It happened earlier this week: Jeb Bush, former governor of the State of Florida, tentatively threw his hat into the ring. He says he is now “exploring” whether to run for the 2016 Republican nomination for the presidency.

And so now America’s descent into junior-high-school level politics can begin in full tedium.

I know, I know — Jeb has long been considered the “smart Bush.” But for the American people to vote in a third Bush says something very saddening about the intelligence of . . . the American people.

Or at least the level at which Americans think about national politics.

There are few more purely political (as opposed to governmental) things more vexing than dynastic politics within a democracy. Or a republic. Of, for that matter, a plutocratic oligarchy.

To select even the smartest candidate out of fairly lackluster line simply because the family name is widely recognized shows how far Americans have allowed themselves to drift away from ideas. Ideas that matter.

There have been previous dynastic families in American politics, of course. We can name three presidential families straight off: the Adamses, the Harrisons, and the Roosevelts.  Let’s just say that the Bushes don’t quite measure up to the Adamses. (We can argue about the other comparisons.) And opting for a third Bush to prevent a second Clinton strikes me as something better left to satire than to real life.

I’m with the first instincts of the smartest Bush, Barbara. She opined in 2013 that “we’ve had enough Bushes in the White House.” Her later retraction seems more family-politic than wise.

Go with your anti-dynastic instincts, America, no matter how nice or competent or even “smart” Jeb Bush may be.

Same for Hillary.

Popular writer and philosopher Alain de Botton tweeted (@alaindebotton):

All the attention goes on unemployment figures; we should spare a thought for a new concept: Misemployment:

Now, I confess. I stopped watching the video halfway through. Why? Moralistic prigs are tiresome bores. Even when they are sexy-voiced women with great accents.

You disapprove of cigarettes, so someone who works making cigarettes is “misemployed.” The fact that many people like smoking cigarettes and willingly part with portions of their incomes to purchase cigarettes means, apparently, nothing to those who employ the moralistically defined “misemployment.”

Similarly, I know other people who do the same sort of thing. You are misemployed if you make or sell condoms. It is wrong to facilitate cheap, promiscuous sex, and thereby attempt to avoid the natural consequences of wanton fornication. Married couples should produce babies. There is the source of true civilization, say these folks.

The two groups may interpenetrate. The video (up till when I stopped watching) also targeted gambling. Obviously, people helping people gamble are misemployed! Social conservatives can ally themselves with hip cosmopolitans to find a multitude of ways to denigrate those in the business of gambling.

The fact that many people like to gamble, and engage in contracts — voluntary agreements where title to goods and services are exchanged — to enable gambling to take place? Means nothing. Gambling is bad, you see, so those in the gambling industry are “misemployed.”

I can play this game, too. All rap artists are misemployed; their “music” being ’rap. Everyone involved in making bread is misemployed, since wheat products are a scourge upon the modern diet, along with potatoes, corn, peas, sugar, fake sugars, and the whole “low-fat” food industry — and purveyors of same. All philosophers touting overly moralistic definitions are misemployed.

Perhaps even Plato and Aristotle were misemployed. They, too, talked about “true needs.”

But then, so did, in his way, Epicurus. And somehow did not come off as a moralizing prig.

Why not load up our economic terms with enough morality that will further distract people from understanding how markets actually work? It is all the rage. People who know very little about economics love to do this. They have been doing it for a very long time. Thomas Carlyle did this when he coined the term “dismal science” because he was annoyed that good old-fashioned racism and authoritarianism were being denigrated by those who studied private property and market exchanges and saw the amazing resilience of voluntary exchanges over contrivances of governments.

I would prefer to employ the term in a non-smarmy, non-moralistic way. Sure there is “‎misemployment‬”: it is employment in a business that fails, that requires subsidies to keep going, etc. Unsustainable businesses that fail to meet their goals employ workers, until they go broke, arguably misemploying them up until they cease employing anyone.

The concept, the term, would then serve as the labor analog to ‪malinvestment‬.

It would revive the old, hoary topic — common amongst the classical economists — of “unproductive labor.” Truly unproductive labor fails on the marketplace. It saps capital from desired uses to dedicate it to uses that do not pan out.

The classic example? Digging holes to fill them up again. Make-work. You know, the favorite pet projects of modern-day low-brow Keynesians.

Is there anything to the moralistic use of the term? Well, it is obvious that many people would like to labor at something they can be proud of. It’s hard for some to be proud of selling pornography, or gambling, or abortions, or what-have-you. It is an obvious fact of life that the kind of labor that is most self-fulfilling is not the most socially desired, as expressed in markets or governments. If the most fulfilling work you can do would be to imitate spiderwebs with corn husk fibers, you are unlikely to find a place in society — any society — where that peculiar talent is rewarded as much as your ability to shovel horse manure, dog poop, or human bodily waste. Everyone wants to have the shit removed from our daily presences. Actually removing the scat? That is not so wonderful a task. So we often pay someone else.

In a market society, we can expect a labor market for shit shovelers. And the like. It’s not the most rewarding work, but it may be the most remunerative for some folks. Others may find something a tad more glorious (say, managing an outfit called Excreta Removers, or building a website for PoopRemovers.com). But much of what we do to get by is not glorious. Are we misemployed for our lack of glory?

This is not simply a feature of market economies. All economies have this problem. If who shovels what isn’t decided by bids and asks in the marketplace for services and labor, then they are usually decided by coercion. Or tradition.

Systems of little or no choice.

I prefer choice. That is, less compulsion. And the greater options one commonly finds in vibrant markets.

But we do get, here, to the nagging feeling behind much anti-market worry. I think of it as the Prostitution Problem. Most religions and most societies do not glorify whores and whoremongering. Traditionally, a woman marries and has babies, and that was her lot in life. Those who sell discrete acts of sexual favors tend to get looked down upon. A high-minded life choice, marriage and babies, was forsaken for a more transactions-based choice, prostitution. Hence we talk about artists “prostituting” their calling by catering to mass taste.

This metaphorical prostitution is not unimportant. It is something nearly everyone struggles with. While working for someone else, many would rather work as their own boss. But that is actually harder work. Often less secure pay. So one prostitutes oneself by choosing a career in law rather than as a Chautauqua speaker; one prostitutes oneself by writing for advertising instead of the Great American Novel (that too few will read); one prostitutes oneself by going into sales rather than serving the poor.

I doubt if I have met anyone who has not struggled with this. It is indeed a moral problem. And out of this concern is borne the moralistic coinages like misemployment.

But note how it was used in the video: some people’s choices are better than others because of . . . yuck. Their jobs are icky, dirty, or somehow disturbing.

And all the while the more fundamental problem is elided: individual responsibility to make the choices regarding how to employ one’s time, attention, and labor, and then the transactional methods of such employment. Are the transactions voluntary? If no, then no matter what good effects deserve to get some discount in our moral calculus. I may have a taste for great art. But if I obtain my great art by theft, my career path probably deserves something other than a “mis” prefix.

Further, if it turns out that I have hired myself out to a company that fails, and spent months and years devoted to a project that never sees the light of final sale, then I have helped waste capital in a quite literal sense. I would say that folks who only get hired by failing companies might best deserve the designator “misemployed.” The test of a business can be made in terms of profit and loss. We do not want to prop up businesses that cannot maintain profits. We want, instead, for businesses and laborers to try to make it on the market, serving customers each step of the way.

Markets are discovery systems. Through profit and loss, market participants learn what is desired on what terms, and figure out manageable ways to accommodate others’ desires. Demands. (Which are, after all, expressed not in packets of moral values but valued commodities, in terms of useful services, or commodities saved up, often in money.) Part of the whole system assumes that people must make their own decisions about how to employ their resources, which includes time and attention as well as savings; human capital as well as capital itself.

And as for moral choices about what to do with one’s labor. I probably prefer the attitude of St. Paul, who thought each person should work out his own salvation in “fear and trembling.” The fear and the trembling should be self-directed, when it comes to work choice, not shamed and assaulted by moralists who carry a lot of baggage from other disputes.

That is, beware of moralists misemploying “misemployment.”


OK, after writing the above I watched the whole video. The perpetrators of this oh-so-trendy concoction of censure and uplift reduce their argument to absurdity, near the end, when they credit governments with reducing unemployment by “stimulating demand,” calling it “technically effective.”Whole books have been devoted to how wrongheaded that notion is. Missing is the obvious point that demand management by the state is a cyclical countermeasure, not a long-term, secular policy. Further, governments that intervene in their economies most — especially in the labor markets, France being the grand example — have high levels of permanent unemployment. Very high levels. Which America, in this period of never-ending monetary and fiscal stimulus, is now emulating. All the major welfare states are supporting non-working classes. Who, I think it is safe to say, are wasting their own lives, and those of their spawn.


My final thoughts on this are simple, though: the moralizing element is always going on in society. We do, constantly, revise our desires and demand schedules (and therefore our supply schedules) to meet with moral concerns. And as people figure out what they would rather be doing, and find ways to switch to more otherwise-preferable occupations, personal progress on moral lines does occur.

But, as I indicated above, this process is by no means uncontroversial. Moral ideas vary. My aspiration is your animadversion. I know many vegetarians who want an end to the slaughter of animals, and all forms of animal cruelty, etc. I eat a primal diet and look upon vegetarians as deluded fools capable of gross crimes against humanity, all in the name of “caring.” For every feel-good sex-positive communitarian out there, others hold to a sexual purity ethos based on the ancient monotheisms. These are all very different. A sex-positive communitarian who hates smoking and gambling is very different from a puritanical Christian (or Muslim) who simply does not smoke, hates gambling, and loathes split families. How government could encourage “proper employment” in terms talked about in the video without siding with one religious or philosophical value set over others escapes me.

The most infamous case in my lifetime has been the amazing success of the anti-fat crusade, which got going heavily in the U.S. during the 1970s, and more than nudged a lot of people all-too-eager into buying “low fat” and “no fat” products. During this period, it just so happens, the American population got fatter, more corpulent. Obesity became the norm. All that moralizing about how awful fat and red meat was? Very successful. And somehow Americans got fatter! The truth was that the crusade was wrong from the start. It fed on moral and sub-moral premises. A new purity ethic evolved, and industry fed it, and government subsidized it. And it was perverse. Now we are learning that fat does not make you fat, that the real killer is refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup, the removal of fats from many confections and lard from the production of French fries, and the pushing (often by government) of vegetable oils.

The most “successful” story of markets aligning to particular values, all with a moral tinge, is an example of utter disaster.

But governments could uphold a rule of law, instead, and get out of siding with one business and not another, one industry over others, one business plan or consumer set of goods to replace the competition. Governments could stick to discouraging actual, tangible non-value-laden transactions like theft, and fraud. That is something governments could do. And should do before we take up the moral cudgel.

But they will not, I am pretty sure, if people are worrying mostly about moralistic “misemployment.”

A friend of mine devised one of those nifty little visual memes. He is resolute in his avoidance of social media, and prefers anonymity. So I promote his work here. Enjoy.

guide_to_politics

How we see ourselves is not necessarily (indeed, rarely is) how others see us.

First attempt:

The inability to interpret the exact meaning of criticisms of one’s own ideas is probably the most universal intellectual failing of literate people.

That’s how I probably would have written it when I was young. And I likely would have left it there, satisfied. These days, I’m willing to give it another try or two:

A very common failing: the inability to comprehend the exact meaning of criticism directed against one’s own ideas.

Well, that was shorter. Maybe this:

No failing blights the realm of allegedly literate society more than the inability to interpret correctly criticism of deeply held beliefs.

Perhaps I should marshal a more caustic tone, and immediately expand:

Widespread literacy has not yet produced a people able to meet criticism while retaining basic comprehension skills. Facing a critique, your average intellectual panics and makes a fool of himself. Hysteria is not uncommon; over-reacction, the norm. Forgetting the exact wording before his blinded eyes, the criticized takes up the cudgel to beat back ideas hidden between the words, swinging to destroy intentions not demonstrated and insults not in fact delivered.

Criticism too often sends the poor creature into fight or flight mode, while the better tactic likely would have been to stand ground and sniff the wind. Maybe there was something to the critique after all. Or maybe its import would prove not altogether antagonistic, but, even in error, worth learning from.

The idea being that civilization is best upheld by the cautious, the curious, and the not easily ruffled. Do not signal a fight until the fight must actually be made. A criticism may be an addendum in disguise. Or an attempt at early revision.

And so I continue to struggle to make some sense of the world of ideas in collision.

Obvious criticism of my sentence? Some thinkers in the past have indeed been able to keep their cool in the face of criticism. The historic claim is obviously suspect. The intention of its author (me), almost certainly refers to a bunch of touchy, ill-mannered poseurs on the Internet.

In the back of my mind? Authors who have written letters to magazines defending their work against public criticism. When I worked in the magazine biz, in my very humble position, our policy was to limit author responses to readers’ letters of criticism. So, when I was called a “pipsqueak” by a well-known professional philosopher, we in the editorial room laughed and laughed and laughed. By losing his cool, the philosopher harmed his own cause, not mine. His was the over-reaction (and boy, was it an over-reaction.)

Of course, today’s class of easily offended and self-righteous ideologues interpenetrates many other classes indeed. Taking offense is the new mania, umbrage theater the national pastime.

I have long resisted the pull of the pack, and I try not to “lose it” when facing criticism. But I  obviously go into other modes, such as the no-kill-like-overkill explanatory response.

But I still do manage to leave alone and let go at least half of my chances to react. Sometimes I can keep silent, or even resume silence. And then advance a new foray when the fog of disagreement lifts, as it must, over time.

And, I hope, learn from both my errors and others’. There is plenty to learn from.

The best response to shirts you do not like is a shirt of your own.

Or, in Ms. Kardashian’s case, a blouse.kim-kardashian-science-shirt-small

This is, of course, all about the #ShirtGate #shirtstorm. The article about Ms. Kardashian’s cartoon-scientist-festooned attire is almost certainly satire. Made up, in other words. To make a point. It reads like satire. Like another clickbait hoax. But it is funny, and it makes its point.

Still, these days the line between intentional and unintentional satire often requires special instrumentation to see.

In any case, the alleged attire of Ms. Kardashian makes a point. Stated up top.

Since yesterday, the Facebook version of my commentary garnered comments from friends and friends of friends. One wrote twice, beginning with that delicious phrase “I am offended by seeing this post.” Here is the most interesting part:

You make it sound like it’s some organized group that became corrupted? It’s a concept, an ideal.

Yes, many people can get it wrong… and anyone can claim to be a feminist regardless of the truth in their claim.

I would agree with you if this was an all encompassing group that acted out… but there’s no structure or organization… and certainly some are a little to happy to call anything sexist/racist/bigoted… but that doesn’t mean that bigotry doesn’t exist.

I wouldn’t bat an eye if you were just complaining about people getting pissed off over something stupid. But saying that the very concept of wanting equal rights and representation is dead?

Of course, I did not say it, I asked the question.

But how do we deal with a movement without an official organ, or brain?

 

feminism1

 

A more direct challenge came later. I responded to it, too:

 

feminism2

 

And my last point restates what was latent in my first question. It is possible for a movement to become corrupted by its most vocal proponents, completely undermined by the rhetorical and political gambits they choose. (Every socialist I know says that about Soviet Communism, for example. “If only they had stuck to democracy!” Yeah, right. But you get the idea.) Modern feminism has become a movement of scolds utterly dominated by men and women who go on the attack over every little slight, demanding public apologies, heaping public scorn as if they were star chamber judges in all realms. Utterly lacking in humility, they could be said to have hijacked the feminist movement and in the process discredited it.

That is a way of looking at it. But I do not really look at it that way. I believe that the sins of these hectoring fools were considered virtues when I was young — by many of the revered figures in the feminist movement. Further, they got their way, by gaining positions and acolytes throughout the academic world, which is over-represented by that “herd of independent minds,” the “progressives.” Modern feminism is the efflorescence of a previous strategy and its standard-bearers, and those standard-bearers still are treated with respect.

I might change my mind if more of those old, living feminists turned on their heirs. But few have. When more do, and news of their scorn reaches my ears, I will report on them here. Until then, I have no problems with the feminist movement screeching itself into oblivion.

As I have said repeatedly: I have no love for sexism. A basic equality of the sexes exists, is established in culture and law, and the equality that comes from the rule of law being advanced and maintained is a great thing, a grand thing, for both sexes.

But “the interests of women” apart from the interests of men, and apart from a constitutional dedication to the rule of law, is of no interest to me. And its proponents are worse than fools. They strike me as a malign influence on politics, law, and culture. Many of them call themselves feminists. And I will have nothing to do with their kind.

Those folks who keep running back to dictionary definitions of what feminism is, rather than the movement as it is actually now practiced, are fooling themselves, and giving aid and comfort to a very, very dangerous enemy.

Thankfully, things could be worse. The enemies have shown their hand, and appear absurd before the world. As Voltaire once wryly confessed: “I have made but one prayer to God. ‘Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And He granted it.”

Feminism and its nonsense theories of patriarchy and power, ungrounded by a coherent conception of transactional clarity, is a cultish doctrine fit only for the malign and the ignorant. As enlightenment spreads, we may hope that ignorance dissipates, and the malignant are spurned.

And, on the way, we can laugh at the expense of the ridiculous.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 2.23.30 PM


The week feminism died?

Every movement has a not-so-secret entelechy, the seed of an imp of the perverse that reduces its core ideas to absurdity.

This week, the shrill sectaries of the online feminist flock — those who preen themselves as exquisitely plumed, beaked and taloned to retaliate in quick defense on the occasion of “taking offense” — once again ruffled their feathers at the trivial. And, thereby, proved themselves completely without sense of proportion.

The sheer silliness of “ShirtGate” is obvious to most people. Matt Taylor, a scientist, wore a home-made shirt at a press conference celebrating an important event, landing a probe upon a comet. The shirt, made by a female friend of his, depicted cartoonish voluptuous women on it. This so deeply offended one feminist journalist, a woman whose name I shall neither utter nor type, that she set Twitter all a-twitter. The usual wordplay hashtags it “#shirtstorm.” The scientist tearfully apologized, and last I saw, Richard Dawkins has defended the man in public. This is just so weird.

Or, sadly, isn’t.

Did feminists finally “go too far”? Did they demonstrate that their movement ceased being serious long ago? It is possible; maybe the tipping point for this nonsense has finally been found. There is so little of intellectual substance in feminism any longer, so filled with groupthink and ritual squawking, that one might think it must implode at some point.

It is now all umbrage theater. Or, as suggested by Glenn Reynolds in his USA Today column, it’s a stage where fainting couches must always be accessible.

It used to be that those who took offense easily were called prudish, square, or even “Mrs. Grundy.”

Now? They pretend to be hip, cool, “progressive.”

“The tyranny of Mrs. Grundy,” wrote philosopher Herbert Spencer, during the thick of the Victorian Age, “is worse than any other tyranny we suffer under.” I always thought that a bit extreme. But I understand the complaint, the frustration. Grundyist disapproval is the most likely abuse a well-mannered thinking man of Spencer’s type was likely to come across as applied to himself. And it is true today, now that the “liberal” chic have become harpies of censure.

But if the testimony of a man is unwelcome — that is, an adult of the “male gender” (idiotic term from “feminist” lingo) — try the testimony of Viroqua Daniels, a younger contemporary of Spencer who was an anarchist communist. She recognized just how dangerous Grundyist grumblings were:

Her will is law. She holds despotic sway.
Her wont has been to show the narrow way
Wherein must tread the world, the bright, the brave,
From infancy to dotard’s gloomy grave.

“Obey! Obey!” with sternness she commands
The high, the low, in great or little lands.
She folds us all within her ample gown.
A forward act is met with angry frown.

The lisping babes are taught her local speech;
Her gait to walk; her blessings to beseech.
They laugh or cry, as Mistress says they may,—
In everything the little tots obey.

The youth know naught save Mrs. Grundy’s whims.
They play her games. They sing her holy hymns.
They question not; accept both truth and fiction,
(The OLD is right, within her jurisdiction!).

Maid, matron, man unto her meekly bow.
She with contempt or ridicule may cow.
They dare not speak, or dress, or love, or hate,
At variance with the program on her slate.

Her subtle smile, e’en men to thinkers grown,
Are loath to lose; before its charm they’re prone.
With great ado, they publicly conform—
Vain, cowards, vain; revolt MUST raise a storm!

The “indiscreet,” when hidden from her sight,
Attempt to live as they consider “right.”
Lo! Walls have ears! The loyal everywhere
The searchlight turn, and loudly shout, “Beware!”
In tyranny the Mistress is supreme.

“Obedience,” that is her endless theme.
Al countries o’er, in city, town and glen,
Her aid is sought by bosses over men.
Of Greed, her brain is cunningly devised.
From Ignorance, her bulky body’s sized.

When at her ease, she acts as judge and jury.
But she’s the Mob when ’roused to fighting fury.
Dame Grundy is, by far, the fiercest foe
To ev’ry kind of progress, that we know.
So Freedom is, to her, a poison thing.
Who heralds it, he must her death knell ring.

That feminists have become moral scolds has been long known — at least since the 1980s, when one of the greatest lightbulb jokes became popular:

Q. How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A. That’s not funny!

The problem has been evident in the larger progressive movement, as well. Indeed, by the 1990s it was all too clear: the free spirits that we thought of as being “on the left” in the 1960s had mostly turned into (or had been replaced with) serioso grumps whose moralistic fervor put the conservatives and chauvinists of my youth to shame.

What happened? Out of power, the left thought they wanted freedom, and behaved with a modicum of free spiritedness. (This probably does not apply to the old New York commies, who always seemed a dour lot to me.) But once they got a taste of power, whether on city councils or college tenure, their sense of freedom and tolerance went out the window. The Marcusian ethic came to dominate, and the totalitarian instincts which are strong amongst the anti-property left burst into full flower. We got “political correctness,” which we now get to witness in its (I hope) final grasping at craziness.

The inner Stalin in every socialist soul comes out as a parody of the old censorious windbags of prudery. And that it is a new prudery is pretty obvious to all but those who speak the lingo.

Further, and let this serve as instruction for the young: the shirt was not “sexist.” Not everything you don’t like about someone else’s sexual stance is “sexist.” To think otherwise is boneheaded.

But then boneheaded misuse of language comes natural to most people, and not simply because we do, after all, have bones in our heads. Some confusions are easy to make by a natural association of ideas. Juxtaposition leads to conflation leads to the drift of lexical meaning.

Sexism used to mean something specific. It used to be about inapt discrimination — the application of statistical or normative conclusions about one sex unthinkingly or habitually or prejudicially upon an individual who does not demonstrate the average or modal or even model advantages/shortcomings of the group to which he or she belongs. However, sporting a big-busted woman on one’s attire may be less than appealing to many women — and men. It is not “sexism.” It is not inapt because of discrimination against any individual, but because of, perhaps, a certain lack of tastefulness.

Of course, nowadays feminists have moved far beyond the old definitions. To them it is all about “power,” but they are so little interested in actual transactional clarity that they indiscriminately use the concept with gestures more than than thought. Some feminist women feel particularly discriminated against — or “oppressed” — for no other reason than that most men prefer some few women for their beauty and their conformity to evolved standards over most others. But the reverse is also true, with many or most women exhibiting evolved standards of acceptability in mates that most men demonstrate in regrettably partial measure. In neither case are the evolved standards — or “culturally oppressive” standards — “sexist.” They show another “ist” entirely. Beautyist? Lookist? Or, in the case of many women’s interests, sizist? (I am thinking of bank accounts, of course.)

Oh, and finally: a man should apologize for his shirt only when it stinks, sports body fluid stains, or fails to conceal his belly.

Screenshot 2014-11-14 01.14.16


On io9, Esther Inglis-Arkell takes on the serial-killer genre, as exemplified on TV shows such as Hannibal, Dexter and True Detective:

Individually, these shows are good. It’s the aggregate, and the lack of alternatives, that’s terrible. The idea of the genius-artist-philosopher-killer has become stagnant and dull. Everywhere you look, it’s the same boring nihilism, the same boring excuses, and the same slightly-creepy glamour — which is growing boring.

Her piece is called “It’s Time to Bring Back the Banality of Evil.”

I wish to show no disrespect for the coiner of that phrase, “banality of evil,” or for the book in which she trotted the concept out. Or even for the concept. And yet . . .

Bring back the “banality of evil” . . . to art?

This strikes me as an almost anti-intellectual demand. Fiction is usually about the exceptional, and for good reasons.

Serial killer fiction is a modern reincarnation of ancient mythology, the stories of gods behaving badly, of Devils and demons, of Power corrupted. It allows for the picking at the scab of common sense reality by turning crime into pornography, and then turning us about-face and making us recoil at our own lusts.

All people seek power. And mastery. Crime is the crudest power. Masterful crime is at once the most frightening and the most attractive. Genius serial killers serve as one of the few probings of mastery that can mirror our baser natures, which common culture necessarily would have us shun and suppress. By revealing it, and then in frame of art reversing our evaluations — in great art, several times over, or from a multitude of angles — we gain something that realism cannot deliver: self-knowledge perhaps immune from complacency.

Realism in fiction is fine, in its way. But a little goes a long way — and in another sense realism is a plague upon civilization.

Literary realism is deeply antithetical to human nature. It is usually moralistic and prissy and lowbrow. (This is even more true when praised by alleged highbrows.) Too often realistic fiction (and, even more so, the praise of realism) expresses nothing greater than a fear of imagination, of the fantastic, of the night mind, of Dream Time. It betrays our very human origins in sleep and dreams and illusion. It shuns the wellsprings of chthonian depths. It extols the shallow reaches of the mundane, drowning us in the surface tension of the puddles of the average and common.

Realism condemns us to the ho and the hum.

So, sure: show us the petty killers, if you must. But a serial killer is all the more frightening because he (rarely she) expresses our real fears, of being out-mastered by evil.

If you want to bring the banality of evil back to art, develop more political fiction, for it is in the political realm where you see serial murders glorified, while also bureaucratized. The appalling made banal. And then show all the normal citizens whooping and hollering, eager to vote the serial killers back into office.

Now that is scary. And banal. And evil, evil, evil.timo-dither

imageMy conclusion from watching Fox and Fox Business for a year? The hosts are mismatched.

The Independents is better without Kennedy … as hostess interruptus; she is fine on the street (with a mic).

RedEye is better when hosted by TV’s Andy Levy or Joanne Nosuchinsky, not by the show’s creator, Greg Gutfeld.

But The O’Reilly Factor is only worth watching in toto when Greg Gutfeld* hosts.


* Gutfeld is also fine on The Five, which is a show I would watch regularly if it would swap its traditional screen left right-wing woman out for some person of either sex or none who isn’t a nitwit ideologue. I am reading his book Not Cool right now: it is fun, and possesses a key insight into our times.

This testimony from an architect of Obamacare might not explain why the Democrats were tromped last week. But it explains why they deserved to be tromped.

It is a fine example of how state planning assumes anti-republican opacity rather than democratic transparency. Hayek wrote about this in The Road to Serfdom. Keynesian technocrat Brad DeLong confessed as much when he said that government policy would be great were it not for those darn kids, I mean, Republicans. All this shows the contempt for the common man and for opposing ideas that technocrats harbor, deep within their twisted souls.

And, I think, it shows how ill-fitted their ideas and programs are for Americans’ old notion of a free society.


Oh, and an addendum. A friend writes, expanding on my reaction to the video:

The other big news associated with this video is that SCOTUS is going to listen to arguments next year that may result in a decision to void subsidies to Obamacare enrollees in states which do not have state exchanges. That would put the whole program in fiscal jeopardy. I have no faith that SCOTUS will rule correctly, but because the subsidies are manifestly and indisputably illegal, I’ll concede 50-50 odds that they perhaps might do so.


Further addendum: The story about the man who keeps unmasking the truth about Obamacare:

Rich Weinstein is not a reporter. He does not have a blog. Until this week, the fortysomething’s five-year old Twitter account had a follower count in the low double digits.

“I’m an investment adviser,” Weinstein tells me from his home near Philadelphia. “I’m a nobody. I’m the guy who lives in his mom’s basement wearing a tinfoil hat.” (He’s joking about the mom and the tinfoil.)

There exists an argument for high hurdles to make new laws.

The great Swedish economist Knut Wicksell thought that the only just rule for voting in a representative democracy should be by supermajority: 70 or 80 percent or more in favor . . . then only should a law pass.

If a new proposal cannot merit supermajority agreement, then it doesn’t deserve to be made a law. A proposal backed only by bare majority (or, even, effective plurality) support indicates that it helps its supporters at the expense of its detractors.

And is thus bad law.

Fine in theory. But in practice . . .

We don’t live in a world where the bulk of our laws have been passed that way, or one in which current legislatures work that way. Most laws that are passed in state and federal legislative houses possess only tiny support from the citizenry. And that only superficial. (Say, they like the promise but haven’t read the bill. Which is pretty much the same for the legislators themselves, in this decadent stage of our democracy manqué.)

Which means that while representatives could use a supermajority requirement, we the citizens shouldn’t be stuck with it, or any other high hurdles, for our initiative process. As long as bad laws remain on the books, and as long politicians go native and continually enact even worse laws, we sure could use ballot access and effective petitioning rights.

Just to bring some balance to the system. You know, a check in addition to the mostly discarded checks established in the U.S. Constitution.

So, at least a half-hurray for the ruling by U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bataillon, who declared unconstitutional a Nebraska requirement that initiative petitions sign up 5 percent in each county for qualification.

The legislated requirement presented a somewhat obstructive hurdle for the people.

The judge ruled that it made rural votes worth more than city votes. Whatever the rationale, the outcome is good.

Nebraskans may contemplate putting tougher requirements on their democratic process . . . but only after the Unicameral is socked with even stricter ones.

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