Author: Thomas

The Impeachment Trap?

Old adage: Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it.


Here’s the recipe for Impeachment à la Mode 2017:

Take a massive, vocal, determined, and politically experienced resistance — spearheaded (symbolically, at least) by a former president and a defeated presidential candidate, and funded by leftists with deep pockets (e.g., George Soros).

Add one unwitting president — a political neophyte who isn’t used to having his every word and deed challenged and psychoanalyzed, and who arms his enemies and hands them the ammunition they need for a political assassination.

Add a pinch of intramural hate, discontent, and demoralization.

Combine with anti-Trump conservatives whose opposition has survived Trump’s many early successes.

Stir with senior GOP leaders in Congress who don’t want their majorities to go down with Trump, and who will desert him to avoid that fate.

Bake in the oven of leftist-dominated media for a few months, and Bob’s your uncle.

I chose the epigram for this post before I came across “The Impeachment Trap: Be Careful What You Wish For,” by a blogger (Jeff Alson, In These Times) whom I would characterize as a member of the “resistance.” In fact, he has anticipated much of what I planned to say here, so I will now quote him at some length:

I believe it would be a major strategic blunder for the Democratic Party to fall for what I call the Impeachment Trap—the powerful temptation to lead the charge for impeachment without considering the strategic implications….

The simple majority necessary to impeach in the House of Representatives, as well as the two-thirds majority that is required to convict in the Senate, can be achieved with the support of most or all Democrats and a minority of Republicans. Unfortunately, this scenario would offer enormous political benefits to the Republicans.

If Trump were impeached and convicted, Vice President Mike Pence, a right-wing, evangelical ideologue, would be a much more reliable and competent rubber stamp for the conservative policy agenda. Trump, for all his failings, cannot be counted on to support conservative Republican orthodoxy. While his cabinet picks and early policy proposals have largely catered to right-wing ideology, his policy flip-flops and incompetence make him a very unreliable partner for congressional Republicans…. Pence, on the other hand, who was given a 99 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, would be much more likely to cut Social Security, push National Right to Work, and try to restrict gay marriage, and would probably treat immigrants and refugees just as badly, in order to court the Trump base.

Impeachment would also help restore the damaged Republican brand. Trump lost the popular vote by the largest margin of any incoming president in history. His administration is mired in incompetence, chaos, and suspicion, and has already sparked a massive public resistance. His public approval rating hovers around 40 percent, by far a record low for a new president. If these trends continue, his presidency will be a massive albatross around the GOP’s neck in future elections.

By contrast, the robot-like Pence—despite his extreme right-wing views—would be packaged as a comforting return to normalcy. The relief at no longer having an egotistical lunatic at the helm could provide Pence with a long and generous public opinion honeymoon. Republicans could claim that Trump was “never one of theirs,” and approach the 2020 campaign with the benefit of incumbency and without Trump’s liabilities.

Democratic ownership of impeachment would also cement the loyalty of working-class Trump voters to the Republican Party….

Of course, Republicans may well decide that impeachment is in their best interests and lead the charge. This is a slightly better scenario for Democrats.

… With Republicans owning impeachment, Trump supporters would be livid with the Republican Party, some withdrawing from politics altogether or splintering off to support minor parties, others perhaps willing to reconsider a Democratic Party refocused on economic justice. The combination of Republicans losing core Trump supporters and ongoing demographic trends would put Democrats in a very favorable position for 2018 and 2020 and beyond….

Paradoxical as it may seem, however, the best scenario for Democrats is one in which they resist the impeachment trap, the Republicans stand by their president, and Trump, odious as he may be, remains in office…. From a policy perspective, a paralyzed Trump administration would be far better than a more competent and reliably right-wing Pence presidency. Politically, Trump would become a black eye for the GOP, and the Democratic opposition would remain energized, all of which would favor the Democrats in both 2018 and 2020….

It won’t be easy to resist the temptation to humiliate the worst president in modern history, but Democrats must muster the discipline to resist the Impeachment Trap, insist that Republicans be the ones to take responsibility for their shameful president, and mobilize to build real grassroots democratic power for 2018, 2020 and beyond.

A key issue, for Republicans, is whether Trump Democrats would go “home” to the Democrat Party. I am less convinced of that than Alson is. The sooner Trump is removed the more time Pence has to do things that will keep Trump Democrats in the Republican fold. Further, it seems unlikely that more than a small fraction of Trump Democrats would revert to a party whose next presidential candidate is likely to be Elizabeth Warren.

Most important, from the GOP’s point of view, is Pence’s image as sedate and “presidential” compared with Trump. This would go down well with a lot of voters in the center and center-right. It was their abandonment of Trump, I believe, that caused him to win several reliably Red States by smaller margins than Romney did in 2012.

Where does this leave me? All signs point to a completely ineffective Trump presidency from here on out. I doubt that he could now replace a retiring or deceased Supreme Court justice, for example. There’s much in Trump’s agenda worth pursuing (and some that isn’t). But if the agenda is to be rescued, Republicans should act quickly, replace Trump with Pence, and get on with moving the federal government’s policies rightward in an orderly way.

The early “chaos” bruited  by the left-wing media has become real chaos, and it’s hurting the conservative cause. That’s what I care about, not Donald J. Trump.

Impeachment may be a trap for Democrats, but it may be Republicans’ only way out of a trap.


Related reading: Rod Dreher, “Shut Your Mouth, Do Your Job,” The American Conservative, May 19, 2017

Another Thought or Two about Class

My recent post, “Class in America,” offers a straightforward taxonomy of the socioeconomic pecking order in the United States. The post doesn’t address the dynamics of movement between classes, so I want to say something about dynamics. And I want to address the inevitability of class-like distinctions, despite the avowed (but hypocritical) goals of leftists to erase such distinctions.

With respect to dynamics, I begin with these observations from “Class in America”:

Class in America isn’t a simple thing. It has something to do with one’s inheritance, which is not only (or mainly) wealth. It has mainly to do with one’s intelligence (which is largely of genetic origin) and behavior (which also has a genetic component). Class also has a lot to do with what one does with one’s genetic inheritance, however rich or sparse it is. Class still depends a lot on acquired skills, drive, and actual achievements — even dubious ones like opining, acting, and playing games — and the income and wealth generated by them.

Class distinctions depend on the objective facts (whether observable or not) about genetic inheritance and one’s use (or not) thereof. Class distinctions also depend on broadly shared views about the relative prestige of various combinations of wealth, income (which isn’t the same as wealth), power, influence, and achievement. Those broadly shared views shift over time.

For example, my taxonomy includes three “suspect” classes whose denizens are athletes and entertainers. There were relatively few highly paid entertainers and almost no highly paid athletes in the late 1800s, when some members of today’s old-wealth aristocracy (e.g., Rockefeller and Ford) had yet to rise to that pinnacle. Even those few athletes and entertainers, unless they had acquired a patina of “culture,” would have been considered beyond the pale of class distinctions — oddities to be applauded (or not) and rewarded for the exercise of their talents, but not to be emulated by socially striving youngsters.

How the world has changed. Now that sports and entertainment have become much more visible and higher-paying than they were in the Gilded Age, there are far more Americans who accord high status to the practitioners in those fields. This is not only a matter of income, but also a matter of taste. If the American Dream of the late 19th century was dominated by visions of rising to the New-Wealth Aristocracy, the American Dream of the early 21st century gives a place of prominence to visions of becoming the next LaBron James or Lady Gaga.

I should qualify the preceding analysis by noting that it applies mainly to whites of European descent and those blacks who are American-born or more than a generation removed from foreign shores. I believe that the old American Dream still prevails among Americans of Asian descent and blacks who are less than two generations removed from Africa or the Caribbean. The Dream prevails to a lesser extent among Latinos — who have enjoyed great success in baseball — but probably more than it does among the aforementioned whites and blacks. As a result, the next generations of upper classes (aside from the Old-Wealth Aristocracy) will become increasingly Asian and Latino in complexion.

Yes, there are millions of white and black Americans (of non-recent vintage) who still share The Dream, though millions more have abandoned it. Their places will be taken by Americans of Asian descent, Latinos, and African-Americans of recent vintage. (I should add that, in any competition based on intellectual merit, Asians generally have the advantage of above-average-to-high intelligence.)

Which brings me to my brief and unduly dismissive rant about the predominantly white and

growing mob of whiny, left-wing fascists[.] For now, they’re sprinkled among the various classes depicted in the table, even classes at or near the top. In their vision of a “classless” society, they would all be at the top, of course, flogging conservatives, plutocrats, malefactors of great wealth, and straight, white (non-Muslim, non-Hispanic), heterosexual males — other than those of their whiny, fascist ilk.

The whiny left is not only predominantly white but also predominantly college-educated, and therefore probably of above-average intelligence. Though there is a great deal of practiced glibness at work among the left-wingers who dominate the professoriate and punditocracy, the generally high intelligence of the whiny class can’t be denied. But the indisputable fact of its class-ness testifies to an inconvenient truth: It is natural for people to align themselves in classes.

Class distinctions are status distinctions. But they can also connote the solidarity of an in-group that is united by a worldview of some kind. The worldview is usually of a religious character, where “religious” means a cult-like devotion to certain beliefs that are taken on faith. Contemporary leftists signal their solidarity — and class superiority — in several ways:

They proclaim themselves on the side of science, though most of them aren’t scientists and wouldn’t know real science if it bit them in the proverbial hindquarters.

There are certain kinds of “scientific” dangers and catastrophes that attract leftists because they provide a pretext for shaping people’s lives in puritanical ways: catastrophic anthropogenic global warming; extreme environmentalism, which stretches to the regulation of mud puddles; second-hand smoking as a health hazard; the “evident” threat posed by the mere depiction or mention of guns; “overpopulation” (despite two centuries of it); obesity (a result, God forbid, of market forces that result in the greater nourishment of poor people); many claims about the ill effects of alcohol, salt, butter, fats, etc., that have been debunked; any number of regulated risks that people would otherwise treat as IQ tests thrown up by life and opportunities to weed out the gene pool; and on and on.

They are in constant search of victims to free from oppression, whether it is the legal oppression of the Jim Crow South or simply the “oppression” of hurt feelings inflicted on the left itself by those who dare to hold different views. (The left isn’t always wrong about the victims it claims to behold, but it has been right only when its tender sensibilities have been confirmed by something like popular consensus.)

Their victim-olatry holds no place, however, for the white working class, whose degree of “white privilege” is approximately zero. To earn one’s daily bread by sweating seems to be honorable only for those whose skin isn’t white or whose religion isn’t Christian.

They are astute practitioners of moral relativism. The inferior status of women in Islam is evidently of little or no account to them. Many of them were even heard to say, in the wake of 9/11, that “we had it coming,” though they were not among the “we.” And “we had it coming” for what, the audacity of protecting access to a vital resource (oil) that helps to drive an economy whose riches subsidize their juvenile worldview? It didn’t occur to those terrorists manqué that it was Osama bin Laden who had it coming. (And he finally “got” it, but Obama — one of their own beneath his smooth veneer — was too sensitive to the feelings of our Muslim enemies to show the proof that justice was done. This was also done to spite Americans who, rightly, wanted more than a staged photo of Obama and his stooges watching the kill operation unfold.)

To their way of thinking, justice — criminal and “social” — consists of outcomes that favor certain groups. For example, it is prima facie wrong that blacks are disproportionately convicted of criminal offenses, especially violent crimes, because … well, just because. It is right (“socially just”) that blacks and other “protected” groups get jobs, promotions, and university admissions for which they are less-qualified than whites and Asians because slavery happened more than 160 years ago and blacks still haven’t recovered from it. (It is, of course, futile and “racist” to mention that blacks are generally less intelligent than whites and Asians.)

Their economic principles (e.g., “helping” the poor through minimum wage and “living wage” laws, buying local because … whatever, promoting the use of bicycles to reduce traffic congestion, favoring strict zoning laws while bemoaning a lack of “affordable” housing) are anti-scientific but virtuous. With leftists, the appearance of virtuousness always trumps science.

All of this mindless posturing has only two purposes, as far as I can tell. The first is to make leftists feel good about themselves, which is important because most of them are white and therefore beneficiaries of “white privilege.” (They are on a monumental guilt-trip, in other words.) The second, as I have said, is to signal their membership in a special class that is bound by attitudes rather than wealth, income, tastes, and other signals that have deep roots in social evolution.

I now therefore conclude that the harsh, outspoken, virulent, violence-prone left is a new class unto itself, though some of its members may retain the outward appearance of belonging to other classes.


Related posts:
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
The Cocoon Age
Inside-Outside
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Leftist Condescension
Beating Religion with the Wrong End of the Stick
Psychological Insights into Leftism
Nature, Nurture, and Leniency
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
A Word of Warning to Leftists (and Everyone Else)

A Word of Warning to Leftists (and Everyone Else)

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

Marshall of the Royal Air Force Sir John Cotesworth Slessor,
Strategy for the West

I am not a pessimist by nature, but I do consider myself a realist. Despite Trump, the U.S. is rapidly moving in the direction of the British Isles and continental Europe: welfare-dependent, nannied in the nth degree, and politically correct to the point of feminization.

This “ambiance” will dominate the military-diplomatic sphere under the next Obama — who will arrive four or eight years from now, given the fickleness of the American electorate.  The U.S. will then be open to military blackmail by a determined and strong regime in search of economic gains (e.g., de facto control of oil-rich regions) and political dominance over vast regions if not the globe. Inasmuch as the U.S. is properly and profitably engaged in the world (for the ultimate benefit of American consumers), the result will be vast harm to Americans’ interests.

Military blackmail by a state (or states acting in opportunistic coordination) might be accompanied by or follow in the wake of a major terrorist attack by an emboldened non-state actor. (I remember reading of evidence that bin Laden was emboldened to order the 9/11 strikes because previous U.S. responses to terrorism suggested softness.)

But such developments will come as a surprise to most Americans, whose solipsism blinds them to the realities of a world (out there) that hasn’t been — and won’t be — turned into a kindergarten by left-wing university administrators and faculty, generations of indoctrinated public-school teachers, tens of millions of their indoctrinees, politicians and otherwise hard-headed businessmen eager to signal their virtue by favoring political correctness over actual ability and accomplishment, and the media chorus that eagerly encourages and sustains all of with its skillfully slanted reportage.

When the surprise occurs, it probably will be too late to do anything about it, despite the sudden mugging by reality that will convert many leftists into conservatives.


Recommended reading and viewing:

Simon Sinek, “Millennials in the Workplace,” Inside Quest, October 29, 2016

Chenchen Zhang, “The Curious Rise of the ‘White Left’ as a Chinese Internet Insult,” openDemocracy, May 11, 2017

Mark Steyn, “Tomorrow By the Numbers,” Steyn Posts, May 10, 2017

Katie Kieffer, “Tick, Tock: EMP War Looms,” Townhall, May 15, 2017

Bruce Schneier, “Who Is Publishing NSA and CIA Secrets, and Why?Schneier on Security, May 15, 2017


Related posts:
Liberalism and Sovereignty
The Media, the Left, and War
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Next 9/11?
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Mission Not Accomplished
The World Turned Upside Down
Defense Spending: One More Time
Presidential Treason
Walking the Tightrope Reluctantly
My Defense of the A-Bomb
Pacifism
Presidents and War

Special Relativity

I have removed my four posts about special relativity and incorporated them in a new page, “Einstein’s Errors.” I will update that page occasionally rather than post about special relativity, which is rather “off the subject” for this blog.

The JFK Standard

I believe that the media’s treatment of a president has more to do with his party affiliation and various “cosmetic” factors than with his policies or executive competence. To test this hypothesis (unscientifically), I constructed a table listing six factors, and gave JFK a 10 for each of them. (He was the last president to enjoy an extended honeymoon with the media, and it had to have been based more on “cosmetic” factors than anything else.) I then quickly assigned relative scores to each of JFK’s successors — and didn’t go back to change any scores. I didn’t add the scores until I had assigned every president a score for all six factors. Here’s the result:

Given the media’s long-standing bias toward Democrats, I arbitrarily gave each Democrat 10 points for party affiliation, as against zero for the Republicans. “Looks,” “wit,” and “elegance” (as seen through the eyes of the media) should be self-explanatory. “Wife” and “children” refer to contemporaneous media perceptions of each president’s wife and child or children. Jackie was the perfect First Lady, from the standpoint of looks, poise, and “culture.” And Caroline and John Jr. epitomized “adorable,” unlike the older and often unattractive (or notorious) offspring of later presidents.

I’d say that the total scores are a good indication of the relative treatment — favorable, middling, and unfavorable — given each president by the media.


Related:
Facts about Presidents
Is Character Really an Issue?
Blindsided by the Truth
Rating the Presidents, Again
The Modern Presidency: A Tour of American History
Nonsense about Presidents, IQ, and War
1963: The Year Zero

Class in America

I often refer to class — or socioeconomic status (SES) — as do many other writers. SES is said to be a function of “a person’s work experience and of an individual’s or family’s economic and social position in relation to others, based on income, education, and occupation.” Wealth counts, too. As do race and ethnicity, to be candid.

Attempts to quantify SES are psuedo-scientific, so I won’t play that game. It’s obvious that class distinctions are subtle and idiosyncratic. Class is in the eye of the beholder.

I am a beholder, and what I behold is parsed in the table below. There I have sorted Americans into broad, fuzzy, and overlapping classes, in roughly descending order of prestige. The indented entries pertain to a certain “type” of person who doesn’t fit neatly into the usual taxonomy of class. What is the type? You’ll see as you read the table.

(To enlarge the image, open it in a new tab and use your browser’s “magnifying glass.”)

What about retirees? If their financial status or behavioral traits don’t change much after retirement, they generally stay in the class to which they belonged at retirement.

Where are the “rednecks”? Most of them are probably in the bottom six rungs, but so are huge numbers of other Americans who (mostly) escape opprobrium for being there. Many “rednecks” have risen to higher classes, especially but not exclusively the indented ones.

What about the growing mob of whiny, left-wing fascists? For now, they’re sprinkled among the various classes depicted in the table, even classes at or near the top. In their vision of a “classless” society, they would all be at the top, of course, flogging conservatives, plutocrats, malefactors of great wealth, and straight, white (non-Muslim, non-Hispanic), heterosexual males — other than those of their whiny, fascist ilk.

Here’s what I make of all this. Class in America isn’t a simple thing. It has something to do with one’s inheritance, which is not only (or mainly) wealth. It has mainly to do with one’s intelligence (which is largely of genetic origin) and behavior (which also has a genetic component). Class also has a lot to do with what one does with one’s genetic inheritance, however rich or sparse it is. Class still depends a lot on acquired skills, drive, and actual achievements — even dubious ones like opining, acting, and playing games — and the income and wealth generated by them. Some would call that quintessentially American.

My family background, on both sides, is blue-collar. I wound up on the senior manager-highly educated rung. That’s quintessentially American.

There’s a lot here to quibble with. Have at it.

If comments are closed by the time you read this post, you may send them to me by e-mail at the Germanic nickname for Friedrich followed by the last name of the great Austrian economist and Nobel laureate whose first name is Friedrich followed by the 3rd and 4th digits of his birth year followed by the usual typographic symbol followed by the domain and extension for Google’s e-mail service — all run together.


Related posts:
Are You in the Bubble?
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Not-So-Random Thoughts (X) (last item)
Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy
Thinkers vs. Doers
Bubbling Along
Intelligence, Assortative Mating, and Social Engineering
“They Deserve to Die”?
More about Intelligence

Where There’s Smoke

The wrothful Gersh Kuntzman has more than two things to say about Hillary Clinton’s latest p.r. push:

I voted for Clinton on Nov. 8 and thought she’d be a good president.

But she lost. And she still wants us to feel bad about that. And, worse, she’s still blaming everyone else.

On Tuesday at the Women for Women conference, she reminded us again what a flawed candidate she was last year — and what a flawed person she has always been….

She … said she would discuss the mistakes she made during the campaign — then declined to mention even one. Instead, she fell back on the usual suspects: The Russians and FBI Director James Comey, who indeed meddled in the election at the last minute.

“If the election had been on Oct. 27, I would be your President,” she said.

Boo hoo.

Sorry, Simon & Schuster may want Hillary Clinton to write the history, but I’m not about to let her re-write it. No one deserves more blame for the election debacle than Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Let us count the ways:

1. She was, indeed, untrustworthy: Remember her fainting spell at the 9/11 ceremony? Remember how long it took for her to tell the truth? Remember how that reminded every voter in America that Hillary Clinton’s first instinct is to lie? Just like she did when she claimed she had taken sniper fire during a First Lady trip to Bosnia. Just as she did when she said she never sent classified documents over her private email server.

Beyond that, she was too close to the Clinton Foundation, and didn’t have a good answer when the Associated Press reported that donors to the Foundation got an open channel to then-Secretary of State Clinton.

2. She ran a very poor campaign….

[W]hen she called half the country the “basket of deplorables,” it was pretty much over. As Mitt Romney learned four years earlier when he said 47% of the country was “freeloaders,” you’re not the smartest guy in the room if you make a gaffe as dumb as that.

3. She set up a private email server: It’s basic. The only reason to set up a private email server — and delete some of the emails on it — is because you want to hide something from the public. Clinton never provided a good answer to the simple question, “Why would you do that?”

4. Those Goldman-Sachs speeches. You can’t be a prostitute on Wall Street and then go to church on Main Street….

I don’t understand why a publishing firm would give Hillary Clinton millions of dollars to not even admit her mistakes. (Full disclosure: I have three far-more-interesting books that Simon and Schuster can have for a fraction of Clinton’s advance, including “Bad Seeds” (an unpublished novel), “Hitler Would Have Double-Parked” (an unpublished novel) and “Publish My Unpublished Novel” (an unpublished novel). So I don’t see why we can’t make a deal.)

She got what she deserved: She lost.

Now she needs to shut up and go home. [“Hillary Clinton Shouldn’t Be Writing a Book — She Should Be Drafting a Long Apology to America,” New York Daily News, May 2, 2017]

And as he makes clear elsewhere in the piece, he hates Trump.

Kuntzman omits a great deal. He could have mentioned Madame Rodham Clinton’s

internship at the law firm of Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein, a firm was well known for its support of radical causes (two of its four partners were current or former Communist Party members)

conduct as a defense attorney in a child-rape case

mysteriously prescient ability to trade cattle futures

participation in the fraudulent Whitewater land-flipping scheme

involvement in trumped-up, politically based firing of White House travel-office employees (“Travelgate“)

involvement in the illegal procuring of background-check files on persons who had been White House employees during previous GOP administrations (“Filegate“)

enabling of Bill’s sexual predation, and attempt to deflect blame from him by concocting a “vast, right-wing conspiracy,” when the real problem was the truth about Bill

appropriation of gifts that had been made to the White House, not to her personally

solicitation of gifts while running for the Senate

dereliction of duty regarding the protection of the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can think of at the moment.

It is a depressing commentary on the state of politics in America that such a venal, mendacious, corrupt, destructively ambitious person could have risen as far as Hillary Rodham Clinton rose. I often give thanks to the Framers for inserting the Electoral College between the voters and the presidency.

Language Peeves

Maverick Philosopher has many language peeves, as do I. Our peeves overlap considerably. Here are some of mine:

Anniversary

Today is the ten-year tenth anniversary of our wedding.

Anniversary means the annually recurring date of a past event. To write or say “x-year anniversary” is redundant as well as graceless. A person who says or writes “x-month” anniversary is probably a person whose every sentence includes “like.”

Data

The data is are conclusive.

“Data” is a plural noun. A person who writes or says “data is” is at best an ignoramus and at worst a Philistine.

Guy/guys

Would you guys you like to order now?

Regarding this egregious usage, I admit to occasionally slipping from my high horse — an event that is followed immediately by self-censure. (Bonus observation: “Now” is often superfluous, as in the present example.)

Hopefully

Hopefully, I expect the shipment will to arrive today.

Hopefully, I hope that the shipment will arrive today.

I say a lot about “hopefully” and other floating modifiers (e.g., sadly, regrettably, thanfkfully) under the heading “Hopefully and Its Brethren” at “On Writing.”

Literally

My head literally figuratively exploded when I read Pope Francis’s recent statement about economic policy.

See “Literally” at “On Writing.”

No problem

Me: Thank you.

Waiter: No problem. You’re welcome.

“No problem” suggests that the person saying it might have been inconvenienced by doing what was expected of him, such as placing a diner’s food on the table.

Reach out/reached out

We reached out to him for comment asked him to comment/called him and asked him to comment/sent him a message asking for a comment.

“Reach out” sometimes properly refers to the act of reaching for a physical object, though “out” is usually redundant.

Share/shared

I shared a story told with her a story.

To share is to allow someone to partake of or temporarily use something of one’s own, not to impart information to someone.

That (for who)

Josh Hamilton was the last player that who hit four home runs in a game.

Better: Josh Hamilton was the last player to hit four home runs in a game.

Their (for “his” or “hers”), etc.

An employee forfeits their his/her accrued vacation time if they are he is/she is fired for cause.

Better: An employee who is fired for cause forfeits accrued vacation time.

Where the context calls for a singular pronoun, “he” and its variants are time-honored, gender-neutral choices. There is no need to add “or her” (or a variant), unless the context demands it. “Her” (or a variant) will be the obvious and correct choice in some cases.

Malapropisms and solecisms peeve me as well. Here are some corrected examples:

I will try and to find it.

He took it for granite granted.

She comes here once and in a while.

At “On Writing” you will also find my reasoned commentary about filler words (e.g., like), punctuation, the corruptions wrought by political correctness and the euphemisms which serve it, and the splitting of infinitives.

Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within

Here’s a definition of red-diaper baby:

Children of CPUSA members, children of former CPUSA members, and children whose parents never became members of the CPUSA but were involved in political, cultural, or educational activities led or supported by the Party.

I knew one. She died last year. An obituary says that she was “born in Manhattan” (unsurprisingly), her mother “was a high school history teacher,” and her father “was an upper middle class accountant who subscribed to the Daily Worker. Politics was at the dinner table from the start.”

Actually, as I recall, her father was an accountant for the mob. In any event, there was plenty of money. The home that she shared with her husband was adorned with valuable works of art given by her parents. She and her husband, an otherwise sensible economist, were long-time stalwarts of the local Democrat Party organization, where they vigorously promoted the local brand of big government.

She was a kind, generous, and intelligent woman. But — like everyone — she had a blind spot. Her blind spot, which defines the left, is what Daniel Klein calls The People’s Romance. This is from his essay, “The People’s Romance: Why People Love Government (as Much as They Do)“:

Government creates common, effectively permanent institutions, such as the streets and roads, utility grids, the postal service, and the school system. In doing so, it determines and enforces the setting for an encompassing shared experience—or at least the myth of such experience. The business of politics creates an unfolding series of battles and dramas whose outcomes few can dismiss as unimportant. National and international news media invite citizens to envision themselves as part of an encompassing coordination of sentiments—whether the focal point is election-day results, the latest effort in the war on drugs, or emergency relief to hurricane victims — and encourage a corresponding regard for the state as a romantic force. I call the yearning for encompassing coordination of sentiment The People’s Romance (henceforth TPR)….

TPR helps us to understand how authoritarians and totalitarians think. If TPR is a principal value, with each person’s well-being thought to depend on everyone else’s proper participation, then it authorizes a kind of joint, though not necessarily absolute, ownership of everyone by everyone, which means, of course, by the government. One person’s conspicuous opting out of the romance really does damage the others’ interests….

TPR lives off coercion—which not only serves as a means of clamping down on discoordination, but also gives context for the sentiment coordination to be achieved….

[N]ested within the conventional view that government is not a mammoth apparatus of coercion is the tenet that society is an organization to which we belong. Either on the view that we constitute and control the government (“we are the government”) or on the view that by deciding to live in the polity we choose voluntarily to abide by the government’s rules (“no one is forcing you to stay here”), the social democrat holds that taxation and interventions such as a minimum wage law are not coercive. The government-rule structure, as they see it, is a matter of “social contract” persisting through time and binding on the complete collection of citizens. The implication is that the whole of society is a club, a collectively owned property, administered by the government.

I was reminded of my late, former friend and Klein’s essay by an egregious encomium to American Communists by Vivian Gornick, “When Communism Inspired Americans” (The New York Times, April 29. 2017). It is a clever piece of propaganda — it even acknowledges a tiny bit of the Soviet Union’s brutality — but in the end, Gornick resorts to tawdry sentimentality:

The effective life of the Communist Party in the United States was approximately 40 years in length. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were Communists at one time or another during those 40 years. Many of these people endured social isolation, financial and professional ruin, and even imprisonment.

As if belonging to an organization dedicated to the subversion of the Constitution was somehow excusable. [UPDATE 05/03/17: Bruce Bawer adduces more evidence of Gornick’s rose-colored view of Communism.]

Those hundreds of thousands helped to advance TPR. And their sheer numbers lent an aura of undeserved respectability to the subversive aims of the Communist Party. Among the many subversives:

And that’s just a sample of a long list of known Soviet agents. Did you notice the presence on the list of the Rosenbergs, as well as a large number of government officials (Alger Hiss among them)? Protestations and “proof” of the innocence of the Rosenbergs, Hiss, and others were and are key components of the Big anti-anti-Communist Lie.

I’ll close with some of Daniel Greenfield’s commentary about Gornick’s article:

It’s inconceivable that the New York Times or any paper would run a glowing piece titled, “When Nazis Inspired Americans”. No fond recollections from participants in the Madison Square Garden rally. No fond memories of Bund camps. No sugar-coated recollections of how the Thousand Year Reich would create a better world… only to then learn that Hitler wasn’t a very nice man.

But the New York Times will run “When Communism Inspired Americans”. It will run it because while Communism didn’t inspire Americans, it did inspire the left to try and turn America into a totalitarian state. It still does. This is the dirty little secret that leaks out of the left….

Nazis don’t get a forum to pour out their romantic nostalgia for attending Hitler rallies. Communists do because the left sympathizes with them. It must offers occasional apologies and disavowals, but the love for a horrifying ideology that was totalitarian all the way down, whose mass murder of millions was not an accident of fate, but was always an integral part of it, tells the truth about the left.

The rest is tiresome. The same recitations of “We knew nothing”. As if the crimes of Communism had been some sort of mystery until Khrushchev admitted them….

After all the mass murders and crimes have been admitted, the left always returns to this nostalgia. Yes, maybe Stalin was bad. But his followers were principled. Maybe the USSR was bad, but the American Communists, quite a few of whom were willing to kill and commit treason in its name, were fine people. Just like the Founding Fathers.

History is in them.

This is the left. It returns, like a dog to its vomit, to the dream of the true radicalism of a totalitarian leftist state. It occasionally deals with uncomfortable truths. Circles around them. And then it lapses back into an opium dream of Marxists sitting around a kitchen table and debating whom to shoot first. [“New York Times: When Communism Inspired Americans,” FrontPage Magazine, May 1, 2017]

Amen.


Related posts:
The People’s Romance
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
The Left
An Encounter with a Marxist
Our Enemy, the State
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Tolerance on the Left
The World Turned Upside Down
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Romanticizing the State
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
The Left and “the People”
Liberal Nostrums
FDR and Fascism: More Data

Presidents and Economic Growth

There’s an old and recurring claim that Democrat presidents produce greater economic growth than Republican ones. I addressed and debunked such a claim nine years ago, saying this (in part):

Given the long, downward trend in the real rate of GDP growth, it is statistical nonsense to pin the growth rate in any given year to a particular year of a particular president’s term. It is evident that GDP growth has been influenced mainly by the cumulative, anti-growth effects of government regulation. And GDP growth, in any given year, has been an almost-random variation on a downward theme.

How random? This random:


Derived from Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Current dollar and ‘real’ GDP,” as of April 28, 2017.

The one-year lag (which is usual in such analyses) allows for the delayed effects (if any) of a president’s economic policies. The usual suspects are claiming, laughably, that the tepid growth rate in the first calendar quarter of 2017 is somehow Trump’s fault.

Anyway, here’s the real story:

This is an updated version of a graph in “The Rahn Curve Revisited.,” from which the following equation is taken:

Yg = 0.0275 – 0.347F + 0.0769A – 0.000327R – 0.135P , where

Yg = real rate of GDP growth in a 10-year span (annualized)

F = fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels during the preceding 10 years

A = the constant-dollar value of private nonresidential assets (business assets) as a fraction of GDP, averaged over the preceding 10 years

R = average number of Federal Register pages, in thousands, for the preceding 10-year period

P = growth in the CPI-U during the preceding 10 years (annualized).

Random, short-run fluctuations in GDP growth have almost nothing to do with the policies of a particular president (see the first graph). But there’s nothing random about the steady growth of government spending, the steadier growth of the regulatory burden, and the combined investment-killing and inflationary effects of both (see the second graph).

The long-run trend in GDP growth reflects the cumulative effects of policies carried out by the “deep state” — the apparatus that churns on with little change in direction from president to president: the special interests represented in the many committees of Congress, the Social Security Administration (which also encompasses Medicare and Medicaid), and the entire alphabet soup of federal regulatory agencies. Most of those entities became committed, long ago, to the growth of government spending and regulation. It will take more than a slogan to drain the swamp.

John H. Arnold characterizes war as “long periods of boredom punctuated by short moments of excitement.” I would say that the economy of the United States has been on a long slide into stagnation punctuated by brief periods of misplaced optimism.

A True Scientist Speaks

I am reading, with great delight, Old Physics for New: A Worldview Alternative to Einstein’s Relativity Theory, by Thomas E. Phipps Jr. (1925-2016). Dr. Phipps was a physicist who happened to have been a member of a World War II operations research unit that evolved into the think-tank where I worked for 30 years.

Phipps challenged the basic tenets of Einstein’s special theory of relativity (STR) in Old Physics for New, an earlier book (Heretical Verities: Mathematical Themes in Physical Description), and many of his scholarly articles. I have drawn on Old Physics for New in two of my posts about STR (this and this), and will do so in future posts on the subject. But aside from STR, about which Phipps is refreshingly skeptical, I admire his honesty and clear-minded view of science.

Regarding Phipps’s honesty, I turn to his preface to the second edition of Old Physics for New:

[I]n the first edition I wrongly claimed awareness of two “crucial” experiments that would decide between Einstein’s special relativity theory and my proposed alternative. These two were (1) an accurate assessment of stellar aberration and (2) a measurement of light speed in orbit. Only the first of these is valid. The other was an error on my part, which I am obligated and privileged to correct here. [pp. xi-xii]

Phipps’s clear-minded view of science is evident throughout the book. In the preface, he scores a direct hit on the pseudo-scientific faddism:

The attitude of the traditional scientist toward lies and errors has always been that it is his job to tell the truth and to eradicate mistakes. Lately, scientists, with climate science in the van, have begun openly to espouse an opposite view, a different paradigm, which marches under the black banner of “post-normal science.”

According to this new perception, before the scientist goes into his laboratory it is his duty, for the sake of mankind, to study the worldwide political situation and to decide what errors need promulgating and what lies need telling. Then he goes into his laboratory, interrogates his computer, fiddles his theory, fabricates or massages his data, etc., and produces the results required to support those predetermined lies and errors. Finally he emerges into the light of publicity and writes reports acceptable to like-minded bureaucrats in such government agencies as the National Science Foundation, offers interviews to reporters working for like-minded bosses in the media, testifies before Congress, etc., all in such a way as to suppress traditional science and ultimately to make it impossible….

In this way post-normal science wages pre-emptive war on what Thomas Kuhn famously called “normal science,” because the latter fails to promote with adequate zeal those political and social goals that the post-normal scientist happens to recognize as deserving promotion…. Post-normal behavior seamlessly blends the implacable arrogance of the up-to-date terrorist with the technique of The Big Lie, pioneered by Hitler and Goebbels…. [pp. xii-xiii]

I regret deeply that I never met or corresponded with Dr. Phipps.

Nature, Nurture, and Leniency

I recently came across an article by Brian Boutwell, “Why Parenting May not Matter and Why Most Social Science Research Is Probably Wrong” (Quillette, December 1, 2015). Boutwell is an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Saint Louis University. Here’s some of what he has to say about nature, nurture, and behavior:

Despite how it feels, your mother and father (or whoever raised you) likely imprinted almost nothing on your personality that has persisted into adulthood…. I do have evidence, though, and by the time we’ve strolled through the menagerie of reasons to doubt parenting effects, I think another point will also become evident: the problems with parenting research are just a symptom of a larger malady plaguing the social and health sciences. A malady that needs to be dealt with….

[L]et’s start with a study published recently in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics.1 Tinca Polderman and colleagues just completed the Herculean task of reviewing nearly all twin studies published by behavior geneticists over the past 50 years….

Genetic factors were consistently relevant, differentiating humans on a range of health and psychological outcomes (in technical parlance, human differences are heritable). The environment, not surprisingly, was also clearly and convincingly implicated….

[B]ehavioral geneticists make a finer grain distinction than most about the environment, subdividing it into shared and non-shared components. Not much is really complicated about this. The shared environment makes children raised together similar to each other. The term encompasses the typical parenting effects that we normally envision when we think about environmental variables. Non-shared influences capture the unique experiences of siblings raised in the same home; they make siblings different from one another….

Based on the results of classical twin studies, it just doesn’t appear that parenting—whether mom and dad are permissive or not, read to their kid or not, or whatever else—impacts development as much as we might like to think. Regarding the cross-validation that I mentioned, studies examining identical twins separated at birth and reared apart have repeatedly revealed (in shocking ways) the same thing: these individuals are remarkably similar when in fact they should be utterly different (they have completely different environments, but the same genes).3 Alternatively, non-biologically related adopted children (who have no genetic commonalities) raised together are utterly dissimilar to each other—despite in many cases having decades of exposure to the same parents and home environments.

One logical explanation for this is a lack of parenting influence for psychological development. Judith Rich Harris made this point forcefully in her book The Nurture Assumption…. As Harris notes, parents are not to blame for their children’s neuroses (beyond the genes they contribute to the manufacturing of that child), nor can they take much credit for their successful psychological adjustment. To put a finer point on what Harris argued, children do not transport the effects of parenting (whatever they might be) outside the home. The socialization of children certainly matters (remember, neither personality nor temperament is 100 percent heritable), but it is not the parents who are the primary “socializers”, that honor goes to the child’s peer group….

Is it possible that parents really do shape children in deep and meaningful ways? Sure it is…. The trouble is that most research on parenting will not help you in the slightest because it doesn’t control for genetic factors….

Natural selection has wired into us a sense of attachment for our offspring. There is no need to graft on beliefs about “the power of parenting” in order to justify our instinct that being a good parent is important. Consider this: what if parenting really doesn’t matter? Then what? The evidence for pervasive parenting effects, after all, looks like a foundation of sand likely to slide out from under us at any second. If your moral constitution requires that you exert god-like control over your kid’s psychological development in order to treat them with the dignity afforded any other human being, then perhaps it is time to recalibrate your moral compass…. If you want happy children, and you desire a relationship with them that lasts beyond when they’re old enough to fly the nest, then be good to your kids. Just know that it probably will have little effect on the person they will grow into.

Color me unconvinced. There’s a lot of hand-waving in Boutwell’s piece, but little in the way of crucial facts, such as:

  • How is behavior quantified?
  • Does the quantification account for all aspects of behavior (unlikely), or only those aspects that are routinely quantified (e.g., criminal convictions)?
  • Is it meaningful to say that about 50 percent of behavior is genetically determined, 45 percent is peer-driven, and 0-5 percent is due to “parenting” (as Judith Rich Harris does)? Which 50 percent, 45 percent, and 0-5 percent? And how does one add various types of behavior?
  • How does one determine (outside an unrealistic experiment) the extent to which “children do not transport the effects of parenting (whatever they might be) outside the home”?

The measurement of behavior can’t possibly be as rigorous and comprehensive as the measurement of intelligence. And even those researchers who are willing to countenance and estimate the heritability of intelligence give varying estimates of its magnitude, ranging from 50 to 80 percent.

I wonder if Boutwell, Harris, et al. would like to live in a world in which parents quit teaching their children to obey the law; refrain from lying, stealing, and hurting others; honor their obligations; respect old people; treat babies with care; and work for a living (“money doesn’t grow on trees”).

Unfortunately, the world in which we live — even in the United States — seems more and more to resemble the kind of world in which parents have failed in their duty to inculcate in their children the values of honesty, respect, and hard work. This is from a post at Dyspepsia Generation, “The Spoiled Children of Capitalism“ (no longer online):

The rot set after World War II. The Taylorist techniques of industrial production put in place to win the war generated, after it was won, an explosion of prosperity that provided every literate American the opportunity for a good-paying job and entry into the middle class. Young couples who had grown up during the Depression, suddenly flush (compared to their parents), were determined that their kids would never know the similar hardships.

As a result, the Baby Boomers turned into a bunch of spoiled slackers, no longer turned out to earn a living at 16, no longer satisfied with just a high school education, and ready to sell their votes to a political class who had access to a cornucopia of tax dollars and no doubt at all about how they wanted to spend it. And, sadly, they passed their principles, if one may use the term so loosely, down the generations to the point where young people today are scarcely worth using for fertilizer.

In 1919, or 1929, or especially 1939, the adolescents of 1969 would have had neither the leisure nor the money to create the Woodstock Nation. But mommy and daddy shelled out because they didn’t want their little darlings to be caught short, and consequently their little darlings became the worthless whiners who voted for people like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama [and who were people like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama: ED.], with results as you see them. Now that history is catching up to them, a third generation of losers can think of nothing better to do than camp out on Wall Street in hopes that the Cargo will suddenly begin to arrive again.

Good luck with that.

I subscribe to the view that the rot set in after World War II. That rot, in the form of slackerism, is more prevalent now than it ever was. It is not for nothing that Gen Y is also known as the Boomerang Generation.

Nor is it unsurprising that campuses have become hotbeds of petulant and violent behavior. And it’s not just students, but also faculty and administrators — many of whom are boomers. Where were these people before the 1960s, when the boomers came of age? Do you suppose that their sudden emergence was the result of a massive genetic mutation that swept across the nation in the late 1940s? I doubt it very much.

Their sudden emergence was due to the failure of too many members of the so-called Greatest Generation to inculcate in their children the values of honesty, respect, and hard work. How does one do that? By being clear about expectations and by setting limits on behavior — limits that are enforced swiftly, unequivocally, and sometimes with the palm of a hand. When children learn that they can “get away” with dishonesty, disrespect, and sloth, guess what? They become dishonest, disrespectful, and slothful. They give vent to their disrespect through whining, tantrum-like behavior, and even violence.

The leniency that’s being shown toward campus jerks — students, faculty, and administrators — is especially disgusting to this pre-boomer. University presidents need to grow backbones. Campus and municipal police should be out in force, maintaining order and arresting whoever fails to provide a “safe space” for a speaker who might offend their delicate sensibilities. Disruptive and violent behavior should be met with expulsions, firings, and criminal charges.

“My genes made me do it” is neither a valid explanation nor an acceptable excuse.


Related reading: There is a page on Judith Rich Harris’s website with a long list of links to reviews, broadcast commentary, and other discussions of The Nurture Assumption. It is to Harris’s credit that she links to negative as well as positive views of her work.

Rescuing Conservatism

In a reply to a comment about “Psychological Insights into Leftism,” I said this about an article to which the commenter linked:

[T]he writer’s obvious bias is that change is good, which is really rather a stupid thing to believe. It all depends on what the change is and what effects it will have. Second, conservatives aren’t for stability for its own sake, but because — like good scientists — they believe that the null hypothesis (the status quo) holds true until they see strong evidence to the contrary. That is, they actually rely on evidence, not emotion — and it’s unthinking emotion that often fuels leftists. The global warming scare is a perfect example of this.

Which leads me to Chris Mooney, the Discover staffer who commissioned the piece. Mooney is the author of such books as The Republican War on Science and The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science — And Reality. There’s a whole lot of psychological projection going on there. Most anti-scientific activity these days is on the left. In addition to the over-hyped and poorly understood subject of AGW (rife with pseudo-scientific charlatanism), there’s IQ (which leftists like to disparage while claiming at the same time to be more intelligent than conservatives), the Keynesian multiplier (a mathematical con game), guns and crime (how are those strict gun-control laws working out for Chicago?), biological differences between men and women (quite real and wide-ranging), the effect of the minimum wage on unemployment (leftists like to cite the one study out of dozens that shows little or no effect), and on and on.

Later in the comment thread, I added this:

A big part of the problem here (and in general) is definitional. Leftists are statists who seek control of others in order to advance a certain agenda. But there are also right-statists, whose agenda is generally the opposite of the left-statists’ agenda. Right-statists are often wrongly called conservatives. They are not conservatives, who prefer to rely on the institutions of civil society, not the state. But the mislabeling allows leftists to get away with calling conservatives anti-scientific and emotional, when they’re really talking about their kindred spirits: right-statists.

Larry Thornberry highlights the problem of faux-conservatism in “If You Like Your Problem, You Can Keep Your Problem” (The Spectacle Blog, April 24, 2017):

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showing Donald Trump with a falling job approval rating — 54 percent disapprove to 40 percent approve — has gotten wide print and broadcast coverage. But most of the coverage has been on how Trump’s numbers have been trending, down from February, and how he compares with previous presidents as this point in his presidency, not so very well.

Digging down to some other non-Trump-related numbers in the poll, conservatives, or anyone else who wishes to “make America great again,” will find even worse news. The poll found that 57 percent of respondents, including 28 percent of Republicans, say that government should be doing more to solve problems and help people. MORE!

I suspect that the percentage of Republicans who say “more” would be a lot higher when push comes to shove (e.g., avoiding cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits, preserving pork-barrel spending that they perceive as beneficial to themselves). It’s also noteworthy that the percentage of all respondents who say that government should do more is the highest for 26 such polls, which date back to 1995.

Here’s a case in point, a not-unusual one I think: My late father-in-law had many admirable qualities. He was a career Air Force officer who flew combat missions in World War II and the Korean War. He was a faithful and considerate husband, a good father to his children (though not around as much as a civilian father would have been), a steadfast friend, a good neighbor, and a fount of jokes and song lyrics. He was thrifty (and thus left his widow with ample funds to see her through her old age), and he kept his yard and garden in good trim.

But after my father-in-law’s second retirement (from the job he took when he retired from the Air Force), he became increasingly outspoken about politics. He adopted the conservative mantle and identified himself as a Republican, like many an ex-Democrat Southerner. He grumbled about big government (reasonably enough), but would defend “his” Social Security benefits; denigrated toll roads (as if roads should be “free”); distrusted market outcomes, often stating that the price of something was “too high,” as if he knew what it should be; claimed repeatedly that he should receive free VA hospital care (though his income and wealth disqualified him); railed against illegal immigration while paying illegal immigrants to clean his house; and listened faithfully to Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly (a mirror image of the equally rude and blustering Chris Matthews), parroting whatever lines they were peddling at the moment, without critically evaluating their offerings.

Aside from “ordinary people” like my late father-in-law, there are “conservative” bloviators like Limbaugh, O’Reilly (whose downfall I don’t lament), and Michael Savage. If they’re truly conservative, they hide it well. Their demeanor belies their claims to conservatism.

Which is to say that true conservatism is really an unusual state of mind in America. In order to prevent the election of more leftists than are already in office, true conservatives must rely on the influence of bloviators like Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and Savage, and on the votes of faux conservatives like my late father-in-law. Further, the true conservative must often hold his nose and vote for the lesser of two evils — who, more often than not, will be a mediocrity, hypocrite, or poseur.

What, then, is true conservatism? It is first and foremost a disposition. That disposition leads to an attitude toward governance. I’ve written about this many times, but what I’ve written bears repetition. So here goes.

A key aspect of the conservative disposition, as I said earlier, is skepticism about change, but not steadfast opposition to it. At the heart of skepticism about change is respect for tradition, which, as Edward Feser explains in “Hayek and Tradition,” is

nothing other than the distillation of centuries of human experience…. 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, and the enlightened thinker soon finds himself in mid-air…. But then, was it ever truly a love of reason that was in the driver’s seat in the first place? Or was it, rather, a hatred of tradition? Might the latter have been the cause of the former, rather than, as the enlightened pose would have it, the other way around?)

Michael Oakeshott delves more deeply in “On Being Conservative” (Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays), from which I have quoted at length in this post and this one.  Follow the links (or buy Oakeshott’s book) if you want to read more than these suggestive passages:

[The conservative] does not suppose that the office of government is to do nothing…. [T]he office he attributes to government is to resolve some of the collisions which this variety of beliefs and activities generates; to preserve peace, not by placing an interdict upon choice and upon the diversity that springs from the exercise of preference, not by imposing substantive uniformity, but by enforcing general rules of procedure upon all subjects alike.

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

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

… [A]s the conservative understands it, modification of the rules should always reflect, and never impose, a change in the activities and beliefs of those who are subject to them, and should never on any occasion be so great as to destroy the ensemble…. [H]e will be suspicious of proposals for change in excess of what the situation calls for, of rulers who demand extra-ordinary powers in order to make great changes and whose utterances are tied to generalities like ‘the public good’ or social justice’, and of Saviours of Society who buckle on armour and seek dragons to slay; he will think it proper to consider the occasion of the innovation with care; in short, he will be disposed to regard politics as an activity in which a valuable set of tools is renovated from time to time and kept in trim rather than as an opportunity for perpetual re-equipment….

… The man of this [conservative] disposition understands it to be the business of a government not to inflame passion and give it new objects to feed upon, but to inject into the activities of already too passionate men an ingredient of moderation; to restrain, to deflate, to pacify and to reconcile; not to stoke the fires of desire, but to damp them down….

Political conservatism is, then, not at all unintelligible in a people disposed to be adventurous and enterprising, a people in love with change and apt to rationalise their affections in terms of ‘progress’…. Indeed, a disposition to be conservative in respect of government would seem to be pre-eminently appropriate to men who have something to do and something to think about on their own account, who have a skill to practise or an intellectual fortune to make, to people whose passions do not need to be inflamed, whose desires do not need to be provoked and whose dreams of a better world need no prompting. Such people know the value of a rule which imposes orderliness without directing enterprise, a rule which concentrates duty so that room is left for delight.

The essential ingredient in conservative governance is the preservation and reinforcement of the beneficial norms that are cultivated in the voluntary institutions of civil society: family, religion, club, community (where it is close-knit), and commerce. When those institutions are allowed to flourish, much of the work of government is done without the imposition of taxes and regulations, including the enforcement of moral codes and the care of those who unable to care for themselves.

In the conservative view, government would then be limited to making and enforcing the few rules that are required to adjudicate what Oakeshott calls “collisions.” And there are always foreign and domestic predators who are beyond the effective reach of voluntary social institutions and must be dealt with by a superior force.

By thus limiting government to the roles of referee and defender of last resort, civil society is allowed to flourish, both economically and socially. Social conservatism is analogous to the market liberalism of libertarian economics. The price signals that help to organize economic production have their counterpart in the “market” for social behavior (which really encompasses economic behavior). Behavior which is seen to advance a group’s well-being is encouraged; behavior which is seen to degrade a group’s well-being is discouraged.

Civil society is, in the main, self-policing — or it was before the Greatest Generation failed its children and the busy-bodies began seriously to destroy its bonds and usurp its tutelary, disciplinary, and charitable functions.


Related posts:
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Fighting Modernity
Defining Liberty
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
Getting It Almost Right
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
How Libertarians Ought to Think about the Constitution
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
Governmental Perversity
Libertarianism and the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
My View of Libertarianism
No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing
The Principles of Actionable Harm
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The War on Conservatism
Friedman on Anarchy and Conservatism
Old America, New America, and Anarchy
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
Another Look at Political Labels
Individualism, Society, and Liberty
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty (II)
Consistent Conservatism
Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative
Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise
Liberal Nostrums
The Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined

Advice to Live By: Know Thyself

A good example off Hillary Clinton’s mind at work is given in this post about a new book by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign. Clinton is quoted as saying to an aide, “I know I engender bad reactions from people.” That’s a roundabout way of saying “I irritate people.” But Clinton, unsurprisingly, tries to water down her self-criticism because it’s too hard for her to confront her own defects.

She’s far from alone in that respect. Self-delusion is a common trait, especially among politicians, who seem to be especially allergic to truth. But self-delusion is a counterproductive trait. It’s an essential ingredient in failure because it sets a person on an unsustainable course. Failure occurs at many levels, including the highest levels of American politics.

Hillary wouldn’t have made it to dogcatcher if she hadn’t married Bill and leveraged her position to carpetbag her way into the Senate. Look what happened to her in 2008 against a rival (Obama) who was more skilled at presenting himself to the public (though obviously a narcissist to those who weren’t beguiled by his rhetoric or smitten with the feel-good notion of electing America’s first semi-black president).

How did Hillary get the nomination in 2016? By being married to Bill and lining up her party’s big-wigs to support her as the “inevitable” candidate and, most important, a female one. (I expect that in 2020 there will be a big push in the Democrat Party to nominate an openly homosexual candidate for vice president, if not for president.)

Despite Clinton’s high-level backing — coupled with her (obviously contrived) leftward lurch and the political correctness of her gender —  her march to the Democrat nomination was almost halted again by a sincere-sounding leftist.

I believe that she lost the general election because of her tone-deafness, which makes her uncannily able to irritate other people. Knowing that the presidency is won in the electoral college, not in the national popular vote, and knowing that the outcome in States with large blocs of blue-collar voters could swing the election to Trump — but secure in her self-delusional arrogance — she referred to Trump supporters as “deplorables.”

Talk about engendering bad reactions. And she didn’t have to do it; she was safely ahead in the polls at that point. She had nothing to gain — the effete elite were safely locked up — and a lot to lose. But she couldn’t help herself because she gave too little thought to her effect on others.

Know thyself. Very old advice that remains good advice.

How to Pay for Streets and Highways

Tolls. Yes, everyone hates them. That’s an overstatement, of course. I love toll roads, as do a lot of people who either enjoy the less-stressful experience of driving on them or just want to get somewhere faster than they otherwise could.

Tolls are the way to go, because: Users — and only users — should pay for roads, in accordance with the frequency with which they use them and the amount of wear and tear to which they subject them. Sure, there are some taxes that are supposed to pay for streets and highways, but they don’t cover the full cost cost of construction and maintenance, and they’re often diverted to other uses.

It’s a simple matter to issue everyone a registration sticker that includes a toll tag. Big rigs get one kind of tag (which charges at the highest rate), and so on down to motorcycles and bicycles. Yes, that means you, the traffic-clogging bicyclist. From now on you’ll have to pay for the privilege of mixing with motor vehicles or cavorting in your own little-used lane, It’s a privilege that contributes to congestion by reducing the space available for motor-vehicle lanes and flow-enhancing features (e.g., turning lanes).

With mandatory toll tags, there would be no more mail-in payments, which means no more deadbeats. Everyone who wants to use a public highway would have to register a valid payment method: credit card, debit card, or direct debit to a checking account. No checking account? Too bad. Take the bus. If you don’t have a checking account, you probably can’t afford auto insurance. So you’re driving without it, and driving up other people’s insurance rates.

What about all the tag readers that would be required? I forgot to mention that registration stickers would have GPS trackers embedded in them.

Problem solved, except for the matter of “privacy,” that all-purpose excuse for the subversion of social norms. But “privacy” worshipers might be persuaded to go along, given these considerations:

  • “Unnecessary” trips would be discouraged, thus reducing the use of fossil fuels.
  • Businesses, as buyers of goods shipped over highways, would pay their “fair share.” (The cost of tolls would be passed on to customers, of course, but that wouldn’t negate the feel-good effect for anti-business crowd.)
  • “Sprawl” would be discouraged.
  • “Buy local” would be encouraged.
  • Internet retail would grow even faster than it has been growing (a negation of the preceding point, but the “buy local” crowd wouldn’t notice), which would further reduce the use of fossil fuels.

I suspect that the net effect of all this would be next to zero, but it would please me no end if users (and only users) paid for roads, and if bicyclists were forced to pay for the privilege of adding to traffic congestion — and for their smugness.

Psychological Insights into Leftism

This is from Sean Last’s “Liberalism and Low Self-Esteem” (Truth Is Justice, March 10, 2016):

[S]tudies show that liberals have low self esteem and that causing low self esteem causes people to be more liberal. Research also shows that liberals have unrealistically negative views of the morals of conservatives and unrealistically positive views of the morals of liberals. And polling shows that liberals are far more likely to break social ties with people over politics. They are moral crusaders. The fact that liberals want everyone to know that they are liberal, that they seem to purposefully pick offensive views, their debate style, and the fact that being morally superior normally feels pretty good, suggests to me that the moral crusading and the low self esteem are connected. Liberals are liberal so that they can say that society sucks, so that they can say that they are better than everyone else, so that they can feel a little less shitty about themselves.

That’s the final paragraph of Last’s post. He supplies ample evidence for his conclusions.

I was led to Last’s post by John Ray’s “Liberalism and Low Self-Esteem” (Dissecting Leftism, April 17, 2017). Ray’s introductory notes include these observations:

I actually think that the needy egos have hopped onto a train that had already been got rolling by others:  The haters.  As the huge demonstrations against Trump show, Leftists are huge haters.  And their hate is primarily directed at the society in which they live.  They want to destroy it, in the delusion that they can create a better society.  So anybody who wants to make America great is anathema to them.

A better society can indeed be created.  From the industrial revolution on, society has become richer and kinder and more capable of improving human lives.  But none of that was done by Leftist policies of expropriation and destruction.  It was done by the steady accumulation of human wisdom and ingenuity that a capitalist society enabled and produced.  Other societies did well only insofar as they copied capitalist societies.

So the hatred that Leftists have for the society in which they live is at best impatient and at worst blind….

[T]he most obvious source for a personality that is full of hate from birth onwards is psychopathy….  I go into details here

To summarize briefly, Psychopaths love only themselves and hate anyone who does not take them at their own high valuation of themselves and have no real morality or ethics whatsoever.  They are masters of “faking good” — of saying things that they think will make them look and sound good regardless of any truth in it.  They lie at the drop of a hat.  So they are very shallow thinkers.  Only the here and now exists to them.  I think that is a pretty good description of most prominent Leftists. Getting principles or even consistency out of a Leftist is a mug’s game.  They will say one thing one day and something else the next day.  He/she will say anything that makes him/her look good on the given occasion. Obama’s 180 degree turn on homosexual marriage is a good example of that.  Or Bill Clinton’s claim that Hillary was named after Sir Edmund, the Everest hero.

So that is where the needful ego guy comes in.  He is not necessarily fully psychopathic but he shares the psychopath’s need for praise and ego boosting. He jumps onto the psychopathic train being run by prominent Leftists.  I set out here the reasons why  the Clintons, Barack Obama and John Kerry are clear cases of psychopathy.

All of this rings true to me. The staunch leftists of my acquaintance are hate-filled beings for whom “doing good” means using the the state to fulfill their power-lust.


Related posts:
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
The Culture War
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Ruminations on the Left in America
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
The Pathological Urge to Regulate
“Fairness”
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Khizr Khan’s Muddled Logic
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
Leftist Condescension
Beating Religion with the Wrong End of the Stick

Another Thought about Prices

Prices are invaluable signals to buyers and sellers. When government acts to abolish prices (in effect) by commanding them (as in the minimum wage and edicts against “price gouging”), or when it interferes with the signals through regulation (as in whether certain products and services may be imported), it robs buyers and sellers of options, and thus diminishes their well-being.

But prices aren’t everything. This is from “A Man for No Seasons“:

[T]oo many economists justify free markets on utilitarian grounds, that is, because free markets produce more (i.e., are more efficient) than regulated markets. This happens to be true, but free markets can and should be justified mainly because they are free, that is, because they allow individuals to pursue otherwise lawful aims through voluntary, mutually beneficial exchanges of products and services. Liberty is a principle, a deep value; economic efficiency is merely a byproduct of adherence to that value.

In fact, prices only reflect marginal valuations of things. Both Joe and I might be willing to part with $2 for a gallon of gasoline, but that coincidence says nothing about the utility that Joe and I gain (separately) from the use of the gasoline. In sum, prices aren’t a guide to the well-being of an individual person, let alone millions of disparate persons whose values are incommensurable. (This is one reason why GDP doesn’t mean much.)

Here’s a good case in point. In an area that’s growing rapidly, real-estate prices tend to rise rapidly. That’s a boon to home owners, right? Not necessarily. It’s not a boon to homeowners who strongly prefer to stay where they are. It usually means that the cost of staying where they are rises: higher property taxes, more noise and traffic, more crime, etc. Even taking into account the higher prices that they (or their heirs) will one day realize when their homes are sold, many (perhaps most) of them will feel worse off — and will be worse off, materially.

No one promised them a rose garden, did they? Of course not. And I would be the last person to suggest that they be “made whole,” which would require burdening other persons with higher taxes.

My point is that prices are an uncertain and often misleading guide to the well-being of persons who aren’t involved in the transactions that are represented by prices. And prices provide only a glimpse of the fleeting and idiosyncratic valuations placed on those transactions by those who engage in them.

You Can’t Go Home Again

You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.

— Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

*      *      *

I have just begun to read a re-issue of Making It, Norman Podhoretz‘s memoir that stirred up the literati of New York City. According to Jennifer Schuessler (“Norman Podhoretz: Making Enemies,” Publisher’s Weekly, January 25, 1999), Podhoretz’s

frank 1967 account of the lust for success that propelled him from an impoverished childhood in Brooklyn to the salons of Manhattan, … scandalized the literary establishment that once hailed him as something of a golden boy. His agent wouldn’t represent it. His publisher refused to publish it. And just about everybody hated it. In 1972, Podhoretz’s first high-profile personal squabble, with Random House’s Jason Epstein, went public when the New York Times Magazine published an article called “Why Norman and Jason Aren’t Talking.” By 1979, when Podhoretz published Breaking Ranks, a memoir of his conversion from radicalism to militant conservatism, it seemed just about everybody wasn’t talking to Norman.

Next month, Podhoretz will add another chapter to his personal war chronicle with the publication of Ex-Friends: Falling Out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer. In this short, sharp, unabashedly name-dropping book, Podhoretz revisits the old battles over communism and the counterculture, not to mention his bad reviews. But for all his talk of continued struggle against the “regnant leftist culture that pollutes the spiritual and cultural air we all breathe,” the book is a frankly nostalgic, even affectionate look back at the lost world of “the Family,” the endlessly quarreling but close-knit group of left-leaning intellectuals that gathered in the 1940s and ’50s around such magazines as the Partisan Review and Commentary.

Given this bit of background, you shouldn’t be surprised that it was Podhoretz who said that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality. Nor should you be surprised that Podhoretz wrote this about Barack Obama (which I quote in “Presidential Treason“):

His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish….

… As a left-wing radical, Mr. Obama believed that the United States had almost always been a retrograde and destructive force in world affairs. Accordingly, the fundamental transformation he wished to achieve here was to reduce the country’s power and influence. And just as he had to fend off the still-toxic socialist label at home, so he had to take care not to be stuck with the equally toxic “isolationist” label abroad.

This he did by camouflaging his retreats from the responsibilities bred by foreign entanglements as a new form of “engagement.” At the same time, he relied on the war-weariness of the American people and the rise of isolationist sentiment (which, to be sure, dared not speak its name) on the left and right to get away with drastic cuts in the defense budget, with exiting entirely from Iraq and Afghanistan, and with “leading from behind” or using drones instead of troops whenever he was politically forced into military action.

The consequent erosion of American power was going very nicely when the unfortunately named Arab Spring presented the president with several juicy opportunities to speed up the process. First in Egypt, his incoherent moves resulted in a complete loss of American influence, and now, thanks to his handling of the Syrian crisis, he is bringing about a greater diminution of American power than he probably envisaged even in his wildest radical dreams.

For this fulfillment of his dearest political wishes, Mr. Obama is evidently willing to pay the price of a sullied reputation. In that sense, he is by his own lights sacrificing himself for what he imagines is the good of the nation of which he is the president, and also to the benefit of the world, of which he loves proclaiming himself a citizen….

No doubt he will either deny that anything has gone wrong, or failing that, he will resort to his favorite tactic of blaming others—Congress or the Republicans or Rush Limbaugh. But what is also almost certain is that he will refuse to change course and do the things that will be necessary to restore U.S. power and influence.

And so we can only pray that the hole he will go on digging will not be too deep for his successor to pull us out, as Ronald Reagan managed to do when he followed a president into the White House whom Mr. Obama so uncannily resembles. [“Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2013]

Though I admire Podhoretz’s willingness to follow reality to its destination in conservatism — because I made the same journey myself — I am drawn to his memoir by another similarity between us. In the Introduction to the re-issue, Terry Teachout writes:

Making It is never more memorable than when it describes its author’s belated discovery of “the brutal bargain” to which he was introduced by “Mrs. K.,” a Brooklyn schoolteacher who took him in hand and showed him that the precocious but rough-edged son of working-class Jews from Galicia could aspire to greater things— so long as he turned his back on the ghettoized life of his émigré parents and donned the genteel manners of her own class. Not until much later did he realize that the bargain she offered him went even deeper than that:

She was saying that because I was a talented boy, a better class of people stood ready to admit me into their ranks. But only on one condition: I had to signify by my general deportment that I acknowledged them as superior to the class of people among whom I happened to have been born. . . . what I did not understand, not in the least then and not for a long time afterward, was that in matters having to do with “art” and “culture” (the “life of the mind,” as I learned to call it at Columbia), I was being offered the very same brutal bargain and accepting it with the wildest enthusiasm.

So he did, and he never seriously doubted that he had done the only thing possible by making himself over into an alumnus of Columbia and Cambridge and a member of the educated, art-loving upper middle class. At the same time, though, he never forgot what he had lost by doing so, having acquired in the process “a distaste for the surroundings in which I was bred, and ultimately (God forgive me) even for many of the people I loved.”

It’s not an unfamiliar story. But it’s a story that always brings a pang to my heart because it reminds me too much of my own attitudes and behavior as I “climbed the ladder” from the 1960s to the 1990s. Much as I regret the growing gap between me and my past, I have learned from experience that I can’t go back, and don’t want to go back.

What happened to me is probably what happened to Norman Podhoretz and tens of millions of other Americans. We didn’t abandon our past; we became what was written in our genes.

This mini-memoir is meant to illustrate that thesis. It is aimed at those readers who can’t relate to a prominent New Yorker, but who might see themselves in a native of flyover country.

My “ghetto” wasn’t a Jewish enclave like Podhoretz’s Brownsville, but an adjacent pair of small cities in the eastern flatlands of Michigan, both of them predominantly white and working-class. They are not suburbs of Detroit — as we used to say emphatically — nor of any other largish city. We were geographically and culturally isolated from the worst and best that “real” cities have to offer in the way of food, entertainment, and ethnic variety.

My parents’ roots, and thus my cultural inheritance, were in small cities, towns and villages in Michigan and Ontario. Life for my parents, as for their forbears, revolved around making a living, “getting ahead” by owning progressively nicer (but never luxurious) homes and cars, socializing with friends over card games, and keeping their houses and yards neat and clean.

All quite unexceptional, or so it seemed to me as I was growing up. It only began to seem exceptional when I became the first scion of the the family tree to “go away to college,” as we used to say. (“Going away” as opposed to attending a local junior college, as did my father’s younger half-brother about eight years before I matriculated.)

Soon after my arrival on the campus of a large university, whose faculty and students hailed from around the world, I began to grasp the banality of my upbringing in comparison to the cultural richness and sordid reality of the wider world. It was a richness and reality of which my home-town contemporaries and I knew little because we were raised in the days of Ozzie and Harriet — before the Beatles, Woodstock, bearded men with pony-tails, shacking up as a social norm, widespread drug use, and the vivid depiction of sex in all of its natural and unnatural variety.

My upbringing, like that of my home-town contemporaries was almost apolitical. If we overheard our parents talking about politics, we overheard a combination of views that today seems unlikely: suspicion of government; skepticism about unions (my father had to join one in order to work), disdain for “fat cats”; sympathy for “the little guy”; and staunch patriotism. There was nothing about civil rights and state-enforced segregation, which were seen (mistakenly) as peculiarly Southern issues. Their own racism was seldom in evidence because blacks generally “knew their place” in our white-dominated communities.

And then, as a student at a cosmopolitan Midwestern university (that isn’t an oxymoron), I began to learn — in and out of class. The out-of-class lessons came through conversations with students whose backgrounds differed greatly from mine, including two who had been displaced persons in the wake of World War II. My first-year roommate was a mild-mannered Iranian doctoral student whose friends (some of them less mild-mannered) spoke openly about the fear in which Iranians lived because of SAVAK‘s oppressive practices. In my final year as an undergraduate I befriended some married graduate students, one of whom (an American) had spent several years in Libya as a geologist for an American oil company and had returned to the States with an Italian wife.

One of the off-campus theaters specialized in foreign films, which I had never before seen, and which exposed me to people, places, attitudes, and ideas that were intellectually foreign to me, but which I viewed avidly and with acceptance. My musical education was advanced by a friendship with a music major, through whom I met other music majors and learned much about classical music and, of all things, Gilbert and Sullivan. One of the music majors was a tenor who had to learn The Mikado, and did so by playing a recording of it over and over. I became hooked, and to this day can recite large chunks of the libretto. I used to sing them, but my singing days are over.

Through my classes — and often through unassigned reading — I learned how to speak and read French (fluently, those many years ago), and ingested various-sized doses of philosophy, history (ancient and modern), sociology, accounting (the third of four majors), and several other things that escape me at the moment.

Through economics (my fourth and final major), I learned (but didn’t then question), the contradictory tenets of microeconomics (how markets work to allocate resources and satisfy wants efficiently) and macroeconomics (then dominated by the idea of government’s indispensable role in the economic order). But I was drawn in by the elegance of economic theory, and mistook its spurious precision for deep understanding. Though I have since rejected macroeconomic orthodoxy (e.g., see this).

My collegiate “enlightenment” was mild, by today’s standards, but revelatory to a small-city boy. And I was among the still relatively small fraction of high-school graduates who went away to college. So my exposure to a variety of people, cultures, and ideas immediately set me apart — apart not only from my parents and the members of their generation, but also apart from most of the members of my own generation.

What set me apart more than anything was my loss of faith. In my second year I went from ostentatiously devout Catholicism to steadfast agnosticism in a span of weeks. I can’t reconstruct the transition at a remove of almost 60 years, but I suspect that it involved a mixture of delayed adolescent rebellion, a reckoning (based on things I had learned) that the roots of religion lay in superstition, and a genetic predisposition toward skepticism (my father was raised Protestant but scorned religion in his mild way). At any rate, when I walked out of church in the middle of Mass one Sunday morning, I felt as if I had relieved myself of a heavy burden and freed my mind for the pursuit of knowledge.

The odd thing is that, to this day, I retain feelings of loyalty to the Church of my youth — the Church of the Latin Mass (weekly on Sunday morning, not afternoon or evening), strict abstinence from meat on Friday, confession on Saturday, fasting from midnight on Sunday (if one were in a state of grace and fit for Holy Communion), and the sharp-tongued sisters with sharp-edged rulers who taught Catechism on Saturday mornings (parochial school wasn’t in my parents’ budget). I have therefore been appalled, successively, by Vatican Council II, most of the popes of the past 50 years, the various ways in which being a Catholic has become easier, and (especially) the egregious left-wing babbling of Francis. And yet I remain an agnostic who only in recent years has acknowledged the logical necessity of a Creator, but probably not the kind of Creator who is at the center of formal religion. Atheism — especially of the strident variety — is merely religion turned upside down; a belief in something that is beyond proof; I scorn it.

To complete this aside, I must address the canard peddled by strident atheists and left-wingers (there’s a lot of overlap) about the evil done in the name of religion, I say this: Religion doesn’t make fanatics, it attracts them (in relatively small numbers), though some Islamic sects seem to be bent on attracting and cultivating fanaticism. Far more fanatical and attractive to fanatics are the “religions” of communism, socialism (including Hitler’s version), and progressivism (witness the snowflakes and oppressors who now dominate the academy). I doubt that the number of murders committed in the name of religion amounts to one-tenth of the number of murders committed by three notable anti-religionists: Hitler (yes, Hitler), Stalin, and Mao. I also believe — with empirical justification — that religion is a bulwark of liberty; whereas, the cult of libertarianism — usually practiced by agnostics and atheists — is not (e.g., this post and the others linked to therein).

It’s time to return to the chronological thread of my narrative. I have outlined my graduate-school and work experiences in “About.” The main thing to note here is what I learned during the early mid-life crisis which took me away from the D.C. rat race for about three years, as owner-operator of a (very) small publishing company in a rural part of New York State.

In sum, I learned to work hard. Before my business venture I had coasted along using my intelligence but not a lot of energy, but nevertheless earning praise and good raises. I was seldom engaged it what I was doing: the work seemed superficial and unconnected to anything real to me. That changed when I became a business owner. I had to meet a weekly deadline or lose advertisers (and my source of income), master several new skills involved in publishing a weekly “throwaway” (as the free Pennysaver was sometimes called), and work six days a week with only two brief respites in three years. Something clicked, and when I gave up the publishing business and returned to the D.C. area, I kept on working hard — as if my livelihood depended on it.

And it did. Much as I had loved being my own boss, I wanted to live and retire more comfortably than I could on the meager income that flowed uncertainly from the Pennysaver. Incentives matter. So in the 18 years after my return to the D.C. area I not only kept working hard and with fierce concentration, but I developed (or discovered) a ruthless streak that propelled me into the upper echelon of the think-tank.

And in my three years away from the D.C. area I also learned, for the first time, that I couldn’t go home again.

I was attracted to the publishing business because of its location in a somewhat picturesque village. The village was large enough to sport a movie theater, two super markets, and a variety of commercial establishments, including restaurants, shoe stores, clothing stores, jewelers, a Rite-Aid drug store, and even a J.J. Newberry dime store. It also had many large, well-kept homes All in all, it appealed to me because, replete with a “real” main street, it reminded me of the first small city in which I grew up.

But after working and associating with highly educated professionals, and after experiencing the vast variety of restaurants, museums, parks, and entertainment of the D.C. area, I found the village and its natives dull. Not only dull, but also distant. They were humorless and closed to outsiders. It came to me that the small cities in which I had grown up were the same way. My memories of them were distorted because they were memories of a pre-college boy who had yet to experience life in the big city. They were memories of a boy whose life centered on his parents and a beloved grandmother (who lived in a small village of similarly golden memory).

You can’t go home again, metaphorically, if you’ve gone away and lived a different life. You can’t because you are a different person than you were when you were growing up. This lesson was reinforced at the 30-year reunion of my high-school graduating class, which occurred several years after my business venture and a few years after I had risen into the upper echelon of the think-tank.

There I was, with my wife and sister (who graduated from the same high school eight years after I did), happily anticipating an evening of laughter and shared memories. We were seated at a table with two fellows who had been good friends of mine (and their wives, whom I didn’t know). It was deadly boring; the silences yawned; we had nothing to say to each other. One of the old friends, who had been on the wagon, was so unnerved by the forced bonhomie of the occasion that he fell off the wagon. Attempts at mingling after dinner were awkward. My wife and sister readily agreed to abandon the event. We drove several miles to an elegant, river-front hotel where we had a few drinks on the deck. Thus the evening ended on a cheery note, despite the cool, damp drizzle. (A not untypical August evening in Michigan.)

I continued to return to Michigan for another 27 years, making what might be my final trip for the funeral of my mother, who lived to the age of 99. But I went just to see my parents and siblings, and then only out of duty.

The golden memories of my youth remain with me, but I long ago gave up the idea of reliving the past that is interred in those memories.

Beating Religion with the Wrong End of the Stick

A leftist personage emits a Quotation of the Day, which I receive second-hand from a centrist personage. Here is today’s QOTD:

An interesting coincidence of events, suggesting a certain theme….

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

– Arnaud Amalric (d. 1225) (at the siege of Béziers in 1209 during
the Albigensian Crusade, when asked which of the townspeople to spare)

(Kill them all. For the Lord knoweth them that are His.)

A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case.

– Finley Peter Dunne (1837-1936) (Mr. Dooley’s Opinions, “Casual Observations”)

The most dangerous madmen are those created by religion, and … people whose aim is to disrupt society always know how to make good use of them on occasion.

– Denis Diderot (1713-1794) (Conversations with a Christian Lady)

Throughout human history, the apostles of purity, those who have claimed to possess a total explanation, have wrought havoc among mere mixed-up human beings.

– Salman Rushdie (b. 1948) (“In Good Faith,”
Independent on Sunday, London, 4 February 1990)

Is uniformity [of religious opinion] attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.

– Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) (Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 17)

Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons.

– Ibid.

(Yes, today is the 274th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson, 3rd president of these United States and a fervent believer in liberty of conscience and the separation of church and state – which is why he is often excoriated in right-wing religious circles today. But – mirabile dictu – it is also the 498th anniversary of the birth of Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589), daughter of Lorenzo (but not “the Great”) de’ Medici, who became the queen of France’s King Henry III and with him planned the St. Bartholomew’s Night Massacre (1572), in which thousands of French Protestants were slaughtered in their beds. The event was timed to coincide with the wedding of the (Huguenot) Henry of Navarre, who (perhaps not surprisingly) converted to Catholicism (“Paris is worth a mass.”) and was crowned Henry IV in 1589. But wait! There’s more! On this date in 1598, Henry promulgated the Toleration Edict of Nantes, which protected freedom of belief in France, ended the Wars of Religion, and gave Protestants some measure of government influence – at least until Louis XIV revoked it in 1685, which forced thousands of Protestants to flee the country. One is reminded irresistibly of the comment of Lucretius (ca. 94-55 B.C.) in De Rerum Natura:

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.

(So much wrong could religion induce.)

True then; true today. Aren’t historical connections fascinating?)

The author of QOTD grasps the wrong end of the stick, as he often does. Religion doesn’t make fanatics, it attracts them (but far from exclusively). Just as the “religions” of communism, socialism (including Hitler’s version), and progressivism do (and with much greater frequency).

I doubt that the number of murders committed in the name of religion amounts to one-tenth of the number of murders committed by three notable anti-religionists: Hitler (yes, Hitler), Stalin, and Mao.

Leftist Condescension

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times laments readers’ reactions to what he calls his “periodic assertions that Trump voters are human, too.” He laments those reactions because they’re of a piece with Hillary Clinton’s characterization of Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables.” And Kristof wonders how progressives will ever reclaim the White House, Congress, a majority of governorships, and a majority of State legislatures — and thereby advance the Progressive cause (more regulation, more government spending, higher taxes) — if they insist on demonizing a large chunk of the electorate.

One of Kristof’s themes, which is echoed in letters to the editor about his columns, is that Trump supporters vote against self-interest. As evidence, in the usual manner of the media, Kristof cites the unhappiness of a handful of selected Trump voters about Trump’s plans to cut particular programs from which they benefit. As If the testimony of a small number of carefully selected interviewees proves anything other than media bias.

The idea that “low class” people who vote Republican are somehow voting against their self-interest has been around for a while. It stems from the idea that a main purpose of government is to provide handouts to the “less privileged.” If the left’s black and Hispanic “pets” reliably vote Democrat because so many of them want government handouts, why don’t “low class” whites do the same thing?

Thomas Frank spells it out in What’s the Matter with Kansas?,

which explores the rise of populist anti-elitist conservatism in the United States, centering on the experience of Kansas….

According to the book, the political discourse of recent decades has dramatically shifted from social and economic equality to the use of “explosive” cultural issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, which are used to redirect anger toward “liberal elites.”

Against this backdrop, Frank describes the rise of political conservatism in the social and political landscape of Kansas, which he says espouses economic policies that do not benefit the majority of people in the state….

Frank says that the conservative coalition is the dominant coalition in American politics. There are two sides to this coalition, according to the author: Economic conservatives want business tax cuts and deregulation, while social conservatives focus on culture. Frank says that since the coalition formed in the late 1960s, the coalition has been “fantastically rewarding” for the economic conservatives. The policies of the Republicans in power have been exclusively economic, but the coalition has caused the social conservatives to be worse off economically, due to these pro-corporate policies.

If the conservative coalition is the dominant coalition, it comes as a great surprise to me. But Frank’s book was published in 2004, when the GOP controlled the White House and (narrowly) the Senate and House of Representatives. Frank may be excused for not having foreseen the setback in Iraq, the financial crisis, the Great Recession, and the resulting election and re-election of the great black hope.

Anyway, there are three answers to Frank’s thesis:

  1. There is a lot of overlap between “social” and “economic” conservatives, which means that the supposed clash of values is far less dramatic than Frank paints it.
  2. Those “social” conservatives who aren’t also “economic” conservatives obviously place so much weight on social issues that they are unswayed by the (purported) harm to their economic interests.
  3. Many social conservatives understand — viscerally, at least — that their economic interests aren’t served by a regime of handouts and preferences, but by a regime that is “pro-business” and therefore pro-economic growth and pro-job creation.

Regarding the third point, see Stephen Moore’s “Government Makes the Poor Poorer” (The American Spectator, April 10, 2017), where Moore says, for example:

Trade barriers raise prices and “act as a regressive tax” on Americans, [Don] Boudreaux explains. They also stunt the very innovation process that makes goods and services widely available to people at affordable prices to begin with. Think about who the consumers are that shop for those everyday low prices at Wal-Mart. It’s not Hillary Clinton.

Minimum wage clearly fits into this category as well. In every other industry, Boudreaux notes, when something is more expensive, we buy less of it.

Thus depriving the least-skilled an opportunity to step on the bottom rung of the ladder of economic opportunity.

Moore continues:

Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute points out that the fuel economy standards promoted by the leftist environmentalists add thousands of dollars to the cost of a new car. He estimates that these “green” policies could mean that 5 million fewer Americans each year can’t afford a new car….

Another green policy that hurts the poor is the anti-fracking crusade of the environmentalists. In my book with Kathleen Hartnett White, Fueling Freedom, we point out that the lower cost of electricity due to cheap shale natural gas has benefited low income households to the tune of well over $4 billion a year….

Social Security is the greatest swindle of the poor ever. A new study by Peter Ferrara for the Committee to Unleash Prosperity shows that the average poor person who works 40 hours a week during his or her working life would retire with a larger monthly benefit and would have $1 million or more in an estate that could be left to a spouse or children at death if they could simply put their payroll tax dollars into a personal 401k retirement account and tap into the power of compound interest….

Occupational licensing laws — in trades like moving companies, realtors, hair dressers, limousine services, beauticians, physical therapy and on and on — ‎stunt small business start-ups, destroy jobs, and raise prices for lower income consumers….

… Professor Boudreaux shows evidence that … licensing requirements reduce service quality by shrinking competition in the industry….

These examples merely scratch the surface of scores of governmental polices that are regressive.

Indeed they do. In “The Rahn Curve Revisited” I document the significant debilitating effects of government spending and regulation on economic growth.

But there’s a fourth and deeper point, which I make in “The Left and ‘We the People’“:

[I]t never ceases to amaze the left that so many of “the people” turn their backs on a leftist (Democrat) candidate in favor of the (perceived) Republican rightist. Why is that? One reason, which became apparent in the recent presidential election, is that a lot of “the people” don’t believe that the left is their “voice” or that it rules on their behalf.

A lot of “the people” believe, correctly, that the left despises “the people” and is bent on dictating to them. Further, a lot of “the people” also believe, correctly, that the left’s dictatorial methods are not really designed with “the people” in mind. Rather, they are intended to favor certain groups of people — those deemed “victims” by the left — and to advance pet schemes (e.g., urban rail, “green” energy, carbon-emissions reductions, Obamacare) despite the fact that they are unnecessary, inefficient, and economically destructive.

It comes as a great shock to left that so many of “the people” see the left for what it is: doctrinaire, unfair, and dictatorial. Why, they ask, would “the people” vote against their own interest by rejecting Democrats and electing Republicans? The answer is that a lot of “the people” are smart enough to see that the left does not represent them and does not act in their interest.

Some city slickers never learn from experience because they’re too fastidious to acquire it by venturing from “the bubble.”


Related posts:
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
Academic Ignorance
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
Bubbling Along
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Brandeis’s Ignorance
Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative
How America Has Changed
Civil War?
H.L. Mencken’s Final Legacy
The Problem with Political Correctness
The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump
Prosperity Isn’t Everything
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
“They Deserve to Die”?
Mencken’s Pearl of Wisdom
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”