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Walter Hudson

Walter Hudson advocates for individual rights, serving on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, and as president of the Minority Liberty Alliance. He hosts a daily podcast entitled Fightin Words, proudly hosted on Twin Cities Newstalk Podcast Network. Walter is a city council member in Albertville, MN. Follow his work via Twitter and Facebook.
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Stay On Target: Star Wars Battlefront Lining Up for Attack Run

Monday, March 30th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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.

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Will Alien Nation Reboot Include Amnesty Propoganda?

Friday, March 27th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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?

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Cornered Animal: The Frenzied Fight in Conservative Activists

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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.

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How to Know That You’re Racist

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

whitepeople20n-1-web

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?

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The Case Against Freedom, Part II: Booms and Busts

Saturday, March 21st, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

monopoly-house

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.

Kuttner continues:

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.

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How the Latest Avengers: Age of Ultron Trailer Restores the Fun

Friday, March 20th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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.

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The Case Against Freedom, Part I: What Are ‘Externalities’?

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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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 Brissell 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 Brissell 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

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. 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
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
  16. Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?
  17. Mark Ellis on March 12: The Future of Civilized Society: One World
  18. Aaron C. Smith on March 12: Why Civilization Is a Gift to Bullies
  19. David S. Bernstein on March 12: Nihilism & Feminism for Girls: Has Judd Apatow Let Lena Dunham Self-Destruct Intentionally?
  20. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 15: Why I Am Jewish
  21. Chris Queen on March 15: Why I Am Non-Denominational Christian
  22. Allston on March 16: Counter-Culture Wars, Part 1: Why the Fellow Travelers Hijacked Folk Music
  23. Ronald R. Cherry on March 17: How To Untangle Orwellian Doublethink: 4 Secrets To Help You Spot BS
  24. 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…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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What Does It Mean to Be ‘Anti-War’?

Monday, March 16th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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.

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Christians: ‘Sacrifice’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Sacrifice

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.

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The Ghostbusters Revival Just Got Weird

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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?

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Morality Is Objective, and We Can Prove It

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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.

good-choice-bad-choice

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?

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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.

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Spock’s Trek Through the Stars in 10 Clips

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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.

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Atheists Can Be Moral, Too

Sunday, March 1st, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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

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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.

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Is Religion Compatible with Life on Earth?

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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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?

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Pastor to Oprah: Christianity ‘Moments Away’ from Embracing Gay Marriage

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Immutability stands as a defining characteristic of divine nature. A god who changes cannot be God. At least that’s been a long-standing Christian doctrine.

But at least one best-selling author and pastor believes that Christianity itself must change. The Blaze reports:

Former megachurch pastor Rob Bell told TV host Oprah Winfrey that he believes Christian churches will become even more irrelevant if they fail to embrace gay relationships and that he sees the Christian umbrella becoming more favorable of homosexuality in the very near future.

When Winfrey asked when the church will come on board with same-sex relationships, Bell, the former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, said that he believes that the time is “close” and that “we’re just moments away from the church accepting it,” according to the Christian Post.

“I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone,” Bell said on OWN’s “Super Soul Sunday.”

Two things stand out from these comments. First, Bell proceeds on the unspoken premise that cultural relevance ought to be a Christian value. Of course, if Christians want to be relevant to the culture, they should just renounce Christianity. Scripture is replete with exhortations for the believer to stand apart from the culture, to be distinct in both attitude and conduct. You’d be hard pressed to find a passage in the Bible urging Christians to be “relevant” to the world around them.

Which leads to the second standout from Bell’s comments: his cavalier dismissal of scripture. Who needs 2,000 year old letters to guide their theology? That’s so yesterday. One wonders why anyone would bother to consider themselves Christian at all if they hold so little regard for biblical authority.

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Check Out the ‘Best Damn Movie Show on the Planet’

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

It may seem like hubris when AMC Movie News editor-in-chief John Campea intros his daily online webcast as “the best damn movie-related show on the planet.” But watch and compare. You’ll soon conclude that AMC Movie Talk and its associated programs stand head and shoulders above their competition.

There’s no shortage of movie reviews and movie news commentary, both online and broadcast traditionally. What makes AMC’s programming special is the quality of their commentators and the savvy with which Campea employs them.

These aren’t amateurs shooting with webcams against a green screen in their mom’s basement. These are industry professionals with insight into the art and business of film. While Campea frequently reminds viewers that “all film is subjective,” the opinions and analysis offered by the AMC crew are always backed by a credible rationale.

For example, when news hit the web that Ben Affleck had been cast to play Batman in the forthcoming follow-up to Man of Steel, the choice was widely condemned by just about everyone. Campea stood alone as a dissenting voice in support of the decision. He wasn’t just being a fanboy. Campea explained that Affleck has emerged as a tremendous asset for Warner Bros. This is an Academy Award-winning actor who has won other industry prizes for his writing and directing. Affleck has come a long way from the days of Daredevil and Gigli. The smart money rides on Affleck directing one or more films in the burgeoning DC Cinematic Universe. Why wouldn’t you want the director of Argo helping you catch up to Marvel Studios?

If you haven’t found AMC Movie Talk yet, now is the time to get on board. Campea took to social media on Monday to announce the launch of a new phase for the organization. In addition to the daily AMC Movie Talk and frequent AMC Mailbag shows, March will see three new weekly additions. As a new age of Star Wars films dawns with this year’s The Force Awakens, AMC Jedi Council will go in depth with news, rumors, and analysis. AMC Heroes will focus on the increasing number of comic book films slated in the coming years. Finally, AMC Rewind will hearken back to films at least 20 years old and introduce viewers to classics they may have missed.

Oh, and if independent film is your thing, check out AMC Indie Spotlight. Housed on a YouTube channel all its own, the show deals exclusively with independent film. There’s something for everyone.

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Would Christians Object to Living Indefinitely Through Technology?

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

We want to live forever. We seek immortality through a variety of means, living vicariously through our children, leaving a legacy in our community, and embracing the claims of religion.

But what if we could actually live indefinitely here on Earth? What if we could elect to live for centuries or even millennia? Would we want to?

Zoltan Istvan thinks so. Reason TV’s Zach Weissmueller interviews the author of The Transhumanist Wager in the video above. They come to an interesting aside when Weissmueller inquires about cultural resistance to the idea of technological immortality. Aren’t some people actually revolted by the idea? Istvan answers:

America and many places around the world are quite religious, especially America…a poll said 83% are still declaring themselves Christian. That makes it hard to want to take death out of the equation, because a natural part of the Christian ideology is to die and to eventually reach an afterlife with God…

While Istvan may anticipate the reaction of some, the Christian faith doesn’t necessarily preclude an embrace of transhumanist technology. It depends on the particular nature of the tech. There’s nothing in mainstream Christian doctrine which would forbid something like artificial organs, for instance. And if replacing organs could extend life by decades or more, why not?

… it’s not as though wanting to live indefinitely is something that’s going to intrude and conflict with one’s religion. It’s just something that’s kind of the evolving nature of the species. And if you can get people to think like that, and not see it in conflict with their own ideologies, then I think they’re going to be more on board with saying, “Yeah, it’s good to live 150, 200 years.” And again, I’m not saying let’s live forever. I don’t think any transhumanists are saying that. I think what we want is the choice to be able to live indefinitely. That might be 10,000 years. That might only be 170 years.

The line might be drawn at technology which changes one’s nature to something non-human. When we look at something like uploading one’s consciousness to a computer, the question must be asked: would you still be “you?” Or would you be essentially committing suicide?

The notion of living indefinitely, unto itself, should actually appeal to the Christian. After all, everlasting life is the promise of Christian salvation, and lifespans greatly surpassing those common today are recorded throughout scripture. Adam lived to 930. Noah made it to 950. Enoch was “taken” before his time at the tender young age of 365. For the believer who takes scripture literally, the notion of living for centuries has precedence.

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Spider-Man to Swing Through the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

spiderman

One of the most intriguing stories to come out of the Sony hack last year was the revelation that Marvel Studios had been engaged in secret talks to include Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sony holds the license to produce Spider-Man films, and has shepherded the character through a rebooted franchise starring Andrew Garfield in the title role.

All that may be about to change. Straight from the horse’s mouth at Marvel.com:

Sony Pictures Entertainment and Marvel Studios announced today that Sony is bringing Marvel into the amazing world of Spider-Man.

Under the deal, the new Spider-Man will first appear in a Marvel film from Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU). Sony Pictures will thereafter release the next installment of its $4 billion Spider-Man franchise, on July 28, 2017, in a film that will be co-produced by Kevin Feige and his expert team at Marvel and Amy Pascal, who oversaw the franchise launch for the studio 13 years ago. Together, they will collaborate on a new creative direction for the web slinger. Sony Pictures will continue to finance, distribute, own and have final creative control of the Spider-Man films.

Marvel and Sony Pictures are also exploring opportunities to integrate characters from the MCU into future Spider-Man films.

The news raises several questions. Will the “new direction” for Spider-Man take the form of another reboot? Or will the world of The Amazing Spider-Man films be integrated into the existing MCU? How will Marvel Studios ensure the continuity of their cinematic universe if Sony retains “final creative control” of Spider-Man’s adventures? It all seems very risky, at least without additional details spelling out how it will work.

Might Marvel pursue a similar arrangement with Twentieth Century Fox to bring the X-Men and Fantastic Four into the MCU? It certainly seems more likely after this news, but would depend on a lot of unknowns. Will the new Fantastic Four reboot be a hit? Will the forthcoming X-Men Apocalypse prove as successful as last year’s Days of Future Past? Will this arrangement with Sony pan out successfully? If the answers to all those questions are yes, then a broader collaboration may make sense.

The downside to bringing all these characters into the same universe is that it crowds out less popular ones. There’s an argument that the MCU as we know it never would have been made if Marvel retained the rights to make Spider-Man and X-Men films. Would something like Guardians of the Galaxy have been made if Marvel could have fallen back on a better known property? Will the inclusion of Spider-Man in the MCU actually stagnate its creative development?

No matter how it pans out, it’s probably safe to say that all studios concerned are about to make a ton of money.

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Is Religion Illogical?

Sunday, February 8th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Catch up on Part I of this series: “Christianity’s Human Sacrifice Problem”

As we continue though Craig Biddle’s critique of religion found in his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts That Support It, we are introduced to the concept of objective morality:

“Objective” means “fact-based.” For morality to be objective, it has to be based on a standard of value derived not from feelings, but from facts.

The notion of objective morality stands in contrast to various forms of subjectvism which have dominated much of human history. Biddle lists “religious subjectivism” among “secular subjectivism” and “personal subjectivism” as three variations of the same phenomenon. In this way, he connects the rhetoric and methods of the church, the Nazis, and hedonistic criminals.

This is how an argument for God always ends. One believes because one believes – which means: because one wants to. Religion is a doctrine based not on facts, but on feelings. Thus, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, religion is a form of subjectivism.

In light of this fact, it should come as no surprise that while secular subjectivism denies some of religion’s unproved, evidence-free claims, it demands and employs the very same methods – faith, mysticism, and dogma.

For instance, according to the Nazis, Hitler’s will determined the truth…

Believers may scoff at the comparison. Yet consider the foundation upon which it is built.

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Ranking These 9 Super Bowl Movie Trailers

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

#9. SpongeBob Square Pants: Sponge Out of Water

It’s SpongeBob. He wears square pants. This time, he’s coming out of the water.

Have fun kids. Daddy will be next door watching Ted 2.

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Pivoting from American Sniper: Are Drone Attacks Immoral?

Monday, January 26th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

“A family man begins to question the ethics of his job as a drone pilot.” So reads the synopsis of the upcoming film Good Kill starring Ethan Hawke and Mad Men’s January Jones.

Hawke plays Tom Egan, the drone pilot in question, offering a brooding portrait of self-loathing. Such is the proper attitude of a man toward killing while facing no personal danger. The film’s tagline reads: “If you never face your enemy, how can you face yourself?”

“Don’t ask me if this is a just war. It’s not up to us,” Bruce Greenwood advises as Hawke’s grizzled commanding officer. “To us, it’s just war.”

“I am a pilot, and I’m not flying,” Hawke bemoans. “I don’t know what it is that I am doing. But it’s not flying.”

Evoking recent comments directed at the late Chris Kyle, Hawke continues, “Everyday, I feel like a coward, taking potshots at somebody halfway around the world.”

While overt characterizations of American military action as cowardice may be confined to Hollywood and the halls of academia, they proceed from a theory of war which has dominated American foreign policy since World War II.

So-called just war theory emerges from a bastardization of Christian doctrine which prescribes sacrificial combat. According to the doctrine, war should not be fought strictly in self-defense, but in service of some “higher” goal – like the freedom or relief of others. Shedding American blood for something like “Iraqi freedom” is considered a superior motive to fighting strictly for American sovereignty or American lives.

A critical component of just war theory is “proportionality,” the idea that a retaliatory response should be restrained and remain comparable to the threat faced. The tenet of proportionality would have rejected the dropping of two atomic bombs on Imperial Japan, for instance.

From such a perspective, it’s easy to see how one might judge a role like sniper or drone pilot to be cowardly. After all, the explicit purpose of such roles is to engage in highly disproportionate combat, to maximize lethality while minimizing risk. That doesn’t jive with a sacrificial agenda. To be “just,” combat must present similar risk to all combatants. You must “face your enemy.” On a larger scale, “just war” must be fought not to win with overwhelming force, but to save an enemy population from themselves.

Just war theory is anything but moral. A truly moral war policy, which you can find articulated here, would not derive its righteousness from sacrificial risk-taking. Rather, the morality of military force would be judged solely on whether it was retaliatory in nature. The objective would not be to “fight fair,” but to achieve unquestioned victory through the utter destruction or unconditional surrender of the enemy.

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Christianity’s Human Sacrifice Problem

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

sacrifice

Does Christianity call for human sacrifice?

When you put the question like that, the instinctive response of any given Christian would tend toward a resounding “no.” After all, human sacrifice is a barbaric act which no rational person could condone. We believers like to regard ourselves as rational.

Yet, a cursory examination of popular Christian doctrine suggests that human sacrifice – to one degree or another – stands as a central tenet of the faith. In his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It, author Craig Biddle cites “religionists” – including many prominent Christian theologians – to demonstrate that religion calls upon man to sacrifice his own interests to “an alleged God.”

As a Christian, I find Biddle’s observations compelling. Having considered them within the broader context of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy for several years, I have come to question the manner in which Christian teachers present the topic of sacrifice. Increasingly, I have come under the conviction that Christendom has interpreted sacrifice incorrectly. In my view, it is because Christendom has misinterpreted sacrifice that critics like Biddle are able to present Christianity as force for evil rather than good.

With this introductory essay, I invite you to join me in an ongoing exploration of Christian doctrine and the challenges brought against it. My objective, as we proceed week after week, will be to correct what I have come to regard as a doctrinal error causing tremendous confusion within the church and posing a stumbling block for seekers and believers alike. To be clear, my claim is not that God’s Word is wrong, but that our reading of it has been. I hope to demonstrate that my altered view of sacrifice is the view actually taught within scripture.

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Chris Kyle’s Righteous Indignation

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

propaganda sniper

Commentators, both on the political Left and within libertarian circles, have been wringing hands over the tremendous commercial success of Clint Eastwood’s Chris Kyle bio-pic American Sniper. From The Wrap:

Over the weekend, multiple Academy members told TheWrap that they had been passing around a recent article by Dennis Jett in The New Republic that attacks the film for making a hero out of Kyle, who said: “The enemy are savages and despicably evil,” and his “only regret is that I didn’t kill more.” Kyle made the statements in his best-selling book, “American Sniper,” on which the film is based…

…Academy members seem to be paying attention to the criticism that Eastwood and star/producer Bradley Cooper shouldn’t be celebrating a man who wrote that killing hundreds of Iraqis was “fun.”

“He seems like he may be a sociopath,” one Academy member told TheWrap, adding he had not yet seen the film but had read the article, which is being passed around.

And Michael Moore, an Oscar voter and former Academy governor from the Documentary Branch, tweeted on Sunday, “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse.”

Moore has since walked back his comments, if only just a bit. The Interview star Seth Rogen came under scrutiny for comparing American Sniper to a Nazi propaganda film only to also walk his comments back. In these and many other lower-profile cases, the common denominator is a moral equivalence between America and forces like Nazi Germany, the Taliban, or ISIS.

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American Sniper and the Billion Dollars That Hollywood Leaves on the Table Each Year

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Is it any wonder that American Sniper has dominated the box office? From the Associated Press:

Clint Eastwood’s R-rated Iraq War drama … opened in January like a superhero movie in July, taking in a record $105.3 million over the Martin Luther King Jr. four-day weekend.

The film’s unprecedented success obliterated forecasts and set numerous box-office records. It easily surpassed “Avatar” to become the biggest January weekend ever.

Of course it has. This is a film that gives American audiences what they want. PJM’s David Forsmark swoons:

American Sniper lives up to its title. This is an intensely American film. Everything about Chris Kyle’s background, from hunting with his father, to the little country church, to wanting to be a cowboy, is not just Texas, it’s America.

When America gets what America wants, studios make $100 million in four days.

So why don’t more studios make these kinds of films? Why do we instead get inundated with cynical anti-American garbage with anti-heroes espousing an anti-philosophy?

We need not look far for our answer. From The Wrap:

Academy members seem to be paying attention to the criticism that Eastwood and star/producer Bradley Cooper shouldn’t be celebrating a man who wrote that killing hundreds of Iraqis was “fun.”

“He seems like he may be a sociopath,” one Academy member told TheWrap, adding he had not yet seen the film but had read the article, which is being passed around.

And Michael Moore, an Oscar voter and former Academy governor from the Documentary Branch, tweeted on Sunday, “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse.”

Money may be a store of value, but it’s not the standard. For those holding the reins in Hollywood, the social acceptance of their community can often be a higher value than record profits.

We don’t see more films like American Sniper for the same reason we don’t see more G-rated family films. Movies you can take your kids to earn money hand over fist, for obvious reasons. Conversely, R-rated films have a built-in market limitation which translates to a smaller box office take. That’s why Fox’s forthcoming Deadpool starring Ryan Reynolds as a filthy-mouthed mercenary from the X-Men universe is aiming for a PG-13 rating. Gotta get those kids in the seats.

Even so, we see far more R-rated exploitation fare and self-indulgent art house films which critique American culture than we see films like American Sniper. That’s because the former earn kudos from the industry, a currency nearly as good as cash in Hollywood.

Indeed, how many times have you heard it said of a star that he is doing that summer blockbuster to earn a check so he can afford to make an “important” film later? Such importance is not measured by commercial success, but by the accolades of fellow liberal artists.

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