Thursday, October 30, 2014

How Does Hume Separate Sense Impressions and Hallucinations?

Back in 1839, philosopher David Hume couldn't hold back any longer, so he sallied forth, at the grand old age of eighteen, to write his Treatise of Human Nature. Why not? The Scots are notoriously dour and flinty, and certainly exposed at a young age to the reality of a long winter, so a young lad raised on haggis and mutton ought to have a clear and unclouded mind uninflamed by the fripperies of London and its Sassenach coffee-houses.

He starts out, as any philosopher must, by clearing the ground. In young David's case, he tells us the difference between "impression" and "idea." The difference between the two, he writes, consists in the "degrees of force and liveliness, with which they strike upon the mind, and make their way into our thought or consciousness."

There should be no problem in discriminating between the two, he writes, even though "in sleep, in a fever, in madness... our ideas may approach our impressions."

Oh yeah?  Just how then do we do it? How close can an hallucination approach us in force and vivacity before we dignify it with the rank of "impression?" Other than the classic professorial put-down that it's obvious?

In fact, of course, scholars and wrangled about this forever, because it's a rather glaring aporia (that's Greek for no way through) in Hume's system.

Here's one chappie's effort. He says that there's a difference between a representation and an actual presentation, or experience. You can have an idea of the Acropolis, but until you've actually been there and seen it --  well, it's just a hallucination.

Hume himself deals with the problem later in Book One of the Treatise. Sure, he says, a "lively imagination very often degenerates into madness or folly" as does any "chimera of the brain." But you and I are able to differentiate such phantasms and similar poetical effusions. The fact is that we can tell the difference between the fiction and the real, he asserts.

Well yes. That's the definition of sanity, I reckon. You can tell the difference between the voices in your head, however forceful and vivacious, and the relentless reality out there in the world that eventually turns our hair gray. Anything else is madness.

The "Election About Nothing"

The chaps at the Weekly Standard have caught the Democratic operatives with bylines up to their old tricks. They've all decided, all on their little lonesomes, that the 2014 midterms are "the election about nothing." Stephen Hayes:
The Washington Post may have been first in declaring the coming midterms “kind of—and apologies to Seinfeld here—an election about nothing.” But the Daily Beast chimed in: “America seems resigned to a Seinfeld election in 2014—a campaign about nothing.” And New York magazine noted (and embraced) the cliché: The midterm election “has managed to earn a nickname from the political press: the ‘Seinfeld Election,’ an election about nothing.”

Soon enough this description was popping up everywhere—the New Republic, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg, Politico, and many others. The 2014 Midterms, the Seinfeld Election.
On top of that, the network newscasts have barely mentioned the midterms. I wonder why?

Of course, the MSM have a point. It seems that the GOP establishment has chosen not to "nationalize" the midterm election. Probably that's because last time they tried it, by impeaching President Clinton in 1998, it boomeranged on them, ending up mobilizing the Democrats to get out to vote rather than the Republicans.

And there's one other tiny little point. If the Republicans ran against President Obama the whole corps of Democratic operatives with bylines would be crying "Raacism."

It's easy for Democrats to "run on something" because the MSM automatically falls in line and echoes their talking points. But when Republicans say anything you get the "but critics say" graf to neutralize their talking points.  The MSM blows smoke and confuses the issue. Sharyl Attkisson tells it like it is about agenda-driven journalism:
“We do stories on food stamps, but only to the extent that we prove the cast that they’re needed, without also examining well-established fraud and abuse. We look at unemployment but only to the extent that we present sympathetic characters showing that benefits should be extended rather than examining, also, the escalating cost and instances of fraud. We cover minimum wage but only to the extent that we help make the case for raising it, without giving much due to the other side, which argued it will have the opposite effect than intended.”
The only time that the GOP gets to tell its story is in a presidential campaign, and even then it's not easy. Ronald Reagan did it, and everybody said he was a fool.

Now it looks like Ted Cruz is planning to run a presidential campaign that will try to change the narrative. Here he is speaking to the Values Voter Summit. A couple of days ago he wrote an op-ed commemorating Ronald Reagan's "Time for Choosing" speech in 1964. Can he do it? Can he blast through the liberal counterblast that is already teaching Americans to think of him as a loose cannon? Can he frame a new conservative narrative that will win a presidential election?

That's the conservative challenge. It's not whether the midterm is about something or nothing. It's whether the next GOP presidential nominee can articulate a conservative narrative that will create a mandate for change.

And I don't mean change as in more government programs, but change as in pruning government back.

And don't forget, even the great Ronald Reagan didn't do much pruning back, and what he did was done under the radar in the intricacies of the budget process.

I'd say that the job of the next Republican Congress, if we get one next week, is to "work with" the president to help the American people. And, as difficult as the president may be, the Republican leaders should never get angry.

They should merely shake their heads, more in sorrow than in anger, and wonder aloud just what it is that the president wants for this country.

While they lay the groundwork for real reform in 2017.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Big Government and Big Business: What They Leave Out

In the middle of the 19th century, when sensitive souls first noticed the industrial revolution, they all agreed that the solution to the Moloch of bourgeois capitalism was more government.

And they had a point, for it looked as though the capitalists would rule the world. It took another 50 years to demonstrate that capitalists weren't much interested in power. After building their businesses, they turned to philanthropy, eradicating hookworm in the South and building universities and medical research insititutes and peace foundations.

But by then the momentum towards big government was irreversible, and so big government is what we got.

The trouble with government, all government, is that it is just an armed minority occupying territory and taxing its people, and it stays in power by rewarding its supporters with pensions and subsidies. It really doesn't give a damn about the rest of the people, the ones that don't support it. In fact it typically brands them as dangerous radicals and extremists.

The other little problem with government arises out of its nature as an "armed minority." It is organized for warfare, whether warfare against foreign enemies or domestic enemies. To government everything looks like a war to fight, because to a hammer everything looks like a nail. Republicans, over the years, have preferred foreign wars, but Democrats have concentrated upon domestic wars: against poverty, against pollution, against the rich, against fundamentalists, against the Koch Brothers. And there's one very tricky problem with government. Like an army, it is organized to pursue victory at all costs; it does not demonstrate the flexibility needed to navigate a complex world. It is very difficult for government to change its mind, on entitlements, on dietary fat, on health care, on education, on anything.

Now the other great modern invention, capitalism, is different, but similar. It ceaselessly roams the world looking for business opportunities, and when it finds them it turns things upside down. We talk easily about buggy-whip makers, but the truth is that business is putting people out of business and workers out of jobs all the time. Joseph Schumpeter called it "creative destruction" and people on the receiving end of creative destruction don't like it at all.

But there is another thing about business that people don't like. It is a certain blindness to people that aren't in the swim, that aren't one of us. The Venetians and the Genoese ran a pretty good trading system bringing goods from the East to Europe. But they also did a nice little trade in slaves: Circassian girls for the harems of Arabia, and young men for the slave armies of the Mamluks. Then, of course, it was Venice that invented the western sugar plantation, starting with Muslim slaves on Cyprus and then expanding westward across the Atlantic using slaves from Africa. Nobody seemed to have a problem with that, from the 13th century to the 18th century.

The Frankfurt School and Jürgen Habermas explain why both government and business can be so blind to other people, and use them up like resources rather than treat them like fellow humans. The problem is that both government and business are "systems" based on the application of instrumental reason, in which people act strategically. In government the strategic aim is to increase raw power over people and minds. In business the strategic aim is to increase power in the market, wealth and profits.

The solution is not hard to find. It is do develop the moral and cultural consensus that government's power over people should be limited, and that business's "creative destruction" should not destroy people.

This means that we have to look into the very foundation of our modern world and its worship of reason, for, as Horkheimer and Adorno wrote in the 1940s, we use reason to dominate nature and other men, for "What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men."

Now the point about human society and humans as social animals is that within the bounds of society we do not use pure reason and domination to force our way. We abjure force and resort to communication and cooperation. If we disagree about means and ends we talk with each other to try to discover a way that we can compromise our objectives so that everyone gets something out of the compromise. We set limits on what can be done to other people, the limits on treating them as means to an end. We think a little about other peoples' needs as well as our own needs. We "care" about other people, and we share in their suffering, through "com-passion" rather than merely obsess on our own problems and needs.

What is this thing that can moderate the strategic impulse of instrumental reason and its systems? It is, of course, everything, from friendship to kindness, to neighborhood groups to churches to charities to love. As Kant said, it is treating people as ends in themselves rather than means.

The question is, of course, how? In our society of vast instrumental forces from government to business to political movements, how do we dial back the relentless strategic drive for power and substitute communicative dialog and friendship?

That is indeed the question.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hoarders and Wreckers: How Socialism Ends

I like to compare political party supporters to soldiers in an army. That's because I experience that government is always about war.

It's not that hard. Governments fight foreign wars -- or at least border wars; that's just what they do. So the war is always about forcing the neighbor state to recognize the borders, or to submit to the adjustment of the borders in favor of our side. Governments also fight domestic wars. They descend on the productive sector and force it to cough up revenues, because social justice. These revenues are then distributed among the government's supporters.

Yes, of course these monies do wonders by helping the poor and educating our children. But stripped of "narrative" we are talking about taking money from the "other" and giving it to people that vote for our side.

Take Obamacare. Recent polls show that Democratic supporters say that they have benefited from Obamacare; Republicans say they have not. Here's Byron York on a recent Gallup Poll:
Looking just at those who said they have been affected by Obamacare, 27 percent of Democrats said they had been helped, while 15 percent said they had been hurt. 
Well, that's the way it's supposed to be! That's what Democrats vote for. But the rest of the nation isn't so happy:
Among independents, the numbers were almost the opposite: 16 percent said they had been helped, while 27 percent said they had been hurt. And among Republicans, just 4 percent said they had been helped, while 40 percent said they had been hurt.
I'll bet you wouldn't see numbers like that on Social Security and Medicare. That's the problem with them. Even though they are going to bankrupt the nation people still support them because they want to continue to get their checks from the government.

Here's my point. Once you sign on to the government's entitlements you are hooked. Everyone in America is hooked on Social Security and Medicare because almost everyone would take a hit if they were wound up and reformed into real savings programs.

But things are much worse for the average rank-and-file Democrat. Scratch a Democrat and you'll likely find someone with a government job. Or on welfare. Or getting some crony subsidy from a Pentagon contract or a crony green subsidy or a climate-change research grant. So if you try to cut any government program an angry wail will go up from the Democrat rank-and-file and the gentry liberals.

The result? Democrat politicians absolutely refuse to cut spending, calling it "austerity," and Republicans are hesitant to cut spending because the cuts will energize the Democratic opposition and may cost them their seats.

So the government stumbles on, trying to square the circle and appear to fix things, or fix things indirectly so that people don't notice.

The end game is what we see in Venezuela. From Instapundit:
SOCIALISM ALWAYS ENDS THE SAME WAY: Venezuela seizes warehouses packed with medical goods, food. It always starts with hope, change and social justice, and it ends with assaults on the “hoarders and wreckers.”
Think of the Venezuelan government as an army. It is marching to final victory over social injustice. But on the way it must keep its soldiers fed and content. It does this, like any army, by requisitions. It starts with taxes and nationalization of the oil business and continues with minor expropriations of unpopular corporations.

Then it gets into inflation and price controls and rationing.

Now the thing about a real army in a real war is that the generals know they need to get the war over as soon as possible, because the army takes resources away from the productive sector to feed its war machine. At some point the army exhausts the economy with its requisitions. At some point there is no more money. If you are in the predatory war business you want to get the war over, disband the army, and get the people back to normal productive work.

The progressive political army can never so this. It must keep upping the ante to keep its supporters happy. It eats its seed corn because the more that it extracts from the economy to give to its supporters the less is left to the businesses in the economy to make products and services and create jobs. But it can never tell its supporters to ease off on their demands, because the basis of its support is the hand-outs to its supporters.

So it all ends in an economic collapse and default with the government screaming at "hoarders and wreckers." The poor lose their benefits and their jobs, if any, and the widows and orphans lose their government bonds. Inflation destroys the savings and the wages of the middle class. Only the rich, who own real or productive assets, are left with anything, and if they have any sense they get the hell out before the government thugs come and expropriate their wealth.

The solution? Keep the government out of everything that isn't related to genuine war needs: defending against foreign enemies and domestic criminals. Because the human appetite for free stuff is unlimited.

And don't get seduced by William James and his "Moral Equivalent of War." That's the problem. Our progressive overlords are into moral equivalents of war on everything from saving our kids to saving the planet. But the failure of government education and green energy will not make them sadder and wiser. They will just think up something else. Because if we can go to the moon...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Liberals and their Illusions

Even good liberal Thomas Frank is starting to break away from the Obama infatuation. Why do liberals keep believing that presidential candidates like Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama are non-ideological, he asks at Salon?

Up to now, Frank has rejected the comparison between Carter and Obama as mere partisan insult. What's changed his mind is Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge about the 1970s. Rick includes a detailed account of the 11976 Carter campaign. Carter ran on "pure idealism—idealism without ideology, even." Even his speech-writer James Fallows thought Carter “might look past the tired formulas of left and right and offer something new.” Liberals fell in love with an idea. Sound familiar?

To Thomas Frank, of course, neither Carter nor Obama governed as liberals. Carter's stimulus was too small, and he "was always drawn to fiscal responsibility and 'hard choices.'" Of course Frank hasn't a clue about Fed Chairman G. William Miller that engineering the double-digit inflation of 1979-80. Good solid inflation. That's as lefty as it gets. Ask Venezuela or Argentina.

We liberals are "such losers," writes Frank.
We still “yearn to believe,” as Perlstein says... We persuade ourselves that the answer to the savagery of the right—the way to trump the naked class aggression of the One Percent—is to say farewell to our own tradition and get past politics and ideology altogether. And so we focus on the person of the well-meaning, hyper-intelligent leader. We are so high-minded, we think. We are so scientific.
Well, Thomas Frank, I have a couple of thoughts for you. The point of the "well-meaning, hyper-intelligent leader" is that if you liberals ran Obama as the partisan campus radical he really is you couldn't win national elections. But we savage righties understand that behind the centrist, expert-led rhetoric are the battalions of left-wing "activists" and their advocacy. They do most of their work beneath the radar, and it doesn't hurt chaps like you that the MSM turns their radar off during Democratic administrations.

But the "well-meaning idealism" is not just intended to mislead the rubes. It's also part of the way that liberals mislead themselves. Liberals do not say to themselves that they are going to sicc their activists on anyone that disagrees with them and name and shame them as racists and sexists and homophobes. They say they advocate for tolerance and diversity. They do not say they are going to force people into a one-size-fits-all government program; they say pretty things like "government is the name for things we do together."

Like I say, government is force, politics (i.e., activism) is division, system is domination. But it would never do for nice gentry liberals to realize what their comfortable idealism means in practice.

So liberals will always fall in love with professional politicians that present themselves as "anti-politicians" in love with idealism. Such politicians pander to liberals' self-image of themselves as educated, evolved idealists that just want to build a better society.

The truth is too hard to bear, that "gentry liberals" are just a common-or-garden ruling class in love with themselves and in love with political power. Like any ruling class, they live in a bubble of lies and illusions; they ruthlessly deal themselves subsidies and privileges while the rest of America suffers.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Liberal Mixed Messages

Charles Krauthammer writes today that Obama has lost the plot. The whole world is falling down around his ears, with failures everywhere you look. Obama's response? He's "angry."

Yet once upon a time Barack Obama had a message for America.
There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.
The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.
We were going to stop the rise of the oceans. Then Obama became president and governed like the Alinsky acolyte he is. He governed by demonizing rather than understanding.

What happened to the narrative of all together?

So on the same day Jonah Goldberg writes about the power of "narrative." Forget ideas.  What you need, if you want to win the world, is a good story.
Ideas are surprisingly easy to let go of, if pried loose by the right story. Stories, meanwhile, are shockingly difficult to let go of, even if they convey a bad idea. Just try to tell someone who has gotten a raw deal in life that their story is not typical of America. Or, if you prefer, try to tell someone who’s been fortunate at every turn that their story isn’t typical either.
President Obama's problem is that his story has broken down. The life that individual Americans are living doesn't match the pretty story that President Obama pitched when he was running for president and running for reelection.

Here's another story that's breaking down. It's the Democrats' "Republican War on Women" meme. Why? Well, I suspect it starts with the fact that women are afraid for their safety. Obama booster Tina Brown is now saying women don't feel safe under Obama. Remember 2001? When the "soccer moms" turned into "security moms?"

Hey GOP! How about telling a story that America isn't safe under Obama/Democrats? How safe are you when the government runs health care? How safe are you when the government says that terrorist acts are "workplace violence"? How safe are your kids when the government takes them off to government schools for the duration?

When Democrats talk among themselves they probably talk ideas. But when they run for election they tell stories.

When Ronald Reagan bestrode the world, he annoyed the heck out of reporters by telling stories.

Here is Ted Cruz telling the story of his life to Values Voters.

The postmodernists have been telling us for decades that it's all about the "narrative." They use the term pejoratively, in the sense of the ruling class's narrative that justifies its power.

Don't get it? Then what do liberals do when they tell the story of modern government. Back in the Dark Ages before liberalism children worked in mines, women were dominated by the patriarchy, and people that lost their jobs would starve. Then came liberals with with free education, wage and hour law, labor unions, health care, pensions, civil rights, equal pay for women.

If you ask me, conservatives are in a great position on the story-telling front. Ever since Reagan, liberals have had a real problem getting their story straight. And the Obama era is a splendid example of saying one thing and doing the other.

Conservatives have a wonderful story to tell. The rise of the common man. The dignity of the responsible individual. The surprise of the free market system against the slow death of the administrative state. The brilliance of the separation of powers. The necessity of separating politics, economy, and religion in the Greater Separation of Powers. And so on.

And here's another point, just for you girls. The more freedom, the smaller the government, the safer you and your family will be, and the more opportunity there will be for your children.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

How Liberals Wrecked Upward Mobility

As I get older I can afford to get more radical. Because I don't have to truckle to the boss: not the corporate boss, the political boss, or even the moral/cultural boss.

And I don't get more radical on anything more than education. Government education? I'm opposed to it. Period.

Why, you ask? How can anyone doubt the benefit our society has obtained from universal free education?

Don't get me started, but let's just say that government education means government run by the ruling class and the ruling class is usually clueless about everything except fighting for its power.

So my recipe for education is child labor and apprenticeship.  That way most people can finance their own education and parents are stuck only with education in the early years, which can often be done at a neighborhood school run by a couple of neighborhood mothers.

Hey, here's an idea!  The neighborhood mothers home-school and get together for projects and outings!

Peter Thiel, entrepreneur, billionaire, and "celebrity genius" agrees. His Thiel Fellowships pay kids to skip college!

Now comes a helpful article by Bill McMorris to explain how we got into the current college education mess, where everyone has to have a degree, college costs an arm and a leg, and a whole generation has been buried in debt.

It's all about race, and it all started with the US Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Griggs vs. Duke Power Company.
The saga began in 1969 when Willie Griggs, a black man born in the segregated South, decided he was overdue  for a promotion. In order to get one, per Duke Power Electric Company rules, he had to pass two aptitude tests and possess a high school diploma. Griggs smelled racism. The tests surveyed employees on basic math and intelligence questions. None of Duke’s fourteen black workers passed. Griggs and twelve others sued the company for discrimination. 
Oh oh. Can you spell Bell Curve?

Aptitude tests had their heyday in World War II when the armed forces used them to separate the sheep from the goats. It worked so well that corporate America jumped right in after the war.

But the Supreme Court ruled against Duke Power Company and so corporate America swerved away from aptitude tests. Instead the SAT and the colleges did the work for them. At enormous expense.

Even today, corporate America is careful to pay people according to their education rather than their results because racism.

Of course the joke is that the current system is shockingly biased against minorities, indeed against anyone without rich parents. And I dare say it is particularly biased against young white working class males, because common sense.

So here we are in American in 2014, with the middle-aged generation hammered by the real-estate bubble from the unintended consequence of trying to help minorities get a mortgage, a whole generation buried in college debt from the unintended consequence of trying to help minorities get a better job. And don't get me started on the current rage to fix the campus sex scene with lawyer-like regulations on sexual behavior.

The question is what comes next? We are conservatives; we don't want to change the rules on everyone though a political coup like Obamacare. We want to change America by persuading America.

And I ask myself: how would I persuade the nice well-born liberal women I know about this? How could anyone persuade the activism/advocacy brigade that politics and Supreme Court ukases are usually not the answer to injustice and inequality?

How do we change the culture, given that liberals own the culture from schools to music to movies to TV?

I just watched Mark Steyn tell Hannity that "I like Ted Cruz" because Ted Cruz is trying to get around the little problem that conservatives have. Sure, we can win a midterm election, he says, but how do we win the culture war for the other 364 days of the year. Steyn likes Ted Cruz because Cruz seems to be trying to move the yardsticks on the culture front.

That's why I keep hammering on the idea that Government Is Force. You think the best way to educate kids is by force? You think that the best way to reverse centuries of cultural backwardness is by force? You think that the way to regulate students' sexual behavior is by force? I thought you chaps were in favor of Peace and Justice.

Here's the irony: liberals obviously believe that the way to change things is by changing peoples' minds, because they work night and day to dominate the culture and shame anyone that disagrees with them. But the only way they know to do it is by force.

Meanwhile we have a whole generation of underprivileged kids buried in the gross injustice of the current education and qualifications system. And nobody is going to jail.