Archives for category: Politics
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.

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Explaining religion is not necessarily a simple matter.

I grew up taught to believe that the stories of my religion were true. But as I grew older, certain inconsistencies and antinomies weighed upon my mind, and I found myself incredulous about the whole matter, so I gave up on the beliefs and the rites.

But, if not literally true, is religion — or all religions, or some — figuratively true? Supremely useful? Something else?

The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.

Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, Ch. II

I was taught to regard the religion I was born into as true, literally so, and all others as false, with a faint chance that shadow meaning sometimes figuratively refracting the truth — but more likely “of the Devil.” Converting out of the religion, it was easy to treat my youthful theological stance as Atheism With One Exception, making actual atheism merely a final step.

But I did understand a discordant note to this secular triumphalism: henotheism. It was clear that Judaism began with a polytheism-in-fact but monotheism-in-practice: “thou shalt have no other gods before Me” more than implied a multiplicity of deities. Yahweh was good, all others were bad — or, even less strong a position: Yahweh was ours and all others were theirs. The Chosen People idea seemed to imply one of many gods choosing and nurturing a bloodline of people to serve His agenda. But this idea, while clear in my head, I somehow never took all that seriously.

What did I take seriously? The “ghost theory” and exaptation. These ideas can be found in the sociology of Herbert Spencer, and the latter has been greatly expanded by contemporary evolutionary psychology. Beliefs in the gods arose from memories of dead leaders echoing in human brains and showing up in dreams. And hallucinations. That is the irritant that starts the pearl that is religion. But then something else happens: religious belief and practice is discovered to be useful.

To all sorts of people. For good and ill.

But one use we fell into. It turns out that when we less-than-well-tempered hominids — Hominoids — even contemplate a putatively divine being or concept, or even any “transcendent object” or priniple, we think and behave less like selfish, short-sighted apes. We begin to behave morally.

And thus the transcendent notion, whatever it is, can serve as a social signal that can encourage others to see our intent to coöperate, not engage in harm. Whatever religious idea we hold can gain a lot of traction when folks come to rely on such signalling.

Thus, the gods.

A simple story, this secular account, and it can be filed under the heading Exaptation — a thing that originated for one reason surviving for other reasons. It was as if adapted for a new purpose, but as naturally selected, sort of adapting itself.

A meme — a replicable habit — spread for reasons independent of its explicit rationale.

Great story.

It may even be true.

Almost certainly it is true.

But it is not the whole story: we still have that initial irritant. The “ghosts.” Which though inconvenient after the religion becomes a memetic hit, still persist.

And there is an outside possibility that some of those irritants in the oyster of our imaginations are, themselves, Not What They Seem.

They may be neither dreams nor hallucinations nor memories.

They might be aliens.

In a fascinating dcumentary about a man who paints his alleged encounters with aliens, some of whom with which he engages in sexual acts, Love and Saucers, we learn about an odd variety of religious experience, the sexual extraterrestrial encounter. Philosopher Jeffrey Kripal, quoted in the movie, tells us that religious experiences with a sexual component are common in the literature. He also sees alien encounter and abduction stories as not dissimilar from past religious tales. What they interpreted as angels we, in a more scientific age, interpret as extraterrestrials.

And such experiences are not uncommon.

So, do we have these experiences because of some quirk of our psychologies, as evolved from the distant past?

Or is it something more direct?

I do not know.

I have never had an encounter as described by the painter in Love and Saucers. It would be easy to mock him. That is something I am sure my “skeptic” friends online would be inclined to do.

But I no longer do such things. If David Huggins, the subject of the documentary, is conjuring these “memories” by confabulation, that is almost as astounding as the events he describes.

And then there is the wider context. Do we have certainty that encounters with “aliens” do not happen? I do not have that certainty of conviction, of dismissive incredulity. I do not have enough faith to dismiss out of hand the UFO context.

Now, I understand, that wider context and the evidence for it may be peculiar in the extreme, sure — but it is vast. The number of documents leaked from governments, and the hundreds — the thousands — of seemingly earnest testimonies from military personnel and government contractors, airline passengers, and workers about encounters with bizarre flying and submersible crafts is huge. And these crafts — in government documents and reports as well as in reams of testimony, apparently run according to principles nothing like the technology we know, which is based on aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, and on the many types of internal combustion engines . . . well, the number and weight of the testimony is almost disturbing.

Further, there appears to be an ongoing government disclosure of information about these encounters, around the world, and even — belatedly, with a great lag — from the biggest, most UFOey government of them all, the United States of Military Industrial Complex.

I do not know what to make of all this. Not with anything approaching certainty. And were it not for the Cato Institute, I might not be thinking about it at all.

A number of years ago the libertaran think tank fired one of its consulting scholars, economist Dom Armentano — removed him from their honor roll, so to speak. Why? Because he had come out for UFO disclosure.

Think about this. The retired professor merely expressed a support for transparency in government on an issue of public interest. But the “heroic” Cato management could not even be associated with something as tame as that.

When I heard this, I experienced something like shock. I had thought I understood the cultism of the cultural center, its proneness to shaming and shunning and marginalization . . . perpetrated to keep the hierarchy of the in-group secure against all comers. But Cato is libertarian. Do Cato-ites think their propinquity to power, geographically, makes them in the in-group? If any tribe on the planet has reason to understand the corrosive nature of in-group intellectual regimentation, it would be libertarians. And if any group should be prone to resist such nonsense, then it must be libertarians, right?

Apparently not. Cato was so eager for respectability, and so unimaginative that an illustrious economist had to be purged.

This is when I realized the astounding extent of ideological cultism in America, and its corrupting powers. And, once you realize how powerful that propensity is, then you can see how it could be manipulated.

By a conspiracy. At a power center.

For, alas, it seems likely that some conspiracy is involved. Either a cabal within the Deep State is conspiring to keep some dread secret from the world and from the citizens that the government putatively serves, or a big if ragtag group of military personel, domestic pilots, seamen, and a great number of civilians are perpetrating and perhaps coördinating a huge fraud.

About two years ago, I began to think the latter the less likely.

Further, I surmise, if I were in the Deep State and saw all these rumors swirl around me, I would regard them as a destabilizing force, as undermining governance by decreasing trust in basic institutions. I would earnestly support public research into and educational efforts about the phenomena, the better to thoroughly explain and debunk paranormal accounts and tall tales about UFOs and “aliens.” But, on the other hand, had I a secret to keep, a big one, letting the testimonies and photographs and rumors and urban legends spread while giving lukewarm and even preposterous counter-explanations might just work — to keep the secret. After all, I could count on all the little Catos out there, doing my work for me, keeping “the nuts” marginalized.

This does not mean that painter David Huggins is not some kind of a nut. There is room for psychological confabulation along the margins. But it sure looks like something strange is going on. The planet and its history may be stranger than we thought.

Indeed, “the gods” at the start of religions may not have been mere mirages and dreams and “visions.” Perhaps the Anunnaki and Quinametzin and Viracocha and that crowd really did help start our civilization, and that they seemed “gods” to us barely higher apes. And maybe they had some connection to the phenomena that we call “religious” — and maybe they have something to do with “aliens.”

In any case, Love and Saucers is a fascinating documentary.

And religion remains something of a mystery.

twv

Bill Weld, 2016 Libertarian Candidate for the U.S. Vice Presidency

After years of following Weld’s political career, there is only one thing about him I’m sure of: He regards politics as a form of intellectual entertainment, and nothing he says on the subject should be mistaken for conviction. . . .

There is no point seeking the philosophical thread that connects [his] meanderings. Weld has no fixed political or electoral outlook; he isn’t consistently conservative or liberal, and he’s certainly no diehard Republican. He has claimed since 2016 to be “Libertarian for life,” raising money, endorsing candidates, and assuring Libertarian Party leaders: “I’m going to stay L.P.” Yet if recent news reports are accurate, Weld is telling confidants that he might challenge Trump in the Republican primaries. Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. 

A Weld run would enliven the 2020 campaign with erudition and quirky wit. That alone might be reason to hope he jumps in. Remember, however, that when it comes to politics, Weld will say and do just about anything to keep from being bored. He’s not likely to take a Weld candidacy too seriously. We shouldn’t, either.

Jeff Jacoby, “Bill Weld’s true north is that he has no true north,” Boston Globe (January 31, 2019)

But maybe “true north” isn’t the right metaphor…

The magnetic north pole moves towards Russia!

The north magnetic pole is restless.

Distinct from the geographic North Pole, where all the lines of longitude meet at the top of the world, the magnetic pole is the point that a compass recognizes as north. At the moment, it’s located four degrees south of the geographic North Pole, which lies in the Arctic Ocean at 90 degrees north. 

But that wasn’t always the case.

In the mid-19th century, the north magnetic pole floated much further south, roaming around Canada. For the past 150 years, however, the pole has been sprinting away from Canada and toward Siberia.

Shannon Hall, “The North Magnetic Pole’s Mysterious Journey Across the Arctic,” The
New York Times
(February 4, 2019)


Bill Weld, like most politicians, is attuned to the attractions of the masses and of the moment and of the most “meaningful” memes. But we are going through an ideological pole shift right now. So, if his moral compass has gone wild, and he cannot be trusted to remain true, that may be because he is most sensitive to the great ideological shift.

That doesn’t make him a leader, of course. It just explains his gyrations, especially near anomalies.

And nothing is more anomalous than libertarianism. Not even Trump.

Oh, and also: the Democrats are, like our planet’s magnetic north, speeding towards Russia.

My old-fashioned compasses. I have others.

twv


The idea that we cannot have good things without taxpayer subsidy and political-bureaucratic management is implausible on the face of it. But long habits of doing and thinking one way can prevent seeing the advantages of doing and thinking in another.

A number of basic government policies have distorted civilization away from the paths that it would “spontaneously” have taken.

  • Medicare hornswaggled people into investing more wealth on the last years of their lives than they would have rationally chosen;
  • “Public education” forced people into devoting more wealth (and less attention) to the education of their (and their neighbors’) children than may likely have chosen sans government schools;
  • State roadwork systems funnelled wealth to the creation and maintenance of roads that, had folks been made to bear those costs more directly and consciously, they would have been unlikely to have opted for.

In each of these these cases people’s incentives were changed by policy and program. Their behavior changed, and civilization was channelled from some paths to others.

We commonly assume that this redirection of effort was all to the good, made us better people, and that government proved its ability to solve “public goods” problems — market failures — efficiently.

This strikes me as not very convincing.

Just consider, first, the opportunities forgone. Some opportunity costs of these three popular and quite bedrock policies include startling innovations that we are, socially and politically, now trying to resuscitate:

  • By channelling wealth into old-age medical care, the wealth taken could not be spent on other valued uses, including health maintenance, illness prevention, and private savings and insurance.
  • By channelling wealth into schools for children, the opportunities forgone include non-schooling means of education from apprenticeship programs to home learning systems and ma-and-pop tutoring programs — all at a fraction of the cost of governmental, union-approved kludge.
  • By setting up a system of roadways, alternate means of travel were quite obviously scuttled, from railway and waterway transit to personal methods not requiring heavy investments in infrastructure, like personal air travel.

But it is worse that the few examples listed above, which barely scratch the surface. Government external economies and market failures abound in the three examples I have chosen — despite (or because of) ostensible state efforts to solve problems of market failure.

  • By reducing personal costs of imprudence, subsidized medical care subtlely encourages folly, especially medical folly — and we have several generations of corpulent diabetics to prove it.
  • By reducing the personal costs of raising their children, parents are tempted to devote less wisdom and care towards their children, even towards education generally — and we have generations of near illiterates who know almost nothing of history . . . and think of “socialism” as savvy policy.
  • By reducing some of our direct costs on driving, and enticing us onto a vast network of roadways which we naturally treat as a new commons, cities sprawled, wildlife habitats were undermined in the hinterlands, and the amount of pollutants people individually put into the atmosphere increased by many orders of magnitude.

All three of these policies, by the way, encouraged us to think of consumption as separate from production. And that is my definition of “consumerism.” In a free market, we largely consume according to the amount of our production. This, because trade is two-way. But when government gets involved, we increasingly think we have rights to wealth and resources that require little or no effort on our part to achieve. We become recipients foremost, not cooperators.

All of taxpaying society becomes a commons, and we are encouraged by government involvement to extract as many resources out of the system as we can, and place into it as little as we can.

Of the three government-run systems I have mentioned — Medicare, public schooling, and roadworks — it is the road system that is most tightly constructed to avoid the tragedy of the commons, for roadways have been largely (though, alas, not solely) funded by fuel taxes and vehicle licensing. But with the rise of electric cars, fuel tax system is already breaking down.

The opposite of consumerism is producerism, of course, and in traditional Puritanism and in protectionism we can see elements of that philosophy.

But both philosophies are out of balance. They are, in truth, examples of government splitting the whole person into two, according to functions. An individualist would encourage each person to think of himself or herself as both producer and consumer. Consumerism works against that, and corrupts our culture because of it.

Other isms jump on board, too.

Feminism, for example, has pried the natural division of labor by household apart, working mightily to transform that division by running it through the institutions of the administrative/redistributive state. In so doing, the feminine consumer function — of mothers managing resources for their families — has been taken as a consumerist standard of “social justice” while the masculine producer function has been targeted as the source of wealth to be resistributed by the “benevolent” mommy state.

Individualism strikes me as very different from these other distributional paradigms. But by seeing all adult individuals as united producer-consumers unless contractually relegated to half-roles (by marriage or job, usually), a whole lot of responsibility gets shouldered by indvidual persons.

And people tend not to take on more responsibilities than they have to.

Which is why they so often turn to governments to solve all their problems.

The chief cost of consumerism might seem to be best expressed in taxes or social welfare functions. But it is really in terms of your soul.

twv

Democratic Congresswomen wore white, to celebrate the centenary of the 19th Amendment.

Much is being made about the Democratic women in white, and their bizarre self-celebration of privilege. Well, maybe I am the only one who sees their position as one of privilege. But if you have been elected to Congress, you do not inhabit your rank or wield your power by right, but by privilege.

Further, the much-vaunted “right to vote” is not and cannot be a basic right. Is voting itself a privilege? But you can see why politicians might wish to upgrade the status of the political act, for our votes mean more to them practically than any single person’s vote could mean to that person practically. That is, our votes elect them. But not one of our individual votes elect anyone, have any effect. It is a problem of marginal productivity. Our votes thus mostly have symbolic meaning to us. So politicians have a strong and quite natural interest in managing the symbology.

It is one of the many ways in which politicians’ interests are at odds with ours.

For the rights that have practical importance for our lives, like the rights to free speech, a trial by jury, or to self-medicate (one we wish to obtain legally that we retain informally), trump all others. It is these that matter directly. They are about us, and they secure what liberties we can achieve in our government-run world, separate from political whim. So to witness anyone aggrandizing a mere privilege as a fundamental right is breathtaking. Their agenda is almost (but apparently not quite) obvious to everyone: it allows politicians and political factions (voting blocs) to expand the reach of the State, and undermine our basic rights.

Which is why it is all-important for politicians to upgrade the legality of voting above more fundamental, more basic rights, the better to shore up their privilege.


The scowl B.S. displayed after Trump promised an anti-socialist American future, and … horror … a heritage and future of freedom!

The great moment in President Trump’s State of the Union speech this week regarded his decisively negative statements about socialism. Nancy Pelosi weakly clapped; Bernie Sanders scowled . . . until he composed himself. Alexandria “Occasional Cortex” yammered on after the events in a pointless manner, not addressing the horrors that come from socialism. Not understanding why.

And why? Why does socialism so regularly dissolve into poverty and tyranny?

Because it cannot work as promoted. What is impossible but nevertheless attempted has real effects distinct from fantasy.

F. A. Hayek on a problem not often recognized. Especially by “socialists.”

If you do not understand and cannot reasonably answer Hayek’s argument about the calculation problem, you shouldn’t be pushing for socialism. Frankly, you probably shouldn’t be voting.


All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before.

President Donald Trump, State of the Union address, 2019

I do not see why we should “be proud” of having “more women in the workforce.” Do we think working on the job market is better than managing homes for families, than raising children, than — not contributing to federal income tax revenue?

Female workforce participation is not an outcome to congratulate ourselves about. Or, perhaps, worry about. It is an outcome not any of government’s business. And as a standard set apparently to judge social engineering, it has a huge problem — what if we should not be engaged in piecemeal social engineering? What if that is precisely the wrong thing to do?

It is certinaly no good way to judge politicians’ speeches.

Yet Republicans cheered.

We live in a sick society. Too much government is the problem. It is into everything. Including life choices of men and women.

And it is not just feminism that is to blame, either.


Shills selling poison as panacea look like this when confronted.

Is Socialism easier to sell than Capitalism?

Magic beans are sometimes easier to sell than real beans.

You know to whom.

The droll thing about capitalism vs. socialism in the current context is that the capitalism we have is not the capitalism usually identified. We live in a heavily dirigiste capitalist society, a neo-mercantilist kludge-fest. Yet I have met many socialists who say we suffer under free markets. It is bizarre.

Truth is, laissez faire capitalism is not what we have but what a few of us want. Our markets are heavily regulated, taxed and subsidized — though not equally, sector by sector. And not a few institutions are run upon socialist and quasi-socialist lines, complete with public ownership and political-bureaucratic control. Everyone with a brain in his head recognizes this. Yet we regularly encounter arguments to the effect that “capitalism has failed” this group or that, with a prescription ready at hand: socialism. But this is just one alternative to our mixed economy. The other option, a free society with extensive private property, free markets, limited government and a simple rule of law, is just as logical and promising on the face of it.

Why socialism so often seems the more obvious option is quite fascinating. It has something to do with cognitive biases, the tribal nature of Homo sapiens, etc. The full story and wider perspective are much too vast to relate here. So let me end by returning to the original thought:

Magic beans are remarkably easy to sell to those who don’t know Jack about history or social science.


From my Facebook author page.

Philosophy celebrates three deaths: Socrates, Epicurus, and Seneca. Two are political suicides.

I am not exactly as impressed by such suicides as are others. You know, philosophically. As literature they are great.

I am trying to remember other famous deaths of philosophers. I cannot recall any others of note. Not off the top of my head. There are other startling moments of biography, of course: Abelard’s castration and Nietzsche’s catatonic stupor come immediately to mind. But for the most part philosophers do not impress us with the drama of their lives. Not even the good ones do. 

And then there are the scoundrels, like Rousseau….


A Tweet from someone who thinks “liberals” exist, and are “liberal.”
Gotcha arguments often get you.


Patton Oswalt Gets Attacked By Troll On Twitter, Turns His Life Upside Down After Seeing His Timeline

That was the headline on Bored Panda. Another self-congratulatory progressive celebration of . . . what, exactly? Sneakily winning an argument?

The Bored Panda account is basically a bunch of Tweets.

Trump’s Tweet wasn’t much. But what was Oswalt’s? A stupid bit of mockery.

For some reason, Bored Panda did not regard this as trolling. Only one angry response was so characterized.

Remember, Oswalt was “spreading hate.” But is not so designated.
And everybody celebrated! The ailing “troll” repented! Jubilation!

I confess. Sometimes I am amazed at people’s credulity.

Most people reacted to this as a heartwarming story. But making Oswalt the hero after painting him as a non-troll strikes me as only possible with a truncated psychology.

Surely this is Pharisaic posturing on Patton Oswalt’s part, as his publicly giving alms to demonstrate his virtue and “caring” nature. Whether he actually possesses any virtue or empathy — something his original Tweet disinclines me to believe — does not really matter. The incentive to do this should be obvious to a half wit. But we are so programmed by the Culture of Caring — by prodigals masquerading as liberals pretending to charity trumped up as justice — that even bright people fall for this ploy.

And ploy it is. Has no one read Nietzsche? Can no one see that gift-giving can serve as a form of revenge? Is the Will to Power hidden so carefully behind the walls of ideology and politesse that only philosophers and cynics can see it?

The cream of the jest, though, flows over when you realize that Patton Oswalt used charity as a way to win an argument.

Win. An. Argument.

Sure, the comedian won. But everyone else lost. Everyone — except maybe for the guy who inadvertently (?) bilked a bunch of Pharisaic progressives into paying his medical bills.

Contemplating the mass of humanity, fooled by serpents and comedians.
The latest trend in pop feminism.

Sometimes I wonder whether it even crosses the mind of most ideologues to even try to make sense.

When feminists talk eulogistically about being “badasses,” did they not ever, once, find it uncomfortable adapting a vulgarism for their ideal? Did they not once consider the literal meaning of “bad ass,” and perhaps wonder whether there was any prudence in anchoring a metaphor on their oft-sexualized posteriors and defining their own gluteal assets to be “bad”? Were they not creative enough to wonder about the likeliest puns possible, and seek to head them off before the pass? (I think of ”bad assessments” right away. Worse can be imagined.)

My repeated refrain for years now has been to highlight feminist culture’s bizarre ambivalence between the idea that women are, in truth, better than men and the somewhat orthogonal notion that everything men have and can do women should have and must do better. The two notions negate each other, as near as I can make out, making the proper response to feminists’ insistent demands not acquiescence but a sort of Senecan “Pumpkinification.”

Michael McCaffrey, on Russia’s public propaganda website, treats us to a nifty little salvo against feminist envy, the basic gist of which is that feminists, in wanting what men have regardless of its merits prove to have set their sights far too low.

The cacophony of feminist voices in the public sphere has effectively challenged some minds about some things, but not the right minds about the right things. The mendacious US establishment and its virulent military industrial complex have co-opted this current feminist moment and are using it to further solidify their deadly stranglehold on the American consciousness and Brie Larson is now an accomplice to that crime.

Is this what the new wave of feminism is all about, putting lipstick on the pig of American empire and militarism and calling it a victory for equality? If so, I’ll pass on that toxic femininity.

Michael McCaffrey, “Toxic femininity: ‘Badass’ US women demand right to torture and kill for Empire… just like men,” RT Question More, January 25, 2019.

I doubt I agree much, politically, with this particular author. But on this issue, I can sign with him on the RT line in defiance of silly rah-rah-femmes feminisms: “I fervently believe,” he concludes, “that men and women should be equal in their rights and opportunities, but I believe just as fervently that regardless of gender, no one has the right to kill, maim and torture for the American empire.”

One hates to side with the propaganda unit of a foreign power, but since I cannot side, on this issue, with my own government, here I go, taking sides. Against idiotic feminism and, more importantly, an incoherent and murderous foreign policy.

twv

Dasher.

Having a religion is like owning a pet: it is easy to stink up the house. Being secular is like keeping the doors open and letting wild animals walk inside: the stink is the least of your worries.

This — to explain the modern age. The rise of secularism, by which here I really mean naturalism and anti-supernaturalism, has taken a toll on the human soul. Almost certainly a major reason for the rise of the State can be found in the general weakening of religious ideas.

It explains, in part, why the “liberal” type of mind — which can be defined as openness to new experience, creativity, tolerance, etc., but which also tracks the creation in open societies of a new class based on ideology, not family or tradition — went from being individualist in the 18th and 19th centuries to being collectivist later on: because collectivism gives greater play for cultism and creativity in messianic memeplexes. Individualism is a cautious philosophy, and not very easy to abuse for the purpose of filling in the God-shaped hole in the chests of seculars, folks who had scooped that sucker out, often with much blood, during the rise of science and in the historical challenge of widespread cultural exchange. You see, various forms of collectivism do give a lot of scope for the cultic mindset. And so collectivism replaced individualism within “liberalism,” with socialism swapping both the State of Nature and the City of God out of the fantasy realm that inevitably forms the core of any political philosophy.

One reason, though, for the rise of collectivism — with its atavistic return to status systems and centralization — is simply that the older theistic grounding for everyday ethics so quickly vanished while the welter of competing alternatives nullified each other for social (not intellectual) reasons, leaving a vacuum. A chasm, almost, that State Power — imagined and all-too-real — so handily met.

Thus, soon after the death of Friedrich Nietzsche, and according to his perceptive prophecy, it was statism in its various forms — socialism, communism, fascism, progressivism — that came to take up the cultural slack, filling in for the Power that was the Church and was understood, imaginatively, as a transcendent Deity.

One need not always run to Nietzsche or Dostoevsky for the explanation why, though. The problem of vanishing religion was keenly seen in 1879 by someone quite different, neither a manic atheist not reactionary theist:

Now that moral injunctions are losing the authority given by their supposed sacred origin, the secularization of morals is becoming imperative. Few things can happen more disastrous than the decay and death of a regulative system no longer fit, before another and fitter regulative system has grown up to replace it. Most of those who reject the current creed, appear to assume that the controlling agency furnished by it may safely be thrown aside, and the vacancy left unfilled by any other controlling agency. Meanwhile, those who defend the current creed allege that in the absence of the guidance it yields, no guidance can exist: divine commandments they think the only possible guides. Thus between these extreme opponents there is a certain community. The one holds that the gap left by disappearance of the code of supernatural ethics, need not be filled by a code of natural ethics; and the other holds that it cannot be so filled. Both contemplate a vacuum, which the one wishes and the other fears. As the change which promises or threatens to bring about this state, desired or dreaded, is rapidly progressing, those who believe that the vacuum can be filled, and that it must be filled, are called on to do something in pursuance of their belief.

Herbert Spencer, Data of Ethics (1879), preface — emphasis added.

Religion is a regulative system. Christianity’s weakening with the great increase of wealth under capitalism, and the near-fatal blows it received from the rise of science, had profound social effects. Because of a power vacuum. One essential regulative system failed, so the most naked expression of power, state coercion and the state’s traditional hegemonic authority, filled that vaccum.

As Spencer notes, the remnants of the religious tended to stick to the rearguard pose of denial — the denial that ethics could be grounded any other way. But the “liberal Christians” dissolved into a lowgrade form, adopting, sometimes hesitantly (not being gung-ho about communism) and sometimes enthusiastically (often supporting moral crusades like alcohol Prohibition and the War on Drugs, but later cheering for the rise of state aid instead of private charity), the statism of the secular throng. Indeed, this latter group proved instrumental in the rise of secular statism, for they anointed the State with messianic hopes and dreams, which secular folks really yearned for.

The unchurched, especially, came to scorn above-board attempts to ground ethics in naturalism. They much preferred to replace ethics with various “mental health” regimens and similar technocratic fixes.

This is how secular folks let the wild things into the house. They deeply resisted coherent discussion of ethics as initiated by Spencer. Is it a coincidence that philosophy got bogged down, in the 20th century, with flaccid discussions of metaethics?

Which is not to say metaethics need be flaccid. As practiced in the academy, though, it just was flaccid. Limp. Useless. Because the real action became institutional, as schools and bureaucracies set up a new class system of the cognitive elite. Which is what really replaced religion.

There is a reason I often prefer the company of religious people. At least they are up front about their designs upon my soul. The seculars? Why, they demand everything, including complete obedience to a constitutionally unlimited state.

And when that happens, expect to be shorn regularly, and “processed” in the end.

Which can come as a thief in the night.

With SWAT uniforms and the shooting of dogs.

Because, well, open doors, man.

twv

My pistol.

Here in the Evergreen State, where the motto is “al-ki” (by and by), local sheriffs are basically telling big city voters that their gun legislation (enacted by initiative) is unconstitutional and unenforceable — and that they will not try to enforce the new restrictions.

So what are those restrictions?

Washington’s voters passed initiative I-1639 in 2018, which by-and-large regulates semiautomatic rifles. Since January 1, 2019, purchasers of such weapons must be 21 years of age or over, must undergo an enhance [sic] background check and complete a safety course, and must wait nine days to take possession of their weapons. Further, weapons must be stored properly, or their owners will face felony endangerment charges.

“Washington State Sheriffs Refuse To Enforce New, Strict Gun Laws: ‘It’s Unconstitutional On Several Grounds’,” Inquistr, January 27, 2019

I live in a very rural county, one completely lacking in intersection lights — no red lights, yellow lights, or green. Alas, I just missed a meet-and-greet at the local watering hole where the local sheriff made his opposition to the new gun regulations all clear, publicly.

Rural sheriffs are rebelling. And there is a legal challenge in the works. One sheriff explained that “until the National Rifle Association’s (NRA’s) lawsuit against Washington’s new laws is resolved, he won’t be enforcing the laws, either. And if the NRA fails, he’ll consider whether or not he wants to remain in law enforcement.”

Predictably, some denizens of the out-of-the-way utopia I live in challenged our sheriff’s prerogative of selective enforcement.

I bet those folks would not challenge him if they disapproved of the law. Were the law to require that Jews be rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps, I bet they would say they’d join me in supporting any resistance the county sheriff could mount. But I also bet they do not have the wit to see the problem, here.

But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps they are principled conservatives. Whatever the established legal authority says, I have heard conservatives argue, must be followed to the letter. No matter how gruesome.

Amusingly, the ideologues most likely to take this conservative position today are progressives. And not just on this issue, where they have demonstrated a 60 percent statewide majority on gun regulation. As I have been elaborating for years now — for decades — today’s ideological alignments are not what they seem.

Conservatives today are mostly the progressives of a century ago, but with a fantasy of liberty sprinkled in to leaven the lump. Progressives today, by defending all the progressive institutions enacted this last century, and because they push for more of the same — nothing really very radically different, even when advanced under the gonfalon of socialism — find themselves, willy-nilly, as the actual conservatives in this mix, conserving progressive tradition.

Progressives leaven their goofy partisanship with scarcely believable nonsense about “marginalized communities,” of course. But that is mostly for piety. Fake piety, Pharisaic piety, for show.

In truth, in this “Evergreen State,” as in all so-called Blue States, the overbearing centrists yearn and work mightily to marshal state power and the tyranny of the majority to make society less liberal.

A free society is an armed society, for, as I have argued before, no state can protect its citizens (subjects) in time of crisis. The state is an engine for the regulation of retaliation. Self-defense is absolutely central to a liberal state.

But the State as imagined by progressives? There is nothing liberal about it. Limiting the power of citizens is what progressives do. They are top-down, professional management-oriented through and through, our progressives. They have always been sympathetic to tyranny — witness the love of centralization, the hatred of the Constitution, the sympathy for the Soviets — and they aim to get their totalitarian state some day, by and by.

First step to get over their next hurdle to total adminstrative state supremacy? Curb Americans’ gun ownership.

twv

Contemplating buying another gun.

Maybe we should pH balance our political vocabulary.

There should be fascism and phascism.

Fascism would be what actual fascists supported. You can read about their doctrines in Giovanni Gentile, for example. People who have actually read Gentile and Rocco and Mussolini would get to refer to fascism. And spell it right.

Everybody else would spell their understandings of the term, in their preferred loosey-goosey ways, without any historical justification (just like most uses), as “phascism.”

This would especially be the case for Marxists, who have always mischaracterized fascism for their own political advantage, and social justice warriors, who cannot explain the term in any plausible way, and libertarians, who think it makes sense to tar neo-mercantilism with the f-word.

Oh, and especially those people who spell Adolf Hitler’s name not with an “f” but with a “ph”: phascism is for you!

Democracy, explained Karl Popper, is valuable not because it expresses a “general will” — it does not and cannot — but because it allows citizens to remove officeholders from power peacefully.

The problem that democracy does not solve is the problem of the populace. Voters have power — not individually, but en masse, in interest groups. And when they become corrupt, democracy provides no way to remove them from power.

For they still have votes.

They can learn, or change their minds — but so can tyrants. We cannot rely upon education for voters corrupted by power, dreams of power, and patterns of dominance and submission. 

This is the main problem of democracy. Once corrupted by the power democracy provides, a people tends to remain corrupted.

Democracy‘s power base in the populace cannot even be term limited. 

Only the deaths of the corrupted provide a way out — with the tiny hope that younger people will see corruption and avoid it. Trouble is, the institutions of governance and politics tend to suck every generation further into folly.

And injustice.