Saturday, May 25, 2013

Don't go there!

Razib Khan (writing as David Hume at Secular Right) deals sensibly – but gingerly – with a controversy regarding a Harvard PhD dissertation on IQ, race and immigration. He is "not keen to get deeply involved", because, he says, so much has been said already about the affair in question. But I suspect his reluctance may have other causes as well, for there are clear disincentives in play for right-leaning moderates to discuss certain sensitive issues.

Razib also made a more general point about academic manners and assumptions which I strongly endorse.

"As a non-liberal with some affiliation with academia," he writes, "I’m in a peculiar position. I get to observe people blithely confusing their normative presuppositions with the basic background assumptions of the average person."

This leads them to suspect anyone whose opinions are out of line with theirs on certain litmus issues to be an extremist.

Which leads me to another topic entirely, but one which serves to illustrate the above points: the recent suicide of Dominique Venner in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

As it happens, I have some knowledge of the French far right (including a couple of Venner's former associates), but I hesitate to write on the topic because even a balanced and quite dispassionate account would likely be interpreted in academic circles as some kind of endorsement of fascism.

The way one is supposed to deal with this sort of topic – if one deals with it at all – is to do it in the way David Sessions did it, writing at The Daily Beast. Sessions's analysis carries useful information but is heavily loaded with moral outrage and left-wing signaling to protect the author against any suggestion that he feels anything other than the greatest possible repugnance for the man in question and his ideas, and indeed for anyone associated with the French right.

Sessions talks, for example, of the Algerian conflict of the 1950s and early 60s having "further radicalized the already hysterically right-wing pieds-noirs, the French settlers in Algeria who, at the end of the bloody war, uprooted themselves from generations of history and moved en masse to metropolitan France. Though they successfully assimilated into French culture, they often supported the country’s emerging far-right party, the Front National…" Do we really need the "hysterically right-wing"? (And that was before they were further radicalized.)

What leftists and politically-correct journalists don't seem to understand is that the hidden constraints on speech which have arisen over recent decades create pressures which are felt not just by educated moderates (like me) but also by less well-educated people of conservative disposition who are liable to react to such perceived constraints – spurred on, perhaps, by dramatic events like Venner's suicide – in unpredictable and possibly violent ways.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Europe's failing states

The homeland of Helen Blums, along with a number of other former Soviet or Eastern Bloc countries, is in trouble due to emigration and low birth rates. Latvia's president said recently that the country's independence would rapidly become unsustainable if the net outflow of population was not stopped.

And in a provocative piece on the problems of fertility and emigration in some European countries, Edward Hugh suggests that the international community should start thinking about a 'country resolution mechanism' along the lines of the mechanisms for dealing with failed banks recently debated in Europe.

Hugh refers to Wolfgang Lutz's low fertility trap hypothesis which involves self-reinforcing mechanisms which may lead to population meltdown.

Economic factors are clearly crucial.

"... Not only do […] negative economic conditions discourage young people from forming families and having children (obvious I think), they can also have the effect that young people leave in search of a better future thus reducing the potential number of children who can be born in the future.

"The ensuing acceleration in the rate of population ageing and the proportions of older people only makes the problem of sustaining public spending on pensions and health systems worse and worse, causing the fiscal burden on those who stay to grow and grow, a development which makes it more and more attractive to leave and start up again elsewhere. And with each additional person who leaves there is another turn of the screw, and the costs of staying get higher, as do the advantages of not doing so. This is how melt down can happen.

"Naturally there can be a political dimension to the disintegration, as the need to implement ever less popular policies (especially policies unpopular with older people, those who do vote) leads politicians to become more and more demogogic while delivering less and less. Naturally the democratic quality of a country’s institutions starts to deteriorate under these circumstances, which only makes the young feel even more helpless and under-represented.

"This outcome is now becoming plain in much of Southern Europe, but it is obviously even more evident in Ukraine...

"... [T]he process of country decline, like most processes in the macro economic world, is non linear. That is to say critical moments or turning points will exist when suddenly things move a lot faster than expected. Hemingway grasped the essence of this in his much quoted “bankruptcy comes slowly at first but then all of a sudden”. As the economy falls back, and the burden of debt grows on the ever smaller numbers of young people expected to pay, the pressure on those young people to pack their bags and leave simply mounts and mounts, accelerating the process even further.

"In fact populations dying out is nothing new in human history if we move beyond the most recent world delineated by nation states. In hunter gatherer times populations occupied increased or reduced proportions of the earth’s surface as climate dictated. In more modern times, islands have been populated or become depopulated according to economic dynamics (think the Scottish coastline). More recently, it is clear the old East Germany would have become a country in need of “resolution” had it not sneaked in under the umbrella of the Federal Republic. Why people should find the idea of country failure so contentious I am not sure, perhaps we have just become accustomed not to have “hard” thoughts.

"Applying the argument many apply to banks, unsustainable countries “deserve” to fail, don’t they? Why should the US or German taxpayer have to pay to keep them afloat? Naturally, including Spain in this group of countries that can only now salute Caesar as they prepare to die may seem extreme, but just give it time.

"I expect (should I say “predict” in the Popperian sense, since this argument is empirical, and is surely falsifiable) the first countries to die to be in Eastern Europe, with the most likely candidates to get the ball rolling being Belarus, Ukraine and Serbia. But then gradually this phenomenon will spread along the EU periphery, from East to South..."

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Helen Blums

This is not really my thing, but it's a nice photo, and I am, as it happens, a great reader of obituaries, especially of people who lived long lives.

Though there is a strong genetic component in longevity, other factors cannot be ignored.

You would think that living through years of desperate poverty and war and chaos and grueling work would take its toll. But it seems that, in many cases, (involuntary) caloric restriction, physical activity and self-discipline may have proved more significant in the end than exposure to what we would now characterize as serious occupational and other health and safety hazards.

Those many ordinary and yet extraordinary people who survived the horrors of World War 2 in Europe are slowly disappearing. Many, of course, emigrated and have lived out the greater part of their lives in the USA, Canada, South America or Australia.

Like Helen Blums.

"... She was 28 years old in 1944 when her family fled their farm [in Latvia] to walk to the Baltic Sea to escape the [...] Red Army. Her older brother and sister, mother and sickly father embarked on the journey, leaving most of their possessions. Helen's father died in her arms near the Baltic coast in a smokehouse where a fisherman let them shelter. Despite the previous two refugee ships to leave the Baltic port of Liepaja being torpedoed by Soviet submarines, Helen's ship made it through. The next stage was a work camp in Nazi Germany. For the next five years they worked seven days a week, slept on concrete and were always hungry.

Helen was home-educated – she never went to a day of school – yet was fluent in reading and writing in three languages. She was indefatigable from the farm as a child to old age ...

While in Berlin she worked in a chemical factory for six days a week and cleaned windows on Sundays for a jar of jam. At one stage she obtained a bicycle and read tarot cards for surrounding farmers. When she correctly predicted a wife would learn the fate of her soldier husband on her return home, demand escalated. She also set up shop in a basement cleaning and smoking fish..."

Helen Blums died recently in Melbourne, Australia, aged 97.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


I've noticed that the handful of bloggers with whom I have been in intermittent contact, and who started around the same time I did (three years ago or so), have either discontinued or drastically scaled back their offerings.

It makes me wonder whether I am missing something. Has there been a decisive change in the digital environment or a subtle shift in the zeitgeist?

Or is it just a function of individuals only having a very finite stock of (worthwhile) things to say? Of course, people have always kept diaries, but diaries are not addressed to others and so the entries don't need to justify themselves in the way public comments (arguably) do.

But I suspect it's more a matter of people having found better things to do than having run out of worthwhile things to say!

I realize that social networks seem to be growing at the expense of blogs – or at least at the expense of blog commenting.

Speaking of which, I have been having problems again with comment spam and have changed the settings so that now comments on Conservative Tendency will be checked by me before they go up to make sure no more junk gets through.

I will be posting a couple of videos featuring David Albert and Thomas Nagel respectively on the other blog soon.