Sunday, March 27, 2005
"Workers of the world unite" - the end result of collectivist philosophy. (From the "killing fields" memorial, Phnom Penh, Cambodia)
Saturday, March 26, 2005
The Typical Chain Of Events In Statist Thinking And Policy
Thursday, March 24, 2005
"Free" Healthcare And The Deliberate Destruction Of Progress
My first hat tip goes to A Guy In Pajamas for his link from a couple of weeks ago to Babalu' -- an excellent site for those of us who don't think too fondly of the aging Marxist clown ruling over Cuba.
In a similar spirit, The Real Cuba tells you the stuff no Hollywood spoiled brat wants you to hear about "free" healthcare and other socialist myths. A hat tip to K. Boyd's post at Bureaucrash.com. Pay particular note to the last site's photographs of Cuba's people's health facilities. Another "fair and just society" with all the Marxist trimmings.
Remember, in Left-land it's always about "equality" not quality-- and they'll throw in the dictatorship at no extra cost!
Monday, March 21, 2005
Ineffective -- But Reasonably Appropriate -- Political Spectrums
Please consider that the left/right dichotomy may be a false dichotomy. There may be alternative forms of political/socio/economic organization that do not map onto this spectrum very well. There are many on the cultural right, like myself, who are not on the economic right (they are not classical liberals). There are different modes of economic production that would fit neither the mode of the right or the left. Many of them are classified under the name of Distributism, and were advanced by such thinkers as Hillaire Belloc and GK Chesterton. Such thinkers think that the real devil in the system is neither collectivism nor capitalism, but rather the bureaucracy that arises from large-scale systems. Their solutions involve increasing the number of private property owners and small businesses. They also idealize the guild system of the middle ages, where professionals owned some assets in common with one another. However, it is also important that these smaller common associations not be government agencies and not infringe excessively on the rights of private property.
What distributists want is to have a good number of strong intermediate institutions between the individual and the state like universities, churches, guilds, foundations, and especially families. It is their belief that these intermediate institutions are of fundamental importance in building the sort of strong culture that can sustain freedom and liberty. In some ways this thought is not so different from Jefferson's ideas about a nation of yeoman farmers.
Some well stated and intelligent issues to consider. Indeed, political spectrums and the semantic reliability of various labels are ultimately impossible to “map” accurately. Admittedly, the single axis Right/Left spectrum is probably the least effective, though I think it still describes a somewhat valid dichotomy, and not a completely false one at that. Other attempts to map out political ideals have noted such things as degrees of authoritarianism or economic liberty, etc. There probably is no perfect all-inclusive template for mapping the political psyche. Those of us traditionally described as Right or Left are certainly polarized against something at variance to our own stance.
Although it may be a somewhat base appraisal, I have to intuitively perceive some of the values and stances I encounter to be of like character (when I hear or read the rants of Ward Churchill, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Hugo Chavez et al.).
Socialists, Marxists, Leftists, Jacobins, Progressives…whatever, may vary on many things but I know their values are not mine and I recognize a family likeness that requires some word or phrase to distinguish them from what they are not. In my own scheme, I seldom use the word, “liberal” as it is used often today to note a more leftist orientation. In the 60’s I would have described Lyndon Johnson or Hubert Humphrey as “Liberal” but Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi today are in a completely different league. Likewise, I see “progressive” as just another euphemism conjured by socialists simply to say they’re better people with better values (something I’ve never bought into). Labels like, “New Left” are meaningless to me when it’s so obvious that, in spirit and goals, they are really no different from old Left brethren. Marx, Mao Zedong, or Angela Davis may differ on particulars but they are all relative opposites of Adam Smith, Ronald Reagan, or William F. Buckley (and, I’d maintain, not all that opposite to Hitler or Mussolini). Perhaps David Duke or Jerry Falwell don’t fit well into such polar schemes but I’d suggest that their desire to rally people collectively to an imposed cause bears more resemblance to the former collectivists and not the pro-free market “conservatives.”
All of this aside, your references to Distributism is interesting and worthy of inquiry. On the surface, Distributism sounds somewhat “idealistic” (as is Libertarianism). I don’t think the yeoman farmer idea could be easily pulled off today (I realize that this was not an actual stated goal), though I thoroughly admire the sentiment behind the concept. I definitely believe smaller and more localized is better, and I certainly favor private everything over the imposed will of politicians, lawyers, or “philosophers.” The value of “intermediate institutions” is also a sober and praiseworthy concept as is the desire to increase private ownership and small business enterprises. Unfortunately, large scale enterprises like aircraft or bridge production will always be beyond the capacities of local guilds. If I were to favor who should build cars, a modern corporation or the U.A.W., I’d go with the traditional capitalist enterprise – warts and all.
Arguments against an individualist stance inevitably assume individuals to be people who will freely choose to not associate with other individuals or organizations – a most ridiculous straw-man contention. Collective association is certainly no problem to a libertarian – when it’s voluntary.
While I’m aware of the evil that can occur under any power aggrandizing institution (corporate or “public”), I’m inevitably polarized against the rants expressed by socialists. Their opposition to “greed, selfishness, and profit” just never comes across as very sincere to me. I’d prefer to take my chances with systems that permit creativity, ambition, and self-striving. If such self-striving “pays off” in wealth and success, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. How the “lucky” person (who’s usually taken considerable risk and invested considerable energy) uses their profit doesn’t concern me either. I could personally “give” twenty percent or more of my income to “the poor” and still get by fine but I don’t – and neither does the average whining socialist. I don’t think either of us is “selfish” for not doing so. I find it pointless to hold the random “rich” person to any higher standard than I would live by myself.
In the usual Right/Left political spectrum, the left typically assumes that business in general represents greed and selfishness, with the implication that government authority somehow represents “compassion” (there’s a laugh).
From your descriptions, it appears that Distributism favors private property, decentralization, and voluntary association. As an ideal, they have my vote. If I were to criticize their stance (and, I’m really in no position to do so yet) I would say that they appear to be libertarians who wish freedom would not occasionally lead to large corporate institutions.
It would seem that we are stuck in a kind of fractal -- material, social, and political – where one may choose their level of affiliation (family, community, state, or world), or be compelled to do so. Those whom I define as, “on the left” seem to consistently demand that any choice in this matter be eliminated and that allegiances be focused on higher levels of affiliation (“the People” and “the State” seems to always trump the individual or family with them).
In our time, and under present circumstance, the main conflict appears to be between those who – for whatever reason – favor greater and more centralized government authority, and those who favor less. So for now, I’m calling myself right-wing, conservative, libertarian, and classical liberal to distinguish myself from what I am not -- Ward Churchill, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Hugo Chavez et al.
Thanks for the excellent comments.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
The Bush Administration Lowers Air Quality Standards / The EPA Raises Air Quality Standards
When referring to something seen by many as “bad” or controversial, and originating from the executive branch (including cabinet departments and agencies), it will often be described as a decision or act of, “the Bush Administration.” If the policy decision is a generally popular or uncontroversial one, the specific department will be noted free of any reference or relation to, “the Bush Administration.”
Remember, the general heading, “Bush Administration,” includes thousands of people (some making decisions the president may not agree with or even be aware of).
How often, and under what circumstances, is the President’s name associated with a given proposal, decision, or action, and how often are issues depicted in a positive light divorced from association with the president?
I may be nit-picking here but I think this is something worth watching.
Not The Best Photo -- Out Of Hundreds?
Another interesting phenomenon one may occasionally note in the "non-partisan" media is the choice of photos used in magazines and newspaper articles. Just yesterday I saw a wire service photo of John Bolton -- Bush's nominee for UN Ambassador -- that depicted a very mean and angry man (of course, I'm sure the editor had no such opinion of Bolton -- not a chance). Vice President Cheney is another favorite who manages to always be caught grimacing (odd that when we see him on video tape he just looks like a regular even-mannered guy). Last year, I remember Time or Newsweek had a cover photo of President Bush that was an exaggeration of the concept, "unflattering." Caught in a dumbfounded stare, the photo captured a millisecond of bad portraiture. Of course, those who hate Bush will say that such a pose accurately depicts someone who they see as "stupid." No doubt many an editor in left-land news would feel this way, but I'm not sure that such oddly chosen photo "journalism" is the best that can be done by organizations claiming to be objective and without agenda.
To some, this probably sounds like "more right wing paranoid nit-picking" but everyone knows that these media organizations have literally hundreds of photos of the people they cover. In any given meeting, speech, or public event we know there are at least several photos taken. It seems somewhat suspicious that, out of these many photos, such unflattering ones are regularly chosen to grace the pages of major media institutions.
...of course, on the "liberal" side, there's always Ted Kennedy -- oh wait, that's his real face.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
More Sympathies From Leftland
The writer that has nothing but good to say about the former Communist dictator of China is an American investment banker.
I guess Ted Turner isn't the only rich capitalist with a soft spot in his heart for socialist authoritarian government (actually, there are hundreds of these guys -- and that's not counting the rich socialist drama majors of Hollywood).
...once again -- classic.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Now, isn't all of this a big surprise? …A Socialist leader in solidarity with a Muslim tyranny -- two peas in a pod. While Chavez continues to toss stolen scraps to the poor as part of the usual “revolutionary” redistribution scheme, he will continue to develop his "People's Revolution," beef up his military, and seek to spread his socialist shoulder-chip. He's dying for confrontation with the U.S. and will certainly become an ever larger thorn in America's side.
Those who note the predictable chain of events unfolding in Venezuela will no doubt be met by Chomsky quotes "proving" that America isn't really a free country and, mysteriously, the countries ruled by dictators really aren't dictatorships.
The left and Islamo-fascism; a wedding made in hell (for those who will inevitably have to deal with it down the road).
Leftism, and admiration for the authoritarian-collectivist state – business as usual.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Sympathies Of Or For The Devil
Monday, March 14, 2005
The "Skepticism" Of Leftist Intellectuals
I've posted this cartoon before on my Promethean Visions site and have linked to it, on occasion, in appropriate posts.
I've posted it here again because I think one picture -- and a few words -- "is worth a thousand words." When I hear or read the remarks of Chomsky and other classic leftist "thinkers" or debate someone from this predictable crowd of intellectual charlatans, this is what I see.
It's hard to take someone seriously when they claim to be coming from a position of deep insight and honesty, yet can only see good in the most horrid of political systems.
Such partisan sympathy for genuine devils is what elites in academia call, "skepticism." I prefer to call it arrogance and insincerity.
The Annoying Ordeal Of Debate With Left-Land
In a resent post I noted a link to a site where I had commented on inquiries into the nature of libertarianism. Since I fancy that label to best describe my own inclinations I took interest in the arguments made that seek to critique libertarianism as a valid philosophy of government. In my comments I had noted my awareness that libertarianism is ultimately an ideal that can not likely be fully implemented in the “real world.” I see the libertarian stance as a sort of buffer to resist the continued onslaught of statist thought – the vigilance that Jefferson and Franklin had warned us of is required to preserve liberty from the natural encroachment of its opposite.
In the on-line libertarian debate I spoke of, the responses and criticisms to my comments were fairly typical of those I’ve become accustomed to hearing from the left. I think my comments speak for themselves – if one doesn’t read into them odd attributes of being the type who would “bring a gun into a person’s house” to push their, “right wing nonsense.” (If you had linked to this post earlier, there are now more comments made from both sides).
Below, a brief follow-up to the comments I’ve made at Tanuki Ramble seeks to summarize the very basic and typical points of contention that separate the left/right dichotomy.
As usual, I have to stress that, in my view, fundamentalist religious extremists and extreme nationalists or racists should not be accurately called “right-wing” because they are ultimately collectivists and statists who seek to use the power of government to force others to obey their own cause (i.e. what Hitler called “the volksgemeinschaft” or folk-community). These people are not supporters of a free market in products and ideas. A 19th century classical liberal (libertarian) and a racist censorship-fiend are not both “right-wing” in my view; the racists et.al. ultimately have more in common with the average socialist in their desire to compel others to obey their conjured plans for the glories of some collective ideal. Also, I don't believe that the much maligned power of “business interests” presents the same threat that government does. McDonalds gets its power and money from people choosing to buy their products. With government, one has no such choice. If the “majority” votes to steal the resource of a minority, the minorities’ free choice is down the tubes --ala government intervention. The examples usually sited of big business abuses of power are the result of government collusion and support for a given business. Clear fraudulence or coercion on the part of business is something that most would feel deserve appropriate punishment from a consistent legal system. Of course, government can commit any act of fraudulence it chooses and it’s always, “legal” (i.e. Social Security). Support from the state to private businesses can accurately be called, “corporate welfare” and is something thoroughly opposed by any libertarian who is consistent in believing that the power of government to collude with any person or institution must be kept to a minimum, if not eliminated entirely.
A phony caricature is often made or implied by the the left, describing those who favor limited constitutional government, the rule of law, individual autonomy, and free choice as “selfish,” cruel, uncooperative “gun nuts” (etc.). While descriptions of socialists as authoritarian control freaks (a description I often use) may not apply to all socialists, they can’t evade the fact that they do, indeed, support a significant coercive role for government – they wish to achieve their goals through compulsion. They are not passive people who believe that others should act as they choose (if they did hold such beliefs they’d be libertarians, not socialists).
To a leftist in any typical “debate” I think I can accurately argue the following:
We can both endlessly read between the lines and contemplate the other side’s level of mean-spiritedness or authoritarianism. Down to basics; I think it’s accurate to say that the left favors a larger and more coercive role for government and folks like myself favor less (yes, it is that simple). The non-aligned can certainly appraise both sides and decide what best describes their own view of the world, but they will certainly form such values in context to their own self-interest (not, “selfishness” or “altruism”).
Speaking for myself, I can honestly say that I will favor the values and interests of those persons I know best – myself among them. Collectivism is a realm of abstractions. Those on the left can continue to imagine themselves to be without self-interest and to merely care for people they’ve never met (always in the abstract).
Like many, I have freely chosen to cooperate and work with numerous people in a variety of circumstances, but I am still skeptical that such actions should be compelled by a powerful state, politicians, or “philosophers” (skeptical is not the right word, actually, I’m thoroughly opposed to such actions).
When I had once summed up my beliefs in the (admittedly simplistic) sound-bite, “I merely wish to be left alone,” a leftist-with-an-edge snapped back that my desire to be left alone was imposing on her freedom [!] I think that response best sums up the the entire left-land worldview.
*Arrogant (Self-absorbed in their sense of intellectual and moral superiority).
*Phony (Insincere in their self-perceptions as altruistic, passive,and peaceful).
*Coercive (Holding a philosophy that, by its very nature, rests upon compulsion). And...
*Boring (How much fun can a statist ideologue really be?).
Friday, March 11, 2005
Loving The State Is Stupid
...it occured to me later that the previous statement is the kind that some may interpret as an example of, "malicious right-wing hate speech" so, just for the record, I intended it as no more than a witty sound-bite. Read into it what you will.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Why I'm -- Kind-of -- A Libertarian
My friend John at Tanuki Ramble raises some valid points regarding the values of Libertarianism. Often when I tell people that I'm a libertarian I'm met with some predictable arguments against the philosophy.
My response regarding the libertarian view can be found in the following comments section of Tanuki Ramble.
(I also find myself leaning toward, "conservatism" on many issues, but that's a whole other debate).
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
The Horrors of Improvement
When one walks through a formally “bad” neighborhood and sees the emergence of new hotels, apartments, and chic restaurants, the word gentrification may likely come to mind. Gentrification is one of those words that’s ultimately rather neutral but is seldom used in describing a neutral observation. To the contrary, when this word does come up it’s typically stated with the same implications as, “Die yuppie scum.” Nothing arouses the battle cries of class envy more than gentrification.
Throughout history most of human kind lived hellish lives in harsh labor for the cause of mere subsistence and early death. Since living standards in modern times have improved considerably for those of us in the developed world, the most pampered among us can now complain about the very advances we thrive among. Some would no doubt like us to return to a Stone Age world of simplicity (ala Rousseau). Perhaps after a nostalgic return to rampant disease, tooth decay, and twisted limbs they’d look more fondly upon our world of coffee shops, cd downloads, and other modern improvements.
Only in the warped worldview of the pseudo-rebel, could the concept of improvement be seen as something bad.
This paradox struck me in a recent visit to Ho Chi Minh City in the Socialist “Republic” of Vietnam. The heart of the city is still called Saigon by many but officially it’s referred to as “District 1” (can one imagine a musical with the romantic name, “Miss District 1).
Like many cities in transition, commerce is putting a dynamic new face on what was undeveloped stasis. The socialist/communist enterprise, in itself, rarely moves above mere subsistence. The desire for equality exceeds the toleration of something as “bourgeois” as progress or improvement.
A gentrified area of any city looks different than one less blessed. Something as simple as a street with less litter can often exemplify an area in transition. Around the big hotels, tourist’s centers, and places of foreign investment, the streets of Saigon have seemed to organically sprout a more hospitable ambience. In gazing at Saigon’s skyline, I fancied that such buildings were popping up like flowers in a patch of weeds. Socialism’s solution to rampant societal “weeds” had merely been to outlaw the growth of flowers. To those who hate the process of gentrification, it is perhaps seen as “unjust” for tourists and locals to walk among a more refined existence while “others are left behind.” Of course, it would never occur to the anti-capitalist mentality that it might actually be a good thing to take the first steps in rising all to a higher level of existence. No, the standard stance of resentment says, “If some are poor, all must remain so” -- “Equality!”
Saigon is clear testimony to the nature of a society in transition. The surreal atmosphere there is one where hammer and sickle flags are still displayed with cheesy posters of a god-like Ho Chi Minh guiding smiling peasants and tanks into a utopian future. The scene wouldn’t have had half the comic effect if it wasn’t for the American flag scarves I saw everywhere with “Texas” plastered across them.
The Vietnamese themselves appear to be natural Capitalists. The tragic war between my own country and their imposed leadership doesn’t appear to have embittered them for long. Among most tourist items was a rich array of fake “American War” trinkets. Strangely, Michael Moore’s bitter tomes are ever-present, sold on the streets to those who care about such things (I doubt if the locals know or care about this bloated ego-maniac’s obsessions).
Gentrification comes easily to a location that was beautiful in its past. There’s a certain charm in crumbling French architecture (just as there’s a certain charm in crumbling French civilization). If the French had simply stuck to things like building design rather than political philosophy, the world would no doubt be a better place.
The big picture reality of gentrification in a place like Vietnam is ultimately nothing less than the emergence of a middle class and all those oft derided attributes of bourgeoisie society – the growth in values like cleanliness, honesty, ambition, individualism and self actualization. It seems that no one hates the middle class more than its pampered children. A college professor once told our class that the middle class is the only calls that rebels against itself – ain’t it the truth.
The most ridiculous issue to confront while appraising Vietnam, is the fact that it, like all communist countries, it is poor, has crime, and contains a normal spectrum of human attributes (from friendliness to selfishness and “greed”). Its citizens are hardly “equal” among themselves or before the law. So, what exactly is the reason communism is imposed on any society? They still possess the societal attributes they supposedly hate, add authoritarian domination and economic stagnation, and then say they’re on the road to paradise. Ironically, the first steps to anything even vaguely resembling paradise occur when the first free transaction in commerce takes place – when the human mind chooses personal improvement over obedience to an abstract overlord.
My reveries regarding Saigon’s gentrification reminded me of earlier observations I had made in New York City and Denver, Colorado. The few years I had lived in each city, I had seen old abandoned warehouse districts replaced by beautiful galleries and entertainment venues. In each case I remember someone pointing out the “gentrification” with disdain. Did they really think that dilapidated buildings and high crime areas were somehow degraded by their transformation into areas of bustling activity where people spend their disposable good fortune on worldly pleasures and leisure?
The economics in all of this is simple of course. Our options for the running of a modern state’s economy are ultimately limited:
A government can either prevent (outlaw) the production of wealth thus leaving virtually everyone poor (i.e. North Korea). Permit the seeds of capitalist economy to produce some wealth, which is then confiscated and punished to a degree where further growth is discouraged or stopped in it’s tracks (i.e. several Socialist/Capitalist fence sitting countries dotting the world today). Whine and rant about the “injustice” of an unequal outcome of wealth distribution, while the slow process of a prosperous middle class society emerges over time (i.e. the initial conditions that resulted in today’s most prosperous and developed countries).
Radical egalitarians are simply unwilling to wait for the last option to occur and, lets face it, don’t like the “bourgeoisie “ society that would result anyway. They’d gladly accept the distributed poverty and Stone Age subsistence of a Stalinist police state over the dynamic, diverse, and widely distributed energy that open society and free markets produce.
Some philosopher’s critiques of Bourgeoisie society inevitably chastise it for its alleged “materialism” (assuming themselves to occupy loftier realms beyond the material). They fail to recognize that the mere act of taking a bite from an apple is ultimately a “materialistic” act (which may be why the efficient production of apples and everything else is thwarted in the anti-capitalist society).
Even China and Vietnam have come to realize that it’s probably better to have a prosperous society with poor people than a poor society with an unfounded illusion of no poor people.
Aside from periodic Internet crackdowns and oppression against those who believe in higher values beyond “The Party,” Vietnam appears relatively stable.
I think the Vietnamese will ultimately pull off the gentrification thing successfully. A few diehards for the Socialist cause will mourn the loss of simpler and more regimented days but all in all the young will march gladly into a future of cell phones and mini-disc players and the fact that others may call their values materialistic or decadent will fail to dissuade common folks from merely seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.
It’s unfortunate that the very idea of increasing freedom and prosperity is so offensive to some. At this point in the history of economics and politics, it can probably be concluded that the first sane step in striving for utopia is to recognize that there is no such thing. It may also help to recognize that improvement (gentrification) is a good thing, and that the human spirit unbridled has an infinite capacity to innovate and improve.
Imagine a whole world gentrified, poverty and squalor reduced to a mere fragment of the world’s population. Nothing would make the Left more furious, because nothing would steal their corrupt thunder to impose non-solutions, maintain the growth of the state, and perpetuate the sorry illusion that poverty is noble -- if it’s equally distributed and prevents some from reaching higher.
The Horror of improvements II
It was the best of times (most of human history?): Back-breaking work in the field from sunrise to sunset. Misery and death from debilitating disease. Untended injuries and crippling deformities. One's life devoted to the mere acquisition of food. The risk of violent torture or death at the hands of all powerful rulers, roving brigands, or ruthless thugs.
It was the worst of times (our own time?): Air-conditioned comfort, an eight-hour work day with breaks, and unlimited supplies of food from around the world (all affordable with a mere fraction of a day's pay). Leisure weekends and yearly holiday travels. Reading, watching movies, going to restaurants. The world's art, music, literature, science and technology all at our fingertips. Communication, transportation, and cures to thousands of ailments ... etc.
To some in the developed world, our own time is the worst of times. We hear and read it often, in Op-Eds, pop film, and from people old and young, thoroughly convinced that the contemporary world is a terrible place. Ask them to explain or prove their contentions and you'll hear a litany of the latest crises heard on the television news or read in the newspaper.
Are these really the “worst of times,” where life expectancy, health, access to information, and varieties of leisure seem to go virtually unnoticed before a pronounced romantic nostalgia for better times that never were?
This paradox emerges in the popular reality that many of us are completely unaware of our own good fortune. In this world where continual progress is taken for granted, many of us are, for lack of a better word, spoiled.
Even if the perpetually pessimistic can sometimes be convinced by the facts that we may live in reasonably good times materially, they will decry this very “materialism” for failing to meet their “spiritual needs.” It appears that – surprise – Starbucks and Microsoft have failed to give us a valid instruction in religion and transcendence. Shame on them and shame on Capitalism!
Some seeking to rise from their personal misery, not only require the state to “provide” them with material securities like food, health care, and employment, many also require regulations and laws (over others) that will provide a sense of philosophical well being also (or so they hope). Just what is it in our open and diverse society that prevents them from pursuing a path that meets their existential cravings? Are they forced to eat at McDonalds? Must they buy that new cd or take those yoga lessons in their leisure? Would they really prefer the neon-free natural comfort of a cave, or a night's sleep with malaria carrying mosquitoes?
If someone’s “spiritual” needs are not being met, should it not ultimately be an issue between them and whatever god or goddess they imagine mediates with their world. To blame “society” for not bestowing spiritual security or happiness is akin to complaining that the local office supply shop fails to spark one’s sexual cravings.
In the school that I teach in, there are a few students – middle-aged women – who tell me how terrible our times are. One of them tells me that her teenage daughter feels the same way. I’m thinking, “Here are people who are relatively well-off, have considerable time for leisure to spend in any way they choose, and who have lives that exceed that of royalty in eras past.” (Royalty of prior eras couldn't jet to exotic far away places as commoners regularly do today, let alone recover from a thousand illnesses). Yet, they are troubled and disheartened by the “terrible” world they live in – and, of course, they want someone to fix it. Like many, they want a “leader,” or a bureaucratic apparatus to act as leader. When I hear such nonsense – and I hear it often – I'm compelled to ponder the perennially recurring political problem of why one person’s existential satisfaction should be the reason for another to live in bondage? I can't say why these people feel that the world they live is so terrible. Of course they can watch the skewed and sensationalistic news and think this to be genuinely the case, but how many of us really have terrible lives in our own daily existence? More so, how are our personal lives worse than prior eras? Would it really be a good idea to trash the remarkable democratization and progress of the last few centuries to return to the living standards of the Middle Ages or Stone Age? Do they really think if we just put our cell phones down and return to an agrarian mode of existence (of the kind Pol Pot tried to create) the perceived horrors of contemporary alienation will dissipate?
The imagined past and imaginary future are in pervasive tension with a willingness to accept the real present. It's no coincidence that this same conflict parallels that of “materialism” vs. the opposing escapist yearnings regularly palmed off as valid political options. Those who despise our modern world and the vastly improved circumstances it affords us are ultimately not concerned with their own lifestyle choices. What motivates their angst and anger is that many of us are willing participants in a world contrary to their own dream images. They’re unhappy so you should have the options available in a free society removed from your life.
One of the greatest contradictions one may encounter in political psychology is the paradox of why people who are independent and “non-conformists” want a society of imposed conformity (the extremist / collectivist stance). Some will merely make reference to their belief that we have “too much” freedom. Of course, “We” always means the rest of us who lack the critic's assumed moral nobility. It's not clear why their definition of “too much” should be a standard by which our own lives are circumscribed.
Of course all this whining and self-indulgent depression comes down to a more basic perpetual gripe. If some are not disgusted with the comfort of their pampered lives, they at least feel the need to feign an obligatory guilt. All too often the contemporary existential dilemma ultimately becomes a mere point of departure for the worn out Marxist critiques of free economy. 'Case in point:
This year, the same Cannes film Festival that inflated Michael Moore's ego to the proportion of his physical stature, also showered accolades upon a German film that “targets privilege.”though I haven't yet seen the film, Reuter's Joelle Diderich's review (5/12) effectively conveyed its main ideas. “The Edukators” heroes are three youths who break into wealthy people's villas leaving messages that will, “make their targets question their privilege.” (Pity the pampered Marxist whiners of Cannes, who are apparently unaware of their own privilege). The movie's director, Hans Weingartner, expressed his happiness in presenting the film “in the country where the word revolution was invented.” Apparently he failed to note the invention of the concept, “Reign of terror” that accompanied the first, essentially Socialist, “revolution” (the French Revolution) and most others thereafter. It might also be noted that his movie and his philosophy arose from the country where the phrase, “Mein Fueher” was invented. As one could expect from someone disenchanted with their contemporary personal life, Weingartner derides the “suffocating impact of advertising media images.” His angst appears to stem from the fact that he lives in a world where people try to sell things -- poor guy. One of the film's actors “critically” points out that “Che Guevara now appears on T-shirts.” (Indeed, It's a pity that Che's big brother mug can't just be confined to billboards in the public squares of police states). The self-absorbed Weingartner feels he's been “critical,” questioning “the status quo,” as if the Robin Hood ideal hasn't already been shoved into our heads for the past few centuries.
It’s important to recognize that there are some who stand to benefit from pervasive existential disenchantment. If people really believe they live in the worst of all possible worlds – or at least one requiring considerable repair – than there will always be a statist model of politics all too willing to jump in and “help.” Of course this has been done before, in every style of radical “revolution” (coup d`e`-tat) from the Nazi’s to the Khmer Rouge.
It is clear that a fervent schism has emerged in contemporary American political thought. Just what is it in our current circumstance that gives the disenchanted class cause for increased fervor? The Baby Boomer Jacobins from the '60s whine-fest have achieved virtually every demand they've made on the rest of us over the past several decades. The state has increased in size, authority, and power, and micro-manages and regulates all aspects of existence. We've spent over five trillion dollars on an ineffective “war on poverty” yet are continually told that we lack an adequate “safety net.” Colleges and even public schools have become bastions of politically correct proselytizing. The mainstream media and entertainment have become mouthpieces for every trendy radical cause and now, for all their successes in remolding our lives to fit their dreams, they're even more demanding that we submit to multicultural post-structuralist socialist “people's” obedience. Indeed, “the worst are full of passionate intensity” (to use Yeats' famous phrase).
To those who insist that these are the worst of times: By all means wallow in self pity, cringe at your leisure, and despise your latest play toys -- if it so satisfies you -- but leave me out of your plans for a “better” world. I'm as happy here in the 21st century Renaissance as you are in your imaginary utopian cave.
Knowing What "Belongs" To Whom
Monday, March 07, 2005
The Astrology OF Resentment
In the last week I had three separate debates with "the other side" (The Left) where the usual talking points came up. Such heated discussions bordering on arguments typically begin with my response to a degrading statement. In the most recent incident, a description was made by the other person about someone who had actually done something rather nice for him. When I noted how gracious their actions obviously were the other person qualified their description by calling the well meaning person a @$%*& because he was, "one of those right-wing Christians who watches FOX news." In this kind of scenario, this is the point where I usually ask for some clarification. A person had made a considerable sacrifice and was yet described in the most negative terms because he wasn't> a left-wing, non-Christian who watched an approved politically correct news source (reversed description to clarify the absurdity of the criticism).
What's so bizarre about these encounters is the typical assumption that everyone should automatically despise conservative political beliefs, Christianity, or the choice to not watch the usual cabal of cosmopolitan news sources. It's like the period before the election when total strangers would just mouth off what a horrible person George Bush was, assuming that you must agree with them or you'd be, "one of those right-wing Christians who watches FOX news."
This particularly annoying trait among those on the left seems to occur with a remarkable consistency.
After heated discussions like those of the last week, I often check the astrological chart of the person I was debating (if I know, or am able to find out, their birthday).
I know this sounds rather ridiculous to anyone who doesn't include astrology among their hobbies but; every time, the person in question has a very dominant placement of the planet Saturn in their chart (a condition I go over in some depth in my essay on astrology and political psychology).
The reason I point this out is that the attributes of this astrological configuration so accurately describe what I've found when dealing with these people. There's always what I'd call, a "hard edge" to these people. Between all the cliché' diatribes about, "love, peace, cooperation, and sharing" there's something downright mean in these people and their ideology.
I've certainly seen this astrological signature in non-Leftist charts as well but it shows up with surprising regularity among those who dare see themselves as fonts of "compassion." I might also add that you won't likely find a dominant Saturn in the astrological chart of someone who thinks people, "should be allowed to do whatever they want as long as they don't impose on other's lives" (the libertarian / classical liberal standard).
In my earlier essay on this issue I had pointed out the frequency with which this astrological indicator occurs in the charts of dictators.
Of course no one really needs an astrological chart to see what it is that I'm getting at. Any of you who have ever heard a die-hard feminist, XXX-"rights" activist, or rabid anti-capitalist (or for that matter, a Chomskyite) certainly knows what I'm talking about.
It's one thing to find some on the left idealistic or naive. All too often they're just downright mean. Is it any wonder that they always default to an adoration for coercive political authority?
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Japanese Responses In The Age Of Terrorism
It’s been over two years now since the terrorist attacks on America occurred. The events of that time, their aftermath, and consequences, have elicited a variety of reactions from individuals around the world.
It's, no doubt, difficult to accurately gauge how an entire country may feel about significant historical events and conditions, yet one can probably discern some general impressions over time.
Those of us who live abroad form different impressions of the people we now live among. Some disdain their new homes. Some idealize and adore them. I’ve lived in Japan for four years now. There is little bad that I can say about the country or its people and I generally don’t hear much criticism from them toward my country.
Regarding the circumstances surrounding 9/11 and its aftermath, I’d have to say that most Japanese have generally been rather passive in their appraisals. The far away events in the war on terrorism, though significant, have just basically been TV news items until recently. The issue has taken on greater significance now as the Japanese Self- Defense Forces (their military) have begun their assistance effort in Iraq, helping to rebuild from the damage and deterioration that had taken place over decades of Baathist rule.
The decision to send Japanese troops to Iraq was a highly controversial one, with Japan’s Prime Minister Koizumi being in full support of the American President and his goals throughout the conflict. Opposition parties in Japan have been thoroughly against any involvement, often citing the usual cliché diatribes about American “hegemony.” Koizumi’s opposition has framed the issue as one of supporting America in “it’s war.” The truth is, self-defense forces will be acting as providers of humanitarian assistance. When the red cross goes to a country to assist, even if it’s a dangerous environment with an insurgency, no one suggest that they are going there to help “fight a war.” But still, to the Jacobin rabble, it sounds better to continue the stale anti-war whine. In opinion polls the population is relatively split on the issue.
The Japanese like what is “trendy.” I don’t mean that to be a critical appraisal. It’s probably a common trait around the world to wish to be in synch with current fashions, technical advancements, and social/political ideals. Here, it appears to be more so, and enough international media bias can certainly sway many. After all, “the world was against the war” (if one credits a few vocal countries as being “the world”).
Japan, at this point in its history is very much a middle class culture. I think that’s a good thing, but it does carry with it a somewhat superficial quality.
During the war in Afghanistan, it was the rage among teenagers here to use a portrait of Bin Laden on their cell-phone screens. This bizarre and rather kitsch manifestation wasn’t the result of a philosophical stand (as it no doubt would have been if it occurred in France or Germany). It was just something that caught on like a hairstyle, so “everyone did it.”
Being anti-war can be trendy too. It doesn’t have to be the result of passionate conviction. It just sounds good. “Are you opposed to dropping bombs on babies?”… “Well, …yeah.” “Congratulations, your wearing the right clothes and your views on life are okay too.”
Most Japanese that I encountered weren’t outspoken against America’s recent war efforts. It was hard to really tell what they thought. Immediately after 9/11 many students at the English school I teach at expressed sympathy, but it was more an act of decorum than a concern regarding an unprecedented historical event.
Aside from the “average” citizen in Japan, one also finds a rabble of Jacobin protestors, small but loud demagogues organized by radical Leftist groups and political partisans. Occasionally - as during the attack on Baghdad - small groups of Socialist or Communists (is there really a difference?) blared their rants from loudspeakers and handed out leaflets portraying cartoon caricatures of cruel American soldiers stomping on cowering Iraqi families and their children. In 2003 they had managed to replicate the artistic style of 1930’s posters from Stalinist Russia (the Socialist aesthetic sense never changes). The cartoons certainly didn’t capture the reality of 19year old kids risking their lives to thwart the new face of Fascism in the world.
Businessmen and old ladies took the leaflets the way they would a page of coupons for the local supermarket. No doubt, the picture convinced them that “war is bad.”
To some, the mere fact that America was dropping bombs anywhere (regardless of the reason) was “wrong.”
It so happens that the town I live in, Nagaoka, was bombed heavily in the Second World War (being the boyhood home of General Yamamoto who directed the raid on Pearl Harbor). Every year at the beginning of August the town has a massive fireworks display to remember the incident but, to most it’s just a firework display. Older people I’ve talked to here are certainly aware of the larger context of events at that time. In Hiroshima, that is not the case. The Mayor of that famous city yearly memorializes the dropping of the atomic bomb with an aggressive Left-wing rant. This last year, President Bush and the war in Iraq was part of his sermon. In such lectures, it is often stated that the US was the “only country to have used nuclear weapons,” implying that America, at present, is a greater threat than North Korea. Context is never an issue and such diatribes certainly wouldn’t include reference to the first massive aerial bombardment of civilians by the Imperial Army in China.
Hiroshima’s Mayor and some Leftists political parties are, by far, the exceptions in anti-war expression here. I only experienced two incidents were a Japanese person speaking directly to me, took the typical line one would expect to hear in Europe.
One student (a rather unusual guy overall) commented on events in Iraq with a cliché whine that “American’s are in Iraq because of oil…everyone knows about American’s love for oil….” I didn’t point out the obvious to him, that Japan is well stocked with cars and all the other oil eating machinery of modern life. I asked him if he had a car. Of course, he did, to which I could - honestly - respond that I hadn’t had one in the last twenty years, meaning his “lust for oil” likely exceeded his American teacher’s.
Another -- again, very rare -- example of anti-US sentiments came from a local Bar owner who had just seen “Bowling for Columbine,” Michael Moore’s latest dishonest screed on why he hates his country. This woman is not a “typical” Japanese, having once been in a religious cult, and making known on other occasions, that her sympathies are with Leftist politics. (Although I don’t think she would favor nationalizing her own profit making enterprise).
Her response to Moore’s film was that she’s “very afraid [of America]” She later added, “American’s are stupid.” I had to remind her that I was from America, “Do you think I’m stupid?” She hastily came back with, “No, Bush! Bush is stupid!” Miraculously, her response of fear to Michael Moore’s phony film polemic had now transformed into the mantra of Leftists worldwide - “Bush is stupid.” Lacking a basic understanding of capitalism, she failed to notice that Michael Moore wasn’t the one sitting in her bar as a frequent paying customer.
In both of these instances, I realized that I was not countering the arguments of a Japanese person per se, but I was responding to the idealized slogans of the Left-Wing international worldview. In that regard, I might as well have been in a coffee shop in a college town in the US.
These rare personal encounters aside, the present leadership of Japan is rather sympathetic to the US position. The present Japanese government does not see itself as being immune to the dangers of far-off religious and political fanaticism. Japan has some related immediate problems with its crude and bizarre neighbor, North Korea. Prime Minister Koizumi made the very accurate observation that, if attacked, the US was the only country that would come to Japan’s defense. (I’m sure France, Germany, and Russia would express their concern and maybe establish a committee to consider a public outcry).
Where Japan does get a more “cosmopolitan” and very biased view of America’s war situation is in the international media.
During the war and its immediate aftermath it was quite common to view the “perspectives” of the BBC and Al Jezeera on local state sponsored television. This of course meant nightly footage of screaming babies in hospitals. Like what is reported in most of the international media, the present “news” from Iraq is rather top-heavy on “resistance [by former Baathist insurgents and foreign Islamo-fascists]” and chaos. The fact that much of Iraq is actually stable, free, and recovering from the ravages of a ruthless dictatorship, is not news in New York, London, or Tokyo.
Even in bookstores, this kind of info-spin is quite prevalent. In the nearby city of Niigata, there’s a bookstore with a good-sized section of English books. Amongst the non-fiction, there is a virtual shrine, prominently pushing the rants of Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, and a host of other writers with the common theme of critiquing America’s “imperial” evil. Best selling books by conservative authors are not to be found. Perhaps my criticisms in this regard are unjustified, for there appears to be little market among English readers here for sober thoughts on America or political matters in general.
The Gaijiin (non-Japanese) population is a true enclave of Anti-Americanism in Japan. From Europe, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, as well as America itself, the pampered children of the modern Liberal arts education come to play in Japan for a few years. If one believes their typical discourse, they stand for “justice,” “equality,” and non-stop backpacking trips in far away places. These are the pampered middle and upper middle class bourgeoisie bohemians that William grim describes so well in "The Ugly American Expatriate." One hears their views weekly at local bars. With drunken insight, they itemize the horrors of “American Imperial Hegemony,” the “dangers of George Bush,” and an ideal world of centralized Socialist political authority (love for authority is now seen as a stance of “rebels.”) When you’re on a Boing 747 four times a year, you’ve got to hate capitalism. I’ve found, on more than one occasion, that one dare not challenge the radical orthodoxy. In many ways they’ve brought the politically correct constraints of their universities with them to Japan. I’ve learned that reasoned disagreement is futile. To this crowd, one can only be Left wing and “anti-war” or greedy, selfish, mean-spirited, ignorant, and just plain unable to “see the truth.”
Fortunately, I’m in Japan and at other tables there are Japanese people talking about snowboarding and romantic intrigue. My choice is to sit with the Gaijiins and be asked if I think “holding prisoners at Guantonamo Bay is a criminal act,” or talk with the Japanese and be asked if I “like sushi.”
I like sushi.
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Youthful Nostalgia for “Revolutionary” Obedience
A recent article in the Washington Post (“Young Russians Doubtful About Democracy” – May 27, 2004, pg. A01) provides a revealing reminder that there is a new generation of youth with contending values in those countries still in transition between their Authoritarian past and unknown future. Cell phones and designer clothes aside, many youthful observers in the former Communist block express nostalgia for a one-party dictatorship they themselves never lived in. The fawning admiration some of these students have for the likes of Joseph Stalin is disturbing but not particularly unusual. Even in Western schools and colleges it isn’t particularly unique for some students to hold the authoritarian worldview in high esteem.
In the Washington Post article, one ubermensch Marxist described Fascism and Communism as “systems of genius"(at least she recognized the accuracy of putting them together). She was unfortunately unable to see that totalitarian rule was not a “new system” but the age-old reality humankind has only recently begun to free itself from. Only in the twisted yearnings of collectivist idealism could the imposition of coercive state authority be seen as a “rebellious” or “revolutionary” act.
The “corporate media” that Leftists deride as being “pro-Capitalist,” occasionally runs this genre of stories about how the disenchanted miss their dictators, or how much “the People” love Castro or Kim Jong Il. Why not positive reports on pedophiles and ax-murderers? They’re all just relative viewpoints aren’t they?
While many have the good sense to recognize that “benefits” like full-employment hardly justified Hitler’s ruthless dictatorship, there has been less insight regarding the equally foul states that sprung from Marx’s head.
Until recently, all but a few intellectuals recognized Joseph Stalin as Hitler’s equal (if shear number of deliberate killings through famine, forced labor, or purges are considered). If cradle to grave adoration of the state is what’s looked for by an alienated youth, I’d hope they’d at least look to the Socialist-Lite bureau-states of Northern Europe as a model preferable to Stalinism. Like-minded dreamers could certainly form a commune amongst themselves or defect to the North Korean worker’s paradise, yet they insist that their own willingness (desire) to be slaves, must also be the fate imposed upon others who may not share their “vision”
The “genius” Communist and Fascist leaders, spoke of by the youth in the Washington Post article, didn’t even remotely accomplish the great things some “scholars” have tried to retroactively imagine. They certainly didn’t achieve “equality.” They were nowhere near prosperous. Even the much-touted “free” health care was a sham (as Soviet archives clearly indicate). What they did “accomplish” was destruction, slaughter, and police state oppression (for the perennial cause of “eliminating Capitalism” -- sure to win points every time).
In tandem with this pompous intellectual support for dictatorship is the argument, “---- isn’t ready for freedom.” I’m always rather suspicious of anyone claiming that fellow citizens (other people) “aren’t ready for freedom.” The same pathetic argument was made in both Germany and Japan and is now being made in Iraq. A collectivist intellectual will rally in favor of anything opposed to the dignity of individual human liberty. All those materialistic bourgeois free individuals may dare think and act differently than such armchair autocrats would ordain.
We don’t regularly read of some Germans’ nostalgic memory for imagined good times under der Fuehrer and when we do, we assume such people are insane or at least potentially dangerous. Nazism’s mutually evil twin, Communism, however still finds a sympathetic ear even though, in manner of operation and overall ruthlessness, the two systems are virtually indistinguishable (Nazism was actually very collectivist/socialist in character).
Since Stalin’s style of compassionate egalitarian politics still lives – in North Korea – one would hope that fervent idealists would wish to live there, but the kind of system they themselves would choose to live in is not what motivates them. Their true concern has always been in how others shall be ruled, and those others dare not choose something as non-“revolutionary” as self-government with a free and open exchange of values
Friday, March 04, 2005
Hating Bush is an act of individualism about as much as most teenagers' choices in popular music.
"I'm a cool, hip, independant, avant-garde rebel because I agree with:
The New York Times,
The Washington Post,
The Los Angeles Times,
ABC,CBS, MSNBC, CNN, The BBC,
Stern, Spiegel, Le Monde, The Gardian,
NOW, Greenpeace, PETA, The Staff of the UN,
Most College Professors, Teachers, Government Bureaucrats,
Hollywood Directors, Producers, Actors,
Communists, Socialists, Fascists, and Muslim Extremists,
The World Council of Churches,
Terrorist organizations, Most Artists, Poets, and "Philosophers,"
Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il, Hugo Chavez, The Mullahs of Iran,...
and that guy I met at a cocktail party with the wire rim glasses and poney tailed gray hair...
...to name a few. "
"Sometimes ya just gotta take an unpopular stand and go against the flow..."