Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Is the Next Step for the Left to Liquidate Its Enemies?

Ludwig von Mises, of course, said it best when he described the ultimate end of all variants of socialism, whether communism, fascism, or interventionism:
Every advocate of the welfare state and of planning is a potential dictator. What he plans is to deprive all other men of all their rights, and to establish his own and his friends’ unrestricted omnipotence. He refuses to convince his fellow-citizens. He prefers to “liquidate” them. He scorns the “bourgeois” society that worships law and legal procedure. He himself worships violence and bloodshed. (Planned Chaos, p. 52)
Are we there yet? I hope not.

In the United States in the 1960s, we had violence and bloodshed (bombings, kidnappings, murders, the burning of buildings, and other wanton destruction of property), with considerable rhetoric from the New Left about revolution, though what they really wanted was a putsch.

But that 1960s violence and bloodshed receded after naïve students who constituted the New Left’s rank-and-file followers realized they could get shot (at Kent State).* The leaders of the New Left then either crawled back into their holes, or became politicians and tenured professors.

Violence today still occurs: shutting down speakers and plays, wanton destruction of property, and the fueling of spectacular Nazi-style fires with everything except books.

And there have been assaults and batteries and an abundance of intimidation and threats. Hostility and aggression are used against whomever one disagrees with and both are openly encouraged against prominent members of the Left’s opposition.**

Today, however, the Left’s tactics, as opposed to those used in the 1960s, are different, the preferred one being deception and trickery, also known as fraud. The goal of the Left (it’s no longer “New”) is to shut down disagreement through censorship and by securing the removal of influential people in prominent positions of universities, business, entertainment, and the media.

Facts don’t matter, so in our Postmodern Age of updated Marxist polylogism, Leftists use the word “narrative” to come up with whatever they want. The word “narrative” means “story” or “fiction,” so let’s substitute fiction to state what is promoted today as sophisticated thought.

“You have your fiction, I have my fiction, everyone has his or her own fiction. Reason, logic, objective truth, and objective reality are out. We can say whatever. And whoever shouts the loudest and longest wins.”

The law? Please. It’s malleable according to the judge’s ideology, and many laws, especially in the Federal system, are so vague and overly broad that prosecutors can and do find laws to jail anyone.

Sound familiar from history? Oops! I shouldn’t bring up history. Militantly evasive, as well as actual, ignorance of history, is flaunted everywhere. I am referring to Stalin’s secret police chief, Levrenti Beria, who said, “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.”

Are we there yet?

And then there’s the sheer quantity of laws on the books that I have to say, as I have said before, we are approaching “dictatorship by excessive law.”

Mises would be embarrassed if he knew what passes today for the rule of law and legal procedure—though perhaps not, as he knew well what went on in Russia, Italy, and Germany.

Mises knew, because one magnum opus that he wrote was Socialism, in 1922. The essence of socialism, he says, is destructionism. “It does not build; it destroys. . . It produces nothing; it only consumes . . .” (p. 458).

George Reisman describes socialism as “simply an act of destruction” (emphasis in original), because it destroys property rights, the profit motive, and the price system. It is not another economic theory; it is “a negation of the system based on private ownership” (emphasis in original, The Government Against the Economy, p. 151).

Socialism destroys whatever prosperity has been created by capitalism, resulting in chaos the likes of which we see in modern-day Venezuela—where citizens must stand in line just to get a roll of toilet paper.

Along the way to today’s Leftist paradise, a few eggs, as in the twentieth-century utopias of Russia, Italy, Germany, China, Cuba, and Cambodia, may have to be cracked and destroyed—or should I say, “liquidated”?

Are we there yet?

* If memory serves, this observation about the Kent State shootings was attributed to Ayn Rand. Protesting students in the ‘60s, many of whom I came in contact with, displayed this brilliant stroke of independence: “Hey, grab a beer. Let’s join the demonstration!” Sidney Hook (Out of Step, chap. 33) describes the spinelessness of New York University during its building occupations and malicious destruction of property in 1969 and ‘70. When the administration finally found spine enough to call the police, they informed the students who immediately vacated the buildings. (On recent revelations of FBI-withheld information about Kent State, see this.)

** Fortunately, though much belatedly, the House Minority Leader finally denounced the violence of Mussolini-clad blackshirts, absurdly known as the “anti-fascist” organization, Antifa. And the Senate Minority Leader recently, also finally, spoke out about “un-American” calls for in-your-face hostile and aggressive harassment of political opponents. Will the press ever speak out against violence and bloodshed??

Friday, June 08, 2018

In Defense of the Religious, Or: Why the Left Should Stop Rubbing the Devouts’ Noses In It

As a child I witnessed our family cat having his nose forcibly introduced to something in the house that he shouldn’t have deposited. Then, he was summarily tossed outside.

It was not a pretty picture.

The communist/fascist Left today rejoices at doing something similar to anyone who is religious, especially those who are politically conservative Christians and Jews. The Left revels in hurling ad baculum shouts of rage, hostility, and aggression, which Laird Wilcox has so aptly identified as “ritual defamation.”

And, to continue the analogy of “tossing outside,” leftists try to get anyone who challenges them, or disagrees with their mantra, silenced or fired—for example, YouTube’s restricting of Prager University’s five-minute videos for violating “community guidelines” and the sacking of political commentators Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, plus several others.*

Full disclosure before continuing: I am an atheist and have been since I was sixteen. Around that time, in 1963, I watched a television show called “The Defenders,” starring E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed, father-son attorneys who represented an atheist high school teacher. I did not know the meaning of the word “atheism,” so I had to look it up. Hmm, I said to myself, that sounds interesting! Soon after, I read Ayn Rand, majored in philosophy in undergraduate school, and never looked back.

Be that as it may, dear leftists, I did attend a Protestant church and Sunday school for those first sixteen years—and our culture is decidedly Judeo-Christian and has been for at least five thousand years, give or take several centuries or millennia. Our cultural history is part of our cultural identity. It cannot be denied out of existence.

I do disagree with a number of religious issues, including the not insignificant one about the existence of a god. I also disagree with the concept of sin, the emphasis on self-sacrifice, and abortion. (See the second footnote in my earlier post about the insincerity of both pro- and anti-abortionists and what both should be fighting for.)

On the positive side, I relish watching Prager University’s five-minute videos, which are highly polished and highly essentialized, often with strong messages defending free speech and free markets. I don’t agree with all of them—this usually includes those of founder Dennis Prager, himself a Jewish conservative and biblical scholar. His videos usually concentrate on religion and the assumption that morality can only come from God. Socrates, Ayn Rand, and many other philosophers throughout history disagree.

Nonetheless, Prager’s little book (110 pages, with study questions) on The Ten Commandments is illuminating. The general (and, to me, surprising) thrust of Prager’s commentary is that the commandments are what have driven the development of civilization and are therefore necessary for its continuation.**

The word “commandment” in Hebrew, Prager points out, is correctly translated as “statement,” thus the Ten Commandments should be referred to as the Ten Statements. If true, this significantly demotes the deontological, duty-based interpretations of the Judeo-Christian ethics.

Other insights: the sixth commandment, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13), as worded in my 1953 Revised Standard Version of the King James translation, should be “Do not murder.” That’s because the word “kill” in 1610 also meant “murder.” If the commandment literally meant “kill,” Prager emphasizes, we would all have to be vegetarians.

The tenth commandment, “do not covet,” says Prager, is the only one that “legislates thought,” as opposed to behavior. And this is significant, he continues, because it underlies and motivates the previous four—murder, adultery, stealing, and perjury. The thief’s coveting of my wallet or computer eventually causes him to help himself to both.

Equally illuminating is the book Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. The two Catholic writers have convinced me that Jesus, a middle easterner, did not look like those white Anglo-Saxon Protestant movie actors of the 1950s!

The book is about the historical Jesus with fascinating detail, but not overly detailed like many scholarly histories. Indeed, I would describe all of the books in the authors’ Killing Series as masterpieces of essentialization. They are page-turners.

The most significant new detail, to me, is the shape of the Roman cross. It was a capital “T,” with no ascender extending above the horizontal crossbeam. The vertical beam was left permanently in the ground, so the crossbeam and prisoner had to be lifted up to be put into position.

What Jesus and other prisoners carried to the killing ground was the horizontal beam. And that would be after a vicious whipping by a couple of Roman soldiers, who were watched carefully by their superior officer to ensure that they gave no leniency, nor did they kill the prisoners. This last would deprive the prisoners of their ultimate humiliation by crucifixion.

As a historical portrayal, the authors handle Jesus’ alleged miracles by writing “people say” or “it was said” that such and such occurred.

A considerable part of the book portrays Jesus’ integrity and independence against the Pharisees, Temple elders, and others who felt threatened by him. The Pharisees were experts on the 613 commandments or laws of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament, which also include the more familiar ten). The Pharisees repeatedly tried to trap Jesus so they could have him arrested and executed.

Jesus frequently responded to the entrapment schemes with parables that puzzled his tormentors, or he answered their questions with his own question. The latter part of the book becomes something of a thriller with the various parties to his demise struggling to come up with a justification for his execution.

Pontius Pilate, for example, could not go against Jewish law to order a crucifixion, unless Jesus posed a clear threat to Rome. The threat to Rome Jesus finally admitted to was that he was king of the Jews, therefore a sovereign. To Pilate, though, Jesus was essentially still a preacher, so Pilate’s solution was to offer a choice to the Temple parishioners, who in fact were shills of the elders and Pharisees. They, of course, chose Barabbas; Jesus was sent to his death.

So . . . communist/fascist, rabid leftists, you hate religious people so much that you cannot find anything of value in their cultural heritage, including the above, which, of course, is also your heritage? You hate them so much that you must treat them like dehumanized scum??

Get a life, leftists. Or, rather, get some ideas, based on reason, logic, and objective reality that can be discussed in rational discourse.

Your envy, cynicism, and malevolence are defeating you. What’s that Christian virtue? Ah, pity!

I’m starting to pity you.

I think I’ll go have a discussion about the Ten Commandments and Jesus with a devout Christian or Jew.

* Unfortunately, because of today’s epistemological chaos, Prager University is mistakenly calling their treatment by Google, owner of YouTube, “censorship,” which it is not. Censorship is an act only performed by the government. . . unless Google has been blessed with crony governmental handouts and other favoritisms, as in the “renewable” energy and electric car industries. If so, censorship would be the appropriate term. Otherwise, I have to acknowledge that Google seems to be exercising its property rights.

** “The Ten Commandments,” says Prager, “are the greatest list of instructions ever devised for creating a good society” (p. 79). And a good society that the commandments establish, Prager says earlier, is a free society (p. 6).

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Hatred, the Leftist Emotion?

You’re a white racist.

This is one of the lovely epithets being slung around today. If I were on the receiving end of such hostility, I would have to respond by saying that I do not believe in turning the other cheek. Therefore . . .

You’re a totalitarian, postmodern progressive irrationalist, which means you are a communist/socialist/fascist/Nazi polylogist leftist and wannabe dictator whose only method of accomplishing anything is through physical force masked by governmentally initiated coercion and legal plunder called laws and regulations.
Other comments could be added, such as, “you’re a racist against whites, a misandrist, and a heterophobe,” but let’s just say, for short, that you are a communist/fascist leftist.* Your motivation is envy and hatred.

Envy has been covered by Helmet Schoeck and Ayn Rand, though Rand said envy is not the right word. Hatred of the good for being the good is more correct. So, let’s look at the psychology of hatred.

“Hatred of the good” is not envy because bad students who express this emotion do not want to be good students. They want the good students to fail, or at least be dragged down to their level. The same can be said for today’s entitlement poor. They do not want to work hard to become rich like successful business people. They want the rich to suffer (ignoring the history of rags-to-riches stories) and become like them.

Hatred, according to psychologist Edith Packer (Lectures on Psychology, chap. 3), is an emotion that begins with anger and resentment. If unchecked, that is, if underlying evaluations of the emotions are not examined for truth or falsity, and when false, not corrected, anger and resentment can develop into rage, hostility, and aggression.

Underlying anger, says Packer, is the universal evaluation that “an injustice has been done to me,” the word “universal” meaning all instances of anger express the same evaluation. That evaluation in any specific instance, however, may be valid or true, as when someone rudely cuts in front of us in a movie line, or invalid or false when it turns out that the cutter was joining his wife who was holding his place, or the cutting was inadvertent.

Anger expresses an injustice resulting from a specific action. Resentment expresses stored-up anger, stemming from a belief (valid or invalid) of long-term unjust treatment that has been neither confronted nor resolved. This can then lead to hatred.

Hatred says the target of the emotion is totally contemptible, that the person’s character, not just his or her specific action, is despised. To quote Packer, “an individual who feels hatred usually also feels helpless to correct the injustices committed by the person he hates. While hatred can be justified in some rare cases, almost always it is neurotic or pathological”** (Kindle loc. 790-91).

Rage, an out-of-control fury deriving from the conviction that somehow I am the cause of this injustice, often follows from hatred and is pathological. As is hostility, although hostility is a defense mechanism that only looks like anger. Deriving from self-doubt that is projected outward at an alleged injustice, the aim of hostility is to make the target suffer. Aggression, finally, is the behavioral manifestation of hostility, verbal or physical actions to deliver the intended injuries.

Hatred of the good that we see today is rage, hostility, and aggression, by way of shouting down speakers or banging on windows to disturb them, blocking street intersections or entrances to venues, and, in the worst cases, hurling rocks and other missiles at the targets and destroying their property.

Such hostile behaviors are criminal, driven by frail egos filled with self-doubt, and are not new.

Recall the decidedly un-civil-disobedient student demonstrations of the 1960s, the seizures of property, kidnappings of college deans . . . and bombings and killings. Or recall 1920s Weimar Germany and its street clashes between red-coated communists and brown-shirted Nazis, not to mention Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch.

The pathological and contemptibly immoral goal in both time periods was to tear down and destroy the accomplishments of capitalism and, ultimately, replace it with some form of totalitarianism. The same is occurring today.

Marx and Engels advocated violent revolution. Lenin, Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler were just carrying out the communist/fascist founder’s wishes.

Marx’s method of argument was to declare to his opponents, “you’re just a bourgeoisie.” We can’t reason with you, he would say, because you don’t understand proletarian logic. That’s the meaning of “polylogism.”

Today’s Marxists, that is, the postmodern progressive Leninist, Mussolinian, Stalinist, Hitlerian leftists, do not even pretend to offer arguments. They smear opponents—people of prominent positions in universities, business, entertainment, and, especially, the media—by calling them names: “You’re a white racist, misogynist, homophobe.”

And they intimidate and threaten them, by pouring money into campaigns of vilification. If the targets do not toe the politically correct party line, or apologize grovelingly when they cross it, the leftists step up their campaigns to have them removed and their careers destroyed.

If this is not hatred—hatred of the good, the competent, the able—I don’t know what is.

(By the way, communist/fascist leftists, all crimes are hate crimes. That pickpocket who relieves you of your wallet is not doing it out of warm, fuzzy love.)

Postmodernism, and its leftist activists, reject the Enlightenment’s values of objective reality, reason, logic, individual rights, and capitalism. Stephen Hicks, in his book Explaining Postmodernism (1, 2), eloquently dubs postmodernists the Iagos to the Enlightenment’s Othellos. Their goal is to inject doubt into modernity’s values and, as it did with Othello, “let that doubt work like a slow poison” (Hicks, p. 200).

Or, as Hicks elsewhere describes the activists on college campuses (whom he denies the epithets “snowflakes” and “delicate flowers” because their tears, he says, are a tactic): the “grievances are not meant to be resolved. They are meant to fester and be used in the service of power-politics strategy. . . . The protesters’ point is to make unreasonable demands, and their goal is to see how much they can get away with.”

Calculated hate? How can it not be!

The antidote to this festering poison is a rational psychology that the Iagos do not possess, but if they did, it would consist of independence and a commitment to facts and truth.

In particular, it would be a commitment to the Enlightenment’s values that there really is an objective reality “out there,” that we can identify it through reason and logic, that we each individually possess rights deriving from our nature as human beings and applying universally to every person on earth, and that laissez-faire capitalism, or the closest thing we have ever come to it, has cured, and continues to cure, dread diseases, and has abolished, and continues to abolish, poverty in cultures worldwide by providing abundant opportunities for all to rise above their original stations in life.

* I’ve been struggling for some time to come up with an appropriate sobriquet to describe the far leftists. “Communist/fascist” works because differences between the two systems are superficial and Marx, Engels, and Lenin considered communism and socialism to be synonyms. “Left” on the political spectrum means total control of life and economy—this includes fascism—so “totalitarian leftist” becomes redundant.

** A justified emotion of hatred, for example, might be that of a victim of the Holocaust whose hatred is directed at the Nazis and their modern-day sympathizers.

Monday, April 09, 2018

On the Worst—and Best—Rising to the Top

When initiated coercion is legalized, it attracts those who are willing to use it.*

Those who are more willing to use legalized, initiated coercion than those who are hesitant will advance faster in the system. Eventually, the more willing rise to the top. The more willing, then, use the initiated coercion against those they have bypassed and anyone else who gets in their way.

This in essence, though not his words, is the identification made by F. A. Hayek in his 1944 book The Road to Serfdom (chapter 10, “Why the Worst Get on Top”).

The identification explains how and why an interventionist, increasingly bureaucratized government becomes a dictatorship.

The way Hayek put it is that “democratic statesmen” expect citizens to approve of their coercive policies peacefully through discussion and majority vote. As this does not work, and leads to chaos, those with “lower moral and intellectual standards” step in to take over. They appeal to the “docile and gullible,” uniting them with a “hatred of an enemy” and “envy of the better off.”

A casualty along the way is language, meaning the rise of Goebbelsian propaganda, with the word “liberty” being the first to go, or rather, turned on its head, Orwellian fashion, into its opposite.

By “democratic statesmen,” Hayek means the democratic socialists who thought they could avoid a Marxist violent revolution by voting their brand of initiated coercion into power. Instead, they paved the way for the Lenins, Stalins, Mussolinis, and Hitlers of the twentieth century.

The “docile and gullible” in today’s political climate are the patsies of the socialist/fascist left. They are those alleged victims who in reality are beneficiaries and opportunists of our entitlement culture. They are the ones who clamor for coerced handouts and privileges in the name of reparations for past discrimination and in the form of protections and other initiated coercions against the hated enemies, their alleged current persecutors.

The “hated enemies” of today have congealed around several targets. Historically, ever since the rise of the early Progressives from their democratic socialist beginnings, and continuing in the present, the favorite Marxist whipping boy has always been, and still is, big business—“America’s Persecuted Minority,” as Ayn Rand so aptly put it.

Other hated targets include white straight males and, of course, our current president, and anyone who dares to disagree with the socialist/fascist left’s mantra.

Envy of those “better off” targets is the motivation of our contemporary “democratic statesmen” and their “docile and gullible” followers.

Envy—not a self-confident, self-responsible, and independent psychology.

The way, indeed, is being paved for a modern-day . . . well, who knows what.

In contrast to the upward mobility of the worst in government, the most competent and able, self-responsible, and independent individuals—the best—rise to the top in free-market businesses.

When ability is recognized and rewarded, as in a private, profit-making business in a totally free market, which means where there are no interfering regulations imposed as a result of initiated coercion, the most competent at identifying what will improve human life and most able to deliver created goods and services to their customers will advance.

In business, competence and ability are rewarded. In a bureaucratized government, willingness to develop new laws and regulatory rules and the desire to execute them, which means more opportunities to coerce, is the criterion of advancement.

In business, the criterion and means of success, and therefore the means to high profits to sustain and grow the business, is customer satisfaction, that is, making products better than the competition to meet the objective needs (the requirements for an improved life) and wants (optional tastes) of the customer.

The day to day work, whether by employee or entrepreneur, entails a myriad of detailed communications, both outside the company, with customers and suppliers, and within the company, to employees in the various departments necessary to run the business. All of this “myriad detail,” then, must be coordinated to produce and deliver the product in a timely, need- and want-satisfying manner.

Those who possess the greatest ability to communicate with others and to motivate them in a positive way, and who can retain the greatest detail, which includes surveying the company for means of improvement and, especially, the market for opportunities, will be the ones to advance.

Today, however, we do not have the kind of freedom I have described above. Today, we live in a “mixed economy,” which means a mixture of freedom and dictatorship.

Business people today are harassed by thousands of regulations—legalized, initiated coercion—that deflect attention from the proper operation of their companies.

As a result, the incentives become mixed. Some incentive of customer satisfaction remains, but much of the time today is spent on compliance with the regulations, many of which conflict with customer satisfaction.

Increased prices is the most obvious conflict, but reduced supply and elimination of some products from the line also follow the increased regulation.

In heavily regulated industries, the “best” who rise to the top are likely to be the ones who are good at working with regulators, complying with the rules. In such industries, the business has become so bureaucratized that it operates much like a government bureau—meaning incompetent and indifferent to customer needs and wants.

It’s not uncommon for “successful” bureaucrats in these businesses to join government agencies to become regulators themselves and administrators of legalized, initiated coercion.

This is where we are today. Only time will tell how far the socialist/fascist left pushes us.

* “Legalized, initiated coercion” is the pernicious opposite of the constitutionally valid and rights-based self-defensive use of force.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Deference to Authority Studies

Psychological independence, or more specifically independent judgment, means that one’s self-esteem, integrity, and courage, should be sufficiently strong to resist outside pressures for conformity.

Independent judgment should be a fundamental aim of parenting and teaching, but, unfortunately, is not.

A number of well-known studies from the twentieth century, however, have examined, albeit superficially, the relationship between independence and conformity.

Solomon Asch in the 1950s explicitly approached the issue in terms of independence versus conformity, and even referred to Henrik Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People and Ibsen’s notion of a conforming “compact majority.” Ibsen’s protagonist, Dr. Thomas Stockmann, stood uncompromisingly to his judgment while one by one losing nearly all who were supposedly his friends. In fact, they were the compact majority.

Asch’s studies exposed a group of subjects to four straight lines on a card. The group’s assignment was to judge which of three lines was equal in length to the fourth; only one of the three was equal. All subjects but one were confederates of the researchers and were instructed to give identically incorrect answers. The test was to determine how independent the lone, unaware subject would be against the pressures of the group. A number of trials with variations was also conducted.

On average, two-thirds of all naïve subjects, in at least one of several trials, did not conform to the majority. Twenty-five percent did not conform at all in any trial.*

What does this prove? Not much. It does show the serious shortcomings, especially the contrived nature and shallowness, of the “experimental-positivistic-behavioristic” methodology, to borrow Abraham Maslow’s apt description of the epistemology used in psychology for the last one hundred years (Toward a Psychology of Being, pp. 7-8).

The studies only establish that some people are independent, at least in a perfunctory sense, and others are not, though, as Asch points out, there are “individual differences” in the behavior of all personalities. Follow-up interviews provided some, but not a lot of, insight into the thinking of test subjects.

Because of the absence of any further probing into the thinking, especially of the subjects’ “core” and “mid-level” evaluations, to use Edith Packer’s terms (Lectures on Psychology, chap. 2) for the fundamental thoughts or conclusions that determine our character, personality, and motivation, the concept of independence used in these studies must be described as existential, not psychological.

Existential independence is sound, not independent, judgment. It is sensible decision making that looks at externals, such as straight lines on a card. Without further in-depth inquiry, there is no way to determine whether or not independent judgment or psychological independence was exercised. (Sound or existential judgment usually refers to people who are responsible in an external or existential sort of way, that is, by paying their own bills when leaving home and not remaining dependent on their parents or anyone else to support them.)

Subsequent studies have shown results similar to those of Asch, namely that some people are independent, and others are not, and that the shallowness of the methods used provides no comprehensive understanding of the participants’ psychologies.

Stanley Milgram’s obedience-to-authority studies, under a pretext of being studies of learning, asked “teachers” to repeatedly increase the voltage of electrical shocks to a “learner” (who was a confederate of the researcher). The shocks were not real, but the teachers initiating them did not know it.

Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment divided students into “prisoners” and “guards” in a mock prison situation for several days. Realistic submissiveness and depression of the “prisoners” and aggression and sadism of the “guards” caused the intended two-week experiment to be shut down after six days.

These studies may be interesting to read, but they still only confirm the obvious, namely that some people are independent and others are not.  They provide existential—historical, not theoretical—data about how different people may behave in different situations, but that is all. Not everyone increased the voltages in Milgram’s studies, and not every prisoner in Zimbardo’s study was submissive or depressed, nor was every guard aggressive or sadistic.

Psychologies differ—and it matters. Psychologies were hardly examined. This reveals the fundamental flaw in logical positivism and its so-called scientific methodology, especially as it is applied in the human sciences.

Every subject in these studies is viewed not as an individual exhibiting universal traits or universal core and mid-level evaluations or various levels of self-esteem, but as a member—a single unit—of a statistical group that enables the researchers to calculate averages and percentages, and to compare the subjects to hundreds or thousands of others before “projection by successive approximation” can be made.

Viewing people as members of a statistical group in order to calculate averages and percentages and make projections strips them of their individuality and collectivizes them. At the same time, it abdicates the scientific search for universals, the search for answers to such questions as, “Why do some people go along with the group and others do not?”

These deference to authority studies were motivated in part by a desire to understand the Holocaust of World War II, to understand, for example, why some people would hide and protect an Anne Frank, others would tolerate the hiding but not do it themselves, and still others would inform on the protectors.**

A clue comes not from one-dimensionally descriptive surveys or ostensibly causal studies, but from the scientific observation of Victor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 36). As a concentration camp prisoner, Frankl observed with his eyes and through communication with his fellow inmates. Although he did not use the term, self-esteem was what enabled prisoners of “less hardy make-up . . . to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature.”

A “life of inner riches and spiritual freedom” is how Frankl put it.

Self-esteem, integrity, courage, and psychological independence are what give us that inner strength—to withstand evil or to go against a compact majority.

*S. E. Asch, “Effects of Group Pressure upon the Modification and Distortion of Judgments,” in Readings in Social Psychology (New York: Henry Holt, 1952), 2-11. Asch, “Studies of Independence and Conformity,” Psychological Monographs: General and Applied 70, no. 9 (1956), 1-70.

**Milgram, of course, refers to his studies as research on “obedience to authority,” but historian Christopher Browning says obedience means compliance with commands, whereas deference is the more correct term. Deference means submission to superior claims—of the researcher, in the case of Milgram’s studies, and others. The “deference to authority” studies are not Nazi-style situations of obedience backed up with a gun pointed at you. Consequently, agreeing with Browning, I have used “deference” in the title of this post. Christopher R. Browning, “Revisiting the Holocaust Perpetrators: Why Did They Kill?” (lecture, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, October 17, 2011). Why did the perpetrators kill? First, they dehumanized the victims, then they followed the crowd. Independence, if ever present, was jettisoned, though some in at least one battalion were allowed to opt out by their commanding officer. Others who had no choice would misfire, aiming above or to the side of the victims. Even in the Holocaust, some were independent, some were not.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Repressed Memory Craze and Hysteria as Mimicry of Physical and Psychological Disorders

The word “hysteria” does not mean “wildly or melodramatically emotional,” although it can be used that way to describe certain people in certain situations.

Hysteria is a psychological problem largely dependent on the attention patients receive from their significant others, whether family, physician, or psychiatrist.

For example, Jean-Martin Charcot’s patients in the late nineteenth century mimicked the symptoms of epilepsy because they were housed on the same ward as epileptics who received considerable attention from Charcot. When the hysterics (after Charcot’s death) were moved to another ward, their epileptic symptoms disappeared.

Hysteria is a form of self-deception, as psychiatrist Paul R. McHugh puts it in his 2008 book Try to Remember: Psychiatry’s Clash over Meaning, Memory, and Mind, in which patients imitate physical or psychological disorders.

Competent physicians determine when hysteria is operating, not a more serious physical or psychological disorder, by observing how careful hysterics are, for example, not to experience urinary incontinence or to hit their heads when fainting.

McHugh discusses the psychology of the repressed memory craze of the 1980s and ‘90s, the place of hysteria in it, and his role in defending a number of the accused.

The repressed memory (also known as recovered memory) craze consisted usually of adult women who, under treatment by what McHugh calls “Manneristic Freudians,” recovered alleged repressed memories of sexual assault and rape, usually by their fathers or other members of their families.*

A significant impetus for the repressed memory craze was the 1973 book and subsequent television movie Sybil, about a woman with alleged multiple personality disorder. A consulting psychiatrist to the authors said Sybil was a hysteric who role-played multiple personalities at the suggestion of one of the authors.

The publisher, however, expressed a strong desire for a book on multiple personality disorder, insisting that hysteria would not sell. The authors went along.

The “Mannerist” therapists almost from the beginning suggested to vulnerable and suggestible, frequently depressed, people that they may have been sexually abused, but don’t remember it, by a member of their family and that they may be suffering from “multiple personality disorder.”

Hypnotic suggestion and leading questioning, supported by a huge literature asserting (not proving) that repression causes amnesia of trauma, were the treatments of choice. Patients often exaggerated and escalated their symptoms, supposedly recalling memories of sex abuse as an infant and as the result of Satanic rituals.

Therapists seldom, if ever, interviewed family members or others who might have had important, relevant information.

Many patients sued the family member they accused and, in some cases, brought criminal charges. Prison was not uncommon.

McHugh and others defended the accused, pointing out that trauma of any kind is not forgotten or repressed and that competent therapists have their hands full helping trauma patients cope with the omnipresent memories and emotions. Memory researchers pointed out how malleable our memories can be, especially if we are vulnerable and depressed.**

In one of the trials at which McHugh testified (pp. 76-85), he stated that the patient, Donna, who was suing her father, suffered from “induced hysterical disorder,” induced by the type of therapy she received leading Donna to imitate symptoms of mental illness.

The trial ended in a hung jury, with eleven jurors voting to acquit. After trial dismissal by the judge, the holdout juror subsequently called Donna for a date. The hospital sent Donna to foster care many miles away. She soon began having doubts about her “memories” and accusations. Donna eventually reconnected with her family and sued the hospital and doctor.

Memories of nearly all accusers in the repressed memory craze were false. Lawsuits against therapists and hospitals eventually led to a modest decline in repressed memory therapies and clinics. Repressed memory also became suspect in most courts of law.

McHugh relates the story of the Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials of 1692-93 as a fascinating parallel to the hysteria of the repressed memory craze (pp. 157-60).

Eleven Salem girls complained of pains and other miseries. A doctor diagnosed them as possessed by Satan’s representatives, the witches, who were causing their afflictions.

The girls then escalated their behavior to writhing on the floor and screaming, and because they were supposedly licensed to accuse who was a witch, they proceeded to do just that. Twenty people were executed and over a hundred imprisoned.

A telling incident occurred when the girls were traveling to Gloucester to testify at a witch trial. On the way, they saw an old woman near the Ipswich bridge, assumed she was a witch, and began their performances. However, the people of Ipswich yawned and paid no attention to them. The girls stopped their contortionate display, got back on their horses, and continued on to Gloucester.

Witch trials ended when the Massachusetts Bay Colony governor, whose wife was accused of being a witch, consulted ministers in New York. The ministers declared spectral evidence (dreams, visions) invalid in a court of law, which was valid at the time in Massachusetts. The governor banned spectral evidence and the episode soon ended. Apologies by some girls and other promoters occurred a few years later.

Today’s repressed memory craze, unfortunately, is not over, according to science writer Mark Pendergrast in his 2017 book Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die. Pendergrast exhaustively presents the history and theory of the craze, and, most importantly, arguments against its theory.

Pendergrast cites Arthur Janov’s primal scream therapy from the early 1970s to raise an interesting question. Janov encouraged his patients to “relive buried trauma memories” by screaming them out. “Of all of Janov’s cases related in his first book,” says Pendergrast, “only one involved incest memories.”

How is it, asks Pendergrast, that allegedly repressed sex abuse memories did not overwhelm Janov’s therapy sessions and were not discovered until, and grew exponentially in, the 1980s and ‘90s? (Pendergrast, Kindle version, location 2565-67, chapter 2)

The repressed memory craze is still alive and well today. “Many of the allegations against Jerry Sandusky, the ex-Penn State football defensive coach, were based on repressed memories” (Pendergrast, location 340, Introduction).
The craze now operates under different names and usually beneath the headlines, although gender politics and political correctness stand out front.

* “These therapists—copying the master Freud but lacking his genius—called to mind the 16th century Mannerist sculptors and painters who, imitating the earlier masters without their inspiration or skill, produced crude and grotesque works” (McHugh, p. 34).

** The concept of repression for many years has been discredited in the minds of most psychologists, and the repressed memory craze only increased distrust of it.

Repression, however, is about emotions and its aim is to mute them by blocking awareness of their underlying evaluations. Repression begins consciously, by giving a standing order “I don’t want to feel that,” which in terms of practical effectiveness means “don’t be aware of the underlying evaluation.” (Emotions are attached to the evaluation as automatic responses; emotions per se cannot be repressed. It is the blocked evaluation that diminishes or prevents our feeling of the emotion.) Eventually, a habit becomes established preventing us from experiencing an emotion, sometimes many emotions. Repression is neither amnesia, nor forgetting, and has little if anything to do with memory. See Edith Packer, Lectures on Psychology, Kindle location 2735-60, chapter 7.   

In the absence of brain damage or other physiological causes, traumatic events are not forgotten, nor are they repressed.

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.