The Chavs Are Not Listening

Many self-identified antinatalists adhere to some form of negative utilitarianism and are convinced that their not having children will reduce the net suffering of the world. Let us set aside the thorny question of whether beliefs have non-trivial causal efficacy independent of genes – which I doubt (<< skip to table 3). Who, prima facie, finds these ideas attractive?

Socially liberal, virtue-signalling (I use that phrase descriptively, not pejoratively), high-IQ persons of northern European descent who enjoy burying their heads in esoteric thought. In other words, the group who are most interested in, and most likely to, improve the lot of the living world. Any suffering that might await the children of these people is nothing compared with the Third World, nothing compared with what lies behind us, and with what may yet lie ahead. What will their beliefs do to arrest current population trends, such as Africa’s population boom, which is certain to engender much suffering? Can we market antinatalism to Africans – in a profoundly, brilliantly, orgiastically non-racist way?

That these problems do not occur to otherwise intelligent and well-informed people tells you a lot about how important keeping up appearances is as a human motivation, even or perhaps especially in “rationalist” circles: what matters is whether the ideas sound coherent to others in your social group, not whether they take account of reality as is.

If there is one thing that the cognitive elite of the West could really do with keeping in mind, whatever else happens, it is this:

The chavs are not listening.

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Diseases, Disorders and Illnesses, Oh My

This will serve as an addendum of sorts to my article, The Harmless Psychopaths.

Medicine as a science is a modern phenomenon. It was not all that long ago that going to a doctor was more likely to hurt than help, a fact which persisted, some think, until as late as the 1930s. Medical researchers tend to just keep plugging away at their specialist interest and are unconcerned with what to them seem like instrumentally useless philosophical minutiae. Moral philosophers might argue about meta-ethics: the essence of moral statements, but this does not seem a necessary prerequisite to a relatively harmonious social order. One might just as well ask what is the use of “meta-medicine,” to wonder at the underlying assumptions of medical diagnoses, when scientists are quite happy getting on with finding cures for cancer, and whatever else.

Unfortunately, medicine is as subject to such human frailties as status-seeking and fashion as anything else. It became unfashionable in the 20th century to look for pathogenic causation to diseases thanks to the then nascent science of genetics, which is why it was not accepted as common knowledge that bacteria cause peptic ulcers until the 1980s despite this having been suspected, on good evidence, for well over a hundred years. Note that most cancers are only dimly heritable, in contrast with, say, autism, and have no clear Mendelian inheritance pattern. (Fill in the blank.)

Medicine is an applied science and so obviously has a prescriptive dimension to it, i.e. what is worth treating? Call this is the meta-medical question if one likes. The answer to this is not so complicated when dealing with physical disorders which glaringly go against the sufferer’s interests and those of peers, such as the flu, atherosclerosis, whatever. But what about disorders of the mind? Surely a meaningful concept, but surely far more prone to spurious theorising and fashion-biases in answering the meta-medical question, due to the diversity of moral viewpoints about what is “disordered” behaviour. For the purposes of this post, I use the terms disease, disorder, and illness interchangeably – which they more or less are in everyday usage.

This is how the DSM-IV defines mental disorder:

A. a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual

B. is associated with present distress (e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more important areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom

C. must not be merely an expectable and culturally sanctioned response to a particular event, for example, the death of a loved one

D. a manifestation of a behavioral, psychological, or biological dysfunction in the individual

E. neither deviant behavior (e.g., political, religious, or sexual) nor conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are mental disorders unless the deviance or conflict is a symptom of a dysfunction in the individual

The inadequacies of this are manifold and torturously obvious. Childbirth seems to fit quite snugly with condition B. Also, it is generally unhelpful to include a word itself or its synonyms in its own definition, such as in D. with “dysfunction.” E. seems to take it as read that the distinction between biological dysfunction and normal deviance is obvious, yet it is apparently not to most psychiatrists. It is for that reason that the traits branded “psychopathy,” for example, are continuously distributed in the population and usually harmless, but there exists an arbitrarily defined cut-off at the right tail of the distribution where it is conveniently labelled “disorder,” and the relevant convenience is just relative to the interests of whosoever finds these traits unappealing or whoever lacks the theory of mind to understand them. See also: ADHD, and teachers.

How to get around this arbitrariness? If ADHD and psychopathy are not useful to us WEIRDos, who or what are they useful to? Well, they are adaptations: they have a fitness benefit, i.e. a reproductive edge, in at least some environments, even if they are unpalatable to individual persons. This evolutionary view is what tempts some to propose a purely Darwinian definition of disease in which disease is conceived as any embodied phenomenon that is counter-adaptive across all environments. This would make homosexuality a disease, but “Asperger’s syndrome,” “ADHD,” and “psychopathy” not. This could certainly be illuminating from a solely descriptive angle where the only interest is to scientifically describe the causes of disease, but it is useless to practitioners of medicine and psychiatry, for whom the relevant question is “What ought to be treated?” If one asks doctors what the problem is with flu, they are unlikely to say anything about how it affects one’s reproductive chances, and, well, it doesn’t. Not much.

Whether one finds this distasteful to mention as a dispassionate intellectual, it is also a fact that the word “diseased” in popular usage carries a certain moral valence, even when applied to activities that one does not think morally important. To say that “Behaviour X is a disease” is not simply to say that it is evolutionarily maladaptive, but that it is wrong. This would seem an unhelpful confusion.

For the application of medicine, I tentatively suggest that what I think is the best formulation of the conventional usage of “disorder” be merged with the Darwinian definition: anything, internally generated (which may be another bone of contention, but that is a separate topic), which leads to non-trivial suffering in the individual and also has no conceivable fitness benefit. As for the descriptive-only theorists and researchers, the Darwinian definition is fine on its own, although perhaps it is worth while to find a word other than “disease.”

YangGang and the “Jumping In” of Andrew Yang

A fundamental problem of our time is the exploitation of people’s inability to comprehend language. I don’t mean in the sense of “people can’t speak English” or anything like that. Words like “discouraged” are now misinterpreted as “banned.” “It’s okay to be white” is labeled “white supremacy.” Terms and phrases are arbitrarily redefined on the fly to fit whatever narrative or line of attack is most convenient. While this phenomenon is by no means unique to the era we live in, the amplifying ability of social media allows slander and misinformation to proliferate in a short period of time.. The mischaracterizations reach millions of people, and by the time they can be countered or debunked, the damage is already done. They’ve been mythologized into the public consciousness.

Andrew Yang is getting a taste of just how dishonestly and opportunistically people’s views get misrepresented in the current year. In many cases pundits / opponents just outright lie when they mischaracterize someone’s beliefs, while other instances can simply be chalked up to poor comprehension, omitted context, etc…to equal effect but with benign intention.

The most recent example of Yang running into this has been regarding his position on circumcision. It’s pretty simple. Yang said he would discourage the practice. He thinks parents should have a choice and be informed that it isn’t medically necessary. Notice how people twisted that into “This guy wants to effectively ban Islam and Judaism.” Totally bogus insinuation. There was nothing at all controversial in Yang’s statements about the issue.

Another instance was when he predicted whites would shoot up churches. Yang’s timing could not have been more “perfect.” Not only did this prediction eerily come true (the New Zealand shooting occurred on the same day Yang was defending his statements on this very issue,) but Yang’s broader point was to illustrate why it’s important to treat whites fairly as they become a minority and offer them an incentive to have a share in the future. Taken in their entirety, Yang’s comments clearly were not attempting to denigrate whites but to promote empathy and understanding.

I’ve also seen a number of people refer to Yang as being “anti-robot,” due to his emphasis on how automation will impact jobs. Far from being a Luddite, Yang is a futurist who surely supports advancements in robotics, automation and artificial intelligence. It’s just that he believes the humans workers displaced by automation should reap some of the benefits of these increases in labor efficiency. Everyone wins. The companies get the increased productivity from automation, and the former employees get a shorter work week and a cash dividend on the backend. The American revolutionaries used the slogan “No taxation without representation!” Yang’s variant might well be “No automation without compensation.” Similarly, with his proposal to demand social media companies give users a percentage of the money they get for collecting and selling users’ personal data, an apt rallying cry might be “No data extraction without a piece of the action!”

Yang is essentially being “jumped in” to the dissident political arena. These early, absurd distortions of his positions should serve to toughen him up and provide an eye-opening experience. If he realizes how easily his views can be grossly mischaracterized in this way, perhaps he might question his assumptions about the views and intentions of some of his more contemptible, “unpersoned” supporters. This is my third article promoting Yang for president. One might say that given some of the (mildly) controversial things I’ve written in the past, people like me aren’t welcome in the campaign. Well, that’s too bad. Yang is going to have a broad base of support whether he likes it or not. As long as we can remember this is about unifying people toward a common goal, there’s room on the Yang Yacht for everyone. Crack open a cold one, and set a course for bag island.

Brandon Adamson is the author of Skytrain to Nowhere and several other books of poetry.

Yang Time!

Within the span of a brief couple of weeks, Andrew Yang has gone from being an obscure longshot candidate to a leading contender for the winning the nomination in the 2020 democratic presidential primary. If this momentum can be sustained, it’s only a matter of time before Yang will, against all odds, become the frontrunner and eventual nominee.

There are two things which distinguish Yang from the other candidates. First, with his Universal Basic Income proposal, Yang is the only candidate who represents real, radical change. Bernie no longer is a revolutionary candidate. He increasingly parrots establishment views on foreign policy (usually just to score points on attacking Trump) and has demonstrated recently how easily bullied he is by the media into accepting their narratives about his own campaign being not committed to “social justice” enough. He talks tough but is quick to appease when it actually matters. Tulsi Gabbard is a solid reformer on foreign policy but lacks the sort of grand vision which could inspire voters to engage in the determined activism required to overcome electoral obstacles.

Secondly, and most importantly Yang is the only candidate who can unify all factions of political dissidents. In fact, he’s already done it. It has been amazing to see all the people who have relentlessly attacked each other for years come together for #YangGang: Irony bros, white nationalists, Bernie bros, weird twitter, the AltRight, the AltLite, disillusioned Trump supporters, intersectional feminists, TERFs, gays, accelerationists, transgenders, radical centrists, transhumanists, AmNats, NEETs, FrogTwitter, etc… the list goes on and on. You can see the handfuls of remaining individuals that are either ideologically entrenched in outdated paradigms or simply can’t bring themselves to set aside past differences to have fun and be part of a campaign which has the potential to improve the lives of everyone. Sticking out like sore thumbs, they come off like bitter chumps, absolutely miserable to be around.

The only way this momentum can be sustained and that Yang will have any chance to win is if we are willing to tolerate each other as allies, focused on the prize and uniting for a greater purpose. We cannot allow ourselves to get baited into the “guilt by association” games or divide and conquer ploys which are about to be unleashed. We must also resist the temptation to snipe at old adversaries and fall back into the familiar, longstanding petty “e-feuds” which have bogged us down for so long. The media is already beginning to take notice that Yang is drawing support from the same unsavory legions (and I count myself among them) who helped get Trump elected in 2016.

The first impulse of many puzzled Yang supporters will be to disavow such support or “help” from all nefarious characters and instruct that “hate fueled” individuals have no place in this campaign. To do so would be a huge mistake, playing right into the enemy’s hands and would ultimately amount to a misreading of Yang’s appeal. Indeed, the magic of Yang’s unifying candidacy is that it transcends 20th century ideological paradigms. Support for Yang from politically incorrect or “problematic” circles should not be perceived as hate inspired. Rather it should reflect well on Yang that his solutions oriented approach and innovative policy proposals are so appealing, that people are willing to set aside racial, ideological and personal grievances in the pursuit of actualizing ideas which will benefit all of us. Do not get hung up on the fact that someone or some group whom you find abhorrent is supporting the same candidate as you. Of course, there are some people who are cynically supporting Yang because they view him as some kind of doomsday agent whose policies will collapse the entire system and cause the irredeemable US to receive the implosion it richly deserves. So what though? There were bitter people who supported Trump as a “chaos candidate,” and their votes still counted to get him elected (though Trump actually turned out to be a rather unremarkable, run of the mill republican president.) Just because pthers are supporting Yang for their own misguided reasons doesn’t mean you can’t support him for the right ones. At the end of the day, all that matters is who Andrew Yang is and what his policies are. That Yang has the power to unite you with the people you love to hate is what makes this campaign truly unprecedented in modern times. If you haven’t already, take the Nestea Plunge and join the #YangGang.

https://www.yang2020.com/

Brandon Adamson is the author of Skytrain to Nowhere and several other books of poetry.

The Gleaming Crest

Originally published in 1995, “The Gleaming Crest” was my first poetry chapbook (you can read more about it here.) Written while I was still in high school, this obscure literary gem from the 90’s deals with themes of adolescent angst, grandiose dreams, romance and coming of age. It’s only about 35 pages, but worth snagging a copy since it’s basically become vintage. The book is available from Amazon, but you’ll occasionally see copies floating around in locally owned book stores, record stores and random shops. It’s a great book to have sitting out on a coffee table if you want to get strange looks from guests who come over.

Purchase from Amazon

 

Introducing… Jostle Magazine

So, as the enlightened / disillusioned ones transition to a “post-political” era, I’ve created a new site, Jostle, for people willing to ascend into abstract madness. “Jostle” is in the literary vein of a 1990’s underground zine but is stylistically modeled after pop publications like Seventeen and Sassy Magazine. The tagline of Jostle is “creating elbow room,” meaning that it intends to open up space in the ether for people to think about whatever, as there is no room for coherent thought and the transmission of concrete political ideas in the world of everyday people. As I’ve stated before, electoral politics strikes me as a pointless endeavor. If one is going to vote, they’d be better off voting for the candidate that has the cooler looking campaign logo. The vast majority of people who vote have at best a kindergarten level of understanding when it comes to the issues. They might recognize a couple of slogans and be swayed by a few generalized statements. There are very little actual differences between candidates anyway, most of whom merely spout vapid platitudes. I don’t see any mechanism for this to change any time soon. In terms of what could be termed political or ideological interests I’m mostly only focused on transhumanism now. The AltRight has nothing interesting left to offer, nor does the post-AltRight, which is mostly just young people attempting to repackage the early 1990s religious right as something new (because they grew up too late to realize that was the sort of thing people were trying to get away from.) The left has nothing to offer either, but I will probably vote democrat anyway, if the candidate is cute, quirky, funny and supports universal basic income for aging mall creeps and notoriously terrible roommates like me. Identity politics is here to stay, but as traditional identities disappear, new ones will emerge to take their place: vampire, fembot, catgirl, pigman, mystery meat, neo-juggalo, legacy human, floating brain in a jar…etc. It’s an exciting time to be alive and in chronic pain!

Behold! the “ubermensch” of tomorrow

Jostle frequently will delve into the realms of “mindless” pop culture and obscure oddities, partially because those are where my fascinations ultimately lie but also to act as a repellent to “Johnny One-Note” political pests. The subject matter of Jostle acts a neuro-tribalist filter. So if your first instinct when reading it is to mutter “What is this bullshit?” to yourself, you’re probably not on my wavelength. So you can either get on my wavelength or go home. It’s cool.

http://www.jostle.net

[Of course I will continue to update AltLeft.com if and when a political epiphany pops into my head or I feel like going on some drunken Mel Gibson rant (both of which are virtually guaranteed to happen)]