Archives for category: Ethics

For your WTF Files, in case you had not seen this particular ‘Q&A’ segment from Down Under in other videos:

It features a grand and revelatory rant by Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American feminist lunatic with fake red hair. ‘How long must we wait for men and boys to stop murdering us, to stop beating us, and stop raping us? … How many rapists must we kill until men stop raping us?’

Note the follow-up questions that need answers. Unasked and unanswered.

Note especially that she does not inquire how many rapists were killed in the past by actually patriarchal society, not today’s fantasied one. Until the rise of liberal society in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, the death penalty for even small infractions was common. We live in the societies that grew out of those harsher times. By inadvertent breeding, there are almost certainly less rapists today than there would be otherwise had not those bloody-minded patriarchs killed all those stupid, criminal young men before they could sire children, by rape or by seduction or by whoring or by conjugal relations.

But she’s against that — well, at least the State’s death penalty — suggesting, instead, that women should directly kill their rapists, something I am OK with in self-defense but not as revenge. Women just need guns.

I expect she and I would get along swimmingly, heh. Maybe she will join the ranks of women with firearms.

Now, this video’s commentary is helpful and droll. But it is Eltahawy’s racist and sexist rantings that take center state here, and include a classic riff: decorum and manners were invented by white men, you see, only for the benefit of white men, no one else. ‘Marginal voices’ are further marginalized by manners . . . or so her argument appears to run.

An absurd idea, but it should be responded to rationally, as absurd as it is.

Which I will leave for another time.

But most absurd of all? Eltahawy’s advice to straight men: don’t seek just sexual intimacy with women. ‘Be queerer. Be more bisexual. Be less cis-gendered. . . . Just fuck it all up and be free!’

This reminds me of the Sixties, when hippies told us to take LSD: tune in, turn on, drop out. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

As an answer to problems of violence in society, it is ridiculous.

As, I am afraid, is Mona Eltahawy.

Mona Eltahawy, radical feminist.


By the way, it is not OK to be white — why, the Australian Parliament says so, and so, obviously, does the BBC! You see, it is racist to say “it is ‘OK’ to ‘be white.’”

And the bare majority that balked at affirming this merest ‘white race’ acceptability status does not mean it thinks it is GREAT to be white. Oh, no:

Australia’s Senate has narrowly defeated a motion condemning “anti-white racism,” by just three votes.

Pauline Hanson, the leader of Australia’s far-right One Nation party, wanted backing for her motion which stated “it is OK to be white.”

It also spoke of the “deplorable rise of anti-white racism and attacks on Western civilisation.”

Critics have dismissed it as another stunt by Ms Hanson, who last year hit the headlines for wearing a burka.

Yet a number of ruling party politicians backed the motion.

It’s OK to be white’ bill defeated in Australian Senate,” BBC News, October 15, 2018.

You see the BBC’s implicit bias. “Yet” — despite the fact that the measure came from someone on “the far right” (obviously evil!) and that some unnamed “critics” have “dismissed” the proposed motion — “a number of” mainstream pols “backed the motion”! Horrors.

So what is implied by being scandalized by the statement?

They, the scandalized, mean either (a) they think it is bad (somehow) to be white or (b) that they think people of darker hue are too weak, witless or ‘triggered’ to be able to handle white people affirming a basic level of human acceptability. In either case, either they are racists against whites and believe that whites must be put down, as a normative matter for reasons unspecified, or they are racists against non-whites by thinking that they are so inherently inferior that only by putting whites down can non-whites achieve their own ‘OK’-or-better status.

Another possibility? These white anti-white racists are just really, really stupid . . . so lacking in any philosophical understanding of the case against racism that they become racists themselves, adopting a witless knee-jerk hyper-piety about what one may say about race and racism. Yes. They are that idiotic. That ill-educated. They are intellectual simpletons who should not be anywhere near power.

I lean to this latter explanation.

A brindle (striped) Great Dane; it’s OK, rest assured.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Ms Hanson said “people have a right to be proud of their cultural background, whether they are black, white or brindle.”

“If we cannot agree on this, I think it’s safe to say anti-white racism is well and truly rife in our society,” she added.

’It’s OK to be white’ bill defeated in Australian Senate ,” BBC News, October 15, 2018.

Now, do we need to have pride in our racial or cultural backgrounds? I am dubious. But we should certainly be unashamed of what was not our responsibility and, further, that which we cannot change.

And anti-white racism is “rife.” It is understandable when coming from non-whites. Negative racism expressed outwards hardly requires much explanation. But anti-white racism by whites is exceptional. We used to resort to the ‘self-hating’ concept to explain such things, but I do not think hate is what we should focus upon. It’s about color, the color red. As in “a red” or “pinko.”

Yes, this is all about the confusions of leftists, of communists, of socialists.

These ideologues are confused. Their inherent collectivism makes them so. And their long-standing pretense of ‘being liberal’ is key to their befuddlement. You see, they think of their anti-racism as leftist. It isn’t. It hails from liberalism. And they aren’t liberals. They yearn for socialism of some sort. So they are utterly unable to articulate a case against racism that is not collectivist . . . and their collectivism inevitably reëmerges in another for, a topsy turvy racism.

And yes, it is OK to be any color or coloring of human — so long as we are talking skin color. The liberal-individualist case for human rights and ‘dignity’ [too often, admittedly, undefined in our discourse*] does not depend upon racial categories. The fact that this ‘it is OK to be white’ meme triggers anyone is a sign that liberal civilization has not passed on its basic ideas from one generation to the next.


* I have spent a lot of time thinking about rights. But dignity? Not so much.

…it’s not because of my virtue or my vice….

The conservative position on freedom is, as I have always understood it (listening to actual conservatives rather than “conservative intellectuals”), that we must defend the freedoms of the virtuous. I have heard this principle brilliantly defined as “liberty is the freedom to do what’s right.”

Vice may — or even must — be suppressed!

This derails any substantive commitment to freedom, I argue, or to civil liberty.

I mention this not to rag on conservatives, whom I often agree with on many things, and whose arguments become less opprobrious to me as I grow older and grumpier — as I prepare to drop off into the Abyss.

It is to note that modern progressivism is conservative, in that today’s progressives have redefined virtue and vice for their ideology, and defend the freedoms of those they consider virtuous (or “victims,” the other v-word in this scenario, since it often stands in for virtue) and aim to suppress the freedoms of those who engage in vice.

Vice being wrongthink, from this point of view, the wrongthink centering, at present, on racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.

When it comes to a listing of vices, I do think that most items on the progressives’ list have much to be said for them, as do most items on older lists of traditional Christian culture.

But I am largely uninterested in “values” politics, and the endless wrangling over whose vice we may suppress, via the State. Why? Well, because the rationality of these projects is so gossamer-thin, dependent always on which model of morality we are promoting this week.

I think freedom itself, as embodied in liberal notions of natural and civil liberty, provide a better guide to peace and justice than does any relentless virtue-mongering program.

Which is why I am not a conservative.

Which is also why I am not a progressive — they are basically just another form of conservative.

twv

Should there be straight pride?

as answered by TWV on Quora:

Probably not. But there should be no “straight shame,” either.

And, more importantly, most people should practice a bit of modesty, as part of humility and decorum, rather than “pride.”

The point of “gay pride” was, as near as I could make out, a reasonable and necessary push back against the anti-homosexual shaming that was once the norm. That the “pride” movement went overboard, as can be seen in too many of the gay pride parades I have noticed, is sad. By putting aside the question of being unashamed of one’s orientation and instead publicly glorying in indecency and immodesty, “gay pride” paraders have promoted shamelessness when shame be more apt.

You see, the original idea of not feeling shame for one’s desires is good. But the shameless public promotion of private, even lewd activities strikes me as bad, immoral, inconsiderate — what amounts to grand effrontery.

Why would straight people wish to emulate all that?

But straight people do need to defend their desires against the onslaught of anti-straight social forces.

I believe heteronormativity also needs to be defended.

Why? Because the norming of the activities that lead to procreation, to the maintenance of the species, is pro-life, humanistic, civilized. To oppose heteronormativity is to promote decadence.

Quite literally.

Of course, the reader will gather that I think heteronormativity need not be oppressive to the small population of sexual outliers. A society can norm heterosexuality without pride and overbearing condescension and exclusion. Heteronormativity can be humble, not proud.

It is a worse than a shame when it is, instead, shameless and tyrannical.

I believe it is imperative that straight people resist cultural decadence and re-learn modesty, responsibility and the blessing of human reproduction. Also, it might be helpful to relearn that sexual activity can be pleasurable within a context centered around the production of offspring and the raising of same.

But “straight pride” won’t do that. “Straight virtue” might.

twv, September 19, 2019

Philosophy: the last thing Americans consider in public policy. Because it might be wisdom.

It was a joke when I was a child. It is an atrocity now.

The Army has carried the American ideal to its logical conclusion. Not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and color, but also on ability.

Tom Lehrer, An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer (recorded at Harvard’s Sanders Theater on March 20–21, 1959)

Ah, discrimination. People forget that it is a good thing. It is what makes us human.

But let us admit it, the normal run of humanity rarely bothers to do much in the way of careful thinking. A word gets associated, in common speech, with another word — and then the concept of the word pair leads, as if by an invisible hand, to impute meaning back up the two words’ separate semantic lines. Well, up at least one of them. Racial discrimination being bad, at least when done by the state or when engaged in privately with malice, so careless, slovenly speakers come to think “all discrimination is wrong.”

And it was not just about race. Sexual discrimination was said to be wrong by liberal folks. And religious discrimination, too. These are the three mentioned by Lehrer in his joke.

In 1984, the two major party candidates for the United States Presidency, when asked about gay rights, admitted, humbly and righteously both, that “all discrimination is wrong.” Walter Mondale insisted that he learned that outstive truth “on his daddy’s knee.” His father had misinformed him. Ronald Reagan answered the question with another question, if memory serves: “isn’t all discrimination wrong?” The answer is definitely “no.”

What is going on here? Well, a puzzled person might consult a dictionary.

from Merriam-Webster’s iPad app.

The root meaning can be found in the second and third listed defnitions, not the first. This is made more clear by consulting an older dictionary.

My copy of The New Century Dictionary (1927), D. Appleton-Century Co. (1933)

Discrimination is the act of recognizing differences, making distinctions and apt judgments. This is what makes man a rational animal.

The error comes down to a category problem.

Racial discrimination is bad when one identifies race as a relevant characteristic upon which to make a judgment or decision when race is not, in fact or by custom or morality, relevant.

We who support the idea of basic human rights insist that it is a person’s status as a human being and not as a member of a particular race that matters in advancing and defending his or her rights.

In employing someone, productivity is what matters, not race as such, so one would be a fool to hire or fire mainly on the grounds of race.

But in other domains of life it may indeed make sense to discriminate to some extent by race. If you are putting on a play about Martin Luther King and the best actor you can find is some white guy, it would be ill-advised to hire him and paint his face darker — better, I think, t limit your search to a population of actors from black African stock. And of course the reverse is true: when casting for the part of George Washington, you can rule out of hand right from the start all black, Asian and even short actors, no matter how good Denzel Washington, Naveen Andrews, and Danny DeVito may be.

Similarly, when choosing a mate, it may be high-minded of you to be open to members of all races, but it would hardly be wrong to discriminate for members of your own race, or members of a race you find most attractive.

The upshot is: equality before the law and doing good business indicate reasons to set up a taboo on discrimination on the basis of race, but there may be a few or even many areas of life where where racial discrimination is not wrong.

And other forms of discrimination — on basis of talent, taste, concepts, efficacy, etc. — remain central to what it means to be human.

I shake my head at this now, and wonder how anyone could be so dunderheaded as to think otherwise. But I remember Reagan and Mondale, and I see why the error of believing that all discrimination is wrong could be made.

Especially by those who are over-vigilant, for whatever reason, in the fight against racism. Over-compensation is a strategy.

But it can lead to bizarre and horrific consequences, as seen in an article that was just published on Quillette, “Public Education’s Dirty Secret.” In this revelatory memoir, schoolteacher Mary Hudson describes why New York City’s schools are so bad. And “bad” is an understatement:

The school always teetered on the verge of chaos. The previous principal had just been dismissed and shunted to another school district. Although it was never stated, all that was expected of teachers was to keep students in their seats and the volume down. This was an enormous school on five floors, with students cordoned off into separate programs. There was even a short-lived International Baccalaureate Program, but it quickly failed. Whatever the program, however, the atmosphere of the school was one of danger and deceit. Guards patrolled the hallways, sometimes the police had to intervene. Even though the security guards carefully screened the students at the metal detectors posted at every entrance, occasionally arms crept in. Girls sometimes managed to get razors in, the weapon of choice against rivals for boys’ attention. Although I don’t know of other arms found in the school (teachers were kept in the dark as much as possible), one particularly disruptive and dangerous boy was stabbed one afternoon right outside school. It appears he came to a violent death a few years later. What a tragic waste of human potential.

As the weeks dragged painfully into months, it became apparent that the students wouldn’t learn anything. It was dumbfounding. It was all I could do to keep them quiet; that is, seated and talking among themselves. Sometimes I had to stop girls from grooming themselves or each other. A few brave souls tried to keep up with instruction. A particularly good history teacher once told me that she interrupted a conversation between two girls, asking them to pay attention to the lesson. One of them looked up at her scornfully and sneered, “I don’t talk to teachers,” turning her back to resume their chat. She told me that the best school she ever worked at was in Texas, where her principal managed not only to suspend the most disruptive students for long periods, he also made sure they were not admitted during that time to any other school in the district. It worked; they got good results.

But this was not done. Suspending the violent and the disruptive was considered by administrators to be . . . wait for it . . . “discriminatory.”

It would be “discriminatory” to keep the students at home. The appropriate paperwork being filed, the most outrageously disruptive students went for a day or two to a room with other serious offenders. The anti-discrimination laws under which we worked took all power away from the teachers and put it in the hands of the students.

This is of course a recipe for chaos. No learning can occur when violent students disrupt classrooms and receive protection from the authorities.

I tried everything imaginable to overcome student resistance. Nothing worked. At one point I rearranged the seating to enable the students who wanted to engage to come to the front of the classroom. The principal was informed and I was reprimanded. This was “discriminatory.” The students went back to their chosen seats near their friends. Aside from imposing order, the only thing I succeeded at was getting the students to stand silently during the Pledge of Allegiance and mumble a few songs in French. But it was a constant struggle as I tried to balance going through the motions of teaching with keeping them quiet.

The abuse from students never let up. We were trained to absorb it. By the time I left, however, I had a large folder full of the complaint forms I’d filled out documenting the most egregious insults and harassment. There was a long process to go through each time. The student had a parent or other representative to state their case at the eventual hearing and I had my union rep. I lost every case.

The sheer craziness of this policy is dystopian in its extremity. And note that excuse: being “against discrimination.”

And let us not fool ourselves. We know where the abuse of the word “discriminatory” comes from: progressivism.

And lawyers.

Over-vigilance against racial discrimination has led to the anathemization of all forms of discrimination, including those forms noticed by Tom Lehrer, discrimination on the grounds of ability. And it is white guilt that is the main trouble — coupled with the moral corruption of inner-city black parents and their lawyers and advocates. Progressive white folks have been so afraid to think carefully about — and criticize, judge — “the marginalized”* when they do wrong that they defend bad behavior and thereby nurture evil and self-destructive vice.

This is a grand example of moral and intellectual cowardice.

That it has led to a form of philosophical corruption, where a word central to the whole moral and intellectual project — discrimination — has become a word to defend bad behavior and the corruption of the young.

The story is not just horrific, though. It is also darkly comic:

Sometimes you just have had enough. One day a girl sitting towards the back of the classroom shouted at some boy up front, “Yo! Nigga! Stop that!” I stood up as tall as I could and said in my most supercilious voice, “I don’t know which particular nigga the young lady is referring to, but whoever it is, would you please stop it.” The kids couldn’t believe their ears:

“Yo, miss!  You can’t say that!”
“Why not? You say it all the time.”
“Uhh . . .  Because you’re old.”
“That’s not why. Come on, tell the truth.” 

This went on for a bit, until one brave lad piped up: “Because you’re white.” “Okay,” I said, “because I’m white. Well what if I said to you, ‘You’re not allowed to say some word because you’re black.’ Would that be okay?” They admitted that it wouldn’t. No one seemed to report it. To this day, it’s puzzling that I didn’t lose my job over that incident. I put it down to basic human decency.

Decency? Maybe. More likely it was a philosophical moment. For one instance the students learned something. What? That the normative order thst they relied upon was itself evil. One can hope that their momentary glimpse of the truth came to serve them later in life. And speaking of life — what kind did they have?

Students came to school for their social life. The system had to be resisted. It was never made explicit that it was a “white” system that was being rejected, but it was implicit in oft-made remarks. Youngsters would say things like, “You can’t say that word, that be a WHITE word!” It did no good to remind students that some of the finest oratory in America came from black leaders like Martin Luther King and some of the best writing from authors like James Baldwin. I would tell them that there was nothing wrong with speaking one’s own dialect; dialects in whatever language tend to be colorful and expressive, but it was important to learn standard English as well. It opens minds and doors. Every new word learned adds to one’s wealth, and there’s nothing like grammar for organizing one’s thoughts. 

It all fell on deaf ears. It was impossible to dispel the students’ delusions. Astonishingly, they believed that they would do just fine and have great futures once they got to college! They didn’t seem to know that they had very little chance of getting into anything but a community college, if that. Sadly, the kids were convinced of one thing: As one girl put it, “I don’t need an 85 average to get into Hunter; I’m black, I can get in with a 75.” They were actually encouraged to be intellectually lazy.

The adults responsible for this system, black and white, should be ashamed of themselves. And repent. Reform the schools. Get rid of the insane “anti-discrimination” rules — at the very least.

But how likely is that? To do that, after all, they would have to discriminate.

twv


* This term of art, “the marginalized,” is especially inartful, hardly an accurate descriptor, since it misidentifies nearly all the problems noted in this memoir.

Holding an Aristotle collection open with another Aristotle collection.

The good is not made more real by being eternal, any more than a white thing becomes more truly white by reason of lasting a long time.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

What we now know for sure: feminism is crazed lunacy.

But when did we know it?

IMG_2080This varies from person to person, I guess. I have not called myself a “feminist” since my 20s, but for most of those subsequent decades, I tried not to come off as too extreme in my opposition. Why? Probably for the reason most skeptics of feminism have not: the term is associated with sexual equality, which I just call “individual rights” — and I did not want to erode that notion in any way. But as the years have gone on — leading inevitably to my death, to the death of the human race, and (I gather) to the heat death of the universe — it has become clear that today’s feminists are not interested in sexual equality. They talk, instead, about “gender,” cannot keep a somewhat nebulous concept even they straight (oops: my heteronormativity is showing! I should have said “queer”). And their relentless attacks on white heterosexual men, and their demands to give special favors to “the oppressed classes” of women and POCs and LBGT+ers, show their lack of interest in equality of rights before the law, and a nasty itch for compensatory preferences and class-figured “equality of outcomes.”

Which is why they seem so dangerous.

But crazed lunacy? That can be seen in their lack of empathy and broad-mindedness, in seeing other people’s point of view. The grand example? “Manspreading.”

This is a term that grew out of the grand feminist epithet, “Mansplaining.” Now, this concept did not bug me, for it merely meant the habit of some men to explain to women their own experience.

Though male tendencies to do this do seem to spring from the dimorphism of our brains — men are stronger systematizers, so we tend to turn, say, emotional complaints into logical problems, and women, less tolerant of systematically modeled explanations, tend to object to that — you would have to be something of a mome not to see how this could be reasonably interpreted as disrespectful and logically odd (not a contradiction, necessarily, but logically odd, as P. H. Nowell-Smith used the term). So, “mansplaining” did not bother me too much.

Initially.

Then the word began to be used to condemn men for explaining anything to women — including their own male experiences! The outrageous overreach of this occurs when feminist women accuse of Men’s Rights Activists of mansplaining, just for defending their own individual rights and sexually differentiated experiences.

Which leads us to the moment when it became obvious to me that feminism had run off the rails completely: when young feminists concocted men’s dread crime of spreading their legs in public.

Manspreading, or man-sitting, is the practice of men sitting in public transport with legs wide apart, thereby covering more than one seat. Both this posture and the use of the neologism”manspreading” have occasioned some internet criticism and debates in the US, UK, Turkey, and Canada. The public debate began when an anti-manspreading campaign started on the social media website Tumblr in 2013; the term appeared a year later. OxfordDictionaries.com added the word “manspreading” in August 2015. Use of the term has been criticized as “a caricature of feminism” and the practice has been juxtaposed with examples of women taking up excessive space in public spaces with bags.

Now, this Wikipedia entry ably indicates its absurdity even in this first paragraph of the encyclopedia entry. It is the reductio ad absurdum of feminism — but advanced by self-identified feminists. And the habit of taking up more than one seat is something I have witnessed, and often, in America — when corpulent women bulge onto additional seats and into the aisle. Not a pretty picture. But “fat spreading” is not something that went viral. Manspreading did.

Why? Because young women have been trained by the feminist tradition to nag at men as a right and a . . . privilege. For being women. The superior sex.

Er, gender.

It is ridiculous in this case because it is exactly the opposite of mansplaining: it is womansplaining — women explaining to men the nature of men’s own bodies.

I remember reading one of the first articles on the subject. The young woman feminist said [something to the effect of] “come on, guys, your balls are not that big.”

Well, one hates to bring up personal experience in such matters. But I can assure the reader, I never boast about testicular massiveness. Nevertheless, I could explain to you, at length, about testicular pain. Merely from keeping my legs together. It is a thing. I believe it gets worse with age. Men spread their legs because they do not wish to incur sharp and persistent pain.

But the young feminists apparently never even asked men what they were doing. The men, of course, may not have noticed what they were doing. And perhaps men, so ready (usually) to please women, have eagerly tried to comply.

I wonder how many men now experience enduring agony in their genitals merely to please these women.

But I won’t do it, and I completely sympathize with those men who despise any woman who complains about manspreading.

Early in the aughts, when public discussion of the penis was everywhere, I predicted that soon “cunt” would become common in everyday speech. The pejorative use of the term for objectionable women aptly affixes to any woman who marshals the term as a critique of icky male habits.

Now, the context: Girls are taught to keep their legs together. And for good reason. Opening a woman’s legs provides easier access to her femalia, into which the penis was designed (so to speak) by nature to penetrate. It is the reasonable life plan of a woman to restrict access to this much desired hot spot, and so keeping one’s legs together became part of heteronormative practice, for heteronormativity doubles down on the basic evolutionary strategies of the sexes, protecting women from most men while enabling them to secure the cooperation of a limited set of men (usually one) in exchange for access to the Delta of Venus.

And, because the female of our species lack descending sex organs of a rather obviously fragile nature held on by the thinnest of tissues, but with all-too many nerve endings . . . their characteristic habit of keeping legs tightly closed, when sitting, is easy for them.

The suspicion we non-feminists have had for a long, long time is that feminists have been trying to turn men into women. This issue is the prime example.

Experience and standards that are apt for females get applied, dogmatically, to men — even when inapt and wildly inappropriate.

And it may be inappropriate indeed. I am no anatomist, or diagnostician, but I suspect that men who have been keeping their legs together at the behest of female expectations may have contributed to the startling decline in testosterone levels in the modern male population. But this is just conjecture. Regardless of medical consequences other than discomfort and pain, men closing or crossing their legs was once seen as effeminate for good reasons.

So, this is now the paradigmatic issue upon which I define feminism: the application to men and boys the standards appropriate for, and experience derived from, women and girls.

As epitomized on Broadly, a few days ago, with “100 Easy Ways to Make Women’s Lives More Bearable.” The tenth demand is most objectionable:

10. CLOSE YOUR LEGS ON PUBLIC TRANSIT, OH MY GOD.

All-caps, even. As if her point had one quantum of wisdom to it.

It does not.

It may be time to stop thinking so much “of the women.” Frankly, Dani Beckett (perpetrator of the above indecent inanity), I am not interested in “making women’s lives more bearable”: feminists can stop complaining about trivialities (their feminist etiquette breached by male extremity splays) and stop expecting the world to revolve around them. Take your female privilege and stuff it.

On a kinder note: I suggest re-introducing into our culture that now-forbidden power, common sense.

twv

img_2320

I have friends who are entirely dependent upon the State for their livelihood — and I am not just referring to elderly retirees. Most of these aid recipients have received disability retirement pensions from the Social Security system. These folks are not in any way anomalous in American life. You might be surprised to learn how many disability recipients there are.

More interesting, however, is this fact: no small number of these folks — indeed, most of my friends on state aid — are not die-hard Democrats demanding vast increases in the size and scope of the welfare state.

Not a few are conservatives — one of my closest friends is an authoritarian conservative of the Bill O’Reilly sort — and they rail against lazy people and welfare queens and all the rest.

Yes, they think and vote this way even though they are mostly or entirely dependent upon the taxpayers.

What is going on here? This strikes many people as paradoxical. Many are the Democrats who think that “being a Democrat” is precisely what these state aid recipients should be: grateful, die-hard supporters of the welfare state, devoted to its expansion.

After all, the Democratic Party is the party most enthusiastic about state aid programs like this. And Democrats expect fealty.

What is the matter with Kansas? asked one prominent leftist scrivener. So many Kansans would be so much better off if they voted Democratic and siphoned more special favors off the state — ultimately, off of producing Americans — and “as a matter of right.”

Vladimir Gimpelson and Daniel Treisman, writing in the Washington Post a few years ago, expressed their wonder as to why the very poorest of the poor in our country are so lax in their demands for more redistribution — for programs and handouts that (our querists think) would be “in their interest.” The two professors’ think piece (a summary of an allegedly scholarly study) is entitled “Why don’t democracies take from the rich and give to the poor?” and it presses the question, seeking answers:

Since the time of ancient Greece, political theorists and observers have feared that inequality leads to instability. The greater the income gap, the more the poor have to gain by taking from the rich. In democracies, the thinking goes, inequality should predispose voters to demand government redistribution. In dictatorships, the rich, fearing Robin Hood policies, should resist democratization. And the poor, locked out of power and wealth, should be more tempted by revolution.

Though these arguments have been around since Aristotle, it’s hard to find evidence for them in the real world.

And they cite some recent scholarship on this. Democracies do not turn revolutionary.

Why? Scholars have suggested a variety of things that might derail political unrest. Belief that the economic system is fair, or the hope of being rich someday, or even organized religion might reconcile people to the gap between rich and poor. Or it could be that, with their assets hidden in Swiss bank accounts, the rich these days have just become too hard to expropriate.

But there’s a simpler possibility: Maybe inequality fails to trigger the expected political consequences because most people just don’t know how large the gap is between the wealthy and the rest of us.

“If people don’t know how much they stand to gain and at what cost,“ they conjecture, “why would they take political action?”

Amusingly, that “if” premise is only half-interrogated:

We looked at eight cross-national surveys to see what people believe about inequality. Time and again, large numbers of respondents had no clue what the income distribution looked like in their country, how it had been changing recently, and where in that distribution they personally fit.

The authors conclude that while “Americans still seem relatively relaxed about income inequality,” that may very well “be changing.”

Right. But though the subject of the (in)elasticity of demand for redistribution is interesting for several reasons, my concern is different. Indeed, I wish to begin by interrogating the part of the premise the professors take for granted: do the poor really have anything to gain by increased redistribution of wealth?

As present, after all, the fifth and lowest quintile of market income earners in America do not pay federal income taxes. They are, in fact, net tax consumers. Maybe the poor do not demand more because they have an inkling about how much they get now.

Actually, I suspect that the poorest grossly underestimate the levels of their subsidy. Indeed, I suspect that Professors Gimpelson and Treisman — economist and political scientist, respectively — would underestimate the current levels of subsidy. You see, our professors at the Post are only interested in “income inequality” and how it is perceived, and how these two things stack up against the demand for further redistribution that they have somehow measured. (Maybe I will carefully read their paper, but I haven’t yet, and nothing they write suggests to me that they are onto something very important.)

So, what is the level of subsidy in America? Well, after-tax, after-subsidy incomes show that the lowest income quintile in these United States have an effective (net) negative tax rate of over 200 percent:

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That is, they do not pay taxes, net of the full panoply of state benefits (SNAP, SSI, Section 8 housing, etc.). They get subsidized to the tune of 213 percent.

This is a huge amount of handouts. Sure, too many businesses receive subsidies in America — far too many — and some rich folk make a lot of money off the government, but, evened out, it is the poor who right now do get the lions’ (or pigs’) share of redistributed wealth.

And it is rather astounding that our two professors of egalitarian studies (for that seems to be their real profession, here) nowhere indicate that the poor right now are living off of the rich. Our professors just assume that “the poor” should demand even more.

Now, I could spend many paragraphs explaining the complexities of income statistics, the slippery nature of the “increasing inequality” meme. Because it tracks statisticians’ artifacts — a five-fold division of society by incomes — and the amount of wealth that changes in these quintiles, and not the majority of individuals who do indeed move from one quintile to another and then back again as they navigate the arcs of their lives, all this inequality talk is mostly confusion and error. But I am going to let others handle those niceties. I am going back, doggedly, to that basic query: why don’t the poor demand more?

Yesterday, on the YouTube show Right Angle, Steve Green, Scott Ott, and Bill Whittle offered some possible answers — responding to the Post piece:

  1. “There aren’t enough poor people” in our country to actually vote themselves more — America is richer than you think, says Steve Green. While the professors think the poor overestimate their wealth levels, Green in effect says that the professors overestimate the number of the poor — and in a democracy, numbers count.
  2. And Green offers another reason for lack of egalitarian envy: “even our poor people are kick-ass Americans.”
  3. Bill Whittle suggests that our poor Americans have more than a hunch that, by world standards, they are rich — and yes, our poor are richer than many another country’s poor. It would be ungrateful to demand more. And perhaps (Whittle moves on quickly) our poor have a broader perspective — and more “moral fiber” — than our professors.
  4. Whittle also wanders into the point hinted at above: this talk of income quintiles obscures the truths of income mobility. The American system of merit “allows people to move up and allows people to move down.” Given this reality, it would be stupid for the poor to scuttle their best way out.
  5. Scott Ott notes that, as a general rule, the folks most exercised by income inequality are people far above the gutter. The suggestion here is that maybe talk of income inequality does not really serve the poor. Maybe it serves a class or classes of the better-off. Alas, Ott does not explore this latent idea in his answer, but goes on to speculate that America’s low-income earners just do not buy into the solution as a workable feature to rise out of their ruts.

To explore the notion that Ott skips over too quickly, you might best turn to netizen-philosopher Stefan Molyneux, who talks about “languasites.” In a world of Makers and Takers, these “language parasites” find tricky ways to assuage the fears (and other anxieties and insecurities) of the Makers and thus leech off of them. A grand example can be found in Lucian of Samosata’s Hermotimus, or The Rival Philosophies, in which we encounter an earnest student of Stoicism milked of his wealth and diverted from his youth in the vain pursuit of . . . enlightenment . . . which is translated as “Happiness” in the edition I own, Marcus Aurelius and His Times: The Transition from Paganism to Christianity (1945), Irwin Edman (introduction), p. 172.

This idea of the linguasite (“tongue parasite,” with some loose construction — but surely better than “languasite”) is awfully pregnant, and it might be useful to prod Molyneux further on just who does and does not fall into that category. But the idea is fairly clear. And in the context of the income inequality obsession, what we have here are the second-hand dealers in ideas who F. A. Hayek wrote about. More importantly, we have a class idea, here. Many members of the cognitive elite somehow find themselves ensconced in key positions in the welfare state. Might not they develop a natural class interest in promoting the idea no matter its effects on the poor themselves? College professors, for instance, are consulted by bureaucracies and legislators, and teach many future government functionaries, lobbyists, lawyers and journalists who make their livings transforming society away from the ugliness of consumer-determined merit and into “rationally-determined” social justice.

And here we come to the interesting aspect of the welfare state: the establishment of classes based on state redistribution.

Now, we have to forget Marxian analysis, for his simple oppression/exploitation theory of class was based on a misconstrued of the nature of trade and productivity in a market economy. And we can glide right over the classical liberal class theory (very interesting, and not entirely irrelevant) that Marx pilfered to concoct his grand farrago. We should turn to Joseph Schumpeter, instead.

imageClasses form around perceptions of success, wrote the great economist in an under-appreciated study. “What makes a subgroup of society,” I wrote in the Laissez Faire Books edition a few years ago, “‘organically’ related enough to qualify as special, as constituting a class?” The answer can be found in “social factors like honor, which was, after all, the basis of the first major governance system of civilization. And honor depends on — is, indeed, obsessive about — success. It is not failure but success that ‘exerts a continuing effect’” that forms a class. But let us turn to Schumpeter for a fuller picture:

[S]uccess brings in its wake important functional positions and other powers over material resources. The position of the physical individual becomes entrenched, and with it that of the family. This opens up further opportunities to the family, often to an even greater degree than to the successful individual himself, though these positive factors are to some extent offset by the deadening effect on the original impetus of exalted position and security, by the diversion and complication of interests, and perhaps also by the sheer exhaustion of energies which everyday experience shows to be not uncommon. Coordinate families then merge into a social class, welded together by a bond, the substance and effect of which we now understand. This relationship assumes a life of its own and is then able to grant protection and confer prestige.

I speculate that one of the great triumphs of the modern welfare state has been to reroute the mechanisms of class away from natural groupings like family and clan and into the artificial, state-bounded and -funded institutions like the Academy.

And maybe one reason professors promote redistribution, in their writings and lectures, more enthusiastically than the poor do, with their votes, is that the subsidized poor serve as trophies of the cognitive elites. Perhaps increasing state redistribution is not advocated by the elites because it really helps the poor, but because it is emblematic of class success, and thus class cohesion and prestige. The poor do not gain prestige by sucking up more taxpayer-funded resources. But boy, members of the cognitive elite do!

But is that all there is to it? Class interest?

I think not. I suspect, anyway, a bit of economic rationality going on here. I suspect that not a few normal people look at the demographics of redistribution and become alarmed. My wards-of-the-state friends are dependent upon continued support. Increasing the ranks of the recipients, or even the amounts generally redistributed, does not make the system they depend upon more secure.

Do you see the incentive here? No small number of state aid recipients oppose expansion of the programs that support them. And while socialist ideologues might think that these clients of the State are somehow naturally beholden to a robust welfare state ideology, and that by voting Republican (or worse, Libertarian) they are “voting against their interests,” this is simply not the case. People “on welfare” have a very compelling interest to not support the increase in the size and scope of the programs that supports them.

Let me restate why: increasing the number of recipients of such aid programs could very well jeopardize the financial stability of those very programs, endangering the livelihood of current recipients.

This is a very basic point. To not notice this point is to miss something about the nature of economic redistribution: that it depends on a larger population of contributors putting wealth into the system than taking out of it. The more recipients of taxed funds we add puts a strain on those taxed, especially if the ratio gets out of hand. On pure economic grounds, it makes sense to be a member of a small group gaining at the expense of the majority than a large group gaining at the expense of a minority.

We cannot all live at the non-reciprocal expense of others.

One might call this perspective common sense. But it is not “folk economics” — it is theoretically sound; the rationale works out in extended analysis. Indeed, one of the problems with the sustainability of Social Security in the United States — and of similar programs throughout the West — is that the ratio of contributors to recipients is getting smaller. The trend line is foreboding. It is the reason we are at last taking Social Security off the proverbial “third rail” and contemplating reforms such as raising the retirement age and raising the income ceiling for FICA contributions, er, taxes.*

What is astounding to me is that this elementary fact of redistribution — that it cannot be complete, that socialism itself is a fantasy never capable of delivering on its promises, for we cannot all be Takers. There must be Makers. And there should be a reasonable ratio between them to make the programs sustainable.

That this notion of redistribution has seemingly evaporated from the public conversation strikes me as odd. I do not even hear libertarians, the strongest critics of government redistribution of wealth, bring it up very often, and cannot now think of an instance where it became part of a general theory of redistribution. But the more I think about this, the more basic it seems.

Indeed, it applies to criminology, too: the more theft going on in society — and remember, theft is merely the illegal redistribution of wealth — the more crime would drag society down. It is in the interest even of criminals to discourage crime generally. Perhaps for this reason (if not this reason alone) criminals rarely oppose laws against theft and murder and the like. They realize social systems cannot be stable where everyone plays criminal. They simply make an exception for themselves. They try to bet against the house, hoping to squeak through the cracks of the system and gain “rents” that would evaporate if too many criminals tried to game the system. It is instructive to recognize the fact that criminals themselves rarely even try to take up the pretense that theft and murder are good ideas to spread around. It is as exceptions to the rule that criminals’ livelihoods make any sense at all.

That is perhaps one reason why, when crime becomes “organized,” territory and limitation of criminal acts according to “honor” and other codes, become common. It is also one reason why police often are deferential to organized crime: a monopoly of a service limits the supply of the service, and criminal monopoly is better than no such monopoly, which would mean more crime. And thus greater the threat of unsustainability. Yes, crime can serve as an excellent example of “market failure” — that is, for situations where the criminals, acting in their separate self-interests, yield themselves a net detriment, not benefit.

All of this reiterates one basic thesis: leftism is parasitic upon the system it despises. Nearly all leftists I have ever met abhor the idea of “profit.” They consider business activity necessarily “dirty.” They are distrustful of markets, and see in markets only internecine competition and, in fact, predation and parasitism.

This view of social life I regard as obviously and completely at odds with reality, the inverse of the truth. Redistribution is parasitism. Leftism is the philosophy that parasitism via State redistribution is good in and of itself — perhaps better than production in the market. And socialism is the bizarre notion that “we can all be parasites” — though of course socialists do not state their doctrine in such a bald, unvarnished way. Instead, socialists cook up shaky theories purporting to show that market distribution is not productive, that the rich who gain so much by trade are in fact “exploiters” of the poor, and that the poor would be better off without the rich . . . or at least better off were the rich sucked dry.

It used to be understood among old-fashioned Progressives and FDR/LBJ-style “liberals” that one could go too far in redistributing wealth. But by earnestly grinding through their rationales for taking from some to give to others, modern progressives have lost sight of the basic realities inherent in the system they propose. And so they cannot see — or at least countenance talking about at any length — any point in emphasizing those limits.

This can be clearly seen in the cultural divide between The Tea Party and the Occupy Movement. The Occupiers characteristically demanded more redistribution and more regulation and generally derided the evils of big business. The Tea Party, on the other hand, was concerned with curbing government spending and aiming to balance budgets. Democrats mocked those “tea baggers” who seemed to misunderstand basic realities, such as when signs were held aloft saying “Keep the Government Out of My Medicare.” And that sort of thing is indeed hilarious. But the idea still remains that adding people onto Medicare rolls and under-funding the system does not help people who have come to rely upon Medicare.

So the signs really meant “Keep Progressives Out of My Medicare.”

But Democrats — who now seem almost uniformly “progressive” — have missed the point. They cannot see sustainability as a legitimate issue. Politicians like Sen. Elizabeth Warren have gone so far as to call the conscientious Tea Party activists “anarchists.” It is hard to imagine a more absurd charge. But, when you hold to the crazy idea that more government is always better government, you will tend to say absurd things.

So we exist now at this strange point in history when the Democratic Party has lost its grip on power even though it is the party of special interest promises and Potlatch “generosity.” The last moment of possible turnaround for the Democrats was, I think, when they turned on the Tea Party. Had they embraced the Tea Party, and made a public effort to rein in spending, they would now be dominant and their hold on power unassailble. But that was not to be. They had become so blind to the realities of redistribution and its parasitism upon productive capitalism that they lost savvy people even amongst the recipient cohorts. Sure, leftism has always been parasitic on the system it hankers to destroy. But parasitism only works on a principle of hormesis. It is the hygiene theory of immunity as applied to the body politic. The hookworm is the parasitic drain. Too many, and the host dies.

The idea that progressives now regard contemplation and discussion of this principle utterly verboten says a lot about their divorce from reality. Their fantasy now runs their policy prescriptions. And it may very well be a function of class prestige that is one of the drivers for this. Sure, there are other factors — like the socialist soteriology, or the entelechy at the heart of the left’s other-obsession memeplex — but we should not overestimate the wisdom of the elites or the folly of the poorest among us.

twv

enjoy-capitalism

N.B.  There is, of course, another very basic reason for state aid recipients not to support increasing the register of aid recipients: they may want to think of themselves as deserving recipients, and fear that others placed on the rolls for laxer standards might be seen as unworthy, or as being dangerously discouraged from finding alternate means of support. And the more folks going onto the rolls for comparatively trivial reasons might poison the well politically, and tar all recipients as unworthy of help. To what extent this fear is a rational, moral or merely a petty rationalization, I will consider at another time.

asked & answered on Quora: “Is life really unfair?”

Herbert Spencer

“Fairness” is a principle human beings and other animals discover in play. We humans then try to apply it to coöperation-based interactions of a more productive nature — in domestic, tribal, and business endeavors. The next step is to move the concept and its principles to handle situations of violent conflict.

And, finally, the principles are shanghaied to cover (and make up for) the workings of Fate and Chance.

For every step beyond play, “fairness” becomes trickier to apply.

It is very tempting to regard justice as identical with (or subsumed by) fairness. But it is worth noting that the principles of justice as they have evolved from ancient times into the modern age were chiefly concerned with preventing the worst harms. (This is a truth made clearest by philosopher Bernard Gert.) They did not make up for the vagaries of time and chance and the vast causal gyrations of the universe — the forces that make me homely, you beautiful and that person over there ugly and sick and deformed.

Traditional justice is a limited affair, a virtue that cannot cover everything. Unfortunately, there has developed a major competing vision of justice — “justice as fairness” in a cosmic context. Social justice — utopian or Rawlsian or neo-Marxian or what-have-you — is such a radical paradigm shift that it spells a complete paradigm revolution.

And not in a good way.

This extension of fairness standards to make up for the workings of nature is socially destabilizing. Indeed, it threatens at every application to overthrow the great advances made in traditional justice with the tweaks that happen when society moves beyond the tribal and agrarian and into open society status. Our approach to justice should be studied, not wishful. Instead of either traditional justice or revolutionary justice, I suggest evolutionary justice, as pioneered by Herbert Spencer and F. A. Hayek. With this approach, our moral reasonings are moderated by reason rationally restrained. Evolutionary justice interposes between traditional and makeshift authoritarian dogmas and the more grandiose claims of cosmic fairness.

Caution. Please. It’s hard enough applying fairness to games, much less work and family and all that. Extending it to cover all the fortuitous differences among humans and the higher animals is . . . well, the word is hubristic.

twv

Pictured: Herbert Spencer, author of the Synthetic Philosophy.

a questioned asked on Quora; my answer:

A number of times. But here is one obvious case, in what amounts to metaethics. Maybe I am misapplying the idea. You tell me.

What modern normative philosophers call “morality” — and what older philosophers might have designated as “the rules and standards of justice” — depends, in practice, upon widespread reciprocity. That is, there are prisoner’s dilemmas throughout situations of conflict and potential coöperation, and it makes sense for any individual to coöperate often only if others also approach such arenas of interaction with an open attitude, not flight or fight, much less with a hankering to steal.

It has been shown that a tit-for-tat strategy of reciprocity — which closely tracks many traditional notions of justice — leads to the most widespread success. But how can you trust “the other guy” to treat you fairly, justly, and not as predator to prey?

It takes more courage than many, many folks naturally possess to approach a potentially dangerous situation with a reserved reciprocity standard in mind. So, how do we steal ourselves to this? Indeed, how can we open ourselves to such attitudes before we gain the practical experience with the world to be confident that such strategies do in fact work, for both self and other, and over a long haul?

A number of religious ideas have helped. They differ from society to society, and we call them myths, and all or most seem obvious fictional. Made up. But the threat of a punishing Deity encourages some to curb their bloodlust and “defector” urges. The idea that we are all “equal before God” helps, too. And as a number of evolutionary psychologists have pointed out, the mere contemplation of a supernatural (nature-transcendent) or metaphysical (normal existence-transcendent) Being or even Principle signals both to self and others a willingness to transcend narrow ego-interests. Setting the stage for civilized coöperation.

This sort of thing often gets swept up under the rubric of “signaling.” But such signaling works regardless of reality. There may or may not be a God. Or natural rights. Or the categorical imperative. But even fictional ideas can be real in their effects.

I sometimes think of the advance of civilization as aided by a series of outrageous fictions.

Seems like the Thomas Theorem to me.

twv