Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts

Monday, May 19, 2014

Trigger Warnings

It's not an idea immediately attractive to anyone with antennae for liberty, putting warning labels on academic content, so it's no surprise that a proposal to mandate professors at the University of Santa Barbara place such advisories–popularly called "trigger warnings" in the online feminist community–has earned ire. The plan is unpalatable to me for a few reasons.

The now infamous proposition by UCSB junior Bailey Loverin suggests that the liberty to present, discuss, and debate in an academic manner and context should be subject to fears of inducing fear, of all concerns, is inimical to a serious pursuit of knowledge. It's hard to reconcile a tradition which in so many ways sees itself descended from Socrates, Western Civilization's great gadfly swatted down by popular opinion, with tiptoeing around sensitivities and preferring safety to hard truths. At least, though, Socrates was charged with crimes of impiety and corrupting the youth, not simply terrifying onlookers. While in public it is decorous to avoid even giving offense, and while offense is not inherently desirable in environments of debate and inquiry, there giving offense is considered worth the risk.

Moreover, the suggestions not only that students–learners and investigators of the world–would prefer not to confront challenging ideas but also that so many of them would so decline the challenge that a school requires a mandatory alert system, is one chilling to the spirit of inquiry and academia.

Nonetheless, a degree of common sense would easily ameliorate the situation. Sensitive students should investigate classes ahead of time and professors should, in private consultation with the student, advise them whether a given course or class would be appropriate for them. The situation in the classroom is not so different from that of dining, in which before the meal someone with allergies might ask whether a dish contains a particular ingredient. In both environments the individual's concern is not simply fickle but serious: panic and anaphylaxis. In both instances, though, we ought to expect that the individual with abnormal condition make the necessary inquiries. Unfortunately the presence of mandated food labeling laws suggests in which direction the debate turned. The result of oversight is always the same: conservative uniformity.

It's prudent and liberal to accommodate personal, private requests when possible and it's not unreasonable that a university should expect from professors a standard of concern for students, but the enforcement of such a law as Ms. Loverin's not only privileges sensitivity over inquiry but requires a criteria which seems destined to expand to compendious size. Each instance stifles the curriculum.

It should not be thought, though, that such a preference for inquiry means that discussions of sensitive topics should be frank or designed to desensitize, for to the contrary discussions should impress upon students the seriousness of the topic. Likewise I don't suggest that institutions of higher learning have no interest or responsibility toward accommodating student needs, but only that such a law as proposed is an illiberal and counterproductive means, injurious to the university's other goals, toward reasonable ends.

Ad summam, students should be responsible for their behavior and thus should inquire about curricula before hand, and professors should accommodate those inquiries. If laws need to exist to ensure such common sense and courtesy, then the higher education die is already cast.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Presidential Rhetoric, Part VII: Andrew Jackson

Welcome to Part Seven of our series on the rhetoric of American presidential inaugural addresses. Please feel free to look at the previous entries in the series:
  1. Worthy of Marble?
  2. John Adams
  3. Thomas Jefferson
  4. James Madison
  5. James Monroe
  6. John Quincy Adams
We continue with our present look at the rhetoric of Andrew Jackson's inaugural address. Let us see if any of the blood and guts of Old Hickory are to be found in his first speech as president.

The text of the speech, via

Given it's brevity, it's best to make neither introductory nor concluding but rather summary remarks about Jackson's speech. We'll also dispense with the customary line-by-lie analysis. First, Jackson's is by far the shortest inaugural so far, weighing in at only 1,100 words or so. Second, it's plain and free of tropes, figures, and flourishes which adorned previous speeches. Jackson is his most poetical when waxing about the military, but generally he's quite sober. Third, the speech is not structured rhetorically, with formal sections devoted to refutation, summary, and so forth. Instead, it is structured as a list with little regard for the delicate task of transitioning from topic to topic. Fourth, Jackson does not offer examples or stop to paint pictures. He's not trying to persuade. In fact, and most important of all...

Fifth, Jackson's not really trying to persuade at all, and instead he's simply listing his policies. He's not trying to win over his enemies by making his plans seem ideal or reasonable and he's not trying to paint a picture of a grand, unified America to compensate for the inevitable sour feelings which follow an election. Jackson is laying down his agenda, not making any attempt at any of the classic modes of persuasion: 

A. of the personal character of the speaker
B. putting the audience in a particular frame of mind
C. proof or apparent proof of the words themselves.
Jackson at times qualifies statements, stating that the debt is a threat to liberty or the economy should favor goods essential to national independence, but does not actually argue the points. 

We can state then that while the speech is political, it is so in a restricted sense because it doesn't advise, deliberate on, or urge so much as declare. Likewise it doesn't fit into Aristotle's epideictic mold at all since it doesn't bother to praise. Overall, we can conclude of it what we did of President Obama's Inaugural:

Aristotle at the opening of the Rhetoric identified the craft as that which utilizes the best of the available means of persuasion. The author of this speech would not seem to have availed himself of the potential means.
Still, there's a workmanlike clarity to the agenda as well as a noteworthy, if not praiseworthy, candor in its frank indifference to persuasion. Jackson is always crystal clear, if not memorable or persuasive. It's a plain, speech, if indistinct.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fear, Pity, and the "Used-to-Haves"

Aristotle famously argued (§ 1378 and 1452) that the impact of tragedy and oratory is very much contingent on the speaker's ability to arouse fear and pity in the audience. Who would think that a little bauble from the Huffington Post fulfills Aristotle's requirement. The poets and playwrights ought to be jealous. Alas for its humble author, the piece doesn't provoke the emotions how she intends. You see what was supposed to happen was simple: she writes about how terrible her life is and we feel pity. Then, of course, we wag our fingers at the usual suspects. Of course Aristotle could have told her (1386) that displays of the terrible often produce the opposite of pity, but nonetheless I'm feeling full of pity. Why?

Because no one deserves to be this foolish and it's a downright pitiable sight to see someone suffering who has absolutely no clue as to the causes of it. The world with all of its complexities seems to swarm around this woman who sees only her own unjust deprivation. What indignation she harbors that all is not the way things ought to be, as if all she had were secured by some omnipotent guarantor who has now been usurped by a cabal of corporate raiders. Of course it's a normal human reaction, as a certain philosopher observed, to assume that which has always been will continue to be, but letting a few years of luxury forecast the future demonstrates only that she' seen so little.

Conservatives and libertarians have overused the word entitlement, but no other word exemplifies her expectations. Because she works hard, because she has made a certain wage, because she has lived a certain way, she's entitled to further compensation, presumably in perpetuity. Never mind who actually needs her services, how often, and at what expense. Never mind that we only receive if we serve. We're supposed to empathize with her excruciating separation from bourgeois comforts to the point where we simply assent to the fact that what she possessed was not lost, but stolen. Yes, let us wag our fingers at those protean demons of deprivation, today the "Republican Congress" and "Corporate America!"

As an intellectual expression this is drivel ripe for ridicule. As intellectuals ourselves we want to reprehend the fool who has guzzled so desperately the PC Kool-Aide that she's stained with its cheap crimson glow. Nevertheless her utter lack of apprehension and comprehension of any facts or reason deprives us of any desire or reason to offer correction. We just sit and pity that evil, ignorance, which we fear for ourselves.

The author suffers genuinely I have no doubt, yet not from "The Great Theft," but from cupidity gorged on excess, incensed by privation, and rooted in ignorance. 'Tis true 'tis pity; And pity 'tis 'tis true.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

That Fair Wage

Fair. Oh what they've done to you, poor little word, treated so lovingly by The Bard,

Fair encounter / Of two most rare affections! (Prospero)

and by Keats,

Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave (Ode on a Grecian Urn)


Or if you'd rather, have me young and fair, (The Wife of Bath)

and Wodehouse,

Ever since their first meeting she had wanted a fair chance at those ankles (Piccadilly Jim)

For what crime are you so scurrilously appended to that stern word wage. Now the fair adjective sports a happy plethora of meanings: just, legal, ample, moderate, unobstructed, even, free from imperfection, clear, light, pleasing, and civil. Surely among these none fit the bill but just. When people clamor for a just wage they want a wage which is existing in justice. What could this mean in the absence of a philosophical system weighing virtue and distinguishing among proportion, rectification, reciprocity, and equity. (See V.5 of the Nichomachean Ethics.)

We can further chastise the sloppy use of fair, and their weaseling out the work of philosophy, but let us charitably presume well-intending simply mean that no one should unduly suffer by lack of essentials. What does this have to do with a wage? How can a wage be unjust? It's neither just nor unjust freely to exchange your services for any particular good. If you make the exchange, then it was valuable to you. Your wage is part of an exchange of services, not a measure of what you are worth or deserve as a person.

Similarly we may ask why a wage must be the sole means to security. Outside of a feudal economy of lords and serfs such socio-economic thinking is incredible. In a free economy and society in which no one is granted a legal monopoly, it's incumbent on the employer only to pay the agreed wage. In contrast, it may be incumbent upon everyone equally, if anyone, or perhaps especially family or friends or neighbors, to protect the weak from deathly lack. Yet why should the employer suffer the burden?

Of course the employer might not shoulder the burden but raise the cost of his goods if he hires the employee at the "fair wage" at all. In this case, the customers shoulder the burden of the employee. Why should they, purchasers of this particular good, support the employee? It's not self-evident, to say the least. In times past, friends, family, fraternal societies, and the like cared for the downtrodden. Professionals, such as doctors, treated the poor gratis as custom, not by bureaucratically managed legislative fiat.

It's curious, though, how often and many people are persuaded by the allure of the "fair wage." It just sounds so rosy. They don't seem to translate fair wage into more plain terms:

a demand from an employee to be paid a particular wage, regardless of how much he serves others, how well he does so, regardless of the demand in his locale and that demand over time, regardless of what other skills he might use more profitably, and regardless of, in fact, all variables save his own entitlement. Not quite so fair, by any of its meanings.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

So Let It Be Written

Two hundred twenty one years from the founding of the republic, in the year they called 2008, the people of the nation America turned out in record numbers to vote in a landslide victory for the first black president of the country, Barack Obama. At that time the nation was laboring in economic depression after the previous president, George W. Bush son of George H. W. Bush, also a president, had removed regulatory laws, permitting banking procedures that precipitated the crisis.

So committed to the presidency and the nation was the statesman Obama that before he assumed the office he established the Office of the President Elect, which prepared the way for the new administration. While the first speech of his administration, called the inaugural, does not survive, it was referred by the authorities of the time as being "worthy of marble" and comparable to the most ancient masters of public speaking.

Energized and empowered by his party's control of the legislature, the democratic President passed laws which halted the recession and began putting the nation's suffering unemployed back to work by funding new jobs. These measures were roundly supported by economists but pilloried by the defiant republican party who resented his leadership. Thus President Obama saved the economy by means of laws, without which the nation surely would have suffered beyond the scope of grief. In the following months, succeeding the President's efficacious recovery laws, the economy slowly stabilized and supported by further government spending, recovered slowly throughout his tenure.

After defeating the pirates East of Africa, President Obama began to reconstruct the nation's image throughout the world, which had been stained by his predecessor. He strengthened diplomatic ties with Russia, stood firm against the nuclear ambitions of Korea and Persia, called North Korea and Iran at the time, and by his most exceptional speech at Cairo renewed dialogue with the Muslims of the world, to whom he declared, "The people of the world can live together in peace." Indeed peace reigned throughout the rest of the President's administration, except for his deposition of an obscure tyrant from North Africa some years later.

Having secured stability throughout the world, President Obama sought to bring new security to America in the great tradition of progress. He drafted historic legislation which would bring affordable healthcare to all Americans. When the legislature brought the matter to the people, the people approved it. When the legislature voted, it was passed. The law was then challenged by several states whose claims came to the Supreme Court, at the time a body of radical conservatives, who eventually declared the law legal. Eventually the law took effect in 2013, after President Obama's landslide reelection, and after technical problems stemming from a foreign contractor, fulfilled its goal although healthcare costs would continue to rise due to lack of regulation.

Despite the fact that conservatives and anti-government radicals overtook the republican party and the House of Representatives, denying the president means by which further to enrich the nation, President Obama was one of America's greatest presidents. An apocryphal story best exemplifies the man and leader. When a dispute arose in the city Boston between an officer of the law and a college professor, President Obama invited the men, differing with respect to color of skin, to the White House to resolve the dispute. In the end, the professor and the patrolman by Obama were reconciled to one another, as the world was to America by that same president who was part Solon, part Solomon and whose only vice was the excess of virtue by which the nation's radical's restricted the country's final steps toward progress.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A New Convention

An old adage instructs writers to accept the criticism that something is wrong in their work, but reject recommendations to fix it. Another saying comes to mind: beware tinkerers. This sophomoric article in The Atlantic prompts these tidbits of wisdom not so much for what it says that what it doesn't. The premise isn't unreasonable: the constitution is imperfect. Fair enough, and I agree to boot. Even some recommendations are prudent. It's slipshod reasoning, gung-ho mentality, and lack of humility make it a poster example, however, of why change should be undertaken with great care.

This is my count of assertions, faulty reasoning, or incomplete ideas.
  1. Perpetual constitutions are impossible because Jefferson said so. 
  2. If Jefferson and Madison wrote a constitution today, it would be different. 
  3. The constitution too short.
  4. The constitution guarantees gridlock. 
  5. "The constitution failing" because Sanford Levinson and a "growing cadre" say so.
  6. We've learned a lot from science.
  7. Other countries "solved" what "cripples" us.
  8. Other countries learned from us, so we should learn from them.
  9. Stability equals old.
  10. More detail is better. 
  11. Because other countries' constitutions don't turn out exactly like America's, America's wasn't the model
  12. Because America's constitution is not copied and/or popular, it's less worthy of being copied.
  13. The government staying open and doing things is preferable to people who can't agree, not agreeing. Someone has to win and someone has to lose.
  14. Consensus does not equal majority. Derp!
  15. Something needs to be done about "campaign finance." Because that's a thing and the author said so. Clear enough?
  16. The constitution is too hard, the hardest even, to amend.
  17. Having more information available will help, because facts. 
There are prudent observations about improving representation and the concession that the amendment process might work is surprising, but the shoot-from-the-hip tone should terrify anyone of sound mind. The piece reads and reasons like a kid who just got the keys to the car. That we don't see mention of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, et al, should alarm us. I throw those names around not to appeal to their authority, but to chasten the exuberance which scientific and technological progress seem to be fostering in young people for the notion that you can remake a constitution, and thus nation and people, or make a new one, like a version of Microsoft Windows.

This thinking asks not of virtue or human nature beyond what present scientific trends seem to indicate. Worst of all, it seems to have no limiting principle. We find in such thinking no faith in specific principles but rather in "democratic ideals" and progress and managerial technocracy. Ready for a revolution?

The Present Mess

We stand five years into Obama's Administration of America's executive government and we the people have lost our minds, incapable of appraising the situation. On the left, while no one's staring doe-eyed into the starry gaze of the Chief Executive any longer, the chant of Change has yielded to dolorous defenses either of apathy, "What difference does it make?", or the tepid praise, "It would have been worse." On the right, while no one's challenging his legitimacy any longer, everyone's so disgusted that seldom does anyone bother about proper criticisms. All criticisms are taken as self-evident. Is there a veritable verdict?

The right swears to his incompetence and the left to obstruction. The right claims incompetence because it doesn't fundamentally disagree with Obama's policy of energetic government. Yes, it balks about the President's desire "to fundamentally change" America, but only because it resists change, not because it despises the status quo. President Obama didn't swoop in to replace an executive poised to overthrow the previous progressive orthodoxies of economic intervention, military intervention, income tax and progressive taxation, mandatory government schooling, deficit spending, and social welfare institutions. They're upset that he didn't brand this package in the guise of American Greatness and that Obama pandered to the populares–the disenfranchised and distempered–instead of rallying around the flag. By the time Obama had rebranded his rhetoric and tacked traditional, he was already caricatured as the Muslim Marxist. Today the republicans, then, can only momentarily interfere by their tepid utterances of "slightly less cowbell."

While the left not unreasonably blames republican obstructionism, it's not quite a proper claim. One obstructs what one opposes. Only an obtuse belief in democracy for its own sake, regardless of consequence, can lead you to chastise someone for refusing to sign onto pernicious plans. When there's no majority assent the left grows angry, not unreasonably when the dissent is rooted less in principle than spurious distrust, but disreputably when they demand cooperation from principled opponents under the presumed virtue of conformity.

On the one hand, the left cannot imagine Obama as incompetent, some because they lack the education they assume Obama acquired at some point in his hazy academic career–if you don't know anything I'm sure he looks bright, even vaguely profound–and others because they fill in his gaps of logic and planning, presuming such were left out lest the hoi polloi be blinded by the pure light of progress. On the other hand, they too believe in energetic government. All Obama had to do, they thought, was prune away special interests, modernize and streamline with technology, and explain himself and poof! Progress would ensue. Never mind that the government's monopoly on finance and law creates the special interests, that technology is in fact twitchy and complicated, requiring fine, uncommon, expensive minds, and finally that people don't like to be lectured.

It's perhaps that last point Obama and the left underestimated most. More than the Affordable Care Act's wobbly website and deference to insurance company interests, the fact that Obama spent what seemed like years hocking it to the people in his distinctly didactic tone exhausted us. Month after month we heard in the educating twang of his lecturing paeans and platitudes about efficiency and fair shares and investment and you know what? People are busy living, which is to say caring about their families and friends. We'd be able to do that if left alone. Obama underestimated just how much people can and want to think in Grand Designs.

Intellectuals like to wag their fingers at Americans because we're not consistently engaged in politics, because we disappear after elections. Surely there are such voters who expect their democratic sanction to usher in managed prosperity and progress, but perhaps we underestimate those who are prudently apolitical. Maybe the vice isn't apathy but the runaway designs from which people retreat simply to live in their little platoons.

What, then, is the end of those Grand Designs? Neither Utopia nor catastrophe but an irreducibly Byzantine network of ad hoc compromises with plans that would have fully failed if they had been fully implemented. So Obama and his agenda limp along, the praeclarus imperator shackled to Leviathan, the sum of all the faith and rage that brought him there.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Political Campaign Alternatives: A Modest Proposal

Democracy is perhaps one of the most fetishized and least questioned aspects of modern political life. This is not so unusual insofar as a we live in a society where the individual is thought to have personal sovereignty and thus then the liberty to. . . well it gets a little hazy at that point, since democratic elections have been known to produce all manner of illiberal results which get blessed with the democratic imprimatur. At the very least, though, we acknowledge the right to voice concern over one's fate, even if we deny people the actual ability to choose it. This liberty, such as it is, then becomes Sophie's choice between the populist crimes and fantasies du jour. If you don't like those choices then you get branded with the scarlet letter reserved for puppy-kickers and seal-clubbers: you're anti-democratic. You don't love America. You can "take it or leave it." You can "Go to Russia." Your vote for those icky third-party candidates "doesn't count" then.

My favorite of these bromides is the assertion that if you don't vote then you can't complain, as if in not choosing to get poisoned I shouldn't complain when I get stabbed. To fuse Tom Woods and Stefan Molyneux: Choose your cage, citizen. Rejoice. Repeat. Because democracy.

There is, however, something to be said for exercising one's will, if not for picking one's poison. One problem is that people have so many different criteria for what makes a good leader. Some people want businessmen, some rabble rousers. Others economists or reformers. Some want military heroes, others legislators. And so forth. The success of President Obama's carefully curated curriculum vitae is a good example of the dangers of credentials, so perfectly mixed was it to anesthetize moderates' fears of reform and stimulate reformers' hope for change. Everyone saw what they wanted and the perfection of the American experiment was at hand.

Alas, he's not been up to the task and citizens are no more prepared now than they have been thoroughly to examine the candidates. As a result, campaigns have degenerate into promises and administrations into quagmires. Thus, I offer a modest proposal which I believe will increase competition among candidates, drum up popular interest, and produce candidates of a higher caliber.

The Presidential Olympics

Round 1: Marathon
  • I'm not asking for a full marathon, but the president should be able to run a few miles in a reasonable amount of time without keeling over. 
Round 2: Feats of Strength
  • An American Gladiators style obstacle course designed to test their ingenuity, dexterity, and guts. 
Round 3: Academic Decathlon
  1. Math (Jeopardy style)
  2. Geography (Jeopardy Style)
  3. English Grammar (Quiz Show style)
  4. American History (Written)
  5. American History (Quiz Show Style) - This consists of information on present conditions including revenues, expenses, military capabilities and positions, economic statistics, foreign agreements, and so forth.
  6. Logic (Jeopardy style) - Candidates must spot the logical flaw in an argument.
  7. Economics (Oral Interview) - Candidates must explain various phenomena and prescribe a course of action.
  8. Economics (Practical) - Candidates must execute a prescribed business plan, and profit.
  9. Art (Guided Tour) - Candidates must plan and give a unique guided tour of an American museum, explaining ten works. 
  10. Important Concepts (Lecture) - Candidates must give 10 short talks explaining specific concepts from various disciplines. 
Round 4: Practical Arts
  1. Change a car's tires
  2. Cook a three course meal
  3. Clean one house, top to bottom
  4. Hunting/Target Practice
  5. Work five different 9-5 jobs in a week without getting fired
Round 5: Debate
  1. Declamation of the memorized Constitution & Declaration of Independence
  2. Deliberative defense, pro and con, of a piece of original legislation
  3. Ceremonial speech praising an American who has been dead for at least 50 years
  4. Moderated debate on select topics against other candidates.
  5. Moderated debate on select topics against a panel of experts. 
Round 6: Following and Leading
  • Follow a commander and then lead a group, through a series of tasks in the following environments: 1) kitchen, 2) classroom, 3) choir/orchestra, 4) sailboat/fishing boat, and 5) a military exercise.
Finals: Games
  1. Monopoly
  2. Risk
  3. Chess
This course would be timed and compressed into the space of one month, replacing the yearslong spectacle of campaigning. Some events would be timed or goal based, and thus objective, and others would be subjective and judged by democratic voting. In the cases of subjective events, this system would at least provide voters with something the candidate actually did, recently, and himself. It would also force candidates to acquire and perfect tangible skills before entering office. Finally, the failures would be educative, entertaining, and of course, democratic. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Economics 101 on the Daily Show: Hard Hat Zone

Everyone has had the experience of explaining something to someone who's just not getting it. Maybe your intended student is misinformed and trying to reconcile other information, maybe he's just a little slow, maybe he's having a bad day. So you try other examples and explanations and variations until you get through. It's when you really don't get through that things get interesting. Am I unclear? Have I not understood the matter myself? Your confusion takes a curious turn, though, when you start to see that your interlocutor is not engaging your arguments but deflecting them, and thus you realize that you're bashing your ahead against a wall.

With that in mind, Rand Paul must have some headache after his Daily Show interview with John Oliver last night. Now before moving on, I'd like to admit that I don't like the Comedy Central news shows. The clever tag-team of John Stewart and Steven Colbert occasionally make me chuckle and they've pulled some enlightenment from their hats, but the operating principle behind their shows seems to me clear and twofold. First, appeal to the vanity of the twenty-something would-be intelligentsia. It seems the majority of criticism which the hosts level is directed at supposed stupidity, and likewise most right opinion presented as obvious. Second, the shows are invidious hits against the political right. Not universally or unilaterally critical, but calculatedly critical hits for making the left wing seem, at worse, the lesser of two evils.

Senator Paul's 8/12 interview is a good example of these three phenomena of obtuseness, obsequiousness, and nefarious selectivity.

After some cute salutary remarks, (1:35) Oliver gets to the heart of the left's conception of the right's objections to the Affordable Care Act by characterizing Paul's objection as "religious." Such a description translates, to an irreligious demographic, as a fundamental invalidation of whatever principled explanation might be offered. Paul chooses to dodge the constitutionality and morality play and focus on policy, a wise turn because the CC audience will not likely be persuaded by principled opposition of this kind, but it will be receptive to arguments that the bill simply won't work.

Next, (2:21) Oliver suggests the fact that a certain number of Americans are uninsured self-evidently demonstrates market failure. Before noting the senator's remarks, we may ask why anything should be treated as self evident, let alone this. Healthcare, which is now a political totem and catch-all, is not an unquestionable good in all circumstances for everyone nor an end in itself. As such, why should a lack of it demonstrate any failure at all, let alone market failure? Paul proceeds with an economic counter-example culled from his firsthand experiences, a prudent choice, from which he segues into the process by which insulation from prices raises costs.

In response, Oliver resumes his religiously-oriented characterization by calling Paul a "disciple" for smaller government. He then asks whether healthcare is not something where government should step in, suggesting an affirmation. The question again invites an ideological response which would again confirm the religious set-up, but Paul declines again, offering not prudential but economic arguments. Oliver also chooses here to re-clothe his previous question. He says that business has had decades of opportunity to insure people, and it hasn't, which again implies that people without healthcare are being denied healthcare, a point which Paul easily contradicts.

After that exchange, Oliver suggests that the free market's predilection for profit is at odds with society's goal of stopping people from dying. First, note the puerile characterization, "stop people from dying," which should read "promote health." Second, notice how the statement implies contradiction simply by putting different things next to one another. What is this, Elysium? If Oliver had said what his statement is tantamount to he would have been the subject of humor, and what he said is the fatuous assertion that two things are different and contemporaneous, and the one I don't like is the causal problem. Why are different goals "often at odds?" Just because they're different? This isn't a remotely credible statement, but it's treated as self-evident. Again, Paul responds with an economic, empirical example, although I think it is generally unwise to cite for liberals the Soviet Union as an example of socialistic failure because they often see the USSR as having failed for totalitarian, not economic reasons.

You can all but see Oliver's mind flipping to what Tom Woods calls the 3x5 card of approved ideas: the greedy free market wants profits over people, the right is religious about everything, the free market has been tried and it failed, and everyone wants what the left wants.

It is of course worthy of note that man Oliver characterizes as a religious disciple is the one offering empirical examples and it is Oliver who's offering solipsisms. Meanwhile, we're supposed to infer from characterization of republican disagreement, called "contempt" for Obamacare, is counterbalanced by the rational, democratic support and passage of it.

Unfortunately, Oliver's closing, honest question on healthcare–how we will judge whether "Obamacare" (Oliver's choice of term) is successful–didn't make the cut. It is available on the CC website's page of full interviews, though. Paul responds again with economic predictions rooted in facts principles, and again Oliver doesn't contest them. On not one point was there an exchange. Oliver concludes that the two won't see eye to eye on the matter, but he hasn't actually made any arguments.

I'm not suggesting that Paul's positions are unassailable, only that Oliver's questions towed the usual lines and there was no fruitful exchange, the show's usual pitfalls. The hipster and bohemian fervor for these shows as honorable alternatives to the mainstream eludes me. They do just as poor a job of informing you, although they're chock full of marginally entertaining cheap shots and juvenilia. They're only must-see if you need your ego stroked.

I imagined for a moment that the producers of the show read this article and decided to rebut it, and that they'd do it first by quoting, "They do just as poor a job of informing you," and then cutting to the worst moments of Fox and MSNBC. Then they'd quote, "they're chock full of... juvenilia," and the host would pull his pants down, feign indignation, and the audience would laugh. Doesn't that seem disappointingly probably?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Presidential Rhetoric VI: John Quincy Adams

Welcome to Part Six of our series on the rhetoric of American presidential inaugural addresses. Please feel free to look at the previous entries in the series:
  1. Worthy of Marble?
  2. John Adams
  3. Thomas Jefferson
  4. James Madison
  5. James Monroe
We continue with our present look at the rhetoric of John Quincy Adams' inaugural address. The first presidential son of a president, John Quincy fittingly owes his considerable education, Classical and otherwise, to his father.

As a child he was instructed in history yes, but with a point of observing "treachery, perfidy, cruelty, and hypocrisy" which he "should learn to detest." Before his teens he delighted in Shakespeare, though in old age he confessed what humor he had missed as a child. Later, visiting Johnny at the Passy Academy in Paris in 1778, the father Adams would remark, "this child. . . learned more french in a day than I could learn in a Week with all my books." Years on when studying at Leyden, Johnny would receive from his father a gift of Terence in  both French and Latin, which the boy had of course learned by now de rigueur. From Leyden Johnny would write how he was "writing in Homer, the Greek grammar, and the Greek testament every day," although his father would write, outraged that the curriculum didn't include Cicero and Demosthenes, an inclusion upon which he insisted. Johnny's Harvard years, which he didn't reflect on with too much affection, rounded out his formal education, before adding to it an MA from his alma mater and joining the bar, age 23.

Let us see to what end the second presidential Adams' considerable intelligence, education, and experience met the occasion of his Inaugural Address, delivered Friday, March 4, 1825.

As usual, the speech is available via Bartleby, which we reproduce here boldface, with my comments following.

[A] IN compliance with an usage coeval with the existence of our Federal Constitution, and [B] sanctioned by the example of my predecessors in the career upon which I am about to enter, [C] I appear, [D] my fellow-citizens, in your presence and in that of Heaven [E] to bind myself by the solemnities of religious obligation [F] to the faithful performance of the duties allotted to me [G] in the station to which I have been called.

For his opening, Adams has folded all of his introductory ideas into one sentence. He begins with two parallel prefaces in which he identifies the occasion of his inauguration as [A] coeval, and thus of equal authority, as the constitution, and [B] sanctioned by his predecessors' examples, and thus sanctioned by tradition and excellence. Adams delays his appearance in the speech until [C], which coming after his prefaces about the history of the constitution and the previous presidents, gives the effect of Adams appearing at this moment, a subtle and effective instance of style mirroring content. No sooner does he introduce himself, though, than he addresses his fellow-citizens [D], smartly associating himself with the people and continuing the image of the speaker presenting himself to the people. Adams continues with overt religious analogy by identifying his oath as sacred [E], his duties as both [F] obligatory (faithful performance) and specific (allotted), and his election as democratic. [G]

The most succinct opening yet, Adams packs a lot of detail into a very small span with his Latinate and Ciceronian phrasing.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Case of Anthony Weiner

New Yorkers are __________ that Anthony Weiner is running for mayor. Your choices are: outraged, insulted, stupefied, or shocked. They're all correct, of course, and they're all irrelevant as far as I can tell. Why? Because disgrace is a fickle condition.

The word implies the status: a fall from honor. So to fall from grace you need to have some to begin with. The worse your crime, the more honor you'll need. Only by this calculus can many of history's Great Men come out smelling so good. Julius Caesar may have exterminated Gauls, but that little paragraph of "reforms" that comes at the end of the text book chapter makes it all better. Napoleon might have plunged Europe into war, but the Napoleonic Code was so progressive. In American history, Lincoln suspends habeas corpus and fights a war against Americans, but he supports the 14th Amendment. Wilson lets the Versailles Treaty get well out of hand, but he dreamed big: a League of Nations.

John Adams is an interesting case. He passed the abominable Alien and Sedition Acts, but all he did for the better was avoid war with France. Priorities.

Bill Clinton is another interesting example. Here we have an unremarkable administration led by a man who is charged by the House of Representatives with perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton would seem to have had no capital to expend, right? Well, not in terms of objective accomplishments or virtues. He did however benefit from his own charisma and the appearance that the charges against him were motivated by political maneuvering and not the law. His case suggests that by honor and dishonor we don't mean anything necessarily involving virtue so much as favor. For many, Clinton never fell from grace and to this day people casually throw around how he was impeached simply for sexual impropriety.

Which brings us to Anthony Weiner, everybody's favorite politician-cum-photographer, portraits a specialty. Why has Anthony Weiner sunk to Caligula's popularity level while Slick Willie's a hit everywhere?

First, he didn't do anything exceptional which might have let this miasmatic funk waft by. The emperor is deflowering virgins? Well, it's better than civil war, and oh look at the pretty buildings!

Second, like Eliot Spitzer, Weiner looks like a loser. People will tolerate, it seems, dishonest and even abusive behavior, but one whiff of the pathetic and you're out.

Third, Weiner is an easy target. He's not in office, so no one has to call for a resignation. There's no need for special laws or elections or procedures. We don't need to question the system. Everyone just gets to poke fun. Right now, amidst so many problems we refuse to deal with, castigating this man feels like an easy way to exercise power and regain confidence. We'll tolerate incompetence, corruption, deceit, and mayhem at every level of government, but his line we will not cross.

No, Anthony Weiner is not a great or virtuous man, but his failure should be at the ballot box. Meanwhile, the finger-waggers would do well themselves to take responsibility for the city and nation's runaway problems, risk their own fortunes and reputations, and suspend their incredulity at the audacity of a failed fool's hope.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Snowball of Progress

That aspect of conservatism which is simply a disposition toward preservation gives rise to much consternation for both progressives and conservatives. On the one hand, conservatives in simply preserving the status quo must preserve what they do not actually approve. On the other hand, progressives must concede they too need a conservative disposition if they are to preserve progress. Ideology naturally determines just what each person wishes in particular to preserve, but testifying that disposition often trumps ideology is the fact that both sides wish to preserve nearly every political policy.

It is thus the position in 21st century America that we find ourselves in a state of legislative torpor, not due to a natural democratic deadlock, but the fact that we can't both infinitely preserve and progress everything. Everything which has been added to policy at the national level is sacrosanct. What was once added as an experiment or a measure for the moment is now eternal policy. Moreover, it no longer satisfies conservatives or progressives enough to conserve, for even reductions in the rate of increase are viewed as regress.

Of military matters, we went from debating the prudence of a standing army to mainstream politicians regarding as "dangerous" any upset to the surveillance state. Regarding economics we have failed WWII era planning still gumming up commerce and a near-century of the Federal Reserve presiding over the dollar's decline. If you want to End the Fed, though, then you're some crazy old cook. In education, academic perfection was attained for mankind back in the hoary antiquity of 1979. If you admit to skepticism of The Department of Education you might as well confess you want to grind up the Parthenon friezes.

The irrational origins of the social services are as forgotten as the debates which surrounded their passage. They passed so they're permanent. Conserve progress. There's a telling line in the BBC television program Yes, Prime Minister in which the naive private secretary to the PM, Bernard, asks Civil Service chieftain Humphrey Applebee about the progressive schools:

Bernard: Surely progressive education was an experiment which ought to be validated?
Sir Humphrey: Yes, Bernard, but not in-validated!
Never mind whether they were needed at the time or now, never mind whether they worked at the time or now: we have the programs. They're permanent. Resistance is futile. The states as bastions of experimentation? Pfft! Every program's a winner! Between the people who believe they are necessary and those who actually use them, the programs are popular enough to prove invulnerable to protest. One can no more propose change to Social Security than one can propose to chip away at the Washington Monument. History has been written.

Without the creative destruction of a free market constantly reallocating scarce resources to where they are needed most at the moment, leviathan stomps along, following its antiquated map. The conservatives and progressives have succeeded, contra both conservatism and progressivism, in enslaving the present to the greatest fools of yesteryear, a mind-boggling fact which prompted the following summation from Chesterton:

The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
The result of programs accruing at such a rate and being administered on such a scale has had a twofold effect. The first is that the government has ceased to become a guarantor against aggression but a dispensary of rights with the Commander in Chief doubling as apothecary. The second result is clamor for the uses and services of the government even as its inefficiencies reduce the quality and availability of the product. The government has effectively crowded out both a marketplace of trade and the virtues of civil society. A fragment of Ennius describes the pernicious effect:

Cum debere carnufex cuiquam quicquam quemquam, quemque quisque conveniat, neget.
Since the rascal denies that anyone owes anything to anyone, let each one sue the other. 
To arrest the downward trajectory of commerce, politics, and civility, conservatives and progressives need to realize that neither disposition implies linear activity. Instead, both require prudent cultivation, a process always slow, often oblique, and varied with respect to person, place, technique, time, and tool. Not every good must find expression in government policy, and not every policy, even the good, need be permanent. The alternative is a Sisyphean punishment for both the foolishness of thinking politics permits the solution to all problems, and the hubris of believing you've found it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Just Plain Bad

The latest speech from the 21st century Cicero has arrived and it's a doozy. How long and boring and tedious it is!

It's all over the place, from attempts at epithets, "proud Maytag workers," stranded analogies, "the bargain began to fray," and inexplicable shifts in tense:
Technology made some jobs obsolete. Global competition sends a lot of jobs overseas. It became harder for unions to fight for the middle class.

We get some awkward ordering of phrases:
But by the time I took office in 2009 as your president, we all know the bubble had burst.
 Then there are plain old bizarre turns of phrase:
doled out bigger tax cuts to the very wealthy and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor.
You can dole cuts? "Smaller minimum increases?"

Strained connections:
And so what happened was that -- (applause) -- the -- the link between higher productivity and people's wages and salaries was broken.
A link between three things?

Don't forget pointless asides:
Or they'll bring up "Obamacare" -- this is tried and true -- despite the fact that our businesses
So what's tried and true? That they bring it up? Doesn't that imply that you were just lying?

Then there are the vast gaps in explanation:
we've got to continue to end the war in Afghanistan
So we've been ending it? When? How? When was the middle? When did the end begin? What constitutes an end? Can you in fact be ending before you've ended, or is there simply an end?

We get perhaps the worst antistrophe ever:
That's what we have to spend our time on and our energy on and our focus on.
"Let's see, which word should get the emphasis? Hmmm. I know, on, because words!"

Don't forget the plain old ugly: It does not require havingeverybody who's fighting to get intothe cornerstones of what it means. Oh the humanity!

Finally, there's the incomprehensible:
This growing inequality not just of result, inequality of opportunity, this growing inequality -- it's not just morally wrong; it's bad economics because when middle-class families have less to spend, guess what?
Nope, I'm not guessing anymore. I'm out of here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Yeah but. . . you know

The well of imbecility runs deep, dear reader, and in the latest demonstration of its inexhaustible depths the president has shared the following wad of wisdom:

"...if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws." -President Barack Obama, 7/19/13 [Link]
Foolishness is never more dangerous and dastardly than when disguised as wisdom and moderation. Here we have an incongruous analogy set up as a hypothetical test of a tangential issue presented as the vindication of unspecified criticism about the Zimmerman verdict. It's a good thing the president decided to, "let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those [legal] issues."

The appeal of such a statement is more peculiar and particular, though, than the logic therein, for one must ask: why would such a sentiment appeal to anyone? From whence comes the need to find a systemic problem? Can't anything happen without being part of a trend, which the newscasters love to term a "disturbing pattern of events," that necessitates rethinking, reforming, and too often, infringements on liberty? Wouldn't you be glad if something bad weren't true?

Moreover, why do some people seek to prove that America is fundamentally flawed? It is one manner to admit that your home has flaws, even grave ones, for the purpose of admonishing it, but quite another to exercise with such alarming regularity a reflexive instinct toward disparagement. On the other hand, the contrast of heedless patriotism's motto "my country right or wrong" is of course an equally deleterious condition, but I find it harder to understand the repudiating tendency which Roger Scruton has called oikophobia. First, home is the natural seat of affection. Second, the facts prove otherwise, at least in the present matter.

Now I would be less inclined to allege that "some people seek to prove America is flawed" if they didn't demonstrate their inclination so ably in the deft disregard for facts we see exemplified by the president.

I would be more cautious to allege such if the president hadn't prefaced the above statement with anecdotes which we're not only supposed to take on faith, but from which we are urged to extrapolate general truths.
There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store...
There are probably very few African-American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars...
There are very few African-Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off...
These assertions are apparently meant to stand in lieu of factual, empirical demonstrations of racism's causes and effects. So we're supposed to concede that racism has created certain problems, but also, "not to make excuses for that fact." This is illogic masquerading as pragmatism.

Finally, I would be more likely to believe such people suffered from a mere lack of facts than an aversion to them if the president hadn't proposed pretty blandishments like collecting data on traffic stops, "resourced us training police departments" (N.B. "resource" is not a verb), and spending "some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys?"

As if those points are not incredible enough indictments of the president's lack of seriousness, he peppers them with a sudden doubt about overweening federal legislation ("I'm not naive about the prospects of some grand new federal program") and deference for federalism, ("Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government," remarks which could scarcely have less credibility.

Overall, the president's speech is sophomoric in thought and insidious in effect. Couched in a faux-casual flurry of "you knows," the speech pretends to walk a line of moderation and pragmatism even as it exemplifies and justifies the thinking which precipitated the problem. It will only compel those who already harbor foregone conclusions, just like the case it pretends to transcend.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Art of Not Having An Opinion

While swimming in the jury pool with my fellow citizens earlier this year, I found myself waiting long whiles with them in an auditorium festooned with televisions. At the time, everyone was following the trial of Oscar Pistorius, who was accused of murdering his girlfriend. Whether out of interest or deathly boredom, people freely gossiped about the courtroom drama. The ad hoc popular verdicts were unanimous in affirming his guilt, a fact which troubled your humble blogger who found these extra-legal pronouncements quite disturbing, coming as they did from people who might imminently serve on a jury.

Hours later, though, many of these same mystics and prognosticators sat with me in the courtroom for some pre-selection procedures. They asked me a good many ways whether I would be able to remain impartial: do I know anybody at the court, do I know anybody who's been involved in the case, and so forth. Then the defense reminded us about holding to the facts of the case, and the prosecution about the burden of proof. None of these reminders shattered my conceptions, but they were presented with a degree of seriousness, in an environment of such seriousness, which, combined with the gravity and procedures of an actual trial, might have snapped a few folks from their penchants for armchair adjudication. I'm not generally sanguine about the popular penchant for remaining focused, logical, and objective, but with enough prodding, it's not inconceivable.

On the other hand, I sat down at my desk yesterday morning beneath such a Vesuvius of thesaurus-emptying, fact-averse vomitus that I found sole consolation in the fact I had yet to take my shower. I wonder if people realize how insulting it is to speak about matters on which not only are they inexpert, not only which have they not studied, but with which they have not even bothered to acquaint themselves, and then, furthermore, to voice that uninformed, unexamined opinion with all the trumpets-and-drums pomp can muster, and then, crowning their abdication from reason and decency, to dare and criticize anyone who refuses to lap up their piddling blather.

I know it's shooting fish in a barrel, but look at this nonsense in response to the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. It is simply staggering how much ignorance, and inelegance, you can squeeze into 150 characters. Do these people want someone to set them straight? Does Ice Cube want someone to ask him what he could possibly mean by alleging that a whole city wanted Zimmerman acquitted? Do Chris Rock and Nicki Minaj know that 911 operators can't order you what to do, and they are not police? Does Michael Moore know his inverse hypothetical proves nothing? Does Mia Farrow equate patrolling an area which the police were apparently unable to, with "hunting?" Does Evan Rachel Wood think that every single instance resulting in death is equivalent? Do Omar Epps, Chris Brown, and Rico Love think all crimes involving guns are equivalent? Does Russell Simmons think that every instance of discrimination ought to be illegal, qua discrimination? Does John Cusack not know what a tragedy is, or does he think a fatal flaw was involved? Does Olivia Wilde think we can just "demand" a better justice system into existence ex nihilo?

As preposterous as these claims are, though, I've heard the same from people I'd heretofore thought predominantly reasonable, but who this time clamor in accord with their more famous counterparts in stupidity and hate mongering. These folks simply can't compute the fact that this case doesn't support what they think it does, which is that murder is legal, any particular people are racist, or the justice system is broken. The case, in fact, demonstrated very little: that a jury, given specific evidence and specific burden of proof, was unable to convict Zimmerman of specific charges. With no ulterior motive, one must find specific fault with the evidence, burden of proof, or criteria for self defense in order to find fault with the verdict. Stefan Molyneux did a fine job of assembling the facts of the case, but even his scrupulous video was greeted with familiar, unreasoned responses, in many cases because people see the verdict as the outcome of variables other than the evidence, namely unstated, unknown, and nefarious motives of Zimmerman, the jury, and the police. These are pitiable people tyrannized by their opinions.

There's an instructive lesson about prudence in Tom Hooper's 2008 miniseries John Adams in which Thomas Jefferson, already acclimated to the Parisian world, asks the recently arrived Mrs. Adams what she thinks of the Gallic character. Mrs. A. declines to answer on the grounds that she couldn't possibly form a just opinion in so little time, a denial which prompts Jefferson to tease that she has already done just that. Finally and to the chagrin of her silent, onlooking husband, Mrs. Adams coyly notes that even if she had, she'd not announce her opinions until experience had confirmed their wisdom or folly. Prudent advice from a lady worth the title, and how better off would we all be to follow the example.

It's not easy, though, because we all harbor preconceptions. Sometimes those thoughts are arrived at by reason and principle and sometimes they're heuristic haphazards that we've patched together. In either case, every time we encounter a new situation we're tempted to shoehorn it into our existing view and see it as yet another example of something we already know. To some extent this is necessary because we can't reevaluate every situation as if we've never seen it before, but on the other hand we need to exercise humility and prudence when the facts don't fit. It is better to educate oneself in silence than to speak out in principled error, or worse, shameless grandstanding.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Your Daily Pernicious Infusion

Drudge was linking the other day to the latest in a string of articles on preposterous  arrests and charges. Some allege a pattern of outlawing of just about everything, others see in increasingly SWAT-like tactics the militarization of police, and others see plain old brutality. I've always heard a lot about such issues in left and libertarian circles, but even the right, which is fairly quick to pull the anti-cop card, seems to be growing alarmed. There is plenty of literature on the important legal and moral issues but I would  draw two points.

First, police are not aliens: they're fellow citizens who, prudently or not, have been vested with a good deal of authority. I wonder whether police recruiters are doing enough to ensure they hire people with the proper disposition to be officers of the law, and whether they're following up with proper evaluations, for to every job there are both complementary and opposed dispositions. Also, it's quite possible that there are more positions than can be filled by proper candidates and no amount of funds or training is going to fix the problem because you can't give or incentivize character. The pool of ideal candidates for any job will vary from time to time, and employers across professions need to have the liberty to hire the worst and acquire the best as they see fit. Not everyone's good at his job and many jobs are dangerous when poorly filled.

How often, though, do we wonder about that: how well our friends and loved ones perform their jobs? Are they efficient? Respected? The thought that your friend or spouse is ineffective, or worse, at work is a surprisingly potent disappointment. We really ought to consider the needs of  our friends' qua professionals. As we noted above, not everyone is perfectly suited to their job and thus people often force a disposition, a tiring and stressful task. Police come home tired of having to be on alert, teachers tired of quieting children, managers of making endless corrections, and on and on. People need daily help, some complementary others supplementary, to get through their days, and such needs are all too easy to ignore.

Second, the public bears the fruits of its expectations. I've grown to think that, along with political caterwauling about crime rates, the fact that seemingly every night some variation of Law and Order precedes the 10PM news is having a deleterious, disquieting effect on our society. For my part, I've never flipped past either program without being appalled by the relentless fear mongering. I'm not sure whether you can spend two hours, maybe a few times a week, one speculating about fictional crimes and the next confirming them, and not grow a little paranoid. I'm not suggesting anything nefarious or the absence of criminal and dangerous activity, but Ii may simply be that in the absence of grave, imminent danger, man tends to seek some to give his activity purpose and import. Expectations seem to dictate much here.

For example, the NYC City Council recently approved of measures to increase police oversight, over the expected objections. Whether the council's reaction reflects genuine democratic sentiment I can't say, but there is a potentially troubling breakdown of trust here. Citizen's don' trust the police, who again are still their fellow citizens, neighbors, friends, and fellow New Yorkers, to leave the innocent alone, citizen's don't trust the mayor or commissioner to administer the police, the mayor and commissioner don't trust the people to hold them accountable as they see fit, and last but not least the people think a police force of such scale is necessary to protect themselves from criminals, criminals who are nonetheless fellow citizens as well. Troubling for sure, but I wonder whether our negligence and expectations have as much to do with the apparent breakdown as actual crime.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Citizen's Examination of Conscience

  1. From where did/do I derive my political ideas: Reason, tradition, emotion, et cetera?
  2. Have I ever returned to study, and possibly challenge, the ideas I first learned?
  3. Do I speak on, and address others about, only matters which I have thoroughly researched and considered, and on which I have opinions which I can logically and clearly articulate?
  4. Of my own ideas, do I keep current on matters with which they intersect?
  5. Do I stay informed on a variety of issues, or only certain ones?
  6. Do I speak as appropriate to prove my case to others, or to gratify myself?
  7. How often do I read scholarly books and articles?
  8. How often do I read any books and articles which articulate opposing viewpoints, or do I only read ones with which I already agree?
  9. Do I seek out the best opposing viewpoints to understand them and potentially challenge my own ideas, or am I content to read the most easily refuted opposing ideas?
  10. Do I check the facts of articles?
  11. Do I especially check the facts of articles with which I agree?
  12. Do I stay informed about legislation and court cases?
  13. Do I read legislation and court cases myself, or do I rely on others' opinions and summaries?
  14. In evaluating political decisions, do I consider:
    1. Both universal and particular law?
    2. Whether the matter is of a political nature in the first place?
    3. Whether the law ought to be passed or the case heard at that particular level of government?
    4. The principles on which the decision rests?
    5. The precedent which informs it and the precedent which it sets?
    6. Potential side effects, positive and negative, and their probabilities?
    7. Whether there is enough information to decide the matter at all?
    8. Whether the desired outcome might be better achieved by another means?
  15. In evaluating candidates for political office do I:
    1. Have an objective set of criteria against which I equally compare all candidates?
    2. Stay equally informed about all candidates?
    3. Consider as separate, but related and relevant the character, talk, and action of the candidate?
    4. Separate rhetoric from logical arguments?
    5. Hold officials accountable after delegating my authority to them?
  16. When disagreeing, do I do so from principle or as a reactionary or emotionally? 
  17. When disagreeing, do I use facts which I can cite, or have I allowed my facts and sentiments to congeal into a sense which is no longer rooted in particulars?
  18. Do I promote the good by ways other than voting?
  19. Do I treat speculation with appropriate skepticism?
  20. Do I expect of other citizens what I do not do myself?
  21. Do I admit when I am wrong?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Odd Couple

Rain on My Parade, Please

Something about celebration invites abuse. Atheists mock Christmas, anarchists mock Election Day, pacifists Veteran's Day. Irked by the politicization of "going green" a lot of conservatives have developed a not-so-quiet loathing for Earth Day. Valentine's day seems the most loathed these days, a towering rod electrified by hate. Why?

It's not so hard to imagine a few reasons. Some folks think qui tacet consentire and that's not unreasonable. They don't want to look like they condone something they find foolish or even worse. Other people simply bask in the joy of contrarianism and relish the thought of not joining the club. Some people are too insecure about an idea, even if they assent, to affirm their accord. At the dark end of the spectrum lurks envy, where some angry people find genuine displeasure at the sight of people affirming the good.

To varying degrees and toward various groups, holidays, and celebrations, we've all felt some of those ways. Perhaps we ought endeavor, though, to curb our sarcasm and not rain on anyone's parade. That it takes so much restraint to shut one's yap, or keep hands off the keyboard, suggests that silence is often a prudent response, at least at the time of their celebrating. After all, how much of our own disagreement is not justification of principle but rather self-aggrandizement and self-assuring masquerading as reason. There are in fact very few people with whom I'll disagree in person. In fact, whether and how I disagree is based on a rather complex calculation of the appropriateness of time and place, and most of all, how likely I am to persuade the individual. Most times and places aren't occasions for debate, and most people find genuine debate irksome, which is not unreasonable.

For my part, though, I welcome the rain, but mostly because I don't hold any parades. You see, the conservative that I am isn't in unqualified love with a great many things, first because everything has unintended consequences, and second because even the intended consequences can be taken too far in degree. As such, all activity is an invitation to a great deal of harm and I find do no harm an excellent principle. When you combine that approach with philosophical and generally curmudgeonly dispositions, you'll find that activity itself is a specious enterprise. In fact I'm not a fan of any activity per se, and find much appeal in the ideal of energetic stasis. Life requires a good deal of work just to maintain itself against entropy and it requires as much affection as well.

Such doesn't mean that the present is the best of all worlds, but that enough people cared to preserve it. Maybe it is the mindless accretion of prejudice or the meaningless terminus of accident-after-accident, but you can always spot the progressive by the list of geniuses he claims to have outsmarted. Problems rise and persist, often fundamental ones, but when possible they should be pruned and filed, not exploded. Rare is the need for violent revolution, and all revolutions are violent revolutions.

The complement of energetic stasis, then, is a sanguine curmudgeonry in which everything is at once loved and loathed. This all sounds very harsh, but what good relationship is rooted in unquestioning approbation? None, of course, or the short-lived perhaps. Instead we take delight in teasing and being teased, and in all teasing there is truth and tooth in the taunt. In time we correct our ways and all that's left is the happy memory of being teased. Life as love.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Celebrate Good Obama: Scandal Remix

Update: This video after several thousand views was blocked by Viacom, evidently because they don't understand the concept of fair use.