The Corbyn Effect

It’s dangerous to pay too much attention to politics, because one can get caught up in caring who wins and who loses, which is a deeply unproductive distraction.

However, the details of political conflicts are of significance to the  extent that they inform our understanding of the structure of government and of society, and the trends applying to them.

It’s in that spirit that I look at the phenomenon of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party. It might help to imagine you are reading about something a century in the past, to achieve the appropriate detachment from popular controversies.

An underappreciated element of Corbyn’s appeal is that the general standard of the candidates is so low. This is a consequence of the fact that for decades, the most able and ambitious people do not go into politics. That is by no means a phenomenon restricted to the Labour Party. Cameron is marginally adequate as politician, but the Conservatives waited years for him; from the fall of Thatcher in 1990 to Cameron’s nomination in 2005, the weakness of the leading personalities was the  most striking thing about the party. The only figure who looked and  acted like a Prime Minister was Michael Hesletine, who would certainly have been leader were it not for the minor fact that everybody else in the party hated him. The leaders and near-leaders they ended up with were either decent people lacking force and ambition, like Major and Duncan-Smith, or oddities like Hague and Howard. Today, there are no plausible rivals to Cameron. (The fact that people talk about another oddity, Boris Johnson, as a future Prime Minister is evidence enough of that).

Labour is in the same boat. Whatever the circumstances are that are favouring Corbyn, he would not be the front-runner if there were a rival candidate with the status markers of Cameron, Blair, or even Kinnoch.

The same phenomenon is visible in the United States. The last President who you could have pointed to at a young age as a plausible future  President was Clinton, though Gore would have counted had he managed a few more votes in 2000. Neither Bush 43 nor Obama had the same kind of ambition or strength of personality; they are both fairly ordinary men who ended up in office more or less by default, on family momentum in one case and via a lucky path through America’s racial dynamics in the other. Bush 43 to an extent rose to the demands of the job, becoming more presidential than many would have expected, while Obama strikingly failed to do the same, but it is ludicrous to compare either of them to truly top-class politicians like Reagan, Clinton or Nixon.

It is a complex question why the likes of Clinton or Nixon no longer appear on the political stage, but among many reasons, the most important is that it has been becoming more obvious to potential recruits that party politics is not where the real power is. Business, academia, journalism, or pressure-group politics are more reliable mechanisms for turning personal superiority into influence and status than competing for votes. (The decline of machine politics, as described by Jonathan Rauch, may be another reason).

It is in this environment of relatively unremarkable men running for office: Millibands, Obamas, George Osbornes and Liz Kendalls, that any kind of perceived radicalism, whether ideological like Corbyn’s or personal like Donald Trump’s or Boris Johnson’s, starts to become attractive to voters.

Moving on to Corbyn specifically, I think Tim Stanley’s view of his  support as essentially nostalgic for the 1970s is largely right. Corbyn is anything but a firebrand—he does not resemble an actual radical leader like Tony Benn or Ken Livingstone, he is just a time-server of the hard-left committee circuit. Dennis the Peasant, not Spartacus. But his position calls to mind the time before globalization,  privatisation, outsourcing and leveraged buy-outs. Also, strikingly, the time before diversity co-ordinators, microaggressions, paternity leave and intersectionalism. His recent proposal to carry women-only carriages on trains is a hilarious demonstration of how out of touch he is with today’s left. It is actually perfectly reasonable to suggest that women should have safe spaces protected from men, but, aside from the practical difficulty of enforcing them on unpoliced and near-empty passenger trains, it is far too traditionalist and conservative an idea for the Tories or UKIP, never mind the Labour Party.

The struggle most associated with Corbyn, on the other hand, is  anti-colonialism. It is that which has produced all the photographs of Corbyn standing with or shaking hands with half the world’s best-known terrorists. In a world without a Soviet Union providing propaganda support for rebels and separatists, that looks like being a bigger obstacle to his electoral chances than marxist economics.

So there are two interesting things to draw from the election. First, the shift in quality of personnel in top-level national politics. This is potentially huge, because of the impact on the popular perception of the functioning of democracy. Democracy continues fine when people hate their leader, but it stumbles when they despise him, and it seems quite likely that the next Prime Minister after Cameron, and the next US President after Obama, will be very widely despised (as was Bush). The intrusion of outsiders like Trump into the political arena is also destabilising to the legitimacy of the process.

The second thing is that if Corbyn does become Labour leader, with his radical-left credentials he could lend a kind of respectability to a more sceptical attitude to political correctness and identity politics. That depends on how he fares as leader, which depends in part on whether there is an outright split in Labour—a pitched battle between left and right, or even an SDP-style breakaway.

Again, the point is not to predict the outcome (the feedbacks in the system are so powerful and chaotic that any development might end up triggering the opposite effect as a backlash larger than the trigging event), still  less to guide any kind of political intervention (passivism, do you speak it?), but to understand the forces at work in the modern representative democracy.

Marriage and Family Illustrated

When Your Husband Sleeps with the Nanny

TL;DR : couple who had been together for 20 years get a 22-year-old au pair to look after the children; husband dumps wife to be with au pair.

Part of the modern western mythology of romance is that we fall in love with people for who they are inside. There is a tiny piece of truth in that, but mostly we love people for what they do, and how they do it. We fall in love with people who give us attention and who act as if we are important to them.

Abigail, the wife in this story, was the same person who had married Ben fifteen years previously. But she wasn’t doing the same things that had attracted him. Nor was what she was doing a natural development of those things: she hadn’t become a housewife and mother, she had become a “project co-ordinator” who didn’t have time or energy for him, or even much interest in him.

The pair were married for nearly a decade before having children, and it seems that as a couple they never really adapted to being parents. The kind of office career that she followed does not usually get easier over time; it gets more demanding, more pressured. You can be 24, and “going to work” is just one thing you do among many, but when you are 38 your job is the biggest part of your life, and anything else is a little extra that you might have time and energy for. Since she was going out to work but he was working from home, the nanny was closer to him in every way than the wife.

The husband felt closer to the nanny who looked after his house and his children, than to the “project co-ordinator” he was theoretically married to.

He was probably a more significant part of the nanny’s life than he was of his wife’s, who was too tired at the age of 38 and with a full-time job to go out dancing with him.

Basically, Ben and Anna, the husband and the nanny, had the normal relationship of a traditional family,  except that at night he was, for no obvious reason, sleeping with Abigail, some other woman who happened to be sharing his house. After a year, the pointlessness of that distraction became evident. You could even say that Ben was being unfaithful to Anna, the woman who spent leisure time with him, looked after his house and his children, by going to bed with Abigail.

This is just one story, reported in the Daily Mail, so not necessarily accurate, and not necessarily representative even if it is accurate. I’m looking at it as a story, rather than as a set of facts. What it provides in terms of evidence is that telling this story makes sense to people. The background of a woman who meets a man at 18, marries him, has two children in her thirties, goes to work full time while her husband works from home, gets an au pair to look after the children—this strikes readers of the Daily Mail as a reasonable sort of life.

Here’s the point: it isn’t. The proper response to the story is not “oh dear, it all went wrong, how sad”, it’s “How could anyone expect that to work? How many other couples are pretending to be a family in the shape of sleeping arrangements, but not actually living as a family, or even living almost as a family with other people?”

The traditional western nuclear family is not a natural social phenomenon innate to humanity, but it is something which evolved and proved to work in an environment not very far removed from our own. It is by no means the only workable arrangement, but on the other hand some random combination of features is unlikely to be as effective.

It is expected to start with a strong mutual physical attraction between two young people. The dark truth of young humans is that such strong physical attractions are not hard to come by. It is not putting much difficulty in the way of forming a marriage to require an attraction of this kind.

The strong attraction will not last in the same form for long enough to sustain the marriage. In particular, it will fade for the man. The different development of attractive features of men and women are such that, even if the man is 30 and the woman is 20, he is becoming more attractive and she is becoming less attractive.

This need not matter, because the traditional development is for the couple to become mutually dependent. The wife makes the home, has children, and nurtures the children. The husband supports the family economically. The wife will have friends who are also wives, and the husband will have friends and colleagues who are also husbands. Neither partner will have any remotely sexual contact with anyone but each other. The woman becomes less attractive, but men stay interested in sex into old age, and, whatever the husband’s past, over time sex comes to mean, for him, sex with his wife. Her main role is running the home, with his help. His main role is his job, and ideally she would help with that. The physical attraction of the early years has morphed into a familiar closeness and a mutual dependency.

Going nearly a decade without children weakens this pattern. The wife having a full time job as a project co-ordinator, working with other men, totally blows it out of the water. Bringing a 22-year-old girl into the house to look after the children, reckless as it seems, is just the straw that broke the camel’s back: it seems pretty clear that, without that, the split would have come anyway. By Anna’s own account, there was nothing much in the arrangement for her, anyway. Why does a woman with a full-time job and children she doesn’t have time to raise need a husband? Again, by both accounts, if she had wanted him, he would have stayed with her: it was when he realised that Anna’s company was actually a bigger part of his life than Abigail’s that he pulled the plug.
“all five of us took a day trip to Belgium and, suddenly, I felt like the outsider.” Objectively, she’d been an outsider for years.

Reductio ad absurdum of welfare

A central Leftist belief is that it is not just to simply leave another person alone, but rather that justice in some circumstances requires a person to actively help another.

That is not an unreasonable principle. For a concentration of people to live in proximity, it is necessary for some forms of positive right to be respected.

But they do insist on taking it to the absurd.

Greeks cannot get money from the banks, because the banks are closed. The banks are closed because they do not have any money. They do not have any money because the ECB (“The Germans”, if you like), have stopped giving them any. The left are describing this situation—Germany not giving Greek banks any more money—as an attack on Greece. By not giving Greece money, Germany is overruling Greek democracy. It is imposing austerity.

You can make a case that if the wealthy of Britain, say, are not paying taxes to fund various generous services and subsidies to the poor of Britain, they are in some way depriving their neighbours and countrymen of something they are entitled to. To be a property-owner within a stable society, arguably, implies duties to that society. It’s hard to see where to draw the line, but it’s not outrageous.

But to posit in the same way, that the people of Germany have the moral duty to fund the people of Greece to live a first-world lifestyle in a third-world economy, is just baseless. They are not fellow-countrymen. They are not neighbours. They do not share a common inheritance from a community of ancestors. Even descending into the swamps of democratic theory, German taxpayers do not get to vote for the Greek government. It’s just blatantly insane. There is no starting point for an argument to begin to work towards that conclusion.

By making or supporting that claim, leftists are undermining their more supportable claims for egalitarian policies within societies. If they can argue for Germans to subsidise Greeks, then there is no conceivable limit to the level of charity they will consider a moral necessity. Therefore whatever level they do argue for must be opposed; since they clearly cannot themselves limit their demands, their demands must be limited for them.

Professional Begging

From @edwest :

Police survey finds just one in 10 beggars are homeless

Officers in Nottingham say some of those supposedly living on the streets own their own homes

Now, we should be cautious of this survey: 52 beggars in one possibly-atypical English city.

But if its findings are general, it’s quite an alarming fact. The question of how many beggars are genuinely needy has been a live one since at least ’91 (that’s 1891). But half being homeowners is not what many of us would have guessed.

This issue is a miniature example of the problems of liberal social policy. Because, even if the survey is correct, there are really people in genuine need, homeless and depending on the generosity of passers-by.

However, the simple solution, of giving beggars money as you pass by, just doesn’t work. The people who get the money will largely not be those that need it, but those who are most adept at appearing to need it. By giving money to beggars, you are displacing those that you want to help, pulling in others, even some with their own homes and the ability to do useful work.

And yet, if nobody does anything, the only people on the street will be those with genuinely nothing else to do.

It isn’t just welfare payments (informal by handing out money in the street, or formal through a state benefits system) that have this effect.

In Mary Nichols’ time, there were many women who were trapped in marriages with abusive husbands. The reforms that Nichols and her successors advocated and implemented make it very easy for a wife to escape a marriage.

What is the result? It is not that those women escape their marriages, and everyone in a happy marriage is unaffected. It is that marriage has almost totally broken down, to the point that at least a quarter of people don’t even bother with it. Of those that do, a minority are actually lifelong, because marriage no longer means what it used to. Of those marriages that do last, even they are not the same, because couples lose the assurance that they are in a permanent situation, with the psychological comfort that that provides. And with all that, there are still women trapped in abusive relationships. Those most in need of the benefits of reform are least capable of taking advantage of it.

The beneficial effect of the reform occurs immediately, but the knock-on reshaping of society takes generations. By the time the damage has outweighed the benefit, people are no longer aware of what they have lost.

This same pattern occurs time and time again: from central banks preventing crashes, to health and safety regulations keeping children away from dangers.

It doesn’t follow that when we see something bad, we must assume that whatever we do will make it worse. But any kind of reform would need to be cautious, experimental, and pinned to a statement of what it must not be allowed to sacrifice. There should be a finger on the “revert” button.

A Slice of 1850s Boston

I tweeted this the other day (can’t remember where I saw it), from The Paris Review

Thomas Nichols was born in New Hampshire in 1815 of old New England stock—his father was a militiaman in the War of 1812 and his grandfather fought for the rebels in the Revolutionary War.

As a medical student at Dartmouth he attended a lecture on vegetarianism by the influential health reformer Sylvester Graham.

He married Mary Gove in 1848, presided over by a Swedenborgian minister.

Free-love doctrine rested on the belief that no one can honestly vow to love another person forever; once love is lost, a partner is free to pursue their “passional affinities” and find romantic love elsewhere.

Thomas returned to medical school at New York University and graduated in 1850; he and his wife began to promote water-cure doctrines around New York City and launched the Water-Cure Journal, which amassed twenty thousand subscribers. The following year, the couple established the nation’s first school devoted to the principles of water-cure. They hoped to develop the Hydropathic Institute into a “School for Life,” which would act as the movement’s hub and graduate reformists who would lead the communitarian effort to reconstruct society.

Two years later, they relocated the school, which was increasingly popular, to Port Chester, New York, inviting all those “willing to be considered licentious by the world” to join them.

Local outcry swelled, and the school didn’t last long. The Nicholses decamped to Long Island in 1852; they took over Modern Times, an existing utopian community, but doctrinarian and monetary conflicts ensured its brisk demise.

Cincinnati was the next stop, followed by Yellow Springs, Ohio, where they established another water-cure institute in 1856 with some 500 followers. It was formally dedicated on April 7, Charles Fourier’s birthday, under a banner that read “Freedom, Fraternity, Chastity.”

The couple wrote “Marriage: Its History, Character and Results” in 1854.

“Everybody knows the evils of marriage institution, but like disease and death they are regarded as inevitable,”

Throughout her life, Mary had turned to the spirit world for guidance on philosophical and social matters. During a séance in Yellow Springs in early 1857, St. Ignatius of Loyola appeared to her and directed her to study the history of the Jesuits, prompting the couple to convert to Catholicism. The announcement of their sudden conversion was met with stunned surprise by their followers and incredulity by their detractors. Had Mary finally cracked under the relentless public assault? Regardless of the motivations, they improbably remained Catholics for the rest of their lives, continuing to pursue much of their old work, now stripped of free-love doctrine.

There are copies of The Water-Cure Journal online at archive.org. An extract:

From the Report of the Committee of the American Hygenic and Hydropathic Association of Physicians and Surgeons (Chairman Roland S. Houghton, M.D.) July 1851

The most important sanitary measure ever adopted in England was the “Act for the Registration of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, in England and Wales,” which  went into operation on the 1st of July, 1837. This act was brought into  Parliament by Lord John Russell, and supported by Lord Morpeth (now Earl of Carlisle), the late Sir Robert Peel, and other distinguished members. Under the operation of the system which this act established, “a mass of statistics, relating to life, health, and disease, has been accumulating, which will exert, and is exerting, an immensely beneficial influence upon the physical and moral welfare of the population.”

What do I draw out of this rambling little story?(everything above, other than the extract from the Water-Cure Journal, is quoted from the Paris Review piece, though I’ve rearranged bits into chronological order)

First and least importantly, there is the amusing story of the woman who declares permanent marriage vows to be a great evil when she is trying to persuade a second man to take her on after divorcing her first husband, and then converts to Catholicism when she sees holding on to her second husband to be her main priority.

Second, that of course the concept of free love, of destroying the social institutions of European civilisation, did not originate in California in the 1960s. It was going around for more than a century before then.

Third, that alongside the radical element of New England reformism, there is the administrator, or “Man of System.” Gathering population statistics is “the most important sanitary measure ever adopted in England”. This anticipation of the modern omnipresent bureaucratic oversight existed alongside the fashions of feminism, vegetarianism, free love and innovative health practices.

They’re not necessarily quite the same people. Roland Houghton, M.D., who wrote so sensibly about urban public health, was quite likely not keen on Mary Gove Nichols’ idea of marriage. But the Nichols were chased out of towns because they went too far, not because they were going in the wrong  direction. More importantly, the likes of Nichols and the likes of Houghton moved in the same circles—the Water-Cure Journal and so on. The two arms of the modern left—the radical and the scientific—were together, in Boston, in 1851.

Discussion on Hacker News

My post A Strange Loop appeared on Hacker News, and some comments were posted in the few minutes before it was inevitably censored.

I can’t add comments, possibly because the post itself has been [flagged], possibly because I only created my HN account after it was posted, I’m not sure. But a couple of the comments are worth addressing.

In order,

I wondered when this nonsense would show up here, and indeed am utterly unsurprised to see an article spinning conspiracy out of the disinvitation of a virulent racist and fascist popping up at #1.

For a less sensationalized counterpoint, try this: https://al3x.net/2015/06/04/wouldn’t-censorship-be-exciting….

jarcane cites Alex Payne as a “less sensationalized counterpoint”

Alex Payne is a socialist activist.

After several years as an enthusiastic reader and supporter, it’s my pleasure to announce that I’m joining the Jacobin advisory board.

Jacobin describes itself as “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.”

Regardless of the merits of socialism or neoreaction, even bringing him into the discussion does nothing but strengthen my argument.

Do we really need this kind of culture war nonsense? I don’t agree with anyone being barred from speaking at technical conferences for their political views, but then bringing Steve Klabnik’s politics into it doesn’t feel like a classy move either

I think you don’t need it. But now you’ve got it, and the point of the article was to explain how and why. Since Steve Klabnik put pressure on Miller to bring Yarvin’s politics into the conference, bringing in his has to be relevant.

gaoshan 53 minutes ago [excerpted]

The author clearly has a curiously well defined political ax to grind but to conflate the issue of this speaker being banned with what looks like a 1950’s style anti-communist fetish is bizarre….

As someone who has attended the conference in the past and who is diametrically opposed with the political views of the extreme right (being a moderate, normal, person), I don’t have a problem with someone like Yarvin speaking about tech at the conference.

Well, as Moldbug pointed out, at the height of the 1950’s anti-communist fetish, being a right-wing extremist in America was still much less acceptable than being a communist.

You don’t have a problem hearing about Urbit, but various other people, some of whom identify themselves as socialists or Marxists, such as Klabnik or Payne, have a great problem. If it’s not because of their left-wing politics, then why do they not agree with “a moderate, normal person” like you? If it is because of their left-wing politics, isn’t that an interesting fact?

The Case for Ad Hominem

This is a postscript to A Strange Loop.

What I want to emphasise, more than before, is the reasonableness of the complaints about sexism in technology that gave the blacklisters their foot in the door.

It would be easy to think, that because I’ve been critical of the social effects of women working on equal terms with men, that I would be in favour of maintaining hostility to women in technology, as a means of moving society towards Patriarchy, which I support. It rather looks like I’m doing exactly what I accuse leftists of doing, and lying about my true motives.

That’s not actually true. I am opposed to women in the workplace on equal terms with men, and I ought to have made that clear. But the vast majority of working women work in areas that are in no way as male-dominated as information technology. The idea that being offensive to women technologists is a step on the road to restoring patriarchy is a complete non-starter.

It does mean that I would not accept arguments that sexism in technology is infringing the “rights” of women to equal treatment in the workplace. But I think I made my opinion of rights arguments fairly clear in the piece.

In fact, as a working technologist, I have a small number of female colleagues, and I have no wish to drive them out or disadvantage them in the name of incremental social change. All the working female computer programmers in the country would not make much impact on fertility if they were to go home and make babies. Incremental social change is not an option for the right; any actual social change of the sort we wish for is likely to be cataclysmic in nature.

Also, just to be absolutely clear on this, I do not hate them. I personally like having females around as colleagues, particularly if they’re pretty. That is no doubt a “sexist” attitude, but it is not motivating my view of the culture war in technology. Leftists love to talk about hatred. They will resort to it at the drop of a hat, to avoid addressing contrary arguments on their merits. If you want to reduce welfare benefits, you hate the poor. If you want more women to have families, you hate women. If you notice differences between races, you hate all races but your own. And, as they have themselves demonstrated in the way they talk about Curtis Yarvin, it is quite possible to internalise a political position emotionally to the point that it resembles hatred. But we neoreactionaries are a very cerebral bunch (much to the disgust of others in the alternative right). We are, far more than most other groups, able to separate our theoretical positions from our personal relations, though the question is sometimes raised as to whether this is a bad practice. (There was a considerable flap when Justine Tunney entered our forums with sympathetic ideas, and the predominant, but by no means unanimous, attitude was to interact with her and her ideas politely, and put aside the widespread view that “transsexualism” is a mental illness).

Certainly the only hatred visible in the Strangeloop controversy is coming from leftist agitators who have raised their disagreement with traditionalist political ideas to the level of hatred of those who advance them.

The reason I did not refer to my support for patriarchy when talking about the question of women in technology is that it never struck me as relevant. If my pro-patriarchy position were grounded in hatred of women, it obviously would be highly relevant to the question of women in technology, but again, that never occurred to me. I want a future where most women marry once and have children, in part because I think that would make them happy. I would, as I wrote recently, also like women to be involved in the economy sufficiently to engage their need for fulfilling work, though this is tricky to square with the modern workplace. I hope for better solutions to that than those I have so far advanced. I do not expect to easily convert new readers to my pro-patriarchy viewpoint, but I think they ought to recognise that, even if it is wrong, it is not motivated by hatred.

It is true that I have written previously that women need to be kept out of technology to save technology, but that is essentially the same argument that I made in A Strange Loop: that the culture war is now on and as such it tends to make women in technology into the enemy of technology (sometimes against their will). If there were no culture war, that argument would vanish.

The point of this is that I believe that the argument “You shouldn’t make sex jokes at technology conferences because that will drive women out” is fundamentally a sound and good argument. It is obvious, it is fine, I accept it as an argument. The reason the argument should have been rejected from the beginning is not that it is a bad argument, it is that those spearheading it had a different, hidden agenda of introducing political blacklisting into technology, one which now is beginning to bear fruit.

What do you do if a good argument is put forward in bad faith? Within a community, you have to reject it. That is because the standards of discussion in the community assume common goals and good faith, and those with divergent goals and bad faith will take advantage of the assumptions to achieve far greater change than they otherwise would be able to. In a venue acknowledged to be hostile—a political forum, the same does not apply. A politician is not blindly trusted, but a member of a goal-oriented community like the software industry more or less is.

The other path is the one Alex Miller feared and tried to avoid, which is to acknowledge that the community is in fact a hostile, or political, venue. That is what has happened to the gaming community, for example. There are obviously parallels between that and what is going on in software, but as I haven’t really played any games made this century, I’m not well placed to discuss them.

My conclusion, made to political neutrals in communities affected by politics, is that you need to be extremely distrustful of people who come into your community and attempt to change it, who have any kind of political loyalty. I offer this advice in good faith, though I have a political agenda of my own. You should be suspicious of my advice because of my political agenda. (And if you are, then you are following my advice). But unlike leftists, I have nothing to offer but the truth—that is why I have gone to the length of writing this second post on the subject, to point out that I actually am what today is called “sexist”, and to explain that that is not the motivation behind my advice, though at a glance it might seem probable that it would be.

[Nobody has yet objected to my previous post pointing out that I was concealing my support for patriarchy. That can only be because nobody has read it with a sufficiently critical attitude, so this is in a sense a reply to criticisms that have not yet been made but should have been]