The irony of Marxist materialism

The history of Marxism is really weird because it’s an ideology premised on materialism that then had huge idealist effects on the world.

Materialism in this sense means history is explained by material factors – population growth, economic growth, technological advance, etc. This is in contrast to idealism, which says ideas, from religions to philosophies to… Marxism are more in the driver’s seat.

Marx had this spectacular analysis of capitalism in the mid-1800s. He was seeing the infancy of industrialization and was remarkably insightful as to what had happened, and prescient in where it was all leading. He saw that industrial capitalism was going to eat the world, and predicted that after that had happened the situation would become clear to the working class and the revolution would come.

This is where the strangeness comes in – the biggest obstacle to everything playing out as Marx anticipated turned out to be Marxism! Countries that in his materialist understanding were just ready for a liberal revolution to replace feudalism and monarchy with capitalism and democracy started to have communist revolutions instead! A lot of the people in those countries who in an earlier era would have been liberal dissidents instead ended up as socialists, and when the opportunity came to take power they didn’t content themselves with ushering in the same liberal capitalism they saw their socialist comrades fighting in more advanced countries, they tried to build socialism!

So then while capitalism was still in the process of eating the world there emerged this force Marx never anticipated – Leninists. They created a whole different kind of society from any Marx had experienced: the planned economy. Whether you define it as socialist or Marxist or not is immaterial, it was quite different from capitalism. Imagine if the Soviets had won the Cold War! Unlikely but not inconceivable, and it would have put us on a historical track Marx didn’t envision. And of course the very existence of that real threat forced capitalist regimes to accept a level of social democracy they haven’t shown much interested in before or after that threat was around. An external enemy does wonders for submerging the class conflict.

But instead the various Leninist states fell apart or at least gave up on the planned economy, proving to be just a particularly hardy version of all the other unsuccessful efforts by the periphery to resist capitalist domination. The post-WWII social democratic experiment turns out to have just been a longer term version of the benefits workers tend to get from any war mobilization. And we are back on track with Marx’s predictions, with capitalism having made a lot of progress on eating the world and socialism on the rise politically in the core capitalist economies.

So maybe Marx would tell us he was right all along, and that the whole Leninist global movement was just a minor thing on the grand scale of the dialectic. The real irony might be that the strongest argument against Marx would be that the Leninists really could have changed everything.

Free Will

It’s bizarre to me that people act like “do we have free will?” is such a difficult philosophical question. Yes, we live in a deterministic universe and any conception of “free will” in the sense of decision making that isn’t just the inevitable consequence of our nature and our experiences is ridiculous. But also yes we really do think about things, make conclusions, and take action on that basis.

To see how those aren’t contradictory at all, think of a calculator. When I punch in an equation to a calculator and press enter the result it calculates is totally predictable based on how the calculator works and what number I entered. I could do it again a thousand times and get the same result. But the calculator still did do a calculation. It just gives the same response every time because that’s the right answer. It would have given a different response to different inputs. Our brains are the same. They really do consider and calculate and act. Sure those actions were determined based on the inputs you received, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t make a choice. A different person with a different brain, or you with different inputs, would have made a different one.

I think it’s religion that got this all confused. If there’s a god or gods who set the universe in motion then the fact of a deterministic universe means that they really just decided how everything would go. In that context “free will” becomes a big issue because of the weird philosophical implications of god having planned out your every move, including sinful ones, in advance. On the other hand if you start with the assumption that there’s no determiner of our deterministic universe the whole question just dissolves into an uninteresting debate about semantics.

Am I an idiot? Am I missing something here? Anybody want to throw out a defense of free will as a concept that’s more meaningful than I’m giving it credit for?

White Identity Politics

White people don’t like to be called white people:

First let me say god damn you Vox for having articles I like to read but no comments section in which to discuss them onsite, forcing me to keep quiet or advertise for Vox by sharing their articles in order to talk about them (like I’m doing now).

That throat clearing out of the way, the article above is a fairly interesting discussion of how white Americans react to being reminded they are just one group with its own particular perspective rather than being default / normal / generic people with no identity but the one they choose. Spoiler, they’re not fans:

“Indeed, as research on “priming” shows, simply discussing race at all kicks up those effects among the racially dominant group. Or to put it more bluntly, in the US context: White people really don’t like being called white people. They don’t like being reminded that they are white people, part of a group with discernible boundaries, shared interests, and shared responsibilities.”

The article’s take on that situation is basically that white people need to bite the bullet and accept their status as one more identity group “with particular interests, settling differences via democracy.”

The reason I share this is that the author seems oblivious to the fact that this is already happening, and the consequences are not great. Oddly, through the whole piece he never mentions what it would look like or mean for whites to actually do what he recommends and accept themselves as a separate and distinctive identity group. It seems to me that it means white nationalism. If you tell white people “think about yourselves as this ‘white people’ group and act in the interests of that group” what do you think they’re going to do? Probably be against affirmative action programs that discriminate against white people huh? Probably not in favor of allowing a lot of non-white immigration that will reduce the political dominance of whites? Probably not promoting the general tearing down of the structural racism that advantages whites?

To me it looks like the white population is gradually starting to treat itself more like an identity group, and that looks like the rise of Trump, ethno-nationalism, white nationalism, white supremacy, and all those other words that mean “look out for whites and fuck everyone else.”

It’s of course not inherently wrong for a group to consider its interests and act accordingly. The problem in the United States is that whites already have everything stacked in their favor and are in the process of seeing things become a little less stacked in their favor. So a movement on behalf of white interests as such basically means a movement in defense of the racial hierarchy that puts whites on top. Maybe someday whites will be getting screwed badly enough that a “pro-white” agenda will be as positive of a force as a “pro-black” agenda currently is, but that’s not the situation currently.

So I really don’t want white Americans to double down on their white identity. What I want politically is a renewed focus of most white Americans on their identity as workers, or at least as Americans. If this country is going to function it’d be nice to encourage the majority group to embrace a shared identity that also includes minority groups, rather than an exclusive racial identity that leaves much of the country on the outside. It seems like that should be the standard view among people who are not in fact white nationalists. I’m concerned that a lot of American liberals don’t get that because their conception of politics is basically “support the political agendas of minority identity groups.” That’s of course a noble goal, but only because those groups are disadvantaged and need to organize to even get close to equal footing with the white majority. Encouraging that majority to organize in the same way might seem like a logical thing for people with that attitude, but it’s a recipe for disaster.

Star Wars: the Why of the Jedi

So I was thinking way too much about Star Wars (like you do) and I got to thinking about the rather weird philosophy of the Jedi. You don’t see a lot of other good guys in fiction or in reality that take young children from their parents and raise them to embrace a life of monastic self-denial, including the denial of all negative emotions, no matter the situation. However, I think I found a way to make sense of it all.

Clearly having force abilities is genetic. All living things contain Midi-chlorians, and once the number reaches a certain threshold in a sentient being, that being becomes able to access special abilities. Midi-chlorian counts are heritable, in roughly the same way that height is heritable: sometimes a tall child can be born of two shorter parents (a force mutant (FM) being born to two non-force capable parents), but generally the taller the parent, the taller the child. Having force powers is obviously a big advantage for anyone, so high midi-chlorian counts will be selected for, and the number of FMs, as well as the power of the strongest FMs, will grow and grow.

This would all be fine and dandy except for one other thing that is made very clear: the force is dangerous. Any negative emotion that an FM feels warps their mind and brings them closer to full-on psychosis, AKA “the dark side.” We see this in the prequel series, where Anakin’s perfectly justified fear and anger transform into a willingness to slaughter children and conquer the galaxy alarmingly quickly. In order to maintain their sanity, FMs must be constantly on the alert, tamping down negative emotions lest they tip over the edge and go berserk.

Now imagine a world (or galaxy) where these FMs exist. A mostly psychotic race of super-humans are wandering around doing whatever they damn well please, and no doubt having a lot of kids with each other and random bystanders (they are psychos with mind control powers after all), which means that there are more and more of them every generation. Some FMs might be friendly and try to protect the normals, but they are generally weaker than their dark side counterparts because of all the effort needed to control themselves, and they are of course vulnerable to going over to the dark side themselves whenever they fear for their loved one’s lives or are angry about some new dark side atrocity. The only protection people have is that the dark siders are not exactly well organized, and are as likely to fight each other as anyone else.

So given this situation, how do you solve the force problem? Ultimately, it would be ideal to eliminate FMs entirely, but it seems that the only way to effectively fight FMs is with other FMs, so you can’t just have a crusade of normals fighting FMs. Instead, you get any light siders you have on your side, and set up a new organization. The first tenet of this organization is obviously that FMs should not have children. Producing more potential monsters is counter-productive. This works out well, because the second key goal is to keep everybody sane and away from the dark side. Since any negative emotion is dangerous, it’s important to reduce the emotional ties of your FMs. FM children are taken away from their families as early as possible to prevent emotional ties there, and then forbidden to marry or have children. With these restrictions, plus a strict code of conduct and constant warnings about the danger of the dark side, you have a reliable organized group of non-crazy FMs. This group is named the Jedi.

Once you have this organization, it would be a shame to waste your super-humans on sitting around in a monastery. Instead, they can be put to use making the galaxy a better place, specifically by fighting the dark siders. Since the dark siders are disunited, they start to fall fairly easily to the less individually powerful, but better organized and not crazy Jedi. However, as this goes on the dark siders figure out that there is a very real threat here, and band together for mutual protection, calling themselves the Sith.

The Jedi and Sith fight for a long time, with the Jedi eventually winning largely because of the constant betrayals and infighting among the Sith. A single surviving Sith vows revenge and goes into hiding, deciding on a rule of ‘one master, one apprentice’ in order to prevent the betrayals that doomed his side before.

Now the Jedi are the dominant force users in the galaxy, but there is still work to do. Assuming they can effectively detect and train a large percentage of the galaxy’s force users, and effectively kill or detain those who don’t cooperate, they can gradually reduce the number of FMs who are born at all, until there are only the relatively weak first generation FMs that are always going to be thrown up by non-FM parents. The Jedi continue this slow breeding program, while throwing their energies into being general good guy guardians of the galaxy, protecting the innocent and all that jazz.

Fast forward thousands of years to around the time of the Star Wars movies, and these efforts have born fruit. There are far fewer Jedi than there were in the old days, and they are relatively weak. FMs are very rare, with most people having never even seen someone use force powers. Most Jedi aren’t even aware of the true reason for their order’s existence, they just continue to follow the ancient code out of habit and organizational inertia. Of course it’s likely that some of the most senior Jedi, most notably one Master Yoda, are aware of their history. However, even they now care more about the survival of the order itself and the current state of galactic politics than they do about reducing the FM population. Anakin manages to get married, and even worse, have children, and while his superiors seem vaguely disapproving, they don’t take any action to prevent it.

Now of course we have the events of the movie series, with Palpatine as the last in a long line of Sith who have been in hiding ever since the great war attacking and destroying the Jedi order, and taking over the galaxy now that there are no Jedi, and thanks to the Jedi, no rival dark siders, to challenge him. Of course the last dregs of the Jedi manage to defeat the Sith, and all seems well. In fact, the galactic civil war has left the galaxy with fewer FMs than ever, with both the Sith and the Jedi almost annihilated, and many people as of A New Hope not even believing they exist.

However, there is a problem. Luke has decided to reform the Jedi order as a force for good in the galaxy. However, he is barely trained, and knows nothing about the secret history of the order. He certainly will not make any effort to stop his sister from having children with Han, and is unlikely to follow that particular rule himself when the right girl comes along (Mara Jade…) The force ghosts of Yoda and Obi Wan could tell him, but they have already shown their willingness to sacrifice the original Jedi principals in order to promote the superficial existence of the order. With no one to remember why the Jedi order needed to exist in the first place, and only a simplistic ‘light side’ vs. ‘dark side’ understanding of how the force effects the mind, it’s likely that future generations of Skywalkers will be ready to break more of the seemingly archaic and restrictive rules of the old order. The long, slow, reduction in FM numbers will start to reverse itself, and the galaxy will be back where it started all those thousands of years ago, dominated by an ever growing number of incredibly powerful and generally psychotic force mutants.