Culture


When I begin to get frustrated over what appears to be the reigning ignorance on the socialistic tendencies of the current and former administrations, stories like the following help me remember that free market principles are not at all obvious to many.

I remember being told by an elderly Japanese that used to be senior in the foreign ministry, what a shock it was when they lost the war and the Americans came onto their island. And he said “the American’s said something quite remarkable. They said to us, ‘we’re not going to rebuild your economy after the war.'” And he said “that struck us as curious, because why should they? And then they said something even more curious which is ‘but we’re going to let you rebuild your own economy, through your own efforts, by admitting you into the world trading system.”

And this elderly Japanese said “that seemed crazy. Here we were desperately short of food, raw materials, building materials, pharmaceuticals, everything you needed; and these crazy Americans were telling us you got rich by shipping it abroad and selling it to foreigners.” He said “it made no sense to us and yet, we had to do it, so we did do it … and it did work.”

John Llewellyn, during an interview on Tom Keen‘s “On The Economy,” April 1, 2010.

… But then again, if these principles were obvious to most Americans 50 years ago, I wonder where that puts us in the next 50 years.

I doubt it will take that long before we look just like Greece does today.

“Do nothing and get something! That’s the best thing that’s happened since oreos!” Say the P.I.G.S..
-Danny, my 13 year old, commenting on the European situation

“Any man seeking control of the engines of the state, the better to accomplish his plundering, always promises to make the great businesses pay taxes — and the envious man cheers. But of course, no business ever paid a tax without passing it on to the consumer, and the envious man finds himself paying for the pillage he ardently supports. But don’t feel sorry for him; he is an envious fool and deserves everything he gets, both good and hard. A wise man hates all forms of envy”
Doug Wilson Joy at the End of the Tether

[I’m willing to] forfeit more of [my] incomce to help [poor people]

[I’m] getting sick of all the angry, violent, whiny, yet privileged, people. I think I will just have to ignore them, so that their misery doesn’t infect me. It’s just too bad for them that they don’t know what happiness feels like and where it comes from.
– facebook quote

It’s amazing how emotive claims to the moral high ground, in bumper sticker fashion, fit so well with the level of discourse needed for the socialist leftist (ok, ok) liberal (I hate the misuse of the term “liberal” in this country) to maintain it.

This proletariat comment about the evils of we bourgeoisie was brought on by discussions on the healthcare bill. These comments afford me the opportunity to highlight some clear distinctions between opposing worldviews but in a manner not befitting the twitter mentality required by facebook.

Intentions verses results

Notice it’s not the results that matter, it’s the intentions. All acts should be judged moral on the outward appearance of the intentions. This means a quick statement about caring provides immediate access to the moral high ground.

Never mind that this bill is a gift to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries (they now have 31 million more customers).

Never mind that these types of moves, always result in lower quality at higher costs – for everyone (please read, say, the first 20 pages of Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Economics”).

Never mind that the individual liberty to manage one’s resources as they see fit is diminished.

Never mind that the entitlement attitude and the “I have a RIGHT” mindset fostered by the ideology expressed in the quote leads to what’s going on now in Venezuela, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland (though Ireland has implemented some serious austerity measures to put themselves back on track).

Never mind that repeatedly, moves in the opposite direction (that is, smaller government and more individual responsibility), have consistently yielded results that have taken entire nations to new heights (Chile’s recent improvements is a case that come to mind).

Never mind that the majority of those that didn’t have insurance that will now be getting it have cell phones, or cable tv, or internet connectivity, or all of the above, and rather than view their lack of “insurance” as either their own “personal decision” in the way they chose to allocate their resources, we need to subsidize their health care so they can continue to avoid responsibility for their own choices.

Never mind that “the problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money” (Margaret Thatcher) as much of Europe is now learning the hard way.

All of that makes no difference. It’s the fact that they care, we don’t.

This hearkens to a point Dostoevsky made several times in his portrayal of the Proletariat of privilege. The one whose guilt for actually being bourgeoisie was so great, they felt they needed to identify with those poor souls and prove that they knew what was best for them. Usually this character can be identified by their love of mankind yet their hatred of (individual) people.

And this leads me to ….

Elitism

Elitism is, by definition (and Wikipedia never lies – just point me to where it does and give me a minute) “the belief or attitude that a select group of people with, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole.” It’s the very antithesis of individual liberty (which, by the way, shares the same Latin root for the word “liberal” and explains why I can’t stand the American use of the term).

When you hear the objection, usually raised in loud tones, and again in bumper sticker fashion: “Don’t cram YOUR morals down MY throat,” it’s usually from the mouth of someone on the left as the main premise in a counter-argument against someone that just MENTIONED what they thought was right or wrong. That same person, naturally and hypocritically drawn to elitism, is more than ready to force their morals (like say, everyone ought to “forfeit more of [their] incomce to help [poor people],”) down the throats of everyone else only using the power of the state as their means.

If you’re willing to “forfeit more of [your] incomce to help [poor people]” then go ahead, I don’t think anyone would complain. However, when, in clear elitist fashion, you use the power of government to force everyone to comply with your morals, don’t be surprised when someone that has a different set than you does the same thing. After all, you set the ground rules. Personally I’d prefer you both just left me alone.

It’s for this reason the William F. Buckley once said that he’d rather be ruled by the first 100 names in the Boston phone book, than by the Harvard faculty. BTW, have you seen who’s in charge lately?

Who are we anyway?

When someone claims we’re a Democracy and you reply with the truth, that we’re a Constitutional Representative Republic (or as such we were founded), you usually get strange looks. It wasn’t that long ago that people understood that our freedom is inversely proportional to the size of the Government budget. It’s for this reason that the Constitution strictly restricts the roll of the Federal Government to those jobs specifically enumerated therein (see the 10th amendment – which is pretty much a dead letter – but shows that the framers of the Constitution understood what was needed to preserve liberty). Funny – I didn’t notice anything about healthcare.

Senator Conyers recently said that the healthcare bill was constitutional because of the “Good and Welfare Clause” (isn’t it wonderful to know how Constitutionally literate our Senators are?). Needless to say no one has ever been able to sue for their rights under the preamble and Madison, in the Federalist papers (in case your one of those educated in a modern American public Skool – the Federalist papers are the commentary on the Constitution by the main writers) found it absurd that anyone could think that Federal policy could be driven from that clause (though this was something that the Confederacy fixed in their short-lived constitution).

A couple of points on the specifics

Other than the government regulation of another industry that needed a completely different policy, there are two very specific issues with this bill that makes it a clear monstrosity.

First, and this is the lesser problem, as previously mentioned this bill is a gift to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries – it doesn’t punish them. Portions of the bill were written by them. They now have 31 million more customers. For anyone that doesn’t get it, please follow a chart of stocks in these markets the day the bill passed. People know what this means to the bottom line of the industry giants.

Secondly, you are now REQUIRED to have insurance. Several people have tried to make the point that you’re required to have car insurance, as if this settles it. This displays a complete lack of understanding of (once again) the Constitution, and more importantly the difference between a “right” and “privilege.”

In case no one noticed, it’s the STATES that require insurance, not the federal government. That is, it complies with the notion that those powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. (- hey look – you just read the 10th amendment. Congratulations if that was your first time).

More importantly, driving is a PRIVILEGE and with the privilege comes certain responsibility. Such as taking responsibility for any harm YOU CAUSE while driving. The States have the right to make sure you can afford to take that responsibility by requiring insurance in order to get licensed.

However, while I can choose not to drive (as it is a PRIVILEGE), I cannot choose NOT TO BREATH. Now, the act of breathing requires me to get insurance when the only one that should be harmed by my NOT having insurance in MYSELF (and so that is one of the things that a right healthcare reform bill would have allowed).

But then again, all it takes is good intentions, no matter how much harm you do, to gain the moral high ground.

A friend of mine recently directed me to an interesting blog, The Ochlophobist. After reading the current post, referenced post, and comments, I began my own contribution to the comments section. Before I finished, however, I began to reconsider – I questioned whether or not I actually understood what they were saying. That’s not to say that I was confused as I read; each statement evoked a clear concept and subsequent statements connected ideas within a context that made sense to me – but I’ve been here more than once only to realize later I had the wrong idea.

As I considered different ways some of the statements could be taken I began to think that I’m simply not “on the same page” and that I’m missing a significant part of the schema informing the language being used. For example, the posts are repleat with theterm “positivist,” which, in my mind, evokes concepts captured by its 19th century epistemic sense. In this sense it applies to the idea that statements only have meaning in that they can be scientifically verified. This becomes, (once again – perhaps in my mind alone) once refined by Wittgenstein into “logical positivism,” the epistemology undergirding the ideology known as “Modernism,” another word referenced in these writings in close conjunction. To capture Modernism (again – in the sense I understand it) with a short description I’d say it’s insistence that there are readily available “brute” or “uninterpreted” facts from which an objective mind can grasp to make human experience intelligible.

Now, imagine that I entered the conversation with these concepts as a backdrop. I might go several rounds, agreeing or disagreeing as the case may be, and the whole time we’d be talking past each other because, quite apart from the concepts invoked in my mind, they might have in their minds completely different ideas. For example, the word “positivist” can be taken in a sense juxtaposed to “natural law” (another term used in close conjunction with “positivist” in their writing) where “right” is what the government says it is and has codified in legislation. “Positivist” in this sense, far from dealing with concrete brute facts and an easy access to objective reality, is clearly and totally relativistic.

For several years now, like, I’m sure, many many other Oprah watching, Stern listening, pop-culture enthusiasts, I’ve been searching for a copy of that ground-breaking, trend-setting rocking work of non-fiction that topped the bestseller charts in 1853, “The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice” by William Goode. As I’m sure a huge portion of the American (and British) population knows, this book was the definitive response to John Henry Newman and the Tractarians (otherwise known as “The Oxford Movement”) who ultimately forded the Tiber river in their defection from Anglicanism to the waiting and loving arms of Pope Pius IX and Roman Catholicism.

Anyway, my periodic attempts have always been met with frustration … until now. Expecting to perhaps find the book in some used book store or ebay auction, if at all – I actually found the book ITSELF suspended in cyberspace – scanned and ready for download!

Not only that, I stumbled upon a wealth of other treasures like: “The photographic history of the Civil war,” “French and English philosophers: Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire, Hobbes (c1910),” and “The Harleian miscellany : or, A collection of scarce, curious, and entertaining pamphlets and tracts, as well in manuscripts as in print, found in the late Earl of Oxford’s library; interspersed with historical, political, and critical notes (1808-11)” along with “Flatland : a romance of many dimensions (1884)” and several public domain Greatful Dead concerts all in “The Internet Archive” – an organization dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of public domain content.

Which reminds me – at some point I’ll need to write a rant about the damage done by the current state of copyright and patent laws in this country (and others).

In part I, I tried to highlight how many cultural disagreements can be understood in terms of differences over the distinction between essential and accidental predication. There is a tendency today (which is simply the outworking of postmodernism) to behave as if there are no essential attributes; that all attributes are accidental and therefore all generalizations are arbitrary.

This tendency can be seen in numerous left-wing causes. Take, as a side example, gender politics. The left’s endemic tendency to deny there is anything essential to gender differences is at the root of policies from “gay rights” to the recent firing of the president of Harvard for daring to suggest such differences may exist.

Is it possible then that there are essential distinctions between cultures and ideology? That is, does a culture or ideology have an essence; a set of attributes that can be used to identify particulars that partake of that culture or ideology? Secondly, are there accidents that can arise from, but are not required by, these essential distinctions?

Certainly I think there are. In the specific case of Islam and an Islamic culture there are essential characteristics that classify individuals as Islamic. Accidents causally associated with this generalization include a hatred of the US, and a tendency toward murder and terrorism. That is, the accident of terrorism (in the case of Islamic terrorism) is caused by the Islam itself (Note: The species of causation I have in mind here is not necessarily straightforward and is certainly not simple logical necessity).

This conncetion between Islam and terrorism is difficult to deny. One need do no more than read the words of the Islamic terrorists themselves. To repost the point you made that gave rise to this discussion:

Using your assumptions… we should have separate lines to get into public buildings for white christians, since the only major bombing of a public building in the U.S. in 20 years was done by some white christians.

Now, where exactly is the connection (causal or otherwise) between being a white Christian and blowing up buildings? Is there something essential to Christianity that gives rise to a desire to blow up buildings?

Epilogue: Friday on the radio there was a brief story on whether or not our airlines are safer than they were on 9/11. They mentioned “sophisticated profiling” being put in place and immediately followed it up with a quote from an interview with an individual working on the new security programs. He said something like “this is not about race, color, or creed, it’s about behavior.” Indeed, it is. But it’s a behavior linked to a creed.

I had promised Kirk, a recent commenter on my post Ship Mineta to Londonistan, a post that would delve into our differences in more depth. After toying with my ideas in various forms, I believe that my initial offer was a moderate over commitment. First, what follows is probably not the very core of our differences (it’s not the essenstial difference – to use the terminology described below), though it is certainly one aspect of them. Secondly, after I wrote some and reflected on it, I believe it may be an oversimplification. If it were not for the fact that I promised this post in some form, I would probably have simply dropped it. In any case, what follows I offer for reflection, critique and refinement. Though this is usually the case for all of my posts, it seems especially the case here:

For some, the basis of thought itself is the process of classifying particular things. That is, observing what attributes makes particular things similar and grouping them accordingly. When, for example, I observe these many particular things outside of my window are all trees, I’m classifying them according to attributes that they each have in common. If all things are only considered as particulars, and unifying principles are never applied, knowledge itself is impossible; we think about things in terms of predicates and generalizations, that is, unifying principles.

The attributes or characteristics that form the very basis of these categories are essential while other characteristics are accidental. Essence and accident are a

distinction among the attributes, properties, or qualities of substances. A thing’s possession of its essential properties is necessary either for its individual existence or, at least, for its membership in a specific kind. Accidental features, by contrast, are those which the thing merely happens to have, even though it need not.

Each particular tree outside of my window shares something that make them each trees. However, some are large and some are small, nevertheless they are all trees. Therefore their ‘size’ in not a factor in their ‘treeness,’ size is an accident while the features that make them ‘trees’ are essential (at least to their ‘treeness‘).

School of Athens

It’s been said that the entire history of ideas can be viewed as an ongoing struggle between Plato and Aristotle. This struggle is pictorially represented in Raphael’s famous painting “School of Athens.” Centered on Plato walking alongside Aristotle, it portrays the former pointing upwards with a single index finger, and the later with his palm downward and fingers extended. While Plato is emphasizing the unifying principle (the ideal), Aristotle is emphasizing the particulars.

Mankind’s ways of thinking seem to swing between these extremes, and post-modern thought – quickly becoming the basis for the way our current culture thinks – represents an overemphasis on the particulars at the expense of principle. It often denies the very existence of unifying principles, thereby ignoring the distinction between essence and accident and maintains that all generalizations are equally valid – and therefore equally arbitrary. It maintains that there are no essential distinctions and that all generalizations are arbitrary groupings (that are manipulated by those in power to maintain control – but that’s a story for another post).

Many cultural disagreements can be cast in terms of these alternative views of predication. Racism can be seen as a confounding of essence with accident – that is, it’s the act of making essential distinctions (who is or who is not a full person) based on accidental attributes (the color of someone’s skin). Arguments over abortion can be seen as arguments over the unifying principle that identifies a person. Arguments over gay-marriage are often explicitly cast in terms of the essence of marriage (the “definition of marriage,” the principles that define marriage, etc.), versus a denial that there is any principle that is essential to marriage; that its definition is arbitrary and malleable.

… and also, about disagreements over profiling terrorists for airport terminal security – which will be covered more fully in my next post.

… to be continued.

It used to be that conspiracy theories were relegated to the thought processes of the extreme paranoid right wing – embodied in movies like “The Clinton Chronicles,” and a vague dread over the constituents of the “Council on Foreign Relations” and the UN (listen to Michael Medved some Wednesday afternoon on his “Conspiracy Day” show; invariably one of these nuts calls in). More recently, however, ideas with even less credibility are making the rounds among fundamentalist lefties – from Michael Moore’s website, to 9/11 conspiracies like those that hold that no plane that crashed into the Pentagon, or that “Bush Knew” about the planes prior to the World Trade Center attacks.

To me, “fundamentalism” is manifested as a serious personal and often dangerous weakness. Specifically, it’s the practice of keeping one’s worldview hermetically sealed and free from critical examination. When people surround themselves with like minded individuals and exchange views only within this cloister, the resulting ideas are often inbred and distorted. Marginalization of those outside of the group serves to further protect and seal off the ideology from criticism. The fundamentalist’s perception of reality itself will eventually be bent to further serve her worldview.

Such an atmosphere breeds ignorance and creates a situation that allows conspiracy theories to thrive.

For example, if you already believe that George Bush and his cronies are the most evil people on the planet; bent on the destruction of the human race if it puts a few dollars in the pockets of their coven-mates, the perception is only confirmed by lunatic accusations that “Bush Knew” about 9/11 before hand – or that the World Trade center was actually detonated by explosives – all for oil money.

It should be come as no surprise then, since the most vociferous fundamentalists in America today are academic leftists, that conspiracy theories and misplaced fear of things different (along with a large dose of irrationality) pervade the thinking of much of the left. In a series of posts, of which this is the introduction, I’d like to explore several prominent fundamentalists (and some not so prominent) as they make the news. In my next post in the series I will deal with David Byrne of “The Talking Heads” fame, whose blog has recently been brought to my attention.

Updated for clarity, June 22. A friend sent me a link to Daily Kos’ article “The Libertarian Dem.” Interested in the possibliilty of such a conglomeration, I read the article. It started off on a high note with a rather decent (though somewhat bumper-stickeresque) definition of “libertarian” and a qualification to mark the rather stark and important distinction between a true Jeffersonian/CATO Institute libertarian (lower case ‘l’) and the Libertarian (upper case ‘L’), otherwise known as “Loosertarian,” party members.

Traditional “libertarianism” holds that government is evil and thus must be minimized. Any and all government intrusion is bad. While practical libertarians (as opposed to those who waste their votes on the Libertarian Party) …

Unfortunately, as so much goes with this highly visited liberal blogger, it quickly degraded to the point where it became obvious that he clearly just doesn’t get it. A “libertarian” will cringe at the following:

A Libertarian Dem believes that true liberty requires freedom of movement — we need roads and public transportation to give people freedom to travel wherever they might want. A Libertarian Dem believes that we should have the freedom to enjoy the outdoor without getting poisoned; that corporate polluters infringe on our rights and should be checked. A Libertarian Dem believes that people should have the freedom to make a living without being unduly exploited by employers. A Libertarian Dem understands that no one enjoys true liberty if they constantly fear for their lives, so strong crime and poverty prevention programs can create a safe environment for the pursuit of happiness. A Libertarian Dem gets that no one is truly free if they fear for their health, so social net programs are important to allow individuals to continue to live happily into their old age. Same with health care. And so on.

It has been my contention that the diametric opposite of a socialist (or Democrat as the case may be these days) is not a conservative, but a libertarian. In a nutshell, the reason for this is that a libertarian understands the role of right incentives in the preservation of liberty. Socialist policies, by ignoring human nature, destroy incentive. In other words, a system that creates appropriate incentives is one that allows for the greatest liberty, and government control by its very nature works against right incentive (and liberty).

Several illustrative example will provide the best explanation.

What could be more basic than the “right” to eat? Stalin, by making food a basic right and dictating that the farmers of the agriculturally rich Ukraine supply their goods out of patriotic and humanitarian duty eliminated any incentives those farmers had to actually produce. As a result, 20 million people starved.

In the 70’s gasoline had government price controls to curtail greedy corporations from profiting from what the government thought was a basic need (today we would say “right”) to fuel. Once the environment became such that these controls removed the incentives to produce, a “shortage” ensued. And these mysteriously dissipated when Carter was forced to remove the controls.

Kos mentions “poverty prevention programs” but these ought to be called poverty creation programs. When the incentive to work is removed why would anyone bother? These programs, for the most part, create and perpetuate poverty, they don’t solve it. This is primarily because government involvement removes right incentive. There is a reason that Paul the Apostle wrote to the Thessolonians:

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’

In the case of “poverty programs” however, the damage is two fold. Not only do the people receiving the “aid” suffer through the perpetuation of their state, these programs also neuter the appropriate private and charitable programs that don’t have the same negative effects. While the guarantee of a government provided meal can become a right in the mind of the receiver, a charity provided meal is a blessing whose supply is no one’s requirement, and therefore doesn’t engender the same sense of entitlement. Also, the incentive for charitable organizations to even fill this role is reduced, if not eliminated (see Europe as an example) where these government programs are in place.

I leave as an exercise for the interested reader to apply the above illustrations to the issue of health care, which Kos also indicates the “Libertarian Dem” ought to support.

It should be obvious then that Kos just doesn’t get it; a Dem (or a Socialist) cannot also be a libertarian in the Jeffersonian/CATO sense.

… to be continued

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