SJW’s Always Double Down Review

While his enemies would tell you he’s a dilettante Caracalla, who Gibbon dubbed “the common enemy of mankind”, and his proponents would present him as a right-wing polymath, Vox Day is at his best when he sets himself to long form writing, and this week marked the release of his latest book on contemporary politics,  SJW’s Always Double Down.

In the follow-up to the widely praised, SJW’s Always Lie, Vox Day is faced with the same challenges sequels face: how to stay relevant to the original audience without recycling material and treading over the same ground. There’s no need to worry about this problem with this sequel, the subject, social justice warriors, remains constant, but the focus has changed from the personal to the organizational level.

The first book focused on the commonly seen attacks on people coming from howling leftists where someone is suddenly forced to apologize and resign from their position for saying or doing something fairly innocuous. This new book focuses on how organizations become the types of places where these types of attacks become acceptable, tolerated and normal. From a broad perspective, this book is trying to answer the question: “How do institutions become taken over by the left, turned away from their supposed function, and made to spend ever more time and effort enforcing the latest Papal bull from the local Victim’s Studies department?”

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The Impossibility of Unbiased Media

No matter what happens, no matter changes in society, and no matter how people try, no unbiased media outlet will ever exist, and we shouldn’t try to pretend otherwise.

The problem with the concept of an unbiased media is a simple: there’s too much information in the world so it has to be filtered. Every person is going to have a distinct set of filters, so the filter applied by an ideal journalist will differ from the filter of any member of their audience.

The ideal journalist must look at a story and determine what facts to investigate to understand it. The ideal journalist must decide which lines of inquiry are potentially relevant and how much effort it will take obtain them. The ideal journalist must also consider the time and monetary restraints they face as a part of their job.

Once the ideal journalist has assembled the potentially relevant facts, the ideal journalist must then determine which of the facts are relevant facts before synthesizing them into a report.

There are two distinct layers at which the ideal journalist must act as a filter: determining which facts to procure and determining which facts to pass on to their audience.

The fact of the matter is that those filters, which are absolutely required for the ideal journalist to do their job, are necessarily biased. Prioritizing valuable information over non-valuable information is an inherently biased action. The way in which the ideal journalist assigns value to information is their bias.

The other important thing to recognize here, is that there is no one-true way of prioritizing information. Even though it should go without saying I feel the need to add that not all information prioritization schemes are equally good either. A good information prioritization is, ideally, aimed at the truth. Scott Adams would point out that a human’s information prioritization filter is geared towards self-preservation. With all our human foillables of not being able to create ideal information prioritization filters and having filters which aren’t necessarily tuned in the direction of the truth, we cannot assume that any particular information filter possessed by a person is the correct one.

With all that said, an ideal journalist, who endeavors to seek and report the truth of the matter without favor towards any of the parties involved, simply cannot accomplish their goal. The ideal journalist is beset with imperfect means of valuing information in both the gathering and reporting phases.

Another, similar problem which prevents unbiased journalism is the process of story selection. Much like the ideal jorinalist, the ideal editor must consider all possible stories and decide which are worth the effort to investigate and publish. The ideal editor is faced with an even more subjective task than the ideal journalist: determining which stories deserve his team’s limited attention and prioritizing them within the publication. Which stories deserve attention is simply not something that can be accomplished without imposing bias. The ideal editor might bias themselves towards the majority, or their readership, but that is a bias nevertheless.

One might suggest the solution to the problem of journalists with imperfect information filters is to get a pool of journalists with lots of different information filters and hope they balance each other out over time. That’s been done, but it doesn’t eliminate bias from stories, nor does it negate the influence of editors. It does not go near the weight applied by the people hiring the journalists and editors in the first place, who have their own set of impossible problems to deal with.

An unbiased media or media organzation is simply impossible. Many people would like to think otherwise because a truly unbiased institution would be indisputable because it, tautologically, only delivered truth. That’s why this fiction of an unbiased media needs to be buried, even if the media were full of people relentlessly seeking the journalistic ideal, it would still suffer from bias.

Harvard Classics, Volume 16: Stories from One-Thousand and One Nights

One of the nice things about a long, relaxing vacation is the chance to read books quickly. This helps the intricacies of the story stay organized in my mind and makes it easier to see the major themes of the work in question.

Arabian Nights or The One-Thousand and One Nights is the most important work of literature to come out of the Islamic world. Drawing on Arab and Persian sources, this collection of stories is an important source for understanding the culture and world of the Islamic Golden Age.

This particular collection included in the Harvard Classics is both abridged and taken from an early English translation. Each volume of the Harvard Classics is limited to 450 pages, so oftentimes, longer works are abridged, as I always try to mention.

In the case of the One Thousand and One Nights, we are treated to the introduction to the overarching narrative along with 6 distinct stories plus Aladdin and Ali Baba as later additions. The stories escalate in their strangeness and wonder as the nights progress.

For those who are unaware, the overarching plotline is the story of a King, who, along with his brother, discover their households are full of sin and their wives and harems are totally unfaithful the moment the Kings leave their respective castles. As a result, one of the brothers decides to start marrying brides and killing them in the morning, so that they can never commit adultery against him. Needless to say, the pool of available brides in the Kingdom quickly disappears until finally the only eligible maids left in the kingdom are the daughters of the Grand Vizir. The elder daughter marries the King and proceeds to tell him stories at night, and each of the successive thousand nights, in order to keep herself alive.

The bulk of the text is twisting interlaced narrative as we receive stories within stories within stories to ensure that the King finishes stories infrequently. We’re treated to instances where a barber tells the stories of all six of his brothers and the increasingly odd ways they became dependent on him. As time goes on, the stories become more adventurous, wonderous and heroic.

An example of these later stories are the seven voyages of Sinbad the Sailor, in which an elderly Sindbad recounts his seven voyages, which each time lead to successively worse disasters. Sinbad luckily recovers from these and is able to retire as a rich man in luxury. Sinbad journeys out the Persian Gulf and down the coasts of India and Africa encountering strange kingdoms, strange animals and strange people.

These later stories, which are much less convoluted but much more interesting become highly entertaining and start to become reminiscent of sword and sorcery stories, “The City of Brass” in particular reminding me of the Conan adventures, where Emir Musa is sent on a mission by Caliph Abd Al-Malik to find the genies imprisoned by King Solomon.

The best story in the collection, although not a part of the original nights, is “Aladdin and his Magical Lamp”. The story covers Aladdin’s ascent from a lazy ne’er-do-well into a heroic figure. The story is pretty close to the Disney movie, but ultimately different enough to still be something new to a contemporary reader.

The next volume continues the trend of fables and stories with three collections of European tales: Aesop’s Fables, The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. I am looking forward to these stories with particular interest. Looking farther forward, English theater and Goethe comprise the volumes following folklore.

Harvard Classics, Volume 15: Pilgrim’s Progress, Lives of Donne & Herbert

This volume of the Harvard Classics was dedicated to 17th century English religious writing. This is a period of great importance for British religious life, as a major axis in the conflicts that broke out in the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution were the religious friction between the Puritans, Anglicans, Catholics and Presbyterians.

Starting with the second author in this volume, Izaak Walton wrote short biographies of spiritual leaders and poets John Donne and George Herbert. These two men crossed paths in their own lives and were influential on the development of the Anglican Church coming in the century following the beginning of the English Reformation. Their life stories as presented by Walton are somewhat like Plutarch’s Lives in terms of length and pace. The main difference is the actual events of their lives were somewhat less exciting than the grand brushstrokes of history. Their lives are interesting as a window into the times, but overall I found myself wondering why they were included in the Harvard Classics. My main thought is they were progenitors of the theological movement that was still playing out in New England seminaries, like Harvard, at the time the Classics were assembled.

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Harvard Classics, Volume 14: Don Quixote

As the Harvard Classics transitions from the ancient to the merely old, Don Quixote stands out as a work of fiction that occupies a similar place as the Canterbury Tales, laying the foundations for modern fiction while being something quite different from it.

The first parts of Don Quixote are the most modern and the most famous. The ’tilting at windmills’ scene happens in the first bit of the book. The story of Don Quixote and his two knightly journeys spans the whole of the book, but an approximatly equal portion of the pages are dedicated to the stories of people they meet along the way.

The main purpose of the work is to satirize Spainish society in its various aspects. Don Quixote, most obviously, is a satire of the still-stereotypical medieval knight, going on adventures and protecting the innocent. That Don Quixote can only find adventure through his own imagination and that his chivalrous pretnesions immediately clash with everyone around him is the main focus of the story. One can’t help but place this in the cultural context of the era, in which Spain was 100 years removed from the end of the 800-year-long Reconquista. The clash of civilizations, the warring kingdoms and emirates and the general uncertainty that made the medieval knight the stuff of legends was over, and had been replaced with the Hapsburgs.

The other stories paint tales of the lives of Don Quixote’s contemporaries, including the upper class, city dwellers, goatherds, and slaves. Each story speaks to the humanity of people at all levels of society. Ironically, the lowest person has had the farthest flung and most daring adventure, participating in naval battles, visiting exotic places and escaping home.

As a part of any worthwhile discussion of a translated work, I should mention that I read the original English translation, only several years after the book was written. I’m not quite sure whether the old style of writing was balanced by the benefit of a contemporary translation. I think a more modern translation would have been more enjoyable to read, because Don Quixote is supposed to be a book where the story delivers the message, and not the minute qualities of each line.

Up next are some English novels that come a bit after Don Quixote: The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Life of Donne, and The Life of Herbert. Following these are Arabian Nights and the triumvirate of Western fabluists: Aesop, The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson.

Three YouTubers Who Embody The Values That Need To Make A Comeback

YouTube, despite its controversies over demonitization and censorship, is home to numerous people posting videos regularly about relatively mundane topics that don’t stray into politics and are free from controversy. For anyone with enough savvy to find interesting content, YouTube can entirely replace television outside the world of scripted drama.

While most professional-quality YouTubers represent the worst of modern society, I want to highlight three that I enjoy and that I believe highlight principles that need to make a comeback.

I’ve written before about David the Good, an extreme composter, gardener and homesteader who lives with his wife and children in the tropics. David’s channel combines humor, useful advice, and interesting knowledge. That’s enough to recommend the channel, but it is not what I want to praise the channel for right now.

David the Good and his channel focus primarily on his homestead and what he is growing there. His viewers get to witness the hard work and patience that it takes to make food and other goods for oneself. We don’t just see the reward at the end, we see the steps that go into it and we have to wait along with David to see how things turn out. That’s what I want to praise David for: showing people the value of hard work, persistence and patience.

One example that comes to mind was the saga with David and the chickens, which I’ll summarize here and link to a few of the videos that focus on them. One day David bought some chickens intending to produce his own free range eggs and poultry. This first required rehabilitating an old coop for the chickens to live in. Then, the chickens didn’t like living in it, and preferred perching in trees. As time went on, the hens didn’t lay eggs in the coop, which meant David and his family had to go looking for where they were. These led to David changing his management of the chickens and how they lived.

Eventually, David got some turkey eggs and some chicken eggs and he managed to get the hens to lay on them. A few weeks later, the chicken eggs hatched, but the turkey eggs never did. We got to see the chicks roam around the coop very cutely, only for them to get eaten by rats getting into the coop soon thereafter. Eventually, David sold off his chickens and ended his attempts at chicken farming for the time being.

The saga of the chickens was, all in all, an unremarkable story, played out over many videos released as they were happening, without a planned coherent narrative. It was a story that unfolded before us over, with the participants unsure of the final result. However unremarkable the story would be as the plot of a scripted drama, novel or “reality” TV show, the chicken saga showed some very real truths about work, patience and perseverance, as well as the fact that sometimes you have to admit failure and move on. Those are virtues I think we need to see more of and the kind of thing that plays out on many simultaneous strands on David’s videos.

The next YouTuber I’d like to talk about is a channel I’ve only just found but I am readily enjoying. The channel “Forgotten Weapons” follows around an expert in antique weapons as he teaches about, reviews and fires, a wide range of weaponry. The channel is extremely prolific and is both entertaining and informative.

What I’d like to praise about “Forgotten Weapons” is its dedication to expertise and education. On the second point, firearms are something of a mystery to people who aren’t familiar with them. They are capable of great violence very suddenly, and therefore quite intimidating. “Forgotten Weapons”, by carefully reviewing the mechanisms and features of all of these weapons lifts the veil of ignorance that surrounds then. I can’t help but watch the channel and learn more about a field I’m only slightly familiar with.

The dedication to expertise Ian demonstrates in every video on forgotten weapons is a testament to years of learning and continual effort to stay on top of the game. In a society that treats expertise as having a Wikipedia or first page on Google level of understanding, Ian’s deep knowledge shows us what true expertise is and how far apart from the casual observer it is.

The final YouTube channel and personality I’d like to praise is perhaps the one you anticipated when you read the title, “The Report of the Week”. The Report of the Week is the pseudonym of the host, and the name of the channel, which these days is primarily for episodes of “Running on Empty: Food Review”, a series of reviews of fast food dishes.

Colloquially known as “Reviewbrah”, the host stands out with his youth, northeastern accent, slicked hair and classic suits. Reviewbrah carefully and thoughtfully reviews several fast food products a week, focusing on the latest releases.

Besides his dry humor, and calm demeanor, I would like to praise Reviewbrah for his dedication to excellence and merit. When Reviewbrah reviews an item of fast food, he applies a well-honed technique for reviewing. First, he lays out the marketing pitch from the company, the broader context of the menu item, and his expectations. Next, Reviewbrah examines the food, noting it’s appearance and whatever interesting information he can glean before he tries the food. After several bites and a few moments of contemplation, Reviewbrah notes his immediate experience with the food before generalizing his thoughts for a wider audience and specifying what works, what doesn’t, and for marginal items, who will like it and who won’t. He finishes by using his experience to update the broader context he mentioned before and then concludes the review.

I don’t know if Reviewbrah is familiar with Aristotle, Burke or Goethe, but his process of reviewing, even for something as mundane as fast food, is an example for anyone who reviews consumer products and even people who review artistic work. Reviewbrah’s dedication to this level of technique shows a real concern for the search and identification of excellence that just does not rear its head very often among countless blogs, videos and podcasts.

These three channels illustrate principles that I find lacking today, which I believe are necessary for a rebirth of American greatness. Those principles are: achievement takes hard work and time, demonstrated expertise is something to learn from and aspire to, and that excellence is something worth searching for and celebrating. Make sure to check out all three.

Harvard Classics Volume 13: The Aeneid

Virgil’s Aeneid is billed as the great work of Latin literature. Composed during the reign of Augustus, the Aeneid tells the story of refugees from Troy, fleeing the city and led by Aeneas, Trojan prince and son of Venus, and their journey to carve out a new homeland on the banks of the Tiber. This is an incredibly powerful narrative of a people on the verge of destruction battling the elements, their weariness and enemy armies in their quest to make it to their new homeland.

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Harvard Classics Volume 12, Plutarch’s Lives

Plutarch’s Parallel Lives has been a staple of people reading the classics for hundreds of years. For many of the great enlightenment thinkers, it was their first exposure to Greek and Roman history and the works of antiquity. I hardily agree with the special place Plutarch has amongst the ancient histories, as evidenced by the short interval since my post last week on Darwin. Plutarch wrote biographies instead of a history, and this lends itself well to the student of antiquity. Understanding all the swirling events going on in Classical Athens, the Age of Alexander, or the Fall of the Roman Republic is extremely difficult, but following one figure at a time, learning about not just their accomplishments, but also their character, adds a touch of personality to what is often a dull subject. Continue reading “Harvard Classics Volume 12, Plutarch’s Lives”

Harvard Classics Volume 11: The Origin of Species

The inclusion of The Origin of Species in a collection like the Harvard Classics is an interesting one. The book was only about 50 years old at the time the collection was put together, and it is one of the most recent things in the whole of the classics. The passage of a century has vidicated its inclusion in the series.

Darwin wrote The Origin of Species as the culmination of decades of work. The theory of natural selection was so radical, and lacking in support from other theories around it, that the work had to be done in the finest of scientific fashions. I note the significance of theories that come later, because knowledge of plate tectonics and genetics would have made Darwin’s job much easier.

The work, as Darwin states, is one long argument. He first lays out the case that domesticated animals very clearly evolve due to the selection of humans. Then, Darwin discusses that the lines between species and varieties within a genus aren’t very well defined, so its not appropriate to think of a species as an immutable definition that doesn’t change based on circumstances. With these two premises asserted, he makes his main argument: that when animals are in a Malthusian state, natural selection will tend to adapt, evolve and create species.

The rest of the work focuses on Darwin’s counter arguments to criticism. Rather than spend the whole book discussing cases where natural selection fits nicely with available evidence, most of the book is spent looking at edge cases where evolution has a more difficult time. A well known instance of this criticism is the eye, and Darwin spends significant time looking at how an eye could have evolved through small, beneficial steps.

Darwin, as I mentioned before, is hindered by the contemporary knowledge of geology and biology. For instance, without plate tectonics, evolution has difficulty explaining how similar dinosaurs show up in America and Europe when the same present-day animals aren’t native to America and Europe. Darwin spends many pages discussing drifting and migration when present day geology answers the question easily.

The Origin of Species ultimately falls into a similar category as The Wealth of Nations. It is a victim of its own success and the revolutionary aspect of the work is lost a bit because the conclusions are so widely accepted today. The interesting parts of both of these works, for the modern reader, is in the meticulous research and examples provided, rather than the revolutionary hypotheses being presented.

With Darwin finished, the Harvard Classics is going to start moving into a long section of narrative works, a welcome change from the majority of volumes so far. The next volume is a selection of Plutarch’s Lives, perhaps my favorite ancient work, and I will be reading the Aeneid for the first time after that.

Harvard Classics Volume 10: The Wealth of Nations

The foundational tome in economics, The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith proved to be a worthwhile and interesting read for reasons the author didn’t intend. I’m going to get the one big complaint about this book right out of the way, if you’ve taken a course or even just an interest in economics, you have gotten the core message from The Wealth of Nations. In that sense, the book is a victim of its own success. Its ideas are embedded into discourse to this day, and the people who talk about economics in any serious way are familiar with his major points. To that extent, The Wealth of Nations is a book that would be extremely influential to a student in a great books program learning economics for the first time. It clearly states its ideas, and it gives mountains and mountains of evidence. There is so much in The Wealth of Nations, that the Harvard Classics uses an abridged version which cuts out much of the those mountains of evidence.
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