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Bad Horse


You shall love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart. -- W. H. Auden

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Aug
5th
2016

Why Publishers Should Care about David Friedman's Conversion to Islam · 3:34am Aug 5th, 2016

Noted atheist, futurist, and libertarian economist Dr. David Friedman, author of The Machinery of Freedom, recently converted to Islam. Here we see Dr. Friedman studying his notes on Islamic history.

Okay, that first part is a lie, but he is studying notes on Islamic history. One of the many things Dr. Friedman has done other than write about economics was to accidentally found Pennsic, a yearly invasion of Western Pennsylvania by the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA). (The SCA is something like the Boy Scouts would be if they'd been started by George R. R. Martin.) As king within the SCA of the Middle Kingdom, he challenged the East Kingdom to a tournament, with the loser to take Pittsburgh. Later, on becoming king of the East Kingdom, he accepted his own challenge and lost.

(All that is also a lie, but it's a more popular story than the truth. As medieval journalistic standards were to tell whatever story you would get paid the most for telling, I feel it is also more culturally appropriate to recount.)

The truth--no, this time I mean it-- is that his SCA persona, Master Cariadoc, is Muslim, and this week at Pennsic he's teaching up to three hours a day on the history and practice of Islam. Today he spoke about Islamic law and the early history of the caliphs.

Pennsic contains much that is puzzling, such as why an organization about low-tech feudal society is comprised mainly of nerds and libertarians, and why they walk around outdoors in Pennsylvania during the hottest weeks of summer in clothing designed for Northern Europe. One of the most puzzling and admirable things about it is that all these people have a super-power: the ability to study people from a distant time and place and try to understand them.

Most people don't do that. They can study people from a distant time and place, but they can't try to understand them because they're too busy judging them. When the question of whether it is lawful to rape a war captive is presented, as it was in one of these classes, as an ethical problem hinging on the rights of the caliph to dispense items from the war treasury (= booty chest), modern people tend to say, "Wait, what?" But people in the SCA just nod and listen, even though they're all good card-carrying liberals.

Is trying to understand people like the early caliphs going too far? Should we just not try to understand people that different from us? I could give several answers. One might be: Not doing so allows us to continue to maintain the comfortable but dangerous illusion that they are that different from us.

(And if that turns out to be wrong--if they really are different from us--that would be good to know, too.)

Is this ability confined to people within the SCA? Publishers seem to think so.

I think that helping people to understand other people who seem very different should be one of the functions of fiction. It's necessary to understand history, to communicate with people who have different beliefs, and to understand ourselves.

Unfortunately, historical novels that try to do that get rejected (I've heard anecdotally) if they're historically accurate, because publishers believe not many people will buy books whose protagonists don't think like they do. If your 16th-century character thinks like a 16th-century character, conventional wisdom goes, everyone will hate your character and your book.

Can you name any such books that already exist? The only examples I can think of are A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and The Cross-Time Engineer, which both have a modern protagonist who shows up the thinking of the period characters as being abysmally stupid. That's not an attempt to help modern people understand those earlier people. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) has a period protagonist who eventually comes to learn think more like a person from 1884. That's not what I mean, either.

I know readers well enough to agree that most readers will hate your character and your book if it's historically accurate. But is there really no market big enough for any books that portray period protagonists realistically?

This is one of the things publishers believe which I dearly hope independent publishing and online fiction will prove wrong, and one of the reasons why we need more effective independent publishing.

Report Bad Horse · 1,135 views · #Islam #SCA #history
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Comments ( 56 )

Interesting ideas.

the comfortable but dangerous illusion that they are that different from us.

Too true. Always dangerous to think you're more moral than the next fellow.

It would be nice if it were more acceptable to have period characters think like period characters. But I think I separate portrayal from understanding--understanding asks 'why do they think this way', doesn't it? Which seems to me a question I would answer through the thinking of my period, not that of theirs. Take an 18th century Christian character: in understanding why they're a Christian, I may by today's standards say they were uneducated in science and brought up in a Christian culture. But they would say they're a Christian because it's true.

In writing a novel about them, I may portray them accurately but with a modern understanding...I think. I dunno. Hope you're having fun! Kick some foam sword ass!

That was kind of a clickbait-y title.

Well, maybe not for the same reasons, but I remember talking with a linguistic professor about The Name of the Rose of Umberto Eco, the author was really an expert in Middle Age costumes and history, and it’s properly seen in it’s characters and descriptions; yet, it’s protagonist (who is a monk) has a view which is pretty much rational and practically scientific, a little too much distanced for it’s time. Though, I think he did this more because Eco wanted to make a detective story and followed the classical detective’s tropes (following by the way that cool post you or bookplayer, I can’t remember, made about detectives)

.In other topic, understanding that people's thoughts are contained by the limits of it’s age it’s important to understand history, but a lot of times I’m also see it taken to an another extreme. Slavery, for example, could have been something common from ancient times; doesn’t change the fact though that always there were a lot of people and schools of thought that believed slavery was wrong. Neither it's like no medieval soldier ever heard the idea that raping may be wrong.
The fact that people is usually alienated by cultural and social norms and costumes, doesn’t mean that those norms were necessary natural or universal for their times as it’s seen by the fac that there always were people conscious enough to question them or even change them.

I was kind of hoping this would devolve into a rant about James Pattersons' new Bookshots™

I don't think there is that big a market for it. I mean, it's probably a "big" market given how many people there are now, and that means there has to at least be a sizeable amount of people genuinely interested in actually, for-real realistic historical novels, but it's not going to be big enough for any of those books to be called a success. There's a pretty huge backlash going on, I believe, against the minds of previous eras. We all want to believe that we are different, that we are "evolving" so to speak in a social and moral way, climbing towards that bright utopian future described in Star Trek or the World Village claptrap I saw everywhere after The Lion King came out.

I mean, what's a common insult leveled at people like ISIS? They're "medieval." And if people are associating the monstrosities committed by ISIS with, well, literally everyone who was born prior to the 1900s, well...

Drawing of the dark by Tim Powers is a good example of period Thinking More will have to wait until morn.

I really liked the idea of an equestria that actually behaves like its in the medieval era the first season seemed to be set in.

there are so many modern stories with modern thinking protagonists that the few stories i see with protagonists that think differently are genuinely facinating to me, simply because they are fresh and hard to predict based on previous experience with stories.

I know enough people who aren't interested in actually understanding modern conservatives to get the feeling the publishers are probably right. Not that that's a good thing.

4132822
With the current conservative backlash still at fever pitch, I'm not sure what "modern conservative" actually means in 2016 (I'm assuming you mean contemporary or current-generation rather than "modern"-modern).

Regardless, politics today is so hugbox-prone and polarized to the point of demonization of the other, that trying to see the value in the other pony's perspective is nearly a lost art. Nopony even bothers to fact-check things anymore—they just choose to believe whatever suits their emotional needs.

I'm not bitter.

4132677
In the general case, it is not possible to reason perfectly about arbitrary systems without emulating those systems. That's one of the more fascinating consequences of the Halting Problem. An (imperfect) analogous statement for humans would be that, in the general case, it is not possible to understand another person unless you can think like them.


Bad Horse Unfortunately, historical novels that try to do that get rejected (I've heard anecdotally) if they're historically accurate, because publishers believe not many people will buy books whose protagonists don't think like they do. If your 16th-century character thinks like a 16th-century character, conventional wisdom goes, everyone will hate your character and your book.

Select all that almost certainly don't apply.
◯ The period protagonist is intrinsically interesting.
◯ The writer writes fluidly with the period protagonist.
◯ The period protagonist states something worthwhile about other stories or story elements.
◯ The reader identifies with the period protagonist.
◯ It is easy to help the reader understand the period protagonist.
◯ The period protagonist is dynamic enough to tell an evolving story.
◯ The period protagonist is well-integrated with the story.

I suspect this has little to do with readers.

4132677

Take an 18th century Christian character: in understanding why they're a Christian, I may by today's standards say they were uneducated in science and brought up in a Christian culture. But they would say they're a Christian because it's true.

I feel like this particular rift in understanding is a current problem as much as a past one. A cursory glance around the internet will reveal that this is just as applicable to 21st century Christians vs. non-Christians, and it stands to reason that it would be in any time: why would someone become / remain a Christian other than honestly believing that it's true? And if you're not a Christian and looking at that set of beliefs from the outside, it's going to seem pretty off the wall and how anyone could seriously buy into that is going to be rather inscrutable, isn't it?

4132822 I'm a socialist and I want to be a politician, so part of my quest is understanding conservative perspectives without just labeling them idiots.

4132702
PUBLISHERS DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT BAD HORSE'S ONE WEIRD TRICK

Well that lede is kind of an H. L. Mencken move, Bad Horse.

But, eh, I'm not gonna scream like I caught my Mencken in my zipper.

Okay, that first part is a lie,

Don't scare me like that! The fucking alt-right all converting to Islam is a catastrophe scenario!

I know readers well enough to agree that most readers will hate your character and your book if it's historically accurate. But is there really no market big enough for any books that portray period protagonists realistically?

Wellll I dunno. People accept some pretty brutal and backwards stuff as part of the premise of a fantasy novel, usually.

4132677

In a hundred years, they'll laugh and call us savages.
--Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "Cancer Ward"

4132702 Thank you! I wrote it myself. :trixieshiftright:

4132934 LEARN HOW I MAKE $200 A MONTH WORKING FROM HOME AS AN AUTHOR!

So, I've actually studied History and more importantly Historiography. I also put a heavy emphasis in my research on the psychology and ideology and the intersection between those two forces when I look at why things happened. I am a historian of philosophy, and a philosopher of history, and the blood, sweat, and tears I put into my college education basically earned me this nugget of wisdom; People have pretty much always been people.

People for the longest time the academic establishment saw Fascism as a novel event in human history, but if you actually study the French Revolution the tactics and beliefs espoused by the Mountain to justify their behavior are things strait out of Mussolini's playbook. Of course, when you understand what Fascism is and how it operates, it's hard not to see it's a form of evil that's plagued humanity probably since we decided to try this civilization thing a few thousand back. If you look at the culture of slave ownership in the Southern U.S., it becomes fairly obvious that all of their behavior and rhetoric, right up to and including the Civil War, was a series of rationalizations and coping mechanisms to keep themselves from having to acknowledge that, holy shit, Slavery was fucking evil and they were the bad guys here. If you've ever had to deal with an abusive person, you'll quickly come to see how... banal that kind of behavior is. Plus, for a happier point, there's a great post I read that basically discusses the idea that the tropes and behaviors we associate with modern fandom have basically been around as long as art has.

Ostensibly Alexander the Great and his male lover roleplayed their Achilles / Patroclus slashfic. Alexander also supposedly slept with a copy of the Illiad under his pillow and a knife in case anyone tried to steal said copy.

The reason we have this... perception of the past as being this alien place of alien mindsets is mostly the fault of the Whig Interpretation, or what I like to call the Myth of Progress. There was basically a huge push for the Enlightenment to justify itself in the eyes of European culture, and one of those roads they chose was to demonize the past, with that trend continuing basically with every new generation since. Fun fact, Iron Maidens were never used anywhere and were the fabrication of a 19th Century huckster trying to scare people with how spooky and insane their ancestors were. In a similar vein, jus primae noctis was largely popularized as true as propaganda for the French Revolution even though there has never been a single legal record of it having been practiced or even existed.

Not to mention that if you want an abject lesson in the fact that time has not made the human race above the alien evils we project onto our ancestors, I recommend you make a trip to Syria. There are some interesting chaps their who would love to explain to you how the need for a liberal economic revolution and the liberation of the Muslim woman necessitates the enslavement, rape, and genocide of Kurds and Christians.

You may have heard about them on TV.

People have pretty much always been people. For good or for ill. If you want to write someone for a historical culture, just assume their a normal person who takes the attitudes and beliefs of their society seriously. Read up on what it meant to be a Christian Peasant in 857 CE, or a Muslim Janissary in 1464 CE and imagine how a normal person would behave if they felt these things were true and if these things were important to them. That's... basically it.

Anyway, s'my two cents.

4133217

Plus, for a happier point, there's a great post I read that basically discusses the idea that the tropes and behaviors we associate with modern fandom have basically been around as long as art has.

Can you link the post?

4133217

jus primae noctis was largely popularized as true as propaganda for the French Revolution even though there has never been a single legal record of it having been practiced or even existed.

There wouldn't really need to be legal records nor would there have had to be laws to that effect. For a great deal of history the local warlord was judge, jury and executioner and various legal codes up to and including the bible only provided any measure of protection to people who could actually read them and that was not sufficient if you were dealing with a foreign invader.
There's a contradiction here to the effect of the past was demonized but all our evils have been with us. Gruesome torture is a thing that currently exists so only one of these can be true. If anything you can consistently point to the past having been romanticized so that it didn't.

I think making readership empathize with a person from several centuries ago would need a lot of information about the norms and beliefs of that time and place. This would make it very hard to start in-medias-res, or even with only a short introduction. You'd practially have to portrait the zeitgeist before you could effectively introduce your character.

I know readers well enough to agree that most readers will hate your character and your book if it's historically accurate. But is there really no market big enough for any books that portray period protagonists realistically?

If they wouldn't hate your character, they'd probably still hate the book, because it'd need to be more of a history lesson and too hard to just consume than what they're used to. They'd need to be interested in history, not in the story. Why not just publish a history book instead, then?

4132883
Conversion through study happens. Lew Wallace, who originally intended Ben-Hur to be a logical and modern case against Christ actually through his study of the subject became a Christian.
4132722
While William of Baskerville may seem anachronistic, a quick search will show that the main real-life person that he is based upon was, in fact, ahead of his time.
Perhaps a more accurate anachronism would be Cadfael. Some of his modern ideas would definitely not fit in the time he was supposed to be living.

4133217

Of course, when you understand what Fascism is and how it operates, it's hard not to see it's a form of evil that's plagued humanity probably since we decided to try this civilization thing a few thousand back

I have problems with that, because fascism is defined as a kind of nationalism, and as being opposed to communism. "Nationalism" supposedly didn't exist before the French Revolution, and any kind of meaningful general definition I could give to fascism would include Stalinism and Maoism. I'm fishing for something like "totalitarian", and "fascist" has all these weird historical-accident qualifiers that make it not a very useful category. For what purpose would one use "fascist" instead of simply "totalitarian"?

Plus, for a happier point, there's a great post I read that basically discusses the idea that the tropes and behaviors we associate with modern fandom have basically been around as long as art has.

The re-use of stories in the Middle Ages was more like fandom in many ways than post-Renaissance copyrighted, authored, printed fiction is.

If you want to write someone for a historical culture, just assume their a normal person who takes the attitudes and beliefs of their society seriously.

This is problematic for the Middle Ages, which appear to have been the Age of Hypocrisy--most people acted as if they didn't believe the things they said they believed. It's conceivable that life was much like life in Stalinist Russia, in which everybody knew what the officially required lies were, and (apart from a few zealots) just got used to participating in the lies, with a common shared understanding that they were all lying to each other.

4132849

it is not possible to understand another person unless you can think like them.

I agree. Walk a mile in my shoes, as the saying goes. Interestingly, thinking like another person would mean adopting their biases and inability to "objectively" view themselves, which, funnily enough, I suppose would limit your ability to understand them. Or maybe not?
4132883

A cursory glance around the internet will reveal that this is just as applicable to 21st century Christians vs. non-Christians

Yes, I certainly believe this is true in many ways. I'm by no means well read here, but I have the impression that non-Christians today consider the religion more ignorant than those of old did--limiting ourselves to Western culture, of course. It was not so unrefined to believe in a man who hung on a cross, once. Or perhaps it always was :P
4133217
As I believe Malcolm Muggeridge said, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” Human nature is as unchanging as the sun. I think it takes faith to believe otherwise.
4133421

There's a contradiction here to the effect of the past was demonized but all our evils have been with us. Gruesome torture is a thing that currently exists so only one of these can be true. If anything you can consistently point to the past having been romanticized so that it didn't.

Because I'm a little slow, this passage confused me. Would you mind rewording what you meant? I'd like to understand your argument. :)

4133217

The reason we have this... perception of the past as being this alien place of alien mindsets is mostly the fault of the Whig Interpretation, or what I like to call the Myth of Progress. There was basically a huge push for the Enlightenment to justify itself in the eyes of European culture, and one of those roads they chose was to demonize the past, with that trend continuing basically with every new generation since. ...
Not to mention that if you want an abject lesson in the fact that time has not made the human race above the alien evils we project onto our ancestors, I recommend you make a trip to Syria. There are some interesting chaps their who would love to explain to you how the need for a liberal economic revolution and the liberation of the Muslim woman necessitates the enslavement, rape, and genocide of Kurds and Christians.

I don't think that's it. I think that attitude towards the past would only come out of a Westerner who knew she was allowed to say she was better than people in the past, but wasn't allowed to say she was better than people today in Syria. The proposition at hand, so to speak, is whether we of eg Western Europe are biologically morally superior to people in other parts of the world. This falls between a proposition I think reasonable people should accept--that Western civ has developed so as to support (and be technologically able to support) a more-enjoyable set of values than those of most of the rest of world--and a proposition I think reasonable people wouldn't entertain--that people today are all biologically morally superior to people from the past.

4134727
You made a claim that the past was demonized in order to make the idea of progress more appealing but at the same time your post in general talks about how past societies had terrible problems similar to ours. This is actually a really novel conception, prior to the enlightenment the norm was to believe that the world was heading towards the end times as each new generation was spiritually weaker and more sinful than the last. The golden era of society had ended millenia ago either from the fall of some empire getting overthrown by barbarians or due to the lack of a clearly divinely appointed leader.

4135208
Sorry for the confusion, it was 4133217 who made the original comment, I simply didn't understand your counterpoint. I don't know from what knowledge or sources Nyronus draws their argument, but if I understand it right, I don't see the self-contradiction you see--I think you see a contradiction, anyway. It seems Nyronus was saying that despite a historically recent trend of demonizing the past, in reality we're as bad as we've ever been, and that you can see this looking through history. But even if this itself was a recent conception, as I think you're saying, I'm not sure I see how that invalidates it.

4134953

a proposition I think reasonable people wouldn't entertain--that people today are all biologically morally superior to people from the past.

Out of curiosity, do you entertain it?
And do you mind defining what exactly you mean by biologically moral? It seems you're getting at an evolutionary determinism with that, but I'm not sure.

4134727

adopting their biases and inability to "objectively" view themselves, which, funnily enough, I suppose would limit your ability to understand them. Or maybe not?

I don't think so. You can think like someone else without thinking solely like that someone else, and you can mentally section off some circumstances/environment where another person's view is sensible while minding how that section differs from your reality. Violence is sensible when you're afraid of being attacked yourself. Plundering and slavery are sensible when your people cannot possibly live well without it. Abuse is sensible when you're used to thinking of another person as your thing to be controlled or manipulated (e.g., a slave), and when that square peg just isn't fitting into that round hole.

Maybe that's what you meant by "with a modern understanding"?

4135468

Out of curiosity, do you entertain it?
And do you mind defining what exactly you mean by biologically moral? It seems you're getting at an evolutionary determinism with that, but I'm not sure.

I posted about looking at a time and place where a caliph was held up as an example of a highly moral man for refusing to rape a woman, not because he was against rape, but because she was not included in his customary allotment of war trophies. The suggestion by his friend that he rape her was totally normal. (In the culture at that time it wouldn't be considered rape.) I take for granted that we feel some kind of moral superiority over him.

I can think of 3 obvious ways to regard this feeling of superiority.

1. It's false. There is no superiority. Raping and killing all of your neighbors is fine if it's a legitimate part of your culture. This is unfortunately becoming the dominant view in the West.

2. The people are morally superior in a context-free way. Not raping & killing is better than raping & killing. Yay us!

2a. People today are better because technology, culture, or reason have led them to have different beliefs & conventions. I believe this a little bit, because I believe morality is largely intellectual, and we're better at thinking than people before us were.

2b. People today are better for some other reason, which I guess would be biological. I mean it could also be that climate change or the precession of the Earth's axis somehow made us nicer, but I doubt it. So I'm just calling everything that isn't culture "biology". Actually I believe evolution does play a significant role in this--in fact this is particularly relevant to the comparison with a Muslim, because our theory of the evolution of kindness is kin selection, and kin selection is stronger in monogamous cultures as in polygamous cultures. Cultures that have been monogamous for thousands of years should be nicer to each other than cultures that have been polygamous for thousands of years. (Also, men marry later in polygamous cultures, also leading to more antagonistic behavior.) But I also happen to be in the minority that believes group selection is a distinct mechanism from kin selection, and that group selection may be more important than kin selection in evolving altruism & kindness. Group selection doesn't care if you're monogamous. In short: Further study needed.

3. Raping & killing were good in some past situations because life was so brutal and survival so marginal that one's greatest moral obligation was to keep one's own people alive--and the most effective way of doing this was raping & killing everyone else. It was actually a moral dictum, then. BUT, we have developed technology which relieves the pressure of survival, and this technology gives us the luxury of not having to rape & kill our neighbors. Under these circumstances, it is certainly more comfortable for us all not to do that all the time.

Digression: I didn't call this a "moral improvement" because if your morality is this sophisticated, you'll recognize that this new behavior is more enjoyable, and so it is morally superior in old-style utilitarianism, where "good" = "happiness". But it /isn't/ a moral improvement if your utility function emphasizes other things.

Anyway, there's a way to talk about improvement, but in this view it's more a matter of technology allowing people to behave nicer to each other than of people changing. I believe #3 also, and at times I say this is my view, but what I really mean is that (my view minus the average view) is dominated by this view. (Having some belief in this view is my main distinctive belief on this issue.)

Is this ability confined to people within the SCA? Publishers seem to think so.

Not just publishers. You should see how many older books get challenged and banned because the people in them do or think things that are offensive to modern standards.

Unfortunately, historical novels that try to do that get rejected (I've heard anecdotally) if they're historically accurate, because publishers believe not many people will buy books whose protagonists don't think like they do. If your 16th-century character thinks like a 16th-century character, conventional wisdom goes, everyone will hate your character and your book.

Research pitch for the chronologically endowed: compare amazon self-published ebooks (which as I understand have a much reduced screening process) with traditionally published ebooks which have been allegedly sanitized.

4134727

Human nature is as unchanging as the sun. I think it takes faith to believe otherwise.

That contradicts everything I think I know about biology and human history – you know, not only the parts up from Ur but rather also the stuff that came before, starting with Australopithecus.

Human nature is as malleable as everything else in nature, and I'd even go so far as to say that human nature is more malleable than many other things, due to our technological advancement.

4136288
I am looking at these classifications and the only thing that springs to mind is how my own world view fits into them (I hold (2a) and (3) to be true). That is sad.
Only one little original thought: Hedonism also works for (3), it doesn't need to be Utilitarianism.

Hrm…
I don't know what the status is on the usability of the pyramid of needs (or whatever you call it in English), but I think it serves well as an illustration for what I mean when I say I hold (2a) and (3) to be true.
Someone who is in fear of their life simply doesn't have the resources to do the mental acrobatics necessary to figure out their morals or, more basically, doesn't have the means to follow those morals when resource conflicts between different moral imperatives show up (this probably makes more sense with Hedonism, because then your own survival can be seen as a moral value).
We are not only supposedly better at thinking (although not when half-asleep), we also have the resources to keep our mental facilities functioning and less resource conflicts between our different moral heuristics.

Which is in large part not true for the people we see as moral failures – as far as I can tell most of them lack crucial resources. Of course it's a stochastic thing – not everyone who lacks resources turns out to be a "moral failure" and not everyone who has the necessary resources (including the less obvious one, the ones which some people like to claim aren't resources) is a nice person, but you know what I mean.

4136288

I believe this a little bit, because I believe morality is largely intellectual, and we're better at thinking than people before us were.

I am not sure we are better at thinking. We might have a much greater amount of data and computational mechanisms for predicting the future state of physical matter given some inputs, but as far as ethics goes all our present society seems to be good for is talking past itself. We are very good at stamping things "good" and post-facto justifying our application of the stamp, and even better at yelling at other people who do not respect the "good" stamped stuff, but every year seems to lead us further and further away from giving a satisfactory answer to the protest: "But why then should I be good?" or "why should I accept your heuristic?"

I also disagree that the determination of ethics is an intellectual activity. Ethics is generally concerned with: given x context, y and z are recommended and B is forbidden. You get from x to y by a combination of faith in your preconceptions and personal arbitration of a heuristic because by definition axioms cannot be reasoned into existence. Once your axioms are decided, you have your geometry and the rest is cataloging. Trans-ethical debate is therefore not a problem of making disparate positions logically converge but rather waging a marketing war. Once the other side wants to accept your axioms, convergence happens. Otherwise divergence. This is why a good debater can be Pro-Choice on Wednesday, Pro-life on Thursday, and show off two fresh first prizes in the coffee shop Friday night: Truth has nothing to do with it.

As for the overall question of how to regard moral superiority, I think the answer is that you are begging the question: to pass judgement requires a heuristic or super-ethics, the establishment of which requires a super-super ethics and so on recursively. In reality, the phenomenon of moral superiority is a cultural control tool: a means for group X to give itself prestige enough to demand group Y do as they say or off to the out-group with them. The intellectual component is the means to make sure your personal interests get put into the in group and the things you dislike get put in the out group by controlling the framing of discussion and the associations that get formed between concepts. Many times it will even get sidelined in favor of politics or intrigue if the intellectual structure is more defined and the stakes are high.

This does not mean we cannot ask any intellectual questions about ethics. We can ask what a chosen ethic's impact on a society was, whether we could change our current ethics to fit a certain heuristic, or whether an action is consistent with a certain ethical system, for instance, but in my experience ranking ethics systems is the Ivory Tower's Batman v Superman.

4137885

Human nature is as malleable as everything else in nature, and I'd even go so far as to say that human nature is more malleable than many other things, due to our technological advancement.

How does technological advancement make humans in particular more malleable? It's focused mostly on making things like steel more malleable. I'm picking on this statement because it sounds like an echo of Marx, and Marx's claim that humans are infinitely malleable was one of the completely wrong foundations of his theory.

Only one little original thought: Hedonism also works for (3), it doesn't need to be Utilitarianism.

Aren't they the same thing? Bentham's utilitarianism uses the word "happiness", which as far as I can tell is what "hedonism" is supposed to mean in this context. Problem is that the word "hedonism" was in use already, for people who sought only their own physical pleasure. AFAIK all that using "hedonism" does is falsely imply that (a) your utility function doesn't consider the well-being of others (in which case it isn't Bentham-style utilitarianism), and (b) your utility function includes only physical pleasure.

Someone who is in fear of their life simply doesn't have the resources to do the mental acrobatics necessary to figure out their morals or, more basically, doesn't have the means to follow those morals when resource conflicts between different moral imperatives show up...
... Which is in large part not true for the people we see as moral failures – as far as I can tell most of them lack crucial resources.

Historically, it is very often the people in fear of their life who have atrocities committed against them by people who aren't in fear for their lives. The Roman ruling class wasn't in fear of their life, and the degree of suffering they subjected their slaves to probably wasn't even profitable. The Spanish and French slavers in the New World made enough money off of their slaves to have given them all decent lives instead of working most of them to death within a few years. The specific example in my blog post was of the caliph, the spiritual leader of all the Muslims, whose friends suggested he rape a slave girl they had recently captured, probably by murdering her family and friends for the crime of not being Muslim. Across history, I'd wager the bigger moral failures are committed by the rich against the poor.

Westerners today are able to be nicer to people because of our material plenty, but many more peoples in history had the wealth and ability to be a lot nicer than they were, and chose not to. Very possibly an explanation lies in democracy. One non-obvious possibility is that competition is less intense in a democracy because wealth has a power-law distribution. This means that the difference between being fifth place and 7th place in the economy is huge, but the difference between 50,000th and 70,000th is not. Competition among the wealthy is thus always more intense than competition among the masses. When the wealthy rule, they feel too much competitive pressure to give up any of their wealth to others.

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I am not sure we are better at thinking. We might have a much greater amount of data and computational mechanisms for predicting the future state of physical matter given some inputs, but as far as ethics goes all our present society seems to be good for is talking past itself.

I think you're focusing narrowly on the past 20 years, which is too narrow. I'm thinking 1700 onwards.

First, think of fair comparisons: pick a time period, then compare our bottom 50% vs. their bottom 50%, and our top 0.1% vs. their top 0.1%.

Next, recall that ethical debates were rare prior to about 1800. There were no partisan politics when there were no parties. In most times and places, societies didn't allow enough freedom of thought for people to argue as we do today. If you said things contrary to what everybody else believed, they might kill you.

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I also disagree that the determination of ethics is an intellectual activity. Ethics is generally concerned with: given x context, y and z are recommended and B is forbidden. You get from x to y by a combination of faith in your preconceptions and personal arbitration of a heuristic because by definition axioms cannot be reasoned into existence. Once your axioms are decided, you have your geometry and the rest is cataloging. Trans-ethical debate is therefore not a problem of making disparate positions logically converge but rather waging a marketing war. Once the other side wants to accept your axioms, convergence happens.

I don't think that happens. In practice, almost no one can think clearly enough to state what they are reasoning about that clearly. Somebody who got to the point of stating axioms, and reasoning with them correctly enough that someone else with the same assumptions would necessarily agree--well, I don't think any such person has ever existed.

Partly this is because "logic", as used in practice, is not very amenable to being integrated with real-valued numbers. Anybody who uses logic without attaching numerical measurements to things within their logic is wrong; you can't model reality with Boolean logic. (But this is a large digression. Essentially all philosophy since Aristotle has been crippled by using logic and trying to find certainty, a stupid quest given how obvious it is that no one has ever possessed certainty about anything. It is not generally appreciated that "rationalism", logic, and epistemology, as used by philosophers and theologians, has historically always been specifically opposed to measurement, empiricism, and science. Hence 20th century philosophy has consisted of nothing but philosophers imagining they are refuting science when in fact they are refuting rationalism, which science already refuted over a century before them.)

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How does technological advancement make humans in particular more malleable? It's focused mostly on making things like steel more malleable. I'm picking on this statement because it sounds like an echo of Marx, and Marx's claim that humans are infinitely malleable was one of the completely wrong foundations of his theory.

Might as well be Marx-influenced, but not consciously. Family history, you know?
But to answer the actual question:
1. Downright transhumanism, that is, augmentation. We already have clothing, glasses, hearing aids, prosthetics and the like. I am sure more is coming. This changes mostly our physical abilities, but I am convinced that our physical abilities very much inform our behavior.
2. We can transcend many resource conflicts that are a given for most other living beings. That allows us to diverge more in our behaviors.

Aren't they the same thing? Bentham's utilitarianism uses the word "happiness", which as far as I can tell is what "hedonism" is supposed to mean in this context. Problem is that the word "hedonism" was in use already, for people who sought only their own physical pleasure. AFAIK all that using "hedonism" does is falsely imply that (a) your utility function doesn't consider the well-being of others (in which case it isn't Bentham-style utilitarianism), and (b) your utility function includes only physical pleasure.

It's the difference between having one global utility function versus having one for each subject. With utilitarianism there is the idea of sacrificing actual personal happiness to increase global happiness, which doesn't make sense with hedonism (as originally envisioned) – there you can only sacrifice one part of your happiness to get even more happiness back from the happiness of other people.

Historically, it is very often the people in fear of their life who have atrocities committed against them by people who aren't in fear for their lives. […]

Westerners today are able to be nicer to people because of our material plenty, but many more peoples in history had the wealth and ability to be a lot nicer than they were, and chose not to. Very possibly an explanation lies in democracy. One non-obvious possibility is that competition is less intense in a democracy because wealth has a power-law distribution. This means that the difference between being fifth place and 7th place in the economy is huge, but the difference between 50,000th and 70,000th is not. Competition among the wealthy is thus always more intense than competition among the masses. When the wealthy rule, they feel too much competitive pressure to give up any of their wealth to others.

Good points.

No particular reason but that I think you may have missed that part: I view stuff like attention as a resource, too. Hence that rambling about the pyramid of needs. [After looking at this again, I realize that I'm confusing needs and resources here]

When I originally made that argument I was thinking more of how people in a society act towards each other, not how they act outwards. Or at least roughly something like that. Doesn't really make sense this way when taking ISIS into account.
The point is, when thinking of "rich people" I actually thought of middle-class people in first-world countries.
This leads me to believe it's actually about power/resource availability differences.

A richer person is inclined to feel morally superior to a poorer person, because the poorer person may seem so underdeveloped in the eyes of the richer person (due to missing status symbols signifying education, culture and consequently moral development).
A poorer person is inclined to feel morally superior because they still need to operate under a moral ruleset which takes into accounts many more resource conflicts and sees the behavior of the richer person as wasteful, dishonorable or whatever moral failing fits the lack of resources of the poor person.

More generally: Due to different life situations they have necessarily different morals. As thinking that morals are objective is somehow the natural stance on the issue, conflict is hard to avoid. The richer person has more resources to be successful in that conflict, so they can do worse, especially if they don't have a good idea on how to, uhm, fix the morals of the poor.
Of course that means I would never do something horrible, because I think morals are subjective (not meaning they are relative but rather depend on the subject having them – you can certainly be wrong about your own morals) and thus wouldn't ever dream of fixing other people's morals. Absolutely no potential for committing atrocities here. None at all.:pinkiecrazy:

I'm not sure I'm making my point well. It's 6 in the morning for me and I haven't slept yet.

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Sorry guys, I'm gonna have to jump ship on this one. I just don't have the time to invest. But I wanted you to know I've loved your responses. These are the best kinds of discussions. So much to say!

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You forgot the most obvious, and correct, reason

#4 We still live in the Age of Hypocrisy. From the sexual violations that form the basis of enhanced interrogation in the War on Terror, to the sex tourism trade which slaughters adolescents and children for the amusement of bored foriegners, to the expanding and often illegalized ranks of sex workers produced by austerity, the rape culture that blossoms in private prisons, and so on, the world is still very much founded upon rape, torture, slavery and murder.
You may not see or do any of it yourself, but then, neither did your average medieval peasant, and you are good at justifying and rationalizing away what parts you encounter, like the rest of medieval society.

And, as was already pointed out, there has always been a struggle over these things. Moldbug believes slavery is a good thing, despite it being (on paper) illegal, and John Brown believed, rather passionately one can guess, that slavery and racism were evils to be stamped out, despite it being legal. The law and cultural norms do not have to define the individual psychology. It might in most cases, but what would be even remotely interesting about a story in which the protagonist is some plaid, boring conformist happy to trudge along in step with their idiot society?

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And I now feel the need to expand on the psychology part.

Part of what makes a good historical novel, like Ash: A Secret History, is not that the characters sit about arguing the finer points of feudal law, but that they are believable as characters. Ash doesn't work because of some parallel to Joan of Arc or Caterina Sforza, she works because she's a mercenary commander, and her army works because they are mercenaries. Yes, they exist within a feudal system (although with the first rumblings of capital being heard in the distance), and so they deal with feudal problems, but they deal with them as a mercenary troop would be expected to.
They respect strength and power first, want their pay checks second, and stand together as brothers in arms third. Even if there weren't accounts of female military commanders, Ash would still be believable when she struggles to coral her army in the face of set backs, or has to kill the leader of a mutiny.

Or, to take an example from actual history, the Iliad is meaningful because Agememnon is a shitty boss and a gigantic infant who throws tempertantrums constantly and is always on the verge of starting a war within his own ranks, and Odysseus is the long suffering subordinate officer beating the men back into shape in hopes of ending this disaster so he can go home.
You could rewrite the whole thing with mice, replace the fighting over slave girls/wives and mares with cheese and crackers, and it would still be the same story.

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Too true. Always dangerous to think you're more moral than the next fellow.

Well, the thing is, you might be. But you only know that if you understand them.

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By all appearances, that includes the Republican Party itself.

Though I think some of that is also willful denial.

Part of the problem is that there's the myth of the conservative right, when in reality it is just as fractious as every other group, and it is highly non-uniform.

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For what purpose would one use "fascist" instead of simply "totalitarian"?

Are theocracies fascist? They're certainly totalitarian.

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2b. People today are better for some other reason, which I guess would be biological. I mean it could also be that climate change or the precession of the Earth's axis somehow made us nicer, but I doubt it. So I'm just calling everything that isn't culture "biology". Actually I believe evolution does play a significant role in this--in fact this is particularly relevant to the comparison with a Muslim, because our theory of the evolution of kindness is kin selection, and kin selection is stronger in monogamous cultures as in polygamous cultures. Cultures that have been monogamous for thousands of years should be nicer to each other than cultures that have been polygamous for thousands of years. (Also, men marry later in polygamous cultures, also leading to more antagonistic behavior.) But I also happen to be in the minority that believes group selection is a distinct mechanism from kin selection, and that group selection may be more important than kin selection in evolving altruism & kindness. Group selection doesn't care if you're monogamous. In short: Further study needed.

There's other possibilities here as well, which doesn't require kin selection or even necessarily group selection as it is conventionally understood.

If over time, we developed governments which were increasingly capable of enforcing the law and killing people who behaved in antisocial ways, we'd expect, over time, a long-term decline in such behavior if it is biologically driven - after all, if we kill the people who are murderers, rapists, horse thieves, ect. then they are unable to pass on their genes any more in our society. This acts as a selective force against such antisocial behavior.

Conversely, if people who are better at dealing with society became more reproductively successful, we'd see the same effect.

Incidentally, yet another biological proposition that doesn't require genetics would be the Flynn Effect. IQs went up massively over the 20th century, and global violence declined markedly. The places which don't appear to have undergone the Flynn Effect to the same extent also generally appear to be more violent and dysfunctional. If higher IQ = better ability for impulse control and prosocial behavior, then any effect which would raise IQ, even better nutrition, healthcare, ect. - whatever caused the Flynn Effect - might as a side effect make people more moral.

We do know that having a low IQ makes it more likely you'll be a criminal, so any effect which would raise social IQ would likely lead to a shift away from such behavior.

Downside is that it doesn't explain Nazi Germany (and possibly Imperial Japan), though maybe it only really took root after World War II? Or maybe those are anomalies which can be explained in other ways.

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#4 We still live in the Age of Hypocrisy. From the sexual violations that form the basis of enhanced interrogation in the War on Terror, to the sex tourism trade which slaughters adolescents and children for the amusement of bored foriegners, to the expanding and often illegalized ranks of sex workers produced by austerity, the rape culture that blossoms in private prisons, and so on, the world is still very much founded upon rape, torture, slavery and murder.
You may not see or do any of it yourself, but then, neither did your average medieval peasant, and you are good at justifying and rationalizing away what parts you encounter, like the rest of medieval society.

The problem with this argument is that it is wrong. Crime has plummeted over the last few decades. Global violence has fallen, not risen.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/globally-deaths-war-and-murder-are-decline-180950237/?no-ist

Moreover, the developed world has a seen a hugely significant deviation from historical norms. There's never been a society like ours, ever.

There are no wars in the first world. The last one was the Troubles, which was extremely low casualties as far as wars go. There are wars only in the second and third worlds, and there are few wars in the second world these days.

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Apologies for the late reply. Been a busy week.

I think you're focusing narrowly on the past 20 years, which is too narrow. I'm thinking 1700 onwards.

I was also thinking ~1700 onward, as most of the people I encounter who plead Moral Superiority do so on the basis of Enlightenment thought, itself standing on the authority of empiricism. Empiricism gave us smartphones, so why should it not give us ethics too? But perhaps I was being presumptuous.

First, think of fair comparisons: pick a time period, then compare our bottom 50% vs. their bottom 50%, and our top 0.1% vs. their top 0.1%.

What constitutes these percentiles and what is the measure of our comparison? Is the institutional feudal slavery of the 1200s any different from the intellectually supported slavery of the 1700s and 1800s that even as late as 1863 had Lincoln terrified of the political ramifications of outlawing it? In the 1200s at least it was regulated by religion and local custom. Antisemitism against the ungodly was as strong in the 1200s as it was in the 1930s against the generically inferior, though the 1930s also backed it with industrialism.

Likewise, equality in the light of a loving God for all of his children was preached just as readily in the 1200s as it is now (though now a lot of people just assume everyone is equal because permitting the contrary to come up in polite discourse is as taboo as seriously bringing up the deity). In the 1200s, the 0.1% saw it as their duty to show off their wealth by throwing feasts and making sure that the poor got something even if they were not permitted at the table, and buying grain in good times to shore up the common reserves in case of famine, whereas now the rich show off their wealth by buying the means of production and then blaming the poor for not having any money.

Next, recall that ethical debates were rare prior to about 1800. There were no partisan politics when there were no parties. In most times and places, societies didn't allow enough freedom of thought for people to argue as we do today. If you said things contrary to what everybody else believed, they might kill you.

What constitutes an ethical debate? I find it hard to believe that in every distant village in all of Europe there was never private discussion of the town council/elders' decisions or what Mr or Mrs such and such had been up to and whether it was Christian or otherwise worthy of civil society. People spent the 1500s onward debating religion publicly. The 1400s Flanders and Italy were flowering republics in which a not insignificant number of people were involved. As early as the Magna Carta in England people were gathering publicly to nominate representatives to discuss policy. It seems absurd that people could talk about any of that without raising at least questions of parliamentary ethics. The same could be said whenever the lord of the manor and his lieges met to resolve grievances -- where there is common law, ethical discussion is almost a given even if it is wrapped in politics, legalese, or religion.

It seems far more likely that ethical debate was rare prior to 1700 because people had agreed on an ethical system that, though flawed, worked well enough for society at the time that it was not worth pondering the underlying ethics when you could be using the underlying ethical system to reason about day to day issues. People only began publicly debating ethics as a distinct subject because they lost sufficient faith in the previous system and had to scramble for some basis for a replacement which is still ongoing.

It is the same reason that debates about whether using the scientific method to determine material truth are rare -- the people seriously concerned about material truth have long hammered out the method, analyzed its strengths and weaknesses, and figured out how best to use it, so unless a big shock comes along it is not going to be debated as a serious part of academic discourse -- what would be the point? It does not make us any less educated to instead use that intellectual space to figure out where the universe is keeping its dark matter. Likewise, can you blame academic society for ostracizing someone bent on bringing up that debate without a preponderance of evidence? Think of the productive research that would have to be derailed to effectively reboot academic discourse from the ground up even as it is still working well enough for most cases.

As for the bottom 50% today vs the bottom 50% pre-1700, my counter proposal is that we are not more "moral" so much as the invention of the printing press and means to power it through non-human energy sources has made modern literacy much cheaper on a per-capita basis. This has allowed ethical treatises to be more widely disseminated and encouraged more people to try their hand making ethically concerned monographs. The increase is in the scholar's ability to spread their ideas and thus people's having those ideas to put into the idle chatter of the day, not an increase in the quality (or benevolence -- see Social Darwinism) of those ideas or the goodwill with which the general public puts those ideas to use (see Christianity).

Add to this the use of fossil energy significantly blowing out our ability to both provide goods to the poorest people and punish people who break the social contract, and I think there is far too much noise to indicate any fundamental shift in human disposition that would lead one to conclude today's ethics are superior to pre-1700s ethics or that people as a whole are more "moral", whatever that means.

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In tribal societies, male deaths by violence were in the double digits percentage wise, often as high as 50%.

Today, male deaths by violence are massively, massively lower.

This suggests a large increase in morality between tribal society and modern society.

Moreover, even within different areas of modern countries like the US, we see large differences in criminality and homicide and the like. This suggests some groups within these countries are more moral than others.

If it was simply something like "having a powerful central government", then we shouldn't expect these differences. Same goes for technology.

This suggests to me some groups can in fact be more moral than others even under similar conditions, which throws the explanation of "it is just government/technology" into question - indeed, those seem likely to be effects of our greater cooperation as a society, though there could obviously be a feedback loop.

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So, first of all, nothing in your post responded to mine. Maybe you quoted me by mistake?

Second, there are no wars in the first world is a tautology, since the First World is defined by a system of alliances (NATO, primarily) and on par with saying there are no wars among the Crips, and this is a great moral accomplishment in the world of crack dealers.

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Your argument was that the world was a still a horrible place because horrible things still happened in it.

My point was that horrible things happen much less often today than they do historically, which indicates an increase in morality.

Second, there are no wars in the first world is a tautology, since the First World is defined by a system of alliances (NATO, primarily) and on par with saying there are no wars among the Crips, and this is a great moral accomplishment in the world of crack dealers.

Those countries historically fought quite a bit (so them not fighting is an improvement), and moreover often work to force people to behave in a more moral manner via their power and actions.

I don't think that is a fair comparison. Sure, they're all allied with each other... but isn't that a good thing? If everyone is everyone's ally, no one fights anymore.

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Your argument was that the world was a still a horrible place because horrible things still happened in it.

I was responding to Bad Horse's argument that people in the modern era are somehow more moral than people in the medieval period because we no longer have the same spoils system in warfare, and that therefore historical novels should focus on creating similarly "immoral" characters.

I was pointing out how modern systems are still founded upon sexual exploitation and murder, and how this doesn't make all, or even most, modern people pedophiles or assassins.

Your response was about comparitive violence within modernity, which is a seperate, statistical argument (the use of the close of WW2 as a start date is deliberately massaging the numbers, to make it look like a downward trend exists, when in fact we are only in a low ebb; the use of death as a measure uses the very real and significant advances in medical science over the past century to hide intention, doctors in 1946 were less capable--but no less willing--to save lives than doctors in 2016. On the issue of crime, there are strong arguments for a correlation between the reduction of lead, or the increase of access to abortion, in the reduction of crime).
Likewise, life being horrible is another seperate, metaphysical argument (via Schopenhaur, compare the lion's ease of stress as it devours a gazelle to the gazelle's terror and agony as it is eaten alive).

If everyone is everyone's ally, no one fights anymore.

This is the thinking that lead into the first world war. It doesn't work, just makes the eventual explosion worse.
The German principalities were at war for centuries, and the legacy of their union was more German deaths than their previous infighting.

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This is the thinking that lead into the first world war. It doesn't work, just makes the eventual explosion worse.
The German principalities were at war for centuries, and the legacy of their union was more German deaths than their previous infighting.

We've had larger alliances since World War 2 than before it, and have not had a major war since then. Almost all of the most important countries are all on one side, and even China is reluctant to really do anything bad. Russia is the last major "them" and is presently sitting in 14th place economically, behind Canada, South Korea, Australia, and Spain.

I was pointing out how modern systems are still founded upon sexual exploitation and murder, and how this doesn't make all, or even most, modern people pedophiles or assassins.

Modern systems aren't founded upon sexual exploitation and murder, though.

the use of the close of WW2 as a start date is deliberately massaging the numbers, to make it look like a downward trend exists, when in fact we are only in a low ebb

It isn't deliberately massaging the numbers, it is when the world markedly changed. Before World War II, wars of conquest were the norm. Colonization was the norm. Now, such behavior is seen as deeply aberrant and reprehensible. Those who fail to renounce it soon find themselves socially and economically isolated.

the use of death as a measure uses the very real and significant advances in medical science over the past century to hide intention, doctors in 1946 were less capable--but no less willing--to save lives than doctors in 2016

We don't have the sort of mass battles and wars that we used to, and overall shooting events are down.

On the issue of crime, there are strong arguments for a correlation between the reduction of lead, or the increase of access to abortion, in the reduction of crime

The lead-crime link is bogus; blood-lead levels were high long before the crime wave, and China, which has high blood-lead levels, does not show the same level of criminality, particularly violent criminality.

The abortion argument is very dubious as well; crime increased massively between the late 1960s and early 1990s. If abortion was the cause, why was crime so low before the 1960s? Moreover, why did crime rise in the first half of the 1990s, when the first generation of people who went through the abortion filter would have already been in their 20s?

Neither tracks well with the data.

Mass incarceration and increased police presence are probably responsible to some extent for the decline in crime, as they do correlate with a decrease in crime, though it is also clear that crime declined in other areas for other reasons. People getting richer probably made a significant difference as well. Otherwise? Hard to say.

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Are theocracies fascist? They're certainly totalitarian.

That's why I asked the question. I want to talk about art over history, and the major trend is that the totalitarian societies nearly all produced the same kind of "art", with the exception of ancient Greece.

I want to get across how awful the Middle Ages were, not in terms of material comforts, but in terms of the dehumanizing mental strictures and abuse the system inflicted on its members to support the power structure. It was worse than Stalinism or Nazism. Stalinism directed hate at the "bourgeoisie", Nazis at the Jews; the Middle Ages exerted control by directing peoples' hate at themselves. It made its people less than human in intellect, creativity, ambition, and compassion, which is why they produced almost no good art that I'm aware of other than cathedrals, calligraphy, Celtic knotwork, and other non-representational art, which is purely aesthetic and in that sense not really what we today call art at all. Their representational art was (except during Charlemagne's lifetime) deliberately bad; nearly all of their literature was bad because their moral compass was so inverted that they could only consider bad things good. A list of their principles of good writing would be to us a list of pitfalls of bad writing: tell don't show, avoid creating distinctive or realistic characters, avoid originality, avoid realism or naturalism, keep love and lust entirely separate, never attribute love to any individual qualities of the beloved, use only pre-existing characters, plots, and ideas with minor variations, avoid natural dialogue, never give your heroes flaws, never give your villains motives, humor comes not from surprise nor from character but only from sex, scorn, and brutality, assume your readers/listeners are idiots, use deus ex machina. We have so little medieval poetry+literature in our Norton anthologies not because we don't have enough of it, but because it is stupid. It is painfully anvilicious propaganda for a transparently idiotic value system.

We could mark the end of the Middle Ages with Malory writing Le Morte d'Arthur in 1469, possibly the first story within the Catholic tradition since the Gospel of Mark that did not suck. (I haven't read Dante's Inferno, and I could credit it not sucking, since it came from Italy, which was the first region to exit the Middle Ages.) Other stories from the Middle Ages that don't suck--Beowulf, Norse stories, the Canterbury tales, oral folk tales--are outside the Catholic tradition, and were not approved by the Church nor considered good during the Middle Ages.

But the word "fascist" has the connotations that I want. And it seems to be a nonsense word whose only purpose is as communist propaganda. "Fascist", as far as I can tell, means "Totalitarian, nationalist, and opposed to communism." This last qualifier is used to explain why fascist groups opposed totalitarian nationalist communist groups, and thereby preserve the myth that there is some important distinction between those communist groups and fascists. The only purpose of the word "fascist" was to create a new word that you could sling at the Nazis, Italians, and Japanese, but not at the communist Russians or Chinese. It pretends that these groups opposed each other out of ideological differences rather than just because they all wanted to take over.

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