Friday, April 4, 2014

Who are the American People?

In the third night of Wagner's monumental Der Ring des Nibelungen the broken Wotan, king of the gods, is reduced in Siegfried to "Der Wanderer," wandering the earth, his dreams of power shattered.

But Mime the dwarf still has a power project.  He wants to reforge Nothung, Siegmund's shattered sword so he can kill Fafner the dragon and recover the Nibelungs' golden hoard.

Ask me three questions, says the Wanderer, but Mime is too stupid to ask the right ones. Instead he asks who lives on the earth, below the earth and above the earth.

But here in America as the Obama years dissolve into disappointment and rage, we need to know who lives where.  We need to understand the different kinds of Americans and "where they live" so that, we may hope, we can pick up the pieces after Obamadämmerung, heal our divisions, and get back on our American journey.

Who lives below the earth?  The Nibelungs, said the Wanderer, and Nibelheim is their land.  But in our world the Nibelungs are the folks camping out in our dysfunctional cities, living a stunted life on welfare and disability and single-parenthood, reduced to sending their kids to dreadful schools.  I call them the "people of the victim self."  They are people that do not believe in agency, in the ability of the individual to make a difference in her life.  They look to a powerful leader to support them with the crumbs from his table.  Their faith is the faith of the rank and file in the charismatic leader.

Who lives on the earth?  The giants, die Riesen, said the Wanderer, and Riesenheim is their land.  But in our world the plodding construction firm of  Fasolt and Fafner, builders of Valhalla, are the broad middle class, the people that follow the rules, go to work, obey the law, and pay their taxes.  I call them the "people of the responsible self."  These are people that believe it is up to each one to get an education, get a job, and find a way of contributing to society.  Their faith is the faith that each individual can make a difference.

Who lives above the earth? The gods, of course, the "Lichtalben" or lightbringers, said the Wanderer, and Valhalla is their estate.  With his spear, Wotan rules the world.  In our world, of course, the gods are the liberals, and they rule the world with their education, their large-mindedness, and their control of the culture.  I call them the "people of the creative self."  These are people that believe the simple life of responsibility is shameful, because creative people are called to something higher, to make or enact some new creation of the mind.  But liberals have warped this noble idea.  They do not say: here's a good idea; they say pass this bill so we can see what's in it.  Liberals can never leave anything alone.  Everything must be a creation of liberal minds and liberal power, and no others need apply.  Health care cannot be allowed to develop on its own; liberals must positively shape and order it.  The normal life of growth, marriage and children is a kind of serfdom, a subjection to a culture of patriarchy.  Thus to differentiate oneself, liberals must "challenge the system" in activism, in gender-bending, in a life as a creative artist.

You can see that each of these peoples is social in the full human sense of the word.  The people of the victim self belong by subordinating themselves to a leader as a way to get along by going along.  The people of the responsible self belong by surrendering their ego to the will of the market, and law, and work, and family in the faith that the market and the law will reciprocate their surrender.  The people of the creative self belong by contributing their intelligence, their education, their creativity, in the faith that the world can only progress through the power of an enlightened elite.

So now we know who the America People are.  Let us now ask what went wrong.

Something has gone wrong, and we know what it is.  The people of the creative self have not used their power for good.  They have used it to worship themselves instead of serve society.  They have used force where they should have used persuasion; they have divided where they ought to have unified.  So the progressives, the lightbringers, have not brought sweetness and light, but injustice and darkness.  Like all ruling classes, they have not ruled for the benefit for the least among us, but to continue their own power.

What matters in this world is not the cunning of the underclass, not the rule-following of the middle class, not the power of the over class.  What matters in the end is the power of women's love.  And before that the cunning of the Nibelungs, the rules written on Wotan's spear, and the power of the ruling class will melt away in yet another Götterdämmerung.

Every ruling class gets seduced by earthly power, and ends up in a maelstrom of cruel injustice as it seeks to hang on to power by grasping at straws, and so our liberal creative class will rattle in the tumbrils to the guillotine asking plaintively: what did we do wrong?

And the answer always is: we told you, but you refused to listen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reaching Out to Minorities

Everyone says that Republicans should reach out to minorities, especially Hispanics and blacks.

But, Thomas Sowell writes,
Too many Republicans seem to think that the way to "reach out" is to offer blacks and other minorities what the Democrats are offering them. Some have even suggested that the channels to use are organizations like the NAACP and black "leaders" like Jesse Jackson -- that is, people tied irrevocably to the Democrats.
Fuggedaboudit, he says. "Voters who want what the Democrats offer can get it from the Democrats."

Actually, I think that there are two things to consider here.  The Democrats have two ways they appeal to their voters, as any political party does.  First, they appeal to greed; second, they appeal to fear.  Greed is the free stuff, of course, the programs, the appeal to resentment with the inequality agenda.

Obviously the greed agenda is a hard row for Republicans to hoe, as Sowell recognizes, because the Republican greed agenda is tax cuts and deregulation and spending cuts.  You'd have to be talking to a middle-class minority to get them to sign on to the Republican greed agenda.

But in my view it is the fear agenda that yields a 90 percent black vote for Democrats.  You cannot get a 90 percent vote on anything without scaring the heck out of people.  It is the notion that whites are getting together just around the corner planning the tactics to bring back Jim Crow that keeps the African Americans at home voting for Democrats.  And Democrats work on that every day.

And that's not all.  Democrats use the immigration issue to strike fear into Hispanics; they want Hispanics to fear that Republicans are ready to deport every last one of them back where they came from.

And there's a fear factor with Jews.  Scratch a Jewish-American and you will find someone frightened by anti-semitism.  And who does she fear?  The Christian fundamentalists that vote Republican.  Earth to Jews: it's the left that's turning anti-semitic, because the left experiences the Palestinians as victims of colonialism, and the Islamic masses in the First World cities as victims of racism.

If you ask me, Republicans need to get to work countering the Democratic fear game.  I'm not a messaging expert, so I don't know how you do it.  I suspect that you have to fight fear with fear.  If blacks are afraid of a return to Jim Crow, then maybe the only way to neutralize it is with a counter-fear.  Maybe that abortion is a cunning trick to commit genocide on blacks and browns?

Could Republicans accuse Democrats of hating blacks because they give them lousy schools as Sowell suggests?  You'd think, but in Washington, DC blacks voted out the mayor that hired Michelle Rhee to turn around the DC school system.  Why?  Because more important that education to DC voters are the jobs that they get in the school system.

Probably the only thing that helps Republicans in the long term is to promote a culture of Americanism. The Democrats work to hyphenate their voters, to get them to think of themselves as African- Hispanic- female- gay- Americans.  They talk inclusion but they practice division.  When voters lose the hyphen they lose their attachment to Democrats.

But probably in 2014 and 2016 it won't matter because voters will be so mad about Obamacare.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Against the Axis of Losers

What should the US and its allies do about a revanchist Russia?  Or Iran?  Or Venezuela?

Leaving aside the question of Ukraine, we learned recently that Russia was setting up agreements for naval port facilities in eight countries.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday the military was engaged in talks with Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Algeria, Cyprus, the Seychelles, Vietnam and Singapore.
But really do we care?  Because Russia is allied with countries that you might call an Axis of Losers: Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, Syria, China.

Think about it.  The Axis of Losers includes a bunch of countries that are determined to run a top-down autocracy that wants the political sector to sit astride all other power centers in society.

And we know where that leads.  Absent abundant energy, it leads to poverty.  And with energy it leads to poverty too, only more slowly.

What the Axis of Losers can do, and can do pretty well, is act like spoilers.  They can sponsor terrorism.  They can invade their neighbors and sink them into poverty.

Up to now, the US has seen its role as the global hegemon, acting as global daddy, keeping the losers on the hop.

During the Cold War, that was probably a good idea, since the Soviet Union did seem to cast a shadow over Europe.  Anyway, when Jimmy Carter backed off the Cold War, citing an "inordinate fear of Communism" he got his head handed to him, and Reagan went on the win the war without firing a shot, except in Grenada.

But Obama's global retreat has seemed to offer a new option.  As regional leaders have lost trust in the US they have joined up with their neighbors to oppose the local troublemaker.  With the mess in the Middle East, we have heard rumors of an Israel/Saudi axis against Iran.  And then we also hear of cooperation between India and Japan and South Korea.

So let regional alliances flourish to oppose the local Loser.  Really, what could be better?

There's another option: declare war on energy prices.  After all, what could hit Russia, Venezuela, and Iran worse than a drop of, oh, 50% in oil prices?

The thing is that this is already happening, with the horizontal drilling revolution.  The US has just about doubled its oil production in the last few years.  With new refineries, pipelines, and crude oil exports we could start an oil price revolution.  Drill, baby, drill.

And now our neighbor Mexico has taken the huge step of allowing energy development by private actors, ending the monopoly of its corrupt and sclerotic national oil company Pemex.

Yes, but what about Al Qaeda?  I don't know, but I suspect that with oil revenue cut in half the Saudis won't have so much money to spread around encouraging Wahhabi mosques all over the planet.  We know that Al Qaeda can do terrorism, but can it build powerful states that can wage regional war?

The thing is that once you have built a powerful commercial state, you really lose interest in regional domination, because you are too busy making money.

What a pity the Axis of Losers seems determined not to learn this lesson.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Trouble in the "Cathedral"

The notion of the "Cathedral" was invented by Mencius Moldbug, Curtis Yarvin, in his blog.  The idea is simple.  Today's ruling class is a kind of secular church, for it combines its politics and its secular religion much like an established church.

The lead role in the Cathedral is taken by the professors.  They are the chaps with the progressive ideas.  The media and the entertainment industry pick up their ideas and publicize them, and the politicians execute them.

So here comes Nick Kristof, from the choir stalls in the Cathedral, complaining about the performance of the professors in academe.  He opens with:
SOME of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.
And he closes with this:
I write this in sorrow, for I considered an academic career and deeply admire the wisdom found on university campuses. So, professors, don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks — we need you!
If you are a conservative then Kristof's lament should encourage you.  For Nick is complaining that the professors, the bishops of the Cathedral, have left the media choristers without an anthem to sing.  And they have left the politicians with no ideological weapons but the bully's cudgel.  Here we are with Obamacare, a product of decades of professorial research, and it's flushing down the toilet, and the rest of the Cathedral, bishops, and choristers, and political thugs and all.

That is the hidden subtext of Kristof's lament.

Hey Cathedral! sez Nick. We gotta problem!  So here comes Daniel W. Drezner in Politico to address Kristof's concern.  And he says... What exactly?

He goes off at a tangent to show how in international relations, his field, there are three sectors, and, well, although they are all good chaps, they don't always get along.
And I think I’m in a unique position to shed some light on why the three tribes that dominate the discussion of foreign affairs—academics, Beltway types and money folks—don’t always get along.
Hey Dan!  Who cares?  The point is that, three tribes or not, the Obama foreign policy is a mess.  That's probably because you chaps are second-class thinkers and haven't really articulated a vision of America in the world that media types and grasp and write about and political types can get into their thick noodles and convert into foreign policy.

Not that anyone should be surprised.  What would you expect from a bunch of bishops in a secular established church?  Not much.  You would expect them to repose upon their benefices and occasionally emerge to engage in a fight over some arcane matter of remuneration or theology.

On my model of politics -- every government is an armed minority that keeps itself in power by ladling out privileges and pensions to its supporters -- you would expect that over the years the supporters would expect more and more loot and put out less and less in support of the regime.

And so it turns out with our modern progressive ruling class.  The overarching reality of the Obama administration is that it doesn't bother to persuade.  It just thugs ahead, pushing Obamacare on an unwilling America and siccing the IRS on its opponents with an assist from Democratic senators and representatives.

The only question is: when will the disgruntled people rise up in a Reformation and push back against the corrupt Cathedral, its privileges, its laziness, and its system of politically correct indulgences?

My prediction: it will all start to happen when the current ruling class cannot find the money it needs to keep its supporters happy.

Here's a telling item.  State and local governments are cutting back hours on part-timers, like adjunct faculty, because Obamacare.

Hey you adjuncts!  They are throwing you under the bus!  You OK with that?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Smash the Cathedral!

Last week I suggested that we can't just go out and change America, and that's why Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans couldn't just vote against increasing the debt ceiling and stop the spending.  First they have to win the battle of ideas.  Here's how I put it:
First of all, opinion leaders in the academy and the media must have their come-to-Jesus moment.  (I know: Dream on). They see that for over a century they have been brutalizing and betraying the little people with their rational plans and their race and class politics.  Then purveyors of conventional wisdom like Ron Fournier have to get the message.  Then NYT readers and NPR listeners must start mouthing the new catchphrases.  Then liberal activists and Democratic politicians must be shamed out of their race baiting and class warfare.  Then the rank-and-file entitlement beneficiaries get reeducated.  Then we get to reform the welfare state.
By "opinion leaders in the academy and the media" I mean, of course, the folks that "Mencius Moldbug" calls The Cathedral.  And those folks are not going to have a come-to-Jesus moment without a lot of encouragement.

Now Moldbug suggests that the path to the future is through a kind of national bankruptcy that he calls the "Reset" that turns the US into a kind of limited-liability corporation.  But in real life the US probably turns into Brazil, as Brazil turns into Argentina, as Argentina turns into Venezuela, and Venezuela turns into Zimbabwe.   Because politics is not the same as bankruptcy.

No, I suspect that the way to end the rule of the Cathedral is through a Reformation rather than a Reset.

The proximate cause of the Reformation was Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses against indulgences.  But the bigger picture was the printing revolution had permitted the middle class to get and read their own Bibles, got to be more engaged in their faith and the exegesis of the Bible, and so, as Wikipedia puts it,
[H]is publication of his objections was paradigmatic of the resultant shift from internal to extramural debate on matters that had previously been taken as given.
In our terms, the availability of printed books increased the bandwidth of public participation in religion and discussion of life, the universe, and everything.  People weren't content to leave the exegesis of religion up to the Church.  They wanted in on the discussion.

Could our time, with its own increase in bandwidth through the information revolution, see a similar revolution?  Could a burgeoning Long Tail of engaged citizens dislodge the current ruling class of the Cathedral, the academics and the journalists that have controlled public debate over the last two centuries?  Or will the Cathedral manage to maintain control of the moral-cultural sector and continue its hegemony over the political sector and the economic sector?

The comparison with the Reformation is chilling.  There  were many failed attempts to reform the old Cathedral, from the Waldensians to John Wycliffe to Jan Hus.  And they were all put down. Until Martin Luther came along.

So we should expect that the way to a better world, a world that has emerged from under the hegemony of today's ruling class, will not be easy or swift.

But there is hope.  There is hope because world is full of people of good will that want to participate in their own moral development and take responsibility for themselves and build communities of cooperation and faith.  There is also hope in the fact that every cultural elite eventually decays into hypocrisy and the pursuit of power for the sake of power.  It loses its moral authority in the cesspool of its own corruption and cruelty, and then with its moral authority gone its physical authority collapses.  Surely our elite is well on the path to self-destruction.

The only thing to do is to have the courage to tell truth and shame the Devil.  And have faith that in the end good will prevail.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hillary Clinton's Course in Pragmatism. Well, not exactly.

Like many Americans I had nothing but scorn for Hillary Clinton's famous judgment on Benghazi.  Said Secretary of State Clinton to a Senate panel:
Clinton: Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?
But a few weeks ago I bought a copy of William James's eight lectures on "Pragmatism," and now I understand what the Secretary was talking about.  Says James near the beginning of Lecture Two:
The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable...  The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences.  What difference would it practically make to any one if this notion rather than that notion were true?  If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle. (My emphasis). (p.23)
Who knew?  Hillary Clinton as a profound philosophical thinker?

Now the question in the case of Secretary Clinton was not really about a "protest" or "guys out for a walk one night."  Even though it certainly does make a difference if the Ambassador Stevens was killed by a planned terror attack rather than a "spontaneous" protest.  It was about what in the Sam Blazes the Secretary and the President were doing that night and whether there was some action with practical consequences that they might have taken to save the lives of four Americans.   And we can guess the answer to that.  Deer in the headlights, baby.  Or maybe:  the president/secretary is in a meeting.

I like the pragmatic method as presented by William James.  It agrees with my own view that we know nothing about the world as it really is.  We only know that certain things work according to our experience and our theories.  Beyond that be dragons.

But I think that James rather betrays his principle when it comes to Kant.  He pooh-poohs Kant's idea of space and time as intuitions when they are "constructions as patently artificial as any that science can show."(p.79)  Hmm.  But the point Kant makes is that we don't want to think of space and time as absolute and equable in the way that Newton taught us to think.  As "forms of intuition" we learn to think of them as something we have conjured up in our brains.  Space and time might be something completely different than we think, and so it turned out with Einstein and space-time.

Then James goes on to whack against Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant and Hegel for being "utterly sterile, so far as shedding any light on the details of nature goes."  Well, maybe they seemed that way, back at the turn of the 20th century.  But I'd say that the contribution of critical philosophy and skepticism is that it keeps us precisely safe from the "dogmatic slumber" that Kant wrote about.  They remind us to keep our wits about us and expect the unexpected.  My view is we couldn't have got relativity and quantum mechanics without the radical skepticism of the empiricists and critical philosophy of the Germans.  It's telling that Germans made pretty well all the early running in the physics revolution that started with Einstein's two papers in 1905.

Why would that be?  It would be because German philosophy had kept German minds radically open to anything.  So when it appeared that however you measured the speed of light, it was always the same, a German Jew was ready to suggest that, if the speed of light was always experienced as constant it meant that, as far as the math were concerned, space and time were relative.

And James agrees with this at the beginning of Lecture Eight on Pragmatism and Religion.
On pragmatic principles we can not reject any hypothesis if consequences useful to life flow from it.  Universal conceptions, as things to take account of, may be as real to pragmatism as particular sensations are.(p.119)
You can see where this is leading.  It leads to God and Reason and the Absolute as conceptions that men down the ages have certainly regarded as useful.  It's just that we keep changing our minds.

And why not?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Liberals! Stop Blowing Things Up!

What with Obamacare a full-fledged disaster and all, commentators are just about united in describing President Obama as "blowing up the health care system" for the sake of the 30 or 40 million or so "uninsured."

Only now it turns out that the uninsured aren't signing up for health insurance, not so you'd notice.  So, the commentators are now saying: we blew up the health care system -- for what, exactly?

When you think about it, liberals are always blowing things up.  And for what?

One hundred years ago they blew up the credit system and substituted the Federal Reserve System.  How's that been working out, as the dollar has gone from $20 per ounce of gold to the present $1,300 or so?

What about the wonders of Social Security?  Well, according to some researchers nations, a pay-as-you-go government pension scheme results in people that seem to stop having children.  And that's apart from the fact that Social Security blows a hole in the savings rate.

Then there's welfare.  That's blown up the low-income family, to the tune of $20 trillion over the last 50 years.

Then liberals decided they had to provide "affordable housing" to everyone, regardless of ability to pay.  That ended up blowing up the credit system in 2008.

What else?  Well there is always the student loan system that is in the process of blowing up higher education.  There is always the war on drugs that has blown up the inner city.

Right now I'm reading Doctor Zhivago, about how the Bolsheviks blew up Russia.  Really, Russia has never been the same since.  Go back before that and read about how the Jacobins blew up France.  Ditto France.  It has never been the same.

The fact is that the only thing government knows how to do is to kill people and to blow things up.  But very rarely is that necessary in the course of human events.

Let's take two present issues: marijuana and abortion.

The problem is that both of these are moral questions, not criminal questions.  People may disagree about the morality of abortion, but it is not a criminal matter that should be decided by police.  Same with drug use.  It would be far better to conduct these matters as moral issues, and make abortion and drug use shameful rather than illegal.

President Clinton famously tried to square the circle on abortion by making it "safe, legal, and rare."  I'd say that conservatives should trump him by making abortion "safe, legal, and shameful."

Ee should use the same strategy on drug use.  We shouldn't make it illegal.  We should make it déclassé, darling.  And that means women getting together and whispering about the friend who's doing too much alcohol, pot, pain-killers, anxiety drugs -- like, whatever.

That's how we solve social problems: socially.

And then maybe we could stop blowing things up all the time.