At long last it is time I sit down to elaborate my conceptions of respect and how people ought to be treated. I have at least two other essays on this subject in store- one, on the dichotomy between HONOR and VIRTUE and the necessity of striking a proper balance between allegiance to constructed norms and allegiance to eternal principles; the other on my pre-modern notion of the non-existence of intrinsic or natural Human Rights and my view of morality as a nebulous gas rather than a solid set of rules.
But for now I shall contain my discussion to a matter at hand- identity and self-expression, and instances of disrespect against these.
Anyone who has followed my writings knows that I do not take identity or self-expression to be the paramount rights which so much of liberal postmodernity takes them to be. It is important that an African-American is an African-American, that a Basque is a Basque, and they should be proud of that and understand that this is part of their political and social identity- but it goes too far when such groups put their identity in your face, condemn you for being part of a broader system that legitimizes mistreatment of these groups and awards privilege to those not in these groups, and seek out and identify every possible (or impossible) piece of evidence slightly in their favor as evidence as yet more slights, yet more oppression, against their collective by a majority collective. Moreover it is sheer hypocrisy that majority groups are castigated for behaving in the same way, yet likely fitting, for if they were not castigated then it is likely that perceived slights might become real slights.
Now I do not doubt that such oppression exists, nor do I doubt that collectives are brutal by nature. But to focus entirely on this, and moreover to use it as a method of COMPLAINT, and to complain to the point of despicability, are in my opinion not only unhelpful but harmful, not only to the cause being argued for but for the broader society at large. In particular, I have argued verbally and in writing against such behavior by the advocates of gay rights, the advocates of Asian-American empowerment, and the advocates of feminism. Complaining about how bad things are is the business of whiners, not to be embraced by those who would move the world.
I should be viewed as a complete and utter hypocrite, then, for I have recently defended conservative realist intellectuals, the Catholic Church, and the mentally ill with the same vigor that those arguing for feminists, gay rights, and Asian American empowerment have argued. I have condemned the broader society’s tendency to, at times, ostracize these groups, view them as problems and progenitors of problems, treat them as outsiders, relish their distress. I have placed myself in the position of the crusader fighting for the rights of identity and self-expression, clamoring for equal treatment and appealing to a sense of Christ-like equal justice. I am in no way different, in fact, than the people I attack; I merely fight for a different set of factions.
Yet as I considered things, I realized that I am not truly the opposite of my opponents on any of their platforms. While I do not condone their quest for public recognition of their cause and social change and total equal treatment of all people, regardless of ethnicity, sexual orientation, or ethnicity (mostly because I do not believe in equality at all, except before the eyes of God) I do not oppose it. I would never treat a gay man, a woman, or an Asian-American the ways they warn us about and condemn; I would treat them all as human beings, and respect their differences (and that includes joking about their differences too.) I’m not about to get down and worship homosexuals for their homosexuality; neither am I going to shun them, speak down to them, condemn them, or otherwise hate them, for anything other than their personal behaviors and personalities as individual human beings. The same thing runs true for individuals of every other minority group there is, and indeed every other majority group there is, from Protestants to liberal intellectuals to the psychotic to Asian-Americans to African-Americans to Basques to Mayans to Armenians to trans people and everything outside and in between. I’m just not going to buy into the sociological research of privilege and the assertions that, as a (mostly) white male in 21st Century America, I contribute to the oppression of women, minorities, and the poor by my very existence. If such is true, then I frankly couldn’t care less. What I care about is real relationships.
At a fundamental level, there is a proper way to treat people, that perhaps bends and changes and at times of extremity should be subordinated to survival and in times of pressure should be subordinated to greater goods, but is generally recognizable across time and space as an objectively proper way to behave, not constructed nor destructible, for it is written on our hearts and eats our consciences. And all transgressions against this fundamental way, regardless of how well-justified they might be, do not go unseen or unpunished, in the end, by the might of God. It may be the right thing to do, at times, to go against it; but that does not make going against it RIGHT. The fundamental way, of course, is respect.
Now respect is a very thin shade of morality. Responsibility is far greater a virtue, and love yet deeper. But respect is crucial and self-evident as a virtue, because it regulates relations between all individuals when it is properly observed- a prevention of tension and violence due to sheer understanding that no being is inherently better than another being, all things considered. And surely no human can embody this principle in full, and all must stumble; but it serves as a general guiding tool. If nothing else, it helps to stifle self-righteousness. A conservative Christian who cursed gays would be in the wrong, as would a liberal atheist who cursed religious believers.
And in general, I think most people are inclined to follow the ethic of respect, at least generally. They will always have their prejudices, but so long as they are respectful individuals they will not let these leave their heads. Even if they disagree with a conservative’s views on welfare or a transvestite’s sexual nature, they would still treat them as human beings, caring not so much for their IDENTITY as for their HUMANITY.
And that is why I have passionately defended various groups, from Boy Scouts to Catholics to conservative intellectuals to the mentally ill. I sense injustice done towards them and am offended; and I fight to expose the hypocrisy of those who attack them. At a fundamental level, I think, that is why my intellectual opponents defend the groups they do, for there truly are grave injustices against all their groups which must be addressed.
But as different as night and day are the contrasting tendencies between Nature and Man- Man, to strive to excess, Nature, to achieve balance and moderation. The noble cause of treating all people equally mutates into a self-righteous and intolerant fundamentalism whose members might subscribe to the phrase, “If you’re not with me, you’re against me.” Nothing could be more fully different from these individuals’ original goal of tolerance and equality. Yet they hold nothing more dearly.
All this being considered, I will soften my attacks on the advocates of gay rights, feminism, and Asian Empowerment, for no other reason than the fact that I don’t actually disagree with them on a good many things. I think people should be treated as people. But I WILL continue to attack them on the various things on which I believe them to be deadly wrong, from the fluidity of human nature (it’s iron) to the construction of race (it’s genetic) to the necessity of social action to correct inequities (it’s all about how individuals treat individuals) to the institutionalization of privilege (life is unfair for me too, bub) and everything in between.
And more importantly, I will fight against the messianic at every available opportunity. If you see yourself to be so wise, so enlightened- if you believe that no opposing opinion has merit, that all those who disagree with you necessarily must be poor, unfortunate barbarians- if you would believe yourself to hold the wisdom of God, the perfect truth, so profoundly that no other information could ever possibly change what you hold to be true- then even if your entire metaphysical system revolves around the value of ‘respect,’ you have not an ounce of respect flowing through your blood. You have not the slightest idea what respect IS.
In the course of training for a marathon, you run some very interesting places. My good friend Shikhar and I recently had the painful pleasure of a 17-mile run from USC to Downtown Los Angeles, over the Griffith Observatory, and down Vermont Avenue back to USC.
The Griffith Observatory overlooks the suburbs and shanties and skyscrapers on the route between it and our destination, USC
Vermont Avenue starts, in the north, in the beautiful hills of Griffith Park, near the famed Greek Theatre. Exotic tropical trees of every sort line the borders of quaint estates with stucco walls and tiled roofs. The Hollywood people who live here have a decadent eccentricity to them, a seeming unawareness of the poverty and dirtiness of Los Angeles that surrounds their little isle of California paradise.
Chris Pine’s home, in Los Feliz, the Griffith Park neighborhood where Vermont Avenue starts
Vermont straightens out into a flat, straight road at the bottom of the hill, and the scenery begins to change ever so slightly. Gas stations appear at every other corner, and rich houses are replaced by rich apartments. But the wealth of the hill remains present, seeping through every road and alley.
Gradually the paint on houses begins to fade, and little pieces of trash blow across the road before you. Cluttered trashcans mope on the sidewalk, while the first hints of graffiti show up. The people walking on the sidewalk beside you darken measurably in skin color. By the time Vermont crosses the 110 Freeway, the Griffith Observatory far behind you, you are in another world.
But gradually the skin tones shift again, and the ethnic composition shifts from majority-Mexican to majority-Armenian to majority-Korean as Vermont skirts the edge of Hollywood. Where trees formerly were nowhere to be seen, they now line the roads in perspicacious number, and manual crosswalk signals are replaced with automatic ones. The skyscrapers of Koreatown rise before you, and the English and Spanish signs are joined by Korean ones.
As you enter the Downtown area of Koreatown, you enter an entirely different world from the one you just left. Wealthy banks and corporations and important government divisions house their offices here, while a plethora of shops service the burgeoning population. The arts are paid at least nominal attention, while the architecture proclaims the success of those who live here. Cultural diversity abounds, yet urban homogeneity dominates. You are back in the city.
And then the city abruptly drops over a hill into relative squalor. You are still in Koreatown, as is evidenced by occasional restaurants and plenty of signs, but the shops become more shanty-like and the strip malls are fenced off. Graffiti now becomes much more evident as the architecture gradually looks more and more frayed. Meanwhile the Korean dominance is interspersed with various Filipino and Hispanic communities- their services and stores line the road.
Passing the police station on 11th Street, all the wealth of Koreatown is behind you. The population is now almost entirely Black and Hispanic. You are not entering spaces of abject poverty, but nor is the decency of wealth evident. As you push onward the towers of the University of Southern California come into view, and once you cross under the I-10 you almost immediately encounter the somewhat-trashy but not-quite-dirty blocks of student housing so familiar to USC’s students. For a wealthy and prestigious university, it is surprising how the once-great neighborhood of Adams is now quite messy.
Here Shikhar and I ended our journey, having traversed only 7 of Vermont’s interminable 23 miles. Below USC, to the South, I understand it only gets poorer and less appealing. As it winds through South Los Angeles it certainly couldn’t get any better. An article in the LA Times recently referred to South Vermont Avenue as LA’s Death Alley, the murder capital of the county. The 1992 LA riots started in this area, only a few streets over, at Normandie Avenue.
But the interesting thing about the sheer diversity of these various neighborhoods, these contrasting different worlds, is that you never really notice the process of the change, only the effects. You never see the change, only the changes. It is so gradual that it seems absolutely abrupt as soon as you notice it. I was reminded of a hike my Dad and I did once in the Olympic Mountains, where we traversed no fewer than 6 distinct sorts of ecosystem and scenery, all of which blended with each other so perfectly at the seams that no traveler would ever notice and categorize their differences as they happened. This was certainly the case with my Dad and I, as we meandered through lowland old-growth forest into upper Montaigne forests of thinner shrubbery and lichened rather than mossed trees, into the subalpine fir groves and thence to the mountain meadows, finally to emerge amongst the rocky pinnacles where the clouds caressed the peaks. Below us stretched the Eastern Olympic Mountains, yet no single phrase could describe the sheer unified diversity of clime we had just crossed. There was just too much to describe.
A brief look at the variety of ecosystems traversed in the Eastern Olympics, all in a single picture frame
It is this that is the beauty of travel, for no writing can ever adequately catalogue that most fundamental of the traveler’s experience: that uneasy notion held in the back of the mind that everything is changing, yet everything is the same, at once. In one moment one does not notice any change; in the next he is in another world, yet one with eerie similarities and congruencies to the last one he left. Robert Kaplan, a favorite journalist of mine who spent his early career driving, riding, and walking all over Eurasia as a reporter, has argued extensively against ideas about globalization, insisting that geography will always matter in politics. He lambasts the globalist elites who fly from airport to airport and claim to travel, and in this attack he cannot be more correct- travel is not merely GOING places, but GOING TO places. It involves a process every time, and if that process is shortened too much and made convenient and efficient rather than full, no ‘traveler’ can ever gain the full experience of what it means to know the ends of the Earth. There is glory in numbing the feet.
I have copied here some of the important passages of Clausewitz’s great treatise, ‘On War.’ These particularly focus on the nature of military and political analysis as Clausewitz saw it, a very Roman view of the world: Things make sense, sometimes. To a point various variables can be measured and objective measures discerned, but after that point nothing is certain or quantifiable, and it take the wise eye of the commander to determine the proper course. This, I think, is the best way to analyze politics and indeed all things human. It also goes very far in attacking the postmodern and constructivist views of human politics (that nothing is measurable) and the social scientific views of human politics (that everything can be measured) and thereby provides a realistic appraisal of politics centered upon prudence and vigor. This theoretical basis is a better one to use as a baseline to understand politics, I think, than any other, and thus Clausewitz is required reading for all those seeking to properly understand political processes.
The Art vs. the Science of War
…Creation and production lie in the realm of art; science will dominate where the object is inquiry and knowledge…
We therefore conclude that war does not belong in the realm of arts and sciences; rather it is part of man’s social existence. War is a clash between major interests, which is resolved by bloodshed- that is the only way in which it differs from other conflicts. Rather than comparing it to art or science we could more accurately compare it to commerce, which is also a conflict of human interests and activities, and it is still closer to politics… Politics, moreover, is the womb in which war develops, where its outlines already exist in their hidden rudimentary form, like the characteristics of living creatures as embryos.
The essential difference is that war is not an exercise of the will directed at inanimate matter, as is the case with the mechanical arts, or at matter which is animate but passive and yielding, as is the case with the human mind and emotions in the fine arts. In war, the will is directed at an animate object that reacts. It must be obvious that the intellectual codification used in the arts and sciences is an inappropriate to such an activity [and such must be the case, too, in commerce and politics….]
On Planning (and Plotting)
Since in war too small an effort can result not just in failure but in positive harm, each side is driven to outdo the other, which sets up an interaction.
Such an interaction could lead to a maximum effort if a maximum could be defined. But in that case all proportion between action and political demands would be lost: means would cease to be commensurate with ends, and in most cases a policy of maximum exertion would fail because of the domestic problems it would raise.
In this way the belligerent is again driven to adopt the middle course. He would act on the principle of using no greater force, and setting for himself no greater military aim, than would be sufficient for the achievement of his political purpose. To turn this principle into practice he must renounce the need for absolute success in each given case, and he must dismiss remoter possibilities from his calculations.
At this point, then, intellectual activity leaves the field of the exact sciences of logic and mathematics. It then becomes an art in the broadest meaning of the term- the faculty of using judgment to detect the most important and decisive elements in the vast array of facts and situations. Undoubtedly this power of judgment consists to a greater or lesser degree in the intuitive comparison of all the factors and attendant circumstances; what is remote and secondary is at once dismissed while the most pressing and important points are identified with greater speed than could be done with strictly logical deduction.
To discover how much of our resources must be mobilized for war, we must first examine our own political aim and that of the enemy. We must gauge the strength and situation of the opposing state. We must gauge the character and abilities of its government and people and do the same in regard to our own. Finally, we must evaluate the political sympathies of other states and the effect the war may have on them. To assess these things in all their ramifications and diversity is plainly a colossal task. Rapid and correct appraisal of them clearly calls for the intuition of a genius; to master all this complex mass by sheer methodical examination is obviously impossible. Bonaparte was quite right when he said that Newton himself would quail before the algebraic problems it would pose.
The size and variety of factors to be weighed, and the uncertainty about the proper scale to use, are bound to make it far more difficult to reach the right conclusion. We should also bear in mind that the vast, unique importance of war, while not increasing the complexity and difficulty of the problem, does increase the value of the correct solution. Responsibility and danger do not tend to free or stimulate the average person’s mind- rather the contrary; but wherever they do liberate an individual’s judgment and confidence we can be sure we stand in the presence of genius.
At the outset, then, we must admit that an imminent war, its possible aims, and the resources it will require, are matters that can only be assessed when every circumstance has been examined in the context of the whole, which of course includes the most ephemeral factors as well. We must also recognize that the conclusion reached can be no more wholly objective than any other in war, but will be shaped by the qualities of mind and character of the men making the decision- of the rulers, statesmen, and commanders, whether these roles are united in a single individual or not.
A more general and theoretical treatment of the subject may become feasible if we consider the nature of states and societies as they are determined by their times and prevailing conditions.
…We want to show how every age had its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions, and its own particular preconceptions. Each period, therefore, would have held to its own theory of war, even if the urge had always and universally existed to work things out on scientific principles. It follows that the events of every age must be judged in the light of its own peculiarities. One cannot, therefore, understand and appreciate the commanders of the past until one has placed oneself in the situation of their times, not so much by a painstaking study of all its details as by an accurate appreciation of its major determining features.
But war, though conditioned by the particular characteristics of states and their armed forces, must contain some more general- indeed, a universal- element with which every theorist ought above all to be concerned.
The age in which this postulate, this universally valid element, was at its strongest was the most recent one [the Napoleonic Wars] when war attained the absolute in violence. But it is no more likely that war will always be so monumental in character than that the ample scope it has come to enjoy will again be severely restricted. A theory, then, that dealt exclusively with absolute war would either have to ignore any case in which the nature of war had been deformed by outside influence, or else it would have to dismiss them all as misconstrued. That cannot be what theory is for. Its purpose is to demonstrate what war is in practice, not what its ideal nature ought to be. So the theorist must scrutinize all data with an inquiring, a discriminating, and a classifying eye. He must always bear in mind the wide variety of situations that can lead to war. If he does, he will draw the outline of its salient features in such a way that it can accommodate both the dictates of the age, and those of the immediate situation.
We can thus only say that the aims a belligerent adopts, and the resources he employs, must be governed by the particular characteristics of his own position; but they will also conform to the spirit of the age and to its general character. Finally, they must always be governed by the general conclusions to be drawn from the nature of war itself.
War is merely a continuation of policy by other means…
War is more than a true chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case. As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity- composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.
The first of these three aspects mainly concerns the people, the second the commander and his army, the third the government. The passions that are to be kindled in war must already be inherent in the people; the scope which the play of courage and talent will enjoy in the realm of probability and chance depends upon the particular character of the commander and the army; but the political aims are the business of the government alone.
These three tendencies are like three different codes of law, deep-rooted in their subject and yet variable in their relationship with one another. A theory that ignores any one of them or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship between them would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it would be totally useless.
Our task therefore is to develop a theory that maintains balance between these three tendencies, like an object suspended between three magnets.
Friends of mine who would agree with the statement, “Global warming is one of the biggest threats to mankind of our time,” I would like to share the following excerpt from Walter Russell Mead, detailing why I don’t think too hard on climate change and instead think about other things:
“Back in the late 1960s, when I was a callow youth with no common sense to speak of and a huge, misshapen ego, the Big Scare energizing the United Nations, the foundation world, the leaders of civil society and the intellectual establishment of the day was the Population Bomb. It’s hard for young people today to understand how terrified, urgent, self righteous and utterly convinced the Population Bomb movement was. The closest analogy today is the global green movement and its apocalyptic warnings about climate change. The Population Bomb worriers didn’t have as many grassroots organizations in support of their agenda as the greens do today, but the establishment, the mainstream press, and the great and the good were even more worried about the Bomb then than they are about global warming today, and the forecasts we were getting were even more dire.
Basically, the problem was that people were having too many children—especially, though it wasn’t polite to say this, non-white and non-educated people. All over the developing world, modern medicine was reducing infant mortality, but people were having just as many children as they did back in the days when half of all babies died in their first two years of life. With life expectancy increasing for older people as well, the world’s population was exploding, and the inevitable result would be famine, war and you name it…
The most visible spokesperson for the alarmists was Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford biologist whose 1968 book The Population Bomb predicted inevitable mass famines and other unspeakable horrors starting in the 1970s and accelerating to Armageddon as the starving billions fought over crusts and war boiled across an emaciated world. As the professor warned us in exactly the same kind of prose alarmist greens now use, ‘The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…’
The bomb was a dud. Though Dr. Ehrlich went on to peddle other scare stories about Malthusian meltdowns of various kinds for almost half a century after the world failed to collapse, his reputation has never been the same. The decades since the great population hysteria have seen a steady decline in the rate of population growth to the point where in many countries the biggest worry now is population decline. The number of people without secure access to an adequate diet is falling; the 21st century currently looks set to spend more time worrying about obesity than starvation. While the world population continues to rise, most experts now believe (for what it’s worth) that the world population will level off rather than explode.
Establishment panics—those delicious moments when the Great and the Good work themselves into a hysterical frenzy about mostly imaginary dangers—come and go pretty often but don’t usually leave much damage behind. The mainstream media are usually too busy whipping up fears about the next panic to write caustic examinations of the people who keep crying “Wolf!” And in any case, it is rude to point out that many of the people traipsing from think-tank meetings to television studios aren’t very good at, well, thinking.
Older readers will remember or have heard of the Sputnik Panic, the Fallout Shelter movement, the Missile Gap, the balance of payment nightmares of the Kennedy years, the Club of Rome commodities panic, ’70s declinism, the Japan panic, swine flu, Peak Oil, bird flu and, of course, Y2K. At the time, hordes of very important and well-connected people lectured America incessantly on the urgent dangers some of these represented, and various imposing national and global action plans were debated. In some cases, a great deal of money was spent on these plans—though never quite as much as the establishment thought would be best.
…the Population Bomb was one of the many impending disasters that panicked the establishment without actually happening…”
Read the whole article here:
I hope the point is clear.
I do believe that climate change is happening, that it has ultimately negative effects on the biosphere, that those negative effects are in turn detrimental to human life, which relies on the biosphere, that human beings have contributed to this process through the industrial revolution, and that through policy the effects of this can be negated somewhat.
I also believe, however, that climate change is a natural process and that humans affect it only partially. Thus, we have only contributed to it partially, and we can only slow it partially. I am therefore not sure that legislation and policy purporting to “stop global warming” or “solve climate change” is worth implementing. I believe that the issue itself is hyped up to a degree that renders most public debate over it invalid, and overall I think people who believe in it are giving it a lot more legitimacy than it’s worth.
What part of the problem is solvable, I think will be solved, and what part isn’t, I think will not. I don’t think we’re about to face dramatically rising sea levels, mass migrations, deathly heatwaves, the total desertification of entire continents, or any such apocalyptic disasters that will supposedly destroy civilization. I think we’ll face disasters and figure out ways to get past them. In 50 years, I think we’ll all look back on things and wonder why we thought the world was about to end.
We should regulate the emissions our economy puts into the atmosphere, seek out and transfer to alternative fuels as much as is pragmatically possible, and continue to fund research into the workings of the planet. I do not doubt any of these things, and I think I would consider myself very much an environmentalist if asked. But prudence must conquer hysteria, and I am of the opinion that the sheer black-and-white treatment climate change gets in popular discourse nowadays is too much.