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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


Will the Fire Alarm Wake the World Up?

It’s beginning to look like the world may not quite manage to maintain its sleeping dreams through the end of the Obama Administration.  Having abandoned Iraq prematurely in order to have an election-year talking point, Obama is now quietly ramping up boots on the ground — naturally, without the sort of debate and fanfare that would lead to Americans’ knowing what’s going on:

The U.S. military has around 5,000 service members in Iraq, officials said on Monday, far more than previously reported, as the Obama administration quietly expands ground operations against the Islamic State.

The number of American forces in Iraq has come under increased scrutiny following the death over the weekend of a Marine staff sergeant, the second combat casualty in renewed U.S. operations in Iraq. He was killed when militants launched rockets at a small U.S. base around the city of Makhmour. The existence of the Marine detachment had not been known prior to Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin’s death.

And today, Europe added another substantial terrorist attack to its growing list:

As many as 31 people were killed and more than 180 injured as coordinated terrorist bombings rocked the Brussels airport and subway system during rush hour Tuesday morning in the Belgian capital. …

“We are at war,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Tuesday. “We have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war.”

We learned after the ’90s that our society’s vacations from history only last so long, and that the longer it takes us to wake up in our own beds, the more difficult it is to get things back in order.  This isn’t a time for either denials or impetuous decisions.  Our civilization’s history and our nation’s founding documents chart a course for us — not an easy one, but a sure one in which we can have confidence.  We need only shed the hubris that we’ve evolved into new moral creatures.


The General Assembly as Our State’s Parents

When it comes to the economy, the people whom we elect to public office at the state level seem to think that they’re a sort of corporate board for the entire state.  With licensing, regulations, taxes, tax breaks, and other economic development matters, elected officials behave as if they have every right to decide the direction of the state and tell businesses how they have to operate.  Even where there’s debate, it tends to be whether the regulation will be a net positive or negative, not whether government officials have the right to make such decisions.

An AP article in today’s Providence Journal, by Matt O’Brien, shows that this conceit extends to telling Rhode Islanders how they have to parent:

State lawmakers are debating a bill that would punish parents for leaving a child younger than 7 alone in a car. They’ve also proposed legislation to ban kids under 10 from being home alone and older kids from being home alone at night. Legislation could even extend to private preschools, where a bill would ban outdoor recess when the temperature drops below freezing. …

“We have kids constantly left home alone. It’s a danger,” said state Sen. William Walaska, the Warwick Democrat who introduced “home-alone” age restrictions that could affect child custody cases. “Imagine they open up a cupboard and there’s some chemicals in there.”

Note the reliance on imagination and the refusal to allow individual parents to make judgment based on individual children.  What if a family is wise enough to put anything dangerous where the child cannot access it?  What if a particular child is simply very responsible and well behaved, and his or her parents recognize it?  Walaska would insist that we all have to live in a room that’s sufficiently padded for the least responsible among us.

This simply is not the role of government.  Indeed, it’s the sort of meddling that ways down an economy’s advancement and a society’s development, harming individuals along the way, even beyond the degree to which it tramples on the rights of others, treating us all as subjects who must live according to the preferences of our betters.  It also creates an insecure, vulnerable society in which nobody can possibly avoid breaking the law in some way or other.


Getting People to Listen for Their Own Good

An interesting spin-off conversation to the rise of Trump — rather, a spin-off amplification of a long-running conversation — is how our society’s relativism and materialism has left the West intellectually incapable of addressing the real problems of the poor and disadvantaged.  Here, for starters, is Kevin Williamson:

Sentimentality about our backwards communities, and circumlocution regarding their problems, isn’t mercy at all, nor is it — I hate the word — “empathy.” It’s cowardice, a refusal to look at the thing squarely as it is and to do what it is necessary to do. When I think about my own upbringing, one of the thoughts that comes to me most often is: “Why didn’t someone say something?” Which is, I suppose, what the white me and the black me and the rich me and the poor me and the Europhobic me and the Swiss-loving me are trying, best as we can, to do.

To this, Rod Dreher responds (emphasis in original):

… think right now about poor, dysfunctional people in your own community. Would you “say something”? What would you say? To whom would you say it? …

Here’s the thing: it’s not just the poor and the working class anymore. I’m told by teachers and others that it’s the middle class now too. The attitude that if anything is wrong, it’s Somebody Else’s Fault, is becoming general. Nobody wants to hear criticism of any sort. Nobody wants to recognize authority, or to assert authority in a meaningful way.

I’m not sure the blaming of others is the initial cause rather than a first-order consequence of something else.  In a society that defines a person’s behavior as the definition of his or her very identity, telling people that they are behaving badly is tantamount to saying that they are bad.

With these thoughts in mind, this line from today’s Gospel reading of Jesus’ Passion stood out:

They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us,”
but he replied to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe,
and if I question, you will not respond.”

Likewise, though we’re in possession of the truth about how people could improve their behavior, they will not listen unless they first realize the problem.  Unfortunately, our entire mainstream culture is too much like Pilate asking, “What is truth?”

All of the essays along the thread of this discussion are worth reading, but the frustrating and unavoidable conclusion to which one comes is that the process must be more like conversion than persuasion or critical demand.  In the Christian vision, people are not defined by their behavior, but by what God has imagined them to be.  A parallel simply may not exist in a society that insists there’s no such thing as an ideal.


Poorly Educated Millennials and the Urgency of Fixing Education

Testing company ETS has released a report that puts an exclamation point on our need to pursue a comprehensive and rapid reform of our nation’s education system:

One central message that emerges from this report is that, despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous American generation, these young adults on average demonstrate relatively weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments compared to their international peers. These findings hold true when looking at millennials overall, our best performing and most educated, those who are native born, and those from the highest socioeconomic background. Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills for U.S. adults when compared with results from previous adult surveys.

As a nation, we’re failing our children and, therefore, ourselves.  We’re spending a great deal of money, and young adults are spending a great deal of time, on activities that we label “education,” but that aren’t producing results up to expectations and that seem designed more to indoctrinate our youth with a particular worldview while funding a particular ideological and political class.  Add to this anecdotal evidence in life and current events suggesting that young adults are less well equipped to handle disagreement.

We go too far, I think, in behaving as if a person’s growth ends when he or she leaves the fantasy land of education and enters “real life”; much the opposite is true.  Still, it represents a tremendous waste of resources if Americans spend the first 20-25 years of their lives being poorly educated and absorbing a corrosive ideology and then must spend the next 10-20 years developing skills they actually need while adjusting their worldviews to reality — doing damage to our culture all the while.

On both fronts, we face an urgent need to break the stranglehold that special interests have on our education system, and the tepid prodding that we’re currently doing in Rhode Island — attempting to improve things little by little without upsetting any of the harmful influences — will not work sufficiently, even if our children had time to wait for its slow implementation.


The Right’s Turn to Be Boromir

It’s been building, but over the past few days, especially, those on the right who are Trump-leaning (or at least Trump-curious) have been pushing lines and rhetoric that, as somebody who agrees with much of what they say much of the time, I find disconcerting.

For example, Ann Coulter — the not-so-affable Eva Braun for Donald Trump — says Fox News’s Megyn Kelly and Republican presidential Ted Cruz are “traitors.”  Then there’s Gateway Pundit’s clipped and slowed evidence supposedly showing that Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, never “even bumped” reporter Michelle Fields. The videos actually support her allegations and show that Lewandowski and Trump have been pushing a lie as they’ve simultaneously attempted a Clintonian smear of Fields.

The latest example is the Drudge Report’s picking up a left-wing lie that Cruz took the stage at the recent National Religious Liberties Conference right after Kevin Swanson “call[ed] for the execution of gays.”  As I explained on Twitter, I don’t like Swanson’s style, his rhetoric leaves much to be desired, and (from my limited experience with his work) I suspect I differ significantly in my theology, but the extended clip from Swanson’s speech shows that he explicitly stated that he is not calling for the execution of gays and, moreover, that he told the audience that heterosexual sinfulness with adultery and pornography addiction is not much different at all from the sins of homosexuals and we should hope and strive for the sinful to repent and thereby avoid eternal damnation.

Indeed, even that extended clip (also from a left-wing source) is abbreviated, and the way it starts with the word “yes” suggests that Swanson’s entire spiel may have been intended to explain why Biblical passages regarding homosexuality shouldn’t be taken as a mandate for Old Testament prescriptions in the modern era.  To be sure, he doesn’t disclaim the entire Bible in order to make his case, but that shouldn’t be a problem outside of the fevered secularist Left.

I fear that parts of the American Right are becoming like Boromir in Lord of the Rings, when he attempted to grab the Ring of Power from Frodo… but only to use it for a little while and in the service of good.  J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel makes clear a point that conservatives have generally understood:  An aggressive lust for strength and power is natural, but its emergence should be taken as a warning sign that something is amiss.

Something is definitely amiss with Donald Trump’s charge into politics if conservatives are losing sight of that lesson.


Mike Stenhouse: Your Family Deserves Better Than 48th

What if lawmakers were to realize that Rhode Island’s policy culture of considering only the material needs of individuals, all along, has been harmful to the family unit? For too long, the status quo in the Ocean State has stood in the way of Rhode Islanders achieving their hopes and dreams. New national research released this month indicates that Rhode Island families are not doing as well as lawmakers may currently believe. The Family Prosperity Index (FPI) measures both economic and social factors to determine the results of our state’s public policy culture on our families.

For example, the often cited unemployment rate, a narrow snapshot of employment only, has declined notably in Rhode Island, giving lawmakers false occasion to trumpet success. When considering broader economic, social, and demographic data, all combined into a single index over a longer period of time, Rhode Island fares very poorly, ranking 48th in the nation on the FPI index for 2015. This new research can be ground-breaking in that FPI broadens the scope of analyzing official government data, that result from public policy on actual families in each state. Your family deserves better than these poor ratings.

Do most Rhode Islanders feel as good about their family’s well-being as the unemployment rate and our politicians might suggest? I don’t think so. With FPI, we now have a measurement that can more fully measure family well-being. We believe that family-level shortcomings, caused by Rhode Island policy culture, are the root causes of the current economic malaise in the Ocean State. Rhode Island does not need to grow the elite, through ‘advanced industries’ as suggested by the recent $1.3 million Brooking Institution report.

Lawmakers can become heroes if they can design policies that actually address the real needs of real families. Rhode Island needs a new vision, one where the people of our state can achieve prosperity through free-market solutions. Your voice can be powerful. We encourage you to speak out about the issues in Rhode Island that are making things more difficult for your family. Free market policy can strengthen our state and our families by giving the people of our state more access to opportunity. Thank you.

[Mike Stenhouse is the CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.]


Dexter Liu’s All-Too-Common Story

An op-ed in today’s Providence Journal by Portsmouth resident Dexter Liu is a story I’ve heard time and again in my years writing in Rhode Island:

Rhode Island has been home for 30 years. I’ve enjoyed working in Newport, raising a family in Portsmouth and being part of the Aquidneck Island community. Our roots run deep here, so the decision to move is terribly bittersweet. We’ll miss friends and favorite haunts, but alas, it’s farewell, Rhode Island.

The early comments to the post are all-too-common, as well.  One sentiment is that people who find it too difficult to live or do business here should just take off.  (One hears similar sentiments when some business objects to new regulations that are supposedly “for the worker,” as if the state has such a healthy economy that it can dismiss any business that can’t thrive in the worst business climate in the country.)  Another sentiment is that there must be some bigger reason for the move.  As Mike Berry puts it: “No one leaves just because they don’t think the state government is running efficiently.”

This is the problem, though.  People don’t leave only because of taxes or regulations.  They generally leave (or don’t come in the first place) at times of transition or decision.  So, yes, a son graduating high school and heading off to college is a time of transition, but deciding what to do during that transition is an open question.  And it explains quite a bit about Rhode Island if people see life changes as an opportunity to escape the state.


Colleges Suffering for Their Campus Lunacy Remind of Rhode Island

Over the past… what?… six months, America has watched its campuses taking the next step in their descent toward madness.  One can’t help but get the sense that they may no longer be places where learning is the top priority, but rather that they have moved on even from indoctrination to the stage of training shock troops for ideological war.  We may now be beginning to see what happens when students who do not wish to invest so much in that sort of training (and their parents) look for institutions that won’t make them the background bit-players on which the apprentices of outrage can practice.

In Missouri, for example, enrollment is down at the state’s flagship campus, and Mizzou is facing an unexpected deficit of $32 million.  Locally, the Brown Daily Herald may be reporting hints of a similar reaction among non-donating alumni of Brown University:

Students at the call center who chose to remain anonymous cited multiple instances in which alums have chosen not to donate as a result of student activism in recent years.

The Herald article adds an interesting wrinkle that ought to raise doubts about the university’s — about universities’ — ability to respond to the feedback they’re getting from those outside of their towers:

Another staff member pointed out that though older alums may be worried about the direction Brown is moving in and refusing to donate, these may be the same alums who are upset that Brown started accepting students of color or became co-educational.

True to the progressive formula, which prevents substantive communication and reconsideration through its control of language and handbook of knee-jerk explanations, this staff member doesn’t seem to understand why people might be uncomfortable with scenes like this, this, and this,  with the complementary indications that real free speech has been driven underground in a way against which we’d all thought Dead Poets Society and decades of similar themes had provided immunization:

Another staff member pointed out that though older alums may be worried about the direction Brown is moving in and refusing to donate, these may be the same alums who are upset that Brown started accepting students of color or became co-educational.

No need to consider the outrageous behavior of social justice warriors on campus; those non-donating alums are probably just racist misogynists.

Rhode Islanders, especially, ought to pay attention to these developments, because the campuses are providing a miniature of our state’s experience.  Give in to special interests and force people to live in a bizarre, contrived environment that doesn’t provide for their needs and interests, and they’ll go elsewhere.  Just as colleges and universities appear to to be turning away from education as a first priority, so too Rhode Island has turned away from its people.

In the long run, nothing is too big to fail, not even a state.


Marriage and an Affirmative Alternative to Shame

Glenn Reynolds has put up a post emphasizing “exactly how much family really matters when it comes to helping kids out with important life events and transitions on the financial side,” meaning that “a major goal of social policy has to be the formation of two-parent households.”

Oddly, the post never mentions marriage, which has historically been the model of two-parent households.  Of course, the institution has been overwhelmed by the issue (which ought to be understood as a wholly separate matter) of homosexuality, and Reynolds was an early supporter of same-sex marriage.

Not mentioning marriage in a post about “two-parent households” seems like a pretty strong acknowledgment that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships implicitly meant removing children from the definition. Where does that leave somebody who acknowledges the importance of social institutions for the health of society?

… when the “dorky pastor types” held sway, illegitimacy rates were much lower. Shaming works to control behavior, and lefties know it — just announce you don’t recycle at a faculty cocktail party if you don’t believe me. Lefties don’t mind shame as a tool for behavior control. They just oppose shaming when it’s not in support of their favored policies.

So, we’re left with shaming young men not to impregnate young women and to help support any children whom the relationship creates.  One can’t help but be sad about the outcome if this is where the alliance of progressives and libertarians on an issue leads.  Rather than leave alone an institution that recognized the undeniable biological difference between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples, progressives would have us continue trying to sterilize the population and allow maximum ability to kill children who manage to be conceived anyway, with a heavy legal burden that leaves the man as a second-class participant in the relationship.  To the extent that they don’t subscribe to that approach, libertarians would have us return to social shaming.

I can’t do otherwise than conclude that it would be better to maintain a social institution, recognized in law, that draws young couples toward responsible relationships before there are children involved, rather than prodding them after the fact.