Dirty Words

It is an article of faith among the literati that “language is dynamic and ever changing”.   One need only to listen to the baggy pants set to realize that there’s an audible gulf between generations speaking the same language, nevermind disparate nations and languages.  Even that cerebrus of words, The Oxford English Dictionary, apparently has come to terms with this.  Judging from the frequency and uptake of “modern” words we see in the OED, one wonders if they’re making room for these neologisms by throwing out old words as they go.   Who needs eleemosynary when you can have selfie?

But let us pause for a moment.  Are all linguistic morphs equally valuable and thereby deserving of recognition?  More to the point, how to we know which words are even worth keeping, or for that matter, disposing?   I would suggest that there are clear trends here, and in this case, unlike financial investing, the trend is not your friend.

Most visibly, we see a clear and distinct decline in the size of the vocabulary in common use.  For example, if you read even the popular English literature of 50 or 100 years ago, today’s writing is simpler, trite, hackneyed, and banal by comparison.    No doubt this is an homage the fine job done by our public school system and parents utterly uninvolved in their children’s education.  No doubt it reflects a population that reads less, watches more, and does almost nothing in its slack hours.  The problem here is that this becomes a deadly cycle of self-reinforcement.  Place the microphone of poor speaking into the loudspeaker of poor writing and you get linguistic feedback – a howling screech of incoherent and uninteresting wordsmithery.

Worse still, the purveyors of this dreck don’t even understand just how awful what they write and say actually is.  It’s precisely because today’s English speakers are so utterly tone deaf that someone like Jay-Z gets taken seriously as an “artist” or “poet”.  Consider, for instance, this bit of rhyming:

So I ball so hard muhfuckas wanna fine me
But first niggas gotta find me
What’s 50 grand to a muhfucka like me
Can you please remind me?
Ball so hard, this shit crazy
Y’all don’t know that don’t shit phase me

(From “Niggas In Paris”,  Jay-Z and Kanye West)

Its profanity isn’t anywhere near as offensive as its illiteracy. It is to writing as grenades are  to fishing.  It lacks complexity, sophistication, and depth.  The words are simple, the ideas are trivial,  everything is easy to digest, and, in the end, it is not even slightly interesting. But this, ladies and gentlemen, is the work product of a man nearing a billion dollars in net worth.  The culture is richly rewarding such sewage to the point that one wonders when the OED will canonize muhfuckas.

Note well that the use of profanity and vulgarity here is without any real contribution to content or meaning.   Naughty words have always had some role in language and can serve to set a mood, provide a verbal exclamation mark, or record the speaking of a third party.  But none of that is taking place.  The vulgarity does not contribute to the narrative, it’s just … well, it’s just there.  Its purpose isn’t to drive a compelling storyline but to titillate, provoke, or otherwise keep small- and easily distracted minds interested until they get to the next line.

This technique was pioneered years ago in visual entertainment when Hollywood discovered that sex and violence need not have any real role in story telling.  They just needed to be present.  In fact, a good part of Hollywood now makes movies that openly sneer at their audience knowing full well that a head exploding or an anal rape will bring them right back into the fold.  That R rating may have alienated a few good critics (are there any left, I wonder?), but it attracted incremental millions in box office revenue.   Literature and music were just late to this party, but they’re well onboard at this point.

Finally, we see language intended simply as a tribal markerThere is probably no more troublesome word in the English language than nigger and its derivatives.  There was a time, not too many decades ago, when its use was strongly discouraged by the educational establishment, by parents, and the larger culture and even the entertainment business.   Upon visiting Africa for the first time, the comedian Richard Pryor is recorded to have said that he saw no “niggers” there and covenanted to never again use the word – a word that had been a staple of his stage act.

But today the word has huge currency in popular music and culture.  We are hectored about racism, white privilege, and so forth while at the same the children of slaves are embracing the most corruptive and destructive terms ever used to describe their forebears.  When confronted by this, we’re told that “we’re taking the power away from the word”.  Really?  If you are not of African descent, see what happens when you try to use the term at your next cocktail party.  Hilarity will ensue, I assure you.

In truth, what is happening is that nigger is being used to mark someone as a member of a club.  That club might the club of rappers.  It might be the professional victims club.   It might be the club of underclass African-Americans.  Or, more typically, it’s the club that wants to rub everyone else’s noses in it.  Whatever it is, it is not about narrative, fine language, or compelling stories.  It is a sad, bottomfeeding, vulgar, and destructive use of language.  It is also entirely effective in marking people as members of a club.  In so doing, they instantly alienate themselves from the larger culture, notwithstanding how many politically correct preening claims to the contrary we hear.  If you scream “I belong to a different club than you” loudly enough, people believe you, and they treat you differently.

Language – high or low – is intended to be an instrument for conveying meaning.  It is a vehicle by which we are able to interact with each other, debate ideas, work together (or not), and generally conduct our lives between and among ourselves.  Language truly is the original internet, having fostered love, hate, art, war, peace, commerce, and exploration long before a single transistor showed up in the temples of Bell Labs.  But today’s language is so simplified, so debased, and so politicized that it is beginning to lose its power to enable and ennoble us.  Any machine that becomes sufficiently rusty will inevitably cease to work in its intended manner, and language is no different.  But it need not be so.  Language still has the capacity to enrich us and remain a conveyance for ideas if only we’ll just let it:

THE angels are stooping
Above your bed;
They weary of trooping
With the whimpering dead.
God’s laughing in Heaven
To see you so good;
The Sailing Seven
Are gay with His mood.
I sigh that kiss you,
For I must own
That I shall miss you
When you have grown.

(“Cradle Song”,  William Butler Yeats)

 

Posted in Art, Culture, Literature | Leave a comment

The Real Voice Of The Housewives Who’ve Got Talent In L.A.

The average college men’s dormitory room looks like something out of the Battle of Fallujah.   In the quest for all manner of sins of  chemistry and biology, its denizens generally leave behind a trail of damage and debris rivaled only by one of the more eclectic neighborhoods of, say, Detroit or a Democrat Party fundraiser.  Yet ten years on, this very same wrecking crew can be seen mowing their own lawns and attacking the very smallest of household chores with grit, sweat, and precision tools.  Why?   It’s the difference between being a renter and an owner.

The late 1990s brought us the so-called “Dot Com Bubble”.   The commercial Internet was in its infancy and it seemed that every teenager with a vivid fantasy life could raise a few million to instantiate the startup du jour.  During this time, startups with little actual money and no actual revenue or customers (to say nothing of profits) attracted bright and capable people by offering them equity in the company.  These stock options gave the recipient an incentive to work hard toward the success of the company.  The pitch to the potential employee was something along the lines of, “Well Bob, we can’t pay you what you’d like in salary.   To make up the difference, we’ll give you 10,000 stock options in the company at a strike price of $1. ”  Now, Bob, being the sharp guy that he is, knew that when the company went public, that stock was going to be selling for many times this, $20-$100 being common.   So Bob left his predicable but boring job in corporate America, and worked 75 hours a week to make StartupCo a big success.  He had equity in the company and a vested interest in its success.  It’s the difference between being a renter and an owner.

The late 1990s created incredible new wealth and a whole new way of conducting commerce and interacting with one another.  To dismiss it as “Dot Bomb” is to miss the importance of how culturally transformative this period was, not to mention how much durable new economic value was created.   But in creating that value, it also created a few billionaires and a whole lot of millionaires – people who worked those grueling hours to make “their property” as valuable as possible.  Not the least among these where the startup CEOs.   Not only did many have their own money tied up in these companies, pretty much without exception, the majority of their compensation packages were built around stock options of one kind or another.  When their companies succeeded, they prospered in staggering amounts.    The principals at companies like Netscape, Google, Amazon, and eBay walked away with lottery winning levels of wealth, far in excess of many of their Fortune 500 peers.  It’s the difference between being a renter and an owner.

And this compensation model was hardly new.   Well run traditional corporations had realized for years that making their executive staff “owners” in the company they ran, would yield leaders motivated to drive corporate performance.   And it worked.  When Jack Welsh left GE after 41 years in their employ – 20 as CEO – his payout was well over $100 million simply from having driven the stock value up, up, up during his tenure.  Welsh may have collected a nice fat rent paycheck over the years, but his real payout came when he was able to sell … his property.   This was all to the good.  After all, corporations are largely owned by institutional investors:  Union retirement funds, teachers’ pensions, firemen, police, and various investment instruments all of whom depend on their corporate portfolios to drive better than inflationary growth at lower than market risk.  Nothing works better than to have the people who run those companies own enough of them to have a vested interest in their longer term success.

But there was trouble in paradise.  In the smarmy precincts of the It’s Just Not Fair Society, all these people making all this money was a demonstration of, well, just how verrrrrry unfair it all is.    Little Billy Gates has $50 billion a his disposal, but Sammy Sweat can barely afford another sixpack to drink during tonight’s airing of The Real Voice Of The Housewives Who’ve Got Talent In L.A.  Nevermind that Bill worked 100 hour weeks while Sammy was busy clocking out at 4:59:59 every day.  It’s sooooo unfaaaaair.  So they lobbied, and they howled, and they whined – Oh how they whined – to get make the system “fairer”.   Specifically, they got a set of accounting rules changed that have forever damaged the notion of corporate ownership by its leaders and employees.

The new buzzword became (gasp) Income Inequality ™  and the idea took off like wildfire.   Today, we are regularly hectored by everyone from the President Of The United States to the Usual Suspects And Occupiers about the “tragic” income gap between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of us.  But the they are lying to themselves and all of us.  One of the direct consequences of the changed accounting rules was that companies suddenly had a new tax liability for stock options that were part of an executive’s compensation.  In the end, it was simply easier, and possibly cheaper, for Boards to pay the executives more and diminish or outright eliminate compensation via company equity.   The result?  A very highly paid bunch of corporate leaders with little- or no skin in the game.   The It’s Just Not Fair Society saw to it that our corporate leaders would forever return to being renters and not owners.  Why?  Because the old way, the way that guaranteed an executive’s wallet was tied to corporate performance over the vesting period of the equity was … so verrrrrrrrry unfair.

The next time you’re being lectured about that Income Inequality ™ by some self anointed savior of mankind,  point out that it was their very own ideas that caused this.   It seems that a fine whine is ultimately always rewarded with moldy cheese.

 

Posted in Business, Economics | Leave a comment

Barack Obama And The Death Of Communism

One of the more malodorous byproducts of the modern “education” system is that students are given a micron-thick understanding of the major forces that have shaped history.  Nowhere is this more evident than in university discursions on the arc of  Communism throughout the 20th Century.    The sin committed here is describing Communism as being animated by ideology rooted in Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky.  This is almost entirely false.  (It is probably worth noting that the Postmodern/Deconstructionist theory bunch are more likely interested in the semiotic implications of the coffee stains on Marx’s manuscript for Das Kapital.  They can  thus can be relied upon to be teaching no such thing.)

Communism in Russia took hold not because of some large Russified Rush To Red.  it took hold because of the deprivations visited upon the Russian people by their Czars.  If there’s a white boot on your head, the red hand offering you a hand up looks pretty good.  Similarly, Ho Chin Min probably started out about as Communist as Ronald Reagan.   He did not come to Communism via some erudite and learned philosophical argument.  He was driven there by the French, possibly in a Peugeot.

These two specific examples point to a larger truth: People with an instinct to lead find a way to package themselves for their times and to the demands of their potential constituents.  Russian proto-Communism offered escape from the Czars.   Uncle Ho offered a respite from fois gras and terrible cigarettes.   Many other such examples abound in Cuba, China, Cambodia, and Harvard.  People with an Itch To Be In Charge have to find a way to present themselves as the answer to the problem of the moment. In the 20th Century, this meant peddling Communism, and later, Socialism. Well … not quite.  The sophisticates at Harvard et al put a little lipstick on that pig and did brisk business marketing Syndicalism to pimply faced college Freshman.  Chomsky at MIT – whose body of academic work has been almost entirely repudiated – built a whole second career out of Syndicalism For Dummies.

Communism gave way to Socialism and Socialism gave way to European Social Democrats.  Why?  Because the people changed.  After awhile, even the oppressed masses in Ukraine began to work out that Markets and Capitalism were delivering notably better results than peasant farming and making perohe.  At the same time, the genius population in the West decided that being “free” wasn’t really a political ideal.  No, no, it was a lifestyle goal by which an individual could be free of any sort of discomfort,  inconvenience, or being served cold coffee.   Those With An Itch To Be In Charge responded with European Social Democracies.  Markets and Capitalism would produce wealth, and the In Charge crowd would make sure everyone got a piece without having to get up too early.  East and West finally met.  (This worked out swimmingly, by the way, particularly for Spain, Portugal, and Greece.)


Note well and again that none of these 20th Century movements had much of anything to do with ideology.  They had everything to do with packaging and marketing messages of salvation-on-earth to the teeming masses yearning to be free of paying for things themselves.   In the end, the convergence was between Those With An Itch To Be In Charge and Those That Want Something For Nothing.

But that was then and this is now.  The times are a changin’.  More importantly, the people are a changin’ and thus the problem of the moment that “needs” solving is different.  What’s a young dynamic leader filled with hope, change, and dreams of his father, for example, to do?   Today’s popular greed is rather different than a hundred years ago.  The potential base consists of young people that mostly have never known any serious hardship,  old people who have mostly never known a savings account, and people so poor and desperate, they’re fat.   Marketing to this crowd was going to take something new, different, and special.   Conveniently, the seeds to do so had been sown decades before.

Beginning in the 1950s and reaching fullness in the 1960s, a full scale attack was launched on the human spirit. Love and family were denigrated, mocked, and hyperbolized (with sex as the suggested replacement).  Behavior was decoupled from results in the inception of the “it’s never your fault” culture.  Problem solving by means of reason was diminished in favor of feelings-based Utopian  aspiration.  Deep existential questions of meaning, purpose, and faith were dismissed as irrelevant evolutionary appendages.  Mankind was to be understood only in pure sense-mechanical terms.  And the human spirit began to ache as meaning incrementally leaked out of peoples lives.

There is little question that Western citizens of the 21st Century are the wealthiest, safest, and least hard working of any generation in human history.  Today’s Western citizen has so much free time, entire industries have sprung up to entertain them.  The “poorest” member of society can afford to play Angry Birds on their iPhone as they scan through 500 channels of cable content connected to a large flat screen TV.  But no amount of material wealth, comfort, distractions, or entertainments can overcome a bruised spirit.  Sooner or later the emptiness and loneliness of a life without meaning overwhelms you.  You can ignore existential questions but they won’t ignore you.

And that was the magic sauce Those With An Itch To Be In Charge seized.   All they had to do is come up with villains to blame for the Western spiritual crisis.  They found several sitting duck candidates.  First, they named “tradition” as the cause of it all.  “Anachronisms like family, faith, and hard work are what’s making you miserable.  You need to be swingin’, agnostic, and relaxed.”    Then they named the “oppressor” as the enemy.  “You are miserable because of institutional hatred, bigotry, and unfairness directed against People Like You.”  Finally, in an homage to the Communist-Socialist-Social Democrat axis that preceded this, they blamed the “rich”.  “You are miserable because others have more than you do and in unfair proportion”.

Mr. Obama’s critics have accused him of being a Collectivist, a Socialist, and even an outright Communist.  They’re wrong.  He’s an Opportunist.  He has been able to capitalize on the existential angst and battered spirit of the larger population like no politician in living history.  He’s surfing the misery and sadness of millions of people by peddling victimhood, misdirected blame, and false bromides.  He  didn’t need Communism or Socialism.  The larger society had already willingly exposed its belly to any proximate predator.  Obama  – really Obama-Jarrett – masterfully refined the craft of cultural predation and eviscerated the gut of society.  Despite what the neutered right might believe, there was no mustache twirling conspiracy in any of this.  It was unnecessary.  When the lamb walks into the slaughterhouse seeking suicide, it doesn’t take much to accommodate him.

Mr. Obama’s critics continue to view him as a cause.  They see him as the guy who is destroying all that is good about freedom, markets, and Western hegemony.   But they are criminally wrong.  He is little more than an effect.  He’s the effluvium that flows from a morally self-indulgent, spiritually bereft, and socially unanchored society.  Blaming him for the current state of the nation is like blaming the spoon for Michael Moore’s obesity.

If we who love liberty really want to recover what has been lost, we must do so by calling each other and our fellow citizens to moral rectitude, spiritual awareness, self reliance, responsibility, and industry.  Failing that, there will be many more Obamas in our future.  The wolves gather.

 

 

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Losing Liberty The Libertarian Way

Political libertarianism is all the rage these days.   Fueled by the failure of supposedly “conservative” politics and arguably the most malignant modern President of the left, people are dusting off their Locke, revisiting Jefferson, Madison, and Adams, reading Rand, and … shocking as it sounds, having a loud and public debate about liberty.  This is not only healthy, it REALLY annoys the traditional right- and left ideologues.

The younger set, particularly, is enamored of this.  It’s always just a bit cognitively dissonant to watch someone with their pants bagged down to their knees, baseball cap on backwards, blasting Jay Z on their iPod, earnestly absorbed in “Atlas Shrugged” or Locke’s “First Treatise”.  It is, nonetheless, a joy to behold, notwithstanding the abuse upon eardrums this induces.  (Note To Self:  Spend time doing spectral analysis of rap/hiphop.  Compare and contrast with machine shop noise.  Use latter to produce former and prosper, perhaps under the name “Grinder X”.)

This is wonderful news.  Liberty and culture are inexorably woven into a permanent codependency.  Without liberty there can be no rich and open cultural expression.  If culture becomes debased – as such much of it is by the ideological left in particular – liberty itself comes under vicious attack as it is today.  Witness, for example, the high minded “Bush-Was-Wrong” Obama administration as it short circuits due process with its drone killing program on a scale making the previous President look like a piker.  But we’re used to this.  Both the left- and right have exited anything resembling principle for the most part, and have openly moved to the politics of “I Won And I Plan To Stay In Charge By Any And All Means”  instead.

What is more troublesome is that a good many self-proclaimed libertarians hold views and propose policy that fundamentally reduces liberty for us all.   It is ironic that a movement built on the notion of truly small government and individualism is today itself implicitly becoming an enemy of liberty.  Why?  Because of the failure of so many libertarians to face the substance of Real Politik.

Many critics of libertarianism dismiss it as nothing more than the Sein Fein political wing of Randian Objectivism.  They are wrong.  (In fact, the  Objectivist faithful reject political libertarianism as “irrational”, a favored imprecation directed at all non-Objectivists.)  The roots of libertarian ideology actually  spring from 18th Century political philosophy (particularly Locke) as explicated by the American Framers, notably Jefferson and Madison,  The central premise of this philosophy was that rights were innate (endowed by our Creator) and government existed solely to secure those rights.  The primary consequence of this idea was-, and is-, that the fundamental role of government was to promote the liberty of the individual, except where such liberty might infringe upon the freedoms of others.

This is all well and good.  Almost everyone claims fidelity to this notion.  Even political liberals manage to claim this (and with a straight face,  no mean feat).  Libertarians therefore aggressively pursue the idea of  “liberty for all of us, liberty for each of us”.  This manifests itself in a deep commitment to very limited central government, opposition to almost all prohibitions on personal behavior except those that harm others, and a “trade with all, fight with none” foreign policy.

Aye, but there’s the rub.  The preservation of freedom begins to implode when these principles face extant political and cultural reality.  As just a sampling (and there are many more), consider the prohibitions on vice and homosexual marriage.  Almost all doctrinaire’  libertarians will tell you that government has no business telling adults what substances they can consume.  Similarly, you will get a stern finger wagging on why it’s so very wrong for government to recognize straight marriage, but not gay marriage (as previously noted here).

Unfortunately, Reality intrudes here and in a most unpleasant way.  Yes, the government has no business telling adults what to do with their own bodies.  Yes, if government enforces the marriage contract for some, it must do it for all.   The problem is that we live in a deeply collectivist state already.   A very large body of law and precedent exists to ensure that the costs of individual bad behavior are never fully borne by that individual, but laid off on the larger base of taxpayers.  Do you have HIV because you have unprotected sex with gay heroin addicts?  Do you have smoking induced COPD?  Has your elephantine like girth induced diabetes?  No worries, the government will see to it that, at least in part, your fellow citizens – who have nothing to do with your having acquired these problems – will pick up the tab.  In fact, with the horrors of Obamacare now firmly entrenched as a matter of law and Supreme Court review, “in part” now means “in very large part”.  Stay tuned as it becomes “all”.

Then there is the freight train of “Equal Rights” law.  It is, of course, no such thing.   It more properly should be called “Special Rights For Some Groups Of Citizens” law.  At the end of the day, the goal of the gay marriage proponents is not equality in the sense of standing equally with the rest of society.  Their true agenda is to achieve formal EEOC status – the holy grail of all professional victims.   Having thus achieved this, they would then be in the position to force employers to hire them and grant them same-sex marital benefits even when doing so stood in fundamental opposition to the employer’s personal beliefs.  The “equality” they desire is to be equally special before the law and thereby be enabled to use the force of government against their fellow citizens.

Legalizing drugs would, not doubt, come with some increase in addiction, disease, and collateral damage like uncared for minors, lost days of work, and the like.  In the collectivist US today, that mean tax dollars would be expended to attempt remedies for these problems.   It is likely true that some of this would be recouped by having to spend less on law enforcement and imprisonment, but no one today can guarantee that the rate of tax recovery from the latter would balance out the increases in the former.  It’s all hypothesis.

Similarly, the granting of EEOC protection to gay people as a “protected class” would vastly diminish the liberty of all but the very smallest of companies.   The Obama administration has already demonstrated contempt for religious reservations in  its application of the ACA to Catholic hospitals and this would be no different.   The liberty of the gay couple would trump the liberty of the employer in almost every case.

If we thus take the obviously libertarian view that all drugs should be legalized and gay marriage recognized, under our current collectivist socio-political system liberty will be REDUCED.  Why?  Because, in the current environment, the consequences of these behaviors will be borne by other citizens and to their detriment economically and their violation morally.

So, the immediate libertarian response to social issues is naive.   It is proper as a matter of principle, but it is an abyss as a matter of practice.  Before we address these motes, we need to get the beam out of our societal eye.  Instead of trying to fix collectivism with yet more collectivism, we should first be focused on removing the collectivist elephant from our chests so we may breathe properly again.   Once we do that, the aforementioned restrictions could be removed unremarkably.  All citizens would enjoy the same liberty and the same obligation to live with the consequences of their choices.

The answer is thus not dorm room Randianism or high minded rhetoric disconnected from reality.  The answer is a full throttle, no compromise assault on the centers of collectivist agenda:  The entertainment business, the university system, the political system, and the mainstream news media.   Until that day, principled libertarians must stand in opposition to all incremental encroachments of collectivist power.

Posted in Civil Rights, Liberty | Leave a comment

ReOccupied

The media are all agiggle about the one year anniversary of the so-called “Occupy” movement.  Plans are afoot to celebrate this key event in world history with a recapitulation of the Occupy sit ins, airing of grievances, moratoria on personal hygiene, and all manner of  bad behavior.  This self proclaimed  “99%” will inform us all quite sternly about just what is wrong, exactly, with the 1% at the top of the financial pile, starting with them failing to pay their “fair share” of taxes.   This in the face of the fact that this 1% pays something like 30% of all US Federal income taxes.  Even just the top 10%  pay approximately 70% of all income taxes.  The bottom 50% pay less than 3% of all such taxes.   None of this bothers the Occupy folk much, for whom facts and reason are inconvenient intrusions upon their various narratives.  (It should thus come as no surprise that President Obama has declared some level of common ground with these people.)

The Occupy movement’s central problem isn’t just body odor.  It’s that it has an incoherent set of demands.   The movement is a strange amalgam of socialists, communists, union thugs, students, the very angry, the very young, the unemployed, the bitter, and the professionally offended.   Each of them has their own recitation of grievances, often not proceeding from anything resembling Reality.   The only thing they appear to have in common is that “It’s all those eeeeeeeeeevil rich people’s fault.”  Even when they manage to identify a legitimate issue – say the misbehavior of some portions of the banking system or the excesses of US intrusions around the world – they do so with such a lack of coherence and clarity they sound like Kim Kardashian trying to explain Immanuel Kant.

Naturally, the slobbering sycophants of all things dishonest – The Media – have made their cameras and microphones widely available to record said recitations.  If earnest head nodding and sympathetic grimacing were Olympic events, The Media would own every gold.  This from a group of people who’s only real skill is looking pretty and  thin while reading small words from a teleprompter.  (Again, Mr. Obama leaps to mind.)

But none of this is particularly important.  Every generation has its career victims, ours is no different.  Anyone who suffered through the 1960s and 1970s saw a prefiguring of Occupy on a much larger scale – with much better sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll,  may I add.  What is important is how cowed the larger culture has become to the manifest foolishness of this bunch.  We live in a nation which places a high premium on free speech.   Occupy is thereby granted a very long leash for it’s loudmouthed trashing about.  This is as it should be.  We do not just defend speech with which we agree, we most especially must defend even the most idiotic speech.  After all, how else would Michael Moore and Bill Maher make a living?   There are many sound reasons for this, not the least of which is that the louder and more frequently bad ideas are bellowed, the sooner they self destruct.  More importantly, we do not need a Czar Of What You’re Allowed To Say, which any attempt to limit speech would require.

But Occupy – like the Smelliest Generation five decades earlier – has conflated the freedom to speak freely, with the right to make you listen to them.  In pretty much every city these pests infested, Occupy was able to interfere with The Rest Of Us that just wanted to go about living our lives.  The did this by jamming up public streets, walkways, and transportation hubs.  They did this by shouting so loudly they could not be unheard.  They did this by causing harm to property.   In a civil society, they would have been stopped in their tracks – by police force if necessary.  The right to get redress of one’s grievances applies only when the request is being made of our government.  It particularly does not apply in private spaces and it does not grant the speaker the right to grab the rest of us by the throat and make us pay attention.

But big city governments are increasingly run by the oh-so-precious tolerant, multicultural, accepting, social justice bunch for whom any appearance of backbone would lead to instant scoliosis.  These city fathers are intellectually, philosophically, and morally incapable of drawing any such line.  With depressing regularity we saw city after city cave in to wretched behavior on the part of the occupiers.  The most evident legacy of the past 50 years turns out to be an inability to call out and remediate bad behavior.

What should have happened, of course, is the Occupy people being granted access to a public space like a park which did not impede the use of the community from the Grown Ups among us.  There they could have howled into the microphones of the grimacing news monkeys and made their various cases.   They could have held up their banners, chanted their chants, not taken baths, and generally conducted themselves like the spoiled children they are.  The rest of us could have paid attention or tuned them out as was our inclination and liberty would have won the day – everyone’s liberty.

At the end of the day, Occupy will come and go into the dustbin of cultural vacuities in due course.  The only real downside to this “movement”  is that, so long as they are occupying, they aren’t at work and, you know, paying taxes.   Even more importantly, they need to get back to those jobs because I hate waiting for my morning coffee at MacDonalds.

Posted in Free Speech, Politics | Leave a comment

Scam Alert

9-17-2012

Beware.  This is a frightening new email scam that has been circulating lately. Don’t be taken in by it…

My Dearest Love -

Greetings in the name of Allah The Most Merciful, Praise Be Unto Him.  Permit me to inform you of my desire to develop a new relationship with you.  I pray that you will heed my call and help me in my important work.

I dare not reveal my full name because of the sensitive nature of this transaction.  My friends call me “Barry”.  I am a barrister and leader of an important nation.  In the past few years I have been given  control of an enormous fortune. This wealth represents the accumulation of over 200 years of hard work by generations of people.  It is more than the Prophet himself could imagine!  Many people have lived and died to create and protect this fortune.  Now, some of it can be yours.

Unfortunately, I do not yet have complete control of this great wealth and cannot access these funds without your help.  I need a small contribution to help enter into the legal struggle to get access to these accounts.  If only you would find it in your heart, Dear One, to provide me with 40% of your earnings each and every year forward, I will return many gifts unto you.  You will receive the best medicine,  food, shelter, and comfort that only vast wealth can buy.  I can promise you that, soon, you will live like the Princes of Somalia, Congo, and Kenya!  What a joyous Ramadan celebration we will have!!!

So, My Love, please provide me with the funds for this great work as soon as you are able.  You may contact me at: president@whitehouse.gov

May Allah be merciful unto you.

 

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Rotten To The Dual Core

Human knowledge is a process of accretion.  Newton and Leibnitz gave us the Calculus because a starry-eyed thinker in Araby gave them Algebra.   Calculus gave us statics, dynamics, structural analysis,  and finite elements methods.  From thence we proceeded to build things –  lots of things – from bridges to jumbo jets to indoor stadia to the requisite baggy pants found draped about the nether regions of the younger set.

Any undergrad engineer or scientist-in-waiting that’s ever struggled through solving an ordinary differential equation using a Laplace transform is thus essentially exploiting several millennia of human brainsweat in a nice compact form (Praise Be Unto Euler).  It should be noted that not everyone gets to have Big Fun in this manner.  It is rare that one sees, say, the LitCrit crowd considering the Eurocentricity of a Fourier Transform or the social justice implications of topological N-space.  And let me just say that they are the poorer for it.  Ah well, the fast food restaurants need employees too.

What’s important here is that at any moment in history we are at the peak of human knowledge.   Well… not quite always.   There have been a few moments here and there where knowledge has been lost, stalled, or otherwise impeded.  The Dark Ages, the critical theories of Deridas, the scribblings of Gore Vidal, and the “art” of Lady Gaga all leap to mind.  But in a macro historical sense it’s true that humanity is always sitting on the largest-pile-of-what-we-know-so-far.  It’s been said that more new knowledge has been created in the past decade than in all  previous human history combined.  As an aside, I’ve always wondered how they measure this.   By weight?

Which leads us to all things “i”: iPods, iTouch, iPhones, iMacs, iPads, and iCan’tBelieveIt’sNotButter.  In a very real sense, Apple’s products represent a generational distillation of human knowledge much like a Laplace transform.  They integrate technology, manufacturing, engineering, art, design, and human factors into objects of astonishing beauty and function.  These objects are a visible manifestation of the largest-pile-of-what-we-know-so-far.  But sadly, the Apple is wormy right down to its dual core.

In the words of one my dearest university professors back in the Pliocene, “it is obvious to the unaided eye of the most casual observer” that Apple’s lovely products are entirely possible because of what came before.  In this case, it’s not so much the esoteria of mathematics and physics, as it is the foundation of enabling technologies which they’ve integrated.  iOS/MacOS comes from FreeBSD (UC Berkeley) and Mach (CMU).  The user interface for MacOS is direct descendant of the work done at Xerox PARC.  The “pinch” interface was first demonstrated on a tablet prototype shown by Mitsubishi.  And so forth, and so on, ad infinitum.

None of this is remarkable news to engineers. It’s always been the case that engineering is built on the footings of giants.  Ask any structural, electrical, mechanical, or information engineer about their profession and they’ll fill your head with prior art, what worked, what didn’t, and why.  In some very real sense, the modern suspension bridge wouldn’t exist without the wooden covered bridges of Madison County, IA.  747s wouldn’t fly were it not for the Wright Brothers.  Relay logic begat tubes which begat transistors which begat integrated circuits which begat talking toilets.  And so forth, and so on, ad infinitum.

The one group of people for whom this is remarkable news is … the people that run Apple.  They are presently busy trying to win in a court of law what they cannot win in the marketplace: Exclusive control of technologies that they built upon in the past.   It appears that building on the work of others is fine only so long as you have the half eaten Apple in your logo.  (Which, they stole – I mean borrowed –  from God in the book of Genesis, incidentally.  They should at least have the good manners to join the local Presbyterian church or Orthodox Jewish Temple and pay Him royalties.)

Apple’s hypocrisy in this matter borders on farcical.  Every single product they make is a value add on an older, existing technology.  Yes, they’ve added value, but they are not just trying to defend their incremental improvements in court.  No, no, no.  They want their entire ecosystem protected from the ravages of a free market that wishes to compete.  (It doesn’t help much that Samsung is doing what they do better, cheaper, and faster, and seems to manage to do so without hiring suicidal 5th graders to do product assembly.)

“But”, sez you, “this is a blog about culture.  What on earth does this have to do with that?”   Apple makes magnificent products.  It thereby creates a culture of excellence.  But in assaulting its competitors by arguing with the umpires rather than playing the game, they’ve created a culture of deceit.   There is no moral justification for the claims they are making.  They’re betting that they can find a loophole in the playbook that will give them a win.  But loopholes are exactly why people are losing confidence in our foundational institutions like law, government, education and the like. (See, Institutionalized By Mom, below for a more complete, dare I say, trenchant, analysis of this topic.)  The very fact that Apple is playing this game reinforces the idea that corporations are soulless machines that destroy all that is good about us.  Perhaps, in Apple’s case, that might be right.

Speaking of the Wright Brothers:

Lady or  gentleman, welcome to Air Wright’s Kitty Hawk Shuttle.  Our flight today will be at an altitude of 10 feet and at a speed of  6.8 mph.  You’ll be receiving 120 frequent flier feet good toward any future flight.  Now, please lay down and enjoy 12 seconds of screaming terror.  Thank you for flying Air Wright. We know you have no choice whatsoever.  ……… I’m sorry, I’ve just been informed  by my brother of a weather hold.  We’ll be delayed just a bit here at the edge of the sand dunes until the wind dies down at the other end of the beach.

I guess some things never change…

Posted in Ethics, Technology | Leave a comment

Chickening Out On Gay Marriage

The Great Chick-Fil-A Dust-Up Of 2012 has now thankfully receded, leaving behind a trail of posters, fast food wrappers, and empty mascara containers.  In the aftermath, there are lessons to be learned.  For those of you that were mercifully spared the breathless media play-by-play – “Well Bob, it looks like we have some hot Baptist on Gay action here at the chicken shop…” – a short recounting is in order.

Chick-Fil-A peddles fast food chicken.  It’s Southern Baptist CEO, Dan Cathy, had the temerity to note publicly that he opposes gay marriage.  He doesn’t oppose hiring gay people nor does he oppose serving them in his shops, he just doesn’t want them married when they do show up.  He went on to say that Chick-Fil-A is not, as such, a “Christian company” but rather that he seeks to run it on Biblical principles.  Among the values he dared to espouse was that the “Biblical” notion of marriage was one man and one woman.

The gay, multicultural, accepting, tolerant, inclusive, sensitive, socially just community went … umm … batcrazy.   They immediately swung into action to initiate everything from boycotts to “kiss ins” on the various premises of Chick-Fil-A.  They were promptly joined by all manner of leftists, politically correct elites, earnest young people, and politicians.  The esteemed mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, threatened to deny Chick-Fil-A zoning permits to expand into his city because they did not share “Chicago values” – In a multicultural, accepting, tolerant, inclusive, sensitive, and socially just manner, of course.  (And here I thought Chicago values meant sustaining over 1000 murders per year, but what do I know?)

The hissing and the spitting (and the kissing, let’s not forget the kissing) went on for a bit until two things became clear: 1) There were way more cultural and religious supporters for fast food chicken than there was gay opposition.  2) Most of the rest of us didn’t care all that much.  As a tactical matter, pro-gay marriage crowd acted really stupidly.  One wonders how they would have felt had, say, a Southern Baptist minister stomped into a gay bar and begun thundering away at their sexual practices?  One does not win hearts and minds by being an ass.  This is all the moreso the case when one is in a tiny, and often ridiculed, minority.  There’s a way to make the argument for gay marriage with some class.  This wasn’t it.

The whole business does lead one to ponder the dynamics of the whole gay marriage debate.  First, though, we need to clear something up. Mr. Cathy’s position on gay marriage is debatable and is right- or wrong depending on which way you swing (so to speak).  But his definition of “Biblical marriage” is pretty much wrong.  One of the common forms of marriage throughout both the Hebrew Bible up to, and including the Christian era was … polygamy.  So much so, that in 1 Timothy, we are enjoined to only consider men with one wife as candidates for deaconhood.   Clearly, such a rule wouldn’t have been necessary in a “one man, one woman” marital culture.   (I, for one, am eternally grateful that we have moved to monogamy insofar as I don’t think I could stand more than one woman telling me I’m wrong all the time, but I digress.)

What is pretty much indisputable is that both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles do roundly condemn homosexuality as immoral, unnatural, an abomination and so forth.  Any other reading of these texts requires a Jacques Derrida level of disconnection from Reality and common sense.  So, if anything, Mr. Cathy should have stuck to the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality – which clearly would also forbid gay marriage – rather than trying to invent a fictional history of straight marriage.

About 2-3% of the population is homosexual.  (The oft-heard 10% figure is a complete fiction by Kinsey et al .   They contrived this number using lousy experimental technique, most notably by not using a statistically valid random sample population to study.)  But we live in a country that values individual liberty and we like to think we defend the rights of small minorities like this.   Government is supposed to of-, by-, and for the people.  The last time I checked, homosexuals are part of “the people”.  They too should be entitled to full service from their government.  “Separate but equal” never is, and the gay community’s demand that they receive the same government service everyone else does is reasonable and fair.  So, when you stop and think about it, it is outrageous that the government confers some privileges to certain classes of citizens and not others.

Then again, is this really all that surprising?  For the better part of 80 years the intellectual and political left has been busy creating categories of citizens to feed the engine of identity politics.  People of different races, economic status, and gender are granted varying degrees of protection or assault in all manner of things from taxation, to employment, to entitlement benefits.  Is it any wonder that the latest cause to belly up to the I’m Special Bar are gays?  It pays to be a victim.  The truth is that the left, especially, does not want “equal rights”.  It wants supersized rights for select groups of people in exchange for the votes of those people.

And that is where the wheels come off in this conversation.  Even the most ardent anti-gay marriage folks do not believe that gay people should be oppressed, killed, hung in the public square or otherwise persecuted.  The real fear is that recognition of gay marriage – particularly at the Federal government level – will create a corresponding new EEOC category and a new “protected class” of citizen with … supersized rights.  If this happens, that means  Mr. Cathy and people like him will be forced to hire gay people and forced to grant them same sex partner benefits in direct contravention of their religious beliefs.  And, it’s a reasonable fear.   Just this year, we’ve seen the Obama administration jam their views down the throat of Roman Catholic institutions in direct violation of their moral and religious beliefs.  The only church that the Obama people appear to respect is the Church Of State.

This terrifies both religious conservatives like Mr. Cathy and freedom affirming libertarians like me.  A free society is, of necessity, pluralistic.  It requires that everyone enjoy precisely the same level of freedom and a government that defends it equally for all  its citizens.  The same liberty that enables gay people to enter into a marital contract before the law, should also be the liberty granted people like Mr. Cathy to not recognize such unions.   Freedom means having to put up with people you don’t like or with whom you fundamentally disagree.

But don’t you dare say any of this in a room full of multicultural, accepting, tolerant, inclusive, sensitive, and socially just lefties.  You’re likely to get run out of town for your “intolerance” … and you won’t get kissed first.

Posted in Civil Rights | 1 Comment

Institutionalized By Mom

When I was a child, my father died unexpectedly.  My family was uprooted and made to move some 6000 miles away from where we lived at the time.  When the dust of the move settled, my mother sat me down and said something like, “This is a new life for us.  I know you miss your father.  I do too.  But, know this.  If you get in trouble with the police, at school, or in church, whatever punishment they hand out, I will duplicate so that you really get the point.”  Mom always loved us deeply but she was never of the … shall we say, modern “enlightened” school of child rearing.  She was entirely comfortable administering the occasional pat on the back, delivered low enough and firmly enough to keep my snotty little self walking upon the straight and narrow.

What is noteworthy about this formative moment  is why she was even able to say such a thing.  She had a fundamental trust in the institutions in question. The police, the schools, and the church were the “good guys”.  Wiseacre pre-teen boys were not, and, on occasion might need an attitude adjustment.  Moreover, she had every reason to believe that they, in turn, trusted her to parent properly,  and that they’d back her up when- and if necessary.  (It never was.  She scared me way more than the police.)  Later on, this translated into her “encouragement” for me to get a job – at the age of 12 or so – if I wanted spending money.  Again, she had confidence in the business world and expected my employers would help me increase not just financially, but as an employable human.

Let us inspect the situation today.  Police are arrested for corruption and excessive use of force, hidden behind a code of silence among their peers.  Judges are caught accepting payoffs to fix the outcomes of trials.  With depressing regularity, we see teachers that cannot spell, do arithmetic, or think critically.  A few enjoy “dating” their underage students.   The clergy is hardly exempt either.  We see a parade of hustlers and snakeoil salesmen caught defrauding their flocks on TV.  Not a few have been caught in flagrante delicto with one of their parishioners, or worse still, one of the children in their care.  Somewhere near the bottom of the clerical sewer lives the TV personality that insists that “God wants you to be rich.”

And what about the parents?  Children are having children.  In significant portions of the economic underclass, the grandparents are in the 30s.  These “parents” (and for that matter, the grandparents) have little or nothing to teach their children.   “But,” you say, “that’s only one population.  What about all the upscale, affluent suburban Mommies and Daddies who do everything for their children?”  Really?  Everything?  Yes, they buy them everything.  But the one thing they manage not to give them is advice, judgment, comfort, and a sense of direction.  How do we know this?  From the many reports – some formal, some anecdotal – about just how lonely today’s teens are.  We know this because of the increased expression of anger we see in the schools from bullying to mass murder on campus.  We know this because we see teens entering the university system with absolutely no idea of how the world works or where they might fit.    No,  Susie Whitebread may be doing a better job caring for the material needs of her children, but she’s getting a “F” when it comes to dealing with their spiritual and existential problems.  This, by the way, is what happens when you view children as fashion accessories rather than as people.

To be fair, these problems are likely nowhere near as severe as the 24 hour news cycle would suggest.   It is certainly true that the majority of police, judges, teachers, ministers, and parents try very hard to do their respective jobs well.  We only hear about the disasters.  You’ll never see a headline in 120 point type screaming, “Pastor Bob Teaches Kindergärtners Importance Of Sharing”.  It just doesn’t make for very dynamic news.  (The possible exceptions here are politicians.  We’ve actually come to expect that they will lie to us both while running and in office.  We are rarely disappointed.  In fact, we’re pleasantly shocked when we find the occasional pol who even tries to do what they said they would.)

Notwithstanding how prevalent these problems actually are, the real issue here is the perception this leaves behind.  Contemporary culture now has a baked in suspicion of all these institutions.  “My Johnny would never do that.  It must be the policeman’s / teacher’s / preacher’s fault he’s in trouble.”  Police must think twice when using force against even the most vile thugs because they know the politicians and population at large often will not stand with them.  Teachers are put through all manner of torment by parents, gangs, and school administration (the three may be interchangeable) while just trying to do their jobs.  And clergy is now regularly under assault by the smarmy new atheists who are incrementally convincing the larger population that all faith is a fool’s errand.

In turn, our institutions of government don’t trust the parents anymore.   Throughout all known history, it took a man and a woman (or many women) to raise a child.  We have now been sternly informed by our political betters that, no, “it takes a village.”   This translates into, “Your government will be your ‘partner’ in raising a family.”  And no end of mischief has ensued.  It’s not possible that Johnny is a little bastard that needs a swift kick.  No, no, no.  We need to understand his 9 year old needs – filtered, of course, through the drooling analysis of professional academics, social workers, and other government funded slugs.  Is it any wonder that we have pre-teens performing oral sex in school stairwells, robbing liquor stores, drinking themselves into catatonia,  and getting higher than Bill Maher at breakfast?  Is it any wonder that teens – prevented by an overweening state from working until way too late in their development – are incapable of performing well when they do finally land a decent job?  That’s what happens when you inject the competence of the DMV, the work ethic of a civil servant, and the integrity of a Chicago politician into your living room.

But the really corrosive effect of all this is much larger.  It is cultural.  When a society cannot instinctively trust its principal institutions, that society will collapse.  We cannot sustain a free, pluralistic nation when the very foundations upon which it is built – business, law, finance, education, church, government, and family – are not trusted.  Ask most people what the principal cause of the recession of 2008 forward was, and they tell you, “the banks”.  Ask them why college grads cannot get good jobs and they’ll tell you “the teachers”.  Ask them about the legal system and they’ll say, “it only works if you have money.”  This and a dozen similar attitudes have essentially eroded our trust in each other.  Never mind how true or false these propositions are, the larger issue here is that, increasingly, we simply don’t believe in our culture any more.  That, friends, is the canary in the coal mine warning us that we’ve reached lethal levels of cultural toxicity.

So, what do we do about this?  Somehow, we have to start holding our institutions to a higher standard of performance.  We need to make it clear that cops, judges, bankers, businessmen, lawyers, teachers, preachers, and candlestick makers will be expected to be honest, decent, and transparent in how they operate.  But… well … there are a couple of problems doing so.  First of all, these people are us.   They reflect the values and behaviors of the larger population.  You cannot reasonably expect your boss to be honest in her business dealings when you’re busy pillaging the company with your Bernie Madoff levels of expense reporting larceny.   You cannot very well demand your local rabbi do a better job when you tell your kids there is no God and it’s all just empty ritual.  If you never help your kids with their homework, how can you yell at the teacher for not educating them better?  How can we expect our children to be honest when they see their parents stealing music and movies over the internet?  The point is that our institutions cannot be better than we are.  If we wish to save all that is good about our culture, we have to admit that We The People have done a lousy job individually in living lives of integrity and it is this that has substantially corroded our larger institutions.

This most recent economic “crisis” should have been the Big Hint that we needed – each of us – to rethink our personal moral code and examine our own integrity.  Unfortunately, the political jabbering classes have managed to transform this into two messages:  “It’s not my fault, it’s the Last Guy” and “It’s all because of the bankers.”  It couldn’t be the government itself forcing financial institutions to provide mortgages to people clearly unfit to borrow anything other than a hankie.   Oh no.  It couldn’t be us – the many of us – that decided that real estate speculation would be a fun hobby and thus started filling out liar loans to play the game.  No, no, no.  It couldn’t be the narcissistic, self-involved middle class that just had to have a vacation home, a new car every year, the best electronics, and a vacation well outside their means.  Certainly not.  It was all the banks’ fault.  So, we let ourselves off the hook.

The other problem is that holding ourselves and thus our institutions to a higher standard will require … wait for it … judgment.   We’re actually going to have to say – out loud – what is good and what is bad.  That’s right, we can no longer be multicultural, tolerant, inclusive, and sensitive to the detriment of that which is honest, effective, and principled.  Tolerance is a good quality to have but not when you end up tolerating stupid, lazy, or evil.  Inclusion is good but not when people of great ability are excluded to make room for some putatively downtrodden population.  Sensitivity is important but it’s not more important than plain, direct speaking when called for.

We are at a cultural crossroads.  We will either reclaim integrity and accountability – first for ourselves as individuals  and then our institutions – or  we will disappear as yet another failed society.   It’s that simple.  It begins with each of us.

Oh, and by the way – I am proud to report that on the strength of my mother’s gentle warning, I never once got into any trouble with the police, at school, or in church.   Well … I did fall asleep a few times in church which did not amuse her much.  She’s well into her 80s now and to this day I know she’s an institution I can still count on.  Thanks Mom.

Posted in Culture, Ethics | Leave a comment

What Defines A Culture?

Culture is what we have in common.  It is that set of beliefs, ideals, aspirations, and even prohibitions that we share in any given community.  A church has a culture.  A business has a culture.  Even criminal gangs have a culture.  And … until the past few decades, so did nations.   But nations have inexorably been committing cultural suicide, abandoning these shared quantities as they strive for “tolerance”, “inclusion”, and “social justice”.   In fact,  those of us who defend a particular national culture are now frequently hectored by the professional scolds in the UN, the academy, and even our own so-called leaders for doing so.  We are accused of all manner of horrors from being Eurocentric , to being intolerant, to actively being “oppressors” by some invisible specification.  (It’s not entirely clear just what or whom we’re oppressing.  The fact that we wish to make a claim upon our culture and it’s content is apparently prima facie evidence of our social and spiritual malignancy.)

Defending a particular culture is not about inventing some imagined past in which everyone walked to school in the snow (uphill, both ways, naturally), everyone got along, everyone went to church, and crime was so rare that shoplifting made the front page of the New York Times.  That’s not a culture, it’s an illusion.  Neither is this about a landscape in which everyone was morally neutral, equally accepting of all points of view, and tolerant of even the most bizarre personal behaviors.  That’s a hallucination. This is a debate about what we should expect to hold in common with our fellow citizens and thus what standards of behavior are normative.   Read that last bit again… It’s not just about what we share, it’s about what we can expect of one another in a modern, pluralistic society.

Having traveled and worked throughout some dozen nations, it’s become clear to me  that the fundamental debate of our time is thus not about political ideology, economic theory, or even on what side of the road one must drive.  It’s about culture.   It is exactly about just what we can expect from each other simply by dint of sharing some national real estate.  It’s about what expectations we may legitimately set for new emigres.  It’s about forming alliances with other nations that share our fundamental notions of culture.  It’s about demonstrating the value – dare we say the superiority – of our cultural norms to those who do not yet share them, not by force of arms, but by the compelling power of the end results.

The million dollar question, of course, is just how we’re going to define that shared culture?  On what basis can we make things normative?  How do we preserve pluralism while doing so?  There are those that argue such values can be found entirely in the Torah, the Koran,  or the Bible.   There are those that argue that we find these values based on utility – what works best for the greatest numbers.  And, tragically and with increasing volume, there are those that argue no such shared values beyond  simple tolerance are possible. They are all wrong.  History shows us that giving the Church the sword ends badly every time.  Utility has been used repeatedly by every despot in history  to justify all manner of  human rights abuses.  Entirely refusing to declare a normative culture does make us more “tolerant”: So much so, that we become tolerant of everything including, especially, evil.  In doing so, we lose the ability to make anything normative.

Perhaps history can give us hint as to how culture might be formed.  Throughout most of human history, culture was built on one of three models: Brute Force, Monarchy, or Theocracy.  All three were expressions of  tribalism  of one sort or another … and all three led to untold misery, oppression, murder, genocide, starvation, and deprivation.  These outcomes were inevitable because the good of the Tribe, Crown, or Church came before the good of the individual.  Sacrificing the individual was understood to be necessary for the “greater good” and, in most cases, not viewed as even being particularly evil.  Even today, we see the residues of tribalism  across the planet.  Millions are killed in the tribal wars of Africa.  The Islamic Middle East is essentially a giant tribal conflict, so is the India-Pakistan rift, so is the Greek-Turkish debate.  So, we reject tribalism in all its forms as a basis for creating a normative culture.

Maybe a better place to look would be the roots of culture among the free democratic nations of the world. As we do, a startling fact emerges.  If we look at the democracies of Western Europe and the British Commonwealth we see that the binding force for the culture was principally ethnic or social.  Over time, cultural norms and expectations in places like Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, and so on derived from the fact that the populations in these nations were mostly or entirely homogeneous.  People more-or-less looked the same, spoke the same language, had common religious roots, and mostly lived in similar ways.  The norms of culture were natural artifacts of this homogeneity.  In time, it became a self-reinforcing cycle:  The more people were the same, the more a common set of cultural norms emerged.  The more common a set of norms that existed, the more people became the same.  (As an aside, it’s interesting to note that where “sameness” did not exist, multiple, competitive normative cultures tended to arise, even within a given nation.  Consider the Canadian Quebecois culture which is fundamentally different than that of the Anglo Canadians.)

The problem with using homogeneity as the basis for creating a normative culture is that it cannot withstand the onslaught of a heterogeneous world.  Industry and technology led to travel and communications.  A culture built on “we’re all the same” could not withstand the arrival of people and ideas that were not.  What everyone instinctively used to accept as normal behavior began to be questioned by the New Folks.  In short order, the old norms were given up as essentially unenforceable.   In the face of this, much of the free world shrugged its shoulders and gave up any pretense of having cultural norms.  Western Europeans were among the first to embrace the poisonous notion that tolerance for all things was all that was possible.  Indeed, they’ve effectively decided it’s all that’s even  necessary.   So, today, the very idea of stipulating any norm is largely seen by Europeans as an act of bigotry or oppression.

Where the Western left intelligentsia has responded with bromides of “tolerance”, “inclusion”, “social justice”, and “sensitivity”,   the Western right has increasingly responded with a bunker mentality built on fear.  The choice, apparently is either “there are no norms, do what you want” or auslander raus.   The results have been horrific.   On the one hand, we get a tolerant French government paralyzed, unable even to wrest control from Islamist thugs that traffic in murder and torture in the streets of Paris.  On the other, we see a  Geert Wilders in the Netherlands arguing for a kind of xenophobia almost unheard of in Holland’s history.

In losing their “sameness” Europeans are now well on the way to losing their very culture.  Even their demographics scream this.  The birth rates among the various indigenous European groups are so low that Europe will no longer be “European” in any real sense within a hundred years or so.  This combined with widespread acceptance of abortion means, for example, that Spaniards will be a minority in Spain within a generation or so.  France, Italy, Germany, and the UK all follow in due course.  It is not a little ironic that one of the historic cultural norms for most of Western Europe was that of a deeply held religious faith.  Maintaining such religiosity would almost certainly have short circuited abortion at any scale.  In giving up their norms, the Western Europeans planted the seeds of their own cultural destruction.  This was inevitable.  “Sameness” isn’t  sufficient to build a durable set cultural values that can withstand the onslaught of a heterogeneous and connected planet.

The US experience is instructive here.  Throughout most of its history, the US was built on the backs of immigrants – some willing,  some not – who most certainly were not the “same” in any sense.  The nation became a self organizing soup of languages, customs, ideas, and identities… and it still is.  The US founders were bright enough to realize that no government would ever be wise enough, dispassionate enough, and civil enough to be able to set norms of behavior across such a swath of differences.   Rather than trying to herd everyone into a newly manufactured national identity, the founders did something that had never been done before:  They made individual liberty the cornerstone of the nation.  No longer was the tribe running the show, individual citizens were.   The Europeans arrived at democracy by relying on their sameness and are now self destructing.   The Americans arrived at it by making freedom itself the centerpiece and the nation has grown and thriven thereby.

The results speak for themselves.  The US has withstood the onslaught of industrialization, technology, travel, communications, and nearly continuous immigration – some legal, some not.  Why?  Because the Framers understood that less is more and that a durable culture can emerge with a single organizing principle: liberty.  This principle has seen the US be the greatest defender of liberty for other people ever seen in human history.  It is almost literally true that anyone that is free today owes it is some way or another to the global influence of the US.  Beyond the creation of staggering amounts of wealth, the US has also produced a staggering amount of innovation in science, technology, medicine, and pharma.  It seems that liberty works pretty well.

Yet somehow,  this seems not to resonate with everyone, particularly the nation’s elites. The US today is being incrementally poisoned by the same diseases that are ravaging Western Europe.  America’s self-proclaimed cultural guardians are demanding a bigger and bigger government role in setting norms for the culture.  Witness the recent (2012) willingness of the Obama administration to inflict laws upon Catholic institutions that are  in direct opposition to their religious faith.   This is being done, we’re told, in the name of the “common good”.  Odd, this tribalist cant coming from a nation built on individual liberty.  The right is hardly immune from this either.  While the right alleges a fealty to “limited government, personal responsibility, and personal freedom”, in actual fact, they trot off to demand more government anytime someone consumes drugs of which they do not approve, has sex in a manner of which they do not approve, or otherwise strays from what they insist is “traditional”.

The British metahistorian, Arnold Toynbee famously said “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”  Whatever the means, that suicide always ends up being a capitulation of the culture that made a civilization successful.   It is precisely that capitulation that is taking place today across the very nations that gave birth to modern democracy.   And there is ample precedent.  Sparta fell when it created an oligarchy that ruled by- and for the wealthy.  Rome fell when its military lost interest in defending what had been built over many centuries, instead preferring the excesses of alcohol, food, and sex.  If we – the greatest beneficiaries of liberty ever in recorded history – do not reclaim our birthright and demand that we restore the culture of liberty, we will join Sparta and Rome.  This is unnecessary.  This is remediable.  This is the time.

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