Noah Smith and the market for cruelty
The childlike brutality of our new ruling class, illustrated.
The velvet glove finally ripped in half.
Nancy Pelosi can say a close election was stolen, and no one cares. If your car guy says it, he is a traitor, who should in theory be hanged, like William Wallace—but definitely has to be fired. Pity—he really was a wizard with that wonky Audi transmission.
Not even family members are immune. Spunky, loyal little Pavlik Morozov is with us still, getting his mother on the no-fly list for going to the wrong protest. Tough nuts, mom! If you don’t love America these days, your sense of humor is not as sick as mine.
Until last week, progressives never saw a riot they didn’t want to fellate. This summer they sent one to the White House—and did everything they could to pull its security. An improvised force had to be whipped together from various weird federal agencies. Trump was sent to a bunker. Which would be easy to blame on President Heel Spurs, but it wasn’t his call. (In fact, as the Times loves to say—he falsely denied it.) Sixty cops were injured—in full riot gear. In their summer of love, mobs did $2 billion in damage.
And if that mob had taken the White House and given “45” the “full Qaddafi,” no doubt the press would have proclaimed a revolution, the death of a dictator, inevitably flawed by regrettable violence and other unavoidable procedural informalities, and a return to the great old American traditions of ordered liberty, diversity, and social justice.
Again: before last week, none of them had ever seen a mob on TV—at home or abroad—that they didn’t root for. This is the full power of woke—this, the iron fist of the libs. Their greatest power is their mighty right to change their minds. You may own them, cons—but not in this way. “Pray I do not alter it further.”
If Trump’s mob—which seems to have hardly touched anyone who wasn’t fighting them, a basic international standard of mob decency that’d be hard to imagine in those mobs of summer, storming like black-clad gods through the Oval Office in the eerie glow of blinking red emergency lights—had gone full Paris Commune and done the equivalent with the Capitol—perhaps barricading it, rededicating the building to God, electing a new Christian Senate to lead the way forward and calling all armed and trained Christians to help stop the libs from aborting God’s newborn Holy Republic—
Not only could this delusional Atwoodean fantasy never happen in America—if only because America’s proles are too degenerate to even try it; as opposed to black bloc in the West Wing, which could really have been a thing—it could never produce a victory.
Rather, if needed, the entire New Capitol enclave, this so-called “Christian Republic of America,” with its bodyguard of hastily-assembled, paunchy Special Forces veterans, commanded through a DM group on Parler, would have been smashed without mercy before midnight—with 120mm artillery fire from across the river. Unguided fire is always best—it takes out the rubberneckers too. Few of whom can be entirely innocent.
Even the movement’s own casualties are blamed on the movement. Why not? Everyone who died on the 6th was a Trump supporter. Even the cop! But can’t we blame Trump for that? Duh. Obviously we can. The connection is, in fact, obvious.
And the next day, this sick, disgusting act of reactionary hooligan vandalism, already a historic disgrace, would have been raised to the fully sacred status of lynching, slavery and the Holocaust: a sacrifice, in fact, of enormous and even permanent significance to our great republic.
Which was founded by slaveholders and is fundamentally evil. Etc, etc, etc. You would think no grownup could take this shit seriously. You would reckon poorly with history!
A simple peace treaty
Libs: I propose a deal. The deal is: we stop accusing you of hypocrisy, and you stop concern-trolling us. We both know you don’t give a fuck about violence or dead cops. We both know we hate being ruled by you and would replace you in any way we could.
You will never care how hypocritical we think you are. I wish I could say we will never care about any concern that we know you don’t take seriously—but you’ll keep getting away with this for a while. That’s kind of why you’re on top and we’re on the bottom.
But it’s not a very fun game for either of us, these days, is it? It could get a lot worse. Also, you have a problem in the long term: as Talleyrand said to Napoleon, “one can make a throne with bayonets. But one cannot sit on them.”
(We hear an odd echo of Qaddafi in this ancient wisecrack. Indeed, the “Arab Spring” gang are getting their jobs back. Replacing the “Iraq invasion” gang. At least they agree about Afghanistan.)
Instead of a civil war, I propose, we admit that we are what you say we are—and you admit that you are what we say you are. Ergo: we both suck. Both our sides suck. Libs, I have a modest proposal: we both figure out how to not suck. Maybe even together.
Or we could just do the Insurrection versus the Resistance. You can say a lot about civil war—but you can’t say it isn’t lit. And as they say, democracy dies in darkness.
Everyone has to die. Would you rather do it in bed—with a sea of little gray tumors cracking your bones, one by one, from the inside? We only live once, motherfuckers. We beg you again to consider our very generous offer. We may not be able to repeat it.
Noah Smith and the market for cruelty
I’ve even found a lib I could maybe ink this deal with—not really a major figure, but on some days you can buy Manhattan from any passing Indian. His name is Noah Smith.
I really like Noah and you should subscribe to his Substack. Earlier I referred to him as O’Brien, from 1984. This was an exaggeration and I have to apologize. Noah Smith is not O’Brien, because he does not have O’Brien’s job. I think he could do O’Brien’s job, though. But who he really is is Alpha, the Moralist—from The Captive Mind.
I do like focusing on Noah, first because (like Alpha) he is just a good sport and loves the bantz every bit as much as me (could be a Jew thing), and second because he is the best of his breed in almost every way. Losers strawman—winners steelman. Subscribe to his Substack—get the best of the normie mind, for an incredibly low price.
Let’s start with a picture. I don’t know the source of the image exactly. It’s from Noah’s blog. Maybe it’s a Wehrmacht squad from 1939, rounding up disarmed Polish infantry. Speaking of bayonets:
When you see this image—totally forgetting its origin—which group of young men do you instantly, instinctively side with? The men on the left? Or the men on the right? The image recalls a stanza from Auden’s World War II poem, The Shield of Achilles:
Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
A crowd of ordinary decent folk
Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.
What would you think of someone who instinctively sided with the men on the right? “I encourage Yarvin,” Noah writes wittily, “to contemplate this historical photograph.” It’s so much like Milosz’s Alpha, I can’t even. It is even getting into Gamma territory.
There is more to this story, of course. For one thing—Polish soldiers don’t wear jeans. But I think the image in a way speaks for itself. I introduced you to it under a false pretense, not to create a false reaction, but to help stimulate a natural human reaction. Even a complete sociopath will have the same reaction—they will just be faking it.
If you read Noah’s blog (or recognize the helmets) and choose consciously to reverse that reaction, so much the better—you will have felt the Necker-cube experience of living on both sides of the picture. Any student of history must master this skill or remain a two-bit hack—not even a real historian, more a pornographer of the past.
The market for cruelty
I offer Noah, and his work here, as a representative sample of today’s market for cruelty.
First, Noah being Noah—there’s a reason he’s written for every rag under the sun—his work here is done with the highest possible skill and taste. Again, winners steelman. There is no more refined cut of high-grade bluefin tuna on the market for cruelty, and we must always choose the best representative of our target of the day.
From Noah we descend to the usual Chicken of the Sea, sold in cans all over Twitter: the basis of innumerable media casseroles, for the next umpteen years. I prefer to eat my cruelty straight from the can—it is coarser, more bitter, more foul and more pure. Here is the id of the “empathetic progressive.” I will not insult your palate with it.
And second, this is about me—I would not call it a threat, exactly—but those are some mighty strong bantz. Darth Smith delivers! You have to agree that he knows how to work with the red blade. Let’s see if you even dare, my young Sith, to link to this poast.
It’s true that I’m not scared — if Trump wants to bring civil war to America, then in the words of William Sherman, “we accept the issue”. And it’s true that Trumpism lacks the basic competence and broad moral appeal to win a protracted struggle. But he’s the one who’s mistaken about a great many things.
I like you quoting the Emperor here. Then again—you have the right to, right, Darth? Let’s dance! Shall we dance? Or would you prefer to… make a deal?
First of all, I don’t back the United States of America against the mob who stormed the Capitol Building and put Congress to flight because the mob is weak. I’m not surfing the tides of political fortune, trying to bet on who will come out on top.
Your bets are pretty good, then. When did you not come out on top? A lot of people are trying to bet on who will come out on top. They don’t always get it right. But you do.
Or would you have preferred to be an academic superstar? That’s still a lower rank than a major-league columnist—and you’re at the top of your game as a columnist. (Ultimately, I believe, all columnists may deserve the coveted honorific of “Darth.”)
Instead I’m just standing up for the normie stuff I believe in — the United States of America, liberal democracy, and blah blah.
So—why do you believe in them? Could we get a credo quia absurdum for the audience? Dog, you must know I’m the last motherfucker on the Internet to let you get away with this Counter-Enlightenment shit.
Second, it’s pretty ridiculous to see the world in terms of strong and weak rather than in terms of good and bad. If we believe there are such things as Good and Bad, and if we ever want Good to win, we’re going to have to accept the possibility that Good will, after its victory, be strong.
We do! It is not I who place my bets in terms of strong and weak, but you. Or at least, you always unconsciously like the strong side—perhaps due to some uncanny instinct. But what if it was just this instinct, not any conscious plan, of which Osama spoke?
How do I place my bets? I don’t place any bets. Who do I support? I don’t support anyone in the past. The past is over.
Are there such things as Good and Bad? There are—and as Solzhenitsyn said, the line between them runs through every human heart. It runs though mine, and it certainly runs through yours. Maybe not quite exactly in the middle.
Would Moldbug support the Nazis and the Japanese Empire in World War 2 simply because they were outgunned? Would he support the USSR in the 1980s simply because they were economically outmatched? Would he support al Qaeda in 2002 simply because they weren’t much of a match for the wrath of a united world? Does he think 9/11 was an act of rebellious heroism?
Let me explain how I work, young Sith—as a humble and foolish student of history.
I have a simple test for whether I know a period. Could you dress me in the right getup, give me a brainchip for the right language, teleport me to a dinner party in that period, and not have me come across as a complete nincompoop?
Obviously, if I could not go to a Nazi dinner party without making a fool of myself, I do not know the Nazi period. If I did not know all the Nazi arguments for World War 2, how could I avoid making a fool of myself? The same is true for all the other periods and movements. I dip my mind in this doubleplusunclean oldfilth, so you don’t have to. I can actually make all the arguments you mention—probably weakest for the USSR.
Of course I can explain 9/11 as an act of rebellious heroism—anyone who has seen Star Wars can. Who can doubt that Luke Skywalker was a major influence on al-Qaeda? You yourself would not use this expression without an understanding of the mindset.
What you usually find when you do this for two sides of a conflict—you have perhaps not read one book, Noah, that was published under a power hostile to America, or to your own tradition—is that each side tends to be mostly right about the other. Usually they are wrong about one big thing, but right about most of the other things.
One thing that puzzled me at first about the progressive response to the Capitol riot was the complete inability to see that their reaction to popular unrest was the exact same reaction that every regime has to popular unrest. The Chinese regime thought the same way about the Tiananmen mob (and I can make a case that they were right). Every target of a mob sees the mob in exactly the same way, and you are seeing it now. And it has nothing at all to do with Good or Bad.
Don’t the libs realize that mobs are a dime a dozen, and the first thing a big mob does when it’s feeling its oats is to rush some building? How many buildings do you think were stormed in the “Arab Spring?” Although it may well have generated a million corpses by now, the libs certainly loved that TV show. At 15 I was just exhilarated by the fall of the Soviet Union—and puzzled that China failed to obey the will of history.
The libs realize no such thing—because they never think outside their own tradition. They actually have no theory of mind outside it. The world outside their revolution, past and present, cannot be taken seriously; it is dark and unknowable, like the mind of a chimpanzee; and if we could know it, probably not much more interesting.
This is why the average NPR listener can go absolutely ballistic, as if this was the first time any such thing had ever happened—whereas in reality, they themselves have watched many such disturbances, themselves, on TV—and cheered them wildly.
This is not the first time any such thing has happened. But it is the first time any such thing has happened to them.
That’s why their overreaction, although I think it’ll prove a huge strategic mistake, is so pardonable. Or at least, understandable.
For the first time, they are seeing a riot from the other side of the mirror—just like when you learned that the “Polish prisoners” were squalid, orclike, Marlboro-sucking Arkansas farm crackers, and the “SS troopers” were the loyal, God-fearing, color-blind paladins of our own great President Eisenhower.
Cicero says that he who does not know history forever remains a child. For a child, things often happen for the first time. But to really know history is to know the mind of the past—not merely the events—and if anyone could really know that whole mind, they would see that almost nothing ever happens for the first time.
And if the libs knew the full mind of history, they could easily pass the mirror test, flip the Necker cube back and forth, and empathize with both sides of the police line. Alas, if they could—they would no longer be libs.
See, I’m not Darth Vader. I’m Dwight D. Eisenhower. Liberal democracy is good and worth defending, even against attackers who might look like “underdogs”. That goes for Nazis, terrorists, and commies too if they want to have another go at it.
Noah: I hate to just cut your hand off. But that was a wild, undisciplined swing you took there. Fortunately, it’s a simulation. You’ll bring better bantz next time. It is your own fault, though, for treating history—which is sacred—as casually as a press release.
Are you Dwight D. Eisenhower, then? The comparison may be better than you know. Let’s go to the tape. No—let’s go to the New York Times—from August 13, 1945:
EISENHOWER AND STALIN REVIEW PARADE IN RED SQUARE
Forty-thousand young people representing the entire Soviet Union participated in a superbly designed and executed spectacle in honor of Premier Stalin and the nation’s physical prowess.
That’s just the first paragraph. Isn’t it juicy? Anyone can research this in a jiffy just by googling “Eisenhower Stalin NYT”—in fact, I’ve taken longer pisses. I refuse to give the NYT money—for reasons exactly like this—but I bet you’re a subscriber, Noah. Maybe you can tell us what else is in the story? It seems likely to be no less flavorful. “The nation’s physical prowess” has a lovely Bronze Age Pervert ring, redolent of jacked revolutionary soldiers, workers and peasants who are of course not gay at all.
At the time, Eisenhower as the imperial overlord of conquered Germany was enforcing JCS 1067—a document I think you’d approve of, Noah. He had halted American troops unopposed outside Berlin so that the Soviets could end the war gloriously with the Battle of Berlin, in which a major European city was leveled and 300,000 people were killed. He was feeding the German civilian population 1000 to 1250 calories a day. He had collaborated as a satisfied accessory with Stalin’s brutal and unnecessary war crime of expelling the Ostdeutsche, in which at least 500,000 civilians were murdered, generally in insanely barbaric ways. To evade the Geneva conventions, he classified the captured German armies not as prisoners of war, but as “disarmed enemy forces,” then put them in camps like this—under conditions only comparable to Nazi treatment of Russian POWs, which may have been the point. Fortunately, official statistics tell us, these Teutonic ubermen were captured in such rude good health that their death rate, in the open without water or food, would have done credit to Paramus, New Jersey.
I could go on. Do I need to? I appreciate your little fake marshmallows of a fake past. However, I am not sure that Dwight David Eisenhower’s place in history will remain fully secure as the new century comes of age. We can only wait and see. But if you want to explain how any of this equals “defending liberal democracy,” I am all fucking ears. Maybe the middle D is actually for “Darth.” (I always recommend Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke, by the way.)
This past was fake in its own time, too. It is not just misremembered—though we have airbrushed out or minimized the ugliest parts. World War II is recent enough that we can see how crazy everyone was with our own eyes, on video—in fact, on YouTube.
Do you have 17 minutes to spare, Noah? Let’s watch a flick called Hitler Lives (1945):
You’ll get a huge blast out of it. The director is Don Siegel, who later did Dirty Harry; most of the movie is actually cut down from a longer film called Your Job In Germany, by Frank Capra, with a script by Theodor Geisel—better known as Dr. Seuss. It’s super kitschy—usually, when I show it to normies, they simply can’t believe it’s not ironic. But that’s basically how World War II propaganda was.
What you’ll learn from Hitler Lives is that World War II was a race war—but not about Jews (who are never mentioned). It was about the eternal German—and his hereditary lust for world domination. The German also wants to kill babies, and the audience gets to feast on numerous ghastly atrocities—photo credit to the very real Holocaust, which is never mentioned. In 1945, “the war was about the Jews” is still the enemy storyline.
(Here is the reality of Hitler’s “plan for world domination,” on Wikipedia. The issue is still debated, as you’ll see—and, unlike the Holocaust, debatable. My favorite piece of “evidence” is that Hitler, like many world conquerors, liked really big buildings. He sure did have a plan for Eastern European domination, though.
BTW, dissidents: academic research on the Third Reich really is of fine quality. We even know a bit about Stalin. It’s the regime of FDR that historians don’t know shit-all about, and in many ways never will. If you doubt me—explain US-Soviet relations during the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Also: in the end, who did end up dominating the world? Do you think maybe we wanted to? Or was it just, kind of, like, an accident?)
Furthermore, Dr. Seuss tells us in the film’s amazing voiceover, beating the Nazis is not enough. American power needs to come back home and defeat the reactionary, populist, hateful Nazis here. Finally, we must unite with the peace-loving Soviet Union and its leader Comrade Stalin, creating the new peaceful world of the United Nations. And no, none of this is even slightly ironic. (Irony hadn’t been invented yet.)
Noah: my advice for you in future when working with history, at least with historical periods you don’t know well—or at least, not as well as your adversary—is the advice that, at the start of the movie, Buckaroo Banzai gives his brain-surgery apprentice. “Don’t pull on that—you never know what it might be connected to.”
Liberal democracy is not authoritarian just because its opponents lack competence.
I’m not quite sure I know what you mean here. But I’m pretty sure I agree! As Perfect Tommy said: “Why is there a watermelon there?” Liberal democracy, like all regimes, is authoritarian by definition—and always has been. It just hides the authority better.
The moral of the story
I do have a lesson. I am not just trying to smear you, Noah, in the boring and pointless “argumentum ad Hitlerum” sense. Obviously, there were only two sides in World War II. Ergo, everyone collaborated with either Hitler or Stalin—and the “argumentum ad Stalinum” is no more telling or pointful. It is also another sterile charge of hypocrisy.
The lesson is that when we read Noah’s cruel and powerful tone, then we listen to Dr. Seuss’s cruel and powerful tone—which obviously did not enrage Dwight Eisenhower—we realize that they are the same tone. As biologists say, this is a homology. And of course, Stalin himself was a writer, even a poet; and such was his joie de vivre too. As Osip Mandelstam wrote:
He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries.
He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.
Noah: you and everyone else are closer to last century’s mass graves than you think. That there is a plastic Halloween skeleton on the closet door does not mean there isn’t a real skeleton behind it. In a way, we are all Bluebeard’s wife.
If Eisenhower could stand on that stage with Stalin, three months after Hitler’s death, and the Gray Lady write it up in that unmistakable fulsome tone ripped from the pages of the Pyongyang Post—for those with a nose, one paragraph is enough—you could have done the same. So could I. (In fact, my father’s parents were American Stalinists.)
The market for cruelty is a real thing. It is one special case of the market for power. As everyone has known since Gutenberg was a little boy, people like to read and believe things that make them powerful, or make them feel powerful. These powerful ideas experience a selective advantage in the Darwinian marketplace of ideas.
The powerful ideas on sale in modern idea markets usually involve helping others. This does not make them nontoxic, since helping people implies gaining power over them—whatever the “intent” of the arrangement. But it considerably mitigates the market for power—since the effects of helping people, or trying to help, can be only so nasty.
However, another class of powerful idea is the idea of punishing others. And the market for cruelty is one market where the appetite grows with the feeding. And much as we all love children—we know how cruel they can be, with their weak theories of mind.
Today’s American brutality is very much the brutality of a child. Just today my son was telling me how cool it is when his electric flyswatter just pops the head off a fly, and I at his age performed my own such experiments.
No one has any theory of mind for a fly, so I am not worried. Does a lib have a theory of mind for a con? A con for a lib? Generally the answers are: never, and sometimes.
One of the great works of the 20th century, the World War I counterpart to Auden’s Shield of Achilles, is Yeats’ Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen. Since Noah, in reality a much more attractive man, uses an avatar of Yeats, he might enjoy the first section. It’s a tad long, but I’ll leave you with it. Don’t forget to subscribe to his Substack:
Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen
Many ingenious lovely things are gone
That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,
Protected from the circle of the moon
That pitches common things about. There stood
Amid the ornamental bronze and stone
An ancient image made of olive wood—
And gone are Phidias’ famous ivories
And all the golden grasshoppers and bees.
We too had many pretty toys when young:
A law indifferent to blame or praise,
To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong
Melt down, as it were wax in the sun’s rays;
Public opinion ripening for so long
We thought it would outlive all future days.
O what fine thought we had because we thought
That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.
All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned,
And a great army but a showy thing;
What matter that no cannon had been turned
Into a ploughshare? Parliament and king
Thought that unless a little powder burned
The trumpeters might burst with trumpeting
And yet it lack all glory; and perchance
The guardsmen's drowsy chargers would not prance.
Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.
He who can read the signs nor sink unmanned
Into the half-deceit of some intoxicant
From shallow wits; who knows no work can stand,
Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent
On master-work of intellect or hand,
No honour leave its mighty monument,
Has but one comfort left: all triumph would
But break upon his ghostly solitude.
But is there any comfort to be found?
Man is in love and loves what vanishes,
What more is there to say? That country round
None dared admit, if such a thought were his,
Incendiary or bigot could be found
To burn that stump on the Acropolis,
Or break in bits the famous ivories
Or traffic in the grasshoppers or bees.
Maybe—if we can’t make a deal—we can just agree about the grasshoppers and bees.