Friday, February 14, 2020

The “Sacred” and “Profane” of the Left—Or Rather, Their Cynicism, Malevolence, and Nihilism

Ayn Rand described religion as a primitive form of philosophy that has “usurped the highest moral concepts of our language,” thereby putting the accompanying emotions and connotational meanings outside of our reach on earth. “Sacred” is one such concept. “Profane” is its opposite.

To Rand, “sacred” means “the best, the highest possible to man,” the “not-to-be-betrayed, the not-to-be-sacrificed for anything or anyone.” The “profane” defiles the sacred by exerting minimal or no effort—or worse, by the desperate, self-doubt-driven effort of destruction that betrays the “highest possible to man” and sacrifices higher, more worthy values to lesser ones or to non-values.

In religion, which preaches the doctrine of self-sacrifice, Rand continues, “‘Sacred’ means superior to and not-to-be-touched-by any concerns of man or of this earth.” That is, the “sacred” is the altar upon which we must dutifully sacrifice ourselves, deriving little or no benefit from our sacrifices. This is the  opposite of Rand’s uplifting and man-worshipping ideal.

Today’s Left is not and has never been religious, but they are altruistic, demanding self-sacrifice, and border on being a religious cult. Philosophy professor Molly Brigid McGrath demonstrates this by analogy to such religious concepts as the sacred and profane, and piety and blasphemy.

The sacred, for example, as McGrath understands the Left, are oppressed victims—blacks, women, and gays—who suffer unjustly, whereas the pious are guilty privileged and mostly white straight males who must cleanse themselves of their (original) sins by sacrificing to the sacred.

The profane are privileged (white straight males) who do not feel guilty and therefore refuse to suffer or sacrifice for the sacred. Blasphemers, though, are the worst. They deny the validity of a “sacred” class, desecrating them and perpetrating injustices and committing crimes, often through speech that is indistinguishable from violence.

“It is difficult, in any sacred system,” says McGrath, “to make room for benevolent and intelligent people who simply disagree.” Blasphemers must be “publicly shamed, deplatformed, ostracized, often slandered and fired.” The punishment is “what justifies, psychologically, for activists and social media mobs, their unmeasured response.”

“Unmeasured response,” of course, is an academic’s polite way of saying hatred, hostility, and aggression, emotions and defensive actions I attributed to the Left in an earlier post.

The analogy indeed applies, but additional emotions identify today’s Left, such as cynicism, malevolence, and nihilism. And it’s not difficult to come up with examples.

Cynically intense pessimism is often expressed as sneering sarcasm at any attempt to hold up approvingly the American values of hard work, accomplishment, and earning one’s own way.

Malevolently desiring evil to others can be seen in the glee with which leftists celebrate the jailing of political opponents, especially in that modern version of the dungeon, solitary confinement, and doing so over trifles that had the same infraction, and in some cases the alleged infraction, been committed by a member of the Left either would have been dismissed or never would have surfaced in the legal system.

Nihilism? It’s everywhere in our culture, or what’s left of it, since the goal of the Left for many years has been to tear down and destroy all remaining remnants of Western civilization, especially reason, logic, objectivity and the notion of an objective reality, art, and, of course, capitalism. Art? Take a look at what the postmoderns have done. But be careful. You might get spit in your eye!

Sacred? To the Left? McGrath is being far too generous, even by granting them the religious version of the concept.

Ayn Rand asks us to look at “a child’s face when he grasps the answer to some problem he has been striving to understand. It is a radiant look of joy, of liberation, almost of triumph, which is unself-conscious, yet self-assertive, and its radiance seems to spread in two directions: outward, as an illumination of the world—inward, as the first spark of what is to become the fire of an earned pride.”

The child’s face is sacred, “the not-to-be-betrayed, the not-to-be-sacrificed for anything or anyone.”

That first spark and eventual fire of earned pride is precisely what the Left is aiming to extinguish.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

On Judging Other People and Moral Agnosticism

A familiar maxim from Jesus (Matthew 7:1, New Living Translation) says, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.”

Ayn Rand’s advice is “Judge, and be prepared to be judged.”

At first, the two prescriptions seem to be contradictory and there are various interpretations and applications of both. Can we reconcile them?

The first is often taken to mean “never judge,” thus leading to a policy of moral agnosticism. As for Rand’s statement, some of her followers have taken it to mean recklessly and often unjustly condemning other people who don’t meet their presumed (and frequently mistaken) interpretation of Rand’s ethics.

In a previous post, I discussed several issues required to judge the character of other people. My conclusion was that it is not easy because it takes time to get to know the other person. Let me sort out the above two prescriptions, both of which are considerably nuanced.

Subsequent verses in Matthew 7 essentially restate the Golden Rule encouraging us to use the same standard of value when judging ourselves as when judging others. No double standards, in other words. The Golden Rule can be ambiguous but it is an early and reasonable attempt to state the virtue of justice.

The last verse of this section in Matthew (7:6) concludes by urging us to be careful when collaborating with other people. “Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” As I said in my previous post, don’t hop into bed after one date (or two or three), get married after one month, or sign a business partnership after one meeting.

Divorce in marriage and business (including joint ventures) is far too prevalent. Be absolutely certain you are not dealing with a pig! Good advice from Matthew 7:1-6.*

Many assume “do not judge others” means “No one can determine right from wrong” or “Who am I to judge?” Ayn Rand reacted to that idea by offering her strong statement of always judging and being prepared to be judged, which, when properly understood, also is good advice.

We constantly make judgments—both of fact and value. “This person is pointing a gun at me” is a judgment of fact and “this gun in the hands of a criminal is a threat to me” is a judgment of value. Making value judgments, however, according to Rand, does not mean regarding “oneself as a missionary charged with the responsibility of ‘saving everyone’s soul’” or of offering unsolicited condemnation of others who may appear to be dishonest. Those others may just be committing what Rand calls an error in knowledge and the condemner may not have bothered to get to know the others well.

And judging others, of course, does not mean saying to your supervisor, “Boss, I cannot tell a lie. You’re a jerk.”

“Rationally appropriate” are the key words Rand uses to determine when or when not we should or should not make our value judgments known.

But because epistemological skepticism and moral agnosticism are rampant today and have mired us in a “who am I to judge?” culture, Rand’s further comments warrant attention. We are seeing in real time what she said over fifty years ago.

“Moral neutrality,” Rand said, “necessitates a progressive sympathy for vice and a progressive antagonism to virtue.” The sequence, especially for today’s leftists and their sycophants in the press,** in Rand’s words, has gone from “there is some good in the worst of us” to “there’s got to be some bad in the best of us” to “it’s the best of us who make life difficult—why don’t they keep silent?—who are they to judge?” (The Virtue of Selfishness, pp. 85-86, Rand's italics).

And those who dare to judge the left’s dishonesties and enormously destructive policies are silenced and condemned by the left’s massive smear campaigns.

“Free speech for me, but not for thee” is the left’s unspoken and unacknowledged motto. “Do not judge” refers to us, not them.

Most people speaking out today in defense of ethics seem to be from the religious right. Dennis Prager, as I point out in my 2018 post, argues that the Ten Commandments (or rather, Ten Statements, as he calls them) are what have driven the development of civilization.

Where are the secular ethicists, besides Ayn Rand, to defend the development of civilization?

* There are many additional values besides the ethical ones involved in successful marriages and business relationships. In both, total trust is paramount along with the notion that nothing is off the table for discussion. In marriages and sometimes even in business relationships an emotional connection through a matching sense of life and enjoyment of morally optional values is required. How to raise children or to run a business can involve both ethical and optional values. Lack of total trust in the relationship may at some point reveal a pig!

** “Useful idiots”—propagandizers for a cause they don’t understand—might also be an appropriate term for today’s press. The two words have been attributed to Vladimir Lenin, who supposedly applied them to communist fellow travelers and even ignorant classical liberals. Evidence for Lenin’s use of the words, however, has not been found.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

How to Eliminate Deep State Dictatorship

Why “deep state dictatorship”?

Let me start with the notion that most people would call the middle point between capitalism and socialism a “mixed economy,” which they also continue to say is a “mixture of freedom and controls.”

I’ll grant the “mixed economy” part but add also that the middle point is a “mixed society”—of freedom and dictatorship. When initiated coercion is used against citizens, it is a tactic of the dictator to control not just the economy but every citizen’s behavior. The mixed economy is a mixture of freedom and dictatorship.

The more initiated coercion is instituted by a government, the more that country will move toward a totalitarian society.

Capitalism is a social system in which the government remains completely out of our personal and business lives. It requires a complete separation of church and state, and complete separation of business and state. Individual rights, especially property rights, are its supreme values and are inviolate. The only function of government is to protect those rights and the only justified use of force is self-defensive to retaliate against those who have initiated coercion. This means all businesses, including schools and highways, are privately owned and operated.*

The “deep state” is a relatively new term coming to us apparently from Turkey where it means a secretive, extralegal collection of military, bureaucrats, and politicians who seek to undermine and, in some cases, overthrow a government (1, 2). In the United States, the term refers primarily to the unelected federal bureaucracy, currently estimated to be about three million,** and occasionally to collaborators, such as lobbyists at the federal level (about 12,000), assorted think tanks, military leaders, and corrupt politicians, some (many?) of whom would gladly sell their souls to undermine an administration and, perhaps, overthrow it. The national media, who repeatedly print and broadcast leaked classified information and seem unable to use objective methods of reporting facts and truth, must be added as the deep state’s courtiers.

But what is the origin of the bureaucracy and how necessary is it? In the Roman Empire, there was a large bureaucracy built on patronage, appointed by the emperor in power. The form and purpose of our present system, however, stems from the Han Dynasty in China (206 BC – AD 220)—the “Mandarin system”—and came to us by way of Prussia in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and then, finally, by the 1883 Pendleton Civil Service act in the United States (1, p. 157; 2; 3).

The significance of the Han system is that it established testing to determine who was “qualified” to serve in the government; it is actually a pretense at objectivity and is the system we have today. (See Megan McArdle on “America’s New Mandarins.”) The aim of the Pendleton Act was to eliminate the (unqualified) bureaucrats of the spoils system and give us supposedly highly qualified government workers. The difference between the two systems is that the spoils workers (a very small number in the US) were usually gone when the next president was elected. In modern systems, bureaucrats, which in numbers multiply like rabbits, may and often do spend their entire careers in the nation’s capital, outlasting many presidents.

This is our inheritance from the Progressives of the late nineteenth century, the Progressives who were trained in Germany by their democratic socialist professors. The deep state, encroaching more and more on the private sector and our rights, is rapidly moving us toward the giant post office that Lenin envisioned as the socialist state.

The deep state is dictatorial because nearly all of its rules, regulations, and laws are initiated coercion. The message to citizens is always some variation of “you must do this” or “you cannot do that.” These are not rules, regulations, and laws to protect individual rights against initiated coercion. They are themselves the initiation and are therefore dictatorial.***

How do we eliminate the deep state dictatorship? Going back to the spoils system would be a good start. Managing the police, military, or legal system, which is what bureaucratic management properly is, does not require an Ivy League education. Reducing the bureaucracy’s size to a tiny percentage of what it is today and selling all business-like governmental assets, such as the post office and all of the federally owned land (28% of the total acreage in the US) would go a long way toward reducing the national debt.

Drastically reducing the unelected bureaucracy would quickly reduce or eliminate the need for lobbyists and think tanks and might even send away those courtiers in the national media to look for honest jobs where they must actually report news based on facts and truth.

For about 130 years, the Progressives—in the name of  “democracy,” “helping the poor,” and “protecting competition”—have been marching us closer and closer to that “heaven” on earth they call socialism. Their recent behavior indicates either that they are desperate and on the precipice of failure (one can only hope!) or that they see an opportunity to steamroll their ideas on the rest of the country.

Deep state dictatorship must be defeated and removed.

* And are profit-making. I take laissez-faire capitalism to mean that there would also be no nonprofit organizations, as they are creatures of the state, the tax laws in particular. (All nonprofits today, to remain viable, must show an excess of donations over expenditures. Some are highly “profitable.”)

** Add about 16 million state and local employees, including public school teachers.

*** How many rules, regulations, and laws? Estimates, of course, vary, but I would put the minimum around 200,000. (In 2016, there were 3853 regulatory rules and 214 Congressional bills added to the Federal Register.) See my post on the “administrative state,” as Philip Hamburger calls the deep state.

Monday, November 04, 2019

On the Path to Dictatorship: Why Our Current President Must be Reelected

Democratic socialists have always paved the way for brutal totalitarian dictators, historically and logically. Our current president is the only person standing between us and such a dictatorship. Here are my reasons why.

Democratic socialists, as Hayek taught us (1, p. 158; 2), don’t have the guts to enforce their coercive policies. Dictators do, with blood. “Armed robbery and murder” is how George Reisman (part I) describes the means of establishing and maintaining a socialist society. This is true historically wherever socialism has been implemented and by logical necessity of the initiated coercion the socialists aim to impose on citizens.

“Progressivism” is the Left’s euphemism for democratic socialism (and sometimes communism). It is a specter, to use Marx’s word, that has haunted American culture and political life since the 1890’s. Today, its coercive policies are nakedly explicit.

Socialism is not just government ownership of the means of production, which the Left certainly is seeking, but it is also, more fundamentally and menacingly, government ownership of you, and all of us, the citizens. Taking our guns, so we can’t defend ourselves, and shutting down free speech, so we can’t criticize the dictators and propose radically different ideas, are just the first steps.

Government ownership of you is what total control means and that is what produces the totalitarian state. (And fascism is a form of socialism that only differs superficially.) Here is Ludwig von Mises on the path to socialism and how its acolytes are treated along the way:

As soon as a socialist deviated an inch from the orthodox creed, Marx and Engels attacked him furiously, ridiculed and insulted him, represented him as a scoundrel and a wicked and corrupt monster. After Engels' death the office of supreme arbiter of what is and what is not correct Marxism devolved upon Karl Kautsky [Marxist philosopher and theoretician].

Sound familiar? Just substitute today’s versions of the post-moderns’ political correctness for Marxism. The goal is the same, to silence dissent. Mises continues:

In 1917 it passed into the hands of Lenin and became a function of the chief of the Soviet government. While Marx, Engels, and Kautsky had to content themselves with assassinating the character of their opponents, Lenin and Stalin could assassinate them physically” (Theory and History, pp. 131-32).

Assassinations and gulags are the end—the dead end—of socialism, that is, unless you happen to be one of the elites who lives well, that is, again, unless you offend the wrong person and end up with a bullet between the eyes.

The list of past and present socialist assassins is lengthy: Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Chavez, and Maduro. For 130 years, Progressives have been moving us ever so inexorably closer to that end.

Our current president, and his constituency, seem to know this, at least implicitly, if not in some respects, explicitly. The Left is attacking and eroding the American sense of life. The president and his constituency represent it.

The dishonest blather—and “blather” is too kind a word to describe the babblingly vicious attacks made on our president—whether about his alleged “rude,” “crude, or “mannerless” words and behavior or his alleged dishonesty, are the Left’s projection of what they have done for 130 years and are doing in spades today. Our president may have rough edges and speak bluntly, which makes him transparent, but the Left talks out of both sides of their mouths and holds hearings in basement star chambers.

The Left, however, does rightly feel legitimate fears that the president is out to destroy their fiefdoms. The “good ‘ol boy” networks of lobbyists, the unelected deep state, and corrupt politicians are what he accurately calls “the swamp.” The mixed economy, after all, is a mixture of freedom and dictatorship. Freedom requires dismantling these Machiavellian strongholds.*

It is absurd to say that our current president would establish a dictatorship. That is the Left’s Goebbelsian smear campaign. So what if he sometimes falls back on ad hominem attacks? The Left’s smears are nonstop and far worse, stemming from their updated Marxian polylogism (1, 2) that celebrates relativism and the collapse of reason, logic, and Enlightenment values.

So what if the president talks nicely to dictators? Seriously? How do you conduct a negotiation by saying to your opposite, “You’re evil! Now, let’s talk.” The essence of good negotiation is sticking to principles, especially the principle of national self-interest, something our president has practiced far more consistently than his predecessors. He refuses to sacrifice himself to others and our nation to other countries.

And so what if the president is not an advocate of laissez-faire capitalism? Seriously again? That is a reason not to vote for him?

He is proud to be an advocate of capitalism as he understands it. He is proudly self-interested—for himself and for both the nation and his constituents. He is proud to be rich and wants everyone else to become rich. He is proudly and vehemently opposed to socialism and any kind of leveling of society to its lowest common denominator.

I did vote libertarian in 2016 because I thought the Republican candidate was “too socialistic” and that my California vote was a useless throwaway, but I immediately changed my mind when I saw the putsch mentality and fervent hatred take over political discussion. I have since written some twenty blog posts touching on political issues and essentially defending our current president. I plan to vote Republican next November!

Would a winning Democratic candidate in 2020 really establish a dictatorship? Probably not, because the American sense of life is still strong enough to provide pushback against the worst trying to rise to the top. But in twenty, forty, or sixty years?

The American sense of life must be articulated explicitly to the electorate. Our current president, with his confident selfishness and equally confident condemnation of the swamp are good starts.

* And then there are the Pravdas and Izvestias that whine and cry when the president describes them as “enemies of the people,” which they are. If they had any guts or integrity, they would be upholding the principles of a free society and writing factual stories about the Left—a Left that would surely shut them down as soon as acquiring power or attach them to the government. On the dead end of an unelected deep state, see my 2016 post, “The Reductio of Bureaucracy,” where I argue that the final product of bureaucratic management is to be found in the gulags of totalitarian dictatorship.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Why I Self-Publish

Today, Independent Judgment and Introspection, my third self-published book, goes on sale. Why do I self-publish?

In 1981, I bought and read a book titled the Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter. I was intrigued but at the time had nothing to publish!

In 1993, I submitted to five publishers a proposal and three chapters of a book I had titled “Advertising: Beacon of Capitalism.” One called me and offered a contract. Flattered beyond belief, I said, “Where do I sign?” In the course of talking to my editor, he said my title was “too flag wavy” and suggested the current one, In Defense of Advertising: Arguments from Reason, Ethical Egoism, and Laissez-Faire Capitalism.

The editor also made a casual remark that made me a little uneasy, but I did not think too much about it. He said, “With the advent of electronic publishing, books may never go out of print.” In later years, I realized the message was, “Good luck getting your rights back!” I did not know about print on demand (today’s technology of printing one book at a time) and I doubt that my editor knew about it. I was aware that I had signed away all rights, which is what all but the highly successful best-selling authors must do to get a book published. Best-selling authors can negotiate with publishers and even receive a lucrative advance against royalties. The rest of us must take what the publisher offers, which may include copyright in the publisher’s name, not yours.

In 1994, In Defense of Advertising was published by Quorum Books, an imprint of the Greenwood Publishing Group in Westport, Connecticut.* Price was $45, hardcover only, and a lot of money in those years with similar books today going for $180-200 plus. Target market was “scholarly/professional,” which meant college libraries and motivated professors or individuals  who might be willing to pay that kind of money. The book did respectably. Sales in the hundreds, not thousands.

By the early 2000s the book’s sales trickled to almost nothing and I was interested in seeing it in paperback, even if I had to publish it myself. I joined the Author’s Guild, an organization mainly for the Stephen King’s of the world, but one benefit is that members can ask questions of the Guild’s lawyers. I asked for, and got, advice on how to ask for my rights back. I also got a stern sermon on why I shouldn’t have signed away all rights! The advice was to offer to buy all books in the warehouse at cost. There weren’t many, so the publisher accepted and I got the rights back in 2006. I self-published the paperback in 2007.

With the ease of print on demand (lack of need to carry inventory) and electronic publishing, I doubt that publishers today would be so generous in returning rights. In 1992 the same publisher (now under the Praeger imprint) published a scholarly collection that included one of my papers. I was asked recently to include the same paper in a new collection, but the 1992 book is still in print in Kindle and print-on-demand versions. The publisher wanted $1500 for the “privilege” of reprinting the paper. I once again joined the Author’s Guild to ask about my rights. The lawyer said I did sign away everything, but he also thought the publisher was unethical in “ransoming” my paper. He also gave me references to a statutory right of termination for papers in collections. It says I can get my rights back in 2026. If the publisher doesn’t play lawyerly games with me! (Permission to reprint academic papers is always free as long as credit is given—except in this case.)

For two or three years, I submitted my second book, Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism, to about fifteen publishers, getting wonderful peer review comments (from a university press) such as “I don’t consider Ayn Rand to be a reference for anything.” (See my comment on the ethics and epistemology of peer review.) One publisher was willing to publish the book as is, but the copyright was to be in their name and I had to provide my own typeset page proofs (in Microsoft Word), copy editing (which most publishers provide for authors), and an index (which publishers do not provide). And, of course, I had to sign away all rights. I did attempt to negotiate but only got as far as, “I guess you can have the copyright in your name.” At that point, I exclusively became a self-publisher. Here are my reasons why.

The business model of publishers is much like that of the Hollywood movie studios. They make their money on hits, the best sellers, but it is difficult to predict which books will be runaway best sellers. So they accept as many books as they can handle, spend about three months on each one before publication date and three months after, then move on to the next. If the book doesn’t continue to sell well, it is thrown in the back pages of the publisher’s catalog.

Most of the publishing work, which includes production and marketing of the book, falls on the author. Typically, publishers will copy edit and typeset the manuscript, design a cover, list the book with top wholesalers (which gets the books listed online at retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble). They will send the book to some pre- and post-publication reviewers and put the book in their catalog that is mailed or emailed to the “house list,” an amalgam of past buyers and interested readers. If your book looks like it may sell well, you may be offered a book tour and some ads may be placed. There are no guarantees that your book will end up in a retail store. (Retailers require discounts of 40-60%  and if the books don’t move off the shelf, they are returned for refund and shipped at your cost. Refunds and shipping are deducted from royalties.)

The author must do and provide everything else. The author is asked to provide lists of contacts that might buy the book and possible review outlets. The author must provide an index, which if hired by a professional indexer can cost one or two thousand dollars. (This is the reason many books have no index or a poor one. The author does not want to pay for an index or want or know how to do one.) The author must proofread the typeset page proofs and return them in a short turnaround time, usually within two or three days. Advertising? Book tour? Convincing local retailers to carry your book? The publisher won’t stop you from spending your time and money on any of these ventures, though your contract probably has a veto or approval clause about the advertising!

So how many books actually get sold? Nielsen Bookscan in 2004 tracked 1.2 million books. Ten books sold more than a million copies, 500 more than 100,000, and two percent (or 24,000) more than 5000. Ninety-seven percent, however, sold fewer than 1000 and 80% fewer than 99.** The numbers are sobering and I doubt that they would be much different today, perhaps worse considering how many self-published books are on the market now.

The advantage of self-publishing is, in one word, control. I have total control of my books and my heirs can keep them in print after I’m gone. In the old days traditional publishers would just let books go out of print, often with excess copies destroyed (“pulped,” in the publishing lingo). Now they probably will never let them go out of print, making it difficult, if not impossible, to get your rights back. The drawback to self-publishing is that you have to do all the work yourself, although there are many advisors and consultants willing to do the work for you and gladly take your money, which can quickly add up to thousands of dollars that probably cannot be made back in sales. Self-publishing is work and you must enjoy doing it. Otherwise, the traditional path is the way to go, with a membership in the Author’s Guild and/or a good lawyer.

Scholarly books, which mine are, may not make the bestseller lists, but they can be discovered by graduate students and professors while browsing the stacks of a library or by noticing them in the bibliographies and footnotes of other books and papers or just by doing a “books-in-print” search on our modern day books-in-print (and not-in-print) database,

Years ago, I was impressed by the lesson of Hermann Gossen whose book in 1854 was nearly wiped out of existence (most copies destroyed), until discovered in 1878 by a colleague of William Stanley Jevons. Gossen had anticipated the law of marginal utility, as later elaborated by Jevons, Carl Menger, and Leon Walras. (See Mises on Gossen, p. 331.)

In a 2009 post, I expressed optimism about the future of “good—meaning rational—ideas” (though the leftists have challenged this premise a bit in the past two or three years). I related how in the eighth century BC the Greeks came out of their Dark Age and immediately wrote down their entire oral tradition, which led eventually to the Greek Golden Age. And I noted how Europe in the fifteenth century, with the invention of moveable type, published within a hundred years all extant written work, which gave us the Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, Enlightenment, and the standard of living we all enjoy today.

In the twenty-first century, the move is toward digitization of all of the world’s literature. Does this mean there will be a new Renaissance?

“Good—meaning rational—ideas” do eventually seem to be discovered and advanced, if they are available in permanent form.

* “Imprint” is the publishing industry’s substitute for brand name. Most publishers, who likely were English majors in college, prefer not to be associated with the Procter and Gamble’s of the world.

** This and other data from the early 2000s can be found in a thinly disguised business case at
. It is a thin disguise of yours truly’s experiences at self-publishing. More recent data: brick-and-mortar book store sales, now only 39% of total book sales, peaked in 2008 and are declining slowly. The number of Barnes & Noble stores also peaked in 2008 and have also been declining slowly (1, 2). Independent book stores, interestingly, have grown almost 40% since 2009.

(Cross posted on the books' website.)

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Preface to Independent Judgment and Introspection

My new book, Independent Judgment and Introspection: Fundamental Requirements of the Free Society, will be published on October 1. You can preorder it now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Information about the book can be found on its website Here is the preface.

The boy in the Hans Christian Andersen tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is often admired for his independent judgment, that is, for his courage to speak a truth that the adults feared to acknowledge openly. Two questions, however, can be asked about independent judgment as a character and personality trait. One, can everyone really practice it (besides naïve children) or is it the province of true creators and innovators, such as Socrates and Galileo? And, perhaps giving rise to doubts expressed in the first question, a second asks, how does one handle the hazards of independent judgment, such as the prospect of offending other people, sometimes resulting in death (Socrates) or house arrest (Galileo)?

Independent judgment is correct perception of the facts of reality and courage to acknowledge and assert those facts. The two questions above arise because of complicating factors; intelligence and interest can affect one’s initial perception of facts and other people can affect both the initial perception and assertion of the judgment. Psychology plays a dominant role throughout.

Great innovators, especially those who challenge centuries of convention, are highly intelligent. They also are extremely interested and motivated in their areas of innovation. Those of us who do not possess the same intelligence or interest, whether college professor or blue-collar worker, can nevertheless use our intelligence in areas of interest to perceive and assert what we do see. Intelligence combined with interest determines who is likely to see ahead of others, and those of us who do not see initially can learn from those who do, but intelligence is not a prerogative of the highly educated. Independent judgment can be practiced equally by a garage door repairman as by a scientist.

So why don’t more people practice independent judgment? Which is to ask, why don’t they join the boy in the tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”? The answer is fear, real or imagined, of what might happen to them. The real fear of death or incarceration that can result from speaking one’s mind poses a needless moral quandary. We have no moral obligation to drink hemlock, as Socrates did, to preserve our independent judgment. Many in the Soviet Union managed to maintain theirs by expressing it to family and trusted friends, sometimes speaking in a foreign language to prevent nosy neighbors from overhearing their conversations and reporting them. They were conventional on the outside, in public, to preserve their lives, but independent on the inside, at home, to preserve their self-esteem.

Most of us do not face the real fears of a Socrates, Galileo, or citizen of the Soviet Union. Our fears of expressing independent judgment stem from what others might think of us. Disapproval, maybe rejection, is the worst that might happen, yet the anxiety caused by self-doubt can be so strong as to blur our perception of the facts, thus preventing any expression of an independent judgment. When choices based on self-doubt build up over time, habits of perceiving reality through clouded lenses become established patterns of behavior. Seeing the world through the eyes of others, whomever those significant others may be, becomes the norm. Conventionality is the result.

Can independent judgment be taught? Yes, but it must start at an early age. Children, of course, need to be given love and support, but they also need to be given freedom, within limits appropriate to their maturity, to choose their own values. And they need to be allowed to learn from their mistakes. Most parents are loving toward infants, but when the children move into their “terrible twos,” parents begin controlling and in some cases hitting. Often, the controlling continues throughout childhood and becomes a constant in traditional schools. Choice and self-assertion are seen as a disruption of authority and disobedience. In reality, they are signs of developing self-esteem and personal identity. When they are erased by the controlling, authoritarian behavior of adults, children quickly get the message that getting along means going along. It is a rare child who matures to adulthood with independent judgment intact. Perhaps this is why we tend to think that only certain people can fully achieve it.

Independent judgment is a fundamental requirement of the free society. Unless each adult citizen possesses a significant amount of self-esteem expressed as independent judgment, such a society cannot last.

The aim of this book is to explore the nature of independent judgment and its relationship to the free society. Throughout the journey, we will find that psychology, especially the skill of introspection, plays a significant role in developing and maintaining independence in the individual and in generating the desire to live in a free society.

The book begins by chronicling the historical war on independence, that is, how the character and personality trait has been ruthlessly destroyed in children from the earliest times of civilization and how it is routinely prevented from developing today. It next examines the nature of psychology as a science, psychology’s epistemological foundations and its relation to political individualism and moral egoism. The book further analyzes how independent judgment develops in the individual, probing the depths of psychology to demonstrate how seemingly uncontrollable subconscious premises guide our lives and how we can identify and change those premises through introspection.

Several mistaken conceptions of independence are discussed, including the Socrates question, “do we have to die for our independence?” along with a clarification of the meanings of autonomy and responsibility, the relation of independence to intelligence and epistemological certainty, and a comment on three well-known deference to authority studies from the mid-twentieth century. Finally, the book elaborates the meaning of introspection and the defensive habits we must identify and correct through introspective skill, and it then recommends to parents and teachers methods of teaching that skill to their children and students. The overall aim of “educating for independence,” as the last chapter is titled, is to correct, and preferably prevent, thinking errors that lead to psychological problems.

It is those psychological problems that prevent the development of independence and happiness and, in turn, the uncompromising desire to live in a totally free society. Independent judgment and introspection in each individual are the fundamental requirements of expanding personal and political freedom.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

“Don’t Hire College Graduates”

In the early 1970s I worked in the client services department of a mid-town Manhattan firm. I was the only college graduate (in philosophy!). My boss hired a recent business school grad, with a bachelor’s degree, not an MBA.* The guy whined and complained about the “menial tasks” he had to perform and acted like he should be running the company. He quit before he could be fired.

Shortly afterwards, my boss paid me a nice compliment, asking “How can I find more people like you?” I replied, “Don’t hire college graduates.”

I still stand by that advice, though I have to qualify it. In our credentialed world, the college degree is a union card that opens doors and provides opportunities that otherwise would be more difficult, though not impossible, to find without the degree. Many students today—and their parents—already know this as they have become expert at gaming the system.

Learning? Yes, you can get lucky and find a handful of professors who actually teach and can communicate what they know. Most learning, however, after all the thousands of dollars have been spent, must be accomplished on your own, and most likely will occur after you leave the ivory towers. (Companies will spend a lot of dollars training you, regardless of your degree.)

My point about the uncredentialed is that “deplorably” ill-credentialed people can make highly competent and responsible employees. Even in technical fields, non-graduates have been known to know more about, and work harder on, the job than the “well-schooled.”

More generally, “don’t hire college graduates” is metaphor for arrogance-busting of the “well-schooled.” I include here the wealthy (and not so wealthy) bi-coastal elites who despise and denigrate the “deplorables” of middle America’s flyover country (which is not to say that middle American values are found only in the hinterlands and that arrogant elites are found only on the coasts.)

One advocate of middle American values and bias-free news reporting, who was not a Republican conservative, was the late Tim Russert, moderator for sixteen years of NBC’s Meet the Press. Russert was educated with a law degree but not one from any of the “good schools” that the elites cherish. His background was blue collar and he emphasized how valuable that experience was for him.

Not long before his death, Russert was interviewed by former CBS newsman, conservative Bernard Goldberg, who asked him about the significance of that background. Russert replied,
There's no substitute for it. . . . I've worked on garbage trucks. I drove a taxi. I tended bar. I delivered pizzas. I worked with liberals, conservatives, blacks, whites; that's how you grew up in this interesting world, and people were always simply judged in the end on their quality as a person: Did they tell the truth? Did they honor their commitments? Did they show up for work on time?
These are middle American values that apply to both the degreed and non-degreed. “Judge the quality of the person, their commitment to truth-telling, their willingness to honor commitments, and their willingness to show up for work on time.” All of which means working hard and being responsible. College degrees do not shape moral values like these. If anything, in today’s culture, they may erode them.

These values carried over in Russert’s work as a newsman and interviewer. He was a straight shooter who learned the skill from his sanitation worker father. “Always give the other guy the benefit of the doubt,” Russert said his father would say, “but hear him out. Hear him out. And don’t dismiss him and don’t brand him as anything.”

So what did Russert’s more “well-schooled” colleagues say about him (as reported by Russert)? Well, we can imagine the colleagues saying, with appropriate snootiness, Russert attended “middling schools , , , [and] admits to being a practicing Catholic.” And, Russert, with good reason, speculates they probably also say, “If he didn’t go to Harvard, if he’s not Ivy League, how can he be smart?”

Does snootiness go with hard work in a business? Not really. Business is humbling. The goal of a business, in contrast to a government bureaucracy, is to satisfy the customer’s needs and wants. Angry customers? You have to learn how to pacify them.

A memorable episode from my NYC days was a customer barging into the office early in the morning, with smoke coming out of his ears, fuming over an order he had not received when promised. I had not even taken the lid off my cup of coffee! As a bureaucrat, I would probably get away with saying something like “Take a number and wait until I’m ready to talk to you!” Since my job depended on keeping customers happy, I dropped everything to talk to the client, checked on what was going on in our back production room, and made sure that he would get his order promptly.

That is the essence of business and it doesn’t require a college degree. I don’t recall whether I said this to my students, but here is the lesson learned from such experiences: you know how to work in business after you have had to pacify an irate customer. Or rather, make that an irate New Yorker!!

The client was understanding. He was from middle America, though I hasten to add that this was not a blank check for me. I had to deliver the promised service and ensure that such failures would not happen again. A number of my coworkers were also from middle America, which created a family atmosphere, far more enjoyable than being a student. My coworkers from New York also shared most of my middle American values, but they did somewhat remind me of our current president!

My hiring advice to employers? Judge the person, not the credentials.

* The NY Times help wanted ads in the early ‘70s listed column after column of jobs headlined “Col Grad,” meaning employers were looking for college graduates regardless of major. By the late ‘70s this had changed to “MBA.” My liberal-arts-major colleagues and I realized we probably should get a new credential to join the MBA guild. We did. For the reason why I use the word “guild” to refer to education, see chapter 5 of Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism, especially pp. 156-58.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

On Abortion and Cake-Baking

What do you not get, dear conservatives and dear leftists, in the expression “Stay out of our bedrooms and board rooms?”

The expression, of course, is metaphor, but it’s not too far from the literal truth. Individual rights means everyone, but especially the government, should stay out of our personal lives and our business and professional lives. It means what we do in our personal and business and professional lives—between consenting adults, which means we don’t infringe on anyone else’s rights—is none of your business.

The result of this principle is, or would be, if implemented consistently, laissez-faire capitalism.

Dear conservatives and dear leftists, you both conflate legal and moral issues. You both agree that what you consider immoral should be illegal and therefore moral transgressors must be punished.

If abortion is murder, for example, why not execute the aborters? Something similar can be said about small business people who refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings. No, you conservatives and leftists have not gone so far as to recommend execution—yet—but both of you have no qualms about putting victims of your legal shenanigans in that modern version of the dungeon called solitary confinement, “for their own protection,” as you put it. (Think Jerry Sandusky and Paul Manafort.)

In an earlier post, I quoted Ludwig von Mises, who said, “Every advocate of the welfare state and of planning is a potential dictator. . . . He refuses to convince his fellow citizens. He prefers to ‘liquidate’ them. . . . [He] worships violence and bloodshed.”

Are we there yet? You both preach self-sacrifice, otherwise known as altruism. According to both of you, we should all be sacrificing ourselves to some “higher good,” whether God or “society” (which means the state) . . . or you.

Suffering is supposedly our natural fate and you intend to make us suffer. Individual rights? That’s selfish!

Let us now take these self-sacrificial issues one at a time.

Abortion is not murder, nor does our soul begin at conception, or even at birth. At twelve weeks, the fetus is a couple of inches of cells in the woman’s body. Let’s emphasize that: in the woman’s body, not in your body. Each woman owns her body and, as does every adult individual, has the right to do with her body whatever she wants. (Suicide laws in most states have been properly abolished.)

We are, after all, overwhelmingly talking about the first trimester (91.1% of abortions performed) and we are talking about ending a potential, not actual, human life. Beyond the first thirteen weeks, each woman still has a legal right to abort, especially if her life is at risk due to a difficult pregnancy. This is what the “right to life” means! It begins at birth. This is the legal issue.

The moral issue is narrower.

Is it really the moral duty of a young woman to become enslaved to a child she does not want?  I’m not just talking about malformed children. What about the psychology of physically healthy children who have been raised by a mother (and father) who did not want them?

As for the soul . . . the soul is our consciousness and fundamental motivating values, our core and mid-level evaluations, as psychologist Edith Packer (chap. 1) identifies them, that give us a personal identity. The soul-making process takes many years, with development beginning most likely in toddlerhood, though infants, through the treatment of their caregivers and their experiences of pleasureful satisfactions and painful frustrations, may begin to develop a potential soul.

Conception and the months of pregnancy give us genes that determine our skin and eye color, not our souls.

Suffering, I guess you conservatives would say, is the plight of both children and parents, but especially parents, because they are the ones who chose to have sex. And this is where we have arrived in the discussion. It is sex that must be controlled, by the government, and you are the ones who want to be in charge.*

Now dear leftists, there’s nothing subtle about you and your recycled Marxism and collectivist clichés. Your issues are blatant power grabs. Ultimately, you or your followers or descendants, if current trends continue, will soon start worshiping violence and bloodshed, if it hasn’t already begun. As did Robespierre, you are already dressing up violence as virtue.

Sacrificing a baker to an alleged “public good,” coercing him to make a cake for someone he does not want to serve, is only the beginning. As your policies dictate, the dungeon, or rather, solitary confinement (and, of course, eventually the guillotine), is where hinderers of your march to power, whom you propagandize as violators of morality, should go.

The issue is the primacy of property rights and you know it. Capitalism is a system of private property, private ownership of the means of production, which includes the baking of cakes. I can do whatever I want to on my property (and say anything, if we are talking about free speech), provided, again, that I’m not violating other peoples’ rights who are residents or guests. So you, dear leftists, get out!

But that is precisely what you cannot tolerate—being unable to control other people on their own property—so you brandish your government guns like any other petty or psychopathic criminal.

“Without property rights,” as Ayn Rand says, “no other rights are possible.” Property rights are sacrosanct and should be untouchable. They are the implementation of the rights to life and liberty.

The destruction of capitalism has always begun with the destruction of property rights. It continues to be a fundamental part of your campaign.

Dear leftists, I sympathize in today’s intellectual climate with conservatives and side with them in their war against you and your medievalist friends who want to reinstitute a modern version of serfdom with you in charge of the fiefdom. Most conservatives seem to understand your envy and hatred of the good, the capitalist good, that has brought us out of the abject poverty you want to send us back to.

Abortion is not an insignificant issue, but you leftists have no principles with which to argue your case—“pro-choice” or not. You so obviously want power.

*This is not an endorsement of every abortion. The moral decisions of getting pregnant and raising children, as well as aborting a fetus, are serious and must be carefully thought out ahead of time. It is decidedly immoral to get pregnant just to collect welfare or because one feels like it; it is also decidedly immoral to abort based on whim. Parents must provide information and support to their children about sex, birth control, and abortion, including information about abortion’s potential for physical and emotional pain,. But this means the government on both sides of the political aisle must get out of the abortion business. This means in particular no tax-payer funds or regulations to or for either side, and especially it means no tax-payer funds to “nonprofits” like Planned Parenthood and the various conservative counterparts! (Scare quotes intended, as many so-called nonprofits are highly profitable.) And, as I have written before, both sides have the moral obligation of removing legal and regulatory obstacles to adoption and the legal and regulatory encouragements of unwed teenage pregnancies. (On this last, see Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams.)

Friday, June 07, 2019

Chance Emotional Generalizations and Introspection

An emotional generalization is an emotion experienced in several or many similar situations that becomes a subconscious conclusion influencing our subsequent choices and actions. It is not formed by explicit conceptual identification and is therefore a “chance” occurrence.

Emotions, which exist in both humans and higher animals, are psychological counterparts of physical pleasure and pain. The process in infants and animals to generalize emotional experiences occurs automatically, but humans in later life, preferably beginning in toddlerhood, can use conscious thought to control part of the process, to make and identify generalizations and correct mistaken ones.

Most of us, unfortunately, leave our generalizations from emotional experiences to accident or circumstance, not explicit conceptual identification.

For example, a toddler who is yelled at by his father and called bad names for spilling a glass of milk may feel fear, anxiety, and hurt for the way his father reacted to the objectively harmless event.

The boy likely cannot name the emotions he has just experienced or determine why he feels what he feels, although he is presumably aware that his reaction is to his father’s response to the spilling of the milk. He feels pain and the threat of pain, drawing negative conclusions about himself. This is a one-time experience.

If similar situations of being yelled at and called names arise in the future, not just involving his father, but also his mother, other relatives, and teachers, the boy’s subconscious mind may generalize, having repressed the origin of the feeling, and draw the subconscious conclusion—what Edith Packer (chap. 1) calls a core evaluation—“I can’t do anything right. I must be careful around other people.”

As the boy grows older and becomes an adult, he may experience the same emotions to yelling and name-calling even when the sounds are not directed at him but nevertheless are within earshot.*

This scenario can be observed in higher animals, such as a dog who as a puppy was abused by a male owner through yelling and hitting. The puppy experiences painful feelings that become stored and associated with males, especially who yell and hit. When moving to a new family, the puppy and adult dog may still react fearfully and defensively when meeting the new, but kind, male owner and other males in the household or neighborhood. The dog may also run out of the house whenever a human voice is raised.

Emotional generalization in the higher animals is essentially how their behavior is guided.

The difference between the higher animals and humans is that we can identify the nature and cause of our emotions and correct the ones that are out of context and based on false underlying premises.

This is an important component of what the capacity to reason in humans means. Through introspection we can identify and regulate our cognitive mental processes by conceptualizing them, that is, putting words to them, as opposed to bouncing from one chance emotion to another.

The skill of introspection is what we all need to learn and practice and, especially, is what needs to be taught to children when they are young, probably as soon as they begin to speak.

Introspection is what psychotherapists—whether or not they acknowledge the validity of introspection in science—encourage their patients to learn in order to resolve the psychological problems and conflicts they are suffering.

Introspection in children, if it were taught, would go a long way toward preventing the development of many unfortunate problems and conflicts.

Emotions are psychosomatic responses to a situation—a person, object, or event—that presuppose a previous perception of what is factual about the situation, along with an evaluation of the facts. Either can be true or false. “That bang,” for example, “was a gunshot [fact], which constitutes a threat to me [evaluation]. As consequence, I feel fear.”

The emotional reaction is automatic, but every emotion rests on implicit, often subconscious, judgments of fact and value. It is the fact and value judgments that can be identified through introspection and changed. As it turns out, the bang was the backfire of a car [corrected fact], which does not constitute a threat to me [corrected evaluation]. This knowledge corrects my mistaken judgments. As a result, the emotion of fear disappears.

Conceptualization is the tool needed to identify the facts and values that stand behind all of our emotions. Introspection is the method by which we use the tool. Unfortunately, neither has been taught to us, certainly not in childhood, and, if at all, minimally in adulthood.

Without knowledge of how to introspect, we are left at the mercy of chance emotional generalizations, many of which we have formed unaware (subconsciously) in childhood and adolescence and which essentially determine and control our adult lives. Chance, unexamined emotional generalizations are what lead us to think that we are helplessly determined by our genes and environment.

The best advice here is Edith Packer’s (p. 278): “If parents and schools could teach children the connection between thoughts and emotions, if they could teach a child that when he feels something, he’s really thinking something—so that the child would learn to ask himself, ‘What am I thinking when I experience this emotion?’—it would be invaluable.”

* I hasten to add that not every child will react the same way to this father’s behavior. A rare child might say to himself, “What’s the big deal? I didn’t do anything wrong. Father is being ridiculous.” My example is not of environmental determinism, but of a serious influence that hampers many a child’s healthy development. The father needs to learn how better to relate to his son.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Identity Politics and Psychological Defense Values

If put into words, intelligence defense values would say something to the effect, “I’m smarter than you” or, “I’m smart; you’re not.” I have mentioned them before, but this post is about the less savory version.

Defense values are a special case of defensive habit, more commonly called “defense mechanisms,” that aim to fend off self-doubt and anxiety by giving us a pseudo-self-esteem—a salve, as it were, for the self-doubt and anxiety. Defense values may be any value, rational or irrational, that we use as our source of (pseudo) worthiness and efficacy.

The way the values are held in our minds and pursued are what makes them defensive. Feeling a jolt of excitement, for example, when thinking or talking about the value and especially bragging to others are signs that a defense value may be operating.

When expressing or practicing a defense value, we tend to feel special in the eyes of significant others, whomever that group of others might be, and superior to outsiders. Defense values are other directed and always carry an air of condescension. For example, “I make the best creamed spinach” (on earth, is the implication). Or, “I have a very high IQ” (a lot higher than yours). Or, on the irrational side of values, “I shoplift and never get caught” (unlike you, you sucker who doesn’t even try).

If someone does not like your creamed spinach, or does not like creamed spinach at all, and you feel crushed as a result, that is another clue that a defense value may be operating.

Defense values are always comparative and are therefore key to understanding group identity and identity politics. People gather together in groups, formally and informally, and think of themselves as belonging to groups, based on a common value. They identify with each other based on that value, whether it be one’s family, a cooking or gun club, a rogues’ gallery of criminals, or just shared philosophical, religious, or political values.

It matters whether the values are held in the members’ minds genuinely or defensively. Genuinely held values derive from the confidence of an authentic self-esteem that generates pleasant interactions among the groups’ members. Defensively held values generate psychological dependence that requires us, so to speak, to look over our shoulders to ensure that we are successful at impressing certain people, securing their approval, or maintaining our superiority over them, or all three. Such interactions lead to group rules of “political correctness,” whether or not the group is political in the literal sense.

Individual psychologies, of course, are complicated and exist along a continuum, so some members of a group may hold a genuine self-esteem, others may not, with many gradations in between. The more defensive the membership is, the more enforcement of certain “politically correct” rules comes into play. Extreme defensiveness of a group may generate such severe rules that admission to the group requires one to be a “true believer,” to identify with the “holy cause,” as Eric Hoffer (chap. 2) puts it.

This is the psychological source of the leftists’ identity politics that we have today. It does not display a strong personal identity based on an authentic self-esteem that practices courage, integrity, and independence as its primary virtues.

Defense values, like most defensive habits, begin in childhood and become so automatized that we are not aware of them, or of how they have developed, or that the habits are less than healthy and may be contributing to a less than happy life. They feel like, “That’s me, and I can’t do anything about it.”

Psychologist Edith Packer (esp. chap. 4, 5, and 10) identifies defense values as developing earlier in childhood than the other “helper” defenses,” such as repression, compulsiveness, projection, etc., although compulsiveness often quickly accompanies developing defense values.

Ironically, and sadly, it is profuse praise of children that encourages the development of defense values. For example, a young boy energetically helps mom or dad clean up a mess of spilled milk. The parent gushes, “You’re such a good little boy!” Repeated enough times, the  boy will begin compulsively to seek out similar praise. A girl who is good at school and is praised frequently with “You’re so smart” is on the path to developing an intelligence defense value.*

Family conversation can reinforce and cement the intelligence defense value by a parent (or both) repeatedly gushing: “So and so went to an Ivy League school and was top in his class,” or: “So and so teaches at that top-rated school, which means she is so smart to be there that she could not possibly be biased, ineffective, or unfair as a teacher.” Over the years, a child inhales the parents’ intelligence defense value that also expresses a good dose of condescension.

If we discover that we have an intelligence (or any other) defense value, we should not feel guilty or bad about ourselves. We should, however, work to replace the defenses we do have with genuine values.

To be sure, not all children accept parental values as illustrated in these examples, but such values are significant “environmental” influences on many children.

Intelligence defense values are endemic to certain groups in our culture. Academics are one, at any level, but especially at universities, and the higher the rating of the university, the stronger the intelligence defense value and, usually, the greater the condescension. And politicians and bureaucrats of the “deep state” are a second. Indeed, in some European countries, it is a badge of honor for a young person to land a job in the bureaucracy; the last thing such a person would want to do is work for a “greedy,” profit-making business. (This also, unfortunately, seems to be the case of many ivy league graduates in the United States.)

The self-esteem that derives from these group memberships is “pseudo” because self-esteem does not derive from other people. Authentic self-esteem is confidence that we are worthy—meaning loveable, worthy of being loved—and competent—mentally competent—to live our lives as healthy, happy human beings. Initially, we should derive this confidence from being loved by our parents and significant others around us, along with sincere, nonjudgmental respect from our teachers, and we should be (or should have been) taught how to introspect the contents and processes of our minds to identify and correct mistakes. As we mature, self-esteem becomes a quiet confidence, a quiet pride in effort and achievement, that gives us the courage, integrity, and independence to stand up to disapproval or criticism or fears of being challenged or condemned.

When the intelligence defense value becomes tied to a group identity, especially one involved in today’s identity politics, it can become a nasty political correctness and condescension, expressing envy and hatred toward anyone who is different or who disagrees.

Group conformity is the source of such behavior and group conformity is the desired result. It is external control psychology in action (1, 2) and has another name in the political sphere: collectivism.

At the level of politics, where facts cease to be relevant, fines and imprisonment can be recommended and imposed by the group’s enforcers. This leads ultimately, in the totalitarian state that this eventually establishes, to the recommendation and imposition of executions.

Frail egos do not tolerate differences or disagreements.

*The correct principle to use when relating to children in these situations is Haim Ginott’s: Describe, don’t evaluate. Let the child draw the evaluative conclusion. As Ginott says (1, chap. 2; 2, chap. 5), “Direct praise of personality, like direct sunlight, is uncomfortable and blinding.” . . . “It creates anxiety, invites dependency, and evokes defensiveness.” (Interestingly, advertising man David Ogilvy gave the same advice to his copywriters: Describe the product factually. Avoid evaluative terms, especially superlatives. Let the consumer draw the evaluative conclusion.)

Friday, April 12, 2019

Naïveté, Gutlessness, and Concessions: On the Anatomy of Compromise

“The issue is never the issue. The issue is always the revolution.” This is the motto of the left and I quoted it in an earlier post.

Its meaning? Say and do whatever will work to achieve power. Cloak your words and actions in “democracy” or, as in today’s “anything goes” cultural atmosphere, call anyone who disagrees with you a racist or fascist or, perhaps worst of all, someone who is deplorably lacking in compassion and, of course, is selfish. When one issue fails to work, move on to the next, with relentless energy.

In our Goebbelsian culture facts don’t matter. Truth and objectivity are out.

BS is the accepted method of communication, which means: say what sounds good and true to advance your agenda, not what is good and true.

How do we oppose this leftist juggernaut and why do the leftists seem to have so much energy? The answer to the second question, aside from their envy-ridden and hatred-driven motivation, is that the leftists’ most important value is politics and the drive for power and control. The rest of us have lives and careers beyond politics.*

Opposing the leftist juggernaut, in answer to the first question, is more challenging and requires, of course, thorough knowledge to answer any arguments the left may put forth, though intellectual argument today is rare. It even more importantly requires realism not to be naïve in the face of their pretended sincerity, and courage to stand fast against their onslaught. It requires the refusal to compromise our principles.

Insincerity needs to be called out as such, not swallowed as its opposite and taken seriously. Fabricated accusations of all kinds are rampant today and need to be named and condemned with moral indignation, as we would do to any nonpolitical friend or acquaintance who lied to or BS’d us.

Why so much insincerity? It’s built into leftist theory: Marx’s rejection of a universal Aristotelian logic (polylogism), updated today as postmodern group identity theory, and Marx’s premise that anyone who is wealthy, especially business people and their companies, stole their wealth from the group currently held up as having been exploited. No one who is wealthy or a capitalist deserves truth or objectivity, even if such virtues were possible.

To take these leftists seriously makes us vulnerable to compromising our principles. When we compromise, the left moves forward with greater and greater confidence, because they do not compromise. Their greater consistency is precisely what today has moved them further and further left, perhaps too far, having underestimated the “deplorables” of middle America.

Ayn Rand (in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, chap. 14) has provided an interesting “anatomy of compromise” to help us understand what we must and must not do in debates. She suggests three rules (paraphrased): (1) when two people or groups hold the same basic principles, the more consistent wins, (2) when two people or groups collaborate, the more evil or irrational wins, and (3) when opposite principles are clearly defined, the more rational wins, but when hidden or evaded, the more irrational wins.

All three can be seen operating in debates about or with the left. Indeed, the rules have been present and operating in US politics for many decades. The right (conservatives and Republicans), by “me-tooing” and often outdoing the left with leftist policies, are the biggest compromisers.** Both sides accept altruism and self-sacrifice as the correct ethics and both sides accept the use of initiated coercion by the government to violate individual rights as the proper method of governing society.

Let’s look at these premises and apply Rand’s rules. The left is far more consistent (rule one), which is why they are winning. The left wants full (totalitarian) governmental control. The right makes concessions by trying to uphold a mixture of freedom and control, that is, the “mixed economy.”

The right is, and has been for decades, collaborating with the left by granting them sincerity and apologizing for them by saying, “they mean well” (rule two). But they don’t.

And the right is foolish when it thinks the concept of rights used by both sides means the same thing (rule three). Rights to conservatives and Republicans usually means individual rights, but to the left it means group identity. In accordance with rule three, this difference is hidden and evaded. It should be exposed for what it is: group privilege to take wealth away from those who have earned it.

The worst premise accepted by the right is that of altruism and self-sacrifice as the proper ethics of a free society. The left also accepts altruism, but is quite clear about its meaning (rule one): everyone must sacrifice to the state; everyone, especially the well-off, must pay higher and higher taxes so their wealth may be redistributed to the groups that are allegedly less well-off and allegedly have been victimized by those who are wealthy; and the United States must sacrifice itself and its wealth to all other countries in the world, especially those in the so-called third world.

To collaborate with the left by saying, “we are just as compassionate [altruistic] as you are” is a disastrous trap. The left simply responds by saying, “No, you’re not, because we want to do this, this, and this,” that is, move further and further left. Those on the right, as a result, often end up saying nothing, as unfortunately was demonstrated by many congressional conservatives and Republicans over the past two years (rule two).

To fight the leftist juggernaut, conservatives and Republicans must endorse rational self-interest and reject any form of self-sacrifice as a valid morality. They must then explain it clearly and openly (rule three).

Naïveté, gutlessness, and concessions and compromise are not the path to maintaining the freedom and prosperity of this country. The left wants to tear it down. Giving in will only hasten the process.

What is slowing this destruction is the sense of life of our current president and his constituents, the “deplorables” of middle America. As I have written before, sense of life is an emotion, but emotion is not enough to defend the American way of life and Western civilization. Strong, articulate intellectual arguments are needed, as well as realism and courage to stand up to the left.

* There is an analogy between the political and criminal personalities, and no doubt some in politics exhibit a criminal element, because they relish the coercion and control of others. “Take my crime away, and you take my world away,” is what one offender said to Stanton Samenow. Replace the word “crime” with “politics” and you have one explanation of the leftist’s motivation and energy.

** The press and business need to be mentioned. Many journalists blow with the wind and today that direction is to the left. They are not introspective to identify their hidden biases, or, in some (many?) cases, are explicit in their biases and therefore are complicit with the left. And contrary to their pretensions, courage is not a virtue of most of the press. Nor is it of most business people, especially those who cave to the email blasts threatening them with boycotts unless they remove advertising from certain cable broadcasters. Granted that business people are busy running businesses, they need to understand that they are the primary targets of leftist attacks. It would be nice if they showed some spine.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Insight and Eloquence in Thomas Sowell’s A Man of Letters

Awhile back I ordered economist Thomas Sowell’s book A Man of Letters. I seldom read entire books of letters, but Sowell’s was quite enjoyable, both insightful and eloquent.

The book consists of Sowell’s letters from 1960 to 2006 with emails intermixed in the later years, along with editorial comments between the letters.

Sowell is known for his strict adherence to facts through the extensive research he has conducted over the decades. Let me cite several examples that shine through his letters and comments.

On IQ and other forms of assessment testing, Sowell offers data that show race does not explain differences, as white groups both in the US and abroad have similar IQ scores as blacks. In the US, some black schools have IQ’s equal to or better than the national average and black women outscore black men (p. 110).

Commenting on his Harlem high school classmates, Sowell writes, “The kids I had trouble keeping up with had an average IQ of 84. . . . A few years later I was able to hold my own in a class where the average IQ was over 120.” Sowell says he is “appalled at some of the questions [test makers] ask to test ‘intelligence.’” His conclusion: nearly all mass assessment testing is “biased against the poor and the disadvantaged” (pp. 154-55).

On the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which Sowell was not a huge fan of, he points out the steady improvements in the standard of living of blacks as well as their increased success at securing higher-level employment throughout the 1940s and ‘50s. In the 1960s, however, after passage of the bill, improvements slowed with new trends of increased crime, unemployment, and unwed motherhood taking over (p. 44).

In his younger years, Sowell’s research convinced him that minimum wage laws increased unemployment, especially among poor blacks. In a letter to a black mayor in Alabama who wanted to relax the wage laws, Sowell of course praised the mayor but went on to emphasize how necessary it is for young blacks to obtain work experience, no matter how “menial” it may be. “They need the work experience even more than they need the money,” he writes. Work experience of any kind teaches young people the meaning and value of work.

“In my research on racial and ethnic groups around the world,” says Sowell, “I discovered again and again that groups who are hung up over ‘menial’ work get overtaken and left behind by groups who consider a job a job” (pp. 204-205).

And as for “preferential treatment”—his preferred term instead of “affirmative action”—his letter from 1972 to the economics department chairman at Swarthmore College may sum up his attitude. The letter to Sowell said the college is “actively looking for a black economist.” Sowell’s reply: “Many a self-respecting black scholar would never accept an offer like this. . . . You and I know that many of these special recruiting efforts are not aimed at helping black faculty members or black or white students, but rather at hanging on to the school’s federal money.”

The result of “quotas” and “affirmative action,” says Sowell in his editorial transition, is “the ‘new racism’—that is, more racial polarization than had existed on those same campuses decades earlier" (pp. 97-99).

Numerous letters are to his longtime friends economist Walter Williams and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In a 1991 letter to Williams, about the contentious nomination hearings of Thomas, Sowell writes, “Clarence is still young enough to be shocked at being knifed in the back by someone he went out of his way to help . . . My theory is that Clarence’s problem arose precisely because he did not sexually harass Anita Hill. . . . As for Clarence, he has done himself proud in the way he has handled this thing (pp. 232-33).” [That is, his righteous moral indignation at the falsehoods hurled at him, falsehoods not unlike those slung at a recent Supreme Court nominee who also dared to defend himself with equally righteous moral indignation.]

In an editorial comment, Sowell tells this anecdote about Clarence Thomas’s “human touch” and “respect for other people” (something the press did not grant him). When Thomas in 1982 became chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he was entitled to a chauffeur, an elderly man referred to by everyone at the time by his first name. Thomas immediately addressed him “Mr. Randall,” with the staffers subsequently following suit. Writes Sowell, “When riding in the car with the two of them, I was struck by their considerate politeness toward each other.” It was difficult to tell “who was the chauffeur and who was the head of the agency” (p. 234).

In response to a 1981 letter inviting Sowell to write a bi-weekly column in the Washington Post, he submitted two on a topic he said “needs to be confronted clearly.” After their publication, the columns “sparked the bitterest attacks” on him “before or since.” The columns are reprinted following the invitation letter.

“Blacker Than Thou” and “Blacker Than Thou (II)” are the columns. The bitter attacks stem from his revealing “the dirty little secret of internal color discrimination among blacks in a white newspaper.” The discrimination derives from the differences—physical, cultural, and educational—between lighter skinned blacks and the darker ones. In the days of slavery, the lighter skinned tended to be slaves who were freed or who worked as house servants. The darker skinned blacks were field slaves.

Over the last century and a half the lighter skinned and their descendants were more privileged than the darker ones, absorbing the dominant culture and attending school, including college. Many subsequently adopted “holier than thou” condescension toward their darker brothers. Not coincidentally, the lighter skinned blacks have tended to become “the militant black leader[s] not only distant from but snobbish toward the people in whose name [they speak].”

Sowell does not hesitate to name names. Patricia Roberts Harris, cabinet secretary in Jimmy Carter’s administration, is quoted as saying that people like Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell “don’t know what poverty is.” Harris and Sowell attended Howard University at the same time, but, as Sowell says, “under entirely different conditions.” Sowell worked full time and attended school at night. Harris, on the other hand, attended school full time, was a “campus social leader,” and also a member of “an ‘exclusive’ sorority” (pp. 166-76).

As for Sowell and Williams? Both were raised in fatherless homes. Thomas Sowell lived initially in North Carolina without hot running water or electricity, then moved to Harlem where he had to quit high school to make money. Williams grew up in the projects of Philadelphia.

I believe Sowell has insightfully and eloquently made his point.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Meanness and the Moralization of Concretes

Many years ago, a friend debated a woman on a radio show about environmentalism. My friend, of course, argued for free markets while the woman argued for the use of the government as solution to nearly all problems.

After the show, I asked my friend what the woman looked like. He said, “She looked mean.”

His statement has stuck in my mind all these years because I think it says something about the motivation of the left, even though judging people by surface appearances can be risky. Just because someone looks mean, or sad, or happy does not indicate the essence of their psychology deep down.

And not all leftists would have the same mean look as this woman. Some are ignorant (of many things, not just the nature of socialism, but also of history). Others may act like our best friends, as con artists are capable of doing, and some may be close relatives.

Be that as it may, meanness is essential to the nature of socialism because government-imposed regulations and laws that violate individual rights are imposed through initiated coercion and enforced through initiated coercion. At some point, punishments of violators of the regulations and laws must increase from fines or minor jail sentences to major imprisonment and executions.

This is where the meanest, or rather, morally worst, as F. A. Hayek refers to them (1; 2, chap. 10), rise to the top of the “compassionate” socialist ladders and become vicious dictators.

In today’s culture with the collapse of epistemology and ethics, intellectual arguments are no longer given for socialism and socialist policies. What passes for reasons why such policies should be followed and approved are, well, “mean looks,” also known as “virtue signaling,” often of a peculiar character that might be called “the moralization of concrete objects and actions.”

Universal abstractions, which are what ethics works with and attempts to demonstrate by reference to an objective standard, have disappeared from discussion. Aside from dirty air and water being declared immoral, today it is likely to be red meat. Or a wall around your home (or country). Or fossil fuels. Or plastic shopping bags, straws, gasoline cans with air holes, many books said to contain “bad” ideas, which, of course, then also means certain ideas, especially those that can be interpreted as “offensive” and therefore “bad,” and so on, ad nauseam. The list is potentially endless.

A universal abstraction says something like “do not lie,” which then applies in all concrete instances in which lying could occur. Or, to state the principle in a less deontological form, that is, allowing for personal consequences, “do not lie unless under threat of physical force or invasion of privacy.” This latter abstraction is what underlies and justifies self-defense in our Anglo-Saxon legal system.

Note that neither principle singles out to condemn as immoral any one concrete object or action. In ethics (or morality—the words are synonyms), broad abstractions are applied to concretes. It is the actions of individuals that can be moral or immoral. The concretes are neither.

Two principles, opposed to each other, do lie behind most discussion today of political issues. The first says: “Objects (usually products) and actions that are inherently harmful or dangerous must be regulated or banned.” The second states: “Acts that initiate physical force against another must be banned, whereas acts between consenting adults that inflict no harm should be legal.”

The former is the Progressives’ guide to lawmaking in the United States, though it probably goes back to the Divine Right of Kings, Roman Emperors, and any chieftain in control of a tribe.

Two questions undercut the universality of this principle: (1) what is meant by inherent harm or danger? and (2) who is going to decide the issue? What one person considers  inherently harmful or dangerous may not be so viewed by another. Think skydiving several times a week versus crossing a busy intersection. People differ in their assessments of potential harm.

In controlled societies, rulers in charge claim to know what is best for their subjects. Chieftains, emperors, kings, and bureaucrats and legislators all decide what is inherently harmful or dangerous. Controlling and banning more and more objects and actions, all of which is accomplished through coercion—because that is the only way to maintain such control—is what eventually leads to dictatorship. Dictatorship by excessive law, or just by fiat.

The second principle above derives from John Locke’s theory of individual rights, as clarified by Ayn Rand. The starting—the beginning, the initiating—of physical force, as opposed to the defensive repelling of an attacking thief or potential murderer, is what must be banned from human relationships.

This universal principle, applied consistently to every area of our lives, gives us laissez-faire capitalism. When all of us are left alone to pursue our own values according to our own judgment, we—each one of us—can then decide for ourselves what is inherently harmful or dangerous. We then—each one of us—can decide for ourselves whether or not to engage in such an inherently harmful or dangerous action.

It is frankly no one else’s business whether we choose to take the easy path or the more challenging one. This is what is meant by a free society.

Now we may sometimes get a mean look from someone close to us, say a relative or spouse, who says something like, “You’re crazy. You can’t do that. It’s dangerous!” But whatever “it” happens to be, the relative or spouse is not likely to be pointing a gun at us.

The mean look of my friend’s environmentalist debater, on the other hand, along with many other of her leftist colleagues, consider their holier-than-thou virtues to be signaling only one thing: “You are immoral—for thinking this concrete object or action should not be regulated or banned. We know best and aim to make it law that you will be fined or imprisoned if you continue to use the object or take the action.”

This is a government gun talking and this is how government guns, when the law is passed, violate individual rights.

Mean looks do say something and do have consequences. Are the people with mean looks well-intended?