Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Just be Reasonable - Science, Toeing the Line, White Supremacy ... and Robert Henryson

Bruce Nauman, Some Illusions: Videos and Drawings

Michael Camille prize here. Don't forget to submit!

This morning, I got a bug in my ear to look into Nick Land again. Full confession: I wasn't into him in the 90s, like a lot of gloomy types; I wasn't ever into him; and the very first I heard of him was not long ago, in association with something called the "Dark Enlightenment," a movement that grows at once more frightening and more hilarious the more I learn about it. For treatments, see here (which may be a dubious source, but it makes a great story) and especially here. There you'll learn about this movement's hatred of democracy and social justice movements, its love for "ancestral neopaganism" (to which, as a medievalist, I ask: what are your sources? and could you share them with us?), and especially their championing of HBD, or "Human Biodiversity," about which Land says:
HBD, broadly conceived, is simply a fact. It is roughly as questionable, on intellectual grounds, as biological evolution or the heliocentric model of the solar system. No one who takes the trouble to educate themselves on the subject with even a minimum of intellectual integrity can doubt that.
On the one hand, sure, humans are biologically diverse. On the other hand, it's clear, very clear, that HBD is just a cover for white supremacism. At least that was the case with everyone I tweeted with today. For more, keep reading.

Feeling frisky, I took some time on twitter to mock the movement, for example, simply by linking to a poll that asks, hilariously? pathetically?, "How long until the paradigm of political correctness / Cultural Marxism is destroyed in the West?" (options: 1) Less than 15 Years; 2) 15 - 50 Years; 3) 50 - 100 Years; 4) More than 100 Years). Here's another sample tweet:
And if you're waiting for medieval content, hang on. It's coming. Below. First, though, the reactions, which were thick (in all senses of the word) and which still continue. They got really nasty very quickly. It wasn't just the befuddlement over me being a professor and a medievalist; it's not just that they tried to convince me that religious belief is genetically inheritable; nor just that a bunch of mostly white guys -- or at least twitter personae presenting as white men, living or dead -- tried to get me, a non-geneticist, to argue with them, non-geneticists, about genetics; nor that they believe in some kind of immemorial animality that's the real truth of humankind (is this Freud or Nietzsche they're borrowing?); nor that they combine this belief in the deep truth of human nature with their certainty that they're the real defenders of culture (to which, what?); nor is it that I'm a "feminized," "state school" (?), "unwashed prog" who is a "faggy New York Jew who attends [?] liberal art colleges" (I wish! some of my favorite people are faggy New York Jews).

It's that they're horrified by a "rising tide of diversity" (edit for example, this banner) and that they believe that the only bulwark against it is something they call SCIENCE. For example.

I'm not here to debate science or human potential (but, you know, here and here and here and EDIT especially (b) here and, why not keep going: herehere, and here (whose abstract doesn't really do it justice), and, since they believe nonscientist journalists might be convince me otherwise, here too), because there's no point in legitimizing this crap by carrying on the debate on the terms they demand. I'm more interested in the white supremacists' insistence that I face facts and be reasonable.

I've been thinking about that phrase "be reasonable" since I taught Robert Henryson's Fables. Now, there are other lessons we can take from the Fables to combat the white supremacists, namely, that the racist certainty about what constitutes "intelligence" (coupled with a refusal to define it) runs counter to the fables' pragmatism, where corporeal- and neurodiversity thrive more than any singular "intelligence," with the lion needing mice, the strength of wolves being useless before the quite different strength of lions, and so on. Since this counterargument would tend to support the way they wield HBD, I see a stronger counterargument, though, in the whole issue of "reason." Over at my animal studies course wiki (about which more in a later post), I observe:
"Reason" works oddly in the Fables. Reason is of course that thing that separates humans from animals. But what is it? When Henryson says that Aesop's fable had "ane sentence according to ressoun" (1894), what does that mean? If animals have only inclination and not discretion, as Henryson tells us in the opening to the "Cock and the Fox" (398-9), then they don't have choice. They're mechanical creatures, bound by the laws, essentially, of physics, while we at least have choice. Supposedly.
But there's another meaning of "reason," namely, when someone says "be reasonable," that is, "accord with the fact as they stand." Here "reason" is perfect description, perfect measure, and thus the very opposite of that "extra" something that reason-as-choice would seem to grant. This is the reason that is "according to ressoun," like Aesop's writing, which perfectly matches its circumstances, like water in water.
Given this, what animal is the "most reasonable" in the fables? The fox, with its craftiness (or is its "inclination" just to be excessive?)? The sheep clever enough to disguise itself as a dog (but not clever enough to resist the brave dogginess that the disguise grants it)? Or the country mouse, whose life accords best with the mousy way of life and indeed the contempt for worldly glory Henryson's morals preach ad nauseum?
Or maybe there's no one reason whose character we would know in advance?

To take this further, the demand "be reasonable," in purpose, the same idiom as "face facts." It's a demand to give up on trying, to stop fighting back, to just go along with the single option that's available. It's the certainty that there's only one right solution to a problem. It's an abandonment of creativity, an abandonment of skepticism, an abandonment of, well, hope, which might account for why the white supremacists and their Dark Enlightenment allies are so very, very gloomy.

If there's a lesson we should draw from the fable tradition, particularly if we free it Henryson's mostly dreadful Christian moralizations, let's not face facts. Let's work with them, instead, and see what we can do. Let's get pragmatic, in the more hopeful sense Tom Tyler gives the word. And let's not abandon our decisions to a mechanistic science that we let do all our thinking for us. Reason, in the best sense of the word, demands we do otherwise.

Edit: for an exercise in completely missing the point, see this response here. There's something fascinating about the post's contempt for my field of study, and for the middle ages as a whole, when we combine it with the same writer's own wish that he "should’ve been a goddamn Viking."

Here's how it ends, spectacularly missing the point and neatly proving my argument simultaneously:
And here’s the thing about facts: there really is “one right solution”. That’s pretty much what truth means.
You know he's a serious Viking because italics.


Jeffrey Cohen said...

Spend one day off the Twitter due to extreme number of meetings, miss the eruptions of passionate fantasy that invocations of race never fail to elicit. Looking forward to digging into this later, Karl.

Karl Steel said...

What's astonishing is that though all these folks are reading each others' tweets -- evidenced by their favoriting even the most banal statement of mockery -- none has condemned any of their, well, sociis, regardless of what's being said. Given that we got from Nick Land and the Dark Enlightenment types to neoconfederates, pick-up artists/men's rights, Torys, and antisemites really, really fast, the only assumption is that racism is the great leveler. There's literally NOTHING that any of these people could say that would exile them from their club so long as they toe the racist line.

As one fellow summed up the conversation: "You FILTHY FAG JEW, we're not racist! Why don't you respect our SCIENCE and DEFEND AMERICA?"

As a side note, some are arguing that they can't be called "white supremacists" because they think "Asians" (whatever that is) are tops. As the #notyourasiansidekick twitter hashtag showed, white supremacists use the Asian model minority myth to bash everyone else. The praise for (some) Asians goes quite comfortably with white supremacy.

If I wanted a medieval example, I suppose I'd take the longstanding presentation of "Ethiops" in hagiography and compare it to the Brahmans in the Alexander legend, though I don't think this comparison is necessarily a raced one, nor even the body vs. spirit dynamic that subtends racism.

Nathaniel M. Campbell said...

This seems merely to be more evidence that modern social media have created platforms/environments that allow ultra-fringe groups that, outside of the interwebs, you would never have heard of, to flourish and demand that we respond to them.

I'd never heard of any of these folks until this blog post, which leaves me torn about what our response to them should be: should we, as you did, ride valiantly into battle against their ignorance, in the hopes that, even if we don't convince them, we'll at least have left a record or rational response to warn off others who may stumble upon them less prepared to see through their idiotic bigotry? Or should we simply ignore them, and by keeping silent, refuse to give their views wider berth? (Google doesn't care that, in linking to their material, you are doing so in critique thereof; Google will simply add your links to their SEO score, making them that much more visible.)

How does one best fight such invincible ignorance? By responding to it (which runs the risk of feeding it), or by ignoring it and hoping it dies of starvation?

Karl Steel said...

great questions Nathaniel. My goal, as I discovered over the course of the day, was to discover the intimate links between certain forms of macho "dark" thinking with the worst reactionary views. It was frankly astonishing how FAST the links showed themselves. The Dark Enlightenment leads DIRECTLY, at least in social media and mutual rhetorical support, to neoconfederates, antisemites, "neopagans," and "racial realists" (whose knowledge of human genetics somehow seems to be even weaker than my own). So, for what it's worth, I've established that that link is real.

Then there's the whole issue of "reason" and "intelligence," which as an animal studies person, I find interesting. The link between racism and the belief in an absolutely quantifiable intelligence and a certain brand of jealously exclusionary humanism all of course speaks to the kinds of things my work critiques. For you, since you're a pious person, the weakness of reason in the light of grace must also be interesting, given the conversation.

But then there's the whole 'calling attention to.' I have to confess that I like these fights. It's not something I'm proud of, exactly, but I've been pugilistic on the web since, oh, 2002 or 2003, when my favorite thing to do to procrastinate on my coursework and then dissertation was to pick fights with reactionaries. They're REALLY EASY TO TROLL. And they still are.

So there's that element of FUN. Jeering has some value. Having discovered that I'm an academic, I think they also want to me, in particular, to take them seriously. My denying them that has stirred up some continued trouble (most recently, someone named "Lord Humungous" (overcompensation?) wants to sic something called the "manosphere" on me.

That said, these people have a VERY well developed network. They talk to each all the time. They must get funding from somewhere. So, exposing the links between misogyny, white supremacism, neoconfederates, and, well, neo-Naxis does some good work, maybe, in making connections apparent between groups to disgust regular people. You and I don't agree on a lot of things, Nathaniel, BUT we *do* agree that this stuff is REPULSIVE. And making sure other people recognize that does some good in tearing off their scientific cover.

Karl Steel said...

Short version: they have a VERY thin
"scientific" and "continental philosophical" cover, which speaks to two different cultures, both of which have some respect. That cover might help them gain access, say, to academic communities or the public sphere, as antisemite &c "Trojan Horses." But my work, if we can call it that, tears off that cover and shows what's really there is the same old extreme right horror show that's been around since, oh, the 19th century. At least.

I mean, it's kind of funny, isn't it, that they call themselves the "Dark Enlightenment." "Dark" means "serious" here, I guess.

But Kant was a racist too! So they might as well just call themselves the plain old Enlightenment. sheesh.

Karl Steel said...

Two more points, and then I'll leave it be.

I've called these folks racists above. It's certainly a fair charge. However, I don't think they'd be bothered by that, though they might prefer to call themselves "racial realists" or even just, blandly, "proponents of human biodiversity," whose divisions of the "races" just so happen to coincide precisely with long discredited racial science. So, yeah, they're fine with being racists.

But I don't think the mode of philosophy I'm implicitly trolling would be fine with this being talked about so overtly, not necessarily. Not when major figures in this field are participating in events and institutions that include some people I respect.

So I think there's some value in simply showing the associations or, more precisely, showing their associates, either to discredit the whole philosophy or, better yet, to get it to weed its intellectual garden to salvage what, if anything, is worthwhile in it.

ASM said...

A) Yay for the wonderful Tom Tyler -- too bad that I came across the reference to your review of his book in the context of this horror show.

B) Scroll to the third page of comments on ANY article about ANYTHING, and you will find anti-Semitism (and other racisms), as well as homophobia and misogyny. This stuff is just a hair's breadth beneath the surface of American culture, and it takes very little scratching to bring it to the surface...

Karl Steel said...

Long comment coming. Have to do it in two parts. Be forewarned.

Here's one take on what happened to Nick Land, which, however, underemphasizes (as in, doesn't mention) his promotion of HBD.

Here's the latest twitter wag to go after me. He's a Putin-admiring old school antisemite.

Now, I've been "corrected" in some private correspondence by some folks who think I'm using an "outdated lens." Proof of this is the preponderance of (certain) Asians and (certain) Jews in the movement, some of whom are VERY well connected and quite wealthy: Steven Hsu, Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State, and a strong proponent of HBD with, apparantly, all its accompanying the neoconservative baggage. There's also the proof of some well-connected folks who admire "Chinese Eugenics," using grotesquely ignorant cultural tropes.

But it's also clear that white admiration of (certain) Asians can fit quite comfortably into the practice of white supremacism. So far as I can tell, the one unshakable belief of the HBD/Dark Enlightenment folks is the certainty that there's one group that could be called "white," and that this group will always be counted among, well, the master races. This is a keystone assumption of white supremacism.

Karl Steel said...

Here's a useful piece on the position of Asians w/in HBD:

"We’ve been co-opted by racists. If you look at history, it’s a classic strategy of appointing a house slave to oversee and keep the rest of the minorities in check. The racists find vulnerable high-IQ Asian men to be their stooges, convincing them to deny the effect of institutional racism and mass media on our minority populations, convincing them that sexual equality is out of their reach, ascribing their failures in life to genes rather than circumstance. The irony is that these racist ideas have been within the culture for the last 200 years, and minorities as a whole have improved a lot since then, far past the limits that the enlightened racists of the nineteenth century ascribed to us."

And here's a Jewish HBD promoter (or at least someone who presents as Jewish) promoting Asian embracing of HBD precisely because it gives him cover for what he explicitly calls a "pro-white movement" :

HBD oriented Asian blogs seem to be popping up around the internet. Personally, I am tickled. This development is promising because American society is not as strict with Asians, as it is with whites, when it comes to the taboo against honest discussion about race. If HBD becomes fashionable among Asians, this could provide a foothold for whites to also espouse such opinions. It could be like sushi or Yoga. One SWPL would say to another, “hey, did you hear about HBD? It’s this cool new Asian philosophy!!”

It may be that graduate students and recent PhDs may be part of the movement, whether in its philosophical side (with the Nick Land set), or in its scientific side, the twitter swarm that went after me represented a standard set of standard reactionary (extreme?) right wing beliefs: men's right's, neopaganism, admiration for Putin (!), neoconfederates, antisemites, etc. And none of them gave any evidence that they have any PROFESSIONAL knowledge of genetics. They're a bunch of cranks, basically. Obviously, scholars of medievalism would have much to work with here, given their love of what the think is the pre-Christian pagan past, medieval "true masculinity," medieval racial "homogeneity" (never mind the actual experience of medieval people), &c.

I'll just emphasize, again, that there was literally nothing so vile that it wouldn't be 'favorited' or retweeted. So whatever the "big tent" "Northern Alliance" elements of the HBD set, their allies are old school white racists. And that's clearly what the movement is at its core.

Michael Sarabia said...

For a moment there, having not encountered or read about this HBD thing before, I thought your references to a "Nick Land" were a way of insulting the world these people inhabit as being Nickelodeon-like/cartoonish. Didn't know it was an individual. I suppose my misreading works, too, lol.

I think it's very important that you make visible the dirty laundry of this community. It's also important that folks like this keep their dirty hands off science and technology, lest they somehow make racist fantasies come true. How much do you think we should worry about "posthuman" bio-tech upgrades (not even sure I'm using the right terminology), given that the distribution of wealth (and thus access to these technologies when and should they become available) in this country is not in favor of non-whites? We are, of course, already living in a world where non-whites are incredibly disadvantaged. Just always curious as to how much worse (or potentially better) all of this prophesied technology could make things.

Maybe I've been (mis)reading too much science fiction.

Karl Steel said...

Michael, on transhumanism, no idea, or rather, you're probably ahead of me on this point.

Curt said...

Happy to debate the Dark Enlightenment with anyone living. Although I'll probably conduct that debate less sentimentally, allegorically and historically than most others.

The DE is a reactionary program that argues against

1) What they call the "Cathedral" : that has replaced the church as teacher of intergenerational moral rules with academia as moral teacher, and replaced mythical Christianity with secular pseudoscientific Christianity: communism, socialism, scientific socialism, Keynesian Socialism, totalitarian humanism, and Postmodernism.

The basic arguments are:
a) As the church was self interested and parasitic, but balanced the nobility, academia is parasitic and reinforces the state. (data demonstrates that this is true)
b) The classes are demonstrably unequal in ability and regulating employment therefore is no longer a possible target for policy. (data demonstrates that this is true.)
c) Keynesian Socialism ('dishonest socialism') exaggerates the trade cycle, and increases booms and busts until all social capital is misallocated. (This was the open question of 20th century economics and it's beginning to appear that this is true.)
b) Diversity decreases high-trust unique to protestant northern europeans.
c) Diversity increases demand for the state. (Evidence is that once any minority gains 10% status they attempt to seek rents via the state.)
d) The state bureaucracy is economically parasitic. (This is true in every western country)
e) The west was unique in preventing centralization because jealously guarded property rights and required all members who obtained property rights to insure each other by defending those rights.
f) The modern state was invented by napoleon for the purpose of conducting total war, leading to the current credit-warfare-welfare state.
g) freedom and prosperity were the result of suppressing the breeding of the lower classes and increasing the rates of reproduction of the upper classes.
h) the power law (Pareto Rule) applies to all human organizations, and must apply, or any organization will eventually be out-competed by those that do follow it.

Net here is that the argument is that the west was a naturally eugenic program that led to prosperity, and that democratic secular socialist humanism is a dysgenic program that must lead to poverty.

2) And equally against the continental enlightenment:
a) The continental enlightenment whether French (Rousseau) or German (Kant) or Jewish (cosmopolitan) all make use of conflation and obscurantism in an attempt to preserve religious authority in secular pseudo-scientific terms. The anglo enlightenment (Smith and Hume) was empirical and came closer to the answer to the problem of the social sciences. However, the anglos attempted to create an aristocracy of everyone - an effort which failed.

3) And equally against the Anglo enlightenment:
b) the failure of the theory of an aristocracy of everybody.
a) the inclusion of the lower classes into the house of commons instead of creating a separate house for dependent classes.

4) And equally against feminism:
a) The inclusion of women into the voting system lasted for only two decades before women systematically voted to undermine the compromise between male and female reproductive strategies, and eugenic reproduction, and the high trust society.


Curt said...

(part 2)

The theoretical end result will be the reconquest of the fragile society by the aggressive societies via the underclasses, restoring the west to the normal order observable in the rest of the world.

Emmanuel Todd has successfully argued I think, that the Muslim system of inbreeding, paternalism, and male dominance is an advancement originated by the greeks as a means of preserving family genetics and wealth. And that this system is actually the most advanced social system, not the worlds most regressive.

And that over time, their high rates of reproduction and resistance to adopting the absolute nuclear family and its total prohibition on free riding and requirement that one can afford a home prior to reproduction will defeat the high trust society - precisely because feminism and socialism have now succeeded in producing nearly half of all births to single mothers.

That's enough for now. And that is not the best that I can do, but it's at least a taste of the argument.

Racism is simply a distraction from the core problem: that humans are tribal, they act tribally, and that western pseudoscience as practiced in Academia is simply cheap status seeking behavior, while at the same time, the accumulated social capital that suppressed dysgenic reproduction is being systematically undermined, and is producing the obvious consequences.


Karl Steel said...

Okay, just letting the last 2 comments through moderation as a useful bookmark of these people's beliefs.

As a medievalist with some sense of the differences between, say, the history of royal centralization in England vs. France, w/ their welter of ongoing and violent property disputes between local lords and bishops/abbots/etc., this "The west was unique in preventing centralization because jealously guarded property rights and required all members who obtained property rights to insure each other by defending those rights" registers as utterly preposterous.

And so on.