21 June 2019

Death cults, self-image, and goodness


has in other places people making remarks to the effect of "the Right has become a death cult".

Of course the right has become a death cult.

It's the only way they can think of themselves as good people.

This is why you don't think of yourself as good.  This is why you try to avoid good and bad as labels; think about the material consequences directly, because good and bad elide all sorts of stuff into what you got taught before you were five.  In a stable benevolent period, that could perhaps be responsible, but in the times we live in, it's not responsible whatsoever.  Everything will change and there will be both great trouble and no status quo for centuries.

As far as the right is concerned, if they look at material consequences -- we're headed at something between the Eocene Thermal Maximum and the End Permian nine-tenths-of-all-life extinction -- they've been advancing unwise policies by not-especially-licit means for forty critical years, from 1980 to the present.  It turns out greed is still a sin, value cannot be measured with money, and that wealth is not virtue.  If those facts are accorded the status of facts -- things incontrovertibly of the material world, independent of belief or unbelief both together -- then it's impossible for the people whose policies created the disaster to be good.  (It calls into question the utility of any moral frame as a basis for decision.)

If they're not good, they get to have a severe existential crisis; it doesn't even need to be a religious existential crisis.

As it gets more and more difficult to keep from noticing that, nope, not good; it has to be from the viewpoint of hypothetical insect survivors in a million years to even suppose this could be good, the bad insecurity management -- which is always about trying to disdain facts in some way or another -- gets more and more violent because primates.  The larger the pile of skulls, the greater the vehemence and conviction.  Maybe they just have to bring about the End Times, there's a theology for that.

This can work on fellow primates; the wetware doesn't distinguish correctness and conviction. 

It doesn't work on the rain.


_Moz_ said...

Clive Hamilton has a bit in the Guardian today about how the voters for the right have switched from facts to culture for the same reason. Or possibly more accurately, the reasons for voting right wing have switched to culture. Interesting that the people voting thusly have also changed to the poorer and less educated people, especially in more isolated areas (the outer suburbs are isolated by design rather than distance but the effect is the same).

I am not sure what the answer is, since our governments have long discarded fair and balanced as characteristics of the media and expect that privately owned media will favour the rich... and government owned media can be attacked for anything that reeks of a bias towards facts.

Also, the recent CT thread on Tactical Voting that rapidly degenerated into "you can't say that old people shouldn't vote on things they don't care about"... specifically that denying young people the vote is right and natural since they are untrustworthy idiots, but old people are sensible and reasonable. As I see from Brexit, Trump, global warming and refugees... (http://crookedtimber.org/2019/06/19/tactical-voting/)


That google "prove you love the beast" captcha thing is garbage, BTW, it really does say "if you're not using Chrome you must spend time"

Graydon said...

+Moz -- Convincing people to do effective insecurity management is a tough problem.

Older people don't deal with change as well as when they were younger; the anglosphere boomer generation is facing an entirely supportable charge of being collectively the greatest fuckups in the history of mankind, and there's a well-documented issue with "wrong about anything means being wrong about everything" and resultant cognitive lockup.

The systemic answer is pretty easy; income and asset caps. Implementing that makes everything else vastly more practical. Difficult to do, especially since there's this fear that anything sensible is really a thin-edge-of-the-wedge toward that end. (It's not like the problematic rich don't know abolishing great wealth is the general case solution for the great mass of people.)

_Moz_ said...

Uncertainty/insecurity is a tricky one to measure. As we saw from the UK school protest, a lot of young people are convinced that the adults are going to kill them, and there's really good evidence that those kids are correct. Arguably that's "insecurity management", but cynical old farts like me say, nah, that's not uncertainty, there's no question that the system we have in place cannot avert the climate emergency or even mitigate it very much. The uncertainty is "will you lose both legs or just one" level, not "do you have cancer".

And even progressive taxation has a bad rap on the right these days, forget explicit wealth taxes (the capital gains tax fuckup in Aotearoa, for example). I find it scary that my parents have slowly shifted from "wealth taxes that cut in at a level we're never going to see let alone reach are unreasonable" (they're not poor, by many standards they're rich) to outright "give us what we want or we will fuck you up"... they don't like it when I point out that they're doing that anyway and what they want is to be given more money so they can do even more damage. My mother would happily fly from Aotearoa to the UK twice a year if she had the funds (instead of just once).

The change thing... I kind of agree, but I would qualify it with "change for the worse". Unexpectedly becoming better off in some way seems to be change older people cope with pretty well, often better than younger people (being told "the cancer has disappeared" sort of better off, not so much "and here's an extra million").

Graydon said...

+Moz -- I use "insecurity management" as a term of art for the process by which people identify, label, and seek to reduce the sources of insecurity they experience during the course of their ongoing life.

Nothing about it requires a material basis; people have been very worried about ghosts and curses before now.

The idea that money is virtue and material proof the love of god is not a new heresy but it's certainly doing well at the present time. It would be challenging to implement income and asset caps, but I think worthwhile even at the probable cost.

Older people cope better with anything where accumulated wisdom is a factor, yeah, but in terms of "how afraid are you?" it goes up. Being old involves not being able to do as much or think as fast, and it gets into the world view as fear.

Peter T said...

Off the direct topic, but on weather and consequences this is interesting: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0217148

Graydon said...


One thing that I haven't seen get any attention is that agriculture at the farmer level is woefully undercapitalized. That means operating loans, and the loans are made on the basis of statistical assumptions about the frequency of good and bad crop years. ("one year in five is a good year" sorts of things.)

Climate change means the statistical assumptions underlying the loans are wrong, and generally not in the farmer's favour. You can see this by looking at the USDA stats for farm income; there's farm farm income, and non-farm farm income, and while the median total is positive, the farm-farm median income is negative, and has been for a couple of years, and is trending (on the basis of three years) away from "about zero" to "more and more negative". Most US agriculture is being subsidized by second jobs, not sustainable in the abstract and subject to abrupt collapse. (The point at which you just can't afford to farm arrived awhile ago; the point at which you can't pretend you can afford to farm is sudden, because it happens when a major capital expense arrives.)

This isn't even vaguely sustainable, as the collapse of dairy farms in the various parts of the north-east has been making obvious.

Only the people looking at it on a policy level have no idea, are committed (in most cases) to an "it isn't serious" (whether "at all" or "yet") position, and have serious failures of imagination around the possibility of a social organization not designed to maximize profit for somebody.

My expectation is that food security has far more problems we're going to experience much more sharply and sooner than is generally expected. I also expect that the policy response is going to be nigh-entirely wrong-headed and actively unhelpful, because "we need to optimize robustness" over "profit" ("yield", "yield per unit of labour cost", etc.) is viewed as heresy.

Peter T said...

Been happening in Australia for decades. First villages go, then small towns. In larger rural towns some shops go, others desperately diversify (my favourite is a store combining pets and porn - don't buy a parrot from there). The policy response has been to encourage/mandate larger farm sizes and corporate agriculture. This bears more heavily on the environment (hello, disappearing rivers). In a perverse way, it drives remaining rural people to vote further right, which encourages right-wing parties, ever more dependent on rural votes, to amplify the trend.