On Bernie Sanders

“I wrote the goddamn bill” – Bernie Sanders

A very friendly person without much nous about the whole economics thing asked me very nicely for advice on – essentially – why I hate globe twitter so much.

This is my reply I sent them, and the link beneath is the bit they linked me asking questions about why I’m so down on this shit

Therefore:

OK, so to follow up (and bear in mind it’s late here in London and I’m long-term dyspraxic so if there’s a typo or a missed thought in here try to get over it).

The argument against Sanders’ idea of rent control is *extraordinarly weak*. The official policy of the Sanders campaign was universal nationwide rent control. This fact alone completely obviates the arguments made in the /r/neoliberal post which are based exclusively on *local* rent control, which is an entirely different concept. This doesn’t mean that rent control is the right approach, but the point is that the poster there is just talking at cross purposes to the Sanders campaign. A further point to make here is that the same poster appears to be suggesting that private development companies who just want to build new housing are entirely benign: I can tell you for a fact that even on the street where I currently live (and this has become the so-called “New Normal”) that this is not the case, and predatory housing development is a noted feature of the modern world (my generation is the first in the last century in the UK to on average have less floor space per income).

On the subject of “Free Trade”, our poster here is being what I can only assume to be wilfully obtuse. In economics there are always trade-offs, and Paul Krugman of all people won a Nobel for pointing out that free trade is not *always* beneficial to its assumed beneficiaries (New Trade Theory). Sanders seems to hold the relatively sophisticated belief that without sufficient alternatives to jobs that ultimately end up (with specific free-trade deals such as NAFTA) in poorer countries working class people often end up struggling to make ends meet in a different kind of economy than they were expecting (and I’d point out here that you don’t have to be left-wing to care about what working class people expect: Milton Friedman made “expectations” of exactly that kind a core of his economic philosophy).

The upshot being: overall quality of life might go up on a rude mean or median average, but that doesn’t mean people are happier or better off in any meaningful sense. They’re anxious, they’re worried, sometimes they’re even rioting (as we’ve seen). Sometimes they’re going so far as to vote for Donald Trump against their own interests: using raw numbers with your preconceptions doesn’t help with this all that much.

On “Free College” I’m meh. I owe a little over £40,000 for my undergrad degree and nothing on my MSc, which under the UK programme I’m on I will probably never end up bothering to pay off. In the UK undergrad degree loans are formulated as facsimiles of an income tax that you pay for going to university which frankly aren’t that heavy. In the US it’s very different, as I’m sure you know. Personally I would prefer to have a European system where you can get more or less whatever education you want whenever you want for relatively little outlay. But free college in the US may well be a more *politically viable* proposition than any of the proposed centrist alternatives, and would certainly not be a massive burden on the State one way or the other (and hey, maybe broader access to education would *actually change* the structures of power that make people who go to college overwhelmingly upper middle class, as it has to some degree in the UK).

The “Wealth Tax” stuff is just lazy. No thought put into it besides endorsing Georgism, which is fine, but the analysis is meaningless. The strong argument for a wealth tax has already been presented by Piketty. Capital flight is a canard of the 70s and 80s that never really turned out to be that important for fiscal policy. Maybe the Sanders rate is too high but the argument in the thread doesn’t even discuss the fact that the USA holds the global reserve currency, which is ridiculous.

The “less money is better than negative return” shit is equally risible. Maybe in the very short term but no globalised market actually works like that. Globalised markets *specifically exist* to generate “money” in the form of things like currency and debt over often relatively long periods of investment, and big money businesses generally do not count – especially over the last 12 years by the way – their accounts in nickels and dimes unless they’re properly worried in the first place because things have been so fucked up and unpredictable in the meantime.

Under a significant wealth tax you would expect a slowing of GDP growth and, if Piketty is right, an accumulated slowing of inequality and the accumulation of wealth by a tiny elite. That’s it. So hey maybe there are a few things else we could focus on such as universal healthcare or whatever.

Green New Deal? I’m not gonna bother engaging because I think anything that averts Climate Change is better than what we’ve got.

On the subject of the Fed and bailouts I *agree* that independent Central Banking as a principle is an important check on monetary and fiscal policy by an elected government in a putatively liberal democratic country (even though I am otherwise opposed to the form that the contemporary liberal democratic State takes). But I think the criticism of Sanders here is deeply unfair. There are strong reasons (and you only have to watch the movie The Big Short to realise that this is far from an exclusively far-left position) to believe that *letting the banks fail* is a viable strategy for creating a less differentiated and more equitable society, in which people are less frequently exploited with bullshit mortgages and ridiculous horse-trading of insane financial instruments that in turn create financial crises *simply by the fact of their existence*.

Dominic’s Basilisk, Part 3: I Give Up

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” – Samuel Beckett

I’m certainly not the first person to point out that this inspirational quote, often now framed in instagramable type across an instagramably filtered background, is in context actually an ambivalent expression of resignation to a personal world of mere misery.

On the other hand, not many people who like the quote will have read the late Beckett work Worstward Ho, even though I might have done – a bit.

I am, however, pointing it out now.

I’ve promised various people at various times I would complete this trilogy with more, but who could be fucking bothered after two and a half months indoors with only a journalistic project to obsess over? So this is on hold. Like most people I honestly thought when I began writing for even a small audience about Cummings that nothing as awful as what’s happening would happen.

And while revelations about Cummings-of-the-past continue to come out which are good material for a Dominic’s Basilisk piece in the dull and relentless daily press, essentially we’re in a United Kingdom of very traditional power struggles in cabinet and electoral politics beyond it. The line I started with about the authoritarian tendencies of the rationalist community aren’t especially relevant in the daily chaos, with nobody manifesting the capacity for authority or pseudo-technocratic control.

So those plans are on hold, which is a relief from a self-imposed burden I’ve been lying under for weeks trying to ignore in the midst of personal issues and all the shit of trying to keep up with how to make a mask to wear to the shops to buy more wine.

Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Not gonna give up on my contempt for Dominic Cummings though.

Words and Actions and Dominic Cummings

“Action, not words” – Edward Heath, titling the Communist Manifesto

If I ever actually meet Dominic Cummings I’m going to strangle him to near death and then let him go like I’m some kind of mafioso just to let him know what it feels like to have emotions, such as pain and fear (I can guarantee you I have a stronger grip than Cummings has whatever he’d be using to fight back). Self interest for psychopaths, in the sudden face of personal hardship, can be a useful learning tool. Cummings, for example, suddenly realised his career might be in turnaround a couple of months ago (when was it, what year is it anyway?) when the “herd immunity” bullshit was shown by epidemiologists at Imperial to be bullshit.

Much hay has been made in defence of this stupidity out of the relatively slow rate of infection in places like Sweden, or that the emergency Nightingale hospitals have fortunately been more or less laid empty. It does, however, stand to reason that things are really fucking bad, even though we fortunately know a lot more about epidemiology than a century ago. The same theme was noted in the Malleus Maleficarum of plague (my copy of which is unfortunately in storage in Scotland, about twice as far away as Durham), and the same book describes appropriately grisly solutions to the problem of witches.

But I’m getting beside the point and myself. Cummings isn’t going to resign unless you throttle him until he can’t breathe because he knows he’s in a perfect position for a twat. A barely understood virus and a massive majority in parliament and a population who – ignorantly – think that because things aren’t as bad as they could be we should all go to fucking Southend. This problem is not a parliament thing, it’s an authoritarian thing. “But not for thee” sort of thing, it’s a brutal assertion of authority and power and a lot of journalists are missing it because they’re either blind or looking out a piece of the pie.

It doesn’t particularly matter if he loses the support of Tory MPs (as he has done, repeatedly, without any substantive impact), because that’s just performative parliament stuff.

Many of the people who voted in this shit government have never heard of Dominic Cummings in the first place, which works to his advantage, because they just think Boris Johnson is funny and likes waving the Union Jack, or they think immigration (refugees actually, they don’t mind or don’t know the fact London is full of French people) is too much (the UK has, of course, an almost uniquely low intake and brutal treatment of refugees). This isn’t particularly insightful, it’s just true. And I am very very tired.

The Extraordinary Changes: 24/03/2020

Wednesday, a day in late March. London.

You ever notice how people always specific early, mid, late March when they’re talking about a shit month? Like one where they have to go work without a Bank Holiday in sight or they can’t sack it off early in a heatwave and go drink cheap tins or overpriced Prosecco at four in the afternoon in the park. Nobody ever says “late June”. They say “late August” because they know Autumn’s coming with September and everybody knows the weather’s gonna turn and they’ll have to tolerate me for probably more than an hour on my birthday. 13th of September, that’s mid-September sure, and nobody’s gonna dispute anything if you say it like that.

I mean you say it if you have to,

“I’m going on holiday what date is the festival?”

“Oh it starts on the 25th this year, can you make it? When you are going away?”

“Uh, I that’s like two weeks away and I forgot to book flights, like mid-to-late June, maybe August or something I dunno.”

Who the fuck under fourty years old has their shit together enough to distinguish between four different weeks in only one month without putting a number on it and checking against the other number on their phone.

Oh right, so:

Global Coronavirus Deaths – somewhere between 50,000 and 1

UK Corona Deaths – the same as that but less so, not counting essential alcohol sales

I *am* putting a number to the number of days until I can go to the shops and volunteer for the “NHS Volunteer Army” (yes thank you thank you, I don’t need your applause I’m only doing my unemployed part), which so far as I can work it out is sometime in early April. I don’t know, I have to check with my astrologist at the Brookings Institute.

I can’t be the only person doing that thing in the first paragraph either right now, no? How many days until we can stop worrying about mass death and start complaining we missed out on half the Summer. How far away is the Summer? Well it’s supposed to traditionally start in June so anywhere between the first person you care about dying and just over two months. How long is “just over” wait, don’t tell me I’ll get out my iPad and check on google, oh cool somebody replied to me on twitter.

Staying on the selfish side of things I started to worry because I’m still in the house with my dad now that he’s cheerfully recovered from the virus and I haven’t showed any symptoms after several weeks of close contact, so it’s gonna really be a kick in the teeth if I didn’t even asymptomatically contract it all this time and have to go to some hospital I’m already volunteering at on a ventilator when it kicks my lungs on their smoked out ass. Then I found out the NHS Volunteer Army thing is apparently predicated on volunteers all having a smartphone with the appropriate app, which is darkly hilarious. Look man I don’t work for Uber I have a Nokia brick with a Vodaphone bill I haven’t bothered to pay in two weeks, I’m in self-isolation performing social distancing, text me (please).

The official numbers for the death toll by the way, because I depressed myself with my own insouciance and checked in between that paragraph and this one:

Global Coronavirus Deaths: >20,000

UK Coronavirus Deaths: ~465

Check out my new hobby, at which I’m not very good at yet, but I have 53 more tries to go with the current pack:

I got a forwarded message from the great hippyish woman who used to look after us when we were kids and my mum was often functionally a single mother, and I think she’d approve of the style, but personally I’m not sure at all.

Getting sympathy for struggling with unemployment and substance abuse from a woman who used to spend afternoons after school doing everything to build me up, who I haven’t seen in years, in the middle of an epidemic, would be a sobering call back to reality if I didn’t have so much drink in the house.

The Extraordinary Changes: 23/03/2020

23rd of March. London.

Global coronavirus deaths – who knows

UK coronavirus deaths – who cares

This is the fourth instalment, the third is here: https://irrationallyspeaking.home.blog/2020/03/22/the-extraordinary-changes-22-03-2020-london/

Today is a good day without numbers. Sleep happened, and so did a walk to Dawson Heights, a fucking classic of London modernist architecture sat like an Aztec pyramid on top of that last line of hills before the Thames alluvial plain (is that the right term? Answers from geography nerds not requested) in South-East London, where Jen used to live back when I knew her. She ghosted me, deliberately or not, a couple of years ago: if you’re out there Jen, even in Dawson Heights, hope you’re doing well and found a wife or something.

I’m pretty sure you owe me a beer too.

The music of Lou Reed has some extraordinary changes, mostly from A to D and back again. But sometimes the other way around, and even down further to G, as in Sweet Jane. Some aberrant versions of that song even go further, to B minor – criminal – as in the version of what must be easily one of the greatest live rock albums of all time, Live: Take No Prisoners, in which a cheerfully wasted Lou bitches out almost literally everyone he’s ever met, including the band, to a home New York crowd, and a number of people he hasn’t.

Listen to the whole album, towards the end is a “version” of “Walk on the Wild Side” that’s mostly just – again – bitching out everyone from the Andy Warhol scene of the pre-SCUM era plus Robert Christgau and other assorted rock “critics” over the space of about fifteen minutes and two chords.

This is the shit we live for, no? Who wants to be a professional in the music industry? When I was a kid helping out gigs for The Dream Machine at The Half Moon (now a Fuller’s pub, for fuck’s sake) we used to have Dan Treacy of Television Personalities fame on now and again – poor Dan, after years of mental illness and substance abuse he was found in prison by some friends I used to know, propped up for a few years doing live gigs and recording a bit, then had a bad fall and last I heard he was either dead or unlikely to recover from brain damage. He was always good with me though, a sarcastic Estuarine gent. One night I’m behind the mixing desk with my mate Alex (hope you’re doing great Alex) and a plastic bag with some beer cans for the rider and Dan has one of his moods, he kicks the entire band off stage and embarks on a sort of odyssey of half-remembered solo covers of other 80s songwriters on his scratchy Danelectro (ha. ha.).

(Not the specific event in question, but illustrative. They turned that room into a fucking pub grub place now too. Wankers)

Alex, the consummate and slightly tipsy professional at the desk is unhappy about this, but I’m loving it. This enthusiastic attitude of mine invites a remonstration from the desk-jockey. But it’s an event, isn’t it, and that’s what we go to gigs for: the spectacle.

Professionalism is boring, which is one of several reasons why people go to gigs.

Anyway here’s a couple of classic Dan Treacy/TVPs tunes to cheer everyone up, God knows those of us who haven’t got any work to do for the alleviation of material suffering right now could use a break from the BBC. That isn’t innuendo but now that I’ve said it isn’t you’re thinking about it aren’t you.

And one from his slightly less infamous partner in crime Ed Ball:

Wonder what Pascal’s up to.

The Extraordinary Changes: 22/03/2020. London.

This is part 3, part 2 is here: https://irrationallyspeaking.home.blog/2020/03/21/the-extraordinary-changes-21-03-2020/

Global coronavirus deaths – ~13,500

UK coronavirus deaths – ~233 (240?)

“The devil’s in the details, and everywhere else”

Woke up twice this morning, or so I infer. Remember getting out of bed into an overbearing Sun, then must have fallen asleep until 7am when I woke up for the second and final time, into another overbearing peel of light. What Sun would that have been in March anyway, and so how is that possible?

Ha! “Sunday”.

My dreams are usually too psychedelic and disconnected to remember, but quarantine seems to have forced things into vague coherence. So it is that on Thursday I woke up from a rare narrative thing, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie in which I starred as the rugged and defeated protagonist trying to get from a beach in Scotland down to London to find shelter in the midst of mysterious foreign aircraft crashing through the fields for reasons unknown, and making suspicious passes over our hut at night – fortunately my subconscious intervened to turn the whole affair into something about playing support for a punkish girl band in an abandoned cinema and a vaguely romantic and horny subplot with someone I used to have a crush on many years ago. This morning’s dream was a Bernie Sanders press-conference about cheese (in his youth I am told the Vermont Senator and presidential candidate had a snobbish preference for Gruyere imported from France, but recognises in his latter years that Cheddar from Wisconsin and even Velveeta and “Government Cheese” not only have their place but deserve to be celebrated as home-grown All-American culinary masterpieces of their own).

Not sure what that says about my media consumption, but this is probably as good a time as any to recommend those unfamiliar with the weirdest syndicalised cartoon strip in history that they therefore familiarise themselves with “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend”.

I’m sure I can and should not discuss these things with Puck and Nathan when, hopefully, we do a video call in the evening, despite living only a few miles away from each other in South-East London.

Mum and Miah both came around yesterday. Miah to drop off the usual supplies and Mum to drop off garden furniture. The supplies are only partially depleted but the furniture is still sitting on a tarp in the conservatory looking rather woeful and unrepaired. I’ll get round to it. There are worse things to do with your hands in the apocalypse than paint and wax a few garden chairs and all in all I can’t really be bothered with the alternative.

Dominic Cummings is in the papers again and I similar wonder why. Nascent personal dominion falling apart around his ears due to natural forces outside his control (that one’s got to be a pain for himself in particular), and meanwhile millions of people are going to die. Well. I admit I made two missed calls there: (1) that “herd immunity” was just a headline and wasn’t as policy-crucial as – obviously – it turns out it was, and later on; (2) that Cummings and his role wouldn’t be that important for corona. Mea culpa, the idiot apparently really did leave his mark on affairs with the herd immunity thing – fuckwit.

Contagions are hard to track, once they start running away from you. So one regret is that I chose not to write up the story of Cummings and – once again – the rationalists when I first spotted that the rationalist subculture was agreeing solemnly with itself that “herd immunity” (with corollary mass deaths of the vulnerable and elderly) was obviously the only rational response to coronavirus, roughly around the same time the phrase first started turning up in the press. Seems like my original instincts that Cummings had his ear to the rationalist door were right, and I shouldn’t have second-guessed myself.

As usual, probably the best source for non-insiders to keep up on what’s going on in the Cummings box (avoiding the use of the word “brain” here) are the most prominent internet ground zeros of the relevant cult: reddit.com/r/TheMotte; reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex; the SlateStarCodex blog itself and associated environs; and by association reddit.com/r/SneerClub.

God help us, the government is run by people who spend their free time on fucking reddit.

Here’s Matt Taibbi bitching out Dominic’s fellow enthusiastic moron Thomas Friedman with great panache a decade ago to calm everyone down, assuming anybody is reading, plus a picture someone drew of me with a red panda (his name is Fred) on my head.

https://delong.typepad.com/egregious_moderation/2009/01/matt-taibbi-flathead-the-peculiar-genius-of-thomas-l-friedman.html

The Extraordinary Changes: 21/03/2020

This is part two of the diary, part one is here https://irrationallyspeaking.home.blog/2020/03/20/the-enormous-changes-20-3-2020/

21st of March, 2020. London. Day 4.

Global coronavirus deaths – >11,000

UK coronavirus deaths – 177

“Over the-“

It pays to talk to no-one.

This is the Spring without end. This is the Summer of your malcontent. This is the Winter of your desire.

Circulating across the Earth.

Wise words Marquee, but what about the Autumn? I’m turning 27 this September so it’ll be interesting if I’m still in quarantine then. Traditionally my birthday comes in the week that the weather goes off, so we’ll see if it coincides with an apocalyptic spike in corona deaths or just a sharp fall off in sales of the beer by that name, neither of which scenario seems like it’s gonna be good for my favourite bars.

https://mobile.twitter.com/GeorgeHemingto1/status/1241318536510873602

I forgot to mention yesterday that Miah missed out on going to Ohio – lucky break there – because it’s probably for the best not to run a conference for women and trans folk in the music industry in the middle of the worst global pandemic in 100 years.

Well, I say worst, HIV was a thing after all. Didn’t kill as many people as this looks likely though, just cut down kids and people in Africa instead of elderly mostly straight people in the post-industrial so-called “Global North”. Slow rate of transmission if you have to shag instead of breathe to catch the bastard, and as we are so often told, nobody’s fucking anymore anyway.

Such, for some reason, is the wont of sexual arousal at The End of History.

Wonder what Alex is up to in Memphis. Wonder what Hannah’s up to in Edinburgh. Of course I could easily message either but it’s more interesting, a game for me, to circuitously work out what might be going on from Alex’s cryptic tweets and Hannah’s posts about lupus and coronavirus and you on facebook; after all Alex’s (ex-?) wife was often forced into bed for long periods by lupus when I worked on their farm.

I note that Psychic TV’s “Godstar”, which I’ve been listening to incessantly, came out a short seven years before Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man”, which came out the same year as The Fall’s “Code: Selfish”, one year before I was born. Seven years ago I was entering undergrad in Belfast, where there was another Hannah, who is probably going fucking spare right now. But then Hannah was rarely not going spare, effective as she nonetheless is.

The Last Man never had it so good. Some people like to denigrate Fukuyama for announcing the end of the great forces of history in the 1990s. But imagine if you will being a straight dude who has a BMW with a direct injection motor, whatever that means, probably born in the mid-1970s, facing up to the coronavirus situation. Because that gratingly dull image hasn’t really gone away, has it? Fukuyama might well have been dead on here, it’s just that he missed that catastrophes were going to go on happening to people like you and me and people like that forever and ever until the [tired tropes incoming] heat-death of the universe, or the explosion of the Sun, or an asteroid mercifully wipes us clean of our inveterate stressors without warning (God I hope there’s no warning, that’d just prolong the inevitable).

Meanwhile, cities in Europe are falling apart, borders are closing, with no real ideological reason beyond “don’t let people die, if you wouldn’t mind”. It’s a polite, Last Man, sort of response to a probable global cataclysm. People are losing their jobs, losing loved ones, worrying about whether they’ll be able to care for their children, or if somebody will be able to care for their children. But this is all framed within a very limited work. If you were imaginative about things, you could go completely mad and still be on top of everything!

What, after all, is the metaphysical substrate for any of our complaints of having the virus? Physicalism? A good portion of philosophers and scientists have long denigrated the very idea. To be fair, most of them are wrong, but most people are stupid in the first place. And I might have a cough, God save me.

Superstition. That, I think, is the key. Superstitions are good if you ignore the bad ones: they give you points of guidance at moments of indecision; you know, the William James thing.

Or you could go Absolute Idealist, like my friend Russell, completely throwing away all sense of sense and purpose in favour of the a priori. Why not? It isn’t like Hegel ever put a wrong foot somewhere…

And my wisdom tooth hurts, which I guess isn’t going to get sorted for a while now

Part 3 follows here: https://irrationallyspeaking.home.blog/2020/03/22/the-extraordinary-changes-22-03-2020-london/

The Extraordinary Changes: 20/3/2020

Day 3 of self-quarantine. London.

Global coronavirus deaths: >8800

UK coronavirus deaths: ~144

“They don’t make lies like they used to”

It’s 6am and I just woke up. Last night mum replied to an email I’d sent looking for an email address with which to send an old sixth form teacher of mine the blog version of my Dominic Cummings material, suggesting I start a diary to chart the extraordinary changes we’re all going to be experiencing for the next few months, not weeks, as this thing continues to hit. She enclosed an email she received from an old friend documenting the accelerating pace of how it’s hit her, the friend, but the details of that aren’t for me to write down.

On Monday, I was on “the last plane out of Saigon” as my dad put it, driving from Morzine in France to Geneva to catch a Swiss plane to Heathrow hours before they closed the French border. A group of my brother’s friends staying near Morzine weren’t so lucky, so I wonder what’s happened to them. Not quite Walter Benjamin fleeing Germany via Spain but none of this is much fun.

Since Wednesday I’ve been in self-imposed quarantine. My dad, Peter, came down with a mild flu thing and, although it isn’t severe enough to warrant testing under the UK response protocol, he was in close contact with people who had or probably had contracted the virus themselves, and since I’m staying in my old room at his house I suppose that means I have too, although I’ve developed no symptoms I can distinguish from a stressed out hangover. His ex-girlfriend sent me a wild facebook message ex nihilo inviting me to stay at her place for two weeks.

The world through my window remains more or less the same, the bodies piling up only in the abstract, and I’m allowed a glimpse of further irreality roughly once a day, usually at night, going for a walk around the block, so long as I don’t talk to anyone or come within a metre of them. Strange thing to type. Miah comes around from mum’s once a day with supplies – mostly wine – with stories about empty supermarket shelves and queues for the grocer’s that snake down the pavement at noon. Of course she has to leave the bag on the doorstep and shout pleasantries from the gate in her pixie Mad Max outfit. It won’t be long before this small mercy isn’t feasible anymore and I suppose I’ll have to get things ordered in by a frightened rabbit of a courier on zero hours if I want them.

The postman – Royal Mail, which surprised me and I suppose is likely of some logistical significance – delivered me my new iPad keyboard yesterday. I wasn’t sure how to handle the drop off, explain that this is a plague house without smearing blood on the door, but he clearly had his instructions. By the time I got to the front door he had already leant the slim package against the old recycling box and retreated to the safety of the gate, with it maybe being my own natural paranoia but a white-irised look on his face that said “don’t come fucking near me” as he brusquely waved off any danger of communicating substantively and hurried back to his van.

The same thing happened when some neighbour – we’re constitutionally reticent people, we don’t really know our neighbours – dropped off something for Peter mistakenly delivered her and which she’d been holding on to for at least a week.

I emailed Calum, my flatmate in Edinburgh, to let him know the situation. That although I’d moved out in a state of acrimony I wouldn’t be able to get out of town to take the train up and pick up my bike for a while. He was brisk but understanding and very conciliatory and told me to stay safe.

In Edinburgh I’ve heard back from most people I’ve bothered to get in touch with. James seems fine, although as a primary school teacher I’m sure he’s not having the easiest time with school closures – we’re blokes, it’s hard to transmit a lot of emotional information. I worry about Ez, who partially extricated herself from years on benefits to work a ticketing and security job at the sort of events that have been shut down, and Louise, who works as a stripper and union rep for sex workers.

I don’t worry, but I wonder about Milly and I wonder about Bobby, because if there’s any two people in the world who can handle themselves it’s Milly and it’s Bobby. Besides I don’t have usable contact details for either of them now. If you asked me for a wild guess I’d playfully suggest that Bobby’s doing just fine holed up in some wartorn squat in Milan with a pile of Class As having the time of his life, and that Milly’s doing just fine.

Besides if I did have a contact for Milly she’d slam down the phone and then text me to make it explicitly clear that I’m an agnorant cunt.

The Americans are still obsessed with their election, naturally. Cousin Lorkin, originally of Edinburgh and latterly The Midlands, has bought a shotgun in his home of upstate New York. I had to wait for a surprise message from him to find out that Aunt Retta in Leith has been diagnosed with cancer.

God knows if Retta – I wouldn’t call her a force of nature, nature is a force of Retta – can suffer through this with a laugh on her breath we should all rethink what makes us think ourselves lucky.

Meanwhile it looks very likely that I’m not getting laid for a few months. Wonder how Felix is doing in all this. I have admittedly been listening to a lot of Robert Wyatt.

Meantime, mum is dropping off a bunch of garden furniture for me to paint, wax, and fix over the weekend.

This is part one of a diary, part two is here https://irrationallyspeaking.home.blog/2020/03/21/the-extraordinary-changes-21-03-2020/

Dominic’s Basilisk, Part 2: The Age of Social Capital

“The worse, the better” – Lenin (who probably didn’t say it, which didn’t stop his fans)

“I never dreamed in a million years I’d see so many motherfuckin’ people who feel like me. Who share the same views and the same exact beliefs. It’s like a fuckin’ army marchin’ in back of me” – Eminem (who definitely did say that, which didn’t stop his fans either)

Part 1 can be found here: https://irrationallyspeaking.home.blog/2019/10/22/dominics-basilisk-part-1/

This stuff is getting very Notes From Underground, albeit with prose pacier than Dostoevsky would ever have imagined. There’s a lot more time to think in outer Siberia, or even Samara, than Edinburgh, facts finding, but it isn’t Dominic Cummings’s fault that the guys downstairs refurbishing their shit are at the time of writing 20 minutes over the legal limit and nearly a month over their declared refurbishing deadline. I suppose I should thank them for the energy. Them or Barr. But it is confusing that Cummings, who was at one time so obsessed with getting the lifts to work at “Number 10” (ugh) just made it known today that he wants to collect every freak and weirdo in Britain to jerry rig the government to work in his service, probably with a high-powered drill to someone’s skull.

I know I know, we saw this way back when, when Tony Blair had British citizens extraordinarily renditioned to Guantanamo Bay for a 24 hours a day 7 days a week years-long free Iron Maiden concert (or was it Metallica? Years of excessive heavy metal have rendered other minds than mine vulnerable to memory loss). But hear me out, this time is different (I didn’t say better, I said different). This time the infamous couch is exclusively open to the people least qualified to sit on it, instead of the people who paid the most to be in the room, merely regardless of whether they’re qualified to be in it.

Why would somebody who cares so much about making the lifts work in the post-colonial equivalent of the Oval Office be so concerned with only hiring the people who only know lifts as something you get access to with your gym membership? Cummings allegedly wants “weirdos” and “misfits” with “odd skills”. Not traditionally a category of people who know how to fix lifts. Or lift. People who know how to fix lifts tend to have what one imagines Cummings would consider the prosaic and uninteresting skill of knowing what it is that makes a lift, which is not traditionally the domain of recently undergraduate ingenues in data science.

Other than being a waste of my and your time in the news cycle this is at least a useful narrative moment to plot another point in the course of the Cummings-Johnson Premiership of the United Kingdom, and that story may as well begin – recall that we are following up from my previous post on LessWrong, SlateStarCodex, MIRI etc. so don’t forget to do your homework – with a subplot about MetaMed.

If you hadn’t noticed yet, the thesis of this article is that Cummings invents problems that don’t exist, fails to solve them because he’s lost in a world of the making of his own feverish imagination, presents that failure as a victory for intellectual diversity and therefore gets to fail higher up the social pecking order because people with an interest in his career are credulous and greedy.

They may also happen to be as smart as Hitler was when he burned down the Reichstag, but that’s by the by.

—–

MetaMed was a fascinatingly stupid medical experiment which started with one man’s Silicon Valley startup fever dream and ended in his immiseration and impressively total financial embarrassment, although probably not in significant enough degree to stop him earning a six figure salary somewhere quiet by five or ten years afterwards (any leads on that guys?), even if he deserved a severe shitcanning, long term, for even thinking of the plan in its original form. The idea, inspired in part by the total brokenness of America’s private insurance medical system – the one Boris Johnson and therefore Cummings’s government wants to imitate – was to decentralise and rationalise medicine so that the doctors who collect thousands of dollars at a time to dish out boilerplate nonsense, and the consequent expensive and useless prescriptions that go with it, would be undercut by a specialised team of highly trained scientists with a far more efficient method of synthesising existing medical literature and therefore giving out better advice. You would sign up for the service – at great expense – and a team of people with alleged training would diagnose you over the phone or online or at any distance other than in an actual lab or doctor’s office, using the best available medical data they could glean from Wikipedia, or whatever they could glean from Wikipedia given academic access to the sources ideally listed in the references section of what they picked up on Wikipedia.

It was all kosher because they knew what they were doing: they’d learned rationality. With the especial help of Eliezer Yudkowsky and his sequences. Maybe they read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

They knew what they were doing, knew better than experienced professionals working in their own area. They were special.

It goes without saying that Michael Vassar, the guy heading up the project, who I mentioned in the above paragraph, is an abuser who sexually abused and harassed a good friend of mine.

—–

Why does this matter? Besides that I’m doing a better impression of that bit in the Marvel movie where Bruce Banner goes “that’s my secret: I’m always angry”? The problem here is that the problem with the Cummings announcement is that a lot of people think his solution is somehow the key to fixing the lifts. People blame bad management for problems that should be solved by management, fine, but if your solution to bad management is to invent an Ubermensch to solve your problems just with their mind and natural brilliance you’ve made a fool of yourself and made your personal Man Over All a danger to everybody else.

Imagine if David Brent started a cult and then became the most senior adviser to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. And then imagine that he had strong connections to nazi types. And then imagine that even the nazis thought, a la David Brent, that he was sort of thick.

That’s where we are with Vassar and Cummings.

Michael Vassar, who is a member of the exact same cult as Cummings – who was in his time a far more senior member than Cummings ever was (MetaMed predictably collapsed in 2015 and Vassar lost a fair amount of his standing, though not enough to not be able to mount a nasty counterclaim against NA NA NA NA NA NA) – presided over a vast group of wannabe intellects, including key members of the “rationalist” cult such as Scott Alexander, who, so to speak, ‘contributed’, to the putatively scientific knowledge offered by Vassar’s company, and considered the project a paradigmatic example of freaks and weirdos going out on their own to beat the system, from within the system (that system, I suppose, being America’s market-liberal approach to medical knowledge and due payment therefore).

You must see where I’m going here by now.

Dominic Cummings offers a cargo cult science of pedagogy and intelligence in general and the fixing of things (whatever the fuck is broken) in particular. But it’s so much worse than that. It’s a fanatics idea of what constitutes the truth.

——

Consider the slogan: “Get Brexit Done”, which as I pointed out in my previous instalment was a mewling soundbite in the mouths of its progenitors and rises to the rhetorical level of Kirk dogma as a command from Cummings et al.

What does it fucking mean?

I’m pretty sure what it represents. Something like: (a) a demand that the peoples’ will be done (whoever they are, whatever that is); (b) the establishment of an authority, a moral authority, over and above what we sometimes call politics; (c) the assertion that there exists a loose-knit polity, ideologically diverse, who all nonetheless are – even if not trapped in the headlights of it – rabidly fascinated with the possibilities of rejecting the European Union. Now, I don’t care, as some commentators do, for the institutions which comprise the European Union and environs, in fact I find much of the whole affair ridiculous when not morally and politically contemptible…but this explains nothing about the darkness which lies behind the glassy-eyed hatred of what amounts to – ultimately – a deliberate slogan against independent thought or imagination, or indeed hope.

Because it is a meaningless slogan that deliberately does an end run around deliberation and lets particularly dull and uninteresting people off the hook for proving their worth by calling their dullness interesting. I dunno, people who think taking mescaline makes you an interesting person? The kind of contrarian that gets published in some Hacker News related outlet rather than The Sunday Times?

It’s hard to care, because…

A deliberator is somebody who, tautologically, deliberates. Is concerned with things like dialogue, which as social epistemology teaches us is a crucial method for doing things like testing ideas against alternatives. Is concerned with getting the right answer to the most important question.

To what question is “Get Brexit Done” the answer?

——

Vassar would probably have a good answer to that question. Depressingly, the answer would probably be “disruption” or something similar. Such people are always giving such answers, and these – even if not quite openly – are the people Cummings is attempting to attract with his venially unsubtle blog post, people like Vassar.

Some people hate that kind of person: venal, irritatingly clever, proud of it and stupid with it. But like the character Renton in Trainspotting, I don’t hate them, they’re just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonised by wankers.

You probably have a friend who’s into Bitcoin. You almost certainly read some glowing review of some shite that’s being touted as part of the “Internet of Things” (we’ve had devices connected to the internet since the internet). If you’re reading this blog you’re definitely connected to a social media site that’s owned by somebody who believes in some significant amount of this crap.

—–

In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, Cummings touted his skills with data-handling. Needless to say it was thin gruel, spread over pages and pages in The Spectator. But Ron Liddle writes for them, so why would you give it a second glance? But it’s useful to do so, so you can see him tout his weirdos and blah blah blah who thought outside the box to win him…a thinner than thin victory in a few parts of the country in a probably illegal vote that made no fucking sense in the first place to…

Ok I’m boring you now.

—–

How do you fix a lift?

You get the lift guy, or the guy in charge of the lift guy, to come and fix the lift.

What if there is a problem with the lift that’s been persistent for a long time now, and management won’t help you sort it, perhaps because they’re inefficient?

Obviously, the answer is you get in a kid from some Silicon Fuck tech company to design you an automatic data-processing system that runs on the blockchain to ensure that every request to have the lift fixed gets filed on a distributed server that runs on every computer from here to fucking Beijing, whether the owner of any such device knows it or got pirated by some savvy American teenager trying to buy cheap gay porn because he happens to live in Turkmenistan where it’s relatively hard to do that kind of thing without being blocked or even attracting the unwelcome attention of the murderously homophobic government.

And then you explain, on your blog, or in The Spectator, that this is why you and your wannabe cronies, your Michael Vassars and the children of rich people who approvingly quote from blogs that they don’t understand like SlateStarCodex, should own the government.

—–

I left this space open to do an extended metaphor about The Myth of Jones, a bit from analytic philosophy of epistemology, science, and perception, but I think the rant kind of speaks for itself.

Like Lenin said: the worse, the better. And if you don’t get what I mean by that quote you never will.

I suppose my readers should count themselves lucky I only quoted from Eminem once and didn’t call anybody a nazi.

And pending further research, I’m done with this shit. Which means I’m not done with this shit at all. It just means I’m bored of everybody else’s takes on Dominic Cummings: you know the ones, the ones that don’t talk about Vassar and the dark shit that happens in the rationalist community.

—–

I swear to God if you want to talk about somebody who buys into this sort of shit you had better fucking have a handle on the community in question’s habit of tying up young women on psychedelic drugs with chains for fun.

On grounds of rationality.

Luxury Academic Radically Centrism

It tastes good with the money  – Lias Saoudi

On the subject of liberal tosspots sitting on their arses and giving talks about radicalism in big lecture halls.

Over the last week or so, as America cheerfully carried on the work of digging the rest of the world’s ever more permanent mass grave, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland repeated the same motif in our own, more personal, minor key, the attentions of a small, eccentric subset of the liberal-to-left subsphere of the Anglophone world turned once again, like a chimera with three pairs of eyes to gaze only on its mirror selves, to one of its favourite hymnsheets: what outrageous intervention did that famous radical academic make in the sempiternal hell of the United States election?

On this occasion, it was three philosopher-humanists: Judith Butler, Martha Nussbaum, and Donna Haraway. And even better because two of them, Nussbaum and Butler, already had famous beef. It is a little concerning, I will admit, that all three of the picks that have come my way on this have been women, and it may well be that it’s for that reason that all three have received sufficient scrutiny for their drama to come my way, but I also have to say “so be it”: that’s just the story.

So what did they do? It may seem like, and is, a storm in a teacup, but the story is that each of them either came out or was outed for her unpalatably milquetoast centrist liberal politics. Campaign finance records show Butler donating $300 to Kamala Harris, and Haraway a quisling $15 to the same; Nussbaum, having previously favoured the presidential nobody from Denver, John Hickenlooper, then went on to throw her support – verbal and financial – behind a combination of two similarly meme candidates Pete “Mayor” Buttigieg and Amy Klopuchar.

This is all very niche, granted, but there’s more interesting material than you might think here.

Butler’s donation is probably the most confounding, even if not necessarily surprising: Butler positions herself as radically left wing, not just advocating in academic books for her liberatory views on gender, the views for which she is most famous, but also, and this is just one example, publicly advocated that Hamas and Hezbollah are progressive agents of the Global Left. One would be forgiven for assuming that her natural constituency is perhaps with the Sanders crew, or at least something like a socialist position. However, a fairly large donation to Harris is a bridge much further than abandoning the crowd that’s come out on social media for AOC: Harris is the candidate who was forced to apologise for illegally extending the sentences of black prisoners, allegedly as a source of cheap labour for the State, and overseeing responsibility for trans prisoners denied access to facilities – not to mention just cellmates – appropriate to their gender identity; Butler meanwhile is the academic theorist most responsible on the global stage for advocating the rights of trans people, with a decent sideline in criminal justice reform!

It goes without saying that many academics, on hearing the Butler news, were drawn to point out her support for a fellowly senior philosopher who used her seniority to sexually abuse a PhD student.

The Nussbaum case is, admittedly, at least on its surface less difficult to untie. Unlike Butler, she’s self-acknowledged as an aristocratic New York liberal, and perhaps nobody should be surprised at somebody with those general political commitments backing the foremost pair of stalking horses for wet pragmatism in an otherwise fiery presidential race – although more cynical commentators might suggest that the only thing odd here is her particular choice of wet centrist, given her recently announced expensive roundtable about whether transphobia is cool, actually. But this would be misleading on two crucial grounds.

First, Butler is proving Nussbaum right on a key issue over which Nussbaum fought her bitterly about two decades ago in a piece titled “The Professor of Parody”: this was Nussbaum’s charge that in Butler’s work the fundamental aims of feminism, primarily to instigate and defend material change against societal injustice, faded completely into a morass of empty Literary Theory, and gave up the real fight in favour of a meek parody of ‘resistance’ in ultimately complicit language games that traded literary motif, the irreducibly mad and impractical carnival of Lifes Rich Pageant, for actionable politics. This is startlingly of a piece with the image of The Theorist in a comfy academic Chair who talks a good game and then goes off and donates a token of her appreciation to the vicious cop candidate who wants to emphasise to you that the system can’t be changed.

But taken together with the second ground, the picture of Nussbaum’s own commitments is less rosy: true, the professionally liberal academic backing the wet liberals isn’t all too surprising, but Nussbaum isn’t supposed to be just any liberal. Her liberalism is supposed to be committed to a strong form of material change of its own, and to a radical reshaping of especially women’s but certainly not just women’s lives at every level of society and at all possible times. It’s difficult to understand how an unrelenting vision of radical progress motivates backing any of the three of her extremely weak candidates even just on pragmatic electoral grounds. And besides, in her last book The Monarchy of Fear Nussbaum herself envisioned a sweeping reform of American social programmes to – again that word “radically” – reshape American’s mutual trust in each other and their national unity. Wither the government funding to send young Americans all over the country – with three years of government salary, each, guaranteed – to travel and meet their fellows in all their glorious diversity? The programme that sounded like a Bernie-Sanders-marching-with-Martin-Luther-King-for-radical-justice wet dream in an actual actually published book she published under her own actual famous name only a year ago? Under Pete “McKinsey” Buttigieg? Pete fucking Buttigieg?!

So finally, the Donna Haraway thing. Haraway’s case is, I guess in some ways, the most understandable. Haraway is most famous for her ecopolitics, and critical work on the history of science, with especial regard for the relationship between the human and the not-so-human world. Unlike Butler, the fair-weather left-wing radical in the comfy Chair way out in post-Vietnam Berkeley, California, and Nussbaum, the predictably centrist aristocrat with the pragmatic credentials in thoroughly Establishment accommodationist “public service”, Haraway is both a more out there speculative philosopher and a more nebulous political thinker. So maybe we’d be mindful of the possibility that we shouldn’t want to so easily predict her voting patterns from her academic work and stated inclinations.

Ecopolitics always gets weird, probably more than any other subdivision of political philosophy outside the real fringes of esoteric crypto-nazism: a pot-pourri of avowed anarchists, Tory conservationists, and hippies with a grudge against the human race, amongst other assorted weirdos, is always going to throw up some funny-smelling shit. In particular, ecopolitics as generally practiced leaves a fair bit of room for political decisions which might be taken as outre or taboo on the traditional left-liberal-right divisions of the political spectrum: Haraway, for example, has done things like emphasise the capacity for the non-human world to be self-organising and self-regulating, a position that leaves the way open to ideas that Green New Dealers and generally interventionist socialists might consider “neoliberal” or the like, such as letting the natural world evolve in concert with – rather than directly facilitated by – human politics. A complicated thinker with nuanced views on technology growth and the very nature of The Human might be spooked by the rise of a fairly old-fashioned big-S Socialist or vaguely aocial semocratic movement in American politics, which movement might risk confusing pro-Big Government triumphalism for a genuine ecologically minded Brave New World. So she might prefer in her accumulated wisdom to place a modest bet on a moderate candidate: the revolution can wait, better to take things slowly and hope something more palatable comes up.

It might even be arbitrary who to pick anyway: Butler and Haraway are in California, Harris is a stay-the-course moderate from California.

But this strikes me as wishful thinking. You don’t make your name publishing a text called “A Cyborg Manifesto” in Socialist Review just to find decades later that your politics have evolved organically to accommodate the lawyer candidate for the presidency. Something else has to change, or some resolve to break, assuming charitably that, beyond words, it was ever a resolution.

Something tells me that the stopped clocks, Nussbaums, of this world were right on this one, and those that fell under the misnomer “postmodernists” really were just so much academic bluster. Michel Foucault, a huge influence on Butler and Haraway no less, threw rocks at police and other officials from the roof of the  Centre Expérimental de Vincennes in 1969, and then gave approving lectures on the emerging neoliberal consensus ten years later when he was more comfortably ensconced, arguing that its capitalistic impulses were a boon to the liberation of humanity from the domination of the collapsing welfare state. He also argued, as would Butler years later, and as did – in her own way – Donna Haraway, that part and parcel of this liberation was not in material change, but in the ludic defiance of articulated majoritarian power by the verbal cut and thrust – the Discourse – of the noisily marginalised – rather than necessarily their more material rebellion against explicit structures of authority, or merely economic power.

But Nussbaum doesn’t get off here either, as I’ve made clear. Perhaps she does even worse: the arch-classicist who can turn a quote from Marcus Aurelius – he of persecuting the Early Christians fame – to the service of inclusive liberal democracy. An artefact, perhaps, more of society’s collective embarrassment at having forgotten or never learned their high school Latin than the grand analytical mind of alleged yore. It’s one thing to speak your principles, and even better to articulate them elegantly, but what about whether they’re yours, or just a sort of learned delusion?

It doesn’t overly matter, as I’ve said. I don’t recognise in any of these philosophers my chosen academic traditions: the circumspect lebensphilosophie of underdog literary history – Musil, Beckett, people who write paperbacks with names like Who Killed Enoch Powell (Arthur Wise)or the rigorous analytic philosophy of science and epistemology which treats its job as undermining academic cant from the classroom to the street outside. I didn’t get into this shit because of visiting speaker seminars and I don’t think a respectable wannabe intellectual would see it as other than a way of life.

But isn’t it funny how all the big radical political voices in academia, no matter where you look, are collecting big pay cheques and voting to let people like Donald Trump stay in power? How on Earth did they get there, talking up radical change and paying off some law graduate from Central Processing? And how did they pick on me?