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Donner Party Conservatism

[ 94 ] October 19, 2014 |

Corey Robin:

And here we come to Ground Zero of conservative commitment. The conservative believes in excellence, as Douthat says, but it is a vision of excellence defined as and dependent on “overcoming.” It’s a vision that abhors the easy path of acceptance, of tolerating human frailty and need, not because that path is wrong but because it is easy.  Or, to put it differently, it’s wrong precisely because it is easy. And though that vision often claims Aristotle as its inspiration, its true sources are Nietzschean.

The conservative believes the excellent person is a kind of mountain climber, a moral athlete who is constantly overcoming or trying to overcome his limits, pushing himself ever higher and higher.  When it comes to sex, he’s not unlike the Foucauldian transgressor, that sexual athlete of novelty and experiment: but where Foucault believes that taboos against sex are all too easily reached (that’s why, if we are to attain the peaks of experience, we have to move beyond those limits), the conservative’s remain out of reach. The value of a rule lies in its difficulty and potential unattainability, the ardor of the struggle it imposes upon us. We might call this ethic the ardor of adversity.*

Very much so, yes. And it gives us another opportunity to revisit Holbo’s classic David Frum essay:

“Contemporary conservatives still value that old American character. William Bennett in his lectures reads admiringly from an account of the Donner party written by a survivor that tells the story in spare, stoic style. He puts the letter down and asks incredulously, “Where did those people go?” But if you believe that early Americans possessed a fortitude that present-day Americans lack, and if you think the loss is an important one, then you have to think hard about why that fortitude disappeared. Merely exhorting Americans to show more fortitude is going to have about as much effect on them as a lecture from the student council president on school spirit. Reorganizing the method by which they select and finance their schools won’t do it either, and neither will the line-item veto, or discharge petitions, or entrusting Congress with the power to deny individual NEA grants, or court decisions strinking down any and all acts of politically correct tyranny emanating from the offices of America’s deans of students – worthwhile though each and every one of those things may be. It is socials that form character, as another conservative hero, Alexis de Tocqueville, demonstrated, and if our characters are now less virtuous than formerly, we must identify in what way our social conditions have changed in order to understand why.

Of course there have been hundreds of such changes – never mind since the Donner party’s day, just since 1945 … But the expansion of government is the only one we can do anything about.

All of these changes have had the same effect: the emancipation of the individual appetite from restrictions imposed on it by limited resources, or religious dread, or community disapproval, or the risk of disease or personal catastophe.” (p. 202-3)

Words fail me; links not much better. The Donner party? Where did all these people go? Into each other, to a dismaying extent. A passage from one of those moving, stoical diary entries:

“…Mrs. Murphy said here yesterday that [she] thought she would commence on Milt and eat him. I don’t think she has done so yet, [but] it is distresing. The Donno[r]s told the California folks that they [would] commence to eat the dead people 4 days ago, if they did not succeed in finding their cattle then under ten or twelve feet of snow & did not know the spot or near it, I suppose they have [cannibalized] …ere this time.”

The stoical endurance of the Donner party in the face of almost unimaginable suffering is indeed moving. The perseverance of the survivors is a lasting testament to the endurance of the human spirit. (On the other hand, the deaths of all who stoically refused to cannibalize their fellows might be deemed an equal, perhaps a greater testament.) But it is by no means obvious – some further demonstration would seem in order – that lawmakers and formulators of public policy should therefore make concerted efforts to emulate the Donner’s dire circumstances. What will the bumper-stickers say? “It’s the economy, stupid! We need to bury it under ten to twelve feet of snow so that we will be forced to cannibalize the dead and generally be objects of moral edification to future generations.”

I think we are beginning to see why Frum feels that his philosophy may be a loser come election time. I think the Donner party – who, be it noted, set out seeking economic prosperity in the West, not snow and starvation – would not vote Republican on the strength of William Bennett’s comfortable edification at the spectacle of their abject misery. (“Let’s start with the fat one over there in the corner, playing the slots. We can eat off him for a week. See how he likes it.”)

To put what is surely rather an obvious point yet another way: if the Donner party is really what you want, the policy riddle (how to reproduce these conditions, since the Donner party was not political, per se?) already has an answer: Stalinism.

…Warren Terra in comments:

I had heard the term “Donner Party Conservatism” before, but it had never occurred to me that it reflected actual sentiments from a famous Conservative Thought Leader in praise of the Donner party – I assumed it was just an insult hurled at the party that professes to represent some sort of Conservative ideals, and that in reality so well recapitulates the experience of the Donner Party.

Think of it: a bunch of god-fearing but frankly ignorant buffoons were sold promises of wealth and opportunity if only they’d pledge themselves to a grand venture. They were then taken advantage of by profiteers who badly outfitted them for the undertaking, and were literally misguided, as in sent along the wrong path, at the wrong time. When they became trapped, the few survivors made it by eating their own; others more principled or more circumspect did not – or were perhaps slain to be food. It’s like the George W Bush administration, plus literal cannibalism. It is, in short, what the Conservatives deliver, but not what they claim to seek. Except, apparently, Bill Bennett.

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#GamerGate: a Primer by Sly

[ 169 ] October 18, 2014 |

Hope LGM frequenter, Sly doesn’t mind being a front-pager tonight. I just want everyone to see his great summation of GamerGate:

Here’s a basic but somewhat detailed summation:

      • Most people who have been on-line long enough get to know about the various self-identifications that form the loose confederation of Organized On-Line Misogyny: Your Red Pillers, your Slymepitters, your MRAs, your Incels, your PUAs, your MGTOWers, etc. Though they differ in the details of their reason for being women-haters, they are unified to the extent that they (a) hate women and (b) use the Internet to talk to and organize with other women-haters. Feminists know them well. Veterans of the Skeptic-Misogyny conflicts got to learn over the past few years how they can’t stand women who have the temerity to bring their lady-brains into what they, the misogynists, assume to be de facto male spaces.

        Anyway, #GamerGate is essentially a repeat of what happened within the Skeptic/New Atheism movement. A subculture that was predominantly male and thus saturated with all the notions of masculinity that men are socialized to accept as natural, whether they are unhealthy or not, is becoming less predominantly male. The men who cling to those notions of masculinity, especially the toxic varieties, see that they are losing cultural capital among their peers. They feel marginalized, and those within the confederation of On-Line Misogynists find a new fora for their overtly toxic anti-feminism. Reactionary movement ensues to “take back” the subculture from the people who are ruining it. Many bystanders who have no idea whats going on get swept up as cannon fodder in a conflict they know nothing about and useful idiots for a ideology that they’d otherwise reject.

        It is in this context that Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend posted his missive in which he alleged that Quinn traded sex for good press. The misogynists seized upon it, pointing out yet another instance of how women ruin everything. Doxxing/Harrassment/Threats ensued. When the allegation turned out to be bunk, the Doxxing/Harrassment/Threats had to be justified somehow, so more doxxing was done to find something to rationalize the initial breech. Quinn doxxed another charity (also false). Quinn slept with her boss for a promotion (also false). Quinn made up the doxxing/harassment/threats (plainly false). The conspiracy theories were rampant, and the campaign took on a new title when actor and wingnut jerkoff Adam Baldwin was the first to tweet one of the original conspiracy videos under the hashtag “GamerGate.”

        Various attempts were made to shield the harassers and conspiracy mongers from allegations of sexism, like organized donations to the charity that Quinn didn’t dox, the manufacturing of a “chillgirl” gamer mascot who, like, totally doesn’t need feminism because it’s not like it was 100 years ago – GAWD WHY DONT YOU JUST LET ME PLAY GAMES, setting up sockpuppet twitter accounts claiming to be women and minorities using the hashtag #NotYourShield, etc. All of this was deliberately organized as a means of public relations.

        Those of us who saw how utterly stupid and noxious this was started voicing our disgust. Leigh Alexander, a writer and Editor-At-Large for Gamasutra, published an article titled “‘Gamers’ don’t have to be your audience. ‘Gamers’ are over” in which she said that the changing face and mentality of the gamer identity is a welcome thing, because people who believe that they have a license to exclude others from the identity by any means necessary – up to and including waging campaigns of harassment – are a bunch of rabid jackals in the midst of a death rattle. Other on-line publications put out similar articles. This is ultimately what blew everything up, because if there’s one thing that reactionaries cannot stand is when you stop criticizing what they love and start criticizing them directly. They forgot about Zoe Quinn (GamerGaters now refer to her as “Literally Who #1,” or “LitWhoW1,” while Sarkeesian is “LitWho2″), and switched their harassment campaign to those critical on-line publications.

        Otherwise neutral parties were swept up into the “movement” as its Useful Idiots, misunderstanding the “‘Gamers’ are Over” message as an assault on anyone who plays videogames. These people likely now constitute a majority of GamerGaters, and is why so many GamerGaters claim they don’t support doxxing and harassment. To be fair they’re being honest, but they exist solely as a shield for the misogynists to voice and act upon their misogyny.

        And so, at the present moment, GamerGate, as a collective identity, is composed of two groups preoccupied with the following causes:

        Group #1: Scouring any tint of cultural leftism from gaming.

        Group #2: Disavowing Group #1.

        Group #1 survives by trading complicated conspiracy theories done up as 30-minute YouTube vidoes or 120000×80000 pixel MS-Paint images, linking articles from anti-feminist writers at Forbes and Breitbart to one another, and totally crushing on anti-feminist women like Christina Hoff Sommers (because, as everyone knows, you can’t be a misogynist if you’re a woman or agree with a woman who spouts anti-feminist gibberish). That, and trading cartoon kiddie porn and creepshots on 8chan.

        Group #2 survives by shouting “NOT ALL GAMERS ARE LIKE THAT!” without realizing that no one is talking to them.

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Live-Tweet Q&A with bspencer

[ 126 ] October 17, 2014 |

Hey guys, I finally got to wrap up my latest piece:

Will You to Life

Once in a blue moon someone will ask me a question about my art. I  enjoy getting these questions, but I always feel like they get lost in the hustle and bustle of blogging and life. So I don’t get to give them the time and attention I’d like to give them. How can I solve this problem? Well, by answering questions in 140 characters or less, of course. So this evening at 9:00 Eastern time, I’m going to have live Q&A session on twitter. (You can also ask me questions about my art or my process here in the comments.) Actually, ask me anything. Almost.

Here are the sort of questions you can ask me:

What is with your obsession with taffeta and hair that defies the laws of physics? Are you some kind of weirdo?

Is it true that some of the finest digital artists of our time cry themselves to sleep knowing they’ll never achieve the level of greatness you’ve achieved? (Yes. Glad we got that out of the way.)

Here are the sorts of the questions you should not ask me:

Why do you suck so much? (Answer will not fit 140-character format.)

Is it true that Zoe Quinn travelled back in time in a time machine (THAT A MAN BUILT) and instead of killing Hitler she decided to ruin video games in the future?

Anyway, there it is. I expect this will go very poorly, in that no one will actually bother asking me any questions, but I’m going to have a drink in my hand and dragons fucking cars tabbed, so I’m going to have a great night either way. I hope I see ya’ll later this evening.

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The War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs, Two Questions

[ 158 ] October 17, 2014 |
  • Does anyone think Joe Biden’s son belongs in prison?
  • Irrespective of your answer to #1, he’s not going to be sent to prison. So why should anybody for doing the same thing?

…travel day, missed that Atrios beat me to the point I later originated.

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Is that Five Horns on Your Face or Do You Just Have the Biggest Skull Ever Discovered?: Friday Creature Feature

[ 33 ] October 17, 2014 |

If you’re ever in Oklahoma I urge you to visit the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History. It’s not a huge museum, but it’s a whole lot of fun. The star of the show is the Hall of Ancient Life. Look what I found there:

But it gets better. See, when you get to the Cretaceous period, there’s a Pentaceratops on display. What’s so special about this enormous ceratopsian? Oh, nothing…just the fact that it happens to have the LARGEST SKULL EVER DISCOVERED EVER THAT’S RIGHT THE LARGEST. OF ALL TIME.

I stood mere feet from the skull, and it was at precisely that point that I discovered that pictures of fossils and artists’ renderings of prehistoric life simply do not convey to you how massive and otherworldly these ancient creatures were. The Penty was AMAZING, awe-inspiring. And, perhaps because I was so awed and amazed or perhaps because I’m a big, dumb idiothead, I did not snap a photo. But anyway, here’s someone else’s photo. Set peepers on THIS!:


All hail King Penty.

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Cast of The Wire reunites!

[ 4 ] October 17, 2014 |

But only to disappoint you.

In all seriousness, though, you have to go to the 58-minute mark and listen to Seth Gilliam discussing how he and Domenick Lombardozzi stormed into Simon’s office and demand he do more with Carver and Herc. It’s beyond priceless.

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Friday Links!

[ 72 ] October 17, 2014 |

Some Friday morning reading:

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And He Pulled Himself Up By His Bootstraps Anyway!

[ 49 ] October 17, 2014 |

Andrew Cuomo, a true Horatio Alger story:

You also write that there are ultimately more negatives than positives to being a famous politician’s son. Why? I wouldn’t trade my father or our experiences for anything. But politically, it’s a negative, because you get all your father’s enemies — and not all his friends.

Right. Being the governor’s son is a net negative. It’s amazing how many public officials in this land have managed to get beyond this handicap anyway.

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Today In the Machinery of Death

[ 10 ] October 17, 2014 |

Texas justice, which is national when Republicans appoint the median Supreme Court justice:

Four years before he murdered his in-laws in Texas, Scott Panetti buried some furniture in his yard. The devil, he claimed, was in it. After he was arrested and charged with the killings, Panetti, who has a history of severe mental illness, represented himself at his capital trial wearing a purple cowboy suit. He called himself “Sarge” and subpoenaed Jesus, among other notables. He lost, of course. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.

The case made its way though the appeals courts, eventually reaching the United States Supreme Court, which in 2007 ruled that the state of Texas hadn’t adequately evaluated whether Panetti’s mental condition allowed him to fully understand the nature of his punishment—a constitutional prerequisite for the death penalty. The court stayed the execution and sent the case back for further proceedings.

Seven years later, Panetti’s illness hasn’t gone away, but the Supreme Court has given Texas the green light to kill him. The court’s decision, announced on October 6 without comment, upheld a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Panetti was sane enough for execution. The appellate court’s decision, in turn, was based in part on the opinion of a Florida psychiatrist who has deemed at least three Florida death row inmates with long and well-documented histories of mental illness to be sane enough for the needle.

[...]

The details in this story, gleaned from hundreds of pages of court documents and other official filings, indicate that Scott Panetti was no malingerer. He began showing signs of serious mental illness in 1981, back when he was still a teenager. By 1992, he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, delusions, auditory hallucinations, and manic depression, and had been hospitalized 14 times.

Well, in a state where you can be executed even when the state has no actual evidence that you’ve committed any crime at all, not executing actually killers because they’re severely mentally ill is probably going to be off the table.

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The Eternal Mystery of Republican Health Care Policy

[ 57 ] October 17, 2014 |

One summary of Republican health care principles:

That’s the fundamental belief that motivates most, if not all, the conservative opposition: Health care should be a privilege rather than a right. If you can’t afford health insurance on your own, that is not the government’s problem.

I happen to find this belief morally bizarre. People who cannot afford their own insurance either don’t earn much money, or have health risks, or family members with health risks, too expensive to bear.

[...]

Indeed, very few Republicans have the confidence to make the case openly that the inability of some people to afford the cost of their own medical care is their own problem. But that is the belief that sets them apart from major conservative parties across the world, and it is the belief that explains why they have opposed national health insurance every time Democrats have held power, and why they have neglected to create national health insurance every time they have.

Hmm. Chait’s unorthodox view seems to derive the content of Republican health care policy based on such strange metrics as “what Republicans do when they control the legislative and executive branches of state and federal governments” and “what conservative intellectuals favor” and “what conservative politicians favor when not creating transparent decoys during periods when they need to pretend to have an alternative.” Odd. If you use more relevant measures like “what laws single Republican governors (mostly) sign when massive veto-proof majorities of New England Democrats put them on their desk” and “what New England Republican Senators who also favor national handgun bans propose when Republicans are in opposition,” you’ll see that the Affordable Care Act represents long-standing Republican policy preferences, even if it took that dastardly neoliberal sellout Obama to use the third term of the Bush administration to pass it.

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Another Winner From Late-Period Posner

[ 46 ] October 16, 2014 |

Judge Posner’s Voter ID opinion — which, alas, came in the form of a dissent from the denial of an en banc hearing — is indeed a beauty. My favorite graf:

Voter-impersonation fraud may be a subset of “Misinformation.” If so, it is by all accounts a tiny subset, a tiny problem, and a mere fig leaf for efforts to disenfranchise voters likely to vote for the political party that does not control the state government. Those of us who live in Illinois are familiar with a variety of voting frauds, and no one would deny the propriety of the law’s trying to stamp out such frauds. The one form of voter fraud known to be too rare to justify limiting voters’ ability to vote by requiring them to present a photo ID at the polling place is in-person voter impersonation.

Or maybe it’s this one:

As there is no evidence that voter impersonation fraud is a problem, how can the fact that a legislature says it’s a problem turn it into one? If the Wisconsin legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials? If the Supreme Court once thought that requiring photo identification increases public confidence in elections, and experience and academic study since shows that the Court was mistaken, do we do a favor to the Court-do we increase public confidence in elections-by making the mistake a premise of our decision? Pressed to its logical extreme the panel’s interpretation of and deference to legislative facts would require upholding a photo ID voter law even if it were uncontested that the law eliminated no fraud but did depress turnout significantly.

You also have to love the appendix titled “Scrounging For Your Birth Certificate in Wisconsin” (a direct shot at Easterbrook’s embarrassing opinion.) The dissent also does a good job distinguishing the case from Crawford, although Posner and the Supreme Court were wrong then too.

I really hope that Ponsner ends up hearing a case brought by the ACA troofers; that could possibly result in the most entertaining opinion in judicial history.

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Horrible Legislation In American History

[ 31 ] October 16, 2014 |

A useful reminder:

The Fugitive Slave Act took this criminalization further, essentially allowing white “man-catchers” to declare black people escaped slaves—again criminals—and remand them to custody. And there was great incentive to do so, as the individual enforcers of the act were given $5 if it were determined “that a slavemaster was not entitled to an alleged fugitive slave” but $10 if it were determined the slavemaster did have a right to his “property.” A U.S. marshal refusing to participate could himself be criminalized and fined $1,000. A marshal who allowed an enslaved person to escape “would be liable to an owner for the full value.”

And in addition to the odious content, as I’ve said before nothing better reveals the farcical nature of the assertion that the Confederacy was about “states’ rights.” To anyone who believed in a “strict construction” of federal powers, the placement of the Fugitive Slave Clause in Article IV rather than I and the lack of an explicit grant of federal authority would render the statute unconstitutional. But…over to you, Justice Harlan:

In view of the circumstances under which the recent amendments were incorporated into the Constitution, and especially in view of the peculiar character of the new ights they created and secured, it ought not to be presumed that the general government has abdicated its authority, by national legislation, direct and primary in its character, to guard and protect privileges and immunities secured by that instrument. Such an interpretation of the Constitution ought not to be accepted if it be possible to avoid it. Its acceptance would lead to this anomalous result: that, whereas, prior to the amendments, Congress, with the sanction of this court, passed the most stringent laws — operating directly and primarily upon States and their officers and agents, as well as upon individuals — in vindication of slavery and the right of the master, it may not now, by legislation of a like primary and direct character, guard, protect, and secure the freedom established, and the most essential right of the citizenship granted, by the constitutional amendments. With all respect for the opinion of others, I insist that the national legislature may, without transcending the limits of the Constitution, do for human liberty and the fundamental rights of American citizenship what it did, with the sanction of this court, for the protection of slavery and the rights of the masters of fugitive slaves. If fugitive slave laws, providing modes and prescribing penalties whereby the master could seize and recover his fugitive slave, were legitimate exercises of an implied power to protect and enforce a right recognized by the Constitution, why shall the hands of Congress be tied so that — under an express power, by appropriate legislation, to enforce a constitutional provision granting citizenship — it may not, by means of direct legislation, bring the whole power of this nation to bear upon States and their officers and upon such individuals and corporations exercising public functions as assume to abridge, impair, or deny rights confessedly secured by the supreme law of the land?

Of course, by 1883, not only the reconstituted slave power but moderate Republicans thought that federal power to protect civil rights (as opposed to the slaveholders) went too far.

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