More about The Madness of Crowds

My father, who hated the totalitarian regime he grew up in, taught me that a crowd is always wrong and always scary. He’s also a Jew, and a Jewish instinct is that when a crowd is approaching, it’s on its way to beat you up. Whenever you see everybody nodding vigorously in agreement, that’s when scary things are about to happen.

Here are some quotes from Murray’s great book that is inspired by the same terror of totalitarian mentality.

“We can no longer trust that our listeners are honest or are searching towards similar goals. An outburst of insincere claims from members of the public may be made as eagerly as sincere ones. And so the collective ambition of public figures must become to ensure that they write, speak and think out loud in such a fashion that no dishonest critic could dishonestly misrepresent them. It should go without saying that this is an impossible, and deranging, aspiration. It cannot be done. It cannot even be attempted without going mad.”

“It is impossible to unscramble the different standards being applied simultaneously by the content of speech because speech itself has become unimportant. What matters above everything is the racial and other identity of the speaker. Their identity can either condemn them or get them off. This means that if words and their contents do still matter then they have become deeply secondary orders of business.”

“It is a curiosity of the age that, after the situation appears at the very least to be better than it ever was, it is presented as though it has never been worse.”

“Even after death the excavation and tomb-raiding will go on, not in a spirit of enquiry or forgiveness but in one of retribution and vengeance. At the heart of which attitude lies the strange retributive instinct of our time towards the past which suggests that we know ourselves to be better than people in history because we know how they behaved and we know that we would have behaved better. There is a gigantic modern fallacy at work here.”

On the truly insane story of Nathan Verhelst (which everybody should learn about): “It is not hard to imagine future generations reading such a story in a spirit of amazement. ‘So the Belgian health service tried to turn a woman into a man, failed and then killed her?’ Hardest of all to comprehend might be the fact that the killing, like the operations that preceded it, was performed not in a spirit of malice or of cruelty, but solely in the spirit of kindness.”

“Among all the subjects in this book and all the complex issues of our age, none is so radical in the confusion and assumptions it elicits, and so virulent in the demands it makes, as the subject of trans. There is no other issue (let alone one affecting relatively few people) that has so swiftly reached the stage whereby whole pages of newspapers are devoted to its latest developments, and where there is a never-ending demand not just to change the language but to make up the science around it.”

“It is hard to persuade society that it should change nearly all of its social and linguistic norms in order to accommodate sexual kinks. Society may tolerate you. It may wish you well. But your desire to dress in lady’s knickers is no reason to force everyone to use entirely new pronouns.”

And here’s the best explanation I’ve ever seen of the conflict between trans-fanaticism and feminism: “Trans campaigners intent on arguing that trans is hardware can only win their argument if they persuade people that being a woman is a matter of software. And not all feminists are willing to concede that one.”

And here is a brilliant paragraph on the consumerist mentality advocated by a doctor who cheerfully mutilates 12-year-olds with puberty blockers and believes toddlers can be trans: “It is the casualness with which she makes the follow-on point that is vaguely staggering. ‘Here’s the thing about chest surgery,’ she says. ‘If you want breasts at a later point in your life you can go and get them.’ Really? Where? How? Are people like blocks of Lego onto which new pieces can be stuck, taken off and replaced again at will? Is surgery so painless, bloodless, seamless and scarless today that anyone can just have breasts stuck on them at any point and live happily ever after, enjoying their new acquisitions?”

The meetings of these trans-affirming doctors are scarily similar to a certain brand of religiousness: “Just one of the strange things about all of this, from the audience reaction at the USPATH conference, is that Olson-Kennedy is not speaking at a meeting of ‘professionals’ but to a congregation. A fixed set of ideas are being discussed. A fixed set of virtues are being celebrated. And a fixed set of propositions are being set up, laughed at and dismissed. The audience does not sit, listen and then ask questions as at an academic or professional conference. They cheer, laugh, snort and applaud in a manner which more than anything else resembles a Christian revival meeting. Or some kind of comedy club.”

It’s a lot of quotes, I know. But this stuff is so good. Let’s enjoy it while it’s still legal. The most tragic story in the book is that of a Down’s syndrome kid: “This girl – who was known as Melissa – suffered from a range of physical and mental-health problems and had reportedly also suffered from leukaemia. For complicated reasons the mother of the child appeared to be shopping around for other diagnoses for her daughter. One conclusion that she came to – with help – was that her daughter was in fact trans. Among those who supported this claim and the resulting call for the girl to transition was Aydin Olson-Kennedy. Indeed, he asked for other trans people to donate funds in order that the Down’s Syndrome child could have a double mastectomy.” Chopping body parts off a sick child because it pleases a clearly deranged mother and a bunch of smug adults in need of some bizarre affirmation. This is beyond wrong. But has anybody here heard of this case before? This is clearly much much worse than all of the hugely publicized transgressions of a smiling kid in a wrong hat and that kind of thing. This is about actual bodily integrity of a disabled child, and nobody gives a crap.

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Mediterranean Breakfast

Or, at least, my version of one. It’s late because I’m intermittently fasting.

The salad is actually a very Ukrainian dish. Cucumbers, dill, garlic, and I used olive oil instead of the sunflower to make it more Mediterranean. Unlike the Ukrainian version, though, I didn’t put a crapton of salt in it. The stuff on the side is probiotic pickled cabbage.

Book Notes: Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds

Totalitarianism imbues people with a sense of moral purpose that is so important, so crucial that it excuses doing all sorts of extremely shitty things to other human beings. It’s extremely easy and extremely seductive to shed the weak reins of morality and release the inner animal we all have inside and that wants to claw, dominate, tear to pieces and shred.

The people who are terrified of this kind of thing are usually those who know that there is something in them that will make them easy and attractive pray for ululating mobs of the righteous animals. When even the most authoritative of the sadistic little Milgrams starts pushing them towards a button, they know they won’t be able to press it.

Murray is one of such people. In The Madness of Crowds, he talks about the new totalitarianism that is being formed today. As usual, it claims to pursue very noble goals which justify all of the nasty things the modern totalitarians do. Of course, the goals they set themselves are utterly unachievable. This is done by design (remember the quote from Campusland?). Because it’s all about enjoying the process. The Communism that Soviet authorities kept promising never arrived but, boy, did the party apparatchiks enjoy the purposefully endless March towards it.

I can’t summarize the argument of Murray’s book because it’s one of those books where every sentence is worth reading but in the next post I will share some of my favorite quotes.

This is proving to be a great reading year for me. I’m finding great stuff all the time.

P.S. Murray never uses the word totalitarianism in his book. The above, as usual, is my reaction to the book and not a retelling.

RIP Machine Translation

I got an email from a woman in Turkey today. She was asking for a 2005 article on machine translation I co-authored. This brought back a ton of nostalgic memories about that now defunct field.

In the short time that machine translation existed, it was a lot of fun. Google Translate killed the industry for obvious reason but Google Translate is boring. It doesn’t translate. It looks for overlaps among gynormous masses of information. It’s like mass produced clothes as opposed to bespoke.

I did a lot of work in machine translation. Once I had to create an algorithm for the entirety of the French grammar. You have to take a sentence and figure out a way to teach the machine to make sense of it. The first thing to do is to nudge it through a series of “if yes then but if no then” questions towards identifying the subject. Then the verb. Then the objects, and so on.

And hey, that’s just grammar. It gets even harder when you get to vocabulary. There’s the finest of lines between teaching the machine to be too rigid and not rigid enough.

It’s also really fascinating to observe the differences between how the machine learns and how people learn. It gets to a point where you feel like you are talking to a sentient being from another planet that is as frustrated with you as you are with it. And then you get with others in the field, and you swap stories like proud parents do about infants.

We could do some really cool stuff but then Google appeared and created this huge shortcut. And it’s obviously enormously better than anything we could do. It’s like the difference between learning to play a violin and pressing a button to hear a recording. It’s clear what would sound better. But it’s also clear what’s more fun.

There was a time when a very different relationship between humans and computers existed. And that relationship was better for humans than what exists now. Power is leaking away from humans in this relationship. Just look at how the concept of a browser mutated since the year when I published that article. And browsers are out anyway. Now it’s all apps. And apps are all about defanging and neutering people.

Psychological Health Challenge, Day 2

Activity for tomorrow (it’s not a replacement but an addition to yesterday’s activity)

Any time today when you experience a pleasant sensation, really concentrate on it. Let’s say you are taking your first sip of morning coffee. Really feel it. Savor it. Concentrate on it completely.

That’s it. This is all you’ve got to do.

Of course, it’s a great idea to seek out pleasurable sensations today. Get a really high-quality piece of chocolate. Take a bath. Run your fingers along a piece of fabric you like to touch.

Who Wants Withdrawal

I have no position on the Syrian withdrawal, Turkey or the Kurds because I’m not familiar with the situation. But I find the endless exclamations about how nobody wants this withdrawal to be bizarre. Trump’s voters want it. He ran on the platform of ending US interventions abroad. His voters are ecstatic about this idea. He’s giving his voters what he promised. Is doing what the voters want so outdated that we don’t recognize it when it happens?

Again, I repeat that I’m in absolutely no position to debate whether voters are right to want this. That is not what I’m discussing at all.

Here’s an example:

OK, Kristol is a deranged hawk but I don’t follow him on Twitter. I only know about this because it’s endlessly liked on my social media. People think this is some nugget of wisdom but this is simply stupid. Watch a Trump rally and observe the reaction of the crowd when he talks about withdrawing troops. Or don’t watch if it’s too traumatizing (psychological health challenge!) but then abstain from opining.

As for what Putin wants, he wants what Elizabeth Warren is promising. Oh, how he wants it. As I explained at length long before she started promising it. So let’s leave aside the utterly fake interest in Putin and start answering the far more important question of why there is a single strongly non-interventionist candidate among Democrats and why she’s so vilified.

Psychological Health Challenge, Day 1

The challenge is here! This is very exciting!

The challenge will be based on introducing small, very easy to do practices into your daily life. The idea is to turn them into a habit, so each new one should be added to the rest of them.

For the challenge, I recommend doing a Mediterranean diet or some other low-carb, no-processed-foods eating plan. I can quote studies showing the connection between that and mental health, if needed.

Make sure you start every day with making your bed. Really, it’s important.

Day 1 Activity (for 10/17).

Whenever you experience some sort of a sensory sensation, note when it ends. Let’s say you hear an ambulance sound. Take note of when it stops and say “over” to yourself. Or say you touch a cold doorknob. Take note of when the cold sensation subsides and say “over” in your head. Or aloud if you are alone. There’s no need to freak anybody out.

The goal of the exercise is to train the capacity to deal with painful situations. It’s something that people use, for instance, to do unmedicated pain management, both for physical and intense emotional pain. But that’s a skill you need to train. It doesn’t just surface when you need it.

I’ve done unmedicated pain management my whole life. There’s absolutely nothing that works better than the knowledge pain will end.

Welcome to the challenge and remember that the goal is to feel better.