Friday, November 17, 2023

17: An exercise in translation.

There is a company which allows people to send very short messages to strangers all over the world.

Some of the people who write these messages think that people who were raised as girls sometimes start to think of themselves as boys, and that this is okay. Sometimes when a girl reads one of those messages, she may start to think that she is a boy, or a boy may start to think that he is a girl. This is not okay. So the only thing you can sensibly do is spend forty four thousand million dollars to buy the company, and stop people sending messages of that sort; or at least, make sure that there are also messages saying that changing your gender is bad.

Over the last thousand years there has been a general tendency for humans to live in more and more complicated social structures, and to build bigger and bigger towns with more and more sophisticated machines. But, because some of the people who make television programmes and movies think that it is okay for people to sometimes change their minds about whether they are boys or girls, this process is going to be reversed, and that would be a bad thing.

Because most people now believe that it is okay for people to change their minds about whether they are boys or girls, there is a very real chance that everyone in the whole world may soon die. This is really true and not just scary language.

We should all work really hard to prevent people from thinking that boys can sometimes decide to be girls and girls can sometimes decide to be boys. Stopping people from thinking this is really the only thing that any one should be doing.

If you believe that human beings can sometimes change their gender, then you probably don’t think that people can find out about the world by studying it really closely. Or else you don’t think we ought to study the world in that way. And you probably also don’t believe that skilful and clever people should have the best jobs and the most money and make all the important decisions. As a matter of fact, the whole reason you believe that people can sometimes change their gender is probably that you don’t really like people very much: or that you don’t agree with the idea of people existing in the first place. 

It would be a very good thing if some human beings could travel in a space rocket to Mars, and then to other planets as well, but as long as people believe that boys can sometimes realise they are really girls and girls can sometimes realise that they are really boys, this will never happen. It would be a very bad thing if it didn’t happen.

I cannot say what he says, Oyarsa, in your language.

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g said...

I think Musk's tweets are mostly bullshit, but I also think that you're not really being very fair; it's easy to make things sound stupid by paraphrasing them uncharitably, and I think Musk's (mostly bullshit) tweets can be paraphrased more charitably and more accurately. (I haven't read the passage from Perelandra[1] you're alluding to for a while, and of course CSL had the advantage of writing Weston's statements as well as the stupid-sounding translations, but I suspect Ransom's translations of them were also not entirely fair even so.)

Let me have a go at fairer translations of Musk's bullshit. A lot of what needs to be said to make sense of what Musk wrote is presupposition or subtext, so my translations will be even longer than yours. I'll begin with a translation of the phrase "woke mind virus" itself. I don't guarantee that I've correctly captured what Musk means by it, since so far as I can tell he never bothers to explain. But I don't think that when he claims that it's a threat to humanity he's mostly talking about trans people.

There's a 4096-character comment limit, so I'm breaking this up. Andrew, let me know if things of such length are unwelcome; my apologies if they are.

"woke mind virus"

"There is a certain set of ideas that has been spreading recently. It spreads from person to person, a bit like a virus, and I think it's harmful, like a virus. One of these ideas is that if you're raised as a girl and start to think of yourself as a boy then that means you really are a boy and anyone who says otherwise is evil. Another is that people of European descent should feel ashamed about their history because their ancestors engaged in conquest and slavery, and therefore anything done by Europeans is oppressive. For instance, over the last few centuries we think we have discovered a lot of things about the world that our ancestors never knew, but this process began in Europe and until very recently most of it was done by Europeans and their descendants. People infected by these ideas think that this means that all that knowledge, and all the methods we have developed for getting such knowledge, are suspect and should not be treated as any better than the traditional teachings of non-European cultures like the Maori in New Zealand. Another of these ideas is that anyone who has a very large amount of money must have got it by taking it from other people, so those people are evil and no one should try to get a very large amount of money."

(I think there are other things Elon Musk thinks "woke mind virus" is pointing at, but those are probably the ones that are relevant here.)

g said...

(Continuation of previous comment, split because of 4096-character limit.)

"The woke mind virus has thoroughly penetrated entertainment and is pushing civilization towards suicide".

"Over the last thousand years there has been a general tendency for humans to live in more and more complicated structures, and to build bigger and bigger towns with more and more sophisticated machines. This has given us better, longer, more interesting lives. This process depends on science -- those ways of gaining knowledge about the world, and the knowledge we have gained that way. And it depends on enterprise -- on people wanting to get a huge amount of money, and trying to get it founding organizations that do valuable things and get paid for them. Those infectious ideas say that science is a tool of oppression and should be replaced with other things, but those other things don't work. And they say that trying to get a lot of money is bad, but what motivates a lot of the things that make our world better is people trying to get a lot of money. If those ideas spread too much, then we may stop having enough people who try to understand the world in ways that really work, and people and organizations that get money by selling valuable things based on that understanding. And those larger structures and societies and machines depend on that understanding and those people and understandings, so they may fall apart, and that would make our lives shorter and more dangerous and less interesting. One reason why these ideas might spread enough to make these things happen is that a lot of the people who make television programmes and movies have been convinced by these ideas, and they have the ability to spread them much further."

"That the mind virus is pushing humanity towards extinction is not hyperbole."

(I really do have an "I cannot say what he says in your language" problem with this one. But here's my best attempt.)

"These infectious ideas may not just make our lives worse, they might make us all die. First of all, we have come to depend on those large structures and large towns and sophisticated machines. If we lose those, as I have said we might, then our lives will be in danger. Second, those ideas say that even if you are born with a girl's body you may really be a boy, and vice versa, and someone who is born with a girl's body but thinks they are a boy is much less likely to get pregnant, and someone who is born with a boy's body but thinks they are a girl is much less likely to father children, and so if these ideas spread then we will have fewer children. Third, those ideas also say that men are evil oppressors and women should hate and fear them, and if women hate and fear men then they are less likely to have children. So, if these ideas spread, we may have fewer and fewer people in each generation until there is no one left."

g said...

(Continuation of previous comments, split because of 4096-character limit.)

"The woke mind virus is either defeated or nothing else matters."

"Because these ideas might destroy our ability to build large structures and large towns and sophisticated machines, all of which are very good for us, and might stop us having children, which would be very bad for us, these ideas are very dangerous. We should try to stop people believing these ideas. If we cannot do that, then all those bad things might happen, and they are so bad that stopping people believing those ideas is more important than anything else."

"Unless the woke mind virus, which is fundamentally anti-science, anti-merit, and anti-human in general, is stopped, civilization will never become multi-planetary."

(The "anti-human" bit is another one where I want to echo Ransom as Andrew does.)

"At the moment, all of us live on one planet. In the future, perhaps we will live on other planets too. This would be good because it makes it less likely that a single disaster kills us all, and also because I want us to live in more different places for its own sake. But if these ideas spread too much, that will not happen, for three reasons. First, because these ideas that science -- the only really effective way we know to enlarge our knowledge and understanding -- is oppressive, and wants to replace it with other things that do not work as science does. We will need to keep learning and understanding more in order to travel safely to other planets and live there, and we need science for that. Second, because these ideas say that when a person or organization or nation gets a lot of money or a lot of power, they must have stolen it from other people who deserved it more, and so we should hate them and try to take their money and power away. But when people do very difficult things they mostly do it because they want a lot of money and power, and if we make that impossible or attack everyone who does it then no one will do those very difficult things, like travelling safely to other planets and making it possible to live there. Third, because these ideas are opposed to our best way of learning and understanding new things, and opposed to our best way of making people want to do very valuable but difficult things, they are harmful to everyone."

This would be a good point at which to reiterate that I think Musk's tweets are mostly bullshit; to explain is not to endorse.

[1] Incidentally, isn't "Perelandra" a pretty name? Better than "cellar door".

Andrew Rilstone said...

This is extremely helpful and interesting.

I would only say that (as I hope will unroll over the next few days) I was trying to make a general point about language as well as a specific one about Elon Musk; and therefore trying to boil things down to very simple, childish, Janet-and-John (Peter-and-Jane?) level language. I will be subjecting myself to the same treatment in the next few days.

g said...

Understood! My point wasn't that your language was too simple -- I took the simplicity and explicitness to be for the same reason as in Perelandra -- but that I think your translations, deliberately or not, substantially change Musk's meaning. (To whatever extent he has a meaning, as opposed to just saying things that he hopes will provoke a particular reaction.) Again, I still think what he says is mostly bullshit, but e.g. there's a difference between "Wokeism will destroy civilization by undermining the idea of objective truth, erasing the uniquely excellent features of science, and attaching stigma to commercial and entrepreneurial activity" (to which I say "I see what you mean no, it almost certainly won't") and "Wokeism will destroy civilization because there's something fundamentally civilization-destroying about the idea of trans people" (to which I say "that's literally nonsense").

Andrew Rilstone said...

Just wrote some comments on this, but I think I will put them at the end in an appendix.

Gavin Burrows said...

I'm against treating Elon Musk fairly, on the grounds that he's a fascist. And I ain't kidding. I can see the instinct to treat people fairly is generally a good one, but here we need to treat it as enabling.

Most political views have a philosophical and a propagandist aspect. I've never read 'Road To Serfdom', and I'm sure it's bollocks, but I doubt it says "regulation bad" just at greater length. Any more than 'Capital' is just "rich bad, in their bloody top hats" at greater length. Fascism, however, inherently only exists on the propaganda level. And it's antithetical to anything that moves from that level, except for cases where it might briefly suit it.

It's like those commentators who drew out the meaning of Trump speeches. When there was no meaning, they were just the incoherent rantings of a reactionary old twat. But their job was to find meaning in them, so they did...

Andrew Rilstone said...

If I were writing about Hitler, I would, in fact, try to be fair to Hitler -- in the sense that I wouldn't attribute views to him that he didn't actually hold; and if he made a direct factual claim, I would at least check up to see if there was anything to it. Although, for that reason, it's probably a bad idea to write about Hitler very often.

Gavin Burrows said...

Agreeing that, for example, the Nazis probably weren't the ones behind the Katyn massacre is the right thing to do.

But that's a different thing to assuming what Hitler thought must be internally coherent, and that we should endeavour to read his writings in the mots positive light possible. This is especially a bad idea with fascists who have often said contradictory things, hoping those sympathetic to statement A would pick up on it, and those sympathetic to statement B pick up on that.

We should always be accurate, even with Musk, even with Hitler. That's not the same thing as being fair.

g said...

I don't think "fair" means "in the most positive light possible".

I think my attempts at translation are more accurate than Andrew's: to whatever degree Musk's trollish tweets are actually saying something (as opposed to attempting to stir up rage or whatever), I think what they're saying is more like "Those People are dangerous because they are undermining science and reason and commercial enterprise" than like "Those People are dangerous because they think people who are born with male-typical bodies are sometimes actually women and should be treated as such".

Having said which, one of the problems with super-broad words like "woke" -- which Andrew has been pointing out in these posts -- is that someone can make an argument along the lines of "Some people think traditional cultural beliefs should be treated the same way as science. These views are 'woke'. The idea that being transgender is a real thing is 'woke'. Therefore the idea that being transgender is a real thing is dangerous and undermines science and society and reason, and we must fight it". And the way they make that argument, which of course is incredibly stupid when written out explicitly like that, is by calling all these different things "woke" and trying to make people scared of the whole package.

And that's a propaganda move, and it's the kind of thing that (I think) Gavin is saying we shouldn't give credibility to by engaging with it "fairly". But I think that if we just dismiss it by saying "these guys are fascists, ignore them" then what happens is that not-particularly-fascist people who have heard worrying stories about science education in New Zealand think "well, that's rubbish: I'm no fascist, so clearly these guys are just bigots who call everything they don't like fascism", and carry on reading stuff about the Evil Woke Mind Virus, and maybe end up persuaded that it's vital for the survival of civilization that we be obnoxious to trans people.

Of course they might end up persuaded of that whatever we do. But I think you get fewer people taking that path if you respond to this sort of thing with "I see what you mean, but" and engage with the specifics, because that (1) might help some of them change their minds, and (2) doesn't encourage them to think of us as dismissive bigots, and (3) helps to distinguish between the different elements of what-they-call-woke -- there's more chance that the next time someone points at not-being-shitty-to-trans-people and calls it "the Woke Mind Virus" they'll say "wait, that isn't what we were arguing about the other day".

Gavin Burrows said...

I'm not advocating ignoring fascists, I'm advocating opposing them on our terms rather than theirs.

" to whatever degree Musk's trollish tweets are actually saying something (as opposed to attempting to stir up rage or whatever)"

This is the point we disagree, that the idea they're just propagandist is relegated to the brackets. With a fascist it's automatically true. Or else they wouldn't be a fascist.

(of course you have to accurately identify someone as a fascist. But no-one seems to be disagreeing in the case of Space Karen.)

Sartre's 'Anti-Semite and Jew' remains the best text on this. I think you can read it on-line if you've not already.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I think my only question would be "are all objectionable views incoherent"? Indeed, if something leads to objectionable conclusions ("Ruritanians are not human beings") can we take it for granted that the arguments are incoherent? Or might we in some cases want to say "Yes, that follows from your premises, but your premises are wrong" or "I agree with your premises, but there is a flaw in your logic?" Or if the conclusions are objectionable, does it in fact not matter whether they are objectionable or not?

I agree that there some people are too inclined to find the sense in what a bad person has said. Or even tell you how they would defend the bad persons position if they were briefed to, and then assume that that is what the bad person actually thinks.

Gavin Burrows said...

These questions are good ones really boil down to "will there be border questions?" Yes, there will definitely be border questions. It's not always going to be an easy balance.

It's also the case that analysing what somebody has said can reveal unconscious motives, which can prove useful. It's almost an article of faith in far right circles that women cannot possibly enjoy sex. They can go on and on about this! Think about it a while and the path they're following is"adult humans enjoy sex, we cannot consider women to be adult humans, why that would be woke, therefore women cannot possibly enjoy sex." There may even be cases where showing someone their own working out in black and white shocks them.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Obviously, I mean to say "if you conclusions are objectionable, does it matter if they are coherent or not?"

Gavin Burrows said...

By "border questions" I meant 'edge cases". I knew there was a better term, but my mind was resisting telling me.

It seems today I'm having trouble remembering... you know... those things made out of letters.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I don't think this affects anything you said. I typed "Or if the conclusions are objectionable, does it in fact not matter whether they are objectionable or not?" which is obviously nonsense.

So, anyway, Davros...

Gavin Burrows said...

We took the meaningful reading of what you wrote. Unless you turn out at a later point to be a Nazi. If so, it was a good cover.

What, so comments from Davros are still allowed?

g said...

I don't think Elon Musk is a fascist.

I think he's kinda-fascist-ish. And I think he's a troll, which has many of the same consequences as you're ascribing to "fascist". And one of the ways he likes to troll is by acting even more derangedly right-wing than (I think) he really is. And there's a long history of people pretending to be fascist and ending up actually fascist, either because they really were all along and were only pretending to pretend or because for whatever reason that's an easy slippery slope to slide down. So our disagreement on this may not amount to all that much. But, still, I don't think Elon Musk is in fact a fascist.

I also don't think it's true that what a fascist says is automatically mere propaganda. How would that even work? It would require fascism to be some sort of magic that, unlike all other views and ideologies, makes it impossible to speak sincerely.

And I already explained why, even if a fascist says something and is merely emitting propaganda, that doesn't mean it isn't worth engaging with what they say for the sake of other people reading it who may be taking it as having actual content.

Gavin, I did see that you wrote "I'm not advocating ignoring fascists, I'm advocating opposing them on our terms rather than theirs". But I never thought or said you advocate ignoring them; I think you advocate dismissing them and not engaging with their arguments (at least to whatever extent engaging with their arguments involves, as I think engaging with arguments usually should, figuring out what they're trying to say even when they don't say it very clearly).

Andrew offered what (kinda) purported to be the nearest thing one can produce to a translation from Musk's trolling into actual explicit argument, and (I take it deliberately) the result was basically nonsense. I think their nonsensicality was at least partly because the translations were wrong, and I offered what I think are more accurate translations. And you agree that "we should always be accurate, even with Musk, even with Hitler". But it sounds as if you don't really mean it: you prefer to say that anything Musk or Hitler says should be assumed to be propaganda, which means that there's no need to be honest about what it says. I disagree.

g said...

(I suspect that the last bit of my last paragraph there is uncharitably incorrect -- that you don't quite mean that there's no need to be honest about what alleged fascists say. But I'm not sure what different thing it is that you mean. I don't think it can just be "what they say is propaganda, so it doesn't mean anything, so any interpretation of it is as good as any other" -- if Andrew had translated those tweets as "It is imperative that we kick all the puppies and kill all the babies", I think (and hope) you'd agree with me that that would in fact be obviously wrong. So I'm feeling a bit confused about what your position is. My apologies if, as I suspect, my guesses at it are bad.)

g said...

I should maybe add that recent developments seem to indicate pretty clearly that Musk is an antisemite, but antisemitism and fascism are different failings even though they often go together.

Andrew Rilstone said...

1: It is very possible that Donald Trump doesn't believe in anything at all: that he would become a hard line communist tomorrow if he thought there were votes in it. But most people with objectionable views do have a core that they really believe. (Are you honestly cross about social conditions and using Ruritanians as a convenient scapegoat? Or are you using poverty as an excuse to justify your gut-level visceral dislike of Ruritanias.)

2: Applies to nice people as well. I wonder how many people twist themselves into contortions around Kapital when their core belief is "I wish we could all share a bit more?" (You could very probably think of religious examples.)

3: Dave Sim

4: Fascism is not the same as anti-semitism; anti-semitism and fascism often go together. But isn't it the case that conspiracy theories and anti-semitism go together so frequently that they more or less amount to the same thing.

5: I recall some New Atheist rhetoric:

-- But Professor, that is simply not what Christians actually believe.
-- Isn't it? Why would that matter? What they actually believe is equally stupid so why would I waste my time trying to get it right? (*)

That's the kind of thing I'd want to avoid, even when talking about Hitler.

(*) Much more time for David Attenborough or Brian Cox saying "I literally have nothing to say about God so I will literally say nothing about him."

g said...

Just to say that I agree with everything Andrew just said. (And yes, Elon Musk is definitely a conspiracy-theorist, or at least trollingly pretending to be one in a way that's functionally equivalent to actually being one.)

Gavin Burrows said...

”I think he's kinda-fascist-ish.”
Which is close enough. Pedantic and absolutist definitions of fascism are beside the point here. We’re at the “quacks like a duck” point, and Musk quacks enough. But if you wanted a definition of fascism, this is as good as any (shorter than ‘Anti-semite and Jew’)…
Fascists presume there’s an in-group and an out-group, in an inherent and perpetual war. We must defeat them because they’re doubtless trying to defeat us, because after all that’s what we would do if we were them. (There’s an old TV show which has this as the plotline. They really should repeat that around now.)
The only other group is the undecideds, clueless clods who it’s not just okay to lampshade and manipulate, it’s an imperative that we do so.
Guess which group they think you’re in.
I’m going to make a supposition here, because it seems quite likely and because it's quite common. You don’t actually understand what fascism is because you are too nice. It’s too antithetical to you. Of course, you’re aware it’s a bad thing, it would be hard not to. But you don’t get it. And always remember for “nice” they auto-correct the word “weak”.

We cannot afford to be nice with fascists. The same way you might decide with an individual that you can’t trust a single word they say, you need to treat fascists that way collectively. If we don’t, they will use it to become stronger. Be less nice! At least with them.
The difference between accurate and fair was really covered earlier, with reference to Katyn. I wouldn’t agree with ascribing individual massacres to Nazis which we know they didn’t do, just because I don’t like Nazis. But if I wanted to know whether they had carried out Katyn, I wouldn’t ask some Nazis.

Gavin Burrows said...

”It is very possible that Donald Trump doesn't believe in anything at all: that he would become a hard line communist tomorrow if he thought there were votes in it.”

Yes, and that’s part of it. There’s a thin line between ‘it’s all about what is good for me’ and ‘it’s all about what is good for us, the in-group’, if there’s a line at all. In practise, fascism and egoism run together.

”But most people with objectionable views do have a core that they really believe”

Not beliefs, drives. It starts with the hatred, then looks for a hook to hang that hatred on. Modern British fascists tend to be fanatical supporters of Israel, as they have chosen “the Muslims” as their hate group. And that could change again, at any point, and they’d hate the new enemy with equal vehemence. It’s the need for there to be an other you can then oppose.

g said...

I don't think that's a pathology unique to fascists.

Gavin Burrows said...

We are all of us a bit fascist, a bit anarchist, a big religious, a bit atheistic, a bit Dr Who, a bit Star Trek. I may even be a bit nice, now and again, if you want to stretch a point.

Fascism is more than that. Fascism is a pathology turned into an ideology. It’s like a sickness where the patient identifies with being sick, celebrates being sick, associates being sick with being strong and so wants to get more sick.

g said...

I have just noticed the first of Gavin's two consecutive comments above, which somehow I hadn't when I replied to the second of them. Sorry about that.

I don't agree that "kinda-fascist-ish" is "close enough", at least not if -- as it seems -- you're defining "fascist" along the lines of "person whose values are entirely based on outgroup-hate". There are a lot of very bad things that can be reasonably said about Elon Musk, but I don't think his biography to date is consistent with that being what he cares about most. I think he wants to be rich and powerful and go to Mars and -- I think he is, or at least was, actually sincere about this -- improve the human race's chances of long-term survival. All of which is entirely consistent with being a troll and an antisemite and kinda-fascist-ish; but not with being All About Hate. (People change and it's possible that he's All About Hate now even if he wasn't before. But I don't see the evidence for that. For lots of other bad things, yes; for that, no.)

I don't understand the "definition" in the Drucker quotation. I think that when Drucker says it's the best explanation of fascism he doesn't mean "explanation of what fascism is" but something more like "explanation of how fascism happened"; clearly he's referring to the sort of ingroup/outgroup thing Gavin mentions, but he isn't saying it defines fascism. Or, if he is, then I am just too stupid to understand how it does any such thing.

And the ingroup/outgroup thing is not in any way unique to fascists. It's human nature (alas). Consider e.g. how Gavin, right here in this thread, is talking about fascists. They are evil and not to be reasoned with. We shouldn't try to be fair to them. We cannot afford to be nice with them. We must defeat them because they're trying to defeat us. (Oops, that last one is actually what Gavin said fascists characteristically think. But if you tell me that isn't how Gavin thinks about fascists, I will not believe you.)

Fascists go further than most in supporting, and perpetrating, violence against the outgroup, but again that isn't unique to fascists. Consider, for instance, Stalinism or Maoism, and recall that one of the defining features of fascism, at least according to some people who study it, is anti-Communism.

I am, as it happens, quite nice. I don't think it's the case that I fail to understand fascism as a result of being too nice, but anything's possible. I am aware that fascists (but, again, not only fascists) fetishize strength and think niceness is only ever a way of justifying weakness.

Reiterating "we shouldn't accuse fascists of massacres they didn't commit, but we don't need to be nice to them" doesn't do anything to clarify the accurate/fair distinction Gavin's making. In particular, I think saying "Elon Musk said that the idea that Trans Women Are Women will lead to the downfall of civilization" is just wrong, in something like the same way as saying that the Katyn massacre was committed by the Nazis is just wrong though of course on a much smaller scale.

g said...

I should maybe say explicitly, though it's probably fairly clear by now anyway, that I am troubled by the recent tendency to do both of the following things:

1. Call people "fascist" when what they actually are is kinda-fascist-like in one way or another (if they say something racist it proves they're a fascist; if they say something antisemitic it proves they're a literal Nazi; if like ~ half the US electorate they voted for Donald Bloody Trump it proves they're a fascist; etc.).

2. Affirm that "fascists" are not to be treated as one treats other human beings; if you describe something they've said, it doesn't matter whether your description is true or not; it's fine to punch them in the face any time you're able to do so; basically, they are not people but mere objects of political opposition, to be fought by any means possible; traditional rules do not apply.

1, on its own, makes some kind of sense: hyperbole is an effective rhetorical tool, and even being kinda-fascist-like is very bad, and voting for people who are kinda-fascist-like runs the risk of descending into actual outright fascism or some other similar and roughly equally catastrophic thing.

2, on its own, makes some kind of sense: if someone punches Actual Literal Hitler in the face then it's hard to object, and there's a pleasing irony to responding to someone who thinks that all that matters is strength by demonstrating you're stronger than them.

But the combination is scary. Gavin, who so far as I can tell is in other respects a sensible, intelligent, decent person, is saying: look, there are all these fascists; don't pick nits about what counts as fascism and what doesn't, if someone's kinda-fascist, that's all you need; fascists are not like the rest of us, they don't actually think and reason and argue, one needn't be fair to them, they just have to be defeated at all costs. And that gives me the willies. Perhaps I'm too nice after all.

Gavin Burrows said...

Musk tipped over into fully-fledged fascism with Covid. Lockdown closed his Tesla factories which he took as a sinister Big Government plot against his fundamental human rights to exploit the labour power of others. You can’t usefully shake your fist at a disease so he picked people to blame. In May 2020 he tweeted “take the red pill”, which in this parlance means “me Nazi now”.
The thing you’re missing about the Drucker quote is that he’s quoting. This isn’t Drucker defining fascism, it’s a fascist defining fascism. The fact that there’s no definition in there is the point.
I do indeed think we need to defeat fascism before it defeats us. So does any sensible person. That’s the way it will treat us, we have no choice other than to respond. And to pretend otherwise is dangerous.

However, there’s two famous Hitler quotes to consider here. (No, really.) Hitler said the mistake his enemies made was not to crush his group at the very beginning. But he also said the best thing for his side wouldn’t be for them to win, but that in fighting him his enemies would become like him. Inconveniently, he was right both times.
In principle its clear enough. Its not part of our identity to have an out-group, we don’t need a them in order to be us, the was fascists do. Fifteen years ago I wasn’t thinking much about fascism at all, and would like to go back there. In practise, there is a risk that in fighting fascism you catch the contagion. But the risk in not fighting fascism is that you end up in a labour camp.
Your last para suggests you’ve forgotten where we came in, (A sign perhaps that this debate has gone on a bit.) We’re all agreed that Musk is wrong, we were from the start. The question is over whether we should try and treat his utterances as charitably as we can, or work on the expectation he’s not even trying to be right, that even if you proved to him he was wrong he wouldn’t care.
You would honestly benefit from reading ‘Anti-Semite and Jew’. Sartre does all this wording stuff better than what I do.

Gavin Burrows said...

”Gavin, who so far as I can tell is in other respects a sensible, intelligent, decent person, is saying…”
No, Gavin isn’t saying any of this. There is something of an irony here, as you are simultaneously telling me we should always listen to others. And have probably made more headway in understanding Elon Musk than me. But this may be one of those moments when laughter is a better response than the other options.

Gavin is not saying that the first sign you encounter of prejudice in someone you are allowed to punch them because you can then play your Allowed To Fight Fascists card. In fact, when to oppose fascists physically is really just a tangent here. Read the most hardline Antifa account you can, and it will say most anti-fascist activity consists of opposing them politically, to prevent things getting to the point where you have to do so physically.
Gavin is repeating back to you what fascists say about themselves, what they really say about themselves. If you aren’t hearing it, thats not some judgement on your character. I don’t imagine that you’re such a lily-livered coward that you’re shirking your duty to be punching Nazis like Jack Kirby would have wanted. But in the times we live this is a dangerous blind spot to have.
Gavin thinks there doesn’t seem to be much point in carrying on here, as anything else he says will just hit the same blind spot again. So a debate on the internet failed to resolve a pressing social issue. Perhaps that’s happened before…

g said...

You keep asserting that Musk is a fascist but not providing any actual evidence. "He thinks he has a right to take advantage of his employees and got upset when government action made that harder" is, for sure, a way in which Musk is bad but there is, in fact, a difference between exploiting the people who work for your company and being a fascist. (I would love to live in a world where it's only the fascists who exploit their workers, but alas that is not the actual world.)

I don't know (and there may be no fact of the matter as to) what exactly Musk meant by "take the red pill". The phrase gets used to mean hundreds of different things. Most of them are somewhere on the scale from "kinda right-leaning" to "outright neoreactionary". But most of them are not fascism or Nazism.

I think the most common meaning is a sexist thing: taking the red pill means deciding, as Wikipedia puts it[1], "that certain gender roles they are expected to conform to, such as marriage and monogamy, are intended for the benefit of women alone, rather than for mutual benefit". (Typically along with a bunch of other kinda-similar ideas: feminism is just man-hating, etc.)

[1] I quote WP not because I think it's infallible but because going to the single most famous source of information where possible makes it more difficult to cherry-pick and less likely to look like cherry-picking when one isn't.

The red-pill metaphor is used for any number of other things. They are usually more right-wing than left-wing, in some broad general sense in which e.g. being sexist is right rather than left. But so far as I can tell they usually aren't fascist. (Sometimes they are. And sometimes they're communist. And sometimes they're all kinds of other things.)

The only clarification Musk offered, so far as I can tell, was agreeing with someone who said "Red pill' has become a popular phrase among cyberculture and signifies a free-thinking attitude, and a waking up from a "normal" life of sloth and ignorance. Red pills prefer the truth, no matter how gritty and painful it may be." Which I guess could be some sort of code for "Adolf Hitler was right about everything", but it doesn't sound much like it.

If there's some context (beyond the fact that "take the red pill" is used as a political metaphor by lots of people, more commonly right than left, who think that there are political realities most people are blind to) that shows that Musk meant "me Nazi now", I would be interested to see it.

g said...

No, I didn't miss the fact that Drucker was quoting. So far as I can see, the person he's quoting also wasn't in any way attempting to define anything. (Again: I think that when Drucker said it was an "explanation of fascism" he didn't mean "something that explains what fascism is", he meant "something that gives us insight into how fascism happens". I'm not sure I actually agree with him either way, though.)

I don't mind "fascists have to be defeated at all costs" when you're talking about Actual Literal Fascists: people making a serious attempt to do away with democracy, start wars of conquest, wipe out groups of people they dislike, etc. (Well, maybe I do mind it a little. What costs it's reasonable to pay to defeat them depends on what chance they have of how much success. E.g., in a world -- which I do agree is not our world -- where there are only vanishingly few fascists, they have no power, and no one listens to them, there's no particular need to defeat them and we shouldn't pay large costs to do so, because the cost of just leaving them to do their hateful thing while everyone else ignores them isn't that large. (But not zero, of course. Anyway, in the real world fascists are more of a threat and the costs we should be willing to pay to defeat them are accordingly greater. But still not unlimited.)

But the more "fascist" gets generalized, and the more willing one is to call someone "fascist" on the basis of circumstantial evidence (he tweeted "take the red pill"! that means he's a fascist!), the scarier I find it when someone says that "fascists" must be defeated at all costs.

I have no idea why you think my last para suggests I've forgotten where we came in. It's precisely about where we came in: I thought Andrew's description of what Elon Musk meant by something was inaccurate and tried to do better, and you said "we shouldn't try to be fair to fascists". I don't agree with your claim (which you have not tried to justify) that Elon Musk meant literally nothing by what he said, so that there is no point in trying to represent it accurately rather than inaccurately. (Trying to represent it accurately is not the same as "trying to treat his utterances as charitably as we can"; I have already said that that isn't what I was trying to do and is not what I am defending, and I wish you would stop claiming that it's what I want. It does imply some degree of charity. I am not ashamed of extending some degree of charity towards Elon Musk.)

Gavin Burrows said...

g has now spent so much time and energy trying to make me into Rick from the 'Young Ones', I'd now feel churlish not to play along.


g said...

If I'm misrepresenting your position, I regret that and would be glad to learn what I've got wrong.

Andrew Rilstone said...


Do we really need to go back to the beginning and do the whole thing all over again?

g said...

I do hope not.

I find it (frustrating but) amusing that at the same time (1) in this thread, I am defending myself from Gavin's accusation that I think he thinks everyone who doesn't agree with him about everything is a fascist, and (2) in a discussion in Another Place where You-Know-Who has brought up our discussion here, I am defending Gavin from You-Know-Whose accusation that Gavin thinks everyone who doesn't agree with him about everything is a fascist.

Gavin Burrows said...

In the words of a famous literary character, I would prefer not to. I suspect we would end up in the same place. We could chalk this up to one of those rare times where internet debates mysteriously seem to not resolve everything.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I would not be entirely uninterested in knowing where this Other Place is, if it is not a Secret.

Gavin Burrows said...

Isn't the Other Place the House of Lords? Thanks to g for sticking up for me against all those Lords.

g said...

Not at all a secret; I just assumed you already knew. Mike Taylor's blog, Comments on the post called "The prestige trap".

Andrew Rilstone said...

I thought the Other Place was Hell?

Gavin Burrows said...

Ah, someone talking rubbish on the internet. That’s novel.
In general, I prefer Andrew’s blog being the Commons and Mike’s the Lords to the other option. But then Mike might think its better to moderate comments in Hell than be moderated in Heaven.

I don’t hold with labelling anyone who disagrees with you as a fascist. Except for those who claim ‘Blood On the Tracks’ is a better album than ‘Desire’. I mean, there has to be a limit.

g said...

I've only just noticed that there's another comment from Gavin that I completely failed to notice at the time. I think what probably happened in both these cases is: I looked at the comment section and wrote something; then Andrew approved a comment from Gavin and also my comment; then Gavin replied to my comment and Andrew approved it; then I came along, saw a reply from Gavin to something I'd written, and failed to look back to see whether there was something earlier that had been missed. Sorry about that.

I will reply to said comment, but I'm aware that Andrew would prefer us to give it a rest, and if Gavin chooses not to reply to what I say here I will neither be offended nor take it as meaning that he doesn't have what he considers a good response :-).

Gavin disclaims all the things I said he's saying -- "Gavin isn't saying any of this" -- and is particularly at pains to refute the allegation that he thinks it's OK to punch anyone who's shown any sign of prejudice. Which would be an excellent allegation to refute, if I'd made it, which I never did. (I did say that some people think it's OK to punch fascists, which is definitely true; I know some of them. I don't know whether Gavin thinks it's OK to punch fascists, though the rest of what he says here suggests that in fact he does.) Here are the specific things I said Gavin was saying, each followed by a direct quotation from Gavin which I think is saying the thing I claim Gavin is saying. (In a couple of cases I agree that what Gavin's said doesn't go quite as far as what I claimed; my apologies if I have exaggerated.)

me: "look, there are all these fascists" (I'm not offering a quotation in support of this since it doesn't actually make any particular claim)

me: "don't pick nits about what counts as fascism and what doesn't, if someone's kinda-fascist, that's all you need" Gavin: "Which is close enough. Pedantic and absolutist definitions of fascism are beside the point here." (This is in response to my saying: Musk isn't a fascist, even though he's kinda-fascist-ish.)

me: "fascists are not like the rest of us, they don't actually think and reason and argue" Gavin: "Most political views have a philosophical and a propagandist aspect. [...] Fascism, however, inherently only exists on the propaganda level." and "This is the point we disagree, that the idea they're just propagandist is relegated to the brackets. With a fascist it's automatically true. Or else they wouldn't be a fascist." and "The same way you might decide with an individual that you can’t trust a single word they say, you need to treat fascists that way collectively."

(so maybe "they don't actually think and reason" isn't quite a fair account of Gavin's position; it's just that they speak and write as if they don't do those things, but merely find rationalizations for hating the Other.)

me: "one needn't be fair to them" Gavin: "I'm against treating Elon Musk fairly, on the grounds that he's a fascist."

me: they just have to be defeated at all costs Gavin: "We cannot afford to be nice with fascists." and "I do indeed think we need to defeat fascism before it defeats us."

(so maybe "at all costs" isn't quite a fair account of Gavin's position)