Saturday, June 30, 2012

Deferred Bitching

There are some smart people out there. Quite a lot of them have been blogging away about the Supreme Court's recent ObamaCare decision. Unfortunately, not all of them are "up" on the history behind Chief Justice Roberts's supposedly surprising opinion.

Consider this emission from DrewMusings:

Calling this a "victory" or "a gutting" is like saying someone who was mugged "won" because they were only beaten to a bloody pulp instead of killed. Well, OK but in the real world the proper outcome is not to be assaulted at all. That's the true victory.

Of course this also ignores two minor details, the mandate stands and now Congress may impose a penalty, er tax, on economic inactivity, something no one thought they could do before yesterday. Do you really think there aren't liberal policy gnomes in Congress, think tanks and universities already hard at work coming up with new and exciting ways to make mischief with the tool Roberts just handed them? If you don't, you've missed the last 80 or so years of the Democratic (and sadly, all too often the Republican) party's history. [Emphasis added by FWP]

Ignore the execrable grammar; it's the emphasized clause that counts. Lawrence Auster concurs, and heaps scorn upon those of other mind. But why?

Because they've forgotten the history of the New Deal. Because they've failed to remember that ever since Associate Justice Harlan Fiske Stone told Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins that the taxing power would justify any and every claim of expanded powers FDR planned to make, the taxing power has been regarded by the Court as unbounded in scope.

Justice Stone wasn't the first jurist to suggest that the Constitution, in Article I, Section 8 as later modified by the Sixteenth Amendment, specifies no limits on the purposes to which the taxing power could be legitimately put. However, he was the first to sit on a Court successfully bullied by a president of the United States, who, like Barack Hussein Obama, regarded himself as so much wiser and better counseled than anyone else that he could justify the assertion of dictatorial powers.

FDR had the backing of Congress, which functioned as a "rubber stamp" throughout his first term of office. Obama does not...but he has John Roberts, stare decisis, and the precedents set by the New Deal Court.

The time to bitch about all this isn't the year of Our Lord 2012. It was 1935, a year that's well behind us.

Roberts's hairsplitting is important for another reason, as well: It prevented the Ginsburg opinion, which explicitly cited the Commerce Clause as the basis for ObamaCare's Constitutionality, from being the majority opinion, and thereby commanding precedental power under the stare decisis doctrine. Indeed, there was no other way for Roberts to rule ObamaCare's individual mandate Constitutional without rendering the Commerce Clause infinitely elastic.

Please don't mistake me: I regard Roberts's decision as a serious jurisprudential error. No judge has the authority to rewrite a litigant's case for him, which is what Roberts did to reach the decision he rendered. However, given that Roberts's #1 priority was to find a justification for ruling in favor of ObamaCare's individual mandate, the course he followed was the only one available to him.

Was the decision a "victory for conservatives?" Unarguably not. Had Roberts had the courage to strike ObamaCare down in its entirety, the nation would be better off by far, at least in the short term. Such a decision would have been justified on very simple Constitutional grounds:

  • The Administration argued that the mandate is a penalty rather than a tax, and justified as "affecting interstate commerce;"
  • Federal law currently forbids the sale of medical insurance across state lines;
  • Therefore, there is no imaginable rationale by which the Commerce Clause pertains to medical insurance or any aspect thereof, by prior Congressional enactment;
  • Congress's enumerated powers do not include the power to impose a penalty upon an American merely for existing;
  • Though such a penalty might be "necessary" to effectuate some enumerated power, it would not be "proper," as it would vitiate the presumption of innocence that underpins our scheme of penal law and jurisprudence;
  • Therefore, Congress is prohibited from imposing such a penalty under the Tenth Amendment.

(Get away from me with that "but are you a lawyer?" crap; if the law is to be exclusively the province of lawyers, then an oligarchy of licensed attorneys is unavoidable, after which the famous citation from Henry VI applies. Besides which, lawyers as a professsion just aren't that bright. How could they be? There are over a million of them in the United States today. Law simply isn't a profession that demands high intelligence. The principal requirements for the practice of law are a good memory and a cultivated ability to strain the English language completely out of shape for one's client's purposes. At any contest of the intellect you can imagine, I'd send virtually any lawyer in America home in a barrel.)

But Chief Justice Roberts was apparently too concerned with other matters -- the possibility of being run over in the Supreme Court parking lot, perhaps? -- to attend to his Constitutional duties. Granted that manly courage isn't a quality we seek explicitly in a federal jurist, it certainly would have been nice if this Bush II nominee had exhibited enough manhood to justify the river of scorn poured on poor, all-but-forgotten Harriet Miers.

If there's a silver lining to this decision, it's the energy that's consequently poured into the effort to remove Obama from the Oval Office, and the Democrat majority from the Senate, this coming November. But that's a matter of accumulating potential, not an immediate actuality. There's work to be done, and only the American people to do it. Whether we're up to the task, and angry enough to do a proper job of it, remains to be seen.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Egos The Size Of Cathedrals

Perhaps, given yesterday's events, I should stay away from politics for awhile. At any rate, today's topic is non-political.

***
"These people, it's no mystery where they come from. You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with its desire. You build egos the size of cathedrals. Fiber-optically connect the world to every eager impulse. Grease even the dullest dreams with these dollar-green gold-plated fantasies until every human becomes an aspiring emperor, becomes his own god. Where can you go from there?" -- "John Milton," from the movie The Devil's Advocate

I've received some plaintive email recently, specifically inquiring why I haven't been posting anything about matters of faith and the spirit, as I semi-regularly did at Eternity Road. The "Sunday Ruminations" there were apparently a more popular feature than I'd thought. In perfect honesty, I didn't write them because I felt they'd be popular; I wrote them because I needed to do so. Their primary audience was myself.

(Hey, just because you don't write hortatory essays to yourself doesn't mean there's something wrong with the practice.)

Of course, not everyone was pleased with those pieces. Some readers were actually offended by them. I remember, from back when I started the process, one note of particular import, from an old friend who thought he knew me better than he really did. Boiled down to essentials, it said: How can you, Fran, possessor of a genius-plus IQ and a string of intellectual achievements the length of your arm, possibly believe in this completely implausible religious crap?

I wish I'd saved that email. It was a perfect demonstration of the difference between self-awareness and egotism. If its author had possessed more self-awareness, he would have penetrated to the fallacy behind it without any need for assistance. But all things in their proper course.

***

I've loved the "John Milton" quote at the top of this essay ever since I first heard it. It perfectly captures the malady that paralyzes millions of minds: those who preen themselves about being "too smart" to allow that there might be a God, that there might be actual historical truth to the New Testament, and that gratitude to God for the gift of life is a sensible and appropriate emotion. I had a brushing encounter with one such person in the pages of Eternity Road. Here's what I wrote:

There are some smart folks in the Blogosphere, but intelligence is no substitute for either perspective or judgment, and no one is uniformly knowledgeable about all things. Nope, not even your Curmudgeon.

Hearken to Eric Raymond, supposedly a smart fellow, as he goes wildly wrong about a subject on which he's badly misinformed:

“Surely, at worst,” they will argue, “only some kinds of faith are toxic; conveniently for us, the wrong kinds.” Harris neatly scotches that argument by quoting the Book of Deuteronomy. There is no doubt that Christian scripture tells its adherents to kill those who turn away from faith, even members of their own families. There is no doubt that Christians have behaved that way in the past; there is no doubt that Christianity only refrains from this now because most Christians have agreed to ignore inconveniently harsh passages from the Bible; and, given that the fastest-growing Christian denominations profess Biblical literalism, there is every reason to suspect that agreement is fragile and temporary. [Emphasis added by your Curmudgeon.]

This is slanderously incorrect. The Book of Deuteronomy is Old Testament, and has no relevance to the Christian New Covenant; the same applies to the bloody commands of the Book of Leviticus. The New Testament contains not one exhortation of the sort Raymond claims to exist there. More, the Founder of Christianity explicitly told His followers to love their enemies, and to do good to their persecutors. So what's going on here?

The charitable assumption is that Raymond hasn't read the New Testament, and in making his claim has relied solely on the statements of others as hostile to Christianity as he is. The uncharitable assumption...well, your Curmudgeon, being a Christian, is loath to make it.

And here's what Eric S. Raymond, to whom the above refers, commented in reply:

Sorry to burst your bubble, Curmudgeon, but Harris also cites New Testament authority for the proposition that Christians are required to kill unbelievers and apostates. Gospel of John, I think; I'd report the chapter and verse Harris quotes, but I lent my copy of "The End of Faith" to a friend yesterday....

The harder you cling to your ignorance now, the stupider you're going to look when I get my copy of "The End Of Faith" back and drop the correct cite on you.

Clue: you already look pretty stupid. I mean nothing personal in that remark, religious faith has made idiots out of better men than either of us. That's Sam Harris's point.

Ta ta for now. Think I'll call my buddy Scratch and tell him I need that book back pronto...

I have no idea where Mr. Raymond got the notion that a secondary source such as Sam Harris's The End Of Faith, itself extremely tendentious and filled with false interpretations and equivalences, constitutes evidence of anything. But one who possesses "an ego the size of a cathedral" isn't likely to be sufficiently self-aware -- or self-critical -- to take note of such a thing. Nor has Mr. Raymond grown in self-awareness in the years since that exchange:

You say “natural rights flow from our Creator”?

Oh, good. Now you’ve made my liberty dependent on widespread acceptance of religious belief, which is to say delusional insanity that fails to be recognized as such only out of historical habit.

You are not doing the cause of liberty any favors with this maneuver.

Eric S. Raymond's principal notoriety seems to arise from an essay he wrote, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," that extols the virtues of open-source software. I know of nothing else he's done or achieved. Whatever the case, he obviously thinks himself "too smart" for religious belief...or for allowing others to maintain their "delusional" religious beliefs without whacking them across the chops for it.

Pure egotism, and a corresponding deficit in self-awareness.

***

Incidentally, this essay isn't about religion, faith, atheism, or any immediate consequence of any of them. It's about the prerequisites for being and living as a decent human being.

Foremost among the most persistent aspects of human consciousness is its centrality. That is: each of us, by nature, sees himself as the center of reality. Needless to say, that's a personal perspective, which cannot be maintained as an objective fact, especially in the face of someone else's assertion that he stands at the center of reality. All the same, each of us sits at the focal point of his own universe. All roads lead to us, and from us as well. Breaking free of that perspective and seeing things from someone else's viewpoint, one of the mileposts in the attainment of maturity, is quite difficult. Ask any teenager.

Now, no one would want to spend every waking moment of his life seeing things from someone else's viewpoint. However, the ability to do so at need is critical to living successfully in society. By successfully, I mean living happily, in a reasonable degree of contentment, and at peace with those around us. For he who cannot or will not see from the viewpoint of another will be continuously susceptible to some of the very worst faults a man can have:

  • He will be militant about his opinions and priorities, and will see others as deficient -- stupid, deluded, insane, or evil -- for not sharing them.
  • He will be tempted to meddle in others' affairs "for their own good"...sometimes coercively, always destructively.
  • He will be vulnerable to flights of envy, the most corrosive of emotions.

The swollen-ego behavior of such a person renders his society uncongenial to humbler and more tolerant persons. He will find himself a victim of "Gresham's Law of Human Relationships:" Bad company drives out good company when the two are valued equally. Presently, the only persons willing to associate with him will be those with equally swollen egos, who have all the same opinions and priorities and are equally militant about them. This is a recipe for intellectual and emotional stasis, not to mention quite a bit of strife.

I speak from personal experience.

***

If there's anything about which I am perfectly certain, it's human limitations.

We are "fearfully and wonderfully made," to be sure, but we are not omniscient nor omnipotent. No matter how far we advance science and technology, there will always be things we do not know, and things we cannot do. Indeed, the heart of the scientific outlook, as Jonathan Rauch once put it, is that there are no final answers and no unquestionable authorities.

(That banging you hear in the distance is Epictetus demanding to be let in. The old coot has been screaming himself hoarse at me about the hazards of being certain about uncertainty. Apparently he made a similar mistake back when, and hates to see it repeated.)

A proper appreciation of our limitations is critical to human advancement. In particular, we must accept that, no matter how lofty an intellectual achievement appears at the time, it is forever capable of being surpassed. Imagine for a moment that in 1905 Albert Einstein, at that time merely a twenty-six-year-old postal worker, had assumed that classical mechanics should be deemed unquestionable -- that his notions about relativity were inappropriate, given the disdain for such fantasies among older, respected physicists with chairs at prestigious universities. Would he have continued on to his even more consequential discoveries in thermodynamics and quantum physics?

So also with opinions about anything, including propositions for which there can never be irrefutable proof or disproof: the demesne of religion. Inasmuch as the overwhelming majority of Mankind, past and present, holds to some religious beliefs, getting along in society demands that one be amiable about differences of opinion in such matters. Pressing one's own opinions on others as irrefutable, and insisting that their failure to accept them is proof of some intellectual or emotional deficiency, is not recommended.

***

Steven Goldberg, a terrific writer on a very contentious subject -- the biologically determined characteristics of the two sexes of Man, and why men prevail over women in certain domains -- was once asked by a lecture hall audience whether he would consider seriously any finding of evidence that contradicts his thesis. His response was immediate and positive; indeed, he called it the first obligation of an honest man of science to confront and evaluate evidence that contradicts his beliefs, and to do it at once.

Goldberg's statement was the epitome of genuine intellectual honesty. Unfortunately, the sentiment is not universal; many, perhaps most of us take it ill when we must confront evidence that we've been wrong. We take it as a diminution of self: an act of vandalism against the cathedrals of our egos.

Yet the grand partition remains as it was:

  1. Propositions which can be definitively proved: Mathematics.
  2. Propositions that can be disproved but not proved: Science.
  3. Propositions that can neither be proved nor disproved: Religion.

For best happiness and widest social acceptance, it's best to confine one's certainties, and one's militancy about them, to statements in Category 1. All else is subject to change without notice...and having written and reviewed these sentiments, perhaps they have some application to politics, after all.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

ObamaCare Upheld In Its Entirety

I am heartsick.

I cannot believe that Chief Justice John Roberts, an extremely bright
man, is unable to see that if the individual mandate can be construed as
a "tax," then Congress has an unlimited power to mandate ANYTHING,
merely by designating the penalty for non-compliance as a "tax" -- and
such a "tax" is not bounded by Fifth, Sixth, or Eighth Amendment
constraints.

That halting, choking sound you hear is the Cheyne-Stokes breathing of
the last remaining remnant of Americans' individual liberty.

The Republic has fallen. Let him save himself who can.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Calibrating The Meters

One of the Holy Grails of physics (my original trade) is the measuring
instrument of absolute precision: a device designed to measure some
objective phenomenon with zero uncertainty...no "plus or minus." It's in
the nature of things that such an instrument is impossible to design or
construct. If you're curious about why this is so, it's because
standards of measurement are themselves limited to a specific precision,
and all calibrations are founded on a standard of measurement. (For
further information about immovable limitations on the scope of human
knowledge, please see God.)

But in the realm of human action, something approaching absolute
precision is possible. The aspect I have in mind this morning is the
question that lurks eternally beneath all decisions about whether to
support a particular candidate for office: "How far can I trust this
guy?"

Think about that for a moment.

* * * * * * * * * *

It appears that Mitt Romney has a better than even chance of becoming
the next president of these United States. If you're an "anybody but
Obama" voter, that might settle the matter for you. I'm not one such; I
want to know whether Romney will improve on Obama's record in office
sufficiently to justify voting for him.

There are gradations to this inquiry, of course. Were Romney to behave
as badly as Obama (if not even worse) once installed in the Oval Office,
surely conservatives wouldn't consider it an improvement. But let's
imagine that President Romney were to govern as he did while he was
Governor of Massachusetts: mildly left of center, not as far to the left
as Obama, but detectably not as a principled conservative. Would that be
good enough to justify supporting him, or would it compel us to seek
another avenue?

Opinions will vary. The "anybody but Obama" voter would be undisturbed
by the prospect. The hard-core or "movement" conservative would be
outraged by the mere possibility. Voters in the range between
them...well, that's why we're here.

President Bush's 2004 campaign for re-election benefited considerably
from his accurate characterization of opponent John Kerry as a
"flip-flopper." Even nonaligned voters want a reasonable degree of
confidence that a candidate's espoused principles and statements on
policy will be consistent with his decisions in office, and Kerry's
frequent switchbacks denied them that confidence. It might have been
Dubya's best campaign weapon.

HOWEVER...several of President Bush's decisions on policy were
detrimental to the health of the nation, and therefore to the
conservative cause. Indeed, on one occasion he openly commented that he
had to set free-market principles aside...to save the free market. This
is not a recipe for endearing oneself to conservatives. Worse, it gives
the Left a huge opportunity to blame conservative principles for
negative outcomes, even though nothing could be further from the truth.

A candidate who talks Right but governs Left is a singular danger to the
future of the Republic. Not only will he do objective damage to the
country; he'll also blacken the reputation of conservative principles
and the policies that flow from them. President Bush has several such
blots on his escutcheon. The Left made capital out of them during the
2008 campaign to elect Barack Hussein Obama.

* * * * * * * * * *

Every campaign is unique in some ways and standard in others. The 2012
presidential campaign is standard in this regard: neither party is
perfectly happy with its candidate. The "base" on both sides -- that is,
persons whose alignment with the party is based on its supposed
principles rather than on mere partisanry -- has had to be mollified
into supporting the candidates. Nor has that job been done to
perfection; some number of voters will "sit out" the election because of
their dissatisfaction with the nominees. But it's unique in this regard:
neither candidate can run effectively on his record while in power.

The records-in-power of both Mitt Romney and Barack Hussein Obama make
it exceedingly difficult to accept their declarations of principle and
position at face value. We hear their words, then we review their
records, and we ask ourselves, "How far can we trust these guys?"

As a libertarian-conservative, I'm concerned with individual freedom and
strict observance of the Constitution above all other things. I find
myself wondering whether a Romney Administration will cleave acceptably
to that standard, or whether it will depart from it to an extent that
will support Leftist claims that "the Republicans are doing damage to
the country." I have no doubt that a second Obama term would do further
harm, possibly very great harm, to what remains of our Constitutional
order. But it would have the saving grace that the blame for that damage
would fall where it belongs: on left-liberal social-fascist principles
and policies. For those are the principles from which Obama has acted
and the policies to which he's given his assent. Should the country
survive, it would be unlikely to make an Obama-grade mistake again any
time soon.

So it develops that I have two questions:
1. How far can Mitt Romney be trusted to govern according to
conservative, Constitution-respecting principles?
2. If Romney can't be trusted sufficiently, then how likely is it that a
second Obama term would do irrecoverable, perhaps fatal damage to the
United States?

I expect many Americans will be asking themselves those questions, from
now to November 6.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Politics And Spite

When a politician acts in such a manner as to garner support from his
constituents, whoever they might be, he's behaving in a fashion we call
rational, albeit not necessarily ethical or Constitutional. But when a
politician acts in such a manner as to anger or alienate his
constituents, we find ourselves wondering what the BLEEP! is going on in
his head.

Today's conundrum centers on the head of Barack Hussein Obama.

The president of the United States would logically view the entire
country as his constituency. When facing re-election, he'd have obvious
incentives not to piss off anyone he could avoid pissing off. So the
Obama Administrations announcement, in the lee of yesterday's Supreme
Court decision on Arizona's immigration-enforcement bill (SB 1070, for
those keeping score at home), that it will suspend
immigration-enforcement cooperation with state law enforcement agencies
seems counter-intuitive. Quite a lot of Americans are unhappy with our
lax border control and even laxer attempts to find and illegal aliens.
For the administration to make it plain that it wants no one to improve
on that laxity is a remarkably anti-political move.

Indeed, the Obama Administration has handed the Romney for President
campaign a huge weapon. Romney can now say, with perfect justice, that
not only is Obama uninterested in enforcing the law; he refuses to
permit anyone else to do so. The implications are too obvious to require
further explication. Anyone who regards America's illegal-immigration
problem as a serious one that requires redress would react with anger.
How, after all, could Obama possibly refute the charge?

This isn't rocket science, Gentle Reader. Obama has just willfully
undermined his own re-election campaign, which was already in serious
trouble owing to the national economic malaise his policies have
broadened and deepened. Why would he do such a thing?

I can think of three possible explanations.

First, it's possible that this is a pandering tactic. Obama's campaign
strategists might have counseled him that a lot more Hispanics will
react positively to his move, and that they will outnumber the
non-Hispanics who'll react negatively. In this connection, it's
necessary to disaggregate:
-- Hispanics who would have voted for Obama anyway from those who will
vote for him because of this move;
-- Non-Hispanics who would have voted against Obama anyway from those
who will vote against him because of this move.

That's not an easy calculation to make. Anyone could get it wrong.

Second, this might simply be an expression of Obama's extreme antipathy
to being thwarted. SCOTUS's decision, which allows the critical part of
SB 1070 to stand, isn't exactly a slap across the face at the
Administration, but it does cross Obama's preferences. Remember that
this is a president who believes that he "owns" federal law. By his
lights, no one else is permitted to enforce it, nor to qualify its
application or effects, nor to place any conditions on it. Obama's
lambasting of the Supreme Court for other decisions he disapproves, and
his use of executive orders to circumvent Congress's legislative
authority, support this possibility. So he might just be reasserting his
view that the interpretation and enforcement of federal law are reserved
to him alone.

Third, this could be an expression of spite. The intensity of Obama's
anger toward anyone who dares to defy him is well established. He might
simply have decided that if he must endure a rebuke on this issue, so
prominent in public attention, then he'll return blow for blow
regardless of the political cost. That would be consistent with his
behavior toward those who've dared to criticize or oppose him, whether
prominent Republicans in Congress or Democrats such as Mayor Cory Booker
of Newark who've dared to "leave the reservation." It would also be
consistent with his narcissism and his contempt for the Constitution of
the United States.

Note that all three of these explanations could be true, with the third
one being dominant and Obama using the first two as rationalizations.

The American political class hasn't been particularly gracious or civil
over the past century. Its members' lust for power has ever more
completely displaced any hint of personal decency, much less any
residual attachment to American norms. In Barack Hussein Obama, that
process appears to have mushroomed so greatly as to eclipse whatever
virtues he might possess. Of course, the possibility that those virtues
are merely wishful thinking, concocted in too many voters' imaginations
as justifications for voting for this extreme leftist, is open to
conjecture, and will remain so after the November elections.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Beyond Adequate Mockery

To those who have believed, in their heart of hearts, that politics in these United States could not possibly sink any lower...
To those who have hoped that the viciousness of the 2008 campaign might never be repeated...
To those who have yearned for an honest discussion of the most serious issues facing our badly beleaguered nation, rather than a fresh descent into mudslinging and tawdriness...
I give you:

The Obama Event Registry:

Truly, there are no words...but you know I'm not about to let that stop me!

***

Since the day he assumed the presidency, Barack Hussein Obama has made the evocation of divisions among Americans -- race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, you name it -- along with the nurturing of a sense of entitlement in various groups, the central tactic of his politicking. Given the degree of destruction his policies have inflicted on the United States, he could not have maintained any degree of popular support with other methods. Setting groups against one another and then pandering to one side -- sometimes, to both -- was his sole hope of keeping adequate public allegiance.

If we go by the evidence of the midterm elections, it didn't work as well as Obama hoped. But Obama, a disciple of Saul Alinsky, is a "one trick pony." Among the more famous of Alinsky's maxims was that "If you don't have an opposition, you don't have an issue." A politician who takes this to heart, as Obama clearly does, must seek out conflicts to be mined for political advantage. His setbacks have been characterized by moments when the opposition to his preferences was essentially overwhelming, as for example in the matter of the Bush-era income tax rates.

As matters have worsened for middle-class Americans, Obama and his strategists have realized that there's little hope of using divisive tactics to nullify the huge advantage that's accrued to his opponents from his economic policies. In a quadrennial year, a presidential candidate must have a majority of the middle class behind him to have a chance at victory; therefore, he cannot pursue a course that will render majority middle-class support adverse. There simply aren't enough non-middle-class special interests, racial, ethnic, or comparable groups to make up for that deficit.

The Obama campaign has compounded its difficulties with its celebrity-centered fundraising approach. This, too, has garnered unfavorable attention from all points on the compass, including some of the entertainment celebrities whom Obama has attempted to use as "his personal ATM." Yet middle-class donations to his campaign have fallen off dramatically from 2008, which has compelled him to seek whatever other sources of funding remain open and ample. An unfavorable positive-feedback loop as regards Obama's public relations has resulted.

The "donate to the campaign in lieu of a gift" notion must have struck someone in Obama's organization as a clever move. After all, Americans are notoriously uneasy about failing to honor special events -- weddings, birthdays, Christmas, etc. -- with gifts to family members and special friends. The money traditionally put to that use must have looked like an untapped vein. Trouble is, you can't insert politics into a custom as personal as gift-giving without evoking derision and contempt...and that's exactly what has eventuated.

The question I've been entertaining is how long it will take for Obama to back away from this extremely unwise tactic -- along with who will be compelled to shoulder the blame for what very well might have been Obama's own idea, given his venality and self-absorption. There will be a sacrificial lamb; Obama won't take responsibility even for knowing about this gambit, much less originating or approving of it. Besides, that bus looks hungry, and it hasn't been fed in quite a while now.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Constructive Conversations

Courtesy of Vlad Tepes, we have the following brief interview of author Harry Stein by Canada's op-ed jewel of the airwaves, Michael Coren:

We could use a Michael Coren or two below the 49th parallel, wouldn't you say?

Needless to say, no constructive conversation about race and the problems that correlate with it can occur as long as the mere suggestion that such a conversation is desirable evokes immediate cries of "racism!" and thunderous denunciations of the suggester. Even though the denouncers and racism-shouters constitute a minority of the American people, they are a vociferous and powerful minority: powerful enough to strip a man of his livelihood, his family and friends, and in some cases even his life.

To me, the most interesting aspect of the matter is the "doublethink" part: that left-liberals can maintain piously that "there's really no such thing as race" while vociferously supporting "affirmative action" laws and programs premised on race. (There's also the advice given in this now-famous piece, which virtually every Caucasian-American parent will give to his children as soon as they get their hands on the car keys, but which liberals stoutly maintain is itself proof of its author's innate racism.)

At the outset, what matters are correlations, not causes. Correlations are the mandatory starting point for remediation and/or investigation. Whatever causes an investigation might settle on, the correlations point toward the locus of required action for study and eventual remediation. If violent criminality, or drug abuse, or fatherlessness -- take your pick; any of these or several other race-correlated problems will serve -- is a far more severe problem among Negroes than among Caucasians, then it's clear that something that directly affects persons of the Negro race, quite possibly some public policy, is exacerbating the problem for that demographic.

But none of this will be possible as long as men of good will are generally inhibited from addressing such matters openly.

Yes: I've ranted quite openly on this subject before. More than once, in fact. But how many Americans not already convinced of the need to address such matters were listening at the time?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Un-Fair: A Guest Post by Ol' Remus of the Woodpile Report

[Ol' Remus, who operates the weekly Woodpile Report, was a valued and popular contributor at Eternity Road. The following is a Guest Appearance, which I can only hope augurs many others -- or perhaps regular status as a Contributor here at Liberty's Torch!]


A small reference at the Drudge Report entitled "University sponsors race campaign; 'Unfair to be white'..." attracted ol' Remus's attention. He's seen this before.

Some time ago the University of Delaware quietly stepped back from White Privilege when it revealed itself to be a mandatory indoctrination program modeled after the Stalinist self-flagellation sessions of the Soviet gulag. The Maoist notion of Reform Through Labor is also at play, the "labor" being on-campus proselytizing. Walter Williams of George Mason University has a short summary of the outrage at University of Delaware in his 2007 column, Academic Cesspool II, although the depravity of the experience can only be appreciated by investigating it more closely.

There's been another outbreak, this time at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, one of those improbable "normal school-becomes state teachers college-becomes state university" makeovers of the recent era, complete with "halls" and "chairs" to bedazzle its undemanding customers. UMD offers a Doctor of Education program. That's it. Go Bulldogs.

UMD Chancellor Lendley Black's kickoff rhetoric—"a major campus initiative to create an inclusive campus climate for all who learn and work at UMD", and "engaging the UMD community in a growing number of workshops to increase awareness and skills related to equity and diversity"—are an eerie replay of the unlamented University of Delaware debacle. To all appearances Chancellor Black fits the common model of academia, educated beyond their intelligence and promoted beyond their competency, although to be fair he may be suffering the onset of a neurodegenerative disease or have some other exculpatory condition. Chancellor Black has a PhD in "theatre" and sometimes has himself photographed in academic costumery suggesting the regalia of an Aztec priest or Cosimo de' Medici's valet. UMD is truly prepared ground.

At UMD the White Privilege scheme goes by the name Un-Fair. White Privilege, which urges the white race "be abolished", is a project closely identified with Noel Ignatiev who also introduced the slogan "treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity" in his journal Race Traitor. Mr. Ignatiev starts with the koan-like proposition that race is a social construct with no basis in biology, then he goes on to propose the white race victimizes the black race by the mere fact of its existence. Convoluted contradiction only begins to describe it. White Privilege demands more than little Becky prove her contrition with tangible service, more than affirmative action, more even than reparations. It demands limitless subservience in all things, although it's understood the curse of whiteness will remain unredeemed.

No comparable program to "abolish the black race" is offered nor is "treason to blackness" mentioned, seemingly required if race were but a vile construct. In fact, reciprocity in any form, at any level, is condemned outright. Good will, mutual respect and common decency are specifically rejected by White Privilege so we have to look elsewhere for a motive. Divide and Demoralize comes to mind, and sure enough, Mr. Ignatiev's bona fides confirm it.

Mr. Ignatiev left the Communist Party to form the Provisional Organizing Committee to Reconstitute the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party in the 1960s and was a prominent activist in the SDS and the Maoist New Communist Movement. The Harvard Graduate School of Education accepted Mr. Ignatiev in 1985, presumably on these credentials as he did not have an undergraduate degree, and was awarded—they say earned—a doctorate in 1995. He's currently embedded as a professor of history in the otherwise estimable Massachusetts College of Art.

There will come a time when the University of Minnesota at Duluth will be fumigated as is, apparently, the University of Delaware, but the nasty ill-will of White Privilege ensures an unhappy and contentious campus until the purges begin.

These are the relevant sites:

Lawyers, Guns, And Money

Send lawyers, guns, and money,
The shit has hit the fan.

[Warren Zevon]

And indeed it has...but we need not send for the lawyer (Eric Holder), and he's already sent for the guns (Operation Fast And Furious). As for money...well, perhaps we should ask Barack Hussein Obama, that legendary penny-pincher, how his fundraising has been progressing. I doubt that money would do Holder much good just now, anyway.

Courtesy of Nice Deb, enjoy this little excursion into slanderous propaganda from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declared that House Republicans are charging Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress not as part of an investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, but in order to weaken his ability to prevent voter suppression.

"They're going after Eric Holder because he is supporting measures to overturn these voter suppression initiatives in the states," Pelosi told reporters during her press briefing today. "This is no accident, it is no coincidence. It is a plan on the part of Republicans."...

Pelosi denied that Operation Fast and Furious is the real cause of the investigation and contempt charge. "These very same people who are holding him in contempt are part of a nationwide scheme to suppress the vote," she said of her congressional colleagues. "It is connected. It's clear as can be. It's not only to monopolize his time, it's to undermine his name."

"These folks want a plutocracy where instead of the choice of the many the checks of the very very few determine the outcomes of elections," she said.

Gentle Reader, if I were to take Pelosi's screeched accusations seriously enough to "fisk" them, I might not survive the cataract of laughter that would ensue. Just so no one can say I've skated over the facts, note that what Pelosi calls "voter suppression efforts in the states" consist of two things:

  • Numerous states enacting photo ID requirements to vote;
  • Florida's effort to purge its voter registration rolls of dead persons and non-citizens.

Concerning "the checks of the very very few," note that President Obama has held more celebrity fundraisers and five-digit-per-plate dinners than anyone can keep count of. There's a plutocracy for you, though it's plainly not the one Miss Pelosi had in mind.

As it happens, any attempt, successful or not, to prevent a citizen of the United States from exercising his franchise, or abetting such an attempt by coordinated action, is a federal felony. That's what Miss Pelosi has accused an entire Congressional caucus of attempting. Were the persons involved not officeholders, that would be grounds for an eight-or-nine-figure slander suit. However, the "public personage" exception applies, which shields the fortunate San Francisco Democrat from the just consequences of her words.

As for the suggestion that a twinge of conscience ought to have caused Miss Pelosi to restrain her mouth, a conscience is something a Democrat must get surgically removed before aspiring to federal office. Dead Border Patrol agents? Hundreds of bereaved Mexican families? Violent cartels, armed by federal agents, that continue to extend their tentacles into the United States,? What do they matter when there's an election to win?

After this, Miss Pelosi's claim to be a Catholic can, should, and must be laughed aside. Allowing the murders of hundreds of thousands of unborn children per year under the doctrine of "a woman's right to choose" is one thing; dismissing the murders of hundreds of already-born children -- quite tall ones, actually -- is another.

I find that I cannot allow the suggestion that Pelosi is stupid or deluded. She has embraced evil. She has consciously and with malice aforethought adopted the Left's favorite rhetorical tactic: accusing the Right of doing what the Left has already done. If you doubt this, hearken back to the New Black Panthers' effort to intimidate white voters at a Philadelphia polling place in 2008 -- the successful case against which was deliberately dropped by Eric Holder.

Please proceed to the essays below this one for a tragically pertinent retrospective on Leftist notions about "stupid or evil," when the target of the suggestion is an American conservative.

Back By Political Necessity: The Stupid-Or-Evil Trilogy

Once in a great while, someone who's emitted as much political blather as I will find that something he wrote long ago has become pertinent once again. We confront exactly that phenomenon today. Under which flimsy rationale I hereby present, as they first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason:

The Stupid-Or-Evil Trilogy

1. Stupid Or Evil?

January 6, 2004

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, one of the larger West Coast dailies, has printed a guest editorial by one Neal Sparkman that promises to stir a lot of mud into the national political discourse. In this remarkably bilious and self-exalting piece, Mr. Sparkman opines that the reason for President Bush's generally high popularity is that Americans are stupid:

It's not merely that some people are insufficiently intelligent to grasp the nuances of foreign policy, of constitutional law, of macroeconomics or of the variegated interplay of humans and the environment. These aren't the people I'm referring to. The people I'm referring to cannot understand the phenomenon of cause and effect. They're perplexed by issues comprising more than two sides. They don't have the wherewithal to expand the sources of their information. And above all -- far above all -- they don't think.

Well, it's a step up from evil, which is left-liberals' other explanation for conservative sympathies. But your Curmudgeon, who hasn't encountered a liberal capable of resisting the temptation to demonize, psychologize, or denigrate conservatives in twenty years, finds it more than merely amusing.

Argument about anything is premised upon the supremacy of facts and logic, measured against a common, honorable standard of evaluation. Whether a fact is brought into play by Albert Einstein or the village idiot is supposed to make no difference. If it is verifiable and relevant, it must be admitted on an equal plane with all other facts. Whether a skein of implication is proposed by Mother Teresa or Satan, honor requires that we ignore its provenance and judge it according to its logical soundness and predictive accuracy.

Sparkman, who obviously dislikes President Bush's policies, though he never says which ones or why, would prefer that we invert that scheme and place the identities, or more precisely the allegiances, of arguers above the objective merits of their arguments. If you approve of Bush Administration policies, then by Sparkman's rubric you cannot possibly have an honorable, rationally defensible reason for doing so. You must be either stupid or evil.

What does Neal Sparkman make of George Will and William F. Buckley? Of Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams? Of Frank Gaffney and Victor Davis Hanson? Surely he wouldn't call them stupid. Indeed, if we judge by the diatribe linked above, they could give him cards and spades and still beat him hollow in any contest of intellect, erudition, or eloquence. So they must be evil.

Your Curmudgeon, himself no intellectual slouch, must be evil too. Sigh. How late in life we learn these things.

Were they judged solely on their immediate soundness, Sparkman's contentions could simply be dismissed. But let's not be hasty. If this is to be the new left-liberal paradigm for countering the arguments of conservatives -- and clearly, the Post-Intelligencer thinks it worthy of consideration at the least -- it has powerful implications for the immediate future, and possibly for the longer term too.

For quite some time, left-liberals have preened themselves for their moral superiority -- what Thomas Sowell calls their "vision of differential rectitude" -- to those who disagree with them. On the strength of that assumed superiority, they have deemed themselves exempt from the requirements for courteous persuasion, for demonstrable results, even for candid presentation of their intentions to us benighted ones. Instead, they've used political power of several forms to impose their preferences on the country, have retroactively revised their goals when they failed to meet the ones they originally stated, and have increasingly turned to stealth to get their way. They have disdained to stand to account for any failure, be it practical or moral. They have shielded those of their own who've demonstrably exploited political privilege for personal gain, though they've condemned the ordinary self-interest of private citizens and have done all they could to thwart it.

Today, the consequences of the highest-profile left-liberal policies have become too obvious to conceal. The tide of sentiment against them has propelled their opponents to political dominance. But increasingly often, left-liberals disdain to argue or explain. Instead, in Sparkman's fashion, they dismiss their opponents as either stupid or evil.

How many arguments would you expect to win with tactics like those? How many converts to your convictions would you reap, if you started every pitch by castigating your targets?

Though your Curmudgeon disbelieves in left-liberal doctrines, he believes strongly that they should be argued for -- that men of wit and knowledge should undertake to defend them with all the logic and evidence they can muster. This is important precisely because they are opposed to the ideas of freedom, the free market, inviolable individual rights to life and property, and a system of justice founded on objective law, objective evidence, and unbending rules of procedure. We must know how to defend these things logically. If we're never required to do that, we will forget why they're important, and will fail to do them justice when they're attacked by force or guile.

There is this as well: the Sparkman paradigm, which accuses conservatives of sealing themselves off from facts and theses that contradict their beliefs, whether by intention or incapacity, actually puts left-liberals in far greater danger of that pitfall. It is not possible to dismiss one's opponents as either stupid or evil, yet still grapple with their contentions in full sincerity. If we on the Right are correct and the left-liberals are wrong -- it doesn't matter about what -- the left-liberals will never learn it.

It's far better to have intelligent, well-informed opponents than stupid or ignorant ones. You have a chance of learning something from the former, and they have a chance of learning something from you. It's far better to have opponents you respect, who respect you in equal measure, than contemptible ones who express only contempt for you. Respect is a prerequisite for every constructive form of human interaction. If not given, it cannot be returned.

2. Stupid Or Evil Redux

March 2, 2004

Your Curmudgeon's charitable impulses -- yes, yes, we all know that's a contradiction in terms -- are forever struggling against two other sets: the desire to accept what he sees at its face value, and the inclination to laugh at it. Regard the words of Neil Levy, a professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne:

Most people believe that we have a duty to gather evidence on both sides of central moral and political controversies, in order to fulfill our epistemic responsibilities and come to hold justified cognitive attitudes on these matters. I argue, on the contrary, that to the extent to which these controversies require special expertise, we have no such duty. We are far more likely to worsen than to improve our epistemic situation by becoming better informed on these questions. I suggest we do better to embrace the views of experts who are also morally wise. I argue that this is likely to lead to more accurate beliefs about these political and moral controversies; in any case, it will avoid the incoherence and irrationality which are the likely consequence of open-minded evidence gathering.

If you're having trouble believing that a man who sports a Ph.D. could say such a thing, you're not alone. But there's worse in the kettle. Regard the following, from Cornell University professor of philosophy Benjamin Hellie:

But left- and right-wing sources are not symmetrical. The goal of the right wing is to perpetuate and worsen a system in which a small number of people control obscene quantities of wealth and power at the expense of the vast majority, whereas the goal of the left wing is to distribute wealth and power more broadly. For short, the goal of the right wing is perpetuating and increasing injustice, whereas the goal of the left wing is increasing justice.

People do not like injustice. The knowledge that injustice is being done to others offends their sense of morality; the knowledge that injustice is being done to them makes them angry and resentful. Both these emotions contribute to a desire to use the political system in order to counter injustice. So it is very helpful for the right wing to achieve its goal if the existence of injustice, and the unjust effects of the policies it endorses, can be concealed.

Providing this concealment is the role of right-wing political writers. Thus, a priori, given that injustice exists and that right-wing policies are unjust, you might expect the ample use of lies, misdirection, and sophistry from these guys. (In fact, my intimate knowledge with right-wing political writing provides ample evidence that what you might expect is exactly what you get.)

By contrast, the role of left-wing political writers is to cause people to believe that there is injustice, and that right-wing policies make it worse. Given, once again, that both these points are true, all that left wing political writers need to do is report the truth.

Your Curmudgeon doesn't normally deride the sincerely felt opinions of others. There's no shame in differing with others, and no shame in having been wrong, provided one is willing to accept the verdict of reality once it's delivered. However, these two gentlemen ought to hope that no one else ever reads the above statements. For what, after all, do their arguments amount to?

"You Can Trust Me,
Because I Never Lie,
And I'm Always Right."

(Thank you, Firesign Theater, for anticipating this need.)

Hellie's statement goes even further, in that it ascribes evil intentions to those who disagree with this self-elevated moral and political expert. Hellie counsels his readers to assume evil motives among rightist commentators. Clearly, the man isn't concerned about making converts to his views.

In his earlier essay on this subject, your Curmudgeon wrote that leftist doctrines ought to be argued for, and that it's in our interests that they be represented capably. But leftists of all varieties are gradually abandoning the field of argument. The two citations presented above would have been extreme outliers two or three decades ago; today, they exemplify the rhetorical preferences of the highest-profile representatives of leftist thought.

Perhaps this is the necessary consequence of Sowell's "vision of differential rectitude." Leftists have assumed their moral standing to be significantly above that of others. Over the century past, they've had to confront an avalanche of evidence that their prescriptions are less than effective; indeed, that they're utterly unwholesome, toxic to human life and happiness. Were they not to wall the evidence irretrievably out of bounds -- were they not to dismiss all arguments against their notions presumptively, as the whisperings of Satan -- the earthquakes that have toppled their political edifices would topple them from their moral pedestals as well.

So they demand to have their intellectual and moral superiority deemed unchallengeable. They exhort us to subordinate our moral and political opinions to the "experts" -- care to guess who those are? -- and to dismiss counter-evidence and counter-argument with prejudice. They seek to sweep their opponents from the field by disqualifying us morally, before battle can be joined.

Perhaps the height of irony is Hellie's conclusion that "all that left wing political writers need to do is report the truth." Clearly, if that were so, his demonization of us as conscious agents of injustice would be unnecessary, as would the campaigns of calumny the Left is conducting against anyone to the right of John Kerry.

From the standpoint of the freedom advocate, no development in political discourse could be more promising. Statements such as Levy's and Hellie's should receive all the publicity conservatives and libertarians can get them. They are self-damning.

Intelligent leftists who aren't quite that full of themselves should note the tremors beneath their feet. It isn't we of the Right who are causing them; it's their nominal comrades and fellow-travelers, who are so desperate to win the field, and so appalled by the rising wave of evidence and sentiment against them, that they've taken to shouting moral denunciations against those who differ with them. Were they to gain power, re-education camps for us benighted ones would probably be Public Policy Priority One.

One final thought: the Levy / Hellie species of leftist is the sort that one can never persuade of anything. To such a mind, we are not respectable participants in an intellectual debate about politics, morals, and society; we are the enemy, precisely because we differ with him. Effort devoted to convincing him of anything is effort wasted. Worse, it can leave the freedom advocate weary, disheartened, and wondering why he bothers, a net loss for all concerned.


Your Curmudgeon extends his thanks to Hei Lun of Begging To Differ for the reference to the Levy article, and to Micha Ghertner of Catallarchy for the Hellie citation.

3. Stupid Or Evil: Judgment Day

May 2, 2004

Your Curmudgeon has written before -- indeed, he's done so twice -- about the proclivity of the political Left for classifying its opponents as "stupid or evil." He who possesses a mature self-regard, leavened with enough humility to allow that he could still be wrong, tends to bridle at such statements, especially when the objective evidence speaks otherwise. But the main point here is not the accuracy nor the completeness of the partition; it's about the natural tendency of those convinced of their correctness to categorize their adversaries rather than to stick to the subject at hand.

Your Curmudgeon has a personal interest in this matter, having been intimately involved in politics for many years and in many ways. He's seen this tendency at close range on many occasions. Indeed, he's surrendered to it now and again himself.

Why can't we "stick to the subject at hand?" Why are we so inclined to diagnose our opponents, rather than simply conceding their right to be wrong? Wouldn't the latter approach go better with the concession that, as unlikely as it might seem, we might be the ones in error?

The matter comes to mind today because of two recent posts, the first by psychologist Pat Santy:

In a world where the Democratic Party leadership was anchored to reality, the debate with Republicans would be how to fight the war on terror better; and the American public would not be constantly subjected to the constant whining--by Kerry and others of his gormless ilk-- about how we shouldn't have gone to Iraq in the first place. Or the increasingly petulant demands to simply cut and run because everything is not going perfectly.

The proponents of doom and gloom in the reality-based community insist that it is Bush who is in denial (or people like me), even as they twist and turn every major victory in the war into more evidence in their own minds that we are losing. Instead of national rejoicing at the death of one of the enemy's leaders; as we recommit ourselves to the fight, we instead witness the spectacle of Democrats pushing for surrender.

My patience with this kind of political denial, and the concomitant paranoid delusional system promulgated by the left, ended on 9/11. Their political insanity has become a threat that no rational person can afford to ignore because they put not only themselves in danger, but everyone else in this country.

Mark Alger, a Curmudgeonly favorite, provided this rejoinder:

...Pat's diagnosis of the Left as mentally infirm is -- in my not-so-very-humble opinion -- itself a species of denial which refuses to impute evil motives to evil acts. We are unwilling to credit that the opposition could simply be a bad person -- or civility demands that we not say so in polite company. So we try to explain away their illogic, their perfidy, their constant attacking the hull of the Lifeboat of the Nation with an auger as some kind of mental disease and accept that the evil they do as an unfortunate by-product of what -- face it -- isn't really their fault.

And, nice and smart as Pat is, I have to call b******t.

We have to face facts, here, people. The Left knows exactly what it's doing. The long-established -- scorn quotes -- "progressive" program for humanity has been carefully lain decades ago, its effects and by-products not only well known, but clear desiderata. Socialism isn't an accidental byproduct of good -- albeit mistaken -- intentions, people; it's the end of a long, patient, deliberate march toward exactly that goal.

There is truth in both these observations...but not the whole truth.


All human characteristics exist in a distribution. Only those that unite us as a species are anywhere near to uniformly distributed. Those that distinguish us as individuals are a different subject.

Though many traits factor into one's relations with others, the ones most pertinent to political discourse are:

  • Percipience,
  • Intelligence,
  • Knowledge,
  • Humility.

In fact, those traits are the ones that will most strongly color one's relations with others on any subject where men can disagree. For man of good will Smith -- remember Smith? -- to hold opinions with justifiable confidence, he must first perceive the world around him with some degree of accuracy. He must form applicable generalizations about how it works, and compare the predictions of his theses to the verdicts of history. Assuming his predictions are satisfied, he can vent on the subject with a moderate assurance. But he must remember always that a truly exhaustive verification of any theory is inherently impossible -- that no matter how many confirmations his idea might gather, there could still be a contradiction lurking in the shadows that will bring his whole edifice crashing down around him.

When Smith confronts Jones, a dissenter to his concept, those four traits will be reinvoked:

  • "Has Jones accurately perceived the data? Is it possible that he has, but that I haven't?"
  • "Has Jones penetrated to an implication of my idea that I failed to see? Is it possible that testing that implication might provide the counterexample that would prove me wrong?"
  • "Does Jones know more about this than I? Is he aware of a prior case where this idea was weighed in the scales of reality and found wanting?"
  • "Am I truly open to the possibility that I've erred, or have I made my concept into an article of faith?"

Now, in the first three of the above assessments, Smith may legitimately entertain the possibility that Jones is perceptually, intellectually, or educationally deficient. Let's imagine that Smith does reach one of the above conclusions. What can he do about it?

  • He can present Jones with his own perceptions of the world, and invite Jones to "look where he's pointing," in the hope that Jones will then see what Smith has seen.
  • He can attempt to lead Jones down the trails of implication that he's followed but Jones hasn't.
  • He can direct Jones's attention to sources of data on the subject with which Jones is unfamiliar.
  • He can abandon the dispute as not worth pursuing: "You have a right to your opinion."
  • He can diagnose a flaw in Jones that has rendered him incapable of learning the facts as they really are, reasoning from them to the truth, or conceding that he's maintained a wrong position.

Allow your Curmudgeon to be clear on one critical point: there are many flawed persons in the world. Some are quite clearly evil, insane, or irremediably mentally deficient. But not all persons who disagree with Smith will deserve to be adjudged thus. A man of good will with an adequate store of humility will refrain from reaching such a verdict until it's beyond all reasonable doubt.


Political movements are internally heterodynamic. Different persons commit themselves to the same movement for different reasons. For some, it's an intellectual thing: the concepts strike them as important and sound. For others, it's an emotional response to the plight of others. For yet a third group, it's their psyches' cry to involve themselves in something, somehow. And for a fourth group, it's the desire to gain and wield power.

The liberty movement, with which your Curmudgeon was once overtly involved and the majority of whose ideals he still shares, is not an exception. The power struggles at the pinnacle of such organizations as the Libertarian Party would seem completely familiar to a visitor from a more conventional group such as the Democrats or the Republicans. But wandering through the ranks, one can easily find representatives of the other three motivational clusters: those intellectually excited by the ideas of individual freedom; those whose hearts ache for all the oppressed of the world; and those who desperately need to be involved in something, lest their lives lack all "meaning." These orientations and their intensities are distributed non-uniformly throughout the human species, a condition likely to persist until the Second Coming.

Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek, in his book The Road To Serfdom, observed in a striking chapter titled "Why The Worst Get On Top" that the drive for power, and the subordination of all other priorities to it, is a critical advantage in the quest for organizational altitude and the authority over others that accompanies it. Leo Tolstoy phrased the matter even more succinctly:

In order to obtain and hold power, a man must love it. Thus the effort to get it is not likely to be coupled with goodness, but with the opposite qualities of pride, cunning, and cruelty.

Thus, we may expect to find evil men -- those interested solely in power over others -- disproportionately represented near the pinnacle of a political movement, where strategies are formulated, tactics are dictated, and the fruits of victory are carved up for distribution. But by inescapable implication, we will find evil men to be under-represented among the rank and file. Those well separated from the pinnacle, however wrong we might think them, are more likely to be moved by some "wholesome" (according to their lights) desire.

Yes, some will be certifiable -- but how many? Aren't genuinely delusional persons fairly rare in the common run of Man? While they might concentrate to a greater degree in extreme movements, ought we not to exercise restraint about such a diagnosis, as long as they exhibit the fundamental survival traits that constitute basic self-sufficiency?


This subject is inexhaustible. It touches on sanity, epistemology, virtue, and matters of good and evil, all of which are conceptual candle flames to this Curmudgeonly moth. But one must end an essay somewhere, and the time is drawing near when your Curmudgeon must mount his Cub Cadet 1022 and attack the Vietnam simulation his lawn has become.

Enlightened self-interest would dictate that one strive to look as far ahead for the consequences of one's actions as his intellect and knowledge will permit. Indeed, one of the great faults of the Left has been an unwillingness to peer forward thus. But we of the Right are just as susceptible to the temptation, and in no direction more hazardously than this: we are becoming all too prone to demonizing our opponents wholesale, as they have done to us for lo! these many moons.

Your Curmudgeon is no angel made flesh. He's done it too.

Let us concede that among our adversaries there are evil, delusional, and mentally and educationally deficient persons. But let us also concede that the great majority are not of those stripes, that we have among us a scattering just as flawed, and that the political discourse would best be served by assuming benevolence and competence in our debating partners as long as humanly possible. After all, to adjudge others as flawed beyond repair is, among other things, a self-exculpation for failing to carry the day. That alone ought to make us suspicious of our own motives for doing it.

Lay not that flattering unction to your soul, that not your trespass but my ruling speaks. -- Hamlet, Act III, scene iv.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

More Thoughts on the Value of Money

When I wrote the first post on this topic a few days ago, I thought I had written something pretty good. But upon re-reading it, I was disappointed. I don't think it turned out that well.

Part of this is a simple matter of having thought about the question a bit too much.  Once you've gone into a topic a certain ways, you realize that what you have is 1) a concrete situation, and 2) many ways to think about it, most of which will have at least some merit, or else nobody would bother to think about it that way at all.  They will all have some things in common, and some things about which they disagree, but they will all be using the same words but sometimes meaning different things by them.  It is also always difficult to get your words to mean what you want them to mean, not to mention getting your own thoughts straightened out sufficiently to have anything worth saying.

But there is also the problem of not thinking things through, and I didn't do that either, which was apparent when I went back and re-read things.  I didn't even mention the most important thing about the topic -- gold -- and how it started the confusion.

Actually, of course everybody wants a stable money -- they just all disagree on what that means.  For the monetarists -- the basic position I was describing last time as being opposed to the Austrian position -- this means a fluctuating money supply to counteract fluctuations in valuation.  They have conceived of  a sort of objective economic value-unit which money should represent and should be kept constant.  This will be reflected by a stable price level, usually 'measured' through the use of price indices.  The Austrian position is that this is an impossibility, and totally wrongheaded to boot.

The Austrians say that money should be a fixed quantity of a commodity -- usually gold or silver -- and that this condition should come about through the mechanisms of the free-market.  This is what I meant by 'integrity and constitution' last time.  Monetarists take this 'fixing' to be an attempt at the same idea that they have -- a fixed value.  That is wrong.  Austrians know that there are no fixed or truly objective valuations.  There is only subjective valuation, and market mechanisms for arriving at concrete prices.

Monetarists object to a fixed 'exchange rate,' i.e. price, between 'dollars' and units of gold -- the legal manifestation of a 'gold standard.'  They will assert that the Austrians are being somewhat hypocritical in trying to 'fix' the price of gold, when they say that they believe in free markets.  'Why should the price of anything be fixed?' they ask.  Everything should be valued freely in a free market, and the monetarist concludes that, at least on this point, he is more free-market than the Austrian.

This misunderstands, well, everything.  Unfortunately, there is enough of the monetarist instinct in most Austrians to fall into this trap.  Under a gold standard, the 'price' of gold in dollars is not a price at all.  It is the statement of a definition.  The problem is that pretty much all people today have come to think of dollars and gold as separate things.  This is why we can even conceive of them as 'floating' against one another.

Under a gold standard, they are not separate things.  This would be more clear if instead of using the name 'dollars' to call our money, we used something like 'grams of gold.'  Then it would be obvious that 'a gram of gold' could not float against 'grams of gold' any more than a pound might be a different weight or mean something different from one day to the next, as this would be totally nonsensical and useless.  But a dollar conceivably might, if we have forgotten what a dollar meant, or have started to take it to mean something it once didn't, i.e. a completely different and separate entity from gold.

Neither does 'fixing' the dollar against gold provide a fixed value to the dollar, whether or not gold and dollars are one-and-the-same.  It only provides a fixed exchange rate in terms of one other commodity.  The value itself may be whatever it may be -- as reflected by fluctuating prices of everything else in terms of money/gold.  Gold/dollars may be fluctuating in value all over the place.  Just because their price in terms of one another isn't changing, doesn't mean their valuation isn't changing.  The fact is, in economics, there are no fixed values, no matter what, period.

Secondly, in terms of 'providing value,' the relationship is almost exactly the other way around from what it is commonly conceived.  Under a gold standard, the gold is not providing the value to the money, the gold is deriving almost all of its value from its use as a money.  We normally think of it the first way only because we are not used to thinking of gold as money.  The fact that it is the second way can be amply demonstrated by thinking what a $100 dollar bill would be worth if it were only a piece of paper and not something recognized as money.  Likewise, gold as only a bit of metal is a very different thing from gold as a recognized medium of exchange.  A bit of gold may certainly be more valuable than a piece of paper independent of the use of either as a medium of exchange, but it should be obvious that the dominant value-conferring parameter here is the status of either as money.  If gold were instantly remonetized today, it would be far and away more valuable than it presently is precisely because it had achieved the status of money.

The problem here is that you have two completely different abstractions being formed about the same concrete situation, and the two are assuming they are similar and talking right past one another.  But it should be clear who has the more coherent position.  When you have an 'economic emergency,' like a recession, it is important for valuations to come into equilibrium with one another in order for people to work out solutions to the problem.  Trying to hold money at a constant value by pushing against equilibrium interferes with this process, whether through inflation or deflation of its supply.  It is no different from trying to hold wages and prices constant as all sorts of economic morons past and present propose on a regular basis.  Actually, it might be even worse, as money is more central to the economy than any particular product or profession.  Austrians should be against this, whether it is being done 'intelligently' by some planning board like a central bank, or 'impersonally/objectively' through 'supply and demand.'

The Marriageability Quiz

In connection with my elaborate theory governing the dynamics of dating and marriage -- and the probability of success in these activities -- I thought of a simple quiz to help distinguish a marriageable individual from an unmarriageable one, or at least one who hasn't yet reached the state of marriageability.

The quiz has three questions, and its success depends on the person being interrogated not knowing the nature of the latter questions while answering the earlier.  So, it is probably best given verbally.

Here goes:

Question 1:  What qualities are you looking for in a man/woman?  List at least 5, preferably in some rough order of importance.

Question 2:  What qualities are most important in a wife/husband?  Again, list at least 5.

And, the clincher:

Question 3:  Why is there any substantial difference between your two lists?

The content of the two lists is relatively unimportant.  The critical point is that they should be substantially the same lists without an extremely good reason for any differences.  Someone who is composing two entirely different lists, or who thinks that the second question is illegitimate because anyone can be a good husband or wife if paired with the right person is unmarriageable and fails the test.

For example, a person who says that she is looking for a man who is tall, intelligent and good-looking, but says that what is important in a husband is honesty, strength, and devotion, suffers from cognitive dissonance and is inherently unmarriageable.  This is fairly typical.  What she is implicitly saying is "I have an idea what makes for a good husband and what is important in marriage, but I don't really care right now.  I'm not actually looking for a good husband.  I am still a childish person; at best I am only pretending that marriage is important to me or to be interested in a serious relationship.  It is more important to me to satisfy my immediate wants than that I make wise decisions, even if it means possibly hurting myself or other people and trivializing important things.  I am not mature enough to exert sufficient self-control to make a good partner, as evidenced by my unwillingness to make good choices that interfere with my immediate impulses, and if you are a serious person, you are probably wasting your time with me."

This is why it is not so important what the content of the lists actually consists of.  I doubt that anyone really knows unambiguously and for certain what qualities make for a good partner.  I certainly don't.  The point is that you start to become a good partner when you recognize that they exist and commit yourself to begin conforming to them.  Even if you don't know what they are, or think that you do but are actually wrong, you have still made the critical transition -- you are subordinating yourself and your own will to what is important.

The test of marriageabilty is whether or not the person has arrived at the conclusion that 1) his own preferences must be subordinated to the necessities of the relationship in order for it to have any chance to succeed, and 2) a certain fixed set of qualities are necessary for a relationship to work between two people.  These two taken together imply 3) that the person in question will consciously be making an effort to conform himself to this set of qualities as he understands them, and will have wised up to the fact that he must be looking for someone else who understands this, even if such a person isn't actually all that much like himself and doesn't appear superficially to be compatible with him.  A person who is marriageable will consciously be looking for someone else who is marriageable, and not someone who satisfies his particular whims and tastes.  He has recognized that his tastes are relatively unimportant to the success of marriage, and has changed or overridden his tastes in recognition of this fact.

I almost added two more questions about the person's own characteristics, but then I realized that this would be difficult to word in such a way as to make it an informative question, and besides, it was unnecessary.  By demonstrating that he has brought his own priorities in line with what he thinks is right in terms of who he is looking for, the marriageable person has already demonstrated that he is willing to change himself to conform to the characteristics necessary to be a good mate.  He has already proven as far as can reasonably be expected that he will make a good mate in the future, by doing exactly the thing that it will take to have a good marriage before he was even married -- to pursue his own growth and maturity, and to have the strength to change.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Graffiti.

I love Gloria.

Heck! Who DOESN'T?

Desocialization Through Politics

If you were to release a dog -- a gentle, domesticated, well-mannered house pet -- into the wilderness to "make it on his own," within a month, either he would be dead, or he would have reverted to feral state. An animal's conditioning to the preferences of his human master isn't strong enough to override his survival necessities.

So also with people.

***

Jonah Goldberg continues to impress with the quality of his insight:

The Democrats tend to be more traditionally coalitional: If everyone sticks together, everyone gets paid. In the age of austerity, however, zero-sum politics become more of the norm. When one constituency's victory is another's loss, the payoff for solidarity diminishes.

Already, across the country, there's a growing rift between unions in the public sector and the private sector, perhaps not in official statements but clearly in terms of rank-and-file voters and popular perceptions. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker got 37 percent of the vote from union households in his recall fight, in part because private sector union members understood how much the private sector needed a healthy state economy.

More broadly, the old system of rewarding liberal elites on cultural and environmental issues while paying off the working class with economic spoils will be increasingly hard to sustain. Obama's positions on gay marriage and the Keystone XL pipeline fuel donations from celebrity millionaires, but they don't help with middle- and lower-class voters. And if those voters get no payoff from voting Democratic, what's the point?

This is inherent in coalition politics:

For a coalition to persist, every member must remain convinced that remaining in it serves that member's particular interests.

Therefore, there is a threshold at which any coalition will experience internal pressures that lead to its dissolution. The threshold might be numerical, or it might be economic, or it might arise from the addition to the coalition of an interest group inherently hostile to the interests of one or more other members. In the cited essay, Goldberg fingers the economic strains on the Democrats' coalition, which are bad enough to chip significant chunks off that edifice. There are others as well.

But beyond that dynamic lies a deeper one, which presents a great and imminent danger to the United States and everyone in it: the dynamic of the domesticated dog released into "Nature red in tooth and claw," to survive as best he can.

***

Not many Americans are familiar with the old political malady called particularism. The use of the word was once confined to Spain and its colonies in the New World. Robert A. Heinlein mentions it as a key symptom of a sick culture in his novel Friday:

"It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn't the whole population."

"A very bad sign. Particularism. It was once considered a Spanish vice but any country can fall sick with it. Dominance of males over females seems to be one of the symptoms."

I'm less interested in symptoms than in causes:

Tribalism is shorthand for the perpetuation of the preferences and practices of a tribe by those who are or were once its members. Among the politically most important aspects of tribalism is the behavior political scientists call particularism: the willingness to grant one's primary allegiance to the tribe in preference to the nation-state. When a tribe subsumed within a nation-state becomes restive, its members begin to be covertly particularist; when such allegiances become overt, open inter-tribal warfare becomes a real possibility.

There are far too many examples of such alignments in operation in the United States today to be complacent about them. In just the post-World War II decades, we have seen the emergence of tribes based on region (militias), on race (the Black Panthers, old and new), on religion (Muslims in America), on ethnicity (Aztlan, La Raza, et. al.), on gender (militant feminism), sexual orientation (don't get me started), disability (the "deaf culture"), and so forth. A fully cohesive polity would refuse such tribes the slightest degree of political recognition or legislative influence. Sadly, that has not been the case these past fifty years.

A tribe, as I have characterized it, can be rendered susceptible to particularist thinking by exploiting its members' credulousness and envy: their readiness to believe that whatever they want but lack is due to the unwarranted success of some other tribe, and their willingness to harm that other tribe even if there's no gain to be had that way. In other words, in a country with numerous regional pockets of economic, ethnic, religious, and racial imbalance, particularism can be fertilized and nurtured through the political process.

The Democrats have played that banjo virtually to the exclusion of all other demagogic tactics. Goldberg notes in his op-ed that:

More broadly, the old system of rewarding liberal elites on cultural and environmental issues while paying off the working class with economic spoils will be increasingly hard to sustain. Obama's positions on gay marriage and the Keystone XL pipeline fuel donations from celebrity millionaires, but they don't help with middle- and lower-class voters. And if those voters get no payoff from voting Democratic, what's the point?

Ramify that further with diverse economic, racial, ethnic, and gender pressures, and you have a sense for the fragmentation the Left has brought about with its politics of division and coalition.

***

Socialization, briefly, is the process by which an individual acquires enough internalized morality, ethical sense, and operational "fellow-feeling" (Adam Smith) to refrain from mistreating others for personal gain. In a sense, everyone is born a sociopath; our parents are expected to beat it out of us before letting us out into the world. (No, they don't always succeed.) But the socialization process is not irreversible. Sufficient pressure can unravel anyone's sense of propriety, ethics, and justice.

A particularized nation, in which each interest bloc sees the other interest blocs as the principal obstacles to getting what it wants, is on the road to desocialization. That is: the individuals who see themselves in tribal terms will feel pressure to discard any remaining socialized-in constraints in favor of "whatever will win." There'll be money and privileges at stake, and those stakes will seem ever higher as Leftist policies degrade the national economy.

When the economy has degraded sufficiently, those pressures will mount to the survival level, at least in the minds of tribalists susceptible to propagandization by a charismatic leader figure. The great question for the United States at this time, given the extent of politically induced particularization we've already experienced, is how close we are to that point: the point at which mass bloodletting has come to our doorstep.

Food for thought -- and if you're thinking "Hitler" at the moment, I honestly can't blame you.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Few Points on the Value of Money

The notion of the value of money is understandably a confusing one. A few words of clarification from yours truly.

First, it should be pointed out that all economic value is imputed subjectively by people. Which is a complicated way of saying that the value of anything arises in you, and not in the thing itself. Thus, there can be no 'intrinsic value' in money, or gold, silver, or anything else. There is only the value imputed to it by human beings.

The actual value that money has on a market is therefore a very complex and complicated result of an enormous number of dynamic forces -- mainly the imputations of various and diverse people with different opinions on everything, and whose opinions can be influenced by changes in external circumstances. One useful way to get a handle on this is to think about a 'demand for money,' an important component of which is a desire simply to hold money, a demand for a cash balance in reserve.

Suppose that the supply of money increases. Will this result in generally rising prices -- a change, or more specifically, a fall in the value of money? Not necessarily.

Because people have a demand to hold money in cash balances, the increase in supply can simply be absorbed into these balances, with little or no decrease at all in imputed value. This is especially true if the increase in supply comes during a time of economic uncertainty -- like a recession, when people are worried about their ability to continue paying their bills. They may simply 'hoard' the extra cash, so that their valuation of cash as against other goods remains constant or even increases, even in the face of enormous increases in supplies of money.

The value of money is intrinsically dependent on people's behavior. This is a big reason, in my opinion, that vast increases in the money supply over the last several years has not resulted in proportional price increases -- yet. Uncertainty has prompted many people to hoard cash, especially the banks. On the other hand, I and others have gone in the opposite direction. I have drastically reduced my cash balances, and make every effort to spend my cash almost as soon as I receive it. If everyone behaved as I have, the US would already be experiencing mass price inflation. At some point, some critical mass of the rest of the population may come to see things my way, and mass price inflation will begin.

This can happen with almost any asset. Consider the Chinese housing market. There are families holding multiple empty units, collecting no rent on them, even as new construction continually adds new supply. There are entire cities being built which are nearly vacant -- and still people buy properties there and hold them, with no intention of establishing any cash flow by renting them, but merely hoping they will appreciate in value. This may appear completely insane to an outsider, and yet the process continues, with empty properties piling up in the hands of eager buyers who have no intention of using them. Eventually, it would seem that sanity should prevail and an enormous bust ensue, but it hasn't happened just yet. Likewise, we are probably in the midst of a dollar-bubble, but until that critical mass re-evaluates its notions of what a dollar is worth, the dollars continue to get socked away into apparently bottomless accounts content to collect almost no interest.

The quest for a money of 'stable value' -- nay, 'constant value,' even! -- is thus something of an enigma, as its valuation is entirely dependent upon human free will, which will do as it pleases. It is the pursuit of an impossibility. Unfortunately, the desirability of a money of constant value is an opinion often attributed to the Austrian school of economic thought, and not without some justification. Austrians themselves are often confused on the topic.

In fact, the notion of the desirability of 'stable money' was part of what led to the present regime of perpetual inflation, and still dominates conventional thinking. It was an idea that the Austrian school historically fought against. In the 19th century, the dominant notion of money was 'gold and silver,' whatever their value happened to be. 'Stable money' and 'stable price' fever took hold in the early twentieth century. It was thought -- and still is -- that monetary authorities could use control over the supply of money to keep its value constant over time. It was deemed necessary that, generally, the money supply should always be rising in a growing economy, as an increase in production not reflected in increasing money supplies would result in falling prices -- an indication of instability in the value of money and an impediment to growth and 'progress.' As the supply of goods on the market for sale was rising, naturally, so should the supply of money to 'reflect this,' keeping prices stable.

This is to attribute the value of money to 'impersonal forces' akin to the laws of physics, and it is precisely ideas like these which the Austrian school rose up to fight against. The valuation of money, as of anything, is an intensely personal matter, and no conceivable force or policy could render its value stable. I think that it is probably incorrect to believe that money of stable value is actually desirable or would result in a smoother functioning and more efficient economy, but even so, it does not matter. It is inconceivable that such a thing could exist, as it flies in the face of the very most basic notions of economics.

This is why I tend to favor Hayek over Mises in the former's criticism of the latter's tendency to focus on the value of money in works like The Theory of Money and Credit. By emphasizing money's value as opposed to quantity, Mises may be addressing the issue of interest to most observers, but this is not really the fundamental parameter in operation as far as the function of money within the economy is concerned, or something which may be intelligently addressed by policy since it is almost entirely out of anyone's hands. In the sense that he calls attention to it rather than to the issue of quantity, to some degree he plays into the hands of his enemies. They, after all, were the ones looking for the magic formula that holds the value of money constant and prices stable. It would have been better to point out more emphatically that such thinkers were being distracted by a tangential issue and were chasing after unicorns as a result, and to then to discuss the destructive effects of fluctuating money supplies on the production structure in terms of money quantities rather than valuation.

You might think of it in terms of a sort of C.S. Lewis first-things-and-second-things of money. Austrian school thinkers -- if they are thinking clearly at the moment -- first want a 'proper money.' For them, the first priority is the integrity of money's constitution and function within the economy, such that artificial fluctuations of quantity due to credit transactions and the like are prevented to as great a degree as possible. By making this -- the issue of quantity -- their 'first thing,' and allowing value to be what it will be, as a secondary effect, the money proposed actually does turn out to be more or less stable in value over time -- especially over the long term.

For those who put stability of value first, inevitably they propose some method of making the money supply 'flexible' in order to theoretically keep its value constant, which results in neither stability in value nor in proper function. Which is to say, that they achieve neither their first things nor second things and wind up producing an all-around economic mess.