Explaining my reaction to Takuan Seiyo’s article

In response to my criticism of the article by Takuan Seiyo at Vdare about the subprime disaster, Jim C. wrote (September 24):

How do you know that Takuan Seiyo’s article is “too overwhelming, too high pitched” if you “don’t know that I’ll ever be able actually to read the article”? I’ve read it twice and I think it’s “right on.”

Alex K. says he is going “to read (it) someday” but “will deliberately wait a long time.” Is he an ostrich? Should be real topical “someday.” Maybe we should wait to do something about the “sub-prime disaster” until “someday.” For a milder version see Rob Long’s article today at NRO.

LA replies:

I’ve now half read, half skimmed the article again. As before, my nerves are set on edge by the way it is written, which disinclines me from reading the whole thing carefully.

The main problem is what I said before, that the rhetorical pitch is way, way too high. It’s one thing to unleash outrage in a short burst, but to do it for the entire length of a 4,500 article is assault and battery on the reader. Also, the constant use of loaded rhetorical expressions about the bad guys makes the author unreliable as a historian. When someone is this angry you can’t trust that he has facts and perspective correct. And this is a large, deep, complex issue, demanding a thoughtful approach, not fury. If he had written substantively the same article, but toned it down, it would have been a different story. Alternatively, if he wanted to keep the outrage, he should have kept the article to no more than a thousand words, and made the article primarily about the outrage. But he tries to do both, and it doesn’t work.

As an example of what I’m talking about, he starts off with the unnecessary Sherlock Holmes scene with the business about blacks demanding 5,000 years to be made equal:

“Before the crisis hit,” the distinctive voice was now choked with indignation, “it was estimated that it would take 594 years—more than half a millennium!—for Blacks to catch up with Whites in household wealth. Now, in the aftermath of the home mortgage massacre, it could take ten times as long—more than 5,000 years!—before Blacks achieve homeowner parity with Whites.”

5,000 years! That’s what I mean by jerking up the reader’s emotions. So having started the article with this wild racial hyperbole, where can he go next, other than to ever greater hyperbole?

I know that this is a matter of taste. Some readers may like this kind of rhetoric. I don’t.

He makes cogent points, like his quotation of Brimelow’s argument about default rates being equal, thus proving that banks were not discriminating. But those relatively calm moments seem few and far between.

Below are some passages I copied as I was reading it, which illustrate what I see as rhetorical excess.

Thirty years of faked research and horrendous noise from “social justice” carnies, all amplified by the left-driven mass media, and the political elite figured out which direction held out the most rewards. A heavy dose of demagoguery followed. Some of these sub-eligible politicians, such as Congressman Barney Frank, Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, are still on the job, acting as though they have no part in the financial train wreck they have instigated.

* *

No forces were available to combat the American economy’s unbalancing by cultural Marxists, socialists, noisy “minority” chieftains and power-hungry opportunists. Instead of leading a counteroffensive, the federal government (mostly under Republicans) pushed toward the fall. And the bankers went along—even though it was their depositors’ capital they were converting to cotton candy.

* *

Banks started dishing out mortgages as though they were consolation prizes for the poorly educated of shaky employability, or achievement awards for the undisciplined and uneducable with no collateral.

* *

And the occupants of CEO suites were happy too. They had gained points with neosocialist/ “minority” lobbies and their vast cohorts of useful idiots. Not to mention the favors of weathervane politicians—and enormous end-of-year bonuses to boot.

* *

In trampling on rules of sound banking going back at least to medieval Italy, our financial wizards discovered the eternal quest of alchemy—how to convert lead into gold, for a while at least, before it turns into garbage. Employing PhD’s in high mathematics, they diced and mixed financial offal, stuffed it into sausage skins, gave this dubious bologna properly pinstriped labels such as “Mortgage-backed Securities” and “Collateralized Debt Obligations,” and sold it off by the slice to equally greedy and heedless financial institutions down the line.

* *

From inception through each change of hands, each putrid sausage slice (tranche”) generated fat fees for its handlers.

* *

But reality is stubborn. The underlying loans went sputtering, then died. The new, miracle collateral reverted to the ordure it had always been. Mortgage lenders started dying off from collateral toxemia. The sausage makers—the major financial powerhouses of the United States and Europe—started writing off tens, eventually hundreds, of billions of dollars in “nonperforming” assets. Insurance companies that guaranteed all that pungent charcuterie, and the guarantors of the fermenting meat byproducts that went into them—Fannie and Freddie to you—started swooning too.

* *

Dick Fuld, the CEO of bankrupt Lehman, took home $45 million in 2007, so he won’t have to mourn the vaporization of his 401k. “Jimmy” Cayne, the former CEO of the former Bear Stearns, similarly burned on his vested stocks, presumably retired to his $28 million apartment in the Plaza Hotel, to lick his wounds.

* *

Structured Investment Vehicle, funds that raise capital by selling short-term securities at low interest and then buy long-term securities at higher interest, very often packaged, subprime mortgage loan products

* *

To save greed-demented bankers and freeloading borrowers from themselves, the Fed has repeatedly cut interest rates and pumped tens of billions of dollars at artificially low rates to the subprime-tainted banks.

* *

In effect, what’s going on in the realms of both the subprime Wall Street swells and the little mortgage borrowers with subprime intelligence is a slow but relentless pressure to unravel contracts entered into by consenting adults. That is an erosion of Contract Law, the very foundation of civilized society.

* *

This farce in four acts, with wigs, masks and costumes, trapdoors, sliding plywood scenery and weeping violins in the orchestra pit has been enacted for 40 years [it was this passage that made the phrase “opera aria on LSD” come to mind] without letup for one reason only: to camouflage or otherwise deny racial group differences in IQ, [That’s too simplistic. The driving purpose was to expand home ownership for all racial groups, not to deny group differences.] and in mean ethnocultural traits such as the importance attached to education and to obeying the law. In the realm of statistical reality, all these, and not “racism,” bear directly on the chances of material success in life—including home ownership.

Again, I underrstand some may feel this intense kind of writing is good and is exactly what is needed, given this horrendous mess of this crisis. But I react to it the way I react to it.

September 30

Alex K. writes:

Jim C wrote:

Alex K. says he is going “to read (it) someday” but “will deliberately wait a long time.” Is he an ostrich? Should be real topical “someday.” Maybe we should wait to do something about the “sub-prime disaster” until “someday.”

Obviously I’m not ignoring information on the subprime issue itself. I’m putting off the Seiyo article because it’s so unwieldy while there are plenty of other, more lucid sources of information on the issue. When I do read it, it will of course still be relevant because a) hindsight will tell if Seiyo (whose commentary I admire) was too over the top and b) it is not just about the current news, but about the overall subject of race, an issue that wil be topical for the rest of my life.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 29, 2008 10:41 AM | Send

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