Archives for category: Social Theory

Is there systemic racism and systemic sexism in America today?

as answered on Quora:

Yes. But ask the next question: which system are you talking about?

There are many social systems. Do the race and sex isms affect families and clans and communities and churches and schools and businesses and law enforcement and legal adjudication?




And there are many forms of racism and sexism. Some of them may be benign. (Sometimes it matters how you define the terms. It always matters how you define the terms that define these terms.) Several are corrosive.

Then ask the questions after that: how much does discrimination on irrelevant racial or sexual grounds (which is racism and sexism by accepted definitions — until recently) affect outcomes? Can people withstand irrelevant criteria used against them, or hatred or distaste based on group identification dissuading normal commerce? How would you determine percentages?

What if some people can withstand invidious discrimination better than others? Dare we ask if there be any way to extend the ability to withstand that discrimination?

And we know the above implied situation to be true: Chinese and Japanese have a long history of race-hatred against them in America, but by the stats they do better, wealth-wise, than whites in America. They are doing something right, even if some whites continue to do something wrong against them. Does anyone care to consider what these minority groups are doing right? And emulate those habits and folkways and philosophies?

Indian-Americans also do better than African-Americans of slave descent. And certainly better than Native Indian populations. They even do better than us Caucasians, on average. And yet, I’m told, that not a few Indian-Americans get the “go back to your own country!” shouts all too regularly.

So how do they do it? What do they do right? Or is it “just an accident”? Cannot what they do be mimicked and adopted by Native Indians on reservations or African-Americans in inner city ghettoes and housing projects?

Oh-ho: we just got somewhere.

You should have reservations about Reservations, and “Indian Affairs” in general. And perhaps also express dubiety about the claims made for the welfare state that leaves so many American blacks — and increasing numbers of whites — in poverty.* In Great Britain, where the problems of inner-city and rural poverty are mainly concentrated amongst whites, the same behaviors endemic amongst American inner-city minority populations is exhibited among whites on the dole — “the chavs.”

What if what these folks are hampered by is . . . “being ‘helped’”?

Is that unhelpful “help” racist? Probably not by intent. Not most of the time.

Or is it racist to object to the very question, and immediately lash out at those who raise the question and worry about the possibility?

I suspect that this particular reaction is a kind of racism — an ideological anti-racist racism — that leads folks, chiefly on the left, to dismiss this possibility that state aid can be unhelpful, and to call scholars like Thomas Sowell, who have demonstrated how this awful dynamic has affected society, “Uncle Toms.”

But more importantly than racism or sexism, is the underlying ism: statism. The love of the state above and beyond all reason. The attachment to power, and dreams of concentrated power.

To believe that The State can solve all our problems is an ism worse than racism and sexism. Statism is a scourge upon modern society. It devastates those groups with the least moral capital. And it infects us all with crippling memes of victimhood and blame and desperation.

It sometimes seems that the Last Man of our times can only rise above nihilism by obsessing about and protesting racism, collapsing on clichés in private life, or else hypocrisy.

But the Last Man is also a feminist, obsessed with making Woman equal to Man — but using as a standard of judgment only the successes of the most esteemed men. Today’s feminists notoriously insist that the numbers of women should equal the numbers of men in roles of political and corporate leadership, and as workers in STEM fields, and the like. But somehow they never complain about the ratio of men to women in homelessness, suicides, or in dangerous, grisly jobs. Do feminists thereby make of their anti-sexism another form of sexism? Maybe. And their agenda may, like the statism that keeps some populations away from responsibility and progress, be, indeed, systemic.

What it is, really, though?

A form of classism.

Feminists only look to match the successes of the alpha males, and impute to alphas and betas invidious discrimination, all the while scorning the failures among men, the low-status men, the daily workers and get-byers — the gammas; the “neckbeards”; the “deplorables” — and carrying on the old class hierarchies of “patriarchy” into their brave new world of welfare-state gynocracy.

In complaining about systemic sexism, and racism, the modern intersectionalist progressive advances systemic classism. These progressives/socialists/social engineers abandon any attempt at establishing a general, universalizable rule of conduct, instead demanding that the State engineer “just the right” consequences in terms of ratios by race (which they get to define) and by “gender” (which they cannot help but misdefine) — making a systemic form of discrimination that is worse, I think, than what we find in an open society.

Perhaps they are well-intentioned. But I am, increasingly, failing to see the good intentions. When they have so much opportunity to look at the actual numbers and trends and evidence (as well as logic) of human interaction, instead always pushing the same sort of class-based, group-indexed agenda, and, further, deflecting when evidence is brought against their ideas —

  • by Thomas Sowell, for example;
  • by Charles Murray, for another;
  • by Christina Hoff Sommers, for a third;
  • by a host of others

— then I think the question to ask is: are the biggest proponents of systemic discrimination the social engineers themselves?

The answer is yes.

And their favored forms of systemic racism and sexism are blighting more and more lives every year, male and female, white as well as all the darker shades. These isms create new class structures. Indeed, the class structures are well in place. It is the old rule: insiders and their protected groups versus the outsiders. And it should surprise no one that the most enthusiastic supporters of intersectionalist progressivism can be found in the most pampered and “privileged” of institutions, the Academy, and in the cheerleader corps of journalism, as well.

The only sure response to this is establishing a rule of law. That is, encourage a refined individualism that judges everybody by their actions, not their skin color or sex organs. Judge people by themselves, the “content of their character” and the fruits of their deeds, not by whatever group they happen to belong to.

* It is worth noting that the trend lines for poverty in America were in steep decline in America . . . but leveled out only a few years after LBJ’s much-vaunted, much-promoted “Great Society” welfare system kicked in.


To believe that “deficits don’t matter” and “public debt is no problem” requires one to believe that government, and government alone, has solved the problem of scarcity.

Furthermore, governments have mastered this magic by doing the one thing that politicians most like doing: bestowing benefits on some constituents without immediately raising taxes on others.

Suspicious. Stretches the credulity, if you ask me. I have never been shown the mechanism how this could possibly work.

Most defenses of deficit spending are Keynesian, and Keynesian fiscal prescriptions only make sense on their own terms when counter-cyclical, that is, when deficit spending is parlayed in bad times to be offset by budget surpluses used to pay off debt in good times. But that no longer ever happens. If it ever did.

Politicians just get too few rewards from paying down debt.

So, as near as I can make out, the modern State’s “solving” of the “problem of scarcity” is not a solution at all, but is, instead, a con job. It depends wholly upon misdirection. As is so often the case, we come back to Bastiat’s “the seen and the unseen.”

The populace? Blind to it. But politicians and their pet economists? They squeak and take their politic soundings for mastery of flight.


Cultic behavior is not limited to marginal groups.

Indeed, it has become increasingly clear in recent years that the social controls we associate with cults are the prime drivers (with interesting differences) of almost all center-dominant cultural organizations, institutions and movements.

Most people adopt center-dominant beliefs not because of the beliefs’ truth-values, but for pragmatic reasons and for signalling. Think of it as “innocence by association.”

We should expect nothing else.

And it is for this reason that whole cultures can lurch into extremely perverse directions, whether they be Aztec mass sacrifice, communist political centralism, or even dietetic “science” and eating habits.

My favorite modern example is usually deficit spending by governments and debt accumulation — often excused by half-adopted, half-assessed Keynesianism while being driven by very different but very obvious Public Choice factors.


I asked a question about Menippean satire and the works of Jack Vance, in a Facebook discussion group, and in the conversation that followed I encountered this:

What is remarkable about this passage from a fellow Vancian is how easy it would be to satirize, in Menippean fashion.

But instead of doing so, I will just explain: the truth of the matter is almost precisely the opposite of the notions for which my interlocutor expresses certainty.

“We” do not destroy the environment to enrich the “1 percent.” This “1 percent” works mightily to fulfil our desires, and in the course of the process some damage is done to the “environment.” Trendy progressives — by which I mean “trendy anti-progress doomsayers” — never seem to understand how the world works. They seem to think that if the 1 percent goes about enriching themselves, we allow them to do that because we are suckers. Not quite. We allow them to invest, and to build businesses, so that those businesses can increase the quality of our lives. The dreaded Greenhouse gases do not come, primarily, from the recreational activities of the very rich. They come from all of our driving in automobiles, heating our domiciles, and eating meat. Sure, many people get rich providing us with cars and fuel, electricity and natural gas, and raising beef animals that fart up methane. It is because we engage in consumption that production is developed, and some people — serving vast hordes of consumers — get very rich.

Capitalism is mass production for the masses.

It is a defect of leftist thought that what leftists object to is the great successes of the most productive, not the real drivers of the market system, consumers.

I find it hysterical coming from folks who readily parrot Keynesian doctrine, since Keynesians fixate almost wholly on consumer spending as the driver of market activity. I think the actual implementation of capital is way more complicated than Keynesians think, but nevertheless I more than acknowledge the consumer sovereignty idea embedded (perhaps precariously) within Keynesian dogma.

But leftists and environmentalists and other responsibility-evaders must always shift blame for unfortunate social patterns away from themselves and onto the dreaded Rich.

I guess this allows them to justify their lust to tear away at other people. And because they do not see the integral role of entrepreneurs in markets, or recognize the symbiotic relationship of all market participants, including between “classes,” they eagerly attack one sector, in vulgar fashion, while inflicting harm more generally.

Then, of course, they blame the rich for not being more productive.

This general attitude is what I think of as a satirizable — and is satirized in some of the character types to be found in many of Vance’s best work, such as Wyst and Emphyrio.

It is not just the attitude that is bothersome, however. Also latent in my interlocutor’s sort of complaint is lack of recognition of a fairly basic truth: it is only the comparatively rich societies that find ways to make industry cleaner. America and Europe developed strategies for cleaning up industrial excess only after a level of wealth was reached, far in advance of what big polluters in India and China now possess.

This may be a sad truth, but it is a truth regardless.

Environmentalists so rarely recognize it.

And yet they often do so tacitly, by focusing their ire on First World polluters more than in China and Africa, for instance.

Pure comedy gold.


Mind your business

Why should we care about freedom of the press when most media companies are already owned by billionaires with their own political agendas?

As Answered on Quora

The freedom of the press is not just for big media companies. It is for you and me, with our blogs and videos and the like. A “press” is just a means to distribute “speech” beyond the sound of our voices in distinct places.

The American Revolution was the background of the founders’ understanding of “the press.” It was a period of pamphleteers. Think tracts, one-sheets, booklets, etc.

All recent judicial perspectives and decision that treat “journalists” and “newspapers” as different from you with your printer and me with my blog are without foundation. Let us get these silly, corporatist notions out of our heads. We are “the press.”

So, it doesn’t matter much, for constitutional interpretation, who owns the major media outlets. The fact that they are owned by billionaires, and all of them technocrats and most left of center, is irrelevant in terms of principle.

Why would anyone think differently? What part of the rule of law is confusing?


What would happen if the world stopped using money?

As Answered on Quora

Billions of people would die.

Without a medium of exchange and unit of account, coördination of capital would become utterly incoherent, and the established interdependence of the modern age would vanish.

Most people would become useless to others, unrewardable.

And violence would reign supreme, as there would be a scramble to capture existing resources. Economists would utter the words “consumption of capital” before they were placed against the wall and shot en masse.

Mass starvation, rioting, tyranny, and death would follow, and quickly. Progress would not merely halt, regress would set in. We would go back to a stone age. A few technological utopias may survive, but the cost would be extraordinary.

For billions and billions of people would die miserable, horrifying deaths.

And the population would reduce itself to something like twice the population of bears.

In the meantime, certain infrastructure elements, like nuclear power plants, might very well fail and poison the planet . . . that is, if the malign individuals who capture the nuclear arsenal do not usher in nuclear winter, first.


Does Philosophy Affect Culture?
What philosophies to you think craft the world today — or do they not matter?

As Answered on Quora

Academic philosophy does not affect culture very much today, except for the far left strains of Marxism, neo-Marxism, structuralism, post-structuralism, and postmodernism. These have had a disastrous influence on our culture. Why? Because bright people are very susceptible to cults, and these philosophies gave blueprints and marching orders for cultic intellectualism and intellectual cultism.

In Greek and Roman times philosophy deeply impacted culture. Then philosophy deeply influenced Christianity, which in turn influenced western culture greatly. There is also evidence that philosophy affected Judaism, which influenced Christianity and Islam. And philosophy was a part of Islam in its fairly early years, until the anti-intellectualism and cultic nature of the religion squashed it.

I think we can say that the Enlightenment had a huge influence on the modern world, and Enlightenment philosophers were big influences upon the English and American Revolutions and the direction of American culture for a long time. Names to remember, here, include Hugo Grotius, John Locke, Francis Hutchinson, who are worth remembering in this regard. At the back of the Enlightenment was not only the Renaissance, with philosophers quite various, but also the discovery of De Rerum Natura, which may have been an inspiration and much more — Epicurean atomism spurring much analysis and the scientific method, too. The Scottish Enlightenment percolated throughout the world, in part under cover of political economy, which hailed (in part) from one of the greats in the Scots tradition, Adam Smith. Then Romanticism was ignited by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from which flowed the French Revolution and the rise of socialism as a cultural and political force. Other thinkers of Enlightenment France included Denis Diderot, who did much to influence the secular trend now dominant.

John Stuart Mill has certainly had an influence on political and general intellectual culture. But remember: in the 19th century the most popular philosopher was Herbert Spencer, who definitely contributed to the making of the modern world, particularly the English-speaking world, and despite the turn against his thought around the time of his death in 1903. And in the German culture? Feuerbach and others ushered in an onslaught upon Christian dogma and certainty, which Friedrich Nietzsche ramped up to 11.

And we must remember: artists tend to be influenced by philosophy. Arch-individualist Max Stirner had a huge impact on composer Richard Strauss and on a generation of aesthetes and artists in America in the early part of the 20th century; Sartre and Camus and the whole existentialist movement deeply affected popular culture in that century’s third quarter.

And who can deny that William James and pragmatism did not somehow become part of the warp and woof of American culture, as had Transcendentalism earlier? In Italy, the influence of the anti-fascist Benedetto Croce was not insignificant.

Ideas move the world. Philosophers contribute to ideas, no?

Sometimes mightily, sometimes not.


Over at Quora, Sayed Hajaj explains a common fallacy in politics and social science, something he calls The Past Hoc Fallacy”:

It goes something like this: “In the past, we did not have much X but we had a lot of Y, now, we have more X and a lot less Y. Therefore, not having as much X would result in more Y”.

It is usually contracted to: “we’ve tried reducing X and it led to Y”.

A few examples: “We’ve tried not polluting, and it led to pirates”, or “When I played with toys and went to bed on time, I was shorter. Therefore, sleeping earlier and playing with toys makes people shorter”

I’m sure you can see what is wrong with this type of argument.

  1. It looks at changes in absolute levels rather than trends. As global temperature increased, the number of pirates in the world has decreased. This does not mean that a change in one has resulted in a change in the other.

  2. It is not specified whether the change in Y precedes the change in X. If Y decreased before X increased, then there is no basis to say that an increase in X is responsible for the decrease in Y, causality and time travel don’t go together.

  3. It’s possible for Y to have been decreasing anyway, and for X to have slowed it down, but because we don’t have an alternate reality to examine, we can only observe the seen. We do not know what could have happened had X not increased.

Sayed Hajaj then applies it to common objections to libertarian ideas:

[R]eplace “X” with “level of government” and “Y” with a list of things that, from a Western 21st Century perspective seem horrible but from an 18th Century perspective is far better than the alternatives in existence, e.g “low(er) wages, long(er) hours, poor(er) working conditions” etc.

The problem is that, even if you had current levels of regulation at those times, all of these problems would still exist. The technological development that allow us to live our relatively comfortable lives did not exist then. People took these relatively uncomfortable jobs because the alternatives at the time were worse.

Many of those laws that supposedly solved these problems only came to pass as the problems were disappearing. For example, the 40 hour work week was due, in part, to Henry Ford calculating that people who worked longer than 40 hours are counterproductive.

Often, government actually impeded or slowed down that process.

I wrote an appreciative response, which I placed on Quora as a comment to Hajaj’s excellent post:

People do not really think in terms of cause and effect when systems become complex enough to obscure causation. They think in terms of the association of ideas — or, in political debate, “guilt by association.”

Which also explains, perhaps, why they engage in such high reliance upon stated intentions in establishing policy. Our public intention on Problem X is associated with our solution, Fix Y. That is, Problem X, Fix Y, and Outcome Z follow each other “naturally,” because of the mental operation associating Outcome Z as the end with their chosen fix to Problem X.

Unintended consequences occur, of course, for a variety of reasons, but Herbert Spencer called it The Law of the Multiplication of Effects. Outcome Z is the end, or chosen imagined outcome, but other outcomes come about, say, M, N, P, and Q. These other outcomes are often not even imagined, for reasons that cause and effect are messy in complex systems, so progressives (and conservatives) just stick to the end (Outcome Z), and forget M, N, P, and Q. And when N and P and Q come to pass, it is easy to attribute them to other causes, not Fix Y or the obsession with Outcome Z.

So how is this problem obvious to us and not to others? Maybe it is because we have seen N and P and Q result so often from reforms. Maybe some of us have been hurt by them.

But more likely it is the result of attention (it takes effort for most people to think objectively about social causation), differing bias forcing reconsideration of standard social causation accounts (Spencer’s list of biases that can prevent good social science is still worth reading, in The Study of Sociology), and . . . higher IQs.

It’s been shown that while progressives tend to score higher on IQ tests than conservatives, they also show that libertarians outscore progressives. On average. (Of course. It’s not a law. One of my favorite libertarians was a retired seaman who seemed to be operate at less than 80.) And it takes mental sophistication to map a complex system.

But progressives suffer also from Dunning-Kruger, and think they are smarter than they actually are — perhaps because they compare themselves to conservatives. But they are also, let us remember, proud products of public education in our time, which has degraded to produce the illusion of learning where little exists. Progressives are the credentialed elite of the cognitive elite. Those credentials are important, and they take their awards earnestly, as did the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

And one reason progressives try to reduce libertarians to a type of conservative is to let them off the hook, allow them not to address the more sophisticated arguments.

Most are scared of the critique Sayed Hajaj has made. It freaks them out. They are trumped.

So the critique must be buried. And calling libertarians “right wing” and “far right conservatives” helps them in this.

Guilt by association.

My working model of ends and means incorporates all this, hinted at above.

I almost never hear this discussed popularly. Nor can I remember the simple schema advanced by a philosopher — though it has to be in Aristotle or Ludwig von Mises (Human Action) or G.L.S. Shackle and I have forgotten where, precisely, it was spelled out.

I reformulated the idea (“discovered it”!) in the context of contemplating the praxeology of Mises (Theory and History and The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science were my main focuses of my early reading on the subject), the unnamed praxeology in Herbert Spencer’s Data of Ethics, and the aborted praxeology of Destutt de Tracy.

Here we go:

  1. Every cause has multiple effects (Spencer’s Law of the Multiplication of Effects).
  2. Every contemplated act must then be seen as a possible cause . . . with multiple effects.
  3. The basis of a deliberate action (there may be other kinds, such as spontaneous and habitual) is imagination of a possible flow of cause-and-effects:
  4. an actor imagines an optional act as well as its possible (expected) effects.
  5. The effects the actor likes are then compared with other effects of the act as well as with the expected effects of other optional acts.
  6. The latter effects — given up by not engaging in the optional, unchosen act(s), and also the results of inaction — are considered the opportunity costs of the chosen act.
  7. But in the former scenario, the non-preferred effects are the negative or inutile externalities of the act (from the perspective of the actor),
  8. as are, also, the unforeseen effects of the act — unless judged, after the fact, as beneficial. (I don’t remember what I called these.)

This is just the schema for action. I call it simple, but you see how complex it is. Eight steps! I could be forgetting some. (It’s been years.) Now, imagine acts in society with multiple actors, each acting and causing multiple effects, and acting in expectation of other acts (some not turning out to have been engaged, and with most unforeseen). And it gets even more complex, for I’ve not explained value; and I’ve not explained what economists put in a black box, all the psychological and situational factors that lead to preferences, in which the tree of causation spreads out backwards, so to speak — as Spencer confessed later in life, every act has multiple causes.

Liberty is important as a baseline of social action in part because policies seeking governmental programs with specific goals are hubristic and prone to failure. For “obvious” reasons.


N.B. Yes, I know my Quora response could have used more editing, but this is what I do between jobs. Scarce time makes haste makes . . . waste?

The subject of another post, perhaps.

And, in my haste, here, I may not have formulated properly the latter part of the schema for action. It’s been 20 years, folks! And this is just a hasty note scribbled on a blog.

The Quora discussion is on the libertarian Quora blog, Liberty At Large, which might be worth looking at carefully. Some really smart contributors.


A timeline of me changing my attitude on iconoclasm:

  1. When Russians pulled down Lenin statues, at the end of the Soviet era, I cheered.
  2. When folks in Seattle’s Fremont District put up a Lenin statue, I snickered.
  3. When American forces, during the Conquest of Iraq, hit some major sites of ancient Mesopotamian civilization I was deeply irked.
  4. 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. When SJWs turned against the statuary of the Civil War dead, I was somewhat disturbed that anyone would treat centuries-old and even decades-old memorials as objects for current reverence or irreverance — other than a reverance for history.

My attitude about recent iconoclasm is not unlike my attitude regarding speech: just as the proper response to speech one does not like is more 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, at the very least. Destroying statuary amounts to destroying history. And destruction, even the destruction of ugly history, seems more like childishness than maturity. Adults should be able to look at a statue and not get sucked into its implied ideology.

And, surely, the postmoderns are right: any given artifact possesses more than one meaning. We Hyperboreans are authorized to pick and choose the meanings we prefer, surely.

I prefer knowledge to ignorance, truth over myth, and seeing even the most vile of monuments as examples of history.

Yes, I am one of those people fascinated by ancient monuments. I have been since very young. You know: the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu, Göbekli Tepe, all that.  My interest has engendered quite a bit of reverence for these monuments’ historicity, not allegiance to their original functionality. 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 fear the statue’s influence on Seattle politics. Could it have given succor to socialism on the current Seattle City Council?

Which brings up an important point: republican governments should probably forgo the making of monuments. They are inherently propagandistic, and though celebrating the heroes of the republic seems a fine thing, it is worth doing this privately, with private funds on private land. If republics have any legitimacy, it is in defending individual rights. Adding propagandistic and eulogizing monuments to the mix of political duties is part of the ancien régime where much effort had to be made to pretend that leaders were gods, or,  at the very least, God’s servants upon the Midgard.

All this notwithstanding, were it up to me, a motto emblazoned upon every legislative house with the words Mundus vult decipi would be more apt than any other maxim, like E pluribus unum or Novus ordo seclorum.

But in politics, truth is not what you lead with.


Sometimes we should take a step back and remember: we don’t know much, and much of what we “know” isn’t so.

IMG_2025This is especially the case in foreign affairs. Many important events and agendas are kept from the public. Whole organizations operate (and even exist) sub rosa. We are fed misinformation and lies on a regular basis. We are easily manipulated.

I have tried to hedge, or even seem Delphic, in the recent past, regarding Russia and North Korea, for instance. I know I know little, and more-than-merely-suspect that many who say they know important truths often only parrot half-truths, at best.

There has been way too much partisan nonsense about Russia in the past few years, and much of what is important about the “negotiations” between North Korea and the U.S., South Korea, et al., is kept far from public view.

IMG_2027We should try to keep in mind that manipulation of focus is the modus operandi of all major parties and organizations, and with it the clumsy and deceptive uses of statistics.

Arguably, one of the main jobs of the corporate media is to encourage people to think they are informed, while ensuring that they remain misinformed. News is not history or social science. It is entertainment. And the unfortunate unreliability and sheer perversity of the major media outlets does not need to be seen as a conspiracy (much of it being quite open). Ideological fantasy, partisan coup-stick conflict, and the profitability of hype and hysteria might explain most of it.