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Our Basic Choice: Slavery or Freedom

For a bit of Friday morning political philosophy, here’s Richard Fernandez, saying, “Greetings, Slaves“:

The issue which dogs Hillary and which no cosmetic distancing from Sanders will solve is that the middle class is losing faith in the platform. The political turmoil threatening to break apart the EU and the American Blue Model is rooted in the fact that both are broke and have no prospect of meeting obligations as manifested in the stagnation of wages in the West and also in the collapse of the “security” safety nets for which the present-day slaves have traded away their freedom. The progressive campaign is essentially predicated on the assumption that a sufficiently resolute government can defy the laws of financial gravity. There is now some doubt on that point.

Basically, the thesis is that our current political moment brings evidence that there is no tweaking of corporatism that will work.  In attempting to strike a deal between the central planners and the corporate types who seek profit and love a monopoly, the self-interest is too strong and reality too uncompromising.  In no time at all, people realize that they’re slaves, and they either revolt or lose their motivation to work.

Reality refuses to be what the planners need it to be for political reasons.  People will trade their freedom for some price, but it’s always a higher price than central planning can ensure, mostly because freedom and human nature — both antithetical to the planned state — are necessary for both human fulfillment and economic progress.  As the Judeo-Christian scripture and history prove, we were designed to seek God, not pitiful material substitutes, whether they be graven images, filthy lucre, or a secular state bent on conformity.

As Fernandez wraps up: “We’ve tried being slaves. Let’s try being free.”

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The Left Doesn’t Believe in Agreeing to Disagree

It seems that no school is too small to draw the attention of the conformity police in the new American progressive totalitarianism, as Holly Scheer highlights on The Federalist:

… The Obama administration is investigating a school in Wisconsin for sending home letters telling parents and students that they expect students to live within Christian values while at school. This is a private Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod school that serves a tiny group of students—from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade they have 147 students and 10 teachers.

In February the school instituted some new policies that sparked a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. These policies include having parents provide a birth certificate (with the child’s sex on it) and signing a handbook that gives the school the right to discipline students for exhibiting sinful behavior.

Christians thought they could carve out enclaves for their beliefs if they gave up the tax dollars that they’ve already paid for public school and paid again for private school.  Now, progressives claim Christians can avoid persecution if they just give up their right to equal access to government funds for educational services.

We know that to be a temporary position, though, allowing the Left to keep its mask on for just a while longer, because we’ve already seen Christian bakers persecuted for declining to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies.  The clear reality is that if you go out in public — if you do anything that can have any effect on other people in any way (see Senator Whitehouse’s desired climate change inquisition) — progressives believe government should force you to conform to their worldview.

Whatever these people believe in, it isn’t freedom.  They are the heirs to the ideological oppressors against whom our history lessons were supposed to inoculate us.  They’ve just created a new church for themselves, and it will be all the more difficult to correct for the fact that it’s Godless.

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Budgets, Hometowns, and Community

Another budget vote at Tiverton’s financial town referendum (FTR) has come and gone, and another elector petition with a tax increase with a zero in front of the decimal point has won.  Counting the second, lower-tax elector petition on the ballot, this year, the split is more or less the same as in prior years, indicating that, at the current level of taxation, not more than 40% of voters are willing to go up much more.

But election analysis, like holding people accountable for their behavior during the campaign, can wait for a bit.  This morning, my mind’s lingering on a higher-level, more-philosophical point.

Just before the vote, a friend commented on the melancholy sense that driving into town after work gave him.  Looking at the beautiful place in which we get to live, he thought about how pleasant it would be not constantly to be watching out for the intrusions of a manipulated government into our lives — that is, if government undertook limited activities, the effort to patrol its actions were widely dispersed, and people with authority generally agreed on their boundaries.  I hear similar statements, but reversed, from friends who move to more-conservative states about how nice it is to live under a government that is properly ordered.

I’ve long intended to write an essay using two one-town islands as an analogy.  New Shoreham is a municipal entity in Rhode Island, but most people are more familiar with the land that it governs: Block Island.  Another large island in the state is Conanicut Island, but people are generally more familiar with its own municipal entity, Jamestown.

How people refer colloquially to geographic areas is typically a matter of historical accident, but the contrast in this case has always struck me.  What my friend was saying, basically, is that he would prefer if we thought of ourselves as living in Sakonnet, an area in which some basic services are partially handled by the municipal entity of Tiverton.

The people who oppose my friends’ activities in town no doubt have a similar feeling that the lack of harmony diminishes their sense of the town, and ultimately, a town of 15,000-16,000 people can accommodate divergent worldviews… except for one complication.  The irreconcilable problem is that one faction in town sees no meaningful distinction between the town government and their concept of “the community.”

Going through the budget, I see expenditures for things to which I would gladly donate more money, if asked, than whatever portion of my taxes goes to them, but some people in town think the community’s responsibility isn’t just to find a way to support such charities, but to force everybody to pay for them.  It isn’t a community activity, in this view, unless everybody is made to participate in some way, usually by funding it.

Such a view can’t help but transform our beautiful space on the bay into either a perpetual battleground or a fiefdom in which only a few are satisfied.

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What’s Really In Your Best Interests? Overreach in Obama’s Transgender Bathroom Directive

On this episode of, “What’s Really In Your Best Interests?” I discuss President Obama’s recent transgender bathroom directive. The administration’s directive regarding transgender access to bathrooms in public schools can only be viewed as a blatant threat and yet another assault against the cherished American cornerstones of federalism, local governance, individual rights, and transparent government. Rhode Islanders should speak out against this growing federal intrusion.

Regardless of how you feel about transgender access to facilities, the process by which this executive action will be implemented is nothing short of pure corruption.

If ever there was a time for school choice, to empower parents with the choice to escape schools that do not respect their personal values, that time is now. This increasing trend of arbitrary and unconstitutional government by activist and elitist executives, often a direct affront to the values of the very people they claim to represent – is dangerous to the cornerstones of our great American democracy.

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Marijuana Legalization Referendum Not Looking Good This Session – And That’s Good

The Providence Journal is reporting this morning, as did WPRI, that

Chances are dwindling that a referendum on legalizing marijuana will appear on the November ballot in Rhode Island.

“A referendum on this year’s ballot is unlikely,” House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello told The Providence Journal in an email Monday.

This is a good thing, with apologies to my friend Pat Ford and others who support the legalization of cannibis. One of the pro-legalization arguments is that use of the substance is the same as legal liquor. I might, might, might entertain that argument if it meant that the total number of people who use mood-altering substances did not change. But all indications are that this is not what happens.

Further, legalization hasn’t gone wonderfully in Colorado – far from it. When this discussion comes up at the General Assembly next year, these statistics need to heavily weigh on the ledger against the increased tax revenue often cited by cannibis advocates. Colorado’s experience strikes me as too high a price for Rhode Islanders to pay to legalize marijuana.

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Lack of Higher Ed Diversity an Existential Threat

Multiple folks around the Internet have highlighted a remarkable column from progressive writer Nicholas Kristof.  After observing on Facebook a conspicuous difficulty for would-be academics who are conservative, and being surprised by the viciousness of his “friends,” Kristof writes:

To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance — the implication that conservatives don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion.  My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.

The stakes involve not just fairness to conservatives or evangelical Christians, not just whether progressives will be true to their own values, not just the benefits that come from diversity (and diversity of thought is arguably among the most important kinds), but also the quality of education itself.  When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards — and we all lose.

Well, yes.  Anybody who was a vocal conservative in a college classroom any time within at least the last quarter century knows what that echo chamber sounds like.  Anecdotally, though, it seems as if things have gotten far worse; at least when I was a college upstart, the professors seemed to appreciate having a foil, and although some would notch down grades or demure from the writing of grad school recommendations, they at least gave the impression of mutual respect.

Those unwritten recommendations appear to have worked their magic, though, and all but emptied campuses of conservative professors precisely in areas in which having a diversity of worldviews is most important.

Kristof cites a study that seems to suggest that conservatives/Republicans engage in similarly biased behavior when it’s available, but such a finding should raise questions.  After all, it’s entirely possible that liberals exclude conservatives in academic settings for malicious reasons while conservatives would (at least in an experimental setting) exclude liberals because they know their fellow conservatives need all the help they can get.

Until evidence suggests otherwise, I’m inclined to return, for an explanation, to the ideological insecurity I mentioned earlier today and add in the deliberate (if often subconscious) “march through the institutions.”  This is how the Left has undermined a strong, culturally confident civilization: by infecting and overwhelming the institutions that allowed it to transmit its confidence and to build upon the virtues that gave it something to be confident about.

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Malevolence in Manipulation of the Insecure

Reflecting on the recurring question of whether Barrack Obama is “incompetent or malevolent,” in reaction to national security advisor Ben Rhodes’s admission that his administration worked to scam America into the Iran deal (among other things), Richard Fernandez suggests that incompetence may be the more dangerous possibility:

For all his persuasiveness, incompetence is Satan’s principle problem. The devil always sets out to construct heaven and winds up with hell because he uses the wrong principles.  Castro, Kim, Stalin, Chavez, Mao — who all would have ruled the universe if they could have, yet finished up ruling trash heaps — probably were surprised at the turn of events. Yet why should it be surprising? Mordor in The Lord of the Rings was the shabbiest place on Middle Earth just as Pandemonium, Milton’s capital of hell in Paradise Lost, is the most frightful place in the universe because these turkeys were going about it the wrong way and were too proud to admit error.

Of course, a blend is generally at work, inasmuch as Satan is malevolent but sells the wrong principles to his followers, the failure of which then reinforces their grievance against the world.  In that line, Fernandez suggests that “society is stupid” and inclined toward being groupies for the “madman on stage.”

Perhaps “unthinking” would be a better term for the masses, but it’s difficult not to see malevolence in the manipulation of them.  And malevolence finds a convenient tool in human beings’ insecurity.  In particular, look to the federal Dept. of Justice’s insistence that it has the authority to interpret federal law newly to invalidate North Carolina’s recently passed law on bathroom assignments.  To progressives in the federal government, this is a transparent power play, but the tyrants’ power lust dovetails with more submissive emotions among their supporters.

For progressives, it isn’t tolerable for people to behave according to disagreement on anything that matters.  To the extent that it is not merely an admission of one’s powerlessness (accepting difference because one has no choice), allowing alternative views is either an indication of ideological confidence (that one will be proven correct) or an admission that one’s own views might be incorrect.  Being neither confident in their own understanding of the world nor willing to admit that their leading lights might have something wrong, they support the destruction of our entire system of government in order to impose their views on the country by whatever undemocratic means are available.

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How a Free People Comes to Want a Strongman

David French’s kick-off point has to do with a clear-cut case of the federal administration’s creating new law in an unconstitutional way — even skirting the rules for implementing regulations — by simply interpreting statutes to mean whatever it wants via memo.  Specifically, he mentions the finding that somehow existing law forbids school districts from separating boys and girls in the bathroom.

However, his conclusion applies much more expansively:

This is how you start to lose a democracy. When an unprincipled elite exploits public ignorance to trample the rights of those out of power, it builds resentment. But unless the resentful are informed and aware, they’re vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation by their side’s own “elites” and its demagogues. Thus, here we are, facing the most miserable presidential choice in generations, with two major-party candidates competing for the right to desecrate the Constitution to their own ends.

So don’t roll your eyes at the “bathroom wars” or any of the other countless brush fires stirred up by post-constitutional, lawless leaders left and right. We can’t always choose our battles or our issues, but we must choose whether to resist.

We have the civic structures that we do precisely so that we can disagree in substantial, fundamental ways and still work together as much as possible.  I’ve written before that this boils down to a requirement for three basic freedoms:  the right to speak your mind, the right to work to change the government, and the right to leave.

The problem is that for a variety of reasons — notably a fundamentalist conviction that they are correct, a lust for power, and a political strategy of buying off constituencies — the modern Left will not allow disagreement.  Within our country, they want homogeny.  They want to be able to go anywhere within the nation’s borders and know that their worldview is enforced as law.  And they believe that no rules should hamper their ability to implement Objective Moral Truth.

Obviously, a society cannot long remain free when that view gains ascendancy; slightly less obviously, it cannot remain peaceful.  At some point they tyrants either have to crack down with violence or they are resisted with violence, and the walls that they’ve knocked down in order to get to everybody else can no longer protect against even more-objectionable intrusion.

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UPDATED: A School Musical and Pushing the Envelope with Your Children

The focal story in this week’s Sakonnet Times begins by noting that Tiverton High School’s now-running student musical marks the first time any high school in the entire state has performed Hair in the half century since it was released.  There’s a reason for that, and it’s the same reason the school felt the need to put a disclaimer on its fliers, warning in bolded all caps: “FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.”

Younger brothers and sisters of the performers… sorry, you’re out of luck.  The public high school is apparently no place for children in Tiverton.

Drama director Gloria Crist notes that she modified the nudity scene, replacing the potential child pornography with something involving glow sticks.  She also notes that there won’t be any depictions of drug use actually on the stage.  As for the script’s profanity, Crist says she took some out, but “kept the rest in, with taste of course.”

Those familiar with the musical — and I had the soundtrack memorized at one point — might question the judgment of taste by somebody who would choose this play for a school production involving children as young as 14 or 15.  I’ve requested from the district a song list and the libretto but have not yet received any reply.

According to Crist, Tams-Witmark Music Library, which owns the rights to Hair, refused to let the school cut the nudity scene, but allowed the glow-stick creativity.  One wonders whether the school was permitted to cut some of the songs, like “Sodomy” (“Masturbation can be fun/Join the holy orgy Kama Sutra everyone”); “Initials,” in which LBJ takes the IRT and sees “the youth of America on LSD,” or “The Bed.”  If individual parents want to validate this sort of content for their own children, that’s one thing, but for a public high school to be giving it a seal of approval is wholly inappropriate.

No doubt much of the most objectionable content has been removed or softened, but even so, “clever work-arounds,” as the article puts it, for content that goes too far even for radicals have a tendency to invite curiosity, especially among children with access to the Internet wherever they go, carrying the implied approval of the public school system.

Even edited, there’s simply no way to tease out the glorification of sex and drug culture in Hair.  Rhode Island is the sixth-highest state in the nation for drug overdose deaths, according to the CDC.  Addressing the counterculture of the ’60s in an academic setting is appropriate, to be sure, but Hair revels in it, promotes it.  Indeed, Crist seems to intend the explicit propagandizing of the town’s children: “It has been so powerful to watch them get it. But they do. They understand what freedom of choice is, social justice…”

This sort of decision by the school department certainly affirms the decisions of many parents who choose private schools for their children, but parents who lack the resources are stuck.  Frankly, if public school is now about pushing the envelope in this way, the case is even stronger for allowing parents to use the funds set aside for their children to make better decisions.

UPDATE (5/19/16; 8:11 a.m.)

Given a resurgence of attention to this post, I should note that the school administration did send me a song list, and I have watched the performance (although the video on YouTube has since been switched to private).  Busy days and other priorities combined with indecision about whether it would be appropriate to publicize an unofficial video of the performance led to the delay of this update.

The songs “Sodomy” and “The Bed,” described above, were removed from the script, but “Initials” was kept, as were other inappropriate songs, like “Hashish,” which lists drugs and ends with “s-e-x, y-o-u” and a euphoric “wow.”  Much of the sexual content of the musical remained, the anti-Catholic parts were actually more aggressive than I would have expected.

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Gender Gap as Excuse to Take Over Private Companies

Another example of legislation that proves legislators’ abhorrent understanding of government’s role in our lives is the deceptively named “Fair Pay Act.”  In the Senate, it’s S2635, and in the House, it’s H7694, which is (it’s depressing to note) cosponsored by Republican Doreen Costa (Exeter, North Kingstown).

Not satisfied with the law already on the books to forbid discrimination in employees’ pay based on sex, the legislation attempts to make the factors by which an employer can explain differences between individuals’ pay more rigid when appearing before government officials concerning a complaint.  In essence, every business in the state would practically be forced to have a detailed catalog of adjustments for employees’ pay.

So, whereas before an employer could argue that a particular man had an edge in “seniority, experience, training, skill, or ability” over a female colleague, the law would require the company to have “a seniority system.”  Other systems that employers would have to have in place are “a merit system,” “a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production,” and some way to demonstrate that some other “bona fide factor” exists.

Somehow, employers would have to be able to define every difference in the qualities that their employees have according to some sort of “system.”  That things just seem to go better when John (or Jane, for that matter) is doing them would be insufficient.

The “bona fide factor” exemption is where things become truly objectionable, with this:

This defense shall not apply if the employee demonstrates that an alternative business practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing the wage differential.

Think about what this means.  Based on the nature of the business, the company’s business model, and just the way that the people who own, work for, and patronize the company operate, the organization does something in a particular way.  If this particular way of doing business happens to favor the unique qualities of a man in the organization over a particular woman, the woman can go to a faux judge in the Department of Labor and Training and get him or her to force the company to change the way it does business.

Companies could no longer just experiment and find ways to do things that seem to work in the most efficient way possible for that company.  Rather, at the urging of a disgruntled employee, a bureaucrat in a state agency could insist that the business must try some other possible approach.  The only burden to prove that it might work is the subjective judgment of the bureaucrat, and the process to undo the change would, it appears, be for the employer to do a careful study to prove that the second option is not working as well and to return to the bureaucracy to make that case.

Who really owns the business? This is completely out of keeping with the principles of our country.  Indeed, it’s the sort of thinking that drains economies and pushes civilizations to collapse.

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The End Is Not the End

Sometimes, comfort has to come in strange ways, and today, it comes from this paragraph in Glenn Reynolds’s most recent USA Today essay:

Of course, collapse isn’t, as Tainter notes, always so bad. When the Western Roman Empire collapsed, ordinary people were often better off because they were freed from the empire’s oppressive taxes and regulations (like the rules that sons of soldiers, civil servants and workers in government factories, among others, must enter the trades of their fathers). Many people in the provinces welcomed the barbarians. The new governments were actually better at what governments are for, as Tainter writes: “The smaller Germanic kingdoms that succeeded Roman rule in the West were more successful at resisting foreign incursions (e.g., Huns and Arabs). … The economic prosperity of North Africa actually rose under the Vandals, but declined again under Justinian’s reconquest when Imperial taxes were reimposed.” Likewise, Venezuelans will probably be better off when they eventually get a new government. They could hardly be worse.

I will say that I think we’re vulnerable on this count, in the United States.  Nations founded on a particular heritage or ethnic makeup don’t lose their identity during regime change, but we’re founded on a governing idea.  When that idea goes away (or when it went away) the identity, and the nation it defined, is (or was) gone, too.

But life goes on.  Some of the choices change, of course.  Those who grew up expecting to make decisions about vacations and what kind of cars to buy must instead make decisions about how much to stand up for their rights and freedom.  When a nation is, at its core, an idea, anybody can keep that idea alive — even as a memorial candle kept burning in some dim basement — until the world is ready for it again.  That too is a decision.

The long threads of human society, leading through our ancestors and us, then into the murky future, continue.  We just refine our understanding of our priorities and adjust our plans.  Our current circumstances are really nothing new in our society’s experience; we’re just living through a period of madness and decline.

As the song goes, “When the cities are on fire with the burning flesh of men, just remember that death is not the end.”

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For Formation as Adults, Avoid Connecticut Higher Ed

My entire life, the mainstream message has been that conservative Republicans, particularly the Christians among them, are so uptight and scared of sex that they want to “put the government in our bedrooms.”  I don’t know if that was always and everywhere baloney, or if the sorts of people who used to gravitate toward that political position because it empowered them to be busybodies are simply now gravitating to the progressive Democrat side.  Or maybe the loose family policies and social aesthetics that progressives have preferred since the ’60s have created so much cultural insecurity that progressives now feel they must patch the holes they’ve put in Western civilization’s zeppelin.

Whatever the case, legislation that passed the Connecticut House last week is wrong in a variety ways and, if it makes its way into law, should signal to parents and students the world ’round that Connecticut colleges are not the place to go in order to find formation as a young adult:

“It clarifies that a yes-means-yes policy will be the policy for the state of Connecticut for all public and private colleges,” said Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield, who serves on the legislature’s Higher Education Committee and who introduced the bill. “The presence of ‘yes’ is required rather than just the lack of ‘no’ ” in determining consensual sexual activity.

Apparently in keeping with the politicians’ rhetoric, the article goes on to cite bogus sexual assault statistics.  Using false information and propaganda is hardly a new development among those who want to control our lives for us.

But to the manifest wrongness of the legislation:  The state government of Connecticut is presuming to dictate policy for the operation of every college and university, whether public or private.  I’d be interested to know what the progressives think is the difference between the two types of organization, because they don’t tend to respect distinctions.  Indeed, it’s beginning to seem that progressives think of private organizations, including businesses, as slightly less heavily controlled charter schools.

That attitude makes sense, of course, from people who insist that young adults are still “children” for health care purposes well into their 20s and who believe it’s the duty of the government to protect those grown children from uncomfortable incidents of intimacy.  Those of us who are actually grown up, however, should reject this assertion of authority.

Laws against actual criminal behavior are appropriate, to be sure, with standards of evidence and adjudication, but this new assault from the would-be nannies goes well beyond that, into a realm that is best handled at the level of the individual, the social group, and (where consumers desire it) the individual institution.  Given their power as consumers, then, young adults who believe that they can and should make their own way in the world — and parents hoping to foster that sense — should apparently look elsewhere than Connecticut for higher education.

Who knows how much the creepy overseers will slip into your bedroom and your life?

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Is Artist’s Departure or Arrival the Real Story?

Not knowing details of the story of Pawtucket sculptor Donald Gerola, I won’t make any grand pronouncements about his bitter decision to give up on Rhode Island, but I found this paragraph of Mark Reynolds’s Providence Journal story significant:

Gerola says the sculptures that he brought to Rhode Island after moving to the state — “like an idiot” — in 2004 drew praise from various political leaders. But that encouragement never led to the kind of displays and success he wanted, on the scale he aspired to. Exposure from the public exhibits that he did participate in, losing money, did not foster any private sales of his sculpture, he says, and loaning out the pieces for display at sites in Rhode Island and elsewhere in New England “was the dumbest thing I ever did … “

Our “political leaders” like to fancy themselves as important people and patrons of the arts, and they spend a good amount of our money on that particular self image, but art can’t be, and shouldn’t be, a responsibility of taxpayers.  And unless government is able to fully support an artist’s work, both the government and the artist would be foolish to take action based on limited transactions with each other.  This is true not the least because politicians have no proven taste.

The warning about taste, of course, expands to Rhode Island government’s broader economic development strategy, which Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has amplified to ontological importance.  One can picture Rhode Island politicians finding Gerola’s work to be the cutting-edge future of art, yet that incorrect assessment has apparently led to a loss for the artist and, therefore, a waste of whatever public money has gone to him over the decade he’s been here (if any).  The same goes for less artsy businesses.

The best way to ensure that a particular investment has legs is to let people make the decisions with their own money.  Of course, that doesn’t give politicians the ability to skim off the top or to feel like they’re the key movers of the art world or the economy.

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How Do People React When They Reach the Progressive End?

Richard Fernandez asks and answers an interesting question on which Rhode Islanders’ opinions should be valued across the country:

How might people react if the land promised by modern cultural Pied Pipers turned out to be a hell?  We now know the answer is: surprised. The significance of Peggy Noonan’s 2016 moment is not only that it so perfectly coincides with the end point of seven years of progress towards Hope and Change, but it marks the moment when the penny finally dropped for the American upper middle class.  After a long and arduous march through the institutions, the progressive bus has finally arrived at its long promised paradise hotel and found it desolate, dangerous and full of roaches.

Fernandez limits himself too much by allowing for only one answer.  The reality is that one gets the full negative rainbow of reactions.  The other day, one of my local friends touched base with a reliable local ally with regard to the budget petition I put in for Tiverton.  Gone.  Rhode Island wasn’t palatable anymore, so he skipped to Florida.  This happens constantly.

One might say that our friend reacted by getting on a departing bus for elsewhere.  Some portion of people who do the same probably never have his awareness of what the problem is; they just know Rhode Island isn’t doing it for them, so they leave.

Others respond with anger.  This emotion cuts across the political spectrum, but I have in mind particularly, today, the large number of Trump enthusiasts in Rhode Island.  Such folks have gotten so used to having their views not matter that they almost don’t care what kind of a president he would be.  The idea is to tear down the system.

And then there are those who imagine away the problems.  For them, the progressive bus never reaches its destination, as evidenced by the fact that the world is not perfect, yet.  The answer is always more of what ails us.  Drive deeper… or walk on, if the bus won’t move.

Others just do their best to ignore the problems, mostly because they’ve got some special deal built into the status quo.

And others (a certain editorial board comes to mind) insist on trying to operate the bus even though it’s stopped and out of gas.  Inasmuch as the battery isn’t dead yet, the vehicle seems like it might respond.  The civic system kinda-sorta does the things civic systems are supposed to do, so (they insist) the safest plan is to stay in our seats and keep pushing on the gas pedal and the brakes, putting on the turn signals, and playing with the climate controls.

Standing in Rhode Island, I’d suggest that the important question isn’t what happens upon arrival.  Rather, it’s what those of us who recognize our location do to help those who haven’t yet done so.

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Socialism Can Only Make Us All Poorer

As he usually does, Jonah Goldberg makes several worthy points in his most recent breezy G-File column, including some thoughts on socialism:

… “socialism” was an answer to what 19th-century intellectuals and religious leaders called “the social question.” As traditional societies succumbed to the creative destruction of the market, people started asking, “How shall we live now?” Socialism was one such answer (National Socialism, another, very similar answer), but it was only partly and not even mostly, an economic answer. It was a cultural one.

That is, “socialism” isn’t an economic system.  It’s more like a godless religion whose rituals are economic in nature.  What that means is that its entire way of thinking is unnatural.  It’s divorced from necessary concessions to human nature, from acceptance of physical reality, and from any roots in supernatural truth.  Instead, socialism is a purely man-made intellectual construct that finds its power in corrupting human tendencies, both unhealthy (envy) and healthy (charity).

Consequently, a society that takes socialism too seriously for too long winds up depriving its people of fulfillment and advancement, for reasons that branch off from this subsequent paragraph from Goldberg:

Gracchus Babeuf, arguably the first “socialist” to earn the label, wanted a “conspiracy of equals,” which would “remove from every individual the hope of ever becoming richer, or more powerful, or more distinguished by his intelligence.” In his Manifesto of the Equals, he called for the “disappearance of boundary-marks, hedges, walls, door locks, disputes, trials, thefts, murders, all crimes . . . courts, prisons, gallows, penalties . . . envy, jealousy, insatiability, pride, deception, duplicity, in short, all vices.” To fill that void, “the great principle of equality, or universal fraternity, would become the sole religion of the peoples.”

Disallowing individuals from “becoming richer, or more powerful, or more distinguished by [their] intelligence” is utter ignorant nonsense that winds up harming everybody.  Take the specifics in reverse order:

  • Preventing people who are especially intelligent from realizing their potential leaves us all less benefit from their unique abilities.
  • Artificially depriving people of power — understood broadly as the ability to have others follow one’s instructions — leaves us all less benefit from strong leadership.
  • And yes, confiscating wealth from people simply because they have more of it leaves us all poorer by the prevention of whatever their talents would have had them do with that money… or whatever talents others would have developed in order to collect it in the first place.

Playing the envy card, a socialist might insist that if we stray from a hard, unnatural, tyrannical conformity that leaves us indistinguishable from each other opens the problems of vanity, pride, and abuse, but so does the imposition of the socialistic worldview in the first place.

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Religious Faith at URI and Intellectual Diversity

The blind spot and contradiction in Lynn Arditi’s Providence Journal article, yesterday, about the religious beliefs of University of Rhode Island President David Dooley are so huge that Rhode Island progressives would feel the chill of its shadow if they were able to conceive of it.  Start at the end of the article:

One of the best reasons to go to college, Dooley said, is to explore one’s beliefs and ideas about the world in a safe environment. And a public university like URI, he said, is the best place to do that exploration.

“You don’t find the diversity” at religious institutions or small private colleges, he said, as you do at a large public university. “There’s an understanding of what the acceptable boundaries are of faith. The best place to get an education is when you’re in the midst of a place where people don’t think like you … where people have the ability to build bridges and find common ground.”

So a large public university is a place where faith is kept in the box that the (largely left-wing and secularist) academics believe it belongs.  Now flip back to the beginning of the article:

The president of the University of Rhode Island on Thursday publicly addressed a topic rarely broached by leaders of secular academic institutions.

How much diversity can there really be and how much exploration can students really do when a major part of anybody’s intellectual foundation (a belief system) is shoved beyond “boundaries” that universities’ “leaders” seldom cross — particularly when the Christian perspective that has informed the development of Western civilization and that still undergirds the beliefs of most Americans is targeted for special dismissal?

Toward the end of my own time at URI a decade and a half ago, when I was still an atheist, I attended some sort of honors colloquium event at which leaders from various faiths presented an audience-participation-heavy discussion.   An organizer later told me that the priest and rabbi who led the discussion were surprised by the hostility of some of the students, but I think that slightly misses the real atmosphere.

The problem was that there was no counterbalance to the few students who were actively and arrogantly hostile.  One could have picked those students out of a line up simply by having been told what their attitude had been.  But the religious authorities in the room were clearly timid about imposing their views (that is, defending their beliefs).  As for the students, any strong believers must have learned to keep their religious beliefs within their “acceptable boundaries,” and all of us who fell somewhere between them and the hostiles simply had not learned how to integrate religious topics into an intellectual discussion, except as targets for shooting straw men with secularist guns.

I don’t think it extrapolates too much to suggest that that atmosphere at a large public university at the turn of the millennium explains quite a bit about our current problems and the collapse of intellectual life.

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Suicide Rate Shows America Needs to Revive Its Culture

The data charted in this New York Times article about “surging” suicide rates in America contrasts 1999 with 2014, leaving no political argument to be made, and indeed, the more important points must be cultural.  Still, cultural shifts often align with political ones, especially during the reign of a president who operates unilaterally and siphons billions of dollars of taxpayer debt to his political allies, who often have cultural motivation.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study on which the article is based shows that the real upswing began in 2007.  Indeed, among men (who kill themselves four times more often than do women), there was essentially no change in the suicide rate from 1999 to 2006.

One key finding that the Times highlights is the much greater increase among those in the 45 to 64 age range.  Of course, being in the New York Times, the article emphasizes the greater percentage increase for women in this group, but the suicide rate for women 45-64 went up from only around six per 100,000 to around 10, while the rate for men of this age increased from around 21 per 100,000 to 30.

Furthermore, there would seem to be something telling in the fact that 45-64-year-old men crossed over two other age groups.  In 1999, men 25-44, 65-74, and 75+ all committed suicide at greater rates than 45-64 year olds.  Now, the mid-to-late-career group is second only to the oldest group (which actually saw a decrease).

A CDC chart on suicide methods also seems relevant.  For both sexes, incidents involving firearms decreased significantly, as a percentage; use of poison also decreased.  Suffocation absorbed the difference.  This may be a subjective assessment, but suffocation seems much less a dramatic statement and more an indicator of deep, considered despair.

Be that as it may, our fellow Americans are increasingly killing themselves during that period of life when they should be reaping the harvests of their hard work, both professionally and with respect to their families.  The numbers remain small, to be sure; 30 out of every 100,000 is still only 0.03%.  Still, for every suicide, there must be many others who persist quietly in despair (or not so quietly).

We should therefore take the data point as a warning sign to pause and take stock.  What is it that’s driving our neighbors — particularly late-middle-aged men — to this horrible act?  The answer is economic, yes, but it’s mostly cultural, and it’s nigh upon inconceivable that the solution is to be found in barreling forward with progressives’ radical redefinition of our society.

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Magaziner Exemplifies State’s Skewed Priorities

One can just about sympathize with Democrat General Treasurer Seth Magaziner.  When taxpayers across the state are complaining on talk radio that the tax return checks with his name on them seem greatly delayed and when the pension fund under his control is actually losing money, the politician must feel an intense pressure to come up with newspaper headlines that somebody might see as positive:

On Wednesday, Rhode Island Gen. Treas. Seth Magaziner announced a new policy that seeks to use the proxy-voting power that comes with Rhode Island’s billions of investment dollars to encourage companies to place more women and racial minorities on their boards of directors.

Unfortunately, many people fall for foolish politically correct showboating.  Heretofore, the state’s index-fund manager, State Street Corp., has done the voting to which Rhode Island’s investments entitle the state.  Presumably, State Street’s votes have been cast with an eye toward maximizing returns on its clients’ investments.

But maximizing returns is clearly not the priority of Rhode Island’s chief fiduciary, Seth Magaziner.  Worse still, not only does Magaziner acknowledge that Rhode Island’s votes may make little difference, but the method by which it will cast them is hot-pan-on-a-silk-tablecloth dumb:

“Any time a man is nominated to be a director at a company where fewer than 30 percent of existing directors are women (or racial minorities), we will vote no. If we end up voting no at a high rate, we will be making an important statement on the financial materiality of board diversity,” Magaziner said.

No individual consideration.  All that matters is body parts and skin color.  Of course, I’m making an assumption, there; Providence Journal reporter Kathy Gregg didn’t ask Magaziner if the vote will be cast according to biological fact or by the personal assertions of the nominee.

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What If Progressives’ Cure Is the Disease for the Working Class?

Bouncing off a Washington Post series on the current plight of the white working class, David French suggests that America’s problem isn’t primarily one of lost jobs and inadequate safety nets, but of spiritual destitution:

Life has always been hard for the poor, but it has not always been quite so lonely. Part of this is the legacy of the welfare state, which allows and even encourages lives of quiet desperation, cut off from the communities that used to sustain the less fortunate in their struggles. Part of this is the legacy of the sexual revolution, which devalued marriage and irreversibly cast off the “shackles” of self-denial. And, yes, part of it is economics. Losing a job is among the most stressful of all human experiences.

The complex nature of the crisis should not be a license to avoid facing its ultimate truth head on: America’s working class is in the grips of a malady far more spiritual than material. We can spend trillions more, but safety nets won’t save the human soul.

Happiness, not a government metric for “poverty” or “well being,” should be the guide and goal for public policy, and improving it will mainly entail forcing government to withdraw its heavy hand and allow Americans to do what humans being do:  interact, develop relationships, and help each other.

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Elorza’s Continuing Aggression Toward the First Amendment

It’s really no surprise that Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is among the showboating progressive politicians banning official travel to states, like Mississippi, that take steps to protect their residents’ religious liberty:

Mayor Jorge O. Elorza says he’ll ban “nonessential, publicly funded travel” to North Carolina and Mississippi, after governors in those states signed laws he believes discriminate against the LGBT community.

After all, among various other more-debatable examples, Elorza is the same guy who argued that public schools can establish the religious principle that there is no God and promised to prosecute the distribution of anonymous literature.  No doubt, a good number of people would argue that Elorza is doing many things wrong, as mayor, but one fundamental principle on which he fails conspicuously is the First Amendment.  Visitors, businesses, and voters should take notice.

P.S. — On all of these matters, shame on journalists who prove that they don’t support the First Amendment, either, except when it’s politically convenient for them to do so.

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The Missing Component of Artificial Intelligence

Like many readers, I’m sure, I’ve followed at chuckle distance news that Microsoft’s attempt at launching artificial intelligence on social media created a sort of digital Daughter of Frankenstein’s Monster that quickly picked up the worst emotional, intellectual, and ideological tics of the online population.  A brief commentary by Brian Boyer on PJ Media, though, brings me to a more profound conclusion:

Call Tay a failure if you want. It probably deserves that title. But how can you accuse software of having poor morals? For that matter, who decides what poor morals are? I think we are realizing (especially with a quick review of human history) that morality is learned and isn’t innate. Human children are used as soldiers for a reason. Most sci-fi thrillers involving AI usually result in AI becoming smarter than humans and coming to the conclusion that humanity needs to be wiped out by violence. Who thought that AI would be a problem not because it becomes super intelligent and paranoid, but because we taught it how to behave through our own actions and words? Tay may be a failure, but she (notice I haven’t been saying “it”) is a game changer.

Boyer illustrates, I think, why the virtual teenager, Tay, turned into a sex-and-drug-mad neo-Nazi with his question, “who decides what poor morals are?”  He cheats, moreover, when he simply asserts that “human children are used as soldiers.”  By whom and under what circumstances, and with what consequences?

For Boyer’s line of reasoning to make any sense, one must be a radical materialist (knowlingly or unaware) who truly believes that we human beings are nothing more than an evolved computer.  Now, we can debate how much of morality is learned, how much has been cultivated through millennia of evolution, and how much is truly innate in a spiritual way; the mix isn’t as significant as people make it out to be.

Progressives and secularists have long smuggled conclusions serving their relativism out of the inextricable context of modern society.  That is, they are able to claim simultaneously that objective morality doesn’t exist and that humanity will naturally respect a certain baseline of morality without antiquated religious notions because they live within a society so thoroughly built upon moral principles founded in religion that they can no longer see how the supports are attached to the structure.

Maybe what Tay exhibited, above all, is what would actually happen if there were no good or poor morals and if there were no God.  At the end of the day, Tay was software, a virtual machine.  One might reasonably conclude that it tells us more about ourselves by contrast than by reflection.

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Investigative-Film Maker a Sign of America’s Frightening Turn

When the day comes that all but the most deluded must acknowledge that the United States has become a country unlike the one that stood against totalitarianism in the last century, nobody will be able to claim there weren’t warning signs.  To pick just a few examples from a very long list during the past few years, the United States is a country in which a film maker finds himself scooped up by police in the middle of the night, apparently as a cover-up to the administration’s ineptitude in a foreign country, authorities raid the homes of people connected to a particular politician, apparently as a political attack, the IRS targets grassroots groups of a particular political persuasion, apparently in an effort to blunt their effectiveness during election season, and prosecutors go after a governor and presidential possible under the pretense that he used his veto power illicitly.

It’s not surprising, in this atmosphere, to see an activist/journalist who conducted undercover investigations of Planned Parenthood have his home raided and his computers and videos confiscated for careful review by politicians and bureaucrats who are sure to be favorably disposed to the abortion mills he exposed as trafficking in the body parts of the babies they’d killed:

Authorities seized a laptop and multiple hard drives from his Orange County apartment, Daleiden said in an email. The equipment contained all of the video Daleiden had filmed as part of his 30-month project, “including some very damning footage that has yet to be released to the public,” he said.

A spokeswoman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation. But the raid confirms that California is among the states looking into possible criminal activity on the part of Daleiden and his organization, the Center for Medical Progress, which have been the center of controversy since releasing videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for a profit.

Two lessons for people who might fall on the same side of the political divide as Daleiden and who might be considering similar approaches to making the world a better, more just, place:  Think carefully about the state and region of your base of operations, and ensure that copies of your work are well dispersed if you don’t release it all to the public from the start.

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“Smart Growth” and Radical Islam

Away up north, Jeff Jacoby uses his Boston Globe column to offer some explanation for “Why there are Muslim ghettos in Belgium, but not in the US“:

At a time when populist demagogues are doing so much damage to our social fabric, it is well to remember why Molenbeek is a European phenomenon, and not an American one. At the core of the American experience is a conviction that immigrants who come to America can and should become Americans. Patriotic assimilation turns profoundly dissimilar foreigners into proud and happy Americans. “Muslims in the United States,” Pew found, “reject extremism by much larger margins than most Muslim publics” around the world.

That aspect can’t be disputed, although it’s a little too easy to stop there.  Another factor one would have to cite would be that the United States is not reachable by land from all-Muslim countries, so the poor immigrants we draw here for work tend to be Central and South American Hispanics, who tend to be Christians.

I suspect, as well, that the sheer vastness of the United States helps, as well.  In fact, I wonder if that bane of progressives, sprawl, doesn’t have some benefits.  The thought occurred to me while reading about Grow Smart Rhode Island’s objections to Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s helping Citizens Financial move its operations to an area currently covered with trees:

“We object … to the decision by the Raimondo Administration to commit public resources to help facilitate the type of move that undermines Rhode Island’s progress in incentivizing the revitalization of its cities and town centers while protecting and preserving its remaining farmland and forestland,” Grow Smart said in a news release.

Cities and dense, “walkable” town centers would seem much more conducive to the development of ethnic enclaves.  Part of assimilation is interacting with people who are different.  It’s one thing to hear radical messages from a religious figure and then go live and shop among the people you’re supposed to hate.  It’s another to hear those messages and then go about your life among a community that explicitly or tacitly shares your worldview.

As Jacoby admits, as well, that isn’t to say that one can’t become radicalized in just about any setting, but one suspects that when it comes to being willing and able to develop terror networks, the immersion has an exponential effect.

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A Word on Global Terrorism

Long ago, before I focused in on Rhode Island issues, I wrote more often on global terrorism and related topics.  Such things don’t tend to be directly relevant to policies and politics in the Ocean State.  Of course, national security is ultimately relevant to life anywhere in the nation, but there isn’t a whole lot that a local conversation can accomplish, particularly with Rhode Island’s hyper-partisan congressional delegation.

One common theme between handling global violence and addressing Rhode Island’s failed governing system, however, is the importance of being honest and allowing frank, open discussion.  If the terrorism of Islamic radicals in ultra-tolerant Western Europe exposes any problem, it’s the problem of making certain topics and assumptions off limits.

As usual Theodore Dalrymple has relevant experience and clear insights:

… On my visit to that quarter of Brussels a few years ago, I could see the dangers clearly enough. People like Salah Abdeslam, the terrorist arrested there a few days ago, would swim like a fish in the sea there, to use a Maoist metaphor. Between the sympathetic locals, and the rest of the population—whom they could intimidate into silence—it would be easy for them to hide. This social world is impenetrable to the forces of the state. My informant told me that the Belgian government is unable to collect taxes from businesses there—though it is, apparently, able to distribute social security.

And on a related note, Nabeel Qureshi writes on the intrinsic problem of preventing Islamic radicalization when it’s written into the religion’s foundational texts:

As a young Muslim boy growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, it was impossible for me to look up a hadith unless I traveled to an Islamic library, something I would have never thought to do. For all intents and purposes, if I wanted to know about the traditions of Muhammad, I had to ask imams or elders in my tradition of Islam. That is no longer the case today. Just as radical Islamists may spread their message far and wide online, so, too, the Internet has made the traditions of Muhammad readily available for whoever wishes to look them up, even in English. When everyday Muslims investigate the Quran and hadith for themselves, bypassing centuries of tradition and their imams’ interpretations, they are confronted with the reality of violent jihad in the very foundations of their faith.

This doesn’t mean that no venerable strains of Islam exist that are entirely peaceful, or that scriptural literalists from ISIS are expressing “true Islam.”  It does mean that the scriptural backstop for the religion isn’t going to be a ready lever for the former.  Qureshi suggests, from his own experience, that the strongest reform alternative for peaceful Muslims may be Christianity.

Be that as it may, the West is only making matters worse by plugging its ears and shouting “Islamophobia” every time the topic arises for consideration.