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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.

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Missing the Point of Conservatism and Western Culture

Pamela Constable’s Washington Post reflection on her conservative Connecticut WASP parents has been making the rounds on the right-wing Internet.  Her personal connection with her parents is just that (personal), but the Baby Boomer journalist appears mainly to have become more comfortable with her parents’ somewhat moderate political conservatism mainly because she can now see it in contrast with movements that she finds more distasteful, like the Tea Party and Trumpism.

What’s most clear, though, is how much she’s missing the essential point.  Feeling stifled and separated by the cool, hip movements during her youth, she set out to become a “crusading journalist” (telling phrase, that).  As a foreign correspondent, she traveled the world and witnessed some of the worst hardships that human beings face, even today.  Then:

Visiting home between assignments, I found myself noticing and appreciating things I had always taken for granted — the tamed greenery and smooth streets, the absence of fear and abundance of choice, the code of good manners and civilized discussion. I also began to learn things about my parents I had never known and to realize that I had judged them unfairly. I had confused their social discomfort with condescension and their conservatism with callousness.

Notably, Constable learned that her parents had actually developed their habits in reaction to the hardships and terrors of the early 20th Century:  “Eventually, I saw how loss and sacrifice had shaped both my parents, creating lifelong habits of thrift, loyalty, perseverance and empathy for those who suffered.”

I recall a lesson in elementary school concerning the layers of need that an individual has in order to achieve higher planes of action.  One must have bodily necessities.  One must feel relatively safe; intellectual pursuits don’t quite fit into the schedule while fleeing for one’s life.  Civilization needs a safe place to cultivate those willing to change the world for the better, in part because they’ve seen a better world.

The problem is that Constable took that place for granted, and she didn’t bother observing as the world changed around her, in large part because of the actions of her ideological peers and their consequences.  Too late is she discovering that the traditions and culture handed down to her have been learned over millennia of a magnificent civilization’s development mainly in order to address the changes that we can’t see happening and lack the capacity to predict.

Progressives like Constable don’t see that the voices they don’t like — the Tea Party and the Trumpists — are becoming more forceful because progressives are marching along, intent on trampling them and their continued sense of the wisdom in our culture.  Like a religious cult, progressives are blind to much that is essential, not only why the culture they loathe is so well evolved, but also how much damage their heroes, like Barack Obama, are doing, and how much they are ensuring conflict and a descent into increasing hostilities.

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Reason for RI CNBC Slip Critical

Gary Sasse tweeted an important point the other day:

Lot of chatter on CNBC ranking RI business worst in USA. Reason not @GinaRaimondo spin, but precipitous drops in quality of life& education

Before agreeing more determinedly, I’d point out that Rhode Island did pretty poorly on the economy score, too, dropping from 136 points (39th in the country) last year to 114 points (45th) this year.  But Gary’s right: we did tank by those other measures, too.

In education, Rhode Island fell from 124 points (13th), which was a too-sunny fluke of the methodology, I’d say, to 111 points (20th).  This may be what happens when reforms hit (as I’ve been saying) a political ceiling.

As for quality of life, Rhode Island’s drop from 216 points (12th) to 186 points (24th) does seem to correspond with some of the Family Prosperity Index (FPI) results that I’ve mentioned before.  If my intuition is correct — that Rhode Islanders who haven’t fled the state have responded in two distinct ways to the decline of their state: either unhealthy behavior or a return to basics like family and faith — CNBC’s methodology appears almost entirely to catch changes in the former, not the latter.

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The Vision of Completion, Left and Right

So, apparently the body type of a character in a new Disney film is raising some ire.  The “Polynesian demi-god Maui” in Moana is of the, let’s say, thick and powerful type, and that’s upsetting some activists.  As Tom Knighton writes, “You can never make SJWs happy.”  (That is, “social justice warriors.”)

Perhaps Knighton should have added “for long,” because each act of capitulation surely pleases them in itself.  But SJWs do seem to have a need to march quickly on to the next complaint that can give them a righteous high.

Even the most-basic story arc of The Lord of the Rings is, in that sense, conservative:  The hobbits are comfortable in the Shire until danger arises; they resolve the danger and then return to their comfort.  They’re changed, of course — stronger and wiser — but their mission is complete.  To Leftists, the battle is always the thing.  Comfort (at least other people’s comfort) is always a lie, because it’s built on the suffering of somebody, somewhere, and rather than find that somebody and ease their suffering, they’d rather attack the comfort.  No justice, no peace.

To be sure, not every progressive or liberal lives on the constant hunt for outrages to battle, but their leading edge (particularly those whose personal financial comfort depends on stoking outrage) certainly is and churns out the latest hashtags, Facebook picture overlays, and fashionable causes that define the virtuous worldview of the moment.

Some on the right have a similar temperament (and incentive system), of course, and no doubt that some on the local Left would say I’m describing myself with the above.  Honestly, though, I can’t imagine being satisfied with an occupation that entailed digging for excuses for activism.  The danger of Sauron did arise, in The Lord of the Rings, even if others might have been inclined to deny it at first, and our world does face, I’d contend, existential dangers that manifest at all levels of government.

My Shire would find me contemplating the universe, reading and writing fiction, and having more time for leisurely activities.  But then, again, I believe in diversity and would be content to let others persist in their errors, provided they leave me space to escape them and leave me free to explain to people who’ll listen what they’ve got wrong.

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Imagine a World in Which Everybody Agrees with Me

This parody video of a TED talk has pushed its way to the front of my mind several times since I first saw it a few weeks ago:

The crescendo is the most profound part, when the faux “thought leader” closes thus:

How ’bout we end with a question, a very big question:  What if everybody in this room decided to come together and agree with what I’m saying? Look at a picture of the planet again.  That is a world I want to live in.

You might recognize the “very big question” as precisely the tone that has infected our ruling classes and aggravated so many of the rest of us.  It’s the tone of the Rhode Island Foundation and its Nail Communications video.  And it’s the tone of these comments from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo responding to recent shootings, particularly of policemen in Dallas.  These three paragraphs came to me (for some reason) as the first item on Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner’s “Memo to Friends of Education” newsletter today:

It is time to say enough. Enough violence. Enough hate. Enough tragedies. It is a time for healing, time for peacefulness, time for unity.

Let’s commit to being a community that rejects violence and poverty, and embraces diversity and civility. I believe we can be bolder. I believe that our families, neighborhoods, state and country can do better, and I believe we can move forward together.

Today our emotions are raw. We are all filled with a mix of shock, anger, frustration. If anything good can come of these horrific killings, let’s replace these emotions with respect, unity and action to bring about a more just, equal and peaceful Rhode Island.

We absolutely should embrace diversity and civility, but the myopia that leads progressives to adopt the “come together and agree with me” tone may arise from their core belief that we can’t really be diverse.  “Diversity and civility” is just rhetoric as empty as the presentation in the parody video.  They don’t believe, for example, that some private business in some far away state should be permitted to conduct its business in a way with which they disagree — whether the wages that it pays, the materials that it uses, or the projects that it’ll accept.

They’re religious zealots who believe they have uncovered the truth of the universe (although it might change with their fashions) and think we all ought to be cordial while they force us to live as they prefer.  Their civility is that of the persecutor who calls you ma’am or sir while closing the door of the dungeon behind you.

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Purpose, Happiness, and Genes

I do wonder if the obvious hostility toward Christianity limits the conclusions of pieces such as Will Storr’s New Yorker essay on the benefits of a purposeful happiness (“eudaemonia”) for health, at the level of one’s genes, but the insights are good regardless:

When they parsed the data, they saw that Fredrickson’s prediction appeared to be wrong. “This whole hedonic well-being stuff—just how happy are you, how satisfied with life?—didn’t really correlate with gene expression at all,” Cole said. Then he checked the correlation with eudaemonic happiness. “When we looked at that, things actually looked quite impressive,” he said. The results, while small, were clearly significant. “I was rather startled.” The study indicated that people high in eudaemonic happiness were more likely to show the opposite gene profile of those suffering from social isolation: inflammation was down, while antiviral response was up. Since that first test, in 2013, there have been three successful replications of the study, including one of a hundred and eight people, and another of a hundred and twenty-two. According to Cole, the kind of effect sizes that are being found indicate that lacking eudaemonia can be as damaging as smoking or obesity. They also suggest that, although people high in eudaemonic happiness often experience plenty of the hedonic stuff, too, the associated health benefits tend to surface only in those who lead what Aristotle might have called a good life.

“Hedonic,” by the way, isn’t exactly the same thing as hedonism, which implies an excess.

It should surprise nobody who hasn’t written off a spiritual reality that our bodies seem to respond well when we do the things we find ourselves called to do, including building toward larger goals, which implies purpose.  Take that a step farther: Storr and his stable of researchers seem surprised that striving for goals and maintaining multiple ongoing projects have benefits even when they aren’t associated with either socializing or a sense of humanity’s greater good — the former being one good that materialists can imagine us to be evolved to desire and the latter being their sense of the highest purpose.  People who believe in an individual relationship with God, however, can see that living up to one’s own potential and finding one’s own unique purpose can be sufficient of itself.

It would be interesting, next, to test whether there are characteristics of goals that do people particularly well.  There may be no lesson in the exercise, inasmuch as the biology that encourages rightly ordered goals could respond to goals that have been corrupted, but it would be interesting to discover whether correlation is stronger when particular worldviews inform the goals, whether one believes a project serves God’s purpose, will save Mother Nature, or conquer the world with wealth.

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“Tolerance” Means You Have to Do What They Want

This is not the sort of thing the government does in a free society:

A California court ruled last week that ChristianMingle and it’s affiliate faith-based dating websites must allow LGBT singles to search and be matched with people of the same gender.

The ruling comes at the end of a 2.5 year legal battle after two gay men noticed in 2013 that new members to the popular dating site, which boasts over 15 million users, could only search for dates of the opposite sex.

In brief, this means that it is illegal for a company in California to set up a business that seeks explicitly to provide services to people with Christian values.  I almost made that a more-generic “particular values,” but it would be counterproductive to pretend that the progressive government in California has any intention of applying this principle equally.

When it comes to the government’s demands on Christians, the call of “tolerance” is not answered simply by letting other people live their lives as they see fit.  No, we have to facilitate and serve behaviors that we find immoral — now not only through government, but through our own private businesses, too.  This isn’t even a matter of our seeking to exclude a class of people; if we wish to provide services that we want but progressives’ favored classes do not, we must provide their closest comparable service, as well.

One cannot avoid the conclusion that all Christians should leave California unless they see themselves as missionaries in a hostile land.  More and more, of course, that describes the view we have to take within the United States as a whole, now that progressives have abandoned any pretense of valuing real diversity or true civil rights, which means we are unlike missionaries in that we’ll have no home base to which to return in a land that actively supports our beliefs.

The era of comfortable Christianity is ending, and we should not expect Christian charity and tolerance from people who have explicitly rejected our values.

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A Broader View for Solving Society’s Problems

Here’s a finding with interesting implications for public policy debates:

Against a grim backdrop of rising suicide rates among American women, new research has revealed a blinding shaft of light: One group of women — practicing Catholics — appears to have bucked the national trend toward despair and self-harm.

Compared with women who never participated in religious services, women who attended any religious service once a week or more were five times less likely to commit suicide between 1996 and 2010, says a study published Wednesday by JAMA Psychiatry. …

The women’s church attendance was not the only factor; which church they attended mattered as well.  Protestant women who worshiped weekly at church were far less likely to take their own lives than were women who seldom or never attended services. But these same Protestant women were still seven times more likely to die by their own hand than were their devout Catholic sisters.

Taking these findings at face value for the sake of consideration, one might suggest that the government should recommend that women attend Catholic Mass once a week, but I’d go in a different direction.  The lesson should be that people have problems and face difficulties that government just should not task itself with solving.

It’s very easy to fall into the thinking that government should try to do something and that its doing so shouldn’t preclude other approaches, but in the long term, in practice, that becomes impossible.  Ultimately, society allocates a certain amount of resources to particular problems, and the government begins to crowd out those resources.  To the extent that people believe the government has and is offering a solution, people won’t turn to alternatives that take a longer-term commitment, like developing religious involvement.  (In a way, this is like people not signing up for insurance if the government mandates that they get care when they’re sick regardless.)

It’s entirely possible, even probable, that the number of lives saved by direct government action will be fewer than the number lost because government changed society’s incentives, meaning that government action cost lives.  And this doesn’t account for whatever harm the government does by taking money from other purposes to which people would put it in order to fund its programs.

As with the economy, what the government ought scrupulously to do is to reduce the barriers that it creates to individuals’ and families’ fixing their own problems through other methods.

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RI Foundation Tells Rhode Islanders to Shut Up and Take Their Medicine

The lede of a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Daniel Henninger describes its point concisely: “Barack Obama’s presidency of moral condescension has produced an electoral backlash.”  The notion of this condescension from our elite betters came immediately to mind when I opened up a Rhode Island Foundation email promoting this video, which is part of its “what’s next” initiative, and which is slap-in-your-face offensive:

The video opens with a blank screen and marching thrum before the following phrase appears: “Actual quotes, From actual Rhode Islanders.”  The text doesn’t specify which Rhode Islanders, or where these phrases were found.  It’s just us; things we’ve said as we’ve participated in public debate.  (At least its those of us who don’t fit the obvious political profile of the people included in the RI Foundation’s “community contributions” section.)

The slap comes immediately and with deliberate offense, with video of a child being beeped for reading swear words from a notepad.  Child 2 is beeped again, reading another quote from an “actual Rhode Islander.”  Child 3 looks up in disbelief after reading his quote.  A small girl offers the first commentary after hers:  “Who says this?”

Next, our local elite betters put their own words in the kids’ mouths: “Stop! … Stop complaining. Stop blaming. Stop trolling.”  We (“actual Rhode Islanders”) aren’t making things better; we’re making them worse.  Not to worry, though, because these kids “are what’s next.”  They’re going to solve the problems of the world when they’re adults, but in the meantime, they need us to “be nice or be quiet.”

That’s right.  The message of the people promoting this slick video…

  • who rope all of us broadly into the suspect category,
  • who include the very act of complaining on the list of things that we should stop,
  • who deliberately slap us with the shock of putting swears in the mouths of children,
  • who tell us that we’re merely a hopeless generation occupying space until the saintly kids grow up

… is that we’re not being nice, that we’re being dismissive.  That we should just shut our traps and not complain about the treatment to which the powerful in our state subject us or when they do things like impose new fees, take away our rights, and slush around money sucked from our economy in a corrupt whirlpool (or when they use non-profit organizations to push political agendas) or blame them when things continue to go wrong, year after year.  We’re just “trolling.”

Who are the condescending people behind this message, hiding behind children?

Well, the Rhode Island Foundation we know.  It’s interesting to note, though, the group behind this video, NAIL Communications, because it’s received almost $2.5 million from the state government through HealthSource RI, our ObamaCare health benefits exchange, over the past few years.

So, yes, shut up and pay your taxes, you nasty Rhode Islanders, so that people who think they’re better than us can get big paydays from government ventures that limit our freedoms as well as redistribute our money.

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The End Result of a Deliberate De-Education About Our Culture

Notre Dame Professor Patrick Deneen taps into an area of thinking that I’ve been spotting with more frequency.  To my observation that we have no excuse for repeating errors that have been known for millennia, Deneen might respond (emphasis in original):

Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement. Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts — whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about — have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings. The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctible outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists in high school. It is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide. The end of history for our students signals the End of History for the West.

During my lifetime, lamentation over student ignorance has been sounded by the likes of E.D. Hirsch, Allan Bloom, Mark Bauerlein and Jay Leno, among many others. But these lamentations have been leavened with the hope that appeal to our and their better angels might reverse the trend (that’s an allusion to Lincoln’s first inaugural address, by the way). E.D. Hirsch even worked up a self-help curriculum, a do-it yourself guide on how to become culturally literate, imbued with the can-do American spirit that cultural defenestration could be reversed by a good reading list in the appendix. Broadly missing is sufficient appreciation that this ignorance is the intended consequence of our educational system, a sign of its robust health and success.

To my suggestion that progressive government is setting up a sort of “company state” in which everything is ordered toward the business model of providing government services and making others pay for them, Deneen would add (emphasis added):

Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments. Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.

Maybe his most important addition, however, is Deneen’s glimmer of hope:

On our best days, I discern their longing and anguish and I know that their innate human desire to know who they are, where they have come from, where they ought to go, and how they ought to live will always reassert itself.

That’s a difficult longing to fulfill.  As Plato noted all those centuries ago, people once deluded in such a way “deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth,” and powerful forces in our society will give them every opportunity and excuse not to evaluate their sense that something’s missing.

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Two Paths When Things Go Bad

As the scarcity of posts in this space illustrates, I’ve been extremely busy, this week.  Things have slowed, but I’m still getting back on track.

One thing I’ve been doing has been to sift through the data available from the Family Prosperity Initiative (FPI).  In summary, the conclusion seems to be inevitable that Rhode Islanders are good people who are just relatively unhappy, with something having happened around 2012 to reinforce that feeling, as suggested by adverse changes in things like new business establishments after that year.  Notably, that was the year that Rhode Island first sank to 48th in the country by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), where it has remained since.

But the broad data from the FPI has some interesting contrast.  Rhode Island does poorly on almost all markers, whether economic or having to do with healthy behavior, with an up-tick around that year in, for example, obesity.  Yet other positive markers also jumped that year, or soon thereafter, including an increase in marriages, a decrease in divorces, an increase in weekly church attendance, and an increase in the percentage of children living in married households.

I wonder if some of these results are an indicator of two distinct paths’ that Rhode Islanders follow.  I’ve long been saying that Rhode Island has been driving out its “productive class“; that is, people at a point in life during which they want to make progress and be productive tend to account for a disproportionate share of the Rhode Islanders parting for elsewhere.  I’ve also been describing the “company state” mentality, whereby the state government pursues policies that increase the number of clients who give it justification for taking money from other people (the producers), in the state and elsewhere.

Maybe what the data shows is that, when a community gets in a funk, some people turn toward things that have traditionally led to stability, meaning, and success (religiosity and family), and other people turn to unhealthy behaviors, like drug use.  This is speculation, at this point, but I’d wager that there’s a strong correlation between these two paths and the other options of leaving the state, on the one hand, or falling into government dependence, on the other.