Some Conundrums

Here are five (my answers are below):

1. Why are killers (too often) not killed for their crimes?

2. Why can some parties suppress and distort the speech of others, yet continue to enjoy the liberties (including freedom of speech) that enable their actions?

3. How is it that some very-rich persons claim to pay “too little” in taxes, yet they (a) do not voluntarily contribute to the U.S. Treasury and (b) want to impose higher taxes on persons who are not very rich?

4. If “climate change” is a problem that causes the governments of some cities and States to impose extraordinary regulations (e.g., extra gasoline taxes, tighter emissions standards), why do those same governments countenance any activity that (supposedly) contributes to “climate change” (e.g., municipal transit, official travel, subsidized arenas, the construction of houses larger than, say, 2,000 square feet)? (And do the officials who push such regulations bother to compute the vanishingly small effect of those regulations on “climate change”, assuming that there is any effect?)

5. Why do so many people choose to live in metropolitan areas — only to complain about crime, traffic congestion, high prices, and stress — when they could be relieved of those woes by moving out? The opportunities are rife:

Answers:

1. The oppositions to capital punishment is an exemplar of politically correct (i.e., muddled) thinking. It is epitomized in this common combination of attitudes: aborting an innocent fetus is all right; killing a killer is bad. Why? Because killing is “bad”, regardless of the end it serves.  It is like the PC idea that saying “gun”, drawing one, or owning one is bad because guns are “bad”, no matter what (unless your hired bodyguard carries a gun).

2. Leniency with respect to entities that suppress speech is of a piece with pacifism. It invites the aggressor to do unto you what you should do unto him before he can do it unto you.

3. Some very-rich persons are empty-headed twits who care more about virtue-signalling than they care about the welfare of their fellow citizens (those who pay taxes, at any rate), and they are hypocrites, to boot.

4. Change the preceding answer by substituting “municipal and State officials” for “very-rich persons”.

5. The are many reasons for staying in a metropolitan area, some of them good ones; for example, moving to an extra-metropolitan area would mean the loss of ready access to “culture” (arts, entertainment, dining, organized sports), the abandonment of established social relationships, and very possibly (because of a dearth of suitable jobs) a drastic reduction in one’s standard of living despite lower housing costs. There are, however, some reasons that are merely self-defeating, namely, inertia and pride (e.g., reluctance to give up the Lexus SUV and McMansion). Putting up with crime, traffic congestion, high prices, and stress — while complaining about such things — points to the uselessness of most surveys. Talk is cheap.

First They Came For …

… the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

So goes one version of “First they came …

the poetic form of a prose post- war confession first made in German in 1946 by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). It is about the cowardice of German intellectuals and certain clergy (including, by his own admission, Niemöller himself) following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent incremental purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

Niemöller’s message has been repeated time and again by observers of political developments in the U.S. Sometimes in defense of the communists being “persecuted” by Joe McCarthy, and sometimes by conservatives who are (rightly) fearful of the power of Big Tech.

But I find myself in disagreement with the message and its assumptions.

For one thing, it is right to go after some groups (e.g., Big Tech). The “marketplace of ideas” is a fatuous notion, and liberty cannot be sustained if its enemies are allowed free rein to convert the populace to anti-libertarian dogmas. The First Amendment was not meant to be a prescription for political suicide.

For another thing, it is ridiculous to think that intellectuals and clergymen could have prevented the rise of Nazism and its eventual (and largely successful) effort to eradicate the Jews of Germany and occupied territories. In fact, a goodly share of Germany’s intellectuals (and clergy and affluent professionals) gave aid and comfort to the Nazi regime.

The same is true, in large part, of American intellectuals, clergy, and affluent professionals. That they are dupes of the left’s coterie of would-be dictators doesn’t occur to them. But they are dupes, and with the left in the saddle and riding hard toward economic and social dictatorship, it will not matter whether any or most of them recant before dictatorship is upon us.

Some of the dupes, if they are suitably subservient, will become court favorites — until they say or do something that puts their allegiance in doubt, when they will be purged à la Stalin. Those who turned against the left during its rise to absolute power will be remembered and dealt with harshly in Orwellian fashion, as enemies of “equality”, “social justice”, “sexual liberation”, and other such perverted concepts. The silent majority will be left (mostly) alone, though only by dint of its continued silence in an economic and social wasteland.

Consequentialism

According to consequentialism, an act (or a refusal to act in a particular way) should be judged by its consequences. But consequences can only follow from an act (or lack of action). So consequentialism is really founded on hope, with perhaps some justification in experience — if certain types of act (or inaction) are known to have certain consequences.

But even the simplest acts — those with a direct connection between their commission and the desired outcomes — can have unforeseen and unwanted consequences. Murder committed in the heat of the moment, but with the intention to kill, may land the murderer in prison or an execution chamber, neither of which outcome the murderer had in mind when he pulled the trigger or plunged the knife into his victim. Less dramatically, the outcome of a marriage proposal may — and usually does — lead not only to marital bliss (though perhaps not for as long as intended) but also to complications that hadn’t been contemplated (e.g., the raising of difficult children, financial stress, affairs, and other irritants large and small that strain the marriage).

Governance on the basis of consequentialism has proven time and time again to be foolish, when not treacherous. Social Security, for example, which was meant to be a boon to indigent old people has become a vast, economically draining, disincentivizing middle-to-lower-class welfare program. Social Security led to other vast and wasteful schemes, including Medicare and Medicaid and expansion through Obamacare, whose proponents made this fraudulent promise:

If you like the plan you have, you can keep it. If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too. The only change you’ll see are falling costs as our reforms take hold.

Even successful wars — World War II, notably and uniquely in the American experience — have led to massive waste in lives and treasure. An annotated list of the ill-conceived and mis-conceived government ventures in the history of the United States would (and does) fill volumes.

I am not suggesting that persons refrain from taking action for fear that things won’t turn out as hoped for. (Government is entirely a different matter, and if most of it were abolished Americans would be far better off than they are.) What I am saying is that judging an action by its consequences can be done only after the fact, when all of the ramifications of the action have played out. Moreover, and crucially, similar actions can have wildly different consequences.

In sum: Consequentialism is an empty philosophical construct. “Good” consequences justify the actions that lead to them, but the actions have already been taken, and similar actions often have different consequences.

Vive le collège électoral!

Long live the Electoral College!

As long as the States retain their power under the Constitution, they remain co-sovereign with the government of the United States. The election of a president by the Electoral College recognizes the co-sovereignty of the States, and the separate voice that each of them has in the election of a president.

It is not for the voters of California to dictate the winner of a presidential election, as they would have done in 2016 had a nationwide tally of popular votes by State been decisive. Rather, it is for the voters of each State, in the aggregate, to cast what amounts to a State-wide vote through the Electoral College. One can quibble with the constitutional compromise that gave less-populous States a slightly disproportionate say in the outcome. (The number of electoral votes cast by each State is equal to the number of its Representatives in Congress — thus roughly proportional to its population — plus the number of its Senators in Congress, which is two for every State regardless of its population.) But the principle remains, regardless of the quibble: Each State is independent of every other State and its aggregate preference should not be submerged in the mythical nationwide popular-vote tally.

These observations are prompted by Victor Davis Hansen’s perceptive analysis of the meaning and consequences of the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Had it not been for the Electoral College, Hillary Clinton would have won the election and the United States would have been led deeper into costly and counterproductive spending and regulatory activity to combat “climate change” and various “social injustices”; the southern border would have been thrown open to all and sundry welfare-moochers; and the charade known as the Iran nuclear deal would have played out to its predictable end — the sudden emergence of an Iran armed with long-range nuclear missiles. In the meanwhile, the disarmament of America would have continued, in the face of the rising power of China and Russia. And those nations would (sooner later) have had carte blanche to commit economic and military blackmail against the interests of American citizens and companies.

What about 2020? Naive forecasts of the votes cast in the Electoral College based on trends in the GOP candidates’ share of each State’s popular vote (2000 to 2016 and 2012 to 2016) point to another win by Trump. The likely margin of victory is about the same as in 2016 or even larger if the pro-GOP trend continues in Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, or New Hampshire. (Any such projection is, of course, subject to great uncertainty — especially with respect to the state of the economy, the continuation of relative piece, the containment of terrorism, and other events that might jolt the electorate.)

(See also “Trump Re-election Watch“.)

A Roundup of Related Posts: “Americanism” Edition

Read Dov Fischer’s “So Where Do They Come From?“, and then these related posts  (if you haven’t already done so):

Real Americans

The Age of Memes

About Trump’s “Go Back” Statement

Anti-patriotism

Political “Memes”

Rooted in the Real World of Real People

 

Rooted in the Real World of Real People

I am far from nostalgic about my home town. But it’s still my home town, and I often revisit it in my mind’s eye.

The only places that I mentally revisit with pleasure are the first home that I can remember — where I lived from age 1 to age 7 — and the first of the three red-brick school houses that I attended.

I haven’t been to my home town in four years. The occasion was the funeral of my mother, who lived to the age of 99.

I may not go back again. But it’s still my home town.

I think of it that way not only because I grew up there but also because it’s a “real” place: a small, mostly run-down, Midwestern city with a population of about 30,000 — the largest city in a county that lies beyond the fringes of the nearest metropolitan area.

Perhaps I’m nostalgic about it, after all, because “real” places like my home town seem to be vanishing from the face of America. By real, I mean places where (real) people still work with their hands; live in houses that are older than they are, and have fewer bathrooms than bedrooms; mow their own lawns, clean their own homes, and make their own meals (except when they partake of the American Legion fish fry or go to a Chick-Fil-A); bowl, hunt, fish, stroll their neighborhoods and know their neighbors (who have been their neighbors for decades); read Reader’s Digest, Popular Mechanics, and romance novels; go to bars that lack ferns and chrome; prefer Fox News and country music to NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and hip-hop; go to church and say grace before meals; and vote for politicians who don’t think of real people as racists, ignoramuses, gun nuts, or religious zealots (“deplorables”, in other words).

In fact, America is (or was) those real places with real people in them. And it is vanishing with them.

P.S. I have lived outside the real world of real people for a very long time, but the older I get, the more I miss it.

Political “Memes”

The dominant theme in political discourse changes frequently. As politicians figure out that most of the public is tired of one theme, they pick up another one, and it dominates for a while. Rinse, lather, repeat.

A few years ago the dominant political theme was inequality. Now it’s racism (or, more broadly, discrimination “hate”). Dominant themes of yore include anti-communism vs. anti-anti-communism, relations with the USSR, civil rights, and various wars (especially Vietnam and Iraq II). The economy becomes a dominant theme when it’s down, giving politicians an excuse to promote economically destructive spending and redistribution schemes.

What’s next? I don’t know, but there will be a dominant theme, possibly before the end of Trump’s first term. One possibility (though it may be too arcane) is the power of the information-technology giants, which is being attacked from left and right. Something “sexier” is sure to come along.

(See also “The Age of Memes“.)

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