Friday, July 30, 2010

Who Goes Nazi? - Continued

In the essay it pays to not only find with relief the person most like oneself who Dorothy Thompson thinks is not vulnerable, but to identify one who is as well. I would hope to be something along the lines of Mr. A, with a dash of Mr. H. I fear that I would be Mr. G – indeed, am quite worried that I would have been in another set of circumstances. Eugene Ionesco, in “Rhinoceros,” seems entirely puzzled by who goes Nazi. His characters inhabit mere madness in society, where anyone and everyone becomes inhuman for no reason at all. Thompson believes she has a dividing line “Those who haven’t anything in them to tell them what they like and what they don’t - whether it is breeding, or happiness, or wisdom, or a code, however old-fashioned or however modern, go Nazi.” We would call this a moral compass today. I draw a somewhat different line. Thompson is certainly drawing her composites from people she has actually met and observed, but also gives them a neatness that authors use to make a point. I defer to her observations, but am comfortable adding to her interpretation.

In my comments over at ChicagoBoyz, I got sidetracked into the specifically German and specifically Nazi aspects of the parlor game. That is a good grounding for discussing the modern question, perhaps, but not so useful in itself. For we are not in danger of actual nazis coming to power, but of a half-dozen variants of tyranny whose future is obscured. There are the great national and international movements, of course, which is where our minds run first. But the more important personal questions occur on a smaller scale. All of the characters who Thompson identifies as being likely resisters of nazism have resisted milder versions of groupthink and lust for power before. As CS Lewis notes in Screwtape, having something that one likes for its own sake, caring nothing for the status or advantage in it, is a powerful defense against attacks via vanity. “…defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions."

Mr. A might have made something of his family connections and education to move into positions of greater prestige, but has chosen not to. The reasons are not clear, but seem to be related to some idea of who one is, of finding a place where one fits rather than making oneself over to fit. Or worse, making the places over so that one’s self can have its way. We see the same in Mrs. F’s and Mr. H’s abandoning career for romantic love, and Mr. K’s leaving off business and profit to do what he likes. The young German, most of all, has given nearly everything to avoid being a Nazi. James and Bill, the servants, do not fit my theory of nazi-avoidance in any obvious way.

The flip side of my theory fits also. The labor leader and the spoiled son have certainly gotten along by making others give things up, remaking their environments to fit them. Mrs. E has given up her very self, but there is a twist to it: she wants others to be made to give up their very selves as well. Something of the same might be said of Mr. C. He has sacrificed to get where he is, but the prize has eluded him. He also wants a “fairer” society which would reward him for his true worth – and punish those who did not acknowledge it before. Mr. J has divorced himself from his Jewish heritage and history and is entirely a man of the present. He approves of this new and powerful method of organising of society, believing that because he is post-Jewish, the new elite will reasonably exempt him. They worship power, so does he. He expects to get along fine. He does not yet see that they worship power not in the individual, but in the collective – and he is forever outside.

Mr. B, the wealthy sportsman, and Mr. G, the brilliant rationalizer, present a different case. Both automatically trim their sails to the prevailing winds, while retaining an alertness for their own main chance. Neither has much of an actual self to give up or impose on others, though both are content to go along for the ride of imposing.

Thompson is describing individuals from the upper reaches of society – they were all invited to this party with servants in attendance after all. I think that is the proper focus to take. Most shopkeepers and wage employees don’t have much say in the tyrannies of government. They can attempt to rise in the world by signing on to a rising tide and becoming a big wheel, or they can draw attention to themselves by visibly opposing it, but the little people can affect the world only with considerable effort.

George Soros

Soros is a love-to-hate guy on the right. It was interesting to try and place him in the Dorothy Thompson essay Who Goes Nazi? More interesting because he actually did have that experience, and by his own statements, what happened to him as a young Hungarian Jew at the end of WWII influences his politics today. He believes that what he sees from George Bush and the Republican Party reminds him of the Nazism he experienced then, and has worked to keep such people out of power.

Central Europeans who went through the end of WWII, especially if they are Jewish, are accorded immediate credibility in discussing such matters. Yet Soros was only 13 – not an age where his impressions of what sort of people were persecuting him have any meaning. Bush is showing similarity to Nazis in what way, exactly, that a 13-year-old would have any understanding of? I grant that he feels intensely that the madness should not be repeated (how could he not? The persecution part would certainly be understandable to children even younger) but what are the political and economic policy equivalences he works from? I submit that these are imposed retroactively. Feelings are not facts. It is rather like the elderly Polish gentleman who handed me anti-semitic tracts in the park one day. He had seen the “Jewish Communists” overrun his village as a boy. Yes, I should believe him. He had seen it. He was there. That was why he hated the Jews.

On the subject of how money works now, and what the possible consequences of policies are, however, Soros clearly speaks with enormous authority. If he is a free-marketer who nonetheless believes that market fundamentalism is a dangerous policy, that deserves attention.

His philanthropy versus his business ruthlessness gives us a mixed ethical picture. This is a man who has given more of his own money than almost anyone in history in support of causes nearly all Americans would approve of: the Solidarity movement in Poland which helped bring down the Iron Curtain; the Rose Revolution in Georgia; universities in Central Europe; government transparency in horribly corrupt countries. Yet he is also the man who broke the Bank of England in 1992 with an intentional attack on the British Pound, shrugging this off as merely a matter of how the game is played. He destabilises governments, and we mostly don’t mind because they are governments we’d just as soon destabilise anyway.

It is clear he does not desire money for its own sake, nor power for its own sake. He wants to influence the world in directions he thinks good. But the package of contradictions may give some explanation how he can fund dishonest and manipulative political actions “for our own good.” He can make a strong case that it is for our own good, and the shortcomings of individual organizations he supports are not much worse than others of similar type. There is the combined arrogance and selflessness of the crusader, it seems.

Leave aside the libertarian argument that people should be allowed to do as they wish, even if they are wrong, and the American argument that free people eventually get it right. I agree with both of those principles, but the latter is an article of faith, and the former is highly dependent on it. If people are going to mostly get it right, and efforts to control them are largely going to make things worse, then of course the libertarian and American values should prevail.

But what if it’s no longer true? What if the speed and international nature of current finance can indeed destroy things quickly enough that market principles that apply to bakers and barbers are swept away with the tide? What if world markets can be made freer – as Soros believes – but that there is an upper limit to that freedom, requiring a strong central international government to curb excesses? Don’t answer that for the moment. There are too many other variables I have not begun to mention.

For the moment, let’s just look at the phrase “strong central international government,” spoken by a person who has enormous influence in the world. I long ago sent my Hal Lindsey and Salem Kirban books to yard sales. I still have occasional contact with Christians who are “into prophecy,” and see end-time events in the most banal of occurrences, but I have little interest in the subject myself. But as with all the implanted chip, eye-scanning, and thumbprint technology that we’re going to increasingly use to gain access to our computers, hold our medical records, and automatically deposit and deduct from our accounts – that would cover a lot of the waterfront for buy-and-sell - that “international government” phrase just creeps me out. Especially coming from a powerful insane person.

Yes, I know it’s supposed to be the anti-Soros people who are the paranoid insane ones, but he’s on record comparing George Bush to Hitler and Yasser Arafat. He claimed that getting rid of Bush was the most important focus of his life and he’d spend his whole fortune on it. It’s one thing to be opposed to someone, and think their policies are damaging, or not trust them, but calling them Hitler? The most important focus of your life? Those are ravings. Powerless people make those exaggerations in order to be heard, but risk being seen at nutcases for it. If he actually believes that, then he’s a paranoid insane person, even if he is brilliant at identifying market vulnerabilities.

Unless of course, he doesn’t really believe it and is just trying to manipulate a new market, that of political rather than financial power. That would be considerably worse than being paranoid, though. Or an arrogant anyone-in-my-way-is-Hitler mentality, which would also be worrisome.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Legislation As Medication

Refining my earlier post Regulate Congress, I am preferring this more specific analogy. When you go to your prescriber, there is an explanation of any new medication, usually on a 2-sided sheet. Or perhaps, the prescriber gives you the verbal description and your pharmacist gives you the sheet. If you throw the sheet away after reading, you can go on the net and find a similar printout.

We need something equivalent for legislation. What are the expected benefits? What are the potential side effects? There is an advantage with this analogy that everyone is familiar with the idea. Also, it rhymes. Most important of all, it forces lawmakers into a mode where they have to think in terms of exceptions, rare occurences, and delivering services. Just think if they had to write In rare circumstances (footnote reveals: in Rockford Illinois and the Norfolk Virginia) this legislation has been shown to increase personal bankruptcies.

But there are so many pieces of legislation passed. Hopefully, not any more.

But some legislation is so complicated it can't be summarised. Tough noogies. That's the kind of crap every other industry has to go through all the time. Just do it.

As Texan99 pointed out, why would Congress ever pass such a thing that hampered them so much? I think we are starting with the states, and looking at constitutional conventions to make this happen.

Artistic Arrangement

Chaplaincy services has a display, a collage dedicated to world religions. They don’t rank them, but as advertisers know, there is prominence of placement, if color and size of print are the same. Eye level is the area of greatest prominence, and people tend to view from left to right, as in reading. This is especially true if eye level is also the top row. The center position of a poster, or slightly above it, is second-most important.

I don’t think this is a value ranking in their eyes, but a show-we’re-culturally-sensitive ranking. Culturally sensitive people don’t actually rate Islam that highly, but they are careful to make sure there is no suggestion of slight. That the UU’s and Bahai made the list at all suggests there is some advertising going on.

Top row, eye-level: Unitarian Universalism, Native American Spiritualities.

Second row: Islam

Third row, which is also the center: Buddhism, Hinduism

Fourth row: Wicca, Bahai, Judaism

Bottom row: Taoism, Christianity

Forty years ago the display would have been different. First difference – it might not have been there at all. Christianity would have been broken into Roman Catholic and Protestant parts, Eastern Orthodox unnoticed, despite a fairly large Greek population in NH. Judaism would have been on with some similar prominence. Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism would have been included only as exotic extras, to show that someone had taken a world religions course.

Twenty years ago, hmm. This is a pretty multi-culti place, but I don’t know whether it would be closer to the 1970 version or the 2010. I think it would have been the big five, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, all placed so that there could be no implied preference.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who Goes Nazi?

From Bookworm, via The Anchoress, CWCID Instapundit, is this piece from Dorothy Thompson from 1941, Who Goes Nazi?
It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times–in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.

Breathless Gaians, Straight Out Of Kiddie Lit

A woman speaking for the Environmental Defense Council claims, in a very serious and accusing tone, “maybe the earth is trying to tell us something.” I’m guessing they don’t have that first hand. I wonder what Saturn is saying these days. Or the Sun. We’d better check in with Old Sol.

Analogy II

Julian Assange of the Guardian thinks the warlogs leaks will be good for the world because it will increase "transparency."

This is roughly equivalent to patting yourself on the back for exposing a William & Mary basketball bench player as academically ineligible just before their game against Kentucky. No, actually my analogy is too mild. It’s more like exposing the fact that a black man had been illegally sleeping in boxcars just before the Klan lynched him in 1920.


Workers Comp attorney on the radio makes the comment that “Inurance companies aren’t in the business of paying claims. They are in the bsiness of making a profit for their stockholders.” That’s rather like saying restaurants aren’t in the business of serving you food, they’re in the business of making profits so they can pay salaries.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Vaudeville Again

Same routine, but done better than the 3 Stooges did it.

I couldn't get it out of my mind. Had to put it in.

Kelly Ayotte & Rich Ashooh

I know that folks expect those of us on the scene to provide inside information on candidates - things you might not hear elsewhere. For those of you out-of-state who want to follow national Senate majority issues, the betting at this point is that she will fill the seat occupied by the retiring Judd Gregg, beating Binnie and Bender in the primaries, and Hodes in November. But it's still only July. Her Wikipedia entry really does cover the basics without a lot of bias. As state Attorney general, she argued Ayotte Vs. Planned Parenthood of New England before SCOTUS, which agreed with her unanimously. She went to Villanova, a quality law school that's not an Ivy - which is becoming important to conservatives who believe that there's more intellectual diversity, and hence more original thinking, outside of the Ivy League.

For those in-state, hoping that my contact with the AG's office because of my line of work will give me some inside scoop, I don't have much to offer. She mostly stuck to prosecutions, rather than being a conservative activist looking for ways to kick liberals in the groin. Which is as it should be. She didn't try to politicise any of the highly-charged cases from the mental health side. I don't think she was particularly interested in our little corner of legal issues. The attorneys who dealt with her seemed to regard her as quite good, not someone who would make them crazy when they tried to explain situations to her. I heard neither that she was some brilliant legal scholar about to set the world on its ear nor that she was a fool.

I'm still hesitating to vote for any lawyer, but it won't kill me to make an exception here.

Rich Ashooh: I know an older brother slightly, and an older sister quite well. She is extremely intelligent, both in the quick-witted and grind-it-out senses. The whole family is. I don't know Rich at all. He grew up Melkite Catholic, but I don't know whether he still attends. He worked for NH Sens. Gordon Humphreys and Warren Rudman in Washington before going to work for BAE. Those are all good credentials. Rudman was an especial deficit-hawk, even by NH's extreme standards, so that's a good lineage.

Wish I could tell you more.

Update: I should say more about Ovide Lamontagne, who I also like.

Religion Across The Curriculum

Somewhere around 1980, I worked on a psych unit that had the TV going pretty much steadily from 7AM - 11PM. Patients could watch what they liked - there weren't that many choices - and staff would adjudicate disputes. So someone was watching 700 Club or something similar, where a very exciteable man was describing the new school curriculum they were going to use somewhere. It had "Jesus Across The Curriculum." They were going to work Jesus into the history lessons, the math lessons, the English lessons. A coworker, who had gone through 13 years of private Catholic school, groaned. "I got so sick of that. You couldn't just learn about anything for itself. It always had to have Jesus pulled in somehow."

I had mixed feelings. Still do. We had only one child then, a toddler, but eventually my sons went to varying amounts of public vs Christian schools. In simplest form, there are ways in which Christian viewpoint fits naturally into teaching, some ways it doesn't. Additionally, there is an overall ethic of study which includes Christian virtues. But some places, it's just forced. And if you have ever seen some of these curricula, you would know that it not only theoretically could be shoved in inappropriately, it has been.

Fast forward to 1996. When my oldest son was looking at colleges, one of the ones he wanted to visit was Sarah Lawrence. He liked their method of instruction, the seminar-conference. It does sound attractive for some types of student. So. We stop off in Bronxville on our last stop before home on our college-visiting trip. Jonathan is in being interviewed, and I am sitting in a comfortable waiting area reading the course catalogue. In the introduction, I read that every course taught at the school is required to address the issues of race, gender, class, and a few other things. Sweet Jesus, don't let my son like this school, I thought.

You could call it Marxism Across the Curriculum, but that would be extreme, and not entirely precise. You could call it Liberalism Across the Curriculum, but that would be too mild. No matter. It is, in much the same way as a Christian school, the religion of the tribe injected into every part of the teaching, whether it fits naturally or is forced.

SLC is a private school, they can do whatever they want and aren't answerable to me or anyone else about it, other than their own community. I just want to make clear exactly what is happening. When Codevilla refers to the Ruling Class being instructed in highly similar viewpoints from Boston to San Diego, he is referring to this. In every era the young elite are instructed into the norms they are expected to hold when they later come to rule. This isn't necessarily evil, nor is this static in any society. But it is usually suffused with the religion of the elite, or what attitude they should have to the religion of the nation.

The Meaning of Words

The youth pastor was moving on today, and gave a short exhortation about the high school mission trip to Benton Harbor, MI. Nice young man; a friend of my oldest son. He smiled that he was again going to mention social justice, as he did every time he spoke. He quoted Micah 6:8 about doing justice and loving mercy.

Hmm. The trip to Benton Harbor, where they painted houses, did vacation Bible camp, and otherwise hung around being helpful, was certainly about mercy, or kindness, or charity. And a good thing, too - we should see more of rich teenagers being bundled off to help poor people. But "justice?" How do we get to the concept of justice there? The rich teenagers in NH hadn't taken anything from the poor people in Benton Harbor - hadn't wrecked their stuff, vandalised the neighborhood, scammed them on the street, or taken their jobs. There wasn't an injustice that needed to be righted. Justice would mean that the people of Benton Harbor have a right to demand that someone come in and paint their homes and teach their kids Bible stories.

That is, unless you are smuggling in the idea that the poverty of one is a direct result of the wealth of another. It's the only way to get to the idea that charity is only giving people something that is already rightfully theirs. Charity is a gift, not a redress. Justice is something a person can rightfully demand from others.

The word justice has a meaning. It is a useful concept, and not one that should be toyed with, because there is justice that the poor have a right to demand in our society - the right to be treated the same before the law, even if they don't have connections or haven't paid a bribe; the right to buy and sell, the right to be in public places, the right to speak, or vote, or cling to their guns and religion even if the president disapproves, just like anyone else. When someone is trying to change the meaning of a word, it pays to perk up one's ears and ask why.

Not that this youth pastor is conscious of any attempt to redefine the word, of course. He's not part of any conspiracy or devious attempts to deceive others. He's just caught in the rather vague set of associations that it's a good thing for people who have things to share them, and some people have had hard luck, and Christians should feel obligated to help others, and African-Americans are the best example of people who didn't get a fair shake while rich white kids are the best example of those whose life has been more than fair. So it all sort of fits in together, you see. Besides, everyone puts these types of ministry under the category of "Social Justice." It's right there on the denominational website as a dropdown and everything.

Yes, everyone is starting to call these things social justice, it seems. The idea has become fully embedded in the thinking of folks of uh, certain political persuasions. We can now slide back and forth between the meanings as is convenient, so that when someone - oh, I don't know, someone with a national plan to require kids to volunteer at some approved good work in order to be given a high school diploma - can manipulate words so that a voluntary gift becomes a rightful demand that the government can impose. Because it's justice.

We discussed a similar redefining of terms when I reviewed the book True Patriot. Patriotism had a common meaning which everyone understood. One might validly claim that patriotism is not the highest virtue, or that it is a virtue only when combined with other virtues, or when the patria-object is itself worthy of affection. But the word means love of country, both in behavioral and symbolic acts, such as enlisting in the military or flying the flag. You can say that merely flying the flag and doing nothing else for one's country is cheap patriotism, or maintain that love of the environment, or rights for women, or love of all God's people is a superior virtue, and that's fine, too. But the word has a meaning, and when people are trying to intentionally redefine it, we should be suspicious.

It goes by degrees, each perhaps sensible enough in itself. To say that patriotism is "wanting what is best for my country" can mean something quite close to the original. But it can also, with no change of words, mean something quite far away from the original - the idea that "I only love my country when it looks like I want it to." Justice can slide into fairness can slide into equal fortune can slide into equal luck can slide into the idea that any inequality is in fact injustice.

Regulate Congress

Akafred used to be active in the lobbying group the Business and Industry Association of NH. Lat Friday, he described a frustration he had with the legislative process in NH, where some people want to get their name on bills and similar legislation is introduced in successive sessions of the legislature. The follow-up legislation is often brought forward before we've had a chance to see how the last legislation worked. People want to strengthen some provision, or add in another sector that is being regulated, or "take the next step" in getting to their ultimate goal of remaking part of our culture in the direction of their personal vision.

Needless to say, this is often a lot of wasted effort.

In my line of work, we keep a chart on each patient, and keep that chart for years in archives, showing what we have done and how well it worked. We also enter patient information into several databases, to other government agencies who are monitoring the services provided. There are regulations that require us to report to various entities, in clearly understandable form, what we have done. We complain about it of course, because it takes time away from actually doing the work we are reporting about. But there is some sense in it. It's called accountability, and it's better to have it than not, inefficient as it is.

Thirdly, if we are proposing a course of treatment for a patient, we are required to give them certain information, especially if it is a medication. Notably, we have to provide it in language and terms they can understand, so they can make an informed decision.

So why not require the same thing of Congress? For every piece of proposed legislation, Congress should be required to inform us, in language we can understand, what the last ten years of legislation on the subject have been, how well each has worked, and what the side effects were. Like every other industry in America, Congress should be required to report to the citizenry in various ways.

I am not being cute here. Yes, Congress "reports" to us in one important way, in that the legislation is written down for anyone who wants to go and look it up. So too has the research on all medication always been available to anyone, if they wanted to subscribe to medical journals or spend hours in the library. So what? That is a form that isn't very user-friendly, and has been deemed by government regulation to be inadequate for informing patients.

It sounds like a lot of extra work, and growth of government. But if they have to spend more time creating reports to the US citizenry, in as many languages as they like, exactly what they are doing and what the potential side effects are, I call that money well spent. It might also give them a picture of what it's like for the rest of us doing our jobs, having to fill out forms and giving reports where none of the checked boxes quite fits your words, and you worry that you will be giving a "wrong" anser if you don't put it in the form they're looking for.

HB1775: Legislation to require all manufacturers of baseball hats to report where each of the component parts come from, where it was assembled, possible allergens, certification that no copyright infringement is involved, and a tax on the sale of each cap, proceeds to go to Little League development in each of the countries involved in manufacture.

HB1776: Legislation requiring all manufacturers of laws to report what lobbying groups were involved in design and manufacturer, safety reports on all earlier versions of the legislation, possible negative effects on various sectors of the economy, with a tax on each congressional office, proceeds to go to civics education in every American 8th grade. The report must be in understandable language, so that citizens can give informed consent for the procedure.

If the minority party, which didn't vote for the previous legislation, is required to submit its report as well, an element of competition is introduced. If one party tries to hide what was in previous legislation or misrepresent what the effect was, the minority has an opportunity to do its own evaluation. Let's see who makes their report easiest to understand with that in place, eh? If they issue thousand-page reports obscuring details and spinning everything, sue the bastards until they issue reports at an 8th-grade reading level.

This will likely require a constitutional amendment, frankly. The IRS has provided unclear and complicated explanations for years but can't be stopped. Yet. If Congress had to produce a 20-page pamphlet for every piece of legislation it proposed, explaining how the last things they did worked and what the possible downsides of this new idea is, it would take time away from them dreaming up other things they want to fix about the stuff that we do.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Free Market

I wonder if there is any connection between people disliking free-market economics and the impression that they personally would do less well under that system?

An unfair question to ask, perhaps. All of us tend to favor whatever system we think favors us, and in extremer cases we could scarcely expect otherwise. Also, once we have developed such a theory, we could spend a decade counting only the confirming evidence for it, and be absolutely convinced over time.

But in came to me while reading Codevilla's story about Laurence Tribe and Elana Kagan.

Well, the fair thing to expose the theory to some pushback would be to look for the opposite. Try to think of people who favor more protected and redistributive systems who would likely do much better in a free market. Try to identify people who are intense free-marketers who would likely have better lives under a system where income was leveled more.


Help is not a shower you can just stand under.
Joe Romanowski, RN, Concord, NH

In vaudeville (and burlesque, and English music hall) there was a comic bit known as a rave-off. The most familiar example from my childhood was "Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned..." by the 3 Stooges. They used the bit several times, and there are other versions on YouTube, including one by Lou Costello and Sid Fields.

In the British versions, the upset person was more likely to do something silly than to get violent, such as stand in a bucket. Monty Python used this a few times.

Many of us have lines like this, that If I hear anyone say just one more time... we fear what we might do next. I have many, especially at work, but one main one. "I just want him to get help."

We admitted a young man Wednesday, typical for us: polysubstance abuse; a bully to his family; history of head trauma from abuse, fights, and risky behavior; kicked out of school, fired from all jobs. His girlfriend broke up with him and later that day he started texting his mother that he was suicidal, but not answering her calls. She sent the police, who eventually found him and brought him to the ER, where he played cat-and-mouse games about whether he was still suicidal or not. They sent him to us. These guys are always outraged to have been sent to the "loony-bin," and contemptuous of the other patients. Their narcissism does not allow them to admit they are anything like them, and they declare they would rather be in jail.

All this, as I said, quite typical. But notable here is that after his interview I said ruefully to the rest of the team. "I'll call mom. I can predict exactly what she will say." And I was right. Yet it occurred to me that I knew this empirically, from having seen it so many times, but didn't have a clear explanation why the mothers of thes men always say the same things.

She told me he couldn't return home because he had shoved his sister. I agreed with her. She described how he had threatened suicide and been enraged in front ot the grandchildren (who of course also live there), so he couldn't live there. I told her we supported this. She described incidents over the years how he had been abusive and threatening with other family members, that was why he couldn't return home. I stressed that I agreed with this.

She wanted to tell me his history, so that we would understand him better. I'll bet you can guess. His father had been an alcoholic, and had abused his mother. He had abused her in front of him. Why, one time...and then another time...and he even... he eventually abandoned the family, and has nothing to do with them. Except he keeps popping back into the story as it unfolds.

But her boy, now, sometimes he was the sweetest boy you could ever know. Very helpful, very generous. But he had gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd (always that phrase), using drugs. This girlfriend of his, she's no good. She plays head games (always that phrase) with him and it gets him all upset.

So, I tell her we likely won't be holding him long, only until the crisis is past. We've found that long hospitalizations don't tend to help much, and often even make things worse. This amazes her. After all she went through to finally get him some help, we're going to put him out on the street. (Always that phrase.) Several other themes consistently recur: we should find him a group home of some kind. I always ask innocently "Do you mean an unlocked facility? Do you think he would stay? Or would he go out and drink and use drugs...or the girlfriend come over..." Oh no, then, this would be someplace he had to stay. We'd have to make him stay and "get therapy." (Always this phrase).

Well, I ask her what she means about him getting therapy. Does she mean group therapy, or a job coach, or coping skills, or substance counseling... No of course she doesn't mean those, she means therapy, and she is amazed that I don't know what she's talking about. She means talking with a counselor so that he can get all this anger out. (Always this phrase.) I suspect the reasoning, such as it is, goes something like - you think about something that happened to you that is sad, and you cry about it, then you feel better. A good therapist, doing real therapy, helps you find other sad things you may not have thought about, including the key sad thing that is ruining your life. Then you cry about that and feel better, and you have this breakthrough. This is why people say that therapy is very, very, hard and call it work - because you get sad and you cry. Or something. Maybe it isn't even that well thought out.

Some observations:
1. Mom wants someone to take charge of her son's life and make him do what is good for him. This is a pretty understandable fantasy, which most parents have when their children go awry. It happens in the movies and on testimony Sunday all the time. That the son has no interest in anyone taking charge of his life doesn't get factored in.

2. Mom has a permeable boundary between her own anger at the boy's father, and the anger she thinks he should feel toward him. Which he probably does already, but somehow that breakthrough hasn't happened.

3. The first step is to stop using drugs, which the son isn't interested in. But Mom often defends his need for prescribed abusable substances - especially if they are the ones she herself is taking - which in exactly the right doses, if we would only invest the time in figuring out by keeping him in the hospital, will remove his need to take street drugs.

4. She will have him back home. In fact, she will probably even pick him up, because the hospital has so mistreated and misunderstood him that she has no choice now.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stealth Candidate

An interesting possibility to consider: How would conservatives feel about a candidate who ran somewhat as a centrist, then tacked much harder to the right once elected? We complain about liberals doing that, especially in the age of Obama, arguing that it isn't fully honest, not quite the straight bat, to pretend to be one thing for campaign purposes, then become another after election. What if the shoe were on the other foot?

We are used to all candidates tacking to the center a bit, partly to allay the fears of independents who fear bringing in an extremist. But presidents have been about as advertised in my lifetime. Carter looked more conservative when he ran in 76, but much of his move to the left came after his term was up; Reagan never hid his conservatism, and if anything, was a bit more moderate than his campaign rhetoric; Bush 41, much the same; Clinton's campaign strength was as an anti-conservative, which implied a liberalism that was never fully there; Bush 43 ran as a somewhat more conservative version of his father, and governed less conservatively than that; Obama tried to position himself to the center on some issues, and some folks apparently bought that, but it was pretty clear from early in the campaign that he was a man of the left. He has turned out to be a man of the further left, with the occasional centrist surprise, so there is perhaps a fair accusation of deception.

But what if McCain, known to be conservative in some ways but center-right in many others, turned hard right after being elected? He might explain with some fairness that the economic situation was dire enough that mild conservatism was insufficient, or might joke that Vice-President Palin was more persuasive than expected, but wouldn't there be much complaint for the left that he had run a false-flag campaign? And wouldn't they be at least partly correct?

This is not an entirely hypothetical question, because that is exactly what is happening in the UK just now. David Cameron ran as a safer, milder version of Toryism, suggesting that he would attempt to move the country rightward in a cautious, steady fashion. But with the economic crisis, he has become not merely a Tory of old, another Thatcher, but going well beyond that, and quickly. In a style that echoes some Rahm Emanuel, he is determined not to let this crisis go to waste, and is aiming high.

Perhaps the times require it, and I certainly approve of his policies, as little as I know in depth. But we should always wonder what we would do if the shoe were on the other foot, not only in politics, but in every aspect of our living. Here's a chance to rethink what we really mean and what we really think is fair and what is deceitful.

I don't yet know my answer.

Sex Offenders

One of the lessons one learns from working with sex offenders is greater focus on the main thing. Because sex offenders arouse such strong emotions, it is very easy for the public to get distracted by the need to punish them. This is probably left over from our long hunter-gatherer and village history, when incarceration was not feasible, and punishment or banishment were the only choices.

But the main point is the safety of the society. If you punish sex offenders horribly, but let them back in contact with vulnerable targets, you haven't accomplished much. While if you were to drop them onto a remote but luxurious island and gave them plenty of fun stuff but didn't let them back in contact with potential victims, you have accomplished a great deal. The criminal is not the point. The protection of society is the point.

With that in mind, Theodore Dalrymple's essay on prison terms.

Distribution of Charity

My uncle again.
I see the Christian doctrine as oriented towards the least among us Whether charity is dispensed throught churches or welfare departments makes no difference. You see it as a left- right issue apparently. I do not.
Ignore for the moment all the theological discussion that Jesus's followers, presumably in a position to understand what he said - or we could hardly call him a good teacher - describing the faith otherwise, and whose actions cannot remotely be interpreted as "let's make the government, if not the Romans then at least the Jewish authorities, act in a socialist way. That's our mission."

Let's play along. What if there were an entirely non-religious network of folks. Imagine them as loosely-organised, motivated by some general desire to help others in an overall way. They live among us and meet semi-regularly, reinforcing some values of wanting to not only keep the poor from starvation, but help people find jobs, give them advice, set an example, help even the less-poor, or people who have other problems besides food.

There are problems for the recipients with this. They feel embarrassed or thought-less-of. The help is unreliable. Busybodies snake in. You get cut off if people feel you spent the last money on stupid stuff, or didn't make an effort on the job they found you.

Contrast this with a system where people are sent checks by a remote federal government because by law, they deserve them. Anyone who has dealt with those receiving government checks can tell you that this can erode even good character. Listening to people complain about checks that haven't arrived, or benefits that were cut off, or things they feel they should have, does not inspire compassion for the poor. It inspires contempt, because mostly encounter the ruined ones, not the decent ones. But what we expect, we come to feel we deserve. Just human nature. And we feel we have earned things that we really haven't, like Social Security. Plus, you get more crime concentrated around housing for the poor, with no way of getting out of the neighborhood unless you give up your subsidy. And you still have busybodies. But at least no one tells you what to do with some aspects of your life, and you don't have to go to any public place to be looked over at tut-tutted at. You're a free American, and no one will tell you to stop drinking or using drugs. No one will tell you that your choice of men is ruining your life. You will get badgered about nutrition classes and birth-control, and asked a lot of questions about your family-and-partner history, which will be stored on a government computer forever. But they mean well.

Let me head off the arguments right away that 1) the churches didn't take care of the poor adequately, which is why the government had to step in. We have the same percentage of poor people. The major driver for reducing poverty has been technological improvement, like rural electrification and cheap cars. And 2) that most people are on welfare very temporarily. I'm not just talking about welfare, but even if I were, it is also true that most people were only on private charity for a brief time.

Let's let those societies play out independently in our minds for a bit. Do the work yourself here. Think of examples in history where the various methods have been tried. (That is not entirely a set-up question. While I have a favored answer here, the results are mixed, and that is also instructive.)

Update: I forgot to mention, there is also a very different effect on the givers.

See also one of my favorite articles on charity

Comprehensive Reform

I have decided that reform is good, but comprehensive reform is the single worst thing you can do to solve a problem. You don't try to reform your children that way, or your house. Or if you do, you fail. I think folks can pretty readily see that trying to reform your spouse, or your business, or your town in that way would be disastrous.

But people who work in government love this. And here, this is definitely not a left-right issue. Conservative officials fall into this as often as liberals, though both do it less than that vast field of bureaucrats who run most of the government.

This stems directly from the idea that the government is supposed to fix everything, and the impression many advocates have that if their part of the problem isn't being addressed in the current bill, it is a huge insult and a demonstration that the society doesn't find their issue important. Intolerable!

Immigration? So, I understand that building the fence will only solve 15% of the problem of people coming in. Well fine, then, let's do that and move on to the next thing. One bill. Nothing comprehensive. People who have lived here a long time deserve citizenship? Okay then, pick a high standard, one you know you can get enough votes for. Ten continuous years, continuous employment, have to pay some penalty? Seems good enough to me, but we can debate that. Sure, lots of us will be ticked off that some people broke the rules, but really, we'll all get on with life. And all the problems of proof, and people on the margins, or whatever? Doesn't matter, because there will be people just on the edge of qualifying no matter where you draw the line, and we'll go on fighting about that. How about employers skirting the law. Fine, them too. Identify some factors that create the biggest problem and fix that - we know what industries are the problem.

But when you go comprehensive, everyone gets to be first in line. Ever see what happens in those cultures where they don't know how to stand in line and something is delivered free? That's what happens with comprehensive legislation. And in the chaos there is actually more opportunity for crooks, manipulators, and scam artists.

Why would legislators want to put up with this confusion, then? It's an opportunity for horse-trading, to get their small (and sometimes sketchy) causes put into the mix, to feel that they have done some good for everyone, whether they have or not. Consider those people throwing the food off the back of the truck in an impoverished area. The decent people find it heartbreaking, because they can only do so much, and they are unable to make everyone go fairly.

But others like it. It doesn't bother them at all. Not that all politicians are as sociopathic as those distributors, but that there is a kick to it, and it attracts that sort, and the longer you do it the more fun it gets.


The most frequent excuse coming out from the exposed Journolisters is that the splashy comments are being taken out of context, that most of the discussions were far more prosaic. They are quick to point out that there was no co-ordination, no conspiracy, just people expressing opinions, some of which were extremer than others. I don't doubt that most people who agree with them find this an acceptable explanation.

It is unfortunately not one they extend to their opponents. The most recent Tea Party racism scandal concerns a satire that wasn't especially racist. It merely transgressed the way they think we should talk about race. By extension, they think this must mean there is racism driving it.

What they demand from their opponents they should have demanded from each other, if they want credibility. When such unfair tactics as shutting down Fox, or intentionally downplaying a story to help Obama, or calling opponents racist as a mere tactic to put them on the defensive, or describing violent fantasies of "find a rightwinger’s [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window. Take a snapshot of the bleeding mess and send it out in a Christmas card to let the right know that it needs to live in a state of constant fear," or watching Rush Limbaugh suffer a horrible death, they should have been denounced instantly. Decent people should have said "either she goes or I do."

An additional point, supporting my oft-repeated contention that this is a socially-driven, primitive tribal group rather than an intellectual movement. In advocating that the government shut down Fox News, one said
...shows you that a genuinely shameless and unethical media organisation *cannot* be controlled by any form of peer pressure or self-regulation, and nor can it be successfully cold-shouldered or ostracised. In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tough legal framework.
Exactly as I have said. They enforce by social pressure, sneers, and condescension. When thwarted, some are apparently quite ready to encourage personal destruction instead. Not that they would engage in any violence themselves, of course. They leave that to others.


Terri's comment under Tribalism and Christianity-Continued should be read, for those who don't follow threads that far. What she describes, may I be so bold, is something like Postconservatism. Even without reading that, you can likely intuit some of it from my post in response.

I feel your pain, sister. I sent my sons to Christian - Baptist, really - schools for at least part of their educations, and encountered many folks much as you describe, including the schools themselves. I was always conscious of having to counteract certain attitudes, both religious and political, without encouraging my children to be smartasses who challenged everything and developed an attitude of contempt. The trickiness of this differs at different ages. When they were younger, I didn't want to undermine the classroom teacher, who was often doing excellent things for my child's education. When they were older, the first two children in particular had enough intelligence and general knowledge that they could have become intellectual bullies had that been allowed - including, in some cases, with the teacher. My giving them assistance in the background would have enabled this attitude. And most of all, they had to do their own thinking and come to their opinions themselves. As I am a dominant conversationalist - more than just talking too much - I was already in danger of overinfluencing.

So I also know these folks, and should fairly point out, if they were in charge of us in this culture war I would have much to object to with them as well. At the moment, I think the Christian social conservatives would be greatly relieved at eliminating all late-term abortions and most earlier ones, forbidding gay marriage, not being actively undermined by curricula in the teaching of evolution and sex education, and allowing more public religious expression, especially in the schools. But most of them would no longer want to return teacher-led prayer, or teaching 6D creationism exclusively, or any of the other dire predictions of their opponents. Some would. I know some. Not enough to make it happen, because even conservative Christians would balk at a lot of that.

But however much people dislike any of those things and wouldn't want to live under them, it's a limited list, and we have essentially lived under it most of our national existence anyway. The worry would come if those goals were achieved, because human beings have a way of finding one more thing they would like to make it all perfect. So were those folks in power, they might also start grasping - no, they would start grasping, because that's what humans do.

There are groups and pockets in America where this sort of society-wide strictness was enforced, so there are certainly people who would do this if they could. But key point number one, they can't. Even the Puritans could only sustain it for a century under highly unusual circumstances: people were bonded by common hardship; people could move away if they chose. People drank in Kentucky even with dry counties. Mormons changed over the years despite owning a whole state.

But it is the second key point that keeps me focused on the tribalism, arrogance, and incompetence of liberals. They're running the joint. We're in no danger of preachers, let alone evangelical preachers, ruling the country, not even by proxy through congregants. Calvinist Switzerland isn't anywhere on the horizon. But the government, spending our money and telling us what to do, is increasingly ruled by a set of people of very similar social and economic beliefs.

I agree that there was little that was brand new in Codevilla, and also that he gets his own personal hobbyhorses mixed in with a general description. And I would add that he needs a good highschool English teacher to edit that sucker down to about one-third its length. But he refined many of these culture war ideas into a framework that has explanatory power.

There is a further point. There is actually a long line of culture warriors complaining way back that their values weren't represented. And they were right, their ideas weren't being taken seriously. In many cases, that's a good thing, too. But the number of Americans whose views aren't being taken seriously by those who call the shots is ever-expanding. In contrast to leadership in business, or the military, or churches, which continue to allow for a certain social mobility and meritocracy, the levers of power in government, in lobbying, in secular non-profit and advocacy groups, and in media has been increasingly dominated by a self-reinforcing elite. It is no longer just the cranks who are excluded. As the media dominance is eroded by alt-media, we see the really frightening viciousness that those who have power display when it is taken away. Those people are no worse in this than most other folks would be in the same situation. But the damage is real nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tribalism And Christianity - Continued

The hospital chaplain commented that more people have been killed in the name of Jesus than any other religion. I suppose it's a nice, humble thing that chaplains now are willing to admit error on behalf of their faith rather than reflexively defend all our historical actions, but I have to suspect that she has at least some allegiance to the New Religion of liberalism (there's a Codevilla tie-in there, I suppose). Her comment just before -in reference to a threatened Moslem honor killing - was about how all fundamentalists are dangerous. As we never use the term fundamentalist except to describe either Moslems or Christians, it's a pretty clear message. While she might theoretically think that if some other belief-system was being discussed, and it had an ultra-rigorous branch, she would describe that as fundamentalist and describe that as dangerous also, I think it is safe to conclude that the similar dangerousness of Christian fundamentalists was the point she was trying to make sure I didn't miss. Can't have other Christians going away without being evangelised in the beliefs of the ruling class.

Yet it was the first comment that I went after a bit. I won't recreate the arguments I made then. Suffice it to say that she said she allowed for some validity to my challenge to the her "most-killed" comment, but kept gently reminding me, as one would a child, that the statement was essentially true as stated.

It's just not. It's insane on many levels. But I will keep to a single level, that of tribalism, my favorite prism.

Whatever war you are looking at, you can describe in terms of tribalism and be much more accurate than by referring to any of the other usual culprits: economics, religion, class. The World Wars were not fought over ideas (except perhaps the idea of Prussian superiority, but that would only further prove my point), and certainly not religious ideas, but over tribal land and power. That every nation that goes to war invokes its religion is a given. Sometimes the religion concurs, and when that is Christianity I feel personally shamed and angered. But it's never the cause. Germany did not exempt Jewish converts. Even in the Crusades, which might be thought to be the best example of religious war, the Christians were treated by the Moslems as just one more tribe for potential alliance - and several did ally with them to fight against other Moslems. Even the poor Jews slaughtered by Crusaders along the way were not killed by crusaders in general, but by a few closely-related Germanic tribes.

The Troubles in Ireland aren't fought over consubstantiation or the authority of the Pope. They are historically tribal, with religion simply being one identifier of tribe. As the saying goes, it is a conflict between those who don't go to church and those who don't go to Mass.

Persecution for religious reasons, Christians have to own up to. We have indeed done that, obscuring tribal boundaries for the sake of religious ones. But even then, tribal issues often popped up - and the overall number of dead does not approach wartime dead.

Lest one think I am just trying to get Chrisitans off the hook here, I apply this to other religious groups as well. Moslems may too readily give sanction to religious reasons for war, and speak often of common war against the infidel, but they behave differently in different places. Africa has been beset by war continuously long before Christianity and Islam even existed. In fact, everywhere has been beset by tribal war long before Christianity or Islam existed. Tribal war is the normal state of affairs for mankind. If one regards communism as a religion - I think the case can be fairly made - then we might make accusation against that faith as the greatest religious culprit. (Conservatives sometimes do talk like this.) But Russian expansion existed long before Marx was born. Adding in the socialist angle provides no overwhelming new explanatory power.

There are forces which do seem to hold tribalism in check. Empire is one. The Romans might seem to have been in constant war, but Pax Romana was not a myth. Behind the lines, the empire had relative peace. At the points of conflict, they made war on tribes who had been fighting with each other continually for centuries anyway. It would be hard to prove a net increase in dead humans, especially knowing that early man and current hunter-gatherers had a higher rate of war-death than modern industrial man, even with World Wars and communism. Those low-intensity struggles, punctuated by occasional exterminations of one's neighbors, add up fast.

The British Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the empire that called itself the Soviet Union, all had places and times of internal peace. It might be a peace bought with oppression, but empire works for reducing war.

Confucianism would get some credit on this score. The prevailing value of the community living in peace and harmony did reduce warfare. Like Rome, it did so with brutal conquest of neighbors, but it eventually accomplishes something. Buddhism, not so much. Individual Buddhists are very good at eschewing war, but their inability to prevent injustice, their tolerating any evil, has ultimately been an encouragement to evil and violent men.

So now when we run the list, Christianity actually seems to be the smart kid in the dumb row. We have been pretty inadequate at preventing our various tribes from continuing on in their primitive aggressive violence against neighbors - but not wholly inadequate. It seems otherwise for two prominent reasons, and a host of smaller ones.

1. We advertised that we could do much better, and would do much better. We moved in and called converted those whose king said they were. So long as they went along with our worship, we called them ours, and claimed - even bragged - that we were going to demonstrate sanctity. It may seem faint praise to say we partly succeeded with that kind of extravagant promising, but it's something. The Jews can claim a better record.

2. We kept better records, and especially better records of our own sins. We still have only the vaguest estimates of how many Chinese Christians were killed by the communists, and that was only about 60 years ago. Can any of us name how many were killed in Thailand, or Namibia, or even Poland in the last few hundred years, and what factor religion played in those?

Best of December 2006

I discuss this quote from CP Snow’s remarkable Two Cultures essay.
A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics, law of entropy. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: 'Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?'
I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question — such as, What do you mean by mass or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, 'Can you read?' — not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their Neolithic ancestors would have had

Americans, especially conservatives, indulge in these fantasies of frankness that are not ever going to happen. “You know what we should tell those nutcases? We should tell them that they have one week to start…” Sure, I agree. I would love to give that approach a try for a year. Put up or shut up. Fish or cut bait. Yo, Egypt! These are your two choices! Even if we went back to the old way after, it would be an unspoken threat. The Roman Empire would have a dictator for a year in time of war. Having one year of Donald Trump as president might be just what the doctor ordered...

It is the centre of that European arrogance that pretends to be tolerant, worldly-wise, calm, and combining the best of all worlds, while actually being a mess and in danger of bankruptcy were it not for the money that the rest of the EU sends in, plus the tourist trade from the US...

Women's Tribal Christmas. It is not original to note that while it is women who do most of the complaining about how much food there is just lying around, begging to be eaten at the numerous Christmas festivities, it is also women who organize 90% of it and bring 90% of the food. Ditto the small cute objects exchanged, followed by complaints about how cluttery the house is and how out of control it feels. If women ran the world, we would spend a great deal of our time exchanging small presents and feeding each other snacks...

Inapproprite Use Of Polls. Is OJ guilty? Will this be a snowy winter? Is Chicago west of Detroit? Some things are just not poll questions.

I bring up these obvious errors because most of the poll questions in the major media are not much better, but we don't tend to notice that. "Do children study more or less than they did thirty years ago?" "Is there more crime than there was ten years ago, or less?"

The God who is never in the middle. When we picture Adam in the garden, we have just come from the story of this mysterious huge thing that created worlds and lights and oceans, and we miss what Eve saw. Adam & Eve don't seem to have much awareness that Whoever it is they are talking to is in charge of much more that just Eden, some animals, and them. He is a very intimate god and quite local. If He is more powerful than they are, He doesn't seem to be so intimidating that they don't dare disobey. A traveling snake-oil salesman is enough to get them to disregard the one they call Lord. This seems to be a Lord of the Manor, or Lord of the Waterfall, not the creator of the universe...

Admitting that I have no superpowers. (I still don't)

One of my favorite urban legends, up in smoke. The idea that Ring Around The Rosie is actually about the plague – “all fall down” meaning falling over dead? It’s completely untrue...

Evolutionary Psychology: Disclaimer. I do think that we overrate our own rationality, and are subject to primitive schema which we don’t acknowledge. I give things a tribal description because it provides a way of looking at ourselves and each other that is often illuminating. But behavior is multideterminate, and we are not trapped in a narrow range of behaviors. We have predilections, predispositions, and tendencies, but we are often able to override one desire and replace it with another...

At A Department Meeting

"I'm not really a liberal. I see myself as a Creative Anarchist."

I think that's sufficient evidence to be assured the speaker is a liberal.


I updated my profile, away from cuteness to bare facts. As I like that info when determining the credibility of other bloggers, I thought I should do that for my own readers. Between that and chimney repair (repairs not encouraging), I did not organise much on further Codevilla posts. And tomorrow evening we are having what's left of the congregation over.

I do have two other things previously promised going up. I should keep promises rather than show off for larger audiences of visitors - which according to my stats, may have come and gone.

God is reminding me to love those who have been faithful to me, I suspect.

I love you guys.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Codevilla: Here Goes.

(The thunderstorm kept me off the computer. I scratched outline notes on the porch. Good thing. This is going to be many posts, so it's better to divide it up.)

First off, it's not a conspiracy, this ruling class thing. This hardly needs to be said to my readers, but I bring it up because that is going to be the accusation, that Codevilla and all these nonliberal commentators are claiming that they are victims of a conspiracy. No matter how many times that is specifically denied, it will be repeated, as a way of ridiculing and marginalising critics. The ruling class does not choose its members or keep its power by conspiracy. It doesn't have to. It was a cultural wave of the 20th C, the right people absorbed the lessons, and they can intuitively sense who qualifies and who doesn't - not with perfect accuracy, but well enough.

After all, you don't have to teach a cat to catch mice.

Even speaking about something called a ruling class smacks of weird guys complaining about the Illuminati and pointing to the pyramid eye on the back of the dollar bills. (That we react that way is part of how we have been influenced as well.) Nonetheless, I'm not backing off from it.

The same charge was leveled 20 years ago when accusations of media bias started arising. Larry King would tell a caller - who had said nothing about a conspiracy - "There is no conspiracy, caller! Get a life!", hang up, and sneer "the country is being taken over by lunatics." Newsweek and Time ran articles about the supposed bias, which they disbelieved in but no one doubts now, focusing large portions of their coverage on how ridiculous the idea of a conspiracy was, and what nutcases the people who believed it were.

The second accusation will be that powerful forces - secretive wealthy businessmen, conservative think tanks, and corporate interests - are encouraging this kind of irresponsible talk, with hints that this groundswell may eventually result in violence.

All part of the automatic tribal response to criticism. Codevilla and others will be accused of being publicity hounds, playing to the masses, whatever. Attend to content. Keep to the data, not the social disciplining by our betters.

So not a conspiracy, this ruling class. It is an automatic response of any tribe threatened with loss of status, because in evolutionary biology, loss of status always meant loss of food, mates, and protection. We respond to any attack as if it were existential. We're just wired that way, and have to work to overrule it. They perceive a threat to their tribe, interpret it as a threat to their safety, and conclude that the nation itself must be in danger.

So just pretend for the moment, just to try it on, that the ruling class consists of 15% of the population. Most of this class are aspirants and supporters, only 1% actually rule. But the remainder identifies strongly with its goals - believes that the rulers have been drawn out from its number - partly true - and are the best hope of the world. They perceive the ruling class as an all-star team drawn from their league, so they root for them.

So, if this class of people is a sort of special interest group, what groups are the possible competitors? Which groups have a reservoir of money, or moral authority, access to the eyes and ears of the people, or even (gulp) weapons? Yeah, make that list.

Which of those groups is not systematically painted as evil, dangerous, or ridiculous by the ruling class and its supporters? Answer: none. If the ruling class were indeed just another tribe vying for power, wouldn't its footsoldiers spend their energy just this way, mocking businessmen, churches, the military, alt-media, and any other group that might become too big for itself? Would it not automatically perceive them as a threat and move to discredit them? Not the 1% rulers, of course. They would remain aloof from that and even get their polite cliches in a row about these other groups.

There are more captive power groups as well, and groups that are in current symbiosis while it is determined which shall digest which. More about those later.

On the basis of Codevilla's essay, I am rethinking the relationship between the Arts & Humities Tribe and the Government and Union Tribe. I think the good professor gets closer to the truth. But I hope to have something to add to the understanding.

Vindication: Codevilla!

I am expecting visitors - perhaps many visitors - here at Assistant Village Idiot. Indeed, they have already started to arrive, and me without a post to show. The American Spectator article by retired BU professor Angleo Codevilla enitled America's Ruling Class - And the Perils of Revolution affirms and improves upon everything I have been saying about the Arts & Humanities Tribe for years (including, Terri and others, why the people like us who actually read Medieval and Renaissance literature for pleasure and knowledge were always unpromoted footsoldiers in the A&H Tribe, useful but little-regarded. Ungrateful bastards.)

For those coming over because of my comments about Codevilla elswhere, I direct you to my Tribes Collection, a list of 28 themed posts, each with a teaser, over a few years time. Codevilla's essay is more valuable. Read it in full before sampling the buffet here. But if you liked Codevilla, you will find these posts an enjoyable supplement.

I do have further posts on this, already swimming around in my head, so please, check back. We're small enough here that your comments won't be lost in the crowd.

I'll have to update my profile, I think. But right now, I'm working on a chimney before the sun goes down.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

New Hampshire Will Lag

Much of the political blog news over the weekend involved the American Spectator article by Angelo Codevilla about the ruling class mentality from both elected Republicans and Democrats. I have little doubt he has a point, but it is going to be hard to sell in NH. Our Republican Senators over the last two decades have been John Sununu, Judd Gregg, Bob Smith, Gordon Humphrey - all yearly winners of "taxpayer friend" awards for spending little on their own offices, keeping away from graft and patronage, and consistently voting for small government. These guys were on this decades ago. It used to be part of our character up here. Our big Washington corruption scandal was in 1958, and centered around the gift of a fur coat. (We got a new great ski resort out of Adams' firing, though.)

So we don't share the throw-them-all-out attitude up here as much as we might. Perhaps we should though, now that 40% of our population comes "from away," especially Massachusetts (and not even Republican areas of MA like Scituate or Sudbury). We've not only elected a Democratic earmarking cipher like Jeanne Shaheen, but looking at Craig Benson (a New Yorker), elect a deteriorated form of Republican now as well. I credit Democrat John Lynch for being a throwback incorruptible.

Given all that, maybe we will recognise what we've lost and stress integrity again. But the dissatisfaction isn't in our bones as it is in other places.


Kenneth Anderson over at Volokh references what he calls the classic trilemma of the existence of evil: all good, all knowing, all powerful – pick two. I like the elegance of trilemmas as well: Greg Mankiw’s trilemma of international finance; the engineer’s “better, faster, cheaper – pick two” or the related “done right, done on time, done on budget – pick two” or the CS Lewis trilemma bout Jesus “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic – all opinions ultimately resolve to one of these.”

I could ramble on about the logical weaknesses of Anderson’s “classic” trilemma concerning God (short answer: only for limited definitions of good, knowing, and power), but what intrigues me at the moment is the irony of a libertarian writer negating the value of free will. The existence of free will is another discussion, one we aren’t having today. Presumably, a libertarian believes in free will and thinks it has some value. But if we are to define good as the absence of evil – which logically has to be at least part of the definition if we insist on the forcing nature of “pick two” in the trilemma – we can only get there by setting the value of free will at zero. If it has any value, no matter how small, it must then be multiplied over the 10 billion people who have lived on the planet.

One could still argue that whatever this value is, multiplied by 10B, still does not make up for great evil in the world. Many pious Jews leaving Europe after the Holocaust lost their faith over this accounting, that nothing could make up for such evil. Most people of faith have this thought several times in their lives as well. But I am arguing a much blander point here, a point of logic. If free will has any value, then it might theoretically outweigh whatever value it costs to enable its occurrence. And, as I said, it would be at least ironic that a libertarian should set this value at zero.

Because none of us lives 10 billion lives, but only the one we are given, and that one may suck, it may be fair to reject the multiplying effect for the value of free will. If one billion have infinite good reward, that may balance the overall equation, but it hardly adds up as anything fair for the 9 billion who didn’t get that (though in truth, we don’t know who gets what in the end). Does my argument work for smaller numbers?

Let us set the population of the world at one and see if great suffering is likely to be redeemed by later events.

Let us call this one Cain, then, and ponder whether there is anything God might do: along the way, at the end of time, or even beyond time, to make even the one say it was worth it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Tribalism And Christianity

I describe historical and social events through the prism of tribalism because I find it has enormous explanatory power. When I am lazy, I can become nearly reductionist on this. Underneath the elaborate explanations people give for their attitudes and actions, if you identify what their real tribe is and predict behavior on the basis of what is good for that tribe, you will not often go wrong.

I usually focus on liberal tribalism, not because they are the only group that shows this (they aren’t), nor because they are the worst offenders (they might be), but because they are so willing to see it in others and attribute ill-motive to others, yet their own tribalism is entirely opaque to them. Tea Partiers, libertarians, blacks, Mormons, military – all of these recognise their own tribal tendencies and can be engaged on the topic. Most even try to make adjustments in their own attitude to compensate. That their group’s advantage might be part of their motives these other groups can often admit. But frustratingly, sometimes infuriatingly, progressives deny that particular legislation or societal changes is good for them personally. They are certain their preferences are good for America, for all of us, for the downtrodden in particular.

But put that aside for the moment. That’s just a favorite soapbox of mine that I worked in unnecessarily. Tribalism shows up all over our social behavior – between departments at work, especially if they represent different professions; between ethnic groups within a geographic area; between classes in a society. The roots of this behavior go back 100,000 generations. Only in the last 100 generations, or even the last ten, have we tried to clean this up. When Shiites and Sunnis compete for power and resources, their behavior resembles far more the behavior of their prehuman ancestors than it does a university debating society, however many diplomats and newspapers they bring into play to compete. When the engineers are arguing with the design team, some of their behavior concerns content, reason, objective truth, and financial advantage for the company. But much of it – far more than any of us care to admit about ourselves – is just fighting over fishing rights at a particular waterfall. We argue over what resources are going to come to our tribe, however sure we are that we are looking at things objectively.

I don’t say that reason and objectivity have no part in our behavior. The beauty of recent civilization, especially Anglospheric civilization, is that we have learned some ability to overrule these impulses, stand back and act in some nobler or general interest. We can do what is not best for our tribe of 20 or 20 million, but what is good for some larger entity. But that is not our first impulse, and Advantage For Us lurks below the surface in all our actions. Even the nicest of us. Even the most educated, or most religious, or most cultured of us. (Even liberals.) In a very Screwtapian, that is to say diabolic irony, these nobler ideals are often the best disguise for our group selfishness, for we can thereby disguise our primitiveness even from ourselves.

I came to this idea relatively late. Mostly, I learned it from my children. Not from observing their competition, but indirectly, through experiences I had because of these particular children. When Jonathan came back from his freshman year at Asbury, he brought Radical Son, David Horowitz’s book about growing up a red-diaper baby. As my own political journey had been a milder version of the same thing, I took to the politics of it quite easily. But what struck me like a wall was his description of leaving the leftist fold, and the primitive, vindictive-out-of-proportion response previous friends had to him. It mirrored entirely the experience of a person leaving a strict religious group, or marrying out of their birth-tribe. My daughter is dead, says Tevye, echoing the rejection by two thousand generations of fathers of their children leaving the Jewish faith. It is dramatic onstage because it seems so primitive, so cruel, so unnecessary. Yet here it was happening in late 20th C America, among magazine editors, professors, artists, authors.

Before I first visited Romania in 1998, I read up on its history and current state of affairs. It is not news to observe that the tribal competition among Hungarians, Romanians, Jews, Germans, Turks, Gypsies, Hutsul Ukrainians, and Slavs is the history of Romania, and continued to dominate its history through the 20th C. Resolutions are passed in parliaments; books are written, papers are passed, envoys are sent – suits are worn, cell phones used, references are made to great thinkers – and yet it is all maddeningly like the invasion of Magyars a thousand years ago into a land ruled in turn by Avars, Pechnegs, and Dacians.

A long-running battle between departments at work brought this into even clearer focus. Each profession tended strongly to see some of the others as not merely wrong or stupid, but evil. Intelligent people developed elaborate arguments why their proposal for distribution of power and resources was the better. Yet their conclusions always matched their self-interest entirely, as if the many meetings and arguments were mere dramatizations in polite form of the spear-throwing and taunting of a collision of neighboring New Guinea tribes.

Sc.D psychologists complain that certain services are not reimbursable by insurers (those evil insurance companies) and how unfair this is to the poor and downtrodden, the most helpless among us. Social workers will complain that it took them 20 years before they made $50K, while others without even a BA make so much more. Professors of education will be incensed at how little this society cares about its children, because they cannot get the legislature to require more than two courses in early childhood development for certain childcare licensures. (Licensure is a particular focus for fury in many fields.) And in all these complaints there is always some other group that they resent, nearly always mentioned explicitly, that makes more money or has more influence. Athletes are a universal favorite for comparison, perhaps because of the longstanding resentment by the self-styled intellectuals for jocks at school – entertainers making similarly outrageous amounts are criticized less. But many professions – perhaps any profession outside one’s own – come in for this resentment. And significantly, the greatest resentment is reserved for those who quite obviously belong to another tribe, another political or social class. Dinesh D’Souza has an excellent book chapter “The Lottery of Success” which includes
I have no doubt that academics with Ph.D.s have, on average, higher IQs than entrepreneurs. Indeed, one reason so many of them resent entrepreneurs, I am convinced, is that they know they are smarter and yet they must manage on $80,000 salaries while some fat Rotarian with a gold chain on his chest pulls in $1.4 million a year selling term life insurance.

I haven’t gotten to the Christianity part yet, have I? Yet I have gone too long. This must go to two essays, then. I am not going in the direction of why Christian denominations compete with each other, as my writing to this point might suggest. I am going to discuss how much we think Christianity should be able to change this primitiveness in human tribes (Preliminary answer: apparently not much), and what this tells us about understanding history.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Why is it the folks who are most suspicious of nationalism want to nationalise everything?

Comments off the left seem to regard nationalism as Fascism Lite, or at best, an unstable attitude that could descend into vengeful war at any time. Whenever my uncle sends me one of those checklists that purport to show how the Tea Party/George Bush/conservatives/yahoo-of-the-month are causing America to descend into Nazism, nationalism is always prominent. Yet we have just partly nationalised our health insurance/care and auto industry, and have numerous czars for all manner of bypassing usual channels (red tape, if you hate it; legislation, if you like it) to get things done.

I don’t mean to simply be playing with words or pointing out ironies here. When there are questions of policy and direction, I try and create an analogous situation from a different era, to see if that illuminates anything. When others do this, they tend to choose either the time of the founding fathers or the time of their own childhood as a comparison, nearly always unfavorably to the present era. Both of those have too many other associations for us to clearly isolate a single factor, so I try and choose other places and times in American history.

We are currently in an all-in-this-together mode in terms of federal social legislation. That may be the best place to be, but it certainly isn’t common in our history. Consider the late 19th C, say 1880. We are looking at 1) midwestern farmers from northern Europe, 2) recent immigrants to NYC from Eastern Europe, perhaps Jews, 3) recently freed slaves farming 40 acres in Mississippi, and 4) a ship’s crew based out of Boston. If any of them hear that one of theother groups has widespread illness, even deathly illness, do any of them believe it is their job to do anything about that? Perhaps if the need is especially dire and affects many people, their houses of worship might collect money to send. But government collectors showing up and insisting that money be handed over to fix such problems would be greeted with blank stares. What is that to us? I feel bad for them but why is it my problem? We take care of our family, our neighbors, maybe people in the next town in an emergency. Our own.

I am not here debating whether that is a superior attitude or whether our current system is better. Well, okay, I am debating it a little. We have drawn the circle for which we are responsible ever wider throughout our history. Family, town, county, state, country. The people who insist that each widening is obviously more moral are coincidentally the ones who personally benefit from the widening, because they get to be in charge of more stuff. Funny thing, that. And they do it even over the objections of the smaller governmental divisions. Ultimately, because they have the power, I guess.

Got distracted. Sorry. My point is to ask, if nationalism is such a danger, who is it that is being more nationalistic, claiming that all issues must be addressed at a national level?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mankiw's Ten Principles

Greg Mankiw, economics prof at Harvard, has ten core principles of economics. This actually is understandable, and seems commonsensical, adjectives that seldom modify "economics."

Although the study of economics has many facets, the field is unified by several central ideas. The Ten Principles of Economics offer an overview of what economics is all about.
How People Make Decisions
1. People Face Tradeoffs.
To get one thing, you have to give up something else. Making decisions requires trading off one goal against another.
2. The Cost of Something is What You Give Up to Get It.
Decision-makers have to consider both the obvious and implicit costs of their actions.
3. Rational People Think at the Margin.
A rational decision-maker takes action if and only if the marginal benefit of the action exceeds the marginal cost.
4. People Respond to Incentives.
Behavior changes when costs or benefits change.
How The Economy Works As a Whole
5. Trade Can Make Everyone Better Off.
Trade allows each person to specialize in the activities he or she does best. By trading with others, people can buy a greater variety of goods or services.
6. Markets Are Usually a Good Way to Organize Economic Activity.
Households and firms that interact in market economies act as if they are guided by an "invisible hand" that leads the market to allocate resources efficiently. The opposite of this is economic activity that is organized by a central planner within the government.
7. Governments Can Sometimes Improve Market Outcomes.
When a market fails to allocate resources efficiently, the government can change the outcome through public policy. Examples are regulations against monopolies and pollution.
How People Interact
8. A Country's Standard of Living Depends on Its Ability to Produce Goods and Services.
Countries whose workers produce a large quantity of goods and services per unit of time enjoy a high standard of living. Similarly, as a nation's productivity grows, so does its average income.
9. Prices Rise When the Government Prints Too Much Money.
When a government creates large quantities of the nation's money, the value of the money falls. As a result, prices increase, requiring more of the same money to buy goods and services.
10. Society Faces a Short-Run Tradeoff Between Inflation and Unemployment.
Reducing inflation often causes a temporary rise in unemployment. This tradeoff is crucial for understanding the short-run effects of changes in taxes,government spending and monetary policy.

Liberals, Libertarians, Conservatives

Ilya Somin over at Volokh had a long essay commenting on the debate at Reason magazine about whether libertarians should ally with liberals or conservatives. (The participants were Cato's Brink Lindsey, NRO's Jonah Goldberg, and Matt Kibbe, coauthor with Dick Armey of the soon-to-be-published Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto.) Ilya's post drew over 200 comments, so the the post, original debate, and comments could keep you busy a long time.

I did want to pass on a few stray lines, not from the pros, but just the regular folk writing in the comments, that I thought useful.
most liberals compare real markets to idealized governments.
A benevolent government is better than a malevolent market, but neither of those extremes exist. Those that pretend they exist are delusional, and solutions that rely on their existence are doomed to failure.


How long before you recognise it?

The full story is here.

Via Volokh and the NYT World Cup summary.

Oh, That Liberal Media

Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball took exception to a Tea Partier's comment "We're not racist, we're anticommunist." He claimed that this is exactly what the John Birch Society used to say, and went on to add "this is the old Dixie crowd."

Well, it is what the John Birch Society used to say. It might also be said by virtually every American, plus a few billion people from other countries. Trying to associate it with an organization discredited in public sentiment is thus either deceitful or dim. Or both.

There's another point, a bit more subtle, that bothers me more. The problem is more than the tu quoque of You're a bigot, No, you're a bigot. Nor is even the irony of making bigoted statements while talking about bigotry the central difficulty. It is the complete absence of self-observation, the thorough lack of clarity of thought, which cannot see these ironies, even when they are pointed out.

The Collapse of Civilization

If you want, this can be an article about sex instead of something academic. Or about rifts among the feminist theorizers. Or a reflection on personal morality's effect on society. Me, I liked the evolutionary psychology and the spectre of civilizational collapse. From the Weekly Standard, The New Dating Game. It's 12 pages, but you're up for it.

CWCID, Instapundit.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Miami Heat

Pat Riley can read a stat sheet as well as I can, and will find some way to fill holes with better players than he has got, but the specifics of the Heat rotation has got to be a concern. With the addition of Lebron and Bosh - they are not adding Wade, remember - the Heat are very powerful at the starting and backup 2,3,and 4 positions. Haslem is an excellent backup at PF, and with mix and match lineups, takes some SF minutes as well. Mike Miller provides and excellent backup for Wade and Lebron. The Heat were quite weak at the 3 last year, and average at 4, so Bosh & Lebron are a significant upgrade. Miller is an upgrade over Daequan Cook.

After that it all falls apart. Does it matter? Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers are a below-average PG combination, but they were last year too, and the team won 47 games. At the 5-spot, Joel Anthony was not even an adequate backup, but is their best center. The Heat drafted a center in the second round - I forget his name. I have to think Riley is looking for someone, even a one-dimensional player to put in that slot.

Defense. Bosh seems to be getting called a good defender largely on the basis of being compared to Amare Stoudemire. Faint praise. When that is out of the equation, he is called solid-when-he-wants-to-be. One evaluator said he had never seen 30 minutes of defense from Bosh in any game. But late in a close game, paying attention - probably fine. Dwayne Wade is a gambling defender, and generally makes it work with athleticism when he gets burned. For this he has a reputation as a great defender, because his blocks and steals are high. But that is an overrate - he is above-average. He is 28. That is considered peak ability age in basketball - but that is founded on skill, smarts, and craft in the ascension just as athletic ability starts to come off the peak. There may be enough of a dropoff to bring him back to the average category. Probably not this year, though. At the point, Chalmers is a good defender, Arroyo a poor one. Whoever the Heat get at center, it is unlikely they will get two out of three at defense, rebounding, and putback scoring, and whoever the backup is will be even worse. Think Orlando and Dwight Howard. Think Tim Duncan, Al Jefferson, Joachim Noah. The Heat will be above-average on their best nights defensively, but usually average.

One injury and this team is vulnerable. Missing either Lebron or Wade, this is a 55-win team. Missing Bosh, they still don't win 60. With young, healthy players they might not have one serious injury. Ideally, they are a developing team, learning to play together, which becomes offensively devastating by playoff time, and badgered into focus defensely by Pat Riley to close that vulnerable spot. 63 wins this year, high 60's the year after.