Conserving the Body Electric

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My electric company, San Diego Gas and Electric, is a state-franchised monopoly that behaves in the weird way that has become natural for such entities. Obsessed with conserving our reputedly endangered resources, it is trying to get customers to buy less of its product.

Every month it sends me a discouraging report about my energy use. The damning data appear in three graphs.

One is a dull gray and shows the average kilowatt hours used by “90 similar homes an average of 1 mi.” from me. There’s nothing to say how these “homes” are “similar,” besides an indication that the company knows how many square feet I inhabit and whether I own or rent (as if that mattered). Clearly, it doesn’t know how many people live in my place, what their ages are, whether they work for a living, whether they are absent for months at a time, or, really, anything directly relevant to their energy use. And why is it “an average of 1 mi”? Why not within one mile? If my next-door neighbor is included in this similarity derby — which would make a lot of sense, since her home is physically identical to mine — I guess the statisticians will have to identify a corresponding someone two miles away, in a completely different neighborhood and population, to insert among the magic 90. Makes a lotta sense, don’t it?

So who are these efficient people? For all I know, they may be leaving their TV on all night, but they never use their stove.

Another graph is blue. That’s for my own energy use during the month. The third one is green. It represents my “Efficient Neighbors,” and it’s the one that has the enviable, top position in the grand display of stats.

So who are these efficient people? They are the “most efficient 20%” of the “90 similar homes.” So we’re back to that problem. Why these people? But if you’re wondering what “efficient” means, that’s not a mystery: the loaded word simply means that they use less total energy. For all I know, they may be leaving their TV on all night, but they never use their stove — because they go out to eat, thus transferring their inefficient use of energy onto other people’s bills.

I’m not as bad as the average, but I’m one hell of a long way from being “efficient.”

But I know you’re curious to discover exactly how inefficient I am. I’ll tell you. The average energy use of the 90 homes is 322 kWh. The average of the Efficient People (who, remember, are only “efficient” in relation to the 90 users sampled, all of whom, as far as I know, may be 20 times less “efficient” than normal people) is 159 kWh. I, environmental criminal that I am, sucked 303 kWh out of the ecology, all in a single month. I’m not as bad as the average, but I’m one hell of a long way from being “efficient.”

Yet somehow the notices from SDGE fail to make me ashamed of this Neronian orgy of energy use. They inspire me, instead, with two thoughts. The first is, “How much stupid energy does it cost these people to mail me this notice every month?” The second is, “Let’s turn on all the lights.”




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Will the LP Be Destroyed by Victories?

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The thesis of this reflection is simple: if the Republicans move to the right on economic issues, trying to attract fiscal-Right voters, and stay with the Right on guns, while the Democrats move to their social left by supporting legalization of recreational cannabis, sex workers, and gambling, then every Libertarian Party issue will be championed by either Democrats or Republicans who will have a better chance of winning elections. At that point, the LP will have no reason to exist.

The GOP recently passed tax cuts, and the current White House is aggressively deregulating. The LP can do little that the GOP is not already doing. The GOP is also extremely strong on gun rights and opposition to gun control, and, like the Democrats’, its foreign policy is veering toward military disengagement abroad.

The LP has won by forcing the two major parties to embrace libertarian issues in a way that would have been untenable and even unthinkable in previous generations.

Meanwhile, state and local Democratic parties are increasingly willing to reform criminal laws to legalize recreational cannabis. Right now it is also a vanguard or vogue position among far-left Democrats to support legalizing prostitution (a position that has long been championed by gay rights groups on the far left). There are whispers in New York that the Democrats in the state legislature intend to legalize both recreational cannabis and sex workers, a path that other state Democratic Parties are also treading.

The LP has won by forcing the two major parties to embrace libertarian issues in a way that would have been untenable and even unthinkable in previous generations. But take away weed, whores, guns, and tax cuts, and what is left for the LP to talk about? Nothing. There may be nothing more for the LP to do. But do not worry. I have a solution to this problem.

The one thing liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans cannot do is create a social space uniquely for libertarians. The Libertarian Party should essentially reimagine itself as a social club for liberty where running candidates is a hobby but the real purpose is building a community. The LP can organize meetings, sponsor online events, build forums for communication, assist the authorship and distribution of ideological content, and fund academic scholarships. The LP will probably never win elections even if it tries, so it has nothing to lose by moving in this direction.

But take away weed, whores, guns, and tax cuts, and what is left for the LP to talk about?

An organized movement built from LP grassroots community activism could then trickle down into the mass of mainstream voters, keeping the GOP on the far Right and forcing Democrats to defend the social Left. Other than providing services uniquely to libertarians, there may be nothing the LP can do that Republicans or Democrats could not do better in today's political climate.




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Phobe-o-Phobia

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Bigotry, these days, is a subject treated very much like a supernatural monster. Racism, sexism, and homophobia exert an outsized influence on the popular imagination. They are our vampires, werewolves, and zombies. And precisely because of their exaggerated power, while many people fear them, others deny their very existence.

To be accused of being a racist is little different from being charged with sorcery. Anyone so tagged becomes a pariah. Humanity recoils from such an individual as it once might have shrunk from one familiar with the devil. That this is true precisely because racism is no longer considered acceptable in decent society is largely lost on those who see a racist under every rock.

Racism is still, very sadly, real. So, too, are sexism and homophobia, though the latter two still lag behind racism in witching power. The problem develops when people are accused of these faults whether they’re guilty or not. As in colonial Salem, the charge alone is sufficiently damning and needs no proof.

To be accused of being a racist is little different from being charged with sorcery. Anyone so tagged becomes a pariah.

Most bigots don’t think they’re bigots. Their beliefs are misguided, but they’re based in something other than themselves. No one sets out to be a bigot. What sounds like prejudice to others sounds, to them, like the truth.

Racism, sexism, and homophobia — that unholy trinity — are said to simply exist, like the Blob. People in public life are branded, especially as racists, with no thought to their motivation. Any insensitive remark can be cited as proof. The Blob can strike anyone, anywhere.

Some people simply say stupid things. And sometimes, after they’ve said them, they change their minds. Finding a bigot under every rock casts doubt on the entire enterprise. Very often the motive to smear an individual shows more clearly than the motive to hate the members of a particular group of people.

What happens when the charge is factual? Do real bigots suffer much when they’re exposed? When, for every real bigot, there are 20 unjustly accused, which real bigots really suffer?

Free speech tends to show people in a true light. If people aren’t deathly afraid to say the wrong thing, genuine racists, sexists, and homophobes will say what they have to say; but when speech is chilled, everyone is careful. Real bigots can hide.

When, for every real bigot, there are 20 unjustly accused, which real bigots really suffer?

I want to know what people think about me. They shouldn’t need to hide. Not that it makes much difference to me that some may irrationally hate a group I’m part of. I’m an individual, and everyone whose opinion I value judges me as such. The free market will deal harshly with those who wouldn’t serve me because of any circumstance I can’t change — if I even wanted to.

A sort of hysteria has overtaken us. At any time, any one of us could be branded guilty of criminal thought. That’s what bigotry really is — thought. But only those who act upon their hate are truly dangerous. If they can hide, simply refraining from saying the wrong things, we’re defenseless against the actions they may sometime decide to take.

In the hierarchy of accepted speech, certain forms of prejudice are perfectly acceptable. At the other end of the ladder, some people are suspected of bigotry simply by circumstance. Now certain political views come under automatic suspicion. Even wearing a red cap is enough to evoke suspicion. We live in a frightfully irrational age, and the fright is visited on all of us. How many points do I have in the aggrievement Olympics? Two: I’m female and gay. Others will always outrank me. I have to watch my step.

Aggrievement isn’t power. It’s weakness. People obsessed with how badly they’re treated are not masters of their own fate.

The free market will deal harshly with those who wouldn’t serve me because of any circumstance I can’t change — if I even wanted to.

None of the vigilance against bigotry makes me feel safe. Our guards are trigger-happy. In their extremity and sheer irrationality, they’ve turned those who really hate me into heroes. Not surprisingly, standing up to a charge of bigotry has become an act of courage — a mark of integrity.

I think I’ll take my chances alongside those who resist the witch hunt. That sometimes puts me in strange company. But bigotry is on the wane, and the very atmosphere of hysteria — of unsubstantiated or exaggerated claims of bigotry — is proof that it is. Someday, sane people will realize that. When we’ve all been branded, branding will no longer loom as a threat.

In the meantime, I still don’t have enough points. Surely that ought to count as a handicap. May I have another point?




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Flying Down to Rio?

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While I am no President Trump fan — indeed, I regard The Boss as a deeply flawed president — intellectual honesty dictates that I should give him credit when credit is due. And I think that a recent meeting he had yielded some results that are worth reflecting upon. I refer to Trump's meeting on March 19 with Brazil's newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro. The two populist presidents appeared to get along well, as is perhaps to be expected from birds of a feather.

What was quite interesting was that The Boss announced he will designate Brazil a "major non-NATO ally" — interesting because the heralding of closer military ties, which is probably insignificant in itself, could lead to increased trade. Brazil is Latin America's geographically largest country, and its most populous (at well over 200 million people). Moreover, despite some poor performance during recent years, it is Latin America's largest economy, and the world's eighth largest, with a GDP of over $3.5 trillion.

Trump and Bolsonaro appeared to get along well, as is perhaps to be expected from birds of a feather.

The Boss even suggested that he would favor giving Brazil full NATO membership — totally bizarre, given his past skeptical remarks about the value of NATO and his seeming indifference to its cohesion and continued existence. In any event, NATO membership seems an unrealistic suggestion.

First, all the other 29 members of the alliance would have to agree, and clearly some of the current members — Germany and Turkey, to name but two — are run by leaders who hold Trump in deep disdain.

Second, Brazil currently spends only about 1.3% of its GDP on defense, and the requirement for a country being in NATO — albeit so far lightly enforced — is to commit to 2% of GDP to defense.

Trump has been good at raising tariffs and slowing free trade. The markets have not liked this.

Third, while Brazil's own erratic President Bolsonaro has expressed admiration for The Boss — no doubt a factor in the sudden warming of relations between the two countries — he has the Brazilian population to contend with. He is the first rightwing president the nation has elected in the 30 years since the military surrendered power. Since the US backed the military regime, many Brazilians are of course wary of American motives.

Still, this meeting and its results are a good first step toward a closer relationship with what is already an important international player with the potential to become a major power. The joke has been that Brazil has been and always will be a potential major power, but never an actual one. But perhaps the nation will finally eschew the sweet promises of socialism, settle into a centrist government with liberal economics, and thereby realize its true potential.

The real opportunity here, I would urge, lies not in the military but in the economic realm. We used to be Brazil's major trading partner. But China took that position a few decades ago, and still holds it. This is unsurprising, because China negotiated a free trade agreement with Brazil — something neither George Bush (who was quite good on free trade) nor Barack Obama (who opposed free trade until toward the end of his second term) even tried to do. This suggests an opening for The Boss, who half the time claims to favor free trade — although in the other half he bashes it, in gales of creative protectionism. He could at least open exploratory talks on the issue. Actually, there is probably a quick way to land a deal: ask for the same deal China got!

Perhaps Trump's ultimate desire to get a second term may lead him to not just talk about free trade, but to do something to actually advance it.

Brazil and America are a good fit for trading partners: we produce a lot of high-tech goods that Brazil needs, such as high-tech tractors and farm machinery. The Boss has been good at raising tariffs and slowing free trade. The markets have not liked this, and if the promised trade agreement with China falls through, the market will likely drop dramatically. And China, in retaliation to his tariffs, has switched buying soybeans and other agricultural goods from us to Brazil. This has made Brazil the world's largest exporter of soybeans, now eclipsing the US. The result — depressed prices for soybeans and other products, resulting in steep declines in many farm incomes — may well cost Trump crucial votes for his reelection. This — if it were combined with a stock market dramatically below what it is now — would likely cost him reelection.

So perhaps Trump's ultimate desire to get a second term may lead him to not just talk about free trade, but to do something to actually advance it. Who knows? Stranger things have happened, and The Boss is after all surpassing strange.




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Trump and His Antagonists

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Republicans who have experienced Citizen Kane may remember the scene in which candidate Kane gives his big pre-election speech. It’s all about how much he hates the opposition political boss, Jim W. Gettys:

Here's one promise I'll make and Boss Jim Gettys knows I'll keep it. My first official act as Governor of this state will be to appoint a special District Attorney to arrange for the indictment, prosecution and conviction of Boss Jim W. Gettys!

Kane’s wife and small son are watching from the balcony. The son asks, “Mother, is Pop governor yet?” “Not yet, Junior,” she replies. And that very night, she destroys Kane’s political career. You can take Kane’s promise as tragic overreach or comic overreach, but it’s overreach of some kind, and it earns the ordinary reward of overreach, which is failure.

Trump is open to severe criticism in many respects, but the “evidence” that launched this investigation was always laughable.

That is what occurred with the attempt to indict, prosecute, and convict Boss Donald J. Trump, and Republicans (at least those of the non-RINO type) have every reason to celebrate. But this isn’t just a story about a Republican president who is now better “positioned” for the next election. It’s a story about the power of the modern liberal state.

Obama-era officials of the FBI and the Justice Department joined with RINOs such as John McCain and with employees of the Hillary Clinton campaign to accuse Trump of subverting the American electoral process. With remarkably few exceptions, Democratic lawmakers, journalists, and academics expressed a fanatical belief in Trump’s guilt. An investigation was demanded, with the obvious purpose of having Trump thrown out of office and, if possible, sent to jail. The investigation was undertaken, and staffed with Democrats and “pit bulls.” During it, people who were alleged to have committed crimes unrelated to the investigators’ charge were apprehended with police state tactics and prosecuted in an inquisitorial fashion. For almost two years, Trump’s dealings were zealously explored, with the apparent goal of discovering something, anything, on which a charge could be based. Nothing was found.

This outcome should not be surprising to reasonable people of any party. Trump is open to severe criticism in many respects, but the “evidence” that launched the investigation was always laughable. The accusations in the Salem witch trials were a good deal more persuasive. Yet for two years, respected lawyers and journalists, leading members of “the intelligence community,” and the most powerful officials of the Democratic Party insisted that Trump was certainly and obviously guilty. When the investigation turned up nothing, most of them immediately began inventing new ways of investigating and convicting him, making no secret of their intention to get something on him.

Gettys’ riposte to Kane summarizes the affair to date: “You’re makin’ a bigger fool of yourself than I thought you would. . . . Anybody else, I'd say what's gonna happen to you would be a lesson to you. Only you're gonna need more than one lesson. And you're gonna get more than one lesson.” The presence of opponents who keep making fools of themselves should gladden the Republicans’ hearts, and it does. The problem is . . . well, I’ll speak for myself. I don’t want to live in an America in which even the president can be subjected to relentless judicial and legislative persecution, replete with accusations of “treason,” a charge that carries the death penalty. I take this personally. I don’t want it to happen to me. It makes me sick to see that it’s not just about Trump; it’s part of a deadly pattern.

With remarkably few exceptions, Democratic lawmakers, journalists, and academics expressed a fanatical belief in Trump’s guilt.

During the McCarthy era, people were harried for being “un-American.” Then there was something of a national repentance over insubstantial but fanatical accusations. A few years ago, it all started again, only worse. The “liberals” revived the term and have used it constantly ever since. Of course it is used of Trump. But it is also used of people who are, frankly, just like you and me.

If you are a libertarian, you spend a lot of your time entertaining or even pushing ideas that are un-American according to “liberal” or “progressive” activists and their endorsers in political office — ideas about guns, ideas about freedom of speech, ideas about equal treatment of races and genders, ideas about historical objectivity, ideas about welfare and social security, ideas even about the climate. If you reveal these views, you are unlikely to get a job as a teacher, or to be able to speak on a college campus without disruption or violence. Should you somehow become influential, you have a good chance of being harassed by mobs or boycotts. Whether you are influential or not, you have a good chance of being banned from social media. If you are a student in most parts of the country, you will have next to no chance of learning the views in question, except as they are scorned and ridiculed by teachers or professors. If you are merely an American citizen wearing a red hat, you face the significant possibility of violence if you enter a “liberal” neighborhood. If you are a person trying to run a business, or just trying to get to work in a neighborhood targeted by environmentalists, you find your life increasingly restricted — though not as restricted as the life of an inner-city mother trying to raise her kids under the increasingly heavy weight of the “progressive” state, killing jobs, killing her children’s education, killing her ability to defend her children and herself from the institutionalized violence of the War on Drugs.

Some Republicans are too preoccupied with worship of cops and soldiers, or with their own opportunities to engage in crony capitalism, to care about any of this. Others are coming to accept it as a fact of life. But it is not a fact of life, and it is no minor development. It is an attempt to change America into a place where the “progressive” state has a monopoly of wealth, power, and influence. Trump is not the issue. This is the issue.




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Mirror Blind

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Each week, I prepare a packet of five cartoons that I submit to the editor of a newspaper group. The editor runs one of them. Back in 2012, two of the cartoons that were not published dealt with President Obama’s decision to defer the deportations of the “dreamers” and their parents.

The first cartoon showed two men walking in front of the US Capitol. One says to the other, “Well, you know what they say about power: Abuse it or lose it.”

The second showed an undocumented migrant being interviewed by a journalist at the border. Journalist: “Why are you migrating to the US?” Migrant: “Because in my country the president ignores the legislature and does whatever he wants.” Journalist: “So, why are you migrating to the US?”

I recently resubmitted these two cartoons, on two different weeks. Both were published. The rest were rejected. I think I’ll hold on to them.




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Something There Is

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“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall...”
                                                         —Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”

I’m far from convinced that a border wall is desirable. But the people who fulminate against it tend to be so insufferable that they push me into seeing the good side of it, if only out of sheer contrariness. I am sick of “progressives” lecturing me on bigotry. They’re the last people on the planet with any room to talk.

Supposedly, wanting a wall is racist. Though actually, it’s pretty racist to lump people who obey the law — including immigration laws — together with those who don’t, based on nothing but skin color. Do “progressives” think that for those south of the border, criminality is the norm? Most of those trying to reach this country hope to leave the criminals behind them; they don’t appear to be in favor of letting everyone in.

These United States have held together as long as they have not only because they permitted compatible people to live together, but because they let incompatible people live apart.

Walls don’t only divide. They also unite. Good neighbors on each side of them are usually glad they’re there. A wall lets you be you, and me be me. Forcing people to put up with one another does nothing to help them get along.

People don’t all want the same things out of life. These United States have held together as long as they have not only because they permitted compatible people to live together, but because they let incompatible people live apart. I am a Westerner, born and bred. There is little chance I’d ever move East of the Mississippi, and I would appreciate it if people from those parts stopped trying to turn Arizona into Massachusetts or New Jersey. People north of the Mexican border can be forgiven for not wanting the US to become Mexico, Guatemala, or Venezuela.

It is not racist to want to separate oneself from violent and lawless people, or even from those whose way of life vastly differs from one’s own. Nor is it racist to prefer the company of those who want to preserve our way of life and can be trusted to do us no harm. There should be ways to make sure that people stop before they enter the country — actually stop — so we can see whether they will affirm our way of life as other immigrants have done. Though I think the wall would be unnecessary and excessively expensive, I do understand the reasons why a fair number of Americans want one. To dismiss them all as racist is irrational and intellectually dishonest.

I have lived around Hispanic Americans all my life. On the whole, I like them. They are a part of the culture of my home state, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere they weren’t welcome. I don’t associate those I know with human traffickers, drug smugglers, or murderers. People who make such a general association are racist, and no matter how much they may project their guilt onto others, the definition fits.

Though I think the wall would be unnecessary and excessively expensive, I do understand the reasons why a fair number of Americans want one.

But people who emigrate to the United States should be amenable to our culture. Not everyone who comes to our country respects it, or wishes to live a life compatible with our ideals. Education by state-run schools tends to indoctrinate the young into a reliance on the state to solve all social problems. I stand equidistant from those who want a border wall and those who want open borders.

Among those opposed to a wall, I strongly suspect there are many for whom that viewpoint’s primary attraction is that they want to be as different as possible from people who want one. Libertarians are divided on the issue, depending on whether they believe freer movement between countries is worth the risk of cultural decay. The problem is that as our culture decays, a commitment to liberty erodes along with it.

Libertarians have a tremendous stake in the promotion of what has traditionally been called American culture. We have no reason to assume that if we throw the gates open wide, all of those who stream in are going to respect liberty, individual responsibility, or what we hold to be basic human rights. We need to stand firmly for the values we hold dear.

I’ve been asked several times to run for office. I refuse to do that, because I’d run as a libertarian — which means that I would lose. The world doesn’t need any more politicians, but it needs every libertarian it can get.

Race and culture are frequently confused. Those who love liberty and individual responsibility are accused of racism — as if only people of white European ancestry can be assumed to care about such things. But it’s definitely racist to attribute particular ideas to certain races. A nonracist — and truly libertarian — policy would be to preserve and promote our culture, both in our immigration policies and in the education of our own citizens.

The world doesn’t need any more politicians, but it needs every libertarian it can get.

We don’t need a wall, but we do need something. Good fences do make good neighbors, but if I dislike the idea of Arizona becoming New Jersey, I hate even more the possibility that it might become East Germany. With or without an actual wall, a police state mentality is poisonous.

So, what is that “something?” What influence can we exert (“control” may be too strong a word) over who comes to the United States and why? And how can we do this if we don’t win elections and seize power?

We can refuse to call people racist when they express concern over what is happening to our culture. We can also take a greater interest in what is taught in our schools. We may not like the fact that most of them are taxpayer-funded, but as long as we are among those funding them, we have not only a right, but also a duty to insist that an appreciation for Western civilization is being inculcated. In the foreseeable future, most kids will continue to be educated in public schools.

If I dislike the idea of Arizona becoming New Jersey, I hate even more the possibility that it might become East Germany.

Liberty, societal stability, and the protection of natural rights answer common human yearnings. There are people in all cultures who do not have these yearnings, but there are also people who do. “Freedom has many difficulties,” noted President Kennedy, “and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.”

If we don’t continue to stand for freedom here at home, the time will come when those who oppose a wall to keep immigrants out will indeed need walls to keep us in. We owe it to Americans of every race and generation to make sure that those who come to our country to escape hell aren’t bringing it along with them.




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The True Scandal of College Admissions

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Around the Ides of March, the college admissions scandal became America’s most popular news story. Many people were surprised, and very unhappily surprised, to learn that there was widespread cheating on college admissions. As someone who teaches in a college, I was shocked, but not surprised. I’ll tell you why.

A few years ago, I enjoyed one of my few social encounters with the very rich. I was invited, along with several other faculty members, to a country club lunch for graduating seniors from the town’s best prep school. The food was pretty good, and the people — the students and their parents — were very nice. There was no agenda, but the topic of conversation soon became the terror gripping both parents and children — the hideous, enormous, overwhelming fear that the kids wouldn’t get into college. All of them were applying to seven or eight schools, including one or two C-rate schools in case they were rejected by the better ones.

I reminded everybody that the kids were attending a high school with a great reputation, and that (as I had been told) they had good grades and high test scores, so of course they’d get into a good college. My words did nothing to dispel the terror, which was irrational and obsessive. It was as if the kids had cancer and were desperately trying to find a doctor — any doctor — who could cure it. The possibility that the cancer didn’t exist meant nothing at all.

In our time, the idea of college inspires unnatural respect and, consequently, unnatural anxiety. The students I met at the country club were well motivated; they would probably do well in college and get some intellectual benefit from it — if they and their parents could ever relax for a moment and indulge a bit of intellectual curiosity. But what shall we say of the millions of other kids who have no purpose in attending college except to receive a credential of purportedly exalted social status? They are wasting their time; the credential is false. It’s a credential awarded for nothing but showing up — as is particularly evident in the millions of instances in which the college itself, whether “noted” or not, is merely a degree mill; the courses passed are such as anyone can, and will, pass, addressed to subjects that are not worth knowing, and taught by professors who spend half their time in political agitation and the other half burnishing their resumes with absurd or empty “publications.”

America is a country that provides commencement ceremonies for kids who graduate from kindergarten — complete with tiny diplomas testifying to the fact that, yes, praise God, they made it! America is a country in which orgies of tearful congratulation are lavished on the “long, hard work” of young men and women who manage to leave high school without knowing how to read or write. America is a country that annually bestows upon higher education approximately two-thirds of a trillion dollars, the majority of which is spent on the production of credentials that are significant only because Americans assume that you are not significant without one.

In this context, the fact that a few (all right, a lot of) parents are willing to spend a fortune bribing colleges to admit their offspring, without any concern for the offspring’s desires or talents, or for the ethics of buying a status that is meaningful only if it results from intellectual achievement — no, that fact should not be surprising. Taken as a sign of the national mentality, however, it is certainly shocking, and still more shocking when one hears politician after politician proposing that the imaginary glory of attending college be passed out free, to all, like the shopping ads that cram your mailbox. America is now a place where everyone demands certification, even if it is the kind of certification that anyone — anyone, that is, with any values — should recognize as utterly and obviously bereft of meaning. Yes, that’s shocking, but at this point it is also quite predictable.




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Got Wolves?

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An environmental outfit named the Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit endeavoring to prevent the national administration from removing gray wolves from the endangered species list. It goes farther. It insists that a “comprehensive recovery plan” be provided for “gray wolves nationwide.” The group notes that “wolves are still missing from more than 90 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states, and the Endangered Species Act, and common sense[!] tell us we can't ignore that loss. We’re doing all we can to make sure Trump officials fulfill their obligation to restore wolves in key habitats across the country.”

Well. According to Wikipedia, which is not always the arbiter of truth but in this case seems likely (to apply the words of Margo Channing, used in a slightly different context) to be as trustworthy as the World Almanac, there are 50 or 60 thousand wolves in Canada, six or seven thousand in Alaska, and insignificant numbers in other parts of the United States. I think wolves are pretty cool — until you run into one — but this is no endangered species. It is one of many species that environmentalists have singled out, not for preservation, but for universalization.

The “historic range” of the gray wolf is pretty much all of non-tropical North America. The reason why it isn’t roaming free in Cincinnati is mainly that it is a predator on other animals, chiefly the animals that humans use for food. The gray wolf is anathema to farmers and stockmen, and if they find a wolf, they will kill it, law or no law.

They have more common sense than the citizens of a wealthy San Francisco suburb who kept discovering that they had a coyote problem when little kids saw the animal(s) stalking their pets. When the remains of a deer were discovered on the grade-school playground, the doting parents almost unanimously came out in favor of . . . Guess what? Protecting their kids? No. They came out in favor of letting predators continue their predations. Why? “Because the coyotes were here before we were.” A friend reports that similar comments were made when a rattlesnake was discovered in a resort near Santa Cruz, and the mother of a small child came at it with a shovel. “Don’t kill it!” the chorus shouted. “We’re on its land!”

If Ayn Rand was ever right about self-sacrifice being vicious, this is the time. More vicious, intellectually, is the idea that someone or something has a right to be “recovered” back to the place where it used to live. Buffalos do not have the right to camp out on the streets of Indianapolis. Grizzlies do not have the right to eat dead mammals on the beach at Santa Monica. Even I . . . I am Scotch-Irish (mainly), but I do not have a right to be restored to my historic range in the western isles of Europe. My current home sits squarely in the historic range of multitudes of rodents, snakes, insects, and weeds, and I am fully within my rights to keep them from recovering it.

If you think otherwise, you don’t know how to think. If you demand that other people pay for your recovery projects, you don’t know how to live.

* * *

For other discussions of “extinction” and “endangerment” of species, see: “They Shoot Owls, Don’t They?”, “The Hoot-Out at the OK Corral,” “The Great Butterfly Diaspora,” and “Lies, damned lies, and the dodo” (p. 11–12).




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The Two Socialisms

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When I was in college, the selling point of socialism, communism, revolutionary activism, all of that, was something called “participatory democracy.” That’s what the mighty SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) stood for. That’s what the neo-Marxists stood for. That’s what all the “community organizers” stood for. The idea, endlessly reiterated, was that “decisions must be made by the people affected by those decisions.” No one talked about Medicare for all, or government-funded preschools, or government-mandated revisions of the environment. The idea was that centralized “state capitalism” was wrong, not primarily because it was inefficient, or even inequitable in its effects, but because its decisions were not “democratic.” They had not been made by the people affected by them. If it was inequitable or “slow” (i.e., inefficient), that was why.

Now we are witnessing an immense revival of “socialism,” led by Democratic Party opportunists and hacks. And it is all about laws that need to be made to increase the power of the centralized state. It is about giving professional politicians sole power over healthcare, housing, education, transportation, employment, qualifications for voting, and the possibility of self-defense — and all this without the tiniest hint that anyone except the Philosopher Kings who compose the Democratic Majority in the House of Representatives should be consulted. Participation? What’s that?

American “socialism” has shifted, in our time, from a demotic and “participatory” style to a rule-from-the-top dogmatism.

I have to be honest. I am a foe of “participatory democracy.” I do not believe it is optimal, in any sense, to give power over the individual’s existence to whoever happens to be a coworker, a fellow student, or just a guy who happens to turn up at a meeting. I find myself unable to decide whether a regime of little Red Guards is more repellent than a regime of Bernie Sanders bureaucrats arrayed, rank on rank and cube on cube, to decide what the width of my bathroom door should be.

But I think it’s worthy of notice that American “socialism” has shifted, in our time, from a demotic and “participatory” style to a rule-from-the-top dogmatism, constantly twisting in response to the whims of the politicians but always determined to enforce those whims.

I wonder whether any of the socialists have noticed this. Perhaps they are as ignorant of their own traditions as they are of economics or sociology, or respect for anyone except themselves.




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