The opposite of a liberal arts education

From today’s “Notable and Quotable” in the WSJ, Jonathan Haidt delivering the 2017 Wriston Lecture to the Manhattan Institute, Nov. 15:

Today’s identity politics . . . teaches the exact opposite of what we think a liberal arts education should be. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a utilitarian or as a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or as a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any given question or problem.

But what do we do now? Many students are given just one lens—power. Here’s your lens, kid. Look at everything through this lens. Everything is about power. Every situation is analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult. It’s a fundamentalist religion. It’s a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety and intellectual impotence. . .

Let’s return to Jefferson’s vision: “For here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error as long as reason is left free to combat it.” Well if Jefferson were to return today and tour our nation’s top universities, he would be shocked at the culture of fear, the tolerance of error, and the shackles placed on reason. . . .

I am actually pessimistic about America’s future, but let me state very clearly that I have very low confidence in my pessimism. Because until now, it has always been wrong to bet against America, and it’s probably wrong to do so now. My libertarian friends constantly remind me that people are resourceful—this is what many people forget. When problems get more severe, people get more inventive, and that is actually happening right now.

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The true consiglieres of capitalism

Andy Kessler on the “one” capitalism that works:

After the calamitous century between Russia’s October Revolution and Venezuela’s debt default last week, you might think socialism would be dead and buried. You’d be wrong: It’s capitalism that is back on the rack, being tortured and refitted according to the ideologies of its detractors. But be warned, when you modify the word “capitalism,” you are by definition misallocating capital. I call this fill-in-the-blank capitalism

My advice? Drop the modifiers. There is only one type of capitalism that works, and it goes like this: Someone postpones consumption, invests his savings to produce a good or service, delights customers, generates profits, and then consumes and invests what’s left in further production. These profits are pure, generated from price signals between buyers and sellers, without favoritism from experts or elites. It isn’t hard to grasp.

Profit is the ultimate measure of value to consumers—and therefore to society. Consumers benefit from buying stuff, or else they would make it all themselves, and producers benefit from selling, or else business wouldn’t be worth the effort. Of similar value, profits go both ways. “Experts” who poke their noses in only mess with this fine balance. And who needs central planning when there’s the stock market, where theories melt and reality bites? Stock exchanges are the true consiglieres of capitalism, providing capital to ideas deemed worthy of it and starving the rest.

Most of this was once self-evident, but in 2017 capitalism is losing the mind-share game. Where does all this end up? For something scary, skip the next Stephen King clown movie. Instead read up on postcapitalism and progressive mutualism. It sounds like Venezuela.

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That impulse that recurs, again and again

Kevin D. Williamson writes about the people the Radical Left chooses to adore:

The history of the postwar period is the history of the struggle against Communism. What’s sometimes forgotten — conveniently forgotten — is that our victory in that struggle was far from assured, and that a substantial swath of the Western intelligentsia and much of its celebrity culture was on the other side. It wasn’t just Jane Fonda and Noam Chomsky, Walter Duranty and Lincoln Steffens. (“I have been to the future,” Steffens wrote after a visit to the Soviet Union, “and it works.”) Eventually, 100 million people would die under Communism as part of the longest and widest campaign of mass murder in recorded human history. As a phenomenon of specifically nuclear terror, the Cold War lasted from 1949, when the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb thanks to the help of the American leftists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, until 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down…

Of course they fell for it. The idealist con is one of the oldest and most lucrative hustles going. The idiot children of the 1960s talked up Charles Manson for the same reason Langston Hughes wrote paeans to Joseph Stalin, for the same reason American progressives still take the side of the Rosenbergs and still think Alger Hiss was framed. Langston Hughes wasn’t a “liberal in a hurry” — he signed a letter of support for Stalin’s purges. Noam Chomsky spent years denying the holocaust in Cambodia, insisting it was the invention of American propagandists. After Fidel Castro was done murdering and pillaging his way through Cuban history, Barack Obama could only find it in his heart to say: “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.” …

The Weathermen dig it, and what’s another skeleton or two, or another 100 million, beneath the foundations of Utopia?

Related?

The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen.

This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault.

As an increasing number of environmental groups are emphasizing, it’s systemic change or bust. From a political standpoint, something interesting has occurred here: Climate change has made anticapitalist struggle, for the first time in history, a non-class-based issue.

So, those who have charged that “green is the new red,” have it right.

From a previous post on this topic:

James Delingpole, author of Watermelons, interviewed at Uncommon Knowledge, speaks to the persistent threat to liberty in the human heart – the collectivist impulse that recurs again and again and again, and takes many forms.  At the present moment, he believes the form is environmentalism:

Within the human species, there is atavistic impulse for self hatred and self destruction.  You look at the medieval times where people sought to atone for their sins by wearing hair shirts; you saw in primitive times people would sacrifice virgins to the sun god to appease the sun god for our sins against the world.

Every generation believes it is the one that is so important that it has in its power the ability to destroy the world.  And it wants to punish itself and torture itself.

This of course elides with another instinct, which is people like to control other peoples’ lives.  The impulse to power, this will never go away.

When these two impulses unite, it becomes very powerful and very dangerous.

Posted in Environmentalism, Freedom, Politics | 1 Comment

Where to find the casualties in the war on science

From City Journal in August 2016, John Tierney writes about The Real War on Science.

My liberal friends sometimes ask me why I don’t devote more of my science journalism to the sins of the Right. It’s fine to expose pseudoscience on the left, they say, but why aren’t you an equal-opportunity debunker? Why not write about conservatives’ threat to science?

My friends don’t like my answer: because there isn’t much to write about. Conservatives just don’t have that much impact on science. I know that sounds strange to Democrats who decry Republican creationists and call themselves the “party of science.” But I’ve done my homework. I’ve read the Left’s indictments, including Chris Mooney’s bestseller, The Republican War on Science. I finished it with the same question about this war that I had at the outset: Where are the casualties?

Where are the scientists who lost their jobs or their funding? What vital research has been corrupted or suppressed? What scientific debate has been silenced? Yes, the book reveals that Republican creationists exist, but they don’t affect the biologists or anthropologists studying evolution. Yes, George W. Bush refused federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but that hardly put a stop to it (and not much changed after Barack Obama reversed the policy). Mooney rails at scientists and politicians who oppose government policies favored by progressives like himself, but if you’re looking for serious damage to the enterprise of science, he offers only three examples.

All three are in his first chapter, during Mooney’s brief acknowledgment that leftists “here and there” have been guilty of “science abuse.” First, there’s the Left’s opposition to genetically modified foods, which stifled research into what could have been a second Green Revolution to feed Africa. Second, there’s the campaign by animal-rights activists against medical researchers, whose work has already been hampered and would be devastated if the activists succeeded in banning animal experimentation. Third, there’s the resistance in academia to studying the genetic underpinnings of human behavior, which has cut off many social scientists from the recent revolutions in genetics and neuroscience. Each of these abuses is far more significant than anything done by conservatives, and there are plenty of others. The only successful war on science is the one waged by the Left.

The danger from the Left does not arise from stupidity or dishonesty; those failings are bipartisan. Some surveys show that Republicans, particularly libertarians, are more scientifically literate than Democrats, but there’s plenty of ignorance all around. Both sides cherry-pick research and misrepresent evidence to support their agendas. Whoever’s in power, the White House plays politics in appointing advisory commissions and editing the executive summaries of their reports. Scientists of all ideologies exaggerate the importance of their own research and seek results that will bring them more attention and funding.

But two huge threats to science are peculiar to the Left—and they’re getting worse.

Tierney argues that the two “huge threats to science peculiar to the left” are confirmation bias and long tradition of mixing politics and science.

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To be heroic vs. to be celebrated as heroes in the media

Vik Khanna asks, Should Doctors Screen Their Patients for Gun Violence?

Wintemute also asserts: “Nationwide in 2016, there was an average of 97 deaths from firearm violence per day: 35[,]476 altogether. In the 10 years ending with 2016, deaths of U.S. civilians from firearm violence exceeded American combat fatalities in World War II.” But these kinds of comparisons are meaningless. Every year in America, for example, so many people die from medical errors (about 245,000) that it would take almost four Vietnam conflicts to rival the medical mayhem. But that tells us absolutely nothing about what we could do to reduce medical errors.

Wintemute’s tally of “firearm violence,” by the way, includes gun suicides — and of course it leaves out similar violent acts committed without guns. In 2014, guns accounted for only about half of all suicides. Do we not care about the other 21,440? Or how about the fact that the absolute risk of suicide is 14 percent higher now than 20 years ago?

More than twice as many Americans died in 2014 from unintentional injury (135,928) as from homicide and suicide combined (58,698). But there are no calls to ban ladders, throw rugs, electricity, power tools, cars, pools, or cell phones.

And if we did magically eliminate firearms, would the overall homicide or suicide rate improve? Probably not.

The number of guns in circulation has soared over the past couple of decades, and states have liberalized their concealed-carry laws, while the gun-homicide rate has fallen. Meanwhile, Japan, a developed nation with highly restrictive gun laws, has a suicide rate almost a third greater than ours. Another OECD country, South Korea, has gun laws somewhat less restrictive than Japan’s, but a suicide rate more than double that of the United States. Want something more Western? France has strict gun laws, but its suicide rate is greater than the U.S.’s. In fact, among the developed nations making up the OECD, in which gun laws vary widely, the U.S. is just slightly higher than the median.

As the son of a severely ill bipolar depressive man, I completely get how awful depression is, and I am all too aware of how the severely depressed can seek death as a release. However, I don’t quite get why this segment of the medical community is so obsessed with acts committed with firearms in particular. Maybe wanting to help desperately ill people who don’t have a gun in their hands just doesn’t generate grants.

This quasi-scientific demagoguery is just an industry product — the anti-gun subculture of the academy — looking for press, props, and money from benefactors. I get it; we all have to make a living. The fact Wintemute is published so often, while almost never producing a result that challenges the gun-control orthodoxy, speaks to how debased the peer-reviewed scientific literature has become. It is, to paraphrase Stanford physician John P. Ioannidis, a swamp of biases, agendas, and preordained answers, in which both authors and journal editors are complicit. It is just no longer credible.

If anti-gun researchers want to be heroic, instead of merely being celebrated as heroes in the media, here is what they can do: Support firearm-safety classes in schools; find a better way to keep crazies like Stephen Paddock and Devin Kelley out of our midst and not just away from the gun store; speak out against the unspeakable incompetence of a federal government that cannot keep its gun-buyer screening database up to date; admit that gun violence is driven by race, class, and local criminal phenomena such as gangs and the drug trade, and in black communities is closely tied to the Great Society’s destruction of the black family; and, finally, acknowledge that prohibition doesn’t work — didn’t work with alcohol, doesn’t work with drugs, and won’t work with guns, because the only people who will abide the strictures will be the victims.

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The difference between a republic and a democracy

Kevin Williamson argues that the most recent Clinton scandal is actually how political parties should work:

The Democratic party had an excellent reason to exclude Senator Bernie Sanders, the same reason the Republican party had to exclude Donald Trump: He wasn’t a member of the party. Sanders is a socialist independent who briefly joined the Democratic party for reasons of pure political utility. Donald Trump is a . . . whatever in tarnation he is . . . who joined the Republican party for the same reason. Trump, a sometime Democrat and Hillary Clinton donor who had been aligned with the politically insignificant Reform party, knew that he needed the GOP’s machinery to win the presidency, or to even get close, and Sanders knew that his influence and power would grow from running in the Democratic primary rather than as a U.S. affiliate of the Monster Raving Loony party. (I miss Screaming Lord Sutch.) Sanders is no fool: His lakeside dachas aren’t going to pay for themselves, and there’s no money in third-party presidential campaigns — that’s just an expensive hobby. Ask David Koch.

There is a contradiction within American progressivism, which seeks to make the political process more democratic while pushing the policymaking process in a less democratic direction. For a century, progressives have championed more open primary elections and open primaries, popular ballot measures, referendum and recall processes, and wider voter participation. At the same time, progressives, particularly those of a Wilsonian bent, have sought to remove the substance of policymaking from democratically accountable elected representatives and entrust it to unelected, unaccountable bureaucracies in the belief that panels of experts immune from ordinary democratic oversight could make hard decisions based on reason and evidence rather than on short-term political necessity and popular passions. They regarded the political parties and their infamous smoke-filled rooms as embodiments of corruption and old-fashioned wheeler-dealer politics at odds with the brave new centrally planned world they imagined themselves to be building.

As it turns out, political parties are — like churches, civic groups, unions, trade groups, lobbyists, pressure groups, and business associations — part of the secret sauce of civil society. In much the same way as our senators — in their original, unelected role — were expected to provide a sober brake on the passions of the members of the more democratic House of Representatives, political parties exercised a soft veto that helped to keep extremism and demagoguery in check. Anybody can run for president — but not just anybody can run as the candidate of the Republican party or the Democratic party. Third parties face an uphill battle, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot prevail: The Republican party was a very successful third party, displacing the moribund Whigs.

The denuded political parties provide an important fund-raising and administrative apparatus — along with a tribal identity that is arguably more important — but they do not offer much more than that. Instead, we have relatively little in the way of mediating institutions between candidates and the public at large. If Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are your idea of great political leaders, then you probably don’t see a problem with that. You’re a fool, but you’re a fool who is likely to get his way in the coming years. The difference between a republic and a democracy is that republics put up more roadblocks between fools and their desires.

The project to make the Democratic party an instrument of the Clinton campaign in order to prevent Bernie Sanders from making it an instrument of his own ambitions was dishonest, corrupt, and possibly illegal.

It was also exactly what political parties are supposed to do. A little democracy, like a little whiskey, is a good thing — too much and you end up with Ted Kennedy.

As for the other Clinton scandals… he sums it up nicely:

Americans at large seemed to have lost their passion for the Clintons in 2016, when Herself went down in ignominious defeat (to my great surprise) in a race against a content-free game-show host with a lighthearted attitude toward sexual battery and a cv full of bankruptcies. But Democrats had not lost their love for Clan Clinton, and no amount of scandal — dodgy cattle-futures trading, law-firm records that modulate electron-like between localized and delocalized states, intern diddling and perjury about intern-diddling and suborning perjury about intern-diddling, Whitewater, travel-office shenanigans, Gennifer Flowers, using state troopers as pimps, Chi-Com fundraisers, pardons for politically connected dirt-bags, ill-gotten gains for the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi and lies about Benghazi, email shenanigans — was ever going to change their mind.

Until it did.

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Communism, Memory and ‘Forgetting’

h/t Andrew Stuttaford, writing at NRO:  Communism, Memory and ‘Forgetting’

Writing in The New York Times, Bret Stephens takes aim at the curious mix of indulgence, amnesia and ignorance that envelops the subject of Communism.

How many know the name of Lazar Kaganovich, one of Stalin’s principal henchmen in the [genocidal Ukrainian] famine [of 1932/33]? What about other chapters large and small in the history of Communist horror, from the deportation of the Crimean Tatars to the depredations of Peru’s Shining Path to the Brezhnev-era psychiatric wards that were used to torture and imprison political dissidents?

Why is it that people who know all about the infamous prison on Robben Island in South Africa have never heard of the prison on Cuba’s Isle of Pines? Why is Marxism still taken seriously on college campuses and in the progressive press? Do the same people who rightly demand the removal of Confederate statues ever feel even a shiver of inner revulsion at hipsters in Lenin or Mao T-shirts?

The article produced generated a snide response from Jeet Heer, a senior editor of the New Republic, who tweeted this:

Guys, guys, I have some news. Stalin was bad. Did I just blow your mind?

It was a striking, dishonest and telling response, not least in the way that it focused on Stalin in a way that Stephens did not. Nevertheless the full range of this “bad” (to borrow Heer’s trivializing adjective) man’s crimes are indeed often forgotten, minimized or explained away in a manner that would rightly never be acceptable in the case of Hitler, Stalin’s accomplice for a while and a mirror image of sorts.

But Heer’s reference to Stalin served another purpose. In many respects the sheer monstrosity of the Soviet dictator has allowed many on the left to portray the triumph of Stalinism as a terrible wrong turning that crushed the (supposedly) bright promise of 1917. Trotsky, no mean mass murderer himself, gave the book in which he described Stalin’s Soviet Union the title The Revolution Betrayed, the encapsulation of a myth that has stuck. Trotsky may have been a liar, but he was a brilliant one.

In reality, Stalin largely took the revolution further down the path that Lenin, yet another butcher, had already set.

“Compared to Lenin, Stalin was a pussycat,” recalled Molotov, a man who knew both well.

In any event (something that Heer appears to have overlooked), Bret Stephens, a charitable sort, went to some lengths not to accuse today’s ‘progressives’ of rallying behind communism’s despots:

No, they are not true-believing Communists. No, they are not unaware of the toll of the Great Leap Forward or the Killing Fields. No, they are not plotting to undermine democracy.

I wonder how true that last sentence really is, at least so far as some progressives are concerned. No, they may not want to ‘undermine’ democracy on lines set out in the vintage revolutionary script, but looking at today’s campuses, training grounds of the future elite, it’s very hard indeed not to suspect that a number of them want, at the very least, to hollow it out.

But back to Stephens:

But they will insist that there is an essential difference between Nazism and Communism — between race-hatred and class-hatred; Buchenwald and the gulag — that morally favors the latter. They will attempt to dissociate Communist theory from practice in an effort to acquit the former. They will balance acknowledgment of the repression and mass murder of Communism with references to its “real advances and achievements.

Progressive intelligentsia “is moralist against one half of the world, but accords to the revolutionary movement an indulgence that is realist in the extreme,” the French scholar Raymond Aron wrote in “The Opium of the Intellectuals” in 1955. “How many intellectuals have come to the revolutionary party via the path of moral indignation, only to connive ultimately at terror and autocracy?

Quite.

And a good number have continued to do so since 1955, cheering on China’s Cultural Revolution, Castro’s Cuba, ‘Bolivarian’ Venezuela and all the rest.

Stephens:

…It’s a bitter fact that the most astonishing strategic victory by the West in the last century turns out to be the one whose lessons we’ve never seriously bothered to teach, much less to learn. An ideology that at one point enslaved and immiserated roughly a third of the world collapsed without a fight and was exposed for all to see. Yet we still have trouble condemning it as we do equivalent evils. And we treat its sympathizers as romantics and idealists, rather than as the fools, fanatics or cynics they really were and are.

Indeed.

Stephens concludes that, a century after the Russian revolution, what Churchill referred as the ‘bacillus’ of revolution “isn’t eradicated, and our immunity to it is still in doubt.”

It will never be eradicated. It’s often said that communism is doomed to fail because it runs up against the realities of human nature. Economically speaking, that may be true. But economics isn’t everything. Communism is, in reality, little more than a twist on ancient millenarian ideas so enduring that there must be something about them that does indeed appeal to human nature, or, at least aspects of it, whether spiritual, a simple craving for revenge or both.

And for intellectuals, it offers something with more tangible benefits, the chance to create a society where they will be the priesthood, where they will be in charge.

That’s a temptation that, for some, is evidently very hard to resist.

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