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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“So much of our popular culture depends on the loudly proclaimed pose of being “rebels,” of being outside the mainstream, of being “transgressive”—while repeating clichés that have become deadly boring through decades of repetition. It reminds me of a brilliant little bit in The Onion: “Purchase of Jeans Ushers Man into Exclusive, Ultra-Cool Subculture of Jeans-Wearing Americans.” They all want to be nonconformists just like everyone else.”

Robert Tracinski

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41 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so – it is a want-to-be teenage culture.

    Too many people (on both “left” and “right”) want to be “repels” and break-and-smash.

    Understanding the principles of Western Civilisation and trying to restore them is not “fashionable”.

    We have become a juvenile culture. Not good – not good at all. It is neurotic – as Ludwig Von Mises described the “youth movements” that plagued Germany in the early 20th century. With people seeking to prove they were rebels – by being utterly subservient to the group and the Group Leader (no I do not understand it either).

    As for the trappings….

    Standing around in a black leather jacket may be “cool” if one is the age James Dean died at.

    But, if James Dean was still with us, I hope he would not still be doing it.

    There is a time to grow up and play one’s part in rebuilding (restoring) our civilisation.

    Be an individual by what you do (your work) – not by posing.

  • Cal Ford

    It’s the same reason so many leftists like to call themselves anarchists (something I first noticed as an undergrad). Telling the truth and calling yourself a ‘big-state socialist conformist’ doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?

  • bobby b

    Back in seventh and eighth grade, we all grew our hair long to show our individuality.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Cal, yes, most anarchists aren’t in any meaningful sense. I sometimes think they only use the word as a substitute for “general naughtiness”. 👿

  • Mal Reynolds (Serenity)

    I once heard of a group of bog-standard socialist squatters in London who said they were a “libertarian” collective. Libertarian is potentially becoming seen as the new non-conformist label and the left subsequently want to co-opt it too like they did with liberal.

  • Watchman

    Mal,

    I think you can get left-libertarians to be fair – libertarianism is hardly a monolothic ideology (since the best way to stop a libetarian movement taking over the country is to leave them alone and they’ll get into an argument).

    I suspect the collective in question may even fit a libertarian defintion, in that if they wish to live as a socialist collective, what concern is it of anyone else (other than the property owner, who might have an interest)?

    We could even extend this to not caring that the supposed-anarchists call themselves this, although as libertarians tend to believe in personal property I suspect actual anarchists might be a bit more of an issue for many of them…

  • Mal Reynolds (Serenity)

    @Watchman

    That they were squatters suggested they did not really believe in personal property. And all their other agitations appeared to be pretty normal socialism. But I take your point more generally.

  • Lee Moore

    if they wish to live as a socialist collective, what concern is it of anyone else (other than the property owner, who might have an interest)?

    Kinda answered your own question there. It simply isn’t possible to be a “socialist collective” without believing in the appropriation of other people’s property without their consent. If you got together with a bunch of like minded mates who chose to hold their property in common, but eschewed any claim on the property of outsiders, other than that which could be acquired by voluntary exchange, you might be a collective , but you wouldn’t be a “socialist” collective.

    If it’s voluntary it can’t be socialist.

  • Flubber

    As Ozzy Osborne once said “Be an individual. Don’t get a tattoo.”

  • Jacob

    It’s not only “popular culture” – it’s culture in general. If you want to create a work of art it’s not enough to create something beautiful and well executed, that would be so… so commonplace, no. You need to create something ORIGINAL like say a pile of junk or excrement or something. And then you get to invited to exhibit at the public museums, whose curators wish to show off their broad mindedness and their status as connoisseurs and setters of the current art trend.

  • rosenquist

    this is true not just of culture but of politicals. Whatever your politics it is given that
    one should assume the posture of the rebel speaking truth to power, whatever that power may be (corporations, the media academic complex, government ect).

    nobody ever claims to be the voice of the establishment.

  • Mal Reynolds (Serenity)

    @rosenquist: your comment reminded me of this

  • MikeR

    The reason I’ve never worn jeans for decades is because I actually am a non conformist.

  • Bruce

    The “Pythons” nailed it decades ago:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QereR0CViMY

  • Eric

    Cal, yes, most anarchists aren’t in any meaningful sense. I sometimes think they only use the word as a substitute for “general naughtiness”.

    If you read them (or, these days, watch their youtube videos), you see they’ve divided “anarchism” into dozens of mutually exclusive splinter factions (don’t laugh, libertarians) – anarcho-capitalists, anarcho-communists, anarcho-synicalism, platformism, post anarchism… the list is endless. They’ve pretty much just rebranded the entire political spectrum as an excuse to smash windows while wearing a balaclava.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    I long ago learned that when someone says “people need to have their preconceptions upset”, I’m about to hear something that bored my grandparents.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Democracy is war by other means. In war the first casualty is truth. Thus, in democracy (slow motion war) self-proclaimed rebels tend to, in fact, be the most conformist in society.

    Under stable (primarily monarchies) regimes it is generally the loud-mouth self-styled rebels who are anti-establishment.

    Under unstable (primarily democracies) regimes it is largely the silent and faithful who are anti-establishment.

  • Eric

    It simply isn’t possible to be a “socialist collective” without believing in the appropriation of other people’s property without their consent.

    At a small enough scale it can work – people get together and buy a bunch of land where they share everything. They’re not appropriating other people’s property without their consent because everybody is there willingly.

    As soon as the second generation comes of age everthing changes and the collective falls apart.

  • Runcie Balspune

    One of the “rebellious” themes I’ve encountered that neatly demonstrates the inanity of the exercise is changing your name to a single name. I worked with a contractor called “Graham” years ago, unfortunately the email system refused to allow blank surnames and thus he became “Graham Contractor”, by which he was known to distinguish him from the other Grahams. Another example was a older friend of my wife called “Sheila”, as we already knew four Sheilas, so she became Sheila Whitehair. Thus demonstrating the whole reason why we have surnames in the first place. As if these great thinkers hadn’t realized this obvious and simple fact.

    Also, related, sort of

  • Alisa

    Anarcho-capitalists smashing windows? That one is new on me…

  • CaptDMO

    oh MAN! If I can just learn a few cords on the guitar I can sing remotely “activist” folk songs under the tree and the chicks will dig it. I can show up at the “party” meetings…maybe register and get a card! Maybe even hit the holy grail of non-specific foreign mysticism cult commune figurehead!
    They’ll surrender their stuff to me,grow food for me to eat, sell crap at the airport/bus stop/ train station and I’ll get Sooooooooo laid!!!!!
    Oh MAN!!!!!I have GOT to get me one of those black ninja protester costumes and a back pack!
    *sigh*

  • Eric

    oh MAN! If I can just learn a few cords on the guitar I can sing remotely “activist” folk songs under the tree and the chicks will dig it.

    Sadly, I think this actually works.

  • Sam Duncan

    “The “Pythons” nailed it decades ago”

    As I commented the other day over at David Thompson’s, Galton and Simpson, via Tony Hancock, nailed it more than twenty years before that:

    Hancock: I can’t understand what all the fuss is about. Nothing out of the ordinary in this lot: blue and white striped stocking cap, home-woven vegetable-fibre shirt, canvas trousers and fisherman-rope sandals. Not exactly shipping-clerk gear, I admit, nevertheless indicative of my new state-of-mind. My friends and I are rebelling against conformity.

    Sid: What do they wear?

    Hancock: Well, the same as this, of course. We’re the ‘avant-guard’ of the New Culture. We’re dedicated to setting up a new order of things; determined to establish a new set of values; to break away from the bonds that threaten to stifle the cultural and creative activities of Man’s mind.

    Sid: Blimey, another load of layabouts.

    “I long ago learned that when someone says ‘people need to have their preconceptions upset’, I’m about to hear something that bored my grandparents.”

    Yep.

  • the other rob

    nobody ever claims to be the voice of the establishment.

    The irony being that “we the people” are the establishment, financially at least.

    I heard a story today, concerning our bloated and corrupt local council. My “whistleblower” had been attempting to get management to address a minor public works matter which was creating a not-so-minor hazard. “So what if we get sued? We’ve got plenty of money and insurance!” was management’s reply. Apparently this is not unusual.

    Of course, when that fat, lazy, Jabba the Hut, cunt’s failure to do his fucking job eventually does get somebody hurt, it won’t be “the council” paying the big money judgment. It will be me and the rest of the taxpayers in the city.

    What if those of us who are net tax payers started acting like we were the establishment?

  • William Newman

    I don’t think it’s reliably correct to see it as driven by a belief in being more individual. I have been around tech students and tech workers for quite a few decades now, and there’s lots of casual dress, and trying foolishly to use that as a way of expressing their individuality doesn’t seem to fit as a motive for most of the techies I have run into. To the limited extent it makes a statement, it is something different — several possibilities, of which countersignaling (somewhat analogous to Sam Walton driving a pickup when he could buy a Maserati from spare change) is one.

    And besides which, duh, if you want to be *individual*, you get *tattoos*.

    But you didn’t tune in for that analysis, right? You tuned in for the jokes, right?

    1. In Silicon Valley, wearing a suit says something. It says “I’m a waiter.”

    2. (from comments of “http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/05/how-much-of-the-attractiveness-premium-is-really-about-grooming.html”:)

    Speaking as someone that has been in the high technology field for
    forty years: I’d be happy if engineers just wore pants.
    — Chip Overclock commenting

    The marketing department’s adoption of casual Friday forced the
    engineers to raise the stakes.
    — Michael Cain replying

  • Fred the Fourth

    William:
    Back in about 1987 when IBM bought my Silicon Valley company (ROLM Corp.), the following Friday at the regular after-work beer party, most of the engineers showed up wearing suits, dark ties, and company nametags.
    Management was not happy about the implied joke directed toward our new overlords. One manager even went around taking names.
    That behavior may have had something to do with the exodus of about 80% of engineering staff over the next six months. (Well, I suppose the transfer of my division to Loral may have accelerated things a tiny bit…).
    In my 30+ years in the valley doing tech, I can’t remember a moment when anyone’s attire was a subject of conversation, with two exceptions:
    1) Anytime an engineer wore a suit or even a close approximation, it was assumed they were interviewing. In those days one didn’t have to worry about one’s management knowing this; in fact it improved one’s bargaining position.
    2) Ross Thompson’s bare feet and/or shorts. The former made the #1 spot on the Christmas party list of “10 things our Japanese partners don’t understand about us”, and the latter was the subject of a management memo deploring over-casual dress.
    Otherwise, dress was a big no-op.

  • Fred the Fourth

    I suppose I should add that the estimable Mr. Thompson was one of those programmers whose productivity was roughly 10x the norm. Certainly 10x my productivity.

  • TDK

    What we have is an society where ersatz rebellion is the norm. For instance Mick Jagger is still feted for his 1960s rebellion and invited to all the best events. Meanwhile the culture that Mick rebelled against is celebrated by no one, save perhaps Peter Hitchens.

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa who mentioned anarcho capitalists smashing windows? Normally if someone uses the word “capitalist” to describe their position they are not “in to” smashing windows. No doubt I have missed something in the comment thread – my eyes tend to glaze over going through endless comments (good as each one of them is).

    S.M. – individual consent is indeed better than majority consent (I do not always disagree with you). However, it does not work as such examples as the old Commonwealth of Poland showed – there only a noble (not an ordinary person) could object to a tax, but it was easy for hostile powers to get a single noble to exercise his power of veto, so Poland was left open to destruction in the 18th century.

    “Democracy” in the sense of majority rule, is not perfect (far from it), but it is necessary for national defence – if every individual has a veto on action nothing will be done and the nation will be destroyed (and things will go very badly for the population – including for the person who exercised the veto, for the hostile powers will not need him any more).

    Jacob – you hit on a good point.

    Art and culture generally are good indications of other matters.

    A nation where the art is no good (where the good is rejected in favour of anything that has “shock value”) is going to get into political trouble as well as artistic trouble.

    It means that people are rejecting the principles of their ancestors (no longer seeing their role as gradually improving what they take from the past and pass on to the future) – and going into mad folly instead.

    Postcards of American town and cities a century ago (showing what had been built before the Progressive era that was starting now) show a very different, and much better, country.

    How people dress, how they walk, what the buildings look like – as well as what the paintings look like and the music sounds like.

    If the arts (including the art of living) falls apart – the politics will be falling apart also.

    I think up to World War II there was a conflict in British culture – with good painters (such as Frank Salisbury) and good architects (such as Lutyens) still active.

    After World War II British culture just seems to decline. People still dress and behave well (well up the 1960s when this falls apart), but “high culture” (including building styles) falls apart. Eventually the culture of the ordinary people falls apart as well.

    The culture of “working class” people that Frank Johnson (dead many years now – but he used to write for the Daily Telegraph)described, when ordinary people were interested in serious music and understood how to dress and so on (they just lacked money – not taste) is dead.

    And me?

    I personally reflect the cultural collapse totally – filth and squalor is my existence.

  • Stonyground

    This thread made me think of the Honda Rebel, an ersatz rebel if ever there was one.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_CMX250C

    Also, I think that many people like to describe themselves as a rebel when what they really mean is inconsiderate jerk.

  • Watchman

    I’m pretty certain that to describe yourself as an inconsiderate jerk is actually a form of rebellion…

  • Rebellion is held to be a virtue in Anglo societies, not so much in Asian ones.

  • bobby b

    “Rebellion is held to be a virtue in Anglo societies, not so much in Asian ones.”

    Coincidentally enough, so is narcissism.

  • Mr Ed

    Would a Bastiatian anarcho-capitalist smash windows to actually make a point?

    (Like I split an infinitive to emphasise one)

  • Julie near Chicago

    And used a preposition as if it were a conjunction …. ;>)

    Knowing you, quite possibly on purpose.

    And I don’t want to hear nuthin about dangling phrases. *frown* :>))

  • Runcie Balspune (February 22, 2017 at 10:12 pm), I laughed at your “Graham Contractor” and “Sheila Whitehair”, whose rebellion against the ‘conformity’ of last names forced them to recapitulate how last names appeared in western society, but there are even funnier examples (if you have the right mordant sense of humour).

    Consider certain descendants of slaves in the pre-war south. Denied last names, slaves either courageously chose secret last names as an act of mental defiance, or else chose last names after they fled north or were freed or became free at the end of the civil war. How absurd that these names, always proudly adopted, sometimes courageously adopted, are rejected as “slave’ names by some modern black intellectuals-without-intellects who instead adopt islamic names – adopt names from the culture that captured its slaves instead of buying them, that first-to-last took at least several times as many African slaves as ever went to the USA, that has very few descendants of these African slaves today because of how they were treated, and that was the most reluctant in the world to abolish slavery.

    If you have the right sense of humour, that’s very funny spectacle.

    Notes:

    1) ‘Tom Sawyer’ has a couple of examples: Huck’s reaction to being told that ‘Kings don’t have but a given name’, and the footnote to the scene in the churchyard explaining Tom’s different ways of naming Harbison’s dog and Harbison’s slave, both illustrate how pre-war southern society avoided giving last names to unfree blacks.

    2) Immediately after the civil war, some northerners noticed a reluctance in some blacks to give their last names. These blacks had been brought up in defiant families – whose defiance was prudently mixed with impressing on the children from an early age that they must never tell a white person that they had a last name.

    3) Very, very rarely, a slave adopted a first name on becoming free instead of a last name. An example is Somerset (he of “a slave is free the moment his foot touches British soil”). In the USA, he was probably named Somerset from a childhood liking for turning somersaults, but he was experienced enough to know that (geographical-sounding) Somerset made for a dignified last name in Britain, so called himself James Somerset once he was free.

    4) I think it was similarly rare for a slave to be given a last name by his owner on being freed, but it could happen, or a slave could take that family’s name in gratitude for being freed and/or as a token of hoping for clientage-style protection while adjusting to their new status.

  • Julie, noticing your post above, I’d value your views on an issue that has arisen in my work.

    In the phrase “24 February 2017 at 10:00 am”, is ‘at’ a preposition or a conjunction? I think it is a preposition, but I observe that in “23 days and 10 hours from February the 1st”, the ‘and’ is (IIUC) a conjunction. I am defending my point-of-view about the ‘at’ with success, but would value your confirmation, qualification or correction.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Gee, Niall, I consider that a compliment — thanks!

    Caveat: I learned this stuff in grade (grammar) school, Fall 1949-Spr. 1957. It was, presumably, summarized and recapitulated when I had “College Prep” English in Senior Year.

    So I am very old-school on grammar. Looking around the Wonderful Worldwide Complifier, I see that even Wikipedia notes that there are now two theories about various parts of speech. I believe that situation with English grammar, at least, could now be reasonably described as “chaotic.”

    However. Now that you have confirmation of what glasses I’m wearing:

    Per my analysis, “at” is definitely and certainly a preposition. The phrase “at 10:00 am” (a.m. is an abbreviation, so where are the periods so designating it?) is adjectival, as it modifies “24 February 2017,” which is a nominative phrase. “The vampire drank the last of her blood on 24 February, 2017″; “on” is a preposition introducing a noun. In fact I would go as far as to say that that phrase is a place-name: it specifies a location on the Time axis, if you believe in such a creature. (And I say, why not? Anyhow, before worrying about that I have to make plans for when the asteroid hits. That last, of course, is not great grammar.)

    But “and” is a conjunction: It conjoins (i.e., joins) two things. It means the same thing as “23 days plus 10 hours from….” Interestingly enough, “plus” is designated by some of the online dictionaries as a preposition when used in this way. I suppose by analogy with the “at” argument above, one could say that “plus 10 hours” modifies “23 days,” so must be either adjectival or adverbial. But it’s hardly adverbial, so must be adjectival.

    Here’s the online OED on “and”:

    and
    .conjunction.

    1 Used to connect words of the same part of speech, clauses, or sentences, that are to be taken jointly.
    ……. 1.6 Used to connect two numbers to indicate that they are being added together. … ‘six and four make ten’

    If you ask me, the current situation with grammatical analysis resembles that of having two different sets of directions to Podunk. One, say the old-fashioned good, big roadmaps, give you one set of routes. The current versions, including Google’s Maps and various GPS tell-me-where-to-turn-next systems, give you a different route or routes, and there are reports that the latter has caused deaths when it sent tourists unprepared out into the desert, when the road -> trail -> track -> nonexistent.

    I’m beating the same old drum again. I will spare you. Anyway, I see that my ancient Senior English textbook (Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition, © 1951, 1957) gives the following definition of the word preposition:

    …. “A ‘preposition’ is a word used to show the relation of a noun or pronoun to some other word in the sentence.”

    The authors then give a fairly long list of prepositions, certainly including the word ‘at,’ but not including ‘and.’

    I and the various “authorities” in the stacks concur with you: “at” is most certainly a preposition. :>)

    Wish I had another life, in which to pursue this stuff. On the other hand, given just one more life I would go on in math.

  • Thank you, Julie.

    (And my workplace has accepted that ‘at’ is a preposition in the time construct.)

    In the world of computer generated time values, am and pm without either capitals or full stops are a fact of life. 🙂

  • Julie near Chicago

    YVW, Niall. Always glad of the excuse to analyze, and muck around in the stacks.

    Yes, and am and pm occur undressed elsewhere in our English Jungle (or English Muddle) too. And nobody but nobody (well hardly) knows that an abbreviation is only sometimes an acronym. I blame several different factors. Why don’t the English teach their children how to speak? (In America, [we] haven’t used it for years.) ;>)))

    The roadmap “analogy” is not one of my better ones. Shoot. :>((