Living as Loki, friendship before Ragnarok

In Norse mythology Loki is a trickster frost giant who also plays a god. His relationship to the Aesir is complicated, but at the end of days when the world is nearing its final hours he is fated to stand against his erstwhile companions. I do not know much about the Marvel comics adaptation of Loki, though I have seen the films, and this element of alternating between good and evil is evident onscreen.

Does the fact that Loki is destined to stand against Odin negate all their experiences together? Is the full measure of a life the final act? I don’t think so.

Today we live in an age when he center is not holding. Politics and public life are polarizing. Apocalyptic language is in the air. Barack Obama was a socialist, a Communist, a Muslim. Now Donald J. Trump is the worst, thing, ever. And so on. There are two teams, and if you do not choose a team, you have lost the game before it is played. My pessimism about the possibility for a reinvigoration of a broadly liberal democratic order are for another post.

Recently my friend Heather Mac Donald wrote about her experience with protesters at Claremont McKenna. Her description of the student body’s hysterics are almost anodyne in how predictable they behaved. Rather, I was struck by how much invective Heather directed toward the silent faculty:

…Those professors also maintain that to challenge that claim of ubiquitous bigotry is to engage in “hate speech,” and that such speech is tantamount to a physical assault on minorities and females. As such, it can rightly be suppressed and punished. To those faculty, I am indeed a fascist, and a white supremacist, with the attendant loss of communication rights.

Of course not all faculty have abandoned classical liberal ideals. Nicholas Christakis and Alice Dreger are by any definition progressive liberals, but also adhere stridently to ideals of freedom of thought and speech. But both have been subject to abuse and personal attacks. They clearly fight on not because they are assured of victory, but because they believe in the justness of their cause.

Many of my liberal friends express some exasperation that I identify as conservative. But the fact of the matter is that the far Left writes off much of this country, and many of my friends, and arguably me, as a white supremacist and a fascist. Ours are not thoughts worth having in the eyes of the heirs of repressive tolerance. My liberal friends, being broad minded an of a tolerant bent, do not have sympathy with repression of thought. But at the end of the days when sides are taken what side will they choose?

I think here of an academic who is jaded and contemptuous of the infantile antics of the campus Left. He is worried that their provocations will result in the academy being targeted by the political Right. He does not relish conflict. Like me, he wants to be left alone to explore the topics which interest him. We share a mutual interest in evolutionary genetics. But, when and if the fight comes he does admit he must march with his colleagues, no matter how loony, and defend his side.

We both wish the world were not this polarized. But what we wish is not always what is. But until Ragnarok we can continue to drink beer and fight our battles shoulder to shoulder as friends. Neither of us want the Ragnarok of this liberal democratic republic to come, and I still hope it doesn’t. But we both understand that on that day we’ll be on different sides. And I’m OK with that. Life is not perfect, we do the best we can.

Addendum: Cool trailer:

21 thoughts on “Living as Loki, friendship before Ragnarok

  1. I love every aspect of that trailer. The space fantasy setting in which all of it seems to be taking place (like Jupiter Ascending without the endless exposition), the music, the colorfulness, what we can tell about the story – good stuff. This looks like it could be a lot of fun to watch, although it’ll probably be like the other two Thor movies and not leave you thinking much afterwards about it.

    This political Ragnarok is going to be messy, but it may not be the death blow to the Republic. Politics in the 19th century US was pretty messy, corrupt, antagonistic, violent, and censorious too. Still, I otherwise agree with your sentiment. Let us live kindly and drink together, and enjoy our company while we can – I don’t relish living under anyone’s regime of purity.

  2. What’s kind of bizarre is that political correctness is being driven mainly by a small minority of people on the left with a highly atypical personality, especially for that side of the political spectrum:

    Low to medium Openness (most liberals and libertarians are high in Openness)
    High Conscientiousness, especially subtrait Orderliness (usually associated with religiosity, disgust sensitivity and social conservatism)
    High Neuroticism
    High Agreeableness
    Low IQ

    Ordinary left liberals, who tend to share high Agreeableness with these PC Authoritarians, tend make excuses for them, or at least lay low for fear of seeming uncompassionate. If only left liberals would grow a pair. But then high Agreeableness is the most female typical of personality traits, and is characterized by conflict avoidance, except when dealing with threats to the helpless.

    —–

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-personality-of-political-correctness/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_fBYROA7Hk&t

  3. Much of the untutored American left has completely forgotten that the civil rights victories of the early 1960s were won not by ill-considered violence, but rather by practicing highly disciplined, noble, ‘soul-force’ Ghandian nonviolence via Martin Luther King…and thus that early 1960’s left succeeded in seizing and maintaining the moral high ground, and ultimately tactical victory.

    Contrast to the present:

    “After the San Jose rally in early June, protesters bullied and spat on straggling Trump supporters. Sucker punchers lurched up, punched hard, darted away, hands raised in victory. A strange little protester, mask around his neck, mumbled, as he scuttled past a female reporter conducting an interview, “Fuck you in the pussy.” Some sick genie, it seemed, had been let out of the bottle. I had to pull an older white woman out of a moblet of slapping young women of color, after she’d been driven down to one knee and had her glasses knocked off. When I told the young African-American woman who’d given the first slap that this was exactly the kind of thing the Trump movement loved to see and would be happy to use, she seemed to suddenly come back to herself and nearly burst into tears. The slapped woman was around sixty, tall, lean, sun-reddened, scrappy, a rancher, maybe, and we stood there a few minutes, recovering ourselves. Seeing something unsteady behind her eyes, I suggested that she be sure to take a few deep breaths before driving home. She said she would, but a few minutes later I saw her again, at the edge of the crowd, watching the protesters in fascination, as if what had just happened to her made it impossible for her to leave.” http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/11/george-saunders-goes-to-trump-rallies

    Because it believes it embodies the civil rights dignities, the Left is mistakenly thinking it’s already won all moral questions, a priori, and therefore that it doesn’t need to discipline itself into nonviolence, (which is the only way it can fully finally win and preserve what it wants to gain).. What a tactical error they are making when they make a fist instead of opening their hands and hearts…

  4. Yes, we must fight against both the illiberal overreaches of the Left and the nihilistic reaction of the alt-right, but I see the situation as more of a tempest in a teapot than some coming apocalyptic battle. Reminds me of Dworkin/MacKinnon days: lots of noise and some real damage but ultimately marginal and localized. I hope I am right. As for choosing sides, my own heroic vision of myself is one of standing against whoever holds the reigns of power, regardless of which team it happens to be. We are far from Ragnarok, but right now it’s POTUS & Co. vs some stupid school kids and their faculty enablers. To me it’s obvious where the more urgent danger lies, though being on the Left that’s easy for me to say.

    1. Exactly how I feel. Discounting academia, the right wing or corporate interests holds essentially all levers of power in our society. And even where it counts in academia, the left holds very little power. The left has not been able to stop the erosion of tenure-track positions and the rise of adjunct faculty. The left has not been able to reign in the power of administrative bureaucracy (which systematically disempowers faculty over time). The left has been unable to come up with alternate funding sources to stop tuition at public universities from increasing more rapidly than inflation. The left has in general not been unsuccessful in stopping the privatization of ancillary services. Universities are progressively being run more and more like corporations, with “progressive” social policies merely tacked on as window dressing.

      Perhaps I’m hypothesizing above my pay grade, but here’s what I see as the near future for academia: First, automation will cut deeply into what are now considered to be “professional” occupations over the next few decades. Second and perhaps more importantly, big data algorithms will be able to predict who will be a good fit for a job better than the historic social signaling function provided by a college degree. College may retain its social appeal for some time for the upper-middle class and wealthy, and specialized degrees which actually impart usable knowledge will still exist, but many schools will go under – particularly public universities without strong research components and less prestigious private universities. While I expect that the people who are attracted to campus activism will still be motivated to try and find college (and graduate) programs, finding an institution to accept them may be harder, as schools will not be able to count on revenue from mire casual students. Certainly their own job prospects will be even dimmer than they currently are, as there will even be less adjunct faculty positions to go around.

      1. “the left holds very little power. The left has not been able to stop the erosion of tenure-track positions and the rise of adjunct faculty. The left has not been able to reign in the power of administrative bureaucracy (which systematically disempowers faculty over time).”

        I like your posts, and have noticed the same things. But this leads me to feel the opposite for the left–I despise them for masking their failure to aid their constituents by whipping up hatred against whites and men. How is that supposed to solve anything?

        And given the way they persecute hereditarians, even Razib Khan here, there is no way I can support them. I am with the left on the economy and social services, climate change, and support for science more broadly. But as long as I have hereditarian ideas, they will apparently never be with me.

        At the same time, I am comforted by genuinely tolerant leftists like you. I will be marching on Razib’s side come Ragnarök, but the Karl Zimmermans of the world make me hope such a time will never come.

        1. minor note, i’m open to hereditarian explanations. wouldn’t say i’m ‘of that school’ myself. i’m not a individual differences psychologist. my interest and professional focus is pop gen.

          also my heresy re: left is to be rather open about my openness. plenty of liberals hold some hereditarian positions, but it’s not something they speak of in public. i don’t think that’s a good situation, though i can be convinced otherwise….

          1. I apologize for imputing any position to you that you do not actually hold. I meant to use “hereditarian” in a broad sense, meaning something like “informed about basic findings of behavior genetics and believing that they can be seen in some social outcomes.” Perhaps there is no clear word for that in our language. I usually avoid saying HBD because one does not have to go very far to find unsavory people claiming it.

        2. As I’ve said in my past, my undergraduate program was basically as completely ensconced in left-wing social science as you could get. I admittedly went to college during one of the lower points for PC culture (from 1997-2001) but I can honestly say even within my major there were only a handful of people (probably less than a dozen) who said outright absurd things (like claiming that women being less physically robust than men was due to patriarchy) and these were generally met with eye-rolling or active debate.

          I can also say that when it came to campus activism, very little had to do with patriarchy or white privilege (though it might have been mentioned as part of a “laundry list” of issues) – although almost every single rally had a speaker arguing to free Mumia and/or Palestine. This may be because then, as now, weird numerically small socialist groups have an outsized role in organizing rallies on campuses, and thus get to set the agenda. The more crazy SJW stuff seems more typically to be semi-spontaneous actions. There were also rallies to oppose budget cuts, tuition increases, and the like – it’s not that this stuff doesn’t happen on campus, it’s just that it’s ineffective due to our late capitalist system restricting the ground for effective change into a very confined space. The “left” can win on symbolic diversity policies because instituting them is cheap, but it can’t win (at least now) on the big issue.

    2. i believe that 2020 will see election of a dem president (with a house regained in 2018 and senate in 2020) that will make obama seem like the centrist and classical liberal he arguably was.

      1. Ruthless Matriarchy, here we come, eh?

        Whatever one’s “identification”: if we are not, as priority one, for whatever political outcome preserves healthy Public Lands and forests and topsoils and maintains oceanic conditions of temperature, pH, etc, that allows for phytoplankton to produce enough oxygen to sustain mammalian life, then whatever, fini.

        Come to think, Razib, how do you square that such bedrock necessary condition with your self-labelling as Conservative? Keeping in mind I am entirely sympathetic that you may have been unjustly personally-intellectually-livelihood wounded versus SJWs. But the right seems generally contemptuous toward even very seriously posed questions of “sustainable” “environment”, does it not?

          1. In the mid 1980’s a colleague said in jest that he eagerly awaits the imposition of “Ruthless Matriarchy”. That coinage was a tongue-in-cheek dig at then-prevailing separatist-feminist dogma, as especially emphasized by certain high-profile academic feminists during those years, which asserted that ‘The Patriarchy’ is responsible for all violence, intransigence, All That Is Bad And Wrong in modern society, in stark contrast to the previous edenic, peaceful cooperative epoch of Neolithic Matriarchy, (as proven by archeological discovery of numerous “Fat Madonna” figurines, etc.) I’m pretty sue you must know that drill.

            Now we are engaged in an even greater civil war of optics, wherein rightist pundits yell about Feminazis, portray the Democrat Party as the vehicle of “pussyfication of the American male” and assert that propounding any communitarian or mere New Deal) ideals makes one a “cuck”.
            So sure if/when the left returns to power, the cries against ‘Ruthless Matriarchy’ will without doubt loudly resound across red-state-of-mind
            America. And that complaint will probably have a liberal helping of half truth in it…

            As for the environment, surely you’re not saying that the fact of ecosystem reactive nonlinearities causes you to thus believe that there is no need to attempt to in some way regulate/limit various strong anthropic inputs? Do you believe there’s no hope that we might predictively steer the Anthropocene to an environmentally softer landing than might otherwise occur? If you do strongly believe that’s no hope for useful ameliorative action, that’d be a powerfully fatalistic belief, perhaps going beyond the mere “what-if/likely” of scientism and on into what might be characterized as quasi-religious territory..Of course I very much respect your thinking on this as most other such big -picture questions, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. So if you do have strong feelings on this point, blog newly again on it man. Brave, informed, even-keeled, closely reasoned speculation is your Art, and you do that art well, Philistines be damned.

      2. I agree with most of your prediction, but I’m not sure who you expect to be elected in 2020 who will make Obama seem a moderate. Most of the likely candidates at this point are pretty mainstream. Hell, Bernie Sanders (who won’t run again) mellowed out once he was elected to Congress into being a European-style Social Democrat in all but name. Elizabeth Warren (who I don’t see running) basically holds all the same positions as Obama, but is a little less pro-corporate. The only Democrat with a national profile who terrifies the hell out of me is Tulsi Gabbard, and I don’t think she’s going anywhere any time soon.

        More important, IMHO, is the question of what the Democrats do when they gain back a narrow Senate majority. In terms of realpolitik, the most sensible thing to do would be to immediately eliminate the legislative filibuster, increase the size of the Supreme Court by two seats (to retaliate for the blocking of Garland and the seating of Gorsuch), pass some sort of national bill limiting Republican efforts to restrict voting, and make DC and Puerto Rico states to help address the imbalance of the Senate. Then, and only then, turning to progressive economic legislation which would otherwise have been blocked by Republicans in the Senate (as it was during Obama’s first two year in office).

        Of course, while this would make the most sense from the position of realpolitik, it’s terrible in another sense because it represents further erosion of the historic norms of federal governance which have allowed our country to function properly. Unfortunately I don’t see any way to put the genie back in the bottle, so the choice for the Democrats would be to either go all in, or keep following the old norms even though their enemies see fit to ignore them when they are in power.

    1. Hard to tell. The article is certainly ridiculous and reads like a parody. But South Africa is well placed to take SJW off the deep end, for the reasons Amy Chua talks about in World on Fire.

      1. I’m pretty sure now, after reflecting more, the article was meant as satire in the Swiftian sense, but it’s pretty clear the Huffington Post wasn’t in on the joke if that was the case.

  5. I apologize for imputing any position to you that you do not actually hold. I meant to use “hereditarian” in a broad sense, meaning something like “informed about basic findings of behavior genetics and believing that they can be seen in some social outcomes.” Perhaps there is no clear word for that in our language. I usually avoid saying HBD because one does not have to go very far to find unsavory people claiming it.

    no offense taken. ‘hereditarian’ just has a specific meaning in the context of differential psychology. also, i think it’s a little misleading since hereditarians accept a mix of heredity and non-heredity…but they like the term.

    i find it strange that sometimes psychologists ask me if i am going to the intelligence conferences or whatever. why would i? i’m a pop genomics guy. just have wide interests.

    1. ” also, i think it’s a little misleading since hereditarians accept a mix of heredity and non-heredity…but they like the term.”

      I assume it’s because the only position permissible in polite society is that intelligence differences are ~0% due to genetic differences. So accepting any significant effect of genes on the trait is very hereditarian by comparison to that.

      This is why I call myself broadly hereditarian even though I of course know that “non-shared environment” has a large effect on outcomes too. Judging solely by the rhetoric of our public intellectuals and politicians, the effect of genetics on the issues they care about hovers somewhere close to zero.

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