Materialism vs Purposeful Life: Trump, Bannon, and Teilhard de Chardin

Lots of interesting reading today as Trump’s victory has focused attention on the assumptions that led to underestimating his chances.

The media spin is working toward delegitimizing him further by casting his advisor Steve Bannon as an alt-right, antisemitic, neo-Nazi éminence grise. This isn’t backed up by much evidence other than guilt-by-association, with Breitbart the junkyard dog of new media flouting the rules of political correctness. But having rabid commenters and hosting some incorrect writers like David Horowitz does not make a media conglomerate or its managers antisemitic, antigay, misogynist, or otherwise the spawn of the Devil, which is what is being implied.

Alan Dershowitz went on MSNBC to decry the antisemitism charge:

The reliably rational Scott Alexander marshals the evidence that Trump is racist-sexist-etc and finds it wanting in his post, “You Are Still Crying Wolf.”

Bannon spoke and answered questions in 2014 at a conference hosted by the Human Dignity Institute at the Vatican. It’s a worthwhile read which dispels much of the simplistic narrative being spun by the New York Times and others. Here are some good bits:

I want to talk about wealth creation and what wealth creation really can achieve and maybe take it in a slightly different direction, because I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian west, is in a crisis…. It’s ironic, I think, that we’re talking today at exactly, tomorrow, 100 years ago, at the exact moment we’re talking, the assassination took place in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that led to the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the bloodiest century in mankind’s history. Just to put it in perspective, with the assassination that took place 100 years ago tomorrow in Sarajevo, the world was at total peace. There was trade, there was globalization, there was technological transfer… Seven weeks later, I think there were 5 million men in uniform and within 30 days there were over a million casualties.

…180 to 200 million people were killed in the 20th century, and I believe that, you know, hundreds of years from now when they look back, we’re children of that: We’re children of that barbarity. This will be looked at almost as a new Dark Age.

But the thing that got us out of it, the organizing principle that met this, was not just the heroism of our people — whether it was French resistance fighters, whether it was the Polish resistance fighters, or it’s the young men from Kansas City or the Midwest who stormed the beaches of Normandy, commandos in England that fought with the Royal Air Force, that fought this great war… capitalism really generated tremendous wealth. And that wealth was really distributed among a middle class, a rising middle class, people who come from really working-class environments and created what we really call a Pax Americana. It was many, many years and decades of peace. And I believe we’ve come partly offtrack in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe, strongly, is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism….

I’m a very practical, pragmatic capitalist. I was trained at Goldman Sachs, I went to Harvard Business School, I was as hard-nosed a capitalist as you get. I specialized in media, in investing in media companies, and it’s a very, very tough environment. And you’ve had a fairly good track record. So I don’t want this to kinda sound namby-pamby, “Let’s all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ around capitalism.”

But there’s a strand of capitalism today — two strands of it, that are very disturbing.

One is state-sponsored capitalism. And that’s the capitalism you see in China and Russia. I believe it’s what Holy Father [Pope Francis] has seen for most of his life in places like Argentina, where you have this kind of crony capitalism of people that are involved with these military powers-that-be in the government, and it forms a brutal form of capitalism that is really about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people. And it doesn’t spread the tremendous value creation throughout broader distribution patterns that were seen really in the 20th century.

The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, I’m a big believer in a lot of libertarianism. I have many many friends that’s a very big part of the conservative movement — whether it’s the UKIP movement in England, it’s many of the underpinnings of the populist movement in Europe, and particularly in the United States.

Bannon is clearly a Catholic and is defending the value of his religious feeling in a world of brutal materialists. The entire discussion is worth your time, but I’m going to take off from there to connect some dots on materialism vs. purpose in life, and why the current danger to human progress is thoughtless Progressive emphasis on collectivist social services and expanding the number of government employees and clients.

Why do we strive? The biological and evolutionary imperative is to reproduce, and underlying all of our humanity are the behaviors encoded by the DNA of ancestors who survived and reproduced. Humans were bred to cooperate and compete for resources, love and fight for a place in the tribe, and war on other tribes. The addition of language and culture to humanity’s animal heritage meant additional threads of evolution of memes, religions, and cultures were added to the mix.

We have big brains and consciousness — what for? Some provocative theorists suggest it’s entirely a fitness display to attract better mates. But our brains help us survive in a competitive social environment by manipulating it to our advantage just as our motor skills let us defend ourselves from predators and hunt and gather food from the physical environment.

Our evolutionary heritage explains why humans will generally strive to give their children the best chance of success. But the culture component gives even the childless a secondary motivation: one can contribute to the cultural heritage of mankind and thereby do everyone’s children a service. Your seed may not survive, but your intellectual children — your books, plays, art, contributions to the body of knowledge of science and technology — may carry on doing good for others long after you are gone. And we are all cousins, in the end, and every human is carrying our genetic heritage.

So survival comes first, and when your and your children’s survival is threatened you will be entirely focused on escaping the threat. Which is why the first technique used in propaganda is to paint a picture of threat — to make you afraid, and to point you toward taking action which suits the propagandist’s purpose. This can be anything from the small — swaying your vote toward candidate A instead of B — to the murderous, getting you to cut your neighbor’s throat because of his tribe.

Fear is the enemy of rational thought. Threats overrule reason, and since good decisions come from a mix of feeling and logic, fear leads to irrational actions.

Religions are an attempt to explain the world and create a framework for deciding what is moral behavior. Early religions mixed science with moral guidance — what made the world, what do we need to do to placate the gods who determine what happens in it? The gods could be cruel and demand sacrifice, as when Aztecs tore the beating hearts out of living victims, or the Carthaginians (apparently) sacrificed children to the fires of Baal.

Religions, too, evolve. Temporal power mixed with spiritual authority corrupted the universal (Catholic) church which continued the heritage of the Western Roman Empire. Catholic dogma retreated from explanations of the physical world as the competing explanations of science expanded and discredited some early Catholic writers — Christ himself said very little in the Bible about science, so this was not fatal to the corpus of Christian doctrine. Jesuits in particular were able to reconcile science and faith by viewing God’s hand as visible in the workings of Nature; the micromanaging God who would intervene by changing the workings of the laws of nature to produce miraculous outcomes was deprecated, but the sense of His power in arranging the universe as a demonstration and test of faith remained.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit priest and scientist who eventually got into trouble with the Church for his attempts to transcend Catholic teachings to grasp a broader purpose — to explain what God was about, in other words. As a paleontologist and priest, he tried to reconcile evolution with his faith and introduced the concept of the noösphere, the body of all knowledge and culture created by humanity. He went on to hypothesize that God intended humanity to evolve and grow so that the noosphere would merge with the mind of God at the end of time. This led to a lot of serious science fiction like Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 The Star Maker and parodies like The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide series. De Chardin imagined a mystical union with God that would be a sort of Rapture and second coming of Christ as reconciled with the cosmology of scientists.

The Catholic Church now honors him as a thinker ahead of his time, though wrong on many details. His “heresy” was another attempt to outline a religious purpose for life — with the search for knowledge and understanding elevated to a calling of his faith. And this search for meaning and truth is at the heart of both science and faith.

I was brought up to be Southern Baptist and enjoyed the history lessons of Vacation Bible School. But my father was literally a crazy Bible-thumping Pentecostal preacher, and his irrational fervor (he heard from God directly!) caused me to react against all religious doctrines. He spent the rest of his life in and out of mental institutions after he left us when I was five, and I refused baptism when I was eight. Today I am neither religious nor denying the value of religion; I think personal religion can be a valuable guide to good behavior and useful habits of thought. All religious communities have good and bad people in them, and the good generally outweighs the bad, as in most human communities. My religious training, stripped of its specific doctrines, serves me well in helping me find my way to the Golden Rule and empathy for others.

Jews in America have tended to support a completely secular government, remembering the scars of European pogroms and antisemitism as the tribal impulse to use government to suppress and expel them. The Founders were quite supportive of a secular framework for governance, with the Bill of Rights prohibiting direct support for any single religion. This did not mean religious values were to be ignored — but law was not to be based on any sect’s singular view of morality, and the rights and liberty of individuals trumped all religious proscriptions. Many states retained established churches for years after 1787, but the live-and-let-live ideal won out, tying the different founding nations together and allowing free settlement between the regions. Americans learned to get along with their neighbors regardless of religion, and that made us a world leader in tolerance and freedom of belief.

There are still poisoned, prejudiced hearts that retain the hatred of people solely for their race or religion, but far fewer of them, and they are not in power — even under President-Elect Donald Trump. Bannon is no simple hater, but Breitbart’s tolerance for ugly commenters and attacks on political correctness can easily be seen by the paranoid as tarring both Bannon and Trump by association. Feeding this contamination theory of morality where failing to condemn the bad actors often enough makes you guilty by association suits the propagandists of the crony capitalist machine, which has gained nearly complete control of public education and the media in the West. The populist movements that have sprung up are indeed reactionary — reacting to the suppression of dissenting thought and speech. While some of the people supporting them are “deplorable,” the majority are not — and half the US voted for Mr. Trump despite all his flaws, wanting a change from the business-as-usual machine which systematically loots the middle class to support its credentialed nomenklatura and increases the fortunes of the financial industry and the 1% while pretending to care about income inequality.

What those voters want is an end to the condescension and being told what to do by people who think their education entitles them to direct the lives and even the simplest behavior (plastic shopping bag and lightbulb use, for example) of other less enlightened people. We now know from Wikileaks that Obama’s first cabinet was almost literally dictated by a Citibank employee, that Clinton campaign operatives hired people to disrupt Trump rallies then blamed Trump for inspiring violence, and that nearly all media broke journalistic ethics to try to elect Hillary Clinton after they had given Trump so much exposure that he won the Republican nomination. This story quoting a long-time New York Times editor gets at their behavior: the Times wrote to promote a narrative, selectively choosing facts to support it. Stories which did not support their desired narrative weren’t reported at all or were consigned to back pages.

The administrative state has malfunctioned and produced a bureaucracy that cannot build anything at a reasonable cost, or provide the best standard of healthcare for veterans or anyone else. There is little accountability, with even criminal and negligent employees shielded by government employee unions and Civil Service rules. The union of administrative state apparatchiks and the media elite has controlled what the people are allowed to see, but social media now reveal the lies and inconsistencies.

Which is the source of the anger that fed Breitbart’s growth. Citizens who strive to make a living for themselves and their families find themselves denigrated and blocked by bureaucrats. They want to see a return to rewards for the intelligent application of labor and an end to bailouts for losing bankers, subsidies for connected businessmen, and government-enforced monopolists charging too much and limiting their choices.

To quote Douglas Adams:

The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.

Donald Trump may end up being a terrible president. But what’s clear from the hysterical reaction to his victory is that the media-academic-bureaucratic forces will sacrifice their credibility to demonize him and try to erode his legitimacy even before he takes office. The new administration would be doing the citizens of the country a great favor if they help Congress take back much of the rule-making and enforcement authority delegated over the years to the executive branch agencies, staffed largely by partisans and entitled hacks. Reforms to Civil Service and government employee unions are necessary to reduce their corrupt and deadening influence on government productivity. Citizens are not getting their money’s worth and are getting tired of the agencies ruling against growth and business, which has created the stagnation that has half of our youth underemployed and the lowest rate of new business formation in post-Depression history. The return of accountability and popular control of government means some incompetent bureaucrats, teachers, and law enforcement personnel will have to find other things to do.

As for me, I retired from running a family office for a wealthy high-tech friend around 2003, when I realized none of the extra money I was making for his family by clever investment was going to do the world any good. Quite the opposite — his wife began donating large sums to causes like the National Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Democratic politicians. More than likely they gave a large sum to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Emily’s List. These organizations actively harm the people and the future of humanity through promotion of anti-free-market and anti-limited-government propaganda, and are staffed by lawyers living well by doing good, if good is defined as blocking other people’s projects and regulating some businesses to death while awarding others that support their agenda monopolies and subsidies. Because the core support for the Progressive bulldozer is elite, educated people who work in academia and government jobs, where business is seen as a threat likely to lift the Wrong People up to threaten their comfortably class-ordered existence. The ultimate conservative is the cloistered academic or bureaucrat, who sees danger in the freedom of others to act out of their control, and whose income is secure no matter how slowly the economy grows.

And to connect this to my attachment theory works, I should point out how many of the those so shocked by the election result appear to be substituting belief in progressive government for religion and personal attachments. The failure to get what they want — be it election results or attention from attractive others — makes them angry or despairing, as if they were personally insulted. About 20% of the adult population — and closing on 40% of the unmarried population — is anxious-preoccupied, tending to be insecure in their relationships and demanding reassurance from partners.

Followup post expanding on the crony capitalism-libertarian comment: Followup: Materialism vs Purposeful Life

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. 

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


For more reading goodness:

The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Unrealistic Expectations: Liberal Arts Woman and Amazon Men



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