A Shooting and a Narrative

There is no such thing as news.  There is only narrative.  The significance of most of what passes for news is derived from the attention the media pays to it rather than its intrinsic importance.  A case in point is the remarkable, ongoing obsession of the news media on both the left and right with the shootings in Arizona.  In this case the feeding frenzy was set in motion by the left.  Even though there have obviously always been people on both ends of the spectrum who have no life outside of politics, I was still taken aback by their desperate attempts to seize on this issue like so many drowning men grasping at straws.  Evidently their resounding defeat in November was even more galling than I imagined.  They made no secret of the fact that they were waiting with bated breath for some incident they could construe as evidence of the “violent nature” of the Tea Party movement, conservative talk radio, and the rest of their pet bogeymen.  They admitted as much. As their reaction to the shootings makes clear, they were very eager indeed. They’re acting for all the world like so many Communists marching behind the coffin of a murdered “martyr” in days gone by. All that’s missing is the red flags.

Some examples of their overwrought reaction can be found here, here, and here, all based on zero evidence that there was any link whatsoever between the shooter and the Tea Party movement, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, or anyone else on the right. The “objective” CNN even went so far as to write a panegyric of Sheriff Dupnik, now infamous for his ham-handed attempts at political exploitation of the murders, as the soul of wisdom, complete down to everything but his birth in a log cabin.  I doubt we’ll be seeing more of the same from those quarters, as in the meantime the good sheriff has been giving off such a stench that even the stalwarts of the left have begun holding their noses.

The left’s seizing at this particular straw was, obviously, ill-considered.  Other than not bothering to come up with any evidence to back up their accusations, only to find out after the fact that there was none, they set their own hypocrisy on a pedestal for the right to take pot shots at.  After all, the left doesn’t commonly engage its opponents in reasoned discourse.  Its forte’s have always been demonization, virtuous indignation, and a style of “eliminationist rhetoric” all its own.  They gave the other side a perfect opportunity to point that out, as they did with relish, for example, here, here and here.

There is little that can demonstrate the extent to which the left overshot its mark in its crudely insensitive attempts to exploit the Arizona deaths and the grave wounding of Gabrielle Giffords than the reaction of the foreign media.  Germany’s for example, is usually reliably leftist, often taking its talking points directly from the New York Times.  It is all the more remarkable that the Washington correspondent of Der Spiegel, Marc Hujer, penned an article entitled “America’s Insane Debate,” in which he wrote, among other things, 

The very people who got so upset about the tone of debate in the past year, about the rhetoric of the Tea Party, the harsh words of the Right, the unabashed caricatures of Obama as Hitler, are now poisoning the debate themselves with shameless insinuations. Without learning the facts, they seek the guilty behind the attack, and commonly find them on the right, in the Tea Party, in Republican Party chief Michael Steele and Tea Party heroine Sarah Palin.

The language chosen by Sarah Palin and other Tea Partiers was doubtless raw and over the top, but doesn’t come close to providing any proof for the claim that they motivated the shootings in Arizona. Indeed, what is known about the shooter at this point gives no indication that he is a member of the Tea Party movement, or a fan of Palin, or that he has any clear political convictions at all. His favorite books included the Communist Manifesto, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and Peter Pan, a weird collection. However, there is no indication that his act was motivated by politics.

The massive criticism directed at Sarah Palin is delusional, and not just because it’s a baseless accusation. The attempt to weaken Palin in this way could accomplish the opposite.

That’s strong stuff coming from a source that’s usually reliably critical of the right, in the U.S. as well as in Germany.  The left in this country might do well to take heed for their own good.  Perhaps more worrisome than their baseless accusations is what they propose as a cure; a further dismantling of the Bill of Rights.  In this case their targets are the first and second amendments to the Constitution.  If the history of the last hundred years is any guide, we have more reason than ever before to continue to fight against any diminishing of those rights.

Of Thanksgiving, Socialism, and Historical Revisionism

 An interesting piece recently appeared in the New York Times entitled, “The Pilgrims were… Socialists?” Written by Kate Zernike, the NYT article was apparently intended as a response to the custom on the right of drawing attention to the relative success among the pilgrims of private ownership of land as opposed to the original communal arrangement, citing it as an example of the impracticality of socialism.  As such, it was unusually weak, even for the NYT, whose authors have long since ceased trying to preach to anyone but the choir. 

To get to the bottom of the story, let’s consider what the pilgrim sources actually said about the transition from communal to individual plots referred to above.  Although mentioned by colonist Edward Winslow and others, the most complete account is probably that in Governor William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, so I will quote him at some length.

According to Bradford, (Chapter 4 of the History)

All this will no supplies were heard of, nor did they know when they might expect any. So they began to consider how to raise more corn, and obtain a better crop than they had done, so that they might not continue to endure the misery of want. Aty length after much debate, the Governor, with the advice of the chief among them, allowed each man to plant corn for his own household, and to trust to themselves for that; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. So every family was assigned a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number with that in view – for present purposes only, and making no division for inheritance – all boys and children being included under some family. This was very successful. It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could devise, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better satisfaction. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and instability; and to have compelled them would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

The failure of this experiment of communal living, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times – that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort. For the young men who were most able and fit for service objected to being forced to spend their time and strength in working for other men’s wives and children, without any recompense. The strong man or the resourceful man had no more share of food, clothes, etc., than the weak man who was not able to do a quarter the other could. This was thought injustice. The aged and graver men, who were ranked and equalized in labor, food, clothes, etc., with the humbler and younger ones, thought it some indignity and disrespect to them. As for men’s wives who were obliged to do service for other men, such as cooking, washing their clothes, etc., they considered it a kind of slavery, and many husbands would not brook it. This feature of it would have been worse still, if they had been men of an inferior class.

If (it was thought) all were to share alike, and all were to do alike, then all were on an equality throughout, and one was as good as another; and so, if it did not actually abolish those very relations which God himself has set among men, it did at least greatly diminish the mutual respect that is so important should be preserved amongst them. Let none argue that this is due to human failing, rather than to this communistic plan of life in itself. I answer, seeing that all men have this failing in them, that God in His wisdom saw that another course was fitter for them.

In brief, it would seem that one would have to be foolhardy to challenge the assertion by conservatives that the early history of the pilgrims demonstrates the superiority of individual to communal ownership, or socialism.  They are merely letting Bradford speak for himself.  Be that as it may, the meme has been more visible than usual this year, and that apparently stuck in someone’s craw at the Times.  In any event, the editors decided to stick their necks out, knowing that most of the readers that remain to them would simply close their eyes and swallow. 

The article begins with a de rigueur swipe at the Tea Party movement:

In the Tea Party view of the holiday, the first settlers were actually early socialists. They realized the error of their collectivist ways and embraced capitalism, producing a bumper year, upon which they decided that it was only right to celebrate the glory of the free market and private property.

Here we see the convenient but bogus view on the left of the Tea Party as a monolithic whole, with a uniform view of all things.  I can think of no past association of human beings that has in any way qualified as a “movement” to which that description is less appropriately applied.  The Tea Party movement is a lose association of people who generally favor a smaller role of government in their lives, but who in no way can be said to uniformly believe some common orthodox doctrine, or even to agree on who their “leaders” actually are.  On the left, however, the Tea Party has been racked and squashed into a quintessential outgroup in keeping with the time-honored tradition of our species. 

The author then goes on to create some strawmen, who go well beyond Bradford’s simple claim about the superiority of private property to communal ownership to claim that the pilgrims embraced capitalism, and held their first Thanksgiving to “celebrate the glory of the free market and private property.”  The problem is that she can cite no examples on the right in which such claims are actually made, nor can I find any in a shakedown of the usual subjects.  For example, Rush Limbaugh’s offering for this year can be found here.  In it, he quotes Bradford at length, and mentions capitalism only once, and then merely as a system usually associated with private property.  There is nothing there to the effect that Thanksgiving was originally a “celebration of the glory of the free market and private property.”  Rather, according to Limbaugh, the pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving to “thank God for their good fortune.”

There is no more sign of Zernike’s “Tea Party version,” on the websites of Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Powerline, Instapundit, or any other conservative or libertarian blog I can find.  She claims that her “Tea Party version” appears in a one day course entitled “The Making of America,” by one W. Cleon Skousen, but there is no reference to Thanksgiving in the link she provides.  She also claims it appears in a post entitled “The Great Thanksgiving Hoax,” which celebrates the work of libertarian economist Ludwig von Mises, but here, again, there is no sign of the TP Version.  Zernike takes the trouble to pull a quote out of context from the latter:

Thus the real reason for Thanksgiving, deleted from the official story, is: Socialism does not work; the one and only source of abundance is free markets, and we thank God we live in a country where we can have them.

In fact, the posts author, Richard Maybury, explicitly states that the first Thanksgiving was not held for that reason earlier in the post.  The statement above reflects his contention that the celebration would not have continued to the present day but for the abundance made possible by the change in system, not some revisionist interpretation of the intent of the pilgrims themselves as implied by Zernike.

The rest of the article is more of the same.  Zernike takes issue with Bradford himself:  

…historians (here the usual anonymous ‘experts’ make their usual appearance) say the Pilgrims were more like shareholders in an early corporation than subjects of socialism.

Since the pilgrims themselves saw the difference in systems as one between property held in common and helf by private owners, apparently they never read the books of the expert historians. 

“It was directed ultimately to private profit,” said Richard Pickering, a historian of early America and the deputy director of Plimoth Plantation, a museum devoted to keeping the Pilgrims’ story alive.

True, as far as the shareholders were concerned, but completely beside the point as it relates to the distribution of property in the colony itself.

The arrangement did not produce famine. If it had, Bradford would not have declared the three days of sport and feasting in 1621 that became known as the first Thanksgiving. “The celebration would never have happened if the harvest was going to be less than enough to get them by,” Mr. Pickering said. “They would have saved it and rationed it to get by.”

Again, this flies in the face of the source accounts of Bradford and others, who explicitly and repeatedly asserted that the harvests of 1621 and 1622 were not “enough to get them by,” and who noted in passing that grain was, in fact, rationed.  It always helps to actually read the book.

The competing versions of the story note Bradford’s writings about “confusion and discontent” and accusations of “laziness” among the colonists. But Mr. Pickering said this grumbling had more to do with the fact that the Plymouth colony was bringing together settlers from all over England, at a time when most people never moved more than 10 miles from home. They spoke different dialects and had different methods of farming, and looked upon each other with great wariness.

Again, completely at odds with Bradford’s own account, according to which the cause of the grumbling was the system of distribution, and in no way supports Pickering’s fanciful revisionist version.

Bradford did get rid of the common course — but it was in 1623, after the first Thanksgiving, and not because the system wasn’t working. The Pilgrims just didn’t like it. In the accounts of colonists, Mr. Pickering said, “there was griping and groaning.”

This in the teeth of Bradford’s own, explicit assertion, quoting Plato, that the original system, in fact, didn’t work, and that the new system initiated a new era of abundance.

The real reason agriculture became more profitable over the years, Mr. Pickering said, is that the Pilgrims were getting better at farming crops like corn that had been unknown to them in England.

This “real reason” seems to have escaped Governor Bradford, who was actually there, but was, apparently, not as clever at ferreting out hidden causes as Mr. Pickering.  Before finally fading away with a homily about the Iraq war, Ms. Zernike continues,

The Tea Party’s take on Thanksgiving may have its roots in the cold war.

and, once again quoting the ubiquitous Mr. Pickering,

“What’s going on today is a tradition of conservative thought about that early community structure,” Mr. Pickering said.

No, in fact, no “tradition of conservative thought” is necessary.  All that’s needed is to actually read Bradford’s History, where the assertion that private ownership proved superior to communal ownership is simply and clearly stated.  It’s hard to imagine why anyone would even bother to dispute the point, unless, of course, in spite of its abject failure wherever it’s been tried, they still retain a defiant faith in socialism.  I don’t doubt that, while it’s quite extinct among Chinese Communists, and even North Korean absolute monarchists, it lives on in blithe disregard for the events of the last 50 years in the breasts of a subspecies of American journalists.

For that matter, it seems to live on in Europe as well.  As often happens, the usual suspects at Der Spiegel have picked up on the NYT article, repeating it almost word for word in places, and then adding some thigh-slapping embellishments of their own for their credulous readers, ever eager as they are to read anything that portrays Americans as “weird,” “absurd,” or “crazy.”  In an article written by Marc Pitzke entitled, “Tea Party and Thanksgiving: How the Pilgrim Fathers Abolished Socialism,” he serves up the usual “Tea Party as monolith” gambit, and then assures his fans that the “Tea Party thesis,” has been “gleefully plucked to pieces” in Ms. Zernike’s lame offering.  Taking care not to let Bradford speak for himself on the matter of communal versus private ownership, he, too, quotes the omniscient Mr. Pickering’s irrelevancies about shareholders.   Aware of the lack in Germany of any source of information that could seriously challenge the mainstream narrative about things American, Pitzke goes Ms. Zernike one better, describing the Tea Party movement, which represents a quarter of US citizens, give or take, as an “arch conservative” group, and, better yet, “a rebellious wing of the Republican Party.”

In pointing out the absurdities of the Left, it would be unfair to leave the impression that the Right is any better.  Their fanciful assertions that Ronald Reagan or, in the case of Catholics, the pope, defeated Communism single-handedly, and that Thomas Jefferson was a good Christian, are at least as dubious.  And the moral of the story?  Read the source material and make up your own mind.

State’s Rights and Federal Power

There’s no doubt the federal government of the United States is bloated beyond anything the Founding Fathers ever intended.  For example, Benjamin Franklin wrote in response to a scornful letter from some Englishmen, who were our enemies at the time,

The weight, therefore, of an independent empire, which you seem certain of our inability to bear, will not be so great as you imagine; the expense of our civil government we have always borne, and can easily bear, because it is small. A virtuous and laborious people may be cheaply governed, determining, as we do, to have no offices of profit, nor any sinecures, or useless appointments, so common in ancient or corrupted states. We can govern ourselves a year for the sum you pay in a single department, for what one jobbing contractor, by the favour of a minister, can cheat you out of in a single article.

James Madison, a major architect of the Constitution, rejected the broad interpretation of the General Welfare clause that later became an essential rationalization for the cancerous growth of government.  As noted in Wikipedia,

Madison vetoed on states’ rights grounds a bill for “internal improvements,” including roads, bridges, and canals:

Having considered the bill … I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling this bill with the Constitution of the United States…. The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified … in the … Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers.[27]

Madison rejected the view of Congress that the General Welfare provision of the Taxing and Spending Clause justified the bill, stating:

Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms “common defense and general welfare” embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust.

As noted at OffMyFrontPorch, he also wrote the the Federalist Paper, #45,

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite……The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

Jefferson was of like mind with respect to the meaning of the Taxing and Spending Clause, writing in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798,

Resolved, That the construction applied by the General Government (as is evidenced by sundry of their proceedings) to those parts of the Constitution of the United States which delegate to Congress a power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imports, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” and “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution, the powers vested by the Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof,” goes to the destruction of all limits prescribed to their powers by the Constitution: that words meant by the instrument to be subsidiary only to the execution of limited powers, ought not to be so construed as themselves to give unlimited powers, nor a part to be so taken as to destroy the whole residue of that instrument…

Even arch-Federalist Alexander Hamilton wrote,

The State governments possess inherent advantages, which will ever give them an influence and ascendancy over the National Government, and will forever preclude the possibility of federal encroachments. That their liberties, indeed, can be subverted by the federal head, is repugnant to every rule of political calculation. (Speech to the New York Ratifying Convention, June 17, 1788)

But as the plan of the convention aims only at a partial union or consolidation, the State governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not, by that act, EXCLUSIVELY delegated to the United States. (Federalist No. 32, January 3, 1788)

That and much more like it can be found in the writings of the men who actually drafted the Constitution, and nothing that supports the creation of a centralized state of the kind the United States has become today.  Such ideas are now labeled “extremist,” as is anyone who objects to the radical redefinition of government in the United States that has taken place since the New Deal.  The Taxing and Spending Clause became the key to the massive growth of a centralized state after all, and the Tenth Amendment has become a nullity.  To remedy the situation, some are now calling for a Constitutional Convention to reign in the power of the federal government.  It won’t happen, or at least not anytime soon.  Franklin Roosevelt managed to stay in power through almost four terms, in spite of his dismal performance in managing the economy until he was rescued by the start of World War II, by passing out benefits to favored blocs of voters, who could then be counted on to defend their own interests on election day, normally conflating them with the interests of the country.  Federal power will continue to expand for the same reason, and all the Tea Parties in the world won’t stop it.

Der Spiegel’s Denatured News

The editors of Der Spiegel have never been behindhand when it comes to peddling anti-American hate.  Among the first to discover how lucrative it could be in Germany following the demise of Communism, they began publishing quasi-racist diatribes against Amerika that would have made Walter Ulbricht blush. Occasionally their website would be so saturated with such stuff that it was difficult to find any news about Germany.  Germans lapped it up.  It was a case study in the sort of tribalism their brilliant countryman, Konrad Lorenz, tried to warn them about, but, like the rest of the world, they weren’t listening.  One would think that, given their history in the 20th century, they, of all people, might have learned that hatred of outgroups is a bad thing.  Apparently all they did learn is that, if you happen to hate Jews, you should keep it under your hat, but open hatred of Americans is OK.

Eventually a few German blogs began pushing back, and increasing numbers of Americans began to notice. The editors realized they couldn’t keep it up without losing “respectability,” even among other journalists. As a result, blatant anti-Americanism in Der Spiegel had become a shadow of its former self by the final years of the Bush Administration. Occasionally it still leaks out around the edges, though. Of course, racists love their stereotypes, and one of Der Spiegel’s all time favorites is that Americans are “prudish.” Trust me, we could all be screwing in the streets, and they would still describe us as “prudish.” Sure enough, the meme turned up again in an article about Masters and Johnson a few days ago. The byline reads, “The prudish Americans were once enlightened by sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. A biography exposes the shocking life of the couple.”

Of course, the editors of Der Spiegel are nothing if not “professional.” They have a finely tuned sense of nuance, and realize that the level of scorn that Germans expect to find in “objective news” about anything foreign just wouldn’t do in pieces written for non-German audiences. A nice example of the sort of “nuance” I’m talking about turned up in a recent article about the victory of Christine O’Donnell in the Republican Senate primary in Delaware. Here’s the English version, and here’s the German.  The biggest “nuance” in the German version was (you guessed it), the care taken to feed German confirmation bias about “American prudishness.” It’s all about this crazy woman who has a hangup with masturbation.  According to the byline, “She once called masturbation a sin, and the fight against AIDS a waste of tax money.”  The first paragraph continues the meme, throwing in the “Americans are religious nuts” stereotype for good measure;

“According to the Bible, lust is the same thing as adultery. One can’t masturbate without experiencing lust.” Christine O’Donnell fixes her gaze on the camera. She patiently explains the world to the MTV moderator. “There is god-given sexual desire,” she says. However, sex outside of marriage is fundamentally wrong. It violates the sixth commandment.

As Spiegel’s sage German readers shake their heads about the poor, perverted American religious fanatics, they’re fed another helping of the same:

In 1997, Christine O’Donnell said that the government was spending too much money for fighting AIDS. That America was wasting a bundle on pornographic condoms. That cancer was an “Act of God,” but, on the other hand, AIDS was a punishment for individual behavior. That one could eradicate venereal disease within a generation if all Americans kept in mind their Christian values.

Moving right along, Spiegel keeps spanking the monkey:

Masturbation opponent O’Donnell could come up short in the election for Congress.


After winning the primary, she celebrated with as much gusto as she did in her 1996 anti-masturbation campaign.

Got that?  You didn’t miss that masturbation thing, did you?  Oddly enough, the English version only mentions the unmentionable sin once, and that merely as an afterthought;

The Tea Party movement has won a succession of Republican primaries, with its conservative, anti-establishment candidates. O’Donnell is known for her pro-gun, anti-abortion stance, as well as her belief that masturbation is a sin.

Apparently Spiegel wants to spare the sensitivities of its American readers, who will surely know that masturbation makes you blind and sterile.  Other than that, the English version is the soul of non-partisan objectivity.  For example, in the above, the Tea Party movement is “conservative.”  Later on we learn that it is a “grass roots” movement whose “popularity is widely attributed to dissatisfaction with US President Barack Obama and frustration with the lackluster US economy.”  The English version concludes with a selection of similarly bland comments about O’Donnell and the Tea Party movement that have appeared in the German media recently. 

The German version adds a little more “context” and “detail.”  In the opening section we learn that O’Donnell is not merely “conservative,” but an “arch-conservative,” and the Tea Party movement is an “arch-conservative group.”  Predictably, the editors throw in the “extremist” meme, familiar to readers of lefty blogs in the U.S.

In year one after the world economic crisis, there are poisonous political discussions in America about a political drift to the liberal left. The political camps are becoming polarized. Many would say: They are becoming radicalized.

If you happen to be planning a trip to Germany, you’re more than likely to learn firsthand that the home-brewed picture of Amerika that German’s are fed by their media is somewhat different from the “English version.”  Either wear Lederhosen and try to blend in, or brace yourself for the attentions of any number of earnest Teutons, who will eagerly do you the favor of explaining your own country to you.  As for the editors of Der Spiegel, don’t take it personally.  They’re just as “non-partisan” when they’re reporting about events in Germany.  No matter that the German economy is booming, unemployment is less than it was before the economic crisis began, and employers are having an increasingly difficult time finding skilled help.  They still bitch about Chancellor Angela Merkel as if she were, well, as if she were Barack Obama.  After all, she, too, is an “arch conservative.”

UPDATE:  Zombie at Pajamas Media (hattip Insty) has turned up some very interesting Christine O’Donnell/Jimmy Carter quotes.  Don’t look for them on Der Spiegel, though.  They don’t fit the narrative.

Have you Hugged a Tea Partier Lately?

It has always been obvious to anyone with an open mind that innate predispositions have a very significant impact on human behavior. These traits of ours have long been referred to as “human nature.” It is a remarkable manifestation of human behavior in its own right that the tribe of professional and academic psychologists somehow managed to ignore this truth through much of the 20th century. When thinkers like Robert Ardrey and Konrad Lorenz started drawing attention to the fact that the fine behaviorist costume of the emperor of psychology was imaginary, and he was actually strutting around naked, they reacted with rage. Since those days, they have have been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the real world by accummulating mountains of evidence, at least to the point of recognizing the existence of innate behavior. However, Ardrey and Lorenz also pointed out that certain of these innate behavioral traits, and, in particular, those associated with what we call morality, did not necessarily tend to “niceness,” and “kindness.” To this day, the assorted psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists who have finally acknowledged innate behavior continue to studiously avoid recognizing this equally obvious fact, apparently dismissing a 5000 year history of human warfare and slaughter of “the others,” as a mere unfortunate coincidence. Instead, ignoring the implications of their acceptance of innate behavior, and dismissing anyone who objects as a “reductionist,” they continue to cobble away on their Brave New Worlds of “human flourishing,” in which a new morality, decked out in the latest fashion of the secular religion now prevailing on college campuses, will guide us into a glorious future of universal human brotherhood.  I have one question for all these architects of a bright new human future.  Have you hugged a Tea Partier lately?

I rather doubt it.  Don Surber makes the point rather nicely in a recent post about would be terrorist James Lee entitled, “What if he were a Tea Partier…”  When it comes to the Tea Party movement, confirmation bias on the left is running full blast.  Any bit of anecdotal evidence, any act by some deranged individual who can, however remotely, be associated with the movement is frantically seized on as “proof” that all the tens of millions of Tea Partiers are racist, facist, ultra-conservative extremists, or what have you.  In a word, they are all “evil.” 

The explanation for this phenomenon would have been obvious to Ardrey and Lorenz.  They referred to it as the Amity/Enmity Complex, described in an earlier work by Sir Arthur Keith as follows:

Human nature has a dual constitution; to hate as well as to love are parts of it; and conscience may enforce hate as a duty just as it enforces the duty of love. Conscience has a two-fold role in the soldier: it is his duty to save and protect his own people and equally his duty to destroy their enemies… Thus conscience serves both codes of group behavior; it gives sanction to practices of the code of enmity as well as the code of amity.

Enmity towards “the others” is not something we humans can “unlearn,” or turn off at the flick of a switch.  If we are to control it, we must first recognize its existence, and then proceed rationally to find ways to deal with it.  If we succeed, then perhaps it won’t be necessary to constantly repeat, over and over and over again, such horrific manifestations as the slaughter of millions of Jews by the Nazis, or millions of “bourgeoisie” by the Communists.  It will not do to cobble some fine new morality, because Enmity is a part of our morality.  It is a part of our morality that must and will manifest itself, one way or the other, and it isn’t going anywhere because leftist academics choose to ignore it.  It is a part of them, as well as the rest of us, and to see it they need only look in the mirror. 

If the paragons of the left really propose to leave hatred and hostility behind with just a few more salutary tweeks to their New Morality, isn’t it fair to ask, why all the furious denunciations of tens of millions of people over an isolated sign here, or the acts of a deranged madman there, or the unpardonable sin of being “overwhelmingly white?”  Where’s the love?  If these avatars of human flourishing via a new era of “kindness” and “niceness” really propose to free us of the demons of our evolutionary past by ignoring them, why all the viciousness, why all the irrational spite aroused against tens of millions by the real or imagined acts of a few, why all the eager fixation on the “evils” of this latest convenient “out-group?”  Tell me, my friends, have you hugged a Tea Partier lately?

Of the Alternate Universe of the “Progressives”

A popular theory has it that the Internet is contributing to political polarization by providing innumerable blogs, news aggregators and other websites that enable users to filter reality to fit their ideological preconceptions.  Whether that’s really true is still open to question, but I recently noticed some anecdotal evidence in the form of a couple of web essays that tends to confirm it.  The first was a piece written for the Telegraph by Janet Daley, who (for a European at least) showed a remarkable grasp of the reasons for the popular unease that fuels the Tea Party movement and disenchantment with Barack Obama and Big Government.  For example, quoting Daley,

The president’s determination to transform the US into a social democracy, complete with a centrally run healthcare programme and a redistributive tax system, has collided rather magnificently with America’s history as a nation of displaced people who were prepared to risk their futures on a bid to be free from the power of the state.

Americans who have risen from poverty to become qualified tradesmen or entrepreneurs generally believe that they have a right to put what wealth they produce back into their own businesses, rather than trusting governments to spread it around among those judged to be deserving.

What is more startling is the growth in America of precisely the sort of political alignment which we have known for many years in Britain: an electoral alliance of the educated, self-consciously (or self-deceivingly, depending on your point of view) “enlightened” class with the poor and deprived.

A little later I ran across the second piece, which seemed almost purposely written to confirm Daley’s take on contemporary America.  Written, appropriately enough, for CNN (you remember, the news organization Germany’s Spiegel Magazine recently described as “non-partisan“) by Julian Zelizer, a professor of history at Princeton and a quintessential member of the elite Daley was writing about, it was entitled, “Why Obama’s poll numbers have sunk.”  Zelizer’s take:

How should we understand the fate of a president and a party who have been relatively successful at passing their agenda, yet don’t seem to be enjoying an electoral bounce?

With the unemployment rate over 9 percent, many Americans are unhappy and scared. But there is more to it than that.

The first factor has to do with President Obama’s decision to focus on controversial issues that he felt were important to the nation, even if they were not the most beneficial issues for his party. In other words, Obama selected issues such as health care and financial regulation that were sure to stimulate conservative opposition and cause concern among moderates.

At the same time, the president is a pragmatic politician who has been willing to cut deals to survive a notoriously difficult legislative process. In making those compromises, he has often angered many of his supporters on the left.

…citizens are deeply cynical. Given the large donations that private interest groups make to candidates, including the health care industry and Wall Street executives, it is naturally hard to believe that Washington would ever really pass government reform.

And so on.  In other words, the factors that Englishwoman Daley has apparently had no difficulty understanding have gone completely over the Princeton professor’s head.  He can come up with all kinds of good sounding reasons for Obama’s drop in the polls, but the one reason that is energizing the Tea Party movement and is ubiquitous above all others on every conservative and libertarian blog, not to mention talk radio and Foxnews, namely, unease at the cancerous growth of the nanny state and the intrusion of state power in the lives of average citizens, has gone completely over his head.  It’s as if the citizens of the United States could not possibly fear the growth of big government itself.  In the good professor’s alternate universe, the possibility that any of them might object to the prospect of serving as dutiful milk cows,  exploited by the state to support programs that benefit other people, whether that prospect is real or not, could not possibly even occur to them.  Based on his article, the thought has never even entered his mind.  Mind you, we’re not discussing whether the real motivations of Obama’s opposition are real or imaginary, rational or the product of some strange hysteria whipped up by Rush Limbaugh.  We’re talking about the very existence of that concern.

If members of the elites Ms. Daley refers to have not merely discounted popular unease at the growth of big government as a problem in itself, but have so insulated themselves from reality that they honestly believe that unease doesn’t even bear mention as a reason for Obama’s drop in the polls, to say they are out of touch is an understatement.  A large and growing number of the citizens in this country fear their future role will be as tax slaves to an alien state power that will milk them to support programs whose chances of ever providing them with benefits in any way commensurate with the resources they will be forced to hand over are vanishingly small.   The question about whether they are right or wrong in that surmise is not the point.  The point is that elites who pride themselves on their infallibility actually seem unaware that such concerns even exist.  The “best and the brightest” among us are, once again, suffering a remarkable disconnect with reality.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

Human Morality and the Sport of Mutual Villification

Virtuous indignation is in high fashion as I write this. To hear them tell it, those who take any interest in politics at all go about in a state of permanent outrage. The stalwarts of both the left and the right are adept at demonstrating that their opponents are not merely wrong, but must necessarily be evil as well. A time-honored way of “proving” this is to first identify a villain whose villainy is beyond question. Then, to demonstrate that ones political opponent is a villain, too, it is merely necessary to come up with some more or less flimsy way to connect him with the arch-villain.

The Stalinists were masters of the art. Their arch-villain was Trotsky, who appears in Orwell’s novels, Animal Farm and 1984 as Snowball and Emanuel Goldstein, respectively. He figured largely in the Great Purge Trials of the 1930’s. For example, from the Indictment of the trial of the “bloc of Rights and Trotskyites” that doomed Bukharin, Rykov, Yagoda, and many other once powerful Bolsheviks in 1938, the arch-villain is identified:

This (the crimes attributed to the bloc) applies first of all to one of the inspirers of the conspiracy, enemy of the people TROTSKY. His connection with the Gestapo was exhaustively proved at the trials of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Center in August 1936, and of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre in January 1937.

The investigation has definitely established that TROTSKY has been connected with the German intelligence service since 1921, and with the British Intelligence Service since 1926.

and then the sub-demons are associated with him:

Thus, the accused N. N. Krestinsky, on the direct instruction of enemy of the people TROTSKY, entered into treasonable connections with the German intelligence service in 1921.

The accused K. G. Rakovsky, one of L. TROTSKY’s most intimate and particularly trusted men, has been an agent of the British Intelligence Service since 1924, and of the Japanese intelligence service since 1934.

and so on, and so on. Today, the “progressive” Left, is playing the same game with their foes in the Tea Party movement. In this case, the arch-villain is the John Birch Society. They would have us believe that there are more Birchers behind every Tea Party Bush than there were Reds infesting the halls of government in Joe McCarthy’s most fevered imagination. Examples of the ploy abound. For example, from OpEdNews.com’s “Tea Party Reminiscent of John Birch Society,”

The surge of the Tea Party as a potential shaker and mover of the American political system is reminiscent of a movement from the sixties that became particularly popular in the bellwether state of California. The John Birch Society became active and many grassroots members attached themselves strongly to the national political figure they saw as an agent for change, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

From E.J. Dionne’s “Birch and Barry,”

The reaction to Obama has also radicalized parts of the conservative movement, giving life to conspiracy theories long buried and strains of thinking similar to those espoused by the John Birch Society and other right-wing groups in the 1950s and ’60s.

From the Anti-Fascist Encyclopedia’s “Ohio: Birch Society, Racism, More Tea Party Ugliness,”

CityBeat first wrote about the Springboro Tea Party last month, detailing the agenda for a rally planned Saturday that’s heavy with speakers from the John Birch Society and movies about far-right conspiracy theories.

and so on. Google the connection, and you’ll find the meme repeated like a mantra on the websites of the left. Of course, the Right does exactly the same thing, with such worthies as Marx and Lenin in the leading role as Über-villain. The goal is the same in either case. To arouse the emotions associated with human morality by attempting to connect ones political opponents with some indubitable evil, and then use those emotions as weapons against them.  Of course, many other morally loaded tactics are employed for the same purpose. It’s interesting to consider the matter from first principles.

To begin, what is morality? The answer is that it is a term used to describe innate human behavioral traits that evolved at a time when the relations between human groups bore little or no resemblance to those between the massive political parties, nation states, and other social groups of our own time. “Good” and “evil” are constructs that exist in our imaginations for the sole reason that they promoted our survival in times now long forgotten. They have no other mode of existence, and cannot possibly be “legitimate” as objects in themselves, by virtue of the subjective nature of their existence. However, the modes of political conflict described above positively require them to be legitimate and real, else the arguments predicated on the reality of one’s own good, and one’s opponents evil, evaporate into the mist. In other words, the powerful emotions evoked in this process of mutual villification are fundamentally irrational.  Seen in this light, they emerge as what they really are; manifestations of human behavioral traits that are irrelevant to the goals pursued in terms of the reasons they exist to begin with. By evoking them in modern political struggles, one is not serving a holy cause. Rather, one is manipulating the human emotions associated with morality as political weapons.

To the extent that we consider survival an attractive goal, it would be well for us to finally climb off of this treadmill of morality. In our daily interactions with other human beings, that goal is impossible. We lack the intelligence to routinely substitute rational analysis for emotional response, or for behavior according to “human nature” at that level. However, it is to be hoped that the same is not true of political decisions involving the fate of thousands or millions of people. The history of the last hundred years has provided ample justification for this hope. Time after time, the identification of whole racial, social, or religious groups as “evil” has resulted in mass slaughter. The mayhem is still with us today, and can be expected to continue into the future. It is not to be expected that we will invariably be fortunate enough to be among “the good.” We could just as easily find ourselves among “the evil,” and share the fate suffered by millions of others in recent history. The idea that what happened so recently in such advanced countries as Germany and Russia “can’t happen here” is an illusion.

Under the circumstances, we would be wise to keep the genie of good and evil in its bottle. We should at least make an effort to substitute reason for emotion. In practice, this would imply a conscious decision to limit our judgment of the opinions of others to the categories “true” and “false,” and dispense with “good” and “evil.” As weapons, “good” and “evil” can be highly effective. If we routinely use them against political opponents, we are, in a very real sense, threatening them. They may quite reasonably conclude that they have no alternative but to wield the same weapons as the only effective way of fighting back. It would be better to refrain from using the weapons to begin with. The history of the last hundred years has amply demonstrated what is sure to follow if we don’t.

David Weigel and the Journalistic Fish

If you bother to read the dead tree media at all anymore, you’re aware of how quickly and uniformly the latest talking points and memes of the left make the rounds.   Sometimes it seems as if the same hand had written all the stories, merely changing a few words here and there for the sake of appearances.  Like a school of fish, they move in unison, acting for all the world as if they were guided by some hidden mastermind.  But there is no mastermind, nor is there any “conspiracy” to fix the daily slant.  Like the individuals in our school of fish, the editors don’t obey a single will.  They just act according to a common algorithm.  Whoever hacked David Weigel’s e-mail has now just given us an excellent opportunity to peak at the lines of source code in that algorithm.  We get to see, up close and personal, how the message is coordinated, or, to adopt the much more expressive term once used in Germany, “Gleichgeschaltet.”

For those of you who haven’t been following this story, it revolves around the “Journolist,” described by its creator, Ezra Klein, as ” An insulated space where the lure of a smart, ongoing conversation would encourage journalists, policy experts and assorted other observers to share their insights with one another.”  It was recently hacked by someone yet unknown, revealing the details of the “smart, ongoing conversation” to the rest of us.  Among other things, David Weigel, assigned to blog the conservative beat by the Washington Post, contributed such gems as,

There’s also the fact that neither the pundits, nor possibly the Republicans, will be punished for their crazy outbursts of racism. Newt Gingrich is an amoral blowhard who resigned in disgrace, and Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite who was drummed out of the movement by William F. Buckley. Both are now polluting my inbox and TV with their bellowing and minority-bashing. They’re never going to go away or be deprived of their soapboxes.

It’s really a disgrace that an amoral shut-in like Drudge maintains the influence he does on the news cycle while gay-baiting, lying, and flubbing facts to this degree.

…this need to give equal/extra time to ‘real American’ views, no matter how fucking moronic, which just so happen to be the views of the conglomerates that run the media and/or buy up ads.

In a word, Weigel didn’t exactly sympathize with the people he was supposed to be “objectively” covering.  Having been caught in flagrantihe resigned, releasing a string of groveling apologies in the process, such as,

I was cocky, and I got worse. I treated the list like a dive bar, swaggering in and popping off about what was ‘really’ happening out there, and snarking at conservatives. Why did I want these people to like me so much? Why did I assume that I needed to crack wise and rant about people who, usually for no more than five minutes were getting on my nerves? Because I was stupid and arrogant, and needlessly mean.

We are alarmed to learn that some of Weigel’s collaborators on the left are “outraged” by what has happened.  Striking the familiar pious poses, they are rediscovering their inner H. L. Mencken, wondering how anyone can be so lacking in common decency as to leak private e-mail conversations.  Like the Paris fashions, they shrug off ridicule.  For example, from Mark Shapiro,

I do not know Weigel (and actually do not remember most of his postings on JournoList), but I am outraged over what happened to him. It is one thing to castigate a reporter for the accuracy of his journalism or to deride a blogger for the rigor of his arguments. But it is morally repugnant to heist someone’s e-mail comments — and to leak them in a way designed to embarrass him with the people whom he is covering. The obvious and odious parallel would be to secretly place a tape recorder on a table at a dinner party and then to turn the most inflammatory sound bites into a podcast.

It’s enough to bring you to tears, isn’t it?  And, yes, in case you’re wondering, Shapiro’s remarks did include the de rigueur suggestion that the remarks were “taken out of context.”  I am not aware of Shapiro’s reaction to the hacking of Sarah Palin’s e-mail, or to the citizens who have recently assumed the right to reveal National Security Information as they see fit by virtue of their superior moral authority, but I rather suspect it was somewhat lacking in the bathos he managed to work up on behalf of Weigel.

Well, none of this can be too surprising to media connoisseurs.  We could have had more fun with the story ten years ago, when a handfull of journalists still had the chutzpah to claim that they were purely objective with a straight face, but I fear the breed has died out in the interim.  Meanwhile, in his post announcing the demise of Journolist, Ezra Klein predicts,

I’m proud of having started it, grateful to have participated in it, and I have no doubt that someone else will re-form it, with many of the same members, and keep it going.

And, sure enough, Son of Journolist has already made its appearance.  What can you say?  Chalk it up as one more data point, and leave it at that.

Is there a VAT in Your Future?

The dead tree media are more about narratives than news these days, but occasionally narratives can be interesting in their own right. They can be good bellwethers if you want to know which way the political winds are blowing. Take, for example, an article about the value-added tax in last Wednesday’s Washington Post. Other than telegraphing the Administration’s thinking on the subject, it was a masterful example of the current journalistic state of the art in presenting editorials as news.

True, the title larded it on a little thickly. In the paper version it was “Experts say Washington is too quick to dismiss a value-added tax.” I see the Internet has toned it down a notch to the somewhat more subtle, “VAT’s benefits outweighed by politics, experts say.” In journalistic parlance, an “expert” is someone with a modicum of academic gravitas who will reliably spout a given propaganda line if the narrative of the day requires it. Any news organization worth its salt keeps a stable of them on hand suitable for any occasion. Germany’s Spiegel magazine has one of the world’s greatest menageries, including my personal favorite, “peace researchers,” (Friedensforscher), whose ostensible purpose is to promote hatred of the United States. In the case at hand, the choice of “experts” would seem to indicate that the WaPo’s editors, and therefore the Administration, have concluded that the American people need another regressive tax to go along with legalized gambling. No surprise there. Soaking the rich never works. They’re too good at fighting back.

Scanning through the first few paragraphs, we learn that the President’s press secretary, always good for a laugh, has told reporters, “This is not something the President has proposed, nor is it under consideration.” The Republicans, we are informed, don’t want to raise taxes either, even though they “howled about cuts to Medicare in the recent healthcare overhaul.” (Only Republicans “howl.” Democrats “object.”) Sure enough, the right’s movers and shakers on talk radio defended Medicare as if it were some kind of sacred cow, in the midst of their ringing denunciations of nationalized health care. Of course, we also have the Republicans to thank for the massive new prescription drug entitlement, a fact the article doesn’t even bother to mention.

Cutting to the chase, we arrive at the “zinger” paragraph at the end, where the editors always provide a pithy synopsis of the narrative for those too dense to figure it out from the rest of the text.  In this case it is provided by “expert” Bruce Bartlett, a historian, all the more legit because, as we are informed, he was a domestic policy adviser in the Reagan administration:

“I think we have to remember that low taxes or tax rates are not an end in themselves; they are the means to an end, which is higher growth and greater prosperity,” Bartlett wrote on the blog Capital Gains and Games. “In this sense, I think right wingers pay far too much attention to the negative economic consequences of taxation while essentially ignoring the negative economic consequences of exremely large deficits.”

Assuming the Democrats and Republicans are really the only players that matter, I can’t fault the WaPo’s logic here.  After all, when Republicans accuse Democrats of deficit spending, it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.  Of course, the article studiously avoided even the slightest mention of another, seemingly significant, player, if the latest Rasmussen poll is any guide; the Tea Party Movement.  This seems a little odd, considering that the explosive growth of government and the accompanying deficits are the main reasons the movement exists to begin with.  Do the editors consider the Tea Partiers insignificant?  Why, then, have they been shaking with fear for the last month about the way the movement is “fomenting violence?”

Be that as it may, it would seem that (surprise, surprise) the Administration has changed its tune, and that with alacrity.  In fact on the very day the article appeared, the AP ran a story with the headline, “Obama suggests value-added tax may be an option.”  Robert Gibbs must have been stunned!

Well, this is a democracy, and the American people did vote for these people.   Government bennies don’t grow on trees.  Eventually, they must be paid for.  As for those who actually believed Obama when he said he wouldn’t raise taxes on 95% of us, the only advice I can give them is, “open your mouth and close your eyes…”

Insight of the Day…

“Don’t want things you treasure satirized? Just issue a “prediction” and — voila! Meanwhile, note how entirely real radical Muslim threats and violence are treated as just part of the weather — something you have to adapt to — while nonexistent Tea Party violence is an existential threat to the Republic.” Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.

In other words, never accuse anyone of fomenting violence unless you’re sure they’re nonviolent.