oldmastersexpainting

Yesterday I liberated from the overgrown jungle of Facebook a brief and characteristic-of-the-age Q&A, placing it here. But that short burst of re-iterations — restatements of my basic set of objections to modish (postmodern?) sexuality/social construction theory and intersectionalist politics — is obviously not enough. Some day I must make a definitive statement. But even before that time, there is something else I must do.

Some time back I made a more lengthy and rhetorically loaded against the theory — “I do not care about your ‘gender’” — which was itself a reiteration of points I’d made earlier. And Daniel Kian Mc Kiernan challenged me on my post, in the comments section.

That challenge deserves a reply more extensive than the one I gave initially. Or, at least I should take on points not initially handled. So here goes.

The Œconomist Mac Kiernan wonders about my attitude, which I will not directly address, since it can be read in all that follows. More interestingly, he states that he does indeed recognize that “the people who speak and write most vociferously about gender theory themselves confuse the distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’” — a point I often make. I often draw from it the conclusion that the innovation of “gender” is thereby likely a mistake. But I could very well be wrong, at least to make this inference. He goes on to insist that this need not be the norm: “some of those of us who write less vociferously are also consistently careful to recognize the difference between physiological states and rôles that have been associated with those states by psychological factors, some idiosyncratic and some involving interaction with other persons.”

There is a lot to unpack here, and I am probably not the one to do the unpacking. But while gender is said to be the social aspect built on the biological foundation of sex, no matter the extent to which gender is an individually chosen role, an assigned role, a socially promoted role, a socially tolerated role, a socially deprecated role — even perhaps taboo — it does seem to me about roles. That has been my reading of the concept, anyway. So I wonder about this:

While gender is plainly associated with sex, I don’t know that gender can be reduced to a sex rôle, in-so-far as there may be more than one gender associated with a sex, and I believe that there may me more than one sex associated with a gender. We now see the latter, at least as a sub-cultural phenomenon, in our own nation.

Of course there may be more than one gender associated with a sex. That was the original idea. Non-problematic from the original theorists’ point of view. And, yes, both men and women (adult male and female humans) can play a single role (that of, say, subservient homemaker, or breadwinner, or what-have-you). I am not sure what is the big deal here. Indeed, I do not see why we need “gender” to explain this. People choose different functions in social groups, and that is to be expected, since there is a division not only of labor in society, but of leisure, also.

Indeed, what is gained by talking about gender over role and social functionality? The very word is derived from a classificatory scheme.* But people are individuals first, and classified role-players second. Instantiations of roles are almost infinite, because each individual is different, at least to some degree. That socially recognized role functions get promoted in society is of course a big deal, but so is individual choice. But the idea that individuals must create newly named social role functions in order to become the people they wish to become strikes me as nipples on a bull’s belly: not necessary. Individuals may simply diverge as they choose, and, in an open society, decide not to conform to standards A, B, and C, but perhaps to D or E, even if such standards are not socially prevalent, normed.

A lot of the angst behind gender theory is the angst of people making identities for themselves in terms of closed society norms while creating and participating in increasingly open societies. But instead of embracing the evolving openness as an individualist option, they are insisting that every role choice be socially defined and accepted, and any resistance to it a sign of oppression.

This all strikes me as the anxieties of the Last Man. (The Last Man being a Feminist, or a Mangina.) These are all examples of Sartre’s “bad faith.” My objections to gender theory are partially on this existentialist-individualist line. Gender obsessions among postmoderns (Last Men) are evasions of responsibility by trying to construe the freedom of an open society as an embattled group-interest cultural war in closed-society terms.

Whatever we may conclude about gender, there are plainly people who are intersexed, having more traits of the male sex and of the female sex in combination than we find in “textbook” models. These people were once simply concluded to be in some way defective, but defects only exist relative to purposes of some sorts. It seems to me that if these people are content as they are, then there is no defect to be corrected. And if the only source of discontent associated with their physical states is that society treats them as defective, then they have a prima facie case for social change. If we pity them, it should be as we pity anyone treated badly by society. Likewise for those born sexless.

Well, yes. But of course there is a “purpose.” It is the one set by evolution. If you are born with your heart out of your chest, you are born defective. If you are born without the genitals associated with either the male or the female, you are a defective.

I was born with several disorders at birth, which showed up as infantile glaucoma and, later in life, a substernal goiter. I am a defective. I know it. I have always known it. That’s just the truth.

This is not a difficult concept. The question is not whether there are defectives, but how to treat them. As civilization has progressed, we learn that we more and more physical and mental defectives can be socially useful and socially tolerable. Indeed, we discover that our bad treatment of defectives hurts our society almost as much as it hurts them.

Thus I see one problem with gender theory as not properly dealing with defects. Indeed, I regard this as the modern goody-two-shoes vice: lying about reality because reality seems harsh. We have options to ameliorate reality. They can include honesty.

But somehow rarely do.

This is not to say that what is defective under one perspective cannot serve as an advantage under another. My lack of stereoscopic vision saved me from any enticement in sports, which I tend to regard as a great social nuisance. But that does not mean that my poor eyesight (and, growing up, slight frame) should not be seen as defective. Nicely, conveniently for me, other talents and abilities more than made up for my physical shortfalls.

Perhaps my attitude to gender theory derives in no small part from my attitude towards my own defects, growing up. I developed my own sense of self, and had no models ready at hand. I rejected many messages coming at me. Sure, I was not good at sports. But, I realized fairly quickly that I did not care (and had not ever really cared) about such socially normed activity. I turned my attention elsewhere. Had I been one of those more normal boys who had always wanted to be a baseball pitcher or some such waste of time, I would have had greater difficulty. Sure. But the lesson is still valuable: accentuate the positive; do not bother yourself with what is too expensive to fix; prepare for the best and avoid the worst. Give up on impossible dreams.

What one should do if one dislikes one’s own body more than I did — if one cannot stand one’s own genitals, for instance — I am probably not the best to advise. But I do have some perspective on the situation, and I take that perspective in my many criticisms of what I regard as leftist lunacy regarding sexual matters.

And, really: are there “plenty of people” who are intersexed? There are a very few people, by population. (It is also worth noting that these people are not primarily suffering from “gender” problems but sexual/somatic disorders.)

And let me restate more clearly: there are many defectives. Ugly people, fat people, stupid people, weak people. Indeed, there are so many defectives and so many valid perspectives under which we can be defined as in some way defective that we can say that we are, nearly all of us, defectives — only in different ways. This recognition of limitations is the beginning of wisdom. It is the beginning of folly to pretend that defects are not defects.

It’s baldly true that what is called “sexual reässignment surgery” cannot turn men into women nor women into men; at present, surgery cannot even give a genuine new breast to a woman who has lost one! But that doesn’t established that sexual reässignment surgery is always a bad idea. Surgery can be used to counterfeit various sorts of changes, to good effect — for example, a counterfeit breast for the aforementioned woman. It seems to me that sexual reässignment surgery may be in the same category.

I am not saying that sex changes are not a good idea (though the evidence is far more indicative of its perils than its benefits); what I was saying, I thought, was that such manipulations are not “gender” reässignment. Sex change surgery is, instead, a somatic alteration. Sure, you may do what you want. But note what is happening when a person who suffers from a sexual identity crisis has surgery to change his or her body into her or his body: it switches a so-called (perceived; constructed) gender problem into a somatic problem. Basically, a psychological and moral problem into a problem for medical technicians. But since the sexual reässignment surgeries are still quite primitive — have you seen what passes for a penis at the end of such procedures? I’d prefer a vagina and make do! (vice versa for constructed vaginas) — the results are often gruesome. And extremely inconvenient. Quite a lot of bother.

Once again, as far as I’m concerned, normally-bodied folks may (should be allowed to) alter themselves to become freaks, or freaks may try to become less freakish (I may sometimes advise it),  but that is not my issue. My issue is lying about what is being done.

Or even creating moral fictions to smooth over the bumps of the inconveniences of nature and circumstance.

I am very interested in moral fictions, but I try not tp engage in many, myself. Indeed, when somebody catches me in one, I enjoy (after picking at a psychological scab or two) exploring another element of fiction in everyday life. Fiction is extremely important in the course of civilization, for individual persons as well as at meso- and macro-level society. But to be a philosopher is to be able to distinguish fact from fiction, truth from lies — and speculate where the lines should be drawn when they can be drawn competently. (My theory of rights incorporates a theory of moral and legal fiction.)

I don’t think that anyone born of one sex can somehow know by introspection that he or she has the brain of another sex. We’re not telepaths; even those of us who are content with our birth sexes know others of our sex only through the lens of gender! But if someone can be made significantly more comfortable as a counterfeited male or as a counterfeited female, taking hormones for the rest of his or her life, this seems to me to be fundamentally analogous to someone with, say, a face transplant, taking anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his or her life. I don’t see a reason to avoid the person, nor to smirk at the choice.

I am fine with most of this. But my smirk comes from the desperation to be something one is not and cannot be. What one cannot change one may be advised not to try. Those who insist on trying, and failing miserably, are the subject of comedy. That is what comedy is about, exactly such failures.

Of course, that is what tragedy is about, too.

I say this as a somewhat comic figure myself. As indicated above, I grew up knowing myself to be physically defective. And I now know (am made daily aware) that I am in physical decline. I am aging; death is nearer at hand every day. And though that may seem tragic from my perspective, it cannot be so for everyone else: they have their own lives to live until they can no longer muster the resources. I have no social and moral standing to make others pity me overmuch. Indeed, that is the lesson of Tolstoy’s “Death of Ivan Ilyich.” Let us not lie as we die. Nor should we lie as we primp and preen.

Desperation to put off the inevitable is understandable, but the more desperate the less admirable. I am more inclined to the Stoic and Epicurean disciplines: accept one’s limitations. Make do. Don’t fret.

I advise individuals not to adapt themselves according to a cookie-cutter “gender construct,” but define themselves as persons first and foremost.

If one sees little to offer in a standard model of sexual behavior, fine; embrace your inner eccentric. I have done that. I have never formed a long-term pair bond, and have never produced children, much less raised children to maturity. But I have never lied to myself about the cost of my choices. Or, at least I have tried not to lie.

When eccentrics prescribe for the centric we enter the realm of the problematic. Surely bachelors, spinster, openly homosexual, et al. must realize that they cannot be models for the common run of mankind. And it seems obvious . . . what must be considered the central story of any species is its sexual reproductive story. Individuals who do not participate in this activity directly must expect to incur costs of not doing so. To choose to live tangentially or orthogonally to the central story of life means one cannot directly participate in its benefits. And we should expect that this central story remain central. To not continue to place it at the center is to choose decay — by which I mean death of the social group, even death of the species.

Gender theory is, as near as I can make out, consistently, and with maddening repetition, anti-heteronormative. And heteronormativity strikes me as not merely an understandable cultural adaptation to biological and economic reality, it is necessary. We must define as decadent those practices that oppose the continuation of the species, or even the social group. Gender theory, at least in its usual pair bond with postmodernist intersectionalism, is decadence through and through.

Of course, just as there is a lot of ruin in a nation, there is always decadence in a society. And as a de facto member of a quasi-decadent social category — the “confirmed bachelor,” now known as MGTOW — I believe it to be my duty not to universalize my choice, much less undermine the social capital (heteronormativity being one) that allows society to survive and progress. Honesty demands this.

I believe gender theorists to be dishonest and decadent in the worst possible sense. They oppose the basic and necessary institutions of a society. They wish to remake the world to serve and valorize those who do not directly contribute to the continuation of civilization. What a perversity that is.

It is one thing to make room for the oddballs. It is another to redo all social arrangements to put the oddballs at the center of consideration, overthrowing normal sexually reproductive life strategies.

Family values, even. Indeed, one of the mainstays of current feminism and its embrace of “gender” theory is its utter reliance upon the State to replace the family institutions that existed prior to postmodernity. Fatherhood has been relegated to sperm donorship and forced child support payments. Motherhood is now, for increasing numbers of people, a government affair, a de facto marriage of women with the State. The norming of this allows the norming of anti-heteronormativity. The relations between the sexes have become attenuated, and all this gender talk exists within the context of the welfare state. The attenuation of social functions, like the bonds between mothers and fathers, runs parallel to the attenuation between producers and consumers, turning most folk into consumers only.

No wonder conservatives are appalled at the modern (post-modern) world. But they are completely in over their heads, because they helped create this monster.

And it is a statist monster.

If one is (as I am) skeptical of the State and its intrusive role in contemporary society, accepting gender theoretics is just another back-door meme serving to undermine an honest and subtle view of society. Gender talk serves as a lever to corrupt folks, apparently in service to the creation of a New Socialist Man, a world of Last Men where individual personhood is subsumed to State coercion at every social contact.

It is no accident that most gender theorists are out-and-out socialists. Their dream is to utterly upend society and purge all its members of individual responsibility. Directing our attention away from our own choices and towards conformity to new normed “genders” is vital, essential to their program.

And it is not a new program. Socialism, as Yves Guyot insisted years ago, only plausibly works under conditions of sexual separation and economic subsidy. This was clear in The Republic and it is clearer now, long after the death of Plato.

twv

* Late Middle English: from Old French gendre (modern genre), based on Latin genus ‘birth, family, nation’. The earliest meanings were ‘kind, sort, genus’ and ‘type or class of noun, etc.’ (which was also a sense of Latin genus).


The current Trump Resistance strikes me as politically dangerous in ways we have not seen since at least the Sixties and early Seventies. Hatred and violence have escalated. The idea seems to be that, if Republicans contemplate withdrawing a few pennies for “the poor,” then those who oppose these cuts can feel justified in engaging in violence, because withholding benefits is, uh, itself violence.

Though anyone honest about the nature of such institutions — any thinker studiously attempting transactional clarity — can see that ceasing to give a benefit differs from inflicting a harm.

After the congressional baseball shooting event, I saw immediate blaming of the violence on . . . Republicans. No kidding. The would-be assassins was a Democrat, and he selected Republican legislators as targets, but it was the Republicans whom Democrats blamed. Even the usually not-an-airhead Juan Williams (Fox News contributor) attributed the start of all this to “the right’s” reaction to Bill Clinton. I guess it is always thus with feuds. Every provocation is taken as an occasion to escalate, and the source of the problem is always the enemy, never one’s own side.

Indeed, the logic of escalation rests on a simple idea: Force is never initiated. It is always retaliation. And thus excusable. Justified.

Examples of this abound. Multiple “parades” with threats of violence in Portland, Oregon, caught my attention because close by to me, just upriver. Both leftists’ and rightists’ weapons were confiscated by police, but public reports consistently called the confiscated makeshift weapons of the anti-left as designed to be offensive, with no mention of possible (and plausible) self-defense uses. (After all, the “anarchists” have been engaging in violence within the context of anti-Trump and anti-conservative speakers for several months now. Berkeley is a horrorshow, complete with violent attacks by BAMN and Antifa insurrectionists. Reasons for self-defense abound. The threats are in the open.)

My real worry? The very meme, “not my president,” serves as a repudiation of “the deal” that is a democratic republic. Protesting before the president-elect did anything was disreputable. Giving no time for the new president to prove his true stripes? A radical break from the past. The whole “pussy hat” parading was worse than silly, and the talk of violence by Madonna and other celebrities were examples of madness.

I could go on and on. But hey: maybe it is time for a splitting up of the federal republic. Maybe it is time for the blood to run in the streets. Every excuse made for BAMN, Antifa and Black Lives Matter is a declaration of rebellion, and perhaps I should make the most of it. Perhaps the United States is an atavism.

[Shudder.]

So, this is my challenge to the Not My President crowd. If you won’t accept a constitutional accession to office, why should I approve of or accept any of the policies that you no doubt espouse that I would find abhorrent? I cannot think of one. If the deal is off, the deal is off.

See why I worry? I may want less government, but I really do not want mob violence, social chaos, and a breakdown of civilization. I want a rule of law. The current lack of acceptance of the results of a democratic-republican election strikes me as inviting a civilizational breakdown.

Open rebellion is a dangerous path to a better state. It sets the path to anarchy, by which I mean: It is the way of Chaos.

Which is the usual excuse for tyranny.

twv

Recently on Facebook:

Can someone please explain why so many Libertarians are concerned with the gender controversy? Our motto is literally don’t hurt people or take their things, other than that do what you want. So if someone says they are not male or female, or they’re somewhere in between, that’s their freedom, no? Seems like there are a lot of people who fight for freedom when it comes to guns, businesses, and property, but not freedom of your own thoughts — that just makes you an asshole (or a republican).

First Answer:

I have many problems with “gender” talk. I will name three.

1. The concept is all about identification by “group.” Young people are being encouraged to conform not to their natural desires and interests, but to some set of group identifiers, often at the expense of biological facts. Confession: I am an individualist before a libertarian, and I want people to individuate, not tribalize. Become their own persons, not members of a club, complete with an ideology that makes them feel in-group/out-group love/hate. The “gender” movement is a neo-tribal groupthink ideology.

2. Gender theory has developed in tandem with the postmodernist movement, shanghaing Marxian class analysis from its goofy economic interpretation into a nebulous cultural orientation. Marxism is a disease of the mind. It falsifies reality and encourages collectivism. So does gender theory in practice.

3. Gender theory has been degraded in popular speech as a substitute for “sex,” which still embarrasses people to talk about. It is stupid, and it is common. Everyone who uses “gender” when they mean “sex” should be ashamed of themselves. And that is a majority of the word’s users, at least some of the time.

Second Answer:

Also, consider this part of original challenge: “So if someone says they are not male or female, or they’re somewhere in between, that’s their freedom, no?”

You can call yourself a toaster, but that doesn’t mean I’d put bread in your slot and expect a nice, dry and crisp and hot treat.

This is an issue of sex. The number of people who are hermaphrodites or have strange chromosomal issues is minute. These people have difficulty determining their sex. And I feel for them. But to those of us with either cox or kunz, balz or fallopians, xy’s or xx’s, we are either male or female.

“Male” and “female” are not gender concepts. They are sex concepts. We use sex as identifiers in common speech because it is objective and easy.

“Masculine” and “feminine” are the terms of “gender theory.” Two among many, actually.

Gender theory is about what people do with their sex, how they and others think about it. If you think “male” and “female” are gender concepts, you have misunderstood the theory.

Alas, many gender theorists misunderstand the theory, because they are incompetent thinkers who cannot rub two ideas together and get a synthesis.

twv

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Liberty30thAnniversary

This late June marks the 30th anniversary of the first issue of Liberty magazine, the libertarian fanzine I helped found in 1987. (I worked on the project for twelve years.)

My boss, Bill Bradford, and I were very new to the desktop publishing revolution that summer. We had just purchased our Mac Plus computers, and Bradford had invested in the application Ready,Set,Go!, then the leading page layout application. On the first day we produced a newsletter, his hard-money investment four-pager Analysis & Outlook. That must have been in early June. I am pretty sure we finalized the first issue of Liberty in late June, but it may have in July.

The issue itself was dated August 1987, and it sure was ugly.

But the content was interesting.

It featured a fascinating article on Ayn Rand’s film work by Stephen Cox, a Ron Paul for President endorsement and salvo by Murray N. Rothbard, a terrific essay by Butler Shaffer, and a fascinating memoir of a 1960s libertarian survivalist and eccentric, by Ben Best. My written contributions were two: a review of Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions, and a think piece on the Russell Means’ run for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination — the latter published under a pseudonym. I remember senior editor Stephen Cox not thinking much of my piece, but Bradford was enthusiastic. He himself had written about the LP contest between Means and Paul under his own pseudonym, “Chester Alan Arthur.”

Years later, Bradford told me that I had cooked up the name for our final-page feature, “Terra Incognita,” which was designed to carry on in the tradition of H. L. Mencken’s “Americana” series from The American Mercury. Bradford loved the basic idea, and had fun producing it for years. I was initially less than impressed, and quickly forgot I had a hand in any creative aspect of its development. But later I came to enjoy it, somewhat. Now I tend to think it the best part of the magazine!

I will no doubt continue to reminisce about the ongoing 30th anniversaries of Liberty as the months go by.

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Interesting. The National Review excoriates American media avoidance of an obvious truth, the Islamic roots of today’s terrorism. Or, more exactly, last year’s Pulse nightclub shooting. In “Why can’t people face the fact that the killer was an Islamic extremist?,” the august conservative magazine’s editorial intern Tiana Lowe makes a clear case:

One year ago yesterday, Omar Mateen went into a gay nightclub in Orlando and murdered 49 people. While on the phone with a 911 operator, Mateen made his motive clear: “Yo, the air strike that killed Abu [Waheeb] a few weeks ago – that’s what triggered it. They should have not bombed and killed Abu [Waheeb].”

There we have it. A radicalized jihadist self-identified as “Mujahideen” and an “Islamic soldier,” American born and raised, committed the deadliest mass shooting in American history, directly targeting the LGBTQ+ community in the name of a murdered Islamic State militant.

After briefly relating the results of official investigations, which disproved convenient “homophobia” explanation, Lowe goes on to identify a pattern of media avoidance, fantasy and prevarification on the subject. “With only an ‘Islamophobic’ narrative remaining after those pesky facts, the media have decided to pay tribute to the barbaric murder of 49 infidels with a ‘senseless violence’ narrative.”

“Pulse gunman’s motive: Plenty of theories, but few answers,” read an Orlando Sentinel headline.

The Washington Post referred to the night 49 people “died” as having been “upended by gun violence.”

The New York Times equated the terrorist attack with “a year of racism,” with the insinuation that Donald Trump spearheaded the latter.

It didn’t matter that Mateen intentionally targeted the Pulse Nightclub as an attack on liberal values; his true crime was gun violence. An uptick of fear of Wahhabism and non-Westernized Islam is not a product of observation and inference; it’s irrational, a blanket Islamophobia.

The truth is just an inconvenient narrative.

While nothing in Tiana Lowe’s argument strikes me as obviously untrue, as near as I can make out, she veers off the truth by doing what she accuses others of doing.

That is, while arguing that others miss the primary and plainly true story, our author herself misses the primary and plainly true story: the terrorist terrorized as retaliation against a bombing strike by the United States military and allied forces.

What we make of this may surely be debated. But cannot we agree that, by not emphasizing or interrogating at any length the act identified by the terrorist himself as the inspiration for his retaliatory strike — instead identifying his behavior as merely an example of “Islamic extremism” — a crucial element of terrorism has been elided?

Note what, precisely, is missing. This fact: The United States is at war. Innocent civilians routinely pay the price, in their very lives, in the cause of that war.

And not just “over there” — here too.

Ignoring this aspect of the conflict surely dissuades us from consideration of the concept of blowback, and insulates our military adventures from criticism on the grounds of unintended consequences.

twv

One problem in assessing public policy is the ease with which people switch away from their own perspective, and the perspectives of their fellow citizens, onto the role of Legislator or Philosopher King, ready to command the State.

The State’s perspective is quite enticing.

Common sense might suggest that simple short cuts to a desired goal can easily be managed merely by establishing a policy, and a governmental system of rewards and punishments. On top of this switched perspective is the philosophical conceit that states are established for the general, public interest, and not for capture by special interests. So every goal, no matter how particular to a specific person or group, we quickly transform in our minds from my end or your end or our end or their end to “the public good,” without much critical thinking at all.

The startling thing is how easy are the mental operations that allow us to do this. I hazard that they are pre-programmed into our brains as part of man’s hierarchical nature, as reinforced by ancient tribal cooperation and the history of military and ecclesiastical practice. But, regardless of my surmise, these operations go on in our head with amazing ease, and — this is the important part — without any need to apply critical thought to the metamorphosis from special to general (shared) interest.

This is aided greatly by both our internal biases and the very core nature of the State in society. What I call the Beneficiary Focus Illusion (existing as an entelechy in our heads) reinforces the perennial structural arrangements (existing as an entelechy within society) that divorce resource acquisition from resource dispersement while coupling dispersed costs to concentrated benefits.

Most people never bother to examine critically the process by which they transform some particular goal into the public interest. Instead, they instinctively apply the given interest “commonsensically” to political governance. From the perspective of the State. Or, uncritically, from their own perspective, or that of their favored group.

See Herbert Spencer, “From Freedom to Bondage,” for a discussion of social processes apparently at odds with “common sense.”

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One does not normally insure against chosen and regularly incurred costs, like fill-ups and oil changes in cars . . . or haircuts, waxes, and contraceptive devices on people. When insurance companies’ policies do cover regular, pre-injury/-illness purchases, they are not economically engaging in an insurance contract. They are offering a payment system, a kind of premium savings plan.

Why would they do that? Sometimes to attract customer with a convenience — an expensive convenience they expect to make money off of. But also for another reason: because they are compelled by law.

The corruption of the insurance industry by government policy has been ongoing for decades.

Especially in medical markets.

How? At a fundamental level.

Economist Friedrich Freiherr von Wieser (Social Economics, 1928, p. 149) noted that there are three kinds of “binding compensatory contracts”: exchange contracts, insurance contracts, and social contracts. Wieser noted that insurance contracts sometimes look like social contracts, sometimes like exchanges. But the resemblance to explicit social contracts is that they mimic the widespread effects usually aimed at by social contractors, but through private exchanges. An ingenious invention. Insurance provides a public good by private means. The core nature of insurance contracts Wieser explains thusly:

Its purpose is to distribute the effects of loss over many private economies. It has attained great importance in developed economies. But it has to do only with the security of the economic body, not with its creation.

Wieser did not examine this form of contract in detail. He also, in developing economic theory, put aside discussion of the social contract:

One should expect that it be adopted to the integration of the social economy. Nevertheless in its effect it has been overshadowed by the exchange contract, which although as a rule is made only between two parties, has manifested itself the coördinating instrument that binds individual economies into the national economy.

This manifestation of unexpected and unintended coördination puzzles many people. Which is perhaps one reason why, as Wieser’s student F. A. Hayek suggested, we witness much social distress regarding — and political pressure to undermine and control — market order. The coördination provided by markets is “spontaneous,” as Hayek metaphorically put it (“inadvertent” is more exact), and its mechanisms and processes mysterious, in no small part because of its inadvertence. Folks balk at accepting an unplanned order.

This is especially true of insurance contracts, which often seem “unfair.” For example, I was a very good and safe driver as a young man, ages 16–28. Never an accident. Never even a complaint. But an appreciable number of my peers drove recklessly (but not “wrecklessly”!), skewing the actuarial tables that make insurance bets doable, so my insurance rates were high. Young women, on the other hand, had far lower rates — despite my personal knowledge of many dangerous young female drivers.

But I understood the unfairness, and rallied through. Meanwhile, during that same period, feminists pushed through in my state regulations that forced insurers and their customers to pay equal rates, disregarding the sexes. Young women tend to have more medical issues, especially regarding pregnancy — which, one should note, are usually the result of free choices, not wholly accidental events — and thus are greater risks for insurance companies, requiring higher rates.

But . . . unfair!

For some reason, feminists did not push for a forced equalization of auto insurance rates.

So, consider what that regulation did: it increased the pool of insured people, bracketing out of consideration reliable data upon which insurance businesses calculated profitable rates. So, it decreased the information content of insurance rates — prices, really — and made the business decisions less efficient, and less capable of adding efficiency over the course of time.

And by equalizing men’s and women’s rates, it swept into the mix a mostly non-insurable expense: pregnancy and birth. One insures for things out of one’s control. And, except in case of rape, one can choose not to engage in sexual intercourse, the activity that causes pregnancy. So, under modern regulatory requirements, more and more people are swept into the pool with more social contract problems associated with such pools: that is, “the tragedy of the commons.” When some gain at the expense of others, they tend to opt to do just that. A common resource subject to individual exploitation tends to degrade, as has been understood since the time of Aristotle, but clarified by William F. Lloyd, Garret Hardin, and Richard Stroup. In the case here made as an example, what would normally be unforeseeable and insured-for is now intermingled with eventualities placed under a woman’s or couple’s control. Thus they are able to game the system and free ride off of it. Basically, shifting their avodiable medical expenses onto other people who do not choose to produce babies.

This jiggering with the insurance industry basics changes its very nature. But not without costs.

And it is certainly not limited to just the one example. Tax policy, regulation and now subsidy have been contriving to turn medical insurance contracts wholly into social contracts. And politicians and activists have succeeded in convincing many simpletons and distracted citizens into thinking insurance should cover events that no honest business would cover — events such as already existing disabilities, or expenses that are wholly voluntary.

Remember: One cannot “insure” against the present; one cannot “insure” against controlled outcomes. It is only future uncontrolled events with assignable probabilities that make sense to insure. Only these eventualities that can make for stable, long-term and sustainable and efficiently provided buffering of the effects of loss or injury.

But, to repeat, tax law, regulations and now subsidy — by state and federal governments — have so twisted the industry that it now is a badly run redistribution scheme, something one would normally expect from governments pretending to enforce “social contracts.”

Wieser’s “coördinating instrument” of the exchange system, and the pricing (in this case) of insurance rates, has been scuttled by people more comfortable with the seemingly “rational” — but much more ungainly and discoördinative — government policy. Also, the instrumentality of force quickens the vindictive soul, spurring folks to demand a great cause — fairness, justice. Which allows, naturally enough, for the heady mix of self-righteousness and outright oppression (for what else is forcing others?) as well as the precious social signaling that moral crusades engender.

But because information is thereby decreased, and the tragedy of the commons introduced into the industry, society is corrupted, hobbled, injured.

The very opposite result, you might think, of medical insurance policy.

And witless Americans carry on with the fiction and lies. As if they were being smart and wise. Anyone who repeats the current wisdom about medical “insurance” — such as demanding “coverage” for a wholly voluntary aid, like contraception — is a dupe or a liar.

twv

IMG_3239

Friedrich von Wieser portrayed at top, in sketch; the current blogger immediately above.

You know a person isn’t serious about opposing child labor if they keep up bringing sweat shops but never mention farm work.

Traditionally, had children not worked on family farms, many families would have starved. Personally, I worked on our family farm without recompense, growing up, and also worked on other farms for money. Before I came of age. I know that this was good for me, and everyone else knows this too.

img_0056My mother grew up in the Great Depression. She was one of the family breadwinners — as a child. Only an evil person would regard this as exploitation and wrong to the point that it should have been illegal.

A close friend of mine and I both spent time picking fruit in the summers. We earned a few bucks. This was good for us, even at ages nine, ten and eleven.

Now, in the state due south of where I live, such child labor is unlawful. Or so I’m told. I do know that illegal Mexicans pick most of those crops. Progress?

Harping on sweat shops and factory work by children makes moderns feel good about themselves. It is much like imagining themselves as great opponents of slavery — despite their lack of interest in slavery rampant, today, in the Islamic world.

Harping on sweat shops and factory work by children means never having to think about context, progress, wealth creation, or even what actual conditions in most of these situations were really like. I have never met a progressive who talks about this who has read one word of the current scholarly literature on the subject. They are merely repeating stuff pushed to them by brainless high school teachers and Marxist college professors.

Every time I mention that rates of child labor were plummeting prior to child labor being regulated and then prohibited, I get blank looks or eyebrows of incredulity.

Some day these uninformed ideologues may realize that they are merely ignorant buffoons parroting dogmas of little value.

By then, though, they will have supported dozens of insane regulations and deceitful politicians.

twv

EvergreenProtest

Power is the ability to get things done. If, in the course of fighting power you win, or your side wins, you then achieve power. If your objection to power is pure and simple, if you see all power/non-power relationships as “oppression,” then it follows that any attack upon power becomes oppressive at success. When you win, you have achieved something. You got something done. You have exerted power.

And, in politics, one achievement tends to lead to more achievement. In government, the point of “being in power” is to exert power. So the success at fighting oppression (so conceived) immediately transforms into oppression itself.

This is so obvious that one wonders how it never seems to cross the minds of the current batch of “social justice” activists now causing havoc on campuses and in the streets.

Either they would have to accept their revolutionary status as masters, as “the powerful,” whenever they get their way, or they would have to revise their theories of power, freedom, and oppression.

I recommend to them careful transactional analysis, not crude, class analysis with concepts derived from Karl Marx by way of the Frankfurt School and the Sorbonne.

twv

The origin of a thing or practice does not always and obviously provide strong clues to the reason for its growth and then for its survival. Theories of ethics, for example, are littered with monocausal accounts of “the foundations of ethics” that fail to separate the various distinct causes and levels of operation.

Take that very institution (or human endeavor, or practice) we call “ethics” or “morality” — consisting of rules, ideals, norms, and reasonings and rationales for action. Its origin may be seen in the simple need to influence human behavior, of self and others. Think of the body of ethical precepts as a toolkit. But the reasons why one ethical system flourishes and others wilt may have surprisingly little to do with the aim of the moralizers who cook up, repeat, and transmit their normative notions. And those reasons may not be the same as their explicit justification.

These distinctions can often only be seen as we pass through time, as various stages of the social life of the memes become evident. (Maybe we should speak of the ordinal, not cardinal, virtues!)

IMG_3224Similarly, the first people to adopt a belief, habit or good are very different in nature from later adopters. The distinction between early-, mid- and late-term adopters is of huge importance for understanding fashion and other consumer behavior, as well as ideologies. Businesses that do not figure in these different consumer bases will suffer. Critics who do not understand this will find themselves irrelevant. Voters find themselves . . . stuck with bad candidates and poor policies.

On a macro level, this trend in consumption allows the masses to benefit from investments that they themselves would never make, nor would ever, alone, entice from capitalists. Only the strong preferences and spending of early adopters allow the success of many goods that later circulate to everybody. In effect, late adopters and skinflints are “subsidized” by the early adopters and the prodigal.

This element of capitalist development is integral to fulfilling one of its defining functions, mass production for the masses. Attempts to “rationalize” the economy in a social engineering way often assume an egalitarian customer base, and thus start with the lower rungs of development kicked away from the ladder of progress.

“Price discrimination,” particularly what amounts to  intertemporal price discrimination (what is the exact technical term? I wonder — separate time-frame equilibria?), is key to the functioning of markets.

Many class resentments and tensions come from a lack of acceptance about this diversity in human judgment and consumer function.

And much confusion results from mixing up the nature of the origins, the persistence, and the expressed and unexpressed rationales for any human practice or institution.

twv

Illustration courtesy James Littleton Gill, My Monster Problem — and Ours

The problems here addressed are so huge that one simple blog post, indicating them as if with a wave of the hand, hardly does them justice. Clearer statements can be made later, or elsewhere — and no doubt have been, by others.