The Titanic sank precisely 103 years ago today. A huge ship made out of iron and steel strikes an iceberg and therefore sinks—a fairly straightforward scenario, one would think. During a casual stroll through Wikipedia, however, I came across a page called “RMS Titanic alternative theories.” One of these theories concerns—of course!—the Federal Reserve:
Several of Titanic’s passengers including John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, Isador Strauss, and George Dunton Widener were among the richest men in America. Some conspiracy theorists claim that these wealthy individuals were opposed to the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank and that financier J.P. Morgan saw the opportunity eliminate them by convincing them to sail with him on the maiden voyage of the new Titanic which was really the badly damaged Olympic that he planned sink in an insurance scam. As victims of a maritime disaster nobody would suspect that they had really been murdered to prevent them from opposing the Federal Reserve Act. In addition to Morgan, several of his close friends and associates are known to have cancelled their plans to sail on Titanic at the last minute, as did the wife of J. Bruce Ismay. Morgan also had several bronze statues he had planned to transport to America removed from the ship a few hours before she sailed leading to speculation that he knew her fate.
The writer of this passage provides no citations, but this sounded like something that members of the Ron Paul cult would believe. So I searched a bit more and found this 2013 post from—surprise!—The Daily Paul, titled “Did the Federal Reserve Sink the Titanic?”
Some people are just desperate to be rebels. In their quest to believe nothing, they’re willing to believe anything. Cynicism is the ultimate naiveté.
Robert Kuttner, professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School and senior fellow of the think tank Demos, believes that libertarians suffer from a delusion. He claims that the market is incompetent to price certain problems, and must be tightly controlled by government to prevent excess and abuse.
In a piece written for The American Prospect, where he serves as co-founder and co-editor, Kuttner submits examples which he believes demonstrate market failure. We rebutted his analysis in parts one and two of this series. Unsurprisingly, Kuttner’s assertions arise from a Marxist worldview wherein natural disparities in both wealth and knowledge require government activism to equalize “power.” We explored a couple of the fatal flaws of that perspective in part three.
Now we turn from Kuttner’s critique of the market to his reverence for government. Where the market fails, Kuttner argues, government boasts great accomplishments:
Government can invent things that markets never would have imagined. Apple has created wonders, but it has piggybacked on government investment in advanced semiconductors and the Internet. America’s biotech industry’s success was reliant on massive government investment in the Human Genome Project and other basic research. Later in the special report in the magazine’s Winter issue, Fred Block’s piece describes the indispensable government role in innovation. Commercial broadcasters were disinvesting in radio as a serious medium of news, public affairs, culture, and humor, when along came public radio, partly underwritten by government and partly by listener-subscribers. NPR demonstrated that ingenious and high-quality noncommercial programming could attract an audience that for-profit companies did not know was there.
This echoes the sentiment of a government-adoring MSNBC promo featuring Rachel Maddow at the Hover Dam, claiming the private sector could never build it. Perhaps, but that hardly stands as justification for the means by which it was built.
The pyramids may never have been built without slaves. That doesn’t justify slavery. Nor do modern monuments to “the public good” or “national greatness” justify the theft utilized to construct them. That’s the best argument against Kuttner’s point, the moral argument. A thief doesn’t get to cite “the good” he did with stolen money as a justification for stealing.
Beyond that, we ought to question the value of these so-called public goods. If indeed, as Maddow asserts, the private sector never would have built the Hoover Dam, then perhaps the Hoover Dam should never have been built.
When we say that the private sector “can’t” do something, we’re really saying that it won’t.
We recognize, in other words, that the public good in question has insufficient value to warrant private investment. More to the point, it does not adequately serve those who pay for it.
Therefore, when we claim government must produce some good which the market “can’t,” we’re really saying that people should be forced to pay for something which does not serve them. There’s no getting around this point. Statists like Kuttner don’t even try. Instead, they argue that those stolen from to produce public goods deserve to be victimized on account of their “privilege.” The whole point of public goods is to benefit those who don’t pay for them at the expense of those who do.
The NPR example demonstrates this redistributive motive. Kuttner claims that the public radio audience eluded private sector investors. That’s an odd way of looking at the interaction. Is it really any surprise that an audience exists for free stuff? If investors were willing to throw their money away on a private venture that looked like public broadcasting, there would undoubtedly be an audience for it. But that audience wouldn’t be sufficient to make the venture commercially successful. In that light, what Kuttner is actually saying is that the NPR audience benefits from the theft integral to NPR’s production. Again, this fails as a moral justification.
It’s the height of arrogance to assume that technological developments like the internet or scientific research would not occur without government.
We have no way of measuring what hasn’t happened as a result of government interference in the market, no way to know the precise opportunity cost of resources seized, productivity displaced, or innovation prohibited. Even so, we can stand on the certainty of human nature and economic law, which suggests that people do not die of atrophy without government prodding them to action. Populations only starve when enslaved.
Despite its many immoral excesses, government retains a legitimate function. Kuttner comes close to articulating that role:
…The market itself is a creature of government. As Karl Polanyi famously wrote in a seeming oxymoron, “laissez-faire was planned.” Markets could not exist without states defining the terms of property ownership and commerce, creating money, enforcing contracts, protecting patents and trademarks, and providing basic public institutions. A Robinson Crusoe world never existed. So the real issue is not whether government “intrudes” on the market—the capitalist system is impossible without government. The practical question is whose interests the state serves.
The proper answer to that practical question is: the individual.
Government exists to protect individual rights. It does so by wielding a monopoly on force in retaliation against those who initiate force, applying due process according to objective law.
Kuttner postures as if government’s role in the market is some sort of revelation to libertarians. But this is a strawman. No one but the most ardent anarchists believe government has no role to play in the market. Indeed, a market cannot truly exist without government to ensure that individual rights are preserved and transactions occur by consent rather than coercion or fraud. Of course, by definition, that also precludes government from violating rights. You can’t rationally claim, as Kuttner attempts to, that government must violate rights to “protect” the market.
Next time, we’ll get into Kuttner’s naked contempt for freedom as such. The only thing more stunning than his wholesale rejection of self-ownership is the extent to which our culture embraces his anti-libertarian worldview.
So a woman from Nevada received a $200 ticket and points on her license for…putting on lip balm while driving. More precisely, she was at a red light. This, as the Nevada highway cop who pulled her over said, is because “we have zero tolerance for distracted drivers.” Indeed, it seems we have zero tolerance for pretty much everything these days. From The Daily Mail:
She said: ’I told him it was ChapStick.
‘He said, ”It could have been anything; you could have been drinking water, shaving your legs.”’
The ticket caused Fragoso to receive points against her driving record.
The crackdown is part of a campaign for the state to have zero driving fatalities in 2015, CBS Las Vegas reported.
The “zero driving fatalities” plan sounds like utopian cant, the product of some state technocrat’s lust for billable hours. Now, I think texting while driving is indeed dangerous, and the self-absorbed perpetual teenagers who engage in it ought to be punished. But applying some lip balm? Lipstick, yes, because it requires precision (or so I’ve observed).
And what if she had been drinking water? Can we turn on the radio? Sneeze?
Even if you do think lip balm is distracting, expect this kind of thing to continue until we’re not allowed to talk to other passengers.
Writing in The Daily Caller, Erica Wenig examines some of the nuttiest conspiracy theories to come out of the Middle East—all of them, of course, starring Americans and/or Jews as the culprits. Just a taste:
A presenter for an Egyptian TV channel slammed Jewish lobbies and Rupert Murdoch for “The Simpsons,” apparently claiming the show was an avenue for Jews to conspire against Egypt.
“['The Simpsons'] is a very influential TV series in the U.S. This animated series is an American production, behind which are basically-Jewish lobbies,” Rania Badawi said.
Why do people believe things like this? What drives their subscription to the most far-fetched “explanations” for events? Apart from obvious hatred of the blamed group, there are many reasons. I have found that one reason is the frisson and excitement that comes with believing you have “discovered” some “truth” that others have not. This proves, in the conspiracist’s mind, that he is smarter than everyone else and privy to some bit of secret knowledge that the masses don’t know.
With her song “Sorry Babe, You’re a Feminist” comedian and songwriter Katie Goodman reacts to the onslaught of millennial celebrities who refuse to take on the title of “feminist” with reasons ranging from the practical (“like voting, like driving?”) to the politically stereotypical rants about online conservatives (perhaps she has yet to encounter Christina “Factual Feminist” Hoff Sommers via AEI?) and obnoxious commentary about math being “hard.”
Where’s her line about being sexually subservient like Queen Bey, going on a local Slut Walk, or falsely accusing a male college student of rape? What about the needs of women in the Islamic and third worlds? She mentions education, but never bothers to acknowledge the anti-feminist mentalities that lead to generations of women growing up ignorant, sexually mutilated, or forced into marriages or sex slavery.
After hearing her rhyming rant of a tune, would you want to call yourself a feminist, or is Goodman merely personifying the many reasons why women are turning away from the feminist movement today?
Robert Kuttner, professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School and senior fellow of the think tank Demos, believes that libertarians suffer from a delusion. He claims that the market is incompetent to price certain problems, and must be tightly controlled by government to prevent excess and abuse.
In a piece written for The American Prospect, where he serves as co-founder and co-editor, Kuttner submits examples which he believes demonstrate market failure. We rebutted his analysis in parts one and two of this series.
Kuttner summarizes his critique of the market by fully unveiling his statist economic worldview:
The free market doesn’t live up to its billing because of several contradictions between what libertarians contend and the way the real world actually works. Fundamentally, the free-market model assumes away inconvenient facts. Libertarians presume no disparities of information between buyer and seller, no serious externalities, no public goods that markets can’t properly price (Joan Fitzgerald’s piece in our special report in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine discusses one—water), and above all no disparities of power. But in today’s substantially deregulated economy, bankers have far more knowledge and power than bank customers (witness the subprime deception); corporations have far more power than employees; insurers have more power than citizens seeking health insurance. Labor markets can’t compensate for disparities of power. The health insurance “markets” created by the Affordable Care Act can’t fully address the deeper problem of misplaced resources and excessive costs in our medical system.
Kuttner’s concern over power disparity rings hollow in a context where he advocates for government activism. No private institution, no matter how large or influential, wields the legal monopoly on force bestowed to government. If his complaint is that big banks and large corporations have more power than consumers and laborers, Kuttner loses all credibility by prescribing an institution of even greater power.
Of course, when Kuttner writes about “power,” he’s really referencing private control over private affairs. He’s criticizing property rights and the freedom of association, not an application of force. To his mind, when a bank denies someone a loan, it has exercised “power” over that person’s life. In reality, the denied applicant has lost nothing. They have not been violated. They have not succumbed to force.
By contrast, government activism always applies force. That’s what government is.
That’s the defining characteristic that separates a public institution from a private one – the ability to legally wield force against individuals. By advocating for government activism, Kuttner actually endorses force. He seeks not to curb power, but to concentrate it.
Kuttner also points to a disparity in knowledge. Mom and Pop investors didn’t have the “knowledge” necessary to see through “the subprime deception,” he claims. Here too, his point proves self-defeating.
First of all, it’s absurd to hold up symmetrical knowledge as an ideal. No two people hold the same knowledge about any given transaction, and no principle exists which suggests they ought to. Even if such a principle could be articulated, as a practical matter, there exists no means by which to affect knowledge equality.
Indeed, disparity of knowledge proves natural in society and integral to the functioning of the market. As touched upon in part two of this series, the key benefit of the market is its division of labor. We each specialize in our chosen occupation and defer to the expertise of others by consenting to trade. You don’t have to be an expert in automotive engineering to purchase and make use of a car. Nor would you necessarily want to be.
Before engaging in a transaction, you weigh several factors which substitute for expert knowledge. You consider reputation. You consider the advice of others whom you trust. Above all, you consider price.
Price is the mechanism by which experts communicate their knowledge to non-experts. Price is the collective expression of individuals acting independently in pursuit of their self-interest. It is therefore a measure of value beyond compare. For a price to “lie,” the individuals involved in setting it through expressions of supply and demand would have to abandon their self-interest. A few may, but the overwhelming majority don’t. In this way, price tells us all we need to know regarding the value of a product or service.
To produce an economy that is more equitable as well as more efficient, government uses a variety of tools. It regulates to counteract market failure.
By advocating for government activism, Kuttner seeks to disrupt the price signals which convey knowledge from experts to non-experts. Indeed, as we covered in part two, it was such disruption which caused the 2008 financial collapse. Kuttner claims investors lacked the knowledge to see through “the subprime deception.” He’s right, but fails to recognize the means by which such knowledge is acquired – accurate price signals in a free market. He also fails to recognize the means by which the deception occurred – inaccurate price signals.
Government cannot create or distribute such knowledge. Government can only maintain the condition in which accurate pricing occurs – the condition of liberty. Taxes and government regulations merely keep people from applying their self-interested judgment to the distribution of their earned resources. To the extent capital is taxed away and economic activity is barred by regulation, knowledge which could have been conveyed through price is lost. As a result, remaining resources are to one degree or another misallocated.
The trick which statists like Kuttner like to pull is blaming the market for misallocations caused by government.
The financial collapse serves as a perfect example. Kuttner blames powerful banks for praying on ignorant investors while dismissing the role that government played. Government blunted the risk which banks should have bore, and thus distorted the prices which investors should have paid, which fostered transactions that never should have occurred.
Next time, we’ll get into Kuttner’s reverence for public goods and the proper role government plays in the market. Check back soon.
Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, while a wife and a mother of a special needs child, pioneered an all-female staffed software company in England in the 1960s. Fascinated by technology, she also had a head for business. Possessing an interest in employing working mothers, her staff were able to work from home in a variety of capacities, including as coders and programmers. A self-made millionaire, Shirley turned many of her employees into millionaires as well by opening stock options to them at a time when that was a relatively unheard of benefit.
Adopting the nickname “Steve” in order to get her foot in the door with male clients, she employed “extraordinary energy, self-belief and determination” in a pre-second wave feminist era. Shirley didn’t wait for bras to be burned or Gloria Steinem to appear in her bunny suit before taking charge. In fact, the UK’s Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, a direct result of the second wave feminist backlash, required that Shirley hire more men into what she was proud to make a nearly all-female company.
This pioneering businesswoman’s story flies in the face of second wave feminist tropes regarding female business owners, women in the workplace, equal pay and women in STEM. Which demands the question: If feminism seeks to be an empowering voice for women, what can it learn from the ideologies, like capitalism, that it chooses to berate or ignore?
Thursday, March 26th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
Anita Sarkeesian, self-dubbed “social justice activist,” details that, had she not engaged with the sphere of contemporary feminist academia, she would not have become a feminist. A convert to the faith, it was only by adopting the “systemic and institutional framework” depicted by modern feminist writers that Sarkeesian was able to “see how oppression manifests in many subtle ways under the systems of what bell hooks calls white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.”
Sarkeesian’s feminism wouldn’t exist without this systemic framework, a mode of thinking that has caused her to question the individualism she sees inherent within the “neo-liberal worldview.” Therefore, “choice feminism” empowers oppression, because a choice good for one woman isn’t necessarily good for all women.
Sarkeesian believes that “choice feminism obscures the reality that women don’t have a choice.” The real question is, if women refuse to believe in the “systemic and institutional framework” preached by feminist academics, are they free to embrace the reality of having more choices than they’ve previously been led to believe? What would a feminism free of oppression look like? Could it function outside the walls of the academic temple?
Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
The Wall Street Journal is covering the latest trend in rejuveniling among the Millennial set: preschool for adults, where “play is serious business.” Six adults pay anywhere from $300 to $1000 to crowd into a Brooklyn duplex on Tuesday nights from 7 – 10 p.m. and participate in everything from nap time to envisioning themselves as superheroes.
The self-help and goal-setting aspects were new, but welcome. I can use all the help I can get in making it to the gym, even if it means creating a superhero to get me there. I’m looking forward to seeing whether the preschool experience changes me over the next month, and I’m excited to see where Miss Joni and Miss CanCan take us on our class field trip. Mostly though, I’m excited about the snacks.
Is this latest trend in seeking eternal youth another glorified self-help program, or a sign that our traditional cultural institutions aren’t filled with hope and change? Is there a solution to be found in regressive creativity, or is this just another attempt at blissful ignorance? If you enrolled in preschool today, what would you learn?
Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
You have to admit the retro stylings of YouTube star Meghan Trainor make for some catchy little tunes. But in her latest video, Dear Future Husband, the siren dons pinup-wear while scrubbing the floor of a 50′s kitchen and warning her husband he’d better compliment her every day and buy her jewelry. Contemporary feminists are in an uproar over the classic imagery, but does Trainor have a better grip on the inherent power of her sexuality than the teenage girls who feel the need to buy “butt-enhancing jeans” at JCPenney?
The national department store catalog includes:
The “YMI Wanna Betta Butt Skinny Jeggings” boasts: “With a slight lift and shift and contouring seams, our wanna betta butt skinny jeggings hug you in just the right places to give you a firmer, more flattering look.”
Penney’s isn’t alone. Several online stores including Modaxpress, Hourglass Angel, and even Amazon offer butt enhancing denim to a teenage crowd. Where’s the feminist outrage over a wardrobe enhancement specifically targeted to those vulnerable teen girls suffering all those dreaded body-image issues? Perhaps they’re too busy in Trainor’s kitchen arguing over who gets to make the pie.
We Jews squabble enough when it comes to religion, but when it comes to Israel the gloves are off. Nothing is a greater testament to this than the vehement rhetoric coming from the Jewish Left in the wake of Netanyahu and the Right’s landslide victory in this past week’s elections in Israel. Whether it was Peter Beinart calling on the Obama Administration to “punish – yes, punish – the Israeli government” the virulent musings of Max Blumenthal, the anti-Israel Jewish Left came out in full condemnation, not just of Netanyahu, but of Israel at large.
The Forward jumped on the “Bibi is racist” bandwagon, reprinting Jeffrey Goldberg’s Tweet-condemnation of the slanderous tale embraced by Obama and his minions. If you are Jewish and have friends on the Left, I guarantee it didn’t take you longer than 10 minutes after Bibi claimed victory to get at least one Facebook post or Tweet claiming “he stole the election like Bush.” My PJ colleague Ron Radosh wisely diagnosed both the Obama Administration and the mainstream media as having Bibi Derangement Syndrome (BDS). And unfortunately, we Jews are not immune.
When I had the wonderful opportunity to march in New York City’s Israel Day Parade a few years back, I did so under the banner of an openly progressive Labor Zionist summer camp. My husband, a third generation member, had worked his way up from camper, to counselor, to business manager. Now as an alum he was excited to show me, his then-girlfriend, what he loved about his summers and give me the chance to revel in my Zionist pride. He’d worked the camp too long not to see past the politics, but had too many fond memories to be jaded by a lack of logic. In the end we were there to celebrate Israel, celebrate our freedom, and have fun with friends.
Or so I thought, until more than one angry parade-goer spat at me. “You are evil! You anti-Zionist pig! You’re killing us! You Leftists are killing Israel!” How were a group of teens and twenty-somethings, most of whom had been to Israel, many of whom were either pursuing or had obtained citizenship, and some of whom had or were serving in the IDF possibly killing Israel? These kids weren’t doing anything more than holding a contrary political opinion, yet that was enough to accuse them of being murderers. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “isn’t that what the Left is always accusing us of doing?”
I smiled at the crowd and wished them love through their gritted teeth and rage. Only two days earlier I’d been called a “conservative pig” by another camp alum who would later growl at me repeatedly, “You need to change your politics.” I came wanting to celebrate Israel. I wound up embroiled in a hot, angry mess.
Israel awakens our passions as Jews because Israel is a reminder of our responsibilities to God and to one another. If Israel fails, Holocaust awaits. No one but a Jew could understand the weight of that burden. Yet, instead of recognizing that we, Left and Right, are motivated by these same concerns and fears we allow the real haters of Israel to craft our opinions about one another. Suddenly everyone is an Obama, a Beinart, a Blumenthal. Anger morphs into rage and crafts summer camp teens into the next generation of hardened, bigoted, miserable adults, some of whom will then be motivated to become the next Beinart or Blumenthal in our midst.
King David writes in the Psalms, “be angry, but do not sin. Meditate in your heart upon your bed and be still.”
I’m far more of a wine connoisseur than a coffee drinker. Years ago I cut back to half decaf in order to cut back on migraines and stomach trouble. The hi-test sludge my editor prefers could never cross my lips for fear of bodily damage. The one thing I associate with brutal American coffee is brutal American stress: the need to meet a deadline, please a boss, do more, say more, be more with vim and vigor. Just as any alcoholic uses cheap trash, downing brutally burnt beans has become a lousy, albeit necessary way to get a much-needed fix. And that’s where we get coffee wrong in America.
Tel Aviv is littered with cafes and kiosks serving Euro-style coffee. I never got the hang of what to order to balance out my pathetically minimum caffeine requirement, but at Cafe Nachmani I not only learned how to order the right tasting brew, I learned how to enjoy it. I’ve never seen a windowsill in Starbucks lined with art magazines. Not Cosmo or People, literal professional art magazines you’d see in big city galleries and be afraid to touch. The Barnes & Noble cafes are filled with geeks on their laptops, chugging down brew in order to use the free WiFi. At Cafe Nachmani, patrons sipped on cappuccinos and the Israeli favorite, espresso, while lingering over literary mags heavier than half the books lining our chain’s clearance aisle.
Tel Avivans work like mad in a city that never sleeps. They’ve just learned how to enjoy a frenetic pace better than we ever could. It’s amazing how much more you enjoy life when you view it as a pleasure to be lived instead of an obligation to be fueled through.To better answer the question of what you’re drinking, you need to start with why you’re drinking it.
Robert Kuttner, professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School and senior fellow of the think tank Demos, believes that libertarians suffer from a delusion. He claims that the market is incompetent to price certain problems, and must be tightly controlled by government to prevent excess and abuse. In a piece written for The American Prospect, where he serves as co-founder and co-editor, Kuttner touches upon three examples which he believes demonstrate market failure.
The first is catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, which Kuttner offers as an example of negative externality. We addressed such externalities in part one of this series.
The second example Kuttner provides takes us back to 2008:
The other great catastrophe of our time is the financial collapse. Supposedly self-regulating markets could not discern that the securities created by financial engineers were toxic. Markets were not competent to adjust prices accordingly. The details of the bonds were opaque; they were designed to enrich middlemen; the securities were subject to investor herd-instincts; and their prices were prone to crash once a wave of panic-selling hit. Only government could provide regulations against fraudulent or deceptive financial products, as it did to good effect until the regulatory process became corrupted beginning in the 1970s. Deregulation arguably created small efficiencies by steering capital to suitable uses—but any such gains were obliterated many times over by the more than $10 trillion of GDP lost in the 2008 crash.
Kuttner makes a legitimate point, if only coincidentally, when he asserts that government ought to respond to fraud. However, by making that point, he implies that fraud and deception are integral to the market.
Fraud is not a function of the market. It does not belong in an intellectually honest critique of the market. No one aside from the most strident anarchists believe that fraud should go unanswered by government. Therefore, to attack fraud as a function of the market is to attack a strawman.
Kuttner may be conflating “deception” with ignorance. While government properly ought to respond with retaliatory force against fraud, recognizing fraud as a form of compulsion against the innocent, government has no role in protecting consumers from their own ignorance. If I fail to do my due diligence, if I sign on the dotted line or click “I accept” without reading the terms of an agreement or understanding a product or service, the fault lays with me. Failure to act rationally does not make one a victim.
The herd instinct which Kuttner cites as a negative is actually a key mechanism by which the market regulates economic activity. The power of the market is specialization, otherwise known as the division of labor. We each become experts in our chosen field, and rely upon the expertise of others, benefiting through mutual exchange in ways that none of us could accomplish living alone on an island.
Everyday, in a thousand different ways, we defer to the expertise of others. We defer to the engineers of our vehicles regarding their safety and operational integrity. We defer to the vendor at a lunch counter regarding the preparation of our food. We defer to our cellular company regarding the means by which our electronic communication occurs.
Even so, unlike animals, our “herd instinct” is not mindless. We evaluate the trustworthiness of a brand, a company, an individual. We consider track records. We examine history. We seek the advice of others. Then, we make our own decision.
In this way, we each individually act as regulators of the market, providing as many checks and balances as there are individual consumers – far more than government ever could – each motivated by something far more potent than a nebulous “common good.” We’re moved by self-interest.
Kuttner completely ignores the role that government regulation and mandates played in incentivizing the creation of toxic assets. His critique of the market only works in an environment where self-interest is skewed by moral hazard. When those who engage in risky behavior are not bound by the consequences of failure, when they can push those consequences off onto someone else, then they will not reign that behavior in.
That’s what caused the financial collapse, not a lack of government regulation, but a lack of market regulation caused by government. Kuttner unwittingly confesses this by citing a corrupted regulatory process. What he’s referencing is regulatory capture, a phenomenon whereby the entities which are to be regulated gain control of the regulatory apparatus.
Regulatory capture is only possible through government. It only works under compulsion. It would never last, if it manifest at all, in a free market. Without force, without the monopolization of regulation by government, no one can control the hundreds of thousands of checks and balances which react against bad actors – namely consumers.
The housing bubble doesn’t inflate in the first place without government housing initiatives. Sub-prime mortgages and derivative financial instruments based on them don’t manifest without government guarantees. Government created the 2008 financial collapse, not the market.
A third grotesque case of market failure is the income distribution. In the period between about 1935 and 1980, America became steadily more equal. This just happened to be the period of our most sustained economic growth. In that era, more than two-thirds of all the income gains were captured by the bottom 90 percent, and the bottom half actually gained income at a slightly higher rate than the top half. By contrast, in the period between 1997 and 2012, the top 10 percent captured more than 100 percent of all the income gains. The bottom 90 percent lost an average of nearly $3,000 per household. The reason for this drastic disjuncture is that in the earlier period, public policy anchored in a solid popular politics kept the market in check. Strong labor institutions made sure working families captured their share of productivity gains. Regulations limited monopolies. Government played a far more direct role in the economy via public investment, which in turn stimulated innovation. The financial part of the economy was well controlled. All of this meant more income for the middle and the bottom and less rapacity at the top.
Kuttner here completely abandons historic reality. Government activism in the market has skyrocketed in the 21st century.
Government activism actually widens income distribution by protecting favored interests from the market forces which would otherwise keep them in check. Again referencing regulatory capture, the entities best positioned to benefit from government activism are those with the most resources to spend on lobbying and campaigning. This is why a growing mass of the non-partisan disillusioned regard both Republicans and Democrats as tools of corporate interests. We don’t fix that by limiting corporate interests. We fix that by limiting the government which corporate interests seek to buy.
That said, there’s a much more fundamental point to be made here. The premise which Kuttner takes for granted is that income inequality is a problem on its face. He doesn’t bother to tell us why. We’re just expected to know that income inequality is bad. This “knowledge” isn’t based on any rational argument, which is why Kuttner and so many others in his position fail to provide one. Rather, the notion of income inequality as a problem arises solely from an emotion – envy.
What does it matter to me whether you make more money? How am I deprived by your success? What claim do I hold to your wealth? On what basis should we ever, under any circumstances, concern ourselves with the distribution of that which is earned by others?
The only scenario wherein income distribution becomes a moral issue is one where income is distributed by illegitimate means. Income distributed by crime, by theft, by fraud – by compulsion. As an institution of force, government stands uniquely poised to distribute income illegitimately. Indeed, no criminal organization known to man has wielded force to seize wealth from those who earn it better than government.
Outside that context, in a hypothetical free market, the only means by which one can obtain income is through the production of value. In that scenario, one’s income becomes an accurate measure of the value they have produced. Since different people produce different degrees of value, their income will differ accordingly. As long as one’s income has been earned through production and trade, its size should not matter to anyone else. It’s nobody’s business. It has no effect upon the life of anyone else whatsoever, aside from providing the wealthy individual with the means to invest in even more production – providing jobs and opportunity for others.
As we continue in our breakdown of Kuttner’s “libertarian delusion,” we’ll consider his reverence for government regulation and so-called public goods. He takes a run at the “you didn’t build that” argument. Check back soon.
Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
Camille Paglia sits with Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie to discuss the failings of contemporary feminism, specifically in relation to the contemporary feminist obsession with gender politics which Paglia dubs “gender myopia.” Tagging the culture’s current obsession with viewing the world through the lenses of “race, class and gender” (what Gillespie titles “the holy trinity”) as a “distortion of the 1960s,” Paglia, a self-described atheist, explains that “Marxism is not sufficient as a metaphysical system for explaining the cosmos.”
The powerful dialogue should be required viewing for all college freshmen and women, of course. A general in the culture wars, Paglia continues to be the only academic unafraid to conquer Marxist ideology and its subsequent theoretical fields on its own turf.
Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
A&E’s “docuseries” Married at First Sight had its second season premiere last night. The theory: arranged marriage cultures have a radically lower divorce rate than non-arranged marriage cultures. Therefore, a group of four experts (a psychologist, a sexologist, a sociologist and a spiritual advisor) conduct thorough testing to match up couples who will literally meet each other at the altar.
Both conservatism and libertarianism carry a certain reputation for adherence to core principles, and while both philosophies share a few common ideals, there are certain sticking points — like immigration, the war on drugs, and abortion– that tend to separate the two philosophies. Conventional wisdom holds that conservatism and libertarianism sit in different areas on the right side of the spectrum, and never the twain shall meet.
But is such generalization really the case? There appears to be a growing movement among the right of people who find themselves somewhere between conservatism and libertarianism. Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself falling somewhere in between the two distinct philosophies. That’s why I became excited when I heard about The Conservatarian Manifesto.
National Review‘s Charles C. W. Cooke has created a unique document that seeks “to remind the American Right that ours is an iconoclastic movement.” He reaches out to the people who find themselves firmly on the right but don’t feel like they firmly identify as conservative or libertarian.
Some among this group have become sufficiently frustrated with their brothers-in-arms to have established new and discrete groups, even abandoning or amending the “conservative” and “libertarian” labels traditionally used to describe the two strongest building blocks of the Right’s coalition. These are the “conservatarians” referred to in the title of this book, and they have an important to make.
Boy, do they (or should I say, “we”), and with Cooke as spokesman, the conservatarian movement may help unify the right.
Cooke begins his journey by picking apart both the positive aspects and negative assumptions of the conservative and libertarian movements. He also looks at what he sees wrong with the conservative movement, examining in particular the big-government conservatism that existed under George W. Bush.
During the Bush administration’s turbulent eight years, the Republican Party steadily ruined its reputation, damaging the public conception of conservatism in the process… Most of all, the Republican Party lost its reputation for fiscal restraint, constitutional propriety, and mastery of foreign affairs.
The author concludes his chapter on the problems that exist on the Right by noting that “Republicans must reestablish themselves as the party of liberty, demonstrating to a skeptical but interested electorate that they are committed to laissez-faire.” Interestingly enough, Cooke does not advocate a wholesale adherence to libertarian ideology, but he does acknowledge that conservatism and libertarianism can, and should, coexist.
One of the key tenets that conservatarianism must adopt, according to Cooke, is a devotion to federalism. He writes that the right should advocate that “as few decisions as possible are made from Washington, D.C.” and that lovers of freedom should “render the American framework of government as free as possible and…decentralize power.”
Cooke then takes a look at institutions like the media and the educational system. The right has done well to establish some alternatives to the traditional, left-leaning media outlets, but conservatives and libertarians alike have their work cut out for them when it comes to reforming the educational system. He then steals a glimpse into the importance of the Constitution to the right and why that attachment remains crucial to a nation that values freedom.
After his march through America’s institutions, Cooke tackles specific political issues and delves into what a conservatarian position could or should be on many of them. He starts with gun control, citing stats that prove the inefficacy of gun-control attempts, as well as information that demonstrates the growing popularity of the protection of gun rights. Cooke then points out why it is important for the right to nevertheless acknowledge that guns can be dangerous, no matter how free our society is.
Next, Cooke contrasts the success of the pro-gun movement with what he calls the failures of the war on drugs. Citing incarceration statistics, he points out how he believes that federal efforts to deter drug use are not working. But he notes that
…this is not to say that conservatives should be “pro-drug.” Indeed, the beauty of opposing federal involvement is that it affords us a free hand elsewhere. Conservatives can quite happily agitate for federal withdrawal and continue to argue against the wisdom of using drugs and leave the legal questions to the states and localities.
At this point, Cooke offers a few suggestions like leaving drug enforcement to the states and relying on churches and non-profits as well as supporting the demilitarization of the police.
Cooke then goes on to tackle a host of other issues. He makes one of the most eloquent and sensible arguments for the pro-life cause that I’ve heard and dismantles the follies of the advocates of abortion on demand. He delves into what he sees as the inevitability of same-sex marriage, preparing the right to get used to it, while at the same time advocating for the protection of those who do not agree with it.
Looking at foreign policy, Cooke acknowledges the fatigue that many Americans have toward the interventionist tack that the country seems to have undertaken, but he doesn’t necessarily call for a neutralist or isolationist stance. Instead, he argues for a continued strong defense because of the United States’ lone superpower status. Cooke notes that American primacy lends stability to much of the world order, but he notes that “[it] is entirely feasible for America to lead without needing to rush to the scene of every fire in every corner of the world.” He likens the hegemony of the United States to an insurance policy against problems in many areas of the globe.
Lastly, Cooke argues against the demography-is-destiny mindset that seems to plague both parties these days. He advocates for an immigration policy that is fair and does not become a welfare program.
Cooke sees the future as a golden opportunity for freedom-loving people on the right end of the political spectrum. His conclusion is for conservatives and libertarians to band together to ensure that freedom is a positive message that appeals to everyone. Some of the ideas in The Conservatarian Manifesto won’t appeal to everyone — I certainly had issues with a couple of the solutions in the book — but the book does put forth some encouraging strategies for what could be a united right, one we sorely need if we’re going to win in 2016 and beyond.
Nowadays, whenever I attend a public meeting and stand alongside fellow Americans to say the Pledge of Allegiance, I look around the room and wonder how many truly believe in “liberty and justice for all.” To the extent each man or woman may claim allegiance to that sentiment, I wonder how each would define it.
Increasingly, it seems as though we find another argument against freedom every which way we turn, another push for control, another campaign for restriction or seizure. Far from the fringe exception to the libertarian rule, these arguments proliferate throughout the culture, applied to everything from healthcare to marriage, from finance to drugs.
In oh so many ways, as a people, we don’t truly believe in either liberty or justice. We modify the words to cut neatly around the areas of life where we personally prefer choice, while excluding those areas where we’d prefer to dictate the choices of others.
Unfortunately, the nature of reality is such that one cannot eat her cake and have it too. We cannot sustainably defend liberty in one area of life while suffering its compromise in another. Without a cohesive and comprehensive philosophical defense of liberty, any practical manifestation will whither under shifting political winds.
One such gust blows from the desk of Robert Kuttner. Author of a provocative article at The American Prospect, where he serves as co-founder and co-editor, Kuttner cannot fairly be marginalized as an insignificant voice. His bio boasts status as “professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School, and a distinguished senior fellow of the think tank Demos.” Kuttner has written for Business Week and the Boston Globe. This man shapes minds and influences opinions.
Kuttner believes liberty is overrated. He believes folks like me, who stand firmly upon the principle of individual rights, suffer from “The Libertarian Delusion.” His case against freedom deserves point-by-point scrutiny.
He begins with a general condemnation of the market, portraying it as a mechanism unfit to meet the needs of men:
In an Adam Smith world, the interplay of supply and demand yields a price that signals producers what to make and investors where to put their capital. The more that government interferes with this sublime discipline, the more bureaucrats deflect the market from its true path.
But in the world where we actually live, markets do not produce the “right” price. There are many small examples of this failure, but also three immense ones that should have discredited the libertarian premise by now. Global climate change is the most momentous… carbon is destroying a livable planet. Markets are not competent to price this problem. Only governments can do that. In formal economics, this anomaly is described by the bloodless word “externality”—meaning costs (or benefits) external to the immediate transaction. Libertarian economists treat externalities as minor exceptions.
Not being a libertarian economist, I can’t speak for them. From my perch as a layman intent upon upholding individual rights, externalities are often petty gripes overwrought into invalid claims upon the lives of others.
Externalities are real and come in both positive and negative forms. You build a house. Someone builds a nicer one next door. Your property value goes up. That’s a benefit external to the transaction, a positive externality, which you enjoy for the dumb luck of living next door.
Conversely, you build the same house. A bum moves in next door and trashes the joint, leaving garbage everywhere and never mowing the lawn. That’s a cost external to the transaction, a negative externality, which you suffer for the dumb luck of living next door.
Of course, in that particular hypothetical, the harm can be quantified and accounted for objectively. A case can be made against the offending neighbor, and legal action can be taken to correct the problem. We call that a tort. In situations where a particular tort can be anticipated, we craft nuisance law (i.e. mowing ordinances).
When Kuttner evokes externalities, he goes beyond torts. His particular example, anthropogenic catastrophic climate change, cannot stand as a case brought against an offending party in a court of law. In an essay for The Atlas Society addressing the topic of externalities, author Andrew Bissell explains:
Some cases [of negative externalities eroding property rights] are obvious; dumping toxic waste on a neighbor’s lawn is flagrant destruction of his property and probably poses a risk of serious physical harm. But what about driving a car that emits some small amount of carbon monoxide that, combined with the emissions of the millions of other drivers in a city, produces smog?
… These kinds of “costs” cannot really even be objectively calculated, which is one of the problems with trying to even out every single imbalance arising from externalities.
Trying to resolve every diffuse or minor negative externality would have some rather tyrannical—and economically destructive—consequences. Homeowners cannot be permitted to stall airline travel just because they dislike the appearance of jet contrails in the sky above their homes. To use a more common example, one’s appreciation of “open spaces” does not give one the right to prevent a farmer from selling his land to a developer looking to build a subdivision. It would be exceedingly difficult, in a court of law, to prove that these minor inconveniences had resulted in any significant physical or economic damage. When properly defined, property rights are not a blanket right to dictate what sorts of activities may take place within eyesight, earshot, or driving distance of one’s land.
Indeed, there are many negative externalities which one must rationally anticipate when they live in proximity to other people. Further, the type of community one chooses to live in — urban, suburban, or rural — dictates what kinds of externalities you must be prepared to deal with.
For instance, if you live in the middle of a big city, you must expect a certain persistent level of noise, light, and — yes — air pollution. Such consequences arise from living in proximity to others who exercise their rights in pursuit of life-affirming values like transportation, waste disposal, and electricity.
There was a time when people heated their homes by burning wood fires. This produced smoke and ash which choked the sky and clogged gutters. But no rational person would have argued that people should freeze to death or even just proceed uncomfortably cold for the sake of “clean air.” Further, if someone had attempted to sue their neighbor for burning a wood fire, they’d have been laughed out of court if not committed to an institution.
No doubt cognizant that any given carbon emission fails to constitute a tort, Kuttner advocates for a different process. He wants government to “price” the “problem” of climate change. How do we do that, exactly? Since the “harm” cannot be objectively calculated, any method ultimately proves arbitrary. We place a tax on carbon emissions. We create carbon credits, thus restricting essential life-affirming activities like energy production and manufacturing. We determine the “price” of these interventions through political means rather than economic ones, through the rule of men rather than the rule of law.
As Bissell indicates, externalities which do not qualify as torts are little more than petty gripes. I don’t like that my neighbor painted his house blue. I don’t like that he drives an SUV. I don’t like that gas is cheap. There ought to be a law.
As we continue refuting Kuttner’s case against freedom in future entries, we’ll see how the externalities he cites fit this mold of petty complaint. He doesn’t like that some people make more money than other people. He doesn’t like that some people succeed while others fail. He doesn’t like that words mean what they mean, and dutifully attempts to redefine them.
Catch up on his piece, and check back for more analysis in the coming days.
PleasejointhediscussiononTwitter. The essay above is the twenty-fifthin volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Islandexploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle
Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
Melissa McGrath, an undergraduate student at Ohio State University, was invited to participate in her college’s TEDx Talk, because, although not in possession of a doctorate, McGrath has “a valid story to tell, and (she thinks) that will shine through.” Her thesis: Feminism proffers salvation.
Her “valid story” plays like a tent-revival testimonial about how feminist theory, reinforced by college professors, informed her that it was not her fault that she was sexually assaulted on campus. Avoiding the details of her assault, McGrath instead focuses on feminist liturgy as a method for teaching “intersectionality” that is, how the human race is tied together in a Marxist state of oppressor and oppressed.
Pulling all the approved contemporary feminist buzzwords from “white privilege” to “rape culture” McGrath weaves the kind of soap box narrative trademarked by the best faith-based snake oil salesmen (and women) of the 20th century. Her’s is a speech proving that feminism isn’t just ideology, but idolatry; a religion whose places of worship are in university classrooms, whose holy texts are available at your nearest bookstore, and whose icons live on “Pinterest boards” and social media outlets.
In order to control millions of people, totalitarian or proto-totalitarian governments find it necessary to somehow prod their subjects into accepting that which is not true. Intelligent people will naturally see the truth and thereby comprehend when government lies to them – and so that’s the rub – how does totalitarian government deal with intelligent people when they must be lied to?
George Orwell provides the answer: intelligent people must be conditioned to reject self-evident truth, to reject the sanity of common sense, to accept the insanity of Orwellian Doublethink, to accept the lie and the truth in their minds simultaneously: “with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”
How do Dictatorships lie to intelligent people and get away with it?
1. In the early stages of totalitarianism the use of Orwellian Newspeak is preferred to blatant, in-your-face lies because Newspeak (otherwise known as Doublespeak) is the clever manipulation of words which mean one thing to the speaker and something very different or its opposite to the listener, thus one may plant a false idea into another’s head by lying to them directly, or by using the tricky technique of Doublespeak.
For example, a politician utters support for a woman’s “right to choose” – Orwellian Doublespeak for supporting a woman’s right to kill.
Another politician is an advocate of “climate change” – Orwellian Doublespeak for belief in man-caused global warming and a denial of solar-drivenclimatechange which results in both global warming and global cooling. In the mind of a co-believer the words “climate change” evoke an image of man-made global warming. In the mind of a naive man the words “climate change” evoke an image of the natural changes that occur in weather – both warming and cooling. Mission accomplished – simply by uttering the incantation “climate change” the politician may win the approval of both – each with opposite mental images, one false and one true – hopefully gaining the vote of both.
The politician does not advocate natural, solar-driven climate change, but the naive man now thinks he does because that is the image painted in his mind by the Orwellian Doublespeak words “climate change.” This rhetorical technique is superior (in the wrongful sense) to the direct lie because, at the end of the day, the naive man will possess the same false idea that would occur had the politician lied to him directly. Through the use of Orwellian Doublespeak there is the advantage of plausible deniability regarding the implantation of a false idea.
The naive man may be intelligent enough to figure it all out (that the politician does not advocate natural solar-driven climate change), but the politician hopes the man has been conditioned by Orwellian Doublethink into acceptance of the lie and the truth simultaneously, and still have his vote.
2. Doublespeak lies tend to confuse or escape the notice of unsuspecting people.
For example, a government which confiscates middle class property through excessive taxation, while lining its own pockets and redistributing the stolen property to a lazy, so-called proletariat class in return for votes is deemed to be a provider of “Equity” and “Social Justice.” Never mind that forced equal property outcome destroys the work ethic of both the middle class and the so-called proletariat class leading to economic collapse.
And never mind that forced equal property outcome is a big Orwellian lie because, like the Pigs of Animal Farm, the self-serving government class empowered to take (collectivize) the people’s property always ends up with the lion’s share of the people’s property – the worst form of inequity and social injustice. Greed and theft by the people who administer totalitarian government cannot be publicly identified as greed and theft, so the injustice is called “Social Justice” – Orwellian Doublespeak for government greed and theft.
Another example of Doublespeak is the term “Affirmative Action” – words used to describe the destruction of a student’s right to gain graduate school admission based on being part of an out-of-favor ethnic group or skin color, rather than admission based purely on academic achievement and studious preparation. Thus “Affirmative Action” is a politically correct Doublespeak term for affirmation of wrong action.
We also have the phrase “Living Constitution” – Orwellian Doublespeak for Dead Constitution. The “Living Constitution” is law which is not derived from We the People, law not derived from the American majority, but law arbitrarily derived from a small judicial or administrative minority. The so-called “Living Constitution” does not take its breath of life from the people’s amendment process (the real life and breath of our Constitution) but from the minds of a small effete class of “Philosopher Kings.” Constitutional law derived exclusively from a small governing minority means the Constitution is living for them – but dead for the rest of us – the opposite of what our Founding Fathers intended.
“Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure… If ‘the judiciary is the last resort in relation to the other departments of the government,’ … then indeed is our Constitution a complete felo de so… The Constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they may please ['Living Constitution'].”
– Thomas Jefferson
Doublespeak government lies are cleverly disguised in rhetoric – lies which can be received and accepted by otherwise intelligent people via the insanity of Orwellian Doublethink – a simultaneous and irrational mental acceptance of both the lie and the truth. Taken together, Doublespeak lies of totalitarian government, and Doublethink insanity on the part of their subjects, the rejection of truth within human minds can occur on a colossal scale.
3. Insanity (or psychosis) is the mental state where reality (the truth) cannot be separated from falsehood (the lie). Since totalitarian states lie to their intelligent subjects using Doublespeak, and since such government requires them to accept the lie and the truth simultaneously via Doublethink (with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth), totalitarian government becomes engaged in the business of “Controlled Insanity.”
“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously [the lie and the truth], and accepting both of them [Insanity]… with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth… Those who have the best knowledge of what is happening are also those who are furthest from seeing the world as it is; in general the greater the understanding the greater the delusion; the more intelligent the less sane… If one is to rule, and to continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality… If human equality is to be forever averted; if the “high,” as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently; then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.”
The lies of totalitarian government must also be accepted by the less intelligent – no problem.
George Orwell realized this was a much simpler dilemma to solve.
4. This segment of society can be made to accept “the most flagrant violations of reality” without too much trouble – just expose them to 8-12 years of foolishness in government schools – and simply lie to them – even flagrantly – through an out-of-mainstream mass media – our new versions of Soviet Pravda and Izvestia.
Since the out-of-MSM passes along disinformation without question, the lies of a totalitarian government can be taken in and digested by dumbed-down, gullible fools. Doublethink insanity is a requirement for the intelligent while the sanity of stupidity is needed for the rest:
“Crimestop…includes the power of not grasping analogies; of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc [Socialist Principles of Oceania], and of being bored or rebelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop in short means protective stupidity… The world view of the Party imposed its self most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything, and what they swallowed did them no harm because it left no residue behind; just as a grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird.”
Totalitarian government can only exist through a clever or blatant use of lies which must be accepted through the controlled insanity of Orwellian Doublethink or the controlled sanity of Crimestop stupidity.
Orwell’s 1984 character Julia, an enemy of Big Brother’s totalitarian government, “did not feel the abyss opening beneath her feet at the thought of lies becoming truth” where “the heresy of heresies was common sense.”
One way free people can remain free is to think, to recognize and accept self-evident truth, to reject the labyrinthine world of Orwellian Doublespeak and Doublethink, to reject the depraved world of Orwellian Crimestop stupidity, to exercise the sanity and intelligence of common sense. Common sense means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously (the truth and the lie), and accepting only the truth, with the truth always one leap ahead of the lie.
Pleasejointhediscussionwith us onTwitter. The essay above is the twenty-thirdin volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Islandexploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle
The essay is the second in a series of inter-faith dialogues, see the first from Jon Bishop on March 8, “Why I Am Catholic.”
Despite the multiple accusations I have received from my own brothers and sisters any time I’ve dared to make a critical observation about our people, I very proudly declare myself to be a Jew. This is not because I feel an obligation to my ancestors, my community, or my tradition although I respect them and their roles in the formation of my identity.
Rather, I choose to be a Jew just as Abraham did, because I choose to be free.
I missed out on the social conformity gene. Never have I managed to fit into any particular social group. At times I was hated for it, but contrary to popular opinion of what being a Jew means, it was thanks to being Jewish that I learned to love being a stand-out in the crowd. At 15 I told my teachers I was legally changing my name to Shoshana, and because of that brash declaration I became one of the coolest kids in school. Why Shoshana? Because that’s what Susans in Israel are called and Israel is the culmination and fulfillment of being a Jew. We don’t just get our own houses of worship, we get an entire nation to call our own. Land is freedom.
And when you are so different and so unique, that spatial freedom is essential to your survival. Whether prophets, cowboys, American patriots, or Zionists, the experiences that speak to me echo the Word of God:
Trust the Lord with all your heart, do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will level your path.
It felt good to stand apart from the crowd precisely because human thinking never made very much sense to me. God makes sense. And what I still do not understand remains the most intriguing mystery in all the universe to comprehend. “I want to know God’s thoughts,” Einstein said, “the rest are just details.” Ben Carson told me to “think big.” You can’t get any bigger than God. “I have broken the bars of your yoke so that you can walk upright,” God reveals to the wandering Jews. God is freedom.
God’s freedom is eternal.
Torah is a guidebook, a covenant that when undertaken agrees that we “choose life so that we may live.” Ezekiel’s dry bones rose from their graves and breathed new life in 1948. While the rest of the world amuses itself with the walking dead, we trust in the words of Isaiah:
Your dead will live, my corpses will rise: awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust; for your dew like the morning dew, and the earth will bring the ghosts to life.
I do not need to wage war or rage in desperation, wear black spikes or combat gear, raise my fist in defiance, align myself with a cause, or fence myself into the opinions of others in order to be free. I simply need to live as God intended in covenant with Him. God spoke creation into being and the word of the Lord breathed life into the dead. Tanakh is freedom.
“How did you find it in you to survive?” I asked my cantor who lived through the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz death march.
He replied, “I saw the skull and crossbones on the Nazi soldier’s belt along with the words ‘soldier of God’. They were lying. ‘This is not God,’ I thought. And that gave me the will to survive.”
I am a Jew, and I choose to be a Jew, because despite what the world may lead you to believe, being a Jew means dwelling in eternal freedom.
In more dystopian moods, it is easy to agree with David Gelernter and other esteemed analysts that the future of civilized society moves away from nationalism and toward globalism.
Even when in a hopeful frame of mind, it is hard to see a future where borders demark true nations, cultures differentiate, and international relationships of enmity, accord, and alliance in constant flux survive the One World homogenization of humankind.
H.G. Wells’ prescient novel The Time Machine can be interpreted instructively when envisioning a globalist world.
In Wells’ classic, grotesque Morlocks exchanged for their captive Eloi masses relative safety and equalitarian comfort, as prelude to a final solution (Elois as Morlock food).
With Morlocks at the top of a denationalized globe, everything will be on the One World table, and precious little will be on anyone else’s table.
On planet Earth in 2070, the nationalistic lifeblood of our species may well have been drained away by centralized, authoritarian governance.
With no meaningful borders, no nationalistic instincts surviving, the globe will be comprised of regionalized clumps of loosely aggregated peoples, who call a family home, and call a house home, but have no nation. A planet of exiles, rootless but for the whims of procreation and geography.
Eskimos still populate the Arctic Circle, but they are less Native Americans than contemporary Cro-Magnons, with electric heat and Sno-cats, under the yoke of something so far distant as to be mythical—until you make the wrong move.
Frenchmen still revere the Eiffel Tower, Frenchmen-in-name-only.
As unchecked in-migration globalizes Europe from within, encircled Israel invites Jews to make pilgrimage to the seat of Judeo-Christianity, and the Third World overwhelms the United States, the last voices for nationalistic life on Earth will not simply become marginalized. They become Morlock food.
What is now the European Union becomes the Hemispheric Union, answerable to a World Union ruled by progressive, anti-nationalistic “states-people,” subversive Machiavellians, and grand planners like Jonathan Gruber. Three heroes of the history of the march to globalism: President Barack Obama, Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, and the aforementioned Gruber, to name a few.
For nationalist die-hards, “Going, Galt” will be an option-in-extremis.
Godless oligarchs, bolstered by globe-spanning enforcement arms, (let’s just call them Morlocks), will control markets, infrastructures, institutions, and the modes of inescapable surveillance. Pockets of resistance will come under the jurisdiction of entities with the power to bleed-out “neo-patriots” who opt to go down fighting for whatever flag they fly, on whatever hill they are willing to die on.
The panoply of national flags themselves becomes quaint memorabilia, emblematic of a time when humans organized themselves territorially under variant symbolic imagery. The stars and bars, as viewed by the enlightened group-think of the globalists, may well be presented in the history books (assuming Old Glory survives them) sans irony beside the Nazi swastika and the Soviet hammer and sickle.
All will be congregated under one image, brainstormed by the mid-millennial heirs of Gruber, vetted by committees for whom nationalistic identification has become a Neanderthal vestige, and unveiled by whatever alarming potentate or de facto death panel first mounts the throne of globalist dominance.
George Orwell’s 1984 triumvirate of Big Brother truths–war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength–will break down like: There is only one real seat of power; regional conflicts are treated as tribal warfare, and allowed to play out or be snuffed out as befits the grand design. The only real wars, which won’t last long, will be when the World government moves to suppress forces that would restore a nationalistic society.
The truly free will be hunted, and the masses propagandized by the everlastingly repeated deconstruction of the old countries, as ancient now as cave paintings, and the everlastingly repeated atheist prayer that the New Order is the new illumination of life on Earth.
Ignorance is valued when religion falls and nation states die off. It will be deemed counterproductive to remember a time when a nation was something to pledge allegiance to, to fight for, and to love.
It is countercultural conservatism’s job, and the job of all patriots looking to preserve their countries, to keep an eagle-eye on the twin heralds of One World: multiculturalism and diversity.
There’s a difference between when global culture is being celebrated, and being foisted.
There is a place for the acknowledgement and even celebration of myriad world cultures, but there is no place for slick, subliminal messaging aimed at convincing us that the world is one big happy family, and that the best way to live life on Earth is to abandon the thought that there is anything special about our homelands.
End Times believers worry that the black hole of Revelations is nigh, and that the Return is imminent. (So, repent.) But even if unthinkable weapons are let loose by ancient enemies, God forbid, some globalists, like the underground Morlocks, will survive.
When they emerge from the rubble of the nation states, there will form a new consensus. That consensus will criminalize nationalism, abolish identification with all but one flag, and use Armageddon to justify the propagation of One World: “Imagine” devoid of John Lennon, without the national pride that the hungry Morlocks wiped off the face of the earth.
PleasejointhediscussiononTwitter. The essay above is the seventeenthin volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Islandexploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle
Hell must be freezing over: there’s good news out of academia. It’s sorely needed, too. These days, university and college campuses are under constant siege by hyper-sensitive multiculturalist students bent on smothering open debate and silencing opposing viewpoints — let’s call them the Thought Police. Most recently, at the University of California, Irvine, a group of students voted to ban the display of the American flag for the sake of “inclusivity.”
But wonder of wonders: the heads of UCI’s student government have now smacked the vote down with a good old-fashioned veto. Listen up, campus conservatives: this is a case study in how to fight back against the Thought Police.
The Thought Police are easy to spot — they’re the ones demanding vice-like control over campus discourse and shrilly accusing their opponents of bigotry. In 2014, Brandeis University planned to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights advocate and a staunch critic of Islam. The Thought Police in the student body harried the administration and slandered Hirsi Ali until Brandeis rescinded its offer.
When Hirsi Ali was invited to speak at Yale, the Thought Police there accused her of hate speech and cast aspersions on her academic credentials in the desperate hope of shutting her up. Not long ago, the Oxford branch of the Thought Police gleefully smothered an open debate about abortion on the grounds that both speakers were male. Anything to avoid the horror of encountering an opposing viewpoint.
Among their peers, the Thought Police defend their position via intimidation, aggression, and abuse. Students who speak up in favor of free expression are often insulted and ostracized. When University of Michigan student Omar Mahmood satirized his school’s oppressively PC campus climate, he was mercilessly bullied and kicked off of the student newspaper.
Others who contradict progressive dogma get publicly excoriated, online and in person, as “fascists,” “repulsive,” and worse. Anything that smells even faintly of patriotism or free thought has to be stamped into dust.
So the UCI Thought Police condemned all flags, especially this country’s, on the grounds that they uniformly promote imperialism and oppression. They voted to remove the American flag from the student government lobby because, as their bill explains, “[F]lags construct paradigms of conformity and sets homogenized standards for others to obtain which in this country typically are idolized as freedom, equality, and democracy.” The students went on to make their stance clear: “freedom of speech,” they wrote, “can be interpreted as hate speech.”
Ladies and gentlemen: the Thought Police at work. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
Now, when you’re locked in a battle with the Thought Police, how do you dodge their relentless vitriol and identity politics to come out victorious?
Well, you’ve got to hit them where they’re oh, so weak: the flimsy logic of their untenable arguments. Take this UCI bill, for example: the thing is a travesty of reasoning and ideology, not to mention English grammar. It’s written in that illiterate, pseudo-erudite jargon of radical activism that is the lingua franca of Thought Police everywhere.
The idea that flags are morally indistinguishable from one another because they are all symbols of countries is infantile. It’s like saying that bottles of milk and bottles of lighter fluid are identical because they are both containers for liquids. Take a swig from a bottle and you’ll realize it matters very much what kind of liquid, exactly, it contains. Take a stand for a flag and you’ll realize it matters even more which country, exactly, it symbolizes.
And of course, as it happens, the American flag symbolizes the country whose ideals afford those students at UCI the freedom to stumble into their fatuous half-theories in the first place. Fighting make-believe oppression isn’t half so much fun if you’re not doing it under the Stars and Stripes — if you’re doing it, for example, in North Korea.
Last week I expounded upon why my husband and I have chosen not to join a synagogue. The backlash I received, oddly enough primarily from Christian readers, essentially boiled down to accusations of selfishness on my part and an unwillingness to contribute to a community. My question in response is simple: What exactly defines “community” in terms of being Jewish? A reader by the name of Larry in Tel Aviv wrote:
I agree wholeheartedly with every one of your points and you could add a few more! Such as one wouldn’t know the first thing about anti-Semitism in the world today, the nature of the threats Israel faces and related, from the rabbis and synagogue politicos. In fact you wouldn’t know anything important about anything that matters, not from synagogue, not much from Hebrew School neither (even Hebrew is largely poorly taught, with exceptions).
Which prompted me to ask myself: Do Jews in America know how to be Jewish without institutional backing?
Based on some of the comments I received from Christian readers, it would seem that religion in America requires some kind of institutional affiliation in order to be legitimized. Whether it’s a church, temple, or yoga studio religious folks of all stripes need a facility through which to connect to one another in order to establish and reinforce their religious identity. Historically speaking, Mordecai Kaplan emulated this concept when he reconstructed the idea of synagogue as community, the physical center of Jewish life in Diaspora America. Why don’t Jews necessarily need this institutional bond today? The answer is simple: We have Israel.
As I mentioned in my last article, one of the reasons why my husband and I have elected not to join a synagogue is that we’d rather spend the money going to Israel. Some of those reasons include the reality expounded on by Larry in Tel Aviv. If you want a solid geographical, cultural, historical connection to being Jewish, you find it in Israel. If you want to understand that being Jewish is both secular and religious at the same time, you learn that in Israel. If you want to know how to establish a lasting Jewish identity, you figure it out in Israel. We were not a group of popes and monks called upon to cordon ourselves off behind incensed walls in medieval monasteries. We were and are a nation and a national identity requires more than just a religious makeup in order to thrive.