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The Big Disconnect

When even a neocon mouthpiece like David Brooks admits the system is losing its legitimacy, then the system must really be in trouble. Of course, Brook’s call for a return to the “vital center” establishment consensus of the 1950s is pathetic. See William Houston’s response to Brooks as well.
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Over the past months, we’ve seen a fascinating phenomenon. The public mood has detached from the economic cycle. In normal times, economic recoveries produce psychological recoveries. At least at the moment, that seems not to be happening.

The U.S. has experienced nine straight months of slow economic growth. The unemployment rate has fallen, and, in March, the U.S. economy added a robust 216,000 jobs. Yet the public mood is darkening, not brightening. The New York Times/CBS News poll showed a 13 percentage point increase in the number of Americans who believe things are getting worse. The Gallup Economic Confidence Index is now as low as it has been since the height of the recession.

Public opinion is not behaving the way it did after other recent recessions.

If you dive deeper into the polling, you see the country is not mobilized by this sense of crisis but immobilized by it. Raising taxes on the rich is popular, but nearly every other measure that might be taken to address the fiscal crisis is deeply unpopular. Sixty-three percent of Americans oppose raising the debt ceiling; similar majorities oppose measures to make that sort of thing unnecessary.

There is a negativity bias in the country, especially among political independents and people earning between $30,000 and $75,000 (who have become extremely gloomy). It is hard to rally majorities behind immigration, energy or tax reform.

At some point something is going to happen to topple the political platform — maybe a debt crisis, maybe when China passes the United States as the world’s largest economy, perhaps as early as 2016. At that point, we could see changes that are unimaginable today.

New political forces will emerge from the outside or the inside. A semi-crackpot outsider like Donald Trump could storm the gates and achieve astonishing political stature. Alternatively, insiders like the Simpson-Bowles commission or the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Six” could assert authority and recreate a strong centrist political establishment, such as the nation enjoyed in the 1950s.

Neither seems likely now. But in these circumstances, rule out nothing.  

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15 replies »

  1. David Brooks can be perceptive. Check out his article from a year ago called “The Power Elite.”:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/19/opinion/19brooks.html

    His article supports my contention that the quasi-aristocracy that abdicated their position as the country’s rulers in the mid-1960s was replaced by a pseudo-meritocracy. The ruling class is made up of high-IQ conformists who do the right things to advance their careers and aren’t much interested in doing “the right thing” for the long-term good of the country, except insofar as those above them define “the right thing.” The ruling ideology is totalitarian humanism, but there are few true believers, IMO. The few true believers that exist are able to control/shape/direct what could be called the revolt of the sell-outs.

    Here’s Steve Sailer commenting on the 2010 article:

    http://www.vdare.com/sailer/100228_morison.htm

    Dave

  2. Thanks for the links, Dave. I agree Brooks can be very insightful at times. His “bourgeois bohemian” concept has greatly influenced my own approach to class theory.

    “His article supports my contention that the quasi-aristocracy that abdicated their position as the country’s rulers in the mid-1960s was replaced by a pseudo-meritocracy. The ruling class is made up of high-IQ conformists who do the right things to advance their careers and aren’t much interested in doing “the right thing” for the long-term good of the country, except insofar as those above them define “the right thing.”

    This fits with my analogy that the displaced WASP elite are comparable to the dying aristocracies of Old Europe, and the rising upper middle class that came out of the 60s/70s cultural revolution is the contemporary equivalent of the classical bourgeoisie of the 18th and 19th centuries. 1968 was the 20th century’s version of 1789. Totalitarian humanism is the new Jacobinism.

  3. No problem, Keith. Some other links on this issue:

    Sailer wrote a follow-up article:

    http://www.vdare.com/asp/printPage.asp?url=http://www.vdare.com/sailer/100308_jewish_ruling_class.htm

    The points made remind me of Hoppe’s insight that monarchs are better than democratically elected leaders since they are long-term in their thinking and have a sense of noblesse oblige.

    Another good article on the decline of the WASP Establishment at VDARE.com is by Eric Kaufmann:

    http://www.vdare.com/misc/090812_kaufmann.htm

    A nice, informative article on the rise and fall of the WASP Establishment is here:

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1316/is_n1-2_v24/ai_11750547/?tag=mantle_skin;content

    Finally, this is an interesting article that attempts to explain the WASP Establishment’s abdication:

    http://archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=19715

    Dave

  4. Thanks. These articles jibe pretty well with my own efforts to trace the development of the modern American class system. The “technocratic meritocracy” theory that these writers advance fits well with New Class theory, and the views of Scott Locklin and myself that this New Class has essentially displaced the old WASP ruling class. These writers are from the Right (with obvious Nietzschean influences) but their ideas also fit with a Bakuninist approach to class theory. One more feather in the hat for the Left/Right anarchist synthesis.

  5. I guess the biggest question here is what do we replace the status quo with. The desirability of restoring the old WASP nobility is questionable at best, and even if it were desirable it’s not going to happen. If indeed the New Class of upper middle cosmopolitan meritocratic technocrats is our primary enemy, then what comes next?

    Most of us who participate in this forum on either anarchists, libertarians, or something that comes close, so we regard the state as the enemy and seek its abolition or near abolition. So when we overturn the New Class and its state, what’s in the on-deck circle? If it is true that a society needs a leadership class who maintains a sense of obligation to preserve the well-being of the society for the long haul, rather than just a “what’s in it for me attitude?,” then where would this leadership come from in a stateless society? What it come from a natural elite that emerges within the context of non-state institutions: free cities, village elders, family partriarchs/matriarchs, religion, ethnic tribes, universities and educational institutions, leaders of militias and citizen posses, common law jurists, the intelligentsia, professional guilds, natural leaders within the private businesses, cooperative associations, community enterprises, consumers unions, anarcho-syndicalist labor federations, communes, philanthropies or whatever kinds of economic arrangements would exist without the state, and leaders of whatever kinds of political organizations that would emerge in the struggle against the state?

    Minus the rent-seeking apparatus of the state, would this natural elite be any less inclined towards corruption, or any more far sighted, or endowed with a sense of noblesse oblige than either democratic rulers or past aristocratic elites?

  6. Keith, I’ve been strongly influenced by Sociobiology, definitely ever since I read The Naked Ape and The Genesis Factor in high school, and probably before that in an inchoate form by talking to my father, who was really into nutrition and believed we were meant to live, at least nutritionally, like people did for 99% of human history, i.e., hunters and gathers (he was part of the orthomolecular movement in medicine, e.g., see this paper: http://www.orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1985/pdf/1985-v14n03-p162.pdf). I believe humans, for the most part, are endowed by their creator (whoever or whatever that is) with pro-social tendencies. And a few humans are natural leaders. You can see unofficial leaders emerging to take charge during limited endeavors, from the significant to the trivial, e,g, surviving an ambush in Vietnam, getting people safely off of a sinking ship onto lifeboats, and winning a basketball game. So I have faith that a peaceful alternative to the State could be built, though I of course fear the feathers and leathers chaos that would follow a sudden collapse of the State.

    Dave

  7. “And a few humans are natural leaders. You can see unofficial leaders emerging to take charge during limited endeavors, from the significant to the trivial, e,g, surviving an ambush in Vietnam, getting people safely off of a sinking ship onto lifeboats, and winning a basketball game. So I have faith that a peaceful alternative to the State could be built, though I of course fear the feathers and leathers chaos that would follow a sudden collapse of the State.”

    That’s what I more or less assume as well. Any kind of human community tends to have leadership of some sort, no matter how informal.

    I think it would be best if the state gradually declined and eventually faded away into oblivion, though I’m not confident enough it will happen that way to count on it.

  8. On a positive note, it would seem that as totalitarian humanism makes its way down the ivory tower, it becomes more and more transparent and is therefore challenged. This video put out by FIRE shows how clumsy the attempted indoctrination can get:

    http://untimelymeditations.com/2011/04/20/thought-control-on-the-american-campus/

    There will need to be pushback for a gradual decline to happen. Left to their own devices, the ruling class will drive the State right off a cliff, taking us with them.

  9. Sheesh! That’s resembles a Maoist self-criticism session or an “encounter session” put on by some creepy psychotherapy cult.

  10. “You can see unofficial leaders emerging to take charge during limited endeavors, from the significant to the trivial, e,g, surviving an ambush in Vietnam, getting people safely off of a sinking ship onto lifeboats, and winning a basketball game. So I have faith that a peaceful alternative to the State could be built, though I of course fear the feathers and leathers chaos that would follow a sudden collapse of the State.”

    David and Keith,

    My response here should not be seen as criticism, but rather as an offering of an additional perspective on this issue. First of all, I think it’s important to understand that leadership and coercion are not identical, but they are often portrayed by people as exactly that. My own perspective is a libertarian one (more to the left, though I wouldn’t consider myself a left-libertarian) and I would say that “equality of authority” as described in Roderick Long’s “Equality: The Unknown Ideal” http://mises.org/daily/804 is really the starting point for any type of anti-authoritarian thought worthy of the name and while Long himself is a Left-Rothbardian, I think that the main claim of his article is applicable to any kind of libertarianism or anarchism (both left and right).. In my view, “equality of authority” is not an all or nothing thing and like everything else, there are going to have to be compromises, but I think the main point here is that the burden of proof should be on those who use coercion in all cases and that no one has an assumed right (with perhaps a few exceptions e.g. children) to coerce others.

    With those principles in mind, I want to examine what David wrote in his comment. The first thing that came to my attention was that the examples used here are emergency situations. That is significant because emergencies tend to be associated with scarcity, hierarchies with strict chains of command, and are usually where the NAP as a practical principle tends to lose its usefulness. Most people I imagine would prefer less situations like those rather than more and therefore would seek a society that would minimize emergency situations. When they do arise and there is a need a for fast decision making, I believe that a rational society would give temporary powers to the person who was the most qualified. The problem is that often, the so-called natural leaders are not those who have the most relevant knowledge to make decisions, but rather are simply those who have a certain take charge type personality and in some cases, as I’m sure we’ve probably experienced in our lives, the person who is the most sure can be the one who knows the least. Also when people become afraid and start to revert to their more primitive instincts, throwing their rationality away, they sometimes rally around the person who is the most crazy like doomsday cult leaders and other crazies. It is also important to be wary of long term leadership roles as those can become opportunities for coercive hierarchies to manifest themselves.

    To return to an earlier point, I think that the argument that most people want to follow and desire to be led is misleading in that while people may certainly put up with certain things when their security is threatened like submitting themselves to being in a pecking order, just like someone who is starving may eat rotting food out of a dumpster. I think thought that if you were to really examine people’s preferences when they are free to choose, most would not submit to being “bossed around.” The majority of the libertarians who praise hierarchy and adore Hoppe I doubt would seriously let someone follow them around and tell them what to do in every aspect of their lives even and probably on at least some level, they probably (if they work such an environment) do not enjoy it. I was somewhat amazed to read this essay that of Murray Rothbard entitled “Liberty and the New Left” http://mises.org/journals/lar/pdfs/1_2/1_2_4.pdf written in the mid 60’s where Rothbard actually shows interest and some enthusiasm for democratic and consensus decision making as well as democratized work places he also criticized the authoritarian nature of University education while showing some interest in alternatives. Sadly, within the space of half a decade, Rothbard would do a complete 180 advocating hierarchy as an unchangable aspect of life and condemning the things he had praised a few years earlier http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard186.html.To return to my previous point, I suspect that the majority of activities that people really do enjoy are ones where is not a strict militarized chain of command where people have to know their place. I mean how many people would engage in hobbies, do activities with friends, if that was the kind of thing they had to put up with. Now if those sorts of things are desirable, would it not follow that it would be more desirable for life to be more that way and would not the long-term goal of a society be to ensure that happens? I like this little quote from Stephen Pearl Andrews The Society of Society http://praxeology.net/SPA-DP.htm “The Dinner Party” which I first encountered in one of Hakim Bey’s pieces and well I didn’t find the rest of the book http://www.anarchism.net/scienceofsociety.htm to be that interesting and gave up reading after awhile truthfully, I was quite intrigued by this idea in that quote. Due to length, I will continue this line of thought in a second comment.

  11. The additional subject I wanted to bring up was related to the inevitability of things like hierarchy and relationships of domination and submission that seem to characterize our species. Specifically, the issue that I am getting at is the possibilities that very advanced technologies might have in allowing very different forms of social organization than exist now. I have been interested in the past several years in things like futuristic nanotechnology, transhumanism with a personal interest in the area of life extension. I am no techie myself and I do have some aversion do an over computerized world without the other good things in life, but what has interested me about this field is the possibilities that could be opened up for those of an anti-authoritarian bent. Now a lot of this stuff is very speculative and so that has to be kept in mind, but I think that it is worth exploring more, I have heard the term anarcho-futurism, but I have not seen any actual material from that perspective with the possible exception of a few writings of Robert Anton Wilson. There is a lot of stuff on the internet about these potential technologies but I have not seen much in the way of analyzing of how politics might be affected by this technology with the majority of people who write about this assuming the same sort of political system as currently exists. This is one exception http://folk.uio.no/thomas/po/the-culture.html from an Objectivist perspective (post-Objectivist actually) that I would recommend reading as it explains these things better than I could and also provides a vision of a high-tech society more palatable to libertarianish types more so than those written by other high-tech enthusiasts. There are also some other interesting articles on the index page http://folk.uio.no/thomas/po/the-culture.html discussing this issue more and other issues as well from a “tolerant” Objectivist perspective.

    I would advise reading that article before reading this paragraph, as it may not make a lot of sense otherwise. As I mentioned before, this is speculative stuff and perhaps none of it will happen, maybe humans will destroy the world, but I think that we might as well be optimists because if we are wrong, it is probably not going to matter too much. Now the reasons that I find this stuff appealing is because it would I think knock out most objections to a society lacking a state structure. Even human nature might very well be able to be altered in the future, which would definitely be a blow to the conservative view, but even if we leave human nature as it is, the possibilities that these technologies open up could deal a pretty strong blow to the whole conservative case. First of all, if scarcity was reduced to nothing and if work could be completely taken over by really advanced machines than clearly that would clearly first of all take away power from large organizations and bosses as no one would be compelled through the lacking of any necessities and even luxuries to do any labour that they did not care to do. As that article mentions, perhaps humans will explore space and find countless planets that will allow humans to have more space than could ever be dreamed of further lessening scarce goods. I think also that in that scenario, violence and war would also have little appeal for most people because there would be no material benefits to risking one’s life in such a world. As an example, I don’t think there are many young millionaires that are interested in going to war these days and likewise, street gangs would not be that successful trying to recruit young people from upper class backgrounds. Even more sophisticated groups like the Mob organizations would be absurd in such a world because who would work for the bosses when they could have what they wanted right away.

    That brings me to a second point, which is the fact that human desires sometimes clearly come into conflict with the rights of others and therefore there cannot be harmony of interests. What I want to consider as a possible remedy is something I have seen discussed in articles (can’t recall if it was in the above linked one) about extreme virtual reality that would be eventually perhaps indistinguishable to real life. Whether such things could happen would depend on how much computers continue to improve and whether they will continue to become more powerful at the rates, they have been. I think such a possibility could be a way of getting around these conflicts of interest without having to change human nature.

    That brings me to another point that would probably get me into hot water with a lot of left-libertarians, feminist types, and other assorted lefties. That is whether such technology could be used to overcome the problems associated specifically with male sexuality. There is no getting around it, sexuality is one area of life that really is a zero-sum game because male and female sexuality as human nature stands, are not compatible with each other. Males need to spread their seed while females have to take care of children and seek a protector. Much of the intra-species violence in the animal kingdom revolves around competition for mates and that is something that even in humans a significant source of tension. My contention is that if artificial reality and/or artificial humans perhaps as well could be an effective substitute for sex for humans then the problems that are associated with sexuality could be taken care of. Undoubtedly, some people will think that what I have just written is perverse and disgusting, but I think that on the contrary, it could lead to a much less perverse would. If men could fulfill their animalistic desires in such a way then I think that the relations between the sexes would improve drastically as men could have relationships with women that were more focused on non-sexual foundations. In addition, for those who feel that prostitution and pornography are forms of exploitation, they would have reason to welcome this as it could eliminate both things, as they would not be needed any longer.

    To sum up what I have said, I think that futuristic technology could provide the sort of things that might very well lead to the society envisioned by Andrews, a society where no one’s individual interests would conflict with those of others and where no one would have to gain only at the expense of others. Where life’s activities would be freely chosen and where coercion could become unnecessary. Everything I have just written may make me so sound crazy, but I don’t think it’s any more crazy than primitivism and I think the vision I have outlined is more appealing as well.

    Kevin Carson’s recent work has focused on the potential for technology to overcome hierarchal power though he has gone much less far in the futurist direction than I have, but his most recent article and his study from the C4ss site was one of my motivations for writing these ridiculously long comments (I apologize for the length).

  12. Jared,

    Interesting stuff. Another point about can-do people taking charge in an emergency is that we only hear about the happy endings. It is like the myth that dolphins know humans live on land and therefore push people after a ship wreck toward land. The thing is, you only hear about it when then push people toward land. When they playfully push people in the other direction, the people don’t live to tell the tale. I can picture a gung-ho sarg getting everyone in his platoon killed by some cockamamie scheme, like charging an ambush since he once read in a Conan book that that’s what you should do when ambushed.

    The New Left voting schemes remind me of my second favorite Monty Python scene, the scene in which King Arthur confronts a group of anarcho-syndicalist peasants (my favorite is where the Brits defeat the Germans with the funniest joke in the world):

    ARTHUR: Please, please good people. I am in haste. Who lives
    in that castle?
    WOMAN: No one live there.
    ARTHUR: Then who is your lord?
    WOMAN: We don’t have a lord.
    ARTHUR: What?
    DENNIS: I told you. We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take
    it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.
    ARTHUR: Yes.
    DENNIS: But all the decision of that officer have to be ratified
    at a special biweekly meeting.
    ARTHUR: Yes, I see.
    DENNIS: By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,–
    ARTHUR: Be quiet!
    DENNIS: –but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more–
    ARTHUR: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!
    WOMAN: Order, eh — who does he think he is?
    ARTHUR: I am your king!
    WOMAN: Well, I didn’t vote for you.

    http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/mphg/mphg.htm

    Dave

  13. David,

    Good points about how sometimes the stupidest and most irrational become leaders, I actually think Lord of The Flies is an example of this problem (much more than it being example of the danger of “anarchy”).

    I agree that the antics of some on the radical left can be pretty ridiculous and about as absurd as any Monty Python sketch, and even such societies that some of them envision were possible, I would want to live in one of them, who would really want to live in a community where one must spend a great deal of time simply voting and or/debating an endless number of issues. On the other hand, I think there is a danger in giving permanent decision making power to a small group who can turn into an oppressive power. I do NOT societies based on pecking orders and explicit hierarchies as you seemed to favour here http://attackthesystem.com/2011/01/22/reply-to-a-cultural-marxist-critic/ (correct me if I’m wrong). Even though I agree that careerism and the endless pursuit of wealth may indeed detract from enjoying the better things of life, I will reluctantly defend a system with those undesirable elements over one where violence is legitimate if committed on someone on the lower rung of the societal chain. In other words, for all it’s flaws, even Bill gates cannot go up to a homeless person and demand that he bow down to him on pain of death whereas in some societies, that is exactly what good happen (apparently, a Samurai could kill anyone who he perceived to have insulted him on the spot). Dogs maybe happy to know their place and some humans may as well, but I sure as hell do not.

    My ideal of a society is not an ultra-leftist direct democracy, but rather a future society as described in my second comment and in the link there which I would recommend reading. A society where voting would probably not be necessary at all and coercion could become nearly (or wholly) non-existent. I don’t know if such things are possible, but they seem in my view to be the best possibility for achieving a truly liberated society. I’ll post the Andrews “Dinner Party” quote here as a better description of ideal social relations than I could give.

    “The highest type of human society in the existing social order is found in the parlor. In the elegant and refined reunions of the aristocratic classes there is none of the impertinent interference of legislation. The Individuality of each is fully admitted. Intercourse, therefore, is perfectly free. Conversation is continuous, brilliant, and varied. Groups are formed according to attraction. They are continuously broken up, and re-formed through the operation of the same subtle and all-pervading influence. Mutual deference pervades all classes, and the most perfect harmony, ever yet attained, in complex human relations, prevails under precisely those circumstances which Legislators and Statesmen dread as the conditions of inevitable anarchy and confusion. If there are laws of etiquette at all, there are mere suggestions of principles admitted into and judged of for himself or herself, by each individual mind.
    Is it conceivable that in all the future progress of humanity, with all the innumerable elements of development which the present age is unfolding, society generally, and in all its relations, will not attain as high a grade of perfection as certain portions of society, in certain special relations, have already attained?
    Suppose the intercourse of the parlor to be regulated by specific legislation. Let the time which each gentlemen shall be allowed to speak to each lady be fixed by law; the position in which they should sit or stand be precisely regulated; the subjects which they shall be allowed to speak of, and the tone of voice and accompanying gestures with which each may be treated, carefully defined, all under pretext of preventing disorder and encroachment upon each other’s privileges and rights, then can any thing be conceived better calculated or more certain to convert social intercourse into intolerable slavery and hopeless confusion?”

  14. Jared,

    In the comment you linked to, I was making a Hoppean point that given a choice between a quasi-aristocracy like we had in WASP Establishment run America before the Establishment abdicated in the face of the 1960s’ counterculture revolution and the pseudo-meritocracy we have today, I’d take the aristocracy, just like I’d take a monarchy over a democracy. Like Hoppe, that doesn’t mean I believe monarchy to be an ideal form of government. I actually have a rather romantic image of hunter gather societies, as I suggested in “Mock the Vote:”

    http://mises.org/daily/3170

    I like your dinner party example, which coincides with my rather unformed vision of a mass society operating along the lines of primitive societies, that is, in accord with pro-social human nature.

    I happen to have a very positive view of human nature. Social order is a natural occurrence, e.g., when aristocrats get together for a dinner party. If you have the time, skim my book Rousseau and the Real Culture War:

    http://www.lulu.com/items/volume_56/844000/844957/1/print/844957.pdf

    There are some typos, most significantly “political decisions” should be “personal decisions” in the block quote on page 2. But you’ll see where I’m coming from. I believe spontaneous social order is the best form of social order.

    Dave

  15. David,

    I really liked your book and the article you wrote for mises.org, which I seem to have recalled reading before, though I didn’t recognize the authorship before. I also think I was a little to quick to judge your views without looking at enough of your material and for that I’m sorry. The only fault that I find is that you are married. Just kidding 🙂

    Though it’s not my idea of an ultimate goal, I do have some interest in primitivist perspectives, and I think there is some overlap between that and futurist perspectives in that just as things like property and the power that it confers upon the few were absent in hunter-gather groups (according to some), perhaps a similar condition could come about with the advent of advanced enough technology.

    I must say that some of those Christian quotes on your book made my hair stand on end, I didn’t realize how far their hatred of human beings and the material world really went (and modern Christians accuse environmentalists of hating humanity)

    I think you and I would agree that the Romans and the Greeks were far more on track in their positive view of humanity, as you pointed out in the book. I think the key is not to label certain impulses good or evil, but to show that the way they can be expressed can cause harm or not cause harm. Even power mongers may at their core, really be insecure within themselves and therefore they need to dominate people in order to gain that inner security whereas if they could a find a way to accomplish the same thing without dominating others then there would be no problem.

    I think in the future, many of the things that cause strife among people today could cease (as I mentioned in previous comments) to be so due to technologies that could deliver superabundance. I’ve been quite interested in some of Kevin Carson’s recent writings as he has been exploring this area a little bit.

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