Thursday, September 29, 2005

Is religion the bane of society?

In the absence of empirical data, often the next best thing is extensive research that is based upon sound scientific principles. The product of such work is typically published in one Scientific Journal or another. This public exposure encourages, if not demands peer review, which ostensibly leads to the verification or falsification of the ‘findings’.

This is not to say that everything in print is infallibly True. Quite to the contrary, as Apesnake says: "studies" are at best a starting point for science and at worst a load of latrine ballast…

With that in mind, there’s an article in The Times (the British variety) that mentions a new study which suggests that "societies are worse off when they have God on their side".
According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

That is at once overly broad and stereotypical. It is overly broad because it presupposes that “belief in and worship of God” is monolithic, and therefore a causal factor of “social problems”. It is stereotypical inasmuch as it erroneously assumes that all “believers” share the view that “religion” precedes, and therefore facilitates, morals and ethics.

Let’s look at those independently, shall we? Firstly, belief and faith are not synonymous, despite the popular misconception that suggests otherwise. As it happens, belief is but one aspect of faith. In other words, 'belief’ is simply mental assent, whereas ‘faith’ is akin to knowledge (i.e. settled understanding or conviction). While that might seem like a distinction without a difference, I contend that it is not. For instance: belief is to third-hand information, as faith is to first-hand information. Faith is imputed to individuals by God; unlike belief, faith is not a volitional act. Furthermore, faith is not a collective faculty, even though it may be shared with others, not unlike dialogue, whereby individuals share thoughts, without divesting themselves of those thoughts. I won’t get into the theological 'weeds' at this point, but I'll be glad to explicate the issue—in the comments—to anyone that might be interested.

Now, faith is not testable by the scientific method, nor is it subject to peer review. Given that reality, I’m cognizant of the fact that skepticism or ‘disbelief’ is the rule, rather than the exception. Such is only reasonable, and in fact, the Bible affirms this. So the questions are: how does religion relate to faith? and how does religion relate to society?

To answer those questions, one must define religion. In the context of ‘the study’, religion refers to the cumulative acts, beliefs and world-view of mystics and theists in general, and American Christians in particular. To the extent that a majority of Americans profess a “belief in God”, it follows that there would necessarily be a blurred distinction between society, morality and religion…they appear to constitute a trinity, so to speak. But in reality, morals and ethics are a-religious; they refer to acts and judgments that emanate from an understanding of that which is right and/or good, as opposed to wrong and/or evil.

To be sure, “right and wrong” are not always universally agreed upon, but let’s stipulate—for the sake of argument—that capriciously violating another’s inherent rights to life, liberty or property is categorically immoral and unethical. The fact that God (providing that He exists…just play along) is the epitome of perfect morality does not prove, in any way, that His adherents are perfectly moral; nor do they consistently act morally; nor do they have an exclusive claim to morality. God is moral, but morality is not God.

As I’ve stated, belief (mere assent) is not faith (spiritual enlightenment). It is therefore my contention that the two—more often than not—are confused by the religious and the irreligious alike. The former are, in some cases, self-deluded, whereas the latter (generally speaking) simply form opinions of theology et al based upon, for want of another phrase, a flawed sample.

The examples that spring to mind are tele-evangelists, religious-right authoritarians and garden variety zealots that insist upon ‘converting’ the world to their peculiar sect. In addition to those, (yes, there is an overlap among them) there are the proponents of Intelligent Design, who presumably mean well, but seemingly fail to realize that their ultimate goal is futile. Their goal being: after demonstrating that the universe was “designed” by a “designer”, the next logical step will be to discredit Darwin and validate modern Christianity in one fell swoop.
“The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.

The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

With that, who could disagree? The idea that the success or failure of a particular society depends upon the collective ‘religious’ morality is utter nonsense. Primarily, this is because the source document—the Bible—clearly articulates that God assess the “heart” (i.e. the inner thoughts) of individuals…not groups! Therefore, based upon the texts, (regardless of ones view of their validity…they are subject to judgment—as literature—in terms of logical consistency) the all too common belief that America—collectively—will be blessed or punished by God is flatly false. While that fact is all but irrelevant to atheist and agnostics, it is potentially life-altering to “professing believers”, in that legions of them contribute their time, talent and treasure to self-perpetuating institutions (churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.) in hopes of pleasing God by increasing its numbers and enriching its leaders. Sadly, in this case, ignorance is not bliss.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Random Randism

This is John Galt speaking:

“All thinking is a process of identification and integration. Man perceives a blob of color; by integrating the evidence oh his sight and his touch, he learns to identify it as a solid object; he learns to identify the object as a table; he learns that the table is made of wood; he learns that the wood consists of cells, that the cells consist of molecules, that the molecules consist of atoms. All through this process, the work of his mind consist of answers to a single question: What is it? His means to establish the truth of his answers is logic, and logic rests on the axiom that existence exists. Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. A contradiction cannot exist. An atom is itself, and so is the universe; neither can contradict its own identity; nor can a part contradict the whole. No concept man forms is valid unless he integrates it without contradiction into the total sum of his knowledge. To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality.”

tautology: fictional horoscope

Cancer (June 22-July 22): You thought that your new lifestyle would be a nonstop party in the lap of luxury, but apparently Mr. Hefner has strict rules for his "permanent houseguests."

--the ONION

Thursday, September 22, 2005

When politics and religion converge…

There is a good TCS article by Lee Harris that concerns itself with the nature of society and politics and the elusive solution to the problem of the human condition. At the outset, Harris quotes from a book (published in 1911) entitled Political Parties by a German sociologist named Robert Michels.
"The fundamental sociological law of political parties (the term 'political' being here used in its most comprehensive sense) may be formulated in the following terms: 'It is organization which gives birth to the domination of the elected over the electors, of the mandataries over the mandators, of the delegates over the delegators. Who says organization, says oligarchy.'"

I certainly can’t argue against that bit of prophesy. Neither does Harris, who, in his article, makes a convincing case for the “inevitability of oligarchic rule”. He posits that, among other things, most people devote the bulk of their time and energy to survival, so the emergence of an administrative elite is as practical as it is inexorable. The problem though, lies with human nature. So the question is: how does a given society prevent the ‘ruling class’ from riding rough-shod over the liberties of ‘ordinary’ individuals.
There is no quick fix to the human condition. The panacea of universal democratic reform cannot change the nature of things any more than the dream of a socialist utopia. If we are to change reality for the better, we must first be prepared to see it at its worst. And here, oddly enough, is where politics inevitably becomes delusional, and only religion manages to get it right. Politics selects a certain group and explains why they should rule over others; religion looks at us all and says that none of us can be trusted with power. The doctrine of original sin is the best prophylactic against the pretensions of any ruling class, and it is precisely those groups that have stressed this doctrine the most that have freed themselves from the tyranny of their betters.

If social homogeneity is sought after, then perhaps religion is the solution to the problems that attend pluralism. But what if individual identity and individual liberty are the goal? If so, there will be conflict, as individualism is largely inconsistent with religion, per se. By religion, I’m referring to the mystical beliefs, customs, rituals, et al that are shared by a group. One is a member—in good standing—of X religion if in fact one conforms to the tenants peculiar to it. Hence, genuine tolerance of individual belief within a particular religion is necessarily forbidden. Therefore, Harris’ implicit suggestion that theocracy is the ultimate solution sacrifices individualism on the alter of societal bliss. I, for one, prefer to take my chances with pluralism and tolerance.

Why am I, a self-described theist (Christian), so adamantly opposed to quasi-theocracy? Well, mainly because I happen to agree with America’s founders, who were wise enough to learn from history. They were cognizant of the fact that their predecessors migrated to the North American continent to escape the mild theocracy of Europe. Beyond that, I believe that the Bible says what it means. Namely, it clearly articulates that faith and politics are eternally distinct and ought not to be mingled. For when such is attempted, both suffer greatly. Additionally, I’m convinced that faith resides within the individual, rather than a corporate attribute that is parceled out to religious devotees. Sadly, the latter view is as popular as it is lucrative.

Aside from internal norms, religious sects often tend to ‘expansionist’, so to speak. One extreme is obviously radial Islam, with its brutal subjugation of women and making war on infidels. The other is the relatively benign Roman Catholicism, which seem content to issue grand Papal pronouncements. In any event, religionists generally aren’t content with leaving non-believers in a state of secularism. But in America, Protestant Evangelicals have become increasingly fond of using political power to effect the sort of social change that, presumably, God would approve of.

The variety of political moralists that dominate the news these days is the so-called “religious right”. They have, without question, carved out a niche in the Republican Party over the last few decades. This much maligned (justifiably in my view) subset of the GOP purports to be Christ’s ambassadors in the US and indeed the world. A recent example of this fervor is in an essay by Don Feder.
And, yesterday, a U.S. district court in Sacramento ruled it’s unconstitutional for school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the words “One nation under God.” In Scriptures, God tell us – time and again – “If you turn your back on me, I will turn my back on you.”

The other side of the proverbial coin is the rarely mentioned “religious left”. These folks were active in the struggle for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. While the that activism was laudable, their underlying motivations were, in my view, suspect. Essentially, this group advocates for the equality of outcome (social justice) and is apparently not satisfied with equal treatment under law. One of the more prominent left-leaning religious organizations, National Council of Churches, stated the following in the Spring of 2001:
"As representatives of the faith community we believe that government is intended to serve God’s purposes by promoting the common good. Paying taxes to enable government to provide for the needs of society is an appropriate expression of our stewardship. We believe the United States of America should have a responsible tax policy for all people, particularly the most vulnerable.”

When politics and religion converge, everyone loses. Such an unholy alliance draws on the worse aspects of both, to the detriment of those that choose not to consensually abide by the arbitrary rules laid down by the self-appointed implementers of God’s will.

If there is to be a cohesive society—one that is sustainable—religion and politics must remain separate. Individualism must be respected. Tolerance of peaceful differences must be a datum that all recognize. If not, some form of tyranny will be unavoidable.

hat tip: jomama

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Point, Counterpoint?

At long last, the probligo has, in a sense, answered (without a reciprocal link, thereby preventing his readers from judging my posts—in context—for themselves…but whatever) this post. I’ll refrain from doing a line-by-line analysis; instead I want to comment on a few points that caught my eye.
What I want to tackle here is not Robert, but the propaganda that he uses is just too fascinating (as is an angry cobra) for words…

Was that a back-handed compliment or a thinly-veiled jab?
One of the biggest surprises for me was the vehemenance with which Robert pulled the race card.

IT HAPPENS that the Louisiana to Mississippi region has both a high proportion of poor and coloured people. That can only be accepted as an artefact of history well passed. It should not matter whether the area is poor, or rich as Croesus. Irrespective of any other consideration we are dealing with havoc and chaos on an unprecedented scale. One can justifiably argue that the rich are more able to respond in these circumstances especially when warning can be given. But if the San Andreas were to let rip, the rich would be in as much need of help as the poor.

I cannot imagine how that could be any more disingenuous, as the probligo is well aware that I’ve explicitly stated my low view of racism. In fact, he’s the only one that commented on it. Nice try though.
I know that Robert’s point is the futility of government involvement in any activity. He calls me “the collectivist” because I disagree.

Wrong again. Presumably, he’s referring to something I said in this post: ”…collectivists (like Probligo?) seem hell bent on eliminating all suffering and inequality of assets and income.” (see the comments for more back and forth). Now, read my quote—slowly if necessary—in order to ascertain that I was characterizing “collectivists”, with the additional parenthetical question being posed to the probligo. Therefore, if the shoe fits, kick someone in the arse with it. If it does not fit, however, then obviously it is inapplicable. One must decide for oneself.
As Robert pointed out in one of his earlier posts, if a person is poor it is the result of wrong decision making. I have asked the question whether “wrong decision” includes choice of parents or place of birth. I have had (to my knowledge) no response to the question.

He’s speaking again of this post. While he does fairly portray my position (without providing a link), he must have missed my response, in which I concluded: Now, even those that happen to be born of irresponsible parents eventually have to look to themselves for the motivation to self-exist. Those that remain in the sub-standard government-provided housing into adulthood and then, in turn bear children in that same environment have only themselves to blame. Your misplaced sympathy is not only ineffectual, but works to perpetuate that sad state of existence. Are you pleased with that?

imagine that

This, I believe…as though there were any doubt. So tell me, what’s your political philosophy?

You are a

Social Liberal
(70% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(93% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating

hat tip: Eric and Chris

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Aid and Poverty: correlation or causation

In response to one of my posts, our friend the probligo posed a question that I think deserves an answer. He wonders: ”What do [you] really believe should be done [by the Federal Government] to help those who have lost all in [Katrina]?”

I’m not naïve, despite my youth (relative to the probligo), so I’m cognizant of the fact that Mr. Bush will indeed be successful in urging Congress to liberally redistribute as many billions of public dollars as “we the people” deem necessary. I’m also well aware that the ‘new deal’ is sealed, with respect to direct cash transfers to everyone from displaced individuals to all levels of the affected local and State governments. Rather than try—in vein—to halt the inevitable spending spree, my intent is simply to show that it is immoral, improper and counterproductive.

First, a review of what has been proposed by Mr. Bush (which, I’m sure, has nothing to do with his sagging poll numbers). Let’s take a look at the dramatic speech he delivered in Jackson Square, dripping with "compassionate conservatism". From the transcript:
In the rebuilding process, there will be many important decisions and many details to resolve, yet we are moving forward according to some clear principles. The Federal government will be fully engaged in the mission, but Gov. Barbour, Gov. Blanco, Mayor Nagin, and other state and local leaders will have the primary role in planning for their own future.

Arguably, Blanco and Nagin (and their ilk) have largely contributed to the economic environment that existed prior to Katrina and certainly, beyond the personal responsibility of those able-bodies that remained, the Governor and Mayor failed to execute the very evacuation that they ordered. In light of recent history, how one can reason that those two ought to oversee the dispersal of multiplied billions of (someone else’s) dollars is a mystery to me.

Adding insult to injury, the President assented to the nonsense that is the go-to excuse for any and all adversity that befalls poor people that happen to be black. You guessed it: r a c i s m.
As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. And that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.

By “bold action”, he means: more money. Is a series of hand-outs really the best way to solve the problem of poverty (putting aside the question of morality)? My answer is obvious, but there’s no need to take my word for it. I would recommend a good site called A World Connected, wherein there is a great article that addresses the relationship between aid and poverty. While it deals with poverty in Africa, as opposed to New Orleans, I contend that poverty is poverty, regardless of geography. This is equally true for poverty’s remedy.
A new study (pdf) from International Policy Network concludes that aid has failed to achieve its goals in the past 50 years. Worse, in many cases aid has been counterproductive – crowding out private sector investment, undermining democracy and perpetuating poverty.

Contrary to collectivists of all stripes, LBJ’s so-called Great Society (aka “War on Poverty”), enacted some 40 years ago, is an utter failure at best and an unjustifiable expenditure at worst. The data is clear; “free money” tends to exacerbate poverty, rather than eradicate it.
Africa received over $400 billion in aid between 1970 and 2000. Yet, the evidence presented in the study shows an inverse relationship between aid and economic growth – when aid rises, growth falls. In part this is because aid supplants private sector investment and undermines savings: there is also an inverse relationship between savings and aid -- when aid increases, saving decreases. Such is a sign of dependency on aid revenues.
(my emphasis)

Although poor governance is not the only explanation for Africa’s woes, the vast majority of countries in Africa are badly governed and bad policy is the most important factor in explaining their continuing poverty.

When will our elected representatives learn from history? Agh…who am I kidding? Those slugs in tailored suits live from election to election. The fault really lies—in my view—with their constituents, who constantly clamor for more and more government-provided solutions to personal problems. The depressing irony is that Government is the Problem. So, to answer the probligo directly: Government ought to get out of the business of pseudo-altruism and allow free individuals to engage in free enterprise.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

when truth is dumber than fiction…

WASHINGTON, DC—Seeking to "narrow the focus of the drug war to the true enemy," Congress passed a bill legalizing drug use for the gainfully employed Monday.

"Stockbrokers, lawyers, English professors... you're not the problem here," said DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson at a White House press conference. "If you are paying taxes and keeping your yard tidy, we're not going to hassle you if you come home from a hard day of work and want to enjoy a little pot or blow. But if, on the other hand, you're one of these lazy, shiftless types hanging out on the street all day looking for your next high, we're coming after you."

The new law, which goes into effect May 1, will enable police departments and courts to focus on what Hutchinson called "the real drug offenders."

"There's no point going after some cardiac surgeon who needs some speed to keep him sharp," Hutchinson said. "That's not what the law was intended to prevent. But the more destructive drug users—the addict who spends his welfare money on crack, the guy in Harlem who smokes marijuana—that is something that we as a society must not tolerate."

Now, seriously…is the actual “War on Drugs” really more sensible than that which is described above? I think not.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I’ve been noticed by Google

I’ve just became aware of Google Blog Search. We’ve arrived!…well, at least some of the more highly evolved among us have managed to put blogging on the proverbial map.

Despite my relative obscurity in the blogoverse, I’m the second entry for “libertopia”. Hey, it’s better than nothing, right? But oddly enough, my “evil twin” (the other Libertopia) self-describes as a ”paleolibertairan”. Although, I'm not sure that it's still active, since the last post was in March.

hat tip: Dada Head

fun with misogyny

If you click on this, you’re going to hell. Seriously.

Note: if she gets stuck, use your mouse…it’s interactive.

Blame Boortz

a positive precedent

PHOENIX - In a ruling hailed by property-rights advocates, a judge has rejected Tempe's efforts to use condemnation lawsuits to seize privately owned land so it can be used for development of a shopping complex. […]

"The anticipated private purposes and benefits outweigh any public benefit or purpose," [Judge Kenneth] Fields wrote in a 31-page ruling dated Monday and released Tuesday. "Profit, not public improvement, is the motivating force for this redevelopment."

hat tip: Kirsten

the improper role of government

According to Rep. Rush Holt, “The essential role of government is to provide for its citizens in their time of need.” Well no, no it isn’t. Actually, the “essential role of government”—the American one—is to preserve and protect the liberty of individual citizens. Such is explicit in the US Constitution. Regardless, Viviane at TPM Cafe espouses ”the idea of government for the people” (government ought to be a force for good).
I’m amazed at the simplicity and the forcefulness of the concept — we have governments in order to help citizens in their time of need! That’s the basic principle; everything else is policy details. I suspect we can agree on the principle, even if we disagree on the implementation of it.

Nice try sunshine, but “we” cannot agree on that principle. Oh…my mistake. You must be referring to your fellow collectivist Democrats. Alright then, carry on...
This principle—helping citizens in times of need—gives an intellectual coherence to most Democratic positions. Government’s not about liberalism or conservatism or church v. state or the culture wars. Instead, government is about helping citizens—all citizens—in times of need. It’s about helping people when they cannot help themselves or when their own resources would be inadequate. This is why I support Social Security, this is why I want a strong FEMA, this is why I support money for education, Roe v. Wade, welfare, a “social safety net,” and access to the courts and trial by jury.

First of all, the US government produces nothing (save for pitiable dependants). Therefore, it has no earned or produced assets to disperse, in a grand display of benevolence, despite our overly compassionate friends' ceaseless advocacy for just that. No, every cent in the US Treasury has been confiscated by individuals that earned them. This, among others, is more than enough reason to reduce public expenditures to an absolute minimum. Secondly, as Congress scrambled to appropriate billions of its constituents’ dollars (in typical Pavlovian fashion), private individuals rolled up their sleeves and opened their wallets. That immense generosity, absent coercion, is how most people respond to legitimate need.

Hat tip: Julian Sanchez, who makes some astute observations about the misguided view of government as provider of needs.
What if putative needs conflict? (One cute but basically apt definition of economics, after all, is the allocation of finite resources to infinite human wants and needs.) What sort of help should it provide and how? These aren't policy details to be hashed out at the margins; they're the whole content of an otherwise empty principle. One might add: a dangerously empty principle, since it leaves the scope of government pretty much unlimited.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

do as I say, not as I do

As one that considers individualism to be the rule rather than the exception, I’m not especially fond of labor unions. I dislike everything from ‘collective bargaining’ to the artificially high wages, salaries and benefits that inevitably result. Suffice it to say, I believe that unionization punishes employers, curtails productivity, leads to higher unemployment and more.

When large corporations resist unionization, they are charged with being “anti-worker” or worse. When Wal-Mart rebuffs the unions, they’re called evil. That’s not all; those greedy capitalists actually seek to profit by…gasp…satisfying consumer demand with a lower price-point than their competitors. It gets worse. Wal-Mart refuses to pay more for unskilled labor than it’s worth. In short: they have audacity to be economic realists, in addition to expecting a modicum of personal responsibility from their employees.

In its quest for retail domination, Wal-Mart is meeting stiff resistance from unions in Las Vegas where, in front of a new ‘big box’, loyal union members howl in protest…or do they?

They're not union members; they're temp workers employed through Allied Forces/Labor Express by the union—United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). They're making $6 an hour, with no benefits; it's 104 F, and they're protesting the working conditions inside the new Wal-Mart grocery store.

"It don't make no sense, does it?" says James Greer, the line foreman and the only one who pulls down $8 an hour, as he ambles down the sidewalk, picket sign on shoulder, sweaty hat over sweaty gray hair, spitting sunflower seeds. "We're sacrificing for the people who work in there, and they don't even know it."

No, I guess “it don’t make no sense”. After all, certainly the employees—on whose behalf they picket—must realize how dire their situation is, considering that gainful employment at Wal-Mart only enables an avaricious beast that will invariably erect more stores that require yet more employees. Worse still, profits will be made and the process will be repeated.

"We're just trying to help the women that get discriminated against in Wal-Mart," says Greer. "We're out here suffering a lot for these people." He pauses, moves his sign so that it blocks the scorching sun on his leathery face, and considers the working conditions of his colleagues out here working for the union.

"We had one gal out here in her 40s, and she had a heat stroke. I kept making her sit down, I noticed she was stepping (staggering), and I made her sit in the shade," Greer said. She went home sick after her shift and didn't ever return to work.

Workers of the world unite!

hat tip: Café Hayek

Monday, September 12, 2005

Pearl of Wisdom

WFB’s latest piece at NRO is classic.

We have been promised reports on Katrina from almost every official body, legislative and executive. It diminishes confidence in purposive thought to lose oneself in polemical theater. Grover Norquist uses his own language. But he could be using that of John Adams, who warned that the government seeks to turn every contingency into an excuse for amassing power in itself. Or that of Woodrow Wilson, who said that the history of liberalism is the history of man's efforts to restrain the growth of government. If New Orleans is a land doomed by nature, then nature's reach needs to be tamed, or else yielded to. The critics have not yet charged that movement away from New Orleans was prohibited by George Bush.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Culturalism, not Racism

Many have opined lately on exactly “how and why” multiplied thousands of people failed to evacuate New Orleans before the hurricane wreaked havoc on that low-lying city. But rather than add to the glut of well deserved criticism of the ineffectuality of government, I think that it could be instructive to consider the real cause of the massive human tragedy that played-out on national television. That cause being, obviously: persistent poverty.

Jane Galt at Asymertical Information has already gone to the trouble of articulating the various factors that contribute to and indeed perpetuate the poverty that led to the displacement and homelessness of so many of New Orleans’ poor. Jane posted a thoughtful two-parter from which I’ll draw and with which I’ll quibble, if only slightly. The first entry is called: Perish the poor. In it, she analyses some specific behaviors that made a natural disaster even worse.
The poor did not have any money to stay in a motel, because it was the end of the month (government checks come on the first of the month) and the pay period (which generally spans two weeks), and few poor people have savings.

The poor were less likely to have cars, or know people with access to cars. They are less likely to be connected with churches or other social organizations that could have functioned to make sure they got out.

The poor do not listen to news as frequently, or as intently, as the middle class, meaning that they had a much hazier idea of what was going on, even if they had had the education to understand what a Class Five hurricane was.

The poor were angry about the divide between them and the middle class, particularly since the middle class is mostly white, and the underclass is mostly poor. When the refugee relief efforts broke down, the belief that they were being targeted because they were black seems to have led to violent and anti-social behavior. […]

As you can see, few of these are directly reparable by the government in any sort of reasonable time frame, and I'm not sure a lot of them are reparable at all; as far as I know, people on the dole in Europe live from check to check too. Other things, like gangs, are something the government has been fighting for some time.

It seems to me that the thought processes of the chronically poor are the main culprit, as thoughts (ideally) precede actions. This is illustrated very well in an axiom that Neal Boortz has promulgated for years, which goes something like this: poor people tend to do that which makes them poor, whereas successful people tend to do that which brings success. Simple, but true. Therefore, I think that Jane only adds fuel to an already unruly fire of irrationality by seemingly assenting to this canard: ”The poor were angry about the divide between them and the middle class, particularly since the middle class is mostly white…” I don’t doubt for a moment that some impoverished blacks believe that, but I do think that when intelligent people lend credence to such a notion it only exacerbates the situation. Instead of misplaced sympathy, hard truth and tough love are called for. Additionally, the term racism ought to be reserved for instances when it actually applies and ought not to be confused with culturalism. Here’s my definition of culturalism: the belief that all cultures are NOT equal. Some cultures are clearly inferior to others…deal with it.

In the second post, which is called: The poor really are different, Jane deals with poverty and its causes more generally. It begins this way:
The post below is complicated, for some conservatives, by the fact that if the poor acted like the middle class, they wouldn't have problems like no credit or savings.

If poor people did just four things, the poverty rate would be a fraction of what it currently is. Those four things are:

1) Finish high school
2) Get married before having children
3) Have no more than two children
4) Work full time

These are things that 99% of middle class people take as due course. In addition, there's some pretty good evidence that many people who are poor have personality problems that substantially contribute to their poverty.

Again, it goes without saying (but that won't stop me): poor decision-making is highly problematic. But I can’t help but wonder why people so casually excuse the irresponsibility of “the poor”. To be sure, there is certainly not an equal distribution of talent, intellectual ability or motivation. That said though, self-sufficiency is perhaps the most basic trait of adulthood. Now I’m not speaking of those with debilitating disease, severe handicap et al, which only constitutes a minute percentage of those living in poverty. No, the overwhelming majority of those that avail themselves of any number of entitlements are as capable of survival as their more well-off counterparts. If you’re able-bodied and have been unemployed for any length of time…get off your ass and get a job!
Bad peer groups, like good ones, create their own equilibrium. Doing things that prevent you from attaining material success outside the group can become an important sign of loyalty to the group, which of course just makes it harder to break out of a group, even if it is destined for prison and/or poverty. I think it is fine, even necessary, to recognize that these groups have value systems which make it very difficult for individual members to get a foothold on the economic ladder. But I think conservatives need to be a lot more humble about how easily they would break out of such groups if that is where they had happened to be born.

The crux of the problem, in my view, is none other than the refusal to think independently. In other words: the lemmings that follow their piers over the edge get exactly what they’ve earned. Face it, if one chooses to incorporate the mindset and customs of the culture of defeatism, the welfare mentality and a racial inferiority complex (ala Rev. Jackson, Rev. Sharpton, Rev. Whomever), then that one bears the full responsibility for the inexorable consequences. The same applies to the trailer-dwelling, mullet-having laborer that accepts the perceived immutability of his impoverishment, in addition to being certain that the wealthy folks in the gated community across town are to blame. One’s race is irrelevant, but one’s mindset is largely determinative of the socio-economic status one enjoys.
That leaves us in a rather awkward place, because while I don't agree with conservatives that the poor are somehow worse people than we are, I also don't agree with liberals that money is the answer. Money buys material goods, which are not really the biggest problem that most poor people in America have. And I don't know how you go about providing the things they're missing: the robust social networks, the educational and occupational opportunity, the ability to construct a long-term life instead of one that is lived day-to-day. I think that we should remove the barriers, like poor schools, that block achievement from without, but I don't know what to do about the equally powerful barriers that block it from within.

But I also don't think that the answer is to use those barriers as an excuse to wash our hands of the matter.

This is precisely the wrong way to look at it. Poverty, especially in America, is the result of a series of very bad choices. The only solution is to stop making those types of decisions and to change course. Only the individuals in question can alter their thinking. What’s more, all of the entitlements one could dream up would in no way solve the problem of poverty. In fact, ever-increasing hand-outs have only made things worse, by creating a sense of dependence upon others for the essentials of life. Lastly, the constant excusing of ill-advised behavior—in the name of compassion—is by far the largest “barrier” that enables a lifetime of poverty. Enough already.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

ad hoc photo-journalism

Check out this real-time photographic account of the effects of Katrina. The first-hand commentary is very interesting.

Hat Tip: Left Brain Female

Food for Thought

Christopher Hitchens:

The Constitution is clear on this point: The president doesn't control the purse. An administration cannot spend money that has not been voted. A huge sum of money was voted by Congress, almost unanimously as I recall, for the reconstruction of Iraq. It was felt that we had a national interest in preventing an important state in another Gulf from collapsing into beggary and terror and anarchy. If you want a scandal to investigate, ask yourself why so little of that money has actually yet been spent. But if it had been, or was being, don't delude yourself for one moment that those dollars were stolen from Bourbon Street. By the same or a similar token, don't imagine that if the Kyoto Treaty had been properly signed by Clinton and Gore, which it wasn't because it didn't pass the Senate, or if every chlorofluorocarbon emission had been stopped 20 years ago, that we'd all be happily going to hear jazz at the Preservation Hall. Those who find themselves in the midst of a ruined city may be excused some but not all of their hysteria. Those who blog about it from dry land have no such excuse.

Hat Tip: Kn@ppster

The People Have Spoken

Considering the cultural landscape, it should come as no surprise that Arnold plans to veto the gay marriage bill. His press secretary said: “We cannot have a system where the people vote and the Legislature derails that vote” Legally speaking, that is correct. This according to the CA Secretary of State (pdf)

Unless the text of an initiative measure states otherwise, an approved initiative goes into effect the day after the election and is not subject to a Governor's veto, nor may it be amended or repealed by the Legislature without a vote of approval of the electors. Should two conflicting measures be approved by voters in a given election, the measure receiving the largest affirmative vote will prevail.

As it happens, a couple of distinguished LLPers have already written about this. Both Eric Cowperthwait and Brad Warbiany have been residents of CA, so they have first-hand knowledge of the political process in the The Golden State.

Before I get into my thoughts on this issue, I want to point out that Brad, Eric and I are in agreement that the government ought not to be empowered to determine which consenting adults may or may not marry. Such decisions are deeply personal and the province of individuals…not that of society.

Eric’s take on the current politicking is somewhat ambivalent:
I also believe that the California Legislature is completely unrepresentative of the people, due to the gerrymandering done in 2000. So, I find myself sympathizing with Schwarzenegger's position, even as I think it just holds the status quo, which is the wrong place to be on this issue. Ugh. […]

The legislature should not be trying to override that ballot proposition. That position has nothing to do with how I, personally, feel on the topic.

That’s a perfectly defensible position in my view. But while there’s no disputing the letter of the law—with respect to ballot initiatives in CA—I think that the spirit of ‘direct elections’ is misguided and potentially dangerous. I’ll explain why in a bit.

Brad argues in favor of the ballot initiative, as a means of limiting the power of the State Legislature.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is completely right to veto this bill. Simply put, the legislature has decided that it has the right to completely ignore the expressed will of the people. Whatever you think of California’s problems, the ballot initiative process is a way for the people themselves to be a check on the legislature. In this country, as in California, we hold that supreme power rests in the people themselves, not in government. We control them, not the other way around.

It seems to me that there are two distinct issues here that have been mingled into one larger principle. On one hand there is the immutable fact that this nation was founded upon the idea that the government is subservient to the citizenry. On another hand, there is the idea that the will of the people is preeminent. The two are mutually exclusive. The government is constrained by the unalienable rights of the individual, which theoretically constitutes the ultimate check on Legislators, Executives and Courts alike. Conversely, the whim of a given majority is fickle and cannot be relied upon to regard the sanctity of natural rights.
California is a state that allows the use of direct democracy for issues that they do not trust their representatives to decide. This doesn’t always mean the people make the “right” choice, but their choice should, in all cases, supercede those of the California legislature. They may be subject to being overturned by the US supreme court, or perhaps California courts, if their will expressly violates the US or California Constitution.

Again, there are two separate issues at play: Judicial oversight and direct democracy. It goes without saying that a fair and equitable judicial system is essential in a constitutional republic. When functioning properly, the judiciary ensures fidelity to the constitution and indeed the rule of law, which exists to protect individual rights in the context of pluralism.

For obvious reasons, direct democracy is a natural enemy of individual rights. I’m not suggesting that Brad holds the opposing view, but I do think that it’s unwise to down-play the negatives of democracy, even when justifiably criticizing a Legislature that abuses its power. The best mechanism for correcting poor representation is the general election; the remedy for bad legislation is an unequivocal congressional or judicial repeal. Is that a perfect system? No, but the will of the people is rarely rational and portends disastrous and far-reaching consequences.

Update: Brad has retracted a portion of the post that I addressed above. However, the points with which I take issue have been left to stand. Brad’s disclaimer: ”Note: The entire below post is wrong. It is a brilliantly valid, well established argument, but is based upon a faulty premise, that being that the Assembly Bill in question would repeal Prop 22.” Be sure to read both Eric’s and Brad’s posts.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

two opposite and unequal views

Let’s look at two vastly different approaches to social and political commentary, shall we? First up: Dada Head hates Bush. Yawn…but it gets better. I followed the link to Leiter Reports, where Brian Leiter attempts to justify irrational Bush hatred by claiming that such is, in fact, rational.
Hundreds of millions of people throughout the world didn't hate George W. Bush when he was Governor of Texas; even in Texas, people who opposed him generally didn't hate him. He was a bad Governor, but more pathetic than venal. Hating Bush isn't some weird affliction that strikes for no discernible reason; it is a rational response to actual decisions and policies adopted by a pathetic, undeveloped, inadequate man named George W. Bush, who has been one of the worst, most dangerous, and most incompetent Presidents in the history of the country. (Reading Mencken, it strikes me that Harding and Coolidge may given Bush a run for the money...but, as I like to say, when you're down in the gutter, why worry about who is closest to the edge of the curb?)

As if that were not silly enough, Brian links to The News Blog where Steve Gilliard, who is apparently foaming at the mouth, wrote a rabid rant. Read it at your own risk, as there is not one single excerpt that I care to post here.

Now, compare the above with an essay entitled Tribes. I’ll not quote any of it because it ought to read in full. It made my day. Many thanks to Eric for bringing it to my attention.

Immodest Proposal

Russell Shaw proposes the following (emphasis his):
Congress should pass a Hurricane Katrina Debtor Relief Act. Such an Act could, and should, help these people by establishing a speedy procedure for certifying the direct, and indirect economic victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Then, retroactive to Sept. 1, there should be a 120-day period in which creditors would be forbidden to engage in any of the following credit and collection practices toward those Hurricane victims thus certified:

1. Prohibit all foreclosures.

2. Prohibit the accrual of any additional interest on credit card balances owed by these people;

3. Establish a "do not call" registry of affected people, and forwarding that registry to creditors and collection agencies. Such businesses and agencies would be prohibited from calling people on this list unless called first.

4. Prohibit the accrual of any past due or overlimit fees on these credit card balances;

5. Prohibit the "aging" of past due credit balances in monthly reports provided by these companies to credit bureaus;

6. Prohibit repossessions of automobiles or other major appliances for the 120-day period;

7. Prohibit cancellation of health, automobile, life, casualty and other insurance due to non payment.

8. Prohibit utility service non-payment interruption by phone, gas, electric, water and Internet access providers.

And finally:

9. Delay implementation of the new Federal Bankruptcy Guidelines past October 17 for at least the next 120 days.

Who's listening? Senator Russ Feingold and Rep. John Conyers have been talking publicly about proposing some sort of financial relief legislation.

Why is it that so many people view government as the solution to every problem? Those who call for more government action are deluding themselves, especially in light of the happenings of this past week. Let’s face the facts, there are very few things that politicians and bureaucrats do well…very few.

Beyond that, why would one assume that banks and other lending institutions would risk the tremendously bad PR that would undoubtedly be accrued if they were to do what Mr. Shaw seeks to prevent? It appears to be no more than the false assumption that all capitalists are evil and only an Act of Congress can mitigate their ‘potential’ predatory behavior.

Anyone remember the Patriot Act? You know…the little gem that was passed in the wake of a certain tragedy. The irony is that collectivists—those that crave more and more centralization of government—fail to realize that their constant calls for Federal action is precisely that which greases the wheels for more right-wing authoritarian laws as well as their coveted, mandatory entitlement programs.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Global War on Weather

According to Red Square at The People’s Cube, the response to the recent catastrophe in New Orleans is strengthening: America Strikes Back At The Environment.
As Americans are trying to come to grips with nature's attack on the Gulf Coast, reports are growing about an increased level of hate crimes against environment in US cities and rural areas. In Georgia, a man was arrested for screaming environmental slurs at the passing clouds and threatening them with a shotgun, while in other areas local residents were seen "accidentally" ramming trees, rocks, and flowery hedges with their cars, trucks, and SUVs. No warm fuzzy feelings remain towards the environment in the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. A couple driving a car with a bumper sticker that said "Nature Lovers" were dragged out of the vehicle and beaten with sticks by a gang of angry neighbors. Instead, offensive bumper stickers saying "Mother Nature is a Big Fat Whore" are flying off the shelves in the states most affected by the hurricane. (...)

Progressive news media have come up with a series of articles asking the same question, "Why do clouds hate us?" Already the spelling of the word "hurricane" in the New York Times and other leading media has been replaced with a more sensitive Spanish term "huracán," and some pundits have switched to a less judgmental term "draft" The word "cumulous" has quickly become derogatory and is also being ubiquitously replaced with such euphemisms as "cute" and "puffy."

President Bush has spoken to the nation from the rooftop of a flooded Seven Eleven in downtown New Orleans yesterday, vowing a swift and decisive response towards the environment. "We are up against ruthless weather systems that wish us harm," the President said. "But we are going to hunt them down and strike them at their bases. Make no mistake, and I want to be absolutely clear about it - this is not a war against all environment. We are not fighting animals and forest, just the weather." (...)

The new Republican initiative is met with vehement protests from grass root groups bankrolled by George Soros, claiming that declaring martial law in Louisiana infringes upon the rights of the looters to freely loot, as they represent oppressed classes who have a moral right to get back at society.

Mother of All Protesters Cindy Sheehan sided with Mother Nature at Meet the Press yesterday, where she endorsed Hurricane Katrina as Mother Nature's way to liberate itself from the oppression of American imperialism. "A grieving mother myself, I understand Mother Nature's rage against America and George Bush in particular. I did not give Bush my permission to protect America from diddly-squat! I am outraged that he is sending our kids to fight an immoral war against nature in Louisiana. Our children were not raised to fight the Neocon war for Israel in New Orleans."
In other news, Jane Fonda and George Galloway's Anti-War Bus Tour is said to be diverted to Louisiana in order to protest the illegal use of US troops in flooded areas.

Please don’t mistake this morbid humor as callousness on my part. I just think a little levity would be a nice reprieve from all of the depressing news that has predominated this past week.

Hat Tip: John Galt (I’ll bet you can’t guess his world-view)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Put it in Perspective

This post will contain very little commentary from me, as this LA Times article is quite revealing.
"Hour by hour, the situation on the ground is improving," Bush said. "Yet the enormity of the task requires more resources and more troops."

The pledges continued to sound hollow to many of those awaiting relief in 95-degree heat and stifling humidity, including Larry Martin, 35, who had been waiting four days to be bused from the convention center.

"They embraced and they cried on Sept. 11; they cried for the tsunami," Martin said.

"But they just left us here to die…. We survived the hurricane, and now we're still fighting to survive a week later. It's crazy."

I wonder how Mr. Martin has managed to ‘survive’ these past 35 years.
Soon after the president spoke, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) distributed a letter to Bush calling for immediate cash assistance for survivors.

"Only the federal government can adequately address the basic needs of our fellow Americans suffering from this disaster, and they deserve a better response from their government," they said.

I was mistakenly under the impression that the level of private giving has been unprecedented. Apparently, "only the federal government” can solve problems.
The displaced in Texas and other states welcomed their deliverance from the worst conditions in New Orleans, but their secondary shelters were hardly garden spots.

Inside Houston's Astrodome, evacuees stood in long lines for medical attention and showers. "I don't know how much longer I can take this," said Evonne Ripley, 28, of New Orleans.

Is this woman not free to seek other, more luxurious accommodations? Obviously, she’s in no position to complain about the provisions that others have graciously made available to her.
The top military commander in the disaster zone, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, also expressed his sorrow but added that given the challenges, the military had responded in "record time."

Honore said the mood at the Superdome "has been tense. But guess what? There has been more talk of riots and disorder than there actually has been."

The general said evacuees would have left if the shelter had truly become intolerable.

"If there was a fire under your feet, would you stand there? Hell, no," said Honore, a Louisiana native. "There was an acceptable amount of risk. They would have come out of that place. It was better for them to stay."

…nuff said.
The millions of dollars pouring into various charities for hurricane victims was "unprecedented in recent American history," according to Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Three-quarters of the $400 million in contributions and pledges to date has gone to the American Red Cross.

Those figures dwarf the amounts given in the days immediately after the Indian Ocean tsunami ($79.8 million) and the terrorist attacks of 2001 ($24.8 million).

"The total amounts for Sept. 11 were over a billion dollars, but that took several months," Palmer said. "To have more than $404 million [after nine days], it is astonishing."

Juxtapose those figures with the asinine rhetoric of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). A little gratitude would be a welcome change, no?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

self reliance = more freedom and vise versa

Of course I’m sympathetic to the plight of the distressed throngs in New Orleans. I wonder, though, if the various criticisms of inaction, delayed action and other such perceived government failings is warranted. The question in my mind is: do we expect too much from government? For me, the answer is clearly yes. More specifically, do we really want the state to do more than call for immediate evacuation when natural disasters are imminent? The fact is that the next step would be forcible removal of individuals against their will. I, for one, am adamantly opposed to anything of the sort.

Daedalus suggests that the FEMA director, Michael Brown, is a “heartless bastard” because he had the audacity to intimate that those who remained in New Orleans might just bear some responsibility for the predicament in which they find themselves.
What were they supposed to do, walk? Has he seen the sick and the dead? Is it so unfathomable that there are people who do not own cars? BLAME THE POOR! BLAME THE POOR! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, and let them die!

From the televised ‘interviews’ that I’ve seen—of people that stayed behind—most admitted that they “underestimated Katrina” or “wanted to save material belongings” and the like. In my view, they ought to be free to make that decision. What I object to is the inappropriate complaining about the lack of ‘timely’ assistance for those that refused to evacuate. Certainly, those without transportation are in a different category, but at the end of the day, the responsibility for one’s wellbeing lies with the individual. At this point, the only reasonable attitude for the ‘refugees’ to have is that of unequivocal appreciation for the overwhelming display of generosity by complete strangers. Perhaps I’m a “heartless bastard” as well. So be it.

I’m not alone, in terms of my seemingly aloof outlook, with regard to this obviously tragic situation. Reality can be harsh at times; one must deal with it and move on. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not advocating for less private charity. Quite the contrary. What I'm advocating is a paradigm shift away from the irrational reliance upon the state for one’s very existence. For as this past week has shown—in painful detail—that to look to government for sustenance and survival is folly. Jorge puts it this way:
This is the first big negative. People are going to give away more freedom, for more promised "security". Which of course is a lie. But it is a comforting lie, and it is much nicer to hear than the truth, which would imply greater individual responsibility.

Liberty has also lost in another way. The gangs of marauders that have been terrorizing the helpless are another facet, and a logical consequence of, people's growing dependence on the state. The state is viewed, by potential victimizer and victim alike, as the source of order. When the state is not present, those who would prey on their fellow man feel free to do so. And they are correct, as the potential victims are unarmed, both physically and, perhaps more importantly, emotionally and intellectually. They do not know how to defend themselves. They have been told over and over, "the police will protect you". They have been told by the experts "give in, don't fight, you might get hurt." They have been disarmed. Very effectively disarmed.

From Social Security to the myriad government welfare programs (including public schools and many other things not commonly thought of as handouts) people have been trained to rely on government. They have been told to surrender responsibility to the state. They have willingly surrendered freedom along with it.

Update: Pundit Guy writes:
The anger burning in New Orleans over the past few days is justifiable. Refugees deserve an explanation.

But, their anger should not be directed at George W. Bush. Their anger should be directed at the criminals in their city, the drug addicts who held up their neighbors at gunpoint, the looters who stole from their neighborhood businesses, and the bad decisions, the bad calls, the inaction, and the ineffectiveness of their disconnected and dysfunctional local government.

Yes but, what responsibility ought to be borne by those that have made a series of ”bad decisions”, which has led to their inability to get the hell out of Dodge…or rather, the Big Easy? Past decisions are now history, but the future is that to which those affected by Katrina must direct their attention, instead of looking for someone else to blame for their poverty and lack of planning.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Price Gouging Myth

TKC, aka The Pub Crawler, speaks to an issue that hits close to home—literally. He links to a WaPo article that makes me shake my head in disbelief.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) signed an executive order Wednesday authorizing state sanctions against gas stations that gouge consumers.

"I do not believe there is an energy emergency in this state, but we will not tolerate our citizens perceiving the fact there is by exorbitant price-gouging prices," he said. "Frankly, when you prey upon the fears, the paranoia of citizens, it is akin to looting in a different sort of way, Perdue said, according to news reports.

As it happens, Sonny Perdue is the first Republican Gov. of Georgia since Reconstruction. Sure we’ve had ‘conservative’ Democrats in the Governor’s Mansion (awful architecture) over the years. The most notable of which is Zell Miller, who served during the Clinton era. It’s also worth noting that Miller’s politics have changed significantly, along with the rest of the South over the last decade or so. This has obviously contributed to the current political landscape in America.

Like Zell, Perdue is a former Democrat State Senator. Unlike Zell, Sonny quite shrewdly switched his party affiliation a couple of years ago, in order to win his Gubernatorial bid. So far he’s not been noticeably worse than any other Republican and certainly not as bad as his former Democrat colleges…until now. What on earth is he thinking? Well, among other things, reelection. Ironically, Perdue will probably ‘earn’ political points for ‘compassion’, while few will recognize that his own words indict his gross misuse of government power: "Frankly, when you prey upon the fears, the paranoia of citizens, it is akin to looting in a different sort of way” Sounds like the old pot and kettle, eh?

With respect to so-called “price gouging”, I experienced the fueling-frenzy in Georgia yesterday. I hit the pumps before rush hour, so I only paid $3.69 per gal., in addition to waiting in line for about 45 min. Look, when demand exceeds supply, prices rise. Why is this ‘news’? It’s because economic ignorance runs rampant—plain and simple. Political and economic ignorance is precisely the raw material from which a massive club is fashioned by the state—with popular consent no less—to bludgeon and plunder its oblivious constituents. I could only wish that the previous sentence were hyperbole. Slow, deep breaths. Slower, deeper breaths. Alright, in order to regain my composure, I’ll let TKC have the last word, as it is spot-on.
If I am selling something then I should not be artificially limited by government to simply recouping my costs plus a non-market determined profit. I should be able to sell anything I want for any amount I can get for it. If you don't want to buy it then don't. If you can find someone down the street selling for less then take your business there.

How about this for an example: Are we going to haul home owners before a state commission for driving up the price of homes? Should we use the government to insist that you only sell your home for what you first paid for it plus any improvements and call it fair trade or should we allow someone to sell their home for whatever they can get for it because demand has skyrocketed?