...Archive for March 2024


February is one of the most beautiful and painful songs ever written, by Dar Williams.

March is nearly over already, and I didn’t write in January. But I’ve not yet done a February roundup. This is that.

Long suffering readers will recall I am mostly writing at my drafts blog these days, but I publish excerpts periodically here. Please feel encouraged to discuss these pieces or anything else in the comments to this post.

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Now, excerpts…

From What you are doing right now (2024-02-29):

If you’ve ever wondered what you would do during the rise of Nazi Germany, it is what you are doing right now.

People who make these kinds of remarks seem so certain they know who the Nazis are. But it could be us, too. The Nazis didn’t think they were the Nazis, in the way we mean it now. Whenever we consider ourselves part of a group so inherently righteous we are immune, we become particularly susceptible to slipping into the role.

From Situated versus unsituated virtues (2024-02-11):

We are, as individuals, the largest, best educated cohort of human beings that have ever lived on Plant Earth. Sure, maybe Harvard teaches more woke stuff, or maybe we are manipulated by TikTok and Fox News or whatever. There have, nonetheless, never been more humans more capable and skilled at any other moment in human history. Todays’ graduates of Harvard — and today’s graduates of every State U — can read and write, perform mathematics, and make use of unprecedented technical tools more capably than any generation in history…

Yet collectively, we are fucking idiots. If I may quote Larry Summers, look around.

I want to posit a very simple explanation for much of our aggregate incapacity. We now devote ourselves much more to unsituated rather than to situated virtues. But constructive action depends primarily on accomplishing situated activities, which the extremity of our dedication to unsituated virtues now undermines.

From Demographic transition is just specialization and trade (2024-02-06):

Market logics are not learned by catechism. They impose themselves invisibly, “naturally”, via rewards and punishments embedded in the apparently disjoint choices of people who do or don’t transact with us. The inefficient are left alone, and to be left alone is to be left to die. As Karl Marx famously put it:

For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

How then, “if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood”, in our capitalist and far-from communist societies, should we expect him to be a hunter in the morning and a parent in the evening?

The relationship between wealth and natality is nuanced. When wealth is certain, its increase is likely pronatal, as people can bank on greater resources to cover the burdens of childrearing. But when wealth is uncertain, when it is delivered via tournaments that deliver outsize rewards to winners, then increases in “expected” (meaning average) wealth likely translate to decreases in natality. The bigger the prize, the greater the cost of anything that will reduce your chance of winning.

From Nimble nationality will define state capacity (2024-02-02):

When restrictionists in developed countries say they don’t mind, aren’t against, immigration, they just want it to be legal and ordered and organized, that is fine and they are right. We do not want, should not abide a situation where our laws, whose tacit sanctity renders our national success possible, are run roughshod by new migrants that must learn also to hold them sacred if we are to collectively succeed.

But at the same time, we cannot succeed if the laws we enact are ill adapted to our actual circumstances. To save Miami from sea-level rise, we could ban high tide. We could place militarized cops on the beaches, fire machine guns at each transgressing wave. The tide will still come. Our laws cannot be shaped only by our preferences. Reality will have its say.

As pressures for mass migration accelerate, we will all become some admixture of Israel, Lebanon, and melting-pot America. Some countries will double-down on restrictionism become small, brutal, deformed shadows of the political communities they might have been. Some will accept the tide of bodies into the territory of their states, but prove unable to merge the diversity of communal identities and worldviews that come with those bodies into a coherent nation, leading to reduced social trust, impairment of the nation-state’s ability to coordinate at scale, bitterness among natives and new immigrants both, conflict, and authoritarianism.

But some countries will manage what the United States managed in the 19th and 20th Centuries, to accept the bodies but also join the minds of new citizens into a continually evolving understanding of the nation to which they now belong. Countries that manage this will achieve the economies of scale that nation-states can gain from larger populations without bearing the deadweight, deadly costs of interethnic conflict, militarized borders, deterrent brutality.