Charleton: The Great Misunderstanding

The Leftists said that the industrial revolution had created mass poverty by making the poor poorer. But the reality was almost the opposite that the industrial revolution ‘created’ poverty by making the poor richer, by keeping them and their children alive, rather than dead.

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-great-misinterpretation-that.html

Congress is Perpetual Litigation

When important facts resist your model of reality, your model is wrong.  The American political chattering class has never found a non-fiction model for the State, and so are ever frustrated that  “government isn’t working.”   But when once you see Congress as just a perpetual litigation, then reality synchs with your model, all the facts make sense, and you accept that government is working at what little bit government can do, which is keep blood from running in the gutters.

By “litigation” I mean a non-violent adversarial contest where the stakes are unlimited asset seizure.   A courtroom is where adversaries seek to take each other’s money away, one step short of a gunfight. The alternative models for the political process are pious fictions, amusing until they become lethal.

Most amusing is this leftist cross-stitchery:  “government is just a word for what we do together.”  I can’t tell if this is naivete, from a disinterest in human nature, or a wish-dream so strong as to amount to religious mania.  Either way, I can understand how, if this is honestly your mental model, you would be frustrated when legislators from two parties spend time and energy squabbling, and getting nothing done.   In reality, Congress always gets done what litigation is designed to do, which is take money away from the other side and hand it to this side.  If you look at the American political process and expect to see “things we do together”, your cognitive dissonance will be severe.  But, let me help:  change your model.  Look at Congress through the lens of a perpetual divorce, and you’ll feel the pleasurable click of reality synching to your mental model.

James Madison was genius enough to see this.  The American system was originally designed to keep small the pool of assets vulnerable to litigation, and to balance the litigants against each other so they would need to consume their war chests inside the modest courtroom while life went on peacefully outside in the streets and farms.   That all fell apart when the progressives decided the courtroom should annex the streets and farms.  Now we are all perpetually suing each other via elections.  This is “progress”.   It ends in anarchy.

All litigation involves a cost/benefit calculation on both sides.   As the pool of assets that are at stake in the litigation gets larger, the litigants are willing to spend more and fight longer and dirtier.   Well, the pool of assets within the reach of Congress does grow ever larger.   As the size of the central government grows, the the assets at stake in the litigation become…all of them.   This can only, ever, look like the opposite of “what we do together”.   There has never been a pious dream as neurotic as that one.

The Three Stages of Democracy

As a society deteriorates, first elections don’t matter much, then they matter desperately, then they don’t matter at all.

1. When the central government regulates and legislates just enough to keep property safe from theft, elections are an important but minor part of life.

2. As the central government metastasizes so that any prosperity is only won by rent seeking and kept by bowing to the government, elections get more furious and violent, because each election has higher stakes. An election is simply a proxy fight for all the money, because the party that wins the election has the power to move the people’s wealth around. This is a corrupt, soul-killing political environment, and the high level of engagement you see in the electorate is like the last, desperate gasps of a strangled puppy.

3. The legislative body soon is making rules about all of life, and sees that this task is too complex, so they pass outlines of desired ends but hand the means over to huge, permanent bureaucracies. These unelected, nameless officials then rule the country by fiat, and even ossify against their own elected government. The electorate learns that the outcome of elections doesn’t matter any more. At first, they blame this on “gridlock” (a mythical entity), then they give up, and set about creating the shadow, illegal economy by which the official economy will exsanguinate. The country eventually collapses into bankruptcy and anarchy, and then centuries of petty dictators, or, if lucky, a new government of limited powers.

So: elections matter a little, then they matter a lot, then they don’t matter at all.

What is a Political Party?

There’s this constant obtuseness about how politics works, and it prompts a million words an hour on discussion boards, amounting to nothing. Let’s all grow up.

“The Republican Party” is a group of people who have banded together to get political power. To get political power, they use words tactically. One of the words they use is “conservative”. “Conservative” is a political philosophy.

A political party is not a church or a sewing club. It is not your family at the kitchen table. Don’t try to make it “represent your views”. A party is a group of people acting tactically together. That’s all.

To get the government to be whatever you think it should be, think about your philosophy, but use your vote, like all your other tangible assets, tactically.

Vote for whoever is 1. most likely to be given power 2. because of your vote and 3. use that power the most like you would. This is actually a fairly complex little piece of calculus – but it is entirely pragmatic.

All the rest is just what you do to make yourself feel good. “Joining” the Democratic Party” is, of itself, as meaningless as joining the GOP, feeling a part of the GOP, or trying to “change” a party.

Parties change the same way economies change – in response to real world changes, and by certain fairly explicable laws. Parties change in order to get 51% of the vote – of whatever the population happens to be at the moment. A political party is not an instrument to change the culture. It is simply an instrument to get the culture to delegate the power of the guns to these people with whom I have a transitory pact.

Snowdon and the Nuremberg Principle

If loyalty to the State is an insufficient defense, then disloyalty to the State is an insufficient indictment.  The world established forever at Nuremberg that immoral acts don’t have authority as a defense. If that is true, then the converse is also true: “treason” cannot be attached when the exposed secret is an immoral (or illegal) activity.  Conservatives in particular may not like this, or where it goes, but that debate is over. In fact, the American press has long sanctified this principle…Daniel Ellsberg was not a traitor, but a hero.

Listen to the very language of the current debate: “is he a traitor, or a whistleblower?” Then the discussion develops, but it typically centers on the one thing that does not matter: motive.  The media likes to personalize such things because it gives them superficial fodder for filling their daily word-count quotas, but the breathless talk of “who Snowdon is” and “what he wants” and whether he is sane or not – none of this matters one whit. I don’t know if he is a “hero”, because that does go to motive, which does not interest me.  I am interested in whether what he says is true or not.

You see, we’ve created a type, a role – “whistleblower” – that actually means “someone who exposes illegal activity”. We created this role in popular culture first, mainly on the Left, and we blessed this role with the reverse-Nuremberg immunity, as the writers romanticized corporate insiders who exposed evil capitalists – see “Silkwood”. Then we enshrined it in law, and for good or ill, that train is now running down the track.

So this debate will hinge on substance, not motive (as it should). Is Snowdon telling the truth, and if he is, is the Orwellian state he describes legal or illegal? If it is legal, he is a traitor. If it is not, he is not.

If I give away our codes to an enemy in wartime, that one is easy. But if I say to my fellow citizens “hey, your government is spying on you in ways you do not know and I believe you should know and have not authorized” – to equate these acts morally and legally is confusion.

By the way, the only thing that gives any loyalty to the government any moral force at all is individual liberty. The State has no ethical claim on me except as an apparatus by which we protect our life, liberty, and property. So the moral basis for convicting me for exposing codes to a military enemy is that I am actually endangering your hearth and plow. And that works. But go very slow before you extend that moral outrage to any leaker.  In fact, I’ll  extend the principle: any leak that endangers liberty is a crime against my fellow free people.  Any leak that protects our mutual liberties is not a crime, no matter what may written in some black-letter statute somewhere. And this has nothing to do with motive.

Don’t confuse this with another version of it, which is as relativistic as mine might sound. The current progressive left actually believes that any leak that furthers the progressive agenda is not a crime, and others are. This is very different, and deserves rejection.  It is actually what induces all the talk about motive, because as you know, on the Left, the pure motive of the State hallows it. Not so on this ground I’m staking: liberty is the objective, tangible touchstone of everything, and I think what makes my argument work where the Left bastardization does not.

This means every act of revealing government secrets has to be litigated as to substance. And if it is to be litigated, the substance can’t be secret. There is a real problem here that no-one knows how to solve and I’d suggest that once you serve on a Congressional intelligence oversight committee, no matter your party, you seem to take on the impulse to yell “traitor” quickly and before the litigation even begins. That might be because you understand just how important security clearances really are, or it might be because you understand there is no way in our legal system to litigate such events and you don’t want to have to write that law. Well, we are writing it.

Conservatives like to style themselves as patriots.  Many have been in the military, and value loyalty and discipline, and react viscerally to a violation of a security clearance and an oath.   But I’d urge you conservatives to go slow with your reflexive patriotism and consider whether this State is the same one that got into your moral DNA when you were younger.  If there is an Orwellian state, it is not immoral to expose it. In fact, the only thing that will save you from the gulag is insiders who break some sort of oath and talk about it.   Again,  those who cherish individual liberty should go real, real slow before condemning a person for claiming to know secret ways your liberties are being stolen.

Here’s my point: America, when you stripped Goebbels of his Nuremberg defense, you gave Snowdon his defense.  You are now going to have to litigate in open court.

I’d argue that the 4th Amendment in its original language, unadorned, gives Americans all we need to protect ourselves from both the Orwellian state and from domestic terrorists.  We should support the public, open litigation of the very notion that there can be secret surveillance of an American citizen apart from the probable cause and delineated subject matter that the Founders wrote into the simple language of the bill of rights.

If the NSA is doing what Snowdon describes, then it is a rogue, illegal State, and Snowdon is not a traitor.

*************************************************************************************

The surveillant state defends its legality by noting that judges authorize the snooping, apparently under the auspices of the Patriot Act, and Congress is briefed.   This is supposed to satisfy the 4th Amendment.  But the simple existence of multiple branches of government in a process does not by itself rise to constitutionality, if the entire process is shut away behind iron doors the imperiled citizen cannot penetrate.

What makes the protection of the 4th Amendment real, as opposed to just words, is that the citizen can challenge the probable cause of the search and the scope and process of the evidence collection that is the weapon against him in court. If you, as an individual before the justice system, cannot reach all the way back to the moment when there was no evidence against you and litigate the police and prosecutor’s steps along the way to where you stand today in the dock, you r rights are a sham.

But these judges are anonymous and unelected, and the briefings are classified, and limited to small circles of Congressional leadership.  So if you are ever prosecuted using evidence collected by the kind of generalized data collection Snowdon describes, how will you challenge the origin of the prosecution?   How will you claim the evidence is “fruit of a poisonous tree” if the tree is locked away in a cloistered, invisible garden?   The secrecy of the process makes the powers of the State unaccountable to the people, and therefore illegitimate.

Political Debate is Inherently Corrupt

Political debate is conducted in mutual bad faith, and I’m not just talking about the general malicious intent.   There is a specific structural pattern to bad faith debate:  while the honest debater moves toward premises, the bad faith debater actively flees from premises.

Good faith debate, like you might have with a friend, is a search for the logical point where the two views divurge. If the friends can identify the node where they part, they can move upstream, as it were, to work directly on it instead of indirectly through their discordant downstream conclusions. Their work will yield agreement efficiently and quickly. Because, after all, what they want is agreement. Neither has a conflict of interest. Each is eager to expose his own premise to critique.

Good faith arguments proceed in retrograde: from assertion “backwards” to premise, and this same movement repeatedly, to deeper premises. Soon, agreement gets easier. It’s a search for agreement, and it honors the opponent.

Bad faith argument drives in exactly the opposite logical direction. Each speaker seeks to insulate, rather than expose his premise, and he seeks to trap the opponent in his static assertion and prevent him from moving retrograde toward his own premise. Neither speaker, of course, actually wants agreement. What each wants is victory. So you have two minds at work, each with a severe conflict of interest.

It’s tempting to say that the audience insults its own intelligence by subjecting itself to this. But most of the audience is corrupted already, to the degree the politics of a nation is a struggle over whose money will go to whom.

Twilight

If it is all just quarks, then my quarrel with myself can cease.  My mind will accept that it just mediates the background radiation and I’ll go gently down the entropy chute.  The sun does not regard me.  It does not number my hairs nor does it note the drop of the sparrow from the wire.

And I’ll stop caring about the sadness at the disenchantment of the world, the sadness that creeps inside like lowland fog.  Do you like or hate that conclusion?  Do you comprehend your own feeling?  Does it come from the solar energy  that is closer to you than you are to yourself?   Does the sun project disgust into the souls of those who do not meditate on her laws?

I wish I could tell you why I stop to stare inside a single silver drop of dew. I think I hope to tell you what it is. I suppose I could cite a chemical equation; would you believe it? Don’t you also talk of mystery, awe, and wonder, because the equations are not enough for you? But these are just placeholder words, what the accountants call a plug number, the semantic gods of the gaps. I don’t begrudge the materialists their non-numerical words. You can’t just talk in equations, after all.

Isn’t it the truth that we simply — you and I at least — we simply do not believe in chemistry. I am an infidel, but I would prefer to be a believer. It’s just that when I stare into the light in water, I do not believe I am seeing the chemistry, and neither do you. After all, why should we do what our quarks find boring? What moral imperative does the sun project?

So let’s go then, you and I at least, while the West is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized, while the women pace to and fro talking of Michaelangelo, let us go then you and I and dare to eat a peach.

Voting Your Interest?

 

Seemingly intelligent groups will engage in long arguments around terms that neither side has defined.  One such word is “interest”, as in the common trope of political debate:  “Go vote your interest. It’s the only democratic antidote to greed, hate and ignorance.”

This begs the question, since the disagreements about what policies are “in the interest” of this person or that – the disagreements are already embedded in the conflicting definitions of “interest”.   So all the arguments, on both sides, are circular.

Does “my interest” simply mean  “what is good for my checkbook”?   If so, then a sound vote is just a vote to get free money from other people.   Or does it mean “what is best for the country in the long run” – even though that might be bad for my checkbook?   This is presumably a more noble stance.

There’s a common illusion that seems to feed the belief that if the masses simply vote their interest all will be well, as if they don’t already vote their interest, but are misled by hypnotists.   It’s usually in the throes of some economic disaster when this complaint sounds the loudest.   But it’s conspiracy thinking, and it’s lazy.   To believe that economic recessions are created by a few rich greedy financiers, and the common people would prevent such silliness if they were only watching – is one of the populist illusions.  And like all the populist sound-bites, it require serious mental gymnastics to keep believing.   In simple fact, recessions usually follow the bursting of some investment bubble, which are funded by a large number of common people borrowing money they cannot repay.  The borrowers think it is in their interest (forgive the pun).  They dream of sudden and easy wealth, whether of tulips or of inflated housing values or magical stock values.   It takes large numbers of little people, frothed by some collective mania, to make economic disasters.   A few men in waistcoats with gold pocket-watches can’t do it, sorry.

A bubble inevitably forms when two things coincide:  hope of private gain, backed up by  socialized risk.   These unsophisticated debtors believe there is certain gain from borrowed money and the risk can be avoided.   Gain is easily pictured in tangible form (a bigger house, faster car,  fancier clothes), while risk is an abstraction that that requires cold, logical tools.   That gain without risk makes no rational sense is not in the field of vision when the pictures blind the mind.   No need for new words: “greed” will do.  The common people are no less greedy than the shadowy bankers.   Never search for a secret conspiracy of wall-street wolverines when obvious culprits are milling about.

These are the same common people who vote yes for every social benefit, and no for every tax, which builds an American social safety net which is nothing other than a bubble.   A synonym for this pathology is:  “voting your interest”.

This financial analysis is widely understood.   We all know there are massive unfunded liabilities in the American system.  But we insist on putting this long-term structural problem down to to some hidden minority (the conspiracy mind) or to some cognitive deficit on the part of the voters.   Populists on the left and right differ on who the hidden manipulators are,  and they fight over who to blame, but they share the exact same bad logic in the service of the exact same external locus-of-control.   And anthropological optimists on the left think that voters just need to be educated on their interests, and then we’ll tax everyone enough to fund the commitments we made ourselves.

But all of these are evasions of a simpler, less comfortable truth about human nature:  we are, by nature, thieves.  We want money for nothing, and we’re willing to take it, and especially if we can call the thievery something else, or point to to someone else.    That this is true of the average person is demonstrated by the drift, over time,  by a statistical certitude, toward making the entire country into an asset bubble.

Democratic systems are the worst ways to govern – except for all the others.   But let’s not lie to ourselves.   The electorate, always and everywhere, are corrupt and corruptible.   The best systems of government are those that manage to thwart the thieves.  Who are Us.

 

 

The Myth of Female Peacefulness

Some think that a government filled with women would be more peaceful; a senate of women would get more done with less conflict. But there is no evidence for this, and plenty of evidence for the opposite.

Forget the “studies”. There are lots of real life laboratories, called workplaces. Go to a workplace dominated by females. There are still lots of them — hospitals, for example, where the nursing staffs are still mostly women. Ask the women what they think. Many of them will tell you that trying to manage a group of women is a nightmare compared to managing men. They’ll tell you that the conflict level is high and unremitting.

Again, the women say this about themselves. I first heard it from women whom I’ve supervised over the course of 15 years in management now. (I’m a man.) The small businesses I’ve managed have had workforces of more than 90% women. Over the years many women have spontaneously offered me their sympathy for my task of keeping the female peace. I’ve had many women say to me “I’d much rather manage a bunch of men than a bunch of women.”

There is no doubt that women value collaboration more than men do, and naturally choose to work collaboratively when given the chance. Cooperation is their default mode, while isolation is the default mode of the male. But you have to distinguish between what women value and what they actually do accomplish when in task-oriented groups. In fact, that they treasure collaberation so much that this actually makes them more sensitive to slight errors of cooperation – since they also perceive much, much more nuance in the interpersonal space than men do. (I hope this last assertion is not controversial. Have you never been married?) And it is precisely this combination which is fatal for the outcome.

Again, the combination is the problem.  The female psyche both values cooperation and at the same time perceives interpersonal imperfection.  This combination exponentiates tensions within female task groups.   Over time, they gather an exponentially higher list of mental grievances against each other, more than would a group of relatively obtuse, individualistic men. And because these issues are not just cognitive observations but are rooted deep in their value system, they cannot pass them over.

This means that a working group of women will fight more, about more, than a similarly tasked group of men. So, all other things being equal, the female group will be much more likely to break down in conflict than the male.

Of course all things are not equal, so we can’t conclude from this observation anything about the relative efficiency of a female group. Other factors count.

For example, negligence is a male specialty. The general scofflaw in the workplace, who just skips whatever he can get away with, is more likely male. Also, when they do fight, the male group’s fight is more likely to be physical and destructive.

So I’m not saying that females are less good at anything than a male group (indeed, they usually believe they are better, and I’ve not seen evidence to the contrary.) I am saying they do not have less conflict.

You might argue that productivity and efficiency are exactly the issue, since a female group that experiences more conflict yet still is productive is precisely evidence that women do something to overcome all that conflict. But do they, or is it overcome, suppressed, or dampened for them by management support? To extrapolate their productivity-in-spite-of-conflict to a hypothetical governing body, you would have to remove the influence of management — since a female Senate would have no referee.

We should distinguish between task-oriented groups and other types of gatherings. Women love to gather when there is no external task, but rather just explore the richness of friendship. These are different, and I don’t have near the direct experience of the latter as I do the former.

But, you say, the world’s literature is full of woman’s hatred for war. Of course women hate war more than men do, because they feel the bond of love more deeply then men. Mothers and wives feel the loss of sons and husbands more acutely than a man can imagine. But these are distinct matters; women’s suffering from war is not evidence they would be less warlike as governments.

Based on my experience as a manager of women and their own testimony, I’m metaphysically certain that if you elected 100 women to the United States Senate today, tomorrow the conflict level in that body would go up, not down.

The Disingenuous Voice in Politics

Political activists are regularly outraged when their opponents mistreat them.  Well, I’m shocked that they are shocked. They must not understand their own axioms.  But let me back up and lay the groundwork by describing those things that seem obvious to me about political activity, and the personality type of the activist.

Politics is the struggle between two visions of justice, which share the common assumption that force can accomplish the vision. In one vision, that of the political left, injustice is mostly represented by an incorrect distribution of the money. In the vision from the political right, the first group is just a pack of thieves.  Both sides think the other needs to be cudgeled.

So all daily tactics are part of a holy war over the control of the coercive power, to control the money. In the end, it’s just a simple brawl over money, but the activists in each camp do see it in stark moral terms. Either the world is broken and we need the gold to make the world right; or the pillaging barbarians are at the gate, demanding the gold.

The political conflict is, for activists, an absolute moral vision, and so it requires victory at all costs. Politics is jihad. There might seem to be an occasional compromise but those are tactical pauses, in which both sides use the calm to reload.

The two visions cannot be reconciled, because visions are rarely formed by argument or reason, and so rarely change in response to argument or reason. They are pre-cognitive, aesthetic constructs, formed in early childhood, and if you believe in them enough to fight for them you constantly select evidence from your environment to confirm your lifelong vision.

On the left, your side looks to you like a band of saints just building an earthly paradise. Just imagine how beatific it shall be; it is the pearl of great price, this just community , and for it a man or woman will sell all. You are on the barricades in Les Miserable, singing anthems and waving flags. Your hair, despite your beret, is swept back by your own intrepidity. Your eye is like a raptor’s, your talon is clenched around arrows, you are gaunt with ascetic devotion. It’s all stronger than heroin.

Visions are also all-embracing. You sincerely think the other side is either crazy or malicious. There is no terrain outside the vision for the conscience to find a critical foothold. So all political activists are indistinguishable from that long-recognized type, the fanatic. Only the dilettante is squeamish. Since your vision of the final state of society has in it all that you’ve ever imagined of justice, even a transient sacrifice of momentary conscience is justified by the equation in your head. This sly word, that hyperbole, this heightening of my opponents wart, that ignoring of his humanity, — these small mischiefs the price of cosmic justice. Done. Misdemeanors only, since you need the gold to make the world right.

So political candidates and nominees in America are routinely slandered and demonized by tactics that all the activists teach their own children are immoral. Each side sees the other candidates or nominees as willing enemy combatants, intellectual terrorists, but they see their own as smart, qualified servants of the just cause. Therefore, the tactics of the other side look devilish, while the tactics of your own side seem fair, given the larger context of the vision. All armies will commit atrocities if the only other choice is slavery; all political activists demonize people on the other side who are better people than themselves. So both sides become devils, and they are all fighting against devils.

Most soldiers on both sides are congenitally incapable of fairly imagining their opponents’ vision, and those who are so capable actually make bad soldiers and get drummed out early, so the army is selected for hysteria. As your comrades get shot, your picture of the other side as demonic gets confirmed, and embedded deeper and deeper into your emotional life. That’s how war works. You start – start! – with the other side de-humanized, and the process of fighting actually confirms and embellishes the gargoyles you see across the wire. People who enlist for either side tend, over time, to subsume their consciences to the victory of their vision. This is how war works. Everything, including the integrity of language itself (cf Orwell), is eventually submerged by the Cause, and the more clearly you see your vision, the more you see your friends wounded, the more quickly and happily you drown your conscience.

Any more sophisticated depiction of a political fight is propaganda, to be consumed by spectators.

Activists find it useful to label themselves something else, because soldiers long ago discovered that if you look like a non-combatant you can knock off opponents easier. So, today for example, we get such amusing labels as ‘advocacy journalist” and “political blogger” and “‘policy wonk” and so on. If you can pretend to be lounging at the side of the battlefield, just writing down what is happening, you can shoot the enemies of your vision, the killers of your friends, when they are not looking. No matter the label, these are killers all, for a vision of who should possess the money.

The side that is losing at the moment bemoans the state of the country, talks about it going to hell, wails about the Eden now lost, and so on. In five minutes, the battle shifts and the wail erupts from the other camp. The wail is a tactic. The political battle is no different now than it was in 1960, 1860, or than it was in Athens centuries before Christ. People behave a certain way in wars.

But what the activists think about their enemies is never true. Political visions, though rooted deeply in personal psychologies, have little to do with what we would traditionally describe as goodness of character. These two things – political vision and personal goodness – seem to run on nearly independent tracks within one psyche. And this lack of correlation between politics and personal goodness is important. Both sides passionately resist this knowledge, because it is structurally necessary that the other side be devils.

You doubt this? You’re a true believer yourself, I take it.  Then do a little thought experiment with me.

Imagine you are caught in a natural disaster, like the flood which inundated New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. Imagine you found yourself in a band of ad-hoc rescuers, working 18 hours a day for a week, taking survivors off rooftops, all of you risking your lives together to save people you don’t know. Imagine you found yourselves of one mind, exhausted together, trusting each other completely in that crisis atmosphere. It happens, thankfully.

Suppose a year later, someone organizes a reunion, because as the horror wore off you began to remember that week as a strangely golden and precious experience. The foxhole bond needs honoring. You get together in a nice hotel, and this time there is leisure to get to know each other. As the evening wears on, do you think the people you respected the most on those rooftops will be found to agree with your politics? You do realize, don’t you, that political allegiance will be distributed randomly among your heroic group?

So activists of all types are deluded, because they need to be. You can’t shoot people, but you can shoot devils.

Activists are different in private than they are in public. In private, they are jocular about the blood on their hands. In public they behave classier – not for the benefit of the enemy army but for the neutrals.  I took all this time to develop the context of political arguments because that jihad context is studiously hidden by both sides, in order to recruit civilians.   Activists are known by their public disengenuous voice.

Disingenuous, in the dictionary, means lacking candor, insincere.  But this is imprecise, and so throws away a useful word into a tangle of synonyms. The disingenuous voice is not just insincere; it is fake sincere, it is faux-innocent. It is the voice which extracts an assertion from its bloody context and offers it as clean.

Here is what to listen for: the disingenuous voice talks about some moment in this war as if it is not a war. All such statements of the form “our guy is for the children” are intentionally ignoring the larger political fight in an effort to utterly fictionalize the moment.

This is for the benefit of the civilians, who have not enlisted yet, and who need to be recruited to feed and clothe your army. If it looks to them like your army is building bridges and roads — not shooting the other side to get the gold – then they’ll more likely feed and clothe you.

So: imagine a nominee for a cabinet position. Suppose the position concerns health care. Let’s stipulate that he is brilliant, a visionary, a good man, a father perhaps, a husband perhaps (I simply don’t know), understands the American health system better than anyone alive. Stipulate that he tells good jokes, sacrifices for his family, loves puppies, and weeps at every Nora Ephron movie. Add your stipulation here.

He may actually think he is just being asked to fix health care, or however he would express it. The combat engineer thinks he is merely a builder of bridges. The quartermaster thinks he is a merely a feeder of villages. They probably are sincere in their work, enjoy it, are good at it, and so on. All sincere, all good, but all cogs in a killing machine. How war works.

To talk about this or that episode in American politics as if it is any less than a skirmish in the war to own all the wealth in America is to be deceptive. Mr. Nominee, the agency itself, the programs of the day themselves, the use of words like ‘compassion’ and “suffering”, the high-toned arguments about the legitimate powers of the State — these are all instruments in the war. The activist frames the debate. The distinction between the journalist and the activist is that the journalist does not speak in the disingenuous voice.  (Note: most ostensible “journalists” on television are activists, and expert in the disingenuous voice.)

The disingenuous voice talks about some moment in the war as if it is a moment about building bridges or feeding villagers.

 

 

Rival Versions of History

It all depends on how you connect the dots in history. Left history is a story of more and more money taken from the robber barons and returned to its rightful owners, the masses. Right history is a story of the gradual escape of the individual from the tyranny of the state.

You tell me: which version did the Founders think they were writing a chapter of?

The First Object of Government

From Power Line:

Given that poorer citizens always outnumber the rich, the classic political philosophers held that government based on majority rule was untenable. They were of the view that it would lead to organized theft from the wealthy by the democratic masses. Thus Aristotle warned in The Politics, for example: “If the majority distributes among itself the things of a minority, it is evident that it will destroy the city.”

The Founders of the United States were deep students of politics and history, and they shared Aristotle’s concern. Up through their time, history had shown all known democracies to be “incompatible with personal security or the rights of property.” James Madison and others held that the “first object of government” was to protect the rights of property. Numerous provisions of the Constitution and Bill of Rights were incorporated to protect the property rights of citizens from the power of the government.

The Ponzi Molecule

Atoms have charges which pre-dispose them to particular molecular combinations.   Congresspeople are the atoms in our political system.   They also carry “charges” which pre-dispose them to create particular laws.    This charge has nothing to do with party or even political philosophy, because in the modern era, re-election depends on bringing back to your district more than your taxpayers put in.   So the charge can be called “more out than in”, and it is now the orientation of all Congress.   It is automatic, it flows from their personal self-interest and the self interest of their district.  

Chemists understand that if you know the charge of the atom, the molecular results are entirely predictable.  They share an elective affinity.   It’s not like  the atoms decide what kind of shape to form; their properties govern their possible combinations.  You’d never combine certain atoms and then be amazed at the molecule that appears.  By now, you’d understand the intrinsic properties of the atoms predetermine the molecule.   You wouldn’t peer at the molecule and then complain about the choices of the atoms.    You wouldn’t get up in the morning and rush to the microscope to see if some other molecule formed just this one time.  

  Continue reading “The Ponzi Molecule”

The “True” Christmas

It is a universal human pattern:  first, use some analytical solvent on the accidents to get to the essence,  then, be shocked that the essence itself melted away.     

Christmas is not a core story or truth buried under the barnacles of culture.   It is a dialogue between God and man, in which God says “Emmanuel!”  and man says “joy!” , and the only voice man has is culture.   Culture includes money as well as song and color.   Christmas has not been corrupted by being “commercialized” —  how wouldyou expect a wealthy culture — as a culture —  to respond to the incarnation?   With everything except its money?   Why in the world would we want that?   

No, I think we’re just smug docetics, and docetism’s smugness is the smugness of self-made religion.   Jesus’ birth is too pure, too ethereal for our money.   We think we sully it with money.   Really?  Really?  Have you read the gospels?   Have you been schooled by the feast?  Widows bring mites because they have them;  the little drummer brought what he had; the ox and lamb kept time and kept Him warm with their breath; but the rich magi didn’t bring him a mite, or their camel breath,  or a little drum; they brought him GOLD.   It would have been an insult to do otherwise.  

Not that every thing man says in reponse to God is equally good.   The ascetic or puritan impulse is often correct, just like an eraser is useful when you write.   There are corrupt cultures, and wealth is often corrupt.   But the healthy ascetic erases one thing in order to add something else.   You don’t make Christmas more pure by taking the money out of it; you just make it poor.   Money is a medium of exchange of material goods, but it has never been a substitute for anything else.   The poor can be deluded by that error just like the rich often are.   

A stock anecdote this time of year is “the poor Christmas of our childhood, in which we had nothing but the birth of Jesus to celebrate.”   Well, money didn’t steal that from you; you gave it away for a bowl of porridge.  

All humans are docetic until the incarnation heals our logic.    Come, celebrate the feast with all you have.

Douglas Wilson: on what “Twilight” says about love.

If a man treats you terribly, it is all because he loves you. If a man confesses he might kill you, you should just stay with him forever and a day. If a man abandons you without explanation, it is because he loves you so much. If your lover needs to be changed, it must be possible for you to change him. And anyways, after that doesn’t work out, it would be better to be swallowed up by his problems than to be without him. Anything but going without him.

via Twilight #6.

Government workers

People who work in government are normal people (you might be one) but their organization hamstrings them — necessarily.    It is not possible for a government institution to compete with a private institution.

Their work takes place in an adversarial arena with legislated transparency. Nobody can do well in this environment.   It’s like practicing your disco moves in a glass bedroom; there is no way to look good.   By “adversary”, we mean “organized, intelligent bands of predators who have a religious zeal to ruin you forever.”   Yes, political Left, this is you.   Yes, political Right, this is you.

In private industry, there are adversaries, but you can keep the walls opaque.   Those who would love to kill you (professionally) can be kept out and kept relatively blind to the details of your team’s work.

No matter who you are, the closer your job is to an elected person, the more vultures there are from the other party whose hot passion is to demonstrate your evil and take your job away from you.   This usually has little to do with factual content.   There are plenty of people, in both parties, down to the local level, who are perfectly willing to falsely imprison people from the other party in order to seize their power.

Though the individual job may not be important to the zealots and party activists as a prize, they  have made “flipping” the little guys  into an art form any mob prosecutor would be proud of.   Find incompetence at some level, and leverage it, to dislodge higher ups.   This is common, and ugly.

The only protection for the little people is formal  procedure.   Government workers would be crazy not to formalize everything down to the paperclip requisition.   Paperwork, jargon, algorithms — all that we mean when we say “bureaucracy” is the inevitable product of normal people acting in an expected level of self-interest.

It’s a commonplace to note the absence of market discipline. I’ve nothing new to say, except that it can’t be rated too important.   Private companies get slovenly and weak very quickly when there is not perceptible threat from competitors.   Like the gallows in the famous quote,   the prospect of having your livelihood ripped away will focus the thoughts wonderfully.     Those of us in private companies who do well will become inefficient if this pressure goes away.   We hate it, but it is the source of whatever excellence companies create.

This pressure is wholly unlike the political pressure that ruins work, because it can be responded to rationally, by people working in teams, who can hide their tactics behind closed doors.   And there is an external check on the final product — the market — in place of the false and malicious evaluation of the political climbers.

There is no substitute for competitive pressure.   Its effect cannot be built into a federal agency by any means whatsoever.    You can fill a government agency with geniuses and the lack of competitive pressure will ruin their work.

Career politicians have never felt this pressure.   They discount it congenitally.

So the government workers have a massive pressure to be inefficient — the protective bureaucracy —  and an utter lack of healthy pressure.   They can’t win even though they are good and talented —  except by a fiat, from those who possess the guns — the legislators.

History and Politics and your Future

…in one sentence:

When “person” means anything other than “object of God’s love”, bloodbaths ensue.

I’m not sure democracy can survive as the Judeo-Christian tincture fades from the West, leaving…Aristotle.   What is a vote-deserving agent under the gaze of reason alone?   The sanctity with which people regard “one person, one vote” in the West today is deceptive.   We moderns read it backward in time, projecting it onto the Greek city-states, because we want to locate its birth somewhere and we’re embarrassed to give the credit to Jesus.   But we conveniently forget that the Greek “citizen” did not mean “person”.   Few persons actually had a vote.   No, this feeling of sanctity about the dignity of all persons is a residue of the New Testament.   It is an historical outworking of the implications of the words and deeds of one Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

It is superficial to read this as if I’m saying that everyone who has ever expressed a biblical allegiance was a democrat.   But biblical thought, worked out, leads to democracy as we understand the word: one person, one vote, and if you exist you are a person.    It often takes decades to work theoretical principles into the fabric of daily life.   America’s civil war, for example, was an exercise not only of constitutional jurisprudence but also in biblical exegesis, by means of guns, decades after the principles were established.

That was when Americans were exegeting American principles.  It was bitter, but became also sweet.   The good had triumphed, and bitterness is exorcised by the knowledge that good has ensued.   Now, though…now that the NT has been overthrown by the grand narrative of time plus chance,  there is no center of history,  there is no touchstone for the good,  so  there are no principles to constantly de-toxify the political atmosphere from its steady infusion of bitterness.    There is no transcendent view of “person” to exegete toward all who breathe, no matter how you feel about them.   So, from the poison of the cumulative bitterness of political conflict it becomes more and more thinkable to disenfranchise your opponents in order to get things done that you personally believe in.   This temptation, when the means actually appears, is too great for most political True Believers to pass up.   And when once a group has been disenfranchised, unless they are willing to be slaves, it is only a matter of time before they go to the ovens or the lynching tree.  The counterweight to this cumulative political bitterness is the memory that life is more than politics, that the person opposing me at the school board meeting, no matter how much I dislike him, is as much redeemed by Jesus as I am.   I can devalue his mind in my estimation all I want — and might even be accurate, for there really are fools — but my even nominal theology won’t let me devalue his person.   He has a counterweight to his own foolery, and it is God.   Even when “god” only means a vague tittering in the conscience.

Do not underestimate the power of this subliminal theology in steadying the civility of Western politics.   I believe that as it fades in cultures, there comes a tipping point when the bitterness goes viral, and this explains the surprisingly rapid developments of pogroms.   Those always erupt in societies where everyone thought, the night before, it couldn’t happen here.

You doubt that the “person” grows from New Testament soil?   You think it grows from Enlightenment soil, which is just the rediscovered strata of Greece and Rome, after the garbage of religion is scraped away?   You had better hope you are right.   You had better hope the guillotines of France and the adventures of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all were only coincidentally associated with their functional atheisms.

G.K. Chesterton: on decadence

There comes an hour in the afternoon when the child is tired of “pretending”, when he is weary of being a robber or red Indian.  It is then when he torments the cat.  There comes a time in the routine of an ordered civilization when man is tired of playing at mythology and pretending that the tree is a maiden or that the moon made love to a man.  The effect of this staleness is the same everywhere; it is seen in all drug taking and dram drinking and every form of the tendency to increase the dose.  Men seek stranger sins and more startling obscenities as stimulants to their jaded senses.  They seek after mad oriental religions for the same reason.  They try to stab their nerves to life, if it were with the knives of the priests of Baal.  They are walking in their sleep and try to wake themselves up with nightmares.

– GK Chesterton