Nietzsche on Wealth and Pretense

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Here’s an interesting passage from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Human, All Too Human (1878).  I combined two different translations with minor edits for clarity:

Only a man of intellect should hold property; otherwise property is dangerous. For the owner, not knowing how to make use of the leisure which his possessions might secure to him, will continue to strive after more property.  This striving will constitute his entertainment, his strategy in his war against boredom.  So in the end, real wealth is produced from the moderate property that would be enough for an intellectual man.  [Wealth] looks quite different from what its humble origin might lead one to expect, because it can mask itself with culture and art, – it can, in fact, purchase the mask.  By this means it arouses envy in the poorer and the uncultivated – who at bottom are envying culture and fail to recognize the masks as masks – and it gradually paves the way for social revolution.  For gilded vulgarity and histrionic self-inflation in the pretended enjoyment of culture inspires that class with the thought, “It is only a matter of money”- whereas, while it is to some extent a matter of money, it is much more a matter of intellect.

 

The mask wearing Oligarchs and their clerisy we are now studying think that they are intellectually superior to everyone else because of their wealth, but they are, in fact, not.

 

Nietzsche would be laughing. Here’s another quote in which his disdain for pretentious, greedy wealthy people drips off his every sentence (from Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy (1926)):

It is a sign of inferiority that the man of money should be the object of so much worship and envy. But these business-men too are slaves, puppets of routine, victims of busy-ness; they have no time for new ideas; thinking is taboo among them, and the joys of the intellect are beyond their reach.  Hence their restless and perpetual search for “happiness”, their great houses which are never homes, their vulgar luxury without taste, their picture-galleries of ‘originals’, with cost attached, their sensual amusements that dull rather than refresh or stimulate the mind.  Look at these superfluous!  They acquire riches and become poorer thereby; they accept all the restraints of aristocracy without its compensating access to the kingdom of the mind.  See how they climb, these swift apes!  They climb over one another, and thus drag themselves into the mud and depths…..There is no use in such men having wealth, for they cannot give it dignity by noble use, by the discriminating patronage of letters or the arts.  Only a man of intellect should hold property; others think of property as an end in itself, and pursue it more and more recklessly.  They seek the smallest profits out of every sort of rubbish.  To-day, mercantile morality is really nothing but a refinement on piratical morality…

  

Back to Kotkin’s book on Tuesday.

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The Oligarchs

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Part II of The Coming of Neo Feudalism (2020) anatomizes modern Oligarchs.  Chapter 4 (High-Tech Feudalism) shows us how technology is driving a social devolution back to feudalism.  Chapter 5 (The Belief System of the New Oligarchy) is a fascinating exploration of how Oligarchs think and what they want.  Chapter 6 (Feudalism in California, Harbinger of the Future) examines how the Golden State foreshadows things to come everywhere.

 

I wrote about Oligarchs here in a 3 part post on 10/27/15, 11/3/15 and 11/10/15 concluding that it is NOT in our best interests for Government to attack Oligarchs. My takeaways in 2015 and now:

  1. Oligarchs are untouchable – way too powerful to attack via public policy
  2. Capitalism and wealth inequality are moral and natural
  3. Forced wealth redistribution is both immoral and impractical

 

Part II of Joel Kotkin’s new book does a superb job of: 1) Identifying technology as the cause of new feudalism; 2) Probing deeply into the beliefs and motives of the new Oligarchs (immoral arrogance!); and 3) Pointing to California as a case study.  The chapter on the belief system of tech Oligarchs was the most enlightening – sending me off for hours and hours of further reading on technological determinism.  That term, along with “conspicuous consumption”, was coined by economist Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929).  His book The Theory of the Leisure Class is a classic and yet still sobering explanation on how psychology drives both the economic behavior and moral values of humans, particularly wealthy humans.  This article shined light for me on why so many people come to adopt false and destructive beliefs:

https://quillette.com/2019/11/16/thorstein-veblens-theory-of-the-leisure-class-a-status-update/

 

The virtue signaling hypocrisy of Oligarchs stems from the fact that they can afford to fake moral righteousness. But it’s just a mask – a pretentious moral and intellectual façade hiding ignoble wannabes. Today’s tech elites, writes Kotkin, are smugly powerful, “long on brilliance, but short on hardship”.  They “consider themselves more forward-thinking than the corporate managers of an earlier time”.  They have a technocratic worldview, favoring an expanded welfare State but have no intention of allowing their own fortunes to be squeezed.  Instead, we, the middle class will foot much of the bill for guaranteed wages, free healthcare, free college and housing.  Today’s Oligarchs regard themselves as intrinsically more deserving of their wealth and power than the old managerial elites or the grubby corporate speculators.  They believe that they are not just creating value, but building a better world.

 

What they are doing to manipulate information and control culture is alarming. They have devastated old media forms and seized the largest online “news” outlets.  It is one of the reasons for the enormous and increasingly obvious leftist bias in mainstream media today.  Their progressive views on gender, race, environmentalism, wealth and power are disturbing and a threat to rationality, reason, objective truth, freedom of thought and open debate.

 

Next week, we move to their enablers – the “clerisy” in academia and media – close minded intellectuals who persecute wrong think and target their enemies for cancellation. But first, lest ye have any doubt about the tight relationship between intellect, morality and wealth, Friedrich Nietzsche shows us the danger of wealth and pretense.

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Back to the Old World Order

Feudalism

The first section of Joel Kotkin’s book The Coming of Neo Feudalism (2020) shows us how the medieval socio-economic system that ruled the world for over 1,000 years is making a comeback.  Chapter 1 (The Feudal Revival) explains the regressive trajectory we’ve taken and how modern elites are “bending the arc of history”.  Chapter 2 (The Enduring Allure of Feudalism) explores feudalism’s benefits.  It came about for a reason, which helps explain its return.  Chapter 3 (The Rise of and Decline of Liberal Capitalism) shows how modern technology is accelerating social divisions and severely limiting upward mobility.

 

Kotkin’s book is great because while provocative to some it is indisputable. His thesis is cold, hard, uncomfortable for many, brutal fact.  It confirms that while current rigid economic stratification is a disappointment for the majority, a small upper middle class is being cemented into a solid wealth position for generations, the only threat to which is what Kotkin warns us of.  That upsets many of the resentful writers I cite here but, as we’ll see in the coming weeks, there is really nothing anyone can do about it (short of violent revolution or global catastrophe as we saw in the last book that we examined).

 

It all comes down to values and beliefs. Modern oligarchs and their advocates/legitimizers hold radically different values and beliefs, which they confidently assert are superior to ours.  The ongoing culture war is defending our values against the forcible imposition of their values [globalism, environmentalism and the redress of never ending social grievances] onto us.  They seek the destruction of our “bourgeois” values [self-determination, hard work, family, community service and patriotism].  And that’s the overarching point of the book.  The Oligarchs and their legitimizers are a menacing existential threat to us (the upper middle class).

 

Next week, we move to part 2 and the sanctimonious, twisted belief system of the Oligarchs. What do they want? …For our wealth and values not to exist.  Stay tuned.  The book gets better and better with each new section.

 

P.S. Slate Star Codex is still down!  The New York Times continues to embarrass itself (the historically inaccurate 1619 project, Tom Cotton article, Bari Weiss resignation, Tucker Carlson’s family address, etc., etc.). That paper is not an objective news source, it’s a propaganda factory.  The Petition not to de-anonymize Scott so he can restore his important work now has over 7,000 signatures – including mine.

https://www.dontdoxscottalexander.com/

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Feudalism is Back!

Peasants

Joel Kotkin’s book The Coming of Neo Feudalism – A Warning to the Global Middle Class (2020) explores a phenomenon now developing in the global political economy.  We are returning to the social arrangement, legal and economic cultural structure known historically as feudalism.  I place an exclamation point after the title of this post not to cheer for the return of feudalism*, rather to exclaim our newfound understanding of the phenomenon, knowledge that secures our family’s well-being against threats from cultural change.

 

Kotkin’s book is divided into 7 sections, each with 3 chapters in them:

Part 1 – How Feudalism Came Back – why it arose and is returning to replace liberal capitalism

Part 2 – The Oligarchs – a fascinating examination of their belief system

Part 3 – The Clerisy – arrogant academic and media pundits who legitimize oligarchy

Part 4 – The Embattled Yeomanry – that’s us!

Part 5 – The New Serfs – poor slobs victimized, exploited and subordinated by feudalism

Part 6 – The New Geography of Feudalism – gated communities and a totalitarian future

Part 7 – A Manifesto for the Third Estate – is feudalism inevitable?  Can we change it?

 

Next week, we begin a War Chest journey into the regressive arc of history being bent by Tech Oligarchs and their Clerisy, who impose ever tightening control over the flow of information and the shape of culture. This is the perfect time to explore these ideas, as the Slate Star Codex fiasco, cancel culture absurdity and societal decadence unfold before our eyes in real time.

 

* There is a small abhorrent group of thinkers who actually do openly advocate for the purposeful restoration of feudalism and racial hierarchy (“neoreactionary” views). They work for the intellectual normalization of “alt-right” ideology.  Here is a New Yorker article about Scott Alexander and the dangers of giving legitimacy to vile views:

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/slate-star-codex-and-silicon-valleys-war-against-the-media

Nonetheless, brave thought explorers like Scott Alexander actually confronted them head on in his famous The Anti-Reactionary FAQ (2013), which will not be accessible on the internet until The New York Times pulls its head out of its ass.  Sometimes, a willingness to confront, explore and refute objectionable, offensive concepts is better than just letting them accrue to the status of what the article author calls “forbidden knowledge”.

 

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Why WAR Chest?

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Our next War Chest project is an extraordinary new book by Joel Kotkin The Coming of Neo Feudalism – A Warning to the Global Middle Class (2020).  It’s painstakingly researched, cites copious authority and is very well argued.  Almost half the book is endnotes, which in themselves are excellent assets for our War Chest.

 

This blog began after I studied Jeffrey Winters’ book Oligarchy (2011).  His work explains the mechanism of how wealthy families stay wealthy and is cited 4 times in the endnotes of Kotkin’s new book.  Wealth is war, conflictual power, because it’s “held against” others.  It is critical to deploy sufficient cognitive, moral and material resource power to protect your family’s position from those who want to confiscate what you own in the name of “social justice”. But in the tug of war that is our political economy, we will prevail no matter how many minds pull against our well being.

 

 

Before we delve into the new book, I have to point out the sinister nonsense in this article:

https://www.fastcompany.com/40510522/meritocracy-doesnt-exist-and-believing-it-does-is-bad-for-you

The author is not subtle about his deceptive disdain for meritocracy writing that “it doesn’t exist”, “is bad for you”, “is demonstrably false”, that the “link between merit and outcome is tenuous and indirect at best”, “in addition to being false… makes people more selfish, less self-critical”, “not only wrong; its bad”, “is a false and not very salutary belief” and “ought to be abandoned both as a belief… and social ideal”.

 

Well, here we go again with Obama’s “you didn’t build that” bullshit. Obviously our economy is both a meritocracy and hereditary aristocracy.  As I wrote here on 9/24/19:

“Something quite sinister is being done here. The banal fact that no person lives or thinks or works in a “vacuum” – the fact that everyone is situated in a society – becomes the basis for asserting a “vital dependence” of the individual on society.  This, in turn, is said to justify declaring that there can be no suitable individual property right to intellectual work.  The products of such work are, because of the individual’s immersion in society, properly regarded as inherently socialized.  So individualism is attenuated to the point of disappearance, and society can claim ownership to whatever portion it feels entitled to of what individuals produce.

 

Obama and others are “pyromaniacs in a field of straw men”.  They energetically refute propositions no one asserts.  Everyone knows that all striving occurs in a social context and all attainments are, to some extent, enabled and conditioned by contexts that are shaped by government.  The more that individualism can be portrayed as a chimera, the more that any individual’s achievements can be considered as derivative from society, the less the achievements warrant respect.  And the more society is entitled to conscript – that is, to socialize – whatever portion of the individual’s wealth it considers its fair share.”

 

That’s what makes the “you didn’t build that” argument fail so badly – there is no constraining idea that limits how much it can confiscate and redistribute – no moral or rational principle preventing autocratic tyranny.  Anyone who is enough of a polemicist can take a slippery slope argument, erect a field of flimsy, flammable straw men and then mow them down with a flamethrower.  But what makes this particular argument so egregiously evil is that it is used in an attempt to hurt people – to attack what they and their families have worked so hard and so long to build.

 

The best articulation of the truth and morality of meritocracy is from Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex. Unfortunately, I can’t cite his articles now because the reckless wielding of power by the New York Times and its arrogant hypocrisy forced him to take down 7 years of knowledge for no reason other than they just can.

https://nypost.com/2020/07/02/the-new-york-times-hypocrisy-on-who-gets-to-be-anonymous/

This article helped me understand what’s going on – conflict theory “argument” is not rational truth seeking – it’s just ‘I shall forcibly impose my will upon you in any manner I can’ – it’s not conversation or reasoned discourse – just brutal warfare:

https://quillette.com/2020/07/06/arguing-in-america

“There are no rules and no consequences for playing dirty. Lying, slandering, doxing, deplatforming are all justifiable tools…”

 

 

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Space Aliens and God

AliensEarth

We now arrive at the final chapter of Ross Douthat’s book The Decadent Society (2020) in which he speculates on a third way our decadent civilization may end; not destruction, not renaissance but providence – the protective intervention of God or extraterrestrial aliens.  Douthat’s musings about The “Great Filter” are intriguing.  What if there is a spiritual quarantine around our world because we are morally unready for greater power and knowledge?  What if the universe is actually crowded with sentient life but we’re just too stupid and sinful to be permitted to see it.  Maybe they’re just watching and waiting.

 

“The Great Filter” is a famous attempt to explain why, with all those vast stars and worlds beyond ours, we haven’t encountered evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations. It theorizes that all advanced civilizations face a near-universal obstacle, some extremely-difficult-to-slip-through filter that prevents them from joining other star-faring species until they’re ready.

 

Douthat subtitles a section: “When Man Can Do No More”, quoting God’s instruction to humanity in the book of Genesis:  “Fill the earth and subdue it”.  …..Well……. now what?  Our societal decadence feels like the last of a series, without a clear sense of what comes next.  Providence, on the other hand, is an optimistic, promising view of human history as an unfolding story rather than just one damn thing after another.

 

Have a great Fourth of July vacation! We start our next project Tuesday.

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Renaissance

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This image is a painting of the Delphic Sibyl from Greek mythology on the Sistine Chapel. She was the sister of Apollo who foretold the future to humanity.  Chapter 10 of Ross Douthat’s The Decadent Society – How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success (2020) foretells a second possible way decadence may end – not with our destruction but with a renewal, a revival of human morality, a reversal of the immoral aspects of our cultural, a better more true understanding of what it is to be human – a renaissance.

 

I’ve been a fan of The University of Notre Dame’s Patrick J. Deneen since I read his book Conserving America? Essays on Present Discontent (2016).  We plunged into that here from 3/28/17 – 6/6/17 and his subsequent book Why Liberalism Failed (2018) from 2/13/18 – 4/24/18, dissecting the ideas in each chapter like I’m doing with Douthat’s book right now.    You cannot have an intelligent conversation about the morality of our political economy without understanding Deneen’s work.  Douthat quotes him at length in this chapter.

 

Something’s wrong with the world today and Deneen knows what it is. An immoral majority has embraced the wrong, corrupt concept of liberty (doing whatever you want) and rejected the correct, proper, ancient meaning of liberty (discipline, self-control, duty).  Both political parties are wrong.  Democrats want to constrain capital and labor markets and redistribute wealth but anything goes in your personal life.  Republicans argue for family values and traditional mores but anything goes in business (caveat emptor! laissez faire!)

 

What’s wrong with the world today? Deneen writes:  In this world, gratitude to the past and obligations to the future are replaced by a nearly universal pursuit of immediate gratification… hedonic titillation, visceral crudeness, and distractions, all oriented toward promoting consumption, appetite, and detachment. As a result, superficially self-maximizing, socially destructive behaviors begin to dominate society… no truly hard choices need be made.  There are only different lifestyle options.

 

If enough people begin to understand this, it could lead to a renaissance, thus ending this decadent era of civilization.

Next week, we get to the final chapter on where decadence may lead – God.

 

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Civilizations Come and Go

DurantsYoung

DurantsOld

These photos are of Will and Arial Durant. Their book The Story of Philosophy (1926) had an enormous impact on me.  I read it over and over from when I was a teenager and still refer to it often.  The book was a bestseller for the Durants giving them time and financial freedom to finish an 11 volume series The Story of Civilization (1931), which prominently sits atop my home bookshelves today.  Chapter 9 of Ross Douthat’s The Decadent Society (2020) begins with a Durant quote “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within”.

 

This is the first of 3 chapters speculating on how our decadent civilization may come to an end:  Catastrophe, Renaissance or Providence.  Douthat first speculates about catastrophic destruction via economic crisis, global warming, mass migration or war.  An unexpected apocalypse is certainly a possible way our civilization ends.  We are just the next volume in The Story of Civilization series, yet to be written.  What’s fascinating to me is not just the death of a people, their art, architecture and culture, but also their way of thinking – their worldview – their philosophy of life and morality.

 

Ancient Oriental, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Incan, Aztec, Roman, Persian and Greek understandings of humanity are gone. Their progression of worldviews, leading all the way into the modern scientific revolution through the current post-modern moral morass in which are public intellectuals wallow, will fade into history.  Public morality is now imploding into an incoherent mess.  It is no surprise that our streets are literally burning with anger, resentment and discontent.  Here are some articles that underscore the critical need to construct and stock an intellectual, moral and financial War Chest so your family is not consumed by the flames of “revolution”.

https://www.aei.org/op-eds/american-civilization-and-its-discontents/

https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/06/a-preview/

 

When we’re done with Douthat, the Schopenhauer and Nietzsche sections of The Story of Philosophy will crystalize a controversial fact (a truth which is only controversial in this post-truth, angry absurd “woke” age):  Intellect, personal wealth and moral character are inextricably bound together.

 

But before we get to that, let’s move to a possible future Renaissance and our old friend Patrick Deneen.

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Wealth Redistribution Is Still Wrong

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Time Out.  I frequently Google “wealth redistribution”, click on the “news” filter and review any plausible argument for public policy that would confiscate my clients’ wealth for redistribution to others.   I’ve been doing it for years and consistently find socialists ideas soundly and indisputably refuted.  This article succinctly articulates the point:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/wealth-redistribution-squeezed-into-the-floyd-protests

Author Richard Scarry addressing a NY Times article:

“If we are serious about battling racial injustice in the public square and not just on the police squad, we need nothing short of a new civil rights act, the Civil Rights Act of 2020.”

Scarry writes in response:

If that doesn’t sound corny enough, Blow’s proposal behind it is even worse. “To truly tackle these issues,” he said, meaning economic inequality, “would deal in some way with wealth redistribution, and the mere mention of that concept throws the comfortable and the rich into a tizzy.”

A tizzy? You don’t say. I can’t imagine why anyone might grow a little nervous when they’re threatened with having their money taken from them and given to strangers as a way to right some wrong that they didn’t commit.

No, people aren’t comfortable with that idea, because it’s bad.

 

Back to our regularly scheduled programming on Tuesday.

 

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Give The Devil His Due

Pangloss

The good qualities of a bad situation must be acknowledged. Chapter 8 of Ross Douthat’s The Decadent Society (2020) is “Giving Decadence Its Due”.  He references “optimists like Harvard’s Pangloss, Steven Pinker”, who has written extensively on why almost everything is getting better – despite decadence.  Professor Pangloss is a character in Voltaire’s satirical Candide (1759) which made fun of optimistic philosophy.  Pangloss’ mantra was “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”.  As terrible things transpired in the play he kept repeating that to the point of silliness.

 

This is the fourth and final chapter on why decadence is sustainable. Despite Douthat’s disdain for decadence, he is forced to acknowledge that it’s not so bad.  We live in times “as wealthy and healthy and long-lived as any society in human history, with many cruelties removed, various inequalities substantially reduced, the hand of tyranny lighter on most people than in many prior epochs, the chances of horrifying tragedy diminished”.  It’s not perfect, but don’t we want to keep the good times rolling?  The book is a criticism of our current cultural conundrum, hence the Pangloss reference, but it’s important for critics to give decadence its due.

 

Maybe Pinker is right and we shouldn’t look the gift horse of capitalism in the mouth. Read his book Enlightenment Now (2018) – he’s pretty convincing.  Perhaps we should just be grateful for the comforts and safety of modernity and stop bitching about decadence.  Complaining about cultural problems is a luxury good.  Douthat makes the case for wanting decadence to continue, the human race finally having achieved a balance between the misery of grinding poverty and dangers of blindly ambitious economic growth.  It would be a good thing for Michael Lind’s managerial elite to suppress populist revolts because preserving our “fully grown economy” is important to ensure that our enviable situation lasts as long as possible and can be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

 

Nonetheless, he ends the chapter with the conclusion that decadence still needs its critics. The longer it continues the more extended our period of stagnation, repetition, futility and absurdity.  An unrestricted drift into decadence risks our slipping into a Dark Age or catastrophic societal collapse.  Next week, we turn to those possibilities in the final 3 chapters of his book.

 

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