Black Americans vote for Democrats 95% of the time. Republicans frequently argue that blacks should recognize the historic role which the Republican Party played in ending slavery, defeating Jim Crow, and fighting for civil rights.
Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly demonstrates in the above clip why that narrative doesn’t connect with blacks. People care more about their present than their past. Ignoring the disproportionate impact that the drug war has had on blacks presents tone deafness to the black community.
O’Reilly claims there is no organized effort among law enforcement to hunt down black people. Fair enough. However, when blacks are four times as likey to be arrested for drug-related crimes despite using drugs at the same rate as whites, there’s clearly some degree of injustice inherent to the system.
That injustice emerges from the nature of drug laws, which prove inherently subjective in their enforcement. When a person is victimized, they call the police and solicit a response. No one calls the police when they produce, distribute, or use a drug. As a result, law enforcement pursue drug suspects informed by bias rather than complaint. That explains the racial disparity, not an explicit policy of “hunting,” but a vulnerability which enables biased enforcement.
This featurette evoking the creative futurism of Walt Disney, which took one form in his Epcot Center and will take another in this year’s feature film Tomorrowland, reminds us how vast the entrepreneur’s vision truly was. He clung to an optimistic view of the future where urban planning would improve the quality of life for new generations.
When we consider such past visions of the future, like that of 2015 imagined in 1989’s Back to the Future, Part II, we clearly see how much they deviate from our modern reality.
Why is it so difficult to predict future developments, and what lesson should we take away from that observation? Technology futurist Daniel Burrus relates in the clip below how we tend to focus on the wrong things when predicting the future. He provides some insights into how to focus on the right things, and profit from it.
Not long after it was announced that Warner Bros. and DC Comics would be producing a Wonder Woman feature film starring Gal Gadot in the title role, the studio made clear their intention to hire a female director for the project. In November, they secured Michelle MacLaren, whose credits including episodes of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul.
Now, MacLaren has departed the project over “creative differences.” AMC Movie News editor-and-chief John Campea expresses his concern in the above clip.
Adding to his observations: was MacLaren hired first and foremost because of her gender? Could these “creative differences” have been avoided had the creative vision taken precedence from day one?
Should this projected demographic shift worry non-Muslims?
Some controversial research suggests that an increase in the percentage of the Muslim population in a country correlates to increasingly aggressive rights-violating behavior from that population. Taken at face value, the numbers present a concern.
However, for Christians and Jews in particular, it would help to remember that minority status does not necessarily translate to domination. The early church was a minority from its conception and remained so for centuries.
Plus, when Christians look at their shared heritage with the Jews, scripture demonstrates that God reveals his sovereignty most dramatically when His people appear to be on the ropes. If a time of persecution approaches, we would do well to retain our faith – not in birthrates and conversions – but in God alone.
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.
— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) April 7, 2015
It may be the coldest possible way to do it. The ruling may nevertheless prove appropriate in some cases. From the Wall Street Journal:
Previously, if you couldn’t find a defendant, you had to leave the notice at a last-known address or publish it in a newspaper, and there was no guarantee the defendant would know about it…
In that context, getting served via Facebook may actually be an improvement. Besides, does the news really sting less served any other way?
Last weekend, we got our first solid glimpse of the upcoming fourth entry in Daniel Craig’s run as James Bond. Retaining creative and narrative elements from the highly successful Skyfall, the new film will continue to mine the character’s previously unspecified past while setting up a future for the franchise rooted in its classic formula.
Titled simply Spectre, this Bond film will finally restore 007′s most persistent and lethal foe, the titular terrorist organization which surpasses the capabilities of nations. Hopefully, this continuity will build up to the return of Bond’s all-time arch nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Could it be that Christoph Waltz’s “Oberhauser” is really that classic mastermind?
Variety has reviewed the new Daredevil television series, which will premiere exclusively on Netflix on April 10. When it comes to the nocturnal adventures of the vigilante-by-night, attorney-by-day Matt Murdock, the verdict is good.
Compared to Marvel’s experience with “Agents of SHIELD” for ABC, operating in Netflix’s pay-to-view world is clearly liberating, in much the way animated direct-to-DVD titles enable the comics companies to cater to knowledgeable fans without needing to worry too much about luring the uninitiated into the tent. And the binge prospect should be helpful in getting people hooked on the overarching adventure, complete with Russian mobsters and feuding crime factions building toward the inevitable Daredevil-Kingpin showdown.
The big winner here is Ben Affleck, whose 2003 turn as the character left a sour taste in audience mouths. The new series may displace our memory of that atrocity, wiping the slate for Affleck’s next big superhero role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
From Collider comes news that the next trailer for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed will be attached to every copy of Avengers: Age of Ulron. The anticipated Marvel blockbuster hits theaters on May 1st. However, some of us will get to see the new Star Wars trailer even sooner than that.
The new trailer will first premiere at the Star Wars Celebration convention, which runs from April 16th to 19th, and Age of Ultron’s international release starts rolling out on April 22nd, so the question is when Disney/Lucasfilm will decide to put the Star Wars trailer online to avoid a low-quality version hitting first…
That seems likely. Certainly, releasing the trailer ahead of any bootlegs would be in keeping with previous choices Disney has made, such as when the first teaser for Age of Ultron was leaked online a few days before schedule.
The Star Wars teaser, which landed in December a full year prior to the film’s scheduled release, surprised fans with its reveal of a Sith cross-saber. The weapon generated more than a little controversy. What other surprises does director J.J. Abrams have in store?
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.
image illustration via shutterstock / advent
From the things-that-make-you-feel-old trivia file, it has been nearly a decade since the final Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith, debuted in theaters. It’s been a full ten years since the last iteration of the Battlefield-inspired shooter Star Wars Battlefront hit PCs and consoles.
In the years since, rumors of a third Battlefront game utilizing modern technology have been persistent. It wasn’t long after Disney acquired Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries, including video game publisher LucasArts, that official news of a modern follow-up was announced.
Now, we know when we’ll get our first real glimpse at the new game. EA Star Wars reveals:
We’re thrilled to share that Star Wars Battlefront will be taking part in Star Wars™ Celebration next month in Anaheim, CA from April 16-19. We could not think of a better or more appropriate place to debut the game officially for the first time than the premier event that celebrates the Star Wars universe and the legions of fans who have fallen in love with it. For more information on Star Wars Celebration and ways to attend, please visit http://starwarscelebration.com.
It’s a good time to be a Star Wars fan.
As Hollywood continues to rake recent decades for old material to tell in new form, The Hollywood Reporter reveals that 1989′s Alien Nation will be remade soon:
The original was set in a near future where humans and a race of aliens are forced to co-exist, tenuously, as humans keep the newcomers mostly segregated and without rights. The story then told of the first alien police officer, who is paired with a racially insensitive partner. Soon, however, a case comes along that brings the two together in friendship and respect.
Alien Nation managed the feat, rare for its time, of combining science fiction elements with an otherwise relatable human story. While promoting a clear social agenda, it remained entertaining and engaging, and didn’t feel too overwrought or preachy. Will a modern retelling model similar restraint?
Five years ago, Tom Emmer was a Tea Party darling. An underdog in the 2010 contest for the Republican Party of Minnesota’s endorsement to run for governor, Emmer attracted support from the then-nascent movement. After securing the party’s nod, he came within one-half of one-percent in the general election, barely losing to billionaire department store heir Mark Dayton.
Emmer went from candidate to commentator, headlining the morning show at Twin Cities News Talk AM 1130 alongside libertarian talker Bob Davis. The duo often spent their mornings eviscerating the Republican establishment for failing to uphold conservative principles.
Then, an opportunity arose. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann announced that she would not seek re-election. Her 2012 win had been certified with the slimmest margin to date, less than her largely conservative district suggested should occur. Added to her high-profile and controversial style on the national stage, Bachmann’s underperformance on the ballot attracted pledges of support for her would-be Democratic challenger in 2014. By stepping aside, Bachmann rebalanced the scales for a fresh face.
Emmer offered his name for the job. Having established his brand both within the conservative choir and beyond, his campaign sailed to victory last year.
Then, everything changed.
Emmer’s first vote as a newly sworn-in member of Congress was cast to re-elect John Boehner as speaker of the House. It was a vote that Bachmann had taken on more than one occasion. But while her votes had been forgiven or overlooked entirely, Emmer’s was called out with no holds barred.
The Minnesota Tea Party Alliance, an organization coordinating multiple local groups, took to their digital channels to proclaim that Emmer had “betrayed” them:
[Voters] put a man in office with the expectation that he would fight for smaller government and more liberty. However, in his first real test vote as a conservative, Tom Emmer voted wrong and against the wishes of his conservative base by voting for John Boehner as Speaker.
Emmer seemed taken off guard, as did many long-time party activists and observers who wondered who else Emmer was supposed to support. State Senator Branden Petersen, generally considered among the most libertarian, anti-establishment members of his caucus, risked the ire of his supporters to speak out in defense of Emmer. He wrote:
Tom Emmer cast the only vote that made sense. Absent a challenger to Boehner, it is absurd to think that he would strip himself of all credibility with the power structure in the House in order to “make a statement.” Let’s be clear, the only outcome was that John Boehner was going to be elected. Let us suppose that he and others did vote someone/thing other than Boehner, then what? A second ballot is what happens. AND . . . eventually Boehner would be elected. Except now Emmer used his first vote to burn all bridges but NOT in favor of a better Speaker candidate, but in favor of NO alternative. There was not a better candidate for Speaker that actually DID THE WORK to campaign for Speaker.
The Minnesota Tea Party Alliance would hear none of it, and continued hammering away.
Most recently, Emmer took another vote that again raised their ire, opting to fund the Department of Homeland Security rather than protest President Obama’s executive amnesty.
Once again, the Tea Party slammed him:
Too often, politicians go out to Washington and forget the principles that got them there in the first place. After voting for Boehner for Speaker and funding Obama’s amnesty program, it looks like Tom has become out of touch with his conservative CD6 roots.
Emmer countered through several media outlets and by attending a metro meeting of a Tea Party Patriots group, which is not affiliated with the Alliance. His case rested upon the federal government’s constitutional obligation to protect the American people from threats posed by foreign aggressors. Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty should be fought, he said, but not at the expense of national security.
For many constituents in his district, the justification seemed more like a rationalization. The vote was seen as a simple black-and-white dichotomy. Either defund Obama’s executive amenity, or betray principle.
Are these constituents right? Is the standard they’ve set reasonable?
Principles may be black and white. But their application rarely is.
A confrontational political model popular among ideological activists advocates a black-and-white approach to dealing with incumbents. Vote our way or face a primary!
There are circumstances where such a model works. But even those who teach it will tell you that battles must be carefully chosen, evaluated in the context of an overall strategy to achieve specific goals.
Increasingly, however, confrontation between activists and incumbent politicians seems random, vicious, and unmoored from any sense of purpose.
It’s a phenomenon that was referenced in remarks by the keynote speaker at this past weekend’s Minnesota state convention of the Republican Liberty Caucus. An up-and-coming force out of Texas by the name of Corie Whalen Stephens demonstrated a grasp of how to apply principle effectively – not just harp about it.
Corie comes from a state that is, in many ways, the polar opposite of Minnesota. Texas is a state where Republicans are dominant and the liberty movement is large and effective. That’s reflected in the approach that Corie takes toward politics. She’s slow to anger, slow to condemn, and very slow to write people off.
It’s an attitude scarce in Minnesota, where atrophy and attrition within the Tea Party and allied movements have left fewer stalwarts fighting against steeper odds. Those who have remained active have become increasingly desperate to see results. More than that, the standard by which those results are measured has been raised ever higher.
We see this exhibited in the relationship between Tom Emmer and the Tea Party Alliance. When Emmer voted to re-elect Boehner as speaker of the House, it was immediately condemned as a betrayal in spite of the fact that Bachmann also voted for Boehner on multiple occasions. Why wasn’t she also called a traitor? Some may have objected here and there, but any assault wasn’t on the scale of that aimed at Emmer.
The point here is not that some double-standard has been employed, but rather that the standard has been raised from when Bachmann was in office. It seems likely that the standard has been raised due to an ever-increasing degree of frustration and disappointment among activists.
Many have grown less tolerant and more absolutist in response to wave after wave of horrendous policies and disappointing conduct from those elected to office.
Corie, who comes from a state that’s in far less desperate circumstances than Minnesota, exhibits a much more tolerant attitude toward “bad votes.” It’s not that she thinks bad votes should be ignored, but rather that particular legislators need to be evaluated in a larger context. Is this person advancing the cause of liberty overall? If the answer is no, then fire away. If the answer is yes, then help them succeed. If the jury is still out, hold your fire and try to shape an environment where their future votes will be more favorable.
Such nuance does not come easy to frustrated activists who feel like corned animals. They don’t want to think. They want to act. They want to fight. More importantly, they want someone to fight for them, and they want to see that fight more than they want to see tangible policy results. So when a politician like Emmer talks about maintaining bridges with leadership so he can be effective, he’s speaking another language from much of his constituents.
What may be missing from many activists’ consideration is the hidden dimension of caucus politics in Washington. Does Barack Obama’s executive amnesty need to be opposed? Absolutely. But who came up with the idea to put DHS funding in the crosshairs? Increasingly, the strategy seems like a preconceived move by the House leadership to run a bait and switch on principled conservatives.
A while back, I wrote a piece asking whether Boehner had finally grown a spine. It was a reaction to this strategy of holding DHS funding ransom in exchange for defunding the executive amnesty. It didn’t add up why a guy who was so adamantly opposed to Ted Cruz’s defund strategy for Obamacare would try something similar with Obama’s amnesty.
But it all makes sense now: Boehner never intended for the strategy to work. He wanted overly zealous members of his caucus, motivated by the demands of desperate activists, to take the bait and vote against national security. He could then launch attacks against those members as soon as the vote went down. That’s exactly what has happened.
If this theory is accurate, then by demanding that members of Congress vote against DHS funding, constituents unwittingly did the bidding of Boehner, who wins either way with this strategy. If Emmer had voted against DHS funding, then he would have been targeted with attack ads for being soft on public safety. Like it or not, that would have been an effective narrative because most people outside the activist choir don’t think DHS should be defunded. On the other hand, by voting for the DHS funding, Emmer has evoked the wrath of his conservative base, which has the effect of alienating him from that base. Such alienation benefits the moderate establishment by isolating Emmer and making him more susceptible to bad votes when it actually counts.
If the leadership in Congress really wanted to go after Obama’s executive amnesty, they would have done so when the continuing resolution was up back in December. Or, if they wanted to wait until this year, they could have gone after the funding directly instead of tying it to all of DHS.
This was a calculated move based on the leadership’s read of how both members of Congress and constituents back home would react. We’re all sitting at a high-stakes poker table, and the leadership is playing at a level where the cards held matter far less than the ability to read tells and then manipulate others’ reactions.
For a member like Emmer to make good votes, he needs more than chastising when he votes wrong, he needs a base of support that he can count on when he votes right. The strategy theorized above aims to erode that support, and thus erode the value proposition for voting well. The strategy rests upon the predictable knee-jerk response of activists, applying their elevated level of expectation to every single vote regardless of context.
The above photo shows a sign of mysterious origin that has been used to deface a number of businesses in Austin, Texas. The New York Daily News readily identifies the signs as racist, and city officials were quick to disown them:
“This is an appalling and offensive display of ignorance in our city,” [Austin Mayor Steve] Adler said in a statement. “Austin condemns this type of hurtful behavior. Our city is a place where respect for all people is a part of our spirit and soul. We will keep it that way.”
Certainly, it would be racist for businesses to discriminate against customers for no other reason than skin color. Yet, when we flip the script, we can find countless examples of non-whites discriminating against whites for the same reason.
This article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune casually reports on an effort to recruit more “teachers of color” in pursuit of “racial diversity.” It’s said that students learn better if they “share the same background and identities” as their teachers.
Is that really the message we want to teach the next generation, that you need to be around people that look like you in order to learn well? Isn’t that as segregationist and racist a sentiment as any ever expressed?
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.
That first teaser trailer for the forthcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron was remarkable. The menace in James Spader’s voice performance crafted a tone befitting a threat big enough to bring Earth’s mightiest heroes back together.
But lost amidst the darkness was any sense of fun from the original. A big part of what made the first movie such a success was the humor and tense banter between the heroes. Working as a team doesn’t necessarily mean you always get along, and the vast differences in personality between characters like Iron Man and Captain America set the stage for some fun rivalries.
With the latest TV spot for Age of Ultron, shown above, we finally get a glimpse of that light-hearted banter and the popcorn-munching fun that comes along with it. Everyone’s having a good time here, even as they face an existential threat to the human race.
This is also the first promotion since the teaser trailer that delivers a significant amount of new footage. Those spots which have landed in the interim have only been tweaked slightly from the teaser. Here we get to see a lot more of each hero in action, along with additional dialogue.
The one weak point seems to be Quicksilver, whose incarnation by Godzilla and Kick-Ass star Aaron Taylor-Johnson will inevitably be compared to Evan Peters’ portrayal in X-Men: Days of Future Past. It’s a little odd to have two interations of the same character appearing in two ongoing Marvel franchises. The fact that Peter’s Quicksilver was so well-received, described by many as stealing the show, sets the bar high for Taylor-Johnson. From what we get of him in this trailer, he’s got a lot of catching up to do.
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.
Please join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the twenty-fifth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring 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
- Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek
- Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
- Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
- David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
- Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
- Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
- Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
- Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
- Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
- Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
- Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
- Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
- Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
- Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
- Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
- Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?
- Mark Ellis on March 12: The Future of Civilized Society: One World
- Aaron C. Smith on March 12: Why Civilization Is a Gift to Bullies
- David S. Bernstein on March 12: Nihilism & Feminism for Girls: Has Judd Apatow Let Lena Dunham Self-Destruct Intentionally?
- Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 15: Why I Am Jewish
- Chris Queen on March 15: Why I Am Non-Denominational Christian
- Allston on March 16: Counter-Culture Wars, Part 1: Why the Fellow Travelers Hijacked Folk Music
- Ronald R. Cherry on March 17: How To Untangle Orwellian Doublethink: 4 Secrets To Help You Spot BS
- Dave Swindle on March 18: Do Fairy Tales & Scary Stories Hide Secrets For Defeating Evil?
See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:
2014 – Starting the Discussion…
- Sarah Hoyt, March 22 2014: Interview: Adam Bellow Unveils New Media Publishing Platform Liberty Island
- David S. Bernstein, June 20 2014: What Is Liberty Island?
- Adam Bellow at National Review, June 30 2014 kicking off the discussion: Let Your Right Brain Run Free
- Dave Swindle on September 7, 2014: Why Culture Warriors Should Understand the 10 Astounding Eras of Disney Animation’s Evolution
- Dave Swindle on September 9, 2014: The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part I
- Dave Swindle on September 19, 2014: The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part II
- David S. Bernstein on November 19, 2014: 5 Leaders of the New Conservative Counter-Culture
- Liberty Island on November 22nd, 2014: A Unique Team of 33 Creative Writers
- Dave Swindle on November 25, 2014: 7 Reasons Why Thanksgiving Will Be My Last Day on Facebook
- Kathy Shaidle on November 25, 2014: Is America Overdue for a Satanic Revival? (Part One)
- Dave Swindle on December 2, 2014: My Growing List of 65 Read-ALL-Their-Books Authors
- Kathy Shaidle on December 3, 2014: Is America Overdue for a Satanic Revival? (Part Two)
- Mark Elllis on December 9, 2014: Ozzy Osbourne and the Conservative Tent: Is He In?
- Aaron C. Smith on December 22, 2014: The Villains You Choose
January 2015 – Volume I
- Paula Bolyard on January 1, 2015: 7 New Year’s Resolutions for Conservatives
- Susan L.M. Goldberg on January 1, 2015: The Plan to Take Back Feminism in 2015
- Kathy Shaidle on January 4, 2015: Did the 1960s Really Happen? (Part One)
- Andrew Klavan on January 5, 2015: In 2015 The New Counter-Culture Needs to Be Offensive!
- Clay Waters on January 5, 2015: The Decline and Fall of Russell Brand
- Mark Ellis on January 5, 2015: How Conservatives Can Counter the Likable Liberal
- Audie Cockings on January 5, 2015: Entertainers Have Shorter Lifespans
- Aaron C. Smith on January 6, 2015: How Mario Cuomo Honestly Defined Zero-Sum Liberalism
- Stephen McDonald on January 10, 2015: Why the New Counter-Culture Should Make Strength Central to Its Identity
- Stephen McDonald on January 16, 2015: The Metaphorical War
- Kathy Shaidle on January 19, 2015: Did the 1960s Really Happen? (Part Two)
- Frank J. Fleming on January 20, 2015: What if Red Dawn Happened, But It Was Islamic Terrorists Instead of Communists?
- Mark Ellis on January 21, 2015: Adam Carolla: The Quintessential Counterculture Conservative?
- Aaron C. Smith on January 29, 2015: Objection! Why TV’s The Good Wife Isn’t Good Law
- David Solway on February 2, 2015: For a Song To Be Good, Must It Tell The Truth?
- Mark Ellis on February 6, 2015: President Me: Adam Carolla Vs. the Scourge of Narcissism
- David Solway on February 6, 2015: ‘Imagine’ a World Without the Brotherhood
- Kathy Shaidle on February 9, 2015: Was Rod McKuen the Secret Godfather of Punk Rock?
- Aaron C. Smith on February 10, 2015: Kick NBC While It’s Down: Use The Williams Scandal to Set the Terms of the 2016 Debates
- Spencer Klavan on February 12, 2015: How to Apologize for Your Thought Crimes
- Kathy Shaidle on February 16, 2015: David Byrne: Creepy Liberal Hypocrite
- David P. Goldman on February 18, 2015: Understanding This Bloody Truth About the Bible Will Save Your Life
- Lisa De Pasquale on February 20, 2015: Why American Sniper Is a Much Better Love Story Than Fifty Shades of Grey
- Spencer Klavan on February 24, 2015: How Bad Ideology Destroys Good TV: Why Glee Crashed and Burned
Many of the labels utilized in our political discourse do not accurately describe the ideas or movements associated with them. “Progressives” do not actually advocate for the means by which human progress occurs. “Liberals” are not actually liberal in the classical meaning of the term. Many who claim to be “anti-war” likewise have little grasp of what opposition to war requires.
Typically, when someone claims to be “anti-war,” they really just object to the existence of war. Conventional anti-war rhetoric boils down to, “I don’t like war, and don’t think it should happen.”
One could say the same thing about any unpleasantness. You could be anti-cancer and say, “I don’t like cancer, and don’t think people should get it.” You could be anti-pain and say, “I don’t like pain, and don’t think people should feel it.” Such sentiments amount to little more than wishes, and suggest nothing of practical merit regarding how people ought to act.
As the dictionary defines the term, to be truly anti-war is to be “opposed to war in general or to the conduct of a specific war.” For purposes of this discussion, let us go with “opposed to war in general.”
In order for such opposition to mean something beyond impotent sentiment, one must identify the causes of war and take a stand against them. Conversely, one must identify the causes of peace and take a stand for them.
Craig Biddle, editor-in-chief of The Objective Standard, outlined these causes in a piece authored late last year:
Our concern here is not the proximate causes of war and peace, such as the fact that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor or that Japan surrendered to the United States or the like. Rather, our concern is the fundamental causes of war and peace, the causes that underlie and cause the proximate causes.
In terms of fundamentals, both war and peace are consequences of certain ideas and aims, which, when sufficiently accepted as true or good by the people of a given society, give rise to corresponding norms and policies that, in turn, either lead to war or enable peace. The fundamental causes of war are statism, collectivism, altruism, mysticism, and evasion; those of peace are capitalism, individualism, egoism, rationality, and honesty.
Read Biddle’s piece for elaboration on these causes. Suffice it to say that peace proceeds from the choice to live by reason. To the extent a society embraces reason as its guide for action, it will be peaceful. To the extent it doesn’t, there will inevitably be war.
It’s important to note that the choice of one nation to embrace reason and thus act peacefully will not cause other nations to follow suit. This dynamic plays out whether between nations or individuals. If you meet a mugger in a dark alley who draws a gun and demands your wallet, your choice to live by reason does not change his choice to live by force. You cannot reason your way to peace when faced with aggression. You can only submit or fight back.
Neville Chamberlain did not accept this truth. He believed that Hitler, a man who had abandoned reason and chosen to live by force, could be reasoned with or appeased. Chamberlain was proven wrong. The only way to oppose Hitler, and thereby oppose the war which Hitler brought, was to defeat him.
The West faces a similar enemy today, as Biddle relates:
Why do Muslims believe that Allah exists, that Islamic scriptures convey his will, and that they morally must obey his will? They believe it because they accept the notion that knowledge can be acquired by non-sensory, non-rational means—such as faith—and because they have faith.
Why can’t serious Muslims be reasoned out of this insanity? Because to accept ideas on faith is to reject reason. If a person can “know” by means of non-sensory, non-rational means, he has no need of sense or reason. He just “knows.” Moreover, on the premise that faith is a means of knowledge, he cannot be wrong: If faith is a means of knowledge, then faith is a means of knowledge; if his faith tells him that he should convert or kill infidels, then he knows that that is what he should do.
To be anti-war, one must be pro-reason. But this will not prevent those who act irrationally from starting wars. Therefore, to be consistently anti-war, once must also oppose those who act aggressively. Practically, there exists only one way aggressors can be opposed, with overwhelming retaliatory force.
The conventional foreign policy wisdom rejects this view.
Debate in foreign policy circles spans a spectrum from so-called realism to so-called liberalism. The realists hold that national interests must be maintained in an amoral fashion, leveraging power to keep perceived enemies weak and perceived allies strong. The liberals come from the Chamberlain school of appeasement and evasion. Neither bases their views and policies on the principle of individual rights:
… when an enemy of America quotes his religious scripture to the effect that his “God” commands him to convert or kill unbelievers—when that same enemy founds a nation with a constitution stating that it intends to make everyone on the planet submit to his God—when that same enemy issues textbooks to its grade-school students “teaching” them that to be noble they must engage in jihad and kill infidels—when that same enemy materially and spiritually sponsors terrorist groups that murder many thousands of Americans in the name of this godly mission—when that same enemy pursues nuclear weapons while chanting “Death to America”—and on and on—honesty requires that Americans and their leaders acknowledge this enemy as an enemy that must be eliminated unequivocally and immediately.
Eliminating the enemy has not been the objective of American foreign policy. Instead, the aim has been “winning hearts and minds” or “spreading democracy” or “liberating” oppressed foreigners. When we consider how the War on Terror has eclipsed the span of World War II by many years, we should recognize that modern foreign policy goals fail to eliminate our enemies, fail to end wars, and thus fail to keep us safe.
To be truly anti-war, to act in a manner which practically ends wars, we must pursue action which neutralizes aggression.
That means, among other things, re-evaluating rules of engagement which sacrifice American blood and treasure.
[In Vietnam,] the U.S. government forced American boys to join the military, sent them to fight in jungles on behalf of strangers, and forbade them to use the full capabilities of the U.S. military to win quickly and return home.
Consequently, after more than a decade of unspeakably horrific war, fueled by hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ money, America lost the war at the human cost of more than 58,000 American soldiers killed, more than 153,000 wounded or maimed, and nightmare-laden lives or suicide for several hundred thousand more.
Many opposed the Vietnam War. However, for the most part, they were not anti-war in a practical sense. They did not demand victory. They demanded only “peace.”
When faced with aggression, peace without victory is surrender. Being pro-surrender does not make one anti-war. If anything, it invites aggressors to be aggressive.
It’s not enough to be for peace. One must be for the means by which peace is sustainably made. That requires a strong response to threats and aggression, unrestrained by sacrificial rules of engagement, with the aim to end wars quickly and bring our troops home.
Catch up on this series’ previous installments: Part I: “Christianity’s Human Sacrifice Problem,” Part II: “Is Religion Illogical?” Part III: “Would Christians Object to Living Indefinitely Through Technology?,” Part IV: “Is Religion Compatible with Life on Earth?,” Part V: “Atheists Can Be Moral, Too” Part VI: “Morality Is Objective, and We Can Prove It“
Given the term’s religious origins, it should be no wonder why “sacrifice” holds sacred status in our culture. Parents are lauded for the sacrifices they make on behalf of their children. Those who serve in the military, or in law enforcement, or those who risk their lives to put out fires — all are praised for the sacrifices they make for their community. We are persistently called to sacrifice in both public and private life. Policies have been sold by appealing to “what you can do for your country.”
This broad use of the term “sacrifice” fails to distinguish between two concepts which should not be confused with each other. Most of the above examples of “sacrifice” are actually profitable transactions where something of lesser value is given up in exchange for something of greater value. Contrasted to that, appeals to sacrifice in our political discourse frequently call for transactions where something of greater value is given up in exchange for something of lesser or no value.
To highlight this distinction, let’s work through a few examples.
A parent who gives up a trip to Paris or an expensive hobby so they can afford to send their children to private school is not giving up something of greater value for something of lesser value. They have determined in their judgment that the education of their children is a higher value than the vacation or hobby. Most parents do not resent their children as unjust drains upon their happiness.
A college student who gives up a night on the town with friends so they may study for a big test has not sacrificed something of greater value. They have determined in their judgment that their academic success is a higher value than the short-term pleasure of a night out. Most graduates clutching their diploma do not wish they had spent less time studying and more time drinking.
When we consider the role of a firefighter or a soldier, the calculus gets a little more complicated. But the principle remains the same. A firefighter who runs into a burning building does not do so with the intent to die, but with the intent to save. He assumes a risk, not because he deems his life of lesser value than the lives of others, but because he values life as such and seeks a world where those in danger are rescued.
Similarly, even in a scenario where soldiers are ordered to their deaths, they follow not because they want to die, but – with apologies to Mel Gibson – because they want to live. A world where evil is fought, where rights are preserved and liberty protected, offers a higher value than a life lived in slavery to tyrants. If one dies in pursuit of a life lived on their terms, it cannot be said that they sacrificed anything. The sacrifice would be to live in chains.
Indeed, what we really mean when we say that a solider or his family “sacrificed” for our freedom is that they exhibited virtue in pursuit of liberty. It seems unlikely that any particular soldier who has been killed in action had a total stranger in mind at the time and thought, “This is for you.” Rather, we at home stand as peripheral beneficiaries of the soldier’s pursuit of self-interest. He wants to live life on his terms, not on the terms of a tyrant. He wants his family and friends back home to be safe and to live free, and is willing to act accordingly. He’s willing to die if necessary, but death is not what he’s seeking.
The distinction here is between the pursuit of self-interest and the sacrifice of it. Many of the things we term “sacrifice” are actually rational pursuits of self-interest. Even when the pursuit risks or assures death, it’s still motivated by chosen life-affirming values. By contrast, real sacrifice is selfless in the sense that it betrays one’s values for the sake of something which isn’t a value. By conflating the two, we muddy the rhetorical waters, particularly in the political discourse.
When a politician comes to you pitching a new tax or restriction and sells it as a “sacrifice” for the sake of fill-in-the-blank, they are appealing to the sense of responsibility which compels you to prioritize your interests. They say such-and-such policy is “for the children.” You think about your children and what you’d be willing to do for them. The problem is, the policy isn’t limited to what you do with your resources for your children. Nor is it an appeal to charity wherein you choose to use your resources in support of a cause you favor. It is a call to sacrifice your values for those determined by others.
Indeed, to be truly altruistic, one cannot value the cause which they support. If you value the cause, then you’re just pursuing your own interest, and the altruists won’t give you any credit. This is, in part, why private charity is derided by leftists as an inadequate response the plight of the poor. If you only give to those you deem worthy, you’re discriminating against and neglecting those who need your help the most — those whom you do not deem worthy. It’s to these that you must sacrifice.
You’ve probably heard by now that director Paul Feig will helm a rebooted Ghostbusters film starring an all-female cast. From his previous work on the highly successful Bridesmaids, he’s bringing over Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. They will be joined by SNL performers Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones.
The official announcement came after many years of perennial rumors, mostly driven by original Ghostbusters star Dan Aykroyd. The actor desperately sought a revival of the franchise in the form of a third sequel to the original film. The elder cast would perhaps hand the reins over to a group of younger paranormal investigators. With last year’s untimely death of actor Harold Ramis, who also co-wrote the original, the prospect of a Ghostbusters 3 seemed to fade.
Sony Pictures’ choice to reboot the franchise entirely, to dispense with established continuity and begin fresh with an all-female cast, seemed odd enough. Now we get even weirder news.
Not long after Sony announced a deal with Marvel Studios enabling Spider-Man to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and endure yet another reboot), it was also announced that Captain America: The Winter Solider directors Joe and Anthony Russo had signed a deal with Sony to helm projects there. Given the Russo brothers’ history with Marvel Studios and the recent MCU deal, the conventional wisdom among observers was that the Russos were taking over the Spider-Man franchise.
As it turns out, the Russos’ first project with Sony won’t be Spider-Man or a related property. Entertainment Weekly reports:
[Sony], along with Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd, is establishing Ghostcorps, a company that will develop movies, TV, and merchandising around the Ghostbusters…
After the female-led Paul Feig movie, the first task for the company will be a film directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, who recently signed a deal with Sony. The Russos will produce along with Reitman, Reid Carolin, Peter Kiernan, and Channing Tatum, who is being eyed to star.
Deadline first reported on the company and the film. “We want to expand the Ghostbusters universe in ways that will include different films, TV shows, merchandise, all things that are part of modern filmed entertainment,” Reitman told Deadline. “This is a branded entertainment, a scary supernatural premise mixed with comedy.”
Absent further details, the whole thing sounds a bit odd. Are there going to be multiple Ghostbuster teams running around? Is the Tatum/Russo project going to follow the continuity of the original films? It seems strange that the same studio would be pursuing two different projects within the same franchise utilizing completely different creative teams.
Are you interested in either of these projects? Or should Ghostbusters rest in peace?
Catch up on this series’ previous installments: Part I: “Christianity’s Human Sacrifice Problem,” Part II: “Is Religion Illogical?” Part III: “Would Christians Object to Living Indefinitely Through Technology?,” Part IV: “Is Religion Compatible with Life on Earth?,” Part V: “Atheists Can Be Moral, Too“
What is morality anyway? You might think it goes without saying. But different people don’t always mean the same thing when they claim an act is moral or immoral.
For believers, morality tends to boil down to obeying God’s commandments. When we say this is moral and that is not, we mean it conforms with or diverges from biblical prescriptions.
With that as our view of morality, it becomes easy to see why we might claim that there can be no morality without God. We’ve set God’s commandments as our standard of value. But what if, by doing so, we’ve placed the proverbial cart before the horse? Are God’s commandants good because he said so? Or does God issue commandments because they are good?
Before we can rationally tackle such questions, we need to define our terms. In his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts That Support It, author Craig Biddle leads us on a path toward discovering a morality induced from the facts we perceive in creation:
To begin, note that the basic fact that makes morality such a difficult subject is the very fact that makes it a subject in the first place: free will. As human beings we have the faculty of volition, the power of choice; we choose our actions. This fact gives rise to our need of morality. Indeed, the realm of morality is the realm of choice. What makes the issue complicated is the fact that our choices are guided by our values – which are also chosen. This is why it is so difficult to get to the bottom of morality. Human values are chosen – every last one of them. Consequently, peoples’ values seem to differ in every imaginable way.
Nearly all of our chosen values are subjective. I like basketball. You like football. Which of us is right?
We tend to recognize that there is no “right” choice between such values. We may be tempted to extrapolate that there are no “right” choices at all, that all values are subjective. That’s the argument of moral relativism.
One such relativist was the philosopher David Hume, who presented an alleged unbridgeable gap between that which is and how we ought to act. This “is-ought gap” suggests that there is no way to leap from the facts of reality to a code of conduct, that there is no objective standard of value.
It turns out that Hume was wrong. There is an objective standard of value. Proving it requires no reference to God or religion. The is-ought gap was bridged in the last century by the discoveries of philosopher Ayn Rand. She wrote in her essay “The Objectivist Ethics”:
There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence – and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible. it changes form, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of “Life” that makes the concept of “Value” possible.
Biddle adds in his commentary:
The reason why living things need values is: in order to live. The answer to the question “for what?”is: for life.
Life is the ultimate end served by our pursuit of values, and thus reigns as our objective standard of value. Something has value to us only to the extent that it furthers or enhances our life.
But what do we mean by “objective”? Isn’t the idea that life is the standard of value just Rand’s opinion? Can’t you choose another standard based on your subjective tastes? Biddle answers:
No, free will do not make the issue subjective. It does mean that a person can choose not to live; but it does not mean that he can choose a standard of value other than life.
… Without life there would be no one to whom anything could be beneficial or harmful. And why do such alternatives matter one way or the other? Because of the requirements of life. They are values or non-values only in relation to the alternative of life or death – and only for the purpose of promoting one’s life. The fact that we have free will does not change any of this; it simply grants us a choice in the matter: to live or not to live – to be or not to be.
Having discovered this objective standard of value, we have our reference point for further unveiling an objective morality. From the fact of our own existence as living beings with a particular nature, we can rationally ascertain what we ought to do.
Generally speaking, we ought to work to provide for our needs. We ought to act to obtain or keep that which furthers our survival and makes us happy.
This happiness, the sort referenced by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, is not a hedonistic whim. It’s not chocolate for a diabetic. It’s not an affair for a married man. Rather, true happiness is gauged in the context of how life works and what we can reasonably expect to follow from our actions. The diabetic who eats lots of chocolate may gain short-term pleasure, but at the expense of his long-term well-being. The same can be said of the adulterer.
Odd how this objective morality, discovered by an unrepentant atheist, starts to dimly echo the Ten Commandments. Indeed, if God exists, and if He created the universe, it follows that his moral commandments would jive with the facts of his crafted reality – that He would prescribe action in our best interest.
While Biddle, Rand, and other Objectivist thinkers reject religion on principle, believers need not reject the morality they present. On the contrary, recognizing objective morality glorifies God. Romans 1:19-20 reads:
… that which is known about God is evident within [man]; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
Paul here says, in essence, that we can induce from the world – from what is – what we ought to do.
If we entertain objective morality as believers, we are presented with a challenge to some of our doctrine. In particular, we must figure out what to do with our human sacrifice problem. If life is the standard of value, which it’s fair to say we have firmly established, then how can sacrificing life ever be moral?
Biddle sets the context for deliberation:
Since each person is objectively a separate being with his own body, his own mind, his own life – since life is an attribute of the individual – each person’s own life is his own ultimate value. Each individual is morally an end in himself – not a means to the ends of others. Accordingly, a person has neither a moral duty to sacrifice himself for the sake of others (as religion and social subjectivism claim) nor a moral right to sacrifice others for his own sake (as personal subjectivism [or hedonism] claims). On principle, neither self-sacrifice nor sacrifice of others is moral, because, on principle, human sacrifice as such is immoral.
What then must we do with the Christian reverence for sacrifice? What do we do with Abraham’s offering of Issac? With Christ’s work on the cross? How do we categorize things like military service or working as a firefighter? How do we regard charity, parenthood, marriage, and a hundred other human interactions which are typically associated with sacrifice in a positive connotation?
That’s our subject for next week.
We’ve had some time to process the news of Leonard Nimoy’s death. The character which Nimoy helped create inspired generations to seek balance between discipline and feeling. Let’s take a look back through Spock’s trek through the stars in these 10 clips from the franchise.
What It Means To Be Vulcan
In one of the most definitive moments from the original series, Spock finds himself torn between his dual natures when a debilitating attack upon Captain Kirk leaves Spock in command of the Enterprise during a critical diplomatic mission.
The wrinkle is that Spock’s father lies sick among the delegation, succumbing to a malady that only a transfusion from Spock can resolve. But yielding to the procedure would compromise Spock’s capacity to command while the ship is under threat, and so logic dictates that he mind his Starfleet duty and allow his father to die.
Spock’s human mother pleads for him to reconsider in this heated confrontation.
Catch up on this series’ previous installments: Part I: “Christianity’s Human Sacrifice Problem,” Part II: “Is Religion Illogical?” Part III: “Would Christians Object to Living Indefinitely Through Technology?,” Part IV: Is Religion Compatible with Life on Earth?
Can There Be Objective Morality without God?
Believers commonly assert that, without God, there can be no “objective right and wrong.” Yet, such an assertion ignores what it means to be objective. When we identify something as objective rather than subjective, we’re saying it can be observed in the real world. We’re saying it can be perceived, or conceived through reason applied to our perception. Even the most fervent believer must confess that God transcends our human perception, and therefore cannot be cited as a source of objective morality.
The appeal to God as a source of morality proceeds from our recognition that some standard must be applied to our decision-making process. Otherwise, anything goes. In his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts That Support It, author Craig Biddle addresses this problem:
The problem is not: “If there is no God, anything goes.” The problem is: If there is no objective standard of value, anything goes. If there is no rationally provable standard of value, there is no way to defend with moral certainty what is right or to condemn with moral certainty what is wrong. The alternative is not religion versus subjectivism, but reason versus subjectivism – and the secular subjectivists know it.
The secular subjectivists Biddle references are those within the culture who reject religion as a source of morality, but make no effort to replace it with anything concrete. They suffice to say that morality emerges from social convention or rests in the eye of the beholder. What is right, they claim, is what makes you feel good, or what results in the greatest happiness for the greatest number, or what serves the “common good.”
How Do We Respond to Secular Subjectivism and Moral Relativism?
Believers offer our appeal to God as the source of “objective morality” in answer to such blatant subjectivism or moral relativism. Right and wrong can’t be left to whim, we argue. But our appeal to God doesn’t solve the problem.
Subjectivism – whether personal, social, or “supernatural” – wreaks havoc on human life and happiness. Until we can answer it with (genuine) moral certainty – that is, until we can show that morality is based on facts – it will continue to do so. From muggings and rapes, to school shootings and truck bombings, to concentration camps and gulags, to religious “inquisitions” and divinely inspired acts of terrorism – all such mayhem is caused by subjectivism. And the is-ought dichotomy is what makes subjectivism seem plausible.
The “Is-Ought” Dichotomy
This “is-ought dichotomy” is the philosophical dead end in which believers spar with secular subjectivists. Our culture has given up on the task of discovering a truly objective morality, because we have largely bought into the notion that values cannot be derived from facts, that we cannot discern an “ought” from an “is.”
The Moral Abyss of David Hume’s Philosophy
Biddle points to the eighteenth century philosopher David Hume as the originator of the is-ought dichotomy. Hume taught that it is logically impossible to transition from observable facts about the natural world to a code of conduct or set of values. The problem with Hume’s conclusion is that it leaves us with nowhere to go, with no moral anchor nor any means to discover one.
The is-ought gap represents a moral abyss. If we care about human life and happiness, we need to bridge it. We need to ground morality in reality; we need to discover a rationally provable ultimate end – a standard of value derived from observation and logic.
Christian believers should not feel discouraged or threatened by this. Indeed, scripture exhorts us to look to creation for general revelation regarding the character and nature of God. Paul says in Romans 1:20:
For [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
The Natural World Provides Guideposts for Appropriate Human Action
The primary such guidepost is a standard of value from which to judge the appropriateness of all other conceived values, an end unto itself which all other ends support.
An end is a goal toward which one acts; a means is the action one takes toward a goal. For instance, if a student studies in order to get an education, the education is an end toward which his studying is the means. Likewise, if a person works in order to earn a paycheck, the paycheck is an end toward which his work is the means. But notice that such goals are not ends in themselves. A student gets an education so that he can pursue a career – which he pursues in order to support himself and earn a paycheck – which he earns in order to buy things – which he buys in order to use for various other purposes – which he pursues in order to accomplish still other goals – and so on. Each end presupposes another. So where does it all end?
If we are to establish an objective, fact-based morality, we need to discover a final end – one toward which all of our other goals and values are properly aimed. Such an end is by that fact our standard of moral value – the standard against which we can objectively assess the value of all our choices and actions. So the question becomes: What is our ultimate goal?
When we identify this ultimate goal, the question of what we ought to do becomes objectively answerable. That, and only that, is how we discern an objective morality.
As this series continues, we will present and evaluate this objective standard of value. Biddle offers it as an alternative to religion. But one need not be an atheist to accept it. Indeed, the discovery of an objective standard for moral action should embolden the believer and deepen our appreciation of God.
As a father, I may answer any challenge from my son with the proverbial “because I told you so.” In doing so, I don’t offer an actual reason. I merely assert my authority. While that authority proves legitimate, my ultimate desire for my son is that he one day understand why my instruction and rules serve his interest.
Similarly, the appeal to God as a moral authority may prove correct, but says nothing of why his prescriptions are good for us. A consideration of objective morality works to bridge that gap.
Even if we conclude that God exists, that does not mean He is worthy of worship. Different presentations of God offer conflicting moral prescriptions, many of which defy our objective sense of right and wrong. It’s easy to understand why critics of religion, like author Craig Biddle, deem faith illogical and even evil. Examples like Islam’s Sharia law speak for themselves.
But Biddle argues that any religious prescription ultimately proves counter-productive to human happiness. From his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts That Support It:
To the extent a person is religious, he believes that he has a duty to self-sacrificially serve God. This duty requires him to abandon his own selfish dreams. If he sticks to his faithful convictions and abandons his dreams, he cannot be happy, because his dreams go forever unrealized. Conversely, if he hypocritically abandons his convictions and pursues his dreams, he still cannot be happy, for he is filled with moral guilt and dread of divine retribution.
Biddle offers the hypothetical example of a young girl who desires to be an accomplished ballerina, but feels compelled to serve God by becoming a nun or missionary. We might likewise consider the tithe. What could you do with the money contributed to your church? Aren’t you sacrificing whatever you could do – whatever debt you could pay, whatever provision you could acquire, whatever dream you could chase – by giving up a portion of your income to religion?