DERB'S AUGUST DIARY (11 ITEMS): Race-Retconning Jane Austen; Dutton's SPITEFUL MUTANTS; Unz's AMERICAN PRAVDA; Etc.!!
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War on the imagination    For our viewing pleasure the first Saturday evening in August the Mrs. and I watched the new—released July 15th—movie production of Persuasion, based of course on the 1817 novel by Jane Austen.

Yecch. The whole thing was modernized, as if the only manners, morals, and demography England ever had were those of the early 21st century. Lady Russell is played by a black actress.

Charles Musgrove is black, too, and Mary Elliot’s children are mulattos. Anne herself drinks wine to intoxication outside mealtimes.

This Persuasion is at least not a modern-dress production; although since they modernized every other aspect of the story’s ambience, I don’t see why it shouldn’t have been. I saw plenty of modern-dress productions in my opera-going days—Rigoletto as modern Mafia intrigue, the soldiers in Così fan tutte dressed as U.N. peacekeepers, etc.—and I learned not to mind it too much.

With opera, though, you can at least shut your eyes and just listen to the music. With plain cinematic narrative there is nothing to soften the distraction. Just as you’re getting acquainted with the characters’ relationships, motivations, and feelings, along comes another anachronistic preposterosity to trigger the loud thought (and in the Derbyshire living room, loud utterance): ”Oh for Heaven’s sake! People didn’t look/speak/behave like THAT two hundred years ago.”

The underlying cause here isn’t hard to fathom. It is Lefty midwits striking Social-Justice poses for the applause of their Lefty-midwit peers. Standing back and looking at it all in the round, though, the actual effect is of a war on the imagination.

Engaging with foreigners in far places or with one’s own ancestors in far times are the most imagination-stretching things you can do. It’s hard to avoid the impression that our cultural elites strongly disapprove of us doing them.


Providers v. insurers    In last month’s diary I sounded off about health insurance. I wrote:

Sure, I understand the system. Providers want to get paid; insurers want to wriggle out of paying any way they can.

In conversation with my oncologist at our quarterly appointment in mid-August I repeated that line. He laughed. ”True enough about the insurers, but providers sometimes play games too. They want to maximize their income, right?”

I asked him for an example. He waved a hand to indicate the upstairs suite where chemotherapy infusions are done.

Those are outpatient procedures. You know, you had it. Come in, sit in a big armchair, get wired up, sit there for an hour getting infused, sit for another hour to recover, stagger out so your wife can drive you home. Outpatient procedure. The precise definitions are fuzzy in places, though. The hospital can bill some of them as inpatient procedures, although they’re really not. That’s way more remunerative …

Medical billing sounds like a real battle of wits. There’s an opening here for some enterprising manufacturer of board games—MedopolyRefusoCheckups?


Brief lapse into melancholy.     Looking up those links at the end of the previous segment, I was mildly surprised to find that board games are still sold. Who plays them? They seem so…twentieth century—part of that world we had before these accursed computers took over everything. My millennial kids don’t play board games, in spite of some early efforts on my part to enthuse them.

That world has slipped away. There are things—small things, everyday things—I was long acquainted with that I shall never again experience. That’s life, of course, and it’s no use complaining, but…

Board games, stick shift, going to the movies, promiscuous smoking, pop songs everyone knew, national budgets in the mere billions, second-hand bookstores… O Death in Life, the days that are no more!


Fiction of the month.     Casting around for some fiction to read, I recalled the pleasure I used to get back in the eighties and nineties from historical fiction in serial form: George MacDonald Fraser’s twelve Flashman novels and Patrick O’Brian’s twenty Aubrey-Maturin ones.

Would the charm still work? I have for a long time been vaguely aware by hearsay of Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe novels about the British army in the early 19th century. I thought perhaps it was time I gave them a try. There are currently 22 of them extant, dealing with events from 1799 to 1821. That should take care of my fiction appetite for a few months.

Cornwell is incredibly prolific. In addition to the Richard Sharpe series he’s written thirty other books. Can a guy who writes that fast be any good? I thought that before getting to know Richard Sharpe I’d try one of the others, a stand-alone historical novel.

Scanning the fiction shelves in my local library I saw a Cornwell titled Agincourt. I figured that would do nicely. I know something about Agincourt from school history, Shakespeare, and John Keegan’s The Face of Battle.

I took the book out and read it in three or four sittings. It’s excellent: very well researched, with plausible solutions to the gaps in our knowledge that Keegan pointed out—the archers’ chain of command, for instance. The confusion, horror, and stink of medieval battle is convincingly described.

(My school history teacher, in an early instance of English ethnomasochism—this was around 1958—came down hard on Henry V for killing some of the French knights taken prisoner on the battlefield. ”Wicked!” he fumed. ”It was a very wicked thing to do!” No it wasn’t. It was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, as John Keegan makes clear and Bernard Cornwell makes clearer.)

Fictionwise, there’s a good narrative thread centered on one young English archer: personal rivalries, love interest, and moral dilemmas, all flavored with medieval chivalry. This is middlebrow fiction, not a deep dive into human nature and society; but Cornwell kept me turning his pages.

In a ten-page postscript Cornwell gives some very good commentary on ”the extraordinary victory of Agincourt” and its historiography, naming his numerous sources. Keegan is included, but Cornwell tells us that ”the one book to which I turned again and again, and always with pleasure, was Juliet Barker’s Agincourt.” I must give that a try.

Thus encouraged I purchased a boxed set of the first five Richard Sharpe novels. At month’s end I’m deep in the third, Sharpe’s Fortress. When I’ve read all 22 I shall report back.


Bad manners in the job market    Junior graduated college a few weeks ago and is looking for a job. He’s smart, personable, a veteran, and has a degree in Business Studies from a respectable university. We have no doubt he’ll find something that suits him with a firm that believes he will suit them.

In the meantime, though, he’s competing with thousands of other recent graduates for a smaller-than-usual number of jobs.

Since the start of 2021, the unemployment rate for those age 22 to 27 with a bachelor’s degree or higher has surpassed the national average every single month, according to data released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Friday. Last month, the gap stood at 0.6 percentage point.
[Young U.S. College Graduates Face Tougher Job Market Than Average, by Alex Tanzi, Bloomberg, July 30, 2022]

Bloomberg doesn’t say, but old friends from my own days of salaried employment are telling me that Junior’s at a disadvantage in being male and white (well, as white as makes no difference). The big firms, they say, are diversifying up for all they’re worth, giving strong preference to female and BIPOC job applicants.

Nothing daunted, Junior is working the job-search websites and firing off résumés in all directions. He’s cheerful and optimistic, but has hit a couple of annoying bumps.

These were two firms each of which called him in for a first interview and then, a few days later, for a second. Naturally that got Junior’s hopes up. After the second interviews he waited anxiously for a verdict, but…no verdict came. Nothing came. Weeks have passed in both cases and…nothing.

I don’t think I’m taking it too personally if I call this gross bad manners. Sometime soon after that second interview the firms made a decision. They should have let the job applicant know what that decision was, positive or negative, not leave him hanging there with dwindling hopes.

These are both local Long Island firms. I’ve made a personal resolution never to give either of them my business, and I shall advise friends and neighbors accordingly. That’s not much, but I like to think I’m taking a stand for good manners.


Ed Dutton’s Spiteful Mutants.

The population is increasingly in an ”evolutionary mismatch.” We are evolved to be with genetically normal humans, who are mentally healthy, and shun those who are not. We are evolved to a situation of hierarchy, often with hereditary and religiously sanctioned leadership. We are evolved to live in a religious society, as well as a patriarchal society, with clear sex roles. We are evolved to live in a homogenous society. This is our ”evolutionarily familiar” environment, and animals tend to become unhappy and stressed if placed outside familiar structures, leading to depression and anxiety, which leads to infertility—a sense that nothing is worth it. People do not enjoy living in an ”evolutionary mismatch,” no matter what they might feel they should say in public.

I have taken that from Chapter 9 of Ed Dutton’s new book Spiteful Mutants: Evolution, Sexuality, Politics and Religion in the 21st Century, a collection of essays in which Ed examines the oddities and insanities of our post-industrial civilization through a Darwinian lens.

”Mutants,” in Ed’s usage, are human beings who, in earlier eras, would not have survived childhood because of slight but harmful genetic mutations, but who today live among us. (Most genetic mutations are harmful in the sense of having negative effects on evolution. That’s just Law of Averages.)

Their behavior is ”spiteful” because it damages others without bringing any advantage to themselves.

I lifted that sentence from Roger Devlin’s excellent full-length review of Spiteful Mutants, posted here at, August 3rd. I second Roger when he writes:

I warmly recommend [the book] as an introduction to evolutionary thinking about cultural change, and to understand why Leftists promote mass immigration, the Floyd-Hoax-Black-Lives Matter riots, the mad rush to ”transgenderism,” and the normalization of pedophilia.


Ron Unz’s American Pravda    Here’s a thing Ed Dutton says about conspiracy theorists. ”GFP” here stands for the somewhat controversial ”General Factor of Personality,” a sort of personality-studies analog of IQ, explaining why your scores on particular personality traits tend to ”travel together”—if you score high on one, you likely score high on others. OK, here’s Ed:

It is those who believe in conspiracy theories who tend to be of low socioeconomic status and this is because low intelligence and low GFP (the traits that lead to low socioeconomic status) predict paranoia, black-and-white and dogmatic thinking, and being low in trust.   [Spiteful Mutants, p. 180]

Really? I haven’t had sufficient personal acquaintance with Ron Unz to form an opinion about his GFP (supposing there is such a thing) but he is most certainly not low in either socioeconomic status or intelligence. Ron’s a brilliant software developer and quantitative journalist with a net worth I’d guess to have eight or nine digits at the left of the decimal point, yet he believes in lots of conspiracy theories.

If conspiracy theories are your thing, in fact, Ron’s your man. The assassinations of JFK, RFK, and General George Patton? Our POWs abandoned in North Vietnam?  9/11? The origins of COVID? The 2020 election?… Ron’s been digging into these and similar topics for years in his ”American Pravda” posts at

He has now collected these pieces in half a dozen well-produced books from his own press, the first six books shown on his website here. I’ve been browsing those books this month, with both entertainment and instruction, and only an occasional roll of the eyes.

Ron almost invariably comes down on the sides of the conspiracy theorists. He draws the line at QAnon; but even that’s a faint and reluctant line—a dotted line, you might say:

Although much of that doctrine seems like total nonsense to me, we should note the massive suppression this movement has experienced and bear in mind that ”the wicked flee when no man pursueth.”

This isn’t the crazy guy mumbling to himself in your local library reading room, mind. This is a first-class intellect who, when he engages with a topic, reads everything and builds a reasoned case on what he’s found. If you think you know more about some particular event than Ron knows, you’re wrong; I’ve found that out myself in personal exchanges.

I’ll confess that I’m temperamentally resistant to elaborate conspiracy theories and strongly partial to believing that most things are what they seem to be. Reading Ed Dutton’s book reinforced that. Here’s Ed again under the heading ”Agency Over-Detection”:

In prehistory, if we heard a noise in the forest and assumed it was an animal, when it was in fact the wind, then we lost nothing. If we assumed it was the wind, when it was in fact an animal, we might lose everything—either by being predated or by not killing a quarry, which could save us from starvation. Consequently, we are evolved to over-detect agency… Taken to an extreme, this tendency manifests as schizophrenia, whereby sufferers have paranoid delusions of sinister agents controlling their minds. For this reason, schizophrenia not only predicts accepting conspiracy theories but, often, having intense religious belief.

I’ll further confess that there’s an element of class prejudice in my doubts. I think of conspiracy theories as low-rent and Third-Worldy. That also lines up with Ed Dutton’s general approach. The natural home of conspiracy theories is in low-trust societies, and low-trust societies tend to be crappy in many other ways, too: poor, corrupt, clannish, dangerous.

More healthily (I like to believe) my attitude contains a good conservative skepticism of government. Our Ruling Class, according to me, are too dumb and lazy to keep floating airborne for years on end the kind of Big Lie these conspiracy theories require. They are also too venal to keep secrets that could be sold to the media for hard cash.

Ron’s done a heroic amount of reading on these subjects, though, and I haven’t. If you want to see the case for common conspiracy theories presented as well as it possibly could be, try his books.

Encountering American Pravda is a good short (154 pages) introduction. Conspiracy Theories overlaps with that somewhat, but is three times as long.

Our Covid-19 Catastrophe makes a strong case for a biowar blowback. This is an area we don’t know half as much about as we should, and Ron sheds some useful light.

I have no doubt all the militarily capable nations, including ours, have biowar research programs, and accidents will happen. So will malicious covert operations: it is kind of fishy that members of the Iranian government were among the earliest victims of COVID-19.

Is there a Mannichon Solution in our future? I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’d like to know enough to estimate the probabilities so I can take to the mountains if it looks as though it’s happening.

Ron’s other American Pravda books I have so far only browsed in. I’ll just add before moving on that I take mild exception to Ron’s use of Pravda in this context. A veteran executive of the real Soviet-era Pravda—there must be some still around—would laugh Ron’s theories to scorn. ”You call those conspiracies? We never engaged in such picayune stuff. When we lied we lied BIG!”

It’s hard to communicate to Westerners the scale and audacity of lying in the communist despotisms. ”There are no murders in our country,” my Party Secretary told me with a perfectly straight face in 1983 China. The point of such assertions, as many of us have pointed out, is not to communicate facts about the world from one person’s mind to another’s, but to humiliate.

(I should say that Ron gives full debunking coverage to what, I agree, is probably one of those Soviet whoppers: the commonly accepted background to Hitler’s June 1941 attack on the USSR. Ron favors the Suvorov Hypothesis and so do I, having been persuaded to it in long conversations with the late Boris Zeldovich.)

Now then: Can we get an online debate between Ed Dutton and Ron Unz about conspiracy theories in general? I’d pay to see that.


Conspiracy season.     We are in something of a season for conspiracy theorists.

For one thing, August 31st marks the death of Princess Di, an event that generated enough conspiracy theories to furnish a 6,000-word Wikipedia page. With the prejudices already confessed, I can’t offer an opinion about the plausibility of any particular theory: Princess Di’s death just looks to me like a case of really bad driving. By all means dive in, though, if you’re that way inclined.

And then there’s the August 20th car-bombing death in Moscow of Darya Dugin, daughter of Russian anti-Western ideologue Alexander Dugin. That very quickly blossomed into a whole starburst of conspiracy theories. Putin ordered it… No, it was Putin’s political enemies… the Ukrainians did it… No, it was the CIA… Muslim terror cells!… Organized crime!… Caucasian separatists!… I predict that by the time the conspiracists are through, the Wikipedia page on theories about Ms. Dugin’s death will be longer than the one for Princess Di’s.

I haven’t so far seen Mossad blamed for Ms. Dugin’s death but I have no doubt at all that someone somewhere is working up a theory. A remarkable number of conspiracy-theory trails lead to Israel. Every time I see an instance of this I find myself musing: Don’t the security services of India, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Italy, Ireland, Iceland, and Ivory Coast ever engage in covert ops abroad? I guess not.


Toponymical atrocities    My colleague Alan Wall reported on, August 7th that there is a movement afoot in New Zealand to change the name of that country. The proposed new name will be Aotearoa.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen. New Zealand has been afflicted with progressive politicians for most of the 21st century, including the last five years under über-woke Jacinda Ardern.

Let’s be thankful for small mercies, though. In a land that has place names like Taumata-whakatangihanga-koauau-o-tamatea-turi-pukaka-piki-maunga-horo-nuku-pokai-whenua-ki-tana-tahu, ”Aotearoa” is mercifully short. And so far as I am able to discover, it contains no reference whatsoever to unnatural acts with sheep.

This story is sufficiently well covered by my aforementioned colleague, but it gives me the opportunity to air my indignation at what I consider to be one of the worst toponymical atrocities of recent decades.

From ages zero to eighteen I lived in the country town of Northampton, in the East Midlands of England. As a keen cyclist in an era when country roads didn’t carry much motor traffic, I got to know the town and surrounding countryside very well.

One feature of that countryside, northeast of the town, was a place named Buttock’s Booth. It was very small and I don’t recall a church; but there was a pub and some houses that were not farmhouses, so I think it counted as a village. You can see it at bottom center in this 1955 Ordnance Survey map. (No kidding: bottom center…)

At some point in the last 67 years that place-name was changed from the ancient original, so redolent of sturdy ale-swilling English yokels and rosy-cheeked [sic] milkmaids, to something more appropriate for twee modern globalized managerial suburban Britain: Boothville.

Boothville!  The yokels and milkmaids have probably been replaced by Pakistani pimps and Somali spongers. I guess I should take what comfort I can in the fact that at least Buttock’s Booth wasn’t renamed Mandelaville.


Rural decline.     To judge from the pictures at Google Maps, today’s Boothville is in fact more suburban than rural. That got me wondering whether there really is such a thing as ”rural” anymore.

Demographers reported back in March that:

The number of Americans who live in rural areas declined in the last decade, the first time in history that the nation’s rural population dropped between one U.S. census and the next.
[Rural America shrinks over decade for first time by Reid Wilson, The Hill, March 1, 2022]

”The first time in history,” really? Including the time when farming ceased to be labor-intensive? And with way more people remote-working than ten years ago, haven’t a lot of them left the cities for pleasant rural scenes to set up their home offices in? Demography is full of surprises.

Whatever is the case here in the USA, rural life elsewhere is heading fast to extinction. Headline from NPR, August 13th: Italy is spending hundreds of millions to save dying villages. Will it work? The usual answer to the question, ”[Some government] is spending hundreds of millions to [effect some desired result]. Will it work?” is of course ”No, it won’t,” but I wish the Italians good luck anyway.

There’s a whole YouTube genre of deserted-village porn, with Japan well in the lead but Russia coming up fast.

One underlying cause here is of course the baby bust. Total fertility rates, children per woman, 2022 estimates: U.S.A. 1.84, Italy 1.22, Japan 1.38, Russia 1.6. As the population pyramids thin out at the bottom and fatten up at the top, the dwindling number of young adults head for where their labor is most in demand: the cities.

That’s only one current cause, though. The sticks have never been popular with the smart set, for all the efforts of the Romantic Movement. Think of Karl Marx sneering at ”the idiocy of rural life.” Rustics who had anything on the ball, or imagined they did, have always headed for the nearest city.

There’s an arbitrage opportunity here somewhere, although no one seems able to get on the long side of it. Deserted villages = empty houses. That ought to be lowering the overall price of housing, right? Yet in fact the price of housing is heading up into the outer Solar System, and has been for decades.

Can’t somebody figure this out?


Will Boomercide untie Derbyshire’s Knot?     With two late-twenties offspring to worry about, my thoughts keep returning to these issues of housing affordability and family formation.

There’s an immigration dimension here. It can be seen all over: in the immigration-crazy Republic of Ireland for example. The immigration factor gets us to a vicious circle which, eschewing false modesty, I shall call Derbyshire’s Knot.

Derbyshire’s Knot:  One reason young adults aren’t marrying and having kids is that it’s too hard to find a house they can afford.

So rates of marriage and childbearing go down, leading eventually to a shortage of young working-age adults.

To remedy that shortage we import people—immigrants—from other countries.

Those immigrants have to live somewhere, though; so their settlement just further squeezes the cost of housing.

That makes it even more difficult for the rising generation to afford housing…

For some of those youngsters, in fact—including possibly mine—the best prospect for owning a house is to inherit the one Mom and Dad live in.

That leads to dark thoughts. As the top of the population pyramid swells and swells, a lot of those frustrated young adults must be thinking: ”If only we could cull off some of those Boomer geezers.”

The cull could be done humanely. Plenty of old folk are weary of life and would agree to take one for the team, if it was painless and dignified.

Is there Boomercide in our future? Will it untie the knot?


Math Corner    Here’s a theorem that’s not as well-known as it should be, even among math geeks. It is extraordinary in that it

  • concerns only elementary algebra with whole numbers, yet

  • is ferociously difficult to prove.

There are of course other theorems of which you could say the same, but most are centuries old; this one only came up 34 years ago…in Australia.

Theorem:   a and b are positive whole numbers. If (a² + b²) / (ab + 1) is a whole number, it is a perfect square.

I don’t recommend you attempt a proof of the theorem; as I said, it’s really hard. If you just try a few low values for a and b, though, assuming wolog a ≤ b. the first ones you get are (1,1) giving 1², (2,8) giving 2², and (3,27) giving 3².

In all those cases, b = a³. Sure enough, if you substitute a³ for b the expression (a² + b²) / (ab + 1) cancels down to a².

Are there any values of a and b for which the expression is a whole number but b is not equal to a³? If there are any, what’s the smallest such value of a?

[It doesn’t seem fair to leave you wondering what that ferociously difficult proof looks like. To see it presented several different ways—yes, including YouTube presentations—Google ”Question 6.”]


John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

Readers who wish to donate (tax deductible) funds specifically earmarked for John Derbyshire’s writings at can do so here.

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