Yes, I Do Have An Enemies List

It’s a powerful thing to name your enemies. By naming them, you can keep always in front of you what you’re up against.

So I figure I ought to take a page from Arya Stark’s playbook and start keeping tabs on my list of enemies.

Some of my enemies are emotions: despair, terror, vindictiveness, arrogance, numbness.

Some of my enemies are philosophies: authoritarianism, statism, socialism, fascism, anti-human religiosity, sexism, racism.

Some of my enemies are habits: procrastination, stagnation, indebtedness, dishonesty, lateness, failed promises, conformity.

Some of my enemies are attitudes: contempt, subservience, helplessness, status-seeking.

You’ll notice there are no people on this list. That’s because all people are capable of change – all people are capable of being my friends, or at least of not being evil.

If I’m going to choose enemies, I also might as well pick ones that I’m never going to fully defeat. A good long battle will make me strong for a good long time, and a big-enough enemy is a good motivation for a struggle which will take a lifetime.

Another grace of my particular enemies list is that it makes my choice of tactics simpler.

With enemies like procrastination, I can know that any action I take toward a creative goal is a victory- and any procrastination is itself a defeat.

With enemies like despair, I can know that giving up would be the only form of failure.

With enemies like authoritarianism and statism, I can remind myself that I can only win by respecting the freedom of others. The way of power isn’t open to me.

Finally, I think I’ll find that listing out these enemies will make it far harder for me to subconsciously slip into treating them as friends. If I remind myself routinely that vindictiveness is an enemy, it won’t find any hospitality in my heart.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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On Income Inequality II

Those who fight for economic egalitarianism and against income inequality are attempting to do the impossible by government force. Not only do they want income levels coercively flattened, but they also hope that more and more of their fellow human beings will share their ideals. In essence, they hope to build a race of “New Men” and “New Women” and they aren’t opposed to using state violence to do it. Are these aspirations any different than Communism’s or Fascism’s “New Man” campaigns? What about Nazi Germany’s campaigns for racial hygiene? Distinctions without a difference, perhaps? While they may have slightly different ends, their means of choice are likewise predicated on the belief that government may be used to threaten or attack those who prefer to live their lives and use their property in their own chosen, peaceful ways. Think about it. And that’s today’s two cents.

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On the “Participatory” Part of “Participatory Fascism”

When I use “participatory fascism”—for me a technical term in political economy, not an ideological or rhetorical cudgel—most people react to the “fascism” part and disregard the “participatory” part. Yet that part is critical to one’s understanding of how this system of rule proves so durable and resilient.

In the modern world, many people demand a voice in how they are ruled. In reality, however, every actual system of rule in a large society is and must be an oligarchy. Neither democracy in the simple sense nor autocracy in the sense of strict dictatorship or monarchy is workable. But oligarchy, a system in which a relatively small group of cooperating rulers (though it may have a nominal head ostensibly in charge) and their key financial supporters applies the nuts and bolts of rule is workable, indeed, indispensable. So, whether by design or by piecemeal pushing and pulling, this is the form that all modern governments take.

When most people think of political participation, they immediately think of voting in elections to fill political offices or to adopt certain overarching rules (e.g., in substantive referenda submitted to the electorate). But given the pervasive character of the state’s involvement in modern life, an equally if not more important form of participation involves people’s engagement with the legislature’s day-to-day business or the enforcement actions of administrative and regulatory bodies. In the USA, for example, the Administrative Procedure Act provides that new rules, before taking effect, must have been given notice and hearings and public comments been received and considered. Likewise, bills proposed in the legislature must be registered, scheduled for hearings before appropriate committees, approved by those committees for further consideration, and make their way past a variety of potential obstacles that legislators may place in the way of their becoming the law of the land.

In both areas of rule-making, the opportunities for delaying, crippling, or derailing proposed statutes or administrative rules are numerous, and those who operate the machinery know well how to keep a rule from going forward regardless of how popular it may be with the electorate or the public at large. Hence, one way in which the oligarchs preserve their positions is to use their command of the machinery of public participation to wear down dissidents or others who seek to overturn oppressive, predatory, or destructive government rules. The bureaucracy is notorious for “hunkering down” in order to thwart even the president’s wishes. The bureaucrats have plenty of time; their terms of office are not limited; they can afford to be patient and wait for today’s passions to cool or the public’s interests to be diverted into other channels. (This diversion is a principal function served by the government’s continual engagement in new foreign wars, which capture the public’s attention and tend to unify quarreling people in support of the government, at least for a while.)

So, viewed in a functional sense, the public’s ostensible participation in the government’s rulemaking may be seen as not so much a genuine determinant of how the rules will bind them as a snare and a delusion, a trick, as it were, to focus people’s time and effort on hacking through the complex thicket of procedural briers, often losing sight of the original, foremost objective, wearing themselves out and using up their money in an endless struggle to get past all the barriers. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the month, the years spent with little to show for their efforts, they will be told that the system is open, that they have had their “day in court,” and indeed that they “are the government.”

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Astute Socialists Opt for Participatory Fascism in Practice

Astute socialists (if that’s not an oxymoron) opt for participatory fascism, not outright socialism, in practice. They know that outright socialism—the nationalization and central control of all the major means of production—is a ruinous system. By opting for participatory fascism, they can get the bulk of what they seek, by means of pervasive regulation, heavy taxation, and floods of government spending, while allowing the fettered capitalists enough room for maneuver that they keep the economy from going straight to hell. Moreover, when anything goes wrong—and it will—they can blame the problem on capitalism, the fraudulently so-called free-market economy that remains in hobbled operation.

(For more on this idea, which I have been discussing for more than thirty years, see chapter 10 of my book Crisis and Leviathan or, in brief, this article.)

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The Dangers of an Unvaccinated Mind

Medical pioneers like Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur discovered that many infectious diseases, like small pox and rabies, could be combated by essentially injecting controlled quantities of those same diseases into people’s bodies and allowing their immune systems to naturally build up a resistance strong enough to combat the real disease should they ever be exposed to it.

As crazy as that hypothesis might have sounded a couple of centuries ago, vaccines have proved themselves incredibly effective in the prevention and even eradication of many terrible diseases.

Bad diseases that affect the body can kill an extraordinary amount of people. From the bubonic plague to smallpox to polio, diseases have maimed and killed millions of people. Fortunately, modern medicine, including vaccines, have generally eradicated many of the most crippling, contagious and deadly diseases that have unrelentingly plagued humankind throughout history.

As bad as the worst diseases to have plagued humankind have been, there is something that is far more vicious, cruel, savage, monstrous and deadly than a bad disease: A bad idea.

The Holocaust, Armenian and Rwandan Genocides, 9/11, Nanking Massacre, Wounded Knee, Trail of Tears, communism, fascism, Maoist China, Soviet Ethnic Cleansing, racism, slavery, murder, theft, rape and taxation, are all the result of, or are themselves, bad ideas.

Most of us have an aversion toward bad ideas not unlike the aversion we have toward bad diseases and that is, to a certain extent, reasonable and healthy. However, this aversion begins to become unreasonable and dangerous when the fear of ideas leads people to completely shield themselves from exposure to any idea subjectively deemed as new, bad, taboo or outside the constantly shrinking Overton Window.

Recently, America and much of the West in general, has experienced the beginnings of a movement in which ideas are feared, not in the rational way that diseases are feared, but in the oftimes irrational way that vaccines are feared.

Things like safe spaces and trigger warnings have spread through university campuses like wildfire, or more appropriately, like infectious diseases. Microaggressions, and speech in general, are often equated with literal violence. An outside observer of a modern university campus in the West might think that exposure to ideas is akin to being literally tortured or raped. The discussion of an increasingly large number of ideas is feared and even abhorred by a very vocal segment of university students and even faculty.

Any action or idea that falls outside the Overton Window, as constructed by the Social Justice Glaziers, is immediately met, not with argument, but with inarticulate screeching, befuddled chanting, random noise-making, and even violence.

Infectious diseases can spread quickly through an unvaccinated or otherwise uninoculated population, resulting in the suffering and death of many. The vaccine of bad ideas is free speech. It is argument, discussion and rational, independent thought. When free speech is tabooed and independent thought is replaced with Orwellian Groupthink, individuals cannot learn to deal with new, different, and often bad ideas. They will grow up with weakened mental immune systems, unequipped to deal with, or even recognize, the real-life bad ideas that exist outside of the classroom, the truly monstrous and grotesque ideas have caused, and likely will cause again, the brutal suffering, unimaginable anguish and ultimate death of hundreds of millions of people.

Hopefully, the dread of being exposed to different ideas will not lead to an entire generation of communally unvaccinated minds, incapable of recognizing and dealing with ideas that go far beyond simply causing cerebral discomfort. As a species, we may not survive another 20th Century-esque outbreak of truly terrible ideas.

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Psychology Goes Toe-To-Toe With Totalitarianism in Carl Jung’s “The Undiscovered Self”

I’m a big believer that good mythology and stories can teach us how to live well. In the past year or so, that has led me to thinkers like Joseph Campbell and Jordan Peterson, who both have left a big mark on the popular study of mythology and its intersections with philosophy and psychology.

One common thread of Campbell’s work and Peterson’s work (and the work of anyone in this comparative mythology space) is the work of psychologist Carl Jung.

A lot of Jung’s work seems intimidating from the outside. So I decided to dip my toe into the shallow end with a very short work of his called The Undiscovered Self, published in 1956 near the end of Jung’s career.

Summary and Review

In The Undiscovered Self, Jung gives a compelling reason for his life’s work in psychology. He points to the rise of collectivist authoritarianism (and the nuclear weaponization of the Cold War) as a sign of the urgent need for self-knowledge:

“Today, as the end of the second millennium draws near, we are again living in age filled with apocalyptic images of universal destruction. What is the significance of that split, symbolized by the ‘Iron Curtain,’ which divides humanity into two halves? What will become of our civilization, and of man himself, if the hydrogen bombs begin to go off, or if the spiritual and moral darkness of State absolutism should spread over Europe?”

To most of us living in the 21st century, it’s easy to forget that weapons exist which could easily destroy life on the planet a few times over. Jung was not ignorant of that. What’s more, he was living through a time when that kind of warfare seemed likely. The world had just lived through the destruction of two world wars, the Russian Revolution, the rise of fascism and National Socialism, and the Holocaust. In 1957, it was not certain that Communism would not spread over the whole world.

That’s some pretty serious shit. Jung has set the task of stopping all that. No one call fault Dr. Jung for lacking ambition.

Jung first takes a look at the most likely alternative to (and enemy of) collectivist authoritarianism: religion. For Jung, religion at its best represents a way for people to develop inner lives and self-knowledge. They gain this through the kind of contact with the unconscious mind which people call “spiritual experiences.” Those who have experienced and understood these highly individual experiences are exactly the kinds of people who are hard to control.

But while Jung is appreciative of the Christian tradition, he points out that dogmatic religion – whether for reasons of expediency or even political power – has over the years lost its power as a medium for inner experience. Instead of a “religion”, Jung says that the Christianity known by most people in the West is a “creed” only, a set of conscious beliefs about objective reality. And, as Jung points out, this is a weak foundation (and a poor way of understanding religious symbolism):

The Churches stand for traditional and collective convictions which in the case of many of their adherents are no longer based on their own inner experience but on unreflecting belief, which is notoriously apt to disappear as soon as one begins thinking about it. . .

. . . the standpoint of the creeds is archaic; they are full of impressive mythological symbolism which, if taken literally, comes into insufferable conflict with knowledge.”

Creeds may help provide social bonding and belonging, but they do not ground or develop strong individuals in any kind of useful truth – either objective or mythological. On the other hand, a toxic phenomenon like collectivist authoritarianism has its own unconscious religious power – one against which Jung says the conscious creeds (and many people who live by them) will end up being powerless:

“Brass bands, flags, banners, parades, and monster demonstrations are no different in principle from ecclesiastical processions, cannonades, and fireworks to scare off demons. Only, the suggestive parade of State power engenders a collective feeling of security which, unlike religious demonstrations, gives the individual no protection against his inner demonism.”

In short, religion seems to have failed to do its job – to develop the individual psyche well enough to fend off the anti-individual forces that can so easily feed on undeveloped or unrecognized unconsciousness.

Beyond just religion’s failure, Jung argues, it is the world’s focus on the conscious mind to the exclusion of the unconscious that helped to create Cold War to begin with. While the conscious mind enables great human endeavors, it does not allow for access of the self-knowledge that lives in the shared evolutionary inheritance of all humans. It denies its own capacity for darkness, so it easily projects that darkness onto others. And that projection is not very helpful when you’re in the middle of a geopolitical power struggle. You need to sit down and talk about nuclear disarmament, not rant at your opponent.

To Jung, psychology (practiced rightly) should do what Christianity does at its best: give self-knowledge to humans which can empower them to individuate – to become full human beings with full integration of conscious and unconscious minds, light and shadow selves.

Those are the individuals who – now able to withdraw the psychological projection of their own darkness onto their enemies – will be able to make peace. These are the individuals who – now able to develop themselves as individuals – will be able to resist the mass-mindedness of the world around them. They will be able to prevent the catastrophe which still hangs over the world more than half a century after this book’s publication.

Jung ends with one of the most powerful individualist calls to action I have read:

“I am neither spurred on by excessive optimism nor in love with high ideals, but am merely concerned with the fate of the individual human being – that infinitesimal unit on whom a world depends, and whom, if we read the Christian message aright, even God seeks his goal.”

This short read was just the thing for me. For an academic (and for someone who wrote this in German), Jung is a pleasure to read and an inspiring thinker. And he shows in this book that he knows how to boil down a lifetime of work into a form digestible for most intelligent readers.

I underlined a lot of this book (see below) – a credit to how many gems are here. And after reading this short book, I want to go deeper into both reading Jung’s work and practicing some of its insights.

Some Standout Quotes

  • “[The human psyche] should be worthy of all the attention we can give it, especially today, when everyone admits that the weal or woe of the future will be decided neither by the threat of wild animals, not by natural catastrophes, nor by the danger of world-wide epidemics, but simply and solely by the psychic changes in main. It needs only an imperceptible disturbance of equilibrium in a few of our rulers’ heads to plunge the world into blood, fire, and radioactivity.”
  • “Belief is no adequate substitute for inner experience, and where this is absent even a strong faith which came miraculously as a gift of grace may depart equally miraculously.”
  • “Christianity holds up before us a symbol whose content is the individual way of life of a man, the Son of Man, and that it even regards this individuation process as the incarnation and the revelation of God himself.”
  • “Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself.”
  • “This is not to say that Christianity is finished. I am, on the contrary, convinced that it is not Christianity, but our conception and interpretation of it, that has become antiquated in the face of the present world situation. The Christian symbol is a living thing that carries in itself the seeds of further development.”
  • “Since it is universally believed that man is merely what his consciousness knows of itself, he regards himself as harmless and so adds stupidity to iniquity.”
  • “The more unrelated individuals are, the more consolidated the State becomes, and vice versa.”
  • “One would first like to be assured that the man who talks of ideals is himself ideal, so that his words and deeds are more than they seem.
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