Our Third World election. The election? I called it—a year and a half ago.
Better yet, although it gives me no pleasure to report the fact: I called it for the right reasons.
There was no way the entrenched forces of Orthodoxy—of the military-industrial-commercial-media-Big Data-academic complex—were going to let Trump get re-elected. In 2016 he caught them by surprise. They didn't take him seriously. In 2020 they were ready, and took him very seriously. They determined to stop him By Any Means Necessary, including of course massive vote tampering.
This year 2020 is a milestone. It is the year the U.S.A. became, indisputably, a Third World kleptocracy with a ruthlessly amoral ruling class preaching an ideology of lies. More on this in a later segment.
As I write this, at the end of November, there is still a faint hope that the courts, and the people's representatives in key states, will annul this joke of an election. I cling to that hope.
Shall I be watching No Time to Die? Nah—no offense to Ms Lynch, to whom I wish all the luck in the world. It's just that, as I've said, I lost the Bond thing altogether back in the Clinton administration.
Although, if they were to cast Zhang Ziyi as Agent 007, I might change my mind …
That prompted a curious listener to ask whether I had ever read Richard Mason's 1957 novel The World of Suzie Wong: "The timeless story of the love affair between a British artist and a Chinese prostitute" (Amazon.com).
Indeed I had, long ago. I even have some very slight personal connection to the book. It was made into a successful stage play, then a somewhat less successful movie. The Broadway production of the play featured 27-year-old William Shatner as the male lead.
For the West End (i.e. London) production of the play, Gary Raymond played the male lead, with Tsai Chin as Suzie. The third name on the cast list was Janet Derry, a first cousin of mine, daughter of my Dad's baby sister.
That's my slight connection. I don't see how it could be any slighter.
Is the novel any good? I remembered liking it, but the memory was distant and vague. Prompted by my listener's query, I found a library copy and re-read it.
It stands up pretty well—as middlebrow 1950s fiction generally does, in my experience. Mason pulls off the trick of writing frankly about sex without prurience or indecency. His first-person narrator is a normal and likable guy. Suzie is a real literary creation, and very Chinese. Some of the slang is dated; but then, so is some of the non-slang. When was the last time anyone unselfconsciously wrote the word "gaol"?
And if you think it's shamefully colonialist for Chinese hookers to be servicing white sailors, I can personally testify that the converse thing—white hookers for Chinese sailors—is by no means unknown.
Is anti-racism a psychiatric disorder? I did a couple of rounds with writer Kyle Smith back in 2015, when he published a piece alleging that I am the white Ta-Nehisi Coates, "a white person with a deep-seated dislike for black people, and … intent on training [my] son to feel the same way." [The Hard Untruths of Ta-Nehisi Coates by Kyle Smith; Commentary, October 2015.]
Responding, I didn't hold back:
No honest person could put the construction on my "Talk" article that Kyle Smith has put on it.
Kyle Smith is not an honest person. He is a liar and a slanderer. Knowing, as he surely does, that all the Great and the Good of our society will take his side, while none of them will take mine, he is also a coward. [Derb: The White Ta-Nehisi Coates!; VDARE.com, September 30th 2015.]
When a friend recently reminded me of all that, I realised that at some point in the past five years my more charitable instincts must have kicked in. I mean, I don't feel as ill-disposed towards Kyle Smith as I did back then. How does this work?
For one thing, Kyle Smith's a good writer, when not kicking ex-colleagues who are down.
Writing is an odd sort of way to make a living: solitary and not very remunerative. After a few years you develop a sort of guild loyalty that somehow transcends even the most vituperative differences of opinion or personality. Inscribed on the guild's marching banners are these lines of Auden's:
Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives,
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honors at their feet.
Check out, for example, Smith's essay on Chekhov in the September issue of The New Criterion. (You probably need a subscription to read it; but then, you really should have one.) I have dozed through a few stage performances of Chekhov's plays without seeing any big picture; Smith offers one. Next time I won't doze.
For another thing, there is a TV commercial that shows up occasionally when I'm watching Tucker Carlson's show. The commercial is for some kind of medication that is some kind of help (says the ad) to people suffering from schizophrenia. We see a person thus afflicted: He or she perceives every inconsequential glance from a passing stranger as malevolent, every cheery greeting as a belligerent shout of abuse.
I've had some close personal acquaintance with a schizophrenia patient and yes, that's what it's like for them. Impressions of the outside world brought in through their senses get grossly magnified and distorted by malfunctioning brain modules: Inoffensive casual glance becomes malevolent glare.
So possibly Kyle Smith is an honest person: not practicing any conscious deception, but with a psychiatric disorder like that, twisting and coloring what he reads.
Which leads to the question: Is intense anti-racism—I mean, the fiercely outraged reaction to any kind of racial negativity, no matter how mildly expressed or well-supported by facts—a psychiatric disorder?
This is treacherous territory, of course. It's only a hop and a skip from, "You disagree with my opinions, therefore you're crazy" to, "You oppose our State Ideology, therefore you're crazy." Totalitarian governments lock up dissidents in psychiatric facilities and dose them with psychoactive drugs to correct their thinking. Yes, there's a slippery slope here.
Still and all, there is a real world and there are people whose perceptions of it are distorted beyond all reason or utility. If you have ever been personally acquainted with a schizophrenic, you don't doubt this.
How far do your beliefs have to stray from everyday reality for you to qualify as a psychiatric case? Perhaps not as far as a real space-aliens-are-listening-to-my-thoughts! schizophrenic. The person on TV the other night telling me that black Americans fear to leave their homes because they might get shot by a rogue racist cop, surely qualifies.
And Kyle Smith, with his bizarre conception of my domestic arrangements and his assertion that I am "statistically" wrong? (Which of my statistics is wrong, Sir?) A borderline case, I'd say.
I had just gotten through writing all that when I saw Pedro Gonzalez' 12-part November 24th Twitter thread making essentially the same case. Samples at random:
… the modern white psyche conditioned to worship nonwhites in a religious psychosexual ethnomasochism …
Our politics, Republican and Democrat, are dominated by the accompanying neurosis and narcissism of whites suffering from what is basically a mental and spiritual illness. Conservatives aren't immune. They think they are, but they are just as bad …
It's not specific to either political orientation, it's like a psychic malaise that afflicts white people in either party …
[Not trusting that such heterodox ideas will survive the Twitter memory-holers for long, I have screen-shotted the thread as six images. The first is here.
Jeet Kun Woo. If martial-arts legend Bruce Lee had not died from heat stroke in 1973, he would have turned eighty this November 27th. I see that Lee's daughter Shannon published a book of life advice last month, based on her Dad's philosophy: Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee.
Boiled down, she said, "the key to my dad's philosophy is self-actualization: It's the fulfilling of goals and ambitions." As for Bruce's most iconic line—"You must be shapeless, formless, like water"—Shannon interprets it to mean "achieving one's essence, being able to work with whatever is coming at you." [How Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee's daughter, channels her father's philosophy by Michael Kaplan; New York Post, November 14th 2020.]
That, I am sorry to say, set off my woo alarm.
I wrote up my own encounter with Bruce Lee here and advertised Matthew Polly's excellent biography of Lee on Radio Derb, July 13th, 2018. (I did not know until I read Polly's book that Lee was one-eighth Jewish.)
In that personal memoir of mine I wrote:
Bruce's art was entirely physical. Though a martial-arts genius of the first order, he was no intellectual. His "philosophy" of fighting is a dull recycling of some commonplace clichés from Taoism and American self-help books.
I'll stand by that; and the New York Post's account of Shannon Lee's book confirms it.
Bruce Lee was a real and rare genius; but his genius was indeed entirely physical. Lee was to punches and kicks what Mozart was to crotchets and quavers.
Below, you can watch him knock the young Derb, as movie extra in Hong Kong, backwards over a chair. (Stage direction: "Lee strikes the Westerners." )
Genius in some one narrow field does not imply wisdom. Outside the sphere of musical composition, Mozart was a nitwit.
Would a book of life advice from Mozart enjoy good sales? I bet it would; and I hope Shannon Lee's does likewise. She seems to be a very nice lady who's been dealt some rough deals by life.
I wouldn't be a customer for either book, though. I just have no tolerance for woo.
Back to the Middle Ages. One of the more interesting ideas going around right now is neo-feudalism. Joel Kotkin has written a book about it: The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. Over at UnHerd.com, Ed West uses Kotkin's book as a starting-point for a long discussion of the neo-feudalist notion.
[A]ll of these things, along with the polarisation of politics along quasi-religious lines, the decline of nationalism and the role of universities in enforcing orthodoxy, were the norm in pre-modern societies. In our economic structure, our politics, our identity and our sex lives we are moving away from the trends that were common between the first railway and first email. But what if the modern age was the anomaly, and we're simply returning to life as it has always been?
Inequality was almost universal from the agricultural to the industrial revolution, and medieval Europe would have had a GINI index higher than modern Latin America, with a handful of families owning up to a quarter of land in England, and the monarch a similar share. [Welcome to the New Middle Ages by Ed West; UnHerd.com, November 23, 2020.]
It's a neat idea, and it is surely true that access to the comfortable middle class is harder now for a low-born person than it was in 1950, although perhaps not yet as hard as it was in 1250. There are some differences to be noted, though.
The thumbnail sketch of medieval European society we all learned at school was the Three Orders model: there were Those Who Fight, Those Who Pray, and Those Who Work.
Those Who Work will be always with us. How long does today's homeowner go between hiring contractors? (Me, recently: about two weeks.) And no, the work won't all be automated: Read Mark Mills' nifty little 2018 summary Work in the Age of Robots.
Those Who Pray? What is the lock-step uniformity of thought in our universities but a clerisy, the modern equivalent of the medieval Church? What is the President of Yale but a modern-day abbot or bishop? Ed West:
[A]cademia … has likewise returned to its pre-modern norm. At the time of the 1968 student protests university faculty in both the U.S. and Britain slightly leaned left, as one would expect of the profession. By the time of Donald Trump's election many university departments had Democrat: Republican ratios of 20, 50 or even 100:1. Some had no conservative academics, or none prepared to admit it. Similar trends are found in Britain.
And as with Christianity in the medieval world, persons of power and influence outside the academy are expected to cleave to clerical orthodoxy. They don't have to be ostentatious about it if they don't feel inclined, and they might doubt in private, but they are expected to bend the knee in public.
Still, what about Those Who Fight? The male rulers of medieval states were raised as warriors. They did not expect to get through life without some actual battlefield encounters: sword on sword, axe on axe, with the dread arrow-shower raining down. When they weren't fighting for real they were jousting—knocking each other off their horses in mock battle.
Even monarchs were expected to fight, or at least to show up on the battlefield. That expectation in fact survived well past the medieval era. The last English King to lead his troops in battle was George the Second at the battle of Dettingen (1743).
How does all that map into the modern world? I'm trying hard to conjure up images of our own ruling class—Jeff Bezos? Charles Koch? Barack Obama? Jeff Zucker?—in full armor swinging a sword, but … it's not coming. War-making today is for churls, not for the gentry.
There is also science, which the Medievals didn't have. In particular, there are the human sciences. Human nature itself, the human mind and human society, are slowly yielding to systematic scientific inquiry. Real dispositive understanding is still decades away; but when it comes, it will change our view of ourselves in relation to each other and to the cosmos, in ways no-one can predict.
In favor of the arguments for neo-feudalism: If we truly are returning back into medieval ways of thinking, we are returning along the same road we trod when we emerged from those ways five hundred years ago, through a great dark forest of gibberish. Ed West:
The internet has often been compared to the printing press, and when printing was introduced it didn't lead to a world of contemplative philosophy; books of high-minded inquiry were vastly outsold by tracts about evil witches and heretics.
The word "medieval" is almost always pejorative but the post-printing early modern period was the golden age of religious hatred and torture; the major witch hunts occurred in an age of rising literacy, because what people wanted to read about was a lot of the time complete garbage. Likewise, with the internet, and in particular the iPhone, which has unleashed the fires of faith again, helping spread half-truths and creating a new caste of firebrand preachers (or, as they used to be called, journalists).
A family of talent. Ed West, the author of that UnHerd piece (and the Deputy Editor of UnHerd.com) is a favorite of mine. He can hardly set finger to keyboard without writing something interesting. Try one of his pop-history books.
Ed comes from a talented family, too; one I've been engaged with as a reader for most of my adult life. His Dad Richard West, who died in 2015, wrote for the London Spectator when I was a subscriber forty-some years ago. I remember his 1981 book An English Journey very fondly, as a small masterpiece of social observation and historical reflection.
Ed is also a first cousin once removed of actor Timothy West, who lingers in my mind as the definitive stage portrayal of Stalin. That was in David Pownall's play Masterclass around 1984, when the U.S.S.R. had loosened up some and there were a lot of Russians in London. It seemed like every one of them was in the theater that evening. Each time Timothy West's Stalin hoicked up his withered arm they all sighed Aaaah! in unison.
That's a lot of talent in one family. Thanks to them all this Thanksgiving month for decades of instruction and entertainment.
I can't say I was that dazzled by The White Tiger, but I found it an easy, entertaining read, and I'm pleased to have brought my acquaintance with India fiction forward another multi-decade leap from Kim (1890s India), A Passage to India (1920s), and The Raj Quartet (1940s).
That's a bit of a gap from the 1940s to 2008. A reader of the Diary recommended Rohinton Mistry's novel A Fine Balance to plug the gap, so I bought a copy and read it.
A Fine Balance mostly takes place in the time of Indira Gandhi's "Emergency" of the mid-1970s, so it plugs the gap quite precisely. It's a human-interest novel, though, not annoyingly political. I enjoyed it, but I thought it collapsed towards the end, as if the author got tired of writing it. (Which would be understandable: At 600 pages, it's rather long as novels go nowadays. The Cellphone Generation just has no attention span.)
The book's title is taken from a conversation in pages 228-229. (All page numbers here refer to the Vintage Books paperback; Mistry doesn't number his chapters.) A secondary character remarks, in regard to life in general, that: "You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair."
To the degree that observations about life in general are worth anything at all, that's one of the better ones.
The joke about Anna Karenina is that some people read it just for the jam recipe in Chapter Two. If that's your kind of thing, pages 393-4 of A Fine Balance include a recipe for masala vada (although Mistry spells it "masala wada").
Rigging the election Indian style. The mid-1970s Emergency was a local maximum for corruption and official lawlessness in India. On page 144 of A Fine Balance we get a national election.
The election officer was presented with gifts and led away to enjoy the day with food and drink. The doors opened and the voters filed through. "Put out your fingers," said the attendant monitoring the queue.
The voters complied. The clerk at the desk uncapped a little bottle and marked each extended finger with indelible black ink, to prevent cheating.
"Now put your thumbprints over here," said the clerk.
They placed their thumbprints on the register to say they had voted, and departed.
Then the blank ballots were filled in by the landlords' men. The election officer returned at closing time to supervise the removal of ballot boxes to the counting station, and to testify that voting had proceeded in a fair and democratic manner.
That was a Third World election in a vast, poor nation under temporary dictatorship 45 years ago. Thank goodness for progress!
America v. Europe on demographic collapse. A listener to my November 13th podcast takes issue, thus:
Could I ask why you are so much more pessimistic regarding immigration and demographic change about Europe than the U.S.? The U.S. is only slightly more than 60 percent white while most European countries have immigrant populations of approximately 10-15 percent. Additionally, many of the immigrants are from Eastern Europe.
I know the Europeans are very much more into virtue signaling about race than Americans, red state anyway, but they are in much better position to do something about it than the U.S. And a significant though minority portion of their populations are waking up to this reality much earlier than in the U.S.
I chewed over this topic considerably in Chapter 11 of We Are Doomed, summarizing some then-recent exchanges between Mark Steyn and Ralph Peters. Steyn had argued in his 2006 book America Alone that Europe is a goner, leaving … well, America alone. Ralph Peters, responding to that, predicted that the Europeans would eventually get in touch with their inner fascist.
When Europeans feel sufficiently threatened—even when the threat's concocted nonsense—they don't just react, they over-react with stunning ferocity.
In my book I tentatively came down on Ralph Peters' side of the argument. That was in 2009. So the question before the house is: Why now, eleven years later, am I leaning Steynwards, to the view that Europe's demographic future is darker than ours?
One factor has been eleven further years of reading, well-nigh daily, stories like these from the British press.
First story: In March 2017 the British government chartered a plane to deport 60 illegal aliens to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone. The 60 included 25 criminals who had been imprisoned in British jails for serious offences including murder, rape of a minor and grievous bodily harm. The plane was to depart from Stansted Airport, near London.
A group of activists tagged by the press as "the Stansted 15" cut through the airport's perimeter fence and locked themselves together around the plane, preventing takeoff.
The Stansted 15 seem, from press pictures and names, to be all young white British people, except for one with a Hindu name. Nine of the 15 are female. ["Stansted 15" pro-immigrant activists who stormed runway to stop a jet from deporting 60 criminals to Africa and caused travel misery for thousands appeal their sentences by Mark Duell; MailOnline, November 24th 2020.]
Second story: About 500 illegal aliens, mainly Afghans, set up a camp in Paris's Place de la République. A charity named Utopia56 provided tents and food.
The Place is in the city center, a mile from the Louvre and Notre Dame. Equivalents would be London's Trafalgar Square or the Ellipse in Washington, D.C.
On November 23rd, "Police used tear gas and baton charges to clear the refugees and their supporters away from Place de la République."
This—the clearing of the illegals' camp, not the camp itself—has raised shrieks of horror among France's great and good, including the government's own interior minister. [Outrage as Paris police violently break up a makeshift camp, dispersing hundreds of homeless refugees, as France's interior minister seeks a "detailed report" on the incident captured in shocking footage by Peter Allen; MailOnline, November 24th 2020.]
Note that both stories are from the same newspaper on the same day. I read hundreds of similar stories every year.
Does the U.S.A. have crazy ethnomasochists like the Stansted 15 and the French shriekers? Sure we do; but they focus their attention mainly on our native blacks and their imaginary grievances, leaving not much energy for foreign invaders. Stories like those two are not common here. The civilizational death-wish seems stronger in Europe.
That wasn't the case eleven years ago when I published We Are Doomed. There were real signs of nationalist-populist awakening in Europe. UKIP was already well-established in Britain. In Germany, Thilo Sarrazin's book Germany Abolishes Itself came out the following year; it was a best-seller, a factor in the rise of the AfD party three years later. Matto Salvini was rising in Italy; in France, Marine Le Pen was breathing new life into her father's National Front party.
Now most of that's gone flat. Sure, the Brits got Brexit; but it's being implemented by open-borders neoliberals who look on unconcerned as people-smugglers ply a busy trade across the English Channel. And those open-borders neoliberals are from the less ethnomasochistic side of British politics—in fact from the Conservative Party!
Possibly I've become too Americanized: too willing to see the Old Continent as far gone in decadence, while we Americans retain some of our original pioneering vigor. And perhaps all that is a happy illusion. Perhaps we are just as decadent as they are.
All I know is, I sit down at the monitor every morning to browse the news for my podcast and commentary, and I look for signs of civilizational confidence in the Old Continent, and day after day after day I don't see any.
And then there's cold geography, which I should have paid more attention to in 2009. The great ticking demographic time bomb of this century is sub-Saharan Africa. When that bomb goes off, Europe will be a lot closer to the blast than us.
Math cartoon of the month. This one!
Math revenge of the month. For the first two years of my three-year math undergraduate course, we all took the same classes. For the final year, we were allowed to pick electives. Making inquiries, I heard that Fluid Mechanics was an easy elective because, I was told, "You only have to memorize one equation."
This proved not to be the best advice I ever had. The Navier-Stokes Equation is hard. I did not do well on the exam.
Since Navier-Stokes got the better of me, I was somewhat cheered to see that Artificial Intelligence is getting the better of it.
Now researchers at Caltech have introduced a new deep-learning technique for solving PDEs that is dramatically more accurate than deep-learning methods developed previously. It's also much more generalizable, capable of solving entire families of PDEs—such as the Navier-Stokes equation for any type of fluid—without needing retraining. [AI has cracked a key mathematical puzzle for understanding our world by Karen Hao; MIT Technology Review, October 30th 2020.]
("PDE" stands for "Partial Differential Equations," the broad class of equations to which Navier-Stokes belongs.)
Brainteaser. Here's the November 1st "Mind-Bender for the Quarantined" from Dr. Peter Winkler at the National Museum of Mathematics.
A box contains nine billiard balls numbered 1 through 9. You repeat the following ten times: reach blindly into the box, pick out a random ball, note its number, and throw the ball back in the box.
What is the probability that the sum of the numbers of the balls you picked is even?
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 VDARE.com com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.
Readers who wish to donate (tax deductible) funds specifically earmarked for John Derbyshire's writings at VDARE.com can do so here.