Archive for October, 2010

Media Wars and the Argument From Intimidation

October 25, 2010 3 comments

Years ago my favorite cable news personality was on MSNBC.  It was Tucker Carlson.  Now he’s on Fox.  And remember when John Stossil used to be on ABC?  I don’t, but apparently he did….

I’m a little behind the news cycle but if you haven’t heard, Juan Williams was fired by NPR last week.  This came after comments on the O’reilly Factor following this incident on the View.  The state of the media is getting frightening.

First of all, the case of O’reilly on the View is a particularly insidious form of the argument from intimidation.  And let me say that I saw Whoopie Goldberg speak about it afterward and I think she was acting honestly.  That is, I think she was honestly furious and left to keep herself from losing her temper  any more than she already had.  I don’t think it was a calculated stunt on her part.  But that is why this form of the argument from intimidation is so powerful. 

The statement that Bill O’reilly was trying to make was prevented from reaching the minds of Goldberg and Behar years ago, probably decades ago.  Somehow, they have been conditioned on a subconscious level to immediately block out certain kinds of speech.  They have been taught that anyone who says certain things is evil and they must react with violent contempt the moment these things are said or else they are not good people themselves.  This reaction is not logical it is emotional, and it makes logical analysis of the subject impossible (at least temporarily). 

What’s more, the effect of this reaction, especially when it comes from multiple people at the same time, is to perpetuate the epidemic in others.  It says to anyone watching “you just heard something that is not to be said, and this is how people who break this rule will be treated.  You don’t want people to think you are a bad person do you?  You don’t want to suffer the scorn and outrage of your peers.  If not, then you better not say what he just said.  In fact you better not even think it.  You better not even consider whether or not it’s true (in this case it was factually accurate but that seems to be lost in this debate).  And it would be best if you acted outraged anytime you heard anyone else say it just so that we all know that you are on the level.  You wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea and think that you could ever consider such a thing.”

Now the bigger part of the story is Juan Williams.  Williams also said something that is not to be said.  But his crime was much greater because he is a “liberal.”  Juan Williams is the kind of person who is the biggest threat to the left because he blurs the line between those to whom you are allowed to listen and those to whom you are not.  He was a liberal  news analyst on NPR.  That is to whom you are supposed to listen.  But he also goes on Fox News and carries on reasonable and thoughtful conversations with people like Bill O’Reilly.  This is not allowed.  In his own words:

They are taking bits and pieces of what I said to go after me for daring to have a conversation with leading conservative thinkers. They loathe the fact that I appear on Fox News. They don’t notice that I am challenging Bill O’Reilly and trading ideas with Sean Hannity. In their hubris they think by talking with O’Reilly or Hannity I am lending them legitimacy.

You see what’s going on here?  They have driven most of the reasonable conservatives and libertarians out of all the “mainstream” networks.  But they just keep ending up on Fox.   They have tried to bring Fox around or put them out of business by organizing boycotts and  cutting them out of the White House press pool, etc. but this hasn’t worked.  So they have to quarantine them.  They have to keep their loyal supporters from watching it.  They have to make sure that you don’t ever think to yourself “I wonder if there is actually a side to the news that I’m not getting that I could get on Fox?”  You must believe that they are only “pushing an agenda.”  But when well-respected liberals are going on there and giving their opinions and not being crucified as non believers it makes this argument difficult to make.  When those well-respected liberals also have a line to the left’s protected constituencies, then you have to worry about them getting the impression that Fox is OK to watch. 

To put it another way, their quarantine relies on you believing that only right-wing loonies are on Fox.  If Fox refuses to cooperate by only putting right-wing loonies on, then they have to cut off the supply of liberals (“Democratic senator _________’s office was invited on/asked for comment but we haven’t heard back from them” is quite the common refrain on Fox these days).  If some liberals insist on contributing to Fox, then they must be cut off from the sheep and made to look like right-wing loonies. 

Meanwhile the situation is turning into a public relations disaster for NPR.  This means that Ellen Weiss (Williams’ boss at NPR) who told Williams that the decision to fire him  “had been confirmed above her,” and also insinuated that he should discuss his views with his psychiatrist, is catching flack from all sides including within NPR.  I predict she will be gone by the end of the week.  Williams stood up for himself and his views and when he got fired he landed a lucrative contract with Fox.  Weiss probably thought that she was being a loyal servant to her bosses.  Let’s see what she has waiting for her after she takes the fall for this.  The dichotomy is worth taking notice of. 

Oh and by the way this happened the same week that George Soros donated $1.8 million to NPR.  I’m sure it’s just a coincidence though…

Update: It was actually NPR CEO Vivian Schiller who said that Williams should consult his psychiatrist not Weiss as I said.  Also, neither of them lost their job yet so I guess you are free to conclude the opposite of what I intended on that one.  This is kind of amusing though.


More NFL News

October 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I find it very interesting that the same divide which is growing across my favorite country is also reflected in my favorite sport this season.  You may remember the maculate reception earlier this year.  Now the NFL is threatening to change the rules to make it illegal to hit too hard.   I wish I could find the video from the commentators discussing this after the monday night game but alas, I cannot.  However, they (all of them ex players) basically shared my sentiment that this is a sad turn of events for the game.

Nobody wants people to get injured, especially head and neck injuries which could potentially do long-term damage.  But we love football because it’s a violent game.  Sometimes this means unfortunate things happen.  The only way to eliminate injuries from football is to turn it into….well, soccer.  But what’s more important is that if you try to eliminate the injuries while still embracing the violence of the game you must start making arbitrary rules.  We already have such subjective terms as “defenseless player” in the rules and it is threatening to get much worse.  Get ready for language like “unnecessarily violent” or “windfall profits.”  Players will be told to go out there and fight… but only fight just as hard as you have to to get them down, if you fight too hard (determined arbitrarily by a referee) you might get suspended.  Make sure that’s always in the back of your mind while you’re out there fighting.  Yeah that’s the game I want to watch.

Categories: Uncategorized

Reexamine Your Premises (Public Schools Follow Up and More)

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Glenn Beck did a show on schools yesterday.  It’s amazing how bad the situation is getting and how oblivious people can be about the cause of it.  As you have probably noticed by the quotes recently I have been reading Saul Alinsky to try to delve into the mind of the other side.  I find this passage particularly illuminating.

Everywhere you look all change shows this complementarity.  In Chicago the people of Upton Sinclair’s Jungle, then the worst slum in America, crushed by starvation wages when they worked, demoralized, diseased, living in rotting shacks, were organized.  Their banners proclaimed equality for all races, job security and a decent life for all.  With their power they fought and won.  Today, as part of the middle class, they are also part of our racist, discriminatory culture.

The Tennessee Valley Authority [see Ronald Reagan on the subject] was one of the prize jewels in the democratic crown.  Visitors came from every part of the world to see, admire, and study this physical and social achievement of a free society.  Today it is the scourge of the Cumberland Mountains, strip mining for coal and wreaking havoc on the countryside.

The C.I.O. was the militant champion of America’s workers.  In its ranks, directly and indirectly, were all of America’s radicals; they fought the corporate structure of the nation and won.  Today, merged with the A.F. of L., it is an entrenched member of the establishment and its leader supports the war in Vietnam.

Another example is today’s high-rise public housing projects.  Originally conceived and carried through as major advances in ridding cities of slums, they involved the tearing down of rotting, rat-infested tenements, and the erection of modern apartment buildings.  They were acclaimed as America’s refusal to permit its people to live in the dirty shambles of the slums.  It is common knowledge that they have turned into jungles of horror and now confront us with the problem of how we can either convert or get rid of them.  They have become compounds of double segregation–on the bases of both economy and race–and a danger for anyone compelled to live in these projects.  A beautiful positive dream has grown into a negative nightmare.

Alinsky is noticing that every collectivist progressive project ends in disaster but he is somehow missing the conclusion that collectivism leads to disaster.  Instead he invents some nonsense about duality and uses this to deny causality all together in an attempt to free the reader from “the myth that one approach is positive and another negative,” since he claims that “there is no such thing in life.”  This logical process is astounding unless one notices this bit preceding it.

The prerequisite for an ideology is possession of a basic truth.  For example, a Marxist begins with his prime truth that all evils are caused by the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalists.  From this he logically proceeds to the revolution to end capitalism, then into the third stage of reorganization into a new social order or the dictatorship of the proletariat, and finally the last stage–the political paradise of communism. (emphasis added)

My mind is recalled to one of my first encounters with a Lyndon Larouche supporter on campus.  He said to me “no great thinker has ever advocated free trade.”  Naturally I disagreed with this so he challenged me to name one and naturally I said “Adam Smith.”  To this, he replied that Adam smith was not a great thinker.  It was at this point that I realized there was no point in talking to these people, not because we disagreed about free trade but because their logical though process was turned completely upside down.  This guy had decided that free trade was bad.  He began from this fundamental truth.  From there it was a simple matter to reason that anyone who advocated free trade must be an imbecile and thus the proof of “no great thinker has ever advocated free trade” is complete.  But this thought process is incapable of considering the question “is free trade good or bad?”  It has accepted the answer to this question as the axiom on which all logic is built.

Similarly, the Marxist is incapable of considering the question “is capitalism good or bad?”  Their fundamental truth is that capitalism is bad.  They in fact define capitalism as whatever is wrong with the current system.  Thus they reason that the government controlling markets, setting prices, restricting entry, giving subsidies to big business, etc. is “capitalism” and therefore capitalism is the root of all of our problems.  But this conclusion doesn’t come about by carefully defining terms and reasoning out their logical implications.  It comes from assuming the answer that you want to get as axiomatic and then defining things in whatever way is necessary to arrive at that conclusion.

Now Saul Alinsky does not claim to be a Marxist, in fact he says that it is his goal to disassociate the concepts of revolution and communism.  In my view though, all leftists are essentially the same, they just cloak their lunacy in different rhetoric.  But this is not really the important issue here.  These people’s minds are too scrambled to be changed.  The problem is that they are gradually scrambling the minds of the majority of the public who are otherwise reasonable. 

The way they do this is by taking a debate and framing it in a way where both sides implicitly accept their misguided premise.  For instance, we argue over whether gays should be allowed to get “married.”   If you say no, you accept the premise that government should decide who can and can’t get married.  If you say yes, you accept the same premise.  We argue over what children should learn in school.  If you say creation, you accept the premise that the government should decide what kids learn in school.  If you say evolution, you accept the same premise.  We argue over whether the Fed should raise or lower the interest rate.  Whichever one you say, you accept the premise that a cabal of private bankers should be able to set the interest rate.  Obviously further examples abound.

Getting back to schools, I also saw on the news today a mother whose son committed suicide after being bullied and wrote a letter to the President asking for help (she also had a daughter that she was worried about).  I’m not going to say that if we had a private school system nobody would ever commit suicide again but if you had a problem and you were that worried about it, you could put you child in a different school.  Instead if you have a problem now you have to ask the president of the United States to fix it! 

Everyone seems to agree that our schools are a disaster, but everyone wants the government to fix it.  We all accept the premise that schools need to be run by government, we just disagree about how they should run them.  Sooner or later we need to realize that the reason they are in such a sorry state is that they are run by government.  It is not a coincidence that the TVA, housing projects, Fannie and Freddie, public schools, the healthcare system, the Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, Greece, Spain, etc. are all failures is not the great duality of the universe.  It is causality!  Reexamine your premises.

An Alternate View

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

To diminish the danger that ideology will deteriorate into dogma, and to protect the free, open, questing, and creative mind of man as well as to allow for change, no ideology should be more specific than that of America’s founding fathers: “For the general welfare.”

-Saul Alinsky, “Rules for Radicals”

If you are a radical trying to transform America and subvert the constitution and the values underlying it, then you don’t want people’s value systems to be too carefully composed.  If your values are as vague as “for the general welfare,” you can easily be manipulated into any desired position.

By the way, this is a complete misrepresentation of the meaning of the general welfare clause.  To promote the general welfare was not the central value expressed in the constitution, it was merely a statement of one purpose which those values are expected to accomplish.  Here is Madison on the subject:

Some, who have not denied the necessity of the power of taxation, have grounded a very fierce attack against the Constitution, on the language in which it is defined. It has been urged and echoed, that the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction.

Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases. A power to destroy the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, or even to regulate the course of descents, or the forms of conveyances, must be very singularly expressed by the terms “to raise money for the general welfare.”

But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon? If the different parts of the same instrument ought to be so expounded, as to give meaning to every part which will bear it, shall one part of the same sentence be excluded altogether from a share in the meaning; and shall the more doubtful and indefinite terms be retained in their full extent, and the clear and precise expressions be denied any signification whatsoever? For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity, which, as we are reduced to the dilemma of charging either on the authors of the objection or on the authors of the Constitution, we must take the liberty of supposing, had not its origin with the latter.

Federalist Paper #41

Categories: Uncategorized


October 8, 2010 1 comment

F.A. Hayek speaking about the works of Frederic Bastiat (read this!):

This is simply that if we judge measures of economic policy solely by their immediate and concretely foreseeable effects, we shall not only not achieve a viable order but shall be certain progressively to extinguish freedom and thereby prevent more good than our measures will produce.  Freedom is important in order that all the different individuals can make full use of the particular circumstances of which only they know.  We therefore never know what beneficial actions we prevent if we restrict their freedom to serve their fellows in whatever manner they wish.  All acts of interference, however, amount to such restrictions.  They are of course, always undertaken to achieve some definite objective.  Against the foreseen direct results of such actions of government we shall in each individual case be able to balance only the mere probability that some unknown but beneficial actions by some individuals will be prevented.  In consequence, if such decisions are made from case to case and not governed by an attachment to freedom as a general principle, freedom is bound to lose in almost every case.  Bastiat was indeed right in treating freedom of choice as a moral principle that must never be sacrificed to considerations of expediency; because there is perhaps no aspect of freedom that would not be abolished if it were to be respected only where the concrete damage caused by its abolition can be pointed out. 

“Equal Protection”

October 7, 2010 Leave a comment

So you may have heard that the Obama administration is now giving waivers releasing certain companies from the requirements of the healthcare bill because it is forcing them to drop their current healthcare policies and dump their employees into the public “exchange.”  This is exactly the kind of thing I said would happen before the bill was passed but it seems to have caught them by surprise.  Maybe the reason is that they applied the same method of induction when considering the bill as Robert Gibbs today who was asked what they would do when every business ended up asking for an exemption and replied that they don’t think that will happen because it hasn’t happened so far…..

The other explanation of course, is that they did know that this would happen and they want it to because it allows them to micromanage the economy.  They can just pass a law which would put everyone out of business and then give waivers to the people they like.  That sounds fair right?  But don’t worry because democrats hate big corporations like McDonalds I’m sure they will use their power to hurt them and help the family owned restaurant down the street.

Food Stamps

October 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Recently Newt Gingrich accused the Democrats of being “the party of food stams.”  A comment which Nancy Pelosi quickly denounced before adding that

It is the biggest bang for the buck when you do food stamps and unemployment insurance — the biggest bang for the buck.
You see, according to Pelosi every dollar the government spends on food stamps “puts $179 into the economy.”  This of course is nonsense.  It may be true that if you print a dollar and spend it on food stamps it increases GDP by $1.79 but this statement and the economic theory that motivates it conveniently ignores the question of where that dollar and the supposed added production actually comes from.  But I don’t want to spend an hour debunking Keynesianism right now, I want to make a quick statement about values.
When you hear things like this you have to ask yourself how we got here.  The answer is that we let ourselves believe that we could exist without a set of values.  To see what I mean consider two sets of values, one like the one I described in “The Conscience of a Libertarian” which holds that everyone owns their own life and the produce thereof and nobody (including the government) has a right to take it against their will for any reason, and another set of values which holds that the government should do whatever it can to maximize GDP (or any other measurement of collective wellbeing like “total utility”). 
When someone who subscribes to the second set of values hears a claim like the one above about food stamps they say “great let’s do that.  In fact let’s do that ad infinitum and we will all have infinite amounts of wealth and there will be no scarcity…”  When someone who subscribes to the first set of values hears something like that they say “that’s interesting but it doesn’t matter because such a strategy involves stealing from someone in order to carry it out and that violates my system of values.” 
So how did we get here?  We refused to adopt either set of values.  So they came to us and said “if we do this, it will improve the economy and it will only infringe on people’s individual property rights a little bit so it’s worth it.”  And we weighed the imagined benefits against the supposedly minor assault on property rights (most likely on someone else’s property rights) and we decided it was worth it.  Then that becomes normal and later they say “ok we just have to compromise individual property rights a little bit more but it’s worth it because it will help the overall economy.”  And we do the same thing and decide it’s worth it so we go along with it.   And this pattern continues until we find ourselves in our current situation.
But where does this pattern end?  I think the answer is obvious.  We have to realize that we can’t just persist forever in some kind of limbo between two value systems.  The only way to live in an individualistic society is to value individualism and to draw a line in the sand that you refuse to cross no matter what tasty treat someone dangles in front of you on the other side.