Saturday, February 25, 2017

On the Folly of Romanticising Dreams

I finally got around to seeing La La Land, apparently making me about the last person in America to do so. It was quite good, after all. But one thing that stuck out was the ever present Hollywood obsession with the idea of fulfilling one's dreams.

This is a theme that never seems to get tired - don't give up on one's dreams, keep working and eventually you'll achieve your dreams, don't sell out your dreams to mundane practical considerations, et predictable cetera.

There is, in other words, an ongoing preoccupation with the plight of how to disembarrass dreamers of their temporary obstacles.

Let us assume, charitably, that this is meeting a real need in society, for those with concrete ambitions and goals. In the world of cinema, everyone has a purpose that they have aspired to from a young age - opening a successful jazz club, becoming a famous actress.

But every time I see these messages, I always wonder: what fraction of the audience actually has dreams in the first place, at least in the way that Hollywood depicts them?

If the average person were asked, "Quick, what's your dream?" and forced to answer in two seconds, I would guess that a lot of answers would begin with "I don't know,…”, and the honest ones would probably end there as well.

What the average person has instead of fixed childhood dreams, I suspect, is a gnawing sense of ennui that they don’t really know what they want to do with their life, but whatever they’re currently doing isn’t quite it. They’d change, but they’re not sure to what, and even if they had a concrete aim they’re not sure they’d be able to achieve it.

That their hobbies and interests have more of the flavour of enjoyable diversions to pass the time in a rapidly vanishing life, rather than genuine passions.

That their hobbies and interests, when they are honest about it, are nearly all just forms of consumption – sex, movies, gadgets, food, alcohol, porn, weed. And like all consumption, the pleasure is relatively fleeting, and sense of purpose is minimal.

That the only hobby that doesn’t quite fit the previous list is hanging out with their friends, which at least has a social aspect to it. But if they’re older than 25, their most common thoughts regarding their friends are either that i) they don’t manage to see them as often as they’d like, and/or ii) they no longer live in the same city as the people they consider their best friends.

You may note that Hollywood has relatively little to say about how to find dreams if you don’t have them. The very concept almost sounds absurd, since dreams presuppose a fixed and concrete aim, which is the very thing lacking most of the time. And if you tried to push people to come up with some kind of dream, they're going to resort to retrieving some mentally cached entry for "what are the kinds of things people claim to dream of doing?". These usually have one of several predictable forms:

-Mindless Adventurism: I want to travel around the world!
-Fame: I want to be in a rock band or a movie star!
-Getting Paid for My Hobbies: I want to be a gossip columnist (because I like reading social media nonsense), a porn star (because I like banging), own a restaurant (because I like eating) etc.

I ask you, dear reader – do you think that the ennui that so characterises our modern existence is likely to be solved by more trips to Europe, aspiring actors, or failed restauranteurs?

What people are genuinely missing, rather, is a sense of purpose in their lives. And purpose is different from dreams in subtle but important ways.

You can find purpose in religion – in aims higher than egotism, and in understanding the human condition. You can find purpose in family – in raising children, in looking after your elderly parents, in loving and supporting your siblings. You can find purpose in community – in bonds with those around you, in brightening the day of neighbours or strangers. For a talented few, you can find purpose in art – in creating things of great beauty which may outlast you.

With the possible exception of art, the purposes listed above are within the reach of the average person, though finding them is far from straightforward. Religion and community have both been declining a lot in the west over the last few decades. Still, as the Last Psychiatrist puts it, you can always fake it until it becomes real - if your parents are still alive, you can call them, right now, and brighten up their day. 

But no one dreams of finding religion, or having children, or volunteering in their neighourhood. Because dreams are at heart about achievement, about individual ambition, about achieving success at the highest levels. And this is almost by definition not a possibility for the average person. Even where the subject matter coincides, like in employment, the emphasis is radically different. You can find purpose in an honest day’s work, and providing for your family, but you can only find success by being a CEO or an astronaut.

There is an extent to which human ambition makes for better stories, which is probably why Hollywood likes the idea.

But eventually, the subtext of the message gets internalized – to be worthy, you must have ambition, and succeed in it.

The left likes this idea, because the left believes in egalitarianism. We are all as good as each other, therefore we all have the same innate ability to achieve anything, if we just set our minds to it. Set our minds to what, exactly? Um, derp... never mind, let's just go with astronaut. How many of those are there again?

The negative consequences of this message never seem to get much contemplated. It does the left half the distribution no favours whatsoever to tell them that they can do things that they are incapable of, and that they are failures if they don’t aim at something incredibly difficult and succeed

What are they likely to conclude?

Well, if they are part of a designated victim group, they will latch on to another social message floating in the ether – that their lack of success is due to the malign influence of the interfering forces of -isms and -phobias. I am not a failure, you see. I have talent and skill, which a bigoted and hateful world has prevented from being realized! Is it any wonder that people to whom these messages apply find them seductive as a psychological balm for wounded pride and failed ambition?

Or if they’re just some white trash loser, for whom this excuse isn’t available, they drink and drug themselves into an anesthetized stupor and premature death.

Setting people up for inevitable failure is no kindness at all. And the reality is that even having concrete dreams is only feasible for those in the right half of the distribution of ambition and talent.

There is no right half of a distribution without a corresponding left half. Egalitarianism has destroyed most people's ability to think seriously about how to improve the lives of the left half through any mechanisms other than charity. The state of the art thinking is to keep reinforcing the message to the left half that they, too, can be the right half.

How much needless human misery do we create by pretending that the left half doesn’t exist?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Carlyle Considered

After a shameful delay, at last I have joined the Froude Society! Previous installments covered Froude's "The Bow of Ulysses: The English in the West Indies" and Maine's "Popular Government". Today's subject is Thomas Carlyle, the grand old man of reaction, and his "Latter-day Pamphlets".

Reading Carlyle is often quite surprising, because while he is indubitably reactionary, it's not always in ways that one might expect. For instance, Carlyle places a lot of emphasis on the great men theory of both history and government.
Indisputably enough the meaning of all reform-movement, electing and electioneering, of popular agitation, parliamentary eloquence, and all political effort whatsoever, is that you may get the ten Ablest Men in England put to preside over your ten principal departments of affairs.
This emphasis means that there is relatively less discussion of detailed policy positions on particular issues of the day. Good government, to Carlyle, is a long way from a set of conservative talking points. It arises by appointing the most competent men to power, and giving them the authority to actually rule.

Carlyle wants, in other words, an aristocracy. But this is an aristocracy of talent and character, not one of inherited class. Men of low birth but noble character are singled out for praise, Robert Burns being a prominent example.
Choose well your Governor;—not from this or that poor section of the Aristocracy, military, naval, or redtapist; wherever there are born kings of men, you had better seek them out, and breed them to this work. All sections of the British Population will be open to you.
To the modern mind, one is more apt to evaluate governments by whether they their preferences accord with our own (and hence whether we want the same things implemented as the leaders do ) and whether they have the competence to actually carry the plans out. In this reckoning, a competent leader carrying out plans we hate is considerably worse than an incompetent leader trying and failing to carry out plans we hate.

But to Carlyle, competence involves the ability to understand the decrees of Nature or Nature's God, and thus know what will cause justice to be done. As a result, the distinction between competent government and just government is not of primary significance:
To prosper in this world, to gain felicity, victory and improvement, either for a man or a nation, there is but one thing requisite, That the man or nation can discern what the true regulations of the Universe are in regard to him and his pursuit, and can faithfully and steadfastly follow these. These will lead him to victory; whoever it may be that sets him in the way of these, —were it Russian Autocrat, Chartist Parliament, Grand Lama, Force of Public Opinion, Archbishop of Canterbury, M'Croudy the Seraphic Doctor with his Last-evangel of Political Economy,—sets him in the sure way to please the Author of this Universe, and is his friend of friends. And again, whoever does the contrary is, for a like reason, his enemy of enemies. This may be taken as fixed.
Perhaps the reason that we no longer talk this way is that most of us no longer believe in God (or anything else), and hence don't think of the aim of politics as being to implement his justice on earth. As a result, there's just preferences.

The above quote also illustrates that the focus on competent leaders making competent decisions takes precedence over designing mechanical schemes to implement decisions. As I noted in the discussion of Maine, early Moldbug (in the form of ideas like neocameralism) is a scientist of government, seeking the truth of optimal arrangements. Maine is an engineer of government, grappling with the messy practicalities of what produces generally stable outcomes. But in this taxonomy, Carlyle is an artist of government. Governing is a skill to be learned by able men, appropriately apprenticed to their trade. The only interest in systems and mechanisms is in the extent to which they correctly select the right men, and elevate them to power.

For this reason, Carlyle is generally scathing about the modern implementation of democracy, but not because it is impossible to implement well. The main problem is the fact that the world is full of fools, most of whom know nothing about either government policy or selecting able men. The Laws of the Universe are not easily given up to every Tom, Dick and Harry, so averaging out their opinion with those of the wise is a recipe for disaster:
Your ship cannot double Cape Horn by its excellent plans of voting. The ship may vote this and that, above decks and below, in the most harmonious exquisitely constitutional manner: the ship, to get round Cape Horn, will find a set of conditions already voted for, and fixed with adamantine rigour by the ancient Elemental Powers, who are entirely careless how you vote. If you can, by voting or without voting, ascertain these conditions, and valiantly conform to them, you will get round the Cape: if you cannot,—the ruffian Winds will blow you ever back again; the inexorable Icebergs, dumb privy-councillors from Chaos, will nudge you with most chaotic 'admonition'; you will be flung half-frozen on the Patagonian cliffs, or admonished into shivers by your iceberg councillors, and sent sheer down to Davy Jones, and will never get round Cape Horn at all!
Ships accordingly do not use the ballot-box at all; and they reject the Phantasm species of Captains: one wishes much some other Entities,—since all entities lie under the same rigorous set of laws,—could be brought to show as much wisdom, and sense at least of self-preservation, the first command of Nature.
For democracy skeptics like me, there is much to enjoy. But Carlyle is not easily reduced to slogans, and gives a quite nuanced view on when voting will work better or worse. Latter Day Pamphlets is not wedded to a particular governing system.

For instance, the biggest surprise of the book was that Carlyle is relatively positive about Oliver Cromwell. To me, I had always thought of Cromwell as a disaster, the beginning of where things went badly wrong in English history, and the destruction of genuine monarchy in England. But this isn't how Carlyle portrays it. Cromwell's strong Christian belief is implicitly praised, as is competence in leadership. Remember, the key is greatness of leadership, not forms of government! In this respect, I part company with Carlyle in the importance of institutions and norms. Even if Cromwell were more competent than Charles I, the successor to Charles I would have been a much better bet than the successor to Cromwell. Institutions are not an idea that has much prominence in Latter-day Pamphlets, and the subject of Cromwell and Charles I is not covered in enough detail for me to fully understand the appeal or the implied argument, But the overarching point is still correct - having a crown does not make one a real king, and fake kings are a source of particular disgust to Carlyle. While he does not elaborate much on Charles I, he accurately predicts that constitutional monarchs will not be stable arrangement, nor should we wish them to be:
Imposture, be it known then,—known it must and shall be,—is hateful, unendurable to God and man. Let it understand this everywhere; and swiftly make ready for departure, wherever it yet lingers; and let it learn never to return, if possible!
The Kings were Sham-Kings, playacting as at Drury Lane;—and what were the people withal that took them for real? It is probably the hugest disclosure of falsity in human things that was ever at one time made.
...[The Common Englishman] has been used to decent forms long since fallen empty of meaning, to plausible modes, solemnities grown ceremonial,—what you in your iconoclast humour call shams,—all his life long; never heard that there was any harm in them, that there was any getting-on without them. Did not cotton spin itself, beef grow, and groceries and spiceries come in from the East and the West, quite comfortably by the side of shams? Kings reigned, what they were pleased to call reigning; lawyers pleaded, bishops preached, and honourable members perorated; and to crown the whole, as if it were all real and no sham there, did not scrip continue saleable, and the banker pay in bullion, or paper with a metallic basis ?"
Carlyle predicts, in other words, what I have mentioned before - that political arrangements which are no longer actively defended, which persist out of institutional habit and inertia, will not survive. The unprincipled exceptions, if not actively insisted on, will be made into principled disasters. My guess as to the big elephant in the room on this front is citizenship. With Politics as with life -  nature has made up her mind that what cannot defend itself shall not be defended, as Mr Emerson put it.

By contrast, Oliver Cromwell and the members of the Long Parliament were deadly serious. And Carlyle gives an outstanding Chesterton's Fence justification of what role Parliament actually used to fill (much better than my own poor efforts)

Reading in Eadmerus and the dim old Books, one finds gradually that the Parliament was at first a most simple Assemblage, quite cognate to the situation; that Red William, or whoever had taken on him the terrible task of being King in England, was wont to invite, oftenest about Christmas time, his subordinate Kinglets, Barons as he called them, to give him the pleasure of their company for a week or two: there, in earnest conference all morning, in freer talk over Christmas cheer all evening, in some big royal Hall of Westminster, Winchester, or wherever it might be, with log-fires, huge rounds of roast and boiled, not lacking malmsey and other generous liquor, they took counsel concerning the arduous matters of the kingdom.
...So likewise in the time of the Edwards, when Parliament gradually split itself into Two Houses; and Borough Members and Knights of the Shire were summoned up to answer, Whether they could stand such and such an impost? and took upon them to answer, "Yes, your Majesty; but we have such and such grievances greatly in need of redress first,"—nothing could be more natural and human than such a Parliament still was.
...For, in fine, the tragic experience is dimly but irrepressibly forcing itself on all the world, that our British Parliament does not shine as Sovereign Ruler of the British Nation; that it was excellent only as Adviser of the Sovereign Ruler; and has not, somehow or other, the art of getting work done
In the Carlyle telling, the Parliament worked for two reasons. Firstly, it was composed of men who were themselves Nobles and Rulers, and thus competent to advise on such matters. And secondly, it filled the role of discussing policy choices when there were few avenues available for this. As Carlyle notes, this task is much more competently carried out in modern times (both his and ours) in the press. But the presence of the press makes Parliament not only superfluous, but contemptible, as it turns Parliamentary speeches into performances marketed to the rubes, not serious policy debates. Parliaments, at best, make good advisers but bad sovereigns. Modern parliaments are bad at both. 

There are some parts of Latter Day Pamphlets, especially those that describe the actual workings of government, that read as eerily prophetic. One is forced to do a double-take when one reads the descriptions of how government in England actually worked at the time. For instance:

[I]t is felt that 'reform' in that Downing-Street department of affairs is precisely the reform which were worth all others; that those administrative establishments in Downing Street are really the Government of this huge ungoverned Empire
Much has been done in the way of reforming Parliament in late years; but that of itself seems to avail nothing, or almost less. The men that sit in Downing Street, governing us, are not abler men since the Reform Bill than were those before it.
The civil service, in the form of the Home Office, Foreign Office and Colonial Office was already thoroughly in charge of 1850. Not only that, but the civil service was also fast turning into a sclerotic mess of incompetent bureaucrats badly doing work that didn't really need to be done in the first place. Pause and let that sink in when you hear conservatives talking about how we need to scale back the size of bureaucracy. 

As a consequence, it doesn't matter much who is the Prime Minister, since the civil service makes all the important decisions anyway, and the election and political process is so chaotic and time-consuming that there isn't scope for much else for a leader to do. This is a point that Moldbug emphasises a lot, but the average democracy adherent simply cannot believe. The memorable description of being Prime Minister is that of trying to stay atop a wild bucking horse, with the effort towards not being thrown off crowding out any hope of controlling the direction:
[T]he Right Honourable Zero is to be the man. That we firmly settle; Zero, all shivering with rapture and with terror, mounts into the high saddle; cramps himself on, with knees, heels, hands and feet; and the horse gallops—whither it lists. That the Right Honourable Zero should attempt controlling the horse—Alas, alas, he, sticking on with beak and claws, is too happy if the horse will only gallop anywhither, and not throw him. ... This is what we call a Government in England, for nearly two centuries now.
...Really it is unimportant which of them ride it. Going upon past experience long continued now, I should say with brevity, "Either of them—Neither of them." If our Government is to be a No-Government, what is the matter who administers it? Fling an orange-skin into St. James's Street; let the man it hits be your man.
This has been the government ... for nearly two centuries before 1850.  If you think Carlyle might be right, rolling things back to the 1950's isn't going to cut it.

Yet despite these similarities in description of some parts of the world, one sees that Moldbug's description of Carlyle as a reactionary is entirely correct:
A reactionary is not a Republican, a Democrat, or even a libertarian. It is not even a communist, a fascist, or a monarchist. It is something much older, stranger, and more powerful. But if you can describe it as anything, you can describe it as the pure opposite of progressivism. True reaction is long since extinct in the wild, but it lives in Carlyle.
Indeed, reading through Latter Day Pamphlets, one continues to be struck by statements that defy description on the standard modern political spectrum. Authority is not only necessary, but wise and just:
I say, it is the everlasting privilege of the foolish to be governed by the wise
Carve it in stone. This is so far outside the Overton Window that we barely have words to describe it.

But if you were hoping for a defense of mainstream capitalist economics, you will not find it here. Carlyle is shocked and appalled by the level of poverty evident in Ireland. But unlike the left, he is appalled not only because of the suffering, but mostly because the indigence and misery is a sign of a catastrophic failure of governance. The problem with poverty is not ultimately the money, but the wasted lives.
The Idle Workhouse, now about to burst of overfilling, what is it but the scandalous poison-tank of drainage from the universal Stygian quagmire of our affairs? Workhouse Paupers; immortal sons of Adam rotted into that scandalous condition, subter-slavish, demanding that you would make slaves of them as an unattainable blessing! My friends, I perceive the quagmire must be drained, or we cannot live.
If our Chancellor of the Exchequer had a Fortunatus' purse, and miraculous sacks of Indian meal that would stand scooping from forever,—I say, even on these terms Pauperism could not be endured; and it would vitally concern all British Citizens to abate Pauperism, and never rest till they had ended it again. Pauperism is the general leakage through every joint of the ship that is rotten. 
Carlyle is decidedly cool on the ability of markets, not only to solve these problems, but also to generate wise decisions in general. His scathing essay on the possibility of making a statue of railway baron George Hudson, who is presented as a seller of worthless scrip and dubious economic schemes, makes clear why. A democracy of dollars is not much more likely to recognise genuine human worth than a democracy of votes, for much the same reasons. This is not a matter Carlyle takes lightly:
If the world were not properly anarchic, this question 'Who shall have a Statue?' would be one of the greatest and most solemn for it. Who is to have a Statue? means, Whom shall we consecrate and set apart as one of our sacred men?
And he walked the walk too, founding the National Portrait Gallery to make sure that great men were properly commemorated too. 

One is also reminded in odd ways that the world itself was very different in 1850, and not just in the ways that get frequently remarked on. For instance, in an essay discussing the enormous prominence given to people who had the gift of good speech, Carlyle states the following:
Our English careers to born genius are twofold. There is the silent or unlearned career of the Industrialisms, which are very many among us ; and there is the articulate or learned career of the three professions, Medicine, Law (under which we may include Politics), and the Church. Your born genius, therefore, will first have to ask himself, Whether he can hold his tongue or cannot ?
Two questions arise, both linked. Firstly, what criteria do we now use to evaluate truth, apart from rhetoric, which gets little discussion in the essay? And secondly, what is the large class of learned careers not discussed in the above list?

The answer to both is: science. One can see that the intellectual impact of the scientific method had not yet permeated much of society, and that science itself was practiced by a small number of mostly independently wealthy people like Lord Kelvin. The rest of innovation was merely lumped in with industrialism, and not at all considered to be an important or primary method of understanding the universe. If you were actually transported back to the world of 1850, it would almost certainly strike you as utterly alien in far more ways than you imagine. As Moldbug said of Larry Auster, it is equally true of Carlyle - he is gone, and so is the country he was born in. To complain of either would be as superfluous.

But the underlying truth of his words still remains. To those of us skeptical about modernity, Carlyle speaks across the ages, addressing our misgivings and pointing a way forward through the morass:
My friends, across these fogs of murky twaddle and philanthropism, in spite of sad decadent 'world-trees,' with their rookeries of foul creatures,—the silent stars, and all the eternal luminaries of the world, shine even now to him that has an eye. In this day as in all days, around and in every man, are voices from the gods, imperative to all, if obeyed by even none, which say audibly, "Arise, thou son of Adam, son of Time; make this thing more divine, and that thing,—and thyself, of all things; and work, and sleep not; for the Night cometh, wherein no man can work!" He that has an ear may still hear.
Just so.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Conservation of Group Conflict

While I find watching sports generally boring, the psychology of why people watch sports is fascinating.

Not so much the fact that people want to watch exciting athletic endeavors, which doesn’t need much explanation. Watching the X-games or parkour is simply pleasure at athletic skill. But the most ubiquitous sporting events have a strong aspect of tribal loyalty to them. People don’t just like watching football in general, they mostly like supporting a particular team. You might say that this is just local civic pride, and to a certain extent this is true (though it still raises the question of why civic pride is invested in a sports team in the first place).

But the cleanest psychological natural experiment comes from foreigners who move to a city. I had an Australian friend who moved to the US, and wanted to watch American football. Since he didn’t have a team already, he picked one, literally at random. Now he’s a Green Bay Packers fan, and watches all their games. His choice is arbitrary, but I think he’s just more honest about what he wants. The underlying choice of who to support is always arbitrary. What people really want is the thrill of battle, of tribal allegiance and the raw passion of shared purpose. The only real reason to organize this along city or country lines is that it’s more fun to be part of a shared tribe with your friends, who usually happen to be the people living near you.

Sports tribalism is to actual tribalism what masturbation is to sex. The act being simulated is that of tribal battle. Of course, real tribal battle is generally frightening. You’ve got a high chance of being killed or maimed, and lots of people are too old, fat or weak to be usefully involved. So we’ve innovated ways to produce the same feeling by turning up and screaming for men to do ritualized battle on our behalf. There is a reason that live sports games are so much more exciting than televised games, and why televised games in a pub are more exciting than televised games in your home, and why televised games in your home with friends are more exciting than televised games in your home alone. The main attraction is the tribal shared purpose. The more visceral, the better. It’s no surprise that in Europe, soccer hooliganism takes the simulated version to its logical real-life conclusion.

It might be tempting to view this as a critique of sports, as being vulgar and base. Which is partly true. But there’s another, bigger angle at play.

The rise of mass audience participation in sports came after World War II, coinciding with a) the decrease in actual mass involvement in armed conflict, and b) the increased demonization of any racial or ethnic allegiance by western whites.

As the average young western male had less opportunity to actually engage in martial combat, and had no other tribe with which to bond, his appetite had to be sated with ritual simulated combat and arbitrary tribal sports loyalty.

In other words, when tribal allegiance and conflict did not exist, someone had to invent them. Because they fill a very primal need in the average psyche.

You can see this pattern operating in wider conflicts. There seems to be something approximating a conservation of group conflict. Obviously, there's periods of high and low average levels, so it's not a strict conservation. But there does seem to be a rough equilibrium, created by forced pushing in opposite directions. When the background level of tribal conflict gets too low, people seek it out. But when there threatens to be too much, some of the people who were previously tribal enemies become acceptable again.

In terms of the first, there are some wars in history that are simply difficult to explain, even in hindsight. For instance, the War of 1812 between Britain and America. Be honest, have you ever read a succinct account of what the hell it was all about? Here’s Wikipedia:
The United States declared war for several reasons, including trade restrictions brought about by the British war with France, the impressment of as many as 10,000 American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, British support for Native American tribes fighting European American settlers on the frontier, outrage over insults to national honor during the Chesapeake–Leopard Affair, and interest in the United States in expanding its borders west.
 Ooookay. That sounds totally incoherent. Compare it to the far more compelling account from The War Nerd's excellent series 'The 12 Days of 1812'
So why go to war with a great power when you know it’s in a bad mood? And Britain was in a very, very bad mood in the early 19th century, scared out of its wits by France, creeping democracy, disrespectful servants, and the whole revolutionary trend.
Mostly because the US was in a good mood--too good for its own good. We had a big birthrate—rich families were bigger than poor families in those days, partly because more of their kids made it to adulthood—and that made for a lot of young, ambitious “gentlemen” who wanted to add “officer” to their resumes, and “wartime officer” at that.
We went to war because we (meaning, as the academics would say, “a handful of wealthy white males, bla bla bla”) wanted to. The happiest memories anybody had were the stories—not always totally factual, naturally—of how we kicked British ass in Washington’s day. Most of the elite still had a vaguely pro-French feeling, thanks to the French saving our ass in the Revolution, and not in the mood to excuse all the Royal Navy’s high-handed behavior. America knew it was much bigger and stronger than it had been in 1780, and wanted everybody to know it. Nothing like a war to make an impression.
Lastly, the factor you won’t see mentioned in any of the standard list: War envy. You see this a lot when a war goes big: everybody wants to get in on it. Later, they usually want to get out, but it’s too late then. War meant much more to most upper-class Americans in 1812 than it does now. Decent families were supposed to produce officers, and officers wanted battle creds. Everybody in Europe was getting them; they’d been at it for 20 years, in fact. It was just plain time for another war. The Brits were overextended and impolite; Canada was there for the taking, or looked to be; and a whole new generation of Americans who’d had to listen to dad’s and granddad’s stories about Lexington and Saratoga wanted some material of their own, to bore their grandkids with, the way God intended.
Brecher, who knows more about the psychology of these matters than the vast majority of writers on the subject, is dead right. It's not that the listed casus belli weren't somewhat involved. It's just that they don't add up to a coherent explanation without a significant component that basically amounts to 'people just wanted it to happen'.

And on the flip side, among the odd if largely unremarked developments of the second half of the 20th Century is the enormous decline in military antagonism between European nations. Contra the bureaucrats in Brussels, the prospect of a war between the major European powers is incredibly remote, EU or no EU. There simply isn't the anger for it any more.

As the rising tide of diversity brought more and more minorities into Europe, the primary tribal conflict was completely transformed. The nativists who might have previously been agitating for war with France or Germany, who were the traditional tribal enemies, now had their entire focus absorbed by third world populations in their midst. Correspondingly, the globalist left was far more concerned with destroying nativist opposition at home than with fighting other countries. As the progressive elites pushed further and further into continent-wide alliances to advance the EU idea, the conservatives and nationalists realised that they actually had a lot in common with the nationalists from other countries.

Partly this is just a matter of tactics - if you try to fight everyone at once, you inevitably lose. But still, the idea that nativists in lots of European countries would be all allied with each other, rather than agitating for wars against each other, would be highly surprising to Europeans 100 years ago. As indeed would the currency of the idea 'European' itself. One might be British or German or Polish, but nobody was just 'European'. You can only do so when there is a real, non-European group against which to distinguish yourself.

And this suggests something puzzling about the pan-European nationalism of people like Richard Spencer. Specifically, suppose Spencer et al actually get their way, and the European nations revert to being comprised mostly of people ethnically associated with that region - Anglo-Saxons in Britan, Teutons in Germany, etc. Don't ask me how this happens, but just assume it. What do you think would happen next?

My guess is that there's a good chance that the pan-European sentiment would quickly dissolve without the glue of intra-country conflict to hold it together. The European countries would soon end up a lot more antagonistic to each other than they are now. We had a period where Europe was filled with only white people, and 'pan-European nationalism' sure isn't the way to describe the prevailing mood at the time'. Maybe it would be different this time around, but would you bet on it? And if so, why?

At heart, starting up another tribal conflict it would be the only way to keep the game going. Nativists want to fight other tribes. Globalists want to fight nativists, and feel virtuous by defusing the nativist/outgroup conflict (as they see it). But everyone involved needs there to be a tribal enemy in order to be able to enjoy playing their part in the game, which is the only thing they all agree on.

The economists will tell you that we can't have world peace and disarmament because it creates massive incentives for one country to defect and invade everyone else.

But the psychologists might add another reason. We can't have world peace and disarmament because people would get bored and start conflicts up again.