For eighteen months, I have been infinitely puzzled that most responses to the Wuhan Plague have been irrational. Lack of rationality dominates the discourse and actions of the majority, from individuals to governments. This irrationality has innumerable manifestations, the most obvious being belief in plain fictions, recently the made-up threat of the new “Delta variant,” no doubt not the last in a very long list of fairy tales. The irrationality shows itself in many other ways, both secular ones such as the total rejection of cost-benefit analysis, and quasi-religious ones such as belief in strange new gods, saints, and rituals. I have racked my head trying to understand this very strange phenomenon, and made no progress.
Nothing is accomplished by our society today. That little which seems like accomplishment is merely the sating of useless consumerist desires and the serving up of mental frippery and degradation. Apple is valued at trillions of dollars; that fact says all you need to know. Even something that could be thought an accomplishment, such as the rapid creation of vaccines to help counter the modest damage directly inflicted by the Wuhan Plague, is of dubious real value, and is moreover lost in wholly justified suspicion of our rulers. We have collectively marched, or been marched, into the dead end of a box canyon, and we hear the water rushing toward us. Not so long ago, however, as this book shows, the West was a civilization on the arc to glory. Maybe we can be again.
What will the future look like? Not much like our stupid present, certainly, but complaining about the present is easy, while offering a coherent positive vision of the future is hard—especially given the degradation of our present. Yes, the Age of Ideology is over, though its zombie corpse may stumble through the brambles of reality for a few more years, until someone shoots it in the head. But what will replace it will be an organic thing, its exact form hard to predict. In Retrotopia, John Michael Greer narrates an optimistic vision of a renewed America, or part of America. It’s fiction, but it inspires a variety of thoughts, among them a topic of great importance to both Greer and me: is technological progress the enemy of tomorrow’s human flourishing, or its ground?
Whenever, which is often, I see in the media that “experts say . . . ,” I immediately assume what follows is lies. The utter tone-deafness of using this locution, given that many, if not most, people assume as I do, amazes me. Or it did, until I realized it isn’t actually propaganda. Rather, for the media, the mouthpiece of the Left, the invocation of supposed experts has become an incantation, one that wholly substitutes for reason and by its magic keeps at bay the night, dark and full of terrors. Michael Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never is a counter-spell, a book-length evisceration of environmental “experts,” and although it will have no impact on true believers in the religion of environmental apocalypticism, it strengthens resistance to the alarmists’ war against humanity.
A disease is going around. No, not the Wuhan Plague. This malady only affects the Right, and I name it Scrutonism. The symptoms of Scrutonism are a razor-sharp ability to identify one’s enemies and to understand their plans to destroy us, combined with a complete inability to imagine any way in which those enemies can be defeated. For a sufferer of this disease, his headspace is occupied by nostalgia and fear, in varying proportions—mostly the former in the late Roger Scruton’s case, mostly the latter in Rod Dreher’s case. Scrutonism’s harm is that it makes sufferers ignore the only question that matters for the Right today: what are you willing to do, given that your enemies are utterly committed to destroying you and yours?
When I first read Neuromancer, a science fiction classic of the modern age, twenty-some years ago, serious people believed that our certain technological future was one of accelerating, boundless plenty. The Singularity was near. Aging and death would soon be conquered; the removal of all limitation would be, within a decade or two, the lot of mankind. Few asked if this would be good. But no matter, since none of this arrived, and it is long since clear none of it will ever arrive, at least in our world as it is now constituted and ruled. Yet, this book, published in 1983, is a fun ride and shows us visions of many things. So let us talk about what is now our present, and what that says about our actual future.
Philosopher Matthew Crawford’s third book is ostensibly a book about driving, but as with all Crawford’s works, that is merely the jumping-off point. Crawford expands our minds by exploring a range of related ideas, usually through concretizing abstractions, tying them to work done by real people in the real world. Why We Drive uses this structure, as did his first two books, Shop Class as Soulcraft and The World Beyond Your Head. Such writing is not for everyone; the payoff can take some time to arrive. But it’s worth the modest effort required, and offers insights into critical modern problems, most of all the pernicious vice of safetyism.
The classic American path to technological success has been for driven tinkerers to obsessively work to solve a problem, from Eli Whitney to Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs. Such men strove to enrich themselves while benefiting others. SAM, the tale of one Scott Peters and his ten-year attempt to create a bricklaying robot, narrates such a story. True, his attempt was mostly unsuccessful, but then, most such attempts are. And in modern America, when excellence and achievement have been traded in wholesale for less-than-worthless “diversity and inclusion,” his is an inspiring tale.
American Genesis is a cultural history of the grand century of American technology, from 1870 to 1970. Thomas Hughes published his book in 1989, when Americans believed that the grandeur of American technological achievement had matured into something less flashy, yet more durable and equally pregnant with accomplishment. Hughes linked a valedictory history of early inventors with a narrative of those inventions becoming embedded in vastly greater systems, which appeared to offer continued technological progress. But 1989 was a long time ago, and as it has turned out, we have been left with the worst of both worlds. We lack new and beneficial world-changing technologies, and the massive systems, supercharged by the internet, dominate and dehumanize our lives in ways previously unimaginable. It may not be American Terminus, yet, but finding a new path is necessary to recapture the now-cobwebbed spirit of enthusiastic achievement this book chronicles.
I have always loathed the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Bleak, unhappy, and cold, they depressed me as a child, and I’m not a depressive person. True, that is painting with a broad brush, but you read “The Little Match Girl” and tell me I’m wrong. Even Andersen’s stories that are not overtly melancholy are full of the chill of the North; there is no brightness there. Much the same spirit permeates these short stories by Hannu Rajaniemi, a Finnish science fiction author. As with Anderson, the stories are clever and original, but they dampen, rather than uplift, the spirit of Man.