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Monday, August 27, 2007

memetic infection

This little gem was embedded in a VDH interview:
Marxism lied to us that history is only the story of material interest, rather than the narrative often of the psyche, emotion, and only perceived self-interests. ... More generally, history has become in the university a medieval morality tale, in which we deconstruct the past to find those guilty of sins against gender, race, and class, and then use the standards of the present to condemn them postfacto on grounds of illiberality—as if someone illiterate five centuries ago without electricity, running water, a toilet, or antibiotics should have been as racially sensitive or tolerant of the "other" or as environmentally conscious as we are in Palo Alto or Madison.

In general we forgot that education is simply the ability to translate daily chaos into abstract wisdom of the ages—impossible without a data bank of names, dates, concepts, and a methodology of inductive inquiry; in turn both impossible without a liberal education of languages, literature, history, philosophy, and basic science.
The ridiculous practice of judging past actions by present moral standards speaks to very shoddy reasoning skills (or perhaps very good propaganda skills). This is often done by people adhering to Postmodernist modes of thought which is a notion simply dripping with irony (no truth). It also reminds me of this Eric Raymond post which I've linked to before.

In a previous post on Suicidalism, I identified some of the most important of the Soviet Union’s memetic weapons. Here is that list again:

  • There is no truth, only competing agendas.
  • All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
  • There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
  • The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
  • Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
  • The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
  • For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But ‘oppressed’ people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
  • When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.

As I previously observed, if you trace any of these back far enough, you’ll find a Stalinist intellectual at the bottom. (The last two items on the list, for example, came to us courtesy of Frantz Fanon. The fourth item is the Baran-Wallerstein “world system” thesis.) Most were staples of Soviet propaganda at the same time they were being promoted by “progressives” (read: Marxists and the dupes of Marxists) within the Western intelligentsia.

Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.

Call it what you will — various other commentators have favored ‘volk-Marxism’ or ‘postmodern leftism’. I’ve called it suicidalism. It was designed to paralyze the West against one enemy, but it’s now being used against us by another.

The first step to recovery is understanding the problem. Knowing that suicidalist memes were launched at us as war weapons by the espionage apparatus of the most evil despotism in human history is in itself liberating. Liberating, too, it is to realize that the Noam Chomskys and Michael Moores and Robert Fisks of the world (and their thousands of lesser imitators in faculty lounges everywhere) are not brave transgressive forward-thinkers but pathetic memebots running the program of a dead tyrant.

The postmodern left is now defined not by what it’s for but by by what it’s against: classical-liberal individualism, free markets, dead white males, America, and the idea of objective reality itself.

Again, this is by design. Lenin and Stalin wanted classical-liberal individualism replaced with something less able to resist totalitarianism, not more. Volk-Marxist fantasy and postmodern nihilism served their purposes; the emergence of an adhesive counter-ideology would not have. Thus, the Chomskys and Moores and Fisks are running a program carefully designed to dead-end at nothing.
Simple awareness starts to bolster resistance.


erp said...

It's been a long time coming.

Bret said...

Judging past actions by present moral standards as opposed to past moral standards is a symptom of a closet-creationist. One has to assume that man was created in his current form with all knowledge and morality fully intact. One wouldn't be able to do that if one admitted that morality, like all other aspects of our species and the extended order, evolved over time and that we couldn't have gotten to the current moral standards without having evolved from past moral standards.

Hey Skipper said...


What you say is a critique of then use the standards of the present to condemn them postfacto on grounds of illiberality—as if someone illiterate five centuries ago without electricity, running water, a toilet, or antibiotics should have been as racially sensitive or tolerant of the "other" or as environmentally conscious as we are in Palo Alto or Madison.

Yes, but.

Correct, it is can be silly to judge past actions by present moral standards, with the trend from can to will driven largely by the time lapse between the occurrence and judgment.

However, at some point one must do that very thing in order for moral standards to change at all.

When I was a kid, Jim Crow ruled the south, and most of the rest of the US implicitly accepted that African Americans were, in various ways, inferior human beings.

At some point, in order for that paragraph to increasingly represent a set of attitudes relegated to the past, one must judge past actions by present standards, where that judgment becomes more acute as the difference between past and present becomes smaller.

A different take is to wonder which past actions, widely undertaken, were, or should have been, violations of the extent moral standards.

Constantine's Sword documents the Church's anti-Judaism in very thorough, and often sickening, detail. Judged by present standards, it is horrible through and through.

How horrible should it have been at the time?

Oh, and one other thing. The phrase "Stalinist Intellectual" causes dry heaves, self inflicted this time.

Could you use something else, say something along the lines of "he who shall not be named" that encompasses "verbose" and "retard".

Just asking.

Bret said...

hey skipper,

I'm wondering (perhaps mistakenly) from your comment if you think I wrote this post. I didn't - it was posted by Howard.

No matter, I pretty much completely agree with the post so I'll respond anyway.

"However, at some point one must do that very thing [judge past actions by present moral standards] in order for moral standards to change at all."

Unless by "past" you mean the last few weeks, months, or maybe years, I don't agree.

I think the vast majority of significant morality shifts are better explained by: (a) the (usually) random change in perspective by a relatively small segment of the population which leads to more power for that sub-population coupled with (b) the fact that we're Moral Believing Animals needing to create noble narratives called morality that cast the best possible light on our behaviors and actions.

For example, I think that slavery in America was a doomed institution from a power perspective (that's one of the reasons the South lost). The noble narrative evolved to fit the facts on the ground over time. (I have an upcoming post on this particular topic).

Discrimination against blacks and women weakened those who practiced it. The groups that did not (overly) discriminate became more powerful and the narrative caught up quickly.

If we lost the cold war and someone asked the question of whether it was immoral for Stalin to have murdered those millions of people the answer would've been nyet. The winners (i.e. the more powerful) write history and decide morality.

Nothing wrong with analyzing our actions now and deciding whether or not they're moral. That's how we get some of the random changes in perspective. But it's not "then use" in that case, is it? It's "now use".

"The phrase "Stalinist Intellectual" causes dry heaves..."

Sorry, but since that was in the quote from Eric Raymond in a post written by Howard, not much I can do about it. I promise not to write that phrase directly in any of my own posts in the future.

erp said...

Judging is difficult under the best conditions, but to condemn our forebearers because they didn't have all the information we have is foolish. I don't see this as moral values, or moral anything. They worked with the information at hand just as we do.

People in the past were in the most part uninformed, illiterate, superstitious, overly burdened with survival and conditioned to obey their masters in the church and state.

To our credit, as out lot improved, we redeemed many of the errors of the past and we should rejoice that we did so and honor the pioneers who often put themselves in danger.

We've come a long way, but ours is still a work in progress.

Bret said...

erp wrote: "To our credit, as out lot improved, we redeemed many of the errors of the past..."

Ahhhh, there's that "noble narrative" again. I think that's backwards erp. I think we stumbled upon new behaviors that improved our lot, adopted those new behaviors because they were successful, incorporated them into a new morality, and the spun a noble narrative to take "credit" for the new morality to make us feel good.

erp said...

The noble narrative as you call is as good a narrative as any other and might even be true. I think it is true that as we learned more, we were able to make better decisions. As to how we learned, a great deal of trial and error most probably coupled with some bright ideas and good guesses, just like now.

Bret said...

erp wrote: "I think it is true that as we learned more, we were able to make better decisions."

Sure. We are able to make better decisions for us. But those same decisions would've been bad, even catastrophic for the people of the past. Also, those same decisions will seem evil to people in the future. Our noble narrative is only noble and good at this specific snapshot in time for this particular point in the development of our society.

erp said...

Hey bret, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but now is all got.

Hey Skipper said...

Apologies, Howard; that was an excellent post. For some reason I reflexively credit them to Bret.


In general I completely agree with Howards post, except that I would temper it a little with applying some time span to just what the "past" in past actions represents.

Also, it raises the question as to whether there were reprehensible actions in the past that should have been reprehnsible at the time, but for some reason, were not.

Hitler's Willing Executioners come to mind.

Also, regarding Jim Crow, since that has come about within a lifetime of someone not particularly old, then a great many people must have analyzed their own attitudes and found them wanting.

Worked for me.

Anyway, I might be guilty of quibbling. If the concept of "past" much exceeds a lifetime, then such judgment becomes an exercise in self-fluffing moral preening.

Witness the hysterics surrounding Columbus Day.

Peter Burnet said...

It's always a one-way street. Those prone to morally judging actions or people from the past almost never allow that any of the actions or practices of the past were superior to ours. Indeed, for most folks there is an almost visceral reaction bordering on fear against so doing and about 99% of the time they will very quickly dismiss any such claims as naive romanticism or nostalgia. Or they will link past nobilities inexorably to other bad things, usually through a kind of pseudo-marxism ("Yeah, Chartes is pretty, but think of all the workers who were unnecessarily sacrificed to build it.") Surely that is the proof that the whole project is absurd.

Howard said...


There are ideas about a grand redesign of society starting around the time of the French Revolution running through Marxism and into the philosophical dead end of Postmodernism (a true absurdity). Perhaps there is something in the human psyche which longs for earthly redemption - so we never fully escape these longings.