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The Decline of an Immature Society

For an explanation of Western pessimism, give David Solway a read:

“Are we not witnessing,” asks John Agresto in Academic Questions (Vol.29, No.2), “something that looks to be the…purposeful eradication of what it has historically meant to be educated?” The mission of the university is now the inculcation of intellectual conformity, a duplicitous “inclusiveness” that banishes dissenting voices, “social justice,” and discursive closure, coddling students into a condition of protracted puberty as the academy devolves into “separate programs of grievance and outrage.” In this way, students, stunted in their development, become the shock troops of the new world order as they have been taught to see it. And as we know, and as university policies have made glaringly public, children throw tantrums and don’t like to be contradicted. …

Such is the damage the educational institution has wrought in a culture spoiled by affluence and forgetfulness—a culture that has shucked the past and de-realized the future. The falling off from academic integrity and rigor explains why almost everything from political culture to cultural politics smacks increasingly of retardation. And it accounts in large measure for the descent we are observing. For children, who have no knowledge of the history of their civilization and no sense of an empirical future, cannot think rationally, they can only feel and act upon their feelings. They live in a realm defined by the present and the imaginary. They are the low-information voters, partisan pedants, liberal socialists, leftist ideologues, suborned journalists and entitlement parasites of the current day, living in a make-believe world that is running out of time.

Because I’ve always been aware that it existed, yet had never seen it, I’m watching The Paper Chase on Netflix as I work out each day.  After the observation that I don’t particularly like a single character in the movie, what’s most striking is the confidence of the stern Professor Kingsfield and the unquestioned understanding of the students that there is nothing lamentable, and probably something very desirable, about accepting his authority.

The standard was conformity because the mature, developed mind was better.  Indeed, the only way to real independence of mind is by working one’s way along the path as it’s been discovered, adopting habits and principles that bring us to the edge of what is known.  Imagine some giant, interlocking structure in space developing into a purposeful network.  We had a general sense of the plan and fresh young minds were welcomed and brought into it, being told how to interconnect.

Now the better metaphor for the conformity is a black hole.  The unifying principle is that there is no objective way to say what is better, so young minds of mush (as the cliché goes) are sucked in through emotion and social manipulation.  Independence is not permitted.

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Assessing and Curing Poverty and Housing in Rhode Island

Here’s another article in today’s Providence Journal that proves nothing so convincingly as the reality of profound differences of perspective.  File this one under “advocacy for $50 million in new debt for affordable housing.”

Rhode Island Housing brought down from Boston Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond, who wants us to know that “America is the richest country with the most poverty in the world.”  That accusation contains a number of grammatical loopholes that would merit a closer look, but suffice for the moment to consider Robert Rector’s “15 Facts About US Poverty the Government Hides,” such as “the average poor American lives in a house or apartment that is in good repair and has more living space than the average nonpoor person in France, Germany, or England” and “eighty-five percent of poor households have air conditioning.”

But let’s accept Desmond’s premise that poverty and housing are a dire problem in the United States.  Stating that as a fact does not mean progressives’ preferred solutions are the obvious answer.  Consider:

Desmond noted that while many discussions of low-income housing center on publicly-assisted housing, only 1 in 4 households eligible for housing assistance actually get it, so most poor families are dealing with the private housing market. In Washington, D.C., for instance, there is a 20-year waiting list for public housing, he said. …

“We have the money,” to help struggling families, Desmond said, adding that the housing crisis is a much worse problem today than it was a decade ago. About 40 people are evicted in Milwaukee every day, he said, and most evicted tenants are mothers with children. Many of these mothers pay so much for rent and utilities that their children often go hungry, he said. One mother Desmond met, after enduring several evictions, “was having a nervous breakdown.”

Frankly, it seems obvious to me that the compassionate advocate would suggest that, if it looks likely that you’ll have to spend two decades waiting for housing you can afford in Washington, D.C., then Washington, D.C., is not a place you should be.  Moreover, as Mike Stenhouse recently had cause to explain related to state purchasing of farmland, government interventions in real estate markets tends to have undesirable consequences.  Decreeing that more people be given money to afford housing will increase demand without increasing supply, driving up prices for everybody.  Partitioning housing such that some segment is “affordable” leaves less housing not in the system, reducing the supply and (again) drive up prices for everybody.

As for the second paragraph quoted above, let’s not fail to make the obvious observation that “mothers with children” implies “fathers of children,” and in and out of government, society should work to ensure that affording housing, utilities, and food is the responsibility of two parents working together.  Unfortunately, such talk makes progressives uncomfortable, because it raises questions about their beliefs on social issues.  And let’s be honest: they kinda want the $50 million in bonded revenue whether or not it makes them feel good about loose sex, divorce, and abortion.

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Social Services & Negotiating How Much to Take from Others

Sometimes it’s helpful to put stories in chronological order, rather than news-report order, as with this one, from today’s Providence Journal, concerning panhandling and homelessness in Providence:

Complaints about vagrancy, open drug-dealing and drinking exploded after Mayor Jorge O. Elorza decided months ago to stop enforcing ordinances against aggressive panhandling and loitering.

And now the news is that we’ve got Democrat Joseph Paolino getting the heartless 1% treatment because he’s only looking to get $100,000 from the Downtown Improvement District for social workers, along with jobs for two panhandlers, a free apartment for use of a homeless shelter, and up to $5 million in state taxpayer money, in combination with a whole new ordinance that would be even broader than the ones the mayor isn’t enforcing (stopping all transactions through a car window).  The activists protesting Paolino’s PR event have a more comprehensive list:

Less enforcement of minor criminal offenses against people who are poor; more jobs for panhandlers; funding for 150 housing vouchers; drug and alcohol treatment; and amenities such as a day center, public bathrooms and free food distribution. They want the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority bus terminal to remain.

The core of this proposal is to double down on the policy approach that created the controversy (non-enforcement) and to add into the mix amenities that will draw even more vagrants, dealers, and loiterers to the area.  The protesters chanted, “Whose city? Our city!,” and they sure want it to be evident in the public square each and every day.

In short, the only solutions on the table, apparently, involve a negotiation over how much taxpayers have to pay for how much additional imposition.  Both parts of the plan are sure to exacerbate the underlying problem: namely, a domineering government that strangles the private sector and creates incentives not to work or bring behavior within a tolerable range.

We need another approach that doesn’t treat people as categories or as social-workers’ statistics, but as free individuals (from independent families) who can determine their own destinies in a community of mutual respect and charity.  The longer we deny this necessary change of perspective, the more the government plaque will build up in society’s arteries, making it more and more difficult to clear them.

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The Education That $62,000 per Year Buys You

For the low, low price of $62,046, your child can attend Brown University to learn crucial facts of life, like this:

By putting menstrual products in women’s, men’s and gender-inclusive bathrooms, Nguyen’s campaign highlights an often-ignored fact: Not all people who menstruate are women. “We wanted to set a tone of trans-inclusivity, and not forget that they’re an important part of the population,” he says.

In a fantastic two-fer, Newsweek proves the quality of its reporting by labeling as “fact” the absurdity that “not all people who menstruate are women.”

On the bright side, now that Brown students have resolved the pressing problem that low-income Ivy League male students who menstruate cannot afford, umm, “feminine hygiene products,” we can conclude that Western Civilization has reached its intellectually menopausal phase.

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Telling Them by Their Motivation

Imagine an issue with two opposing factions:

  • One organization was formed with no commercial incentive, but because people believe advocating a particular side on the issue will literally save lives and, more broadly, produce a healthier, more moral and just society.
  • The opposing organization is a major service provider with heavy investment in the issue in question, although its advocates do claim its work improves (maybe even saves) lives and supports fundamental rights and freedoms.  Of course, the key service its provides on the issue is literally killing young human beings.

Readers will likely have guessed that the issue in question is abortion, and the juxtaposition struck me while reading Ted Nesi’s weekend bullet-column this morning.  Being mainly concerned with politics, Nesi looks at the vying lobbying of Rhode Island Right to Life and of Planned Parenthood.  It makes one wonder what would happen to the pro-abortion cause if the direct financial self interest were removed from the equation.

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When the Tide Has Nowhere to Turn

Although his title may not really capture the point, Jim Geraghty is on to something with “Crazy Theory: This Year the Right Is Winning the Culture Wars.”  Here’s one item of his evidence:

Target Corp. said it will spend $20 million to add a private bathroom to each of its stores by next year, after customer protests of its policy allowing transgender individuals to use whichever restroom corresponds with their gender identity.

My wife mentioned to me, the other day, that at least one Target store in the area had porta-potties outside, with some sort of cleaning station, and when her friend asked what they were for, an employee told her they’re “for the transgendered.”  My first reaction was to suggest that’s what happens when there’s such disconnect between corporate big-wigs and the people.  Making a grand politically correct statement using an entire chain of stores seems very important when perched at the cocktail party top, but as with universities’ capitulating to the whiny brats among their student population, the broader public has different views.

That is to say that Target has learned what happens when your leadership really does have contempt for a plurality of views.

The incident brings to mind Plato’s description of the steps by which an oligarchy deteriorates into a democracy:

This state, then, is in the same precarious condition as a person so unhealthy that the least shock from outside will upset the balance or, even without that, internal disorder will break out.  It falls sick and is at war with itself on the slightest occasion, as soon as one party or the other calls in allies from a neighbouring oligarchy or democracy; and sometimes civil war begins with no help from without.

In Plato’s reasoning, the elites of the oligarchy have become so soft and unlike their fellow countrymen that when anything happens to throw them all together, “the poor man, lean and sunburnt,” will observe of his social betters that they “are rich because we are cowards.” Applying this to Geraghty’s thesis, we might say that the lesson isn’t that “the Right is winning,” but merely that the Left hasn’t yet won — meaning that the self-righteous elite cannot yet impose its every will and fashion on the country with no consequence.

Another way to phrase it would be to say that the cultural tide appears to have hit progressive dams, with none of the releases that a free and equal representative democracy has in place to allow for self governance.  Unfortunately, the turmoil has brought Donald Trump to the forefront, so the next question will be what happens if the dams should hold in November, bottling up the pressure, or if they should break more expansively than is healthy for our society.

Either way, although the Left might be said to be losing, I’m not sure those of us on the right will really consider ourselves to be winning.

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The Practical Distance Between America and Venezuela

A post on by Daniel Greenfield got me to thinking why the United States couldn’t suffer a similar fate to Venezuela’s:

After the fun of electronics stores forced to discount televisions at gunpoint, there were no more televisions. And no more cars. Then no more toilet paper, milk and other basic necessities.

The Socialist government tried to solve its money problem by printing more money. But it wasn’t able to pay for the money it wanted to print because of the inflation which officially did not exist.

Greenfield goes on to note that some American politicians propound policies of a similar mindset, making one wonder whether there’s something in the American character that will eventually stop the process or it’s just a matter of luck and the erosion of principle.

The first argument of distinction between our country and the one that Hugo Chavez ruined is that we’re wealthier, and in a broader way. But that just means we have farther to fall, which could mean more time or it could only necessitate a bigger mess up… say a decade of quantitative easing and massive federal debt combined with a regulatory state that makes it more difficult for people to work off the extra burdens and a welfare state that promises to buy them off if dependence on government is an option they’re willing to entertain.

A second argument, related to the fact that we have more wealth and room to fall, is that we have a culture of self-reliance and rebelliousness. Well, we’re arguably engaged in an experiment to discover how few generations it takes to get out of the habit of self-reliance. And as for rebelliousness, that’s well and good to talk about and believe in, but the proof is in the doing.

Ultimately, if it can’t happen here, we better get to proving it soon.

 

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The Inequality Narrative

Not to pick on Ted Nesi, because he’s only trying to promote his work using a click-bait political narrative, but I had to ask him what the insinuation was when he tweeted that “just 5 of RI’s 27 best-funded politicians are women.”  Do people who attempt to buy Rhode Island politicians put sexism before corruption?  Or do fewer women run for office?  Or are the specific women who are currently politicians in Rhode Island not as effective at or interested in fundraising?

Nevermind.  Let’s all just assume sexism.

The problem is that such statements are part of what turns straight reporting of the news into another brick in the wall of a political narrative serving one side — in this case, the glass-ceiling-breaking Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (who will enter office with a large percentage of the population thinking she’s the archetype of corruption and thinking more of the cliché to “break glass in case of emergency”).  The entire inequality narrative, as Thomas Sowell argues, ought to be retired before it does anymore divisive harm:

People like Hillary Clinton can simply grab a statistic about male–female income differences and run with it, since her purpose is not truth but votes. The real question, however, is whether, or to what extent, those income differences are due to employers paying women and men different wages for doing the very same jobs, for the very same amount of time.

We do not need to guess about such things. Many studies have been done over many years — and they repeatedly show that women and men who work the very same hours in the very same jobs at the very same levels of skill and experience do not have the pay gaps that people like Hillary Clinton loudly denounce.

As far back as 1971, single women in their thirties who had worked continuously since high school earned slightly more than men of the same description. As far back as 1969, academic women who had never married earned more than academic men who had never married.

For the foreseeable future, I’m afraid, “equality” for women will continue to mean that women must have all the same positive outcomes as men, no matter what decisions they make.  If that doesn’t sound like “equality” to you, clearly you need to be reeducated.

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Central Falls Schools Literally Hiring SJWs

Anybody who’s glanced around the rightward side of the Internet and social media will have come across the pejorative acronym, “SJW.”  That stands for “social justice warrior,” and it’s pejorative because it connotes excessive and superficial self-righteousness, combined with a lack of self awareness that would be comical if the SJWs weren’t able to hurt people.

Unfortunately, in a world with an entire generation stewed in political correctness (an abyss into which college campuses appear to have fallen almost completely), SJWs are not as powerless as they would be in a sane world.  Still, it’s jarring to see a public school district in Rhode Island openly advertising jobs for them, although somehow that fact didn’t find its way into Linda Borg’s glowing article on the plan in today’s Providence Journal:

This year, a pool of 15 substitute teachers will be hired to serve the full 180-day school year. They will be offered a week of training this month and repeated professional development during the school year. They will also be mentored by certified teachers. And they will be offered a sweetener — either health-care benefits or $130 per day (typical pay is $100 per day).

The “teaching fellows” would also have an opportunity to lead after-school activities, although permanent teachers would have the first crack at these positions.

In exchange, they will be asked to learn about the school’s mission and values, to become part of a team of valued educators committed to high standards.

That such a plan seems like radical innovation may be a testament to just how rigid and averse to innovation the public school system is, but another layer becomes visible if one looks at the job ad for these positions.  Note, first, that the actual title the district has given these positions isn’t “teaching fellows,” but “Warrior Fellows” (Warriors being the school mascot).  Now consider some language from the ad:

The Warrior Fellowship will require passionate leaders to serve as education and social justice advocates and mentors in all six Central Falls schools while at the same time helping to bridge the gap between the academic and social-emotional support our students and families need in their schools and community.

Fellows are expected to “go through a rigorous training program” and “weekly and monthly workshops and seminars” that will help them develop “the courage and passion to inspire change in our schools, influence the lives of our students, and become advocates for the city of Central Falls.”  Among the areas on which they can focus is “Cultural Pride,” and we can infer that “Western Culture” is not what’s meant.  Among the job requirements (third on the list and the second mandatory one) is “commitment to social justice and urban education.”

In short, the school department in Central Falls, which is largely funded with state-taxpayer money, is literally looking to hire and train “social justice Warriors.”  Thus does Rhode Island endeavor to see just how far into the abyss it can dive.

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Katz’s Kitchen Sink: #WeKnowBetterRI

As part of its 100-year anniversary self-promotion, the Rhode Island Foundation has been spreading around a video by Nail Communications that is slap-in-the-face offensive.  It begins by putting swear words in the mouths of children reading statements from (quote) actual Rhode Islanders; it tells Rhode Islanders to (quote) stop complaining and if they don’t have anything nice to say, well, be quiet.

Let’s be blunt, here.  Given Rhode Island’s parade of corrupt officials and its stagnant economy, we would be shirking our responsibility as citizens if we didn’t complain.  Now, if Nail Communications were to make another video about the view of Rhode Island’s insiders, it might go something like this.

[Advisory: In keeping with the original Nail Communications/RI Foundation video, the following contains bleeped swears.]

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Support for Families More Effective than Government Co-parenting

Grover Whitehurst of Brookings has made an attempt to compare research findings concerning the effects of different programs on the test scores of young students, and the findings conflict with the progressive preference for increasingly moving responsibility away from people and toward government:

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Whitehurst suggests:

The results illustrated in the graph suggest that family support in the form of putting more money in the pockets of low-income parents produces substantially larger gains in children’s school achievement per dollar of expenditure than a year of preschool, participation in Head Start, or class size reduction in the early grades. The finding that family financial support enhances academic achievement in the form of test scores is consistent with other research on the impact of the EITC showing impacts on later outcomes such as college enrollment.

The most important takeaway from this is that it reinforces conservatives’ contention that government should not seek to displace parents, relieving them of responsibility for raising their children.  Government policy should seek to strengthen families.

Of course, the fact that this would tend to reduce the influence of government and (therefore) progressives leads me to expect Whitehurst’s research not to have a significant effect on progressive policies.  Indeed, in his subsequent discussion, Whitehurst endeavors to speculate that imposing restrictions on families’ use of the funding would be even more effective than simply improving their financial standing. However, if giving parents money is so much more effective than public funding of pre-school programs, one might question Whitehurst’s belief that letting the public funding stop in the parents’ accounts for a moment would be better than both approaches.

Note, too, the limits of Whitehurst’s consideration.  The first and irreducible assumption is that government must do something to bring about specific social outcomes.  If supporting families through broad welfare that is largely free of strings is so much more effective than building government programs, one might expect even greater rewards from getting government out of the way of families.  Let people act in the economy without the weight of high taxes and oppressive regulations; allow communities and states to determine their own economic and social policies; allow the society, broadly, to follow cultural traditions that have proven, over time, to be the healthiest for human society (such as the traditional institution of marriage).

Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult to test for and make charts of the effects of progressive redistribution on the whole society.  Researchers can’t know (to simplify) that taking EITC money out of the economy wound up hurting other families, resulting in worse test scores.  Still, taking in all of the evidence, the weight of it suggests that leaving people free is not only the most moral approach, respecting civil rights, but is also likely to prove to be the most effective system by any standard apart from the wealth and power of government.

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Cruz Shows the Contrast, in More Ways Than One

You’ve heard the hype.  Now, if you haven’t already done so, take 25 minutes and watch Ted Cruz’s Republican convention speech.

Actually watching the video, I’d say by far the most disturbing aspect is the booing — the inability of the assembled Republicans to muster some grace.  The new GOP apparently cannot accept somebody who articulates a beautiful vision of the party’s perhaps-erstwhile values if he doesn’t at the same time utter a magic phrase of endorsement.  In that regard, it truly is now Trump’s GOP.  Me, I agree with Jonah Goldberg:

This is part of the corruption of Trump. He called Ted Cruz a liar every day and in every way for months (it used to be considered a breach in decorum to straight up call an opponent a liar, never mind use it as a nickname). The insults against his wife, the cavalier birtherism, the disgusting JFK assassination theories about his Dad: These things are known. And yet the big conversation of the day is Ted Cruz’s un-sportsmanlike behavior? For real? But forget Cruz for a moment. For over a year, Trump has degraded politics in some of the most vile ways. His respect for the Republican Party as the home of conservatism is on par with Napoleon’s respect for churches when he converted them into stables.

Read the whole thing.  Goldberg, like Cruz, is intent on exiting the Trump era (whenever that may be) with his courage, integrity, and well-formed political philosophy intact.  People who claim to share at least some significant share of that philosophy and yet who can boo its articulation if it does not mix in Trump’s cult of personality bring home just how much this election may hinge on a seesaw of alternating disgust.

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Getting Credit for Identity Requires a Creditor

Ed Driscoll rounds up a few links to construct the argument that progressivism and, specifically, identity politics are no substitute for finding real meaning in life:

In this era of nihilism, in which traits substitute for accomplishments, a former POW running for the White House in 2008 is mocked for being too old and infirm, and an ultra-successful businessman four years later is mocked for giving his employees cancer. Meanwhile, a failed community organizer is compared to God by magazine editors who should know better (and actually do, somewhere deep down in their hearts). And we wonder why ISIS appeals to far too many disaffected youth, as a macho religious alternative to becoming Nietzsche’s dread “Last Man,” as personified by a sniveling figure such as Footie Pajamas Obamacare Boy.

One piece of this puzzle that hasn’t been adequately explored, that I’ve seen, is why Leftists would foster this fatal dynamic in the first place.  Yesterday, I came across somebody (I think Jonah Goldberg, talking to Bill Kristol in the middle of a lengthy interview) suggesting that progressivism is essentially a suicide cult.  That may explain the motivation of some key figures, but for most of those who constitute progressivism’s ranks, I’d argue that the explanation is more a mix of blindness and fashionable views, reliant on the subconscious belief that the safety and comfort of the world exists naturally.

But what of the leaders of the movement who aren’t suicide cultists?  Drisoll’s points on identity politics direct us toward an answer.  After all, in order for people to get credit simply for their identities — with a relative advantage over others who actually do something worthy of recognition — there has to be a creditor.  That is, somebody has to hold the legal and social power to recognize the identity claims and suppress those who reject their asserted value.  That is: progressive elites.

As one investigates the various angles of modern socio-politics, that theme arises again and again.  Progressivism is a thuggish route to power built on the model not of empowering the powerless, but of draining the intrinsic individual worth of each human being as a means to social dominance.  They claim to bestow advantages, but the real benefit goes to them.