College Don’t Make You Smart

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This column has often drawn attention to the ignorance of our supposedly educated classes. A remarkable instance of the phenomenon was provided by Tim Kaine, J.D., Harvard, in his speech on the day following the defeat of his campaign for vice president. The performance was elaborately worked up, loaded with dreadful foreboding (about Republicans), light-hearted optimism (about Democrats), and a heavy-footed quest for applause lines that suggested he had already formed seven Voluntary Committees for his own attempt to seize the White House.

Kaine, who had trouble getting even 75 people at rallies during the climax of this year’s campaign, obviously needed some way to work up emotions about himself. He chose the Happy Warrior, Chin Up, We Won After All approach:

I’ll just say this: Hillary and I know well the wisdom and the words of William Faulkner, he said, “They kilt us, but they ain’t whupped us yet.” They kilt us, but they ain’t whupped us yet.

Because we know that the work remains. We know that the dreams of empowering families and children remain. And in that work, that important work that we have to do as a nation, it is so comforting, even in a tough time, to know that Hillary Clinton is somebody who, until her very last breath, is going to be battling for the values that make this nation great and the values we care so deeply about.

Everything is wrong about that — and wrong in a way that anyone of any intelligence should be able to see. What in the hell would it mean to “empower” children? Or “families,” for that matter? Who in the world pictures Hillary Clinton as a battler for “values”? And by the way, what exactly are those values that Kaine believes are implicit in our nation? I’m sure there are some — tell us what they are.

Kaine, who had trouble getting even 75 people at rallies during the climax of this year’s campaign, obviously needed some way to work up emotions about himself.

The business about empowering children creates quite a picture. I see Dick and Jane taking a break from their coloring books to plot the policy of the Federal Reserve or our strategy in Syria. But what really makes me laugh is the image of Tim Kaine and Hillary Clinton poring over the works of Faulkner and swapping sapient glances about the wisdom of killing and whupping. The remark on whupping is reported to have incited frenzies of emotion among Democrats throughout America.

Well, William Faulkner did write something like that, but while he was responsible for the words, they do not express his wisdom. The connection is itself absurd, as if wisdom ever lived apart from words. The big problem, however, is that the words were written, not in the author’s voice, but in that of Wash Jones, a character in one of Faulkner’s novels. That book, Absalom, Absalom!, is a magnificent literary achievement, in which Wash is the least magnificent character. He is the creepy white servant and abject worshiper of the great plantation owner Thomas Sutpen — otherwise known as “the demon,” a man of ruthless energy whose great purpose is to establish a slave kingdom in Mississippi. This is an odd place to look for an inspiring quotation — an odd place for anyone to look, but most of all for apparatchiks of a party devoted to the supposed needs of minority (chiefly African-American) voters.

The occasion for Wash Jones’ remarks is Colonel Sutpen’s drunken mourning over the fate of the Confederacy. Wash, the novel says, would

put him to bed like a baby and then lie down himself on the floor beside the bed though not to sleep since before dawn the man on the bed would stir and groan and Jones would say, “Hyer I am, Kernel. Hit's all right. They aint whupped us yit, air they?" — this Jones who after the demon rode away with the regiment . . . would tell people that he “was looking after Major's place and niggers” even before they had time to ask him why he was not with the troops and perhaps in time came to believe the lie himself, who was among the first to greet the demon when he returned, to meet him at the gate and say, “Well, Kernel, they kilt us but they aint whupped us yit, air they?"

A touching scene! A drunken Confederate colonel, falsely consoled by a miserable subject, after a disastrous attempt to maintain black slavery. I can imagine other perorations that the functionally illiterate Mr. Kaine might have larded with stuff from online lists of quotations (entitled, probably, Comfort in Defeat). He could have quoted Satan in Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” And nobody in his audience would have known the difference.

I see Dick and Jane taking a break from their coloring books to plot the policy of the Federal Reserve or our strategy in Syria.

Now let’s go from the sublimely ridiculous to the merely ridiculous. During the campaign, I was amused by the complete lack of either literary or folkloric knowledge of Democratic hack Austan Goolsbee — a man who, I can’t resist observing, looks exactly like his name. Goolsbee, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an interview on Fox News (July 25), regarding disunity within the two major parties: “We’re all eatin’ a little humble crow.” The host did not, of course, ask Goolsbee what a humble crow might be, although that’s certainly interesting to think about. But what had happened was that Goolsbee (I love to repeat that ridiculous name, so perfect for its owner) had heard the expression “humble pie,” and he had also heard the expression “eat crow,” and he had put them together (why not?), spiced them with the faux-proletarian eatin’, and served them up to an oblivious audience.

Now that Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Harvard, has scrambled somewhere near the top of the Democratic heap, I’m sure I will have many more occasions to discuss dumb people who think they’re smart. But since Warren is also the Senator from the New York Times, it’s fair to introduce that paper’s post-election statement, which Donald Trump and others construed as an “apology” for getting everything wrong about the campaign. We all know that this was true; the Times did get everything wrong — everything from the temper of the populace to the character (or lack of character) of the Democratic candidate to the nature of the Times’ own mission, which it somehow interpreted, not as reporting the news, but as presenting daily Masses for the success of Democratic candidates. Yet when you actually read the “apology” you discover several things.

One is that the Times is still one of the nation’s most dependable sources of bad writing. Look at the first sentence:

When the biggest political story of the year reached a dramatic and unexpected climax late Tuesday night, our newsroom turned on a dime and did what it has done for nearly two years — cover the 2016 election with agility and creativity.

Turned on a dime? What Harvard seminar teaches you to write like that? Probably all of them, but this is no excuse. There doesn’t need to be a New York Times Book of Clichés; the content appears in every issue. But let’s follow up on this particular cliché. Turned on a dime — from what? From bad reporting and bad writing? No, no; that’s impossible. The Times never could have published anything it had to turn away from, and in fact, nothing of the kind is mentioned. What we are supposed to picture is the Times turning on a dime and also doing what it had done for nearly two years. I give up; I can’t picture that. I also give up on what it means to report the news with creativity, unless it means making stuff up, a charge that the Times always haughtily ignores.

The host did not, of course, ask Austan Goolsbee what a "humble crow" might be.

This is the second thing one notices: the “apology” is just one more service of thanksgiving for the wonderfulness of the New York Times, now “rededicating” itself, as the “apology” goes on to say, to the glorious public mission that the august journal has continuously fulfilled: “We aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor,” blah, blah, blah. That’s not exactly what the Times’ “public editor,” Liz Spayd, had in mind when she wrote about the failings of the paper’s agile and creative performance — but she has a mind, and the Times, for all its alleged erudition, does not.

The Times was not alone in its unmerited self-esteem; the ability to criticize oneself was in remarkably short supply almost everywhere this year. Republicans seemed incapable of reflecting on the huge majority that Trump might have had if he’d hesitated to make an absolute fool of himself on countless occasions. Democrats could not really imagine that anyone not a bigot or a dumbass tool of bigots could possibly have voted for Trump. In this delicate moral situation, I find the Republicans less guilty than the Democrats, who not only refused to consider their own failures but violently projected them onto others.

Of course I’m referring to the wave of hysteria, ordinarily self-induced, that is still sloshing back and forth in modern-liberal America — hysteria about the actions of Trump, who so far has taken no action, not yet being in office. It is striking that demands for tolerance and diversity should be voiced by mobs in the streets, by employers persecuting employees who voted the wrong way, and even by merchants rejecting the business of customers who became part of the wrong ideological formation. I don’t like to give Freud any credit, but his idea of projection does seem appropriate. I don’t know how else to explain the passionate intensity of people who violently denounce all who disagree with them, because of the latter’s vicious intolerance.

I once, in a minor way, was an organizer of demos against the Vietnam War. There were many angry shouts from our crowd, but I don’t remember any shouts being directed against angry shouting. Now we have people spewing grossly obvious hate against their opponents, because they consider their opponenst “haters.” This isn’t how the Civil Rights Movement got its way; it’s specifically the tactics that Martin Luther King refused to adopt; and it isn’t a tactics that will work now. I just wish it were funnier.

The “apology” is just one more service of thanksgiving for the wonderfulness of the New York Times.

The entertainment personalities who vowed to combat the haters by moving out of the country — they were funny. I’m not sure they were funny because, as someone aptly remarked, they all promised to move to Canada, Australia, and other such places, never manifesting their anti-racism by contemplating a move to Mexico. But it was hilarious to find such deep thinkers as TV actress Lena Dunham denouncing people who noticed that promisers like her weren’t keeping their promises. The Washington Times quoted Dunham’s Instagram:

And for those demanding I move to Canada based on something I said when this man [Trump] seemed like a steak salesman with a long shot at the presidency: stay busy reveling in your new regime . . .

I will go many places during my lifetime, surrounded by kindreds on a mission to spread justice and light. I can’t wait for all of this, and for the change to come, as we use what we’ve been given to protect those who can’t protect themselves. . . . What are you living for?

I wonder what she thinks “kindreds” means. I also wonder what she means by “light” — of which she is shedding a lot, even now, before the start of her “mission” — but only on herself, not on the benighted souls who don’t know what they’re living for.

For hardcore fans of farce, the 2016 campaign was lots of fun, and for them the fun will continue, as long as there are Lena Dunhams. I’m not that hardcore, but I do have good things to say about the campaign. Though it was long on illiteracy, it was short on idol worship — at least when compared with the idolatry of the various Kennedy campaigns, the idolatry eventually lavished on Ronald Reagan, or the posthumous idolatry accorded Harry Truman. (In the 1948 campaign, Truman was generally regarded as an accidental president, an embarrassment to his party. At the start of the 1952 campaign season, when he expected to run for reelection, he received no, zero, nada support from the party, and dropped out.) We did have some idolatrous statements about Trump the Builder, Trump the Man of Action, and even (gasp!) Trump the Seer, but I doubt that many of his supporters took any of that seriously.

A little bit of cynicism would have been a relief, considering the constant, shrieking moralism of American politics this past 30 — or is it 50? — years.

Clinton fared better in the mindless flattery department, because she had many more paid sycophants — not to mention people who, like President Obama, rightly detested her but still associated their political legacy or future employment with the claim that, in Obama’s words, Hillary Clinton was “the best qualified person ever to run for the presidency.”

If that statement makes you wonder what planet you’re living on, try the following expression of Clintonolatry, provided by Liberty’s Managing Editor, Drew Ferguson, who suggests (and I think he is right) that no one can top it. The author is Virginia Heffernan, Ph.D., Harvard:

We don't have to wait until she dies to act. Hillary Clinton's name belongs on ships, and airports, and tattoos. She deserves straight-up hagiographies and a sold-out Broadway show called RODHAM. Yes, this cultural canonization is going to come after the chronic, constant, nonstop "On the other hand" sexist hedging around her legacy. But such is the courage of Hillary Clinton and her supporters; we reverse patriarchal orders. Maybe she is more than a president. Maybe she is an idea, a world-historical heroine, light itself. The presidency is too small for her. She belongs to a much more elite class of Americans, the more-than-presidents. Neil Armstrong, Martin Luther King Jr., Alexander Fucking Hamilton.

Hillary Clinton did everything right in this campaign. . . .

Well, now you know.

In general, however, the political writers of 2016 decided that they had to make the best of a bad deal and dwelt entirely on the evils of the opposing side, evils that were never hard to find. If the Clinton people, especially, had left it at that, I would not have been distressed. A little bit of cynicism would have been a relief, considering the constant, shrieking moralism of American politics this past 30 — or is it 50? — years. But no. Virtually no one except Doug Schoen, the Democratic commentator, admitted that he was being cynical, and even he repented and departed, miffed, from the Hillary side. After her defeat, we are left with the Sean Hannitys of this world, endlessly muttering about the greatness of Donald Trump — a candidate who won because people couldn’t stand him but could stand his opponent even less — and the armies of professors, Democratic office holders, “advocates for,” social justice warriors, guff-addicted leftists, university “students,” and other people who have lots of time on their hands, all huddling in well-advertised terror from the wave of fascism that succeeded Trump’s election.

The exemplary fact is this: in 2012 Obama carried one of the counties in which Youngstown, Ohio, is located by about 28%; in 2016 Clinton carried it by about 3%. In 2012 Obama carried the other county by about 22%; in 2016 Trump carried it by about 6%. Look up the history of Youngstown, which has less than half the population it had in 1970, and you’ll see why. Alleged “hate” has nothing to do with Youngstown and its vote. Lack of real jobs, regulation of every puny detail of life, insults to local culture delivered by high-paid snots in Washington, the perception that Hillary Clinton is a low-level crook who wouldn’t be welcome at a family dinner — those things are sufficient to explain the change. Invoking the sudden “racism” of former Obama voters is just going to turn the 25 or 28% difference into something like unanimity.

The bad, in fact awful, aspect of Trump’s distinctiveness is hard to analyze, because it’s hard to pay attention to.

So much for solemn words. Friends have asked me if Clinton’s defeat isn’t a blow to this column. In a way it is. She and her friends were always available to exemplify some grave linguistic sin. Trump isn’t so easy to write about. His performance is distinctive, in ways that are hard to describe. In his tweets, as in the interviews in which he used to make fun of media mushrooms like Rose O’Donnell (last seen speculating on whether Trump’s son Barron is autistic), he sometimes hits a tone of mischievous naiveté that is uniquely right. One example is his comment on the New York Times’ supposed violation of an agreement for an interview of him:

I cancelled today’s meeting with the failing @nytimes when the terms and conditions of the meeting were changed at the last moment. Not nice

This bluntness is refreshing. Who else would say “the failing @nytimes” as if it were the formal name of the publication? Or add the childish “Not nice,” which somehow manages to suggest that it’s the Times, not Trump, that is childish? That’s an effective combination, but it’s hard to say why. As an analyst, you have to do more work on Trump than you do on Clinton, who was never an effective communicator in any way.

The bad, in fact awful, aspect of Trump’s distinctiveness is also hard to analyze, because it’s hard to pay attention to. I refer to his amazing, startling, unbelievable incoherence, which is one of the world’s great bores. If Trump has a draft of his inaugural address, it probably begins like this: “Hey! It’s great to see you all! This is incredible. I mean it, incredible. All these American people, men and women, people — simply incredible. It’s incredible. You know, just a couple days ago, I saw, and this is unbelievable. You’re not gonna believe it. But when you look at employment. I saw the figures. Folks, it’s a disaster. But we’ll do it. It’s gonna be done. Depend on it. 100%. You can depend on it. A complete disaster. But there’s gonna be a wall. I promise you. There’s gonna be a wall, and it’s gonna be an incredible wall. You’re gonna like it, I promise you. Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable. ”

Had enough? Me too.




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Hollywood Fights Market; Market Wins

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Money Monster isn’t billed as a comedy (in fact, it’s supposed to be a thriller), but it is still one of the silliest films I’ve seen in ages.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a cable TV investment personality of the Jim Cramer school, with a shtick that includes dancing girls, funny hats, crazy film clips, party noisemakers, and outlandish recommendations that often turn out to be profitable investments. He doesn’t think much about his viewers’ actual profits and losses because he never sees his viewers — that is, until Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) shows up on the set with a figurative axe to grind and a literal gun in his pocket. He also has a funny explosive vest to go with Lee’s funny hat. He makes Lee wear it.

We are expected to believe that Budwell, the terrorist, would be able to wander onto a live set, simply because he is dressed like a deliveryman and carries a couple of cardboard boxes.

I’ll warn you here that this review is going to contain a few spoilers, but knowing some of the plot twists is not going to ruin the film for you; it’s pretty much ruined on its own, and these are mad meanderings, not genuine twists. Besides, I don’t recommend that you waste your money or your time on this monster of a movie, and revealing some of the plot is the only way I can demonstrate to you just how silly and unbelievable the premise is.

Hollywood will go to great lengths to cast aspersions on Wall Street, business, and the free market, even greenlighting a movie with a script with more holes than a Chuck E. Cheese Whack-A-Mole (and a lot less entertaining). First we are expected to believe that Budwell, the terrorist, would be able to wander onto a live set, simply because he is dressed like a deliveryman and carries a couple of cardboard boxes. Sorry, folks, the days of Cary Grant sneaking into the boss’s office carrying a florist’s bouquet are long gone, and security at a television station is much tighter than that.

Then we are expected to believe that the cameras would continue to roll and the signal would continue to be broadcast while a lunatic holds a gun to the head of a nationally known journalist — or anyone, for that matter. Regardless of what the terrorist (and the voyeuristic television consumer) might be demanding, someone — anyone — would have pulled that plug immediately.

We are also expected to believe that Kyle invested all his money — all his money — in a single hedge fund. The SEC has rules about that. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, “qualified investors” must have a net worth of at least a million dollars, not counting their personal residence, or an income of at least $200,000, in order to purchase shares in risky investment vehicles such as the one in the script. Kyle makes $14 an hour as a sanitation worker. He is not a qualified investor. The hedge fund would not have accepted Kyle’s money. George Clooney and Jodie Foster (the film’s director) probably don’t realize this because they have managers who invest their money for them. They’re qualified investors; they just aren’t qualified to play with investors in the movies.

Next is Lee Gates’ ridiculous solution to Kyle’s problem. It seems that Kyle invested his money in a hedge fund that Lee recommended a few weeks ago, and the fund’s price tanked, taking Kyle’s money with it. Lee turns to the camera and asks his viewers to start buying the stock in order to pump up the price for Kyle and his fellow losers. First, viewers would smell a rat if a showman like Gates made such an outlandish plea. Remember Soupy Sales? “Kids, take a dollar out of your mother’s purse and send it to Soupy at this address . . .”

Kyle's girlfriend bawls him out and dares him to pull the trigger on the bomb — while she is in the studio. Who in the world would be that crazy?

More importantly, Lee’s idea wouldn’t help Kyle or the others who have lost money, even if the stock did return to previous levels. Stock prices rise and fall as new buyers purchase shares from current owners. It’s the ultimate example of supply and demand. In this case, the people who sold on the way down don’t own any shares anymore, so they aren’t going to get their money back, even if prices climb to the sky. They’re just going to feel worse. The only people who could make money on Lee’s new deal are the ones who buy at the bottom and sell at the new top. And believe me, Lee Gates would be investigated for investment fraud after these shenanigans were over. (Assuming he made it out of the exploding vest in one piece.)

The cops are just as stupid. They bring Kyle’s girlfriend to the studio to talk some sense into him and calm him down, even though they know she’s fit to be tied about him. And she’s just as stupid. Instead of calming him down, she bawls him out and dares him to pull the trigger on the bomb — while she is in the studio. Who in the world would be that crazy? And then there is the usual Hollywood inanity of having SWAT teams or, in this case, bomb squads enter a highly volatile location without wearing helmets. I know, it’s a film technique considered necessary so that we (the audience) can see their pretty faces while they talk.

In such situations, we’re supposed to suspend our disbelief, and usually I do. But in this movie my disbelief was suspended so far above reality that I became positively giddy from lack of oxygen.

The denouement is just as ridiculous as the build-up. We are supposed to believe that the greedy director of the hedge fund has manipulated a mining strike in South Africa in order to buy low and then sell high when the strike is called off, but a glitch in his plan resulted in a loss of $800,000,000. That’s a lot of platinum for two weeks’ digging.

I’m sure that George Clooney, who produced the film as well as starred in it, thinks he’s doing the world a big favor by pointing out the evils of greed and investing, but all he did with Money Monster is point out his own monstrous ignorance. He still has the dark swoony eyes, though. Maybe he should leave the social justice films for a while and make a nice romantic comedy.


Editor's Note: Review of "Money Monster," directed by Jodie Foster. Tristar Pictures, 2016, 98 minutes.



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The Libertarian vs. the Activist

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Last month I read a pair of little news stories about animals in German menageries and what people have done, and not done, about them. These stories suggested certain analogies to human behavior that, when they occurred to me, appeared far-fetched. They may be so. But the stories kept coming back to me — evidence, at least, that they spoke to some personal identification with the ideas they suggested. They may be suggestive to you, too.

One of the stories had to do with a pair of male penguins in a German zoo. They were brought there to mate with female penguins and help preserve the king penguin species. But “they only mated with one another.” The zookeepers gave up and let them enjoy themselves in their all-male love nest.

In the other story, humans just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Animal rights “activists” — what a peculiar word that is, “activist,” as if being “active” were some kind of profession — were inspired by the slogan “Free All Animals” to break into a small circus and “free” two ostriches and a goose. The goose and one ostrich were recaptured, but the surviving ratite might have to be executed, because German law requires ostriches to be kept in pairs and the other ostrich was killed by a car. It seems that fowl, once “freed,” still aren’t very good at negotiating modern streets.

Of course, the animals themselves are not a fair analogy to humans, who do indeed have rights and deserve to be free. What interests me about the stories is that they illustrate two different approaches to life.

What a peculiar word that is, “activist,” as if being “active” were some kind of profession.

The penguins benefited from the first approach. They enjoyed the tolerance and capacity for reflection that leads people to say, “Oh well. Our plan failed. I guess we don’t know everything. But go ahead; be yourselves. We’ll let you alone.”

This, as I take it, is the libertarian approach, and the truly libertarian mindset. But there is another mindset, one that sometimes masquerades as libertarian. This is the approach that destroyed the ostriches. It’s the approach that assumes, “I know everything, and what I know is that everything is a moral issue, and everyone has an obligation to be active in addressing all moral issues, and therefore no one should ever leave anyone or anything alone.”

I confess that this attitude disturbs me about as much as anything could, especially when it gets mixed up with the idea of rights and freedom. Even the notion that animals have rights strikes me as a fantasy originating in a refusal to leave anything alone.

The concept of rights, which is perhaps the most valuable concept that mankind ever discovered, is grounded in the observation that there are beings in this world that have the capacity to make their own moral decisions and take responsibility for doing so. A coherent conception of rights involves the notion that rights are guarantees and therefore must not contradict other rights or guarantees. My right must not conflict with your right.

College can cost a lot, and students often go into debt to finance their college education. There’s a real solution to this problem: do nothing about it.

The animal rights “activists” whom I have known — good people, well-meaning people, fine people in almost every way — have waged war on hunting, zoos, pet stores, and even municipal restrictions on the presence of wild animals in the hearts of cities. Yet they have kept their own cats, dogs, fish, and ferrets in close captivity, and they have had no moral compunction about killing them when they got old or sick. Surely there is a contradiction here. And surely there is a contradiction in thinking that a cat has the right to kill a bird, just as a bird has the right to fly where it wants, even if it’s into the jaws of a cat. The deeper problem is that none of these animals is capable of making a moral decision or accepting responsibility. None of them is capable of respecting other animals’ “rights.” And no wonder, because they don’t have rights. That’s why nobody, least of all the “activists,” wants to try Pudgie the poodle for killing Peter the possum.

Animal rights “activists” (who are often libertarians) believe in rights, which is good; and they believe — when it comes to animals — in kindness and tolerance, which are also good. But they can’t leave any of those concepts alone; they have to take them out of their proper context and let them run wild, to trample or be trampled, until there is nothing left but carrion.

And they aren’t the only ones. This is what you see when a libertarian calls you a racist or a fascist, a foe of all rights, because you place some value on borders and border security. These good people think that terrorism is merely a word invented by government to tighten its control on the populace. They believe that when religious zealots bomb a footrace, bring down a skyscraper, or shoot up a Christmas party full of friendly co-workers, they are merely responding to American aggression in the Near East. These intellectual activists are eager for everyone who has the price of a plane ticket to migrate to America, be supported on government subsidies for education, healthcare, transportation, and every other feature of the welfare state, and finally vote for a government that is exactly the opposite of libertarian. The abstract idea of “rights” is all that matters to them. And if you disagree, they cannot leave you alone in your ignorance and folly. No, they must attack.

If you can find this activist streak in libertarians, where can’t you find it? It is perhaps the major problem in America today. Here’s a topic, picked literally at random: student loans.

College can cost a lot, and students often go into debt to finance their college education. There’s a real solution to this problem: do nothing about it. Leave the young penguins alone. Don’t keep telling them that everyone must go to college. Don’t keep suckering them into government-sponsored loans. Don’t keep sending federal money to colleges, to make sure that everyone can and will attend them. It doesn’t lower student costs, although it does give administrators larger salaries and larger staffs and greater leverage in society. Let the colleges find out how to offer students something they value — actually value for itself, not for the notional status of having graduated from an institution (any institution will do) of higher learning. Let students go into debt, if they think their education is worth it because, for instance, they think it will qualify them for a good job, or because they may learn something in college that they wouldn’t learn anywhere else. If their decision was rational, they can pay off the loans, as other people pay off loans, considering them payment for value received.

Conservatives' problem is not so much with the concept of rights as with the concept of righteousness.

But the liberals won’t leave the idea of “college” alone. They insist all the more that everyone should be “free” to go to college, in fact should go to college, and that colleges should be so well subsidized by the government that most of them never need to attract students by lowering their costs. The liberals make sure to increase these costs by saddling colleges with every kind of social mandate they can devise, thereby doubling or tripling the total price of a college education. After that, the liberals insist that everyone in the country has a responsibility to pay off the loans that the students contracted — either that, or just pay everyone to go to college. College education — free at last! Here again we see the ostrich of “freedom” bolting wildly through deadly traffic.

Conservatives are justly famous for not being able to leave anything alone. Their problem is not so much with the concept of rights as with the concept of righteousness. Is it right that foreigners have corrupt governments? Is it right that some people’s lives are ruined by drugs? Is it right to spend every waking hour drinking, smoking, fornicating, and indulging an “addiction” to pornography? No, it is not right. But the conservatives, like the liberals, cannot stop with such an admission. They have to do something to make sure that, metaphorically, no penguin ever makes the mistake of mating with the wrong penguin.

Now picture the near future, part of which is already with us, thanks to conservative and liberal activism. In that future stands the great composite ideal of the liberals and conservatives: an 18-year-old Marine who is being sent to die in Afghanistan without ever having drunk a beer, smoked a cigarette, sniffed some coke, gone to a dirty website, owned a personal firearm, had sex without a condom, used a racial epithet, neglected to recycle, or expressed a doubt about global warming. And all this because he has been doing what he is told and required to do.

Please don’t write in to debate about whether these particular prescriptions are right or not. That young Marine is not right. He is an absurd deformation of the concept of humanity. He is one more ostrich on the loose, racing toward spiritual annihilation. But that’s what the activists always want. They want to maximize their favorite types of behavior. They often call that “freedom.” The results? Why worry?

Well, I said it was a far-fetched analogy. But is it? I hope so. But the point about the penguins is not far-fetched. Leave the penguins alone.




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Is Passably Principled Progressivism Possible?

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Try reading the title of this essay aloud. It sounds a lot like “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” I like tongue twisters. But as much as I value a nimble tongue, I prize a nimble brain far more.

Libertarians are the only people with whom I can still have a satisfying conversation about politics. I no longer have much patience for talking politics with self-proclaimed progressives. Fatuously, my former faction has foregone factual fastidiousness. I know that if I ever want to change them into libertarians, I need to keep on trying; I only wish the challenge didn’t daunt me so.

Their logic does not exercise the intellect; it strangles it. I could point to a dozen examples from current events alone. A few especially make me want to run naked and screaming into the street. My natural modesty, my fear of being filled with holes by overzealous cops, and my reluctance to being laughed at, hold this impulse in check. But because most of my friends and acquaintances are progressive, I am tempted daily.

They are now in a state of high indignation because some people have replaced the slogan, “Black Lives Matter” with “ALL Lives Matter.” Now, since “all” is a more inclusive term than “black,” and progressives trumpet to the skies their commitment to inclusivity, one would imagine that replacing “black” with “all” would be more favorable to them. And if most actually believed in their own stated convictions, of course it would be. But because it is becoming increasingly obvious that for many of them, their convictions are little more than an affectation, everybody else sees their “progressivism” as a sham.

I could point to a dozen examples from current events alone. A few especially make me want to run naked and screaming into the street.

What a shame! As individuals, a good many leftists whom I know are quite sincere, but they are afraid to admit the absurdity of many of the positions their crowd expects them to take. When, in a group of them, I proclaim such things to be foolish, they look at me with something akin to envy. How dare I do anything that feels so good — without guilt or fear of disapproval?

Their enthusiasms are childishly faddish. One week, it’s operatic outrage against the Confederate battle flag. The next, their Facebook posts feature photos of yawning house cats that “roar for Cecil,” the lion killed by the dastardly, trophy-hunting dentist. I’m afraid to ask what’s next. Frighteningly soon, I’m going to find out.

Is there anything remotely progressive about the great majority of fads that tickle their fancy? I’ve come to believe that far from leading toward progress, these enthusiasms actually divert them from a quest for the genuine article. Worse, they may even lead them in the opposite direction.

As individuals, a good many leftists whom I know are quite sincere, but they are afraid to admit the absurdity of many of the positions their crowd expects them to take.

The police brutality now escalating in our society can’t be effectively dealt with if its two main causes — the irresponsibility of government and the corruption of police unions — are left unaddressed. Turning the problem into a racial shoving-match is yet another tactic designed to divide and conquer. The sooner we recognize that all lives do matter, and that police brutality threatens every one of us, the more likely we are to come together to solve the problem.

Solving the problem would, indeed, be progressive in any meaningful sense of the word. But the statist left isn’t really about solving problems to bring about progress. It’s about making those problems ever worse, so it can go on decrying them and putting itself forward as the heroic force that alone can save us from them.

As a libertarian, I very much believe in organized labor. If we’re going to let free market forces regulate commercial interactions, then we need to clear away the clutter of oppressive “workers’ rights” legislation. I believe that’s a very good plan. But it makes organized labor — at least in some industries — not less necessary, but more. Busting up all unions is not, in my view, the way to protect workers’ rights in the absence of legislation.

This means that the unions must clean house. It’s absolutely crucial to their continued survival. Statist progressives are leery of admitting that corruption exists in organized labor because they fear that anti-labor conservatives will use that corruption as an excuse to abolish unions. But if they continue to ignore corruption in those unions, this is eventually what will happen. To cite the two examples most often in the news these days, police unions must stop shielding bad cops from accountability for their actions, and teachers’ unions must insist on representing people who can actually teach.

The police brutality now escalating in our society can’t be effectively dealt with if its two main causes — the irresponsibility of government and the corruption of police unions — are left unaddressed.

When I discuss this calmly with progressive friends, away from peers whose wrath they’re afraid of incurring, I find they generally agree with me. It’s rather like reasoning with teenagers, when the rest of their crowd is not present. People can only be reasonably persuaded as individuals. Their behavior around their peers changes dishearteningly little, regardless of their age.

In their regular interactions with government at every level, my progressive friends experience little but frustration. They can point to no solid evidence, in their daily lives, that government makes their lives anything but worse. Yet they continue to believe that government action is the only means to make life better in society as a whole. To libertarians, this is as ridiculous as believing that Santa Claus comes down the chimney every Christmas Eve. But like small children who’ve been told all their lives that Santa brings their presents, statists can conceive of no other possibility.

I laugh at them a lot. I compare them to kids. Many of us think that’s funny, and recognize that it’s also true. But people can’t be persuaded of much when they’re being laughed at. Far from winning them over to our side, it only drives them farther away from it.

If we can bring them back to the principles that made them progressives in the first place, we may be able to show them that every worthy end deserves the best possible means to accomplish it. That “leaders” who keep proposing the same failing strategies do not deserve to be followed. That free people who are willing to persuade and earn trust are more trustworthy than arrogant know-it-alls who use force, fraud and intimidation to get their way. And that unless human beings can be trusted to run their own lives, they certainly can’t be trusted to run the lives of others.  

Really, I’m still a progressive. I simply persist in believing in the principles that made me a progressive in the first place. But I want to see results. I want to see actual progress. I’m kind of funny that way.

Why don’t we see any success from the things their self-proclaimed leaders keep doing? And no, “but the conservatives are worse” is not an answer, any more than “but Mary Jane’s grades were worse” was the answer when they got a bad report card. Mary Jane wasn’t the only other kid in the world, and conservatism isn’t the only other political philosophy.

People can’t be persuaded of much when they’re being laughed at. Far from winning them over to our side, it only drives them farther away from it.

Libertarianism is catching fire, as more and more people discover what it’s all about. Polls increasingly show that even people who don’t call themselves libertarians hold views consistent with our philosophy. Ours is not merely a third option — it is the best option. Now we need to talk to those on the statist left, one-to-one and one-by-one, and help them see why.

That’s a whole lot better than running naked and screaming into the street. We won’t get shot at, laughed at or arrested. And as we lose enemies, we will gain friends.

rsquo;t daunt me so.




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Mr. Yee’s Profession

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The day after Leland Yee was arrested, I was listening to a fill-in anchor on my favorite Southern California talk show. She started discussing the arrest, and I was shocked to hear her say that she had, until that moment, never known of Leland Yee. How, I wondered, could anyone not know this man, and despise him?

California State Senator Leland Yee is a man who crusaded against the Second Amendment with a host of bills designed to make owning a gun as pleasant for a law-abiding citizen as falling into the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. Leland Yee is a man who tried to ban “violent” video games, and who, in response to objections, said, “Gamers have got to just quiet down. Gamers have no credibility in this argument. This is all about their lust for violence and the industry’s lust for money. This is a billion-dollar industry. This is about their self-interest.”

Occasionally someone wonders whether politicians mean what they say. This time it was the FBI.

Leland Yee is the sole Democratic senator who voted against the very, very liberal, Democrat-written state budget, because it didn’t spend enough. Leland Yee is the man who for many years persecuted the University of California, a constitutionally independent entity, attempting to subject it to governance by the legislature. (I freely concede that on this issue I may be biased; I am employed by the University of California. I seek to lessen my appearance of guilt by observing that the state’s contribution to the University’s income is less than 10%, and falling; as the percentage falls, politicians like Yee try even harder to subject the institution to themselves.) As reliably reported, seven of the top eight contributors to Yee are labor unions.

Yee got awards from journalists’ associations for his crusade on behalf of government “transparency” and “open records.” What interested these journalists was the fact that Yee got upset when one of the state colleges paid $75,000 to a certain politician to come and deliver a speech, and the college gave him a hard time when he wanted to find out about it. I don’t think any politician should be paid anything to give a speech to anyone, much less to the hapless denizens of a college, but Yee didn’t object to that sort of thing when members of his own party received honoraria. He got upset when it was Sarah Palin. So he demanded documents and documents and documents from the college, which successfully resisted. It’s at that point that he became an addict of transparency.

The episode that really tickles me, however, was, or started out to be, purely horticultural. Environmental fanatics attempted to remove “exotic” and “intrusive” plants from Golden Gate Park, demanding that the area be restored to its original condition (which was, by the way, mainly a bunch of sand dunes). Yee objected — but you probably won’t guess what his objection was. He didn’t say that cypress trees are pretty, and the climate is exactly right for them, and people like to see them, so why take them out? Oh no. He took the whole thing as an attack on Chinese Americans, who, he said, are regarded by some people as “exotic” and “intrusive.”

If somebody wanted to erect a monument to intrusive self-righteousness, Leland Yee could pose for the statue.

Given this history, I was not unhappy when, on March 26, Leland Yee was arrested — for, among other things, conspiring to traffic firearms illegally.

Take a moment to savor that. Yee was one of the nation’s leading opponents of people’s right to keep and bear arms. He claimed that guns made him want to cry, thinking of his children and other children, and how children are so often victims of gun violence.

But there’s this about transparency: occasionally someone takes it seriously. Occasionally someone wonders whether politicians mean what they say. This time it was the FBI, which infiltrated the social circle of a leading San Francisco gangster, looking for dirt on him, and also on Yee. The investigation may have started because, some years before, Yee had spontaneously decided to visit John Law to dish the dirt on one of his former political disciples, a San Francisco supervisor named Ed Jew . People think that was because Yee didn’t want any political competition. Anyway, Jew got sent to federal prison, and Yee ended up looking funkier than he had ever looked before. He’d had a few scrapes with the law, but nothing had happened to him, what with his being the last advocate of morality and transparency and diversity and the Children and all of that.

Nobody seemed to wonder how Yee could have so many possessions, despite having done nothing but hold “public service” jobs the past 26 years.

Now, however, Yee was being seriously investigated. According to the US Attorney’s affidavit, he and his friends liked to talk with gangsters, and they sounded a lot like gangsters themselves. One of the friends was Keith Jackson, who has now been charged with participating in a murder for hire plot. Jackson is a former president of the San Francisco Board of Education. His story is amusing. Then there was Marlon Sullivan, a sports agent and “consultant” who has advised big-time basketball players. Sullivan said he didn’t need to commit crimes; he just enjoyed doing it. He called it a “power and challenge thing” and said “it was fun” (affidavit, p. 88).About murder for hire, he said, “It’s easy work. . . . I will put eyes on the guy and have my boy knock him down” (88).

As for Yee, he is alleged to have said a lot of fun things. From the affidavit:

  • Yee on his role in supplying illegal arms: "People want to get whatever they want to get. Do I care? No, I don't care. People need certain things” (94).
  • Yee on opportunities to practice crime: "There's tremendous opportunity in local levels . . . because whoever's gonna be the mayor controls everything.” Yee was running for mayor of San Francisco. Should he become mayor, he said, “We control 6.8 billion man, shit" (106, 107).
  • Yee on evading political contributions laws: "As long as you cover your tracks . . . you're fine." Asked how someone could make large donations to him without getting caught, Yee suggested giving to the campaign, supported by (guess who?) Leland Yee, on behalf of a ballot measure to raise money for schools (106, 107).
  • Yee on contributions from gangsters: "By helping me get elected means, I'm gonna take actions on your behalf." "Just give me the goddamned money man, shit. . . You should just tell them, write some fucking checks, man" (127).
  • Yee on political virtue: "Senator Yee attributed his long career in public office to being careful and cautious" (95).
  • Yee on his beloved children: “Yee told [a secret agent] he would take the cash [for illegal activities] and have one of his children write out a check” (102).

It never ends. For starters, see some othertip-of-the-iceberg reports on Yee.

Well, Yee was hauled into court in shackles. Along with 20-plus other defendants, he pleaded not guilty. Unlike the rest of them, however, he was released on a $500,000 unsecured bond. Didn’t have to pay a dime. I guess that’s because he’s such a distinguished citizen.

That very afternoon, the Democratic leaders of the state Senate, suddenly sensitized to public opinion by the fact that during the past couple of months two other Democratic members of the Senate had been hit with criminal charges (and had been allowed to take “leaves of absence”), held a press conference in which they demanded that Yee leave the Senate, now. Never mind about that “innocent until proven guilty” stuff; they needed to protect “the institution.” When, oddly, he didn’t leave, they “suspended” him (and finally, the other two also). The Democratic mayor of San Francisco lamented the damage done to Yee’s many years of “public service.”

Yee on his role in supplying illegal arms: "People want to get whatever they want to get. Do I care? No, I don't care. People need certain things.”

To me, the most interesting remark was made by one Jackie Speier, a Democratic state representative from a wealthy Northern California district. (Did I mention that wealth is liberal? Did I mention that Yee represented western San Francisco and an even wealthier part of San Mateo County? Did I mention that nobody seemed to wonder how he could have so many possessions, despite having done nothing but hold “public service” jobs the past 26 years?) Ms. Speier, who like a lot of people claims never really to have known Mr. Yee — "I don't think anyone knew him," she said — was full of sympathy for politicians in general: "It's always sad for all of us in the profession, to see individuals who lose sight of what the public trust is all about."

The profession. For these people, their life (not that of the guy who fixes roofs or the gal who runs a restaurant) is a public service; their jobs are institutions, like the art museum, the church, and the medical school; and their cheap, stupid, boring existence — cadging money, sitting on committees, giving awards to one another, spreading “outrage” in exchange for votes — is a profession.

As my grandmother used to say, that takes the cake. But what I’d still like to know is this: How could Leland Yee have disgraced thatprofession?




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Is Europe Liberal?

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The EC became the EU in 1992. I lived there at the time, and I wondered if, in socialist Europe, the EU would have a liberal or an illiberal influence. Trade liberalization was an important part of the EC from the beginning, and its successor is still mostly liberal on trade. But then there's everything else, mostly illiberal. And as the EU's powers expand, so does its illiberalism. Although on trade the EU is more liberal than its members, its many new powers are exercised in the interest of the state and its dependents, not in the interest of individual freedoms.

So where does the EU stand on balance? For a long time I wasn't sure. Now I am.

The March 19, 2011 issue of The Economist says that the Euro-zone countries are increasing their bailout of the Euro-basketcase countries, including Ireland and Greece. They lowered the interest rate that they charge to Greece, the country that is most deeply sunk in the basket. But Ireland "received no such concession because it insisted on keeping its low corporate-tax rate." That's right. We are not just a trade union, we are a monetary union; so raise your taxes or suffer the consequences.

On balance, the EU now has an illiberal, anti-libertarian, statist influence on its member states. Taxation and monetary policy are only two examples. There are many more. That little squib in The Economist tipped the scales for me.




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Unsolicited Advice

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The current state of our union has generated many opportunities to share libertarian perspectives on the economy, the constitution, and civil rights; but until I picked up the January-February issue of the Atlantic, I hadn’t seen much opportunity for sharing the libertarian outlook on social and personal relations. In that issue’s book review section there was a piece (no pun intended, you’ll get it as you read along) called “The Hazards of Duke.”

The article, by Caitlin Flanagan,loosely discussing several works (Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, andThe Company She Keeps), disparages Duke University (rightly in many ways), discusses alcohol consumption by young women, and pontificates about differences between male and female perspectives on sex. But its main focus (and the lens through which it views the preceding list) is on a relatively recent internet sensation — Karen Owen’s F*** List — a graduate’s mock senior thesis about her sexual escapades with 13 Duke athletes (“officially” titled — “An Education Beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics”).

Flanagan presumes a great deal about Karen Owen and her thesis, telling us much more about her own attitudes than about Owen. Shedivines Owen’s motivation — revenge on the men who discarded her — tagging it as a theme for women through the ages. She also identifies direct causes for Owen’s actions. For example, she cites a letter to Duke’s school newspaper, written in response to Owen’s thesis, and the surrounding controversy, by sorority members distancing themselves from Owen. According to Flanagan, this “served to underscore the disdain that the actual Karen Owen seems to have engendered in her fellow students, whose closed social system offered her no safe harbor.”

After reading Owen’s “brief communications with the press,” Flanagan contends that it’s hard to believe Owen’s claim that the email she sent to “only three friends” was not for public consumption, but it’s “not at all hard to believe that Owen had only three friends in college.” She then weighs in on Owen’s mental and emotional state: “The overwhelming sense one gets from the thesis is of a young woman who was desperate for human connection, and who had no idea how to obtain it.” The author further laments that poor treatment by one of her early partners “broke [Owen’s] heart and her spirit” and sent her on a self-destructive path.

That’s a lot of presumption.

The article describes a Fox News segment, hosted by Megyn Kelly, discussing Owen’s thesis. Not trusting the author for objective description, I watched the Fox News clip online. The segment included Kelly and two other female legal commentators. After discussing Owen’s possible financial motivations, Kelly said, “I gotta go off topic from the law because I have two beautiful women here who are college and law school graduates. What could she be thinking? First of all, she slept with 13 guys. . . . . I personally, reading this, was disgusted.” One commentator responded, “Disgusted, yeah. She’s dirty. Yeah, I don’t like it at all. I was like ‘Oh my God,’ this is so unbecoming.” After more banter, Kelly said, “I can tell you, having dated the captain of the lacrosse team at Syracuse, men do not respect women who do this.” She added, “You may sleep with half the lacrosse team. They don’t think that’s a great thing. They don’t talk about how great you are. They talk about what a joke you are. So that’s a word to the wise.” Thanking her guests, Kelly closed by saying, “This has nothing to do with the law, but my own unsolicited advice for young women. Don’t sleep around. Don’t be easy. It’s not empowering. It’s embarrassing. You will be the butt of men’s jokes. You will not be respected and you may be humiliated as this woman is now.”

That’s a lot of condemnation.

I looked up Owen’s “thesis” online and found what appeared to be the original power-point on YouTube. Reading it, I did not see the “little girl lost” who was discovered by Flanagan. I just saw someone who was objectively, and at times humorously, evaluating sexual partners from her college years. I was not the only one to see a discrepancy. Looking online for jezebel.com’s interview with Karen Owen, I discovered that a good number of posters, and the reporter who talked with Owen after her list went viral, took Flanagan to task for her many assumptions.

I believe I can identify several different perspectives on this.

The liberal perspective. Flanagan’s theme is clear. Karen Owen was a victim of an alpha-male, athlete-loving, cliquish, misogynist university culture. Her sexual exploits were not her own. Her desires were shaped — nay, deformed — by careless man-boys and a patriarchal system that coddled them. This is not her fault. Duke’s system failed Owen. It “offered her no safe harbor.” Owen deserves our pity. Something must be done, so other girls don’t suffer her fate.

The conservative perspective. Megyn Kelly’s commentary and advice are representative, and painfully traditional. She admits that her advice was unsolicited, yet she was compelled to give it, and keep giving it. It was advice laden with well-wornresentments and prescriptions for proper social and personal behavior for young ladies. It was imparted to viewers as if Mrs. Cunningham were having a serious talk with her daughter on “Happy Days.” Owen is not a good girl. She’s a bad girl. “She’s dirty.” What Owen did was wrong, immoral, disgusting. No self-respecting, young lady does that. It is bad, bad, BAD! SHAME!

Liberals say it’s not her fault. Conservatives say it’s all her fault. Both conclude that Owen is unfortunate. One scolds. One patronizes. Both warn: don’t act this way. It’s bad!

Now, I am no fan of Duke or its athlete-loving culture, but it’s clear from Owen’s own writing that she chose to do certain things with certain people. And she admits enjoying most of her liaisons. There is no accusation of rape or sexual assault, which are criminal acts. There is no blame to be borne here. Though I am a feminist, I do not share Flanagan's sentiments. The Duke University system did not fail Owen. It owed her little beyond an undergraduate education. As for the earnest advice from Ms. Kelly, it is paternalistic, and the shaming aspect is obnoxious. It’s what prompts so many non-Republicans to shout, “Get out of our bedrooms!” And to what purpose did Kelly cite the beauty of her guests? I graduated from college and law school and am now in the dissertation stage of a Ph.D. program. If I tell you what I look like, will that lend any more or less authority to this reflection? Moreover, Kelly’s claim of insight gained by dating the captain of the Syracuse lacrosse team is laughable. Nowhere in her thesis does Owen make any claim that what she was doing was dating. As to Kelly’s traditional invectives against Karen Owen and her exhortations not to sleep around and not be easy, that’s a decision for each individual adult woman to make for herself. Besides, there are two sides to that coin. As Mae West said, “When women go wrong, men go right after them.”

So now, a libertarian perspective. Entering college, Karen Owen was likely 18 years old — old enough to vote, old enough to go to war, and old enough to experiment in various social behaviors. Her thesis does not represent a giant step backward for women, or a giant step forward either. It is simply one individual’s description and humorous assessment of her past activities. It is nothing more, nothing less. As to the other people involved in those activities, they deserve no sympathy because of the publicity she gave them. They, as individuals, each chose to engage in sexual activity with Ms. Owen. If any of them are unhappy that Owen disclosed those activities, every choice has consequences, good or bad. If Owen wants to discuss or analyze these acts, she is free to do so. As are they. While such “postgame analysis” may be in bad taste, there is no law against it, nor should there be. It is simply an additional risk to the already risky act of the college hookup in the internet age.

Though I did not fully appreciate it in my youth, as a mature libertarian I value the advice my father always gave me about social and personal situations: “Be discreet.” He did not mean secretive. He meant that you should think about what you do, and with whom you do it, because all actions have consequences, some quite unwelcome. That’s good advice, solicited or not.




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