“I saw a study once that proves my point. I shall never forget that study. Other studies that deprecate its implications, methods or very findings I shall not consult. Further studies that back up the original study I shall relentlessly reference. I shall call all other people who have read other studies ideologues. I shall boast of my scientific standing. I shall talk knowingly of other people’s confirmation biases, and never my own.

“My ideas and intentions are beyond reproach. Any others’ that contradict mine are disreputable. I shall forever and relentlessly use the word ‘discredited’ to designate ideas I do not agree with.

“I am a good person. I am the living embodiment of my ideals.

“Always insist that your agreement with me is the result of crystal-clear reasoning and not a herd instinct, an in-group/out-group prejudice, or some other bias that psychologists have been studying for years.

“We are the elite. All others are scum who, if risen to our level, are explained not by their acumen but by the chthonian undercurrents of bigotry and prejudice that raise them out of the dark, heathen depths. (But we mustn’t say that when around them. We are classy, too, like that.) We transcend the folly of our age.

“We are progressives. We read and even write for the major papers, never for the nasty promoters of ‘fake news.’

“Our funding comes from only reputable sources. Corporate funding is always suspect; funds extracted from taxpayers, or financed by government debt, are never suspect. We are not tainted; we are the untainted.

“We know things. Trust us.”

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A friend, who is resolutely anti-Trump*, comments on a current Wall Street Journal article on the Trump Towers Wiretap contention. The article goes on at unnecessary length about how a congressional committee can find no back-up for the president’s tweeted charge against his predecessor. “Political rhetoric is always B.S. to some degree,” my friend writes. “And then, there is the bullshitter-in-chief, beyond truth. ”

Well, yeah. But Donald Trump’s tweets aren’t political rhetoric as usual. Trump has gone a different direction. He is trolling for effect, to get his enemies to concentrate on the small stuff, the inconsequential malters. And since this is post-Clinton Washington, Trump knows he can say anything and stonewall.

Let Spicer and Conway take the flak and look like idiots in public. That is their job, after all. (And they have occasion to do it on a daily basis. That is for sure. They have the most demeaning job in bigly, er, Big League politics.)

But the idea that Trump was spied upon, illegally, by his predecessor is by no means incredible . . . certainly not implausible from rogue wings of the Deep State.

And the idea that there would be ready, Congress-available proof of a secret, illegal op strikes me as preposterous, making it absurd to investigate in anything like Congress’s usual perfunctory manner:

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, jointly said earlier in the day [that] there were “no indications” that Trump Tower, the Manhattan building where Mr. Trump lived and worked before assuming the presidency, was under any form of government surveillance.

Meanwhile, Trump is pushing a gimcrack, quite horrid, promise-abusing “replacement” of ObamaCare. But half the media and attentive America is distracted by . . . bullshit.

B.S. that is, alas, probably half true. True or not, it ends up making everybody look like loons.

This is precisely the wrong game for anti-Trumpers to play.

The age-old problem with warfare is that, in going to war, one becomes a mirror, a double, of one’s enemy. The anti-Trumpers are seriously reënacting the fated scenario of “The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” Only they are not mimicking imperialistic Spaniards.

They are in danger of playing the Fool.

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* I, too, am anti-Trump. But no more than I was anti-Clinton, anti-Bush, and anti-Obama. Though Trump is a break with the past, in many ways, he is neither without precedent nor wholly a new kind of creature: they were all liars, fools, and knaves, in the usual politic balance; Trump is also liar, lunatic, and knave, but in a slightly different configuration, if with about the same averaged-out moral level.

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

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

What is going on here?

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

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

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

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

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

That hardly makes sense.

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

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

But I do have a clue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The distinct senses of entitlement are striking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not progress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Less than a week after Trump’s wiretapping charge, the new WikiLeaks exposure hit — which detailed the vast abilities and routine practice of the CIA to intercept phone calls and audio- and video-chats, as well as hijack laptops, tablets, smart TVs, smartphones and automobile computers — but almost no who had started out ridiculing Trump let up. Astounding.

Now, Dennis Kucinich brings not irrelevant testimony that should squash the ridicule. “I can vouch for the fact that extracurricular surveillance does occur, regardless of whether it is officially approved. I was wiretapped in 2011 after taking a phone call in my congressional office from a foreign leader.”

The former representative tales the tale, now, for the first time. He is pretty sure that, in contravention of the separation of powers, U.S. “intelligence” recorded a conversation he had with a Son of Qaddafi, and then leaked it to the Washington Post. His confidence seems reasonable. He is not talking out of school. His inference that it was an “American intelligence agency” seems more than sound. Besides, he writes, “which foreign intelligence service conceivably could have been interested in my phone call, had the technology to intercept it, and then wanted to leak it to the newspaper?”

Kucinich makes clear that he is no supporter of our current president. But he is obviously somewhat shocked by the ease with which his fellow leftists have embraced a pro-CIA/NSA/alphabet soup narrative:

I have never gone public with this story, but when I saw the derision with which President Trump’s claims were greeted—and notwithstanding our political differences—I felt I should share my experience.

When the president raised the question of wiretapping on his phones in Trump Tower, he was challenged to prove that such a thing could happen.

It happened to me.

For anyone to mock Trump about his belief in illegal wiretapping? Amazing.

Sure, Trump’s an ass. But he is a smart one, playing us. And on government surveillance, he has certainly stumbled into one of the horrible truths of our Age Of Snowden: the Deep State has gone rogue.

You are not safe from the State.

Not even the President is safe from it. If you think the President is “in charge” and therefore safe, you may want to update your model of “our living constitution.”

All this is the result of a hundred years of laxity, even perversity, allowing the administrative state to grow out of bounds of the written Constitution.

Well, more than a century. The Constitution broke long before Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and World War I. But it has been made an outright mockery of its old self in our time, and both political parties are responsible. For the administrative state they created and fed — the bureaucracies — constitutes the permanent government.

And it is upon this permanent government that Constitutional government — the legislative, executive and judicial branches — appears as surface phenomenon. A particularly noticeable type of scum.

Constitutional government is well on its way to becoming the epiphenomenon of the real government.

That the President of these United States would unceremoniously blurt this truth out in public is, well, interesting for many reasons. I know that many of his supporters will take this occasion as “proof” that their Savior will clean the swamp that is The Deep State.

I remain skeptical.

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The amusing thing about having a fabulist as President is that it gives us all something to talk about while he pushes through as much of his promised agenda as he can.

Fake out!

imageYeah, I’ve been tricked by Trump’s Twitter feed, too. But, to repeat something I said last month, there is a method to his madness. He is spinning the media. I do believe this is according to a plan. He is a magician. Or, maybe, Iago + troll.

I was just watching the Egregious Hack, George Stephanopoulis, go into high moral dudgeon about the utter implausibility that the White House was spouting in defense of the Trump Tower Wiretap Tweet. The Hack seemed to think he was on to something. It was as if he thought that by exposing this one lie, the whole Trump movement would crumble.

Fool!

Yes, he should know better. It was he, after all, who was present at the creation of the Post-Truth society. His beloved Clintons mastered stonewalling and sheer cussed persistence long after after a lie had been found out.

The Clintons had learned that being caught in a lie is very much like Death — for everybody else. The lied-to go through stages: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance. As long as the caught liar refuses to deal with the truth and the meaning of is and whatnot, those he has lied to deal with the awful fact as best they can. If the liar is resolute, in the end the lied-to merely accepts that something happened not to their liking, and carry on as if truth were not a thing.

And, in politics, it needn’t be. And has not been for a long time.

Trump is merely playing the game by his standards, now, not the media’s.

We could be witnessing the End Times ushered in the side door, or the greatest political rescue mission negotiated out the back. I don’t know.

But it is hysterically funny.

It is great fun, anyway, watching the Egregious Hack and his cohorts twist in the wind, as Trump plays them.

Just remember to laugh. (Sometimes one forgets to breathe.) We are witnessing the complete erosion of the establishment’s patina, a wiping away of all surface luster. We shall soon be witnessing nothing other than naked power.

Yes. You can then call it the Apocalypse. For much will then be revealed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe the Lizard People. . . .

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

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

So Trump goes the other direction.

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

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

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

As psychological repression. Deflection. Ritual cleansing.

They overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton.

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

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

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

Whose ranks they, themselves, largely fill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None.

Not even a little bit.

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

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

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

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

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

Because “cultivated” is not a racial concept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

twv

 

 

Some Californians want to secede from the union. I have two reactions:

  • Idiots!
  • Hooray!

They are idiots because they want to leave merely because they — a majority being Democrats in the quintessential “Left Coast” state — did not get their way in the last presidential election. This is more than a little wrong-headed. Many American voters never get their way. (I’m one. I never have voted for a winning presidential candidate.) It’s a representative republic, this our union of states, so we have to expect not always to get our way. The secessionist Californians seem to not understand the basics of the system. The spoiled asshat brats.

On the other hand, I think the United States is stuck. A secessionist movement might pry open the trap.

Republicans this last time around decided to “unstick it” by sticking it to the Democrats . . . with the candidate Democrats most hated. Republicans chose Trump because, well, the Democrats had already chosen Hillary, who was the candidate Republicans most hated. One good hate deserves another! Or so the messed-up rationale runs. But, this being the case, or not, I doubt Trump will unstick the country from its prodigal ways of too much spending, too much debt, too high taxes, too much regulation, and too intrusive and hubristic a foreign policy. He will almost certainly exacerbate some of these. His preference for nationalism over federalism bodes ill.

So, another way to unstick the country would be to break it up. And, well, to Californians: good riddance!

But there’s a hitch. Californians are Americans, and many would not want to leave.

And, more importantly, there are parts of California that want to leave . . . California. Before any secession from the federation should be contemplated, the secession of the northern counties to form a new state, Jefferson, should be on the table. I am pretty sure the would-be Jeffersonians want to stay part of the United States.

Paul Jacob, today, argues that the formation of the proposed new state, Jefferson, should be up to those northern counties that have already voted to secede, on a county-by-county basis.

Mr. Jacob also notes that there had been a “split up California” measure on the ballot a few years ago. And I certainly remember it, because I had written on the subject at the time. (Though I cannot find where I wrote about it. Hmmm.) The main point is that California is too big, and has too many people per politician . . . I mean, per representative. The state has the highest constituent/representative (c/r) ratio in the country. By far.

Making of a new state out of the far north California counties would give the new state probably the lowest c/r ratio. But it would have other effects as well.

I note that when the split-into-six measure was on the ballot, Huffington Post whined the most about the wealth/poverty ratios. Of course, the poorest segment, the north, is precisely the one that wants to leave the most. This tells you a lot about the imagination and political biases of the folks at HuffPo. And how divergent they are from actual poor people in the real rural world. Jeffersonians apparently want a state without a strong city.

sixcalifornias_0But take a look at the HuffPo map. Not for the wealth/poverty ratios, but just for the shape of the states then proposed. The great thing about the proposal was that it reflected actual regions, how people live and how they think about where they live. This is regional affinity, and it is something city-folk today tend to dismiss, as their preferred policies run roughshod over rural American preferences.

Perhaps more importantly, the proposal separated the three major cities: San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, each major city getting its own region. That makes sense. Each city is its own economic and cultural powerhouse. Each city has a region that backs it up. While separating regions fits with regional affinity, uniting a city with its natural region is also a good idea.

There are obvious problems with the six-state regional split, and these problems may have been part of the reason the proposal failed at the ballot box. First, six is just too many. Probably two too many, if not three. Second, too much weight was given to Sacramento — it was to become the capital, I guess, of “North California,” but it would dominate that new state in an unhealthy way. Third, the union of the Sierra Nevada and central valley regions seem odd, from either a regional affinity basis or a city/city-region basis.

Arguably, the Sierra Nevada (far east) counties might wish to break off to join Nevada (which is a state with too little private property, too much federal land), or join the new “South California,” or join the eastern counties of “North California” to unite with the new Jefferson State. This should all be decided in a complicated series of plebiscites, with options to choose the new alliances.

As is probably obvious by now, I’m no expert on California culture or political geography. But when I look at the rural regions, I expect to attach a major city to them. The proposed Jefferson does not have a major city. And there is no way that today’s political behemoth of Sacramento would join the norther secessionists. But those counties to the east of Sacramento might very much want to join Jefferson, and, if they did, the Sierra Nevada counties should have the option to join the new state, too. They won’t nab a major city, but they might gain important populations with cultural and regional affinities.

So, from the start, Congress should demand plebiscites in the would-be Jefferson counties, and the southern Oregon counties, too, whether they want to form the proposed new state. If yes, then, move to the next step: one by one, the eastern counties should vote to join Jefferson or not. See how far down the east of California Jefferson would stretch. Each of those counties should also have the option of joining Nevada or some other city region state not allied with San Francisco.

The Central Valley region, I repeat, puzzles me. It seems like it should belong to either the San Francisco or Los Angeles city regions, and therefore part of their respective states.

Separating “North California” from “Silicon Valley” seems nuts to me. But separating “West California” from both the San Francisco and San Diego city regions makes perfect sense. So, it seems to me, after determining the size and shape of Jefferson, then we would need to determine the shapes of South California and West California. The mostly likely states to emerge would be Jefferson, North California, West California, and South California, with the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada regions divvied up among the four.

In my previous writings on this, I think I suggested just three states, Jefferson, North California, and South California. But that lumped in LA with San Diego. That seems unfortunate. But I remember drawing the line east and west for South California pretty easily, geometrically by county borders, that way. That would be inhumanly arbitrary, of course.

In any case, after splitting up the state into three or four pieces — and perhaps allowing some counties to merge with adjacent states) — then each state could be asked about secession. Would West and North California secede? Perhaps. I doubt it. It seems so stupid, and so difficult.

Unless, of course, Americans take the whole thing as a cue: split up the union and form several new unions, with the new unions placing the federal government under receivership.

But, somehow, I don’t think anything that drastic could widely and effectively be contemplated until too late.

twv