Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Business Ethics, Moral Values, and the Herd Conformity of Virtue Signaling

So-called virtue signaling means showing off to the significant others of one’s group in order to maintain identity as a prominent and respected member. It is always other directed with eyes on conforming to the herd. “Sucking up” might be a vernacular way of describing the behavior. “Looking good to be good” is another way.

Genuinely virtuous behavior is an expression of one’s character and what others think of us is fundamentally irrelevant.

Ethics (or morality—the two words are synonyms), as Ayn Rand defined it, is “a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.” The first part of this definition is the genus and includes not just Ayn Rand’s theory, but the other ethical theories that have been developed throughout history. More importantly to understand, the genus also includes the applied sciences and the many personal values we choose that are morally optional, such as taste in ice cream, choice of romantic partner and career, or the eating of red meat and drinking water out of plastic bottles.

Moral values are universal. Optional values are not, which means they do not have to be accepted and pursued by everyone.

The second part of the definition is the differentia that gives us a standard of moral value, as well as the derivative values and virtues that guide our choices and actions. A value is whatever we act to acquire and enjoy and a virtue is the action to acquire it. Moral values and virtues are broad abstractions and general actions, not concrete objects or specific actions.

Rand’s standard of moral value is human life as a being that possesses the capacity to reason. Her fundamental value, then, is reason with the corresponding virtue of rationality. Deriving from that standard, Rand identifies several other moral values, including honesty, courage, integrity, independence, productive work, and justice, to name several that are relevant for the present discussion.

The corresponding virtues derived from reason and rationality are telling the truth, acting against great odds or opposition, remaining loyal to one’s fundamental values, relying on one’s own mind to perceive reality, purposeful pursuit of a rewarding career, and judging oneself and others by conformity to moral and legal standards, including especially in business by the standard of the ability to do the job. Vices are the opposite: lying, cowardice, corruption, dependence, indolence, and unfairness. Irrationality means placing something higher than reason, such as faith or emotion.

At this point let me highlight the optional values that guide our lives. First, the applied sciences. The engineer has a code of values to guide his or her thinking and development processes of designing and making tools to improve human life. The end value may be to build a bridge; the principles of civil engineering are the guides. We normally do not call the actions of engineers moral virtues and the mistakes vices, unless dishonesty or cowardice is involved. The values and principles of action required of applied sciences, and the behavior of their practitioners, are assumed to be moral unless one has reason to think otherwise.

Our personal values also are assumed to be moral, but just as everyone does not have to be a civil engineer, or an engineer at all, not everyone has to like vanilla ice cream or even like ice cream at all. We all hold and pursue a large number of morally optional or personal values. Choice of romantic partner and career both are extremely personal and optional, but also complicated in the sense of requiring a great deal of thought, planning, and knowledge before making the choice. And both do have moral components, as Rand has discussed extensively (1, 2), but I am focusing here are the optional element.

As stated above, red meat and water in plastic bottles are not moral values and acting to acquire and use both are not vices. Someone putting a slab of red meat over your face such that you cannot breathe would be a moral issue, but then we would be talking about attempted murder!

In a free society, no one will stop you from refraining from eating red meat, if you think that is necessary for your physical health. But it is not a moral issue. Neither will anyone stop you from drinking water out of non-plastic bottles.

Individual rights mean that everyone has the moral right to choose whatever each person wants to eat and whatever container each wants to drink water out of. Preaching a gospel of “immoral” foods and containers is the moralization of concretes that I have written about before. It is rampant in today’s culture and a major source of “virtue signaling.”

It is also condescending and phony, condescending because the signalers are convinced they are right and everyone else is wrong and phony because the signalers are playing at ethics without a clue as to what ethics really is.

Leaders of the intelligentsia, however, do or should know better, especially when they are spewing communist/fascist propaganda, such as: “the United States is systemically racist,” “recent state laws are election suppression,” and the favorite of all Marxists, “capitalism puts profits over people.”*

Such signals as these are either false (the first and third) or highly questionable without further investigation (the second). And all, in contrast to true moral values and virtues, are political catchphrases used as virtue signals to intimidate any opponent into thinking he or she is immoral.**

For business leaders to cite and promote them is not just gutless compromise of the principles of individual rights and capitalism, but their actions bring up 1932 Germany (1, 2) when twenty-two business leaders urged President von Hindenburg (who some said was senile) to appoint Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.

The group that today’s business leaders are sucking up to is the communist/fascist left and they, the business leaders, apparently think they will be protected when the left finally takes over the US government. Think again, business leaders, and do your homework about what happened to business leaders in the USSR and Nazi Germany.

Business ethics does not differ from general ethics, as moral values and virtues are broad enough to cover all applied fields. Business leaders, therefore, need to practice Rand’s virtues. Justice is particularly relevant to business ethics and virtue signaling because it means judging each individual person according to the moral standards of honesty, courage, integrity, independence, and productive work and treating each person by his or her conformity to those standards. It does not mean judging one by membership in a group, class, race, or by sex or sexual orientation (i.e., social justice). Individual justice in society means abiding by the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights and treating everyone equally, regardless of group, class, race, sex, or sexual orientation.

All virtue signaling is manifestly unjust because it is a pretension to ethics that does not treat each individual fairly or equally. At root it is collectivist. To some virtue signaling may be a psychological problem, which means they want to be liked, but for the virtue-signaling leaders, especially our business leaders, it puts us on a dangerous path to dictatorship—as in one-party rule, show trials or worse, expropriation of private property, and censorship.

Are we there yet, business leaders?

You and many others in the intelligentsia have become true believers, to borrow Eric Hoffer’s words on mass movements. You seem to be seeking, in your desperate and foolish virtue signaling, to identify with the left’s holy cause (1, p. 12; 2).

Hoffer has many phrases to describe the true believer, but here is a choice one (p. 62): each individual member of the movement “must be stripped of his individual identity and distinctness . . .  by the complete assimilation of the individual into a collective body.”

It means conformity to the herd.

In the late nineteenth century an advertising client asked his agent if he had any good ideas for ads. The agent replied, “Try honesty for a change!”

Altering this advice a bit, my suggestion to you, dear business leaders, is to try a genuinely virtuous behavior for a change—especially one of honesty, courage, integrity, independence, justice, and productive work.

A virtuous character is not a signal. It is a way of life.

* The intelligentsia does far worse. Cancel culture, according to David Horowitz, is tantamount to Nazi book burning and should be called what it is. And most or all of today’s leftist leaders are bigoted racists. Their intimidation tactics are right out of the Nazi playbook. Ominous parallels? The problem with conservatives, says Horowitz, is that they want to “play patty cake with the devil.”

** Racism, as Shelby Steele has demonstrated (1, 2), effectively ended in the 1960s with desegregation. What we have now is systemic white guilt. Issues of election irregularities or fraud are factual issues that need to be thoroughly examined, not evaded. And under capitalism, profits are earned through customer satisfaction. They are not deductions from the wages of workers; wages are deductions from profits (1, 2).

Monday, March 08, 2021

All It Takes Is Guts

A president from the American past stated this about his previous four years:

During this course of administration, and in order to disturb it, the artillery of the press has been levelled against us, charged with whatsoever its licentiousness could devise or dare.
No, this is not a statement of our most recent former president. The words are from Thomas Jefferson’s second inaugural on March 4, 1805, in which Jefferson endorses and praises the American experiment in a free press. He continues:
The experiment is noted, to prove that, since truth and reason have maintained their ground against false opinions in league with false facts, the press, confined to truth, needs no other legal restraint; the public judgment will correct false reasonings and opinions, on a full hearing of all parties; and no other definite line can be drawn between the inestimable liberty of the press and its demoralizing licentiousness. If there be still improprieties which this rule would not restrain, its supplement must be sought in the censorship of public opinion.
“Censorship of public opinion,” does not mean government censorship. As Jefferson clarifies, it means “punishment in the public indignation.” He continues, “Truth and reason” will prevail, as “facts are piercing through the veil drawn over them.”

Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment, so he trusted all voters to exercise their reasoning capacity to speak up against the falsehoods of a “licentious” press. Do voters today do so? And will they in the future?

Edmund Burke, another man of the Enlightenment, supposedly said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” These words, though, do not appear in his writings. Ayn Rand, however, did write that evil is impotent and succeeds only from the sanction of its victims, that is, the victims’ willingness, due to ignorance or choice, to suffer silently, for example, through today’s covid totalitarianism.

Our culture’s intelligentsia, which includes the corrupt press, has eagerly promoted, and continues to promote, this total control of our personal and professional lives.

The solution, as it is with any bully, is to stand up to the communist-fascist left that is attempting to destroy civilization. “Stand up” means to speak out and write against the Goebbelsian propaganda (1, 2), to name names and never back down, especially if and when the “cancel culture” comes after you. This means, as I wrote in a previous post, no compromise of principle, no collaboration with the left, no concessions to them.

“All it takes is guts,” said Walter Williams in the title of his 1987 book of newspaper columns. “I have no shame in admitting my uncompromising bias for the sanctity of personal freedom,” he said in his preface, “and freely admit that as economist qua columnist I try to sell Americans on the moral superiority of individual freedom” (second emphasis added).

Conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh displayed a similar intestinal fortitude with many courageous examples of standing up to the cancel crowd. Normally, Rush ignored whatever the intelligentsia, especially the “drive-by” media as he called them, threw his way. The following incident, however, required a major offensive.

Rush’s primary rule, according to his spokesman and strategist, Brian Glicklich, was “no faux apologies for fake transgressions.” A letter signed by 40-plus Democratic senators, sent to Rush’s syndicator, demanded an apology from Rush for a discussion he had with a listener. The subject of the discussion was “phony soldiers,” fraudulent people who claimed to have served heroically in the military, but did not. The letter claimed that Rush was denigrating these “heroes.”

Not only did Rush not apologize, nor would the apology have been accepted by the Democrats (as Glicklich points out), Rush sold the letter for $2.1 million, matching the sum from his own checkbook, and donated all of it “to scholarships for the children of fallen service members and police officers.”

Rush’s sponsors were then viciously attacked in the usual leftist manner of what looked like thousands of people sending thousands of emails threatening to stop patronizing the sponsors’ businesses. Rush did not just not back down; he provided research showing his sponsors “that 80% or more of all online boycott messages came from a group of people so small as to ‘fit into the elevator we used to come to your office for this meeting.’”

Finally, Rush realized that the handful of aggressors against his sponsors preferred to remain anonymous and unaccountable, so he named them on his website. Like all bullies, they ran.

Not apologizing, compromising, or backing down, Rush instead went on the offensive. “The Limbaugh doctrine against the suppression of speech,” as Glicklich put it, “was to offer more speech.” Rush often aggressively “fished for liberals’ outrage” and tweaked it, doing so with glee, or rather, in his words, “with half his brain tied behind his back, just to keep it fair.”

Rush Limbaugh, as did our previous president, taught many of us how to have guts and to display that intestinal fortitude.

Alan Dershowitz, a moderate Democrat, is an uncompromising First Amendment lawyer who, as victim of the cancel culture himself, has courageously and aggressively stood his ground. When falsely accused of sexual misconduct, he offered mounds of evidence in his defense, filed a defamation lawsuit, and wrote the book Guilt by Accusation.

More recently, Dershowitz wrote Cancel Culture: the Latest Attack on Free Speech and Due Process, in which he exposes the Stalinist and McCarthyite origins of such suppression of free speech. He also produced a video podcast “Cancel Culture Must Be Canceled.”

Dershowitz is very much aware of the need for more people to speak up. In an earlier video podcast he asked “Where are the libertarian Democrats?” The two words together likely mean Bill-of-Rights moderate Democrats, often called “liberals,” who have been far too silent over the past several years.*

In our postmodern age of the “Un-Enlightenment,” an age of untruth and unreason, will there be enough Jeffersonians to courageously counter the Goebbelsian propaganda that is spewed ceaselessly and ubiquitously?

As Rush said, to counter the suppression of free speech, more speech is needed—spoken and written without compromise or concession.

It just takes guts!

* Moderate Democrats, such as Dershowitz, are mixed-economy-Democrats who see some role for the government to regulate business. Far left or leftist Democrats today want the government to control every aspect of our lives, social and economic, which makes them totalitarians, whether of the communist, socialist, or fascist variety. The usual meaning of libertarian is classical liberalism or laissez-faire capitalism.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Romance, Fantasy, Arrogance, Blindness: An Inside Look at the Communist New Left

David Horowitz’s 1997 autobiography Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey has just come out in a second edition. The book provides many insights not just into the thinking of both his Old Left parents and Horowitz himself and his New Left colleagues, but also into who and what is influencing us today. Here is Horowitz’s summary of the communist dream:

Marxism was about a new creation that would begin with a “new man” and “new woman.” It was about remaking the world. About going back to Eden and beginning again. It was the romance to end all romances (p. 112).
Romance, fantasy, arrogance, blindness—these are words used by Horowitz to describe the delusions he and his comrades suffered when worshiping the “revolutionary fantasy” of communism during the 1960s and ‘70s. “Like all radicals,” says Horowitz, “we were intoxicated by our own virtue” (p. 299)

Horowitz was a founding member of the New Left while a graduate student from 1960-62 at the University of California, Berkeley. For many years he was an editor of the New Left’s flagship Ramparts magazine* and as a result knew all the players in the New Left. By the 1980s he developed “second thoughts,” as he calls his move away from the Left. Today he is an outspoken conservative.

Horowitz’s parents were unapologetic members of the American Communist Party, that is, until 1956 when Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech about the crimes of Stalin leaked to the West.** Up to that point, Party members had blinded themselves to the rumors of Stalin’s purges, show trials, and executions. Horowitz’s parents, after Khruschev’s revelations, left the Party, thereafter calling themselves Progressives. About two-thirds of the Party’s members also left, losing decades old friendships, as Horowitz points out, and becoming “non-existent” to the remaining members.

The New Left, says Horowitz, was a movement of Marxist revolutionaries founded to save communism from Stalin. Fidel Castro was one of their heroes who was doing communism “the right way.” John F. Kennedy, invader of Cuba and agent of the “imperialistic” ruling class, was not a hero, though a new leftist years later rewrote history to claim they all loved JFK.*** The New Left throughout the 1960s was opposed to the Vietnam war and viewed the Black Panther Party as “vanguard of the revolution” and “America’s Vietcong.”

The new leftist Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), spearheaded by Tom Hayden, came into prominence in the 1960s, eventually morphing in the ‘70s into the Weather Underground. A founding SDS statement coined the words “participatory democracy” as code for “soviet democracy.” In my undergraduate days, the former was promoted as a fuzzy form of direct democracy. In fact, a soviet was an elected, usually local, organization in the USSR, thus making communism another form of democracy! SDS’ers believed in and meant communism.

Hayden died in 2016 but in his SDS days was instrumental in causing the Newark riots of 1967 and organized the violent protests at the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago (pp. 184-88). The 1968 riots, according to Horowitz, are what succeeded in allowing the Left to take over the Democratic Party, which it today still controls. In Hayden’s post-SDS life he became a California state politician and husband of actress Jane Fonda.

The Weather Underground made revolution explicit with many bombings of banks and government buildings, including the US Capitol in 1971 and the Pentagon in 1972. Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn were two early leaders. Both are now retired, Ayers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Dohrn from Northwestern University Law School. Ayers, Horowitz said in a recent article, ghost wrote Barack Obama’s autobiography and “mentored the insurrectionary founders of Black Lives Matter.”

Though Marx thought capitalism would eventually collapse on its own, later revolutionaries, starting probably with Lenin, sought to help the collapse along. Hence, the remorseless bombings of the Weather Underground and today’s deliberately blind eyes to the ravaging of civilization by such violent organizations as Antifa and Black Lives Matter.

The Black Panther Party in the 1960s was founded by street thugs, led by Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver, but to the new leftists, including Horowitz, Panthers were the oppressed minority who dared to rise up and fight (in some cases with guns) with an “in your face” activism.****

Horowitz in the early ‘70s collaborated with the Panthers to found a school in the slums of Oakland, California, and recommended a white woman, Betty Van Patter, who had worked for Ramparts magazine, to do the school’s books. Unfortunate for Van Patter, she asked too many questions about the Panther’s finances and ended up in San Francisco Bay. The Oakland District Attorney's Office could not prove who committed the murder, but suspected a Panther named Flores Forbes.

Van Patter’s death in 1974, along with suspicions Horowitz was beginning to have about the Panthers, was the turning point for him to leave the Left. He had been cautious in conversations with Newton, but did not suspect the worst. Van Patter’s daughter at the time, as well as many years later, could not believe at the time and years later that such an “idealistic” group of people would do such a thing.

Horowitz in the new Preface to Radical Son suspects that Forbes was the murderer, or knows who committed the crime, and that Newton likely ordered it. An internal group of enforcers to torture and murder anyone who did not toe the Panther Party line are believed to be guilty of at least a dozen murders. The enforcers were called, interestingly for today’s times, The Squad. Forbes was its head.

Today Flores Forbes is Associate Vice President of Strategic Planning and Program Implementation at Columbia University.

After much questioning about communism and socialism, especially about how the “noble ideal” in practice always seems to end up with millions of dead people, Horowitz concluded that the ideal itself was flawed. The aim of communism and socialism was to abolish private property and make everyone equal. But, Horowitz identified:
The abolition of property was really the abolition of private association and civil society, and of the bourgeois rights they underpinned. Socialist unity could only be achieved as a totalitarian solution (p. 308).
And everyone is not equal in nature. Who is to decide how everyone is to be made equal, asks Horowitz? A “ruling caste,” he concludes, seems always to arise.

Horowitz near the end of his book even cites Austrian economists F. A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises who demonstrated the impossibility of socialism ever working, especially in the determination of prices independently of the market.

To use Hayek’s words, though Horowitz does not, the leaders of the “noble ideal” have always suffered a fatal conceit to think they had a god’s-eye view and a god’s omniscience to plan an entire social and economic system.

The “revolutionary fantasy” of socialism does not work. It only destroys.

* When Ramparts closed in 1975, several editors, though not Horowitz, went on to found Mother Jones.

** Horowitz’s father in 1935 on a trip for the Party wrote to his soon-to-be wife about the people of Colorado. He said that he felt like he was in a foreign land and that “most of us [Party members] aren’t really ‘patriotic,’ I mean at bottom deeply fond of the country and the people” (pp. 30-31).

*** “We were Marxist revolutionaries when we began the New Left and would have scorned anyone who supported Kennedy in the way [Todd] Gitlin suggests” (p. 115, Horowitz’s emphasis). Todd Gitlin today is professor of journalism and sociology and head of the doctoral program in communications at Columbia University.

**** The Left’s association with African Americans goes back at least to the 1930s. See this article about African American Manning Johnson who from 1930-39 was a member of the American Communist Party but left it because he saw that the communists “were using black Americans as pawns in their hope that a ‘bloody racial conflict would split America.’” The notion of  “systemic racism” is a concept of the Left and goes back to that time.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

"They Just Don’t Care"—Rationalization and the Need to Look Good

“They” in the title of this post refers to our culture’s intelligentsia. This elite includes mainstream media, teachers and professors who control today’s education system, certain entertainers and business leaders who think they are qualified to speak out about politics, and, of course, or especially, politicians and the unelected deep staters who have no second thoughts about issuing totalitarian edicts and imposing them on us.

Those edicts are currently condemning small businesses to bankruptcy and low-wage hourly workers, especially women, to unemployment, poverty, depression and thoughts of suicide, which in some cases have been executed successfully.

Why don’t they, the intelligentsia, care? The facts and science (1, 2) about our past ten months of coronavirus madness say that the bug is at worst a bad flu.*

The answer, whether the non-caring people are honest or not and depending on who we are talking about, is that they think they are doing good, namely, that they are moral and that anyone who criticizes them is not being fair and are themselves immoral.

This is the power of rationalization cloaked as ethics. In today’s culture, Nazi-style and Chinese Communist Party style intimidation, through political correctness and social credit scores, also cloaked as ethics, are used to silence dissent.

It’s for the good of impoverished and victimized groups or collectives, the intelligentsia say. Or: for the health of everyone you may come in contact with.

So don’t be selfish!

Altruism, the doctrine of self-sacrifice, is the foundation of all variants of socialism and dictatorship. It does not mean kindness or gentleness or giving to charity. It means giving up what you want and deserve. Never acting from “inclination,” as Immanuel Kant said.

The intelligentsia, because they are the self-proclaimed experts and preachers on altruism, which means “looking good” at being moral, are the ones who issue demands for us to obey.**

It’s our duty, after all, to sacrifice ourselves to their edicts.

Criminals (and I include dictators here) rationalize nearly everything they do. “He deserved it,” says the murderer and “She really wanted me,” says the rapist. (See Inside the Criminal Mind, esp. chap. 6 and 7.) Ideologies and systems of ethics can and have become rationalizations for some of the worst behavior in history. (See Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer.)

If you label your enemies as vermin or animals (or selfish exploiters or white supremacists), you can justify most any kind of punishment, including torture and death, and not likely feel remorse. You may even feel proud of yourself for having done “something good!” To the outside observer, it looks like you don’t care. And you don’t—about the person you just tortured or murdered.

The intelligentsia today are not quite as bad as torturers and murders, though some have actually expressed such desires about certain people and have used social media to express a need to “cleanse” the supporters of a certain politician. The word “cleanse” was apparently quickly replaced with less harsh language, but if our cultural tide does not turn, the elites will continue to advocate more serious punishments.

Federal prosecutors (1, 2, 3) are already proud of drumming up false charges and sending their bankrupted victims to solitary confinement.

Altruism, however, is not a valid system of ethics. As Ayn Rand said, it is a morality of death. It is a system of sacrifices, which means someone—the elites—must collect the sacrifices. How do we be good? Sacrifice ourselves.

Because this doctrine has not been challenged by many people worldwide, citizens of the world today are gladly and willingly forfeiting their lives and livelihood, their standard of living, and even their health for the sake of being able to say that they have been obediently moral.

No, they have been suicidal, both figuratively and literally.

Altruism is the opposite of what ethics is, namely living up to the requirements of human life, consonant with the survival of a being that possess the capacity to reason. Those requirements are all selfish.

Breathing and eating are selfish. Individual rights and private property ownership are selfish. Capitalism, by encouraging the cooperation of everyone under a division of labor, is the system of rational egoism that benefits all individual lives. Capitalism and rational egoism do not ask for obedience or sacrifices. They ask for trade between productive equals. And we are all equal under capitalism—before the law, the objective, not-corrupted-by-postmodernism law.

Pretension to ethics through rationalization is rampant today, made possible by the updated Marxism of postmodernism’s abandonment of reason, logic, objectivity and objective reality, and, in general, Enlightenment values. Lies, hypocrisy, inconsistency? Doesn’t matter, say the postmoderns. They have no intellectual arguments, just “narratives,” and they equate words to physical force and preach that there is no such thing as free speech.

But narratives are fictions, as I have written before. How do you respond to such condescending, cynical skeptics who are ruining our lives? You can’t argue with them. If you try, they will change the meanings of your words or, more likely, just hurl Goebbelsian smears (1, 2) at you and say you are the one doing everything they have already done or are currently doing, and that you are the one being Goebbelsian.

The ancient Greeks knew what follows from skepticism as a philosophy: dictatorship. You have your fiction. I have mine. How do we decide who is right? We have to have a “strong public sword” to keep the peace, as skeptic Thomas Hobbes said in the seventeenth century.

The solution is to find people who are not leaders of the corrupt intelligentsia, who have not totally swallowed the postmodern nonsense, and enlighten them.

And vote. The American sense of life is the Enlightenment sense of life and is still strong, at least in half of the country, probably more than half.

See Related posts: “The Dangerous Admiration of BS” (2007),  “Facts Don’t Matter, Or: The Art of BS” (2013), and “Why Don’t Facts Matter?”(2016).

* For many historical examples of the madness of crowd psychology, see Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

** “Looking good at being good” is not always an issue of ethics; it may be an issue of competence. A cursory search of Google Scholar reveals an interesting listing of academic papers about colleges and businesses preferring to look good—rather than be good—at educating or serving customers, though these competencies in education and business can also be infused with a dose of altruism. In a meeting years ago at my university, the dean held up an email from a dean at another school. The content, according to my dean, essentially said, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” meaning they should praise each other’s school in a survey of college rankings! Such polls are mostly popularity contests and are relatively harmless when compared to the totalitarian edicts mentioned above.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Epistemology of the Models—Climate, Economic, and Epidemiological

How do we know the future? Since we are not omniscient, we can’t know it with certainty. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) SciJinks tells us that five-day weather forecasts are about 90 percent accurate, forecasts for seven days decrease to 80 percent, and for ten days 50 percent.

We do nevertheless predict the future all the time. We predict what our spouses, children, and dogs will do tomorrow and the next day based on what we know about them, that is, what we have learned cumulatively about them over the years. Businesses make predictions of sales based on what they know about the current market, their customers and prospects. And the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) makes predictions about human survival in outer space based on the current state of science, test runs with monkeys, and a lot of trial and error.

This, in essence, is forecasting: extrapolation from past knowledge into the near future. The emphasis is on “near” because, as with weather forecasts, the further from the present we get, the less accurate the predictions.

Dressing forecasts up in mathematics or computer algorithms does not make them more accurate if their starting knowledge is dubious. It can and does fool many people into thinking that profound science is being performed!*

Meteorologist Anthony Watts identifies the problem with the so-called scientific or quantitative climate forecasts: “The flaws in existing climate models are equivalent to saying that every grain of sand on the beach is exactly the same size, shape, and composition, or that snowflakes aren’t unique, but all are exactly the same.”

In other words, aside from the horrendous politicization of climate science, the modelers ignore, or do not even know about, the significance of Aristotle’s law of identity and its relation to causality. Aristotle’s concept holds that the actions or behavior of an entity are determined by the entity’s nature, that is, its identity.

If grains of sand differ from one another, and if individual snowflakes are not quantitatively the same, those differences matter when developing mathematical formulas to describe reality. If not taken into account, predictions of the behavior of sand and snowflakes in the future will fail.

The assumptions of modelers do not accurately capture the reality of the entities they are studying.

Ayn Rand points out that today’s abandonment of any shred of Aristotelian epistemology has led in such sciences as psychology and economics to “the resurgence of a primitive mysticism.” Psychology, for example, attempts “to study human behavior without reference to the fact that man is conscious” and political economy, or economics, attempts “to study and to devise social systems without reference to man” (emphasis in original).

The nature of man, that is, the identity of human beings, is that humans possess a consciousness that has the capacity to reason. Key word is “capacity,” meaning humans possess free will and must choose to exercise that capacity. Thus, our choices can and do thwart all the “elegant” equations devised by psychologists and economists. Indeed, free will, and the failure to acknowledge it, explains the failure to replicate many studies in the so-called social sciences.

In economics, the “model” of society described by the doctrine of pure and perfect competition relies on self-evidently false assumptions: product homogeneity, no barriers to entry, “perfect” information, infinite numbers of buyers and sellers, and a stilted and deterministic concept of economic rationality. These assumptions are so arbitrary and removed from reality that they would be laughable were the model not the basis of our antitrust laws for over one hundred years.

The use of simultaneous equations to predict economic equilibrium, or the use of any other equations in the human sciences, is obfuscation.

Novelist Sarah Hoyt makes a similar point about the epidemiological models that attempt to predict how many deaths will result from a particular virus, such as COVID-19. Hoyt uses a common joke from physicists to parody the modelers. They, in effect, she says, have assumed “a spherical cow of uniform density in a frictionless vacuum.” The missing variable in the models, she continues, is culture. Because people constitute culture, their differences will be reflected in their reactions to a virus.

To elaborate, the modelers’ assumption of a particular “R naught” (R0 or r-sub-zero) at, say, 3.2 means each infected person will infect an average of 3.2 people.** Hoyt’s point is that people have choices as to how to behave, which will affect that number. Throw in other variables that are just as oh-so-(but-not-really) precise, including the nearly entirely ignored variable of prior immunity, and major embarrassing—or it should be embarrassing—error results.

A side note on medical studies, especially the alleged gold standard of double-blind controlled experiments: human beings are the sample and they are all different—in height, weight and metabolism, not to mention their choices. That can make a difference in how much “gold” comes out of these studies. How sophisticated are the ones used by NASA? Sometimes scientists on the ground ask the astronauts, “Which worked better, X or Y?” The astronaut replies, “X worked.” NASA then says, “We go with X.” That’s trial-and-error, the same technique medical doctors use when they prescribe off-label drugs!

Bottom line to my critiques of these models is that they all ignore causality.

So why is weather forecasting so much more accurate—even at 50 percent over ten days—than those of changes in climate? “Modern weather forecasting,” says one writer, “is based on the fact that gases of the atmosphere follow a number of physical principles.” Universal principles of physics, in other words, have identified the nature of relevant gases and their respective actions and consequently have allowed the development of equations that can accurately predict changes in the weather.

Predictions of what goes on in the climate, especially over decades and centuries, is not close to such accuracy. Indeed, former NASA engineer Roy Spencer says clouds, not carbon dioxide, the variable that alarmists preach as the fundamental cause of climate change, need to be researched extensively before drawing any conclusions.

* Quantitative and computer-based models are to be distinguished from scale models that test how something might actually work when at full size. A dramatic example was the radio controlled Boeing 747 with space shuttle attached, built at 1/40 scale by NASA engineer John Kiker in the 1970s, to test the feasibility of putting a real space shuttle on top of a real Boeing 747!

** When I first read about the r-naught, I immediately thought of word-of-mouth communication in marketing. How many people do we tell if we like or dislike a product? Studies vary, but the consensus says we tell more people if we dislike the product. Moral of the comparison to r-naught? People are involved in both numbers and affect its accuracy. Modelers, or rather, let’s say more generally predictors, must take that variable and the identities of the people involved into account.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

How Free Speech Dies: Follow the Government Intervention—Beyond Section 230

In a previous post I quoted George Orwell on the non-governmental silencing of dissent during World War II England:

Hardly anyone will print an attack on Stalin, but it is quite safe to attack Churchill. . . . Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.
Wall Street Journal writer Mary Anastasia O’Grady, in a column titled “How Free Speech Dies,” offers more detail on this prelude to government censorship.

Writing about today’s “hyper-intolerance,” and providing examples from Latin America, O’Grady points out the role of “public intellectuals”—upper classes, academics, and media—“intelligentsia” for short, in suppressing disagreement and paving the way for an incoming dictator. O’Grady writes:
Fidel Castro didn’t become dictator for life in Cuba without help from island artists, writers and reporters, many of whom were later jailed or exiled. . . . In his first months in power [Castro] continued to pay lip service to democracy and knew better than to march into newsrooms with bayonets and jackboots. At his disposal were useful journalists ready to do his dirty work by attacking their own colleagues.
“Useful idiots” would be other words to describe the intelligentsia. It’s the “jailed or exiled” (or shot) part that today does not seem to be talked about or acknowledged, as that is often what happens to aiders and abettors of dictatorship. (Remember what happened to the capitalists who sold Lenin rope? Which Lenin then used to hang them??)

O’Grady quotes a 1985 book that says Cuban journalists agreed to write “clarifications or footnotes [and] criticisms of editorials or news items that were not in accord with the official government line.” Ah! Sound familiar to today’s social media? Substitute “party” for “government,” O’Grady says, and you describe what we have now.

But is this cancelling and silencing really non-governmental? Do the self-appointed critics enjoy a government intervention and therefore a privilege that others do not?

This is why I say, “follow the government intervention” (not the money) to find harm to consumers and competitors, though the intervention can be a challenge to find.

Let’s look beyond or behind Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. The act itself is an intervention that allows social media to provide platforms for political discourse but also be exempt from liability for their posters’ defamation. Publishers are not so exempt from the frauds of their authors.*

More interventions: The Communications Decency Act is part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which itself is a revised version of the Communications Act of 1934, from which we got the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). And that act incorporated regulations from the Radio Act of 1927.

Government, in others words, has its hands all over radio, television, and, today, the internet. What part of “stay out of our personal and professional lives” is not understood by today’s politicians and commentators when promoting and endorsing the silencing actions of social media? These elites, of course, are Progressive experts who, for the past 130 or so years, have encouraged greater and greater government encroachment on our personal and professional lives.

Let’s now take a look at two practical consequences of regulatory intervention and then the constitutional issue.

First, a proper understanding of libel and defamation as established in common law fraud, or the law of deceit, requires proof of several stringent actions before the frauds can be concluded: a false material fact asserted by the deceiver, knowledge of its falsity, intention to deceive, reliance on the assertion’s truth by the deceiver’s audience, and objective injury or damages to the victim.

These requirements, for example, exempt most advertisers from charges of deception—except when their ads are reviewed by the very regulatory Federal Trade Commission. The FTC, depending on its inclinations and presidential administration, have in the past charged advertisers with “misleading and deceptive” advertising by dispensing with the knowledge and intent requirements and assuming injury if a consumer feels mislead or deceived.

The law of regulatory agencies is decidedly nonobjective, in the sense of being overly broad, vague, and often arbitrary.

As second consequence of regulatory intervention, let’s look at television. From the 1950s to the ‘80s, there were three, and only three, nationwide private, profit-making networks: CBS, NBC, and ABC. A fourth, the Dumont network, tried but failed to compete. Why?

The FCC controlled everything in television, from number of television stations allowed to exist in a given community to the number a network could own. The FCC controlled and allocated the number of channels that could exist, where they could exist, and, again, how many a network could have. Finally, entrepreneurs who wanted to run FM radio stations were competing for air waves with the television entrepreneurs, but the FCC decided who got what, where and when. Only three networks could survive such interventions. (See Laissez Parler: Freedom in the Electronic Media, pp. 16-18.)

Why do regulatory agencies have such power? Don’t these agencies violate the separation of powers clause of the US Constitution? After all, they combine the legislative, executive, and judicial functions in one agency: the commissioners write the rules, then execute and adjudicate them (with no jury). Progressives and the Supreme Court from the 1920s on have relied on the rationalization that regulatory agencies are a delegation of power by Congress, a “specification” of Congressional legislation.

Regulatory powers, however, do violate the separation of powers clause and are therefore violations of individual rights. They are, as Ward Lattin wrote in 1938, the “union [not separation] of powers,” the “precise thing that the framers of the Constitution quite unanimously agreed was the very definition of tyranny.”**

Conclusion? Free speech dies, most fundamentally, due to such government interventions. Getting the government out of our personal and professional lives means digging beneath the tip of the iceberg to find interventions, then repealing them. It is these interventions, especially those practiced by the FCC and FTC, that infringe our freedoms of speech and press.

Band aids—revisions of the existing interventions or amendments to them—are not the solution. They exacerbate the problems.

Political action required? Repeal, repeal, repeal!

* Why should social media be exempt from liability? The excuse given is that social media businesses would never be able to grow because they would be spending all their time and money fending off lawsuits. I doubt it. Strict enforcement of the common law requirements for fraud—in a fully free society—would make it difficult for frivolous lawsuits to arise. (The 1996 law, in addition, is also a quagmire attempt to deal with Justice Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it” test for obscenity—a paean, one might say, to nonobjective law and alleged and arbitrary “community standards.”) Let the free market decide. Absent government interventions, social media would likely look quite different than it does today—all to the better for both consumers and competitors. Contrary to how Progressives think and view themselves, there is no omniscient deity or crystal ball in Washington, DC, that can predict what the market would or should look like. Only the market—that is, the free choices of consumers and competitors—can decide.

** Ward E. Lattin, Federal Administrative Regulatory Agencies and the Doctrine of the Separation of Powers (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1938), 27. The book, unfortunately, is not listed either at or See also The Administrative Threat, passim, by Philip Hamburger and Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era, pp. 42-45, by Thomas C. Leonard. The 1985 book cited by O’Grady is Harnessing the Intellectuals: Censoring Writers and Artists in Today's Cuba by Carlos Ripoll.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

The Danger of Emergency Powers: A History Lesson

Emergency powers, as we have learned in the past six months, are dangerous. Any little tyrant in our local mayoral or gubernatorial office can suspend individual rights at the drop of a hat—or virus—in the name of the emergency.

In 1933 Adolf Hitler became dictator of Germany through “emergency powers.” Let’s briefly review how that happened.

In 1932 in a round of parliamentary voting, the Nazi Party lost to Paul von Hindenburg, World War I hero and president of the Weimar Republic since 1925. The Nazis, however, won a strong second place. After Hitler withdrew support for Hindenburg a third round of voting in November gave the Nazi Party the largest Reichstag share at 33%. Two prominent politicians and a “letter signed by 22 important representatives of industry” urged Hindenburg (1, 2) to appoint Hitler as chancellor. Hitler immediately gave Hermann Göring a cabinet position in charge of the police, which soon became the State Secret Police, or Gestapo.

Emergency powers soon followed. In February 1933 the Reichstag (parliament) building burned, blamed by Göring on the communists, but some historians insist it was started by the Nazis. Hitler then persuaded Hindenburg to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree that eliminated many civil rights, including freedom of speech, press, and assembly, banned the communist party, and allowed detention without trial. (Hindenburg at the time was 85 and said by some to be senile.)

In one fell swoop, Hitler acquired dictatorial power. In March, with dissenters surrounded and intimidated by Nazi brownshirts (SA) and protection squad (SS), the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act to give Hitler “temporary” power to rule by emergency decree.

For the next sixteen or so months, which included book burnings, purges, and other forms of rioting and "cancel culture," Hitler remained deferential in public to Hindenburg. After the latter died in August 1934, the chancellor eliminated the presidency, solidifying his dictatorship through the 1934 referendum, achieved similarly to the Reichstag vote with “widespread intimidation.”

It was in this manner that Adolf Hitler was elected dictator of Germany.

In our present cultural and political atmosphere, news commentator Bill O’Reilly recently wrote that the current Democratic presidential candidate “is Paul von Hindenburg in 1932 Germany. An old guy who is malleable.” In 1933 and ’34, Hindenburg’s shaper readily persuaded him to grant emergency powers, paving the way to full dictatorship.

Are we there yet? Are we heading down that path?

Emergency powers are dangerous and no one, least of all our political leaders, should have them. Individual rights are inviolate and absolute. They should never be suspended, whether the excuse is a pandemic or an insurrection or invasion. There is and can be no justification. This includes the suspension of habeas corpus, which unfortunately is allowed in the US Constitution.

In a free society no one has the right to force you to stay home during a pandemic or to force you to wear a hazmat suit (or mask) if you go out into public places. If you are so afraid of getting infected, you should stay home and avoid other people. If we had a society with a sound and stable legal system and you are infected knowingly and willfully by someone, you will likely have legal standing to sue or press charges—and with such a system you can expect most other people, lest they be sued or have charges pressed against them, to mind their manners when sick. A free society means you are free to choose and exercise in action your best judgment. We are all fully capable of doing just that. We ain’t stupid.

Emergency powers, even if, or especially when, they are declared to be “temporary,” lead inevitably to expansion of those powers. As in the case of Hitler, there seldom is a retraction or reduction of powers.*

Associated sometimes with emergency powers is the notion of martial law. Alan Dershowitz points out that the US Constitution says nothing about either, though, he writes, both were prevalent at the time of the country’s founding. Martial law, he says, is a contradiction in terms, because if the military is brought in, “then it is not law. It is power.” Other definitions have said martial law means the substitution of military for civil law.

No form of martial law, however, in a truly free society is ever appropriate. And I don’t believe it has been used in the United States. Whenever the national guard or military has been called out, their use has been to assist the police, to detain the violators of rights who are attacking person and property. In the process their purpose is to restore peace and order. Once the criminal violators are detained, the police can hold them for prosecution and incarceration.

Curfew? Aside from being a violation of rights, why? As a practical matter, you capture the law breakers, thereby making the streets safe again.

The use of emergency powers, martial law, and curfew are all confessions by politicians that they cannot maintain law and order with their own police.

Or, they are smokescreens for the expansion of power to establish a more authoritarian government. As did Hitler!

Can it happen here? Are the parallels sound? One-party rule, censorship, big business support and encouragement of dictatorial powers??

* See Jeffrey Tucker on “Lockdown: The New Totalitarianism.” Some true believers are already salivating over the pandemic lockdowns as dress rehearsal for total state control to enforce “climate change” decrees. Tucker, pointing out that the essence of “lockdownism” is puritanism, quotes none other than Anthony Fauci on the future of pandemic totalitarianism: “Living in greater harmony with nature will require changes in human behavior.” This simple statement is a double whammy: (1) we in solidarity with the rabidly radical and toxic environmentalists apparently will be expected to sacrifice ourselves to trees and rocks and (2) we must in addition transform ourselves into the utopian New Man (of Karl Marx, though the notion predates Marx).

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Clouded Lenses of a Certain Political Derangement Syndrome

Columnist Roger Simon makes this comment about today’s leftist sympathizers who excuse the burning of America.

So they blame Trump—someone who occasionally does act like a father—for their own failures. And even though those failures have been going on for months.

It’s hard to believe they do this with a straight face, but they do.
Simon is talking about a certain psychological syndrome identified to describe our current president’s opposition.

The political derangement syndrome, says Simon, “has evolved from a neurosis to a psychosis. . . . They [the deranged] disbelieve what is in front of their eyes.” Rioting thus can be described as “mostly peaceful protests” and it’s all the fault of our current president.

To most rational observers today, it is astoundingly incomprehensible why anyone would ignore or tolerate the violence we have seen in the last few months.

Perhaps psychology can help us understand.

A syndrome is a collection of symptoms. What makes it psychological is that the symptoms derive from thinking errors, not physical conditions or environmental events, though both are often asserted as causes.

For example, a depressed young man jilted by his lover may feel anxiety and a profound sense of hopelessness with the underlying thoughts: “I’ll never find another girlfriend or ever be happy again. I can’t go on with life.” The young man then may as a symptom project his plight onto the young woman, blaming her while ignoring any role he may have played in the breakup.

His thoughts, however, are false because, considering the population of the world, a new lover can be found, though the effort likely will require putting himself in a position to meet members of the opposite sex. And as the song says, it “Takes Two to Tango” when it comes to successful relationships (1, 2). The false thoughts nonetheless cause the young man’s symptoms of anxiety, hopelessness, and projection.

Psychological problems, as a result, set up a clouded lens that distorts our perceptions. In worst cases, the lens can prevent us from seeing reality at all.

The clouded lenses with the additional defensive habits of rationalization and projection are what blind many derangement sufferers.

Columnist John Miltimore offers further understanding by citing Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s linking of violence to falsehood, because violence, as Solzenitsyn points out, sooner or later “loses confidence in itself” and must lie to put on a “respectable face.” Says Solzhenitsyn, “Violence can conceal itself with nothing except lies, and the lies can be maintained only by violence.”

The reason, more precisely, that violence requires lies is that initiated coercion, which all forms of non-self-defensive violence are, cannot ever be justified; it must be covered up or rationalized.

To be sure, our postmodern culture of epistemological skepticism and moral relativism is a fundamental cause of the present lack of respect for truth and sincerity—the postmoderns, after all, have brought about the penchant for talking in “narratives” (or fictions, as I prefer to call them), rather than facts and knowledge.

The notion of lying to cover up coercion goes back at least to the “noble lie” recommended in Plato’s (totalitarian) Republic (1, 2) and probably to the first tribal chieftain who called himself master of the tribe.

The defensive habit of rationalization, which can be either subconscious or intentional, is the act of making excuses to justify one’s irrational thoughts and behaviors. This is what explains the otherwise astoundingly incomprehensible events of today.

Leftist sympathizers are the writers and politicians who fail to denounce the violence, whereas the actual rioters are criminal personalities who lie, cheat, and steal as a way of life and enjoy getting away with the forbidden. Leftist ideology justifies the rioting, because any form of socialism requires total coercion and control. (See Trevor Loudon’s columns on the Maoist role in today’s riots: 1, 2.)

Leftist ideology is what allows the sympathizers to excuse and tolerate the rioters, though some sympathizers may secretly be what Yochelson and Samenow (1, chap. 7; 2) call “nonarrestable criminals,” a criminal personality that lies, cheats, and manipulates others but does nothing overtly illegal. Some may want to be on the streets, tossing Molotov cocktails, but other internal psychological conflicts prevent them from doing so—or perhaps a modicum of health prevents them from being that deranged.

And blaming a father figure? Hmm! Without going too Freudian, projection and scapegoating derive from the need to blame someone—anyone—for one’s own insecurities, especially anxiety and anxiety’s source, low self-esteem. Projection is rampant in today’s political context and it comes mostly from one side.

Does this explain the seemingly unexplainable? It’s a start, but just how far down the rathole are we going to go?

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Intellectual Cowardice and Pre-Censorship as the Expressway to Dictatorship

Ayn Rand identified the four characteristics of dictatorship: “one-party rule—executions without trial or with a mock trial, for political offenses—the nationalization or expropriation of private property—and censorship.”*

The United States today is not there—yet. But it has elements of all four characteristics and speculation in some quarters says that a November election loss of our current president could fast-track the path to dictatorship, especially if one-party rule becomes established at the national level.

We have not had executions for political offenses, though we do have and have had considerable prosecutorial misconduct, including threats and actual use of solitary confinement along with pressure on witnesses not just to “sing,” to use Alan Dershowitz’s choice words (1, 2), but also to “compose.” Nationalization and expropriation? Some, but most occurs insidiously through creeping, and in some cases galloping, controls and regulations.

Censorship is the most concerning issue, because, as Rand puts it, “censorship is the tombstone of a free country.” Freedom of speech,” she says, is “the dividing line . . . between a ‘mixed economy’ and dictatorship” (“The Fascist New Frontier,” loc. 1684, The Ayn Rand Column.)

Today, we are working our way through that dividing line with a series of preludes to censorship, or pre-censorship actions, that are strictly speaking not censorship. Freedom of speech presupposes property rights, which means property owners have the right to deny what you may write or say on their property. Censorship is always an action by the government to silence dissent. Though the Federal Communications Commission exercises extensive control over the broadcast media, the print media are still relatively untouched by the government. Yes, exceptions can be found, but we are all still predominantly free to publish and speak freely on our own or as agreed to by a publisher or venue operator.

The most overt form of censorship would be an official bureau of the government, perhaps at the cabinet level and perhaps called “The Department of Truth and Social Justice,” that dictates what can and cannot be written or spoken. The preludes to censorship less overtly involve government and in some cases are performed entirely by private individuals or organizations. Preludes to censorship are more devious, as their goal is to soften citizens up and get them to accept the overt form.

There are several degrees of pre-censorship.

The most glaring, because it involves the legal system, is nonobjective law. An abundance of vague and overly broad laws gives us what I call dictatorship by excessive law. Such laws are what enabled Stalin’s chief of secret police to boast, “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime” (1, 2). When thousands of such laws are on the books, anyone can be arrested for anything, making it especially easy to silence dissent. (I include judicial gag orders in this category, because of the arbitrariness of many judges.) Nonobjective law plays no small part in today’s federal prosecutorial misconduct.

Nonobjective law in turn supports scapegoating, the ancient practice of blaming one person or one group of people for the flaws and mistakes of ruling elites who thereby can claim moral superiority. Nonobjective law makes it easier then to legalize and justify purges and pogroms.

Both nonobjective law and scapegoating, as Ayn Rand points out, are required to sustain a dictatorship. “In Soviet Russia,” says Rand, “the scapegoat was the bourgeoisie; in Nazi Germany, it was the Jewish people; in America, it is the businessmen.” And it still is business people, though some are promoting and funding the enemies of capitalism and the country’s march to dictatorship. Fools that they are, they don’t seem to believe, or know about, Lenin’s warning: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

But today’s scapegoats are also “unwoke” whites, Asians, and, unfortunately, again, Jews (not to mention any black person who rejects “wokeness.”)

Publicly funded educational institutions are a second form of pre-censorship, as they are obligated, but woefully fail, to uphold the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The same applies to private institutions that have “freedom of speech” clauses in their charters. These institutions that fail to protect free speech on their campuses, by default, are performing a role similar to that of government censor. Fortunately, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is waging major legal battles to defend teachers and students and their First Amendment rights.

Other pre-censorship actions silence dissent without any apparent government intervention. They appear to be, and often are, actions of private individuals or organizations to exclude opinions with which they do not agree. Though difficult to find, government interventions may be present in some cases.

Social media exclusion is one such prelude that enjoys a government intervention. Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act labels “interactive computer service[s]” forums for “political discourse” and, at the same time, exempts them from the legal liabilities of publishers. Yet some of these “forums” also perform the functions of publishers by canceling political discourse they do not agree with. This, critics point out, allows social media to be both private forums and de facto government censors.

Two additional preludes to censorship were identified by Philosopher Bertrand Russell. He states that “legal penalties [government censorship] are . . . the least of the obstacles to freedom of thoughts.” The two greater obstacles, though I would dispute Russell’s ranking (government censorship can silence all dissent), are “economic penalties and distortion of evidence.”

Economic penalties restrict or prevent writers, speakers, and teachers from writing, speaking, and teaching—ultimately from earning a living. This includes today’s politically correct cancel culture and disinvitations, not to mention the deliberate refusal to acknowledge alternative points of view, along with character assassinations, that is, guilt by accusation or outright lies to have writers, speakers, and teachers removed from their professions. Character assassination under Marx and Engels, as Ludwig von Mises points out, became literal assassination under Lenin.

Distortion of evidence, Russell’s second obstacle, refers to smears and Goebbelsian propaganda (1, 2). Smears are the first half of the ad hominem fallacy—“Mr. X is immoral,” in infinite variations—with no pretensions to a follow-up argument that Mr. X’s ideas are false. In our postmodern age, reason, logic, and facts and truth are out. Instead, Goebbelsian yelping is all that is left and the yelping, unfortunately, as philosopher Stephen Hicks pointed out (1, p. 200; 2), performs the role of Iago to the Enlightenment’s Othello, namely to inject doubt into modernity’s values and “let that doubt work like a slow poison.”

In a proposed preface to Animal Farm, George Orwell’s 1945 USSR allegory, Orwell described a number of Goebbelsian preludes to censorship that were used in England during World War II. The preface, however, titled “The Freedom of the Press,” was vetoed by his publisher and was not known to exist until 1972.

Libels, double standards, suppression of criticism, and flagrant sins of omission during Orwell’s time all came from the press and intellectuals, not the UK government’s Ministry of Information. Their goal was not to offend Stalinist Russia. “In this country,” Orwell writes, “intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face.” Fear of public opinion, he says, is motivator of the press’s and intellectuals’ cowardice.

“Hardly anyone will print an attack on Stalin,” continues Orwell, “but it is quite safe to attack Churchill . . . . Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.” Orwell called it “veiled censorship” when the government was not involved.

Orwell concludes, “These people [the press, intellectuals, and all the other gutless compromisers] don’t see that if you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you.”

Final word about our current plight: “non-negotiable demands” left over from the 1960s and transported to the present, threats, intimidation, riots, arson, bombings, and other forms of violence, whether performed by private individuals and organizations or with the sanction of government officials, constitute totalitarian attempts to stage a putsch, the result of which would be the end of free speech and the establishment of dictatorship.

* The recent shutdown mania has given us a taste of dictatorship, stemming mostly from our Progressive mayors and governors. “Airtight,” the working title of Ayn Rand’s first novel We the Living, is an apt description of what it feels like under dictatorship. Rand’s main character shouts at her communist antagonist (p. 385): “You've driven us all into an iron cellar and you've closed all doors, and you've locked us airtight, airtight till the blood vessels of our spirits burst!” (“Sensory deprivation” is how prisoners have described their time locked away.)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Systemic White Guilt and Its Groveling, Gutless Conformity

White guilt is an attempt by today’s Progressives to regain the sense of moral authority they once had during the desegregation protests of the 1960s.

This is the gist of Shelby Steele’s psychologically insightful 2006 book White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era.

The guilt, writes Steele, is a secular version of original sin—cloaked variously as structural, systemic, or unconscious racism—that brings out a need for redemption in the eyes of black people.

Such redemption is achieved by apologizing to (including kneeling before) blacks to ask their forgiveness for the racism of white ancestors. More significantly, it has required the implementation of various government programs, such as a “war on poverty,” preferential treatment (affirmative action), diversity, and many other forms of welfare. In return, redemptive actions do not expect or require anything from blacks, particularly hard work and earning one’s own way. That would be racist. Besides, the guilty white gets no moral authority from an accomplished self-made black person.

The formula, says Steele, is simple: “lessening responsibility for minorities equals moral authority; increasing it equals racism” (p. 62).

A further cause and consequence of the guilt and need for redemption is what Steele calls a “white blindness” to black people that does not see blacks as individual human beings, but as a class or group of victims who de facto are also still inferiors.

The blindness, of course, existed under slavery where owners viewed their slaves as fundamentally inferior, giving them only a subsistence living; no freedom, no responsibility. Under segregation, blacks had control over their lives, responsibility, and in some cases thriving free-market communities, but their freedom was severely restricted outside their segregated areas. And they were still marked as inferior.

Today, since the 1960s, the psychological effect of guilty white Progressives has been to expect no responsibility or competence from black people, only entitlement and grievance—a mutual codependence, it would seem. The result has been the near-total collapse of slum neighborhoods into poverty, illiteracy, drugs, crime and gang warfare, fatherless homes, and unwed mothers. But “good intention” is what gives moral authority to the guilty white. That is all that matters because “they’ve tried hard.” (Implied premise: to help those who allegedly cannot help themselves and who are therefore inferior.)

The invisibility caused by white blindness, continues Steele, is what also causes rage in blacks that has given us the militant black power movements of the Black Panthers in the 1960s and today’s Black Lives Matter, both of which organizations are Marxist, segregationist, terrorist, anti-semitic and racist against whites. Rage was present under slavery and segregation but it was only acted out in recent times because of a perceived weakness of the oppressors—the moral vacuum felt by the guilty white (and the permission granted by Marxist premises, I might add).

This is what Steele means when he says “blacks and whites together destroyed the promise of the civil rights era.”

Underlying white guilt, as Steele correctly points out, is Marx’s notion of social or economic determinism. We were born with the sin of racism, so the determinist argument goes, and can do nothing about it. This drives the guilty white in their frantic efforts to assuage guilt by adopting additional notions and behaviors of political correctness, virtue signaling, and identity politics.

Identity politics is collectivism. Its psychology, as I have written before, is dependence.

But racism in America, according to Steele, effectively ended by the mid to late 1960s, achieved largely by the moral authority of Martin Luther King’s peaceful protests and emphasis on seeing black people as individuals, not as a class or group.

Not denying that a minority of people or incidents are still racist, Steele means by this that both then and now, as opposed to the 1950s, he can go to any restaurant or stay in any hotel he can afford, and find a bathroom, which he could not easily do in the years of segregation.

King’s assassination in 1968 was a turning point that brought out not just the rage of black power, but also the guilt of white Progressives. Why? The moral authority used and felt in the marches and protests for desegregation disappeared with integration. Rather than rejecting their underlying Marxist premises and taking up King’s individualism, white Progressives saw their new moral compass in the  march for redemption from “systemic racism.”

What seems transparent (or puzzling) to anyone not suffering such a psychology or holding the Marxist premises is that white Progressives suffer a “structural, systemic, or unconscious guilt” that knocks out and defeats any respect they may have ever held for our country’s founding principles of individualism.

Hence, today’s spectacle of groveling cowardice and conformity combined with blatant intimidation, threats, and violence.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Goebbelsian Propaganda and the Rawlsian Reductio to the Rathole—In Our Current Case, Criminals and Terrorists

In a previous post, I argued that our current culture has become “Goebbelsian,” meaning that a torrent of hyperbole, BS, half-truths, and outright lies, best described as smears, has become the norm in communication. It is a way of life for much of our press and many politicians.

Joseph Goebbels was Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda. His strategy was to tell a big lie, then say it loud and a lot, until the ignorant populace begins to believe it. The contemporary strategy, since rational people often do not believe the first lie, is to switch to a second lie, and then to another, and then another.

Switching generates confusion and a disbelief in the possibility of truth. The postmoderns, of course, have been teaching for many years that reason, logic, and truth are out, leaving each of us with our own “narratives,” which I prefer to call fictions.

Facts, to most of these “thought” leaders, don’t matter.

Yesterday, the “lethality” of a coronavirus was the message of the day. Today, it is “defund the police.” Tomorrow it will be something else. An underlying theme for decades has been “America’s systemic racism to protect white privilege.” As with Goebbels, today’s leftist propaganda is agenda driven—to destroy capitalism and now to remove or defeat our current president (who represents capitalism). But I want to identify a more fundamental point driving the agenda: the ethics of altruism, the doctrine of self-sacrifice.

“Compassion” is the buzzword used to intimidate and silence anyone who may object to this leftist propaganda. “You’re not compassionate toward the poor, the black, women, LGBTQ’s, etc.” Why? “Because you can’t feel what they feel. You enjoy white (rich, male, straight) privilege.”

The problem with this ruse is that too many rational people (non-leftists) don’t buy the alleged discrimination the propagandists say these groups of people (Marxist classes) are still experiencing in the year 2020. Rational people also therefore do not buy the guilt trip that is being laid on them.

The left now has to go further down the rathole to find additional “classes”—criminals and terrorists—to feel compassion for. This goes beyond societal status to blatant immorality and injustice, stretching the rational person’s credulity. (A rathole, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a seemingly bottomless or unfillable hole.” Leftists who wear the  environmentalist hat have moved further down to the unhuman and inanimate: trees and rocks that we must feel compassion for. Have we hit bottom yet?)

If you object? “Well, it’s obvious you have no compassion! We must have compassion for the least well off and that includes illegal aliens and nonviolent criminals.” Looting and burning buildings? “That’s just property. We have to understand the looters’ plight.”*

Where does this come from?? It comes from the epistemological requirement of consistency and the ethical and political “maximin” principle of Harvard philosopher John Rawls.

The doctrine of self-sacrifice means to give up a higher value to a lower or non-value. As I wrote in Independent Judgment and Introspection (pp. 43-44):

Self-sacrifice means, for example, the pursuit of a career to please one’s parents instead of the career one truly loves and wants. It means marrying a person one does not love—again, to please those “significant others” who may disapprove of your choice’s religion, social class, race, or ethnicity. It means doing your job because it’s your duty, not because you enjoy it. It means giving birth to a child you do not want and enslaving yourself to a mistake or accident that occurred when you were young.
According to altruism, all of these actions are moral, making you virtuous. To be consistent, it also means you must care about and give up your values for the sake of those who are less well off, even if the sacrifice drags you down to their level. That is the ultimate goal of altruism and it is the goal and meaning of Rawls’ maximin principle.**

“Maximin” means to maximize the minimum. It does not mean to raise the least well off up to the level of those who are in a better situation. It means, if necessary, according to Rawls, to drag those in the middle and upper social regions down to the level of the lower. This would then make society truly just—socially just—and equal, that is, egalitarian. Rawls states (p. 227):

All inequalities should be arranged for the advantage for the most unfortunate even if some inequalities are not to the advantage of those in the middle positions.
It is not just a redistribution of wealth, but also of social position. The poor are not just to be given some of the wealthy’s money, but also their status.

This is Marxism and Marx’s updated determinism. The fundamental assumption is that all social and economic positions in society are dealt to each of us at birth, but some, those in the higher positions, acquired additional status and wealth by stealing from the poor and downtrodden. Such people, whether bourgeoisie or white, straight males or capitalists must be punished to rightly achieve justice.

In today’s world, the worst off “poor” are not those who live in slums, but those who have been prevented from coming to this country or who loot and destroy property. The least advantaged, when the altruist premise is pushed to its most consistent extreme, are illegals and criminals—and terrorists.

Sacrificing everything we have worked for and earned is the ultimate giving up of higher values for the sake of lesser or non-values.

As I wrote in 2016, the reductio of bureaucracy is the concentration camp. Because, as Victor Frankl wrote about his experience in such a camp, “the list had to be correct.” Totalitarian societies are massive bureaucracies and the camps are just one more bureau.

So similarly, the reductio of altruism is the sacrifice we must all make to criminals and terrorists (and trees and rocks).

Says who? The left. The preaching of sacrifices is how they seek and, if not stopped, gain power.

Ayn Rand warned us: “It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there’s someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.”

Rand also taught us that the smallest minority on earth is the individual, not groups or Marxist classes (or trees or rocks). This means, simply, we should all be advocates and promoters of philosophical individualism! This also means we each can then work hard and strive to lift ourselves up beyond our “original (Rawlsian) positions.”

Our current president, incidentally, is not an altruist, which is why he is so hated. He does not want to sacrifice anyone’s interest, including our national interests, to anyone else. He in fact wants every individual to be able to lift him- or herself up to as high a level as possible!

* One synonym of compassion is pity and one definition of pity is “a somewhat disdainful or contemptuous feeling of regret over the condition of one viewed by the speaker as in some way inferior or reprehensible.” An appropriate description of leftist condescension.

** Rawls apparently did not like the maximin designation, since he saw it as coming from rational choice theory. He does, however, spend several pages discussing it in his major work, A Theory of Justice (chap. III, sec. 26). The words have become associated with his theory.