Archives for category: Ideological currents
This just in my library — recently purchased.

I have in my hand a book about an important political figure I had either not heard of before, or had completely forgotten . . . that is, before I laid hand on this book.

Adolf A. Berle, Jr., was, apparently, a major figure in the “liberalism” in the epoch of FDR and JFK. According to the preface, which is all I have read so far, he was quite influential. Why had I not remembered his name, then? Well, it is not a period I have studied, so I am sure I can be forgiven for my ignorance or forgetfulness. But his was a time I am more than familiar with — my father’s time, so to speak, the time in which my father came of age and grew to maturity and, in fact, a time into which I was born, at the very end — one of my earliest memories is of the live TV coverage in the aftermath of the JFK assassination.

I have dozens of other books to read in my library before this, so I will probably just take away from this book acquisition, for now, my conjecture as to why Adolf Berle is not more often spoken about: it is that name, Adolf.

Hitler’s dark presence eclipsed Berle’s fame, and threatened him with infamy he almost certainly did not deserve. Why the man did not, in the 1940s, adapt to his time by styling himself as “A. Augustus Berle” I know not. Maybe Jordan A. Schwarz, the author of this biography, will explain.

But I can imagine rationales for not trying to solve the problem. Perhaps Berle preferred to stay somewhat behind the scenes. Maybe he hankered a bit for lathe biosas — to the extent anyone who aspired to be “the Marx of the shareholding class” and a “Machiavelli,” too, could manage that — and he simply accepted his fate.

Be that as it may, Berle helped architect the corporatist order of our age, designing and implementing a more durable analog of “national socialism,” slinging a new form of imperialism:

Liberal: Adolf A. Berle and the Vision of an American Era, p. viii
Liberal: Adolf A. Berle and the Vision of an American Era, p. ix

It is worth thinking about this man, for the political party he devoted himself to is now forsaking his mission, replacing it with an insane, moralistic form of statism, a frank socialism or at least quasi-socialism. Berle’s beloved “New Deal” vision is being replaced with an incoherent “Green New Deal,” as concocted by people who are both unlearned and confident, a bad combo, but all-too-familiar in this Trumpian Moment.

It seems apparent to me that Berle’s “American Era” is drawing to a close. I do not know if it will end with a bang or a whimper. I suspect both, in quick succession. Right now is just the time for whining.

My chief wonder, in this regard, is whether the end will come before I make time to read this book.

twv


A Facebook post.

I am glad I waited a few days to comment on the Christchurch shooting. It is apparent that one of the big takeaways from the atrocity is that center-left opinion makers are wildly mischaracterizing the opinons of the mass murderer. And, had I shot my mouth off early, I may have missed this, the biggest story.

John R. Lott, Jr., clarifies:

The shooter wrote: “The nation with the closest political and social values to my own is the People’s Republic of China.” And the political figure with whom he most closely identifies? England’s Sir Oswald Mosley, who self-identified as a member of the “left” and proponent of “European Socialism.”

Ever encountered a right-winger who pontificates about the need for minimum wage increases and “furthering the unionization of workers”? Or who denounces “the ever increasing wealth of the 1% that exploit the people for their own benefit.” He goes on to declare that “conservatism is dead” and “global capitalist markets are the enemy of racial autonomists.” He called himself an “Eco-fascist.”

Media Calls The New Zealand Shooter ‘Right-Wing,’” Townhall, March 18, 2019


The shooter was a self-declared leftist.

That being said, very few people are wholly left- or wholly right-wing in political bent. And I am very tempted to call murderous racism a rightist obsession. It is just inconvenient in this case, as in so many others, that the shooter was basically leftist . . . except in his racism.

But even that is not quite correct, for being against Islam and third-world immigration is not, in the shooter’s case, really racist: he opposed both because of population growth fears. Eminently a leftist canard.

He frequently uses the term invader, but his reason was an environmentalist one. “The environment is being destroyed by over population.” Did he hate minorities? He certainly did: “We Europeans are one of the groups that are not over populating the world. The invaders are the ones over populating the world. Kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by doing so save the environment.”

You certainly won’t find any of the media, including CNN, blaming environmentalists for the carnage at the mosques.

And it is worse: one reason for his rampage was to spur New Zealand and America to establish further degrees of gun control.

The media also conveniently ignores what the killer hoped to accomplish by his attack. He did it to help achieve “the removal of gun rights” for New Zealanders and Americans. And within a day, politicians in both countries were doing what he wanted. The New Zealand government has already promised a complete ban on semi-automatic guns. American gun control advocates such as Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, quickly applauded the move and suggested that it is a model for United States lawmakers. 

Of course, this isn’t the first time that mass public shooters have supported gun control. The Columbine school killers were also gun control advocates.

This armament regulation position is preëminently left-wing, in that socialism (and leftism in general) denies the individualist foundation of government legitimacy as expressed in Anglo-American liberalism, which rests on the very idea of self-defense. Government is said to gain its just powers from the rights and consent of the governed. To deny self-defense is to find a different source for government legitimacy. Which is far, far left — not liberal or conservative.

So, the murderous ideologue is a leftist, confessedly so. Anyone holding the leftist line that this massacre provides a good reason to confiscate guns is actually siding with the murderer in his own intent. Arguably, if you use this event to push for greater gun control, you have chosen a side: mass murder.

Propaganda by the deed, a century ago, was notoriously counter-productive. The anarchists who engaged in terrorism, way back then, miscalculated. They thought that by attacking the institutions of business and government — and, most specifically, the people who run them — that they would undermine general support for those institutions. But the opposite was the case. Anarchists, not surprisingly, did not understand human nature.

Nowadays, anyone with a lick of sense knows that committing acts of terrorism against individual persons will unite most people against either the murderer’s cause or the murderer’s weapons. Or both. Which is one reason why I expect to see more leftists engage in more shooting: they can count on leftist media and politicians to focus attention away from the cause and against the weaponry.

The only defense, really, is to arm ourselves with the weapons . . . and target the lies of the leftist media and political class, shooting them down one by one.

One of the odder works to bubble up out of the political landscape in the days of anarchist terrorism. More standard fare? Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent.
Don’t tread on . . .

Is an individual more important than a group, why or why not?

…as answered on Quora

I think the question frames the problem of the individual vis-à-vis the collective in a somewhat skewed way. We do not, in a theory of justice, weigh individuals against groups. Not really. Sure, it is a kind of short-hand heuristic to prevent tyranny and mob chaos, but the pertinent issue is this: by focusing on individuals’ specific actions rather than group membership we become able to regulate in-group/out-group antagonisms. And thus keep barbarism at bay.

That is, by applying the same standard to all individuals, up and down and in and out the institutional matrix, we prevent the worst abuses of collectivist thinking and behavior.

And what is collectivist thinking? Not just communism and socialism. It is far more common than that; it is ubiquitous.

Groups tend to form because they are extremely useful and because we are a social species, requiring others’ company just to retain our humanity. But once a group is formed, our biases take over and we tend to favor our in-groups over out-groups and independents (unaffiliated persons). To prevent war, witch hunts, railroading, mass exploitation, persecution, and so much more, we focus the standard provided by the rule of law on individuals, not organizations.

Of course, our current civilization has many exceptions to this liberal idea. But we are no longer a liberal society. Progressives today seem to be turning their back on individual liberty, in the cause of their “intersectionalist” rubric of group identification and positioning; conservatives . . . well, conservatives hate “liberals,” and when they discover themselves thinking liberally, they too often just slow down and question themselves. Both groups hate each other in a grand example of in-group/out-group antagonism.

So, to repeat, I do not think it is a matter of “individuals” being more or less “important” than “groups,” but that group behavior must be regulated along the same lines as independent individual behavior: applying a standard of justice evenly, regardless of group membership, and holding individuals within groups accountable — as much as possible — as individuals rather than as subjects to group privilege, given cover under the umbrella of some anointed collective.

What I have sketched, above, is standard liberalism, of course. It should seem familiar to both conservatives and progressives. But it is, in our time, something that libertarians apply the most rigorously.

Of course, libertarians do usually conceive of the problem as The Individual vs. the State and The Individual vs. the Group. But that is — I hazard — distracting. Because, though individuals are regularly ground down by groups, the greatest crimes of humanity go out of whack group by group. Individualism — the standard I discuss above — protects groups as well as individuals, and it does so by not making any single group’s values a standard, but applying, instead, a set of formal rules to individuals. It’s a way out of the collectivist trap.

And this trap is not a question of the Universal Humanity against other groups and against individuals. For there is no organizable “Univeral Humanity.” That’s an illusion. The universality of humanity may be conceived of as a category, but it cannot be organized. Any attempt to make an umbrella group and its values as the standard to regulate human behavior devolves quickly into smaller groups, and their conflicts.

Thus the need for individualism.

It’s not a question of which is more “important” — for, in a sense, groups are “more important,” for it is in groups that most work gets done. To repeat, by focusing on individual action — and transactions — we can make sure group antagonisms do not spin out of control. Individualism is not “against society” in any meaningful sense. Indeed, it is a theory of — and best practice for — sociality.

twv

Herbert Spencer, leading individualist philosopher of the 19th century.
“If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”

Over the last few decades, increasing numbers of leftists have come to believe that everybody-not-leftist is racist.

Over the past few years, everybody-not-leftist has begun to catch up, coming to understand that progressives are themselves, increasingly, astoundingly, and subtly — as well as not-so-subtly — racist.

The rejection
Of leftist projection
Is a correction
Of the direction
Of intersection-
alist nonsense.

Stelter’s tweet is rather like Cain’s reply when asked where Abel was. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Well, Cain’s rhetorical question implies a truth: we are not our brothers’ keepers. But that was hardly the point, was it? Cain had murdered his brother. Cain used his rhetorical expression of a truth to conceal a crime. He had made himself the keeper, so the tale goes, of his brother’s corpse.

Just so, Brian Stelter — I would be tempted to call him the most witless man on television, except that he is on CNN and he is way down the line of nincompoopery — expresses a truth: one faked victimization event does not negate any other real crimes of a similar variety. But that is hardly the point, is it?

The reason we stick pols’ and journos’ noses into this foul fraud is that they fell for the hoax without questioning it — indeed, they fell all over themselves touting its cultural importance, as yet another example of their political opponents’ evil natures. When discovering that their celebrated cause was indeed a hoax — that their honored victim was a liar — they should have expressed shame, made an apology. Not a defensive excuse.

What the event revealed was that they, the major media and cultural and political elite, are themselves bigoted, racist and evil. Not their opponents.

twv

C. -F. Volney, at This Is Common Sense.

Social media often takes the full brunt of the blame for the current ideological/political divide. Take this BigThink post:

Two [sic] reasons why social media is bad for us, politically:

1. The echo chamber: I think a huge part of why we’ve become so divided as a society stems from the binaries mentioned in Jason’s piece [“To My Friend, the Radical Leftist,” by Jason Gots, July 11, 2015]. Just as conservatives reinforce their anti-liberal sentiments by watching Fox News (and vice-versa with liberals and MSNBC), folks on Facebook curate their audience to form an echo chamber. It’s basically self-structured propaganda, which is inherently anti-liberal by the classical definition. Flashier, more inflammatory ideas rise to the top of the conversation thus fueling the sorts of radical biases and heuristics that subconsciously radicalize people. The middle ground shrinks as rhetorical forces seek to push people farther left or farther right. I don’t think that’s healthy for a society, especially when radicalization comes attached to a sense of mean-spiritedness against the other side.

2. Tactics and tone: The whole public-shaming culture bugs me because it portrays conflicting opinions as, at best, the stupid ramblings of uninformed idiots; at worst, straight-up evil. People act differently online than they do in person, often for the worse, because we see other people online as characters in a larger digital drama rather than real human beings. It engenders a sense of enmity against our peers that ought not have any place in a respectful and democratic society. It also kills me to see people shun, demean, or shame the ignorant, because ignorance is not always the result of volition. Demonization is lazy. It alienates people who might otherwise have come around to your beliefs had they not been made to feel bad. Social media and the SJW mindset (as much as I hate that term) both promote a shouting-down of the opposition rather than a thoughtful attempt to sway opinion. It, by design, divides rather than unites.

3. Memes are the lowest form of political discourse: I mean seriously, come on…

Social media is turning us into thoughtless political extremists,” Robert Montenegro, BigThink, July 13, 2015


This sort of thing would be more convincing if my own experience fit the depiction. 

I have believed and written the same sort of things for most of my adult life as I do now on Facebook. But in the old days, prior to the Internet, only a few thousand people read Liberty magazine, for example, a zine that I helped start in the summer of 1987. And those people only read it after jumping over the hurdle of a hideous cover as well as the stigma of that word, “liberty.” That was a bubble. Now, on social media, I reach neighbors and friends and family and their friends and families. And strangers who click into my feed, perhaps from Quora or my blog or even, heaven forfend, Twitter (I really do prefer Gab, but Gab mirrors posts to Twitter). So, what I do on Facebook and linked sites now probably reaches a greater diversity of people than my writing in Liberty.

Before the current era, and in the Gutenberg dimension, a fractured publishing world separated us. And, in person, politesse did. It was a rare thing to discuss at length “religion and politics.” Now, however, on Facebook, anyway, these natural barriers fall down. Because inhibitions of manners are less effective, because we do not see into the eyes of our interlocutors.

But two things: (1) I have noticed, over the past few years on Facebook, that my friends and family and neighbors who disagree with me interact with me less than they did ten years ago — they may be re-establishing the bubble of politesse, by shunning; (2) on the few issues where I have changed my mind, or grew open to new obsessions, it is on those ideas that I have received the most pushback.

This latter point is illustrative of the major problem with social media bashing, which, after this piece by Robert Blackmountian — and, more importantly, the election of Donald Trump — has become an international moral panic. Since I get the most flak for recent changes in opinion, there is certainly another attempt to embubble hot, divisive topics. But I persist, and slowly open up a few minds. And this does not indicate that my experience has led me or anyone else to increased “extremism” — I feel a pressure to conform, but the ease of posting emboldens my dissent, and new ideas do get circulated. People changing their minds is not necessarily extremism. And sometimes, after all, the truth does lie at an extreme — falsity being at the other pole, and fiction and irony in lines orthogonal.

OK. I bend. What we are witnessing in the present time is partly the result of social media. Sure. But much of this is good. In earlier times, we could all pretend that democracy was not what it definitely is: a factional contest to inflict one’s values on one’s enemies. This is no longer possible, because actual differences are demonstrated interpersonally on the Net. The extremism was always there, but hidden by convention and institutional subterfuge.

What we are reviving is the manner of democracy before the establishment, in the late 19th century, of the secret ballot. Adopting the secret ballot was necessary to disenthrone constitutional limits on government. When everyone knew how everyone else voted, there was some social check on extremism in factions. Your vote was known to your neighbors, and you had to look them in the face when you sicced the state upon them through your pet policies. There was a reason you had to moderate your politics. But with a secret ballot — which, we should remember, J.S. Mill had the wit to oppose — all participants had cover, and could nurture secret hatreds and resentments against others and call it Good Policy.

So the all-against-all war emerged in the progressives’ “new republic,” as predicted by Volney:

Under the mask of union and civil peace, [cupidity] fomented in the bosom of every state an intestine war, in which the citizens, divided into contending corps of orders, classes, families, unremittingly struggled to appropriate to themselves, under the name of supreme power, the ability to plunder every thing, and render every thing subservient to the dictates of their passions; and this spirit of encroachment, disguised under all possible forms, but always the same in its object and motives, has never ceased to torment the nations.

See “An Intestine War,” October 23, 2012.

Now this is all out in the open. We all know what is at stake: capturing power in the imperial capital means inflicting on others the programs and policies and laws with which they disagree, often are even disgusted with. We know where everybody stands.

And today’s progressives feel especially attacked, and thus desperate. Their power at the commanding heights of the culture has been challenged. They thought things would always go their way. Things would “progress.” They have not. They received pushback. Their dominance in major media and in the academic realm has been eclipsed by “new media” of the Internet, which social media helps spread far and wide. And after a century of progress in the size and scope of government, they became frightened. And crazed.

Their reaction to Trump was comic, of course, though they were not laughing: before the election, when they were sure Hillary would win, they were aghast when The Donald demurred in possible “acceptance” of the results of the vote; after the election, and the results became clear, it was they who could not accept the outcome. So of course things got even uglier. For they had given up on the old democratic decorum of understanding that you can’t always get what you want.

The putative conservatives, on the other hand, are used to losing — they have lost all the culture wars, have they not? — and now have this notion in their head that they should win occasionally. But with Trump in office — a centrist sinner with only a few points of overlap with Reaganite conservatism — they are, on net so far, only stemming the progressive tide. A Universal Basic Income, for example, sure looks imminent.

So the battle lines are drawn.

And the solution? The truth of the matter is as Volney put it: peace can come only from the liberty that limits intestine war.

Until we all learn this lesson, and set down some limits again, the war must go on. And ugliness increase.

And I am not going to blame social media for that — I will give it some credit, for transparency. But the blame goes to the system itself, and its historical place on the arc of its own involution. For the truth must come before the solution can even be understood. Social media has helped lay bare the intestine war.

To call a truce, we must not deny truth, but accept it.

twv

This month the administrative state and its allies — the major media most prominently, but also the left in general and the Democratic Party in particular — moved from dippy, loopy and creepy to fully lunatic, evil, and creepazoid.

We learned about the origin of the official investigation into the Russia Collusion scandal: it was after a cadre of Deep State operatives unsuccesfully plotted to leverage the 25th Amendment against an elected president, and undertaken on the flimsiest of pretenses (none criminal on Trump’s part).

We saw a series of elected Democratic officials in Virginia get caught up in uncomfortable ideological scandals, touchy subjects including infanticide, rape and blackface tomfoolery. With only the 30-year-old blackface photo really bothering journalists or Democrats in general.

A major “hate crime” scandal erupted with major Democrat pols coming out pushing additional (and quite unnecessary) lynch laws in response — only to discover the alleged crime was a hoax.

And, for the pièce de résistance, a new congresswoman made waves by offering something she calls a Green New Deal. This preposterous program, if enacted, would inflict upon these benighted states a wide array of social and environmental “reforms”: a universal basic income, a bizarre goal of reconfiguring every building in the United States up to a strict energy efficiency standard, and, within ten years, getting the country off of fossil fuels completely. When pressed, that congresswoman admitted that many homes would have to be torn down, that the airline industry would be permanently grounded, that flatulent bovines had to go, and that this all needed to be done so quickly because in twelve years, otherwise, human civilization would be over. This whole plan is radical hubris of an almost old-fashioned communist sort, and the doomsday cries were environmentalists’ typically paranoid catastrophism, offered without evidence — just assertions from “scientists” and “experts.” Reckless beyond any rational standard — crazy talk. Nevertheless, most of the declared Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential race heartily endorsed it.

We might have thought that the Republicans, in electing Trump, had proven the old Millian charge about conservatives constituting the Stupid Party. But no. By electing Trump, Republicans have driven Democrats quite mad. And Trump may be well on his way to re-election.

Modern politics now reads like a Tom Sharpe satirical farce. I have been hankering, recently, to re-read Wilt, Blott on the Landscape, and Riotous Assembly, but it just really isn’t necessary.

Who needs satire when we have political reality?

I know it is cliché to say that, these days. My excuse? Each of the three terrific Sharpe comedies I mentioned sports the same sort of climax: an outrageous police siege with bloodshed, guns blazing, and plenty of explosions. Sharpe’s may seem as if mere cap gun pops compared to what we would witness were the Green Ten-Year Plan actually be implemented.

twv

The Sharpe novels readiest at hand in my library. Riotous Assembly must be somewhere….

On Gab before the proof came in about the hoax.

It used to be a joke. Old people would regale us with all the difficulties that they had had to endure when young: walking home from school, splitting firewood, etc. Some of this was funny because it was such a cliché, some because it spoke to real progress but was said with such fondness, and some because . . . well, I walked a ways away home from school, and with a French horn case; and I split, and threw and stacked firewood, too.

Nowadays it is the youngsters who regale us with the horrors of their lives, their ordeals. We “just do not know” what they go through. They now often tell us of all the racism and homophobia that gets directed to them.

Their lip-smacking glee in the telling, however, is less innocent than the oldsters’ old complaints, and their most obvious guilt is the fact that many of the worst, most celebrated instances of victimization turn out to be hoaxes. Ah, Jussie Smollett is just the latest.

There is, as Gad Saad often asserts, a sort of Münchhausen’s syndrome in play: get attention by malingering, by pretending to be sick; get attention by pretending to be a victim.

Note that the hoaxers are not pretending to any great heroism or achievement: that would be jejune! They pretend to be victims.

If you ask me, there is more honor in pretending to have achieved something one has not achieved than in pretending to having been victimized when one has not. At least the former promotes achievement; the latter promotes resentment.

These are the days of the Last Men. They are only grimly funny.

twv

The point being that you need moral leukocytes.

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.

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