individualism and collectivism good and bad

In my previous post I may have sounded like I was coming down on the side of individualism, which is not really consistent with my view of life. I’m actually somewhat suspicious of individualism. Or rather, I’m somewhat suspicious of individualist ideologies.

On the other hand I hate and fear the Borg-like hive-mind that increasingly dominates our society.

I don’t believe we can ever re-create vanished societies but I do think we can learn a lot from the way our society was in the past. More traditional societies do tend towards collectivism. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a statist authoritarian collectivism or the horror of the cultural Left hive-mind. There are some major differences.

In traditional societies there is to be sure pressure to conform but there’s also an emphasis  on social responsibility, and that means not just the individual’s duty to society but also society’s duty to the individual. There’s a web of interlocking responsibilities, rather than a demand for mere obedience to the collective will. It’s society as a gigantic extended family rather than a hive. There’s a balance between individualism and the needs of society. The balance might be titled towards society but it’s not tilted too far.

The second difference is that traditional societies enforce conformity in certain areas because long experience has shown that some rules are necessary, and the rules are those which have been proven to work. Traditional sexual morality was enforced because on the whole it made life better for almost everybody. It allowed children to be reared in safety. It gave women security, dignity, purpose and status. It worked. Our modern ever-changing morality of infinite indulgence is not based on experience or on any kind of understanding of biology or human behaviour. And while traditional sexual morality was certainly enforced it was mostly not enforced by formal authority.

A third difference is that traditional societies have more or less fixed rules. Everyone knows the rules. Our modern society has constantly changing rules and that’s a strong clue to the fact that the main purpose of the rules is to enforce obedience for the sake of obedience and to create an atmosphere of fear and anxiety.

And a fourth difference, and perhaps the most important, is that traditional societies were concerned with policing behaviours rather than thoughts or private conversations. Within a basically collectivist society there was still room for a reasonably high degree of individuality. Even behaviour was only policed within limits.

Our modern society claims to worship diversity and autonomy but crushes the individual spirit. The modern soft totalitarianism is bad but extreme individualism is equally bad. It’s a choice between psychological imprisonment on the one hand and psychological emptiness and nihilism on the other. We need to look at the way traditional societies did things to find ways to have connectedness without joining the Borg.

victim hierarchies, orthodoxy and group-think

Dissidents often observe, with a mixture of horror and amusement, the ever-changing victim hierarchies of the cultural left. It used to be fairly simple when the number of victim groups was small. Blacks were pretty much at the top. Feminists and homosexuals disputed the number two spot.

Now there are countless victim groups, and even sub-groups. There are for example several warring factions within feminism and they hate each like poison.

But what’s really odd is that it is no longer possible to determine a person’s status as far as  the cultural left is concerned merely by adding up how many victim points they are entitled to. You can be a homosexual and still be Literally Hitler. Ask Milo Yiannopoulos. You can even be black and be Literally Hitler.

This should not be possible because the cultural left subscribes to identity politics as a matter of religious faith and therefore your identity should automatically determine your victimisation level and therefore your status (since it’s also a matter of faith that victimness is next to godliness).

While the modern cultural left seems on the surface to be pretty much the same as the cultural left that emerged during the 1970s there are actually some very major differences. They still whine about the same issues (racism, sexism, colonialism, homophobia, blah blah blah). But now they have real power. And that changes everything.

What determines your status in the modern cultural left is orthodoxy. That’s all that really matters. You can have a stack of victim points a mile high and it won’t do you any good if you’re suspected of heresy.

And, interestingly, orthodoxy is not really determined by ideological purity. In fact the cultural left has no coherent ideology. Orthodoxy is determined by conformity. To put it more brutally, orthodoxy is determined by obedience. It is not necessary to understand. It is only necessary to obey.

It’s pretty much like the Borg. What matters is the extent to which you have fully assimilated to the Borg. It’s also similar to the Borg in that it’s a kind of decentralised apparatus of repression. There’s a kind of constantly changing consensus on orthodoxy. There’s no Social Justice Pope whose authority is final and there’s no one Scriptural authority to which you can refer. Which makes for a particularly nasty but particularly effective form of repression. It’s not group-think imposed by higher authority as in Orwell’s 1984. It’s group-think that arises organically out of the very nature of the Borg.

Orwell vs Huxley

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

In a comment to my earlier post jvc expressed surprise that I thought Huxley’s Brave New World predicted out current situation more accurately than Orwell’s 1984. I can see where jvc is coming from. I probably should explain my view in more depth.

Obviously both Huxley and Orwell were remarkably prescient. Between the two of them they predicted the present state of society almost completely. Both authors missed things but what’s interesting is that the points that Huxley missed Orwell picked up n and the points that Orwell were covered by Huxley.

Huxley’s future was a world of unlimited material prosperity while Orwell foresaw grinding poverty and chronic shortages (Orwell was obviously very impressed by the low-level soul-destroying misery of rationing in post-war Britain). So far Huxley has been proved right, up to a point at least. Even as it has drifted slowly towards totalitarianism the West has maintained material living standards quite impressively. There are some caveats I should add. Huxley thought that technology would provide vast material prosperity and almost unlimited leisure. We haven’t really seen that unlimited leisure yet. And the prosperity we do have is maintained by credit and no-one really knows if that can be sustained in the long term.

And wealth is today very unevenly distributed, which Huxley didn’t predict. Orwell expected a tiny wealthy elite, the Inner Party, with everyone else living a fairly poverty-stricken existence. In the modern West there is certainly relative poverty and some actual poverty (which is increasing). But contrary to Orwell’s prediction there are a very large number people living in luxury. Rather than a tiny rich elite we have maybe half the country doing very nicely and half the country struggling. Whether that will end up being a stable situation remains to be seen.

Eric Blair AKA George Orwell (1903-1950)

Where I feel Orwell really got it wrong was his assumption that power in a totalitarianism would be exercised openly, that coercion would be overt and brutal and that the violence that sustained the system would be on open display. His famous vision of a boot stamping on a human face, forever.

Huxley’s totalitarianism is essentially voluntary totalitarianism. In Brave New World the citizens welcome their oppression. They don’t want freedom. The very idea frightens them. They want to be told what to do. They have lots of material goodies and they can have sex in unlimited quantity and unlimited variety. Huxley realised that people would gladly give up all their political and legal freedoms in exchange for sexual freedom and consumer goods.

And that is exactly what has happened. The sad truth is that most people in the modern West do not care about all those freedoms that classical liberals used to get so excited about. Most modern westerners understand that democracy is a charade. They don’t care. They really don’t care. Which could of course suggest that the classical liberals had no understanding whatsoever of what makes people tick and that democracy never was particularly important anyway.

In Huxley’s future power is exercised in subtle ways. There might be an iron fist in the velvet glove but it is never seen and it is not needed. There is coercion certainly but mostly people are happy to conform.

And that is pretty much what we have today. It’s depressing but most people are happy to conform. As in Brave New World they drug themselves with sex and happy pills and they don’t even realise how empty their lives are. They don’t miss all the things we’ve lost over the pasty half century because they don’t know about those things. Millennials have never lived in a society in which you can say that you think. They can’t imagine it and if they try to imagine it it makes them cry. They have lots of nice shiny toys to play with and non-threatening movies and lots of porn and they have apps so they can have anonymous sex with total strangers. They can’t imagine anything better than that. And if you suggest to them that maybe there is something more to life that makes them cry as well.

We don’t have the complete despair of Orwell’s future. That despair only affects the tiny red-pilled minority. What we have society-wide is the blankness of Huxley’s vision. A bland empty face staring at us, forever.

the burqa ban – a victory or a defeat?

The Netherlands has banned the wearing of the burqa in some public spaces and many on the right are applauding this as a great victory. But is it really?

Think about it. Is it really a terrific idea to give the government the power to arrest people for expressing their religious faith publicly? Do we really believe that such a power will never be turned against other religions? Such as, for example, Christianity. Because let’s be quite clear – if it’s OK for the government to arrest a woman for wearing a burqa then it must also be OK for the government to arrest someone for wearing a crucifix. And if you don’t think this power will ever be used against Christians then you must have been asleep for the last fifty years.

The burqa ban is in fact a great victory for the forces of secularism. The aim of the secularists has been to marginalise religion, to make religion something that can only be practised furtively and in private. They have been waging war on religion and the burqa ban is a significant win for them. They have established that nobody has the right to profess their religious faith in public. They have established that religion is something that should be subject to government control and regulation.

My feeling is that many on the right are so blinded by their hatred of Islam that they are not seeing the real picture. Religion is under attack by the forces of secular liberalism. All religions are under attack. This is a war to the death. The secular liberals intend to create a world in which religion will be banned.

The Dutch Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren claims that the ban does not violate fundamental rights, because it will enable Muslim women “to have access to a wider social life” because if they do not cover the face “they will have more possibilities for contact, communication and opportunities to enter the job market.”

This is quite sinister if you think about it. In fact it’s extremely sinister. What she’s saying in effect is that Muslim women should not be allowed to live their lives according to their religion. Instead they are to be pushed into adopting secular western lifestyles. Because naturally the government has the right to tell people how to live their lives, even to the extent of telling us that religion will no longer be a permitted part of our lives. Some of these Muslim women are evidently putting their families first instead of concentrating on their careers. But don’t worry, the government will not allow that to continue.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with immigration. You can be vehemently and passionately anti-immigration (as I am) and still think that the burqa ban is a very very bad idea. It’s another step on the road to feminist totalitarianism.

external enemies and totalitarianism

Every totalitarian regime need enemies. As Orwell realised in the 1940s they need both external and internal enemies. It’s as true of our present-day western soft totalitarianism a it has been of every previous totalitarian state.
In Orwell’s novel the external enemy is provided by the never-ending wars against either Eurasia or Eastasia. Orwell brilliantly realised that it would be useful if the external enemy changed from time to time. It adds to the atmosphere of paranoia, of uncertainty. Most importantly it makes foreign policy confusing for the average person. For a totalitarian regime that is a very desirable feature. If ordinary people do not understand foreign policy they can be frightened all the more effectively – and made to feel that the safest thing is to trust the government foreign policy “experts” who presumably know what is best. Switching enemies from time to time is of course also useful in training people to believe things that they know to be untrue. We have always been at war with Eurasia. Except when we have always been at war with Eastasia.
Our present-day leaders have absorbed Orwell’s lessons. In fact today we have the same  “enemies” – Eurasia (Russia) and Eastasia (China). We also have an extra enemy – Islam. This makes things more confusing, which is of course the whole idea. These are very useful enemies because the threat they represent is so vague and mysterious. It’s difficult for the person in the street to understand how incredibly important it is to stop China from controlling a few islands in the South China Sea. So Americans (and Australians) assume it must be part of some nefarious Inscrutable Oriental Masterplan. It’s basically the Yellow Peril of a hundred years ago dusted off and re-used.
The menace of Russia is also delightfully vague and incomprehensible. Russia must not be allowed to control the Crimea, even though the Crimea has been Russian for centuries. The Ukraine is a vital national security interest for the US and the entire world. Nobody knows why because nobody is capable of disentangling the intricacies of eastern European history and politics. Obviously the Crimea and the Ukraine are vital to the defence of the United States – you have only to look at a map to see that. If the Russians got the Ukraine they’d be in Nebraska within a week.
Islam is even better. Ordinary people don’t know the difference between Shi’a Moslems and Sunni Moslems. They certainly don’t know anything about the Wahhabi sect. Ordinary people don’t know the difference between a secular Moslem state like Syria and an Islamic state like Iran. The fact that the Moslems in the Middle East belong to at least three different distinct ethnic and cultural groups – Turks, Arabs and Persians – adds to the confusion. And who the hell are the Kurds? Where did these ISIS guys come from? How come lots of Syrians are actually Christians? We’d better leave all this to the foreign policy experts. All we need to know is that Russia, China and Islam are all enemies.

exposing the crybullies

One of the more sinister developments of the past couple of years is the rise of the crybully. The crybullies are people who pretend to have been victimised and pretend to have been traumatised by this victimisation when in fact they themselves are the actual bullies.
We’re all familiar with this phenomenon from recent events on American university campuses, with students claiming to have been reduced to tears and claiming to have suffered damage to their mental health by having to listen to the opinions of evil white right-wingers. A recent post on OzConservative details one of the more extreme recent examples.
In fact of course these students (most of whom spend more time indulging in “activism” than actually studying) have not been the least bit traumatised. They have discovered a new and powerful weapon with which to crush dissent and silence any remaining vestiges of freedom of speech. All they have to do is burst into tears or claim to have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder or some such nonsense and they know that cowardly university authorities will cave in to their demands and prevent anyone from expressing opposing views on campuses. They are not victims. They are liars and they are bullies and they are determined to impose absolute uniformity of thought and speech.
If this was something that only happened on university campuses it would be bad enough but similar tactics are being employed in workplaces in the real world, in the mainstream media and in social media. It is a tactic being used to impose even more draconian limitations on freedom of speech on social media in particular. 
Of course the argument is often made, especially in the US, that social media is run by private companies so any protections in regard to freedom of speech do not apply. This is nonsense. If you run a social network you are establishing a public space and if you impose controls on freedom of speech then you are practising censorship. The internet is a public space. Those who control social media effectively control the internet. For such companies to impose censorship is in practice no different from the government imposing censorship.
The Social Justice Warriors are determined to control all public discourse. The crybully tactic is a terrifyingly effective tool that they are using with a great deal of ruthlessness.
To some extent this applies to the modern anti-bullying hysteria in general which can be employed for the same ends. It is a convenient cover for ever more sweeping hate speech legislation which means ever further limits on freedom of speech.
The crybully tactic needs to be exposed for what it is – another weapon with which to suppress any expression of dissent.

Emmanuel Goldstein lives!

All totalitarian regimes need enemies. More importantly, they need both external and internal enemies. They cannot survive without them. That was one of George Orwell’s many crucially important insights in 1984. It’s been true of every totalitarian regime and it’s true of our present-day soft totalitarianism in the West.
I’ll speak about external enemies in another post. For the moment I’ll concentrate on the question of internal enemies.
Internal enemies are just as important. In 1984 the internal enemy is embodied in one chief villain, the dastardly Emmanuel Goldstein. This was useful for artistic reasons in a novel but in practice the internal enemies in a totalitarian state are more amorphous and more mysterious. For the Soviet communists in the Stalinist era the enemies were revisionists and (especially) Trotskyists. For the Chinese communists the enemies were capitalist roaders. For those who rule us today the enemies are racists, sexists and homophobes. Trotskyists were useful because anybody could turn out to be a Trotskyist. Just as anyone could turn out to be a capitalist roader. You might be a Trotskyist and not even know it! Just as today you might be a racist or a sexist and not know it until suddenly you find yourself the victim of a Two Minute Hate.
The vital thing for the rulers of a totalitarian state is that these enemies should continue to exist. In fact the few remaining dissenters today could easily be silenced completely. They could be suddenly vanished as effectively as the victims of Stalin’s Purges. They would not need to be liquidated – it would be more than sufficient simply to destroy their livelihoods and deny them any means of expressing their dissent, and this could be achieved very easily. But it won’t happen. They will be harassed mercilessly but not destroyed. Emmanuel Goldsteins are much too useful to totalitarians.
At the moment the chief Emmanuel Goldstein is Donald Trump. Trump has been a godsend to our rulers. He has virtually zero chance of gaining the Republican nomination. He presents zero threat to the establishment. But he is so incredibly useful as a focus for hysteria. The kind of hysteria that will justify further repression – more hate speech laws, more restrictions on freedom of speech, more control of the internet. The fact that Trump is a liberal and strongly pro-immigration doesn’t matter. It makes no difference what Emmanuel Goldstein or Donald Trump actually stands for. What matters is what the public can be told that he stands for.
In 1984 the government doesn’t much care what the proles believe. What matters is maintaining discipline in the Party. The Inner Party can be controlled fairly easily, but a small clique is not enough to run a country. Fairly large numbers of bureaucrats, technicians and other functionaries are needed – these make up the Outer Party. People like poor Winston Smith. These are the people who need to be watched. The situation today is similar. Our rulers don’t care too much what the poor think, or what the remnants of working class think. They do care very much what the equivalent of the Outer Party thinks. The equivalent of the Outer Party being journalists, academics, teachers, bureaucrats. These people today can be relied on to a fairly large degree to hold the correct views, but they can’t be trusted completely. Discipline has to be exercised regularly and strictly. Any of these people who display any deviation from the ruling ideology must be brought into line. Show trials (these days usually conducted via Twitter) and purges are necessary. Our form of totalitarianism has now advanced to the point where the main targets of the SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) are other SJWs who are insufficiently zealous or display any sign of independent thought.
This is where a regular supply of Emmanuel Goldsteins is so useful. As long as there exists a handful of evil villainous cishet racist sexist homophobes it is easy to justify ongoing draconian measures of repression and it is easy to maintain iron discipline over the Outer Party members. A small amount of genuine dissent is needed in order to make the threat plausible enough to justify the repression. This genuine dissent is in reality no threat at all – it can be crushed if it ever starts to become dangerous. It’s effectively controlled opposition.
That’s why we still have more than one political party. There’s no real difference between the mainstream political parties in western countries today. One-party rule would scarcely make any difference but a one-party state is obviously totalitarian, so the illusion of multi-party systems must be maintained. That’s controlled opposition. Totalitarianism has become more subtle than it was in Orwell’s day. It is much more effectively cloaked in the outward trappings of democracy. In our society Emmanuel Goldstein would be permitted to run for the highest office in the land. His defeat would be an absolutely certainty but the illusion of freedom and democracy is maintained. 
Our leaders have not only absorbed Orwell’s lessons – they have made improvements to the blueprint laid out in 1984. Isn’t progress wonderful?

thoughts on Huxley’s Brave New World

The two most famous anti-utopian novels ever written are of course George Orwell’s 1984 (published in 1948) and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (published in 1932). There are many similarities, especially in the structure. Looking deeper however there are striking differences in both the tone and in the ideas being put forward.

In both cases you have a totalitarian society in which there appears to be no dissent, in both cases you have a hero who rebels, in both cases we discover there are actually quite a few hidden dissenters although they have no hope of changing things, in both cases someone at the top reveals the actual workings and motivations behind the societies. Clearly 1984 was influenced by Brave New World. But the two writers, while they may have shared some of the same fears, had radically different agendas.

You can understand 1984 without knowing anything about Orwell or about the time at which it was written. You have no chance at all of comprehending what Huxley is on about without knowing at least something of the man and of the era in which he wrote it.

Brave New World was a response to the First World War, the Great Depression and what seemed to many people at the time to be the threat of imminent social collapse. The chaos of war followed by economic chaos scared people badly. Democratic institutions appeared powerless to avoid catastrophe.

It was a time when intellectuals were giving way to despair, and were tempted by various panaceas. Intellectuals were throwing themselves at the feet of totalitarian dictators like Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin. Many put their faith in illusions like world disarmament, pacifism, eugenics, the League of Nations, world government. Intellectuals, being intellectuals, believed that only they could see what needed to be done. If world government was needed, it would clearly need to be a world government run by intellectuals. Some even deluded themselves that people like Stalin were just itching to put intellectuals into positions of power. In fact of course the only place Stalin was going to put intellectuals was in front of a wall to be shot.

Aldous Huxley was not immune to all this. He flirted with various loopy ideas from pacifism to eugenics. And not just flirted. He took this sort of stuff seriously.

Huxley saw other dire threats to civilisation as well. In 1926 he had visited the United States and had been extremely distressed by what he saw. America was apparently full of people who were enjoying the fruits of material prosperity, buying fancy clothes and cars, going to speakeasies, dancing the Charleston, listening to jazz, going to the movies and generally having fun. For Huxley this was a glimpse of a nightmare future world.

Like most intellectuals Huxley was horrified by the lower orders. Given the choice they’d prefer dancing to reading Aldous Huxley novels. Huxley had been hanging around with the Bloomsbury set where being part of the artistic avant-garde was far more important than having fun.

Huxley was also prone to spiritual yearnings. He saw modern life as meaningless, and this he could not accept. Of course an ordinary person would have simply gone to church but intellectuals find such simple solutions deeply unsatisfying. Huxley needed a Spiritual Quest. It would eventually lead him into the foetid swamp of new age mysticism and drug-induced visionary silliness (and make him a hero to the drug-addled hippies of the 60s).

All of this accounts for the ambivalent tone of Brave New World. Yes, he does think the future world of the Year of Our Ford 632 is a nightmare. But he doesn’t see it as a nightmare because it’s a totalitarian state in which dissent is not permitted. He sees it as a nightmare because there’s no room for God or for suffering. Huxley was suspicious of both communism and capitalism because they seemed to leave no room for God. It’s not the lack of freedom that bothers him so much as the excess of fun. And it’s the wrong sort of fun. The people of the future are busily playing games like centrifugal bumble-puppy and electro-magnetic golf. Instead of reading Aldous Huxley novels. It’s too much like the horrors of jazz and the movies and the Charleston. It’s hideous lower-class fun. The novel is saturated with snobbery and anti-Americanism.

It might sound like I’m doing a thorough hatchet job on both Huxley and Brave New World. That’s not my intention. It’s simply that this is not a straightforward condemnation of totalitarianism in the sense that 1984 is. It’s a complex book and it contains many profound insights. It’s just that they’re mixed in with some very dubious ideas and a certain amount of arrant nonsense.

Like so many intellectuals Huxley was tempted by the idea of a kind of soft totalitarianism, a totalitarianism with a smiling face, a totalitarianism for our own good. The Controller, Mustapha Mond, is not a bad man. He genuinely cares about the happiness of his people and he honesty believes that stability is more important than freedom. He’s a benevolent dictator, a concept that many intellectuals find irresistibly attractive. Most of them are convinced that they personally would make excellent benevolent dictators.

One gets the feeling that the book is not so much a warning of a horrific future as a warning that this is a future that might become necessary if we don’t behave. If we don’t listen to Nanny she will force us to listen. In a kind and caring way of course.

A horrifying number of Orwell’s predictions have already come true. We already have Newspeak and Thought Crime in the form of Political Correctness. History is routinely rewritten to make it more politically correct. We already have a constant series of manufactured crises to justify restrictions of our freedoms. In Orwell’s novels the crises came in the form of never-ending wars. In our case they come in the form of never-ending threats of environmental catastrophes to which intellectuals react in the way intellectuals reacted to the crises of Huxley’s day – they call for world government run by intellectuals. Democracy can’t be trusted to deal with such grave matters. We should let the Experts take over.

Huxley’s predictions are coming true as well, although perhaps in less immediately obvious ways. One of the most interesting and most penetrating of his insights was that sexual freedom could be used as a means of social control. Sexual freedom in effect becomes a prison. By undermining marriage and the family (in the Year of Our Ford 632 supplanting those things altogether) people are left with only one loyalty, one source of emotional comfort – the state. Today we confronting the same situation as the Nanny State takes over from the family and we are experiencing the paradox that the more sexually free we are, the less free we are in every other way.

That’s really the great strength of this novel – it predicted soft totalitarianism long before anyone else had even considered the idea. It’s the first appearance in print of the now-ubiquitous Nanny State. Huxley was also prescient in seeing that a world without God could only survive by becoming a world of children. The infantilising of the population, the avoidance of any responsibility, the obsession with immediate gratification, all of which are now almost universal, was a major insight. The idea that a population could be infantilised by offering them unlimited sexual gratification was an exceptionally brilliant prediction.

So despite its ambiguity, its ambivalence, its woolly-minded mysticism, Brave New Worldis essential to an understanding of the nightmare world of the modern west.