Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Aron Hsiao Ph.D.

I’ve worked in a wide variety of very public roles and written a number of books. In my “real life” I’ve had an audience varying from hundreds of thousands to millions over the years, across big media, online media, and academic media.
Some of you may also know me from the classroom, as I’ve taught at a decent array of major universities, in topic areas from linguistics to anthropology to sociology to cultural studies and media. I am not currently teaching.
Companies and Brands
If you’re wondering if I'm the “same Aron Hsiao that...” then, in fact, I probably am. I won't mention all of the companies, brands, and publications here because many of them won’t want to be directly associated with a blog like this one.
On Google
But if you’ve searched Google for “Aron Hsiao” then you’ve found me. The writer me, the professor me, the photographer me, the technology expert me, and so on. All of those pages and pages of results are, in fact, me. I am not aware of any other Aron Hsiao that has recently (in a decade or more) ranked in the first dozen-plus pages of Google’s results.

Born February 29th, 1976
Ph.D. Sociology (The New School, 2014)
M.A. Social Science (Chicago, 2004)
B.A. Anthropology (Utah, 2001)
B.A. English (Utah, 2001)
7 Books
Thousands of articles
1 Life
2 Kids
5 Goldfish
2 Cats
1 Dog
Lived in Salt Lake City, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, and now... Provo.
Myers-Briggs INFP/INTP

I started “blogging” for the first time in 1999 at twenty-three years old, as I was going through my first serious breakup. Without meaning to, I continued to blog on a personal basis more or less without interruption after that. Now it’s been going on seventeen years. All of that content (well, most of it) is here, in one place.
In professional life, I have also ended up spending a decent amount of time blogging for an income for others. Still do.
But after all these years, Leapdragon remains home.
Many have questioned the wisdom of maintaining a site like this one, and from 2007 through 2015 I kept it increasingly obscure online. I have grown tired, however, of hiding myself behind a “professional” cardboard cutout. I’m forty years old and my life, like the lives of many others, gets more complicated by the day, personally and professionally.
It’s time to just be me again, in public, and let the chips fall where they may. So here I am.

Politics: Mixed—Old Left + Old Right (Fuck the SJWs)
Music: Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten
Novel: 2666, Roberto Bolaño
Operating Systems: Mac OS, Linux (Android)
Aquarium Fish: Common goldfish, fully grown
Illumination Technology: Neon tubing
Rag: Counterpunch
Academic Work: Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
Work of Art: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Helnwein
Art Medium: Still photography
Club/Pub: The Pub, Ida Noyes Hall, University of Chicago
City: New York City
Place: Antelope Island, Syracuse, Utah
Fabrication Material: Leather
Drink: Green Chartreuse
Beach: Ellwood Beach, Goleta, California
Design Language: Swiss/Modern/Bauhaus
Season: Fall

Sometimes springtime brings flowers; other times, it brings the flood.  §

It’s not easy to write tonight, and yet at the same time I am compelled to do so. It’s a cry on the wind. It’s a verse written in the sand on a beach left behind. It’s a note to oneself, packed away and likely to be discovered only decades later by one’s heirs, as they sort through one’s things.

— § —

Spring is here and I should be relieved. It’s been a long winter. Of illness for the kids and of snow and cold at inopportune times and of changes that haven’t been welcome. Last year I felt optimistic about springtime, about the return of new growth and the opening up of the world under the resurgent sun.

© Aron Hsiao / 2015

I do not feel that way this year.

Permeating everything is a sense of decay, a sense of melancholy, a sense of the passage of time. If I let myself slip just a little, I might even say that permeating everything is a sense of foreboding—the sense that the die has been cast, that it was cast long ago, that circumstances now have a logic of their own that must play out, that destiny will in fact soon arrive to demand its due.

I am doing my best to keep up appearances through all of this. Fulfill obligations. Chop wood. Carry water.

But I am not optimistic. No, I am not optimistic just now. Samuel Johnson once said that nothing concentrates the mind like the knowledge that one will be hanged in the morning. This is very much the feeling that I have, seeping in around every edge.

The feeling that there is no exit.

— § —

Yes, there will be something to come next. No, I don’t really want it, nor do I want to find out what it is. I wish the would could be paused, and could stay exactly as it is right now—forever. At that I would breathe a transcendental sigh of relief, and perhaps fall dead right then and there in ecstatic peace.

But the world will not be paused.

It will conduct and demand its reckoning. I can’t honestly say that I stand here, ready to face it with courage. Rather, I stand here helpless to do anything else, come what may.

From the outside, that probably amounts to the same thing. From the inside, it’s not the same thing at all. Let’s just get this all over with already.

Vampire, werewolf, surgeon, billionaire, and pirate.  §

Could it be that all of western society right now is a massive, unconscious shit test? There are times—increasingly frequent times—when I am absolutely certain that this must be so.

Public domain

And that men are failing miserably.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to wake up. But after everything that has gone before—after generations of the inheritance have been lost—is this even possible any longer?

— § —

My level of trust these days? Zero percent. Less than zero percent.

The question is what I can do with that. Hopefully not nothing, but we’ll see.

— § —

One side is wrong. Given the level of diametric opposition involved, it cannot be anything other than so.

And given the level of diametric opposition involved, when it is determined just which side it is that is wrong, bound up with the emergence of that decision we’ll find catastrophe and the collapse of western civilization.

Maybe, given material circumstances, even all of human civilization.

Human psychology is an absolutely brutal thing.

That we’re so damned smart is precisely why we’re so damned stupid.

— § —

I repent of all the ideological sins I committed in my youth. From here on out, I fight the good fight.

Things that can’t be said but ought to be.  §

Some people are better than others.

Some families are better than others.

Mothers and fathers are both empirically important in childrens’ lives.

Two mothers or two fathers is not as good as one mother and one father.

© Aron Hsiao / 2017

A single mother or a single father are not as good as a mother and a father.

Boys need physical play, volence, and risk.

There are biological differences between boys and girls.

Sex is a biological characteristic.

Gender is statistically tightly correlated to sex.

The world would not be any better if entirely run by women than entirely by men.

Too much femininity is as evil and dangerous as too much masculinity.

Historically men have suffered more than women in terms of excess deaths.

Men still suffer more than women in terms of excess deaths.

Appropriate femininity is invaluable to society.

Appropriate masculinity is invaluable to a society.

Gender is not a spectrum, it is a culturally variable series of specific instantiations.

Sex is not a spectrum, it is a dipole.

The left is no longer the left; it is an ideological project to hide from hard stuff.

The global right and left are equally morally bankrupt.

Trump is not reaction, he is reaction-reaction.

The reaction to which he is reaction was on the left over the past twenty years.

Both reactions have made life worse, not better.

All mature, sensible, empirically-minded people are now “radical right” to those on the left.

All mature, sensible, empirically-minded people are now “radical left” to those on the right.

Things will get worse before they get better.

Morality is a thing.

According to conventional sociological definitions, everyone is religious.

Some are theists. Some are atheists. Some are ideologues. All are religious.

Real, metaphysical evil exists, is real, and is present in the world.

The fact that we don’t believe this after Hitler, Mao, and Stalin is precisely evidence for it.

The people who fancy themselves most moral are the most likely to be evil.

A “just world” is a world without suffering is a world composed entirely of suffering.

Have I left anything out?

— § —

“The dividing line between good and evil cuts through every human heart.”

— Solzhenitsyn

Our problems with literacy are the same as our problems with social life.  §

I spend a certain amount of time writing reviews on Amazon.com. (My reviewer rank right now is around the 400 mark.) I spend just about as much time reading the reviews on Amazon.com.

In many ways, the reviews section of Amazon.com is the closest thing we have to a useful public square. The comments sections of most online properties, whether highbrow or lowbrow, are far too unmoderated, incendiary, and impulsively confrontational to be worth much. Somehow, for the purposes of reviewing, people seem to clear their heads just a bit more, and to leave their bile and reaction behind just a bit more willingly. Amazon’s moderation system and editors do the rest.

So in general, I like its reviews sections and find there to be some interesting analysis there of many interesting books.

One thing that I also see, however, is an approach to and regard for writing in general that causes me some amount of despair. This is for a simple reason.

Many of the critiques of the best books, and much applause for what I consider to be the worst books, come down to evaluations of the “quality of writing” involved. And to my eye, what the public seems to regard as “good writing” and “poor writing” are exactly backward.

“Good writing,” more and more, is writing that is shallow, expedient, blunt, brief, and unimaginative—not so much Yeats and Donne as marketing copy for Wal-Mart or Target.

Similarly, “poor writing” is exactly those authors that offer something real—something deep and ambiguous and nuanced and textured to the reader.

People seem to understand “good writing” to be simply “economical and literal writing,” rather than illumination, edification, allusion, or explication. They would find this to be utterly horrible writing:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And they would likely ask why it couldn’t simply be written as:

The world sucks. Everyone is mean. And mean people get their way.

Obviously, the problem is that the second is in no way even remotely the equivalent of the first—yet people do not realize this in the least.

There is a strong correlation between where we are as a society and the habits and level of development of mind that lead so many readers to prefer the second, and to assume that the first is merely a “badly written” instance of it.

Lots of college grads are coming out of college with not much more in hand (or in mind) than was there when they went in.

Radically empowering individuals in society may be the worst mistake we ever made.  §

There is a deep paradox at the heart of the current liberal order.

  1. We say we want a more just world.

  2. We say that we want to speak truth to power, that we want to empower individuals.

There is this odd presumption that these two things go together. They don’t.

Empowering individuals—which is the full-court press that’s on in technology, in politics, and just about everywhere else—means just that. Giving more power. To individuals. Giving more power to every single person.

What is the nature of this power? The power, of course, to affect the world. The things in the world. The other people in the world.

How on earth do people imagine that to give each and every individual more power to affect the world and the other people in it… is a path to greater justice?

Individuals do bad things. Always have, always will. Hitler existed. Stalin existed. Jack the ripper existed. Rape, insurance fraud, armed robbery, harassment, racist violence—all of these things exist because individuals do them. To empower all individuals is also to empower these individuals.

Widening the sphere of influence that every individual has in the world means widening the sphere of influence that rapers, fraudsters, robbers, and harassers, and racists have. Over things. Over people. That is the meaning of “equalizing the playing field” and “truth to power” and so on.

It means that instead of just being able to reach, influence, and affect ten people, every person can potentially reach, influence, and affect thousands of people. Or millions of people. This is exactly the “promise” and the “goal” of much of what has been done over the last quarter-century in our society, in any number of life domains.

But in principle “equalizing the playing field” between individuals and other individuals means equalizing the relative influence of the white supremacist and the Barack Obama. And in principle “equalizing the playing field” between individuals and institutions means equalizing the relative influence of a single white supremacist and the ACLU. Enabling the speaking of “truth to power” means enabling the speaking of white supremacist screeds to the New York Times. And let’s be honest, the “truth to power” trope isn’t merely about speech. It’s about applauding the efficacy of that speech—its ability to overcome power. It’s about enabling the a single DACA child or a single Stoneman Douglas student to change the world by outflanking a deadlocked congress, sure, but it’s also therefore about enabling a lone white supremacist to outflank the FBI.

It’s hard to argue persuasively that the overall quotient of justice has been increased here; it’s much easier to argue that we’re just including more and more extreme cases to arrive at the same average in the end, but with worse effects along the way.

But I don’t think even that is the case.

Because what’s the response to the quandary outlined above? The response is that it’s not the idea of radically empowering individuals that’s the problem; rather, it is increasingly argued that the fundamental problem is in applying this enablement across the board. Instead, what we ought to do, goes the argument, is empower the only the “right” people, which in common relative measures means disempowering the “wrong” people.

I don’t need to point out that this is where we are today (it is both the essence of the SJW movement and the Radical Right), or that there is little consensus on this point, but rather open, aggressive, oppressive warfare in which every empowered individual is using this empowerment to pursue the disempowerment of the individuals that he or she perceives to be wrong.

Concepts like civility, comity, due process, and basic rights can’t be countenanced when as a mechanical default all individuals are to be empowered to a historically unprecedented degree; this creates a massive risk quotient that must be managed. When you’ve flipped a switch to empower everyone, it becomes an urgent manner to follow immediately behind and to quickly pursue and disempower the dangerous, lest any random individual with bad intentions have the power to blow up the world.

Yet just what “bad intentions” are and what constitutes “blowing up the world” are personal understandings that inhere in the thoughts of the very individuals that we have generally radically empowered.

And around and around we go.

— § —

What all of this isn’t—is justice. In fact, it all makes justice—in any way in which the term has any meaning—if indeed we are able to have collective meanings at all any longer in this state of affairs—completely and entirely impossible.

So I’ll posit this:

Beyond some threshold of empowerment that we have likely crossed, justice is impossible when individuals are generally empowered, and this limitation inheres in the structures of human social life and reality in its most pedestrian sense.

Continuing to ever-increase individual empowerment and the ability to “speak truth to power” only exacerbates the situation and renders justice less and less possible, rather than more and more so.

The solution to our problems is not the empowerment of the individual or the ability to speak truth to power, but rather a general disempowerment (one that applies to all) of the lone individual and a reduction in the reach and efficacy of individual speech.

But this only works if it applies across the board, entirely, to all sides.

And as a result of the unflinchingly and wrongheadedly utopian trajectory outlined above, it would appear that we have likely neutered any machinery by which this could plausibly be accomplished.

We may already be too far slid down too steep a hill to do anything but fall all the way to the bottom.

Ten heterodox assertions about society and life as a human being.  §

Let’s not beat about the bush. Here they are.

  • Men and women are essentially and biologically different, and no socialization or appeal thereto can change this.

  • Humans are not gods, but every human being will, without exception, find and worship one.

  • The essence and native tendency of life—social and individual—is perpetual struggle, not peace.

  • Nature is not by nature nurturing and friendly, but unforgiving and ruthless.

  • No society survives without a masculine dimension of fortification and struggle; reality does not permit it.

  • No child thrives without a masculine tutelage in fortification and struggle; reality does not permit it.

  • A healthy child and a healthy society balance masculine and feminine appropriately; they do not eliminate one or the other.

  • Without a shared god grounded in humanity’s mythic needs, a random assortment of capricious, narcissistic gods will govern.

  • All attempts to eliminate suffering instead create it at greater scale.

  • Justice cannot be had; we have a word for the attempt to create it despite this truth: “terror.”

Sue me.

Want to be a radical? Refuse to suffer. Then, wait for the assault.  §

The single most radical act that one can carry out in our society to refuse to suffer. Not to keep regrettable things from happening to you (that’s impossible), but to simply refuse to suffer as a result of them. To be emotionally and spiritually unharmed, to continue to take the next moment, and the moment after that in stride, to move on, and to ask for no recognition or sympathy and indeed to evade recognition or sympathy.

This is an incredibly taboo thing to do. People will attribute to you repression, or bad faith, or lies about what’s happened to you; they’ll shun you; they’ll attempt to intervene in your life to “help you.”


Because they need you to suffer. They are dying for you to suffer.

In our activist culture in which the victim-martyr has become the most sacred icon of society, and in which people no longer have families, religion, or indeed manual labor to add meaning to their lives, it is the suffering of others, and their concern and activism about it, that gives them meaning. That justifies their life.

When you refuse to suffer, you decline the vampire his or her salvation. And let’s be honest, 99.5 percent of the population now consists of vampires. They need you to suffer. They need you to experience sexism. Or racism. Or abuse. Or depression. They need you to be tormented, to become the sacred idol so that they can venerate you, worship at your feet, and embody “virtue” by serving and making an icon of you.

They need the suffering of others so that they have something to which to aspire—so that they can maintain in their heart of hearts the image of the tormented sufferer and, following the “virtue” that they embody by indulging and ministering to the tormented sufferer, hopefully one day become a recognized tormented sufferer and victim-martyr in their own right, bringing the moral arc of the universe full-circle and giving melodramatic meaning to the whole.

Tormented suffering and activism that venerates it are the west’s religion of the moment, the only salvation that it grants in a world devoid of all forms of traditional meaning. Every member of society needs to find another(s) in tormented suffering and to act in response to that tormented suffering in order to have an identity, a purpose, a moral universe, and a reason to wake up in the morning.

This is why people need so badly for everyone to be a victim, and why “victims” who refuse to suffer in melodrama are objects of opprobrium—because those who would coo at them and yell at their transgressors have lost everything else that matters: their nuclear family, their childhood, their spouse, their faith, their cosmology, their ethnic identity. There is nothing else by which to place oneself in a virtue hierarchy or to publicly demonstrate (not to mention internally experience) morality and piety.

What we are left with are people who need, more than they need anything else, tragic victims at hand to weep bitterly and performatively for. So many are so happy to assert the unreality of the God(s) of tradition—yet tell them that the suffering of the victims in their “care” is equally unreal and measure their response at your having recklessly defamed and blasphemed their god.

That’s why they need you to suffer and to suffer bitterly—because the recovery and preservation of their very soul depends on it. “Activist” is another word for “vampire in desperate search of salvation.”

It’s also why the most radical thing you can possibly do at this particular moment is to simply be okay in the face of adversity. Just be careful, though—no one is more likely to become the victim of violence or revenge than the deliverer of disillusionment about the meaning of life.

Just keep that in mind. When you refuse to suffer, those who need you to do so—nearly everyone in today’s society—will be more than willing to take it upon themselves to ensure that you do suffer, since it is only your suffering that can render their lives meaningful and offer a state of “grace.” People are willing to do shocking things when there exists a risk that salvation will be denied to them.

But then it’s always risky to be a radical.

What do you do when you realize that greatness is great?  §

Writing has been tougher and tougher for me as of late. Then, this afternoon, I suddenly had this brainstorm—perhaps it was time to record some audio diary material. So I started without having any particular direction in mind.

I then proceeded to record three hours of audio, alone, just me in a room talking at and with myself. Is this a sign of mental health or of its distinct lack in my life? Hard to say.

— § —

Since earning my Ph.D., continuing to work in the wider world, and being divorced, my opinion of the academic world has continued to darken.

I don’t think this darkening matches the outlook held by my ex-wife that the life of the mind is pointless, elitist, and essentially a scam. I also don’t think it has much to do with sour grapes at not having achieved a long-term academic career, though anyone who choses to think that about me would certainly be justified in doing so.

Rather, I think it’s about the substance and biases of the humanities and social sciences academy as I watch them continue to evolve. Maybe I was just naive as a Ph.D. student and these tendencies have been there all along. Maybe things really are worse now than they used to be. Maybe I’m just seeing a different, filtered view now that I’m on the outside looking in.

More and more, however, I have this sad feeling that while the academy is something that ought to matter and that could matter and that should matter, in fact it simply doesn’t matter. It chooses not to, or rather, most of its people choose not to.

It seems to be a space of petty concerns, petty people, and largely petty consequences—a place where ensuring that white people stop eating sushi and nobody has to be subjected to small chairs is seen as far more important than ensuring that billions of people around the world have enough to eat, and in which the former is seen as the obvious path ahead for the achievement of the latter.

In short, it’s no wonder that “greats” rarely seem to come from or to happen in the academy any longer, given its anti-greatness ethos (apropos of my last post).

— § —

I don’t know whether this is all here or there except to say that I continue to look for a space in the world where greatness is valued as such, not as an instrument whose exercise leads toward profitability, not as a political cudgel, and not as a target for deconstruction, but because great is great.

The fact that nearly everyone in modern society and in the academy, and certainly everyone on the left will find the preceeding paragraph to be (a) racist, (b) sexist, (c) colonialist, (d) capitalist, (e) microagressive, (f) macroaggressive, (g) naive, (h) wrongheaded, (i) unjust, (j) prejudicial, (k) discriminatory, (l) sactionable, (m) reprehensible, (n) privileged, (o) white, (p) male, (q) hetero, (r) cis, (s) anacrhonistic, (t) reactionary, (u) counterproductive, (v) embarrassing, (w) uninformed, (x) indefensible, (y) dismissible, and (z) beneath someone like myself that holds a Ph.D. from a major private university is why I have removed myself from both the academy and the left.

I haven’t yet removed myself from society, as that isn’t properly an option. The question then becomes—where do I go from here? How do I take what I am feeling and thinking about all of this and turn it into some beneficial means (not end, as pursuing ends in things human generally leads to evil, as all of human history demonstrates; it is good means, not good ends that edify us; the pursuit of good ends simply results, history tells us, in oppression and murder).

— § —

Still wandering in the wilderness, clearly.

Jesus and Stalin were not figures of speech. Neither are Trump or Pope Francis.  §

Here’s the thing. Nobody writes anything grand any longer. Or, nobody who gets to be taken seriously by the cultural elites writes anything grand any longer.

Nothing that uses big words.
Nothing that is confident.
Nothing that is self-assured or that makes strong positive claims.
Nothing that refers to any of what were once considered life’s certainties—good, evil, birth, death.

Instead, everyone just be jaded, everyone must self-depricatingly introduce themselves a as a common fraud and then either implicitly or explicitly signal that they are writing, with self-awareness, in the grand tradition of frauds.

— § —

In a similar vein, nobody (who is to be taken seriously) does or tries to do anything grand.

But we’ll get back to this in a moment. Let’s start with the writing, because it provides for a nice on-ramp to the problem.

— § —

This was getting rolling when I was first in college.

I remember hearing in various and sundry classes that nobody would be taken seriously any longer for discussing morality—good and evil as things—because such writing was “anachronistic” on its face; that you couldn’t use terms like “life” or “death” in class or in your work because this made you seem silly; that everyone recognized it when someone was trying to “sound like Shakespeare” or “come off as an intellectual” and that this was in fact deeply embarrassing because of course both Shakespeare and intellectuals had already come and gone and anyone that had the gall to implicitly echo their methods and purposes was only too evidently asking to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with giants that had long since gone from the earth, never to return.

My parents thought this was because I went to a liberal state university instead of the private religious university they’d attended. But that’s not the case; after that, I attended two private universities for graduate work and taught in a mix of state universities, privates, and community colleges for nearly a decade. This kind of thinking was suffused throughout the academy, and indeed throughout society as a whole already twenty years ago.

But then it got more extreme. It wasn’t just that you were a judged fraud by using proper English in a non-self-effacing way and referencing good and evil and happiness and sadness, a fraud of obviously deep impoverishment when stood next to history’s greats, oh no—it was far more than that.

By the time I was halfway through my Ph.D. somehow it had become that they were all frauds. Every last one of them, from Marx and Nietzsche back to Plato and Socrates. Bunch of fucking frauds, an oppressive elite who had hoodwinked everyone into believing that there was something more to life than dominating others. The basic and most embarrassing problem with history was that the plebes had been so incredibly naive—dare we even say “stupid”—for so long, taken in by this easy grab at free power and free money, made all the more shameless and embarrassing at once by the fact that these dudes already had more than their fair share by being white and male.

Foucault and a few others showed us the truth—it’s noogies all the way down—and now we realize that to be “woke” (though this term as such only recently enters the lexicon, the concept has been around for some time) we have to know that everyone else knows that we know that everyone else knows… … … insert self-effacing, jaded, cop-out from life here that that basically disavows any and all attempts to do anything worthwhile, lest anyone thinks that’s what anyone else is trying to do.

In short, to be taken seriously, the thing that you must first do is demonstrate in some way, clearly and explicitly, that you are in no way serious, that you understand seriousness to be impossible, and that you have already chanted thrice today the mantra that none of the claimed “greats” were ever serious either, and—to quote from the lexicon of neo-unserious-ungreats—”we won’t get fooled again.”

— § —

The way I read things, a lot of the bewilderment at how things are playing out in western civilization right now is a lack of any capacity to believe in greatness. This is the source of the bewilderment about Jordan Peterson, Bernie Sanders, Trump, ISIS, Elon Musk, etc.

Note that I don’t mean “good” in the moral sense when I use the term “great” here; what I mean instead is the dictionary definition, i.e. “notably large in size; of a kind characterized by relative largeness; remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness; chief or preeminent over others; long continued; remarkably skilled; marked by enthusiasm,” etc.

All of these figures that I named above and more are notable precisely because they’re not playing by the unserious, hip-to-the-game, I-know-that-you-know post-Foucaultian rules of mutual self-effacement. They do not start out with implicit or explicit disclaimers along the lines of, “I am unserious and unspecial and will demonstrate that shortly, I freely admit and assert that nothing can be known because nothing is knowable, that all things are ultimately equal and subject to debate amongst factions, and that those in more naive times understood to be history’s greats were, in fact, charlatans and street performers engaged in mounting little animated tableaux for embarrassingly credulous crowds, so with that out of the way, now that you know that I know and I know that you know, I’ll proceed to indignantly prevaricate apologetically in the general direction of my preferences, with as much passive-aggressive skill as I can muster.”

No, they go for the jugular. They stand up and take what they believe to be theirs, not by hipsterism, irony, and elitist in-crowdism, but by attempts at sheer moral, intellectual, or physical force.

The problem with the neo-Foucaultians has always been that underneath it all, the belief that if everything was power, yet all of this power was by happenstance and accident of birth and a matter of insider trading, then in fact the deeper historical truth was that nothing was power, we all share equally in power or in no-power and it’s all just a matter of the game.

These days, anyone who commands even a little bit of attention—much less the enthusiasm of millions—is instantly denounced, be they left or right, would-be saint or would-be sinner—precisely because they are able to do so. They command unapologetically in one way or another and—horror of horrors—reality appears to comply.

This puts the lie to the idea that the only power that was there was an emergent phenomenon resulting from credulity about power, and that once we all saw the “wizard” behind the curtain, we could all join the game on equal terms.

Instead, it seems to suggest that some things are more powerful, effective, and grand—whether for good or bad—than others, and this is something no-one can countenance. Because then Milton and DaVinci might actually have been the genuine article rather than charlatans, and that then means that I and my I-know-that-you-know-aw-shucks-we’re-all-losers-fighting-over-scraps-but-at-least-we’re-hip pose are in fact less great than Milton and DaVinci. That Luxembourg is less great than Soviet Russia. That Robin Thicke is less great than Wagner. And so on.

The universal equality of all things that purports to level the battlefield amongst equals is smashed, and the taken-for-granted ideological fraudulence of hierarchy claims suddenly seems less taken-for-granted.

In an age in which everyone thinks they’ve cut the giants down to size, the last thing they want to have to do is confront the possibility that the giants may not have been changed after all, and that they are indeed severely overshadowed—that not only is life not fair, but that life will never be fair, no matter how much violence we commit or how much fighting we do, because there was only one Einstein, and he wasn’t—after all—a patriarchal charlatan and little more.

— § —

The other problem, of course, that even fewer people want to think about is the idea that if the giants haven’t actually been cut down to size after all—and we allow ourselves to see what is right in front of our faces—then we have to confront the possibility that there are forces in the world more powerful than us—that are simply greater than us, and that may be diametrically opposed to our selves.

Of course, the evidence for this is literally everywhere but somehow we have not yet managed to quite see that this can’t be changed by applying a few ironically discursive accusation and shame tactics—that if ISIS is about to behead someone, saying, “I know what you’re up to and you’re nothing more than a sexist little boy who never got enough love” isn’t all that useful. Dead is dead.

(Of course, we hide our dead and fastidiously do everything that we can to avoid ever having to admit that they exist, even while they’re still above ground.)

— § —

The point of all this being:

Like just about everyone, I’ve secretly been musing about the state of our national politics and of the world some time now, and I think some of what we’re seeing stems from the theology of ironic disbelief in all greatness that emerged with postmodernism and that enables us to tell ourselves happy rationalizations about ourselves and (rather than our own lack of greatness in comparison to others) the general lack of reality underlying all greatness claims.

We hate greatness, for all the reasons outlined above.

So on the one hand, whenever we see it in anyone or anything, we immediatly refuse to believe our own eyes, and instead rail against it as a fraud. This leads to conflict, polarization, and hate.

And on the other hand, as a part of the bargain that must be in place for greatness not to exist, we refuse to believe in our own potential greatness, or to attempt any truly great things, and thus are powerless in the face of greatness.

Instead, we engage in discourse, which postmodernism told us was actually the basis of everything. It’s all just a simulation; don’t play the game, rewrite the program!

No. They were wrong. Greatness exists, materialism obtains, and some people and things are great and some others are not and others still could be but won’t because they’ve believed the lie that nobody is and that the proper first step in all things to be respectable is to disavow greatness and its pursuit entirely. Hopefully the greats (or at least not the only greats) are not the guys that want to kill you. Thing is, if you refuse to believe in greatness, and refuse to try to be great, and set about instead whining about things using so many (non-big, non-metaphysical, oh-so-ironic and lowbrow) tropes, greatnesses that want to kill you will ultimately have their way with you.

— § —

In shorter terms:

Postmodernism was wrong.

Real stuff exists. Some of it wants to kill you.

We have likely buried potential greats under piles of ironic, self-referential bullshit.

Words can also be great deeds, rather than mere ironic, self-referential bullshit. The best way right now to tell the difference is to look at the reaction to the words. If they’re virulently hated and critized in very public ways by quite a lot of people, they’re probably great—whether great for good or great for evil.

There is a difference between great deeds (including great words) and mere discourse. The difference is that the latter is an AWOL game of tic-tac-toe while your countrymen die on the battlefield.

The greats have free run right now because the plebes have been trained not to believe in greats as anything other than a figment of discourse, even as their own legs are being sawed off. Hence Trump. Hence ISIS. Hence school shooters. And so on. And the more you point this out, the more people hurl invective and explain what an asshole you are (even as their legs continue to be sawed off, and rather than standing up and doing something about it).

It’s not the god(s)/great(s) that are dead, it’s postmodernism, only people may not figure it out before they themselves are dead, leaving only the god(s)/great(s) that killed them behind.

A post all about courage, crap, goodness, badness, and the question of truth.  §

For weeks, every day, throughout the day, I have wanted to write. Blog posts. Lists. Plans. Goals.

Then, evening arrives and I am blank, utterly blank. Instead, I put the kids to bed (if the kids are here) or I consume various forms of educational media (if the kids are not here).

Now here it is Sunday morning and I am again feeling like I want to write, but also drawing a blank. This is the block I spoke of before. There are things trying to break out. From the outside, they can’t be identified. They are clearly being represeed. This is infuriating.

— § —

I am having trouble separating what matters from what must practially, in the immediate sense, be done. The latter is overwhelming and submerging the former. Here again, I almost started to write what I did today. Then, I realized that this would be a pointless list.

What things that mattered did I do today? Something got under my skin. What?

Cleaning the yard.

The yard is a disaster area. Two dogs, tons of furniture and yard stuff, not much time to tend to it. I went outside for a few minutes and at least picked up all the bits and pieces of chewed things, took some tools that the kids had pulled from the shed and returned them to the shed, etc.

It looks less like a dump but still a lot like a dump. I hate that, but I also hate that the yard takes any time at all beyond simply mowing it.

The yard is full of things. Things. Trampoline, lawn furniture, (now collapsed or fallen) garden decor, pots and plants, yard tools, toys, etc. I hate all this crap. A yard should not be full of crap. Crap requires care, or it turns into shit. This is another remnant—they are still everywhere—of marriage. I did not like or appreciate stuff in the yard, but my ex-wife loved it. Hence, a yard full of stuff. Then, divorce.

Then, there is nobody to take care of the crap, and so it falls into disrepair. Then it falls into fragments of junk. Then you add an extra dog to the one that was already here and the fragments of junk are everywhere and full of teeth marks.

Two and a half years on, this is still a major thread in my life. There is so much stuff to clean up and throw away; I am routinely overwhelmed by the volume. Sometimes it feels as though every nook and cranny is full of crap. When you are getting married, nobody ever points out that if the two of you focus on different kinds of material objects and material spaces in life, then each of you has a domain of care an maintenance that is separate from the other, and these don’t overlap, so fair warning, if you split up in the end, there will be a million parts of your life that you never look at that will be a disaster.

Forget about yard; let’s talk closets. I don’t use them. I never have. So the closets, too, are still packed with crap. I’d love to empty them out, but would I love to empty them out enough to take an entire weekend to go through them, spend the dollars to rent a u-haul, and drag all of that stuff out of here? There must be several hundred to a thousand pounds of it, at least.

No, no I don’t. Do I want someone else coming over and rifling through the closets? No, no I fucking don’t. No I fucking don’t. So there they sit, full. Someday when I finally get out of here or die, someone else will have to look into that. Meanwhile, over time things fall, get dusty, get old, it all starts to look more like dump (once again) than storage.

My life is full of crap. Physical crap. Emotional crap. And years later, making a dent in this crap load feels like an impossible task. Some people do the “disappear, run away, and start over as someone new” thing to get rid of their crap. Some people just keep the crap around until they die, and then people going through their estate wearing gloves and shedding tears say to each other many times over the course of weeks, “My God, he had so much crap.”

Does anyone ever manage to overcome the crapload and clean their lives out while still alive, and while preserving their identity, sanity, and relationships? Is this something only rich people can do, because only they can afford the expenses, time, and opportunity cost of each to get this done? There are a lot of things that are considered to be either strong or weak moral imperatives, yet only rich people can practically do. I would not be surprised if this was another.

Thing 1: My life is full of crap.

— § —

Beyond this, it all seems to be evocative of the wider sphere of things. We live in a crap world right now. A bad world. If there is one defining characteristic of the world right now, it’s not just that it’s “fallen” or something, but that it’s bad. It’s crap.

  • Trump is bad crap. Hillary was and is bad crap.
  • The cotton ceiling is bad crap.
  • The fake economy whose returns accrue to the 1% is bad crap.
  • Our confrontation with global warming, which we caused, is bad crap.
  • Conservative hypocrisy politics is bad crap.
  • Liberal identity politics is bad crap.
  • Marxism is bad crap.
  • Classical liberalism is bad crap.
  • The media is and pushes bad crap.
  • Our bridges are made of bad crap.
  • The proliferation of guns and gun violence is bad crap.
  • The need to regulate them is bad crap.
  • The idea that the problem will get better without regulation is bad crap.
  • Our electronics update cycle is and generates bad crap.
  • The apps that we use on our electronics are bad crap.
  • We eat and drink bad crap.
  • The educational system is bad crap.
  • The products that we rely on for everyday life are bad crap.
  • Feminism is bad crap.
  • Anti-feminism is bad crap.
  • Leaders foreign and domestic are bad crap.
  • The whole global culture, and all its parts, and all its material things, are bad crap.

The world is every bit as crapped up, as total shite, as my yard and my closets are right now. It needs a flood. If I were God, I would organize a flood and flood the fuck out of that thing, because that seems a lot more practicable than trying to clean it all up.

But I’m not God. I don’t even know if I believe in God. I used to be a committed atheist, but these days bothering to do or think about that seems like more bad crap. I mean, what’s the point? What, exactly? Seriously. Idealistic crap, on all sides.

I spent a lot of my life looking for truth and light and all of that, but in fact right now I’d settle for something—anything, almost—that’s simply good.

Is there anything out there, or anyone, frankly, that’s good? Just simple, old-fashioned, basic good? Not perfect, not rapturous, not glorious, none of that shit. Just good. Good enough. Better than bad. Not bad crap. Anything?

This brings me to a philosophical question that has, I think, been troubling me under the surface for a while now.

Clearly, not everything that is true is good.

But—is everything that is good necessarily true? This would imply that false things cannot be good, and that good things cannot be false. This is a big bridge for me to cross. I lack the philosophical training to do it. I read Kant and Hegel and Marcuse and Adorno and Rawls and Taylor and so on.

But even though people might say that the canon of philosophy, inasmuch as it bleeds out into other disciplines, is concerned with precisely questions like these, I can’t help but feel that it isn’t. Not really. If I were to come up with a metaphor, it would sound absurd. Something akin to “It’s like trying to enjoy a particular novel by not picking up the novel, or even having it in your possession, but instead by going to your toolbox, getting out a screwdriver and some screws, and screwing them carefully into your wall horizontally at 24-inch gaps.”

Under such conditons, the point is driven home by a question like, “So, you’ve finished screwing in all your pointless screws. Did you enjoy that novel?”

That’s how I feel about philosophy right now. And about its relationship to the question of goodness and truth.

Thing 2: The world is full of bad crap, and I’d like to find something, anything, that’s just simply good right now—and I’m uncertain about whether this means that I should also be looking for something that’s true.

— § —

Do not react to this post, if you know me, by sending me piles of scripture from your tradition, encouraging me to go to yoga or to meditation or whatever, proposing a vegan diet, or other activist bullshit. You know me better than that.

I have been around a long time in a lot of places, have known a lot of people, and have degrees in literature, cultural anthropology, and sociology (including a doctorate). I have read most of the world’s great scripture. I’ve been to hundreds of religious services in dozens of traditions. I’ve done yoga. I’ve meditated. I’ve traveled. I’ve been vegan. I’ve even been an activist of the most strident and committed sort over the years I’ve been here. I have done this crap. Do not send me even more crap.

I’m not after easy answers. This is not a consumer problem, as in “he just needs to be informed about spiritual or wellness product X.”

This is all part and parcel of a struggle. Any real struggle cannot be resolved with instances of shopping or sharing.

— § —

Final thought: One reason that I am having trouble committing myself to resolving any of this is that I sense that whatever I do next, whatever real goal I finally allow myself to conceptualize and seize as the next thing—will be very big and all-encompassing. Like my Ph.D. was.

This means several things:

  • It will probably cost me a lot (and I don’t mean money)
  • It will probably take many years, even decades
  • It is likely thus to be the last “thing” (i.e. real thing) that I ever do with my life before I die

It is hard to commit to—or even to begin to imagine—your “final thing.” It is a very different experience from being twenty and thinking about your “next thing.” In the latter circumstance, it’s easy to think about and commit yourself to twenty or thirty years, because you’ll still have the rest of your life after that to explore other things.

When you are facing the prospect of deciding on and starting down the long road that is your final thing… It is rather tougher to be decisive. It is a hard thing to have the courage to confront.

But I do think this is it. When I figure out what I will do next, it will be what I do next for the rest of my time here. Hence the questions about goodness and truth. Hence the desire to avoid bad crap.

There’s too much on the line.

— § —

It’s all in here, somewhere.

The question is, will it come out—or will I die surrounded by piles of crap that I carried stumblingly with me through years of doing nothing at all for lack of courage?

Fake news, the FIU bridge collapse, and the broken news media.  §

I have been reading about the FIU bridge collapse on professional and academic engineering forums, and it drives home just how hopeless our press is, likely because our non-STEM college graduates can’t think their way out of a cardboard box.

The press can’t even get the basic bridge type right, much less anything about the failure. This despite the fact that (for example) preliminary design documents that outline the bridge’s major components and basic construction and stress model are matters of public record, and the fact that tons of academic and professional engineers are already drawing to a consensus about the nature of the failure (and it has little to do, at least in the direct sense, with cracks).

With all of this information public and readily available via a simple Google search, why are the press completely unable to even locate and read planning documents to learn that this was not a cable-stayed bridge, but a modified truss bridge designed to support its own weight without a central tower, and that in fact the “cable stays” shown in concept drawings were purely decorative, mere thin, hollow pipes screwed into place that wouldn’t hold (and weren’t capable of holding) any weight?

Why are they unable to locate the trade and industry publications and forums in which actual engineers have outlined the stresses and stress vectors operating on the various members in minute detail? It’s already been narrowed down to what is likely a failure either in the stress tensioner, tensioner blister, or lower joint of member #11—the latter being the most likely as without the second span and other construction in place, northward forces on this joint were massive, yet the steel reinforcement to transmit load into the bottom deck was minimal based on NTSB photos, not leaving much to counteract them (until the second span was installed to abut the first span’s north end). This led to a fairly clear shear failure at the joint, as demonstrated by the entirely intact edge of the collapsed lower deck at the north end, and the puff of white at that joint (as it shears) immediately before collapse in the released videos. Any press covering this? Nope, they’re still talking about cable-stayed.

Cable-stayed, stress testing (there was no stress testing event occuring, just routine monitoring by attached sensors as other work was being carried out), cracks that everyone ignored.

I’m not even an engineer but I can follow along with most of the math, and understand the analyses that the pros are making. And I certainly can read a public document that says this was not a cable-stayed bridge in any way, shape, or form, but was merely imitating one visually. Meanwhile I can’t count how many mainstream media articles I’ve read about this disaster than digress into summaries the history of cable-stayed bridges. Oops.

Basically, this is why the “mainstream media” is dying. There’s a kernel of truth in the “fake news” meme. That kernel is the fact that—whether due to poor education, hubris, or simple laziness—the press is either unable to do or to understand the most basic and obvious research in prepping their stories—research that we’d easily expect a high school student to do for a term paper. The result is complete misinformation and lots of articles quoting tweets from people who have no science or engineering training, weren’t present at the bridge at any time, have absolutely nothing to do with the bridge, but are in fact famous—and thus their mishmash of nonsense is treated as gospel.

It’s fake news all the way down, folks, not just in politics. If you want the real info, the internet is your friend. Get real records from real government agencies, and for information requiring expertise, visit the properties where real practicing professionals are and just ask them for their input.

On Saturday nights these days, nothing makes any sense.  §

I am keeping the kids company while they go to sleep.

Some things excerpted from a conversation with a NOBF (left as an obscure exercise to the reader) today.

— § —

The blog has been apocalyptic as of late. This can be laid at the feet of a lot of different things, so I’ll punt and not lay it at the feet of anything in particular. But I do recognize the tendency.

— § —

I do think that my perspective has not been particularly good lately. Whenever you allow yourself to descend into short-term and purely circumstantial thinking, things are going to take on an exaggerated tone.

This all gives lie to the idea that tattoos can impart—or improve—perspective.

Of course I never really thought that anyway, but it’s a good gag and reminder. Still, at times like this, it would be more helpful to be reminded of what good perspective is than to simply be reminded of the word.

Live and learn.

— § —

Is it bads:

  • Is it bad that I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed my dating life as much as I’ve enjoyed my single life? That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy my dates (this intended in both possible ways), but merely that on balance, life was better on the whole before I knew about them.

  • Is it bad that every “happiest period” that I can think of in my life is a single period, running from about one year post-major-breakup to about two years post-major-breakup?

  • Is it bad that I think both that commitment and reciprocity are the only purposes for human relationships, yet also that they are largely mythological creatures never actually seen by man?

  • Is it bad that I don’t give a shit that I just said “by man” there instead of “by humankind?”

  • Is it bad that it feels like an affront to my ego to ever, ever admit that I fall ill, from any cause?

  • Is it bad that I don’t give a shit about the state of my yard, or what the neighbors think?

  • Is it bad that I remember Poe’s phrase “the imp of the perverse” so very often?

  • Is it bad that I buy amaretto coffee because I believe that I like it, but then never drink it, then buy it again and again and end up with multiple unopened bags?

  • Is it bad that I have another birthday coming up?

  • Is it bad that I am losing, day by day, my motivation to “play the game” any longer?

  • Is it bad to have mid-life conversions on all kinds of ideas, perspectives, and habits in the most stereotypical possible fashion?

  • Is it bad to secretly ridicule your former self?

— § —

Note to self: Research how the religious overtones and undercurrents in Northern Exposure came to be. Writers? Cultural advisors? Cast improv?

Find out. No particular reason.

— § —

In the ‘80s when we didn’t have flat capacative touch displays, voice control, AI, or inexpensive sensors yet, all of these things seemed impossibly utopian and awe-inspiring.

Now we know they are just less personable and senuous ways of buying laundry detergent, attending a concert, and beating someone up on the playground.

— § —

I knew someone once who was sure that people were all basically the same in the details, and different only in the fundamentals—good or evil.

She had it exactly backward; they’re all the same in the fundamentals—good and evil—and wildly different in the details.

— § —

Sometimes it gets me how strangely inflected our value calculations are. For example, if I was considering spending a hundred dollars on:

  • Groceries — Ugh, that’s a lot. What can we swap with no-name brands or substitutes to try to cut that in half?

  • Tires — I know that’s a good price, bug do I really need tires right now? I mean, can’t we go without for one more month?

  • Zoo Membership — Prrrrobably worth it… Will we come that many times over the coming year? If we buy a membership we will!

  • Fiber Internet — OMG necessity, do not count cost.

  • Clothing Item — WTF is wrong with the world Wal-Mart here we come.

  • Taekwondo Weapons — Good price, good price, weapons are cool—

  • Automatic Wristwatch — Wow, that’s nothing what a steal. Can I get something even better if I spend $200?

  • Trip to Lagoon — Such highway robbery. But you have to do it, so they have you over a barrel.

  • Movie, Popcorn, and Fast-Food Dinner — Family memories! So worth it!

  • Haute Cuisine — Anyone who pays $100 for a meal is a dunce. No, just no.

  • Bills or Medical Care — F*ck this sytem and the way it makes me spend, spend, spend.

  • Furniture Item — No way $100 it’ll be on classifieds for $10 without too many boogers just wait.

  • Household Tool or Repair Item — Good heavens, $100? How am I ever going to pay for this?

  • Vet Bill — It’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s fair and totally doable.

In short, the values that I attribute to things are completely irrational and mystifying and correspond in almost no way to price, to size, to duration, or to anything else.

Of course everyone knows that this is true. But when you sit down and look and your own life, and really stare at the irrationality, it’s pretty shocking.

I am blocked.  §

More and more it is dawning on me that I am somehow blocked. This is not a regular “interval” in life.

There is some sort of mental or psychological block going on. I need to understand and break through it before the next thing can happen.

Time to get to work.

The Simple Truth About Brexit and Trump and Shooters  §

Here’s the thing. People want to matter. They want their lives to matter. It’s intrinsic to human nature to not want to be invisible, forgotten, dismissed—unimportant and unheard.

And despite a lot of flowery language that’s come out of the last century, and a lot of purported work toward the dignity and importance of every human individual, the fact is that nobody believes any of this fluff. The truth is that the plebes don’t matter, and in fact are generally held in detached disdain, and they know it.

  • Their desires don’t matter.

  • Their suffering doesn’t matter.

  • Their preferences and loves and family members don’t matter.

  • Their work doesn’t matter.

  • Their potential doesn’t matter.

  • Their futures don’t matter.

  • Their lives and deaths don’t matter.

  • Their identities don’t matter.

Now I’m not talking “matter” here in some transcendental, meaning-of-life sense. I’m talking socially, in relation to the gestalt of the population. Hundreds of millions of such people in our society, and billions worldwide—huge swaths of society having particular demographic characteristics—are cut off from any sense of social importance or acknowledgment.

The . half . that . rules . does . not . give . a . shit . about . them .

There are some within these swaths of the population, possibly a slim majority at the moment, who know, instinctively, that to a very few someones they do actually matter. To their parents, for example, or to their siblings, or to their kids. To the other parents at their school. To the gents at their neighborhood corner store, whom they talk to every morning.

Such people have this instinctive understanding—which is at the core of both Trump and Brexit—that if they don’t matter when the circle is “large-scale society as it has been,” but they do matter in far smaller circles, yet “society” controls so very much about their lives… then the most obvious thing to do is draw the circle of “society” in a much smaller way.

They’ll seek include those to whom they matter, and exclude those to whom they don’t matter, hoping to give the people to whom they don’t matter less input into their lives. Hence Brexit and populist nationalism. “Don’t care about or respect me at all? Then I don’t want you to have any say in my life. And I’m going to try to reshape ‘society’ so that you’re not in it and thus have no effect on me.”

Meanwhile, there are also some that understand full well that they matter to nobody. Absolutely nobody. Their entire experience of life consists of being accused and being negatively sanctioned. Zero empathy, zero ties, zero care. And the accusations keep coming, from everyone around them, and from “the public” at large.

Everyone is determined to make them into a disposable, anonymous scapegoat at best, or into an “enemy of polite society” at worst. So… eventually they give in to the role. “Okay, I’m the enemy. Of everyone. I get it. It’s me vs. all of you. I get it. It kills me but I get it.”

Now they’re identifying with the role. And with the knowledge that no one cares, and that’s by design, and in fact they are quite literally hated at best by most, and loved by none.

Well, what’s the point of life at that point? And if these people all hate you and consider you an enemy, why not fight that war a little bit out of spite, since there’s nothing and no one that you value in life to take care of? You didn’t ask to be born, yet you’re punished for it by essentially everyone that you encounter. Hence shooter.

As long as we have “baskets of deplorables” held to be such by half or more of the population, we will have the other half of the population wanting to redraw the boundaries of society to be more insular and close-knit and giving rise to a few who, crying out in pain and giving in to hopeless nihilism, decide to exact revenge on being itself by exacting revenge on everyone to whom their very unrequested existence is an unjustified and regrettable burden at best.

People who matter to other people, and know that they matter to other people, will not harm the people to whom they really actually matter. Not hipppie-dippie SJW “every life has dignity” matter that’s basically corporate boilerplate from the social media society—enabling us all as a herd of virtue-signalers to feel good about ourselves. I mean actually matter.

I mean really—no bullshit—matter to people. When you matter to someone in a way that is not negative (i.e. “you matter to me and I want you to exist and to have a good life,” not “you matter to me because you are the male white corporate oppression and I want to smash you” or various analogs thereof), you don’t kill them. You don’t harm those that positively, personally, and generously care about you. It’s really not that complicated. But you’d think it was, based on all the nutty discourse.

And even though it’s not complicated, it is hard. Because positive, personal, and generous regard is precisely what our highly activist culture no longer does. It can’t even understand the previous sentence. It asks, with incredulity, “Wait, positive, personal, and generous regard of the enemy? Surely you jest!” QED.

Look, people want to feel that they—and their individual life histories, preferences, likes, and dislikes—in other words, their selves—matter, positively, to those that shape their lives. And they will seek to structure their reality so that their life is directly affected only by those to whom they matter—or, if they don’t matter to anyone, so as to relieve the immediate pain and practical tyranny of the pariah’s existence.

People don’t need to rule or be famous or anything. They just need to not be forgettable dogshit, or worse, He Who Must Be Destroyed, as far as “Society-capital-S” is concerned. No amount of shallow activist talk, collectively or individually, and no quantity of activist bromides about justice and the “arc of history” is going to fix this. To those affected, it all sounds like the adults in Peanuts cartoons. “Wah wah, wah—wah wah wah, wah wah wah wah.”

In other words the problem with our society is that bullshit detectors are going off en masse but the elites, the chosen, the privileged, and the virtue-signaling popular kids imagine that the solution to the problem is a lot more bullshit rather than the hard work involved in seeing, acknowledging, sustaining, and embracing the basic humanity of people who are—yes—quite different from you. Look, they didn’t ask to be born either.

Our machinery for generating and sustaining social ties and social solidarity is broken. We are, generally speaking, a culture of narcissists who broke it on purpose in countless acts of activism that we’ve mendaciously sold to our concerned consciences for fifty years as “justice” when in fact it was really little more than our best Veruca Salt impression and remains so today.

If we want to have a large-scale society, we’d better rediscover a time when we saw in each fellow citizen and person—even if a stranger—someone that we legitimately valued as a fellow human being in our society, regardless of their background or views. Remember “tolerance” in the ’90s? Even that was a big step down from honest-to-god social solidarity, yet we’ve backslid a hundred times farther since then.

Simpler, for the activists: Hate the sin, love the sinner. If you hate the sinner, they’re just gonna sin against you for hating them in the first place.

Fix this and everything else will fix itself.

Sadly, there is almost certainly no way to fix this without or before the catastrophic collapse of the current global social order, or of many current national orders.

A fable about inequality, gender, race, SJWs, poltics, and social trust in America.  §

It’s 30-something degress outside. A late middle-aged white guy walks by the side of the road on a hill, obviously under-dressed for the weather. From what he does happen to be wearing, it’s clear that he’s a working class man in a working class job, and it’s rush hour, so he’s probably recently done with work for the day. He’s carrying a gas can, walking in the opposite direction from the nearest gas station, which is about two miles away.

One could reasonably suppose a few things.

  • He’s probably been saving gas to try to count pennies. He works full time, maybe two hard jobs, but he’s not really keeping his head above water. He cut things too close and ran out of gas. He’s already walked all the way to the gas station in the cold, bought a can full of gas, and is now walking back to his car, which is presumably somewhere within a one to two mile radius.

  • He’s probably freezing cold, especially as he’s low on energy after a hard day’s work and hasn’t had a chance to eat anything in hours.

  • He’s probably divorced, cut off from his kids, and has nobody else in the world to help him. He’s on his own to make trips like this; there is no one to call, no assistance to be had. Maybe alimony is contributing to his terrible financial state, even working as much as he does.

  • Calling an Uber is probably beyond his financial, as well as possibly technological and educational means.

  • He likely has many more years of this to look forward to, alone.

Car after car after car passes him buy as he plods along, arms folded tight. Nobody stops. Nobody even slows. Of course, one can make guesses about what the people in these cars are thinking as well.

  • He’s a stranger. He’s possibly dangerous. Best not to pick up strangers, they could kill you or rape you.

  • He’s a man. If he’s all alone at his age, that almost certainly means he’s a wife beater. Or worse.

  • He’s white. White people—white men in particular—don’t need any help. They’ve had thousands of years of privilege. There are lots of other people who need help, but he’s not one of them.

  • Might be good to help, but there are other, more important, more urgent things to do.

  • Surely somebody else will help. Anyway, four or five miles round-trip isn’t that far to walk in the cold, especially for a man. Especially for a privileged white man.

  • He looks like he works at a dirty job. No need to get the car dirty. Probably he uses coarse language or says embarrassing things that are difficult to respond to.

Back to the man. Am I just making up some sort of sob story or edge case to make some misguided political point?

No, I met him today. He said my sixteen-year-old car was really nice. He was embarrassed to be in it. He was embarrassingly deferential. His round trip would have been about six miles. He was about four miles through it. After working two shifts and not eating. In thirty-degree weather. To get one gallon of gas to his beaten up old car, standing lonely on the parking lot after everyone else has gone home without helping him out. Definitely his ex-wife wouldn’t help him out. She’d just laugh. His kids haven’t talked to him since the divorce, decades ago. They all live in the area, but he wouldn’t even bother to call them, they wouldn’t come.

I can anticipate from any potential audience here some indignation about the second set of points:

  • Cry me a river. As soon as he talks to his men friends and tells them to stop abusing women, maybe it’ll be safe to think about helping out. Until then, I presume that every man is violent.

  • Cry me a river. He’s white and he’s a man. White men have had patriarchal and racial privilege for thousands of years. It’s time he got some of his own. He doesn’t deserve a damned thing from me.

  • Cry me a river. He’s probably a Trump supporter. Let him get his “klan brothers” to help out.

  • Cry me a river. He’s probably a union member. Let him get his “union brothers” to help out.

  • Cry me a river. I work hard, too. Anyway, he should have worn a coat and been more careful with his gas. Personal responsibility, you know?

  • I have better things to do. I get that life is hard, but some of us have places to be and people that rely on us. Sorry he doesn’t, but that’s life.

  • Man, if it was a lady I’d stop, especially if she was good-looking. But stop for a man? Sorry, bro, no can do.

  • Man walking on the side of the road? I didn’t see one. When I drive, I don’t notice things on the road.

  • Too bad. I just hope my own son doesn’t grow up to be like him.

  • Wait, why didn’t he just put gas in his car? Anyway, why doesn’t he just call an Uber now?

I didn’t actually meet any of the dozens of cars that passed him by. I’m just putting thoughts in their drivers’ heads. Call it a thought exercise. I’m not even saying that any of the thoughts are wrong, necessarily. Each of them can probably be passionately and cogently justified.

But lot of people in America are destined for this life. Most young white males born outside of affluent circles know that it’s their only likely destiny. They may already be living it. And many others are besides.

He was shocked that anyone did actually stop to ask if he needed a lift, much less give him one for that last two miles back to his car. He didn’t know what to make of it. He honestly didn’t.

It took all of five extra minutes.

Sadly, as an ex-social scientist who continues to keenly observe society, I wasn’t shocked. It’s where we are.

Yes, yes, structural this, that, and the other. But people don’t live “structural” day-to-day. They live their individual, small details lives. And then they vote on them—if they’re even able to vote at all. I don’t know anything about this guy’s personal history or political inclinations.

The fact that most people would say that both are critically important before deciding to help someone out—especially this “sort” of someone—is where we are, how we got where we are, and where we’re going with even more determination than ever before.

There’s a lot of stuff in our “big picture” right now, but a lot of it is evoked, from many directions, in this particular scene.