Culturalism · Economic History

The Positivity Church

Probably the most frequent dispute I’ve encountered on the internet dot com is that involving the positive mindset gurus vs. realist thinkers. At first glance, it might seem as though no such disagreement should exist; after all, can’t one be positive and also embrace a level-headed posture? Perhaps, but in our modern world of incessant ass-slapping and rah-rah boosting, the very suggestion of a dissenting view can prove devastating, whether to one’s reputation or the ability to hold a job. Ridiculous? Aye. Prone to disappearing anytime soon? Chance would be a fine thing.

For a long time I have held this skeptical view of rambunctious, motivational positivity culture. My recent run-through of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided only heightened the sentiment with its brutal takedown of the entire “be positive” regime. Throughout the text, Ehrenreich cuts at every idiotic trope in American culture, even crushing the numerous studies which purport to link health with positivity. I was especially touched by her section on back-slapping responses from people following a breast cancer diagnosis. Almost two decades ago I became exposed to the same insufferable foolishness when a soccer teammate underwent cancer treatment. Here was a young boy dealing with bouts of chemotherapy and the social stigma of losing his hair, and what was the nurse’s advice? Smile more. Even as a child the notion seemed nonsensical, darting to the heart of humanistic attempts to rationalize and empower people where solemn forthrightness would probably be better.

Other angles of the book are similarly uncompromising. She notes how the rise of life coaches and mindset experts is directly related to the economic decline of the United States since 1970, and its accompanying feelings of insecurity. People no longer have decent jobs and benefits, so they fixate on this happiness spirituality as a shield against reality. Unsurprisingly, corporate executives have aggressively pushed mindset development programs on employees, even as the same captains of industry cut firms down to the bare bones in order to help Wall Street profiteers. Stop being a victim! Just work harder and be happy! Is the ghost-like echo in our minds.

Such blind positiveness can of course lead to destructive outcomes. Ehrenreich suggests the happy-go-lucky attitude helped make intelligence officials complacent in the lead-up to 9/11, even as numerous warning signs lurked. Raising the alarm was not welcomed in an era of “the next century” and America’s seemingly invincible status with technology and the peace dividend. A similar scenario gripped Dick Fuld at the helm of Lehman Brothers, where he fired naysayers who warned of impending disaster, only to spend years contemplating what went wrong with his disastrous leadership.

Applied to the book I am writing, the positivity issue gains added steam. The immediate response of skeptics to a realist look on dating is to claim the perspective is “too negative” or even “nihilistic.” Neither of these labels actually change the underlying problem, of course. A guy who struggles with getting dates will generate meager returns from simply acting positive and repeating some contrived slogan about the power of pozzed thinking. Hope is obviously not a strategy, and often we are better served by brutally examining the facts and acting upon them, rather than floating towards Cloud Nine.

I hardly expect attitudes to change any time soon, and indeed it may be better they don’t. While the linkages between positive thoughts and healing are largely non-existent, I suppose if enough folks think they’re doing something good, at least a short-run benefit might be maximized. Longer-term however, stark fealty to the positive kingdom can easily lead to delusion and personal downfall. It’s all about reality vs. pleasant aspirations, and they don’t always match up.  

Culturalism · Economic History · Self-Improvement

The Trouble With Experts

About a week ago some cable network marionettes carted out a few professors to provide “robust analysis” on the new presidential rankings list. To nobody’s surprise, the top spots included figures like George Washington, Abe Lincoln, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt. At the bottom (counting up), we have James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, and of course Donald Trump. Hilariously, William Henry Harrison, who occupied the White House for a few months before passing away, was ranked higher than Donald, along with Millard Fillmore and Warren G. Harding. The experts proceeded to note that Andrew Jackson lost ground in the rankings, speculating that this was on account of Trump being a fan of Old Hickory. Finally, the empowered and oppressed female professor expressed dismay that slave-holding presidents would still rank high on the list.

Leaving aside the amusing dynamics of FDR being in the top five immediately after the “Stop Asian hate” campaign, and Teddy Roosevelt, who complained about “race suicide,” I was struck by the shallowness of it all. These are after all learned individuals with countless papers, books, and at least one dissertation under their belts, yet the behavior is unchanged. Still we can expect the aggressive public shilling for mainstream narratives, regardless of their cost to history and truth. Anything to avoid getting targeted by a rage pill mob, I suppose.

The broader problem of “listen to the experts” was highlighted by the U.S. experience with COVID-19. As we all know, the government’s response was a hodgepodge of finger-pointing, political hedging, and flat-out delusion. When lockdowns were first proposed, no one could agree with a broad strategy, leading to a patchwork quilt response by the so-called intellectual class. A most vivid instance of this disconnect came when health experts condemned protestors who opposed the lockdowns while shortly thereafter approving demonstrations against police practices. Were the eggheads really motivated by research, or a profound desire to not be tarred and feathered on social media for their consistency?

This raises a bigger question about who one can trust to give good advice. If doctors are “afraid of the backlash” caused by advising against say, the annual flu vaccine, then how can they be relied upon to make proper calls in other areas? As far as many of us know, the man in the white coat could be prescribing indirect poison simply to keep his public image intact. It’s a total minefield, yet even bringing up the issue smarts of being a heretic under the religious purges of olden times. Difference is, they didn’t have social media and Google reputations to worry about.

I suppose it renders my soapbox rather past expiration, but I have to stress the importance of performing due diligence in all aspects of life affecting your health, emotional well-being, and finances. I don’t care if the speaker has a PhD, or indeed rails against higher education every single day to get views. The moment you permit your mind to be outsourced is the start of a long (and potentially hazardous) decline. Steel your brains, and look past the welcoming glow. Experts or not, they’re only human.   

Culturalism · Economic History

Moving Soviets

When the initial previews for the show Snowpiercer materialized, I immediately assumed it would be little more than social justice nonsense. No element at the time filled me with motivation to actually view the forthcoming episodes, but I naively assumed the writing quality would be adequate to foment a respectable storyline. After all, producers likely spent millions to create their epic saga.

Yet I was horrendously wrong. Not only does the series feature some of the worst acting ever to grace the screen, most embodied by Daveed Diggs’ resting intersectional feminism voice, which scarcely ever rises to an octave pitch indicating intensity of emotion or drive. In fact, he spends most of the show looking on in bewilderment and irritation at what is occurring, while hardly appearing to care about what, if anything, happens.

Other characters are similarly demotivational. Jennifer Connelly plays the harsh but altogether confused head of public relations. Some buxom Irish chick is the evil Natzi woman, but she vacillates between meanness and grandmotherly affection. There’s an overweight baldcel security guard and his lesbian subordinate who can’t be bothered to pretend they have any solid character traits from one scene to the next. Then we have the biologist lady, who acts like an empowered muse to various female acquaintances, while also giving the cameramen something to write home about:

Laying aside the wooden acting, we have a storyline and political agenda that is similarly confused. For those unaware, Snowpiercer is about a post-apocalyptic world amid which the earth is covered by freezing ice and snow, with much of humanity cramped in an endless train that circles the earth and gives them the chance to survive. As Daveed Diggs ominously warns viewers in the first episode, “we tried to warn them,” about climate change, but the “deniers” wouldn’t hear it. At some point in recent history, a group of ragtag survivors managed to stowaway on the rear end of the vehicle, where they are now kept in absolute squalor as the rich party it up in fancier cars.

At this point things get complicated. The show’s producers obviously desired to create some low-IQ narrative about inequality and the Trumpian “1 percent,” yet they never explain what’s wrong with the existing model, which is already a form of communism. The train’s leadership could have simply liquidated the baggage at their rear, but instead chose to keep them alive on small rations. If the endies cause trouble, they have a limb stuck out the window and frozen off by the intense cold.  Some however get selected for jobs further up the car line, or indeed trade and technology education classes.

According to Diggs and Co., the system is unjust, because the rich enjoy themselves more than the poor. Of course once they stage a rebellion and take control of the train, everyone seems confused. Yes, some rebels trash the rich girl’s apartment and take her niceties, but nobody appears to have any concept of what should be done. Diggs weakly declares that “Snowpiercer is yours!” before returning to his state of perpetual irritation and microaggression. The security guards mill about as well, wondering what comes next. Sons of Anarchy’s Galen attempts to get some love from the Irish Natzi. No progress is made. Chaos rules.

Could Snowpiercer be a dress rehearsal for what an AntiFa takeover would look like?

Culturalism · Economic History

Ending History

As a young and idealistic college student, I was introduced to the ideas of Francis Fukuyama, whose “End of History” thesis was meant to build in some part on the “Clash of Civilizations” perspective pushed by his late advisor, Samuel Huntington. Fukuyama’s work was interpreted by many to imply a rather inevitable conclusion wherein liberal democracy and capitalism would triumph over traditionalist radicalism or authoritarianism.  With the resurgence of certain illiberal movements, along with rising religious extremism, some moved to pompously to assume the End of History argument had been well and fully debunked.

According to Fukuyama, they simply got it wrong. Writing in his recent book on the politics of identity, he describes the “end” as more of a target than some final destination, meaning that there will not forcibly be a linear path to one outcome. Central to the failure of this perfect assumption is the role of thymos, a Greek word referring to the part of our soul craving recognition or dignity, independent of desire and reason. The idea helps explain why some people uplift the national concept or may even endorse economic policies which are detrimental to the free market. It is not a question of them “not knowing” that liberal economies are efficient, but instead electing for a position of self-respect ahead the churning alienation of consumerist capitalism.

Complementing the term is megalothymia, referencing here the desire to be seen as superior. In this case again, Fukuyama explains that public pursuit of a deeper notion will counterman mainline economic theories concerning material gain because that goal is inadequate to the people’s vision. We also have isothymia, or the drive to be seen as equally good to others. Of course a problem can be generated by promoting too much equality:

“Recognition of everyone’s equal worth means a failure to recognize the worth of people who are actually superior in some way.”

The development of capitalism presents an issue along these very lines. While governments wish to promote growth, changing models can lead to alienation from the family or village community, as I similarly discussed in Socialism of The Right. With the disproportionate benefits and wealth going to higher-educated elites of the meritocracy, the working class (in this case whites) feel resentful, because they are neither privileged nor permitted to play the victimhood card like minorities do. Hence they turn towards figures pledging to arrest the decline and perhaps improve poor conditions.

Fascinating as the text is, Fukuyama becomes a prisoner of liberalism’s own contradictions. On the one hand, he concedes that the Founding Fathers often had a strictly racial view of what the American project entailed. This history is diminished by his writing in favor of Ben Sasse’s “creedal” viewpoint, comprised of some generalized “freedom” patriotism and civic nationalism, or precisely what the GOP et al had promoted until Trump’s rise. Strangely enough for a freedom and democracy defender, Fukuyama says people who don’t accept equality can be excluded from this national concept.

It remains to be seen what role clashing identities shall play in the political field to come. What I find so interesting about figures like Fukuyama is that they can’t escape such uncomfortable facts. Twenty years ago, hearing a scholar discuss these ideas was almost unheard of, but now the threat posed by various populist and nationalist movements has become an overpowering storm. Therefore we are likely to see an aggressive Sasseian campaign to purge the ranks of dissenting rightist viewpoints and restore free speech so the Left (and Islamofascism) and be defeated.

Victory awaits, I guess.  

Culturalism · Economic History

The Usufruct Concept

In the course of compiling a section of the new socialism book focused on “conservative realism,” I came across a term which was uncharacteristically unique: usufruct. My initial reaction upon seeing it could be summed up as skeptical; I actually figured it was nothing more than a typo, albeit without the friendly red lines of MS Word’s liberal dictatorship. Closer investigation revealed that it refers to a very special idea: the relative status of private property.

Most readers of this blog come from Western countries such as the U.S. or U.K., both nations with storied histories of the longtime struggle to protect property against greedy usurpation by monarchs. Americans in particular are adamant about their rights to do with property what they wish, even as the wretched scourge of HOA’s and property taxes fester well and strong. To us, the notion of being told what to do with our property is outrageous, and bound to result in furious town hall meetings, or angry “letters to the blogger” until such “socialist” wrongs are reversed. Seldom is any other reality considered.

But a lack of appreciation for different models does not mean they magically cease to exist, especially over time, as objectives and crises change our perspective. Here the usufruct proposal gains far more relevance, particularly whilst we wrestle with the issues contained by migratory patterns and environmental degradation. Put simply, it refers to the contrast between Eigentum (private property) and Besitz (possession). In the former, one is free to do whatever he pleases with the terrain, including sales or destruction. Besitz on the other hand means the individual can use the land for his creative or business purposes, but not at its expense or defilement. As one writer notes:

“To have a thing as one’s ‘private property’ means that one can do what one likes with it — can sell it, injure it, or destroy it at will. To have ‘possession’ of a thing means usufruct, that one is entitled to use the thing, to exploit it, but subject to the will and supervision of another, the substantial ‘owner’, whose ‘private property’ it is.”

This supervision and ownership is conceived of typically to be the State, or perhaps a community and people. It theoretically allows folks to develop and advance personal wealth (as opposed to socialist stagnancy), yet prevents them from selling out to foreigners or poisoning the soil with their habits or business practices. Failure (or disinterest) in using the land means it will revert back to the community and be parceled out to another aspiring cultivator, one who must of course be native to the region.

Although a strange concept, we are almost forced to assess how it might help address certain problems currently affecting Western countries. Conservatives have long lamented the decline of identity and culture, yet they also insist on a property system where any foreigner with money can waltz in and purchase land, upsetting the traditional balance of that location. Leftists complain about environmental decline, while also advancing open borders and refusing to seriously explore the possibility of degrowth. Both are victims of their own beliefs, and doomed to failure because of those precepts.

Maybe usufruct is their saving grace.

Culturalism · Economic History

Veblen Goodness

Last weekend I finished the book Overdressed, which probably seems like an odd choice for one like me. To be fair, I do own a few bathrobes, yet little in my wardrobe comes near the likes of Imelda Marcos, or some Zoomer shopping haul queen. I basically buy what I need, and keep a few unique items around for the rare occasion when fanciful taste is needed. It would certainly be nice to have more, but I simply have not gotten around to caring enough.

Obviously many people disagree, and in many cases with good reason. They’re not the question at stake. Instead, the book’s author dropped a term I had never heard of, even though it manifests in the real world remain as anything but uncommon: the Veblen good. The word’s namesake lies with Thorstein Veblen, an early 1900s economist who became associated with the progressive movement for his non-Marxist critiques of capitalism. Put simply, the term refers to a product which defies the laws of supply and demand by becoming more desired as it increases in value.

For many, the very idea is problematic. Of course supply and demand remains undisputed; just look at Chinese imports and general technology: they all went through the price floor as production and sales picked up over the years. But other goods do not. Rare wines, whether real or fake, are craved, even as they sell at millions on the bottle. Luxury cars can be priced well over the threshold of a townhouse’s mortgage loan, and still people chase the driver’s seat. One might even claim something similar for stocks, which can become overpriced mammoths and still attract the barking madness embodied by those pursuing extreme wealth.

Whether Veblen goods are a consequence of effective marketing by the rich to sell their lifestyle as being superior, nothing changes the underlying reality of how such products come to control our lives. Think of how many folks you know driving spruced up trucks or Hellcats simply to get them to and from work. There’s hardly any street racing or hard construction involved in use of those vehicles, just a fair-weather attempt to impress others.  But whatever emptiness may clutch the actualized routine of luxury ownership, the prices continue being raised to great joy from buyers. I will have something everyone else doesn’t, goes the grey matter, along with countless more cerebral motherboards.

I suppose it’s like grinding an axe against the hordes of development at this point. Nevertheless, at times my heart wonders how much worse off we would actually be if folks did more with less, and treated what they had not as objects, but family. A few more monks, and a lot less celebrity.

Culturalism · Economic History

Lighting The Path

Every time Daylight Saving Time (DST) rolls around, you reliably hear complaints. The practice is antiquated, pointless, obnoxious, and can easily cause someone to oversleep. We might as well get rid of it, pursuing the objective of simplifying matters and eliminating all chance that someone forgets. After all, we have plenty of light.

Yet some would argue that happy glow remains under-appreciated. The bolstering principle behind DST is to conserve daylight hours during the winter, when the sun sets sooner than in warmer months. Back when people had to rely on meager lanterns or the hearth for light, they were severely limited in terms of what could be accomplished once those natural glows receded. Readers or writers had to “save it for later,” and farmers could not perform certain tasks in the dead of night. In other words, nature was a significant obstacle for everyday life.

Today we are blessed to think nothing of such inconveniences. All one must do is flip a switch, and crisp, if not as pleasing, artificial light floods the room. Productivity can continue, well past 5:30pm on a winter’s day, and long through the night.

But how many truly value or appreciate this dynamic? I routinely encounter folks who sleep 10-12 hours a day, spending the remaining time in preparation for work or consuming some byproduct of Hollyweird while immersed in almost pitch darkness, save for the television screen’s glow. These are the same organisms who bray and squeal over DST, because it is an inconvenience, albeit the sort that would seem immaterial to their waking and moving lives. Few among them even own a traditional watch or clock which must be reset, so the complaint is usually about not being mentally prepared to sleep longer.  

The species at-large, particularly those of us living in developed countries, seem to disregard the benefits of modernity, perhaps because we have so little stake in it. Wasting time, itself a complicated matter to explain, bears with it minimal consequence. Sure, you may be forced to slam the gas pedal and get into work with minutes to spare, but nothing fundamentally changes. There is no race against the harvest date for subsistence farming, or need to consolidate academic research under the sun before candles are the sole option. Just vapid floating on a pool of nondescript boredom.

Now then, go set those watches, if you have any.