Archives for category: Transactional Clarity

Mandalay Bay Hotel

The horrifying shooting at the Las Vegas country-and-western concert — from the Mandalay Bay hotel — is  being widely reported as “the biggest mass shooting in modern American history.” The accuracy of this depends on that word modern,* and perhaps on narrowing down the definition of what a shooting is, too.

The death count, it may be worth remembering, has so far not reached Branch Davidian levels.

But, admittedly, the Waco event was perpetrated by the government against a besieged community, and mainly done by arson — though guns played an all-too-infamous role. The biggest “mass murder by arson” case that I am aware of is the Happy Land nightclub arson, committed by the late Julio González in 1990. His fire killed more people than has (by current count) the gunfire of Stephen Paddock.
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A much larger peace-time atrocity took place at Wounded Knee in 1890. Hundreds dead. But that, it is worth remembering, was a shoot-out, not a shooting spree. There were deaths on both sides, though the Indians got it worse. Much worse.

The Wounded Knee massacre is relevant in the context of the predictable calls of my progressive friends (and leftists across the Internet, as well as the major media commentariat)  for more gun regulation.

Why recall Wounded Knee?

Because it was, in essence, the result of gun control, a gun confiscation attempt by the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment.

If my progressive friends get their way, there will be many more massacres of the Wounded Knee variety.

Think it through. Would you be shocked to learn that most white Americans in the late 19th century thought the agenda of the 7th Cavalry was “reasonable gun control’?

So I guess what people mean when they call Paddock’s spree shooting the largest “mass shooting in American history,” is that Paddock’s was the largest non-government-initiated mass murder. With guns. Oh, and recent.

Meanwhile, ISIS has claimed “credit” for the shooting, referring “to Paddock by the nom de guerre Abu Abd al-Barr al-Amriki and said he answered a call to arms by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” according to the previously linked article.

US officials have said they are examining the claim, but are yet to find any evidence linking the shooter to any organised terrorist group.

As if not to be upstaged, folks on the left can be caught everywhere insisting that the Las Vegas event be called “terrorism” . . . but perhaps only if we designate it non-Muslim terrorism — “terrorism by a privileged white guy,” perhaps.

Since we know, at present, of no political or socio-cultural point Paddock was trying to drive into our minds, it cannot be called terrorism in good conscience.

But it is odd to see the Left and Muslim terrorists once again siding up on one side of the line . . . of ideological fire.

twv

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* On my Facebook feed, the necessary word “modern” seems most often elided. But most news outlets have been careful in their wording. The article I linked to was fairly precise, calling the event “the worst mass shooting in modern US history.” Note that modifier, “modern.”




N.B. Breaking stories about a large electronic funds transfer to the Philippines by Paddock, soon before the shooting, might possibly churn up an agenda so far not disclosed.

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yet another attempt at a coherent answer:

I run hot and cold on the word “capitalism.” The institutional system? Fine with it. Would want more of it. But the word itself is less than perfect. (Like capitalism itself!)

AdamSmithA “capitalist” is not an advocate of “capitalism.” When I see the word used that way I flinch. A capitalist is someone who invests capital, specifically someone for whom such investment is a major source of income. Not all that many people are really capitalists.

But “capitalism” seems inapt for a more profound reason: the major institutional features of the capitalist system are

  1. extensive private property holdings
  2. self-ownership in one’s actions, meaning, especially
  3. free labor (not “free” in terms of price or fantasy, of course)
  4. free trade (unencumbered by prohibitions, regulations, etc)
  5. private markets in capital goods

Now, that last point might justify the term. It’s a profound concept that most people have no idea about. Even economists have balled it up.

But we traditionally note three factors of production: land, labor, and capital. And yet, when we use the word capitalism we identify the lack of criminal and governmental interference in the management of these factors by only one factor. That’s prejudicial. It’s rather lame.

There are huge demarcation problems associated with the word, too.

The economists of France and Britain began developing the science of the study of this set of institutions with the critique of a particular form of government policy, which Adam Smith called “mercantilism.” That’s a good term, an apt term, since it refers to the close relationship between some merchants and the State. It seems an apt moniker for the policy.

Under mercantilism, governments favors some over others, engages in various forms of protectionist trade restriction policies, and generally tries to keep production within a nation rather than outsource it (“free international trade” being the thing established, well-connected merchants most fear) while aiming to increase the supply of money (in the early cases, gold and silver) within the boundaries of a nation, and especially into the coffers of the king.

But mercantilism is not a bad term for what we have today, in many ways. Sure, international trade has been encouraged — but in a rather regulated way. The amount of regulations in America and Europe is astounding. The secular trend regarding this has been growth. And this hardly seems very “capitalistic,” if you mean it in the robust sense. And it certainly favors some capitalists and entrepreneurs and managers over their competitors, immediate and possible.

And yes, this feature makes a difference. The general effect of government regulation of markets — what Mises called “interventionism” and what Pareto called “restrictionism,” but which everybody else calls progressivism, fascism, democratic socialism, or the Administrative State — is to favor established business over upstarts. This is known. There is no real way around this. Current trends in hollowing out the upper-working class economy is largely a result of mechanization in combination with the suppression of small business by the regulatory state.*

So, while we certainly now live under “capitalism,” it is nothing like the laissez faire that economists dreamed up to regulate not business and market life, but the State itself (limited government being the flip side of laissez faire, with the constitutional limits it establishes being a form of anti-corruption regulation).

Recently, folks have been using the term “crony capitalism” to refer to the regulated/subsidized (“bailed out”) nature of current American economic policy. This reflects the old mercantilist practice of favoring well-connected insiders (“cronies”) at the expense of the masses of workers and entrepreneurs.

Anthony de Jasay calls the current form of governance/policy “the churning state,” since there is so much forced wealth distribution that we cannot really keep track of net winners  — instead, the interests and the transfers are merely “churned.”

I tend to dub the current mode of capitalism “neo-mercantilism,” but an adjective is in order: technocratic neo-mercantilism. The technocracy is important to this, for it gives college graduates cushy jobs while they pretend to manage “the economy.” Which doesn’t exist . . . but that’s another issue.

The crucial thing to understand about capitalism is that it rests on rights to private property (including one’s own body and person) and mostly unencumbered trade.

Destutt_de_TracyAnd trade, or market exchange, is pretty much what Thomas Jefferson’s favorite economist said it was, “a transaction in which the two contracting parties both gain. Whenever I make an exchange freely, and without constraint, it is because I desire the thing I receive more than that I give; and, on the contrary, he with whom I bargain desires what I offer more than that which he renders me. When I give my labour for wages it is because I esteem the wages more than what I should have been able to produce by labouring for myself; and he who pays me prizes more the services I render him than what he gives me in return.”

This is an elaboration of Condillac’s chief notion in his 1776 treatise. How this made sense in terms of value and distribution — how to think about it precisely — took another century of stumbling by economists. The work of Carl Menger and William Stanley Jevons, especially, clarified the exact nature of mutual benefit through exchange.

And it is indeed this concept, of ex ante mutual benefit in trade, that is the most essential feature of “capitalism.” The mutual benefit aspect is the core aspect. And it is why freedom — a division of responsibility and a general lack of coercive bullying — is the key concept, the entelechy, of the very idea of capitalism.

And it is what politicians of nearly all parties — and their supporters — attack daily, to the hobbling of civilization.

twv

 

* John Kenneth Galbraith’s notion of “countervailing powers” gets it exactly wrong. Big Government to adjudicate between Big Business and Big Labor is a nice model, and all. Nice and technocratic. But it ignores how things really work. These powers do not countervail, they reinforce each other. It just so happens that the Reinforcing Powers of the major institutional forces bolster each other up, at the expense of the masses. Which is why technocracy is anti-democratic and would only have a chance of working without free access to government bureaus and power centers. Only by setting up a caste of trained technocrats could government really ride herd over business in general. And only by prohibiting the right to petition one’s government — lobbying — and the revolving door between government and the private sector, could Galbraith’s vision even have a hope of a chance. And still, I hazard, the outcomes would likely be horrific, for reason described in The Road to Serfdom: the worst would get on top, because giving some people unchecked power of control over others cannot be a recipe for civilized life.

On my old hand-scripted blog Wirkman Netizen — now decommissioned — I wrote a longish post  about the slogans “Taxation Is Theft!” and “Taxation Is Robbery!” and took the contrary-to-my-comrades position. Since the main essay is offline, I guess I should repost it, here. My points are somewhat technical, but my aim is practical. Which might make it hard to categorize.

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Taxation Is Not Theft

Libertarians are too fond of slogans such as “Taxation is Theft” and “Taxation is Robbery.” They get quite a charge out of such maxims. And, with these maxims, they do manage to get a good idea across to some people, people who come to see that taxation is, indeed, a form of expropriation, and that it is analogous to forms of theft such as robbery, and that maybe we can do better.

Perhaps we can pay for public goods without engaging in extortion and expropriation.

But to people who really want those public goods, and who are capable of elementary distinctions in language, they are not convinced by these slogans. They are put off by them.

And they have good reason to be. Taxation is not theft. Not really.

Taxation is the expropriation of private property according to an established rate, as put into law by an established state.

Robbery and other forms of theft are illegal kinds of expropriation, and piecemeal at that. Taxation is a legal kind of expropriation.

To many libertarians, this distinction is not much of a distinction at all. They have pretty much thrown out the distinctions between legal and illegal, and are in a continual revolutionary mode of thinking, ready at a moment’s notice to throw out whole chunks of the rule of law and state practice.

So of course they equate all kinds of expropriation.

Well, not all, since libertarians do support some forms of expropriation. They have no trouble expropriating the loot of thieves from thieves, after court adjudication. And they have no trouble expropriating from a person found liable, in court, to a tort claim.

They just don’t support taxation.

My Contention: The main reason radical libertarians will not get anywhere is their complete lack of understanding of the normal mindset, which is not constantly in revolutionary mode. Radical libertarians who trot out slogans such as “taxation is theft” do not address the respect a non-revolutionary has for the rule of law.

Indeed, because of this revolutionary stance — and I’m not talking about physical, bloody revolution so much as a particular stance regarding ideas and consent — these libertarians cannot deal with normal folk.

They offend normal folk; libertarians often (and with good reason) strike normal citizens as lunatics, perhaps dangerous lunatics.

This is one reason why I choose my words more carefully — or at least differently— than radical libertarians. I wish to address normal folk in normal language. I believe it is incumbent upon me to make every step towards a revolutionary mindset clear. I wish to pull no wool over any eye. I believe we have to approach greater liberty with complete honesty. No rhetorical trickery.

And I regard slogans such as “taxation is theft” as something close to rhetorical trickery.

It may be that we will someday be able to support all worthy public projects without any taxation.

But however we manage to do this (and I’ve lots of ideas, not limited to simple slogans like “the market will take care of it”), it will have to be done within the framework of the rule of law.

And people in such a future society will have to regard the means used at that time in something other than constant revolutionary mode. Even if they can think of better ways, they will have to show some respect for the rule of law of the day.

As libertarians, by and large, do today. Most pay their taxes, if grudgingly. They are revolutionists only in speech.

Hypocrisy? Not really. But, as I’ve argued before, if it is, then this kind of hypocrisy is better than stupid, feckless revolt, or the sad parade of individualist martyrdom.

This all came to mind in the debate I mentioned on David Friedman’s Ideas blog. Writing on No Treason, John T. Kennedy has this to say about the debate:

In a comment to Friedman I point out that he has called taxation robbery and robbery is widely considered unattractive and indefensible. Does this mean that in using the word “robbery” Friedman dishonestly mischaracterized the motivations of all who support taxation? No, he correctly characterized the act of slavery.

I must add some precision here: Expropriation is not an act of slavery, but merely that, the taking of property. Slavery is the most extreme type of expropriation, perhaps, being the theft of one’s autonomy and practical ability to choose and move about, and ability to hold property justly acquired (or not). But slavery, the most extreme crime against liberty (just as murder is the most extreme crime against life), is only by analogy an act of theft.

Further, if Friedman has used the phrase “taxation is robbery,” he may indeed have erred. Not so much in terms of dishonesty, but in missing a whole element of society that most non-revolutionaries accept without much thought, but which libertarians too often rule out of consideration, give little or no thought to.

So, what is taxation again? Taxation is like theft, in that it is expropriation. But the state is not “just like a group of robbers and bandits.” It is distinct. It gains the general, practicing consent of the bulk of the populace. Most citizens of modern states remain unable to see how they can manage without the state, and many, perhaps most, treat it as a major source of their own well-being.

This makes a difference. Why? Intentions do make a difference. They add a level of meaning to interaction.

To call the state, either pointedly or by implication, nothing better a group of bandits, is to misunderstand it, first, and to antagonize its supporters, second. The “taxation is theft” mantra does more than just imply that “the state is a robber band.” Why? Because everyone knows that the power of the state comes from taxation. That is the basic power, the foundation of the rest. That is why, in fact, one of the basic powers that the colonials wished for their states, in union as well as separate, when they seceded from Britain in 1776, was the power (indeed, right) to tax.

How much better to avoid the mantra, and say something like this: “Yes, too often, the state does behave like bandits; too often its very mode of existence encourages a banditry ethos in society, making us all worse off through internecine expropriation and conflict.” By toning down the language of invective a bit, we go back to simile and revert from bold metaphor treated as stark, unliterary truth.

After all, “Taxation is theft” is a metaphor. It is not a logical identity. To presume such is to engage in a philosophical error, and to misunderstand a crucial element of normativity in society.

Libertarians will not succeed until this error is consistently avoided, and a more reasonable dialectic becomes dominant in the movement — that is, a more reasonable and nuanced way of dealing with those people whom libertarians say they want to convince.

twv

Links

This has appeared twice on the Net before, at wirkman.net and wirkman.com [dead links]

Brian Doherty discussed it briefly on Reason’s Hit and Run.

I discussed it on video, in my usual semi-coherent fashion, here:

And last year I discussed this essay, quoting it in part, here: “Taxation Is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But somehow rarely do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it is a statist monster.

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

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

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

twv

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

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

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

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

Especially in medical markets.

How? At a fundamental level.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But . . . unfair!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow will be glorious: I vote for neither Trump nor Clinton, and even if my fondest wish be dashed — an Electoral College stalemate sending the election to the House — I’ll have a clean conscience bolstered by the knowledge that my vote decided nothing.

The truth sets you free. Your vote doesn’t matter to you except in how you, yourself, frame it. Other people’s interpretations of your vote’s meaning are more arbitrary than your own.

Think for yourself, and don’t be ruled by spooks in the head.

I do not know what Penn Jillette was thinking when he swapped his vote for Gary Johnson with Democrats in Hillary-“safe” states like California, to vote for Hillary, even though he agrees with her on, as he put it, nothing. Sure, Nevada is going to be close.But will it be decided by one? Not likely. If there is a one-vote difference, the loser will demand a recount, somebody will find some “uncounted” ballots this side of Faërie and bring them to the desert sands we know, and . . . well, you get the picture. It seems silly to me to pretend that you are going to decide the vote.

I was so close, years ago, in my county! There was a tie in the commissioner race. My vote could be said to have “brought up” my candidate to viability. Stalemate. They flipped a coin. My guy lost. My vote mattered not at all.

Call it unproductive, marginal futility, what-have-you, but your vote does not “count” in an individually meaningful way.

So don’t vote if you don’t want to. Vote for Mickey Mouse if that is your thing.

As for me, I have little faith in democracies or republics, but for your sakes, and mine, I cast a vote that I say stands for the rule of law. Not the rule of charismatics, crony capitalists, cronies-of-capitalists, and charlatans.

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In light of the deconstruction of the statist sophism, “rights vs. privileges,” floated in my previous essay, it is worth thinking about one of the odder uses of the word “privilege” in our time, the use of the word amongst modern feminists and the protestors of the Social Justice Warrior crowd — all those now under the thrall of the bizarre meme complex they call “intersectionality.”

For several years now I have struggled to make sense of the common charge, “white male privilege.”

I am told that it is something I possess. But I have to say, it sure is hard to pinpoint what advantages I get from this alleged “privilege.” With my name, on the Internet, many people are not even sure what race I can be said to fall into. Virkkala? What is that? So my Internet life — which makes up a considerable part of my life and livelihood — seems hardly to benefit from some sort of unearned racial advantage.

For the longest time I looked askance at the charge because I attributed to it a misidentification of my being treated, where I live, mostly justly, contrasted with folks in other areas of America and the world in which what was obviously lacking was not privilege, but justice.

To call a person privileged because they are treated justly seems to run afoul of the basic duality of rights vs. privileges. The chief problem with those whom we used to call, regularly, the “under-privileged,” is not that they lack privilege, but that they lack justice. One of the chief reasons they do not thrive, say in Africa or elsewhere, is that their surrounding social institutions are grossly unjust.

And those who are treated justly, but still remain impoverished — is it because they lack “privilege”? Really? Is not what really separates their lives from mine to be found in the unfortunate fact that while I have (at present) sources of income based on trade, they do not?

Remember, when we dissolved the duality rights vs. privileges? Rights are instruments of justice. Privilege differs, is characterized by allowed benefit from generosity or forbearance. But when we finally move beyond the duality to trade, we are talking about neither the strictly just nor the strictly privileged. We are talking about serving others through a particular form of voluntary cooperation.

Bastiat's great treatiseAnd these trades — exchanges —occur only when you possess something that someone else wants, and that person has something that you want. Both of you are willing to give up what you have for something deemed better that the other has.

This area of trade is where earning happens. Where productivity receives reward. Where we service one another in distinct transactions.

I trade some of my labor and attention and skill for someone else’s money, which they got from trading their labor and attention and skill.

Trade and its benefits depend, of course, on you possessing some labor and skill, and a willingness to attend to others. And, it is a truism: one’s initial skill set is not determined by one’s own self. Nature, circumstance, chance, Providence, and the like, determine our basic make-ups, and these influences produce vastly different beings in vastly different circumstances. Inequality. At start and on an ontological level. Obviously. But, no matter what your initial outlay of talents and prospects, over the course of your life you have a number of decisions to make, and the most pertinent ones facing you are not: how do I get more privilege? or how do I get more basic rights?

The hardest thing in the world to change are other people, especially when what you want from them comes at their cost. Granting privileges to you obviously comes at cost to them. And granting basic rights to you does also come at even greater cost.

How so? Well, privileges one person bestows on another come from generosity or charity, mainly, and diminish the grantor’s resources. (Ask yourself, why would they do that?) And, similarly, the justice that one person can “give” to another depends on that very difficult thing, coordination with many other people. While one person can be just towards another, the actual granting of a condition as a right to one or more people requires, for accomplishment, a general consensus or preponderance of social actors engaged in community mores. And the hardest social thing to do is coordinate the actions of many, many people.

What is easiest to do, as we go about living our lives, is to engage in specific transactions with others. We can give, or we can take. And between these two actions, we can engage in give-and-take, in mutually advantaged trade. That is, giving dependent upon taking; taking dependent on reciprocal gift. (See Condillac, Destutt de Tracy, Frédéric Bastiat, and the later writers in the Third School of Political Economy for more details on this.)

This is the source of most advancement. This is what successful “white men” do to get their alleged “privilege.”

But to ascribe privilege to what they are doing falsifies their actual behavior. What successful white men do is trade. They exert themselves. They figure out what talent or property they possess (or can legally acquire) that they can give to others — dependent upon a return, for remuneration.

So, the vast cadre of intersectional feminists who talk incessantly of The Patriarchy and of “privilege,” and scream and demand their “rights” to not be “oppressed” by a system of white male dominance, uh, this crowd of folks misses the main transactions that make up successful life.

And thus they miss on the pleasures of voluntary society while condemning themselves to fruitless lives of coercive protesting and exclusionary tactics to promote “inclusion.”

By focusing on privilege, and insisting on rights to be given stuff, to demand reparations, to be equalized at the base, natural stages of their lives — to be made equal, or to compensate for some perceived inequality — they debilitate their lives and the lives of the people they aim to help. For, really, no matter where you are in life, if you cry about the injustices of inequality or the perfidy of Fate, and do not engage in strategies of advancement through voluntary cooperation, via trade, you are worse than under-privileged. You are self-condemned to frustration and failure, and will, therefore, miss out on the blessings of civilization — which has, it should be obvious to us all, lifted man out of rough natural life, and into something comparatively easier.

Civilized life is not about privilege, folks. Civility is about what you do in relationship to others. If you want to know what oppression is, do not look to our initial unequal conditions, but to the discrete transactions among people that are based on initiated coercion.

And, if you want to see people thrive? Then treat people justly, as having the basic minimal rights, and follow up with a myriad of transactions . . . yes, undertake the many, many next steps, to cooperate with others in a friendly (or at least not unfriendly) manner.

Without whining and hectoring.

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There are two kinds of people in this world: those who divide people into two categories, and those who don’t. I’m in the latter category. . . .

Japing paradox aside, I do try to avoid dualistic constructions in philosophy and explanation. It doesn’t take long in political discourse, anyway, to see that many popular dualities, though conceived as exhaustive, are anything but. Human experience does not often easily fit neatly into two.

Indeed, in the work of Aristotle we encounter a vision of ethics that does not regard Right and Wrong as the foundational antagonism, but Deficiency and Excess as a basic duality, with a middle point between these  extremes serving as equilibrium, and constituting the virtue. Aristotle provides numerous examples in the Nicomachean Ethics. When I was a young man, I devised a schema of cardinal virtues, not dissimilar to Aristotle’s, but distinct. I distinguished three cardinal self-regarding virtues and three cardinal other-regarding virtues. Each virtue could  be conceived  as middle point between one or more sets of antagonisms. My schema looked like this:

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The emotional realm I conceived in terms of the Will to Pleasure, and saw Temperance as a midway point between the lusts for pleasure and expressions of passions, on the one hand, and a deadly anhedonia and fearfulness, on the other. The person prone to anger was not temperate, but neither was the person incapable of strong feeling of any kind. The point of temperance was not to be evenly emoting at all times, but to be close enough to an emotionally stable point to be able to feel appropriately in any given situation.

Very Aristotelian, no? The other virtues I explained along similar lines, with wills-to contrasting with schemes of avoidance, fleeings-from. But in none of this discussion of a basic concept of ethics (and not the only important concept, either) did I give in to a simple dualism. Instead, I saw the experience of life in a three-fold division, and, within each division, each cardinal virtue understood as a mid-point between extremes (thus making another three-value logic) . . . and then divided into two, according to the center of regard, or direction  of concern or interest.

So when I began seriously to consider social life outside of a simple listing of virtues, but as issues to be argued over within the political realm, I became immediately suspicious of all the dualities I was presented with. As Chris Sciabarra explained so well in the opening of chapters of Total Freedom, what is needed to understand complex reality is more than a two-valued logic, the binary clicking of either-or. What is needed is a dialectical mindset, one that comprehends shifting perspective and a multiplication of entities. Shave with Occam’s Razor, sure; but you don’t grow hair that way.

Recently, James Gill and I have been making videos. He is in charge, and he aims to catch me in thought. Amidst my mumbles, I say some things that I regard as sensible. Here is the most popular of these videos, from a set reacting to Sarah Silverman’s defense of Socialist Bernie Sanders, which went viral on Facebook:

You see that I take on a statist sophism: that the basics of life be seen as “rights,” not “privileges.” And the listener tends to agree. Privilege is something only a few may have. Rights are universal. We want the basics to be universal, no?

Well, before we hastily cave to the statists’ rhetorical trap, look at it. Are these our only two options?

No. As I explained in the video, there is at least one missing third option, between the unearned advantage of privilege, and the coercible, obligatory focus of a right. What is it? It is the realm of contract, cooperation, and earnings.

I get most of what I want not by demanding each item as a right, or begging for each good as a privilege in someone else’s grants economy. Instead, I engage in trade. Or some other form of mutual cooperation. And, by agreement, I gain what I need. How? By offering and supplying something within my power and personal economy that at least one other person desires more than I desire it. This is the logic of exchange. It is a beautiful thing. When we come to terms, the results are beautiful and peaceful and harmonious.

We would surely want as much of life to fall under this realm of transaction, not under the realm of the coerced or the extorted or begged.

But socialists and other statists  continually elide any mention of this, when they push for some new realm of life to be sucked into the vortex of government, the maw of the State. They just put before us the simple binary, the duality Rights vs. Privileges.

And, in so doing, they lie.

It is a lie by omission of a great truth.

It is what you expect con artists to do, distracting our attention from the best option to get us to settle for a brummagem alternative.

Of course, most socialists are not deliberately lying. Like all religious zealots, what is lacking is a sense of piercing honesty, free inquiry, even curiosity. They have a simple vision of the world they are pushing — their utopia — and they will not let something complex like reality, or difficult, like truth, get in their way.

Thus it is with most dualisms. As I go through the usual lists of everyday dualities, we shall see how true this is.

Taxation is a form of expropriation. Libertarians like to say it is theft.

I have been pretty iffy about that statement. Taxation is an odd form of theft, if it be theft indeed, in that it is not mere confiscation, not ad hoc or makeshift, and is almost always announced in advance. Taxation is expropriation by the state according to some rate or rule. And the fact that it is widely considered just or necessary seems to have some bearing on the advisability (or accuracy) of the “theft” charge.

My “iffiness” was perhaps most forcefully expressed on my old blog:

Taxation is the expropriation of private property according to an established rate, as put into law by an established state.

Robbery and other forms of theft are illegal kinds of expropriation, and piecemeal at that. Taxation is a legal kind of expropriation.

To many libertarians, this distinction is not much of a distinction at all. They have pretty much thrown out the distinctions between legal and illegal, and are in a continual revolutionary mode of thinking, ready at a moment’s notice to throw out whole chunks of the rule of law and state practice.

So of course they equate all kinds of expropriation.

Well, not all, since libertarians do support some forms of expropriation. They have no trouble expropriating the loot of thieves from thieves, after court adjudication. And they have no trouble expropriating from a person found liable, in court, to a tort claim.

They just don’t support taxation.

My Contention: The main reason radical libertarians will not get anywhere is their complete lack of understanding of the normal mindset, which is not constantly in revolutionary mode. Radical libertarians who trot out slogans such as “taxation is theft” do not address the respect a non-revolutionary has for the rule of law.

Indeed, because of this revolutionary stance — and I’m not talking about physical, bloody revolution so much as a particular stance regarding ideas and consent — these libertarians cannot deal with normal folk.

They offend normal folk; libertarians often (and with good reason) strike normal citizens as lunatics, perhaps dangerous lunatics.

This is one reason why I choose my words more carefully — or at least differently — than radical libertarians. I wish to address normal folk in normal language. I believe it is incumbent upon me to make every step towards a revolutionary mindset clear. I wish to pull no wool over any eye. I believe we have to approach greater liberty with complete honesty. No rhetorical trickery.

And I regard slogans such as “taxation is theft” as something close to rhetorical trickery.

Whatever else we may say of it, however, taxation cannot be univocally defined as a good thing. Every tax taken diminishes the wealth and wherewith of the mark, er, taxpayer.

So, two things are obvious:

1. we have, other things being equal, good reasons to wish to diminish taxation as much as possible; and

2. we should inquire deeply into the proposals of those who suggest, or insist, that we reconstruct society to provide the necessities of civilization without the inconvenience and horrendous burden (not to mention moral horror) of taxation.

But we see a lot of pushback against the idea of low-tax or no-tax society.

Unfortunately, most of this online discussion is witless. I argue against one typical instance here:

NOTE: In this video, I mistakenly refer to Peter T. Leeson as “Peter Levin”; sorry, Professor Leeson.

I greatly enjoyed Leeson’s book on pirates. Getting his name wrong is unfortunate. (Leeson is Professor of Economics and BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism at George Mason University.) His book, in the image at top, is required reading on the subject of a tax-free society that still can sport an industrial, market order.

 Related to the issue at hand, but on a more subtle level, is the Hume essay I wrote a foreword to, for Laissez Faire Books. It can be found on Amazon as a Kindle book, or on iBooks, or on LFB.org. From the same publisher, I also recommend the fascinating Instead of a Book. A great book, despite the name. And, unlike my video, but like most of the books shown at top (all recommended), that book does not eschew the “A word,” anarchy.

More on that, anon.

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The week feminism died?

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

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

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

Or, sadly, isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. That’s not funny!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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