I must admit, I have read neither Biden’s memoir nor Dole’s preamble to full erectile function. But I think that the vice president may have a great book in him — not Grant’s memoirs great, but pretty great. I dream of Joe Biden’s writing a postmodern surrealist political manifesto titled Literally Delaware: This Book Has No Subtitle, which I suspect would be colorful reading inasmuch as in his role as under-cretin to the World’s Most Powerful Man™ he has access to the 152-color “Ultimate” Crayola set, though presumably he is allowed to use the included sharpener only under adult supervision. The book would be available only at stores in Amtrak stations and should be read only on the train, a piece of locative literature.
Kevin D. Williamson, “A Plague of Memoirs: A courageously awesome American story of awesomely American courage”, National Review, 2014-10-06.
September 4, 2015
September 3, 2015
Last month, Reason‘s Brian Doherty found four prominent Ayn Rand fans who’ve eventually thrown off the yoke of Objectivism (or Objectivism-fellow-traveller-ism) and now don’t want to be in any way associated with their former guru, including Neil Peart:
Peart, drummer and lyricist for rock band Rush, would clearly rather not be asked about his early-career loud enthusiasm for Rand and her ideas. The well-reviewed 2010 documentary on the band, Beyond the Lighted Stage, mentions her barely at all. (I recall not at all but am using less certain language as I don’t have a full transcript to consult.) Rand’s importance is ignored by the film, though she was central to one of the core conundrums of Rush history: why did rock intellectuals and tastemakers hate on this excellent band so much and for so long?
After years of Peart’s lyrics dissing metaphorical arboreal labor unions, declaring his mind is not for rent to any God or government (Rand’s top two villains), and hat-tipping explicitly in the liner notes to the concept LP 2112 to the “genius of Ayn Rand,” he felt the albatross of 18-minute prog suites and silly ’70s stage garbs was enough for one poor percussionist to bear, and decided to drop the burden of Rand.
Peart most recently tried to distance himself from Randian libertarianism in a Rolling Stone profile of the band, as discussed here by Matt Welch, who quoted the core of Peart’s apostasy:
Rush’s earlier musical take on Rand, 1975’s unimaginatively titled “Anthem,” is more problematic [than 2112], railing against the kind of generosity that Peart now routinely practices: “Begging hands and bleeding hearts will/Only cry out for more.” And “The Trees,” an allegorical power ballad about maples dooming a forest by agitating for “equal rights” with lofty oaks, was strident enough to convince a young Rand Paul that he had finally found a right-wing rock band.
Peart outgrew his Ayn Rand phase years ago, and now describes himself as a “bleeding-heart libertarian,” citing his trips to Africa as transformative. He claims to stand by the message of “The Trees,” but other than that, his bleeding-heart side seems dominant. Peart just became a U.S. citizen, and he is unlikely to vote for Rand Paul, or any Republican. Peart says that it’s “very obvious” that Paul “hates women and brown people” — and Rush sent a cease-and-desist order to get Paul to stop quoting “The Trees” in his speeches.
“For a person of my sensibility, you’re only left with the Democratic party,” says Peart, who also calls George W. Bush “an instrument of evil.” “If you’re a compassionate person at all. The whole health-care thing — denying mercy to suffering people? What? This is Christian?”
“Outgrew” is the closest thing to an explanation, and there is no explanation at all for his reasoning that libertarianoid Rand Paul (whose name is no relation to Ms. Rand’s) is anti-woman and anti-brown people, or what about his “sensibility” matches the Democrats.
Peart clearly vibed with a general anti-authoritarianism he saw in Rand, and with her objection to enforced equality. But a more nuanced attempt to distance himself from Randian libertarianism in an interview Peart did for a feature in the libertarian magazine Liberty in 1997 (by the Institute for Justice’s Scott Bullock) made it clear that Peart’s attraction to Rand was more about her underlying sense of individualism and the nobility of the artist and his intentions than it was about all the complicated policy implications that Rand, and her libertarian fans, drew from her philosophy.
Bullock skillfully teases out the fact that Rand’s morality implied a belief in free markets as well as a general individualist sense of “freedom” seemed to have never quite been embedded in Peart’s DNA. And indeed Fountainhead‘s individualist message is largely that the creative artist can and ought to follow his own whims and spirit no matter what markets do (while never suggesting anyone should be forced to support a great artist, or prevented by force from supporting mediocre ones).
September 2, 2015
September 1, 2015
Allum Bokhari claims to see a rising tide of cultural libertarians in our future:
A new force is emerging in the culture wars. Authoritarians of all stripes, from religious reactionaries to left-wing “social justice warriors,” are coming under fire from a new wave of thinkers, commentators, and new media stars who reject virtually all of their political values.
From the banning of Charlie Hebdo magazine across British university campuses on the grounds that it promoted islamophobia, to the removal of the video game Grand Theft Auto V from major retailers in Australia on the grounds that it promoted sexism, threats to cultural freedom proliferate.
But a growing number of commentators, media personalities and academics reject the arguments that underpin these assaults on free expression, in particular the idea that people are either too emotionally fragile to deal with “offence” or too corruptible to be exposed to dangerous ideas.
In a recent co-authored feature for Breitbart, I coined a term to describe this new trend: cultural libertarianism. The concept was critically discussed by Daniel Pryor at the Centre for a Stateless Society, who drew attention to the increasing viciousness of cultural politics in the internet age.
There is a reason for the sound and fury. Like all insurgent movements, the emergence of cultural libertarianism is creating tensions, border skirmishes, and even the occasional war with lazy incumbent elites. Some of these rows can be breathtakingly vitriolic, as self-righteous anger from social justice types collides with mocking and occasionally caustic humour from cultural libertarians.
I’m a fairly big believer in the idea of Questioning Everything, and the absolute first thing on the list of Everything to be Questioned is the self.
Why do I think the way I do? What bigotries lurk in my heart? What cheap rationalizations do I comfort myself with? What petty vanities do I sustain despite all evidence, and what contempts and condescensions do I offer others to sustain those vanities?
What myths and lies do I consciously believe in — and which do I subconsciously believe in?
I don’t want to be all Mr. Liberal here — and I certainly don’t want to lecture self-alleged Liberals on Liberalism 101 — but I think those are reasonable questions that all thinking Men or thinking Women should ask themselves every once in a while.
Self-serving answers shouldn’t be trusted. Self-serving answers may actually be correct, but they should never be trusted, and certainly never accepted at first blush.
We’re taught to be suspicious of flattery from our very first Aesop’s Fable. We know other people may flatter us in order to bend us to their own interests.
The most insidious flattery of all is self-flattery, because we never suspect ourselves of having any ulterior motives.
But of course we all do. We all want to feel superior to our fellow man, and especially those of Other Tribes.
And we will flatter ourselves until we feel just that.
Those who only question other people’s notions are not really questioning anything at all.
August 29, 2015
At Strategy Page, an explanation for why most people think the world is going to hell, despite the facts pointing in all kinds of positive and hopeful directions:
One of the ironies of the post-Cold War world is that most people get the impression that things are getting worse and worse while for the majority of people on the planet life is getting better. Worldwide poverty and death rates are plummeting while income and reported (via opinion surveys) satisfaction are way up. Many major diseases (like tetanus and polio) have nearly been eliminated and malaria, the disease that has killed more people than any other throughout history, is in decline because of medical advances. War related deaths have been declining since World War II ended in 1945 and that decline continued after the Cold War eliminated most communist governments in 1991. Why do most people think otherwise? You can blame the mass media and their most effective marketing tool; FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).
Mass media first appeared in the mid-19th century with the development of the steam press, which made cheap-enough-to-reach-a-mass-audience newspapers possible. Editors quickly learned that FUD sells best. Politicians, rebels, and even advertisers found that FUD was a very effective tool to grab attention and change attitudes. Put another way, excitement sells, and the best way to excite readers is to scare them.
Modern terrorism, based on using murderous mass attacks on the public to trigger a flurry of media coverage, came out of this. The 19th century anarchists, followed by the Bolsheviks (communists), several fascist movements (like the Nazis), and many others, all used this media proclivity to jump on terrorist acts in order to scare readers into buying more newspapers, or supporting some extremist cause or another. The terrorists got the publicity and attention they wanted, which sometimes led to acquiring political power as well.
Radio appeared in the 1930s and this made it even easier to reach literate as well as illiterate populations. Combining radio and FUD allowed communism and fascism to spread far and fast in the 1930s. The sad fact is that this situation is not unknown among journalists. Many of them have been complaining about it for over a century. No one has been able to come up with a solution. Good news doesn’t sell. And the pursuit of scary headlines that do has created a race to the bottom.
It’s probably rational for mass media outlets to concentrate on the vivid, shocking bad news … because it grabs the attention and sells more newspapers and encourages more people to watch video reports. Good news? Well, it’s nice to hear, but it’s neither urgent nor compelling (except cat videos on YouTube, of course). You might like to hear it, but it’s not urgent and compelling … you can catch up on that anytime. A flood? An earthquake? A breaking story about a hostage situation? You’ll pay attention whether you want to or not. And that sells newspapers and gets ad revenue for networks.
August 28, 2015
In a post earlier this week, Ace expressed his disdain for the members of the very-well-paid consultant class who are given a lot of money to advise politicians about what the “little people” are thinking:
No matter how low my estimations of our political class, they keep failing to meet my expectations.
I complained on Friday that the vaunted consultant class does not know the most elemental things about the “constituency” they’re paid to advise clients about. I put “constituency” in quotes because it’s quite plain they do not consider the actual grassroots voter as their constituency. In fact, they do not consider them at all.
I have previously said — and I’ve said this a dozen times before, especially in the 2007 amnesty fight — that the Establishment in DC, paid millions and feted as gurus of the political pulse of the nation — knows far, far less than the base than the average low-level blogger who bothers to read his comments and talk with them.
By the way, of course: That’s expressly the reason Andrew Breitbart read the comments, especially here. Well, one reason was that he simply enjoyed them. But the other reason, he told me, was to figure out where people, as a mass, were on issues, where their passion was, where they were going.
You would think that these well-paid consultants, claiming the ability to channel the sentiments of the party, would do this very most basic sort of research into the national mood.
It’s all open source, assholes. You don’t have to pay a dime to do what Breitbart used to, which is to use some program to suck up all comments into a file so he could read them when he didn’t have the internet (on a plane, etc.)
But no — High Guru Frank Luntz is shocked to the point of his legs shaking as the world reels beneath his feet to discover the grassroots really, really despises the Establishment, and no longer trusts them, and in fact considers them political enemies in the same way they consider the Democrats to be political enemies.
This is news to them.
Good work, assholes.
You’re the Smart Ones, right? The “political elite” who employ all sorts of sophisticated and cunning techniques to divine the national mood, huh?
Did you ever think to ask them, Geniuses?
August 27, 2015
At sp!ked, Brendan O’Neill talks about the situation in Calais between the migrants who want to enter the UK and the government that very much wants them to stay on the other side of the Channel:
What’s worse: treating people like animals or referring to them in animal-like language? Most normal people would say the former. Actions speak louder than words, after all. To treat someone as less than human — by denying them their rights, caging them, beating them — has a direct detrimental impact on their individual autonomy and everyday lives. In contrast, comparing someone to an animal, through your choice of words, is just unpleasant; it doesn’t physically hold that individual back. Sticks and stones can seriously impede our ability to live freely; words can only make us feel bad (if we let them).
Yet in the morally inverted world of political correctness, where speaking in the clipped morals of the new clerisy is the key and hollow duty of every citizen, words are more important than behaviour. You’re judged on how you express yourself, not on what you believe, or what you do. Take Swarmgate, the media fury over British PM David Cameron’s use of the word ‘swarm’ to refer to those few thousand migrants in Calais who long to come to Britain. When Cameron was talking about sending soldiers and barbed wire and dogs to keep these aspirant Brits out of Britain, the self-styled guardians of public decency — the Twitterati, liberal editorialists, Labourites — said little, except perhaps that he should do it more quickly. Yet as soon as he referred to the migrants as a ‘swarm of people’, these Good People became pained: they banged their fists on tables, spilt their tea, went on the telly.
Ladies and gentlemen, behold the inhumanity of political correctness, which bats not one eyelid when 5,000 human beings are reduced to the level of animals, yet which becomes wide-eyed with anger when their animal-like status is mentioned in polite society. ‘Treat them like shit, just don’t use shitty language while you do it’ — that’s the glorious motto of the PC.
Right now, nothing better captures PC’s Kafkaesque levels of dishonesty and censorious linguistic trickery than Swarmgate. This controversy has exposed that many influential people now mistake politeness for morality, linguistic temperance for decency. So it was that Harriet Harman, acting leader of the Labour Party, could go on TV and rail against Cameron for using that s-word and then in her very next breath call on him to do more to prevent these migrants from getting to Britain. ‘He should remember he’s talking about people and not insects’, she said. Then, in mere seconds, without embarrassment, she talked about the ‘nightmare’ of having all these noisy migrants at the English Channel and said Cameron should put pressure on the French to assess ‘these people’ to see which ones ‘should be deported’. Sent back to where they came from, which in some cases is Afghanistan and Iraq: nations Harman’s party helped to destroy.
August 26, 2015
Colby Cosh explains why Stephen Harper is so fond of certain kinds of tax system distortions (tl;dr — they work … politically if not economically):
On Sunday, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper announced that his government, if re-elected, would introduce a tax credit for memberships in service clubs like the Canadian Legion or the Kiwanis. This modest measure — and Harper himself emphasized its modesty — is already being greeted with some derision. Apparently this is because a tax break for service clubs is an absurd, baroque complication of the tax code, unfit to stand alongside sensible traditions like the Prince Edward Island aerospace tax credit, the Nova Scotia digital media tax credit, the British Columbia book publishing tax credit, the Ontario computer animation tax credit, the Manitoba odour control tax credit for farms, Quebec’s tax credit “for the modernization of a tourist accommodation establishment” or the various items exempted almost randomly from the GST, such as condominium fees and music lessons.
One senses that the Canadian media have decided, curiously late in the country’s history, that tax-code wrinkles introduced with the aim of social engineering are ridiculous, if the aims thereof are conservative ones. Furthermore, we have concluded that lifting taxes on Elks or Knights of Columbus memberships, and thus putting them on more or less the same footing as religious tithes, is especially ridiculous.
The Conservative party will be awfully disappointed if the press does not engage in some snickering here. The work of the Kinsmen or Rotary is not especially visible if you never cross Eglinton Avenue; the very names of these groups have a rustic flavour on the tongue, carry a whiff of old-school WASP dominance and gray-flannel respectability. Break out into the smaller cities, if you dare, and the traces become somewhat clearer: a seniors’ centre here, an air-ambulance fundraiser there. In smaller towns, service clubs are often practically synonymous with capital-S Society. Laugh at the idea of a tax break for the Legion, but make sure you are still laughing on election night.
Obama was alluding to FDR’s famous promise (at Oglethorpe University in 1932) to pursue “bold, persistent experimentation” to end the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s vow was itself a homage to the reigning philosophical pose of American liberalism at the time: pragmatism. Self-anointed champions of the “pragmatic method,” the progressives believed they were anti-ideologues, experts and technicians using the most scientifically advanced methods to replace the failed liberal-democratic capitalism of the 19th century. Words like “philosophy,” “dogma,” “principle,” and “ideology” were out, and terms like “progress,” “method,” “action,” “technique,” and “disinterestedness” were in. When Herbert Croly, founder of The New Republic and author of the progressive bible The Promise of American Life, was accused of violating liberal principles when he supported Italy’s great modernizer, Benito Mussolini, Croly replied that the flagship journal of American liberalism was in fact “not an exponent of liberal principles.” Indeed, “if there are any abstract liberal principles, we do not know how to formulate them. Nor if they are formulated by others do we recognize their authority. Liberalism, as we understand it, is an activity.”
This has been the primary disguise of liberalism ever since: “We’re not ideologues, we’re pragmatists! And if only you crazy ideologues” — “market fundamentalists,” “right-wingers,” “zealots,” “dogmatists,” etc. — “would just get out of the way and let us do what all smart people agree is the smart thing to do, we could fix all the problems facing us today.” It’s a variant of the old “scientific socialism” that exonerated the Left from the charge of ideological bias. “We’re not seizing the means of production and these great vacation homes because we want to — it’s science!” The subtext is always clear: People who disagree with liberalism do so because they are deranged, brainwashed, corrupt, selfish, or stupid. In his 1962 Yale commencement address, President Kennedy explained that “political labels and ideological approaches are irrelevant to the solution” of today’s challenges. At a press conference the previous March he had told the country, “Most of the problems … that we now face, are technical problems, are administrative problems.” And therefore we needed people like him and his Whiz Kids to “deal with questions which are now beyond the comprehension of most men.”
“Pragmatism” and “ideology” have themselves become clichés. Liberals are smart and realistic because they do smart and realistic things; smart and realistic things are the things liberals do. Conservatives, meanwhile, are ideologues who don’t live in the reality-based community; the things they do are by definition ideological, because conservatives do them.
Jonah Goldberg, excerpt from The Tyranny of Clichés, published by National Review, 2012-04-22.
August 24, 2015
Megan McArdle on the difference between what voters indicate they want from their elected representatives and what they actually get:
Now, you won’t learn much about how politics happens. Politics doesn’t have clear villains or decisive, powerful action. Politics muddles along on a heavily adulterated biofuel composed of interpersonal favor-trading, compromised ideology, soul-sucking proceduralism, and ponderous interest-group mobilization.
But elections — that’s where your back issues of Action Comics will come in handy. They tell you a lot about what voters think.
Voters rally to get a candidate elected, then call on the politician to stop technological change from tanking the local economy, to give them much more generous health care at half the cost of whatever they’ve currently got, to cut their taxes without touching Social Security or Medicare because they earned those benefits, to provide large new entitlements paid for entirely by taxing hedge fund managers, to reform the education system so that all the students will be above average, to defuse conflict in the Middle East and maybe leap some tall buildings in a single bound. You know, the usual.
Time passes. These voters notice that these things have not been done. Obviously, they have elected the wrong superhero. It is time to stop messing around with Squirrel Girl and Jack of Hearts and elect Superman, already. So the story starts all over again.
The tendency of American voters to treat political problems as if they were occurring in an alternate universe was first noted by Matthew Yglesias during the Iraq war debate, when he coined the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics, in which the US military has unlimited powers if only it is wielded by someone with sufficient will; Julian Sanchez expanded this to the home front with the Care Bear Stare Theory of Domestic Politics: “They’d line up together and emit a glowing manifestation of their boundless caring, which seemed capable of solving just about any problem.” Sound familiar? If only people cared enough.
August 23, 2015
In sp!ked, Mick Hume describes the state of the British equivalent to the NDP in their current leadership race:
Jeremy Corbyn has been a Labour member of parliament for a remarkable 32 years without ever leading anything or leaving any visible mark on British political life. How could such a veteran non-entity emerge overnight as favourite to be the new, left-wing, game-changing leader of the Labour Party?
Only because the Labour Party as a mass movement has not just declined, but effectively collapsed. The apparent rise of Corbyn is made possible by the disintegration of his party. The key factor in all of this is not any resurgence of radicalism, but the demise of Labourism.
Over the decades that Corbyn has been an MP, Labour has ceased to be the party of a mass trade-union movement with a solid working-class constituency. It has been reduced to an empty shell run by a clique of careerists such as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband – and the other three current candidates for the leadership – with no ambition beyond their own election.
This disintegration has left a space for Corbyn’s allegedly explosive rise in two ways. First, widespread dissatisfaction with the dire state of Labour and wider UK politics has created an appetite for something/anything that appears different. And second, the hollowing-out of the Labour Party – reflected in its desperation to give anybody a leadership vote for just £3 – has made it possible for relatively few Corbyn supporters to seize control of events.
For all that, however, the new profile of Corbyn the inveterate invisible man remains only a symptom of the wasting disease that has destroyed the Labour Party.
August 22, 2015
Richard Anderson explains why it’s silly to blame Tom Mulcair for suppressing even minor deviations from the party’s main election message, which he calls the “iron fist in the orange velvet glove”:
What exactly did Bruce Hyer think he signed up for? He joined a political party not a social club. Perhaps he has no interest in sitting in cabinet but most of the NDP front bench does. That’s why they entered politics, it’s why they fight tooth and nail to win campaigns and why they elected Tom Mulcair leader, instead of an actual socialist. When you’ve joined a pack of jackals it’s a touch absurd to complain about the dining arrangements.
Politics is not about truth, justice or your particular understanding of the Canadian way. It’s about power. It has always been and always will be about power. Politics is answering the question of how the brute force of the state is to be imposed upon a country. Or to put it another way: What is to be done and who is to do it.
Behind the vapid speeches and focused group bromides all of it, down to the last Tweet and regulatory sub-clause, rests on the power of the gun. Politics is about deciding who controls the guns. In that stark light of day Mr Hyer doesn’t look like an idealist, instead he looks like a personality type quite common in the NDP: A fool on stilts.