Know Your Narratives

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By Mike Cronin

Last week I offered three tips for Filtering the Feed.  I thought I’d end 2016 with one more tip:

Understand “The Narrative(s).” As mentioned in tip one last week, the news is almost always fake to one degree or another.  One of the driving factors in most main-stream media outlets is maintaining a certain narrative. But the mass media are not the only purveyors of “the narrative.”  In dictionary terms, a narrative is simply a story.  In the sense of modern ideological competition, narratives are essentially the story that is supposed to be happening.  This striving to present the world to the rest of us in a certain way is especially favored by liberals / progressives, but conservatives are not immune to doing so either.  The liberals have elevated maintaining “The Narrative” to an art form, as they control most of the machinery for advancing their version of it: Entertainment, Academia, Education, and Mass Media.  Here are some of its major hallmarks:

  1. Your membership in a group defined by your skin color, ethnic heritage, income, or other attribute is more important than your individual identity.
  2. Ergo, whites are oppressors, or at least privileged, especially white heterosexual men. White men can be held to account for virtually any unfavorable outcome experienced by virtually any other group. In extreme instances, simply being white is racist, while any form of bias, discrimination, or exclusionary behavior directed against whites by other groups cannot, by definition, be racist.
  3. Human beings are destroying the planet
  4. Wealth is distributed unfairly and must be redistributed
  5. Guns are evil
  6. Abortion is a sacred right
  7. Marijuana should be legal
  8. Gays should have the right to marry
  9. Everyone has the right to free speech…unless it’s offensive to anyone except white males or Christians – then it should be doubly illegal.
  10. Everyone has a right to education, health care, food, etc.
  11. It wasn’t Hillary’s fault
  12. Everyone is equal, so everyone should have equal outcomes (except white males – see above)
  13. We should have pure democracy
  14. Big Government is the solution to all of our problems

While liberals have practically “weaponized” narrative advancement, conservatives have their own version of a narrative, which generally espouses opposite positions from the liberal orthodoxy, but not 100%:

  1. Your membership in a group defined by your skin color, ethnic heritage, income, or other attribute is perhaps as important as your individual identity.
  2. Some whites were oppressors while other whites defeated them during the Civil War. Later on, there will still some whites that were oppressors, while others stood with Dr. King in the 60s. Whites don’t have a lock on being oppressors, nor do non-whites have a lock on being the oppressed, as the relatives of the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust, or of the Cambodians killed by Pol Pot, or of the Russians killed by Stalin, or the Chinese killed by Mao can attest.
  3. Global warming is a hoax. Human beings might be destroying the planet – you’ll need to prove it without cooking the books and without resorting to calling skeptics “deniers” as if they are heretics.
  4. Wealth is distributed unfairly and must be redistributed…just not by nearly as much as our liberal colleague want.
  5. Guns are a God-given right
  6. Abortion is murder
  7. Drug use is evil
  8. The government must protect the sanctity of marriage as being between one man and one woman
  9. Everyone has the right to free speech…unless it’s flag burning, oh, and you need to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
  10. Everyone has the right to seek out education, health care, food, etc.
  11. It WAS Hillary’s fault
  12. Everyone deserves equal treatment under the law
  13. We are supposed to have a republic
  14. Big Government is the cause of most of our problems…but we’ll let it grow…just more slowly than our liberal colleagues.

There is an alternative to the combating narratives. Call it the moderate, or libertarian, or independent view.  It would probably make more sense to more people than either of the others, except that it has far weaker advancement machinery. I happen to ascribe to this view:

  1. Your membership in a group defined by your skin color, ethnic heritage, income, or other attribute is irrelevant compared to your individual identity.
  2. Some individuals do oppressive things against others. In a rights-respecting country, you can’t rationally hold an entire group accountable for the sins of an individual member of that group, especially if those sins were committed before any of the current members of that group were born.
  3. Human beings might be contributing to climate change, which is, and always has been, a natural phenomenon. We’ll be better off adapting to it than disrupting society with draconian, rights-destroying measures to try and stop it.
  4. Wealth is created by productive people, not distributed. No one has a right to the fruit of someone else’s labor. Coerced charity is theft, but voluntary charity is just fine.
  5. Guns are a protected right because self-defense is a right, to include defending oneself from common criminals, or uncommon criminals, such as tyrannical government.
  6. A woman has the right to do what she will with her own body…but killing a human being is murder. When does a fetus become an individual human being? Before that point, abortion is merely a medical procedure; after that point, killing the baby is murder.
  7. The government should have no say about what intoxicants competent, consenting adults put into their own bodies – but such use cannot mitigate acts committed while voluntarily intoxicated.
  8. The government should have no say in the relationships between competent, consenting adults, except as regards fraud and contract enforcement.
  9. Everyone has the right to free speech…especially if it’s offensive, but not if it takes away something someone else had a right to. Conversely, no one has a right to make others provide a platform, venue, or to make anyone else listen.
  10. The only rights that are proper can’t involve taking anything from anyone else…in violation of their rights!
  11. It WAS Hillary’s fault
  12. Everyone deserves equal treatment under the law
  13. We are supposed to have a republic
  14. Government has a singular purpose: the protection of our rights. When it does anything else, it ends up violating our rights and making the problem it was supposed to correct even worse.

Random Matter 2

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By Mike Cronin

The tidal wave of angst unleashed by the election of Donald Trump is not wholly explainable by his crudity, political outsider status, media and polling industry failures, hacked emails, possible election tampering, or Hillary Clinton’s campaign style.

For too long, the beltway establishment has been driving this country down a two-lane country road that ends at a cliff: tyranny. When the liberals where at the wheel, the conservatives would call the cliff “socialism” and say the Democrats were racing us towards it, while the liberals would say that conservatives were steering us headlong towards the “fascism” cliff when Republicans had the wheel.

It was always the same cliff.

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Now the liberals are howling that Trump will stomp on the accelerator, and the “Never Trump” branch of the conservative establishment isn’t sure that he won’t do just that.  Nor am I.

What I am more confident of is that for perhaps only a brief moment, by electing Trump, the passengers have made ALL of the drivers slow down and take notice of the impending danger. Even if Trump turns out to be wise at the wheel, we may be in for a period of painful adjustment.

***

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Have you ever been irritated by Pecksniffian pipsqueaks who take any statement that does not absolutely validate or corroborate what they say and allege it means exactly the opposite?

Pipsqueak: We have to raise the minimum wage for the poor. (Sips his latte.)

Host: But won’t that mean there will be fewer jobs?

Pipsqueak: Hate speech! What do you have against poor people?  Are you a one-percenter? I can’t believe we still have troglodytes like you in this country!

Host:  But I was just-

Pipsqueak: I have to go. My limo is double parked, and I’m late for therapy.

***

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Congress is now considering bills that would make it mandatory for females to register for the draft with Selective Service.  In my opinion, obligatory service of any kind is anathema to freedom.  You cannot protect freedom by taking it away. It is also not very effective to staff a high-tech, professional military with conscripts. It takes an inordinate amount of effort to train, motivate, and discipline people who are potentially there against their will…though it can, and has, been done.

It is far more efficient, effective, and easier to train qualified and self-motivated volunteers.

Wisely, the US stopped the draft in 1973…but unwisely kept the Selective Service, and is now taking a step in the wrong direction, IMO.  Instead of making females register, it should stop requiring anyone to register!

On the other hand, I would be in favor of examining the idea that we stop automatically conferring citizenship by birthright.  The idea that one should have to earn citizenship, with public service being one avenue to that end, has some interesting potential.

The Fake News Furor

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By Mike Cronin

The comentariat would now like us to believe that Trump won the election due to fake news promulgated on social media, mainly Facebook.  To be sure, there is plenty of fake news to go around.

There are entire sites that publish nothing but fake or exaggerated news.  They craft lurid headlines that allege massive conspiracies, celebrity deaths, and imminent global crises.  They are the internet equivalent of check-out lane tabloids.  They are click-bait.

But what are we to make of the elite media machines, such as the New York Times or CNN, when they fake the news?

Sometimes, the culprit is a single reporter, such as the plagiarist Jayson Blair at the New York Times, or the embellisher Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News.

Other times, a piece of bad journalism corrupts an entire reporting team, up to and including a star anchor, such as the CBS debacle over unverified Air National Guard memos regarding then-presidential candidate George W. Bush’s background, which ultimately led to Dan Rather’s ignominious departure, or NBC’s  fabricated 1992 story about Chevy pick-up trucks that catch fire in a side impact (when the have been appropriately rigged to do so at the behest of the news crew).

Occasionally, a network reports accurate facts of a story, but gets caught creating phony drama and “atmospherics” for no discernible journalistic purpose, as when CNN was covering the Jodi Arias trial. Reporter/commentators Asleigh Banfield and Nancy Grace were televised conferring on a split-screen as if they were linked by satellite across the continent…when they were in fact mere yards apart in the same Phoenix parking lot.

Most recently, CNN “contributor” Donna Brazile introduced a new wrinkle to the fake news follies by trying to ensure a story would unfold the way it had been pre-ordained by giving debate questions to the Clinton campaign in order to help cement Hillary’s election as the first female president.

More often, though, the main-stream media is not so brazen as to completely fake the news or plagiarize stories. Yet they are still not the “fair and balanced” purveyors of fact they would have us believe. More often than they would like us to know, they are just guilty of not digging into things, or of regurgitating proffered talking points, or of going with the flow.  Why do more work than you have to?

You do so because sometimes peoples’ reputations, or even their lives, are at stake.  The Duke Lacrosse players.  The Rolling Stone – U. Va false rape case. Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson, MO Police Dept. Geraldo Rivera’s antics in Iraq.

Even when others’ lives aren’t at stake, the media have to know that their own credibility is.

Globalism vs. Trumpism

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By Mike Cronin

A common thread in the alarms raised by the election of Donald Trump is the concern that his brand of nationalism/populism will turn the US isolationist, or worse, into a fascist dictatorship. Why are globalists, themselves no friends of individualism, alarmed at such a prospect?  It might help to understand more about the complexities of globalism/globalization.

According to http://www.globalization101.org/what-is-globalization/;

“Globalization is a process of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade and investment and aided by information technology. This process has effects on the environment, on culture, on political systems, on economic development and prosperity, and on human physical well-being in societies around the world….

…Globalization is deeply controversial, however. Proponents of globalization argue that it allows poor countries and their citizens to develop economically and raise their standards of living, while opponents of globalization claim that the creation of an unfettered international free market has benefited multinational corporations in the Western world at the expense of local enterprises, local cultures, and common people. Resistance to globalization has therefore taken shape both at a popular and at a governmental level as people and governments try to manage the flow of capital, labor, goods, and ideas that constitute the current wave of globalization.”

Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing inherently wrong with globalization per se.  In fact, taken at face value, it is probably a net benefit to humanity. Think about the spread of modern medicine and information technology, for example.  I think unfettered international free markets would be a great thing.  I have often presented my bias for free-market capitalism.  My bias has no border.  Unfortunately, the only unfettered free markets that exist today are the “black” markets for illicit goods, and unfortunately, human trafficking.  The rest of the global market is beset by trade imbalances, currency manipulation, defaults, sovereign debt crises, bailouts, and other “fetters.”

Given that explanation, the shape of the globalist critique against Mr. Trump (and the recent “Brexit” vote) begins to emerge.  Among the proponents of globalism are those who have been unethically enriched by manipulating matters at the diplomatic, international finance, and CEO levels.  Many of the proponents of globalism are not proponents of an unfettered free market. They seek to establish and/or perpetuate imbalances that they can profit from.  These are not productive people; they are more like vultures or parasites. These are the globalists who fear that Donald Trump’s administration, a Republican majority Congress, and a conservative Supreme Court will upend the existing “globalist” order – the globalists who have the most wealth and power to lose.

And that is why we must also examine nationalism.  The elite manipulators of international intercourse may be parasitical; but that does not make their concern over a rise in Trump-branded nationalism baseless.  Extreme nationalism has led to dark places before. Consider the word “Nazi.” It’s a German abbreviation for Nationalsozialist, i.e. “Nationalist Socialist,” hence the anti-Trump crowds’ easy conflation of Trump’s “America First” populism with fascist nationalism.

Will Mr. Trump’s brand of nationalism lead to that same dark place?  Did we just elect a tyrant-in-waiting?  Time will tell.  If Trump does become a dictator, I wonder: will the lachrymose legions lamenting Hillary’s loss begin to see the wisdom of the Second Amendment?

Ten Observations on Election 2016

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By Mike Cronin

Donald Trump’s victory certainly stirred up a lot of clamor and noise this week.  Let’s see if we can herd some of the cats:

  1. Democracy has failed. The people chose Hillary Clinton by 200,000 votes, but the electoral victory went to Trump. Our “democracy” cannot fail if we don’t have one, which is in fact the case. We were given a federalist republic under the rule of law. We use democratic processes for some decisions to give the people a voice, but we are not supposed to have a system of straight-up majority rule. As to the electoral vote: It remains to be seen whether any electors will “go rogue” and vote against their “pledge” on Dec 19th, but it has happened before (as recently as 2004).  Of course, it’s never been by enough margin to change the outcome of an election.  In this case, at least 38 would have to be “faithless electors” to get Clinton to 270.
  2. Trump hates immigrants. He hates Mexicans. He hates Muslims. He’s racist.  We’ll, he might. Only he knows for sure.  However, he is married to an immigrant and he has people from all walks of life working for him.  He certainly doesn’t think people should be here illegally, which is not the same thing as hating the people who are or the people who want to be.
  3. Trump is a misogynist sexual predator. His caught-on-camera crudities certainly lend themselves to this narrative. There’s little actual evidence and no credible accusers that demonstrate he hates all women or has assaulted any of them, but Trump’s verbal vulgarity in this area is one of the most troubling things about him. Still, while Trump has been caught speaking like a sexual predator might; Hillary Clinton continues to aid and abet one.
  4. Trump is going to destroy all of the progress progressives have made over the last eight years. Possibly, but presidents seldom accomplish their full agendas.  Yes, Trump will have a Republican-majority Congress, but it won’t be a super-majority, and the Republican establishment doesn’t like him.  Trump bills himself as a deal maker.  He’ll have to be to get his agenda anywhere.
  5. Trump is going to elevate nationalism over globalism. Both are euphemisms for collectivism; only the boundaries are different. Neither is as good for individuals as unfettered free market capitalism.  There might possibly be temporary beneficial effects for Americans in the shift, especially if our troops come home and small businesses can thrive again.
  6. Trump is an idiot/outsider/politically inexperienced. He certainly does not articulate himself with Obama’s grace, but he is no dummy. In fact, he’s likely quite adept at persuasion (see items five and six on this list). He is certainly gifted at getting free publicity (or at least notoriety) from the very mass-media that hates him. Also, his lack of political experience, i.e. his NOT being a career politician or D.C. insider, is one of the fundamentals that led him to get elected.
  7. What happened with the polls? They consistently gave Clinton the edge! Bottom line: garbage in/garbage out.  The pollsters drew their samples from the same body of “likely voters” they always used, and in some cases “oversampled” Democrats.  The former was neglectful and led to the Democrats believing in their own invulnerability; the latter was a nefarious attempt to convince would-be Trump voters to stay home on Election Day. Once exposed, the revelation likely caused the exact opposite effect. Either way, the pollsters failed to obtain accuracy because they could not, or would not, sample validly.  
  8. FBI Director Comey’s shenanigans (i.e. his announcements regarding the on-again/off-again investigation into Clinton’s email debacle vis-à-vis Huma Abedin’s laptop) comprised the quintessential October Surprise, and it hurt Clinton. It certainly didn’t help, but it’s much more likely that Clinton’s shenanigans hurt Clinton.
  9. Why were Clinton and Trump our candidates? What secret weapon did they employ that none of their competitors had? 30-plus years of universal name recognition.
  10. What does it mean that Republicans gained more seats in Congress, strengthening their majority? They didn’t get a super majority, so there are a few (rare) actions they would have to earn Democratic support for in order to act: Impeaching the president and overriding his vetoes are two such cases. 2. Republicans will get to shape the Supreme Court for the next generation. 3. Republicans now have an opportunity to reverse much of the Democrats’ work over the last eight years. Whether they will actually do so, or get complacent and/or get caught up with internal divisions remains to be seen.

Choosing a Beekeeper?

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By Mike Cronin

Today’s item is an update of “Will You Vote for a Beekeeper,” originally posted January 2, 2014.

The most basic (and most commonly employed) model of the political spectrum places Fascism (like Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini) on the extreme right side of the scale, and Socialism or Communism (like the former Soviet Union or modern North Korea) on the extreme left side.  A government, a country, or a person’s political position can be gauged on this spectrum.

The problem with this model is that while the ideologies of Fascism and Communism may differ on the surface, in practice they result in the same conditions for the vast majority of people who live under them: subjugation. There may be distinctions between the two on paper, but in reality both ideologies are collectivist; that is, they espouse that the state, or the party, or the race, or the group, i.e. the collective, is more important than the individual, and that the individual exists to serve the larger group. In other words, both of these forms of politics, Communism and Fascism, treat humans like bees or ants, i.e. as drones (or slaves). The individual’s rights don’t matter (or even exist), only the party, or country (or hive/colony, i.e. collective), matters.

The achievement of the founding fathers was in creating a nation founded on the concept that the individual has rights that are inherent, that is, they are not granted by the state, and that the sole purpose of government is to protect those individual rights. The implementation of this idea was flawed, but still gave rise to a nation that brought more liberty and prosperity to more people than any other in history. One of the hallmarks of the system the founders built is the peaceful transition of power that has attended every presidential election and inauguration (save perhaps Lincoln’s).

One of our most contentious campaign seasons will culminate with the general election on Tuesday.  Consider: Whether a politician identifies as a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican, does not matter as much as this: What does his or her character and voting record reveal about their understanding of individual rights?  Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump are remarkable as candidates in that each was chosen by their party seemingly on the strength of name recognition over any other factor.  (Both have been in the public eye on a national scale for 30+ years, far longer than any of the other candidates on either side.) They certainly haven’t been selected for their “sterling” personal attributes.  Will we elect one of them based solely on popularity (or notoriety)?  Can either of our candidates be considered defenders of our rights, or are we choosing between beekeepers?

5 Ways to Fight Hobgoblins

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By Mike Cronin

I often refer to H.L. Mencken’s “hobgoblins” quote: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” We see this every day, often with the enthusiastic pot-stirring of the main stream media.

Take today’s headlines, for example.  Rising tensions with Russia over the imbroglio in Syria. Hurricane Matthew. Gold prices. Stock prices. Jobs growth. Giving up control of the internet.  Hillary’s scandals. Trump’s crudities.  Duterte’s bombast. NFL ratings. Crazy clown sightings.

How is all of that really important? How can we ignore the hobgoblins and glean the “ground truth?”

A few rules of thumb can be useful:

  1. Always keep Mencken’s quote in mind, together with Thomas Sowell’s observation:1931497_10156430011180515_9052930332313088412_n
  2. Get your news from a variety of sources. Journalism has evolved, or more precisely, de-volved, in the face of 24/7 cable news cycles, citizen-chroniclers, and the web.  According to the authors of Blur, the old media’s apex occurred at about the time of the Three Mile Island incident in 1979. CNN came online shortly after in 1980, and the 24/7 news cycle was born. The term spin as euphemism for truth-shaping entered the lexicon at about the same time. Consumers have had to contend with an ever more clamorous, ratings-driven media ever since. Every outlet is biased, but some do a better job of admitting what their bias is (my own, for example, is for individualism, reason, and laissez-faire capitalism) and/or mitigating for it (this reporter, for example, does a commendable job on reporting from Washington D.C. without interjecting his ideology). Alternately, check out the US news from a foreign source, such as BBC, Al Jazeera, or Xinhua.  They are biased as well, but perhaps not about the same things we are. It can be enlightening.
  3. Once the main-stream media have added unique theme music to a particular story, it’s not breaking news anymore. They are trying to turn it into a cash-cow and milk it for ratings.
  4. Most mainstream media operations lean left/liberal/progressive/Democrat, while Drudge, Breitbart, and Fox News (at least until the recent departure of Roger Ailes) tilt right/conservative/Republican – but what if both of those factions are two sides of the same coin? In order to see liberals and conservatives as opposites, you are supposed to accept a left-right political spectrum model with socialism on one end and fascism on the other. To the subjugated souls living under either, there is no practical difference. As the saying goes: All models are wrong, some models are useful.  A left-right / liberal-conservative model keeps you scared of the hobgoblins.  What if we look through a different lens? What if we put individual liberty on one end, and absolute tyranny on the other?  I contend that on such a model, “liberal” and “conservative” establishment politicians are continuously dragging us closer to the tyranny cliff, with only the flavor of tyranny at issue. Using a better model might get us closer to “ground truth.”  Who will lead us to liberty or drag us to tyranny?
  5. One kind of real hobgoblins we must watch for: luminaries with enough wattage to force the public eye to “look away.” Such wattage could come in the form of personal charm or charisma, whereby the figure is judged by their reputation instead of earning a reputation based on considered judgement (e.g. President Obama’s anticipatory Nobel Peace Prize), or via “wagging the dog” (e.g. President Johnson’s incandescent “Gulf of Tonkin” lie).