Archives for category: History

In the early and middle 1980s, “comparable worth” became a celebrated cause of the feminist left. The idea was to equalize wages among occupations, particularly between, for example, a well-paid occupation that tended to be manned mainly by men and a more poorly remunerated occupation mainly performed by women. The examples given at that time were often truck drivers vs. secretaries.

I witnessed several public debates on the subject, way back then. And having just begun to study economics, I quickly came to regard proponents of the “comparable worth doctrine” (CWD) as utopian lunatics. Their glee in concocting regulatory schemes was over the top, and their arguments were always and in each case economically illiterate. They looked upon all wages as mere artifacts of custom and power, never productivity. Notions like “marginal product” and “imputation” and even “supply and demand” never rose to coherence, or even the level of mere mention.

I remember one absurd discussion, where a young man argued against a then-current objection commonly made to the CWD — that comparing truckers to secretaries was comparing apples to oranges. (That is, the occupations were different enough that no wage equalization effort could make sense.) He said that the beauty of CWD was that (quoting from memory) “we mix the apples and oranges and get fruit punch, and then divvy out equal amounts!”

You see what I mean by economic illiteracy.

Now, I did not go on to become an economist. It never became my job to investigate the statistic artifacts of the period to test the doctrine. Or any other. But I did notice that in the State in which I lived, the CWD became the official doctrine of one institution: government.

My guess is that many a low-wage government and contractor job were upped to a higher level, according to some “comparable” “worth” (of a labor theory of value variety) and that taxes were quickly increased to cover.

It might be good to check to see whether this did actually happen. I would be surprised if it did not.

I am getting at something here. There is a difference between government wages and business wages. They are figured and set differently. Unlike in the market sector, politicians can and do set State employee wages. And take credit for the hikes.

The taxes? They tend not to talk much about the taxes hiked to pay for the greater drain on resources. In markets, wage hikes must be merited by business success in voluntary markets, within a context of competition for scarce consumer attention. In politics, the checks and balances are much less integral with the process. There is a high degree of arbitrariness to government worker remuneration.

I suspect something similar happens in government regarding minimum wage jobs. I know of a number of positions paid by tax funds through contracts with the state. Many of them — particularly the temporary ones — are minimum wage jobs. (Elder care, some seasonal fishery services, and a few others come to mind.) When the minimum wage requirement is raised, budget requirements are raised, and politicians shrug “cost of living” and approve a budget hike, leading directly to raised contract worker wages.

We often say, with varying degree of inaccuracy, that “consumers pay” for minimum wage hikes. (Consumers do pay, but usually indirectly.) More accurately, taxpayers pay. Quite directly.

twv


This summer will mark the 30th anniversary of Liberty magazine. Not Benjamin Tucker’s Liberty, which has been dead for over a century. Not the general interest magazine of that name, either, of which Groucho Marx quipped “Remember, there’s nothing like liberty — except Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post!” And certainly not the Seventh Day Adventist periodical, the less I say about, the better. I am referring to the little libertarian ’zine out of Port Townsend, Washington, the one that I worked on for its first twelve years.

After my departure in 1999, it survived in print for another decade. After folding, it gave up its ghost to the Web, upon which it lingers as a scornful shade from another age.

Three decades is a long enough time to excuse a tinge of nostalgia. In January 1987, I was working on the vast library of Liberty’s publisher, R. W. Bradford, as well as researching and proofreading his monthly newsletter, Analysis & Outlook. We were preparing to launch the magazine that summer, and Bradford was looking for the right computer platform. I knew (this is going to be a self-congratulatory essay, so prepare yourself) that there was, at that time, only one computing platform suitable for desktop publishing, Apple’s Macintosh. But those computers were expensive, so Bradford futilely began experimenting with KayPro’s latest CP/M machine, and then with IBM’s PC. Both platforms were a bust. We finally went to the Macintosh. We bought two Mac Pluses, and on the first day we laid out the newsletter; within a week or two Bill and I, along with his wife, Kathleen, designed the cover and interior of the magazine.

img_1906None of us were design geniuses, and it showed. The magazine was ugly. I was responsible for the general look of the interior pages, for the most part, and Bradford and his “Scotch boxes” gave impetus to the make-up of the cover. But we three did hash this out in a long meeting, with much experimenting. And no small amount of friendly banter.

The structure of the magazine itself was, uh, odd, especially in the first few issues. (A good example being the fifth issue, shown at right.) This was mostly a result of Bradford’s resistance to putting the current-events reportage and political debate up front, at least in the first few issues. He did not want Liberty to be primarily a political magazine. It was to be a cultural magazine for a people of a particular political orientation. I liked the approach, if not the magazine’s look (which always remained a vexation to me).

Years later, Bradford credited me with establishing the style of editorial presentation. The wording of the blurbs and genre heading and the like, though Stephen Cox surely had a major hand in it at the final review end of the editorial process. It was a natural style for what we were doing, so that credit is not exactly a steller honor. He also said that I had named the final section of the magazine, the “Terra Incognita” feature. After twelve years, when he had informed me of this, I had forgotten my “responsibility” for this name.

“Terra Incognita” was to duplicate the aim and method of Mencken’s old Americana department, from which the Sage of Baltimore made a series of annual books. The idea was to take news snippets and other artifacts of our culture, and place them in our pages without comment. Each entry would use for a title the place the tidbit took place in, or from which it was published or broadcast. Then would follow a short, not too value-laden synopsis or setup. Finally, there would be an exact quotation.

Full disclosure: Bradford often edited these quotations not merely for space, but for the occasional subtle effect. Editorial license, if you will.

It would have been fun to name the section “Artifactual Man,” but I had not read the great essay “Natural and Artificactual Man” by economist James Buchanan yet. So “Terra Incognita” it became. Here is an example, snapped from an old copy littering my library:
Terra Incognita

This all came back to me, today, upon stumbling into a page of the Center for a Stateless Society, a reprint of an old Roderick Long criticism of one “Terra Incognita” entry.

The entry in question is from an issue published several years after I had left Liberty’s offices, so I can hardly be held responsible for the offending passage that Prof. Long considers. It was published as Bradford himself lay dying, so neither could the editor and publisher himself be the likely responsible agent. (Though it does sound like him, now that I think on it.) Nevertheless, I wish to demur from Long’s objections. In effect, I seek to defend the honor of Liberty’s “Terra Incognita” — as if anyone cared.

No matter. I am committed! I will quote the piece, whole, interrupting only when I have something to say:

In the back of each issue of Liberty magazine is a section titled “Terra Incognita,” which consists of news clippings inane or horrific or both. So I must assume that someone at Liberty found the following item inane or horrific, since it’s the third featured item in the latest (January 2006) issue’s “Terra Incognita”:

Port Townsend, Wash.

A glimpse into the objectives of a modern-day peace movement, from the PTforPeace “cultural statement”:

“Knowing we have all internalized the violence, patriarchy, white supremacy, and alienation so prevalent in our society. Knowing that dismantling these systems of oppression involves becoming aware of where they are hiding in our own minds, and that day-to-day patterns of oppression are the glue that holds together systems of oppression. Cultivating gratitude toward the person who points out where we may have internalized oppression without being aware of it.”

So what, exactly, is this item doing in Liberty’s “horror file”? What it says seems to me not only true and important, but something that libertarians in particular used to specialise in pointing out. For a leading libertarian publication to mock such insights is a regrettable refusal of our libertarian forebears’ radical legacy.

Though I sympathize with Prof. Roderick Long’s anti-oppression solidarity, I bet I understand why, on some level, either Kathleen Bradford or Stephen Cox or one of the other editors of the ’zine thought it, at least in part, risible.

But I cannot speak for them, only for me. So here goes:

  1.     Liberty was still, then, published in Port Townsend, Washington. The editors probably knew the Port Townsend activists well enough. I did when I lived there. That propinquity tends to put a tinge of guffaw into the reaction. To know a leftist is to know their strange obsessions and quirks of mind and values.
  2.     The statement lists some givens that are not given to most folks. Indeed, I hesitantly accept some, thoroughly reject others.
  3.     I reject that we have all internalized the violence of our culture. I am a libertarian. I have externalized society’s penchant for initiated coercion. Speak for yourself, leftist.
  4.     Patriarchy. What patriarchy? The one that gives in to nearly every feminist demand? The one that worries over not having enough women in the Senate (despite over half the voters being women) but not over the male dominance in garbage collection, logging, and sea fishing — the latter two among the most deadly jobs in today’s generally cushy workplace environments? Or would it be the patriarchy that expects men, in cases of emergency, to come to the aid of women and children, at the risk of their own lives, but not expecting anything like the same courage from women? Does not our professor realize that this cultural requirement for male valor in defense of women was written into the law during the heyday of “capitalist patriarchy” a century ago? That this was related to the fact that men, but not women, were drafted in times of war? That men were expendable, but women not?
    I am not denying, actually, a patriarchal aspect to our current culture, and a stronger one a century prior. But I realize what traditional patriarchy was for: the protection of women and children, so that the species — society — could continue. The much-maligned Patriarchy was supported, historically, by a concurrent social institution, which we should call The Matriarchy. For savvy women realized something that feminists today do not: that the “dominance” of men in law and politics was counter-balanced by huge costs that men were forced to bear. This is doubly true for the bulk of men who were not in exalted positions of leadership.
    Indeed, beta and especially gamma males were, as stated above, expendable. They were the ones chiefly oppressed. Society way back when was not rich enough to extend certain peaceful opportunities to women. But with the rise of capitalism came the rise in the status of women, and their gradual liberation. To repeat for emphasis: the oppressive aspects of patriarchical culture fell mainly on the men, in terms of their lives and liberties.
    Sure, women did not have as much social freedom as men did, back then, especially if they were married. All this had reasonable, non-oppressive rationales. Pretending that we now experience the old oppressions (or unfortunate inconveniences) is preposterous.
    Thinking that “we all” have internalized this old way of thinking is believable, however. But the nature of today’s internalized patriarchy will not please Prof. Long. Our patriarchal mindset is instantiated in reiterated point-blank acceptances of the bulk of the inanities of feminism.
    Feminism has always depended on the patriarchal chivalry of men.
    And men, today, still go out of their way to play White Knight for women’s fictional honor. (Personally, I have given all of that up long ago. I realized in the days of my relative youth that the relationships between men and women in the ages of feminism are so deeply fucked up that I am de facto Hyperborean, now. I am more feminist than the feminists, in one sense, since I have abandoned almost all my chivalric obsessions. I accept women as friends, as social equals, but not as any special concern of mine, and I doubt I would ever risk my life for any one of them I am not related to.)
  5.     “White supremacy”? Really? Is that what I benefit from, today? Is that why most Asian-American men and women make more money than nearly every white male in my nearly all-white community? Who is supreme, here? Or, is it some cultural power that we scorned country bumpkins possess? Of course not. I, for one, am marginalized, if anyone is. It is Democrats and Republicans and leftists who have major political and cultural institutions on their side. Not some lowly individualist like me. And certainly not my neighboring redneck proletarians. Listening to racial theorizing from leftists reminds me of little that individualists have to offer by way of liberation. I, a white man, oppress no one. If you think I have internalized the oppression of individuals of other races, I will argue with you not only intellectually, but stridently — upon my honor. Prof. Long, in siding with these leftists, lurches preciously close to insulting me. And probably you. Perhaps any honest person of any racial background in these United States. Note: I am not saying that there are not white supremacists (the fools; the buffoons). I am not saying that there is no racial bigotry (including from racial minorities). I am just saying that supremacy is largely irrelevant to the liberation of individuals, race is itself a burden upon their thinking, and leftist obsessions with supremacy are, in and of themselves, worthy of ridicule.
  6.     Alienation is not the result of oppression. Alienation is a step on the liberation from oppression. See Walter Kauffman in Without Guilt and Justice. I expect more from a philosopher than repetition of brain-dead tropes from the unthinking masses of symbolic-action-obsessed leftists.

So, obviously I am not on the same page as Roderick Long. Why?

My aim is not to criticise Liberty in particular; it’s one of my favourite magazines, and this particular failing is merely symptomatic of a larger problem in the libertarian movement generally. One might call the problem knee-jerk anti-leftism, or in other words, automatically responding negatively to certain issues (at least when those issues aren’t obvious applications of libertarian principle, like drug legalisation) merely because those issues have typically been the concern of the left.

Could Prof. Long sutter from the opposite problem, a knee-jerk pro-leftism? I believe he calls himself a “left libertarian” — an absurd position that mischaracterizes what individualism is, what libertarianism has to offer.

The knee-jerk anti-leftist infection — libertarians’ costly inheritance from their long alliance with conservatives against the genuine menace of state socialism — takes different forms in different sectors of the libertarian movement: softness on corporatism here, softness on militarism there, softness on white-male-hetero chauvinism somewhere else (with each such sector quick to denounce the flavour of deviation embraced by some other sector, but far less swift to recognise its own). A crucial aim of left-libertarianism, as I see it, is to help libertarianism recover its pre-conservative roots.

Well, the conservative stain may very well be the case. I have argued this in the past. But upon extended consideration, I have come to think the problem arises from a completely different source. Consider this:

There are two main conceptions of justice in this world: traditional justice (in its variant forms) and revolutionary justice (in statist and anarchist varieties). These two correspond to the two visions of social causation that Thomas Sowell has advanced in A Conflict of Visions and other works. Traditional justice fits in with the constrained vision of human nature; revolutionary justice fits in with unconstrained visions. Individualism is an attempt to steer clear of the Scylla and Charybdis these two forms of justice present. My philosophy, anyway, owing in no small part to the work of Adam Smith, Herbert Spencer, Carl Menger and F. A. Hayek, is an evolutionary justice.

The job of the individualist is to take the insight of liberalism, about applying a few rules up and down society’s institutional matrix, consistently and seriously to all individuals even within the institutions normally associated with the State. This project is by no means alien to the basic notions of traditionally evolved justice. But it does not stop by merely restating the past. And it can only proceed if certain ancient tribal attitudes about loyalty and sovereignty are either discarded or completely recast.

And, more importantly, it does not commit the huge error of trying to remake the whole world, especially in the impossible endeavor of balancing out for the inequalities and unfairnesses of the fate or chance we see at work in the natural world. The evolutionary revision of justice is a limited conception of justice. It makes it out as only one virtue among many. And it is mainly attuned to the practice of coercion. Not to redressing the imagined imperfections of nature.

Leftists, on the other hand, are embedded in a culture that rests entirely upon recreating man in a new image, of fair play writ cosmic and carried out microscopic. They see oppression even in the merest accommodations to nature or to others’ demonstrated preferences.

They are fools, almost to a person.

We do not have much to learn from them, other than to see how recalcitrant human moral imagination can be, how reluctant it is to settle for a moderating liberty.

Now I suspect the average libertarian hears or reads words like those from the PTforPeace statement quoted above, and swiftly conjures up a mental picture of a person who is likely to utter them — a strident, self-righteous lefty, equally likely to have wretchedly statist views on all sorts of issues. But even supposing this stereotype is an accurate portrait, what of it? The inference is sheer ad hominem. And if libertarians can recognise valuable insights when they find them in the work of John Calhoun — a brilliant man, but an apologist for, ahem, slavery — inviting them to be equally open to insights from self-righteous lefties doesn’t seem too much to ask.

I have had little trouble learning from anyone, in the past. I have learned from Jeremy Bentham, Henry Sidgwick, Virginia Woolf, Iris Murdoch and Gore Vidal. C.S. Lewis, James Branch Cabell, Lucian of Samosata, Epicurus and Ortega y Gasset. But what I learn from true leftists? Mainly from their many mistakes.

The ways that leftists talk about oppression are almost wholly counter-productive to freedom, to true liberation. Their current obsession, often dubbed by critics as an “Oppression Olympics,” is a vile victimhood cult, a slave morality, a revival of Christianity without the leavening lump of a distant and humbling deity.

Where leftists are, there be dragons.

They have left reality in their vain imaginings, and wander in the mythic realm of Terra Incognita.

twv

Wyvern

 

A news headline screams against Steve Bannon. Why? Because, at some time in the past, he argued that only property owners should vote.

This, of course, triggered predictable responses.

It seems a tad strange that the several states’ ballot-access rules during the original federal republic are cause of scandal today. Yes, the United States franchise was limited to “men of property” during the union’s early years.

I am sympathetic with Bannon’s fleeting opinion. I have had the same thought, turned the same idea around and around in my head.

What? Why?

Well, property owners take on more of a specific kind of responsibility than do the propertyless. Indeed, the very existence of real property in one’s holdings indicates some level of solvency and reliability. Those who do not own property are less likely to be able to cover debts, or repay care provided in cases of incapacitation. Property owners must have a longer time horizon, and are less likely to seek to plunder others’ wealth to cover their own irresponsibility.

That latter possibility is an obvious problem with democracy, so limiting the vote to just those who have some sort of stake — “skin in the game” — in a society based on respect for property rights should discourage corruption and encourage financial stability in government and long-term thinking in general.

Restricting the vote to property owners — that is, limiting the franchise — would seem to provide voters with incentives to support stable, sustainable government, and avoid the temptation to support what Bastiat called “legal plunder,” which entices a widespread urge to attempt to live at others’ expense.

The problem with this, though, is that it does not take into account the reasoning on the issue by one antebellum political group in America. That group was the LocoFoco Party

These activists of the formally-named Equal Rights Party in 1830s New York — and colleagues in other states — opposed the crony capitalism of their day, the corruption and insider self-dealing of the “monopolies” bred by state legislatures.

As they saw it, the limited franchise had not lived up to its theorized promise. Crony capitalism had metastazied in the young republic. It had not taken long. The “men of property” had not resisted the siren song of “cronyism.” And the LocoFocos fought the insider “monopolies” — as part of the Jacksonian and other reform movements.

Of course, it came to pass that today’s full franchise took time to flower — women only got the right to vote throughout the union in 1920. But as the franchise was widened, so, too, did government grow, as more and more was demanded of the State by voters. And, of course, many of those male and female voters had scant holdings. As one would expect. 

Not all that slowly, corruption grew and grew in American life, as the number of laws and the number of wealth transfers through government increased.

Would limiting the franchise, today, help?

Well, we could require that voters consist of net taxpayers, not net tax consumers. This kind of a rule would dampen the incentives of democratic voting to usher in legal plunder.

Or, we could require voters to take out a bond to vote. Basically, make potential voters show the wherewith to gain mercantile confidence to fund defense in a legal case, or weather financial tragedy.

Other schemes could be developed. The whole idea is that we should stack the deck against popular government’s tendency to grow government.

The articles I read on Bannon’s limited franchise idea note that a property requirement would favor whites over blacks, suggesting that the whole issue is at base racial: “The groups most likely to own homes are whites and older people.”

But the factor I suggested at the beginning is not a racist one, unless you think non-whites and younger people are necessarily more irresponsible than today’s typical homeowner. (A racist thought in and of itself, no?) If you look at the exact reasons the founders gave for limiting the franchise, you will see why the idea was indeed all about incentivizing responsible citizenship and good governance. In Aristotelian terms, the limited franchise idea is a timocratic idea, not a democratic one. And democracies, Aristotle wrote, were the corrup form of timocracies.

So, I would not say Bannon’s past flirting with limiting the franchise indicates either unpatriotic or necessarily hateful attitudes. I suspect he considered the notion as a way to rein in today’s unaccountable, irresponsible government. A misguided attempt, sure. It does not quite pass history’s smell test. But at a time when federal debt is increasing at alarming rates, and expanding to insolvent proportions, I say give the man some latitude. 

Still, I understand the incredulity that most people would greet the idea. Most folks look at voting as a right of liberty — quite basic — and not as a wild-card factor in good governance. 

I, on the other hand, suspect that if we must have a State, it might very well be better were it run on timocratic, not democratic, principles.

The real question would be: how? Limiting it to just “men” (or, more expansively, “people”) of property seems to fly in the face of what we know. 

twv


When did the Pilgrims celebrate the first Thanksgiving? The traditional date is some time in the autumn of 1621. In a Slate article by Joshua Keating, of a few years past, that date is used to debunk claims by libertarians and conservatives that Thanksgiving is really a story of the bounties that come from private property. 

But the debunking falls apart on examination. 

Sure, as Keating rightly puts it, the privatization of farm land happened two years after the usual First Thanksgiving date. Things went along swimmingly after the privatization until there was a drought, and then, after much anguish and prayer, the rains came and the crops rose up allowing a big harvest months later. Governor William Bradford, in his history of the Plymouth Colony, mentions an explicit thanksgiving (or, as he spelled it, “thanks-giveing”) held at some unspecified time that autumn of 1623.

Contrast Keating’s account with that of Paul Jacob, published last Thursday at his Common Sense site. Mr. Jacob agrees with the story as told by Keating, but with caveats:

[T]he most obvious political lesson to be drawn from the Pilgrim experience got lost in stories of rain and corn and Indians and such.
But it’s worth noting that Bradford wrote his discussions of communism — and how very wrong Plato and his ilk were — in his primary text, while his talk of the drought was an afterthought in his mss., and appears as a footnote in the edition I’ve consulted.
Both Plymouth stories deserve to be told.

Paul Jacob seems to be making the case that the Privatizaton Thanksgiving is a valid story, basically undergirding the Drought Relief Thanksgiving story. There would have been no latter bounty had the privatization not taken place earlier.

But that is the 1623 Thanksgiving, which Keating calls a second Thanksgiving:

As Kate Zernike of the New York Times pointed out in 2010, the timeline doesn’t quite work. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621. The system of collective ownership known as the “common course” was abandoned in 1623. And it was abandoned not because of famine but because the settlers wanted to make more money.

And Keating and Zernike are in the majority, here: 1621 is the usual year given for the traditional First Thanksgiving. 

But Paul Jacob has an interesting counter to this:

The traditional date for the first Thanksgiving is given a few years earlier, with Squanto showing up and helping them plant and all. However, Bradford’s memoirs do not use the term thanksgiving (or “thanks-giveing”) or even “thanks” in relation to the harvests of 1621 at Plymouth Colony. But there is talk of plenty of food, including that Thanksgiving specialty, the turkey:

And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter aproached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corne to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports.

And yes, I have checked this. Paul Jacob seems to be right: there is no menton of the bounty of autumn 1621 as a Thanksgiving Day. Nowhere, as Mr. Jacob notes, does Bradford even use the word “thanks” in his account of the harvests of that year.

This suggests to me that the traditional date is just wrong. One of those stories that we were taught by our poorly educated teachers, to make the whole thing sound romantic and less religious as well as less political. It is a huge error, and Keating repeating it seems an incredible lapse, to me. 

Par for the course: if you hold to a majority opinion, you can blithely go on transmitting and re-transmitting falsity. There was no special Thanksgiving in 1621. That is a fabrication of later romantic myth-makers.

But what of his other contention, that the privatization was not a matter of getting rid of socialism and starvation, but, instead, just a way for settlers to “make more money.”

Well, this is something close to prevarication, perhaps outright lying.

How so? 

He goes through a lot of folderol about corporate structure and so forth. But he somehow fails to quote the relevant passages of Bradford himself. In an earlier piece, Paul Jacob did quote the relevant passages, which I repeat here:

By the spring of 1623 — a little over three years after first settlement in Plymouth — things were going badly. Bradford writes of the tragic situation:

[M]any sould away their cloathes and bed coverings; others (so base were they) became servants to [the] Indeans, and would cutt them woode & fetch them water, for a cap full of corne; others fell to plaine stealing, both night & day, from [the] Indeans, of which they greevosly complained. In [the] end, they came to that misery, that some starved & dyed with could & hunger.

The problem? The colony had been engaging in something very like communism.

The experience that was had in this comone course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos & other ancients, applauded by some of later times; — that [the] taking away of propertie, and bringing in comunitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser then God.

Bradford relates the consequences of common property:

For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion & discontent, and retard much imploymet that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For [the] yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour & service did repine that they should spend their time & streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompence. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails & cloaths, then he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter [the] other could; this was thought injuestice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalised in labours, and victails, cloaths, &c., with [the] meaner & yonger sorte, thought it some indignite & disrespect unto them. And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, &c., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it.

This stikes me a thoroughly typical description of the bad consequences that common ownership schemes tend to produce. It is the Tragedy of the Commons, really, and the social consequences described by Bradford are not just about a lack of making a capitalist surplus. Keating’s charge that all Plymouth’s Pilgrims were looking to do was “make more money” is not borne out in the text. This is so clear, that one has to wonder about his veracity as a journalist/propagandist.

And the “socialism” element is also borne out by the text. What else to make of Bradford’s reference to the conceit of Plato and other ancients? How does Keating get around this obvious, quite blatant evidence in our primary text about the Plymouth Colony?

Oh, simple: he does not mention it. I know, he has a nice bit of broad-mindedness in his very last words, but the main contentions of Keating’s article are false, and miss the big story: that the traditional “First Thanksgiving” is just another just-so story told to manipulate youngsters and oldsters alike. Historians seem to continue the legend, even with the evidence to the contrary right in front of them. And Keating deliberately avoids dealing with the evidence that is most damning to the point he wants to make.

Slate’s debunking of a libertarian meme about Thanksgiving is typical of this genre. It is, itself, bunk.

twv

Ceteris paribus, women are heavily incentivized to both

  • be seen as attractive and 
  • be highly selective about mates. 

So most women work very hard to look good for the male gaze, and then work very hard to rebuff most male gazes.

Modern mores acculturates us to pretend that this does not lead to any cognitive dissonance, logical oddity, or moral antinomy. The denial of anything problematic here is a main dogma of our time.

Note that male sexual selection standards are very different from female, and that cultural latitude to typical male gambits is somewhat more circumscribed. It is also part of the game of pretense to proclaim male sexual selection behavior as typically receiving much more lax cultural control, the better to further the imbalance between women’s and men’s cultural freedom and moral support. 

I am not saying that any of this is wrong, or lacking in social utility. Many of the double standards now in play are there for at least two good reasons:

  • In the past, to bolster the family, and thus the survival of the human species;
  • Today, to equalize against the bias (the systemic inequality) that nature has placed upon us.*

And yes, both “patriarchal” traditionalism and modern feminism over-compensate against male sexual programming to protect women, making for radically unequal-before-the-law political and cultural structures. This is one of the paradoxes of egalitarianism. The victims of such a system are generally, both in the past and today — ah, the eternal verities! — to be found in the “loser” class of . . . young men. 

All of this is “problematic,” as we all witlessly say, these days. Amusingly, even to discuss this perspective — an evolutionary perspective — is to break several modern taboos.

So why bring it up? Because it is the truth, and it allows us to identify tensions within not only past systems — their “contradictions” — but also with present politics, law, and culture.

But mostly, I confess, for the human comedy. I reserve the right not merely to try to understand sexual dynamics as it relates to social structure** and function, but also to laugh at those who refuse to understand. And at those who mindlessly repeat the stock behaviors of tradition as well as of the modish present. Mechanically repeating established patterns while pretending to full freedom of will is funny.

twv

* It remains to be seen whether the modern focus on revolutionary justice (as opposed to traditional or evolutionary conceptions) will lead to the survival of the human species or not. Its unfitness for maintaining population growth or even stasis has been well demonstrated in modern demographic movements.

** This has been a “gender-free” sketch of the sociology of sex. You are welcome.

The classical liberal view of the ideal state — especially in its “nightwatchman state” version — is that of an umpire. Definitely not “the boss.”

But this idea has long been honored mainly in the breach.

Courtesy of Cato, I learn of the work of historian Elizabeth Cobbs:

How has the view of the United States as an “umpire” served U.S. foreign policy? Elizabeth Cobbs is author of American Umpire.

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Contra this interesting scholar, I would say that our federal government ceased being primarily an umpire, domestically, long ago.

She is probably right that the U.S. characterizes itself as an umpire in its foreign policy aspect. But, if umpire it be, it is an amazingly crazed and brutal one, unpredictable other than in its strong tendency to bomb countries going through political troubles.

Hardly “umpirial”! The U. S. would be kicked out of any respectable referees’ union.

And the only way the U. S. has maintained a putative umpire status abroad has been to reduce that function at home. The umpire-like qualities of limited, constitutional government — of a republic — have long been deprecated by dirigiste ideology and progressive/conservative politics. In its place, instead of a rule of law, we have developed a regulatory state dominated by bureaucracies in the executive branch and plutocracy in the elected sphere.

America, an empire at home; a crazed, wannabe umpire abroad.

Call me an anti-umpirialist, then!

The better to support a more limited, referee status at home. War, after all, is not the health of the nightwatchman state.

twv

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Prior to the Enlightenment, religious warfare in Europe was ongoing, bloody and costly, and the suppression of Jews, heretics and witches by religious authorities was mad and cruel, scuttling the progress that civilization was beginning widely to offer.

In the Enlightenment two things happened: Christians gave up (or began giving up) on coercion as integral to their faith, and intellectuals gave up (or began giving up) on faith as integral to their beliefs and modes of inquiry.

Islam, on the other hand, has never undergone a thoroughgoing Enlightenment. Muslims are still caught in an intellectual trap, that of coercion, or Force.

And, because of this, they cannot easily form free societies. And they find themselves prone to subjection by tyrants and worse — the chaos of seemingly random terrorist crime.

Now, it is not that the ugliness and gross immorality of the philosophy of persuasion-by-force are hidden from Muslims, for Muslims in and near their homelands are themselves the primary targets of jihadist terrorism. Medina itself was recently subject to jihadist attack. Instead, and despite the obviousness of Force as a trap, it is the case that they are stuck, that the trap is more secure for them than it was for Europeans: they know that violence was written into the main documents and early traditions of their religion, and from history they know that when religions come to revise their attitudes on coercion (that is, become civilized, in the modern, normative sense) a process of secularization quickly sets in, running in parallel to the taming of “religious enthusiasm” (as Hobbes termed the grave danger so neatly). Any pious Muslim knows — much more clearly than did the Protestants of the late Reformation — that a consistent opposition to the uncivilized trap of Force is a direct assault upon their Faith.

The stakes are higher, now, in no small part because coercion is more integral to early conceptions of Islam than it was to Christianity, which began (after all) under oppression, and confronted that oppression by hallowing martyrdom in nonviolent submission. Rather than, in Islam, “martyrdom” in combat. Further, we moderns (including modern Muslims) just know more about the sweep of history, today. So the costs of Enlightenment are a whole lot clearer now than in the past.

Maybe our hope is in the children, those under-educated, cult-prone robots of moralistic fervor who, today, fill the ranks of the hectoring SJW mobs. Maybe they, by their very ignorance and urgent hankerings to be “cool,” will tip the scales.

Could the trap that is Cool undo the trap that is Coercion?

America — that is, the United States — was such a good idea. Mention the name and we get teary-eyed. We think of a rule of law, “liberty and justice for all,” an honest republic, a democracy . . . all that.

us_1812And yet every patriotic American de facto lies about his or her country on nearly every occasion of praise; the government has gone through major revolutionary sea changes multiple times, each time perpetrated illegally, in some underhanded manner.

The Secessionist Federation (1776-1787) became a Constitutional Republic (1787-1860) by a peculiar sleight of hand: the new Constitution was adopted in a manner completely at odds with protocols of the existing Articles of Confederation.

Today we celebrate an interesting anniversary, the day the word “national” was stripped from the Constitutional document. On June 20, 1787, the anti-federalist forces (as they were illogically called) maneuvered to strip the last vestige of Hamiltonian nationalism from the document being written in Philadelphia. The word “nation” was removed. They thus turned the written language of the compact back towards confederacy. (Yes, the Federalists were nationalists and the “anti-Federalists” were federalists. Why the nomenclature confusion? Because this is politics, and politicians are liars.) And that federation idea is what was adopted by the states.

And yet, moves towards nationalism began almost immediately. Alexander Hamilton turned his back on multiple of his own arguments for a federal republic made in The Federalist Papers, just as soon as he settled in to his position as the republic’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Thomas Jefferson, for all his fascinating commitments to federalism prior to winning the presidency (he wrote the “treasonous” Kentucky Resolution), took his positions of power as excuses to make an “empire of liberty,” an ungainly idea that didn’t work out anywhere near as planned. Andrew Jackson, while with one hand destroying the Hamiltonian monstrosity, the Second National Bank, with the other perpetrated a genocidal land grab against the Cherokee and moved to promote a nationalist conception of the republic that Abraham Lincoln would later run with. I mean, start a war with.

Lincoln’s response to the secession of the vile Southern states was a grand example of nationalism, not federalism. The end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction was a triumph of nationalism. And though the freeing of the slaves was a great moral good, it was done in a way that was becoming traditional in America: mostly at variance with constitutional law. The 14th Amendment upended the constitutional order, leaving us with political and moral conundrums with which we fight about even to this day. With Lincoln, the U. S. became a National Republic. Or, if you prefer, a Suppressionist Republic, for the suppression of dissent and self-government became the modus operandi of the new State.

Indeed, the United States ceased being that.

United. States.

By morphing into a national republic, the formerly sovereign states were subordinated to subsidiary positions, and the south, of course, was treated as a conquered province. By the letter of the law, all the Reconstructionist Amendments were illegal. But then, the Civil War suspended normal procedures.

It was no shock, then, to find, a mere 40 years later, a president of the U. S. utterly contemptuous of the Constitution, a frank advocate of both war and empire.

This president is, today, widely admired as one of the Greatest Presidents by most intellectuals, left and right. Obama is a huge fan; but the honored, remember — often known by his initials, TR — was a Republican.

In high school history books we were instructed to all but worship the man, when I was a kid. Why? For his trust busting and other anti-constitutional reforms. Yup, Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive, is much adored.

And his work, followed by Democrats Woodrow Wilson (a racist Constitution hater, and huge supporter of forced segregation and Jim Crow) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who “just happened” to set up a wartime concentration camp system, and whose economic policies were all over the map, but almost uniformly interventionist and unconstitutional), sealed a New Deal, one with so much bureaucracy and warfare interventionism that America’s judicial tradition entered a new phase: outright lying. We now live in a Post-Constitutional Imperial Nation State.

Oh, I know: it is not as bad as it sounds. Our hegemons always present a plausible-to-the-plebes rationale for killing brown people in other countries. And the American people who support this massive warfare/“welfare” state often do have something close to good intentions. But mostly what is played upon is fear: fear that if we don’t send our troops overseas, the world will go to hell.

Interestingly, Americans let this half-plausible theory ruin the nation with debt, taxation, regulation, and cronyism. America indeed might be an honest country if not always fighting, killing, torturing, bombing, and erecting “sanctions” against states that our side claims (with diminishing plausibility) to be worse than our own.

But a “free country”? Alexis de Tocqueville would laugh. He predicted the abuses democracy could make, turning government into tyranny. It seemed far-fetched and pessimistic in 1840. But now it seems like reportage.

America, a very good idea gone wrong. Very, very wrong.

Philosophy and Christianity have been mostly at loggerheads from the beginning . . . of Christianity.

My side is with philosophy. No doubt about that. But having watched God’s Not Dead for the first time tonight, I have to say that I am not exactly on that proselytizing film’s critics’ side. The movie is not as bad as most critics make out. It is well acted, tightly plotted and edited, artfully framed with incidental music, and contains several juicy, fun scenes.

At base, God’s Not Dead is about a philosophical argument. Kevin Sorbo plays an atheist philosophy professor who professes atheism but engages in almost no philosophical argumentation.

I would like to say this makes the film horribly unrealistic, but I have heard stories about such abominations in colleges. Sorbo’s Prof. Radisson is a terrible teacher, and there is little evidence demonstrating his expertise in his subject. Surely most philosophers would leap at a student’s interest in a subject dealt with in many different ways during the course of philosophy. Instead, Radisson tries to skip the theology section of his philosophy course by demanding that each student sign a piece of paper saying “God is dead.”

An absurd approach to teaching, and no way to cover philosophy, which began, after all, as the critique of both religion and common sense.

But it does not really seem too far out of the stream of bad teaching in America.

His foil is our hero, a young Christian student who stands up for God in class.

Philosophers who like movies might want to contrast it with Agora, a film set in late antiquity Egypt starring Rachel Weisz as the neo-Platonist philosopher Hypatia.

Whereas God’s Not Dead is fiction, with a shaggy god ending, Agora retells a historical tale. Fictionalized, of course.

In Agora, as in history, a  mob of Christians kills the philosopher.

In God’s Not Dead, the filmmaker kills off the atheist professor . . . fictionally, giving him a deathbed conversion to boot.

This is how Christianity has progressed: from lying about and killing a philosopher to discrediting a philosophical position by “killing off” the vexatious representative character.

In a film that also depicts (fairly realistically) a Muslim father who disowns and throws out of his house a daughter who converts to Christianity, I would say that this is a kind of progress.

Still, the attack upon reason goes on. In real life, a number of years ago, Christians got their hands on senescent atheist philosopher Antony Flew, cajoling him into a half-assed repudiation of some of his previous positions. The devil takes the hindmost; Christians pick off the weakest.

Most critics of GND hated it, saying it was too simplistic and tendentious. Objectively, that is true. But we are talking movies here. Simple-minded and tendentious is the new style, no? That’s what all political movies are, basically. Michael Moore, anyone?

It is not as if today’s highly politicized ideological culture is better when it comes to politics. It is not.

For my part, the biggest disappointment in the film is not the convenient death of the professor. It is the ending at a Christian Rock concert. If I wanted to disprove the existence of God, I might point to Christian Rock as all the proof I need. God cannot even make a miracle of converting young people to like great music. Instead, they adopt CR as a smoker switches to vaping. The drug is there. It is just a new delivery system.


One of the more curious rhetorical gambits of Christopher Hitchens in his anti-Christian speeches has long bothered me: he liked to refer to the people of Palestine in the years of the BCE/AD/CE world odometer zeroing as being in “the Bronze Age.”

He marshaled this aspersion repeatedly. And yet he was quite wrong; the history is well known. The time of Jesus was well within the Iron Age. The Greeks and the Romans had conquered the known world with iron swords. The Iron Age really began with the Hittites, putting the monotheism of Akhenaten at the transition between eras. (See, for fun, a main plot line of Mika Waltari’s The Egyptian.) The Current Era started resolutely in the Iron Age.

So, was this a Hitchens mistake, or was this an attempt at poetic hyperbole?

This question has long bugged me.

Moses was Bronze Age. Jesus (and before him, the Teacher of Righteousness) was in the Iron Age.

Since then, of course, we have come a long way, and baby, how long. The Gutenberg Era helped give birth to the Industrial Age, which has given birth to the Information Age.

Hitchens, who knew history better than I do — I have certainly never read Livy and Tacitus, though Polybius and Suetonius are under my belt — was wrong on this, and wrong repeatedly. He must have been informed. I guess he was just trying to be a smarty pants?

But the smarty-pants play does not work well when delivering misinformation.