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Political Inactivism

kevin williamson

Kevin Williamson is probably one of the most excerpted writers on Rebel Yid.  I was fortunate to meet him lat year at Freedom Fest in Las Vegas. He has a creative and unconventional way of viewing the great debates. He gets beyond the left and right platitudes.

The entire link merits your viewing.

From Kevin at National Review, Engineering Better Voters:

It isn’t that voters are not profoundly ignorant, it’s just that making them less ignorant isn’t really going to help much on Election Day, because political preferences are not, in the main, a function of knowledge.

Progressives are a funny bunch in that they do sincerely believe that government should be empowered, almost without limitation, to do the will of the People, who are sovereign, but they imagine that the People speak with one voice, or at least that they should speak with one voice. When the People get froggy and refuse to fall in line behind, say, the Affordable Care Act, which the best experts drew up on behalf of the People, who (so the story goes) gave Barack Obama a mandate to reform health care, then something must be wrong. And we all know what that is: Too much debate and too much political discourse including too many voices, some of which — those of Charles and David Koch, for instance — must be silenced in order for the People to be heard as one voice, the way it was intended. (No, we are not allowed to ask: Intended by Whom?) So we arrive at the strange situation in which the Left desires maximal formal participation in democratic processes but heavy restriction of everything ancillary to those processes, most especially political speech.

The cynic might here observe that what’s really going on may be something entirely different, that progressives want more participation by voters because they assume that those new voters will agree with them, and less participation in political discourse because they believe that those new voices are less likely to support them, while conservatives want fewer voters because they believe the ones remaining will be more conservative, while they do not worry about all the new forms of political persuasion because those have been mainly conservative. And it probably is the case that many among our political professionals are exactly that calculating.

What is actually needed is a set of conditions under which fewer questions are decided by democratic politics, which is, even in its highly refined American form, a pretty blunt instrument. Some questions are inherently political, but most are not. We needed a positive act of the federal government to rally the country in making war on the Nazis, but invading Normandy is a different thing from invading the kindergarten toilets in Grover, N.C. I’m with Henry David Thoreau: “I heartily accept the motto,—‘That government is best which governs least;’ and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically.”

Which is to say, there’s a time for political activism, but we could do with a bit of political inactivism, too.

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When Ideas Start Having Sex


The internet gave rise to Google and Facebook. The iPhone gave rise to Uber. The ideologies are important only to the extent that they facilitated ideas. Our current development is less dependent on assets and physical capital than ideas. We grow in spite of institutions, not because of them. In fact many of the new ideas render our institutions increasingly irrelevant.

This is one of those articles rich with analysis and thus hard to excerpt- so please link to the whole article.

from the Wall Street Journal, Deirdre McCloskey writes How the West (and the Rest ) Got Rich-This essay is adapted from her new book, “Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World,” published by the University of Chicago Press.

What caused it? The usual explanations follow ideology. On the left, from Marx onward, the key is said to be exploitation. Capitalists after 1800 seized surplus value from their workers and invested it in dark, satanic mills. On the right, from the blessed Adam Smith onward, the trick was thought to be savings. The wild Highlanders could become as rich as the Dutch—“the highest degree of opulence,” as Smith put it in 1776—if they would merely save enough to accumulate capital (and stop stealing cattle from one another).

A recent extension of Smith’s claim, put forward by the late economics Nobelist Douglass North (and now embraced as orthodoxy by the World Bank) is that the real elixir is institutions. On this view, if you give a nation’s lawyers fine robes and white wigs, you will get something like English common law. Legislation will follow, corruption will vanish, and the nation will be carried by the accumulation of capital to the highest degree of opulence.

The capital became productive because of ideas for betterment—ideas enacted by a country carpenter or a boy telegrapher or a teenage Seattle computer whiz. As Matt Ridley put it in his book “The Rational Optimist” (2010), what happened over the past two centuries is that “ideas started having sex.” The idea of a railroad was a coupling of high-pressure steam engines with cars running on coal-mining rails. The idea for a lawn mower coupled a miniature gasoline engine with a miniature mechanical reaper. And so on, through every imaginable sort of invention. The coupling of ideas in the heads of the common people yielded an explosion of betterments.

Why did ideas so suddenly start having sex, there and then? Why did it all start at first in Holland about 1600 and then England about 1700 and then the North American colonies and England’s impoverished neighbor, Scotland, and then Belgium and northern France and the Rhineland?

The answer, in a word, is “liberty.” Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. By certain accidents of European politics, having nothing to do with deep European virtue, more and more Europeans were liberated. From Luther’s reformation through the Dutch revolt against Spain after 1568 and England’s turmoil in the Civil War of the 1640s, down to the American and French revolutions, Europeans came to believe that common people should be liberated to have a go. You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To use another big concept, what came—slowly, imperfectly—was equality. It was not an equality of outcome, which might be labeled “French” in honor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Piketty. It was, so to speak, “Scottish,” in honor of David Hume and Adam Smith: equality before the law and equality of social dignity. It made people bold to pursue betterments on their own account. It was, as Smith put it, “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.”

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A Totalitarian Impulse

Why has the left become so intolerant of dissent? The quality and the rationality of any position can be discerned by its tolerance for dissent. In a world of absolute truth there is no safe space, in a world of relative truth there is no room for dissent.- HO

from the Wall Street Journal, Progressivism’s Macroagressions by Michael Warren

Perhaps the fundamental difference between yesterday’s liberals and today’s postmodern progressives is each side’s conception of truth. Liberals believe truth is external and can be determined through reason. A good liberal uses his reason to achieve justice and equality for all. But postmodern progressives are moral relativists. For them, truth is internal, discerned by and specific to particular individuals. Today a good progressive defends the individual’s internal truth—particularly if the person is an “oppressed minority”—against all foes, including reason. Small wonder that the postmodern left has turned on its own.

The competition between individualized truths—“an unending conflict between identity tribes trying to capture the state for their own narrow group interests”—is what Mr. Holmes believes makes postmodern progressivism a cousin of radical libertarianism. But while radical libertarianism tends toward anarchy, postmodern leftism has a totalitarian impulse. The goal of a postmodern progressive isn’t universal truth, which supposedly doesn’t exist, but power, which is presented in the guise of equality and social justice. The left’s quest for power isn’t of the goose-stepping, arsenal-building kind employed by 20th-century dictators, Mr. Holmes takes great pains to insist. But, he allows, progressive liberals are “willing to dip into the totalitarians’ illiberal tool box.”

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Bernie’s Road to Serfdom


from Bret Stephens at The Wall Street Journal, What’s Socialism, Dad?

When Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died in 2013, an obscure U.K. parliamentarian tweeted, “Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world.”

The parliamentarian was Jeremy Corbyn, now leader of the Labour Party.

Let’s not stop with Mr. Corbyn. In its day, Chavismo found champions, apologists and useful idiots among influential political figures and supposed thought leaders. In Massachusetts there wereJoseph P. Kennedy and Rep. Bill Delahunt, who arranged a propaganda coup for the strongman by agreeing to purchase discounted Venezuelan heating oil for U.S. consumers. The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel extolled Chávez for defying the Bush administration and offering “an innovative four-point program to renew and reform the U.N.”

Up north, Naomi Klein,Canada’s second-most unpleasant export, treated Chávez as heroically leading the resistance to the forces of dreaded neoliberalism. Jimmy Carter mourned Chávez for “his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments and for his formidable communication skills and personal connection with supporters in his country and abroad to whom he gave hope and empowerment.”

There are lesser names to add to this roll call of dishonor— Michael Moore, Sean Penn—but you get the point: “Democratic socialism” had no shortage of prominent Western cheerleaders as it set Venezuela on its road to hyperinflationhyper-criminalitywater shortagesbeer shortageselectricity blackoutspolitical repressionand national collapse. Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro,gained prestige and legitimacy from these paladins of the left. They are complicit in Venezuela’s agony.

Democratic socialism—whether Chavez’s or Sanders’s—is legalized theft in the name of the people against the vilified few. It is a battle against income inequality by means of collective immiseration. It is the subjugation of private enterprise and personal autonomy to government power. Mr. Sanders promises to pursue his aims on the Scandinavian model, as if that was a success, and as if Americans are Scandinavians. It wasn’t. We aren’t. Bernie’s Way paves the same road to serfdom that socialism does everywhere.


Are these rubes ever held accountable?

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Conclusions and Decisions


We have observed how one can use irrefutable facts to reach the precisely wrong conclusion.  It happens when we assume away real personal biases, emotionally attach to models and narratives, or are blinded by a delusional sense of moral superiority.

But can the opposite be true? Can one use fuzzy ideas, even if filled with rational and emotional bias, to reach correct conclusions or solutions that work remarkably well?

I suppose the answer is yes. The difference is the distinction between rational and rationalization.  Often the first case is an action of rationalization where the irrefutable facts are selected to reach the obvious conclusion which is sometimes wrong.  This is most obvious when we encounter an overwhelming consensus in a problem with a large number of complex variables. Rational can be the opposite of rationalization.

In our obsession with numerical data to support policy decisions, we ignore or obscure fuzzy ideas which are yielding superior results. It may pay to follow a successful solution we do not understand than to insist on a data driven prescription that we delude ourselves to accept as an irrefutable outcome.

Philosophies sometimes form to explain how and why the successful ideas worked after the fact.

In my experience bad decisions have common starting points.  The first is an arbitrary deadline.  In the modern age, business moves at an incredible speed and delays can be deadly.  But not every decision is a life or death decision and this drive to make every decision existential derives from a delusional sense of urgency, often to serve a leader’s fragile ego. In politics ruling parties fear the ever shifting winds of election cycles that will close the window of opportunity to pass important regulations and laws.  It is worth noting how many small problems seem to solve themselves if given the time.

Easily reversible decisions should be made relatively quickly, but irreversible decisions should be well thought out, and can be served from diverse input, or from the single perspective of a true visionary leader.  But such rare perspective usually comes from a period of experience and study that does not necessarily correlate with age.  There is a distinct difference between 10 years of experience and one year of experience repeated ten times.

Fear and greed can incite speed and recklessness.

Another enabler of bad decisions is moral supremacy.  When we think we are on a moral mission we find it easy to dismiss dissenting voices.  Worse, when we demonize an opposition, especially in the light of a recent failure, we often fail to learn the lessons of their failure and stand to repeat them. It is much easier to discredit and criticize as incompetent or evil than to recognize and understand the thought process and views that led to the moment.

Moral supremacy may lead to immoral outcomes. To quote C.S. Lewis,

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

There is evil in the world, and it usually persists until a greater force overwhelms it.  But we excessively demonize others among us that share many of the same values.  Russel Jacoby in Bloodlust, noted this as the narcissism of minor differences.  Examples are the Protestant /Catholic conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Sunni/ Shiite conflicts in the Middle East and the partisan conflicts in this country.

We may be unable to lose the human frailties that affect our conclusions and decisions.  We can only try to overcome them with the virtues we also possess, starting with humility.