Of art, craft, and acquired tastes

A friend who is an art historian lamented that even his most attentive students could not share his enthusiasm for modern art and that even those who understand the context in which it arose still dislike it.

One of the issues I have with much of what passes for modern “art” is that it is 99% concept (the more pretentious and preachy, the better) and 1% about execution. I am reminded of how in Dutch, “kunst” (art) comes from the same root as “kunde” (ability, skill, knowledge). It’s hard to see any “kunde” in making cans labeled “Merde d’Artiste” [sh-t of artist/sh-tty artist] (Piero Manzoni); in displaying one’s unmade bed as an art installation; dripping paint on a canvas (Jackson Pollock); making stains of various bodily fluids (Andres Serrano — this work of “art” was used by Metallica for two album covers); and the like. Richard Bledsoe of the Remodern Review has been blogging up a storm about this poseurism, and the neo-figurative “Stuckist”  and “Remodern” movement that arose against this “stuck on stupid”.

What much of modern “art” really amounts to is a rejection of “craft” in favor of “concept”. I cannot help being reminded of a similar trend in literature.

Now you could call me an artistic philistine who is stuck on Renoir, and maybe you have a point — but I’m much more conversant with music than with any visual art, and yet we see something similar there: contemporary classical music has, for the most part, become a sterile exercise in intellectual and ideological peacocking by academic musicians for academic musicians and snobbish hangers-on.

Another friend asked in response whether this was a matter of acquired taste. After all, people who are not chocoholics or wine connoisseurs cannot truly appreciate “the good stuff” for how good it is?

Perhaps, but here’s the thing: even the person who would like the cheap chocolate from the dollar store as well as the rare gourmet stuff still has no trouble recognizing the latter as chocolate — they just would miss the added value. To use a musical analogy: consider listening to a Bach fugue.  Knowing formal counterpoint will make you realize just how much of a genius Bach was to do what he did, but you don’t need to know any music theory to hear it’s music — and if it’s well played, an attentive listener — even without any formal training — will realize it’s a tapestry of independent voices in a harmonious conversation, even if you don’t know any of the “rules of order” that govern it (which is what classical counterpoint really is, a “Roberts’ Rules” for polyphonic music).

 

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Abstraction layers and learning

The other day I heard an interview (in French) with electronic music megastar Jean-Michel Jarre (who is, incidentally, the estranged son of film composer Maurice Jarre and the ex-husband of actress Charlotte Rampling).

Paraphrasing one segment of the interview from memory: “Some people tell me that electronic music is abstract. On the contrary! Especially with analog instruments, it’s visceral, hands-on. I twist this knob or push that pedal, and I immediately hear the sound change in response. It’s classical music that is more abstract! They play off a score, which is an abstract representation of the music.”

Bingo. To borrow a term from information technology, the score is one “abstraction layer” above the music. A jazz music “lead sheet” would be one more abstraction layer above: it specifies the lead melody, the chord progression, and the meter — and the details on how to translate the progression into notes are left to the performer!
The next higher abstraction level is sometimes seen when experienced musicians are jamming together, and all the lead player needs to say is “slow 12/8 blues in G minor”: everybody else knows what to do and fills in the details on the fly, according to their best musical judgment. (Fixed chord progressions like “the blues” as improvisational frameworks are not a recent invention: suffice to mention “La Folia” in Renaissance and Baroque contexts.) An Indian raga is, likewise, a meta-structure for improvisation.

A paradigmatic example of abstraction layers in information technology — one that many readers will be familiar with — are network addresses. Individual network cards have a permanent, unique “MAC address” or “hardware address”, six bytes in hexadecimal notation: something like 4c:33:73:9d:40:42 We do not use such addresses directly to send Email or access web servers though, since everytime a server or even network card would go on the fritz, you’d have to update directories.
So one abstraction layer above that, we have the numerical addresses of the form 123.45.67.89. These can be defined manually on a device, or (this is what happens in most home WiFi networks) assigned using a DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) service. You replace a server or swap out a network card? Update the DHCP configuration table, and you’re good to go.
But if you moved to another provider, you’d still have to change addresses. Or you may have so much traffic that you need to deploy multiple servers, and load-balance traffic between them. Which is why we have yet another abstraction layer above that: the more conventional, human-readable addresses like www.pjmedia.com or www.berkeley.edu A domain name server (DNS) keeps track of which name corresponds to which number (or knows which other DNS to ask if it can’t resolve the query from cache), and hence you only need to deal with the “link”: you can leave the concrete details on how to translate this into an actual connection to the “abstraction layers” below.

The above puts me in mind of the laments of a friend of mine (a college lecturer in a humanities subject) about the atrocious writing of his students. Effectively, he says, the students have only learned the English language by imitation: they parrot words and phrases, rely on their spelling checker to fix spellings (sometimes coming up with unintentionally hilarious malapropisms as they do so), and often display a disregard for grammar and syntax that has non-native speakers like myself flabbergasted. The thing is, grammar and syntax are abstraction levels above the words: they can be learned by immersion — but that would have to be by “neural network training” from a very large corpus of high-quality written text. (I frankly didn’t know most of the grammatical rules in English consciously — but could apply them just fine on autopilot, as I’d been a voracious reader from a young age. Only when I found myself needing to explain edits to scientific papers — and of course learned that “it sounds wrong otherwise” is not an acceptable answer to thinking people — did I end up hitting the grammar and usage books.)
Prose style and essay structure are, of course, yet further abstraction levels above. But the problem is much broader than language: at one research institution where I was a guest faculty member, I saw distressing levels of learning by imitation in the lab — newer grad students basically being shown “this is how it goes” by the older ones. Now if this is just a matter of “kickstarting” then this is fine — the real problem was that only a few had any desire to actually understand what they were doing. (This became painfully clear when they attempted to write a paper — which in practice usually boiled down to compiling tables and graphs as required, and the professor or his amanuensis writing the actual paper—or rewriting the sorry excuse for a manuscript so thoroughly as to qualify as writing from scratch.)

Pretty much everybody who lives near a Jewish community has heard of Chabad (a.k.a. the Lubavitch movement): Chabad (חב׳׳ד) is, however, originally the Hebrew acronym for a much broader concept: the three levels of understanding. This is how I see them outside a religious context.
D (ד) stands for the lowest layer: da’at ([factual] “knowledge”)
B (ב) stands for the layer above: bina (“insight”) or, if you like, analytical understanding. That which is required for the higher “abstraction layers” of learning.
Ch (ח) stands for the highest layer: chochma (“wisdom”), or, if you like, synthetic understanding, creativity. The levels of “meta-insight” that allow you to apply the structural principles of that which exists, for creating something new.

Our current educational system effectively sacrifices insight on the altar of creativity (or, worse, the students’ self-esteem) — while at the same time, perversely, ensuring that students only have quite shallow knowlegde by declaring a kind-of war on memorization at exactly the ages children most easily learn by rote. The end products are students that have never progressed beyond some nuts-and-bolts knowledge picked up by imitation—and even that is not to be taken for granted.

The system stunts students while claiming to empower them, and it boosts a brittle, hollow self-esteem that shatters on the first contact with reality. It “creates a desert, and calls it peace.” Or self-esteem, “or something”

A Precious Narrative By Cedar Sanderson

From a 1909 speech “Le libre examen en matière scientifique”  (Free inquiry in matters of science) by the mathematician, physicist, and philosopher of science Henri Poincaré:

Thought must never submit, neither to a dogma, nor to a party, nor to a passion, nor to an interest, nor to a preconceived idea, nor to anything whatsoever but the facts themselves—since for thought, surrendering means ceasing to exist.

[La pensée ne doit jamais se soumettre, ni à un dogme, ni à un parti, ni à une passion, ni à un interêt, ni à une idée préconcue, ni à quoique ce soit, si ce n’est aux faits eux-mêmes, parce que pour elle, se soumettre, ce serait cesser d’être.]

 

According To Hoyt

A Precious Narrative

By Cedar Sanderson

Storytelling is woven into human DNA. Even the discovery of DNA’s shape is enrobed in a thrilling tale of deceit and betrayal – with a sexist twist, of course. We tell our stories every single day. Some of us are very clearly aware of the delineations between fact and fantasy, and make our living spinning narratives others enjoy reading for the fun of it. Other people lose the boundaries between fiction and their own desires, and that’s where it starts to get, for lack of a better word, problematic.

I would argue that in order to exist in this world full of contradictions, some people must create an insulting narrative to keep them from confronting the harsh realities that surround them. Without that precious blanket (and you may also envision a thumb firmly inserted for sucking on) they might have to face truths they…

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On Google and doublethink

The new Google slogan has been unveiled today (hat tip: Marina F.):

wip-google

For those who have been living under a rock: Google fired an employee for having the temerity to write a memo [draft archived here][full text here via Mark Perry at AEI] questioning the “diversity” (what I call “fauxversity”) and “affirmative action” (i.e., reverse discrimination) policies of the company. Said employee had earlier filed a labor grievance and is taking legal action. Now quite interestingly, here is an article in which four actual experts discuss the science underlying the memo, and basically find it unexceptional even though they do not all agree with the author on its implications. One of them, an evolutionary psychology professor at U. of New Mexico, has the money quote:

Here, I just want to take a step back from the memo controversy, to highlight a paradox at the heart of the ‘equality and diversity’ dogma that dominates American corporate life. The memo didn’t address this paradox directly, but I think it’s implicit in the author’s critique of Google’s diversity programs. This dogma relies on two core assumptions:
  • The human sexes and races have exactly the same minds, with precisely identical distributions of traits, aptitudes, interests, and motivations; therefore, any inequalities of outcome in hiring and promotion must be due to systemic sexism and racism;
  • The human sexes and races have such radically different minds, backgrounds, perspectives, and insights, that companies must increase their demographic diversity in order to be competitive; any lack of demographic diversity must be due to short-sighted management that favors groupthink.
The obvious problem is that these two core assumptions are diametrically opposed.
Let me explain. If different groups have minds that are precisely equivalent in every respect, then those minds are functionally interchangeable, and diversity would be irrelevant to corporate competitiveness. For example, take sex differences. The usual rationale for gender diversity in corporate teams is that a balanced, 50/50 sex ratio will keep a team from being dominated by either masculine or feminine styles of thinking, feeling, and communicating. Each sex will counter-balance the other’s quirks. (That makes sense to me, by the way, and is one reason why evolutionary psychologists often value gender diversity in research teams.) But if there are no sex differences in these psychological quirks, counter-balancing would be irrelevant. A 100% female team would function exactly the same as a 50/50 team, which would function the same as a 100% male team. If men are no different from women, then the sex ratio in a team doesn’t matter at any rational business level, and there is no reason to promote gender diversity as a competitive advantage.
Likewise, if the races are no different from each other, then the racial mix of a company can’t rationally matter to the company’s bottom line. The only reasons to value diversity would be at the levels of legal compliance with government regulations, public relations virtue-signalling, and deontological morality – not practical effectiveness. Legal, PR, and moral reasons can be good reasons for companies to do things. But corporate diversity was never justified to shareholders as a way to avoid lawsuits, PR blowback, or moral shame; it was justified as a competitive business necessity.
So, if the sexes and races don’t differ at all, and if psychological interchangeability is true, then there’s no practical business case for diversity.
On the other hand, if demographic diversity gives a company any competitive advantages, it must be because there are important sex differences and race differences in how human minds work and interact. For example, psychological variety must promote better decision-making within teams, projects, and divisions. Yet if minds differ across sexes and races enough to justify diversity as an instrumental business goal, then they must differ enough in some specific skills, interests, and motivations that hiring and promotion will sometimes produce unequal outcomes in some company roles. In other words, if demographic diversity yields any competitive advantages due to psychological differences between groups, then demographic equality of outcome cannot be achieved in all jobs and all levels within a company. At least, not without discriminatory practices such as affirmative action or demographic quotas.
So, psychological interchangeability makes diversity meaningless. But psychological differences make equal outcomes impossible. Equality or diversity. You can’t have both.
Weirdly, the same people who advocate for equality of outcome in every aspect of corporate life, also tend to advocate for diversity in every aspect of corporate life. They don’t even see the fundamentally irreconcilable assumptions behind this ‘equality and diversity’ dogma.

[“Jeb Kinnison” draws my attention to another article.] I just saw in an essay by Christina Hoff Sommers [see also video] on the AEI website that the National Science Foundation [!], as recently as 2007, sent around a questionnaire asking researchers to identify any research equipment in their lab building that was not accessible to women. In 2007. Seriously, I don’t know whether whoever came up with this “go find the crocodile milk” policy was gunning for a Nobel prize in Derpitude

 

derp seal

or trying to create sinecures for otherwise unemployable paper-pushers, or trying to divert bureaucratic energy into a Mobius loop that would minimize interference with serious decisions.

But on a more serious note: even before I saw the “paradox” remarks, I could not help being reminded of this passage in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. The protagonist, Winston Smith, retorts to his mentor turned inquisitor:

‘But the whole universe is outside us. Look at the stars! Some of them are a million light-years away. They are out of our reach for ever.’
‘What are the stars?’ said O’Brien indifferently. ‘They are bits of fire a few kilometres away. We could reach them if we wanted to. Or we could blot them out. The earth is the centre of the universe. The sun and the stars go round it.’
Winston made another convulsive movement. This time he did not say anything. O’Brien continued as though answering a spoken objection:
 ‘For certain purposes, of course, that is not true. When we navigate the ocean, or when we predict an eclipse, we often find it convenient to assume that the earth goes round the sun and that the stars are millions upon millions of kilometres away. But what of it? Do you suppose it is beyond us to produce a dual system of astronomy? The stars can be near or distant, according as we need them. Do you suppose our mathematicians are unequal to that? Have you forgotten doublethink?’ 

Precisely: doublethink. Thus it is possible, for example, that certain biological differences between men and women, or between ethnic groups, can be at the same time out of bounds for polite discussion,  yet entirely taken for granted in a medical setting. I remember when Jackie Mason in the early 1990s joked about wanting an [Ashkenazi] Jewish affirmative action quota for runners and basketball players: nowadays, that joke would probably get him fired at Google, while a sports doctor treating top athletes would just chuckle.

The root of evil here is twofold:

(1) the concept that even correct factual information might be harmful as it might encourage heresy [hmm, where have we heard that one before?];

(2) considering people as interchangeable members of collectives, rather than individuals. If one considers the abilities of a specific individual, then for the case at hand it does not matter whether the average aptitudes for X differ significantly between groups A and B, or not. (There is, in any case, much greater variability between individuals within a group than between groups.)

I would add:
(2b) overconfidence in numerical benchmarks by people without a real grasp of what they mean.

Outside the strict PC/AA context, it is the fallacy in (2b) which gives rise to such pathologies as politicians pushing for ever-higher HS graduation or college enrollment rates — because they only see “the percentage has gone up from X to Y” without seeing the underlying reality. They are much like the economic planners in the (thank G-d!) former USSR, who accepted inflated production statistics of foodstuffs and consumer goods at face value, while all those not privileged enough to shop inside the Nomenklatura bubble knew well enough that they were a sham. Likewise, those of us educated in a bygone era realize that the “much greater” HS and college graduation rates of today were achieved by the educational equivalent of puppy milling:

  • the HS curriculum has for most pupils been watered down to meaninglessness;
  • supposedly “native-born and educated” college students often are deficient in basic arithmetic and reading comprehension;
  • a general education at the level we used to get at an Atheneum or Gymnasium [i.e., academic-track high schools in Europe] nowadays requires either a college degree or an expensive private prep school.

But simplistic numerical benchmarks are beloved of bureaucrats everywhere, as they are excellent excuses for bureaucratic meddling. As Instapundit is fond of remarking: the trouble with true gender- and ethnicity-blind fairness — and with true diversity, which must include the diversity of opinion —  is that “there isn’t enough opportunity for graft in it”.

PS: apropos the calling the original author of the essay names that essentially place him outside civil society, a must-read editorial in the Boston Globe by historian Niall Ferguson. His wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, knows a thing or two about what real hardcore misogyny looks like, and how useless the Western liberal left is facing it. Moneygraf of the op-ed:

Mark my words, while I can still publish them with impunity: The real tyrants, when they come, will be for diversity (except of opinion) and against hate speech (except their own).

PPS: the Beautiful but Evil Space Mistress weighs in on the controversy and applies some verbal ju-jitsu.

P^3S: heh (via an Instapundit comment thread): 3r06ultwiy725dfbgce3gelzczdktgliwnw8-aldmx0

P^4S: Welcome Instapundit readers!

P^5S: Megan McArdle weighs in (via Instapundit) and reminisces about her own early years in tech.

Thinking back to those women I knew in IT, I can’t imagine any of them would have spent a weekend building a [then bleeding-edge tech, Ed.] fiber-channel network in her basement.

I’m not saying such women don’t exist; I know they do. I’m just saying that if they exist in equal numbers to the men, it’s odd that I met so very many men like that, and not even one woman like that, in a job where all the women around me were obviously pretty comfortable with computers. We can’t blame it on residual sexism that prevented women from ever getting into the field; the number of women working with computers has actually gone down over time. And I find it hard to blame it on current sexism. No one told that guy to go home and build a fiber-channel network in his basement; no one told me I couldn’t. It’s just that I would never in a million years have chosen to waste a weekend that way.

The higher you get up the ladder, the more important those preferences become. Anyone of reasonable intelligence can be coached to sit at a help desk and talk users through basic problems. Most smart people can be taught to build a basic workstation and hook it up to a server. But the more complicated the problems get, the more knowledge and skill they require, and the people who acquire that sort of expertise are the ones who are most passionately interested in those sorts of problems. A company like Google, which turns down many more applicants than it hires, is going to select heavily for that sort of passion. If more men have it than women, the workforce will be mostly men.

She explains how she then moved into a field — policy journalism — that is also heavily male, but that she found she could get as passionate about as her former colleagues about [then] bleeding-edge technology.  Passionate enough, in fact, that she did it for free for five years (under the blog name “Jane Galt”) until she was hired by a major national magazine on the strength of her portfolio. Passion combined with talent can move mountains—or, if you pardon the metaphor, shatter glass ceilings.

P^6S: in the libertarian magazine Reason, David Harsanyi: By firing the Google memo author, the company confirms his thesis and “The vast majority of the histrionic reactions on social media and elsewhere have misrepresented not only what the memo says but also its purpose.” In the same magazine,  Nick Gillespie adds that “The Google memo exposes a libertarian blindspot when it comes to power: it is not just the state that wields power and squelches good-faith debate”.

P^7S: now this is Muggeridge’s Law in action. (Hat tip: Marina F.) I was certain this was satire when I first saw it…

 

Climatologist Judith Curry saying farewell to academia

Judith Curry, the Georgia Tech climatology professor vilified by her peers for trying to have a meaningful dialogue with CAGW skeptics, is taking early retirement from academia to focus on a startup company dealing with long-term climate forecasting. http://www.cfanclimate.net/

The moneygraf from her letter:
“[…] I started to realize that academia and universities nationwide were undergoing substantial changes. I came across a recent article that expresses part of what is wrong: Universities are becoming like mechanical nightingales. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/universities-are-becoming-mechanical-nightingales

“The reward system that is in place for university faculty members is becoming increasingly counterproductive to actually educating students to be able to think and cope in the real world, and in expanding the frontiers of knowledge in a meaningful way[…]”

It is always sad to see the departure of any academic who is truly committed to the spirit of free inquiry. Here’s wishing her the very best in her new venture and I hope to be hearing more of her!

Climate Etc.

by Judith Curry

Effective January 1, I have resigned my tenured faculty position at Georgia Tech.

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Trump and the rage of the Brahmandarins™

[These somewhat rambling observations were originally posted as a Facebook note.]
In recent weeks, we have witnessed ever-more cartoonish examples of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Even those of us who have been sharply critical of Trump (such as www.thelibertyzone.us)  are staring on with a kind of revulsed fascination as our chattering class descends ever deeper into the pits of insanity. So do those who merely voted against Hillary rather than for Trump, such as the razor-sharp “Dystopic” or the underrated historical novelist Roy M. Griffis.
I move professionally in circles where lib-left “virtue signaling” is taken for granted, especially inside the US. (Academia outside the US, while no less in the grip of a collective moral superiority complex, at least tolerates dissenters to some degree.)
As I was perusing Trump’s cabinet list in the Times of London the other day, I was struck not so much by the names — some ‘feck yeah!’, some ‘well, OK’, some ‘meh’ — as by what wasn’t there. The ‘Brahmandarins™’ had been left behind, as it were. Allow me to expand.
Traditional society in India has myriad little jatis (“births”, freely: castes), but they ultimately derive from four (plus one) major varnas (“colors”, freely: classes). While caste membership and profession are more fluid than generally assumed by Westerners, these five major groupings do exist to the present day, and are mostly endogamous. From top to bottom, the varnas are:
  1. Brahmins (scholars)
  2. Kshatryas (warriors, rulers, administrators)
  3. Vaishyas (merchants, artisans, and farmers)
  4. Shudras (laborers)
  5. Finally, the Dalit (downtrodden, outcasts — the term “pariah” is considered so offensive it has become “the p-word”) are traditionally considered beneath the varna system altogether, as are other “Scheduled Castes” (a legal term in present-day India, referring to eligibility for affirmative action).
The upper three varnas bear some resemblance to the three Estates of the French ancien régime: clergy, nobility, and the bourgeoisie (le tiers état, the Third Estate). American society used to be a byword for social mobility (“the American dream”) — but a stratification has set in, and it takes little imagination to identify strata of Dalit, Shudras, and Vaishyas in modern American society. The numerically small subculture of military families could be identified as America’s Kshatryas. So where are the Brahmins? (No, I’m not referring to the old money Boston elite.) And why am I using the portmanteau “Brahmandarins” for our New Class?
In India one was, of course, born into the Brahmin varna, and they actually delegated the messy business of governance to the varna below them. In China’s Middle Kingdom, on the other hand, not only was the scholarly Mandarin caste actually the backbone of governance, but in principle anyone who passed the civil service exams could become a Mandarin.
Originally, these exams were meant to foster a meritocracy. Predictably, over time, they evolved to select for conformity over ability, being more concerned with literary style and knowledge of the classics than with any relevant technical expertise.
Hmm, sounds familiar? Consider America’s “New Class”: academia, journalism, “helping” professions, nonprofits, community organizers, trustafarian artists,… Talent for something immediately verifiable (be it playing the piano, designing an airplane, or buying-and-selling,… ) or a track record of tangible achievements are much less important than credentials — degrees from the right places, praise from the right press organs,…
The New Class should be more like the Mandarins rather than the Brahmins, as in theory (and to some degree in practice) 1st-generation membership is open to people of all backgrounds. Heck, that includes even this electrician’s son here 😉
In practice, however, this class is highly endogamous, and its children have an inside track on similar career paths. (Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” made this case to a fare-thee-well.) Thus one finds 2nd and 3rd generation New Class members, whose outlooks on life tend to be much more insular and collectively self-centered than that of their 1st-generation peers. (It is important not to over-generalize about one’s fellow human beings: some of the fiercest fellow ‘renegades’ I know were to the manor born.) In that respect then, the New Class does resemble the Brahmins. Hence my portmanteau “Brahmandarins”.
Engineers (whose academic training at even second-tier colleges is much more rigorous than that of the journalism major at a big-name school) are arguably closer to artisan Vaishya than to Brahmandarins. They need to build things that actually work, you know.
Now how does this tie in with Trump and his cabinet? In the last several Presidential elections, Brahmandarin D candidates (Obama, Hillary) were pitted against Kshatriyas (McCain) or Vaishyas (Romney, Trump). While the D party used to be one with which particularly Shudras (laborers) could identify, over time it has increasingly become a patron-client coalition of Brahmandarins and Dalits. Kshatriyas overwhelmingly lean R, while Shudras and Vaishyas (other than high finance) became increasingly disaffected from D and either moved to the R column or tuned out of politics.
Sometime in 2008, I had an eye-opening encounter at a fundraiser for a scientific cause. A lawyer for a major donor, after various patronizing remarks after our scholarly pursuits, told some of us in intimate conversation that of course we should support Obama. (Interestingly, the usual appeal to ethnicity was not made.) One of us asked the lawyer what would be his ‘performance benchmark’ for a successful presidency. Tellingly, the otherwise so voluble lawyer was left at a loss for words. Eventually, his argument boiled down to ‘Obama is one of us’. Which “us”? Not scientists, obviously. Nor Jews, obviously (the lawyer, my colleague, and myself are all Jewish). No — Brahmandarins, members of the New Class.
Peggy Noonan recently coined the phrase “patronized by our inferiors”. At the time I couldn’t come up with anything as concise and withering, but the whole framing of the argument struck me as a hybrid between the Cosa Nostra and “mean girls” cliques at the middle school my daughter was then attending. Around the same time, I discovered Thomas Sowell’s priceless “Vision of the Anointed” whose subtitle “Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy” could be emblematic of the entire phenomenon. A critique that had built itself up in my head, in inchoate fashion, was laid out here in concise, crystal-clear prose.
Fast-forward to the present. In the last several Presidential elections, Brahmandarin D candidates (Obama, Hillary) were pitted against Kshatriyas (McCain) or Vaishyas (Romney, Trump). Unsurprisingly, Brahmandarin presidents tend to appoint cabinet and senior aides from among the Brahmandarin caste, while Trump’s appointments came almost exclusively from the Vaishyas (Exxon CEO Tillerson for State, various other execs), and Kshatriyas (Mattis, Flynn, Kelly). It doesn’t matter that most of these people have real-world achievements to their names than a Robbie Mook type can only dream of: they are “ignorant” (read: insufficiently subservient to New Class shibboleths), “hate-filled”, etc. — All short-hand for “not one of us”.
For those same people who keep on prating about how open they are to foreign cultures (the more foreign, the better to “virtue-signal”) are completely unable to fathom the mindset of their compatriots of a different caste: they might as well come from a different planet as from a different country.
There’s only water/In a stranger’s tear
Looks are deceptive/But distinctions are clear
A foreign body/And a foreign mind
Never welcome/In the land of the blindYou may look like we do
Talk like we do
But you know how it isYou’re not one of us!

[In response to the FB note, “Dystopic” honored me with his own observations.]

UPDATE: “Tamara W.” comments on Facebook:

Charles Murray’s book “Coming Apart” talks about the combination of geographic isolation (segregation by income/politics), elite schools (public and private) where their children all socialize, ideological conforming by the “elite” institutions all creating an elite population that has prime access to top corporate jobs, NGOs, government positions under Democrats. They base morality as adherence to the ideology and thus see all who disagree as evil/stupid and look down on those beneath them as at best unenlightened/uneducated and at worst people the world is better off without.
Then they actively discriminate against conservatives and the middle and working class, seeing them as “not a culture fit” or actively deprecating them.
 UPDATE 2: I’d be remiss not linking Angelo Codevilla’s classic “The ruling class“. Yes, the Brahmandarins are a gentry, not an elite — and “credentialed” is not the same as “educated”.
UPDATE 3: welcome, Instapundit readers!
UPDATE 4: Two more good reads in response:
(a) Fran Porretto at  Bastion of Liberty weighs in and links his early 2014 blog post about Class And Caste In Twenty-First Century America. Read the whole thing.
(b) “Remodern” artist Richard Bledsoe looks at the Brahmandarins and their effect on the art scene
“not only the ideological, virtue signalling style of art, but also the self-absorbed, alienating products of the Ivory Tower approach, status symbol art made to cater to the expectations of elitist curators, trophy hunting collectors, and other art snobs.”
He then recounts how the neo-figurative “remodernism” and “Stuckism” movements arose as a grassroots reaction.

Foreboding

I have been filled with a sense of foreboding recently.

The lib-left Inner Party has been overreaching and playing with fire. Soon they may get a reward they never bargained for, and the rest of us may get a cure that is as bad as the disease.

When you have insanity like this going on (just the most recent of heaps of examples)

SIGNS OF CIVILIZATIONAL COLLAPSE: Danish teen fought off her attacker – now she’ll face fine… via

And anybody who speaks up is shouted down by tarring them with the “R”, “S”, or “H” scarlet letters, eventually people get so angry that they will glom onto the first demagogue who dares say out loud what they themselves are thinking, and who does not try to wish the elephant in the room away (or worse, play a shell game with it).

Furthermore, when you keep trying to muzzle people by speciously accusing them of being “racists”, “sexists”, “homophobes”,… eventually some will say “I may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb” and join truly unsavory elements.

All of this is utterly predictable to anyone with an elemental feel for mass psychology. Hence the rise of a blowhard demagogue like Trump. Note that I am not accusing him of being the R, S, or H words – I think Trump’s entire ideology starts and ends with his own 0bama-sized ego. Nature abhors a vacuum, Trump saw it, filled the void, and is obtaining the narcissistic supply from it he seeks. Think of the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of Star Trek (TOS), and what 0bama would look like in the parallel universe where Spock had a beard.

Trump may not get the nomination. If he does, he stands a very serious chance of being elected. Contrary to the prejudices of some, this prospect is giving many constitutional conservatives sleepless nights. A number of years ago, a dystopian novel named “Caliphate” (Baen Free Library Link) was published which prefigured not only the rise of an ISIS-like movement but also the rise to power of a populist politician who promptly proceeds to use the legal and bureaucratic tools put in place by his lib-left predecessor against the ones who created them in the first place.

 

And that is just the US. In Europe, I see similar things happening. Sane liberals, moderates, and constitutional conservatives alike watch in horror as a three-cornered psychodrama unfolds: between an ever more delusional looney left out-virtue-signaling each other; an ever more psychotic Islamofascism; and a yearning for/resurgence of authoritarian populist-right strongmen.

Cinema buffs may know the following eerie Chopin Prelude (No. 2 in A minor) from the Ingmar Bergman movie “Autumn Sonata”. All the preludes were given nicknames in Hans von Bülow’s edition (e.g. the “Raindrop” for No. 15 in Db major). This one was given the heading “Todesahnung”, German for “foreboding of death”.

I’m a natural “dark optimist” — worried about things that can go wrong, wanting to stitch in time to save nine, but fundamentally with a deep sense thing will turn out alright in the end.

But like in the hoary Jewish joke, “you think it’s easy being an optimist?”