April 24, 2012

Why We Love Sociopaths


according to this, it's sociopaths that we love


"My greatest regret is I'm not a sociopath," starts an article written by....... well, I reserve judgment.  "Are you suggesting...?"  No, not at all.  That's where the truth lies. "Wait-- 'lies' as in----"

This article is important for a specific reason.  If you follow the thesis that The Atlantic and The New Yorker set the default ways which we understand social issues, e.g. sex, money and politics-- and they do this even if you don't read those magazines-- then Kotsko and others like him set the default understanding for academic types.  This doesn't mean everyone agrees with him, no no no-- it means that he sets the frame.  The trick is you will argue his conclusions but it will be impossible for it to occur to you to argue the form of the question. So "why do we love sociopaths?" is literally understood: "since it is a fact that we love sociopaths, why?"


Kotsko's thesis is that we love sociopaths because sociopathy is opposed to social awkwardness.  Say you're in line at the store and some jerk cuts in front of you, on purpose, and for the sake of clarification let me observe he has a Celtic cross tattooed to his shoulder and he just had sex with your girlfriend.  He's a different kind of person than you.  He can do things you can't, do women you can't, he sees the world's rules differently, which specifically means he understands that there are no "world's rules," that rules are decided by those with power for their own benefit.  After he cuts in line, he pockets a Milky Way bar because, well, because he got away with it.  My grammar is correct: he can do it since he got away with it.

Ultimately, the only thing you have over him, as you seethe expressionlessly with your 15  items or less, is sleeves and the feeling that you're not a jerk.

The media offers us our wish fulfillment by creating characters who are  "good" sociopaths that we can safely envy, and "good" is defined by The Atlantic as "has an internal code of ethics" and by anyone else as "makes it up as he goes along."  TV sociopaths-- Don Draper, Tony Soprano-- seem to be like that guy. They do what they want and aren't bothered that you, a loser, think they're a jerk. The difference between you and them, according to Kotsko, is that they manipulate the social connections whereas you are mired in them. They can detach, you can't.  Your only compensation is that you have moral superiority.

But at some point in the breakdown of capitalist society-- it says it right on the cover of his book-- that moral superiority isn't enough.  Are you not a person who works hard and plays by the rules?  You still want to have nice things, you still want to get nice women, you still want to feel some power, which in a normally functioning society you would be able to get in your own natural way.  But when there's unemployment and debt and your wife leaves you, and it looks like these are happening because the social contract has failed, because jerks are taking from you, those real losses aren't sufficiently compensated by "at least I'm not a jerk."   Extend that to Wall Street stealing your savings and feeling no shame, having no punishment, and all we can do is pretend that our moral superiority is enough compensation, and of course it isn't. 

Hence the aspirational images of TV sociopaths.  How great would it be to just...

If only I didn't give a fuck about anyone or anything, we think--then I would be powerful and free. Then I would be the one with millions of dollars, with the powerful and prestigious job, with more sexual opportunities than I know what to do with.


Kotsko has it backwards.

"If only....."  Look deep.   There is no if only. They already don't "give a fuck."  No one who wishes they could be like Tony Soprano or Don Draper actually cares about anyone. "I care about my mom."  No you don't.  You'd be sad if she died, of course, but you do not care about her, and I don't need to provide any examples for you to know this is true.  

The "social contract has failed" argument is a rationalization.  What's troubling them is that they already don't care at all, but they still aren't able to manipulate people the way Tony does. This is reinforced by the sentences that immediately precede "If only...":

If we feel very acutely the force of social pressure, they feel nothing. If we are bound by guilt and obligation, they are completely amoral.

Point to the guy who is both "bound by guilt"-- not shame, but guilt-- and also wants to be Tony Soprano and I'll show you a person who doesn't exist.

To be correct, Kotsko's sentences should be revised: "what the hell is wrong with me that I am exactly like Tony Soprano in every single way, except on execution?" Amoral and impotent is different than amoral and potent, but you're a jerk both ways.

This is how I know that anyone who says, "If only I could live in Mad Men time where you could pinch a girl's ass and not get in trouble for it" is going to be way disappointed if a TARDIS shows up, because they wouldn't pinch them back then, either, not because they are afraid of trouble but because they are afraid of girls.  Exhibit A: you know what a TARDIS is.

In a sentence, the problem with his Kotsko's analysis is that it isn't a description of the pathology, it itself is the defense against a hidden pathology.  Not: because Wall Street steals and we have no justice, we begin to admire sociopaths. But: because we admire sociopaths, therefore Wall Street is able to steal. Not: because the social contract has unraveled, therefore we wish to be sociopaths. But: because we are sociopaths, therefore the social contract has unraveled.  I know this is a very unpopular thing to say, but if you find yourself wanting to be bad because everyone else gets away with it, then the problem isn't everyone else, the problem is you. 

No, yelling at me won't make this less true.



I should point out that Kotsko uses the word "sociopath" incorrectly.

The contemporary fantasy of sociopathy picks and chooses from those characteristics, emphasizing the lack of moral intuition, human empathy, and emotional connection. Far from being the obstacles they would be in real life, these characteristics are what enable the fantasy sociopath to be so amazingly successful.

Everywhere Kotsko uses the word "sociopath" he is more accurately describing "narcissist." He calls them sociopaths because of the way they relate to society, but that would mean that the ebola virus is also a sociopath.  Society is the collateral damage of me me me.

Kotsko focuses on this a la carte sociopathy because he admits no one envies actual real life sociopaths. We only envy TV sociopaths-- so he infers that it must be a special selection of sociopathic characteristics we actually admire.

But this the wrong inference to make. The reason TV sociopaths are admired is that they are on TV.  They have a story.

Do you really admire Tony Soprano?  Which part? His loveless marriage to a crazy person? A mistress who is even crazier? His gigantic belly and panic attacks? The fact that no one actually likes him? That his daughter was dating a black guy? ("I wouldn't have a problem with that." Yes you would if you were Tony.) What part do you admire? 

The answer you tell yourself is you admire his power, that he can do whatever he wants.  No he can't. The whole show was nothing but repeated examples of how limited his options were. The things you think you admire-- having hot sex with the other crazy woman at his psychiatrist's office, eating microwaved Sysco at Italian restaurants, avoiding his wife-- can be done by anyone, you don't need to be Tony to do it.  But when you do it.... it just doesn't feel the same.  I know.

What people admire about Tony isn't his freedom; that thing you think is freedom is actually  the lack of freedom. His story. His identity-- that he has one, an obvious one, a clear one.  Tony Soprano is not free, his behavior is completely tethered to what makes sense for his character.  He acts exactly like Tony Soprano would act.  That's what people want:  the limitations of that identity: if I know who I am, I know what I am capable of, I know my strengths and my limits, I know how I'd react to unknown dangers.  And I want other people to know this.  If other people know who I am, I wouldn't have to keep proving myself.  Strike that: I wouldn't have to prove myself in the first place.

Kotsko makes another mistake in thinking that our admiration of TV sociopaths like Don Draper and Tony Soprano reflects a universal psychology. It doesn't. It only reflects the psychology of the people who like those shows, which isn't a lot of people but is a very specific and vocal group of people: Aspirational 14%.  Those people have the unique problem of too much freedom, too much money (which is to say they are still living paycheck to paycheck, but only because they are spending it all on keeping up the identity), too many options and, most importantly, nothing to define them. 

The admiration of TV sociopaths is related to this desire of self-identification, and not to a lack of power or a failure of the social contract. The social contract is working just fine for the AMC/Netflix demographic. It does not explain a desire for more power; envy explains it.  Not knowing who I am, not knowing what I am supposed to do next and what I am not supposed to bother doing next-- makes us long for characters who know precisely what to do next even if it is the wrong things.  They may be flawed, but they are definite.  They exist. 


Telling a modern American that what they really want is less freedom seems like some dangerous talk, but it is true nonetheless.  Cynicism, irony has failed you, but you know no other way to be.  Don Draper is an ad man, so going to a "partners' meeting" run formally, by a secretary, doesn't seem bad at all.  It seems great.  Neither does wearing a suit and tie, every day, and a hat.  But your job doesn't define you, so going to a meeting seems stupid, a farce, play acting, so you display a cynical detachment from it.  And you're not going to wear a tie for anybody.  You know it's stupid, you're not buying this corporate bullshit.  This cynical posture is a front, a wall, it protects you from being defined by your actions; but what you don't see is that the very job you think you're undermining still receives the full power of your productivity.  That you're unhappy, or cynical, is irrelevant to it.  It doesn't care about you.  Why should it?  You don't even care about yourself.

That's what we envy in Don Draper.  That he can exist as himself without ironic detachment, that he can be defined as something.  And what they are and what they do match up  perfectly, even if it's "bad."  The truth you must face, now, immediately, is that if you were put in Draper's clothes, in his relationships, in his job, you yourself would immediately affect that cynical detachment:  "A partners' meeting? What for?  Come on, I see you guys in the hallways all the time" and you'd be as miserable as you are now.  But until you accept this truth about yourself, you'll think changing other things could save you.   Tell the truth: did you consider a career in advertising after you watched Mad Men?  Then you are lost.


It's impossible to deconstruct TV shows without considering their complement: advertising.  Ads, especially TV commercials, offer the exact opposite of cynical detachment: pure aspiration.  So while you resist allowing your career or relationship to define you-- "I'm more than a software engineer!" you beg objects-- cars, clothes, women-- to define you, and of course not actual cars, clothes, or women, but whatever other people have said those things represent.  Worse, cynicism and aspirational branding aren't two opposite ends of a pole, they form a cycle: the chasm between your cynical view of real life and the perfect definition of the aspirational images in ads makes you even more cynical towards real life; which drives you further into the safety of branding.  Which is why you drink.

The only salvation to this existential crisis is less freedom, not more.  The only question is whether you will impose these restrictions on yourself, or you will wait like cattle for someone else to impose them on you.  But they will be imposed.  It is inevitable.



Aspirational 14%, defined

Don Draper Voted "Most Influential Man"




"...the problem is you."</p... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 12:17 PM | Posted by Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta: | Reply

"...the problem is you."

I always love this bit. It seems so empowering that it's not somebody else's fault but all in our own hands.

I just wish Dr. Alone would offer more of a hint, maybe a roadmap or something.

"The only salvation to this existential crisis is less freedom, not more."

Is this a clue? Somehow I can't help thinking of Ivan Denisovich. I just have to go find my own pointless wall to build don't I? But how do I convince myself that it's not all so pointless so I can overcome my slothfulness, fear and inertia? Maybe the Army would still take and make something out of a 41 year old softee like me. Nothing like suffering while fighting a pointless war / occupation to circumscribe that paralyzing sense of freedom.

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bullshit on the book. i don... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 12:20 PM | Posted by htapoicos: | Reply

bullshit on the book. i don't love or envy sociopaths and can't imagine anybody who would. i maintain my "moral superiority," yet if some asshole does cut me off in line, i don't sit there in silence either.

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I always thought the images... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 12:24 PM | Posted by Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta: | Reply

I always thought the images of the miseries endured by the great successful and powerful fictional characters of popular culture (i.e Tony Soprano) were just the kind of reassuring narcotic that the meek tv-viewers crave that reassures the masses that the rewards of courage, discipline, sacrifice and will are only sour grapes after all.

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That's a clear home run. Y... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 12:25 PM | Posted by Ottoman Vampire: | Reply

That's a clear home run. You hit the sweet spot of hundreds of curious onlookers with your analysis.

Also thanks - I'm getting better with my alcohol(underline blood) problem.

*pours some sherbet*

stay thirsty my friends.

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There's certainly a place f... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 12:54 PM | Posted by JohnJ: | Reply

There's certainly a place for recognizing the wish that the normal rules wouldn't apply to us. Superman was a popular tv show in early television. Annie and The Lone Ranger were popular radio shows before that. Stories about the gods date back millenia.

What's interesting to me is how the star of those aspirational stories has changed recently. Those were stories of morality. Superman, The Lone Ranger, etc, are very different characters than the gods, and the stars of today are very different characters still.

Maybe, and I'm just speculating off the cuff here, the change is the result of a recent mass deconstruction of morality. A proper treatment would take more time than I have, but the story of the pirates of Treasure Island bears little resemblance to the Pirates of the Caribbean. In Treasure Island, our hero learns that pirates are not to be admired. They were what we call terrorists now.

I guess what I mean is that stories of people who existed outside the bounds of rules were usually divided into good versus evil. Odysseus was good; the monsters were bad. But now we're admiring the bad people who aren't bound by any moral code, it seems to me. We're admiring them not because they use their powers for good, but just because they have the power of knowing who they are.

Hannibal Lecter comes to mind. V (for Vendetta) also. The bad guys in a lot of superhero movies often have as many or more fans than the hero. But the thing about knowing who you are is that you can't crowdsource the ego. Caring what other people think about you is what stops at least some of these people from engaging in stigmatized behavior.

Maybe it's a sign of a mass identity crisis. Maybe it's just an identity crisis among the cultural elite.

But you're right that we all have that power to not care if we choose, to define our own identity. But people want it both ways. "I want to be someone who treats women as sex objects without society condemning me for it." Don Draper is praised for his behavior. Hannibal Lecter, Jack Sparrow, etc. are admired. That's what they want.

But you have to choose: be that person in that society, or accept society's norms and behave yourself.

I wrote more than I thought I would. My apologies to anyone who read my disjointed thoughts.

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Isn't the mostly admired ch... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 1:10 PM | Posted, in reply to JohnJ's comment, by Ottoman Vampire: | Reply

Isn't the mostly admired character V is the one who spread seeds of anarchy and question for authority inspired a generation of teenagers who believed the end justifies the means?

Watchmen also proves examples of these. Heath Ledger anyone?

Matrix generation is looking for their Morpheus and they are looking for anyone with the red pill, even an Italian immigrant who's excited for ducks or a retro ad man with some serious issues. They want to be freed from their cubicle so that one they can make the first jump before they prove themselves or bend the spoon. You get the idea.

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One reason, if not the prim... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 1:47 PM | Posted by JohnJ: | Reply

One reason, if not the primary reason, cultures engage in storytelling is to encourage the adoption of particular identities to spread cultural values. It seems to me that that's what storytelling is all about. So what does it say about our culture when our storytellers encourage the adoption of the identity of sociopaths narcissists?

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I've often wondered what fe... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 1:48 PM | Posted by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

I've often wondered what feudalism would look like with modern technology, anti-biotics, and dentistry.

Good post.

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"It is inevitable".<p... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 1:49 PM | Posted by JohnK: | Reply

"It is inevitable".

Then what is the point of elaborately showing the problem is us?

Also, is the final quote from Agent Smith? WTF?

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The paradox of choice: <a h... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 2:01 PM | Posted by M: | Reply

The paradox of choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO6XEQIsCoM

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"So while you resist all... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 2:23 PM | Posted by jermismo: | Reply

"So while you resist allowing your career or relationship to define you-- "I'm more than a software engineer!" you beg objects-- cars, clothes, women-- to define you, and of course not actual cars, clothes, or women, but whatever other people have said those things represent."

Wow, it is almost like you are talking about me! I'm totally more than just a software engineer. Except I don't resist letting that (or my relationships) define me - I resist letting objects define me.

This reminds me, when I bought my new car (a WRX, which is apparently a stereotypical choice for computer people) - I was gushing to my GF about how awesome it is... and do you know what she said to me? She said, "Its not like it is a Ferrari or something, it doesn't make you cool. No body thinks you're cool for buying a Subaru."

I was taken aback. "Wait, how does a car make you cool?" I asked her. "If I bought a Ferrari, I'd just be a broke computer nerd in a Ferrari." Don't get me wrong, I think Ferraris (and my WRX) are cool cars with lots of interesting engineering - but I do reject the idea that there is some kind of cool transference going on when you buy one.

Long story short, maybe you weren't talking about me after all. But, how would I know, I'm just a software engineer.

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<a href="http://records.viu... (Below threshold) You're "walls" might be poi... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 5:18 PM | Posted, in reply to Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta's comment, by Eipa: | Reply

You're "walls" might be pointless for yourself, but if you choose them right others will be able to lean on them (i. e. charity). You don't seem to think of the people you'd kill if you went to a war at all (I mean killing in order to flee slothfulness... there we have our sociopaths). And it doesn't read as if you thought your problem was yourself. It reads as if you think your problem was >being

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... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 5:31 PM | Posted by Eipa: | Reply

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lol it's html who does weir... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 5:34 PM | Posted by Eipa: | Reply

lol it's html who does weird stuff with inverse > ...

continuing: It reads as if you think your problem was being yourself, a softie and beta. You blame your identity ignoring that it's you who chose it.

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The Technocrats are are imp... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 5:37 PM | Posted by David: | Reply

The Technocrats are are imposing the restrictions as we speak, for example, Smart Meters.

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I believe such a wall that ... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 6:02 PM | Posted, in reply to Eipa's comment, by Eric: | Reply

I believe such a wall that we can immediately build upon can be found right in front of us at this site.

A subject that is apparently no longer officially recognized and is shown in only too many examples both personal and in broader society to be of a very real concern.

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I think TLP is overlooking ... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 6:47 PM | Posted by leninist: | Reply

I think TLP is overlooking quite a lot here in shoehorning things into "the problem is you" trope.

The "right" reaction to Tony Soprano should, indeed, be that he is a miserable creature, a racist, sexist, narcissist pig who nobody should want to be like. T

he first few seasons try to trick us -- Tony as a narcissist "sociopath" charms us just like he charms his psychiatrist, convincing us that he really does have a "good side" in spite of all the bad things he does.

Only in the last season does his psychiatrist finally accept that his pattern of behavior in therapy fits exactly with a "criminal" type, who knows exactly how to convince others (and himself) that he is redeemable beneath the tough skin.

After you, the viewer, understand this about Tony, go back and watch the first few seasons. It then becomes evident that from the very start David Chase signaled that Soprano was in no way redeemable, because narcissists just aren't good people, period, even if they're really cool.

When you rewatch the first few seasons you can ALSO see how Chase manipulates us via Tony and his charisma to think that Tony is someone we'd want to be, in a way. Chase's intention is to criticize viewers who envy anti-heros like Tony. He makes it so it's easy for those viewers to overlook all those signals that Tony is not actually a good person at all.

Then, after years and years he makes it quite clear that Tony isn't good. Predictably, that leads the people who identify with Tony to want him to "get what he deserves" at the end, and to glorify in getting to watch it, just as they glorified in getting to watch Tony let his rage out on others. But Chase doesn't let us see that. That's why the infamous/maligned ending is so great.

So, the Sopranos is a _critique_ of the idealization of the anti-hero narcissist in contemporary American television/movies. Tony is really just another cop hero willing to bend the rules, except that he's not a cop and Chase actually recognizes he's not any good, either.

But this leaves open a question that Chase only occasionally considers the answer to - _why_ is the anti-hero narcissist so idealized in contemporary entertainment?

Tony is a racist; he is a homophobe; he is hostile to modern psychiatry and education and anything that goes against the old 50s ways of taking off the belt and beating the child. He clings desperately to an ideal of "masculinity" that makes him hate his son for no reason in particular. He believes strongly and violently in "the nuclear family" even though he cheats constantly. He believes strongly and violently in certain remnants of Catholicism even though he is a mortal sinner a hundred times over.

In other words: Tony believes strongly and violently in all of the ideals of the 1950s white male. He believes in them even though he they make him a violent hypocrite and a terrible father and husband.

It is precisely those ideals that the viewer who idealizes narcissist-antiheros identifies with. Tony's rage is the everyday narcissist's rage at the fact that things don't seem so darn simple as they were back in the 50s. Tony actually gets to let that rage out and speak his mind honestly, instead of pretending to be okay with gays and kowtowing to a bunch of neo-hippie leftist BS like we have to.

So that leads us to a question -- why is such a significant portion of the viewing audience in a position so that they identify with this kind of narcissist, idealizing the 50s in this way while overlooking its virulent racism, homophobia, etc?

Because there was an economic boom in the 50s. Class mobility seemed, for a moment, very possible.

The boom led to all sorts of illusions about capitalism, the "American way" of "working one's way to the top", etc. As the post-war boom came to an end and we drifted into the neoliberal period starting in the 70s, capitalism's natural tendencies revealed themselves again. Class mobility became more difficult, the owners of the means of production began to seize a greater portion of the output of our labor, etc.

Because the boom and mobility of the 50s appeared on its surface to so obviously be a product of the greatness of capitalism and the American way, people don't really know how to process the fact that things aren't like they used to be anymore. The rage they ought to be directing toward the capitalist class gets directed at the blacks, the gays, their wives and families, liberal hippies and their psychiatry and fuzzy educational ideas, politicians of the "opposing" party, et cetera.

There is a material, economic explanation for why the narcissist is so prevalent today and why he is such a popular "anti"-hero in contemporary entertainment. The explanation lies in the laws of motion that govern capitalism and the particular way they manifested themselves in American society. Chase grasps some of this, insofar as he is criticizing the idealization of and identification with the anti-hero for his ability to let out his rage at everything that appears to have caused his lack of empowerment. But TLP overlooks all of this, preferring instead to stick to his mysterious trope that "the problem is you".

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So if you're pretty much th... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 7:43 PM | Posted by leitzl: | Reply

So if you're pretty much the exact person you describe what should you do? I am so confuse

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Aspirational 14%. Those pe... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 8:02 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Aspirational 14%. Those people have the unique problem of too much freedom, too much money (which is to say they are still living paycheck to paycheck, but only because they are spending it all on keeping up the identity), too many options and, most importantly, nothing to define them.

...out there somewhere, you just sunk a Battleship!!! BOOM!

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"Do you really admire Tony ... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 10:07 PM | Posted by Carl Jung: | Reply

"Do you really admire Tony Soprano? Which part? His loveless marriage to a crazy person? A mistress who is even crazier?"

Carm was crazy? She had some issues (don't we all) but crazy? And Gloria Trillo certainly could have benefitted from some meds and therapy--okay, A LOT of meds and therapy--but I'm a little curious as to your use of the term "crazy." I'd think you'd realize what a politically loaded term it is, particularly when used in regard to women.

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This is too cute! Nice to s... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 10:38 PM | Posted, in reply to leninist's comment, by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

This is too cute! Nice to see old dogs adapting to a new situation.

Some pretty blatant non sequiturs in the analysis after you stop repeating our host, but it should take a few souls in just fine anyway. Just out of curiosity, how does it feel to be a running dog of capitalism without getting fed for it? If you're watching it, it's for you, playa, and if you're re-watching it, you've been pwned.

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"Tony believes strongly and... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 10:55 PM | Posted, in reply to leninist's comment, by Ryan: | Reply

"Tony believes strongly and violently in all of the ideals of the 1950s white male."

I thought your analysis was great, but I have to take issue with this. Those may been the major areas of progress our society has made in the last 60 years, but those weren't the "ideals" during that time by any means. The ideals (which in reality were different for each person) were to raise a nice family, have a big car, a steady career, and your own house, etc., goals which was assisted by the economy you mentioned.

Racism for instance, was rampant, but it was not seen as ideal outside the deep south. Even though the majority were racist, it was still seen as a problem by most of the country, that is why we had Brown vs Board of Education, federal troops being called in to desegregate a high school, etc.

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"...the problem is you."</p... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 11:13 PM | Posted by randy: | Reply

"...the problem is you."

i also like when you say that. are you quoting directly from the Sex Pistols there, or is that only a coincidence?

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What is a TARDIS? ... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 11:15 PM | Posted by Celtic Cross: | Reply

What is a TARDIS?

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Ryan@10:55pm, you seem to m... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2012 11:23 PM | Posted by gral: | Reply

Ryan@10:55pm, you seem to mistake passing laws for actual changes in racial attitudes.

You can't legislate perspective. Racism is substantively no different today than it was before the '65 CRA or Brown v Bd of Ed. It differs only in process. Process isn't substance.

And your regional bigotry toward the south (suggesting racism was "ideal" there but not elsewhere) is obnoxious, as well as simply wrong. Racism persists and has long existed well outside the former Land O' Plantations. The Confederacy may have waged a war to perpetuate slavery, but up North and out Middle West there was no shortage of racism. Still isn't.

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Why do you drink?<... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 1:19 AM | Posted by Aaron Davies: | Reply

Why do you drink?

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I used the word "ideals" th... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 1:24 AM | Posted, in reply to Ryan's comment, by leninist: | Reply

I used the word "ideals" there sarcastically, to catch both the explicit sunny aspect of retroactive idealization of the 50s and all the reactionary racism/sexism/etc such idealization necessarily buys into. Saying that people were or are racist because they "saw it as ideal" is just really missing the point. And you're more or less completely wrong in saying that racism was solved by the Civil Rights Act or that it was unique to the south.

It would be strange to say today that anybody thinks it's "ideal" that a massive percentage of African-American males are imprisoned due to drug-related crimes; but we could nonetheless say this is an inevitable consequence of certain "ideals" (rather "ideology") which rule society, which themselves are a consequence of economic relations.

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Narcissism is emotional cap... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 1:24 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Narcissism is emotional capitalism. Money is replaced by attention and praise. Greed is rewarded, but with destructive effect to the "losers." And at the end of the day, people look at all their winnings (material goods replaced by attention) and find they still feel empty.

Narcissism is the result of our rampant consumerism. Our society bludgeons us with the idea that loving yourself first is the most important thing (treat yourself, you deserve it), and TV sociopaths represent this ideal in its purest form.

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It appears as if you tried ... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 4:10 AM | Posted by DGS: | Reply

It appears as if you tried to plug a few points into one summation, but shallowed it out, the precision is not quite there. I can hear David Foster Wallace getting channeled heavily in between.

Ultimately, the only thing you have over him, as you seethe expressionlessly with your 15 items or less, is sleeves and the feeling that you're not a jerk.

Wrong. You (I am sorry, me) have plenty of things on him, such as no warrants for my arrest or a bigger bank account. But you need to keep scaring the reader, right? They have to come back...

Impressive readers, beware: Alone's tone is quite pessimistic, and the positive parts of ambition or identity establishing are clearly omitted.. we can absolutely aspire to attain the characteristics we admire, as well as reduce the ones we don't.

So, on identity:

Actions count, but it is not the be all end all. Owning who you are as a result of these actions is it. Knowing what you like and dislike by doing things and having experiences is it.

If confused about next action, gather what actions are realistic, and do the next logical one.

Netflix "The Edge"

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You are too blind to see th... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 4:13 AM | Posted, in reply to Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta's comment, by Anons: | Reply

You are too blind to see the obvious: Army doesn't care for 41 year olds.

How do you overcome the thought that it's all "pointless"?

May be you consider that if your ancestors felt that way, your ass wouldn't be here right now. May be you find what you want to live for. May be you recognize you love yourself and want better things for you, and work is good if it's work you care about.

May be you do that for a change.

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Tony — the Sopranos — was i... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 5:00 AM | Posted by Zo: | Reply

Tony — the Sopranos — was incredibly watchable, nearly addictive, because Chase and his writers had the gift of *story* ... and spun it out over eight years! And the damn thing was *funny* ... as well as horrifying and ghastly and even heartbreaking in spots (the shooting of Adriana.) The people, the family in The Sopranos were both unlike us and like us. I don't see envy of Tony or his sociopathic ways—the series worked because of the grip that narrative has always had upon the human mind.

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Your SWPL-ness is showing. ... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 8:08 AM | Posted, in reply to Ryan's comment, by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

Your SWPL-ness is showing. As misguided as Marxists are, I almost always grok their critiques, and modern Marxists are on the side of the angels when it comes to race (again, their critique). Unfortunately their solutions (not to mention their anthropology) are bat shit crazy.

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Haven't read all the commen... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 8:12 AM | Posted by discount contact lenses: | Reply

Haven't read all the comments, so I apologize if I've repeated something here, but (the word that erases everything that came before it):

"In a sentence, the problem with his Kotsko's analysis is that it is exactly backwards."

This made me laugh. I wanted to familiarize myself with the article to which this post was referring, so I jumped to the end and read the paragraphs backwards. I started with his conclusion, and worked my way backwards to see how he wanted to lead the reader to his point. Worked very well in this instance!

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@jermismoWell, you... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 9:29 AM | Posted, in reply to jermismo's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply


Well, you read the part where he said "I'm more than a software engineer!" and thought, "He's talking to me because I'm a software engineer", which shows that it isn't you.

Your job, what you do, is a big part of your identity. You are not lost because you know who you are, you are an archetype.
If I were to guess, your problem comes when your behaviure does not match up with the archetypes you use, or where people devalue them. Me too!

I think the problem for us is to recognise that we are not these roles (worker, husband, father, mentor, manager), but rather are what we do. If we can figure out who we are based on what we do, then we will be more resilient.
Because when something happens - we lose our job, our wife becomes unhappy, or *our role asks us to do something in conflict with our real values*, we will make better choices, that make complete sense. It's hard to feel bad when you know you are right.

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Well, I never actually</... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 1:32 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by jermismo: | Reply

Well, I never actually thought TLP was talking about me :) Usually the only phrase on this blog that is targeted directly at me is "run away." LOL. But, run where? Is there a place where I won't eventually have to deal with some narcissist slowly eating away at my soul? Does this place need programmers?

Joking aside.

I do agree with you that the real crux of our identity is in what we do. Not in the role itself, but in how we carry out that role. Roles come and go - and some aren't choices. I didn't decide to be a Son, but its hard to be born without being someone's child. So who I am, as a son, has to be based on how I carry out that role and not the role itself.

But, I don't think action is everything. It isn't just what I do, but how I react to (or feel about) what I do. If I do something "wrong" and I don't feel bad about it (psychopath) - or I try desperately to find a loophole to let me get out of feeling bad about it (narcissist) - then that's completely different than if I willingly recognize it was wrong (guilt) and go about making amends.

On archetypes, the problem isn't when your behavior doesn't match the archetypes you use. The problem is when you delude yourself into trying to use archetypes that don't match your behavior. I can try all I want to see myself as a race-car driver, but driving fast up an on-ramp does not a race make. Were I to decide to become a race-car driver, I'd have to actually start racing cars for real. Only then would it be correct to take on that identity.

Also, the problem is not when people "devalue" your archetype. The problem is when you devalue it. People will find some things you do pointless - and will let you know. Some will be strangers, some will be close. It isn't a problem until they convince you too. It isn't a serious problem until that was what you based your whole identity around.

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This analysis is all too si... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 2:47 PM | Posted, in reply to JohnJ's comment, by CubaLibre: | Reply

This analysis is all too simplistic, I think.

First off, claiming that Odysseus was good and the monsters evil is importing a Christian moral binary into a pre-Christian time. Odysseus doesn't kill the monsters because he's good, he's good because he kills the monsters. If the monsters killed him instead, the story would've been about the monsters. "Good" as word is so loaded in our post-Christian society that it doesn't even really apply to any analysis of an ancient Greek character; more appropriate terms would be noble, beautiful, excellent, virtuous.

In other words, moral analyses change and recirculate in interesting directions through and across different societies on the regular. There isn't one huge downward (or upward) slope starting in 10,000 BC and extending through 2012 to infinity.

As for right now, you're forgetting about real money and real power. Sure people like Jack Sparrow, but that's because he's a silly flamer and the empire he (on-again off-again) opposes is a bunch of stodgy pricks. More importantly, the empire doesn't actually exist: no one in the audience's paycheck is dependent upon the continued unperturbed existence of that fictional empire. To put it another way, people might think Jack Sparrow pirates are cool but the entire nation did the socially acceptable equivalent of a touchdown dance when those Navy SEALs headshotted those real-life Somali pirates who had kidnapped that oil tanker captain. People know where their bread is buttered, and deconstructive ideologies don't seem to get much in the way of that recognition.

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@jerisimo. Where do you mo... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 4:31 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by DGS: | Reply

@jerisimo. Where do you move? Europe or Latin America. In other cultures, especially metropolitan cities, you will be hard pressed to find heavy narcissism - it is alleviated by proxy of having to run into a million people who don't know and don't care to know you.

Interestingly, there the job is the biggest part of the identity as well - I suppose it is just a shortcut for people to label you - unfortunately the stereotypes (or "invisible false beliefs") coming through the TV and pop culture make a huge mess of the whole thing, and, really, how much does "an accountant" tell you about a person? Do you REALLY need that shortcut instead of asking a few smart questions?

Great video on ambition vs ego, being a loser, identifying with things:


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We admire people who follow... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 5:53 PM | Posted by SeanM: | Reply

We admire people who follow no rules other than ones they create or recognize. We like those people because we see that we are similar but on a much smaller scale. They will literally blow up a building (Fight Club) to achieve their goals or even kill someone just to satisfy an urge to kill (Dexter). We will drive over the speed limit, lie, steal on a small level, but going further in the same direction, in movies and on TV, appears to yield more rewards.

Durden tramples all that gets in his way and builds a cult with ease. Why does Durden have these skills? He was just living inside the nameless narrator the whole time – so we are to assume that the narrator had these skills, just lying inside him, which he could’ve unleashed at any moment. And gradually throughout the film he does. See the conversations, and punching himself through a glass shelf, with his boss.

The difference with Fight Club is that it’s not about skills – if you put aside the bomb making. Durden doesn’t know much that’s really profound. Many people have observed that “the things you own, own you” or all the other quotes. The reason people want to be Durden is not because of this outlook which almost every cynical person shares. Durden is really quite unremarkable in every way, if you take out the cult and the bombs. He’s just a guy who makes soap from stolen fat and has sex with women and threatens people with an empty gun to motivate them and smashes cars and punches people. People admire or want to be Durden because he’s fully uninvested. It’s not “I don’t give a fuck about this and this,” it’s actually “I don’t give a fuck in any form except for these things I extremely give a fuck about,” such as his own choices, freedom, vision of society, and so on. He does it with supreme confidence, 100% and without a doubt pursues his goals.

None of us believe in “the rules” or traditions or (non)values in modern society, because it’s fair to say shallow materialism and stepping on other people’s faces to climb a career ladder inside a rat race is bullshit, fair enough, but we go on half-following this order because we don’t have the sheer confidence of a Durden to create ourselves out of something we care deeply about. To be “fully Durdenized” we’d have to have a lot of confidence in something, whether that is ourselves or some ideal or some project. Blowing stuff up doesn’t matter; tons of fictional characters have done that. His super power is that he’s willing to push a lot of crap aside to pursue a goal. It’s his ability to pay the opportunity cost. “Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”

What people mean when they say they wish they didn’t give a fuck, is actually that they wished they gave a whole lot of fuck about just a few things to the point where they would pursue them vehemently, to the point they’d push everything out of the way and even put their life on the line.

Alone has framed this as more freedom vs. less freedom. But it could just as well be framed as “don’t care at all” vs. “care a lot.”

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The best part of the Sapron... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 6:07 PM | Posted by sociopaths lobby gov.: | Reply

The best part of the Sapronos was showing people that sociopaths live and look like real people on your street- not just killers of others in a dungeon. They never change.
I have mostly-65% -of cluster B personality disorders manipulating the mental health system to get as much dime from tax payers as they can. Most sociopaths do NOT WORK, use drugs, malinger, and have children they can't care about except to use for hostages to get housing and money. Sociopaths are what we call "ghetto". No amount of mental health services will change them-change is not in a sociopath. Avoidance of punishment is all they respond to- if at all.
As far as wall street- I think the writer thinks we all admire them fucking us up the ass because they have not been punished and no one has shot them to death. I like to think Americans are trying to get people in office to regulate them and stop lobbing the people who are supposed to work for us. Until the lobbying stops- bend over. We are trying to get some change and justice but we the people are not experts on Wall Street workings and that is why we depend on our gov. to do it for us. We are not experts on mortgages either and need some hand holding and protection.
This author is making a silly assumption- to make money.

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6:07pm, your comment reads ... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 6:15 PM | Posted by gral: | Reply

6:07pm, your comment reads like you believe you can use the term "sociopath" as a convenient synonym for "nigger."

Remember this: when "sociopath" becomes the culling label, be sure you know (1) who gets to define what it means, and (2) who gets to assess individuals for so-called "sociopathy."

Remember this: it's just a label.

If someone behaves in a destructive manner and hurts others, better to point at the specific destructive acts -- and far, far worse to simply paste the label "sociopath" onto him/her and thereby ruin his/her life somehow.

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I watched a few episodes of... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 9:48 PM | Posted by V,V.: | Reply

I watched a few episodes of "Mad Men," then quit. It was too dark.

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You, and everyone here, sho... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2012 11:33 PM | Posted, in reply to leninist's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

You, and everyone here, should read Peter Turchin's War and Peace and War. Cohesion isn't everything when it comes to economic situations, especially not that one (who would have thought that destroying everyone else's economies would produce a boom in your own...), but it is certainly something.

Also, am I the only person born in the US who's socially conservative but finds the '50s -- not just the racism and sexism, but the Wonder Bread and vapid entertainment -- repellent?

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Are there any women sociopa... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2012 8:39 AM | Posted by fraula: | Reply

Are there any women sociopaths in this book?

It's interesting your article sticks with the male pronoun throughout when discussing specific people and the vast majority of generalizations. Women are only identified as victims of sociopaths.

Peggy is a female Don. It's pretty clear she's sociopathic. And yet she's rarely, if ever, held up as admirable. Middling, netural, black and white. The latest episode of "Mad Men" makes society's patriarchal endorsement of sociopathy in men, but not women, very clear: she's shot down by client and co-workers alike when she behaves like the male sociopath she emulates. And she's even done good work, objectively speaking.

The male sociopath, Don, is merely reprimanded after abandoning his work duties, abandoning his wife, and talking back to his boss.

It's a good move for the writers to have made, making viewers face the reality that so many of them cheer for the male jerks while scoffing at/devaluing the female jerk (who's objectively working harder than the male ones). Of course, it remains to be seen just how many viewers and reviewers realize that dissonance in their own reactions rather than sitting with the easy "oh that's just how it was and sometimes still is in the 50s and 60s"...

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Just some clarification to ... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2012 8:46 AM | Posted by fraula: | Reply

Just some clarification to my comment (yeesh, should have previewed better): "Middling, netural, black and white." Meant to write neutral. She's often described as having black and white qualities, whereas Don and Roger are given more colorful, nuanced descriptions.

Mistype: "oh that's just how it was and sometimes still is in the 50s and 60s" should be "oh that's just how it was in the 50s and 60s and sometimes still is".

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I know what you mean, but o... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2012 8:59 AM | Posted, in reply to ExOttoyuhr's comment, by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

I know what you mean, but one should try not to be presentist. Were they repellant compared to our own time? Hard to tell, can't wait to get my hands on a TARDIS.

It still is hard being black, I'm glad I'm not a woman today, and not everything was made of corn then. With regards to entertainment, it's no less vapid now, you just have more options and more energy going into production.

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<a href="http://thirdtierre... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2012 9:41 AM | Posted by Nando: | Reply


The author should head to law school. There are plenty of sociopaths; they are known as deans and "professors."

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Some of the folks on a blog... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2012 10:25 AM | Posted by John R: | Reply

Some of the folks on a blog Kotsko participates in are fans of this site, so there may actually be a response.

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Nando, I really respect wha... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2012 10:51 AM | Posted, in reply to Nando's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Nando, I really respect what you are doing. Schools in general, not just law school, are a massive fraud.

Different people withing the school system believe that they are a money making machine, or a psuedo religious rite of passage / game show. Many in the later camp genuinely believe that they are educating people. Fools.

The result, of these conflicting forces, is a huge mess, and the victims are the kids that choose to study, because they don't believe they have an option. Fools.

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As a student I'll attest to... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2012 12:20 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Eric: | Reply

As a student I'll attest to this. I only realized this too late. Now as I'm in so far I might as well finish my course. I wish there was a way to warn others without coming off as some cynical nut who as burned by the system.

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Academic study isn't a wast... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2012 8:06 PM | Posted by Simon: | Reply

Academic study isn't a waste of time. It's like a gym. Yeah most people don't get value for money from their membership but that's not wholly the fault of the gym industry.

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It's not that that I prefer... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2012 10:19 PM | Posted, in reply to Gabe Ruth's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

It's not that that I prefer the present day over the '50s, it's that I prefer pretty much every other era, and other culture, over the '50s. Beaming faces, Wonder Bread, swing music, mass artillery bombardments, and cars with fins are loathsome to me, while American conservatives seem to be positively fond of them, and even liberals can't seem to look away.

If only Germany had won WWI!

This wouldn't have meant the conquest of the US -- but it would certainly have meant its cultural transformation, into a more serious, responsible, and, well, desperate country, where the '50s could never have evolved.

(And don't worry, I have enough sense to know that German victory in WWII was simply not an option. Even without considering the Holocaust, have you seen what the Axis was planning to do once they got the Bomb? And the odds of Hitler being successfully ousted from power -- the plan of the Wehrmacht for what to do the day after the Allied surrender -- were regrettably low; even he himself believed that he had aliens or time travelers looking out for him.)

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My advice is to say what yo... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2012 10:22 PM | Posted, in reply to Eric's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

My advice is to say what you will, and not worry about how you sound. Those who can hear you and benefit from your experiences, will; but if you stay quiet, or soften your message to the point of incomprehensibility (a point reached very quickly indeed, most of the time), they won't.

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What's fun is trying to exp... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2012 11:26 PM | Posted by DGS: | Reply

What's fun is trying to explain this to a foreign girl, and have her be really confused.

"Look, you know this 'lost' look in the eyes of Americans you've told me you've seen - that is a response to an "inconvenient reality" They are detached in their heads because they can't focus that this is their real life, since it is not as they were told it would be - exciting, stimulating, fulfilling, special.

And then the media comes to tell you "You need to fix it by buying this new thing that is being tied to your identity. This brand of car says this. This watch states that, this iphone.."

Her - slightly confused look, trying to process.

"Ok, look at your swimsuit, you see here it says "Best Kisser. Pink. Well, a girl looks at that and thinks - I am the best kisser. But out of the sample of how many, one? Take 5 girls in a room, is she the best kisser? Probably not. But she won't find out, accepting the lies is good enough if it is a conventional convenient lie."

Her - "I didn't ever read what this said"

Me - "Let's move to your country"

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I like how you take Alone's... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 12:15 AM | Posted, in reply to DGS's comment, by mthompson: | Reply

I like how you take Alone's point about narcissism, consumerism, and identity in American society and make it specifically about American women, against whom you clearly hold a grudge. You could have just as easily made your point by describing what it's like to talk to a foreign _person_ about the "lost" look in Americans' eyes, and how you try to explain its because of obsession with brands/etc and that person replies "What? I didn't even notice the labels!". But then your post would be about Alone's point rather than you and your resentment of American women. American women have failed you in some way (in other words, you have failed to relate to any of them), and so you project upon European women a fantasy image of women lacking all those superficial insecure tendencies you hate about American women. You imagine that being around women like that will solve your problem with women -- that the problem is them (American women, those brand-obsessed c*nts), rather than you. While in fact, the problem is you. You are a sexist, probably because you hate yourself but don't want to confront that fact or do the work to improve yourself, so you direct that hate toward women instead.

Alone's rhetoric is all-too-prone to inspiring sexist/racist idiocy like this because Alone himself tends to be sexist and racist.

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I am happy to say I don't k... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 1:31 AM | Posted by JJ: | Reply

I am happy to say I don't know who Tony Soprano or Don something is.

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Isn't the answer love, to s... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 2:09 AM | Posted by anonymous: | Reply

Isn't the answer love, to some degree? Valuing something or someone enough to let it define you, even though it's less invested in your identity, because that lack of investment gives the definition a concreteness that you don't get when you try to define yourself. After all, you like yourself too much to make the really harsh judgments.

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Thanks for the laugh. I am ... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 3:04 AM | Posted, in reply to mthompson's comment, by DGS: | Reply

Thanks for the laugh. I am not American.

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This entry show Alone is pr... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 10:36 AM | Posted by MedsVsTherapy: | Reply

This entry show Alone is prolly racist and sexist.

-darn, I was not the first to say that! I hate when I lose the 'who can call someone racist first' game.

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This is another great post ... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 10:49 AM | Posted by MedsVsTherapy: | Reply

This is another great post that gets to the problem of much of our culture being geared to making us believe we are living a real life when we are merely goofing off.

Our country is so wealthy that we can afford to have the huge group of people on 'disability' for mental disorders, have most college kids borrow this wealth to get a four-year hobby certificate from a college, and have us devote our free time to watching televsion for more thasn a couple hours a week.

Thank goodness for the United Way drive at work each year so we can envision ourselves as philanthropists, as well.

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"If only Germany had won WW... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 12:53 PM | Posted, in reply to ExOttoyuhr's comment, by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

"If only Germany had won WW1!"

I'm inclined to agree that the US would have been better off in the long run with that outcome (even more so if it would have just stayed the hell out of it). It's hard to say for the rest of the world. I'm agnostic about US involvement in WW2 also, but that's even more speculative. I do think that the Nazi's plans for world domination tend to get a little bit exaggerated (or at least their practicality).

Regarding those things you loathe, I'm reminded of something TLP said a while back (from memory, maybe a little off): "You know you're in the Matrix when you look at a reproduction of something you have no first hand knowledge of and you say 'That's so authentic!'"

And you can't take anything TV conservatives or liberals or those that listen to them say at face value. They get paid to be lied to by themselves, how can they tell you what they think?

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"The problem is people have... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 4:04 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"The problem is people have too much freedom." That actually makes sense.

Sorry, but this is a personal anecdote. I dropped out of my first semester of college, didn't go to school despite the fact that I was actually interested in a useful degree (computer programming), got fired from two jobs for poor performance, I was frequently depressed and anxious, and my life was generally on a downward spiral.

Then I joined the military, and a lot of that "freedom" I had to loaf around and do nothing was gone. Since then, I've won numerous awards for being good at my job, I got promoted ahead of many of my peers, bought a house, got the muscle car I always wanted, learned valuable "hands on" skills that my computer hobby wasn't giving me, and so on. I've gotten pretty close to Maslow's self-actualization lately. Not quite there, but close. A lot closer than I used to be.

It might sound Orwellian, but sometimes freedom is slavery....when you're a crappy person, like I am, anyway.

So now that I've revealed all of this about myself, I'm going to post as anonymous. But this is just my two cents on what TLP wrote.

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Zero books huh. Well they m... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 4:06 PM | Posted by who: | Reply

Zero books huh. Well they might get something right.

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"It might sound Orwe... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 4:22 PM | Posted by V.V.: | Reply

"It might sound Orwellian, but sometimes freedom is slavery....when you're a crappy person, like I am, anyway."

I'm not sure where crazy begins and ends, but I doubt it has much to do with someone identifying offensive behavior and then taking steps to correct it.

Whatever you did cannot be undone. You have control over what you do now. On-going self-castigation serves no positive purpose.

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Those reading this blog, ar... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 4:39 PM | Posted by Question: | Reply

Those reading this blog, are you finding you see these behaviors often around you? Are you happy that you swallowed the red pill, even though it makes you more exhausted to think these things through in situations around you?

I want to thank Alone for returning the gift of reason, even if it comes with a price.

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do the work to imp... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 6:47 PM | Posted, in reply to mthompson's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

do the work to improve yourself
Science, anecdotes and personal experience heavily lean towards the idea that women are very attracted to the Tucker Max type of guy.

Would I "improve" myself by becoming more like him, an obviously shining example of an "attractive" male?

If the answer is no, then you might need to explain what you mean by "improve".

If the answer is yes, then clearly your standards for what is right and what is attractive do not align.

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By "science", you mean evol... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 8:09 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by mthompson: | Reply

By "science", you mean evolutionary psychology and its cousins. Those are all projects to give sexist, racist, and classist assumptions the veneer of scientific legitimacy to people who want to feel justified in accepting those assumptions. They are not legitimate "science" to anyone with a remotely critical eye.

There are plenty of happily-married or committed men in the world who are nothing like Tucker Max. They do not buy into the assumption that everyone is really a selfish atomistic individual like Economics says it is or believe that this assumption is justified because evolutionary psychology proves we're just a bunch of animals driven by pheromones. The women they are involved with are not whores or sluts or insecure but -- imagine! - people. Women like that do exist. Granted, plenty of women not like that also exist. Sexism is so deeply embedded in the fabric of our society that it reproduces itself, by teaching women from an early age that they are in fact little whores who need a man to validate them, ideally by impregnating them and then abandoning them, and by teaching men that they ought to treat women as if this were true. When people are taught to act that way many of them do, and then it indeed becomes a "fact" that women "really are" insecure whores.

Here is where Alone is right. If you act like a woman-hating asshole you will get mostly women you hate. If you make yourself a better person and get over the insecurities that make you hate women, you just might meet a woman who's a _person_, rather than a "stupid bitch". The problem is you. (The bigger problem is the social order that causes you and the women you hate; but this being a real problem that we ought collectively to do something about does not excuse you from responsibility for your own problem.)

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I don't think that Draper i... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 9:15 PM | Posted by BF: | Reply

I don't think that Draper is a sociopath. His life is a lie but he isn't an impulsive liar. Cheating on your wife doesn't make one a sociopath. He isn't capable of perfect love, but is capable of love and deeper emotions than a sociopath would have. A faked identity, but not a blank personality.

Draper could probably be trusted with money, unlike a sociopath.

His infidelity to Betty isn't enough to indicate sociopathy. Betty was more shallow than he, an annoying person, and was unfaithful as well.

Draper is not the same kind of personality as Tony Soprano, a multiple murderer etc.

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Productive conversation! I ... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 10:50 PM | Posted, in reply to Gabe Ruth's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

Productive conversation! I don't exaggerate in saying that you've made my day!

The outcomes for the rest of the world -- especially for the colonies and Russia -- in the event of a WWI German victory are an interesting thought. The Germans would not have been interested in the League of Nations in the slightest, but would instead have probably grabbed all the colonies they could take. The Ottomans were sick of governing the Arabs, but they would have rediscovered the merits of ruling the Middle East when they started striking oil there; and the Hapsburgs... well, they would have survived, and by surviving would have kept the lid on the Balkans. That alone would have been a service to humanity.

In the colonies, the Germans were no-nonsense and often very harsh administrators (although the British, too, could be brutal -- and were genocidal earlier and more often than the Germans; the phrase "to Hell or Connacht" comes to mind); but they had a habit that they also displayed in the Balkans, of picking tribes that they had a sentimental attachment to and backing them come Hell or high water. This approach is at least a viable competitor with the Anglo-American one, "refuse to take sides and try to keep the pot from boiling over."

And the big advantage of being colonized by Germans: this. Solving long-standing problems with statism and technical perfection is what they do.

As to the world surviving a Nazi victory: it's a provocative idea, but I think it's within the realm of possibility. I strongly recommend Heinz Guderian's memoirs, titled Panzer Leader in the US (that the PC game Panzer General was basically a tie-in with the 1990 edition), for a good look at both the mentality of the Germans in the war, and the mentality of Hitler himself. He was less nightmarish personally than is normal for men responsible for 10+ million deaths; he worked himself up into frenzies regularly, but was pleasant and generous (especially for, you know, Hitler) when he was winning or successful. Doing the impossible and actually winning WWII could well have inspired him to throw out his entire postwar plan in a flash of leniency -- and planning for what to do after the war was never a German strong point in the first place. (One of the reasons the Deutsches Reich's peace with Russia in WWI was so harsh was that they were literally making it up as they went along.)

Victory was within his grasp, too. If only he had allowed the front-line troops to determine how the conquered peoples of Soviet territory were treated, he could probably have won. It's hard to overstate how strongly the Russian peasantry identified with the Russian state, or how strongly they desired the state's territorial expansion; bearing this in mind, it's mind-blowing to read Guderian's account of being welcomed as a liberator by the Russian peasantry, and having to dodge stout Russian peasant women who assaulted his command post with platters of eggs and butter; or with what emotion the Russians thanked the Germans when the Germans permitted them to bring out the ikons and vestments they'd been saving for decades, for the eventual fall of the Reds.

But then the civil administration arrived, and the peasants saw the Soviets as the lesser of two evils. It helped that Stalin abandoned his rhetoric of the cosmopolitan New Soviet Man fighting for the liberation of all peoples, in favor of the old-fashioned defense of Holy Mother Russia... But even then, and even with the gauleiters, the "anti-Soviet expeditionary force" component of the Waffen-SS included one Ukrainian, one White Russian, and two Great Russian divisions.

On the '50s, I'll put it this way: I don't know if it corresponds to anything real or not (is a style of advertising ever real?), but I know that I throw books across the room, occasionally literally, when I see happy Upper Paleolithic faces and bubble letters with exclamation marks. Is it still the Baudrelliard Matrix to say, in response to a reproduction of something you have no first-hand knowledge of, "That's so disgusting!"?

It didn't even occur to me to try applying TLP analysis to TV conservatives and liberals -- or rather, to Internet ones, who I sometimes read analyses by. I'll have to give that a shot; it does seem to offer promise in making The American Conservative and Slate easier to understand, or at least to condescend to. :)

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@Army AnonymousThey ... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2012 11:09 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

@Army Anonymous
They didn't "take away" your freedom, but shaped it into a purpose and provided easy steps to it.
Freedom is negative only if you're lost on your own and can't be your own guide.

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So if you are lost if you c... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2012 10:01 AM | Posted by Anonanon: | Reply

So if you are lost if you considered advertising after watching Mad Men, what does it mean if you are already in advertising and ...


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I'm certainly no expert but... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2012 11:27 AM | Posted, in reply to Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta's comment, by ThisIsInsane: | Reply

I'm certainly no expert but I'm not sure it's really possible to give someone a roadmap anymore than you can force someone to do the work of therapy and change when they really don't want that. Because I think you have to be willing to do the work of trying and failing and learning how to have less freedom as a means of self change without being told how - by Alone or Don Draper or whoever.

For my own part I think people whose options are limited by poverty or famine or oppressive governments and the like are not cursed with this "problem" of self discovery because their lives are defined by playing the roles that allow survival for themselves and their children. They have something outside of themselves and larger than themselves to direct them. My point being that the instruction to give yourself less freedom is really pretty straightforward. Pick a path, preferably focused on something outside of yourself, and commit to that life like you have no choice. If you fail try again. But that's just too much work and time for most people. Luckily there are pills and booze.

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We've seen Lacan, Nietzsche... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2012 3:10 PM | Posted by Eipa: | Reply

We've seen Lacan, Nietzsche and Freud but why do you never mention Erich Fromm? He describes a narcissism very similar to yours and this "to much freedom" theory which keeps coming up here reminds me very much of "the fear of freedom"...

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"@Army AnonymousThey... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2012 4:40 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"@Army Anonymous
They didn't "take away" your freedom, but shaped it into a purpose and provided easy steps to it.
Freedom is negative only if you're lost on your own and can't be your own guide."

Well I use the term "freedom" loosely, partially because it depends on how we talk about it, and what TLP meant when s/he wrote about it.

In the ancient near east, the Israeli people believed that living their life by numerous, almost impossible to keep laws were freeing rather than restrictive. Why? Because they felt that not living by such a rigid lifestyle meant their society would collapse into chaos and ultimately go extinct.

So, on the one hand you might say the laws they lived by were the antithesis of freedom, but on the other hand they would say they couldn't be free without them.

Freedom is a fluid and almost meaningless term unless it's backed by a coherent and solid foundational philosophy that really defines what freedom is, and why, and which makes freedom a more pragmatic pursuit.

The short of it is, when I said I lost freedom by signing into service, what I really meant is the exact opposite of that. I feel more free now with less "freedom" than I did when I had more of what some people subjectively call freedom.

So relating this back to TLP's post, he says that if we don't impose these restrictions on ourselves then someone will do it for us.

What's has changed, and what is changing, isn't freedom in any sense of the word. What's changing is the philosophy by which we define what it means to be free.

On the bright side, if TLP is right and feudalism does get reinstated, then at least we'll THINK we're free, because it'll apparently jive with how we think about freedom.

So, the question is, if we're all convinced that we're living happy, free lives, is it really so bad? Well, obviously yes, but still it's interesting to consider how that will play out, if indeed it does play out.

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"There is only one good, kn... (Below threshold)

April 29, 2012 12:59 PM | Posted, in reply to CubaLibre's comment, by JohnJ: | Reply

"There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance." noted Chistianist Socrates, importing a Christian moral binary into a pre-Christian time.

If you were a rational person, pointing out that your argument is based entirely on a demonstrably false premise would make you stop and reconsider your worldview. But I'm not gonna hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

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Holy shit, a Carlton Coon r... (Below threshold)

April 29, 2012 4:30 PM | Posted, in reply to ExOttoyuhr's comment, by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

Holy shit, a Carlton Coon reference! You, sir, have blown my mind.

If you can reference him without your head exploding, you probably won't be offended by these links on the Nazi's, both interesting and provocative:



The latter also has some interesting thoughts on colonialism, which I won't get into except to say, yes, I can imagine many worse fates than being colonized by Germans circa the 1920's (actually, I don't even need my imagination). And he is also a big fan of old, disreputable books.

Do you consider TAC the mirror of Slate? I've never read the magazine, but I love some of its online contributors.

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Let me put it this way, I h... (Below threshold)

April 29, 2012 5:17 PM | Posted, in reply to Gabe Ruth's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

Let me put it this way, I hold my nose when I reference Coon, but there are such things as Paleolithic and Mediterranean races. The "Anthropological Morphology" site I linked to is used by current-day forensic anthropologists to reconstruct the faces of murder victims.

(And I don't get offended easily.)

Your first link: plausible -- especially given the rarity of the disease and the fact that it appears to have had an ideological bias -- and unsettling. But then, I'm not too surprised -- everyone in that war cheated as early and as often as they could make it pay. The whole blog looks pretty interesting; there's a crisis brewing in the modern intellectual world, brought on by genetics, and sooner or later people are going to have to admit that you can discuss genetic differences and variations without hating blacks and/or Jews.

The second link is deeply interesting and fascinating. It's one of the many ironies of the Third Reich, reading about an SS judge executing concentration-camp commanders; it kind of reminds me of reading Eichmann in Jerusalem and learning about the Nazi plan to settle the Jews in Israel -- one piece of history which everyone, even neo-Nazis, is eager to sweep under the rug today.

Probably the main reason that the concentration camps have such a reputation today (when in fact most of the Nazis' genocides were a matter of machine-gunning people in the woods or gassing them in a Potemkin village) is that when the Allies liberated them, everyone in Germany was painfully short on food -- and the Nazis were not prioritizing feeding the prisoners in their concentration camps over feeding those outside. This makes the American and French counter-starvation look just a little bit... petty. (As well as reprehensible, of course.)

A very similar process occurred with Andersonville. But it was a weight off my mind when I first learned that when the Nazis wanted to kill someone, they killed them, rather than putting them through slavery and starvation first.

The post also talks about the difficulty of finding memoirs by real Nazis. Hans-Ulrich Ruedel's memoirs are an example, giving a sense of what the war felt like to someone on the ground floor of it -- although Ruedel would have been the first to tell you that he wasn't a particularly contemplative or scholarly man.

I'm definitely exploring both of these blogs in more detail.

And yes, I consider TAC the Slate-counterpart of the conservative world; both have the same combination of great insights and frustrating partisanship. (I have no objection to TAC opposing abortion, but I do have an objection to their opposing social programs, military interventionism, and sometimes even quiche-eating.) I used to think the same of Taki's Magazine until they supported Russia in the 2008 war in South Ossetia; now I think they're radioactive and wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole.

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to Anons- If he cared about... (Below threshold)

April 29, 2012 5:51 PM | Posted, in reply to Anons's comment, by Jay: | Reply

to Anons- If he cared about something, that itself would solve the problem. Evolution designed us to seek food, and comfort, and safety, and sex. If we can get all those things easily, we tend to be unhappy. We evolved to seek those things, not to have them. Life starts to be like playing a videogame on God mode where nothing will hurt you and it doesn't matter what you do (unless you do something amazingly stupid).

Short version is, there are a lot of people out there who are just bored out of their skulls. They (we, really) aren't suffering from any particular lack, except the lack of anything that seems relevant to do.

And, before you ask, picking something and pretending it's relevant won't work. That particular type of self-deception is difficult for many people.

BTW, it was noted during the Russian Revolution that mere survival, in a challenging environment, is all-consuming. This is the reverse of that observation.

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Moldy's got some blind spot... (Below threshold)

April 29, 2012 7:57 PM | Posted, in reply to ExOttoyuhr's comment, by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

Moldy's got some blind spots, but he's a mad genius and an extremely entertaining writer.

When you say you were relieved, do you mean you're German?

Taki's has an annoying adolescent minded feel to it. I only read a few authors there. I'm intrigued by your thoughts on foreign policy. You would proudly call yourself an interventionist? Even more interesting from a guy with a nuanced understanding of the world wars. Here's UR on interventionism (one of his best, I think):


Regarding social programs, our host has given me a whole lot to digest as to why they are the way they are, and a conservatism of angry mental gestures is certainly counter-productive once you begin to understand them that way. But I don't think it's fair to say TAC just opposes them, end of story.

And if anyone has anything bad to say about quiche, we're going to have a problem.

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I'm from the United States,... (Below threshold)

April 29, 2012 10:18 PM | Posted, in reply to Gabe Ruth's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

I'm from the United States, but my mother's side of the family is ancestrally German on both sides. Additionally, I have a great horror of torture and cruelty, and was thus pleased to learn that the Nazis were at least a little less cruel than popularly depicted. (Although if I had to chose a totalitarian prison network to be sent to, it would be the GULAG. But then again, perhaps I've just read one too many Solzenitsyn tourist brochures. :) )

I'm not 100% sure that I would call myself proudly interventionist, but I would certainly call myself interventionist. The Catholic idea of stewardship resonates with me, and we are stewards of, among other things, our military power. If an evil is occurring and we can make the attempt to halt it, then we should undertake to halt it.

That said, though: first, one's first duty is to one's own society. Self-improvement and self-protection must come first, and one should not intervene militarily for purely humanitarian reasons when such an intervention would foreseeably endanger the economy or security of the intervening country.

Second, one should try to use negotiation before one uses force. I'll bet Gadhafi would have been willing to step down from power peacefully in exchange for a blanket pardon from all crimes, a generous pension, and a peaceful retirement somewhere in Switzerland. Heck, I'll bet Saddam Hussein could have been talked out of power in the same way. And the Allies should certainly have backed attempts to assassinate Hitler and the other hard-liners, then negotiate with a 'secular' German government. Churchill's disgusting moralism about how the people of Germany were the enemy was, well, disgusting moralism.

Third, one should use proper means. Civilians are never legitimate targets; blockades and economic sanctions should only be of single-use military equipment (like spare parts for tanks) as opposed to dual-use materiel like food, antibiotics, and repairs for oil wells (and should not be prosecuted by unconditional submarine warfare, as both Germany and the US criminally did: instead either use cruisers or allow submarines to operate on cruiser rules, as Churchill evilly refused to in WWI). And I think it's best to match the power of the enemy and fight them on their merits, more or less: don't attack Vietnamese communists with jets, attack them with A-1 Skyraiders. (A Vietnam vet who commanded a platoon in the war observed that he did indeed find South Vietnamese A-1s much more useful for CAS than USAF F-4s.) Military techniques which result in foreseeable civilian casualties should also not be used -- one should not simply order civilians out of Fallujah and then unleash artillery and thermobarics a week later. Soldiers' role is to risk death in the process of imposing their will on the enemy -- not to cower in their bases and bombard the daylights out of enemy and civilian alike.

And fourth, one should not form a habit of intervening against some atrocities, not intervening against others, justifying or even bankrolling yet others (Mr. Mubarak), and so on. If the US is going to claim that it always intervenes to prevent genocide, then even without discussing what it got up to in the period 1945-48, one must ask where the US boots on the ground were in Darfur. At the very least, surely we could have worked out some deal where we hired half the Ethiopian Army.

The US often uses humanitarian causes as cover for pursuing its interests, or to produce feel-good sob stories for the kind of people whose reaction to The Kite Runner wasn't beginning to wonder whether it's really true that genocide is always wrong. (But that exterminating the Pashtuns would entail shooting women and children reveals that it would indeed be morally reprehensible. The right thing to do is to just enforce American-style pedophilia laws.)

Oh, and one last thing: when intervening in a region on humanitarian grounds, you have a moral obligation to try in earnest, to the limit of your judgement, abilities, and hazardable resources, to actually solve the humanitarian problem, without behaving in ways that foreseeably trigger worse problems in the process. ("Handover is in three weeks!") Catholic just-war doctrine requires you to not just have a good cause to fight, but also to be reasonably confident that you can win; I like that idea too.

And I certainly agree that I wasn't being fair to TAC. To be honest, I don't quite remember what it is that inspired my animus against them, though I certainly remember there was something... But again: I wasn't being fair.

Quiche-eating civilized men of the world, unite!

And I'm really enjoying this conversation -- I don't remember when it last was that I found someone really interested in engaging with my ideas. Once again, thank you!

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The title of this blog shou... (Below threshold)

April 30, 2012 9:31 AM | Posted by Ijon Tichy: | Reply

The title of this blog should be changed to "The Problem Is You".

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I know what you mean. My pa... (Below threshold)

April 30, 2012 9:51 AM | Posted, in reply to ExOttoyuhr's comment, by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

I know what you mean. My paternal grandfather was drafted by the Nazi's, but thankfully the war ended before he finished his training. Regarding Churchill, his treatment of Bonhoeffer is all you need to know to see the measure of the man. Quite a character, not a coward, but not a noble man.

I'm sure the pleasure's more than half mine. Your points are an excellent outline of how things should work, and you have an admirable lack of cynicism combined with trust in the institutions built by our ancestors. But between them and us, as TLP has lamented, have been some feckless generations (not to excuse my own, or even myself), and it remains to be seen whether we even have the ability to figure out which way is up anymore without the corrections necessary being imposed by events beyond our control.

I regard the USG and ALL its works as an abomination, but you needn't take that view to begin to question the wisdom of military intervention even in theory, let alone in practice. Using an analogy to economics, you can consider the road to dependence and thus servitude as elaborated by Hayek, extending the idea to the relationship between client states and patrons (you don't even have to cynically deny that altruism in a nation-state is possible, though the 20th century should make that a tough sell). Or you can be empirical. Look at Iraq and Afghanistan. Has there ever been a situation in history when a greater power had a freer hand to do what it thought was necessary than right after the WTC towers were destroyed? 10 years on, and it's like a bad dream we can't wake up from and the Pentagon would murder every child in Nebraska to get its hands on a TARDIS. And there were many who predicted this exact outcome. Under what circumstances could we have left those countries better off than we found them, especially given our moralism? You mentioned the Nazi-Zionism link as one of those crazy curve balls of history. Have you ever heard of the Muslim militia's actions in the lead up to the massacre at Srebrenica that sealed NATO's decision to act in the Balkans? (On a side note, you ain't kidding about the tragedy the Hapsburgs' demise was for that region. I work with a Croatian, and if a Serb shows up, even a potential customer, professionalism doesn't stand a chance, that guy is getting the cold shoulder. It's surreal. Tito is probably one of the most under-appreciated leaders in history.) The word is out on what it takes to get the US air force on your side. Qaddaffi (sic) was an idiot. Saddam was an idiot in the early 90's, but after that he was just a dead man walking. I think you underestimate amount of influence that self-righteous sanctimony has in the mind of the people that make American foreign policy (and how often US interests curiously align with doing the right thing). Fortunately they are not completely blind. That, in my opinion, is the real blessing of the (accursed) new media as it pertains to global events: the idiots who want to remake the world get feed back in real time, and it ain't pretty. Look at Mubarak. Assad isn't a dummy. You want him to play nice, so he can get the same treatment in a couple years, sacrificed on the alter of democracy? Under 20K deaths (so far, with a healthy assist from underlying sectarian divides) is not nearly as bad as it will get if America goes stomping in there, or worse puts a hand on the scales with military assistance to make things more "fair" (Hunger Games, anyone?). About Libya, what can one say? We can hope that Mali's interesting situation is the end of the chain, but who knows?

I'm with you on Catholic just war theory as an idea, but unfortunately I think it tends to act more as a sedative to people that might still have an inkling of moral sense. It certainly did for me. I looked at the protesters in 2003 with some sympathy, but I felt they were misguided. Saddam was certainly not a sympathetic figure. The US nodded in the direction of just war doctrine and that was all most believers needed to vote Bush and sleep at night.

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Now is probably the time to... (Below threshold)

May 1, 2012 12:16 AM | Posted, in reply to Gabe Ruth's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

Now is probably the time to share with you the mechanism behind the development -- or decline -- of cynicism in the world. Read Peter Turchin's War and Peace and War, or his earlier Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall, which has the underlying calculus. (For once in my life I found myself wishing I'd paid attention in that class.)

His argument is surprisingly simple, borne up by the records of history and his astonishingly predictive mathematical models: first, the health of a state is the level of its cohesion; second, cohesion rises when the state is at war -- I mean at war, not like the US versus Iraq but like the US versus Hitler, although long-running confrontations (frequently escalating into conflict) with hordes of steppe nomads also count -- and falls at all other times.

The implications are as obvious as they are awful. It puts a dampener on dreams of world peace, which I never cared for very much anyways, but it strongly suggests going much further than that.

The risk of a lord-vassal relationship between a strong state and a weak one is real; but then again, is it really a risk? A weak state with a protector is still independent, and a weak state without a protector invites a conquorer instead. The vassal one century can become the lord in the next, or at least can use the protection of its overlord to strengthen itself to the point where it can part ways with them.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States was free to do whatever it wanted to do -- but what it wanted to do wasn't too terribly bright. Neither democracy nor free markets are intrinsically all that impressive (although the guaranteeing of certain rights is absolutely paramount); nor do they travel particularly well; nor is it true that deep inside every wild Afghan tribesman is a respectable suburban businessman struggling desperately to get out.

In Afghanistan, we should've found one of the kings we have kicking around in the Riviera on State Department salaries; I think we've even got the actual King of Afghanistan, so how about putting him back on the throne and lending him a few divisions (and giving him, i.e. at gunpoint if he makes difficulties about it, a modern legal code including such things as serious punishments for certain Pashtun tribal ways) until he got his country back on its feet? Iraq has more modern political traditions, but the Baath Party is the Middle Eastern version of guess who, so maybe a military administrative government would've worked until the economy was running and some sort of handover to ogilarchic local rulers could've taken place. (That's pretty close to what we did, apart from the "worked" part. So do the same thing, only more strenously, with more authority going to provincial administrators and less to wet-behind-the-ears interns, and with handover in twelve years instead of twelve months. With all the unemployment, it should be possible to start raising Iraqi militia pretty quick to assist the regulars in keeping order. No, this wouldn't be cheap, but I alluded to that above.)

If you haven't done so already, read Rory Stewart -- The Prince of the Marshes for Iraq, The Places In Between for Afghanistan. Or read Imperial Life in the Emerald City; the author (I'm not even going to try to spell his last name) is insufferably smug but frequently right. Non-interventionism is a wise choice for the United States as it is currently constituted (what else do you expect from a nation comprised almost entirely of our gracious host's patients?), but I don't think it needs to be a universal rule.

I'm not that familiar with what happened in the lead-in to Sbrenica, but it's my experience that if someone is saying that a given people are good, and the people in question live in the Balkans, they're selling something. (Croats are hardly nice either, but they're crazy awesome, and in that part of the world that's about the best you can get...) And I agree, Tito is seriously under-appreciated.

The Turks are seriously over-appreciated, too: they were the ones who dug the Balkans into this mess (at least to an extent), with the millet system. Or rather, the problem was the abandonment of millets, between Romanticism, nationalism, and the Ottomans' loss of nerve and eventual collapse; while there were people who believed in them, they worked pretty well, and I believe Israel still makes use of them in its marriage laws.

I have little love for Mubarak, Assad, or Ghadafi (at a rate of one post a day and one spelling that I've seen in print per post, I'm good for spellings of his name until sometime in the 13th b'ak'tun ;) ). I occupy a very awkward position in the mental landscape: I grew up hearing the message that the United States is right and its enemies are wrong because they torture and the US doesn't, and I absorbed the part that says that people who torture are wrong and people who don't torture are right.

(As for the proper fates of Bush, Cheney, and co.: Extradition to Germany. It would do the world good, or at least would be entertaining, to see Germans trying Americans for war crimes. That said, culpability is far more likely to rest with Evil Overlord Cheney and deranged loon Rumsfeld than with the unfortunate frat boy turned cowboy turned in-hopelessly-over-his-head. In being the one influenced rather than the one influencing, he was like Obama, or Clinton; under what rock do we even find such leaders?)

But the point that just war doctrine serves as a soporific for the masses, rather than a principle for the leaders, is one I hadn't thought of before: one more way in which the US keeps up the appearance of morality without doing the difficult work of keeping up the reality of it. (But you and I, and all who have the true gnosis -- fie on television for making Gnosticism an everyday part of political discourse! -- have heard of jus in bello.)

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blah blah blah RACISM blah ... (Below threshold)

May 1, 2012 1:33 AM | Posted by Robert Oculus III: | Reply

blah blah blah RACISM blah blah SEXIST blah blah blah blah SOCIOPATH blah blah CLASSISM blah blah blah blah BIGOTED blah blah blah MARX blah blah blah fuck all of you.

I love Don Draper. He treats his women (yes, that's "his") the way they long to be treated: with bemused contempt. Ditto blacks, homos, etc.

MAD MEN is popular not in spite of its depiction of the racist, sexist, classist (etc.) society of the 1950s and '60s, but because of it. Sane people instinctively love what those years represent and want to live in them. Why? Because that world was real -- that is, it tracked with the natural order of things as they are. The egalitarian world we inhabit today, in which we are all forced to mentally edit the reality we see and hear each day in order to fit the ideology of MAGIC (the media/academic/governmental/institution complex), is more and more frequently being recognized as the fiction it is. The scripted, artificial world of MAD MEN is popular because it is, ironically, more real than the "reality" being served up daily by Viewers Like You.

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I looked around a (very lit... (Below threshold)

May 1, 2012 3:21 PM | Posted, in reply to ExOttoyuhr's comment, by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

I looked around a (very little) bit when you mentioned Turchin earlier. Sounded like a Russian Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, so I went to my favorite soulless data head (a big BBdM fan) to see what he had on him, and lo: http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/?s=turchin Some interesting links. I will look up the book, he sounds much more human than BBdM, and I am fond of the Russian soul.

Going from your brief synopsis (which I may be completely misreading), I see two things that bother me. First, it should be axiomatic that action without telos is dangerous. Going to war for the sake of social cohesion is just the sort of thing our modern elites would think was a mark of serious leader. We're all (wannabe) realists now. Second, when you have modern power differentials (though less integral to global stability today, MAD still makes picking on someone your own size relatively unthinkable), you pretty much need an alien invasion to achieve a meaningful level of cohesion-inducing stress in the more powerful country. This point also is lost on any modern leader that may have an inkling of Turchin's insight. Add in any coincidental self-interest (resources, the destruction of potential future competitors, etc.) and you have a recipe for inhumanity on a vast scale, countenanced by the most self-righteous society on earth with absent-minded boredom. So either we give up on a cohesive society until such time as our self-destructive tendencies level the playing field sufficiently, or you try to figure out another way of generating cohesion. I am rejecting wars of choice as an option a priori, whether there is a case to be made that they will benefit the opponent (victim?) in some way or not.

Tangentially, what do you think of Spengler's ideas on the life cycle of civilizations? As a follow-up, do you think that the advent of peak oil would (will?) prove Spengler right, or would (will?) it just mean that he got lucky, and we could have overcome our civilizational ennui with our technology if we had been more prudent with our consumption?

Regarding lord-vassal relationships among states, the vassal is absolutely not independent. The level of discretion the lord allows is quite informal at that level, and can change on a whim, especially when the lord happens to be a democracy (as we have seen recently). Depending on an individual's position within the vassal state, it may be quite pleasant to have a powerful patron, but these relationships have not benefited the general population of the vassal state (this is certainly true in modern times; I lack sufficient expertise to say whether it was always true). The relationship between a colony and a sovereign is much more stable.

Agreed about the folly of Afghan democracy, but perhaps for slightly different reasons. The USG itself would not function as it does without the infrastructure (physical and intellectual) that has been built over generations, and that infrastructure ensures that it can (and will) get even more obnoxious than it already is before it's worth the citizenry's while to do anything about it. There is no such incentive to submit to centralized authority in Afghanistan, be it democratic or monarchic. The US didn't really care about the government's accountability to Afghans, it cared about its accountability to the US. Installing a king, even one with some atavistic legitimacy, is unthinkable due to our experience with Iran. So they went with what they know, in accordance with their own propaganda. But any government that could believably tell the US "never again" and make it so is not a thing an Afghan tribesman would submit to. It'd be like trying to impose the modern British nanny state on the folks who gave us the Magna Carta, only crazier.

Haven't read any of those, maybe I should. I don't believe the people who run these horror shows are malicious, or even exceptionally incompetent. Iraq should have been easier, but their sectarianism (made exponentially worse by the fact that the last people to run the place made factional cooperation completely unnecessary) was far beyond our comprehension (though the outcome was predicted by many). We can't accept that, so we tell ourselves suicide bombers are motivated by hopeless economic prospects (we also can't accept people hating us, even if it is rational). If we had taken the hint and let go of the subconscious Pottery Barn theory of government, I believe much less blood would have been spilled. (Sounds glib, I know. I'm glad it wasn't up to me to pull the plug.)

It's safe to say those who torture are wrong, but those that don't aren't necessarily right. Within a country, though, support for torture should be disqualifying. Still, it's hard for me to say that Bush and Co. should be tried for war crimes. Again, I'm glad it's not my decision.

I had never heard of the millet system, it sounds damn near ideal, and somewhat similar to feudalism in that there is subsidiarity, but loyalty owed to a common sovereign in its hour of need. It's interesting to contrast the concept with liberalism.

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I assume your post is a jok... (Below threshold)

May 1, 2012 5:07 PM | Posted, in reply to Robert Oculus III's comment, by recticular: | Reply

I assume your post is a joke.

Yes, Mad Men is popular because of not in spite of its sexism/et al. That is exactly the problem. It is a projection onto the past and a false idealization of it. It reinforces the idea that all of one's problems, frustrations, and inadequacies today _would_ be solved -- _would_ be solved, if only the world were "as it once was", adhering to its "natural order" rather than all the PC gobbedlygook shoved down our throats today. Of course, this is a lie. It imagines a "state of nature" no less fantastical than the state of human beings before original sin.

I wonder about your formulation that "Sane people instinctively love" the fantasy of such a state of nature. So are people that reject this fantasy insane, because they just happen to have the wrong instincts? Or are they just going against their instincts? in which case they're sane, just making life too difficult for themselves. What is an "instinct", anyway? Are human beings, by dint of evolution, born with a desire to be in Mad Men? Be in the 1950s? If you imagine "nature" as a neutral, objective thing, which just causes human beings to be what they are, then how did, say, the whole of recorded history happen?

If you think that any scripted, artificial reality, in which we only see a few scenes out of a person's day and in which every single one of those scenes shapes a narrative, is more "real" than one minute of the most egalitarian humanitarian's life, then you have missed this blog's entire point.

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On Turchin: Bear in mind th... (Below threshold)

May 1, 2012 10:40 PM | Posted, in reply to Gabe Ruth's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

On Turchin: Bear in mind that Turchin shrinks, at least in his first two books (I haven't read Secular Cycles yet), from drawing the conclusions that I drew above.

As I said above, fighting Hitler generated cohesion, while fighting bin Laden does not. But this proves one of your points here: if a highly intelligent and curious interlocutor, working in good faith, can miss that point, how much more so will a self-interested and rather doltish political leader!

In general, the only kind of war that generates social cohesion is the kind where you pick on someone your own size -- or, in general, a conflict where the whole society has the choice of committing or dying.

As to what happens to those who choose the latter... well, I'm suddenly reminded that Turchin sees nothing wrong whatsoever with the Alien and Sedition Acts, and in general approves of the people he calls "moralists," who act cohesively when everyone else does, punish those who fail to act cohesively, act discohesively when they can get away with it, and give up on cohesion entirely once discohesive behavior reaches critical mass.

I'm less rosy about them. Toynbee spoke of how every civilization is the story of a few great men and their imitators to raise the unleavened, unwilling, unenlightened lump of mankind up to their level, and no civilization yet has pulled it off; in the moralists, who are never more than fair-weather friends of morality and civilization, I see none other than that lump.

Conflicts where only a part of the society is called on to struggle generate cohesion among that part of the society, while it continues to decline among the mass. That's why the former centers of empires, like Greece and southern Italy (the Romans and the modern Sicilians and South Italians are the same race), are what Turchin calls "asabiya black holes" (you need to read about Ibn Khaldun, but a rough translation of "asabiya" is "cohesion"), while new civilizations tend to arise on the borders of old ones: the Carolingian Empire relative to the Roman Empire, France and Germany relative to the Carolingian Empire. What this means in the age of aviation... is one of the reasons Turchin declines to extrapolate to the present day.

If there's a way to generate cohesion other than this sort of war, I hope someone finds it in a hurry, because otherwise the cynics will triumph and the whole world will end up like Z. If there isn't, well, it's pretty difficult for me to actually endorse unnecessary war as an elixir of life; morally speaking, there's disturbingly little to choose between that and embryonic stem-cell research.

I agree with Spengler on the subject of peak oil: quoting from memory, "no mere trifle like the limitations of the physical world will be sufficient to destroy industrial civilization." He predicted that peak coal would just end in the exploitation of oil, which it did. I predict that peak oil will end in the exploitation of space resources, especially the tapping of electricity from the Bierkland currents -- and while no one has gone for the Bierkland currents yet, I'm sure you've heard of the latest totally-not-evil use that Google's executives have found for their ridiculous amounts of money.

As for the life-cycles of civilizations, Spengler kind of punted on China; this is a big part of why I'm so enthusiastic about Turchin, because he's found a theory that explains both why the average life cycle is on the order of 700 years, and why China is a sort of civilizational Energizer Bunny with complete cultural continuity back to pre-Roman times.

I'm thinking of relatively old-fashioned contexts when I speak of lord-vassal state dynamics -- like Silesia and Bohemia, or Burgundy and France, or Aquitaine and whoever's pretending to rule Aquitaine this week. But if you're thinking of, say, pre-Arab Spring Egypt as a vassal of the United States, then bring on the colonial administrators!

Please clarify what you're talking about with Afghanistan. I didn't go into detail on how I envisioned an Afghan monarchy working, but I will certainly say that I had Reza Pahlavi in mind as role-model -- with the disclaimer that the Afghan king would have the fate of his Persian counterpart to bear in mind, when trying to decide between building roads and building a helicopter factory. Import replacement, following Jane Jacobs, is the key to developing an economy.

I would certainly advise reading Stewart and ... Chandrasekaran. (That was easier to spell than I expected.) They were both there, and reading the lines of their books is at least as interesting as reading between them. (Stewart has no comprehension whatsoever of why being called neo-colonial is an insult, nor of what self-preservation is or why it's sometimes a good idea.)

I'm normally pretty flexible on interpreting laws, but I tighten up a lot when dealing with international ones. If a state can give itself exceptions to a treaty it signed, how can it be trusted? That's what turned me against Putin, and it's what turned me against Bush. War crimes (including violations of cease-fires and other military treaties) are war crimes, war criminals are war criminals, and no one on Earth has the right to pardon them. (Which sort of torpedoes my "amnesty for keys to the country" deal...)

You should definitely read up on the millet system, and I'm glad I could tell you about it. The Ottomans are a very interesting study. Normally, a society can be said to mostly have the right idea, or mostly not have it; but the Ottomans managed to combine hideous cruelty and profound enlightenment, and you could never really predict which it was going to be next, or even what was going to inspire it. The millet system was specifically inspired by shari'a, and specifically the dhimmi system.

Oh, I almost forgot: Gadafi! :)

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One other thing: Dawkins' m... (Below threshold)

May 1, 2012 10:45 PM | Posted, in reply to Gabe Ruth's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

One other thing: Dawkins' model of selfish and semi-selfish and looks-selfish-but-is-actually-altruistic genes is a very complex system which not even he can fully quantify; while Turchin, as detailed in Historical Dynamics, succeeded in predicting the entire history of medieval and early-modern Europe at the provincial level -- except the brief independence of Aquitaine -- with a one-variable process, a relatively simple map, and no arbitrary parameters. (Hint: search for "elephant.")

The model even manages to explain why China didn't die like a normal civilization -- as well as why it's looking rather shaky today, especially if you ask its government.

That's why I take Turchin's side.

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All this talk of war as a m... (Below threshold)

May 2, 2012 8:39 AM | Posted, in reply to ExOttoyuhr's comment, by Jay: | Reply

All this talk of war as a method of generating social cohesion became obsolete sixty years ago. These days, a real all-chips-on-the-table war takes half an hour to fight. Losers: humans and other mammals. Winner: cockroaches.

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Yes. A large number of peop... (Below threshold)

May 2, 2012 11:06 AM | Posted, in reply to Robert Oculus III's comment, by Samson J.: | Reply

Yes. A large number of people *want* a society where they don't have to pretend to believe in "gender equality", race "equality", or the virtues of homosex.

I’ve noticed these days a trend that I find encouraging, which is that no matter how crazily politically-correct a comment thread becomes, eventually someone - obviously someone reading the same things as I am - comes along and says what I was thinking. The traditionalist message is getting out there.

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Dawkins' model of selfis... (Below threshold)

May 2, 2012 2:35 PM | Posted by gral: | Reply

Dawkins' model of selfish and semi-selfish and looks-selfish-but-is-actually-altruistic genes is a very complex system which not even he can fully quantify....

All Dawkins has done is create labels and categories for things already obviously there, and put his own weird Science-Is-My-Religion-And-Religion-Is-Bad-As-Long-As-It's-Not-Science spin on things.

Provocative only among the ignorant; acceptable only to the intellectually lazy.

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"Exhibit A: you know what a... (Below threshold)

May 2, 2012 5:20 PM | Posted by Saint Necessarily So: | Reply

"Exhibit A: you know what a TARDIS is."

Christ, the self-loathing I felt reading that line shook me

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plus de détails:... (Below threshold)

May 2, 2012 11:41 PM | Posted by tn requin: | Reply

plus de détails:

bienvenue à --- http://www.tnstocker.com ---

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I wouldn't say I missed the... (Below threshold)

May 3, 2012 10:30 AM | Posted, in reply to ExOttoyuhr's comment, by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

I wouldn't say I missed the point, I just restated it more generally and noted that modern weapons would make Ernst Junger (to whom Turchin's ideas would certainly appeal) rethink some things.

You've exposed me as a poseur. I've never actually read Spengler's books (I name the internet as an accomplice; I spend much more time reading blogs than books, which is terrible). So you and he are in agreement on the irrelevance of physical limitations to a civilization's success. I knew he was a fatalist, but I didn't realize he was such a mystic that he would take resource depletion preceding civilizational collapse as correlation without causation. I'm not sure which Google investments you're talking about. The wide range of solar projects they're involved in?

What Turchin calls moralists I'd call humans, and I don't take as dim a view of them as you do. Even aside from their flourishing being the point of it all (right?), is it really obvious that the great men of history are right more often than not? Also, I'm not sure that partial cohesion is preferable to no cohesion at all, or if it is really a thing (it's certainly not asabiyya). I will resist the temptation to go into a windy, unoriginal, and hypocritical sermon on my preferred solution to our cohesion problem. I will just say that when I mentioned modern feudalism way up thread, it wasn't meant as a complaint against the 1%.

On Afghanistan, my impression is that the US was plenty willing to throw money at anyone willing to say the right things. It certainly would have been more coherent to pick a guy, give him authority backed by our firepower, and continually remind him that his welfare is intimately connected with him doing right by the USG and his people (as evaluated by the USG). Unfortunately we now know that democracy is the only legitimate form of government, and when the people pick their leader the US becomes just another special interest. It's nice to be the one with the most guns, but we are also a democracy which means that we are less predictable and so less reliable, and we're tired of being there already. Guess who has the second most guns, and who isn't going anywhere, ever. This point is not lost on Mr. Karzai, and this state of affairs ensures that there will be no import replacement. All the money in the world won't motivate the kind of people needed to start industries to move to Afghanistan. And if we're going to be honest, I would say that's fine with the USG. Their primary concern is "never again" (which could have been achieved by modifying airline procedures on 9/12, but never mind). If they can't actually use their resources, that's one less country in the market for them.

I can't abide smugness, so I probably won't read Chandrasekaran, but I definitely will check out Stewart's book on Afghanistan. I'm looking forward to Turchin's first book. I won't comment on Dawkins because I feel some sympathy for intelligent religious fanatics and he's been beaten enough.

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Don Draper gets away with w... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2012 10:41 AM | Posted, in reply to Robert Oculus III's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Don Draper gets away with what he does because 1) he has a team of writers feeding him lines, 2) John Hamm has Hollywood looks and enough acting chops to make the lines sound good, not stupid, and 3) the actress playing the secretary has read the script, and the next scene doesn't involve talking to her lawyer. It's a fantasy.

If you have the looks and the wit, living in the present is no barrier to acting like that. Ask Charlie Sheen or Hugh Hefner. If not, well, there were lonely men the 1950s too.

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Small wars may not generate... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2012 11:00 PM | Posted, in reply to Gabe Ruth's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

Small wars may not generate cohesion, but big wars, as a commentor pointed out earlier, are less productive of cohesion than they used to be. So what happens next...?

The Google investments I reference are the investments in space mining -- Planetary Resources, I think it's called. But yes, Spengler was a mystic; Toynbee ridicules him for his habit of making analogies with biological processes and then arguing off them as if they were proven facts. But he was the first Westerner to write seriously on these things, and for that I forgive him a lot of sins.

If Toynbean moralists are the mainstream, well, so much the worse for the mainstream. I've never believed that the point of civilization is making things easy for the kind of people who can't be trusted in the dark. Honorable conduct is life... and now that I think of it, an honorable population wouldn't need wars to give it cohesion. Interesting -- I need to think more about this...

Your impression of Afghanistan strikes me as quite correct. I have no objection and little to add on any of that paragraph; you have a very good nose for underlying patterns.

And enjoy your new reading list! :) If you have any recommendations for me in turn (other than the blogs you mentioned earlier: I also have the more-blogs-than-books habit), I'd be very interested to hear them.

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Personally, I've never foun... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2012 11:04 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

Personally, I've never found Mad Men particularly easy to believe. For all their faults, the '50s were the decade in which a Catholic cardinal catechized on prime-time TV; I've never had the impression that they were an age of sexual license, even for the powerful.

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It's always nice when thing... (Below threshold)

May 7, 2012 10:58 AM | Posted, in reply to ExOttoyuhr's comment, by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

It's always nice when things come full circle. A society that values honorable conduct does not envy the apparent freedom of a sociopath.

The point of civilization is certainly not to make things easy, for anyone. Many have considered that result a serious downside to the whole enterprise. Don't be too hard on people. Philosophers will always be a minority, and even they fail more often than not to live as they know they should when push comes to shove (and that's of the ones that believe philosophy should guide life, as opposed to ones that use philosophy as a tool to justify themselves). The great mass of humanity accepts the prevailing value system uncritically, no matter what it leads to. When they are unhappy, the possibility that the problem is them does not come onto the radar willingly (though the possibility the value system is off will occur to some, whether that is the case or not). This could shed some light on why war can have salutary consequences for a society (again, symmetric war, in which both sides see that there are some things which must not be done, for purely self-interested reasons). It helps people prioritize better, opens their eyes to how dumb it is to worry about the things that make them crazy.

About Planetary Resources... that is ambitious, but two things that set off alarms for me: they have some involvement with NASA, which means it will eventually be run by the the USG, with predictable results, and... water? That screams PR boondoggle to me. Maybe it's just because minerals have a exploitative connotation for the moralizing public, but no one objects to water (even though it will be only be used in space, so it may as well be minerals for all the good it will do the people). Still, even if it is a boondoggle it's preferable as such to manned space flight, and it might not be.

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Some loose thoughts, which ... (Below threshold)

May 7, 2012 11:09 AM | Posted by Hirk Dillems: | Reply

Some loose thoughts, which I associate both to literature and "politics".

In hindsight it's easy to read a natural evolution of culture and ideas into our history. E.g in 1930 it was acceptable (or admirable) to conscious about the Jewish question, Twenty years later, not so much. A cheap shot you might say, but guess the point is that different ideas follow naturally according to what happened in between. In science at least, a natural evolution is obvious, just think of the numerous parallel discoveries e.g. Newton/Leibniz. The war to end all wars was, as we know, a false idea. The development of nukes on the other hand, turned out to be the game-changer people thought the great war to be.

Perhaps one feature of great literature could be to emphasis a natural chronology in development of thinking/emotions/relationships. Or the other way around, to show why something didn't work out because of circumstances, personality or whatever.

One of the most compelling instruments of a great narrative is the element of surprise! Why do we need to to things in a certain order? Is the order of actions/initiatives obvious?


Resource depletion won't cause collapse, quite the contrary. The Matthew effect will be a faithful companion, cause I certainly don't believe redistribution of wealth will be the outcome.

Personally I roughly believe net available energy peaked in the nineties. Did you know that in my country, we use roughly 50 percent of our gas production to suck up oil? That said, I've been surprised on how slowly the catastrophe is unfolding. It's easy to get the scale of things wrong. 9 years ago, this topic brought me something close to a depression. I saw TINA.

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What the fuck are you talki... (Below threshold)

May 7, 2012 5:16 PM | Posted, in reply to Hirk Dillems's comment, by what: | Reply

What the fuck are you talking about?

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I understood every single w... (Below threshold)

May 7, 2012 7:06 PM | Posted, in reply to Hirk Dillems's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I understood every single word of that post, but not the post itself.

Your posts would be better regarded if you stick to one idea (per post) and develop it. Ranging too widely too quickly makes your post seem confusing and scattershot.

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Another perspective on the ... (Below threshold)

May 7, 2012 11:16 PM | Posted, in reply to ExOttoyuhr's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Another perspective on the what-if's of WWI:


I put off reading that guy for a long time because I figured I knew what he was about from the title of his blog, but it's not what you'd expect.

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^ That's me.... (Below threshold)

May 7, 2012 11:18 PM | Posted by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

^ That's me.

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As you pointed out, we've c... (Below threshold)

May 8, 2012 1:10 AM | Posted, in reply to Gabe Ruth's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

As you pointed out, we've come full circle back to Mad Men; it's interesting to see that that's happened. Hopefully Alone's next post will prove as fertile a ground for conversation.

I'm hard on people because I've seen what people can accomplish. Consider Germany, Japan, and Thailand in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, all of which went from backwaters (in the two Oriental states' cases, extreme backwaters) to sustainably modernized powers in about seventy years. Spain is another example, in the period from the beginning of the Reconquista to the end of the Thirty Years' War; so is Prussia, although this last example is much weaker, since pre-Napoleonic Prussia explicitly tried to keep the common people from needing to contribute to the kings' expansionist efforts.

And on an unrelated note, I agree: Planetary Ventures is too soon to call.

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And for a non-resource-driv... (Below threshold)

May 8, 2012 4:15 PM | Posted, in reply to ExOttoyuhr's comment, by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

And for a non-resource-driven take on the end of civilization that hits some of our recent discussion:


The blog may not interest you, but this piece has some fascinating historical revisionism. I expect you're familiar with Voegelin, but if Rene Girard is new to you he's a very interesting thinker.

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This is why I link to this ... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2012 3:30 AM | Posted by S: | Reply

This is why I link to this blog; it relates things to the general case of 'person' in a way I find myself unwilling to do.

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is alone dead again? I hope... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2012 12:16 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

is alone dead again? I hope he will return to internet writing eventually

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This is extremely in... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2012 9:55 PM | Posted, in reply to Gabe Ruth's comment, by ExOttoyuhr: | Reply

This is extremely interesting -- the blog as a whole just as much as the article itself. Thank you!

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After reading the sample, I... (Below threshold)

May 31, 2012 5:36 PM | Posted by Libby: | Reply

After reading the sample, I'm feeling like it's a waste of my time to read Sandel's new book, What Money Can't Buy:http://tinyurl.com/cmb5ha9 because I don't think his solution to rampant narcissism, whatever it is, will work. The beginning is weird; he's shocked, shocked that some rich people buy their kids' way into Ivy League schools!

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"Ads, especially TV commerc... (Below threshold)

June 1, 2012 4:25 PM | Posted by Or: | Reply

"Ads, especially TV commercials, offer the exact opposite of cynical detachment: pure aspiration. So while you resist allowing your career or relationship to define you-- "I'm more than a software engineer!" you beg objects-- cars, clothes, women-- to define you, and of course not actual cars, clothes, or women, but whatever other people have said those things represent."

So Don Draper was right. "You are the product."

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"The only salvation to this... (Below threshold)

June 6, 2012 5:34 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"The only salvation to this existential crisis is less freedom, not more. "

for example, could it be that some restrictions on gender roles (e.g. some things males should do, some shouldn't and the same would apply to females) would be a salvation for existential crisis? I mean, you have just argued that conservatists, who always stress the importance of social roles, are right, and progressives are wrong...

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Boy, did TLP call this one.... (Below threshold)

June 12, 2012 7:07 PM | Posted by grasseater: | Reply

Boy, did TLP call this one. I've had the displeasure of being acquainted with the circle of writers who, like Kotsko, are published by Zero Books.

Never in my life have I witnessed such shameless "NiceGuy (tm)" behavior as I have from those guys. They're the type of extremely narcissistic nerds who were bullied in high school and are still not over it. In my presence, I've heard them explicitly blame "jocks" for capitalism and women for the existence of jocks (sexual selection, or something...)

The worst of the lot incessantly proclaimed his progressive, feminist beliefs from the rooftops while systematically stalking women over a period of years. They really, really don't like "sex positive feminists", because these type of women refuse to be mousy and enthralled by them.

Nail, meet head.

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It's *definitely* society's... (Below threshold)

June 12, 2012 7:12 PM | Posted by grasseater: | Reply

It's *definitely* society's (or, as they put it, late capitalism's) fault that the Zero bookers aren't getting laid. They've constructed an elaborate pseudo-Marxism to explain away the fact that women are repulsed by them. In the past, women loved unattractive men with personality disorders and delusions of grandeur, see. Just for being their special, ingenious, non-athletic selves. Now that's all gone to hell, the world is going to hell, who will save the world from itself and the women from being treated like "sex objects"? They will, of course.

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Do you mind if I quote a fe... (Below threshold)

June 23, 2012 7:02 AM | Posted by André Lenox: | Reply

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I have a question: Is it po... (Below threshold)

July 7, 2012 2:49 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I have a question: Is it possible for there to be a positive flipside to the narcissist anti-hero archetype? Meaning, could there be a person who, while not always moral or upstanding, be one who champions equality and strikes back against things like racism, sexism, homophobia through actions that challenge people's beliefs about those subjects? Someone who, while clearly self-interested and hungry for power/notoriety, can also help others through their quest for said power or notoriety?

Entertainers like Madonna, Marilyn Manson and Kanye West come to my mind.

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People who envy sociopaths ... (Below threshold)

July 22, 2012 11:51 PM | Posted by J: | Reply

People who envy sociopaths are weak pathetic fools. I have family members with strong sociopathic traits, including both my parents who, from a superficial point of view were extremely successful. One of my childhood friends also turned out to be a sociopath and spent time in prison and admitted to me that he had once raped a girl because she was rude to him, despite the fact that there are more than enough women who would sleep with him. All of these people have opened up to me and they all have a few things in common that are rarely mentioned when sociopaths are discussed: they are desperately lonely and they are extremely insecure to the point of raging in denial over even the most trivial of flaws. I watched my mother die a slow horrible death to cancer, this woman who had physically abused us and psychologically tortured us, unapologetic until her dying breath, crying about how she was alone her entire life because nobody understood her. My father is a multimillionaire but is a chronic alcoholic and cant stand his own family and vice versa. Now I surround myself with kind hearted people and happy faithful couples, and I know now what happiness feels like. Sociopaths will feel pleasure but never happiness. Their worldly accomplishments are merely desperate attempts at filling the black void of their souls that no amount of money, sex, or victory can ever fill. So in short... I agree with this article :D

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Grasseater, you might actua... (Below threshold)

July 23, 2012 1:37 AM | Posted, in reply to grasseater's comment, by MikeWC: | Reply

Grasseater, you might actually want to read some of the things Kotsko has written. Like, you know, the book you're dismissing. Does Nina Power count as one of these writers for you?

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Fascinating. You look at it... (Below threshold)

July 28, 2012 6:04 PM | Posted, in reply to J's comment, by noone_in_particular: | Reply

Fascinating. You look at it from a different perspective than most people because you have seen it for what it is. I remember years ago when I bought my first handgun. I was cleaning it and admiring it... (I played a lot of first person shooter games, and yet was rather convicted in my own heart and mind that doing so was having a terrible effect on my character / mindset / attitude)

So I stopped for a moment and thought 'Wait... When all is said and done, this item was designed for the purpose of launching a projectile in a predictable, safe (for the user), manner-- typically with the intent of taking another persons life--- what is to be admired about that? What if this gun were taken from my possession and used against someone I loved?'

Check this book out sometime in your free time if you'd like.


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TLP:Accor... (Below threshold)

July 29, 2012 2:52 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply


According to the astronomical guide Being And Nothingness, infinite freedom is proportional to infinite terror, which is why the infinite universe is filled not with nothing or even magic pixie dust but with dark matter. Boo. You may think you want freedom, but the Cenobites can imagine a whole lot more freedom than you can and are just waiting for you to go first. That existential terror is itself frustrating, it is the point of the terror. That's why if you really want a bonerific sex scene you turn off the internet and put on a horror movie. Good luck trying to masturbate to it, though. Which is why it's so memorably hot.

And so a person who knows not what to do with freedom, a person afraid of power, has a choice: either the transgressions are filtered through a proxy that has proven it can stand it-- modeling your bad ass self after someone already bad ass, or projecting your impulses onto someone else; or you pretend that something else, entirely artificial, is what frustrates you. Knowing where the boundaries are lets you safely pretend to test them. "I'm terrified of sex" becomes "I'm terrified of getting pregnant" becomes "my Dad would kill me if I got pregnant." That's a girl you're guaranteed to get naked every time; but she's given way more blowjobs than she's had orgasms.

from here: thelastpsychiatrist[dot]com/2012/01/couple_reveals_childs_gender_f[dot]html

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Wow, what a fantastically w... (Below threshold)

August 4, 2012 4:53 AM | Posted by Joseph: | Reply

Wow, what a fantastically well written and precise article. Everything you said is what I have been trying to put into words for years. The farthest I ever got was pinpointing the problem as "absence of an identity". Everything else though, the loss of freedom, the shame instead of guilt. So true in my case and I'm sure many others' as well. We think we wish we had the lifestyle and fool ourselves into falling into the "if only...." camp but what we really desire is to remedy our impotence to act. It's like we're 50% antisocial. We have the mindset and the superficial desires but there's a "wall" stopping us from taking action which accounts for the other 50%. For everyone's sake, I honestly hope we never realize that that so called "wall" is self imposed and imaginary because once we do, the world will be a much more dangerous place than it already is.

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no because championing agai... (Below threshold)

August 5, 2012 5:51 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

no because championing against racism sexism and homophobia is just meaningless posturing and are 100% safe positions that bring zero professional and personal risk

also tell me how these entertainers did anything for women blacks and gay instead of repeating politically correct mantra

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Kanye? My first thought was... (Below threshold)

August 5, 2012 6:45 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by tim: | Reply

Kanye? My first thought was Gandhi, and yeah, you may be on to something.

I'll get flamed for that, probably, but what the hell.

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Of course this thesis is co... (Below threshold)

October 3, 2012 12:05 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Of course this thesis is correct. If a sociopath weren't a sociopath even for like 10 minutes, he'd realize how his actions were destroying planet earth.

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This is great analysis. I a... (Below threshold)

November 11, 2012 10:05 AM | Posted by tornpapernapkin: | Reply

This is great analysis. I also just realized why I stopped watching television 10 years ago. Because these very stories that seem so popular really depress and upset me. More than they should, actually. And I just realized why. I don't feel like there is wish fulfillment in them (this doesn't make me not prone to wish fulfillment fantasy, but clarifies why this particular psycho drama repulses me so much).

I don't feel at all that I want my life to be defined. My life is always defined. I feel like I'm in a story, but it's always a story that takes me over. I don't feel like I would be free if I just didn't follow the rules. I can't not follow the rules. And I find the characters like Tony Soprano (I haven't watched TV in long enough I never saw Dexter or heard much about it other than it involves a serial killer who is also a hero) representative of what I feel like has hurt me or held me back.

Everyone seems nice (even actual psychopaths) on one level. Everyone has a human side because even psychopaths are human. But I have so much going on IRL that instead of projecting myself out to the show and pretending I were the fantasy me/Tony Soprano hybrid that could never exist, I feel like even a superficial and obviously non real dramatic narrative is putting yet another constraint on me.

And it makes me angry.

So watching the show makes me very very angry.

At least thinking this all out makes me feel better, because it is hard to explain why when I visited my father for instance I was so irritated while he watched that damned show on TV that I had to go run some errands to avoid watching it. It made me feel *that* irritated just having to sit through it.

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I guess if I had a wish ful... (Below threshold)

November 11, 2012 10:14 AM | Posted by tornpapernapkin: | Reply

I guess if I had a wish fulfillment fantasy it wouldn't be the two that upset me so much: "Feminine" - You are passive and a man will rescue you from something and own you; or "Masculine" - You are whatever you think a sociopath is (Superman or Dexter I guess) or the Ubermensch.

My wish fulfillment as pathetic as it sounds would be something like: The "rules" are sensible and clear enough that they can be reasonably followed. Now we can fantasize about beautiful things that don't involve hurting people!

Yes, that's sad I guess. I'm that... well I'm a rule follower. It's what I am. I just wish that they weren't mostly ad hoc, senseless, and destructive. But even if they are I'm going to walk within the constraint because that's where I'm happier. I'm most unhappy when following the rules leads to a bad result. Which is why I love the line from No Country for Old Men: If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?

To me, the use of the rule was to have a rule.

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People do admire sociopaths... (Below threshold)

December 18, 2012 2:42 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

People do admire sociopaths for all of the reasons you and the author mentioned. The only understanding that's missing is that sociopaths have little intelligence and almost no imagination. It's all brute force and an unquestioning acceptance of the cultural goods as desirable. Look for people who can see beyond that. Although you probably can't see them. You require an understanding of value beyond/away from/beside the present social state we inhabit.

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Some idiot writes:... (Below threshold)

December 19, 2012 10:36 AM | Posted by Bonze Anne Rose Blayk: | Reply

Some idiot writes:


… what you mean, "we", paleface?

- bonzie anne

PS: Nice blog.-)

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"Kotsko's thesis is that we... (Below threshold)

December 19, 2012 11:01 AM | Posted by tornpapernapkin: | Reply

"Kotsko's thesis is that we love sociopaths because sociopathy is opposed to social awkwardness."

LOL! Thank you for sparing me the reading of this book. I have sociopaths in my family and a lovely streak of NPD. Opposed to social awkwardness? Pfffft.... they are made of it. That is why everyone else has to pay!

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Just rereading this post an... (Below threshold)

December 19, 2012 11:09 AM | Posted, in reply to J's comment, by tornpapernapkin: | Reply

Just rereading this post and comments for no good reason and saw yours. I think honestly people who envy sociopaths are either sociopaths, people with NPD (because they envy anything), or people who have never met nor have any idea what it is like to be near some one like that.

I envy you a bit (or perhaps admire is a better word), FWIW, because you seem at least in your post (whether it is true or not) to have found a way to filter people some what and surround yourself with healthy individuals despite living all your life with those influences.

Unless... well I hope not...

To me though it is the chronic need of the sociopath that is so devastating. I wonder if anyone would fantasize about having a deep need that can never be filled even if it literally kills people around you, destroys everything you touch, and leaves you with nothing but your own misery for company and the husks of the people who couldn't break themselves away from you.

Mmmm... yes... quite the fantasy.

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Oh, or lands you in prison ... (Below threshold)

December 19, 2012 11:16 AM | Posted, in reply to tornpapernapkin's comment, by tornpapernapkin: | Reply

Oh, or lands you in prison after strangling your wife to death or some such.

Sociopaths don't tend to be very happy. The world is against them after all. Imagine all these things that should be yours, and people you should be able to move like your own finger... just constantly revolt against you. Laws don't let you do what you like. You have to do things you don't feel like doing. for instance you can't have sex with some one if you feel like it because some times they fight back.

You might have to clean your own toilet! You might have to have a job. The system is clearly against you.

Oh let's say you are smarter. You have to make tons of money maybe. Money means something! And all these people have the audacity to care about it too, when clearly they should be helping you.

Everything must be so frustrating and painful for these people, and if you're really unlucky...

one of them will blow their brains out in front of you to make a point, or gun down your kid first :(

IMO "we" (the bulk of US dominant cultural forces) don't love sociopaths, we just don't like to admit how fucked up they are because it makes us admit how fucked up we are.

A bunch of neurotics are so insecure that we'd rather play along with the sociopath fantasy.

And that's pathetic for everyone :(

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Interesting read but lackin... (Below threshold)

June 6, 2013 9:49 AM | Posted by Mark Laskowski: | Reply

Interesting read but lacking in sound structure or organization ... kind of all over the place. Why is it that so much online writing, so much blog prose, assumes a narrowly limited audience (as a mere device, perhaps, but it's probably telling us something)?

Exhibit A (to steal some of your voice): "Say you're in line at the store and some jerk cuts in front of you, on purpose, and for the sake of clarification let me observe he has a Celtic cross tattooed to his shoulder and he just had sex with your girlfriend."

And the Tardis bit, too.

So your analysis only applies to heterosexual males? Or it applies to everyone, you just prefer that it derisively connect with heterosexual males of a certain stripe?

Did writing this make you feel better? Is there anything else you'd like to get off your chest? Something you're having difficulty saying?

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The important part is that ... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2014 5:53 PM | Posted, in reply to JJ's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

The important part is that you've somehow found a way to feel superior to both.

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The important part is that ... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2014 5:54 PM | Posted, in reply to JJ's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

The important part is that you've somehow found a way to feel superior to both.

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You people are really missi... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2014 9:59 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

You people are really missing the point, and badly.

Sociopathy is in no way correlated with low intelligence or deficient imagination. In fact it's often the opposite.

What has become clear through many of the comments on this post is that people have little or no understanding of the scientific and biological basis of sociopathy, which can be measured, and have resorted to calling friends and family members, who have in some way or another wronged them, sociopaths.

Narcissism at work.

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"Opposed to social awkwardn... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2014 10:06 PM | Posted, in reply to tornpapernapkin's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"Opposed to social awkwardness? Pfffft.... they are made of it. That is why everyone else has to pay!"

The quote is saying the social interaction is not awkward for the sociopath, but awkward for you, because sociopaths don't have social hangups and don't feel awkward, unless of course they're faking it. Reading comprehension.

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I'm not a het male and I lo... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2014 11:34 AM | Posted, in reply to Mark Laskowski's comment, by Irene: | Reply

I'm not a het male and I love this writing.

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An adequate thesis. Some of... (Below threshold)

January 12, 2014 5:58 AM | Posted by thirty06: | Reply

An adequate thesis. Some of the comments do make me giggle, they seem to crop up after every article.


You are unsatisfied and unhappy. To try to fill the void you try to model yourself on an ideal that you take from TV/commercials/Education/your parents/your peers/voices in your head or you are unhappy because you believe you can't do this.

Readers' Thoughts:

Wow! like OMG, that is sooooo totally right. That is so me. I understand. I'm not who I really thought I was. I could change the way I feel. Errr... what shall I change to ? I know, happy, nothing else matters. I shall be happy. Somehow. I guess I'd better stop being broke, then I could drive a better car and feel better about myself. I could find a more fulfilling job, if I had any idea what jobs would be fulfilling. One that suits me. Only I've just figured I don't know who I am. Oh, I'm finding this so hard. I'm getting existential angst and a headache. I feel so lost, there are no signposts, all the advice and help out there is just a racket to make me do what other people want. What shall I do ? I know, I'll comment on a blog.

Readers Write: Dear TLP, thank you for your blog that I totally agree with 100%. Please tell me everything I need to do to think independently and be in charge of my own life.

Just sayin'

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That's the point though, it... (Below threshold)

February 20, 2014 6:00 PM | Posted, in reply to Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta's comment, by Hansi: | Reply

That's the point though, it's NOT pointless. Don Draper takes his ad company very seriously. It's an end in itself and defines him.

The trick isn't to find something pointless; it's to find real meaning and purpose and dedicate yourself body,mind and soul to it. Generally that is going to mean in the service of something greater than you, whether it be the Church, the company you work for, your business, the book you're writing, the military--it doesn't matter.

What matters is that you ALLOW yourself to be defined by something, let it become you. Don't maintain that ironic detachment. You're gonna be doing something one way or the other, as Alone said. Best do it with all your heart.

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narcissism, psychopathy, b... (Below threshold)

October 30, 2014 5:43 PM | Posted by : | Reply

narcissism, psychopathy, bipolar.

These "categories" - which has different descriptions - should be thought of as points on a spectrum. Personally I have noted two factors, or dimensions if you'd like.


Reduced emotional response, or "callous and unemotional traits" according to Wikipedia.

Your emotional response, level of arousal, depends on your attention and interpretation of a context. Some of us is born with a level of response which is generally lower. The peaks aren't as high and it takes more to generate a response at all.

It's natural variation and it is easy to imagine it as desirable. We all know how easy sound judgment can be clouded by too much emotions.

It doesn't imply a narrow spectrum of emotions and certainly not less empathy, on the contrary I've experienced callous people to be more skilled at empathizing. Reduced emotional response make it easier to lie effectively, but I've also repeatedly noted how people with callous traits seems to have a greater capacity for honesty and truth. Honesty can trigger emotional resistance, discomfort. If truth hurts, less emotions means less makeup, more truth.

To illuminate how context may come into play: I've observed some people to be emotionally "out of sync" in a situation, e.g. funeral. Can you think of someone who recently lost a loved one? Everyone is crying, except that person. To empathize, I imagine it to be awkward. I'm sad, but not that sad. I'm expected to cry. Instead of grief, my attention shifts to the context, to how people may perceive me. This is ridicules. Nobody understands me. I feel disconnected.

The mythology of “psychopathy” is probably born by observing the result of callous persons growing up in a violence and crime.


Positive reinforcement gone wrong.

"Psychopaths" are known for being utilitarian and "cold". "Bipolar" are associated with agitation, being too emotional (“warm”), but likewise as utilitarians too, but here the currency is emotions, or more specific response/attention. I assume readers to be familiar with the concept.

The commonality, is a social approach to truth. This is due to learning, of course.
(and oh it is sooo common in contemporary culture)

And I ask – is the “utilitarian” behavior mentioned above useful (utilitarian) ?
No, it isn't! Contact and attachment is fundamental for happiness. That is universal and applies to every human being on the planet, without a single exception. I'm not being moral: generally speaking, why do people strive for titles or material status symbols? Because of how it make other people look at them. It's always about people, not money per se.

These (learned) behavior patterns is an obstacle. More often than not, they lead to loneliness, superficial friendships or social isolation. If you are interpreted as a utilitarian, you will often be treated accordingly and so the circle goes.

View it as a process. At some point in the development the process started to select for the wrong things. Acknowledgement from other people counts as positive reinforcement for all of us. I'm not sure what the exact problem is, but guess it is something about the value of attention and popularity weighting more than independence and truth.

I don't know, but I'm guessing that it is very much about positive reinforcement. I doubt it is conscious, but believe it is about an experience of being overly valued for achievement and performance, as opposed to no conditions, that it is about “conditional love”.

Behavior patterns are unconsciously transmitted between individuals, groups and generations. Childrens interpretation/experience of parents/environment/society is perhaps more relevant than reality itself. It doesn't matter if parents in reality would love their child no matter what, if they signal something else.

I don't know. Only thing that seems obvious to me, is the importance of learning – but that itself is hardly controversial, is it?

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The idea is this: You won't... (Below threshold)

March 3, 2015 5:31 PM | Posted, in reply to Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

The idea is this: You won't write that story, run that 4k, study that homework, unless you make that thing the most important thing to do; it won't get done, as long as you can watch television, play video games, and lose yourself in meaningless entertainment, all while wishing you could do [thing].

Impose restrictions upon yourself, or you will remain in limbo forever, forever free to do as much as you want, never completing anything meaningful.

Mark Twain, I believe, wrote, "I hate writing; I love having written."

Yet he did anyway.

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Except, the real life Pirat... (Below threshold)

March 15, 2015 3:25 AM | Posted, in reply to JohnJ's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Except, the real life Pirates of the Caribbean actually were better people than the British or Spanish navies hunting them down. They formed the first genuine democracy in the western world. They shared their booty in an equitable manner. Most of them were sailors who rebelled against the evils of the government navies, and went off to form their own more ethical society. They really did have better morals and better ethics than their enemies. What's really sick is how most of those pirate stories make out the official British or Spanish navies to be the good guys, when they were much worse than the pirates. So it's not just romanticism that makes those pirates seem admirable. It's the reality too.

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The pointlessness of it all... (Below threshold)

March 22, 2015 3:39 PM | Posted, in reply to Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta's comment, by Twiddler: | Reply

The pointlessness of it all is absolutely real.

If you think about it logically, there can not possibly be any purpose and meaning in YOUR life except as one decided upon by YOURSELF.

I mean -- where else could it come from? Who could ever tell you what is purposeful and worthwile so that you would accept it without comparing to YOUR own ideas about what is meaningful?

As far as I see it, however, we are not diembodied minds wondering about how to pass time meaningfully. We are very much (one might even say: nothing but) biological creatures and, by and large, the meaning of life appears to be to an extent hard-wired: pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain will do for the bottom levels of pyramid.

When we come to endlessly question ourselves on the lines of "what is this all about then?" and "why bother?", something seems to be amiss on a higher (or maybe just different) level. And so far, I have come to conclusion that also, by and large, we have a very real and possibly biological or biosocial, or whatever you call it, need to feel USEFUL. It really does give pleasure when you understand that by your work you are providing some real service or use to others.

Details might differ, but that's how I have figured it out. Only recently, too. Maybe it is common knowledge, or at least, common psychological knowledge -- haven't read anything much past Freud and Berne, -- but it does seem that when you feel your work is a benefit to people you like, -- the time flies and the questions about meaning of life become meaningless. Partly it is obviously also the need to be ACCEPTED and valued, but being accepted and valued for nothing or by fraud would generally not seem to work, so one's own sense of a real contribution is important.

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