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Samizdata quote of the day

Every generation goes through tremors when something new arrives. Elvis’s hips. Pinball. TV. Rock ’n’ roll. Videogames. For the most part, everyone turned out OK. Sure, we’ve all gone down the rabbit hole of hyperlinks and insect-fighting videos. So what? We’re bored.

Andy Kessler, Wall Street Journal (behind paywall). He’s criticising what he sees as “hysteria” in the attacks on social media, putting them in the same bracket as alarms over things like heavy metal music and its effects on young people, and so on.

30 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Mr Black

    This is patently untrue. This degenerate garbage society that has developed in the west is a direct result of many people NOT turning out ok and turning their disfunctions into public policy. What I think this rather stupid author means is because people go to work, consume as expected and don’t murder people during their commute, then all is well. That must explain why people no longer want to have children in the west. Just a casual nothing burger that has destroyed our natural drive to reproduce. I wouldn’t even worry.

  • bobby b

    “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

    Attributed to SOCRATES by Plato (apocryphal, perhaps.)

  • Roué le Jour

    Bobby b,
    And how did that work out for the Greeks?

  • bobby b (February 24, 2020 at 11:32 am), I know of a non-apocryphal quote from the 12th century to the same effect. Just as many a generation of young people image they are the first to burst the bounds of ancestral propriety and wage the battle for sexual freedom, so many a generation of old grumblers imagine they are the first that respected their elders when young but were ignored by their offspring when old.

    The important quote, to my mind, is one from Edmund Burke noting that it took real skill to distinguish “the perennial complaints of mankind” from actual problems that need timely responses.

  • The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
    H.L. Mencken

  • Snorri Godhi

    There is also the Athenian Stranger in Plato’s Laws explaining that the decline and fall of Athens is due to allowing young people to listen to modern music. (In Book 3; summarized from memory.)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    But Mr Black, social media has now given you a whole new way to explain why everyone and everything is going to hell. And you don’t even have to get off your chair.

    Degeneracy? Compared to what? Crave the good old days of two crummy TV channels, inky newspapers and sermons on a Sunday? How’d that work out? If the older world was so much better, why didn’t it stay that way or improve even more?

  • Paul Marks

    Bobby B – Plato (putting his words into the mouth of a dead man – Socrates) does indeed say this.

    But it is not true that disrespect shown by the young was the cause of the decline of Athens – Athenian soldiers did not show any lack of courage or endurance.

    The causes of the decline of Athens were two fold – firstly taxing (TRIBUTE taking) allies for stuff in Athens. The Romans did not do that till much later on in their rise to power – indeed people in Italy were not taxed at all to provide the “bread and games” of the late Republic, it was people outside Italy who were taxed in the late Republic – that meant that the Romans had vast manpower to draw on from within Italy in Republican times.

    The Athenians set up the Delian League as a defensive alliance (a sort of NATO) – but Pericles took the money from the League and used it as piggy bank for anything he wanted to pay for in Athens (Pericles, thereby, turned the allies of Athens into enemies – by stealing their money, and using it to buy elections at home, with building projects and-so-on).

    Also the closed nature of Athenian citizenship that Pericles enforced.

    Before Pericles you needed one Athenian parent to be an Athenian – he had the law changed so you had to have two Athenian parents to be a citizen.

    And in Rome?

    You did not have to have any Roman citizen parents to be a Roman – your parents could even be freed SLAVES and you were a Roman citizen if you were born after your parents were freed. Think about that – your parents were captured in some forest somewhere (unable to speak a word of Latin) – and if they were freed (and many Roman slaves were freed – because slaves did not add to the “client network” of a Roman, but Freedmen DID add to the client network, they even took the family name of their former master) you were a Roman citizen.

    Of course social convention indicated that you backed (politically and so on) the person or family who had once owned your parents (the family – part of whose name was now part of your own name), but that was how things worked – gratitude and obligation being two bit Roman social conventions and working TWO ways (if you got into trouble your natural port of call would be to appeal for aid from the family that had once owned your parents or grandparents) “manumission turns an enemy into an ally” – for slaves could not be fully trusted, but freedmen (and their children, and the children of their children) could be – at least far more.

    Come even from China – and, if you were free and living in the Roman lands, your children were Roman citizens.

    This gave the Romans manpower the Athenians lacked – both Rome and Athens suffered terrible defeats, but Rome had the manpower to strike back with fresh armies. Athens did not.

    Do not mistake me – I am a social Conservative. But it was NOT social liberalism that did for Athens – it was their taxing of allies (turning them into enemies) and the restrictive Athenian view of citizenship – pushed by Pericles.

    I repeat the Romans did not really start the “bread and games” stuff till long after they had conquered Italy – indeed till AFTER they had destroyed Carthage and dominated the Mediterranean world.

    Athens was paying people (just to turn up and vote) when Athens only really controlled a bit of Greece. The wild spending (on various things) of Pericles, and politicians like him, was just not sustainable – Boris Johnson (whose here at Oxford was Pericles), please note.

    It was this, not Romans being respectful their fathers – and what not, that was the big difference.

    There were vastly more Romans than there were Athenians – at the critical times.

  • Paul Marks

    To give some numbers to think about.

    The Romans reported their own losses at one battle with the Carthaginians as eighty thousand dead.

    Now let assume that the Romans were exaggerating their own losses (why should they do that? – but let us assume they were).

    Let us assume that the figure of 80 thousand dead is for the entire campaign the string of defeats (because there were many of them) that Hannibal inflicted on the Romans.

    80 thousand dead – how would being more respectful at theatrical performances have made the Athenians able to come back from those sort of losses?

    Answer – it would not have helped at all.

    It was MANPOWER that allowed the Romans to come back from defeats like that.They just had more people.

    And were Romans respectful at entertainments?

    No they were not – the ordinary Romans went crazy at performances, be they chariot races, gladiatorial fights, or wild beast shows.

    The sort of entertainments that the Romans put on would have horrified Plato – not his sort of thing at all.

    And that sort of entertainment went back a long way in Rome – they took the sacred (and limited) blood rites of the Etruscans, and made them popular entertainment.

    Romans liked sex (although many did have a problem with homosexual sex) and they liked killing and watching extreme violence (laughing and making jokes as they did so) – they were not Puritans.

    Of course there is a proviso – the Romans were open to people (from anywhere) becoming Romans – but if you lived in Roman lands and did NOT become Roman, then you were in serious trouble. In fact you were very likely to be killed.

    So those endless “mainstream” media shows about how “multicultural” the Romans were, how they were into “Diversity”, are bovine excrement.

    “When in Rome do as the Romans do” is only part of it.

    It really should read “If you live in Roman controlled lands BECOME ROMAN – or very bad things will happen to you, and to your family”.

    And average Romans will have fun inflicting (or just watching) the very bad things.

  • Caligari

    Please excuse my bad english, I am handicaped by been German.

    I am also of the opinion that you have to put up with trash on the Internet.
    There has always been a lot of rubbish. Just look at the stuff that was written in France, England or Germany during the 18th century. Many pearls, but also a lot of rubbish.

  • George Atkisson

    An additional thing about social media is the ability to summon mobs of outraged, but anonymous, Social Justice Warriors on very short notice. All it takes is someone with 1000+ followers on Twitter to unleash very personal attacks, death threats, attempts to get someone fired, or doxxed as punishment for non-PC opinions, videos, etc. There are documented cases of suicides as a direct result of online harassment. One recent suicide occurred after a gamer was accused of sexual assault with zero evidence. Even his own family rejected him.

    People need to stop living online and get back to “meat space” and interact face to face.

  • NickM

    Mr Black,
    That must explain why people no longer want to have children in the west.

    Yeah, right, whatever… I just don’t want children. I want to be able to do what I want without that encumberance.

    Yeah, selfish (maybe), but so what? I know plenty of folks with kids – I have to buy Christmas prezzies for them – without having them for myself.

    I actually really like children.

    I find the very idea that the proper liberal/conservative/whatever values will decline because such folks don’t breed is horrendous. If the aforementioned values are as universal as I, amongst so many others, believe, then they will prevail because they are memetic rather than genetic.

  • Marius

    It’s a shame that selfish, childless libertarian drones won’t live to see how little the people who replace them care about their ideas. Any group which fails to reproduce has abjectly failed, no matter how many shiny toys it has to fill its empty time.

  • bobby b

    “I want to be able to do what I want without that encumberance.”

    I’ve always felt the exact same way.

    And, once I started having kids, I found that what I wanted to do without encumbrance was . . . be a parent.

    So that worked out well.

    “If the aforementioned values are as universal as I, amongst so many others, believe, then they will prevail because they are memetic rather than genetic.”

    But, in a society that is becoming more and not less tribal, kids will only be exposed to their own tribe’s memes. Yours will die out for lack of exposure. “Memetic rather than genetic” only matters in a society that mixes easily.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I find the very idea that the proper liberal/conservative/whatever values will decline because such folks don’t breed is horrendous. If the aforementioned values are as universal as I, amongst so many others, believe, then they will prevail because they are memetic rather than genetic.

    Exactly.

    Also, the main reason birthrates have fallen in the West, and other countries that have become prosperous, is because of sharp falls in infant mortality, the existence of pensions and other safety nets (in the past, people had big families to cover this), women’s entry into the mainstream workforce, etc. These are choices people made. Society is actually less violent than hundreds of years ago, as Steven Pinker has pointed out, so it is hard to see how family sizes today have much to do with violence.

  • Mr Black

    Any group which fails to reproduce has abjectly failed…

    You either understand what this means or you don’t. It applies to the individual, to the tribe and to the species.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    You haven’t provided any evidence of such failure. The birthrate is slowing. The UK population isn’t shrinking.

  • bobby b

    February 24, 2020 at 11:32 am

    “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

    Attributed to SOCRATES by Plato (apocryphal, perhaps.)

    “Those who do not pay attention to history are doomed to repeat it.” That’s false. History doesn’t care if you pay attention. History is going to repeat itself no matter what you do. All paying attention does is give you a few hints about what is happening, and what to do about it.

  • NickM

    bobby,
    Great! I recall a bit back I was on a mate’s stag do and he let in (after a few light ales) his intenteded was pregnant. They now have two kids and are devoted parents. It takes all sorts.

    Mr Black,
    You don’t get it. We ain’t petri-dishes. What, exactly, is your solution? Outbreed Commies, Islamists and even the Queers? What?

    bobby b,
    I take it you don’t mix easily. Fair enough. I guess you’re making both our points there.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Black – for a theory to be true it must both explain (i.e. answer “why?”) and fit the facts (not have lots of data contradicting it).

    The United States had lots of public entertainment, ragtime, jazz and so on for many decades and still had a positive fertility rate.

    American fertility has indeed gone down below replacement level – there you are CORRECT.

    But why is this? To explain it a theory must explain what is different about Americans now as opposed to, say, the 1960s or 1970s.

    Was popular culture really more Puritan in the 1970s?

    I am old Mr Black and I can tell you that it was NOT more Puritan – indeed sex and violence (in films and so on) were much prominent in the 1970s than today.

    Indeed it is TODAY that is rather Puritan – with Frankfurt School of Marxism “Critical Theory” producing such things as “Third Wave” Feminism – which denounces naughty films and so on.

    Even modern science fiction denounces the idea of females in sexual roles – females must (on the contrary) be shown as action heroes, who (without any of the training that male characters need) can do anything – fly a spaceship without having been in one before, use mystical powers (without any training at all), program computers (having come from a stone age planet), anything-at-all and without any effort or training.

    You might have more of a point if you made the argument that popular culture (and high culture – and the education system and mainstream media) has targeted a particular group, white-straight-males and has decided to savage them – destroy their self confidence and self belief.

    Perhaps that is one of the reasons why President Trump gets such strong support from a large number of people.

    He has lots of children – and they clearly love him.

    The average man (and, I suspect, the average women to) look and say “I wish that was true of me”.

  • Mr Black

    Paul, it is many things, the combined effects of a greedy and degenerate society that has lost its way. Those things have accumulated to push otherwise normal people down roads they wouldn’t have chosen with more normal influences around them. Some you’ve named, others exist as well but the point remains. The path we are on as a culture is clearly, obviously the wrong one because we are dying out. Anyone who looks around and says things are fine is one of the enemies of our culture, whatever motivations they profess.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The path we are on as a culture is clearly, obviously the wrong one because we are dying out.”

    Who is “we” here? Humanity? Or something else?

    If you mean the culture ‘we’ had (whoever ‘we’ are) 50 years ago is dying out, then yes, that’s obvious. *Every* culture dies, as the next generation grows up and changes it. We’ve had revolution after revolution. The Medieval ages are over, the Universal Church has fallen on hard times, Feudalism is over, the British Empire has fallen, Victorian prudery has been abandoned, the swinging 60s have swung, the computer generation has grown up. Cultures change and evolve all the time. The underlying pattern remains, though. The younger generation overthrows the fuddy-duddy, primitive, old-fashioned old regime and moves forward into a bright new future, the older generation laments the decline and inevitable death of all decency and civilisation. That part is repeated endlessly.

    Our Western technological cultural heritage is spreading and expanding. The human race is still increasing. Even the nation is still growing in numbers. So you can be talking about none of these. The culture-of-long-ago is changing, true, but then it always was, and we’ve always survived it before. So what ‘we’ can you possibly mean? Is it possible you’re talking about *white* people, again? The Aryan Master Race? Is this about ‘The Great Replacement’ theory, again?

    “Anyone who looks around and says things are fine is one of the enemies of our culture, whatever motivations they profess.”

    If the ‘our culture’ you’re talking about is ‘racism’, then yes.

  • NickM

    NiV,
    Back of the net! I am not greedy or degenerate or any of those things. I’m not even young (I’m 46)but I know a few kids and, guess what? I do not fear because for every Greta there is a Del Boy and it was ever thus…

    Mr Black,
    You are tickling the definition of “normal” aren’t you? My best mate is gay and his new Mazda has heated seats. I wouldn’t even mention it until you brought-up your bizarre idea of some death-spiral because we ain’t all 2.3 kids and, for some, a Sunday Roast is not what you might think.

    So… what happens chez Nick? Er… I got moderately annoyed (at the religious building I’m a warden of… so I didn’t mutter anything that bad.) recently because my Mum phoned during the Six Nations – to tell me she was going to Milton Keynes – and then my Dad phoned (they are divorced). Buggery. I just wanted to watch England v Ireland. That is the debauchery of my life.

    Then there is Civ. Oh, fuck it! It’s Wednesday so I’m due for the mid-week show at the monkey whore-house.

    They got a gibbon.

  • NickM

    For the record…

    I am unbaptised, uncircumcised and have never even tried out a religion. Oddly enough people do trust me to finangle their hard disks and employ me as a warden of a religious building.

    And, no, I’m not really into monkey porn.

    Ape is where it is at.

  • NickM

    I know a gibbon is technically an ape – albeit not a great ape.

  • I find the very idea that the proper liberal/conservative/whatever values will decline because such folks don’t breed is horrendous. (NickM, February 25, 2020 at 12:21 am)

    I find it bizarre that anyone would find the idea ‘horrendous’ – but as a post I’ve been contemplating is not wholly irrelevant, I’m grateful that you provoke me to quit thinking about it and just write it. 🙂

    Ellen will recognise the remarks in February 25, 2020 at 5:53 pm as a more positive inspiration for the post.

  • NickM

    I’m not sure I was understood. The idea that having to breed is what is obnoxious. Just not actually having kids is a different matter.

    What really matters (whether you have children or no) is spreading the gospel and you can do that without lurking in maternity wards.

  • What really matters (whether you have children or no) is spreading the gospel and you can do that without lurking in maternity wards. (NickM, February 27, 2020 at 8:47 am)

    It can occasionally seem so. Rousseau was very into spending his time spreading his gospel and not wasting a single second of it on any children he chanced to procreate. As Burke said, mocking Rousseau’s literary compassion and parental cruelty,

    Thousands admire the sentimental writer. The affectionate father is hardly known in his parish.

    For a few, Rousseau’s choice is indeed the path to influence and fame (and infamy). But most have far greater influence on their children than on anyone else. Spreading the gospel and raising children are not incompatible, and are two ways in which we influence people, though the latter is also more than that. You should not find ‘horrendous’ the observation that the number two is greater than the number one, as the number one is greater than the number zero.

    Meanwhile, if spreading the gospel is “what really matters” then I would not describe mothers (or fathers or nurses) as “lurking in maternity wards” (interesting choice of word 🙂 ) if you choose to depend on them to have anyone to spread the gospel to.

  • NickM

    Sorry for my choice of words. I was being deliberately inflamatary for a lark. Obviously… if people want kids, fine. God help me, I know enough who have done just that. But I was getting snarky partly because I find the idea that by not breeding I am some form of the problem offensive because, clearly, that is the most private of decisions for all of us.

  • Fraser Orr

    @NickM
    I find the very idea that the proper liberal/conservative/whatever values will decline because such folks don’t breed is horrendous. If the aforementioned values are as universal as I, amongst so many others, believe, then they will prevail because they are memetic rather than genetic.

    I think that this does not recognize how memetic propagation works. Just as genetics relies on the physical proximity of the two gene donors to propagate, so too does memetics. It is no coincidence that almost everybody born in Rome is a Roman Catholic, and most kids born in Bethlehem, PA are pro union. People get most of their core ideas from their parents, irrespective of how productive these core beliefs are.

    Certainly memetics has a “survival of the fittest” filtering mechanism, but I am not sure that the fitness function here is either “most logical” or “most wealth producing”. I think there are multiple combining fitness functions at play but one for sure is “most likely to bond the group together”, or “most likely to propagate the memes”. Religion is one very obvious example of this.

    Memes don’t have some plan to bring the world to a better, richer more logical place. They are instead purposeless entities who have a stochastically emergent behavior that looks like “intention to propagate” rather than “intention to get better”. The new use of the word “meme” meaning a stupid picture with an equally stupid epithet attached, illustrates this particularly well. The ones that propagate are the ones that are most “propagatable”, not the ones that are most logical or best.

    Moreover, just like genetics some memes get stuck in a well that is hard to climb out of. For example, in genetics you have the mammalian eye which is wired backward causing a blind spot and reduced vision. In memetics an example of this is “what goes around comes around” sometimes mistakenly called karma. Anyone can see that that is plainly not true if they look at the evidence dispassionately, but there is a certain longing for it to be true, and with confirmation bias it can be made to seem like it is true. The benefits of crawling out of the logical hole are small, and the cost is large, so people cocoon in there quite comfortably.

    So, your ideas of free market, liberalism, free speech and private property, which I too would espouse, are superior to the alternatives by some measurements, however, that measurement is not the one used to decide which memes propagate. Sometimes they coincide, but not often. Sometimes children break from the values of their parents, but not often, and genetics and memetics are both stochastic processes.

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