Some news and updates resettling

I'm now back in the United States, for the foreseeable future. My last two weeks in the UK were possibly my favorite two weeks in my 5.5 years there. On February 28, we went up to London with only what we could carry, for me to give a talk at the Invisible College (a podcast of my talk will be up soon). We stayed with Nina Power, who generously offered us a room in her flat, until our flight on March 13. The two weeks before these were rather stressful, as we spent most of our time selling, giving away, and shipping our belongings.

My personalized book-recommendation experiment worked really well; I unloaded well more than 100 books to internet friends. The first half of that process went into the red, but after the 'premium' stage of that process, I ended up making a good amount more than we spent in shipping, so that's good. Although it was quite time consuming, I took the time to digitize a bunch of my most bookmarked books before shipping them off. That was a surprisingly edifying experience in its own right, and I'm suddenly rid of my romantic attachment to physical books — a digital library with highlights and notes feels much more powerful, and I even feel closer to my books now than I did before. It turns out books collecting dust are less heartwarming than digital meltdown.

Quite a few people chose to give me a little $ for a custom book recommendation, based on their ideological and personality characteristics, plus my own digitized personal highlights from the recommended book. Although I'm no longer giving away my physical books, my little recommendation+highlights micro-service is up and running, and will remain up as one of many entrepreneurial toy-experiments I'll be piloting over the next year. Patrons at 5\$/month or more get access to all my digital highlights. Currently, the patron hard-drive includes my highlights from books by Chesterton, Bataille, Lacan, Bourdieu, Tiqqun, and more.

If you ordered a physical book, you probably should have received it by now. If you haven't received a book by now, please contact me.

Now that I'm resettling, and will be in one place for at least a month, I'm returning to regularly scheduled production. Primarily, I will return to writing How Academia Got Pwned and I think I will follow through on the Kickstarter idea. I made some videos with Nina and DC that I will release over coming weeks, and I also gave a talk to a student group at my university after I resigned. Going back onto campus for that was quite pleasing. I have audio of that, too, which will go to the podcast soon.

Tonight I speak with Logo Daedalus on the livestream. On Monday, 1 April
at 04:00 pm Eastern, I'll speak with philosopher David Roden about the posthuman. And then on Saturday, 6 April at 11:00 am, I will speak with Johannes Niederhauser, who just finished a PhD on Heidegger. In London, Johannes was telling me about "ecstatic time" in Heidegger and I was like, we have to stream this.

Much more soon…

Hate Speech, Feminism, and Paganism with Nina Power and DC Miller

Nina Power is a philosopher and writer, and DC Miller is a writer best known for his opposition to the Shutdown LD50 campaign. This talk has become quite a scandal. In response to this talk, someone wrote a ridiculous Open Letter Concerning Nina Power, and Nina just today published a response. You can watch the original conversation here, on my Youtube channel.

Other Life is a pretty punk-rock-DIY affair, run by one person — and I'm not an audio engineer. As this podcast becomes more popular, I'm aware that I really should up the production quality. If you strongly agree, become a patron; influxes of support incentivize me to invest in production quality. Big thanks to all the current patrons, for helping all this to exist.

Download this episode.

Modern Liberalism Is Not Peace, It's Pacification

Readers of my work over the past few years will know that I have long been interested in how natural human rebelliousness gets pacified (1, 2, 3).

I recently had the pleasure of working on this question with a group of co-authors, from very different methodological backgrounds. The final result has now been published in International Studies Quarterly. In "Liberal Pacification and the Phenomenology of Violence," (Baron, Havercroft, Kamola, Koomen, Murphy, Prichard 2019), we substantiate the concept of pacification relative to political science literatures on violence. Our real target was the popular conception of the "Liberal Peace" (i.e., modern liberalism causes peace, à la Steven Pinker).

While the article does not offer an empirical demonstration or test any hypothesis, I believe that — for a so-called "critical" paper — we went much farther than usual to develop at least a positivist case for our perspective. We do not pretend to have empirically defeated the "Liberal Peace" story, but we have planted a flag of sorts, from which "critical" perspectives might proceed in this direction with greater positivist/empirical sophistication.

Here's a key slice of the abstract:

We argue that the spread of liberal institutions does not necessarily decrease violence but instead transforms it. Our phenomenological analysis captures empirical trends in human domination and suffering that liberal peace theories cannot account for. It reveals how a decline in direct violence may coincide with the transformation of violence in ways that are concealed, monopolized, and structured into the liberal order. We call this process liberal pacification.

And here's a snippet of our positivist gloss that — I think — makes this paper stand out from a lot of other so-called "critical" papers:

…by reinterpreting the liberal peace as liberal pacification we are able to grant the empirical findings of liberal peace theorists while maintaining that the Pax Americana represents an intensification of violence overall. In the language of positivist social science, our theory is observationally equivalent to that of liberal peace theory. We expect that the quantity of direct violence inversely associates with the degree of pacification in a society. Therefore, our interpretation challenges research that identifies liberal institutions as the cause of declining violence. Liberal institutions, as apparatuses of liberal pacification, ensure that direct violence is increasingly rare while leaving the structures of violence and domination in place. The observational equivalence on particular dependent variables (in our case, all forms of direct violence) produces a theoretical change requiring the generation of novel observable implications (King, Keohane, and Verba 1994, 30).

In other words, empirical social scientists interested in the Liberal Peace should not toss this one in the bin labeled "purely theoretical postmodern crap I don't need to deal with."

Acceleration, Adorno, Jordan Peterson, Religion


Reposted with permission from the Parallax Views podcast by JG Michael. For many other talks like this one, find Parallax Views at @ViewsParallax and patreon.com/parallaxviews. Big thanks to JG for his interest in my ideas, and for extracting these atypically coherent thoughts from me. JG's excellent questions helped me make connections I've never made in public before, which reminds me how these new media are still so poorly understood. For intellectuals, podcasts are first and foremost production technologies rather than distribution channels or influence mechanisms (as they are to business people and social climbers).

From Michael's notes: "...How Justin got into academia... accelerationism... Justin giving his definition of accelerationism and its take on modernity... the different branches of accelerationism - r/acc (right accelerationism), l/acc (left accelerationism), and u/acc (unconditional accelerationism)... criticisms of these lines of thought... main players within the accelerationist milieu such as Nick Land and Edmund Berger... Nick Land's dark accelerationist vision... the way in which religion can act as a social technology against these horrors... the Frankfurt School philosopher/sociologist Theodor W. Adorno, his critique of instrumental reason, and the influence Adorno's writing has had on Justin's thought... this leads Justin into making an unexpected comparison between Adorno and... Jordan B. Peterson... Justin's research into the political ideologies of Jordan Peterson's fanbase... Justin's research into political ideology and fragmentation... the central accelerationist concepts of "Exit" and "patchwork" in depth... why religion has become so important to Justin and specifically his renewed interest in Catholicism. How Justin's radical politics are connected to his own religious beliefs... Catholicism's often overlooked history of breeding radically emancipatory thinkers..."

Big thanks to all my patrons, who help me keep the podcast going.

How to Deal With Punishment According to Nietzsche and Spinoza

I was just reviewing my copy of Nietzsche's The Genealogy of Morals, before I send it off to someone through Version 2 of my book recommendation experiment. The person said they wanted something I consider “fundamental reading.” As often happens reviewing Nietzsche, I came across a passage surprisingly applicable to my own life at the moment. I'm leaving it here without comment, on the wager that I am probably not the only person in 2019 who will need to be reminded of this insight...

...one afternoon, teased by who knows what recollection, [Spinoza] mused on the question of what really remained to him of the famous morsus conscientiae [moral conscience] — he who had banished good and evil to the realm of human imagination and had wrathfully defended the honor of his "free" God…

"The opposite of gaudium [joy]," he finally said to himself — "a sadness accompanied by the recollection of a past event that flouted all of our expectations." Eth.IlI, propos. XVIII; schol. I. II. Mischief-makers overtaken by punishments have for thousands of years felt in respect of their "transgressions" just as Spinoza did: "here something has unexpectedly gone wrong," not: " I ought not to have done that." They submitted to punishment as one submits to an illness or to a misfortune or to death, with that stout-hearted fatalism without rebellion through which the Russians, for example, still have an advantage over us Westerners in dealing with life.

Even raises an interesting hypothesis about why Westerners at the moment are so paranoid about those Russians.

Unfair Competition (How Academia Got Pwned 13)

This is the thirteenth post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. It's going to become a book, so for updates be sure to subscribe.


You are probably reading the first and only blog that a university has ever accused of unfair competition. Congratulations, dear reader. I couldn't have done it without you.

In the last section on my departure narrative, I skipped ahead somewhat, as I was approaching (in real life) my hearing for "gross misconduct." Before that, I had only brought you up to the point of my suspension. In #5, I analyzed the evidence provided in support of my Dean's claim that I was harming the university's reputation. But the posts after that went into some other parallel lines of inquiry while, in real life, the events of my narrative were rapidly approaching their climax.

At the time of this writing, it's now official: I am no longer an employee of the University of Southampton. I will explain how this all came to an end, but first we need to circle back and fill in some gaps in the narrative thus far.

One of the reasons I chose the exit strategy I chose is that I'm now extremely free to share details that I would not be allowed to share right now if I decided to fight this with a lawyer. You're welcome, dear reader.

The gaps I need to fill are between my initial suspension (October 2, 2018) and my hearing for gross misconduct (scheduled February 13, 2019). There were two separate investigation meetings conducted in the period of my suspension. The first was on Friday 2nd November 2018.

There were two notable features of the first investigation meeting that took place after my suspension. Just like the first meeting (before my suspension), the guy simply amassed a dossier of copypasta capturing things I've said and done on the internet, and asked me about them in that stern FBI tone he probably learned watching crime shows. With all due respect to the guy — a very nice and fair man, bless him — my main impression was that he seemed utterly confused about what the frick had been placed in his lap. I got the impression he wanted to start by asking: "First, what is a Twitter?" Instead, he just shoved a bunch of screenshots in my face and asked me to explain what I meant. It was surreal how innocuous were many of the items. Consider the following item from my mile-long rap-sheet, which I'm screenshotting from the final report of the investigation.

Imagine a very concerned Boomer sliding a screenshot of this tweet across the table, and asking "Could you explain what you meant by this?"

I was like, "Huh? That's all it means, I support student activism. I always have. Students should be free to criticize professors, even publicly, I applaud this." To this day, I still cannot even guess what esoteric meaning he thought this one could have had. It was stunning to learn just how badly university administrators are genuinely confused and paranoid about the most straightforward of internet communications.

Then things took a turn toward creepy. It appears that expressing doubts about the viability of academia is itself a punishable offense. When the questioning turned in this direction, again I couldn't even see what they were concerned about; it was only in the third investigation that I was able to decode this line of inquiry. Only later would I discover that they were beginning to investigate a possible breach of "the duty of fidelity." Do people realize academics have a duty of fidelity to their employers? I sure didn't; I had never heard of that, and I certainly never would have signed any pledge of fidelity. Here is a piece of evidence I was confronted with in Meeting 2 (again, 'capped from the hearing documentation):

They basically just asked me "What did you mean by that?" and I answered "Exactly what it says," regarding everything they brought to the table. It was pretty clear I didn't even need to be there. My physical presence was necessary to rubber-stamp the meeting as having taken place, but it was clearly a machinic process in which the purpose and outcome was perfectly impermeable to any combination of noises I might emit.

Apparently, being open to exit options is a punishable offense. As I reported in a previous post, at the time when my Dean handed me my suspension letter, I informed her explicitly that getting suspended would make me money on the internet. Confronted with this unfortunate little molehill in the intellectual topography today, they must have sent a lackey to go find some ordinance that prohibits it. A few weeks later, after I started blogging all the details of the story, the university launched a whole new, additional investigation. In their words:

"the investigation is to explore allegations that through social media posts (provided to JM on 24.01.2019) that JM:
• breached the duty of confidence; and/or
• breached the implied duty of fidelity; and/or
• breached the implied duty of mutual trust and confidence; and/or
• brought the University into disrepute.
"

I couldn't find anything about fidelity in the ordinance they cited. I guess that's why they call it "implied." But with my PhD it only took a few minutes of Googling to resolve what was going on here. In case law, the implied duty of fidelity is what prohibits an employee from taking business from the employer:

"A number of potential aspects of the duty of fidelity, including a duty not to compete with the employer, have been identified in case law... These issues often arise in "team move" situations, where a number of employees who work in the same business decide to leave and join a competitor, often with assistance from the new employer, or set up a competing business themselves." (Thompson Reuters Practical Law)

Because I was writing about what was happening in the university, and people from the public were giving me money for it, they must have realized what I was trying to warn them of: Their entire business model is in serious trouble. If they were intelligent, autonomous agents, then upon realizing this they would have taken my advice and not have suspended me. Of course, being what they are, they could do nothing other than escalate their own doomed institution to the highest possible level of self-ownage, by confirming and enshrining the accuracy of my vague wager in the majestic aura of their own legal strategy. Thus, likely for the first time ever (as far as I know), a university built a formal legal case to the effect that a single academic's blogging was unfair competition.

Let's start by savoring the irony of their two-pronged legal strategy. On the one hand: "Justin, you're awful words and inappropriate antics are harming the university's reputation." On the other hand: "How dare you enjoy a good reputation without us!"

So this is how academia gets pwned, ladies and gentlemen. If you wonder aloud whether academia is the best way to constitute a free intellectual life, people dissatisfied with academia will throw you money to encourage this line of inquiry, while academia will... make it harder to constitute a free intellectual life. It doesn't require advanced game theory to see the ineluctable equilibrium on the horizon, once the intellectually ambitious start to downgrade their valuation of status relative to independence. When I look at the dynamics of influence and attention, I see the relative payoff of status decreasing and that of independence increasing (1 , 2, just to cite a few places where I've developed these observations). Ergo, stick a fork in it, baby!

I would not put any money on some kind of institutional course-correction, because even when they realize they've owned themselves, they are structurally barred from responding in any way other than owning themselves at a higher level. Academia is so pwned already that I didn't even need to bait it into a final round of self-destruction in order for my own exit plans to enjoy a satisfactorily high probability of success. I could afford to walk away, even before the university was done hitting itself with my hand. Unfair competition, indeed, so unfair I honestly started to feel bad.

And I assure you, the university was eager to hit itself with my hand at least one more time. In fact, the university is very lucky I'm not the attention whore my haters accuse me of being. Lucky for them that I would rather theorize this process in peace and quiet, than sacrifice myself on the altar of accelerating it. I am no saint, dear reader. I am now but a commoner, a peasant. It would have been easy for me to accelerate the process more aggressively, but then I would very likely be embroiled in a busy, exhausting, dizzying media spectacle of one kind or another, instead of writing this blog post with calm glee. Truly, at the end of the day, I only wish to till my own soil. That's all I've ever asked, dear reader. Instead of trying to accelerate the downfall of academia single-handedly — an Icarian dream, no doubt — it seems at once wiser and more radical for me to lay bare the system's underlying mechanics to the best of my ability, allowing dozens of others, potentially hundreds of others, to accelerate the process as well. With the knowledge I've gleaned from the belly of this beast, at the outer-most edges of its contemporary development, together we will accelerate the process without anyone ever having to fly too close to the sun.

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