Where is Moldbug really at?

(Note: In the course of writing this entry and replying to Mencius Moldbug’s comment, below, I have, at least for my own satisfaction, answered the question contained in the entry’s title. Mr.Moldbug is a kind of hyper paleolibertarian who reduces every issue to a simplified conflict between good Order and evil Leftism, a view that, he imagines, gives him the “master key” to history.)

While the spectacularly-named Mencius Moldbug has participated in VFR discussions from time to time, and is an affable fellow and nice to me personally, I frankly admit that, due no doubt to my own intellectual limitations, I have never had the slightest idea where he’s coming from, except that it’s way out there. In his inaugural article of 2009 he underscores his way-out-ness by comparing his message to DMT (Dimethyltryptamine), a hallucinogenic substance, and explaining what his blog, Unqualified Reservations, is about:

The basic premise of UR is that all the competing 20th-century systems of government, including the Western democracies which came out on top and which rule us to this day, are best classified as Orwellian. They maintain their legitimacy by shaping public opinion. They shape public opinion by sculpting the information presented to the public. As part of that public, you peruse the world through a lens poured by your government….

Thus the red pill: any stimulus or stimulant, pharmaceutical or literary, that fundamentally compromises said system of deception. That sounds very medical, but let’s be clear: you are not taking our pill as a public service. At least with our present crude packaging, the remedy is not accessible to any politically significant percentage of citizens. Rather, you are dosing up because you’d rather be high. Despite the agony of ingestion, it’s just too much fun to see your old reality from the outside. This, rather than “society,” is why you will return to UR again and again.

If the America of 1925 or 1955 was “Orwellian,” and if the only way to grasp this truth is to undergo the intellectual equivalent of an LSD trip, then it is no surprise that Mencius finds my brand of traditionalist conservatism lacking:

So it is no use deciding that the solution is to be a “conservative.” It is wonderful that you’ve gotten past progressivism, but you still need the red pill. The problem is much, much older and deeper than you think. I once teased the infamous Larry Auster, proprietor of View from the Right—the Web’s most thoughtful hard-line conservative—that his blog should be called VFR1960, because he sides with the right in every conflict after 1960. Before 1960, however, VFR could be accurately renamed View from the Left. Larry, bless his soul, didn’t like that at all. But it still happens to be true.

While I don’t remember his describing VFR as “View from the Left,” he has several times told me that his main problem with me is that I am insufficiently anti-FDR. If he means that I think that the U.S. needed to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and that I have defended the dropping of the A-bomb on Japan, then I plead guilty. Presumably Mencius is retrospectively against both wars, since, according to him, the U.S. shared with Germany and Japan the quality of being Orwellian. Beyond that, I don’t really know what being insufficiently anti-FDR means in my case, since New Deal type issues are not exactly central to VFR’s concerns—except for the judicial revolution that occurred largely during the New Deal period (but not limited to it) that transformed the Bill of Rights from a check on the power of the federal Congress over the states into a mandate for the unlimited power of the federal courts over the states.

Also, I have highly praised President Roosevelt’s stand on immigration and American identity, which, I’ve pointed out, was well to the right of the position of any “mainstream conservative” politician of our time.

In conventional political terms, what is Mencius Moldbug? This is just a guess, but perhaps he is akin to the paleo-libertarians, who so regret the growth of the state resulting from America’s involvement in World War II that they conclude that we should have let Hitler conquer the world. But, again, this is only a guess.

- end of initial entry -

Gintas writes:

He sprinkles his articles liberally with technical references (“reboot the system”), and approaches problems like an engineer. On the other hand, he is most definitely illiberal, and desires the overthrow of the liberal status quo. An anti-modern technocratic revolutionary?

Emily B. writes:

Mencius is extremely fascinating and probably one of the most interesting “characters” on the internet. I was just discussing him with my baby sister the other day who is in college. She was telling me about a typical liberal professor and I responded that the professor was old-fashioned. I’ve never been against old-fashion at all and this surprised me that I found this descriptive so perfect. I went on to tell her about Moldbug and his “Cathedral”.

“Exciting things are happening and your professors are behind! Go to Sailer’s and Auster’s and then read others who read them.” I told her (have been telling her).

I went back to discussing Moldbug because of a thread that is utterly priceless and totally scandalous; I’ve never felt so elated to be reading such bad things!

He took on the extremely intelligent young men at Gene Expression and reduced them to fools. They’ve been needing a comeuppance so that was pleasant. And he didn’t do this by pointing out sloppy errors or any of the like. He delivered his spanking by getting into a debate and taking one of the most difficult positions one could take today: he argued for slavery. Yes, human slavery. Specifically, he argued slavery of blacks in the South was moral and should have been allowed to continue.

LA replies:

In that discussion, Mencius tendentiously argues a simplistic point, which he sums up here:

The primary consequence of the antislavery movement was a war that killed 500,000 people—besides destroying the economy of the South, reducing the former slaves to abject destitution, and sending the Constitution into a tailspin of malignant consolidation from which it has yet to recover and almost certainly won’t.

Slavery was good, The South was only defending its legitimate interests from northern interlopers, abolitionists caused the war.

Such simplifications are mischievous, and show how, notwithstanding Mencius’ reading and brains, he makes a hash of things.

Basically he’s acting like an adolescent rebel. The official story is that the South was all in the wrong, and therefore he, Mencius, will turn the orthodoxy on its head and show that the South was all in the right. But truth is not arrived at by taking a wrong, simplistic idea and reversing it. Truth is arrived at by looking at the whole and putting things in their proper relationship with each other. I do not see such an effort on the part of Mencius.

Now, I myself believe and have said many times that the North gave the South ample justification for desiring secession. In particular, the support for, or condoning of, or failure truly to condemn, John Brown’s raid on the part of various elements of Northern opinion demonstrated to the South that the North was against them, disapproved of them, thought them evil and deserving of horrible punishments. This made it reasonable for the South to want to leave the Union.

But that’s not the whole picture. The South, instead of seeking to maintain slavery where it existed, had sought to expand it into the new territories. Initially they supported Stephen A. Douglas’s popular sovereignty idea, as embodied in the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854m which allowed the people of the territories to choose to allow the institution or not. But then the South angrily rejected popular sovereignty because it didn’t go far enough, it didn’t give them the automatic right to move slavery into the North. It was that demand on the part of the Southerners that split the Democratic party into a Northern and Southern party in 1860 and assured the election of Lincoln.

Justified indignation over Northern support for John Brown’s raid did not justify demanding the automatic right to expand slavery into the North. It did not justify splitting the Democratic party, and it did not justify the South’s precipitate secession from the Union when, as a result of the South’s splitting of the Democratic party, the Republican candidate won the presidency. And of course it did not justify the firing on Fort Sumter, which made Northerners mighty indignant. A major flaw in the mentality of the Southerners and their apologists up to the present moment is the assumption that only the Southerners have a right ever to get indignant about anything, that only the South has a sense of honor. This timocratic solipsism led the South to behave in ways that, had they been thinking instead of just furiously emoting, they would have seen would arouse their own ultimate nemesis, a North that was set on preserving the Union as strongly as the South was set on destroying it. Had they seen that, they might have proceeded more rationally. They might, for example, have sought the North’s consent to their secession. “Look,” they could have said, with justification, to the Northerners, “We are not compatible. When a husband and wife are incompatible, they divorce. When two friends are incompatible, they go their separate ways.” Instead, the South raised its middle finger and said, “Eff you, United States of America,” arousing a fixed determination in the breasts of millions of Northerners that they were not going to allow the United States to be destroyed by people who had shown such contempt for it. And thus the South, tragically, through its excessive passion, brought upon itself the destruction of its unique culture and civilization.

Given this history, to say that the war was simply the fault of the anti-slavery movement (which was a minority in the North, after all) is simplistic, tendentious history at its worst.

Mencius Moldbug writes:

Maybe one way to answer is to quote the closing words of Evelyn Waugh’s Robbery under Law, written about Mexico in 1939. Waugh describes the destruction, already apparent by 1939 but trivial in comparison to the chaos of Mexico today, that American secular liberalism wreaked on Mexico’s old Catholic polity. Since WWII this tragedy has been replicated around the planet, creating the horror we now know as the Third World. [LA replies: I already have to object. Mencius has stated before, and he states below, that I am somehow a supporter of everything ever done in the name of American democracy prior to 1960, including interference with traditional and Catholic polities. This is pure supposition on his part.]

Waugh concludes:

“A conservative is not merely an obstructionist who wishes to resist the introduction of novelties; nor is he, as was assumed by most 19th-century parliamentarians, a brake to frivolous experiment. He has positive work to do, whose value is particularly emphasized by the plight of Mexico. Civilization has no force of its own beyond what is given it from within. It is under constant assault and it takes most of the energies of civilized man to keep going at all. There are criminal ideas and a criminal class in every nation and the first action of every revolution, figuratively and literally, is to open the prisons. Barbarism is never finally defeated; given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly, will commit every conceivable atrocity. The danger does not come merely from habitual hooligans; we are all potential recruits for anarchy. Unremitting effort is needed to keep men living together at peace; there is only a margin of energy left over for experiment however beneficent. Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on. There is no more agreeable position than that of dissident from a stable society. Theirs are all the solid advantages of other people’s creation and preservation, and all the fun of detecting hypocrisies and inconsistencies. There are times when dissidents are not only enviable but valuable. The work of preserving society is sometimes onerous, sometimes almost effortless. The more elaborate the society, the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat. At a time like the present it is notably precarious. If it falls we shall see not merely the dissolution of a few joint-stock corporations, but of the spiritual and material achievements of our history. There is nothing, except ourselves, to stop our own countries becoming like Mexico. That is the moral, for us, of her decay.”

While obviously I agree with this and I suspect you do as well, it has little to do with the word “conservative” as used by most Americans today. Even Waugh in this passage is trying, obviously without success, to redefine “conservative.” Therefore I prefer the word “reactionary,” meaning one who hopes to see the decay not just stop but reverse. [LA replies: But I call myself a traditionalist, and I have sometimes said that reactionary is a synonym for traditionalist.]

When we look at Anglo-American history we see quickly that the conflict between “left” and “right” is (a) at least 300 years old, and possibly as much as 500 (right being Catholic and left Protestant—for example, it is inarguable that in the English Civil War, the Roundheads are left and the Cavaliers are right), and (b) the struggle has generally favored the left. Obviously not every left-wing innovation can be bad, but most are. Thus, if we follow Waugh and see this shift to the left as a process of decay, we are in the midst of a degringolade of Saganesque proportions. [Cute.]

One way to see the process of decay in these galactic terms is to read the great 19th-century historian Froude’s description of the England of Henry VIII (caution—first volume of a 12-volume series—may prove highly addictive):

As Froude writes: “Through all these arrangements a single aim is visible, that every man in England should have his definite place and definite duty assigned to him, and that no human being should be at liberty to lead at his own pleasure an unaccountable existence.” In other words, the philosophy of Waugh, that order is fragile and barbarism is eternal, was as viscerally understood in the age of Henry VIII as, say, racial equality is in ours. [LA replies: Why not just say that the world began to go to hell circa 1500 when the medieval institutions like the guilds broke up and free economic activity began? And why stop at 1500? When not keep going back further and further looking for the moment when “leftism” screwed everything up? I once knew someone who argued seriously that civilization went to hell with the invention of money in the 8th century B.C. If we were to combine that theory with a Mencius type analysis, we’d have to say that people who fail to oppose the introduction and use of money for the last 2,800 years are false conservatives. This is a silly game, Mencius.]

Shakespeare, in Troilus and Cressida, said it even better:

The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre,
Observe degree, priority, and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office, and custom, in all line of order:
And therefore is the glorious planet, Sol,
In noble eminence, enthron’d and spher’d
Amidst the other, whose med’cinable eye
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,
And posts, like the commandment of a king,
Sans check, to good and bad. But, when the planets,
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues and what portents? what mutinies?
What raging of the sea? shaking of earth?
Commotion in the winds? frights, changes, horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixture! O, when degree is shaken,
(Which is the ladder to all high designs)
The enterprise is sick! How could communities,
Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
(But by degree) stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark what discord follows! each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy. The bounded waters
Would lift their bosoms higher than the shores,
And make a sop of all this solid globe:
Strength would be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son would strike his father dead:
Force would be right; or rather, right and wrong
(Between whose endless jar Justice resides)
Would lose their names, and so would Justice too.
Then everything includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite (an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power)
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last, eat up himself.

You’ll note that he is basically predicting the future here. Smart guy, Shakespeare.

So: how did we get from there to here? Through a series of struggles in which there was a conflict between Right (order, hierarchy) and Left (anarchy, democracy), and Left won. We see this in the English Civil War, the so-called “Glorious Revolution,” the American Revolution, the American Civil War, WWI and WWII, and right down to McCain versus Obama.

It’s impossible unconditionally to endorse the Right side of all these conflicts, because that would mean endorsing Hitler. Being on the right side of a right-versus-left conflict is not a guarantee of flawless perfection. However, one can embrace the principle without its flaws; so, while appalled by Hitler and Hitlerism, I respect the culture of Prussian militarist nationalism which Hitler hijacked and destroyed. Nothing like it exists today, and this is a loss to humanity as a whole.

From the perspective of a pure reactionary, my basic trouble with modern American conservatism is that it identifies with the left side of most of these conflicts, especially the American Revolution and Civil War. [LA replies: there you go again. You have an ideological “script,” and you fit everything into it. So, North represents Left, South represents Right. But the people of the North weren’t primarily motivated by liberalism or whiggism or whatever. They were motivated by loyalty to their country, which the South was outrageously seeking to tear apart. The Northerners were the conservatives, the Southerners were the radicals. The Southerners even had wild-eyed plans to build a slavery empire in Latin America once they had broken free of the United States. Furthermore, it was the South, far more than the North, who held to the idea that people could do whatever they wanted and could not be contained. The secession of the Deep South on the basis of nothing but the lawful election of a president, their collective psychosis, prior to the election, that Lincoln was going to invade the South as soon as he took office, the firing on Fort Sumter—these were not the behaviors of people devoted to order, the social and cosmic order invoked in Shakespeare’s speech; these were the actions of a people who felt they could do whatever they liked. It was Lincoln who (as profoundly argued by Irving Babbitt in Democracy and Leadership) represented, on the political level, the principle of the “inner check” or the control of one’s ordinary, impulsive self, by one’s higher, ethical self. It was Lincoln seeking to maintain the unity and identity of the polity; it was the South that represented the principle of unconstrained impulse and destructive freedom. And the same basic liberal/libertarian mentality is still seen today in the Southern apologists.] Whereas what I find when I read primary sources from these conflicts is that, as at present, the forces on the right seem to be basically sane, and the forces on the left seem to be basically on crack. [LA replies: Since Mencius’ own context for that last comment is the American Revolution and the War between the States, that is truly a disgusting thing to say. Lincoln and the Northerners were acting rationally to save the Union. For Mencius to describe Lincoln as the leader of a movement of crackheads, for him to compare the American founders to crackheads, is repulsive and suggests that it is Mencius who is basically on crack. With his reduction of every issue to a cartoonishly simple stand-off between good Order and evil Leftism, a view that, he imagines, gives him the “master key” to history, he is a one-track thinker on a high, and reading all the books in the world doesn’t change that.]

So from my perspective, conservatism appears to be a sort of liberalism which has partly come to its senses. VFR has recovered considerably more of its senses than, say, National Review. But its theory of history still rests upon the political mythology of American democracy, which is, in my opinion, bunk. [LA replies: This is pure imagining on your part. Because I’m patriotic toward the historic United States of America, and because YOU define the historic U.S. purely in terms of liberalism/leftism, therefore you conclude that I subscribe to all the elements of democratism and liberalism that have been a part of America from the start. In reality, I am a critic of the excessive liberalism that has been in America from the start. A central idea of mine, emphasized constantly, is that America went wrong in the Founding period by making its liberal principles explicit in the Founding documents while its conservative principles were only implicit. I argue that the way to save America is to re-articulate it in more traditionalist terms. Your mistake is to interpret my loyalty to the historic United States as a basic liberalism, rather than as a basic loyalty to the United States.] Conservatism has toughened this bunk and provided it with a layer of unprincipled exceptions (unprincipled from a liberal standpoint, of course), but I find it easier to reject the whole apparatus. Technically, this makes me a Jacobite (a supporter of the Stuarts and an opponent of the “Glorious Revolution”).

[LA replies: Mencius, thanks for having this exchange with me. At the beginning of this entry, I said I didn’t know where you were coming from. Now I feel that I do.]

Ken Hechtman writes:

Using the DMT experience as his chosen metaphor tells me all I need to know about this guy.

Taking DMT isn’t about profound and lasting insights. It’s about getting overwhelmed and disoriented for its own sake, to find out (and to prove to your friends) how much overwhelmingness and disorientation you can handle. It’s very much a kid’s drug. I took it a few times when I was 19, at the same time in my life when I used to climb tall buildings and mix home-made explosives and for much the same reasons. You couldn’t pay me to take it today.

If you’re serious about changing how people think about the world, you give them category-specific insights they’re going to remember and use—ideally, whether they want to or not. Any time I see a numeric comparison used in a political argument, I hear Thomas Sowell’s voice in my head saying “Quantity A can always be shown to exceed Quantity B if Quantity A is sufficiently exaggerated and enough of Quantity B is left uncounted,” and I don’t take the comparison at face value. I can’t.

Here’s a more recent one. I’ve just noticed that any time I see a declaration that uses the word “must” in the third person (“such-and-such party must do such-and-such”), I hear you asking, “And what if they don’t do it?”

Emily B. (who pointed me to the exchange at Mencius’ site on which I commented) writes:

I’m deeply impressed. I love it!

QR writes:

I see that this discussion has continued. I’ve been at work all day today and so only now got to catch up, but it happens that during lulls this morning I was thinking about your first post to this thread.

UR is one of my favorite blogs and is very mentally stimulating, but this is one of the occasions where I must disagree with Mr. Moldbug. I believe he is bracketing you, wrongly, with the many “conservatives” who are in fact liberals whose liberal agenda is now outdated by a few decades. Why he brackets you with them when you are even willing to question the sacred cows of women’s suffrage, and of forced integration which was already very popular among progressives in the 1950s, I do not know.

But you are not a 1960 time-capsule liberal. I say this chiefly because you clearly understand the deep human needs for tradition, for religion, and for a community of shared values, all of which progressives discarded long before 1960. Brilliant as he is, these are things which Mr. Moldbug does not grasp. Indeed, the lack of intellectual and intuitive understanding of them may be the vital difference between libertarians and conservatives.

Mencius Moldbug writes:

While not every medieval institution—guilds, free cities, the Catholic Church, what have you—was perfect by any means, yes: my general impression is that in many cultural and political senses, European civilization today is best seen as a somewhat decayed version of its medieval and/or Renaissance self. [LA replies: My ideal is the Middle Ages. But your point was not simply that the Middle Ages were better in certain ways. Your point was that anyone who affirms a society, e.g., America, that does not conform to your ideal of Order is on the left! And in practical terms what that really comes down to is that anyone who supports the preserving of the Union in the Civil War—and thus anyone who is patriotic to America as it has existed since 1865—is on the left. And that position puts you in the same camp with the anti-American paleocons/paleolibs/neoconfederates, notwithstanding your intellectual idiosyncracies, as well as your civility and wit.] Certainly, no one these days is building any Gothic cathedrals! However, I am not a medievalist and so will have to agree to disagree on this one. Suffice it to say that correcting for the monotonic advance of science and technology, to see the parallel breakdown in culture, law and government, is not an easy exercise.

Another big difference between our reactionary impulses is that you are a “culture first” reactionary, whereas I am a “politics first” reactionary. My view is that the decay of American culture is due to its horrid, rotting political system. Fix the government, and the people will fix themselves. For this reason, I focus more on trying to convince progressives that the Washington they revere is a false idol. [LA replies: See my 1996 letter to Gertrude Himmelfarb, in which I pointed out that the “remoralization” of society that she called for would require nothing less than the dismantlement of the structure of modern liberalism. My point was to show her what her nice sounding slogan would really entail, by way of suggesting that she wasn’t serious about it.]

I think the basic difference between our perspectives of history is that you are, as far as I can tell, loyal to a version of history that didn’t actually happen. American history could have happened the way you describe. It probably should have happened the way you describe. I just don’t think it actually did. Of course you are free to promote it as a sort of Straussian myth. But is this the most effective approach? I think the truth is the most effective approach.

Let me give you a sample of what I mean when I say “crack.” Here are two histories of the Civil War and its origins written shortly after the event: George Lunt’s Origin of the Late War and John Stevens Cabot Abbott’s History of the Civil War in America.

Both the authors were Yankees. Lunt’s is dated December, 1865, Boston. Abbott’s 1863. I can find very little information about Lunt, for reasons that will be obvious once you look at his book. Obviously, he was a Massachusetts Democrat. Abbott was a typical middlebrow Yankee intellectual of the period.

You don’t need to read these whole books. Just skim the first ten or fifteen pages. If you can’t agree that one sounds like a sane person and the other sounds like he is under the influence of some powerful narcotic—be it crack, DMT, or what have you—our approaches to the past are simply very different. Now, yes, you can find Unionist writers who sound a bit more level-headed than this. But it is useful to ingest the pure article, because it enables you to detect the flavoring.

And if you find any Unionist writers without the flavoring, let me know. Whereas the mainstream Southern historians sound much more like Lunt. Eg, Pollard’s The Lost Cause. Pollard was the editor of the Richmond Examiner, sort of the South’s Horace Greeley, so his apparent sanity is quite significant:

And finally, the British perspective: James Spence, The American Union, 1862. It doesn’t get much more reactionary than this.

(For a modern historian’s view of the British reaction to the Civil War, see Sheldon Vanauken’s excellent The Glittering Illusion. American histories of the Civil War written in the period 1900-1940 also tend to be pretty good.)

Hannon writes:

I enjoyed and appreciated this line from commenter QR:

“I say this chiefly because you clearly understand the deep human needs for tradition, for religion, and for a community of shared values, all of which progressives discarded long before 1960.”

For me this understanding, which transcends politics and philosophy and yet connects with them harmoniously, makes traditionalism the most humanitarian and humane of the choices available. So-called progressive convictions are destructive and empty by comparison. Will this always be so difficult for a majority of citizens to see?

Thanks for the instructive and absorbing exchange with Moldbug. Great stuff.

LA writes:

I didn’t comment above about this remark by Mencius:

I think the basic difference between our perspectives of history is that you are, as far as I can tell, loyal to a version of history that didn’t actually happen. American history could have happened the way you describe. It probably should have happened the way you describe. I just don’t think it actually did. Of course you are free to promote it as a sort of Straussian myth. But is this the most effective approach? I think the truth is the most effective approach.

Mencius has effectively placed himself outside the United States as a historically existing country, as his country, and he dismisses normal adherence and patriotism to this country as adherence to a myth, even an esoteric, Straussian myth. Having detached himself entirely both from the historic and actual America, from the shared framework of normal (conservative) Americans, what ground does he stand on? Some combination of a disorienting intellectual version of an LSD experience that shatters all conventional beliefs (that’s what he boasts about at his blog), combined, incoherently, with a vision of cosmic order from a speech in “Troilus and Cressida,” further combined with the standard paleocon victimological riff about the Lost Cause and opposition to everything America has been for the last 143 years.

So Moldbug is not grounded in anything. As I said at the start of this discussion, he’s just way out there. “Let’s be clear,” he writes. “You are not taking our pill as a public service. Rather, you are dosing up because you’d rather be high. Despite the agony of ingestion, it’s just too much fun to see your old reality from the outside. This, rather than ‘society,’ is why you will return to UR again and again.” Take away the somewhat sinister and menacing tone, but leave in place the pull of a self-destructive high, and Mencius here reminds me of a song from Jimi Hendrix’s beautiful last (and posthumous) album Cry of Love (which I last listened to maybe 25 years ago).

(The lyrics below are as I heard them on the album, not as they appear in written versions on the Web, which get some of the best lines wrong. On three or four lines I’m not sure of, I’ve followed the written versions. The second line, beginning “His mind fell out of his face,” is not something I ever heard, and it seems too strange and off-putting, and also out of place coming right before the more hopeful, “Get out there, man, and do your best.” I always thought the line was, “He was flyin’ from outer space, and the wind blew it away.” But that doesn’t make sense either; what is the “it”? So here I’m using the written version. I can’t find the recording on YouTube.)

Astro Man

A little boy inside a dream just the other day
His mind fell out of his face and the wind blew it away
A hand came out from heaven and pinned a badge on his chest
It said, “Get out there, man, and do your best”. (Yeah.)

They call him Astro man
And he’s flyin’ higher than
That old fashioned Superman
Ever could.

Oh, they call him cosmic nut
And he’s twice as good as Donald Duck
And he’ll try his best to screw you up
The rest of your mind.

Oh, look out! my guitars.

Astro man,
Flyin’ across the sky
Two times higher than that old fashioned Superman
Ever could.

There he goes, there he goes
Where he stops, no one knows
There he goes, there he goes
He’s tryin’ to, blow out the rest of your mind
He’s gonna blow out the rest of your mind
Talkin’ about living with a little peace of mind
Astro man will leave you a piece of it
Have you put our trouble behind him
Make you fly around it in pieces
Yeah, blow out the rest of your mind
Astro man will blow out the rest of your mind
He’s gonna blow out the rest of your mind …(whoo, hoo)

James W. writes:

Whatever and wherever Moldbug is coming from may be not of so great a consequence as we generally expect, and he does not strike me as ungrounded, even if he is not grounded in the usual sense.

This is a man of clear sensation to what decency or humanity should be, but bedeviled in bringing it about. He is not grounded because he has not found that ground where you or others have detected it.

His opinions strike me more as searches than answers, and it is telling that he takes no offense to your criticism.

You don’t find much about a man until you contradict him, and I think I like his quality of mind whatever planet he spends his night on.

LA replies:

True. I’ve been pretty tough on him, and he hasn’t taken offense, which speaks well of him. I said at the beginning that he’s affable and nice. I hope I haven’t been taking advantage of his good nature.

At the same time, a writer who, for example, makes a mind-disorienting, hallucinogenic drug the metaphor for his writings and the effect he wants to have on his readers deserves to be treated pretty roughly. Also, he challenged me, fair and square, to an intellectual confrontation, when he declared that VFR really means “View from the Left,” which led me to try to understand the thought process that had led him to that conclusion.

Mencius Moldbug writes:

Yes, on the specific issue of the Civil War I suppose I am with the paleos. Like you, I agree with them on some issues but not others. I find lewrockwell.com very irritating, because it hosts some very good essays, some absolute nonsense, and lots of stuff in between.

However, I don’t think the work of DiLorenzo et al is very good history. I find it cartoonish, one-sided, and propagandistic. It is typical of the paleolibs, for example, that the only way they can find to criticize Lincoln is basically to compare him to Hitler. They also have the strange problem of trying to support the Confederacy while maintaining a completely orthodox position on human neurological uniformity—i.e., race—which leads to all sorts of pretzel twists.

People who want to make up their own minds on the Civil War should read two kinds of books: primary sources from the 1860s, and secondary histories from the first half of the 19th century. Everything that needs to be said on the matter has certainly been said. It is just a question of choosing who to believe.

January 15

James W. replies:

I suspect rather that his choice of metaphor is an overly breezy one that is meant to depreciate his own opinions a bit around momentous subjects. I have seen also that this is common among younger writers even of talent. If I am right you may be criticizing his style and not his substance there.

Yes, he is a good guy. After all, he thinks well of you!

Almost everybody is misunderstood at some level. Except, perhaps, the leftists. I do not mean to be cute.

LA replies:

You’re very nice, but I don’t think Mencius is depreciating his own opinions. Just the opposite. He’s sayng that all Americans are living in false consciousness, that he’s attempting to wake them out of it to the real truth, and that the truth is so different from the way things appear to be that seeing it is like taking a psychedelic drug.

Mencius Moldbug writes:

“Astro Man” is closer than you may think—basically, where I’m coming from is that I grew up reading a lot of science fiction. Which except for (a very significant exception) Robert A. Heinlein, was of a generally liberal flavor. Also, I was a Foreign Service brat and lived overseas a lot.

So I was never much of a believer in the American nationalist mythology. I was a believer in the American liberal mythology. Thus I fell out of the latter not into the former, but into (as you put it) nothing at all. Of course, I would say I identify more with European civilization as a whole, but this is not really a living tradition. The only significant living traditions are American nationalism and American liberalism. While I prefer the former, you are correct that I don’t identify with it.

I of course understand and am sympathetic to your point that no politically significant population will ever adopt an “Astro Man” perspective. Even libertarianism is far more accessible than reactionary neo-Jacobitism, or whatever. However, since I’m not a believer in democracy, this doesn’t really bother me. In the long run, power is held by elites. In the short run, I think people read UR not because they think they’re participating in a plot to take over the world and restore the Stuarts, but because it’s always refreshing and entertaining, and hopefully a little liberating as well, to think this far outside the box.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 13, 2009 08:26 PM | Send

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