Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Remnant


Once again, many threads of thought are pulled together in a single place.

Please bear with the following, as I list a string of seemingly unconnected random ideas which I've had for some time, and which in that magic of internet synchronicity I find are all brought together in the latest fascinating essay by the perceptive and eloquent Bill Whittle...

Sometimes the news lately has seemed like it emanates from some insane bizarro world in which pampered elites gleefully rush to surrender civilization by throwing open the gates to the barbarians, by either refusing to secure the borders to colonists -- not immigrants -- and by retreating in the face of the jihad war.

All morality seems inverted: Bush is Hitler, Israelis are Nazis, jihadists are misunderstood martyrs, captured illegal combatants are political prisoners.

I wondered about the worst case outcome of this.

The worst case -- which is still avoidable -- is that this is exactly what the decadent Decline and Fall of all previous great civilizations has looked, felt, and smelled like, and well, here we are:

Western Civilization being cancelled due to lack of interest.

Great civilizations fall due to a collective mental giving-up, before the physical collapse.

Thanks, Boomers.

Even if inevitable, however, I realized that new civilizations arise from the old, and with today's information technology and communication, perhaps the intervening "Dark Age" would be quite quick.

Perhaps even a barely perceptible blip.

Because I hoped that perhaps there would be a cadre of people who, like the Founding Fathers, would stop forward in the time of crisis and lead the sheep to a new pasture.

I recalled, in those chaotic days after 9/11, searching for information about the Threat that had apparently been sadly ignored for many years, and for answers as to how to proceed, that I came across on CSPAN coverage of a Q&A session at a bookstore with an obscure classics professor promoting his new book.

This was Victor Davis Hanson.

And someone in the audience asked him what his knowledge of history told us about such crises.

And he responded, to my relief, that previously unknown leaders would step forward, or have importance thrust upon them willingly or not.

The Old Order has tried to damp down the emergence of such people, and to remove anyone who might rock the boat of the corrupt institutions (witness the set-up and outser of Wolfowitz at the World Bank).

And Prof. Hanson ironically had no idea how he himself would become such a leader in the time ahead!

I also thought that some Saving Grace would arrive in the form of a reversion to classical Virtues. A sort of neo-Victorianism, at least in terms of notions of honor and duty and courage and gentlemanliness.

And in a new appreciation of our civic origins.

To take such pride in our past would of course mean a rejection of the guilt inherent in the marxist weapons of multiculturalism and moral relativism.

I also mused that perhaps the Mars frontier would re-invigorate the American spirit.

And I thought even about the legendary city of Tanelorn, from the fantasy writings of Michael Moorcock, which, though difficult to find, provided respite and rejuvenation to the tragic Eternal Champions when all seemed lost.

And I thought of key differences in cultures, such as the islamic (especially arab islamic) elevation of lying to infidels to not merely a virtue but a holy duty, in order to take advantage of them to benefit the muslims.
“Taqiyya” is the religiously-sanctioned doctrine, with its origins in Shi’a Islam but now practiced by non-Shi’a as well, of deliberate dissimulation about religious matters that may be undertaken to protect Islam, and the Believers. A related term, of broader application, is “kitman,” which is defined as “mental reservation.” An example of “Taqiyya” would be the insistence of a Muslim apologist that “of course” there is freedom of conscience in Islam, and then quoting that Qur’anic verse -- “There shall be no compulsion in religion.” But the impression given will be false, for there has been no mention of the Muslim doctrine of abrogation, or naskh, whereby such an early verse as that about “no compulsion in religion” has been cancelled out by later, far more intolerant and malevolent verses. In any case, history shows that within Islam there is, and always has been, “compulsion in religion” for Muslims, and for non-Muslims. The “compulsion” for Muslims comes from the treatment of apostasy as an act punishable by death. And though “dhimmis” are allowed to practice their religion, they do so under conditions of such burdens and restrictions that many, not as an act of conscience but rather as a response to inexorable Muslim pressure, have converted (or “reverted”) to Islam.

“Kitman” is close to “taqiyya,” but rather than outright dissimulation, it consists in telling only a part of the truth, with “mental reservation” justifying the omission of the rest. One example may suffice. When a Muslim maintains that “jihad” really means “a spiritual struggle,” and fails to add that this definition is a recent one in Islam (little more than a century old), he misleads by holding back, and is practicing “kitman.” When he adduces, in support of this doubtful proposition, the hadith in which Muhammad, returning home from one of his many battles, is reported to have said (as known from a chain of transmitters, or isnad), that he had returned from “the Lesser Jihad to the Greater Jihad” and does not add what he also knows to be true, that this is a “weak” hadith, regarded by the most-respected muhaddithin as of doubtful authenticity, he is further practicing “kitman.”
I often found frustration directed at me, the messenger, when pointing out this well-established directive from their own history and jurispridence and scriptures to fellow infidels; they would splutter that I was "setting up" the poor muslims to never be believed no matter what they said, even when they seemed to come in peace!

In other words, it was I who was the obstacle to Peace by counselling that their culture made such declarations specifically unbelievable and were likely carefully-constructed lies.

They couldn't understand why someone would deliberately poison the Well of Trust by lying for short-term gain when so much more could be achieved through cooperation.

This was a cultural blind-spot of the West -- we really are different in that way.

I didn't put it all together at the time until I saw a recent episode on TV of Numb3rs, which features a brainy math professor who consults with the FBI. In that recent episode he discusses Game Theory, and how to play the classic Prisoner's Dilemma.

The crux of the Dilemma is whether or not to Cooperate, or to Screw the Other Guy, without knowing what the opponent will do, with different payoffs depending on the mutual choices.

The muslim strategy of lying for short-term gain is essentially to always Screw the Other Guy. It leads to a horrible way of life in which corruption and cheating is a way of life.

The Western World follows the optimal winning strategy known as Tit-for-Tat, as explained in Numb3rs, as advice for how to negotiate with a dishonest prisoner who has important information.

Whittle actually describes all this:
But as we see from The Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, there is an unnatural island of stability that is far more successful, and it is not simply trusting everyone and being all-cooperating all the time. That strategy is the worst, because it rewards being screwed by competing strategies that eat if for breakfast everytime. It is de-selected. It vanishes from the gene pool, so to speak. You see no society like that in the real world, and now you know why. Are you listening, Marxists? It doesn’t work.

But Tit-for-Tat combines generosity and toughness. And look at the terms used to describe the most successful strategic version of Tit-for-Tat: Nice. Retaliating. Forgiving. Non-envious.

Now, this is where my own analysis kicks in, because frankly, nice, retaliating, forgiving and non-envious pretty much sums up how I feel about the West in general and the United States in particular. The web of trust and commerce in Western societies is unthinkable in the Third World because the prosperity they produce are fat juicy targets for people raised on Screw the Other Guy. Crime and corruption are stealing, and stealing is Screwing the Other Guy. It’s short-term win, long-term loss.
Whittle in his essay hits all the topics I just listed above, pulling them together into a cohesive thought. He begins in Part 1:
I’ve written a dozen or so major essays since I hung my shingle over this little corner of cyberspace, and received wonderful e-mails about all of them. But two – the last two – have generated a very specific response: more passionate; desperate, even.

The first was Tribes, which basically posited that there were people who relied on themselves and people who relied on the State. The second was Seeing the Unseen, which took a look at conspiracy theories and the mental illness required to believe in ‘chemtrails’ and the 9/11 WAS AN INSIDE JOB pathology.

Those both generated reams and reams of heartfelt sentiment, and that sentiment was the much the same time and time again.

I thought I was all alone, people said. And I see this sense of despair and resignation spreading all across the web; from individuals in comment sections, or in lonely posts on obscure blogs.

Now here’s what’s interesting: this response is the same, again and again, although the stimulus is different. It might be increasing public irrationality and paranoia, or falling educational standards, or unchecked illegal immigration, or activist judges. Maybe it’s tolerance of crime, or endless lawsuits, or general mean-spiritedness. Perhaps it’s rampant defeatism, cynicism, a lack of common decency, and the sense that courage and honor are dying qualities that time is passing by.

And maybe it’s the dawning realization that our elites in politics, academia and entertainment (which controls our mythology) are leading the charge not to salvation but to the cliffs that seem so obvious to so many common people.

Something seems to be failing, something essential, as if all the nails and glue that hold a house together were dissolving all at once. And many people – perhaps you are one of them – watch all this happening and feel powerless to stop it.

Well, you are not alone.

So many stimuli, and always the same response: has the world gone mad?
He then goes on to outline the Prisoner's Dilemma, and concludes,
Society needs to retaliate against cheaters because not to do so flips the coin from cooperation to betrayal. And that’s the end of everything we have worked for and cherish.

And – and – you don’t need to be a master of game theory to know this in your bones. Because if you are offended by cheaters, it is because you are being betrayed into – you are in fact forced into – becoming a cheater and betrayer yourself. Aways-cooperating dies quickly: if you never betray and the other guy always does, he goes free and you get 20 years every time. (In other words, he’s out getting high while you work to support him.) Sooner or later, even the most dense moralist gets the message.

When a tipping point is reached – when enough people are allowed to cheat – the system swings to a different stabiltiy mode (the default mode) and Screw the Other Guy becomes the only rational choice.

The rational choice. Think about that for a moment.

Does that make you angry? It damn well better. And if it does then you are not alone.
Then he brings in the notion of The Remnant, spoken of by Plato, who preserve and restart civilization if all were to fall. The Remnant is also mentioned in connection with the Prophet Isaiah:
In the year of Uzziah's death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. "Tell them what a worthless lot they are." He said, "Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don't mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you," He added, "that it won't do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life."

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job – in fact, he had asked for it – but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so – if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start – was there any sense in starting it? "Ah," the Lord said, "you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it."
In Part 2, Whittle speaks not of some adolescent hubristic fantasy of being proud members of this Remnant, but rather suggests people prepare by setting out to improve themselves.

By building a community dedicated to the classic harmonious virtues:
Today, when we think of virtues, we tend to think of things like prudence, chastity, modesty...pretty cold porridge. But to the Greek, the Virtues were dynamic and bold. More, Aristotle and others believed they were harmonized – that is related, interconnected, so that to not know one was to imperfectly know the rest.

They were dionethic, he said, built by rationality – the virtues of understanding of substance, science, wisdom, the practical crafts and the practical mind.

And there were ethnic virtues, built by customcourage and temperance; the property-based virtues of generosity and goodwill; honor-based virtues like pride, assertivity and control of anger; the social virtues of wittiness, honesty and friendliness; and the political virtue of justice.
He even mentions Victor Hanson, the 300 Spartans, and sending Western Civilization to the Stars...

And most astonishingly, he suggests building a Virtual City State for people to gather and discuss these Virtues and to improve themselves by teaching and learning and discussing much like the philosophical fora of Ancient Greece's Golden Age.

Work has begun in constructing it:
We, together, can build a virtual community where people can go to be refreshed, encouraged, educated, entertained and improved. Such a place will invariably produce better citizens and better citizens make a better society.

I want to call this place Ejectia! It’s a silly name. It’s good not to take this stuff too seriously.

And I have a charming idea that the first thing you see at the Ejectia! main page is a photo-realistic, computer-rendered, empty valley. Then, when the Discussion Hall module is ready, say, a forum building appears in the valley. You click the forum to get to the discussion hall. As each new module is added, the city grows before your eyes. The seasons change with the real world, too. Over time, an endlessly expanding movie is posted, showing the slow growth and increasing complexity of the virtual city.

And this is only what one person can visualize. Eject! Eject! Eject! belongs to Bill Whittle. But Ejectia! belongs to everyone, equally. What wonders can five thousand imagine? What glorious mental bridges can 50,000 people build?

I don’t know. But I want to find out. I think that would be just damn cool. And it would all be free.

I want a place to make myself a better person. I want to be around people who want to do the right thing, no matter how short of that goal we all fall. Anyone who feels the same way is welcome. All the rest is simple engineering.

That's the plan. You in?
The site isn't up yet but it's registered as Ejectia!

I am reminded of Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash (considered by Time magazine to be among the top-100 English-language novels since 1923) and its virtual world.

And of Tanelorn.


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