Napoleon’s European Union

I found this amusing, in the latter half of ‘War and Peace’. I wonder if people will write of Hitler this way too, one day. Napoleon thinks to himself:

The Russian war should have been the most popular war of modern times: it was a war of good sense, for real interests, for the tranquillity and security of all; it was purely pacific and conservative.

It was a war for a great cause, the end of uncertainties and the beginning of security. A new horizon and new labors were opening out, full of well-being and prosperity for all. The European system was already founded; all that remained was to organize it.

Satisfied on these great points and with tranquility everywhere, I too should have had my Congress and my Holy Alliance. Those ideas were stolen from me. In that reunion of great sovereigns we should have discussed our interests like one family, and have rendered account to the peoples as clerk to master.

Europe would in this way soon have been, in fact, but one people, and anyone who travelled anywhere would have found himself always in the common fatherland. I should have demanded the freedom of all navigable rivers for everybody, that the seas should be common to all, and that the great standing armies should be reduced henceforth to mere guards for the sovereigns.

On returning to France, to the bosom of the great, strong, magnificent, peaceful, and glorious fatherland, I should have proclaimed her frontiers immutable; all future wars purely defensive, all aggrandizement antinational. I should have associated my son in the Empire; my dictatorship would have been finished, and his constitutional reign would have begun.

Paris would have been the capital of the world, and the French the envy of the nations!

My leisure then, and my old age, would have been devoted, in company with the Empress and during the royal apprenticeship of my son, to leisurely visiting, with our own horses and like a true country couple, every corner of the Empire, receiving complaints, redressing wrongs, and scattering public buildings and benefactions on all sides and everywhere.

Tolstoy carries on narrating Napoleon’s thoughts, rather sardonically pointing out what a unified European force his army was:

“Of four hundred thousand who crossed the Vistula,” he wrote further of the Russian war, “half were Austrians, Prussians, Saxons, Poles, Bavarians, Wurttembergers, Mecklenburgers, Spaniards, Italians, and Neapolitans. The Imperial army, strictly speaking, was one third composed of Dutch, Belgians, men from the borders of the Rhine, Piedmontese, Swiss, Genevese, Tuscans, Romans, inhabitants of the Thirty-second Military Division, of Bremen, of Hamburg, and so on: it included scarcely a hundred and forty thousand who spoke French.

It would not be the last time the French would be working eagerly to unite Europe – although it would be with the help of the Germans next time. And it would not be the last time that a unified European army was proposed.

Arrogance by Nation

I’m working my way through ‘War and Peace’ at the moment. This was motivated by both S. Misanthrope and Vox Day both extolling the virtues of it, in very similar terms. The tide of history; the way men are swept up in events; the relative irrelevance of Great Men; witnessing the change of people over the course of decades and how events shape them; how those who strive for greatness can become disillusioned, and those who submit to the current can become great… all interesting stuff that piqued my curiosity.

I should post some more quotes that I like from the book, but this just made me chuckle rather loudly at its accuracy – especially the comment on the English, which our American children seem to have inherited from us:

Germans are self-confident on the basis of an abstract notion—science, that is, the supposed knowledge of absolute truth. A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. An Englishman is self-assured, as being a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore as an Englishman always knows what he should do and knows that all he does as an Englishman is undoubtedly correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people. A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known. The German’s self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth—science—which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth.

The Necessary Conflict

Dr Peterson talks in Maps and Meaning about the Patriarch in religious mythology – how he is a necessary part of the tension in the world. He is the rule-giver, who we need because he gives us shape and identity – he gives us order out of chaos, so that we can navigate the world. But he is also something we rebel against, in our desire to find our True Self.  If we let only him rule our lives, then his rules become a straitjacket, but if he’s not around then we never get that instruction on how to survive in the world.

Peterson gets so angry with the Feminists, and he’s right on. They complain about the oppressive patriarchy, to which he responds, in typical Peterson style: “Yeah! Of course it’s oppressive. That’s what the patriarch is but… bloody hell… it’s so much more besides that as well!”

(I won’t attempt to transcribe his Canadian accent, and this is just a paraphrasing.)

He talks about how Feminism is an ideology, and ideologies narrowly focus on one aspect of reality to the exclusion of all else, to achieve some end. Feminists focus on one aspect of The Patriarch (its rule-setting and order creation, and its commands of obedience) to the exclusion of all else. They want to kick The Patriarch out of their worldview, leaving only the recreating-and-reforming aspect of The Feminine/The Mother, with its myriad creative possibilities for expression.

However, a happy life requires us to grow up and experience a tension between the two, to live our lives continually try to resolve these aspects of ourselves in order to find our “True Self”. Throwing either out is folly. It is wrong to suggest that the Good in life lies in simply discovering or nurturing some specific object or aspect, rather than in the process of living, of struggling, of experiencing and attempting to resolve the tension. We try to find harmony, and it’s a constant balancing act – not something we resolve by simply throwing out the balancing scales.

Life is so much more complex and difficult than that, so much more a process of finding oneself in our opposition to and resistance against adversity, including the adversity of “oppressive structures”. So much more dynamic and exciting (and actually more creative) than just being given free reign to flow between 100 different gender constructs, or pursuing any creative endeavour one wishes in a complete safe space with no challenge from anybody, simply farting out whatever you think you want to be and say, to the exclusion of everything else.

And actually, I thought Rob Stone’s observations in the book about Linklater, the one I was looking at yesterday, are quite relevant here:

“Postmodernists posit that there are no clearly superior criteria for recognising or attaining pure objectivity – all criteria are “privileged”.  Postmodernism tends to oppose the cinema of Linklater in the way it derives pleasure from disconnection rather than connection, from what Bryan D. Palmer describes as a ‘hedonistic descent into a plurality of discourses that decenter the world in a chaotic denial of any acknowledgement of tangible structures of power and comprehension of meaning.’

Note the way Postmodernists want free expression, want no constraints. People can approach the world from any direction, so they should just approach it from any direction – all is equally valid and we should just embrace the cacophony of chaos.

Postmodernists might see chaos as a substitute for unknowable history, but Celine in Before Sunset aligns herself with Slavoj Žižek, who claims ‘through fantasy, we learn to desire’. Thus she responds emotionally to Jesse’s expression of a belief in the kind of human evolution that is possible in a person’s lifetime or even a film’s time-frame.

“Maybe what i’m saying is, is the world might be evolving the way a person evolves. Right? Like, I mean, me for example. Am I getting worse? Am I improving? I don’t know.,  When I was younger, I was healthier, but I was, uh, whacked with insecurity, you know? Now I’m older and my problems are deeper, but I’m more equipped to handle them.”

Life is a dynamic progression; life is evolution.

Like Jesse, the Modernist cinema of Linklater is purposeful in its objective search for meaning rather than any subjective reckoning. It simply believes that meaningful connections are possible, even  when seemingly contradictory.

Modernists are at their best in an orchestra, whereas Postmodernists spiral away on interminable solos.”

The meaning that guides us is found in connection, in struggle, in between the parts of ourselves and in between ourselves and others. It emerges from the chaos. Chaos is necessary, but we confront it and emerge again from it, in a continual process. We shouldn’t give in to it.

Stickin’ it to The Man

I’m currently working my way through a book about Richard Linklater’s films and one of the things it addresses is a certain tension in Linklater’s approach to stories, which is reflected in his film-making process also. It’s a tension between the “slacker” ethos of the unbridled artist and the commercial, work-a-day attitude of a more mainstream film-maker. Between pursuing art-for-art’s sake, and of living within the moment and expressing oneself within it, versus the attitude which tells you to stop dreaming and get to work already (and make some money and pay our bills, ya bum).

In this book, Rob Stone focuses specifically on ‘The School of Rock’ at one point, and how it’s a corporate film, made by a big studio, to appeal to a wide audience, and yet it blends in Linklater’s own subversive attitude as well.

“The slacker-rocker Dewey Finn embodies this curious paradox by exhorting his inhibited pupils to ‘Stick it to “The Man!’ – within a potential film franchise for a multimedia corporation. These crafted contradictions are even highlighted with some irony in Finn’s rallying cry to his class.”

If you wanna rock,you gotta break the rules. You gotta get mad at The Man and right now… I’m The Man. That’s right, I’m The Man. And who’s got the guts to tell me off ?


“Nevertheless, although Jack Black’s performance of Finn imitating ‘The Man’ suggests a parodic impersonation of the major studio that funds the platform that he speaks from, Linklater subverts the whole project by constructing an audience-pleasing moral victory out of getting the preteen children of Republican parents to ditch their private elementary school studies sand discover their truly creative vocations in rebelliousness and rock.

The collaborative creative process is also replicated in the way that the children are inspired to shape themselves into a rock band in montage sequences that Linklater claims are ‘great for representing collaborative efforts’.

Furthermore, Finn is on a mission: ‘Dude, I service society by rocking, OK? I’m out there on the front lines liberating people with my music!’

‘The School of Rock’ is not really about ‘goofing off’ as one child says, but a viable alternative to systematised education.”

There’s something surprisingly pro-civic in Linklater’s work. He’s not a conservative (philosophically or politically), but he isn’t some postmodern liberal either. He doesn’t want top-down structure imposed by anyone. But he does seem to believe there’s something valuable which develops from natural, anarchic order: he just thinks it’s the kind of order that comes from the creative expression achieved in group efforts. Linklater finds order and meaning in connection, in the space between free individuals.

I mean, his rehearsal process on his “improvised” films are a perfect example of this. So many of his films are “improvised” and have this stunningly naturalistic feel to them but, just like Mike Leigh, they aren’t the product of turning on the camera and seeing what happens. They’re the product of lengthy collaborative rehearsal sessions, the kind not normally seen even in structured, scripted movies. The “script” is workshopped and proved in rehearsal, and then is shot once something solid has emerged.

Something else that highlights this tension in his films is that the film subverts expectations in that it ends on a “down” note. They cut lose, they break the rules, they work damn hard to put on a good show and… they lose. They rock the crowd, they bring great joy, they even impress their parents, but they lose the competition, which was rigged against them.

But in the end, that doesn’t matter. It wasn’t about winning or getting good grades. It was about doing hard work, trying, and putting all this effort in, in a way that satisfies your own standards, and that has an impact. Not in ticking someone else’s boxes and satisfying their judgement of your worth – whether it’s the system of the school that’s judging you, or the system of the Battle of the Bands. The former is nebbish and the latter is cool, but both are forcing a set of standards down on you, neither of which is the final determinant of your worth.

But that isn’t to abandon all standards altogether either. It’s to say that outside approval by an authority isn’t the final determinant of your worth.

It’s also similar to something in Boyhood where the teacher is criticising Mason, and… not entirely unfairly, actually. The kid hasn’t done his school work, and needs to learn the discipline to do that kind of work, to work within the system. And that’s true whether it’s at school or in the restaurant he works at, where he gets a similar lecture from his boss.

But the thing he’s doing instead of schoolwork isn’t “slacking”. Like he says to his teacher, he does work really hard, taking pictures all the time and trying to improve. And that will put him in good stead in life. But both of them possess some measure of the truth in their exchange.

And so it’s an interesting tension that I adore in Linklater’s films. You see it even in his latest, ‘Everybody Wants Some!’. You have this group of college students out partying and playing hyper-aggressive, competitive games with each other… but they are also supremely dedicated to being the best baseball players they can be – and, not incidentally, their college degrees and their futures (whether they go into a sports career or a regular career) depend on their excellence at baseball.

In fact, a lot of the hijinks they get up to are part of fuelling their competitive instincts (and their in-group, team cohesion), to make them better baseball players. The both work within the system while also being a bunch of hellions.

And speaking of team sports and collaboration and the work ethic it instills, that’s something Rob Stone also brings up in this book:

“What ‘The School of Rock’ provides is a metaphorical illustration of the collaborative work ethic that originates with Linklater’s experience of team sports: ‘I was always the team-sport kind of guy: baseball, football, basketball. I think because of the team efforts I had been involved in I realised that I like being a part of a team’.”

Walk Don't Run - The Cinema of Richard Linklater


The Social Brain

Intellectually speaking, my life is very exciting at the moment. I’m exposing myself to a lot of things I wouldn’t have wanted to think about in the past. One of these is the concept of man as a fundamentally social animal. This is an idea I rejected because, in as much as I can still be classified as a Randian or an Objectivist, I maintain that man is a fundamentally rational animal. I’ve always subscribed to the Randian definition of man:

“Man’s distinctive characteristic is his type of consciousness—a consciousness able to abstract, to form concepts, to apprehend reality by a process of reason . . . [The] valid definition of man, within the context of his knowledge and of all of mankind’s knowledge to-date [is]: “A rational animal.”

(“Rational,” in this context, does not mean “acting invariably in accordance with reason”; it means “possessing the faculty of reason.” A full biological definition of man would include many subcategories of “animal,” but the general category and the ultimate definition remain the same.)”

I’m not abandoning this entirely, but recent advances in evolutionary theory are making me reconsider this stuff. I mean, I was aware of Dunbar’s number, but I wasn’t aware that it was Dunbar himself that came up with the Social Brain hypothesis: the hypothesis that we developed our brains to manage complex social arrangements. And I wasn’t aware of why the number itself is crucial to this theory.

A quick illustration of this complexity:

A group of 2 People = 1 relationship (A to B)

A group of 3 People = 3 relationships (A-B, A-C, and B-C)

A group of 4 People = 6 relationships (A-B, A-C, A-D, B-C, B-D, C-D)

A group of 5 People = 10 relationships (A-B, A-C, A-D, A-E, B-C, B-D, B-E, C-D, C-E, D-E)

As you can see, an explosive increase happens the more people you add. One of Dunbar’s observations was that chimps can cognitively handle groups of 50 people, and humans can handle 150 (hence Dunbar’s number). The significance of this is that while 150 is only 3x bigger than 50, given the illustration above, you can see how it doesn’t require merely a 3x greater cognitive ability (and we are, after all, more than merely 3x smarter than a chimp).

And that’s not even getting into how a single person in that group stacks different relationships, or any sub-groups they create within that larger group, with its own complexities, or how it relates different sub-groups.

I have to dig deeper into this topic to understand the truth and limits of it. As far as I’m aware, it’s still a hypothesis, but one I keep hearing more and more legitimate sources talking about, which makes me think there’s something to it. And it’s also a hypothesis that’s used to underpin other more complex models which do seem to be correct themselves, so it makes me think this underpinning has some firmness (if you’ll allow me a bit of bootstrapping).

The crucial thing here is how it rubs up against the theory that we developed our brains primarily for “problem solving”, which is what we traditionally think of the evolution of intelligence as being about. Of course, the increased cognitive ability allowed us to use it for abstract problems outside the social realm, and it doesn’t really upset the notion of man as having a crucially rational faculty but… it does make me think we need to take more seriously man’s social nature where.

In Objectivism at least, and a lot of rationalist philosophies, the social element is described as something that comes after the rational element in man – e.g. “Man uses rationality in order to make sense of the world, to fulfil his values, to live a happy life, primarily by acquiring resources in creative ways – friendship is an important part of happiness, and well-managed social groups are better than trying to go-it-alone, and so man uses rationality to organise this aspect of his life”, or “Man is fundamentally rational, and his life is structured fundamentally around the selfish pursuit of his values and the gathering of resources – friendship and socialisation are important values in man’s life, and he uses rationality to navigate and acquire these values”.

The idea is that man evolved as a fundamentally rational creature, and used that rationality to improve upon his social needs. The Social Brain hypothesis would alter this, to something more like: Man uses rationality in order to make sense of the world, and his primary mode of understanding the world is in a social context – tools, problems solving, complex rational reasoning… these are all important things, and he extends his cognitive ability beyond the social, to the abstract world of Pure Reason, and then applies this to the natural world in order to pursue values, gain resources, etc… but… they are later developments. Man fundamentally uses rationality in a social context, and he has fundamental social requirements as part of his being.

The crucial shift here is in appreciating the mode in which man approaches the world: does he approach from a problem solving standpoint, where what he sees (so long as he “focuses”, as Rand puts it) is potential math problems and engineering solutions, so as to achieve simply his eudaimonia, or does he think about the world in terms of his social purpose, his ability to climb the social hierarchy (if he’s a man) or find the best mate to produce children (if she’s a woman) – which, yeah, brings in this whole gendered element once we think about man and his metaphysical understanding of his place in the world as fundamentally social.

And I mean, that’s what’s so crucially interesting here. It’s about metaphysics. Metaphysics is about who we are, what our potential is, what our “soul” is, why we have it, what it does, what it could do, what it needs to do, and what our fundamental understanding of the world consists of. Obviously some of this spills into metaethics and epistemology too, and I don’t care what you label it – my point is that this creates a lot to think about for crucial philosophical questions about who man is and how he understands his purpsoe in the world.

Now, I’m not saying that the Randian model excludes man’s social nature in any way. But, well, let’s quote Rand again:

“Man gains enormous values from dealing with other men; living in a human society is his proper way of life—but only on certain conditions. Man is not a lone wolf and he is not a social animal. He is a contractual animal. He has to plan his life long-range, make his own choices, and deal with other men by voluntary agreement (and he has to be able to rely on their observance of the agreements they entered).”

The point of what she’s saying is that we’re capable of socialisation, of course we are. And we gain great benefit from it. But it’s about using our rational faculty for our own benefit (and, if done without force, mutual benefit). Social interaction as an application of our core rational faculty, rather than rationality as an application/extension of our social faculty. And it’s about social values as a class of values within life – even if they’re a vital, important, crucial part of life, they are still objects of pursuit, and not an essential feature of man’s metaphysical nature.

To quote again:

“Love, friendship, respect, admiration are the emotional response of one man to the virtues of another, the spiritual payment given in exchange for the personal, selfish pleasure which one man derives from the virtues of another man’s character. “

In a sense, I’m not contradicting any of this. I believe that is how friendship and love work. I think there’s a sense in which this is true, when we step back and start analysing our friendships and being judicious.

However, Rand’s understanding of social interaction seems to consist solely of this view above: that we approach people in a fundamentally rational way, where we apply our reason to understand them, evaluate them, and place them, and with judicious virtue we treat them how they ought to be treated.

And where I’m finding a very interesting difference is in considering that we don’t apply our rational faculty towards social situations, as one option among many for reason’s application, like a Swiss Army knife with “Friendship” and “Love” arms. We don’t use rationality to acquire social values out there in the world, as part of our purpose of our life (eudaimonia); we use rationality in a peculiarly and fundamentally social way in order to understand our purpose in life.

Of course, we then use this cognitive faculty in a more abstract way to understand the world itself, and to analyse it, and ourselves, more deeply and blah de blah – but that bit, the abstract use, is not the purpose of the rational animal’s life. The rational animal’s purpose is social, because its rationality evolved and developed in a social context.

That’s where these ideas have taken me. I’m not 100% committed to them, and I may find evidence that undermines what I’m driving at here. There’s a lot more to consider. But these are some very fertile, very exciting developments I’m having, and I’m psyched to analyse them deeper. They help make sense of how different types of humans develop different social orders appropriate to them, depending on how well or poorly their rational faculties develop – as well as what sort of philosophy and/or ethics is possible to them.

What is crucially interesting about all this is the notion that we understand the world using a certain framework. I don’t mean this in a Kantian sense necessarily, but our thinking has a structure, and that structure fundamentally shapes the world. It makes some things more important and other things less important; it brings some into sharp focus and others more blurry.

And as Objectivists we think of it as a purely rational framework, of pure logic, and we also don’t buy into the Kantian absurdity that we are blind because have eyes – that our brain doesn’t understand “real” reality because it is constrained by logic. And none of what I’m saying contradicts any of that…

But… the idea here is that when it comes to the fundamental questions of human nature and human purpose, of the type of creature we are and the type of world we inhabit, we have to think using a social framework. It’s not that it’s impossible for us to do it purely rationally – it’s just that a purely rational framework is inappropriate, and when actually put into practice, will lead to a nihilistic, empty, cold,  fruitless life. It can be done; you just won’t be happy.

And the consequences of all this are far stronger than saying, “Hey! Friendship and love are really important you guys, not just important“. Rather, it is to say that fulfilling one’s social role, as the particular kind of human one is, in the particular kind of social environment one finds oneself, is a vital aspect of living a proper human life. This means understanding one’s gender roles, one’s place in the hierarchy, and how one both succeeds in these roles, and in this hierarchy, and how one also contributes to the maintenance of the social order, to the harmony and stability of one’s community. These aren’t just values, they are crucial part’s of one’s purpose.

This also leads to very interesting avenues with regard to the place of religion and mythology in our lives. After all, if rationality developed as a social tool, which we then applied to the world, it makes sense that we would naturally try to make sense of the world by applying not merely by applying intention to it (placing gods, with a consciousness and intention within it), but applying a social dimension to it, where the world is fundamentally composed of forces who relate to one another, as a reflection of the way we relate to one another.

And then this leads to another consequence: politics would reflect religion, and religion would reflect politics – if my brain developed to create a complex political arrangement amongst people, then my religious, metaphysical framework for the world would also have a fundamentally political/social element to it,  where the metaphysical shape of the world and the place of myself within it has an inescapable socio-political essence. Religion is crucially politicial as well as personal. And vice versa… our socio-political frameworks are fundamentally tied to a… mythological… religious view of the world.

It also leads me to the conclusion that Plato and Aristotle and all the ancient (and medieval) thinkers weren’t somehow hamstrung by their focus on philosophy as fundamentally political and religious venture. It wasn’t that they were incapable of thinking of the individual and his purely rationally defined purpose in life – it’s rather that they implicitly accepted this view of the world, that man is fundamentally social, and his rational faculty exists for a social purpose.

Metaphysical Conflict


I wrote yesterday about how religion extends from a need to create stability and harmony (within oneself, but more importantly: within society). A way of summing that up is to say religions/mythologies are a kind of game. They don’t necessarily make us happy and we don’t always win. But there are rules we agree to and we play because we seem to win more often than we lose, and we’re happy to keep playing because it doesn’t feel rigged – there seems to be a justification to our winning and losing, and it feels like everyone is playing by the same rules. So we buy into it and we play.

So as an Englishman living in England and as an outsider… I wanted to talk about America, where we’re seeing a multi-racial society disintegrating. Not only that, even within the White group there are different groups of people, who are finding conflict when forced to live by one’s set of rules. I mean, this was why there were States to begin with: they were different colonies containing different genetic stock from different places. You can also overlay the r/K stuff on top here to understand further divisions.

Incidentally, the genetic roots of these people are found in England today, although they’ve shifted and morphed within America, through breeding, war and all the various envrionmental factors (as well as the fact that more K-selected people settled there, depleting our sources here).

But one thing anyone will tell you is we’re a very provincial people: Devonshire folk are suspicious of London folk, and we both agree people from Newcastle are barbarians. Within London there are divisions between different types of Londoners too. But anyone outside looking at Britain probably just sees “The English” (much to the charign of the Welsh, too!).

Thing is though, we manage this pretty well. There aren’t civil wars breaking out every second, partly coz these groups of people stay in their own sections of the island. Even though we’re forced to live under a common law (and that does create resentments of its own, e.g. where countryfolk are beholden to the moral tastes of cityfolk when it comex to fox-hunting legislation, or where big-city folk are Pro-EU and everyone else isn’t). But also because we still share enough in common that we can get on.

But in America… I think these types of differences have created far greater differences between the States. Which is part of the beauty of their system, at least as it was intended in the original loose Confederation, where there were some agreed upon laws that enabled harmonious co-existence, but enough flexibility for each State to adjust its laws according to what different States believed was right.

And yet now we find a strong Federal government creates resentment, where it seems particular standards are being enforced across all groups, despite different identities (as well as the waves of immigration fracturing things further).

And so I wanted to look at this idea that Diversity + Proximity = War through the lens of Dr Peterson. Different groups of people innately have different values. Values aren’t simply transmitted as memetic constructs. They extend from the kinds of people we are and the environment we’re in. They’re the things that we, and people like us, value. They are the standards we find acceptable, and the ways in which we prefer to live. These get encoded in the stories we tell each other and the mythology we share.

And now two things have happened:

(1) Different people with conflicting standards for how they want to live are now living too close to each other in America, creating disorder as people have fundamentally different values, extending from fundamental differences in their makeup

(2) Within more homogenous groups, further disintegration is occurring as people are losing grip on any firm mythology. They still possess those features about them which give them their particular values, which allow them to live in stability and harmony together, but without a stable mythology in which to encode those ideas, they start losing their grip on them. An efficacious identity is being lost, which leads to a sense of powerlessness.

And so everything is getting frayed at the edges, and everyone is losing their tether, because they’re finding themselves in constant conflict with people who just aren’t like them, and they’re not even able to find any solace by turning to some firm, metaphysical, mythological meaning within their our group – and this causes disharmony within themselves, and a distance from even those like themselves, as they’re unable to talk about a shared mythology that binds them (unless they’re still committed Christians and/or Mormons). There’s no stable, harmonious, deeply metaphysical understanding of the world to unite people – just a fractured shattering of relativistic viewpoints, butting up against either (1) other shattered people, or (2) much stronger people with a more certain, efficacious identity.

You see this given life in the chaos people find within themselves, as they find themselves unable to give any real meaning or direction to their lives. And you see this in the conflict between groups. Until White Identitarianism/Nationalism becomes more popular and something people are less afraid to speak about, we’re going to see more chaos, not less.

There’s this idea that we need to avoid identity politics, ignore differences and try to play nice. And, as is said, this just leads to victory for the Identity Groups who aren’t afraid. They have a surety, a moral certainty, that comes from knowing who your people are and what your shared view of the world is.

And the rise of White (Christian) Nationalism isn’t some kind of simple, racist urge to crush differences. It’s a mixture of creating more stability and harmony within a group, but also it allows for cleaner conflict. If chaos is uncertainty about where things will head next, then I think part of the current chaos is being fed by the side who not only finds themselves lacking coherent mythology, but who refuse to rally around one for fear of being called Klansmen/White Supremacists/Nazis.

I mean, I view it like this: it would be one thing for different groups to draw up their battle lines and form firm barriers between each other. Indeed, that was the whole idea of restricting immigration and having different States: that it creates a more civic, stable society when you limit any outside groups from entering, and you have people live in different pockets, with varying laws, where they fit best. But right now you have bubbling tensions and chaos, not just from the proximity, but because of this sense that one side in this coming battle is entirely unsure about who they are or what direction they want to go in, what they believe in, what their fundamental values are.

Chaos isn’t conflict. Conflict is what happens when certain lines are drawn and nothing is left but force. What we’re seeing at the moment is the chaos that precedes that, as people are lacking certainity about the world, about who they are and where they place themselves. And I think either that chaos will resolve itself into certainty in something, leading to conflict, and those that lack certainty will be finding themselves forced to find something to buy into, once that conflict comes.

The Necessity of Religion

I’ve been enjoying the fruits of Jordan B. Peterson’s labour lately.

His latest interview with Joe Rogan is a good kicking off point (you can also find it if you search in your favourite podcast app too), and it’s where I got started.

One thing he seems very interested in is how moral and political principles emerge naturally, instead of being rationally imposed on a chaotic societal order. By this he means that Moses doesn’t come down from the mountaintop and tell everyone the way they must live, in a way that God foresaw to be best. Instead, maybe there was a Moses, or many Moses-like figures, but he/they and the Jews spent years/decades/centuries resolving conflicts in a way suitable to their particular group and circumstances.  They were refining and adjusting their rules in a way that produced the most stability, which was then encoded into a grand mythology/story in which those laws were then detailed.

Basically, Common Law, arising from specifics Cases, from which were abstracted general principles which became The Law. (Not unlike how the English Constitution developed.) And this wasn’t just a legalistic, political matter. This was religion, is his argument. This is what “God” is. Religion is the grand story, the narrative we tell, which is a short-hand for the complex set of circumstances which gave rise to harmony and stability within our group – stability which allowed us to survive and prosper (instead of falling into chaos, killing each other and allowing other with greater order to exploit our chaos and wipe us out).

Now he doesn’t say this as some “Checkmate, THEISTS!” point. Dr Peterson is, in fact, a very religious guy. And his point is quite the opposite of robbing the world of the power of mythology. Instead, it’s to say why mythology/religion is so powerful, why stories are what motivate our lives, our values, our principles and our sense of the world, far more than any rational imposition that we use to force order onto the world.

His entire thing is to say that we have a need to create a social-harmonising force, which is so great, that we really need to take the motivating narratives of religion and the necessity of God incredibly seriously. It wasn’t just something cooked up on a whim to control people; it evolved from the kinds of people we are, the things that are important to us, and the things that allow us to live peacefully together. It is a fundamental need of humanity. And we can’t just say, “Ok, goodbye religion and goodbye ethnic/group-based social ordering – let’s just have an entirely flat, rationally defined set of principles which order us, that apply to everyone, everywhere!”


There are a few crucial elements going on here, I think:

(1) There is a chain of abstractions that happens because people have a constant yearning and searching for purpose and meaning. They don’t find it in their day-to-day scraping to survive, so they look for someone who seems to be living best, whom they can admire. They tell stories about an abstracted best person, which are consumed socially and shared amongst the people. And this is sufficient within a small tribe. There might be some metaphysical beliefs, but they’re pretty flexible and ad-hoc, and not much explanation is needed – one’s meaning and purpose is found in commitment to family and tribe, to the shared celebrations and sorrows you partake in.

But then, as a society goes from deeply knit tribes to large civilisations of more atomistic individuals, this proves insufficient. We need something more abstract that has the power to structure a much larger, much more complex group (which is also more varied but, compared to what we call “properly diverse” today, is far, far from diverse). The world becomes much bigger, much more complicated, and the individual becomes much smaller and isolated. And so a much grander story is told, a deeper mythology, a tale of fundamental forces in the world. The hero-stories, of the tribes from which this civilisation is composed, are carried forward, but for peace and stability to succeed (and for these stories to be sufficiently powering and ordering for this larger, more complex world) a far more abstract hero is needed, one who is a much more powerful and far more abstract embodiment of those heroic ideals, and who is much broader and less individuated, with fewer quirks limiting him to any one specific tribe – he needs to be broad and powerful and deep enough to work for the entire civilisation.

And so a mythological narrative emerges, replete with real Good and real Evil and metaphysical stories about the beings who represent these things, and what makes Good survive and Evil perish and how they relate to one another and so on. This story, abstracted from our shared-group’s agreed-upon understanding of how we can live together harmoniously and find purpose and meaning within our new, wider civilisation, is where our conception of God comes from. And he is a powerful, necessary force.

“If god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him”, in other words.

(2) People fall into different groups with different standards for what they find good and what makes for a stable personal life, a stable social life, and a stable political life. The mythologies and deep, motivating forces we believe in different from civilisation to civilisation. Anthropoligically, one can study interesting similarities and structures and methods of development but… these ethnic groups are different people fundamentally, and their differences aren’t something arbitrary that can be flattened out and ignored. Fellow atheists observe (and mock) the fact that Christians just happen to find out that the One True God is the same one as their parents and local society – but the reason for this is not mere tradition, but because of the kinds of people that develop in these specific areas – their genetic and cultural heritage, as well as a shared history and environment, all of which shapes the kind of people we are and the things not only which we are inclined to believe but which we need to believe.

A person born of Christian parents in a Christian society from a Western civilisation that owes so much to Christianity doesn’t become Christian out of some arbitrary decision, based purely in peer pressure. It may be the path of least resistance, but there is so little resistance because that religion grew out of a history – cultural, genetic, environmental – that he shares with those around him, which necessitated that specific religion. And that Religion in turn created and made possible certain revolutions and achievement in thought and conceptualisation that created the meaning and purpose which gave rise to many of the cultural values he now holds (e.g. the way in which the formation of Individual Rights can be traced back to the intense focus of Christianity on the Individual, on Individual Salvation and a Personal Relationship with God).

(3) This religion is necessary not only for the meaning it provides, but crucially for the stability it provides. Society do not find themselves adopting mythological framework that produce the “best” or “happiest” outcome necessarily, but the one which allows the longevity of society, by providing the most stable framework, in which people can pursue their own happiness so far as they’re not stepping on each others toes – with an agreed upon understanding of what “stepping on toes” means.

This is similar to the way in which evolution doesn’t produce the “best” creature – it just produces a create who is best adapted to surviving and creating the most offspring (and only within that specific environment). Most people just want to get through the day, survive, not make waves, get along, live peacefully and harmoniously. They’re not looking for some perfect, rational system that can be imposed to order people into living optimally – they’re looking for something that provides the most stable, peaceful way of their group living together.

And how that is achieved varies with group, time and place. High IQ, White, Western individuals want to just be left alone, and to have as anarchic a society as possible. Lower IQ people of the same group might not be able to live peacefully and harmoniously in that way, and might deify a democratic view of the world. Low IQ, middle-eastern people in a harsh desert environment will find that peace can only be found with a more barbaric set of laws – women need to be veiled because men of that type of society can’t be trusted to behave themselves, which would cause disharmony. It’s not great for the women and their personal freedom, but it does prevent chaos. And even within that environment there will be IQ differences (I’m just using IQ as one genetic example – there are other factors, cultural, environmental and historical that are important in creating different types of people), which mean less harsh rules are needed in different countries.

Of course, all of that is very appealing to me, as someone who thinks we aren’t all one, single homogenous group of humans to whom all the same standards can be applied throughout all history and in all places for all time. There are central, objective truths about humans, but they’re also context dependent on the genetic makeup of that person and the environment they’re in — i.e. a libertarian utopia and Objectivist ethics isn’t suited to a modern day men living in Uganda any more than it would work for a bunch of barbarians living in ancient Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.

You can also see why this appeals to me as someone who is growing increasingly sympathetic to the Literal Fucking Nazis REEEEEE who preach the importance of civics, who label allies and enemies as those in favour of that which is pro-civic and that which is dyscivic. They argue the future political division isn’t Left and Right, isn’t between Socialism and Capitalism (although elements of this old argument will carry over). Instead, we see ourselves regressing to a much more fundamental argument about simply that which allows for a stable society, and that which tears it apart – with all the consequent return to strong religious/mythological structures which allows to create more order, more harmony, more stability.

And thus a conflict emerges (1) between those who believe in strengthening/stabilising our specific group and those who don’t, (2) between different groups, who will need to draw new boundaries between each other (hopefully without having to go to war first). And it will have a strongly religious element, as religion and mythology are such powerful, necessary forces in creating harmony and stability for large groups. They may not be necessary for outliers like myself to live peacefully, but for most people they are necessary.

And it’s an attitude a couple years ago that I, even as a not-so-perfect Objectivist would’ve labelled as needlessly concerned with how other people are living, as not individualist and self-focused enough. I believed that it’s not our business how someone lives, so long as they aren’t violating someone else’s freedom.

But, as times change, as I learn more about past and present society, I’m seeing more how we are social animals and how much our living morally good lives depends on our taking an interest in that which keeps society stable, civic, friendly, peaceful – and that total anarchy and freedom in how people associate, with open borders for all, isn’t the way to get that, and maybe we need (at least socially, if not politically – i.e. violently) enforced standards/rules about how other people should live.

And I don’t know where I stand on what makes me and people like me different. Why we believe we can live without religion and mythology. Maybe we have one of our own. Or maybe if we were all grouped off separetely we atheistic, anarchistic/libertarian types would soon descend into chaos without such a force.

Maybe we can be as big-headed to presume that, in the future, most people will be like us and capable of imposing order and stability through a rational understanding of how we ought to live, without recourse to religion. Although I doubt that – it seems too much like trying to remake ourselves, trying to ignore the emotional creatures we still are. Maybe we could become purely rational beings, and divorce ourselves from that emotional and social element, all tied up in the evolutionary history that lives in us, that creates certain needs for us, but I don’t think such a creature would be human any more (and it’s certainly not any kind of goal we could pursue right now). Instead, I think we have to look deeper within who we already are.

And so maybe it will require us to buy into some kind of mythology, but one which, at the same time, we still recognise isn’t literally “real”, but something we believe in because we need to believe in it.

Or maybe we find it in some Ubermenschian mythology, where our “purpose” is to keep creating better progeny than the ourselves, to live in service to society by improving it through our own children, and so on, and where we do so because of a deep love for this world and a desire for a better future.

I honestly don’t know. There are a million other directions these ideas are taking me, but I need to draw a line and stop writing somewhere. I will just say one more thing – to explain why these metaphysical ideas are so powerful. I buy into what Dr Peterson is saying for the same reason I buy into Rand’s beliefs about art and metaphysics..

“Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. Man’s profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual, i.e., that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and needs the power to bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his immediate, perceptual awareness. Art fulfills this need: by means of a selective re-creation, it concretizes man’s fundamental view of himself and of existence. It tells man, in effect, which aspects of his experience are to be regarded as essential, significant, important. In this sense, art teaches man how to use his consciousness. It conditions or stylizes man’s consciousness by conveying to him a certain way of looking at existence.”

This is, I think, one of the most under-appreciated aspects of Rand’s philosophy, and vitally important in this context. Knowing where to focus and how to focus, knowing what is important and what isn’t… these things are difficult to do, and while they can arise from a rational pondering about what is important in life, they become floating and difficult to grip onto – and are very difficult to hold immediately and usefully in day-to-day life and in evaluations – without a firm, powerful, deep, emotionally resonant metaphysical abstraction.

There is something powerful going on here, something fundamentally human. And like Dr Peterson says: we need to take it seriously.

A Ride Too Easy

Muh Roads

One thing people always insist is necessary are the roads. Who will pay for roads with no government?

You hear it with any large project that requires a lot of investment with little obvious ROI. Black Science Man says it about space travel. My father, a giant train nerd and literal train-spotter, will say it about the rail network. And one thing that’s said in response is, well, it would be cheaper when done privately, and you’d just change the system of funding anyway, to some sort of subscription or toll. I mean, heck, that’s what you do in the UK: you pay something called a Road Tax, and without it its illegal for you to be on the road. Wouldn’t be hard to make that a private “Road Subscription” with all the same infrastructure (of course it’s a joke to suggest any government project is adequetly funded, or that funds come from the explicitly claimed Tax for that item).

It’s less clear-cut as an American, especially when a guy who never leaves California is paying for an Interstate through Nebraska, even if he never visits – the idea is that he has a right to use it anyway. But the idea is basically that some portion of your taxes pays for roads anyway, so why is it any different to make that a specific private payment instead? In a private system, you’d replace that with a voluntary subscription. And that cost would vary, with trucking companies paying a lot more since they use the roads a lot more, and a lot heavier. And businesses would likely help fund it too – it would essentially be part of your cost of doing business: you’ll be more likely to invest a bit extra into building a road that drives more customers towards your current or future locations.

And so we say: job well done. We’ve proved that life will not change that much without government intervention. Let’s all go home in separate vehicles on our multi-lane roads to our individual houses.

But one thing all that talk makes me think about is that a new, or expanded, road might not be the best idea, and that maybe government incentives have created perverse ideas and rationales about what is the ideal, optimal, proper material state of affairs. I mean, our problems are these: the creation of new roads in the future, the maintenance of existing roads, and the widening of roads with extra lanes (which also exists on city streets, where they also need to be widened to accommodate more parking) – why are these things necessary? This is the problem with state funding of public goods/services/spaces.

For instance, let’s say you have a $100m project to expand the highways to accommodate increased usage. Is that the best use of money? Wouldn’t it be far more cost effective for the bus networks currently using that road to instead invest in more (and better) buses, that cover a wider array of networks and can be run more frequently? Or heck, maybe the road owner would have to institute stricter policies, and require more car-sharing on every lane, since he can’t afford to build these new lanes without massively hiking up prices?

My point is, there are either creative solutions or there are market forces pushing people to change their behaviour. All state funding does is encourage a certain style of behaviour, and then normalise it over generations so that no-one can imagine a way of doing things that isn’t this one, very-specific way that the government has perversely encouraged.

You look at Bogota, for instance. Very similar to Los Angeles in that it had a rapidly increasing population, except it took a different approach to building roads on top of roads. You see this in a lot of South American cities actually. They’re going through exactly what American cities went through, with rapid expansion leading to too many people on the roads. And Bogota’s municipal authorities had the option to act like LA and entrench the private mentality and keep expanding the roads. Instead, they said a bus carrying 100 people has 100 times more right to use the road than a car carrying 1 person – why should a bus get stuck in traffic with other cars, when it’s the one thing helping to reduce the swelling and need for more lanes? So instead of investing in wider highways to carry more people, they decided to (1) create priority bus lanes, like a car pool lane just for buses, and (2) place a priority on improving those lands rather than the car lanes, to encourage people to use the bus more.

Intra-city roads are different to intercity and interstate highways, with different demands that don’t always make more public transport the best option for people commuting on those roads, but a massive share of people could be potentially better served with more creative solutions like this, which require less capital investment (and much less risky investment, since the ROI is more immediate, with a more predictable revenue stream).

But when the problem gets fobbed off onto the taxpayer purse, and when it all comes down to lobbyists bribing politicians funding election campaigns in return for getting these projects built, those questions or better solutions don’t come up.

I mean, we can agree that transport projects require massive amounts of capital, but I think we get shielded from the real pinch of those costs because they get absorbed into taxes and handled behind the scenes – they’re a thing that happens, but which don’t require our active thinking. And, worse, we then just take it for granted as a normal part of life that somehow roads happen and we have free access to just drive wherever we like, with complete freedom.

This is part of the legacy of the same people who’ll talk about Muh Great Interstate Highway System and Muh American Dream being some American Graffiti / Easy Rider’s inflected idea of being able to drive wherever you want, in your own car. Boomers who inherited this massive infrastructure, and create art which is entrenched with this idea, which just takes these comforts for granted, which makes it Unamerican to consider any other way of living. They’re the ones who’ll really preach this “Muh Roads” mentality, and who also stand there shocked that “young people just don’t seem as interested in cars like we were!”

It gets ingrained in us that we must upkeep the roads, no matter what, at the best possible standard, all across America, with no traffic jams, so that each person can drive around in their individuated vehicle, with the absolute minimum distance from departure to arrival, with more and more car parks and parking spaces built to facilitate these needs. Because… god damn it, that’s what being an American is all about!

And of course, when that stuff is being subsidized or entirely funded by the state, it doesn’t lead us to prioritize what we really want, or to consider that freedom from the state is much more American than having a cupholder next to you, and so (1) we don’t even think about cheaper ways of doing things, (2) we grow complacent in this lifestyle that only exists because of government intervention. It’s considered downright unAmerican and, if you’re a man, humiliating and feminising to not have your own car that you drive anywhere you damn well please.

It’s similar to the way the family unit has disintegrated, and people have become more atomised. For the Boomers, an incredibly unusually accelerated economy made children living away from parents, and parents retiring away from their kids, an entirely normal thing – which is an entire break from historical norms. Now that economic times are becoming tough again (arguably, they’re returning to normal, as the music stops and we face real, natural market forces), those boomers and X’ers are finding their kids, in their 20s, having to spend more time under their roof, and elderly parents having to either live in a nursing home or move in with their kids. Parents and children alike are resenting this trend, because of how normal it used to be to live the other way.

And, arguably, that state of affairs, of incredibly quick atomisation, and normalisation of atomised living, was only made possible by government forces that kept propping up and accelerating the economy, rather than allowing it to contract when it hit problems, and re-grow slowly in recovery, in a way that would’ve made that shift much slower, and would’ve prevented this massive snap-back we’re seeing now.

I mean, heck, let’s not forget the great US Highway system came from FDR and all those boondoggles of the 1930s, in an attempt to revitalise the economy. Was it actually necessary? Or was it part economic stimulus, part defense-program (because roads mean rapid movement of troops and material), which then set an expectation for how easy travel and cargo-transport across States should be, which now only increased a perceived reliance on the State?

I look at it and I see the reaction to privatising the roads as I hear when people freak out when we suggest cutting government funding for education (K-12 and University) or for childcare. And it extends from the same way that government interference has created a certain belief that things can only be done a certain way, and that that way of doing it is a natural, American right.

After all, what happens if the State doesn’t provide education, childcare benefits, or subsidies and loan programs for University? Do you know how expensive raising a child is? Healthcare, education, child-minding – plus all the associated administrative costs. And what, they say, you think this whole system can suddenly be done privately?

No! Indeed! It might not exist at all the way it does now, because the only way the current system exists like it does is because of perverse incentives and structures created and ingrained by government! People might have to… I know, this will sound crazy, but… make tough choices about whether they make more consumer purchases or whether they invest in their kids! One of the parents might have to stay home and educate and feed and care for the child! And, thanks to the normalisation of Dual Income dependence, this is presently more difficult than it has to be. Or heck, with people privately investing more in their progeny and less in consumer goods, we might see more economic investment in those areas, driving down the costs and finding new creative solutions, instead of those very things rising in cost!

Maggie and Millie and Molly and May

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

From Eric Whitacre’s blog

Americans: Not So Dense

I’m moving to America soon, which may be seen as ironic or hypocritical given my support for Nationalism and strict borders. But then, my attitude is that: (a) I am white English, and therefore more of the kind of genetic stock America needs right now, (b) America has every right to reject me if it doesn’t want me, (c) strict borders doesn’t mean zero immigration – it’s perfectly legitimate for America to allow a small number of immigrants each year, so long as strict standards are kept in place, and the influx (and birth rate) of incoming immigrants does not overwhelm the native population.

Anyway, this has lead me to thinking about where I’d like to live. I grew up in, and still live in, London. This city has a density of 14,000 per square mile. For reference, this is 10x the UK average, and is almost double that of Los Angeles (a city most Americans would consider to be a smoggy, over-crowded, gridlocked hellhole). So, y’know, I’d like to avoid that. I started ranking American cities by population density, just to rule out anywhere that’s like London and… I only ended up ruling out places I didn’t want to live anyway: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston… big Blue cities, basically (although more because of the city itself than the politics necessarily). And even those cities (especially when you rule out the very-crowded city centres) don’t come close to the Mega-City One that is London.

All of this led me to thinking about how sparsely populated a country America is, and how this is reflected in the voting. It also got me to thinking about how Americans in big cities, often Democrats, but not always, bitch about the Electoral College[1] and the minority of boondock Americans who are holding the country back. What got me thinking about this was a liberal bitching about the Electoral College – he said that if a Popular Vote for President meant small-population States like Wyoming got overwhelmed by heavily-urbanised states, then that’s just tough: the majority vote represents how Americans really want to live. The Vote should express the will of the people. The way they see it, they’re denizens of a progressive, forward-thinking culture, but they’re still essentially “normal Americans”, with as much right to speak on behalf of everyone else. They see most Americans as being just like them, with the same basic attitudes, but somehow unenlightened.

(Anonymous Conservative has some interesting views on how population density impacts voting patterns, incidentally).

The thing is, I don’t think American ultra-urbanites (or those in smaller cities) appreciate how many of their fellow countrymen live outside dense urban areas, while still being in possession of the luxuries of indoor plumbing, Wi-Fi and Starbucks (i.e. the people are aware of what modern life is like) – nor do I think they appreciate how different even modestly dense cities are from the norm. They’re right that there is a vast difference between themselves and other people, but I don’t think they realise how alien they are to the average American. It’s not as if it goes from “happening city” to “shack in the woods”. Heck, that’s one of the big draws to me about America: that you can live with access to modern amenities and relatively easy access to supplies, while still living a small-town life (or you can live in one of the even smaller urban areas surrounding these already-small towns).

Put it this way: imagine the “big cities” of America – the really cosmopolitan areas (population density around 12k per sq. mi. – 27k at the high end 7k at the low end). These are typically left-wing, “progressive” cities. These 30 densest cities in America account for only 23 million people – already we see how little someone living here knows of what life is like for the average American.

But the problem is even bigger than that. Someone who lives in a blue island like Athens (GA) – a relatively “small city” –
might feel an affinity with the progressive in San Francisco (though the San Franciscan might think the Athenian a southern hick), and the might feel they’re in tune with the majority of forward-thinking, progressive Americans. They see themselves as being more in the heartland of America, as a typical American. A journalist who grew up here might write as if they know what America is like. And, knowing they’re not from the massive metropolises of America, they’ll think that most Americans are either like them – living in cities like them, possessing the kind of mindset that develops in big cities – or else they’re shit-poor farmers living on a ranch (again, that AC article is very relevant to understand the kind of attitudes that develop in dense-vs-sparse populations).

But let’s challenge that assumption. Let’s pool together the 300 most dense cities across America, places ranging from Tucson, Arizona to Memphis, Tennessee. Places that have any right to call themselves “metropolitan”, places where a native to that city might consider themselves part of a forward-thinking elite, while still considering themselves part of the “heartland” of America. That’s how broad we’re gonna look. Heck we’re including Amarillo, Provo, Knoxville – real, proper American towns. Well… for one thing, this still only accounts for 100 million people – less than 1/3 of the population. And what’s normal for these people is a population density ranging averaging 4,000 per square mile, or 3,000 if you subtract the megacities which could skew it.

Now, that sounds pretty sparse to me, but my point is that for America that’s: (a) densely populated, and (b) a minority lifestyle.

Get rid of them and you still have over 200 million Americans living a much less dense lifestyle. We’re talking about people for whom Waco, Mobile or Provo are bustling, over-crowded cities. The fact is the average population density for an American is less than 1,000 per square mile – and therefore, by definition, half of Americans are living in urban areas smaller than even that. For these people, if you live in Jacksonville, you’re “big city folk” living a suspicious lifestyle. Heck, we’re talking about a range that goes down as small as 100 people per square mile (and I’ve excluded the 10-person outposts in the middle of nowhere in my averages here – we’re still talking about regular Americans who are living “on the grid”, who would still consider themselves to be living a “normal” American life – just with a very definition of “normal American life” to the people living in top-300 densest cities).

Simply put, America is mostly a small-town country with a small-town political mindset. Cities like New York, San Francsico and LA are elitist, we can accept that easily, but even a relatively small city dweller lives a life that’s pretty abnormal American lifestyle. The thing is, you watch the movies that come out of Hollywood, and you think most Americans live cosmopolitan lifestyles in big, busy cities. When a movie like ‘Dazed and Confused’ has teenagers roaming through a relatively small town, or we see Casey Affleck going from a small town to a really tiny town (Manchester-By-Sea), it all feels very quaint and quiet versus what we’re used to – but that’s how most Americans live! And with that comes a different attitude towards life, towards community, and towards a large Federal government (or even towards an over-active State government).

That’s me just thinking more in terms of cities, of course. Obviously, when it comes to something like the aforementioned Electoral College and the choice of President, people vote by State, rather than districts (with a few exceptions like Nebraska). To put it just in terms of States though: the top 15 US States have an Average Pop Density of 600/mi2 (this includes as diverse a mix as Texas, New York, Illinois, California and Hawaii) and make up 161 million people. The rest of the country (158 million people) has an average density of just 74/mi2. That is a staggering difference – 70% of US States, and just under half the population, live in States which are 8x less dense than the rest.

Or, to put it another way: only a third of the Top 15 densest US States voted Trump in 2016. And of the remaining 35, only a third voted Clinton. This feature of America – the relative lack of density of where most people live – is a defining feature of the country. By any sane analysis, America is a small-town nation, filled with small, self-interested communities[2]. Most of these small towns are very white, too. Most population centres in America are very different to the big, progressive cities. Even places like Memphis or Fargo are relatively “big cities” compared with the rest of America, in terms of being an unusually dense urban area, with all the unique features that accompany dense populations.

[1] Of course, the Los Angeles voter will get angry that Wyoming is weighted so high, yet cry very few tears that California’s 53 Congressional representatives can write Federal laws that overrule the single Congressman from Wyoming.

[2] In contrast to the provincial, more community and family-focused aspect of most Americans’ lives, is the kind of attitudes developed in a big city. As said, r/K theory explains a lot of what’s going on here, in terms of dense cities being advantageous to the r-selected (in fact, high birth rates are a feature of cities (see page 6), making them r-selected by their nature). What I’ve not heard much talk about is the feedback loop in which large cities encourage more socialised thinking. While a dense city has a greater pool of resources, it’s also home to many shared resources: people must live in apartment complexes, take public transport and share small city parks (instead of having the freedom of a large backyards, or access to large outdoors areas). Learning to compromising personal space and personal property for the sake of the collective good is a part of being a big city dweller. Just ask anyone who has to take the London Underground every morning.