Some Conundrums

Here are five (my answers are below):

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

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

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

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

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

Answers:

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

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

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

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

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

The Princess Di Effect

Theodore Dalrymple describes it:

A young British woman called Grace Millane was making her way round the world after graduation from university when she was murdered in New Zealand….

All over New Zealand … there has been an outpouring of emotion, or at any rate of public displays of emotion—there being no point in having an emotion unless you can show it in public. The candles have come out en masse, as it were, and have been lit in prominent places at what are called vigils. People at these vigils—mainly women, to judge from the photograph—stand around and look mournful, and I daresay they hug one another….

… It all seems very peculiar to me, this outpouring of kitschy emotion.

It is not confined to New Zealand, of course. Perhaps the greatest exhibition of it was after the death of Princess Diana; but these days, we have come to expect the lighting of candles whenever anybody loses his life in an unusual or spectacular way. No sooner had three people been murdered by a Muslim terrorist in Strasbourg, for example, then out came the candles, as if they had been held in waiting precisely for such an event as this.

I admit to a deep vein of dark humor. I scorned the Princess Di cult when she was alive. Upon learning of her death, I immediately formulated a ghoulish pun: Princess die.

This isn’t to minimize or dismiss the pain of anyone’s brutal death or the true emotional suffering of those near and dear to that person. But I do wonder about the emotional state of those persons who, as Dalrymple puts it, “have vigil candles at the ready at home, and joss sticks, just waiting for the occasion to demonstrate to the world the depth of their feeling and their inner goodness”.

It is of a piece with many things, including these examples of leftist hypocrisy:

  • fawning over “undocumented migrants” and homeless persons whom one wouldn’t invite into one’s home
  • lamenting “climate change” from the comfort of one’s McMansion with a 3-car garage containing at least two monstrous SUVs
  • insisting that taxes are “too low” while taking advantage of every tax break in the book
  • supporting confiscatory gun-control measures while enjoying the security of a gated manse and armed bodyguards
  • advocating “free speech” as long as it’s speech of which the advocate approves
  • insisting that coerced charity, open borders, etc., etc., accord with the teachings of Christ, especially when Christ is otherwise meaningless to the advocate of such measures

All such hypocrisy — which places burdens on others that are trifles, at most, to the hypocrite — is of relatively recent vintage. It is due, in large part, to the success of capitalism (another target of leftist hypcrites), which has shielded limousine liberals, armchair anarchists, and salon socialists from the consequences of their own stated beliefs.

Granted, there is probably little overlap between the practitioners of leftist hypocrisy and the practitioners of public grief. But both practices spring from the same urge to stroke one’s ego by virtue-signaling. As vulgar as it may be, lighting a candle at the drop of a body (pardon my dark humor) is far preferable to the social and economic damage wrought by leftist schemes.

“Liberalism” and Virtue-Signaling

I am reading the real Suicide of the West (1964), by James Burnham — as opposed to Jonah Goldberg’s ersatz (2018) version. I will in due course publish a review of Burnham’s book. It will be a long review because the book if chock-full of wisdom and spot-on observations.

Burnham’s book is subtitled An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism, though it is far more than an essay. By “liberalism” Burnham means the modern kind that gradually replaced the “classical” kind in the 19th and 20th centuries. (See my post, “Inventing Liberalism“.) Burnham’s explanation of the change is one of the topics I will take up in my review.

In the meantime, I can’t resist quoting Burnham on the subject of virtue-signaling. He doesn’t use that term, which seems to be of recent vintage, but he describes the phenomenon perfectly:

Let us consider the situation of a member of our affluent society, and let us assume him to be from the more rather than less affluent half, who is no longer deeply committed in spirit to the interlocked Christian doctrines of Original Sin, the Incarnation and Redemption, which constitute the Christian solution. His guilt nevertheless exists; he is conscious of it, and feels the anxiety that it generates. What is he going to do about it, and think about it?

Liberalism permits him to translate his guilt into the egalitarian, anti-discrimination, democratist, peace-seeking liberal principles, and to transform his guilty feeling into that “passion for reform” of which Professor [J. Salwyn] Schapiro speaks [in Liberalism: Its Meaning and History]. If he is an activist, he can actually sign on as a slum clearer, Freedom Rider, Ban the Bomber or Peace Corpsman, or join a Dr. Schweitzer or Dr. Dooley in the jungle. But activists of that literal sort are always a minority. The more significant achievement of liberalism, by which it confirms its claim to being considered a major ideology, is its ability to handle the problem of guilt for large numbers of persons without costing them undue personal inconvenience. This it does by elevating the problem to representational, symbolic and institutional levels. It is not necessary for me to go in person to the slum, jungle, prison, Southern restaurant, state house or voting precinct and there take a direct hand in accomplishing the reform that will unblock the road to peace, justice and well-being. Thanks to the reassuring provisions of the liberal ideology, I can go about my ordinary business and meanwhile take sufficient account of my moral duties by affirming my loyalty to the correct egalitarian principles, voting for the correct candidates, praising the activists and contributing to their defense funds when they get into trouble, and joining promptly in the outcry against reactionaries who pop up now and then in a desperate effort to preserve power and privilege.

“Liberalism”, as Burnham defines it in Suicide of the West, has changed in some particulars since 1964, particulars that I will address in my review. But, in the main, Burnham has nailed it, as “they” say nowadays. If you are in the market for a sound analysis of “liberalism”, skip Goldberg and go with Burnham.

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)