Friday, August 30, 2019

how conspiracy theory minded are you?

You can now do an online test of your propensity for believing conspiracy theories. It doesn’t test belief in specific conspiracy theories but is intended to measure your overall tendency to see the world in conspiracy theory terms.

I’m told the average American college student scores 2.2. My score was 1.8 which apparently makes me less inclined towards conspiracy theories than the average set subject.

Mostly I have little time for these online psychological tests but this one is quite intriguing. We seem to live in a society in which people increasingly see the world as an interlocking network of conspiracy. It’s something I personally try to avoid.

Of course if the conspiracy theorists are right then this test itself is probably part of a vast CIA mind control experiment!

Here’s the link to the test. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

politics is religion

There is a theory that all political beliefs are in fact religious beliefs. Our political beliefs reflect our underlying beliefs about The Way God Meant Things To Be. In this case I’m not necessarily referring to people who believe in a personal God like the Christian God but also to people who hold vague pantheistic or similar beliefs, beliefs that there’s some underlying moral order to the universe. I suspect that most people, even those who consider themselves to be atheists, do have some such beliefs even if they’re not consciously aware of it.

We either believe that there’s a Way God Meant Things To Be, or that there’s a way that things are meant to be that is in tune with the Natural Order of Things, or is in tune with some vague intelligence that controls the universe. These beliefs may simply reflect our own personalities as formed by genetics or culture or upbringing. These underlying religious or quasi-religious beliefs then form our political beliefs.

People who believe in free markets do so not because they have a profound understanding of economic systems but because they think that free markets are virtuous and are in accord with The Way God (or the Natural Order) Meant Things To Be. People who believe in socialism do so not because they have a deep understanding of economics but because they think that socialism is virtuous and is in accord with The Way God (or the Natural Order) Meant Things To Be. People who believe in democracy do so for the same reasons. The same applies to people who believe in Open Borders, or Social Justice.

We hold certain political views because they are satisfying to us in both an emotional and a religious manner.

Which is why it’s just about impossible to change people’s political views by arguing with them. There are no political debates. There are merely individuals and groups proselytising for their own essentially religious beliefs.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The joys of hypocrisy

Hypocrisy has always been with us but it has really blossomed over the past few decades.

Some prime examples are the people who believe passionately that the government should be spending immense sums on mass transit but who have have never caught a bus or a train in their lives. There are people who are True Believers in the coming Climate Change apocalypse but they don’t seem to think that their beach houses in Malibu will be affected by rising sea levels. There are the passionate antiracists who live in towns that are 98% white.

There are libertarians who seem quite happy to enjoy the benefits of living in a society with a government rather than heading off into the wilderness to put their beliefs in rugged individualism into practice. There are American libertarians who are very happy to make use of America’s impressive national highway system, paid for by the taxpayer.

There are Zionist Jews who don’t want to give up their apartments in Manhattan to move to Tel Aviv. Liberals who think that intolerance is evil and believe that people who disagree with them should be sent to prison. People who think everybody should be free to love whomever they like but they’ll go berserk if their boyfriend decides to put that into practice by loving a younger hotter woman.

There are conservatives who claim to be horrified by the degeneracy of popular culture and particularly the degeneracy of Hollywood but they’ll still take the family to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster, oblivious to the fact that they’re funding the degeneracy of which they claim to disapprove. And they’ll still keep their cable TV connection, even as they complain about the anti-conservative propaganda on cable TV.

You can’t avoid a certain degree of hypocrisy. One man’s hypocrisy is another man’s flexibility. But it is healthy to at least be aware of one’s own hypocrisies.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

national goals

People need to have some sort of purpose to their lives. Nations need a sense of purpose as well. That sense of purpose can come from religion or from a political ideology. But it can come from something more straightforward.

I‘ll use Australia as an example. The Second World War, in an indirect way, provided Australia with a sense of national purpose. Australia found itself at war with Japan and Australians felt themselves to be in mortal danger. For a country with a small population the problems were particularly acute. It was not an actual lack of military manpower that was the problem. The problem was in providing the troops with the means to resist an enemy. Specifically the problem was modern weaponry like tanks and fighter aircraft which could not be obtained from allies like Britain and the U.S. because those countries were intent on building up their own strength. Australia was forced to design and build its own tanks and fighters. This was done but there were problems. Australia simply did not have aero engines suitable for modern fighters.

Australia drew certain lessons from this. If we were to be able to defend ourselves we needed a large modern industrial base. That would require a larger population, hence the aggressive drive to attract immigrants from Britain and southern Europe. A larger population would not however be enough. The government would have to take steps to ensure that the necessary industrial base was developed. The objective as to achieve a measure of self-sufficiency. Australia should have a manufacturing sector capable of producing the complex products needed in the modern world. This would include military aircraft (built under licence) but also consumer goods such as washing machines, refrigerators, cars and light aircraft. A manufacturing sector capable of producing such products would be the basis, in time of crisis, for the production of the weapons needed to defend the country.

On strictly economic grounds it made little sense. We could import all that stuff much more cheaply than we could manufacture it. If the only goal was to become rich it was probably not the best way to go about it. But becoming rich was not the only goal.

Of course there were other considerations. Manufacturing provided good well-paid jobs. Full employment was considered to be important. Even the conservative parties thought that full employment and decent wages were good things. Money was a fine thing and profits were a good thing but government was about more than money and profits.

Turning Australia into a modern relatively self-sufficient nation with a strong manufacturing sector and high-tech capabilities, rather than a nation dependent on exports of primary produce, became a national goal of sorts. It was at least something.

Then in the 70s and 80s we turned out back on such goals. We began to dismantle our manufacturing sector. We could get rich by digging stuff out of the ground and selling it, Self-sufficiency was old-fashioned. Greed was much more modern and up-to-date. Who needs national goals?

Maybe we did become rich. I’m not convinced. We’re supposedly a rich nation but in the 60s most Australians could afford to buy a house and today they can't. And maybe when you give up on having national goals you give up something that matters. And you’re not a real nation any longer.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

They Live (1988) - movie review

John Carpenter’s They Live came out in 1988 and it’s an odd mixture of political satire, action movie, paranoia movie and 1950-style monster movie. It’s also surprisingly interesting from a political point of view.

We start with Nada, an ordinary working class guy desperate to get a job. He finds a place to live, in a shanty town in Los Angeles. There’s a very strong sense of unease. We get the feeling that this is not quite our world. There’s an incredible gulf between rich and poor. There’s massive unemployment and poverty and there’s homelessness on an enormous scale. The police behave more like an occupying army than a police force.

TV is everywhere. Even in the shanty town there are TV sets. TV programs focus on the lifestyles of the rich and on conspicuous and extravagant consumption. The shanty town dwellers have nothing but they watch TV shows about people who have everything.

Something is wrong. People know that something has gone wrong but they have no idea what it is. The unease gradually changes to outright menace. The church across the road from the shanty town is raided by the police who start shooting people and then demolish the shanty town. The police have lots of helicopters. They watch everything.

Nada is puzzled that the church across the road is hosting choir practice at 4 o’clock in the morning. He takes a look around. lt turns out that there’s no choir practice going on - that’s just a tape that’s playing. He finds a hidden compartment behind a wall, filled with boxes. He’s  no thief but his curiosity is not going to let him leave without taking one of the boxes with them. He’s disappointed to find that it contains nothing but sunglasses. Then he puts one of the pairs of sunglasses on and everything changes for him. They’re not ordinary sunglasses. They allow the wearer to see reality. What everyone is seeing is not reality but a kind of hypnotically induced dream state. Reality is very different.

The advertising posters don’t actually advertise anything. They carry messages and the messages are relentless - obey, consume, keep sleeping, conform. Even worse, the people of L.A. aren’t all humans. Many are monsters, clearly aliens. The rich people are mostly aliens. The poor people are all humans. Earth has been occupied by invaders from outer space. Their intention does not appear to be to massacre us but to exploit us for profit.

The influence of the classic 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, another movie with interesting political subtexts, is obvious.

Nada and Frank intend to fight back. They find a resistance group but the aliens know all about it.

The movie was intended as a response to the 80s in general and to Reagan’s economic policies in particular. Despite this it’s a movie that doesn’t seem dated. It’s possibly more relevant today than it was in 1988. As Carpenter puts it in the accompanying interview, in many ways the 80s never ended. Consumerism and social control are arguably much bigger problems today than in 1988. The aliens obviously represent the ruling class, interested in ordinary people solely as a source of profit. There’s nothing subtle about the satire here. It’s delivered with a sledge hammer.

This is very much a left-wing movie. This is not a movie that can be given a left-wing interpretation. It absolutely nails its colours to the mast. It is overtly and defiantly left-wing. What’s incredibly interesting is that it is also in every way a very socially conservative movie, and a very old-fashioned movie. Even more interestingly for a movie made in 1988 it doesn’t look back to the 60s as a golden age - it actually looks back to the 40s and 50s, and even earlier to the New Deal era.

As is made clear in the 2013 interview with Carpenter included in the DVD he made a deliberate and conscious choice to tell the story from the point of view of the working class, and to have a hero who is very much working class. This is extremely important since this makes They Live left-wing in the Old Left sense rather than the New Left sense. It was made at a time when the organised Left in the U.S. (and in the Anglosphere as a whole) was already losing interest in class and economic issues and beginning to embrace identity politics and social rather than economic radicalism. Whether Carpenter consciously identified with the Old Left or not (and his expressed admiration for New Deal socialism suggests that he was at least unconsciously taking this stance) this is pure Old Left stuff.

The hero is a white heterosexual working class man. His buddy Frank (who becomes his indispensable ally and partner in resisting the aliens) is a black heterosexual working class man with a wife and children. This is also significant. To the extent that this movie addresses the issue of race it is colour-blind (which was the completely orthodox view but is now apparently considered to be politically incorrect). What matters about Frank is that he is a normal heterosexual working class guy with a family.

This is a very heterosexual movie. A modern SJW would undoubtedly condemn it as being outrageously heteronormative. Everybody in the movie is heterosexual. It is simply taken for granted.

It’s also interesting that the two protagonists are old-fashioned gentlemen. They treat women with respect. When Nada meets Holly, despite the circumstances (he has to kidnap her at gunpoint) he still behaves like a gentleman. He doesn't try to take any sexual advantage of the situation and he doesn’t physically harm her in any way. He’s the kind of guy who is interested in marriage rather than casual sex.

This is a movie that attacks consumerism and free-market capitalism from a very left-wing perspective but while the movie is leftist in an economic sense it’s culturally very very conservative. The two heroes just want to get decent jobs that pay enough to let them get married and raise families. They want to live essentially 1950 lifestyles. That’s their idea of the American Dream, and the movie clearly approves of their aspirations. It’s rather depressing that such an overtly left-wing movie with such a clear-cut social conservative message could not be made today.

It’s very much worth a look.