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Bill Clinton's Shadow

This just in — in the mail:

Richard Posner's Sex and Reason.

I have been meaning to read this book since it first came out. I wanted to review it, but the magazine I worked for at the time was run by a crazy boss, and his rule was that review copies that came in belonged to him, and, alas, not to his employees even if they reviewed the book in the magazine.

Talk about unreasonable! So I never read it, never reviewed it. Such was the magazine’s loss.

Anyway, Posner’s tome could not come at a more auspicious time, for taboo sexual relations all the way from risqué jokes up the ladder of evil to rape are on our minds.

But I have not read it yet. So I cannot comment. What I can honestly comment on are yet more elements of the current wave of sex abuse allegations. And have. Though some, like previously today, I would not direct to strangers on Facebook, others I did place on that site. Like this, below:

While I believe (or at least “strongly suspect”) that the Roy Moore and Hollywood sex scandal pile-ons are true, my caution advises me to bracket out all opportunistic and witch-hunty accusation binges, and suggest discounting them as possible fabrications.

I remember the mania of Satanic child-abuse cases in the ’80s and ’90s, all of which turned out to be false. But they looked so real at the time. (Though I had doubts, back then, big doubts from the beginning . . . largely because I know that children fib regularly, and are easily manipulable.) When there is a “cause” that leads people to pile on, some of those doing the piling are almost invariably opportunistic liars. The trouble is, we have no way, by hearsay and reporting alone, to judge such accusations. So we don’t really know what to make of most of them.

Then, I wouldn’t vote for Roy Moore even if he were a eunuch on estrogen.

It is true. I do believe most of these accounts. I speculated yesterday why so many people in the public eye seem to have these problems, and I guess I should reiterate at least one point: those who are given to breaking basic taboos are also the same kind of person to take up professions where those taboos are easiest to flout, and which feed the egos of the people doing the flouting.

But I am greatly worried about all the precipitous judgments outside courts of laws, especially when it all depends upon testimony and nothing else.

It’s not just that men can be corrupted by situations of power, and seek out those situations because of a predilection for corruption itself, but also because women (and anyone, for that matter) can be corrupted by waves of accusation, by herd behavior, mobbing. And no doubt some of these accusations are opportunistic lies.

They are, I think, this: too much too late.

Had they been made earlier, then the crimes (or slights) could justly find proper redress. Now it just looks bad, even in cases where the accusations are true and the accused are in the wrong.

This being said, when The Atlantic, today, published an article taking up the feminist movements near-united defense of the oft-accused Bill Clinton, I tagged my Facebook post “It’s about freakin’ time.”


P.S. And then, in the Schadenfreude Department:

And a sensible perspective, with a proposal:

P.P.S. A final thought of some substance: The context of a sexual offensive maneuver can turn it from a slight of etiquette to an assault. For instance, a disgusting suggestion when you have exit from a room may be just that, a disgusting suggestion. But if someone has blocked the door and looms over you saying it, it does indeed become something much more serious. (I wrote this before watching the Feminism KEK video by Diana Davison. And yes, this too was pulled from Facebook.)


re: ongoing sexual misconduct revelations

Much is being said about power dynamics, inequalities of power and the problems people have with sexual relations between people on different levels of a hierarchy. And there is indeed much to be said for this perspective. But in several ways this relentless rehash of the same perspective — a litany of standard feminist analysis — masks a few truths. Or possible truths, of which I here make some I-hope-plausible conjectures:

IMG_20801. The main issue in sexual “harassment” situations — though definitely not when it steps up a level or two to rape — is a kind of breach of contract. When somebody higher in an institutional hierarchy brings sex into the workplace, that is a de facto change of the job description from whatever the professional relationship was to whoremongering and procurement. Most of those subjected to such jarring contractual shifts should object to such a move.

2. It may not be power that corrupts but some other factor, or perhaps some factor in addition to hierarchical power. Yesterday I speculated (on this site) that this other (perhaps additional) factor might be feminism itself, and the false promise of equality it offers but cannot deliver. Today I should mention the obvious: the bulk of these allegations are boiling up in the entertainment and political realms. Why is this? Because these are beset on all sides by hierarchical inequalities? Well, those exist in most walks of life. Perhaps it is because the people in these fields are all flirting with . . .

3. harlotry. Traditionally, actors and actresses were considered whores. And not without reason. They pretend to be other people for money, and their lives are taken up with falsity. They do things in a fake-but-“real” way. And they know it. Many of them fake sexual relations on stage or screen. Many, many are or were “models” — people cultivated to look good, and thus serve as sexual and beauty “objects” for others. Models, remember, are attention whores. Actors, too, are attention whores. Even politicians are attention whores. Is it any wonder that people engaged in activities one or two small steps removed from actual prostitution should behave, then, like pimps?

Indeed, to discover that near-whores and especially their managers and overseers adopt sexually transgressive behaviors should hardly surprise anyone. And, further, one reason for the belated tattling on all this misconduct could simply be that the “abused” targets of apparently unwanted sexual attention and sexual displays  and advances (“propositions”) took so long in going public may also have something to do with the expectations of whores and near-whores. Acting, especially, probably seems to many of its artistic aspirants to be something somewhat seedy. And when you are in a seedy business, what are the boundaries? The victims could themselves be in honest quandary. Not a predicament so much as a conceptual and moral muddle.

If this be the case, then perhaps one reason we see so much of this kind of conduct is not just that the industry/profession is corrupting, but also that

4. its known features attract the kind of person who aims to be transgressive. Power attracts; harlotry attracts absolutely.

Be that as it may (or may not) it is the case that much of the current brouhaha strikes me not so much anger at sexual crimes (though there is certainly that, and some of this uneasily hovers on the line between the merely icky to the obviously criminal) but as

5. just another puritanical moral panic. Americans are especially susceptible to this sort of thing. And it should be remembered: this is largely branded with the stamp of leftist politics and ideology, not social conservatism. And yet this sure feels like a puritanical conservatism. But there is no mystery here; this is not at all anamolous. Generally, today, the Left has become the “conservatives” and the Right the “liberals.”

Which is, I think, the cream of the jest. I could go on and on, even giving advice — and I really do think that America does not prepare its youngsters in the ways of the world, so that the targets of some ugly or criminal advance are not courageous in their reactions, and that this should be generally addressed — but the truth is, most of this seems not to be my business.

And many of the stories bandied about get attention from the lick-smacking puritans manqué.

I have never witnessed this kind of thing . . . in those around me. Yes, my own very physical person has been sexually groped by strangers, but on those few occasions that this did happen, I did not freak out or even for a moment surmise that I had been “assaulted.” An unwanted hand moving where no invitation had been given was easy for me to remove and discourage.

Obviously, I have led a nicely sheltered life. I have never been raped. And those whom I know to have been raped were so abused far from my ambit of protection.

Rape is a horrible thing, and my speculations, above, are not about rape. The speculations above are about sexual propositions and exposures as well as lewd comments and suggestions and flirtations.

And in those cases, especially when having occurred long ago, the dredging up of the stories amidst truly horrifying allegations of actual rape strike me as dangerous. They seem like attempts to upgrade offenses to crimes, and may have the unwanted side effect of downgrading, in the general public judgment, crimes to offenses of etiquette.

So, those who have true tales to tell of creepy behavior — if those tales do not rise to the level of rape or actual criminal assault, do not name names. Discuss the offenses? Sure. But name names only in the worst cases.

Do not jump on the mania train, please. Do not send the culture into another of our insane moral crowd madnesses.





Cabell, The High Place illustration, Pape

The literature of contracts with the Devil — “selling one’s soul”; making a “Faustian bargain” — is vast. The Wikipedia article on the subject does not mention, however, a seed element to this literature: dealings with Faërie. The fey folk also made dangerous dealings with common folk, old legends relate, and their stories are many if not varied.

This came to mind last night as I watched one of the later episodes of the first season of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, a terrific fantasy series to be found on Netflix. Mr. Strange inadvertently makes a deal — is tricked into a binding contract — with a powerful fairy, the Gentleman, played magnificently by Marc Warren. And he loses his wife in the bargain.

In many of these stories, one is often bound to a contract in terms very much like duress or with minimal knowledge, often of the transaction itself.

It strikes me that this oeuvre presents a major theme in not only literature but also anthropology and history. The theme resonates because of the fear of contract itself, the fear of contractual relations as distinct from familiar and tribal relations.

Now, the power of contract is in its stickiness. We are bound to the contracts we make not merely by convention, but by our very own performances. Because we consent, we have little standing to object to the enforcement of a contract’s term, no matter how opprobrious it may come to seem.

And long-term contracts — terms with a time element, in which events can go very wrong and thus be very risky — are especially dangerous. So it is no wonder that the literature of dealings with dread powers has flourished.

But isn’t it more than that? This is my bleg: Is there literary or other criticism that treats these stories as expressions of a general fear of market order, of the open society itself?

I am not aware of this kind of analysis.

Yet it makes sense. Traditional society is not dominated by exchange contracts. Or insurance contracts. Family, clan, tribe, and village all depend on looser arrangements of gift exchange, straightforward coöperation, and command hierarchies . . . with honor codes as a means of social control. These come naturally to our species. As Herbert Spencer and F. A. Hayek both argued, our primeval evolution best adapted us to these older forms of social coördination.

But we seem to be alone in the animal kingdom in making bargains of a more cognitively complicated sort, trades of differing items and services. Sure, monkeys groom one another — you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. But our reciprocal services can get elaborate and conceptually more difficult the more we opt for explicit trades — I scratch your back, you give me firewood.

And these sorts of trades can quickly take on a life of their own. They unsettle normal patterned social behavior. They seem “anti-social” from the perspective of straightforward coöperation, where we all pull together to achieve a common goal. In exchange, we work separately-but-discretely-together to obtain distinct, even divergent goals.

It is no wonder that trading, like thieving and combat, was mostly reserved for dealing with others, outside of the in-group. Trades along a time dimension — especially loans with interest — are often prohibited for in-groups: Jews, Christians and Muslims have all had to deal with these ancient prohibitions. And, on the North American continent prior to the arrival of European settlers and conquistadors, trade was mainly a lively inter-tribal affair, one of four characteristic inter-tribal dealings, the others being combat, exogamy, and gambling. Indeed, when you realize how closely associated these activities are associated, in our minds, with each other and with activities to folks one often has reasons to distrust, the common catallactophobia makes perfect sense.

Making the dealings with Darker Powers an elegant way to express and handle such fears.

As well as warn a person to Be Careful when making deals.

If you have any knowledge of the critical literature on these kinds of stories as they relate to the fear of a society of contract, please advise.


N.B. The illustration at top is by Frank C. Papé, for James Branch Cabell’s classic tale of dangerous dealings, The High Place (1923; subtitled A Comedy of Disenchantment and published in 1928 in the definitive Storisende edition).

The Ron Paul newsletters, in the news — again!


The following appeared on Wirkman Netizen, on September 1, 2008:

Virginia Postrel defends herself against a remonstrance, against the charge that she should have warned others about Ron Paul. And she shifts the blame:

I do fault my friends at Reason, who are much cooler than I’ll ever be and who, scornful of the earnestness that takes politics seriously, apparently didn’t do their homework before embracing Paul as the latest indicator of libertarian cachet. For starters, they might have asked my old boss Bob Poole about Ron Paul; I remember a board member complaining about Paul’s newsletters back in the early ’90s

Yeah, yeah. It turns out that the Reason staff is now all too young to have read the early newsletters. Jesse Walker, who did read voraciously in Bill Bradford’s huge stack of back-issues, probably did not bother with the Ron Paul files for one simple reason: He did not expect to learn anything. Ron Paul is not a great teacher. He is not an original thinker. He is not even (when writing himself) that fun a writer. So Jesse had little reason to go spelunking into Liberty magazine’s dustiest shelves and boxes. I, who filed them there, certainly did not want to look at them a second time. On any given afternoon at Liberty, I would have preferred to keep my lunch.

Frankly, I had forgotten about most of this old “Ron Paul” bigotry. I mean, one reason for my tepid-at-first enthusiasm for the recent Paul outing was, after all, his old connection with Murray Rothbard, whose influence on the libertarian movement I regarded as poison. And Lew Rockwell, whose influence on Murray Rothbard I regarded as poison in double dose. (I did not support Ron Paul in 1987, for the Libertarian Party nomination. When Rothbard heard this, he hated me for it, and scowled in my direction the only time we could have met. What a sour old grump, I thought.)

There was an added wrinkle, though: over the years I had warmed to Lew Rockwell, following his break with Liberty and (more importantly) my break with Liberty. He had distanced himself, somewhat, from the Paleo Turn, and was talking straight libertarianism more. He had seen the old paleocon forces get sucked back into neocon war, like piglets to their porcine mother’s teats. And though he still exhibited his nasty streak, I didn’t see it as often or as vile as I had in the old days. He had mellowed, I thought.

Besides, the Mises Institute, which he runs, does some good work. Any place that puts out Menger’s Grundsätze will get a slight nod from me.

And besides, some of Bill Bradford’s reactions to Rockwell were themselves petty and stupid. So I cut Rockwell some slack. Maybe I had made too much of my distaste for paleoism.

But then, reading the PDFs supplied by TNR, the whole thing came back to me, in full whiff.

Really, one wants to just get away from all that. And so, over time, most of us old-timers tried to forget the ugly period of Paleolibertianism Beta.

Besides, no one asks me or pays me to write about this stuff.

So I have Virginia Postrel’s excuse.

But what of her other excuses? “Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t consider Paul one of the biggest mainstream representatives of libertarian thought.” Well, that’s easy. He isn’t. He never was. Except in politics.He is libertarianism’s almost sole political representative, certainly sole member of Congress.

This passage puzzles me: “Besides, people as cosmopolitan as Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch should be able to detect something awry in Paul’s populist appeals. . . . I suspect they did but decided it was more useful to spin things their way than to take Paul’s record and ideas seriously.” Did they really spin anything? Not really. They recognized Paul’s odd populist-conservative takes. It obviously made many of the Reason folk queasy. They just didn’t think the queasiness went very deep.

And it does go deep. Right down into the vile maw of Paleolibertarianism, the strange stance of anti-statist class warfare and out-group hate.

By the way, Ron Paul’s popularity is the latest indicator of libertarian cachet. That is Ron Paul’s appeal. Reason didn’t need to spin this. That’s just good reporting. Ron talks liberty up as a principle that unites anti-war and no-special-favors government. Fiscal responsibility. Individual responsibility. Listening to Paul today, that’s what he preaches, and the fact that people grok that is a story, and it’s good for libertarianism.

It’s just too bad about that Paleolibertarian period, and Ron Paul’s enduring connections to people who still, to this day, probably don’t want to deal with their old rhetoric in public.

I could have told anyone who asked the dangers. But no one asked. And if I spent over $50 on a brown recluse spider to benefit Ron Paul, maybe that makes me part of the problem, not the solution.

So blame me. Don’t blame Virginia. Don’t blame Reason. Blame all us old guys who heard the gossip about the Rockwell-Rothbard alliance. Blame the late Bill Bradford, who heard all this first hand.

Or not. Realize that we opposed this nonsense at the time. At least I did, as much as I could in print.

And as for Virginia Postrel, well, I really liked the last book of hers I read. Her support for the Iraq war, on the other hand, strikes me as so gullible that . . . well, what are the consequences?

Maybe people need to grow up a bit.

Politicians will always betray you somehow. I mean, I grew up on Thomas Jefferson, but realized early on that, on the slavery issue, this man was as compromised as one could be. Ron Paul comes out looking like a saint compared to Tom. But then, Tom had more excuses. His whole life was based on slavery, his stance as a rich guy able to do science and philosophy and music and all the civilized rest. It rested on slaves. What excuse do modern-day paleos have, to dredge up the old bigotries about color and culture and skin and the rest?

It is an odd thing, trying to be a civilized person in the libertarian movement — or in modern society. You have to keep some independence of mind. You cannot allow yourself to become part of any cult. For all the leaders will betray you. All the prophets will prove false. All the gems will prove brummagem.

What lives on is an ideal, freedom, and our present-day paths that all seem to lead away from it. Even the ones that at first seem to lead toit.


The Ron Paul newsletters, in the news — again!

The following appeared on Wirkman Netizen, on September 1, 2008:

The now-infamous Ron Paul newsletters surprised a lot of people I didn’t think would be surprised. I knew (or at least “had heard” and accepted as likely) that Ron Paul had close relations with Burt BlumertLew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard from the early ’80s, and I knew what Rockwell and Rothbard believed regarding strategy. They believed in hate. Rothbard famously believed that you had to stir up hate against the state. He came to believe that you should stir up hatred against the underclass. That’s how you had to appeal to the middle-class Christians would turn on the old conservatism.

Rockwell wrote his polemic on Paleolibertarianism in Liberty magazine in 1990. I was appalled by his manifesto, and wrote a polemic in response, entitled “The Libertarian as Authoritarian.” It is the obvious product of youth, though there is little I disagree with in it to this day.

This is all relevant because it was apparent then that the authors of Ron Paul’s newsletters were really the Paleo crowd (which ones exactly, I do not know for sure, though I have a lot of remembered gossip echoing in the dark areas of my brain), and that the Ron Paul newsletters amounted to Paleolibertarianism Beta. (Of course, the fact that I was told that these were the authors of the newsletters in question helped make them seem “apparent,” eh? Bill Bradford, who at several points was trying to get me to ghost his gold newsletter — the most I ever did was edit it — told me that So-and-So made good money ghosting for Blumert’s forays, which memory tells me was referenced especially to the Ron Paul efforts.)

Paleolibertarianism 1.0 was a last gasp effort to try class hatred after the miserable showing of Ron Paul’s 1988 presidential effort.

I believe that Rothbard and Rockwell were very, very wrong in pushing this agenda. They had historical excuses, sure. But they placed too much emphasis on their experience with Taft Republicanism, a movement that long ago died, and probably cannot be revived. And they thought, incredibly, that heaping abuse onto black welfare-and-drug addicts and hippie weirdos would somehow translate into state hatred. Fat chance.

I think Rockwell has repented to some degree. Surely and the Mises Institute have done some good work, especially bringing old books back into print.

The best thing that this brouhaha about the racism in the Ron Paul newsletters can do is apply the final nail to the coffin of paleolibertarianism. Hatred does not work in promoting liberty. At least, hatred towards certain groups (blacks, hippies, Jews) will not get you far.

Not towards liberty, mind you. Great stuff for a pogrom. But not a program for individual freedom and general civility.

UPDATE: I have not previously linked to the Kirkchick article, “Angry White Man,” and should have. A response, “The Kirchicking of Ron Paul,” on Gays and Lesbians for Ron Paul website, is interesting, if not exactly convincing. This argument is worth thinking about, another “Two Libertarianisms” analysis:

For some at Cato (though certainly not all) and perhaps for Kirchick, libertarianism is simply about maximizing personal autonomy for the individual on any and every issue. This “libertarianism of autonomy” (if you will) holds a natural and powerful appeal for those who, like gays and lesbians, have been victimized (however recently) by the state and by private actors. Thus, someone like Kirchick might genuinely believe that Giuliani would be a “libertarian” president because of his record as mayor on “gay issues” like marriage or adoption. (Never mind his recent pandering to social traditionalists.) It also becomes easy to marry such a focus on social policy issues with a foreign policy that attempts to promote personal autonomy by invading countries like Iraq and “teaching them to elect good men,” as President Wilson put it. One can even see how those who question heavy U.S. subsidies for Israel–a bastion of personal autonomy surrounded by people who probably don’t like the Jews, gays, blacks or the Baltic states–could only seem like anti-semites “speaking in code.”

The libertarianism of Ron Paul and the Mises Institute is different. While Ron has always been outspoken in defense of personal autonomy (see, for example, this terrific 1988 clip of him defending drug legalization), he is as concerned about the liberties of the individual as he is about the institutional structure that protects liberty. When he describes himself as a “constitutionalist,” he is not “speaking in code” to express some kind of bigotry, but to defend the liberalism for which the American Revolution was fought: the restraint and diffusion of power through constitutionally limited government.

Yes, yes. But when we read newsletters filled with racially insensitive remarks, impolite sneers at gays, and such, we don’t even need to talk about “code words”; the hatred is pretty obvious.

And the issue is not that Ron wrote these things, but that he let them go out under his name for years. What does that say about his sense of justice, rhetoric, or even self-image?

Ron Paul is morally compromised. On an issue that makes him look especially bad, by standards of decency. This is unfortunate.

Still, were he on a ballot for president in my state, against any of the current contenders, I would still vote for him. For whereas he is morally compromised, his opponents should be so lucky — their main points of ideology are morally compromised in far more dangerous ways.

After all, Paul does have an important central message, as relayed here by Bruce Ramsey: “Paul’s stubborn consistency on Iraq deserves respect.”

McInnes on Hannity with feminist

Gavin McInnes makes some good points in his recent video on a certain type of “journalist” he does not like, a group of censorious, moralistic women he calls the Spinster Police:

But he insists that these women writers are not good at their job. An odd charge. For it is quite obvious that the female journalists he is talking about are doing precisely what they are hired to do: give half-assed and half-assessed arguments mixed with invective, calumny and virtue signaling — all in the cause of “social justice” and “feminism” and a bunch of allied isms.

I would say that they are doing a fine job as demagogues, as harridans, as scolds. They may even win, and reap the whirlwind as ultimate reward. Cultists sometimes do.

Now, McInnes often repeats a claim that women would be happier, on the whole, were they to do what they are evolutionary designed to be best at, something that men cannot do: give birth to and nurture human life. Wasting time on once-predominantly male occupations does not make them happy, he says, it makes them frustrated.

And kind of pathetic.

This is no doubt true for many such women. The Cat Lady phenomenon is a little hard to take. And all the mantras of “independence,” the repeated rationales. Methinks the ladies do protest too much.

But from this it does not follow that women who forswear family life for dubious careers are bad at their careers. Many are fantastic writers, lawyers, doctors, what-have-you. But still unsatisfied. Why? For the simple reason that careers qua careers are not as satisfying as women have been told, have been telling themselves.

Feminism gained much impetus from envy. Or at least plain covetousness. Some women coveted the positions of successful, alpha males. And out of this covetousness feminism grew. In the cause of equal rights and responsibilities, this was fine, so far as it goes, but covetousness, once upgraded from vice to virtue, becomes all-consuming.

And the trouble with desiring what somebody else has is the tendency to forget what one already has, or has the best chance of obtaining. It is not much different than other vices, especially miserliness. The miser so obsesses about money that he forgets what money is for: spending now and saving to spend in the future. It is not about hoarding. Similarly, covetousness over-values what others have and under-values what the covetous have. And in the case of feminist women, what became under-valued is motherhood itself, the biological function and social institution necessary for the continuation of the species.

If you choose against your nature, prepare for the consequences. They can be vast.

In the case of many women, what careers get them is often a stunted or negligible family life: often no marriage, and either no children, one child only, or (the worst) de facto fatherless children.

Now, having only one or two children is part of a major pattern that comes with wealth acquisition: the substitution of quantity of children for quality of children. (See Theodore Schultz’s 1981 opus, Investing in People.) And, because of the small size of families, each child becomes super-important to the mothers, and that is quite a bond, one that I wish not to challenge at all — well, other than to note how big the cultural change is when most children come from small homes: risk averse parenting (because of the increased marginal utility of each child) leads to sheltered, over-protected children which in turn engenders spoiled, whiny, demanding, insufferable adults.

But back to our career women, especially those who are single and childless. They may be very good at what they do. But that does not mean that they have chosen wisely. Even if they are extremely competent, it can still be the case that it makes more sense to invest their lives in motherhood. Motherhood is natural, and one would have to cultivate an Epicurean or an existentialist anti-naturalism to make that pay off. More importantly, however, may be comparative advantage.

Say a woman has found a suitable mate with whom to procreate and establish a family. Even if the woman is better at her market-based job than be her husband, her comparative advantage may still be motherhood. What one should do is not always a maximization of a particular goal, but a situation- and opportunity-dependent satisficing.

No man can bear a child; most women can. Though men can indeed nurture children, women do tend to have a developed-by-evolution skillset to do that much better. Which means that time spent away from making a home and producing future humans, with all the joys and sorrows that entails, is apt to appear (ceteris paribus) much more enticing than doing the career thing.

Besides, as Dr. Jordan Peterson insists, most people do not have careers. They have jobs. Real careers are demanding and all-absorbing. Not univocally good life choices. Not without tremendous costs. If one can be fulfilled outside the market environment, why preclude it?

So, my point against Gavin McInnes is not that he is wrong about the advantages that women can find by embracing motherhood, or his oft-expressed arguments about how very different the fatherhood role is. It is just that the case for more women choosing motherhood and family life over careerism does not rest on the idea that they tend to suck at careers. It is, instead, that they have such a comparative advantage for family work that even in many cases where they are extremely competent — even genius — at their jobs, opting for family life often makes more sense.

The cream of the jest, though, resides in the cases Gavin focuses on: of extremely attractive women in media jobs. He mocks a professional woman who scorned the family option of motherhood but nevertheless got a facelift. Wives rarely get facelifts for husbands, unless very rich. They get facelifts to land a husband, or — and this is key — keep them in the job market longer.

You see, in media, as in the performing arts, it really helps to look great.

It is amazing, to me, to see so many good looking musicians. Does good looks naturally skew with musical talent? Writing talent? News commentary? Lawyering? That has not been my street-level, workplace-level experience. But it is so at the higher levels. Why? Because people like to look at good-looking people, and so, when the public is involved, or many clients are involved, good looks aids and even trumps talent.

Which brings us not to sexism but to lookism.

Looks, for women, has long been the chief lire for sexual attraction. But instead of honing their looks to obtain the coöperation of one man, for mating, career women hone their looks to obtain repeat business from a long string of customers, clients, and fans. This means they are nudged to pay more attention to their looks than they likely would under family life. Farding up for one man, invested primarily early in the relationship, swapped for farding up late in life for a huge audience? A daring exchange.

What a woman who swaps marriage for career finds out is what many men have long known: whoring is at the core of capitalism. The woman who marries and has children does is whore herself but once. In a career, she does what workingmen do: whore herself out every day.

Quite an inglorious end to the coveting of “what men have.”

And it is interesting to see what has really happened here: women have coveted only the top positions in society. They rarely covet the dangerous jobs, the messy jobs. There is, as is now common to notice, no cry for women’s workplace parity with men in logging, fishing, trash removal, etc. And the demands for the more glamorous of dangerous jobs, like policing and firefighting, have led to the erosion of standards in those callings. Women tend not to be as strong and hardy as men, so becoming cops and firefighters is harder for them, unless the bars for entrance are often lowered, to the public’s endangerment.

The problem with high-profile women scorning family life and marriage and even men, and scorning child-bearing, is not that it does not work for some of these women. After all, we want people of both sexes to choose what best suits them. The real problem is that it sets up a class system. The really attractive career women succeed in front of our eyes; they constantly defend their cause, ballyhooing their life choices — and this is not, for reasons unknown to me, usually interpreted as elaborate self-justification. And by doing this they provide a horrible example . . . for less attractive women, less career-oriented women. These less-blessed women go on to adopt values that channel them into unprofitable lifestyles wherein they become stuck in bad jobs while under-producing the one good that might make them happier: children. The reward is minimal, the opportunity cost tremendous.

And the now-common feminist scorn for men, the belief they are unimportant for women, sends too many mothers and their children into the Dependent Caste, perpetually stuck on state aid, trapped.

So, it is time for feminists to find it within themselves to praise motherhood. Further,

  • hating on men as fathers is not doing women in general any good;
  • the substitution of the welfare state for fathers has been a bad deal;
  • the valorization of that most unnatural of activities, market labor, above the more natural economy of family life, was doomed from the start to frustrate women.

And the great irony of this shift? Women forever courting the dreaded “male gaze” — but instead of to please one man, they fard up to please the masses of men.

Some swap.



If you side with the criminals in your community because they identify as the same color as you, how does that not make you a racist?

If you side with cops who commit egregious crimes just because they are “lawmen,” how does that not make you statist?

Now, I admit, statism is worse than racism. A commie is a more dangerous person, ceteris paribus, than either a white or a black nationalist. Problem is, most racists are statists.

But some racists do seem to be anti-law, to be antinomians to the point of opposing order itself, against any peaceful public adjudication of conflict. They promote crime, conflict, revolution. Without a real end point, a peaceful resolution. This seems to me the opposite of statism, at least in one dimension. Criminalism? Nihilism? Anarchism?

What is this? I smell it in some racists, black or white. But surely these will revert to mere kakocracy, to a racist statism amounting to the rule by the wholly untrustworthy.



“Eleven” in “Base Eleven” would be written as “10.”

Eleven in Base Ten, on the other hand, is a palindromic prime. The next such number on the list is “101.”

img_1711When I was in grade school, my first fifth grade math teacher corrected me more than once for my habit of enunciating that number as “one hundred and one.” He was much exercised by that locution’s unacceptability.

“That is ‘one hundred one,’” he instructed, carefully eliding the “and.”

“‘One hundred AND one,’” he informed me, triumphantly, “means ‘one hundred and ONE TENTH!’” And he wrote the number down in “numerals”:


I was very frustrated. I had not been taught to defy my elders, much less my teachers. But I was vexed, for I knew B.S. when I heard it.

I even knew and understood the grounds for my heterodoxy. I was more than familiar with older English writing and speech. The King James Bible was the most important book in the house I grew up in. And I knew that Abraham’s wife was recorded to have lived up to but not beyond “one hundred and seven and twenty years” of age. I understood that the “and” signified addition, and saying “and seven” did not mean “7/10ths,” but seven ones, and just so “one hundred and one” was not “one hundred and one tenth” but, technically, “one hundred and one ones.”

I was right. My teacher was wrong to have censured my lack of conformity to fashion, at least so dogmatically, so lacking in perspective.

But at age 10 — or should I write “X”? — I lacked the courage, and perhaps the requisite verbal quickness, to challenge him. I knew the truth, but could not express it.

Prior to that day, my main reading interest had focused almost exclusively upon science. There existed, at that time, plenty of kids’ books not merely about geology and astronomy and chemistry and the like, but also about the major scientists who had made the most important discoveries. After this time, my interests shifted. A more human realm, somewhat more philosophical, became my stomping ground — a realm that allowed (encouraged) its subjects to take a wider view of alternative nomenclatures and customs.

Interestingly, that very teacher was pushing “the new math” at that time, and vexing the whole community in the process. He did not teach it well; he was not that novelty’s most reliable advocate. Almost no one in my class, anyway, “got it.” We did not see the point. And somewhere in the back of my head a heresy was developing: what if teachers did not teach the pure unadulterated truth? What if they sometimes pushed B.S.? I knew of one instance of B.S. for sure, and about math of all things — or the logic and semantics of math, anyway.

How much else was wrong, even nonsense?

Mathematics never became my bag, though logic did. Math teachers, on the whole, struck me as not very bright. And as for me, I dulled to the subject.

Leaving me here, at night, tonight, thinking fruitless thoughts about Base Eleven. How would one write out the natural numbers in that somewhat hypothetical “new math-y” system?

0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, X, 10. . . .

But, to carry on, 11 (“twelve” in Base Ten, probably to be said something like “onelf” in Base Eleven), 12 (“thirteen” in Base Ten but “twelf,” no?), 13 (“thirtelf”). . . .

It beats counting sheep.




Santa's Gifts

Gift-giving can be a kind of revenge, or of affront: an expression, in either case, of the will to power. It is definitely not a univocally benevolent act. Charitable acts are often expressions of the starkest egoisms.

I noticed this as a child, amidst the mad scramble of wintertime celebrations: of Christmas wishes and expectations dashed and fulfilled and then undermined; of the sad parade of gift misfires and recipient regrets.

But perhaps sentimentality shields us from learning the lessons under the mistletoe. There are many other occasions for such reflection. Indeed, one need look no further than the native Americans in the area where I live. They engaged in a rivalry of benefaction. The point of the Potlatch was to demonstrate tremendous wealth. The recipients were honor-bound to, in turn, honor the benefactor. Indeed, it was almost a trade: goods for praise.

The white folk who came to the area, and not a few anthropologists, saw the Potlatch culture as amazingly, brazenly egoistic. It seemed indecent, all about puffing up the efficacious leader as chief, and praising the productive chiefdom over the under-productive.

But later anthropologists noticed that this egoism led, as if by an invisible hand, to serve as a redistributionist system for the whole region. If a salmon run was insufficient one year, another group in a more blessed region would help out, bestowing bounty. For the honor of it.

But the invisible hand has not been so kind in our age.

By adding a force of law and regularity to the redistributionist* emprise, denizens of modernity have aimed to supplant emergent order with over-arching planned order. And, when this happens, the “law of unintended consequences” plays not so much an invisible ordering role, but a disordering one.

Whether or not this slapback/blowback effect is overwhelmingly negative, I will leave for other occasions. But there is something we can conclude from the start, regardless of a weighing of outcomes: support for tax-funded state “charitable” aid is never wholly charitable in origin. Indeed, we should expect to witness a whole heckuva lot of Pharasaic posturing and moral preening by those who favor extensive “aid” to this group or that.

And we do.

As I see it, there are many advocates of “cheap charity” in today’s ideological combat. Proponents of increased levels of aid can take immediate satisfaction of “at least I care.” Even if, in nearly all cases, the proposals are far from certain to be enacted (and thus quite inexpensive to make), and the financial burden of the aid likely to descend mostly on some richer others (and thus being almost of zero cost to advance), the advantages in “honor” and social status are quite certain and immediate.

It seems obvious to me, when I look at the world of policy advocacy: state aid proponents’ lack of real beneficent interest is clear as ice on a winter pond . . . or cold heart. How better to explain their alarm at the very thought of means-testing “welfare”? Or considering any negative effect of state aid? If they really cared, being careful with limited resources would be foremost in their minds.

I usually suspect advocates of dirigiste statism to be little more than sub rosa power lusters and tribal bigots. I rarely find examples that prove otherwise.

Indeed, one of the things noticed by many among the new wave of African-American (and other “people of color”) libertarians and limited-government conservatives is the condescension of the rich white “liberals” and their assumption of incompetence, stupidity, folly and general witlessness among darker-hued populations in America. This reaches an apogee of ridiculousness in the cause of voter registration, which progressives have (naturally!) racialized:

It is hard not to conjure up from the chthonian collective unconscious a terrifying charge: that the welfare state has succeeded in turning large swaths of middle-class and rich white people into slave-owners by proxy — folks quite proud of their support “of support” . . . for dependent populations . . . dependent populations who seem to be valued as less-than-human. You know, like slaves in antebellum days.

Perhaps some day soon a once-obvious truth will once again gain some credence. Too much help is too much. Yes. There can be too much of a good thing. Aid is one of those good things that the “too much of” can prove disastrous.

Alternatively, with natural checks built into redistribution — the limits of charitable imagination and empathy, the hint of indeterminacy that ego-driven generosity provides — an invisible hand process can indeed yield wide social benefits even in situations not based on explicit trade.

But the sad truth seems to be that combining those all-too-human ego-driven pseudo-benevolences with legal plunder (taxation) and sanctioned tribal warfare (political and ideological contest) means, yes, we should expect long-cycle negative social instabilities and and rising anti-sociality.

The Invisible Hand slaps back.


* By “redistribution” I mean distribution after the fact of initial appropriation, and outside the scope of explicit voluntary trade. Contrary to recent libertarian theorists who object to the term redistribution on the grounds that, under laissez faire “there is no distribution, just trade,” I counter with this: all allocation of goods is distribution, which is an act, either of giving or lending, or abandoning; or giving in exchange for return gift (trade), lending in return for remuneration (rent and usury), or re-appropriating once-abandoned property. All these are forms of distribution. And by norming initial acquisition and trade, I see giving without exchange, and taking without exchange, as redistributive.

IMG_4141If you have not read the work of James Branch Cabell, where would you start? I began with The Cream of the Jest: A Comedy of Evasion, when I was 17. I have no regrets. But I do not think there is any question about the ideal Cabell starter: The Music from Behind the Moon: An Epitome, from The Witch Woman (1948).*

But after that, what?

Well, it depends.

I have a go at a decision tree — hey, it branches! — to aid the curious reader:

The James Branch Cabell Oeuvre 

* The first printing of the story was as a large, stand-alone illustrated book published by the John Day Company in 1926. It is a lovely edition, but the final printing in The Witch Woman was the final revision of the story, and it is the best. Read that version.