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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New 500 Songs: “Ooby Dooby”

The new episode of A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs is now up! This one’s on “Ooby Dooby” by Roy Orbison, and how even Sam Phillips could make very bad mistakes.

And a reminder that backers also have a bonus episode at . That one’s on on “Blue Yodel #9”, and how the great women behind great men rarely get the credit.

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On “Remain Alliances”

Yes, despite what you may have thought, I do still have a blog. It’s just been a weird few months, and it’s taken literally all my writing time to produce the 5000 words a week of finished content (which comes from six or seven thousand words a week of rough draft…) for my podcast. But I’m trying to pay more attention to my writing other than just the podcasts, so you can expect more here over the next few months.

This blog post is actually one that Andrew Ducker requested I write, after I did a bit of a rant about this on Twitter. It’s something I’ve thought for quite a while, and as with most of that kind of thing, it’s informed by conversations with others — I think particularly Richard Gadsden and Nick Barlow, but probably a dozen others as well.

There is a common take going round the Professional Remainer contingent on Twitter — the people who sell mugs insulting demographics perceived to have voted Brexit, or who spent most of the first half of the year talking up the electoral prospects of The Independent Group Change UK The Independent Group For Change (name accurate as of 23:42, 20/7/19, no warranty made as to the future accuracy of that name), that if there were to be a general election in the next few months — which I think is unlikely, but which most of them see as a racing certainty — the parties that support remaining in the EU would have to make a nationwide electoral pact in order to have any kind of electoral success at all.

Now, on the face of it, that seems reasonable — even though both the Liberal Democrats and the Greens are polling as high as they ever have in the existence of their parties, those poll results have never translated into many seats, because of the horribly unfair First Past The Post system used in UK elections. If there was only one Remain Party standing in each constituency, it might be that their votes would combine, and thus they’d win more seats.

There are some seats where it absolutely makes sense for one or other Remain party to stand down. For example in the currently ongoing byelection in Brecon and Radnorshire, that’s a seat that was held by the Lib Dems up to 2015, and neither the Greens nor Plaid Cymru have held their deposit there since 1974, when Plaid got 5.2% of the vote. Those parties have no chance of ever winning in that seat, and by standing down and endorsing the Lib Dems they are increasing the chances of a party that shares at least some of their aims winning the seat. In that area as well, there’s a local history of the parties already working together — the one Green councillor on Powys Council caucuses with the Lib Dems, and from what I can tell from the outside seems to work with them harmoniously.

And just in case anyone thinks I’m just saying that because it’s the Lib Dems who will gain here, I think it also makes sense that the party (as it did in 2017) should stand aside for Caroline Lucas of the Greens in Brighton, as one example. Lucas is far preferable to any other plausible alternative there, the Lib Dems have no chance at winning it, and we would just be splitting the pro-environment, socially-liberal, left-of-centre, pro-Remain, pro-electoral-reform vote there for no good reason.

But that’s not to say that the Lib Dems and the Greens are interchangeable — the two parties are distinct for a reason, and have different policies in a wide range of areas, and so on. But there are clearly areas of overlap.

But that overlap only goes so far, and more importantly, the two parties appeal to two different sets of voters. The Liberal Democrats appeal to radical left-liberals like me, but also to people who specifically define themselves as centrists. We’re definitely a party of the left, but we also have voters who would prefer the Conservatives to Labour. The Greens, on the other hand, appeal pretty much solely to leftists, and particularly to those who would otherwise vote Labour.

This slight difference in voter profiles makes a bigger difference than one would think as to when it makes sense for parties to stand down, and this is why standing down should be done on a seat by seat basis, and often not at all.

For the purposes of this post, imagine you’re the typical supporter of a Remain Alliance, in principle. Now I’m going to only really talk about England here, because I don’t know enough about Wales to know how Plaid Cymru fits in, and because in Scotland as well as the left-right economic axis and the liberal-authoritarian axis (which maps on to Remain-Leave pretty much exactly) there’s also the unionist-nationalist axis, and that complicates things again — those complications mean the arguments here apply, but even more so.

But you’re a typical English Remain supporter, and you consider remaining in the EU your most important issue. You don’t really have a strong preference between the Lib Dems and the Greens — you’d be happy with either. You *do* have a strong preference for either Lib Dem or Green over Labour, because Labour are a Quitling party, but you *also* have a strong preference for Labour over the Tories or Brexit Party, because Labour’s non-Brexit policies are closer to those you support, even if they’re wrong on the single biggest issue. That probably sums up the preferences of most Remain voters fairly well.

You want to know whether one party should step down to give another a shot? Well, it depends on the seat.

If you’re in a seat where it’s between Labour and the Greens, or the Tories and the Lib Dems, should the other Remain party stand down? Almost certainly. In a Labour/Green marginal the Lib Dem vote would transfer solidly to the Greens, and in a Tory/Lib Dem marginal the Green vote would go to the Lib Dems.

A Labour/Lib Dem marginal? There’s less case for it. Unfortunately there you have three parties fishing in the same pond, but the chances are that the Greens are taking more votes from Labour than the Lib Dems. The best option there is for the Greens to put up a paper candidate but not campaign. That way they’ll take votes from Labour voters who want to vote for a Remain party but can’t bring themselves to vote Lib Dem, but not really cut in to the Lib Dem vote in any significant numbers.

A seat like Manchester Gorton, where I live? A massively safe Labour seat, where neither Lib Dem nor Green did especially well last time, but where both have a convincing (at least to their members) claim that they could do better? Obviously, from my own point of view I would like the Green to step down and let my friend who’s standing next time have less competition, but from the point of view of the Greens there’s not much in it for them. Both parties would want to work that constituency and try to get themselves into a stronger position, so they could build on that for further campaigns.

The same would of course go for any Tory safe seats where neither the Lib Dems or Greens were the obvious contenders.

Then what about a Labour/Tory marginal, where the Greens and Lib Dems aren’t in contention? Surely in that situation both parties should stand down to let Labour win, especially if the Labour candidate is a Remain supporter?

No. In that situation the Greens should stand down, but the Lib Dems should put up a paper candidate and not campaign. Then, there is a Lib Dem on the ballot paper for disaffected Tories to vote for, but Labour, by campaigning when the Lib Dems didn’t, would make sure that all the anti-Tory Lib Dem vote still went to Labour (since the anti-Labour Lib Dem vote would by definition not go to Labour, how much the Tories can squeeze that vote is irrelevant to the decision).

So, right there, without much thought about it, we can see that a “Remain Alliance” is only going to work in one kind of seat (other than those with a Remain MP already) — those where the Lib Dem or Green is second, and where the Quitling party in the lead is one whose vote won’t go to the lower-placed party.

And that’s just looking at the elections from the perspective of normal psephology. You then have to add in the fact that the Lib Dems have seen a massive surge in support, and the Greens a smaller one. Then there’s the fact that some pollsters are showing Labour at their lowest polling in history while others are showing them comfortably ahead, due to different polling methods (I’m pretty sure I know which pollsters I trust, but they may not be right).

And then, again, there are the nationalists in Scotland and Wales.

And the unpredictable effect of the Brexit Party.

The next election, assuming it takes place in anything like the current political situation, will therefore be completely impossible to predict. It’s a chaotic system with results that will be completely non-linear.

That means that the only possible thing to do is to not try to be too clever, because that is likely to have counterproductive effects. Don’t try to have a national Remain Alliance, because it’s as likely to lose seats as to gain them. Instead, leave the question of alliances to local parties, who have a better idea of the conditions in their local areas than the national leaderships do.

And most importantly, remember when talking about this stuff — the Greens, the Lib Dems, Change Their Name UK, the SNP and Plaid are all different parties, with different policies and different goals. Those of us who purport to value pluralism should remember that, and perhaps act accordingly.

This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?

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500 Songs: “Be-Bop-A-Lula”

The new episode of A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs is now up! This one is on “Be-Bop-A-Lula” by Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, and features a motorbike crash, a car crash, Fidel Castro, and probably the best return ever on a $25 investment.

And Patreon backers have a ten-minute bonus episode of the podcast on “Smokestack Lightning” by Howlin’ Wolf, and why you should give your employees good benefits and invest in their training.

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