The Voice of Europe Episode 157

Today, as on most Fridays, I’m co-hosting the Internet radio show The Voice of Europe, alongside Lucian Vâlsan and James Huff. Join us as we discuss gender relations and sexual politics in Europe from a pro-male and anti-feminist perspective.

After feminists have spent decades making the education system friendly to girls and women and hostile to boys and men, leading to women overtaking men in terms of educational achievement, women are now complaining that some of them can’t find a husband who’s at least as educated as they are. In other news, male-to-female transgender people in the UK are demanding that the NHS pay for artificial wombs, a French ethics committee finds that purposefully conveicing children to grow up without a father is perfectly ethical, and Germany passes a harsh new law against hate speech on social media.

The show starts at 8 PM CEST, which is 2 PM EST, 11 AM PST, and 2 AM AWST.

Content warning: Likely to contain the occasional swear word. May be unsuitable for children and snowflakes.

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The American Revolution Was a Mistake

There is probably no revolution in world history that is today as widely celebrated as the one led by thirteen of the North American British colonies between 1775 and 1783. Popular portrayals of this conflict typically cast the British as arrogant and cruel oppressors and greatly exaggerate the grievances of the British-American colonists. For example, the recent hit musical Hamilton portrays loyalists as pompous fools and King George III as an abusive boyfriend intent on forcing America to once more become his “sweet submissive subject”. However, such portrayals are highly misleading. Not only did the colonists have insufficient cause for rebellion and long odds for success, it also isn’t so clear whether the revolution was worth it in hindsight.

To evaluate the American Revolution (or any historical event), we need to differentiate between the ex ante and the ex post view. From the ex ante perspective we ask whether the revolution was a good idea based on what people knew and could reasonably expect at the time, whereas the ex post perspective considers whether the outcomes of revolution were better or worse compared to the likely alternatives.

Going by what people knew at the time, the colonists should never have revolted. As I set out in my previous post on revolution, revolution should only be considered when you live under a government that is considerably worse than governments in comaparable countries and you have good odds of decisive victory. Both of these rules were clearly violated by the American Revolution (although it did fulfil my two other criteria).

The British government was one of the most liberal and least oppressive governments of its day, so it was quite likely that a revolution would produce a considerably more oppressive government. Had the war been led by someone less noble than George Washington, the new American government would probably not have become a republic. Had he wanted to, Washington could very likely have made himself king or dictator. In 1775, no one could have reasonably expected that the general chosen to lead the war would become the American Cincinnatus. Washington even did Cincinnatus one better by stepping down from the heights of power twice. Once by relinquishing his command of the Continental Army, and a second time by not standing for re-election after his two terms as President, even though his election for a third term would have been a foregone conclusion.

The Continental Army was inexperienced, ill-equipped, and disorganised and went up against one of the most effective fighting forces that the 18th century had to offer, backed by a giant global empire. After a long and bloody conflict, the colonists, with the help of the French and other allies, did manage to give the British enough of a bloody nose to make them sue for peace, but this certainly came as a surprise. At the outset, chances of victory were slim.

So the colonists were able to beat the odds on both counts. Does that make the revolution a success? The United States government did become one of the least oppressive in the world, but it is not clear whether cutting the ties with Britain improved things. For one thing, the taxes levied by the Federal Government of the newly formed United States quickly exceeded those formerly levied on the colonists by the British Empire. It might not be taxation without representation, but for the individual who is forced to pay a tax he disagrees with, does it matter whether the tax was approved by strangers living on his side or on the other side of the Atlantic?

To judge the revolution in an ex ante sense, we need to compare reality to what would have happened without the American Revolution, which is obviously a highly speculative endeavour. What can give us some guidance is to look at the fate of those British colonies in North America that did not rebel, i.e. at what is today Canada. Canada today is about as prosperous and about as free as the US and gained its independence peacefully, without the need for war and bloodshed.

One key strike against American independence is the issue of slavery. While the British abolished slavery in their empire in 1833 (with a few exceptions that were eliminated in 1843), it took the US until 1865 to get rid of slavery (although a number of states abolished slavery earlier or were created as free states). So if the American Revolution hadn’t happened, the abolition of slavery would likely have occurred 32 years earlier in the American colonies and would not have come at the cost of a horrific war claiming more than 600,000 lives.

Ultimately though, the question of what would have happened without the American Revolution is unanswerable since it is such a major historical event that profoundly changed all of subsequent history. But at least I think I have given enough grounds for doubt about whether the American Revolution was worth the blood spilled in it. And it is worth restating that the American colonists got very lucky. Their revolution turned out about as well as could be hoped. The fact that even the merits of such a revolution are very questionable nicely illustrates the point that violent revolution is almost never worthwhile, no matter how noble the principles you’re fighting for.


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Victimhood Is Not Virtue

In the modern social justice movement, victimhood is the most valuable commodity. The voices of those who belong to groups seen as oppressed are given more weight, while the opinions of those who are considered privileged are devalued. However, this is not a novel development, but only the latest manifestation of an outlook deeply ingrained in Western culture: to view weakness and victimhood as evidence of virtue and morality.

This view was by and large not present in the pagan Greco-Roman world, but orginates from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Between Abel, Job, the Isrealites held captive by the Egyptians and the Babylonians, and above all Jesus Christ, there are plenty of Biblical examples of people enobled by suffering and victimhood. Christianity offers us what Nietzsche called a slave morality, which celebrates weakness and humility, while resenting the strong. This idea has echoed through Western civilization ever since.

It makes us want to root for the underdog, and consequently, every social movement, every political group, every ideology seeks to portray itself as the underdog, as beset from all sides by powerful enemies, and as the victim of countless injustices. This is why, for example, both the mainstream left and the mainstream right in contemporary American politics, despite being enormously powerful and influential coalitions, see themselves as being weak and constantly outnumbered. The left points to Republican control of the White House and Congress as proof of right-wing hegemony. The right points to the media and academia, which are overwhelmingly run by leftists, as proof of left-win hegemony.

And when the facts on the ground change, neither side will admit that it has actually become more powerful. They will merely find new reasons for why they are still the underdogs. This is an easy game to play. All you need to do is to narrowly define who is on your side and to define everyone else as being on the opposite side, and hey presto, you are outnumbered.

Glorifying victimhood is not without its advantages. This attitude makes us acutely aware of injustices and helps us eliminate them. It makes us look out for those in need of help and protection. I fully agree with it as far as it comes to castigating and vilifying those who victimise others. Where it goes too far is in making suffering and victimhood themselves into virtues.

One of the central insights of economics is that people respond to incentives. When you reward people for being seen as victims, people will tend to portray themselves as such. They may even take steps to become actual victims, or at least not put as much effort into preventing their own victimisation. Thus you get the perverse outcome that people not only fail to make themselves strong, but might even make themselves weaker in the hopes of enticing pity and charity.

If Alice treats Bob unjustly, this quite properly reflects poorly on Alice and causes us to see her as a less moral person, but it should not cause us to think more highly of Bob. Being the victim of an unjust attack is sad and makes Bob worthy of our sympathy, but it should not raise our estimation of Bob. In particular, if Alice believes in ideology A and Bob in ideology B, Alice’s behaviour should not affect our view of B. If Alice is a prominent A-ist, or if most A-ists come out in defence of Alice, we should lower our opinion of A. But just because we now think less of A does not mean we should think more highly of B. Idea space is multi-dimensional and there are always way more than just two positions on a given topic.

I have diagnosed a problem. What then is the cure? Unfortunately, I don’t have any. This victimhood mentality seems to be too deeply ingrained in the Western psyche to even make a dent in it in the forseeable future. Appealing to one’s own victimhood and portraying oneself as the underdog is too effective a tactic to give up. I’ve even done it in this very text: actually the support for victimhood conferring virtue is not as universal as I’ve portrayed it. I’m not actually a lone voice in the wilderness trying to tear down a universally accepted principle. In a way, this entire blog is premised on taking on the role of the underdog. I consider myself a contrarian, taking on conventional wisdom, but this stance is assumed by lots of people, particularly in the Anglosphere. Portraying onself as going against conventional wisdom is actually more conventional than openly defending it.

For strategic reasons I think we need to continue portraying ourselves as underdogs. At the same time, we should be aware of what we are doing and that we do not go too far in this so that we do not reach the extremes of the social justice movement with its embittered debates about which group or intersection of groups is most oppressed. Ironically, Christianity has done a fairly good job with this. Despite victimhood being such a central motif, Christians in practice very rarely turn the other cheek. This might be hypocrisy, but I’ll take a sensible hypocrite over a consistent follower of destructive principles any day of the week.

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In Praise of White Men

Nothing is more fashionable in left-wing circles these days than complaining about white men. White men are held responsible for colonialism, slavery, racism, a multitude of genocides, both world wars, various other wars, and pretty much anything that has gone wrong in the world over the last five hundred years. The only solution then seems to wrest power from the hands of white men and to entrust it to the capable hands of morally superior women and people of colour.

Speaking as a representative of white men (what I learned from the proponents of identity politics is that any member of a group speaks as a representative of that group, whether the members of said group agree or not), I say: guilty as charged. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and countless other white men committed horrible atrocities. Of course other groups are also guilty of colonialism, slavery, racism, genocide, and war, but white men have indeed committed a disproportionate share of evil over the course of the modern era.

However, white men are also responsible for a vastly disproportionate share of all the good done in the same time period. Yes, Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler were white men, but so were Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Newton, Euler, Hume, Mozart, Beethoven, Goethe, Darwin, Rockefeller, Einstein, Neumann, and Borlaug. For every villain, you can find a hundred heroes, and the good done by white men vastly outweighs the evil. As evidence, just consider how much life has improved over these last few centuries when white men have wielded most of the power. Thanks to the scientific, technological, and economic advances brought about chiefly by white men, even relatively poor people living in countries dominated by white men now enjoy luxuries that would have made them the envy of the greatest kings of previous ages.

White men have been dominant in culture, art, science, philosophy, technology, and business for the last few centuries, so it is hardly surprising that most of the great deeds, positive as well as negative, were committed by white men. During this time, white men have wielded, and are continuing to wield, more power than any other group throughout history. And although they have at times abused that power in horrible ways, on the whole they have wielded it about as well as could be expected, human nature being what it is. Compared to other hegemonic groups in history, white men have been fairly mild and benevolent masters. And above all, they have been oh so productive and produced such unprecedented greatness.

To the extent we have feelings about broad groups of people, our primary attitude toward white men should be gratitude. I do not endorse this kind of collectivist thinking. Each white man, just like everyone else, should be judged as far as possible as an individual. As a white man, I deserve neither blame nor credit for the deeds of those who happen to share my race and sex. Nor should the relatively successful track record of white men be a reason to regard them as morally superior or to give them legal privileges. But it certainly cannot be a valid reason to regard them as morally inferior or to saddle them with legal disadvatages.

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Historical Myths Part 4/∞: The Boston Tea Party Was a Protest Against High Taxes

The story goes something like this: In the mid 18th century, the British Empire abused its power over its American colonies and saddled the colonists with heavy taxes. After the taxes on tea were again increased in 1773, the colonists had finally had enough so they disguised themselves as Indians and threw a whole shipment of tea into the Boston harbour, which ultimately led to the American Revolution.

Although this story sounds very reasonable, it is a serious distortion of history. The British-American colonists did not protest against taxes being too high. Their slogan was “No taxation without representation,” which is not about the rate of taxation at all. In fact, taxes on the colonists were very low and the British Empire spent far more money on maintaining its American colonies than it received from them in tax revenue. In particular, the government had gone into considerable debt to finance the French and Indian War, which originated as a border dispute between British and French colonists on American soil, and then became part of the global Seven Years’ War.

What the colonists did take issue with was taxes being levied on them by the British Parliament, even though the colonies weren’t represented in Parliament. The colonists by and large did acknowledge that it was reasonable for the British government to get the colonies to contribute more money, but objected to being taxed directly by Parliament. Instead, they wanted Parliament to request money from the various colonial governments, who would then tax the colonists (which was considered legitimate because the colonists were represented in their colonial assemblies). They argued that this system had worked well in the French and Indian War and that there was no reason to change it.

Parliament didn’t go along with this reasoning and wanted more direct control, so in the wake of the French and Indian War, they passed a number of measures to raise tax revenue from the American colonies, all of which the colonists resisted through protests, smuggling, boycotts, intimidation, and mob violence. As a reaction to these protests, Parliament reduced or eliminated many of the taxes, hoping that this reduced set of taxes would be easier to enforce. One of the taxes they kept in place was an import duty on tea.

However, this import duty did not raise very much revenue since smuggled Dutch tea was cheaper than legally imported tea, which was required by law first to be shipped to London before it could be sent to the American colonies. Organising a boycott against taxed tea isn’t very hard to do when all you have to do to take part in the boycott is to buy cheaper tea. To change that dynamic (and because the East India Company was sitting on a surplus of tea), Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773, which allowed the East India Company to ship tea directly to America. This would have made their legally imported tea slightly cheaper than the smuggled Dutch tea, thus hopefully breaking up the boycott.

This was the catalyst for the Boston Tea Party: not an increase in the taxes on tea, but actually a law that made tea cheaper. This would undercut both smugglers and the boycott effort against taxed tea.

The idea that the Boston Tea Party was about taxes being too high fits in nicely with the overall effort of mythologising the American Revolution. We can all sympathise with daring heroes who stand up to an overbearing government imposing oppressively high taxes. But men who dress up as Indians to commit property desctruction on a grand scale to protest against tea becoming cheaper? Not so easy a sell to a modern audience.

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Against Revolution

Popular culture is filled with positive depictions of rebellion against oppressive governments and other power structures: Star Wars, Braveheart, V for Vendetta, Hunger Games, etc. Rebellion makes for a nice underdog story and provides an easy justification for our beleaguered heroes to commit all sorts of violence without moral qualms. After all, who would object to killing a few Storm Troopers if that is necessary to rescue the rebel princess? However, I believe that violent revolution is hardly ever justified and that almost all attempted and successful revolutions in world history were a mistake.

My reason for this harsh judgement is not based on any sort of obligation of the people to obey their rulers, no matter whether the government justifies its power by an appeal to tradition, the natural order, the divine right of kings, the mandate of heaven, the general will, the good of the nation, or democratic election. I do believe that the people have a right to alter or abolish a government that no longer has the consent of the governed. What I want to argue here is that it is almost always imprudent for them to attempt to do so by violent means.

There are many problems with violent revolution. First of all, revolution is bloody and will likely claim many lives. Secondly, a revolution might fail (and most do) and the forces of government prevail, in which case much blood has been shed in vain. And third, and most importantly, successful revolutions frequently institute governments that are as oppressive as or more oppressive than the government they replaced.

War is the most fertile breeding ground for oppression. After all, who can afford to have respect for such concerns as individual liberty, freedom of expression, private property, due process, or humane treatment of prisoners while engaged in a life-and-death struggle? Even after the revolutionary has been won, the new government has only a very tenuous grasp on power and thus will likely continue its repressive war-time measures to root out old loyalists and new revolutionaries.

A revolution is often fought by a disparate coalition united by nothing more than opposition to the current regime, but once that has been driven out, the old factions re-emerge in a power struggle that might well lead to another war. After all, violence has already been established as a legitimate and effective means of solving political dispute. Once the floodgates of revolution have been opened, blood is likely to continue gushing through them.

Here is a list of requirements for when revolution is justified:

  1. The government you’re rebelling against must be highly oppressive. And not just oppressive based on some ideal standard, but oppressive compared to other governments that exist in comparable countries. A good example of that would be North Korea. A bad example would be the current US government (or any other present government in a Western country), which is oppressive in a number of ways, but far less so than the average country. If you have a government that works tolerably well, chances are that violent revolution will lead to a worse government. Using drastic change to make things worse is a lot easier than making things better.
  2. You need to have good prospects to win and you need to be able to do so decisively so that you don’t get bogged down in a long and protracted war in which all sides lose. The American Revolution and the current Syrian civil war are good examples of this rule being violated. Another example are slave revolts: although these surely fulfilled criterion 1, they were almost always suppressed, and usually lead to even harsher treatment of slaves.
  3. You need to have realistic aims. If the goal of your revolution is to fundamentally reshape society from the ground up, or even to reshape human nature itself, chances are that your efforts will fail and leave a long trail of corpses behind them. The French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution are good examples of this failure mode. A positive example is the American Revolution, which in many ways sought to preserve society and government as it had existed in colonial times.
  4. Your revolution needs to be based on a desire for liberty, not on envy, hatred, and revenge. If and when you win, you need to be gracious to your defeated enemies. You need to pardon at least the rank and file supporters of the old regime. This is a minimum requirement for your country to heal and to recover and will go a long way in forming good relations with other governments. If you slaughter people indiscriminately during and in the aftermath of your revolution, you will have to keep slaughtering to cling to power and your neighbours will rightfully regard you as a threat and a potential enemy. Take the Haitian Revolution, a rare example of a successful slave revolt. Although their grievances were about as legitimate as they get, the Haitian revolutionaries killed or drove away all white people living on their land, including those who owned no slaves and were opposed to slavery. As a result, the new nation of Haiti was completely isolated, which contributed to it becoming the poorest country in the Americas.

This list is not comprehensive. Following it will not guarantee success, but violating it will likely lead to disaster. Even though these four demands are quite reasonable, almost no violent revolution in world history actually fulfils them. And there are indeed very few examples of genuinely successful revolutions in history, in which the revolutionaries not only won at an acceptable cost, but also instituted a goverment that is a noticeable improvement over the status quo. In upcoming posts, I will explain why I’m not a supporter of the American Revolution and why the Romanian Revolution of 1989 is one of the rare examples of a good revolution.

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The Voice of Europe – Episode 156 – Even kids are figuring it out

Today, as on most Fridays, I’m co-hosting the Internet radio show The Voice of Europe, alongside Lucian Vâlsan and James Huff. Join us as we discuss gender relations and sexual politics in Europe from a pro-male and anti-feminist perspective.

Tonight’s topics include a ban on “sexist” advertising in Berlin, a boycott against restrictive dresscodes for male busdrivers in France, and a black gay misogynist explaining why white gay men are racist.

The show starts at 8 PM CEST, which is 2 PM EST, 11 AM PST, and 2 AM AWST.

Content warning: Likely to contain the occasional swear word. May be unsuitable for children and snowflakes.

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On Materialism

Capitalism is frequently accused of making people materialistic, of focusing their attention away from spiritual and idealistic matters and towards the pursuit of material wealth. It cannot be denied that modern Westerners spend an awful lot of time and effort on obtaining larger houses, faster cars, designer clothing, and the latest smart phone. I will argue here that the blame for this cannot be put on capitalism, but that this state of affairs is indeed lamentable, and that most people would be better off if they spent less effort chasing after worldly possessions.

One of the most important insights of economics is the law of declining marginal utility: the more of something you have, the less valuable, as a general rule, is another unit of that thing to you. Due to the enormous productivity increases brough about by capitalism, we now have vastly more material goods, which means we value material wealth less than our pre-capitalistic ancestors or our contemporaries unfortunate enough not to live in a capitalist country.

Indeed, people on the verge of starvation might well come to blows over a half-eaten sandwich, or prostitute themselves for the price of a warm meal. This is not to say that well-fed Westerners would never stoop to such behaviour, but the pecuniary reward necessary to induce them to engange in behaviour they find degrading is much higher. In other words, they value idealistic concerns like dignity more highly compared to material wealth, i.e. they are less materialistic.

Capitalism has not made us more materialistic, it has merely given us the means to more easily pursue our pre-existing materialistic inclinations. If they could have, ancient and medieval people would have happily gorged themselves on fast food and pop and whiled away the hours watching reality TV. The European Middle Ages in particular seem to us to be a much more spiritual time, but that perception is severely distorted by the fact that almost all the records we have of that time were put down by clergymen, who of course were much more concerned with non-material concerns than the average peasant or serf.

While it is true that religiosity has decreased since the beginning of the Industrial Age, it is not true that this has brought about an overall decrease in idealism. Rather, our idealisitic concerns have grown and multiplied to include concerns such as human liberty, scientific progress, and the environment. (I do not mean to suggest that these played no role in pre-Industrial societies, but their importance has grown enormously.) On the whole, we are now so rich that we can afford to care about a host of non-materialistic issues.

Still, I do believe that there still is an overemphasis on material wealth in contemporary Western society. A lot of people work long hours in jobs they despise to be able to afford a slightly larger house or a nicer car. Many of them would be happier looking for a less stressful job, even if it means accepting lower pay. You do not need to buy the latest iPhone. That smart phone you bought two years ago is still perfectly fine and you can use it for another couple of years. You don’t need to get a new car every five years. Just because the Joneses have a pool in their garden doesn’t mean you have to get one, too. If some particular material good really makes you happy, go for it. But don’t work yourself ragged just to achieve some sort of status symbol. Life is pretty good if you live in a modern capitalist economy. Enjoy it.

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Don‘t Underestimate the Utility of Shame

The modern social justice movement is very concerned about shaming, particularly with “slut shaming” and “fat shaming,” i.e. behaviour that makes people ashamed of sexual promiscuity and obesity. Two notions seem to be contained in the vehement opposition to slut shaming and fat shaming. First, that there is nothing wrong with promiscuity and obesity, and second, that shaming itself is wrong. I won’t address the first objection here, although much could be said about it, and will instead focus on on the second, which is more widely held in today’s society.

Shame is a deeply unpleasant emotion, so evoking it in others should only be done with good reason. However, negative emotions serve important functions: pain helps us avoid injury, disgust helps us avoid disease, fear helps us avoid danger, hunger motivates us to eat, and shame motivates us to better ourselves and to avoid behaviours that are harmful to ourselves and others. While it is good to have nothing to be ashamed of, being shameless is not.

Shaming then is a powerful mechanism by which society can incentivise certain behaviours and disincentivise others. It is a tool which can be used for good or for ill. Shaming should not be employed against behaviour that is meritorious or harmless, but should be reserved for what is genuinely harmful. Shaming is particularly appropriate for harmful behaviour that isn’t bad enough to justify preventing it by violent means (which making it illegal would entail). For example I think it is quite appropriate to shame people for infidelity in relationships, and particularly in marriages, but I would not want to criminalise it.

Shame is also, it seems to me, a vital ingredient of a functional welfare system. If people are ashamed to live off public assistance, unemployment will be more psychologically damaging, but there will also be a very strong incentive to find a new job. Remove the element of shame and low-skilled unemployed people have little incentive to look for work. After all, in many First World countries, people living on benefits have almost the same net income as low-wage workers when all benefits, subsidies, and taxes have been accounted for. For reasons that are beyond the scope of this post, I’d ideally like to get rid of governmental welfare systems altogether, but as long as we are stuck with them, the only way to make them work tolerably well is to shame people who take advantage of them. If the stigma attached to being on welfare ever disappears, I believe they will collapse in short order.

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The Voice of Europe Episode 155 – Sverige, JA!

Today, as on most Fridays, I’m co-hosting the Internet radio show The Voice of Europe, alongside Lucian Vâlsan and James Huff. Join us as we discuss gender relations and sexual politics in Europe from a pro-male and anti-feminist perspective.

Tonight’s topics include the recent UK election with a special focus on anti-feminist MP Philip Davies, a Berlin borough replacing street names to include more African slave traders in the name of political correctness, and Madrid issuing a ban on “manspreading”. We also take a detailed look at Sweden, where in spite of, or perhaps because of, the heavy feminist influence, female genital mutilation is on the rise.

The show starts at 8 PM CEST, which is 2 PM EST, 11 AM PST, and 2 AM AWST.

Content warning: Likely to contain the occasional swear word. May be unsuitable for children and snowflakes.

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