Jun 30

Why Diplomacy Is Doomed

(Fourth essay of a series.)

In Mirror, Mirror: Why Americans Don’t Understand the Threat of Jihadism, What al-Qaeda Wants and The Mirage of Moderate Islam, I have described Islam as a warlike and bloody religion subject to periodic fits of violent fundamentalist revival. I have analyzed the roots of Islamic terror in the Koranic duty of jihad, and elucidated Osama bin Laden’s goal as nothing less than the destruction of the West and the establishment of a global Islamic theocracy. I have analyzed the reason Americans have trouble comprehending the scope of the threat. Now I’ll explain why diplomacy is not a path toards a solution.

The Western tradition of diplomacy, which originated from the “balance of power” model for coexisting nation-states in Renaissance Europe, stigmatizes the use of arms as an admission of failure and elevates good-faith negotiation as a virtue of the strong. Westerners think of a plurality of nation-states with conflicting interests as the natural and right way of the world, and Western diplomacy is themed around compromise as a way of allowing the members of that plurality to continue in more or less peaceful coexistence.

Arab cultures (and the Arabized cultures of the rest of the Islamic world) are very different. The Western idea of a plurality of nation-states is considered iniquitous, a sign that men have turned away from Allah. Islam promotes a world united under a single Caliph with absolute authority in both secular and religious matters.

Further, Arabs respect strength in war. Several features of the Islamic worldview — including fatalism and the belief that Allah guides the arm of conquerors — reinforce this. Extending an olive branch or seeking compromise, on the other hand, is read as a sign of weakness, inviting more pressure and more attacks.

Applying the assumptions of Western diplomacy to Islamic-world conflicts, therefore, tends to have perverse results. The utter failure of diplomacy in the Israeli/Palestinan conflict is a perfect example. Yasser Arafat and his followers interpreted every Israeli compromise not as a sign of virtue requiring a reciprocal response, but as a sign that that their terror campaign was working. As the Israelis conceded more and more legitimacy to Palestinian political objectives, the terror
actually intensified in pitch.

The U.S.’s refusal to negotiate with the Taliban for anything less than the unconditional surrender of Osama bin Laden, by contrast, seemed harsh to apostles of the Western diplomatic tradition but was exactly correct in terms of Islamic psychology. Backing a clear, hard-line position with the threat of force actually gave the U.S. a moral advantage it had lacked when our policy was seen as weak and vacillating. The expected furor of the “Arab street” never materialized.

Diplomacy or negotiation are in any case of very limited use in curbing state terrorism and no use in curbing non-state terrorism. For the forseeable future, the U.S.’s capability to project military power into Third World terrorist havens will be so much greater than that of other members of any imaginable coalition of allies that having a military alliance at all will be almost pointless. Diplomacy need therefore be aimed only at preventing military opposition by nearby nation-states.

Third parties who urge `diplomatic’ solutions to problems like Iraqi, Iranian, and Saudi Arabian sponsorship of al-Qaeda should be ignored. In the Islamic cultural context, force and the threat of force stand some chance of obtaining useful results. Talk does not.

(To be continued…)

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Jun 23

Mirror, Mirror — why Americans Don’t Understand the Threat of Jihadism

(Third in a series.)

In What
al-Qaeda Wants
and the first essay in this series, The
Mirage of Moderate Islam
, I have described Islam as a warlike and
bloody religion subject to periodic fits of violent fundamentalist
revival. I have analyzed the roots of Islamic terror in the Koranic
duty of jihad, and elucidated Osama bin Laden’s goal as nothing less
than the destruction of the West and the establishment of a global
Islamic theocracy.

I have further explained why it is difficult for anyone living
within the Islamic worldview to reject or argue against these goals.
Jihadism — the belief that Muslims have not merely the right
but the duty to smite the infidel and propagate the Faith by
force — proceeds direct from the Koran and is accepted as a core
religious duty by almost all Muslims.

These are simple truths, readily discernable from reading the words
of the Koran, the study of even an outline of Islamic history, and the
propaganda of Osama bin Laden himself. Yet they are truths that
almost no one in the West is speaking in public, in plain language.
In this essay, I will examine the reasons Americans are not yet
ideologically prepared to fight the war against terror as it must be
fought if we are to win.

First, the U.S. government is telling a Big Lie for diplomatic
reasons. It is trying to sell the idea that Islam is a `religion of
peace’, with al-Qaeda representing only a small fringe of extremists.
Part of this is in order not to be seen attacking the religion of our
Arab allies in the Middle East.

But domestic politics is an even more important motive for this Big
Lie. U.S. policymakers in the know may well fear that if they
described the relationship between terrorism and Islamic doctrine
accurately, the current broad consensus on war policy might collapse
under a hailstorm of accusations of bigotry, prejudice, and
intolerance by the bien pensants who run the national media
and academe. In a political climate where directing extra scrutiny at
young male Middle Eastern air travellers is attacked as unacceptable
`racial profiling’, this fear would be well-grounded.

Second, the academy has failed us. Americans are almost
universally ignorant of Islamic doctrine and history. Most of the few
who have some knowledge of the area cannot connect that knowledge to
current events. The Islamic-studies and Middle Eastern history
establishment completely, utterly failed to anticipate al-Qaeda’s
revival of jihadism, ignored or rationalized the decade of
anti-American terrorist acts that led up to 9/11, and is presently
incapable of supplying any significant analytical help to defeating
the terrorists.

The exact anatomy of this failure is well described in Martin
Kramer’s Ivory Towers On
Sand
. One background problem was a Marxist-influenced tendency to
see political change as all-important and dismiss religious fervor as
a spent force. Another was a reluctance to confront or discuss the
continuing phenomenon of terrorism at all except through the lens of
`post-colonial theory’ that excused it as a legitimate tactic of the
Palestinian or anti-imperialist struggle. Yet a third was the
postmodern belief that objective truth is impossible. In effect, the
Marxist/multiculturalist/postmodernist preoccupations of the
Islamic-studies establishment rendered it incapable of seeing,
thinking, or passing judgment. Confronted by the smoking hole where
the World Trade Center used to be and Osama bin-Laden’s gloating
videos, the academics had no way of connecting their theoretical
abstractions to the brutal facts and nothing to say. Nine months
later, they still doesn’t.

Americans outside of universities have few grounds for smugness,
however. While most of the rest of us have not had our critical
faculties rotted out by Marxism, multiculturalism and postmodernism in
their explicit forms, a lower-grade version of the same infections has
done much to damage our capacity to understand the threat of jihadism.

Americans have always had the odd parochial habit of assuming that,
down deep underneath, everyone is basically like us — sharing
our historically peculiar mix of pragmatism and idealism; valuing
honesty and fair dealing; tolerant, materialistic, freedom-loving,
open-minded, tempting to value comfort and success over ideology. We
reflexively believe that everyone can be reasoned with essentially in
our own terms. Most Americans don’t understand fanaticism and violent
evil. We have a tendency to be `fair’ by assuming that in any dispute
there must be some right and some wrong on both sides. It’s telling
that we use `extreme’ as a political pejorative.

Since at least the end of World War II, this parochialism has
become so acute that it has almost blinded us to serious threats.
While more of the left-liberals who shilled for the Soviets and Mao
Zedong and Ho Chi Minh and Pol Pot during the Cold War were closet
Communists than is yet publicly admitted, a good many were honest
dupes who simply couldn’t believe that Communists were actually
motivated by the sinister craziness of hard Marxism, and therefore
assumed that America must somehow be at fault. Conservatives
apologizing for unsavory pro-American strongmen mostly weren’t closet
fascists, either; a good many of them had obvious trouble seeing
caudillos as more than cigar-chomping CEOs running a particularly
tough business, and never mind the gold braid and funny hats.

The see-no-evil tendency in American folk psychology created
fertile ground for the rather less benign dogmas of multiculturalism
(“all cultures present ways of living that are equally morally valid”)
and postmodernism (“there is no objective truth”). Originally
constructed by Marxists (and one ex-Fascist) as part of a program to
ideologically disarm the West against the radical evil of Communism,
these dogmas have both outlived their original ends and seeped into
American pop culture. Their effect is that many of us can no longer
bring ourselves to think of any political movement, religion, or
culture as radically evil unless it is safely part of history (and,
for political correctness, was run by dead white European males when
it was alive and kicking).

This was a relatively harmless form of self-delusion between 1992
and 2001, the decade of self-indulgence bracketed by the fall of the
Soviet Empire and 9/11. No longer. We are at war. Western
civilization is under attack by a foe that revels in the wholesale
slaughter of civilians, one that proudly announces its intention to
bring a second Holocaust of fire and blood down upon us all.

If our civilization is to survive, we will need to recover the
moral judgment needed to recognize radical evil, the language in which
to condemn it, and the determination to act.

In a perverse way, al-Qaeda has made this easy. They have murdered
thousands in a single attack on one of our heart cities, they have
attempted to unleash biological weapons on us, and have actively
planned to detonate nuclear/radiological weapons in our population
centers. Those who cannot recognize even this as radical evil
— those who persist in arguing that the 9/11 attack was somehow
justified by something United Fruit did in Guatemala or the Israelis
did in Lebanon — are rapidly dealing themselves out of the game
of deciding how we shall respond.

Having recognized al-Qaeda’s behavior as radically evil, we must
next recognize that its motivating ideology is evil, too. And the
first step there is recognizing that Islam’s apologists are

systematically lying to us
about what they believe and intend.
Outside of a few fringe groups like the Dauri
Bohras
and a tiny minority of intellectual reformers who generally
dare not speak their ideas in their own home countries, there is
simply no constituency in Islam prepared to recognize Western concepts
of peace, tolerance, and pluralism.

We will not be prepared to win the war against Islamic terror until
we understand the following things:

  • Islam is a religion of war and conversion by the sword, not peace.
  • The primary threat of terrorism comes from Arabs and
    middle-easterners between the ages of fifteen and forty, and we must summon
    the will to profile accordingly.
  • We are dealing with religious fanaticism rather than rational grievances
    against America or the West.
  • Our enemies cannot be reasoned with or appeased anywhere
    short of surrender and submission to shari’a law.
  • Apologists for mainstream Islam are systematically
    lying to us about Islamic doctrine in order to shield terrorists who
    they know are acting in strict accordance with that doctrine.

The hardest challenge for Americans is to grasp is the fact that
the evil of the 9/11 hijackings, the destruction of the World Trade
Center, and the threat of al-Qaeda weapons of mass destruction set off
in American cities is not simply the evil of al-Qaeda. It is in fact
the Koranically-correct expression of the tendency of Islam (Sunni
fundamentalism) which is has been pre-eminent through most of Islamic
history and now encompasses over 90% of the worlds Muslims.

We need to face the fact that we are confronting not just a
barbaric and evil group of men, but a barbaric and evil religion. To
protect ourselves, we must either force the complete reform of Islam
(purging it of jihadism and its tendency towards periodic
fundamentalist outbreaks) or destroy its hold over its followers.

This is a problem for Americans; first, because we have been taught
that we that we must not be intolerant of other peoples’ religions;
and second, because fully grasping the nature of the danger Islamic
poses to Western civilization requires thinking uncomfortable
thoughts about the dominant Christian religion of our own culture.

The reader is at this point invited to learn more about the

developing alliance
between Islamic and Christian fundamentalisms.
Then, to learn all about Kissing Hank’s Ass.
Before 9/11, “Kissing Hank’s Ass” was an edgy joke. Today it
demonstrates why ending the threat of religiously-motivated terror will
require us to confront and destroy the fundamentalist/jihadist impulse
not merely in Islam, but also in Christianity and all other
eschatological monotheisms where it finds a natural home.

Christianity, like Islam (and unlike almost all of the other
religions of the world) has violent intolerance of other religions and
the impulse to conversion by the sword wired into its doctrinal DNA.
Most Americans have trouble believing the Koran means what it says
about the duty of jihad because for most Christians, the parallel
Christian duty to smite the infidel is a historical dead letter. But
counterparts of al-Qaeda such as the Christian
Identity Movement
exist in the West, imbued with all of
al-Qaeda’s rage. Christian fundamentalists express the same
hatred of modernity and determination to jam the world back into
a medieval mold that motivates Osama bin Laden.

To win the war on terror, we must understand jihadism and clearly
distinguish it from ethical self-defense. We must be prepared not
merely to counter fanaticism not merely by killing the fanatical in
self-defense, but also by discrediting the doctrines and habits of
thought that make fanatics in the first place — whether they occur in
the other guy’s religion or our own. Islam has declared itself the
immediate adversary of modernity — but more than one world religion
will have to go under the knife before our children can sleep in
peace.

(To be continued…)

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Jun 20

What Al-Qaeda wants

(Second in a series.)

In a The
Mirage of Moderate Islam
, I have described the Koranic roots of
Islamic fanaticism, and observed that Osama bin Laden’s terror war on
the west is part of a recurring pattern of fundamentalist revival
associated with jihad in Islamic history.

In this essay, I’ll get more specific about what Osama bin Laden is
really after. In the process, it will become clear why Arab-world
governments are so frightened of him.

The first thing to understand is that Osama bin Laden is neither
crazy nor stupid. He is a very intelligent, educated, visionary man
who is operating from deep within the Islamic worldview. He’s trying
to do on a global scale what the Ayatollah Khomeini did in Iran in
1979; he’s bucking for the job of Caliph of Islam (“Khalifa” in
Arabic).

The position of Khalifa
has been vacant since the last Padishah Emperor of the Ottoman Empire
was deposed in 1924, when the British and French broke up the Empire
after it picked the wrong side in World War One. Before that, the
Caliph was in theory both the supreme temporal and spiritual ruler
of the Islamic world.

I say “in theory” because the Caliph’s actual authority varied
considerably. In the early centuries of Islam, during the initial
expansionary phase of the Empire, it was absolute — in European
terms, as though Charlemagne or Napoleon were also the Pope. It
tended to decrease over time as the increasing size of the Islamic
empire led to political fragmentation. Independent emirs swore
nominal fealty to the Caliph and accepted his symbolic authority
in religious matters, while otherwise behaving as sovereigns. An
able Caliph backed by strong armies could buck this disintegrative
trend and make the allegiance of the emirs more than nominal. Eventually
emperors of the Ottoman Turks collected this title, and gathered most
of the Islamic world under their sway. But the Ottoman Empire had been in
decline for four centuries by 1924, and the title of Caliph had
become almost meaningless.

One of the signature traits of Islamic revivalism is nostalgia for
the halcyon days of Islamic expansion, when the Caliph was the
undisputed Arm of Allah and there was plenty of plunder and rapine
to go around as the armies of God smote the infidel and claimed
new lands for the Dar-al-Islam.

Here’s where we cue the ominous theme music. It is part of Islamic
tradition that the title of Khalifa may be attained by conquest if the
incumbent is not fulfilling his duties — or if there is no incumbent.
Under shari’a law and hadith, the umma (the consultative assembly of
the elders of Islam) is required to recognize as Khalifa
anyone who is able to fulfill the duties of the position and
demonstrates the sanction of Allah by mobilizing the Dar-al-Islam in
successful jihad. Jihad, here, is interpreted broadly; a war of
consolidation that united a substantial portion of the Dar-al-Islam
under a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy would do it.

In other words, since 1924 the position of Caliph has been waiting
for a Man on Horseback. Or, for you science-fiction fans out there, a
Muad’Dib. The Ayatollah Khomeini could never quite make this nut;
first, because he was not a plausible warlord, and second because he’s
part of the 10% Shi’a minority branch that disputes the Khalifal
succession. The next Caliph, if there is one, will have to belong to
the 90% Sunni majority.

Osama bin Laden has behaved precisely as though he intends to fill
that role. And in doing so, he has frightened the crap out of the
rulers of the Arab world. Because he’s played his religious and
propaganda cards very well in Islamic terms, barring the detail that
he may well be dead and buried under rubble in an Afghan cave.

On 9/11, bin Laden took jihad to the symbolic heart of the West
more effectively than any Islamic ruler has managed since the Siege of
Vienna was broken in 1683. By doing so he caught Arab rulers
(especially the Saudis) in a neat theo-political trap. They have been
encouraging hatred of Israel and the West, and hyping the jihadist
mythology of fundamentalist Islam, as a way of diverting popular anger
that might otherwise focus on their own corrupt and repressive
regimes. But Bin Laden has trumped and beaten them at this game. He
has acted out the Koranic duty of jihad in a way they never dared —
and in doing so, seized the religious high ground.

The sheikhs and ayatollahs now have a dilemma. If they support
jihadism, they must either start a war against the West they know they
cannot win or cede their own legitimacy to the Caliph-claimant who is
leading the jihad. But if they come out against jihad, bin Laden or
his successor can de-legitimitize them simply by pointing to the
Koran. The possibility that the semi-mythical “Arab street” would
revolt behind local Khomeini-equivalents hot to join al-Qaeda’s jihad is
quite real.

Let the last word go to the mentor of Osama bin Laden, Sheik
Abdullah Azzam: “Jihad must not be abandoned until Allah alone is
worshipped by mankind…Jihad and the rifle alone…no negotiations,
no conferences and no dialogue.” The Palestinians are, as usual,
disposable pawns in a larger game. The objective of al-Qaeda’s game
is to follow the Koranic blueprint to its logical conclusion; global
jihad, a second age of conversion by the sword, the destruction of the
West, and the establishment of a global Islamic theocracy.

Osama bin Laden himself may be dead now. Unfortunately, this
doesn’t necessarily stop the game, because his body hasn’t been found.
The Twelfth Imam of Shi’a disappeared under mysterious circumstances
in 941CE; persons claiming to be him and calling the faithful to jihad
emerged at intervals for a thousand years afterwards, the most recent
one being the Mahdi who led an anti-British revolt in Egypt in 1899.
If the jihadist tendency in Islam is not confronted and destroyed,
Osama bin Laden could haunt the West for a thousand years.

(To be continued…)

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Jun 19

Beating software version fatigue

In his latest
Tech Central Station column, Glenn Reynolds complains
of `version fatigue’, his accumulating angst over the fact that since the
emid-1980s he’s had to migrate through three word processors and several
different versions of Windows.

I can’t fix the sad fact that every new VCR and remote control you get
has a different control layout. But if we’re talking software, baby, I have
got your solution.

I have been using the same text editor since 1982. I have been using the
same command-line shell since 1985, and the same operating system since 1993.
But that last date is actually misleading, because I still get use out of
programs I wrote for the previous dialect of my OS as far back as 1982,
without ever having had to alter a line.

The last time I had to learn a new feature set for any of the tools
I regularly used was when I decided to change window systems in 1997,
and that was not a vendor-forced upgrade. Yes, that’s right; it means
I’ve been getting mileage out of essentially the same user interface
for five straight years. Half a decade.

Does this mean I’m using software tools that were feature-frozen when
dinosaurs walked the earth? No, actually, it doesn’t. The text editor,
which is what I spend my screen time interacting with, has grown tremendously
in capability over the twenty years I’ve been using it. The shell I use
has a lot of convenience features it didn’t in 1985, but I’ve only had
to learn them as I chose.

I don’t have a version-fatigue problem, and never have. I get to
use cutting-edge software tools that probably exceed in capability
anything you are directly familiar with. And I have every confidence,
based on my last twenty years of experience, that my software will both
continue to both offer me the innovative leading edge and remain
feature-stable for the next twenty years if I so choose.

How do I achieve this best of both worlds? One word: Unix.

I’m a Unix guy. You may have heard that I have something to do
with this Linux thing, and Linux is indeed what I use today. But
Linux is only the most recent phase of a continuous engineering
tradition that goes back to 1969. In that world, we don’t have
the kind of disruptive feature churn that forces people to upgrade
to incompatible operating systems every 2.5 years. Our software
lifetimes are measured in decades. And our applications,
like the Emacs text editor I use, frequently outlast the version
of Unix they were born under.

There are a couple of intertwined reasons for this. One is that
we tend to get the technology decisions right the first time — Unix
is, as Niklaus Wirth once said of Algol, “a vast improvement over
most of its successors”. Unix people confronted with Windows for
the first time tend to react with slack-jawed shock that any product
so successful could be such a complete design disaster.

Perhaps more importantly, Unix/Linux people are not stuck with a
business model that requires planned obsolescence in order to generate
revenue. Also, our engineering tradition puts a high value on open
standards. So our software tends to be forward-compatible.

As an example: about a year ago I changed file-system formats from
ext2 to ext3. In the Windows world, I’d have had to back up all my
files, reinstall the OS, restore my files, and then spend a week
hand-fixing bits of my system configuration that weren’t captured in
the backups. Instead, I ran one conversion utility. Once.

Most of the consumer-level problems with computer software —
crashes, bad design, version fatigue due to the perpetual upgrade
treadmill — are not inherent in the technology. They are, rather,
consequences of user-hostile business models. Microsoft, and
companies like them, have no incentive to solve the problems
of crashes, poor security, and version fatigue. They like
the perpetual upgrade treadmill. It’s how they make money.

Want to beat software version fatigue? It’s easy, Glenn. Take
control; dump the closed-source monopolists; get off the treadmill.
OpenOffice will let you keep your MS-Word documents and your Excel
spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. Join the Linux revolution,
and never see a Blue Screen of Death again.

UPDATE: A reader complains that Linux is difficult to install.
Answer: Get thee to the Linux user group near you, who will be more
than happy to help you get liberated. Or get thee to Wal-Mart, which
is now selling cheap machines with Lindows, a Linux variant tuned to
look like Windows, for $299.

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Jun 18

The Mirage of Moderate Islam

Diplomatic lies notwithstanding, Islam is anything but a `religion
of peace’. Any honest scholar will tell you that Islam is a religion
of violence, martyrdom, and conversion by the sword. The duty to wage
war for the propagation of the faith is plainly written in the Koran;
Osama bin Laden’s suicide bombers are part of a tradition that springs
from Islam’s warlike origins and has been re-affirmed in every generations
by ghazis, hashishim, and numerous other varieties of holy warrior.

It is the interiorization of `jihad’ as a struggle for self-mastery
that is revisionist and exceptional, one proposed by only a few
Westernized and progressive Muslims and (one senses) not wholeheartedly
believed even by them. A truer window on the nature of Islam is the way
that it divides the Earth into the Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam)
and the Dar al-Harb — the House of War, the theater of battle to
be waged with zeal until the infidel is crushed and submits to the
Will of God. The very word, islam, means `submission’.

Conspicuous by their absence are any clear denunciations of
bin-Ladenite terror from the members of the ulama, the loose
collective of elders and theologicians that articulates the Islamic
faith. Such internal criticism as we do hear is muted, equivocal,
often excusing the terrorists immediately after half-heartedly
condemning them. Far more common, though seldom reported in Western
media, are pro-jihadi sermons that denounce America as a land of
devils and praise Al-Qaeda’s mass murderers in one breath with
Palestinian suicide bombers as martyrs assured of a place in
heaven.

There has been some play given in the media lately to the notion
that the ideological force behind Islamic terrorism is not Islam per
se but specifically the puritanical
Wahhabi
sect associated with the House of Saud. Some accounts
trace the rise in terrorism to Wahhabi prosyletization in Afghanistan,
Pakistan, and elsewhere. Most versions of this theory have it that
Wahhabism is an unattractive doctrine (by contrast with, say, the Sufi
tradition of the Caucasus or the relaxed syncretic Buddhist-influenced
Islam of Indonesia) but that it wins converts because, with billions
in Saudi oil money behind it, the Wahhabites can afford to field
missionaries and build schools that promulgate the puritan party
line.

The trouble with this theory is that it ignores the history of
Islam and the internal logic of Islamic doctrine. The history of
Islam is a collection of cycles of doctrinal decay followed by
fundamentalist renewal. Believers tend to drift away from strict
Islam, but ever century or two some mad-eyed wanderer will come
screaming out of the desert and haul the faithful back on to the
Narrow Way with a blend of personal charisma, argument and force (the
latter generally administered by some allied warlord who sees political
gain in it).

This drama keeps getting re-enacted because, in general, these
charismatic fundamentalist looney-toons are correct in their
criticism of `soft’ Islam. The Koran, the actions and statements of
the prophet Mohammed, and the witness of the lives of his immediate
followers are pretty clear on what the religious duties of a Muslim
are. Long before the 9/11 attacks, I read large portions of the Koran
(in translation) and more than one history of Islam, because I collect
religions. I learned about the Five Pillars and the hadith (the
traditional sayings of Mohammed) and the ulama.

Moderate Muslims trying to argue against the latest version of
Islamic fundamentalism are in a difficult situation. All the
fundamentalists have to do to support their position is to point at
the Koran, which is much more authoritative in an Islamic context than
the Bible is in most Christian ones. Moderates are reduced to arguing
that the Koran doesn’t really mean what it says, or arguing from
hadith that qualify or contradict the Koranic text. Since the Koran
trumps the hadith, this is generally a losing position.

The grim truth is that Osama bin Laden’s fanatic interpretation
of Islam is Koranically correct. The God of the Koran and Mohammed
truly does demand that idolatry be purged with fire and sword, and
that infidels must be forced either to convert to Islam or (as a
limited exception for Christians and Jews, the “Peoples of the Book”)
live as second-class citizens subject to special taxes and legal
restrictions. The Koran really does endorse suicidal martyrdom and
the indiscriminate killing of infidels for the faith.

(The Koran does not, however, require purdah and the veil; these
are practices the Arab world picked up from Persia after the tenth
century CE. Nor does it require female genital mutilation, which
seems to have been acquired from sub-Saharan Africa.)

For both shallow diplomatic/political reasons and deeper
psychological ones, Westerners have trouble grasping just how
bloody-minded, intolerant, and prone to periodic murderous outbreaks
of fundamentalist zeal Islam actually is. But we must come
to grips with this. If we treat the terror war as a merely
geopolitical conflict, we will be fighting the wrong battle with the
wrong weapons.

It is not merely Al-Qaeda or the Taliban or even Wahhabism we are
fighting, it is a fanatic tendency wired deep into the origins and
doctrine of Islam itself, a tendency of which these movements are
just surface signs. That tendency must be cured or cauterized out.
No lesser victory will do for a world in which means and weapons of mass
destruction grow ever easier for terrorists to acquire.

(To be continued…)

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Jun 16

The Elephant in the Bath-House

Mary Eberstadt’s Weekly Standard article
The Elephant in the Sacristy
shines a strong light on facts that
will discomfit many of the politically correct. I don’t completely
agree with her analysis; as Amy Welborn argues, Ms. Eberstadt is too quick to dismiss the role of the
doctrine of celibacy in creating an ingrown, perfervid, and corrupt sexual
culture among priests, and too easy on the culture of secrecy and denial
within which priestly abuse flourished.

I would go further than Ms. Eberstadt or Ms. Welborn; I think this
scandal is grounded in the essentials of Catholic doctrines about sex,
sin, guilt, and authority. This is not an accidental corruption of
the church, any more than Stalin was an accidental corruption of
Communism. Bad moral ideas have consequences, and those consequences
can be seen most clearly in the human monsters who are both created by
those ideas and exploiters of them. There is a causal chain that
connects loathsome creatures like the “Reverend” Paul Shanley directly
back to the authoritarianism and anti-sexuality of St. Augustine; a
chain well-analyzed by psychologists such as Stanley Milgram and
Wilhelm Reich. I suggest that any religion that makes obedience to
authority a primary virtue and pathologizes sex will produce abuses
like these as surely as rot breeds maggots.

One need not, however, attack the essentials of Catholic doctrine
to agree with Ms. Eberstadt’s main point: that the dominant media
culture seems bent on obscuring a central fact about the pattern of
crimes — which is that they are predominently homosexual abuse by
priests with a history of homosexual activity. Cases of priestly abuse
of females of any age are rare (though at least one horrifying tale of
multiple priests cooperating in the abuse of a teenage girl has
surfaced from California). The overwhelming majority of the cases
involve either pederasty (homosexual acts with post-pubescent boys and
young men) or homosexual pedophilia with pre-pubescent boys as young
as six years old. Yet you would be hard-put to deduce this from most
of the vague accounts in the U.S. media, which traffic in terms that
seem designed to obscure the gender and age of the victims and the
homosexual orientation of almost all the abusers. Why is that?

Apparently, because one of the rules of the U.S.’s dominant media
culture is that Homosexuals Are Not To Be Stigmatized (I think it’s
carved in stone right next to “Environmentalists are Saints” and “Gun
Owners are Redneck Nut-Jobs”). Gay conservative Andrew Sullivan
famously noted this rule in connection with the Jesse Dirkhising
murder
. We are not supposed to think of either Jesse’s murderers
or abusive priests as homosexuals; that might reflect badly on a
journalistically-protected class by associating it with criminal
behavior.

But more than that; the truth the dominant media culture really
doesn’t want to go near is that pederasty has never been a marked or
unusual behavior among homosexuals, and even advocates of outright
pedophilia are not shunned in the homosexual-activist community.

The public spin of gay activist groups like Queer Nation is that
most male homosexual behavior is androphilia, adult-to-adult
sex between people of comparable ages. And indeed, gay historians agree with
anthropologists that in the modern West, androphilia is more common
relative to pederasty and homosexual pedophilia than has been
historically normal. But another way of putting this is that in most
other cultures and times, pederasty and pedophilia have been more
common forms of homosexuality than androphilia.

Pederasty, at least, remains a common behavior among modern
homosexuals. The `twink’ or compliant teenage boy (usually blond,
usually muscled, depicted in the first dewy flush of postpubescence)
is the standard fantasy object of gay porn. By contrast, I learned
from recent
research
that the archetypal fantasy object of straight porn is a
fully-developed (indeed, usually over-developed) woman in her early
twenties. And a couple of different lines of evidence (including
surveys conducted within the gay population by gays) lead to the
conclusion that older homosexuals actually pursue boys quite a bit
more frequently than either older lesbians or older heterosexual men
pursue girls.

Homosexual activists, when challenged on this point, like to retort
that older men nailing barely-nubile teenage girls is far more
common. And in absolute terms it is — but only because there are
twenty-five to a hundred times more straight men than there are gay
men in the world (reliable figures for the incidence of male
homosexuality range between 1% and 4%). Per capita among gays,
pederasty is more frequent than among straights by a factor of
between three and ten, depending on whose statistics you believe —
and the North American Man-Boy Love Association, actively advocating
pederasty and pedophilia, is welcomed at gay-pride events
everywhere.

If the prevalence of homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood is
the elephant in the sacristy, the homosexuality/pederasty/pedophilia
connection in gay culture is the elephant in the bath-house. No
amount of denying it’s there is going to make the beast go away.

But homosexual activists don’t want straights to see the elephant,
and no wonder. One of the most persistent themes to show up in
hostility towards homosexuals is the fear that they will recruit
impressionable boys who might otherwise have grown up straight. Thus
their insistance for straight consumption that homosexuality is an
inborn orientation, not a choice. Thus also their insistance that the
gay life is all about androphilia, none of that pederasty or
pedophilia stuff going on here. And thus, they’d rather not have
anyone thinking about the fact that most priestly abuse is in fact
classically pederastic and pedophilic behavior by men who behave as
homosexuals and identify themselves as gay.

That there is a pattern in the national media of political
correctness and spin on behalf of preferred `victim’ groups isn’t
news, nor is the fact that homosexuals are among those groups. But
get this: Richard Berke, the Washington editor of the New York
Times
recently said “literally three-quarters of the people
deciding what’s on the front page are not-so-closeted homosexuals”.
There you have it in plain English; gays run the “newspaper of
record”. Berke made these comments before a gay advocacy group — not
merely admitting but outright asserting, as a matter of
pride, that the Times engages in gay-friendly spin
control. And it has already been well established by statistical
content studies that the national media tend to follow where they’re
led by the Times and a handful of other prestige
newspapers, all broadly similar in editorial policy.

The expected next step in this sequence would be for me to start
screaming about the evil of it all and demand that Something Be Done.
If I were a conservative, that’s what I’d do. But in fact it’s not
self-evident that this particular disinformation campaign is worth
anybody’s time to be concerned about, except as yet another example of
wearily predictable bias in the dominant media culture. Whether it is
or not depends upon one’s value judgment about consensual pederasty
and pedophilia.

NAMBLA and its sympathizers in the rest of the gay community think
they’re engaged in a worthy campaign for sexual liberation. If they
are right, then the anti-antigay spin on the priestly-abuse scandal is
arguably analogous to what pro-civil-rights sympathizers in the early
1960s might have done if there had been a long string of incidents of
incidents of black men seducing white women, both parties violating
the miscegenation laws still on the books in many states at that
time.

The pro-spin argument would have run like this: interracial sex is
taboo for no good reason, so soft-pedaling the race of the people involved
as much as possible is a justifiable form of suppressio veri
not outright lying but being economical with the truth. Our readers will
be able to deduce the whole truth if they put in even a little effort, but
be needn’t pave the road for them. By doing this, we will avoid inflaming
racial bigotry and advance the worthy cause of civil rights.

For this analogy to hold good, we need two preconditions. First,
we must believe that almost all the pederasty/pedophilia between
priests and boys has been voluntary. Second, we must believe that
consensual pederasty and pedophilia are not, in fact, harmful to the
boys involved. Intellectual honesty (and, I’ll admit, a low delight
on my part in watching prudes and cultural conservatives turn purple
with indignation) demands that we not dismiss this case without
looking at the evidence.

The modern West condemns pederasty and pedophilia. Our cultural
ancestors did not always do so; among the Athenian Greeks consensual
pederastic relationships were praised and thought to be a good deal
for both parties. Pederasty is socially normal in Afghanistan and
other parts of the Islamic world; pederasty and pedophilia are also
un-tabooed in parts of Southeast Asia and in Japan. Where pederasty
and pedophilia are not taboo, the boys who participate in it
frequently grow up to form normal heterosexual relationships and marry.
In fact, it’s the modern West’s hard separation between straights
who never have sex with other males and gays who
never have sex with females that is anthropologically
exceptional.

Of course, the fact that pederasty and pedophilia have been an
approved practice in other cultures does not automatically mean we
should give them a nod. Cannibalism, slavery and infanticide have
been approved practices too. But the anthropological evidence doesn’t
suggest that boys who have voluntary sex with men automatically turn
into traumatized basket cases; indeed some present-day cultures agree
with the ancient Greeks that such liaisons are good for the maturation
of boys. There are real secondary risks, starting with the fact that
anal sex is a much more effective vector of venereal diseases such as
AIDS than is vaginal sex — but given a cultural context that doesn’t
stigmatize the behavior, clear evidence that consensual pederasty and
pedophilia are intrinsically damaging is remarkably hard to find.

Accordingly, NAMBLA may well be right on one level when they argue
that what matters is not so much which tab A gets put into which slot
B, but whether the behavior was coerced or consensual. According to
this argument, the elephant in the bath-house can be lived with —
might even be a friendly beast — if it’s docile-tempered and won’t
give the tusk to unconsenting parties.

Gay men, or at least the sort of university-educated gay men who
wind up determining what’s on the front page of the New York
Times
and spiking stories like the Dirkhising murder, know
these facts. How surprising would it be if they interpreted most
victims’ charges of abuse as a product of retrospective false
consciousness, implanted in them by a homophobic and gay-oppressing
culture? By suppressing the homosexual identification of most of the
accused priests, gays in the media can protect their own sexual and
political interests while believing — perhaps quite sincerely — that
they are quietly aiding the cause of freedom.

The trouble with this comforting lullaby is that, even if NAMBLA is
right, coercion matters a lot. As Ms. Eberstadt
reports, the pederastically and pedophilically abused often become
broken, dysfunctional people. They show up in disproportionate numbers
in drug and alcohol rehab. They have a high rate of involvement in
violent crime. Worse, they end to become abusers themselves,
perpetuating the damage across generations.

Voltaire once said “In nature there are no rewards or punishments,
only consequences”. Gays experimented with unfettered promiscuity in
the 1970s and got AIDS as a consequence. The mores of gay bath-house
culture turned out to be broken in the way that ultimately matters; a
lot of people died horribly as a result of them.

It may turn out that the consequences of sympathizing with NAMBLA
are almost equally ugly. If a climate of `enlightened’ tolerance for
consensual pederasty and pedophilia tends to increase the rate at
which boys are abused, that is a very serious consequence for which gay
liberationists will not (and should not) soon be forgiven.
The homosexual gatekeepers at the Times may be making
themselves accessories before and after the fact to some truly hideous
crimes.

And this is where we come back to the priestly-abuse scandal.
Because a theme that keeps recurring in
histories
of the worst abusers is that they were trained in
seminaries that were run by homosexual men and saturated with
gay-liberationist subculture. Reading accounts of students at one
notorious California seminary making a Friday-night ritual of cruising
gay bars, it becomes hard not to wonder if gay culture itself has not
been an important enabler of priestly abuse.

Now it’s time to abandon the catch-all term abuse and speak plainly
the name of the crime: sexual coercion and rape. It is very clear
that pederasts and pedophiles in the priesthood have routinely used
their authority over Catholic boys not merely to seduce them, but to
coerce and rape them. In a few cases the rape has been overt and
physical, but in most cases it has been a subtler and arguably more
damaging rape of the victim’s mind and self.

The single most revolting image I have carried away from the
priestly-abuse scandal is victims’ accounts of priests solemnly
blessing them after sex. That is using the child’s religious feelings
and respect for authority to make him complicit in the abuse. If I
believed in hell, I would wish for the priests who perpetrated this
kind of soul-rape to fry in it for eternity.

And we must call it rape; do otherwise is to suppose that
most of the thousands of known victims wanted to be sodomized. Even
if we discard the victims’ and witnesses’ reports, this is highly
unlikely; there were simply too many victims. Some priests had sex
with hundreds of boys, far too many to fit into the 1-4%
cohort of homosexual orientation in the population they had access to.
And we are not entitled to dismiss the victims’ protests in any case,
not given the corollary evidence that the trauma of abuse reverberated
through the victims’ lives, continuing to damage them years and
decades afterwards. Comforting gay-lib delusions about false
consciousness won’t wash here.

Continuing our civil-rights analogy, the correct parallel would
have been with an epidemic of interracial rape, rather than
cohabitation. Had there in fact been such an epidemic, civil-rights
proponents would have faced the question of whether black men had a
particular propensity to rape white women. The analogous question,
whether homosexual men have a particular propensity to rape boys, is
precisely the one that homosexuals and their sympathizers in the media
don’t want anyone to examine — and precisely the question that the
priestly-abuse scandal demands that we ask.

It’s easy to sympathize with gay activists’ fears that opening this
question will expose them to a firestorm of prejudice from people
who will prejudge the answer out of anti-gay bigotry. But the
pattern of homosexual abuse by the Catholic priesthood has been so
egregious and so longstanding that we need to understand the relative
weight of all the causes that produced it — whether those
causes are specific to Catholicism or more general.

Are gay men biologically or psychologically prone to rape boys at a
level that makes a gay man even without a known history of abuse into
a bad risk around boys? Does queer culture encourage a tendency to
rape in gay men who are put in authority over boys?

Here is where the question becomes practical: were the Boy Scouts
of America so wrong to ban homosexual scoutmasters? And here we are
with a crashing thud back in the realm of present politics. After the
numbing, horrifying, seemingly never-ending stream of foul crimes
revealed in the scandal, even staunch sexual libertarians like your
humble author can no longer honestly dismiss this question simply
because it’s being raised by unpleasant conservatives.

The priestly-abuse scandal forces us to face reality. To the
extent that pederasty, pedophilic impulses, and twink fantasies are
normal among homosexual men, putting one in charge of adolescent boys
may after all be just as bad an idea as waltzing a man with a known
predisposition for alcoholism into a room full of booze. One wouldn’t
have to think homosexuality is evil or a disease to make institutional
rules against this, merely notice that it creates temptations best
avoided for everyone’s sake.

Blogspot comments

Jun 13

Bad porn reprise

Many people wrote me with comments on my essay
Why Does Porn Got To Hurt So Bad?. For all of those who
sent praise, thank you. It’s actually nice to know there are so many
people who would like to reject the bad-porn aesthetic. For all
of those who refrained from calling down fire and brimstone on me for messing with smut, also thank you. I’d have ignored you,
but thank you anyway.

I got two responses I thought were particularly interesting.
One was from a gentleman who works as a pornographer. He
opined that I overestimated the porn industry by supposing that
bad porn reflected market demand. The real problem (he claims)
is that it’s hard to find women who simultaneously don’t look
hard and jaded yet are willing to bare all for the camera. Most
outfits, he said, don’t even try. They settle for the fake-pearl-and-synthoboob look out of laziness, knowing it’s crap
but will sell well enough.

This doesn’t explain to me why, if Veronika Zemanova can look like a girl one might willingly take to bed in one picture and an unnatural womanoid-thing in another, they don’t try to photograph
women like her in the more natural mode more often. But perhaps
this one was just a trick of the light.

Another respondent proposes the interesting theory that the
girls are dressed (or rather undressed) to look inaccessible
because if they weren’t, there might be an epidemic of stalking
as various creeps and wackos tried to get next to them.

It would be touching to believe the porn industry cares that
much about its performers, but I’m skeptical.

Finally, I got mail from
“German Lucy”
, who said she was honored to appear in my
essay and quite enjoyed it. Rather to my astonishment, her email style
suggests that she really is “as sweet-natured and unjaded as she
looks”. She answered my questions plausibly and thoughtfully and didn’t even pitch me to sign up for her site.

Holy Diogenes, Batman! I think I might have found the
one honest porn star…

Jun 10

After reading too much political news

Top Ten Reasons I’m Not A (Left-)Liberal:

  1. Gun control. Liberals are completely wrong about this. A fair number
    of them know better, too, but they sponsor lies about it as a form of class
    warfare against conservative-leaning gun owners.
  2. Nuclear power. They’re wrong about this, too, and the cost in
    both dollars and human deaths by pollution and other fossil-fuel
    side-effects has been enormous.
  3. Affirmative action. These programs couldn’t be a more diabolical or
    effective plan for plan for entrenching racial prejudice if the Aryan
    Nations had designed them.
  4. Abortion: The liberals’ looney-toon feminist need to believe that
    a fetus one second before birth is a parasitic lump of tissue with no
    rights, but a fetus one second afterwards is a full human, has done
    half the job of making a reasoned debate on abortion
    nigh-impossible.
  5. Communism. I haven’t forgiven the Left for sucking up to the monstrous
    evil that was the Soviet Union. And I never will.
  6. Socialism. Liberals have never met a tax, a government
    intervention, or a forcible redistribution of wealth they didn’t like.
    Their economic program is Communism without the guts to admit it.
  7. Junk science. No medicical study is too bogus and no environmental
    scare too fraudalent for liberals. If it rationalizes bashing
    capitalism or slathering on another layer of regulatory bureaucracy,
    they’ll take it.
  8. Defining deviancy down. Liberals are in such a desperate rush to
    embrace the `victimized by society’ and speak the language of
    compassion that they’ve forgotten how to condemn harmful,
    self-destructive and other-destructive behavior.
  9. William Jefferson Clinton. Sociopathic liar, perjurer, sexual predator.
    There was nothing but a sucking narcissistic vacuum where his principles
    should have been. Liberals worship him.
  10. Liberals, by and large, are fools.

Top Ten Reasons I’m Not A Conservative:

  1. Pornography. The complete absence of evidence that exposure to
    sexually-explicit material is harmful to children or anyone else doesn’t
    stop conservatives from advocating massive censorship.
  2. Drugs. We found out that Prohibition was a bad idea back in the
    1930s — all it did was create a huge and virulent criminal class, erode
    respect for the law, and corrupt our politics. Some people never learn.
  3. Creationism. I don’t know who I find more revolting, the drooling
    morons who actally believe creationism or the intelligent panderers
    who know better but provide them with political cover for their
    religious-fundamentalist agenda in return for votes.
  4. Abortion. The conservatives’ looney-toon religious need to
    believe that a fertilized gamete is morally equivalent to a human
    being has done the other half of making a reasoned debate on abortion
    nigh-impossible.
  5. Racism. I haven’t forgiven the Right for segregation, Jim Crow laws,
    and lynching blacks. And I never will.
  6. Sexism. Way too much conservative thought still reads like an
    apologia for keeping women barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.
  7. Anti-science. Stem cells, therapeutic cloning — it doesn’t matter
    how many more diabetes, cancer and AIDS patients have to die to
    protect the anti-abortion movement’s ideological flanks. Knowledge —
    who needs it? Conservatives would try suppressing astronomy
    if the telescope had just been invented.
  8. Family values. Conservatives are so desperate to reassert the
    repressive `normalcy’ they think existed in Grand-dad’s time that they
    pretend we can undo the effects of the automobile, television, the
    Pill, and the Internet.
  9. Ronald Wilson Reagan. A B-movie actor who thought ketchup was
    a vegetable. His grip on reality was so dangerously weak that the
    Alzheimer’s made no perceptible difference. Conservatives worship him.
  10. Conservatives, by and large, are villains.

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Jun 07

Why does porn got to hurt so bad?

A couple days ago I chased a link over to unablogger and found myself unexpectedly confronted by pictures of naked women. This picture, in particular. And I noticed something unusual — which was that I liked it.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m a functioning heterosexual male; I enjoy looking at naked women. It’s most pictures of naked women I can’t stand. I’ve found by experience that most of the vast amounts of pornography available on the Internet leave me feeling more repelled than aroused. And not out of puritanism either; I have no intrinsic moral objection to porn, and I judge that the consequentialist arguments against it don’t stand the reality test.

No, the truth is that I find most porn subtly and deeply ugly. Unablogger’s picture (which happens to be of a Czech model named Veronika Zemanova) was a sufficiently glaring exception that it stimulated me to think seriously about why.

It was immediately clear to me that Ms. Zemanova’s physique was not the primary reason this photograph struck me as an exception. Ms. Zemanova unquestionably has a very shapely and appealing body and a pretty face. However, I have seen many photographs of women with equally lovely bodies and equally pretty faces that I nevertheless found ugly and unstimulating as entire compositions, without being completely clear about why.

My initial reaction was reinforced when I searched for other images of Ms. Zemanova and discovered ugly generic porn. The difference, clearly, was not in Ms. Zemanova’s body but in way the attitude and setting — one might say the implied narrative — of her pictures differed. Time for some analysis…

Like any good scientist, I proceeded to do some research. I surfed to a well-known porn index site and random-sampled the content, sticking to pictures of single unclad women in order to control some obvious variables. Using my own hypothalamus as a calibration instrument, I graded the samples into “excellent” (I want to keep a copy) “good” (pleasant to look at) “mediocre” (mechanically arousing but unpleasant) and “bad” (just plain unpleasant). There were very, very few “excellents”, and almost none of the caliber of Unablogger’s image of Ms. Zemanova.

After the first grading pass, I re-sorted the images in an attempt to compensate for the presence of particular physical features that I know are powerful sexual releasers for me (red hair is an example). I did this because, to the extent possible, I wanted to try to separate my autonomic arousal reaction to the images from my esthetic and psychological reaction. So I downgraded images in which the women had obvious, powerful releaser traits for me.

Now, this was hardly a controlled experiment. And it’s just me. But once I corrected for my autonomic biases, a clear pattern emerged, especially in the “bad” category. Many images contained elements that were, at least to me, anti-arousing. Over-styled hair — especially over-styled blonde hair. Fake pearls. Strappy high heels being worn by otherwise naked women. Feather boas and tacky hooker lingerie. Bloated silicone breasts. Excessive makeup; excessive makeup was, in fact a rule even in most otherwise uncompromised images.

The pattern was not surprising; I had had some insight about this before without thinking it through completely. Bad porn is full of the fetish signifiers of sexual allure, to the point where they crowd out the reality of sexual allure. Porn models often look more like women trying desperately hard to be sexy than they look like sexy women. There is a wrongness there.

Contrast this picture of a model named India Allen with Ms. Zemanova’s picture. I have no doubt that Ms. Allen is quite a fetching young woman; indeed, I chose her image because on the physical-traits level she can compete with Ms. Zemanova quite handily. But this image is not good porn; it is crowded with elements that distract one from Ms. India’s native sexiness. The silly carousel horse. The glare spot behind her left hip. The teddy artfully half-removed despite the fact that she is obviously not planning to strip for sex in the immediate future.

I can’t speak for other men, but my gut reaction is “What is all this bullshit?” Where the Unablogger photo of Ms. Zemanova offers us a narrative about sex (“I’m taking my clothes off because I want to have sex with the person I’m looking at — yes, that would be you.”) Ms. Allen’s offers us a narrative about being sexy — looking alluring in a fantasy context that makes actual sex quite unlikely. How many of us, after all, have ever gotten laid anywhere near a carousel horse?

And typical porn is actually far worse than this. Mostly the models have a vacant-eyed, stunned look to them. They frequently contort themselves into bizarre positions that would make sex impossible and aren’t really plausible as a stage of foreplay either. Or they sprawl, surrounded by fetish objects, passively waiting to be fucked. They don’t smile; their faces are either mindlessly slack or locked in a rictus of simulated passion as obviously fake as a three-dollar bill.

As I looked at more bad-porn images, I found myself waking up to a deep bewilderment. How could these pictures arouse anyone who was actually paying attention to them? Why is there a market for this crap?

When I remember the good sex I’ve had, or imagine the good sex I might have, my head is not populated by vacant-eyed women surrounded by fetish objects and passively waiting to be fucked. No; my fantasies, and my experience, is of women who are intelligent horny animals like me; live-eyed, smiling, fully awake and quite ready to seize the initiative if I drop it, thank you. For real women, the meaning of the sex is the sex, not the ooh-look-I’m-hot posing that goes before it. The Unablogger image of Ms. Zemanova looks like she has a real woman’s attitude; most of her competitors’ pictures (and indeed most of her own) don’t.

Bad porn is superficially sexual in a way as stylized as Kabuki theater, but deeply anti-erotic. To be aroused by it, you have to be reading the code that tells you are supposed to be aroused — the artificial boobs, the decorticated stares, the garter belts. If you delete or mask out that code, no actual sexual charge remains — there is nothing left that connects your desire to the subject of the picture.

Mediocre porn, though mechanically arousing enough to facilitate masturbation by someone with a case of serious hormonal back-pressure, has only the subject’s body parts and the viewer’s autonomic response going for it. For very few men is it plausible to have sex with a lipstick-and-eyeshadow-wearing starlet/bimbo type with 40DD breasts who’s somehow had her skin lacquered to a gloss that resembles model-airplane dope and just happens to be bent over a motorcycle while stark naked. Sorry, no sale; a real woman would at least have her hair a bit mussed.

The fetishistic perfection of such scenes actually puts distance between the subject and the viewer’s desire. It removes the subject from any real world in which one might meet her and actually take her to bed. Autonomic response to the picture itself is the limit of the possible.

Good porn, by contrast, conveys a sense of plausibility. You believe the women in it exist. You can imagine meeting them. You can imagine liking one of them, having her like you, and the two of you sliding off somewhere for a mutually happy fuck. Being aroused by such a picture makes emotional sense; you don’t have to either fight or ignore any sense that the subject is an inaccessible fantasy.

The contrast is perfectly evident in two pictures of Ms. Zemonova. In this one, she looks like an unusually sexy but normal young woman in the act of removing her panties while she looks at the viewer. The narrative is clear; she is stripping for action, and you are the fortunate object of her desire. Women do this sort of thing. If you are not a virgin, you’ve probably seen it happen, though perhaps never with a partner quite as exuberantly mammalian as Ms. Zemanova. This is a plausible scenario.

In this picture, by contrast, Ms. Zemanova is a heavily cosmeticized, unsettlingly glossy womanoid-thing in an unlikely position, masturbating herself and gazing off into space over your right shoulder. You are not involved. Nothing like this would be even remotely plausible in your bathroom — if only because sensible women masturbate in their bedrooms, where they can collapse onto something more comfortable than a tile floor when they orgasm. This picture is not presenting a plausible scenario, unless you are the sort of wealthy British rock star who builds huge custom bathrooms in which to boff acquiescent supermodels.

This image makes an ironic example of good porn because it demonstrates that the apparent lack of artifice in good porn can be just as misleading as the fetish objects of bad porn. This innocent-looking girl-next-door posing as though she’s giving her boyfriend a private thrill is actually the star character of a large and very raunchy German porn site. While one can hope she has nevertheless remained as sweet-natured and unjaded as she looks, betting money on this possibility would be imprudent at best.

Nor, despite the partial clothedness of my two examples, am I arguing that good porn has to be soft-core, either. This woman is leaving little to the imagination. But she has a nice smile — something which, in a medium supposedly devoted to pleasure, is astonishingly rare. I searched through many hundreds of images and found almost none that combined full nudity with a simple human smile. Symbolically, the first one I found had disappeared by the following day, and I won’t lay odds that the link above will stay good.

Very well, the facts are in hand; as many of them as I’m likely to get, anyway — I’ve had as much exposure to bad porn as I can tolerate. Let’s return to the central question. Why does pornography have to hurt so bad? Why is there so much bad porn out there and so little good stuff?

At one level the answer is fairly obvious. Like the purveyors of any other commodity, the people who produce porn have to respond to demand. Indeed, because production is cheap and the sales cycle is short, market selection can be expected to drive production to match demand very rapidly. There is no evidence of massive market-rigging, and good porn is no more expensive to produce than bad porn — in fact, it may be less expensive (the same models can be used for good and bad, and the good stuff needs less in the way of elaborate props). Therefore, if most porn is bad, it’s because most porn consumers want it to be bad.

Let’s unpack that. The trash percentage of porn is so high that, unless the producers are collectively insane, most consumers must actually want images of women who are doing the bad-porn thing. That most porn consumers actually like the trash is further suggested by the tacky, gaudy, crude design of almost all porn websites. They scream, they leer, they spew misspellings and degrading language at high volume. The sheer aggressive ugliness is far too consistent to be the result of incompetence.

So the real question is this: why do most porn consumers seek trash? Why do they buy the fetish objects, the implausable poses, the unobtainable women? Why welcome such an anti-erotic distance between their sexual fantasies and their sexual reality?

We can certainly imagine how it might be different. Why don’t porn consumers choose images they might plausibly act out, with partners rather sexier than the ones they have but still attainable? In fact some do; most porn sites have an `amateurs’ category — but it’s marketed like a minority taste along with pictures of older women and fat women.

I am forced to the unhappy conclusion that plausibility is exactly what most porn consumers don’t want. That somehow they feel better when their fantasies are safely distant from reality. All the possible reasons I can imagine for this are very sad.

One reason could be simple old-fashioned sexual guilt. If you believe sex is sinful and desire is dirty, if you have that old madonna/whore complex, than you may be more comfortable thinking of porn models as whores. You may indeed, be so conditioned to associate sex with sin that you can’t get it off without feeling wicked first.

A more plausible construction for most potential porn consumers today is that they have issues about female power. Men who get lots of attention from attractive three-dimensional women are not likely to be buying porn-site subscriptions. Therefore, we can safely assume that the consumers who define demand patterns for porn producers generally feel that their sex life is hemmed in by female choices and the female power to refuse. Defining the objects of their desire as “cum-sucking sluts”, to be used but not related to any emotional way, is a kind of equalizing move in the sexual-power game.

This theory differs sharply from conventional feminist critiques of porn, in which porn seen as a ratification of existing power relationships that privilege males. The difference is testable. If the conventional theory is correct, porn should be becoming more and more irrelevant as women become more independent — or, at least, assume the nostalgic character of references to a golden age of male privilege that has already passed.

On the other hand, if bad porn is a compensation for male feelings of powerlessness, we should expect it to become steadily tackier, uglier, more strident, and more popular in direct proportion to the degree that female power in the real world increases.

I think it’s pretty clear which of those worlds we are living in. The gloomy conclusion is that porn is likely to get worse before it gets better. If it ever does.

UPDATE: Have since corresponded with “German Lucy”, the woman whose picture I described as an ironic example of good porn. It’s nice when cynicism turns out to be a mistake; she really is like that.

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Jun 05

Who’s a warblogger? Blogotypology considered

My good buddy Doc Searls says I’m
a warblogger, not a techblogger
. Truth is I’ve never thought of
myself either way. I had only the vaguest notion what a `warblogger’
is until I followed his links to the definitional discussion. I write
stuff related to 9/11 because it’s one of the definining events of our
day, but I didn’t start blogging particularly because I wanted to
comment on the war. Y’all may have noticed that I write about sex and
guns a lot. Nothing about witchcraft yet, but give it time… :-)

The blogotypological distinction that makes the most
sense to me is “thinker” vs. “linker”. I know which of those
camps I’m in. I’m a thinker, an essayist. I’d rather write about
my original thinking than reflect or index other peoples’ words.
VodkaPundit was right on when he compared me to Steve Den Beste over at U.S.S. Clueless. Glenn Reynolds is, of course, the king of the linkers (though
he goes into thinker mode off-blog).

I’d actually say there’s a
third setting on this switch; “diarist”, someone who blogs
essentially as a public journal. Like Den Beste, I’m not a diarist; you wouldn’t find ramblings about my beagle or my infant daughter here even if I had either.
My personal life appears in this blog only insofar as it’s the
frame in which my ideas happen. I can imagine writing personal journalism, but it’s not my default style.
Asparagirl, on
the other hand, is a good paradigmatic example of a diarist; her ideas are embedded in a narrative of her life.

Of course, people do mix modes. James Lileks is
a diarist/thinker, or thinker/diarist, and
Andrew Sullivan
oscillates among all three modes in a (dare I say it?)
gaily promiscuous fashion. But most bloggers seem to
have a base style that’s one of these three, from which they
may make occasional excursions but to which they
inevitably return.

As Doc points out, I’m not a techblogger either. Technology
evangelism is what I do off-blog; Armed and
Dangerous
is for the writing that doesn’t fit that box, just
as a lot of other bloggers treat the medium as an outlet for
whatever is not their day job. Maybe that’s another
distinction we need; `problogger’ (someone like Jonah Goldberg
whose blogging is a seamless extension of his day job) versus `playblogger’ (someone who blogs to let off steam that their day-job channels don’t have a good vent for).

While the best I can say about the term `warblogger’ is that
it’s not completely useless, `techblogger’ seems to me to be a
category that’s likely to survive as the medium matures. So
does the thinker/linker/diarist distinction, and the playblogger/problogger flag bit.

I’ll end with the obligatory abjurgation not to take any such
terminology too seriously. We’re all writers, a prickly bunch,
and we’re all to some degree category-busters by nature or
we wouldn’t be here in the infancy of a new medium at all. Still…I suspect that more definite blogotypes will emerge as people explore the space of available styles and discover which ones
are most effective at communication.

Jun 05

Who’s a warblogger? Blogotypology considered

My good buddy Doc Searls says I’m
a warblogger, not a techblogger
. Truth is I’ve never thought of
myself either way. I had only the vaguest notion what a `warblogger’
is until I followed his links to the definitional discussion. I write
stuff related to 9/11 because it’s one of the definining events of our
day, but I didn’t start blogging particularly because I wanted to
comment on the war. Y’all may have noticed that I write about sex and
guns a lot. Nothing about witchcraft yet, but give it time… :-)

The blogotypological distinction that makes the most
sense to me is “thinker” vs. “linker”. I know which of those
camps I’m in. I’m a thinker, an essayist. I’d rather write about
my original thinking than reflect or index other peoples’ words.
VodkaPundit was right on when he compared me to Steve Den Beste over at U.S.S. Clueless. Glenn Reynolds is, of course, the king of the linkers (though
he goes into thinker mode off-blog).

I’d actually say there’s a
third setting on this switch; “diarist”, someone who blogs
essentially as a public journal. Like Den Beste, I’m not a diarist; you wouldn’t find ramblings about my beagle or my infant daughter here even if I had either.
My personal life appears in this blog only insofar as it’s the
frame in which my ideas happen. I can imagine writing personal journalism, but it’s not my default style.
Asparagirl, on
the other hand, is a good paradigmatic example of a diarist; her ideas are embedded in a narrative of her life.

Of course, people do mix modes. James Lileks is
a diarist/thinker, or thinker/diarist, and
Andrew Sullivan
oscillates among all three modes in a (dare I say it?)
gaily promiscuous fashion. But most bloggers seem to
have a base style that’s one of these three, from which they
may make occasional excursions but to which they
inevitably return.

As Doc points out, I’m not a techblogger either. Technology
evangelism is what I do off-blog; Armed and
Dangerous
is for the writing that doesn’t fit that box, just
as a lot of other bloggers treat the medium as an outlet for
whatever is not their day job. Maybe that’s another
distinction we need; `problogger’ (someone like Jonah Goldberg
whose blogging is a seamless extension of his day job) versus `playblogger’ (someone who blogs to let off steam that their day-job channels don’t have a good vent for).

While the best I can say about the term `warblogger’ is that
it’s not completely useless, `techblogger’ seems to me to be a
category that’s likely to survive as the medium matures. So
does the thinker/linker/diarist distinction, and the playblogger/problogger flag bit.

I’ll end with the obligatory abjurgation not to take any such
terminology too seriously. We’re all writers, a prickly bunch,
and we’re all to some degree category-busters by nature or
we wouldn’t be here in the infancy of a new medium at all. Still…I suspect that more definite blogotypes will emerge as people explore the space of available styles and discover which ones
are most effective at communication.

Jun 03

We are all Jews now

This afternoon I was reading a quote from a woman who had left a comment on Tim Blair’s weblog. She wrote:

rld, I feel it’s my duty as a woman to wear clingier clothing, flirt more outrageously, have more orgasms, and get on top more often. In short, anything that’s taboo to the islamofascists.”

Boo-yah, sister! This struck me as a wonderful example of what computer hackers and science-fiction fans call a `ha ha only serious’, which is just the the opposite of a `ha ha only kidding’. It’s a wonderfully multi-leveled utterance.

Generally when people start out with “As an X, I feel it’s my duty” one expects the followthrough to be some ennobling exhortation to self-sacrifice and a stiff upper lip. The sheer cheekiness of following instead with “gonna get laid more” is wonderful — I can imagine the sister, with a gleam in her eye and a curl of her lip, daring anybody to call her on it, and daring anybody not to notice that she is one hot chick who knows exactly how to use what she’s got.

An idiot, or a conservative of the ramrod-up-the-ass school, would stop there, take her rhetorical flip-the-bird at islamofascists as more than an excuse for narcissism-tinged self-display or a thin bit of patter, and perhaps splutter with jowly indignation. Me, I got respect for this sister. I think she meant every word she said and was being wicked smart.

The true mindfucking beauty of this quote only becomes apparent when you hold both meanings (the sexual self-display and the the anti-islamofascist flip-the-bird) in your mind at once, and allow each to play off the other in a spirit of intentional irony. Our sister has uttered the perfect sexual battle cry for the islamofascists’ occidentalist nightmare — and I think she knows it.

Since 9/11 it has become easier to notice that Islamic fear and hatred of the West (and of America as its political and cultural hyperpower) is rooted in a hostility to all the freedoms and self-indulgences of urban western civilization — commerce, mixed populations, artistic freedom, sexual license, scientific pursuits, leisure, personal safety, wealth. Indeed, one of the circumstances that justifies the term “islamofascism” is that this catalog of resentments is exactly that of classical fascism. And the icon of subversive modernity, to all fascists everywhere, has been the Jew — rootless, cosmopolitan, urbane, commercial, and (in anti-Semitic propaganda) sexual seducer of the pure.

Two perceptive commentators (op. cit.) have written “Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Hitler, Japanese agrarian fascists, and of course Islamists all extolled the simple life of the pious peasant, pure at heart, uncorrupted by city pleasures, used to hard work and self-denial, tied to the soil, and obedient to authority. Behind the idyll of rural simplicity lies the desire to control masses of people, but also an old religious rage, which goes back at least as far as the ancient superpower Babylon.”

By saying “fuck me”, the sister is saying a big “fuck you” to all that. She is choosing to embody the whore of Babylon for reasons that mingle her own desire with deliberate defiance of the bearded patriarchs and their stormtroopers. She is acting out the culture war as sexual politics. She is not merely a hedonist or a rebel (though either would be bad enough) but an ultimately enraging combination of the two, conscious blasphemy written with the body under those clinging clothes.

In the fevered mind of any islamofascist, the sister is certainly urban and probably Jewish. In fact, we are all Jews now, every one of us in the West. This is what lies behind the standard-issue Arab-world mutterings about U.S. policy being controlled by Jews and Israelis, and the tremendous wave of pro-Jewish, pro-Israeli solidarity in the U.S. after 9/11. The alliance both we and the Islamists are sensing is more than geopolitical; it’s founded in everybody’s gut-level understanding that rage against the Jews and rage against modernity have become effectively synonymous.

Yes, we’re all Jews now, even blue-eyed Germano-Celtic goyim like me. We are going to be everything the islamofascists fear and hate, and we’re going to glory in it. We’re going to embody all the worst nightmares of those butt-ignorant ragheads in Al-Qaeda. We’re going to kill them, we’re going to subvert their children with MTV, and we’re going to teach their women to wear clingy clothing and say “fuck me” and “fuck you” to men whenever they damn well feel like it.

And, sister? Here’s my ha ha only serious, offered in the same spirit as yours. You are a warrior. I salute you. And if you want to commit exactly the kind of scandalous, adulterous, hedonistic, casual sex best calculated to drive fascists and patriarchs up a wall sometime, I’m your guy. You can be on top.

Jun 01

Arm the Passengers

The recent controversy over arming airline pilots against a
possible repetition of the 9/11 atrocity misses a crucial problem that
makes arming pilots relatively ineffective: terrorists would know in
advance where the guns are, and be able to game against that.

Let’s say you are a terrorist executing a hijacking. You know the pilots
are armed. Then here are your tactics — you send the pilots a message that
you will begin shooting cabin crew and passengers, one every five minutes,
until the pilots throw their guns into the main cabin. Just to make sure,
you split your gang into an A team and a B team. After the pilots have
thrown out some guns, you send the A team into the cockpit. If the pilots
resist, the B team kills more people.

Sky marshals can be taken out in a similar way. Your B team, armed
with knives, breaks cover and announces the hijacking. The sky
marshals (if there are any present; they’re now flying on less than 1%
of planes, and can’t be trained fast enough for that figure to go up
significantly in the foreseeable future) break cover. Now your A
team, armed with guns, breaks cover and disposes of the sky marshals.
Game over.

Anyone who thinks either scenario can be prevented by keeping
firearms off-board should put down that crack pipe now.
Tiger team exercises after 9/11 have repeatedly
demonstrated
that the new, improved airport security has had
effectively zero impact on a determined bad-guy’s ability to sneak
weapons past checkpoints — it’s still easy. Despite government spin,
there is no prospect this will change; the underlying problem is just
too hard.

For terrorists to be effectively deterred, they need to face a
conterthreat they cannot scope out in advance. That’s why the right
solution is to arm the passengers, not just the pilots.

Now, as a terrorist, you would be facing an unknown number of guns
potentially pointed at you from all directions. Go ahead; take that
flight attendant hostage. You can’t use her to make people give up
weapons neither you nor she knows they have. You have to assume
you’re outnumbered, and you dare not turn your back on
anyone, because you don’t know who might be packing.

The anti-gun bien pensants of the world wet their pants at
the thought of flying airplanes containing hundreds of armed
civilians. They would have you believe that this would be a sure
recipe for carnage on every flight, an epidemic of berserk yahoos
blowing bullet holes through innocent bystanders and the cabin walls.
When you ask why this didn’t happen before 1971 when there were no
firearms restrictions on airplanes, they evade the question.

The worst realistic case from arming passengers is that some gang
of terrorist pukes tries to bust a move anyway, and innocent
bystanders get killed by stray bullets while the passengers are taking
out the terrorists. That would be bad — but, post-9/11, the major
aim of air security can no longer be saving passenger lives. Instead,
it has to be preventing the use of airplanes as weapons of mass
destruction. Thus: we should arm the passengers to save the lives of
thousands more bystanders on the ground.

And, about that stray-bullet thing. Airplanes aren’t balloons.
They don’t pop when you put a round through the fuselage. A handful
of bullet holes simply cannot leak air fast enough to be dangerous;
there would be plenty of time to drop the plane into the troposphere.
To sidestep the problem, encourage air travelers to carry fragmenting
ammunition like Glaser rounds.

Think of it. No more mile-long security lines, no more obnoxious
baggage searches, no more women getting groped by bored security
guards, no more police-state requirement that you show an ID before
boarding, no more flimsy plastic tableware. Simpler, safer, faster
air travel with a bullet through the head reserved for terrorists.

Extending this lesson to other circumstances, like when we’re
not surrounded by a fuselage, is left as an exercise for
the reader…

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