Some Conundrums

Here are five (my answers are below):

1. Why are killers (too often) not killed for their crimes?

2. Why can some parties suppress and distort the speech of others, yet continue to enjoy the liberties (including freedom of speech) that enable their actions?

3. How is it that some very-rich persons claim to pay “too little” in taxes, yet they (a) do not voluntarily contribute to the U.S. Treasury and (b) want to impose higher taxes on persons who are not very rich?

4. If “climate change” is a problem that causes the governments of some cities and States to impose extraordinary regulations (e.g., extra gasoline taxes, tighter emissions standards), why do those same governments countenance any activity that (supposedly) contributes to “climate change” (e.g., municipal transit, official travel, subsidized arenas, the construction of houses larger than, say, 2,000 square feet)? (And do the officials who push such regulations bother to compute the vanishingly small effect of those regulations on “climate change”, assuming that there is any effect?)

5. Why do so many people choose to live in metropolitan areas — only to complain about crime, traffic congestion, high prices, and stress — when they could be relieved of those woes by moving out? The opportunities are rife:

Answers:

1. The opposition to capital punishment is an exemplar of politically correct (i.e., muddled) thinking. It is epitomized in this common combination of attitudes: aborting an innocent fetus is all right; killing a killer is bad. Why? Because killing is “bad”, regardless of the end it serves.  It is like the PC idea that saying “gun”, drawing one, or owning one is bad because guns are “bad”, no matter what (unless your hired bodyguard carries a gun).

2. Leniency with respect to entities that suppress speech is of a piece with pacifism. It invites the aggressor to do unto you what you should do unto him before he can do it unto you.

3. Some very-rich persons are empty-headed twits who care more about virtue-signalling than they care about the welfare of their fellow citizens (those who pay taxes, at any rate), and they are hypocrites, to boot.

4. Change the preceding answer by substituting “municipal and State officials” for “very-rich persons”.

5. The are many reasons for staying in a metropolitan area, some of them good ones; for example, moving to an extra-metropolitan area would mean the loss of ready access to “culture” (arts, entertainment, dining, organized sports), the abandonment of established social relationships, and very possibly (because of a dearth of suitable jobs) a drastic reduction in one’s standard of living despite lower housing costs. There are, however, some reasons that are merely self-defeating, namely, inertia and pride (e.g., reluctance to give up the Lexus SUV and McMansion). Putting up with crime, traffic congestion, high prices, and stress — while complaining about such things — points to the uselessness of most surveys. Talk is cheap.

First They Came For …

… the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

So goes one version of “First they came …

the poetic form of a prose post- war confession first made in German in 1946 by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). It is about the cowardice of German intellectuals and certain clergy (including, by his own admission, Niemöller himself) following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent incremental purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

Niemöller’s message has been repeated time and again by observers of political developments in the U.S. Sometimes in defense of the communists being “persecuted” by Joe McCarthy, and sometimes by conservatives who are (rightly) fearful of the power of Big Tech.

But I find myself in disagreement with the message and its assumptions.

For one thing, it is right to go after some groups (e.g., Big Tech). The “marketplace of ideas” is a fatuous notion, and liberty cannot be sustained if its enemies are allowed free rein to convert the populace to anti-libertarian dogmas. The First Amendment was not meant to be a prescription for political suicide.

For another thing, it is ridiculous to think that intellectuals and clergymen could have prevented the rise of Nazism and its eventual (and largely successful) effort to eradicate the Jews of Germany and occupied territories. In fact, a goodly share of Germany’s intellectuals (and clergy and affluent professionals) gave aid and comfort to the Nazi regime.

The same is true, in large part, of American intellectuals, clergy, and affluent professionals. That they are dupes of the left’s coterie of would-be dictators doesn’t occur to them. But they are dupes, and with the left in the saddle and riding hard toward economic and social dictatorship, it will not matter whether any or most of them recant before dictatorship is upon us.

Some of the dupes, if they are suitably subservient, will become court favorites — until they say or do something that puts their allegiance in doubt, when they will be purged à la Stalin. Those who turned against the left during its rise to absolute power will be remembered and dealt with harshly in Orwellian fashion, as enemies of “equality”, “social justice”, “sexual liberation”, and other such perverted concepts. The silent majority will be left (mostly) alone, though only by dint of its continued silence in an economic and social wasteland.

Consequentialism

According to consequentialism, an act (or a refusal to act in a particular way) should be judged by its consequences. But consequences can only follow from an act (or lack of action). So consequentialism is really founded on hope, with perhaps some justification in experience — if certain types of act (or inaction) are known to have certain consequences.

But even the simplest acts — those with a direct connection between their commission and the desired outcomes — can have unforeseen and unwanted consequences. Murder committed in the heat of the moment, but with the intention to kill, may land the murderer in prison or an execution chamber, neither of which outcome the murderer had in mind when he pulled the trigger or plunged the knife into his victim. Less dramatically, the outcome of a marriage proposal may — and usually does — lead not only to marital bliss (though perhaps not for as long as intended) but also to complications that hadn’t been contemplated (e.g., the raising of difficult children, financial stress, affairs, and other irritants large and small that strain the marriage).

Governance on the basis of consequentialism has proven time and time again to be foolish, when not treacherous. Social Security, for example, which was meant to be a boon to indigent old people has become a vast, economically draining, disincentivizing middle-to-lower-class welfare program. Social Security led to other vast and wasteful schemes, including Medicare and Medicaid and expansion through Obamacare, whose proponents made this fraudulent promise:

If you like the plan you have, you can keep it. If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too. The only change you’ll see are falling costs as our reforms take hold.

Even successful wars — World War II, notably and uniquely in the American experience — have led to massive waste in lives and treasure. An annotated list of the ill-conceived and mis-conceived government ventures in the history of the United States would (and does) fill volumes.

I am not suggesting that persons refrain from taking action for fear that things won’t turn out as hoped for. (Government is entirely a different matter, and if most of it were abolished Americans would be far better off than they are.) What I am saying is that judging an action by its consequences can be done only after the fact, when all of the ramifications of the action have played out. Moreover, and crucially, similar actions can have wildly different consequences.

In sum: Consequentialism is an empty philosophical construct. “Good” consequences justify the actions that lead to them, but the actions have already been taken, and similar actions often have different consequences.

Vive le collège électoral!

Long live the Electoral College!

As long as the States retain their power under the Constitution, they remain co-sovereign with the government of the United States. The election of a president by the Electoral College recognizes the co-sovereignty of the States, and the separate voice that each of them has in the election of a president.

It is not for the voters of California to dictate the winner of a presidential election, as they would have done in 2016 had a nationwide tally of popular votes by State been decisive. Rather, it is for the voters of each State, in the aggregate, to cast what amounts to a State-wide vote through the Electoral College. One can quibble with the constitutional compromise that gave less-populous States a slightly disproportionate say in the outcome. (The number of electoral votes cast by each State is equal to the number of its Representatives in Congress — thus roughly proportional to its population — plus the number of its Senators in Congress, which is two for every State regardless of its population.) But the principle remains, regardless of the quibble: Each State is independent of every other State and its aggregate preference should not be submerged in the mythical nationwide popular-vote tally.

These observations are prompted by Victor Davis Hansen’s perceptive analysis of the meaning and consequences of the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Had it not been for the Electoral College, Hillary Clinton would have won the election and the United States would have been led deeper into costly and counterproductive spending and regulatory activity to combat “climate change” and various “social injustices”; the southern border would have been thrown open to all and sundry welfare-moochers; and the charade known as the Iran nuclear deal would have played out to its predictable end — the sudden emergence of an Iran armed with long-range nuclear missiles. In the meanwhile, the disarmament of America would have continued, in the face of the rising power of China and Russia. And those nations would (sooner later) have had carte blanche to commit economic and military blackmail against the interests of American citizens and companies.

What about 2020? Naive forecasts of the votes cast in the Electoral College based on trends in the GOP candidates’ share of each State’s popular vote (2000 to 2016 and 2012 to 2016) point to another win by Trump. The likely margin of victory is about the same as in 2016 or even larger if the pro-GOP trend continues in Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, or New Hampshire. (Any such projection is, of course, subject to great uncertainty — especially with respect to the state of the economy, the continuation of relative piece, the containment of terrorism, and other events that might jolt the electorate.)

A Roundup of Related Posts: “Americanism” Edition

Read Dov Fischer’s “So Where Do They Come From?“, and then these related posts  (if you haven’t already done so):

Real Americans

The Age of Memes

About Trump’s “Go Back” Statement

Anti-patriotism

Political “Memes”

Rooted in the Real World of Real People

Rooted in the Real World of Real People

I am far from nostalgic about my home town. But it’s still my home town, and I often revisit it in my mind’s eye.

The only places that I mentally revisit with pleasure are the first home that I can remember — where I lived from age 1 to age 7 — and the first of the three red-brick school houses that I attended.

I haven’t been to my home town in four years. The occasion was the funeral of my mother, who lived to the age of 99.

I may not go back again. But it’s still my home town.

I think of it that way not only because I grew up there but also because it’s a “real” place: a small, mostly run-down, Midwestern city with a population of about 30,000 — the largest city in a county that lies beyond the fringes of the nearest metropolitan area.

Perhaps I’m nostalgic about it, after all, because “real” places like my home town seem to be vanishing from the face of America. By real, I mean places where (real) people still work with their hands; live in houses that are older than they are, and have fewer bathrooms than bedrooms; mow their own lawns, clean their own homes, and make their own meals (except when they partake of the American Legion fish fry or go to a Chick-Fil-A); bowl, hunt, fish, stroll their neighborhoods and know their neighbors (who have been their neighbors for decades); read Reader’s Digest, Popular Mechanics, and romance novels; go to bars that lack ferns and chrome; prefer Fox News and country music to NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and hip-hop; go to church and say grace before meals; and vote for politicians who don’t think of real people as racists, ignoramuses, gun nuts, or religious zealots (“deplorables”, in other words).

In fact, America is (or was) those real places with real people in them. And it is vanishing with them.

P.S. I have lived outside the real world of real people for a very long time, but the older I get, the more I miss it.

Political “Memes”

The dominant theme in political discourse changes frequently. As politicians figure out that most of the public is tired of one theme, they pick up another one, and it dominates for a while. Rinse, lather, repeat.

A few years ago the dominant political theme was inequality. Now it’s racism (or, more broadly, discrimination “hate”). Dominant themes of yore include anti-communism vs. anti-anti-communism, relations with the USSR, civil rights, and various wars (especially Vietnam and Iraq II). The economy becomes a dominant theme when it’s down, giving politicians an excuse to promote economically destructive spending and redistribution schemes.

What’s next? I don’t know, but there will be a dominant theme, possibly before the end of Trump’s first term. One possibility (though it may be too arcane) is the power of the information-technology giants, which is being attacked from left and right. Something “sexier” is sure to come along.

(See also “The Age of Memes“.)

The Enlightenment’s Fatal Flaw

The fatal flaw is the reliance on reason. As Wikipedia puts it,

The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of knowledge….

Where reason is

the capacity of consciously making sense of things, establishing and verifying facts, applying logic, and adapting or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information.

So much of life is — of necessity — conducted in a realm beyond “reason”, where instincts and customs come into play in a universe that is but dimly understood.

By contrast, as the Wikipedia article admits, the Enlightenment — like its contemporary manifestations in pseudo-science (e.g., Malthusianism, Marxism, “climate change”), politics (e.g., “social justice”), and many other endeavors — relies on reductionism, which is

the practice of oversimplifying a complex idea or issue to the point of minimizing or distorting it.

Reason relies on verbalization (or its mathematical equivalent), but words (and numbers) fail us:

Love, to take a leading example, is a feeling that just is. The why and wherefore of it is beyond our ability to understand and explain. Some of the feelings attached to it can be expressed in prose, poetry, and song, but those are superficial expressions that don’t capture the depth of love and why it exists.

The world of science is of no real help. Even if feelings of love could be expressed in scientific terms — the action of hormone A on brain region X — that would be worse than useless. It would reduce love to chemistry, when we know that there’s more to it than that. Why, for example, is hormone A activated by the presence or thought of person M but not person N, even when they’re identical twins?

The world of science is of no real help about “getting to the bottom of things.” Science is an infinite regress. S is explained in terms of T, which is explained in terms of U, which is explained in terms of V, and on and on. For example, there was the “indivisible” atom, which turned out to consist of electrons, protons, and neutrons. But electrons have turned out to be more complicated than originally believed, and protons and neutrons have been found to be made of smaller particles with distinctive characteristics. So it’s reasonable to ask if all of the particles now considered elementary are really indivisible. Perhaps there other more-elementary particles yet to be hypothesized and discovered. And even if all of the truly elementary particles are discovered, scientists will still be unable to explain what those particles really “are.”

Reason is valuable when it consists of the narrow application of logic to hard facts. But it has almost nothing to do with most of life — and especially not with politics.

Just as words fail us, so has the Enlightenment and much of what came in its wake.

As exemplified by this “child of the enlightenment”:

Child of the enlightenment

(See also “In Praise of Prejudice” and “We, the Children of the Enlightenment“.)

In Praise of Prejudice

The title of this post is borrowed from Theodore Dalrymple’s In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas. John Stuart Mill, who epitomized The Enlightenment, is a main target of Dalyrmple’s book.

Social custom (along with monarchy and religion) was a main target of The Enlightment. Mill’s On Liberty (1869) is an extended attack on social custom, as Dalyrymple explains:

For Mill, custom is an evil that is the principle obstruction to progress and moral improvement, and its group on society is so strong that originality, unconventionality, and rebellion against it are goods in themselves, irrespective of their actual content. The man who flouts a convention ipso facto raises society from its torpor and lets everyone know that there are different, and better, ways of doing things. The more such people there are, the greater the likelihood of progress….

Of radical evil, in which the [twentieth] century was to abound, [Mill] has nothing to say, and therefore he had no idea that a mania for progress could result in its very antithesis, or that some defense against such radical evil, of which the commission was not possible without the co-operation and participation of many men, was necessary. The abandonment of customary restraint and inverted moral prejudice was not necessarily followed by improvement.

(See also “On Liberty“, “Accountants of the Soul“, “The Fallacy of Human Progress“, “The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality“, “Social Norms and Liberty“, “More about Social Norms and Liberty“, “The Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State“, “My View of Mill, Endorsed“, “Suicide or Destiny?“, “O.J.’s Glove and the Enlightenment“, and “James Burham’s Misplaced Optimism“.)

About Trump’s “Go Back” Statement

What did Trump actually say? This:

So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!

Trump is inarticulate (perhaps purposefully, in part). There are those who read Trump’s statement as racist, and an attempt to silence The Squad.

Trump’s message, as I read it, wasn’t that The Squad should be denied its right to speak. It is that The Squad (and its adherents) are enemies of liberty and prosperity. There’s nothing racist in calling attention to the fact that the members of The Squad (whether immigrants or not) have their roots in countries and regions which are just as Trump describes them.

Reading racism into Trump’s statement is just an attempt to perpetuate the myth that Trump is a racist. Whence that myth? It is rooted in Trump’s commitment to stem the flow of illegal immigrants from south of the border — illegals who also happen to be “persons of color”.

The real racism is The Squad’s use of “racism” to divert attention from the promotion of policies that are subversive of liberty and prosperity. That’s The Squad (and its friends) in action.

“Inherit the Wind” in Retrospect

I enjoyed immensely Inherit the Wind, a 1960 “message” film directed by Stanley Kramer, which I saw in the year of its release. The film starred two sterling actors of Hollywood’s true Golden Age: Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.

I enjoyed the film not only for the acting and literate script, but also because it portrayed Tracy’s character — Clarence Darrow in the guise of “Henry Drummond” — as the hero of the piece who demolishes his opponent at the bar — William Jennings Bryan in the guise of “Matthew Harrison Brady”.

“Drummond” defends “Bertram Cates” (John T. Scopes), who is on trial in 1925 for violating a Tennessee law that forbids the teaching of evolution in Tennessee’s public schools. “Brady” is one of the prosecutors, and the only one who figures prominently in the film.

According to the script of Inherit the Wind, Drummond/Darrow exposes Brady/Bryan as an ignorant religious zealot after putting him on the stand as a witness for the prosecution. Thus my enjoyment of the film, which I saw when I was a “sophisticated” junior in college and a recent “convert” from Catholicism to agnosticism (or perhaps atheism).

Time passes, and the world seems much different to me now. I utterly reject the hatefulness of anti-religious zealotry, which has morphed into the suppression of speech, denial of property rights, and denial of freedom of association. Thus my enjoyment of a piece by Mark Pulliam. Writing at Law & Liberty in “Inheriting the Wind, or Reaping the Whirlwind?“, Pulliam exposes Inherit the Wind as a piece of grossly inaccurate anti-religious propaganda. He ends with this:

In Inherit the Wind, Bryan/Brady is unfairly presented as a ridiculous fool—a pathetic figure. Bryan’s words show that he was thoughtful, decent, and—for his time—wise, albeit uninformed. And he won the case, beating the man regarded as one of the most formidable courtroom advocates of all time. Bryan was not so much an opponent of evolution as he was of Social Darwinism, and the Nietzschean philosophy he felt it represented.

Unfortunately, Bryan’s legacy as a man of faith has been besmirched by Hollywood’s willingness to distort history in the aid of promoting its agenda. The left’s disdain for religion and religious belief has only gained momentum since 1925. From simply mocking piety, the elite intelligentsia has progressed to banning prayer in public schools, forbidding aid to religious schools, removing religious symbols from public property, deeming Judeo-Christian morality to be “irrational,” and persecuting Christian bakers (and other vendors) for honoring their religious consciences.  In 2016, enough American voters—many who are arguably the heirs to the long-ridiculed citizens of Dayton—rose up and pushed back.

The Scopes trial, so badly mischaracterized in Inherit the Wind, better illustrates another Biblical verse, “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

Amen.

John Paul Stevens, 1920-2019*

I do not mourn his passing because he

was the author of a diverse set of important opinions. In Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, he wrote for a unanimous court in outlining the process by which courts should review federal agencies’ interpretation of the laws that the agencies administer. In Atkins v. Virginia, the court – by a vote of 6-3 – ruled that the Constitution bars the execution of the intellectually disabled. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the court – by a vote of 5-3, with Chief Justice John Roberts recused – ruled that the use of military commissions to try terrorism suspects violated both the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention and had not been authorized by Congress. And in Kelo v. City of New London, a divided court ruled that the city’s taking of private property to sell for private development as part of an economic development plan was a “public use” within the meaning of the Constitution’s takings clause – even if the land was not going to be used for the public.

Chevron required courts to defer to agencies’ interpretations of vague statutes, thus enabling agencies to legislate (and then to adjudicate based on their own legislation).

Atkins further weakened the efficacy of capital punishment by drawing a line where none need be drawn: murder is murder regardless of the perpetrator’s supposed state of mind or mental ability.

Hamdan undermined the ability of the president, as commander-in-chief, to wage war against America’s enemies.

Kelo was a body blow to property rights, which are an essential ingredient of liberty.

Nominating Stevens to the Supreme Court was Jerry Ford’s biggest mistake. In second place is his pardon of Nixon, who — unlike Trump — was actually guilty of offenses that were not only impeachable but also indictable.
__________
* The original title of this post was “John Paul Stevens, 1920-1919” — an epic typo that reflects my deep roots in the 20th century. The 21st still seems strange to me, for many reasons.

Further Thoughts about Utilitarianism

I am staunchly anti-utilitarian, as I explain at length in this post. But I have argued elsewhere (e.g., here) against government-designed rules that favor the few at the expense of the many. Does that make me a hypocrite?

No. Because I am also against government-designed rules that favor the many at the expense of the few. Both kinds of rules are abhorrent to me because they are government-designed. (I say “government-designed” because there are many rules imposed by government — the prohibition of murder, for example — which merely enforce long-standing social norms. Government-designed rules aren’t strictly government designed; they usually arise from efforts by interest groups to benefit themselves regardless of, or in spite of, long-standing social norms.)

To be clear, when I use the word “favor” I’m thinking not of rules that are meant to protect the vast majority of people from the small minority of them who are predators. “Favor” doesn’t come into it. To “favor” one group over another is to give privileges to that group which impose burdens on others. The prohibition of murder, for example, doesn’t “favor” victims; it denies (or attempts to deny) predators the “privilege” of victimizing others. (For much more, see “The Invention of Rights“.)

So when I rail against two-percent tyranny — the granting of privileges for small segments of the populace — it’s not that I’m making a utilitarian judgment about those privileges (i.e., 98 percent outweighs 2 percent). Rather, it’s because of the privileges themselves.

Such privileges may seem to be born of common sense (e.g., bike lanes keep bicyclists out of traffic lanes; the legalization of same-sex marriage merely extends the institution of marriage, which is a “good thing”). But, as government-designed rules, they signal that the beneficiaries deserve special treatment. Thus, for example, bicyclists push the envelope by riding the white line between the bike lane and the traffic lane. Same-sex couples (emboldened by other government-designed rules) use their status to attack and (financially) destroy businesses that prefer not to honor same-sex “marriage” or same-sex relationships.

In the latter case, a government-designed definition of marriage fosters the subversion of a long-recognized right: freedom of association. Same-sex couples have that freedom, but they seek to deny it to those who prefer not to associate with them.

(See also “How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression“.)

The Missing Ingredient in “Local Control”

It’s liberty. “Control” is the operative word in “local control”.

Why should I (or any sane person) entrust my liberty to the Democrat hacks who control my city and strive to control almost every aspect of my life, from the specifications of my windows to the wasteful (but “virtuous”) insistence on separating “recyclables” and “compostables” from trash?

Texas, where I live, is far from a libertarian stronghold. But the State government is far more attuned to the liberty (and prosperity) of Texans than are the governments of its major cities (in one of which I live).

(See also “Local Control” and “The Hypocrisy of ‘Local Control’“.)

Reparations and Me

Daniel J. Flynn, writing at The American Spectator in “Master Beto“, nails the faux-Hispanic good and hard:

Beto O’Rourke divulges that a “paternal great-great-great-grandfather of mine” owned slaves and that a “maternal great-great-grandfather” likely owned slaves, as well (he adds that his wife’s line includes a slave owner and a man who fought for the Confederate army)….

“Ownership of other human beings conferred advantages not just to Andrew Jasper and Frederick Williams, but to Jasper’s and Williams’ descendants as well,” O’Rourke writes for Medium of his slave-owning ancestors. “They were able to build wealth on the backs and off the sweat of others, wealth that they would then be able to pass down to their children and their children’s children. In some way, and in some form, that advantage would pass through to me and my children.”

Ostensibly for these reasons, O’Rourke supports reparations. But rather than pay them voluntarily, he wants to force every American — including people like myself, whose paternal line did not live in the United States during slavery’s existence and whose maternal line did live here briefly during slavery’s existence, but in the first state to abolish the institution, about 70 years prior to their arrival — to pay them. If O’Rourke believes that he accumulated some portion of his wealth through racial expropriation, he can donate, without a government program ordering him, to a charity benefiting African Americans. But he refrains from showing the courage of his convictions by paying off the debt he believes he owes.

In this matter, O’Rourke (an unusual Hispanic surname) emulates the very-rich who want higher income-tax rates because the don’t pay “enough” in taxes. There is a way to make a contribution to the U.S. Treasury, of which any very-rich person’s accountant should be aware. But I am unaware of contributions by the very-rich, who (sensibly) seem to do all that they can to take advantage of tax-avoidance schemes (and, sometimes, tax-evasion schemes).

In any event, I am with Flynn. None of my ancestors — all of whom were of the “lower” classes — owned slaves. Nor, as Northerners, did they have any part in sustaining the practice of slavery. My father, as I related in an earlier post, was the first of his male lineage to have been born in the United States (Michigan, to be exact) — 52 years after the end of the Civil War. My mother was descended from French-Canadians who emigrated to Michigan in the middle of the 19th century, unattended by slaves.

Nor do I put any stock in the theory that American blacks, on average, earn less and have less wealth than whites because of slavery (or even because of racial discrimination). There is a compelling explanation for the income and wealth gap, but cuck-servatives dare not refer to it.

My own view is that American blacks, on the whole, owe me a large tax refund for my “contributions” to various welfare programs. I am thinking not only of the usual handouts to “welfare queens” and the like, but also Social Security and Medicaid, which are designed to transfer income from those with high earnings to those with low earnings (or none). Then there are the taxes that I pay for “public safety”, which are undoubtedly higher than they would be if blacks comprised a smaller proportion of the populace.

Law vs. Justice

Here. It’s a quick read.

In summary: Gorsuch went over to the dark side in voting with Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. In doing so, Gorsuch to made it harder to put convicted criminals behind bars when they violate the terms of parole. Gorsuch’s nit-picky reading of the Constitution — an erroneous reading according to Alito — opens the door to further rulings that will make it harder to protect the public from the bad guys.

Shaky Trade Talk

Political Calculations has posted “Heavy Toll of US-China Tariff War Continues“.  Two graphs carry the burden of proof of the title’s thesis, namely, that the current tariff “war” is responsible for a “heavy toll” on U.S exports and the total value of trade between the U.S. (rather, entities therein) and China. My take is that the graphs don’t support the conclusions that the writer draws from them.

First:

A trend line through all the points represented by the 12-month moving average wouldn’t rise as sharply as the pre-trade war linear trend. I would be hard-pressed to say that the current decline below the 2008-2019 trend is significant, and so would the writer. Further, the current decline in the 12-month moving average is no greater than the one that began during Obama’s presidency.

Second:

The writer claims that the

year-over-year growth rate of each nation’s exports to each other continues to fall in negative territory, which in previous occurrences, has [sic] coincided with periods of sharply slowing economic growth or recessions.

What I see in the graph is a long-term decline in the year-over-year growth rate. The only significant (and more negative) departure from the trend occurred during the Great Recession.

(See “Rethinking Free Trade III“, which repeats the main points of the first two installments.)

The Age of Memes

Memes have always been with us, though they weren’t called that until 1976. According to Wikipedia, a meme

is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture—often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.

There’s really nothing new in all of that, except for the “scientific” name that has been applied to it.

No, what’s really new is the rapidity with which particular ideas (i.e., unbaked hypotheses, lies, rumors, and propaganda) spread and seem to take hold without having been examined carefully. Consider, for example, the ridiculous idea that the Betsy Ross flag is a “hurtful” symbol of slavery: from Colin Kapernick’s addled brain to myriad media outlets (including the “social” variety) and thence to the mouths of some presidential candidates in a matter of days. (I would say “to the brains of some presidential candidates”, but their ready acceptance of the meme suggests a dire shortage of gray matter, if not brains that have been conditioned to serve nefarious ends.)

I return to “Peak Civilization“:

In the West, rational inquiry seems to have peaked in the early 1960s. I needn’t remind you of the subsequent descent: mobs, riots, the din of “entertainment”, quasi-religious movements from hippiedom to “climate change”, and on and on into the night.

(In the same vein there is neo-Malthusianism-cum-environmental extremism, which in its mildest form wants some kind of population control and in its most virulent form wants the extinction of human beings.)

Not that rational inquiry has always (or ever) ruled the day, but the decline since the 1960s is striking to me.

What happened in and since the 1960s? Take the idea that humankind is doomed to extinction by “climate change” — a fringe idea, perhaps, but not an uncommonly held one.  Take the shrill and many-fold “social justice” movement, which encompasses so many “wrongs” and “victims” that it would be easier to describe it by listing its exceptions (mainly straight, white, conservative males of British and northwestern European descent whose sexuality has always been tightly controlled).

The meme that “change” (always beneficial, of course) can be accomplished by often-hysterical shrillness and mob action (now virtual as well as actual) got its start with the anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1960s. Adults in responsible positions (e.g. Walter Cronkite, LBJ, and Clark Kerr) encouraged the hysteria directly or by giving in to it. Rare was the person in a powerful position who tried to squelch it; Mayor Daley (Sr.) of Chicago was one such person, and for his sins he became a hated figure in his own (Democrat) party.

And so it came to pass that hysteria in the service of “social justice” became the norm. And then it came to pass that the instruments for spreading and amplifying hysteria were invented and widely adopted (personal computing, the internet, blogs, “social media”). The existing tools of mass communication (radio, movies, television) were swept along in the rising tide of hysteria, the owners and operators of such tools being no less anxious than stoned collegians to prove their “social consciousness”. In fact, the hysteria has spread to the owners and operators of major industrial firms, who swim in the same “elite” circles as their peers in the information-technology complex.

All of this was built on foundations laid insidiously by the public-education monopoly and the professoriate. Their time has finally arrived. And so “public” opinion (where “public” means overt) is dominated if not ruled by what I have elsewhere called the internet-media-academic complex.

The thing about memes, since long before they were called that, is their staying power. A long-standing meme (or constellation of them) — such as obeisance to Judeo-Christian norms in America — can’t be conquered by mere reason. It takes a new meme (or constellation of them) — such as “hope” and “change” and “social justice” — to overrun them. The human animal needs memes to occupy his mind when he has attained a degree of physical security that gives him the luxury conjuring six impossible things before breakfast, instead of having to concentrate his energy on catching or growing his breakfast. (One of the Democrat presidential candidates, albeit one on the far fringe, epitomizes the zaniness that flourishes among the spoiled children of capitalism.)

Do I mean to say that it would take a cataclysm of some kind, a catastrophe so dire that people would abandon political memes in their need to cooperate for subsistence, if not survival? Perhaps, but I am not a full-blown pessimist. Despite decades of brainwashing by the internet-media-academic complex, there is a healthy conservative movement in the country — healthier, in fact, than at any time since the country was essentially conservative (i.e., until 1963). Human nature, in other words, is a powerful force that no amount of brainwashing (or coercion) can eradicate (though it may channel it in undesirable directions for a time).

My hope, and I must call it that, is for the essential neighborliness of the vast majority of Americans to reassert itself among “ordinary” people, who will tire of the hysteria pouring forth from the internet-media-academic complex. Does half of America really want to be on the “other side” (a term that has been applied to the political divide only in this brief century)? I think not.

Though the uniting force need not be a cataclysm (e.g., a devastating EMP attack, a missile strike on U.S. territory), it must be a dramatic event of some kind. Perhaps it’s as simple as replacing Donald Trump in 2021 or 2025 with a less polarizing figure (but a conservative one nonetheless).

A final thought: Though the internet-media-academic complex is mainly responsible for the the present state of political polarization (and leftist aggression), I don’t want to cast aspersions on information technology itself.  Polarization is no more caused by information technology than are traffic deaths caused by automobiles, gun deaths caused by guns, or war caused by weapons. People drive cars, shoot guns, and fight wars. The problem is, as it always is, a small minority of the people — a minority that is striving for power and dominance by using words instead of weapons.

Timothy Sandefur …

… a faux-libertarian like Will Wilkinson (see this, for example), takes lengthy issue with a commentary by Andrew Hyman. The commentary was sparked by George Will’s use of an argument advanced by Sandefur to the effect that the Declaration of Independence is the “conscience” of the Constitution; that is, it explicates the liberty that the Constitution, supposedly, was meant to perfect.

I am unpersuaded by Sandefur’s legalistic jitterbugging. I am especially unpersuaded by a point, fundamental to Sandefur’s worldview, that he makes (for the umpteenth time) in the his final paragraph:

The most basic premise of the entire American experiment is that truly fundamental matters are not subject to the dictate of either a single king or a majority, but are rather dictated by “the laws of nature and of nature’s god.” That is to say, our rights are inherent in us because of our humanity, and are to be discovered by and respected by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches–not decided by them.

This is utter romantic hogwash. As I say in a long-ago post about Sandefur’s “conscience” thesis,

[t]he Declaration and Constitution are not libertarian manifestos — as Sandefur, in effect, characterizes them [here]. Despite the rhetoric about “We the People,” “inalienable rights,” “liberty,” and the rest of it, the Declaration and Constitution are about who governs, and about the division of rights and powers between “the people” and government.

The essential problem with Sandefur’s analysis lies in his Manichean approach to rights. In his view, they are either inherent in individual persons or they are granted by government. (He denies the second possibility, of course.) There is a third way… The third way is hinted at in the paper by Randy Barnett, “A Law Professor’s Guide to Natural Law and Natural Rights,” to which Sandefur links: “natural rights…. describe how others ought to act towards rights-holders.”

In other words, the thing (for want of a better word) that arises from human nature is not a set of rights that each person “owns”; rather, it is an inclination or imperative to treat others as if they have rights. This idea of being inclined (or compelled) to “act toward” is more plausible than idea that “natural rights” inhere in their holders. It is so because “act toward” suggests that we (most of us) learn that it is a good thing to leave others alone as long as they do no harm to us or mean no harm to us. That is a much more plausible explanation of rights than the claim that rights inhere in individuals as rights-holders.

Given the more plausible view that rights are a matter of “acting toward” others, it should be evident — to all but romanticists of Sandefur’s ilk — that rights are not a priori (“inherent”) but arise from interpersonal bargaining (at best) and governmental edicts (at worst). It cannot be otherwise, for even if human beings are wired to leave others alone as they are left alone, it is evident that they are not wired exclusively in that way. Thus claims about “natural rights” are not only foolish but futile. Rights, inescapably, are a matter of persuasion (at best) and power (at worst, unless the power happens to be on the “right” side).

(See also “Evolution, Human Nature, and ‘Natural Rights’” (in which I take Sandefur head-on), “The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning“, “Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism“, “The Futile Search for ‘Natural Rights’“, and “Natural Law and Natural Rights Revisited“.)

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