Jonah Goldberg on Ingratitude: What Goes Around, Comes Around

This is the third part of a three-part review:
Part I: Jonah Goldberg, Darwin and Unnatural Capitalism.
Part II: The Corruption of Jonah Goldberg.

A typewriter with the phrase

National Review, “Arts and Manners” column, 11 July 1956:

“The incitement to the lowbrow’s rebellion against the ‘mass media’ was one Elvis Presley, a pimply and thoroughly nasty young man who rotates his abdominal muscles on TV screens with the abandon of an old strip-teaser and the elegance of a waterfront slattern. He also sings. And one has to hear this pathetic wail of vulgarity to believe it. At any rate, Mr. Presley is at the moment the hottest thing on TV.”

Jonah Goldberg, Suicide of the West, 2018:

Rock and roll is the primitive drumbeat hooked up to killer amps…. Nowhere is the romantic mixture of pantheism, primitivism, and the primacy of inner feelings than in rock’s appeal to inner authority and authenticity…. It is no accident that drugs and rock and roll are so linked in the popular imagination. Both promise to take us out of the realm of daily concerns and rational priorities…. Nor is it coincidence that rock appeals most directly to adolescents…. It is when glandular desires are most powerful and our faculties of reason are the most susceptible to all manner of seduction..

Sigh. I suppose it could have been worse. He could have gone off about Marlon Brando or EC comics.

And thus we come (at last) to the third and least original of Jonah Goldberg’s themes in his book, Suicide of the West. In previous posts, I have described and critiqued his first two themes: that capitalism is unnatural and that it is particularly vulnerable to corruption. In this, my final post (promise!) about Goldberg’s book, I will address his final theme, ingratitude:

We are shot through with ingratitude for the Miracle. Our schools and universities, to the extent that they teach the Western tradition at all, do so from a perspective of resentful hostility toward our accomplishments. (p. 16)

Uh oh. He’s going after the university, or as we call it in my house, “Daddy’s paycheck!”  I’d better spring into action! Honey? Where’s my super suit?

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The Corruption of Jonah Goldberg

This is the second part of a three-part review:

Part I: Jonah Goldberg, Darwin and Unnatural Capitalism.
Part III Jonah Goldberg on Ingratitude: What Goes Around, Comes Around.

Cover of a pulp novel entitled

Goldberg constantly smuggles in ideas he claims he has abandoned.

In 1938, rhetorical critic Kenneth Burke published a review of Thurman W. Arnold’s book, The Folklore of Capitalism.  Entitled “The Virtues and Limitations of Debunking,” Burke held that the debunker “covertly restores important ingredients of thought that he has overtly annihilated” which describes Jonah Goldberg’s new book, The Suicide of the Westperfectly. Goldberg attempts to put forth a number of big ideas which recast the history of capitalism in a new light, by drawing on evolutionary psychology among other things, but he cannot build his argument without re-enrolling ideas which he has told us he has abandoned. The result is a book that is completely incoherent. The most serious consequence of Goldberg’s covertly smuggling ideas back into his argument is when he addresses the tangled history of capitalism, racism, and slavery.

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Jonah Goldberg, Darwin and Unnatural Capitalism

This is the first part of a three-part review:

Part II: The Corruption of Jonah Goldberg.
Part III Jonah Goldberg on Ingratitude: What Goes Around, Comes Around.

 

A drawing of a classical figure labeled

Anyone who claims, “There is a human nature” inevitably follows it with, “and I know what it is!” In his new book, Suicide of the West, Jonah Goldberg thinks he knows that there is “human nature” is and, unsurprisingly, claims to know what it is. “Human nature is real” he declares (p. 23) and is the result of “innate programming” we acquired 200,000-300,000 years ago and has held constant ever since.  We are programmed to live in small groups that max out at about 150 people–Dunbar’s number (p. 63). Because of this “genetic programming” (p. 63) we tend toward a sense of unity within our group and hostility toward strangers which are “universal human tendencies” (p. 25). In other words, “Violence is the natural way to get what you want from strangers” (p. 11). This tendency toward ingroup unity and outgroup of hostility is only a sample of the extensive list of universals that Goldberg claims have been documented by “thousands of researchers” (p. 26).  Capitalism and its concomitant individualism have proven to be the best way to overwrite our natural tendencies toward distrust since they demand we see individuals, not groups, and that peaceful exchange is mutually beneficial.

Despite its blustery assurance Suicide of the West is based on some very suspect evidence and equally poor argumentation. My task here is to explain why he is wrong about human nature. Subsequent posts will take up other claims he makes.

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My Alt Right Crazy Wall

A wall with pictures and maps and documents tacked to it connected by red yarn

It is a TV/Movie cliché: the wall covered with pictures, maps, documents all connected with string or yarn, usually red (so it shows up on camera I suppose) to signal that something big is going on. TV Tropes call the cliché “String Theory.”  There are usually two situations where we see such walls depicted. The first is the detective drama: it is posted on a whiteboard in the middle of the squad room so our characters can stand around it do some plot exposition. Another detective drama trope is when our hero has been taken off the case by the captain because he’s gone rogue one too many times. Our detective goes home and, to the surprise of no one, there is a wall covered with all the clues connected with the obligatory red yarn.

The other situation is more ominous. The wall is being constructed by the bad guy. Maybe a serial killer, maybe someone who has lost control of their faculties. String theory has now been transformed into a “Crazy Wall”  Crazy walls are usually signs of conspiratorial thinking. Someone who is convinced that some evil person or group is control of the whole situation and must be unmasked. Someone who thinks the world is controlled by Colonel Sanders and his friends. The Crazy Wall signals to the audience that there is an unbalanced mind at work:

Sean Hannity explaining his Crazy Wall of the Uranium One

The trick for the audience is to try to figure out if the character is onto something or has gone off the deep end.

The Crazy Wall has always annoyed me as a lazy bit of writing. Maybe it is because I’m not a very visual thinker, but I’ve never understood how the wall was supposed to help the character figure things out. Maybe it is because I’m not very crafty and I could never figure out how that yarn always looked so tidy. And you can forget about your damage deposit what with all those thumbtack holes in the wall.

So I never saw the use of such a wall.  Naturally, now I’m working on a Crazy Wall of the Alt Right.

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The Color of Law and the Politics of Artifacts

Ancient Roman Soldier

All roads lead to Rome. They do because the ancient Romans built roads. Lotsa roads. They were famous for it. They had had an empire to build and maintain.  They had to come and see and conquer. They had nouns to decline and verbs to conjugate. So they built roads. Really good roads. So good, in fact, that many routes we still use today through Europe were laid down by the Romans two-thousand years ago.

The Romans built roads because they needed them for the maintenance of their empire. The technology of the road was embedded in a particular social system of power. Roman roads are an example of how, in political theorist Langdon Winner’s phrase, artifacts have politics.  The artifacts we are surrounded with every day: our houses, neighborhoods, roads, cities are political in nature. They reflect a certain set of assumptions about who should live where and who should travel freely. One of Winner’s examples were the overpasses built on Long Island. These bridges were too low to allow buses to pass which meant that major transportation routs were designed to keep lower-people out of areas while allowing wealthier, car-owning folks easy access.

In Richard Rothstein’s new book, The Color of Lawit is clear that Winner’s was not an isolated example. Throughout the country, technologies of space and place were purposefully designed to maintain a racist society.

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Genetics and Affirmative Action

The power of racism lies in its ability to “naturalize” social relationships. What I mean by this is that racism claims that whatever social inequities exist they are part of the natural order of things. Those people are simply inferior, there is not much anyone can do about it; it is in the nature of things. Speak out for racial equality? You might as well speak out against the tide coming in, nature doesn’t care what you say. Pass laws to encourage racial equality? You might as well pass laws demanding the moon fall out of the sky. Racial inequality is in our genes, nothing society can do to will change that so we should just stop trying. Over at the National Review Online (NRO), Michael Barone has written a piece on the terrible David Reich editorial about genetics and race that does exactly this.

Last time I wrote about Reich I explained how those who really, truly believe that black people are genetically inferior to white people really, truly loved Reich’s piece.  At the NRO, and keeping the organizations long-standing  commitment to social inequality, Barone wants you to know that in this race we call life, there are winners and losers and it is just nature’s way that there are more white winners than black ones.

Drawing of blocks racing and one declared

He makes his case by lying. I’ll explain how.

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Snowflakes are White

You folks remember Tucker Carlson, right? He’s the guy at Fox News who took over for sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly when Bill O. was fired.  Ever since he took over he’s become very popular among white nationalists who appreciate Tucker pushing their agenda for them. As a writer over at American Renaissance declared: “Suddenly people on national television are talking about the end of white America, the rising tide of color, and what demographic change really means.” Long time readers will recognize the “rising tide of color” shout out.  The 1920s never really went away for American Renaissance writers.

Are you a believer that whites are victims of a planned genocide who also argues that Hillary Clinton is operating a pedophile ring out of a pizza restaurant? Tucker has your back! Are you a European white nationalist worried about all the foreigners entering your country? Tucker feels your pain! (The good racists over at American Renaissance thought Tucker did a great job of  consolidating “Years of awareness and fact, boiled down into one compound sentence— and not from an AmRen-ner or alt-Righter, either.”).  So, yeah, Tucker is the confused face of white supremacy.

Just recently Tucker explained that  white people are precious little snowflakes who must be protected from the big bad world because they are so fragile and delicate. “Reporting” on a National Geographic article on an influx of Latinx immigrants into Hazleton PA, Tucker explained if too many brown people with Spanish accents move in then it is perfectly understandable if white people just cannot even:

It doesn’t matter how nice these immigrants are. They probably are nice; most immigrants are nice. That’s not the point. This is more change than human beings are designed to digest. This pace of change makes societies volatile, really volatile, just as ours has become volatile.

We can learn a couple lessons about racism from Tucker’s latest confused rant.

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Racial Science and Strawman Arguments

Portrait of a scarecrow

“If I only had a brain…..”

I have often maintained that there is no idea so stupid that a tenured professor from Harvard won’t profess it. A good recent example is geneticist David Reich’s recent New York Times editorial about how we have to stop ignoring the reality  of genetic causes of human variation.  According to Reich, there is an “orthodoxy” that comes from well-meaning but muddle-headed people “who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations.”  These kind-hearted dopes are afraid of bad results that could possibly result from the study of such differences:

The concern is that such research, no matter how well-intentioned, is located on a slippery slope that leads to the kinds of pseudoscientific arguments about biological difference that were used in the past to try to justify the slave trade, the eugenics movement and the Nazis’ murder of six million Jews.

I have deep sympathy for the concern that genetic discoveries could be misused to justify racism. But as a geneticist I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among “races.”

Reich claims his own research proves that such genetic differences in human populations cannot be ignored and are needed to understand, for example, differences in disease rates among different populations.

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Sheriffs, and Racists, and Koch: Oh My!

Sheriff's Badge

Sheriff’s Badge

A little over a month ago there was a minor kerfuffle about our Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions saying that;

Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process…The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.

A great hullabaloo ensued. What did Sessions mean about this “Anglo-American heritage” stuff? Did he think only white folks built our laws? And “heritage” isn’t that a dog whistle to neo-Confederates who are always talking about their heritage of the South (meaning white supremacy)? There was reason for people to be suspicious, after all “Sessions is a well-documented white supremacist who” is “hot for incendiary racist behavior.”  Coretta Scott King had this guy nailed thirty years ago, not that it has stood in his way in his rise to power.

Calmer voices soon urged everyone to calm down. Sessions was merely invoking English common law which is, indeed, an important part of our legal heritage. While Sessions certainly is capable of racist dog whistles, they said, this probably wasn’t one. I had another thought at the time, however. It wasn’t the “Anglo-American heritage” part of his remarks. It was the “sheriffs” part that might have been the dog whistle. And that brings us back to the Koch Foundation’s funding of a right wing ideologue to educate prisoners in civics and to a guy named W. Cleon Skousen.

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Koch and the Neo-Confederate

People bowing down to a dollar sign.

Is it the case that whoever pays the piper calls the tune?

We can combine two interesting bits of recent news productively.

Koch and the Neo-Confederate

The first is the news comes courtesy of the student group, UnKoch my Campus. It seems one of Charles Koch’s many foundations disbursed money to Florida Atlantic professor Marshall DeRosa to start a classes in civics education for prisoners returning to society. DeRosa was a one-time member of the League of the South (LOS) a neo-Confederate hate group.  As The Nation concludes:

The reality of the situation is staggering: An academic who worked with a neo-Confederate organization is teaching inmates, including many of color, a curriculum he designed, funded by one of the wealthiest conservative political donors in the country and instituted at the facilities of a notorious, predatory private-prison company that is accused of violating federal anti-slavery laws.

The Charles Koch foundation has scrubbed their article touting their connection to DeRosa (fortunately, the internet never forgets). And, even after DeRosa left the LOS for the (supposedly) more respectable Abbeville Institute, his views are still reactionary and ill-informed. What should we make of this? Is it reasonable to think that DeRosa’s prison activities are benign? Is it reasonable to think that the Koch Foundation just didn’t know about his unsavory past and present views and associations?

The Jews Control the Weather

The second bit of news was when a DC councilman claimed that the incoming snow on the Atlantic coast was the result of a conspiracy:

“There’s this whole concept with the Rothschilds — control the World Bank, as we all know — infusing dollars into major cities,” said White, according to video footage that the city routinely releases after official meetings. “They really pretty much control the federal government, and now they have this concept called resilient cities in which they are using their money and influence into local cities.”

The councilman later explained that he had no idea that invoking the Rothschilds was invoking an old antisemitic slur.  So, while he meant to say that a shadowy cabal controlled the weather, he certainly didn’t mean that a shadowy cabal of Jews controlled the weather.

In both cases a reasonable question is: while the Koch Foundation and the DC Councilman might have been ignorant that they were linking themselves to racist ideas, should they have known? It is an interesting historical question worth exploring.

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