Archives for category: Social Theory

Everyone’s got troubles. But what separates personal and family difficulties from “social problems”?

Social problems, as a genre of concern and topic of discussion, form in at least two ways.

One is when a specific variety of troubles experienced by individuals and sub-groups in society appear salient because of their sheer number, called to our attention by their similarities. When extreme problems are of the same type and shared by many people, then we regard them as “social” even if non-similar and widely varied personal problems far outnumber the similar ones.

Another is when government, spurred by activists or politicians or both, try to solve these problems with policy, by heeding politicians’ hortatory to “come together” and present a united front, etc. And use the threat and application of force to redistribute wealth, set up bureaucracies, and regiment people’s behavior.

The second usually only happens after the first. 

An example of this trend can be seen in suicide. My neighbor’s suicide may very well be a family and community tragedy, a cause for sorrow and anguish. But only when seven or seven hundred unrelated people in the community kill themselves do we have a social problem that politicians and activists exploit with some plausibility.

Another example would be drugs. If I overdose on an obscure prescription drug, that is a personal and family matter. But if I overdose on a common prescription or recreational drug that other users also abuse to the point of tragedy, then it sure seems social.

That is how we get “mental health” crusades and the War on Drugs.

But in both cases other troubles suffered by individuals far outnumber these troubles. The disparity of reaction should be clear, however, We only publicly focus on what we can easily identify. That makes the difference. Indeed, we must find a pattern to see a problem worth solving; similarities provide the most obvious pattern.

Thus, what we have here is a focusing problem. Because we tend not to even see the most common pains and sufferings of most people most of the time, we do not regard them as social problems worth collective action: they are too disparate, not fit to be organized against with a blanket “solution.”

This blindness to the bulk of would-be “social problems” is probably a blessing. 

Most people solve most problems personally, locally. And considering the common failures of most public programs — as in Prohibition and the War on Drugs — it may very well be that the real tragedy is the diversion of our attention away from personal and local problem-solving to public policy and politics and government. 

So, social problems are identified by means of cognitive short-cuts that do not appear soberly rational. And, considering the usual policy outcomes, we should ask the next question: isn’t governments’ overstepping their zones of competence the real social problem?

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

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.
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.
Anomalous radar results.

One website calls them “chaff plumes” and “chaff clouds”: huge areas over land that show up on radar as something but, when you look at the affected skies in a sight check, you see nothing special.

Two days after a huge cloud of chaff lit up weather radar covering portions Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, as well as social media, more plumes have now appeared over Maine and Florida. We have no official confirmation as of yet, but the formations look very similar in composition to the one that developed in the Midwest.

Now Massive Plumes Of Chaff Are Lighting Up Radar Over Maine and Florida Too,” Joseph Trevithick, The Drive, December 12, 2018.

This term, “chaff plume,” is based on what the government tells us. The U.S. military has explained multiple radar-detected wide-area aerial events in mostly clear skies as the result of releasing ”chaff” into the atmosphere — in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, Maine and Florida, to name just a few of the states showing positive results. Chaff is designed to hide things from radar. It is a counter-measure, which you have probably seen in the movies.

Now, a new radar clip shows the formation of a big chaff cloud near Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico.

The event occurred on March 5th, 2019 at around 19:20 UTC, which equates to roughly 12:20pm local time. Over a swath of sky beginning to the west of Cannon Air Force Base, the plume first appears, covering roughly 30 miles over a couple hours time. Cannon AFB is used by Air Force Special Operations Command and is home the 27th Special Operations Wing and its MC-130s, AC-130s, CV-22s, MQ-9s, U-28s, C-146s and other propeller-driven aircraft, some of which could have deployed the chaff from their expendable countermeasures systems. 

Mysterious Cloud Of Chaff Lights Up Radar Over Dozens Of Miles Of New Mexico Airspace,” Tyler Rogoway, The Drive, March 7, 2019.

UFO enthusiasts are wondering what the military is trying to hide. Of course they are.

I have not seen anyone make a more obvious inference: it is not UFOs, and what is being released is not chaff, but, instead, swarms of micro-drones, proof-of-concept technology.

One might hope that it were the American military doing this, and not a foreign power, on the theory that our military is less likely to be disruptive than a foreign power would. (Though as a tool for tyranny, implementation of this tech could be frighteningly efficacious.) Remember that this drone tech is said to be capable, right now, of face-recognition targeting and focused lethality: 

The effectiveness of micro-drone technology for suppression of insurrection, or targeting terrorist incursions, appears to be established. And these would also be useful, perhaps, for massive data collection — spying.

So, why would the government — most likely, the Deep State — be engaged in such exercises?

Perhaps as sub rosa signaling. The news stories on the radar events will be picked up by foreign intelligence agencies, and would likely be interpreted by foreign powers as warnings. In this scenario, the military is demonstrating to enemies that no one is safe. The American government can kill anyone it wants anywhere it wants.

More ominously, a foreign power could be signaling to U.S. military and intelligence agencies that America is now completely vulnerable.

The robots are coming. And they fly.

Maybe. Why the military would be implementing chaff over American skies is something of a puzzle. Which is why I advance my conjecture.

Or it could be aliens.

twv

Why isn’t corporatism talked about as an alternative to capitalism and socialism?

…an answer on Quora by Ethan Lee:

‘Corporatism’ is not an alternative to capitalism, it is capitalism. Albeit not free market capitalism, it is capitalism none the less. Calling X corporatist is just a cop out to avoid admitting that is in fact capitalism.

Capitalism = Private ownership over the means of production

Socialism = Worker ownership over the means of production

Is that exactly right? Workers can own the means of production in capitalism. 

I own my small business. There do exist workers’ cooperatives. And laborers’ pensions often own stock in companies, though most often not majority stock in any one company, and not in their own — which, since they invest at their own discretion, suggests that workers, generally, do not want to own the means of production. Only a few exceptional people do.

And, interestingly, under several of the socialist societies that have existed — the most prominent one, anyway, that called itself socialist, explicitly — small business was not exactly tolerated, was it? And workers did not own their factories, etc., the State did. And, further, it was industrial workers that were focused on: agricultural workers were despised, expropriated, and killed en masse. For “workers” owning “the means of production” was not the point of socialism, historically. Not really. It was “everybody” owning the means of production through a central planning office, through the State. Which in practice just means tyranny.

And I note that the socialists I know personally, and the ones I see on TV, do not seem much interested in workers as such, or the means of production as such. They are concerned with consumers, making sure that everyone can consume about the same amount of goods: equal access to healthcare, equal access to housing, equal access to iPhones, complete financial security for all, etc. Which suggests, once again, that “workers” is the reddest of red herrings. Socialism always comes back to a form of consumerism. State-supported and -enabled consumerism.

What “corporatism” means is not always clear, either. We have a lot of publicly* traded stockholders’ corporations in these United States, and they sure look like market institutions, and not a few are even basically operating within something like a free market. But many — though, once again, certainly not all — of the most successful are dependent for their success on government contracts (some of the biggest corporations are those within the ambit of the military-industrial complex) and, when the biggest fail (most recently in the financial sector) they are bailed out, at taxpayer expense. Further they are regulated in such a way that “just so happens” to protect established businesses from upstart competitors. This system is certainly not laissez faire, as stated in the answer, above. But its capitalist nature, while being there, is certainly open to some interrogation. What it looks like to me might best be called “producerism.” A form of it. Producerist arguments were dominant in 19th century support for protective tariffs, and they now dominate the government practice of regulation and bailouts.

Which should indicate my approach to free-market capitalism: it is consumerist-producerist . . . both. We produce to consumer, sure, but no consumer and no producer should really be given special favors. “Workers” and “business” do not compete so much as cooperate, and foisting a class narrative on their relations is a bad idea. They are just two special interests, and our rule of law should serve the general interest, not any specifically identified class or group. Neither consumer-oriented socialism nor worker-oriented socialism make sense, and corporatisms that focus on bolstering up specific industries for the sake of stability are not much better.

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* Note that we call publicly traded stock companies “private” — our nomenclature sure must confuse the young.

There are ideas that twist in on themselves, involving paradoxes that trap weak minds.

The most interesting of these are memeplexes that (a) suggest actions or even full policies that (b) yield results that, in turn, (c) seem to bolster the ideas themselves, but which (d) actually logically undermine the ideas because the policy (e) artificially produces the effects of the memeplex itself.

My favorite example is the idea, common in the South before emancipation, that Africans were not capable of education and responsible living, so it was better (for their own good!) that they be slaves. This is the “natural slave” notion. The thing is, the allied act, or policy, was to prohibit slaves from being schooled, and prevent them, in general, from acting responsibly. This kept the enslaved African-Americans ignorant and unpracticed in the arts of living, thus “proving” that they were inferior to white masters and white freemen. But of course a moment’s thought should show the flaw in reasoning here. The evidence for inherent inferiority is artificially produced by the very acts that the thesis suggests. So what is proven is no natural inferiority, but an artificial one. A policy-driven one.

Keynesianism shows another such implicit paradox. Keynes argued that markets cannot equilibrate after a sudden deflationary shock because of “sticky wages,” that is, inelasticity of a factor of production, which naturally produces unemployment. But Keynes and his Keynesian acolytes did not attempt to remove any government policies that made wages inelastic — and as Sidney Webb privately cursed, there were indeed policies of unions and governments that very much did make wage rates inelastic. Instead, the Keynesians sought a workaround in fiscal (and later monetary) “stimulus” . . . that catered to the popularity of the prejudice for wage rate rigidity by placing the focus elsewhere, which in turn exacerbated the stickiness of wages, thereby “proving” that wages are naturally sticky.

(This was all something of a red herring for curing depressions, since the real problem after an unexpected deflation is sticky long-term loan rates, holding borrowers to terms that become increasingly difficult to pay off in the context of plummeting prices, as Irving Fisher so ably explained. But the Keynesian policies effectively distracted policymakers from reforming wage contract policy and thereby fueled evidence for the sticky wage rates.) 

What we see in these instances is

A. a theory about cause and effect that
B. by association of ideas (intuition) goes hand-in-hand with a policy or set of actions that
C. produces effects that seem to confirm the theory A.

My chief conjecture about this process is that people tend to develop notions like Theory A because such theories suggest Policy B, which is what they really are concerned with. Policy B does not, as intuited, offset the unpleasant or seemingly disvalued effects of Theory A, but instead reinforces them. Whether the “naturalness” of Policy B’s perverse effects are understood consciously by inattentive people (which has to be often the case, since in politics and government most people run on intuition, not reason and evidence).

The most common example of this process is in state aid policies. Here people theorize, for example, that discrimination and poor education and inadequate nutrition leads certain grouos of people to lag behind the average in productivity and economic success. That is the Theory A. Naturally, and not implausibly, since one does not like the effects of Theory A, one seeks to help people . . . through an extensive welfare state. That is Policy B. The problem is, Policy B provides sufferers of poverty (in this case) many disincentives to advance on their own. And the policy actually incentivizes people to ape behaviors that would trigger and even increase their subsidies, effectively taking them out of the market. Which is what we have seen, with the trendline in poverty sloping downward before the War on Poverty and leveling soon after the “War” commenced.

twv

Explaining religion is not necessarily a simple matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To all sorts of people. For good and ill.

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

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

Thus, the gods.

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

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

Great story.

It may even be true.

Almost certainly it is true.

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

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

They may be neither dreams nor hallucinations nor memories.

They might be aliens.

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

And such experiences are not uncommon.

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

Or is it something more direct?

I do not know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By a conspiracy. At a power center.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And religion remains something of a mystery.

twv

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

Gustave de Molinari

The economist must not confound interest with selfishness, still less with the satisfaction of such needs as are purely material. It signifies rather the sum of the requirements of human nature, material as well as moral. A man does not impose upon himself the sufferings which are inseparable from effort, nor abstain from enjoying the fruits of his toil, for the sole purpose of satisfying selfish wants, whether present or future. Altruistic intention is a frequent and often the more powerful factor in determining labours or abstentions. Altruism includes the love of family and the race, of truth and justice; and its scope is only limited by that of the moral sentiment. Under its spur men have died for each other, a cause, even a cherished idea. There is no real warrant for the opposition between interest and duty, a contradiction that has been too often reiterated. Duty is no more than the obligation to act in conformity with justice, the criterion of which is the general and permanent interest of the species. The sense of justice — in other words the moral sense — naturally predisposes us to conform action to duty. This sense is, no doubt, distributed most unequally. Certain individuals find that obedience to its dictates yields a joy which outweighs any pain, and such men pursue duty at all costs and in face of every obstacle; others are less conscious of the stimulus. A sense of obligation is often disobeyed, but every lapse is followed by that feeling of pain which is called remorse. Finally, there are many persons whose moral sense, the sense of justice, is quite rudimentary; they commit every kind of injustice or immorality to satisfy their passions or vices, and are a menace to society and the race. Mere self-defence compels society to supplement such enfeebled sense of the obligations. It therefore imposes penalties, regulating their incidence in such a way that the amount of pleasure obtained by comitting an injustice is more than neutralised by the punishment which follows.

Society’s first duty is, therefore, to foster the sense of justice — the moral sense. And it is equally imperative to define the distinction between just and unjust, moral and immoral, since the hurt or benefit of society and the species is bound up with the opposition between these two ideas. The interests of the individual and the species are, in their regard, identical.

Gustave de Molinari

The Society of To-morrow: A Forecast of Its Political and Economic Organisation (1904)

from the Preface, third footnote (to the passage in the title on this page)