their home countries. According to Dreher, every one of them said yes [ibid, p. xi].

Among the Eastern Bloc immigrants that Dreher interviewed, one parallel they noted was radical identity politics: an agenda of collective punishment for an alleged exploiter class, who was held to blame for everything wrong with the world. For example, in the Soviet Union, frequent shortages of food, cloth, and other goods -- which largely resulted from government planning of the economy -- were routinely blamed on bourgeois saboteurs (vrediteli) by the government-run media. In particular, the first three decades of communist rule saw three major famines in the Soviet Union, beginning respectively in 1921, 1932, and 1946. In reality these resulted largely from government mismanagement, and the 1932 famine was engineered by the Soviet government as part of a terror campaign against Ukrainian farmers -- but all three famines were blamed by the government-run media on bourgeois sabotage (vreditel'stvo). The heavy Russian losses in the Russo-Japanese war and World War I were also blamed, not just on the Tsar, but on every member of Soviet society who had formerly owned property -- another manifestation of bourgeois oppression. The outbreak of typhus in the early 1920's was also blamed by the Soviets on (you guessed it!) bourgeois oppression.

The suffering of working-class Russians leading up to the revolution was very real, very severe, and very unjust from a modern perspective. In fact, as recently as 1860 — less than sixty years before the Bolshevik revolution — about 3 in 10 Russians had lived under by serfdom, which was significantly more oppressive than European serfdom and legally comparable to slavery. The hard question was how to move forward. The answer Lenin offered was indiscriminate collective vengeance, enforced by government despotism, financed by plunder, and motivated by group hatred -- and the first step in the plan of collective vengeance and plundering was to blame the historical exploiter class for everything.

The situation in America is in some ways analogous to that in Russia a hundred years ago. Anti-black racism and slavery are moral stains on our American heritage. Moreover, serious de jure discrimination against blacks in America falls within living memory; less than 70 years have passed since Rosa Parks’s famous refusal to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Pockets of de facto discrimination remain with us, and the legacy of past discrimination is broad and deep. Just as it was in Russia a hundred years ago, the hard question is how to move forward. The woke answer is Lenin’s answer. Substitute "white supremacy" for "bourgeois oppression" and you have the motivating spirit of the woke mindset -- and, once again, the first step in the plan of collective vengeance and plundering is to blame the historical exploiter class for everything.

White supremacy sometimes goes by the seemingly less inflammatory name of "racism" -- but in the woke view, only white people can be racist; so the two are interchangeable from the woke perspective. On the woke view, blacks suffer from high blood pressure and influenza because of white supremacy. White supremacy is also at work in the deleterious effects of climate change. High crime rates in black neighborhoods are caused by white supremacy, and when a black suspect dies in the custody of five black police officers, that's white supremacy, too. The January 6 attack on the Capital Building was fueled by white supremacy, even for members of the mob who were black or Hispanic. Twenty years ago, the existence of a black white-supremacist was a motif for a comedy sketch; today it's an axiom of woke ideology.

And everything is a problem
There didn't have to be a war, or a famine, or a disease -- or even anything palpably wrong -- in order for Soviet communists to heap blame on the bourgeoisie. Lenin urged his followers to look for the tentacles of bourgeois oppression in every event, no matter how small, and they generally obliged. By and by, the Soviet communists would classify anything that offended their sensibilities in the least -- from Christianity to quantum mechanics to kitchens (sic.) -- as incarnations of bourgeois oppression. That's right: kitchens were considered by the soviets to be bourgeois -- because they were emblems of the historical relegation of women to the role of housework (the Soviets planned for everyone to eat in public cafeterias, though the plan was never implemented).

Imagine a person who has been indoctrinated to see capitalist exploitation and police violence in every event, no matter how small -- from a grand catastrophe to a kitchen. If you find that difficult to imagine, it might help to visit a college campus in today's America. The woke concept of "microaggressions" is the new fashion on American campuses -- and if that fashion does not trace its roots directly to the Leninist playbook, it is at least the work of the same demons. For example, official guidelines at UCLA give the following examples of racist microaggressions:

  1. asking "Where are you from?"
  2. saying, “There is only one race: the human race.”
  3. saying, "I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
  4. saying that affirmative action is racist
  5. saying, “Of course he’ll get tenure, even though he hasn’t published much—he’s Black!”

Microaggression example #5 above is a caricatured way of saying that black faculty members receive favorable race-based treatment in hiring and promotion. During my 20 or so years in academia in Texas, I saw this done openly and universally, even though it was technically against state law. At UCLA, it is not only openly done, but evidently required -- since microaggressions #3 and #4 say it would be racist to oppose the policy. On the other hand, example #5 says that it is also a racist microaggression to say that blacks and other minorities receive preferential treatment. This means that at UCLA -- the flagship public university of the largest state in the US -- the only way to avoid being labeled as a racist is to (1) support the policy of racial preferences in hiring and promotion, and, (2) while advocating that policy, deny that it exists. UCLA is not an outlier in this; similar lists (or the very same one) are officially circulated at many if not most major US institutions of higher learning -- including, for example, Harvard, UNC-Chapel Hill, and my undergraduate alma mater Auburn University. Is that crazier than asserting that quantum mechanics and kitchens are manifestations of bourgeois oppression? Hard to say.

... Even if it was never a problem before
Another theme Dreher heard repeatedly from those who had lived under communism was the ever-changing, ever-expanding reach of what is seen as class-enemy oppression. What counted as acceptable speech, vocabulary and behavior changed so quickly and dramatically that one never knew when "Those in power will come after you as a villain for having said or done something that was perfectly fine the day before" [ibid, p. xii].

In the Soviet Union, what counted as loyal party obedience one day might be considered bourgeois subversion the next. Leon Trotsky, who led the 1905 revolution along with Lenin, was himself assassinated by the Soviet regime in 1940. It is not that Trotsky had changed his views; on the contrary, Trotsky's counterrevolutionary subversion consisted of not changing his views fast enough to keep up with the party line. Several other major central figures of the Bolshevik revolution -- including Pyotr Voykov, Filipp Goloshchyokin Alexander Beloborodov, and Boris Didkovsky -- all met similar fates, along with many minor figures, as well as countless ordinary people, all caught in the gears of evolving standards of party loyalty.

Woke cancel culture, while not nearly as deadly as its Soviet predecessor, operates with similarly shifting standards. For example, in 2008, tech entrepreneur Brendan Eich donated $1000 to support California Proposition 8 -- a ballot initiative designed to keep marriage in California only between opposite-sex couples. For context, gay marriage was not yet legal in California at the time, so Eich's view was arguably mainstream. Eich's view had certainly been mainstream four years earlier, when Barack Obama said, in an interview on Chicago public television, that "Marriage is between a man and a woman". Both Obama and Joe Biden were publicly opposed to gay marriage until 2012, and Hillary Clinton was opposed to gay marriage until 2013. Yet in 2013, just as leading Democrats were publicly evolving to a more liberal position on the issue, Brendan Eich was forced to resign from the board of the Mozilla corporation as a result of the sudden outrage against him for supporting the California ballot proposition five years earlier. Gotta’ keep up, Brendan!

So publicly opposing gay marriage suddenly became politically incorrect — very politically incorrect, to the point where it warrants pressuring someone to resign from their position on a company board — within 12 months after the most prominent progressive leaders first began to publicly support gay marriage. In 2014, saying that all lives matter — a phrase that would have once sounded progressive, and still did as far as she knew — Smith College President Kathleen McCartney felt the need to publicly apologize for having used the phrase in an email (gotta’ keep up, Kathleen!). When NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand for the American National Anthem, it was a bold move for which he received considerable pushback; but in 2020, when fellow quarterback Drew Brees criticized the idea of kneeling for the anthem, not only did he feel the need to issue a groveling apology to assuage the woke mob, but his wife Brittany did too, writing,

We are the problem…To say ‘I don’t agree with disrespecting the flag,’ I now understand was also saying I don’t understand what the problem really is, I don’t understand what you’re fighting for, and I’m not willing to hear you because of our preconceived notions of what that flag means to us.

Gotta’ keep up, Brittany!

Some authors have suggested that cancel culture -- collective punishment of an alleged class oppressor, over seemingly insignificant things, with rapidly shifting standards -- began in the 1990's. The fact is that it is not new, but, as is sometimes said of a pre-owned vehicle, it is just new to us. On the other hand, the Eastern Bloc expatriates that Dreher interviewed found it eerily familiar. I suppose they were acquainted with the previous owners.