Ideas

Elsewhere (94)

Theodore Dalrymple on the cult and conformism of the graffiti artist Banksy, an avowed “anti-capitalist,” albeit with means: 

The most famous of the street artists represented, Banksy… has painted a museum attendant in an old-fashioned uniform sitting near a single framed “picture” consisting only of the word PRICK (or, in another version, ARSE). The first of these versions was sold — though admittedly not by Banksy himself — for about $300,000. He has also produced a print of an auctioneer taking bids for a “picture” that consists of the words I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU MORONS ACTUALLY BUY THIS SHIT. Banksy sold about 1,000 of these prints for $180,000 in total, but they were soon selling at auction for $5,000 apiece. This reminds me of the curious fact that a placebo pill has a placebo effect even if you tell the person taking it that it is only a placebo.

Banksy has guarded his incognito so that it has become, paradoxically, an important part of his identity as well as of his commercial appeal. But according to those who have investigated his life, he seems to have been born in Bristol in 1974. He was privately educated, which suggests family prosperity. From an early age, however, he appears to have suffered not from nostalgie de la boue, for he had never hitherto known la boue, but from envie de la boue, a longing for the depths. This common desire results from two ideological assumptions: that somehow the poor are authentic in a way that other social strata are not; and that prosperity, at least in our society, is something to be ashamed of, the product of social injustice or exploitation. The vulgar language in which Banksy expresses himself, which is probably not native to his original social stratum, is thus a form of expiation for the original sin of having been born to the prosperous and inauthentic.

There’s too much worth quoting so do read in full. Okay, one more:

Banksy painted the words DESIGNATED GRAFFITI AREA in an official-looking way on three whitewashed walls in elegant areas of London, and they were shortly covered with the horrible and idiotic graffiti that usually targets only concrete walls and tunnels. Banksy argues that all public space should be available for self-expression by the people, forgetting that the majority of the people may want to express themselves by leaving elegant blank walls elegantly blank. But then, they are only people, not the people, a crucial distinction in Banksy’s mind.

For more on the subject of graffiti and the thinking of its apologists, see also this.

And a mischievous Zombie ponders where Marxism meets the Tea Party:  

The formula to determine how much each employee gets to keep for living expenses is called “the tax code,” and those who contribute to the national product are called “taxpayers.” The managers deciding how the pile is spent are “politicians,” who are chosen every two years in a shareholders’ meeting called an “election.” This system worked pretty well for quite a long time — until recently. It is only within the last few years that something remarkable happened: The number of contributing “taxpayers” in the country for the first time has fallen to approximately 50% of the population. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed, retired, disabled or indigent citizens grew, as did the number of citizens who earned so little in part-time or low-paying jobs that they paid no taxes, as did the number of people labouring in the untaxed underground economy, as did the number of bureaucrats.

The end result of this epochal demographic and economic shift is that for the first time in American history, the people who actually work for a living and contribute to the common good — the “proletariat” in Marx’s version, and the “taxpayers” in ours — no longer control the company. Vote-wise, the scales have tipped in favour on the non-contributors and the bureaucrats, and suddenly they are the ones making the decisions about what to do with our collective gigantic pile of money — while those who actually created the pile through their work and tax contributions have become powerless. It is outrage over this very power shift that spawned the Tea Party, which is essentially a movement of taxpayers angry that they no longer get to determine how their taxes are spent. Historically speaking, the Tea Party movement can be accurately defined as a workers’ revolution.

As usual, feel free to add your own links and snippets in the comments. 


Stealing the Proles

Readers who followed this recent thread on Margaret Thatcher and her critics may enjoy Martin Durkin’s documentary, available on 4oD hereMargaret: Death of a Revolutionary. Durkin’s film not only offers a useful history lesson, it’s also a nimble shredding of quite a few leftist myths. Its highlights include contributions from Madsen Pirie, who really ought to be on TV more often, and some comically disingenuous squirming by Mary Warnock and Neil Kinnock. During the Kinnock interviews, pay close attention to Durkin’s right eyebrow. A lot can be said with an eyebrow. 


Elsewhere (84)

Chris Snowdon ponders fatness and what mustn’t be said about it: 

This week, lots of outraged people - mainly on the political left - got themselves in a tizzy when public health minister Anna Soubry pointed out that childhood obesity rates are disproportionately high amongst low income groups… Why the controversy? Soubry’s greatest crime was to not use the most politically correct language. She used the word poor instead of deprived or underprivileged. As Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum said: “It was the tone of what she said. It was arrogant and condescending.” As for the facts, he conceded: “Yes it is true that the lower down the social scale you go the more likely people are to be obese.” On Twitter, big boned Labour MP Diane Abbott tried to whip up the mob. She reckons that pointing out the well-known association between poverty and obesity amounts to “blaming the victim.” This is the same Diane Abbott who wrote in 2011: “Studies about the predictors of obesity in the UK have shown that the poorest are most likely to be obese.” 

I don’t see fat people as “victims,” nor do I feel the need to “blame” anyone for something that is none of my business. Even if I did, the incomes of those involved would have nothing to do with it. Abbott, on the other hand, wants us to blame the food industry for making people like her grossly overweight. She won’t take responsibility for herself and she doesn’t expect anyone else to. As a state socialist, she holds institutions accountable for all human outcomes and believes that the only solutions lie in a more coercive government. Terrifyingly, this woman could be Britain’s next health minister.

Ms Abbott, a woman of substance in only the physical sense, is hardly alone in holding such ambitions. There are those, including writers of Observer editorials and Lancet contributor Professor Boyd Swinburn, who wish to save us from “passive overeating” by restricting our choices, including where we may eat, and by making food more expensive. The state, we’re told, must “intervene more directly.” Yes, we must be supervised by those who know better. Because you simply can’t be trusted when there’s pie nearby. 

David Mamet on gun laws in theory and practice (and much more besides):  

Healthy government, as that based upon our Constitution, is strife. It awakens anxiety, passion, fervour, and, indeed, hatred and chicanery, both in pursuit of private gain and of public good. Those who promise to relieve us of the burden through their personal or ideological excellence, those who claim to hold the Magic Beans, are simply confidence men. Their emergence is inevitable, and our individual opposition to and rejection of them, as they emerge, must be blunt and sure; if they are arrogant, wilful, duplicitous, or simply wrong, they must be replaced, else they will consolidate power, and use the treasury to buy votes, and deprive us of our liberties. It was to guard us against this inevitable decay of government that the Constitution was written. Its purpose was and is not to enthrone a Government superior to an imperfect and confused electorate, but to protect us from such a government.

And Jeff Goldstein on dreams of a disarmed citizenry:

As Ace rightly notes, “as the goal is admitted, let us have no more discussion of these ridiculous diversions.” It’s not your folding stocks or flash suppressors or bayonet lugs they’re after: it’s your ability to remind them that you are free people, and that their power is contingent on you. And would-be aristocrats grow weary of such presumptions from the riff raff, particularly those they imagine in a cabin somewhere eating possum stew off of the tits of their first cousins.

As always, feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments. 


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.


The Cost of Purity

Or, Less Information is a Good Thing in an Argument, Yes?

From Theodore Dalrymple’s latest collection of essays, Farewell Fear. On dictatorial urges:

It is difficult now to imagine a modern university intellectual saying something as simple and unequivocal as “I disagree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.” He would be more likely to think, if not actually to say out loud or in public, “I disagree with what you say and therefore rationalise to the death my right to suppress it.” In public, he would be more circumspect, presenting a suppression of freedom as an actual increase in freedom; that is to say of real freedom, not the kind the leaves everyone free to sleep under a bridge. But he would know perfectly well in his heart that what he was after was power: the greatest power of all, that to shape, mould and colour indelibly the thought of others, a power to which he believes that he has a right by virtue of his superior intellect, training and zeal for the public good. 

Actually, some of our budding intellectuals do declare their censorious urges out loud and in public, as if such urges confirmed their own unassailable righteousness: “We no longer need to listen,” say these mighty radical thinkers. Nor will they permit others to listen to ideas and arguments they, our betters, deem improper - on our behalf, of course. 

Recently, I was reading for review a book by a woman, a “resident scholar in the Women’s Studies Research Centre at Brandeis University,” about the problem of ‘ageism’ in America… What is so striking to me about the author’s proposals for dealing with the problem is that she does not recognise that they conflict with freedom, and pose problems for the rule of law... If I wish to employ someone but cannot hire whomever I choose, for whatever reason that I choose, whether good or bad, I am not free: I must hire according to criteria that are not my own. The author might certainly argue that her goals are more important than that of freedom, and that fairness in one sense or another, in one field or another, is now more precious than freedom; but it is at the very least necessary to recognise that one is subordinating freedom to some other desideratum, or one will end with tyranny by default, as each enthusiast or monomaniac seeks to curtail freedom in his pursuit of his favoured goal. 

Very rarely do we find someone who is a university intellectual saying that “X is indeed a desirable goal, even a highly desirable goal, but the cost to freedom of achieving it is simply too great.” It would be an excellent thing in the abstract if no-one ever drank to excess (much less violence, cirrhosis, etc.), but a system of surveillance in homes to ensure that no-one did so would be odiously tyrannous. The author of the book to which I have referred would like to have all ‘ageist’ language expunged from films, radio, books, daily speech and even minds, on the grounds that many people have felt humiliated by it, that it reinforces stereotypes, and that stereotypes lead to bad treatment of the old. Even if this were empirically true (which might be doubted), what is being demanded as a principle here is language so anodyne that it could offend no-one, lead to no stereotyping, etc., for there is no reason to limit the cleansing of language to ageism. The attempt to rid the world of stereotyping is as totalitarian as it is in theory incoherent: for of course it relies upon the stereotyping of stereotypers, namely all of us. Show me a man without stereotypes and I will show you a man in a coma. But mere impossibility has never stopped intellectuals from proposing their schemes. 

The eliminationist zeal of much leftist rhetoric has been noted here more than once. Some of you will have seen this recent pantomime of activism – invoking “free speech” as a right to silence others - and its censorious consequences. Apparently, when the subways “belong to the 99%” no-one will be offended. Because controversy will not be allowed and then, hey, we’ll be happy. Some readers may remember the experiments in thought correction at Delaware University, where an acclaimed and coercive programme of “social justice education” was described by its proponents as a “treatment” – one intended to “leave a mental footprint on [students’] consciousness.” Others may recall Tufts University’s perversely named Islamic Awareness Week, which led to institutional censorship and denial of reality, with factual statements – none of which were challenged - being outlawed as “harassment.” 

Continue reading "The Cost of Purity" »


Elsewhere (72)

Steven Pinker on collective delusion and dissent:

We look at these horrors retrospectively and we say, “How could everyone have been so… mad? On top of being evil, these ideas seem patently ludicrous. How can you have a collective delusion overtaking an entire society?” And it looks like one of the answers is, if dissenters are punished and can anticipate they’re going to be punished, then you might have a situation where no-one actually believes something but everyone believes that everyone else believes it, and therefore no-one is willing to be the little boy that says the emperor is naked. And this pluralistic ignorance, as it’s sometimes called, is easily implemented when you have the punishing or censoring of unpopular views.

Alan Charles Kors on speech codes, groupthink and the decline of the humanities:

I guarantee you that Reason [magazine] published on a campus would be defunded and that you’d be up on harassment charges every other week… I have always voted to hire people who think radically differently from myself, who are asking questions that I wouldn’t ask. The problem is that a lot of those people wish to clone themselves in their department and see voices that are dissident to their own orthodoxies as uncollegial… If you’re taking a course, the goal of which is to make you understand that you have false consciousness, that you don’t understand the way in which America has brainwashed and mystified your mind, and which has given us a faculty that thinks of its primary goal as the demystification of students who have been brainwashed and given false consciousness by consumer capitalist America, that is not of intellectual value. They are contributing to the very crisis of the humanities that they are bemoaning. 

And so, for instance, the Marxist pseudo-philosopher Nina Power rails against the “ideological devastation of the education system” and demands more public subsidy for Marxist pseudo-philosophers, while telling us that “everyone is equally intelligent” because, well, they just are. Of course one shouldn’t assume such people are interested in logic, reality or the testing of ideas, certainly not their own, despite all the blather about “critical thinking.” What they’re interested in – and determined to have more of – is power. Ideally expressed by making students credulous, conformist and pretentiously resentful

And Thomas Sowell on government interference, irrational taxes and how to create an economic crisis:  

To be a masterful politician you have to have a lot of brass. It takes an incredible amount of brass for Bill Clinton, who was the biggest factor in creating the housing boom that led to the bust that brought down the whole economy, [to blame Republicans for that crisis]. It was during the Clinton administration that the federal government forced lenders to change their lending standards, which had been in place for decades and had made real estate one of the safest investments around, to bring those standards down in order that they could get the numbers that they wanted for low income, minority mortgage applicants. Attorney General Janet Reno, under Clinton, threatened lenders with legal action from the Justice Department if their numbers - in terms of minority groups and income levels of people who were approved - didn’t fit her preconceptions. The Housing and Urban Development programme, under Clinton, made law suits against lenders, charging them with racial discrimination based solely upon statistics. The government was forcing people to lower the lending standards that had existed for years, and [afterwards] they said, “Well, the problem was greed.” You don’t satisfy greed by lending to people who can’t pay you back. 

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


The Intellectual’s Temptation

I was doing some research on Detroit and its decline. They kept raising income tax and every time they raised the tax rate, the tax revenues went down. In 2008, Charles Gibson put this to Obama when he was a candidate. He said, “Why are you for raising the tax rate on the rich? Because you often get more revenue at lower tax rates than at the higher tax rates.” And Obama said, “Well, it’s a question of social justice.” In other words, he doesn’t really care about whether the government raises more revenue. If he can get people mad at the rich and they vote for him, then it’s a success.

Further to this, Thomas Sowell discusses the second, expanded edition of his book Intellectuals and Society. Subjects touched on include solutions versus trade-offs, Marxism versus reality, Obama’s hubris, and how to deal with mountain lions lurking near school gates.

And remember, the “anointed” vision Sowell is talking about is embraced by people like this. And by these “enlightened leaders.”  


Elsewhere (61)

Heather Mac Donald on poverty and behaviour:  

We are supposed to assume that a 21-year-old mother of two should not have been expected to assess whether she and her male sexual partners were ready to support a family; it is for her to have babies and for taxpayers to provide for them. And if Temporary Assistance to Needy Families cuts off that support for failure to comply with its rules, [we are supposed to assume that] the problem lies with the law, not with the decision-making that led to the need for welfare in the first place. […] So assiduously non-judgmental is the liberal discourse around poverty that [New York Times reporter, Jason] DeParle portrays the crime committed by single mothers as the consequence of welfare reform — rather than of those mothers’ previous abysmal decision-making regarding procreation and their present lack of morals. […] Underclass poverty doesn’t just happen to people, as the left implies. It is almost always the consequence of poor decision-making — above all, having children out of wedlock.

Regarding the fallout of illegitimacy and absent fathers, see also this and this.

Related to the above, a vintage post by Peter Risdon:

One thing, and one thing only, keeps people trapped in the kind of poverty of mind where they don’t feed their children properly even when they could, and shit in their own stairwells. It’s a lack of ownership; a lack of self-reliance. It’s a lack of the very concept of self-reliance. It’s an idea that the mere thought that they should be self-reliant is immoral, evil, callous and cruel.

And a random thought from Thomas Sowell:

When politicians say, “spread the wealth,” translate that as “concentrate the power,” because that is the only way they can spread the wealth.

As usual, feel free to add your own.