Nobody is allowed good intentions but us

Here’s what compassion gets you from the rabid Left. (Link broken intentionally. You can fix it if you really want the reference.)

Trump’s Plan to Decriminalize Homosexuality Is an Old Racist Tactic

Because “colonialism.” Don’t you know all cultures are morally equivalent? Except Western Civilization, which is oppressive.

This sleight of mind is how our Leftists forgive female genital mutilation and support boycotting the only democracy in the Middle East; while refusing to express an opinion on, or even acknowledge, the debate among some Imams regarding the proper way to kill gays – throw them off tall buildings or collapse a wall on them.

That is a very partial list of the multi-cultural ‘diversity’ the Left embraces in order to facilitate condemnation of Western culture. (The answer to the Imam’s debate is obvious: How many walls can you afford to collapse?  You can use the same building many times.)

I’d also mention how the Islamic fundamentalist debate on the treatment of trans people is proceeding, but I’m not aware of it.  Perhaps it goes unmentioned in the Quran.  If so, that’s probably good for trans people in strict Islamic countries.

But. If Trump moves to extend some protection to gays in Islamic countries that makes him a racist.

Maybe for those ‘apolitical voters who vote based on feelings’ someone could could point out that the charge of “colonialism” is just one more tired talking point for the postmodernist/critical theorist/intersectionalist wing of the party calling themselves Democrats: They aren’t to be taken seriously from a moral standpoint.

My favorite example of the bankruptcy of cultural equivalence, AKA deeply held moral intuitions, is related by Mark Steyn: The Gelded Age

In a culturally confident age, the British in India were faced with the practice of “suttee” – the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Sir Charles Napier was impeccably multicultural:

‘You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.’

India today is better off without suttee. If you don’t agree with that, if you think that’s just dead-white-male Eurocentrism, fine. But I don’t think you really do believe that. Non-judgmental multiculturalism is an obvious fraud, and was subliminally accepted on that basis. After all, most adherents to the idea that all cultures are equal don’t want to live in anything but an advanced western society. Multiculturalism means your kid has to learn some wretched tribal dirge for the school holiday concert instead of getting to sing “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” or that your holistic masseuse uses techniques developed from Native American spirituality, but not that you or anyone you care about should have to live in an African or Native American society. It’s a quintessential piece of progressive humbug.

Progressive humbug has become a quintessential piece of Western culture.

Emoticon debate

I asked some questions in my post of February 17th about a suggestion that conservative political philosophy needs emotional appeals rather than rational arguments:

The writer [Gorka] makes a vital point that most people who support capitalism miss: we will never win the argument about capitalism being superior to socialism because many voters are only interested in emotions, not arguments. Accordingly they feel that capitalists are mean and socialists are compassionate, concerned about people. The only way to be compassionate is to take from the capitalists and give to them since capitalists got rich by making them poor. Unless and until conservatives can make a compassion appeal they will lose politically more and more. Forget trying to reason with people for whom reason is never a part of their feelings. So far Democrats have won the compassion battle. Republicans have always been out-compassioned. A completely different approach is needed. I think it can be done. Republicans can start by stopping trying to win rational arguments. They don’t win with apolitical voters who vote based on feelings.

I said, “[So,] We should take the Ocasio-Cortez Green New Deal as she suggests… “aspirational”; and respond with our own surreal proposals because we can’t win otherwise? What would that argument look like?

I was facetious (unicorns and fairy wings were featured) in answer to my own question, but the suggestion we should go full compassion mode is still knocking about in my head, so I will attempt to provide some more serious answers.

Let’s start with defining “emotional argument.”

Politically, propaganda is the first definition that pops into my head.  But let me suggest a more neutral definition: Emotional ‘argument’ appeals to deeply held moral intuitions. What those intuitions are matters.

For example, the Left often succeeds by touching instinctive feelings about fairness versus cheating and exploitation. They are successful with this in part by inflaming class envy. “Tax cuts for the rich must be stopped!”

Take the current MSM attack on the Republican tax cuts, “REFUNDS ARE DOWN!”. Well, yes. And that’s to be expected isn’t it?

If you make $30,000 at a tax rate of 10%, your annual taxes would project to be $3,000. Since there are many vagaries in the tax code and life circumstances, you decide to withhold an extra 10% per month, or $25.

If your tax rate is cut to 9%, your taxes would be $2,700, and your contingency 10% extra withholding becomes $22.50 per month.

At the end of the year everything works out perfectly and all your extra withholding – the money you loaned the government – is refunded. In the first case your refund is $300. In the second case it’s $270. Your refund is lower. But you paid $300 less in taxes.

Some people are disappointed that the government let them keep an extra $300 because their refund (money they gave the government they didn’t have to, and irrelevant to the concept of ‘tax cut’) is $30 lower. They could have just given the government an extra $100 a month if the higher refund was so important.

What ‘compassionate’ explanation can be given to people who use payroll taxes as a savings account on which no interest is paid? What ‘conservative’ emotional appeal could possibly apply? Only a rational argument will do.

One compassionate meme we would need is an appeal to individual responsibility – which the Left overwhelmingly ignores because it would blunt their class envy rhetoric. Leftists see fairness as equality of outcome. Anything else is prima facie evidence of oppression.

The Left continually insists the ‘rights’ of this or that victim group are being violated by a dominant group of ‘oppressors,’ and they never talk about their own responsibilities. They’re too busy telling you what your responsibility is to ‘victims.’

I contend the root problem isn’t a perception that conservatives lack compassion. It’s education.

The Millennials can’t remember very much – and they don’t learn very much either. It’s easy being hot for socialism or communism when you actually have a very little idea of what it is and what it did throughout the 20th century. And the Ys have that ignorance in spades; one third of them think that George W Bush killed more people than Stalin and 42 per cent have never heard of Mao – but over 70 per cent agree with Bernie Sanders. Some research suggests that only 15 per cent actually have a correct understanding of socialism… To be fair, that’s not strictly their fault; that attaches itself again to their Boomer grandparents who have been in charge of our failing education systems during this time. Combine the modern indoctrination-cum-dumbification taking place in schools and universities with the attention span-killing impact of information technology and social media, and you have a barely literate cohort, which is simply not equipped with the necessary mental tools to learn about the real world even if they wanted to.

Any surprises that socialism is now nearly synonymous with Gen Y?…

Millennials… are said to be unrealistic and have both the inflated expectations of life and the inflated perceptions of selves. They think the world owes them a living – a good one too – though without necessary too much effort. Things came very easily to them when they were growing up; when that suddenly stops – when the reality finally intrudes – they get angry, frustrated, lost: the world is deeply unfair and is conspiring against them… Having been told their whole lives how special they are, they tend to be over-sensitive and find it difficult to cope with criticism or obstacles…

Socialism is the response of a spoiled child when faced with the world that does not genuflect to its every wish the way their parents did – the world as it is must therefore be evil and has to be changed to something radically different. Gen Y, of course, did not just magically became [sic] the way they are – they were brought up like that…

For a rational approach, I’m going to turn to an educator whose message is attractive to many angry, frustrated, and lost millennials: Professor Jordan Peterson. If Peterson has a single main point, it might be that personal responsibility is the root of meaning in life, lack of which I think is the millennials’ angst.

We’ll take a brief look at his common sense (at least it used to be) insight into the benefits of individual responsibility and a peek at the biological basis for moral intuitions of fairness.

This clip starts at 32:25. Be sure to watch until at least 35:06, but just after that there a Q&A which starts with a question about rights.

Now, you’ve got something to sell to young people. You can sell them freedom of speech, and you can sell them responsibility.” We could try. We could start in our educational system by eliminating participation trophies in Kindergarten, and ‘Identity Studies’ and safe spaces in Universities.

I do not know how these ideas can be turned into 30 second ‘branding messages,’ but you could start with (from the Q&A at about 40:39) “Your capacity for speech is divine. It’s the thing that generates order from chaos… Nothing brings a better world into being than the stated truth.” It’s worth it to just keep watching after that.

That isn’t an empirical defense of free speech. It might even be called an emotional appeal, but here is Peterson’s rational defense of free speech:

Interviewer (Cathy Newman, hostile): Why should your right to freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?

Peterson: Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we’re having right now. You’re certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that? It’s been rather uncomfortable. […] You’re doing what you should do, which is digging a bit to see what the hell is going on. And that is what you should do. But you’re exercising your freedom of speech to certainly risk offending me, and that’s fine. More power to you, as far as I’m concerned.

… a few seconds pass…

Peterson: (chuckling kindly): Ha. Gotcha.

Interviewer: You have got me. You have got me. I’m trying to work that through my head. It took awhile. It took awhile. It took awhile.

 

It will take awhile to fix academia. It took a long time to break it.

That excerpt is from a highly recommended interview which ran on Britain’s Channel 4, which I will describe as a half hour tour de force of rational argumentation demolishing Leftwing knee-jerk compassion. If you haven’t seen it, go here. Fourteen million people already have. I think the vast majority of those were interested in the rational points about fairness.

Now, what can the origins of the moral intuition of fairness tell us? The clip below starts with Peterson describing experiments observing rats at play. Watch at least up to about 20:20, where he begins to talk about chimpanzees and then postmodernism. (That is well worth a listen, too, and it relates to this post, but the rats segment is sufficient to the question of human moral intuition about fair play.)

Rules across the set of all games,” is a vital observation. People who know children will have observed how a 2 or 3 year old reacts to losing a game, or even a roll of dice; anger, tears, withdrawal. If a child hasn’t internalized the concept of “the set of games” by the time they’re 4, it’s likely they never will. Other children will not want to play with them, because they are poor sports. And adults will find them unpleasant to be around, because such children have never abandoned the idea of zero-sum interactions. I suspect this is at least a partial explanation for the existence of SJW’s, because their brand includes participation trophies, safe spaces, and unearned self esteem.

It is, therefore, a yuge problem for Donald Trump that he brands things as zero-sum: He wins; “They” lose. His trade policy is perhaps the best example, but hardly the only one. This doesn’t excuse his opponents’ excesses, but it makes it far easier for them to portray him as an ‘evil’ conservative. And to portray conservatism as compassionless. (One could argue the emotional appeal we really need is that “compassionless” is what we should want from government, but that’s another post.) Trump’s default emotional appeal is to something other than fairness, and his past business conduct simply cements the meme.

For social animals, success is more about being invited to play than winning every game. This deeply held moral intuition starts with biology and spreads to culturally enforced norms. It is not, as postmodernists would have it, solely about dominance and submission carving us into identity groups. The idea that power is everything informs much of the Left’s claims that they’re compassionate, even though when put into practice their ideas inevitably result in misery. They have seized the high ground on “good intentions.” Compassion and good intentions are not at all the same thing.

Jordan Peterson’s ideas are very popular among millions of young people immersed in the nihilist orthodoxy spewing from our institutions of higher education. They have excellent attention spans for solutions to their angst. They like Peterson precisely because his dozens of academic online lectures each offer a couple of hours of rational arguments about pursuing meaning in life, in spite of the suffering inherent in being alive. The Left cannot compete.

Maybe it isn’t overtly emotional appeals we need to enable rational discussion, maybe it’s rational discussion we need to rouse appropriate emotion. There is an audience.

Peterson’s rational ideas are emotionally compelling for those seeking meaningful lives. You only have to read a few of the letters he’s received to understand the desperate need for substance, not branding. This is not to say he’s convincing the committed Leftists (far from it, they despise him), or that he’s reached universal pop-cultural awareness, but people are bringing their own need for meaning to him. In droves. Maybe a way to combat the fantasies of Ocasio-Cortez is to support Peterson.

To close, another source for an appeal to moral intuition comes from a man considered of the left while he lived. How much times have changed will be clear if you read Kurt Vonnegut’s quite short story Harrison Bergeron.

This story examines what happens when everyone is MADE to be equal in the cause of ‘fairness’. Maybe the Koch brothers can be persuaded to finance re-releasing the 1995 movie based on the story. Some of our budding socialists might get a clue that good intentions have to be aligned with good results.

No rational arguments please, we’re Republicans

Republicans can start by stopping trying to win rational arguments.

A friend recently shared that sentence (not his) in an email. It’s in regard to an article at The Daily Signal by Sebastian Gorka.

The idea of abandoning rational argument just keeps nagging at me. It’s a capitulation to the Know Nothings on the Right and on the Left.

The sentence appears in this longer comment by my friend’s correspondent:

The writer [Gorka] makes a vital point that most people who support capitalism miss: we will never win the argument about capitalism being superior to socialism because many voters are only interested in emotions, not arguments. Accordingly they feel that capitalists are mean and socialists are compassionate, concerned about people. The only way to be compassionate is to take from the capitalists and give to them since capitalists got rich by making them poor. Unless and until conservatives can make a compassion appeal they will lose politically more and more. Forget trying to reason with people for whom reason is never a part of their feelings. So far Democrats have won the compassion battle. Republicans have always been out-compassioned. A completely different approach is needed. I think it can be done. Republicans can start by stopping trying to win rational arguments. They don’t win with apolitical voters who vote based on feelings.

This is one possible reading of the article, and it is in accordance with warnings from Alexis de Tocqueville and Ben Franklin about populism. I suspect they’d see the proposed solution as just the same problem, merely from a different political starting point.

The Gorka article speaks extensively to the poor results from voting based on feelings as opposed to ideas. It is not about abandoning rational argument, however. It is about branding. Gorka is urging us to recast the conservative brand because voters are disinterested in ideas. He then makes the mistake of conflating Trump, “Donald Trump has opened a window for the conservative movement of the 21st century,” with conservative ideas; which is a good part of the problem.

Republicans can start by stopping trying to win rational arguments.

So. We should take the Ocasio-Cortez Green New Deal as she suggests… “aspirational”; and respond with our own surreal proposals because we can’t win otherwise? What would that argument look like? Genetically re-engineering cows into carbon dioxide breathing unicorns; modifying humans to have fairy wings in order to eliminate airplanes?  If the emotional high ground has already been seized, as Gorka suggests, how would you get it back?  Mockery suggests itself.  Mockery of AOC’s ideas.  You can’t mock the emotions invoked by an appeal to universal human well being.  Showing the consequences of Utopia requires rational argument.

OK, unicorns and fairy wings are probably unfair to Mr. Gorka. But without concrete examples, what emotional threads do we pull to change these disinterested slugs into critical thinkers and not just a right-wingish, populist personality cult?  If liberty doesn’t stir their emotions, what will?  Whatever it is, if we’re to be successful, we need to connect it to liberty.

In contemplating the purpose of recasting a brand, a recent example might serve well. Gillette’s “Toxic Masculinity” ad was about emotion not razors.: “Men! Feel good about yourself when you act like radical feminists.”  Virtue signaling.

Virtue signaling is not how we save “conservatism” in the age of President “Brand is Everything.” Frankly, until the virtues we need to signal are once again widely considered virtues, chances of success are small.

Classical liberals have our own rational aspirational narrative, of which the Bill of Rights is a good example, and we should stick to it. Otherwise, when reality impinges on the Green New Deal we’ll be intellectually defenseless as well as destitute. Like in Venezuela, it’ll be the emotionally motivated women and children who suffer most. I aspire to avoid that.

There is compelling evidence that people vote based on emotion, so a charitable reading of Gorka’s piece would be, “The emotional commitment to classical liberal values has gone missing. We must reconnect it.” If so, we need to start with the educational system, not branding. There’s quite enough re-branding of classical liberal ideas coming from the White House already.

Republicans can start by stopping trying to win rational arguments.

The more I contemplate that, the more I think it captures the essence of my objections to Donald Trump, a man who can declare a national emergency and immediately comment, “I didn’t need to do this.” The emergency is aspirational, apparently. But it promotes his brand. And the Pentagon will pay for it.

This all reminded me of a TOC post: Intentionality, which I think speaks well to the importance of ideas and the bankruptcy of our educational system. It is well worth reading in conjunction with this post.

Areopagitica Lost

The current state of the country and the current state of political and intellectual conversation depresses me in a way that it never has before. You have to understand — I’m never happy with the state of the country — that’s the inevitable fate of holding an ideological position that rarely gets any traction — I’m a classical liberal who’d like government to be dramatically smaller than it is now…

Maybe it’s paranoia but it’s been a long time since I felt the thinness of the veneer of civilization and our vulnerability to a sequence of events that might threaten not just the policy positions I might favor but the very existence of the American experiment.

The main way I’ve been dealing with this feeling of despair is to stop paying close attention. I don’t know what depresses me more — the stupidities and dishonesty and tolerance of darkness that come out of the President’s mouth or the response from those that oppose him. Given that I don’t like the President, you’d think I find the response of his enemies inspiring or important. But the responses scare me too, the naked hatred of Trump or anyone who supports or likes him. And of course, it goes way beyond Trump and politics. The same level of vitriol and anger and unreason is happening on college campuses and at the dinner table when families gather to talk about the hot-button issues of the day. Everything seems magnified.

Read the whole thing, it’s very good. Russ Roberts: The World Turned Upside Down (and what to do about it)

I agree 100% with Roberts’ intro, it feels like he wrote for me. He doesn’t mention some things that cause my angst, why “it’s different this time,” but I think he’d agree with them.

I suppose I shouldn’t be, but I’m surprised at the durability of the vehement response to Donald Trump. I get that Progressives are angry and depressed, but it’s hard for me to imagine they’re more angry and depressed than I was at Barack Obama’s re-election. That was a very dark day and an excruciating 4 more years. You can examine this blog for my criticisms of Barack Obama, but you’ll find nothing like what we hear daily from CNN, MSNBC, or (?) ESPN, or from the hegemony of far left celebrity Twitterers.

I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed at the contrast in the treatment of Antifa with that of the tea party. When the tea party left one of its demonstration sites, the area was cleaner than when they arrived. No fires, little to no profanity, no smashed windows, no beaten Obama supporters. Still, the tea party people were vilified by the media and Democrats, including the charges of racism and Nazism they’ve raised lately to screaming rants. It’s not just free speech, but freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and petitioning for redress of grievances that is under attack – with the implicit support of the very press who wish to preserve their First Amendment right. Apparently, as the only remaining First Amendment right.

When Donald Trump appointee Betsy DeVos comes out in favor of due process, it’s a sexist apocalypse. When Trump rejects the Paris Climate Accord, “we’re all gonna die!” When he removes a few draconian regulations, we can see the Four Horses on the horizon. When Trump turns responsibility for Obama’s unconstitutional DACA executive order over to Congress, it’s Nazism, racism, white supremacism, patriarchal and traitorous. Dial it back people. But they can’t.

Back to Russ Roberts. Given the above, his prescription:

1-Don’t be part of the positive feedback problem. When someone yells at you on the internet or in an email or across the dinner table, turn the volume down rather than up. Don’t respond in kind to the troll. Stay calm. It’s not as much fun as yelling or humiliating your opponent with a clever insult, but it’s not worth it. It takes a toll on you and it’s bad for the state of debate. And you might actually change someone’s mind.

2-Be humble. Shakespeare had it right: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. You’re inevitably a cherry-picker, ignoring the facts and evidence that might challenge the certainty of your views. The world is a complex place. Truth is elusive. Don’t be so confident. You shouldn’t be.

3-Imagine the possibility not just that you are wrong, but that the person you disagree with could be right. Try to imagine the best version of their views and not the straw man your side is constantly portraying. Imagine that it is possible that there is some virtue on the other side. We are all human beings, flawed, a mix of good and bad.

…suffers from the fact that the center and the right have been more polite and civil than the left for decades – and see where that’s gotten us.

Donald Trump is crass, undisciplined and devoid of principle; but it is primarily the exquisite sensibilities of the intersectionality cadre who blame America for every evil that make his actual content inflammatory. They say they can identify “dog whistles” in Trump’s rhetoric, forgetting that it’s only the dog who can hear the whistle.

Is Trump complicit in this? Certainly. His comments on Mexican illegal immigrants are similar to this:

“You cannot go to a 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian Accent.”
“I mean you’ve got the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and nice-looking guy.”
-Joe Biden

…but “that’s just Joe.” Still, Trump’s a piker compared to the rest of Democrat leadership:

“Republicans… [would] rather take pictures with black children than feed them.”
-Donna Brazile

“I’ll have those n*ggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years.”
-Lyndon Johnson

“[T]ypical white people,”
“clinging to their guns and religion.”
-Barack Obama

“basket of deplorables”
“You f*cking Jew b@stard.”
-Hillary Clinton

Those aren’t distant historical examples, which would be far worse (Woodrow Wilson, for example, the Progressives’ Progressive). Those aren’t dog whistles, they’re fog horns; but, on the left, nobody’s knickers got twisted. That rhetoric is how we got Trump.

As far as the hoi polloi are concerned, on one side of protest demonstrations we see a marginalized group promoting white supremacy, who have with very few exceptions been non-violent except in self defense. On the other, we see a larger group, promoting black supremacy, that uses violence regularly and indiscriminately. Criticizing the latter group either brings charges of being a “Nazi sympathizer” from mainstream Democrats, or silence, as classical liberals attempting to exercise freedom of speech are under physical attack at our nation’s universities; in collusion with university administrators and local governments who order police to “stand down.”

Which group is actually a threat to freedom? The group trying to use their right to free speech, or the group routinely using violence to shut down free speech?

I’m reminded of this passage from Alan Bloom’s (1987) The Closing of the American Mind: “I have seen young people, and older people too, who are good democratic liberals, lovers of peace and gentleness, struck dumb with admiration for individuals threatening or using the most terrible violence for the slightest and tawdriest of reasons. They have a sneaking suspicion that they are face to face with men of real commitment, which they themselves lack. And commitment, not truth, is believed to be what counts.

Bloom is writing about people avoiding the messy distractions of understanding their own ‘ideas,’ because “[C]commitment, not truth, is believed to be what counts.” Their rhetoric is excused by their commitment to no more than having unexamined good intentions.

Ronald Reagan had sub-human intelligence. Barry Goldwater was called a Nazi 50 years ago. The KKK is blamed on Republicans when, in fact, it was the action arm of the Democrats. Similarly, racial discrimination by the State: It was, in fact, outright eugenicists and open racists like Woodrow Wilson who reversed integration in the civil service. Even the far left editors at Vox admit this.

Culturally, we’re debating whether your biological sex is dispositive regarding bathroom facilities, while the left insists that any discussion of differences between men and women is absolutely not allowed. Facebook gave up when the number of “gender” choice check boxes available in your profile reached 58, but men and women are indistinguishable.

If you write a polite, scientifically factual memo questioning Google’s discriminatory hiring practices, you get fired. Meanwhile, Google downranks results from websites not fitting their political views.

Meanwhile, we waste blood and treasure half-heartedly defending poppy farmers in Afghanistan, because “homeland security,” while the territory you can visit in Europe is continually eroded by “no-go” zones and our courts plunk down on the side of unrestricted immigration.

And now I’m back to agreeing with the author’s intro, but you can’t remain silent in order to get along. That’s a complete oversimplification of Roberts’ advice, but it’s hard to remember that when some antifa thug is spraying spittle.

This is how you get more Trump. If that isn’t depressing, what is? Well, the thought of Hillary as President may be one thing.

On the Failure to Recognize Patterns

Two from Jonah Goldberg, related to my post Cosmetic Distinctions, below.

The Alt-Right Is Bad — And So Is ‘Antifa’

There’s a natural tendency to think that when people, or movements, hate each other, it must be because they’re opposites. This assumption overlooks the fact that many — indeed, most — of the great conflicts and hatreds in human history are derived from what Sigmund Freud called the “narcissism of minor differences.”

Re: On Charlottesville, Trump, and Anti-Americanism

I’m reminded of this passage from Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: “I have seen young people, and older people too, who are good democratic liberals, lovers of peace and gentleness, struck dumb with admiration for individuals threatening or using the most terrible violence for the slightest and tawdriest of reasons.” He continued: “They have a sneaking suspicion that they are face to face with men of real commitment, which they themselves lack. And commitment, not truth, is believed to be what counts.”

RTWTs

Bloom is writing about people avoiding the messy distractions of understanding their own ideas, because “[C]ommitment, not truth, is believed to be what counts.”

They are committed to no more than having unexamined good intentions: Liberal Ayn Rand?