The real question is: will robots burn down your house and kill your grandchildren? Let’s imagine that all those self-driving trucks and the computers needed to guide them will run on electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels. Will the robots in the truck factories and the robots in the computer factories also run on wind and sunshine? How about the robots in the wind turbine factories and the solar panel factories and so one ad infinitum? I know an old lady who swallowed a fly…
Let’s assume that it is feasible to phase out all current fossil fuel consumption by 2050 and replace it with renewable, zero-carbon energy. Does that mean it is equally feasible to provide the additional energy needed to run all those job-stealing robots? Or to put the question in proper context, would it be feasible to do it without an uncorruptable, omniscient global central planning authority?
The hitch in all this robot speculation is a little paradox known as Jevons paradox conjoined at the hip, so to speak, with it’s counterpart, “Say’s Law.” The former paradox says that greater fuel efficiency leads to more fuel consumption, the latter paradox tells us that labor-saving machines create more jobs than they destroy. Here are two inseparable positive feedback loops that together generate an incongruous outcome. “Yes the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.” Or lots of jobs, jobs, jobs. Or a monthly $1,000 payment to every adult “so that we can build a trickle-up economy,” Choose your poison.
There is, they say, “a certain quantity of work to be done.” Who says that? Good question. In the beginning, it was the political economists — even proto political economists — who said it. But around 1870 economists realized that the maxim conflicted with other things they had in mind so instead of professing it they began to condemn it and to attribute the idea to others — to Luddites, Malthusians or Lump-of-Laborers. The idea that a people could always do more work was just too great a temptation. In principle, the amount of work that could be done is infinite! The robots will not replace us! The robots will not replace us!
What this job-stealing robot debate is really all about is an economics version of theodicy. “Why does evil exist if God, the creator, is omnipotent, omniscient and good?” This theological question is echoed in the puzzle about poverty in the midst of plenty and in Mandeville’s “Fable of the Bees,” where private vices promote public virtues. If it seems like robots are stealing your job, have faith, all is for some ultimate purpose in this best of all possible worlds, as Candide’s tutor Dr. Pangloss would assure him.
Taking the Panglossian philosophy into account, it becomes clear that both Andrew Yang and Paul Krugman are on the same page. They are just reading different paragraphs. Although they disagree on what the solution is, they agree that there is a solution and it doesn’t really require a fundamental change in the way we think about limits to the “certain quantity of work to be done.”
The Hurricane/Picture of Dorian Gray: A Perfect Moral Storm in Three Texts
Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital:
The temporal aspect is particularly striking,’ writes philosopher Stephen Gardiner, who has done perhaps more than anyone to foreground it, in A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change: it catches us in a bind. Given that global warming is ‘seriously backloaded’ (every moment experiencing a higher temperature posted from the past) and ‘substantially deferred’ (the cumulative effects of current emissions arriving in the future), a warped ethical structure arises. The person who harms others by burning fossil fuels cannot even potentially encounter his victims, because they do not yet exist. Living in the here and now, he reaps all the benefits from the combustion but few of the injuries, which will be suffered by people who are not around and cannot voice their opposition. Each generation, reasons Gardiner, thus faces a perverse incentive to ‘pass the buck’ to the next, which also profits from its own fossil fuel combustion while dodging the pain from it, and so on, in a vicious cycle of infliction of harm.
James P. Kossin, “A global slowdown of tropical-cyclone translation speed”:
As the Earth’s atmosphere warms, the atmospheric circulation changes. These changes vary by region and time of year, but there is evidence that anthropogenic warming causes a general weakening of summertime tropical circulation.
In his newly published Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care, Giorgos Kallis challenges what has become the conventional perversion of Robert Malthus’s economic argument. Far from being a “prophet of doom” predicting the inevitable overshoot by population growth of food supplies, Malthus was an advocate of industrial progress as the antidote to a providential discrepancy between the tendency of humans to reproduce and the capacity of the land to feed them. The theodicy of Malthus’s position was explicit and undisguised: “Evil exists in the world not to create despair but activity.”
At the core of the misinterpretation of Malthus is his famous comparison between the tendency for population to increase at a geometrical rate (1, 2, 4. 8. 16…) but for subsistence to increase at only an arithmetical rate (1, 2, 3, 4, 5…). Much of subsequent debate focused on the validity and/or logical consistency of this comparison rather than the conclusions it was intended to support.
What Malthus was trying to show, however, was not that population inevitably will outrun subsistence but that the presumed tendency of population to outrun subsistence constitutes an incentive to industry unless that incentive is blunted by public assistance. For his part, Malthus was remarkably sanguine about the controversy generated by such a rash assertion:
It has been said that I have written a quarto volume to prove, that population increases in a geometrical, and food in an arithmetical ratio; but this is not quite true. The first of these propositions I considered as proved the moment the American increase was related, and the second proposition as soon as it was enunciated. The chief object of my work was to enquire, what effects those laws, which I considered as established in the first six pages, had produced, and were likely to produce, on society; a subject not very readily exhausted.
Defenders of Malthus argue that he meant those propositions only as tendencies, which he subsequently qualified by talking about the actual checks that occur on population. However, the rest of his discussion of “a subject not very readily exhausted” is predicated on the truth of ever-present threat of scarcity presumably demonstrated by those propositions. The logical inconsistency of comparing a constrained tendency of increase in food with an unconstrained one for population can’t be readily dismissed.
Classical political economy readily incorporated the drift of Malthus’s scarcity argument into it’s theory of wages, setting aside quibbles about geometrical and arithmetical tendencies. This is the notorious wages-fund doctrine used to argue for the futility of collective action to raise wages. The defunct doctrine is what underlies the unshakable conviction of “Econ 101” devotees that raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment.
One of the circumstances that no doubt focused a good deal of anxiety on over-population was the emergence of “neo-Malthusianism” in the early 19th century. Neo-Malthusianism is a bit of a misnomer to the extent that it offered a solution to the population problem that Malthus himself expressly rejected as immoral and improper — namely contraception. In Illustrations and Proofs of the Principles of Population (1822), Francis Place directly addressed what “Mr. Malthus seems to shrink from discussing…” Actually, Malthus didn’t shrink from discussing contraception, he rejected it unequivocally:
I have never adverted to the check suggested by Condorcet without the most marked disapprobation. Indeed I should always particularly reprobate any artificial and unnatural modes of checking population, both on account of their immorality and their tendency to remove a necessary stimulus to industry.
Nancy Folbre gives a brilliant account of this mostly unheralded episode in Chapter 8, “Self-love, Triumphant” of Sex, Lust and Gender: A History of Economic Ideas. Folbre points out that a year after Place published his Illustrations, he followed up with illegal and “obscene” handbills titled, “To the Married of Both Sexes,” in which he described a method of birth control. Seventeen-year old John Stuart Mill was arrested for distributing one of those handbills.
By the late 1860s, “Malthusianism” had become the discrete euphemism used to refer to advocacy of those “odious doctrines” and “monstrous propositions” that sheltered “under the phrase ‘limiting the number of children born…'”
So, why was Malthus wrong and why should environmentalists care? To begin with, Kallis points out that Malthus equated happiness with exponential population growth. “‘The happiness of a country,’ Malthus writes, ‘depends upon the degree in which the yearly increase in food approaches to the yearly increase of an unrestricted population.'”
Secondly, Malthus’s formula proclaimed a principle of scarcity as a law of nature. In this view, scarcity is inevitable because human desires are unlimited. As Kallis says, this is the “conception of nature that lies at the heart of modern economics and, to an extent, environmentalism.” Malthus was thus not a prophet of doom, but of perpetual growth — growth of production to feed an ever growing population.
Many environmentalists, Kallis argues, have largely adopted the neo-Malthusian side of the coin. Mid-20th century neo-Malthusian Paul Ehrlich raised the specter of an apocalyptic “Population Bomb.” Garrett Hardin advocated lifeboat ethics and coercive restriction on population. Hardin occupied the margin where environmentalist neo-Malthusianism shaded over into political white nationalism.
Neo-Malthusianism concedes the scarcity principal that is central to Malthus and to modern growth economics. Kallis offers an analysis that views scarcity as an artifact of a particular historical culture rather than as a law of nature. As a counter-example to the modern culture of insatiable consumption and growth, Kallis posits the ancient Greeks as cultivating limits as a path to self-awareness and fulfillment. This is not to say that the remedy for climate change is for everyone to suddenly adopt ancient Greek traditions and rituals. It is only to show that Malthus’s logically flawed model of geometric and arithmetic progression doesn’t have to be the only game in town.
This post is a sequel to my earlier Goats and Dogs, Eco-Fascism and Liberal Taboos. I am thinking of re-working the two parts into a comprehensive whole but in the meanwhile will leave it to the reader to discover or disregard the linkages between them.
When remembered at all, Edward Abbey is mostly thought of as an environmentalist and anarchist but there is no gainsaying the racism and xenophobia on display in his 1983 essay, “Immigration and Liberal Taboos.” The opinion piece was originally solicited by the New York Times, which ultimately declined to publish it — or to pay him the customary kill fee. It was subsequently rejected by Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Mother Jones and Playboy before finally being published in the Phoenix New Times as “The Closing Door Policy.”
Various white nationalist blogs applaud what they view as Abbey’s foresightedness and forthrightness regarding immigration, presumably oblivious to how those views relate to his ideas about wealth inequality, industrial development and authoritarianism. Conversely, Abbey fans on the left who seek to insulate his nature writing from the taint of his anti-immigrant bigotry ignore the way in which, as Michael Potts put it, “a xenophobic and racist image of the immigrant as pollution… map[s] cultural and ethnic prejudices on to an idealised landscape.” (Dumping Grounds: Donald Trump, Edward Abbey and the Immigrant as Pollution) Abbey’s admirers on both the right and the left thus resort either to blinkers or lame apologetic to redeem him for their political preferences.
My interpretation is that Abbey was a curmudgeon and contrarian whose intended target was liberal hypocrisy. Immigrants were merely “collateral damage” of his colorful diatribes. In the pursuit of being provocative, though, he revealed more than he bargained for about his prejudices. It is precisely this flawed complexity, though, that makes Abbey’s writing a kind of Rosetta Stone for deciphering the dire social hieroglyphics of our time. Presumably, Abbey did not think of himself as racist. He was indignant when accused of racism. But the institutions of the society he grew up in transmit racism in their DNA.
Over a time span of forty-four years, Kenneth Burke wrote a series of four essays beginning with “Waste — or the Future of Prosperity,” published in 1930, and concluding with “Why Satire, With a Plan for Writing One” in 1974. Between those two bookends were “Recipe for Prosperity: ‘Borrow. Buy. Waste. Want.,'” in 1956 and “Towards Helhaven: Three Stages of a Vision,” in 1971. Burke made explicit the affinity between the four essays in each successive iteration with repeated reference to the first essay:
Recipe for Prosperity: “Some years ago, in fact just before the stock-market crash of ’29, 1 wrote an article entitled “Waste or the Future of Prosperity.” It was a burlesque, done along the lines of Veblen’s ingeniously ironic formula, “conspicuous consumption,” as used in his Theory of the Leisure Class.”
Towards Helhaven: “Years ago I published a satire closely akin to the theme of my present “Helhaven” vision. It was called “Waste—or the Future of Prosperity.” The general slant was that, although there is a limit to the amount that people can use, there’s no limit to the amount that people can waste.”
Why Satire: “A rudimentary version of my satire was written just before the market crash of 1929, and published after. Done under the obvious influence of Thorstein Veblen, it was called “Waste—or the Future of Prosperity” (The New Republic 58). It was a perversely rational response to a time when the principle of “planned obsolescence” was already becoming a major factor in the engineering and merchandising of commodities manufactured for the mass market.”
In “Toward Helhaven,” Burke presented the satire of the “Culture-Bubble on the Moon,” the haven to which the .01% would flee to escape the polluted hell they had created on the earth.
For a happy ending, then, envision an apocalyptic development whereby technology could of itself procure, for a fortunate few, an ultimate technological release from the very distresses with which that very technology now burdens us.
Not incidental to Burke’s technological paradise would be a “Super-Lookout” for observing those “scurvy anthropoid leftovers that might still somehow contrive to go on hatching their doubtless degenerate and misshapen broods back there among those seven filthy seas”:
…a kind of chapel, bare except for some small but powerful telescopes of a special competence. And on the wall, in ecclesiastical lettering, there will be these fundamental words from the Summa Theologica: “And the blessed in Heaven shall look upon the sufferings of the damned, that they may love their blessedness the more.”
Of course Bezos claims that his vision will preserve earth as a pristine residential zone, with only light industry. Of course! Bezos, however, doesn’t have a track record for that kind of long run prediction. Burke did. His 1930 burlesque was proven prophetic by the time of his 1956 reassessment.
Central to Burke’s futurist satire, as he emphasized several time, was Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class. Familiarity with Veblen’s theory and “his ingeniously ironic formula, ‘conspicuous consumption'” would enhance understanding of Burke’s satire.
It is not easy to give a quick overview of Veblen’s book and theory. For starters, his “ironic formula” of “conspicuous consumption” is not meant to be ironic. Although composed in a satirical tone, The Theory of the Leisure Class is not a satire. Readers may find the sustained, exaggeratedly-elevated tone of the book grating, which may well be intentional.
Reading backward from the last chapter, “The Higher Learning as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture” reveals that the “theory” of the title has a dual reference. The very notion of theory is itself imbued with class privilege, prestige, parasitism and obscurantism. To have the leisure to criticize the nature of class society is already to be implicated in the perpetuation of class hierarchies. There is no escaping from the labyrinth of language that has evolved to vindicate the right of the mighty.
Or, at least, there is no leisurely escape to be achieved by reading about it. One must do the work.
Veblen left a clue in the last chapter when he discusses the role of the priest or shaman as mediator between the “inscrutable powers that move in the external world” and the “common run of unrestricted humanity.” Science enters as a token of priestly prowess:
…as commonly happens with mediators between the vulgar and their masters, whether the masters be natural or preternatural, he found it expedient to have the means at hand tangibly to impress upon the vulgar the fact that these inscrutable powers would do what he might ask of them. Hence, presently, a knowledge of certain natural processes which could be turned to account for spectacular effect, together with some sleight of hand, came to be an integral part of priestly lore.
To illustrate his point, Veblen presented the “typical case” of the Norwegian peasants who “have instinctively formulated their sense of the superior erudition of… even so late a scholar in divinity as Grundtvig, in terms of the Black Art.” Norwegian peasants is self-referential; the Danish minister, N. F. S. Grundtvig, was a major influence on Veblen, particularly on his concept of language. In effect, Veblen was warning the reader that his prose was exemplary of the “sympathetic magic” performed by the theorist — “a by-product of the priestly vicarious leisure class.”
The core of Veblen’s theory is presented in the “Introductory” chapter one and the first six paragraphs of chapter two, “Pecuniary Emulation.” The following thirteen chapters elaborate the implications of that theory with the final chapter “deconstructing” the pretense of theory existing outside of the social strictures that have given birth to it. Veblen’s speculation about the origins of a “leisure class” and of ownership is outlined in two brief passages from chapter two:
The early differentiation out of which the distinction between a leisure and a working class arises is a division maintained between men’s and women’s work in the lower stages of barbarism. Likewise the earliest form of ownership is an ownership of the women by the able-bodied men of the community. …
The ownership of women begins in the lower barbarian stages of culture, apparently with the seizure of female captives. The original reason for the seizure and appropriation of women seems to have been their usefulness as trophies.
From that inauspicious beginning things only get more complicated and ingrained through emulation until ultimately even “enlightenment.” ritually clothed in its atavistic cap and gown, comes to the aid of subjugation and social domination. Emulation, invidious comparisons and distinctions, conspicuous and vicarious leisure, consumption and waste accumulate as habits in an accustomed way of life. But first of all emulation, which brings us back to the theme of Burke’s essays: waste as the basis of continued “prosperity”:
With the exception of the instinct of self-preservation, the propensity for emulation is probably the strongest and most alert and persistent of the economic motives proper. In an industrial community this propensity for emulation expresses itself in pecuniary emulation; and this, so far as regards the Western civilized communities of the present, is virtually equivalent to saying that it expresses itself in some form of conspicuous waste. The need of conspicuous waste, therefore, stands ready to absorb any increase in the community’s industrial efficiency or output of goods, after the most elementary physical wants have been provided for.
Two other aspects of Veblen’s theory indicate its usefulness for understanding our current predicament of regression: the central role played by subjugation of women, previously mentioned, and by the glorification of arms. Veblen stressed repeatedly the symbolic importance of arms to leisure class values:
Under this common-sense barbarian appreciation of worth or honour, the taking of life — the killing of formidable competitors, whether brute or human — is honourable in the highest degree. And this high office of slaughter, as an expression of the slayer’s prepotence, casts a glamour of worth over every act of slaughter and over all the tools and accessories of the act. Arms are honourable, and the use of them, even in seeking the life of the meanest creatures of the fields, becomes a honorific employment.
So, those offices which are by right the proper employment of the leisure class are noble; such as government, fighting, hunting, the care of arms and accoutrements, and the like — in short, those which may be classed as ostensibly predatory employments.
It is noticeable, for instance, that even very mild-mannered and matter-of-fact men who go out shooting are apt to carry an excess of arms and accoutrements in order to impress upon their own imagination the seriousness of their undertaking.
Kenneth Burke may have predicted Jeff Bezos’s moon colony dream 48 years ago but Thorstein Veblen predicted the 21st century GOP platform 120 years ago.
On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Congress, summarizing the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The most telling section, quoted directly from Mueller’s report, read:
“[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
That one sentence should end a roughly 33-month national ordeal (the first Russiagate stories date back to July 2016) in which the public was encouraged, both by officials and the press, to believe Donald Trump was a compromised foreign agent.
“That one sentence” unexpurgated:
Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through the Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.
William S. Lind’s cultural Marxism conspiracy theory boils down to the claim that in his essay, “Repressive Tolerance,” Herbert Marcuse “called for tolerance for all ideas and viewpoints coming from the left and intolerance of all ideas and viewpoints coming from the right” and that college administrators and professors have put Marcuse’s proposal into practice in the form of “Political Correctness.”
Marcuse did indeed make a statement that seemed to propose exactly that: “Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left.” The problem with taking the proposition literally, however, is that on the very first page of his essay, Marcuse had already dismissed it with the awareness that,”no power, no authority, no government exists which would translate liberating tolerance into practice.” The proposition, he added, was intended “to open the mental space in which this society can be recognized as what it is and does.”
Approximately 6,000 words of dense verbiage intervene between Marcuse’s discounting of the proposition and his restating it in stark, attention-getting terms. The casual reader could be forgiven for having forgotten the initial disclaimer along the way. What is implausible, though, is that college administrators and professors would have collectively adopted the formula as gospel while expressly ignoring the caveats. In fact, in a 1968 postscript to his 1965 essay, Marcuse indicated that his proposition had encountered “virulent denunciations” which he attempted to counter with a restatement of its rationale and acknowledgement that the practice he called liberating tolerance “already presupposes the radical goal which it seeks to achieve.”
Marcuse’s postscript apologia is hardly more convincing than his original essay. The problem, in my view, is that Marcuse attempted to illustrate a terminological paradox with a “counter-paradox.” His diagnosis — that “tolerance” in an administrated state rife with propaganda is not all it is cracked up to be — was apt. But he clumsily succumbed to the temptation to offer a prescription. And since he realized that there is no pat solution, he offered a pseudo-cure instead, in the form of a facile “thought experiment.”
It may well be that the crude, simplistic slogan of “intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left” would have appealed to student radicals in the 1960s, in which case, Marcuse’s popularity would have been due more to incomprehension than to affirmation. But among his peers, even in the Frankfurt School, there was no such luck. Correspondence between Marcuse and Theodor Adorno from 1969 show Marcuse’s defensiveness in response to Adorno’s tense disapproval of his “undialectical” activist sympathies:
You know me well enough to know that I reject the unmediated translation of theory into praxis just as emphatically as you do. But…
Like you, I believe it is irresponsible to sit at one’s writing desk advocating activities to people who are fully prepared to let their heads be bashed in for the cause. But…
Meanwhile, Max Horkheimer “too has joined the chorus of my attackers” while Habermas was publicly warning against “left fascism.” By the early 1970s, Marcuse’s brief moment of notoriety was rapidly fading.
Marcuse’s paradoxical fable of “liberating tolerance” (and intolerance) was not even the most pernicious part of his “Repressive Tolerance” essay. The same social conditions that make “tolerance” abstract and spurious, Marcuse argued, also “render the critique of such tolerance abstract and academic, and the proposition that the balance between tolerance toward the Right and toward the Left would have to be radically redressed in order to restore the liberating function of tolerance becomes only an unrealistic speculation.” So, there you have it, folks! Herbie has been giving you the jive and now he’s telling you it’s all jive. What, oh what… is to be done?
Indeed, such a redressing seems to be tantamount to the establishment of a “right of resistance” to the point of subversion. There is not, there cannot be any such right for any group or individual against a constitutional government sustained by a majority of the population. But I believe that there is a “natural right” of resistance for oppressed and overpowered minorities to use extralegal means if the legal ones have proved to be inadequate.
Andreas Baader invoked this “natural right of resistance” at his 1968 trial for arson, with the outcome that he was sentenced to three years imprisonment for political vandalism that caused no injuries and relatively modest property damage. So much for Marcuse’s objection to sitting “at one’s writing desk advocating activities to people who are fully prepared to let their heads be bashed in for the cause.”
Closely reading Marcuse’s “Repressive Tolerance” essay gives me a new insight into what Lind is doing with his cultural Marxism hoax. Lind has appropriated Marcuse’s theme of there being a regime of repressive tolerance but has inverted its origin and attributed it to Marcuse’s “liberating tolerance.” Marcuse’s “mental space,” “unrealistic speculation” or petitio principii that “already presupposes the radical goal which it seeks to achieve” is recycled by Lind as the actual persecution endured by conservative students under the imagined regime of “cultural Marxism.”
…it would be absurd to subscribe to the author the unintended consequences of an author’s statements without considering the circumstances which surround them. It is, however, equally absurd to pretend that the ideological history of a work’s consequences are entirely extrinsic. — Jürgen Habermas
With all its limitations and distortions, democratic tolerance is under all circumstances more humane than an institutionalized intolerance which sacrifices the rights and liberties of the living generations for the sake of future generations. — Herbert Marcuse
As we saw from his March 17 webcast, William Lind was not inclined to consider taking any responsibility whatsoever for the (presumably) unintended consequences of his rhetoric. This is not to say, however, that he isn’t eager to take credit for political influence his ideas may on powerful state actors.
In his March 24 webcast, Lind revealed the “scoop” that his initiative may have inspired President Trump’s executive order to protect conservative speech on university campuses. “We have,” Lind boasted, “what I think is the inside story on one of last week’s news events — mainly the President Trump’s announcement that 35 billion dollars worth of federal funding for higher education is going to be tied to freedom of thought and expression on college and university campuses.” According to Lind, what happened is that, as a board member of a conservative group of Dartmouth University alumni, he wrote a memo — subsequently forwarded to the White House by a well connected board member — that recommended substantially the steps taken by Trump in his executive order.
This, by the way, is a basic rule of politics. If you’re going bottom-up you come in as a supplicant. You’re either ignored or kicked in the teeth. The way you get something to happen politically is to come in top-down. You come on… you come down on the center you’re targeting from a higher political level. Well there’s no higher level obviously than the White House.
On March 15 a gunman opened fire on worshipers in two Christchurch mosques, killing 50 and wounding around the same number. Survivors of gunshot wounds often have traumatic injuries that require multiple surgeries and leave them severely disabled for life. Before embarking on his rampage, the alleged gunman broadcast over the internet a “manifesto” outlining the motive for his deed.
In his manifesto, the alleged perpetrator claimed to have had “brief contact” with “Knight Justiciar” Anders Breivik, the convicted Norwegian mass murderer, and to have taken “true inspiration” from Breivik’s “2083” manifesto. Indeed, the Christchurch massacre would fit the definition of a copycat crime in terms of motive, manifesto and mass murder.
As mentioned in the previous post, Breivik plagiarized approximately 15,000 words of his manifesto from a pamphlet on “Political Correctness” by William S. Lind. The alleged Christchurch killer plagiarized his deed from Breivik. On his March 17 traditionalRIGHT webcast, Lind spent a little over 16 minutes talking about the Christchurch rampage. Not surprisingly, neither he nor his interlocutors mentioned the Oslo precedent. John Lind referred explicitly to content of the alleged Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. Is it conceivable that Lind is unaware of the widely-disseminated, extensive plagiarism of his work seven and a half years ago by a mass murderer? That’s a bit of a stretch.
So what did William Lind talk about when he talked about the Christchurch terror attack? To what extent, if at all, does Lind take moral responsibility for the consequences — even those unintended — of his words?
Lind’s first observation was to caution that there was much that remained unknown about the attack. He then criticized “the establishment media rushing to judgment” by reporting that it was a right-wing hate crime. Then he launched into speculation — “I only say possible no idea at this point” — that the alleged attacker had been converted to Sunni Islam during his travels in Pakistan and that the attack on the mosques was “actually part of the Sunni-Shiite war” and that “it would make sense in many ways for him to try to blame this on the right because of course who’s leading the opposition to Islam in the Western countries?”
It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?
The “second thing that immediately jumped out” at Lind was “why in the Hell are there mosques in New Zealand to begin with?” This remark evoked appreciative laughter from his co-hosts, Brent and John. The real problem was allowing Muslims to come to Western countries, or, if they are allowed to come, allowing them to build mosques. Lind then expounded for three minutes on the unrelenting persecution of Christians in Islamic countries and the disregard of the establishment media toward “church bombings and mass murders — those get a paragraph or two in the same papers that splash this [Christchurch] across the headlines on the front page with the biggest type.” According to Lind, these atrocity are “happening all the time in Africa”:
We have had Christians worshiping on a Sunday morning suddenly the doors of their church are barred and it’s set on fire by Muslims. These don’t even make the New York Times. Remember the Times‘s real slogan is “all the news that fits we print.” So this [Christchurch shootings] fit their narrative of evil Christianity — evil white males, evil right-wing etc. The mass murder of Christians by Islamics doesn’t fit the narrative so, okay, doesn’t exist and this by the way is exactly what the President and his supporters means by fake news.
After discounting media coverage of the Christchurch attack, conjecturing about an alternative scenario and objecting to Muslim presence in Western countries and lack of media coverage of atrocities committed against Christians, Lind turned his attention to the strategic disaster of the attack. For this analysis, he assumed the “current narrative” of a right-wing, anti-Islamic attack. From that perspective, Lind expressed sympathy for the killer’s alleged motivation, “from what we’re being told now were inspired by this guy’s reaction to seeing Islamics all over France — well, that’s an understandable reaction [laughter].” Nevertheless, Lind was eager to advise “our colleagues on the right [that] it’s important to understand why actions like this actually work against us.”
Lind’s analysis of the strategic inaptness of this particular kind of “leaderless resistance” action relies on his theory of “fourth generation warfare” and with the “cult of the victim” that he attributes to Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukacs, “what we know as cultural Marxism or political correctness.”
All Marxism is loser worship. It’s if you’re successful, if you’re a builder, if you’re a producer, if you’re out there doing great things, you’re evil, you’re a capitalist, you’re a member of the bourgeoisie, you’re an exploiter, you’re a landlord etc., you deserve a firing squad or the gulag. If you’re a complete loser who produces nothing you know you’re only a taker, you’re, you’re always defeated, then you’re a moral hero and in the climate that we now live in where cultural Marxism sets the tone throughout much of the world the highest status you can achieve is victim.
Why “loser worship” makes this kind of “leaderless resistance” violence strategically disastrous for the right is left unspoken by Lind. My interpretation of what Lind is getting at here but not clearly stating is that the attacks will evoke sympathy for the victims and thus elevate their status. But the real victims here, according to Lind and his colleagues, are the young, white heterosexual Christian men driven to violence by the pervasive cultural Marxist oppression:
…so many lost young men that feel like they have no future we’re not allowed to have our own spaces anymore as like white Christian European people without having to have without foreigners coming in here… \
…we can’t speak out against any of this without censorship or losing your job or something and it’s driving people mad…
…this feeling of oppression where you can’t say what you think about anything because because certain viewpoints have effectively been outlawed…
…more and more men young men particularly — and this by the way, Brent, is happening in many parts of the world — are finding themselves with no prospects if in this country they’re white Christian men, heterosexual. They are considered somehow evil. Again they’re the old equivalent of the capitalists and landlords under the old economic Marxism. They’re inherently evil and they can’t do anything without women but they can’t do anything with women because if they displeased a woman she could immediately claim sexual harassment and he’s guilty until proven innocent and the rage is just building and building and building and because of the way the internet fosters leaderless resistance I’m afraid you’re right, Brent, we are going to see more of this but on our side we need to understand it is strategically disastrous.
Does your head hurt trying to follow Lind’s logic? That is the point. It is not logic but a propaganda technique that relies on the listener/reader’s conditioning to assume that what they are hearing/reading and trying to follow is a logical argument. Jacques Ellul gave a concise description of the technique Lind employs:
Propaganda by its very nature is an enterprise for perverting the significance of events and of insinuating false intentions. There are two salient aspects of this fact. First of all, the propagandist must insist on the purity of his own intentions and at the same time, hurl accusations at his enemy. But the accusation is never made haphazardly or groundlessly.* The propagandist will not accuse the enemy of just any misdeed, he will accuse him of the very intention that he himself has and of trying to commit the very crime that he himself is about to commit. He who wants to provoke a war not only proclaims his own peaceful intentions but also accuses the other party of provocation. He who uses concentration camps accuses his neighbor of doing so. He who intends to establish a dictatorship always insists that his adversaries are bent on dictatorship. The accusation aimed at the other’s intention clearly reveals the intention of the accuser.
*Because political problems are difficult and often confusing, and their import not obvious. the propagandist can easily present them in moral language — and here we leave the realm of fact, to enter that of passion. Facts, then, come to be discussed in the language of indignation, a tone which is always the mark of propaganda.
Lind’s cult of the victim enlists young, white, heterosexual Christian men driven mad by having their future — their rightful prospects as successful builders, producers, capitalists, landlords and doers of great things — stolen from them by losers. They just can’t catch a break! Even when they go out a shoot a bunch of those losers, it is the losers who get elevated as high-status victims in today’s cultural Marxist climate instead of the real victims, those meritorious young, white, heterosexual Christian, deservedly-successful but dispossessed males. Ressentiment is a bitch.
The terrorist mass murder in Christchurch, New Zealand two weeks ago has sent me back to my archives to retrieve my documentation of Anders Breivik’s extensive plagiarism of the writings of William S. Lind, et al.
Did I say “extensive” plagiarism? Breivik copied and pasted the whole 19,000 word pamphlet, making minor revisions here and there and deleting around 4,000 words that dealt with more arcane academic topics, such as Derridean deconstruction. Below is an example of the markup comparison of documents from Lind’s to Breivik’s, with insertions in blue and deletions in red:
At the end of Lind’s tract, he included a bibliographical essay “…as a guide for interested citizsens who want to learn more about the ideology that is taking over Western Europe and America.” One of the entries in that bibliography was The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories and Political Significance by Rolf Wiggershaus. Lind quoted a passage from the book’s “Afterword”
Since the publication in 1970 of his book The Poverty of Critical Theory, Rohrmoser has promulgated, in constantly varying forms, the view that Marcuse, Adorno and Horkheimer were the terrorists’ intellectual foster-parents, who were using cultural revolution to destroy the traditions of the Christian West. Academics such as Ernst Topitsch and Kurt Sontheimer, who saw themselves as educators and liberal democrats, followed in Rohrmoser’s footsteps. In 1972 Topitsch, a critical rationalist who was Professor of Philosophy in Graz, had stated that behind the slogans of ‘rational discussion’ and ‘dialogue free of domination’ there was being established at the universities ‘a distinct terrorism of political convictions such as has never existed before, even under Nazi tyranny’
What struck me as odd about the above passage was that “Rohrmoser” had no first name. At first, I suspected the passage was simply cut and pasted in without acknowledging that it was a quoted text. But the absence of quotation marks may have been simply an artifact of indent formatting lost during conversion to a web document. I was curious to find out Rohrmoser’s first name, which appeared in the sentence before the passage quoted by Lind:
Günther Rohrmoser was a social philosopher employed by [Hans] Filbinger, who, as a judge at a naval court martial during the last days of the Second World War, had pronounced a scandalous death sentence which he defended during the 1970s by saying that what was the law then could not be injustice today.
Hans Karl Filbinger was Minister President of Baden-Württemberg from 1966 to 1978. In October of 1977, in response to the kidnapping and murder of Hanns Martin Schleyer by the Red Army Faction, Filbinger gave a speech in which he blamed the teachings of the Frankfurt School for the terrorism. Such accusations, elaborated by academics such as Rohrmoser, Topitsch, Sontheimer and others became the basis for efforts to suppress student activism and the teaching of Critical Theory.
In 1978, Filbinger was accused of having presided — either as prosecutor or judge — over the executions of several sailors at the conclusion of the Second World War. The Wikipedia article outlines extenuating circumstances in his favor: several of the death sentences were in absentia and never carried out, others were commuted to prison sentences and in the one case that resulted in an execution he appears, according to the Wikipedia article, to have been “filling in” for a prosecutor who had already asked for the death sentence. In In Pursuit of German Memory: History, Television, and Politics After Auschwitz, Wulf Kansteiner offered the following account of the outcome of the scandal:
With proper symbolic guilt management, none of these facts would have ended Filbinger’s career, but he committed two major public relations mistakes that made his resignation inevitable. First, Filbinger failed to reveal the full record of his service as a military jurist; the press found a total of four death sentences that listed Filbinger as an officer of the court and that he professed to have forgotten. Second, although Filbinger explained and defended his actions at length, he never apologized to his colleagues, his voters, or the relatives of the soldiers he had condemned to death. He failed to realize that legal innocence no longer amounted to historical innocence. Just because he had not committed any crimes in the eyes of the law did not mean that he could survive in the court of public opinion.
So it wasn’t the crimes Hans Filbinger committed — or didn’t commit — but the cover-up that disgraced him. Lind’s omission of the context for Wiggershaus’s discussion of Rohrmoser’s attacks on Critical Theory as the “foster parents of terrorism” deprives his readers of two crucial perspectives. The more sensational but ultimately trivial insight was the status of one of the accusers of the Frankfurt School as an actual Nazi who presided over at least one execution and subsequently tried to conceal his past.
But the more important aspect was the precedent in West Germany of the 1970s of a political campaign against Critical Theory orchestrated by high government officials. In addition to Filbinger, Franz Josef Strauss, leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, and Alfred Dregger chairman of the Christian Democratic Union in the state of Hesse “promptly labeled the Frankfurt School a cause of terrorism.”
Jürgen Habermas gave a contemporaneous account of this assault on the Frankfurt School in an article that first appeared in Der Spiegel in October 1977 and was subsequently translated and published in the New German Critique. It is worthwhile to quote at some length from that article because illuminates an historical parallel that few Americans would be at all aware of:
As an undergraduate I was struck by the fact that such influential figures of the post-war generation, eminent men like Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, had made politically astonishing statements and had advocated unfortunate doctrines. The first, as chancellor of the University of Freiburg, had welcomed the Nazis’ seizure of power and exalted its significance metaphysically, while second had theoretically vindicated that state which Hitler created. After the war, neither of them considered an unequivocal political explanation or a public revision of their actions to be necessary.
These shocking examples – and they are, after all, just examples – sharpened my, sharpened our awareness of the consequences of the theoretical matters which we teach and write. They are not simply arguments which are absorbed by the scholarly process and then survive or dissolve within it. On the contrary, as published and spoken words, they have an effect on readers and listeners at the moment of their reception which the author cannot revoke or withdraw as if he or she were dealing with logical propositions. Now of course it would be absurd to subscribe to the author the unintended consequences of an author’s statements without considering the circumstances which surround them. It is, however, equally absurd to pretend that the ideological history of a work’s consequences are entirely extrinsic. There is only one pragmatic escape from this dilemma, and unfortunately it is not easily put into practice. An author’s awareness of this dilemma must sufficiently limit his teaching and writing: an individual should not succumb to the atmosphere of objective irresponsibility, nor should an individual expand moral accountability to such an extent that he or she is paralyzed by the fear of uncertain and unexplored areas. Then only silence would remain.
It is obvious that Strauss and Dregger want to intimidate us so that we shall seek refuge in this last alternative. Both obscure the fact that in the 1960s it was the left-wing professors who were especially and distinctly conscious of intellectual causalities. Instead Strauss and Dregger construct a scenario of objective responsibility in a manner which until now has only met with approval in the dominions of Stalinist bureaucrats.
Does William Lind take responsibility for the (presumably) unintended consequences of what he has written, given the dilemma framed above by Habermas? Lind does a weekly YouTube broadcast called traditionalRIGHT in which he gives his opinions on items in the news. On March 17, he discussed the mass murders in Christchurch. On March 24, he addressed an executive order signed by Donald Trump that would cut off federal funding from universities that inhibited the “free speech” of conservatives. I have listened to these segments several times and downloaded transcripts that I have read closely. I will present my summary and interpretation of them in a subsequent post.