Stupid Words You Shouldn’t Use: Capitalism

I recently finished reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. When I was about halfway through, I told a friend that Solzhenitsyn’s descriptions of the Gulag’s forced labor camps served as a thorough indictment of the Soviet regime and its communist ideology. It was truly corrupt at every imaginable level. He then asked me if I thought that the reliance of the southern antebellum economy on slavery served as a similar indictment of capitalism. And I said no.

“Capitalism” has distasteful connotations. We instinctively assume that anyone in favor of capitalism is on the side of soulless corporations and unscrupulous financiers. The way the word is put together (“capital” plus “ism”) makes it seem like it should refer to an ideology which values the accumulation of capital above all else, which is pretty much how Marx described it. So it shouldn’t surprise us that this is the working definition of “capitalism” for dumb Marxists on Twitter and elsewhere. It’s instinctive because the word itself is misleading, and it’s also a good straw man.

A much more accurate term to describe the ideology behind free market economies is “liberalism.” (This term has its own baggage, as the “liberals” of today tend to favor greater government involvement in the economy, unlike the OG liberals such as Adam Smith.) The whole point of free markets is that individuals get to make their own choices. That’s it. I dispose of my labor and my property as I see fit, and no one can force me to do anything. Of course, if I want to last long in the world, I’ll probably need to make some cooperative arrangements with others, but no one will force me to enter such arrangements.

How does slavery fit into this? Simply put, it doesn’t. Which is why it frustrates me to no end when Marxist fools try to link slavery with “capitalism.” If each individual person has the right to dispose of his labor as he sees fit, then no other person can enslave him. Slavery can occur only when government either fails to secure fundamental rights or actively deprives people of these rights. In the case of the southern states, the government was on the side of the slaveholders. The laws and the slaveholders teamed up to deprive the slave of his rights.

The other reason I dislike the use of the term “capitalism” is because it shifts the focus away from the most important feature of free market systems, i.e., that they are free. It’s certainly nice that free markets have resulted in astounding prosperity and economic growth over the past two centuries. But the main reason that we ought to prefer free markets to other systems is because other systems rely on coercion and theft. No one should be able to force you to dispose of your labor or your property in ways that you do not want to. You do not belong to the state or to the collective or to the guy with the biggest gun. You and your possessions are yours.

Of course, “capitalist” countries aren’t always successful at keeping their markets and their people free. That’s not a result of the “capitalist” ideology, though. It’s because people have an incentive to cheat the system if they can get away with it. If there is no rule of law and I can enslave people without being punished, then getting a bunch of slaves can make me a lot of money. But problems of this sort are far, far worse in non-capitalist countries than in capitalist ones. They are not peculiar to liberalism; indeed, liberalism has been the most successful way we’ve devised to solve them.

Jail for the BDSers

So the GOP can’t repeal Obamacare, but it looks like they might be able to pick up enough bi-partisan support for a bill that makes it illegal to support the BDS movement or any other anti-Israel boycott. I guess the sentiment is okay. I like Israel and I hate the BDS movement, which hates Israel. Israel is obviously better than any of the other regimes out there in the Middle East, most of which are ruled either by autocrats or Islamists (or autocratic Islamists). But the First Amendment protects speech. If you care about the Constitution (as many of the bills supporters claim to do), then you can’t support this bill in good conscience.

And yet, this bill has 45 cosponsors, 31 of whom are Republicans and 14 of whom are Democrats. I am most disappointed in Sens. Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse, as I never thought either of these outspoken constitutionalists would sponsor a bill that flagrantly violates the First Amendment. Shame.

Both of my state’s senators are also cosponsoring the bill. I’ve never actually called my senator’s office before, but I think I might go ahead and do that to express my opposition. If your senator is on this list, maybe you’d like to do the same:

Sen. Portman, Rob [R-OH]*03/23/2017

Sen. Nelson, Bill [D-FL]03/27/2017

Sen. Rubio, Marco [R-FL]03/27/2017

Sen. Menendez, Robert [D-NJ]03/27/2017

Sen. Collins, Susan M. [R-ME]03/27/2017

Sen. Blumenthal, Richard [D-CT]03/27/2017

Sen. Graham, Lindsey [R-SC]03/28/2017

Sen. Young, Todd C. [R-IN]03/28/2017

Sen. Boozman, John [R-AR]03/28/2017

Sen. Isakson, Johnny [R-GA]03/28/2017

Sen. Peters, Gary C. [D-MI]03/28/2017

Sen. Hatch, Orrin G. [R-UT]03/30/2017

Sen. Perdue, David [R-GA]03/30/2017

Sen. Roberts, Pat [R-KS]03/30/2017

Sen. Wicker, Roger F. [R-MS]03/30/2017

Sen. Hoeven, John [R-ND]04/04/2017

Sen. Cornyn, John [R-TX]04/04/2017

Sen. Fischer, Deb [R-NE]04/04/2017

Sen. Heller, Dean [R-NV]04/24/2017

Sen. Moran, Jerry [R-KS]04/24/2017

Sen. Crapo, Mike [R-ID]04/24/2017

Sen. Cantwell, Maria [D-WA]04/24/2017

Sen. Grassley, Chuck [R-IA]04/25/2017

Sen. Capito, Shelley Moore [R-WV]04/26/2017

Sen. Schumer, Charles E. [D-NY]05/01/2017

Sen. Ernst, Joni [R-IA]05/01/2017

Sen. Hassan, Margaret Wood [D-NH]05/08/2017

Sen. Gillibrand, Kirsten E. [D-NY]05/09/2017

Sen. Lankford, James [R-OK]05/16/2017

Sen. Burr, Richard [R-NC]05/17/2017

Sen. Donnelly, Joe [D-IN]05/23/2017

Sen. Scott, Tim [R-SC]05/25/2017

Sen. Cruz, Ted [R-TX]06/05/2017

Sen. Manchin, Joe, III [D-WV]06/05/2017

Sen. Strange, Luther [R-AL]06/05/2017

Sen. McCaskill, Claire [D-MO]06/06/2017

Sen. Thune, John [R-SD]06/12/2017

Sen. Wyden, Ron [D-OR]06/12/2017

Sen. Sasse, Ben [R-NE]06/15/2017

Sen. Coons, Christopher A. [D-DE]06/26/2017

Sen. Bennet, Michael F. [D-CO]07/12/2017

Sen. Sullivan, Dan [R-AK]07/12/2017

Sen. Cassidy, Bill [R-LA]07/18/2017

Sen. Tillis, Thom [R-NC]07/19/2017

Sen. Cotton, Tom [R-AR]07/19/2017

NYT Argues for Censorship (Again)

The New York Times editorial board is trash. This is why I unsubscribed from the NYT in the first place. They publish poorly argued propaganda pieces, some of them written by terrorists. The article that pushed me over the edge when I unsubscribed was some postmodern BS about how free speech really means just free speech for the privileged, and that censorship of the privileged is necessary for everyone else to be truly free. Yesterday they published an article that disguises the same censorious reasoning in a cloak of moderation.

Imagine that a bully threatens to punch you in the face. A week later, he walks up to you and breaks your nose with his fist. Which is more harmful: the punch or the threat?

It’s obviously the punch. The only reason the threat has any meaning for you is that it tells you that a punch is coming. The harm of the threat is derived from what is being threatened. This is why direct threats are not protected speech under the First Amendment. They are not just offensive words, but an indication of intent to commit an act of violence.

But Ms. Barrett isn’t so sure which is worse:

[S]cientifically speaking, it’s not that simple. Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sick, alter your brain — even kill neurons — and shorten your life.

Your body’s immune system includes little proteins called proinflammatory cytokines that cause inflammation when you’re physically injured. Under certain conditions, however, these cytokines themselves can cause physical illness. What are those conditions? One of them is chronic stress.

Okay, so all of those things might be true, but if someone punches you in the head hard enough, you can die. Whatever harm might be caused to you by the threat is nothing compared to the harm of actual violence. This is why we get stressed when threatened. Our body is preparing for Fight or Flight so that we don’t get killed. Surely Ms. Barrett, a psychology professor, knows this and is just being disingenuous.

And this is where the article makes its key inference:

If words can cause stress, and if prolonged stress can cause physical harm, then it seems that speech — at least certain types of speech — can be a form of violence. But which types?

Whoa, there. Something in this seems fishy. Is it always violence to cause someone physical harm? Is it always the words themselves causing the stress? And isn’t there somewhat of an important difference between stress and prolonged stress? Ms. Barrett obviously has an agenda, which is to give pro-censorship arguments a semblance of scientific legitimacy. That’s why she’s able to make such a flawed inference. That speech can sometimes be violent is a foregone conclusion, for her.

But let’s continue hearing her out. Tell us, Ms. Barrett, what kinds of speech can be violent?

The scientific findings I described above provide empirical guidance for which kinds of controversial speech should and shouldn’t be acceptable on campus and in civil society. In short, the answer depends on whether the speech is abusive or merely offensive.

Offensiveness is not bad for your body and brain. Your nervous system evolved to withstand periodic bouts of stress, such as fleeing from a tiger, taking a punch or encountering an odious idea in a university lecture.

What’s bad for your nervous system, in contrast, are long stretches of simmering stress. If you spend a lot of time in a harsh environment worrying about your safety, that’s the kind of stress that brings on illness and remodels your brain. That’s also true of a political climate in which groups of people endlessly hurl hateful words at one another, and of rampant bullying in school or on social media. A culture of constant, casual brutality is toxic to the body, and we suffer for it.

I’m okay with the abuse/offense distinction. I think that’s real and useful. My problem is how she defines the difference between abuse and offense. It has nothing to do with the words themselves or the ideas they express and everything to do with the effect they happen to have on whoever hears them. Offensiveness merely causes “periodic bouts of stress,” while abuse causes “long stretches of simmering stress.” Given Ms. Barrett’s inference above, this makes sense. It is only prolonged stress that causes physical harm, so the only words that should be considered violent are the ones that cause prolonged stress.

But this line of argument is fundamentally no different from saying that speech that makes me feel bad should not be allowed unless I get to encounter it on my terms, with a trigger warning and therapy dogs handy, or not at all. If the psychological harm caused by the speech is the metric by which we decide which speech is violent, then those who are psychologically weakest get to veto any speech that causes them stress. But as far as I’m concerned, the fact that my opinions cause them stress (even if it’s prolonged) doesn’t necessarily mean I shouldn’t express my opinions; it might just as well mean that they need to grow a thicker skin and stop being a baby.

Why can’t we just stick with the Court’s established First Amendment jurisprudence? Why is it not enough to say that direct threats and fighting words are not protected speech? What else is there for us to prohibit?

That’s why it’s reasonable, scientifically speaking, not to allow a provocateur and hatemonger like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at your school. He is part of something noxious, a campaign of abuse. There is nothing to be gained from debating him, for debate is not what he is offering.

Oh, of course. Provocation and hatemongering shouldn’t be allowed. Never mind that provocation can sometimes be useful, and that not much of what Milo is doing can be reasonably described as hatemongering. But wait a minute, if Milo’s speech really is so bad, then why don’t you just not listen to him? Why must you storm into his event and make a racket so that no one else can hear him? If the psychological harm is really the issue, then the snowflakes should be fine to just stay in their room listening to calming nature sounds on Spotify, coloring, and doing yoga until the bad man goes away.

And this is where it becomes clear that this shoddy argument was never fundamentally about protecting people from prolonged stress, but about justifying censorship on any grounds possible. You don’t have to go listen to Milo Yiannopoulos speak when YAF invites him to campus. But you go anyway and try to shut him down, because you’re not motivated by safety, but by power. The power to decide who can speak and who cannot. It just so happens that pretending to be weak and emotionally fragile is a great way to get people on your side, these days. Appearing weak is the key to gaining power.

That’s what most of these arguments seem to come down to. They are appeals to things that we all want, such as safety, well-being, and civility. But when you examine them closely, it becomes apparent that those making the arguments are interested most of all in power, and that safety, well-being, civility, et al. are just means to that end. Don’t be fooled.

Betsy DeVos and Title IX

Betsy DeVos is apparently considering rolling back the Obama Administration’s Title IX regulations that govern the way schools handle cases of sexual harassment or assault. My former classmate had this to say:

Noble sentiment, here. Sexual assault is bad, of course. We should want it to be annihilated. But this raises a bunch of questions. Who is “we”? Must “we” include the federal government? And how much “more” do we have to do to combat sexual assault before we’ve started doing too much? Is there even a limit? Presumably there is. We’ve passed it already.

There are two reasons why Betsy DeVos should roll back the guidance and regulations at issue. First, they are illegitimate. And second, they would be bad policy even if they were legitimate. Sexual assault is an evil that I wish we could eradicate, but the fact that sexual assault occurs does not justify executive overreach and civil rights violations.

The Title IX statute governs gender-based discrimination in educational institutions. The meat of the statute (most of the rest of the statute consists of exceptions to this clause) is as follows: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance….” Nowhere in the statute do the words “sexual harassment” or “sexual assault” appear. This is because the statute is not about sexual harassment or sexual assault. It is about gender-based discrimination.

How is it, then, that Title IX has become nearly synonymous with procedures for responding to accusations of sexual assault? In short, the Obama Administration decided that if a college fails to respond adequately to sexual assault allegations, it is creating a hostile environment for women that effectively excludes them from the benefits of an education program.

Now, this would be a decent rationale for amending Title IX, but it is by no means a sufficient justification for claiming that Title IX already requires colleges to respond in such-and-such a way to sexual assault allegations beyond what their respective jurisdictions already require (because sexual assault is already a crime, let’s remember). Title IX, however, has not been amended to deal with sexual assault. All of the guidance pertaining to Title IX and sexual assault has no constitutional legitimacy; it is the work of unelected bureaucrats. Are we really okay with unelected bureaucrats making rules to govern the sex lives of college students? I’m not.

But even if the guidance had constitutional legitimacy, it would be bad guidance. It’s bad because it violates the due process rights of the accused and relies on bad definitions of “sexual assault” and “consent.” My former classmate is at least somewhat familiar with the first of these arguments. This is his response to a friend who presented it:

Well, to start, this isn’t just school policy. These are federal regulations which schools must follow in order to receive federal funds. In other words, if there are due process concerns (and Jonah does not dispute that there are), then those concerns exist because the federal government is compelling schools to handle sexual assault cases in a certain way. (And it’s not like there’s a caveat attached to the 5th and 14th Amendment Due Process clauses saying that they only apply in criminal cases.)

In any case, Title IX tilts the scales in favor of the accuser to the detriment of the accused. This is a problem, especially when you factor in the ridiculous definitions of “sexual assault” and “consent” (affirmative, enthusiastic, and very very specific) that are floating around, these days. These terms have been redefined in such a way as to potentially include any sex act which one of the parties later regrets (i.e. retroactively decides that it was nonconsensual). This, combined with the lack of due process protections, can and does result in schools taking action against the accused on shaky grounds.

Take what happened at Amherst, for instance. A woman and a man engaged in sexual activity. He was blackout drunk (incapacitated!) and did not remember the encounter. She later wrote in a student publication that she had been made to participate in a nonconsensual sex act. Text messages that she sent the night of the incident indicate that this was not true. One thing led to another, and the man (who seems to be the actual victim, here, in more ways than one) ended up getting expelled from Amherst for this incident. Amherst never looked at the text messages and refused to allow the man to appeal the decision. He later successfully sued the college in Federal Court.

This is an extreme case, but the fact that it happened should give us pause. As nice as it sounds to talk about “doing more” to combat sexual assault, there are serious drawbacks to the approach taken by the Obama administration. Just because rape is bad doesn’t mean that we have to treat all rape accusations as true, and the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” should not be limited to the courts. Requiring colleges to treat unproven allegations as true opens the door for abuse, as does the broadening of the definitions of “sexual assault” and “consent.” So let’s not do that.

To make it clear, I have no sympathy for actual perpetrators of sexual assault. What’s of concern for me is the way the accused are treated. The presumption of innocence, much like free speech, freedom of religion, and other fundamental rights we hold dear in the U.S., is not just a legal doctrine, but a cultural norm. The more we tell ourselves that some people, in some circumstances, should be punished by the government before their guilt is demonstrated in a court of law or an equivalent forum, the easier it will become to roll back civil rights protections. And that would be far worse than the status quo.

Art and Beauty

On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending a performance of the Brentano Quartet at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. They played three pieces. I liked two of those pieces very much. The first one that I liked was a set of madrigals composed by Carlo Gesualdo, arranged for a string quartet. The other one was String Quartet No. 7, in F Major, Op 59, No. 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven, which I loved. It had all the intensity you would expect from a Beethoven piece, but there were some parts of it that played with interesting dissonances, making it less predictable while still clearly Beethoven-ish.

I did not like the third piece that they played, but it is the inspiration for this blog post.

The piece was “From the Fifth Book” by Stephen Hartke. He wrote it specifically for the Brentano Quartet, and they premiered it in November of last year. I find that modern music of this sort tends to be, simply put, unpleasant. There is too much dissonance and no tonality. I can never tell where it’s going; indeed, it’s unclear whether it’s actually going anywhere. Maybe I just don’t get it, but I’m skeptical that there’s anything to get, just as I’m skeptical that there’s something significant I’m missing when I look at highly abstract modern art.

Upon hearing the piece, my initial thought was “this is bad.” My subsequent thoughts were about how I might justify the initial one. Do I have good grounds for saying that music should not be like this? Shouldn’t music be beautiful? I have been pondering a similar question with regard to modern art. Much modern art seems to me to be pretentious nihilistic crap (e.g. Duchamp). Am I justified in thinking the same way about modern atonal music as I think about Duchamp’s “Fountain”?

I do think I can justify my position, which is that modern atonal music is not only unpleasant to me, but is bad. So I’ll try.

To start, I think it’s important to determine what exactly is the telos of music. More broadly, it would help to consider what might be the telos of art in general. My first thought was beauty, but after further consideration, it seemed to me that not all good art is beautiful. This is especially true in literature. I recently read The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace, and beautiful is one of the last words I would use to describe the book. But still, I believe it is good literature. But what makes it good?

My tentative requirement for art to be good is that it powerfully exhibit the truth. Truth is thus the telos of art. In representational art forms, it is easier to see how this works. For example, Crime and Punishment exhibits timeless truths about human psychology and morality through the story of Raskolnikov. But in nonrepresentational art forms, things become more difficult. How can a work of nonrepresentational art be true? In other words, what truth-content can a nonrepresentational work of art have? These are important questions to consider in this context, as most music is nonrepresentational.

Whereas representational art refers to the truth, nonrepresentational art is the truth. True representations lead one along the path to truth; they are not themselves truth, but they are true. True nonrepresentational art does not lead to truth, but is itself the truth. Representational art is true by virtue of what it says. Nonrepresentational art is true by virtue of what it is. This raises the question: What must nonrepresentational art be in order to be true?

This question returns me to my initial instinct, which is to appeal to beauty. But I’m not sure how to define “beauty.” And I’m also not sure if it’s right to say that music must be beautiful in order to be true. Perhaps the beauty follows from the truth of the music, rather than the other way around; indeed, this seems more likely. If this is the case, then we can say that the truth of the music is that which makes the music beautiful.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been watching too many Jordan Peterson videos, but I think that what makes a piece of music beautiful is its mediation between chaos and order, between unknown and known territory. This means that what is beautiful to one person may not be beautiful to another, as chaos and order to some degree depend on individual experience. A piece of music fails to be beautiful when it suffers from either an excess of chaos (e.g. too much dissonance) or an excess of order (e.g. no dynamics).

As far as I can tell, atonal music cannot have a sufficient degree of order in it to be beautiful. The order present in most music gives you an idea of what is to come. It creates expectations which it can either meet or subvert. But atonal music cannot create such expectations, meaning that it can neither meet nor subvert them. It just ends up being utterly dull and unengaging.

There still remains the possibility that atonal music is just unexplored territory for me, and that some people do find in it sufficient order to form expectations of what the music will become. But I’m skeptical. I’d love to be proven wrong.

Western Civilization: the Common Enemy of Islamism and Leftism

Linda Sarsour is getting a lot of heat lately as a result of a speech in which she used the word “jihad” to describe the social justice struggle against Trump and Co.

I hope that we when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or in the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.

The use of “jihad” here is not concerning to me. I know it’s just the Arab word for “struggle,” and that the violent terroristic jihad isn’t the only kind that exists. It’s really no different from encouraging people to join #TheResistance. Resistance can be violent or non-violent, and jihad is the same. As such, I don’t think that Linda has given us any more reason to criticize her than she always has. She’s saying the same thing she’s always said, except in slightly different words.

What’s more interesting to me about this speech is how it relates to Donald Trump’s recent speech in Poland, which, from what I’ve heard, was pretty good. He’s been criticized for praising “the West” and “Western Civilization,” which are apparently code words for white supremacy.

For both radical leftists and Islamists, “the West” is a metonym for all that is evil and must be eradicated. This seems to me to be the reason behind the bizarre alliance of radical leftists and Muslims in the United States. To the radical left, “the West” means the oppressive white cishet patriarchy that must be dismantled. To Islamists, “the West” is the part of the world actively rebelling against Allah that must be destroyed. The two groups differ in the way they understand their aims, but they seek the same concrete goal of destroying the West.

My take on Linda Sarsour is that she’s more of a leftist than an Islamist. She spouts off the dumb social justice rhetoric about oppression and stuff, but she doesn’t talk about how the infidels are an abomination to Allah and must be destroyed. She’s doing the same thing that non-Muslim SJWs do, using Islam as an identity marker to signify victimhood status. Her use of “jihad” in her speech is less concerning than the paradox that being a member of one of the 21st century’s most regressive religions somehow gives you authority to speak as a progressive and decry “fascism” and “white supremacy.” She herself may not advocate the imposition of Sharia law, but she can delude people into thinking that Sharia wouldn’t be so bad.

Islamism is the common cold. It’s a problem that we need to take certain precautions to avoid, but it’s manageable. Leftism is AIDS. It destroys our ability to distinguish between what is good and evil so that we can no longer protect ourselves from Islamism and other ideological ailments. Obviously, both are bad, as both aim toward the dismantling of Western Civilization, but the more immediate threat is Leftism. Let’s make sure our criticisms of Sarsour and her friends reflect that.

A Common Non Sequitur

It seems that in political/philosophical discussions, no matter what you’re talking about, someone will attempt to argue against your view by injecting “nuance” into the debate. Or at least, they’ll explain how the difficulty of the questions we’re discussing means that we should hesitate to claim confidence in our beliefs. The tricky thing about this is that it is, indeed, important for us to recognize our epistemic limitations. But it doesn’t follow from this that we ought to suspend belief whenever questions are too complex for us to be certain of our answers to them.

People on both sides of the political spectrum do this. For example, I believe that the Civil War was about slavery, at least for the parties who had the power to make decisions relevant to the waging of the war. Some people I know who are right-of-center on the political spectrum argue that other factors (usually states’ rights or economics) were significant enough that it would be inaccurate to say that the Civil War was about slavery. Which is fine. That’s something we can discuss. The problem is when people say my view lacks nuance as if that in itself is evidence against the truth of my view. It’s not. If my view is wrong, it’s wrong because it’s wrong, not because it lacks nuance.

Likewise, those on the far-left are not so enthusiastic about attempts to define human nature. An attempt to say what it is to be human is likely to be met with claims that humanity is far too complex for us to understand its essential features. I’ll be the first to say that I want to be careful when it comes to making bold claims about the nature of human existence. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make such claims at all. In fact, to dogmatically cling to the formula that human nature is indefinable is to make a dogmatic claim about human nature, viz. that it is indefinable. The argument that humanity is too complex for us to know its nature not only fails to present a substantive challenge to my views, but also includes a dogmatic claim about human nature that seems to be defeated by the argument itself.

Some things are nuanced. Some things are not. The merit of a view does not depend on the view’s nuance or lack thereof. It depends on whether the view is true. Just because a question is hard doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an answer, nor does it mean that my answer is wrong.

Infrastructure Spending is Sexist

Dumb opinion of the day:

Rich white men are the ones who drive? No. Just no. My response:

Driving isn’t just a leisure activity. It’s what makes most of our consumption possible. Invest in roads so that fewer people die while transporting everything you need from point A to point B, even if some of those people happen to be white men. Welfare checks won’t do much good if all the food is stuck at the farm and there are no roads connecting the farm to the city.

Her response:

Yes. I was definitely referring to corporations, and not the flesh-and-blood humans who drive trucks for a living. Unfortunately, my American love of corporations is ruining the “debate” (if there is any such thing on Ms. Criado-Perez’s feed).

My conclusion is that this person does not understand economics, or at least that she doesn’t want to. Her agenda is more important to her than the truth. Blaming everything on rich white men is more important to her than actually securing the welfare of the people she claims to speak for as a feminist. Her blog tagline is “a pox on the patriarchy,” which I’d say is about half-right.

Why Subscribe?

I used to get my news mostly from the New York Times. However, I cancelled my NYT subscription when their editorial board published a terrorist’s Anti-Israel propaganda and a defense of censorship. Nowadays, I learn about current events mostly from my Twitter feed. You can pick up the important details that way, pretty easily. And it makes it really easy to make sure that you find all the good commentary. Just follow the people who have good things to say.

With so much free content on the internet these days, it just doesn’t make much sense for me as an individual to pay for a newspaper subscription. Twitter is good enough for me.

I still subscribe to the NYT crossword, though.

Is America Great?

Every Independence Day, there are people who go on Twitter to tweet about how the United States really has nothing to be proud of. We’re a sucky country because of poverty and racism and sexism, all of which other countries have apparently managed to do away with. Obviously, I support the right of people to express their stupid opinions, but the opinions are still stupid. E.g.:

As I see it, there are two varieties of anti-Americanism on display here. First is the bland liberalism of people who think we should be living in some kind of socialistic utopia. Second is the anger of black Americans who rightly recognize the extent to which our country’s history is drenched in institutionalized racism, but refuse to acknowledge that such racism is a direct violation of our country’s founding principles.

The bland liberalism in the first tweet is less of a concern to me, because I think there’s not much to it. Of course we have people in poverty. Of course we have people that are hungry. But our poverty line is a heck of a lot higher than what counts as poverty in the rest of the world. And should our greatness as a nation even be based upon our material wealth? I’d rather live modestly in a free country than live lavishly in one where individual rights are routinely violated. To be sure, reducing poverty is a good goal for us to have. But the fundamental role of government is not to reduce poverty, but to preserve liberty.

Which relates to a broader point I want to make: America should be judged on its principles more than on the outcomes of adhering to those principles. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means that not all of us will be equally wealthy. But it also means that no one can be another man’s slave (sadly, it took our country a long while to bring itself to admit this). Due process of law means that the guilty will sometimes go free. But it also means that the innocent are less likely to be punished for crimes they did not commit. Should we discard these principles because they sometimes lead to outcomes that we don’t like? Of course not. Likewise, our adherence to the founding principles of America will not make this country into a utopia, but rejecting them would be far worse.

But what about slavery, you may ask? The angry tweets from black Americans above seem to be focused more on racism than on the unavoidable inequities that characterize a world in which not everyone is equally talented or intelligent. Some inequality is natural. Racial inequality is not. How, then, do I explain the racist history of the United States in light of our founding principles?

Put simply, we’re hypocrites, and we’ve always been hypocrites. It is obviously impossible to justify slavery in light of the statements made in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The racial injustice of slavery, as well as all the injustices that followed its abolition, are a result of rejecting the founding principles of America, not adhering to them. Slavery, lynchings, ethnic cleansing, segregation—can anyone doubt that each of these violates at least one of the fundamental rights referred to in the Declaration?

Of course, racial injustice did not end on July 4, 1776, so it makes sense to question why we should dedicate this day to celebrating our freedom. As Frederick Douglass famously asked, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” He supplied his own answer to the question: “[A] day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” In the face of persistent injustice and tyranny, it is cruel to behave as if we have achieved freedom or equality. We had not adhered to our founding ideals, and that was obvious to Douglass.

But still, insofar as those ideals have become realized, we should celebrate the day on which we enshrined them in the Declaration. We have done away with slavery. Both legally and socially, equality of the races has been almost universally accepted in America. To be sure, we’re not a post-racial society. We still have significant problems. But racism is no longer a fundamental feature of our national existence—our Congress does not pass laws protecting the slave interest, and our state legislatures do not mandate or permit racial segregation. The seed planted on July 4, 1776 took far too long to bear fruit, but borne fruit it has, and we who enjoy it today should recognize where it came from.

The greatness of America lies in the greatness of its founding principles as set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Insofar as we adhere to them, our nation is great. But when we reject them, we debase ourselves and make ourselves contemptible in the highest degree. The Fourth of July is a day to remember and celebrate our founding principles, to consider how we have implemented them and how we have failed to do so. To some degree it requires that we mourn our country’s many egregious failures at guaranteeing liberty and equality to all. But even more, it demands that we recognize that liberty and equality are the bedrock on which our nation is built, and that whatever rotten structures may have been built upon them before, the foundation is firm. It is our task to continue building a just and virtuous republic on the foundations of liberty and equality. To reject the foundation is to reject the task, and that is not something we are free to do.