Collective mass insanity. From a reader, edited for anonymity:
After witnessing the Left's response to Trump's "Muslim Ban" I can only refer to one of your early diaries in which you said that "we are passing through a temporary period of collective mass insanity."
I still remember the pre-2001 America. Muslims were not any sort of presence in the U.S., outside of a few cities (Dearborn, MI, Paterson, NJ, Brooklyn, NY, Falls Church, VA, etc.) There was little cultural impact, outside of appearing in a few terrorist novels. I don't recall seeing a Muslim in my daily life outside of NYC. Now, only 15 years later, they are supposedly a key element of American identity.
Case in point: The CEO of my company sent out an email to all of our employees following President Trump's executive order on immigration from those seven unstable Muslim-majority countries. In the email he urged us to keep our workplace "a safe space" for all our co-workers. Our company, he said, values "diversity" and "inclusion." Our differences, he said, make us stronger.
Our CEO is an ordinary American guy; not bad or crazy in any way, by no means a Social Justice Warrior, just a suburban dad who worked hard and eventually moved to the top of the organization. Yet he used the phrase "safe space" un-ironically in an email to the firm's employees. This phrase was not in any sort of use outside of the looniest corners of college grievance culture three years ago.
I'm afraid that the West has morphed into some sort of suicide death cult. Most Americans, even ones who don't read the news on a daily basis, are aware of what is going on in Europe. The majority of Americans, who do not want to see mass Muslim migration, are terrified of speaking out against it.
What is next for the West? I honestly don't know.
Neither do I, friend. Watching the month-end mass hysteria over an unremarkable and minor change to our customs and immigration rules, it really does seem that some large subset of our population has slipped into collective insanity.
The Diversity Cult is nuts. A moment's calm reflection shows its absurdity. If you have more than that moment to spare, I refer you to blogger M.G., who spells it all out in fine detail at Those Who Can See [The Diversity Tax , December 11, 2016]
And as my correspondent says, it's not just that we have tens of thousands of shrieking lunatics with nothing to do all day long but make placards and demonstrate. That would be bad enough; but sane, normal people like that CEO believe they have to parrot the idiot phrases — "safe space," "inclusion," "who we are" — or pay a price.
It's nuts. Just look at those demonstrators these past few days. An actual majority seem to be women.
The most passionate opponents of any restriction on Muslim immigration, in fact, are (a) women, and (b, to judge from newspaper Op-Eds and online commentary) Jewish liberals like Chuck Schumer.
They should form a pressure group together. They could call it WOMEN AND JEWS FOR ISLAM.
As the kids say: Hel-lo?
News-itive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the psychological phenomenon that results when contradictory beliefs collide in one's head, or when some indisputable aspect of reality contradicts one's cherished beliefs.
Something analogous happens now and then in the news: two different stories, both true, colliding with a noise of crumpling metal and breaking glass.
So it was at the end of January. On the 29th, following President Trump's Executive Order on immigration, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (right) announced that his company will hire 10,000 "refugees" to work in its coffee shops.
At some date not very far in the future, Starbucks will have to choose between robots and "refugees." To the best of my understanding, the two categories are mutually exclusive.
Sixty years on from Peak Happiness. For British people, it says here, the happiest year of the last century was 1957.
The analysis, published by the university [of Warwick] with the Social Market Foundation, is taken from eight million books used to track contentment from 1776 to 2009, based on positive words such as "peaceful," "enjoyment," and "happiness" compared to negative words such as "stress" and "unhappy."
It shows a rise in joy after 1945, peaking in 1957, a fall through the nationwide strikes and inflation of 1978's Winter of Discontent, and then a recovery, but never to the happiness levels of the 1950s.
By Victoria Allen, Daily Mail, January 23, 2017
That brought two things to mind. The first was a nostalgia piece I wrote ten years ago that proved one of my most popular. It was titled "The Lost Eden of Robert A. Heinlein," and contrasted the confident, homogenous, high-social-capital U.S.A. of the 1950s favorably with the bickering, diverse, bowling-alone nation of 2007.
The second thing was Daniel Eakins, the hero of David Gerrold's 1973 classic sci-fi novel The Man Who Folded Himself. The young Eakins inherits a time-travel belt from his uncle. He then does all the things you might try doing if you could travel in time. And then some: He has affairs with himself, both homo- (by the logic of time travel, after a few excursions there are numerous copies of him around) and hetero- (via a trip to the future where full sex-change is routine). He gives birth to himself, and sees himself die. The mysterious uncle is of course himself.
(Yes, I know: Heinlein did some of this in his short story "All You Zombies." Gerrold took it further, though, to novel length.)
In middle age — his body ages at the normal rate — after many adventures, Eakins settles down at last in 1950s California.
The fifties are a great time to live. They are close enough to the nation's adventurous past to still bear the same strident idealism, yet they also bear the shape of the developing future and the promise of the technological wonders to come … The roads are still new … it is still too soon for them to be overburdened with traffic and ugliness … The hills around Los Angeles are still uncut and green …
I don't know how rigorous this University of Warwick study was, and of course would want to see it replicated before I swallow it whole. It's nice to think, though, that fifties nostalgia has some grounding in fact.
If it's true that 1957 was Peak Happiness in the West, I'd identify two causes. One is the well-known fact that personal well-being arises not so much from f (t) as from f ′(t): not on what you have at time t so much as the rate of change in what you have. In the 1950s the rather stern and gritty period immediately after WW2 was turning into the consumer society. f (1957) was of course miserable compared to f (2017) — polio, stick shift, black-and-white TV, halitosis, the draft — but f ′(1957) was through the roof.
The other cause was ethnic homogeneity. In 1957 neither Britain nor American was seriously afflicted with the horrible blight of diversity. In my own country town in the English midlands, wellnigh everyone was English. A Scot or a Welshman was exotic. Our society was as homogenous as 2017 Japan.
There were a few real foreigners: our family dentist was Polish, and the local ice-cream van's proprietor was Italian (surname Gallone; we had to be taught to pronounce the "e"). Americans from a nearby USAF base were sometimes seen in the town.
Nobody minded this. Poles were gentlemen; Italians were mildly comical, but harmless; Americans were sort-of familiar from the movies.
Outside our provincial idyll, however, things were changing fast. London already had tens of thousands of Caribbean blacks; Britain's first race riot occurred the following year. Mass immigration was well under way, bringing with it the destruction of social capital and the decline in happiness.
Nostalgia is of course annoyingly geezerish, and there's a lot to like about 2017. Much that was good has been lost in these sixty years, though. Some of it might yet be reclaimed, with sensible policies.
The political challenges to late-20th-century Goodthink that we are seeing in both America and Europe are, I believe, driven in part by awareness of those losses, and hopes for some reclamation.
R.I.P.(1): Mary Tyler Moore. I was sorry to read about the death of Mary Tyler Moore on January 25th.
The Main Stream Media obituaries were all cast in the context of feminism, with emphasis on her career-woman role in the 1970s sitcom "Mary Tyler Moore Show." Here was the New York Times, for example:
Ms. Moore's portrayal … expressed both the exuberance and the melancholy of the single career woman who could plot her own course without reference to cultural archetypes …
The show, and her portrayal of Mary as a sisterly presence in the office, as well as a source of ingenuity and humor, was a balm to widespread anxieties about women in the work force.
It modeled a productive style of coed collegiality, with Ms. Moore teasing out the various ironies known to any smart woman trying to keep from cracking up in a world of scowling male bosses and preening male soloists.
The hell you say. "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" had its moments, I'll allow; but it was in the earlier "Dick Van Dyke Show" that Mary captured my cohort of mid-1960s late-teen males.
We were in love with her. She was a sex goddess: not of the glamorous sort, like Marilyn Monroe, nor precisely the girl-next-door of our own generation, like Hayley Mills. The expression MILF was not then current, but that was how we saw Mary: mature and sophisticated, yet very desirable. There was a general opinion among my coevals that Mary's then-husband, Grant Tinker, should be kidnapped and imprisoned in some remote location, to give the rest of us a chance.
Were we objectifying a smart, talented lady by reducing her to a mere object of adolescent lust? You bet we were. Did she mind? I doubt it. R.I.P.
Bring on the NATINTERN. The January 21st summit of European nationalist leaders in Koblenz, Germany seems to have gone well. France's Marine Le Pen, Germany's Frauke Petry, Italy's Matteo Salvini, and Holland's Geert Wilders were all there, along with some lesser lights of European nationalism.
If the show went well, however, it didn't go over well with the Main Stream Media. The Economist was of course particularly scathing. Their report was decorated with a picture photo-shopped to make Wilders, Le Pen, and Petry look as sinister and ghoulish as possible.
Said the text of the report:
Mr Wilders, fresh from a criminal conviction for inciting racial discrimination, delivered his usual absurdity-flecked attack on immigrants, declaring at one point that European blondes are growing afraid to show their hair for fear of being attacked by immigrants.
At a summit in Germany, nationalism goes international, January 24, 2017
The precise "crime" for which Mr Wilders was convicted was "inciting discrimination and group offense." At a political rally Wilders had asked whether attendees wanted more or fewer Moroccans in Holland, then led the crowd chant of "Fewer! Fewer!" Even the judges at his trial seem to have been embarrassed at the silliness of this prosecution: they released Wilders without punishment.
An international conference of nationalists is not at all paradoxical. All over the West there are people who believe that the cults of diversity and mass immigration are totally out of control and need reining in. It's natural for these people to get together and share ideas.
In fact I got a frisson of musical excitement when speed-reading that Economist piece. At one point it tells us that Ms Le Pen "thrilled the largely middle-aged crowd with her call for a 'patriotic spring'." (Note in passing that sneering observation about the age of the crowd. Apparently middle-aged people are not a Designated Victim Group.)
In my haste I misread that as Ms Le Pen calling for a patriotic song. Yes! I thought, we need a new "Internationale" — a nationalist "Internationale"! I invite musically-inclined readers to submit suggestions.
Then my imagination really took flight. Remember the COMINTERN — the Communist International, founded in 1919 to help spread a worldwide Leninist revolution? Well, how about we start up a NATINTERN? Nationalism is just as subversive of globalist Goodthink as communism was of industrial capitalism.
(Homosexuals in the 1930s favored a HOMINTERN, to propagate the joys and benefits of their own lifestyle; but the word was taken up almost at once by anti-homosexual conspiracy theorists, and dropped by the gay set. I don't believe they ever got around to writing a song for the HOMINTERN. There are some numbers on YouTube they might have used.)
R.I.P.(2): Zhou Youguang. A moment of silence, please, for Zhou Youguang, who passed away on January 14th at the age of 111. (The picture at right was taken 90 years ago.)
Mr Zhou invented the pinyin system for writing Chinese words in the Latin alphabet. The ChiCom government adopted pinyin in 1958 as the official transcription of their language, and it has since become universal. Even Taiwan has taken it up.
What a thing, to live to be 111! Mr Zhou was actually born during the last years of Imperial China; his father was a scholar-gentleman of the traditional type, serving the court of the Manchu dynasty under the Dowager Empress whose honorific name is written in pinyin as Cixi.
I didn't know until reading the obituaries that Mr Zhou was a dissident, who regarded Mao Tse-tung, correctly, as a lawless despot, and who supported the 1989 student movement that was suppressed at last in the massacres at Tiananmen Square and elsewhere. This kept him in the obscurity of official disfavor during his later years, but he seems not to have come to any actual harm. As he told a BBC interviewer at age 106: "What are they going to do, come and take me away?"
As a way of rendering Chinese alphabetically, pinyin is not bad, and in any case we are all used to it now. At any rate, pinyin (the Empress is "Cíxi" with tone marks) is better than the old Wade-Giles system ("Tzu² Hsi³"), and way better than the Gwoyeu Romatzyh ("Tsyr Shii," I think, the tones indicated by variant spelling of the vowels) that was floated by Chiang Kai-shek's government in the 1930s.
None of these systems was as good for English speakers — I mean, got as close to representing English sounds — as the Yale system ("Tsz S?i"), now alas defunct. That's not really a fair criticism, though, as pinyin was intended for international use, which has no consistency in the sound of Latin-alphabet letters. The letter "s" is pronounced "s" in English, "z" in German, and "sh" in Hungarian; the letter "c" is either a "s" sound or a "k" sound in English, but it's a "ts" sound all over Central Europe; the letter "i" is either a short pure vowel ("bit") or an "ah-ee" diphthong in English ("bite"), but it's an "ee" sound most everywhere else; and so on. Whaddya gonna do?
Mr Zhou seems to have been a pretty companionable fellow. I'm sure he did his best, and the result was not bad. R.I.P.
Lecture course of the month. My workout companion this month has been Professor Robert LaFleur, lecturing on the Analects of Confucius.
LaFleur is very good, with an obvious enthusiasm for his subject and a way of humanizing the famously dry Analects. (Bertrand Russell, according to Ronald Clark, gave the Analects a try but bailed out. Confucius was, said Russell, "boring." That's from a guy who had read Hegel with keen attention!)
LaFleur is certainly a great improvement on Kenneth Harl, whose lectures on Barbarian Empires of the Steppes were my previous audio purchase from Great Courses. Steppe barbarians interest me, and the course is not without instructional content, but Prof Harl's weird speech aberrations got to be too much at last, and I never got further than Genghis Khan.
I think Harl is actually dyslexic in some way not previously familiar to me, nor perhaps to neurodevelopmental science. Almost any word outside the normal run of conversational American English was liable to be mangled by Prof Harl. I had thought it was just the pronuniation of Chinese names he had trouble with, but as the course progressed it became clear that foreign-ness of any kind foxed him.
There was for example an Iranian dynasty called the Sassanids, which I have always heard pronounced "SASS-a-nids." Prof Harl renders is as "Sa-SAN-a-nids," with an extra syllable and a change of stress — not once, but consistently.
Even British English baffles him. He actually mentions the Wade-Giles transcription at one point, when discussing Chinese names; but he pronounces it "Wade-Jillies." Ye gods!
I'm pretty sure dyslexics are a Designated Victim Group; so I had better not be too unkind, or I shall end up in Hate Court like Geert Wilders. I'll just say that if Prof Harl would like some instruction in pronouncing words that fall outside outside the scope of everyday American English, I can make myself available at a modest hourly fee, plus travel expenses.
Presidential footwork. Now please don't get me wrong. I love our new President; I voted for him; I support him; and I have great hopes for his administration.
However, watching the Inauguration festivities, I saw the President dancing with his beautiful (and, by all accounts, intelligent and charming) wife. It was painful to watch.
Mr President: Random small shufflings of the feet is not dancing.
And, Mr President: A lady as lovely, loyal, and accomplished as Mrs Trump is surely worth a few hours of your time with instructors at an Arthur Murray studio. At your net-worth level, in fact, you can skip the studio and just have instructors chauffered over to your gaff.
Not everybody can be good at everything, and I don't necessarily want to see the First Couple leaping and twirling on Dancing With the Stars. Although … Never mind. Still, basic waltz, foxtrot, and rumba are not hard to master, and were considered basic social accomplishments when you and I were growing up. (I'm only 375 days older than the President.)
And please don't tell me Barack Obama can't dance, either. True; in defiance of all stereotypes, he can't, but we expect nothing better from a shallow, self-absorbed Gen-X idler. Just by giving himself to us to gaze at in worshipful adoration, Obama feels he has fulfilled his social obligations.
Get yourself a pair of dancing pumps, Mr President! Or else stay off the dance floor altogether, and leave it to people who can dance.
Math Corner. In December's Math Corner I posed the traditional end-of-year question: what is interesting about the number 2017, other than its just being a prime number?
I'm going to retire that tradition. Websites like OEIS (of which I still possess the original book, 1995 edition) make it too easy.
This guy took it to the max. Blogsites being ephemeral things — as opposed to my website, which is for the ages — I've reproduced his listing here.