October 25th, 2016

Sad news: Steven den Beste has died

Unless you were around in the early days of the blogsophere, you may not have heard of Steven den Beste, and the news that he has died may not mean much to you.

But to those of us who remember him, he was a giant. I wrote a post about him in 2005, and I’ll reproduce excerpts from it now:

I miss Steven Den Beste.

No, I never met him; and yes, I know he’s not returning to political blogging…

He’s very ill; and, what’s more, even if he weren’t, I don’t get the sense that he’s the type who would respond to pleadings from his audience…He’s the type who makes up his mind and that’s it. No looking back. At least that’s what I imagine.

But I still miss him, and hope he’s doing well. I think, when I reflect on it, that he was my favorite blogger. There was nothing easy about him; no cheap shots, no funny stuff. He didn’t pander, and he was the hardest worker imaginable, churning out reams of lucid prose on a daily basis. I never understood how there were enough hours in a day for him to write as much as he did, even if he was working round the clock. And of course I didn’t know at the time that it was done at enormous physical cost to him because he was suffering from a progressive degenerative illness. When he quit blogging about a year ago in July, 2004, he cited both the illness and a massive psychological burnout that seems to have come from the fact that almost all the mail he got—and he got a lot of it—was negative.

I felt guilty, having never written him an e-mail myself that let him know how much I admired and appreciated his work. I wrote one afterwards, but he never replied, nor did I expect him to. I like to think it was because he was inundated with similar missives.

Den Beste had never impressed me as being the type to care whether people appreciated him or not, though. In fact, Bill Whittle famously called him the “Krell Mind Machine”–and those of you who read the book The Forbidden Planet in your youth and loved it (as I did), or saw the movie, will understand what Whittle was getting at. But I suppose even the most cerebral of us—and Steven Den Beste was nothing if not cerebral—have feelings, too (something that should be glaringly obvious, but is sometimes clear only in retrospect).

To those of you who got into reading blogs after Den Beste had retired and who don’t know what I’m talking about, I urge you to visit his archived writings. Here’s a guide. Of course, it’s not the same as reading his analyses at the time he wrote them. For example, during the buildup to the Iraq war, when the US was presenting its case (interminably, it seemed) to the balky UN, I recall that it was Den Beste who had the best (yes, puns are irresistible) writings on the situation. He was the one I relied on.

You had to be patient to stick with Den Beste—he wasn’t what you’d call a quick read. Step by laborious step, he’d take the reader through a beautifully and logically reasoned argument or explanation, and he didn’t really care how long it took. He respected his readers and figured they were up to the task—and for him, they were. He sometimes dealt with minutiae and technical things (after all, he’d been an engineer), and some of his posts were arcane. If on a certain day he wanted to write about something obscure and tech-y, or anime—well then, that’s what he wrote about that day (and that’s the day I might take a break from his blog). But most of the time he worked large, weaving together examples from disparate sources in new and unexpected—and, above all, deep—ways, bringing the sharp order of his mind to the chaos of politics and world events.

As Den Beste himself put it (and he put it best) in this essay about the process by which he wrote his articles, he used an “internal mechanism” which was especially “good at…finding non-obvious relationships.” That was indeed his specialty. In the same essay, he says: I write about something because I’m compelled to, because it’s often the case that if I don’t, then I can’t get it out of my head. Putting my thoughts into print relieves an internal pressure which also isn’t easily described.

That came across in his essays. He seemed to be a pressure cooker of some sort: throw in a bunch of data, seal the top, add heat, and the pressure would build until—voila!—out came a tasty feast, in his case an intellectual one, cooked in far less time than conventional pots and normal pressure could ever accomplish. It’s not surprising he burnt out. Even if he hadn’t had an illness, I can’t imagine anyone keeping up that sort of pace.

Den Beste was a master of the long essay form and a blog pioneer, beginning in early 2001, when most of us had never even heard the word “blog.” I’m a practitioner of the medium-to-longish essay myself, and I tip my proverbial hat to Den Beste for setting the bar very very high.

Den Beste had been in ill health for many years. RIP.

[NOTE: Some of the links in the above passage from that 2005 post no longer work.]

19 Responses to “Sad news: Steven den Beste has died”

  1. sdferr Says:

    Culled from the Brickmuppet post, a link to the archived USSClueless conserved by erbosoft.

  2. Brian Swisher Says:

    Here is a link to the USS Clueless archive.

  3. Rufus Firefly Says:

    Like you, I have no idea if he was inundated, but he got at least one more than yours, as I too sent him a thank you.

    Very sad to learn this. A brilliant, self-taught intellect.

  4. Ray Says:

    I was very disappointed when he stopped writing his blog. He is missed, RIP.

  5. J.J. Says:

    Yes, Den Beste’s blog was the first I ever read on a regular basis. I was attracted to his logic. No one made the case for a muscular U.S. self defense better than he did. Though I’ve always been a patriot, his writing rekindled my patriotism. I knew he was not in good health, but was not certain how bad it was. If there was a blogger Hall of Fame, he certainly ought to be in it. He was a giant.

    May he RIP.

    When a blogger you admire quits, it is almost like a death in the family. USS Clueless, Shrinkwrapped, and Dr. Sanity were all old faves that I miss and had to grieve the loss of their insightful and inspirational writing.

    Unfortunately, age is catching up with me. I no longer have the energy or time to follow many blogs. I used to have time and energy for six hours a day of computer time plus working in the yard, going to the gym, going to association meetings, serving on committees, trekking up into the mountains, socializing with friends, and traveling. Alas, those days are gone. I can certainly identify with why Den Beste dropped his rigorous blogging activities. Age and illness spares no one in the end.

  6. NewYorkCentral Says:

    Another USS Clueless fan here – and occasional poster and frequent lurker at this blog. Was definitely saddened when he retired; I had corresponded with him a couple of times in the early 2000’s on technical topics and was honestly thrilled when he responded to my questions. Even his thoughts on various anime series were worthwhile.

  7. Ymarsakar Says:

    I read USS Clueless when I was learning about politics and what differentiated the R and D behind people’s names I saw on tv.

    His articles on foreign policy or war served as a good corroborative source to other blogs and news.

    But I later found out that the reason why he switched to Chizumatic was because writing about politics and war was too stressful for him. I didn’t know at that time, that he was getting trolled or personally stalked by the Leftist alliance “anti war pacifists”. Yea, the “anti war pacifists”, remember that MoveOn Pink crowd? They were Anti War, and Pacifists, btw.

  8. Ymarsakar Says:

    Den Beste’s interest in anime was very different from my own aesthetics.

    Den Beste seemed to go for the extremely low key, relaxing, slice of life animes. While I mostly went for stuff like Ginga Eiyuu.

  9. Brian Swisher Says:

    Y:

    Yes, he was being trolled. But he also mentioned that the meds he had to take for his (unspecified) chronic illness caused cognitive issues that made the kind of concentration he needed to write lengthy essays on serious topics difficult. So it was a combination of things that caused him to close USS Clueless.

  10. Ymarsakar Says:

    Brian Swisher Says:

    His Chizumatic front page gives an intro to stuff he didn’t like like unsolicited comments. But I got the impression that all the really “negative” stuff, he didn’t even want to deal with.

    Even more so, if you consider his personality or his other limits.

    So any info about that split? It doesn’t feel like his only problems were commenters that gave unsolicited advice, but rather that was the only thing he wanted to write about in reply to.

  11. brdavis9 Says:

    DenBeste was the best of the best.

    When I finally discovered his work, the feeling I got is best described as

    满意的启蒙和确认完全令人愉快的发现。
    Mǎnyì de qǐméng hé quèrèn wánquán lìng rén yúkuài de fǎ xiàn.

    …roughly

    utterly delightful discovery of satisfied enlightenment and confirmation

    He was enormous. Even his mere musings influenced my world view.

    …I work weekdays, so the wake doesn’t begin until Saturday morning at the Davis’s.

    Here’s to you DB. RIP.

  12. donkatsu Says:

    He used to write some interesting posts about energy and they always turned into flame wars. The same thing happened in posts about PC operating systems.

    I corresponded with him on energy matters and could tell that he really got cheesed at the flamers and trolls.

  13. Brian Swisher Says:

    Y:

    “So any info about that split? ”

    No, not really. He didn’t write anything about his chronic illness, apart from the reference above, and that was 12 years ago. He had a stroke about four years ago from which he made a pretty good recovery, but he’d been in decline ever since – he had been wheelchair bound for at least the last year. This is just gleaned from what he chose to write about his health, you understand. When Chizumatic went dark after the 14th, I and his other readers feared the worst.

  14. Big Maq Says:

    @Neo – thanks for identifying a new writer of interest (at least to me).

    Best of … can be found here, as a web archive…
    https://web.archive.org/web/20160119040224/http://denbeste.nu/bestof.shtml

  15. huxley Says:

    When I was a lefitie disoriented by 9-11, SDB was a great discovery. He was one of my best sources for laying down some new track in my understanding of the world.

    As a programming exercise I downloaded his USS Clueless wesite and converted it to a unified PDF file so I had access to it offline. I’ll make it generally available someday.

    I sent him a copy and thanked him. I never heard back of course, but like neo and others I didn’t expect to.

  16. huxley Says:

    Here’s my paaraphrase of an SDB riff that was essential knowledge for me.

    Steven Den Beste once presented a useful overview of recent world affairs as a three-way gun fight between (roughly) (1) Western conservativism, (2) Western liberalism, and (3) Islamism. (His actual categories were far more precisely crafted, but beyond the point I wish to make.)

    The classic strategy in a three-way gunfight is for two parties to form a temporary alliance to kill the third, and only afterward fight each other.

    In today’s world, Western liberals and Islamists are allies. Make no mistake, their values are fundamentally incompatible, but for now they are united in trying to kill off Western conservatism, and they will settle with each other later.

    This still seems the true kernel of the West/Islam conflict.

  17. Sarah Rolph Says:

    “When I was a leftie disoriented by 9-11, SDB was a great discovery. He was one of my best sources for laying down some new track in my understanding of the world.”

    That is nicely stated and is a profound tribute. Writing can make a difference in the world. Reflecting on that is a wonderful way to remember den Beste.

    Goodbye to a beautiful mind and an enormously helpful person. May his memory be a blessing.

  18. Big Maq Says:

    @huxley – where does China and Russia fit in all that?

  19. Ymarsakar Says:

    Big Maq Says:
    October 26th, 2016 at 10:43 am
    @huxley – where does China and Russia fit in all that?

    China and Russia has their own internal factions, which may or may not ally with Islam.

    Instead of trying to create a round robbin free for all, sometimes it is just easier to look at a nation’s domestic policies vis a vis a particular enemy, like Islam itself.

    Even if China or Russia or the US competes for the world superpower status or dominion or power balance, it still wouldn’t affect the relationship of a country to Islam itself.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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