To rewrite the rules of courteous behavior

I can’t recall where/when I first heard said, of conservatism, that it “has a certain meanness of spirit – along with a superiority of fact.

Just came across a longer version of the same idea, from 10 yeas ago, pretty good stuff.  Writing in City Journal, Andrew Klavan in “The Big White Lie.”

The thing I like best about being a conservative is that I don’t have to lie. I don’t have to pretend that men and women are the same. I don’t have to declare that failed
or oppressive cultures are as good as mine. I don’t have to say that everyone’s special or that the rich cause poverty or that all religions are a path to God. I don’t have to claim that a bad writer like Alice Walker is a good one or that a good writer like Toni Morrison is a great one. I don’t have to pretend that Islam means peace.

Of course, like everything, this candor has its price. A politics that depends on honesty will be, by nature, often impolite. Good manners and hypocrisy are intimately intertwined, and so conservatives, with their gimlet-eyed view of the world, are always susceptible to charges of incivility. It’s not really nice, you know, to describe things as they are.

This is leftism’s great strength: it’s all white lies. … But because it depends on—indeed is defined by—describing the human condition inaccurately, leftism is nothing if not polite. With its tortuous attempts to rename unpleasant facts out of existence—he’s not crippled, dear, he’s handicapped; it’s not a slum, it’s an inner city; it’s not surrender, it’s redeployment—leftism has outlived its own failure by hiding itself within the most labyrinthine construct of social delicacy since Victoria was queen.

This is no small thing. To rewrite the rules of courteous behavior is to wield enormous power.

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Our small-r institutions

Kevin D. Williamson writes that we ought to be grateful:

There isn’t anything magical about our genes or our Constitution that protects us from barbarism. The nation that produced Cervantes was under a generalissimo’s dictatorship within my lifetime; the nation that produced Beethoven also produced Hitler; the civilization that produced Leonardo also produced fascism. Culture will not save you — us. We have what we have not because of the glorious tradition that includes Shakespeare and the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and Abraham Lincoln, but because responsible men made the right decisions when it mattered. Dwight Eisenhower’s aids suggested he use nuclear weapons against China. His answer was one for the ages: “You boys must be crazy.” Sometimes, the problem is elsewhere in the chain of command. Washington legend has it that Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger quietly ensured that President Nixon, who did not seem to be thinking clearly at the end of his days in office, was prevented from giving the military any erratic orders. Then as now, our institutions have an excellent track record for managing the fallible men temporarily invested with political power.

That did not happen by accident.

Our friends on the left, and sometimes on the right, sometimes treat that patrimony with contempt. They argue that the courts, especially the Supreme Court, should simply find some pretext to give them whatever it is they want at the moment rather than hewing closely to the law and the Constitution, recklessly unmindful of what chaos and destruction can be inflicted by men with power unloosed from the law. They treat the regulatory agencies the same way: There may not be any statutory authority for the FCC or the EPA to do this, that, or the other, but they convince themselves that their short-term agenda is more important than the long-term stability of the country and its institutions — and more important than the rule of law. That isn’t the George Washington model; that’s the Robert Mugabe model. And you shouldn’t sedate yourself with moral certainties on these questions: Mugabe undoubtedly thought he was doing good things for his people.  Hitler, too.

I find myself returning often to A Man for All Seasons. In the play, Thomas More scolds a hot-headed young partisan who argues that legal niceties should be set aside because of the emergency upon the kingdom (there is always an emergency, for partisans):

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man‘s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down, d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

I wonder.

We Americans are not incapable of producing a Hugo Chávez or a Robert Mugabe, a Lenin or a Hitler. But we have traditions, institutions, and procedures that keep our own worst tendencies in check. For that, we should be truly grateful.

And gratitude without works is dead. We should indeed reflect on what we owe to our country, which surely is more than the regnant pettiness of anno Domini 2017.

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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.

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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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