Archives for category: Ideological currents

This person makes some points that I have been making, but which, I am told, I should be grateful that somebody else put public.

Interestingly, I tried to put this video up on my Facebook political page (LocoFoco.US), but Facebook would not let me.

Let us see if Facebook will allow me to link to this page, protected, just a bit, by an alternative title. Consider this page a “frame.”

The point of the video is that wholesale anathematization is not exactly a recipe for convincing anyone to change his (or her) mind.

‪All my life the majority of smart, educated people have talked up the Left in such a way as to indicate that leftism is “cool.” I still hear it today.

Color me incredulous.img_5132

But I will admit that, long ago‬, this “Left Is Cool” mantra made a modicum of sense.

How?

The Right was moralistic and censorious, in the days of my childhood; the Left, less so, especially when engaging in the left’s sophomoric relativism — though leftists were, I do recall, prone to shouting and marching in “protests,” which they thought were cool but were, instead, cool’s opposite, hot. Right-wingers, on the other hand, paraded their offense-taking regarding sex, drugs, blasphemy and evolution while expressing outrage in moralistic high dudgeon, and always with an undercurrent of an itch to use government as censor, abrogating free speech rights as well as the freedom of the press.

Uncool, man; there is nothing “cool” about moralism and the suppression of free speech.

Now, this has been completely reversed. The Left is now utterly dominated by shrill, moralistic would-be censors, and the traditional leftist protest — all the shouting — has turned into mob-action shout-down brigades. Free speech as a political commitment has utterly evaporated left of center, with Yes But-ing everywhere:

We’re for free speech, yes . . . but hate speech isn’t free speech, and free speech isn’t freedom from the consequences of speech!

Not being complete morons, leftists elide the threat implicit in their idea of “legitimate” consequences (“you speak and we will get you fired, or worse”) and never acknowledge the sheer contemptuous hatred on their part when going off on each habitual iteration of a “hate speech” rap.

img_1711Why did the Left descend into moralism while the Right ascend to free speech advocacy?

Two words: cultural power.

Long ago the Left captured the commanding heights of the culture. And that, my friends, is power. And power, every schoolboy knows, corrupts.

Those who try to consolidate their power become censorious and moralistic. It is as natural as were their demands for freedom when they were out of power.

Similarly, the Right has been expelled from the key cultural positions. Out of power, right-wingers naturally swing to freedom.

It is the first law of political liberty: Out of power, people say they want freedom; in power, they try to secure more power, often in the cause of “security,” sometimes in the name of “justice” or “equality,” occasionally even taking “liberty” in vain . . . for those with power over others, liberty must run against the grain.

Now we see how “radicals” become “conservatives,” and conservatives radicalize. It depends on their relevant contexts, their situations. And the context that matters most? Power — propinquity to power; quantity of power; scope of power. The more you have, the less liberty means to you.

img_1174And why is that?

Because liberty is a sort of equilibrium of force. It is the condition where, by rule of law or custom, force is not initiated against others, each is free from initiated force. And coercive force is the most obvious form of power. When you lack it, the argument for liberty seems clear: let us share power equally. But when you possess it, giving it up to allow others to share? Well, that seems counter-intuitive at best.

We live in an interesting moment, because right now the Left is at apogee and is thus filled with the confidence that dominance provides.

Not radical any longer, leftists instead aim to conserve power (even if by overkill, pushing the envelope of their instinctive socialism). Thus they are now the conservatives. Further, their dominance being so well established, they have become hubristic. Add to this the recent multi-pronged attacks them, and no wonder they have become hysterical.

Pride goeth before a fall. Expect a legitimation cascade — an authority collapse —  soon. Or else tyranny. Or first the one, then the other.

twv

Americans have become unhinged. The Left, anyway. In their self-indulgent hatred of President Trump, they keep on floating bizarre satirical jabs at the man. Consider the Trump Chicken:

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It was placed upon the lawn near the White House:

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It took Twitter by storm, of course, and it is there that we learn that the man responsible had his reasons:

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“Too chicken?”

Ask Marty McFly how dangerous that can be.

Maybe because I’m so old, I remember the widespread mockery of George Herbert Walker Bush. Some folks did not like his style. The in-crowd mavens of corporatist rectitude called it “the Wimp Factor.” Well, that didn’t go well. Not long after, Bush I started flexing his muscles in distant lands.

Well, he sure showed them!

Do you folks aim to goad Trump into a nuclear war with North Korea? You say you think he’s emotionally unstable. And yes, he may very well be emotionally unstable; that is quite plausible.

But if you believe that is the case, yet go around perpetrating this kind of nonsense, that makes you worse than a fool.

It makes you, as the Bard said,* a Fucking Fool.

twv

 

* I know, I know: it was not Shakespeare who used the epithet, but Kingsley Amis.

individualist

noun

1: the ultimate target of collectivists, thus a member of the one class of people that we know, a priori, to be victims.

2. a herd-minded poseur known to spread collectivism as an example of his or her daring resistance to some disvalued non-collectivist (or merely traditional) crowd, real or imaginary; a mob participant who wears a mask of eccentricity as a uniform, and thinks uniformly with others of a similar nature; an ideological changeling, a mass man tarted up as morally autonomous individual by recourse to a counter-cultural consumerism — opposite of definition 1.

The legit definition, courtesy Merriam-Webster:

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N.B. This post’s title is Finnish for “individual.”

 

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a thesis sans argument*:

IMG_3872Amusingly, what makes the infamous and much-castigated “social Darwinists” conceivably Darwinistic is not so much the theory of natural selection, especially construed as a “survival of the fittest” by way of a ruthless weeding out of weak individuals, but, instead, a reliance upon sexual selection as the basis of human breeding. By defending a dispersed responsibility for begetting and rearing children, the individualists** completely relied upon individuals to choose their own mates and determine their own fates, as well as that of following generations.

This quasi-Darwinistic social vision of the individualists was challenged and replaced by a new hard-headed view of society — in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — that of the social engineers associated with Fabian Socialism and American Progressivism. Their new vision was not so much “Darwinian” as “Galtonian,” in that it carried social engineering to the extreme of coercive eugenics.

This did not mimic either of Darwin’s great contributions, Natural Selection or Sexual Selection.

The principle to which the new social engineers appealed was quite old-fashioned and understood by folks prior to Darwin: Artificial Selection. They insisted upon direct human control of the process of selecting qualities to breed into future generations. Sure, the selection criteria “were scientific” — just as breeders of cattle and dogs were careful in their arrangements of livestock mating — but in no way dispersed.

Their idea was to concentrate (centralize) choice (or at the very least the “breeding out” criteria and enforcement) into the hands of experts. It was thus sexual selection turned artificial.

An old idea, to some extent (since marriages were historically subject to arrangements by clans and courts, to encourage the inheritance of some traits, usually non-biological traits such as wealth and power), but now more expicitly statist, and in theory defocused from families and focused wider onto society as a whole. To be managed by the State.

Yes, social engineering and eugenics were indeed promoted as “scientific” during the heady, early days of Progressivism, and Darwin’s name was often . . . taken in vain.

Darwin had nothing to do with the outrageous notion of applying Artificial Selection to human populations at the macro-social (societal) level. His theory of sexual selection indicated, instead, a more dispersed process that explained adaptation and speciation.

The eugenicists of Progressivism were engaging, on the other hand, in a scientistic misappropriation of Darwin’s legacy, and it was the earlier individualists, relying instead mostly on invisible hand processes of nature and society, who were closer to the spirit of evolutionary science.

But, in fairness, the eugenics movement had its scientific backers. The term eugenics itself was coined by Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin once removed. And Galton was no slouch, revolutionizing statistics and the research of inheritance.

Tipping the hat to Galton, honesty and precision suggests an alternative to “social Darwinism,” societal Galtonism.***

Resting upon Galton’s obsessions, the statist eugenicists donned the mantle of science. Within a half century of the eugenics heyday, progressive intellectuals, under the guise of “liberalism,” rewrote the history and jiggered with the concepts to obscure the enormity that their parent generation had embraced whole-heartedly. And, twist of the proverbial knife, they castigated the earlier individualists as cruel “social Darwinists” when the real crimes — their tradition’s — were far more directly inhumane and unchristian, and more plausibly a misappropriation of evolutionary theory.

Politics and ideology are full of droll reversals of fortune.

The memes that survive must serve functions, yes, but they are selected, artificially selected by humans with interests. And “social Darwinism” has served progressives for a long time, helping them bury the sorry history of their own movement by deflecting to others the apt charge of scientism.

twv

* This post is admittedly mostly just assertion. But I hope the reader will forgive me for floating the notion before I find time to defend it. Maybe I should do a Kickstarter campaign to fund my elaboration of this and allied ideas!

** I am mostly referring to Herbert Spencer here, though the Americans John Fiske and William Graham Sumner might also fit into this category as relevant.

*** A Google search called up just one comments-section coinage of “social Galtonism,” but “social,” to my ear, more properly applies to micro- and meso-levels of human interaction than the macro level, so the uglier adjective “societal” makes a quantum of sense.

Offensively sexist Wikipedia entry:

Roosters almost always start crowing before four months of age. Although it is possible for a hen to crow as well, crowing (together with hackles development) is one of the clearest signs of being a rooster.

It is only the Cockocracy that keeps hens from crowing.

IMG_3847If it weren’t for cockerel oppression, hens would have an equal station at the roost, protecting the brood, perhaps trading off. In a true chicken coöp coop, the cocks would share in nesting chores, allowing hens to patrol the grounds, too. And besides, keeping other cocks from entering the territory is just cock-of-the-walk privilege. The hens should be able to choose from a variety of cocks, and prevent any one cock from dominating the walk.

In the coopunistic future, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch she wishes, chickendom regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for chickens to do one thing today and another tomorrow — hens would be able to lay eggs and nest in the morning, peck in the afternoon, roost in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have in mind, without ever becoming nester, rooster, pecker or critic.

twv

The debate over whether “capitalism” should be used by libertarians and other supporters of free markets waxes rather than wanes. Last week,* Sheldon Richman published “Is Capitalism Something Good?” on Freeman Online. And I can see why Stephan Kinsella calls this an “extremely frustrating” debate. We never get very far.

My favorite of Richman’s points is lexical:

At the semantic level, capitalism is an unfortunate word when applied to the free market. It suggests a privileged status for capital over other factors of production, which is not the case in a free market. A capitalist is not a believer in capitalism but rather an owner of capital. One can be a socialist capitalist, that is, one who owns capital while favoring a system called socialism.

In my younger days of argumentation, people would sometimes accuse me of being a capitalist. Well, in those younger days I was broke. I had no savings. I had nothing to invest, and invested in nothing but my own mind. So I would correct them: “Hey, I’m near the poverty line. No enjoy-capitalismcapitalists down here! Besides, I support laissez-faire because it regulates businesses: It enforces a rule of law that disallows businesses from demanding I pay for their goods if I don’t want their goods, or pay more than I would under competition, which laissez faire also enforces. I am not a capitalist, because I insist that we keep capitalists in their place.”

This is the basic truth about the word: A “capitalist” was first known not as a defender of any system, but as one who had money to invest, or investments that returned money. It is logically odd, then, to use the word “capitalism” to identify a system whose supporters  could very well be not capitalists!

I’m not quite in the same place as I was in those days, and don’t take that rhetorical tack as often. I have a long history of being leery of the word. I cannot remember Herbert Spencer, whose general approach I admire, making a pitch for “capitalism” as a system. (His witty acquaintance Henry Makepeace Thackeray first used that term in this fashion. He was no anti-capitalist, but he was an ironist, and I won’t wager on what the precise meaning of his intent.) But Ayn Rand, notoriously, did. She published a book under her name entitled Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. When Spencer and Rand appear at odds, I long ago learned to side with Spencer.

But there are some things to be said in favor of “capitalism.” For one, it is known. It is less cumbersome than, say, “free enterprise,” a phrase that traditionalists conservatives have abused for years, as a synonym for the Main Street variety of crony capitalism.

I recently argued** for an open, inclusive use of the term capitalism. Capitalism describes any system with private means of production and a labor market. Existing forms of capitalism are, in most every case, dirigistic — that is, subject to multiple and dominating government controls. But the less government direct, micromanaging control you have, and the more the whole system rests upon a rule of law, the more it exhibits the libertarian ideal of laissez faire. Yes, another French term . . . but it’s a lot better known than dirigisme.

The sad truth of the situation is that dirigisme is the letter and spirit of modern law far more than laissez faire is.

So we can continue to use the term “capitalism” as long as we are clear about its modifier, dirigistic or laissez-faire.

However, let’s be frank: All terms have been contested and are therefore contestable. Every term has its problems of connotation as well denotation. “Laissez Faire” suffered under Herbert Spencer’s able attack as “That Miserable Laissez Faire.” We all know what’s happened to “liberalism.” And “Libertarianism” has been caught in a tug-of-war between, uh, pro-capitalists and anti-capitalists for a long time.

Such it is in ideological debate — and yes, every one of us who espouses some policy or some regime or another is an ideologue. None of us are above that (despite Marx’s attempt to squelch the term low in the echelon of epistemics).

For the same reason, we must use the words in circulation, no matter how tainted they may be. We have only a limited ability to influence their meaning. The meanings are “out there,” in the realm of intersubjectivity, if not objectivity, where truth is said to reside.

So, the term “capitalism” is not one that I’d fight much over. “Liberal,” on the other hand, is a great term to defend. I like to call modern so-called liberals by a much more apt term: Prodigal.

But most people don’t know what that means, either. And that’s mainly because most people are sloppy users of language who can write whole sermons on a contested word without once looking it up.

A prodigal is someone who spends too much, too extravagantly. Prodigality is the excess of which “liberality” is the virtue. Which fits an observation of Leonard Read’s from about the time I was born: A liberal, today, is liberal only in the sense that he’s liberal in spending other people’s money. Similarly, a progressive, today, notoriously believes in no form of progress other than the growth of the state.

It’s the prodigal advocates of dirigisme that we must oppose, today. I’m not sure giving them the word capitalism is the way to wrest victory from their rapacious desire to take, take, take from the liberalism of yore.

In fact, there’s not much I’d give them. Not even their pretense to good intentions.

But, if we do end up defending the word “capitalism” now and then, let’s not univocally ever defend capitalists, as such. Not any more than we defend wage laborers or entrepreneurs or professionals. Any person from any group, no matter how good, can stray to the point of demanding special favors from governments, bailouts and subsidies and the like. Besides, I’ve known a number of asshole capitalists, not a few who did not bother placing themselves above the practice of petty fraud as modus operandi. Shun them, even if (insofar as they cannot be caught in their frauds) one grants them their rights to trade and, in general, live their asshole lives.

Now that I think of it, one could generally hate capitalists, but love the system.*** Laissez faire is a form of regulation, a check upon business power. The rule of law, in which rights to liberty receive general protection, is an amazing defense against rapaciousness. Indeed, that’s probably the reason why most people oppose it. They want to act rapaciously while pretending to act nobly.

Ah, anti-capitalist capitalism! Not, I gather, a great motive force for progress or political reform or revolution. But there’s a t-shirt slogan in there somewhere.

twv

* This article first appeared on The Libertarian Standard on April 20, 2010. A very few words have been changed or elided in this reprint, and one new link placed.

** This “recent” argument was reprinted yesterday at this location.

*** The sheer number of possibile takes on “capitalism” is the result of a general confusion over the meaning of the word, Daniel Kian Mc Kiernan explained a year after I wrote the above. I will have to address his points in a future essay. One of the reasons to unearth and repost these blog entries is to provide an excuse to consider Mc Kiernan’s perspective.

A number of writers from across the political spectrum have been writing about the word “capitalism” recently.* What does it mean? Do we have what it signifies? Does talking about such a seemingly vague thing increase our understanding?

enjoy-capitalismJohn Stossel argues that we don’t live under capitalism, unless you modify the word to mean “crony capitalism.” His essay “Let’s Take the ‘Crony’ Out of ‘Crony Capitalism’” makes a very familiar case:

The word “capitalism” is used in two contradictory ways. Sometimes it’s used to mean the free market, or laissez faire. Other times it’s used to mean today’s government-guided economy. Logically, “capitalism” can’t be both things. Either markets are free or government controls them. We can’t have it both ways.

The truth is that we don’t have a free market — government regulation and management are pervasive — so it’s misleading to say that “capitalism” caused today’s problems. The free market is innocent.

But it’s fair to say that crony capitalism created the economic mess.

This is all very well and good. Accurate in its own way. But I am not sure we should give in to either libertarians who want to defend free markets or statists who want to bury them in red tape. “Capitalism” isn’t a word that means just one thing, just as “democracy” isn’t a word that means just one thing. One usage isn’t obviously better than another. Thackeray’s coinage serves more than one master.

I support laissez-faire. It’s a great and noble — and ultra-civilized — policy. But laissez-faire isn’t the only form of capitalism. Indeed, the dominant form has always been some form of dirigisme, or piecemeal state control of market activity.

So, I suggest letting everybody use the word “capitalism” in a broad sense, as an economic system featuring a large degree of private property both at the consumer and producer levels, wide market interaction in both consumer and producer goods, and fully developed labor markets.

It nevertheless remains the case that laissez-faire is more capitalistic than dirigisme. For, the more state control of markets, the more limitations on private property — particularly with command-and-control regulation, rather than rule-of-law oversight — capitalism morphs into socialism. The more government you have, the less the capitalist element dominates.

To put this more straightforwardly, capitalism is defined by the features that laissez-faire unreservedly supports: private property, freedom of contract, markets in capital goods, and contract labor. So, though dirisgistic capitalism is indeed capitalism, laissez-faire capitalism is “more capitalistic,” by the standards of its very definition.

There is one sense that this understanding, however, is not true. That’s the sense in which dirigistic capitalism serves capitalists, that is, people with money. It is a truism of government that it rarely serves all, equally. And it is also a truism that money talks in politics. So, dirigistic capitalism amounts to little more than plutocracy.

This sad truth comes as a shock to those who hail from the left. Those leftists who propose to make capitalism more dirigistic often merely serve as useful idiots for the very rich. Businesses have a long history supporting mercantalist policies, policies that so-called “progressives” thought “regulated business.” Instead, regulations most often help business cartelize, even monopolize, their positions. Getting the upper hand is something many businessmen attempt, and attempt through government.

Such operations have taken many forms, from anti-trust (which actually makes businesses less competitive) through micromanaging regulation to outright subsidy.

It can be quite amusing to watch a standard-brand leftist make all the arguments necessary for businesses to trump their market competition. The trump being, of course, government.

This was most entertainingly seen in the recent bailouts, where it was a whole class of bankers and intermediaries who were aided, not the general run of market participants. Indeed, bankers’ jobs and intermediaries’ jobs were made secure, and their fortunes restored, while the economy lurched out of control and into double-digit unemployment. Such is the logic of dirigisme: Not very logical.

Very political, though.

The great rule of capitalism is that everybody’s worth differs in differing contexts. Laissez-faire is a form of regulating capitalism by the rule of law, trying to set a political limit on the value of human beings. In laissez-faire, the political value of people are equalized by their equal rights to liberty and free contract. But under dirigistic capitalism, the fluctuating value of human beings is re-introduced into the political system because rights no longer regulate human interaction, micromanaging policy-makers do. So everything goes up for grabs.

Under dirigisme you get the general exploitation of the politically weak by the politically powerful — two classes that continually shift, according to the deals and machinations of politicians. You get what Anthony de Jasay calls “the churning state.”

I have no special love for the term “capitalism,” and see no great and overriding reason to shore it up. I just want people to be able to talk to each other about the realities of the current (and past) social world. Capitalism obviously exists in some form today. But it is obviously not laissez-faire capitalism. What we are blessed with and suffer under is dirigistic capitalism.

Two French terms. Why not?

It should be remembered, though, that dirigisme is the ancient, traditional state practice. It flows naturally out of the limited-access society’s basic deal: Tough guys provide order, and in “exchange” we — each of us — gets a fairly stable, quasi-guaranteed place in that state, however lowly.

The idea of laissez-faire, though perennial, is much newer, and quite revolutionary. It is deeply associated with the idea of a rule of law, and its main feature, on the personal level, is personal freedom, the ability to choose what you do in life.

It is always amusing to me how advocates of dirigistic capitalism so readily devolve into advocates of ancient political notions of status. Both centrist Republicans and Democrats tend to move in that direction, and leftists, in particular, keep reviving ancient notions of class and “my station and its duties.”

The great thing about laissez-faire is that it allows us that opportunity to throw off the shackles of time and chance and programming, it conjures up the ability to remake oneself, correct course. This allows for a great amount of progress and flexibility. But stability? Nothing can be guaranteed.

Those who want guarantees of place and position, they tend to hate the freedom in laissez-faire. They don’t want government to “let others act” within the confines of a rule of law, they want more regulation.

Ah, regulation!

The lifeblood of dirigisme. The command structure of socialism. The inheritance of the conquerors who established the first states. At one with military orders, the darling of bureaucracies, the goal of most politicians. It is coercion instantiated in its most paradigmatic act.

The paradigmatic acts of laissez-faire, on the other hand? First, the trade; and, second, being held responsible for one’s own actions.

But I’m more than willing to admit that “capitalism” fits a broader history than the ideal of laissez-faire. So the word must be modified. “Dirisgistic” will do. I offer it to those reasonable people — see, for instance, Stephan Kinsella in his recent essay “Capitalism, Socialism, and Libertarianism” — who wish to keep their terms straight and move beyond semantic disagreement to substantive argument.

And perhaps more French words could be found for the varying degrees of control that have characterized American market life.

twv

* This essay was originally posted April 16, 2010, on The Lesson Applied, by Wirkman Virkkala. A very few changes have been made to the original text.

President Donald Trump defended Western civilization while in Poland, mentioning “symphonies” as exemplary achievements.

“We write symphonies, we pursue innovation,” he said.

Now, taking glory from others’ achievements ain’t my bag, but defending Western civilization against its detractors and enemies is surely worthwhile. A great tradition of liberty did not pop out elsewhere, even if many good people and great things and ideas did. Many of us here in the West are still caught between Hebraism and Hellenism, and live in an ongoing dialogue between Jerusalem and Athens. And we have no reason to be ashamed of this.

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And we have no reason to take shame in symphonies — which not coincidentally remain my favorite form of art, bar none.

But . . . I just heard an African-American man on CNN admitting to being “triggered” by this mention of the symphonic tradition in particular, thought it was evidence of “white nationalism.”

This is just so stupid. I commend to the attention of the under-educated ideologues at CNN the symphonies by American composer William Grant Still (pictured in caricature) — especially his Fourth, “Autochthonous,” and Fifth, “Western Hemisphere.” The symphonies are very good, if not great; they consciously build upon a long civilized tradition of fine art music; they reference in their titles the very idea of growing new out of the old; and the composer was the first African-American to have a symphony performed in America.

Blacks are not defined by jazz, or soul, or rap/hip-hop. Maybe it is time to give up your low-brow, anti-white fixations. You do not make anyone look (or sound) good.

Thankfully, you do not speak for anyone but yourselves, and perhaps the pathetic racists you cater to.

twv

According to rumors, some of the President’s Goldman-Sachs economy czars gave him a good talking-to.

Donald Trump had bolstered his political standing, in part, for pushing two policy positions, both of which resonate with many (though not necessarily the same) Americans:

1. Trade deficits are bad . . . and are caused by a too-strong dollar.

2. Taxes on businesses and investments should be cut to encourage growth.

The Goldman-Sachs folks informed him (the rumor mill has it) that doing the second (2) would likely subvert the first (1) by strengthening the dollar.

Economist Bob Murphy (on Contra Krugman) notes that Trump’s lack of understanding here is hardly surprising, since only by studying economics would one see the connection, follow the chain of cause and effect that far. One would not learn this “by running a business.”

Most of everybody’s economic understanding and policy is on this level, because economics is not necessary to success in most enterprises.

Arguably, lack of economic understanding has long been a prerequisite for success in politics. People like to hear simple untruths stated boldly.

twv