Archives for category: Ideological currents

I support “science,” I guess, but not this Saturday’s Earth Day “March for Science.” Why?

Well, because it proved ridiculous? A bizarre twist on virtue signaling? A risible parade of partisans pretending to be “above politics”? 

Let me suggest the crucial distinction, the key to my incredulity, by way of a question:

If scientists practice science, who practices scientism?

Science is the accumulation of knowledge by means of public testing, and the falsifiability of claims is its standard, marking its boundary with other domains of belief. Scientism, on the other hand, is the use of “sciencey” factoids, hypotheses, fantasies, arguments, theories, procedures, and, alas, even the conclusions of scientists, sans any practical recognition of fallibilism or process context. That is, scientism is science-as-dogma, science-as-rite, science-as-shibboleth, etc.

Scientism is what you find most regularly in popular discourse. Scientism is what you find most often in politics. Scientism is what you will most likely find in . . . The March for Science.

Alas, “being a scientist” is no guarantee against practicing scientism some of the time or even most of the time. Many scientists revert to scientism when they wander outside their field of specialization. Not a few practice it part-time within their chosen realm. Almost all embrace the practice when they seek funding.

But what do we call a practitioner of scientism?

I suggest: “sciencist.”

Sciencists are those people who think they like science, but love scientism all the more, and cover for their ignorance and bigotry and embarrassing blind spots by extolling Science as their God and Bible all in one. They piously march to prove their loyalty.

Too bad self-flagellation is not in sciencey vogue. I would not mind seeing these people bleed.

Just a bit.

Oh, and remember: the proper place for scientism isn’t the safe space of a university, a congress, or a parade. It is in your library, under the heading SF.

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N.B. “Scientism” has its origins as a technical term in a few peculiar contexts, most especially in the critique of logical positivism and reductionism. I am expanding on the usage of F. A. Hayek and Karl Popper. The image, above, is from Popper’s Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach (1972; 1989). While Hayek and Popper saw scientism as the mistaken identification of a few procedures used by scientists as defining of science itself, and therefore worthy of emulation by all intellectuals, I am taking a more sociological view of that sort of attribution error and applying it broadly. Scientism is not unlike racism and sexism, to my way of thinking. At core, racism is the “making to much of race” by improperly imputing modal (but not defining) features of the race to all or any individuals who belong to it. It is attribution error by improper discrimination. Scientism “makes too much of science” by taking some common but not defining features of science and holding them as a standard. In academic settings, this can be seen in the over-valorization of measurement, say, and applying it where measurement does not work. In popular science-mongering, it is not procedure that is over-valorized, but certain findings or conclusions and even funding rationales. Most “isms” that we use pejoratively involve similar confusions of part for whole. Scientism as discussed by Hayek and Popper and others is an academic error. The scientism I am talking about could be called vulgar scientism. And since even academic scientism is a vulgarization of science, the vulgarity of everyday scientism is . . . doubly vulgar.

No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him: every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society; and this is all the laws should enforce on him: and, no man having a natural right to be the judge between himself and another, it is his natural duty to submit to the umpirage of an impartial third. [W]hen the laws have declared and enforced all this, they have fulfilled their functions, and the idea is quite unfounded that on entering into society we give up any natural right.

Thomas Jefferson to Francis Gilmer (June 7, 1816)

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I started with quotations, aphorisms, the main points of which I thought obviously egregious. But some of my friends liked them. So I continued. I next put up statements of my own that I found especially idiotic — common pieties of our age. Some liked them; others objected. I reminded the latter, only, what day it was.

So here, in no particular order, with the names of the initial “likers” greened out…. Statements none of which are true, each of which has something disturbingly wrong with them.

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If you aim, in my direction, some cockamamie rap about “the myth of the gender binary,” be assured: I’m not interested. Your gender is none of my business. And keeping track of pseudo-science is not my avocation.

Indeed, I have yet to be convinced that there is much of anything in Gender Theory worth considering at length. I know the definition of “gender,” as a stand-in for “sex role.” More importantly, I know the open secret of the notion: even its adherents keep confusing “gender” with sex.

I am interested in sex. That’s biological. And I am interested in the roles that people make from their sex, and the norms they advance regarding sex and sexual behavior. But when I meet you, I can only guess what weight you give to “masculinity” and what weight you give to “femininity” and any other kind of sex-role “inity.” But I have little incentive to spend much time on the subject. I engage in a parsimony of attention. So I have no real interest in whatever cooked-up alt-pronoun you are pushing to honor your conception of “gender.”

There is indeed a sex binary. This is incontestable. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool of such proportions that I would not talk to that person if I could help it. I avoid crazy people. Besides, I am not a “science denier.” The biology is very clear.

As for “there is no gender binary,” my response is, at best: “Yeah, right, Goober.” Tautological truths about uninteresting fantasies are not my bag.

If you are a boy, and want to pretend to be a girl (or vice versa) that’s fine by me. But I am under no obligation to cater to your delusions or your frauds. I will call you what seems reasonable at the time, but not make much of it. If you make much of it, you can go screw yourself.

That is, unless you have gelded yourself.

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My cat, Bene: he is a neutered male.

Which brings up an interesting point: though we hear much of “gender reassignment surgery”* and “trans-” this and that, I haven’t heard of a rush to create eunuchs. But such operations were once widely performed on men, and are even now routinely performed on pets of either sex.

But we still call neutered males “he” and “him” and spayed females “she” and “her” out of convenience.

So, your pronoun trouble is yours and not mine.

It’s true, as a wordsmith by trade, I have indeed experimented with constructing a set of non-sex-specific pronouns and possessives, but it’s a Sisyphean task to get a new word shoved into a language. And it would be Orwellian to try to do such a thing through the State’s police power, as the collegiate social justice crowd is indeed trying to do in Canada and on some U.S. campuses.

Yes, when it comes to sexing humans, it remains what it always has been: a matter of cox and kunz. If you lack either the referred-to penis or vagina, or have both, then you are indeed a special case, and I will no doubt pity you. If you once had one, and now have the other, I’ll try to humor you, but I feel no obligation. And if you try to oblige me, I will take that as a threat upon my person and my liberty, and swear you are my enemy. And reach for a weapon or a lawyer.

And if you are merely pretending to have something between your legs that you don’t, or are “treating yourself” with the opposite sex’s hormones, I’ll likely avoid dealing with you, and if I cannot, your respect for me means that you must forgive my smirk.

But be assured, the only respect you are owed is the same as the respect I am owed; respect for our rights. And your rights to dress as you want, call yourself whatever you want, talk with whatever inflection you prefer, and generally behave in any peaceful manner are all the respect I feel I owe you. I may give you more than that, but you may not demand more.

Notice what I have not talked about: your interests in other people via-à-vis sexual desire and gratification. Unless we are friends, I have no interest at all in your sexual orientation(s), unless you are an attractive woman who finds me attractive in return.

All others may . . . Well, let us just say that it is none of my business.

And if you ask me for my gender, I will tell you my sex.

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* Of course, “gender-reassignment surgery” is a self-contradiction. Surgeries are biological procedures, manipulations of the body, and gender is supposed to be about socially constructed roles, so surgeons could have nothing to do with “gender.” Their purview is entirely limited to sex. This is just one of those terms that show the whole Gender Hooey to be just that, hooey.

 

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A friend of mine on Facebook, definitely not in my camp but a very intelligent person nonetheless (!), asked his friends for assistance:

Question: what are the advantages of characterizing the Trump administration as fascist?

I’m not asking here if this description is true. I’m wondering about its practical uses and benefits.

Many of the answers ignored my friend’s stricture about whether or not the description were true. I tried not to. But I still did not quite follow his guidelines either. For my answer characterized the utility of the word as extremely limited.

My response was as follows:

Using the term, especially when shouting down people who are engaged in peaceable assembly and normal free speech activities, makes you look insane. Against Trump it just seems gratuitous. We have reason to fear tyranny from him (as with his predecessors, if more so), but not all tyrants are fascists.

More importantly, it is worth remembering that, by calling Trump a fascist, you are insinuating that his supporters are fascists (fascism was a popular movement, if not quite populist). And since most of his followers are simply not fascist, their reaction is to dismiss you as an unhinged zealot.

Is that what you want? It certainly exacerbates the gulf between camps. When I argue against Trump with his supporters, I do not go there. But then, I am trying to convince them of something, not make myself feel good.

I’ve used the f-word, too. It makes me feel so righteous!

The full-war verbal arsenal we deploy when we fire the f-word yields quite a thrill. I know. And there are fascists in this world, and they deserve to be called by the name. So, sometimes use the word.

But when we have little evidence of fascism, and use it anyway, it does not really accomplish much but score brownie points with our tribe, while utterly alienating most people not in our tribe.

Those who use the word often, and especially indiscriminately, are not merely engaged in what we now call “virtue signaling.” They are engaged in open cultural warfare with those whom they disagree.

Unless your interlocutor whom you have dubbed “fascist” self-designates as such, you have used a word that he (or she) will likely regard as a fighting word, and you should expect full retaliation, of whatever kind that may take.

And at that point, dialogue enters a quite different realm. People are no longer arguing matters of fact and logic and perspective; no one “follows the argument wherever it leads” in such situations. Political philosophy becomes a distant dream of a forgotten time.

Now, in many situations, were I called a fascist, I would probably laugh in the name-caller’s face. The idea is ridiculous. And my opponent — enemy, really — can only be one of two things: a ridiculous boob, an idiot, a moron; or a liar, a fiend, a very knave.

So, of course, after being called a fascist, one really should be looking for and securing a weapon. For, though when you (dear reader) use the term you are mostly harmless, your opponent may be quite dangerous, and you have a right to defend yourself. Look around for pens, chairs, vases — anything to strike back at the person. Or hold up as shield.

People who throw around mad charges in high moral dudgeon should not be merely brushed off. They present a high probability of grave danger, and should be regarded as potential threats. The fact that the “anti-fascists” of antifa and BAMN are now engaging in open violence on the streets indicates how dangerous such people can be. Prepare yourself for total warfare at the personal level.

And accept the likelihood that a mass, citizen-participating civil war is in the offing, not beyond the horizon, like it used to seem, just a few years ago.

However, if you are a fascist, why should you mind being called one? Well, most people who lob the term around are in warfare mode, so even if the charge sticks, caveats, still.

But why would you be a fascist? Fascism is collectivist corporatism, and corporatism is what we have now. Fascism is just more of what we have now. Why would you want more?

Less, please. Less corporatism; less statism; fewer regulations; an end to group-based law and culture; more competition in politics; and calm down on the war lust, please.

And one way to do the latter might be to stop throwing the f-word about so easily.

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“Privilege,” when I was young, was a word conservatives would direct at youngsters to humble them, to prevent them from becoming spoiled, from acting “entitled.” Speaking of a sports program, for example, a coach was apt to sermonize: “This field, this gym, this discipline — these are not your rights. You are here because some people did extra so you could have this. It is a privilege to be here.”

“Privilege,” now that I am old, is something progressives say to induce guilt.

What is going on here?

One has something by privilege if it is unearned, not by right. So, the progressives’ story runs, you should make way for those who have not been blessed with your advantages. We who have privilege should step aside to help others rise to our levels of wealth and advantage.

White men are the usual targets of the term. They are the ones said to be the most privileged. Indeed, the most commonly marshaled term is “white male privilege.”

Is there any truth to the charge? Well, it depends on how you define the term.

Most of the time, folks who talk about privilege speak as if it were mostly a matter of unearned advantage. And I admit with no qualms that, in a predominantly white society, there are indeed advantages to “being white,” just as there are advantages in China to being Chinese, in Japan to be Japanese, and in Saudi Arabia to be . . . Arab, but especially Saud. But the idea that being white is an insurmountable advantage over darker skinned folks does not play out well in the statistics of success. In America, the groups that do the best generation by generation are Asian people, particularly the Japanese, Chinese and Indian.

As often noted by conservatives, if you follow that fact, there must be “Asian privilege” in America.

That hardly makes sense.

And it is worth noting that natural endowments that cannot be sensibly thought of as “earned” do constitute advantages and disadvantages, depending. Height, intelligence, and good looks really do make a huge difference in life. Indeed, it turns out very interesting to compare statistics of a population’s outcomes according to these three qualities, contrasting them with race.

However, as an average-height, fairly intelligent and not completely homely American, when I think of what privileges I have specifically as a white man, I cannot list many.

But I do have a clue.

It  can be found in the simple fact that the “white privilege” charge so often sticks, even when it does not make much sense.

Why is this? Because (a) most white men care very little about the charge, on the whole, and brush it off, while (b) a small cohort of white men — along with many college-educated white women — do indeed accept the charge as if caught . . . white handed.

It is this latter white guilt that fans the flame of the meme. And it is white indifference that allows it to flourish.

Most of the current barrage of criticism of the concept have focused on the white guilt. So I will look at the bigger issue: white indifference.

There is (or was, until recently) a dominant attitude in American culture: individualism. This is the notion — or memeplex, or ideology — that would have people treated as individuals first and foremost, to deal with people under the assumption that they are responsible for themselves, and that it is through each of our efforts that we make our lives. This attitude discourages excuse-making, accepts that everyone has different talents and talent deficits, and requires that each person make the most of what he or she has.

Individualists regard people “as equal” only insofar as they are equally human. Individualists regard people as often radically unequal in nearly every other way. And they are fine with that.

One key to this attitude is that questions of “cosmic justice” and “poetic justice” and overall Life’s Fairness are put off the table. Envy is not allowed. Whining is to be discouraged. A certain jovial Stoicism is expected.

This attitude is the very opposite of “social justice.” The charge of “white privilege” is a tool in the arsenal of a very different culture. And that culture is not a culture of achievement.

The culture of social justice is obsessed with a revolutionary perspective, one that seeks to use the power of the state — and the hectoring allowed in popular cupturned — to equalize or somehow “make up” for the injustices inherent in nature.

Though of course social justice advocates do not put it like that. They say — against all evidence — that they are fighting against the evils of social control that men, particularly white men, have used against all other groups to gain the upper hand. “Society’s to blame” has been updated in modern social justice theory to “white men are to blame.”

But, from what I can tell, what they all really hate is any form of responsibilitarian individualism.

But we who are individualists may treat the perverse charge of the social justice warriors as a badge of honor, and, indeed, adopt it as a descriptor of our common attitude of indifference to the charge itself.

White privilege, let us admit, if only for a moment, arguendo, is the cultural attitude of individual responsibility and achievement. White men tend not to think of themselves as a group; we have no class solidarity. And this seeming lack of “group identity” stands upon a firm foundation, a very different idea of justice than those who yammer about “social justice.” It is the kind of justice that was once (in Europe, anyway) understood as limited in scope. Limited to the ways in which people treat each other. Justice does not and cannot address all the unfairnesses of the universe, the uneven disadvantages distributed at birth and further increased by family and church and school. Justice merely prevents the worst harms by establishing rules about how people may treat one another. Justice evolved through the adjudication of disputes, and comes to play when an injustice has occurred. It redresses grievances based on action. And then allows people to make do. To adapt.

White privilege is thus something anyone can have, regardless of skin pigment, as soon as those individuals set aside standards that try to balance out all nature’s wrongs. It “just seems white” because this attitude came to its fullest flowering in the West, where white people lived.

For the mavens of social justice, individualism is “white” because it was was whites who were the ones who made the most of it. And this rather racist color coding — racism being the over-weighting of matters of race, in this case attributing an idea to a race, rather than to those individuals who pick it up — is not without historical precedent: the Communists of a hundred years ago were commonly called (and called themselves) Reds, while the traditionalist and individualist opponents of these Reds were called the Whites.* This was not a racial issue then, of course, but merely a conventional identification scheme.

For the social justice crowd, individualism “just seems privileged,” too. Privilege has long been contrasted with strict justice, especially regarding ownership rights. If I can do something by special permission — of the sovereign, of the actual property owner, whatever the property may be — then it is said that I “am privileged.” If, on the other hand, I can do something by right — if I own the resource, if I have the authority — then I am not privileged; I am “in my rights.” Since social justice activists think that people merit goods equally, the meritocratic element of individualism seems especially unjust to them, while it seems more than just (necessary!) to individualists.

The distinct senses of entitlement are striking.

Questions of equality have long been a part of American discourse. Equality under the law was the original notion, and was understood as an equality of basic rights. Our basic rights were all we were entitled to from the State.

But the French nobleman and researcher Alexis de Tocqueville noted a different factor at play: class. There were no strong class boundaries in 1830s America. Europe, on the other hand, was awash with them. Tocqueville considered this a direct effect of “democracy,” and he described the absence of class barriers as “equality of conditions.” He did not mean “equality of wealth” or health or incomes. By equal conditions he meant social freedom, the equal lack of social barriers put up by tradition and government.

Equality of opportunity was the next to surface. Here social equality was to be backed by certain positive reinforcers, like universal public schooling. But once one notices that public schooling did not and cannot produce “economic equality,” the game was up. Equality became a materialistic matter of wealth levels.

The once vaunted equality of opportunity was thought not to be enough, because of . . . advantages.

But a careful look at actually existing advantages and disadvantages yields a more complex reality than the social justice advocates asserted.

The biggest advantage white people in America have, for example, is that they are treated more justly than are some other darker skinned folks. Or at least seem to be. That is the current story, anyway. Certainly, I am not routinely stopped by police for “driving white,” harassed for walking “in the wrong neighborhoods” or suspected of crimes merely by loitering in a posh store. In these common situations, I, a white male wearing respectable (but by no means extravagant) clothing, am treated justly. Usually.

Is that a “privilege”? Of course not. To be treated justly is not a matter of privilege. It is a matter of justice. Those who are not treated justly are not “under-privileged”; they are, instead, victims of injustice.

Nearly every white person I know earnestly desires that no one be treated unjustly. But many white people I know are increasingly skeptical of some of the current complaints along racial lines, in part because of this very charge of “privilege.” The obsession with equality and advantage covers up some sins that government appears incapable of fixing.

Of inner city violence, we “white individualists” (actually, all individualists, regardless of color) look at inner city African-American neighborhoods and what do we see? Few people working; self-defeating attitudes rampant; vice and indolence; and of course poverty. And we all know, from personal experience, that few folks can make a success out of vice and folly and crime.

And then we witness folks with horrific, socially destructive attitudes tied to deep moral deficits publicly complaining about others’ privileges!

It is not merely indecent. It is pretense. Effrontery. We shake our heads, incredulous.

The truth, of course, is that American white society is not just one thing. The number of whites who hold to the traditional forms of American individualism appear to be dwindling. Certainly, there is a rapidly expanding camp of white folks on government assistance, living lives at the margin with scant hope of crawling out from their poverty.

And, just as certainly, there is a wealthy subset of the professional and college-graduate whites who, while still living generally according to the mores of individualism — working hard, saving money, staying married and investing in their children — have nevertheless abandoned the doctrine itself for the cults of collectivism, for “social justice.” And that is the doctrine they export to the poor, the disadvantaged. Indeed, they are the ones who accept white guilt and actively promote notions of “white privilege.” They guiltily feel that they are privileged. They are sad about that, but nevertheless feel a thrill of righteousness when they can heap moral scorn upon individualists.

But let us not discount their feelings completely. It is true that they have soaked up many advantages, no small number of them designed as such by a governmental system that favors college graduates and school-work expertise over market cooperation. Since this is one area where government policy does yield consistent patterns of advantage, it may very well be that the only unjustly privileged in America are those in the cognitive elite. Well, at least those who work on the taxpayer dime.

And it just so happens that these folks are overwhelmingly in the “social justice” camp.

Still, even now, most of America’s individualists brush off all the charges, or just look at the recent social justice uproar in puzzlement. The copybook-heading wisdom of individualism still makes sense to them, and their main worry remains. They fear that government, pushed by folks who bandy about terms like “white privilege” and “white male privilege,” now favors the whiners and collectivists and looters and rioters and . . . the confessed guilty.

I began by noting that when conservatives used to marshal the word “privilege,” it was in service to the discouragement of the entitlement attitude. It is worth noting that the use of “privilege” by social justice progressives is the very expression of entitlement. They think they are fighting others’ senses of entitlement, by shaming, sure. But by characterizing others’ success as unearned, they show how entitled they feel themselves to be — entitled to the product of others’ labor and investments.

Or, in the case of the wealthy cognitive elite, they feel that their earnest work for the cause of the downtrodden absolves them of their crimes, and they secretly pretend to be generous when they urge higher taxes on their own kind . . . while deflecting attention away from their own wealth by talking about the unjust wealth of the “millionaires and billionaires.”

This is not progress.

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* In full disclosure, my heritage is White Finn — Church Finn, to be exact. But this traditionalist standpoint I have given up for a secular individualism. I have never fallen for The Red line, and my days of avid interest in socialism, almost prurient, was brief, and in my teens.

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The first rule of politics, one would think, must be: Do not turn your opponents more set against you; do not make them your diabolical opposite, your nemesis.

Democrats are doing that with Donald Trump: making him their enemy. Making him more extreme.

They would have found him at least somewhat pliable, I bet, had they not roundly condemned him as Hitler — before and especially after his election. Trump was, after all, a Democrat himself until a few years ago.

I do not think I have ever witnessed such massive stupidity … at least since the united government under Bush pushed massive spending.

But let me take a step back from my utter incredulity: It is not as if Democrats had not made similar miscalculations before, in dropping their anti-war activism, anathematizing the Tea Party, idolizing Obama and granting him one Get Out of Jail FREE card after another.

Indeed, the style obsession that became paramount under Obama — “isn’t he just the coolest, the dreamiest?” — is part of the reason for the current over-reaction against Trump. Superficiality, bewitched passion, trumps . . . reason.

Democratic partisans as well as leftists at large are now forcing Trump’s hand, mobbing him to move further away from their side. And if he succeeds, they could lose big.

Astounding, the stupidity of it. But it cannot be just their superficiality, their tribal othering, their commitment to symbolic action and the rhetoric of intention over follow-through.

Perhaps, thinking themselves outsiders, their “rules for radicals” approach did not prepare them for what the reality of their position was: defense of their status as insiders. They needed a more Machiavellian text.

Sorry, post-Alinskians! Now, the only true radicals left are the La Boéttiens!

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During President Trump’s first speech before Congress, in which one could discern a ramping up to increase spending on the military, the new President prominently featured — called out in the modern, “story-time segment” that Obama had made de rigueur — the wife of the slain Navy SEAL who died in an incursion into Yemen. It was a moving moment, but no one that I follow mentioned that the United States has not declared war on Yemen.

Also not mentioned? The fact that the Pentagon cannot (or will not) provide an accounting of the money it spends. It seems to me that before we throw more billions at the secretive institution, we should have a thorough audit in hand.

Correction. I saw one discussion of all this . . . by Paul Jacob, today .

Now would be a good time to not only rethink Middle East policy, but to re-consider our expensive role as world policeman. . . . During the campaign, Trump was criticized for questioning our alliances and demanding more of our allies. But he was right. I hope he’ll get tough in prodding our allies to ultimately provide their own defense.

Even more basic? Demand an audit of the Pentagon before new funds are thrown into the five-sided money pit.

U.S. military spending can be summed up in one word: overkill. Mr. Jacob calls America’s longstanding foreign policy as the “overkill always” strategy, and explains it like this:

Two truths: national defense is a necessity for a republic; national defense is a racket.

The latter is the case because the former is the case. Big spenders rely on “better safe than sorry” to always push the envelope, over-investing rather than under-investing.

Jacob identifies this as a “trap,” betting that Donald Trump “knows this.”

Before Trump ran for office, he said that sequestration cuts to the Pentagon budget had not gone far enough. But when he threw his hat into the ring, he promised to “make our military so big, so powerful, so strong that nobody — absolutely nobody — is going to mess with us.”

President Trump now proposes over fifty billion dollars in new defense spending. More soldiers, more ships, more fighter jets.

Donald Trump’s excuse for this nonsense? Well, he has followed the neocon line, claiming, contrary to all evidence, that U.S.military spending was gutted under President Obama. Further, he seems to be leaning neocon by holding to the common charge of Republican politicians to the effect that Barack “Drone-killer” Obama has not done enough in the mid-East.

The truth? That conservatives cannot handle? That even a Democratic war-hating president (who nevertheless was a war president for every day of his two terms, a new record) can do too much.

Killing innocents along with alleged bad guys in other countries that we have not duly declared war upon is one sure way to stir up resentments in those countries. And breed international terrorism.

It does not look like President Trump will bring any clarity or rationality to military spending — or coherence to foreign policy.

But I have to ask: why would Trump, who was such a skeptic of American imperial management before the election prove such a chump for the military industrial complex Official Story now?

A number of theories could be advanced. Maybe he knows that, before being sworn in, he was just talking out of his rectal region. Now he has real responsibility, and, seeing that he knows nothing, he goes along with his neocon advisors.

Or maybe he has been threatened by said complex. The military industrial complex is the strongest sector of the Deep State. They are the real rulers, and have been for some time. Perhaps we could send Gandhi into the White House and he’d quickly be seen towing the line.

How would this work? On his first or second day in office, men in black walk into Gandhi’s office unannounced, and hands the Mahatma a folder. What is in the folder? If I knew I’d tell you. But it is damning.

The folder Trump (may have) received? It could have been damning of Trump himself — it could be that he’s being blackmailed. It could be damning of the U.S. Government (the war crimes and power structure are too terrible to speak aloud). Or it could be damning of humanity itself!

Maybe the Lizard People. . . .

Or it could be all very simple. Might not Trump be caving to the military-industrial complex simply to establish another base of support?

Trump, after all, is not an idiot. He knows he needs supporters. He probably had intended to unite the country after election, but the Democratic nutball response has been so loud and divisive, any tendency he had to move to the Center (which is where I think he’d prefer to be, as I’ve written about before) has been scuttled by a lack of reason to do so. The Left and Center-Left has all but declared war on him. He gets death threats. The major newspapers have columnists and reporters who have publicly discussed assassination — and get away with it! Major Democratic figures talk about impeachment, no matter how groundless. The desperation to the left of center is palpable, and that means that appeasing them will not be a good bet.

So Trump goes the other direction.

He plays up to his core constituency. And he reaches out to the Deep State.

That would be an unfortunate consequence of the whole “Not My President” movement. But a typical unintended consequence of tribalism and overkill. Par for the political course.

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Folks with government pensions and major institutional jobs are, deep down, frightened of those who do not have their perks. On some level, they know they are “the privileged.” Which is why they talk about “privilege” so much, and appear self-abnegating . . . on matters of race and “gender.”

As psychological repression. Deflection. Ritual cleansing.

They overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton.

They pretend not to know why anyone would vote for Trump.

But they know. They are sitting in gilded mansions erected upon a house of cards. And they know that most folks, not connected to government or finance or insider contracts, hold the lowest cards in the deck.

They know. The fervor of their growing hysterical Progressivism is a sign of the times. They instinctively double down on the institutions — political and governmental — that have granted them their privileges. But they have corrupted that Progressivism away from anything like a populism into a bizarre ritual victim cult, with all the trappings designed to appease the most chthonian demons, the ugliest gods. They offer permanent victim status to anyone who takes on their statist religion as a cargo cult, and absolve themselves and those poor schmo acolytes with the victims’ relief card: no one is responsible for their ills but the . . .  evil One Percenters.

Whose ranks they, themselves, largely fill.

Fear dominates modern politics. It is not the fear most people think, though. It is not on just one side, the fear of foreign competition, elitist exploitation, Islamic conquest. There is plenty of fear to go around.

twv

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“You keep using that word. I don’t think you know what it means.”

Or so said Inigo Montoya in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride.

He was reacting to a repeated use of the word “Impossible!”

But he might have well been reacting to “Racism!”

I eagerly plunged into Matt Zwolinski’s essay “Why Laissez-Faire is NOT Social Darwinism.” This is one of my favorite subjects, in part because most discussions of it are so hopelessly muddled that it has become my favorite sport to vivisect each argument as it appears before me, wriggling in front of my eyes, tempting my scalpel. Thankfully, this essay starts out well; it looks promising from the first paragraph. Zwolinski has set out to defend William Graham Sumner from Richard Hofstadter’s infamous “social Darwinism” charge. And yet, it quickly gives me pause. Here is the fourth paragraph:

“Fitness,” for Sumner, was not a normative evaluation but a descriptive claim. To be “fit” is not necessarily to be “better” or “more virtuous” than one who is unfit. All that fitness means, in the evolutionary sense, is adaptation to environment. Thus, in Sumner’s “colorful” words, “rattlesnakes may survive where horses perish . . . or highly cultivated white men may die where Hottentots flourish.” The point is easily missed in the face of Sumner’s unfortunate racism, but even racism is not the same as social Darwinism, and the substance of Sumner’s point here is clearly at odds with the popular interpretation of that idea. The fact that a rattlesnake will outlive a horse in a desert doesn’t make the rattlesnake morally better than the horse. It just means that the rattlesnake is better adapted to surviving in the desert. That is all.

My problem here? I almost missed Zwolinski making a good point because of his unfortunate mistake about the nature of racism.

And so, before I move on to evaluating Zwolinski’s deconstruction of Sumner’s putative social Darwinism, I must dissect the racism charge that he makes.

You might be saying to yourself, “What’s going on here? Why is Virkkala distracting himself from the main point?”

Well, “racism” has been associated with social Darwinism for a very long time. So, when Zwolinski identifies something in Sumner that strikes him as racist, he is already finding something that lends support to the Social Darwinism charge — if only in a sloppy, association-of-ideas manner. And, also, if the author makes hash of the racism aspect, it might shed light on any deficiencies we may find in the main argument. (If any there be.)

But the simple truth is that I am deeply distracted by Zwolinski’s comment about Sumner’s “unfortunate racism.” For, from the example he gave, there was no racism involved at all.

None.

Not even a little bit.

Sumner has compared the survival-fitness of the “cultivated Englishmen” of his day with the “Hottentots” of his day. Where is the racism here?

Sure, the Englishmen Sumner was referring to were “white,” a variety of what was then known as the “Caucasoid” race, and the Hottentots were “black,” of what was then known as the “Negroid” race.

To notice racial differences is not racism. Racism isn’t “belief in the utility of distinguishing between genetic groupings of humanity.” It is the “making too much of race,” usually by imputing statistically discernible characteristics of a race to individuals of that race. One does this either because one has fallen prey to an error typical of folk statistics, or because one is engaging in some out-group antagonism, usually in service of some play of in-group solidarity. Racism is inherently anti-individualist, by this understanding.

But it is not anti-individualistic to notice that there are racial differences. So, by identifying Englishmen and Hottentots, recognizing their typical differences, one has made no racist error. None. Not one. Not even a little bit. Racism is not, I repeat, about the recognition of “race” as a useful category of thought and speech. It is about the abuse of the category.

But, but . . . Sumner called Englishmen “cultivated” and implied that Hottentots were not! How cannot that be racism?

Because “cultivated” is not a racial concept.

Anyone can be cultivated, given the right circumstances. “Cultivation,” as here used, is a cultural concept.

The very word derives from agriculture, as in “cultivating the fields.” A culture that engages in elaborate structures of production in agriculture and industry and marketing, not to mention the many arts and sciences, is, by definition, “cultivated.” When Sumner was writing, England was quite cultivated. There is no doubt of that. And the Hottentots of central and south Africa were not. They had a fascinating primitive culture. But it was still primitive. And, as such, much less complex than the English culture. Most Englishmen were “cultivated” compared to Hottentots because they were adapted to their more complex society, and that is a simple and unavoidable truth.

Oh, but “Hottentot” is an offensive term for the Khoikhoi! Well, sure. Now. But this was not known to be any more offensive than calling a German a German or Finn a Finn, back in Sumner’s day. The Germans did not use the old Latin name of “Germany” to refer to their country, not very often; the Finns called themselves “Suomilainan,” inhabitants of “Suomi,” not “Finns” from “Finland.” Similarly, the Khoikhoi did not call themselves “Hottentot” — that was a Dutch name for them, just as Finn is the outsiders’ name for the people of Suomi, and German is the outsiders’ name for inhabitants of (or from) Deutschland. Hottentot is considered offensive, now, but so are many other words that were once the only words that folks had access to.

I do not know precisely why Matt Zwolinski thinks comparing “cultivated Englishmen” to “Hottentots” is “unfortunately racist,” but I guess it is the “cultivated” part. And this is simply an error. If you think it is racist to acknowledge cultural differences between a modal Englishman and a modal Khoikhoi, or “most Englishmen” compared to “most Hottentots,” then I am not sure what to say further. It is just a category error.

What this seems to indicate, though, is something quite common among the young, these days. It was certainly not unheard of among the old when I was a child — I remember a great aunt of mine speaking this sort of offense-taking nonsense back in the 1960s — but it is especially common now. And it has a geneology:

  1. Racism is bad.
  2. I have been trained to react negatively to anything smacking of racism.
  3. Talk of “race” itself reminds me of racism.
  4. Therefore: this mention of race is itself racist!

This can best be described as the thinking of lazy minds. It happens all the time with “sexism,” too. I have heard people say that rape is sexist. That pornography is sexist. That . . . well, you get the idea. But  just because rape has something to with sex, and is bad, does not mean that it is sexist. Sexism does not encompass all the bad things that relate to sex.

To believe that it does mean this? It is to not really understand how language works. It is to lose track of definitions, and think that any association of ideas that pops into one’s precious little head warrants some drastic identity.

My interpretation of this passage runs like this: Matt Zwolinsky read the comparison between Englishmen and Khoikhoi; it made him uncomfortable; therefore: “unfortunate racism”!

I will not try to make a similar mistake by taking my annoyance with this one error and imputing it to the rest of the essay.

All I am going to do is let it stop me from reading the rest of it tonight. Stay tuned for further discussion of this important subject — and what I hope will prove to be an important essay, regardless of Zwolinski’s infelicitous misattribution of racism to this one statement by William Graham Sumner.

twv