Month: August 2012

Genetic Kinship and Society

UPDATED (08/18/12) BELOW

This is the third installment of a series that explores the true nature of liberty, how liberty depends on society, how society (properly understood) has been eclipsed by statism and its artifacts, and how society — and therefore liberty — might re-emerge in the United States. In this installment, I take up the second of several possible objections to my model of a society’s essence and workings. This series will close with a blueprint for the restoration of society and liberty in America.

If you have not read the first two installments, “Liberty and Society” and “The Eclipse of ‘Old America’,” I recommend that you do so before you continue. This post addresses the following question: Is Genetic Kinship an Indispensable Aspect of Society?

In “Liberty and Society,” I define society as “an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.” Near the end of the post, I say this:

A society coheres around genetic kinship, and is defined by its common culture, which includes its moral code. The culture is developed, transmitted through, and enforced by the voluntary institutions of society (civil society). The culture is the product of trial and error, where those elements that become part of received culture serve societal coherence and — in the best case — help it to thrive. Coherence and success depend also on the maintenance of mutual respect, trust, and forbearance among society’s members. Those traits arise in part from the sharing of a common culture (which is an artifact of societal interaction) and from genetic kinship, which is indispensable to societal coherence. If the foregoing description is correct, there is one aspect of society — and one only — that a society cannot “manufacture” through its social processes. That aspect is genetic-cultural kinship.

In the sequel, “The Eclipse of ‘Old America’,” there is this:

The United States, for a very long time, was a polity whose disparate parts cohered, regionally if not nationally, because the experience of living in the kind of small community sketched above was a common one. Long after the majority of Americans came to live in urban complexes, a large fraction of the residents of those complexes had grown up in small communities.

This was Old America — and it was predominant for almost 200 years after America won its independence from Britain. Old America‘s core constituents, undeniably, were white, and they had much else in common: observance of the Judeo-Christian tradition; British and north-central European roots; hard work and self-reliance as badges of honor; family, church, and club as cultural transmitters, social anchors, and focal points for voluntary mutual aid.

The focus of this post is the indispensable contribution of genetic kinship to society. Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I do not use “society” in the loose way that politicians do, that  is, as a feel-good word for “nation.” The United States, as a nation, may comprise societies of the kind defined above, but the United States is not a society. It is a political convenience, held together by force, not by mutual trust, respect, and forbearance — which are the operational characteristics of a society.

Mutual trust, respect, and forbearance arise from the emotional force of genetic kinship. They may be mimicked in arrangements of convenience, such as economic ones. But those arrangements last only as long as they are profitable to all parties.

Arrangements of convenience may be facilitated by social bonding, but they cannot replace social bonding. For example, disparate peoples may trade with each other, to their mutual advantage, but they are not bound to each other emotionally. History is replete with examples of peoples who have turned against each other, despite their economic ties. Diplomatic ties are even less binding, because of their superficiality.

Whence the emotional bonds of genetic kinship? Are they found only in the nuclear family? (No.) Do they encompass the extended family? (Yes.) Are they enhanced by social relationships (e.g., church and club)? (Yes.) Do they extend to broad racial-ethnic groupings? (Yes.)

Emotional bonds may be reinforced (or not) by familial and social relationships, but they begin with racial-ethnic (genetic) kinship:

[S]tudies have demonstrated that relatedness is often important for human altruism in that humans are inclined to behave more altruistically toward kin than toward unrelated individuals.[22] Many people choose to live near relatives, exchange sizable gifts with relatives, and favor relatives in wills in proportion to their relatedness.[22]

A study interviewed several hundred women in Los Angeles to study patterns of helping between kin versus non-kin. While non-kin friends were willing to help one another, their assistance was far more likely to be reciprocal. The largest amounts of non-reciprocal help, however, were reportedly provided by kin. Additionally, more closely related kin were considered more likely sources of assistance than distant kin.[23] Similarly, several surveys of American college students found that individuals were more likely to incur the cost of assisting kin when a high probability that relatedness and benefit would be greater than cost existed. Participants’ feelings of helpfulness were stronger toward family members than non-kin. Additionally, participants were found to be most willing to help those individuals most closely related to them. Interpersonal relationships between kin in general were more supportive and less Machiavellian than those between non-kin.[24]….

A study of food-sharing practices on the West Caroline islets of Ifaluk determined that food-sharing was more common among people from the same islet, possibly because the degree of relatedness between inhabitants of the same islet would be higher than relatedness between inhabitants of different islets. When food was shared between islets, the distance the sharer was required to travel correlated with the relatedness of the recipient—a greater distance meant that the recipient needed to be a closer relative. The relatedness of the individual and the potential inclusive fitness benefit needed to outweigh the energy cost of transporting the food over distance.[26]

Humans may use the inheritance of material goods and wealth to maximize their inclusive fitness. By providing close kin with inherited wealth, an individual may improve his or her kin’s reproductive opportunities and thus increase his or her own inclusive fitness even after death. A study of a thousand wills found that the beneficiaries who received the most inheritance were generally those most closely related to the will’s writer. Distant kin received proportionally less inheritance, with the least amount of inheritance going to non-kin.[27]

A study of childcare practices among Canadian women found that respondents with children provide childcare reciprocally with non-kin. The cost of caring for non-kin was balanced by the benefit a woman received—having her own offspring cared for in return. However, respondents without children were significantly more likely to offer childcare to kin. For individuals without their own offspring, the inclusive fitness benefits of providing care to closely related children might outweigh the time and energy costs of childcare.[28]

Family investment in offspring among black South African households also appears consistent with an inclusive fitness model.[29] A higher degree of relatedness between children and their caregivers frequently correlated with a higher degree of investment in the children, with more food, health care, and clothing being provided. Relatedness between the child and the rest of the household also positively associated with the regularity of a child’s visits to local medical practitioners and with the highest grade the child had completed in school. Additionally, relatedness negatively associated with a child’s being behind in school for his or her age.

Observation of the Dolgan hunter-gatherers of northern Russia suggested that, while reciprocal food-sharing occurs between both kin and non-kin, there are larger and more frequent asymmetrical transfers of food to kin. Kin are also more likely to be welcomed to non-reciprocal meals, while non-kin are discouraged from attending. Finally, even when reciprocal food-sharing occurs between families, these families are often very closely related, and the primary beneficiaries are the offspring.[30]

Other research indicates that violence in families is more likely to occur when step-parents are present and that “genetic relationship is associated with a softening of conflict, and people’s evident valuations of themselves and of others are systematically related to the parties’ reproductive values”.[31]

Numerous other studies pertaining to kin selection exist, suggesting how inclusive fitness may work amongst peoples from the Ye’kwana of southern Venezuela to the Gypsies of Hungary to even the doomed Donner Party of the United States.[32][33][34] Various secondary sources provide compilations of kin selection studies.[35][36] [from Wikipedia, "Kin selection," as of 08/14/12]

*   *   *

[E.O.] Wilson used sociobiology and evolutionary principles to explain the behavior of the social insects and then to understand the social behavior of other animals, including humans, thus established sociobiology as a new scientific field. He argued that all animal behavior, including that of humans, is the product of heredity, environmental stimuli, and past experiences, and that free will is an illusion. He has referred to the biological basis of behaviour as the “genetic leash.”[17] The sociobiological view is that all animal social behavior is governed by epigenetic rules worked out by the laws of evolution. This theory and research proved to be seminal, controversial, and influential.[18]

The controversy of sociobiological research is in how it applies to humans. The theory established a scientific argument for rejecting the common doctrine of tabula rasa, which holds that human beings are born without any innate mental content and that culture functions to increase human knowledge and aid in survival and success. In the final chapter of the book Sociobiology and in the full text of his Pulitzer Prize-winning On Human Nature, Wilson argues that the human mind is shaped as much by genetic inheritance as it is by culture (if not more). There are limits on just how much influence social and environmental factors can have in altering human behavior….

Wilson has argued that the unit of selection is a gene, the basic element of heredity. The target of selection is normally the individual who carries an ensemble of genes of certain kinds.” With regard to the use of kin selection in explaining the behavior of eusocial insects, Wilson said to Discover magazine, the “new view that I’m proposing is that it was group selection all along, an idea first roughly formulated by Darwin.”[22] [from Wikipedia, "E.O. Wilson," as of 08/14/12]

*   *   *

Wilson suggests the equation for Hamilton’s rule:[19]

rb > c

(where b represents the benefit to the recipient of altruism, c the cost to the altruist, and r their degree of relatedness) should be replaced by the more general equation

(rbk + be) > c

in which bk is the benefit to kin (b in the original equation) and be is the benefit accruing to the group as a whole. He then argues that, in the present state of the evidence in relation to social insects, it appears that be>rbk, so that altruism needs to be explained in terms of selection at the colony level rather than at the kin level. However, it is well understood in social evolution theory that kin selection and group selection are not distinct processes, and that the effects of multi-level selection are already fully accounted for in Hamilton’s original rule, rb>c.[20] [from Wikipedia, "Group selection," as 0f 08/14/12]

The idea that social bonding has a deep, genetic basis is beyond the ken of leftists and pseudo-libertarian rationalists. Both prefer to deny reality, though for different reasons. Leftists like to depict the state as society. Pseudo-libertarian rationalists seem to believe that social bonding is irrelevant to cooperative, mutually beneficial behavior; life, to them, is an economic arrangement.

Leftists and libertarians like to slander the mutual attraction of genetic kin by calling it “tribalism.” On that subject, the author of Foseti writes:

People are – in general – tribal. Let’s take it for granted that we all wish that this were not so. Further, let’s take it for granted that some individual people are much more tribal than others.

The fact remains, however, that people are tribal. It’s one thing to suggest that people should not be tribal in their daily dealings with others. Let’s stipulate that this is moral. It does not, however, follow that it would be moral to organize society around the principle the people will in fact act anti-tribally….

Lots of progressives (especially those of the libertarian sort) are fond of saying that restricting immigration is tribal. They simply can’t support immigration restrictions because they oppose tribalism.

There is no better way of demonstrating your high-status in today’s society than proclaiming your anti-tribalism. You should therefore be skeptical of these proclamations. However, many people are indeed not particularly tribal.

Your humble blogger is not a tribal person. There is no sort of person that I see on the street and say to myself, “wow, I bet he and I have a lot in common – we should look out for each other.” Temperamentally, I’m very much an individualist type. But it’s wishful thinking to generalize from my personal preferences to population-wide-shoulds.

Tribalism is, has always been, and likely always will be a feature of human societies.

Occasionally, we get not-so-gentle reminders that people are tribal. We would do well to learn. Here’s a more light-hearted example. Here’s a reminder that democratic politics is always tribal.

You’re free, of course, to consider yourself above tribalism. However, if you do so, you’ll be an idiot when you try to describe geopolitics, local politics, national politics, and public policies in general. By all means, bury your head in the sand, just don’t preach while you’re down there.

James_G makes a nice analogy in this post. He likens anti-tribal beliefs to communist beliefs. It’s true that some groups of humans can function reasonably well under communistic conditions. It’s similarly true that many human beings are not particularly tribal. However, it’s dangerously immoral to generalize from these exceptions to the general conclusions that communism works on a large scale or that all countries should be rainbow nations…. [from "The immorality of anti-tribalism," July 25, 2012]

In America, the pursuit of happiness in the form of money has sundered many a tribal community. (See “The Eclipse of ‘Old America’,” especially the 11th and 12th paragraphs.) But tribalism nevertheless remains a potent force in America:


Source: Census.gov, Ancestry: 2000 — Census 2000 Brief, Figure 3. (Right-click to open in a new tab, then click to enlarge.)

I venture to say that the “Americans” who predominate in large swaths of the South are the descendants of the English and Scots-Irish settlers of the colonial and early post-colonial era. They are “Americans” because their ancestors were (for the most part) the Americans of yore.

Not represented in the graph, because it is based on county-level statistics, are the high concentrations of Jews in many urban areas (especially in and around New York City and Miami), the coalescence of Arabs in the Detroit area, and the numerous ethnic enclaves (e.g., Chinese, Czech, Greek, Korean, Polish, Swedish, and Thai) — urban, semi-rural, and rural — that persist long after the original waves of immigration that led to their formation.

If genetic kinship is such a binding force, why is the closest kind of genetic kinship — the nuclear family — so often dysfunctional? Nuclear families are notoriously prone to strife, or so it would seem if one were to count novels and screenplays in evidence. Novels and screenplays are not dispositive, of course, because they emphasize strife for dramatic purposes. That said, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the American nuclear family is a less binding force than it used to be. But that is to be expected, given the interventions by the state that have eased divorce and lured women out of the home (e.g., affirmative action, subsidies for day care, mandated coverages for employer-provided health insurance).

There are other reasons to reject the (exaggerated) dysfunctionality of the nuclear family as evidence against the importance of genetic kinship to social bonding:

1. Strife is inevitable where humans interact, and family life affords a disproportionate number of opportunities for interaction. (For example, conflicts between the members of a nuclear family — parent vs. child, sibling vs. sibling — often begin during the childhood or adolescence of one or all parties to the conflict.)

2. Blood ties have a way of overcoming “bad blood” when a family member is in need of help. (Thus, for example, children of middle-age and older often are supportive of needful siblings and aged parents out of duty, not love.)

3. Many a person compensates for tense or distant relations with parents and siblings by maintaining close ties to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

This is not to say that the bonds of genetic kinship in America are everywhere as strong as in years past. The state’s interventions, the search for greener pastures, and the inexorable force of cross-racial and cross-ethnic sexual attraction have led to a more homogenized America.

But genetic kinship will always be a strong binding force, even where the kinship is primarily racial. Racial kinship boundaries, by the way, are not always and necessarily the broad ones suggested by the classic trichotomy of Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid. (If you want to read for yourself about the long, convoluted, diffuse, and still controversial evolutionary chains that eventuated in the sub-species homo sapiens sapiens, to which all humans are assigned arbitrarily, without regard for their distinctive differences, begin here, here, here, and here.)

The obverse of of genetic kinship is “diversity,” which often is touted as a good thing by anti-tribalist social engineers. But “diversity” is not a good thing when it comes to social bonding. Michael Jonas reports on a study by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century“:

It has become increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.

But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam — famous for “Bowling Alone,” his 2000 book on declining civic engagement — has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings….

…Putnam’s work adds to a growing body of research indicating that more diverse populations seem to extend themselves less on behalf of collective needs and goals.

His findings on the downsides of diversity have also posed a challenge for Putnam, a liberal academic whose own values put him squarely in the pro-diversity camp. Suddenly finding himself the bearer of bad news, Putnam has struggled with how to present his work. He gathered the initial raw data in 2000 and issued a press release the following year outlining the results. He then spent several years testing other possible explanations.

When he finally published a detailed scholarly analysis in June in the journal Scandinavian Political Studies, he faced criticism for straying from data into advocacy. His paper argues strongly that the negative effects of diversity can be remedied, and says history suggests that ethnic diversity may eventually fade as a sharp line of social demarcation.

“Having aligned himself with the central planners intent on sustaining such social engineering, Putnam concludes the facts with a stern pep talk,” wrote conservative commentator Ilana Mercer, in a recent Orange County Register op-ed titled “Greater diversity equals more misery.”….

The results of his new study come from a survey Putnam directed among residents in 41 US communities, including Boston. Residents were sorted into the four principal categories used by the US Census: black, white, Hispanic, and Asian. They were asked how much they trusted their neighbors and those of each racial category, and questioned about a long list of civic attitudes and practices, including their views on local government, their involvement in community projects, and their friendships. What emerged in more diverse communities was a bleak picture of civic desolation, affecting everything from political engagement to the state of social ties….

After releasing the initial results in 2001, Putnam says he spent time “kicking the tires really hard” to be sure the study had it right. Putnam realized, for instance, that more diverse communities tended to be larger, have greater income ranges, higher crime rates, and more mobility among their residents — all factors that could depress social capital independent of any impact ethnic diversity might have.

“People would say, ‘I bet you forgot about X,’” Putnam says of the string of suggestions from colleagues. “There were 20 or 30 X’s.”

But even after statistically taking them all into account, the connection remained strong: Higher diversity meant lower social capital. In his findings, Putnam writes that those in more diverse communities tend to “distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”

“People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ — that is, to pull in like a turtle,” Putnam writes….

In a recent study, [Harvard economist Edward] Glaeser and colleague Alberto Alesina demonstrated that roughly half the difference in social welfare spending between the US and Europe — Europe spends far more — can be attributed to the greater ethnic diversity of the US population. Glaeser says lower national social welfare spending in the US is a “macro” version of the decreased civic engagement Putnam found in more diverse communities within the country.

Economists Matthew Kahn of UCLA and Dora Costa of MIT reviewed 15 recent studies in a 2003 paper, all of which linked diversity with lower levels of social capital. Greater ethnic diversity was linked, for example, to lower school funding, census response rates, and trust in others. Kahn and Costa’s own research documented higher desertion rates in the Civil War among Union Army soldiers serving in companies whose soldiers varied more by age, occupation, and birthplace.

Birds of different feathers may sometimes flock together, but they are also less likely to look out for one another. “Everyone is a little self-conscious that this is not politically correct stuff,” says Kahn….

In his paper, Putnam cites the work done by Page and others, and uses it to help frame his conclusion that increasing diversity in America is not only inevitable, but ultimately valuable and enriching. As for smoothing over the divisions that hinder civic engagement, Putnam argues that Americans can help that process along through targeted efforts. He suggests expanding support for English-language instruction and investing in community centers and other places that allow for “meaningful interaction across ethnic lines.”

Some critics have found his prescriptions underwhelming. And in offering ideas for mitigating his findings, Putnam has drawn scorn for stepping out of the role of dispassionate researcher. “You’re just supposed to tell your peers what you found,” says John Leo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank…. [from “The downside of diversity,” The Boston Globe (boston.com), August 5, 2007]

Putnam’s reluctance about releasing the study and his attempt to soften its implications say much about the relationship that anti-tribalist social engineers (like Putnam) have with truth. Here is more from John Leo:

Putnam’s study reveals that immigration and diversity not only reduce social capital between ethnic groups, but also within the groups themselves. Trust, even for members of one’s own race, is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friendships fewer. The problem isn’t ethnic conflict or troubled racial relations, but withdrawal and isolation. Putnam writes: “In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’—that is, to pull in like a turtle.”…

Neither age nor disparities of wealth explain this result. “Americans raised in the 1970s,” he writes, “seem fully as unnerved by diversity as those raised in the 1920s.” And the “hunkering down” occurred no matter whether the communities were relatively egalitarian or showed great differences in personal income. Even when communities are equally poor or rich, equally safe or crime-ridden, diversity correlates with less trust of neighbors, lower confidence in local politicians and news media, less charitable giving and volunteering, fewer close friends, and less happiness….

Putnam has long been aware that his findings could have a big effect on the immigration debate. Last October, he told the Financial Times that “he had delayed publishing his research until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity.” He said it “would have been irresponsible to publish without that,” a quote that should raise eyebrows. Academics aren’t supposed to withhold negative data until they can suggest antidotes to their findings…

Though Putnam is wary of what right-wing politicians might do with his findings, the data might give pause to those on the left, and in the center as well. If he’s right, heavy immigration will inflict social deterioration for decades to come, harming immigrants as well as the native-born. Putnam is hopeful that eventually America will forge a new solidarity based on a “new, broader sense of we.” The problem is how to do that in an era of multiculturalism and disdain for assimilation…. [from “Bowling with Our Own," City Journal, June 25, 2007]

*   *   *

UPDATE (08/18/12):

I can do no better at this point than inject some passages from Byron M. Roth’s The Perils of Diversity: Immigration and Human Nature. The following observations, taken from Chapter I, are supported by the rich detail that Roth delivers in the following several hundred pages of the book:

…Multiculturalists … ignore the historical record that suggests that social harmony among different ethnic and language groups is at best rare, and where it exists, tenuous. The history of Europe, whatever else it is, is one long tale of religious and ethnic conflict, almost ceaseless war, and the slaughter and the destruction it entails. The enlightenment, and the scientific advances it engendered, did nothing to mitigate this tale of horrific and bloody conflict, with the twentieth century exhibiting the most lethal and unsparing carnage in European history. In addition, in the twentieth century, class conflict was raised to a level in Europe and Asia never seen before. Communist rulers in Europe and Asia effectively divided their societies along economic lines and managed over the century to slaughter even more people than the ethnically based World Wars I and II.

The breakup of the British Empire led to bloody civil strife throughout the former colonies among the disparate peoples held together by British force of arms. The civil war that led to the partition of India and Pakistan left an estimated one million dead in its wake. Similar terrible and murderous turmoil in Southeast Asia, in for example Cambodia and Vietnam, followed the withdrawal of the European Colonial powers. Among the former European colonies in Africa, even today, civil strife is rampant.

In the wake of the fall of Communism those multiethnic societies that had been held together by authoritarian dictators quickly fell asunder. Czechoslovakia divided in a peaceful and largely amiable way. Yugoslavia, on the other hand, was torn by vicious civil war and genocidal ethnic cleansing. Iraq, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, presents a similar case. The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a different and bloody example of the difficulties of establishing harmony among groups of differing cultures and religions. Even Belgium, (the seat of the European Union Parliament) is in danger of splitting into its Dutch-speaking and French-speaking halves.8 Canadians of French and English ancestry are grappling with similar problems. In addition, there is a fundamental inconsistency at the base of the multiculturalist program, in that it applauds ethnic minorities who maintain their cultural traditions, but looks askance at majority populations who wish to do the same. Political elites in all Western societies take a negative view of those who wish to preserve their traditional values and patterns of living and question whether those patterns can be sustained in the face of large numbers of newcomers who do not share those values or are actually hostile to them….

…[T]he social science evidence that a harmonious society composed of identifiable ethnic groups with different cultural and religious backgrounds can be arranged is, almost without exception, negative. Has some new type of social engineering appeared which would allow this historic pattern to be broken? Has some new sort of human being been born who will not repeat the follies of his ancestors? Will the world find a way to emulate the example of the Swiss? Policy makers should be trying to understand how the Swiss have managed to preserve their experiment in multicultural harmony for so long, when so many others have failed so utterly. Perhaps Switzerland can be a model for the new multicultural societies? On the other hand, maybe Switzerland is a special case that cannot be copied. Switzerland, for all its ethnic harmony, is, in effect, a confederation of separate but closely related European ethnicities who reside in different cantons, who speak their own languages (French, German, Italian, and Native Swiss), and maintain their ethnic customs and tastes. It would be reasonable to ask if such an arrangement could be widely duplicated in very different settings, but few in the multicultural camp appear interested in such a question.

Similarly, the assimilationists who support mass immigration seem equally nonchalant about the evidence for their position. Clearly, the history of immigration to the United States has been fortunate and largely successful. But in the past virtually all successful immigration was from European cultures very similar to that of the original English settlers. In addition, those settlers usually came with similar skills and abilities, often better than those of the earlier settlers, and generally had little difficulty in competing with them. Once in America, they could easily blend in, there being few physical or social features which set them apart. Usually they came in small numbers over an extended period of time and were forced to acquire the language of their host country if they expected to thrive. This was because (except for German and French speakers in some areas) no one group could sustain communities sufficiently large as to be economically independent and thereby sustain their native language for general commerce. As a counterexample, the French community in Quebec did possess sufficient size and was therefore able to maintain its language as well as its ethnic identity.

The United States was so vast and the opportunities it offered so generous that group conflict was generally muted. Conflict among immigrant Europeans was generally limited to the crowded multiethnic coastal cities, and those who wished to avoid those conflicts could migrate to the interior, often gravitating to ethnic enclaves. Even in those less crowded settings, however, conflict was not uncommon, though it usually took the form of political differences over the place of religion in society and the nature of education. Is this an immigration pattern that could be replicated today in modern societies when the immigrant groups come in large numbers from vastly different cultural and ethnic backgrounds compared to the residents of their host countries? Can this model work in crowded Western Europe where land for housing is limited and where unemployment remains at chronically high levels? In other words, is the American immigration experience prior to 1965 an exceptional one? Can it be the model for future immigration cycles or are the conditions today so different as to make the model inapplicable? These are questions that need to asked, but rarely are.

A clear implication of Roth’s analysis is that conflict — political, if not violent — is bound to result from racial-ethnic-cultural commingling — unless the disparate groups are geographically separated and politically autonomous in all respects (except, perhaps, that they each bear a “fair share” of the cost of a common defense).

*   *   *

The idea that society– properly defined and understood — requires genetic kinship is nevertheless anathema to anti-tribalist social tinkerers of Putnam’s ilk. It is ironic (but not surprising) that anti-tribalists often seek connections with “kindred” souls. The leftist groves of academe are notorious for their exclusion of libertarians and conservatives, but an academic mistakes his like-minded colleagues for altruistic kinsmen at his own peril. (I speak from the experience of years in a quasi-academic think-tank, and as a former “friend” in many a work-based “friendship.”)

Libertarians, who are notoriously individualistic and aloof, also seek to bond with like-minded persons. Libertarians are responsible for the less-than-successful Free State Project and for seasteading (formally neutral in its ideology, but mainly attractive to libertarians). I expect such experiments in coexistence, if they get off the ground, to be as inconsequential as their anti-libertarian equivalent: the commune. Communes have been around for a while, of course, though none of them has lasted long or attracted many adherents. They are, after all, nothing more than economic arrangements with some “Kumbaya” thrown in.

So, yes, genetic kinship is indispensable to society, where society is properly understood as “an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.” But, as I discuss here, not all societies based on genetic kinship are created equal. Trying to make them equal is a fool’s errand.

The fourth installment is here.

Related posts:
On Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
What Is Conservatism?
Zones of Liberty
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
The Golden Rule and the State
Government vs. Community
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Evolution and the Golden Rule
Understanding Hayek
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Why Conservatism Works
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Rush to Judgment
Secession, Anyone?
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”

Why Prescriptivism?

I often read Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage: A Guide, both as a guide to good writing and as a source of wisdom. It is also an antidote to Language Log, whose contributors often (mostly?) deride prescriptivism in language.

When I read Follett’s book for its wisdom, I open it randomly. Recent explorations have led me to these passages:

It is … one of the striking features of the libertarian position [with respect to language] that it preaches an unbuttoned grammar in a prose style that is fashioned with the utmost grammatical rigor. H.L. Mencken’s two thousand pages on the vagaries of the American language are written in the fastidious syntax of a precisian. If we go by what these men do instead of by what they say, we conclude that they all believe in conventional grammar, practice it against their own preaching, and continue to cultivate the elegance they despise in theory….

[T]he artist and the user of language for practical ends share an obligation to preserve against confusion and dissipation the powers that over the centuries the mother tongue has acquired. It is a duty to maintain the continuity of speech that makes the thought of our ancestors easily understood, to conquer Babel every day against the illiterate and the heedless, and to resist the pernicious and lulling dogma that in language … whatever is is right and doing nothing is for the best. [pp. 30-31]

*   *   *

IThis book] accept[s] the long-established conventions of prescriptive grammar … on the theory that freedom from confusion is more desirable than freedom from rule…. [p. 243]

Related posts:
Remedial Vocabulary Training
One Small Step for Literacy
Punctuation
Unsplit Infinitives
Data Are
“Hopefully” Arrives
Hopefully, This Post Will Be Widely Read
Why Conservatism Works

Not-So-Random Thoughts (V)

UPDATED (08/13/12)

This is the fifth of a series of occasional posts that link to and discuss writings on matters that have been treated by this blog. The first edition is here; the second, here; the third, here; the fourth, here; and the sixth, here.

Added 08/13/12: Patience as a Tool of Strategy

I wrote about this a while ago. My closing thoughts:

Patience is not a virtue that accrues to amorphous masses, like nations. It can be found only in individuals or groups of individuals who share the same objectives and are able to work together long enough to attain those objectives. Whether such individuals or groups lead nations — and lead them wisely — is another matter.

Imlac’s Journal has a relevant post, about Roman consul and general Fabius Maximus (280 – 203 B.C.),

exemplary in terms of his patience, endurance and self-sacrifice.  He reminds one in many ways of George Washington. Both men lost battles, but in the long run their steady and sensible strategies won wars.

It is possible to be impatient in small things — to have a hair-trigger temper — and yet to be patient in the quest for a major goal. Impatience in small things may even serve the strategy of patience, if impatience (deployed sparingly and selectively) helps to maintain discipline among the ranks.

Added 08/13/12: Beauty-ism

I was amused to find that my post “How to Combat Beauty-ism” has been linked to in the opening paragraph of “Beauty and the Beast: The ‘Othering’ of Women by the Beauty Industry.” This post is on the website of something called The South African Civil Society Information Service: A nonprofit news agency promoting social justice. Seeking answers to the question: How do we make democracy work for the poor?

The author, one Gillian Schutte, who seems to be a regular contributor, is styled “an award winning independent filmmaker, writer and social justice activist.” Ms. Schutte (if “Ms.” is the proper appellation for a South African) appears to be a well-groomed, passably attractive (but not beautiful) person of middle age. She writes:

Beautyism is an assumption that physical appeal prevails [sic] knowledge, value, or anything personable [sic]. It is the inherent bias that bestows all sorts of unproved talents and privileges onto a person simply because she is beautiful.

And it could be, as Ms. Schutte’s writing demonstrates, that a lack of beauty is no guarantee of intelligence. In fact, it might be a source of bitterness, which surfaces as rage against the West and those who dare to be civilized and prosperous. Thus, according to Schutte, the beauty industry

along with the mainstream media, is premised on beautyism and has employed a very effective tool of “othering” those who do not fit into the idealised picture of what is pleasing to the male gaze….

“[O]thering” is a tactic that is used in the marginalisation of many groups of people by the moneyed mainstream. These include the LGBTI sector, the poor, Muslims, and Blacks – and they are marginalised so that those doing the marginalisation can use them as a means to an end. An example is the demonization of Islam in order to push the imperialist oil grabbing agenda of the West.

Wow! From beauty-ism (my preferred spelling) to oil-grabbing in a single post.

I have not seen any oil-grabbing recently, unless it is considered oil-grabbing when Westerners choose to buy the oil that Islamic nations deign to offer for sale. If Islam has been demonized, chalk it up to Islamic extremists, who — among many things — have committed acts of terror against innocents, have punished and murdered persons of the “LGBTI sector,” and are not known for their appreciation of the social value of women, except as bed-partners, bearers of children, and domestic slaves. Such is the selective outrage of the professional “social justice activist.” I could not have written a better parody of “social justice activism” than the one that Ms. Schutte has unwittingly produced.

Income Inequality — The Pseudo-Problem That Will Not Die

The Mismeasure of Inequality” (Kip Hagopian and Lee Ohaian, Policy Review, August 1, 2012) is as thorough a primer on the pseudo-problem of inequality as anyone is likely to find, anywhere. The authors’ facts and logic will not convince hard-leftists who believe in income redistribution and are blind and deaf to its dire consequences for low-income persons. But reasonable people might be swayed.

Closely related are Deirdre McCloskey’s powerful defense of free markets: “Actual Free Market Fairness” (Bleeding Heart Libertarians, June 26 2012) and authoritative demolition of MIchael Sandel’s anti-market screed, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limit of Markets” (Prudentia, August 1, 2012).

Related posts:
The Causes of Economic Growth
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
A Short Course in Economics
Democracy and Liberty
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
The Near-Victory of Communism
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Enough of “Social Welfare”
A True Flat Tax
A True Flat Tax
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Nature Is Unfair
Elizabeth Warren Is All Wet
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
In Defense of the 1%

Cass Sunstein

Ken Masugi’s “Missing the Significance of Cass Sunstein” (Library of Law and Liberty, August 7, 2012) is a just indictment of Sunstein’s anti-libertarian agenda. For example:

Sunstein has written among the most radical critiques of the American Constitution ever espoused. While not a Marxist revolutionary, his criticism is scarcely less transformative. His project of radicalizing the New Deal and the work of Progressives is captured in the subtitle to his book The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More than Ever. But the book that is even more explicit is After the Rights Revolution: Reconceiving the Regulatory State (1993).

Sunstein claims to present the regulatory measures of bureaucratic government “in a way that is fundamentally faithful” to the American Constitution. The book’s second sentence acknowledges that “Modern regulation has profoundly affected constitutional democracy, by renovating the original commitments to checks and balances, federalism, and individual rights.” That transformation of basic constitutional principles “culminated in the rights revolution of the 1960s and 1970s”—meaning the Great Society and post-Watergate programs. Sunstein’s task is to reinterpret the regulatory regime “in a way that is fundamentally faithful to constitutional commitments and promotes, in a dramatically different environment, the central goals of the constitutional system—freedom and welfare.”

Sunstein weaves three “more particular goals” throughout the book: 1.) the practical one of combating the Reagan and Thatcher reforms, which were based on market principles and “private right,” 2.) defending the history of government regulation in America, and 3.) proposing “a theory of interpretation that courts (and administrative agencies) …. might invoke in order to improve the performance of modern government.” Sunstein emphasizes that he wishes to save the “basic commitments of the American constitutional system,” not the text of the Constitution or the structure it sets forth. Of course the “rights revolution” has transformed the meaning of those commitments, so we are left in a universe that is open to Sunstein’s creative interpretation. As Postell observes, “The final triumph of postmodernism is to avail itself of modern or pre-modern justifications whenever they come in handy, and disparage them when they don’t.”

This post-modern perspective is richly abundant throughout After the Rights Revolution. If you thought freedom of speech is a “basic commitment” of America, think again: The “fairness doctrine” and even more extreme measures are justified to protect citizens from injuries to their “character, beliefs, and even conduct.” (For Sunstein’s regulatory schemes for the internet, including schemes for requiring links and pop-ups to alternative points of view, see Edward Erler’s Claremont Review of Books  essay, “Liberalchic.gov”)  In a regime of equal opportunity, racial preferences remedy market failures that permit employment discrimination. Of course property rights yield to the common good, as determined by political arrangements on behalf of the general welfare. Thus, the Civil War was fought not to affirm the founding principle of self-government (not to mention the quaint notion that each man owns himself) but to herald the regulatory regime of the New Deal.

With “friends” like Sunstein, liberty and the Constitution need no enemies.

Related posts:
Sunstein at the Volokh Conspiracy
More from Sunstein
Cass Sunstein’s Truly Dangerous Mind
An (Imaginary) Interview with Cass Sunstein
Libertarian Paternalism
Slippery Sunstein
A Libertarian Paternalist’s Dream World
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
Back-Door Paternalism
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism
Sunstein and Executive Power
The Feds and “Libertarian Paternalism”
A Further Note about “Libertarian” Paternalism
Apropos Paternalism
FDR and Fascism
Fascism
Are We All Fascists Now?
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America
Discounting and Libertarian Paternalism
The Mind of a Paternalist
Another Entry in the Sunstein Saga
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do

Free Will

This perennial subject of philosophical and psychological debate gets another going-over by Steven Landsburg, in “Free to Choose” (The Big Questions, July 18, 2012). Landsburg defends the idea of free will. I prefer my defense (from “Free Will: A Proof by Example?“):

Is there such a thing as free will, or is our every choice predetermined? Here’s a thought experiment:

Suppose I think that I might want to eat some ice cream. I go to the freezer compartment and pull out an unopened half-gallon of vanilla ice cream and an unopened half-gallon of chocolate ice cream. I can’t decide between vanilla, chocolate, some of each, or none. I ask a friend to decide for me by using his random-number generator, according to rules of his creation. He chooses the following rules:

  • If the random number begins in an odd digit and ends in an odd digit, I will eat vanilla.
  • If the random number begins in an even digit and ends in an even digit, I will eat chocolate.
  • If the random number begins in an odd digit and ends in an even digit, I will eat some of each flavor.
  • If the random number begins in an even digit and ends in an odd digit, I will not eat ice cream.

Suppose that the number generated by my friend begins in an even digit and ends in an even digit: the choice is chocolate. I act accordingly.

I didn’t inevitably choose chocolate because of events that led to the present state of my body’s chemistry, which might otherwise have dictated my choice. That is, I broke any link between my past and my choice about a future action.

I call that free will.

I suspect that our brains are constructed in such a way as to produce the same kind of result in many situations, though certainly not in all situations. That is, we have within us the equivalent of an impartial friend and an (informed) decision-making routine, which together enable us to exercise something we can call free will….

Even if our future behavior is tightly linked to our past and present states of being — and to events outside of us that have their roots in the past and present — those linkages are so complex that they are safely beyond our comprehension and control.

If nothing else, we know that purposive human behavior can make a difference in the course of human events. Given that, and given how little we know about the complexities of existence, we might as well have free will.

See also “Is Free Will an Illusion?” (a virtual colloquium at The Chronicle of Higher Education), “Brain might not stand in the way of free will” (New Scientist, August 9, 2012), and my post, “Free Will, Crime, and Punishment.”

The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox

An insightful post at Imlac’s Journal includes this quotation:

Schumpeter argued the economic systems that encourage entrepreneurship and development will eventually produce enough wealth to support large classes of individuals who have no involvement in the wealth-creation process. This generates apathy or even disgust for market institutions, which leads to the gradual takeover of business by bureaucracy, and eventually to full-blown socialism. [Matt McCaffrey, "Entrepreneurs and Investment: Past, Present, ... Future?," International Business Times, December 9, 2011]

This, of course, is the capitalist paradox, of which the author of Imlac’s Journal writes. He concludes with these observations:

[U]nder statist regimes, people’s choices are limited or predetermined. This may, in theory, obviate certain evils. But as McCaffrey points out, “the regime uncertainty” of onerous and ever changing regulations imposed on entrepreneurs is, ironically, much worse than the uncertainties of the normal market, to which individuals can respond more rapidly and flexibly when unhampered by unnecessary governmental intervention.

The capitalist paradox is made possible by the “comfort factor” invoked by Schumpeter. (See this, for example.) It is of a kind with the foolishness of extreme libertarians who decry defense spending and America’s “too high” rate of incarceration, when it is such things that keep them free to utter their foolishness.

The capitalist paradox also arises from the inability and unwillingness of politicians and voters to see beyond the superficial aspects of legislation and regulation. In Bastiat‘s words,

a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

The unseen effects — the theft of Americans’ liberty and prosperity — had been foreseen by some (e.g., Tocqueville and Hayek). But their wise words have been overwhelmed by ignorance and power-lust. The masses and their masters are willfully blind and deaf to the dire consequences of the capitalist paradox because of what I have called the interest-group paradox:

The interest-group paradox is a paradox of mass action….

Pork-barrel legislation exemplifies the interest-group paradox in action, though the paradox encompasses much more than pork-barrel legislation. There are myriad government programs that — like pork-barrel projects — are intended to favor particular classes of individuals. Here is a minute sample:

  • Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, for the benefit of the elderly (including the indigent elderly)
  • Tax credits and deductions, for the benefit of low-income families, charitable and other non-profit institutions, and home buyers (with mortgages)
  • Progressive income-tax rates, for the benefit of persons in the mid-to-low income brackets
  • Subsidies for various kinds of “essential” or “distressed” industries, such as agriculture and automobile manufacturing
  • Import quotas, tariffs, and other restrictions on trade, for the benefit of particular industries and/or labor unions
  • Pro-union laws (in many States), for the benefit of unions and unionized workers
  • Non-smoking ordinances, for the benefit of bar and restaurant employees and non-smoking patrons.

What do each of these examples have in common? Answer: Each comes with costs. There are direct costs (e.g., higher taxes for some persons, higher prices for imported goods), which the intended beneficiaries and their proponents hope to impose on non-beneficiaries. Just as importantly, there are indirect costs of various kinds (e.g., disincentives to work and save, disincentives to make investments that spur economic growth). (Exercise for the reader: Describe the indirect costs of each of the examples listed above.)

You may believe that a particular program is worth what it costs — given that you probably have little idea of its direct costs and no idea of its indirect costs. The problem is millions of your fellow Americans believe the same thing about each of their favorite programs. Because there are thousands of government programs (federal, State, and local), each intended to help a particular class of citizens at the expense of others, the net result is that almost no one in this fair land enjoys a “free lunch.” Even the relatively few persons who might seem to have obtained a “free lunch” — homeless persons taking advantage of a government-provided shelter — often are victims of the “free lunch” syndrome. Some homeless persons may be homeless because they have lost their jobs and can’t afford to own or rent housing. But they may have lost their jobs because of pro-union laws, minimum-wage laws, or progressive tax rates (which caused “the rich” to create fewer jobs through business start-ups and expansions).

The paradox that arises from the “free lunch” syndrome is…. like the paradox of panic, in that there is a  crowd of interest groups rushing toward a goal — a “pot of gold” — and (figuratively) crushing each other in the attempt to snatch the pot of gold before another group is able to grasp it. The gold that any group happens to snatch is a kind of fool’s gold: It passes from one fool to another in a game of beggar-thy-neighbor, and as it passes much of it falls into the maw of bureaucracy.

[The interest-group paradox] has dominated American politics since the advent of “progressivism” in the late 1800s. Today, most Americans are either “progressives” (whatever they may call themselves) or victims of “progressivism.” All too often they are both.

Related posts:
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
The Price of Government
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Law and Liberty
The Devolution of American Politics from Wisdom to Opportunism
The Price of Government Redux
The Near-Victory of Communism
The Mega-Depression
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Ricardian Equivalence Reconsidered
The Real Burden of Government
Rawls Meets Bentham
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
The Divine Right of the Majority
The “Forthcoming Financial Collapse”
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
Our Enemy, the State
Understanding Hayek
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
The Stagnation Thesis
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
The Burden of Government
Economic Growth Since World War II
More Evidence for the Rahn Curve
Obamacare, Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death-Spiral of Liberty

The Eclipse of “Old America”

This is the second installment of a series that explores the true nature of liberty, how liberty depends on society, how society (properly understood) has been eclipsed by statism and its artifacts, and how society — and therefore liberty — might re-emerge in the United States. In this installment, I take up the first of several possible objections to my model of a society’s essence and workings. This series will close with a blueprint for the restoration of society and liberty.

If you have not read the first installment, “Liberty and Society,” I recommend that you do so before you continue. This post addresses the following question: Is Society, as I define It, Impossible? Or, Isn’t This All Rather Romantic?

The answers are “no” and “no.” All that the existence of a society requires is the general observance of the Golden Rule. This is not difficult in relatively small communities.

You will have known such a community if you have ever lived or spent much time in a rural or semi-rural village, or in an urban enclave consisting of persons bound by ethnic or religious affiliation. Everyone may not know everyone else in such a community, but the circles formed by common bonds (family, church, etc.) are interlocking. (And a lot of the community’s members will “know of” almost everyone in the community.)

One result of this kind of living is less anti-social behavior and outright crime, but without a lot of formal rules and regulations or more than a token police presence. (Anonymity not only fosters crime but also rudeness, as is evident in comment threads, e-mail exchanges, and behavior on the highway.) Another result is genuine charity, based on direct knowledge of persons who are in need, or a sense of community with them.

Do such communities know unkindness, conflict, and crime? Of course, but to suggest or demand otherwise is to be deluded or to demand impossible perfection. It should be good enough that such communities — where they still exist — are better places in which to live than the mostly anonymous urban complexes that now dominate America.

The United States, for a very long time, was a polity whose disparate parts cohered, regionally if not nationally, because the experience of living in the kind of small community sketched above was a common one. Long after the majority of Americans came to live in urban complexes, a large fraction of the residents of those complexes had grown up in small communities.

This was Old America — and it was predominant for almost 200 years after America won its independence from Britain. Old America‘s core constituents, undeniably, were white, and they had much else in common: observance of the Judeo-Christian tradition; British and north-central European roots; hard work and self-reliance as badges of honor; family, church, and club as cultural transmitters, social anchors, and focal points for voluntary mutual aid. The inhabitants of Old America were against “entitlements” (charity was real and not accepted lightly); for punishment (as opposed to excuses about poverty, etc.); overtly religious or respectful of religion (and, in either case, generally respectful of the Ten Commandments, especially the last six of them); personally responsible (stuff happens, and it is rarely someone else’s fault); polite, respectful, and helpful to strangers (who are polite and respectful); patriotic (the U.S. was better than other countries and not beholden to international organizations, wars were fought to victory); and anti-statist (even if communitarian in a voluntary way). Living on the dole, weirdness for its own sake, open hostility to religion, habitual criminality, “shacking up,” and homosexuality were disgraceful aberrations, not “lifestyles” to be tolerated, celebrated, or privileged.

It is now de rigeur to deride the culture of Old America, and to call its constituents greedy, insensitive, hidebound, culturally retrograde, and — above all — intolerant.  But what does that make the proponents and practitioners of the counter-culture of the ’60s and ’70s (many of whom have long-since risen to positions of prominence and power), of the LGBT counter-culture that is now so active and adamant about its “rights,” and of recently imported cultures that seek dominance rather than assimilation (certain Latins and Muslims, I am looking at you)?

These various counter-culturalists and incomers have not been content to establish their own communities; rather, they have sought to overthrow Old America. Intolerance is their essence. They are not merely reacting to the intolerance that may be directed at them. No, they are intolerant, and militantly so. They seek to destroy what is left of Old America. — and they have enlisted the power of the state in that effort.

Has Old America receded just because its enemies have enlisted the power of the state? Not entirely. There was (and is) also a collective-action phenomenon at work, and it began while Old America was dominant. Americans prospered with the rise of industrialization after the Civil War. But industrialization led to greater productivity in agriculture (thus fewer farm workers per unit of output) while demanding more workers in factories, and thus putting in motion America’s long march toward urban anonymity and away from rural and semi-rural communities. That march led to the New America, where governmental power, geographic displacement, and cultural intermarriage have diluted (and often destroyed) the social norms that bound Old America.

These changes, once put in motion, were bound to continue (unless interrupted by a shock or massive social change) because of path dependence: decisions made in the present are constrained by decisions made in the past. Quite simply, the possibility of quitting the urban scene for rural splendor — however attractive in theory — was closed to most Americans by economic reality, that is, the necessity of making a living and the perceived necessity of doing as well as the urban Joneses. And, worse, the values of Old America simply could not (and cannot) be replicated in New America, given its reliance on governmental power and widespread rejection of the values of Old America.

On that point, I interject a personal note: I have, in my adult life, lived in semi-rural splendor. And I can tell you that it has much to commend it as a way of life, especially as a way of life for one’s children. And I can tell you, also, that living in semi-rural splendor — despite the generally lower cost of living — does require the acceptance of a lower standard of living than that enjoyed by the urban Joneses. Most Americans who recognize and pine for the virtues of rural and semi-rural life, cannot realize those virtues except vicariously on vacation trips or upon retirement, when small towns, small cities, and retirement enclaves beckon.

At any rate, the eclipse of Old America owes much to the bad guys — especially leftist “educators,” so-called intellectuals, and politicians who have conspired with intolerant minorities in the effort to overthrow Old America. But Americans who long for the Old America must also blame themselves and their forbears for its eclipse because of urbanization — a (mostly) voluntary movement. Nothing could demonstrate more starkly the saying that “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

All of the foregoing might lead you to think that I am incurably pessimistic about the possibility of a resurgence of Old America. I am not. For what I have said, up to this point, is merely prologue. For one thing, somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of Americans still live in rural and semi-rural places. (See the statistics and definitions on this page of Census.gov.) Nor has the core of Old America has shrunk; it is relatively smaller than it was in, say, 1900 — but it is absolutely larger. In fact, the number of persons living in a rural place (defined by the Census Bureau as having a population of less than 2,500), grew from 46 million in 1900 to 59 million in 2010. And in 2010, another 30 million persons lived in a so-called urban cluster (a place with a population of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000).

Of course, not all of the 59 to 89 million persons represent Old America. But surely a lot of them do; and a lot of urban dwellers long for Old America. Just look at the number of States that are Red and getting Redder, despite predictions of a permanent Democrat (i.e., leftist) majority. Have adherents of Old America been let down by Republicans? Of course they have. Have some adherents of Old America been tempted to join the statist brigade, and sometimes succumbed to temptation? Of course they have. But would Old America prevail, and attract new followers were those who preach its values to hold sway in Washington long enough and securely enough to stay true to those values? Of course it would.

Before I leave this topic, I must address the fallacy, propounded by “liberals” and libertarians, that a return to Old America would mean a return to the bad old days of Jim Crow and subservient women. Such a claim is nothing more than a smear on liberty-lovers. “Liberal” fascists have no shame and will resort to any distortion of truth and logic that might help them to retain their hold on power. Libertarians — I should say, pseudo-libertarians — have proved themselves no better. But they, at least, are powerless.

Would the resurgence of Old America transform America into a society? Of course not. A society, as I have described it, cannot be as extensive as a nation the size of the United States. But the resurgence of Old America would enable societies to flourish again in America, and those societies — with their many common values — would form the backbone of a nation that is far less fragmented and far freer than the America that arose in the 20th century.

The third installment is here; the fourth installment is here.

Related reading:
Arnold Kling, “Enrico Moretti on Mobility,” EconLog, July 28, 2012
Bill Vallicella, “Systematic Deracination,” Maverick Philosopher, August 5, 2012
Russell Nieli, “Religion as a Public-Bonding Fiction,” The Public Discourse, August 9, 2012
John Derbyshire, “Si Jeunesse Svait, Si Viellesse Pouvait,” Taki’s Magazine, August 9, 2012

Related posts:
On Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
What Is Conservatism?
Zones of Liberty
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
The Golden Rule and the State
Government vs. Community
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Evolution and the Golden Rule
Understanding Hayek
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Why Conservatism Works
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Rush to Judgment
Secession, Anyone?

Pseudoscience, “Moneyball,” and Luck

Orin Kerr of The Volokh Conspiracy endorses the following clap-trap, uttered by Michael Lewis (author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball) in the course of a commencement speech at Princeton University:

A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

So far, sort of okay. But then:

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

Never forget: In the nation’s service. In the service of all nations.

Thank you.

And good luck.

I am unsurprised by Kerr’s endorsement of Lewis’s loose logic, given Kerr’s rather lackadaisical attitude toward the Constitution (e.g., this post).

Well, what could be wrong with the experiment or Lewis’s interpretation of it? The cookie experiment does not mean what Lewis thinks it means. It is like the Candle Problem in that Lewis  draws conclusions that are unwarranted by the particular conditions of the experiment. And those conditions are so artificial as to be inapplicable to real situations. Thus:

1. The  teams and their leaders were chosen randomly. Businesses, governments, universities, and other voluntary organizations do not operate that way. Members choose themselves. Leaders (in business, at least) are either self-chosen (if they are owners) or chosen by higher-ups on the basis of past performance and what it says (imperfectly) about future performance.

2. Because managers of businesses are not arbitrarily chosen, there is no analogy to the team leaders in the experiment, who were arbitrarily chosen and who arbitrarily consumed the fourth cookie. For one thing, if a manager reaps a greater reward than his employees, that is because the higher-ups value the manager’s contributions more than those of his employees. That is an unsurprising relationship, when you think about it, but it bears no resemblance to the case of a randomly chosen team with a randomly chosen leader.

3. Being the beneficiary of some amount of luck in one’s genetic and environmental inheritance does not negate the fact that one must do something with that luck to reap material rewards. The “extra cookie,” as I have said, is generally produced and earned, not simply put on a plate to be gobbled. If a person earns more cookies because he is more productive, and if he is more productive (in part) because of his genetic and environmental inheritance, that person’s great earning power (over the long haul) is based on the value of what he produces. He does not take from others (as Lewis implies), nor does he owe to others a share of what he earns (as Lewis implies).

Just to drive home the point about Lewis’s cluelessness, I will address his book Moneyball, from which a popular film of the same name was derived. This is Amazon.com‘s review of the book:

Billy Beane, general manager of MLB’s Oakland A’s and protagonist of Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, had a problem: how to win in the Major Leagues with a budget that’s smaller than that of nearly every other team. Conventional wisdom long held that big name, highly athletic hitters and young pitchers with rocket arms were the ticket to success. But Beane and his staff, buoyed by massive amounts of carefully interpreted statistical data, believed that wins could be had by more affordable methods such as hitters with high on-base percentage and pitchers who get lots of ground outs. Given this information and a tight budget, Beane defied tradition and his own scouting department to build winning teams of young affordable players and inexpensive castoff veterans.

Lewis was in the room with the A’s top management as they spent the summer of 2002 adding and subtracting players and he provides outstanding play-by-play…. Lewis, one of the top nonfiction writers of his era (Liar’s Poker, The New New Thing), offers highly accessible explanations of baseball stats and his roadmap of Beane’s economic approach makes Moneyball an appealing reading experience for business people and sports fans alike.

The only problems with Moneyball are (a) its essential inaccuracy and (b) its incompleteness as an analysis of success in baseball.

On the first point, “moneyball” did not start with Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s, and it is not what it is made out to be. Enter Eric Walker, the subject and author of “The Forgotten Man of Moneyball, Part 1,” and “The Forgotten Man of Moneyball, Part 2,” published October 7, 2009, on a site at deadspin.com. (On the site’s home page, the title bar displays the following: Deadspin, Sports News without Access, Favor, or Discretion.) Walker’s recollections merit extensive quotation:

…[W]ho am I, and why would I be considered some sort of expert on moneyball? Perhaps you recognized my name; more likely, though, you didn’t. Though it is hard to say this without an appearance of personal petulance, I find it sad that the popular history of what can only be called a revolution in the game leaves out quite a few of the people, the outsiders, who actually drove that revolution.

Anyway, the short-form answer to the question is that I am the fellow who first taught Billy Beane the principles that Lewis later dubbed “moneyball.” For the long-form answer, we ripple-dissolve back in time …

. . . to San Francisco in 1975, where the news media are reporting, often and at length, on the supposed near-certainty that the Giants will be sold and moved. There sit I, a man no longer young but not yet middle-aged, a man who has not been to a baseball game — or followed the sport — for probably over two decades….

With my lady, also a baseball fan of old, I go to a game. We have a great time; we go to more games, have more great times. I am becoming enthused. But I am considering and wondering — wondering about the mechanisms of run scoring, things like the relative value of average versus power…. I go to the San Francisco main library, looking for books that in some way actually analyze baseball. I find one. One. But what a one.

If this were instead Reader’s Digest, my opening of that book would be “The Moment That Changed My Life!” The book was Percentage Baseball, by one Earnshaw Cook, a Johns Hopkins professor who had consulted on the development of the atomic bomb….

…Bill James and some others, who were in high school when Cook was conceiving the many sorts of formulae they would later get famous publicizing in their own works, have had harsh things to say about Cook and his work. James, for example, wrote in 1981, “Cook knew everything about statistics and nothing at all about baseball — and for that reason, all of his answers are wrong, all of his methods useless.” That is breathtakingly wrong, and arrogant. Bill James has done an awful lot for analysis, both in promoting the concepts and in original work (most notably a methodology for converting minor-league stats to major-league equivalents). But, as Chili Davis once remarked about Nolan Ryan, “He ain’t God, man.” A modicum of humility and respect is in order…. Cook’s further work, using computer simulations of games to test theory (recorded in his second book, Percentage Baseball and the Computer), was ground-breaking, and it came long before anyone thought to describe what Cook was up to as “sabermetrics” and longer still before anyone emulated it.

…I wanted to get a lot closer to the game than box seats. I had, some years before, been a radio newscaster and telephone-talk host, and I decided to trade on that background. But in a market like the Bay Area, one does not just walk into a major radio station and ask for a job if it has been years since one’s last position; so, I walked into a minor radio station, a little off-the-wall FM outfit, and instantly became their “sports reporter”; unsalaried, but eligible for press credentials from the Giants….

Meanwhile, however, I was constantly working on expanding Cook’s work in various ways, trying to develop more-practical methods of applying his, and in time my, ideas….

When I felt I had my principles in a practical, usable condition, I started nagging the Giants about their using the techniques. At first, it was a very tough slog; in those days — this would be 1979 or so, well before Bill James’ Abstracts were more than a few hundred mimeographed copies -– even the basic concepts were unknown, and, to old baseball men, they were very, very weird ideas….

In early 1981, as a demonstration, I gave the Giants an extensive analysis of their organization; taking a great risk, I included predictions for the coming season. I have that very document beside me now as I type…. I was, despite the relative crudeness of the methodology in those days, a winner: 440 runs projected, 427 scored; ERA projected, 3.35, ERA achieved, 3.28; errors projected, 103, actual errors committed, 102; and, bottom line, projected wins, 57, actual wins 56….

By this time, I had taken a big step up as a broadcaster, moving from that inconsequential little station to KQED, the NPR outlet in San Francisco, whence I would eventually be syndicated by satellite to 20 NPR affiliates across the country, about half in major markets.

As a first consequence of that move, a book editor who had heard the daily module while driving to work and thought it interesting approached me with a proposal that I write a book in the general style of my broadcasts. I began work in the fall of 1981, and the book, The Sinister First Baseman and Other Observations, was published in 1982, to excellent reviews and nearly no sales. Frank Robinson, then the Giants’ manager and a man I had come to know tolerably well, was kind enough to provide the Foreword for the book, which was a diverse collection of baseball essays….

At any rate, there I was, finally on contract with a major-league ball club, the Giants, but in a dubious situation…. I did persuade them to trade Gary Lavelle to the Blue Jays, but instead of names like John Cerutti and Jimmy Key, whom I had suggested, Haller got Jim Gott, who gave the Giants one good year as a starter and two forgettable years in the pen, plus two guys who never made the majors. But deals for Ken Oberkfell and especially for John Tudor, which I lobbied for intensely, didn’t get made (Haller called 20 minutes too late to get Oberkfell). I still remember then-Giants owner Bob Lurie, when I was actually admitted to the Brain Trust sanctum on trade-deadline day, saying around his cigar, “What’s all this about John Tudor?” (Tudor, then openly available, had a high AL ERA because he was a lefty in Fenway — this was well before “splits” and “park effects” were commonplace concepts — and I tried to explain all that, but no dice; Tudor went on to an NL ERA of 2.66 over seven seasons.)

When Robinson was fired by the Giants, I knew that owing to guilt by association (remember, Robby wrote the Foreword to my book) I would soon be gone, and so I was. My term as a consultant with the Giants was about half a season. In that brief term, I had had some input into a few decisions, but most of what I advocated, while listened to, was never acted on.

But having once crossed the major-league threshold, I was not about to sink back into oblivion. Across the Bay was an organization with a famously more forward-looking front office, with which I had already had contact. I asked, they answered, and so my career with the A’s began.

Modern analysis has shown a whole treasure chest of interesting and often useful performance metrics, but it remains so that the bedrock principle of classic analysis is simple: out-making controls scoring. What I call “classic” analysis is the principles that I presented to the Oakland Athletics in the early 1980s, which governed their thinking through 20 or so successful seasons, and which were dubbed “moneyball” by Michael Lewis in his book of that title. Because of that book, there has arisen a belief that whatever the A’s do is, by definition, “moneyball”; with the decline in their fortunes in recent years has come a corresponding belief that “moneyball” is in decline — dead, some would say [1] — because the A’s and moneyball are seen as essentially one thing.

That is simply wrong…. “Moneyball,” as the name says, is about seeking undervalued commodities [emphasis added]. In my day, what I regard as the crucial aspects of run-generation, notably on-base percentage, were seriously undervalued, so “moneyball” consisted in finding batters with those skills.

A team that today sustains one of the lowest on-base percentages in baseball, and actively acquires players with drastically low career on-base numbers, is very obviously practicing a different “moneyball” than that for which it became famed. Today’s A’s, it seems, see the undervalued commodities as “defense and athletic players drafted out of high school” (as a recent article on the organization put it). These are not your father’s A’s. What success their new tack will have remains to be seen (their present fortunes are a transition state); but “moneyball” as practiced today by the A’s seems no longer to have at its core the same analytic principles that then-GM Sandy Alderson and I worked with a quarter-century ago, and that I presented to Billy Beane in that now semi-famous paper ["Winning Baseball"]….

In 1994, Sandy promoted Billy Beane to assistant GM. At the same time, he asked me to prepare an overview of the general principles of analysis for Billy, so that Billy could get in one sitting an idea of the way the organization was looking at talent. In the end, I delivered a report titled “Winning Baseball,” with the subtitle: “An objective, numerical, analytic analysis of the principles and practices involved in the design of a winning baseball team.” The report was 66 pages long; I still grit my teeth whenever I remember that Michael Lewis described it as a “pamphlet [on page 58 of this edition of Moneyball].”…

My goal in that report, which I seem to have met, was to put the ideas — not the detailed principles, just the ideas — forward in simple, clear language and logical order, so that they would be comprehensible by and reasonable to a working front-office executive. Sandy Alderson didn’t need a document like this, then or at the outset, but he was a Harvard-trained attorney; I considered myself to be writing not just to Billy Beane but to any veteran baseball man (which, as it turned out, was just as well)….

Lewis not only demotes “Winning Baseball” to a pamphlet, but also demotes Walker to passing mention on three pages of Moneyball: 58, 62, and 63 (in the paperback edition linked above). Why would Lewis slight and distort Walker’s contributions to “moneyball”? Remember that Lewis is not a scientist, mathematician, or statistician. He is a journalist with a B.A. in art history who happened to work at Salomon Brothers for a few years. I have read his first book, Liar’s Poker. It is obviously the work of a young man with a grievance and a flair for dramatization. Moneyball is obviously the work of a somewhat older man who has honed his flair for dramatization. Do not mistake it for a rigorous analysis of the origins and effectiveness of “moneyball.”

Just how effective was “moneyball,” as it was practiced by the Oakland Athletics? There is evidence to suggest that it was quite effective. For example:


Sources and notes: Team won-lost records are from Baseball-Reference.com. Estimates of team payrolls are from USA Today’s database of salaries for professional sports teams, which begins in 1988 for major-league baseball (here). The payroll index measures the ratio of each team’s payroll in a given year to the major-league average for the same year.

The more that a team spends on player salaries, the better the team’s record. But payroll accounts for only about 18 percent of the variation in the records of major-league teams during the period 1988-2011. Which means that other factors, taken together, largely determine a team’s record. Among those factors is “moneyball” — the ability to identify, obtain, effectively use, and retain players who are “underpriced” relative to their potential. But the contribution of “moneyball” cannot be teased out of the data because, for one thing, it would be impossible to quantify the extent to which a team actually practices “moneyball.” That said, it is evident that during 1988-2011 the A’s did better than the average team, by the measure of wins per dollar of payroll: Compare the dark green regression line, representing the A’s, with the black regression line, representing all teams.

That is all well and good, but the purpose of a baseball team is not to win a high number of games per dollar of payroll; it is to win — period. By that measure, the A’s of the Alderson-Beane “moneyball” era have been successful, at times, but not uniquely so:


Source: Derived from Baseball-Reference.com.

The sometimes brilliant record of the Athletics franchise during 1901-1950 is owed to one man: Cornelius McGillicuddy (1862-1956). And the often dismal record of the franchise during 1901-1950 is owed to one man: the same Cornelius McGillicuddy. True fans of baseball (and collectors of trivia) know Cornelius McGillicuddy as Connie Mack, or more commonly as Mr. Mack. The latter is an honorific bestowed on Mack because of his dignified mien and distinguished career in baseball: catcher from 1886 to 1896; manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1894 to 1896; manager of the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901 to 1950; part owner and then sole owner of the Athletics from 1901 to 1954.  (He is also an ancestor of two political figures who bear his real name and alias: Connie Mack III and Connie Mack IV.)

Mack’s long leadership and ownership of the A’s is important because it points to the reasons for the A’s successes and failures during the fifty years that he led the team from the bench. Here, from Wikipedia, is a story that is familiar to persons who know their baseball history:

[Mack] was widely praised in the newspapers for his intelligent and innovative managing, which earned him the nickname “the Tall Tactician”. He valued intelligence and “baseball smarts”, always looking for educated players. (He traded away Shoeless Joe Jackson despite his talent because of his bad attitude and unintelligent play.[9]) “Better than any other manager, Mack understood and promoted intelligence as an element of excellence.”[10] He wanted men who were self-directed, self-disciplined and self-motivated; his ideal player was Eddie Collins.[11]

“Mack looked for seven things in a young player: physical ability, intelligence, courage, disposition, will power, general alertness and personal habits.”[12]

He also looked for players with quiet and disciplined personal lives, having seen many players destroy themselves and their teams through heavy drinking in his playing days. Mack himself never drank; before the 1910 World Series he asked all his players to “take the pledge” not to drink during the Series. When Topsy Hartsel told Mack he needed a drink the night before the final game, Mack told him to do what he thought best, but in these circumstances “if it was me, I’d die before I took a drink.”[13]

In any event, his managerial style was not tyrannical but easygoing.[14] He never imposed curfews or bed checks, and made the best of what he had; Rube Waddell was the best pitcher and biggest gate attraction of his first decade as A’s manager, so he put up with his drinking and general unreliability for years until it began to bring the team down and the other players asked Mack to get rid of him.[15]

Mack’s strength as a manager was finding the best players, teaching them well and letting them play. “He did not believe that baseball revolved around managerial strategy.”[10] He was “one of the first managers to work on repositioning his fielders” during the game, often directing the outfielders to move left or right, play shallow or deep, by waving his rolled-up scorecard from the bench.[12] After he became well known for doing this, he often passed his instructions to the fielders by way of other players, and simply waved his scorecard as a feint.[16]

*   *   *

Mack saw baseball as a business, and recognized that economic necessity drove the game. He explained to his cousin, Art Dempsey, that “The best thing for a team financially is to be in the running and finish second. If you win, the players all expect raises.” This was one reason he was constantly collecting players, signing almost anyone to a ten-day contract to assess his talent; he was looking ahead to future seasons when his veterans would either retire or hold out for bigger salaries than Mack could give them.

Unlike most baseball owners, Mack had almost no income apart from the A’s, so he was often in financial difficulties. Money problems – the escalation of his best players’ salaries (due both to their success and to competition from the new, well-financed Federal League), combined with a steep drop in attendance due to World War I — led to the gradual dispersal of his second championship team, the 19101914 team, who [sic] he sold, traded, or released over the years 1915–1917. The war hurt the team badly, leaving Mack without the resources to sign valuable players….

All told, the A’s finished dead last in the AL seven years in a row from 1915 to 1921, and would not reach .500 again until 1926. The rebuilt team won back-to-back championships in 1929–1930 over the Cubs and Cardinals, and then lost a rematch with the latter in 1931. As it turned out, these were the last WS titles and pennants the Athletics would win in Philadelphia or for another four decades.

With the onset of the Great Depression, Mack struggled financially again, and was forced to sell the best players from his second great championship team, such as Lefty Grove and Jimmie Foxx, to stay in business. Although Mack wanted to rebuild again and win more championships, he was never able to do so owing to a lack of funds.

Had an earlier Michael Lewis written Moneyball in the 1950s, as a retrospective on Mack’s career as a manager-owner, that Lewis would have said (correctly) that the A’s successes and failures were directly related to (a) the amount of money spent on the team’s payroll, (b) Connie Mack’s character-based criteria for selecting players, and (c) his particular approach to managing players.  That is quite a different story than the one conveyed by the Moneyball written by the real Lewis.

Which version of Moneyball is correct? No one can say for sure. But the powerful evidence of Connie Mack’s long tenure suggests that it takes a combination of the two versions of Moneyball to be truly successful, that is, to post a winning record year after year. It seems that Lewis (inadvertently) jumped to a conclusion about what makes for a successful baseball team — probably because he was struck by the A’s then-recent success and did not look to the A’s history.

In any event, success through luck is not the moral of Moneyball; the moral is success through deliberate effort. But Michael Lewis ignored the moral of his own “masterwork” when he stood before an audience of Princeton graduates and told them that they are merely (or mainly) lucky. How does one graduate from Princeton merely (or mainly) by being lucky? Does it not require the application of one’s genetic talents? Did not most of the graduates of Princeton arrive there, in the first place, because they had applied their genetic talents well during their years in high school or prep school (and even before that)? Is one’s genetic inheritance merely a matter of luck, or is it the somewhat predictable result of the mating of two persons who were not thrown together randomly, but who had a lot in common — including (most likely) high intelligence?

Just as the cookie experiment invoked by Lewis is a load of pseudoscientific hogwash, the left-wing habit of finding luck at the bottom of every achievement is a load of politically correct hogwash. Worse, it is an excuse for punishing success.

Lewis’s peroration on luck is just a variation on a common left-wing theme: Success is merely a matter of luck, so it is the state’s right and duty to redistribute the spoils of luck.

Related posts:
Moral Luck
The Residue of Choice
Can Money Buy Excellence in Baseball?
Inventing “Liberalism”
Randomness Is Over-Rated
Fooled by Non-Randomness
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
Social Justice
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Nature Is Unfair
Elizabeth Warren Is All Wet
Luck and Baseball, One More Time
The Candle Problem: Balderdash Masquerading as Science
More about Luck and Baseball
Barack Channels Princess SummerFall WinterSpring
Obama’s Big Lie

Tolerance on the Left

UPDATED (BELOW), 08/10/12

I begin with the Chick-fil-A controversy. If you know more about it than is good for your mental health, jump to the text that follows the  second row of asterisks.

*   *   *   *   *

For the benefit of anyone who has just returned to the U.S. after spending six weeks in Tierra del Fuego, the Chick-fil-A controversy began when the company’s president and COO, Dan Cathy,

made what was seen as an inflammatory statement. Cathy stated: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’. I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”[43][44][45]

And it took off from there:

On July 2, 2012, the LGBT watchdog group Equality Matters published a report with details of donations given by Chick-fil-A to organizations that are opposed to same-sex marriage, such as the Marriage & Family Foundation and the Family Research Council.[46][47][48] Also, on July 2, Biblical Recorder published an interview with Dan Cathy, who was asked about opposition to his company’s “support of the traditional family.” He replied: “Well, guilty as charged.”[49][50] Cathy continued:

“We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. … We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” Cathy emphasized. “We intend to stay the course,” he said. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”[49]

In the wake of this interview, Thomas Menino, the Mayor of Boston, stated that he would not allow the company to open franchises in the city “unless they open up their policies.”[51] Menino subsequently wrote a letter to Dan Cathy, citing Cathy’s earlier statement on The Ken Coleman Show and responding: “We are indeed full of pride for our support of same sex marriage and our work to expand freedom for all people.”[52] In Chicago alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno announced his determination to block Chick-fil-A’s bid to build a second store in the city: “They’d have to do a complete 180,” Moreno said in outlining conditions under which he would retract the block. “They’d have to work with LGBT groups in terms of hiring, and there would have to be a public apology from [Cathy].”[53] Moreno received backing from Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel: “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values,” Emanuel said in a statement. “They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty.”[53] San Francisco soon followed suit on July 26 when mayor Edwin M. Lee tweeted, “Very disappointed #ChickFilA doesn’t share San Francisco’s values & strong commitment to equality for everyone.” Lee followed that tweet with “Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer.”[54]

In the wake of this interview, Thomas Menino, the Mayor of Boston, stated that he would not allow the company to open franchises in the city “unless they open up their policies.”[51] Menino subsequently wrote a letter to Dan Cathy, citing Cathy’s earlier statement on The Ken Coleman Show and responding: “We are indeed full of pride for our support of same sex marriage and our work to expand freedom for all people.”[52] In Chicago alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno announced his determination to block Chick-fil-A’s bid to build a second store in the city: “They’d have to do a complete 180,” Moreno said in outlining conditions under which he would retract the block. “They’d have to work with LGBT groups in terms of hiring, and there would have to be a public apology from [Cathy].”[53] Moreno received backing from Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel: “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values,” Emanuel said in a statement. “They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty.”[53] San Francisco soon followed suit on July 26 when mayor Edwin M. Lee tweeted, “Very disappointed #ChickFilA doesn’t share San Francisco’s values & strong commitment to equality for everyone.” Lee followed that tweet with “Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer.”[54]

The proposed bans in Boston and Chicago drew criticism from liberal pundits, legal experts and the American Civil Liberties Union. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones magazine said “[T]here’s really no excuse for Emanuel’s and Menino’s actions… you don’t hand out business licenses based on whether you agree with the political views of the executives. Not in America, anyway.”[55] UCLA law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh observed, “[D]enying a private business permits because of such speech by its owner is a blatant First Amendment violation.”[56] Echoing those views were Glenn Greenwald of Salon, professor [Jonathan] Turley of George Washington University, and Adam Schwartz, a senior attorney with the ACLU.[57]

The city of New York is heard from, as well:

A powerful New York politician claims she was just speaking as a private citizen when she tried to run Chick-fil-A out of town, but she used her official letterhead and even invoked her position as City Council speaker to apply pressure on the embattled chicken chain.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has mayoral aspirations, sent a letter to New York University president John Sexton on Saturday asking the school to immediately end their contract with the fast food restaurant. The Atlanta-based company’s sole New York City outlet is in the school’s food court.

“I write as the Speaker of the NYC Council, and on behalf of my family. NYC is a place where we celebrate diversity. We do not believe in denigrating others. We revel in the diversity of all our citizens and their families,” the letter begins….

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last week that he would not follow the lead of his counterparts in Chicago, San Francisco and Boston, who all said Chick-fil-A was not welcome in their cities. Bloomberg said it was “inappropriate” for any government to decide if a business can or cannot operate in a city because of someone’s political views.

(The first two block quotations are from Wikipedia, as of July 30, 2012. I note the date because history and interpretations of history are notably unstable elements in the hands of Wikipedia’s contributors and editors.)

*   *   *   *   *

It is good to know that there are those on the left (the ACLU, Kevin Drum, and Glenn Greenwald, RINO Bloomberg) who defend Chick-fil-A’s right to exist. But those few voices do not cancel or diminish the left’s general stance of vitriolic disrespect toward persons who oppose the LGBT agenda. That agenda includes legal recognition of same-sex “marriage” (of course), the legalization of adoption by same-sex couples, and a laundry list of other “rights.” All would be secured by depriving non-believers in the LGBT agenda of  freedom of conscience, freedom of association, and property rights.

Tolerance in America — left-wing style — has become a one-way street: Conservatives must succumb to the left’s social agenda, but the left need not tolerate the beliefs of conservatives. Conservatives who oppose the left’s social agenda are not viewed as mere political opponents. Nay, they are — depending on the issue at hand — hate-filled racists or hate-filled gay-bashers.

In a lifetime that now surpasses the number of years prescribed in Psalms 90, I have heard, read, and witnessed much hate. But for sustained, high-volume hate, nothing in my experience exceeds that which pours from the lips and keyboards of left-wingers. As a group, they are intolerant of truth, where it contradicts their cherished beliefs , and hateful toward those whose values conflict with theirs. For example:

  • Skeptics of the flimsy evidence for anthropogenic global warming, and who offer ample evidence against AGW, are flat-earth-global-warming-deniers.
  • Those who believe that governmental interference in economic affairs leads to slower growth and more poverty are not merely drawing out the implications of economic logic and empirical analysis. No, they are the hand-servants of greedy, exploitative corporations and super-rich fat cats (who, oddly enough, bankroll many left-wing causes).
  • Persons who object to the killing of human beings at the fetal stage are not merely principled defenders of life, they are meddling moralists who seek to deny women the convenience of abortion.
  • Those who understand that marriage is a long-standing social institution which cannot be redefined by statute are hate-filled, bigoted troglodytes, not defenders of an essential, civilizing institution.

Left-wingers march in lockstep like wind-up toy soldiers. And all it takes to wind them up is to propose a governmental intervention in social or economic affairs — preferably one that flouts a social tradition that is based on decades and centuries of of experience. Why do leftists have so little respect for the wisdom that accrues in social norms?  Because leftism is rooted in two psychological tendencies. One of them is adolescent rebellion, which can persist for decades past adolescence. This explains the left’s hatred of conventional authority figures who (usually) represent conservative (civilizing) values (e.g., parents, police officers, military officers, members of the clergy).  The other psychological tendency is the urge to dominate others, an urge that leftists project onto conservatives. (See this, this, and this.) In that regard, I have observed, at first hand, that vociferous leftists are fiercely defensive of their autonomy, despite their willingness to deny autonomy to others. (Think “liberal” fascism; more here and here.)

In the face of incessant propagandizing for LBGT causes by the left’s vast academic-entertainment-opinion-cum-news conspiracy,  those who dare to be different are not lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons. No, the LGBTers are figuratively ensconced in the left’s sheltering arms, where their outré “lifestyles” are celebrated, promoted, and proclaimed to be normal — or, at least, The New Normal. Those who dare to be different, these days, are the defenders of traditional sexuality, traditional marriage, and traditional families — the core of civilized society. UPDATE: It fact, it is now possible to be accused of a crime for the mere act of stating a preference for traditional sexuality, traditional marriage, and traditional families. This is not surprising, given the growth of the thought hate-crime industry.

And so it has come to pass that heads of hugely influential corporations (e.g., Google and Amazon) lend their names and money to the LGBT cause. Having become “the thing to do,” the LGBT cause is joined by lesser corporations. That cause is today’s version of affirmative action; it is embraced by boards of directors and senior executives who do not have to live with the consequences of their politically correct policy edicts. The consequences include the reduction of corporate income (which belongs to shareholders) by the  hiring, retention, and promotion of otherwise unqualified persons — so that the directors and senior officers can feel good about their commitment to “inclusiveness.”

But that is nothing to the destruction of liberty that is sought in the name of LBGT “rights.” Consider the case of same-sex “marriage”:

It was only yesterday, was it not, that we were being assured that the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex partnerships would have no impact on persons and institutions that hold to the traditional view of marriage as a conjugal union? Such persons and institutions would simply be untouched by the change. It won’t affect your marriage or your life, we were told, if the law recognizes Henry and Herman or Sally and Sheila as “married.”

Those offering these assurances were also claiming that the redefinition of marriage would have no impact on the public understanding of marriage as a monogamous and sexually exclusive partnership. No one, they insisted, wanted to alter those traditional marital norms. On the contrary, the redefinition of marriage would promote and spread those norms more broadly.

When some of us warned that all of this was nonsense, and pointed out the myriad ways that Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and others would be affected, and their opportunities and liberties restricted, the proponents of marriage redefinition accused us of “fearmongering.” When we observed that reducing marriage to a merely emotional union (which is what happens when sexual reproductive complementarity is banished from the definition) removes all principled grounds for understanding marriage as a sexually exclusive and faithful union of two persons, and not an “open” partnership or a relationship of three or more persons in a polyamorous sexual ensemble, we were charged with invalid slippery-slope reasoning. Remember?

No one, they assured us, would require Catholic or other foster care and adoption services to place children in same-sex headed households. No one, they said, would require religiously affiliated schools and social-service agencies to treat same-sex partners as spouses, or impose penalties or disabilities on those that dissent. No one would be fired from his or her job (or suffer employment discrimination) for voicing support for conjugal marriage or criticizing same-sex sexual conduct and relationships. And no one was proposing to recognize polyamorous relationships or normalize “open marriages,” nor would redefinition undermine the norms of sexual exclusivity and monogamy in theory or practice.

That was then; this is now….

…[A]dvocates of redefinition are increasingly open in saying that they do not see these disputes about sex and marriage as honest disagreements among reasonable people of goodwill. They are, rather, battles between the forces of reason, enlightenment, and equality—those who would “expand the circle of inclusion”—on one side, and those of ignorance, bigotry, and discrimination—those who would exclude people out of “animus”—on the other. The “excluders” are to be treated just as racists are treated—since they are the equivalent of racists. Of course, we (in the United States, at least) don’t put racists in jail for expressing their opinions—we respect the First Amendment; but we don’t hesitate to stigmatize them and impose various forms of social and even civil disability upon them and their institutions. In the name of “marriage equality” and “non-discrimination,” liberty—especially religious liberty and the liberty of conscience—and genuine equality are undermined.The fundamental error made by some supporters of conjugal marriage was and is, I believe, to imagine that a grand bargain could be struck with their opponents: “We will accept the legal redefinition of marriage; you will respect our right to act on our consciences without penalty, discrimination, or civil disabilities of any type. Same-sex partners will get marriage licenses, but no one will be forced for any reason to recognize those marriages or suffer discrimination or disabilities for declining to recognize them.” There was never any hope of such a bargain being accepted. Perhaps parts of such a bargain would be accepted by liberal forces temporarily for strategic or tactical reasons, as part of the political project of getting marriage redefined; but guarantees of religious liberty and non-discrimination for people who cannot in conscience accept same-sex marriage could then be eroded and eventually removed. After all, “full equality” requires that no quarter be given to the “bigots” who want to engage in “discrimination” (people with a “separate but equal” mindset) in the name of their retrograde religious beliefs. “Dignitarian” harm must be opposed as resolutely as more palpable forms of harm….

The lesson, it seems to me, for those of us who believe that the conjugal conception of marriage is true and good, and who wish to protect the rights of our faithful and of our institutions to honor that belief in carrying out their vocations and missions, is that there is no alternative to winning the battle in the public square over the legal definition of marriage. The “grand bargain” is an illusion we should dismiss from our minds…. [Robert P. George, "Marriage, Religious Liberty, and the 'Grand Bargain'," Public Discourse, July 19, 2012]

The battle over the legal definition of marriage (and other items on the LGBT agenda) will be won through the exercise of political power, abetted by lies and chicanery, and not by sweet reason. Conservatives will (and should) eschew lies and chicanery, leaving them to the LGBT crowed and its allies. But conservatives should not flinch from the use of political power; their cause is liberty, and it is just.

*   *   *

Related reading:
Michael Brown, “The Rise of the Intolerance Brigade,” Townhall.com, August 2, 2012
Matthew J. Franck, “Truth and Lies, Nature and Convention: The Debate Over Same-Sex Marriage,” Public Discourse, July 30, 2012
Christian Smith, “An Academic Auto-da-Fé, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 23, 2012
Michael Barone, “Supporters of Ted Cruz and Chick-fil-A Break News,” The Examiner, August 4, 2012

Related posts:
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
Conservatism, Libertarianism, and “The Authoritarian Personality”
Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
The F Scale, Revisited
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
The Psychologist Who Played God
The Left
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
The Left’s Agenda
In Defense of Marriage
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty