Social Justice: Still a Weasel Word


By Mike Cronin

Some time ago, I wrote about the squishy-ness of the term “Social Justice.” It still rankles.

In addition to this blog, I frequently answer questions on a forum called Quora.  Therein, I recently had a debate with a fellow over “social justice” in general, and whether whites should pay reparations to blacks to atone for slavery/Jim Crow/Segregation specifically.

I’ll state right up front: Reparations are a bad idea, and no, I don’t hate blacks.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I believe in individual liberty, limited, rights-protecting government, and Capitalism.  I am also a bit of a skeptic, mildly contrarian, and I tend to prefer rational responses over emotional ones.  I don’t waste energy on hatred, I don’t see any race as superior or inferior to any other race, and I generally deal with people as individuals vice members of some group. It also means I think of justice and injustice in terms of individual action and consequence.

This brings us back to Reparations.  I can’t support the idea because, regardless of how blacks were oppressed or injured by slavery (or later on Jim Crow laws and Segregation), the people who were slaves have been dead for generations – just as the people who held them as slaves have been dead for generations. Treating blacks as a race of sub-humans then was a morally repugnant act committed by more than a few whites, most especially the relatively few whites who actually owned slaves.  But not every white person was an oppressor then, nor were all slave owners white, nor was every black person a slave.

In my mind, government-sponsored racial discrimination based on benign prejudice is just as noxious as discrimination inspired by malicious prejudice.” – Clarence Thomas

Indeed, social justice warriors seeking to impose reparations on whites always seem to ignore or forget that 360,000 Union soldiers, mostly white by far, died in the service of reuniting the country and limiting the spread of slavery to the west.  The Union Army and Navy killed 260,000 Confederates, again mostly whites, who were trying to keep the South, which was wholly dependent on slavery, independent.  Let’s make that point a little more succinct: Whites trying to reunite the country and limit, if not outright eliminate, slavery fought and killed other whites – by the hundreds of thousands, to do it. Between the end of the butchery of the Civil War and Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil eloquence, most blacks (but not all) were still treated poorly by many whites (but not all). Black incomes and living conditions took an overall upward trend.

Then came the War on Poverty.  Welfare. An insidious form of wealth transfer. Take money from those who earned it, and give it to those who didn’t.  It put many blacks (and others) right back into bondage – into the slavery of perpetual dependence.  Reparations is a smoke screen word to do more of the same.


During the exchange, I attempted several different ways to make the case that the historical injustice done to the blacks who were slaves and the subsequent victims of post-bellum hatred and discrimination can never be corrected – because the victims and victimizers are long gone.  No one alive today can be responsible for transgressions committed generations in the past – because they weren’t even alive, much less involved, in committing the transgressions.  Thinking that one race is responsible for, and must atone for, the plight of another race is every bit as racist a notion as thinking that one race is superior to another.  It is a large step down the path to perpetual grievance and resentment that plagues much of the rest of the world.

I maintain that “social justice” is a weasel word.  Seeking “social justice” in the form of unjust “wealth transfers” and reparations can never correct the uncorrectable sins of the past.  Real justice can prevail when everyone stops attributing the traits, or actions, or intelligence, or habits, or crimes, etc. of individuals to all the members of a race, or tribe, or nation, or ethnic group, or gender, etc. and starts treating individuals as individuals.

Despite my denunciation of social justice and my espousing of individualism, my interlocutor kept pressing me for details of my plan to bring social justice to blacks today.  We were both using English words, but he was speaking weasel-ese.


Rigorous Red or Bogus Blue? Part I


By Mike Cronin

In the 1999 movie “The Matrix,” the future is presented as a dystopia where the vast majority of human beings are caged in pods that capture their body heat to energize a vast, governing machine intelligence.  In order to keep people in such a state, the machines created a virtual reality and plugged the brains of the human “batteries” directly into it – this constructed reality is the eponymous Matrix.

There are a few human rebels who escaped the machines, fighting an almost hopeless battle against them. These rebels are able to plug themselves back into the Matrix with full awareness of its virtual nature, and work to free the rare human “battery” who has begun to suspect the Matrix is not reality.  In the process of freeing such a mind, the leader of the extraction team confronts the skeptical person within the Matrix, hints at the truth, then offers the candidate two pills, one red, the other blue.  If the candidate takes the blue pill, he will remain trapped in the Matrix.  If he takes the red, he will be unplugged, rescued from his pod, and shown the true nature of reality.

There are some people today who believe we are living in a Matrix.  I don’t subscribe to that at all, but I do believe nearly all of our society’s ills can be attributed to a conflict between two philosophical meta-traditions, with schools of thought that promote collectivism & altruism on one side; and the philosophies of  individualism & reason on the other.  The traditions of collectivism & altruism have some Matrix-like qualities.

“Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming where everyone is interdependent.” ― John Dewy, hero of progressive education.

Like the machines in the Matrix, the elite of these traditions would prefer their subjects remain ignorant of the true nature of things, i.e. to take the metaphorical blue pill.  Creating critical thinkers is not a goal for the education of the masses in systems dependent on these models; nor is it a priority for the media to expose truths that contradict the narratives of the anointed elite.  But unlike the “batteries” of the Matrix, We the People are not trapped in energy-sucking pods. Metaphorical red pills can be found.

“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, 28th President of the United States

Promoters and adherents of philosophies of individualism and reason are, like the rebels in the Matrix movies, very much a minority who see things much closer to the way they truly are. A thinking, reasoning mind is valued among such rebels, skeptics, and extremists, but represents a threat to the purveyors of the blue pill.

“To fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence… Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim… is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States… and that is its aim everywhere else.” – H.L. Mencken, journalist and author

The conflict between “blue” and “red” thinking has been with us since humans first started using tools to make tools – probably as far back as the invention of the wheel.  Blue thinking started with superstitions and pagan religions.  It has always had the advantage of being easier to sell and easier to believe in, so it has always flourished in some form or fashion, while red thinking has always required intellectual rigor, which meant it was not preferred by people looking for the path of least resistance. In fact, ours was the first nation to be founded on the principles of individual liberty and capitalism – i.e. The United States of America is the original red state!

5 Ways to Fight Hobgoblins


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).


Most Illogical


By Mike Cronin

We are often presented with the terms “logic,” “reason,” “critical thinking,” and “common sense.” They are often touted as valuable skills or traits in our society.  But are they really so appreciated?

You are likely to find enough differing definitions of those terms to keep you busy reading for a while, but there is a common thread.

I think Ayn Rand described logic quite eloquently as the art of “non-contradictory identification,” and common sense as the “unselfconscious” use of logic. Critical thinking and reasoning have broader connotations, but generally include, or go hand-in-hand with, logic and common sense.

There are formal courses on logic and critical thinking, but it’s hit-or-miss whether you encounter them outside of philosophy electives at a college or university or at law school.  By way of one example: my own formal education has included familiarization with debate (taught as a segment of sixth-grade English), and I went to a high school that prided itself on producing critical thinkers. I’ve earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Yet, to my recollection, not one of those sources presented a formal course of instruction on logic or critical thinking. Why?

I suspect that many of you can report a similar gap in your own formal education. Could it be that our educational institutions, and the governments and/or religions that run them, don’t want to produce an abundance of critical thinkers because graduates so equipped might then apply their reasoning skills against some of the irrational curricula or insane policies emitted by learning institutions or their political and financial overlords?

Consider:  In its current guise, the Department of Education, with an annual budget in the tens of billions, was signed into existence by President Carter in 1979. It’s stated mission is to “…promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”

Has it accomplished that mission?  It certainly “promotes” student achievement.  Cranking out a single inspirational poster can “check the box” on that mediocre and vague aspiration. It has also made progress on the “equal access” portion – you would be hard-pressed to find someone in this country who has no access to some form of publicly-funded K-12 education. But it has failed utterly at preparing students for global competitiveness!   US scores in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving skills are now near the bottom for industrialized countries.  Perhaps the mission statement of the Department of Education has little alignment to its true purpose.

Don’t think I’m being paranoid here.  No less a luminary than Woodrow Wilson, then President of Princeton University (and later to become President of the United States) revealed the elite’s view of the purpose of public education when, in 1909, he said: “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.” Note again that he said those words before he was elected President of the United States, so this idea did not overly detract from his elect-ability.

Nowadays, the elite’s plan seems to be to indoctrinate everyone with as much liberal education as they can absorb! Of course, the meaning of liberal has -ahem- been drifting left somewhat since Wilson illuminated the raison d’etre of public schools.

Might not the alumni of schools and universities that failed to teach courses on critical thinking or reasoning skills logically conclude they have been cheated?

Storm Warning: Orlando


By Mike Cronin

There are many aspects to the tragedy in Orlando that defy reason, but we may yet be able to put many of the chaotic elements into context and derive some small degree of understanding.

Keep in mind the following as you watch the news and listen to the pundits and demagogues:

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the news networks’ primary job is to sell advertising. They will dwell on every aspect of this story as long as they can in order to keep you coming back to watch commercials find out the latest breaking wrinkle.

The anti-gun fanatics will exploit our fears in order to advance their agenda to ban ___ (take your pick of anything gun or gun-related).  They’ll be sure to shout that this was the worst shooting in US history.  That might be true if you discount several massacres of Native Americans and the Civil War; I don’t know.

Pro-gun zealots will exploit the fear that the left is coming to take our freedom. They will jump up and down to expose every error the anti-gunners make about the specific gun used, how it was obtained, and about how it is already illegal to have a firearm inside a place that serves alcohol in Florida, so gun bans demonstrably don’t work.

Strident religious groups will be in a hurry to tell us that what happened in Orlando was God’s punishment for the sinful behavior of the club’s clientele.  In fact, one such group, ISIS, took credit for the attack!

Let’s try to unscrew ourselves from the ceiling a bit and put some more context to this storm:

Was it the worst mass-shooting in US history?   Ever hear of Bear River (~250 dead), Sand Creek (up to 163 dead), or Wounded Knee (150 dead)? They were but three of dozens of massacres of Native Americans committed in the 1800s.  How about the various battles of the Civil War (~600,000 dead)? (Granted, some might say those events don’t count because they weren’t “crimes” or terrorist attacks; instead, they were (directly or indirectly) government operations. I think that not only do they count, they exemplify the very reason we must not give up the right to keep and bear arms!)

Was it the worst terrorist attack on US soil? No; that was 9/11. (~3000 dead).

Surely it was the worst domestic terrorist attack?  Nope. That dubious title goes to the Oklahoma City bombing. (168 dead)

Nor was Orlando the worst nightclub attack; that distinction belongs to the “Happy Land” club arson fire in the Bronx in 1990 (87 dead).

It does look like Orlando might actually be the worst attack on the LBGT community; though there was an attack nearly as bad in 1973: 32 were killed at the “Upstairs Club” arson attack in New Orleans.

To like-minded folk that believe the second amendment is under attack and should not be infringed upon any further:  Yes, the anti-gunners will shamelessly exploit mass shootings.  We don’t need to follow their example and squawk and honk at each inaccuracy or inane statement made while the tape is still around the crime scene and the blood is still on the floor.  Those rounds are largely wasted.  Save them for the letters to the editor and to your politicians.  Let the anti-gunners make their mistakes in the heat of the moment.

As for the religious condemnation: If you believe Jesus was the son of God, then ask yourself: what would Jesus do?  Would he kill homosexuals?  Would he add salt to their wounds after such a tragedy by saying they were killed because they were sinful? Most especially, would he do that just to get attention? If he wouldn’t do those things, it might be wise to follow his example.

If you are a radical Muslim jihadist, I know that nothing I write here will sway you in any way. Even so, I must say it. If you purport to be a devout member of the so-called religion of “peace,” what is peaceful about slaughtering people whose behavior you don’t approve of, either here or in Syria, or Iraq, or the rest of the world where Islam holds sway?

If ISIS was indeed ultimately behind this attack, what have you gained? All you have accomplished is to show your clients and constituents that one jihadi with a gun and a lot of ammo can kill a lot of unarmed people.  And….what? Is this supposed to terrify us? We are not terrified. Is it supposed to gain you recruits?  You’ve caused just as many, or more, to deplore your cause.

We live in an era with instant news and constant competition for our attention. We are in the middle of one of the most contentious election cycles in recent memory. We are in a shooting conflict with ISIS. The Orlando massacre served as a catalyst to energize a storm of bloviating. We can let it die down a bit so we can hear ourselves think before making hasty conclusions.

On Critical Thinking


By Mike Cronin

A lot of people talk about critical thinking, but I seldom ever see any explanation of what critical thinking is.  Left to our own devices, we might reasonably assume that critical thinking means being critical.  That is partially right.  Certainly people who practice critical thinking are often critical of others, but that is not the essence of the term.

To me, critical thinking means examining my own thoughts on an issue for errors in logic or reasoning before verbalizing them. It means basing my positions on a foundation of rational thought. It means recognizing bias, especially my own.

I’ve written before about bias.  When you read a news article or watch a news piece, the reporters and networks pretend they have no bias, but that is absurd.  Everyone has a bias – it is inevitable, because even the wisest among us cannot see things from every and all perspectives.  The difference between my blog and some others is that I tell you right up front what my bias is.  I am pro-freedom, pro-capitalism, pro-individualism, and pro-reason.  I am against socialism and any other form of collectivism. My biases are not a result of my upbringing.  If anything, my biases are in opposition to the trends and positions espoused to me in school, church, and to some degree, the military.

Logic is another key ingredient of critical thinking.  Ayn Rand described logic as the art of correct identification.  That sounds simple, but it has deep consequences.  It is easy for a child to recognize a lemon as a lemon, but it might be a bit harder for the child to understand that the lemon can never be anything other a lemon.  It can only do or behave as a lemon.  A person might squeeze it to get the juice, or grate it to get the pith, but a lemon cannot become a bird and fly away.

Wishful thinking and other logical errors are the source of much conflict and dysfunction in the world. An example:  The current brouhaha over gender identity.  We are either born with male anatomy or female anatomy (occasions of true androgyny are exceedingly rare). “Identifying” as the opposite gender from what one’s anatomy dictates (no pun intended) is logically erroneous.  One might align their conflicted desires to reality via surgery and drugs, but until those procedures are complete, one is “male” or “female” according to one’s anatomy.

At the heart of many arguments and conflicts over logic are premises.  There is no shortage of pundits, educators, and other influential people that use well-crafted logical arguments that stem from bad premises.  Take “equality” for example.  We might hear that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives want people to be treated as equal under the law, while liberals want everyone to have equal outcomes.  The first premise rests on the idea that no one is more valuable as a human being than anyone else.  It creates the conditions whereby a poor person can raise themselves up from poverty on their own hard work and merit. It is essentially correct, but hard to enforce, because the rich and well connected can sometimes buy better legal representation than the poor. The second premise rests on the idea that it’s not fair for one person to have more than another, so wealth must be redistributed.  It gives no attention to the concepts that wealth belongs to whomever created it, or that individuals have any responsibility for their own situation.  It is a bad premise, because it ignores the fact that life is not and cannot be fair, and it ignores all of the evidence of human history:  Humans cannot rise above animalism without individual effort to devise technology or apply the technology to raising the standard of living.

Are you a critical thinker?

When Everything is a Crisis, Nothing is a Crisis


By Mike Cronin

Dear politicians, intellectuals, pressure-group leaders, and media mouths,

All day every day you bombard us with crisis after crisis. Drugs. Guns. War. Climate. Celebrity drama. International tensions. Rape culture. Income inequality. Racism. Sexism. Immigration. Political correctness. The list goes on ad-nauseam. Most are real issues that need reasoned efforts to solve or mitigate, but you spin them into crises, then you anoint yourselves as experts and saviors that can save us – if only we turn over our rights, our money, or our reason (or all three!) to you.

We understand that at some level you have to market and advertise your issue, your ideals, your narrative.  On the other hand, you need to understand that at some point we will succumb to crisis fatigue and stop caring about your cherry-picked and manicured emergencies.  We will become apathetic.  Most of you don’t want that; you want your pet cause to be solved or cured. But some of you do want an apathetic populace.  An apathetic populace is ripe for manipulation by a charismatic tyrant.

If you are one of the public figures I opened this letter to, and you genuinely want your problem solved, dial down the urgency settings on your rhetoric or you will defeat yourself!

If you are a tyrant in waiting:  know that your tactic is exposed.  You are not fooling anyone.

That is all.

Got Reason?

By Mike Cronin

It’s hard to know what to believe these days.  The mainstream media cares about ratings more than veracity or depth, so there’s always an undertone of urgency to the news.  Likewise, pundits are out to sell books, increase circulation of their columns, and keep their names on the air, so they make a living off of controversy.  Worst of all, sophisticated ideologues are adept at hijacking issues or movements and turning them to their own purposes.

How can we filter this constant stream of misinformation and disinformation and get to something resembling the truth?

We could do worse than to try using reasoned thought.   Here are a two examples:

The controversy:  Vaccines.  On the one hand, people argue that vaccines are safe and effective, and that not getting vaccinated puts not only the unvaccinated person at risk of contracting various diseases, but the vaccinated as well.  On the other hand, people argue that vaccines are not nearly as safe as they are touted to be, and they can cause more harm than the disease they are meant to protect us from.

A dose of reason:  Vaccines have proven highly effective (but not perfect) at greatly curtailing diseases such as Polio, Mumps, Measles, Small Pox, Typhoid, and Rubella.  Very few people, (but not zero) suffer any ill effects from receiving FDA-approved vaccines (unproven, or experimental vaccines, are a subject for another post).  A mercury-based preservative called thimerosal is used in some vaccines, but it was phased out of vaccinations meant for children beginning in 1999.  A sampling of anti-vaccine literature would have us believe thimerosal and other substances in vaccines can cause autism or other ill effects. There is no hard proof of this.

Bottom line: On balance, vaccines are an overall benefit, though they are imperfect. We should not disregard the good just because it is not perfect, especially if “good” is the best we have. The extreme low risk of side effects compared to the very real risk of contracting a disease suggest that it is generally safer to get vaccinated than to refuse to do so – but do your homework.

The controversy: Climate Change.  I have remarked on this in previous posts, so I will not go into it deeply here other than to sum up:  The climate may be changing, and human activity, especially carbon emissions, may be the main contributor, but that is far from proven.   To paraphrase Carl Sagan: if you intend to prove an extraordinary claim, you must exhibit extraordinary evidence.  You cannot do that when:

  1. Your change your theory to fit the times, but not the facts (the fear was global cooling in the 70s, then it became global warming in the 90s, now it’s “climate change”)
  2. You change your facts to fit your theory (Climategate)
  3. You vilify critics as heretics (aka “deniers”) instead of countering their arguments
  4. You use muddied language (e.g. “Consensus: 97% of climate scientists agree”). That’s the same as saying “the scientists that agree, agree. Those who don’t, disagree.” In other words, there is no consensus among climate scientists!
  5. Your organizing body is political, not scientific (IPCC)
  6. The “solutions” you propose penalize carbon-emitting activities in developed countries and allows the same activities in undeveloped countries – as if the climate recognizes borders or economics (e.g. Kyoto Protocol)

A reasoned view: Human-caused climate change may be real, but the “science” used to prove that is far from “settled,” and the implied catastrophe is far from certain. In fact, climate science is driven far more by politics and funding than by the desire to know the objective truth.

Bottom line: Take dire warnings of climate catastrophe with a grain of salt and don’t feel guilty for enjoying your modern standard of living, but don’t grossly pollute through sheer neglect or wanton disregard for the environment.