500 Songs: Brown-Eyed Handsome Man


The new episode of “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” is now up. This one looks at “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” by the Chuck Berry Combo, and how Berry tried to square the circle of social commentary and teen appeal.

And for backers, the latest Patreon bonus episode of the podcast is also up. This one is on “Rock and Roll Waltz”, by Kay Starr, and is the first of what may be many episodes to feature an embarrassing attempt at rapping from an old white person.

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500 Songs: Blueberry Hill


Episode forty-five of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino, and at how the racial tensions of the fifties meant that a smiling, diffident, cheerful man playing happy music ended up starting riots all over the US.

And on Patreon, a backer-only bonus episode, on Hardrock Gunter, who was very aptly named but also had hard luck.

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500 Songs: Train Kept A-Rollin

This week’s episode of the podcast is now up! This one’s on “Train Kept A-Rollin'” by Johnny Burnette and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio, and how a novelty song about cowboys written for an Abbot and Costello film became a heavy metal anthem.

Patreon backers also have a bonus episode, at https://www.patreon.com/posts/28921921 . This one is on “Jump, Jive, an’ Wail” by Louis Prima, and the conflict between art, entertainment, and repeatedly marrying much women in their twenties when you’re middle-aged.

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New 500 Songs Up: “I Gotta Know” by Wanda Jackson


The latest episode of A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs is up! This one’s on “I Gotta Know” by Wanda Jackson, and the borders between rockabilly, Western Swing, and the Bakersfield Sound.

There’s also a Patreon backer-only bonus episode, on “Bacon Fat” by Andre Williams.

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Is Dominic Cummings A Doomsday Cultist?

Yes, a second blog post in a week. I am spoiling you!

Or not, as this is in fact something that should be very worrying to you all.

I have been working for a while on a big review of Neal Stephenson’s excellent and mad new science fiction novel Fall, or Dodge in Hell, a book about which I have many, many, complicated thoughts to untangle, and that review will be appearing probably next week. It’s a book which has many fascinating overlaps with my own mental fascinations, and it has spiked thoughts in me in a way no work since Seven Soldiers, except maybe The Good Place has (and Seven Soldiers and The Good Place are two of the references I’ll be pointing to in that blog post).

But, due to a chance click of a link, I now find that that post about a wildly speculative bit of science fiction will have to be a sequel to a blog post about British political events that are happening *today*, and which deal with the same ideas.

Because I very, very, much fear that we have a Government where destroying the country — as “no deal Brexit” undoubtedly would — might just be the start. I think we have a Government which might have a doomsday cultist at its very highest levels, and unless you’ve been submerged in a particular Internet subculture that I spent a few years around, you might not even realise it.

Dominic Cummings MP[EDIT, I typed MP there as a brainfart. He’s not of course. Not a fan of democracy is our Mr Cummings], about to be appointed as one of the chief advisors to Boris Johnson, is always reported on in normal terms given these abnormal times. He’s talked about as “the architect of Vote Leave” and “a master strategist”. but also as a criminal who has been found in contempt of Parliament and who broke the law in aiding a narrow victory for the side of fascism in the 2016 referendum.

So far so terrible, but also, depressingly, so normal for the Conservative Party of 2019.

But today I clicked a link to his blog, which for those who have spent some time in the depths of the Internet shows something much more worrying.

Screenshot of Dominic Cummings' blogroll, showing only LessWrong-style "rationalists"

That’s a screenshot of the sidebar to Dominic Cummings’ blog. I’ve read many of those blogs. Some even used to be in my own sidebar. On their own, a few of them are not obvious warning signs. But as a collection of links, that is the most disturbing thing I have ever seen.

[Edit to clarify — *one or two* of the people in that list are not members of the LessWrong cult, but are proper scientists whose work is admired by the LessWrongians. They influence them, and they fit into a blogroll put together by a cultist, but they’re not themselves cultists. But literally one or two.]

Those of you who have read my novel The Basilisk Murders, but not been up on the peculiar history of the LessWrong diaspora, may have thought that the people I portrayed there — people who were determined to build a God computer that would save the universe, but were terrified it might torture them for all eternity, but thought that might be a good thing anyway — were a satire, taken to extremes. Far, far from it. Those people really exist, but I had to tone down their ideas and behaviours somewhat in order for it to seem at all plausible to anyone who hadn’t heard of these people and their ideas.

Basically, everyone in Cummings’ blogroll belongs to a subculture which has no official boundaries, but which is essentially the pseudo-intellectual impetus behind the neoreactionaries — the “intellectual” part of the alt-right. Any individual linked in that list may disagree with some of the following statements individually, but all of them are common currency within that group, and will be defended by the majority:

Pick-up artistry is an unalloyed good, and people should use its techniques more widely.

There are clear biological differences between the races which mean that black people are intellectually inferior to white people, East Asians, and Ashkenazi Jews.

Ends justify the means.

Any activity which brings profit is a good in itself.

It is likely that within the next century the entire human population will be replaced with digital clones of people’s brains, which will be bred to work until they break and then commit suicide, freeing up resources for more efficient worker-clone-brains. This is a good thing.

Men and women have evolved to have different skillsets, and the male one is better.

“Feminism is cancer”

Anyone who doesn’t give all their spare money to Eliezer Yudkowsky, a high-school dropout with no computer programming experience, so he can use it to write an artificial intelligence that will eventually become God and fix all our problems is objectively on the side of destroying humanity. If you spend money on malaria nets or vaccinations or cancer research instead you are doing harm.

There is no action that you can take in bringing about the computer-God, however immoral, that is not absolutely justified.

Spending money on cryogenics is good, though. Putting your spare money into making sure your corpse is frozen after your death is almost as good as giving it to Yudkowsky.

Men are owed sex by women. and a society that is set up to make it more easy for women to refuse men sex is a bad one.

It would be OK if Yudkowsky’s computer-God tortured a few people for trillions of years, if it would prevent people ever getting dust specks in their eyes again.

The single most moral thing you can do with your life is to become a billionaire by any means necessary, however unethical, and then give some of your money to Yudkowsky’s computer-God. You should also try to make yourself immortal.

Venture capitalists are the best people in the world to trust to make decisions about the future of humanity, as they’re much more intelligent than everyone else.

The rational discussion of politics is impossible, so politics should not be discussed. The evolutionary superiority of white men, the toxicity of feminism, the evils of “SJWs”, and the inarguable superiority of libertarian capitalism over all other forms of economic organisation are all not political, though.

The best way to push these ideas is through Harry Potter and My Little Pony fanfic.

That’s not even half of it, and nor are those their crazier ideas. They are, rather, the ideas that it is possible to sum up without misrepresenting them, and without going through huge logical chains to explain how they came to these ideas. I am not exaggerating those viewpoints, though. Not even slightly.

Many of the people in this subculture are, as individuals, interesting, intelligent, people dealing with interesting subjects. As a literary movement, rationalism is fascinating and has produced some very strong writers, and reading one or two of them is probably a sign of a broadminded interest in the world around you. But reading all of them… really isn’t. Someone listing Tom Cruise and Beck as two of their favourite entertainers is perfectly normal. Someone listing only Scientologists as their favourite people in any field is completely lost in Scientology. And the same goes for the LessWrong diaspora.

As a collective group, these people have their own jargon, their own groupthink based on reading literally tens of millions of words of closely-argued blog posts, most of which proceed from a generally reasonable (if often non-standard) assumption about quantum physics, game theory, evolutionary biology, or economics and lead to an outrageous but seemingly inevitable conclusion. It’s only when you put all of their conclusions together that you realise how profoundly, inhumanly, *evil* a lot of that worldview becomes. Anyone who has studied this movement will have seen its intellectual children in Gamergate, the Sad Puppies, the alt-right, and the Trump admin — Peter Thiel, who has been one of Trump’s advisors, is the major funder of this movement and also one of the most admired people in it (LessWrongians are nothing if not craven bootlickers to the wealthy, as you may have guessed). Everyone who talks about “virtue signalling” or has a Pepe avatar is, at least in part, the intellectual grandchild of these people.

If you spend long enough in this group, it distorts your whole worldview. You no longer think in the same terms, the same words, the same concepts, as those outside the group. You talk about “human biodiversity” and “akrasia” and “Moloch” and “the gray tribe” and “motte and bailey arguments” and you have a mental toolkit, a set of cognitive shortcuts, that is entirely based in this worldview.

And Dominic Cummings, who is about to be elevated to one of the very highest positions in the Government, lists only members of this group in his blogroll. He has been described by some as “a Conservative Leninist”, someone who wants to radically alter the mechanisms of power in this country. I don’t think that goes far enough, not by a longshot.

I think giving someone with that blogroll access to the levers of power is the scariest thing this Government has done, and I do not say that lightly.

If those people truly influence him that much, he’s a doomsday cultist.

This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? I guarantee I will save you from the computer God if you do.

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