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October 2012

Superior Beings

Victor Davis Hanson ponders a certain, quite common kind of leftist mindset. Among its attributes, this: 

For some, especially those who are well-educated and well-spoken, a sort of irrational furore at “the system” governs their political make-up. Why don’t degrees and vocabulary always translate into big money? Why does sophisticated pontificating at Starbucks earn less than mindlessly doing accounting behind a desk? We saw this tension with Michelle Obama who, prior to 2009, did not quite have enough capital to get to Aspen or Costa del Sol, and thereby, despite the huge power-couple salaries, Chicago mansion, and career titles, felt that others had far too much more than the Obamas. “Never been proud,” “downright mean country,” “raise the bar,” etc., followed as expressions of yuppie angst. The more one gets, the more one believes he should get even more, and the angrier he gets that another - less charismatic, less well-read, less well-spoken - always seems to get more.

So do not discount the envy of the sophisticated elite. The unread coal plant manager, the crass car dealer, or the clueless mind who farms 1000 acres of almonds should not make more than the sociology professor, the kindergarten teacher, the writer, the artist, or the foundation officer. What sort of system would allow the dense and easily fooled to become better compensated (and all for what - for superfluous jet skis and snowmobiles?) than the anguished musician or tortured-soul artist, who gives so much to us and receives so much less in return? What a sick country - when someone who brings chain saws into the Sierra would make more than a UC Berkeley professor who would stop them.

Speaking of professors, remember Jere Surber, whose nuanced and complex socialism - and resentments about status - are exceeded only by his self-flattery? Of course you do. But still, the last paragraph should bear some repetition. And while we’re on the subject of superior beings and their benign and selfless wisdom, here’s a cheering thought. Occupy announces that the ongoing flooding and destruction, and the hospitals without power, along with the frightened, the cold, the injured and the dead... all of this is good for us. With capitalism “in retreat,” we’ve been “unchained,” you see. 


In the comments, rjmadden notes how socialist bloviating often implies the need for a corrective caste system, under which society will be reorganised, regulated and, oh yes, made fair. Indeed, it’s surprising just how often professed egalitarianism coincides with assumptions of superiority and hierarchical entitlement. There are dozens of examples in the archives. Among them, John Jordan, an “artist and activist” and co-editor of We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anti-Capitalism. Writing in the Guardian, Mr Jordan demanded taxpayer subsidy on the basis that he is “showing us how to live differently.” You see, talentless, recidivist anti-capitalists are our teachers - messiahs, in fact - and so we should be forced to hand over our earnings. It may be your money, the money you had to work for, but he, being so special, is more deserving.

An assumed caste system might also explain why George Monbiot flies around the world to promote his own books while insisting that other, less enlightened, less important people shouldn’t. Mr Monbiot is also annoyed by the fact that some people can afford to buy jet skis, and therefore go jet skiing, of which he disapproves. So much so that in 2007 he prayed for a recession to teach us all a lesson and put us in our place. Beneath him, presumably. And maybe that’s why Polly Toynbee grumbles about non-leftwing people earning almost as much as she does. Perhaps, like George, she imagines herself as part of the impending nomenklatura, and therefore entitled, unlike those boorish nobodies who just run businesses. Know your place, peasants. Our betters have big plans.

Elsewhere (76)

From the vaults, Theodore Dalrymple on why prison works:

[Former Justice Secretary, Ken] Clarke was quite right to say that short prison sentences are not effective but, with the practised lack of logic of a man who has spent far too long in politics for the good of his own mind, he has drawn precisely the wrong conclusions from it. His error will cause much unnecessary suffering. There are indeed many arguments against short sentences. The recidivism rate after such sentences are completed is very high. They pose large administrative costs on the prison system. They do not reassure victims that the suffering or loss inflicted upon them by criminals has been taken seriously by the state. They discourage and demoralise the police, who labour mightily, if mainly bureaucratically, to procure a conviction for very little result. They promote intimidation of witnesses…

But it is quite wrong to suppose that if something is not very effective it has no effect at all. Short prison sentences are ineffective by comparison with long ones, but that is not to say that they are ineffective by comparison with no prison sentences at all. It is a fact that a large proportion of crimes are committed by a relatively small number of people. It is not unusual for career criminals to commit a hundred or more offences a year. Therefore, keeping them in prison for six weeks, say, prevents the commission of 12 crimes. Of course, if they were kept in prison for four years, 400 crimes would be prevented. But it is better to prevent 12 crimes than no crimes at all.

See also this

Christina Hoff Sommers on the alleged gender pay gap:

The 2007 report does give readers the impression that millennial women are facing serious workplace discrimination. But buried on page 18, we find this qualification: “After controlling for all the factors known to affect earnings, college-educated women earn about 5 percent less than college-educated men earn. Thus, while discrimination cannot be measured directly, it is reasonable to assume that this pay gap is the product of discrimination.” As Steve Chapman noted in Reason, “Another way to put it is that three-quarters of the gap clearly has innocent causes - and that we actually don’t know whether discrimination accounts for the rest.”

And Jeff Goldstein ponders Obama’s hipster mythology:  

To me, Obama was never cool, was never substantive, was never a man of gravitas, was never capable of being the post-political, post-racial healer he was sold as. Instead, he was a man of constructs and mannered rhetorical tics; a man of tone, not of ideas. He was a fraud, and to those who don’t find comfort in belonging to a hipster ethos — which is no different than belonging to, say, a chess club or band camp, only on a grander scale — he was a fraud who was trying to turn statism and tyranny into the new cool, the new black, if you will… None of these attacks on individual sovereignty were ever cool or hip. Rather, they were an attempt to turn collectivism into a hipster pose, and reduce individualism to a superficial denial of certain truths: namely, that you didn’t build that, you aren’t ever going to be self-reliant, and that rugged individualism is a punch line, as trite and G-rated as an episode of Little House on the Prairie. What happened that turned conformist statists chanting Obama’s name into the epitome of cultural hipness? What made submission to the state an act of supposed defiance of The Man?

Feel free to add your own links and snippets in the comments. 

Friday Ephemera

Urine flavour wheels. (h/t, MeFi) // Beluga whale mimics human voices. // The Blitz in colour. // Bipedal robot masters tightrope. // Orphaned baby echidna likes milk, warm blanket. // Yusuke Oono’s 360° book. // Yes, but can you name them all? // Alan Rickman makes tea. // “Turin had the highest concentrations of atmospheric cocaine.” // Hand-blown glass straws. // Glass anatomy. // Real life escape pods. // High-performance hand-mounted slingshot. // Iron Man 3. // Attack of the big blue snails. // Clearing land mines. // When William Shatner sold Commodore computers. // Hallowe’en is coming. // And so costumes for everyone

You’ll Notice They All Wear Shoes

Or, “Mommy, What’s a Cock Ring?”

Further to this comedic excursion from September last year, Zombie visits San Francisco’s latest radical nude-in, where a coalition of “nudists and leather folk” unveil their big ambitions

From the Castro District they seek to expand the nudity zone outward to all of San Francisco; if the movement gains momentum, could it expand to all of California, and then eventually nationwide?

Viewer discretion advised. 


In the comments, David Gillies captures the protest’s essential neediness: “Look how transgressive I am!” We can, I think, assume that the ‘activists’ aren’t trying to share a glorious aesthetic experience. Even many of the locals, who I’d guess are fairly accustomed to juvenile displays, are finding the ‘activism’ a little intrusive and annoying. Zombie cites an article in the Bay Area Reporter, in which the protestors’ need for attention and provocation is pretty obvious, if not actually pretty:

They have become more aggressive in the Castro. Some don cock rings – euphemistically referred to as ‘genital jewellery’ – to simulate an erection. Others, according to witnesses, shake their dicks at oncoming traffic, obviously seeking a reaction.

Unsurprisingly, local businesses and other residents, especially those with children, aren’t terribly impressed. As Zombie says,

Although the Castro may be a gay mecca, it is not exclusively populated by single gay men, nor are the surrounding neighbourhoods gay. Many families with children live in and around the Castro, which means that children are out in public, occasionally encountering the nudists. In fact during the protest itself families with children needed to get from Point A to Point B along Market Street, and had no choice but to navigate their way through the crowd of naked penises.

Which may strike some as funny, at least initially and from a distance. But imagine you’re out shopping with the kids in tow and having to weave your way through large groups of unattractive men waving their tackle at you. And the standard blather about “civil rights” and “body image” isn’t very convincing. One doesn’t have to have “unrealistic issues of body shame” to find the exhibitionism tiresome or inappropriate. And the denials of any sexual aspect are also unconvincing, especially given that so many of the participants are enthusiasts of fetish clubs and websites catering to people who like public sex and scandalising others, and for whom the whole point is to have an audience, whether titillated or repelled. It’s rather like how the people at last year’s ‘protest’ claimed they just wanted to be left alone - while squealing for attention on a traffic island in the middle of a busy intersection.

A supporter of the exhibitionists pops up, as it were, in the comments at Zombie’s place and insists,

It’s only your selfish control freak streak that wants to dictate what other people wear; your disrespect for the opinions and lifestyles of anyone whose opinion and lifestyle doesn’t match what you consider ‘proper’… Your statement reminds me of how selfish, childish and disdainful of anyone else’s rights so-called ‘conservatives’ are

It seems to me this is more than a little dishonest. Setting aside the issues of exposing oneself to children, the impact on local businesses, etc., I think what’s objectionable is that random people are being made participants in the exhibitionists’ psychodrama, whether they wish to be or not. For many, if not most, of the ‘activists’, this isn’t even about an enjoyment of being naked per se. It’s about confronting other people with unsolicited nakedness. That’s the enjoyment – it’s a juvenile kink. Being nude in private or among consenting nudists in dedicated bars, clubs, spas, on nature trails, at specialist beaches, etc., of which San Francisco has plenty, doesn’t give the ‘activists’ enough of a thrill. Because the people there are willing. Hence the demand to display their genitals in front of random passers-by. An audience is required in order to feel transgressive and it’s pretty obvious that’s what matters. They want to be naked near you. They want you to witness their daring. It’s essentially a kind of challenge - an imposition on others, and the act of imposition is, for some, the whole point. And so the source of the “selfishness,” “childishness” and “disrespect” is also pretty clear.

The Hum of Intellectuals

Tom Paine has been spending time with our leftist betters at the Barbican’s alleged Battle of Ideas, “a weekend festival - shaping the future through debate.” 

His report begins

It got off to a bad start for me with a session on equality that was more like the deep graveyard peace of a single idea than a battle. Four leftists set out possible views of equality, all favourable, and concluded that “everyone” agreed it was good and we needed more of it for the sake of our mental health because envy apparently drives them mad. Who knew? A token non-leftist offered a slightly different view and the chairman declared (with no hint of irony) that every possible idea had been expressed.

Mr Paine concludes

The Battle of Ideas may continue, fitfully, but in England the War seems lost. I sat open-mouthed, for example, as a speaker from the audience said to liberal-minded panel member Alex Deane: “We don’t want freedom any more, Alex. We want regulation. We want control.” I waited for the laughter as I first assumed he was joking. Then I realised he was serious and waited for the jeers. Reaction was there none. This sentiment, in modern London, was completely uncontroversial. 

Do follow the links for much more in between.

Reheated (29)

For newcomers, three more items from the archives.

No Ego Whatsoever, Just an Urge to Control

Ken Loach is selfless, heroic and countercultural. And so the state should force you to give him money.

Loach has said that he wants to make the British “confront their imperialist past” and in 1977 he famously rejected the offer of an OBE, supposedly on principle, denouncing the honour as “despicable… deferring to the monarchy and the name of the British Empire, which is a monument of exploitation and conquest.” However, this principled adamance did not inhibit the director’s 2003 acceptance of the Praemium Imperiale – the World Culture Prize in Memory of His Imperial Highness Prince Takamatsu. His Imperial Highness was of course the brother of the 124th Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, whose activities and ambitions were, it seems, altogether more moral and glorious. 

Postmodernism Unpeeled

A discussion with Stephen Hicks.

Writing in Innovations of Antiquity, Ralph Hexter and Daniel Selden dismissed “transparent prose” as merely “the approved mode of expression for the society and values of the newly empowered middle class.” In the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Mas’ud Zavarzadeh denounced “unproblematic prose and clarity of presentation” as “the conceptual tools of conservatism.” The rejection of transparency as “conservative” is particularly odd, since transparency makes a claim amenable to broad critical enquiry, and thus to public correction. Presumably, if you prefer arguments that are comprehensible and open to scrutiny, this signals some reactionary tendency and deep moral failing. On the other hand, if you sneer at such bourgeois trifles, you’re radical, clever and very, very sexy.

When Scolding is the Payoff for All That Piety and Angst

A Guardian journalist dares to send her daughter to a private school. Socialist vindictiveness promptly ensues.

Has Ms Murray not heard the sermon of Arabella Weir, whose definition of a “good, responsible citizen” still rings in our ears and swells our hearts? And who tells us that state schools are virtuous because they teach children “who to be wary of, who to avoid” and “how to keep their heads down,” (though how these things will be learned is oddly unexplored). And what of Kevin McKenna, a man no less pious, who tells us that parents who view the comprehensive system as inadequate – perhaps because of their own first-hand experiences – are by implication wicked and that such parental waywardness is intolerable and should be banned? Has Ms Murray not been told by those who know better that children aren’t special and should be sacrificed for society and the glories of socialism? Perhaps she’s been reading those surveys of state school teaching staff in which respondents report “a climate of violence,” “malicious disruption” and damage to personal property as “part of the routine working environment.”

Now stock up on canned goods and liquor and explore the greatest hits

Friday Ephemera

“The Town Hall men’s restroom was ‘out-of-order’ after a high-pressure toilet exploded during routine use.” And other toilet-related news from around the world. // Shoes and teeth, together at last. // Fetch! // Hitchcock. // Cynical tea bags. // Titanium mouse. // Quantum mechanics calculations. // Because physics is hard. // Tour the pyramids of Giza. // Google’s data centres. // Play with animated gifs. // Search the world of comic books. // Solved: mystery of washed-up monster eyeball. // Big mouth zombie makeover. Did I mention that it moves? // Ring ruler. // Why parents rarely want their children to be artists, parts 4 and 5

Ow, My Feelings

Suddenly, the bar for being offended has gone way down. We’ve all seen the feigned outrage as something that pervades our entire society and if it works as a trump card to shut down discussion, people are going to be attracted to using it. And what people fail to recognise is that feigned outrage is something that was first weaponised and perfected on college campuses.

Greg Lukianoff, FIRE. 

Friday Ephemera

“Dr Julius Neubronner’s miniature pigeon camera.” 1908. // Putty eats magnets. (h/t, MeFi) // BMX and fireworks. // “Bacon that cooks in your toaster.” 1964. // A chart of Bond kills, in the style of Dr No. // Tai Chi. // Unfortunate toys. It’s always the crotch. // The frozen faithful. // High-speed photography of exploding things. // Chocolate dice. // Wooden cake. // Giant cardboard ghetto blaster. // Hair barrels. // Couples. // This lady likes to shoot. // Someone is waging total war on the World of Warcraft. // Irregular floorboards. // Bicymple. // Brain candles. // Paintings by Lindsey Kustusch. // Are you ready for some staggering beauty