Political Economy & Civil Society

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XVI)


Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics. This is an especially long entry in the series, so I’ve labeled each item. You can navigate directly to items by clicking on any of the following links:

“Libertarian” Paternalism

Drug Prohibition

Unconstitutionality of Social Security and Medicare

Où est Charlie Hebdo?

Speaking of Censorship

Censorship-Plus

The Disparate Impact of Government

Putting the Civil War in Perspective

*     *     *


“Libertarian” Paternalism

Timothy Taylor asks “Who Will Nudge the Nudgers?” in a post about a paper by W. Kip Viscusi and Ted Gayer:

Viscusi and Gayer point out a number of reasons why less-than-rational behavioral responses may be more prevalent among government decision-makers than for economic actors in the private economy. Here are some examples: 1) Private actors (like consumers and firms) need to bear the immediate costs of their decisions in a direct way, while elected officials and regulators do not. 2) Public policies are often influenced by the loud voice of concentrated special interests, who can overwhelm the quieter and more diffuse voices for the general interest. 3) Market actions evolve from an interaction of many buyers and sellers, and the checks and balances that such a process provides, but government actions can evolve from a much smaller number of potentially overconfident technocrats, who have a personal and career interest in pushing their own agendas. [The Conversible Economist, July 21, 2015]

There’s much more. Read it, then see my post, “The Perpetual Nudger.” I point out that “nudgers” (e.g., Richard Thaler) are really wannabe dictators:

What seems to bother Thaler is that most people aren’t Econs [hyper-rational calculators]; their tastes and preferences seem irrational to him, and it’s his (self-appointed) role in life to force them to make “correct” decisions (i.e., the decisions he would make).

There’s much more in the many posts to which I link at the end of “The Perpetual Nudger.”

Return to the top of this post.

*     *     *


Drug Prohibition

The estimable Theodore Dalrymple strikes again:

[I]t is not true that problems with drugs arise only when or because they are prohibited.

The relationship between crime and drug prohibition is also much more complex than the legalizers would have us believe. It is certainly true that gangs quickly form that try to control drug distribution in certain areas, and that conflict between the aspirant gangs leads to violence…. But here I would point out two things: first that the violence of such criminal gangs was largely confined to the subculture from which they emerged, so that other people were not much endangered by it; and second that, in my dealings with such people, I did not form the impression that, were it not for the illegality of drugs, they would otherwise be pursuing perfectly respectable careers. If my impression is correct, then the illegality of drugs might protect the rest of society from their criminality: the illegal drug trade being the occasion, but not the cause, of their violence.

What about Prohibition, is the natural reply? It is true that the homicide rate in the United States fell dramatically in the wake of repeal. By the 1960s, however, when alcohol was not banned, it had climbed higher than during Prohibition…. Moreover, what is less often appreciated, the homicide rate in the United States rose faster in the thirteen years before than in the thirteen years during Prohibition. (In other respects, Prohibition was not as much of a failure as is often suggested: alcohol-related problems such as liver disease declined during it considerably. But no consequences by themselves can justify a policy, otherwise the amputation of thieves’ hands would be universal.) Al Capone was not a fine upstanding citizen before Prohibition turned him into a gangster. [“Ditching Drug Prohibition: A Dissent,” Library of Law and Liberty, July 23, 2015, and the second in a series; see also “The Simple Truth about J.S. Mill’s Simple Truth,” op. cit., July 20, 2015; “Myths and Realities of Drug Addiction, Consumption, and Crime,” op. cit., July 31, 2015; and “Closing Argument on the Drug Issue,” op. cit., August 4, 2015]

This reminds me of my post, “Prohibition, Abortion, and ‘Progressivism’,” in which I wrote about the Ken Burns series, Prohibition. Here’s some of it:

Although eugenics is not mentioned in Prohibition, it looms in the background. For eugenics — like prohibition of alcohol and, later, the near-prohibition of smoking — is symptomatic of the “progressive” mentality. That mentality is paternalistic, through and through. And “progressive” paternalism finds its way into the daily lives of Americans through the regulation of products and services — for our own good, of course. If you can think of a product or service that you use (or would like to use) that is not shaped by paternalistic regulation or taxes levied with regulatory intent, you must live in a cave.

However, the passing acknowledgement of “progressivism” as a force for the prohibition of alcohol is outweighed by the attention given to the role of “evangelicals” in the enactment of prohibition. I take this as a subtle swipe at anti-abortion stance of fundamentalist Protestants and adherents of the “traditional” strands of Catholicism and Judaism. Here is the “logic” of this implied attack on pro-lifers: Governmental interference in a personal choice is wrong with respect to the consumption of alcohol and similarly wrong with respect to abortion.

By that “logic,” it is wrong for government to interfere in or prosecute robbery, assault, rape, murder and other overtly harmful acts, which — after all — are merely the consequences of personal choices made by their perpetrators. Not even a “progressive” would claim that robbery, assault, etc., should go unpunished, though he would quail at effective punishment.

“Progressives” just don’t know where to draw lines. (Witness the many phantom red lines that Obama has drawn for Syria and  Iran.) It’s centuries too late to prohibit the consumption of alcohol (not that I’d wish it had happened); it’s still not too late to prohibit the consumption of hard, death-dealing drugs. If those drugs are legalized, it won’t be long before taxpayers are forced to pay for the drug habits of a growing population of drug abusers. That’s the “progressive” way.

Return to the top of this post.

*     *     *


Unconstitutionality of Social Security and Medicare

Mike Rappaport makes the case, and concludes with this:

Now that we have had Social Security and Medicare for generations and people have relied upon them, I don’t think that the original meaning can be enforced to hold them unconstitutional.  Precedent should allow them to continue.  But it is worth remembering that these programs would have never taken their pernicious form if the Constitution’s original meaning had been followed in the first place. [“The Unconstitutionality of Social Security and Medicare,” Library of Law and Liberty, July 23, 2015]

This comes as no surprise to me. Here’s a bit from a recent post, “Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power? (II),” which refers to a much older one:

[T]he power to tax is not unlimited. Taxes levied by the central government must be levied for the purpose of executing powers specifically enumerated in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Nevertheless, the majority NFIB v. Sebelius chose not only to distort the individual mandate — which is clearly a penalty, not a tax — but also to willfully disregard the Constitution’s expressed limitations on the powers of Congress. Even if the individual mandate were a tax, Congress cannot constitutionally levy such a tax because the Affordable Care Act isn’t contemplated in its enumerated powers. (ACA derives its supposedly constitutional status from the Court’s decision in 1935 to declare the Social Security Act constitutional, even though it isn’t. See my post of October 31, 2004, “Social Security Is Unconstitutional.”)

Return to the top of this post.

*     *     *


Où est Charlie Hebdo?

As dead (in spirit) as the 12 who were murdered in January. Mark Steyn writes:

I mentioned a few days ago the announcement by Charlie Hebdo that they are no longer in the business of Mohammed cartoons:

So another non-senseless act has paid off bigtime for the Islamic enforcers. I regret the decision, although I understand it.

Which I do. Almost everyone who mattered at Charlie Hebdo is dead. What did they die for? A hashtag and a candlelight vigil? None of those who seized eagerly on #JeSuisCharlie as the cause du jour, from Angela Merkel and François Hollande to George Clooney and Helen Mirren to thousands in the streets of Paris and millions across the Internet, were willing to do the one thing that would have mattered, and show the reason why they died. Which is why such sterling champions of free speech as PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas and Sultan Erdogan’s vizier Ahmet Davutoglu were happy to march in the big post-slaughter parade. Do you think they’d have been there if any of the dead’s multitudes of new “friends” were waving Charlie magazine covers?…

And so, after a similar but fortunately less bloody attack in Texas [link added], virtually the entire American media decided to blame the victim and took it as read that Islam now has an opt-out from the First Amendment. You can’t fence off Islam and contain the damage to freedom of speech: the decision to surrender it incrementally leads inevitably to its total loss. On the day of his murder, I quoted the words of Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, Laurent Sourisseau’s predecessor as Charlie editor, from two years earlier:

It may seem pompous, but I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.

It’s not pompous, but it is lonely. And the slippery, weaselly nature of the post-bloodbath support told Charlie Hebdo it was only going to get lonelier. It’s hard standing on your feet when everyone else with the #JeSuisCharlie buttons is on their knees, bottoms in the air, prostrate before the fanatics. And so Charb’s successor has opted to live on his knees. [“The Knees Have It,” SteynOnline, July 22, 2015]

Color me unsurprised. In the aftermath of the slaughter in January, I wrote “Sober Reflections on ‘Charlie Hebdo’.” Here’s some of it:

[Charlie Hebdo is] a stridently left-wing rag that mocks religion (of all kinds), and anything else deemed too “respectable” for the adolescent tastes of its staff.

What’s most striking about the “Je suis Charlie” movement is its pure hypocrisy….

Yes, the left gets up in arms when some of its members are slaughtered by Muslim pigs (I love that phrase). But this is the same, hypocritical left that condones and promotes censorship….

The slaughter at Charlie Hebdo is not a reason for solidarity with the left, but a reason to oppose the left and its clients — especially (but not exclusively) the murderous adherents of Islam.

Return to the top of this post.

*     *     *


Speaking of Censorship

Erick Erickson writes about

an organized movement within the gay rights community that is sometimess referred to as the “gay mafia.” They want to harass those who disagree with their agenda and silence any dissent from their agenda. They have worked overtime in the past twenty-four hours because an AP poll shows that the number of Americans who now support gay marriage has declined since the Supreme Court’s ruling and a majority believe Christian businesses should not be compelled to provide goods and services to gay weddings.

They cannot have that. They also cannot have books and data that dispute their claims. One such book is by my friend Ryan Anderson. The book is called Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom. A subgroup of the gay mafia who call themselves “Flying Monkeys” are flinging poo in the direction of Ryan’s book.

In particular, they have organized a campaign to down vote Ryan’s book on Amazon.com. The Daily Signal has screenshots of the gay mafia’s online conversations encouraging people to go “review” Ryan’s book and give it one star reviews.

The people have not read the book. But they want you to think the book is a terrible read. They are attacking Ryan personally and attacking arguments they have not even read. Anyone who knows Ryan knows he takes a very scholarly approach to the marriage arguments and has provided a great deal of foresight into the movement again marriage.

You can order Ryan’s book on the Kindle now or get a print edition next month via Amazon. I highly recommend it. [“The Gay Mafia Wants to Stop You from Doing This,” RedState, July 21, 2015]

I have ordered it.

We in the U.S. have thus far been spared the excesses of censorship that plague Canada. One such excess is the subject of my post, “Free Speech Ends at the Northern Border.” That an overstatement, of course, because censorship is rife in America, especially on college campuses. Just check out the website of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

See also my posts “The Gaystapo at Work,” “The Gaystapo and Islam.” “The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America,” and “The Tenor of the Times.”

Return to the top of this post.

*     *     *


Censorship-Plus

In a closely related development, there’s a portentous recent ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dropped an astounding ruling: By a 3-2 vote, it concluded that “sexual orientation is inherently a ‘sex-based consideration,’ and an allegation of discrimination based on sexual orientation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination under Title VII.”

This is a big deal: The Commission’s recommendations shape rulings on federal employees’ workplace-discrimination claims, and its field offices deal with claims made by employees at private organizations, as well. But the ruling is also a reminder of how complicated—and unresolved—the post-Obergefell legal landscape is. The Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage at the end of June has set the country up for two new waves of discrimination claims: those made by same-sex couples and LGBT workers, and those made by religious Americans who oppose same-sex marriage. The two may seem distinct or even opposed, but they’re actually intertwined: In certain cases, extending new rights to LBGT workers will necessarily lead to religious-freedom objections, and vice versa.

Right now, it’s impossible to know how these claims will fall out. It’s been less than a month since the ruling, and much of the legal theory on these issues is just that: theory. In Congress, there’s at least some effort to reconcile the two sides. As my colleague Russell Berman wrote on Friday, Democrats are pushing for legislation which would include prohibitions on discrimination in education, housing, and public accommodation, and Republicans may well sign on—if that legislation allows for religious exemptions. No matter what passes, the issues will remain tangled. These will be some of the questions courts and legislatures have to untangle in the wake of Obergefell. [Emma Green, “Gay Rights May Come at the Cost of Religious Freedom,” The Atlantic, July 27, 2015]

It’s not just religious liberty that’s under attack, it’s liberty — period. It’s clear that the federal government is gearing up to tell Americans what they may say about others and who they must associate with, like it or not:

Most citizens will, of course, attempt to exercise their freedom of speech, and many business owners will, of course, attempt to exercise their freedom of association. But for every person who insists on exercising his rights, there will be at least as many (and probably more) who will be cowed, shamed, and forced by the state into silence and compliance with the new dispensation. And the more who are cowed, shamed, and forced into silence and compliance, the fewer who will assert their rights. Thus will the vestiges of liberty vanish.

That’s from my post, “The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America,” which I published on the day of the Obergefell diktat.

Return to the top of this post.

*     *     *


The Disparate Impact of Government

Speaking of impending atrocities, Michael Barone takes on “HUD’s ‘Disparate Impact’ War on Suburban America“:

Disparate impact. It’s a legal doctrine that may be coming soon to your suburb (if you’re part of the national majority living in suburbs).

Bringing it there will be the Obama Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing program. It has been given a green light to impose the rule from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision [link added] in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project. [Kennedy must have been warming up for his Obergefell diktat, which came on the following day. — TEA]

The decision purports to interpret the Fair Housing Act of 1968 as authorizing lawsuits if municipal policies have a “disparate impact” as measured by the racial percentages of those affected — this despite the fact that the words of the Fair Housing Act prohibit only intentional racial discrimination….

In every large metropolitan area with a significant black population, you won’t find a single census tract with 0 black residents. Blacks sometimes encounter resistance when trying to buy or rent a house that they can afford, which is unjust and infuriating, and a problem for which the Fair Housing Act provides remedies.

But, of course, that has not created an America in which every community has the same percentage as the national average of blacks and whites, Hispanics and Asians, marrieds and singles, gays and straights, Protestants and Catholics and Jews and Muslims.

Free choice never shakes out that way. Throughout history, Americans and immigrants have tended to choose to cluster with likeminded people….

How did disparate impact come into the law? In a 1971 Supreme Court case, Griggs v. Duke Power Co., the Court, acting when memory was still fresh of Southern resistance to desegregation, ruled that the company’s aptitude test amounted to discrimination because whites passed at higher rates than blacks. But that’s true of most aptitude tests — which as a result aren’t used much in hiring any more. [creators.com, July 21, 2015]

Don’t tell it to the “social justice” police in D.C. They don’t want to hear it.

The 1971 “disparate impact” ruling by the Supreme Court ranks among the 16 cases that I list as examples of “the judicial betrayal of the constitutional scheme of limited government, and of order and traditional morality,” in “The Fall and Rise of American Empire.” (I would now add the Kennedy Court’s decisions about “disparate impact,” same-sex “marriage,” and Obamacare subsidies.)

“Disparate impact” isn’t just about where people live and work. Malcolm Pollack is on the case:

Here is an item that’s been going around over the past couple of days: an essay by Paul Sperry describing the Obama administration’s latest race-leveling operation.

The idea is to fish for “disparate impact” violations, wherever they can be found — in housing, lending, school discipline, academic performance, enrollment in gifted-student programs, etc. — and to use the coercive power of the State to flatten outcomes.

The Left has a secret weapon here, and in the current cultural climate, it’s a beaut. Here’s how it works:

1) If you go looking for disparate outcomes by racial groups (or by sex), you’ll certainly find them. They are real, and persistent. (See, for example, just how persistent they can be, here.)

2) When such disparate outcomes occur, there are only two possible causes: either they are due to an external obstacle, or something intrinsic to the group itself.

3) If all racial groups are assumed, as by current social convention they must be, to have exactly identical distributions of every cognitive and behavioral trait, then any variation in outcome that disparately affects a particular racial group must be evidence of some external obstacle. This can only be due to racism and injustice, and therefore it is just and proper for the State to detect and remove it, by whatever means necessary.

4) If however, you suggest that disparities under neutral policies may be due, even in part, to innate differences in the distribution of cognitive and behavioral characteristics in different racial groups, then you are a racist. (If you present actual evidence of such differences, you’re a “scientific” racist.) Moreover, the fact that you are even thinking such things is evidence of the persistence and prevalence of racism in general, which in turns confirms the assumption that disparate outcomes are the result of pervasive and intractable racism, and not innate differences. This is what justifies redoubled efforts on the part of the State to bring every aspect of our lives under racial scrutiny, and impose corrective measures wherever disparate outcomes are found.

So: notwithstanding that race, as we are told, is a “social construct” with no basis in reality, the government will spare no effort to group people by race, and to scour vast collections of intrusively gathered data to find inequalities in social and economic outcomes — not on any individual basis, but by race. But despite race being real enough, apparently, to justify making such racial categorizations, race can have no deeper reality as regards any shared characteristics that might contribute to such inequalities. Race is, in other words, real, but only real enough to serve, somehow, as a marker for defining groups, and thereby to serve as the basis of racism, without having any other actual properties. Moreover (and this is what makes the whole thing work so beautifully): if you disagree with any of this, you are yourself a racist — and you have thereby just demonstrated that persistent racism is indeed the problem.

Thanks to this secret weapon, we have moved beyond — far beyond — the idea that particular differences in outcomes may be due to specific and remediable instances of conscious and intentional racism. As we go Forward, we have a new paradigm: differences in outcomes simply ARE racism, now and forever.

That’s some catch!

[“A Respectful Whistle,” waka waka waka, July 21, 2015]

(I couldn’t resist reproducing Pollack’s brilliant post in its entirety. If you don’t already follow his blog, you should do so.)

Return to the top of this post.

*     *     *


Putting the Civil War in Perspective

Walter Williams does it brilliantly:

Was President Abraham Lincoln really for outlawing slavery? Let’s look at his words. In an 1858 letter, Lincoln said, “I have declared a thousand times, and now repeat that, in my opinion neither the General Government, nor any other power outside of the slave states, can constitutionally or rightfully interfere with slaves or slavery where it already exists.” … Debating Sen. Stephen Douglas, Lincoln said, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes nor of qualifying them to hold office nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”

What about Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation? Here are his words: “I view the matter (of slaves’ emancipation) as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion.” …

Lincoln did articulate a view of secession that would have been heartily endorsed by the Confederacy: “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. … Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can may revolutionize and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.” Lincoln expressed that view in an 1848 speech in the U.S. House of Representatives, supporting the secession of Texas from Mexico.

Why didn’t Lincoln share the same feelings about Southern secession? Following the money might help with an answer. Throughout most of our nation’s history, the only sources of federal revenue were excise taxes and tariffs. During the 1850s, tariffs amounted to 90 percent of federal revenue. Southern ports paid 75 percent of tariffs in 1859. What “responsible” politician would let that much revenue go? [“Historical Ignorance II,” creators.com, July 22, 2015]

(There’s more in William Sullivan’s “Lincoln vs. Lee: How History Is Distorted to Preserve Legends,” American Thinker, August 1, 2015.)

Yes, it can be asserted (with some degree of accuracy) that slavery was the proximate cause of the Civil War, because it was the issue of slavery that brought to a head the longstanding tension between North and South. But the leaders of the South also had a righteous cause, in principle: the cause of constitutional government. This is from my post, “The Southern Secession Reconsidered“:

What tends to be forgotten is the South’s pre-Civil War stance with respect to the central government. Southern resistance to the centralization of political power, and to the central government’s unconstitutional exercises of power, long pre-dated the Southern secession and was founded on a valid interpretation of the Constitution.

The Civil War, as a forcible act of reunification, is defensible only insofar as a main result was the end of slavery in the United States. On constitutional grounds, however, the Southern secession was valid and should not have been contested. [Chapter and verse follow.]

My current view of the Constitution — “How Libertarians Ought to Think About the Constitution” — is more cynical and sweeping:

What does all of this mean for secession? Here it is, from the beginning and by the numbers:

1. The Constitution was a contract, but not a contract between “the people.” It was a contract drawn by a small fraction of the populace of twelve States, and put into effect by a small fraction of the populace of nine States….

2. Despite their status as “representatives of the people,” the various fractions of the populace that drafted and ratified the Constitution had no moral authority to bind all of their peers, and certainly no moral authority to bind future generations….

3. The Constitution was and is binding only in the way that a debt to a gangster who demands “protection money” is binding. It was and is binding because state actors have the power to enforce it, as they see fit to interpret it….

4. The Constitution contains provisions that can be and sometimes have been applied to advance liberty. But such applications have depended on the aims and whims of those then in positions of power.

5. It is convenient to appeal to the Constitution in the cause of liberty … but that doesn’t change the fact that the Constitution was not and never will be a law enacted by “the people” of the United States or any State thereof.

6. Any person and any government in the United States may therefore, in principle, reject the statutes, executive orders, and judicial holdings of the United States government (or any government) as non-binding.

7. Secession is one legitimate form of rejection….

8. An  act of secession may be put down — through legal process or force of arms — but that doesn’t alter the (limited) legitimacy of the act.

9. Given the preceding, any act of secession is no less legitimate than was the adoption of the Constitution.

10. The legitimacy of an act of secession isn’t colored by its proximate cause, whether that cause is a desire to preserve slavery, or to escape oppressive taxation and regulation by the central government, or to live in a civil society that is governed by the Golden Rule. The proximate cause must be evaluated on its own merits, or lack thereof.

If the feds continue their assault on liberty, secession will become an increasingly attractive option. There are other options, including de facto secession.

Return to the top of this post.

Signature

More about Social Norms and Liberty

I recently revised my page, “Social Norms and Liberty,” and announced that revision in this post. I say in the post that “social norms — long-standing and voluntarily evolved — [are] the bedrock of a truly libertarian order.” Neither the page nor the post is meant to stand alone in supporting that proposition. Many of the posts listed at the bottom of the page are meant to do that.

But I fear that I’ve never been clear enough about which social norms foster liberty. Thus the following rough taxonomy of social norms and their relationship to each other and to liberty:

Taxonomy of social norms

Liberty is attainable where civil society prevails — where there is in fact and spirit a regime of willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. Such a regime allows for a minimal state, one that is limited to the protection of citizens from predators, foreign and domestic, who commit (or would commit) prohibited acts.

How do I know when someone isn’t to be trusted with my liberty? When he habitually signals — by deeds, words, or allegiances — the rejection of core social norms that conduce to liberty.

I do not distinguish between “personal” and “official” behavior. The actions of tyrants belie whatever honeyed words they use to justify those actions. A politician like Obama, for example, is as much of a tyrant (if less murderous) as a Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Castro — his election by “the people” and his rhetoric about “fairness,” etc., to the contrary notwithstanding. His policies are destructive of economic and social liberty, and may yet prove destructive of the physical liberty of Americans. Those who adulate and enable him (and his ilk) are simply not to be trusted, even if their adulation and support are naive.

The same goes for anyone in this country who adheres to a version of Islam that professes jihad against America and Americans. Any such person (or group) may be “American” in man-made law, but he or she is no more to be respected or trusted than a murdering, drug-pushing, woman-beating gang member.

*     *     *

Related reading: Theodore Dalrymple, “The Simple Truth about J.S. Mill’s Simple Truth,” Library of Law and Liberty, July 20, 2015

*     *     *

Related posts — everything listed at “Social Norms and Liberty,” but especially:

Facets of Liberty
“We the People” and Big Government

Signature

Social Norms and Liberty

I often refer to social norms — long-standing and voluntarily evolved — as the bedrock of a truly libertarian order. This page serves as a permanent home for my views about social norms. It includes a long list of posts about social norms, liberty, libertarianism, and the destructive role of government.

Marriage: Privatize It and Revitalize It

REVISED 07/15/15 (AS NOTED BELOW)

Privatize marriage. That’s the standard libertarian response to the dispute about same-sex marriage. The idea is to get government out of the marriage business by letting couples (and larger groups, I suppose) enter into contracts without government licensing. Such contracts might be styled marriage contracts, civil unions, cohabitation agreements, domestic partnership agreements, or what have you. But they would be private contracts, entered into by consenting adults without government’s permission or imprimatur.

I used to oppose the privatization of marriage because I believed, naively, that it would be protected by government. By “marriage” I mean the ages-old institution through which heterosexual couples conjoined their lives — an institution that arose without benefit of government, and which government has subverted.

I now believe privatization to be a good idea because a majority of the Supreme Court has made a mockery of marriage with its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. As a private institution, marriage would be accorded more respect than it will be accorded as a definitional whim of five justices.

That’s only the latest bit of damage caused by government. Consider the state of affairs in the United States: a high divorce rate (even if it’s somewhat lower than a few decades ago), rampant serial cohabitation, and a rising out-of-wedlock birth rate. All of this, and more, can be laid to the easing of divorce laws, programs that encourage mothers to work outside the home, and programs that encourage illegitimacy and discourage parental responsibility (e.g., AFDC, CHIP, SNAP, PPACA, and extended unemployment benefits).

Marriage — “thanks” to government — is a far cry from what it was and should be: a lifetime commitment to a spouse; the raising of children to be moral, hard-working citizens; the creation and continuation of family ties that bring with them the joy of belonging and understood obligations to help each other through hard times, unto death. Marriage is (or was), in other words, a binding force for good — a force that has been undermined by government through actions ranging from no-fault divorce laws to welfare for unwed mothers to the orchestrated attack by federal courts that culminated in Obergefell v. Hodges. Given the abdication of its responsibility to preserve, protect, and defend a vital institution, government should get out of the marriage business.

Marriage will be better served if loving couples reject government’s (now irrelevant and destructive) role and enter into private marriage contracts. Such contracts should be so thoroughly drawn that government wouldn’t have to approve or be a party to separations, divorces, property settlements, custodial arrangements, or any of the other messiness that goes on in family courts. Couples would carefully consider and agree ahead of time how to deal with certain contingencies, and make contractual provisions for them — including private counseling and arbitration. Perhaps the covenant marriage contract, which fosters marital and familial stability, would become the model for a large fraction of contracts. (Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and others would enter into even more stringent contracts, of course.)

How can government exit the marriage business? Rather easily, I believe. Each State still has the power to regulate marriage within its borders. A State could simply repeal its extant constitutional provisions and marriage laws and replace them with a fairly simple statute; for example [revised to eliminate the possibility of polygamy, and to remove all traces of governmental involvement]:

Marriage in this State is a private contractual arrangement between two mentally competent, adult persons whose consanguinity is of the 5th degree or greater, and who are not currently in a marriage.

This State shall not dictate the terms and conditions of marriage contracts, but each marriage contract must specify:

  • conditions (if any) for separation and divorce
  • provisions for financial support, the division of property, and the custody of children in the event of separation or divorce
  • obligations of the parties with respect to any children from a previous marriage
  • provisions for private counseling, and the arbitration of disputes arising under the marriage contract.  (If the parties are still in dispute after private proceedings, either or both of them may initiate a civil action, but there will be no special courts devoted to marital disputes and related matters.)

Every marriage contract shall be witnessed by two mentally competent adults.

The signing of a marriage contract, in the sole discretion of the parties thereto, may be preceded, accompanied, or followed by a ceremony and/or celebration, which shall be held in a private home, other private location, or place of religious worship. In accordance with the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution, neither this State nor the government of the United States may require any person, organization, or religious institution to perform or host a marriage ceremony and/or celebration.

No marriage ceremony or celebration shall be held in or on property owned, leased, or otherwise controlled by this State or any political subdivision or entity of this State.

No official of this State or of any political subdivision or entity of this State, acting in his or her official capacity, shall witness a marriage contract or perform or host a marriage ceremony or celebration.

In accordance with the First, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, neither this State nor the government of the United States may require a person to witness a marriage contract against his or her will. It shall be the responsibility of the parties to a contract to obtain willing witnesses.

*     *     *

Related posts:

The Marriage Contract Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values Same-Sex Marriage “Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage Marriage and Children Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty “Family Values,” Liberty, and the State The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm Surrender? Hell No! Posner the Fatuous Getting “Equal Protection” Right The Writing on the Wall How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America

Signature

The Tenor of the Times

Below are some links that I’ve collected about the culture war, political correctness, political hypocrisy, and other disturbing features of the contemporary scene. I don’t agree with everything said by the writers, but I believe that they are broadly right about the madness into which America seems to be rapidly descending.

Each link is followed by an excerpt of the piece that is linked. The excerpt — usually but not always the lede — is meant to entice you to follow the link. I urge you to do so.

*     *     *

Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky, “Author Retracts Study of Changing Minds on Same-Sex Marriage after Colleague Admits Data Were Faked,” Retraction Watch, May 20, 2015 (et seq.):

In what can only be described as a remarkable and swift series of events, one of the authors of a much-ballyhooed Science paper claiming that short conversations could change people’s minds on same-sex marriage is retracting it following revelations that the data were faked by his co-author. [Leftists love to fake data to make political points (e.g., economics and climate studies). — TEA]

Jason Morgan, “Dissolving America,” American Thinker, June 29, 2015

The instant media consensus is in: the Confederate flag atop the South Carolina statehouse has got to go.  The battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, we are told, just doesn’t represent who we are as a nation anymore.

But if we are going to take the Confederate flag down because it no longer represents us, then there is no reason why we shouldn’t take the American flag down, too.  Not just from the government buildings in South Carolina, but from every home, ship, office, and church throughout the entire American territory.  Because neither flag has anything to do with who we are anymore.  Old Glory is now just as much a meaningless relic as the republic that created it — as obsolete as the Stars and Bars became in April of 1865.

Bill Vallicella, “SCOTUS and Benedict,” Maverick Philosopher, June 30, 2015:

[Quoting Rod Dreher]:

It is time for what I call the Benedict Option. In his 1982 book After Virtue, the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us. We who want to live by the traditional virtues, MacIntyre said, have to pioneer new ways of doing so in community. We await, he said “a new — and doubtless very different — St. Benedict.”

So now you are out in the desert or the forest or in some isolated place free of the toxic influences of a society in collapse.  The problem is that you are now a very easy target for the fascists.  You and yours are all in one place, far away from the rest of society and its infrastructure.  All the fascists have to do is trump up some charges, of child-abuse, of gun violations, whatever.  The rest of society considers you kooks and benighted bigots and won’t be bothered if you are wiped off the face of the earth.  You might go the way of the Branch Davidians.

Heather Mac Donald, “The Shameful Liberal Exploitation of the Charleston Massacre,” National Review, July 1, 2015:

In fact, white violence against blacks is dwarfed by black on white violence. In 2012, blacks committed 560,600 acts of violence against whites (excluding homicide), and whites committed 99,403 acts of violence (excluding homicide) against blacks, according to data from the National Crime Victimization Survey provided to the author. Blacks, in other words, committed 85 percent of the non-homicide interracial crimes of violence between blacks and whites, even though they are less than 13 percent of the population. Both the absolute number of incidents and the rate of black-on-white violence are therefore magnitudes higher than white-on-black violence. There is no white race war going on.

Steve McCann, “America’s Destiny in the Balance,” American Thinker, July 1, 2015:

Beginning in the 1930’s, under the aegis of Franklin Roosevelt, the nation began a drift to the left as a reaction to the Great Depression.  However, those truly committed to socialist/Marxist philosophy and tactics remained in the shadows until the 1960’s.  The Viet Nam war protests unleashed far more than just a demand for an end to the war.  Those that blamed America for all manner of alleged sins in the past and determined to transform the United States into a socialist/Marxist nirvana were able to step out from behind the shadows and enter the mainstream of national legitimacy.  This swarm of locusts soon enveloped the higher levels of academia spawning countless clones to further infiltrate all strata of society — most notably the mainstream media, the entertainment complex and the ultimate target: the Democratic Party.  These vital segments of the culture are now instruments of indoctrination, propaganda and political power.

Victoria Razzi, “Asian American Studies Professors Stay Silent on Asian vs. Black Integration,” The College Fix, July 1, 2015:

An 80-year-old Duke University professor recently argued that Asian Americans have integrated into America better than African Americans, a controversial and contentious assertion that caused uproar and prompted the scholar to be labeled a racist.

Eugene Slavin, “The White Privilege Lie,” American Thinker, July 1, 2015:

Of all the invectives launched against the United States by the resurgent American Left, the charge that in America, White Privilege reigns supreme is the most insidious and culturally ruinous.

Its intent is unambiguous: leftists perpetuate the White Privilege lie to smear America and its institutions as inherently racist, and therefore unworthy of adulation and in need of fundamental socioeconomic transformation.

David Limbaugh, “I Told You Things Are Getting Crazier,” CNSNews.com, July 7, 2015:

The world is upside down, inside out, sideways, crazy, nutso. Bad is good; up is down. Left is right; right is wrong. Evil is good; insanity is sanity. Abnormal is normal. Circles are squares. Hot is cold. Luke warm is red hot — among Republicans, anyway. Common sense is uncommon. The world is otherworldly. Dissent is “hate.” Diversity means conformity. The good guys are the bad guys; virtue is vice; sophistry is intellectualism; jerks are celebrated; debauchery is glorified; the holy is debauched. Let me share some of these headlines, which speak for themselves — loudly and depressingly.

Robert Joyner, “The Hypocrisy of #Black Lives Matter, July 4th EditionTheden, July 9, 2015:

As Theden has argued before, the Black Lives Matter movement is one that very clearly does not care about its own stated goals. The name implies that the movement exists to protect and enrich the lives of blacks, but it spends its time protesting often spurious cases of police brutality and, more recently, the flying of “offensive” flags. It is conspicuously silent on the number one threat to black lives in America, which is other blacks. The movement routinely hectors whites, but frankly the preponderance of evidence shows that whites already value black lives more than blacks do themselves.

Fred Reed, “‘Payback’s a Bitch’: Rural Wisdom and the Gathering Storm,” Fred on Everything, July 9, 2015:

The furor over the Confederate flag, think I, has little to do with the Confederate flag, which is a pretext, an uninvolved bystander. Rather it is about a seething anger in the United States that we must not mention. It is the anger of people who see everything they are and believe under attack by people they aren’t and do not want to be—their heritage, their religion, their values and way of life all mocked and even made criminal.

Bill Vallicella, “Is Reason a White Male Euro-Christian Construct?,” Maverick Philosopher, July 10, 2015:

[Quoting John D. Caputo]:

White is not “neutral.” “Pure” reason is lily white, as if white is not a color or is closest to the purity of the sun, and everything else is “colored.” Purification is a name for terror and deportation, and “white” is a thick, dense, potent cultural signifier that is closely linked to rationalism and colonialism. What is not white is not rational. So white is philosophically relevant and needs to be philosophically critiqued — it affects what we mean by “reason” — and “we” white philosophers cannot ignore it.

This is truly depressing stuff.  It illustrates the rarefied, pseudo-intellectual stupidity to which leftist intellectuals routinely succumb, and the level to which humanities departments in our universities have sunk.

It’s all depressing. Have a nice day.

Signature

The Unemployment Rate Isn’t 5.3 Percent, and It Didn’t Drop in June

The official unemployment rate dropped from 5.5 to 5.3 percent between May and June, while the real unemployment rate rose from 11.7 to 11.9 percent.

How can I say that the real unemployment rate is almost 12 percent, even though the official rate is only 5.3 percent? Easily. Just follow this trail of definitions, provided by the official purveyor of unemployment statistics, the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Unemployed persons (Current Population Survey)
Persons aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.

Unemployment rate
The unemployment rate represents the number unemployed as a percent of the labor force.

Labor force (Current Population Survey)
The labor force includes all persons classified as employed or unemployed in accordance with the definitions contained in this glossary.

Labor force participation rate
The labor force as a percent of the civilian noninstitutional population.

Civilian noninstitutional population (Current Population Survey)
Included are persons 16 years of age and older residing in the 50 States and the District of Columbia who are not inmates of institutions (for example, penal and mental facilities, homes for the aged), and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces.

In short, if you are 16 years of age and older, not confined to an institution or on active duty in the armed forces, but have not recently made specific efforts to find employment, you are not (officially) a member of the labor force. And if you are not (officially) a member of the labor force because you have given up looking for work, you are not (officially) unemployed — according to the BLS. Of course, you are really unemployed, but your unemployment is well disguised by the BLS’s contorted definition of unemployment.

What has happened is this: Since the first four months of 2000, when the labor-force participation rate peaked at 67.3 percent, it has declined to 62.6 percent:

Labor force participation rate
Source: See next graph.

Why the decline, which had came to a halt during G.W. Bush’s second term but resumed in late 2008? The slowdown of 2000 (coincident with the bursting of the dot-com bubble) and the shock of 9/11 can account for the decline from 2000 to 2004, as workers chose to withdraw from the labor force when faced with dimmer employment prospects. But what about the sharper decline that began near the end of Bush’s second term?

There we see not only the demoralizing effects of the Great Recession but also the lure of incentives to refrain from work, namely, extended unemployment benefits, the relaxation of welfare rules, the aggressive distribution of food stamps, and “free” healthcare” for an expanded Medicaid enrollment base and 20-somethings who live in their parents’ basements.* Need I add that both the prolongation of the Great Recession and the enticements to refrain from work are Obama’s doing? (That’s on the supply side. On the demand side, of course, there are the phony and even negative effects of “stimulus” spending, the chilling effects of regime uncertainty, which has persisted beyond the official end of the Great Recession, and the expansion of government spending.)

If the labor-force participation rate had remained at its peak of 67.3 percent, so that the disguised unemployed was no longer disguised, the official unemployment rate would have reached 13.1 percent in October 2009, as against the nominal peak of 10 percent. Further, instead of declining to the phony rate of 5.3 percent in June 2015, the official unemployment rate would have stayed hovered between 11.7 percent and 13.6 percent.

In sum, the real unemployment rate was 3.1 points above the nominal rate in October 2009; the real rate is now 6.6 points above the nominal rate. The growing disparity between the real and nominal unemployment rates is evident in this graph:

Actual vs nominal unemployment rate
Derived from SeriesLNS12000000, Seasonally Adjusted Employment Level; SeriesLNS11000000, Seasonally Adjusted Civilian Labor Force Level; and Series LNS11300000, Seasonally Adjusted Civilian labor force participation rate. All are available at BLS, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.

_________

* Contrary to some speculation, the labor-force participation rate is not declining because older workers are retiring earlier. The participation rate among workers 55 and older rose between 2002 and 2012. The decline is concentrated among workers under the age of 55, and especially workers in the 16-24 age bracket. (See this table at BLS.gov.) Why? My conjecture: The Great Recession caused a shakeout of marginal (low-skill) workers, many of whom simply dropped out of the labor market. And it became easier for them to drop out because, under Obamacare, many of them became eligible for Medicaid and many others enjoy prolonged coverage (until age 26) under their parents’ health plans.

*     *     *

Related posts:

Are We Mortgaging Our Children’s Future?
In the Long Run We Are All Poorer
Mr. Greenspan Doth Protest Too Much
Rationing and Health Care
The Fed and Business Cycles
The Commandeered Economy
The Perils of Nannyism: The Case of Obamacare
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
More about the Perils of Obamacare
Health Care “Reform”: The Short of It
The Mega-Depression
I Want My Country Back
The “Forthcoming Financial Collapse”
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
The Stagnation Thesis
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Understanding Hayek
Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
Don’t Just Stand There, “Do Something”
The Commandeered Economy
The Burden of Government
Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in the U.S. of A.
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
The Economic Outlook in Brief
Is Taxation Slavery? (yes)
Taxes Matter
Economic Horror Stories: The Great “Demancipation” and Economic Stagnation
Economics: A Survey (also here)
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math
The True Multiplier
Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality
Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
McCloskey on Piketty
The Rahn Curve Revisited
The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy
How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It
The Real Burden of Government
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
Obamanomics in Action (the first three graphs and related discussion)

Signature

Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy

The Almighty is not a liberal… The Almighty is the driving force for the entire universe and the universe is not a very liberal place. That is what the modern world seems not to understand….

Simon Mawer, The Gospel of Judas

*     *     *

Complaints about privilege are really complaints about power. How did privilege and power come to be conflated? Let’s begin with an authoritative definition* of privilege:

A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by a person, or a body or class of persons, beyond the common advantages of others; an exemption in a certain case from certain burdens or liabilities.

Are all privileges unjust? Do privileges necessarily confer power or arise from it?

Good Privilege and Days of Yore

There was a time when most privileges were neither unjust nor a sign of power: when younger men ceded their seats on buses to older persons and pregnant women, when a man could hold open a door for a woman and be thanked for it instead of being repaid with a stony glare or silence; when a fit person would cede a seat to a crippled one; and so on.

Was there anything wrong with such behaviors? Only a revisionist who views the world through contemporary mores (of a politically correct hue)  would think so. Such behaviors were in fact widely practiced and accepted as fitting and proper. They were not condescending or demeaning. They did not confer power or arise from it, except to the extent that persons who had the power to grant them did so voluntarily and out of pity or respect for those who received them. But the grantors’ power was only situational, not general. A better word for it would be opportunity, as in the opportunity to do a good deed for a fellow human being.

The Decline of Civility and the Rise of Big Government

Such behaviors have gone out of style, or nearly so, not because they were considered improper but because manners have coarsened. Manners have coarsened because people — not all people but too many of them — have become self-centered and inconsiderate of others. My view is that the rise of the “me” generation in the 1960s curtailed instances of public kindness, thus producing fewer instances of good manners that might be copied and repeated, thus leading to the further recession of good manners, etc.

The “me” generation didn’t arise spontaneously. Its rise was an integral part of the breakdown of the social fabric that big government has abetted and encouraged. What breakdown? Anthony Esolen describes it all too well:

[W]hen we ask, “Why are the churches empty?” we might also ask, “Why are our public buildings so ugly? Why do we no longer have any folk art to speak of? Why do neighbors not know one another? Why are there no dances for everyone of all ages to enjoy? Why is the sight of a young lad and lass holding hands as rare now as public indecency used to be? Why is no one getting married? Why have family trees turned into family sticks, or family briars?

“Why are there so many feral young men and women, tattooed and slovenly, loitering about shopping malls or slouching towards the internet for their porn? Why are there so many old neighborhoods, roads, and bridges crumbling, while millions of young men are unemployed or, worse, unemployable? Why do so many teachers believe it their duty to tear down the glories of their own civilization, calling it ‘critical thinking,’ without a passing thought as to what will remain in their place? Who are what used to be called the ‘leading men’ of an ordinary town? Are there any? Who are what used to be called ‘city fathers’? Are there any?

“Where are the songs of yesteryear? Where are the poems? Where are the holidays? What happened to the parades and the marching bands?

“What virtue do we honor, other than what we call tolerance, which turns out not to be tolerance at all but the ‘virtue’ of demanding that there should be no honor granted to virtue?” [“What Is a Healthy Culture?,” The Imaginative Conservative, June 16, 2015]

Walter Williams puts it this way:

A civilized society’s first line of defense is not the law, police and courts but customs, traditions, rules of etiquette and moral values. These behavioral norms — mostly transmitted by example, word of mouth and religious teachings — represent a body of wisdom distilled over the ages through experience and trial and error. They include important thou-shalt-nots, such as thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal and thou shalt not cheat. They also include all those courtesies that have traditionally been associated with ladylike and gentlemanly conduct.

The failure to fully transmit these values and traditions to subsequent generations represents one of the failings of what journalist Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.” People in this so-called great generation, who lived during the trauma of the Great Depression and fought World War II, not only failed to transmit the moral values of their parents but also are responsible for government programs that will deliver economic chaos….

For nearly three-quarters of a century, the nation’s liberals have waged war on traditional values, customs and morality. Our youths have been counseled that there are no moral absolutes. Instead, what’s moral or immoral is a matter of personal opinion. During the 1960s, the education establishment began to challenge and undermine lessons children learned from their parents and Sunday school with fads such as “values clarification.” So-called sex education classes are simply indoctrination that undermines family and church strictures against premarital sex. Lessons of abstinence were considered passe and replaced with lessons about condoms, birth control pills and abortions. Further undermining of parental authority came with legal and extralegal measures to assist teenage abortions with neither parental knowledge nor parental consent….

If it were only the economic decline threatening our future, there might be hope. It’s the moral decline that spells our doom. [“Culture and Social Pathology,” creators.com, June 16, 2015]

Williams hints at the role of government in the sundering of the social fabric. Let’s spell it out. As government has become all-powerful and crushingly intrusive (with respect to Americans, if not with respect to their enemies) personal responsibility and the civilizing bonds of society have been replaced by dependency on the state and the use of its power to advance the interest of some at the expense of all. (See “The Interest-Group Paradox” for more about this phenomenon and its folly.)

The privileges that are accorded out of kindness, of which I wrote earlier, arise from civil society, and they are dying with it. People seem less willing than they were in the past to accord such privileges to others.

Privilege as a Dirty Word

With the withering away of civil society, privilege is now thought of mainly as something that someone demands or takes because of his rank, socioeconomic status, gender, or race. Privilege-taking was widely scorned until the arrival of the age of identity politics. Consider the phrase “rank has its privileges” (RHIP), which is a term of derogation that applies where persons of high status (judges, elected officials, corporate executives, military “brass”) enjoy perquisites or escape punishments because of their status.

Then there’s the case of the “privileged brat” — a young person who acts haughtily toward others. This is usually someone whose parents are affluent and on whom the parents have lavished money (or the things that it can buy) — someone, in other words, who has come to think of himself as “special” and whose wishes are to be taken as commands by others. I could add examples, but they would be of the same type: the privilege-taker who exploits his status to demand things of others.

Who are today’s dominant privilege-takers?

Unjust Stereotyping

Is a white person — better yet, a straight, white male of European descent (preferably non-Mediterranean) — necessarily privileged in either sense discussed here: a beneficiary of privileges voluntarily accorded by others or a privilege-taker who demands and receives favors based on his race, gender, and ethnicity?

If you select either answer you’re making the grievously wrong generalization that all heterosexual, white males of non-Mediterranean European descent (hetwhims for short) are not alike. Further, many hetwhims who seem to be “privileged” owe their privilege to causes other than gender, race, and ethnicity: Intelligence, other innate traits, and hard work should come to mind. (If you say, factually, that whites of European descent are generally smarter than, say, persons of African descent, you are unlikely to be a person who pigeonholes all hetwhims as “privileged.”)

Let’s make it real by asking if the following types of hetwhim are privileged:

  • a redneck hetwhim of below-average intelligence who comes from a poor Appalachian family
  • any hetwhim of average or below average intelligence who comes from a family with below-average income
  • a hetwhim who has been denied a job or promotion for which he was, objectively, the best candidate because he was competing with non-hetwhims, especially blacks, women, or — nowadays — homosexuals
  • a hetwhim who has a mental or physical condition that makes it impossible for him to enjoy what passes for a normal life
  • a hetwhim who is actively discriminated against in a university setting — as a student, professor, or prospective professor — because of his gender, color, and sexual orientation and not because of his actual beliefs or qualifications
  • one of the tens of millions of hetwhims in the United States who simply does the best he can with his mental and physical endowment, and whose achievements are due to those endowments and his efforts, plain and simple.

Blaming any of them for what befalls others — usually because of their own faults and failings — is nothing less than blaming the blameless. (See my post, “Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck.”)

The Hypocrisy of the Truly Privileged

The stereotyping of hetwims as privileged is laughable when it is done by affluent hetwims in the media and academia. It is especially laughable when it is done by privileged members of the so-called victim groups: the president and his wife, many cabinet members and other high officials, many members of Congress, their counterparts at the State and local levels, a disproportionately high percentage of functionaries at all levels of government, and on and on throughout the ranks of business, the media, and academia. Beginning with the president, these privileged masses include more than a fair share of mediocrities who would not be where they are if they had to rely on their natural endowments, and if they could not exploit the misplaced guilt that underlies political correctness, affirmative action, and other modes of injustice.

“Injustice” is an apt word:

The obsession of seeing everything in race-coloured terms is itself racist. Anti-racism pursed by zealots transforms itself into the very vice it deplores. This is the cost of identity politics, and its close bedmate, victimology enterprises — the desire to judge, define, represent and indict the individual by the group he or she belongs to. Every human being’s experience in its infinite particularities and potentials transcends category. [Rex Murphy, “‘White Privilege’ on the March,” The National Post, May 15, 2015]

Another apt word is “payback.” The non-victims of non-privilege — with the considerable aid of their privileged allies on the left — are in the process of paying back tens of millions of hetwhims for their imagined sins. Payback may be cathartically pleasurable, but it isn’t justice — social, racial, or other. It’s just plain vindictiveness.

What about “fairness,” which is a favorite word of the racism-sexism-social-justice warriors? “Fairness” is the first refuge of the envious and their morally corrupt allies on the left. Whenever I hear “It just isn’t fair to [insert name of “victimized” group],” I think of a petulant child who lost a game because of his own lack of skill.

*     *     *

Related posts:

Refuting Rousseau and His Progeny
Liberty and “Fairness”
The Adolescent Rebellion Syndrome
Academic Bias
The F-Scale Revisited
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
The Interest-Group Paradox
The State of the Union 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
Sexist Nonsense
Inside-Outside
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Government vs. Community
Social Justice
The Left’s Agenda
More Social Justice
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
An Economist’s Special Pleading: Affirmative Action for the Ugly
Nature is Unfair
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Constitutional Confusion
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Genetic Kinship and Society
America: Past, Present, and Future
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case
“Conversing” about Race
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Political Correctness vs. Civility
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
Defining Liberty
“We the People” and Big Government
Evolution and Race
The Culture War
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
Round Up the Usual Suspects
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
My View of Libertarianism
Crime Revisited
Getting “Equal Protection” Right
A Cop-Free World?
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
Tolerance
The Real Burden of Government
No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
The Gaystapo at Work
The Gaystapo and Islam
1963: The Year Zero

__________
* The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (New York: The Oxford University Press, Sixth Printing in the United States, September 1973), Volume 2, p. 2307, at 3.

Signature

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XV)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

*     *     *

Victor Davis Hanson writes:

This descent into the Dark Ages will not end well. It never has in the past. [“Building the New Dark-Age Mind,” Works and Days, June 8, 2015]

Hamson’s chronicle of political correctness and doublespeak echoes one theme of my post, “1963: The Year Zero.”

*     *     *

Timothy Taylor does the two-handed economist act:

It may be that the question of “does inequality slow down economic growth” is too broad and diffuse to be useful. Instead, those of us who care about both the rise in inequality and the slowdown in economic growth should be looking for policies to address both goals, without presuming that substantial overlap will always occur between them. [“Does Inequality Reduce Economic Growth: A Skeptical View,” The Conversible Economist, May 29, 2015]

The short answer to the question “Does inequality reduce growth?” is no. See my post “Income Inequality and Economic Growth.” Further, even if inequality does reduce growth, the idea of reducing inequality (through income redistribution, say) to foster growth is utilitarian and therefore morally egregious. (See “Utilitarianism vs. Liberty.”)

*     *     *

In “Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge” I write:

[L]eftists who deign to offer an economic justification for redistribution usually fall back on the assumption of the diminishing marginal utility (DMU) of income and wealth. In doing so, they commit (at least) four errors.

The first error is the fallacy of misplaced concreteness which is found in the notion of utility. Have you ever been able to measure your own state of happiness? I mean measure it, not just say that you’re feeling happier today than you were when your pet dog died. It’s an impossible task, isn’t it? If you can’t measure your own happiness, how can you (or anyone) presume to measure and aggregate the happiness of millions or billions of individual human beings? It can’t be done.

Which brings me to the second error, which is an error of arrogance. Given the impossibility of measuring one person’s happiness, and the consequent impossibility of measuring and comparing the happiness of many persons, it is pure arrogance to insist that “society” would be better off if X amount of income or wealth were transferred from Group A to Group B….

The third error lies in the implicit assumption embedded in the idea of DMU. The assumption is that as one’s income or wealth rises one continues to consume the same goods and services, but more of them….

All of that notwithstanding, the committed believer in DMU will shrug and say that at some point DMU must set in. Which leads me to the fourth error, which is an error of introspection….  [If over the years] your real income has risen by a factor of two or three or more — and if you haven’t messed up your personal life (which is another matter) — you’re probably incalculably happier than when you were just able to pay your bills. And you’re especially happy if you put aside a good chunk of money for your retirement, the anticipation and enjoyment of which adds a degree of utility (such a prosaic word) that was probably beyond imagining when you were in your twenties, thirties, and forties.

Robert Murphy agrees:

[T]he problem comes in when people sometimes try to use the concept of DMU to justify government income redistribution. Specifically, the argument is that (say) the billionth dollar to Bill Gates has hardly any marginal utility, while the 10th dollar to a homeless man carries enormous marginal utility. So clearly–the argument goes–taking a dollar from Bill Gates and giving it to a homeless man raises “total social utility.”

There are several serious problems with this type of claim. Most obvious, even if we thought it made sense to attribute units of utility to individuals, there is no reason to suppose we could compare them across individuals. For example, even if we thought a rich man had units of utility–akin to the units of his body temperature–and that the units declined with more money, and likewise for a poor person, nonetheless we have no way of placing the two types of units on the same scale….

In any event, this is all a moot point regarding the original question of interpersonal utility comparisons. Even if we thought individuals had cardinal utilities, it wouldn’t follow that redistribution would raise total social utility.

Even if we retreat to the everyday usage of terms, it still doesn’t follow as a general rule that rich people get less happiness from a marginal dollar than a poor person. There are many people, especially in the financial sector, whose self-esteem is directly tied to their earnings. And as the photo indicates, Scrooge McDuck really seems to enjoy money. Taking gold coins from Scrooge and giving them to a poor monk would not necessarily increase happiness, even in the everyday psychological sense. [“Can We Compare People’s Utilities?,” Mises Canada, May 22, 2015]

See also David Henderson’s “Murphy on Interpersonal Utility Comparisons” (EconLog, May 22, 2015) and Henderson’s earlier posts on the subject, to which he links. Finally, see my comment on an earlier post by Henderson, in which he touches on the related issue of cost-benefit analysis.

*     *     *

Here’s a slice of what Robert Tracinski has to say about “reform conservatism”:

The key premise of this non-reforming “reform conservatism” is the idea that it’s impossible to really touch the welfare state. We might be able to alter its incentives and improve its clanking machinery, but only if we loudly assure everyone that we love it and want to keep it forever.

And there’s the problem. Not only is this defeatist at its core, abandoning the cause of small government at the outset, but it fails to address the most important problem facing the country.

“Reform conservatism” is an answer to the question: how can we promote the goal of freedom and small government—without posing any outright challenge to the welfare state? The answer: you can’t. All you can do is tinker around the edges of Leviathan. And ultimately, it won’t make much difference, because it will all be overwelmed in the coming disaster. [“Reform Conservatism Is an Answer to the Wrong Question,” The Federalist, May 22, 2015]

Further, as I observe in “How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It,” the offerings of “reform conservatives”

may seem like reasonable compromises with the left’s radical positions. But they are reasonable compromises only if you believe that the left wouldn’t strive vigorously to undo them and continue the nation’s march toward full-blown state socialism. That’s the way leftists work. They take what they’re given and then come back for more, lying and worse all the way.

See also Arnold Kling’s “Reason Roundtable on Reform Conservatism” (askblog, May 22, 2015) and follow the links therein.

*     *     *

I’ll end this installment with a look at science and the anti-scientific belief in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.

Here’s Philip Ball in “The Trouble With Scientists“:

It’s likely that some researchers are consciously cherry-picking data to get their work published. And some of the problems surely lie with journal publication policies. But the problems of false findings often begin with researchers unwittingly fooling themselves: they fall prey to cognitive biases, common modes of thinking that lure us toward wrong but convenient or attractive conclusions. “Seeing the reproducibility rates in psychology and other empirical science, we can safely say that something is not working out the way it should,” says Susann Fiedler, a behavioral economist at the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in Bonn, Germany. “Cognitive biases might be one reason for that.”

Psychologist Brian Nosek of the University of Virginia says that the most common and problematic bias in science is “motivated reasoning”: We interpret observations to fit a particular idea. Psychologists have shown that “most of our reasoning is in fact rationalization,” he says. In other words, we have already made the decision about what to do or to think, and our “explanation” of our reasoning is really a justification for doing what we wanted to do—or to believe—anyway. Science is of course meant to be more objective and skeptical than everyday thought—but how much is it, really?

Whereas the falsification model of the scientific method championed by philosopher Karl Popper posits that the scientist looks for ways to test and falsify her theories—to ask “How am I wrong?”—Nosek says that scientists usually ask instead “How am I right?” (or equally, to ask “How are you wrong?”). When facts come up that suggest we might, in fact, not be right after all, we are inclined to dismiss them as irrelevant, if not indeed mistaken….

Given that science has uncovered a dizzying variety of cognitive biases, the relative neglect of their consequences within science itself is peculiar. “I was aware of biases in humans at large,” says [Chris] Hartgerink [of Tilburg University in the Netherlands], “but when I first ‘learned’ that they also apply to scientists, I was somewhat amazed, even though it is so obvious.”…

One of the reasons the science literature gets skewed is that journals are much more likely to publish positive than negative results: It’s easier to say something is true than to say it’s wrong. Journal referees might be inclined to reject negative results as too boring, and researchers currently get little credit or status, from funders or departments, from such findings. “If you do 20 experiments, one of them is likely to have a publishable result,” [Ivan] Oransky and [Adam] Marcus [who run the service Retraction Watch] write. “But only publishing that result doesn’t make your findings valid. In fact it’s quite the opposite.”9 [Nautilus, May 14, 2015]

Zoom to AGW. Robert Tracinski assesses the most recent bit of confirmation bias:

A lot of us having been pointing out one of the big problems with the global warming theory: a long plateau in global temperatures since about 1998. Most significantly, this leveling off was not predicted by the theory, and observed temperatures have been below the lowest end of the range predicted by all of the computerized climate models….

Why, change the data, of course!

Hence a blockbuster new report: a new analysis of temperature data since 1998 “adjusts” the numbers and magically finds that there was no plateau after all. The warming just continued….

How convenient.

It’s so convenient that they’re signaling for everyone else to get on board….

This is going to be the new party line. “Hiatus”? What hiatus? Who are you going to believe, our adjustments or your lying thermometers?…

The new adjustments are suspiciously convenient, of course. Anyone who is touting a theory that isn’t being borne out by the evidence and suddenly tells you he’s analyzed the data and by golly, what do you know, suddenly it does support his theory—well, he should be met with more than a little skepticism.

If we look, we find some big problems. The most important data adjustments by far are in ocean temperature measurements. But anyone who has been following this debate will notice something about the time period for which the adjustments were made. This is a time in which the measurement of ocean temperatures has vastly improved in coverage and accuracy as a whole new set of scientific buoys has come online. So why would this data need such drastic “correcting”?

As climatologist Judith Curry puts it:

The greatest changes in the new NOAA surface temperature analysis is to the ocean temperatures since 1998. This seems rather ironic, since this is the period where there is the greatest coverage of data with the highest quality of measurements–ARGO buoys and satellites don’t show a warming trend. Nevertheless, the NOAA team finds a substantial increase in the ocean surface temperature anomaly trend since 1998.

….

I realize the warmists are desperate, but they might not have thought through the overall effect of this new “adjustment” push. We’ve been told to take very, very seriously the objective data showing global warming is real and is happening—and then they announce that the data has been totally changed post hoc. This is meant to shore up the theory, but it actually calls the data into question….

All of this fits into a wider pattern: the global warming theory has been awful at making predictions about the data ahead of time. But it has been great at going backward, retroactively reinterpreting the data and retrofitting the theory to mesh with it. A line I saw from one commenter, I can’t remember where, has been rattling around in my head: “once again, the theory that predicts nothing explains everything.” [“Global Warming: The Theory That Predicts Nothing and Explains Everything,” The Federalist, June 8, 2015]

Howard Hyde also weighs in with “Climate Change: Where Is the Science?” (American Thinker, June 11, 2015).

Bill Nye, the so-called Science Guy, seems to epitomize the influence of ideology on “scientific knowledge.”  I defer to John Derbyshire:

Bill Nye the Science Guy gave a commencement speech at Rutgers on Sunday. Reading the speech left me thinking that if this is America’s designated Science Guy, I can be the nation’s designated swimsuit model….

What did the Science Guy have to say to the Rutgers graduates? Well, he warned them of the horrors of climate change, which he linked to global inequality.

We’re going to find a means to enable poor people to advance in their societies in countries around the world. Otherwise, the imbalance of wealth will lead to conflict and inefficiency in energy production, which will lead to more carbon pollution and a no-way-out overheated globe.

Uh, given that advanced countries use far more energy per capita than backward ones—the U.S.A. figure is thirty-four times Bangladesh’s—wouldn’t a better strategy be to keep poor countries poor? We could, for example, encourage all their smartest and most entrepreneurial people to emigrate to the First World … Oh, wait: we already do that.

The whole climate change business is now a zone of hysteria, generating far more noise—mostly of a shrieking kind—than its importance justifies. Opinions about climate change are, as Greg Cochran said, “a mark of tribal membership.” It is also the case, as Greg also said, that “the world is never going to do much about in any event, regardless of the facts.”…

When Ma Nature means business, stuff happens on a stupendously colossal scale.  And Bill Nye the Science Guy wants Rutgers graduates to worry about a 0.4ºC warming over thirty years? Feugh.

The Science Guy then passed on from the dubiously alarmist to the batshit barmy.

There really is no such thing as race. We are one species … We all come from Africa.

Where does one start with that? Perhaps by asserting that: “There is no such thing as states. We are one country.”

The climatological equivalent of saying there is no such thing as race would be saying that there is no such thing as weather. Of course there is such a thing as race. We can perceive race with at least three of our five senses, and read it off from the genome. We tick boxes for it on government forms: I ticked such a box for the ATF just this morning when buying a gun.

This is the Science Guy? The foundational text of modern biology bears the title On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Is biology not a science?

Darwin said that populations of a species long separated from each other will diverge in their biological characteristics, forming races. If the separation goes on long enough, any surviving races will diverge all the way to separate species. Was Ol’ Chuck wrong about that, Mr. Science Guy?

“We are one species”? Rottweilers and toy poodles are races within one species, a species much newer than ours; yet they differ mightily, not only in appearance but also—gasp!—in behavior, intelligence, and personality. [“Nye Lied, I Sighed,” Taki’s Magazine, May 21, 2015]

This has gone on long enough. Instead of quoting myself, I merely refer you to several related posts:

Demystifying Science
AGW: The Death Knell
Evolution and Race
The Limits of Science (II)
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
AGW in Austin?

Signature

1963: The Year Zero

[A] long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT…. Time makes more converts than reason.

Thomas Paine in Common Sense

If ignorance and passion are the foes of popular morality, it must be confessed that moral indifference is the malady of the cultivated classes. The modern separation of enlightenment and virtue, of thought and conscience, of the intellectual aristocracy from the honest and common crowd is the greatest danger that can threaten liberty.

Henri Frédéric Amiel, Journal

*     *     *

If, like me, you were an adult when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, you may think of his death as a watershed moment in American history. I say this not because I’m an admirer of Kennedy the man (I am not), but because American history seemed to turn a corner when Kennedy was murdered. To take the metaphor further, the corner marked the juncture of a sunny, tree-lined street (America from the end of World War II to November 22, 1963) and a dingy, littered street (America since November 22, 1963).

Changing the metaphor, I acknowledge that the first 18 years after V-J Day were by no means halcyon, but they were the spring that followed the long, harsh winter of the Great Depression and World War II. Yes, there was the Korean War, but that failure of political resolve was only a rehearsal for later debacles. McCarthyism, a political war waged (however clumsily) on America’s actual enemies, was benign compared with the war on civil society that began in the 1960s and continues to this day. The threat of nuclear annihilation, which those of you who were schoolchildren of the 1950s will remember well, had begun to subside with the advent of JFK’s military policy of flexible response, and seemed to evaporate with JFK’s resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis (however poorly he managed it). And for all of his personal faults, JFK was a paragon of grace, wit, and charm — a movie-star president — compared with his many successors, with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, who had been a real movie star.

What follows is an impression of America since November 22, 1963, when spring became a long, hot summer, followed by a dismal autumn and another long, harsh winter — not of deprivation, and perhaps not of war, but of rancor and repression.

This petite histoire begins with the Vietnam War and its disastrous mishandling by LBJ, its betrayal by the media, and its spawning of the politics of noise. “Protests” in public spaces and on campuses are a main feature of the politics of noise. In the new age of instant and sympathetic media attention to “protests,” civil and university authorities often refuse to enforce order. The media portray obstructive and destructive disorder as “free speech.” Thus do “protestors” learn that they can, with impunity, inconvenience and cow the masses who simply want to get on with their lives and work.

Whether “protestors” learned from rioters, or vice versa, they learned the same lesson. Authorities, in the age of Dr. Spock, lack the guts to use force, as necessary, to restore civil order. (LBJ’s decision to escalate gradually in Vietnam — “signaling” to Hanoi — instead of waging all-out war was of a piece with the “understanding” treatment of demonstrators and rioters.) Rioters learned another lesson — if a riot follows the arrest, beating, or death of a black person, it’s a “protest” against something (usually white-racist oppression, regardless of the facts), not wanton mayhem. After a lull of 21 years, urban riots resumed in 1964, and continue to this day.

LBJ’s “Great Society” marked the resurgence of FDR’s New Deal — with a vengeance — and the beginning of a long decline of America’s economic vitality. The combination of the Great Society (and its later extensions, such as Medicare Part D and Obamacare) with the rampant growth of regulatory activity has cut the rate of economic growth from 5 percent to 2 percent.  The entrepreneurial spirit has been crushed; dependency has been encouraged and rewarded; pension giveaways have bankrupted public treasuries across the land. America since 1963 has been visited by a perfect storm of economic destruction that seems to have been designed by America’s enemies.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 unnecessarily crushed property rights, along with freedom of association, to what end? So that a violent, dependent, Democrat-voting underclass could arise from the Great Society? So that future generations of privilege-seekers could cry “discrimination” if anyone dares to denigrate their “lifestyles”? There was a time when immigrants and other persons who seemed “different” had the good sense to strive for success and acceptance as good neighbors, employees, and merchants. But the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its various offspring — State and local as well as federal — are meant to short-circuit that striving and to force acceptance, whether or not a person has earned it. The vast, silent majority is caught between empowered privilege-seekers and powerful privilege-granters. The privilege-seekers and privilege-granters are abetted by dupes who have, as usual, succumbed to the people’s romance — the belief that government represents society.

Presidents, above all, like to think that they represent society. What they represent, of course, are their own biases and the interests to which they are beholden. Truman, Ike, and JFK were imperfect presidential specimens, but they are shining idols by contrast with most of their successors. The downhill slide from the Vietnam and the Great Society to Obamacare and lawlessness on immigration has been punctuated by many shameful episodes; for example:

  • LBJ — the botched war in Vietnam, repudiation of property rights and freedom of association (the Civil Rights Act)
  • Nixon — price controls, Watergate
  • Carter — dispiriting leadership and fecklessness in the Iran hostage crisis
  • Reagan — bugout from Lebanon, rescue of Social Security
  • Bush I — failure to oust Saddam when it could have been done easily, the broken promise about taxes
  • Clinton — bugout from Somalia, push for an early version of Obamacare, budget-balancing at the cost of defense, and perjury
  • Bush II — No Child Left Behind Act, Medicare Part D, the initial mishandling of Iraq, and Wall Street bailouts
  • Obama — stimulus spending, Obamacare, reversal of Bush II’s eventual success in Iraq, naive backing for the “Arab spring,”  acquiescence to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, unwillingness to acknowledge or do anything about the expansionist aims of Russia and China, neglect or repudiation of traditional allies (especially Israel), and refusal to take care that the immigration laws are executed faithfully.

Only Reagan’s defense buildup and its result — victory in the Cold War — stands out as a great accomplishment. But the victory was squandered: The “peace dividend” should have been peace through continued strength, not unpreparedness for the post 9/11 wars and the resurgence of Russia and China.

The war on defense has been accompanied by a war on science. The party that proclaims itself the party of science is anything but that. It is the party of superstitious, Luddite anti-science. Witness the embrace of extreme environmentalism, the arrogance of proclamations that AGW is “settled science,” unjustified fear of genetically modified foodstuffs, the implausible doctrine that race is nothing but a social construct, and on and on.

With respect to the nation’s moral well-being, the most destructive war of all has been the culture war, which assuredly began in the 1960s. Almost overnight, it seems, the nation was catapulted from the land of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Leave It to Beaver to the land of the free- filthy-speech movement, Altamont, Woodstock, Hair, and the unspeakably loud, vulgar, and violent offerings that are now plastered all over the air waves, the internet, theater screens, and “entertainment” venues.

Adherents of the ascendant culture esteem protest for its own sake, and have stock explanations for all perceived wrongs (whether or not they are wrongs): racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, hate, white privilege, inequality (of any kind), Wall  Street, climate change, Zionism, and so on.

Then there is the campaign to curtail freedom of speech. This purported beneficiaries of the campaign are the gender-confused and the easily offended (thus “microagressions” and “trigger warnings”). The true beneficiaries are leftists. Free speech is all right if it’s acceptable to the left. Otherwise, it’s “hate speech,” and must be stamped out. This is McCarthyism on steroids. McCarthy, at least, was pursuing actual enemies of liberty; today’s leftists are the enemies of liberty.

There’s a lot more, unfortunately. The organs of the state have been enlisted in an unrelenting campaign against civilizing social norms. As I say here,

we now have not just easy divorce, subsidized illegitimacy, and legions of non-mothering mothers, but also abortion, concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males, forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights), suppression of religion, absolution of pornography, and the encouragement of “alternative lifestyles” that feature disease, promiscuity, and familial instability. The state, of course, doesn’t act of its own volition. It acts at the behest of special interests — interests with a “cultural” agenda….  They are bent on the eradication of civil society — nothing less — in favor of a state-directed Rousseauvian dystopia from which morality and liberty will have vanished, except in Orwellian doublespeak.

If there are unifying themes in this petite histoire, they are the death of common sense and the rising tide of moral vacuity — thus the epigrams at the top of the post. The history of the United States since 1963 supports the proposition that the nation is indeed going to hell in a handbasket.

Read on.

*     *     *

Related reading:

*     *     *

Related posts:

Refuting Rousseau and His Progeny
Killing Free Speech in Order to Save It
The Adolescent Rebellion Syndrome
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
Academic Bias
The F-Scale Revisited
The Modern Presidency: A Tour of American History
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Liberalism and Sovereignty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Getting It Wrong and Right about Iran
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The State of the Union 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
Sexist Nonsense
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Delusions of Preparedness
Inside-Outside
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Is the Anger Gone?
Government vs. Community
Social Justice
The Left’s Agenda
More Social Justice
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
The Public-School Swindle
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
Transnationalism and National Defense
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
The Left and Its Delusions
In Defense of Wal-Mart
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
An Economist’s Special Pleading: Affirmative Action for the Ugly
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Obamacare: Neither Necessary nor Proper
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Constitutional Confusion
Obamacare, Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death-Spiral of Liberty
Obamacare and Zones of Liberty
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Obama’s Big Lie
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Genetic Kinship and Society
America: Past, Present, and Future
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case
“Conversing” about Race
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Fighting Modernity
Political Correctness vs. Civility
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
AGW: The Death Knell
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Defining Liberty
The World Turned Upside Down
“We the People” and Big Government
Evolution and Race
The Culture War
Defense Spending: One More Time
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes
Presidential Treason
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
The Limits of Science (II)
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
Round Up the Usual Suspects
Walking the Tightrope Reluctantly
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
My View of Libertarianism
Crime Revisited
Getting “Equal Protection” Right
McCloskey on Piketty
The Rahn Curve Revisited
The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy
A Cop-Free World?
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
Tolerance
How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It
Does Obama Love America?
The Real Burden of Government
No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression
Obamanomics in Action
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
The Gaystapo at Work
The Gaystapo and Islam
AGW in Austin?

Signature

The Principles of Actionable Harm

I prefer — as a minarchistic libertarian (a radical-right-minarchist, to be precise) — an accountable, constrained state to the the condition of anarchy. This leads to warlordism and thence to despotism. But the state must be held to its proper realm of action, namely, dispensing justice and defending citizens. Its purpose in doing those things — and the sole justification for its being — is to protect negative rights (including property rights) and civil society. (For more about the proper role of the state, go to “Parsing Political Philosophy” and under the section headed “Minarchism,” see “The Protection of Negative Rights,” “More about Property Rights,” and the “Role of Civil Society.”)

Specifically:

1. An actionable harm — a harm against which the state may properly act — is one that deprives a person of negative rights or undermines the voluntarily evolved institutions and norms of civil society.

2. The state should not act — or encourage action by private entities — except as it seeks to deter, prevent, or remedy an actionable harm to its citizens.

3. An actionable harm may be immediate (as in the case of murder) or credibly threatened (as in the case of a conspiracy to commit murder). But actionable harms extend beyond those that are immediate or credibly threatened. They also result from actions by the state that strain and sunder the bonds of trust that make it possible for a people to coexist civilly, through the mutual self-restraint that arises from voluntarily evolved social norms. The use of state power has deeply eroded such norms. The result has been to undermine the trust and self-restraint that enable a people to enjoy liberty and its fruits; for example:

  • Affirmative action and other forms of forced racial integration deny property rights and freedom of association, prolong racial animosity, and impose unwarranted economic harm on those who are guilty of nothing but the paleness of their skin.
  • The legal enshrinement of gay rights leads to the suppression of speech and the denial of freedoms of expression and association, at the expense of citizens who have done nothing worse than refuse to recognize a “lifestyle choice” of which they disapprove, as should be their right.

4. An expression of thought cannot be an actionable harm unless it

a. is defamatory; or

b. would directly obstruct governmental efforts to deter, prevent, or remedy an actionable harm (e.g., divulging classified defense information, committing perjury); or

c. intentionally causes or would directly cause an actionable harm (e.g., plotting to commit an act of terrorism, forming a lynch mob); or

d. purposely — through a lie or the withholding of pertinent facts — causes a person to act against self-interest; or

e. purposely — through its intended influence on government — results in what would be an actionable harm if committed by a private entity (e.g., the taking of income from persons who earn it, simply to assuage the envy of those who earn less). (The remedy for such harms should not be the suppression or punishment of the harmful expressions; the remedy should be the enactment and enforcement of restrictions on the ability of government to act as it does.)

5. With those exceptions, a mere statement of fact, belief, opinion, or attitude cannot be an actionable harm. Otherwise, those persons who do not care for the facts, beliefs, opinions, or attitudes expressed by other persons would be able to stifle speech they find offensive merely by claiming to be harmed by it. And those persons who claim to be offended by the superior income or wealth of other persons would be entitled to recompense from those other persons. (It takes little imagination to see the ramifications of such thinking; rich heterosexuals, for example, could claim to be offended by the existence of persons who are poor or homosexual, and could demand their extermination as a remedy.)

6. It cannot be an actionable harm to commit a private, voluntary act of omission (e.g., the refusal of social or economic relations for reasons of personal preference), other than a breach of contract or fiduciary responsibility. Nor can it be an actionable harm to commit a private, voluntary act which does nothing more than arouse resentment, envy, or anger in others. A legitimate state does not  judge, punish, or attempt to influence private, voluntary acts that are not otherwise actionable harms.

7. By the same token, a legitimate state does not judge, punish, or attempt to influence private, voluntary acts of commission which have undesirable but avoidable consequences. For example:

  • Government prohibition of smoking on private property is illegitimate because non-smokers could choose not to frequent or work at establishments that allow smoking.
  • Other government restrictions on the use of private property (e.g., laws that bar restrictive covenants or mandate public accommodation) are illegitimate because they (1) diminish property rights and (2) discourage ameliorating activities (e.g., the evolution away from cultural behaviors that play into racial prejudice, investments in black communities and black-run public accommodations).
  • Tax-funded subsidies for retirement and health care are illegitimate because they discourage hard work, saving, and other prudent habits — habits that would lead to less dependence on government, were those habits encouraged.

8. It is also wrong for the state to make and enforce distinctions among individuals that have the effect of advantaging some persons because of their age, gender, sexual orientation, skin color, ethnicity, religion, or economic status.

9. Except in the case of punishment for an actionable harm, it is an actionable harm to bar a competent adult from

a. expressing his views, as long as they are not defamatory or meant to incite harm (voice); or

b. moving to a place of his choosing (exit).

(As a practical matter, voice is of little consequence if the state’s power of the lives and livelihoods of citizens has grown so great that it cannot be undone except by revolution. Further, exit becomes meaningless when the central government’s power reaches into every corner of the nation and leaves persons of ordinary means with no place to turn. In the present circumstances, it follows that the state daily commits actionable harms against citizens of the United States.)

10. The proper role of the state is to enforce the preceding principles. In particular,

a. to remain neutral with respect to evolved social norms, except where those norms deny voice or exit, as with the systematic disenfranchisement or enslavement of particular classes of persons; and

b. to foster economic freedom (and therefore social freedom) by ensuring open trade within the nation and (to the extent compatible with national security) open trade with (but selective immigration from) other nations; and

c. to ensure free expression of thought, except where such expression is tantamount to an actionable harm (as in a conspiracy to commit murder or mount a campaign of harassment); and

d. to see that just laws — those enacted in accordance with the principles of actionable harm — are enforced swiftly and surely, with favoritism toward no person or class of persons; and

e. to defend citizens against predators, foreign and domestic.

*     *     *

The principles of actionable harm are not rules for making everyone happy. They are rules for ensuring that each of us is able to pursue happiness without impinging on the happiness of others.

The state should apply the principles of actionable harm only to citizens and legitimate residents of the United States. Sovereignty is otherwise meaningless; the United States exists for the protection of citizens and persons legitimately resident; it is not an eleemosynary institution.

By the same token, those who would harm citizens and legitimate residents of the United States must be treated summarily and harshly, as necessary.

*     *     *

Related posts:

Why Sovereignty?
Parsing Political Philosophy
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Golden Rule and the State
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
Facets of Liberty
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
Libertarianism and the State
My View of Libertarianism

Signature

What, If Anything, Will Unite Americans?

I don’t expect that Americans can ever be united in their political principles and policy preferences. But the cacophony that emanates from the present state of disunity is figuratively deafening. America would be on the verge of another civil war if the States were now as militarily strong, relative to the central government, as they were in 1861.

Because of the present imbalance of power, a “hot” civil war is unlikely. What then, if not a civil war, might put an end to America’s internal strife? Or is it America’s fate to muddle along in clangorous divisiveness?

History tells me that when the world seems headed in a particular direction, a cataclysmic exogenous event intervenes. Here are some examples:

World War I brought an end to Edwardian elegance, sparked the demise of the British class system, and stamped the United States as a world power.

The Great Depression curtailed the Jazz Age and its associated “excesses,” as they were then considered.

World War II created the economic conditions that helped put an end to the Great Depression in the United States.

Assassinations and anti-war protests rang down the curtain on “Camelot” and deference to authority figures.

The Reagan-Volcker inflation-busting shock of the early 1980’s did much to end the “malaise” that characterized the 1970s — from Watergate to the Iran hostage crisis — and fostered almost 30 years of relative prosperity.

Gorbachev’s sudden “surrender” — due in large part to Reagan’s defense buildup — put an end to the tense and costly 40-year-long Cold War.

A stock-market crash, followed closely by 9/11, ended the relative peace and prosperity of the Reagan-Clinton era.

What, if anything, could bring an end to — or at least muffle — the prevailing political cacophony? It’s impossible to say, of course. But two possibilities strike me as most likely:

– A major war in the Middle East, into which the U.S. is drawn because of oil, Israel, or both.

– A terrorist attack on the U.S. that claims many lives (far more than 9/11), cripples vital infrastructure, or both.

There is a peaceful possibility — though it doesn’t preclude the two unappealing scenarios; the possibility is de facto secession. This has begun in a small way, with State-level legalization of marijuana, which has happened in spite of the central government’s de jure power to criminalize it.

It is therefore imaginable that GOP control of the White House and Congress would embolden some GOP-controlled States to openly flout federal laws, regulations, and judicial decrees about such matters as same-sex marriage, environmental emissions, and Obamacare — to name a few obvious targets. The result, if it came to pass, would be something like the kind of federalism envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution.

But leftists would resist, loudly and demagogically. Given their need to control others, they would use every trick in the book to keep GOP-controlled States in line while giving free rein to Democrat-controlled States. In the end, the cacophony might intensify, not diminish.

*     *     *

Related posts:
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Next 9/11?
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
NEVER FORGIVE, NEVER FORGET, NEVER RELENT!
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Secession, Anyone?
Obamacare and Zones of Liberty
Mission Not Accomplished
Secession for All Seasons
A New Constitution for a New Republic
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
The World Turned Upside Down
Secession Made Easy
More about “Secession Made Easy”
The Culture War
Defense Spending: One More Time
A Home of One’s Own
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Romanticizing the State
Surrender? Hell No!
Social Accounting: A Tool of Social Engineering
Has America Always Been Leftist?
Let’s Make a Deal
Jerks and Demagogues
Decline
Walking the Tightrope Reluctantly
How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It
The Obamacare Effect: Greater Distrust of Government
“Blue Wall” Hype
Does Obama Love America?

Signature

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XIII)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

*     *     *

Jeremy Egerer says this “In Defense of a Beautiful Boss” (American Thinker, February 8, 2015):

Leftists have been waging a war against nearly every personal advantage for years: if they aren’t upset because your parents are rich, they’ll insult you because your parents are white, or maybe because you have a penis.  In their most unreasonable moments, they might even be upset that you deserve your own job.  It seems only reasonable to expect that sooner or later, they would be complaining about whether or not our bosses keep themselves in shape.

This is because at the heart of all leftism lies an unreasonable envy of all advantage (disguised as an advocacy of the disadvantaged) and an unhealthy hatred of actual diversity (disguised as an appreciation of difference).  They call life a meritocracy when your successful parents raise you to win, which is a lot like complaining that your parents raised you at all.  It’s almost enough to make you wonder whether they loathe the laws of cause and effect.  In the fight against all odds – not his, but everyone’s – the leftist hasn’t only forgotten that different people breed different people; he’s forgotten that different people are diversity itself, and that diversity, the thing he claims to be championing, means that someone is going to have natural advantages.

Spot on. I have addressed the left’s war on “lookism” in “How to Combat Beauty-ism” and “An Economist’s Special Pleading: Affirmative Action for the Ugly.”

*     *     *

John Ray tackles “Conservative and Liberal Brains Again” (A Western Heart, February 14, 2015):

Most such reports [Current Biology 21, 677–680, April 26, 2011 ª2011. DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.017] are … parsimoniously interpreted as conservatives being more cautious, which is hardly a discovery. And if there is something wrong with caution then there is everything wrong with a lot of things.  Science, for instance, is a sustained exercise in caution. So conservatives are born more cautious and Leftist brains miss most of that out.  So [a commentary that conservatives are] “sensitive to fear” … could be equally well restated as “cautious”.  And the finding that liberals “have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts” is pure guesswork [on the part of the commentators].  As the report authors note, that is just “one of the functions of the anterior cingulate cortex”.

Despite the apparent even-handedness of the authors of the study cited by Dr. Ray, the field of psychology has long had a pro-left tilt. See, for example, my posts “Conservatism, Libertarianism, and the ‘Authoritarian Personality’,” “The F Scale, Revisited,” and “The Psychologist Who Played God.”

*     *     *

Income inequality is another item in the long list of subjects about which leftists obsess, despite the facts of the matter. Mark J. Perry, as usual, deals in facts: “US Middle Class Has Disappeared into Higher-Income Groups; Recent Stagnation Explained by Changing Household Demographics?” (AEI.org, February 4, 2015) and “Evidence Shows That Affluence in the US Is Much More Fluid and Widespread Than The Rigid Class Structure Narrative Suggests” (AEI.org, February 25, 2015). The only problem with these two posts is Perry’s unnecessary inclusion of a question mark in the title of the first one. For more on the subject, plus long lists of related posts and readings, see my post, “Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes.”

*     *     *

Speaking of leftists who obsess about income inequality — and get it wrong — there’s Thomas Piketty, author of the much-rebutted Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I have much to say about Deidre McCloskey’s take-down of Piketty in “McCloskey on Piketty.” David Henderson, whose review of Capital is among the several related readings listed in my post, has more to say; for example:

McCloskey’s review is a masterpiece. She beautifully weaves together economic history, simple price theory, basic moral philosophy, and history of economic thought. Whereas I had mentally put aside an hour to read and think, it took only about 20 minutes. I highly recommend it. (“McCloskey on Piketty,” EconLog, February 25, 2015)

Henderson continues by sampling some of Piketty’s many errors of fact, logic, and economic theory that McCloskey exposes.

*     *     *

Although it won’t matter to committed leftists, Piketty seems to have taken some of this critics to heart. James Pethokoukis writes:

[I]n a new paper, Piketty takes a step or two backward. He now denies that he views his simple economic formula “as the only or even the primary tool for considering changes in income and wealth in the 20th century, or for forecasting the path of income and wealth inequality in the 21st century.” Seems his fundamental law isn’t so fundamental after all once you factor in things like how some of that wealth is (a) spent on super-yachts and bad investments; (b) divided among children through the generations; and (c) already taxed fairly heavily. In particular, the rise in income inequality, as opposed to wealth inequality, has “little to do” with “r > g,” he says….

Piketty’s modest retreat isn’t all that surprising, given the withering academic assault on his research. In a survey of top economists late last year, 81 percent disagreed with his thesis. And several used fairly rough language — at least for scholars — such as “weak” and not “particularly useful,” with one accusing Piketty of “poor theory” and “negligible empirics.”

This is all rather bad news for what I have termed the Unified Economic Theory of Modern Liberalism: Not only are the rich getting richer — and will continue to do so because, you know, capitalism — but this growing gap is hurting economic growth. Redistribution must commence, tout de suite!

But Piketty’s clarification isn’t this politically convenient theory’s only problem. The part about inequality and growth has also suffered a setback. The link between the two is a key part of the “secular stagnation” theory of superstar Democratic economist Lawrence Summers. Since the rich save more than the middle class, growing income inequality is sapping the economy of consumer demand. So government must tax more and spend more. But Summers recently offered an updated view, saying that while boosting consumer demand is necessary, it is not sufficient for strong economic growth. Washington must also do the sort of “supply-side” stuff that Republicans kvetch about, such as business tax reform.

…[C]oncern about the income gap shouldn’t be used an excuse to ignore America’s real top problem, a possible permanent downshift in the growth potential of the U.S. economy. At least Piketty got half his equation right. [“The Politically Convenient but Largely Bogus Unified Economic Theory of Modern Liberalism,” The Week, March 11, 2015]

About that bogus inequality-hurts-growth meme, see my post, “Income Inequality and Economic Growth.”

*     *     *

Harvard’s Robert Putnam is another class warrior, whose propagandistic effusion “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century“ I skewer in “Society and the State” and “Genetic Kinship and Society.” I was therefore gratified to read in Henry Harpending’s post, “Charles Murray and Robert Putnam on Class” (West Hunter, March 20, 2015) some things said by John Derbyshire about Putnam’s paper:

That paper has a very curious structure. After a brief introduction (two pages), there are three main sections, headed as follows:

The Prospects and Benefits of Immigration and Ethnic Diversity (three pages)
Immigration and Diversity Foster Social Isolation (nineteen pages)
Becoming Comfortable with Diversity (seven pages)

I’ve had some mild amusement here at my desk trying to think up imaginary research papers similarly structured. One for publication in a health journal, perhaps, with three sections titled:

Health benefits of drinking green tea
Green tea causes intestinal cancer
Making the switch to green tea

Social science research in our universities cries out for a modern Jonathan Swift to lampoon its absurdities.

Amen.

*     *     *

Putnam is a big booster of “diversity,” which — in the left’s interpretation — doesn’t mean diversity of political, social, and economic views. What it means is the forced association of persons of irreconcilably opposed social norms. I say some things about that in “Society and the State” and “Genetic Kinship and Society.” Fred Reed has much more to say in a recent column:

In Ferguson blacks are shooting policemen as others cheer. It does a curmudgeon’s soul good: Everything gets worse, the collapse continues, and unreasoning stupidity goes thundering into the future.

We will hear I suppose that it wasn’t racial, that teens did it, that discrimination  caused it, white privilege, racism, institutional racism, slavery, colonialism, bigots, Southerners, rednecks—everything but the hatred of blacks for whites.

And thus we will avoid the unavoidable, that racial relations are a disaster, will remain a disaster, will get worse, are getting worse, and will lead to some awful denouement no matter how much we lie, preen, vituperate, chatter like Barbary apes, or admire ourselves.

It isn’t working. There is no sign that it ever will. What now?

The only solution, if there is a solution, would seem to be an amicable separation. This methinks would be greatly better than the slow-motion, intensifying racial war we now see, and pretend not to see. When the races mix, there is trouble. So, don’t mix them….

The racial hostility of blacks for whites can be seen elsewhere, for example in targeting of crime, most starkly in interracial rates of rape…. The numbers on rape, almost entirely black on white, also check out as cold fact… This has been analyzed to death, and ignored to death, but perhaps the most readable account is Jim Goad’s For Whom the Cat Calls (the numbers of note come below the ads).

Even without the (inevitable) racial hostility, togetherheid would not work well. The races have little or nothing in common. They do not want the same things. Whites come from a literate European tradition dating at least from the Iliad in 800 BC, a tradition characterized by literature, mathematics, architecture, philosophy, and the sciences. Africa, having a very different social traditions, was barely touched by this, and today blacks still show little interest. Even in the degenerate America of today, whites put far more emphasis on education than do blacks.

The media paint the problems of blacks as consequent to discrimination, but they clearly are not. If blacks in white schools wanted to do the work, or could, whites would applaud. If in black schools they demanded thicker textbooks with bigger words and smaller pictures, no white would refuse. The illiteracy, the very high rates of illegitimacy, the crime in general, the constant killing of young black men by young black men in particular—whites do not do these. They are either genetic, and irremediable, or cultural, and remediable, if at all, only in the very long run. We live in the short run.

Would it then not be reasonable to encourage a voluntary segregation? Having only black policemen in black regions would slow the burning of cities. If we let people live among their own, let them study what they chose to study, let them police themselves and order their schools as they chose, considerable calm would fall over the country.

If the races had the choice of running their own lives apart, they would. If this is not true, why do we have to spend such effort trying to force them together?

It is a great fallacy to think that because we ought to love one another, we will; or that because bloodshed among groups makes no sense, it won’t happen. The disparate seldom get along, whether Tamils and Sinhalese or Hindus and Moslems or Protestants and Catholics or Jews and Palestinians. The greater the cultural and genetic difference, the greater the likelihood and intensity of conflict. Blacks and whites are very, very different….

Separation does not imply disadvantage. The assertion that “separate is inherently unequal” is a catchiphrastic embodiment of the Supreme Court’s characteristic blowing in the political wind. A college for girls is not inherently inferior to a college for boys, nor a yeshiva for Jews inherently inferior to a parish school for Catholics. And maybe it is the business of girls and boys, Catholics and Jews, to decide what and where they want to study—not the government’s business….

Anger hangs over the country. Not everyone white is a professor or collegiate sophomore or network anchor. Not every white—not by a long shot—in Congress or the federal bureaucracy is a Mother Jones liberal, not in private conversation. They say aloud what they have to say. But in the Great Plains and small-town South, in corner bars in Chicago and Denver, in the black enclaves of the cities, a lot of people are ready to rumble. Read the comments section of the St. Louis papers after the riots. We can call the commenters whatever names we choose but when we finish, they will still be there. The shooting of policemen for racial reasons–at least four to date–is not a good sign. We will do nothing about it but chatter. [“The Symptoms Worsen,” Fred on Everything, March 15, 2015]

See also Reed’s column “Diversity: Koom. Bah. Humbug” (January 13, 2015) and my posts, “Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications,” “The Hidden Tragedy of the Assassination of Lincoln.”, “‘Conversing’ about Race,” “‘Wading’ into Race, Culture, and IQ,” “Round Up the Usual Suspects,”and “Evolution, Culture, and ‘Diversity’.”

*     *     *

In “The Fallacy of Human Progress” I address at length the thesis of Steven Pinker’s ludicrous The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. In rebuttal to Pinker, I cite John Gray, author of The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths:

Gray’s book — published  18 months after Better Angels — could be read as a refutation of Pinker’s book, though Gray doesn’t mention Pinker or his book.

Well, Gray recently published a refutation of Pinker’s book, which I can’t resist quoting at length:

The Better Angels of Our Nature: a history of violence and humanity (2011) has not only been an international bestseller – more than a thousand pages long and containing a formidable array of graphs and statistics, the book has established something akin to a contemporary orthodoxy. It is now not uncommon to find it stated, as though it were a matter of fact, that human beings are becoming less violent and more altruistic. Ranging freely from human pre-history to the present day, Pinker presents his case with voluminous erudition. Part of his argument consists in showing that the past was more violent than we tend to imagine…. This “civilising process” – a term Pinker borrows from the sociologist Norbert Elias – has come about largely as a result of the increasing power of the state, which in the most advanced countries has secured a near-monopoly of force. Other causes of the decline in violence include the invention of printing, the empowerment of women, enhanced powers of reasoning and expanding capacities for empathy in modern populations, and the growing influence of Enlightenment ideals….

Another proponent of the Long Peace is the well-known utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer, who has praised The Better Angels of Our Nature as “a supremely important book … a masterly achievement. Pinker convincingly demonstrates that there has been a dramatic decline in violence, and he is persuasive about the causes of that decline.” In a forthcoming book, The Most Good You Can Do, Singer describes altruism as “an emerging movement” with the potential to fundamentally alter the way humans live….

Among the causes of the outbreak of altruism, Pinker and Singer attach particular importance to the ascendancy of Enlightenment thinking….

…Pinker’s response when confronted with [contrary] evidence is to define the dark side of the Enlightenment out of existence. How could a philosophy of reason and toleration be implicated in mass murder? The cause can only be the sinister influence of counter-Enlightenment ideas….

The picture of declining violence presented by this new orthodoxy is not all it seems to be. As some critics, notably John Arquilla, have pointed out, it’s a mistake to focus too heavily on declining fatalities on the battlefield….

If great powers have avoided direct armed conflict, they have fought one another in many proxy wars. Neocolonial warfare in south-east Asia, the Korean war and the Chinese invasion of Tibet, British counter-insurgency warfare in Malaya and Kenya, the abortive Franco-British invasion of Suez, the Angolan civil war, the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, the Vietnam war, the Iran-Iraq war, the first Gulf war, covert intervention in the Balkans and the Caucasus, the invasion of Iraq, the use of airpower in Libya, military aid to insurgents in Syria, Russian cyber-attacks in the Baltic states and the proxy war between the US and Russia that is being waged in Ukraine – these are only some of the contexts in which great powers have been involved in continuous warfare against each other while avoiding direct military conflict.

While it is true that war has changed, it has not become less destructive. Rather than a contest between well-organised states that can at some point negotiate peace, it is now more often a many-sided conflict in fractured or collapsed states that no one has the power to end….

It may be true that the modern state’s monopoly of force has led, in some contexts, to declining rates of violent death. But it is also true that the power of the modern state has been used for purposes of mass killing, and one should not pass too quickly over victims of state terror…. Pinker goes so far as to suggest that the 20th-century Hemoclysm might have been a gigantic statistical fluke, and cautions that any history of the last century that represents it as having been especially violent may be “apt to exaggerate the narrative coherence of this history” (the italics are Pinker’s). However, there is an equal or greater risk in abandoning a coherent and truthful narrative of the violence of the last century for the sake of a spurious quantitative precision….

While the seeming exactitude of statistics may be compelling, much of the human cost of war is incalculable…. [T]he statistics presented by those who celebrate the arrival of the Long Peace are morally dubious if not meaningless.

The radically contingent nature of the figures is another reason for not taking them too seriously. (For a critique of Pinker’s statistical methods, see Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s essay on the Long Peace.)…

Certainly the figures used by Pinker and others are murky, leaving a vast range of casualties of violence unaccounted for. But the value of these numbers for such thinkers comes from their very opacity. Like the obsidian mirrors made by the Aztecs for purposes of divination, these rows of graphs and numbers contain nebulous images of the future – visions that by their very indistinctness can give comfort to believers in human improvement….

Unable to tolerate the prospect that the cycles of conflict will continue, many are anxious to find continuing improvement in the human lot. Who can fail to sympathise with them? Lacking any deeper faith and incapable of living with doubt, it is only natural that believers in reason should turn to the sorcery of numbers. How else can they find meaning in their lives? [“John Gray: Steven Pinker Is Wrong about Violence and War,” The Guardian, March 13, 2015]

 *     *     *

I close this super-sized installment of “Thoughts” by returning to the subject of so-called net neutrality, which I addressed almost nine years ago in “Why ‘Net Neutrality’ Is a Bad Idea.” Now it’s a bad idea that the FCC has imposed on ISPs and their customers — until, one hopes, it’s rejected by the Supreme Court as yet another case of Obamanomic overreach.

As Robert Tracinski notes,

[b]illionaire investor Mark Cuban recently commented, about a push for new regulations on the Internet, that “In my adult life I have never seen a situation that paralleled what I read in Ayn Rand’s books until now with Net Neutrality.” He continued, “If Ayn Rand were an up-and-coming author today, she wouldn’t write about steel or railroads, it would be Net Neutrality.”

She certainly would, but if he thinks this is the first time real life has imitated Ayn Rand’s fiction, he needs to be paying a little more attention. Atlas has been shrugging for a long, long time. [“Net Neutrality: Yes, Mark Cuban, Atlas Is Shrugging,” The Federalist, March 18, 2015]

The rest of the story is outlined by the headings in Tracinski’s article:

The Relationship Between Net Neutrality and Atlas Shrugged

Internet Execs Are Already Uncomfortable with the Net Neutrality They Demanded

The Parallels Extend Into Fracking

Government Shuts Down Any Runaway Success

Atlas Shrugged Is Coming True Before Our Eyes

As I did in my post, Julian Adorney focuses on the economics of net neutrality:

After a number of false starts and under pressure from the White House, the FCC gave in and voted to regulate the Internet as a public utility in order to ban such practices, thus saving the Internet from a variety of boogeymen.

This is a tempting narrative. It has conflict, villains, heroes, and even a happy ending. There’s only one problem: it’s a fairy tale. Such mischief has been legal for decades, and ISPs have almost never behaved this way. Any ISP that created “slow lanes” or blocked content to consumers would be hurting its own bottom line. ISPs make money by seeking to satisfy consumers, not by antagonizing them.

There are two reasons that ISPs have to work to satisfy their customers. First, every company needs repeat business….

For Internet service providers, getting new business is expensive…. Satisfying customers so that they continue subscribing is cheaper, easier, and more profitable than continually replacing them. ISPs’ self-interest pushes them to add value to their customers just to keep them from jumping ship to their competitors.

In fact, this is what we’ve seen. ISPs have invested heavily in new infrastructure, and Internet speeds have increased by leaps and bounds…. These faster speeds have not been limited to big corporate customers: ISPs have routinely improved their services to regular consumers. They didn’t do so because the FCC forced them. For the past twenty years, “slow lanes” have been perfectly legal and almost as perfectly imaginary….

…ISPs shy away from creating slow lanes not because they have to but because they have a vested interest in offering fast service to all customers.

Contrary to the myth about ISPs being localized monopolies, 80 percent of Americans live in markets with access to multiple high-speed ISPs. While expensive regulations can discourage new players from entering the market, competition in most cities is increasingly robust….

ISPs still have to compete with each other for customers. If one ISP sticks them in the slow lane or blocks access to certain sites — or even just refuses to upgrade its service — consumers can simply switch to a competitor.

The second reason that ISPs seek to satisfy customers is that every business wants positive word of mouth. Consumers who receive excellent service talk up the service to their friends, generating new sign-ups. Consumers who receive mediocre service not only leave but badmouth the company to everyone they know.

In fact, this happened in one of the few cases where an ISP chose to discriminate against content. When Verizon blocked text messages from a pro-choice activist group in 2007, claiming the right to block “controversial or unsavory” messages, the backlash was fierce. Consumer Affairs notes that, “after a flurry of criticism, Verizon reversed its policy” on the pro-choice texts. The decision may have been ideological, but more likely Verizon reversed a policy that was driving away consumers, generating bad press, and hurting its bottom line.

In 2010, an FCC order made such “unreasonable discrimination” illegal (until the rule was struck down in 2014), but even without this rule, consumers proved more than capable of standing up to big corporations and handling such discrimination themselves.

In competitive markets, the consumer’s demand for quality prevents companies from cutting corners. Before the FCC imposed public utility regulations on the Internet, ISPs were improving service and abandoning discriminatory practices in order to satisfy their users. Net Neutrality advocates have spent years demanding a government solution to a problem that  markets had already solved. [“Net Nonsense,” The Freeman, March 18, 2015]

Amen, again.

“The Great Debate”: Not So Great

I was drawn to Yuval Levin‘s The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left because some commentators on the right had praised it. But I was disappointed by The Great Debate for two reasons: repetitiveness and wrongheadedness (with respect to conservatism).

Regarding repetitiveness, the philosophical differences between Burke and Paine are rather straightforward and can be explained in a brief essay. Levin’s 304 pages strike me as endless variations on a simple theme — a literary equivalent of Philip Glass‘s long-winded minimalism.

In fact, I am wrong to suggest that it would take only a brief essay to capture the philosophical differences between Burke and Paine. Levin does it in a few paragraphs:

Paine lays out his political vision in greater detail in Rights of Man than in any of his earlier writings: a vision of individualism, natural rights, and equal justice for all made possible by a government that lives up to true republican ideals. [Kindle edition, p. 34]

*     *     *

Politics [to Burke] was first and foremost about particular people living together , rather than about general rules put into effect. This emphasis caused Burke to oppose the sort of liberalism expounded by many of the radical reformers of his day. They argued in the parlance of natural rights drawn from reflections on an individualist state of nature and sought to apply the principles of that approach directly to political life. [Op. cit., p. 11]

*     *     *

For Paine, the natural equality of all human beings translates to complete political equality and therefore to a right to self-determination. The formation of society was itself a choice made by free individuals, so the natural rights that people bring with them into society are rights to act as one chooses, free of coercion. Each person should have the right to do as he chooses unless his choices interfere with the equal rights and freedoms of others. And when that happens— when society as a whole must act through its government to restrict the freedom of some of its members— government can only act in accordance with the wishes of the majority, aggregated through a political process. Politics, in this view, is fundamentally an arena for the exercise of choice, and our only real political obligations are to respect the freedoms and choices of others.

For Burke, human nature can only be understood within society and therefore within the complex web of relations in which every person is embedded. None of us chooses the nation, community, or family into which we are born, and while we can choose to change our circumstances to some degree as we get older, we are always defined by some crucial obligations and relationships not of our own choosing. A just and healthy politics must recognize these obligations and relationships and respond to society as it exists, before politics can enable us to make changes for the better. In this view, politics must reinforce the bonds that hold people together, enabling us to be free within society rather than defining freedom to the exclusion of society and allowing us to meet our obligations to past and future generations, too. Meeting obligations is as essential to our happiness and our nature as making choices. [Op cit., pp. 91-92]

In sum, Paine is the quintessential “liberal” (leftist), that is, a rationalistic ideologue who has a view of the world as it ought to be.* And it is that view which governments should serve, or be overthrown. Burke, on the other hand, is a non-ideologue. Social arrangements — including political and economic ones — are emergent. Michael Oakeshott, a latter-day Burkean, puts it this way:

Government, … as the conservative … understands it, does not begin with a vision of another, different and better world, but with the observation of the self-government practised even by men of passion in the conduct of their enterprises; it begins in the informal adjustments of interests to one another which are designed to release those who are apt to collide from the mutual frustration of a collision. Sometimes these adjustments are no more than agreements between two parties to keep out of each other’s way; sometimes they are of wider application and more durable character, such as the International Rules for for the prevention of collisions at sea. In short, the intimations of government are to be found in ritual, not in religion or philosophy; in the enjoyment of orderly and peaceable behaviour, not in the search for truth or perfection….

To govern, then, as the conservative understands it, is to provide a vinculum juris for those manners of conduct which, in the circumstances, are least likely to result in a frustrating collision of interests; to provide redress and means of compensation for those who suffer from others behaving in a contrary manners; sometimes to provide punishment for those who pursue their own interests regardless of the rules; and, of course, to provide a sufficient force to maintain the authority of an arbiter of this kind. Thus, governing is recognized as a specific and limited activity; not the management of an enterprise, but the rule of those engaged in a great diversity of self-chosen enterprises. It is not concerned with concrete persons, but with activities; and with activities only in respect of their propensity to collide with one another. It is not concerned with moral right and wrong, it is not designed to make men good or even better; it is not indispensable on account of ‘the natural depravity of mankind’ but merely because of their current disposition to be extravagant; its business is to keep its subjects at peace with one another in the activities in which they have chosen to seek their happiness. And if there is any general idea entailed in this view, it is, perhaps, that a government which does not sustain the loyalty of its subjects is worthless; and that while one which (in the old puritan phrase) ‘commands the truth’ is incapable of doing so (because some of its subjects will believe its ‘truth’ to be in error), one which is indifferent to ‘truth’ and ‘error’ alike, and merely pursues peace, presents no obstacle to the necessary loyalty.

…[A]s the conservative understands it, modification of the rules should always reflect, and never impose, a change in the activities and beliefs of those who are subject to them, and should never on any occasion be so great as to destroy the ensemble. Consequently, the conservative will have nothing to do with innovations designed to meet merely hypothetical situations; he will prefer to enforce a rule he has got rather than invent a new one; he will think it appropriate to delay a modification of the rules until it is clear that the change of circumstances it is designed  to reflect has come to stay for a while; he will be suspicious of proposals for change in excess of what the situation calls for, of rulers who demand extra-ordinary powers in order to make great changes and whose utterances re tied to generalities like ‘the public good’ or social justice’, and of Saviours of Society who buckle on armour and seek dragons to slay; he will think it proper to consider the occasion of the innovation with care; in short, he will be disposed to regard politics as an activity in which a valuable set of tools is renovated from time to time and kept in trim rather than as an opportunity for perpetual re-equipment. [Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, New and Expanded Edition, pp. 427-31]

This leads me to Levin’s wrongheadedness with respect to conservatism. It surfaces in the final chapter, with a failed attempt to reconcile the philosophies of Burke and Paine as variants of what Levin calls liberalism.

Given the stark differences between Paine’s proto-liberalism and Burkean conservatism, I cannot view the latter as a mere variant of the former. As Levin says,

the Burke-Paine debate is about Enlightenment liberalism, whose underlying worldview unavoidably raises the problem of the generations. Enlightenment liberalism emphasizes government by consent, individualism, and social equality, all of which are in tension with some rather glaring facts of the human condition : that we are born into a society that already exists, that we enter this society without consenting to it, that we enter it with social connections and not as isolated individuals, and that these connections help define our place in society and therefore often raise barriers to equality.** [Op. cit., p. 206]

Despite that, Levin writes of

[t]he tradition of conservative liberalism — the gradual accumulation of practices and institutions of freedom and order that Burke celebrated as the English constitution….

… [T]his very same conservative liberalism is very frequently the vision [that today’s conservatives] pursue in practice. It is the vision conservatives advance when they defend traditional social institutions and the family, seek to make our culture more hospitable to children, and rail against attempts at technocratic expert government. It is the vision they uphold when they insist on an allegiance to our forefathers’ constitutional forms, warn of the dangers of burdening our children with debt to fund our own consumption, or insist that the sheer scope and ambition of our government makes it untenable. [Op. cit., p. 229]

Levin’s sleight of hand is subtle. Paine’s so-called liberalism rests on premises rejected by Burke, the most important of which is that change can and should be imposed from the top down, through representative government. Where conservatives do promote change from the top down, it is to push civil society toward the status quo ante, wherein change was gradual and bottom-up, driven by the necessities of peaceful, beneficial coexistence. That isn’t liberalism; it’s conservatism, pure and simple.

Whence Levin’s category error? It seems to arise from Levin’s mistaken belief in an all-embracing social will. After all, if humankind has a collective will, its various political philosophies can be thought of as manifestations of an underlying bent. And that bent, in Levin’s view, might as well be called “liberalism.” It would be no less arbitrary to call it Couéism, or to say that pigs are human beings because they breathe air.

Am I being too harsh? Not at all. Consider the following passage from The Great Debate, with my interpolations in brackets:

The tension between those two dispositions comes down to some very basic questions: Should our society be made to answer [by whom] to the demands of stark and abstract commitments to ideals like social equality or to the patterns of its own concrete political traditions and foundations? Should the citizen’s relationship to his society be defined [by whom] above all by the individual right of free choice or by a web of obligations and conventions not entirely of our own choosing? Are great public problems best addressed through institutions designed to apply the explicit technical knowledge of experts or by those designed to channel the implicit social knowledge of the community? Should we [who?] see each of our society’s failings [by whose standards?] as one large problem to be solved by comprehensive transformation or as a set of discrete imperfections to be addressed by building on what works tolerably well to address what does not? What authority should the character of the given world exercise over our sense of what we would like it to be? [The opacity of the preceding sentence should be a clue about Levin’s epistemic confusion.]

Our answers [as individuals] will tend to shape how we [as individuals] think about particular political questions. Do we [sic] want to fix our [sic] health-care system by empowering expert panels armed with the latest effectiveness data to manage the system from the center or by arranging economic incentives to channel consumer knowledge and preferences and address some of the system’s discrete problems? [Or simply by non-interference with markets?] Do we [sic] want to alleviate poverty through large national programs that use public dollars to supplement the incomes of the poor or through efforts to build on the social infrastructure of local civil-society institutions to help the poor build the skills and habits to rise? [Or by fostering personal responsibility and self-reliance through laissez-faire, with private charity for the “hard cases”?] Do we [who?] want problems addressed through the most comprehensive and broadest possible means or through the most minimal and targeted ones? [Or through voluntary cooperation?]

…Is liberalism, in other words, a theoretical discovery to be put into effect or a practical achievement to be reinforced and perfected? [By who?] These two possibilities [see below] suggest two rather different sorts of liberal politics: a politics of vigorous progress toward an ideal goal or a politics of preservation and perfection of a precious inheritance. They suggest, in other words, a progressive liberalism and a conservative liberalism. [Op. cit., pp. 226-227]

Even though liberals tout individualism, they evince a (mistaken) belief in a collective conscience. Individualism, in the liberal worldview, is permissible only to the extent that it advances liberals’ values du jour. There is no room in liberalism for liberty, which is

peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior.

Why is there no room in liberalism for liberty? Because peaceful, willing coexistence might not lead to the particular outcomes that liberals value — for the moment.

In sum, liberalism, despite its name, is an enemy of liberty. And Paine proves his liberal credentials when, in Levin’s words, he

makes a forceful case for something like a modern welfare system. In so doing, Paine helps show how the modern left developed from Enlightenment liberalism toward embryonic forms of welfare-state liberalism as its utopian political hopes seemed dashed by the grim realities of the industrial revolution. [Op. cit., p. 120]

“The grim realities of the industrial revolution” are that workers’ real incomes rose, albeit gradually. Levin evidently belongs to the romantic-rustic school of thought that equates factories with misery and squalor and overlooks the deeper misery and squalor of peasantry.

I don’t know what school of conservative thought Levin belongs to, but it can’t the school of thought represented by Burke, Oakeshott, and Hayek. If it were, Levin wouldn’t deploy the absurd term “conservative liberalism.”

__________
* In that respect, there is no distance at all between Paine and his pseudo-libertarian admirers (e.g., here). Their mutual attachment to “natural rights” lends them an air of moral superiority, but it is made of air.

** Not to mention the obvious fact that human beings are not equal in any way, except rhetorically. Some would say that they are equal before the laws of the United States, which is true only in theory. Laws are not applied evenhandedly, especially including laws that are meant to confer “equality” on specified groups but which then accord privileges that deprive others of jobs, promotions, admissions, and speech and property rights (e.g., affirmative action, low-income mortgages, and various anti-discrimination statutes).

*     *     *

Related posts:
The Social Welfare Function
On Liberty
Inventing “Liberalism”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Accountants of the Soul
The Left
Enough of “Social Welfare”
Undermining the Free Society
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Our Enemy, the State
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
What Are “Natural Rights”?
Government vs. Community
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
The Left’s Agenda
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
Understanding Hayek
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
About Democracy
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
Society and the State
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Defining Liberty
Government Failure Comes as a Shock to Liberals
“We the People” and Big Government
The Futile Search for “Natural Rights”
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
My View of Libertarianism
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)

Signature

The Writing on the Wall

A headline at Slate puts it this way: “The Supreme Court Just Admitted It’s Going to Rule in Favor of Marriage Equality.” Which is to say that when it comes to the legalization of same-sex “marriage”* across the United States, the writing is on the wall.

Here are some relevant passages from the Slate story:

Early Monday morning [February 9[, the Supreme Court refused to stay a federal judge’s order invalidating Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage….

Here’s how Monday’s decision reveals the justices’ intention to strike down gay marriage bans across the country. Typically, the justices will stay any federal court ruling whose merits are currently under consideration by the Supreme Court. Under normal circumstances, that is precisely what the court would have done here: The justices will rule on the constitutionality of state-level marriage bans this summer, so they might as well put any federal court rulings on hold until they’ve had a chance to say the last word. After all, if the court ultimately ruled against marriage equality, the Alabama district court’s order would be effectively reversed, and those gay couples who wed in the coming months would find their unions trapped in legal limbo.

But that is not what the court did here. Instead, seven justices agreed, without comment, that the district court’s ruling could go into effect, allowing thousands of gay couples in Alabama to wed. That is not what a court that planned to rule against marriage equality would do. By permitting these marriages to occur, the justices have effectively tipped their hand, revealing that any lower court’s pro-gay ruling will soon be affirmed by the high court itself.

Don’t believe me? Then ask Justice Clarence Thomas, who, along with Justice Antonin Scalia, dissented from Monday’s denial of a stay…. The court’s “acquiescence” to gay marriage in Alabama, Thomas wrote, “may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution” of the constitutionality of gay marriage bans….

I suspect that Justice Thomas has it right. (I only hope that the acquiescence of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito is part of a tacit deal in which their support for “marriage equality” is repaid by the evisceration of Obamacare when the Court rules in King v. Burwell.) The Court’s refusal to stay same-sex “marriage” in Alabama seems to be the writing on the wall — the foreshadowing of the Court’s decision in four related same-sex “marriage” cases.

If the Court, as now expected, rules for “marriage equality” under the rubric of “equal protection,” that will only mark the beginning of a push for other kinds of “equality.” What’s next? Here are my guesses:

  • How can polygamy fail to gain legal acceptance if the “partners” are willing adults?
  • When that’s done, the Court’s views will have evolved to the point of allowing pederasty at the urging of  NAMBLA.

Fuddy-duddies — like this one — who oppose the legalization of moral corruption will be silenced by the threat of fines and imprisonment.

Livy, the Roman historian, says this in the introduction to his history of Rome:

The subjects to which I would ask each of my readers to devote his earnest attention are these – the life and morals of the community; the men and the qualities by which through domestic policy and foreign war dominion was won and extended. Then as the standard of morality gradually lowers, let him follow the decay of the national character, observing how at first it slowly sinks, then slips downward more and more rapidly, and finally begins to plunge into headlong ruin, until he reaches these days, in which we can bear neither our diseases nor their remedies.

Livy foretold the fate of the Roman Empire. And I fear that he has also foretold the fate of the American Republic.

The writing is on the wall.
__________
* Why the “sneer quotes”? See “Notes about Usage” in the sidebar.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
In Defense of Marriage
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
The Equal-Protection Scam and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Not-So-Random Thoughts (VIII) (first item)
The View from Here
The Culture War
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
O Tempora O Mores!
Murder Is Constitutional
Posner the Fatuous
Getting “Equal Protection” Right

Signature

Tolerance

Bryan Caplan struggles to define tolerance. This seems to be what he’s searching for:

a disposition to allow freedom of choice and behavior

TheFreeDictionary.com, Thesaurus, Noun, 2

With that definition in mind, I’ll address the reasons given by Caplan for practicing tolerance:

1. People’s moral objections to how other people use their own person and property are usually greatly overstated – or simply wrong.  Think about how often people sneer at the way others dress, talk, or even walk.  Think about how often people twist personality clashes into battles of good versus evil.  From a calm, detached point of view, most of these complaints are simply silly.

The link points to a post in which Caplan confesses his own immature silliness. What’s missing are the “complaints” that are not “simply silly.” Take abortion, for example. It’s a practice that’s often defended on pseudo-libertarian grounds: a patently contrived right to privacy, for example. Caplan is cagey about abortion. If he is opposed to it, his reasons seem utilitarian rather than moral. In any event, opposition to abortion is not mere silliness; it is based on a profound moral objection to murder.

Nor should so-called personality clashes be dismissed as silliness. For example, during my 30 years as an analyst and manager at a major defense think-tank, I was a party to five conflicts (lasting months and years) that ignorant bystanders might have called personality clashes (and some bystanders did just that). But all five conflicts involved substantive differences about management methods, business ethics, or contractual performance.

Contra Caplan, I believe that differences about principle or substance give rise to most so-called personality clashes. It’s easy to dislike a person — and hard to disguise dislike — when that person reveals himself as incompetent, venal, manipulative, or corrupt. It seems to me that Caplan’s unfounded characterization of “most” disputes as personality clashes, and his back-handed dismissal of them as “battles of good versus evil,”  reflects his own deep-seated taste for conflict avoidance, as an avowed and outspoken pacifist.

*     *     *

2. People’s moral objections to how other people use their own person and property often conflate innocent ignorance with willful vice.

I’ll have to compensate for Caplan’s vagueness by offering examples of what he might have in mind:

Al disapproves of Bob’s drunken driving, which caused a serious accident. Bob didn’t know he had been drinking vodka-spiked lemonade.

Bob was innocently ignorant of the vodka in the lemonade when he was drinking it. But Bob probably knew that he wasn’t fit to drive if he was impaired enough to have an alcohol-induced accident. It’s therefore reasonable to disapprove of Bob’s drunken driving, even though he didn’t intend to drink alcohol.

Jimmy and Johnny were playing with matches, and started a fire that caused their family’s house to burn to the ground. They escaped safely, but all of their family’s possessions — many of them irreplaceable — were lost. Nor did insurance cover the full cost of rebuilding their house.

Jimmy and Johnny may have been innocent, but it’s hard not to disapprove of their parents for lax child-rearing or imprudence (not keeping matches safely hidden from children).

Alison looked carefully before changing lanes, but a car on her right was in her blind spot. She almost hit the car as she began to change lanes, but pulled back into her own lane before hitting it. Jake, the driver of the other car, was enraged by the near collision and honked at Allison.

Jake was rightly enraged. He might have been killed. Alison may have looked carefully, but it’s evident that she didn’t look carefully enough.

LaShawn enjoys rap music, especially loud rap music. (Is there any other way to play it?) He has some neighbors who don’t enjoy rap music and don’t want to hear it. The only way to get LaShawn to turn down the volume is to complain to him about the music. It doesn’t occur to LaShawn that the volume is too high and that his neighbors might not care for rap music.

This used to be called “lack of consideration,” and it was rightly thought of as a willful vice.

DiDi is a cell-phone addict. She’s on the phone almost everywhere she goes, yakking it up with her friends. DiDi doesn’t seem to care that her overheard conversations — loud and one-sided — are annoying and distracting to many of the persons who are subjected to them.

Lack of consideration, again.

Jerry has a fondness for booze. But he stays sober until Friday night, when he goes to his local bar and gets plastered. The more he drinks the louder and more obnoxious he becomes.

When Jerry gets drunk, he isn’t in control of himself, in some psychological sense. Thus his behavior might be said, by some, to arise out of innocent ignorance. But Jerry is in control of himself before he gets drunk. He surely knows how he behaves when he’s drunk, and how his behavior affects others. Jerry’s drunken behavior arises from a willful vice.

Ted and Deirdre, a married couple, are highly paid yuppies. They worked hard to earn advanced degrees, and they work hard at their socially valued professions (physician and psychologist). They live in an upscale, gated community, drive $75,000 cars, dine at top-rated restaurants, etc. And yet, despite the obvious connection between their hard work and their incomes (and what those incomes afford them), they are ardent “liberals.” (See the sidebar for my views on modern “liberalism.”) They vote for left-wing candidates, and contribute as much as the law allows to the campaigns of left-wing candidates. They have many friends who are like them in background, accomplishments, and political views.

This may seem like a case of innocent ignorance, but it’s not. Ted and Deirdre (and their friends) are intelligent. They understand incentives. They understand (or they would, if they thought about it) that progressive taxation and regulations blunt incentives to work, save, and invest. They therefore understand (or could easily understand) that the plight of the poor and “downtrodden” who are supposed to be helped by progressive taxation and regulations is actually made worse by those things. They certainly understand such things viscerally because they make every effort to reduce their taxes (through legal means, of course); they do not contribute voluntarily to the U.S. Treasury (even though they know that they could); and they dislike regulations that affect them directly. Ted and Deidre (and the legions like them) allow their guilt-driven desire for “equality” to obscure easily grasped facts of life. They ignore or suppress the facts of life in order to preen as “caring” persons. At bottom, their ignorance is willful, and inexcusable in persons of intelligence.

In sum, it’s far from evident to me that “how other people use their own person[s] and property often conflate[s] innocent ignorance with willful vice.” There’s much less innocent ignorance in the world than Caplan would like to believe.

*     *     *

3. People’s best-founded moral objections to how other people use their own person and property are usually morally superfluous.  Why?  Because the Real World already provides ample punishment.  Consider laziness.  Even from a calm, detached point of view, a life of sloth seems morally objectionable.  But there’s no need for you to berate the lazy – even inwardly.  Life itself punishes laziness with poverty and unemployment… So even if you accept (as I do) the Rossian principle that a just world links virtue with pleasure and vice with pain, there is no need to add your harsh condemnation to balance the cosmic scales.

On what planet does Caplan live? Governments in the United States — the central government foremost among them — reward and encourage sloth through extended unemployment benefits, bogus disability payments, food stamps, etc., etc. etc. There’s every reason to voice one’s displeasure with such goings on, and to give force to that displeasure by working and voting against the policies and politicians who make it possible for the slothful to live on the earnings of others.

*     *     *

4. The “especially strangers” parenthetical preempts the strongest counter-examples to principled tolerance.  There are obvious cases where you should strongly oppose what your spouse, children, or friends do with themselves or their stuff.  But strangers?  Not really.

Yes, really. See all of my comments above.

*     *     *

5. Intolerance is bad for the intolerant.  As Buddha never said, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”  The upshot is that the Real World punishes intolerance along with laziness, drunkenness, and gluttony.  Perhaps this is the hidden wisdom of the truism that “Haters gonna hate.

Here Caplan makes the mistake of identifying intolerance with anger. A person who is intolerant of carelessness, thoughtlessness, and willful vice isn’t angry all the time. He may be angered by careless, thoughtlessness, and willful vice when he sees them, but his anger is righteous, targeted, and controlled. Generally, he’s a happy person because he’s probably conservative.

It’s all well and good to tolerate freedom of choice and behavior, in the abstract. But civilization depends crucially on intolerance of particular choices and behaviors that result in real harm to others — psychic, material, and physical. Tolerance of such choices and behaviors is simply a kind of appeasement, which is what I would expect of Caplan — a man who can safely preach pacifism because he is well-guarded by the police and defense forces of his locality, State, and nation.

*     *    *

Related posts:
The Folly of Pacifism
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians

Signature

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XII)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

*     *     *

Intolerance as Illiberalism” by Kim R. Holmes (The Public Discourse, June 18, 2014) is yet another reminder, of innumerable reminders, that modern “liberalism” is a most intolerant creed. See my ironically titled “Tolerance on the Left” and its many links.

*     *     *

Speaking of intolerance, it’s hard to top a strident atheist like Richard Dawkins. See John Gray’s “The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins” (The New Republic, October 2, 2014). Among the several posts in which I challenge the facile atheism of Dawkins and his ilk are “Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology” and “Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life.”

*     *     *

Some atheists — Dawkins among them — find a justification for their non-belief in evolution. On that topic, Gertrude Himmelfarb writes:

The fallacy in the ethics of evolution is the equation of the “struggle for existence” with the “survival of the fittest,” and the assumption that “the fittest” is identical with “the best.” But that struggle may favor the worst rather than the best. [“Evolution and Ethics, Revisited,” The New Atlantis, Spring 2014]

As I say in “Some Thoughts about Evolution,”

Survival and reproduction depend on many traits. A particular trait, considered in isolation, may seem to be helpful to the survival and reproduction of a group. But that trait may not be among the particular collection of traits that is most conducive to the group’s survival and reproduction. If that is the case, the trait will become less prevalent. Alternatively, if the trait is an essential member of the collection that is conducive to survival and reproduction, it will survive. But its survival depends on the other traits. The fact that X is a “good trait” does not, in itself, ensure the proliferation of X. And X will become less prevalent if other traits become more important to survival and reproduction.

The same goes for “bad” traits. Evolution is no guarantor of ethical goodness.

*     *     *

It shouldn’t be necessary to remind anyone that men and women are different. But it is. Lewis Wolpert gives it another try in “Yes, It’s Official, Men Are from Mars and Women from Venus, and Here’s the Science to Prove It” (The Telegraph, September 14, 2014). One of my posts on the subject is “The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality.” I’m talking about general tendencies, of course, not iron-clad rules about “men’s roles” and “women’s roles.” Aside from procreation, I can’t readily name “roles” that fall exclusively to men or women out of biological necessity. There’s no biological reason, for example, that an especially strong and agile woman can’t be a combat soldier. But it is folly to lower the bar just so that more women can qualify as combat soldiers. The same goes for intellectual occupations. Women shouldn’t be discouraged from pursuing graduate degrees and professional careers in math, engineering, and the hard sciences, but the qualifications for entry and advancement in those fields shouldn’t be watered down just for the sake of increasing the representation of women.

*     *     *

Edward Feser, writing in “Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink” at his eponymous blog (October 24, 2014), notes

[Michael] Levin’s claim … that liberal policies cannot, given our cultural circumstances, be neutral concerning homosexuality.  They will inevitably “send a message” of approval rather than mere neutrality or indifference.

Feser then quotes Levin:

[L]egislation “legalizing homosexuality” cannot be neutral because passing it would have an inexpungeable speech-act dimension.  Society cannot grant unaccustomed rights and privileges to homosexuals while remaining neutral about the value of homosexuality.

Levin, who wrote that 30 years ago, gets a 10 out 10 for prescience. Just read “Abortion, ‘Gay Rights’, and Liberty” for a taste of the illiberalism that accompanies “liberal” causes like same-sex “marriage.”

*     *     *

“Liberalism” has evolved into hard-leftism. It’s main adherents are now an elite upper crust and their clients among the hoi polloi. Steve Sailer writes incisively about the socioeconomic divide in “A New Caste Society” (Taki’s Magazine, October 8, 2014). “‘Wading’ into Race, Culture, and IQ” offers a collection of links to related posts and articles.

*     *     *

One of the upper crust’s recent initiatives is so-called libertarian paternalism. Steven Teles skewers it thoroughly in “Nudge or Shove?” (The American Interest, December 10, 2014), a review of Cass Sunstein’s Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism. I have written numerous times about Sunstein and (faux) libertarian paternalism. The most recent entry, “The Sunstein Effect Is Alive and  Well in the White House,” ends with links to two dozen related posts. (See also Don Boudreaux, “Where Nudging Leads,” Cafe Hayek, January 24, 2015.)

*     *     *

Maria Konnikova gives some space to Jonathan Haidt in “Is Social Psychology Biased against Republicans?” (The New Yorker, October 30, 2014). It’s no secret that most academic disciplines other than math and the hard sciences are biased against Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, free markets, and liberty. I have something to say about it in “The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament,” and in several of the posts listed here.

*     *     *

Keith E. Stanovich makes some good points about the limitations of intelligence in “Rational and Irrational Thought: The Thinking that IQ Tests Miss” (Scientific American, January 1, 2015). Stanovich writes:

The idea that IQ tests do not measure all the key human faculties is not new; critics of intelligence tests have been making that point for years. Robert J. Sternberg of Cornell University and Howard Gardner of Harvard talk about practical intelligence, creative intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, and the like. Yet appending the word “intelligence” to all these other mental, physical and social entities promotes the very assumption the critics want to attack. If you inflate the concept of intelligence, you will inflate its close associates as well. And after 100 years of testing, it is a simple historical fact that the closest associate of the term “intelligence” is “the IQ test part of intelligence.”

I make a similar point in “Intelligence as a Dirty Word,” though I don’t denigrate IQ, which is a rather reliable predictor of performance in a broad range of endeavors.

*     *     *

Brian Caplan, whose pseudo-libertarianism rankles, tries to defend the concept of altruism in “The Evidence of Altruism” (EconLog, December 30, 2014). Caplan aids his case by using the loaded “selfishness” where he means “self-interest.” He also ignores empathy, which is a key ingredient of the Golden Rule. As for my view of altruism (as a concept), see “Egoism and Altruism.”

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XI)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

Steve Stewart-Williams asks “Did Morality Evolve?” (The Nature-Nurture-Neitzsche Blog, May 2, 2010). His answer:

[T]here are at least two reasons to think morality bears the imprint of our evolutionary history. The first comes from observations of a class of individuals that psychologists all too often ignore: other animals. Nonhuman animals obviously don’t reason explicitly about right and wrong, but they do exhibit some aspects of human morality. Rather than being locked into an eternal war of all-against-all, many animals display tendencies that we count among our most noble: They cooperate; they help one another; they share resources; they love their offspring. For those who doubt that human morality has evolutionary underpinnings, the existence of these ‘noble’ traits in other animals poses a serious challenge….

…A second [reason] is that, not only do we know that these kinds of behaviour are part of the standard behavioural repertoire of humans in all culture and of other animals, we now have a pretty impressive arsenal of theories explaining how such behaviour evolved. Kin selection theory explains why many animals – humans included – are more altruistic toward kin than non-kin: Kin are more likely than chance to share any genes contributing to this nepotistic tendency. Reciprocal altruism theory explains how altruism can evolve even among non-relatives: Helping others can benefit the helper, as long as there’s a sufficient probability that the help will be reciprocated and as long as people avoid helping those who don’t return the favour. Another promising theory is that altruism is a costly display of fitness, which makes the altruist more attractive as a mate or ally. Overall, the evolutionary explanation of altruism represents one of the real success stories of the evolutionary approach to psychology.

Though I’m disinclined to use the term “altruism,” it’s useful shorthand for the kinds of behavior that seems selfless. In any event, I am sympathetic to Stewart-Williams’s view of morality as evolutionary. Morality is at least a learned and culturally-transmitted phenomenon, which manifests itself globally in the Golden Rule.

*     *     *

Pierre Lemieux decries “The Vacuity of the Political ‘We’” (The Library of Economics and Liberty, October 6, 2014):

One can barely read a newspaper or listen to a politician’s speech without hearing the standard “we as a society” or its derivatives….

The truth is that this collective “we” has no scientific meaning.

In the history of economic thought, two main strands of analysis support this conclusion. One was meant to criticize economists’ use of “social indifference curves” (also called “community indifference curves”), which generally appeared in the welfare analysis of international trade between personalized trading countries. Countries were personalized in the sense that they were assumed to have preferences, just as an individual does. In a famous 1956 article, Paul Samuelson definitively demonstrated that such social indifference curves, analogous to individual indifference curves, do not exist….

A second strand of analysis leads to a similar but more general conclusion. The problem has come to be known as the “preference aggregation” issue: how can we aggregate—”add up” as it were—individual preferences? Can we fuse them into social preferences—a “social welfare function”—that would equally represent all individuals? This second tradition of analysis follows a long and broken line of theorists. The Marquis de Condorcet in the 18th century, Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) in the 19th, and economist Duncan Black in the 20th all discovered independently that majority voting does not provide an acceptable aggregation mechanism.

I’ve discussed the vacuity of the political “we” and the “social welfare function” in many posts; most recently this one, where I make these two points:

1. It is a logical and factual error to apply the collective “we” to Americans, except when referring generally to the citizens of the United States. Other instances of “we” (e.g., “we” won World War II, “we” elected Barack Obama) are fatuous and presumptuous. In the first instance, only a small fraction of Americans still living had a hand in the winning of World War II. In the second instance, Barack Obama was elected by amassing the votes of fewer than 25 percent of the number of Americans living in 2008 and 2012. “We the People” — that stirring phrase from the Constitution’s preamble — was never more hollow than it is today.

2. Further, the logical and factual error supports the unwarranted view that the growth of government somehow reflects a “national will” or consensus of Americans. Thus, appearances to the contrary (e.g., the adoption and expansion of national “social insurance” schemes, the proliferation of cabinet departments, the growth of the administrative state) a sizable fraction of Americans (perhaps a majority) did not want government to grow to its present size and degree of intrusiveness. And a sizable fraction (perhaps a majority) would still prefer that it shrink in both dimensions. In fact, The growth of government is an artifact of formal and informal arrangements that, in effect, flout the wishes of many (most?) Americans. The growth of government was not and is not the will of “we Americans,” “Americans on the whole,” “Americans in the aggregate,” or any other mythical consensus.

*     *     *

I’m pleased to note that there are still some enlightened souls like David Mulhhausen, who writes about “How the Death Penalty Saves Lives” (September 30, 2014) , at the website of The Heritage Foundation. Muhlhausen cites several studies in support of his position. I’ve treated crime and punishment many times; for example:

Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
What Is Justice?
Saving the Innocent
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?
Lock ‘Em Up
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case
Stop, Frisk, and Save Lives
Poverty, Crime, and Big Governmen

The numbers are there to support strict punishment, up to and including capital punishment. But even if the numbers weren’t conclusive, I’d be swayed by John McAdams, a professor of political science at Marquette University, who makes a succinct case for the death penalty, regardless of its deterrent effect:

I’m a bit surprised . . . [by the] claim that “the burden of empirical proof would seem to lie with the pro-death penalty scholar.” If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call.

The same goes for fraudsters, thieves, rapists, and other transgressors against morality.

*     *     *

Walter E. Williams asks “Will the West Defend Itself?” (creators.com, October 1, 2014):

A debate about whether Islam is a religion of peace or not is entirely irrelevant to the threat to the West posed by ISIL, al-Qaida and other Middle Eastern terrorist groups. I would like to gather a news conference with our Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno; Marines’ commandant, Gen. Joseph Dunford; chief of naval operations, Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert; and Gen. Mark A. Welsh, the U.S. Air Force’s chief of staff. This would be my question to them: The best intelligence puts ISIL’s size at 35,000 to 40,000 people. Do you officers think that the combined efforts of our military forces could defeat and lay waste to ISIL? Before they had a chance to answer, I’d add: Do you think the combined military forces of NATO and the U.S. could defeat and eliminate ISIL. Depending on the answers given, I’d then ask whether these forces could also eliminate Iran’s capability of making nuclear weapons.

My question to my fellow Americans is: What do you think their answers would be? No beating around the bush: Does the U.S. have the power to defeat the ISIL/al-Qaida threat and stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions — yes or no?

If our military tells us that we do have the capacity to defeat the terror threat, then the reason that we don’t reflects a lack of willingness. It’s that same lack of willingness that led to the deaths of 60 million people during World War II. In 1936, France alone could have stopped Adolf Hitler, but France and its allies knowingly allowed Hitler to rearm, in violation of treaties. When Europeans finally woke up to Hitler’s agenda, it was too late. Their nations were conquered. One of the most horrible acts of Nazi Germany was the Holocaust, which cost an estimated 11 million lives. Those innocents lost their lives because of the unwillingness of Europeans to protect themselves against tyranny.

Westerners getting the backbone to defend ourselves from terrorists may have to await a deadly attack on our homeland. You say, “What do you mean, Williams?” America’s liberals have given terrorists an open invitation to penetrate our country through our unprotected southern border. Terrorists can easily come in with dirty bombs to make one of our major cities uninhabitable through radiation. They could just as easily plant chemical or biological weapons in our cities. If they did any of these acts — leading to the deaths of millions of Americans — I wonder whether our liberal Democratic politicians would be able to respond or they would continue to mouth that “Islam teaches peace” and “Islam is a religion of peace.”

Unfortunately for our nation’s future and that of the world, we see giving handouts as the most important function of government rather than its most basic function: defending us from barbarians.

Exactly. The title of my post, “A Grand Strategy for the United States,” is a play on Strategy for the  West (1954), by Marshall of the Royal Air Force Sir John Cotesworth Slessor. Slessor was, by some accounts, a principal author of nuclear deterrence. Aside from his role in the development of a strategy for keeping the USSR at bay, Slessor is perhaps best known for this observation:

It is customary in democratic countries to deplore expenditure on armaments as conflicting with the requirements of the social services. There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service that a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free. (Strategy for the West, p. 75)

Doctrinaire libertarians seem unable to grasp this. Like “liberals,” they tend to reject the notion of a strong defense because they are repelled by the “tribalism” represented by state sovereignty. One such doctrinaire libertarian is Don Boudreaux, who — like Walter E. Williams — teaches economics at George Mason University.

A post by Boudreaux at his blog Cafe Hayek caused me to write “Liberalism and Sovereignty,” where I say this:

Boudreaux … states a (truly) liberal value, namely, that respect for others should not depend on where they happen to live. Boudreaux embellishes that theme in the the next several paragraphs of his post; for example:

[L]iberalism rejects the notion that there is anything much special or compelling about political relationships.  It is tribalistic, atavistic, to regard those who look more like you to be more worthy of your regard than are those who look less like you.  It is tribalistic, atavistic, to regard those who speak your native tongue to be more worthy of your affection and concern than are those whose native tongues differ from yours.

For the true liberal, the human race is the human race.  The struggle is to cast off as much as possible primitive sentiments about “us” being different from “them.”

The problem with such sentiments — correct as they may be — is the implication that we have nothing more to fear from people of foreign lands than we have to fear from our own friends and neighbors. Yet, as Boudreaux himself acknowledges,

[t]he liberal is fully aware that such sentiments [about “us” being different from “them”] are rooted in humans’ evolved psychology, and so are not easily cast off.  But the liberal does his or her best to rise above those atavistic sentiments,

Yes, the liberal does strive to rise above such sentiments, but not everyone else makes the same effort, as Boudreaux admits. Therein lies the problem.

Americans — as a mostly undifferentiated mass — are disdained and hated by many foreigners (and by many an American “liberal”). The disdain and hatred arise from a variety of imperatives, ranging from pseudo-intellectual snobbery to nationalistic rivalry to anti-Western fanaticism. When those imperative lead to aggression (threatened or actual), that aggression is aimed at all of us: liberal, “liberal,” conservative, libertarian, bellicose, pacifistic, rational, and irrational.

Having grasped that reality, the Framers “did ordain and establish” the Constitution “in Order to . . . provide for the common defence” (among other things). That is to say, the Framers recognized the importance of establishing the United States as a sovereign state for limited and specified purposes, while preserving the sovereignty of its constituent States and their inhabitants for all other purposes.

If Americans do not mutually defend themselves through the sovereign state which was established for that purpose, who will? That is the question which liberals (both true and false) often fail to ask. Instead, they tend to propound internationalism for its own sake. It is a mindless internationalism, one that often disdains America’s sovereignty, and the defense thereof.

Mindless internationalism equates sovereignty with  jingoism, protectionism, militarism, and other deplorable “isms.” It ignores or denies the hard reality that Americans and their legitimate overseas interests are threatened by nationalistic rivalries and anti-Western fanaticism.

In the real world of powerful rivals and determined, resourceful fanatics, the benefits afforded Americans by our (somewhat eroded) constitutional contract — most notably the enjoyment of civil liberties, the blessings of  free markets and free trade, and the protections of a common defense — are inseparable from and dependent upon the sovereign power of the United States.  To cede that sovereignty for the sake of mindless internationalism is to risk the complete loss of the benefits promised by the Constitution.

Signature

Posner the Fatuous

Richard Posner, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, recently opined for a unanimous three-judge panel when it tossed Wisconsin and Indiana’s same-sex “marriage” bans.  I certainly can’t improve on Ed Whelan’s commentary about Posner’s opinion (here, here, here, and here). Instead, I’ll examine Posner’s earlier conversion to the cause of same-sex “marriage.”

Posner announced his conversion in a blog post dated May 13, 2012. Here are some excerpts in italics, followed by my commentary in bold:

Beginning in the 1960s and accelerating dramatically in the 1990s and 2000s, legal changes and changes in public attitudes resulted in the dismantling of most public and private discriminatory measures against homosexuals. Why the powerful antipathy toward homosexuality gave ground so rapidly and, it seemed, effortlessly, in the sense that resistance seemed to melt away rather than having to be overcome by militant action, is something of a puzzle. Greatly increased tolerance of nonmarital sex, and of cohabitation as a substitute for marriage, reduced the traditional abhorrence of homosexual sex, which was (and to a large extent still is, since only a handful of states recognize homosexual marriage) nonmarital; and with the decline of prudery, deviant sexual practices created less revulsion in the straight population.

This passage effectively equates the rise of open homosexuality with the decline of sexual morality.

Another factor in increased tolerance is that as homosexuals began feeling less pressure to conceal their homosexuality, and so began to mingle openly with heterosexuals, the latter discovered that homosexuals are for the most part indistinguishable from heterosexuals, and this created sympathy for homosexuals’ desire to be treated equally with heterosexuals both generally and in regard to marriage.

Homosexuals are decidedly different from heterosexuals in their sexuality. How does that essential difference “create[] sympathy for homosexuals’ desire to be treated equally … in regard to marriage”? Posner glosses over the fact of a long, sustained campaign by media and political elites to “celebrate” homosexuality and to recognize same-sex “marriage.” Morally anchorless people are easily swayed by such campaigns because they don’t understand what’s at stake. Same-sex marriage, to the unreflective, is just another “good thing” that government can do for an interest group. Like almost every government program since the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887, the benefits (for some) are visible; the costs are hidden, but real nonetheless.

Moreover, the older view of homosexuality (especially male homosexuality) as a choice … gradually gave way to realization on the part of most people that homosexual preference is innate, rather than chosen or the result of seduction or recruitment.

Perhaps. But causality is irrelevant to the issue of same-sex “marriage.”

If homosexuality is innate, it becomes difficult to see why it should be thought to require regulation. And for the additional reason that the homosexual population is very small. Kinsey’s estimate that 10 percent of the population is homosexual has long been discredited; it appears that no more than 2 to 4 percent is.

If psychopathy is innate, and if there are relatively few psychopaths, why not let psychopaths murder at will? I’m not equating homosexuality with psychopathy, just pointing out the fatuousness of Posner’s analysis.

This small population [of homosexuals] is on the whole law-abiding and productively employed, and having a below-normal fertility rate does not impose the same costs on the education and welfare systems as the heterosexual population does. It is thus not surprising that in response to the President’s announcement of his support for homosexual marriage, Republican leaders cautioned their followers not to be distracted by this issue from the problems of the U.S. economy. This was tacit acknowledgment that homosexual marriage, and homosexual rights in general, have no economic significance. 

This is a side-show of Posner’s invention. Republican leaders certainly want to keep the focus on the state of the economy, but that has nothing to do with the public costs that might result from gay “marriage.”

It seems that the only remaining basis for opposition to homosexual marriage, or to legal equality between homosexuals and heterosexuals in general, is religious. [And blah, blah, blah.]

False. See related posts listed below.

*     *     *

Related reading: John Finnis, “The Profound Injustice of Judge Posner on Marriage,” Public Discourse,  October 9, 2014

Signature

*      *      *

Related posts:
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
In Defense of Marriage
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty

A Case for Redistribution, Not Made

Jessica Flanigan, one of the bleeders at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, offers this excuse for ripping money out of the hands of some persons and placing it into the hands of other persons:

Lately I’ve been thinking about my reasons for endorsing a UBI [universal basic income], especially given that I also share Michael Huemer’s skepticism about political authority. Consider this case:

  • (1) Anne runs a business called PropertySystem, which manufacturers and maintains a private currency that can be traded for goods and services. The currency exists in users’ private accounts and Anne’s company provides security services for users. If someone tries to hack into the accounts she prevents them from doing so. The company also punishes users who violate the rules of PropertySystem. So if someone steals or tries to steal the currency from users, that person may have some of their currency taken away or they may even be held in one of PropertySystem’s jails. These services are financed through a yearly service fee.

This sounds fine. If everyone consented to join PropertySystem then they can’t really complain that Anne charges a fee for the services. There will be some questions about those who are not PropertySystem members, and how Anne’s company should treat them. But for the membership, consent seems to render what Anne is doing permissible. Next,

  • (2) Anne thinks that it would be morally better if she gave money to poor people. She changes the user agreement for her currency holders to increase her maintenance fee and she gives some of the money to poor people. Or, Anne decides to just print more money and mail it to people so that she doesn’t have to raise fees, even though this could decrease the value of the holdings of her richest clients.

By changing the user agreement or distribution system in this way, Anne doesn’t seem to violate anyone’s rights. And PropertySystem does some good through its currency and protection services by using the company to benefit people who are badly off. Now imagine,

  • (3) Anne decides that she doesn’t like PropertySystem competing with other providers so she compels everyone in a certain territory to use PropertySystem’s currency and protection services and to pay service fees, which she now calls taxes.

 …[T[here are moral reasons in favor of Anne’s policy changes from (1) to (2). She changed the property conventions in ways that did not violate anyone’s pre-political ownership rights while still benefiting the badly off. If Anne implemented policy (2) after she started forcing everyone to join her company (3) it would still be morally better than policy (1) despite the fact that (3) is unjust.This is the reason I favor a basic income. Such a policy balances the reasonable complaints that people may have about the effects of a property system that they never consented to join. Though redistribution cannot justify forcing everyone to join a property system, it can at least compensate people who are very badly off partly because they were forced to join that property system. Some people will do very well under a property system that nevertheless violates their rights. But it is not a further rights violation if a property system doesn’t benefit the rich as much as it possibly could.

Flanigan’s logical confusion is astounding.

To begin with, if (3) is “unjust,” implementing (2) as a subset of (3) almost certainly expands the scope of injustice. Flanigan assumes, without justification, that those who are “very badly off” in are so “partly because they were forced to join the property system.” What’s much more likely is that those who are “very badly off” would be very badly off inside or outside the property system because they lack the mental or physical wherewithal to better themselves. By the same token, most of those who are very well off under the property system — including most members of that despised straw-man class, “crony capitalists” — probably would be very well off outside the property system because they possess the wherewithal to better themselves.

Flanigan, like most leftists, wants to blame a “system” instead of looking to the ability and determination of individual persons. Blaming a “system” justifies (in the minds of Flanigan and her ilk) “fixes” that are intended to favor those whom they assume to be “victims” of the “system.”

Flanigan’s simplistic taxonomy of cases — (1), (2), and (3) — bears no resemblance to political reality, that is, to the “system” that has existed in the United States, or to the “system” that has prevailed in the world at large for eons. Reality looks more like this:

The current “system” — the U.S. under the Constitution that was ratified by some of the people in 1788 — began with the imposition of a more intrusive central government on all of the people living within the geographical area defined as the United States. The constituent jurisdictions — the States and their political subdivisions — were governed to greater and lesser degrees of intrusiveness. But, slaves and indentured servants excpted, Americans were free to move to jurisdictions that they found more congenial. The westward expansion of the United States under minimalist territorial governments made “exit” an especially attractive and viable option from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. With the end of slavery (but not of government-imposed racial discrimination), negative liberty reached an apogee (for whites, at least) during the late 1800s.

The Progressives of the late 1800s and early 1900s — a vocal and eventually powerful minority — then began to use the central government to impose their paternalistic designs on the populace as a whole. There have since been some pauses in the accretion of power by the central government, and a few reversals in selected areas (e.g., limited “deregulation” of some industries). But the centralization of power has grown steadily since the Progressive Era, and the exit option has became almost a nullity.

Plugging that bit of potted history into Flanigan’s taxonomy, I would say that with the adoption of the Constitution Americans were thrust wholesale into stage (3). Because of the opening of the frontier, however, Americans (or a goodly fraction of them) had a shot at something less onerous for a while (call it 3-minus). But with the ascendancy of D.C. over the hinterlands we’ve all been in stage (3) for several decades. And income redistribution — whether it’s called welfare, Social Security, or UBI — is (a) nothing new and (b) nothing more than one among many features of stage (3).

Nor is that the end of the story. It’s impossible to sort the winners and losers under the “system” that’s been in place since 1788 — or 1781 if you prefer to begin with the Articles of Confederation, or 1607 if you prefer to begin with the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. It would require an intricate analysis of the economic and social effects of all the laws and regulations of the the United States — or the Colonies — and their subdivisions. And it would require the allocation of those effects to every person now living.

But that wouldn’t be enough, would it? Total fairness would require an accounting of the conditions in the various lands from which persons came to the United States, or which were absorbed into the United States. How far back should the analysis go? Perhaps not as far back as the origin of life 3.5 billion to 4.5 billion years ago, but certainly as far back as the advent of homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago. After all, where human beings are concerned there’s no such thing as a pre-political state of nature. Politics is what human beings “do” to get along with each other and to dominate each other, whether the polity in question numbers two or two billion persons.

Any less-detailed accounting, such as the one suggested by Flanigan, is meant to discriminate in favor of those persons (or classes of persons) favored by bleeding hearts, at the expense of those not favored. Why so? Because bleeding hearts (i.e., “liberals”) jump to conclusions about who’s “deserving” and who’s not. Further, they jump to conclusions about groups, not about individual persons, as if every member of an arbitrarily defined group had emerged from the same background, in every particular.

Slave owners jumped to the same conclusions about African Negroes. The all-powerful state — the state that can tax  X and give the money to Y — is the moral equivalent of a slave-owner. Taxation is a form of slavery.

Signature

 

*     *     *

Related posts:
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists
Enough with the Bleeding Hearts, Already
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Libertarianism and the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists (Redux)

Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”

The “satirical and opinionated,” but well-read, Fred Reed poses some questions about evolution. He wisely asks John Derbyshire to answer them. In the absence of a response from Derbyshire, I will venture some answers, and then offer some general observations about evolution and two closely related subjects: culture and “diversity.” (The “sneer quotes” mean that “diversity,” as used by leftists, really means favoritism toward their clientele — currently blacks and Hispanics, especially illegal immigrants).

Herewith, Reed’s questions (abridged, in italics) and my answers:

(1) In evolutionary principle, traits that lead to more surviving children proliferate. In practice, when people learn how to have fewer or no children, they do…. [W]hat selective pressures lead to a desire not to reproduce, and how does this fit into a Darwinian framework?

As life becomes less fraught for homo sapiens, reproduction becomes less necessary. First, the ability of the species (and families) to survive and thrive becomes less dependent on sheer numbers and more dependent on technological advances. Second (and consequently), more couples are able to  trade the time and expense of child-rearing for what would have been luxuries in times past (e.g., a nicer home, bigger cars, more luxurious vacations, a more comfortable retirement).

As suggested by the second point, human behavior isn’t determined solely by genes; it has a strong cultural component. There is an interplay between genes and culture, as I’ll discuss, but culture can (and does) influence evolution. An emergent aspect of culture is an inverse relationship between the number of children and social status. Social status is enhanced by the acquisition and display of goods made affordable by limiting family size.

(2) Morality. In evolution as I understand it, there are no absolute moral values: Morals evolved as traits allowing social cooperation, conducing to the survival of the group and therefore to the production of more surviving children….

Question: Why should I not indulge my hobby of torturing to death the severely genetically retarded? This would seem beneficial. We certainly don’t want them to reproduce, they use resources better invested in healthy children, and it makes no evolutionary difference whether they die quietly or screaming.

Here Reed clearly (if tacitly) acknowledges the role of culture as a (but not the) determinant of behavior. Morals may “evolve,” but not in the same way as physiological characteristics. Morals may nevertheless influence the survival of a species, as Reed suggests. Morals may also influence biological evolution to the extent that selective mating favors those who adhere to a beneficial morality, and yields offspring who are genetically predisposed toward that morality.

Religion — especially religion in the Judeo-Christian tradition — fosters beneficial morality. This is from David Sloan Wilson‘s “Beyond Demonic Memes: Why Richard Dawkins Is Wrong about Religion” (eSkeptic.com, July 4, 2007):

On average, religious believers are more prosocial than non-believers, feel better about themselves, use their time more constructively, and engage in long-term planning rather than gratifying their impulsive desires. On a moment-by-moment basis, they report being more happy, active, sociable, involved and excited. Some of these differences remain even when religious and non-religious believers are matched for their degree of prosociality. More fine-grained comparisons reveal fascinating differences between liberal vs. conservative protestant denominations, with more anxiety among the liberals and conservatives feeling better in the company of others than when alone…

In Darwin’s Cathedral, I initiated a survey of religions drawn at random from the 16-volume Encyclopedia of World Religions, edited by the great religious scholar Mircia Eliade. The results are described in an article titled “Testing Major Evolutionary Hypotheses about Religion with a Random Sample,” which was published in the journal Human Nature and is available on my website. The beauty of random sampling is that, barring a freak sampling accident, valid conclusions for the sample apply to all of the religions in the encyclopedia from which the sample was taken. By my assessment, the majority of religions in the sample are centered on practical concerns, especially the definition of social groups and the regulation of social interactions within and between groups. New religious movements usually form when a constituency is not being well served by current social organizations (religious or secular) in practical terms and is better served by the new movement. The seemingly irrational and otherworldly elements of religions in the sample usually make excellent practical sense when judged by the only gold standard that matters from an evolutionary perspective — what they cause the religious believers to do.

What religions do (on the whole) is to cause their adherents to live more positive and productive lives, as Wilson notes in the first part of the quotation.

Despite the decline of religious observance in the West, most Westerners are still strongly influenced by the moral tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Why? Because the observance of those traditions fosters beneficial cooperation, and beneficial cooperation fosters happiness and prosperity. (For a detailed exposition of this point, see “Religion and Liberty” in “Facets of Liberty.”)

Therefore, one answer to Reed’s rhetorical question — “Why should I not indulge my hobby of torturing to death the severely genetically retarded?” — is that such behavior doesn’t comport with Judeo-Christian morality. A second answer is that empathy causes most people eschew actions that cause suffering in others (except in the defense of self, kin, and country), and empathy may be a genetic (i.e. evolutionary) trait.

(3) Abiogenesis. This is not going to be a fair question as there is no way anyone can know the answer, but I pose it anyway. The theory, which I cannot refute, is that a living, metabolizing, reproducing gadget formed accidentally in the ancient seas. Perhaps it did. I wasn’t there. It seems to me, though, that the more complex one postulates the First Critter to have been, the less likely, probably exponentially so, it would have been to form. The less complex one postulates it to have been, the harder to explain why biochemistry, which these days is highly sophisticated, cannot reproduce the event. Question: How many years would have to pass without replication of the event, if indeed it be not replicated, before one might begin to suspect that it didn’t happen?

How many years? 250 million to 1 billion. That’s roughly the length of time between the formation of Earth and the beginning of life, according to current estimates. (See the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article about abiogenesis.) That could be plenty of time for untold billions of random interactions of matter to have produced a life form that could, with further development, reproduce and become more complex. But who knows? And even if someone in a lab somewhere happens to produce such a “critter,” it may well be different than Reed’s First Critter.

I certainly hew to the possibility that seems to lurk in Reed’s mind; namely, that the First Critter was the handiwork of the Creator, or at least came to be because of the physical laws established by the Creator. (See “Existence and Creation,” possibility 5.)

(4) … Straight-line evolution, for example in which Eohippus gradually gets larger until it reaches Clydesdale, is plausible because each intervening step is a viable animal. In fact this is just selective breeding. Yet many evolutionary transformations seem to require intermediate stages that could not survive.

For example there are two-cycle bugs (insects, arachnids) that lay eggs that hatch into tiny replicas of the adults, which grow, lay eggs, and repeat the cycle. The four-cycle bugs go through egg, larva, pupa, adult. Question: What are the viable steps needed to evolve from one to the other? Or from anything to four-cycle? …

Lacking the technical wherewithal requisite to a specific answer, I fall back on time — the billions of years encompassed in evolution.

(5) … Mr. Derbyshire believes strongly in genetic determinism—that we are what we are and behave as we do because of genetic programming….

… A physical (to include chemical) system cannot make decisions. All subsequent states of a physical system are determined by the initial state. So, if one accepts the electrochemical premise (which, again, seems to be correct) it follows that we do not believe things because they are true, but because we are predestined to believe them. Question: Does not genetic determinism (with which I have no disagreement) lead to a  paradox: that the thoughts we think we are thinking we only think to be thoughts when they are really utterly predetermined by the inexorable working of physics and chemistry?

This smacks of Cartesian dualism, the view that “there are two fundamental kinds of substance: mental and material.” It seems to me easier to believe that the nervous system (with its focal point in the brain). It seems to me that experimental psychologists have amply document the links between brain activity (i.e., mental states) and behavior.

The real question is whether behavior is strictly determined by genes. The obvious answer is “no” because every instance of behavior is conditioned by immediate circumstances, which are not always (usually?) determined by the actor.

Further, free will is consistent with a purely physiological interpretation of behavioral decisions:

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.

My suspicion is well-founded. The brains of human beings are complex, and consist of many “centers” that perform different functions. That complexity enables self-awareness; a person may “stand back” from himself and view his actions critically. Human beings, in other words, aren’t simple machines that operate according hard-wired routines.

(6) … In principle, traits spread through a population because they lead to the having of greater numbers of children….

… Genes already exist in populations for extraordinary superiority of many sorts—for the intelligence of Stephen Hawking, the body of Mohammed Ali, for 20/5 vision, for the astonishing endurance in running of the Tarahumara Indians, and so on. To my unschooled understanding, these traits offer clear and substantial advantage in survival and reproduction, yet they do not become universal, or even common. The epicanthic fold does. Question: Why do seemingly trivial traits proliferate while clearly important ones do not?

First, survival depends on traits that are suited to the environment in which a group finds itself. Not all — or even most — challenges to survival demand the intelligence of a Hawking, the body of an Ali, etc. Further, cooperative groups find that acting together they possess high intelligence of a kind that’s suited to the group’s situation. Similarly, the strength of many is usually sufficient to overcome obstacles and meet challenges.

Second, mating isn’t driven entirely by a focus on particular traits — high intelligence, superior athletic ability, etc. Such traits therefore remain relatively rare unless they are essential to survival, which might explain the “astonishing endurance running of the Tarahumara Indians.”

(7) … Looking at the human body, I see many things that appear to have no relation to survival or more vigorous reproduction, and that indeed work against it, yet are universal in the species. For example, the kidneys contain the nervous tissue that makes kidney stones agonizingly painful, yet until recently the victim has been able to do nothing about them….

What is the reproductive advantage of crippling pain (migraines can be crippling) about which pre-recently, the sufferer could do nothing?

What is the reproductive advantage of Tay-Sachs disease, which is found disproportionately among Ashkenazi Jews? Here is a reasonable hypothesis:

Gregory Cochran proposes that the mutant alleles causing Tay–Sachs confer higher intelligence when present in carrier form, and provided a selective advantage in the historical period when Jews were restricted to intellectual occupations.[9][10] Peter Frost argues for a similar heterozygote advantage for mutant alleles being responsible for the prevalence of Tay Sachs disease in Eastern Quebec.[11]

In sum, the bad sometimes goes with the good. That’s just the way evolution is. In the case of migraines, it may be that those who are prone to them are also in some way attractive as mates. Who knows? But if every genetic disadvantage worked against survival, human beings would have become extinct long ago.

(8) Finally, the supernatural. Unfairly, as it turned out, in regard to religion I had expected Mr. Derbyshire to strike the standard “Look at me, I’m an atheist, how advanced I am” pose. I was wrong. In fact he says that he believes in a God. (Asked directly, he responded, “Yes, to my own satisfaction, though not necessarily to yours.”) His views are reasoned, intellectually modest, and, though I am not a believer, I see nothing with which to quarrel, though for present purposes this is neither here nor there. Question: If one believes in or suspects the existence of God or gods, how does one exclude the possibility that He, She, or It meddles in the universe—directing evolution, for example?

A belief in gods would seem to leave the door open to Intelligent Design, the belief that the intricacies of life came about not by accident but were crafted by Somebody or Something. The view, anathema in evolutionary circles, is usually regarded as emanating from Christianity, and usually does….

In the piece by Derbyshire to which Reed links, Derbyshire writes:

I belong to the 16 percent of Americans who, in the classification used for a recent survey, believe in a “Critical God.”… He is the Creator….

I am of the same persuasion, though Derbyshire and I may differ in our conception of God’s role in the Universe:

1. There is necessarily a creator of the universe [see this], which comprises all that exists in “nature.”

2. The creator is not part of nature; that is, he stands apart from his creation and is neither of its substance nor governed by its laws. (I use “he” as a term of convenience, not to suggest that the creator is some kind of human or animate being, as we know such beings.)

3. The creator designed the universe, if not in detail then in its parameters. The parameters are what we know as matter-energy (substance) and its various forms, motions, and combinations (the laws that govern the behavior of matter-energy).

4. The parameters determine everything that is possible in the universe. But they do not necessarily dictate precisely the unfolding of events in the universe. Randomness and free will are evidently part of the creator’s design.

5. The human mind and its ability to “do science” — to comprehend the laws of nature through observation and calculation — are artifacts of the creator’s design.

6. Two things probably cannot be known through science: the creator’s involvement in the unfolding of natural events; the essential character of the substance on which the laws of nature operate.

Points 3 and 4 say as much as I am willing to say about Intelligent Design.

I turn now to the interaction of culture and biological evolution, which figures in my answers to several of Reed’s questions. Consider this, from an article by evolutionary psychologist Joseph Henrich (“A Cultural Species: How Culture Drove Human Evolution,” Psychological Science Agenda, American Psychological Association, November 2011; citations omitted):

Once a species is sufficiently reliant on learning from others for at least some aspects of its behavioral repertoire, cultural evolutionary processes can arise, and these processes can alter the environment faced by natural selection acting on genes….

Models of cumulative cultural evolution suggest two important, and perhaps non-intuitive, features of our species. First, our ecological success, technology, and adaptation to diverse environments is not due to our intelligence. Alone and stripped of our culture, we are hopeless as a species. Cumulative cultural evolution has delivered both our fancy technologies as well as the subtle and unconscious ways that humans have adapted their behavior and thinking to tackle environmental challenges. The smartest among us could not in a single lifetime devise even a small fraction of the techniques and technologies that allow any foraging society to survive. Second, the available formal models make clear that the effectiveness of this cumulative cultural evolutionary process depends crucially on the size and interconnectedness of our populations and social networks. It’s the ability to freely exchange information that sparks and accelerates adaptive cultural evolution, and creates innovation…. Sustaining complex technologies depends on maintaining a large and well-interconnected population of minds.

…In the case of ethnic groups, for example, such models explore how genes and culture coevolve. This shows how cultural evolution will, under a wide range of conditions, create a landscape in which different social groups tend to share both similar behavioral expectations and similar arbitrary “ethnic markers” (like dialect or language). In the wake of this culturally constructed world, genes evolve to create minds that are inclined to preferentially interact with and imitate those who share their markers. This guarantees that individuals most effectively coordinate with those who share their culturally learned behavioral expectations (say about marriage or child rearing). These purely theoretical predictions were subsequently confirmed by experiments with both children and adults.

This approach also suggests that cultural evolution readily gives rise to social norms, as long as learners can culturally acquire the standards by which they judge others. Many models robustly demonstrate that cultural evolution can sustain almost any behavior or preference that is common in a population (including cooperation), if it is not too costly. This suggests that different groups will end up with different norms and begin to compete with each other. Competition among groups with different norms will favor those particular norms that lead to success in intergroup competition. My collaborators and I have argued that cultural group selection has shaped the cultural practices, institutions, beliefs and psychologies that are common in the world today, including those associated with anonymous markets, prosocial religions with big moralizing gods, and monogamous marriage. Each of these cultural packages, which have emerged relatively recently in human history, impacts our psychology and behavior. Priming “markets” and “God”, for example, increase trust and giving (respectively) in behavioral experiments, though “God primes” only work on theists. Such research avenues hold the promise of explaining, rather than merely documenting, the patterns of psychological variation observed across human populations.

The cultural evolution of norms over tens or hundreds of thousands of years, and their shaping by cultural group selection, may have driven genetic evolution to create a suite of cognitive adaptations we call norm psychology. This aspect of our evolved psychology emerged and coevolved in response to cultural evolution’s production of norms. This suite facilitates, among other things, our identification and learning of social norms, our expectation of sanctions for norm violations, and our ability to internalize normative behavior as motivations….

Biological evolution continues, and with it, cultural evolution. But there are some “constants” that seem to remain embedded in the norms of most cultural-genetic groups. Among them, moral codes that exclude gratuitous torture of innocent children, a belief in God, and status-consciousness (which, for example, reinforces a diminished need to reproduce for survival of the species).

Henrich hits upon one of the reasons — perhaps the main reason — why efforts to integrate various biological-cultural groups under the banner of “diversity” are doomed to failure:

[G]enes evolve to create minds that are inclined to preferentially interact with and imitate those who share their markers. This guarantees that individuals most effectively coordinate with those who share their culturally learned behavioral expectations (say about marriage or child rearing).

As I say here,

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.

At that point, I turn to an article by Michael Jonas about 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….

(That’s from Jonas’s article, “The Downside of diversity,” The Boston Globe (boston.com), August 5, 2007. See this post for more about genetic kinship and “diversity.”)

In a later post, I add this:

Yes, human beings are social animals, but human beings are not “brothers under the skin,” and there is no use in pretending that we are. Trying to make us so, by governmental fiat, isn’t only futile but also wasteful and harmful. The futility of forced socialization is as true of the United States — a vast and varied collection of races, ethnicities, religions, and cultures — as it is of the world.

Despite the blatant reality of America’s irreconcilable diversity, American increasingly are being forced to lead their lives according to the dictates of the central government. Some apologists for this state of affairs will refer to the “common good,” which is a fiction that I address in [“Modern Utilitarianism,” “The Social Welfare Function,” and “Utilitarianism vs. Liberty”].

Human beings, for the most part, may be bigger, stronger, and healthier than ever, but their physical progress depends heavily on technology, and would be reversed by a cataclysm that disables technology. Further, technologically based prosperity masks moral squalor. Strip away that prosperity, and the West would look like the warring regions of Central and South America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and South and Southeast Asia: racial and ethnic war without end. Much of urban and suburban America — outside affluent, well-guarded, and mostly “liberal” enclaves — would look like Ferguson.

Human beings are not “brothers under the skin,” and no amount of wishful thinking or forced integration can make us so. That is the lesson to be learned from biological and cultural evolution, which makes human beings different — perhaps irreconcilably so — but not necessarily better.

Signature

*     *     *

Related posts:
Diversity
Crime, Explained
Society and the State
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
“Conversing” about Race
The Fallacy of Human Progress
“We the People” and Big Government
Evolution and Race
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government