Posts tagged: history
My latest column for TechCrunch looks at one of the weirdest political subcultures on the web:
Many of us yearn for a return to one golden age or another. But there’s a community of bloggers taking the idea to an extreme: they want to turn the dial way back to the days before the French Revolution.
Neoreactionaries believe that while technology and capitalism have advanced humanity over the past couple centuries, democracy has actually done more harm than good. They propose a return to old-fashioned gender roles, social order and monarchy.
You may have seen them crop-up on tech hangouts like Hacker News and Less Wrong, having cryptic conversations about “Moldbug” and “the Cathedral.” And though neoreactionaries aren’t exactly rampant in the tech industry, PayPal founder Peter Thiel has voiced similar ideas, and Pax Dickinson, the former CTO of Business Insider, says he’s been influenced by neoreactionary thought. It may be a small, minority world view, but it’s one that I think shines some light on the psyche of contemporary tech culture.
Previously: Nick Land – An Experiment in Inhumanism
Great article from a couple weeks back by Adrian Chen about Perry Fellwock, the original NSA whistleblower:
He was tasked with analyzing Soviet air force activities. Though the American public at home was terrified by the Soviet threat, Fellwock said his access to raw intelligence made him feel safer—even if he had once anxiously tracked a flight of nuclear-armed Russian bombers heading straight toward Istanbul, pulling a U-turn just short of the line that would have set off a nuclear war.
“I thought we were keeping World War III from happening, I really thought that was what our job was,” Fellwock said. “Because we knew everything that was going on, and as long as we knew everything that was going on, there was a possibility of preventing everything.”
Fellwock’s faith in his mission was shaken within a year. In 1967, the Six-Day War between Israel and a number of neighboring Arab countries erupted. Israeli forces attacked an NSA spy ship, the U.S.S. Liberty, while it was on an eavesdropping mission off the coast of Egypt. Thirty-five crew members were killed, and 171 wounded.
Israel claimed that in the fog of war it had misidentified the ship as Egyptian. But James Bamford, in his book Body of Secrets, has made a strong case that the IDF knowingly attacked the spy ship in order to cover up their massacring of hundreds of Egyptian POWs in a nearby town. Whatever the case, the incident sparked outrage within the NSA, especially after Lyndon Johnson’s administration covered it up so as not to embarrass the U.S.’s strongest ally in the Middle East.
For Fellwock, the intrigue surrounding the Liberty incident opened up new, dark possibilities. “It made begin to wonder what the heck is going on in the world,” he said. “This is not the way things are supposed to be.“
Having glimpsed the chaos of a war the U.S. wasn’t even a party to, Fellwock began to wonder about the ongoing American war in Vietnam. In 1968, his curiosity overcame his aversion to combat and he volunteered for Vietnam. “I had to find out why things were going this way,” he said.
Peter Turchin (the Cliodynamics guy) has a piece in Bloomberg today:
Past waves of political instability, such as the civil wars of the late Roman Republic, the French Wars of Religion and the American Civil War, had many interlinking causes and circumstances unique to their age. But a common thread in the eras we studied was elite overproduction. The other two important elements were stagnating and declining living standards of the general population and increasing indebtedness of the state.
Elite overproduction generally leads to more intra-elite competition that gradually undermines the spirit of cooperation, which is followed by ideological polarization and fragmentation of the political class. This happens because the more contenders there are, the more of them end up on the losing side. A large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes, often well-educated and highly capable, has been denied access to elite positions. Consider the Antebellum U.S.
While I can understand how intra-elite conflict destabalize society and lead to ever more disaparity between the elites and everyone else, I still don’t quite understand how elite overproduction causes this. If most of these wannabes are locked out of the elite positions, how is it that they’re causing trouble?
From Live Science:
Tehrani discovered that “Little Red Riding Hood” seems to have descended from the more ancient story “The Wolf and the Kids” — but so did African versions that independently evolved to look like “Little Red Riding Hood.”
“This exemplifies a process biologists call convergent evolution, in which species independently evolve similar adaptations,” Tehrani explained in a statement. “The fact that Little Red Riding Hood ‘evolved twice’ from the same starting point suggests it holds a powerful appeal that attracts our imaginations.”
The analysis also suggests that the Chinese version of “Little Red Riding Hood” derives from ancient European tales and not vice versa as other researchers have suggested.
“Specifically, the Chinese blended together ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘The Wolf and the Kids’ and local folktales to create a new, hybrid story,” Tehrani said.
(via K Tempest Bradford)
Colin Woodard writes:
Beyond a vague awareness that supporters of violent retaliation and easy access to guns are concentrated in the states of the former Confederacy and, to a lesser extent, the western interior, most people cannot tell you much about regional differences on such matters. Our conventional way of defining regions—dividing the country along state boundaries into a Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest—masks the cultural lines along which attitudes toward violence fall. These lines don’t respect state boundaries. To understand violence or practically any other divisive issue, you need to understand historical settlement patterns and the lasting cultural fissures they established.
The original North American colonies were settled by people from distinct regions of the British Isles—and from France, the Netherlands, and Spain—each with its own religious, political, and ethnographic traits. For generations, these Euro-American cultures developed in isolation from one another, consolidating their cherished religious and political principles and fundamental values, and expanding across the eastern half of the continent in nearly exclusive settlement bands. Throughout the colonial period and the Early Republic, they saw themselves as competitors—for land, capital, and other settlers—and even as enemies, taking opposing sides in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.
There’s never been an America, but rather several Americas—each a distinct nation. There are eleven nations today. Each looks at violence, as well as everything else, in its own way.
Full Story: Tufts Magazine: Up in Arms
Suggested for Mature Readers is a weekly blog by Tom Whiteley. Each week he re-reads and writes about a comic from the 80s or early 1990s comics that helped bring the medium into the mainstream. He updates roughly every Monday.
He’s currently re-reading Grendal, which had a big influence on me. He also recently did the entirety of Marshal Law, along with Joe McCulloch of The Comics Journal, which I think is a… well, not underated, but at least overlooked series. It looks like Cerebus is on the list as well. I’m currently rereading Sandman and hope he gets to that.
Torben Sangild writes:
Apollo represents appearance, form, individuality, beauty and dream; the Apollonian aesthetics is an embellishment of suffering, a self-conscious lie, a veiling of cruelty by use of form and elegance, a semblance of beauty. Dionysus, on the other hand, represents ecstasy, being, will, intoxication and unity; the Dionysian aesthetics is a direct confrontation with the terrible foundation of being, an absurd will driving us all in our meaningless lives. In the Dionysian ecstasy individuality is transgressed6 in favor of identification with the universal will – a frightening yet blissful experience. Frightening, that is, because it is a death-like giving up of the Ego, if only for a few seconds; blissful in letting go of the responsibilities of being a subject. The Dionysian experience is a “metaphysical comfort”, knowing that suffering is a necessary part of the effects of the eternal will – the destruction of things in order to create anew. In the Dionysian ecstasy one is no longer concerned with one’s individual suffering, seeing instead things from the universal point of view.
In music, the ecstasy of noise is undoubtedly a Dionysian effect, as opposed to the Apollonian melody and form.7 As mentioned above, the German words Rausch (ecstasy) and Geräusch (noise) are related, pointing towards this fact. The Dionysian is that which is not totally controlled or formed, e.g. screams and noises. The Apollonian elements are seductive, inciting the listener to enter the ecstatic bliss of the Dionysian, enabling the listener to dare the confrontation with the dreadfulness of existence. Therefore, Nietzsche says, the Dionysian needs the Apollonian.
Merzbow is so demanding exactly because he refuses this; he does not soften the harshness of noise with any Apollonian elements. Listening to Merzbow is thus a very different experience from the Sonic Youth maelstrom.
One of the reasons for the ecstatic effect of noise is its sublime character. The sublime is that which exceeds the limits of the senses, perceived as chaos or vastness. Despite our ability to put these words to it, the sublime goes beyond making sense – we never really understand it. The complexity of noise (in the acoustic sense) overloads the ears and the nervous system and is perceived as an amorphous mass, incomprehensible yet stirring. The delight of the sublime is the satisfaction of confronting the unfathomable.
Full Story: Ubu Web: The Aesthetics of Noise
(Thanks Adam and Ryan!)
Steven Attewell writes:
Steve Rogers doesn’t represent a genericized America but rather a very specific time and place – 1930’s New York City. We know he was born July 4, 1920 (not kidding about the 4th of July) to a working-class family of Irish Catholic immigrants who lived in New York’s Lower East Side. This biographical detail has political meaning: given the era he was born in and his class and religious/ethnic background, there is no way in hell Steve Rogers didn’t grow up as a Democrat, and a New Deal Democrat at that, complete with a picture of FDR on the wall.
Steve Rogers grew up poor in the Great Depression, the son of a single mother who insisted he stayed in school despite the trend of the time (his father died when he was a child; in some versions, his father is a brave WWI veteran, in others an alcoholic, either or both of which would be appropriate given what happened to WWI veterans in the Great Depression) and then orphaned in his late teens when his mother died of TB. And he came of age in New York City at a time when the New Deal was in full swing, Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor, the American Labor Party was a major force in city politics, labor unions were on the move, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was organizing to fight fascism in Spain in the name of the Popular Front, and a militant anti-racist movement was growing that equated segregation at home with Nazism abroad that will eventually feed into the “Double V” campaign.
Then he became a fine arts student. To be an artist in New York City in the 1930s was to be surrounded by the “Cultural Front.” We’re talking the WPA Arts and Theater Projects, Diego Rivera painting socialist murals in Rockefeller Center, Orson Welles turning Julius Caesar into an anti-fascist play and running an all-black Macbeth and “The Cradle Will Rock,” Paul Robeson was a major star, and so on. You couldn’t really be an artist and have escaped left-wing politics. And if a poor kid like Steve Rogers was going to college as a fine arts student, odds are very good that he was going to the City College of New York at a time when an 80% Jewish student body is organizing student trade unions, anti-fascist rallies, and the “New York Intellectuals” were busily debating Trotskyism vs. Stalinism vs. Norman Thomas Socialism vs. the New Deal in the dining halls and study carrels.
And this Steve Rogers, who’s been exposed to all of what New York City has to offer, becomes an explicit anti-fascist. In the fall of 1940, over a year before Pearl Harbor, he first volunteers to join the army to fight the Nazis specifically. This isn’t an apolitical patriotism forged out of a sense that the U.S has been attacked; rather, Steve Rogers had come to believe that Nazism posed an existential threat to the America he believed in. New Deal America.
I wrote for Intonarumoron:
The first two Ministry albums I heard were With Sympathy and Filth Pig. I can’t remember which one I got first, but they sounded completely different not just from each other, but from what I expected Ministry to sound like — something like Skinny Puppy or Nine Inch Nails.
How did Ministry begin with such pop roots and emerge as a heavy metal band? Jourgensen has claimed he was forced by the record company and his producers to create a pop album. Others have speculated that he discovered hardcore punk later in life and was converted.
“The singer has been accused of punk posturing on the video for ‘Stigmata,’ which has him decked out in skinhead garb and wallowing in a pile of trash,” the Phoenix Times wrote in 1988, following the release of The Land of Rape and Honey.
Neither version of the story is true. And while skipping straight from “Revenge” to “No W” would be quite a shock, there’s actually a steady progression in the sound over the years. This evolution has been a fascination of mine for a long time, and may be the thing I like most about his work.
On their own, most of Ministry’s albums aren’t great. There’s a forgettable synthpop album, a poppy EBM album that’s OK if you like that sort of thing, two rather confused industrial rock albums with a few good tracks, one excellent alternative metal album, a below average sludge metal album and a bunch of above average speed metal albums.
But considered as a whole — as a single continuum instead of several discrete works — Jourgensen’s albums are much more interesting.
His authorized biography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen by Jon Wiederhorn, provides some insight into how all of this came to be, but it’s often at odds with contemporaneous interviews he gave. I’m not interested in proving whether Jourgensen is being entirely truthful in his account of what transpired at Arista records, but in gaining more understanding in how and why Jourgensen’s music changed over the years.
Warning, this is long (4,500 words) and self-indulgent.