The point of reviewing these hypocrisies is not to suggest that the rich profit-makers of Silicon Valley are any greedier or more cutthroat than the speculators of Wall Street or the frackers of Texas, but merely that they are judged by quite different standards. Cool — defined by casual dress, hip popular culture, and the loud embrace of green energy, gay marriage, relaxation of drug laws, and other hot-button social issue — means that one can live life as selfishly as he pleases in the concrete by sounding as communitarian as he can in the abstract. Buying jet skis is as crass a self-indulgence as buying an even more expensive all-carbon imported road bike is neat.
If Silicon Valley produced gas and oil, built bulldozers, processed logs, mined bauxite, or grew potatoes, then the administration, academia, Hollywood, and the press would damn its white-male exclusivity, patronization of women, huge material appetites, lack of commitment to racial diversity, concern for ever-greater profits, and seeming indifference to the poor. But they do not, because the denizens of the valley have paid for their indulgences and therefore are free to sin as they please, convinced that their future days in Purgatory can be reduced by a few correct words about Solyndra, Barack Obama, and the war on women.
Practicing cutthroat capitalism while professing cool communitarianism should be a paradox. But in Silicon Valley it is simply smart business. The more money you make, any way you can make it, the more you can find ways of contextualizing it. At first these Silicon Valley contradictions were amusing, then they were grating, and now they are mostly just pathetic.
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Valley of the Shadow: How mansion-dwelling, carbon-spewing cutthroat capitalists can still be politically correct”, National Review, 2014-07-22.
May 21, 2015
May 15, 2015
David Henderson explains:
Of the 80 million acre feet a year of water use in California, only 2.8 million acre feet are used for toilets, showers, faucets, etc. That’s only 3.5 percent of all water used.
One crop, alfalfa, by contrast, uses 5.3 million acre feet. Assuming a linear relationship between the amount of water used to grow alfalfa and the amount of alfalfa grown, if we cut the amount of alfalfa by only 10 percent, that would free up 0.53 million acre feet of water, which means we wouldn’t need to cut our use by the approximately 20 percent that Jerry Brown wants us to.
What is the market value of the alfalfa crop? Alexander quotes a study putting it at $860 million per year. So, assuming, for simplicity, a horizontal demand curve for alfalfa, a cut of 10% would reduce alfalfa revenue by $86 million. (With a more-realistic downward-sloping demand for alfalfa, alfalfa farmers would lose less revenue but consumers would pay more.) With a California population of about 38 million, each person could pay $2.26 to alfalfa growers not to grow that 10%. Given that the alfalfa growers use other resources besides water, they would be much better off taking the payment.
May 2, 2015
Last month, Megan McArdle pointed out that the state of California is reacting to the water shortages in one of the least effective ways by mandating rationing, rather than addressing the absurd under-pricing of the resource:
I’ve seen a lot of apocalyptic writing about California only having a year of water left (not true), and I’ve heard some idle talk about whether California can continue to grow. But California’s problem is not that it doesn’t have enough water to support its population. Rather, the problem is that its population uses more water than it has to. And the reason people do this is that water in California is seriously underpriced, as Marginal Revolution‘s Alex Tabarrok notes. While the new emergency rules do include provisions for local utilities to raise rates, that would still leave water in the state ludicrously mispriced. According to Tabarrok, the average household in San Diego pays less than 80 cents a day for the 150 gallons of water it uses. This is less than my two-person household pays for considerably less water usage, in an area where rainfall is so plentiful that the neighborhood next door to me has a recurrent flooding problem.
Artificially cheap water encourages people to install lush, green lawns that need lots of watering instead of native plants more appropriate to the local climate. It means they don’t even look for information about the water efficiency of their fixtures and appliances. They take long showers and let the tap run while they’re on the phone with Mom. In a thousand ways, it creates demand far in excess of supply.
Having artificially goosed demand, the government then tries to curb it by mandating efficiency levels and outlawing water-hogging landscaping. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work nearly as well as pricing water properly, then letting people figure out how they want to conserve it. For one thing, you can only affect large and visible targets, such as appliance manufacturers or lawns. For another, people will often try to evade your regulations — my low-flow showerhead came with handy instructions on how to remove the flow restrictor. And, perhaps most important, you limit the potential conservation to the caps. So people have an efficient dishwasher but don’t consider doing small loads by hand; they have a low-flow showerhead but don’t consider taking shorter showers. In short, no one is looking for ways to conserve more than whatever you’ve mandated. This may be enough to temporarily manage the current crisis, but it does nothing to set California’s water usage on a more sustainable path.
May 1, 2015
Devin Nunes debunks the common claim that California’s farmers use “80 percent” of the available water in the state:
As the San Joaquin Valley undergoes its third decade of government-induced water shortages, the media suddenly took notice of the California water crisis after Governor Jerry Brown announced statewide water restrictions. In much of the coverage, supposedly powerful farmers were blamed for contributing to the problem by using too much water.
“Agriculture consumes a staggering 80 percent of California’s developed water, even as it accounts for only 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product,” exclaimed Daily Beast writer Mark Hertsgaard in a piece titled “How Growers Gamed California’s Drought.” That 80-percent statistic was repeated in a Sacramento Bee article titled, “California agriculture, largely spared in new water restrictions, wields huge clout,” and in an ABC News article titled “California’s Drought Plan Mostly Lays Off Agriculture, Oil Industries.” Likewise, the New York Times dutifully reported, “The [State Water Resources Control Board] signaled that it was also about to further restrict water supplies to the agriculture industry, which consumes 80 percent of the water used in the state.”
This is a textbook example of how the media perpetuates a false narrative based on a phony statistic. Farmers do not use 80 percent of California’s water. In reality, 50 percent of the water that is captured by the state’s dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, and other infrastructure is diverted for environmental causes. Farmers, in fact, use 40 percent of the water supply. Environmentalists have manufactured the 80 percent statistic by deliberately excluding environmental diversions from their calculations. Furthermore, in many years there are additional millions of acre-feet of water that are simply flushed into the ocean due to a lack of storage capacity — a situation partly explained by environmental groups’ opposition to new water-storage projects.
December 26, 2014
Mark Steyn on how the brave and timely action of a “special-events employee” in Riverside California just barely averted a horrific hate-ish crime-ish:
I passed through Shannon Airport in Ireland the other day. They’ve got a “holiday” display in the terminal, but guess what? It says “Merry Christmas.” The Emerald Isle has a few Jews, and these days rather a lot of Muslims, and presumably even a militant atheist or two, but they don’t seem inclined to sue the bejasus out of every event in the Yuletide season. By contrast, the Associated Press reports the following from Riverside, Calif.:
A high school choir was asked to stop singing Christmas carols during an ice skating show featuring Olympic medalist Sasha Cohen out of concern the skater would be offended…
I hasten to add this Sasha Cohen is not the Sacha Baron Cohen of the hit movie Borat. The Olympic S. Cohen is a young lady; the Borat S. Cohen is a man, though his singlet would not be out of place in a louche Slav entry to the ice-dancing pairs. Likewise, the skater-puts-carols-on-ice incident seems as sharply satirical of contemporary America as anything in Borat, at least in its distillation of the coerciveness of “tolerance”:
A city staff member, accompanied by a police officer, approached the Rubidoux High School Madrigals at the Riverside Outdoor Ice Skating Rink just as they launched into ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ and requested that the troupe stop singing…
The cop and the staffer — “special-events employee Michelle Baldwin” — were not acting on a complaint from the celebrity skater. They were just taking offense on her behalf, no doubt deriving a kinky vicarious thrill at preventing a hypothetical “hate crime.” The young miss is Jewish, and so they assumed that the strains of “Merry Gentlemen” wafting across the air must be an abomination to her. In fact, if you go to sashacohen.com, you’ll see the headline: “Join Sasha On Her Christmas Tree Lighting Tour.” That’s right, she’s going round the country skating at Christmas tree lighting ceremonies. Christmas tree lighting ceremonies accompanied by singers singing Christmas music that uses the C word itself — just like Sasha does on her Web site.
Nonetheless, the Special Events Commissar and her Carol Cop swung into action and decided to act in loco Cohenis and go loco. Many of my fellow pundits find themselves fighting vainly the old ennui when it comes to the whole John Gibson “War On Christmas” shtick, but I think they’re missing something: The idea of calling a cop to break up the singing of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” would strike most of the planet as insane.
November 26, 2014
Heather Mac Donald looks at what she calls “The Microaggression Farce” at UCLA:
In November 2013, two dozen graduate students at the University of California at Los Angeles marched into an education class and announced a protest against its “hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color.” The students had been victimized, they claimed, by racial “microaggression” — the hottest concept on campuses today, used to call out racism otherwise invisible to the naked eye. UCLA’s response to the sit-in was a travesty of justice. The education school sacrificed the reputation of a beloved and respected professor in order to placate a group of ignorant students making a specious charge of racism.
The pattern would repeat itself twice more at UCLA that fall: students would allege that they were victimized by racism, and the administration, rather than correcting the students’ misapprehension, penitently acceded to it. Colleges across the country behave no differently. As student claims of racial and gender mistreatment grow ever more unmoored from reality, campus grown-ups have abdicated their responsibility to cultivate an adult sense of perspective and common sense in their students. Instead, they are creating what tort law calls “eggshell plaintiffs” — preternaturally fragile individuals injured by the slightest collisions with life. The consequences will affect us for years to come.
UCLA education professor emeritus Val Rust was involved in multiculturalism long before the concept even existed. A pioneer in the field of comparative education, which studies different countries’ educational systems, Rust has spent over four decades mentoring students from around the world and assisting in international development efforts. He has received virtually every honor awarded by the Society of Comparative and International Education. His former students are unanimous in their praise for his compassion and integrity. “He’s been an amazing mentor to me,” says Cathryn Dhanatya, an assistant dean for research at the USC Rossiter School of Education. “I’ve never experienced anything remotely malicious or negative in terms of how he views students and how he wants them to succeed.” Rosalind Raby, director of the California Colleges for International Education, says that Rust pushes you to “reexamine your own thought processes. There is no one more sensitive to the issue of cross-cultural understanding.” A spring 2013 newsletter from UCLA’s ed school celebrated Rust’s career and featured numerous testimonials about his warmth and support for students.
It was therefore ironic that Rust’s graduate-level class in dissertation preparation was the target of student protest just a few months later — ironic, but in the fevered context of the UCLA education school, not surprising. The school, which trumpets its “social-justice” mission at every opportunity, is a cauldron of simmering racial tensions. Students specializing in “critical race theory” — an intellectually vacuous import from law schools — play the race card incessantly against their fellow students and their professors, leading to an atmosphere of nervous self-censorship. Foreign students are particularly shell-shocked by the school’s climate. “The Asians are just terrified,” says a recent graduate. “They walk into this hyper-racialized environment and have no idea what’s going on. Their attitude in class is: ‘I don’t want to talk. Please don’t make me talk!’”
November 4, 2014
Sean Collins on the spectacle of the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement demanding that speakers must not say “hurtful” things, lest students be upset:
Students at the University of California, Berkeley, are demanding that the administration ‘disinvite’ comedian Bill Maher who had been asked to be the commencement ceremony speaker in December. An online petition from the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition (MEMSA) declares that Maher ‘has made statements that are blatantly bigoted and racist’, in particular about Islam. Examples of ‘hate speech’ cited by the petitioners include Maher’s recent statement that ‘Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing’.
In response to the clamour for Maher’s disinvitation, the undergraduate committee at UC Berkeley responsible for selecting speakers voted to rescind the invitation to Maher. But the university administration announced the invitation will stand.
The controversy resonates historically at Berkeley. The university is currently celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Free Speech Movement (FSM), a coalition of Berkeley staff and students who fought for free-speech rights for students on campus. ‘I guess they don’t teach irony in college any more’, quipped Maher, in response to his disinvitation.
Maher does not have a ‘right’ to speak at Berkeley’s ceremony; this is not a First Amendment issue. But the campaign to remove him as the speaker at the graduation event is thoroughly censorious and antithetical to the free exchange of ideas. Trying to silence certain views is especially problematic at universities, institutions in which students are expected to engage with a variety of ideas. The attempt to oust Maher is part of a regressive anti-intellectual trend. In the past year alone, there has been a wave of speakers – including Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Ayann Hirsi Ali and George Will – who have had invitations rescinded or who decided to decline following protests.
The slogan used by the UC Berkeley campaign against Maher is ‘Free Speech, Not Hate Speech’. This formulation is a contradiction in terms: if you seek to prevent certain speech – say on the grounds of being ‘hateful’ – then you do not support free speech. Alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four’s ‘Freedom is Slavery’, we can now add ‘Censorship is Free Speech’.
November 3, 2014
In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf talks to actual UCLA students to find out what they think of the new rules for how they must conduct themselves in intimate situations:
Imagine serving on the campus equivalent of a jury in a sexual-assault case.
The accused testifies, “I thought I was reading all the signals right. Once we started kissing it felt like things progressed naturally, like we were both into it. Neither of us said, ‘Yes, let’s do this,’ but I definitely wanted to hook up. I felt sure we both did.” The accuser says, “I was totally comfortable when we started kissing, but as things progressed I felt more and more uncomfortable. I didn’t say stop or resist, but I didn’t consent to being groped or undressed. I wasn’t asked. I didn’t want that.” If both seem to be telling the truth as they perceive it, what’s the just outcome?
Last week, I spent some time at UCLA asking students about California’s new “affirmative-consent” law. In our conversations, I described the law and asked them whether they supported it or not. I also posted this scenario to them. I was surprised by how common it was for students to express support for the law and then to say a few minutes later that they wouldn’t feel comfortable convicting the accused in that example. But there were also students who opposed affirmative-consent laws and later said that they would find the accused guilty.
That conflict fit with a larger theme that ran through my conversations with undergraduates, from freshmen to seniors. Asked about California’s law, many supporters focused on how affirmative consent squared with their notion of what campus norms, values, and culture ought to be, rather than its effect on disciplinary cases, which they treated as a tangentially related afterthought. Opponents expressed abstract concerns about unjust convictions and due process, yet some felt that convicting the accused in that hypothetical would be just.
In short, forcing both sides to confront a specific scenario made them see a thornier issue than they’d imagined. And it increased the conflicted feelings of many of those who had no definite position.
August 11, 2014
Okay, the title of this post is a bit ahead of the facts: scientists are still developing ways to detect the differences in wine from various regions, but they think they’re on the right track.
Malbecs from Argentina and California made by the same winemaker and using the same protocol had distinct molecular signatures and flavours.
But the delicate aroma of a rare vintage can quickly be eroded by poor storage after bottling, the team said.
Details were reported at the American Chemical Society meeting.
Despite the cynicism over wine critique — and the rather grandiose adjectives lavished upon certain appellations — it really does matter where your plonk comes from, according to the researchers from the University of California Davis.
They are attempting to fingerprint “terroir” — the unique characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place bestows upon a wine.
Subjective regional character is based on the appearance, aroma, taste and mouthfeel (texture) of the wine — all of which combine to create its flavour.
But demand is growing for a more objective test — to help consumers bypass woolly terminology, protect artisan producers’ intellectual property, and help auction houses detect fraud — a growing problem.
August 7, 2014
I have to agree with Michael Pinkus on this issue: wines that are sealed with a synthetic cork really should carry a warning label or at least use a transparent capsule to avoid disappointment for the consumer. Fortunately, most of the wineries I favour have either stuck with traditional cork or have gone to steel closures, but I’ve had some unhappy experiences with Californian wine (and not always the cheap stuff) locked down under a blob of synthetic material.
The question I brought up in my post was why use a plastic cork in a knowingly ageable wine? First generation plastic, self-admitted by one of the leading synthetic manufacturer’s in the US, is for drink-now wines (at least within 3-4 years maximum); yet the Washington based Hedges is still claiming the possibility of 20 years. Now I am aware that better technology in synthetic is currently being studied and marketed to preserve bottles longer, but the fact still remains that a bottle closed in 2002 and opened in 2014 wasn’t given proper opportunity to age 5 years, let alone 20, based solely on choice of closure by the wine makers. But knowing what they know now about the older synthetics should not Hedges change their tune on their older bottles? Why stick by the 20 year number? It would be more appropriate to say: ‘you’d be very lucky for 20 years, or even 10, we recommend a maximum of 5 years.’
The Montreal-based writer, who took me to task, said that he did not approve of my anti-synthetic stance and said that I blamed the producer for a choice they made 12 years ago “as if they knew it would fail” over the long haul. He argued that taking into account the thinking of the time: that synthetic would do a better job and eliminate dreaded cork taint (TCA), I should give the producer a break. I’ll agree that maybe it is a little unfair of me to blame them for a decision they made 12 years ago; but what’s their excuse today? My demand NOW is to know what is sealing my bottles today.
A well-known and award winning winery here in Ontario used synthetic for their 2002-2005 vintage wines and consider it now to be “one of their worst mistakes ever”, once they realized their poor ageing ability. I recently dumped a number of their wines down the drain after discovering, and tasting, the wines I had in my cellar, sealed synthetically, and their marketing manager says he has done the very same with what he had considered, at the time of bottling, “some beautiful wines”. A popular, longtime wine writer and friend confided that upon noticing that this winery had moved to the synthetic closure said “my opinion of their wines was tainted”.
These are just two examples of industry insiders, from two sides of the industry (writing and marketing — each over 15 years in the business) knowingly making the decision against synthetic for long-term aging. So I know I’m not alone in my thinking; and where there is two in such close vicinity that means there are plenty more of us around the world.
July 19, 2014
Ben Boychuk explains how California legislators are using their financial muscle to force colleges and universities to crack down on the epidemic of sexual assault in the state’s institutions of higher education. As we’re often told, women in university are at great risk of sexual assault — figures from one in four to one in five are often quoted — yet the universities are not punishing anywhere near that proportion of male students. To lawmakers, this is proof positive that university administrations are not taking the dangers seriously enough and they’re going to use all the tools at hand to force that to change.
[…] at a June hearing of the California State Assembly Higher Education and Joint Legislative Audit committees, chairman Das Williams couldn’t understand why the number of students disciplined for sexual misconduct was so low. A University of California at Berkeley administrator, for example, reported just 10 suspensions or expulsions out of 43 cases involving non-consensual sex over the last six years. How could that possibly be?
Williams, a Santa Barbara Democrat, concluded that the number of suspensions and expulsions of these alleged perpetrators of sexual violence had to increase. The consequences for student assailants are “not significant enough to act as a deterrent,” he warned — failing to consider that perhaps the problem of campus sexual violence isn’t as widespread as he’d been led to believe. In any event, Williams’s point was unmistakable: California’s universities had better start punishing more alleged offenders, or there will be consequences for the universities. And if administrators need a lower standard of proof to boost punishments, he and his colleagues would be more than happy to give it to them.
Williams is promising a slate of bills early next year that would mandate training for all university employees to respond to, and intervene to prevent, sexual assault, and, more significantly, to beef up punishments for alleged assailants. “Rape is a very difficult thing to prosecute,” he told the Sacramento Bee. Because most college disciplinary boards already use the lower “preponderance of evidence” standard — as opposed to the more rigorous “reasonable doubt” standard that criminal courts apply — “there is a real role that schools can play that law enforcement can’t.”
The reigning assumption in Sacramento — and Washington, D.C., for that matter — is that universities aren’t taking the problem of campus sexual assault seriously enough. A state audit released in June drew precisely that conclusion, and recommended that California’s state universities “do more to appropriately educate students on sexual harassment and sexual violence.” Every campus has a rape crisis center of some kind, with counselors on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every campus police department offers rape defense programs. “Take Back the Night” programs are ubiquitous. Is more training and “education” — meaning more bureaucracy — really the answer?
You can certainly understand the concern: with so many young women suffering (although not necessarily reporting the criminal acts), the universities must be literal predator paradises, as the sexual assault rate in the general population is so much lower than on campus (Heather Mac Donald noted that the sexual assault rate in New Orleans in 2012 was only .0234 percent, making it a far safer place for women than any Californian university).
July 12, 2014
Sriracha fans were relieved when the Huy Fong plant in California was allowed to re-open after a farcical ‘elf-and-safety’ shakedown (original story here). Reason‘s Zenon Evans has more on the behind-the-scenes bullshit that triggered the near-national panic among hot sauce consumers:
The public just got some new insight into one of the last year’s spiciest (and fishiest) political kerfuffles: the push by the city council of Irwindale, California to shut down Huy Fong Foods, the makers of Sriracha hot sauce. The tireless freedom-of-information requesters at MuckRock yesterday published internal council documents, revealing theatrically furious communication among the local government officials and a desire to exploit regulations to force the company into submission.
The newly revealed memos and emails show that some members of government were actually “happy to report the scent of chilies” emanating when production began in 2012, but, a year later Ortiz and Councilman David Fuentes, who also lived near the factory (and also ultimately recused himself from the matter), saw a total shutdown as the first and only appropriate course of action.
“I just received notice that the odor at this place is very strong. We must proceed with SHUT DOWN immediately,” demanded Ortiz in an email, despite the fact that he had previously applauded how much safer that part of town had become since the $80 million business moved in.
Fuentes was even more adamant. “THIS PROBLEM NEEDS TO BE TAKEN CARE OF NOW, NOT LATER!!!!!,” he emailed his fellow council members in October. Notably, he also suggested that “if we need to shut them down for non compliance, then let’s do what we have to do.”
Although it’s not clear exactly what Fuentes meant by “non compliance” or if the council made moves based on his plot, the city did sue Huy Fong and got a judge to order a partial shutdown in November, even though that the judge acknowledged a “lack of credible evidence” regarding the health risk claims. Likewise, California’s health regulators stepped in and changed their own food rules in December as they demanded a 30-day hold on operations, which created fear of a national Sriracha shortage.
June 11, 2014
The Los Angeles Times on yesterday’s decision:
Teachers union officials denounced a ruling Tuesday by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge deeming job protections for teachers in California as unconstitutional as a misguided attack on teachers and students.
The ruling represents a major loss for the unions and a groundbreaking win by attorneys who argued that state laws governing teacher layoffs, tenure and dismissals harm students by making them more likely to suffer from grossly ineffective instruction.
If the preliminary ruling becomes final and is upheld, the effect will be sweeping across California and possibly the nation.
Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled, in effect, that it was too easy for teachers to gain strong job protections and too difficult to dismiss those who performed poorly in the classroom. If the ruling stands, California will have to craft new rules for hiring and firing teachers.
The Silicon Valley-based group Students Matter brought the lawsuit on behalf of nine students, contending that five laws hindered the removal of ineffective teachers.
The result, attorneys for the plaintiffs said, is a workforce with thousands of “grossly ineffective” teachers, disproportionately hurting low-income and minority students. As a result, the suit argued, the laws violated California’s constitution, which provides for equal educational opportunity.
The laws were defended by the state of California and the two largest teacher unions — the California Teachers Assn. and the California Federation of Teachers. Their attorneys countered that it is not the laws but poor management that is to blame for districts’ failing to root out incompetent instructors.
May 29, 2014
Kevin Williamson on the most recent mass killing:
Mass murders on the Elliot Rodger model are not a modern thing; we all know the story of Columbine, but the worst school slaughter in American history happened in 1927 in Michigan. Nor are they a gun thing; that Michigan massacre required no firearms, and neither did the crimes of Timothy McVeigh. They are not a “white privilege” thing, soiled as I feel for being obliged to write the words “white privilege”; the worst such massacre in recent U.S. history was carried out by a Korean-born American. They are not a male thing; Brenda Spencer’s explanation of her shooting spree in San Diego inspired the song “I Don’t Like Mondays.” They are not an American thing; Anders Breivik of Norway carried out the largest mass murder in modern history, though it is possible that Beijing’s Tian Mingjian killed more; Europe, the Americas, and Asia have experienced roughly comparable numbers of mass murders, with the Asian numbers slightly ahead of the rest. They are not an ideological thing; mass murders sometimes issue manifestos, but they are generally incoherent and shallow. The phenomenon of mass killings has little to do with race, sex, politics, economics, or the availability of legal firearms. Such episodes are primarily an act of theater.
Elliot Rodger’s family was in relatively difficult financial circumstances, though relatively must be emphasized. His father was the assistant director of The Hunger Games, and the young man was apparently proud of his BMW coupe, but his family’s financial position was modest by Hollywood standards. Through his family, Rodger enjoyed some enviable social connections, but could not achieve the connection he desired, a romantic one. His was an individualism suffered as a burden. In another century, his life might have been given some structure by the church or by his extended family, or simply by the fundamental struggle to feed and shelter himself, which was the organizing principle of the great majority of human lives for millennia. Modernity sets us free, but it does not offer any answer to the question, “Free to do what?”
Art, particularly theater, has for a long time helped to answer that question. What we see on stage, however far removed from our own experience, is an intensified version of our own lives. The Mass is, if nothing else, an act of theater, but it is also the case, as Mikhail Bakunin wrote, that “the passion for destruction is a creative passion.” It is not mere coincidence that so many mass murderers, from the Columbine killers to McVeigh, imagine themselves to be instigators of revolution, or that their serial-killer cousins so often think of themselves as artists. Their delusions are pathetic, but they are not at all alien to common human experience. That they so often end in suicide is not coincidence, either. Their rampages are at once a quest for significance and a final escape from significance and its burdens. Whatever particular motive such killers cite is secondary at best. The killing itself is the point — it is not a means to some other end.
May 25, 2014
Brendan O’Neill on the Santa Barbara murders:
The bodies in Santa Barbara were barely cold before feminist clicktivists were exploiting this horrendous mass murder to boost their campaign against sexist trolling and online misogyny. The revelation that the shooter, Elliot Rodger, was a visitor to those saddo-packed ‘men’s rights’ websites, and had produced a badly written 140-page screed about how much he hated women for showing no interest in him, was all that the victim-feminist lobby needed: within minutes it was saying that Rodger’s outpourings and actions confirm that we need to ‘stamp out misogyny’. He is no ‘mere glitch in the system’, they claimed, but rather the ‘product’ of a society that apparently hates women.
Let’s leave aside the fact that this kind of argument is indistinguishable from the blue-rinse, conservative insistence that violent movies make men into maniacs or that saucy novels churn out real-world rapists. Truly are radical feminists the heirs to the backward Mary Whitehouse view of human beings as the amoeba-like products of their cultural surrounds, in this case of sexist websites — a view which not only treats us all as easily brainwashed by movies and literature but, even worse, lessens actual killers’ and rapists’ responsibility for their actions by depicting them as simply the warped end products of big, bad culture. More pointedly, the reading of profound social meaning into losers’ and loners’ manifestos gives way too much credence to these individuals, overlooking the fact that more often than not they are simply grasping for a serious-sounding reason for their already existing desire to commit a crime and cause hurt.
Everyone with a cause seems to jump on events like this to push their favourite agenda: the gun control folks are also frothing that “better” gun controls would have prevented the murders (yet California already has most of the rules they demand, and the shooter got his weapons legally). Blame the guns. Blame the “men’s rights” movement. Blame video games (you know people are busy searching right now to see if the shooter played any video games at all). Blame anything except the severely disturbed mind of the shooter.
Update, 26 May. According to this slightly OTT summary, even the basic facts of the case were already being “manipulated” to further particular agendas:
Let’s examine the true facts.
– Fact: 6 people were murdered, not 7. The 7th “victim” was the chicken sh!t murderer offing himself.
– Fact: Only 2 of the 6 victims were killed by gunfire. 3 of them were stabbed to death and 1 was killed with the murder’s car.
– Fact: Only 2 of the murder victims were female, the other 4 were male.
– Fact: The magazines found in the coward’s possession were all CA legal 10 round magazines. Not the heinous, world ending “high capacity” magazines the antis attribute so much death and destruction to.
– Fact: All three handguns (note, no evil assault rifle that is the scourge of humanity) the murderer had in his possession were all legally purchased by him in CA, despite the ludicrously stringent gun laws in this state. Despite the 10 day waiting period, despite the extensive background checks, despite the state wide handgun registry, despite the “prohibited persons” database, despite the fact that he went through all the steps the anti-gunners claim they want to save lives, he was able to purchase his guns legally.
But that is just The Daily Beast, hardly a reputable news source. So, let’s take a look at what Jessica Valenti, a writer at the beacon of honest news, the Guardian, had to say. According to her, it was not his mental illness that is to blame. No, we cannot blame that because that would be a “mistake” and would only serve to stigmatize other mentally ill people. Instead, she blames the “gun culture” and “misogyny”. Yes, the war on women! Of course, why did I not see that? I’m so stupid. Then she quotes some female artist, whom I have never heard of, who incorrectly labeled this incident terrorism in a tweet. Where to start?
Well, first of all, I must point out, that not only were more of the murdered victims male than female (2-1 ratio in fact), he also made threats to kill men in his videos and “manifesto” (ie: written rantings of a psycho), but since that does not bolster her point, she conveniently ignores that. As for the “gun culture” involvement in this crime, since the majority of the victims of this incident were not killed with guns (again, 2-1 ratio were killed with non-guns), blaming the “gun culture” is just another false flag.