Archives for category: Ideological currents
This is not the motto, today, of very many people who call themselves “democrats.”

…as answered on Quora…

The question should be formed in the past tense: when was democracy overthrown?

OK, that’s a bit snarky. And not at all accurate, since the United States was neither designed to be nor ever became a democracy.

Unless, as I have written elsewhere on Quora, one starts fiddling with the meaning of the term “democracy.” Which is fair game, I guess, and is part of a long tradition. Alexis de Tocqueville meant something different by the word in the Jacksonian era than did the founding fathers of these benighted states.

It is pointless for me to repeat all I have written on this in the past. So, for the remainder of my answer, I will accept arguendo that democracy is a good thing, that we once had it, and that it either no longer exists or is in peril.

So who is responsible for the anti-democratic influences? People in power.

I find it weird that Democrats think Republicans are democracy’s threat, and Republicans deem Democrats the threat. Both are threats. Obviously.

Take the big marker: initiative and referendum rights. Those are democratic, after all. No controversy about that. So, all around the country, in state after state, Democratic Party political machines work to squelch the ability of voters to check legislatures — which are, after all, concentrations of political power, especially when incumbency accrues advantages on sitting politicians by seniority and sheer persistence — using the ballot box on an issue-by-issue creation and repeal of constitutional amendments and statutes.

Except in Florida. In Florida it is the Republicans who work to squelch initiative activity, through the usual sneaky political means, by regulating the petition process for ballot access.

Usually, it depends upon who is in and out of power. Truth is, politicians out of power tend to favor democracy, for their best hope into power is to ride a groundswell of citizen unrest. Where, once in power, they tend to lust to squelch the competition.

Democracy is a means to manage competition for political power. That’s one definition anyway. And any group in power tends to be against democracy.

It is one of the basic rules of politics.

But let us look more broadly at the institutions of citizen control of the government. Are we really sure we have it? Are we sure we do not live in a mixed system with heavy elements of plutocracy, oligarchy, and mobocracy as well as star-chamber Deep State machinations?

After all, way back in the late 1930s, Garet Garrett understood that revolutions need not be overt:

There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.

There are those who have never ceased to say very earnestly, “Something is going to happen to the American form of government if we don’t watch out.”

These were the innocent disarmers. Their trust was in words. They had forgotten their Aristotle. More than 2,000 years ago he wrote of what can happen within the form, when “one thing takes the place of another, so that the ancient laws will remain, while the power will be in the hands of those who have brought about revolution in the state.”

The key thing about citizen control of government is that government must be small enough, limited enough, for citizens to practically control. At the time of the founding, the ratio of Representatives to citizens was comparatively balanced — a normal person was apt to know his Rep. Today, to keep up anything like that ratio, our House of Representatives would have to number not 435 but in the many thousands. This means that the federal union that is supposedly the United States may be less democratic today than it was two centuries ago . . . when it was explicitly not democratic!

But Americans, when they hear this, usually just shrug.

I think it is pretty obvious that people do not want democracy. Government is something we get activated about when we fret about a particular issue. But most people have the sense to shove most questions of governance off their proverbial front burners and onto that of experts. Who have their own special interests.

The consequences of this, of course, is not democracy but rule by the most vociferous and greedy factions. The revolution of the 20th century — away from constitutional constraints and a decent balance between “the people” and “the government” and to the establishment of a vast administrative state with its bureaucracy and vast transfer programs and regulations placing unequal burdens upon society, for the benefit of some and not others — that is the result of the activism of some and the “inactivism” of the many.

Is that democracy? Hardly. But the metamorphosis did not require much bloodshed, as Garrett explained:

Revolution in the modern case is no longer an uncouth business. The ancient demagogic art, like every other art, has, as we say, advanced. It has become in fact a science — the science of political dynamics. And your scientific revolutionary in spectacles regards force in a cold, impartial manner. It may or may not be necessary. If not, so much the better; to employ it wantonly, or for the love of it, when it is not necessary, is vulgar, unintelligent and wasteful. Destruction is not the aim. The more you destroy the less there is to take over. Always the single end in view is a transfer of power.

I find it funny that there are people who think they are “for democracy” but really just demand more power for their faction.

My laughter is not exactly mirthful, I admit.

twv

Remember President Barack Obama’s annoying “You didn’t build that”?

Today I watched President Donald Trump “explain” how awful trade deficits are. In that explanation he basically said to China, “You didn’t build that.”

The line should still be familiar. Obama had purloined it from the lips of Senator Elizabeth Warren. With this argumentative gambit, these two politicians revealed themselves for what they are, demagogues out to fan the flames of resentment and entitlement. In trying to give to government the credit for the entrepreneurial accomplishments of businessfolk, they were honing an agenda: de-legitimize the achievements of the successful the better to take their wealth away.

But while Obama gave to government the credit for business successes, Trump gave America the credit for China’s.

His logic?

Trump said previous presidents had allowed China to get away with trade policies that disfavored the U.S. to such an extent that no future deal could be 50/50; then, that a deal had been made, but China changed it, so he put up the wall of high tariffs.

Next, Trump boasted of the huge increase in government revenues from his taxes, er, tariffs.

And then the kicker: “We rebuilt China because they got so much money” under freer trade.

That is how Trump had America take the credit for Chinese growth.

And he was more than implying that there is something wrong with Americans helping Chinese grow in this manner.

Trump seems not to understand that when people trade (it is not, really, countries trading) both sides gain. The farmers who support Trump can imagine selling more agricultural product had President Xi’s own protectionist measures been lower, and it is on the basis of those lost opportunities that Trump makes his pitch to American farmers. But it is Chinese consumers who have the greater cause to complain for past Chinese protectionism, for had Xi allowed more trade, China would have grown even faster. Because of all the exchanges. 

Like in all trade, neither side to a trade is irrelevant. China could with just as much justification take credit for American progress in all that past trade.

Every instance of which was an advance for both sides.

The Chinese built what they built, with American help. And could’ve built more had their government gotten out of the way.

And right now, with Trump’s high tariffs in place, American consumers will have to pay more for what we buy from China.

And elsewhere.

Trump is apparently trying to get Xi to take down his protectionist barriers by putting up American barriers. And if Trump succeeds, we do indeed all win. If he fails, we all lose. Meanwhile, we are hurting as much as the Chinese.

And what Trump is saying encourages resentment and economic superstition. So, even if he wins, what we may end up with is more resentment and a greater reservoir of protectionist sentiment in the American electorate.

And that almost guarantees disaster.

twv

The inability of progressives to pass Ideological Turing Tests is well recognized. It has even been definitively studied, and not just by Jonathan Haidt. My own experience with progressives, in argument, often shows to me their utterly em-bubbled brains. Take a recent Facebook interchange about a Tweet. A friend posted the following, and I responded (in the first two screenshots below, my name shows but my interlocutors’ do not):

What I am trying to show here is that the shared tweet is utterly wrong-headed. I even understate the case, engaging in respectful argumentstion in one of my not-infrequent attempts to reach out to ideologues. This woman, Geraldine, does indeed state that the “penalty for getting an abortion” . . . is in play. It is not. The Alabama law would only punish someone for performing an abortion.

This means that this Geraldine either does not understand the basics of the law, or is a liar.

What she is doing is appealing to the same instinct that the Alabama legislators were allowing for when they exempted abortion-seeking pregnant women from prosecution. As I suggest in my response, this makes scant sense. If abortion be murder, the abortive mothers would be as guilty as the doctors, nurses and coat-hanger specialists who perform the abortions.

I think this should give “pro-life” anti-abortion activists pause.

But the utter witlessness of Geraldine’s tweet far outshines the cluelessness of the pro-lifers. For she also misses the painfully obvious point that murder always has and should be considered worse than murder.

And I think that provides us with a clue about the nature of the issue. But, be that as it may, her inability to retain an obvious point of her opponents shows that she is utterly confined by her ideology. She is not dealing rationally with the issue and the debate. She is defensive and foolish.

What her witlessness shows, though, is that she cannot keep in her head the notion that abortion might be murder. Killing fetuses just seems different from the murder of adults, children and (presumably) infants.

The responses to my corrective comment were predictable:

My friend marked over in Red cannot wrap his head around the ideas of his opponents. I suspect he never listens to them. He just works up hatred. My response to him makes a simple point about who supports pro-life positions: lots and lots of women. Note how he evades this, not seeing that he must be charging a majority of women in this country with wanting to control women. He is in his bubble, apparently, and only talks to women who are pro-choice, like the female Fber I’ve marked in Blue who took the tolerance angle. The problem with her gambit is that it, too, ignores the basic charge, that killing fetuses might be murder (that is: unjust; wrong). Would she say also say that “this woman, mother, friend, would never murder anyone, and this is right FOR ME . . . but I am also aware that if other people want to murder that is NONE OF MY BUSINESS!”?

In both of these cases, no arguments against the pro-life position are offered. What we see, instead, are clichés brought up to provide an alternate way of thinking about the subject. And in both cases the clichés border on the inane. My Red friend reverts to the “men shouldn’t have a say” gambit, which he does not realize is an awfully weak reed to flail against the abortion-is-evil position. And, once again, does nothing against the argumentation of pro-choice women.

But, alas, messing up this debate is the norm, even for super-smart non-leftists. Take Kat Timpf, a Fox News-employed libertarian who is as clever as anyone on Twitter:

Taking Ms. Timpf’s lead, I did not read the many comments either.

Here she sets up two issues, gun control and abortion prohibition, and shows, she thinks, that both right and left contradict themselves on these two issues. And it almost works . . . except that the two turn out not to be parallel.

Laws prohibiting abortion are not like laws prohibiting gun ownership. Prohibiting abortion is like prohibiting murderous shootings. Both of these are laws against killing. And neither are designed to STOP the bad acts from occurring, but, instead, to punish guilty parties and thereby provide the standard and indirect disincentive to the crime. Deterrence is not the only goal, though. Retribution establishes a moral order, and sets the boundaries of rights.

Gun control, or firearms prohibition, is an attempt to prevent a crime by taking away the ability to commit it. It is not deterrence as such, but an attempt at incapacitation. The parallel with gun control would be fucking control. Or the castration of all males. Or telling women they must give up their eggs.

Progressives who defend “abortion rights” would be parallel to those non-existent people who defend killing innocents.

Conservatives who defend the right to own guns would be parallel to all those people (everybody) who defend the right to keep their penises, testicles, uteruses, and eggs, and think people should be allowed to engage in non-forced coitus.

Maybe the reason progressives think such awful thoughts about those conservatives who want abortion made illegal is that they expect conservatives to hanker to do what they themselves want to do regarding violence: engage in intrusive, preëmptive control of personal life, just to get the social results they want.

But that is not how conservatives think. Progressives, it seems to me, have a controlling mindset, and tend to go overboard. So when they defend a grisly activity like abortion, they become unhinged and impute their worst instincts onto conservatives.

It seems to me that on so many issues, people in general and progressives in particular lack the ability to think clearly about the transactional nature of human life.

As for me, I regard abortion with moral horror, and think it quite an evil thing. But for reasons almost no one cares to hear, I doubt the horrifying, disgusting practice should be treated as unlawful killing. As murder.

But no one asks. I guess they just want to keep making lame arguments and screaming at each other. Asking a question about a novel argument? They might have to change their minds!

twv

Fan Petition to Redo Game of Thrones Season 8 Escalates as Finale Approaches,” Jacob Oller, SyFy, May 16, 2019 (Update: As of May 19, the petition has reached 1 million signatures.)

Ah, Game of Thrones: it ends tonight!

Though the writing of dialogue has diminished in quality over the last few seasons, and there have been problems with plotting the big incidents — and, perhaps saddest, Tyrion and Varis both became increasingly feckless, their roles almost pointless (so it was perhaps fitting for Varys to expire by Drogon’s fire) — my only real complaint with last Sunday’s episode regards the problem of the seemingly endless dragonflame. I mean, no attempt to explain the never-ending fireworks in terms of the conservation of matter?

At least Heinlein, in his otherwise quite bad Glory Road, bothered to consider the chemistry and physics of the fire-breathing dragon.*

Obviously, my kid’s-view of science persists.

All its many flaws being admitted, the very idea of a fan petition to redo the last season is idiotic:

As Season 8 (and the series itself) comes to a close, a fan petition to remake the season has picked up steam — reflecting some of the criticisms raised among the community.

Some are angry at its perceived disservice to its female characters, while others are upset at its underlit battles. On the flip side, some argue for its twists. The point is, the takes are often as hot as Drogon’s dragonfire. Those have manifested into a Change.org petition that user Dylan D. started a week ago. It started off slow, but by Thursday morning it neared 400,000 signatures.

The petition suggests what is wrong with culture these days: way too much “voice,” not near enough “exit.”


* The opening pages of that book were well done, too. I can admit that.


Men decide where power resides, whether or not they know it.

Varys in The Game of Thrones, best line in the penultimate episode, “The Bells”
from Wiki of Thrones

UPDATE: Watched the “finale”; was less than impressed. No great revelations, no deep change of perspective, and certainly no epiphany. But boy, did they try to force that latter. With sad, romantic music. Still, a few nice touches:

  1. Jon kills Dany, because she was homicidally mad, and this was especially tragic, since he loved her, blah blah.
  2. Drogon melts the Iron Throne, then carries off Dany’s corpse across the sea.
  3. Sam’s pitch for democracy got a laugh.
  4. Sansa makes the North independent and becomes the Queen of the North.

But the “winter is coming” theme sort of fizzled. Not much of a winter. I wanted to see snow piled high on the ruins of King’s Landing, but we got just a few flakes.

Samuel Johnson, when asked about what he thought of a certain woman preacher, famously responded, “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” I wonder what he would have thought of Soph, the YouTube sensation who recently had her best video removed from the popular video-sharing platform.

The truth, contra Johnson, is that there have been more-than-adequate female preachers, few so ungainly or risible as a hound on hind legs. And the truth about Soph is that she is, well, more astounding than an 18th century English female preacher.

And what astounds is not her sex, but her age and her success. And I mean that in a good way. Joseph Bernstein, a Buzzfeed hack whom I had previously known only for his Tweet about murdering heterosexual white men, apparently objects to both her age and her success, so he wrote a story about the girl entertainer and commentator, predictably portraying her as some sort of avatar of awfulness. In “YouTube’s Newest Far-Right, Foul-Mouthed, Red-Pilling Star Is A 14-Year-Old Girl,” he does not allow his readers to make their own judgments about either her talents or moral status but, instead, spoon-feeds it like you would expect from a far-left “senior technology reporter”:

Yes, if you want a vision of the future YouTube is midwifing, imagine a cherubic white girl mocking Islamic dress while lecturing her hundreds of thousands of followers about Muslim “rape gangs,” social justice “homos,” and the evils wrought by George Soros — under the thin guise of edgy internet comedy, forever.

Actually, don’t imagine it. Watch it. It’s already here.

Note the tone of moral panic. Note the crack about how gossamer is her “guise” as a Net comedienne. And note the accusatory finger pointed at YouTube, as if a platform should somehow be held responsible for the free activities of its users. Would he say that telephone companies “widwifed” phone sex, crank calls, and the JFK assassination?

Alas, Bernstein’s tone and tack served as a contagion, memetically engineered to its target. That is, his article spurred YouTube to panic and take down the very video that offended him.

Now, I saw that video. I may have watched it twice. It was hilarious. It was indeed outrageous. And it very much did mock Islam. Alas, for reasons too obvious to state, Bernstein characterizes this in his piece as “hatred toward Muslims” and not criticism of a memeplex.

It is impossible to believe that Bernstein would have marshaled the full force of his SJW chivalry had Soph been mocking the Amish, the Southern Baptist Convention, or the monastic Order of Saint Benedict.

Now, skipping the bulk of Bernstein’s string of calumnies, innuendos, and tortured readings, I wish to focus on one charge, embedded in this bizarre passage:

Soph’s scripts, which she says she writes with a collaborator, are familiar: a mix of hatred toward Muslims, anti-black racism, Byzantine fearmongering about pedophilia, tissue-thin incel evolutionary psychology, and reflexive misanthropy that could have been copied and pasted from a thousand different 4chan posts. Of course, it’s all presented in the terminally ironic style popularized by boundary-pushing comedy groups like the influential Million Dollar Extreme and adopted of late by white supremacist mass shooters in Christchurch and San Diego.

Look at the first claim: “she says she writes with a collaborator.” In olden times, Bernstein would have done a little reporting to verify or falsify Soph’s claim. But we live in a time of post-reportorial journalism, and Bernstein isn’t doing research here, he is writing a screed with a political purpose: to whip up hysteria to nudge YouTube to take down opinions of which he does not approve. This is of no great matter, but I just want to make a point: Bernstein and I are both engaged in ideological contest, neither of us is engaged in reporting — but only he calls himself a “reporter.”

The second claim is the aforementioned “hatred towards Muslims” characterization, which carefully elides any possibility that her critique of Islam might have some merit. It must be “hatred,” not criticism. The Social Justice imperative has it that never must any mention be made of the mad memeplex that is Islam. Leftists need their fellow-anti-west jihadist allies. And they are more than happy to besmirch a YouTuber, no matter how young, to do it.

That being said, Soph is reported to have ejaculated the startlingly evil request “Please kill Muslims” and to have publicly wished for a “Hitler for Muslims” to “gas them all.” That is neither funny nor defensible.

Except, of course, on free speech grounds.

And after all, if Joe Bernstein can blithely jump on the currently acceptable form of racism, against whites — “KILL a straight white man on your way to work tomorrow” — perhaps we can cut a 14-year-old some slack in the Genocidal Wish-Mongering department. Such sentiments are hard to walk back, though. Those remarks are anti-Muslim and not just anti-Islam; they cross a very disturbing line.

Which, to repeat, Bernstein himself has already crossed and apparently been absolved of. Did he convince his critics his tweet was satire? What has Soph said about her statements? Perhaps Bernstein can help us out here by doing some actual reporting.

Of course, context is always important, and we are always tempted to forget context. As I just did, above. Soph’s offending-and-removed-from-YouTube vid was a response to blowback from her comment — on another platform. Watch the vid on BitChute.

But it is his third charge that interests me most, for here we kick at the leftist crutch subject, racism. Whereas those on the left used to ridicule right-wingers for “seeing a commie behind every bush,” nowadays leftists espy racists on every barstool. Bernstein asserts that Soph engages “anti-black racism,” and helpfully provides a link to back up his charge. 

The vid in question is called “Multiracial White Supremacy,” in which the girl dons a black t-shirt and an FBI cap to portray agent “Clide Colon,” concerned about the “Social Harmony of the United States Hegemony” as it pertains to “white supremacy.” Like in most of Soph’s more elaborate satires, at some point she drops the satire to talk straight. Settling on when that shift happens might serve as a drinking game. 

At the beginning, however, the satire is clear. The agent worries about the white supremacy of the type presented by “head Negro operative and designated KKK spokesman Treasure Richards” placing in jeopardy “the welfare of the black community we thoroughly sold cocaine to a few decades ago.” Spot on. Funnier than Samantha Bee, anyway.

Now, this Miss Treasure Richards is an African-American girl a few years older than Soph who appeared on “Dr. Phil” claiming not mere alienation from black inner-city culture, but also to despise her fellow black folk, even going so far as to think of herself as white. Dr. Phil took up her case as a “teachable moment,” and Miss Richards appears to have been in earnest — though there are folks online who say it was all a typical daytime TV show hoax. I would not know since I could not watch Treasure’s apology video. (I don’t know if she was sincere or her tears faked, because I don’t watch crying girls if I can at all help it. Dr. Phil insists that she was for real.) Soph shows some cuts from Dr. Phil’s show, after the first of which she makes a Blazing Saddles-variety n-word jape (“that man is a Nih-!” becomes “she’s clearly not an African-American, she’s a Nih-”), placing her (I surmise, not drinking my whiskey yet) squarely in satire mode as “Clide Colon.” This followed some droll jabs at the FBI, obviously satirical.

Her next jest is also standard-brand racist, doubling down on Treasure’s variant. Still satire. I trust.

Then she moves on to comment on Treasure’s mother, whom she refers to, sarcastically, as “a reliable source” — sarcastic because the mother had lied to her children about their parentage, making them think (incorrectly?!?!?) that her now-departed white husband was their father. At 2:17 Soph’s criticism of the mother wanders away from satire and from her role as Agent Colon. “It’s interesting how a 16-year-old girl who hasn’t endangered a single human being so far is considered the bad person, not the single mother who had to move in with her two kids to the ghetto thanks to her financial irresponsibility.”

This sort of judgmentalism can be found throughout the Soph oeuvre that I have screened. It is funny, to the extent it is, because its like is so rarely stated in polite society. This is precisely how late night TV operates these day, with rash statements standing in for jokes. In Soph’s case, though, because her judgments rub against the grain of dominant left culture, it is funny. A bit. Well, at least more than Seth Meyers.

But Soph earns her nom de plume, immediately after this, by getting philosophical. She states her basic case vis-à-vis Treasure’s dislike of her new African-American neighbors as a thesis that could be profitably defended: 

When it’s claimed that racial identity is constituted by a set of behaviors instead of genetic composition, this is what inevitably follows. Those of that ethnicity who don’t conform will be denounced, as if they owe allegiance to their racial group because they have some sort of abstractly defined “shared experience.” When all they truly share is limited to haplogroups. Ironically, they are treated as belongings because of their race. This, in turn, makes them revolt against the people denouncing them, and since the denouncers purport to represent the racial group, that’s what ends up getting attacked. 

This is all very reasonable and not delivered as satire . . . other than that Soph hasn’t changed out of her Colon costume.

But what do we make of the following?

That isn’t to say I support the things being said by Treasure, but it’s preferrable to adopting the reprehensible behavior being displayed in her environment.

Here Soph carefully (and for all to see) repudiates the race-hatred of Treasure, who apparently developed a positive fixation on the KKK. Soph’s comments on that are back to funny:

Let me just say this: there’s probably not one organization with worse p.r. than the Ku Klux Klan. Planned Parenthood is responsible for the Negro Baby Holocaust, and it’s still considerably less despised than the KKK. If your black daughter is entranced by the Klan, it isn’t because of their cunning marketing tactics, it’s because of your monumental failure as a parent. 

So, for whom would this be the ideal type of “anti-black racism”? Not me. That a complex and not unfamiliar mix of satire and moralizing strikes Mr. Bernstein as worth characterizing as “anti-black” says more about BuzzFeed and its project to direct sniper fire at its main competition, alt-media videos by amateurs, than it does about Soph.

Whose next step in development may be to write the next great Menippean satire.

Unless Bernstein can get enough nutball leftists to direct actual sniper fire in her direction. That would be a triumph for the left that leftists might understand . . . without taxing their hermeneutician chops.

Soph strikes me as brilliant, if rough not merely around the edges but also at the seams. Bernstein, on the other hand, is the kind of writer who, in times past, demanded that Jurgen and Ulysses be suppressed and who lambasted Mencken as a scandal to a Christian republic. Today, as a century ago, such moralistic scolds inhabit key positions in major media and headline online clickbait outfits, now defending not Christendom but Democratic pols and . . . the “intelligence community.”

O, how the mighty have fallen splat into the muck of petty tyranny.

Sad to see a “reporter” getting his licks in, desperately, before BuzzFeed implodes under competition from upstart competitors.

Like Soph.


Your humble TWV.
Democratic socialism may be all the rage.
But its most famous proponent is no sage.

The art of defining a term can be undertaken in good faith or bad faith. I am fascinated by this art. I am tempted to call the good faith version The Dialectic, but that, alas, would be a designation rather peculiar to me — it being my takeaway of what is wrong and right in Plato’s dialogues, and what I remember after reading Aristotle’s dreadful* book, The Topics. The bad faith version is vulgar propaganda, I suppose, but isn’t the p-word too nice for it?

Definitional arguments underlie so much substantive argument, so my interest in distinguishing proffered good-faith from bad-faith definitions is ongoing, persistent. Take the problem of defining “socialism.”

An important topic. There are a few plausible definitions for the term, and quite distinct ones at that. There are also some technical characterizations that can unify a few of those different approaches, which I have advanced here and elsewhere.

But a definition of socialism you often hear among rather bright people online is not correct, and it is worth showing why. That definition?

“worker ownership of the means of production”

How is socialism as worker ownership of the means of production not a good faith definition?

There exist, today, many economies** that qualify under that definition, but which no socialist I have ever encountered promotes, and which most of the leading socialist theoreticians and proponents look upon with utter disdain, even wishing to squelch. And what are these economies? Sole proprietorships and partnerships that have no employees. These professionals provide goods and services to others by contract. They most certainly labor at their work and thus qualify as “workers” and “laborers” under any commonsense definition of the terms. But these are not what socialists have historically meant by worker and laborer.

Indeed, actual socialists in the past have organized by the thousands to murder millions of workers precisely like this: think of the kulaks’ fate under Stalin.

Further, one can imagine a whole vast catallaxy of market institutions in which all of the businesses are owned and operated by workers democratically — yet no living, breathing socialist I have encountered has any interest in it, despite its near-term viability. What is this astounding institution? Corporations with majority stockholders made up of worker pension funds and other saved funds invested by individual laborers. Robert Nozick suggested this as a possibility; Peter Drucker was its prophet. When Gene Epstein offered this as a decent alternative to state socialism in a recent debate, his socialist interlocutor was just flummoxed. This isn’t political; no force and bullying required — where’s the fun in that?

And there we see why the worker-ownership definition of socialism is a bad-faith definition: it is a lie that masks what socialists really want.

They want power, especially to expropriate the rich and bully people they disagree with. So, though I usually trot out technical definitions of the s-word that make a lot of sense, a nastier definition serves, and it is, despite its nastiness, not in bad faith:

Socialism is the ideology promoting systems of total state power as wielded by people who call themselves socialists.

A bit circular? Well, there are crucial non-circular elements to it, and, besides, there is nothing quite so taut as a tautology.

And it leads to a working definition of a competitive ideology:

Fascism is any ideology promoting systems of total state power wielded by people whom socialists call fascist.

Leftists’ habit of calling nearly everyone they disagree with “fascist” is no more worthy of emulation than is their raising aloft the banner of “democratic socialism.” If they actually wanted a truly democratic socialism, they would defend and advance the liberal, minimal state order — maybe going so far as libertarianism — while working in the voluntary sector, in business, to bring about a worker-owned order.

But what, if you are a socialist, would be the fun of that?

Integral to socialist agitation is the politics of opposition to private property and free markets along with the promotion of state power. Both of these corrupt even the most earnest souls. Whatever good, charitable thoughts that may begin their political quest, and nudge them to prefix socialism with that eulogistic term democratic, erode quickly, replaced by a terrifying changeling: tyranny.


*Oh, and I do mean really, really badly written and mostly unconvincing. Aristotle was a great thinker but not a great writer, and The Topics is one of his very worst treatises.
** I am using “economy” in the manner suggested by F. A. Hayek, in contradistinction to “catallaxy” that I use in the next paragraph. I do not remember where Hayek suggests these two terms of art. I am reshelving my economics section of my library this week, so maybe I will dip into the Hayek volumes mid-course, and come back here to give the proper citation. Until then. . . .

Why is it not cool to be a conservative?

…as answered on Quora…

Two problematic, contestible words: cool and conservative.

The latter did not come into common use in America as much but a style-related pejorative until after World War II, with Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (1953). There is no certain ideology behind the basic concept. Its core meaning suggests caution, opposition to radicalism and revolution, and respect for tradition, including, especially, the political traditions at the heart of the defense of one’s civilization or country or locality — from subversion and conquest. In America, an additional element, not so characteristic of European conservative strains, is the harking back to the origins of the federal union, which were, in historical context, what came to be known as liberal — a word that took on a political meaning on the European continent in the 1820s. American conservatism has vacillated between traditionalism as a modus operandi and traditionalism as the honoring of a liberal radical moment.

See how double-souled conservatism is? How ambiguous? This double character is especially the case, anyway, in America. But even in England, the conservative prophet Edmund Burke showed strong commitments to British liberalism, which was old before it was named. Since his day, the conservative Tory and liberal Whig parties have traded ideas and reversed positions at least once, if not twice.

The concept of cool is much abused in contemporary society, and it has been unmoored from its origins in the temperature metaphor. Alas.

Once upon a time, hot and cool were two distinct ideals in sexual selection, two very different stances: the hot was passion and rage and fiery temper; the cool was collected, unperturbed, resistant to emotional infection. The hot spread like fire, quickly; the cool was resistant but not cold. And neither were as attributed to the church of Laodicea in the Revelation, the last book of the Christian New Testament: lukewarm.

Warm culture is modern adult bourgeois culture: polite hugging, easy acceptance, reassurances everywhere; passionless but supportive. Hot culture is lust and anger and quickness of temper; when accepting, more ecstatic and celebratory than calm.

Cold culture is rigid, forbidding, exclusionary.

Warm cultures accept, lukewarm cultures are almost indifferent, but leaning towards acceptance.

There is a sense of anomie in the lukewarm. While in the cool, there is alienation — proud and dismissive, but not rudely so.

The cold rejects, the warm gently accepts (with the lukewarm unenthusiastic almost to the point of ambivalence), while the cool resists both as undue perturbations.

The cool man (and it was a predominantly male stance, at first) is calm under crisis, but perhaps curious. He appears strong because seemingly in control of his emotions. He is not given to fight or flight, rejection or acceptance. There is distance, but no great hate or resentment.

The cool thus became a signal of strength. And it quickly garnered an allure that the other stances could not match. And so it became a kind of ideal. And “the cool” in modern culture became a revival of honor culture.

Alas, so overused as a eulogistic word, it became synonymous with hot, in popular parlance. Just another trendy emphasis word, for The Good.

Now we can see why conservatives are not “cool.” The tendency to either cold or fiery rejection of the other — of the differently customed, the divergent of values or habits or beliefs — is a common conservative “virtue.” And the forms of acceptance amongst conservatives tend to the warm and the lukewarm.

Irony is cool; earnestness is not. Conservatives are not natural ironists.

Conservatives are fond of “that old-time religion”: cold adherence to dogma; hot defense of that dogma.

The center-left is warm to lukewarm; the far left is hot.

So where is the cool? Probably among the independents, though attributing any political position to the cool is difficult, because partisanship does not lend itself to cool attitudes.

The cool political position, in my opinion, would most likely be that of the informed non-voter.

Misattributions of coolness are common, of course, because young people tend to confuse hot and cool. Such attributions are not likely to remain true to the foundational metaphor . . . temperature.

But there is a reason why drug taking is “cool,” and sobriety is not: taking drugs, like the cool sexual stance, signals strength in a subtle way, as in “I can take it; I am not crushed nor do I panic.” All this show of strength signals to the eager female looking for a strong partner — for evolutionary reasons — a bracing, impressive latent ability to survive and protect.

The earnestly sober, cautious, and traditionally minded male, on the other hand, whether cold or warm, has to appeal to reason, primarily.

Which is not sexy except to the very bright. And as we know from IQ testing, there are more geniuses among men than women, so it pays more to impress the normally intelligent. Hot and cool stances have a more obvious, emotional allure.

Conservatives just cannot easily elicit such reactions. They are not cool. Even if they are right (as they often are, compared to the far left, anyway).

And the cool, understandably, dominated the permanent counter-culture in America: the public school student culture. This counter-culture was chiefly counter to established authority. Conservatism tries to bolster established, adult authority. So the two attitudes are on opposite sides in the forming experience of most Americans.

twv

An excellent book on the career of a concept.
Make a statue of THIS.

My changing attitude on iconoclasm, a timeline:

  1. 1991: When Russians pulled down Lenin statues, I cheered.
  2. 1993: When folks in Seattle’s Fremont District put up a Lenin statue, I snickered.
  3. 2003: When American forces, during the Conquest of Iraq, hit some major ancient Mesopotamian civilization sites, blowing them to smithereens, I was deeply irked.
  4. 2015: When ISIS began dismantling, destroying and selling off ancient statues from Assyria as “idols,” I was aghast that any modern would wish to treat as objects for either current reverence or irreverence millennia-old statuary.
  5. 2017: When SJWs turned against the statuary of the Civil War dead, I was more than a little irked that anyone would treat centuries-old and even decades-old memorials as objects for current reverence or irreverance — other than a reverance for history.
  6. 2017: Trump was a latecomer to my query about statues though: With the first protest against a Confederacy memorial, I wondered when the Millennial asshats would come for Jefferson and Washington. When the young demand that their country’s heroes’ statuary be dishonored, you know that they aim to set up some moralistic tyranny in which they are bound by no tradition or culture, and in which the rest of society is too morally weak to resist.
  7. 2019: I suggest setting up a few statues, plumbed for septic service, of open-mouthed Antifa goons and the stocky, homely chick screaming “No” upon the election of Trump, into which we may urinate. That is my current attitude towards the intersectionalist left today.

My attitude about the recent iconoclasm trend has been the same as regarding speech: the proper response to statuary one doesn’t like is not iconoclasm but more statuary. It is easy to destroy, not so easy to put up new monuments — they cost money. But destroying history, even ugly history, seems an awful lot like childishness. Adults should be able to look at a statue and not get sucked into its ideology.

I, for one — and like many others — am fascinated by ancient monuments, though I am quite certain I would not support the bulk of the policies of the ancient monument-builders were someone foolish enough to attempt to revive those policies.

I made peace with Lenin being in Seattle. Still . . . perhaps I should have feared the statue’s influence on Seattle politics? Could it have given succor to the socialism on Seattle’s current City Council?

The Fremont Lenin, via Josh Hallett, Flickr, some rights reserved.

Philosopher Jan Lester offers what he says is a new paradigm for libertarianism. Though old hands at the philosophy may raise an eyebrow at the daring of such a claim — and I am, by this time, one of those old hands — it is not as if libertarian social philosophy were all shipshape and Bristol fashion.

Looking at his essay “The Three Great Errors of Most Libertarians,” I found myself not at all shocked by his alleged novelty — though novelty there is. From a perspective of critical rationalism (via Popper, Lakatos, Bartlett, and others), Mr. Lester advances three alternatives to most libertarian ideology and rhetoric:

  • Instead of “justificationism” and the eternal search for the Foundations of Ethics and Politics, Lester insists that we stick to the more humble and honest task of offering conjectures about which we are open to debate.
  • Instead of characterizing our normative theories in terms of “deontological” or “consequentialist” terms, recognize that they are “more like two sides of the same coin.”
  • Instead of waffling and arguing in a circular fashion, develop an explicit, sufficient and necessary “theory of freedom.”

This last point points to the most obvious need, but it is not one that many libertarians recognize as an actual problem. There is an awful lot vagueness and hand-waving among libertarian theorists. And some concepts get jumbled together, like “self-ownership” and “negative freedom” and so forth. Hearkening back to classical liberal days, Lester focuses on non-interference — Henry Sidgwick would have understood this — and develops it as a prohibition of “proactive constraint.” I have not adequately confronted this understanding of liberty, so as I prepare to read his book, Escape from Leviathan: Libertarianism Without Justificationism, I will try to keep an open mind.

I am sympathetic to his general perspective, and, so far, seem to agree on quite a lot. I do have a different way of looking at freedom than many libertarians — and this has been one reason for my odd position in the libertarian movement: I am a member of no faction, and hail not from the School of Rand or School of Rothbard, but, instead, from the School of Nozick . . . without having ever been a Nozickian.

Odd man out, I.

So, before I lash out at Lester’s paradigm, or drop mine, I will put them to the test, which would also mean essaying to discover whether the two might be compatible.

As far as the deontic/consequentialist debate goes, anyway, we are on the same side. I found this “controversy” very interesting in my early 20s, since it was a major feature of libertarian intellectual discussion in the 1980s. I soon decided, however, that most discussions of this were hopelessly muddled or, at the very least, red herrings. My late boss R. W. Bradford, writing as Ethan O. Waters, did not exactly make the issue clearer, in the pages of Liberty magazine in its first year. I went a different direction, taking consequentialism chiefly as a meta-ethics.

Regarding Lester’s anti-justificationism, well, this strikes me as a terminological issue. He denies this. I am more in line with C. S. Peirce than Karl Popper, so I see all this “critical rationalist” talk as just another form of fallibilism, whereas he regards it (I think) as quite distinct. I may have read both Popper and Lakatos, I confess to having devoured their work only in small doses: this is not an area of anything but a passing familiarity for me. So, I should practice caution. Still, I will drop a hint: Jan Lester believes that philosophy is not about words, it is about the world. That is certainly a nifty slogan. It reminds me of Husserl’s “to the things themselves!” I think philosophy cannot help but be about words — and definitions, too — because words are our chief tool for engaging with concepts. He calls them theories and conjectures, and that is fine, except it seems a long way around to say something fairly obvious.

But I could be wrong. Indeed, all this jumps the gun of reading his book.

So, if I have not read this book, and the cited essay is brief, how do I know what Mr. Lester holds to? Well, a year-and-a-half ago a friend of mine and I interviewed Mr. Lester at length. And this week I finally turned the Skype session into a video, which is now up as a series on YouTube:

Where Libertarians Go Wrong:

  1. Introduction: Why “Critical Rationalism
  2. Error One: Seeking a foundation or justification
  3. Error Two: Taking sides between deontologism and consequentialism
  4. Error Three: Lacking an explicit, necessary & sufficient theory of freedom

By the way, I had intended to do this all last year. But the best laid plans of mice and men, the gang’s all here in the glee club, and all that.


Jan Lester’s Escape from Leviathan. And me.
Definition of a word most people are not familiar with, from the Century Dictionary.

It is not “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.” Not in politics.

On the left we find Useful Idiots.

On the right we find useless ones.

This explains the bizarre pushing of leftism by people in power.

One word: utility.