Month: August 2013

Not-So-Random Thoughts (VIII)

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

I begin with a post of mine, “Civil Society and Homosexual ‘Marriage’“:

[A]s sure as the sun sets in the west, the state will begin to apply the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in order to protect homosexual “marriage” from its critics. Acting under the rubric of “civil rights” — and  in keeping with the way that anti-discrimination laws have been applied to date — the state will deal harshly with employers, landlords, and clergy who seem to discriminate against homosexual “marriage” and its participants.

And right on schedule:

[T]he New Mexico Supreme Court has found that a photographer who declined to photograph a gay “wedding” was at fault… (Tom Trinko, “New Mexico Takes a Stab at Nullifying the Constitution,” American Thinker, August 25, 2013)

See also my post “Abortion, ‘Gay Rights,” and Liberty.

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Keir Maitland nails the pseudo-libertarian mentality:

Libertarians are being torn apart from within. Two groups are responsible for this: the libertines and the liberal bigots. ‘Liberal bigots’ is a phrase that I have stolen from Peter Hitchens and I am using it to describe a group within the libertarian movement who are more concerned about being politically correct than defending anybody’s right to discriminate. By libertines, I mean simply those who view libertarianism as a rebellion against tradition, hierarchy, morality and authority….

The former, the liberal bigots, in my view are often ‘thin libertarians’ of the worst kind: libertarians who believe in the nonaggression axiom and nothing else. These people can only think in terms of libertarian legal theory and, as cultural Marxists, will defend anybody’s way of life, except, oddly enough, a traditionalist and antiegalitarian way of life. The latter, however, are usually ‘thick libertarians’…. Thick libertarians are libertarians who, in addition to being well-versed in libertarian law, think about how a libertarian society would, could and should function. Thick libertarians judge not only whether or not something is legal, but whether it is conducive to libertarian ends. However, sadly, the modal thick libertarian is a libertine: someone who believes that prosperity, happiness and other good ends, for which we all strive, are achieved not through a ‘sensible’ lifestyle but through a relatively reckless one. (“Libertines and Liberal Bigots,” Libertarian Alliance Blog, August 22, 2013)

Maitland’s assessment harmonizes with my own, which I’ve expressed in several posts, including “Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians“:

(Pseudo) libertarians like to demonstrate their bogus commitment to liberty by proclaiming loudly their support for unfettered immigration, unfettered speech, unfettered abortion, unfettered same-sex coupling (and legal recognition thereof as “marriage’), and unfettered you-name-it.. In the minds of these moral relativists, liberty is a dream world where anything goes — anything of which they approve, that is….

Another staple of (pseudo) libertarian thought is a slavish devotion to privacy — when that devotion supports a (pseudo) libertarian position. Economists like Caplan and Boudreaux are cagy about abortion. But other (pseudo) libertarians are less so; for example:

I got into a long conversation yesterday with a [Ron] Paul supporter who took me to task for my criticisms of Paul’s positions. For one thing, he insisted, Paul’s position on abortion wasn’t as bad as I made it out, because Paul just thinks abortion is a matter for the states. I pointed out that in my book, saying that states can violate the rights of women [emphasis added] is no more libertarian than saying that the federal government can violate the rights of women.

Whence the “right” to abort an unborn child? Here, according to the same writer:

I do believe that abortion is a liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment….

This train of “logic” is in accord with the U.S. Supreme Court’s manufactured “right” to an abortion under the Fourteenth (or was it the Ninth?) Amendment, which I have discussed in various places, including here. All in the name of “privacy.”…

It is no wonder that many (pseudo) libertarians like to call themselves liberaltarians. It is hard to distinguish (pseudo) libertarians from “liberals,” given their shared penchant for decrying and destroying freedom of association and evolved social norms. It is these which underlie the conditions of mutual respect, mutual trust, and forbearance that enable human beings to coexist peacefully and cooperatively. That is to say, in liberty.

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A recent foray into constitutional issues unearthed this commentary about the opinion delivered by Chief Justice Roberts in the case of Obamacare:

Oh, how far we’ve deviated from our Founders in just over 200 years.

The entire country is pouring over an incoherent, internally contradictory, ill-conceived and politically motivated decision by Chief Justice Roberts, which grants Congress the power to regulate anything that moves and the power to tax anything that moves and anything that doesn’t move….

If we take the reasoning of Roberts to its logical conclusion, Congress would be able to coerce individuals to buy broccoli once a week, so long as they levy a tax on those who fail to comply with the law.  Putting aside the facial absurdity of Roberts’s tax power jurisprudence, his opinion on the Commerce Clause is nothing to cheer.  While Roberts clearly stated that the Commerce Clause does not grant the federal government the right to regulate inactivity (although it can evidently tax inactivity), he obliquely upheld their authority to regulate any activity under that misconstrued clause.

Amidst the garrulous analysis from the conservative pundit class on the Roberts decision, there is a one-page dissent from Justice Thomas (in addition to his joint dissent with the other 3 conservatives) that has been overlooked….

Take a look at this paragraph from Thomas’s dissent (last two-pages of pdf):

I dissent for the reasons stated in our joint opinion, but I write separately to say a word about the Commerce Clause. The joint dissent and THE CHIEF JUSTICE cor­rectly apply our precedents to conclude that the Individual Mandate is beyond the power granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. Under those precedents, Congress may regulate“economic activity [that] substantially affects interstate commerce.” United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, 560 (1995). I adhere to my view that “the very notion of a ‘substantial effects’ test under the Commerce Clause is inconsistent with the original understanding of Congress’ powers and with this Court’s early Commerce Clause cases.” United States v. Morrison, 529 U. S. 598, 627 (2000) (THOMAS, J., concurring); see also Lopez, supra, at 584–602 (THOMAS, J., concurring); Gonzales v. Raich, 545

….

Justice Thomas is hearkening back to the Founders.  Not only is every word of Obamacare unconstitutional and an anathema to every tenet of our founding, most of the other programs created in recent years are as well.  The fact that Roberts said the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause don’t apply to inactivity is not a victory for constitutional conservatives.  The implicit notion that the federal government can regulate any activity is appalling to conservatives.

Here’s what James Madison had to say about the Commerce Clause in a letter to Joseph C. Cabell in 1829:

For a like reason, I made no reference to the “power to regulate commerce among the several States.” I always foresaw that difficulties might be started in relation to that power which could not be fully explained without recurring to views of it, which, however just, might give birth to specious though unsound objections. Being in the same terms with the power over foreign commerce, the same extent, if taken literally, would belong to it. Yet it is very certain that it grew out of the abuse of the power by the importing States in taxing the non-importing, and was intended as a negative and preventive provision against injustice among the States themselves, rather than as a power to be used for the positive purposes of the General Government, in which alone, however, the remedial power could be lodged.

….

The reality is that not only is Obamacare unconstitutional, almost every discretionary department, welfare program, and entitlement program is unconstitutional…. (Daniel Horowitz, “Thomas Dissents: It’s All Unconstitutional,” RedState (Member Diary), June 29, 2012)

On the general issue of the subversion of constitutional limits on governmental power, see “The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration.” Specifically related to Obamacare and the individual mandate: “The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate,” “Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?,” “Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?,” and “Obamacare: Neither Necessary nor Proper.”

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Also from RedState, a story that reads in part:

Sadly, we have deviated from our constitutional form of government over the past century.  That’s why Mark Levin has written The Liberty Amendments, a set of proposed constitutional amendments that will unambiguously downsize the federal government by targeting specific loopholes that have allowed the statists to adulterate our Constitution.  Far from this being a radically new vision, Levin proves – through founding documents and floor debates at the Constitutional Congress – how his ideas are in line with what the Founders envisioned in our Federal government.  It’s just that after years of deviating from the Constitution, it has become clear that we need very specific limitations on federal abuses – abuses that have gone far beyond the imagination of our Founders – in order to restore the Republic. (Daniel Horowitz, “Mark Levin’s Liberty Amendments,” Red State (Member Diary), August 13, 2013)

The story includes a good summary of Levin’s amendments. Recommended reading.

A New, New Constitution” covers the same ground, and more. It’s long, but it closes a lot of loopholes that have been opened by legislative, executive, and judicial action.

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I turn, finally, to a pair of items by James Pethokoukis with self-explanatory titles: “The Great Stagnation: JP Morgan Declares US Potential GDP Growth Just Half of What It Used to Be” (AEIdeas, August 12, 2013) and “Why Wall Street Thinks the Future Isn’t What It Used to Be” (AEIdeas, August 13, 2013). Read those pieces, and then go to “The Stagnation Thesis” (and follow the links therein) and “Why Are Interest Rates So Low?” (which is replete with more links). The latter post concludes with this:

As long as business remains (rightly) pessimistic about the twin burdens of debt and regulation, the economy will sink deeper into stagnation. The only way to overcome that pessimism is to scale back “entitlements” and regulations, and to do so promptly and drastically.

In sum, the present focus on — and debate about — conventional macroeconomic “fixes” (fiscal vs. monetary policy) is entirely misguided. Today’s economists and policy-makers should consult Hayek, not Keynes or Friedman or their intellectual descendants. If economists and policy-makers would would read and heed Hayek — the Hayek of 1944 onward, in particular –  they would understand that our present and future economic morass is entirely political in origin: Failed government policies have led to more failed government policies, which have shackled both the economy and the people.

Economic and political freedoms are indivisible. It will take the repeal of the regulatory-welfare state to restore prosperity and liberty to the land.

Amen.

As for how the regulatory-welfare state might be repealed, read “Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead.

Stop, Frisk, and Save Lives

The next time I read about “racial” profiling I may punch my monitor. It isn’t “racial” profiling it’s “probability of committing a crime” profiling. But don’t tell that to Shira Scheindlin, a United States District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York.

Scheindlin, as most readers will know, is the judge who recently found New York City’s stop-and-frisk program to be unconstitutional, ordered immediate changes to the program, and called for a monitor to supervise related reforms. The judge’s ruling has been reinforced by New York’s City Council:

The nation’s biggest police department will get a new watchdog and face easier standards for people to file profiling lawsuits against it after the City Council on Thursday overrode mayoral vetoes amid applause from supporters and angry warnings from opponents.

The measures mark the most aggressive legislative effort in years to put new checks on the New York Police Department, and the vote came less than two weeks after [Judge Shira Scheindlin] imposed new oversight of her own….

The legislation drew national attention from civil rights groups and a vehement response from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who slapped it down earlier this summer. He said Thursday it will make it “harder for our police officers to protect New Yorkers and continue to drive down crime.”

“Make no mistake: The communities that will feel the most negative impacts of these bills will be minority communities across our city, which have been the greatest beneficiaries of New York City’s historic crime reductions,” he said in a statement….

Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin appointed an outside monitor to reform stop and frisk, a practice she said the police department had used in a way that violated the rights of hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic men. The city is appealing….

Opponents said the measures would lower police morale but not crime, waste money and not solve a broader problem of a police force under pressure after shrinking by thousands of officers during the last decade.

“These bills are downright dangerous,” Councilman Eric Ulrich said.

My view, precisely. And it is the view of William L. Gensler, writing at American Thinker:

In 2012, 74% of shooting victims in New York City were black, as were 75% of those arrested for these shootings. Blacks also comprised 73% of all firearm arrests. They were also the victim 38% of the time, and the arrestee in 48% of all rapes.

60% of murder victims were black, as were 51% of those arrested for murder. Blacks were the victim of 32% of all robberies and were the arrestee 62% of the time. 52% of those arrested for felonious assault were black. They were also 48% of the victims. They encompassed 52% of those arrested for grand larceny, which is the theft of property with a value in excess of one thousand dollars.

45% of felony drug arrests were black as were 50% of misdemeanor drug arrests. 52% of those arrested for felony possession of stolen property were black as were 47% of those arrested for misdemeanor possession of stolen property.

66% of the suspects of violent crime were black and 55% of those stopped and frisked were also black. This last part is the statistic Mayor Bloomberg was referring to when he claimed the program didn’t stop enough minorities.

In 2009, the esteemed Walter Williams estimated that in America as a whole, there are somewhere around 7,000 blacks murdered each year, and in 94% of those murders, the person doing the murdering was also black. The Wall Street Journal presents data supporting the 94% figure.

Between 2000 and 2010 in all states except Florida, there were 165,068 murders. 78,521 of those murdered were black. 68,531 of the killers were also black. This means that in the first decade of the twenty first century, around 41.5% of all murders in America were committed by blacks (assuming Florida’s numbers were similar) and 47.5% of the victims were also black….

In 1990 there were 2,245 murders in New York City — in 1991 there were 2,154….

There were 419 murders in New York City in 2012. This dramatic improvement from more than 2,200 killings in 1990 to a little over 400 in 2012 was the result of “Stop and Frisk.”

The program has been successful in removing the illegal weapon from the calculus of crime and saved thousands of lives. Michael Bloomberg authoritatively states that more 8,000 guns and 80,000 other weapons were taken off the street during his 2 ½ terms as NYC Mayor. He also estimates that more than 7,300 people are alive today who wouldn’t be, if not for “Stop and Frisk.” Ray Kelly, the New York City Police Commissioner agrees, putting the lives saved at 7.383.

I never liked Mayor Bloomberg, and rarely agree with him. But, he is right on “Stop and Frisk.”

On this issue, Bloomberg is a “stopped clock” — uncharacteristically right.

If you want less crime, you have to lock up criminals. In order to lock up criminals, you have to identify them.

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Cross-posted at Blogger News Network.

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Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Abortion and Crime (from a different angle than the earlier post of the same name)
Lock ‘Em Up

IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition

This is a wandering post, in which I use a recent controversy about IQ to make some observations about political correctness, which leads to a tale of leftist subversion and America’s descent into statism.

Since my last post about IQ, more than a year ago, the biggest kerfuffle on the IQ front arose when Jason Richwine was chased from his job at Heritage Foundation. The proximate cause of Richwine’s departure from Heritage was the usual kind of witch hunt that accompanies the discovery of anything coming from a conservative source that might offend political correctness. Richwine was “guilty” of having penned a dissertation that contains unremarkable statements about ethnic differences in average IQ, including the IQ difference between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites.

These are excerpts of John Derbyshire’s narration of l’affaire Richwine as it unfolded:

… Following the release of a report by the Heritage Foundation arguing that the Rubio-Schumer immigration bill will cost the nation $6.3 trillion, the Slave Power set their dwarf miners to digging.

They soon found gold. One of the co-authors of the study is twentysomething Jason Richwine, a Heritage analyst. Not just an analyst, but a quantitative analyst: “Heritage’s senior policy analyst in empirical studies.” …

After a few days’ digging the Nibelungs turned up Richwine’s Ph.D. thesis from Harvard University, title: “IQ and Immigration Policy.” The mother lode! (You can download it from here.)

The Washington Post ran a gleeful story on the find under the headline “Heritage study co-author opposed letting in immigrants with low IQs.” [By Dylan Matthews, May 8, 2013]. They note that:

Richwine’s dissertation asserts that there are deep-set differentials in intelligence between races.

Eek! A witch! …

Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, on secondment from Conservatism, Inc. to offer some pretense of “balance” at the Post, hastened to join the lynch mob. “It undermines the cause of all immigration opponents to have their prized work authored by such a character,” she wrote, reading Richwine out of respectable society….

She then brings in Jennifer S. Korn for a quote. Ms. Korn was Secretary for Hispandering in the George W. Bush White House….

What does Ms. Korn have to tell us?

Richwine’s comments are bigoted and ignorant. America is a nation of immigrants; to impugn the intelligence of immigrants is to offend each and every American and the foundation of our country….

Even if you take Ms. Korn’s usage of “impugn” to mean Richwine has stated that immigrants have lower mean IQ than natives, she is wrong. Table 2.2 in the thesis (p. 30) gives an average estimated mean IQ of 105.5 for immigrants from Northeast Asia….

And so another “anti-racist” witch hunt commences….

The forces of orthodoxy have identified a heretic. They’re marching on his hut with pitchforks and flaming brands. The cry echoes around the internet: “Burn the witch!” … (“‘Burn the Witch’: Heritage Foundation Scuttles Away from Jason Richwine–and the Cold, Hard Facts,” VDare.com, May 9, 2013)

The impetus for politically correct witch-hunting comes from the left, of course. This is unsurprising because leftists, on average, are dumber than conservatives and libertarians. (See this and this, for example.) Which would explain their haste to take offense when the subject of IQ is raised.

But facts are facts, and Richwine summarizes them neatly in a recent (post-Heritage) essay; for example:

The American Psychological Association (APA) tried to set the record straight in 1996 with a report written by a committee of experts. Among the specific conclusions drawn by the APA were that IQ tests reliably measure a real human trait, that ethnic differences in average IQ exist, that good tests of IQ are not culturally biased against minority groups, and that IQ is a product of both genetic inheritance and early childhood environment. Another report signed by 52 experts, entitled “Mainstream Science on Intelligence,” stated similar facts and was printed in the Wall Street Journal. (“Why Can’t We Talk about IQ?,” Politico, August 9, 2013)

Richwine continues:

[W]hen Larry Summers, then the president of Harvard University, speculated in 2005 that women might be naturally less gifted in math and science, the intense backlash contributed to his ouster.Two years later, when famed scientist James Watson noted the low average IQ scores of sub-Saharan Africans, he was forced to resign from his lab, taking his Nobel Prize with him.

When a Harvard law student was discovered in 2010 to have suggested in a private email that the black-white IQ gap might have a genetic component, the dean publicly condemned her amid a campus-wide outcry. Only profuse apologies seem to have saved her career.

In none of these cases did an appeal to science tamp down the controversy or help to prevent future ones. My own time in the media crosshairs would be no different.

So what did I write that created such a fuss? In brief, my dissertation shows that recent immigrants score lower than U.S.-born whites on a variety of cognitive tests. Using statistical analysis, it suggests that the test-score differential is due primarily to a real cognitive deficit rather than to culture or language bias. It analyzes how that deficit could affect socioeconomic assimilation, and concludes by exploring how IQ selection might be incorporated, as one factor among many, into immigration policy.

Because a large number of recent immigrants are from Latin America, I reviewed the literature showing that Hispanic IQ scores fall between white and black scores in the United States. This fact isn’t controversial among experts, but citing it seems to have fueled much of the media backlash.

Derbyshire follows up:

Jason, who can hardly be more than thirty, has not yet grasped an important thing about humanity at large: that most of our thinking is magical, superstitious, religious, social, and egotistical. Very little of it is empirical. I myself am as stone-cold an empiricist as you’ll meet in a month of Sundays; yet every day when I walk my dog there is a certain tree I have to pat as we pass it. (It’s on the wrong side of the road. The family joke is that I shall one day be hit by a truck while crossing the road to pat my lucky tree.)

Hence Jason’s puzzlement that 25 years after Snyderman and Rothman, 19 years after The Bell Curve and the follow-up “Mainstream Science on Intelligence” declaration, the public discourse even in quality outlets is dominated by innumerate journo-school graduates parroting half-remembered half-truths from Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, the greatest work of Cultural Marxist propaganda yet produced.

That’s how we are. That’s the shape of human nature. Alan Cromer explained it in his 1993 book Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science. Not many people can think empirically much of the time. At the aggregate level, where the lowest common denominator takes over and social acceptance is at the front of everyone’s mind, empiricism doesn’t stand a chance unless it delivers some useful technology.

Nor is it quite the case that “emotion trumps reason.” What mostly trumps reason is the yearning for respectability, leading us to conform to ambient dogmas—in the present-day West, the dogmas of Cultural Marxism, which waft around us like a noxious vapor….

This is how we are: jumbles of superstition, emotion, self-deception, and social conformism, with reason and science trotting along behind trying to keep up.

Science insists that there is an external world beyond our emotions and wish-fulfillment fantasies. It claims that we can find out true facts about that world, including facts with no immediate technological application. The human sciences insist even more audaciously that we ourselves are part of that world and can be described as dispassionately as stars, rocks, and microbes. Perhaps one day it will be socially acceptable to believe this. (“Why We Can’t Talk about IQ,” Taki’s Magazine, August 15, 2013)

Much has been made of the “bland” 1950s and the supposed pressure to conform to the Ozzie and Harriett way of life. Though i was never clear about the preferred alternative. On the evidence of the past 50 years, it seems to have been a potent mix of blue language, promiscuous sex, sodomy, broken families, drugs, violence, and ear-blasting “music.”

The true forces of conformity had begun their work many years before Ricky Nelson was a gleam in his father’s eye. There was, of course, the Progressive Era of the late 1800s and early 1900s, from which America was beginning to recover by the late 1920s.. But then came the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the establishment in America of a fifth column dedicated to the suppression of liberty:

As recounted in [KGB: The Inside Story by KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky and Cambridge intelligence expert Christopher Andrew]  … Harry Hopkins — FDR’s confidant, advisor, and policy czar, who actually resided in the White House during World War II — was the Big Enchilada among American agents of influence working for the USSR. Gordievsky recounts attending a lecture early in his career by Iskhak Akhmerov, the KGB’s top “illegal” spy in the U.S. during the 1940s (In espionage parlance, “illegals” do not have legal cover if caught). According to Gordievsky, Akhmerov spoke for a long period about Hopkins, calling him the top Soviet asset in the US. Yet, Gordievsky and Andrew tiptoe around this allegation by representing that Hopkins was a naïve devotee who only courted Stalin to ensure victory over Hitler’s Germany.

Although I know Andrew well, and have met Gordievsky twice, I now doubt their characterization of Hopkins…. It does not ring true that Hopkins was an innocent dupe dedicated solely to defeating the Nazis. Hopkins comes over in history as crafty, secretive and no one’s fool, hardly the personality traits of a naïve fellow traveler. And his fingerprints are on the large majority of pro-Soviet policies implemented by the Roosevelt administration. [Diana] West [author of American Betrayal: Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character] deserves respect for cutting through the dross that obscures the evidence about Hopkins, and for screaming from the rooftops that the U.S. was the victim of a successful Soviet intelligence operation….

West mines Venona, the testimony of “Red spy queen” Elizabeth Bentley — who confessed her work for the communist underground to the FBI in 1945 — and the book Blacklisted by History by M. Stanton Evans, a re-examination of the McCarthy era using Venona and hundreds of other recently declassified documents from the FBI, CIA, and other agencies. And West lambastes the Truman administration for not revealing data from Venona that would have exonerated McCarthy and informed the nation that Soviet agents had indeed infiltrated key departments of the FDR administration….

The Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, Laurence Duggan, and 397 more American agents have been confirmed and verified as Soviet agents. West claims Harry Hopkins has been outed too in Venona, but Radosh and other scholars say this identification is bogus. But the Soviets also ran important agents of influence with great attention to the security of their identities. In essence, whether or not Hopkins is ever identified in Venona, he remains, as the cops say, a person of interest. (Bernie Reeves, “Reds under the Beds: Diana West Can’t Sleep,” American Thinker, August 10, 2013)

Influence flows downhill. What happened in Washington was repeated in many a city and State because the New Deal had made leftism respectable. By the end of World War II, which made nationalization the norm, the “mainstream” had shifted far to the left of where it had flowed before the Great Depression.

Influence also flows laterally. The growing respectability of leftism emboldened and empowered those institutions that naturally lean left: the media, academia, and the arts and letters. And so they went forth into the wilderness, amplifying the gospel according to Marx.

The most insidious influence has been the indoctrination of students — from pre-Kindergarten to graduate school — in the language and ideals of leftism: world government (i.e., anit-Americanism); redistributionism (as long as it hits only the “rich,” of course); favoritism for “minorities” (i.e., everyone but straight, white males); cultural diversity (any kind of crap in the arts, music, and literature, as long as it wasn’t produced by dead, white mailes); moral relativism (e.g., anti-feminism is bad, unless it’s practiced by Muslims). All of that, and much more, is the stuff of political correctness, which is an especially corrosive manifestation of social conformism, as Jason Richwine learned the hard way.

And then came the “pod people.” These are the masses of “ordinary people” who may have been deaf or impervious to indoctrination by teachers and professors, but who in vast numbers were (and continue to be) seduced by into collaboration with the left by years and decades of post-educational exposure to leftist cant. Seduced by slanted opinionators — usually disguised as reporters. Seduced by novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, and other denizens of the world of arts and letters. Seduced by politicians (even “conservative” ones) trading “free lunches” and “local jobs” for votes.

It is more than a small wonder that there is such a sizable remnant of true conservatives and non-leftish libertarians (unlike this leftish one). But we are vastly outnumbered by staunch leftists, wishy-washy “moderates,” and “conservatives” whose first instinct is to defend sacred cows (Social Security and Medicare, for example) instead of defending liberty.

I will have more to say, in future posts, about the subversion of “Old America.” For now, I end with this observation from an earlier post:
If America was ever close to being a nation united and free, it has drifted far from that condition — arguably, almost as far as it  had by 1861. And America’s condition will only worsen unless leaders emerge who will set the nation (or a large, independent portion of it) back on course. Barring the emergence of such leaders, America will continue to slide into baseness, divisiveness, and servitude.

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Related posts:
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Affirmative Action, One More Time
A Contrarian View of Segregation
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Is There Such a Thing as Society
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Secession
A New, New Constitution
Secession Redux
A New Cold War or Secession?
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
A Declaration of Independence
First Principles
The Shape of Things to Come
The Near-Victory of Communism
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
Intelligence as a Dirty Word
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap–Causes and Implications
Dan Quayle Was (Almost) Right
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
Secession for All Seasons
Liberty and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
Well-Founded Pessimism
America: Past, Present, and Future
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
“Conversing” about Race
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Political Correctness vs. Civility

Political Correctness vs. Civility

Rust belt philosopher (Eli Horowitz) doesn’t care for Stella Morabito’s “Dissecting Political Correctness” (Public Discourse, August 13, 2013). Here’s Horowitz’s commentary, in full:

Stella Morabito may be on the wrong side, but she’s not wrong just because she’s on the wrong side. So to speak.

“Victory in the war of ideas often hinges more on the conditions of battle than on the quality of arguments. You know this instinctively if you’ve ever been shouted down, smeared, or ignored when you were simply trying to state a point. Truly civil public discourse becomes much harder when our dialogue is hijacked by thought policing—euphemistically referred to as ‘political correctness,’ or PC.Political correctness has cultivated an illusion of support for laws that undermine fundamental institutions of society, including marriage and family. The only way to dispel this illusion, and to reverse the damage these laws will do, is to revive true civil discourse.”

Morabito’s tiresome bigotry aside, she describes in this article the idea of “an opinion cascade,” which (loosely) is the thing that happens when an idea achieves such memetic dominance that it is protected and promoted within a given group by the sorts of mechanisms that she describes (i.e., stigma, media endorsements, etc.); in short, a cascade is a thing that shifts “the conditions of battle.” You might think, given that description and the paragraphs above, that she was opposed to such cascades altogether. After all, she says that these cascades are at least sometimes incompatible with “truly civil public discourse,” which she takes to be a good and even a necessary thing. Yet the fact of the matter is quite the opposite: she likes cascades, just so long as they benefit her side.

“If enough people come out of isolation and shed the fear of speaking their minds, a genuine cascade of truth will ensue. Then civil society can be rebuilt, and real public discourse based on reason and logic can flourish.”

Clearly, this is unforgivably stupid. She begins by claiming that civil discourse cannot happen when people are “shouted down, smeared, or ignored,” and that’s absolutely correct. She also says that opinion cascades establish those forms of stigma, and that’s also correct. Put these two facts together and you’ll easily conclude that no cascade can be compatible with civil discourse, because every cascade will include the construction of new conversational stigmas. Pretty straightforward, right? Except then, at the end, Morabito fucks it up: her cascades, she says, allow civil discourse to flourish. Alas, that’s bullshit: the right cascades are the ones that establish the proper stigmas (among other criteria), and the proper stigmas do not stop being stigmas just because they’re proper.

Morabito’s main point seems to elude Horowitz. Morabito — perhaps not clearly enough — equates “opinion cascades” with “manufactured cascades,” and these are not the same as the social norms that manufactured cascades are meant to overturn. Long-standing norms are not manufactured cascades. As Edward Feser explains in “Hayek and Tradition,”

[t]radition, being nothing other than the distillation of centuries of human experience, itself provides the surest guide to determining the most rational course of action. Far from being opposed to reason, reason is inseparable from tradition, and blind without it. The so-called enlightened mind thrusts tradition aside, hoping to find something more solid on which to make its stand, but there is nothing else, no alternative to the hard earth of human experience….

Liberty and happiness cannot be found in the abstract; they must be found in the real world, among real people. There is no escaping the fact that the attainment of something like liberty and happiness requires the acceptance of — and compliance with — some social norms that one may find personally distasteful if not oppressive.

The knee-jerk libertarian and “liberal” will say, for example, that abortion and same-sex marriage are consistent with and required by liberty. But they are not. They are steps down a slippery slope toward the further loss of liberty, just as the “progressivism” of the Roosevelts nudged and pushed us down a slippery slope toward the regulatory-welfare state in which we are now mired.

Libertarians and “liberals” seem willing to credit is the possibility that abortion is of a piece with selective breeding and involuntary euthanasia, wherein the state fosters eugenic practices that aren’t far removed from those of the Third Reich. And when those practices become the norm, what and who will be next? Libertarians, of all people, should be alert to such possibilities. Instead of reflexively embracing “choice” they should be asking whether “choice” will end with fetuses.

The same principle applies to same-sex marriage; it will have consequences that most libertarians are unwilling to consider. Although it’s true that traditional, heterosexual unions have their problems, those problems have been made worse, not better, by the intercession of the state. (The loosening of divorce laws, for example, signaled that marriage was to be taken less seriously, and so it has been.) Nevertheless, the state — in its usual perverse wisdom — may create new problems for society by legitimating same-sex marriage, thus signaling that traditional marriage is just another contractual arrangement in which any combination of persons may participate. Heterosexual marriage — as Jennifer Roback Morse explains — is a primary and irreplicable civilizing force. The recognition of homosexual marriage by the state will undermine that civilizing force. The state will be saying, in effect, “Anything goes. Do your thing. The courts, the welfare system, and the taxpayer — above all — will “pick up the pieces.” And so it will go.

In sum, Morabito doesn’t f*** it up. She defends civilizing social norms against organized and virulent campaigns to overthrow them. (For a closer look at those campaigns and their essential dishonesty, see this and the third item in this post.)

Moreover, Horowitz’s language underscores Morabito’s point about the incivility of politically correct discourse. Morabito makes a polite case against the strident language of political correctness. Horowitz not only attacks Morabito’s argument (and gets it wrong), but also resorts to “tiresome bigotry,” “unforgivably stupid,” “fucks it up,” and “bullshit.” As if to prove Morabito’s charge, Horowitz commits a written version of “shouting down” and “smearing.”

Related posts:
I Missed This One
A Century of Progress?
The Marriage Contract
Feminist Balderdash
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
Consider the Children
Marriage and Children
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
Social Norms and Liberty
A Footnote about Liberty and the Social Compact
Finding Liberty
The Harm Principle
Footnotes to “The Harm Principle”
The Harm Principle, Again
Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
On Liberty
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
In Defense of Marriage
Not-So-Random Thoughts (IV) (third item)
Burkean Libertarianism
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?

Spooky Numbers, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

“Spooky numbers” refers to Steven Landsburg’s position — expressed here in commenting on a post by Bob Murphy about intelligent design — that natural numbers just are. This encapsulates Landsburg’s thesis:

The natural numbers are irreducibly complex, moreso (by any reasonable definition) than anything in biology. But the natural numbers were not designed and did not evolve….

I previously addressed Landsburg’s claim about natural numbers, here; for example:

Why have humans, widely separated in time and space, agreed about numbers and the manipulation of numbers (mathematics)? Specifically, with respect to the natural numbers, why is there agreement that something called “one” or “un” or “ein” (and so on) is followed by something called “two” or “deux” or “zwei,” and so on? And why is there agreement that those numbers, when added, equal something called “three” or “trois” or “drei,” and so on? Is that evidence for the transcendent timelessness of numbers and mathematics, or is it nothing more than descriptive necessity?By descriptive necessity, I mean that numbering things is just another way of describing them. If there are some oranges on a table, I can say many things about them; for example, they are spheroids, they are orange-colored, they contain juice and (usually) seeds, and their skins are bitter-tasting.

Another thing that I can say about the oranges is that there are a certain number of them — let us say three, in this case. But I can say that only because, by convention, I can count them: one, two, three. And if someone adds an orange to the aggregation, I can count again: one, two, three, four. And, by convention, I can avoid counting a second time by simply adding one (the additional orange) to three (the number originally on the table). Arithmetic is simply a kind of counting, and other mathematical manipulations are, in one way or another, extensions of arithmetic. And they all have their roots in numbering and the manipulation of numbers, which are descriptive processes.

But my ability to count oranges and perform mathematical operations based on counting does not mean that numbers and mathematics are timeless and transcendent. It simply means that I have used some conventions — devised and perfected by other humans over the eons — which enable me to describe certain facets of physical reality.

Mathematics is merely a tool that can be useful in describing some aspects of the real world. Evolution and intelligent design, on the other hand, are theories about the real world. Though evolution and intelligent design are not complete theories of the real world, they are far more than mere mathematical descriptions of it.

To understand the distinction that I’m making, consider this: Some of the differences between apples and oranges can be described by resorting to the mathematics of color, taste, shape, and so on. But an apple or an orange — as an entity — is more than the sum of its various, partial descriptors. So, too, is the real world more than the sum of any number of mathematics or descriptors (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) that have mathematical components. The real world encompasses love, hate, social customs, and religion — among many things that defy complete (or even partial) mathematical description.

Now, what about evolution and intelligent design? Are they reconcilable theories? Murphy implies that they are. He says that

Michael Behe–[a leading proponent of intelligent design] who (in)famously said that the bacterial flagellum exhibited too much design to have arisen through unguided evolution in the modern neo-Darwinian sense–does not have a problem with the idea that all of today’s cells share a common ancestor….

So yes, Behe is fine with the proposition that if we had a camera and a time machine, we could go observe the first cell on earth as it reproduced and yielded offspring. There would be nothing magical in these operations; they would obey the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. The cells would further divide and so on, and then over billions of years there would be mutations and the environment would favor some of the mutants over their kin, such that natural selection over time would yield the bacterial flagellum and the human nervous system.

Yet Behe’s point is that when you look at what this process spits out at the end, you can’t deny that a guiding intelligence must be involved somehow.

The question-begging of that last sentence is what frustrates scientists. It says, in effect, that there must be a guiding intelligence, and the complexity of the products of evolution proves it.

No, it doesn’t prove it. God — as an entity apart from the material universe — cannot be shown to exist by pointing to particular aspects of the material universe, be they evolution or the Big Bang (to offer but two examples). God is a logical necessity, beyond empirical proof or disproof.

I greatly respect the sincerity of theists and the credence they give to sacred texts and accounts of visions and miracles. Their credence may be well-placed. But I am just too much of a doubting Thomas to rely on unfalsifiable, second-hand evidence about the nature of God and His role in the workings of the universe.

I will say this: Given the logical necessity of God, it follows that the universe operates in accordance with the “laws” that are inherent in His creation. Intelligent design, as an explanation for the forms taken by living creatures, is therefore something of a truism. But intelligent design cannot be proved by reference to products of evolution.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
What Is Time?
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Tenth Dimension
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Are the Natural Numbers Supernatural?
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II) (first item)
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology
Nothingness

Pinker Commits Scientism

Steven Pinker, who seems determined to outdo Bryan Caplan in wrongheadedness, devotes “Science Is Not Your Enemy” (The New Republic,  August 6, 2013), to the defense of scientism. Actually, Pinker doesn’t overtly defend scientism, which is indefensible; he just redefines it to mean science:

The term “scientism” is anything but clear, more of a boo-word than a label for any coherent doctrine. Sometimes it is equated with lunatic positions, such as that “science is all that matters” or that “scientists should be entrusted to solve all problems.” Sometimes it is clarified with adjectives like “simplistic,” “naïve,” and “vulgar.” The definitional vacuum allows me to replicate gay activists’ flaunting of “queer” and appropriate the pejorative for a position I am prepared to defend.

Scientism, in this good sense, is not the belief that members of the occupational guild called “science” are particularly wise or noble. On the contrary, the defining practices of science, including open debate, peer review, and double-blind methods, are explicitly designed to circumvent the errors and sins to which scientists, being human, are vulnerable.

After that slippery performance, it’s all smooth sailing — or so Pinker thinks — because all he has to do is point out all the good things about science. And if scientism=science, then scientism is good, right?

Wrong. Scientism remains indefensible, and there’s a lot of scientism in what passes for science. You don’t need to take my word for it; Pinker’s own words tell the tale.

But, first, let’s get clear about the meaning and fallaciousness of scientism. The various writers cited by Pinker describe it well, but Hayek probably offers the most thorough indictment of it; for example:

[W]e shall, wherever we are concerned … with slavish imitation of the method and language of Science, speak of “scientism” or the “scientistic” prejudice…. It should be noted that, in the sense in which we shall use these terms, they describe, of course, an attitude which is decidedly unscientific in the true sense of the word, since it involves a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed. The scientistic as distinguished from the scientific view is not an unprejudiced but a very prejudiced approach which, before it has considered its subject, claims to know what is the most appropriate way of investigating it…..

The blind transfer of the striving for quantitative measurements to a field in which the specific conditions are not present which give it its basic importance in the natural sciences, is the result of an entirely unfounded prejudice. It is probably responsible for the worst aberrations and absurdities produced by scientism in the social sciences. It not only leads frequently to the selection for study of the most irrelevant aspects of the phenomena because they happen to be measurable, but also to “measurements” and assignments of numerical values which are absolutely meaningless. What a distinguished philosopher recently wrote about psychology is at least equally true of the social sciences, namely that it is only too easy “to rush off to measure something without considering what it is we are measuring, or what measurement means. In this respect some recent measurements are of the same logical type as Plato’s determination that a just ruler is 729 times as happy as an unjust one.”…

Closely connected with the “objectivism” of the scientistic approach is its methodological collectivism, its tendency to treat “wholes” like “society” or the “economy,” “capitalism” (as a given historical “phase”) or a particular “industry” or “class” or “country” as definitely given objects about which we can discover laws by observing their behavior as wholes. While the specific subjectivist approach of the social sciences starts … from our knowledge of the inside of these social complexes, the knowledge of the individual attitudes which form the elements of their structure, the objectivism of the natural sciences tries to view them from the outside ; it treats social phenomena not as something of which the human mind is a part and the principles of whose organization we can reconstruct from the familiar parts, but as if they were objects directly perceived by us as wholes….

The belief that human history, which is the result of the interaction of innumerable human minds, must yet be subject to simple laws accessible to human minds is now so widely held that few people are at all aware what an astonishing claim it really implies. Instead of working patiently at the humble task of rebuilding from the directly known elements the complex and unique structures which we find in the world, and of tracing from the changes in the relations between the elements the changes in the wholes, the authors of these pseudo-theories of history pretend to be able to arrive by a kind of mental short cut at a direct insight into the laws of succession of the immediately apprehended wholes. However doubtful their status, these theories of development have achieved a hold on public imagination much greater than any of the results of genuine systematic study. “Philosophies” or “theories” of history (or “historical theories”) have indeed become the characteristic feature, the “darling vice” of the 19th century. From Hegel and Comte, and particularly Marx, down to Sombart and Spengler these spurious theories came to be regarded as representative results of social science; and through the belief that one kind of “system” must as a matter of historical necessity be superseded by a new and different “system,” they have even exercised a profound influence on social evolution. This they achieved mainly because they looked like the kind of laws which the natural sciences produced; and in an age when these sciences set the standard by which all intellectual effort was measured, the claim of these theories of history to be able to predict future developments was regarded as evidence of their pre-eminently scientific character. Though merely one among many characteristic 19th century products of this kind, Marxism more than any of the others has become the vehicle through which this result of scientism has gained so wide an influence that many of the opponents of Marxism equally with its adherents are thinking in its terms. (Friedrich A. Hayek, The Counter Revolution Of Science [Kindle Locations 120-1180], The Free Press.)

After a barrage like that (and this), what’s a defender of scientism to do? Pinker’s tactic is to stop using “scientism” and start using “science.” This makes it seem as if he really isn’t defending scientism, but rather trying to show how science can shed light onto subjects that are usually not in the province of science. In reality, Pinker preaches scientism by calling it science.

For example:

The new sciences of the mind are reexamining the connections between politics and human nature, which were avidly discussed in Madison’s time but submerged during a long interlude in which humans were assumed to be blank slates or rational actors. Humans, we are increasingly appreciating, are moralistic actors, guided by norms and taboos about authority, tribe, and purity, and driven by conflicting inclinations toward revenge and reconciliation.

There is nothing new in this, as Pinker admits by adverting to Madison. Nor was the understanding of human nature “submerged” except in the writings of scientistic social “scientists.” We ordinary mortals were never fooled. Moreover, Pinker’s idea of scientific political science seems to be data-dredging:

With the advent of data science—the analysis of large, open-access data sets of numbers or text—signals can be extracted from the noise and debates in history and political science resolved more objectively.

As explained here, data-dredging is about as scientistic as it gets:

When enough hypotheses are tested, it is virtually certain that some falsely appear statistically significant, since every data set with any degree of randomness contains some spurious correlations. Researchers using data mining techniques if they are not careful can be easily misled by these apparently significant results, even though they are mere artifacts of random variation.

Turning to the humanities, Pinker writes:

[T]here can be no replacement for the varieties of close reading, thick description, and deep immersion that erudite scholars can apply to individual works. But must these be the only paths to understanding? A consilience with science offers the humanities countless possibilities for innovation in understanding. Art, culture, and society are products of human brains. They originate in our faculties of perception, thought, and emotion, and they cumulate [sic] and spread through the epidemiological dynamics by which one person affects others. Shouldn’t we be curious to understand these connections? Both sides would win. The humanities would enjoy more of the explanatory depth of the sciences, to say nothing of the kind of a progressive agenda that appeals to deans and donors. The sciences could challenge their theories with the natural experiments and ecologically valid phenomena that have been so richly characterized by humanists.

What on earth is Pinker talking about? This is over-the-top bafflegab worthy of Professor Irwin Corey. But because it comes from the keyboard of a noted (self-promoting) academic, we are meant to take it seriously.

Yes, art, culture, and society are products of human brains. So what? Poker is, too, and it’s a lot more amenable to explication by the mathematical tools of science. But the successful application of those tools depends on traits that are more art than science (bluffing, spotting “tells,” avoiding “tells,” for example).

More “explanatory depth” in the humanities means a deeper pile of B.S. Great art, literature, and music aren’t concocted formulaically. If they could be, modernism and postmodernism wouldn’t have yielded mountains of trash.

Oh, I know: It will be different next time. As if the tools of science are immune to misuse by obscurantists, relativists, and practitioners of political correctness. Tell it to those climatologists who dare to challenge the conventional wisdom about anthropogenic global warming. Tell it to the “sub-human” victims of the Third Reich’s medical experiments and gas chambers.

Pinker anticipates this kind of objection:

At a 2011 conference, [a] colleague summed up what she thought was the mixed legacy of science: the eradication of smallpox on the one hand; the Tuskegee syphilis study on the other. (In that study, another bloody shirt in the standard narrative about the evils of science, public-health researchers beginning in 1932 tracked the progression of untreated, latent syphilis in a sample of impoverished African Americans.) The comparison is obtuse. It assumes that the study was the unavoidable dark side of scientific progress as opposed to a universally deplored breach, and it compares a one-time failure to prevent harm to a few dozen people with the prevention of hundreds of millions of deaths per century, in perpetuity.

But the Tuskegee study was only a one-time failure in the sense that it was the only Tuskegee study. As a type of failure — the misuse of science (witting and unwitting) — it goes hand-in-hand with the advance of scientific knowledge. Should science be abandoned because of that? Of course not. But the hard fact is that science, qua science, is powerless against human nature, which defies scientific control.

Pinker plods on by describing ways in which science can contribute to the visual arts, music, and literary scholarship:

The visual arts could avail themselves of the explosion of knowledge in vision science, including the perception of color, shape, texture, and lighting, and the evolutionary aesthetics of faces and landscapes. Music scholars have much to discuss with the scientists who study the perception of speech and the brain’s analysis of the auditory world.

As for literary scholarship, where to begin? John Dryden wrote that a work of fiction is “a just and lively image of human nature, representing its passions and humours, and the changes of fortune to which it is subject, for the delight and instruction of mankind.” Linguistics can illuminate the resources of grammar and discourse that allow authors to manipulate a reader’s imaginary experience. Cognitive psychology can provide insight about readers’ ability to reconcile their own consciousness with those of the author and characters. Behavioral genetics can update folk theories of parental influence with discoveries about the effects of genes, peers, and chance, which have profound implications for the interpretation of biography and memoir—an endeavor that also has much to learn from the cognitive psychology of memory and the social psychology of self-presentation. Evolutionary psychologists can distinguish the obsessions that are universal from those that are exaggerated by a particular culture and can lay out the inherent conflicts and confluences of interest within families, couples, friendships, and rivalries that are the drivers of plot.

I wonder how Rembrandt and the Impressionists (among other pre-moderns) managed to create visual art of such evident excellence without relying on the kinds of scientific mechanisms invoked by Pinker. I wonder what music scholars would learn about excellence in composition that isn’t already evident in the general loathing of audiences for most “serious” modern and contemporary music.

As for literature, great writers know instinctively and through self-criticism how to tell stories that realistically depict character, social psychology, culture, conflict, and all the rest. Scholars (and critics), at best, can acknowledge what rings true and has dramatic or comedic merit. Scientistic pretensions in scholarship (and criticism) may result in promotions and raises for the pretentious, but they do not add to the sum of human enjoyment — which is the real aim of literature.

Pinker inveighs against critics of scientism (science, in Pinker’s vocabulary) who cry “reductionism” and “simplification.” With respect to the former, Pinker writes:

Demonizers of scientism often confuse intelligibility with a sin called reductionism. But to explain a complex happening in terms of deeper principles is not to discard its richness. No sane thinker would try to explain World War I in the language of physics, chemistry, and biology as opposed to the more perspicuous language of the perceptions and goals of leaders in 1914 Europe. At the same time, a curious person can legitimately ask why human minds are apt to have such perceptions and goals, including the tribalism, overconfidence, and sense of honor that fell into a deadly combination at that historical moment.

It is reductionist to explain a complex happening in terms of a deeper principle when that principle fails to account for the complex happening. Pinker obscures that essential point by offering a silly and irrelevant example about World War I. This bit of misdirection is unsurprising, given Pinker’s foray into reductionism, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, which I examine here.

As for simplification, Pinker says:

The complaint about simplification is misbegotten. To explain something is to subsume it under more general principles, which always entails a degree of simplification. Yet to simplify is not to be simplistic.

Pinker again dodges the issue. Simplification is simplistic when the “general principles” fail to account adequately for the phenomenon in question.

If Pinker is right about anything, it is when he says that “the intrusion of science into the territories of the humanities has been deeply resented.” The resentment, though some of it may be wrongly motivated, is fully justified.

Related reading (added 08/10/13 and 09/06/13):
Bill Vallicella, “Steven Pinker on Scientism, Part One,” Maverick Philosopher, August 10, 2013
Leon Wieseltier, “Crimes Against Humanities,” The New Republic, September 3, 2013 (gated)

Related posts about Pinker:
Nonsense about Presidents, IQ, and War
The Fallacy of Human Progress

Related posts about modernism:
Speaking of Modern Art
Making Sense about Classical Music
An Addendum about Classical Music
My Views on Classical Music, Vindicated
But It’s Not Music
A Quick Note about Music
Modernism in the Arts and Politics
Taste and Art
Modernism and the Arts

Related posts about science:
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Modeling Is Not Science
Physics Envy
We, the Children of the Enlightenment
Demystifying Science
Analysis for Government Decision-Making: Hemi-Science, Hemi-Demi-Science, and Sophistry
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
The Candle Problem: Balderdash Masquerading as Science
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
The Glory of the Human Mind

Economics: A Survey

I have reproduced this post as a separate page. It will always be accessible by clicking the link that appears below the banner.

Until I muster the will to finish a plain-language primer on economics that I began several years ago, this post will have to do. It is an annotated compilation of links to the posts at this blog which, taken together, will enlighten those readers who seek a rounded view of economics, that is, one that is both fundamental and practical. The fundamental posts address the principles of economics without resorting to abstruse mathematical expressions. The practical posts (in the main) address the effects of government policy on economic activity.

Many of the posts cited below are illustrated by statistics that are a few months to several years out of date.  The conclusions remain valid, however.

PRINCIPLES

The place to begin is “Trade.” It explains the benefits of voluntary exchange, which is the essence of economic activity.

Trade, in the jargon of economics, is microeconomic activity. Attempts to aggregate and explain economic activity are called macroeconomics. “Macroeconomics and Microeconomics” addresses the relationship between the two disciplines.

Other foundational posts are “The Rationality Fallacy” and “Income and Diminishing Marginal Utility.” The first exposes an error common among economists, which is to equate wealth maximization and happiness. The second exposes an error common among economists and leftists (but I repeat myself), which is to assume that a person’s marginal utility (gain in happiness) diminishes with income.

A Short Course in Economics” and “Addendum to a Short Course in Economics” state a number of basic propositions about economics and economic behavior. These aren’t rigorous expositions of economic principles, but they will point a neophyte in the right direction — that is, away from the upside-down economics spouted by leftists and “journalists” (but I repeat myself).

Closely related is “The Causes of Economic Growth,” which cuts through the gobbledygook that prevails in academic circles.

All of the above posts are non-mathematical because the principles of economics do not have to be stated mathematically. In fact, the mathematization of economic theory is a scam, as discussed in “Mathematical Economics.” Economics, as a discipline, suffers from “physic envy”; too many of its practitioners believe that a coat of mathematical varnish can turn it into a science. But economics is not a science — or if it is, in is only a “soft science” that relies more on intuition than it does on the scientific method. For more on this subject, see “Science, Axioms, and Economics.”

PRACTICE: THE GENERAL ECONOMIC INFLUENCE OF GOVERNMENT

Minimal government protects citizens from foreign and domestic predators, thus enabling peaceful, mutually beneficial, and voluntary exchange (i.e., free markets). When government goes beyond its minimal role and interferes in the economy it inhibits economic output in three ways. First, government spending and borrowing divert resources from productive uses to (mainly) unproductive and counterproductive ones. Second, taxes penalize success and divert resources from growth-inducing capital creation. Third, regulations inhibit business formation and expansion.  These relationships are explored systematically in “Government in Macroeconomic Perspective.”

You may wish to skip that technical and somewhat plodding post, and go directly to some of my estimates of the scope and economic costs of government intervention. Begin with the qualitative assessment given in “The Real Burden of Government,” then turn to “The Laffer Curve, ‘Fiscal Responsibility,’ and Economic Growth,” “The Commandeered Economy,” “Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth,” “The Mega-Depression,” and “Economic Growth since World War II.” (Another, often overlooked, consequence of government intervention in economic affairs is the resulting diminution of liberty; see, for example, “The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty.”)

The posts cited in the preceding paragraph assess the long-run effects of government interventions. Government policy imposes additional costs in the short run, that is, in the span of years rather than decades. The Federal Reserve, to name the main culprit, can claim responsibility for the Great Depression and the Great Recession, as well as other recessions. See “Mr. Greenspan Doth Protest Too Much,” “The Fed and Business Cycles,” and “Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations.”

Then there is a phenomenon known as regime uncertainty, in which entrepreneurship and capital formation are discouraged — temporarily, at least — by the threat of new government interventions. That threat that is more potent now than it has been since the New Deal-Great Society era. I address regime uncertainty in “The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty,” “Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession,” and “Obamanomics: A Report Card.”

Government interventions in economic affairs are prompted by many interests and impulses — power-seeking, rent-seeking, economic illiteracy, and plain old do-goodism being among them. Among the chief reasons given for interventions is “market failure,” which is among the subjects addressed in “Regulation as Wishful Thinking.” Closely related posts that bear reading are “Socialist Calculation and the Turing Test,” “What Free-Rider Problem?,” and “Don’t Just Stand There, ‘Do Something’.” The political economy of government intervention is treated generally in “Tocqueville’s Prescience” and “Understanding Hayek.” The darker impulses are addressed in “Don’t Use the ‘S’ Word When the ‘F’ Word Will Do.” (The “S” and “F” words are “socialism” and “fascism.”)

Last, but only because I put it here, is the baleful influence of Keynesianism on economic policy. I expose the fallacy of Keynesianism and “stimulus” spending in “The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math” and “The True Multiplier.” Also relevant, though superseded by the preceding two posts, are “A Keynesian Fantasy Land,” “Why the Stimulus Failed to Stimulate,” “The Real Multiplier,” “The Real Multiplier (II),” and “Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause.”

PRACTICE: SALIENT ISSUES

We’re not through with government, which plays an explicit and implicit role in the following matters (arranged alphabetically):

Government Debt and Deficits. The best posts on this subject were inspired by the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Commission, whose work — flawed as it is — seems to have been ignored. The “can” is still being kicked down the road, and the consequences will be dire. Read on: “The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding,” “The Bowles-Simpson Report,” “The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid,” and “America’s Financial Crisis Is Now.”

Income Inequality and Redistribution. Some persons earn more money than other persons because of differences in ability, performance, and the value of their contributions to the well-being of others. This straightforward explanation doesn’t suit idiots like Robert Reich, who are handicapped by economic illiteracy, guilt, and hypocrisy. The inescapable fact of income inequality is often conflated with the so-called “war” on the middle class. (Pending a post on that subject, I refer you to this one by Mark J. Perry.)

I have addressed inequality several times. The brief post, “The Last(?) Word about Income Inequality” provides several links that are worth following. Other posts expose income inequality as a bogus issue and warn of the dire economic consequences of taxing “the rich” more than they are already taxed: “Taxing the Rich,” “More about Taxing the Rich,” “In Defense of the 1%,” and “Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in the U.S. of A,” and “How High Should Taxes Be?

If you’re in the mood for a more fundamental treatment of the “inequality problem,” try “Income and Diminishing Marginal Utility,” “Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare,” “Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice,” “Utilitarianism, ‘Liberalism,’ and Omniscience,” “Utilitarianism vs. Liberty,” “Accountants of the Soul,” “Rawls Meets Bentham,” “Enough of ‘Social Welfare’,” “Positive Liberty vs. Liberty,” “Social Justice,” “More Social Justice,”  “Luck Egalitarianism and Moral Luck,” and “Utilitarianism and Psychopathy.”

Inflation.  Or the threat of it, seems to be a perennial problem. At root, it is a government problem, as I discuss in “Why Government Spending Is Inherently Inflationary,” “Is Inflation Inevitable?,” and “Does the CPI Understate Inflation?

Interest Rates. Government-induced stagnation, addressed above, reappears in “Why Are Interest Rates So Low?” See also “Bonds for the Long Run?

International Trade and Outsourcing. Start with “Trade” (also cited above) and “Why Outsourcing Is Good: A Simple Lesson for ‘Liberal’ Yuppies.” If you need more, go to “Trade-Deficit Hysteria,” “Trade, Government Spending, and Economic Growth,” and “Gains from Trade.”

Monopoly. It’s a dirty word, on a par with “asbestos.” Monopoly — or the hope of attaining it — is essential to economic growth, as discussed in “Monopoly and the General Welfare.” If you want to see a dysfunctional monopoly, look at government (a central point of “Krugman and Monopoly“). Private monopoly, on the other hand, is preferable to government regulation: “Monopoly: Private Is Better than Public.”

Paternalism. “Libertarian paternalism” is an oxymoron; more accurately, it is dangerous, anti-libertarian treachery. My many posts on the subject begin with an eponymous one, and continue through “The Mind of a Paternalist, Revisited.” Pseudo-libertarians have no corner on paternalism, of course. Witness the wars on smoking and obesity of the past 60 years. My most recent post about paternalism is “Obesity and Statism.” Links to all of my posts on paternalism can be found at “Favorite Posts,” under categories V, VII, X and XI.

Two leading proponents of “libertarian paternalism” are Richard Thaler, an economist, and Cass Sunstein, a law professor and erstwhile “regulatory czar” for Obama. Thaler, given his academic background, might once have been a libertarian, but clearly has lost his way. Sunstein never came close to being one, and is about as anti-libertarian as they come, as you will learn if you read the posts about him, which are listed in category VII of “Favorite Posts.” Begin with this one and continue through this one. See especially (but not exclusively) “Cass Sunstein’s Truly Dangerous Mind.”

Regulation. It is fitting to jump from “Paternalism” to “Regulation,” inasmuch as regulation is paternalism writ huge. Regulation touches every facet of our lives and livelihoods. I have written about it so many times that it is hard to choose a list of representative posts. I began with “Fear of the Free Market — Part I,” and continued with “Part II” and “Part III.” Those three (long) posts make a theoretical and practical case against regulation. “Regulation as Wishful Thinking” makes the same case, though less thoroughly (but in far fewer words). The extent of the regulatory burden, at the federal level, is summarized in “Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down.” That post includes an estimate of the economic cost of regulation.

“Social Insurance” Schemes.  “Social insurance” is properly called income redistribution. The primary engines of income redistribution — in addition to progressive taxation — are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — as expanded by Obamacare. The monumental government debt that will accrue as a result of these schemes is addressed above, under “Government Debt and Deficits.” I have covered income redistribution, generally, under “Income Inequality and Redistribution.” Posts specifically about “social insurance” schemes include “The Mythical, Magical, Social Security Trust Fund,” “Social Security: The Permanent Solution,” and “Saving Social Security.” Obamacare is treated (not gently) in “Rationing and Health Care,” “The Perils of Nannyism: The Case of Obamacare,” “Health-Care ‘Reform’: The Short of It,”

As a bonus, I offer “Social Security Is Unconstitutional,” “The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate,” “Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?,” and “Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?.” Yes, Social Security and the individual mandate (along with Medicare and Medicaid) are unconstitutional, various majorities of the Supreme Court to the contrary notwithstanding; no, the power to tax doesn’t give Congress unlimited power (according the Constitution); and no, Congress doesn’t have the constitutional power to regulate inactivity (i.e., to penalize or tax a person for not buying insurance).

Tax Policy. Tax policy is implicated in many of the posts already listed. I also address it, directly, in “Productivity Growth and Tax Cuts,” “A True Flat Tax,” “‘Tax Expenditures’ Are Not Expenditures,” “Taxes: Theft or Duty?,” and “Is Taxation Slavery?” (yes).

Fighting Modernity

Yesterday, in this post, I quoted this one. The writer, one Tim Stanley, makes some other good points; for example:

I don’t belong in this era and I really do not like it….

Traditionalists have little to no political power, precisely because they are out of step with the age and so out of step with the democratic will. So, short of building a time machine and going back to the 1860s, what is there left to do?…

I’ve reached the conclusion that traditionalists should reject politics and focus on art. We should take back control of the cultural institutions – universities, academies, churches, periodicals – and use them to promote beauty. We should try to live charitably, fully and well – to be examples and trend setters…. And we should not accept our fate as mere critics of civilisation … but instead become the architects of a new one. For we traditionalists don’t contribute nearly enough to our society. Helping to improve it could mean anything from blogging to writing a symphony.

It is premature to give up on politics, and it is quixotic to seek control of universities (or very many of them).But until that day when traditionalists are no longer free to express themselves openly, the least we can do is strive to preserve a semblance of beauty, civility, and truth in literature and the arts, in political discourse, and even in science, which is becoming a tool of statist schemers.

The Glory of the Human Mind

As an antidote to the bleakness of “Nothingness” and in tribute to the glory that is the human mind, I refer you to three old posts of mine: “Flow,” “The Purpose-Driven Life,” and “In Praise of Solitude.”

And I also refer you to every great artist, writer, and thinker, from Socrates and Shakespeare to Newton and Einstein to Bach and Dvorak to Nabakov and Nagel.

A particular mind may be evanescent, but the beauty, wisdom, and knowledge that is produced by the best minds is priceless. The sum total of beauty, wisdom, and knowledge that is available to us — though too often ignored and derided — is overwhelming. No one can possibly absorb and understand all of it, which means that no one must waste his time on mindless intellectual and artistic dreck.

That so much time is wasted on dreck — often whole lifetimes — is a greater tragedy than the inevitable death of any particular artist, writer, or thinker. Equally tragic is the rejection of civilizing traditions, which are also sublime products of the human mind. Thus:

I hate modern art that swaps form for dead sharks; and modern music that exchanges harmony for noise…. I hate religious leaders who think that God is found “in the spaces” and that worship is therapy. I hate our pornographic culture, our tasteless battery foods, and our TV that treats adults like children and children like adults. I hate our obsession with irony, as if a shrug of the shoulders is cleverer than serious inquiry. I hate the death of chivalry, manners and the doffed hats. I hate our promotion of sex over romance – today’s Brief Encounters are very different things. I hate the eradication of guilt and shame, very useful concepts that hold us back from indulgence. (Tim Stanley, “Conservatives: Don’t Despair of Our Corrupt, Decadent Age. Write about It,” The Telegraph, August 2, 2013)

Life needn’t be like that. When all else fails us, we can take refuge in our own minds, where beauty dwells — if we have cultivated our minds so that beauty thrives there.

The potentiality of the human mind allows us to be more — much more — than the “most robots” of New Atheism. Thank God for that.

Nothingness

Edward Feser’s post, “Fifty Shades of Nothing,” prompts this one.

Preamble:

Nothing is the alternative to the existence of the universe,* that is, to the existence of something. Something is either caused by a self-existent, uncaused entity (i.e., God), or something simply exists. In the letter case, something must be uncaused and eternal, ruling out the possibility of nothing.

Therefore, given the necessity of God, nothing is possible, though there has been something for at least 14 billion years, according to the Big Bang theory. And there may have been something into the indefinite past, according to cyclic models of cosmology.

This suggests the following questions:

A. Given that nothing is possible, what can be said about it, other than that is the alternative to something?

Consider:

1. Make a fist and then open it. What do you see? “Nothing” is the usual answer if you’re not holding an object in your hand. But the “nothing” that you see is in fact the absence of an object in your hand. (It would be mere pedantry to say that your hand is “holding” a column of air, which is “something,” anyway.) Therefore, you don’t see “nothing”; you see an open hand, which happens not to hold an object. But the open hand is part of something, that is, the universe. If there were nothing, there would be no open hand to begin with. A vacuum in a bottle or in outer space is of the same ilk; it is an apparent emptiness (lack of matter-energy) that is noticed only because there is something, the universe that includes the bottle and the objects that surround and define outer space

2. If you are a philosophical materialist (i.e., disbeliever in supernatural phenomena or divine interventions),** you believe that a person ceases to exist when his brain ceases to function (if not when the person lapses into permanent unconsciousness). From your perspective, the cessation of brain function (or even of consciousness) puts an end to the things that made the person a particular being with a unique set of characteristics: personality, memory, habits, ways of talking, laughing, etc. You might even say that where there was a particular person there is now “nothing.” But that “nothing” is really an absence or negation of the particular person who existed before brain death (or permanent lapse into unconsciousness). It is not the kind of nothing that is understood as an alternative to the existence of the universe; it is the perceived absence of an erstwhile portion of that universe. In fact, by the laws of physics, that erstwhile portion of the universe continues to exist, though not in a form that you would you would call a person. Here again, we have “nothing” (i.e., absence of a person) only because there is something.

Generally:

No more can be said of nothing than that it is the alternative to something (i.e., the universe). Nothing, by definition, has no characteristics. It is neither imaginable nor describable, despite the temptation to think and speak of it as some kind of empty blackness within which nothing exists. The image of an empty blackness is an image of something, not nothing.

B. Can nothing follow something, as death follows life?

Nothing can follow something only if something (i.e., the universe) is annihilated. Annihilation necessarily means the disappearance of all traces of matter and energy and the space that contains their existence. It doesn’t mean the conversion of matter, energy, and space to a mere blankness (black, white, or otherwise).

Annihilation is beyond the ability of humans, and beyond the forces of nature. It is a job for God.

C. Does the fact that there is something rule out the possibility of nothing?

No. See the preamble and the answer to B.

__________
* I use “universe” generally, to include the possibility of a spatial and/or temporal multiverse.

** I am a kind of philosophical materialist, but unlike most materialists I am not an atheist. Specifically, I believe that the universe was created by God. But I also doubt (regretfully) that God plays an active role in the workings of His creation, except to sustain it (as against the possibility of annihilation). As long as the universe is sustained, it (seemingly) operates according to “laws” that are (in theory) discoverable, though the ultimate nature of existence is not discoverable.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
What Is Time?
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Tenth Dimension
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II) (first item)
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology