All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among them. All it can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.
H.L. Mencken, The Smart Set, 1919-12.
June 5, 2016
June 3, 2016
February 11, 2016
There’s no sign of it here in Magnolia, Ark., but the boycott season is upon us, and graduates of Princeton and Bryn Mawr are demanding “justice” from Wal-Mart, which is not in the justice business but in the groceries, clothes, and car-batteries business. It is easy to scoff, but I am ready to start taking the social-justice warriors’ insipid rhetoric seriously — as soon as two things happen: First, I want to hear from the Wal-Mart-protesting riffraff a definition of “justice” that is something that does not boil down to “I Get What I Want, Irrespective of Other Concerns.”
Second, I want to turn on the radio and hear Jay-Z boasting about his new Timex.
It is remarkable that Wal-Mart, a company that makes a modest profit margin (typically between 3 percent and 3.5 percent) selling ordinary people ordinary goods at low prices, is the great hate totem for the well-heeled Left, whose best-known celebrity spokesclowns would not be caught so much as downwind from a Supercenter, while at the same time, nobody is out with placards and illiterate slogans and generally risible moral posturing in front of boutiques dealing in Rolex, Prada, Hermès, et al. It’s almost as if there is a motive at work here other than that which is stated by our big-box-bashing friends on the left and their A-list human bullhorns.
What might that be?
Kevin D. Williamson, “Who Boycotts Wal-Mart? Social-justice warriors who are too enlightened to let their poor neighbors pay lower prices”, National Review, 2014-11-30.
February 6, 2016
Writing about those rioters who in the summer of 2011 smashed, burned and looted shops across Britain, [Russell] Brand writes that their actions were no worse than the consumerism which he describes as having been “imposed” upon them. And this, I cannot help thinking, is an especially revealing phrase — entirely at one with a popular world view. That view sees “us” as poor victims of forces and temptations which are not only pushed upon us, but to which, when they are pushed upon us long enough, we will inevitably and necessarily succumb. If you are in a “consumerist” society long enough how could you be expected to just not buy crap you can’t afford when you don’t need it? No — the answer must be that of course you will succumb. And from there any bad behaviour — even looting and burning — will be excused because it will be someone else’s fault.
This is the world view of an addict. And the answer to all our society’s problems of the addict Brand is one answer which some addicts seek for their addiction — which is that everyone is to be blamed for their failings except themselves. Grand conspiracy theories and establishment plots offer great promise and comfort to such people. They suggest that when we fail or when we fall we do so never because of any conceivable failing or inability of our own, but because some bastard — any bastard — made us do it, has been planning to do it and perhaps always intended to do so. Of course the one thing missing in all this — the one thing that doesn’t appear in either of these books or in any of their conspiratorial and confused demagogic world view — is the only thing which has saved anyone in the past and the only thing which will save anybody in the future: not perfect societies, perfectly engineered economies and perfectly equal, flattened-out collective-based societies, but human agency alone.
Douglas Murray, “Don’t Listen to Britain’s Designer Demagogues”, Standpoint, 2015-01.
December 4, 2015
Brendan O’Neill talks about the anti-Israeli BDS movement:
There are many weird and angry political movements in the 21st-century West. But it’s hard to think of any as ugly, vindictive and packed with prejudice as the Israel-bashing BDS movement.
BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Its backers want every institution, retail outlet and right-minded person in Christendom to refuse to have anything to do with Israel and its apparently wicked wares and people.
They want us to stop buying Israeli produce. To refuse to read books written by Israeli academics. Even to refuse to listen to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, lest its beautiful music infect our minds and make us think for a dangerous split second that Israel might just be made up of people like us.
The ugliness of BDS was thrown into sharp relief yesterday, when it was revealed that a former Cambridge academic refused to answer a 13-year-old girl’s curious questions because the girl is an Israeli.
Marsha Levine, a supporter of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, is an expert on horses. Israeli schoolgirl Shachar Rabinovitch emailed her to ask her some questions, saying “I know you are a very important person and I’ve read your articles about horses”.
Ms Levine’s response was like something out of a Grimms’ fairytale: an angry woman barking irrationally at an innocent, inquisitive girl who made the mistake of (virtually) knocking on angry woman’s door.
“I’ll answer your questions when there is peace and justice for Palestinians”, she said. “You might be a child, but if you are old enough to write to me, you are old enough to learn about Israeli history and how it has impacted on the lives of Palestinian people.”
And that was it. Ms Levine refused to respond to a schoolgirl’s questions about horses because the schoolgirl lives in a part of the world where there is conflict. Actually, scrap that. She refused to answer the girl’s questions because of the girl’s nationality. Nasty stuff.
October 19, 2015
In case the title isn’t clear enough, there’s a protest started recently at the University of Texas in Austin where students upset at a recent court ruling allowing concealed weapons to be carried on campus came up with what they thought was a perfect counterpoint: they’d open carry dildos instead. Sarah Hoyt comments:
… I have no idea what Ms. Jin majored in, but I can sort of follow the tracks of her thought. Logically, carrying sex toys to campus to protest guns makes absolutely NO sense. I could see carrying signs, or … I don’t know, police whistles, if you’re convinced you’re completely safe if you can just call the police. I can even see, in a more sane way, wearing a protective vest and claiming this is better than guns for defense. I mean, at least they are in the same general kind of thing and sort of kind of address the problem in different ways.
BUT no. Because this is not reasoning. This is magical thinking. WORSE. This is magical thinking based on a world that doesn’t exist, a world that was sold to Ms. Jin (literally. College is expensive) by academics so divorced from reality that they can’t find it with two hands, a cane and a seeing eye dog.
In this world, you see, conservatives love guns and hate sex. This is all “explained” with pseudo Freudian patter about how guns are a substitute for the penis. This is total nonsense and old nonsense at that, stuff we LAUGHED at for being pseudo profound way back in the seventies.
But they absolutely believe that we defend the second amendment not because we want to be responsible for our own self-defense, not because we believe power derives from the individual and that therefore an individual must be capable of reining in the government when it gets out of control. No. They think we want guns because that’s the way we express our sexual repression. (Actually now I think about it, my gun obsessed friends are also the most sex-positive, so their idea not only is wrong, it’s bizarrely wrong.)
Since Ms. Jin has never considered that these stories she was sold are in fact stories with no relation to reality, her reasoning went something like “They’re carrying guns and that upsets me. I must carry something that upsets them. Ahah! Dildos.”
In an even mildly sane world, the press would have made her a laughing stock, because that reasoning makes no sense whatsoever.
But the press buys into the same imaginary world in which somehow the belief in guns for defense is a Freudian thing and so the “gun” value can be countered with the “dildo” value.
This is not grown up thinking. It’s magical thinking, in which complex issues get reduced to amulets and symbols, countered by other amulets and symbols.
Again, this is sort of the human default. And believing absurd things about those you believe to be the enemy is also completely normal. The left calls it “othering” and is completely oblivious to the fact that they do it. A lot.
But it’s still human-normal.
August 10, 2015
My observation of rioters, admittedly from a distance and refracted through cameras, is that they enjoy rioting. Pride is not the only thing that goeth before destruction; human nature does too. I certainly know myself the pleasures of destruction, and knew them as a child: still when I dispose of my bottles in the bottle bank I am disappointed if a few of them do not break with a gratifying tinkle. When I am in a temper (which is not often these days), I know the momentary relief and pleasure that a broken window would bring me. But I have a duty not to relieve myself in this way; everyone does.
When the destructive urge is allied to a sense of purpose and righteousness, it is at its most dangerous, for then one denies that one is deriving pleasure from one’s actions — one is only doing what is right.
There is more that might be said about the violent protesters in Ferguson, as elsewhere. It is true, of course, that no one can be equally moved by all the injustices in the world; if such a person existed, his life would be one long protest against injustice and he would have no time for the enjoyment of the ordinary things of life. The best way to be a bore, said Voltaire, is to say everything; and the second best way would be to protest about everything. But still one has a duty to keep one’s wrath in bounds.
I am not against protest as such. But where someone’s protest against one thing is very much greater than against another that is equally near and in aggregate as serious, one may suspect his dishonesty or bad faith. It is true, of course, that a killing by an agent of the state is particularly heinous, especially if part of a pattern, but it is not infinitely serious by comparison with other killings, nor is it the only serious killing. Though Ferguson is not a particularly violent town (its rate of crimes of violence is about average for that of the United States), five people were murdered there in 2011 without arousing the kind of agitation that has captured, and perhaps even captivated, the attention of the world for the last few days. There are places near Ferguson where the violent crime rate is four times higher than in Ferguson, but there has never been a protest of the same order against the depredations of criminals there.
I try to imagine what it would take to make me throw bricks through windows, ransack buildings, and so forth. Having myself suffered only minor injustices and been responsible for my own failures in life, it takes a special effort of the imagination. But even after I have made that effort, I still cannot see a logical or justifiable connection between protest at injustice and looting a store.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Indulging in Destruction”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-08-24.
July 27, 2015
Radley Balko explains why the concerns and worries of police officials have been totally upheld by the rising tide of violence against police officers in the wake of the events in Ferguson … oh, wait. No, that’s not what happened at all:
The “Ferguson effect,” you might remember, is a phenomenon law-and-order types have been throwing around in an effort to blame police brutality on protesters and public officials who actually try to hold bad cops accountable for an alleged increase in violence, both general violence and violence against police officers.
The problem is that there’s no real evidence to suggest it exists. As I and others pointed out in June, while there have been some increases in crime in a few cities, including Baltimore and St. Louis County, there’s just no empirical data to support the notion that we’re in the middle of some national crime wave. And while there was an increase in killings of police officers in 2014, that came after a year in which such killings were at a historic low. And in any case, the bulk of killings of police officers last year came before the Ferguson protests in August and well before the nationwide Eric Garner protests in December.
Now, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has released its mid-year report on police officers’ deaths in 2015. Through the end of June, the number of officers killed by gunfire has dropped 25 percent from last year, from 24 to 18. Two of those incidents were accidental shootings (by other cops), so the number killed by hostile gunfire is 16. (As of today, the news is even better: Police deaths due to firearms through July 23 are down 30 percent from last year.)
A typical officer on a typical stop is far more likely to die of a heart attack than to be shot by someone inside that car.
It’s important to note here that we’re also talking about very small numbers overall. Police officer deaths have been in such rapid decline since the 1990s that when taken as percentages, even statistical noise in the raw figures can look like a large swing one way or the other. And if we look at the rate of officer fatalities (as opposed to the raw data), the degree to which policing has gotten safer over the last 20 years is only magnified.
But the main takeaway from the first-half figures of 2015 is this: If we really were in the midst of a nationwide “Ferguson effect,” we’d expect to see attacks on police officers increasing. Instead, we’re seeing the opposite. That’s good news for cops. It’s bad news for people who want to blame protesters and reform advocates for the deaths of police officers.
July 21, 2015
As entertaining as these little vignettes may be, they’re also indicative of a more dispiriting and concerning philosophy that has overtaken a great many young people, both men and women, at the beginning of the 21st century. The early Western feminist movements generally possessed a nobility and righteousness that rendered the ideology both powerful and admirable. It is no small feat, after all, to reverse several millennia’s worth of systematic oppression and discrimination, and the women’s rights campaigns of the 19th and 20th centuries are some of the crown jewels of Western civilization. Emmeline Pankhurst may have been a bit radical here and there, but at least she was right. Nowadays among the ranks of feminism you’re less likely to find a principled zealot like Pankhurst and more likely to find a repellant, theory-drenched curmudgeon like Andrea Dworkin.
There is a word that embodies the kind of single-minded fanaticism of modern feminism: a cult. […]
It’s fashionable these days for feminists to try and convince others of their own latent feminism; “You’re a feminist,” they claim, “if you believe in equality between the sexes.” Political and social equality between the sexes is one of the most worthwhile and noble goals to which a society can aspire, but as we’ve seen, modern feminism is about so much more than that: it’s a neurotic, insular, self-aggrandizing, and paranoid ideology that aims to spread fear, small-mindedness and agonistic self-criticism and self-doubt over even an uncomplicated and enjoyable idea such as the bouquet toss. Is it any surprise that many prominent young women are rejecting the label altogether?
Daniel Payne, “The Many Fabricated Enemies of Feminists”, The Federalist, 2014-07-22.
July 20, 2015
I slept through the only riot I was ever sent to cover as a reporter. Having traveled a long way I was very tired, and by the time I woke the riot was almost over. Still, I was able to describe with some vividness the acrid smell of burning rubber in the streets and the smashed glass and emptied shelves of the storefronts, and I did see a few people adding fuel to the flames of a barricade not far from my hotel (I later saw one of the perpetrators in an expensive restaurant). Such was my description that no reader would have guessed that I had slept peacefully through the violent proceedings. Strangely enough, my experience of being a foreign correspondent, if that is what it was, has never caused me to doubt the veracity of what I read in the newspapers, which I swallow as a boa constrictor swallows a goat.
However, I have followed riots around the world vicariously ever since, and it seems to me that the principal precondition of such events in the modern world is clement weather. The association is much stronger than with, say, injustice, partly because there is complete agreement as to what constitutes clement weather, whereas what constitutes justice has been in dispute since at least the time of Plato. We all recognize good rioting weather when we see it, but injustice — well, we could go on arguing about it for days. Everyone can contain his anger in the rain.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Indulging in Destruction”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-08-24.
June 23, 2015
At Defence One, Patrick Tucker looks at an “improved” stink bomb now available to American police departments:
As protestors and police officers clash on the streets of Baltimore and other divided cities, some police departments are stockpiling a highly controversial weapon to control civil unrest.
It’s called Skunk, a type of “malodorant,” or in plainer language, a foul-smelling liquid. Technically nontoxic but incredibly disgusting, it has been described as a cross between “dead animal and human excrement.” Untreated, the smell lingers for weeks.
The Israeli Defense Forces developed Skunk in 2008 as a crowd-control weapon for use against Palestinians. Now Mistral, a company out of Bethesda, Md., says they are providing it to police departments in the United States.
Skunk is composed of a combination of baking soda and amino acids, Mistral general manager Stephen Rust said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Armament Systems Forum on April 20. “You can drink it, but you wouldn’t want to,” said Rust, a retired U.S. Army project manager.
The Israelis first used it in 2008 to disperse Palestinians protesting in the West Bank. A BBC video shows its first use in action, sprayed by a hose, a system that has come to be known as the “crap cannon.”
May 20, 2015
You know the type as well as I do. Give the forward-looker the direct primary, and he demands the short ballot. Give him the initiative and referendum, and he bawls for the recall of judges. Give him Christian Science, and he proceeds to the swamis and yogis. Give him the Mann Act, and he wants laws providing for the castration of fornicators. Give him Prohibition, and he launches a new crusade against cigarettes, coffee, jazz, and custard pies.
I have a wide acquaintance among such sad, mad, glad folks, and know some of them very well. It is my belief that the majority of them are absolutely honest — that they believe as fully in their baroque gospels as I believe in the dishonesty of politicians — that their myriad and amazing faiths sit upon them as heavily as the fear of hell sits upon a Methodist deacon who has degraded the vestry-room to carnal uses. All that may be justly said against them is that they are chronically full of hope, and hence chronically uneasy and indignant — that they belong to the less sinful and comfortable of the two grand divisions of the human race. Call them the tender-minded, as the late William James used to do, and you have pretty well described them. They are, on the one hand, pathologically sensitive to the sorrows of the world, and, on the other hand, pathologically susceptible to the eloquence of quacks. What seems to lie in all of them is the doctrine that evils so vast as those they see about them must and will be laid — that it would be an insult to a just God to think of them as permanent and irremediable.
H.L. Mencken, “The Forward-Looker”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.
May 16, 2015
Published on 11 May 2015
The American ideal of limited government on life support. Is it time for civil disobedience? Charles Murray says yes. Murray has been writing on government overreach for more than 30 years. His new book, By The People, is a blueprint for taking back American liberty. Jonah Goldberg sits down with Murray to discuss civil unrest in Baltimore, the scope of the government, and why bureaucrats should wear body cameras.
According to AEI scholar, acclaimed social scientist, and bestselling author Charles Murray, American liberty is under assault. The federal government has unilaterally decided that it can and should tell us how to live our lives. If we object, it threatens, “Fight this, and we’ll ruin you.” How can we overcome regulatory tyranny and live free once again? In his new book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission (Crown Forum, May 2015), Murray offers provocative solutions.
February 12, 2015
Megan McArdle on the incredibly regressive way that American municipalities are raising money through fines and other costs imposed disproportionally on the poorest members of the community:
During last summer’s riots in Ferguson, Missouri, reporters began to highlight one reason that relations between the town’s police and its citizens are so fraught: heavy reliance on tickets and fines to cover the town’s budget. The city gets more than $3 million of its $20 million budget from “fines and public safety,” with almost $2 million more coming from various other user fees.
The problem with using your police force as a stealth tax-collection agency is that this functions as a highly regressive tax on people who are already having a hard time of things. Financially marginal people who can’t afford to, say, renew their auto registration get caught up in a cascading nightmare of fees piled upon fees that often ends in bench warrants and nights spent in jail … not for posing a threat to the public order, but for lacking the ready funds to legally operate a motor vehicle in our car-dependent society.
So why do municipalities go this route? The glib answer is “racism and hatred of the poor.” And, quite possibly, that plays a large part, if only in the sense that voters tend to discount costs that fall on other people. But having spent some time plowing through town budgets and reading up on the subject this afternoon, I don’t think that’s the only reason. I suspect that Ferguson is leaning so heavily on fines because it doesn’t have a lot of other terrific options.
January 18, 2015
David Warren had a short essay get out of hand on him the other day:
Everything is coming out of Egypt these days, just like in the Bible. The Paris demonstrations were a throwback not only to the grand gatherings of a century ago, when the masses in each European capital were demanding war, but also to the recent “Arab spring,” when the masses in Egypt and every Middle Eastern capital were demanding “democracy.” Mobs often get what they want. The best that can be said for the Jesuischarlies, is they haven’t a clew what they want, beyond making an emotional display of their own vaunted goodness.
And yet, large demonstrations are expressions of despair. They bring momentary relief in a false exhilaration: the idea that something can be done, by men; something that will not cost them vastly more than they are now paying. Verily, it is the counsel of despair. I don’t think I can provide any example from history in which mass political demonstrations did any good; only examples when they did not end as badly as they could have.
I hardly expect agreement on this point, especially on non-violent demonstrations that affirm some simple moral point, such as the wrongness of racial prejudice, or of the slaughter of unborn children. But these must necessarily politicize something which should be above politics, and cannot help bringing an element of intimidation into what must finally be communicated cor ad cor. Pressure politics change everything, such that even when the cause is indisputably elevated — the American civil rights marches of the 1960s are a good example — the effect is dubious. What came out in that case was not simply the destruction of an evil, but its replacement with new evils: welfare provisions which undermined the black family, the poison of race quotas and “reverse discrimination,” the canting and excuse-making and radical posturing that has wreaked more aggregate damage to black people — both spiritual and material — than the wicked humiliations they suffered before. (Read Thomas Sowell.)
“Be careful what you wish for.” Be mindful of what comes with that wish. Be careful whom you ask to deliver it.