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U.S.A. Now the U.S.S.A.

The United States of America is no more.  Our experiment with representative democracy in a constitutional and federalist republic is finished, and it failed.  We are now the United States of Social Acceptance.

You are not free.  Everything you do must be explicitly or implicitly be approved by the government.  We’ve gone from the idea that the laws of the land draw narrow boundaries for government to the reality that laws and regulations draw the increasingly restrictive boundaries of what you are permitted to do.

The examples are everywhere proving that those who dominate our government see themselves as an authority over every personal interaction in the country.  One I spotted over the weekend while reading legislation from the General Assembly’s last week, and that was featured in the Providence Journal on Sunday, gives the government authority to judge whether employers are making reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees (and those who recently gave birth).  In the Senate, the bill is S0276 from Hannah Gallo (D, Cranston); in the House, it’s H5674 from Shelby Maldonado (D, Central Falls).

As it happens, I agree — as I’m sure most of us do — that an employer should make accommodations for such employees unless doing so causes “undue hardship.”  In such decisions, I agree that some of the relevant factors are “the nature and cost of the accommodation,” “the overall financial resources of the employer,” “the overall size of the business,” and “the effect on expenses and resources or the impact otherwise of such accommodation upon the operation of the employer.”

But in most cases, both the employee and the employer are adults.  It shouldn’t be up to me to decide whether the inconveniences to the employee outweigh the business needs of the employer, and it shouldn’t be up to the government, whether legislators, judges, or bureaucrats.

In the progressive mindset that dominates in Rhode Island and, increasingly, at the federal level, we are not adults.  We’re children who need some superauthority over our lives to whom we can run when we’re not happy with each other.  Whining ten-year-olds run to their parents when they think their peers have done something that isn’t “fair.”  Adults shouldn’t require the same condescension.

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An Electorate That Will Not Learn?

Thomas Sowell’s musings about the implications of electoral support for Hillary Clinton has Rhode Island application:

The fact that many people are still prepared to vote for Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States, in times made incredibly dangerous by the foreign policy disasters on her watch as Secretary of State, raises painful questions about this country.

A President of the United States — any president — has the lives of more than 300 million Americans in his or her hands, and the future of Western civilization. If the debacles and disasters of the Obama administration have still not demonstrated the irresponsibility of choosing a president on the basis of demographic characteristics, it is hard to imagine what could.

With our enemies around the world arming while we are disarming, such self-indulgent choices for president can leave our children and grandchildren a future that will be grim, if not catastrophic.

Electoral decisions are being made for all sorts of reasons that have little or nothing to do with running a government.  The biggest factor, I’d say, is simply the self-satisfaction that comes with voting according to a false narrative.  This weekend, I heard from yet another person whom I’d just met that the Democrats are, or used to be, the “party of the little guy.”  Even if that was true by some measure in some place at some point in history, voting for that reason is a bit like saying you vote for the party that Superman would have voted for.  It’s a narrative created as part of the entertainment media.

Other reasons are in play, of course, like the expectation that a particular party will directly transfer taxpayer dollars to one’s business or family.  But I suspect the makeup of our government at the state and federal levels would be very different if people voted according to results rather than rhetoric (and not necessarily in a purely partisan way).

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America’s Autoimmune Disorder

In keeping with my earlier post about curing Rhode Island’s political ills, Jonah Goldberg’s metaphor that America has an ideological autoimmune disorder is spot on:

I loved David Brooks’s BoBos In Paradise, but its biggest flaw was in underestimating how much of the so-called bohemian-bourgeois lifestyle came pre-loaded with very political features. In 1997 Brooks wrote in The Weekly Standard that “one of the striking things about Burlington [Vermont] is that it is relatively apolitical.” I really don’t think that was true. More likely: Burlington was — and is — so uniformly liberal that even an astute observer might confuse stultifying political conformity for apoliticalness (not a word, I know, but like they said in Fast and Furious 3, you get my drift).

It’s telling that when Phil Griffin predicted MSNBC would overtake Fox News by 2014 (Stop laughing!). He said he wanted to do it by turning MSNBC into a “lifestyle” network. “It’s a mistake for us to limit ourselves to news,” he told The New Republic. Instead, he wanted to build up something he dubbed, “the MSNBC lifestyle.” This is the sort of thinking you fall into when you can’t see where politics ends and “lifestyle” — i.e., life — begins.

I’m not a big fan of generational stereotyping, but it’s fair to say that a large number of Millennials constitute the first big cohort of kids to be fully raised within this lifestyle-ized politics.

I’d add to this is that the Boomers and GenXers who taught this way of thinking to the Millennials have spouted it for so long they’ve come to believe it’s true just as fully as if they’d been raised on it themselves.  As Goldberg suggests, we’ve allowed too many of our co-culturalists to develop allergies to the sort of debate and critical thinking that is indispensable to a self-governing population.  But I’d say it’s worse than that:  Malignant progressivism attacks the very principles and preferences that allow a society to remain healthy and protect itself — from strong families to notions of property rights to freedom of speech.

From my perch in Rhode Island, where this autoimmune disorder has been coupled with the flight of any voters who figure out the problem, I don’t know if there’s a cure.  How do you turn things around when nobody with social power wants to, when those who might gain social power and grab the wheel decide it’s just more practical to leave, and when everybody else finds change impossible and keeps their heads down, hoping for a civic miracle that will allow them to keep making a living while not having to think about it all too much?

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Riotous Ripples in the Rule of Law

It’s one thing to read about riots in a distant city.  It’s another thing to see ripples of the same disregard for law and order closer to home, as in Ethan Shorey’s Valley Breeze article:

Police in Pawtucket say a crowd of young people pelted them with bottles and rocks following a Memorial Day fireworks display at McCoy Stadium Monday night.

Police responded to the area of Jenks Junior High School shortly after 9:30 p.m. for several reports of groups fighting. Officers were confronted with large groups totaling about 75 to 100 people. As they tried to disperse the groups, they were hit with bottles and rocks.

A resident who was in the area of the skate park outside Jenks said that teens made reference to the Baltimore riots as police hit them with pepper spray, at least one shouting, “this ain’t Baltimore.”

I wonder if stories like this are popping up in local newspapers across the country.  And if they are, is this a destructive fad or a crack in our civilization?

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Figuring Out How to Deal with Pope Francis

What’s the deal with Pope Francis?

If you’re a Roman Catholic, you are obliged to believe that he’s the leader that God wants the Church to have right now. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, however, that does not mean every statement or action that he undertakes is infallible.

After all, people’s words and actions can have different consequences across the years than might seem probable while they’re happening. Think of Peter’s denial of Jesus. A pundit on the ground in ancient Jerusalem might have opined that Peter, the first pope, had all but killed the infant Church in the process of its messy birth. God had other plans.
Continue reading in the Providence Journal.

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The Unfairness of a Well-Lived Life

We’re surely nearing the last stop of the progressive train when we get to statements like this:

‘I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally,’ quips [Australian Philosopher Adam] Swift.

Swift manages to find a moral loophole for bedtime stories, because they actually contribute to a relationship bond between adults and children that outweighs the unfair advantage thereby bequeathed to the next generation in that family.  But advantages like “private schooling, inheritance and other predominantly economic ways of conferring advantage” simply can’t be justified, per the philosophy

It couldn’t be clearer that such philosophy is an indication of nothing so much as a mental illness.  Swift and his partner in dementia Harry Brighouse draw a line in their “theory of familial goods” that is arbitrary and designed to prevent them from having to declare outright that bedtime stories are immoral.  Providing for one’s children is a central source of meaning in people’s lives, and children’s knowledge that their parents are doing so contributes to a fundamental sense of security and lifelong respect and gratitude.  It’s also mortar for strong marital relationships and community building.  More basically, it’s a means of ensuring equality over generations, as families that stay motivated across generations can build on successes and overcome failures.

Following Swift’s progressive line of thought, our society could advance no more than a sclerotic state could ensure universally and the least motivated families could maintain.  Moreover, we can be sure, as history has repeatedly proven, that those with the most advantages will find justification to maintain and expand those advantages (even as the benefit to them erodes with the crumbling society).

Ultimately, what is there to say to such nonsense except:  I will provide every advantage to my children that I can, and I will work to destroy any government that attempts to prevent me from doing so.  I’m not personally inclined to accomplish that overthrow through violence, but I can’t say I’d be much inclined to restrain those who would be.

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SCOTUS, SSM, and Baltimore’s Mother of the Year

More people are beginning to wake up to the reality — which, let’s be honest, was always obvious for those willing to look — that same-sex marriage is not some a step toward a libertarian live-and-let-live ideal.  The refrain used to be “how will their marriage affect you.”  That’s now changed to “it’s certainly going to be an issue.”  From the related Supreme Court hearing:

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­ exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­-sex marriage?

GENERAL VERRILLI: You know, I ­­ I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I ­­ I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is ­­ it is going to be an issue.

Colleges.  Private schools.  Other charitable organizations.  Private businesses.  “It’s going to be an issue.”

I grabbed the above transcript from an article by David French, who recently issued a mea culpa for having fallen for the line that SSM “changes nothing.”  (The phrase is from something French wrote in 2004 taking the pro-SSM side.)

Again, this shift in message was always obvious; I’ve been pointing it out for almost fifteen years.  Unfortunately, this particular “it’s going to be an issue” isn’t even the biggest problem.  As I’ve also been saying for almost fifteen years, the most profound consequence of the radical change is that our society will have given up its best tool for enshrining the cultural message that the couples who create children should work together to raise them.

That principle was already under assault, but it will be entirely untenable now.  And anybody who wants an image of what that will mean needs only look to Baltimore, where a lone, apparently single, mother has become something of a sensation — a standout parent — for braving a riot to drag home her teenage son, a full head taller than her, so she could ensure that he wasn’t helping to burn down his own city while risking arrest, injury, or even death.

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Cicilline’s Bid to Facilitate Fascism

Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline (who, let’s not forget, helped draw Providence to the precipice as mayor) wants to give his fellow members of the acronym group of sexual preference special rights at the national level:

Cicilline said he plans to introduce a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill later this spring that would address the gaps in current law. The resolution is a first step, he said, and it currently has over 100 sponsors, though a Republican-controlled Congress could prevent the proposed bill from becoming legislation.

As a political matter, there’s a gaping hole in the logic behind the legislation.  If “the overwhelming majority of Americans oppos[e] discrimination against LGBT people,” as Janson Wu, executive director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, says, then why do they need special protections?  There should only be a small minority discriminating, right?  It’s flatly impossible, at this point, to pretend that this supposed bogeyman is powerful on the order of the lingering institutional racism that existed after Western Civilization ended the ancient practice of slavery, thereby necessitating government to take a side in social disputes.

What Cicilline and his comrades want, one suspects, is actually to facilitate the fascistic behavior that has begun in order to wipe out anybody who expresses reservations about undermining cultural institutions, like marriage, that have formed the foundation of our society.  Skim through the news on any given day:

  • A pair of gay businessmen who hosted an event for Republican Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz were forced to offer a groveling apology (contradicting their stated belief that “an open dialogue with those who have differing political opinions is a part of what this country was founded on”).
  • A couple operating a small bakery in Oregon to support their three children faced a life-altering fine of $135,000 for declining to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony. (The complaining lesbian couple, by the way, has the impossibly perfect name of “Bowman-Cryer,” considering that they are leveraging their tears to shoot deadly legal arrows at the family.)  Making matters worse, GoFundMe pulled the plug on a national campaign to support the family against the ridiculous penalty when a local competitor of the bakery complained.  Presumably, the competitor would have been happy to bake the disputed cake, illustrating how little sacrifice is needed to allow our neighbors to have different beliefs.

The national anti-discrimination legislation that Cicilline wants is simply an attempt to make it illegal to act on beliefs that differ from his and make it more difficult for people who share those beliefs to help each other.  Just as redefining marriage (mostly through the judiciary) is removing the ability of religious people and organizations to uphold their beliefs about the institution, making “discrimination” illegal will give opposing activists the ability to use government to target them.  It’s an attempt to bring the point of a gun to the culture war.

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Academic Hypotheses Versus Religion & Easily Dismissed Conclusions

The National Bureau of Economic Research set out to determine whether religiosity corresponds with a lack of innovation, as measured by the issuance of patents.  As the economists surely expected when they set out to publish such a paper, the answer at which they arrive is: “yes.”

Even the summary published in the Wall Street Journal gives hints of where argument with the methodology could begin, and purchasing the study itself would no doubt allow for a fleshing out of objections.  But it doesn’t seem necessary to go to such lengths.  Just a look at the headline chart gives reason to think the study’s conclusions aren’t worth exploring in detail.

Reporter Jeffrey Sparshott writes that the negative “relationship is apparent when plotting the percent of the population that describes itself as religious against a population-controlled measure of patent applications filed by a country’s residents.”  The distribution actually shows something more like the opposite.

Sure, the most patent-heavy countries, Japan and South Korea, are not religious, but they’re also from a certain culture.  Another East Asian country, the most unreligious, is China, and its innovation is in the middle of the spread.  Vietnam is nearly as unreligious as South Korea, and it’s the fourth-least-innovate country on the chart.  (North Korea isn’t included, by the way.)

Moving out of the orient continues the point.  The chart is broken into a five-by-five grid, and of the five non-oriental countries in the top quintile for innovation, three are more than 50% religious.  Expand the view to the top two quintiles for innovation, and it isn’t even close.  Only seven of nearly 30 countries in this space have less than 50% religiosity.  Moving the threshold to 60% of residents self-describing as “religious” only picks up two more countries.

From the chart, it’s pretty clear that the reasons there appears to be a correlation between the two variables is that (1) the great majority of countries are substantially religious, (2) Japan and South Korea are innovative outliers, and (3) a number of relatively poor countries (heavily weighted toward Islam) are very religious.

“We’re not making strong claims as to what is causing what,” says one of the study’s authors, but that’s obviously not true.  Even the abstract makes much of a presumption of religious opposition to science.

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A Growing Culture of Lying About Male Predators

People who don’t follow the news probably wouldn’t even suspect it.  Those who follow the news casually might have heard of a few high-profile cases — like the utterly false Rolling Stone profile of a vicious gang rape at the University of Virginia or the false Duke lacrosse team accusation.  The examples of women making false rape accusations are not as rare as is popularly thought.  Even just the examples that Instapundit Glenn Reynolds comes across seem to amount to a daily feature.

A story in the Providence Journal’s “Police Digest” might put to rest any doubt that America’s young women are picking up on the fact that making accusations against men is a means of covering shame or just a route to attention:

Two young Pawtucket girls lied about seeing a suspicious man taking photographs of young girls playing soccer in a field last weekend, the police said Friday. …

The girls, 10 and 11 years old, agreed to pose for him, then told their mother that a suspicious man was taking pictures of young girls playing soccer in a field near Roosevelt and Mendon Avenues, Brandley said.

“The whole neighborhood panicked” before the police found the man, a professional photographer with a website. “This story cost us a ton of man hours — for nothing,” Brandley said. “He has a legitimate business and a legitimate website.”

When I posted about RI Governor Gina Raimondo’s sexist girls-only essay contest, comments on social media were dismissive and even hostile, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to accept the specious rhetoric that men are a privileged class and therefore are fair targets for accusations and humiliation. In Arizona, military cadets were forced (or “pressured”) to undergo a sort of ritual humiliation by walking around campus in red high heels.  Recently, a Virginia woman managed to send her neighbor to jail for four years as a scapegoat when she was embarrassed for being caught looking at pornography.  Social media exchanges show that girls in Arizona plotted to “teach a lesson” to a boy before accusing him of rape, ultimately sending him to prison.  (The resolution of this revelation is still pending.)

The next story in the Providence Journal “Police Digest” does show that there are men who do creepy things.  Rape does occur, and it shouldn’t.  However, the assumption that this is gender specific is due for some reevaluation.  The fact that it was wrong to minimize rape and force women to fit a certain image in our culture doesn’t justify attacking men, especially those born well after the sexual revolution.

As for false accusations, I’d be willing to bet that a great many men have such stories.  Perhaps the reason they’re becoming so much more common is that the legal and social checkpoints that used to filter them out have worn away.  The accuser in Virginia said, “I had no idea how far this lie would go.”  When I was a young man, the experiences that my circle of friends had with accusations tended (for the most part) to stop at the level of social attacks.

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Perverting the Utility of Shame

Speaking of an ailing civic system, Megan McArdle’s worth reading on the subject of public shaming:

In the small groups we evolved to live in, shame is tempered by love and forgiveness. People are shamed for some transgression, then they are restored to the group. Ultimately, the shamed person is not an enemy; he or she is someone you need and want to get along with. This is how you make up with your spouse after one or both of you has done or said something terrible. …

On the Internet, when all the social context is stripped away and you don’t even have to look at the face of the person you’re being mean to, shame loses its social, restorative function. Shame-storming isn’t punishment. It’s a weapon. And weapons aren’t supposed to be used against people in your community; they’re for strangers, people in some other group that you don’t like very much.

The Internet has brought things to a sharp edge, but anybody involved in local politics — particularly if they face progressives who believe they speak for The Community — will recognize McArdle’s notion of shaming as a weapon against an enemy group.  That pretty precisely describes my experience in Tiverton.

Glenn Reynolds sharpens the edge a little more, writing:

They’re not well-meaning people who want to make our shared society better, and sometimes just get carried away. They’re angry, vicious people who want to eliminate disagreement.

At this level of conversation, though, the “they” has to be defined.  McArdle suggests that the people engaged in online social shaming probably would back away from a mob doing it to somebody in person.

Many on the political Right want to turn the psychological warfare of Saul Alinsky back on the Left, but that strikes me as a misunderstanding of objectives (or perhaps evidence that the objectives of some of our conservative friends are more alike to those of our progressive non-friends than should be the case).  Rather, we need a counter-weapon, and as difficult as it might be, the sole antidote may be standing up to the attacks and letting those who’ve sided with the attackers slowly come to the realization that they’re on the wrong side.

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The Academy’s Fruits in the Grown-Up World

After coming across the subject five or six times, I finally followed a link on Instapundit to Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig’s attempt at a left-wing explanation and, to some degree, rationalization of Rolling Stone’s fake reporting on rape at the University of Virginia.  The article reminded me of the much-ballyhooed gobbledegook that good liberal students used to churn out when I was in college.

The Bruenig passage on which most commentators have focused consists of a pair of paragraphs, the first of which explains the subtle thought of liberals in understanding oppression versus the second of which, asserting the brutish right-wing “obsession” with individual, factual cases and “specific details.”  Admittedly, it’s a telling turnabout.  The Left, in its superior thought, understands the real Truth, even if it can’t be articulated in actual facts; the Right, being less capable of the higher thought that transcends facts, extrapolates meaning from mere happenstance.

The more interesting passage, though, is the one that fully articulates Bruenig’s thesis:

Pinning an indictment of a system on the story of an individual is essentially a rightwing tactic with a dodgy success rate; it’s a way of using an individual as a metonym for systematic analysis that both overplays the role of individual heroism and effort and underplays the complicated nature of oppression as a feature of institutions, policies, traditions, and persons.

Note that this is presented as if it’s one of those examples of higher thoughts that needn’t be attached to “specific details.”  The word for that (even if only in right-wing circles) is “unsubstantiated.”  Upon a little bit of thought, in fact, it’s utter nonsense.  From Saul Alinsky’s rule to “personalize” issues to the labor-friendly “Ballad of Joe Hill” to the statement that a single death is a tragedy while a million deaths is a statistic, generally attributed to Joseph Stalin, the Left has long consolidated movements into individual stories.

Bruenig is accurately describing a leftist tactic, but because the context puts it in a bad light, it must temporarily be characterized as a right-wing tactic.  It’s not unlike analysis of religious freedom laws that depends on whether they advance conservative or progressive causes at a particular moment.

The Bruenig essay brings to mind a law review article by now-Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, in which he expounded on the constitutionality of using government schools to teach that God does not exist.  (See also here, here, and here.)  In my brutish, fact-driven conservatism these two examples seem like evidence of the Left’s strategy to destroy the capacity of Americans to engage in reason, as opposed to logical gymnastics to support conclusions that are actually driven by politics and emotion.  The gobbledegook of the classroom has made its way into the grown-up world.

That may help to explain why government and the news media seem to operate as if the world has the padded safety of the campus, permitting concentration on abstract “deeper truths” disconnected from reality.