Friday, January 12, 2018

More on Condescension toward the Weak, Stupid, and Ignorant

“I may be ignorant but I ain’t stupid.”

Hold that thought. I’ll get back to it.

Here are a few other thoughts.

A college professor quotes her plumber as saying, “You pay me for what I know, not what I do.” The professor’s comment? “Oh, a fellow professional! My goodness! Ha, ha, ha, ha.” Message: only when hell freezes over will we be fellow professionals.

A visitor offered Hostess bread responds: “Oh my! Hostess bread. I don’t know the last time I ever ate Hostess bread!” Message: I cannot stoop so low as to eat such a mass marketed product. And it’s white bread at that!

Recently, I recommended the Autry Museum in Los Angeles to an ex-patriate American who has been living in Europe for several decades. I thought it would give his family an appreciation of Americana. Response: “Gene Autry? Seriously?” I got the message immediately. (In my youth I thought rodeo should have become the quintessential American sport. I have since wised up. Americana is not a value to the intellectual elites.)

And then there is yours truly who has been praised—in the sense of possessing an implied moral superiority—for leaving the hinterlands to acquire advanced degrees, education being what supposedly makes me a better, as in more moral, person than those deplorables back home.*

I have never played the poverty card . . . until now.

Why? Because we—my friends, classmates, relatives—never thought of ourselves as poor, though I did share a bathroom for a few months with renters (my parents had moved to the basement), then for several years the renters lived in the two rooms of the basement. I plucked chickens, when I was probably four or five, to have food on the table. And I wore shirts and underwear made out of chicken feed sacks—multi-flowered by design and super starched in feel until washed several times.

Saturday night bath? Believe it. Once a week, until I was about sixteen, which is also when I ate my first meal in a white-tablecloth restaurant. (Two forks? Which one do I use??)

Others, of course, have been poorer, dirt poor, in some cases, with no indoor plumbing, but my point in this post is that if you have self-esteem, you will never think of yourself as poor. Nor will you want to take handouts—from anyone. At the beginning of my freshman year in college, a fraternity offered to give me a ride from the train station to campus. My father, a not-exactly-wealthy post office clerk, said, “You don’t want to be beholden to anyone. I’ll give you money for a taxi.”

I have never forgotten that advice. Later in life, I even refused to let a future in-law buy me a sport coat! “No thank you,” I said. “I prefer to pay my own way.”

Taking handouts is the essence of our entitlement culture. The poor, according to our intellectual elites, are helpless—weak, stupid, and ignorant, as I have written before (1, 2). That is, they are weak, as in lacking judgment, discernment, or firmness of conviction; stupid, as in slow- or dull-witted, which is the opposite of intelligent; and ignorant, as in not educated with an accumulation of degrees (and for some elites, this means degrees from the “right” schools).

And because the deplorables cannot help themselves, the disdain continues, this is why we need a massive Progressive bureaucracy of educated elites to take care of those poor, helpless ones.

Condescension? How can it be anything but that?

Now let’s go back to the first line of this post. It’s from the 1980 movie Coal Miner’s Daughter and is spoken by actress Sissy Spacek performing the role of country music singer Loretta Lynn. Lynn grew up in Kentucky, in far poorer conditions than I.

The line has stuck with me for all these many years, because the deplorables in the hinterlands, including Ms. Lynn, ain’t stupid.

Stupidity versus ignorance is a distinction I don’t think the condescension crowd understands, nor are condescenders aware of when they are being condescending.

In a group of people years ago (acquaintances, not friends), I was about to comment on the benefits of staying at inexpensive hotels such as Motel 6. Before I could open my mouth, however, one member of the group mentioned precisely Motel 6 and added further comment about the poor lowlifes who stay there. This was followed by a belly laugh from the group.

Having stayed at many a Motel 6, I was intimidated into silence.

Condescenders do not know how to relate to people who have backgrounds different from theirs.

* And I bought into that line somewhat when I was making my way out of the “backwaters of civilization,” but the more I hear the above comments from “city slickers,” the more I resent them. And, yes, the deplorables back home do get defensive and sometimes respond to city slickers like this: “I may not have a fancy education like you, but I attended the school of hard knocks. Let’s see you come out here and help us bail hay or shovel manure.” I cannot blame the deplorables for such comments. I am still one of them.

Postscript. After finishing this piece I discovered a Wall Street Journal article with a similar theme: “In a Divided Nation of Big Cities and Small Towns, Caity Cronkhite Thought She Knew Where She Belonged,” by Michael M. Phillips. Ms. Cronkhite made her way off the farm to attend Carnegie Mellon University where sometimes she felt like a “token white-trash friend.” Then, she moved to San Francisco only to discover a bar named Butter whose sport and reason-for-being is to laugh at rural white America . . . with drinks, for example, like Whitetrash Driver and Bitchin’ Camaro. Ha, ha, ha, ha!

My response? Get a life, San Franciscans.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Meaning of Sacrifice and the Staying Power of Statism

Why does statism and its collectivist progeny, communism, socialism, fascism, and, especially, democratic socialism, still attract followers?

The answer is still Ayn Rand’s. You can argue the impracticality of statism until you are blue in the face, but unless you reject the moral ideal on which statism rests—altruism, the doctrine of self-sacrifice—your listener will respond by saying the failures of the USSR or Mao’s China or today’s Venezuela were caused by the selfish dictators who usurped power and destroyed the ideal.

In our present cultural, historical, and epistemological ignorance and chaos, discussion of ideas is rare and discussion in terms of fundamental principles even rarer. Let’s see if we can find some fundamentals.

Altruism, as I have written before, does not mean kindness or gentleness or helping little old ladies across the street (1, 2). Immanuel Kant, though he did not know the word “altruism,” clarified its essence when he said moral behavior means always acting from duty, never from inclination.

And coiner of the term, Auguste Comte, as cited by George Smith, makes it clear that altruism has nothing to do with individual rights or individualism, but with living for the collective of “humanity.”

Which is to say that morality is not supposed to be fun. It means obedience to authority . . . of God, society, or some group. Pleasure and fun lead to selfishness and that is bad.

Self-sacrifice, then, is meant to be painful. The word, in fact, means to kill, destroy, or abnegate, which means sacrifice is supposed to hurt and you especially should not get anything in return for your pain.*

Sacrifice means giving up something that you value highly to something or someone you value less highly or not at all.

For example, a sacrifice from pre-historic times meant throwing your child into the fire to pay homage to the gods. Now that may be rationalized as giving up a lesser value for the sake of a higher one, and some usage and dictionary definitions of the word “sacrifice” tend to support this notion, but the correct meaning of self-sacrifice in religion and ethics remains the act of giving up a higher value to a lower- or non-value.

Sacrifice, in other words, is not a commercial trade in which a buyer gives up money (the lesser value) for a product (the higher value), and vice versa for the seller. Religious and ethical sacrifices are painful and are meant to be painful.

To further illustrate, it is not a sacrifice to spend extra years of your life, perhaps working at multiple part-time jobs, to acquire an advanced college degree in order to pursue a more personally rewarding career.

Nor is it a sacrifice to have children and raise a family. The parents, after all, have made a choice—they signed a twenty-plus year contract—to start a family and presumably they value the children more than the childless life they used to enjoy. (I have to admit that this last is not always obvious when observing the behavior of some young couples.)

Self-sacrifice means the pursuit of a career to please your parents instead of the career you truly love and want. It means marrying a person you do not love—again, to please those “significant others” who may disapprove of your choice’s religion, social class, race, or ethnicity.

Sacrifice means doing your job because it’s your duty—not because you enjoy it.

“Moral purification through suffering” is how the ascetic life is sometimes described. It is the motto of altruism. This is why young women who get pregnant are punished—for a lifetime, as it often turns out—by preventing them from aborting the pregnancy.** This is why small business owners are coerced, in flagrant violation of property rights, to provide services to customers they do not willingly choose to serve.

Your duty is to suffer and, if necessary, die for your country. This is why involuntary servitude in the form of a military draft or “national service” is justified.

You are immoral if you think you have a right to pursue your own self-interest.

Why does statism continue to thrive? Continued support of the doctrine of self-sacrifice and hesitancy or outright refusal to defend a morality of self-interest.

Capitalism and the free society rest on and require a foundation of rational egoism. Altruism and its statist political manifestations are acts of enslavement and destruction.

Thus, if we continue to allow the state to claim authority to coerce us in any way other than self-defensive, retaliatory force against those who initiate its use, we compromise our principles and yield the high ground to the statists.

These compromises include the acceptance or tolerance of coerced prohibition of abortion, coerced business service to unwanted customers, coerced military service, coerced removal of money from our wallets (through taxation and the depreciation of the value of money) . . . and on and on, including the thousands of coerced rules, regulations, and laws passed by the deep state and legislatures to control our business and personal lives.

Democratic socialism? The vote, somehow, since at least Marx’s time, and on all sides of the political spectrum, has become the panacea for all kinds of decisions, including the initiated coercion of socialism.

If it has been voted on, so goes the thought and argument, then it must be okay.

Democracy unrestrained by individual rights is a form of dictatorship. Anyone who advocates the vote without the rights qualification—or without making it clear that there is a rights qualification—is supporting and endorsing statism.

This worshipful blather over democracy, of course, in just another indication of our cultural, historical, and epistemological ignorance and chaos.

* From the Oxford English Dictionary (OED online), self-sacrifice means “the giving up of one’s own interests, happiness, and desires, for the sake of duty or the welfare of others.”

** “An embryo,” as Ayn Rand vigorously argued, “has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn). . . . One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual . . . is to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former.” (Emphasis in original.) If both pro- and anti-abortionists were sincere about women’s liberty and rights, they would promote above all else the removal of bureaucratic obstacles to child adoption and the governmental encouragements (entitlements, welfare, incompetent government schools, etc.) of unwed teenage pregnancies. Instead, both sides would rather punish, that is, coerce sacrifice of, those who violate their arbitrary rules.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Our Goebbelsian Culture and the Soviet Minders Who Claim to Protect Us

A smear, according to Merriam-Webster’s unabridged is “a deliberate and usually unsubstantiated charge or accusation intended to foment distrust or hatred against the person or organization so charged.”

As a logical fallacy, it is one-half of ad hominem. The fallacy runs as follows: “Mr. X is immoral. Therefore, his argument is false.” Today’s smear merchants, to use Sharyl Attkisson’s term, specialize in using the first sentence, embellished and sensationalized in varied ways, and omit any pretense of talking about logical argument.

In a world where facts don’t matter, our culture has become Goebbelsian. (See also 1, 2, 3, 4.)

Attkisson’s book The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What you Think, and How You Vote cites Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda from 1933-45, as one of the pioneers of smear-merchantry. The Gobbelsian method, in Attkisson’s words, says: “Tell a big lie. Focus and repeat—until the audience recites it in their sleep” (p. 12).

Smear merchants are unprincipled promoters who work for the highest bidder, and they have worked on both sides of the political aisle, but the difference today is that in the last twenty to twenty-five years that Attkisson chronicles, there are more “useful innocents” on the progressive Left who fan the flames of the smear.*

The fanners, says Attkisson, are the mainstream press, reporters eager for hot stories with legs, fed to them by the promoters and reproduced wholesale with little investigation on their part. The reporters, of course, are oblivious (or hostile) to the concept of objectivity in journalism and their own biased premises guiding the sensationalized slurs.

How do the smear merchants work? First, they funnel millions of dollars into nonprofit organizations that pretend to be unbiased watchdogs and protectors of the “public good.” (Words like “free” or “free society” are no longer used.) Next, they find influential targets to destroy, targets who are considered enemies of the “public good” (which means political correctness).

The organization assigns one Nazi- or Soviet-style “minder” (my term, not Attkisson’s) to read, listen to, or watch every word of the target, sitting in wait for the tiniest slipup, though the slip does not have to be actual. It may only be apparent, but once the smear merchants do their work, the audience will see it as actual.**

The slip, or alleged slip, is posted on the internet and distributed to hundreds of sympathetic members of the press who will then magnify and sensationalize it and express unforgiveable outrage, demanding not just groveling apologies but removal of the target from his or her influential post.

Part of the smear technique that is new in today’s world of the internet is the immediate use of social media and email. Media Matters, the most notorious and effective of these organizations, uses an algorithm and a small number of operatives to send thousands of social media messages and emails that appear to come from thousands of different people from all over the country. They all, of course, express the same outrage as the press.

The death blow for the target is thousands of emails sent to advertisers, who seldom have the spine to stand up to these kinds of assaults or the will or resources to verify the assertions. Advertisers then join the cabal for removal.

This is how Don Imus was removed from CBS radio and Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly were removed from Fox television. Sean Hannity was attacked in the same way, but he was prepared and has survived.

Imus, for example, made his name making shockingly offensive remarks as humor about a wide variety of people all over the political spectrum. The last straw for the Left were racial comments made in jest by him and his producer.

Beck, in a Media Matters campaign funded by wealthy Leftist George Soros, was accused of potentially inciting violence, domestic terrorism, and recklessly endangering innocent lives. O’Reilly was smeared for unverified charges of sexual harassment.

Hannity fought back loudly and at length on his television show and threatened to sue for slander and libel, which is what is necessary to defeat the smear merchants.

Joseph Goebels reportedly said, “A lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.” This is the essential modus operandi of the smear merchants.

What happens if someone from the other side of the aisle commits a slip? Nothing. Attkisson lists seven such actual, not apparent, slipups—double standards, she calls them. One slip was dismissed simply as a “lame attempt at humor” (pp. 52-53). Everything thereafter was right with the world.

* I begrudgingly use the kinder words of Ludwig von Mises. Mises used the words to describe naïve, alleged classical liberals who flirted with and made concessions to the communists. “Useful idiots,” my preferred choice, were words attributed to Lenin, apparently mistakenly, though Lenin had many such idiots to swallow and distribute his propaganda. Attkisson just calls the innocents “friendlies in the media.”

** “Tracker” is what the organizations call their minders. When the target commits a verboten slip, or pretended slip, many more trackers may be assigned to gather ammunition for the kill.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

The Fascist Left

Slinging unfriendly epithets today has become sport, so I thought I’d throw out a few myself.

Political leftists can be described as intellectually bankrupt, hate-filled, envy-ridden fascists. They’re also postmodern progressives, but, unfortunately, they don't consider those terms to be insulting. I do.

Let me start with the left-right political spectrum. It goes back to the 1789 French National Assembly. Aristocrats and churchmen, supporters of the king, sat on the right, while the revolutionaries, some of whom were legitimate classical liberals, sat on the left.

In the ensuing two hundred years, the terms have varied in nuanced ways, but essentially the left has been understood as home of the good guys (socialists, statists, progressives) and the right as home of the bad guys, especially fascists, reactionaries and other conservatives, and thanks to the communists, capitalists.*

In my undergraduate school days of the late ‘60s, the spectrum was described as a horseshoe. At the top of the curve, in the middle, was democracy, so all of us good guys were middle-of-the-roaders who, of course, believed in voting and compromise. After all, there is and can be no perfectly free society and extremists, especially those who stick to principle, were dangerous.

No distinction between the compromise of principles and options was made (1, 2).
As some have pointed out, and I agree, the spectrum is best thought of as a straight-line continuum from the left—total control of life and economy by the state—to the right—laissez-faire capitalism (or liberalism in the classical tradition). In the middle is the so-called mixed economy, a mixture of freedom and dictatorship.

Statism is the general term that identifies the left with its two inconsequential variants, socialism and fascism. This means that fascism is “right” only in the sense that it is on the “right side of the left.”

Socialism, though, is not just control, but ownership, of life and economy. Lenin’s metaphor of the socialist state was that it would be a giant post office and we would all work for and be controlled by, or rather, belong to, the postal service, aka the state, “under the control and leadership of the armed proletariat.” (State and Revolution, p. 44, emphasis added.)

Though its roots go back earlier, fascism came about when Mussolini broke off from the socialist party and had to come up with something different. (Mussolini and Hitler were socialists to their core.) Unlike Lenin, Mussolini, and later, Hitler, inherited an industrial economy with large degrees of private life and property.

The Italian word fascio means workers’ league, which is consistent with Mussolini’s socialism, so Mussolini used it in 1914 and ‘15 and eventually adapted it to fascismo in 1921 to describe his “vision.” The private sector was allowed to continue in name only—he would have destroyed it, as Lenin nearly did, if he had nationalized everything—but it was controlled and regulated by a large and militant “deep state,” i.e., government bureaucracy.

Initially, Mussolini and the fascists adopted guild socialism, modeled on the Fabianism of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. Syndicalism and corporativism were other terms used. All three differ only in who is going to control and regulate the economy, and how the control is to be exercised. None worked, so Mussolini increasingly adopted the Nazi approach to control, as well as Nazi tactics. Both Mussolini and Hitler copied the tactics of Lenin and Stalin.**

Entrepreneurs, as a result, ceased to exist. “In the terminology of the Nazi legislation,” says Ludwig von Mises, they became shop managers. (Human Action, p. 717. See also Planned Chaos, chap. 1, 7, and 8 and Günter Reimann, The Vampire Economy). Fascism, as Mises identified, is socialism of the German pattern, differing only superficially from the Russian version.

Nominal private control and ownership of life and economy is what we have today in the United States, and have had increasingly since the 1890s with the beginnings of the early progressive era.

It is therefore not a stretch to describe our political and economic system as fascistic. It is not a system of liberty, classical liberalism, or laissez-faire capitalism.

Now I say the left is intellectually bankrupt because it has no new ideas to offer. It relies on the postmodern abandonment of reason and logic (Marx’s polylogism updated) to brand anyone who disagrees with them a hate-filled racist, misogynist, and homophobe. No arguments or facts are given. Only the shouting of collectivist clichés.

The louder and longer the shouting goes on, the assumption apparently is, the more their falsehoods will be believed.

But it is the leftists who are hate-filled—because of their seething, hostile yelling. They also are envy-ridden. This last has been well-documented in Helmut Schoeck’s thorough analysis of envy and the motivations for statism. (Redistributionism, after all, means taking wealth from those who have earned it and giving it to those who have not.)

I have a recommendation for the more sincere Democrats who feel uncomfortable with our current Weimar-like culture and are in search of new ideas to promote: look at Grover Cleveland.

A Democrat, Cleveland was the last US president who advocated classical liberalism. He served two unconnected terms, 1885-89 and 1893-97. In 1888 he won the popular election against Benjamin Harrison, but lost the electoral vote. (His supporters, interestingly, did not whine about having the election stolen!)

Cleveland was a strict constitutionalist who vetoed more bills than any president until Franklin Roosevelt’s determined efforts to protect his progressive-inspired welfare state. Cleveland’s vetoes slowed the early progressives’ juggernaut toward statism.

The fascist left is nearly indistinguishable from its socialist and communist brethren. All use state-initiated coercion to achieve their ends.

The liberal right—the liberalism of the classical tradition—repudiates state-initiated coercion of any kind and guarantees protection for those freedoms to take action called individual rights.

The social and economic theory of liberty is a free society of laissez-faire capitalism.

* Recall that communists and fascists in the United States were bosom buddies until Hitler invaded Russia in 1941. At that point, communists equated fascism with capitalism and started calling anyone who disagreed with them a fascist. Recall also that Marx, Engels, and Lenin considered communism and socialism to be synonyms.

**And anyone today who wears black clothing and calls themselves “anti-fascists” are, by their apparel and tactics, mimicking Mussolini’s blackshirted goons.

Friday, September 08, 2017

The Meaning of Free Society

A free society is a political association of individuals in which each possesses the identical protection to act without being coerced—by anyone, but especially the government—to work cooperatively via the division of labor to produce prosperity and peace.

Association is entirely voluntary between self-interested consenting adults who exercise their capacity to reason to produce values that are traded with each other to acquire spiritual and material benefits. The result is enhancement of each other’s lives. Spiritual benefits include friendship, love, and other non-material values that are not exchanged on the market for money. Material benefits, however, most often are so exchanged; they include the production of wealth through the creation of capital goods, which in turn create consumer goods. A rapidly rising psychological and physical well-being is consequence of this voluntary and self-interested consent.

The free society is a liberal society. The term used here refers to the institution of classical liberalism, the product of Enlightenment values and benefactor of human life over the past two hundred years that has brought humankind out of abject poverty to a life of luxury unimaginable in earlier years.

The free society is a social system called laissez-faire capitalism. It is based on individual rights, those freedoms to take action that are requirements for survival and comfort. Rights derive from and are inherent in the nature of humans as rational beings. Freedom to take action means, in Ayn Rand’s clarifying formulation, no one may initiate physical force against anyone else; everyone receives identical protection from such initiated coercion and is therefore equal before the law. Freedom to take action, finally, means the right, through trade, to acquire, use, and dispose of property as one sees fit. Property rights are the implementation of the rights to life and liberty and constitute the foundation without which a free society cannot flourish.

Rights, freedom, equality, and property—these are the essential concepts.

The free society more specifically rests on a theory of human nature that acknowledges the supremacy of reason to know reality and to guide our actions. It assumes that as beings who possess the capacity to reason, we must each independently exercise that capacity to produce and acquire values for our own self-interested gain. All physically healthy adults who possess normal brains are capable of making this choice and are therefore capable of supporting themselves. Those who do not make the choice are consenting to become dependent on others to provide for them.

Errors made during the Enlightenment failed to give reason, egoism, and individualism their full due, thus allowing ancient hostilities to self-responsibility to emerge and intensify under the new banner of statism, by shifting obedience to authority from a god or gods to a collective or the state. The theory of human nature that reason is limited and incapable of perceiving reality correctly, or directly, and therefore cannot guide actions in a reliable way, meant that humans cannot be independent or self-responsible. They must be provided for, led, and coerced by an elite who knows what is best.

The Hobbesian leviathan states, or rather, omnipotent governments (1, 2), of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries were the result.* Enlightenment errors allowed religious virtue to become secularized as political and psychological dependence. Statism became the social system of choice to modernize, and rationalize, self-sacrifice and coercion as a way of life. Government became our god and we must now bow down to it as our master and friend.**

Historically, freedom meant, and today still means, capable of acting without being controlled by others, especially church, king, or state. In history, one of the ironically sad problems classical liberals faced when arguing for a free society was that many serfs and slaves resisted being freed. They feared how they would take care of themselves and many apologists for the authoritarian state, because of their theory of human nature, agreed that serfs and slaves were incapable of independence. (See Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism, chap. 1.) 

In the era of the Soviet Union, there were stories of Russian citizens who were allowed to leave for a visit to the West but chose to return, because the totalitarian paradise of communism felt safer than freedom. The same can be said about many victims of controlling and abusive personal relationships; aside from fear of reprisal for walking away, many of these victims simply do not have the strength to leave.

The strength I am talking about is psychological. The essential mental requirement for a free society is a strong personal identity manifested as a high level of self-esteem. The free society cannot survive or grow without a sufficient number of citizens who possess the psychology of independence and moral virtue of independent judgment.

Free citizens—who intend to keep a free society—must be the boy in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

* Statism is the broader concept that subsumes communism and socialism, on the one hand (left?), and fascism, on the other (right?), as well as monarchies and other authoritarian states. Statism is the exact opposite of free society, or capitalism. In today’s context, I suggest that the term be brought back and made prominent in political and philosophical discussions. It may help ease the confusion over “left” versus “right.”

** And the “obligation of the nobility,” or noblesse oblige, became transferred from the titled aristocracy to a titled bureaucracy.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How Well-Intended Are the Well-Intended?

A familiar comment today runs like this: “X was done with the best of intentions, but unfortunately the consequences were otherwise.”

Bad consequences, then, are excused because of the good intentions.

The comment is heard especially in politics, such as, “The proposal was well-intended, as were the regulations and laws, but the policy did not help the poor, did not increase the nation’s wealth, or reduce crime,” etc.

Were the politicians well-intended, even when they failed to acknowledge a connection between their policies and the bad consequences? Were the politicians’ supporters and voters well-intended? And what about the theoreticians who wrote the fundamental ideas that influenced the politicians? Were they well-intended?

Good intentions, of course, can be found everywhere. Parents in particular are said to be well-intended when, for example, spanking a toddler by hand because the child would not crawl into the barber chair to have his hair cut. The dad, after all, was just trying to teach his son a lesson. What about the parent who does not give one swat by hand, but uses a belt or hair brush five or ten times? Well-intended?

How do we distinguish good intentions from bad? Answer: it’s not easy and we must be careful before asserting bad intentions.

This issue falls into the category of “how do we judge other people?” And the answer to that question is that it takes time. We must get to know someone well before drawing conclusions about his or her motivations. Which means we should not sign a business partnership agreement after one meeting or hop into bed after one date or get married after a one-month relationship.

The challenge is to get beneath surface appearances and not be swayed by looks, words, or demeanor. Yes, we can pick up clues from all three but that honest look, statements of happiness and independence, and sincere, confident behavior may be an act. Not necessarily a deceitful act at which criminals are expert, but role playing that derives from a subconsciously automatized psychology that may or may not be sincere.

The continuum of psychology is what makes judging others so difficult. The range of bad versus good intentions extends from the criminal personality, who by definition has bad intentions, to the totally trustworthy soulmate. In between is a wide variety of personalities, all of which we might allow the moniker “well-intended,” for a variety of reasons, including ignorance.

Our psychologies greatly influence our intentions. The many defensive habits we develop in childhood and adolescence—defense mechanisms, defense values, out-of-context emotions—can, on the surface, seem ill-intended, but because they are automated and subconscious, we may not be aware of their causes and often their presence.

Ignorance influences our intentions by causing us to talk and act seemingly confidently when in fact what we say and do may lead to bad, unintended consequences.

Politicians and talking heads on cable television might—might—get a pass because of their ignorance of economics, which today is extensive. And a friend who complains about overpopulation in the US but has seldom ventured beyond the metropolitan city limits to observe enormously unoccupied deserts, mountains, plains, and tree-laden forests should also probably be given the benefit of the doubt.

Behavior, on the other hand, can be controlled by us. This includes, as I have argued before, the dad who swatted his toddler for not getting into the barber chair. Granted, for thousands of years, tradition has said it is okay to hit children, we know too much today about psychology to excuse the behavior. But as I wrote before, this does not mean we should throw the dad in the slammer; it means we should educate him.

Behavior that initiates the use of physical force against innocents cannot be well-intentioned, because it is criminal. This includes smashing plate glass windows and starting fires on college campuses, and blocking entry to venues to prevent the appearance of speakers. Ordering police to stand down in such instances is also not well-intentioned.

Nor can advocating, encouraging, or praising similar behavior through speech or writing. For example, cavalierly (if stupidly) urging the blowing up of the White House or applauding fist fights and egg-throwing in public as “righteous beatings.”

Now let me return to the politicians and talking heads. “Clacking the uppers” is how one wag has described the ways of politicians, but I would say, applying this to both politicians and the talking heads, that they preach the gospel, whatever that gospel may be, over and over and over ad nauseam, with little variation and even less independence or originality.

Stuck records need to be adjusted and if possible replaced. Are the stuck records well-intentioned? Today, it seems to have become sport to call anyone we disagree with an ill-motivated liar. And refusal to read, or acknowledge the existence of, well-argued opposing viewpoints runs rampant. The refusals are often wrapped in abundant ad hominem, argument from intimidation, and rationalization fallacies.

Grudgingly, I suppose I have to allow that such stuck records may be well-intentioned—because I don’t personally know any politicians or talking heads. Their ideas—socialism, progressivism, and mixed economy traditional “liberalism” and traditional “conservatism”—all contain large doses of initiated coercion. There is just no way for me to know their aims or goals or how sincere they are about them.

What I will not do is give politicians and talking heads the honorific that they speak and act “with the best of intentions.” That is a concession, a compromise of principle, that they do not deserve. They must prove their sincerity through personal contact and friendship.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Do We Have to Die to Maintain Our Independent Psychologies?

Socrates was an independent personality in ancient Greece, much like the boy in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Socrates said too many prominent citizens were scantily clad.

As a result, he was convicted by democratic vote in an Athenian court on charges of impiety and corruption of the youth. He was also then condemned to death by democratic vote.

Democracy, it would seem, killed Socrates, though some would say it was his obstinate insistence on remaining independent.

The question arises, must we die for our independence? Doesn’t life require compromise?

The concept of rights in Socrates’ time was extremely limited and applied only to Athenian citizens, which meant men. Women, children, slaves, and resident aliens were excluded.

Socrates was a citizen, so he was entitled to a trial. Plato’s dialogue Crito tells the story of Crito’s offer to finance Socrates’ escape into exile. Socrates rejects the offer. His argument is familiar still today.

Socrates said that it would be unjust for him to break the laws of Athens that he has agreed to obey. The citizens’ relation to the state, he said, is the same as that of a child to a parent or slave to a master. This is an appeal to the omnipotence of the state and an implicit social contract that binds citizens to the laws of the land.

The answer to Socrates comes from the modern tradition of individual rights as defined by John Locke and clarified by Ayn Rand, especially Rand’s principle that no one may initiate the use of physical force against anyone. This especially applies to governments to whom one’s rights have been delegated for protection.

This also means that if laws are unjust, by initiating force against citizens, retaliatory force in self-defense can be supported.

For example, it is morally just for a citizen to break an unjust law—provided one is willing to accept the consequences, as in civil disobedience, or is willing to live in exile, as occurred during the Vietnam War era when young men moved to Canada to avoid the military draft’s involuntary servitude. In extreme cases it is just to start a revolution, as occurred in Colonial America.

In contrast, blocking entry to a venue to prevent patrons from hearing a lecture is not civil disobedience. It is criminality.

Socrates should have gone into exile. The state is not our master and the social contract is only a metaphor, a bad one at that.*

Thus, we do not have to die for our independence. Nor do we have to compromise our principles or sell our souls to the devil to live and prosper.

We have no moral obligation to tell the truth when our privacy or other rights are being threatened. Living under a dictatorship with secret police and civilian informants is certainly initiated force. Surviving under such conditions where truth telling can result in jail or execution requires ingenuity. In the Soviet Union, some families resorted to speaking to each other in a foreign language to avoid being misunderstood by spies and snooping neighbors.

Even in a semi-free country as the United States where education is dominated by government-initiated coercion, encouraging students to “give teachers what they want” and then to study on their own to develop ideas that may not be acceptable to the government-controlled schools is just.

Free expression and free thought, contrary to pretensions otherwise, are not endorsed by our government citadels of reason. Ludwig von Mises (pp. 81-83) has taught us that academic freedom originated in European universities and today still means freedom to agree with the government.**

And Ayn Rand has taught us that “morality ends where a gun begins” so where the gun begins, we can lie our heads off. The issue is a practical one. If lying to a thief who demands our money could lead to harm or death, because the thief does not believe us, it would be unwise to practice the deceit.

The same applies to government initiators of coercion. Compromise of principles is unethical, but when under duress, as the Anglo-American legal system allows, self-defense becomes the guiding principle.

On the other hand, making concessions in a business negotiation is not a compromise of principles, because both parties have accepted the principle of trade. Nor is it a compromise to accompany one’s spouse to attend an opera, though you may not like opera. The mutually accepted principle is one of love and shared values.

Life does not require the compromise of principles. We compromise only in areas that involve moral options.

The challenge in living under duress, in a dictatorship or attending coercive government-controlled schools, is psychological. The challenge is to maintain one’s independence while putting on a front for protection. This means maintaining one’s conviction to understand thoroughly the facts of any given situation—or in a student’s case, the facts and truth of an assignment—while on the surface seemingly making concessions to the dictatorship or government school.***

Galileo recanted to the Inquisition, but did not sacrifice his scientific convictions. Faust, on the other hand, made a compact with the devil—and lost his soul.

Did democracy kill Socrates? Yes, but so also did his false premises about obedience to the state and what it means to remain independent.

In a truly free society that respects individual rights, democracy is not as powerful as it was in ancient Athens. Today, democracy is, or should be, relegated to procedural functions, such as selecting our leaders.

* Social contract was an attempt to explain the origin of the state, but it is a fiction. More likely, powerful nomadic tribes conquered the weaker ones to establish control, and later the settled farmers. The state holds the monopoly on the use of physical force. Its origin is in violence and coercion, not agreement. The aim of rights theory was and has always been to restrain and delimit government power. See Oppenheimer on the state’s origin and Hamburger on our current administrative threat.

** Some teachers, of course, are fair so this is a judgment call for students. If a teacher is fair, students should strongly express, argue, and defend their views. If a teacher punishes students for disagreement by giving lower grades, students must do what they have to do to survive.

*** The same advice applies to students attending private schools, as private schools also operate in the government’s coercive environment and must obey its regulations. Free speech, free expression, and academic freedom are rarities in academia today.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

On Bias and Its Underlying Theories of Human Nature

Let us suppose a US president recommends a plan to reduce capital gains and income taxes to fifteen percent. (I would prefer zero for both, but fifteen will do.) Here are three possible headlines:

“New Tax Plan Promises Increased Wealth for the Poor and the Hope of Freedom for America’s Persecuted Minority”

“Tax Cuts for the Rich”

“New Tax Reductions Unveiled”

The first would be my fantasy headline, one that I do not expect to see in the near future, but would like to see spread across all columns of major newspapers. It is biased, though I would call it descriptively accurate and I do acknowledge that it rests on the premises of Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand, and assumes a specific theory of human nature.

The second is biased in the other direction, assuming a different theory of human nature, and the third is neutral, not giving away, or at least not intending to give away, underlying premises or views of human nature.

“Bias” per se is not bad, as it just means leaning in one direction, but when a presenter, such as a news reporter in the media, ignores or denigrates opposing viewpoints, does not acknowledge underlying premises, and claims to be impartial and objective, negative criticism becomes justified.

Consider three more headlines, describing a recently (hypothetically) adopted government policy:

“New Entitlements for Those the Left Considers ‘Weak,’ ‘Stupid,’ and ‘Ignorant’”

“New Aid for the Unfortunate and Underprivileged”

“Help for the Unemployed and Uneducated”

The first is how I might write the headline, describing what I think of such programs, and indicating the view of human nature the other side espouses. The second, again, would most likely be written by someone with an opposing point of view, and the third is neutral, or my best attempt at writing a neutral headline. The neutral headline hints at my theory of human nature, because I don’t see such people as “unfortunate” or “underprivileged.”

A theory of human nature describes the essence of who we are—each one of us as individuals—and what we are capable of. Are we all equal in the sense of possessing the same capacity to reason, to learn, to choose values, and to act to achieve those values, or do some people possess those capabilities while others do not, or do some possess the capabilities in greater degree than others? Are we in control of our lives, especially psychologically, so that we can overcome considerable obstacles, or are we victims of genetic inheritance and environmental circumstance?

Advocates of the first headlines above tend to agree with the former descriptions, namely that we are all free to think for ourselves and choose our own lives, free to evaluate what confronts us, and free to determine how to proceed to achieve our goals.

Advocates of the second headlines agree with the latter view of human nature. Indeed, this theory is built into Progressive ideology that some people are better than others, either by genetic inheritance or privileged circumstance. That is why experts are needed in government to identify hardships and provide remedies.

This is noblesse oblige, the obligation of the privileged to provide comfort and aid to those less well off.

These theories permeate economics and political philosophy, which in turn influence how one—anyone—interprets actions of the government, and therefore how observers of government actions, say, the press, report on them.

So, if everyone possesses a normal intelligence (that is, a normal brain) and is capable of making informed judgments, or capable of acquiring sufficient knowledge to make informed judgments, they can then fend for themselves without the need of handouts or regulation and control of their lives. This takes us to individualism, and from there it is a short step to laissez-faire capitalism.

Such a view instructs the first headlines above.

On the other hand, if some people are slow and dull-witted, cannot discern good from bad in their lives, and are incapable of acquiring the knowledge needed to improve their lives—well, one might conclude that they are “weak, stupid, and ignorant.”*

This view influences the second headlines.

More can be said. For example, the second headlines are dripping with unacknowledged Marxist premises, including Marx’s view of human nature that we are determined by economic circumstances.

Suffice it to say that negative bias, the kind that leans in one direction without providing alternative viewpoints and does not acknowledge underlying premises, dominates our culture, including the news we absorb from the media.

Come to think of it, it’s the same situation in academia. College professors, under the guise of academic freedom, are expert at negative bias. Alternative viewpoints are almost non-existent and underlying premises almost never presented or examined.

Reporters are only doing what they observed in the ivory tower and were taught by their professors.

* Recently, Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn cited a spate of articles by Leftist writers encouraging their compatriots to be less condescending to the poor and uneducated. One, however, could not even recommend less condescension without being condescending in the process, by suggesting broader appeals to those “persuadable, low information folks,” that is, those who are weak, stupid, and ignorant.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Independence and Certainty

In our age of post-Kantian skepticism and relativism, it follows, according to the skeptics and relativists, that anyone claiming epistemological or ethical certainty is either a deluded fundamentalist or a wannabe or actual dictator.

Inquisitors and jihadis are certain of their convictions and maim and kill those who do not agree with them. Hitler was certain and viciously imposed his will on his own citizens and the world and, of course, the Jewish people. The implication is that Inquisitors, jihadis, and Hitlers are selfish, independent personalities.

The argument often does not go this far, though it is implied, and some, including Holocaust scholars, have said as much.* After all, this train of thought continues, no one is omniscient, and because of our inherent fallibility, we must allow freedom of speech. This is what makes a society free.

Lack of omniscience means inability to be certain, which means we must invite and relish criticism to clarify our thoughts, and perhaps gradually get closer and closer to the truth, though absolute truth can never be attained.

This is what logical positivism and its offspring have taught us. Claims of certainty are dangerous. We have to talk things over and aim for consensus, sometimes through voting. This in essence is the epistemological justification of democracy.**

In other words, anyone who believes in absolutes believes in absolute authority. The independent personality is one who asserts facts as absolutely true, and that is what is dangerous.

So does this mean the boy in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes should request a vote before speaking up, assuming the emperor is tolerant of critics(!)? In addition to the self-contradictions of skepticism and relativism, this question is a reductio ad absurdum.***

It does not follow from human fallibility that absolute certainty is authoritarian or that strong, independent personalities are actual or wannabe dictators. Nor is the argument from fallibility the fundamental defense of freedom of speech and the free society.

In a single sentence, the answer to the issue is a sound, objective theory of universals that allows the identification of sound, objective values, which in turn defines social relationships in terms of individual rights, that is, freedoms to take action without coercion, including the freedom to express oneself on one’s own property or on that of someone else with whom one has contracted to make that expression.

Freedom of speech presupposes property rights, and democracy, if it is not to be a form of dictatorship—democracy, remember, killed Socrates—presupposes and is restrained by all individual rights, which therefore means democracy in a free society is demoted to the relatively minor function of selecting our leaders, along with other non-rights-violating details.

Democracy is not the arbiter of truth (or “approximate” truth) or of ethical or legal behavior.

The sound theory of universals is Ayn Rand’s (1, 2). It is a theory based on the contextual nature of knowledge that allows certain truth to be asserted as absolute within a specified context. Because knowledge grows over time, adjustments to earlier absolute certainties may have to be made, as Newton’s theories were adjusted by Einstein’s.

Incidentally, something over the years must have been right, true, and certain about Newton’s and Einstein’s ideas, because in the use of both theories, spaceships have gone to the moon and back.

Truth and certainty—by peaceful, independent-minded, non-authoritarian scientists—do seem possible.

Yes, we are fallible and not omniscient, which means we must submit our expressions to evaluation and criticism and be prepared to defend them, but this is not a justification of freedom of speech.

In order to survive and flourish, humans must exercise their inborn, volitional capacity to reason. Because this exercise of reason is not activated by our genes or environment, we must be left free to choose—that is, it is right or moral for us to be free from the coercion of others, especially the government—to allow each of us as individuals to generate and sustain action to achieve our chosen values. Trade is our means of social cooperation.

The source and justification of individual rights is our nature as rational beings. It is right and moral to be free of any initiation against us of the use of physical force.

Thus, whatever we say or write, either on our own property or on that of the others cooperating with us, is, at least sometimes, an assertion of truth and certainty. It is right and moral for us to make these assertions, first, because our freedom of expression is consonant with and required by our human nature and, second, because our speech, writing, and expressions derive from our rights to life, liberty and property.

Inquisitors, jihadis, and Hitlers of the world, in contrast, do also make assertions of truth and certainty, but they back up their assertions with a gun. Their expressions are not open to evaluation and criticism because they tolerate no disagreement.

They are the authoritarians, the dictators, who at root, as Stanton Samenow demonstrates, are criminal personalities. As liars and cheaters, they are not the least bit interested in perceiving and asserting facts as facts. They most certainly are not independent personalities; they are among the worst of the dependent.

Brandishing and using guns, as they do, is anathema to our rational nature. Their goals and accomplishments are to silence our reason. Their “truth” and “certainty” lead to wanton destruction of humankind and civilization.

Talking and voting does not make any individual more or less independent, and it is not the means of preventing another Holocaust. Lack of certainty may indicate insecurity or insufficient knowledge to make a decision with confidence.

To link certainty to dictatorship is the red herring of all red herrings, brought to us by post-Kantian agnosticism, both in epistemology and ethics.

It is time to restore certainty to its proper place in knowledge and values.

* Years ago, I heard a Holocaust scholar say that the Nazis were certain of their convictions; therefore, it is good that we not be.

** The argument is John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian defense of free speech, restated in Jonathan Rauch, Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. Rauch in 1993 was responding to an early wave of censorship by political correctness.

*** Here are the self-contradictions: skeptics assert as an absolute certainty that certainty is impossible and the relativists claim absolutely that all claims are relative. Cratylus, the Greek skeptic who stopped talking, is another reductio.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Brains or Blood? Take Your Pick – The Choice Is Not New But the Threat Is Worse

Allow me to begin this post with a couple of quotations.
The real significance of the Lenin revolution is to be seen in the fact that it was the bursting forth of the principle of unrestricted violence and oppression. It was the negation of all the political ideals that had for three thousand years guided the evolution of Western civilization.

This letter is to inform you that this university has dismissed more than 40 students on this day. . . . [The] university will not be run by threats and intimidation. It will not respond to ultimatums from students, and it will not be intimidated by the pressures of groups who are dedicated to the disruption of institutions of higher learning or seek disorganization to the point where such institutions can be controlled by violence and run under constant threat of disruption.
The first quote is from Planned Chaos (chapter 6) by Ludwig von Mises, referencing the Russian Revolution of 1917. The second is a rare statement of courage by a college administrator; it is from a letter to friends of the University of Denver (my alma mater), dated April 30,1968, by Chancellor Maurice B. Mitchell.*

The connection between the two is the “principle of unrestricted violence and oppression” practiced by the Bolshevists in the early twentieth century, then later by the New Left “revolutionaries” of the 1960s. Today, we see the same unrestricted violence and oppression on college campuses the aim of which is to shut down free speech and its consequent diversity of ideas.

Violence does not require the use of a gun or the laying on of hands. Criminal assault is a threat that does not involve touching. Preventing patrons from voluntarily entering a lecture hall to listen to a speaker, regardless of the nature of the ideas presented, is as much the initiation of the use of physical force as a pistol whip to the head.

In recent months, the violence, in addition to blocking patron entrance, has been quite physical: setting a food cart on fire and breaking windows of the venue (UC Berkeley), grabbing the hair of a sponsoring professor and sending her to the hospital (Middlebury College), and shouting and banging on the venue windows to disrupt the speaker, even when the presentation was being live streamed in an empty auditorium (Claremont McKenna College).

In the past I have referred to college administrators as spineless for their lack of courage to stand up to the belligerents and for their refusal to expel all participants from their universities, as did Chancellor Mitchell.

Subsequent criminal prosecution is the only way to dampen and stop campus violence and oppression.

“Complicit,” however, is the more correct word to describe our present-day college administrators. A brigade of police to protect the patrons and round up all perpetrators of rights violations is all that would be required. Some administrators in the 1960s were complicit, but it seems more common that colleges today order police to stand down when violence erupts.

Brains or blood, college administrators.** It’s your choice and you seem to have made it for the latter. Respect for brains, freedom of speech and expression, and diversity of ideas have disappeared from your citadels of reason.

“Bolshevists set the precedent,” as Mises pointed out in Omnipotent Government (p. 178). “The success of the Lenin clique encouraged the Mussolini gang and the Hitler troops. Both Italian Fascism and German Nazism adopted the political methods of Soviet Russia.”

And no one stood up to Lenin to dampen or stop his violence and oppression. Indeed, he was seen by many as a hero and liberator, but it is a straight line from Lenin to Hitler and Mussolini to the New Left to the violent Progressive (or Post-Modern—call it what you want) Left of the present.

It all comes from the same source. Marx and Engels made no distinction between communism and socialism, except to say that there was a lower and higher phase of communist society. Social democrats called themselves socialists to distinguish themselves from Lenin’s communism, but they shared the same goal (Planned Chaos, chapter 3). Social democracy is what the American Progressives learned in Prussian universities in the late nineteenth century.

British guild socialism of the Fabian Society is what Hitler and Mussolini took as their models of the modern fascist state (Omnipotent Government, p. 178). And Bismarck’s Prussia was modeled on the medieval guilds. Thus, communism, socialism, and social democracy, at root, are all essentially medieval ideas, premised on the illiberal notion of initiating physical force to achieve one’s goals, which is to say based on the premise of unrestricted violence and oppression.

Governments hold the monopoly on the use of physical force and when they use it for anything other than retaliation against aggressors, they themselves become the aggressors. Thus, taxation, regulation, and involuntary anything, whether the military draft or public domain laws, as well as non-objective law—vague and overly broad statutes, many of which we have today, including the deliberate nebulousness of Title IX that terrorizes college campuses—are descendants of the medieval guilds and the Marx-Engels-Lenin axis of violence and oppression.

It is time to choose brains over blood, to check our premises and adopt the true liberalism of freedom of speech, property rights, voluntary trade and association, and most importantly, tolerance for a diversity of ideas.

* The students had presented the university with “non-negotiable demands” and staged a sit-in at the Registrar’s and Chancellor’s offices. By 1960s standards this was mild when compared to the wanton destruction of research and records at other universities, among other criminal activity.

** “Brains or Blood?” was the subtle title of a one-page document co-authored by yours truly and four classmates at the University of Denver, distributed on campus a year after Chancellor Mitchell’s letter. It was a response to and refutation of non-negotiable demands presented to the university by a cabal of New Leftists. Children of the sixties? Yes, we were, but we defended our chancellor!

Monday, March 06, 2017

On the Need to Take People (Including Politicians) Seriously, Not Literally

Facts matter. And I have complained many times (1, 2, 3, 4) about the lack of concern for facts.

But what if they don’t matter? What if the people you love and work with, or the ones you admire (or don’t admire) from a distance, say, politicians, sling inaccuracies around with seeming abandon? For example, inaccuracies from ignorance, faulty and selective memory, sins of omission, exaggeration and serial embellishment, bullshit, or even fabrication?

I’ve sat at many a lunch and dinner, both personal and professional, in which hyperbole was the main course, and in many academic meetings consisting mainly of selective memory and BS.

When this happens, should we stomp our feet and cry boohoo, as the press today is doing in relation to our current president?

The press, including the anchor of a network sympathetic to the current president, continues to rail on and on about the many less than factual statements coming out of the White House.

As if other presidents have not played fast and loose with the facts! Or spent twenty-plus minutes BS’ing an answer to a simple question. Other presidents have been slicker—more polished—than the current one, as a Wall Street Journal column pointed out recently. The problem is that the press takes our current president literally, but not seriously.*

This is a mistake in human relationships—for all of us, not just the press.

As a young man, straight out of undergraduate school, I worked for a service firm in midtown Manhattan. Our task was to process certain jobs and deliver the results to customers. When clients complained about not receiving their jobs, a familiar phrase of the production manager was, “Tell ‘em it’s on the truck,” when it wasn’t. I did not whine to the manager and say, “You’re a bad person.” I did lie a couple of times, but quickly learned not to promise what I could not deliver and developed a number of techniques for keeping my clients happy.

One of those techniques was to translate misstatements of the people I worked with—the production manager was not the only one expert at misrepresenting facts—and consequently to learn how to enjoy their company. They were all respectable people who had their own psychologies. Getting to know them was key to understanding them and thereby to working with them.

Why can’t the press do the same with our current president? And tame their intemperate headlines and articles?

Children who stomp their feet and throw tantrums are insecure because they do not feel loved. The press’s personal identity today is simultaneously being attacked and ignored. They are not feeling the love!

They are not feeling the love because the press, especially those who represent the bi-coastal elites, have set themselves up—on a pedestal—as intellectual guardians of the free society.

As F. A. Hayek wrote in 1949, the press (along with other self-appointed intellectuals) filter and disseminate fundamental ideas to the populace. Their filter requires that the selected ideas “fit into [their] general conceptions, [their] picture of the world which [they regard] as modern or advanced.” The “modern and advanced” ideas today are those of the Marxist Progressive Left. Anything else is assumed to be old-fashioned, backwards, and anathema to their version of a free society.**

The pedestal that the press has been sitting on for the past many years is now crumbling, if not being knocked from under them. This, they cannot tolerate.

Our current president does not give a hoot about the political correctness mantra that the press promotes as gospel. That the press does not, or deliberately chooses not to, acknowledge the ideas on which they base their screeds is enough alone to call them biased.

Telling the press that they are biased and that they sometimes fail in their factual inquiries and publish what appears to be fabricated news is, for them, beyond the pale. For them, this is tantamount to threatening censorship and those who criticize them are assumed to be actual or wannabe dictators.

Tweaking another person’s defense value or defense mechanism, such as telling a compulsive talker “you’re a big mouth,” is insulting and is experienced by the talker as a considerable threat—literally to their pseudo-self-esteem, not actually or seriously to their physical well-being.

Tweaking the press’s pretentious defense value that views themselves as guardians of the free society is what is going on now. Literally, they feel a considerable threat—to their pseudo-self-esteem, not actually or seriously to press freedom.

Add to this that it is difficult to take the press’s whines seriously, because literally what they write (the Marxist Progressivism of the Left) promotes destruction of the free society. They certainly are not promoting the genuine protection of individual rights or anything resembling an authentic (classical) liberalism.

For the press to take our current president and the sense of life of his supporters seriously, they would have to reexamine their own unexamined premises. For as badly mixed as are our current president’s ideas and those of his supporters, and despite what either of them might literally say, their sense of life captures the essence of what once did make America great: namely, being left alone, that is, free, to pursue their own values through hard work and achievement, followed by appropriately earned rewards for the effort.

If the press wants to be taken seriously as defenders of the free society, which means they want to convince the public that they know how to present alternative viewpoints, they should take a serious look at the fundamental ideas on which laissez-faire capitalism is based.

Yes, it would be nice to live in a perfect world in which everyone shoots straight and factually. However, we don’t live in such a world and free will and psychology preclude it from ever happening. Therefore, we must learn to cope with the imperfections that confront us.

Distinguishing the serious from the literal would be a good first step. This means looking for what people are really saying, deep down, and what they really mean.

Focusing only on the literal can create fantasy relationships.

* The expression, referring to our current president, goes back at least to this article in The Atlantic.

** Hayek’s argument is summarized here. I say “Marxist Progressive Left” to distinguish this brand of Leftism from the earlier Bismarckian type of the 1890s to about 1930. See Thomas C. Leonard’s extensively documented book on the early Progressives and my comment on the book.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Condescension, Intelligence Defense Values—and the Deplorables
And Oh Yes. The Putsch Mentality

Okay. Several times I have said, “Politics is a bore” (1, 2, 3), but since November 8, 2016, I have to admit that politics has been anything but that.

My entertainment has come from the calamitous meltdown, panic-stricken hostility, and intellectual bankruptcy of our current president’s opponents, the Marxist Progressive Left. New ideas, they do not have.

Not that our current president has any new or particularly good ideas. He won by tapping into the American sense of life—the one that says, “you can’t push me around, fella” and “my money’s as good as yours!” The deplorables of middle America finally found someone who did not condescend to them. Condescension of the bi-coastal elites, most of whom have never been to, let alone lived in, middle America is what won the election for our current president.

Denigration and ridicule of anyone who lives in or comes from the hinterlands are all too frequent. “Fly-over country” is just the most generic dismissal. As a small-towner from Kansas, I still hear this gem of intellectual inquiry: “Do you know Dorothy?” followed by a belly laugh. My reply that my mother’s name was Dorothy usually produces another belly laugh, albeit this time, though not always, showing a touch of embarrassment for asking a stupid question.

The source of the Left’s condescension is their anti-capitalist theory of human nature and consequent intelligence defense-value.

Government control of person and property—by nationalization and expropriation as the socialist variant and by heavy regulation and some expropriation as the fascist version—assumes the people, in the US’s case, the deplorables, are too weak, stupid, and ignorant to make decisions for themselves. Why else, my wife asked recently, would they insist on government controlled education? And many other things dished out at the point of a gun.*

The deplorables, say these Leftists, must listen to and follow us, the intellectually blessed elites who possess a near-God’s-eye omniscience to regulate and control our country, not to mention the deplorables’ lives. The intelligence defense-value follows from this. In a nutshell it says, “We’re smarter than you, so that gives us the right to tell you what to do. After all, it is for your own good.”

Defense-values (chapters 3 and 10)  are a pseudo-self-esteem that attempts to assuage insecurities. Boasters and compulsive talkers are other examples. Defense-values, however, do not work and they sometimes lead to a conceit—a fatal one, as Hayek put it—to claim that God’s-eye view of the world to control whole societies. Because control and regulation only lead to destruction, we are left with what we have today, a “planned chaos” of rent-seeking, government-by-lobby, and in some cases, collapsing mixed economies.

Marxism, of course, is and has always been the intellectual foundation of anti-capitalist hysteria. The problem for Marxists is that most of the deplorables are the workers of the world who were supposed to throw off their capitalist chains in exchange for the communist paradise. They are, however, doing just fine under capitalism and do not have much use for the Marxist Left.

As a result, the post-modern, anti-modernity Marxists have had to find new oppressed classes to exploit, or rather, to defend. Those “classes” are African Americans, women, and LGBTQ’s, even though a little digging into the past 60 or 70 years will show that all of them, both politically and economically, are better off today under our severely hampered capitalism than they were back then.

The final straw (and last gasp, one can hope) of the Marxist Progressive Left is their attempt to destroy the distinction between speech and action. This is the ultimate consequence of political correctness. Because certain classes, so the argument goes, are more powerful than others, and because speech is “socially constructed”—i.e., not individual and not in our control or even in our awareness—anything coming out of our mouths or from our pens is coercion, meaning coercion of the weaker classes.**

The oppressors are no longer the bourgeoisie, as in the days of Marx and Lenin, but whites, males, and straights. Once speech is interpreted as a weapon, as the post-modern Left interprets it, censorship is justified, and all forms of coercion become justified.

Thus, we had the massive demonstrations last fall that vociferously expressed desires to reject the results of the November election, demonstrations that at another time, perhaps in our future, could, with the presence of a charismatic, fist-pumping orator, turn into a frenzied putsch attempt.***

Violence is already being used to silence speakers (1, 2). It does not matter that most of the demonstrators are “peaceful.” Their leaders are ecstatic when speeches are canceled. Censorship is their goal.

Indeed, a spectacular fire where one of these speeches was canceled evoked an unpleasant image in my mind. I fully expected the blackshirts (1, 2) who caused the damage to throw a few books into the flames. Causing the speech to be cancelled was equivalent.

And actors and other demonstration preachifiers who beat their breasts and screech about “my America,” which means not the America of our current president or of anyone who did not vote for their candidate, are one step away from declaring speech and books they disagree with “un-American.”

The Nazis in 1933 moralized about “my Germany” and burned books that were “un-German.”

Is this where we are headed? I’m counting on the bankrupt Left to continue down its self-dug hole and the American sense of life of initiative and achievement to reject attempts to rescue any part of Marxist Progressivism.

The deplorables are decent people, but their sense of life needs to be articulated and made explicit . . . soon.

* On the left/right political continuum—right being minimal government, left being total government—fascism is on the right side of the left, because it is a form of socialism. After Hitler’s invasion of Russia in 1941, fascism became a pejorative promoted by the communists who equated capitalism with fascism. Soon after, they began calling anyone they disagreed with a fascist. The Left continues this tradition today. See Mises, Planned Chaos, chapters 6 and 7.

** Whites, we are told, suffer “unconscious racism,” which means we are not even aware of it. We should therefore just shut up and obey the dictates of the caring, humanitarian Left. Our daughter not too long ago was silenced in a discussion because she is white. And participants at academic conferences have been told that scholarly discussion with them was not possible because they belonged to one of the privileged classes! This is polylogism at work.

*** Writing about the New Left “revolutionaries” of the 1960s, many of whom today are the tenured radicals promoting relativism and authoritarianism, Ayn Rand said: “The New Left does not portend a revolution, as its press agents claim, but a Putsch. . . . A Putsch is a minority’s seizure of power. The goal of a revolution is to overthrow tyranny; the goal of a Putsch is to establish it.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

On the Alleged Banality of Evil and Heroism

Take your pick of mass murderer. What do we often hear quoted in the press? “He was such a nice boy, a quiet boy who sang in the Church choir. I just don’t understand!”

Or consider the good Samaritan who runs into a burning house to save ten children. The response? “I never would have expected such ‘unselfish’ and courageous behavior from that person.”

Ordinary people doing extraordinary things—whether extraordinary evil or extraordinary heroism—is the conventional understanding of such phrases as the “banality of evil” and “banality of heroism.”

What do the professionals say? “Those people who become perpetrators of evil deeds,” says psychologist Philip Zimbardo. “and those who become perpetrators of heroic deeds are basically alike in being just ordinary, average people.”

It’s all (or largely) situational, which means Zimbardo endorses environmental determinism.*

Political philosopher Hannah Arendt (1, 2, 3) coined the phrase “banality of evil” to explain the behavior of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann, the so-called desk murderer who orchestrated the deaths of millions of Jews during World War II.

Arendt seems to have claimed—I have not read her—that Eichmann’s “terrifyingly normal” behavior derived from his inborn inability to “think very deeply about what he was doing,” namely to recognize the consequences of his orders or to empathize with his victims.

Eichmann did testify at his trial that he was just another bureaucrat following the rules, taking orders from his superiors. And he supposedly was even a “nice boy” who played the violin as a child!

However, a review of this recent book reveals that Eichmann was neither nice, nor ordinary, nor innocent: “If 10.3 million of these enemies [Jews] had been killed,” said Eichmann, “then we would have fulfilled our duty.”

Arendt was aware of Eichmann’s anti-semitism and that he was not a nice person. She was trying to explain his appearance of ordinariness.

The problem is that genes or environment, with no mention of free will, too often becomes the stock explanation of apparent ordinariness.

Neither the perpetrator of evil deeds nor the doer of heroic acts is unoriginal, obvious, or boring, as dictionaries define the word “banal.”

It is a commonplace, or should be, that we cannot tell what another person is like by looking at his or her photograph. Nor can we discern much by observing someone in a video (as in video dating, for example). At a cocktail party we may approach a guest who looks interesting to talk to only to discover quickly that that is not the case, and, on the flip side of that coin, the uninteresting-looking and supposedly unattractive person may eventually become one’s spouse.

Two “nice, quiet,” and even “banal” persons may look similar and act in a similar manner, but one commits mass murder, the other runs into a burning building.

The difference is in their heads, their psychologies, that is, their accumulated knowledge and experiences, their thoughts, evaluations, emotions, images and imaginings, fantasies, and daydreams—much of which has been programmed to become subconscious habits.

Pre-judging based on superficialities admits a screaming ignorance of psychology. Sixteen hours a day, since at least toddlerhood, our minds take in data from the environment and process it. How we process it determines our character and personality, and it is we who control the processing.

Cognitive regulation—which includes a deliberate programming of the subconscious—is the meaning of free will.

Deliberate thinking errors and willful evasions in the processing of our environment produces criminal personalities, as amply documented in Yochelson and Samenow’s seminal three-volume masterpiece. Thinking accuracy and willful commitment to reason and facts produces heroic personalities.**

Criminals are con artists, who lie as a way of life and enjoy getting away with the forbidden. They are experts at hiding their true personalities, which is why they often seek cover of family, work—and ideology, such as National Socialism or radical Islam. Samenow has written much about the criminal attraction to ideology (1, 2).

Heroic personalities from an early age develop strong personal identities, committed to truth and doing what is right, which means a conviction that “I am worthy of happiness and competent to achieve my values.” This produces self-esteem, integrity, and courage, plus a certain amount of modesty.

Heroes do not brag about their talents or accomplishments, but modesty does not stop them from acting when their values are attacked.

Thus, a quiet, unassuming boy may in no uncertain terms tell a bully to back off when the bully is hitting on his girlfriend—much to the shock of the bully. Or an “unheroic-looking” young woman may run into a burning building to save her children.

Heroes have a subconscious mind that has been programmed from an early age to achieve and protect their values. Think Sully Sullenberger who worked forty-two years preparing himself for the day he had to land a commercial airliner on the Hudson River without a single loss of life.

Unfortunately, criminals also have a subconscious mind that has been programmed from an early age to cheat and harm others.

Appearances do not define criminality or heroism. Or who might be a terrorist.

The whole point of getting to know other people is to find out what is in their heads, to find out who they are and what makes them tick. We do “profile” people we do not know, all the time, which means we judge them based on our own values, hunches, and preferences.

What we cannot and should not do is talk about them based on those judgments and certainly not act until we have more knowledge of who they really are.

This means, news editors, please don’t run any more of those sappy stories about “nice, quiet boys next door who sang in the Church choir.” Try asking your reporters to do a little more homework to uncover and understand the psychology of the person.

* See my comment on Zimbardo’s book about the 1971 Stanford prison experiment that supposedly demonstrated the significance of situational causes of extraordinary behavior by ordinary people.

** Innocent mistakes in thinking, lack of knowledge, and unusually harsh environments can lead to psychological problems and inhibitions, such as repression and other defense mechanisms. The result is a less than heroic personality, at least in the areas of our lives in which the inhibitions operate.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Reductio of Bureaucracy: Totalitarian Dictatorship

The continued expansion of bureaucratic management leads ultimately to totalitarian dictatorship.

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, describes this termination point:

The emaciated bodies of the sick were thrown on two-wheeled carts which were drawn by prisoners for many miles, often through snowstorms, to the next camp. If one of the sick men had died before the cart left, he was thrown on anyway—the list had to be correct! The list was the only thing that mattered. A man counted only because he had a prison number. One literally became a number: dead or alive—that was unimportant; the life of a “number” was completely irrelevant.*
In several previous posts I have used the following words to represent the generally acknowledged mindset of a bureaucrat (1, 2): “Rules are rules, fella. I don’t make ‘em. I just enforce ‘em.”

Rules, lists, and paperwork. This is bureaucracy.

As Ludwig von Mises has taught us, bureaucracy is not a large, hierarchically structured organization, whether of big government or big business. It is the government’s method of managing its affairs, which means it is the “peaceful” method of managing coercion. Laws of the land, a budget for each bureau, and regulatory rules dictate to citizens what they can and cannot do. Disobedience brings punishment. The method is top-down; the higher authority must be obeyed.**

Business management is bottom-up, deriving its legitimacy from customer satisfaction, the only means in a free market of earning profits. Policies, not rules, are guidelines informing everyone in the company, from president to stock clerk, how to function in order to achieve optimal customer satisfaction and therefore optimal profits.

If a large, hierarchically structured business today seems bureaucratic, in the sense of being inefficient and insensitive to customers, look for the government’s demands for compliance to laws and rules. Compliance means obedience to a higher power, which consequently deflects attention from customer needs and wants. This is what makes businesses in a mixed economy take on the “rules are rules” mentality.

So why the bureaucratic indifference to people? Paperwork is the only yardstick bureaucracy has to measure its “success.” Laws and rules are commands that compel citizens to obey, and citizens usually do obey to avoid punishment. Paperwork records the compliance—but it must be correct.

The objective yardstick of a business is its bottom line, profits, which means it is successfully meeting its customer’s needs and wants.

A bureaucratic society is a rule-bound society. Freedom and creativity are not valued. (Creativity, after all, means breaking rules.) The more bureaucratic the society, the more rule-bound it will become. The socialist state, therefore, is a society dominated almost entirely by laws and rules. The more laws and rules, the more total the regulation of human affairs, the less value it places on its citizens’ lives.

Total bureaucracy—the totalitarian socialist state—is dictatorship by excessive law. This describes Nazi Germany during World War II, as well as the USSR and many similar regimes in the twentieth century.

The list has to be correct because all paperwork has to be correct. William Shirer made this clear in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, when he described gangs of German secretaries dutifully typing orders to send Jewish people to their deaths.

Even a few members of Kerensky’s provisional Russian government, who were discovered by illiterate Bolshevik revolutionaries during the 1917 October Revolution, were compelled to write their own arrest papers. The paperwork had to be correct!

In a bureaucratic society, thought is neither required nor appreciated, only compliance. Thus, paperwork has to be correct for the lower-ranked official to avoid punishment and for the higher to justify his or her actions, by reference to a law or rule.

Concern for the person behind a bureaucratic number is minimal or non-existent. Just ask students at state-run universities what it is like to be a number on a roster. (And the rosters do have to be correct!)

Message for advocates of a free society? The fewer laws and rules, the better. Indeed, a strong argument has been made that we could easily do without legislature-made, statutory law by replacing it with common law.

Central planning requires centralized law-making, that is, deliberative assemblies (legislatures) and regulatory agencies to write and pass thousands of pages of laws and rules, all of which are subject to ossification, officious manipulation, and arbitrary application. This gives us the nefarious rule by men under a pretext of rule by law.***

Common law is decentralized and requires conceptual thinking by each citizen and judge to resolve specific disputes with reference to principles. Justice evolves and improves on a case by case basis, as wealth and well-being do in the decentralized free market.

Conceptual thinking requires the discovery and understanding of universal principles that can be applied to many concrete instances. Common law, therefore, is general and guided by rights, such as the requirement to prove intent in criminal cases, but it is constrained by precedent and usually confined to specific parties. Change in common law occurs slowly and deliberately.

Legislature-made laws and rules, in contrast, aside from their flagrant violations of individual rights, are at the same time concrete and sweeping, such as a ban on smoking in all public places and within twenty feet of a building. And because legislature-made law is made, not discovered, change occurs quickly and frequently, thus leading to a continual increase of laws and rules—and paperwork.

Thinking in principles and independent judgment are prerequisites for building and sustaining a free society. When our minds are driven to focus on lists and paperwork that must be accurate, conceptual thinking becomes difficult, though not impossible. For many, however, in bureaucratic situations, morality—honesty, integrity, courage, dignity . . . and human decency—go out the window.

The list has to be correct.

For more on the relationship between bureaucracy, socialism, and dictatorship, see Mises’ 1944 book Bureaucracy. Here is his one-paragraph summary and conclusion (p. 125):

The champions of socialism call themselves progressives, but they recommend a system which is characterized by rigid observance of routine and by a resistance to every kind of improvement. They call themselves liberals, but they are intent upon abolishing liberty. They call themselves democrats, but they yearn for dictatorship. They call themselves revolutionaries, but they want to make the government omnipotent. They promise the blessings of the Garden of Eden, but they plan to transform the world into a gigantic post office. Every man but one a subordinate clerk in a bureau, what an alluring utopia! What a noble cause to fight for!
Bureaucracy is not a benign institution.

* Man’s Search for Meaning (pp. 52-53). In this work, Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, describes his experiences in the concentration camps and his struggles to survive.

** “Peaceful” is in scare quotes because any expansion of laws and rules beyond retaliatory force to protect individual rights, through administration of the police, military, and legal system, is a violation of rights and therefore becomes a declaration of war on citizens. The overt use of guns is not usually required in many bureaucratic systems, because of citizen compliance, but the guns nonetheless are there in the background.

*** “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime,” said Stalin’s chief of secret police. See this post where I discuss similarities between criminal and bureaucratic personalities.

Cross posted at the Foundation for Economic Education