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.

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.

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.

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?

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?

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).