Taking a Knee (to the Face)

By Mike Cronin

After several highly-publicized shootings of young black men by white police officers in 2015 and 2016, San Francisco ‘49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem at the beginning of football games. In one post-game interview, Kaepernick explained: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Since then, Mr. Kaepernick has lost his job, but several players, and in some cases entire teams, have begun emulating his actions. Many fans have been outraged, including President Trump. Both attendance at stadiums and ratings for televised games are way down. This story is vitiating the country.  So, what gives? Let’s unpack it a bit.

First and foremost is whether the protests are having, or can have, the desired effect: eliminating racism, especially alleged police brutality driven by alleged white racism against blacks. That will be hard to measure, since each and every case of alleged racially-driven brutality must be judged against the context of the situation and the facts of the incident that precipitated it. We cannot rationally, automatically infer that just because a young black man is shot and killed by a white cop that there was any racial bias (or injustice of any kind) involved; that has to be proven.  In some cases it is, in many more, the opposite conclusion is reached.

Second is the issue of context and message delivery. While Mr. Kaepernick told the press his actions were taken in protest to police brutality, in his statement above he conflates police brutality with the entire country being oppressive against blacks and other minorities: “I am not going to…show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people…” This is perhaps the most contentious aspect of the entire affair. Mr. Kaepernick may have been the subject of racism and police brutality himself at some point (I have no idea), but as someone who made more money in a single game than most NFL fans will make in several years, he is at best an unlikely spokesperson against oppression. He brought further ambiguity to his alleged anti-oppression message by wearing socks depicting a pig in a police hat during training camp:

And by attending as press conference wearing a pro Fidel Castro T-shirt:

That tone-deafness has now been amplified by entire teams of seven- and eight-digit salary earners “taking a knee” for the anthem (in stadiums often built with the aid of tax subsidies) to protest the “oppression” of the nation that gave them the opportunity to become one-percenters, while the people that defend that opportunity in some cases don’t even make enough to buy groceries without resorting to food stamps.

Maybe Mr. Kaepernick really is just trying to turn the national conversation towards the elimination of police brutality and racism. Or, perhaps Mr. Kaepernick hates cops and hates America. Or both, or neither. The trouble is: his message is mixed, and those who are emulating him are diluting it further. Are we to accept that our entire country is racist and oppressive? Racism and oppression have certainly existed and will continue to exist, in this country and elsewhere, as long as humans refuse to treat others as individuals, instead of as units. Even so, I don’t think we have to accept the premise that the entire country is that way now. After all, every racial barrier to high office or position has been broken: President of the United States. Senator. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Secretary of State. Ambassador. CEO. Doctor. Lawyer. Astronaut. General. Police Officer. Professor. Sports Star.

That leaves police brutality. Are we instead to infer that all police are brutal, racist thugs? That’s a ludicrous proposition that I won’t even dignify with a rebuttal.

Third: Rights. The players protesting the anthem absolutely have the right to do so, but they do not have the right to usurp someone else’s platform to spread their message, nor can they reasonably expect that they can piss off their employers’ customers and keep their jobs.

Lastly: Importance. In the grand scheme of things, the NFL, its games, its ratings, and its stadium attendance are irrelevancies, but the issues of racism, police brutality, and patriotism are not. I don’t know, or care, what Mr. Kaepernick really believes or what message he thinks he was really trying to get across, but he certainly started a national conversation about…something. To borrow from Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Superintendent of the US Air Force Academy:

If you cannot treat your fellow Americans with dignity and respect, then get out.

The Gouge on Price Gouging

By Mike Cronin

In military slang, the word gouge can mean information or intelligence. For example: One person tells another a trick or hack for getting a task done quicker. The second person might say “thanks for the gouge.”

On the other hand, people are very much not thankful for what they perceive to be the price gouging happening in Houston and the rest of the Hurricane Harvey impact zone.  Loosely defined, price gouging is when a vendor radically raises their prices, as often occurs in and near disaster zones. Potential customers believe such vendors to be vultures, capitalizing on the misery of others.

But is that what is really going on?

In a recent Facebook post, A group called  “Educate the People” shared pictures of a convenience store billboard showing gas prices over $8.00 per gallon, and a case of bottled water going for nearly $45.00.  The caption beloe the pictures read “Heartless Capitalist Texas Store Owners.”

“Educate the Public” indeed! It’s not heartless. If millions of people are trying to “get out of Dodge,”(or stockpile at the last minute) because a disaster is imminent or in-progress, then supply trucks aren’t going into Dodge. When that happens, the things we normally take for granted are suddenly in much more demand, soon to be much scarcer, and thus suddenly much more valuable. When the demand for something skyrockets, but the supply is shrinking, the price must skyrocket as well. It sucks if you want to buy the thing that has quadrupled in price (so you have some to spare), but if you genuinely need it for survival, there just might still be some available because the people who merely wanted it weren’t willing to fork over the cash. It may seem like the store owner is profiteering, but consider: The store is still open and doing business when everyone else is trying to flee or hole-up!

If the store owner left his prices at the normal level (or was forced by the government to do so), he’d be out of stock in hours – or even minutes, with no routine resupply on the calendar. What is he, or his customers most in need, to do then?

The purveyors of “Educate the Public” should consider taking some remedial economics lessons instead of pandering to a generation of Americans who are being taught that they are entitled to something just because they think they need it.

To save them some time, here are the applicable points:

Price, cost, and value are not the same thing; however, in a functional system of mutual trade to mutual benefit, they are closely related. If the thing is becoming scarcer because the gap between supply and demand is increasing, the price will go up as a message to the consumer that the scarcity of the thing has increased.

When some force, usually in the form of government, compels a vendor to ration items, or to limit prices, the system is no longer about mutual exchange to mutual benefit. It has become dysfunctional, shredding the relationship between price, cost, and value. The price of an item no longer communicates the scarcity to the consumer. This increases the risk that hoarders and black-marketeers will buy up all the stock in a short amount of time, leaving the shelves bare, and leaving people in crisis with far fewer options. This will in turn lead to more desperation and lawlessness, not less.

In short: price gouging is not evil, though radically increased prices may shock and offend our sensibilities during a crisis, lulled as we are by generations of living in the stability of the largest economy in the world. On the other hand, anti-price gouging and rationing laws just might be evil, because they create more harm than they cure – by causing or exacerbating  shortages in the guise of mollifying the unthinking and easily offended.

The Same Old Arguments…

By Mike Cronin

I have been accused of being a conservative. I am not, though I could more easily ally with conservatives than with liberals, and I find conservatism less objectionable than liberalism.  Here is my take on the tenets of each movement.

Progressivism/Liberalism/Socialism: A corrupt philosophy that promises…what, exactly? A “more just, verdant, and peaceful world?”  Some of its key tenets:

Greedy politicians can protect us from “selfish” business people.

Wealth is not created by productive effort; it is magically distributed unfairly and must therefore be redistributed until it reaches some undisclosed ratio to be determined by the (greedy) politicians mentioned above. Similarly, outcomes are not the products of input, but of luck. In order to achieve equality, those with better luck (i.e. more wealth/higher income) must give to those with worse luck until parity is achieved.  The “fortunate” are to be penalized for productivity, while the “less fortunate” can, of course, be forgiven for certain criminal activities meant to register their displeasure or to make the transfer (as long as the greedy politicians gets their cut).

Group identity is more important than individual rights – so you can gain synthetic sympathy proportionate to the number aggrieved populations you can “identify” with. For example, if you’re merely female, or of a minority race, you are just a run-of-the-mill potential Progressive. On the other hand, can you identify as a minority, transgendered, homosexual, handicapped, low-income, single-parent, Muslim illegal-immigrant? Hallelujah! Mazel-tov! (But be careful – if you become too unique, then you’re an individual, a pity party of one, and therefore the enemy.)

Free speech only exists for the benefit of fellow Progressives – and includes the power to force everyone else to listen. Publicly-funded broadcast systems are built for this purpose.

The purpose of government is to shape society. The law must be interpreted to reflect the rule of the majority over the minority (especially the minority of one – the individual). To that end, public schooling exists to create a mass of people smart enough to operate machines, but not skilled enough in the arts of critical thinking to question their shepherds. School choice, charter schools, private schools, homeschooling, and merit-based teacher advancement threaten the agenda, so they are to be resisted. Since they do exist, we must spend more on public schools to counter their influence.

Reality is a collective illusion created in the minds of the masses, so morality is pliant and facts don’t matter.  We’ll fund science that promotes our agenda, and quash science that does not. If we all wish for and work towards the same Shangri-La hard enough, evil and inequality will go away!

In contrast…

Conservatism is a movement that seeks to preserve (or restore) what it perceives to be the founding principles of the country. To that end, the actions of the conservative movement suggest the following Conservative tenets:

Conservative politicians are “right,” all other politicians are evil.

Wealth is created by productive effort. The most productive among us are “blessed.”  The government will help them “give back.”

Individual rights are more important than group identity…unless we are talking about the right to do something immoral, like using illegal intoxicants or engaging in prostitution.

Some free speech that opposes conservative values can be tolerated, but only late at night, or behind a pay-wall, or in a walled-off part of the store, or in special zoning areas…while some publicly-funded places, such as schools and courthouses, are legitimate venues to promote Judeo-Christian values.

That the purpose of government is to shape society, and the law should promote Judeo-Christian morality, not just protect individual rights. To that end, schools must be allowed to promote religious concepts.

Reality was made by God, and the Lord works in mysterious ways. Science is the realm of Progressives/Liberals/Socialists – our political enemies, so it often contradicts Biblical truth and is mostly to be discounted…unless it can be used to refute our leftist colleagues.

You can’t get there from here

By Mike Cronin

I recently read an article that chronicled the lamentation of employers that college graduates today are not well versed in critical thinking skills. On the other hand, the graduates themselves thought they had a good understanding of critical thinking.  If employers and graduates disagree on graduates’ thinking skills, who is correct?  Turns out it depends on your definition of critical thinking.

The employers relied on the classical understanding of critical thinking: Objectivity, evidence, logic, reason.  The grads’ understanding of critical thinking tended towards “… opposition to the existing ‘system,’ encompassing political, economic, and social orders, deemed to privilege some and penalize others. In essence, critical thinking is equated with political, economic, and social critique.” Huh. Critical thinking has become “critique-al” thinking. That explains how an ever-growing segment of our population seems to fall for every “feel-good” con for giving up freedom and liberty in the name of “social justice” or “diversity” or “environmentalism” or “wealth redistribution” or any other socialist trap.

For the record:

You cannot cure poverty by taking wealth from others, because poverty is not only a financial condition, it is also often a mindset.  Consider that most millionaires in this country are entrepreneurs. Most business start-ups fail, and many of the successful entrepreneurs have been “poor” at some point.  They earned, then lost, a fortune and became “poor,” only to earn and keep a bigger fortune by applying what they learned from their original mistakes.  On the flip side, many “poor” people would, given sudden wealth, blow it all on luxuries and trappings, then fall back into poverty when the wealth dried up.

You cannot cure hunger in other parts of the world by decrying food excess here.  Wasted food here cannot change the conditions causing starvation elsewhere.  If you want to cure world hunger, you must first rid humanity of power lust and superstition and territoriality.

You cannot eliminate racism and bigotry and hatred by hating and being racist and bigoted. You cannot end “discrimination” by changing which group is “discriminated” against. You cannot avenge long-dead victims of a crime by punishing the descendants of the long-dead criminals. Change the words “crime” and “criminals” to “oppression” and “oppressors,” and the same truth obtains. (The old adage “fight fire with fire” works…in very few contexts. Fighting injustice with more injustice isn’t one of them.)

You cannot change reality by smuggling new meaning into old worlds. “Unemployment” comes to mind.  The most widely used unemployment figure from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been around 5% for some months (4.7% as of February 2017).  But that number uses a very narrow definition of “unemployed” and a very generous definition of “employed.”  If you are out of work and haven’t been looking for four weeks, you are no longer counted as “unemployed;” you are counted as “out of the labor market.” On the other hand, if you are out of work but exchanged at least one hour of labor for at least $20.00, you are counted as “employed.”  The real unemployment rate, i.e. the number of working-age adults that are not working and earning regular paychecks, is more like 40%!

You cannot build a Utopian health care system that relies on doctors (and other providers) whom you dis-incentivize.  Doctors have spent a lot of time and money to earn their degrees, and they expect to be able to run their practices and make good money.  Take that away from them, and all of a sudden there will be less doctors working and less people going to medical school. The doctors that do stay will be of lower caliber, and the quality of care will diminish greatly.

Likewise, you cannot produce a well-educated populace with a public school system purposely designed to prevent critical thinking by producing critique-al thinkers!

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!

RIGOROUS RED OR BOGUS BLUE, PT III

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By Mike Cronin

The focus of the last two posts was on the “blue pill” as it regards our “progressive” education system.  I have written several previous posts dealing with political prescriptions for “blue pill” thinking.  The imagery and tone of those pieces and this one may lead you to assumes I am associating all things “blue pill” with liberal/Democrat/ “blue state” politics, and red pill rigor with Republican/conservative/”red state” politics.

You would only be partially right.  Our education and media elite are certainly dominated by those who would prefer a tame, conditioned electorate, but that desire is not exclusive to the panoply of progressive poohbahs.  There is no shortage of conservatives/traditionalists that would like to impose their own brand of “blue pill” virtuality upon us using the existing, Prussian-model school system.  The pill would be “branded” quite differently, of course: Teaching of creationism/intelligent design as science and mandatory recitation of the pledge of allegiance (a loyalty oath) by children too young to understand the concept of total commitment are two ways that come readily to mind.

“In our secular society, school has become the replacement for church, and like church it requires that its teachings must be taken on faith.” ― John Taylor Gatto

So what can be done?  Ultimately, a “red pill” solution would entail the separation of school and state, in the same way and for the same reasons we have separation of church and state.

Whoa! How can you say such a thing, Cronin?!  If we don’t have public education, we’ll have a bunch of uneducated kids running around that can’t think critically, getting into mischief and gangs and criminal conduct! We won’t be competitive in the global market!

How would that be different than what we have now?

Believe it or not, before the imposition of public schooling, and especially the Department of Education, the literacy rate in this country was actually higher than it is now across many demographic groups. (Admittedly, that is a tough comparison to accept. It requires that one omit slaves from the calculation, for instance, as the first public schools appeared while slavery was still legal; teaching slaves to read was often prohibited.)

I ask you: If a thing can be done privately, what business does the government have doing it?

But if we don’t have public education, won’t the private education system be just as much of a “blue pill?”

Unlikely. The key ingredients missing from education in a system monopolized by government are competition and choice. In a competitive education market, schools would have to meet their customers’ expectations or go out of business.  Good teachers would be highly sought after and well compensated.  Bad teachers could be fired. Government is force. Government performs exceedingly well where force is the required tool to solve a problem.  At best, government achieves a desultory mediocrity at everything else it does. Is force the correct tool to use to educate our children?

We are indoctrinated by a school system designed to mass-produce workers and consumers, “informed” by a mass media machine that continuously keeps us alarmed, and led by politicians whose only concern is getting elected or re-elected.  How could anything be wrong?

Rigorous Red or Bogus Blue? Part II

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By Mike Cronin

Using the analogy of the Matrix movies, last week I posited that two philosophical traditions are vying for primacy over our minds.  One of them, the “blue pill,” offers a fantasy.  Conversely, “red pill” traditions require mental rigor.  They are not so easy to follow, but they flow from and describe the true nature of reality.

The most insidious facet of the “blue pill” is that it works best when it is proffered early in a child’s development…and its greatest efficacy lies in “armoring” the developing mind against the “red pill” before the child even knows there is an alternative. Our school system is the primary dosing mechanism for instilling “blue pill” thinking.

“Education is a system of imposed ignorance.”Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

How can that be? Our kids learn reading, math, and science, don’t they?  With those subjects, they are equipped to learn anything else, aren’t they?

Our schools certainly present those topics. It is in how they are presented that the crime lies. Our education system “standardizes” kids by teaching them facts and theories but neglecting context. It forces the “blue pill” on kids in several basic ways:

  • School as a state function, with attendance becoming compulsory.
  • Regimentation and Pavlovian conditioning (age segregation, dividing the day into lesson periods, sitting in rows, bells, uniforms, etc.)
  • Discouraging holistic comprehension by segmenting knowledge into disjointed subjects (reading, math, science, art, “social studies,” etc.) taught in incomprehensible order.
  • The “professionalization” of teaching. Aspiring teachers, themselves graduates (victims?) of the same system, are given to understand that it is their role to fill minds…instead of to remove obstacles and let young people be their own teachers. This lead to the decline of parent-as-mentor – and of kids who could already read before entering school at six or seven.
  • Employers and higher education institutions began demanding evidence that proved completion of the prescribed program (diplomas).

This model was imported from Prussia and/or instituted in the early-to-mid-1800s. The Prussians devised their system independent of any relationship to individual liberty or freedom.  The Prussian system had three tiers.  The vast majority (94%) of the population was to be adequately prepared to function and contribute, but not think for themselves or lead, at volksschulen.  The other 6%, those from elite families, were destined to rule or manage.  They received educations more geared to critical thinking.

In the US, the Prussian model was implemented in part to “Americanize” (i.e. instill WASP values in) the many Catholic immigrants coming in from Italy and Ireland.

According to former award-winning teacher turned public-school critic John Taylor Gatto:

“A small number of very passionate American ideological leaders visited Prussia in the first half of the 19th century; fell in love with the order, obedience, and efficiency of its education system; and campaigned relentlessly thereafter to bring the Prussian vision to these shores. Prussia’s ultimate goal was to unify Germany; the Americans’ was to mold hordes of immigrant Catholics to a national consensus based on a northern European cultural model. To do that, children would have to be removed from their parents and from inappropriate cultural influences.”

So, you know how we are often told that our kids are continually ranking lower on literacy and math than other developed nations, i.e. that our schools are failing?  That we must “invest” more public funding in the schools?

Understand that in the most basic sense our schools are not failing at all; they are doing exactly what they were designed to do: make the vast majority of kids swallow the blue pill and grow them into good consumers who are smart enough to run the machines and think what they are told to think by their betters, but not smart enough to think for themselves and run the businesses or lead the country.