How the Civil War Got Its Name.

The U.S. Civil War, that is; an interesting bit of history summarized by Livia Gershon at JSTOR Daily:

In the years after the war ended, [Historian Gaines M.] Foster writes, no single term prevailed among southern whites. Some spoke of the “Confederate War for Independence,” or just the “Confederate War.” (The “War of Northern Aggression” was rarely used until it was adopted by neo-Confederates and others opposed to racial integration in the mid-twentieth century.) Gradually, southerners settled on the “War between the States.” Former Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens argued that this reflected the fact that the United States had never been “one Political Society” and that the war had been between states “regularly organized into two separate Federal Republics.”

In the North, meanwhile, a shift was happening. During and immediately after the war, northerners most commonly referred to it as a “rebellion.” But as Reconstruction was quashed and the nation permitted the rise of the Jim Crow terror regime, many white northerners sought to bridge the divide with their southern counterparts by using a neutral term. By the 1890s, “Civil War” was clearly the favorite term used in newspapers. Soon after the turn of the century, Congress officially adopted it over “the rebellion.”

I hadn’t realized the current name took so long to become standard. Thanks, Bathrobe!

Comments

  1. January First-of-May says:

    I wonder where Russian got the nickname Война Севера и Юга (“War of North and South”), which is sufficiently well-known to be listed as the first alternate option (though not the title, alas) in the Russian Wikipedia article.

    Looking at Wikipedia article titles, they appear to be a patchwork of literal(ish) translations of “U.S. Civil War” and versions of “Secession War” (only rarely with a U.S. qualifier). I’m not quite sure where the latter option came from either.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Welsh version, Rhyfel Cartref America, is literally “America’s Home War”, but rhyfel cartref is simply the standing expression for “civil war.” Rhyfel, despite its fairly obvious derivation from the Latin rebellis, is just “warfare”, not “rebellion.” The Second World War is yr Ail Ryfel Byd, for example.

  3. That made wonder how old the generic term is. Per OED, quite old, with examples given from each century back to 1439 (and batayle civile from 1387), ultimately translating bellum cīvīle. The earliest examples refer to Roman civil wars, and later to the British one.

  4. J.W. Brewer says:

    The massive official government reprint (taking several decades after 1865 to complete) of contemporaneous records refers to the conflict as the “War of the Rebellion,” which is consistent with that being Northern usage before “Civil War” had become standard. Of course “rebel” and various adaptations thereof (“Johnny Reb” etc.) at least eventually became positive and completely non-pejorative in Confederate-nostalgic usage, making one wonder in hindsight what the Confederate-nostalgic objection to “War of the Rebellion” had been.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Official_Records_of_the_Union_and_Confederate_Armies

  5. Japanese also uses “War of the South and North” (南北戦争).
    This post brought back memories of my first girlfriend, a true southern belle, so many decades ago, whose father used to add “against the peace-loving south” to the title “war of Northern aggression” after a bourbon or two.

  6. To translate “civil war”, Japanese and Chinese use the term 内戦 naisen – 內戰/内战 nèizhàn ‘internal war’.

    Under the usual Mongolian-language schizophrenia, the term used in Inner Mongolia is ᠳᠣᠲᠣᠭᠠᠳᠤ ᠵᠢᠨ ᠳᠠᠢᠨ / дотоодын дайн ‘internal war’ and that in Mongolia иргэний дайн / ᠢᠷᠭᠡᠨ ᠦ ᠳᠠᠢᠨ ‘civilian war’, obviously from the Russian гражданская война. I can’t help thinking that the Japanese/Chinese/Inner Mongolian version is actually more accurate.

  7. January First-of-May says:

    I can’t help thinking that the Japanese/Chinese/Inner Mongolian version is actually more accurate.

    I agree. Why is it called a “civil” war, anyway?
    (And more than a few languages transmogrify it into “civilian war”, which is an outright oxymoron.)

  8. Maybe иргэний дайн is better rendered as “citizen’s war”…. which is even stranger.

  9. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Well, the Danish word is borgerkrig, literally ‘war of citizens’, but it’s not compositional now if it ever was. It applies more to situations with two governments and armed forces both claiming to be legitimate than to rebel / resistance armies like the FARC, and not at all to civilian unrest. But the French Revolution (putatively) started out as a war of citizens against the state and kept the rhetoric for a good time, I guess the name stuck even though we talk of den franske revolution now because they sort of won.

    The US one specifically is den amerikanske borgerkrig.

  10. It comes from Rome, where it referred to wars between (Roman) citizens, rather than wars against other nations or states.

    As such, it’s a misnomer for the American situation, where it was a war between states.

    Whst did tne British press call it at the time?

  11. John Cowan says:

    Because the Roman Civil War was a war between Roman citizens, as opposed to a war between citizens and foreigners like previous Roman wars.

    Similarly, the Social War was a war between Rome and its allies (socii), but that term didn’t make it into the modern languages.

  12. Icelandic Wikipedia calls it the Slave War?

    If Fooland tries to secede from Barland, what do later generations of historians typically call the war? For anglophones outside Fooland and Barland, I think most likely the “Fooian War” or “Fooian Rebellion” if they fail, the “Fooian War of Independence” if they succeed. Not sure about within Fooland and/or Barland; small-n problem. The “Irish War of Independence” is a politically contentious name. What is the Boer War called in South Africa?

  13. Why is it called a “civil” war, anyway?

    Whaz so civil ’bout war anyway?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J513ovnZkZc

  14. sisällissota in Finnish: ‘internal war’ (from inbördeskrig ‘in Swedish?)

  15. SFReader says:

    Mongolian civil war of 1932 was called by the government “counter-revolutionary insurgency” (obviously) and by the rebels “Shambhala War”.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    German: see Danish (Bürgerkrieg, der amerikanische Bürgerkrieg).

  17. My understanding of it goes back to the Roman definition.

    Wars where some ethnic minority wants to become independent are usually called something like The X Rebellion or the The X War of Independence, depending on whether they succeed or not, as mollymooly has pointed out above.

    Civil wars are wars within a basically homogeneous group of people. Examples: the English Civil War, the American Civil War, the Irish Civil War, the Russian Civil War, the Spanish Civil War. Sadly there are many more recent examples that haven’t been named yet.

    It’s a term that is often bestowed by historians after the fact. The wars between city-states in Renaissance Italy are not called civil wars, perhaps because they are overshadowed by the overall conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. The Wars of the Roses in England are not called a civil war –because they were too complicated? –because there was already another name? (not used at the time)

    However, my current understanding may date back just to the 1890s. All my examples except for the English Civil War are later. A term from the Romans resurrected for modern convenience, perhaps.

    When did the English Civil War start to be called that?

  18. An early use of “civil war” (no caps) in an article, “King Cotton,” in The World (NY, NY), October 9, 1865:
    The civil war from which we have just emerged has surrounded the subject of cotton with an importance it never before possessed [….]

  19. In Czech it was normally called válka Severu proti Jihu “the war of the North against the South”, although Wikipedia now calls it Americká občanská válka “American civil war”. I feel that the latter usage, although perhaps prevailing now, is rather new and influenced by English, but don’t have any old encyclopedia here to verify.

    Občanská válka “civil/citizen’s war” is the standard term for civil wars in general.

  20. I can rarely antedate Stephen Goranson, but, 19 November 1863:

    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

  21. SFReader says:

    It has been suggested that we might even know the person who invented the term “civil war”:

    these select fragments – amongst other things – strongly suggest that the term bellum civile came into existence in the immediate aftermath of the civil wars of the 80s BCE and may well have been coined by none less than Sulla himself, in a manner quite characteristic of his unapologetic political methods and conduct.

  22. . The wars between city-states in Renaissance Italy are not called civil wars, perhaps because they are overshadowed by the overall conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines
    I assume that it’s due to there not being an Italian state at the time. The various wars between German states in the early modern era and up to Bismarck’s unification also aren’t usually called civil wars, because the HRE at that time and later the German confederation were not seen as sufficiently state-like.
    As for languages that don’t use a variant of “civil / citizen” in naming civil wars, there’s also Polish wojna domowa, lit. “house war” or “home war”.

  23. David W says:

    One of my great-great-grandfathers, who served in Lee’s army and lived into the early 1900s, preferred “War Between the States”; his reasoning was that a civil war was a war between two factions for the control of a single government, while the Confederacy had no interest in ruling the North but wanted only to secede and establish a new government.

    Somewhere in Douglas Southall Freeman’s hagiography of Robert E. Lee is a letter from Lee to his wife, during the war, in which he used “civil war”. I don’t know what Lee called it after the war.

  24. PlasticPaddy says:

    @sfr
    Cicero also has bellum domesticum and bellum intestinum. Maybe these are the earlier terms. For a bellum civile you really need to have a republican government or one with a social contract other than
    Duties
    Ruler: defend the territory from external attack and secure the necessary resources for this.
    Subject: obey ruler
    Rights
    Ruler: no limit as long as God thinks things are OK
    Subject: whatever ruler decides, and ruler can decide differently at any time.

  25. Korean uses the same term “War of the South and the North” (南北戰爭) as the Japanese and the Chinese, which is 남북 전쟁 Nambuk Jeonjaeng.

    One might expect that in the Korean context, that would more readily describe the Korean War of 1950–1953, but in South Korea that war is usually called 6·25 전쟁 Yuk-I-O Jeonjaeng (六二五戰爭), or the “War of 25 June” after the date in 1950 when the fighting began. It has also been called the 6·25 사변 Yuk-I-O Sabyeon (六二五事變) or 6·25 동란 Yuk-I-O Dongnan (六二五動亂), using words that could be translated as “incident” or “disturbance” respectively, but today it seems generally agreed that “war” is a better characterization of what happened.

    It is sometimes called 한국 전쟁 Hanguk Jeonjaeng (韓國戰爭), a straightforward translation of “Korean War”, but you hear it less nowadays; after all, it is far from the only war that took place in Korean history. Lots of events in modern Korean history are known by dates—today for example happens to be the anniversary of the March 1st Movement, 삼일 운동 Sam-Il Undong (三一運動), when Koreans protested for independence from Japan in 1919.

    In North Korea, they call it 조국해방전쟁 Joguk Haebang Jeonjaeng (祖國解放戰爭), the “War of the Liberation of the Fatherland”, or 조선전쟁 Joseon Jeonjaeng (戰爭戰爭), the “Korean War” using their preferred name for Korea (in McCune–Reischauer romanization, these would be written Choguk Haebang Chŏnjaeng and Chosŏn Chŏnjaeng respectively).

    Characterizing the Korean War as a civil war (as the People’s Republic of China does, claiming that it started as an internal conflict in Korea) is really controversial in South Korea, which sees the war as the result of a planned invasion by the North with the backing of the Communist superpowers. Since it was a war between two rival governments, neither of which ever ruled over the entire peninsula (despite both aspiring to), it doesn’t neatly fit the usual understanding of civil war anyway.

  26. Bathrobe says:

    Joseon Jeonjaeng (戰爭戰爭) is obviously wrong. Shouldn’t it be 朝鮮戰爭?

  27. SFReader says:

    Since it was a war between two rival governments, neither of which ever ruled over the entire peninsula (despite both aspiring to), it doesn’t neatly fit the usual understanding of civil war anyway.

    This definition seems really narrow and not very useful. It doesn’t fit for example the Russian Civil War – the Bolshevik government didn’t control the entire country at the start of the war which was fought with several rival governments (some of them predated the Bolsheviks having started as regional governments under the empire).

    In fact, it doesn’t fit 20th century Chinese civil wars either.

  28. C C Child says:

    Lincoln used the phrase “Now we are engaged in a great civil war,…” in the Gettysburg Address in 1863. That might be one of the earliest public uses of the term in the US.

  29. @Bathrobe, you’re right, it should be 朝鮮戰爭. Not sure how I let that slip…

  30. J.W. Brewer says:

    Pace SFReader I think I do agree that the core meaning of “civil war” is a factional conflict for control of an entire “country” (which can be a fuzzy concept), and doesn’t as easily fit a successful-or-failed secession by one region or colony of the prior polity. On the other hand, wikipedia refers to the failed Biafran secession as the “Nigerian Civil War,” which is not a label I think I’ve seen for it, but some people must use it. In the US context, “Civil War” has become conventional for whatever reasons, whether or not it fits well the core meaning of the generic term. So think of it as an “idiom” or something rather than fret about that, I suppose.

  31. John Cowan says:

    The English Civil War was really a series of three civil wars: one ending with the capture of Charles I, one ending with his trial and execution, and one ending with the escape of Charles II to France. The Wars of the Roses were even more spasmodic, as one Yorkist after another took the throne, none unopposed, and ending with the extinction of both male lines. Henry VII Tudor, heir to the Lancastrian claim, married a Yorkist, so Henry VIII united the two claims in himself. Note that certain parts of the country were completely unaffected, notably East Anglia, and that London very early declared itself an open city, thus preventing any number of possible sackings. (Very sensible of them.)

    TIL that part of the Civil War was fought on American soil, where the forces of the county palatine (in effect, though not so named) of Maryland battled against the Parliamentarian Puritans of modern Annapolis. The Royalists had the naval forces and were victorious, although the establishment of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis much later suggests that the question of who won in the end is at least debatable. An additional side effect was the settlement of the Bahamas by Independentists expelled from Bermuda.

    I once discussed the question of the late regrettable American hostilities with a Southern friend. He also favored the War Between the States, but I pointed out that it was no such thing: Virginia, for example, did not declare war against New Jersey. We agreed between ourselves to call it the Great Rebellion.

    What was originally called the Indian Mutiny now has many names: the Sepoy Mutiny, the Great Rebellion, the Revolt of 1857, the Indian Insurrection, and the First War of (Indian) Independence, the last certainly being an overstatement.

  32. So, if we look at what is getting called a civil war, we get some commonalities:
    – There must be something like a common state*), and armed conflict and splintering must be seen as an exception (therefore, the word is not normally applied to situations like medieval Germany and Italy, where territories regularly fought against each other, or to feudal states where barons were constantly feuding with each other or the king)
    – Quite often, there is also an added ideological element, e.g. it’s about forms of government, religion, rights, etc., and not just about rival claims to a crown.
    *) So, in cases of secession, it depends on which side wins the battle for historical interpretation – often, but not necessarily, the side winning the war – the side that denies that there was a common state to begin with or the other side. If the South had won the ACW, it would probably be called the war of independence in the South.

  33. John Cowan says:

    Or the Second American Revolution, which I believe was actually in use at the time.

  34. @JC: Actually, I was quite astonished when I found out that the great unpleasantness with the British crown is also known as American Revolution or as American Revolutionary War. In German history books it’s only ever referred to as Amerikanischer Unabhängigkeitskrieg “American war of Independence”, and in my understanding a revolution implies the overthrowing of the ancien regime in all or at least most of the territory it holds, not just in a couple of colonies 🙂

  35. The meaning of “revolution” was in flux at the time, still carrying its sense of “a dramatic or wide-reaching change in conditions, the state of affairs, etc.” Incidentally, checking the OED I am struck by its sense 6:

    In Lurianic Kabbalah: one of a series of twelve lives possessed by each human soul. Also, in wider use: a reincarnation of the soul. Now historical.
    The 17th cent. quots. relate to a schism in early Quakerism precipitated by Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont and George Keith.

    1684 F. M. van Helmont Two Hundred Queries 55 Some then living, when Christ rose from the Dead, were in their last Revolution, others in their eleventh, others in their tenth, &c. and so every succeeding hour, or time of living, was to be unto many of them most certainly their twelfth and last.
    1694 J. Hall Answer to Some Queries propos’d by W.C. 18 How is it possible for Nero who destroy’d the Christians by more than a Hundred kind of Deaths, to suffer Death in so many kinds himself, tho’ we should with Helmont grant him Twelve Revolutions?
    1696 G. Keith Anti-Christs & Sadduces Detected 30 As for their suggestion of my holding the Revolution of Humane Souls, in pag. 31. and more particularly in pag. 3. of G. Whitehead’s Postscript, who calls it my Notion of Twelve Revolutions of Humane Souls, they have rendred themselves so foolishly impertinent as well as malicious, thinking thereby to cast a great Odium upon me, for holding such an odd Opinion.
    1726 R. Millar Hist. Propagation Christianity (ed. 2) II. vii. 218 The..Notion of Transmigration, and various Revolutions of Souls, makes one of the strongest Prejudices against the Christian Religion.
    1892 H. P. Blavatsky Theosophical Gloss. 271 From this Knorr von Rosenroth has taken the Book on the Rashith ha Gilgalim, revolutions of souls, or scheme of reincarnations.
    2004 M. Goldish Sabbatean Prophets ii. 50 Rabbi Isaac Luria..stressed..conceptions of exile, redemption, and the revolutions of the human soul.

  36. The Civil War was a catastrophe for Finland: around 36,000 people – 1.2 percent of the population – perished. The war left approximately 15,000 children orphaned. Most of the casualties occurred outside the battlefields: in the prison camps and the terror campaigns. Many Reds fled to Russia at the end of the war and during the period that followed. The fear, bitterness and trauma caused by the war deepened the divisions within Finnish society and many moderate Finns identified themselves as “citizens of two nations.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnish_Civil_War#War-torn_nation

  37. SFReader says:

    I wonder if Willamite War in Ireland was a civil war.

    The Jacobites fought for restoration of king James II on thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland, it definitely wasn’t war of secession of Ireland.

    So perhaps it was a civil war, but we have decide civil war in which country – Ireland, England, Scotland or all three?

    Maybe it was British Civil War.

  38. Historians now prefer to call the English Civil War etc”The Wars of the Three Kingdoms”.

  39. SFReader says:

    English Civil War or “The Wars of Three Kingdoms” consisted of three English Civil Wars, two Anglo-Scottish Wars, three Scottish civil wars, two Anglo-Irish wars and two Irish-Scottish wars. Please add if I missed something.

  40. Yes, in Iceland it’s known as the Slave War (þrælastríðið). The word first appears in print in 1877.

  41. John Cowan-
    “The Second American Revolution” is a name associated with, and likely coined by, the academic leftist historians Charles and Mary Beard, who used the term in their 1927 book, The Rise of American Civilization. In their view, the Civil War was a revolution of the industrial capitalist class against the slaveholding, landowning class, resulting in the expropriation of slaveholder property and the restructuring of legal and property relationships on a capitalist basis. Of course, that’s not the sense that the term has to most of its users today.

    The idea of the war as a revolution was espoused by Karl Marx, who wrote in 1862 that “[s]o far, we have only witnessed the first act of the Civil War—the constitutional waging of war. The second act, the revolutionary waging of war, is at hand.” Marx believed that the war was evolving into a true workers’ revolution, following the bourgeois revolution of 1776.

    But Lincoln and other Northern leaders certainly never believed that they were acting outside the scope of the Constitution and took pains to make sure that they did not do so. The Emancipation Proclamation, most importantly, does not purport to free slaves in areas not in rebellion, because Lincoln believed that he had no constitutional power to do so. That act had to wait for the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which of course was a constitutional event.

  42. Since moving to South Carolina, I have been more and more inclined to refer to the 1861–1865 conflict as “the treason in defense of slavery.”

  43. David Marjanović says:

    Huh, that makes Marx the first person known to use Civil War. Or what language was that work in?

    6·25

    Yu-Gi-Oh or the importance of syllable boundaries.

  44. I suspect the main reason was that “Civil War” raised the conflict to Roman dignity in the minds of Americans. Anyone can have a rebellion, but to the 19th Century American mind only an imposing state, one with gravitas, could have a Civil War. Now “Civil War” on its lonesome *means* the 1860-1865 war about American slavery, but when Lincoln used it, it evoked above all Rome, and the wars that established the Emperors: the conflicts of Caesar, Pompey, Antony, Augustus. (Mostly as presented by the plays of Shakespeare, of course.) It turned a sordid meat-grinder of a war into high tragedy.

  45. You’ve split the Confederate Wars into “two Anglo-Irish wars and two Irish-Scottish wars” … for your next trick, please untangle my Christmas-tree lights

  46. David Marjanović says:

    Comparisons to Classical Grome are inescapable in America.

  47. David Marjanović –
    See http://hiaw.org/defcon6/works/1862/08/09.html
    Published in Die Presse, August 9, 1862.

    The original would be in German, so I can’t be sure what he actually wrote and of course German capitalization rules are no guide to whether something is a proper name or just a description in English (I was focussing on the “revolution” point and didn’t even think of his use of “Civil War.”)

    But at least in England the war was referred to as “the American Civil War” no later than June 1861, as the New York Times article available here shows:

    https://www.nytimes.com/1861/06/06/archives/the-american-war-important-letter-from-john-lothrop-motley.html

  48. Kate Bunting says:

    maidhc asked: When did the English Civil War start to be called that?

    The Royalist general Ralph Hopton called his account of the conflict, written soon afterwards, ‘Bellum Civile’. The term ‘Civil Wars’ certainly began to be used fairly quickly, but I don’t know exactly when.

  49. anhweol says:

    For the Marx quote in German, see
    http://www.mlwerke.de/me/me15/me15_524.htm
    (and an earlier text using the term:
    http://www.mlwerke.de/me/me15/me15_486.htm#S494)
    It is indeed Bürgerkrieg

  50. That title, “Zur Kritik der Dinge in Amerika,” sounds quite funny to me, though I suppose it’s perfectly sober and ordinary to Germans.

  51. SFReader says:

    two Irish-Scottish wars

    Yep, in the first war the Scots invaded Ireland in 1642 and in the second war the Irish invaded Scotland in 1644.

    for your next trick, please untangle my Christmas-tree lights

    I think the Thirty Years War can be divided into over a dozen separate wars by this method.

  52. John Emerson says:

    Exile Red Finns were the largest ethnic faction (or second largest, after Jews) on the American Communist Party. Longtime Communist leader Gus Hall (née Arvo Kustaa Halberg) was a Swedish Finn.

  53. I did not know that!

  54. John Emerson says:

    The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments really were revolutionary, not merely abolishing slavery but establishing the US as a democracy, or moving far in that direction. Unfortunately, Congress and the Supreme Court almost immediately went to work nullifying these amendments. (Liberalizing Lynching, Kato) and only on thee 1960s did they start to be restored.

  55. Roberto Batisti says:

    In Italian it’s Guerra di Secessione for the Civil War and Guerra d’Indipendenza (americana) for the American Revolution (we had three wars of independence of our own).

  56. David Marjanović says:

    Whoa! I did not expect Marx and Engels to publish in the Presse – today the leading conservative newspaper, much like the Times and the New York Times. But of course back in the day it was liberal, coming straight out of 1848. I guess it simply hasn’t changed much since then, just like the student fraternities that came out of 1848 and were liberal then, horrifyingly conservative by modern standards.

    That title, “Zur Kritik der Dinge in Amerika,” sounds quite funny to me, though I suppose it’s perfectly sober and ordinary to Germans.

    Not anymore; it sounds more like “How to Think About the Stuff and the Things in America”. German stylistics have really changed a lot even just within the 20th century.

  57. anhweol says:

    “American War of Independence” was what I was first introduced to in History lessons in the UK, where we may have reluctantly conceded that the rebellious colonies have got away but are not happy to acknowledge anything so threatening as a Revolution – unless it can be contrived to be Glorious. (I did my bit by once managing to be briefly in sole occupation of one of Washington’s forts – Fort Nonsense, Morristown, NJ, but as this was in 2016 it was a bit late to be decisive in the conflict). Meanwhile the English Civil War is apparently the Première révolution anglaise according to Wikipedia (though there is a book “Histoire des Révolutions d’Angleterre” which goes back at least to Edward I, so Gallic scholarship has been perceiving revolutions in perfidious Albion for a lot longer than that… )

  58. By the way, how do you pronounce your moniker? I presume it’s OE ān-hwēol ‘one-wheel,’ which I would pronounce something like “ON-whale,” but I wanna know for sure.

  59. anhweol says:

    Yes, it’s ān-hwēol, to be pronounced as close to the OE as practical [ ɑːnʍeːo̯l] ? . It is of course the OE for “unicycle” (one of my hobbies), or at least will have been as soon as I get my time machine sorted out (at which point I can improve my OE pronunciation).

  60. Thanks!

  61. David Eddyshaw says:

    Time-travelling n-cycles bring to mind Tade Thompson’s excellent Rosewater trilogy.

    All alien invasion stories should henceforth be set in Nigeria* and feature snatches of untranslated Yoruba dialogue. I don’t remember if Oyin Da the Bicycle Girl ever appears with a unicycle as such, but I have no doubt at all but that she would be fully capable of riding one if called upon to do so.

    *Or Woking, of course. The requirement for Yoruba dialogue remains, however.

  62. John Emerson says:

    ….. Yoruba dialogue involve large inheritances that the sender needs an American cont this to collect, who he will pay handsomely for the service….

  63. January First-of-May says:
  64. David Eddyshaw says:

    For some reason I have yet to receive a 419 communication in Yoruba. I did get some in French at one stage, which I thought was quite enterprising.

    I get the impression that the Classic 419 email is a dying art. Perhaps my filters have just got more sophisticated; it would be sad to think that traditional ways are passing. I imagine that the money is just being hoovered up by Facebook and Google nowadays instead of supporting (comparatively) small businesses in the Global South.

    Unfortunately Section 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code has not caught up with the Facebook methodology as yet.

  65. J.W. Brewer says:

    I recently got one in German. Which said it was “aus Canada” and had lots of Biblical language. Canada is apparently full of pious German-speaking widows in need of assistance on account of their late husbands left substantial amounts of money on deposit with banks in Cote d’Ivoire. (The email used the French name rather than Elfenbeinküste. I’m not sure if that was supposed to make it more or less persuasive.)

  66. @John Emerson: A lot of Yoruba people would insist that 419 scams are overwhelmingly an Igbo problem. In reality, I think that these days, the serious scammers are mostly from eastern Europe.

  67. @Bloix, @JE

    in Black Reconstruction, w.e.b. du bois talks specifically about the action of enslaved and self-liberated folks during and following the 1860-65 war as a revolutionary general strike and revolutionary war. to me, the “2nd American Revolution” framework only makes sense with that as the emphasis, rather than the actions of the u.s. government. (it also assumes that the War of Independence was a revolution, rather than just a formalization of the well-established rule of the plantocracy and its commercial partners in the north, which is… debatable.)

    folks have already mentioned the parallel terminological/analytic/historiographic question with the English Civil War / English Revolution of the 1600s, and spain in the 1930s. oddly, i don’t think i’ve seen the same with mexico in the 1910s, where i think similar arguments could be made – but i haven’t read as much about it…

    from here on, though, i will follow cicero (b”sh PlasticPaddy) and call them all Intestinal Wars.

  68. Exile Red Finns

    Otto Wilhelm (Wille) Kuusinen, Russian: О́тто Вильге́льмович Ку́усинен, Otto Vilgelmovich Kuusinen) (4 October 1881 – 17 May 1964) was a Finnish communist and, later, Soviet politician, literary historian, and poet who, after the defeat of the Reds in the Finnish Civil War, fled to the Soviet Union, where he worked until his death.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Wille_Kuusinen

  69. Bathrobe says:

    Cote d’Ivoire

    I thought that was the country’s official name.

  70. I received a Nigerian letter in 90s. Paper mail, in my mail box. In Russia.

  71. I once referred to the “Nigerian scam” in a public forum and got an angry reaction from a Nigerian. I should have known better. It’s a pretty sorry thing for your country to be known for.

    drasvi: did you keep it? It’s quite a treasure (and who knows, maybe the offer still stands).

  72. SFReader says:
  73. PlasticPaddy says:
  74. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Today’s paper reminds me of the 185th anniversary of the Secession of Texas which according to WP was part of the Texas Revolution. The next secession was part of The American Civil War, though. A busy few decades there.

    A few … sane languages have the equivalent of some few (nogle få / några få) or some plural form of one. (Even some seems to be originally singular).

  75. I once got a Nigerian spam letter by fax, in 1990s Uzbekistan. Obviously, I wasn’t interested, it was much easier to become a Som millionaire. 😉

  76. the Presse – today the leading conservative newspaper, much like the Times and the New York Times

    Sorry, Austria just isn’t that big. It’s more like the Boston Herald, except Die Presse tries to be a serious newspaper and there just aren’t any serious conservative newspapers in the US other than the WSJ.

    The New York Times has many flaws, but it is not “conservative”. Pro-establishment and defender of the 1%, sure, but in the US those are now Democratic positions.

  77. Exactly. I get tired of seeing people describe the NYT as “conservative” (or, for the truly progressive, “fascist”); in the American context, that makes no sense whatever. Yes, it would be “conservative” in, say, France. So what?

  78. I think “American War of Independence” is the usual name in most anglophone countries other than the United States. When I first heard of the “Daughters of the American Revolution” I thought it might be some kind of Rosa Luxemburg faction.

  79. David Eddyshaw says:

    Then they’d have to have been “Mothers of the American Revolution”, on account of the event being still pending*.

    *Not long now, though. That notorious Marxist Joe Biden will bring it about imminently. I read it on Twitter.

  80. David Eddyshaw says:

    it was much easier to become a Som millionaire

    I was a Cedi millionaire when I lived in Ghana (and indeed still am, though not by such a margin.)

  81. SFReader says:

    Som is a Turkic root for “pure” (as in “pure silver”).

    Cedi is Akan word for cowrie shell which used to be the West African currency before the European contact.

    Mongolian currency – tugrik – means “circle, circular object” (ie a coin) similar to other East Asian currencies – yen, won and yuan (all three mean “round”).

  82. David Eddyshaw says:

    used to be the West African currency before the European contact.

    Rather, as a consequence of earlier European contact (what with cowries not being native to West Africa):

    http://languagehat.com/a-dialectal-squirrel/#comment-4076048

  83. John Emerson says:

    Cowries were an early Chinese currency, presumably adopted from SE Asia and perhaps the islands in Indian Ocean, whence it easily could have reached Africa. The cowry-shell graph is the classifier (“radical”) in the graphs for many Chinese words dealing with value, preciousness, and exchange.

    It may seem odd to have a non-native item be a state’s currency, but that way you get scarcity, difficulty in counterfeiting, and the possibility of government monopoly.

    I can’t remember if Marco Polo encountered cowry money, but I know he saw salt money in recently-conquered areas of what is now the Chinese SW, where salt was rare and precious (as it still is in Tibet).

  84. John Emerson says:

    The colloquial word for Chinese money is “lump” (kuai).

  85. John Emerson, rozele – The strict meaning of the words revolution, revolutionary is the causing of an extra-legal break in the political and legal institutions of government. The English and French Revolutions resulted in the beheading of kings and institution of republics; the Glorious Revolution fundamentally changed the relationship between king and Parliament; the Revolution of 1830 overthrew one monarchy and replaced it with another; the Revolution of 1848 overthrew that monarchy and replaced it with a republic; the Mexican Revolution involved several changes of regime culminating in a new and radically different Constitution; etc.

    The American Civil War wasn’t like that. The political and legal changes it brought about were strictly constitutional, and there was continuity in governance and government institutions throughout and after the war. The post-war amendments were adopted entirely constitutionally. They did alter the relationship of the federal government to the state governments, but only in an incremental way, without disrupting the constitutional order. The Constitution’s ability to provide a framework for governance through and in the aftermath of a prolonged and transformational civil war is often cited as its greatest glory. What Marx was saying in the sentence I quoted was that this would not be possible, but he wasn’t correct. Or perhaps he was correct in the sense that what he foresaw would have required a revolution – but what he foresaw didn’t happen.

    As for making the US a democracy – well, unfortunately, the US is still not a democracy, no matter how devoutly we may wish it to be one.

    And as for the Du Bois argument, I just don’t accept it. Putting aside the issue of a general strike, which I also don’t think happened but is a different thing, there was no African American revolution during the Civil War – no significant leadership calling for one, no or virtually no insurgent, partisan, or irregular units, and no serious attempts to establish African American institutions to supplant Confederate governments. The Confederacy didn’t have to devote any substantial resources to the maintenance of order and control in territory behind its front line facing the Union. As the holiday of Juneteenth demonstrates, it was Union soldiers – black and white, but in the blue uniform – who freed the slaves.

    Of course, there’s a metaphorical meaning of revolution whereby it means any radical, discontinuous change in attitudes, structures, rights, or methods. This meaning always runs the risk of bleaching – a revolution in workplace fashion, a revolutionary new inventory control system – and IMHO it’s more a rhetorical device than a useful explanation when applied to the Civil War.

  86. David Marjanović says:

    For some reason I have yet to receive a 419 communication in Yoruba. I did get some in French at one stage, which I thought was quite enterprising.

    I get them in a bunch of European languages, always Google-translated.

    Côte d’Ivoire

    A few decades ago, the ruler requested that the country be known by its French name in all languages. That has been quite widely followed in more or less official settings.

    My favorite Nigerian scam letter

    Oh wow. Take that, all you dead cocoa and GOLD merchants from Ghana, and you widows of dictators who are still dead.

    Sorry, Austria just isn’t that big.

    Sure; I mean the function it has inside the country is similar.

    The New York Times has many flaws, but it is not “conservative”.

    Of course it is, and so are most newspapers worldwide, especially the big highbrow ones. That just comes with the territory. 😐 Starting and maintaining a large newspaper requires money, which tends to come with a conservative bent; acquiring and maintaining a readership that isn’t deliberately narrow or lowbrow also tends to require a moderate conservative orientation. (Reactionary newspapers are even rarer than Social Democratic ones like the Guardian or Austria’s Standard, and much smaller.)

    I’m also aware, of course, that “conservative” is a pretty wide spectrum itself. I deliberately picked the Times and not the Telegraph as the nearest British equivalent.

    but in the US those are now Democratic positions.

    So? Half of that party corresponds to Merkel’s wing of Merkel’s party. If I want to make international comparisons, I have to use my terms in a more consistent way.

  87. Of course it is, and so are most newspapers worldwide, especially the big highbrow ones. That just comes with the territory. 😐 Starting and maintaining a large newspaper requires money, which tends to come with a conservative bent; acquiring and maintaining a readership that isn’t deliberately narrow or lowbrow also tends to require a moderate conservative orientation.

    You’re using “conservative” in a way that’s completely inapplicable to the US, unless you’re taking the view that anything to the right of Marx is conservative.

  88. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Inapplicable is a big word. If I want to apply the term “conservative” to Bernie Sanders, you can’t stop me innit. I also expect it to derail any conversation of politics with a US person, but that’s OK since I don’t intend to have any.

    (Bernie is actually pretty congruent with Danish Social Democrats, that is, slightly right of centre seen from here).

  89. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think Bloix is trying a bit too hard by saying the 1865-et-seq. modifications of the constitution were “strictly” or “entirely” in keeping with pre-established constitutional procedure. Here’s a wikipedia summary of part of the history: ‘On June 16, 1866, Secretary of State William Seward transmitted the Fourteenth Amendment to the governors of the several states for its ratification. State legislatures in every formerly Confederate state, with the exception of Tennessee, refused to ratify it. This refusal led to the passage of the Reconstruction Acts. Ignoring the existing state governments, military government was imposed until new civil governments were established and the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. It also prompted Congress to pass a law on March 2, 1867, requiring that a former Confederate state must ratify the Fourteenth Amendment before “said State shall be declared entitled to representation in Congress”.’

    This makes perfect sense in context – defeated rebels who have caused extraordinary trouble and bloodshed don’t necessarily just get to say “okay now I’ve stopped rebelling, albeit only after catastrophic military defeat, but now I’m willing to go back to the status-quo-ante rules and you have to let me.” It’s perfectly fair to say “the trouble you’ve caused has led us to decide that there need to be some changes in the rules going forward, and you need to sign on to the changes before you’re allowed to participate again.” That the form of the traditional ratification process was followed, albeit coercively, does show some considerable desire to maximize the appearance of continuity, rather than, for example, simply excluding the rebellious states from being counted in the denominator and declare the amendment ratified by 3/4 of the loyal states. But there’s still a real discontinuity in the ordinary process.

  90. Inapplicable is a big word. If I want to apply the term “conservative” to Bernie Sanders, you can’t stop me innit.

    I didn’t say I wanted to stop anybody from saying anything. Outsiders always find the domestic politics of any country hard to grasp, and usually reach for comforting clichés from their own experience. It’s as amusing to me to watch foreigners try to apply their ideas of “left” and “right” to US phenomena as it is for me to see Americans trying to apply them to, say, Russia and China. You can apply whatever terms make you feel better, but they won’t help you understand what’s going on.

  91. John Emerson says:

    Bloix: as I said, Congress and the Supreme Court immediately went to work nullifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments,and they only came to life again in the 1960s. Before these amendments the US wasn’t a democracy even formally or in intention or in pretense. As for revolution, I don’t think there’s any particular value in coming up with a strict definition. Fundamental change by violence is good enough for me, and as for the Constitution, these amendments were passed by a Congress from which the Confederate states either had been excluded or were represented by governments installed by the conquerors. (Fine with me; the Contitution is a sacred cow / dead weight).

  92. I thought that the problem with imposing right-left of a country A to right-left of country B is not relative shift of the centre.

  93. John Emerson says:

    Compared the American Civil war, the 1830 French Revolution was a chickenshit lidless joke, both on the small magnitude of the 1830 event and in the triviality of its consequences (with all due respect to the gloire of France.)

  94. John Emerson says:

    “Chickenshit little joke”

  95. John Emerson says:

    If you don’t call the Times conservative. you hide the fact that the US hardly had a left. You ca call it centrist, but conservative, as opposed to reactionaries, do claim the center.

  96. J.W. Brewer says:

    It seems at best anachronistic to insist that “democracy” presupposes a polite modern consensus view of who is or isn’t considered part of the relevant δῆμος. Ancient Athens excluded slaves and metics from the relevant δῆμος (not to mention excluding women from active political participation), but it’s still the archetype of “democracy” as distinguished from other modes of government. Viewing “democracy” as not merely a description but a term of moral praise is probably the problem here, because it tends to lead you down a No-True-Scotsman pathway of handwaving away actually-existing democracies that do not sufficiently please your moral sensibilities.

  97. SFReader says:

    Ancient democracy always reminded me of this Strugatsky quote:

    The structure [of the state] was unusually democratic, there could be no question of any coercion of citizens (he stressed this several times with particular emphasis), everyone was rich and free from worries, and even the poorest peasant had no less than three slaves

  98. It is socialism then. When the state provides slaves for the poor.

  99. John Emerson says:

    At the same time, “democracy” is an essentially normative term, in the sense that to be a democrat is to affirm some ideal of what democracy should be. This, if a neutral, detached observer with no commitments for or against democracy comes up an objective definition of democracy, it is virtually certain that some of those he classifies as democrats reject the claims to democracy of others he classified as concepts. These have been called “essentially contested concepts”, where everyone agrees that X is good (or bad) but no one agrees what X actually is.

    And lo!! — most of politics is about these concept! Joy!

  100. John Emerson says:

    Damn!!!! I can’t correct from here.

  101. If you don’t call the Times conservative. you hide the fact that the US hardly had a left. You ca call it centrist, but conservative, as opposed to reactionaries, do claim the center.

    It’s ridiculous to claim the Times is the same as the WSJ or the National Review. All that does is make leftists feel smug.

  102. J.W. Brewer, but is not it easier to agree on desired moral principles?

    I understand the desire to define things technically (and then be ready to admit that maybe democracy is a bad idea). But technically we all have elections at best.

  103. John Emerson says:

    The times is unquestionably conservative on military policy, about which there is only hand waving dissent on American politics. They’re not AS conservative as the WSJ, I’ll grant.

    In the 50s Hofstadter, citing Adlai Stevenson, claimed that New Deal Cold War liberals were the true American conservatives (on the model of British “wet” conservatives), and who am I to agree with those two?

  104. I do not even know what is conservative military. Invade? Withdraw? Stay?

  105. thought that the problem with imposing right-left of a country A to right-left of country B is not relative shift of the centre.

    At least I have the following issues and find terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ not very usable for myself:

    0. In the worst case scenario it is when in the country B polyandry is mandatory but the exact distribution of duties between the two obligatory husbands is a matter of fierce debates.

    —–

    1. As a first approximation, you model your politics as multi-dimensional space (picking several variables x, y, z, … that you like for some reason. Of course people from a different country will pick different variables).

    Then you assume that opinions of people on matter x strongly correlate with their opinion on question y, and so on. Thus, you think, you can choose two points, where right and left camps’ flags are located. These “flags” may correspond to what politicians promice – and thus are not your personal invention.

    Then you do the same to another country and… oops. Their left-right is not just shifted. If they also have exactly two flags (and not more or less), they are rotated.

    Your left is (+, +, +),
    their left is (+, -, undefined)

    2. Then you compare the two “flags” with the distribution of people’s opinions in your country on one hand, and politicians’ actions on the other hand and again you have a problem. These do not cluster around these two points. Flags are just flags, nothing more.

    3. But then, again, see 0, about husbands. This model can be unable to capture even differences between countries.

  106. John Emerson says:

    The conservative (status quo, bipartisan) military policy in the US is forever war wherever, though of course this is also the liberal policy.

  107. Ah, move in circles!!! I should have known

  108. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Conservative” and “liberal” have always been “hurrah” words, adopted for their positive associations by those using them as labels (or disguises.) They mean nothing, even when adopted in all sincerity, until you ask “conserve what?” and “freedom for whom?”

    Depending on the answers to these questions, the reference of these labels may switch places, or coincide completely.

  109. Jstor Daily is not hawkish though. But this is weird:
    Most readers of Beowulf understand it as a white, male hero story
    :/ And no, Tolkien hardly meant “blacks” by “race of Cain”.

  110. Just in case: I totally support xkcd when he incorporates “black lives matter” in his logo. I would support Jstor, if they did the same and then dedicated 16 out of 21 top articles on their pages to black people and racism (9 contain the word “black”). This would send to me a message “we have a serious problem with racism, let’s solve it”.

    When they do not do that, it sends a message “colour matters, black and white people are different” and I hate it.

  111. John Emerson says:

    Essentially-contested words are not without meaning, but their meanings vary according to context. There’s no better example than “liberal”, which in the US means “welfare liberal” (~ New Dealer, a weak American version of democratic socialism) but in Europe means market liberal adversaries of socialism. (This idea has been worked to death by libertarians and market conservatives, who are roughly European liberals.) There is a shared meaning between the two definitions — welfare liberals define their goal in terms of individual freedom, lacking ideas of solidarity and differing from most socialists in that respect.

    Be warned: I think that all important political terms are essentially-contested and that arguments about their “true” meaning are political contests, not searches for truth,

  112. David Marjanović says:

    unless you’re taking the view that anything to the right of Marx is conservative.

    Half the Democratic Party, plus various Greens and whatnots, are between Marx and “conservative”. It’s a pretty wide field. 😐

    It’s ridiculous to claim the Times is the same as the WSJ or the National Review.

    Sorry for the misunderstanding – I’m not making that claim, which would indeed be ridiculous. As I said, “conservative” is a pretty broad spectrum, too.

    (I’ll hazard the guess that the Swiss Weltwoche is comparable to the National Review.)

    You ca call it centrist, but conservative[…]s […] do claim the center.

    Not all that often in my experience – except that half of the political spectrum of the US claims to be in the center, and another quarter claims to be where the center would turn out to be if you just read the right polls.

  113. David Marjanović says:

    but in Europe means market liberal adversaries of socialism.

    That’s not enough to count as liberal in Europe; self-declared liberal parties here also advocate for individual liberties like legalization of marijuana or marriage equality. In short, “liberal” means libertarian-lite over here. People who are liberal on the economy but not on social issues end up in the conservative parties.

  114. I remember my high school European History teacher (who was just filling in for the usual teacher, who had for some reason taken that year off) saying that Edmund Burke and Klemens von Metternich would have been political allies, since they were both “conservative” politicians. I was highly dubious. Burkes conservatism was never as “philosophical” as he tried to make it seem, but I doubt he would have endorsed the Metternich’s kneejerk reactionary stances or his firm opposition to democracy. (The two men did actually meet, when Metternich was dispatched to London in 1794 by his father, who was governor of the Austrian Netherlands,* but that was at the very beginning of Metternich’s political life and the end of Burke’s, and while Burke’s ideas may have influenced Metternich, I don’t think Burke’s opinions on the young Metternich were recorded for posterity.**)

    * And speaking of the Austrian Netherlands,*** Belgium was the place where the Revolution of 1830 resulted in the most comprehensive and permanent change in the government.

    ** At least, I have never come across any suggestion that Burke or any of his friends wrote down any such opinions—although it is conceivable that Burke may have made some offhand comment about Metternich in one of his letters.

    *** About which Burke wrote quite a bit during the Wars of the French Revolution, for example:

    The present policy, therefore, of the Austrian politicians is, to recover despotism through democracy,—or, at least, at any expense, everywhere to ruin the description of men who are everywhere the objects of their settled and systematic aversion, but more especially in the Netherlands.

  115. Trond Engen says:

    Britain and the Scandinavian countries have the concept of social-liberalism. These parties traditionally seek alliances to the right because of business policies but often align with the left on social issues, including to some degree public welfare. They were historically important in broadening the franchise and establishing the consensus policies of the 20th century, but today there’s very little room for them between the modern conservatives and social democrats, but because they are either out of power or weak junior partners in government, they can afford a principled stand on issues like immigration.

  116. John Emerson says:

    I wasn’t really claiming to understand European liberalism except to say that it contrasts with American liberalism as it is most commonly thought of.

  117. @Bloix [having skipped most of the intervening thread; apologies if i’m repeating someone]

    Putting aside the issue of a general strike, which I also don’t think happened but is a different thing, there was no African American revolution during the Civil War – no significant leadership calling for one, no or virtually no insurgent, partisan, or irregular units, and no serious attempts to establish African American institutions to supplant Confederate governments. The Confederacy didn’t have to devote any substantial resources to the maintenance of order and control in territory behind its front line facing the Union. As the holiday of Juneteenth demonstrates, it was Union soldiers – black and white, but in the blue uniform – who freed the slaves.

    this, in every detail, is the myth that du bois’ book demolishes.

    you can disagree with his terminology of ‘general strike’ and ‘revolutionary action’, but not with his evidence. which shows:
    – the scale of self-liberated “insurgent, partisan, [and] irregular units” operating in varying degrees of coordination with a u.s. army that would only sometimes support them (much less put them in blue uniforms*);
    – the decisive role of mass withdrawal of (self-liberated) labor behind the secessionist lines in the breakdown of secessionist control and order (not to mention their state’s basic economic functioning);
    – the decisive role of self-liberated labor in making the u.s. armies’ victory possible;
    – and, both during and after the official war, the active creation of both specifically black and, most of all, non-racially-structured institutions to supplant not only the secessionist state and the antebellum institutions it was based on, but the institutions created during the reimposition of de facto slavery following the secessionist armies’ surrender – the same institutions that were the practical basis of so-called “radical reconstruction”, and were only dismantled by force of arms during the counter-revolution of the late 19th century.

    but don’t take my word for it: here’s du bois: http://www.ouleft.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/blackreconstruction.pdf

    the first 100-odd pages will get you through the war; the rest is a detailed account of the establishment of a radically different political order in the south, and then the counter-revolution that dismantled it.

    (and, to be clear: the date of juneteenth – months after the april 1865 ceasefire and years after the 1862 emancipation proclamation – is a marker of how uninterested the u.s. was in emancipation, not only after it was recognized as crucial to winning the war, but even after it had become law (for those enslaved behind secessionist lines).

    * recruitment of even already-free black soldiers was actively resisted by the u.s. government at every level until it became clear that they could not win the war without it, and actively avoided even after that point. thomas wentworth higginson’s wartime and post-war writings (a fair amount of them have been published in editions assembled by howard meyer; not sure how much is online) give a picture of that struggle, from the perspective of a radical abolitionist serving in the u.s. army (ultimately as commander of a black regiment).

  118. J.W. Brewer says:

    Maybe you can confirm John Emerson’s point about “essentially-contested terms,” perhaps paraphrased less politely, by observing that pretty much everyone in North America / Europe who views “populist” and “populism” as Bad Things still purports to view “democratic” and “democracy” as Good Things. A strong social consensus that “democratic” and “democracy” are inherently Good Things not accompanied by an equally strong consensus about exactly what actual political arrangements and/or policy outcomes are Good Things will perhaps inevitably destroy their usefulness as descriptive terms, because they will just end up as labels people apply to their own faction’s preferred set of institutional arrangements, even when it seems implausible that the same label could fit both faction A’s preferences and faction B’s preferences.

  119. John Emerson says:

    No, essentially contested terms are subject to debate and contestation. They’re what’s up for grabs. A classic example is justice, from Plato onward. Disputes over justice cannot be solved by looking up the definition in a dictionary; justice (or equality or freedom) has to be worked out in social practice.

  120. “much less put them in blue uniforms”
    rozele-
    This is language hat, not American History Hat, so just one point: 186,000 Black men served in the Union army and 20,000 in the Union navy. Over 36,000 died. In blue uniforms.

    John Emerson – “I don’t think there’s any particular value in coming up with a strict definition. Fundamental change by violence is good enough for me.”

    It may be good enough for you, but it’s wrong. The Velvet Revolution was a revolution. The Civil War was not. We can’t all be Humpty Dumpty.

  121. John Emerson says:

    We shall disagree. I see no value on your dictionary strictness on this point. When I called the civil war amendments revolutionary, I was just trying to call attention to the weightiness of what happened, which changed the nature of US government, at enormous cost, beyond just freeing the slaves. Even though these changes were soon nullified, the amendments remained on the books and made the civil rights movement possible.

    No one denies that the French 1830 revolution was a revolution, even if all it did was replace one king with his distant cousin after a 3 day kerfluffle, and even if the whole premise of the revolution was that nothing much happened.

    But as I said above, I believe that what you call humpty-dumptiness is wired into political language, and that recourse to dictionary definitions is just an attempt to stop history. It’s a very good thing that the Constitution is being interpreted today in ways that its authors could not have imagined (even by originialists).

  122. SFReader says:

    The Civil War of course did change the nature of the United States – from confederacy of independent states (not really different from German Confederation) it became a single federal state (more like German empire of Bismark).

  123. @SFReader: The federal government of the United States of America certainly was substantially weaker before the Civil War than after. However, comparing it to the contemporary German Confederation is absurd. The United States federal government had a long list of enunciated powers, some exclusive and some shared with the states. Among the federal powers were all external relations, including the power to wage war.

  124. John Emerson wrote

    >as I said, Congress and the Supreme Court immediately went to work nullifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments,and they only came to life again in the 1960s.

    They occupied the South for 10 years to enforce those amendments, sent their best and brightest (Ames, for instance) to help with administration, and continued to take casualties. They were still exerting political pressure against southern whites on behalf and in concert with African American allies 30 years after the war ended.

    Not that the two situations are otherwise comparable, but someday, someone will also gloss the American presence in Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban as “and they immediately left it to rot.”

    And while it’s true that slaves were liberated by “black and white” soldiers in blue uniforms, I think it’s worth remembering this (from wiki): “Black troops made up 10 percent of the Union death toll, they amounted to 15 percent of disease deaths but less than 3 percent of those killed in battle.”

    That by no means diminishes the contributions of black soldiers, who were heroic, and underpaid. But some recent pop history, and some aspects of Rozele’s post, would have you believe that it was in large part a war of self-liberation, which does in fact diminish the incredible sacrifice of white northern soldiers, who took 90% of the casualties, 97% of the battlefield casualties.

    It took sending a gunboat supported by soldiers up the Combahee with Harriet Tubman to convince slaves to flee to Port Royal – all of 12 miles away. There was no significant uprising. No significant work stoppage — there was always more cotton being picked than could get through the blockade. Always plenty of food for Confederate troops till the plantations were burned.

    A significant part of the point of Juneteenth is that slaves were kept from being well-informed about what was happening, so it took the arrival of Union troops for them to know it was safe. It was easy to be sympathetic, no doubt, but hard to be sure, and choosing wrong could be fatal. Most slaves sat tight till troops arrived.

    This is more odd revisionism based on knowing a few small things, but not the larger things:
    >the date of juneteenth – months after the april 1865 ceasefire … how uninterested the US was …

    Yes, it was months after the April ceasefire of Lee’s army in Virginia. But it was only days after the surrender of the western confederate command. And the date for Juneteenth wasn’t chosen to commemorate liberation across the South. It commemorates the very final liberations of the war — IN TEXAS.

    Lincoln famously was greeted by freedmen when he visited Richmond even before the war was over. Freedom came when and where Union troops brought it.

  125. PlasticPaddy says:

    @rozele
    I do not think any shame need be attached to black passivity in the South during slavery (or indeed to European Jewish passivity in the face of what became an existential threat). To enroll even say 5% of a heterogenous population in active support of armed insurrection and say 20% in passive support you probably need
    1. educated, politically aware and charismatic leaders
    2. networks and prototype “state” institutions (justice, taxation, education, as well as defence)
    3. foreign allies providing economic, political and (even only symbolic) military support

  126. Bathrobe says:

    The colloquial word for Chinese money is “lump” (kuai).

    The colloquial Chinese measure word / classifier for money is 块 kuài ‘lump’.

  127. nemanja says:

    “The Civil War of course di change the nature of the United States – from confederacy of independent states (not really different from German Confederation) it became a single federal state (more like German empire of Bismark).”

    It’s true that the US started out with a very loose confederal arrangement and then moved to to a more centralized federal one, but this happened some seventy years prior to the Civil War, when the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the Constitution.

    The Reconstruction (post-Civil War) Amendments, and particularly the 14th Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses, have served as the basis for so much monumental social reform that it’s natural to view them as a radical, even revolutionary, break with the past. But this is actually the work of later generations –
    at the time of their enactment, the amendments were basically a principled and sincere, if imperfect, attempts to devise a solution to the practical problems facing the country following the end of the war. The 14th Am, in particular, was addressing a concrete problem: the Black Codes enacted by former Confederate states; effectively an attempt to allow slavery to continue under a different name. And even then the first attempted solution was ordinary legislation ( the Civil Rights Act of 1866) before it was realized that this would be insufficient. And finally the 15th Amendment was an attempt to protect black *political* rights in anticipation of Democrats taking control of Congress. It was all very momentary and contingent, a response to the urgent needs of the political moment.

    In many ways this is a more interesting story though – the Reconstruction amendments failed at their intended purpose, but they still ended up being a crucial weapon in the struggle of many marginalized groups.

  128. The colloquial Chinese measure word / classifier for money is 块 kuài ‘lump’.

    Quite correct, of course, but we foreigners in Taiwan fell into the habit of talking about “fifty kuai” in English, so it can be hard to remember.

  129. PlasticPaddy, I think “passivity” already implies “more passive than {the norm}”.

    Comparing contributions of various groups of people can be ethical, when done carefully in a conversation about, say, military strategy. When it turns into calculation of proper distribution of glory (and booty and whatever)…

  130. I think something that’s missed in the question of the degree of change after the Civil War is its effects on the North itself. The Reconstruction amendments established once and for all the right of black men to vote in the North. Other restrictions on the (male) suffrage also fell away.

    The political impact was interwoven with the broader social effects of the war in the North — African Americans were part of the GAR, part of constituted militia units, part of the Republican coalition. I was a substitute teacher at Oscar DePriest school in Chicago years ago, and wondered who he was. I was surprised to learn he was an African American congressman whose career began on the Cook County Board in 1904, at a moment when the black population in Cook County was tiny. Public accommodations were integrated by law and in practice. Workplaces and civil service were more integrated than most people understand. Schools were integrated imperfectly, but broadly, well before Brown, as I first realized when I served on a local school council and saw the old class photos from the early 1950s hanging on the wall.

    This is also an important factor in assessing the “first” Revolution. The impulses and stated principles of the revolution led to a broad democratization across Northern states, including manumission, abolition and in many places, full male suffrage including African Americans. To some degree this also occurred in the South, but the wave didn’t wash nearly high enough.

    Missing the massive changes that occurred after the Civil War can make one blind to the essence of a century of American politics, which consisted at heart of Republicans rooted in the northern WASPish elite sponsoring the protestant and black working class, while the Democratic party, anchored by the Southern elite, sponsored the Catholic working class.

    As an aside, but I think a relevant one, it’s hard to remember today why Huckleberry Finn was a radical work. Most anyone today can recognize that Jim’s nickname is offensive, but it’s hard to recognize the caricature behind Huck, the orphan son of a raging drunken Irishman, with a ridiculous hayseed given name and a surname that would have sounded piscine and silly to Anglo-Americans who weren’t yet accustomed to Irish names.

    The book is written just 30 years after and indeed set in the time period when Lincoln helped found a party whose central concern was anti-slavery in a conscious effort to displace a growing political faction devoted to keeping the Irish out of the country. It was published into a country where black Southerners were being encouraged to come north, and even brought north in groups, in some cases in a conscious effort to displace Irish workers who were starting to form unions and even to use violence against their respectable employers.

    Huck and Jim both represent people who were despised by some aspect of polite society, and who typically despised each other. And superficially, they are both presented in ways that would emphasize their otherness. Jim’s other-ing, in part through the ugly nickname, is critical to the impact of the novel — the emotional distance readers had to travel to make these two unsavory types into a sympathetic father-son pair. “Augustus the literate slave whose master hired him out as a carpenter in town, who all good people already loved and respected” wouldn’t have brought readers along a powerful arc of redemption.

    The main theme of the book is that growing up in America is about learning how and when to lie. Each new passage is about failing to pull off some ridiculous deception, or succeeding and then seeing the consequences. What gets lost because it’s over in a moment and its effect on the story is subtler, is Jim’s lie. Seeing the body of Pap, Huck’s father, on the wrecked paddlewheeler, he tells Huck it’s just a grotesque corpse that he doesn’t want to see. Jim needs Huck to help him make his escape, but Huck is running away from Pap, and if Pap is dead, Huck doesn’t need to run. Jim’s nickname is a superficial aspect of his portrayal, and certainly an accurate reflection of his milieu. The subtlety and success of Jim’s lie, combined with his humaneness towards Huck, who clearly means more to Jim than just a vehicle for his escape, is much more central to his portrayal, a compelling affirmation of his American manhood.

    Delete the slur, make Huck the son of Central American immigrant whose father got tangled up in gang violence which he inflicts on his children, put them in a pickup truck, Jim running from a false conviction, and you’ve got the skeleton of an acceptable modern bildungsroman with a memorable final line – “I’m ‘on light out for the suburbs.”

    I’m likely giving Twain a bit too much credit here, leaving important things out, which is perhaps a general flaw of mine – centering the reforming aspects of the country’s history as being the core of American-ness and treating the countervailing trends as side affairs of ur-human ugliness that we try to overcome. I haven’t read the novel in 20 years. But it’s something I’ve thought about for a long time and wanted to write out, and maybe hear critiques.

  131. An excellent analysis. I’m awfully tired of rote denunciations of one of the great American novels.

  132. >make Huck the son of Central American immigrant whose father got tangled up

    Actually, my update was precisely wrong. To give a modern version the same impact, Huck would be a Trump-leaning but mostly apolitical son of an unemployed, violent Q-Anon fanatic from Tennessee struggling with his meth addiction.

  133. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re “Juneteenth,” it’s only become a national thing rather than a regional thing fairly recently. There’s a fascinating book by William Wiggins titled “O Freedom! Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations*, published in 1987 but based largely on fieldwork done in the early 1970’s, about comparable local vernacular celebrations (some solemn and religious, some more carnivalesque and secular) in black communities all over the former slave states on a wide variety of different annual dates, sometimes matching up with the anniversary of a national event (effective date of Emancipation Proclamation or Thirteenth Amendment), sometimes matching up with the anniversary of a local event (e.g.. arrival of Union troops that made Emancipation Proclamation effective in practice in the specific area, which was the June 1865 date in Texas but other dates in other places), sometimes just a traditional local date that can’t be matched up to a specific origin.

    *NB that “Afro-American” was still a word in reasonably common polite/scholarly use in the 1970’s and 1980’s but has largely become obsolete since then.

  134. J.W. Brewer says:

    John Emerson’s invocation of Plato and the long-contested meaning of “justice” suggests that Humpty-Dumpty is not the right role model for the semantics of pleasant-sounding political words. The right role model is Thrasymachus. “Democracy” in modern speech would thus mean neither more nor less than whatever political arrangements suit the advantage of the stronger, or rather (since it is hard to be certain who is stronger when a power struggle is still in progress) suit the advantage of whichever faction of actual or would-be oligarchs the speaker is shilling for.

  135. And yet “democracy” is also inherently an acceptance by elite factions of the taming of their factional competition by moving it out of the realm of violence against the sub-elite allies of the other faction. It’s primary meaning is not in its political outcomes, but in the rules of political competition.

  136. This it is why I think that “moral” definition can be, maybe, more constructive. Elections, in turn, help you let off steam and not to have a revolution.

  137. Yes, indeed; it’s one of the best things about them.

  138. David Marjanović says:

    I wasn’t really claiming to understand European liberalism except to say that it contrasts with American liberalism as it is most commonly thought of.

    I know, I just elaborated on that.

    It’s a very good thing that the Constitution is being interpreted today in ways that its authors could not have imagined (even by originialists).

    At the same time, it’s a bad thing that such contortions have been made necessary by the extreme difficulty of amending the Constitution.

  139. J.W. Brewer says:

    Violent political mobs in America (both in my own lifetime and further back) generally have a self-narrative whereby they are promoting and/or protecting true democracy at a time when the corrupt status quo has made it infeasible to rely solely on electoral mechanisms. And it can always be that time when electoral mechanisms are insufficient (and extra-electoral tactics are thus justified) if you adopt a point of view about the circumstances that makes it seem so.

  140. David Marjanović says:

    Yes, indeed; it’s one of the best things about them.

    Oh yes. The fundamental advantage of democracy over all other forms of government is that it allows you to get rid of the government and install a new one more to your liking without recourse to violence.

  141. John Emerson says:

    Bathrobe: In what I saw “ kuai” was used in place of “yuan” as an independent unit, though it may be that my memory has been contaminated by the use of “kuai” in English conversation, as Hat suggests.

    Ryan: you really should read Algren’s underrated “Somebody on Boots” . Its protagonist is a weak, feckless young man from a despised, impoverished family who feels no particular racial prejudice (partly just because he’s so lacking in spirit) but is deferential to the racist power. When it is discovered that he has become friendly with a black man, white racism immediately and violently enforced on him, and he abandons his new friend.

    Algren was Marxoid when he wrote the book, and he twice cites Marx on the lumpenproletariat. This partly accounts for the book’s poor reputation I think. Post WWII New York Intellectuals were poison on “Depression novels” and vulgar Marxism.

  142. John, Thanks. It’s been so long since I read Somebody in Boots that I’ve forgotten it, though the poetic opening of Algren’s Man with the Golden Arm is engraved in my memory. I’ve quoted it here before so won’t put Hatters through it again, except to say “that smoke-colored season between Indian summer and December’s first true snow.”

    There was a Sunday in roughly 1990 when either the Times or the Post book review featured retrospectives on both Algren and Alinsky, and I realized I could be said to know very little of my native Chicago, and immediately embarked on the pre-modern era’s version of the Netflix binge.

    I wonder where my copy of Boots is now. Probably the basement. Tonight I’ll track it down.

  143. John Emerson says:

    I don’t say Thrasymachus was right, because he was more a loudmouth contrarian trying to make a splash that someone trying to come to a true understanding or description of anything. But I think that Plato was wrong, at least as he is usually understood. Basically I think that all important political struggles are fights over the meanings of words like “freedom” , “justice” , “ equality”, etc. , and that there can be no end to these struggles, because History. In particular , these fights cannot be settled by looking up the true meanings of the words, and any agreement about their meanings will always be subject to later challenge.

    For example, Mill’s high minded writings about liberty were produced while he was an official of the East India Company, which was looting India while imposing a very skewed form of liberty there. As far as that goes, the Confederates were fanatical about liberty to the point of being almost ungovernable, but their version of liberty assumed slavery.

    These can be regarded as unfortunate compromises forced on imperfect men in an imperfect material world, but all actual liberty will be compromised that way, and every actual compromise will produce its own version of the ideal Liberty.

  144. John Emerson says:

    The model for Huck Finn was supposedly a kid Twain had known named Blankenship. This came to mind when an especially brutal coal WV mine owner responsible for several dozen death turned out to be named Blankenship. Hick Finn himself headed for Indian Territory (Oklahoma), which was never part of the Confederacy and was the destination for many escaped slaves. OK only became definitively white supremacist on 1921 with the Tulsa Massacre.

  145. and install a new one more to your liking without recourse to violence.

    I am sceptical about the “your liking” part (I think I have Lebanon or Belarus rahter than Iceland in mind:)). But for the start, it is still better than killing a lot of people and then finding yourself in even deeper shit.

  146. This it is why I think that “moral” definition can be, maybe, more constructive.

    More specifically:

    I know what I want (and human rights are the top priority).
    I can describe what we have achieved and what we have not achieved – even though I do not know why*.

    So i can start defining things from here – and I do not care how we call that. It still is going to be a useful term, it communicates what I need. But if I start with technical definitions I risk producing something utterly arbitrary.


    *Modern Europe appears more humane, and I do not know to which extent it is technology (no one is hungry) and to which extent it is, for example… literature (seriously, how do you estimate the impact of literature?).

  147. Yes, but I think we lose historical perspective if we pretend Northerners were compromising in that way. It was specifically Southern leaders who developed a version of liberty that assumed slavery. There was never a consensus in American elite opinion that slavery was an accepted part of American democracy. It was always seen as a flaw by many Northerners, arguably most, since local abolition passed everywhere. They ordered their own little republics along the lines of their own culture’s vision of liberty, which had no room for it. Significant parts of the Northern elite were mobilizing against slavery at the federal level throughout the early decades of the Republic. Adams is I believe the only President ever to go back to the legislature, keeping slavery as one of his primary issues.

    The difference about Lincoln’s generation is not that it became an issue. Read the Republican platform of 1860 — slavery was really the only issue. There’s a preface of Union, that in context clearly means “don’t even think of leaving if we take power committed to restraining slavery”, then the meat of the document — “bloody, bloody, bloody, bloody Kansas” — and finally a boilerplate plank or two added in at the end to carry along the wavering.

  148. Sigh. I knew Blankenships growing up not so far from Hannibal. A gay teacher who we didn’t treat well, to my shame.

    Would Twain have meant Oklahoma, Indian Territory, by “the Territory,” whether at publication in 1884, or mise en scene in 1844? I’ve never interpreted it that way. You may be right, but is that a considered idea or an offhand one?

    Even in 1884, the only “inland Western states” were Colorado, Utah and Nevada, all of them actually on the transcon. Close to a quarter of the country in acreage was still territory. I always assumed lighting off for the territory was a general manner of speaking, more “I’m ‘on to the suburbs” than “I’m ‘on to Fairfax County.”

  149. >*Modern Europe appears more humane, and I do not know to which extent it is technology (no one is hungry) and to which extent it is, for example… literature (seriously, how do you estimate the impact of literature?)

    A significant question, of course, is the degree to which it’s because they are wealthy (bc colonialism) and unitary (bc ethnic cleansing and a rate of immigration massively lower than in the US, for all that Euro elites paint us as xenophobic.)

    Is democracy a cause or a symptom?

    I tend to think it’s more complicated, that democracy is self-replicating and is in fact a technology, perhaps the technology that created European-style broad prosperity. But my faith is routinely challenged.

  150. J.W. Brewer says:

    Ryan: you are perhaps slighting the importance of the “we are firmly committed to the construction of a trans-continental railroad” plank in the 1860 GOP platform. Admittedly, they played down that year the anti-polygamy theme that had featured in the 1856 platform.

    In 1844 there were plenty of slaves in the Indian Territory, because slaveowning was in those days one of the indicia of “civilization” that made the Five Civilized Tribes civilized. Just last week there were news stories about the latest development in the ongoing saga of the long-contested status of black slave descendants within the Cherokee Nation. https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/25/us/cherokee-nation-ruling-freedmen-citizenship-trnd/index.html

  151. Ryan, when I think about developed Europe, I think first about countries like Iceland, Ireland and Switzerland. They did not colonize anyone: Iceland was a remarkable shithole 100 year ago, and Ireland was a colony herself.

    Actually, we create modern problems ourselves: when Congo or Yemen have a famine, it is because Congo and Yemen have wars. It is not because we can not feed everyone.

    Some of European prosperity is due to the fact that they stopped hurting themselves and each other. Considering the whole previous history of Europe, this is another remarkable achievement and it may, in turn, follow from complexity of modern economy, industry, markets and supply chains. This network could have subjuaged everyone and cemented the whole thing:)
    Besides, people are not hungry, that matters too.


    this is not the same as human rights though, which I indeed prioritize.

  152. By the way, Ireland now is the richiest country in the world:) I mean, GDP per person.

    She remained poor until 90s, but now they are below some small oil countries and city states – and above some other small oil countries and city states, somewhere around #4, as I remember.

    If we decide that city states don’t count, Ireland is #1. Likely local Irishmen are aware of the stats, but I am not sure if they feel like the richiest people in the world.

  153. True that Ireland itself might not have possessed colonies in the New World. However the Irish were quite active in British colonies.

    In Australia at least, we talk of the Anglo-Irish. Irish names were notable in their role in the so-called frontier wars and massacres of natives in Australia.

  154. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    @Ryan:

    A significant question, of course, is the degree to which it’s because they are wealthy (bc colonialism) and unitary (bc ethnic cleansing and a rate of immigration massively lower than in the US, for all that Euro elites paint us as xenophobic.)

    Whether economic development, or related things like educational attainment, cause democracy, institutional quality and such nice things is a hotly contested question in both economics and political science. The minimal summary is that the conjecture they do is called the Lipset Hypothesis; researchers decide whether they believe in it on the basis of theory; then they run reasonable empirical analyses that unfailingly support their existing theoretical beliefs. The pro-Lipset evidence seems a little stronger to me because the anti-Lipset crowd routinely conflates absence of evidence with evidence of absence. But I’m very biased by my theoretical belief in the Lipset Hypothesis — which got me my most cited publication, so I’m not complaining.

    Instead, I have neither written on nor taught the separate debate on whether colonialism made colonizers wealthy, so my understanding can be rather off. With this caveat, I suspect the evidence runs mostly the other way: the Industrial Revolution made countries wealthy, and their elite spent some of that wealth on conquering an empire for private fun and profit. The colonies were plundered, of course, but the plundering itself was costly enough it’s doubtful it was a net gain for the colonizing countries as a whole, beyond their rapacious elite.

    There’s good theory and reasonable evidence supporting the claim that ethnic homogeneity causes a larger welfare state, and goes a long way towards explaining differences between the US and EU in that respect. On the other hand, democracy and social-democracy aren’t the same thing. By a standard scholarly measure such as the Polity score, the US has been a democracy for much longer than almost all European countries. Specifically since 1809, whereas, e.g., Sweden only became a democracy during or after World War I.

    I now realize that these completely standard claims about American democracy are controversial in a community so radically left-wing as this one. And yet, for all the obvious, slowly decreasing but enduring shortcomings of American democracy (and Swiss democracy, and Costa Rican democracy, and the more recent Swedish democracy), I’d still insist against the radicals that denying it’s a democracy is wrong and harmful. It’s a denial with a sad history of leading to Democratic People’s Republics, and it reminds me of a famous speech:

    We are taking a stance against the plutocratic and reactionary “democracies” of the West, which, at all times, have hindered the progress and often imperiled the very livelihood of the people.

    Having brought up Swiss democracy, I also cannot resist the temptation of mentioning that 30% of Swiss residents are foreign born, which is over twice the rate in the US. Admittedly a majority of those foreign-born (and mostly foreign) residents come from Germany, Italy and Portugal. But opinions on how close to the Swiss those neighbors are can vary, as one can verify graphically by Googling “balairatt.”

  155. David Marjanović says:

    Euro elites paint us as xenophobic

    Not before painting large parts of their own societies as xenophobic, and not after noticing that most of Trumpism in particular is an import that began not with Trump or Bannon, but with Jörg Haider.

  156. I’d still insist against the radicals that denying it’s a democracy is wrong and harmful.

    I entirely agree.

  157. J.W. Brewer says:

    Quoth the internet, suggesting one reason the Irish may not feel as well-off as GDP-per-capita figures might suggest: ‘Note that many of leading GDP-per-capita (nominal) jurisdictions, such as Ireland, are tax havens. Their GDP data are subject to material distortion by the tax planning activities of foreign multinationals. To address this, in 2017 the Central Bank of Ireland created “modified GNI” (or GNI*) as a more appropriate statistic, and the OECD and IMF have adopted it for Ireland.’ Ireland is still a prosperous country that was a quite poor country within the living memory of many of its residents, which is perhaps more important than whether they are currently ahead of or behind the Swiss or Norwegians (or even Americans) on a given metric of wealth.

  158. nemanja says:

    Sorry , quick question: what percentage of the US population had the right to vote in 1809? Related question, how do you square the claim that the US was a democracy in 1809 with the fact it was a slaveholding society, and that slaves comprised nearly 1/5 of the total population?

  159. David Marjanović says:

    Ancient Athens, where the term was invented, was a slaveholding society…

    and not after noticing

    Uh, not before.

  160. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Athenian democracy also arose in a slave-owing society, with the suffrage confined to a minority of the the free population. Declining to call it a “democracy” on such grounds essentially makes the very word “democracy” unusable.

    Democracies can be bitterly unjust societies. “Just society” is not a synonym for “democracy”; and the existence of widespread systematic injustice is not sufficient to demonstrate that it is stupid to describe a society as “democratic.”

    [Edit: DM got there before me.]

  161. J.W. Brewer says:

    1809 seems an odd year for the line from non-democracy to democracy to have been crossed, unless it’s commemorating the end of the Presidency of the notorious Tyrant Jefferson? Presumably it’s an artifact of the specific methodology used plus the inherent arbitrariness of any bright line. If it’s been decided that you need a score of 50 or higher on the Democracymeter (which generates output of a single numerical score via arbitrary weighting of a whole bunch of different numerical inputs that have been quantified with varying degrees of arbitrariness based on underlying data of varying quality), maybe the U.S. was at 49.9 in 1808 but 50.1 the following year, or something like that so subtle that you wouldn’t have noticed if you’d lived through it. Maybe Giacomo P. can provide more details.

    The more dramatic transformation of U.S. electoral participation to the point where the vast majority of free white male adult citizens could and did vote (i.e. minimum property-ownership qualifications becoming the exception rather than the rule) is generally said to have occurred over the course of the 1820’s and 1830’s. Expansions beyond that get back to the question raised above (as relevant to 19th-century America as to ancient Athens) of which residents are and aren’t considered part of the relevant δῆμος.

  162. J.W. Brewer says:

    But David E. is reiterating a point I tried to make above. Once “democracy” stops being a primarily descriptive word and becomes an emotive word intended to evoke positive feelings, the idea that a “democracy” can be bitterly unjust seems a contradiction in terms and various handwaving No-True-Scotsman techniques will predictably be employed to say that the disheartening example to hand isn’t really a real democracy if viewed from just the right angle in just the right light.

  163. John Emerson says:

    Everything is relative, I’ve been told. In Athens about 1/6 of the adult population had political rights (free adult male citizens). In Persia, the main comparison, one person had political rights and everyone else was his slave.

    Was there any nation more democratic than the US in 1800? I may be wrong, but I doubt that there was.

    Trivia: for the Athenians, the highly civilized and urbanized Persians were the barbarians, because they were servile.

  164. I now realize that these completely standard claims about American democracy are controversial in a community so radically left-wing as this one.

    It is a problem of definition. People (just people) keep using this word. It is natural to want to fugure out what people mean.

    The most important question is whether we (people) want it or not. We need language suitable for expressing our desires. We, accordingly, are at right to decide that we do not even need terms like “democracy” for this and need panem and circenses instead, then democracy becomes a technical term.

  165. John Emerson says:

    But to the Athenian democrat s (not to, e.g., Plato) democracy was and had to be an emotive word, because if it had not been, there would have been no Athenian democracy. And the uncertain definition of the term was a result of its being aspirational toward an unattained and poorly defined ideal. Free Athenians, like Confederates, compared themselves to societies in which they themselves would not have political rights, not with societies in which everyone had political rights.

  166. J.W. Brewer says:

    I will say that the period 1800 through 1809 gives the U.S. a bit of an unfair advantage, since the non-British European role models the U.S. founding fathers had occasionally pointed to as worthy of emulation (viz. the Netherlands and Switzerland) had had their previous political institutions interrupted and displaced by Napoleonic invasion. (How restricted the Swiss franchise was in the pre-Napoleonic days I think varied by canton and there was presumably similar variation among the Dutch.)

  167. Ireland is still a prosperous country that was a quite poor country within the living memory of many of its residents, which is perhaps more important than whether they are currently ahead of or behind the …

    Yes, of course. And yes, they are a tax haven (has to do with their prosperity too). Still the fact is funny.

    I now realize that these completely standard claims about American democracy are controversial in a community so radically left-wing as this one.

    It is a problem of definition. People keep using this term, it is natural to want to know what people mean (if anything). What is improtant in political discussion is whether we want this thing or not. We need language suitable for expressing our political desires.

  168. nemanja says:

    Democracy IS a primarily descriptive term, you guys are torturing the definition because it causes you cognitive discomfort to acknowledge that classical Athens was not a democracy (oligarchy would be a more appropriate descriptor). “Athens was a democracy, why they were the ones who came up with the word” is kind of like insisting that Greenland must a lush verdant place despite all the obvious evidence to the contrary, because the “green” is right there in the name

  169. John Emerson says:

    If you think clearly enough about it, you will realize that there never has been a democracy and never will be. That’s why I oppose clarity of thought (of which I am all too capable).

  170. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    @J.W. Brewer, of course the Polity Score has a somewhat artificial methodology. That’s inevitable if you want to quantify things like institutional quality — a practice that has obvious downsides, but I’d argue greater merits overall, like American democracy itself.

    In particular, it turns out they have revised their own score and now (in Polity V, as opposed to the Polity IV version I had handy) they make the US a (partial) democracy since 1801 when it first scores 6. That’s because it had something approaching competitive election of the chief executive (+1), with no hereditary succession (+1), and also achieved full executive parity or subordination to accountability groups such as the legislature (+4). The latest call is apparently that Jefferson was the first US President in this position.

    Our radicals will no doubt be disappointed to learn that the US gets a perfect Polity score of 10 in 1829-49. That’s because the election of the President is scored as fully competitive since 1825 (which turns the +1 into +2) and in addition a competitive party system emerges (+3).

    In partial compensation, Polity doesn’t score the US as democratic anymore in 2020, because they have a very negative view of Trumpism. Since 2016, they score the American party system as having degenerated from competitive to factional (“Polities with parochial or ethnic-based political factions that regularly compete for political influence in order to promote particularist agendas and favor group members to the detriment of common, secular, or cross-cutting agendas”). That’s already – 2. Then in 2020 they score President Trump as having faced dangerously limited constraints from Congress (- 3), which tips the score into less then democratic territory.

    @John Emerson: The first non-US countries that Polity scores as democracies are France (6) and Switzerland (10) in 1848. Perhaps some individual Swiss Canton might have had a democratic score somewhat earlier, but they don’t get scored.

  171. J.W. Brewer says:

    @Giacamo P.: I take it Switzerland’s post-1848 status has been rather more consistent than that of France? If hereditary succession is a negative, maybe the US gets a boost in 2021 because we finally have a Congress free of any members of the Kennedy dynasty? (There was a brief two-year Kennedyless interlude a decade ago before the dynasty returned, but before that it had been continuous Kennedys since early 1947.)

    And what downgrades the U.S. after 1849? I guess a more “factional” party system fits the timeline well, but there would be a lot of highly questionable normative premises slipped in there, such as that it was better to have both major parties hopelessly internally divided over slavery (waffling on slavery would presumably be a “common, secular, or cross-cutting agenda”) than have a more pro-slavery party competing for votes against a more anti-slavery party, since being either for or against would be “particularist.”

  172. John Emerson says:

    Compare “democratic” to “federal”. No real problem with “federal” as purely descriptive, because federation is not something that evokes intense emotion. However, for that very reason the question of federal/not federal is not a very weighty one and can be treated in a detached way

    But because of its emotiive / normative weight is the reason why the question is important, the democratic / undemocratic question cannot be reduced to a neutral descriptive question in hopes of settling the political dispute, since the most important uses of the term are normative / emotive / aspirational.

  173. SFReader says:

    Why should a mere civil war downgrade perfect democratic rating?

  174. If you think clearly enough about it, you will realize that there never has been a democracy and never will be.
    I assume that statement is based on some definition of democracy in line with its etymology as “rule of the people” and then some ideals about what that does and doesn’t entail? (Perhaps only direct democracy counts, or limiting the franchise to adults is wrong, or money influence and lobbying or low turnout or professional politicians are contrary to that ideal?)
    Athenian democracy: that, of course, meant “rule of the demos”, and the demos didn’t include slaves or immigrants etc etc. So no contradiction here 🙂
    But even if we translate the word into our modern times as “people”, we have similar discussions on who belongs to the people – nowadays, that mostly centers on what do immigrants need to do and how long do they have to be here to belong to the people, can people lose the right to belong / to vote due to their behavior (banishment and debt slavery then, treatment of convicted felons now.) Yes, today’s “people” comprises a much larger part of the population than the Athenian “demos”, but it’s still not 100%, and there are partially similar reasons for exclusion.

  175. Rodger C says:

    Would Twain have meant Oklahoma, Indian Territory, by “the Territory,” whether at publication in 1884, or mise en scene in 1844? I’ve never interpreted it that way. You may be right, but is that a considered idea or an offhand one?

    The Blankenship in question ended up in Montana, I’ve read.

    Blankenship (= Irish Blenkinsop) is a common surname all across the Upper South. Since we’re counting iconic Blankenships, let’s not forget Harold B, of Medium Cool:

    https://vimeo.com/20546520

  176. Perfect democracy, like perfect virtue, is an ideal, not a fact.

  177. Blankenship (= Irish Blenkinsop)

    And Blenkinsop(p) “seems to originate in the early medieval Cumbric language, probably as blaen ‘top’ + kein ‘back, ridge’ (thus ‘top of the ridge’). To this was later added the Old English element hōp ‘valley’.”

  178. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    @J.W. Brewer: Indeed, Polity is inevitably a bit arbitrary at the margin, but the big trends they easily get right.

    Switzerland is the only country in the dataset that never dips below a perfect 10, from its beginning as a a federal state in 1848 to the latest year it’s been scored for (2018).

    Instead France goes back to autocracy 1852-68. It is democratic again 1877-1957 (not counting Nazi occupation), but not 1958-64 because the scorers are even more skeptical of Gaullism than of Trumpism: de Gaulle even gets a positive autocracy score, something Trump has not yet achieved. France has then scored consistently as a democracy since 1965, with a perfect 10 since 1986.

    For the US, your diagnosis is correct too. It’s all about partisan factionalism until Trump’s impeachments. The Compromise of 1850 costs them 1 point by dragging the competitiveness of participation towards factionalism. The Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854 continues this degeneration, losing another point. After the war, the regulation of participation becomes sectarian (1 autocracy point). This is, however, compensated by a decline in factionalism in 1872 — probably because the Democrats endorsed the Liberal Republican ticket and platform. Hayes’s election in 1877 marks the end of sectarianism. The score is then stuck at 9 until 1966, because the competitiveness of participation remains a bit more factional than the scorers would like. Anti-war protests in 1967 dial up the factionalism again (-1). But then the resignation of Nixon in 1974 brings back a perfect 10 at long last.

    As I already mentioned, Polity also provisionally scores Trump’s election in 2016 as the return of factionalism (-2), and then recent events from his first to his second impeachment trial as a precipitous decline in executive constraints, leading to a non-democratic score of 5. But it remains to be seen whether they’ll eventually stick to the latter assessment.

    At the risk of giving an uncool answer to an ironic question, political dynasties like the Bushes don’t count as hereditary succession, since they don’t inherit an office but merely connections within the party and name recognition among its voters. Moreover, the Kennedys have yet to produce a second President, so they wouldn’t count even if they inherited Senate seats. Polity takes a critical view of Queen Victoria’s still active role in selecting her prime ministers, but doesn’t seem to mind hereditary peers sitting in the House of Lords when it likewise mattered.

  179. David Eddyshaw says:

    Switzerland is the only country in the dataset that never dips below a perfect 10

    In Ghana, I knew a Swiss aid worker (for the Red Cross, appropriately enough) who came from Appenzell Innerrhoden, where women got the vote in 1991. (This embarrassed him: he was in the habit of issuing preemptive apologies whenever he was asked where he came from.)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appenzell_Innerrhoden#Women's_right_to_vote,_1991

  180. About the Score.
    Among many variables you choose several to base your score on. If a country optimizes variable A at the expence of B in its political system (because they sincerely believe that A defines true democracy), chances are, a sceintist from this country will also include A, but not B in his score.

    And then you say “A!”, and I say “but B!”, and you say “it is the most democratic democracy (based on the score), not a good democracy (based on your liking)”

    —-
    Putin, maximized loyality and control. But this has consequences, and some of them are likely unpleasant for a patriotic (he is) authoritarian leader.

  181. Appenzell Innerrhoden
    A!!! This one is my favorite example!! Especially:
    The voters of the canton had stood against women’s suffrage in 1959 by 2050 votes to 105.

    (I still wonder what were women’s opinions in 1959… I would expect them also to be mostly against, because 2050 -105 is a lot)

  182. John Emerson says:

    A formula which puts the Hayes election, a back room deal, in the “increased democracy” column strikes me as very problematic.

  183. David Marjanović says:

    Appenzell has a reputation for being extremely conservative, and Innerrhoden even more so than Ausserrhoden. (…which I almost spelled with ß, hah.)

    Perhaps only direct democracy counts

    As it happens, that’s behind the claim that the US is “a republic, not a democracy”, which is popular mostly among Republican voters.

    or limiting the franchise to adults is wrong

    Austria has lowered the voting age to 16; Austria’s politics have not deteriorated further as a result.

  184. Ironically, 1886–1877 was probably the last time, prior to this January, that there was not really a peaceful transfer of power in this country. By nineteenth-century political violence standards, it wasn’t that bad, but there were still more deaths than there were surrounding the 2000–2001 election and transition.

  185. Austria’s politics have not deteriorated further as a result.
    I see what you did there 🙂
    In any case, I have no strong positions on the cut-off age for voting. But cutting the age off at any point could always be called limiting the franchise and taken as proof that a country doesn’t have a real democracy.

  186. J.W. Brewer says:

    This excerpt from a recent interview with the retired British judge Lord Sumption (with whom I am not particularly otherwise familiar) seemed relevant to this thread:

    “Democracy is inherently fragile. We have an idea that it’s a very robust system. But democracies have existed for about 150 years. In this country [meaning the UK], I think you could say that they existed from the second half of the of the 19th century — they are not the norm. Democracies were regarded in ancient times as inherently self-destructive ways of government. Because, said Aristotle, democracies naturally turn themselves into tyranny. Because the populace will always be a sucker for a demagogue who will turn himself into an absolute ruler…

    “Now, it is quite remarkable that Aristotle’s gloomy predictions about the fate of democracies have been falsified by the experience of the West [NB, this claim requires a dubiously narrow definition of “West” to actually be true] ever since the beginning of democracy. And I think one needs to ask why that is. In my view, the reason is this: Aristotle was basically right about the tendencies, but we have managed to avoid it by a shared political culture of restraint. And this culture of restraint, which because it depends on the collective mentality of our societies, is extremely fragile, quite easy to destroy and extremely difficult to recreate.”

  187. But why we need a defintiion? I can absolutely do without it, I just rarely use the word.

    – If it is purely technical question, let us take any random but clear technical definition, agree that no country is democratic and forget it (as it is purely technical question, I see no reason why anyone could be disappointed with this finding).

    – if it is matter of typology of modern regimes, why not, but this must be made clear from the start: we are merely trying to capture similarities between political systems found in 20th century in developed countries. And it is better to use a different word.

    – if it is matter of analyzis, we do not need this word. We need words like those used by Hans (“limiting the franchise”, “business”, etc.)

    – but if none of the above works, because actually we are trying to capture what some people want, then start with this. Why make it look like as if we are discussing something purely technical, when it is not?

  188. I know what I did not like about USSR. It is all about oppression.

    It is not about my influence on economical decisions. Then there is a nice fact that the West is mostly less annoying in this respect (it is annoying in some ways).

    Now, some people think that in “democracies” personal freedom is respected more. If so, this must be studied and, I think it must affect our definition. It also solves the problem with including slaves, children and women.

    __
    P.S. I at least suspect, if we find strong positive correlation between “democracy” and tendency of society to oppress its members, some people here will become strongly anti-democratic. Thus far it seems the correlation is negative, but then I suspect it is one of those things we want from a democracy.

  189. Trond Engen says:

    I think one lesson is that you can’t treat the legitimacy of a system as separated from the results of it. Democracy loses legitimacy with its constituents if and when they perceive that the system fails in producing a society where they can satisfy their legitimate needs — food and safety, but also hope, freedom and love. The “remarkable self-restraint”, then, is the degree to which modern Western politicians have chosen to deliver on their promises and strive to produce a good society rather than (or in sufficient addition to) filling their own pockets. The democracies that are worst at this are also the ones where democracy is most threatened. I don’t think we really understand why some democracies perform better than others.

  190. Austria’s politics have not deteriorated further as a result.

    Are you sure about that? We now have perhaps the most hapless and corrupt government in Western Europe, led by a vapid young man who seems convinced he’s an infallible genius, in coalition with a Green Party that seems to have abandoned its principles.

    I guess things might be even worse if 16 year olds couldn’t vote?

  191. >For the US, your diagnosis is correct too. It’s all about partisan factionalism until Trump’s impeachments. The Hayes’s election in 1877 marks the end of sectarianism. The score is then stuck at 9 until 1966, because the competitiveness of participation remains a bit more factional than the scorers would like. Anti-war protests in 1967 dial up the factionalism again (-1).

    So our democracy rating went up when southern blacks were disenfranchised, and went back down when they were finally allowed to vote again. That’s a very weird scoring system.

  192. I agree.

  193. David Marjanović says:

    I see what you did there 🙂

    The deterioration has kept going steadily, taking no notice of this event. 🙂

    “Now, it is quite remarkable that Aristotle’s gloomy predictions about the fate of democracies have been falsified by the experience of the West [NB, this claim requires a dubiously narrow definition of “West” to actually be true] ever since the beginning of democracy.

    France’s first republic? Turned into tyranny exactly as predicted. France’s second republic? Turned into tyranny pretty much as predicted. Germany’s first republic? Turned into tyranny because there weren’t enough democrats. Austria’s first republic? Turned into tyranny in a weird unique way. Central Africa’s first republic? Turned into tyranny.

    It took quite a while for democracy to become popular. And even longer for democratic countries to put protections for democracy into their constitutions or anything like that (Germany did it in 1949, the US still hasn’t…).

    And in the US, one of the two biggest parties still doesn’t think voter suppression is a horrifying scandal. Indeed, this tweet is still up, and its author is still a senator.

    a vapid young man who seems convinced he’s an infallible genius

    All his biggest fans seem to be women aged 3 × 16 or older. 🙂 It was originally feared that the 16- and 17-year-olds were all going to vote for the xenophobic populists, but that hasn’t materialized.

  194. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, David, that just goes to show that France and Germany and Austria aren’t really part of the West, strictly speaking. The Exotic Orient, with its unfortunate traditions of despotic rule, begins at Calais.

  195. David Eddyshaw says:

    At Offa’s Dyke, rather … (possibly even at Bridgend. I’ve never really trusted those Cardiff people, with their ill-hidden agenda to gather all power in Wales into their own hands. Abertawe am byth!)

  196. I tend to give very little credence to those kinds of scoring systems. They tend to prioritize a relatively small number of features in what are necessarily very complicated political systems, while leaving out others that may be equally important. Avoiding an uncompetitive one-party system is important, but I think it is less important than citizens having widespread and uninhibited access to the franchise. Having liberal policies on citizenship are also important; Switzerland, for example, has no jus soli birthright citizenship—which means someone may live their entire life in a canton and never enjoy the right to vote.

    A similar example to the Polity score is how the group Freedom House produces regular ratings of how “free” the various countries of the world are. In fact, their ratings are based almost entirely on electoral freedom, with little attention payed to civil liberties (except insofar as they affect electioneering) and none to economic freedom. The ratings are also based on a very particular idea of what constitutes “fair” elections, generally favoring systems that do not require parties and candidates to engage in large-scale fundraising in order to buy full access to the media. While I may personally believe that reducing the influence of money in politics makes elections more “fair,” that is by no means an uncontested idea.

  197. John Emerson says:

    I don’t think of the French Second Republic as a tyranny, but as a weak state helpless before the farcical Second Emperor.

  198. John Emerson says:

    Democracy is a legal form and functions in the contexts of the political inputs of all kinds. “A Republic, if you can keep it” (not exact quote). In other words, democracy isn’t completely robust.

    Neoliberals are the heirs of the FDR haters, et al, people who never believed in democracy or equality or the welfare state and had to lie low 1932–1980. They’re back with a vengeance, pouring enormous amounts of cash into various attempts to transform the US in their preferred direction.

    I recommend Slobodian, “The Globalists” and various things by Mirowski. Both conclude that the neoliberals have given up on popular government entirely and, contra Marx, do not disdain to conceal their aims.

  199. Is there a term for a system intermediate between full democracy and oligarchy? That is, having the usual apparatus of participatory democracy, but with voting restricted to a significant part but not all of the population. I am thinking, as examples, of the pre-emancipation US, apartheid South Africa, or post-1967 Israel.

  200. J.W. Brewer says:

    On the original issue of what to call the Late Unpleasantness of 1861-65, it’s worth noting that lower-cased “civil war” as a generic category was part of the discourse from the very beginning. So, e.g., from a March 15, 1861 letter to the newly-inaugurated Pres. Lincoln from his brand-new Secretary of State (Seward) on the vexed question of what to do about the Fort Sumter situation: “Next to disunion itself, I regard civil war as the most disastrous and deplorable of national calamities, and as the most uncertain and fearful of all remedies for political disorders. I have, therefore, made it the study and labor of the hour, how to save the Union from dismemberment by peaceful policy and without civil war.” The gunfire commenced four weeks later.

  201. Polity is (accidentally?) correct that American democracy took a hit in the 1964-72 period, and Brett is wrong that violence didn’t decide the American Presidency after 1876. The Democratic Party nominee for President was determined by assassination of the leading contender, rather than a democratic process, in three consecutive elections: John F Kennedy in 1964, Robert Kennedy in 1968, and George Wallace in 1972.* Not very

    *Asterisk because Wallace wasn’t killed by the assassin, but he was very seriously wounded and had to withdraw his candidacy. He was confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life.

    He was also a racist and leader of a faction that would leave the Democratic Party shortly afterwards, but that’s not why he lost the nomination.

  202. @Y: When electoral participation is limited to a single ethnicity (a group of related ethnicities), it’s called “herrenvolk democracy.”

  203. Brett, thanks; now I think I want a more general term, which would encompass also gender-limited democracies, e.g. the pre-1920 U.S.

  204. SFReader says:

    I once invented alternative democracy which is much cheaper and simpler than what we have now.

    It’s a democracy in a sense that the power ultimately belongs to the people, but it’s different in the way people exercise this power.

    Basically a jury duty system – ordinary people get randomly selected to serve as a senator, governor, mayor, sheriff or president for a short term. Make decisions using their common sense (but they can listen to expert advice, of course).

    No elections. And the bastards in power get removed automatically after their term expires.

  205. Menfolk democracy?

  206. Some 15 years ago Kremlin ideologists came up with a term “sovereign democracy” to describe the desired regime

    Which, of course, made some people giggle at qualified democracies (that is, the idea that you can call any regime X-ish democracy, where X describes which way its democraticity is restricted).

  207. Trong Engen, individual rights are often threatened by societies, not just states, regimes and ideologies. It maybe has to do with the legitimacy of a regime*, but it is not always perceived as “legitimacy” issue. Especially when the group whose rights are threatened is like “gays” rather than “women” or “slaves” – but not necessarily.

    The hypothesis is, then, that:
    1. some political systems tend to devolve into oppressive regimes that restrict rights of citizens.
    2. some political systems tend to make the society more (or less) tolerant as a whole.

    I think (1) is indeed why ‘democracy’ is seen as a good thing by many.

    As for (2) there is a stereotype, that in some Western countries “common people” are more conservative than the “establishment” (where “conservative” is understood as “discourage deviations from cultural norm”).


    * according to your definition: “producing a society where they can satisfy their legitimate needs” and assuming it is you, or that minority group, who defines what is “legitimate [needs]”.

  208. Developed countries have very complex economies, by the way. Maybe it affects regimes positively (or negatively, depending on the point of view), turning politicians into mediators between the people and business. Then maybe it is gays, Jews and corporations that produce the so called democracies:)

  209. SFReader, you’re basically describing Athenian democracy.

  210. Avoiding an uncompetitive one-party system is important, but I think it is less important than citizens having widespread and uninhibited access to the franchise.

    Two-party system is a strange arrangement. More competetive than one-party system. Maybe, less competetive than other systems. And when there is a disagreement within the political class, there is also a public discussion.
    But why people who support gun ownership should be more likely to deny climate change? Why deny climate change at all?

  211. But why people who support gun ownership should be more likely to deny climate change? Why deny climate change at all?

    When people deny facts (be it climate change, COVID pandemic, the Holocaust), it is often because they don’t like the implications, and/or they don’t like the people drawing these implications. If the belief in climate change becomes universally accepted, then those pesky Marxists will come and confiscate my SUV, which is in all important respects equivalent to installation of a communist dictatorship. Therefore climate change cannot be real.

    So if I don’t like the idea of my SUV being confiscated, then I have to side with the Right, who somehow accidentally also supports gun ownership. And if I don’t want to feel like an outsider between my copartisans, I may support it as well, because why not. And if I do, I should better invent a just-so story to explain that this correlation in apparently unrelated beliefs is not just an arbitrary coincidence, but on the contrary it is indeed a very logical thing, maybe because gun ownership and SUV ownership are both expressions of ultimate Freedom that the vile Marxists want to infringe, or whatever.

    I find it a little bit disturbing that in our current globalised world the American patterns of political thought are spreading and thus the correlations in political beliefs are becoming more aligned on both shores of the Atlantic, which has the unfortunate consequence that their arbitrariness is getting more difficult to illustrate. Gun ownership was not at all a political issue around here twenty years ago. Now it is becoming one.

    Disclaimers: Of course I see that you (drasvi) know how this works and your questions were rhetorical. But still it may be useful to say it explicitly. Also by picking climate change denial as an example I don’t imply that the same logic would not apply within the opposite political camp.

  212. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think prase is spot on as indentifying political fantasy as one important common thread, along with “liberty”, construed as “why should I put myself out in any way for people I don’t care about in any case?”

    I’d only add that a further common thread is the fantasy-prone selfish voter is a useful mechanism for the extremely rich corporations selling guns and fossil fuels who support the Republican Party with money and propaganda: these apparently unconnected enthusiasms for murder and pollution are linked in that they are symptoms of the way corporations have been buying out democracy.

  213. PlasticPaddy says:

    @de
    One has to be careful about the trope “companies tell people what they want / how to think”, as one does with the trope “religion is the opiate of the people”. I would agree that both corporate and religious “salesmen” take advantage of the weak and impressionable🙂

  214. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.

    Marx’s point was not that religion told people what to think, but that it was a response to suffering, actually of some value insofar as it could alleviate some of the pain, but also tending to vitiate the very steps needed to abolish that suffering.* Given his premises, it’s quite an apt metaphor.**

    The gun and oil cartels do not serve any purpose in alleviating suffering, and they actively lobby for measures to make it objectively worse.

    *”Pie in the sky when you die.” All together now: “I dreamt I saw Joe Hill last night …”

    ** The (literally) unholy alliance of American evangelicalism with right-wing thuggery is indeed, however, a demonstration that religion can function in just the way you indicate. The oxycontin of the masses, perhaps. But that wasn’t what Marx had in mind at this point.

  215. PlasticPaddy says:

    @de
    It is an interesting question whether small doses of materialism or “prioritisation of (perceived) individual over (perceived) group needs” do or do not alleviate/prevent suffering. I suppose you would argue that small doses can lead to ever-increasing doses and to full-scale addiction😊.

  216. “Of course I see that you (drasvi) know how this works and your questions were rhetorical. ”

    prase, partly know, and partly rhetorical.

    I was thinking about two-party system and then Giacomo Ponzetto mentioned factionalism, and there is this quasi-factionalism, when unrelated opinions cluster.
    It is not even clear why [the fact of] climate change is a political question at all.

    There is something quasi- about this too: in a democratic competetive process, with the properly (by the book) balanced proper 3 powers people decide whether Earth climate is changing or not.
    Among others pressing issues.

  217. Well, another thing I do not understand is why climate change is presented as a question of “cutting emissions”.

    If IPCC (intergovernmental panel on climate change) is right*,

    1) it is time to panic (really)
    2) even if we stop burning things (wood and fossil fuel) compeletely, we won’t return to the 20th century level.**
    3) it is impossible. It is, actually, a counter-argument from those who deny climate change: “think about the third world” they say. They are right, it is impossible. If we stop burning things, many people will starve.
    But if we don’t, if we merely “reduce” emissions, the situation will keep getting worse, and fast.

    What follows is that the only way to resolve it is huge investments in technology. Technology, actually, sounds not bad. Then who will benefit from this? The developed countries, those able to develop and manufacture this new technology, I suspect. Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia etc. only lose.

    The technology in question is, obviously, alternative sources (accessible for the third world) and a technology for capturing/removal gases from the athmosphere at the rate these are emitted (sounds expensive). Obviously reducing emissions will force companies to invest in technology. How else.
    But it does not matter in which order we do that. We solve it with technology anyway.

    I do not understand both sides. The greenhouse idea has been discussed for some 60 years, there has been a consensus for some 30 years and instead of a “space race” 30 years ago we are having people discussing emissions today, or discussing who is ready to discuss them and who is not.

    “Technology” is a more attractive argument, is not it? And it is a correct argument. Why present a less attractive and misleading one instead, giving your opponents good counter-arguments? They discuss tecnology too, but why no one puts it this way: without new tech we are completely screwed?

    Again, clustering of opinions: anti-gun ownership crowd is more willing to listen to “ecological” argumentation? And why it is not the third world and not oil countries like Russia who form the opposition?

    —-
    * I do not “believe” climatologists. But if we do not have honest climatologists who could evaluate (a priori high) risk of an antropogenic catastrophe, that is a serious problem.
    **as I understand, even then warming will continue, because of other greenhouse gases.

  218. It is not even clear why [the fact of] climate change is a political question at all.

    In my experience, the climate change deniers’ line of arguments goes usually like this:
    1) Climate does not change whatsoever.
    2) Even if it does, it is a purely natural phenomenon not caused by humans.
    3) Even if it were caused by humans, its consequences will not be serious enough for us to have to do anything against it.
    4) Even if it were serious, nothing could stop it anyway, so we should better not even try.
    5) You are a Marxist!

    Whenever the same person uses different mutually incompatible arguments to support the same conclusion, I think it’s pretty sure that it’s the conclusion that matters to them, rather than the particular arguments themselves. In this case, the conclusion is that we don’t need to spend on all the costly climate change mitigation policies. And these spendings are quite obviously a political question.

    Of course, in principle one could say: “I admit that climate change is real, and caused by humans, and preventable, yet despite all that I still want to freely drive my SUV and fly to Thailand twice a year, so to hell with your policies.” But people are rarely this honest, even towards themselves, the less so openly in the public. Hence the denial.

    I would add that I don’t believe that the opposite side of this debate is free of this kind of irrationality. It is quite possible that a sizable portion of climate change believers believe it for the same sort of irrelevant reasons. “I really hate consumerism and climate change proves me right, so it must be real” seems to be a fairly common pattern of thought.

  219. As for technology investments vs. emission reduction, I think this distinction is not important from a purely individual perspective. Both mean a change, and a lot of people are naturally opposed to any change. And both need coordinated action, which means government intervention, increased taxes, bans on certain goods etc. It makes our lives less comfortable now, to avoid a catastrophe later. And some people just don’t want to sacrifice things now to achieve a long term goal.

    I am afraid that reframing the question in terms of technology investment will not change the public opinion space. The same people who are opposed to public transit promotion (because they want to have a car) are opposed to electric cars. And they will oppose any solution as long as you want them to pay for it.

    I think we can see exactly the same thing during the current pandemic. The most vocal protesters tend to oppose any solution: They oppose face masks, they protest against lockdowns, they object to school closures and they often even reject vaccinations. The only solution acceptable for them is no solution, or at the best a solution that is free of any costs for them.

  220. David Marjanović says:

    I would add that I don’t believe that the opposite side of this debate is free of this kind of irrationality.

    As there are people who believe AIDS is God’s punishment for teh ghey, so there are people who believe global warming is Gaia’s punishment for all this disrespectful pollution.

    They don’t seem to be numerous, though.

  221. there are people who believe global warming is Gaia’s punishment for all this disrespectful pollution.

    As long as models are isomorphic, I do not care about terminology:) But in this case there is not an isomorphism: I am no sure, what Gaia thinks about nuclear power plants and what next:( Maybe they are even right.
    “there will come soft rains”

    As for AIDS, I remember some former South African health minister said it is vitamine deficiency….

  222. Many Russians find the idea dubious because humans are insignificant and the Earth is big. “It is arrogant”, they say, “to think, that we can affect climate”. Then there is general mistrust to scientific fashions: unfounded scientific myths are not unprecedented. “Yesterday scientists were against masturbation, now it is this”.
    It is not physics, climate science.

    It is an intuitive argument. Some intuitive objections:

    – is Earth’s biosphere also insignificant, compared to the athmosphere? Humans altered the biosphere with stone age technology.
    – then there were eruptions like Krakatoa’s that are known to have altered climate for a few years. Wikipedia gives humanity’s annual energy consumption 0.5 zettajoule (500000 petajoule) and Krakatoa eruption 840 petajoule (I understand though, that Krakatoa was very intently throwing shit into the athmosphere:)) .

    – as for climatologists, given the above, a priori the risk is high and someone must study this, just in case.
    I need maybe weeks to understand a course in quantum mechanics, but years to evaluate the quality of climate models and measurements on my own. I can not check their calculations and if these are not trustworthy we need trustworthy ones.

  223. I am afraid that reframing the question in terms of technology investment will not change the public opinion space.

    When my opponent says somethign not entirely idiotic, I assume he is not necessarily an idiot:) I heard: “but what about the third world” and “you are calling us back into the stone age!”. Some of this does make sense: we will starve if we do not consume energy. Maybe they are sincere.

    Restricting your individual freedom (banning your SUV) with a substitute only possible in future is not the same as making this substitute today. For those concerned with their freedom it is black and white.

    Then “to boldly go where no man has gone before”, “humanity facing a challenge”, “new horizons” – such ideas resonate well with many. But, importantly:

    It is what our situation is. If we limit emissions, market will make development of alternative energy sources more attractive for sure.

    But-1: timing. Decades to limit and to then develop a substitute. Goverments are bad at learning what people may need and what can make us progress, but governments are not very bad at focused research efforts (space and military) and such efforts often have nice effects (satellites, the Internet) that we could not predict.

    But-2: only governments can fund removal of [carbon dioxide or what else] from the athmosphere. And it is going to be expensive.

  224. It is also somethign some (or all?) “believers” do not get. Many think that we “need to be responsible”.
    No.

    Abandon your SUVs (and all means of private transportation), then our climate will keep changing at 80% of former speed maybe. I live in Moscow, it is winter, most of the energy I cosume is heating. I can’t do without heating. Then when you insulate houses etc. you, with heroic efforts, reduce consumption to 50%.

    But then it turns out that a climate change believer also thinks that stopping emissions completely is impossible and won’t ever accept, say, nuclear power. They are right, of course, in their care about the environment. But they do not understand the situation.

    We either stop emissions completely (without an alternative?) or we learn to remove gases from the athmosphere (how?) or we are screwed. Then it is quite the time to panic and working on something new is exactly the constructive way to panic.

  225. SFReader says:

    Russian climate change believer first has to accept that warmer winters are somehow a bad thing…

  226. SFReader, in the year 2009 my 130 kilogram-heavy freind offered me to go skiing every day, in hope it will help him. And so we did: I spent some 2-4 hours skiing with him, every day. But since 2011 most winters we do not have snow.
    It rains in winters. And skiing apart it is ugly. Snow looks really good.
    Then it is not warmer. When it is -4 and the air is dry it, subjectively, far less cold than when it is +2 and raining.

  227. But the argument is valid. We are screwed if we do not accept the result (rapidly changing local climate).
    If we are ready to adapt, no problem, of course:)

  228. Etienne says:

    Prase (Your comment at 11:11 AM): The climate change deniers you are in contact with seem to be close to government circles, since their argumentation style has been rather well described here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNjFIwRYEIo

    Yes, I am a big “Yes (Prime) Minister” fan, not least because it exemplifies beautifully the proverb that “Many a true word is spoken in jest”. Or, as a retired Australian civil servant told me, the show is a documentary masquerading as a comedy (which is why, apparently, civil servants are the only group of fans who typically do not laugh when watching it).

  229. David Marjanović says:

    a documentary masquerading as a comedy

    See also: A Late Show, The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight… and I shamefully forgot what Samantha Bee’s show is called. America’s Finest News Sources.

  230. In Pre-putin times all our parliament sessions were broadcasted in real-time. They were popular.

  231. January First-of-May says:

    But since 2011 most winters we do not have snow.

    …though we had a lot of snow in February 2021 (roughly in parallel with the Texas blizzards, as it happens) and my mom said that she doesn’t remember ever seeing that much snow on the streets at once. It’s mostly melted down again, though.

    (A cashier at a store near my home tried to tell us, in some detail that I sadly do not now recall, that the snowfall was sent by God to clean up the city. I have to admit that the sheer amount of snow did make the streets look nicely white for a while.)

  232. there is this oft quoted verse by Brodsky: Я не то что схожу с ума, но устал за лето. / За рубашкой в комод полезешь, и день потерян. / Поскорей бы, что ли, пришла зима и занесла все это / города, человеков, но для начала – зелень.

  233. The climate change deniers you are in contact with seem to be close to government circles

    The denier most prominent in my mind (no personal contact though, fortunately) is actually a former prime minister and president Václav Klaus. Incidentally also a pandemic denier, presently COVID positive.

    When my opponent says somethign not entirely idiotic, I assume he is not necessarily an idiot:) I heard: “but what about the third world” and “you are calling us back into the stone age!”. Some of this does make sense: we will starve if we do not consume energy. Maybe they are sincere.

    Perhaps I spend too much time reading comments on the internet. Too often, they are entirely idiotic. I do not engage in these discussions though, so I would not call them opponents. Just idiots.

    The people I have in mind don’t care about third world countries. Instead they say: “Why should we protect the nature when the savages in Africa don’t care at all.” They often think that most greenhouse gas emissions come from the third world, despite the contrary is true and easy to look up. And the climate change denier group has a significant overlap with people who think that famines in the third world would actually be a good thing. Because if they are dead, they will not migrate to Europe. (How openly this sentiment is expressed varies, of course.)

    The argument about impossibility of going back to the stone age (which I find fully reasonable) is heard sometimes, but not that often. I see it is less frequently than arguments explicitly denying the possibility of technological progress, such as:
    – Electric cars will always be expensive and have limited range, since there is no possibility of further improvement in batteries.
    – It is impossible to produce enough electricity for fully electrified automobility, and even if it were, then the power grid would collapse.
    – Solar energy sources cannot work, since they don’t produce power at night or in the winter, or because production of the solar panels consumes more energy than they generate during their lifetimes, or whatever. And if they do, they will cause blackouts if widespread.
    – Wind turbines cannot work, because there is not enough wind, or because the turbines change climate more than fossil fuels, or whatever. And blackouts, of course.
    – LED light is unhealthy and cannot ever substitute incandescent lamps.

  234. @etienne

    Love “Yes minister”, however it’s somewhat dated in that the civil servants no longer wield as much power as they did 40-50 years ago.

    The power balance has shifted to ministerial staffers. A more updated “documentary masquerading as a comedy” is the Australian series “Utopia”. Well worth checking out if you havent cone across it.

    UK series “In the thick of it” is not bad either.

  235. @David Eddyshaw: Seeing the British spelling “dreamt” in the lyrics for “Joe Hill” looked distinctly odd to me (and it’s a song that I listen to and sing along with fairly often). It seemed like hearing the words with “dreamt” would feel inauthentic, since it’s an American folk song. (Actually, the lyrics—with “dreamed”—were penned by Alfred Hayes, who was a British-born Jew, although his family moved to America when he was just three.) However, as I thought about it more, it seemed like, in order to be really authentic, the ghost of Joe Hill (born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund) ought to have a Swedish accent! I cannot currently find any recordings of the song online that interpret it this way though, so maybe I will have to make a recording myself.

  236. Bathrobe says:

    Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity are. We want the human condition to flourish.

    Sounds like the Chinese Communist Party. How can you talk about freedom and democracy when people don’t have the freedom to fill their own stomachs? We don’t need your democracy. Just leave it to us: we’ll deliver. You don’t need anything else.

  237. Bathrobe says:

    Looking for The Globalists, I found a book by Denis Cuddy (Phd).

    Many people today laugh at conspiracy theories, saying “Where’s the positive proof?” This book (as well as its prdecessor, “Secret Records Revealed”) attempts not only to lay before the reader positive testimony but also to provide a vast amount of circumstantial evidence that cannot lie in demonstrating that a power elite has been attempting to gain more and more control over events in the world.

    If “Secret Records Revealed” could be called “Untaught History 101,” then “The Globalists” should be considered “Untaught History 102”

    Then, after a bit, I found Slobodian’s Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism.

    Neoliberals hate the state. Or do they? In the first intellectual history of neoliberal globalism, Quinn Slobodian follows a group of thinkers from the ashes of the Habsburg Empire to the creation of the World Trade Organization to show that neoliberalism emerged less to shrink government and abolish regulations than to redeploy them at a global level.

    Slobodian begins in Austria in the 1920s. Empires were dissolving and nationalism, socialism, and democratic self-determination threatened the stability of the global capitalist system. In response, Austrian intellectuals called for a new way of organizing the world. But they and their successors in academia and government, from such famous economists as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises to influential but lesser-known figures such as Wilhelm Röpke and Michael Heilperin, did not propose a regime of laissez-faire. Rather they used states and global institutions—the League of Nations, the European Court of Justice, the World Trade Organization, and international investment law—to insulate the markets against sovereign states, political change, and turbulent democratic demands for greater equality and social justice.

    Far from discarding the regulatory state, neoliberals wanted to harness it to their grand project of protecting capitalism on a global scale. It was a project, Slobodian shows, that changed the world, but that was also undermined time and again by the inequality, relentless change, and social injustice that accompanied it.

    Both sound like conspiracy theories, the second only somewhat less so.

  238. Secret Records Revealed sounds a bit like Protocols…

  239. David Eddyshaw says:

    Neoliberals hate the state.

    Indeed, in reality the position is quite the contrary. The term Laissez Faire is both deliberate misdirection and also a highly successful piece of propaganda: so-called Laissez Faire requires major state intervention both to set it up and to keep it going. There is nothing natural or given about it. (It is also by nature hostile to democracy, and indeed to humanity. As Karl Polanyi says, the question is ultimately whether humanity will defend itself by adopting fascist techniques or by socialism. The status quo is unstable.)

    @Brett:

    You are welcome to read my written “dreamt” as representing any English instantiation of the past tense of “dream.” I won’t object.

  240. John Emerson says:

    One reason that there are conspiracy theories is that there are conspiracies. I have argued this point at enormous length elsewhere. Conspiracies have historically been quite common in this fallen world.

    That said, the neoliberals were always more or less public, though they didn’t advertise themselves and were not always completely frank about everything they thought.

    After WWI and especially after the Depression, free market liberals realized that they were in a weak position against Socialists, Communists, welfare state liberals,and fascists, and they started working on devising a response and revising their ideas to fit the post-depression world. With Thatcher and Reagan their ideas came to fruition and we’ve been living with that ever since. They were a well-organized group and worked together both on policy questions and on public outreach (propaganda). With the Koch brothers and others of that kind, they became even more aggressive, and it is about this point that they realized that their program (destroying the welfare state and the new deal) would never be popular and could not successfully be honestly and openly promoted.

  241. SFReader says:

    Re: conspiracy theories

    Strictly speaking, every US Attorney is a conspiracy theorist. They prove conspiracy theories every day as part of their job.

    E.g.

    Department of Justice
    U.S. Attorney’s Office
    District of Columbia
    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    Friday, February 19, 2021
    Six Individuals Affiliated with the Oath Keepers Indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for Conspiracy to Obstruct Congress on Jan. 6, 2021

  242. SFReader says:

    One reason that there are conspiracy theories is that there are conspiracies.

    Yep.

    The official US Government position that members of the international secret society “The Source” formed a criminal conspiracy to hijack 4 passenger airliners and attack World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2011 IS actually a conspiracy theory.

    If you believe this conspiracy theory, you are a conspiracy theorist!

    And if you don’t believe it, you are also a conspiracy theorist.

  243. I say both dreamed and dreamt. When I write I use the spelling that goes with the internal voice that philosophers of language aren’t sure plays in my head. Here in Minnesota the spell checker underlines dreamt, but I don’t always pay attention. This isn’t one of those spanner in the boot situations.

  244. Too often, they are entirely idiotic.

    That happens:)

    I see it is less frequently than arguments explicitly denying the possibility of technological progress

    I do not think this is what really bothers them. It is not the same as banning your SUV.

    Climate change believers too think that nuclear power is inacceptable and horrible, dislike hydroelectricity (me too) and have seen other technologies slowly developing over the previous decades and expect the same in future. This argument is an extrapolation.

    Actually a large part of progress is not research but adoption. Mass production makes it cheaper. Experience in production makes it cheaper. Infrastructure makes it cheaper.
    And this is what gorvernments mean by cutting emissions. They do not mean: let us live humbly and close to nature and deindustrialize.
    Cutting emissions and developing new technologies are the same.

    Yet there is a difference between the arguments.

    For a denier, sceptical about the possibility of progress:
    (A) let’s ban your SUV and hope that a progress will happen (B) lets work on progress

    For an (ecologically responsible) believer:
    (A) let’s become more responsible to nature (B) let’s ruin it differently

    For a government:
    (A) let’s transition smoooooothly (B) let’s start a Race.

  245. They often think that most greenhouse gas emissions come from the third world, despite the contrary is true and easy to look up.

    CO2 emissions in developed countries ceased to grow when they became developed. In developing countries emissions grow.
    Since recently China is ahead of all developed countries taken together, China with the rest of developing world is ahead for quite a while.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions

  246. January First-of-May says:

    They often think that most greenhouse gas emissions come from the third world, despite the contrary is true and easy to look up.

    The question is of course whether China is part of the third world, as opposed to the first and/or the second. (Does anyone still use second world, and if yes, in what meaning?)

    There are also a few countries (including otherwise-developed countries) that switched to shale gas (and fracking) when that became (comparatively) cheap. I’ve seen a map somewhere (many years ago) claiming that Russia has (almost) no reserves of shale gas, with the closest major fields being in what is now Luhansk People’s Republic; I’m not sure if that’s true, and on its face it sounds unlikely.

  247. David Marjanović says:

    I grew up with “neoliberal” being used for Bill Clinton’s novel attempt to combine vaguely centrist social policies with liberal economic policies, briefly imitated by Social Democratic parties across Europe (to their great and lasting detriment). “Neoliberals hate the state”? Not remotely.

    Sounds like the Chinese Communist Party.

    Do they say “liberty” is an objective?

    (I mean, that should logically lead to allowing a majority to exchange the government without violence, and we can’t have that, can we.)

    CO2 emissions in developed countries ceased to grow when they became developed.

    If only!

  248. SFReader says:

    Russia has (almost) no reserves of shale gas

    This claim is wrong.

    Russia usually has the world’s largest reserves of everything and shale gas is no exception.

    Look up Bazhenov Shale. 2 trillion barrels of shale oil and 50 trillion cubic meters of shale gas at the last count.

    I wonder what it’s development will do to CO2 emissions.

  249. January First-of-May says:

    If only!

    My impression is that countries on the welfare-state path (Northern Europe and scattered examples elsewhere) tend to switch to lower-emission energy sources (though typically for reasons of lower pollution rather than emission) if/when they can afford it, and/or because it happens to be relatively cheap locally (e.g. geothermal in Iceland, hydroelectric in Norway).
    Otherwise (i.e. either outside the welfare-state path, or unable to afford better) the most important objective is usually to get the energy cheaper, even if that means more pollution and/or higher emissions.

    It used to be that nuclear energy (relatively low emission, low-ish medium-term pollution) was one of the cheapest options around, but the focus on diminishing pollution – which for nuclear energy 1) tends to come out all at once in huge amounts and 2) is otherwise a major very-long-term problem – meant that it had fallen by the wayside, so there aren’t actually all that many non-fossil-fuel options at the moment.
    (The historical focus on reactors useful for making bombs, which means that alternate options that might have been less polluting are extremely underresearched – and that countries with nuclear reactors in them have a high chance of being able to start their own nuclear bomb program – certainly didn’t help either.)

  250. I meant specifically the pictures in the article above.

    This one and
    this one.

  251. The problem with developing countreis is not their emissions, but that they want to industrialize. Their emissions will keep growing.

    I totally support the idea of Africa as such a wild nature reserve, where people live in very ecological huts, do not use air conditioning, do not drive SUVs and do not have ugly factories (seriously, WHO loves factories!? Not workers), while we here have traffic jams and pollution.

    I am not even ironizing. I do not drive a SUV, food, wine and internet are almost enough for me. But you will have to offer Africans a new model of development then, such that provides them with modern medicine, food security and what you call “civilized life” in terms of, at least, numerous opportunities for personal development (which includes the Internet). And they will still want air conditioning and SUVs.

    And all of this must be produced at factories that do not emit gases, powered by plants that do not emit gases and sustained without emitting gases. Do we have such a model?

  252. January First-of-May says:

    I’ve seen a map somewhere (many years ago) claiming that Russia has (almost) no reserves of shale gas, with the closest major fields being in what is now Luhansk People’s Republic

    In retrospect, it was probably this map, which does indeed give the impression that Russia has (almost) no shale gas, but in fact this is just because the creators of that map only looked at the situation in a limited set of countries, and Russia was not among that set.

    It turns out that the red bit in eastern Ukraine is the Yuzivska gas field and in fact mostly located not in the People’s Republics but just over the border into Ukraine proper. (“It will begin production in 2017”, says the linked English Wikipedia article; in fact due to the volatile political situation since 2013 any plans to develop it were put on hold.)

  253. January First-of-May says:

    And they will still want air conditioning and SUVs.

    SUVs (or similar vehicles) are a necessity considering the quality of African roads, air conditioning is close to a necessity considering the African climate. I’m not sure if there’s any good way to get away from that problem, or at least any good way that does not also remove the access to modern medicine.

    Siberia has the same problem (except in the opposite direction in terms of temperatures), but the population density there is so low (unlike most of Africa) that in overall terms it doesn’t contribute all that much.

    Long-term this will probably be partly solved by better road access (and/or a better railway network – trains can run on electricity without requiring a lot of fossil fuels) and/or by movement away from villages and into large cities (so that the remnant rural population doesn’t use much fuel because there’s so few of them).
    The air conditioning problem isn’t going anywhere, of course, but I’m not 100% convinced that this is a problem in the first place; they did survive without it for millenia, after all.

  254. David Marjanović says:

    This one and
    this one.

    Oh, so the EU’s emissions have actually decreased! I didn’t know that.

    Other than that, though, the only noticeable decrease is Russia’s, and that one is rather obviously due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. I think what we’re seeing here are the effects of political measures like Germany’s subsidies for wind power rather than an automatic outcome of wealth itself.

    Germany is still razing villages to enlarge its lignite mines, though, despite the Kohleausstieg (exit from coal including lignite) planned for 2038. Managing the Kohleausstieg and the Atomausstieg at the same time is about as tricky as expected.

    food, wine and internet

    Modern agriculture has been summarized as “oil into potatoes”. On top of that, wine is transported over rather large distances, and the internet uses a quite noticeable amount of energy these days.

  255. Etienne says:

    @David Marjanović; I think the show you are thinking of is “Full Frontal” (Yes, sex sells). I am a bit concerned that you did not name the top two news sources: The Babylon Bee for right-wing news, and The Onion for left-wing news. These two sources, along with a few older classics (MAD magazine, Bloom County come to mind) should give historians of the future all the raw material needed to write THE definitive history of the late twentieth/early twenty-first century United States.

    @zyxt: I watched some episodes of “In the thick of it” and I cannot say I enjoyed them. Will be on the lookout for “Utopia” -thank you for the recommendation. Incidentally, I am watching another Australian series at the moment, “Rake”, and I find it fascinating: culturally, such a series would be an utter impossibility in anglophone Canada, but in Québec it would work just fine (In fact, the humor occasionally reminded me of a Québec series, “Les Bougon”, about a good-hearted, poor family whose main occupation is cheating the system in every way possible and imaginable).

    @Drasvi: If you want a model for Africa (and indeed much of the third world) that does not involve rising greenhouse gas emissions, I would nominate Tokugawa Japan: a peaceful, well-organized society with mass literacy (and as a result, during its last century, very slow population growth), gradual urbanization, within which considerable artistic and intellectual innovations/experimentation took place: For example, much of the indigenous Japanese tradition of linguistics (kokugaku) arose at this time. Add to this such things as: a good train system, a good streetcar system, a good pathway system for bicycles, solar water heaters, various other instances of what Schumacher called ‘appropriate tech’, and you would have a society that would represent a HUGE improvement over the present for a majority of the inhabitants of the world.

  256. @Etienne: There is no way that The Babylon Bee is of comparable cultural importance to The Onion (which is left of center, but certainly not left wing), or programs like The Daily Show (which has fallen in influence since its heyday with John Stewart, but is still a big deal). There is just not a symmetric audience for news humor across the political spectrum in America. Although attempts have been made, there has never been a successful right-wing (or even Republican-leaning) version of The Daily Show—while numerous cast members from The Daily Show have gone on to make their own popular contributions to the genre (Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver; also Larry Wilmore, although his show—which I actually thought was the best of the lot—was not as successful as the others and didn’t last). Seth Meyers has the same kind of program as well (launched following his success hosting “The Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live—which is superficially similar, but much more weighted toward doing jokes, rather than the actual news and analysis), and his may be the most explicit about its pro-Democratic political viewpoint

  257. culturally, such a series would be an utter impossibility in anglophone Canada

    Really? Sounds sort of like Trailer Park Boys. Good hearted scoundrels trying to take shortcuts at any opportunity. Maybe it works in the Maritimes but not Ontario.

  258. John Cowan says:

    I think there is now plenty of evidence that this is not a radically leftist debating group. To put my oar in, I am a democrat, a civil libertarian, a Georgist (who believes that Marxist and neoclassical economists are equally and oppositely wrong), a techno-optimist who would like to see failsafe thorium-based reactors become pervasive for baseline load, and a member of the Question Authority (with the lapel button to prove it).

    Saying that Athens was no democracy because it excluded metics, women, and slaves is literally the equivalent of denying that title to any modern country that doesn’t grant the vote to aliens, children, and domestic animals. (This obviously does not mean that I equate these groups, but that the Athenians did.) If we are going to use the Ancient Greek words monarchy, tyranny, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy to apply to Ancient Greek polities, we should take the Greeks’ word for it that they meant what they said. Whether and to what extent these terms apply to modern polities is open to discussion.

    As far as I know, the first public discussion of global warming was in the letter column of Astounding Stories magazine in 1926, about a story in which an American of the day wakes up from a Rip van Winkle sleep to find himself in a radically warmed world. So that makes just under a hundred years that the science fiction fans, if nobody else, have known what was coming.

    Finally, in my opinion the WSJ is no longer a conservative paper: it is now protofascist.

  259. “Managing the Kohleausstieg and the Atomausstieg at the same time is about as tricky as expected.”

    When i turned on al-Jazeera in English this summer, they were airing a documentary about this (Coal War). I just looked up where Qatar is in per capita emissions. 3d most emitting country globally, after… Palau and Curaçao. Inluding metics, women and slaves (they clearly divided it by 2.6M residents, not by 313K citizens).

  260. P.S. I think I should not ironize though. Any rich dude emits. Besides, that I saw a fragment with anti-coal activists but it is not all like that.

  261. The question is of course whether China is part of the third world

    Yes, that is why I used “developing”, which implies “growing energy consumption” and, I am afraid, “growing emissions”. Of course, (in the same article) in the first world per capita emissions are very high, and even higher in Gulf countries. China has reached the first world level (and it produces about a third of world’s wind power). The third world is to where China will move the factories, I assume? Alas, climate change does not depend on per capita emissions specifically.

    (e.g. geothermal in Iceland, hydroelectric in Norway). Wind in Denmark :-E (not because it is cheap I think)

  262. Rodger C says:

    The Babylon Bee for right-wing news

    How I miss the days when the BB focused on satire of Protestant church culture and was pretty even-handed in where it threw its political barbs.

  263. David Marjanović says:

    “Full Frontal”

    Oh yes!

    I am a bit concerned that you did not name the top two news sources: The Babylon Bee for right-wing news, and The Onion for left-wing news.

    I mentioned The Onion by its slogan. I shouldn’t have, though: it’s a news source as it says – it hardly does any of the analysis that Colbert, Noah & team and first of all Oliver do.

    I’m not familiar with the Babylon Bee beyond two incidents when Republicans blithely retweeted its articles as news.

  264. I’m not familiar with the Babylon Bee

    Nobody is (essentially). As Brett says, it’s an absurd comparison, like saying “Some people watch soccer and other people watch underwater hockey.”

  265. Underwater hockey is not watched. It is perceived with your lateral line:/

  266. David Marjanović says:

    lateral line

    I approve.

  267. Bathrobe says:

    the EU’s emissions have actually decreased

    Interestingly, in meeting Paris Accord emission goals, the EU regards burning wood as a “carbon neutral” energy source. That’s because the carbon released from cutting down and burning trees is supposedly taken up again by new trees growing in their place. So wood is classed as a green, renewable source of energy with limited impact on the climate.

    This is, of course, nonsense. Burning wood for energy increases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which naturally contributes to climate change. The idea that the carbon emitted from burning wood is absorbed by growing trees is irrelevant. It is, however, a convenient fiction. A lot of the wood burned is imported from countries that are frantically chopping down their old-growth forests.

  268. David Marjanović says:

    That wood isn’t burned in the EU much, though. Most logging is for oil palm plantations in Indonesia, for soy fields in Brazil (“trade wars are easy to win”), and for timber in Canada, as far as I understand.

  269. SFReader says:

    Today, the British ambassador to Russia called Russians to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions to zero.

    Online there was some initial confusion – “just how are we supposed to accomplish that”?

    Then someone explained “She means we should stop breathing”.

    That would do the trick, yeah.

  270. Anybody know if this is plausible?

    Some scientists punctuate their alarming warmings with hopeful messages because they know that the worst possible outcome is avoidable.

    Recent research shows that stopping greenhouse gas emissions will break the vicious cycle of warming temperatures, melting ice, wildfires and rising sea levels faster than expected just a few years ago.

    There is less warming in the pipeline than we thought, said Imperial College (London) climate scientist Joeri Rogelj, a lead author of the next major climate assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    “It is our best understanding that, if we bring down CO2 to net zero, the warming will level off. The climate will stabilize within a decade or two,” he said. “There will be very little to no additional warming. Our best estimate is zero.”

    The widespread idea that decades, or even centuries, of additional warming are already baked into the system, as suggested by previous IPCC reports, were based on an “unfortunate misunderstanding of experiments done with climate models that never assumed zero emissions.”

    Those models assumed that concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would remain constant, that it would take centuries before they decline, said Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann, who discussed the shifting consensus last October during a segment of 60 Minutes on CBS.

    The idea that global warming could stop relatively quickly after emissions go to zero was described as a “game-changing new scientific understanding” by Covering Climate Now, a collaboration of news organizations covering climate.

    “This really is true,” he said. “It’s a dramatic change in the paradigm that has been lost on many who cover this issue, perhaps because it hasn’t been well explained by the scientific community. It’s an important development that is still under appreciated.”“It’s definitely the scientific consensus now that warming stabilizes quickly, within 10 years, of emissions going to zero,” he said.

  271. SFReader, they want the concentration of CO2 in the athmosphere grow ad infinitum (100%) or they see a way to prevent this without cutting emissions?

    How?

    They say, the pre-industrial concentration of carbon dioxide was ~280 ppm (and used to be stable). I do not know where they take this data. But, let’s call it 1 “pic”. Then:

    1.25 pic in 1985
    1.5 pic 2022
    2 pic forty years later, assuming that emissions growth is linear and concentration growth is proportional.

    You exactly need to cut annual increase in concentration to zero.

  272. In reality emissions grow faster than lineartly (and have reasons to do so: China keeps developing and India and the rest of Asia are joining in) which would mean more than 2 pic in year 2060. Two implausible scenarios:

    – if we deindustrialize China and everyone as fast as they industrialized: 1.75 pic.
    – if emissions stay at today’s level (how:/): 1.875 pic.

    Now, what will happen:

    China will provide everyone with cheap renewable energy sources.

    China is not interested in supporting oil and gas industry (or coal). They will burn exactly as much as needed to grow, the are developing alternative sources in parallel (it is what they will be selling to everyone) and when they are ready for transition themselves, they will become Great enthusiasts of Beijing Accords, make everyone comply and be Responsible to Nature. And fill Africa with Energy.

    picture. They are already a third of world’s wind power as I said.

    They are better adapted to Pax Sinica.

  273. David Marjanović says:

    Anybody know if this is plausible?

    I had never heard of it. I guess it’ll hit the scientific journals soon.

    But even if it’s true, the ice sheet on Greenland is toast, so the sea will continue to rise.

    I do not know where they take this data.

    Bubbles of air in ice sheets, mostly.

  274. @LH,

    Proposition 1.
    CO2 will stay in the athmosphere for centuries, unless we remove it. Some other greenhouse gases may not.

    Proposition 2.
    A constant level of greenhouse gases (not necessarily CO2) will keep causing warming for centuries, until the temperature stabilizes.

    P1 is what I heard. P2 is what I never heard, and it is not what I see in IPCC reports.

    Meanwhile, Quote 1 “Those models assumed that concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would remain constant,” seems to disagree with P1, while Quote 2 disagrees with P2: “The widespread idea that decades, or even centuries, of additional warming are already baked into the system, as suggested by previous IPCC reports, were based on an “unfortunate misunderstanding of experiments done with climate models that never assumed zero emissions.”

    I can not assess neither P1 nor P2.

  275. “It is our best understanding that, if we bring down CO2 to net zero, the warming will level off. The climate will stabilize within a decade or two,”

    That’s a very big if, though. Bringing net CO2 emission to zero (so that the atmospheric concentration remains approximately constant) is a task that will take decades in itself — decades during which the climate will continue to warm.

    My understanding is that IPCC models have generally included assumptions about how fast or slowly CO2 emissions are reduced. So they present best case and worst case conclusions. That seems quite realistic, both technologically and politically.

    By contrast, debating how quickly the climate will stabilize in a net-zero CO2 world seems premature, to say the last.

  276. That’s a very big if, though.

    Sure. I just wanted to get an idea if the consequences were correctly presented.

  277. Bubbles of air in ice sheets, mostly.

    Yes, I thought it must be ice, but I have not checked yet (only this). I did not mean to express doubt, I just tried to be precise about the sources. For “280” I do not have sources.

  278. I forgot to give the sources for my 1.5 pic. It is https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/gl_gr.html.

    I took average increace over this decade and the previous decade,
    decided that these are rates in years 2015 and 2005
    divided the difference by 10 (“yearly increace in yearly increace”, the derivative).

    415 ppm is today’s concentration. Assuming linear growth:

    2020’s rate is 2015’s + 5 * yiiyi
    2040’s rate is 2015’s + 25 * yiiyi

    415 + (2020’s rate)*40 is concentration in 2060 assuming emissions stay where they are today and that yearly increase in the concentration is proportional.
    415 + (2040’s rate)*40 is the concentration in 2060 assuming linear growth.

  279. David L says:

    if the consequences were correctly presented

    I’ve now read the article you linked to, and I find it hard to draw a conclusion. The claim is that in a net-zero world, warming will stabilize within a decade or two. But that’s only part of the story. My understanding is that in a world where the average temperature has increased by some amount, then even if the temperature stabilizes at that higher value, it will still take many decades for Greenland ice, to take one example, to also stabilize. And loss of Greenland ice appears to driving a big change in the Atlantic Ocean circulation pattern.

    So I would think that even if the average global temperature settles down fairly quickly to a new value, it could still be a very long time — centuries, possibly — before climate and weather patterns settle into a new normal.

    (I’m no expert on all this but I try to keep up).

  280. Thanks, you may not be an expert but you clearly know more about it than I do.

  281. P.S. all these applications of elementary school arythmetics to climate change because
    – “sceintists are lying” and
    – elementary school arythmecs is a good thing.

    @LH, my impression from what I read on climate sites is that now they are trying to present everything in Very optimistic way. “We can do it!”.

  282. David Marjanović says:

    P2 is what I never heard, and it is not what I see in IPCC reports.

    P2 is what I’ve been hearing since ever (for any level above the preindustrial one), and I see it contradicted here for the first time.

    The simplest argument is how insane 415 ppm are. We haven’t had that in at least twenty million years, probably 55. That kind of climate, one should think, is coming back, and so far the simulations have borne this out. Greenland is toast, West Antarctica is toast, and we should probably start to evacuate Bangladesh – let’s hope the Sahara turns green quickly enough (it has started at the southern fringe).

  283. Trond Engen says:

    I really can’t understand why they can say that there’s “less warming in the pipeline than previously thought” and predict a flattening curve in a few decades. The melting permafrost alone will release enormous amounts of greenhouse gases for decades even if man-made emissions were to suddenly stop tomorrow,

    Bathrobe:Interestingly, in meeting Paris Accord emission goals, the EU regards burning wood as a “carbon neutral” energy source. That’s because the carbon released from cutting down and burning trees is supposedly taken up again by new trees growing in their place. So wood is classed as a green, renewable source of energy with limited impact on the climate.

    This is, of course, nonsense. Burning wood for energy increases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which naturally contributes to climate change. The idea that the carbon emitted from burning wood is absorbed by growing trees is irrelevant. It is, however, a convenient fiction. A lot of the wood burned is imported from countries that are frantically chopping down their old-growth forests.

    Well… I think of this as a huge differential equation. A differential equation with very few actual constants, but rather constantly shifting boundary conditions. Even if the solution is nowhere near, one can say something about the amounts of carbon that are caught up in different cyclic motions, and it’s also possible to infer something about the interaction between the cycles.

    Carbon from fossile sources hasn’t been part of the atmosphere for tens or hundreds of millions of years. It was for all practical purposes permanently deposited. Fossile stuff like hydrocarbons, calcite, or salt, do get rereleased into the atmosphere in huge, disruptive, volcanic events, but that’s what we call mass extinctions. What we do when we release all of it, from all over the planet, at once, amounts to a giga-volcano.

    There are other cycles that are much shorter than the fossile/volcanic ones and probably rather negligible in the really long run Permafrost, since I’ve mentioned it, may have a natural cycle of a mere hundred thousand years, but it’s still long enough to make huge trouble here and now.

    The shorter cycles feed the longer cycles, which in turn feed even longer cycles. Incomplete destruction accumulates deposits that eventually will fossilize. When we use up deposits of debris — say guano, peat, or driftwood — as we typicaly do the moment we discover how to use them — we tap into these cycles and release the accumulated material. That shifts the balance point, a quasi-constant in the differential equation, so that less material (including carbon) is caught in the cycle.

    Firewood has a typical growth period of less than a century, Under natural conditions it really does replace itself. The problem would be if we let the forests be depleted and end up with less carbon caught up in organisms. This is an obvious problem, but actually fairly easy to manage. Not that we do, but it’s of the simpler things we don’t do. If humans shall have a future at all, harvesting reproducing resources at a sustainable level is the only way. It’s not clear that firewood won’t be part of what we use.

    But “sustainable” isn’t as simple as it sounds. When a resource is repleted, we canmanage what little there’s left of it sustainably by not using more than the replacement rate. It’s still not sustainable on a larger scale. We need a balance where organisms through their lifetime accumulate more material than are released at end of life. But it’s not that relevant in the short run, since we can’t replace the deposits on a timescale that helps solve the immediate crisis.

  284. Those models assumed that concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would remain constant, that it would take centuries before they decline, “.

    And in an article that they link:

    Mann said. Instead, if humans “stop emitting carbon right now … the oceans start to take up carbon more rapidly.””
    ????????

    Sounds like the model of carbon cycle (or ocean carbon cycle specifically) has been updated and they proposed a new unaccounted-for carbon sink. If so, it is news. But I do not see links:-/

    It has always been a weakness: you can’t know all your sinks and it is hard to notice them on the graph when the graph shows exponetial growth.

  285. The reality is that climate modeling is nowhere near a problem that can be solved from first principles. Even in simple energy balance models, there are multiple phenomenalistic parameters that are always being updated as we learn more about the behavior of our complicated nonlinear system. One consequence is that while intermediate term modeling tends to be quite good, longer term extrapolations are always going to be challenging.

    As a student, I seriously considered making a career in climate physics. The main reason I decided against it was that I did not want to get my research caught up in politics. However, a secondary reason was that I disliked the heavily phenomenalistic nature of the field.

  286. Bathrobe says:

    Between 2005 and 2016, the consumption of renewable energy within the EU-28 increased by 78.6%. Some renewable energy sources grew exponentially. The consumption of solar energy for example, grew by 1,512% between 2005 and 2016. Among renewable energy sources, total biomass (i.e. wood and charcoal, biogas and biofuels, and municipal waste ) plays an important role, accounting for two thirds (65%) of the gross inland energy consumption of renewables in the EU-28 in 2016. As part of this biomass total, wood and agglomerated wood products such as pellets and briquettes provided the highest share of energy of biological origin, accounting for almost half (45%) of the EU-28’s gross inland energy consumption of renewables in 2016.

    In many EU Member States, wood was the most important single source of energy from renewables. Wood and wood products accounted for 6.0% of the total energy consumed within the EU-28 in 2016. The share of wood and wood products in gross inland energy consumption ranged from over 20% in Latvia and Finland down to less than 1% in Cyprus and Malta.Wood was the source for more than three quarters of the renewable energy consumed in Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Latvia, Finland, and Poland. By contrast, the share of wood in the mix of renewables was relatively low in Cyprus and Malta (where the lowest share was reported, 4.5%); this was also the case in Norway (6.4%).

    https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/pdfscache/52478.pdf

  287. If they mean fire, they should add sunbathing as well.

  288. The frist part of LH’s quote:

    There is less warming in the pipeline than we thought, said Imperial College (London) climate scientist Joeri Rogelj, a lead author of the next major climate assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    “It is our best understanding that, if we bring down CO2 to net zero, the warming will level off. The climate will stabilize within a decade or two,” he said. “There will be very little to no additional warming. Our best estimate is zero.”

    I think it has to do with:
    Is there warming in the pipeline? A multi-model analysis of the Zero Emissions Commitment from CO2
    pdf
    html

    (via a list of his publications at http://orcid.org/0000-0003-2056-9061)

  289. Bathrobe says:

    One reason that there are conspiracy theories is that there are conspiracies.

    What is the difference between a “conspiracy” and a “movement”? I suspect (just suspect, mind you) that one man’s conspiracy is the next man’s movement. Is the difference one of clandestineness? Broadness? Degree of or lack of popular support?

  290. David Eddyshaw says:

    I don’t think you can have a non-secret conspiracy. It would be contrary to the whole spirit of the thing. And I don’t think you have an actual conspiracy unless you’ve got an agenda of some sort.

    I can imagine differences of opinion as to just how secret a movement actually was, and as to whether it had an agenda worthy of the name.

  291. I would also add that a conspiracy must be directed against one or more persons / institutions. I wouldn’t call a group that secretly meets in a cellar to hop on one leg a conspiracy unless they assume that by doing that, they could bring about the downfall of the government or the end of the world, or unless hopping on one leg were illegal (conspiracy against the law).

  292. Someone should write The Horrible Hoppers. I’m afraid it wouldn’t make a very cinematic movie, though.

  293. David Eddyshaw says:

    You could introduce a twist, like the naive young recruit actually turning out to be just an alternate personality of the charismatic Head Hopper. But if you made the movie too far-fetched like that, people wouldn’t be able to suspend their disbelief.

  294. PlasticPaddy says:

    There are some edge-cases, i.e., people having a drink during Prohibition (or a spliff now, where this is not legal) are for me not part of a criminal conspiracy, but their suppliers are.

  295. the charismatic Head Hopper
    It’s a pity that the man most apt for that role isn’t among us anymore.

  296. David Eddyshaw says:

    Hmm. All sorts of crimes seem to involve some sort of secrecy, except in kleptocracies (and even there the rulers seem to find it expedient at least to pretend that they earned their wealth and position honestly.)

    I mean, if you’re going to burgle a house, you don’t tell the owner beforehand. And if you’re going to defraud your employer, you don’t send out emails about it.

    I suppose that, technically, unless you’re operating solo, all these actually are conspiracies:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conspiracy_(criminal)

    Secrecy doesn’t seem to enter into the legal concept directly, though as a practical matter it’s hard to see much future for “an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime at some time in the future” if the persons let everybody know about their plans in advance.

  297. John Emerson says:

    I have spent a lot of time on conspiracy conspiracy theory, and conspiracist. The three criteria I came up with are:
    1. A conspiracy must have than one conspirator. (I am being thorough!)
    2. There must be a significant element of secrecy or deception.
    3. It must be WRONG. A surprise birthday party is not a conspiracy.

    From this it should follow that “conspiracy theory” should mean “a theory that there is or was a conspiracy”. But it doesn’t. The term is pejorative and basically means “a baseless, ill-intentioned, delusional, and ridiculous theory that there is or has been a conspiracy.

  298. John Emerson says:

    II. In the political, military, and business worlds, coordinated secret or deceptive action is normal, a structural necessity of these systems. The question will usually be whether it’s wrong or not, and there often be disagreement between the parties involved on this question, and also differences between the way an action is judged in various legal and social contexts. EG, something legit in business might rouse indignation within a group of friends.

  299. J.W. Brewer says:

    The criminal concept and the political/historical-discourse concept need not be coterminous, but one important limitation on the criminal concept (in the Anglo-American tradition, at least) is that when you have an illegal transaction where both parties are already committing crimes by participating in it and neither of those crimes can be successfully committed without the participation of the other, their agreement to the transaction is not, without more, a conspiracy. So, e.g. an agreement whereby X and Y agree that X will purchase illegal drugs from Y is not a criminal conspiracy to sell (or to purchase) illegal drugs.

  300. The word “conspiracy” is probably useful only in the phrase “criminal conspiracy” (and then only to legal-system professionals); it’s been skunked in general discourse, and the only effect of using it is to make one group of people roll their eyes and another group froth at the mouth.

  301. John Emerson says:

    III.
    By the standard I gave, neoliberalism is probably not a conspiracy, since it was always semi-public (though not widely known), and of course there’s disagreement as to whether it’s wrong. At the same time, if it turns out that its proclaimed intentions were not the same as its actual intentions, maybe it is /was a conspiracy. At the same time, neoliberalism is a somewhat pluralistic and not a centralized group, though individuals have been disinvited, with only a general theory of common purpose.

  302. John Emerson says:

    IV.
    Widely accepted conspiracy theories include Iran-Contra and Wateegate, though since these theories are widely though not universally accepted, they are not usually called conspiracy theories. A more controversial example is the Iraq War. Most of the justifications of this war were false and probably outright lies, and there was a little-known militating for war with Iraq (PNAC) long before the 9/11 pretext arrived.

  303. John Emerson says:

    “A little known public group militating for war with Iraq.”

    IV
    Since secrecy and deception define conspiracies, most conspiracy theories are really just hypotheses with large elements of conjecture and “connecting the dots”. They might merely consist of an unwillingness to accept the official story, but without proposing a specific alternative. But no one functioning in real time in a world in which conspiracies are normal can automatically reject hypotheses, because to do so would mean only knowing about conspiracies after the fact, when they no longer can be opposed or resisted.

  304. John Emerson says:

    Hat, by your standard both conspiracist and anti-conspiracism are useless, and by that standard I might agree. But at present right-thinking people reject all supposed conspiracy theories on grounds of automatic anti-conspracism, and that is what I argue against.

    Incidentally. in 2016 conspiracism went mainstream with the Democrats “Russian interference” theory.

    Fundamental to my thinking on this is a conviction that bad faith is pervasive and normal in the political world.

  305. J.W. Brewer says:

    [ETA: maybe this in part just elaborates on John E.’s “pervasive and normal” point.] Perhaps not as dramatic as war, but surely politicians giving semi-pretextual reasons for supporting policies they actually support for reasons they do not wish to admit to out loud is so ubiquitous as to make “conspiracy theory” an unhelpful label. A politician pursuing a particular policy regarding education or law enforcement for the subjective reason that he cannot afford to antagonize the teachers’ union or police union even though he knows the policy in question is mostly about union self-interest than the public good is never going to admit that, but will instead have some “for the children” or “making our streets safer” cover story.

    A related-but-distinct problem in assessing political actors is the difficulty of distinguishing between bad-faith pretexts, known by their proponents to be empirically untrue, from dubious pretexts subjectively believed by their proponents to be true, but believed under the influence of confirmation bias or motivated reasoning that makes those proponents blind to the evidence tending to suggest that the pretexts aren’t empirically true.

  306. @LH: I don’t know whether the word is really skunked or whether it’s just that using a word presupposes agreement between speakers that using that label for something is justified. There is not much of a problem using it for historical events that most people would agree were a conspiracy (Catilina’s conspiracy, the gunpowder plot, etc.), but using it for events where no such agreement exists (the Spanish flu, Joe Biden winning the presidential election, chemtrails) entails the danger that the other side disagrees and dismisses you as, well, a peddler of conspiracy theories.
    That makes the word especially hard to use for ongoing events – if everybody agreed they were a conspiracy, they wouldn’t be a conspiracy anymore 🙂

  307. Fundamental to my thinking on this is a conviction that bad faith is pervasive and normal in the political world.

    Well, yes. Also, the sky is blue. Pointing out obvious truths is a game that gets old fast.

    That makes the word especially hard to use for ongoing events – if everybody agreed they were a conspiracy, they wouldn’t be a conspiracy anymore

    Well, yes. That’s why it’s a useless word. For recent events, anyway; I’ll add “historical events” to my exception for legal use. Otherwise, the only point of it is to make people froth at the mouth. Which is, of course, fun for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

  308. The widespread idea that decades, or even centuries, of additional warming are already baked into the system, as suggested by previous IPCC reports, were based on an “unfortunate misunderstanding of experiments done with climate models that never assumed zero emissions.”

    Now I can explain what the guy meant here.

    (1) Long-term warming in their models was attributed to the inertia of the ocean. It needs millennia to warm. Until then it keeps taking heat from the atmosphere, less and less each century. The surface temperature slowly (tenths of a degree C a century) rises for a long time. This way the greenhouse effect is delayed.

    (2) This was seen in models where they kept CO2 concentration constant….
    (3) …and prevented natural carbon sinks (land and ocean) to take it from the atmosphere.

    (4) …but not in the models where they allowed carbon cycle.

    (5) Since IPCC proposed the 1.5C goal (implying zero net emissions) they tried a bunch of new models and observed:

    All models conducted an experiment where atmospheric CO2 concentration increases exponentially until 1000 PgC has been emitted. Thereafter emissions are set to zero and models are configured to allow free evolution of atmospheric CO2concentration. Many models conducted additional second priority simulations with different cumulative emissions totals and an alternative idealized emissions pathway with a gradual transition to zero emissions. The inter-model range of ZEC 50 years after emissions cease for the 1000 PgC experiment is -0.36 to 0.29◦C with a model ensemble mean of -0.06◦C, median of -0.05◦C and standard deviation of 0.19◦C. Models exhibit a wide variety of behaviours after emissions cease, with some models continuing to warm for decades to millennia and others cooling substantially. Analysis shows that both ocean carbon uptake and carbon uptake by the terrestrial biosphere are important for counteracting the warming effect from reduction in ocean heat uptake in the decades after emissions cease. Overall, the most likely value of ZEC on multi-decadal timescales is close to zero, consistent with previous model experiments.

    —-

    It is not the same as what David Marjanović and Trond Engen are speaking about. I do not think their models are capable of predicting whether Earth will self-regulate or destabilize and spiral into a new Eocene.

  309. Thanks, that’s helpful.

  310. David Marjanović says:

    Is there warming in the pipeline? A multi-model analysis of the Zero Emissions Commitment from CO2

    Ah, thank you! I was too lazy to look for it. 🙂

    I’ll have to read the whole paper slowly, and don’t currently have time for that. 🙁 But this part of the abstract seems important:

    Models exhibit a wide variety of behaviours after emissions cease, with some models continuing to warm for decades to millennia and others cooling substantially. Analysis shows that both the carbon uptake by the ocean and the terrestrial biosphere are important for counteracting the warming effect from the reduction in ocean heat uptake in the decades after emissions cease. This warming effect is difficult to constrain due to high uncertainty in the efficacy of ocean heat uptake.

    The saying nix Genaues weiß man nicht comes to mind – “nothing exact ain’t known”. The paper seems to be an important advance in putting limits on the uncertainty, but…

  311. John Emerson says:

    “Well, yes. Also, the sky is blue. Pointing out obvious truths is a game that gets old fast.”

    Are you serious? First, this isn’t obvious to everyone. People who jump into QAnon, etc., are often, maybe usually, people who had previously had an unthinking trust in mainstream leadership, but saw it jolted by some particular event, and had no resources for constructing a new view.

    Second, “conspiracism” isn’t just a reassertion of this obvious truth, but normally consists of specific allegations about specific groups in specific circumstances.

    My objection to these terms comes from being frequently accused of being conspiracy theorist, even though I seldom use the word, whereas yours seems more to be a wish that no one would ever talk about conspiracies.

  312. John Emerson says:

    Around 1978 a Communist friend of mine started talking about the Trilateral Commission, which looked to me like an association of prominent but unexceptional mainstream politicos and media people united by bland truisms about “moving into the future”, “remaking government”, “recognizing the global realities”, etc. He claimed that it was about destroying unions, weakening the welfare state, reducing the standard of living of the average American (explicitly stated as a goal by Volcker), and submitting the whole world to American finance. Most of those things have happened, and many of the Trilateral people were players.

    Is that a conspiracy theory?

  313. David Eddyshaw says:

    Is that a conspiracy theory?

    (a) Of course it’s a conspiracy, Comrade!
    (b) No goldarned conspeeracy here, ol’ buddy! Say, I ain’t seen you around these parts before …

  314. First, this isn’t obvious to everyone. People who jump into QAnon, etc.,

    …are not going to read what you write. So who is your audience?

    yours seems more to be a wish that no one would ever talk about conspiracies.

    Don’t be silly. People should talk about whatever interests them, but they should do so in such a way that people might listen and learn. If you say “I don’t think Oswald acted alone, I think X and Y were involved,” there’s a chance people might listen (though in that case a small one, since everyone’s long since made up their minds). Once you use the word “conspiracy,” you’re either preaching to the converted or pissing people off for the fun of it.

    Is that a conspiracy theory?

    I don’t understand the point of the question. Either it’s true or it isn’t; in either case, whether it’s “a conspiracy theory” is irrelevant.

  315. J.W. Brewer says:

    One key epistemic feature of the “bad kind” of conspiracy theory is that it is unfalsifiable — all seemingly contrary evidence can be, and is, dismissed as part of the cover-up by the conspirators and/or their shills/dupes, which in turn contributes to the increasingly elaborate Rube-Goldberg-like apparatus of the posited conspiracy and its doings. That’s a useful dynamic to be on the watch for, although maybe there’s a better and less-skunked lexicon to describe that phenomenon with.

  316. J.W. Brewer says:

    Lyndon LaRouche’s people were trying to warn y’all about the Trilats as early as June 1976, btw. (The Italian magazine the original appared in was I believe known to court controversy but not completely outside the mainstream of Italian journalism of its day.) https://larouchepub.com/eiw/public/1976/eirv03n24-19760615/eirv03n24-19760615_035-the_trilateral_commission_stands.pdf

  317. @David Marjanović, I am not sure it is worth reading.

    It is one of many papers that can give some impression of what IPCC is basing its projections on.

    For whatever political reason some think or feel that we need good news: “if you order a microwave oven right now, it will come with a cardboard box for an oven for free!”.

    Funnily, when you said “since ever”, I opened IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (I decided that the third is before “ever”:)), The Physical Science Basis and then chapter 10 Global Climate Projections (just because of its title) in hope that I would find there what you have been hearing since ever. I think it is not. But when he says “ This variety of warming commitmentwas highlighted prominently in the 2007 IPCC report (Meehl et al., 2007), leading to a widespread misunderstanding that this additional ‘warming in the pipeline’ was the result of past greenhouse gas emissions., he refers exactly to that chapter (a picture).

  318. John Emerson says:

    Well, if you want to add the c-word to the n-word in your own personal anti-vocabulary, no one can stop you, but you seem to hope that everyone will. If I thought that anti-conspiracism were just about a trigger word, I suppose that I’d agree. (In fact ,I seldomor never use the word.) But it isn’t. Plenty of people automatically reject what they think are conspiracy theories regardless of how they are presented.

    I think that the Trilateral Commission did play the role I suggested, and that it was coordinated action toward a goal, not quite secret but not quite frank either, and if someone wants to call it a conspiracy it sort of was, but that doesn’t effect the truth of the charge )even if Larouche agrees with me on this point). A lot of unfortunate things we’ve been seeing happen in recent decades happened because organized groups of major players were working to make them happen, and these players (except Volcker) were not quite frank about their long range goals.

  319. you seem to hope that everyone will.

    No, any more than I hope that everyone will join me in my pacifist anarchism. I’m just saying what I think, same as all y’all.

  320. John Emerson says:

    Larouche is the classic bad sense conspiracy theorist of our time, but I have said nothing about the Bavarian Illuminati or about Aristotle a
    being an agent John of the Persian Empire.

  321. David Eddyshaw says:

    Have a care, Emerson! Remember your Oath!*

    *The first rule of the Bavarian Illuminati is …

  322. The way I understand conspiracies, they involve actions which would not be possible were they not secretive, typically because they are illegal; and cooperation between many people who can keep a secret. If I understand what you’re saying, the Trilateral Commission wasn’t any more of a conspiracy than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the Republican Party. Their goals and the people involved are openly known. Their actions are for the most part legal (even if they shouldn’t be so).

  323. John Emerson says:

    The only issue with the Trilateral Commossion is whether they were frank about their goals. And it turns out that no currently serving public officials were members, so it was really a think tank. But Carter and Brzezinski were members before taking office, which is the reason for the noise.

    Google tells me that sex maniac Jeffrey Epstein was an early member. This was not a factor in the early attacks on the TC, though.

  324. Should it be secret to be a conspiracy? Consider:

    Fingalia elects a president.

    John: “Russian hackers meddled with the election. It is Russians who elected our president, not we”.
    Mary: “It is a conspiracy theory. Our president will make Fingalia great again!”
    Russians (or Russian hackers): “Yes, we elected your president. Ha-ha-ha.”.
    Mary: “They just want to look Important. They can’t even elect their own president.”

    Now, is John is a conspiracy theorist in Mary’s world if in Mary’s world it is very plausible that Russians indeed are lying?

  325. J.W. Brewer says:

    It is difficult to believe that the actual bumbling and incoherent performance of Carter’s administration (on foreign policy, in particular) was the execution of some covert strategy dictated to them by shadowy global financial elites and/or the Illuminati. Unless the seemingly incompetent execution and internal squabbling and dithering were all intended as a deliberate diversion to distract the public’s attention from What Was Really Going On elsewhere. Of course! It all seems so clear now!

  326. John Emerson says:

    This has been one of my pet issues for years, for better or worse and I am unable to let it pass. But I have pretty much said my piece, though I suppose that if anyone wants to keep the ball rolling.

  327. Bathrobe says:

    I think the Communist party was always seen as a conspiracy aimed at overthrowing the capitalist system. It was seen to be manipulating existing institutions (such as trade unions) and using subtle propaganda and shadowy methods to achieve its aims. But in this case it was the powers-that-be (who had a lot to lose) that were instrumental in fanning the fears of ordinary people.

    More recent conspiracy theories include Deep State, which is “a type of governance made up of potentially secret and unauthorised networks of power operating independently of a state’s political leadership in pursuit of their own agenda and goals”, and the Great Reset, which believes that global elites are using the pandemic to establish a New World Order (NWO).

    What seems to unite these is the idea that insidious and powerful actors are working undetected to manipulate and change the system in a way that benefits themselves. In other words, “things are not the way they seem”; we ordinary people are just benighted pawns as powerful actors clandestinely work to achieve their own ends. It reflects the fact that power belongs to a relative small group in any society. Ordinary people take the cynical view that they are chumps who are being shut out and deceived.

    Is this how the Trilateral Commission worked?

  328. SFReader says:

    The Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group and Council on Foreign Relations were discussion clubs sponsored and led by David Rockefeller (1915-2017), chairman and chief executive of the Chase Manhattan Corporation and one of the richest men in the world (just like his father and grandfather).

    He is obviously a much more plausible candidate for the shadow ruler of America (and the “Free World”) than these discussion clubs composed of retired academics and government officials.

  329. David Eddyshaw says:

    Says Adam Smith himself:

    People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices…. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies, much less to render them necessary.

  330. I think the Communist party was always seen as a conspiracy aimed at overthrowing the capitalist system.

    But they said all along that’s what they were doing. How on earth is something that’s openly proclaimed at every opportunity a “conspiracy”?

  331. Were the Allied Powers in WWII a conspiracy to defeat the Axis?

  332. PlasticPaddy says:

    @bathrobe, hat
    I think it could be argued that in countries where the CP was a significant force, it operated mainly (apart from its funding) openly. In countries where it was marginal, it may have engaged more in clandestine ways, seeking to infiltrate or control organisations seen as suitable grounds for recruitment or for the promotion of Party objectives (or for the dissemination of information considered to be supportive of those objectives).

  333. OK, it might make sense to say such-and-such group of people in a union constitute a conspiracy aimed at establishing Communist rule, but not that the Communist party is “a conspiracy aimed at overthrowing the capitalist system.” If you say “we aim at overthrowing the capitalist system,” that is an open statement of purpose, not a conspiracy.

  334. John Emerson says:

    “We disdain to conceal our aims” said young Marx, it that was a mistake and Lenin worked differently. In the US some CP members did not publicly proclaim their affiliation, and some key individuals were not allowed to formally join at all because they were more valuable outside the party.

    I believe that in the US though not necessarily elsewhere, Communists did more good than harm — labor movement, civil rights (but not necessarily foreign policy). My home state of Minnesota was the great success of the Communist Popular Front, and that era was the great age of Minnesota politics.

    To me secretly coordinated public action is so integral to political and social history that to say that it is necessarily wrong is like saying that friction or entropy is wrong. But that means that if you’re in any kind of adversarial position, as you usually are in politics, you should be alert to the possibility that some of the other players are in systematic bad faith or are systematically coordinating their actions. And this requires a degree of conjecture.

    Does this mean that in the right circumstances I would conspire? Maybe, except that for me it wouldn’t be a conspiracy because it did not meet the third criterion of wrongness. But for my adversaries it would be conspiracy.

  335. David Eddyshaw says:

    I believe that in the US though not necessarily elsewhere, Communists did more good than harm

    Communist rule in the USSR, though it involved huge suffering for the peoples of the USSR itself, pretty clearly benefitted workers in the West; the more predatory aspects of capitalism were tempered by the fact that a functioning large-scale non-capitalist system actually existed as an alternative, and in a major world power, at that. The narrative that it never could have worked in the first place was not yet established in the sixties, say (quite the contrary); once the triumphalist story that all alternatives to capitalism had simply proven unworkable was fully established, there was no longer any need for the kid gloves.

  336. Communist rule in the USSR, though it involved huge suffering for the peoples of the USSR itself, pretty clearly benefitted workers in the West; the more predatory aspects of capitalism were tempered by the fact that a functioning large-scale non-capitalist system actually existed as an alternative, and in a major world power, at that.

    True, but the sad counterpoint is that the viciousness of Communist rule in the USSR (and then China, Cambodia, etc.) has discredited radical leftism in general. If Lenin had never existed and the “softer” Social Democrats had prevailed, we’d all be more likely to have Nice Things today.

  337. Lars Mathiesen says:

    The Danish dictionary that I checked says that konspirere is to ‘secretly lay plans with criminal or hostile intent.’ The interesting thing is that the conspiracy is responsible for maintaining the secrecy, but whether the intent is noble or base is in the eye of the beholder.

    A sane and disinterested historian who tries to figure out whether some event was in fact the result of a conspiracy is not what conspiracy theorist means now. It looks more like paranoia — but they say the human capacity for paranoia was a survival trait when there were actually leopards just outside the camp.

  338. A sane and disinterested historian who tries to figure out whether some event was in fact the result of a conspiracy is not what conspiracy theorist means now. It looks more like paranoia

    Exactly. That doesn’t mean trying to figure out whether some event was the result of a conspiracy is actually paranoia, but when that’s what people are going to think, it makes sense to express yourself differently, unless you enjoy getting people riled up.

  339. @DE: I’m not sure whether I share your narrative. Expanding the vote and the creation of the welfare state began before the Soviet Union existed, based on the fight of the workers’ movement, fear of revolution by the capitalists, and the need of the modern nation state to mobilise its population for war; and the neo-liberal roll-back of the welfare state began before the Soviet Union broke down, due to globalisation and the concomitant de-industrialisation, accompanied by a trend to professional (non-draft) armies. Additionally, one can argue that the existence of the USSR closed down certain alternatives and avenues of reform.

  340. Similarly, if I think someone is going to stop listening to me if I say I’m an anarchist, I might say something like “I don’t believe in government based on forcible repression” and see what the response is.

  341. fear of revolution by the capitalists

    Which was surely greatly increased by the success of an actual revolution.

  342. @Bathrobe: The notion of a Deep State—and whether it is conspiracy—is a tricky one, since in Turkey (the original setting for which the term Deep State was coined) there really is a power structure based on the military and the civil service, which was capable of overthrowing the elected governments on multiple occasions.* The ease with which the Turkish military—which is by far the country’s most respected institution—could push aside an elected government is demonstrated by the fact that twice the government has been brought down by a “coup by memorandum.” The military leaders only had to announce that they planned to intervene if the situation did not change, and the civilian government collapsed. Part of what made these “post-modern coups” possible was that it was widely understood that the government bureaucracy would largely support a military takeover. Only a few officers and civil servants would actually be part of the active conspiracy before the announcement of a coup (whether traditional or post-modern), but the vast majority of them would be expected to support a coup once it was underway—which might make them after the fact conspirators.

    * In some respects, the military have been a moderating influence on Turkish politics—particularly as the guardian of secularism in the Turkish republish. However, the military’s consistently repressive approach to the Kurdish problem is an obvious exception.

  343. they say the human capacity for paranoia was a survival trait when there were actually leopards just outside the camp

    If paranoia really was an adaptation then, it was not because people were leopardised by the jeopards, but rather by other tribe members. The conspiracy-theorist sort of paranoia may be one of the many intuitions that work well in small groups of people but fail in large societies.

  344. “the more predatory aspects of capitalism were tempered by the fact that a functioning large-scale non-capitalist system actually existed as an alternative, and in a major world power, at that.”

    I wonder how China fits in though. In the context of CO2 I was going to call them more capitalist then the West.

  345. My logic was:

    One popular idea is that lobbying of oil companies hinders the progress in alternative energy sources. Whether true or not, the fact is that there is lobbying. If you accept (as I do) that we soon will have to stop burning oil, the next step is that other energy sources (whether they are better or not) are the future. And then oil lobby becomes a form or government’s support for an outdated industry. even if politicians do not think of it this way. Apart of this some governments do protect (and sponsor) their coal industries to save jobs.

    What I expect from China though, is that they are exactly predatory capitalists. They won’t protect their coal, much less foreign oil. They burn both just because they are growing and developing (much unlike us). Their fuel this development with carbon. Meanwhile they invest a lot in renewables.

    They are world leaders in that now: both in investments and, say, in wind power.
    (It just does not prevent them from being the world leaders in greenhouse emissions too. )

    And the 20 years later you won’t find a more staunch defender of some future “Beijing accords” and enemy of oil and coal than CCP.
    They will own renevable energy market and… it will be the only energy market around, because we just can not keep burning things. They will export their wind farms and solar arrays and nuclear plants to Africa, to Russia, to everyone.

  346. SFReader says:

    February Revolution in Russia is a good example of a real conspiracy which amazingly stayed secret for over a century.

    Though admittedly, not because it was well hidden – due to unfortunate events which followed its success, it became convenient for all sides to deny there was a conspiracy against tsar – it was easier to pretend that it was instead a popular revolt by starving working class supported by war-weary garrison of Petrograd – totally unplanned black swan event, nobody could foresee it, only conspiracy theorists could believe there was a conspiracy…

  347. What do you mean? Who was behind this conspiracy? The Masons?

  348. SFReader says:

    Liberal opposition which controlled the parliament conspired with the army command to depose the unpopular tsar and replace him with a provisional government composed of opposition politicians. Some local Bolsheviks were hired to organize strikes at the Putilov plant and raise workers (without knowledge of the party leadership in emigration – poor Lenin wasn’t even informed).

    Leading conspirators – Chairman of the State Duma Rodzianko, Progressive Block leader Guchkov, Chief of Staff of the Stavka general Alekseyev.

  349. SFReader says:

    In contrast, the October revolution while certainly a conspiracy wasn’t much of a secret before, during and after the event.

    Nobody tried to claim that it was an unplanned and unforeseen revolt by starving masses.

  350. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hat
    Re Masons from Russian Wikipedia:
    Однако встречающиеся в исторической литературе и публицистике утверждения о принадлежности Алексеева к масонской Военной ложе, а также о центральной роли Алексеева в организации антимонархического заговора и отречения Николая II от Всероссийского престола

  351. Oh, there’s a whole squadron of Russian Masonic-conspiracy theorists (often in combination with Jewish conspiracies); that’s why I mentioned them.

  352. J.W. Brewer says:

    I feel like the Freemasons are falling on hard times among conspiracy buffs, at least in the U.S., and losing their cultural cachet. Consider the recent “secret Jewish space laser” viral internet thing. Could it be a Masonic space laser or even a Judeo-Masonic space laser? No virality to that, apparently. They no longer seem much more sinister than the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo. Things may be otherwise elsewhere, of course. (The same is probably true, FWIW, of other once-fearsome stock players in conspiracy theories like the Jesuits.)

  353. Russia will be the last to let go of Masonic conspiracies, mark my words.

  354. David Marjanović says:

    Which was surely greatly increased by the success of an actual revolution.

    Sure. Still, Germany’s health insurance system (very similar to Obamacare + public option), among plenty of comparable things, comes from none other than Bismarck and his fear of a hypothetical revolution.

  355. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, sure, Russia has an impressive historical track record and a big advertising budget, but why assume in advance that somewhat smaller worthy contenders like the Romanians and Serbs have no chance at all?

  356. Bathrobe says:

    China now seems to be the new darling of world conspiracy theories, with titles like Hegemon: China’s Plan to Dominate Asia and the World (Stephen Mosher), Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy (Bill Gertz), Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Robert Spalding), Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy America (Qiao Long and Wang Xiangsui), The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (Michael Pillsbury), Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? (Graham Allison), China’s Vision of Victory (Jonathan D T Ward)…. The appropriate response for many is, of course, whataboutism (look at yourselves with your monopolies, militarism, domination by powerful, rich elites, military adventurism, etc!), which unfortunately rings all too true.

    But despite the shrill tone of many of these books, I believe that China does have a plan to regain what it sees as its rightful place in the world, and it has been working steadily towards this goal for several decades. There is long-term strategic thinking on the Chinese side that is lacking in many of its adversaries. Deng Xiaoping’s advice that China should ‘bide its time’; the welcoming of foreign capital into nonessential sectors of the economy, making China the workshop of the world, while maintaining political control and protecting strategic industries; the use of every means possible not only to milk high-technology from the West but also to build up China’s own technological base (which is surprisingly effective); its forward defence strategising; and its use of its new economic power to carve out its own spheres of influence (Belt and Road), these all bear the hallmark of long-term strategic planning without sacrificing pragmatism. I don’t think that Belt and Road was in Deng Xiaoping’s original plans but it is of a piece with the overall strategy. Recent efforts to homogenise the country (as seen in the gradual extirpation of Tibetan, Uyghur, Mongolian language and culture, etc.) are just one aspect of the plan of ‘making China stronger’.

    I was dimly aware of China’s ambitions when I was in China. The responsibility for not detecting this ‘conspiracy’ does not belong to the Chinese; the signs were always there. It is partly due to the rapacity of Western capitalists, who can’t bear to miss short-term opportunities for profit, and of course, American self-assurance that the Western way (‘democracy’, ‘open markets’, and control by a powerful capitalist elite) will always win out in the end.

  357. China does not have to be any more or less predatory than other superpowers. I just do not like unipolar (or anypolar) world, and at the moment the pole is China.

    Besides Asia (again, mostly Korea, of course, but China too) turned out to be MUCH better prepared to catastrophes like the one we are experiencing now.

    Seeing how the West was blaming China (who certainly deserved it) instead of preparing was quite a shock for me. Seeing how China was blaming the West was also a shock.

  358. I googled “secret Jewish space lazer”.

    It turns out that
    (1) space generators beaming energy to Earth are real (but have not been launched)
    (2) attributes “Jewish” and “secret” were attached to there by the opponents of this specific theory

    I am disapppointed.

  359. Bathrobe says:

    Seeing how China was blaming the West was also a shock.

    You obviously don’t have much experience with China. The Chinese government and press are liars and are extremely quick to deflect blame, being, of course, the heirs of Russian Communist tactics and having been bitten many times in the past by slanted Western reporting. The unfortunate thing is that they are not the only liars (despite the quaint belief of many people in Western countries that a free and open press is some kind of guarantee against the widespread propagation of blatant falsehoods), which means that you have to somehow balance one set of lies against another.

    Incidentally, China has been ruthless in restructuring its coal industry, closing down swathes of small and unsafe mines, despite the wishes of local governments that they should be kept open. It caused a massive increase in dependence on foreign coal but in the long term it was in China’s interests to rationalise the industry.

  360. The unfortunate thing is that they are not the only liars

    Yes. The problem is that we here expereincign an alien invasion of a sort, it is when we are supposed to work together and unite, etc:) It was not as much surpising as it was disgusting.

    The surprising part was that the West was not preparing.


    I think “a shock” was not an accurate description of my feeling. I was not surprised. I just did not really enjoy listening to that exchange.

  361. The Chinese government is surprisingly artless and obvious about lying. You’d think they’d have gotten better. One news item from Xinhua, printed verbatim in the American press, read in its entirety something like, “Chairman Deng’s health is good and there’s no reason to worry about the Post-Deng era.” (He was sick, obviously.) Recent denials about the Uyghurs aren’t more convincing than that. The West lies much more smoothly.

    As I see it: suppose the large country in question was operating camps where people were kept involuntarily under inhumane conditions. Russia would flatly and briefly deny it. The U.S. would say that perhaps a few mistakes were made, and it’s trying to improve things, and takes such complaints very seriously. China would weave a glorious story about how perfect and wonderful the camps are and about how happy people are there.

  362. Chairman Deng’s health is good and there’s no reason to worry about the Post-Deng era.

    Sounds like the doctors who told the public about Trump’s covid infection….. It was only after he lost the presidency that they revealed how bad he actually was.

    suppose the large country in question was operating camps where people were kept involuntarily under inhumane conditions

    Australia does that with its ‘boat people’. Under the electoral slogan of ‘Stop the boats!’, it put them in offshore camps in places like Nauru and New Guinea. The government has continued its hardline policies despite sporadic reports about how inhumane the conditions are. Similar things happen with people it decides have no right to stay. It plucks them out of the community and puts them in camps in places like Christmas Island and leaves them there for years.

  363. Trump lied very transparently, but no one was buying it except his own, and he was blind to it. The Chinese government is not run by this kind of mental defectives, and I’m surprised they haven’t learned better PR techniques, at least for external consumption.

    (Australia, and quite a few others. There’s no shortage of atrocities. I was just talking about how different governments lie about them.)

  364. China just like Russia was maligned in Western media so much that they became indifferent to what is being written about them.

    “They would lie about us anyway, so why should we worry what they say?”

    That’s why China doesn’t care how bad its lies are.

    Because if they were telling the truth, they would be criticized just the same.

  365. What China is doing in Xinjiang is essentially putting a few percent of Uighur population into short-term (typical stay three months) political indoctrination camps over period of three years.

    Very unproductive solution to the Islamic insurgency problem, but typical of mentality of the generation of Chinese leaders who grew up during the Cultural Revolution.

    Genocide it isn’t.

    But accusations of genocide are dangerous and worrying, because at some point the Chinese leaders might decide that “we are accused of genocide anyway and we even got sanctions for this already, so why not do this for real and get rid of this troublesome minority”.

  366. Russian people are obsessed with what the West is saying about them.

    Exactly the West. They are not even interested in learnign that they are 战斗民族 .

    P.S. a good half of my political arguments with other Russians are: “they hate us”, “and why do you care?” “but they hate us”, etc.

  367. 战斗民族

    But that’s a compliment, isn’t it?

  368. John Emerson says:

    One Masonic lodge played a sinister role in Italy in the period leading up to the murder of Aldo Moro. However, it was only one of about seven sinister groups. During this period conspiracy was the normal standard, and paranoia was directed at double and triple agents.

  369. But that’s a compliment, isn’t it?
    Yes, it is:)

    My point is that I would like Russia to be like Russia and do things in a Russian way.

    P.S. though, Russians are also very curious about people from abroad, and that is what I like about us. “Foreigner” is a good word here. (Even though Tajiks are mostly looked down upon and no one is curious about them:-().

  370. David Eddyshaw says:

    Jewish space lasers

    I liked Seth Meyers’ theory that Greene simply couldn’t remember the word “lightning.”

  371. David Eddyshaw says:

    China doesn’t care how bad its lies are

    Telling shameless transparent lies is a way of demonstrating power. “OK, you say it’s not true. What’re you going to do about it? Who cares what you say, anyway?”

  372. Which was surely greatly increased by the success of an actual revolution.
    Certainly. My point was that the trajectory to a welfare state, workers’ rights and democracy with a broad franchise had begun long before, and would have continued even without a successful revolution in one country, as it was based on internal factors in industrial societies and the necessities of competing nation states to mobilise the entire population for war. I’m simply not sure that there was a sufficient positive effect on Western workers conditions from the additional fear the USSR created to outweigh its negative effects on the West (closing down certain avenues to reform because they’d “lead to Soviet communism”, support of Fascism by European elites due to the perceived threat of communism, support of dictators in the Cold War in order to keep countries out of the Soviet sphere of influence).
    Anyway, we’re in the area of “what if” here, and I wouldn’t even know how to measure these effects against each other.

  373. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hans, hat
    I think that a very large factor is the distribution of wealth. A drastically more equal distribution was imposed by totalitarian states after the first world war, but a less drastically equal distribution was achieved in a more evolutionary manner (with more drastic adjustment related to the Great Depression and the Second World War) in other first-world states. The motives (I do not ascribe the development to blind market forces) were “humane” in the case of socialists and “commercial” in the case of capitalists (although socialists defended their actions as likely to lead ultimately to greater economic success, and capitalists defended their actions as ultimately humane). There is an innate danger that a drastically unequal distribution will evolve again or be imposed, but that would seem to require many actors to act against their own interests or some kind of major disruption, heralding “the end of civilisation as we know it”.

  374. There is an innate danger that a drastically unequal distribution will evolve again or be imposed, but that would seem to require many actors to act against their own interests or some kind of major disruption

    This is an odd statement, considering that the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth in the US (and elsewhere) has been much in the news of late, especially as a major factor in the rise of “populist” politicians like Trump. Voters notoriously act against their own interests with depressing regularity.

  375. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hat
    Yes, the US is an outlier in the first world, i.e top 10%/ top 1% share of overall wealth has almost reached (but not exceeded) 1910 levels (after a sharp decline ending in the 1970s). This is not really the case in other (first world) countries.

  376. Regardless of how much of an outlier it is, it would seem to militate against the idea of “an innate danger that a drastically unequal distribution will evolve again or be imposed.” It’s not some possible dystopia, it’s here and causing trouble.

  377. See Thomas Piketty passim.

  378. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hat
    Thanks. I was just using the top 1% / top 10% share of the wealth (here UK is similar to and perhaps slightly better than) France. But there are clearly other measures (although I don’t know if it is easy to compare countries using them).

  379. PlasticPaddy says:

    I suppose that I was just assuming that the US “can do” spirit would allow it to gradually stop being an outlier once this is clearly perceived to need addressing.

  380. I’m afraid it’s not about “can do” spirit but about the ruthless drive of the rich and powerful to preserve and increase their wealth and power by any available means; this can be stymied to some extent by concerted efforts on the part of the rest of the population to impose taxes and regulations, but those don’t magically change the situation — the rich and powerful will keep trying to get rid of them and resume their dogged accumulation, and this started happening in the US under Reagan and in the UK under Thatcher. If the rich could literally turn the rest of us into serfs, they would gladly do it, telling themselves and us that it’s for our own good. One Big Union!

  381. this started happening in the US under Reagan and in the UK under Thatcher
    And that’s part of my point – it happened when the USSR was still seen as a threat, it’s sudden collapse coming over half of a decade later. Part of what changed the balance was, in my view, that due to the experience with the Vietnam war, the U.S. had decided to get rid of the draft and instead of relying on mobilisation of the populace for war, started to rely on a combination of a professional army plus technical superiority and nuclear weaponry. That ended the need to maintain mass stakeholdership in the system and allowed to aim for satisfying a small majority, playing off different parts of the electorate against each other.

  382. And of course our insane military spending gobbles up a huge proportion of the budget that could otherwise be turned toward more productive uses, such as keeping the population healthy, educated, and out of jail (incarceration being another insane outlier).

  383. John Emerson says:

    During the Vietnam war, one branch of the opposition ended up working to abolish the draft to reduce the suffering to American young men, and the other use draft resistance as a way to resist the war, knowing that without the draft they’d have much less leverage. The distinction wasn’t clear to everyone and the former group ended up dominant, and the volunteer army was one of the fruits of the war resistance, though it was no one’s main goal.

    There’s a general theory that there’s a mutuality between democracy and popular armies.

  384. David Marjanović says:

    Sounds like the doctors who told the public about Trump’s covid infection….. It was only after he lost the presidency that they revealed how bad he actually was.

    It was wholly transparent while it was happening – Trump was flown to Walter Reed, and there he got antibodies (“Regeneron”) and steroids. They must have been seriously scared he was about to die.

    There’s a general theory that there’s a mutuality between democracy and popular armies.

    Yes; it rests on assumptions from the 18th and 19th century that have little relation to current situations.

  385. John Cowan says:

    So TIL it was not until 1977 in England-and-Wales that it became impossible to convict someone for conspiracy if the underlying act is not a crime. Technically this is still true of conspiracy to commit fraud, for “fraud” as such is not a crime known to the English-and-Welsh, but a complex congeries of iridescent globes statutory offenses.

    Another part of the 1977 Act was to abolish certain old rules that no longer made much sense. It has always been true that two people could be convicted of conspiracy even if it cannot be proved which of them actually committed the crime (as for example both sets of fingerprints are on a murder weapon but it cannot be shown which one actually shot the victim). But it used to be the case that if Alice and Bob were both charged with conspiracy and pleaded not guilty, and Alice changed her plea to guilty, then if Bob was acquitted, Alice would be necessarily acquitted as well. But if there is sufficient evidence of Charlie conspiring with Dave, then it is no longer a problem that there is insufficient evidence of Dave conspiring with Charlie, in which case Charlie may be convicted though Dave is acquitted.

  386. J.W. Brewer says:

    At least in the U.S. you most definitely do not need the contemplated crime to ever have been committed by anyone for the conspirators to be guilty of conspiracy to commit it, only the agreement to commit it and an “overt act” (which need not itself be a crime) indicating preparation to commit the crime and/or conceal it. This is useful to law enforcement because they don’t have to worry so much that foiling the conspirators’ plans by arresting them “too early” will enable the arrestees to avoid criminal liability. It may also be useful when one of the “co-conspirators” turns out to be an undercover agent, because it means law enforcement can minimize certain risks by having the undercover provide the others with fake drugs or a fake weapon etc. Exactly how close to successfully doing X someone needs to get before they can be convicted of attempted X is (best as I recall, I haven’t had occasion to focus on it in quite some time) a trickier question.

  387. David Eddyshaw says:

    “fraud” as such is not a crime known to the English-and-Welsh

    There is, of course, no word for “fraud” in Welsh. We find the concept incomprehensible.

  388. Tens of millions German and Soviet soldiers were killed in WWII without democracy in either country though.

  389. There is, of course, no word for “fraud” in Welsh.

    An actual question: is the verb “to welsh” used in Wales?

  390. Stu Clayton says:

    I’ve always imagined that it is necessary to welsh a rabbit in order to make welsh rabbit. Of course a smart rabbit will welsh on you to avoid that outcome. These are the facts, however one prefers to express them in Wales.

  391. As for populism: if we do not rely upon historical democracies (you won’t find them in the modern world) and if we do not have a technical definition of a democracy (and I am afraid these are going to be arbitrary), then the very distinction between “democracy” and “populism” is a problem.

    The right is anti-establishment (in good old days, the left was). Do not such sentiments mean that a large part of population feels removed from decision making/disenfranchized?

  392. @David Eddyshaw:

    Taffy was a Welshman. Taffy was a fraud.
    Taffy came and scammed me out of all the beef I’d thawed.
    I went to Taffy’s house and Taffy was conspiring.
    I upended the chamber pot and gave him a bemiring.

  393. Tens of millions German and Soviet soldiers were killed in WWII without democracy in either country though.
    True. There are no simple laws in history, only tendencies. Classical 19th / 20th century nation state warfare required the mobilisation of the masses; that boosted developments towards welfare and democracy. Nazi Germany and the USSR did the welfare part without democracy, which they substituted by propaganda and terror. Plus, in the case of the USSR, actually being invaded by a merciless enemy is very helpful for mobilising the population for war.

  394. Re populism: ideally, the difference between a democrat and a populist is the same as between a friend and a flatterer – the former has your best interests at heart and tells you what he thinks is good for you, while the latter tells you what you want to hear in order to further his own interests. In practice, it’s often hard to distinguish one from the other.

  395. J.W. Brewer says:

    The “friend” Hans describes may be a good statesman, but I’m not sure that “democrat” is the best description. The classic defense of that position is by a politician (Edmund Burke MP) whom I suspect did not generally use “democracy” or “democratic” as completely positive words, but did have an explicit non-populist/non-demagogic theory about his role as MP (from the Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, 1777):

    “Certainly, Gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his satisfactions, to theirs,—and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.

    “But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure,—no, nor from the law and the Constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

  396. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Y, Brett:

    You’ll be laughing on the other side of your faces when the Sleeper awakes!

    Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam rexque futurus.

    O yes! Bwahahahah!

  397. Hans, yes. I mean that the theory is incomplete. We can’t say it is a necessary or sufficient condition.

    Iceland is democratic enough (at least majority of Icelanders can gather and ask the government to resign:)).
    Yet their peacekeepers – de-mining personnel and doctors, I assume – are not even allowed to have sidearms for self-defence (they were, but that seemed not pacifist enough…). Then the question is: in what societies and what situations draft (or professional) army is favourable for democracy and to which extent.

    As for populism, there are conditions that make populism popular.

    The public part of anti-Trump movement looks like people who proclaim goals similar to mine but are not sincere anymore. The other part, that is people who are against Trump include everyone with a background similar to mine. I can not say “insincere”. I also have Iranian freinds, why would I like Trump? But they are dismissive and arrogant towards his supporters, and maybe there is also a difference: university professors in my country are a rather poor class, removed from power. I suspect that legitimate concerns of Trumpists are also ignored – because everything is ignored at this level of polarization. Jstor Daily would just call Trumpists “white supremacists”. Some of them who I met online were black though – and my impression of them was positive (I mean, not as in “mental deficient blacks”, just positive).

  398. Looking from Russia though, Trump is the same as Obama or Putin. I mean, a president can drop bombs abroad or at home, he is a barbarian for me anyway.
    At home the one who drops bombs abroad looks more civilized:)

  399. David Eddyshaw says:

    Looking from Russia though, Trump is the same as Obama

    A lack of perspective.

  400. Rather my retina lacks the sensitivity and dynamic range for the shades of grey between bloodthirsty governments.

  401. If all you see is red, maybe you’re on Mars.

  402. P.S. politicized Russians like Trump. Some of my friends liked Obama, as a speaker/orator. He even delivered a speech in one of our universities, some of my freinds were there and said everyone was just charmed. And a friend of mine who never seen him in person is still of very hight opinion of him as a speaker. But mostly the above explains why a Russian has no reason to feel anti-Trump.

    The Libyan war, for example. Yes, Qaddafi is a bad guy. Obama is, Trump is, Putin is, why not Qaddafi. Maybe even worse. And yes, if the intervention was meant to establish peace or defend human rights, it would be a good thing, maybe.

    It was not. It was more like let’s kill the bad guys and dance on their graves.

    Trump, he is just not more war-like than the average. He killed Soleimani and threatened Iran, and as result Iran (expecting a missile strike) shot down a plane. That was bad. What I mean: I have freinds in Tehran, and of course such things do affect my opinion of Trump and others. And you do not have freinds in Tehran, maybe.

  403. university professors in my country are a rather poor class, removed from power

    University professors in US of A are also usually not Rockefellers. And have political power of about nil. There are a few celebrity academics and that’s it. Warning: not everything F. News says is true.

  404. SFReader says:

    Trump is a very Russian looking fellow.

    Reminds me of Boris Yeltsin for some reason.

  405. John Emerson says:

    I remember American media treating Yeltsin as this charmingly original liberator.

  406. University professors in US of A are also usually not Rockefellers. And have political power of about nil.
    I know. Yet:
    – universities themselves are influential
    – access to education partly (at least it is seen so) defines the priviliged.
    So maybe there there is a closer association between the “establishment” and the university public.


    P.S. and by no means I can be against these people. The problem is, as I said, polarization. I am afraid they are unable to listen to legitimate concerns of others.

  407. John Emerson says:

    Teachers at every level are also gatekeepers, so that a business-oriented student might hold a teacher in contempt because of his mediocre economic status, while simultaneously hating him as an elitist because the teacher blocks the way to some useful credential.

  408. Here good education means you become knowlegeable. That is all.

    P.S. well, not all.

    I met once a taxi driver from Norhtern Caucasus (Kabardino-Balkaria, but I did not ask what of the two he was) with very basic Russian and likely a villager. Making a career in Moscow – or even in Nalchik – must be complicated for him. But it is more like a cultural barrier.

    I am not sure that “knowing who is Darwin” is education.

  409. PlasticPaddy says:

    @drasvi
    Maybe you could refine your point about Obama/Trump to something like “It is difficult to distinguish between US administrations on the basis of their actions in foreign policy (which is what interests foreigners primarily). Of course distinctions can be drawn on the basis of domestic policy (which interests US residents) and rhetoric (which interests students of rhetoric and political analysts)”. Since the end of the Second World War, there seems to be an unresolved tension between an essentially and more or less openly imperialist and amoral approach to foreign affairs and a rhetoric stressing democratic and (Judeo-) Christian values.

  410. David Eddyshaw says:

    democratic and (Judeo-) Christian values

    As a Christian and a democrat (as opposed to a Christian Democrat) I would love to think that this is a natural pairing (and would certainly maintain that it should be), but sadly I don’t think that it is, by any means.

    Even on the level of application-free rhetoric, the most ostensibly Christian noises in American foreign-policy recently came from the Trump administration, whose commitment to democracy both at home and abroad struck me as suboptimal (much like that of its self-proclaimed “Christian” supporters.)

  411. @drasvi: Sorry if I already said that, but the way a country staffs its military is only one factor that influences its political and social structures (and of course, those structures also influence how the military is formed). There are historical and cultural issues, e.g. Iceland is part of the Nordic countries, an area that has a long-standing culture of solidarity and public participation. Iceland is also part of a trans-Atlantic political area (the “West”), where democracy and a market economy are seen as the default norm. If the U.S. were a communist or a fascist hegemon, Iceland (and, depending on the reach of that hegemony most European countries) most probably wouldn’t be democracies.
    @JWB: Yes, “democrat” was not the most fitting label. What I wanted to explain to drasvi is that, in my view, democracy doesn’t mean “giving the people what they want” all of the time, it means giving the people means to be the final arbiter on who will rule them and what laws will govern them, even if not everybody, not even a majority, is content with all the laws and all the personages governing them at any specific time. Populism, OTOH, for me implies telling people what they want to hear, and claiming a mandate from “the people” even if you’re representing only a temporal majority or, more often, a very vocal large minority.

  412. These he does not derive from your pleasure,—no, nor from the law and the Constitution.

    I would have said something similar if I ruled a country:) Because I am obviously, a human. I can be responsible for someone, but I am myself and won’t do what I do not like.

  413. January First-of-May says:

    Maybe you could refine your point about Obama/Trump to something like “It is difficult to distinguish between US administrations on the basis of their actions in foreign policy (which is what interests foreigners primarily). Of course distinctions can be drawn on the basis of domestic policy (which interests US residents) and rhetoric (which interests students of rhetoric and political analysts)”.

    For what it’s worth, my impression was that Trump was about as much unlike Obama as it was possible to get without being an outright evil dictator, but in both cases their actions were tempered by Congress towards the center(-right), so the result came across as not actually all that different.

    Regarding Russia in particular, there was also the angle that Trump originally promised amicable relations with Putin (which was obviously popular among the part of the Russian population that was tired of all those sanctions*), but it turned out to be so unpopular with his base (and with Obama’s base, for that matter; there is generally little love for Russia remaining in the USA) that he had to backtrack on those promises all the time, and it was hard to tell from outside whether he ever legitimately intended to do that or if they were just empty promises in the first place.

     
    *) I’ve actually read somewhere – not sure how true it is, but it sounds disturbingly plausible – that most of the “sanctions” felt by the general population, e.g. import restrictions, are in fact technically Russian sanctions on the West (i.e. instituted by the Russian government) rather than Western sanctions on Russia.

  414. John Emerson says:

    I have been in opposition to American foreign / military policy since 1967, and my overall feeing is that there have been very few discontinuities during that time. There have been factional struggles within the ruling group (Kissinger vs. Brzezinski) and shifts of emphasis and adjustments of approach, but these never are major sea changes and never amount to renouncing the overall goal of global dominance or a complete change in leadership, and they have little or no relationship to the public dialogue and not much relationship to anything Congress does.

    Whatever exceptions there are to what i just said are mostly either adjustments within an unchanged over all (switching to a volunteer army) or pauses waiting for the heat to die down.

    That’s my version of the Deep State, which was a useful concept before. it was appropriated by Trump

  415. I have been in opposition to American foreign / military policy since 1967

    Me too. I started the year mocking a peacenik who gave a talk at our high school and ended it mocking a supporter of the war who gave a talk there. (This was confusing to those of my classmates who hadn’t kept up with my political evolution.)

  416. Russian consumer was hardest hit by ruble devaluation of 2014 which in turn was caused by falling oil prices (and it had nothing to do with sanctions).

    Compared to this shock, everything else barely registers.

  417. most ostensibly Christian noises in American foreign-policy recently came from the Trump administration

    DE, what are you talking about?

  418. I’ve actually read somewhere – not sure how true it is, but it sounds disturbingly plausible – that most of the “sanctions” felt by the general population, e.g. import restrictions, are in fact

    depending on what is “felt”.
    – cheese disappeared.
    – rouble fell.
    – some people around me lost jobs.

    Those who eat cheese did feel disappearance of cheese. Accusations of anti-Putin people who complained about cheese in low-mindedness vere common during khokhlosrach.
    In two variants
    (1) (pro-Putin*), ha-ha-ha
    (2) (not pro-Putin) “people are dying in Donbass and you are speaking about cheese”

    In such accusations “parmesan” stood for cheese because it sounded properly foreign and implied that you are corrupt and rich. But actually, any cheese disappeared. I can not agree with (2).


    * or rather not pro-Putin, but pro-expansion/confrontation/intervention

  419. January First-of-May says:

    Russian consumer was hardest hit by ruble devaluation of 2014 which in turn was caused by falling oil prices (and it had nothing to do with sanctions).

    Indeed, but (IIRC) even if technically unrelated (was it? never looked it up) it happened pretty much at the same time as the start of the sanctions, so people ended up thinking it was connected anyway.

    [UPD: not quite, though it was close; see below.]

     
    EDIT:

    depending on what is “felt”.
    – cheese disappeared.
    – rouble fell.

    The cheese (and other similar products) was what I was talking about in my claim that it was (supposedly) an import restriction by Russia rather than an export restriction by some other country/ies. (In practice it was probably a bit of both, but in retrospect the frequent stories of burned contraband do suggest the former.)

    I have no idea why the rouble fell – I assumed it was because of the sanctions, but it could easily have been coincidental. Now that I think about it, the biggest crash happened several months after the sanctions were already ongoing (and smaller crashes continued into 2015 and further).

  420. David Marjanović says:

    – universities themselves are influential

    …no.

    – access to education partly (at least it is seen so) defines the priviliged.

    The privileged are a subset of the educated. Education alone does not confer a lot of prestige – less than money does, and remember that most people who graduate from a US university these days are a hundred kilobucks in debt and need decades to pay their student loans off.

    an essentially and more or less openly imperialist and amoral approach to foreign affairs

    All caused by mindless fear first of communism, then of terrorism.

    Regarding Russia in particular, there was also the angle that Trump originally promised amicable relations with Putin (which was obviously popular among the part of the Russian population that was tired of all those sanctions*), but it turned out to be so unpopular with his base (and with Obama’s base, for that matter; there is generally little love for Russia remaining in the USA) that he had to backtrack on those promises all the time, and it was hard to tell from outside whether he ever legitimately intended to do that or if they were just empty promises in the first place.

    Really? Trump’s base, very much unlike Obama’s or Clinton’s or Biden’s, seems to have warmed up a lot to, at least, Putin personally, for a long list of reasons that should all be obvious. Already in 2016 there were T-shirts saying “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat”.

  421. seems to have warmed up a lot to, at least, Putin personally, for a long list of reasons that should all be obvious.

    It is not that Obama’s base systematically hates authoritarian leaders.

    It is not that Trump’s base is fond of China either.

  422. John Emerson says:

    Besides being thought of as “a privileged elite” , in the US the educated are thought of as an interest group or faction in competition with other interest groups and factions, which has the chilling consequence that. in effect, some competing groups will refuse to listen to anyone who knows what they’re talking about.

    And while intellectuals and universities are not influential on the level of finance, industry , media bosses, some major politicos and major bureaucrats, and intellectuals are not usually wealthy, as teachers intellectuals have power in the lives of their students, who think about the power they see and feel without placing it in any larger context.

    I think that at the highest levels America’s imperial dream is motivated by the perception that American dominance is a possible goal, and that anticommunist and anti terrorist justification was for general public consumption.

  423. drasvi: It is not that Obama’s base systematically hates authoritarian leaders.

    Universally, no. Systematically, yes.

  424. Universally, no. Systematically, yes.

    Can you be sure of that? What if Obama had turned out to have authoritarian tendencies? What would it have taken for his base to turn on him? It’s easy to be against “authoritarian leaders” in the abstract, but when one is appealing to your deepest desires and joining you in fighting your most hated enemies, it’s not so simple.

  425. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    I’m too lazy to look up the citation unless requested, but I seem to recall decent evidence that in North Atlantic democracies right-wingers tend to have a greater taste for authoritarianism than left-wingers. Which suggests there’s a difference between Obama’s supporters, who would have supported him even if he’d been more authoritarian, and Trump’s supporters, who would have supported him even if he’d been less authoritarian. I’m not familiar with evidence on where and when left-wingers dropped their Stalinist sympathies for authoritarianism, which certainly used to exist in much of Europe if possibly not the US

  426. @languagehat: I agree with Socrates, that I cannot be sure of anything. However, this is actually something that I am extremely confident about. Specifically, I believe it would be virtually impossible for an authoritarian to win the Democratic nomination for president in twenty-first century America; and if a Democratic president did somehow start behaving in an authoritarian manner, there would be a widespread backlash from within their own party—both among the grassroots and elected party leaders. This is an area where there is a very important asymmetry between the institutional political parties in America, and a corresponding asymmetry between parties’ voter bases.

    I understand that not everyone has the same confidence that I do, and the very fact that some very intelligent and informed people doubt these propositions is a reason to seriously entertain the possibility that they may not be true. However, even taking this into account, those are my sincere, open-eyed beliefs on the matter.

  427. David Marjanović says:

    Stalinism became untenable when the sheer size of the bloodshed by Stalin, Mao et al. became impossible to deny. I would guess in the 1970s; at the latest when the Soviet Union crumbled to dust.

    (…There are a few slightly hilarious Stalinists on Twitter. They’re very young and unusually ignorant.)

    The difference to the Nazis is that for the Nazis, the bloodshed is the goal. For Stalinists, the bloodshed is a byproduct that is at best neutral, so if the actual goals aren’t reached, the bloodshed can’t be defended.

  428. Specifically, I believe it would be virtually impossible for an authoritarian to win the Democratic nomination for president in twenty-first century America

    Not so long ago, everyone would have agreed that it would be virtually impossible for an authoritarian to win either major party’s nomination for president. These things change with remarkable rapidity. The radical left is growing in number and influence, and the radical left has never had a problem with authoritarians as long as they have the desired policies. There are lots and lots of people on the left who would love to see racists, rich people, “fascists,” and suchlike malefactors deprived of all manner of “privileges,” and of course the category of malefactors is pretty much infinitely expandable (see the early history of the Soviet Union). I hope you’re right, but I’m not sure where you get your certainty.

  429. David Eddyshaw says:

    I have little doubt but that my own opinions would be called “radical left” in the US (where the actual animal seems to be extinct, or at least highly endangered); neither I nor my many like-minded comrades within the Labour Party have any hankering for authoritarianism at all. The Daily Mail would like to you believe otherwise, of course … Freud probably had a snappy name for this phenomenon.

  430. Oh, I’m sure that’s true of you, but I don’t know how you can be so sure about all your comrades. Hardly anybody would say cheerfully “Sure, I love dictators,” but that’s not how it generally works. You put your heart and soul into getting your chosen leader into power, and then he takes harsh but necessary measures, and by the time the authoritarianism becomes clear it’s too late. I’m not saying I think this is likely, but as an anarchist I am extremely sensitive to any hint of “by any means necessary,” as an American I’ve seen initially well-meaning progressive movements turn to violence more than once, and as a member of MetaFilter I see a lot of leftie impatience with tolerance, free speech, and democratic norms. The thing is, the more restrictive you are about your leftism (the more detailed a quiz you have for prospective allies), the less likely you are to be able to get power by democratic means, and since it’s vitally important for all of humanity that you get power…

    Again, I don’t think left authoritarianism is a likely outcome, I just think it’s naive to dismiss it out of hand. “It can’t happen here…”

  431. @David Eddyshaw: Relevant aphorisms from the left-leaning blogosphere, about lashing out by American conservatives:

    It’s always projection.

    and

    Every accusation is a confession.

  432. Well, I meant foreign authoritarian leaders.

    I do not know what exactly DM meant about pro- and anti-Putin sentiments in Trump and Obama’s base, but there is a well established tradition of our-sons-of-a-bitch and mere neutrality to an authoritarian leader does not need even this.

  433. David Marjanović says:

    “radical left” in the US (where the actual animal seems to be extinct, or at least highly endangered)

    It does exist, and it may even be growing, but it’s hard to do statistics with numbers that small. I’m thinking of Bob Avakian and all approximately three of his disciples.

    and then he takes harsh but necessary measures

    In the last few decades it has become a lot harder to convince any number of WEIRD people that any harsh measures can ever be necessary or justifiable. It’s in the entire culture (a few Star Trek episodes come to mind). To tolerate political violence in this day & age in a WEIRD place, you first have to radicalize yourself out of the Overton Window. It’s really not the 1970s anymore – reading about the political movements and discussions among university students of that time is a culture shock for me and starkly illustrates the value of hindsight.

    It’s always projection.

    and

    Every accusation is a confession.

    First Rule of the Republican Party (at least since 2002): Always accuse your opponent of being you.

    I do not know what exactly DM meant about pro- and anti-Putin sentiments in Trump and Obama’s base

    I was just replying to January First-of-May’s comment.

  434. I was in turn, explaining what I meant. Russia is a regional power in a region that Trump does not exactly prioritize. But yes, many active Trump supporters sympathize to Putin. and/or Russia*
    I do not know about the majority of people who voted for him but are not “active supporters”, though.

    *and accuse opponents in supporting China.

  435. Another point to remember that in Europe the left (the real left, not the pathetic simulacrum that is the Democratic Party) has traditionally been part of the power structure; left parties have alternated with conservative parties, and Social Democrats are used to working with others, moderating their demands to achieve realistic goals, etc. In America (as in tsarist Russia) the left has been viciously repressed and has no tradition of working with others, so leftist demands tend to be unrealistic and “non-negotiable.” I am, of course, hoping that the current crop of lefties in Congress will learn how to play well with others and change that tradition.

  436. I am afraid I agree with LH.
    I do not remember anyone discussing the approaching Arab Spring in 2009.

  437. I think in around 2005 it ooccured to me that necessary prerequisites for totalitarian regimes of 20th century were modern means of trnsportation and communication. Such regimes could not work before (does not mean that Genghis Khan was better:-) ).

    Mathematically there is not even a difference “necessary prerequisite” and a “reason”. Normally when you call something a reason, it is just one of many reasons, neither necessary, nor sufficient.

    And what I thought is that the Internet gave to us so many really wonderful things that we couldn’t even dream about before. And yet it has not shown its darker side to us yet. I decided that shit must start happening in around 2015, and we are lagging behind my schedule.

    The logic was – the game has changed, and why on Earth all unpredictable consequences much be beutiful? Maybe most, but why all?

  438. David Marjanović says:

    Very good point; and AOC has been quite promising in that respect, as has (for the last two months) Cori Bush in particular.

    (Even so, though, European countries generally have a left to the left of the Social Democrats; in some countries, like Germany, some of these people are organized in parties that have made it into parliament and sometimes into regional governments – and then there are often several splinter parties more like Avakian’s to the left of those. A few presidential elections ago, France had three specifically Trotskyist parties…)

    I do not remember anyone discussing the approaching Arab Spring in 2009.

    …Neither do I, but I have no idea how you’re getting to that topic now…?

  439. David Eddyshaw says:

    harsh but necessary measures

    “I see the broken eggs. But where is my omelette?”

  440. Stu Clayton says:

    “An omelette is not built in a day.”

  441. John Emerson: I have been in opposition to American foreign / military policy since 1967, and my overall feeing is that there have been very few discontinuities during that time. There have been factional struggles within the ruling group (Kissinger vs. Brzezinski) and shifts of emphasis and adjustments of approach, but these never are major sea changes and never amount to renouncing the overall goal of global dominance or a complete change in leadership, and they have little or no relationship to the public dialogue and not much relationship to anything Congress does.

    My take is different (based on a feeling; I’m fairly ignorant about the relevant history). There are several strains of foreign policy in the US. There certainly is a “we take what we can because we can” strain, for sure, and the corrupt propping up of terrible regimes for the benefit of private American enterprises (oil, bananas) who find ways to return the favor. There is the macho competitive-imperialist strain, which viewed the cold war as a sport. But there has also been a well-meaning strain, by people who really want a better world, but would settle for a stable one. In the Middle East, for example, there are almost no good actors, and the friend of your enemy and the enemy of your enemy are awful in their own way. Cold-blooded Realpolitik is often the best you can hope for. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the PA, Hamas, Turkey, Syria, etc. are all entities run by awful people who do awful things, but with these constraints, you can hope for better or worse outcomes. I really think that recent Democratic administrations have been motivated from that point of view, and none had out-and-out sociopaths in charge, of the ilk of Kissinger or Rumsfeld or Trump or a number of others in Republican administrations.

    That said, this sort of Realpolitik can erode the souls of its practitioners. It’s easy to slip, over your career, from realism to cynicism to callousness, without noticing what has happened to you. Moreover, this has always been the cover for the “bad” politicians: “we have to support the murderous right wing government to keep the Soviets from gaining a foothold, which would be worse.” And, different governments with different goals can support the same people for different reasons. Trump supported the Saudis, because he liked Bin Salman for being an awful bastard (with a lot of money to give away). Biden supports the Saudis because they are keeping Iran in check, despite Bin Salman being an awful bastard. Etc.

    All in all, my point is, US governments are not all the same.

  442. Also v. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

  443. There are several strains of foreign policy in the US.

    They’re all pretty much irrelevant in a practical sense (i.e., from the point of view of the people who get killed). A military exists in order to be used. See The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000 by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton, not to mention the classic War Is a Racket by Smedley Butler.

  444. David Eddyshaw says:

    All in all, my point is, US governments are not all the same.

    The idea that “politicians [in a democracy] are all the same” is a toxic and highly effective piece of reactionary propaganda. Every time someone spouts it, democracy dies a little. It is absolutely false.

    (I’m not targeting you, drasvi or Hat: I appreciate that you are making a much more specific point than this. It’s just that I’ve heard this particular lie on the doorstep all too often, unthinkingly repeated by the victims of the con.)

  445. China reports Australia to UN body over ‘violated’ human rights

    My comment above (about Australian offshore camps for refugees/boat people) didn’t come a moment too soon!

    China is becoming very aggressive in its tactics. This move is well deserved on the part of the Australian government, particularly the current government, which is becoming increasingly corrupt and lacking in humanity and decency. Nevertheless, China’s brand of wolf-warrior diplomacy is what-about-ism in the extreme.

  446. Hat: Not at all. The invasion of Iraq was fueled by a doctrine of “we can get away with anything”, plus oil greed, plus macho revenge. It got a lot more people killed than would have been under a policy of “Saddam is a murderous monster, but we can make it worse, so let’s leave him be for now.”

  447. David Eddyshaw says:

    Australian offshore camps for refugees/boat people

    Our own dear Priti Patel (stupid and vicious, ideal for a Borisite Home Secretary) was casting envious eyes at the Australian system lately (these people have their own International, I think.) She was floating (as it were) Ascension Island as our very own Nauru, a proposal of some interest to me as I am one of the few Brits ever to have actually been there. It has turtles, spies and Americans*, but I feel that these amenities may not prove sufficient for effective implementation of the plan. To date, however, my opinion has not been sought. You may draw your own conclusions.

    *Also good sea-fishing, I’m told. Robson Green was doing that for the television when I was there.

  448. Hat: Not at all. The invasion of Iraq was fueled by a doctrine of “we can get away with anything”, plus oil greed, plus macho revenge. It got a lot more people killed than would have been under a policy of “Saddam is a murderous monster, but we can make it worse, so let’s leave him be for now.”

    You’ve missed my point. The details of foreign policy may be of specialist interest, but the military will be used one way or another, in one place or another.

  449. Stu Clayton says:

    Ascension Island … turtles, spies and Americans

    Nomen est omen. What goes up must come down in the world.

  450. David Eddyshaw says:

    But so far

  451. Stu Clayton says:

    Flannery O’Connor claimed Everything That Rises Must Converge. I never could make out whether she was just being difficult or actually had an agenda. These often coincide in any case.

  452. David Eddyshaw says:

    Flannery O’Connor will certainly have been being difficult, whether she had an agenda or not at that point. One can only admire and respect her for it.

  453. Stu Clayton says:

    Yes, her stories are dear to my heart.

  454. There are several strains of foreign policy in the US.

    I have no other explanation for this policy:) It is inconsistent.

    …also been a well-meaning strain, by people who really want a better world, but would settle for a stable …

    Well-meaning people with guns? I value human lives (and that includes lives of bad people) and rights.
    Should I really be more fond of a Russian revolutionary or ISIS fighter than I am of a selfish factory owner? Most of those do not take lives. ISIS fighters kill and die and believe – sincerely – that they serve their God this way.

    Apart of “stability” and “favourable balance of interest” (which are Russian goals on the ME too) one is occasionaly added: “democracy”.

    It is true, there is a belief that (1) dictatorships are Putin’s organic allies (2) Democracies are their organic allies. They indeed try to create democracies, Putin indeed tries to create dictatorships. Both fail sometimes.
    You can see it in terms of selfishness (“make better allies”), idealism (I think Putin beleives this all is good) or a common language. Putin understands hierarchical structures or thinks he does. He needs everything to have a head: someone he could agree upon something with, control or threaten.

    But it could be Communism. Or Islam. It is not enough to make me listen. I will listen if you start with respect to human life and human rights, and these are not in the list.

    I told that some European countries changed a lot to better over 70 years. They can serve as a model and inspiration for others. But the machine Trump was running (and whose course he and Obama both tried to change), where is heading? Human rights? Prosperity for its own people? Peace for others?

    It is heading towards losing the competition to the Chinese machine, that is where.

  455. drasvi: what I meant was, for example, that a murderous dictator like Assad is preferable to a murderous gang like ISIS. Whether by the metric of body count in the short run, or by the metric of predictability and stability which would give one the slight hope of directing history toward a better oucome in the long run.
    Likewise I think US Democrats would have tolerated Putin far more, even with his corruption and oppression and killings, if he didn’t have a taste for destabilization beyond Russia’s borders.

  456. SFReader says:

    In my view, the entire point of US foreign policy is to spread destabilization beyond US borders.

  457. Bathrobe says:

    In my view, the entire point of US foreign policy is to spread destabilization beyond US borders.

    I am sure that many countries have “destabilisation of foreign countries” as part of their foreign policy mix (perhaps Russia is an exception, although I’m not sure how many people would subscribe to this idea), but I think it fair to say that “many countries have destabilisation of foreign countries as a foreign policy goal where it suits their perceived national interests” is closer to the mark.

  458. Occam’s razor favours idiocy.

    Human idiocy (and we know that people are idiots) combined with numerous conflicting internal interestes (and we observe these) are totally consistent with this policy, and enough to explain it. It is a fact that some are evil and most are selfish too.

    But it is hard to believe that they are smart and selfish and I can’t see how they can benefit from the chaos in the Middle East.

  459. Flannery O’Connor claimed Everything That Rises Must Converge. I never could make out whether she was just being difficult or actually had an agenda.

    Stu, Saint Flannery the Didactic always had an agenda. Minutes of her agenda in this case are to be found in the gas clouds generated by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who wrote, “Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.”

  460. Hat, just to clarify: there’s of course no arguing that every single US presidency since a very long time ago has caused death and misery outside its borders. I was looking at a different thing, which is the personalities responsible for what was going on. Some of them are unrepentant war criminals. Some of them really want to do good and believe that the best they can do is “less bad”. It matters to me personally how I think about them. All else being the same, I’d feel better knowing that no Kissingers are pulling the levers.

  461. “Australian government, particularly the current government, which is becoming increasingly corrupt and lacking in humanity and decency. ”

    In what universe can the Australian government be described like that?

    I’ve actually lived in a country with a corrupt and decadent administration, and Australia is heaven on earth compared to that.

  462. SFReader says:

    Once I witnessed an American attempt to overthrow Mongolian government which not only was regarded by Americans themselves as a model of democracy in the region, but also was a loyal US ally having sent troops to fight in US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    No rational explanation exists why they did that since it was obviously counterproductive to any definition of US interests.

    I think it should rather be explained in psychiatric terms.

    US foreign policy establishment, especially its democracy promotion segment, tends to attracts sociopaths who simply enjoy destroying other countries just for the fun of it.

  463. Stalinism became untenable when the sheer size of the bloodshed by Stalin, Mao et al. became impossible to deny. I would guess in the 1970s; at the latest when the Soviet Union crumbled to dust
    The latter. When I became interested in politics in the 80s, there were still a lot on the farther parts of the left (and the farther parts of the left were much more numerous then) for whom the SU could do no wrong, who denied the bloodshed ever happened, and if a bit of blood had been shed, it was all justified and by far not as bad as what the oppressive brutal exploitative capitalist police dictatorship of Western Germany was doing right now. These people really were shut down only with glasnost, when the Soviet Union opened the archives and basically said “you know, all those things we’ve always called propaganda lies? They’re not only true, it actually was worse”.
    Not all of these people have gone away (one of the freshly elected co-chairwomen of the Left party has called the GDR “a legitimate attempt to build socialism in Germany”), but they’re too few to be a danger to democracy these days. Trust in democracy is being corroded much more from the right nowadays, although it seems to me that it’s by far not as bad in Germany as it looks to be in the States.

  464. January First-of-May says:

    She was floating (as it were) Ascension Island as our very own Nauru, a proposal of some interest to me as I am one of the few Brits ever to have actually been there. It has turtles, spies and Americans*, but I feel that these amenities may not prove sufficient for effective implementation of the plan. To date, however, my opinion has not been sought. You may draw your own conclusions.

    …wow. I wouldn’t have expected that any LH regulars had ever been to Ascension Island; it’s a fairly remote place.

    Two weeks ago, I bought a stamp from Ascension Island depicting a map of the island, which at 160 rubles (about $2) is now the most expensive stamp in my mostly-coin collection. I’m still not sure why I bought that stamp in particular. (I also bought several other stamps that day, which were all much cheaper.)

    It is heading towards losing the competition to the Chinese machine, that is where.

    This might be inevitable at this point; I’m not very confident that China is stoppable at all, though I have to admit that most of the main competitors aren’t exactly trying very hard either.

  465. Trond Engen says:

    Norway had two (tiny) communist parties in the seventies and eighties. One was the old-timers, supporting the Soviet Union. The other was made up of radicalized youth from 1968 (which happened in the early seventies). Before an election, it must have been the national election of 1985, the national broadcasting service chose (or were instructed) to have special pre-election coverage even of the minor parties outside parliament, and for once we got to hear the old-timey communists talk for themselves.

    Anyway, the party leader and maybe one other man from the leadership of the party were in the NRK election studios for an interview. As I remember it:

    NRK interviewer: “Since the foundation in the aftermath of the Russian revoultion, you have supported Lenin’s NEP, Stalin’s five-year-plans and terror, Chrustchev’s thaw, and Brezhnev’s traditionalism. You’ve greeted Andropov and Chernenko as standard bearers of communism. Now Gorbachev signals something very different with Glasnost. What is your view on that?”

    NKP leader: “We support it to the full.”

  466. SFReader says:

    As the famous Soviet joke goes:

    “Comrade, have you ever deviated from the party line?”

    “No! no! no! I have always deviated WITH the party line”.

  467. January First-of-May, I still regret not buying a golden rouble with enamel rabbit from Alice in Wonderland minted in Nauru. (Or for Nauru? How do you call that? Of course it was not minted in Nauru)

    I saw it in Sberbank.

    There was also one with prince Vladimir – and queen Elizabeth on the obverse. But this one is not funny.

    My freind once bought for me a cute Cambodian chest and it would be cute to present her a bag of such coins.
    I hesitated because clearly I need a bag of such coins, but I do not have a million dollars yet for this:(

    (She’s a gamer. She bought the chest when she was buying chests in a game. We like to play with reality too)

  468. John Emerson says:

    For the trivia record, the well-meaning architects of Obama’s well-meaning military policy were Ms. Power and Ms. Slaughter. (This is *Language* Hat, after all, not Reason Hat).

    My objection to relatively milder and more well intentioned Democratic military policies is that they didn’t seem to work very well and seemed to be governed by inertia —“let’s do the same thing, but in a better way” (like much of Democratic policy since 1988)

    I also think that Saudi oil and it’s huge spinoff slush funds had far to much influence on American foreign policy. As an evil they’re not very lesser otherwise.

  469. .nu (Nauru) also was a popular domain among Russian prostitutes, but then their parliament for some reason stopped that.

    And they used to recognize Taiwan every couple years. It costs about 50 millions. I mean, this year you take 50 from PRC and recognize them, next year you take 50 from the Republic of China and recognize them etc.

    Abkhazia and Ossetia costed 50.

  470. Bathrobe says:

    In what universe can the Australian government be described like that?

    I don’t think the Australian government is dysfunctional, which I suspect might be applicable to countries you’re referring to. Nevertheless, the Morrison government is really starting to look bad from a number of angles, whether corruption, governance, or humanity.

  471. Well-meaning people with guns? I value human lives (and that includes lives of bad people) and rights.

    My philosophy in a nutshell.

  472. @bathrobe: “starting to look bad from a number of angles, whether corruption, governance, or humanity.”

    It’s astounding that such conclusions can be made.

  473. Disagreement about political issues? Unpossible!!

  474. (Incidentally, I apologize to anyone who comes to LH to get away from politics; I generally try to keep away from it, but now that I’m no longer participating in MetaFilter it’s hard to resist discussing it with a gaggle of smart, opinionated people who don’t descend into insults and frothing at the slightest provocation. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me about the issues, since I occupy such a lonely corner of the political spectrum, but I love seeing the back-and-forth and having to think about things that wouldn’t have occurred to me otherwise. I promise it won’t infect the site in general — I’m not going to start posting clickbait about the latest Washington foofaraw — but when it comes up in the occasional random thread like this, I can’t resist getting into a lively discussion. There are thousands of other threads that won’t raise your blood pressure!)

  475. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Trivium: Domain names in .NU are so popular with Swedish companies that the Nauru government has outsourced the administration to the Swedish Internet Foundation. (Nu is how Scandihoovian spells now, unchanged since PPPIE they say).

    The leftwing parties in Denmark had a similar story to the Norwegian ones. The first election I could vote in (1979), I could select from (in order from right to left, starting at the middle) — the Radical Left Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Socialist People’s Party, the Leftwing Socialists, the Communist Party, and the Communist Workers’ Party. The Communist Party/Marxists-Leninists didn’t manage (or didn’t try) to get enough signatures. The leftmost three are now united in the Unity Party/Red-Greens, so called despite the fact that no Green party was ever part of the formation — but we also now have the Alternative Party and the Independent Greens. (The other side has about as many parties with names that make even less sense without a context).

  476. Danish politics is boring without Glistrup.

  477. John Emerson says:

    For the record, in the Sixties movements orthodox Moscow CP Communists played almost no role, though ex CP radicals, Maoists (Avakian et al) and Trotskyists did. And even the latter groups were only important because they were well-organized, purposeful, and diligent; their numbers were small. It was mostly an anti war movement, with lots of radical Catholics, pacifists, radical individualists, and occultists, stoners, etc.

  478. Yeah, but the Trots were unforgettably annoying.

  479. Norway had two (tiny) communist parties in the seventies and eighties.

    That set me recalling the names of the party newspapers that were sold at almost every newsstand in Tashkent back in the 1970s and 80s.
    Friheten came up first, closely followed by Land og Folk (the one that Herluf Bidstrup contributed cartoons to), Norskensflamman (and there was another one from Swedish comrades, Arbets something Ny Dag, if I’m not mistaken). No Tiedonantaja or Akahata, though.

  480. Trond Engen says:

    That set me recalling the names of the party newspapers that were sold at almost every newsstand in Tashkent back in the 1970s and 80s.

    I haven’t thought of this, but importing party newspapers in numbers far beyond actual readership would have been a convenient way to support the communist parties financially.

  481. Ah, the newspapers of the comrades! Rudé Právo, Népszabadság, Neues Deutschland, Trybuna Ludu, Scînteia… And of course it gave me a patriotic thrill to see the Daily Worker on sale in the Homeland of Actually Existing Socialism back in the day.

  482. Stu Clayton says:

    gas clouds generated by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

    Jonathan Morse: oh my, I had forgotten where that title came from, if ever I knew. It’s only natural to forget such a writer as TdC, is it not ? Gotta draw the line somewhere.

  483. Trybuna Ludu

    And I saw it actually being read on many occasions in Lvov/Lviv/etc back in 1985.

  484. My father was active in student politics at his university in the early 70s. According to him, there were three groups that basically made up the student parliament – the Trade Union list (corresponding to the left wing of the Social Democrats – the group he was active in), MSB Spartakus (orthodox communists) and the Red list (those who found orthodox communism too tame). No self-respecting student would have bern active in anything centrist or conservative; his group, although quite to the left of the general political spectrum, were already seen as bourgeois sell-outs.

  485. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Land og Folk was of course Danish, as was Bidstrup.

    Glistrup was more annoying than amusing, to be honest, at least when you saw the bunch of incompetents and racists he gave a platform with his party. So when Pia Kjærsgaard took herself and the rest of the competent people away to create an actual danger to the powers that were, he quietly faded away.

  486. Trond Engen says:

    The party of young radicals, AKP (m-l), were Marxists/Leninists/Maoists/Stalinists/Polpotists/Hoxhaists. Their final lodestar in the years before the fall of the Eastern Block was Albania. This was not as strange as it sounds. The party was shaped by the anti-EEC movement of 1972, and in many ways it was more a radicalized agrarian party with isolationist ambitions than a radical unionist party with ambitions for international action. Their party leader from the early eighties now own and run a blog/news service carrying his name, touting well-known conspiracy theories from right-wing sources.

    The party’s descendant today, Rødt, is publicly keynesian in economics and defending both the welfare-state and immigration, but since they usually take exception to keynesian measures, welfare initiatives and immigration when any of the three originate with the EU, they still make more sense as a radical version of the agrarian party.

  487. David Marjanović says:

    A military exists in order to be used.

    Not in Austria, LOL.

    (“…for decades we’ve been looking the coldest war of all time in the eye, though for security reasons the direction of this gaze still has to remain secret” – from a parody over 20 years ago.)

    in the Sixties movements orthodox Moscow CP Communists played almost no role

    Indeed, though they tried pretty desperately to get a role and to instrumentalize the whole movement.

    Somewhat similarly, the US has tried to become involved in various democracy movements worldwide. In Obama’s 2nd term it evidently found that counterproductive and stayed out of the overthrow of the kleptocrat Yanukovych, for instance, after having played too prominent a part in the Orange Revolution a few years earlier.

    In my view, the entire point of US foreign policy is to spread destabilization beyond US borders.

    Between WWII and Trump, and no doubt after Trump, the entire point has been the stability of countries that are reliably friendly to US strategic or business interests. For a long time that meant everything right-wing enough was stabilized (sometimes with enormous infusions of money), and everything too far left was destabilized with the goal of getting it to that other kind of stability.

    (During Trump, the point of everything was the greater glory of Trump – including, but by no means as narrow as, the greater glory of Trump’s bank accounts. That goal was rarely achieved because anyone competent could have become more popular than Trump and therefore had to be removed immediately.)

    Putin’s foreign policy* has been interior policy. Unlike Trump, he’s not a deluded narcissist who believes he’s a god on Earth. So he needs to convince the Russian voters and the Russian ballot-box stuffers that he’s the greatest ever in relative terms: he may not be perfect, but they can’t get anything better than him, so they should stop trying. Therefore he needs to eliminate everything that looks like an alternative to him. Inside Russia, the entire opposition is at long last locked up or dead. Outside, the goal is to either destabilize every government that works better than the Russian one, or at least to make it look destabilized. That’s why he gives pretty large sum of money to “the internationale of the nationalists” in the EU, has helped accomplish the Brexit and messed with the 2016 election in the US to the extent of hacking into the voter rolls in most states. On top of that there’s a deluge of fake news to make people believe that, for example, Germany is a hellhole basically overrun by ISIS.

    * There is no Russia. There is only Putin.

  488. Taistoism (Finnish: taistolaisuus) was an orthodox pro-Soviet tendency in the mostly Eurocommunist Finnish communist movement in the 1970s and 1980s. The Taistoists were an interior opposition group in the Communist Party of Finland. They were named after their leader Taisto Sinisalo whose first name means “a battle”, “a fight” or “a struggle”. Sinisalo’s supporters constituted a party within a party, but pressure from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union prevented the party from formally splitting. The term taistolaisuus was a derogatory nickname invented by Helsingin Sanomat and was never used by the group themselves.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taistoism

    I didn’t know Satu Hassi was also a member.

  489. David Marjanović says:

    No self-respecting student would have bern active in anything centrist or conservative

    Ha! By the 00s, Austria’s conservatives had found a solution to this problem: simple denial. Instead of using black, the color of the conservative party, the AktionsGemeinschaft (note the trendy CamelCase) used a rainbow as its logo and had no ideology whatsoever, nope, none, nothing to see here, just pragmatic policies for the benefit of the students. What they considered beneficial and what they considered counterproductive just so happened to line up with the moderate side of the conservative party, and the leadership just so happened to move on to a career in the party as a matter of course… The AG routinely got the first place in the elections, later sometimes the second place. Maybe it still does, I haven’t checked.

    Admittedly, there was a large gap in the political spectrum between the AG, the RFJ (Ring Freiheitlicher Studenten; don’t mention the war) and the JES (Junge Europäische Studenteninitiative; basically two or three monarchists).

    Their final lodestar in the years before the fall of the Eastern Block was Albania. This was not as strange as it sounds.

    No, but it is as sad as it sounds.

  490. When I started hanging around Harvard Square in 1995, the orthodox communists had recently finished transferring their allegiance to China. It was a little weird, since by that time the Chinese Communist Party had themselves abandoned Maoism as an actual economic philosophy, although they were still happy to parrot the Great Helmsman’s doctrinal writings, especially for external consumption. The American Maoists were a really pushy bunch. I was once chased by one of them trying to make me take their newspaper.

  491. American devotees of foreign communism are a strange lot. My brother tried Maoism on for size for a while, I worked for a jolly fat movie-theater manager in New Haven who was a devotee of Castro, and I seem to recall running into a fan of Hoxha back when that was a fad. None of these people knew anything substantial about the lands whose glorious transformation they celebrated; it’s all a matter of rhetoric and the lure of the unknown.

  492. @DM: Well, maybe my father’s university (a then newly founded Fachhochschule) was an outlier even then; at least, at the traditional universities there was always a residue of conservative and corporation students who would vote for the Christian-Democrat RCDS and sit in opposition in the university parliament. And students on the whole became more conservative over time. When I studied in Bochum in the late 80s/ early 90s, the student parliament was still majority leftist, but the RCDS was a strong minority, and besides the classical socialists, there were also green-alternative groups.

  493. None of these people knew anything substantial about the lands whose glorious transformation they celebrated; it’s all a matter of rhetoric and the lure of the unknown.
    And probably also a case of “our establishment hates their guts, so they must be the good guys”. Of course, the right also has a history of that, with people abroad fawning over that peace-loving Führer before WW II, or today’s Putin fanboys.

  494. John Emerson says:

    Hans: around 1980 when I was in a group opposing American involvement in Central America, two of our members were college students from Germany who said they were regarded as lame centrists by their brothers and sisters but who were too radical for their fellow students at their college, even though the school did have a radical history and radical reputation. By that time the political left has fizzled here, though the cultural left was flourishing, and pomo critical theory left discussion groups were plentiful.

  495. Yes, I remember that the Sandinistas were a popular cause on the German left back then, and that there were quite a few people who went to Nicaragua for a spell.
    I never was a fan of Soviet Leninism, but I admit that I had hopes (illusions?) back then that Nicaragua would turn out as a real socialist democracy.

  496. Didn’t we all. Hope springs eternal…

  497. The situation in Nicaragua was weird, and unlike a lot of late-era communist governments, the Sandinistas were apparently quite sincere in their beliefs and believed that they were overwhelmingly popular with the Nicaraguan people. They fact that the leadership of the Contras were so obviously authoritarians themselves also made the Sandinistas look good to First World observers.

    Reagan’s intense hatred of the Sandinistas specifically (second only to the Soviets among communist regimes, it seemed) also made them look good to those of use who detested Reagan.* His support for the Contras eventually led to the third-most corrupt subornation of the federal government’s powers by a Republican president in the last fifty years. (In fact, the Iran-Contra affair was a far more pervasive abuse of the president’s national security powers than what Nixon or Trump did. However, it was less corrupt, since the Reagan Administration’s lawbreaking was at least done in the service of genuine public policy goals, whereas Trump’s and Nixon’s abuses were strictly for their own personal benefits.)

    * A nice bit of trivia is that Reagan, who was by many measures the most anti-union president in the history of the United States, was also the only president who had himself previously been the head of a union! Of course, the Screen Actors’ Guild is a highly atypical union.

  498. SFReader says:

    I wonder if there were any Western fanboys of the Mongolian People’s Republic.

    No, Owen Lattimore doesn’t count.

  499. Hat, thank you very much for your comment. I figured that’s what you were doing, but it’s nice to have it said explicitly.

    I’m kind of burned out on reading political discussions on the internet, but it’s more tolerable here, for the reasons you said, also because this is a far more cosmopolitan of a crowd than any I’ve seen before, and also because we’re all here primarily for other reasons.

  500. David Eddyshaw says:

    The situation in Nicaragua was weird

    Venezuela is the current darling of leftists who should really know better, at least in the circles I move in, and I sympathise at least to the extent of understanding why. I have family connections with Venezuela, however, which I find has a major clarifying effect.

  501. SFReader says:

    Venezuela is the current darling of leftists

    I thought it was Rojava (unrecognized Kurdish state in the northeast of Syria).

    They are really good at propaganda and even managed to get sizable numbers of Western volunteers to fight for them.

    And pretty girls with guns helped, I suppose.

    I kind of liked them too at the beginning, but then lots of bad news started to come out – their mistreatment of Arabs, human rights abuses by the hated Asayish police, concentration camps for women and children of ISIS members and so on.

  502. A tale of the early 1980s, around the time of the Israeli Lebanon war. High tensions all around. The setting: the Israel-Syria border. Armed soldiers at their stations on both sides, fenced a short distance apart.

    Israelis (yelling, the Arabic equivalent of): “Fuck Assad!”
    Syrians: “Fuck Begin!”
    Israelis: “Fuck Assad!”
    Syrians: “Fuck Begin!”

    (Repeat several times. Then Pause.)

    Israelis: “Fuck Begin!”
    Syrians: “Fuck Assad!”

    The teller of the story, who was there, was struck for a moment by an optimistic feeling that maybe there was some hope for peace, after all.

  503. That’s a great story; reminds me of the Christmas truce.

  504. And of the WWII joke about the Marine who wanted to shoot a Japanese soldier. He said he was going to go out and shout “Down with Hirohito!” When he came back to camp, he was asked “Did you get one?” He said, “No, he stood up and said ‘Down with Roosevelt!’ and I couldn’t shoot somebody who was on my side.”

  505. John Emerson says:

    My political group especially concentrated on El Salvador, where the US-backed ruling group was horribly murderous (el Mozite, D’Abuisson). The resistance was of the Cuban/Sandinista type, but very factionalized.

  506. David Marjanović says:

    I wonder if there were any Western fanboys of the Mongolian People’s Republic.

    Or the Lao People’s Republic, which is never in the news and seems to be known exclusively to paleontologists these days.

    I thought it was Rojava (unrecognized Kurdish state in the northeast of Syria).

    It was, and I didn’t even get the impression that was limited to any sort of Left. But then Erdoğan phoned Trump, Trump suddenly got most US troops out of the country and moved the rest to an oil field in southeastern Syria, Erdoğan invaded Rojava with the stated goal to weaken the PKK, conquered the place in a few days, and it was never heard of again.

    It’s truly amazing how quickly and how completely a de facto independent country of considerable size (along almost all of Syria’s northern border at the time, not just the northeast) can disappear.

  507. Of course, the right also has a history of that, with people abroad fawning over that peace-loving Führer before WW II, or today’s Putin fanboys.

    Some loved the Führer here in 30s.
    Before 1941.
    Putin is quite popular globally.

    * There is no Russia. There is only Putin.

    Not all unpleasant-for-you things from Russia emanate from Putin, personally. As the architect he is responsible, of course, but it is technically impossible.
    In Chechnia he has a vassal. Kadyrov can be loyal to Putin, but it does not mean that Putin “runs” Chechnia. Same with numerous areas of Russian economy and politics. I can not distinguish between decisions made by Putin, by people convenient for Putin and even decisions based on public sentiment.

    But you are not going to 1 person doing all micro- and even macro-management in his 1 person.

  508. January First-of-May says:

    Or the Lao People’s Republic

    I personally know a fanboy of the Lao People’s Republic, though I’m not sure if he’s a fan of the government specifically (as opposed to the area and/or the ethnic group), and at the age of 14 (IIRC, forgot when his birthday is) he is quite literally a fan boy.

  509. SFReader says:

    There were Westerners who wrote favorably about the Mongolian People’s Republic, but they did it, because they simply liked the Mongols and wished them to have their own state and preserve their language and culture and not because they had any special affinity to the Mongolian version of socialism.

    Owen Lattimore, for example, wrote sympathetically about the MPR, but before the war, he also wrote good things about Prince De Wang, leader of the pro-Japanese Inner Mongolian puppet state.

    So if anything, Lattimore was fanboy of Mongolian national liberation and didn’t care much what specific form it took (accepting that by necessity it was subordinated to Soviet, Japanese or Chinese imperialism).

  510. Erdoğan invaded Rojava with the stated goal to weaken the PKK, conquered the place in a few days, and it was never heard of again
    He only conquered a small part of it, along the border. That, and the U.S. withdrawal, drove the Kurds into an agreement with the Syrian government. They still have their own military and their own political structures, but they recognize the Syrian government. It’s maybe not de-facto independence anymore, but it comes close. With the Syrian civil war now basically limited to one province under Turkish protection, I assume it’s only a matter of time until Assad tries to get the Kurds under his heels again.

  511. Education alone does not confer a lot of prestige – less than money does, and remember that most people who graduate from a US university these days are a hundred kilobucks in debt and need decades to pay their student loans off.

    The cruel thing about the US is that the more prestigious a school one attends, the less likely one is to have crushing debt. The Ivy League schools in particular have very generous “need based” financial aid packages for the middle class, meaning Yale can ending up being cheaper for a top student from a family earning $100,000 than, say, University of Michigan. In fact, when you factor in room and board, it is cheaper for a student from a family earning $65,000 a year to attend Yale or Harvard than to attend the University of Vienna or Delft (which have almost no tuition). The really crushing debt is accumulated by kids from lower income families trying to get a degree in third tier institutions. And so the cycle of privilege maintains itself.

  512. John Emerson says:

    Mongol trivia: As the Russian teacher of the national hero Sukh Bataar (sp?), the Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek (who was a Bolshevik after WWI) has a footnote in the official history of the Mongolian People’s Republic.

  513. David Marjanović says:

    Putin is quite popular globally.

    …eh…

    You can find Putin fans everywhere, sure, but there aren’t many countries where I’d say he’s popular.

    In Chechnia he has a vassal.

    Yes, there was that famous murder in Berlin…

    As far as I understand it works like one of the less popular ancient empires:
    Deripaska is the Aluminum King;
    Rybolovlev is the Fertilizer King;
    Leviev is the Diamond King;
    Kadyrov is the King of Chechnya;
    and Putin is King of Kings, King of Countries.

    As you said, that’s where the buck stops. He certainly doesn’t micromanage everything, but not a lot happens against his wishes.

    That, and the U.S. withdrawal, drove the Kurds into an agreement with the Syrian government.

    Oh… yes. That’s the last thing I had heard of them.

    In fact, when you factor in room and board, it is cheaper for a student from a family earning $65,000 a year to attend Yale or Harvard than to attend the University of Vienna or Delft (which have almost no tuition). The really crushing debt is accumulated by kids from lower income families trying to get a degree in third tier institutions. And so the cycle of privilege maintains itself.

    Ah, that’s the part I did not know.

  514. In terms of American college costs, for students who get financial aid (which is about two thirds of undergraduates at top universities, meaning that there are still a fair number whose parents pay the whole cost out of pocket), the worst deals are the selective but not elite private colleges. At those places, nominal tuition is not that far below what it is at the really best schools, but the financial aid can be a lot less generous. Thirty years ago, admissions at almost all private colleges was need blind; they would admit students without looking at how much the students could afford to pay. Now, only the really elite institutions do that; lesser places have to make sure that they accept enough affluent students, who will pay full freight, in order to subsidize the students who do get aid. Going to Princeton may be worth it for a lot of students; going to Macalester is going to be a much more dubious proposition.

  515. John Cowan says:

    The Peace Research Institute Oslo and its partners have the following taxonomy of wars (1000 battle deaths/year or more) and correspondingly for armed conflicts (25 to 999 battle deaths/year) from 1946 onward. The letters and numbers are mine.

    1. Democides: states killing unarmed civilians, because of their ethnicity, politics, etc.

    1a. Internal: states killing their own unarmed civilians.

    1b: External: states killing unarmed civilians outside the state’s territory.

    2. Intercommunal wars: between warlords, militias, etc. etc. where none of them constitute a state.

    3. State wars: at least one government is involved.

    3a. Interstate wars, with two or more states fighting. The prototypical kind of war.

    3b. Extrastate wars: a state wages war beyond its borders against a nonstate entity. These are typically, but not always, either imperial wars (fought to gain a colony) or colonial wars (fought to keep one).

    3c. Civil wars, fought by a government against an insurrection, a rebellion, or a secessionist movement.

    3c1. Internal civil wars.

    3c2. Internationalized civil wars, where either the government or less often the rebels have support from external powers.

  516. Of course your best universities are more accessible. How else? I assume a good physics school wants students who want physics.

    Not “rich” students. It is the definition of a “good” physics school. In Russia teachers in decent universities do not take bribes. Same thing.

    But in pure mathematics (to lesser extent in some other sciences) THE best education here is free even from exams:) Not too many people want it.

    Maybe there is some misunderstanding of the nature of education (and maybe it is cultural).

  517. Drasvi: it’s not like that at all. In some fields the public universities are good or better than the best private universities. It’s just that places like Harvard have a lot of money for financial aid.

  518. it’s not like that at all.
    Not like what?

    In some fields the public universities are good or better than the best private universities.

    A part of what I meant is that in sciences too much depends on student’s own efforts and the level of her classmates. The latter affects the courses and not just that. When your classmates enjoy discussing science in their free time, because science is cool, you also discuss science in your free time because science is cool. When they play DotA, you play DotA.

    Public or not, you want good students if you want to be a good university.

    P.S. I am just not sure what exactly you are disagreeing with. My point was only that it is unsurprising that “the best” education can be free and “the most expensive” can be shitty.

  519. When you say “Of course your best universities are more accessible” it seems like you are saying that Harvard having more financial support than, say, University of Michigan, is tied to its being somehow “better” than U. Mich. If that’s what you meant, than no, that’s not why Harvard has more money than U. Mich. And the big state universities are not “party schools” any more than the Ivy Leagues. (If I was looking to get a degree in linguistics, undergraduate or graduate, I’d personally much prefer Michigan, or Texas, or UC Berkeley, or Hawaii, or any number of others over Harvard.)

  520. I will try to formulate my idea more accurately: I would not expect a systematic positive correlation between quality and price of education.

    “Quality” is indeed a complex thing: knowlege, prestige, connections. If we are discussing prestige (I re-read Vanya’s post, it seems we do..), then I am not sure if what I said applies.

    Maybe I was having in mind, say, an engineering student, aspiring to become exactly an engineer.

    P.S. The universities you named are clearly good ones.
    P.P.S. sorry for editing, the post was a bit disordered

  521. I took part in many discussions in past when people expected such a correlation – by analogy with mattresses, watches, helicopters etc.:) Each time I have a very weird feelign, because in my and some other countries the situation is opposite and I projected my past experience on this discussion as well.

  522. Just to be clear, technically Harvard is more expensive ($50K/yr) than state universities ($15K at UMich, unless you’re from out of state, then it’s $50K as well). However Harvard has enough resources to guarantee less-rich students a lower tuition, as low as zero. Students at public universities have to take loans instead.

  523. Oh. I just checked, and seems the prices went up here recently and considerably:( At the moment it is $5500 – $8000 in the best unievrsity (lower middle class in “rich” Moscow, including professors earns less than a 1000 a month).

    What I do not like is not the price but the trend. It is still possible to study for free, but I am afraid here the trend is the same. I strongly oppose commercialization of education. Soviet education was decent, lingerie was indecent and it is because these two things are very differnet.

  524. But the most efficient system is by coincidence the one I hate fiercely. It is Korea:)

  525. Going to Princeton may be worth it for a lot of students; going to Macalester is going to be a much more dubious proposition.

    Funny you mention Macalester. My son was actually offered a free ride at Macalester while Yale just gave him a very generous aid package. If you are “Ivy material”, schools in the Macalester-Carleton- Bucknell category will generally bend over backwards to get you. Williams, which is slightly below the Ivies in prestige, but in many ways probably offers a better undergraduate experience, was not as generous to my son as Yale. We didn’t try it, but supposedly you can play aid offers against each other since no college wants someone they have accepted to turn them down, it hurts the statistics.

    Friends of mine, who teach at a prestigious private school, sent one child to Wesleyan and one to U of Chicago without incurring much debt at all (I think the employer pays part of the tuition).

    Seems to me the American system is set up to create all sorts of opportunities for very intelligent children from well educated families who understand how to play the game, pulls a certain number of bright low income students up to get good press, and does very little to help the broad middle class (most of whom are unaware that places like Yale and Harvard offer essentially free education for the right kids).

  526. @Vanya: It would be interesting if schools like Macalester have decided that the best use of their financial aid dollars includes attracting a smaller number of really top students, instead of making a larger number of less generous offers. I also don’t know (and probably nobody really does) whether having a smaller number of really brilliant students will improve the overall educational environment in a significant way. There are two ways in which the extremely bright student body at an elite university make it easier to learn there. One is that students having smart people around to talk to is just very helpful. The other is that it is possible to cover more material in many courses. I teach some classes that look, on paper, equivalent to classes I myself took at MIT, yet which may actually cover a quarter or a third less material than the MIT versions.

  527. @Brett, this is a constant source of frustration for me. Education is beautiful in that it is not a zero-sum game. But distributing talented kids is:( At least synchronously.

  528. Brett, one of my fellow Indiana University Ph.D.’s wound up teaching at Princeton, and on the first day of her first class she walked into the room to find some of the students engaged in a knowledgeable discussion of the differences in acting styles between the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Comédie française. That, she told me later, was intimidating. But within just a few weeks, she said, it sank in that there was little difference in native intelligence between the students in Princeton and the students in Bloomington. What there was was a difference in motivation. At Princeton, she happily discovered, she could give the class an assignment on Friday and be confident that every student would be present on Monday, and every one would have done the assignment.

    Vanya, about Williams and the undergraduate experience you may have caught the sad New York Times story a while back about the Harvard senior who found herself getting interested in art and signed up for a studio course. Harvard being Harvard, the room was overflowing on the first day and the instructor asked everybody to produce a drawing on the spot to help him decide whom to accept. Harvard also being Harvard, the student said, she was aware that some of her competitors in that room would have been been exhibiting in Chelsea galleries while they were still in high school. On the second day she didn’t even bother to go back.

    The Times reporter told that anecdote to a Harvard professor of philosophy, and he agreed that it was sad. But, he asked, what are you to do? If your undergraduate philosophy majors are already pushing the frontiers of the discipline, you just don’t have time for the brilliant physics major who has belatedly begun wondering what science is.

  529. John Cowan says:

    the instructor asked everybody to produce a drawing on the spot to help him decide whom to accept

    Eenie-meenie-miny-mo would have been more just, but see below.

    If your undergraduate philosophy majors are already pushing the frontiers of the discipline

    In that case they can probably take pretty good care of themselves.

    you just don’t have time for the brilliant physics major who has belatedly begun wondering what science is.

    That’s a gross betrayal of the duties of a philosophy professor, and this kind of thing is why we have so many undereducated scientists.

    —John “Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other” Cowan

  530. Elif Batuman’s The Idiot has a similar scene. Protagonist, a girl who was the top student in every subject in the high school comes to an elite university and suddenly discovers to her great dismay that she is not the smartest person anymore. Even slightly worse than average, for example in music class which she drops humiliated.

  531. To be honest, I often feel the same here.

  532. Bathrobe says:

    Haha! Join the club!

  533. you just don’t have time for the brilliant physics major who has belatedly begun wondering what science is
    There is no royal road to geometry, but there are many side paths.

  534. I certainly was not the best in every subject in high school.

    First, it was an exceptionally good high school. And “good” actually means: amount of respect (by students to students, by teachers to students etc.) and human relationships in general. But yes, they were smart as well. Second, I spent grade 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 reading sci-fi (hiding a book under my deck) and ignoring everything. My high school was just perfect, but I kept reading sci-fi. Inertia:(

    Then, my sudden turn to philology and langauges. I could understand nothing at first.

    I also began teaching. Our system of informal mathematical education has this at its core: young people teaching young people, and in the age of 15 I found myself assisting some very bright (and adult) people at teaching some more bright younger children. It helped a lot with my studies (which I othewise neglected) and it is a great method in itself: if you want someone to learn something, make him teach it.

    Then in around 18 I found myself afraid that men are indeed smarter than women. By the age of 20 I disproved it, but now some of my female friends are smarter than me and usually than anyone around.

    No, I do not miss grades 1-8.

  535. PlasticPaddy says:

    I approve of the art teacher’s method but it would be too direct for me to employ. I would instead say that the course would be focused on production under extreme time pressure, with rambling and unclear descriptions of the assignments and no criticism from the instructor, only a mark. There would be Art History lectures with no theory and no obvious relation to the assignments; these lectures would be assessed by an exam, counting for 20% of total marks and requiring excellent visual memory recall for a decent mark. The students would also be encouraged to seek another profession or pastime (for those too wealthy to require a profession) and it would be explained that, due to the extremely subjective course approach, some students with real talent would find their artistic development would be retarded by the course. But I admire the simplicity of the instructor’s way, it illustrates the difference between amateur and true artist.

  536. “some students with real talent would find their artistic development would be retarded by the course”

    !!!!

    P.S. I love this course description, I mean:)

  537. “you just don’t have time for the brilliant physics major who has belatedly begun wondering what science is”

    Hm. I agree with John Cowan here. The system must find some place for this “brilliant physics major”.

    A friend of my friend studied Lacanian psychoanalysis. As Lacan tried to borrow ideas from topology, she wanted to know what topology actually is. She asked my assistance and also considered attending IUM in Moscow (which would likely require my assistance too, because otherwise she would find that she understands nothing).

    I did not help her. I am totally looking forward for a “math for specialists in humanities” home seminar. My math friends would be happy to join, we all enjoyed a “physics for math students” seminar that my friend once hosted and that some physicists also were happy to join. Such stuff is fun.

    “Did not help” means: I did not took enough initiative to organize any meetings. It does not mean that she can’t just come to me or any of my freinds with her questions or that we would not have enjoyed it if she did. Even if we speak about basics, what makes it pleasurable is her interest to these basics.

    And I do think that I am an asshole (or too lazy a person). She can find time to work with refugees as a phychologist. “Asshole” does not mean that doing that would not be fun, but I think if I have knowlege, sharing it is my duty, even if I enjoy it.

    Now, back to “physics for math students”: maybe Brett would not have enjoyed it. Because Brett is too tired teaching physics in a university. This is understood. Physicsts who enjoyed are researchers, but research here is done mostly outside of university. And a physicist has to study a lot of things, she does not have time to understand her whole course (and basics especially) really well: else university would take 10 years rather than 5. Again, it is different for Brett: as a teacher he exactly has an opportunity to understand what he is teaching better.

    All of this is understood, but that “bright physicist”, he is already at Harvard. If Harvard (as a system, including both the professor and phylosophy students) can’t find a way to help even him, something must have gone wrong.
    Knowlege is beautiful in that it can be distributed freely, and a healthy system must be proselythyzing. Else I do not really see why one would even need to “push the frontiers”. Why not leave the frontiers where they are?

  538. Second, I spent grade 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 reading sci-fi (hiding a book under my deck) and ignoring everything. My high school was just perfect, but I kept reading sci-fi. Inertia:(

    This sounds very much like me. Not that my high school was perfect, but it was quite good. And I didn’t ignore the courses, but I did pay more attention to sf.

  539. John Emerson says:

    I suspect that many Phil teachers would welcome physicists but not poets or political philosophers (the phil / pol phil divide can be wide). And unsuccessful physicists who decide to drop down to something easier can be toxic.

    I have whatever they call the opposite of imposter syndrome — I’m always willing to bluff, and I succeed often enough and just forget my failures. (There! My shameful secret is out.)

    But that doesn’t work in math, science, or foreign languages. Definitely around here I (and with Foreman) have to remember that, while in normal life (even American academia) I am smart because I can read 4 languages besides English and fake it in 4 more, around here that counts as dumb.

  540. I do not think that the level of an average researcher in physics or mathematics is too high. A researcher is anyone able to contribute in the field. By comparison: if you go and document a rare language, you will contribute more in linguistics than most. Because analytical work is less important.

    I always thought that philosophy is poetry. Not analytic philosophy maybe, but a cursory glance at publications in modern Russian philosophical journals or at European classics makes it obvious that the guys are highly concerned with doing somethin to their language. Take Nietzsche:) Well, take anyone.
    Whorfian poets.

    The course of philosophy for Russian PhD students includes the Emperor’s New Mind by Penrose though, not just Nietsche:)

  541. And I didn’t ignore the courses, but I did pay more attention to sf.

    Unfortunately reading at home was more productive. Seriously. I mean, teacher’s voice is distracting and I took less from each book I read in school then I did in summers.

    Also in summers I loved to read popular (and less popular) science books and play with math problems. Martin Gardner’s books (or collections of his articles) were widely published here and widely popular, and since the age of 6 I totally loved them (and still do, but have not opened one for a while).

    In school that was impossible.
    I think, specifically in my case attending grades 1-8 was just a bad idea. Some kids love school, some do not.

    A part (but a minor part, the major part was psychological compatibility of a child with the school) of the issue was that I was well ahead of my classmates. My first bad grade came in my second month of the first grade for… reading too fast. Some kids were learning to read – and in schools they were making them read syllables, one by one, aloud. I learned to read in 3 and was very fluent.

    I think the teacher thought that I am showing off. If it was a plan to make me more collaborative it was a bad plan:)

    I could, I think, be used to help other kids. My classmates (it was the school in my neighbourhood) many of whom were your classical hooligans totally loved me. Bullying was not an issue at all (I think in Soviet education it was not very common). Yet there was absolutely no place for this. Just be quiet and listen to what teacher is saying: up to grade 5, things that I already knew, then some things I did not know too, then the high school. It is not China, questions and active participation were always encouraged. But “teacher is speaking, others are listening and asking questions” really leaves no place for a better prepared student to help others.

    The crazy thing is that 100 years ago it was a country of illiterate peasants, and our school was mostly made for their children. Now all parents are literate and some are scientists and engineers.

    What follows:
    1. all that I learned as a child, I learned at home. As a child I was better adapted to receiving information from my family.
    2. levels of students in a classroom are uneven.

    The school though works the same, and that is mad.

    Particularly what is mad is the idea that “a school is where children study”, “teachers are those who teach children” – without understanding of the family’s role and responsibility:/

  542. John Emerson says:

    I was thinking of American academic philosophy, which was overwhelmingly analytic philosophy last I looked. Continental philosophy is often relegated to literature and language departments or even to religion. What I said wasn’t not about “what philosophy really is” but about philosophy in American academia.

    For the record, I hate American academic philosophy as I understand it and this should be taken into account when reading what I have to say.

  543. The only philosophers I enjoy reading are those who write engagingly, like Plato and Nietzsche. I have no patience for the ones you have to decipher.

  544. “overwhelmingly analytic philosophy ”

    Yes. I, in turn, am only familiar with a few (possible better than average) specimens of it, and my impression was positive.

  545. January First-of-May says:

    Protagonist, a girl who was the top student in every subject in the high school comes to an elite university and suddenly discovers to her great dismay that she is not the smartest person anymore.

    I was top or nearly top in most of my high school subjects (particularly math), which in retrospect might have been because most of the rest of my high school class(es) was composed of variously developmentally divergent students and my high-functioning autism was one of the least major problems in there.
    (I was smart, but proving that was left to places like the Moscow Math Olympiad or the Lomonosov Tournament; in school there wasn’t really anyone anywhere near the ballpark.)

    Then I graduated and ended up at the math department of Higher School at Economics, where I suddenly found myself about middle of the pack… I managed to, somehow, stay in the top ten (of 35 students), the stipend requirement, for about a year, but it was hard and I usually ended up 8th or 9th. By late second year I was below average. By late third year I was on the verge of dropping out. It took me another three years to finish the bacalaureat (…what’s the actual English word for that?), and I never managed to finish the magistrature.

    I am totally looking forward for a “math for specialists in humanities” home seminar.

    I know of two different (and AFAICT unrelated) Russian books with (different close variations on) pretty much this exact title. I’m not sure if either of them was ever associated with a home seminar though.

    Emperor’s New Mind by Penrose

    I’ve read (the Russian translation of) that book on my own, having found it in the math-themed bookstore at MCCME. I thought the math was awesome (universal Turing machine! and IIRC also the Goodstein sequence), but the physics looked a bit wonky, and I don’t recall much, if even any, philosophy.

    IIRC much of the physics part had since been thoroughly debunked, though I suppose that doesn’t necessarily make it bad philosophy.

  546. No, the physics-for-math-students seminar was called “a vacuum cleaner from within”. Just some girl inveted her freinds, some of whom are young students, and some of whom are physicists of LH’s age, and everyone was having fun.

    Math-for-humanitarians did not happen, but if any of those two books was by Savvateev, he is that girl’s freind and twice her teacher.

  547. January First-of-May says:

    but if any of those two books was by Savvateev

    It was; IIRC, Savvateev personally recommended it to my family at Berendeyevy Polyany a few years ago. The other one, as far as I can tell from a brief googling, was probably by Shikin; the title matches, anyway.

  548. David Marjanović says:

    That’s a gross betrayal of the duties of a philosophy professor, and this kind of thing is why we have so many undereducated scientists.

    I don’t think so. I was never taught by a philosophy professor – instead, a professor of molecular biology (plus various invited experts) taught “science theory and ethics for molecular biologists” or however it was called, and it was great.

    “X for students of Y” courses are normal and expected over here.

    bacalaureat […] magistrature

    Bachelor degree, Master degree? Bachelor’s, Master’s? BA, MA? (Is economics an “art” for this purpose?)

  549. Bachelor degree, Master degree? Bachelor’s, Master’s? BA, MA?

    All good!

  550. Some schools have a separate BA, in the humanities, and BS (USA) or BSc (UK), in the sciences. However, people are unlikely to say “I got my BS” or “I am working on my BS”, because it’ll make people giggle.

  551. “X for students of Y” courses are normal and expected over here

    Here they are mandatory, but designed not to annoy students of Y.

    Then I know what “math for…” usually looks like, and it is math deprived of anything exciting and creative. (I hope it is not what Savvateev is doing). Even for physicists: it is not “easy”, but it is more like training a physics student in finding integrals (and thus see a few steps ahead). Philosophy for Y is a good thing, but: if philosophy for philosophy students is just as much different… then it is two different philosophies.

  552. John Cowan says:

    the instructor asked everybody to produce a drawing on the spot to help him decide whom to accept

    It occurs to me that this may have meant that if your drawings were too high-quality, he would send you to a different instructor, which would be a Good Thing. This reminds me of the criterion for singing classes in (at least some) primary schools: the teacher says “Sing something!” Those who sing, however badly, can be taught: those who cannot sing at all cannot (and should probably be sent to the school psychologist).

    Our system of informal mathematical education has this at its core: young people teaching young people

    U.S. legal education is (or was) like that too: anybody just out of law school can teach third-years, but only seasoned professors are entrusted with first-years. My father taught philosophy of law to the first group and torts (civil wrongs) to the second.

    I would instead say that the course would be focused on production under extreme time pressure, with rambling and unclear descriptions of the assignments and no criticism from the instructor, only a mark.

    That would certainly be good preparation for a career as a commercial artist (book covers, non-photographic ads, etc.), but not something to spring on vulnerable undergraduates.

    Else I do not really see why one would even need to “push the frontiers”

    Nobody needs to. Some people do it because they are (a) lucky enough to have frontiers that are pushable, and (b) want to push them.

    I kept reading sci-fi

    I have done so from age 8 to 62.

    I can read 4 languages besides English and fake it in 4 more, around here that counts as dumb

    I don’t think I count as dumb around here, though I can use only my native tongue.

    Martin Gardner’s books (or collections of his articles) were widely published here and widely popular, and since the age of 6 I totally loved them (and still do, but have not opened one for a while).

    These authors keep dying on us, and then they stop writing, damn it. It’s profoundly irritating.

    My first bad grade came in my second month of the first grade for… reading too fast.

    I was kicked up from first grade (and I was already almost two years younger than most) to third grade for reading purposes, because I could read circles around the first-grade texts. I could read circles around the third-graders too, but further up there would be no reading class as such. I endeavored never to let school interfere with my education.

    The only philosophers I enjoy reading are those who write engagingly, like Plato and Nietzsche.

    To which I would add Dennett and Smullyan. Many years ago I went to the St. Mark’s Bookstore (eheu fugaces) and bought one of every Dennett they had besides the ones I already had. When I took the stack to the counter, the clerk looked at it and said “Why are you reading all of those?” I hesitated for quite a while, and finally said, “I really don’t want to say this, because it sounds arrogant, but for fun.” “For fun”, he muttered, and went on ringing up the remaining books.

    Bachelor degree, Master degree? Bachelor’s, Master’s? BA, MA? (Is economics an “art” for this purpose?)

    Baccalaureate and doctorate (with an -e) are high-register synonyms for bachelor’s degree and doctoral degree, though there is no analogous synonym for master’s degree.

    If a particular department offers a B.S. or M.S., you can usually ask to receive a B.A. or an M.A. instead; this may or may not have fewer requirements. Whether an economics department can issue a B.Econ. depends on whether the school is chartered to grant a degree by that name.

    John “son of Thomas, A.B., B.A., M.A., Ph.D, LL.B., S.J.D” Cowan, N.D.

  553. In Soviet universties you just graduated from university. 4, 5 or 6 years depending on university.

    Then in 90s they tried to make the system compatible with the Western one and formally divided it in “baccalaureat(e)” and “magistrature”.

    Another idea was that some (minority) students will graduate from magistrature and form the knowlegeable class, and some will become “baccalaurs” and form the class of (subordinate) professionals much needed in a modern economy.
    But:
    First our economy did not offer jobs other than management, selling things and IT.
    Second, no one would hire even a street-sweeper without higher education.

    It remained purely formal, all “baccalaurs/bachelors” would become “magisters”.

    With the time though, these two parts become more and more real.

    HSE actually tries to imitate Western education (and even tries to push the country in that direction) and they have many more baccalaureate students than magistrature students.

  554. I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but in high school I was very good at math and science; when I went to college as a math major, I took physics for my science requirement, and in my infinite cockiness I picked the regular physics course rather than Physics for Math Majors because hell, I didn’t want the watered-down version! Within a couple of weeks I was getting grades like 51 and 43 (I’m making up the numbers, but you get the idea), and the only way I and some other ill-prepared students were able to pass the course was by sitting at the feet of a brilliant physics major every Thursday night who helped us with the homework assignments due every Friday. (He was a Mormon, and I’ve had a soft spot for Mormons ever since; he had to leave school after that year to do his required two years of missionary work, and I’ve often wondered what became of him.) Humiliating as it was, it was an extremely valuable experience; I badly needed to be taken down a few pegs.

  555. David Marjanović says:

    BSc, MSc, PhD – “bullshit, more shit, piled higher and deeper”. And of course an MBA is a Master of Bullshit Administration.

    Then in 90s they tried to make the system compatible with the Western one and formally divided it in “baccalaureat(e)” and “magistrature”.

    Another idea was that some (minority) students will graduate from magistrature and form the knowlegeable class, and some will become “baccalaurs” and form the class of (subordinate) professionals much needed in a modern economy.
    But:
    First our economy did not offer jobs other than management, selling things and IT.
    Second, no one would hire even a street-sweeper without higher education.

    Same story in Austria in the early 00s, pretty much. First the economy (whoever that is) whined that there weren’t any bachelors, then they didn’t hire them anyway because bachelors don’t really know enough yet.

  556. David Marjanović says:

    I’m making up the numbers, but you get the idea

    Is that out of 100?

  557. Yes.

  558. It could be “I was getting grades like Dukuduku and Bakabaka …” and everyone would understand everything.
    There are though, scales where the lesser a grade is the better.

  559. And the ever-popular AbD degree, “All but Dissertation”.

  560. I’ve got that too!

  561. About street sweepers, I must add that you can find a job that requires high qualification without havign any degree. Your employer will evaluate your brains and knowlege , not papers.

    The problems is street sweepers (not now: now they are Central Asians).

    It is so even in science, though here a degree is formally needed. But you can graduate from a Culinary College and do theoretical physics. If you can do it. If you want to do it. It is not that there are queues of people who want it.

  562. The pioneering astronomer Harlow Shapley, famous for mapping the Milky Way,

    …went to the University of Missouri to study journalism. When he learned that the opening of the School of Journalism had been postponed for a year, he decided to study the first subject he came across in the course directory. Rejecting Archaeology, which Shapley later claimed he could not pronounce, he chose the next subject, Astronomy.

  563. I know such a guy. Not Culinary College, but a degree that has little to do with phycics. He just came and said: “I want it”. He did not become “theoretical”, because he was not discuplined enough to study what is needed. His thesis was modelling (he is a programmer). But he still was more theoretical than most experimental physicists and someone should do modelling too. He is not a “physicist” because…well, science was what he was spending money on, not earning. He was doign it, because as many programmers do, he felt that what he is doing is utter bullshit and he needs to contribute in something meaningful:) But even though the lab tried to include him in all grants they could include him in, there was a moment when he could not afford it.

  564. I also know a girl who works as a programmer at a silly dating site and dreams about contributing into space explioration. She spends much of her time restoring historical airplanes. Thinking about this, maybe she should have simply come to Musk and say “I want it”.

  565. There was recently an apparently illuminating article in The Atlantic about the mad race for Ivy League sports scholarships, but it was, disappointingly, retracted for journalistic shenanigans.

  566. Rodger C says:

    I was kicked up from first grade (and I was already almost two years younger than most) to third grade for reading purposes, because I could read circles around the first-grade texts. I could read circles around the third-graders too, but further up there would be no reading class as such. I endeavored never to let school interfere with my education.

    This is literally almost exactly me.

    I badly needed to be taken down a few pegs.

    Having gotten straight As in high school, I went to university as a STEM major, because boy during the Space Race. I then discovered my mistake (and, in retrospect, how bad my high-school instruction in chemistry and physics had been, from a new teacher who was very good qua teacher but who was, I think, a psych major). My organic chemistry grades plus Tolkien made me an English major.

  567. I talked to a Chinese schoolgirl online (I think she posted something that made me curious, and I wrote her a personal message and asked her directly) her parents wanted her to study mathematics (which she hated) but she went to study English langauge/literature (which she loves). Her parents pushed her to study it because all parents in her town, she said, push children to study “olympiad math”. And all parents do that, she said because they hope their children will be able to get into one of good and prestigeous schools in their town (I assume, advanced math).

  568. Lars Mathiesen says:

    I was put into a remedial math class for 7th graders when I was in 2nd grade myself (or so) — because they thought that a better instructor to student ratio would let them figure out what to do with me. In the end I was just given some workbooks and left to figure out negative numbers and second order equations on my own…

    In retrospect, I would probably have had more fun studying linguistics or music than a computer science AbD. Lower lifetime income, though, and making the stupid things jump through hoops has its satisfactions too.

  569. Lower lifetime income, though

    Happily, as a paid-up member of the Sixties Generation (groovy, man!), I never worried about that — not that I went out of my way to be as poor as possible, but I just wanted enough money so that I wouldn’t have to worry from day to day about food on my table and a roof over my head, and it’s worked out pretty well. The few years when I had (by NYC standards) a decent though not impressive income (at a pharma advertising firm in Midtown Manhattan) were the unhappiest of my life and I was relieved to be let go. I don’t advocate being indifferent to money, a certain amount is very useful, but I find it hard to understand the fixation on maximization that’s taken hold since the Reagan years. It leads to things like the parents drasvi mentioned forcing their children to follow a soul-crushing path so they’ll make More Money.

  570. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think the problem is that the gap between More Money and a decent income has widened greatly; the kind of middle-class jobs for arts graduates that once would have led to enough money to buy a house (eventually) and raise children properly are now rare, and all you can look forward to realistically with a first-class degree in English (say) from a good university is a lifetime of precarious employment and overpriced grotty rentals. The money goes instead to rentiers, bankers, hedgefund managers and property developers, and it trickles down (if at all) only to those persons that these groups need to work for them in supportive roles, like lawyers, accountants and Tory MPs.

    In these circumstances it’s understandable that parents with a concern for their children’s futures would want them to go into a line of work likely to enable them to become attendants on the rich (assuming that they are not able to endow them with riches themselves, or that the children themselves lack the pathological greed needed to succeed from scratch as a property developer etc etc.)

    Also, somebody is going to need to pay the fees for that care home, so it won’t do if all the children are indigent.

  571. John Emerson says:

    When I was in Taiwan (1983) my favorite students mostly had a dual track: something practical + what they loved.

    I didn’t see any of the thing that’s so dominant here, an obsession with direct experience, “relationships”, identity, and lifestyle at the expense of any kind of intellectual pursuit whatever.

    The way people talked, the ranks all of the Taiwan colleges were agreed upon, though one student claimed that his own alma mater was due for promotion from #3 to #2.

    China DOES have a long tradition of climbing by education.

  572. “relationships”

    In Russian: an obscure word used by girls. Or was so when I was 30. Plural only.

    ~~~”dating” (another word that means I do not know what)

    A female freind of mine mentioned a guy she was not sexually interested in, but enjoyed to have “relationships” with. I asked if we are having relationships. “No,” she said, “but if we will, you will notice. I promice”.

  573. I’m probably not quite old enough to count as a child of the 60s, but there was a lot of emphasis at my school and from my parents (both of whom, especially my father, had grown up poor) on subjects that would lead to decent jobs. I liked sciences (mathematics not so much), and that’s the course I took. But I also liked and was good at learning languages. For a while I toyed with the idea of taking languages rather than sciences for my A-levels, but one thing that definitely held me back was that I had no idea what a language degree would lead to. Becoming a schoolteacher? A translator? That was all I could think of.

    I knew nothing about linguistics as an academic specialty, and in retrospect I don’t know if I would have l cared for it. Learning to read and speak other languages was great, and learning about the relationships between them was also fascinating. In another life, I might have been a half-way decent 19th century philologist.

  574. I think the problem is that the gap between More Money and a decent income has widened greatly […] In these circumstances it’s understandable that parents with a concern for their children’s futures would want them to go into a line of work likely to enable them to become attendants on the rich

    Sure, and I’m not blaming the parents (well, not too much) — I’m just glad I came along before the Fall.

  575. John Emerson says:

    There’s a precession: the poorest parent often think college is a waste of time when jobs are to be had, a slightly more prosperous parent wants their kid to get a practical (lucrative) education, an established parent might be OK with their kid going for a prestigious cultural education, and at the top decadent rich parents might be OK with their kid getting loaded every day to get in touch with their feelings. ((Perhaps oversimplified just a little). John Adams said something a little like that, though without the all-important Step Four.

  576. ” the poorest parent often think college is a waste of time when jobs are to be had, ”

    Still not “poorest”.

    1. the underage girl somewhere in the third world that made my jeans.
    2. a researcher in some Russian institution.
    3. a plumber in your country (I guess not poor).

    These three persons have very different levels of income and attitudes to education.

  577. About the plumber I did not mean to compare him to the girl from the third world.

    I mean: some professionals that are seen as “uneducated” can earn good money. Maybe not plumbers, but there are always such professions. But I think some immigrants (illegal especially) are in the posision closer to that girl. And it is not just education. Yet education can be a way to change something for them.

  578. David Eddyshaw says:

    The children my wife used to teach in Ghana were extremely keen on education, as were their parents: it’s the way you get not to be a peasant farmer*.

    Discipline in class was not a problem.

    *A Ghanaian colleague once told me an elaborate traditional joke about a lazy schoolboy trying to bullshit his father about how much he was learning in school. It loses too much in transmission for me to be able to do it justice here (it was the way he told ’em), but the lad ends up being given a hoe and told to get working in the fields.

  579. A straightforward maxim, popularized in Russian literature is ученье — свет [а неученье — тьма], learning is light [and not learning is darkness], the part in brackets not always given.

    A jokular continuation is …. а неученье — чуть свет, и на работу.

    “…barely light and to work”, that is, “…going to work with the first light””.

    Here it is applicable to careers in science, because:
    A minister and a head of the department of dividing money between subdepartments are hard-working people, both. A scientist just thinks about something good.

  580. David Marjanović says:

    When I got to that point in the late 90s, it wasn’t “a good job”, it was “a job”. Transitne sic gloria mundi.

    I tried the dual-track approach, had to stop studying chemistry after a year because the math became overwhelming, changed that to molecular biology, did the “first section” (the degree of bachelor didn’t exist yet), then didn’t start the second section in part because I couldn’t do it in parallel to my Master thesis in (paleo)biology, and eventually had the first section recognized as a B.Sc. after that degree had been introduced and molecular biology had been made a branch of biology. Up to now, my total lifetime employment is half a year (plus a year of tutoring highschool students that was paid but an employment).

    The way people talked, the ranks all of the Taiwan colleges were agreed upon, though one student claimed that his own alma mater was due for promotion from #3 to #2.

    Like the US on steroids? That’s horrible. Competition and science don’t mix.

    Over here, there’s no such ranking – probably because almost all universities are federal/national; Starbucks places don’t compete with each other either.

  581. David Marjanović says:

    The upside of the mercy of late birth is that Austria was having a series of pension reforms in the late 90s. We grew up very cynical about the prospect of ever being able to retire. Turns out in my line of work you can actually keep working till you drop dead (…unless you get dementia, but we knew really little about that back then).

  582. January First-of-May says:

    but the lad ends up being given a hoe and told to get working in the fields.

    Иди бери вилкус и марш возить навозикус.

    (This is the way I remember the punchline of this vaguely linguistic-ish joke; googling does not find this specific version, but does find about half a dozen others. I probably got it from Vartanyan, but it occurs elsewhere as well.)

  583. David Eddyshaw says:

    That is indeed the very same joke (mutatis mutandis: the cod-foreign in my friend’s version was Pseudofrench rather than Latinoid.)

    Truly, all men are brothers …*

    *Or perhaps this is a legacy of Nkrumah’s warm ties with the USSR?

    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00309230.2020.1785516

  584. there must be then a version with a PhD student bullshitting her thesis about a Khoi-San langauge, where she is told (clicked) to go develop property

  585. (1) Actually the situation when a child has to do (study) what he is told to do (study), whether he likes it or not, or else have famine-cholera-war is a bad stituation.

    It is what we want children not to have. It is why all the efforts: so that their children were not in that situation. As a motivation it is exactly crap.

    Of course if we get used to crap we can start believing that crap is good somehow. We even can produce crap artificially, so our kids developed qualities (“disciplined”, “obedient”, “hard-working”, “competetive”) necessary for quick and efficient getting out of crap.

    Besides, teaching a child who wants to learn and loves your science is a pleasure. Teaching a child who needs to get our of poverty is less so.

  586. (2)
    100 educated families in a country is not the same as 100 rich families.
    100 educated families (disparity) is better than 0 (parity).
    It is not they (educated) grabbed knowlege from the lower class and appropriated it, leaving everyone naked.
    Transmission of knowlege from parents to children is a much more natural and efficient mechanism than school.
    It is good in every single respect, and it does not “create” any disparity.

    A healthy system is one where in the next generation there are 200 or 1000 such families, and not a brahmin caste.

  587. (3) when parents help their children become educated it is good too.


    I jsut want to make 1-2-3 explicit, so we did not explain inequality with existance of education:)
    Then the problems are:

    – how well this criterion is fulfilled: “in the next generation there are 200 or 1000 such families”
    – what education (particularly in specific universities) gives? What ar “prestigeous” universities?

    – and for me: competition. It is what I personally do not like. As I said, I hate Korean system.
    It is efficient. Jackie Chan’s childhood explain why he is a real super-hero (he is) and Batman is fake.

    Korean system, as I understand, is like that: maximal pressure on a child, and then your whole life depends by the result of your exam.

    mad race for Ivy League sports scholarships,

    This, and other way to get in good universities is not bad, I think. What if there was only one way, like in Korea: an exam? It would mean a lot of drilling, exam-specific preparation and rich parents hiring tutors. I do not think it is good, and maybe existance of different ways to get in university helps children who really want it.
    It is just that creating them does not remove competition – and so you have parents doing what is described in the article.

  588. January First-of-May says:

    maximal pressure on a child, and then your whole life depends by the result of your exam

    Apparently there used to be a very similar setup in the UK known as the 11+ exam. It had the same drilling and tutor-hiring problems and ended up essentially abolished.

  589. David Marjanović says:

    ~~~”dating” (another word that means I do not know what)

    I forgot to answer to that!

    “Dating” works like this: you see someone whose face seems tolerable, so you walk up to them, introduce yourself out of the blue and invite them to a date, most stereotypically a restaurant dinner followed by some cinema. During that dinner you conduct a mutual job interview to find out if you might fall in love at some future point. If neither of you finds out that you won’t, you plan a second date. What happens at the dates is described in baseball metaphors (“we got to second base!!!”). Ideally you mutually fall in love at some point.

    It’s exactly as fundamentally wrongheaded as it sounds, but people who grew up with US TV since at least the 80s believe this is the normal way to find a life partner. Of course that doesn’t often happen with the first person you date, so many people in such subcultures rack up a lot of dating experience that they talk about in almost statistical terms (“if he does X on the second date, I know Y will happen later”).

  590. David Marjanović says:

    a second date

    …and then further ones until you two decide you’re officially together now, of course. This is comment number 592, the edit function has given up.

  591. “Dating” (in the US at least) is more often used generically, in the sense of being bf/gf with someone, similar to “going out with”. “Going out on a date” means something like what you describe, an exploration of a relationship. “To have a date” with someone means any sort of scheduled social engagement, which could be a romantic thing, or could be meeting your parents to go to a lecture.

    A classic joke, illustrating the social etc. etc.:

    — What does a lesbian bring to a second date?
    — A moving truck.
    — What does a gay man bring to a second date?
    — What second date?

  592. similar to “going out with”.

    Sepulka – l.mn. sepulki, odgrywający doniosłą rolę element cywilizacji Ardrytów (ob.) z planety Enteropii (ob.). Ob. sepulkaria.

    Sepulkaria – l.poj. sepulkarium, obiekty służące do sepulenia (ob.).

    Sepulenie – czynność Ardrytów (ob.) z planety Enteropii (ob.). Ob. sepulki.
    (See)

  593. John Cowan says:

    people who grew up with US TV since at least the 80s

    Dating in the U.S. probably goes back at least to the 1920s and the popularization of automobiles. With a car, the male can go to the female’s house by prearrangement with her (and often her parents, if she lives with them) and take her off somewhere else. Before that, the male would arrive and have dinner with the family, and if all went well, sit on the front porch with the female. Porches in those days, like movie theaters today, have the advantage of being dark. Nowadays with rising egalitarianism it has become feasible for the male and female to meet directly at the restaurant or whatever.

    With our daughter, we consciously reverted to the older pattern, though not always with dinner: she could invite people to meet us and then retire to her room where she had complete privacy, but could rapidly summon help if that seemed to be needed. I don’t think it ever was, though she did get in trouble once in a boyfriend’s house.

    (I once invited a woman to a movie, and she was astonished when I wanted to sit near the front and actually see the movie. I was very embarrassed; I didn’t know then to use the magic words “as a friend”.)

  594. David Eddyshaw says:

    All of us Hatters have broken hearts in our day, before we knew how to exercise our powers responsibly.

  595. January First-of-May says:

    “To have a date” with someone means any sort of scheduled social engagement, which could be a romantic thing, or could be meeting your parents to go to a lecture.

    “I’m late! I’m late for a very important date!” – White Rabbit (in the Disney movie, 1951), using “date” to mean “appointment” (presumably as an extension of the chronological meaning)

    “So if you’ve a date in Constantinople, she’d be waiting in Istanbul” – originally sung by the Four Lads, 1953, already in pretty much the modern meaning (note the “she”, implying a hetero male audience)

  596. John Cowan says:

    I think there was no broken heart there, just surprise at me breaking the (overly rigid, in my view) pattern. The one heart I broke was very recently, and it was one of those “I’m not in love with you any more and I don’t know why; I’m sorry about it” events. It took some time, but we are now “call every year or so” friends, being now in different parts of the country.

  597. “I once invited a woman to a movie, and she was astonished when I wanted to sit near the front and actually see the movie.”

    I usually explain situation with some* of students of our mathematical faculties with this example. When you invite a freind to a movie, you mean: you would enjoy watching this movie with this particular person.

    The problem:

    1. having 0 expereince with the opposite sex boys can’t read body language.
    2. signs do not work, because everything is a sign of itself.
    3. normal girls won’t ever say that directly.

    This led to numerous situations when girls can’t seduce a particularly nerdy character.


    * my freind (f) was invited by a classmate to prepare to an exam together. The guy ended up drilling analyzis atop of a wardrobe.

  598. John Emerson says:

    Dating and flirting seem to have invented on America, and were thought strange in Europe. Google my “Why did Henry James kill Daisy Miller?” for documentation. (If you don’t like my flippant writing, just skip to the documentation at the bottom. The American Girl was a significant historical event.

  599. More semantics: two people can go on lots of dates, but not be serious enough about each other to say they are “dating”. When two people are “dating” it means they are in some stage of a romantic relationship, and they may be casually dating (the door is still open) or seriously dating (maybe not quite living together yet, but possibly soon). “Dating” is implies nothing about sex: when two people are “dating” they can be having sex regularly or not at all.

  600. Y, but how do you know when you are dating or not?
    If love and sexual attraction are unnecessary, then what is it?

  601. how do you know when you are dating or not
    OK, “dating” is a euphemism rarely used in that personal context. I’ve never heard of anyone saying to someone else “now we are dating”, though they might say “now we are a couple” or “now we are together” or “we are in a relationship”.

    “I was dating a lot when I was in college” can mean “I was going on lots of outings with people [possibly strangers, i.e. blind dates] to see if anything long-term would come out of them with anyone”, or “I was going on one-time outings with different people to enjoy the trappings of romance but with no desire of carrying it further” or “I had a number of committed relationships, each lasting a few months, one after the other,” or “I was having sex with lots of people.”

    Added: that is the intransitive use. In the middle voice, “we are dating” implies a relationship, typically borne out of personal attraction. Again “to go on dates” is not the same as “to date”.

  602. That Prince of Punsters, Avraham Shlonsky, once said that the perfect Hebrew translation of rendezvous is פְּגִישָׁה pgisha because it has pgisha, gisha, isha, sha’a ‘meeting, approach, woman, hour’.

  603. John Emerson says:

    My young son, now 48, told about 25 years ago that on his set no one talked about ”dates”, except with regard to prostitution,

    This was in a hip West Coast neighborhood here in Portland.

  604. Yeah, that too. “Wanna date?” is the stereotypical call of the streetwalker.

    (I didn’t think there were any “hip” neighborhoods in Portland yet, 25 years ago.)

  605. I think, “Looking for a date?” is the most stereotypical thing for a street prostitute to say.

  606. Korean system

    Kyōiku mama (教育ママ) is a Japanese pejorative term which translates literally as “education mother”. The kyōiku mama is a stereotyped figure in modern Japanese society portrayed as a mother who relentlessly drives her child to study, to the detriment of the child’s social and physical development, and emotional well-being.

    The kyōiku mama is one of the best-known and least-liked pop-culture figures in contemporary Japan. The kyōiku mama is analogous to American stereotypes such as the stage mother who forces her child to achieve show-business success in Hollywood, the stereotypical Chinese tiger mother who takes an enormous amount of effort to direct much of her maternal influence towards developing their children’s educational and intellectual achievement, and the stereotypical Jewish mother’s drive for her children to succeed academically and professionally, resulting in a push for perfection and a continual dissatisfaction with anything less or the critical, self-sacrificing mother who coerces her child into medical school or law school

    Kyōiku mama

  607. J.W. Brewer says:

    CONSUMER WARNING: If you read John Emerson’s promoted-above piece about the fate of Daisy Miller and the abstraction of the “American Girl,” you may quite reasonably expect it to eventually connect the dots with Tom Petty, yet you will be disappointed because it never does. It may, to be fair, say some stuff along the way that you would find interesting if you were actually interested in super-uptight stuff like Henry James and whatever it is he’s on about. (HIs brother William only loosened up under the crude deus-ex-machina influence of nitrous oxide and I’m not sure if Henry partook of that.)

  608. AAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    “relationships”

    In Russian: an obscure word used by girls. Or was so when I was 30. Plural only.

    ~~~”dating” (another word that means I do not know what)

    A female freind of mine mentioned a guy she was not sexually interested in, but enjoyed to have “relationships” with. I asked if we are having relationships. “No,” she said, “but if we will, you will notice. I promice”.

    AAAAA!!!! I wrote khuynya.
    It was NOT the word “relationships” (still obscure and used by girls).

    It was “we are meeting.RECIPROCAL”: “we are meeting-self”, “we meet-self”, “I meet-self with …”. etc.

  609. Y, as I said, since I was told that I will “notice” that I am “meeting” (I think it was meeting not having relatiosnhips), I am worried.

    And no, in Russian it is a different word than svidaniye (co-seeing), “a date”

  610. David Eddyshaw says:

    CONSUMER WARNING: If you read John Emerson’s promoted-above piece about the fate of Daisy Miller and the abstraction of the “American Girl,” you may quite reasonably expect it to eventually connect the dots with Tom Petty, yet you will be disappointed because it never does

    Nevertheless, the piece asks the central (indeed, seminal) question

    “Was Oscar Wilde an American Girl?”

    and the book also features an investigation into a question which has been curiously neglected:

    “Could Friedrich Nietzsche have married Jane Austen?”

    I feel that it is simply ungrateful to ask for more than this.

  611. “Was Oscar Wilde an American Girl?”

    Комбинация – American Boy

    A big hit here (but not as big some bigger stuff) 30 years ago.

    P.S. The bigger stuff was the buxgalter “accountant” < Buchhalter, which I kept hearing as byustgal’ter “bra” < Büst(en)halter…

  612. PlasticPaddy says:
  613. I didn’t think there were any “hip” neighborhoods in Portland yet, 25 years ago.

    Quite the contrary, the 90s were the epoch of peak hipness in Portland. Hence the Portlandia theme song “The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland”.

    Or are you, like me, one of those aging Gen Xers who does a double take when realizing that the mid 90s were, in fact, 25 years ago and not just last decade?

  614. Portland is known from another Soviet song, когда воротимся мы в Портленд (where it was imagined as a place where they are hanging renowned pirates)

  615. Когда воротимся мы в Портленд. I learned on googling [portland pirates] (to find out which Portland Okudzhava had in mind):

    The Portland Pirates were a minor league professional ice hockey team in the American Hockey League (AHL). Their home arena was the Cross Insurance Arena in downtown Portland, Maine. The franchise was previously known as the Baltimore Skipjacks from 1982 to 1993. […] It was reported that the team would be relocated to Springfield, Massachusetts following the pending sale and relocation of the Springfield Falcons franchise to Tucson, Arizona. The transaction was approved by the AHL on May 23, 2016, and the franchise became the Springfield Thunderbirds.

    Unfortunately, there’s no explanation of the name. Why are pirates associated with Portland?

  616. SFReader says:
  617. Thanks, somehow I’d never heard of that!

  618. Schooner “Thinks I to Myself,” 44 41-95, 1, 49. Smith N. Cobb, jr., Richard Berry. Nov. 1, 1814.

    Is there a tradition behind such names? I saw similar names in Scalzi’s books (the Interdependency, which I did not like though).

  619. Well, that’s a quote from the Bible rather than a dialect joke.

  620. Well, this one is threatening.

    Unlike nedotroga (a person, usually female, that does not let others, usually male, touch her, usually with sexual purposes).

  621. Dating in the U.S. probably goes back at least to the 1920s and the popularization of automobiles.
    In Europe, where car ownership became common later than the U.S. (around the late 50s or even the 60s), the “classical” date involved meeting in the city after arriving there by public transport, and then walking to the venue (show, cinema, restaurant) together. Men were expected to be early, and women stereotypically were late for dates (a case sung about here by Jacques Brel). The man waiting with flowers at a street corner or bus stop became a trope of jokes and cartoons.

  622. women stereotypically were late for dates

    An example of Weapons of the Weak, or (if you prefer) Powers of the Weak.

  623. Yes.
    It must be related but not directly.
    The Slavonic translation in use back then has не прикаса́йсѧ мнѣ̀. This one must be an earlier Russian phrase.
    noli mi tangere also has many extra-biblical uses.

    Markedly punctual (do not touch once), compared to usual imperfective, the perfective- Ne tron’! in modern Russian is commonly used in a threatening way.
    But I do not know its history (and history of imperative perfective ).

  624. PlasticPaddy says:

    @lh
    I don’t think people who are late consciously employ it as a weapon (except when they are Putin meeting the Pope). And a woman dressed up for a date arriving early to stand under a lamppost until the man arrives may receive unwelcome attention and decide not to repeat the experience 😊.

  625. I don’t think people who are late consciously employ it as a weapon

    This is not about conscious planning (although in fact it is often consciously employed as a weapon) but about the many ways people without the official or physical power to achieve their goals do so by other means: “constant and circumspect struggle” using “techniques of evasion and resistance.” This does not have to be laid out in printed position papers; it is passed down through generations. Mothers for many centuries have explained to their daughters that keeping a man waiting increases one’s desirability.

  626. And nobody’s talking about “arriving early to stand under a lamppost.”

  627. John Emerson says:

    Portland OR was named after Portland ME and thus can be called, by long historical tradition, “Greater Portland”.

    I too did a double take when I realized that my son can no longer be taken to speak for The Youth.

  628. Белый Кролик: Отменные часы, со звоном. Часы! Ой-ой, уже опоздал. Боже, как это невоспитанно, английские кролики терпеть не могут опаздывать!
    Алиса: Не только кролики, английские девочки тоже.
    Додо: И английские мальчики. А уж взрослые англичане – о, они всегда приходят даже раньше времени и сразу начинают очень-очень сердиться, что их заставляют ждать. И когда тот, кого они ждали, приходит вовремя, они его сразу вызывают на дуэль.

    White Rabbit: Great watch and with chimes. The watch! Oy-oy, already late. My god, it’s so ill-mannered, English rabbits cannot stand being late!
    Alice: Not only rabbits, English girls as well.
    Dodo: And English boys. And as for English grown ups, they always come even before the appointed time and right away become very angry because they were made to wait. And when the one they were waiting for arrives on time, they challenge them to a duel on the spot.

  629. @Vanya: Portland back in the day (1970s/1980s) was a port city past its prime, not hip by any measure. And then the punks and the artists found the warehouses, and the familiar gentrification cycle started. What I wasn’t clear on is when that transition became noticeable.
    I read the Portlandia line, “the dream of the 90s is alive in Portland” to mean, “the nineties are long gone elsewhere [in 2011, when the series started], except in this time capsule.”

  630. John Emerson says:

    I
    My 50 year “relationship” with my wife /ex-wife I began stereotypically, with me always impatiently exactly on time, and her always fashionably late. Then, many years passed… and now she’s always early if anything, while I’m barely on time or a little late. (NOTE: being late isn’t just a thing for ladies, but is also a thing for favored invitees who are aware that the party was promoted in part by the possibility of their presence).

    In Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise” )not a great book but a fascinating one), Amory returns to Minnesota after time in the East and finds that Minnesotans are customarily ON TIME when he comes late to a sleigh ride and finds that the sleigh and the party have left without him.

  631. SFReader says:

    arriving early to stand under a lamppost

    There is a phrase which every Russian girl knows.

    Ya ne takaya – ya zhdu tramvaya.
    “I am not that kind of girl, I am just waiting for the tram”.

  632. John Emerson says:

    When I arrived in Portland in 1964, more cosmopolitan students spoke of Portland the way you might speak of Omaha or Peoria. By 1970 it was a sort of junior SF. with spillover country hippies, and then it became a lesbian stronghold. But the hipster / grunge thing was in the 80s or later.

    The holdover effect was not only for punks but hippies, partly because of low rent, which is no longer a factor. Until COVID I still went to a pst hippy bar which plays post-hippie music by post-hippie musicians.

  633. Aha.

    The first “Touch me not” in Russian fleet mentioned in Wikipidia is from 1725, named at first Barachiel and then renamed by Catherine I Touch me not/Nolimetangere.

    P.S.

    https://dlib.rsl.ru/viewer/01003835483#?page=27
    Донесенiе оберъ-сарваера Ивана Головина адмиралтействъ-коллегiи, 1725 года апрѣля 27 (⁴).

    Апрѣля 26 дня сего 725 года Ея В. Государыня Императрица указала, именным изустным указомъ, строенiя мастера Броуна 54 пушечный корабль, который спущенъ сегожъ апрѣля 25 дня и нареченъ былъ Варахiиломъ, и нынѣ имя ему указано переложить и именовать по латынѣ Нолиметаньере (¹), а по россiйски Не тронь меня, и впредь именовать оный корабль тако: Не тронь.

    (⁴) Гл. морск. арх. (Дѣл. гр. Апраксина № 233).

    (¹) Nolimetangere.

  634. Great find, thanks for digging that up!

  635. And more, though a bit confusing:

    https://dlib.rsl.ru/viewer/01003835483#?page=139
    Апрѣля 27 (№ 1791). По силѣ именнаго Ея В. указа новоспущенный корабль Варахаiлъ переименовать и дать ему имя Не касайся мнѣ (¹).

    (¹) См. выше, № 18.

    https://dlib.rsl.ru/viewer/01003835483#?page=141
    Апрѣля 29 (№ 1879). Въ оберъ-сарваерскую и в адмиралтейскую конторы и въ Кронштадтъ къ командующему флагману послать указы, велѣть, по силѣ именнаго Ея В. указа, новоспущенный корабль Варахiилъ, который переименованъ и дано ему имя Не касайся мнѣ, нынѣ имя ему переложить и именовать Не тронь меня.

  636. Ну как же, ведь старославянское имя недоступно простому моряку.

  637. David Marjanović says:

    3. normal girls won’t ever say that directly.

    Fortunately that’s changing.

  638. @John E.: An interesting perspective. My sources who would go to Portland in the 1980s described it as a dismal, derelict post-industrial city. Of course the pockets of hippies and punks existed, but they were small and easily missed (and it’s interesting how in Portland the hippies and punks, enemies by nature, hybridized to bring about such things as vegan donuts.)

    I had the impression that in the 1990s Portland was late to catch up with Olympia/Seattle and San Francisco, but I could well be mistaken.

  639. John Emerson says:

    By the 80s I wasn’t engaged with youth culture /counterculture at all, except to read about it casually. The lesbian thing was pretty real, though. A second factor was dopegrowers, who tended to be pretty rough ex hippies. One fo the Holy Modal Rounders settled her for a period.

    People who live here like it mostly for the environs — seacoast, desert, forest, mountains.

  640. Панки любят грязь, а хиппи — цветы
    но и тех и других берут менты
    ты можешь жить любя, а можешь — грубя,
    но если ты не мент — возьмут и тебя.

    (БГ).Our history teacher used to sing it.

  641. John Emerson says:

    In may reading about XIXc France, I found that decent girls were apparently reluctant to be walking on the street at all. Alice James (sister of the famous brothers) thought it was odd and wrote about it in her memoir.

  642. In ohter words, here hippies and punks were not “natural enemies”. It is just that the former were setting tipis in forests, and the latter were throwing up.

    But there were too many common enemies.

  643. The hippies thought the punks were crude and aggressive. The punks thought the hippies were self-centered and pretend-nice.
    Eventually syncretism won the day. Kind of.

    (Kinda getting back to civil wars, here.)

  644. J.W. Brewer says:

    Back in the mid-1980’s when I was a college radio DJ and thus familiar in real time with a very wide range of up-and-coming underground/independent-label rock bands coming out of various local scenes in different locales throughout the U.S., there was only one band from Portland, Ore. whose fame (in a very non-mainstream sense) had managed to penetrate all the way to the East Coast. That was the Wipers, who had a fairly distinct sound/style that was consistent with them doing their own thing in geographical isolation. One minor point of interest about them was that their band-name logo incorporated the generic “peace sign,” which had long been skunked in punk-rock circles because duh it was a fatuous hippie cliche and we were all about overthrowing fatuous hippie cliches. But it apparently worked for them. I was looking for an illustration to link to, and was delighted to learn all these decades later that you can now buy a t-shirt with the classic Wipers peace sign logo from the website of Walmart. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Wipers-Punk-Rock-Band-Music-Group-Peace-Logo-Adult-T-Shirt-Tee/163180055

  645. @Y: I think you have the timeline of the Portland zeitgeist quite right. The main issue in the Portland mayoral elections in the 1980s was consistently crime.

  646. Wikipedia re Wipers: “Sage later remarked on their initial reception: ‘We weren’t even really a punk band. See, we were even farther out in left field than the punk movement because we didn’t even wish to be classified, and that was kind of a new territory.’”

  647. John Emerson says:

    You young people with your “punk” music!!

  648. But not …with your punk “music”

  649. J.W. Brewer says:

    By the time period I’m speaking of (starting ’83-’84ish) bands that claimed they didn’t wish to be classified and weren’t part of any movement were dime-a-dozen. Some were in fact easier to classify than others, of course. As the wiki article notes, Greg Sage was a Portland lifer until the late Eighties when he relocated to Phoenix and stayed there. So he missed the whole “dream of the Nineties” era of Portland. I should perhaps note re the peace sign that there was a whole subset of new-and-non-mainstream American rock at the time that ought to have been more open to hippieish imagery because they were working in a neo-psychedelic style (the “Paisley Underground” bands and other subgenres), but the Wipers definitely weren’t in or near that territory. Come to think of it, the song of theirs I probably played the most on-air was “No Generation Gap,” which in its title is maybe picking a fight with an old hippie cliche? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HY57xdGJ3Hg

  650. John Emerson says:

    The idea of Portland as post-industrial did not ring a bell at all. There are areas in N and NW Portland that fit that description, but why would anyone ever go there ?

    Grateful Dead / Merry Pranksters hippieish did hang on in Portland at the expense of punk.

  651. John Emerson says:

    And Portland may not be the whitest city in the country, but it is the least black, and possibly the most WASPY. A friend here, a stereotypical Greenwich Village liberal Jew (b. Vienna, 1933) who migrated here in about1980, can’t say enough about horribly WASPY the local powers ar

  652. J.W. Brewer says:

    Portland actually now has a higher percentage of black residents than, inter alia, San Francisco, because the SF percentage is now well under half of what it was 50 years ago while it’s been roughly level in Portland. Any WASPishness is maybe better thought of as a sort of post-WASPishness because the Portland metro area has the nation’s highest percentage of residents who profess no religious belief or affiliation at all, which is probably a bigger driver of cultural distinctiveness than anything else.

  653. Hippies : Punks :: Expressionists : Dadaists

    What else?

  654. @LH: Thanks for the link to the Montero concert! I like that kind of thing.

  655. PlasticPaddy says:

    Regarding the difference between various “dropout” aesthetics, I think that the choice of aesthetic is a linear programming problem to optimise (1) the impact on authority figures (primarily parents) and (2) the capacity of the chosen aesthetic to disguise real or perceived character defects, i.e., a timid person might prefer the menacing aspect of a punk (especially if he or she is under the thumb of a bossy parent), whereas a borderline sufferer of OCD might choose to become a hippy (especially if he or she has parents who suffer from full-blown OCD). There is also a cultural limitation, i.e., the Goth movement never took off in Italy, because “la bella figura”.

  656. John Emerson says:

    There’s a generational thing too. Some 1965 hippies might have been pretty punkish, and in fact there was a name for them: “freaks” = non-mellow hippies. But 15 years later they were middle aged and different one way or another, since freaking (like many or most counter-identities) is not viable in the long term. (Speed freaks are the most familiar type of freak, but there were other types).

  657. I think it’s hard for people now to realize how straight (meaning ‘conformist,’ not ‘hetero’) everyone was in the early ’60s. People literally didn’t believe the Beatles’ hair was real because men didn’t have long hair. (And of course their 1964 hair soon wouldn’t even qualify as long.) Men wore suits and ties, women wore dresses and heels. So what to us would seem a ludicrously mild degree of dressing or acting casually came across as so weird as to make you an outcast. Of course, as society relaxed and more people started dressing casually and letting their hair grow out, it took more and more extremes of behavior to separate yourself from the herd.

  658. J.W. Brewer says:

    Daddy-O, you can avoid the ambiguity of “straight” by using “square” as your pejorative.

    Re different senses of “freak” I am reminded of T-Bone Burnett’s rather barbed song about the erstwhile hippies morphing into the yuppies as the Seventies turned into the Eighties:

    There’s a new breed of man, he’s got a wife and some kids
    He works behind a desk beside a computer
    He watches a lot of television, belongs to a health club
    Drinks things like Cutty and 7, whatever that is
    He wears faded Levi’s and Gucci loafers
    His hair is long and perfectly groomed
    He smokes the best marijuana
    Wears a gold coke spoon in his pocket
    And his speech is riddled with jargon like, “Far out”
    “Do your own thing”, “I hear you”, “Into it”
    “Blow my mind” and “Freak”
    You know, “I’m a sports freak”
    “I’m a jazz freak”
    “I’m a video freak”
    He hates accident
    Never questions authority

  659. Stu Clayton says:

    He’s a freak of nurture.

  660. I think it’s hard for people now to realize how straight (meaning ‘conformist,’ not ‘hetero’) everyone was in the early ’60s.

    I’ve said it before in this venue: Pleasantville is non-fiction.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSDm62Hmbf4

  661. David Marjanović says:

    In Europe, where car ownership became common later than the U.S. (around the late 50s or even the 60s), the “classical” date involved meeting in the city after arriving there by public transport, and then walking to the venue (show, cinema, restaurant) together. Men were expected to be early, and women stereotypically were late for dates (a case sung about here by Jacques Brel). The man waiting with flowers at a street corner or bus stop became a trope of jokes and cartoons.

    As far as I understand, though, all that was supposed to happen after at least one of you had already fallen in love with the other, and there was no more need for job interviews.

  662. It was still a way of mutual exploring. Made more complicated by the expectation that the man had to do the asking out and the woman had to play hard to get.

  663. you can avoid the ambiguity of “straight” by using “square” as your pejorative.
    Obligatory.

  664. John Emerson says:

    How straight everyone was: My exwife won a trip to NYC and the UN while she was in HS in 1960. (The fact that a HS age Mormon from Boise would visit the Satanic UN is a bit startling in itself, from the perspective of today).

    One thing she brought back is a copy of the Village Voice, the about 6 years old. It reads strangely today. Notably, there was no sign of radicals — just NYC reform Democrats, Dave McReynolds the pacifist, and a couple of mild commentators who were vaguely libertarian socialists. Second, the advertised restaurants were mostly steak and seafood (like in rural MN), American chop suey Chinese, or spaghettin and meatball Italian. There was a front page article on a sports car rallye (sic). All and all it read like a mildly progressive neighborhood newspaper of today )or maybe 10 years ago before the internet killed print media).

    The most striking exceptions to what I just said were the music pages. There was a lot of fol that looks totally generic now, but on a given night you might have the choice between Mingus, Miles Davis, and Ornette Coleman IMHO the greatest music ever. before or since — and the drama and film were almost that good.

  665. John Emerson says:

    “folk”

  666. I knew an old* hippie who loved to fight. He enjoyed brawls when I met him in 90s, already totally grey-haired, yet quite fearsome, and telling stories about his youth when they run what he called отряд хипповой самообороны, lit, “squad of hippyish self-defence”. Actually hippies are quite at the posisition to realize aggressive instincts without being assholes: there was no shortage of people who would want to beat them up. Later he would buy a farm in Altai and tried to organize a commune there. I knew some hippies, but I did not visit specifically hippyish places, but with the live style of our hippies I would meet him in rather random localities in the country on the street.


    *oldovyj, a word from hippy slang that I learned as a child.
    Cf. also hayratnik, a band for hair.


    I liked this use of straight. Maybe because “square” is absent from Russian, but I think because “square” is rather pejorative. There are positive usages too, though.

  667. John Emerson says:

    “Straight” zhi and “square” fang are among the lesser Confucian virtues. More prominent is “right” zheng, which means both “correct” and “vertical / right-angled” as in English, but is not the opposite of left

  668. Hayashi Razan was objecting to Fabian Fucan‘s idea of spherical Earth, saying that what moves is round and what is at rest is sqaure, thus the sky is round and the Earth is square.

  669. About anglicisms:
    shʊ`zɨ “shoes” and the habit to call the main stret Brodvey < Broadway come I think from stilyagi, pre-hippy thing. But hippies use these.

    Hayratnik and oldovɨy, though, use Russian suffixes, which matches the usual pattern of incorporation of borrowings.

    My pirate loving freind loves giving names to places, in the forest where we practice skiing too. So there is a place called Brunzovik (a Slavic name of Braunschweig), but one straight forest road he calls the Broadway.

  670. January First-of-May says:

    which means both “correct” and “vertical / right-angled” as in English, but is not the opposite of left

    In Russian a right (90 degree) angle is literally a straight angle (прямой угол), but the word for “right” as in “human rights” or “right to bear arms” (право) is the same as the opposite of left, and the word for “correct” (правильно) is a different derivation from the same underlying root.

    My pirate loving freind loves giving names to places, in the forest where we practice skiing too.

    When I’m in the right sort of mood (relatively often) I tend to give names in my internal monologue to almost every important-looking feature on my way (that I don’t already know the actual name for). Unfortunately I also tend to forget those names relatively quickly (only remembering that they existed).

  671. yes.
    Heterosexual people are “naturals” and people who are not a part the underground discussed above (hippies etc.) and.., are “civils”.
    The underground by 90s was also referred to as “informals”. In the punk community the pirate skier I just spoke about, “infors”.
    That is how he explained, for example, that they would never attack hippies, even though they would ironize about pacifism of the latter: “It was unthinkable, they were fellow nefors”.

    Another term was the System. But this one came from hippies, I think, and was used by people who knew hippies. (Cf Шевчук: “У нас в деревне были тоже хиппаны…”)

    натур`алы
    цив`илы
    неформ`алы
    н`ефоры
    сист`ема

    P.S. “informals” came from a term “Informal youth groups (lit. unions)” used by media in 80s
    P.P.S. as I see, punks beat up the village hippy from the song mentioned above;/

  672. The good thing about language is that it lets you speak about anything that can be described with words.

    Say, a discussion of a term diffeomorphism from linguistic perspective requires differentiable manifolds.

    It is one of two ways to learn anythign that I know:
    1) teach it (preferably next morning). Then you quickly realize that you can see and understand many things that you couldn’t see before. It is just magical.
    2) treat it as a text in an ancient language.

  673. rather barbed song about the erstwhile hippies morphing into the yuppies

    And as I am posting Russian rock classics there is this one когда-то ты был битником. About a pre-hippie guy, referred to as a “beatnik”, in this case a lover of rock’n’roll.

  674. About hippies in particular, language change more generally, and the meanings of time and mortality most generally of all, may I recommend Oliver Sacks’s haunting essay “The Last Hippie”?

    First published in the NYRB and then collected in Sacks’s An Anthropologist on Mars, this is the history of an amateur musician whom a brain tumor has blinded and left almost totally amnesic except for a single tract of long-term memory: the period 1964-1967, when he was a hippie. Now he will spend the rest of his life in his wheelchair in a hospital over which time still continues passing, marooning him and his unchanging language on a little island of time which grows more incomprehensible by the day.

    And then comes the evening when Dr. Sacks takes him to a Grateful Dead concert . . .

  675. John Cowan says:

    “Straight” zhi and “square” fang are among the lesser Confucian virtues.

    That reminds me of the Freemason expression “on the level and on the square”.

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