I’ve been meaning to mention that the Commenter Formerly Known As Zizka, currently going by the more everyday appellation of John Emerson, has a new site called Idiocentrism. If you’re asking What is Idiocentrism?:

Idiocentrism presents my version of generalism. Because no one can know everything, generalist knowledge is inevitably contextual, particularist, perspectivist, and idiocentric.
My models are Montaigne, Herodotus, and perhaps Nietzsche. My contemporary guides are, among others, Stephen Toulmin and Michel Meyer…

The essay continues with a discussion of generalists and specialists, with reference to slash-and-burn agriculture and 500-pound cheeses. There are already a number of good things on the site, including essays on W. C. Fields, The Barbarian Reservoir, The Waters Above the Firmament, “How History Made the Mind,” and so on; I am especially fond of this description of the Khazars by the cranky 10th-century Armenian historian Movses Dasxuranci from History of the Caucasian Albanians (whose purchase the then-Zizka announced in the comments here):

bestial, gold-loving tribes of hairy men…. an ugly, insolent, broadfaced, eyelashless mob in the shape of women with flowing hair….demented in their satanically deluded tree-worshipping errors in accordance with their northern dull-witted stupidity, addicted to their fictitious and deceptive religion….There we observed them on their couches like rows of heavily laden camels. Each had a bowl full of the flesh of unclean animals, and dishes containing salt water into which they dipped their food, and brimming silver cups and beakers chased with gold which had been taken from the plunder from Tiflis. They also had drinking horns and gourd-shaped utensils from which they lapped their broth and similar greasy, congealed, unwashed abominations. Two or three of them to one cup, they greedily and bestially poured neat wine into their insatiable bellies which had the appearance of bloated goatskins….. Possessing completely anarchical minds, they stumble into every sort of error, beating drums and whistling over corpses, inflicting bloody sabre and dagger cuts on their cheeks and limbs, and engaging naked in sword fights – oh hellish sight! – at the graves, man against man and troop against troop, all stripped for battle….. They danced their dances with obscene acts, sunk in benighted filth and deprived of the sight of the light of the creator…. They were also incontinent sexually, and in accordance with their heathen, barbarous customs they married their father’s wife, shared one wife between two brothers, and married several women.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite, I don’t know what will.


  1. Thanks for the plug!

  2. Incidentally, I visited both Idiocentrism and yesterday. Considering that the author sounds a bit steppe-o-philic, why does he make no mention of good old Lev N. Gumilev?

  3. Zizka is a nut. Hooray!

  4. I do have Gumilev’s translated book. It’s an amazing performance, but almost all of his documentation is from untranslated Russian works, so it’s in the handle-with-care category for me. Khazanov speaks very harshly of him, though Khazanov does have his own axe to grind.

  5. Gumilev is a lot of fun but does have to be handled with care; he had some crackpot theories about ethnogenesis and the like and shouldn’t be equated with more scientific historians. See this abstract for an idea of the problems.

  6. I’m well aware that Gumilev (GumilYOV, just in case) is, mildly speaking, controversial in his theories (but not, I hear, in his scholarship on Turkic peoples as long as it can be separated from his ethnogenesis and passionarity stuff). I mentioned him because from a cursory look at JJE’s site I figured out JJE and LNG have at least two things in common — both are unorthodox in their conclusions, and both have a weakness for the Great Steppe and its nomadic peoples. (Also, JJE’s approach to the nomadic economy reminds me of some recent studies in the economics of organized crime.)
    Gumilev is popular with Russians of “Eurasian” persuasion, which I can’t explain — it seems that with the exception of Cossacks most Russians have a fear of the steppe in their genes, if figuratively, even though they may at times feel a strange affinity to those wild riders. If you’re familiar with Blok’s Reka raskinulas’. Techet, grustit lenivo…, it might explain a little.

  7. Gogol’s Cossacks (~Kazakhs) are very steppisch, especially in Taras Bulba. This is apparently a major theme in Gogol studies. I touch on this a little in .
    The organized crime analogy I’m working on. Basically the state is the monopoly of violence, disorder is competing states, criminals challenge a local monopoly, imperialists create larger monopolies by destroying smaller ones. Someplace like East LA is an internal border of the US, where law doesn’t quite hold, just as American law doesn’t reach Iran or Colombia.

  8. You might be interested in this excerpt from Geoffrey Hosking’s excellent Russia (p. 12, discussing the 17th century):
    “Significantly, criminal bands often adopted Cossack customs, organizing themselves in arteli, who would take decisions in common, share out their booty and observe a strict code of conduct — which, however, in their case excluded any collaboration with the state. This has made the criminal world in Russia remarkably tenacious and durable, through numerous changes of regime, right into the late twentieth century.”

  9. Interesting slip, Zizka: state=imperialists? And than in the next sentence you use US as example of said imperialists.
    Just saying, to show you how you bring your marxist politics everywhere you step. (And subject us to stepping into it.)

  10. Dasxuranci’s description of the Khazars reminds me of H. P. Lovecraft’s various descriptions of degenerate cultists, Cthulhu worshippers, and anybody not properly Anglo-Saxon.

  11. Imperialism isn’t really a Marxist concept anymore, Tatyana, if it ever was one. Niall Ferguson, a Bush enthusiast, is talking about imperialism now. He thinks it’s a great idea. The Roman, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and British empires were proud of their imperialism even a century ago.

  12. Chuang Tzu made the thieves / governments comparison millenia ago.

  13. John, noosphere is a big pile, everyone can fish out whatever his heart desires out of it. It’s what you drag out speaks about you. And how you connect those random facts.
    I have no intention to argue with you about your terms or convictions: by all means, seat in your …bad-smelling ditch all you want, just not tell me next time you kept it to yourself.
    It drips thru.

  14. Tatyana, the theory of the state behind what I said is Duhring’s and was specifically denounced by Engels in his book “Anti-Duhring”. Duhring was not any sense a Marxist. The theory was later picked up by Franz Oppenheimer, whose 1914 book “The State” has recently been republished. Oppenheimer was an anti-statist and his work is admired by Libertarians. Again, absolutely not a Marxist.
    There is no merit at all about what you said about my post. What you said was ignorant and wrong.
    If you wish to do political trolling, go to and troll there. I will then respond to you appropriately. But please, not here.
    Seeing the Forest

  15. I haven’t read Hosking’s major works yet, but what I’ve read by and about him makes me think I’d be sympathetic with his analysis of the Russian empire. The parallel between Cossacks and criminal groups shouldn’t surprise us if we accept the view that Cossacks were initally ragtag gangs roaming the steppes to the south of Muscovy and Poland-Lithuania, to the north of Crimea and Persia. Come to think of it, the steppe begins a hundred miles south of Moscow!
    The Russian word for Cossack is Kazak (Kozak is acceptable); a Kazakh is a citizen of Kazakhstan, which I’m afraid is now spelled Kazakstan.

  16. which I’m afraid is now spelled Kazakstan.
    Okay, I’ll bite. Why’s that?

  17. Because in Kazakh it’s a k, not a kh. (There’s a story that it got the kh spelling because Stalin mispronounced it in a speech, but that doesn’t sound very credible.) At any rate, it was officially “Kazakstan” for a while (I was editing a series of guides to Doing Business in [Foreign Country] at the time, so I kept up with these things), but I’m pretty sure it’s gone back to Kazakhstan. For instance, here‘s the president’s official site.

  18. whoa! you ARE attracted to me, John.
    Dude, I’m unavailable – and no plugs, please.

  19. Note that the Kazakh-Cyrillic alphabet has two k’s, one identical to the Russian k, the other a k with a cédille/ogonek. It is sometimes transliterated as q: Qazaqstan.

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