Social Justice and the Straw Man

By Mike Cronin

This is probably no surprise to anyone, but you might not have seen it expressed this way before.  The driving force behind many of the ideological rifts in this country isn’t genuine disagreement; it’s the lust for attention and power. Social justice warriors (SJWs) especially, will twist any fact, issue, or term into a grievance so that they can have a protest or riot in furtherance of their purported aims, when all they really want is attention, validation, and power.

Here’s a case study: President Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban.”  The facts of the ban are summarized here: “There are 206 nation states on Earth. People from 199 of them, Muslim or not, can get US visas. People from 7 of them, Muslim or not, cannot. The twelve nations with the largest number of Muslims are all on the “A-OK” list. There is no “Muslim ban.” (h/t to Michael Z. Williamson) But judging from the vitriol and even violence emanating from SJWs, you would think Mr. Trump had begun rounding up Muslims and putting them into camps. They invariably describe Trump’s action as racist.

I’m not going to defend Mr. Trump.  I get why he is instituting this ban: Because terrorists from the groups most likely to try to execute another 9/11 on our soil would be most likely to come from one of the countries on the list. But his ban holds a large class of people accountable for crimes yet to be committed by a potentially very small subset of that group.  Since that group isn’t race-based, that is not a racist policy, but it is collectivist.

But wait! Here comes SJW logic: since the ban “targets” predominately Muslim countries, it is against Muslims, and is therefore racist. Even if Islam isn’t a race?  Yes, say the SJWs. Because Islam is a culture, the ban is a case of “cultural racism.”  Even if, as described by Mr. Williamson above, the ban doesn’t apply to all, or even most, Muslims?  SJWs just ignore that inconvenient fact.

Ah. If you don’t like someone, or something they are doing, find a way to twist it into the most heinously-motivated act you can think of. Invent new terms to describe it. All so you can be seen to be fighting against it. (Oh, and let’s not forget, if someone you liked did the same thing? Forget it happened.)  In other words, the modus operandi for the SJW: If you can’t find it within in you to go to the Middle East and fight the real oppressors, stay comfortably ensconced in the US, find some objectionable policy, and make it into oppression so you can have a tantrum.  It’s the “straw man” fallacy writ large.

The Power of “So?”

By Mike Cronin

The 85 Richest People In The World Have As Much Wealth As The 3.5 Billion Poorest

So?  That headline is meant to make us hate the rich and want to see them taxed into submission.  It is meant to create envy and division.  Did those 85 people steal that wealth from the “bottom half,” or did they produce it? If they produced it, it’s theirs.  If they stole it, then prosecute them.  If you want to help the “bottom half” improve their lives, then help them. Appeal to the wealthy for donations all you want, but don’t believe that you can cure poverty by ostensibly playing Robin Hood. He didn’t steal from “the rich” and give to “the poor,” he stole from the government and gave back to the taxpayers!

The Israelis are doing__ against the Palestinians again!

So?  There is a meme circulating that states:  “If the Israelis wanted war, the Palestinians would be wiped out.  If the Palestinians wanted peace, there would be peace.”  It’s not 100% perfectly factual, but there is a high degree of “truthiness” in that statement.

___member of the Trump Administration had contact with Russian diplomats while serving in Congress (or some other governmental or international corporate position) before the election.

So?  That’s what the Russian diplomats are here for!  That’s why we send American diplomats to Russia! It is far better that our leaders have contact with their diplomats than that we stop talking to each other and start rekindling the Cold War in earnest, isn’t it? We’ve already had Vietnam and Korea, and we’ve been stuck in Afghanistan for nearly 16 years.  Syria could easily become the next quagmire if it isn’t already.  Do we really need to increase the likelihood of that happening by not having any dialogue with the Russians?

Sports stars get paid more than military troops and teachers!

So?  Stop paying them! If you think star athletes get paid too much, don’t go to the games, don’t buy the fan merchandise, and don’t pay for sports packages on satellite or cable.  If you think teachers and troops deserve more, write your school board and your congressional delegation and tell them you want to donate more money on top of your paid taxes so they can get a raise. Better yet, gift some money to a teacher or troop of your choice (but less than $10,000, please.  We don’t want to make them pay higher taxes for getting your gift!)

Somebody offended me!

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So? Call the whaaambulance and wait for it in your safe space, ya simpering snowflake!  You have a right to free speech AND you have a right not to listen to the free speech of others. You don’t have right to not be offended.

They gave the Best Picture Oscar to the wrong movie.

So? Does that have any bearing at all on your life?  It’s mildly interesting to watch the antics of celebrities, but we only fuel the worst aspects of their personalities by obsessing over their affairs and faux-pas.  Maybe we need that spectacle to distract us from the real issues, which would be fine if that’s all Hollywood did (i.e. produce distractions). But that’s not all is it?

(Pick any Hollywood celebrity) said (something pontificating or pious about national or international issues)

So? How does a career as a professional pretender confer to anyone the bona-fides to provide a value-added perspective on …anything that matters?

My World View, Pt. 2

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By Mike Cronin

I left off last week by asking, “…how can we overcome the pain of the past without inflicting all new pains now and in the future?”  In my world view, the answer lies in the opposite direction from what most politicians, pontificators, and pundits would have us follow. The answer lies in treating human beings as individuals first and foremost, not as mere units of whatever contrived victim or oppressor collectives the “divide and conquer” crowd has tried to bin us into. In other words, quite often the pathological power seekers in this world seek to divide us in the name of diversity, while the way to a just, peaceful, and united society is by recognizing and protecting individual rights and liberty.

That means tolerating all kinds of behavior and relationships one might find personally distasteful – so long as such behavior violates no one else’s rights.  In my view, there simply should be no government purview to ban any intoxicants a competent adult might chooses to use – but neither should it allow intoxication to mitigate any criminal or negligent act taken while intoxicated.  It also means the government should have no interest in regulating consensual activities between competent adults.  That means there should be no laws against – nor any kind of tax breaks for – any kind of consensual domestic relationships. The only role government should play is in the realm of contract enforcement: Those who choose to register their relationship and codify any such agreements in writing may turn to the government for dispute resolution if necessary.

Of course, that would also mean the tax code would have to be reformed. As well it should be.  There is only one reason for the government to levy taxes:  to pay for the legitimate, Constitutional functions of government. Likewise, there is only one morally acceptable way to apportion taxes: According to how much government one “consumes,” not according to how much income one earns.  Of course, collecting taxes via income confiscation is right out.  A consumption tax, such as The Fair Tax, is the way to go in my book.

Speaking of books, when did the United States of America become a democracy?  According to more than one of the social studies text books my kids have used over the years, the US is just that: a democracy.  That can be taken in two related ways. The first is simply common usage. At some point in the past, the term “democracy” was corrupted from its original meaning to accommodate nearly any government that has adopted some form of constitution, has separation of powers, leaders chosen by elections, and has a more-or-less open market.  The other way to take it is that some of the same corrupt people who want to chivy us into collectives are in charge of the education-industrial complex.  They want to smuggle into our heads the idea that our government operates according to the concept of majority rule (i.e. pure democracy) vs. the rule of law (i.e. as a republic) – with the ultimate goal being to amass enough of a collectivized majority to gain control of all three branches of government at the same time, undo the Constitution, and turn the US into a Venezuela – all the while believing they are making it into a Sweden (or at least, what they imagine Sweden to be like).

Indeed, one such lament we are always hearing from such quarters is that our “public” school system is failing, always accompanied by the clamor for more and more money to fix it. What if our government schools are not failing?  What if they are doing exactly what they are designed to do?  Given the model our school system is based on (Prussia’s) and the sentiments expressed by many of its promoters and pioneers, (e.g. “The role of the schoolmaster is to collect little plastic lumps of human dough from private households and shape them on the social kneading board.” Edward Ross, Sociologist, and “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” –Woodrow Wilson) a strong case can be made that our school system is just fine: It is not designed to produce critical thinkers; it is designed to produce compliant mass consumers, and it does.  When the most pious prophets of the public school systems tell you the system is failing, they mean that it hasn’t yet succeeded in removing all independent thought from the labor and middle-management classes quite yet!

Now don’t go thinking that because I’m critical of government schools that I must be a snob for a snob for parochial schools.  Faith-based private schools, at least of the Catholic variety (of which I have some passing familiarity) may have a better record of producing literate, college-bound graduates than government schools, but they are very comfortable following the Prussian model as well, in some ways to an even greater degree than government schools (case in point: Uniforms and corporal punishment).  It just would not do to give your flock too great a taste of independent thinking, lest they come to question their faith, and ultimately the Church!

My World View, Pt. 1

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By Mike Cronin

Every so often it helps to re-examine one’s goals and purposes.  My goal and purpose for this blog is to help others learn to look at the world through the lenses of reason and liberty.  Sometimes that means offering dry descriptions of how things are vs how they ought to be, other times it means promoting an independent viewpoint on a hot-button political issue. No doubt I have appeared to be a right-wing radical to someone on the left, while I might seem to be a leftist to the right-winger. To others, it might seem like I’m simply sitting on the fence and refusing to take sides.

I have never claimed to be unbiased.  In fact, I have described my bias on more than one occasion, but I haven’t ever really described my full worldview.  I thought I might do so now:

It starts with reality. As Ayn Rand said: “Existence exists, and only existence exists.”  Carl Sagan said that the cosmos is “all that is, all that was, and all there ever will be.”  The evidence that existence exists is axiomatic:  If it did not exist, there would be no one to ponder its nature – there would be no nature.

Speaking of nature: Humans are part of nature. Everything humans have ever made, from bone tools and mud huts to spaceships and iPhones, and every action humans have ever taken, from procreating to mass destruction, is ipso-facto natural. That is not to say it is good or bad.

Evil exists.  There are good people and bad. Context matters: good people are sometimes capable of bad things, and evil people may sometimes perform a benevolent act.  Hitler might have treated a pet well, for instance…but that cannot begin to atone for the fact that he inspired and led the industrialized murder of millions. Because Hitler was human, his actions were natural…but because he failed to credit whole segments of humans with having any humanity, he dehumanized himself. He became a monster of natural, not supernatural origin.

Nor was he the only one. Stalin. Pol Pot. Mao Tse-tung. Saddam Hussein. Every era of history has its brutal dictators and ruthless rulers who don’t hesitate to bathe in the blood of millions.  The rational failing of all of these monsters is their inability or refusal to recognize the worth of other humans as humans, or to even recognize other individuals as human at all.  They have actualized the ultimate expression of collectivism: the subsuming of the individual human being into a collective. Collectives that can be branded sub-human and disposed of at whim.

Humans have been ruled by such men as could take control of the levers of power since we were clans of hunter-gatherers.  Every so often, a breakthrough would occur and the building blocks of civilization were laid, even if technology advanced at much more stately pace. The Mesopotamians or other earliest civilizations gave us agriculture and the division of labor.  The Egyptians gave us paper and the concept of a massive library to store the sum of human knowledge.  The Greeks gave us the concepts of reasoned philosophical debate, and democratic and republican forms of government, and more.  The Arabs gave us Algebra, the concept of zero, and names for many stars we see in the night sky. The Persians or their predecessors gave us Indo-European languages, the wheel, chess (probably by way of India), and more. Largely unbeknownst to the west, the Chinese developed many of these same foundations earlier, or at roughly the same time, as their Western counterparts.

All throughout history, threads bind early developments to later ones.  The Greek concepts of democracy and republicanism found a circuitous path that eventually led to the founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights…and the United States of America. An imperfect country, established with imperfect, yet eloquent documents, written by imperfect, yet remarkable men…the first country ever founded on the basis of an ideal: recognition of individual rights, liberty, and the rule of law, protected by a government chartered for that sole purpose. Imperfect though it is, via the combination of the freest form of government, ample natural resources, and the best geographical location, the US rose to become the most dominant economic and military power in the world, and to raise the standard of living for more people than any other nation, empire, or civilization in human history. That much power attracts pathological personalities –both to wield it, and to destroy it.  Thus it became inevitable that the US would make enemies. No matter how benevolent the US might be or might have been, our very existence as de-facto world hegemon is a threat to those who aspire to great power, such as Hussein or Osama bin Laden. To wit: something like 9/11 was inevitable.

As beautiful as the founders’ vision of the US was, the implementation of their vision was flawed from the start by four major areas of dysfunction, which I examined in five posts in 2014.

Slavery was chief among those, as it was incompatible with the spirit of the Charters of Freedom.  Our earliest Congress partook of the same sin as Hitler, if perhaps to a slightly lesser degree and without the nationalistic zeal: they justified slavery by willfully neglecting to grant the status of “human being” to slaves. It took nearly 3/4 of a century from the founding to end slavery, and nearly 200 years to reverse most of the direct damage of that failure. We are still dealing with the indirect damage to this day.

This is not to say that things can be put right by going the other direction. Dehumanizing and hating whites, especially white, middle class males, cannot free the long-dead slaves of times past, nor can it improve the lot of the descendants of slaves living today. Holding inter-generational grudges leads to incessant conflict – such as that between the Israelis and Palestinians, which is but a proxy for the much older conflict between Arabs and Jews.

How can we overcome the pain of the past without inflicting all new pains now and in the future?  More on that next week.

Infotainment?

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By Mike Cronin

Most of my blog posts have been, I hope, informative, perhaps even instructive. However, I have to admit they probably are not very entertaining. Time to lighten up a little.

Medicine and law love to use exclusive language. Lots of Greek and Latin words.  The military, being full of hyper-competitive types, had to go one better, and develop an entire language using jargon and acronyms and the occasional bit of “poetic vulgarity.”  I mean, why use a simple term like “car bomb” when a multi-syllabic mouthful like “VBIED” (vehicle-born improvised explosive device) will do?

All news is fake; some news is useful:

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I got called up for jury duty. When my group showed up at the appointed place and time, clerks showed us a propaganda video explaining how jury service was a civic duty because we have all enjoy a right to a trial by jury.  A little cheesy, but valid.  Then the video tried to pump up our patriotism by showing waving flags and national landmarks while the narrator gushed that jury service was crucial to our democracy. Since we don’t have a democracy, and since jury duty can be required or not of citizens under almost any form of government, I had to wonder who put together and/or approved the video, and whether they deserved a trial by jury for inflicting that pious excrement on us!

While commuting, I sometimes see a pink Jeep on my route.  Said Jeep has a custom license plate that says: “PINK JEEP.”  Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Sometimes my office has to assess whether an engagement mission between the USAF and a foreign air force has had the effect of building a partner relationship.  It is extremely difficult.  How does one detect “love-trons,” let alone “count” them?

The 1960s TV show Get Smart, a spoof of James Bond movies and the secret agent genre in general, was prophetic in its portrayal of absurd spy gadgets that were meant to keep conversations secure, but actually hindered the agents using them while making the goings-on clearly understandable to any bystander.  The “Cone of Silence” was one such ludicrous device. When lowered over the heads of agents, they could not hear each other clearly, but anyone not under the cone could hear the agents perfectly well.  The modern security environment on government computers is sadly reminiscent of such shenanigans. It is becoming increasingly difficult for users to actually communicate and collaborate using the communications and collaborations tools meant for the purpose. Hopefully it is not as easy for those who wish us ill to get our information as it was for the opposition on Get Smart!

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Not so Random Matter?

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By Mike Cronin

I started out thinking I had several disparate items for this week’s post, but they all seemed to tie together:

It’s science-project season at my son’s school.  He brought home an information/instruction packet.  He had to get a parent to sign the first page – which is a letter to parents explaining that the kid has to do the science work on his own, but parents can help with the non-process portions of the project (e.g. helping the kid get materials) etc., etc. On the reverse of the first page is a progress tracker.  The kid has to get his parents to sign each time he hits a milestone on the project.  My son got dinged on the first milestone because I didn’t sign it.   The first milestone is to have a parent sign the letter to parents.  Yes, that’s right: The purveyors of the science project’s hand-out material failed to notice they are requiring a parent sign the back of a form in order to certify that the parent signed the front of the form…and they make the kid take the hit if the parent doesn’t jump through the hoop.  On a science project. You know, Science?  The subject where they teach kids logic, critical thinking, precision, peer review, attention to detail, right? Little things like that.

Speaking of science, I work in a small office with five other people. All five are scientists and/or engineers. Our office serves as a kind of internal think-tank. We do quantitative and qualitative analysis, among other things. I am the only one in the office who does not have a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).  My colleagues can run rings around me on any kind of math-based reasoning or problems.  On the other hand, I usually get the better of them when it comes to verbal expression.  I like to tease them that they are all experts at qualitative reasoning, while I am the quality. At any rate, our work sometimes involves (mathematical) models and simulations. Someone in the field once quipped that “all models are wrong, but some models are useful.”

Given the public’s current fascination with the phenomena of “fake news,” I think an adaptation of the “models” aphorism is apropos as a guidepost for judging the efficacy of anything in the media: “All news is fake, but some news is useful.” Two cases in point:

Some right-wing media sources are reporting that Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, as much as revealed that the UN’s plans to combat climate change are really a set of blinders to hide the real agenda: the destruction of capitalism. While the UN is no friend of capitalism, context matters, as does the thing that is not being said.  Figueres undeniably advocates for the alteration of the global economy when she says:

“This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution,”

Note that she stops short of stating that the current global economic development model that must be changed is capitalism (it isn’t, by the way – it’s a mix of capitalism and controls), or describing what model should obtain.  I would not be surprised to learn that Figueres is indeed anti-capitalist, nor would I be surprised to learn that UN efforts to combat global warming are indeed a smokescreen to hide the destruction of capitalism, but Figueres’s statements fall short of being a smoking gun – more like an eyebrow-raiser. The subject bears watching.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the fake news spectrum, we have the New York Times’ headlines for Friday’s attack at the Louvre in Paris by a “lone wolf” Islamic jihadist. Their first headline read: “Louvre Museum Evacuated after French Soldier Opens Fire.” At best, this headline leads you to believe the incident revolved around the actions of a French soldier. At worst, it leads you to believe a French soldier went nuts and started shooting up the Louvre.  A few hours later, the headline had changed to read: “Assailant Near Louvre Is Shot by French Soldier” Again, the French soldier’s actions seem to be the focus.  As mentioned previously, context matters, and what is not being said matters. What the vaunted New York Times neglected, or purposely refused to highlight in their headlines, was that a man shouting “allahu ackbar!” (i.e. “God is great” in Arabic) and wielding knives attacked some French soldiers and was shot by one of them in response.

It would not do to depart from The Narrative by highlighting yet another attack by a Muslim against Western targets, even as the militant arm of the “tolerant” left is convulsing over President Trumps’ recent “anti-Muslim” immigration restrictions, now would it? Instead, the “Newspaper of Record” felt it must mislead readers with deceptive headlines. I’m not suggesting the Times should have gone with “Islamo-Fascist Nut-Job Takes Knives to a Gun Fight in Paris; Wins Darwin Award Nomination,” but something like “Assailant Shouting in Arabic Shot by Soldier At Louvre” might have hit the right balance between not jumping to conclusions about the attacker’s religion, intentions, and connections, and the response of the soldiers.  All news is fake, some news is useful.

Another Crack at Illegal Immigration

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Mike Cronin

This is a revision of my post dated November 23, 2014.

President Trump has partially fulfilled one of his most controversial campaign promises.  Earlier this week, he signed an executive order to build a wall along the Mexican border, and his administration floated the idea of a 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for the construction.  The mainstream media is predictably up in arms.

While I am encouraged by Mr. Trump’s attention to the illegal immigration issue, I find myself in disagreement that a wall is the right solution – but not for the same reasons as the crowds of critics assailing the president.  I’ll explain in a bit, but let’s untangle the knot a little first:

If you are an elected Democrat, the illegal immigration “problem” is: how to make it legal for illegal immigrants to vote? There are millions potential voters out there who cannot legally participate in national elections. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that simultaneously paint the illegal immigrants as victims who need rescuing and those who see things differently as racists. Then legalize the immigrants (or some portion of them) somehow, and/or prevent the passing of laws that require voters to produce a photo ID proving their eligibility.

If you are in one camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that there are millions of potential Democratic voters out there who might vote illegally or who might become legal voters at the stroke of a pen. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that illegal immigrants are by definition criminals just for being here, and who steal jobs from American citizens, who vote illegally, and who cost us a lot of money in “stolen” benefits and entitlements.

If you are in another camp of Republican lawmakers, the problem of illegal immigration is that you are fearful of alienating constituents of Latino or Hispanic origin, so you go along with Democrats on immigration issues.

If you are in yet a third camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that you receive significant campaign funds from donors who employ illegal immigrants, so you also tend to vote along Democratic lines on immigration.

If you run a manual-labor intensive business that can’t afford to pay the minimum wage, paying an illegal immigrant in cash under the table is an attractive option.

If you are a desperate person from Mexico or an impoverished country to our south, getting to America for the opportunities and freebies is an attractive option.

If you are a cunning and morally flexible person, exploiting the stream of immigrants headed north is an attractive option.

I believe the real problem with illegal immigration is: too much government.  Here’s what I mean:

  1. Our federal and state governments blatantly disregard current immigration law via policies like “Catch and Release,” “sanctuary cities,” and the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” directive (i.e. President Obama’s executive order that established the so-called “Dreamers”). Our federal government maintains at least two federal police agencies (Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol) charged with enforcing those same laws. In so doing, our lawmakers are essentially telling our protectors: “Your written job description says ‘enforce the law,’ but your real job is just to have a job so that I can tell voters I did my job by creating your job.” How dysfunctional is that?
  2. In addition, our current immigration law is too byzantine and restrictive. Currently, it’s fairly easy to visit the US, but unless one can claim to be one of the “Three R’s” (Related to a citizen, Rich, or Remarkable), it is extremely difficult to attain a green card or citizenship.

I think Mr. Trump’s actions show promise for resolving the dysfunctional aspect of immigration enforcement, but a wall is too dystopian, sinister, and unnecessary. Functional enforcement policies and increased presence all along the border will reduce the flood of illegal immigrants to a trickle. On the other hand, the bureaucratic burden to those aspiring to remain here longer than a visa allows still remains to be addressed.

So how do we solve such a multi-faceted problem?  With a multi-pronged strategy that is consistent with limited government:

  1. Enforce existing law
  2. Control the border via increased presence
  3. Update the law to minimize bureaucracy and maximize freedom – by addressing all of the competing interests and reducing or eliminating the motivations that lure our government into violating its own laws:
    • Make it much easier to become a legal “permanent resident” and moderately easier to become a citizen. This benefits immigrants wishing to live and work here permanently, and it would benefit lawmakers in both parties who represent immigrant constituencies.
    • Create a migrant worker visa AND migrant worker wage scale & tax status. This legitimizes hiring migrant workers and paying them less-than-minimum wages. This would benefit migrant workers by making it legal (and safer) to do what they are already doing, and it would benefit industries that can’t be profitable paying the regular minimum wage to unskilled workers. It will be perceived and promoted as a threat to citizen minimum-wage earners…but that is another Gordian knot – which I addressed here.