Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Aldous Huxley Revisited

 In 1932, Aldous Huxley published his dystopian novel, Brave New World. Initially criticized, the book has gained great popularity over time and, today, can be found on many lists of the most important books of the 20th Century.

Brave New World is set in the United Kingdom during the year 2540. A new world order has come into being following civil wars between competing political ideologies. The winning faction, World State, has implemented a totalitarian society administered by elites. The population is controlled by genetic engineering so humans are conditioned, from birth, to occupy a pre-determined role in society. Those roles are designated by five castes (alpha to epsilon), and one’s caste determines career choice, social position, and behavior. Socially, members of each caste mix only with members of their own caste. All life’s pleasures are available in this world, including travel, food, and sex. Depression and sadness do not exist because the population is provided with euphoria producing drugs whenever needed. For enjoyment, people attend feelies, movies that give the viewer a multi-sensory experience.

Brave New World explores individuality, freedom, and the problems of a mass-production society. It’s a world without sickness, suffering, sorrow, and pain, but it’s also one devoid of freedom, faith, love, and pride. People have been programmed to live like robots and are satisfied with their way of life. Blatantly obvious to the reader, however, is the extinction of their humanity.

In 1937, Huxley, his wife, son, and friend, the historian Gerald Heard, moved to the United States, and settled in Southern California. Heard introduced Huxley to Vedanta meditation, and vegetarianism through the principle of ahimsa, which emphasizes respect for all living things and the rejection of violence. In 1938, Huxley befriended Jiddu Krishnamurti, a well-known Eastern philosopher, whose teachings he greatly admired. Huxley and Krishnamurti enjoyed debating about life, with Krishnamurti taking the role of idealist and Huxley, the pragmatist.

Huxley developed an interest in mind altering drugs and began experimenting with Mescaline and LSD in the early 1950s. An aspiring mystic for most of his life, he wanted to explore hallucinogenic drugs to see if they could provide him with a mind-expanding experience. Huxley wrote about his mescaline experience in the autobiographical The Doors of Perception, published in 1954.

In 1958, twenty-six years after Brave New World was published, Huxley updated his ideas with the non-fiction work, Brave New World Revisited. It served as a platform to express his thoughts about the destiny of Western society and the likelihood of a dystopian future. Huxley devoted each chapter to a single factor in modern society that threatened human survival. His list included overpopulation, over-organization, and brainwashing.

Huxley believed over-population posed the greatest threat because the human population was growing so rapidly the planet will eventually run out of resources. Only population control could prevent this impending calamity. Over-organization was also seen as a significant problem. The world has become too complex, particularly in large metropolitan areas where the population density requires enormous bureaucracies. Human organizations must be divided into smaller units in order to be effective.

Huxley stepped through the human control weapons used in Brave New World, including brainwashing, chemical persuasion, subconscious persuasion, and hypnopedia (learning while asleep). He discussed each with respect to their current status and how they might be used in the future. In each case, he saw an opportunity for great good or great harm.

Nearing the end of his life, Huxley detected the growing spirit of a new generation in the United States, and it helped revive his utopian ideas. His novel, Island, published in 1962, was an anti-Brave New World tale about a utopian civilization.

The story centers around Will Farnaby, a lackey for oil baron Joseph Aldehyde, who sinks his boat near the south sea island of Pala. He hopes to come ashore to negotiate a business deal with island’s queen to buy the island’s oil assets. The people of the island are non-violent, practice Buddhism, and use psychedelic drugs for mind expansion. The island was under the threat of invasion, but its people were not willing to save themselves if it meant abandoning pacifism. After experiencing the wonders of life on the island, and aware the invasion is imminent, Will realizes he was wrong to think the island should be exploited. The book’s themes and ideas include overpopulation, ecology, pacifism, democracy, mysticism, and mind-altering drugs, but their application is reversed from Brave New World. For example, drugs are used for social bonding and not control, trance states for learning rather than indoctrination.

Aldous Huxley was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1963. On his deathbed, he asked his wife to inject him with LSD to ease his transition into the afterlife. He died the same day President Kennedy was assassinated.

Huxley was a hero to the counterculture movement of the 50s and 60s because they were attracted to his advice on how to stop civilization's march to the apocalypse described in Brave New World. Specifically, he told them “Do anything not to consume and go back to nature."

Brave New World uses the conflict between consumerism and freedom to stimulate a debate about culture. The tangible prospect of a technology-driven, inhuman future can only be stopped by a retreat to the utopia offered by nature. That retreat can only be achieved by not consuming. To the counter culture movement, Huxley’s pronouncement was not a demand, and the rejection of consumer culture did not necessarily require a return to nature.

Technology came from culture, not nature, and, because of its investment in popular music, the counterculture movement had to reconcile technology’s role in their belief system. Rejecting materialism and participation in the values of the mass society did not did not necessarily include a rejection of consumer capitalism. The focus on nature obscured the counter culture’s reliance on technology and other capitalist structures of mainstream 1960s and permitted an engagement with them.

In his 1969 book, The Making of a Counterculture, Theodore Roszak (1933-1977) asserted that the movement had two separate components: protesting the Vietnam War, racial injustice, and hard-core poverty were attacked from within the culture while their interest in the psychology of alienation, oriental mysticism, psychedelic drugs, and communitarian experiments placed them outside the culture.[1]

Huxley’s writings about taking hallucinogenic drugs and his focus on Eastern religions influenced many in the counterculture movement, and the Doors of Perception became a “how to” manual for taking Mescaline.

The Beatles admired Huxley and placed his image on the cover of their “Sgt. Pepper” album. The rock group, The Doors, took their name from the book’s title.

Sixty years after his death, what would Huxley have to say about the world today?

Undoubtedly, his greatest fear would be the breath of postmodern communication systems and the use of propaganda to control the public. He might even agree this problem is approaching the level described in Brave New World. Today’s media is saturated with propaganda, representing competing ideologies and driving a political wedge between the people of America. In Brave New World, there was only one voice, because the battle of ideologies had already been won. The winner of today’s propaganda war is unknown.



[1] Roszak, Theodore. The Making of a Counter Culture. Faber & Faber, London, 1970.

Friday, May 26, 2023

George Orwell’s Critique of Socialism

American socialism must be the most diverse ideological movement in our country’s history. Today, we can count Marxists, communists, classic socialists, democratic socialists, social democrats, progressives, and postmodernists all operating in its orbit. Is it any wonder many call themselves socialists without being able to describe what they believe? History has shown changing political systems requires a unified group large enough to take power and hold it. That unity has always been lacking in the American socialist movement because of ideological differences among its adherents.

George Orwell (1903-50), the well-known British writer and social critic, was attracted to socialism as a tool end poverty, but became frustrated by its lack of acceptance in the United Kingdom and Western Europe. Orwell identified ideological confusion as a key problem in his book The Road to Wigan Pier published in 1937. Orwell was approached by his publisher, the well-known social reformer Victor Gollancz, to write a book about economic conditions in the depressed areas of Northern England. Gollancz suggested Orwell visit cities as part of his research, thinking the public would be more interested in stories about real people than the dry and boring demographics that accompany a statistical analysis. Orwell had previously lived among the working poor in Paris while he was researching his book Down and Out on Paris and London, published in 1933.

The author visited in three cities during January, February, and March of 1936, but spent the most time (the month of February) in Wigan, an industrial town located 45 minutes west of Manchester. At the time, Wigan had a population of 87,000 and was known for coal and cotton manufacturing. Wigan Pier had been a landmark of the town; a coal loading dock removed several years before the author’s visit.

Orwell assumed a working-class identity by moving into a rundown boarding house managed by a couple named Brooker. This husband-and-wife team operated a converted home as a shop for selling tripe and a lodging house for paying guests. Orwell slept in a small upstairs bedroom, which was a converted drawing room. Some pieces of furniture remained, dust laden and unused. Four beds were squeezed tightly into the room, forcing Orwell to sleep with his legs bent to avoid kicking the person in the bed next to him. A chandelier hung from the ceiling, caked with an inch or two of dust. The windows were sealed, allowing no ventilation, and the room reeked with the smell of a neglected hamster cage.

The first floor featured a single room serving as a kitchen and dining room. Its table was covered with oil cloth on a layer of old newspapers. Orwell never witnessed the table being wiped off; the same crumbs were there every day. Mr. Brooker, who served the meals, never washed his hands, so Orwell had to accept a greasy thumbprint on every piece of buttered bread he was given. Brooker worked in the shop most of the day, so his chores in the boarding house were neglected until he closed the shop. Often the beds were not made until 6:30 in the evening.

After his stay in Wigan, Orwell traveled to Chesterton, some 45 miles to the southeast, to explore a coal mine. The undertaking began with a ride down the main shaft in a cage. Upon reaching the working level, some 400 feet underground, Orwell realized he had to walk long distances (up to a mile) to reach the sections where the men were working. The tunnels were about five feet high, so a person had to walk bent over the entire time. The miners shoveled loose coal onto a conveyor belt so it could be carried to the surface. When all the loose coal has been removed, blasting powder was used to break apart the solid black wall of coal. The space was thick with coal dust even though fans were pulling air through the tunnels. The work day was seven and a half hours with no breaks, except when a miner was able to steal fifteen minutes to gnaw on a piece of bread or have a sip of tea.

Happiness in the industrial towns of the north was simple to assess. Did the husband have a job and, if so, did he make enough money to live on? Too often, the answer to one of those questions was no.

The stories of real people made up the first seven chapters of The Road to Wigan Pier. In the final section, which included chapters eleven through thirteen, Orwell evaluated socialism as a replacement for capitalism. His starting point was the assumption socialism was the best solution to the problem of inequality and poverty in the United Kingdom. His role, he stated, was to play the devil’s advocate and critique socialism by analyzing it. To defend it, one must attack it.

In Orwell’s view of Western Europe, socialism was moving backward instead of forward, eclipsed by communism and fascism. If capitalism was on the decline, socialism should be on the rise so socialism’s lack of progress must indicate some defect in its approach. Orwell believed fragmentation of the socialist ideology was a major reason for its lack of success.

Orwell saw socialist theory as exclusively a middle-class ideology supported by people who do not fit the common narrative.

The typical socialist is not a ferocious working man in greasy overalls and a raucous voice. He is either a useful snob or a prim little man with a white-collar job – usually a secret teetotaler and often with vegetarian leanings, with a history of non-conformity behind him and a social position he has no intention of forfeiting.[1]

In addition to these two types is the disquieting presence of cranks. Socialism draws into itself by magnetic force every juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex maniac, Quaker, Nature cure quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.

These groups alienate decent people.[2]

And there are the middle-class socialists who talk about a classless society but will never give up their own social prestige.[3]

To Orwell, the working man’s view of socialism was pure. He wanted better wages, a shorter work week, and freedom on the job. This contrasts with the passionate revolutionary socialist who sees himself in a battle against oppression. The working man’s view was more legitimate because he understood that socialism represented justice and fairness. He hoped for a world with the worse abuses removed but didn’t understand the price to be paid to reach that goal. You can’t pursue socialism to achieve one piece of what it offers, because the journey to that end requires the tear down of an entire political system.

Orwell thought about the motives of the theoretical book-trained socialist in order to understand his behavior. That person presented himself as motivated by love for the working class and the belief in equality. Was this his true aim? It seemed hard to believe because he has never been part of the working class and is far removed from it. More likely, it was his sense of order that drove him. Working class problems were messy and hard to clean up. Only a new political structure could fix that problem.

Perhaps this advocate didn’t really care about the working class and had no desire to associate with them. Perhaps he viewed himself part of a group of elites who would implement political reforms designed to control the lower class. He was not an emotionless theorist, however, because he also was a man who harbored a smoldering hatred of the capitalist oppressors that anticipated violence.

Orwell suggested socialism appealed chiefly to unsatisfactory or even inhuman types.

 You have the warm-hearted unthinking socialist, the typical working class socialist, who only wants to abolish poverty and doesn’t understand what that implies. On the other hand, you have the intellectual book-trained socialist, who understands that it is necessary to destroy the current civilization and is quite willing to do so. And this latter group is drawn almost entirely from the middle class and from a rootless town-bred section of the middle class at that.[4]

Still more unfortunately, it includes – so much so that to an outsider it even appears to be composed of the kind of people I have been discussing – foaming denouncers of the Bourgeoise, the more water in the beer types of which Shaw is the prototype, and the astute young social-literary climbers who are communists now, and will be fascists five years from now, and then all that dreary tribe of high minded women, and sandal wearers, and bearded fruit juice drinkers who come knocking toward the smell of progress like bluebottles to a dead cat.[5]

Ordinary people who were attracted to socialism conceptually, could not picture themselves in in association with these groups. They might embrace a revolution but would never support a dictatorship of the elites.

When confronted with resistance to his ideas, the ardent socialist sees opposing views as corrupt, expressing skepticism about whether socialism could work, or a fear of the revolutionary process. This view was too narrow leaves out valid reasons held by many people, including the value of spiritual and nationalistic ideas fundamental to human society. If these values were sacrificed, would the people regret what they had lost?

Orwell believed that a rise of fascism can result from socialist parties failing to control their members. The appearance of communism is a signal the labor class is unraveling and the only way to save a capitalist system is a transition to fascism. Fascism achieves the goal of socialism while retaining fundamental values like religion and nationalism.

Orwell believed that socialism could prevail over fascism if class distinctions could be put aside. He feared that if England failed to build a strong labor party, fascism would prevail. If it came to a struggle between socialism and fascism, he hoped the diverse socialist groups would unite for the cause and put aside their differences.

Obviously, Orwell could not see the future from 1937. He was frustrated at the lack of progress socialism was making and expressed his thoughts on the subject. To him, socialism’s competitors appeared to have the upper hand in a world rejecting capitalism. He could not foresee fascism would be destroyed by its lust for power and universally condemned as an unjust political system. He knew the Soviet Union was a corrupt authoritarian oligarchy, but did not know its success would be limited.

Capitalism and democracy won the Second World War and became the dominant political system worldwide because they represented the best path to opportunity and freedom.

As for socialism, it remains today the fragmented ideology of the Left.

 

 

 



[1] Orwell, George. The Road to Wigan Pier.  Independently published 2021, Section 11, page 3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Orwell, George. The Road to Wigan Pier.  Independently published 2021, Section 11, page 7.

[5] Ibid.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Is Everyone on the Left a Marxist?

Polls have shown the American political Left is made up of diverse groups, including Marxists, socialists, progressives, and liberals. Is that really the case or are all these groups just Marxists with different labels?

Recent surveys paint a picture of the diversity of this group. A 2018 study from More in Common describes the Left as made up of three groups: Progressive activists (23% of Democrats), Traditional liberals (32%), and Passive liberals (44%). These three groups include 84 million people or about 34% of adults.

A similar study conducted by the Pew organization in 2021 provided additional granularity by dividing the Left into five sub-groups: Progressive Left (12% of Democrats); Establishment Liberals (23%); Democratic mainstays (28%); outsider Left (16%); and stressed sideliners (13%).

A majority of the Progressive Left label themselves Democratic Socialists. They are young, white (70%), and highly educated. This group is not concerned with tribalism because social justice has to happen no matter what price has to be paid. Establishment liberals strongly support the Democratic Party but believe compromise is necessary in order for the government to function. They are highly engaged in politics. Democratic mainstays are moderates who agree with many Democratic positions, but are older and less educated. Outsider Lefts are young and less politically active. They typically vote Democrat but dislike both parties. Stressed sideliners have mixed political views and vote for either party. They are not engaged in politics and are financially stressed.

True Marxists require government to have two essential elements: an economy managed by centralized government and an authoritarian political system. While the hard-core Marxists in the United States adhere to this model, the rest of the Left seems to prefer something different.

Many, including Bernie Sanders, advocate for Democratic Socialism. In this model, a political democracy is substituted for the authoritarian dictatorship and then combined with a centrally managed economy. The federal government would employ economic planning to manage the economy from the top. Corporations would be owned by the public and managed using a market socialism model, which means decisions regarding the operation of businesses would be made by a democratic group of workers and management. Workers would share in the profits of the enterprise. Smaller businesses would be managed by cooperatives, groups of workers and management who jointly run the business.

A third type of Socialism is called Social Democracy, which is sometimes used interchangeably with Democratic Socialism depending on the version being discussed. Social Democracies were implemented in Western Europe after World War II when Socialist political parties became more influential. Social Democracies feature a liberal approach to economics and state intervention in favor of welfare state programs. Political leaders do not seek to replace the capitalist system, but prefer to work within it. Europe experimented with public ownership of industry in the 1960 and 70s but those efforts were abandoned as failures. Today the Western European counties continue to operate as democracies with strong welfare state priorities, such as health care and retirement benefits.

Based on our reviews of the various political groups within the Democratic Party, the Marxists and Democratic Socialists fit into the progressive left group. The Social Democracy folks fit in as establishment liberals with welfare state advocates joining them.

How do these groups and their political positions relate to the question that began this essay? Are they all Marxists?

Democratic socialists must be labeled Marxists because they believe in creating a centrally controlled economic system, to replace the free market. The bureaucracy required to manage the American economy would be enormously inefficient, and more importantly, operate outside of the three branches of government. Because it would not be accountable to the voters, the model would eventually become an authoritarian system, meeting the definition of a Marxist state.

The Social Democrats and welfare state enthusiasts must be labeled Marxists also, for reasons of complicity. They are complicit in a propaganda scheme to build a socialist state, instead of standing up for their own views. This weakness has them sitting on the sidelines (as the German people did in the 1930s), watching their rights being curtailed by the radical Left. Conservatives have little influence on Left politics, but liberals could play a key role if they advocated for their own views more strongly and resisted the efforts of the Marxists. Perhaps they are intimidated by the radicals and keep their views to themselves fearing retribution.

So, the Left is made up of Marxists, Social Democracy half-Marxists, who don’t understand how dangerous their views are, and welfare state advocates who remain silent while the Marxists tear apart American traditions.

There will be no saving the principles America was built on if politics continues down its present path. When the traditions of the American society and its Constitution are torn down and replaced with a system built under the illusion of creating equality, that system will ultimately bankrupt the nation. There will be no returning to the prosperity of today.

 

Thursday, September 1, 2022

America's Climate Insanity

 On July 15th 2022, Senate Democrats announced Senator Joe Manchin had blocked portions of the mini-Build Back Better bill. Those sections included new climate initiatives. Reaction to Manchin’s objections was swift and vigorous. Evergreen Action Executive Director Jamal Raad said Democrats should take away Manchin’s Energy and Natural Resources chair position, referring to the West Virginia Democrat as a “coal baron.”

Raad went on to say “Senator Joe Manchin has written his legacy: blocking our best shot at a transition to affordable, American clean energy and a livable planet,” Raad said in a statement. “Senator Manchin has betrayed the American public and the mandate given to the Democratic Senate to act on climate.”

This climate desperation narrative touted by the Left is irrational and dangerous. Their irrationality is based on fear, lacking information to substantiate that fear, and dangerous because publicizing panic scares people unnecessarily. These comments are focused on the issue of fossil fuels and their impact on the atmosphere, not other issues environmental groups are pursuing. No one should question the goals of clean water, clean air, safe soil, retaining undeveloped land, and maintaining our woodlands. Fossil fuels and their impact on the climate is a subject unto itself.

Analysis of weather data in the United States shows that forecasts are 54% accurate for the following day. That’s a little bit better than flipping a coin. If we can’t predict the weather for the following day, how can anyone think we can predict the earth’s climate 8 years from now, or 28 years from now, or 78 years from now?

The world puts 33 billion tons of hydrocarbons into the air each year. Ten countries produce 70% of the total. China is first at 30%. The Unites States is second at 15%. If the United States completely eliminated all of its hydrocarbon pollution, there would still be six times as much still being produced by the rest of the world.

We can’t solve the hydrocarbon problem by ourselves, so let’s not pretend that if America acts too slowly, we’re forfeiting a chance to save the planet.  If the doomsday scenario for 2030 is accurate, we’d better prepare for doomsday.

Polls provide us with a useful context about the politics connected to this issue.



The latest data from Gallup (2022) shows that about 40% of Americans think climate concerns are exaggerated, another 40% think they are underestimated, and the remaining 20% believe the predictions are accurate. These results roughly reflect party line positions, so neither party buys into the other party’s narrative.

Because the environment is an issue driven by the Left, it’s instructive to look under the covers at the political and ideological components, in order to understand their position better. The climate advocacy tent includes many groups, but two of them required a more detailed discussion: climate change fanatics and climate business investors.

The fanatics view climate change as an existential threat that needs immediate attention. What is the genesis of this emotional hysteria?

Climate has become “the religion of choice for urban atheists,” according to Michael Crichton, the late science fiction writer. In a widely quoted 2003 speech, Crichton outlined the ways that environmentalism “remaps” Judeo-Christian beliefs: There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment.

Freeman Dyson, the contrarian octogenarian physicist, agreed with Crichton. In a 2008 essay in the New York Review of Books, he described environmentalism as “a worldwide secular religion” that has “replaced socialism as the leading secular religion.” This religion holds “that we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of righteousness is to live as frugally as possible.”

Is extreme climate advocacy a religion or is it also a cult? Mark Perry in a 2019 article from The American Enterprise Institute, compiled a list of factors that are commonly used to define cults. He applied them to the environmental movement. A few excerpts from that list follow.

1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability. The leading advocates of the Climate Change movement are politicians, entertainers, and even children. Climate preachers lack any formal scientific training and live personal lives of unparalleled luxury while prescribing carbon austerity for the masses. No one is permitted to point out their scientific ignorance or call attention to their hypocritical lifestyles.

2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry. The conclusions of the Climate Change movement may not be challenged or questioned under any circumstances. Those who dare scrutinize the conclusions, methodology, or prescriptions of “climate scientists” are categorically dismissed as “Climate Deniers”, excommunicated untouchables whose opinion is no longer valid on any subject.

3. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions. The Climate Change movement always shouts out revised and updated apocalypse predictions, eerily reminiscent of the guy on the sidewalk with that “The End Is Near” sign. “The world will end in X years if we don’t do X” is the constant refrain. The years always pass, and the apocalypse never happens. At the moment, we apparently have 8 years to transform our entire economy and phase out fossil fuels before we all die a fiery death.



4. The group/leader is always right. When have the climate leaders been called wrong for their failed predictions? Regardless of the weather, they are always intrinsically correct. Flood? Climate Change. Drought? Climate Change. No Snow? Climate Change. Too much snow? Climate Change. Hurricane? Climate Change. Lack of hurricanes? Climate Change.

Climate Fanatics and Politics

Love of and care for nature goes back to the early 1800s, as a part of the Romantic Movement in America. Living with nature required caring for nature so it would always be available. During the Progressive Era (1890-1920), there was increased attention, by the federal government, focused on saving forests and maintaining natural beauty. This was the time when most of the American national parks were designated. The 1960s saw another step forward, using technological resources to raise public consciousness about the serious impact of air and water pollution. As a result of public pressure, the first environmental laws were passed to protect the wilderness and the animals that live in it. More recently, environmental issues have become politicized by America’s tribal state, so the Congress is deadlocked and has difficulty moving forward. 

Separate from an increase in public concern about the environment, the radical Left employs the environment as a tool in their fight against capitalism. During the 1960s, socialists were disillusioned about their lack progress in the United States. They realized revolution was unlikely, so they needed to employ a different strategy, a strategy that attacked capitalism. Their belief was that discrediting capitalism would create an opening for socialist ideology to move forward.

Socialists realized they could employ the concepts of exploitation and alienation by applying them to the environment. In the same way capitalists exploited minority groups, they exploited the resources of the earth. The link between human behavior and the health of the planet could never be considered resolved. Since capitalism meant the production of wealth, and wealth necessitated exploitation of the environment, capitalism was the enemy of the environment.

Climate has remained in the socialist playbook to this day, joining feminism, racism, and sexism as wedges to apply against capitalism and capitalists. True socialists don’t care about whether climate change is real, they care about the power they gain from the wedge issues they exploit.

Climate Business Investors

The primary motivation for business creation is the belief that a product or service has a market and, if that market is successfully exploited, the entrepreneur will be successful. The Green market is at the beginning of a generational opportunity for new business startups with enormous profits and great benefits to the environment on the horizon. As America moves toward eliminating fossil fuels, there will have to be new technologies and products developed. New types of power plants will be needed. New modes of transportation will be required. Today, there are dozens of electric vehicle startups vying for market share.

Those who are building these green companies are onboard with the fanatics. Green entrepreneurs want climate change hysteria amped up and in front of the public constantly. It’s the old rule of propaganda. Tell the same story enough times and people begin to believe it.

Fanatics and the green entrepreneurs have the same motivation, but neither provides balanced guidance to help the American people make reasonable choices about climate initiatives. The fanatics embrace the unbelievable. The entrepreneurs put making money above choosing the correct path to address climate change.

The truth is that our climate is changing, always has always will. The impact man has on the atmosphere is debatable, but that shouldn’t matter. Human beings should embrace sustainability as a moral imperative, but the path forward should proceed carefully, not irrationally.

 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Guns, Guns, Guns

While gun violence consumes the political air in Washington and around the United States, the tribalist atmosphere in America is negating the possibility of consensus on how to solve the problem. We know that unity is necessary to drive real change, but what would be the source of that unity? Lurking in the background, observing the controversy, is the NRA, exerting intense pressure on Congress to maintain the status quo because, in their view, new laws restricting gun use won’t fix the problem.

Is there a solution to the endemic gun violence in America?

Any discussion of the gun issue starts with the political morality of the parties. Democrats are obsessed with solving problems with government regardless of whether that vehicle can be effective. The Left is impatient and puts speed above quality, so every crisis requires immediate action. Republicans resist change and want to believe in the effectiveness of a bill before they get on board. They don’t like to waste money. Republicans are the patriotic party who considers gun ownership a yardstick for measuring freedom and liberty. For that reason, they have always maintained a strong connection with the NRA.

Against the backdrop of partisan politics sits the reality of the problem. Guns have been a fundamental part of American history since its founding. America was built on individual liberty and the fundamental right to protect one’s home and family. That necessity was a part of American life until 20th century when the West was finally settled, and law and order was in place from coast to coast. In America, police carry guns because criminals do.

America is experiencing an explosion of gun violence caused by factors separate from guns themselves. These factors include unemployment, money problems, domestic disagreements, affects of drugs and alcohol, depression, shortage of police, lack of jobs for teenagers, and more.
Current data on gun violence paints an accurate picture of the problem.

From January 1st through mid-June 2022, there have been about 20,000 deaths by gun in the United States, according to The Gun Violence Archive incident listings. Of those, 11,000 were suicides, and 176 were accidental. Of the remainder, encompassing the violence against others category, there were about 9000 murders and homicides. Of that number, 3332 were categorized by incident circumstances, data which gives us a better understanding of the problem. Eighty five percent of those murders fell into one of the following categories:

29% domestic violence
21% perpetrator killed by police
 8.5% mass shootings (not school shootings)
 6.2% bar shootings
 6% home invasion perpetrator killed
 5% suicide during standoff with police
 4.3% shootings at a party
 3% home invasion resident killed
 2.5% mass murder (including school shootings)

In response to public outcry, the US House of Representatives passed a gun control bill on June 8th, 2022. Its provisions included: prohibiting the sale of semi-automatic weapons to persons under 21; steps to prevent gun trafficking, including improving record keeping; eliminating untraceable firearms, providing money to the states to encourage gun safety and gun storage; closing the bump stock loophole, and limiting the sale of high-capacity magazines.

According to published reports, that bill has zero chance of passing the Senate, because some of its provisions are unacceptable to Senators and there are not enough votes the pass it.

On June 13, 2022 an announcement was made that a bi-partisan group of ten Senators had reached agreement on a gun control bill. That bill passed the Congress on June 24th, 2022.  Its provisions sought to increase the number of states with red flag laws (currently 19) and improve enforcement. It also established a more rigorous process for background checks for people between 18 and 21 years old. The proposal sought to clarify confusion over who must register as a federally licensed firearm dealer for the purposes of conducting background checks. It created new penalties on "straw purchasing" of firearms to improve prosecution of traffickers and authorizes new money for mental health services and school safety provisions. The agreement included a provision to expand the so-called boyfriend loophole on domestic violence, which currently allows domestic abusers who have a girlfriend to buy firearms. Under current law, domestic abusers must be married, living with a partner, or have a child with a partner, before they are excluded from buying guns.

In a statement release by the Senators, they stated “Our plan increases needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can’t purchase weapons,” the senators said. “Most importantly, our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense proposal into law.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he's "pleased that, for the first time in nearly 30 years, Congress took meaningful action to address gun violence." The Senate bill was approved by the House and became law on June 25th, 2022.

The ability of gun laws to reduce gun violence depends on controlling how criminals obtain guns as much as finding solutions for each type of violence. When polled, criminals stated they sourced guns in the following ways: 43% percent were purchased on the black market, 6% were obtained by theft, 11% were purchased by someone on behalf of the criminal, and 15% were obtained by a friend or relative. Only 10% were purchased at gun shops.

Given these facts, which categories of gun violence might be mitigated by new legislation? Since 55% of the shootings occur during criminal activity, and criminals do not buy guns from legitimate sources, there is no clear way to mitigate those shootings. To the extent that mass murders are related to psychological problems, programs that prevent guns being available to those with mental problems might be effective. Unfortunately, that is only 3-4% of the total shootings. Still, the new laws allocation of money toward mental health is the right kind of expenditure.

Banning the sales of automatic weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stock restrictions are a” straw man.” Only 3.5% of the gun deaths were caused by AR15s, although those crimes create high visibility among the public. Raising the age to purchase to 21 will not impact the illegal movement of guns whatsoever. Providing money to the states to promote gun safety and gun storage IS a good idea. Red flag laws, if they don’t trample on freedom, might prevent some purchases by people who shouldn’t have guns. Placing penalties on straw purchases would have no effect because most criminals have other ways to obtain firearms.

According to EFSGV (The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence), the causes of gun violence are:

○ Income inequality, 
○ Poverty, 
○ Underfunded public housing, 
○ Under-resourced public services, 
○ Underperforming schools, 
○ Lack of opportunity and perceptions of hopelessness, 
○ Easy access to firearms by high-risk people.

The EFSGV recommendations for attacking gun violence are: 1) Address the underlying social and economic inequalities that fuel gun violence, 2) Adequately fund community-based violence intervention and prevention efforts grounded in evidence that build authentic relationships with those impacted, and 3) Support local organizations that address the social and economic inequalities at the root of gun violence.

Notice that, with the exception of the last item on the bulleted list (access), none of the causes are being addressed by the American Congress. Congress can’t address the real causes, so they focus on trigger words and direct legislation toward those. They want to be able to say they are doing something about the problem to satisfy the outcry from the public.

There is no doubt the NRA has too much control over Congress, because the money funneled to politicians renders them impotent to address the issue. The resulting stonewalling gets in the way of reasonable solutions that could be effective. For progress to be made, the NRA must agree with reasonable, fully debated, provisions in new guns law if it is to retain credibility with the public.

Gun ownership demographics adds additional context to the discussion. Three in ten Americans owns a gun. Of those, 41% are Republican 36% are Independent, and 16% are Democrats. One fifth of gun owners belong to the NRA. Owning a gun is not just a Republican crusade; it’s a perceived right across all population groups.

Law and order, largely maintained by police departments, is another factor in the increase in violent crime. The historical role of the police and the public’s acceptance of that role became unraveled following the George Floyd murder. This emotionally charged incident led to riots and government action, particularly by the Left. The movement to defund the police destroyed police morale and caused many officers to leave the police force. Rather than indicting the whole profession, a better approach would be to identify and remove bad cops. No society can function without law and order, which is the number one function of government. Police departments are a critical deterrent to criminal activity. Without law and order, we are left with anarchy. Take a look at of San Francisco today to get a preview of anarchy in action.

How can America restore law and order? It has to start with having enough police on the street, prosecuting gun crimes aggressively, and handing out stiff penalties for gun use. Second, address the root causes of gun violence through community action. Third, pass reasonable, effective gun control legislation. The Federal government should provide funding for states and local communities to put their own programs in place. Let’s not waste time arguing about whether guns are to blame for today’s violence. That is a diversion from the work that needs to be done to help America become a society with less gun violence.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Just published in Quillette

Is Moral Expertise Possible?

Moral expertise refers to the ability to understand the morality of human beings. In this article, four writers, including myself, examine the subject. Can anyone really be an expert in morality or is it too complex and based on individual differences?

Click above to read the article.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

 

ELECTRUM MAGAZINE

 

 

REVIEWS

Michael Anderson’s The Conservative Gene: A Review

September 30, 2021 9:19 PMViews: 26

Alexander Janet, 1858, Signing of the Declaration of Independence, copy of Trumbull painting (image in public domain)

By P. F. Sommerfeldt –

Admittedly, I’m a tough nut to crack in terms of political theory – my castle has a hard and high wall and I’m difficult to impress – but Michael Anderson has done it yet again. His newest book THE CONSERVATIVE GENE: How Genetics Shape the Complex Morality of Conservatives (Simms Publishing 2021) is another bellwether, deftly assimilating new genetic theory around a potentially complex morality that may somehow be connected if pronounced tendencies can be inherited like genetic behavior. Anderson’s application of an overarching thesis appears to be becoming more accepted, especially in epigenetic parlance although nurture apparently still supersedes nature in training. My lament is that Anderson’s newest study may not receive sufficient attention as it’s from a small press without obvious marketing or wider distribution. To understand from where this raised eyebrow encomium is coming, I’m a Jewish liberal and very progressive, but am hyper curious nonetheless to process and understand political history. 

I begin my personal political history in the Classical World somewhere close to Aristotle and, if a confessional is at all useful for treating modern political theory, I still have a limited guarded fondness for Marx only because his thunderbolt about modern Christianity is still relevant: Marx suggested Christianity’s greatest failure was to not follow the social imperative of Jesus to take care of people at the most basic level and to offset base instincts like greed. Had Jesus’ exhortations truly been heeded, what we perceive as ‘Communism’ to combat economic inequality would have possibly never existed in the post-Roman world and what became Communism as an antithesis to greed would have been superfluous in the perception of “capital” as one dynamic to shape policy. There are many institutions now embedded in American society that would have puzzled our founding fathers. The Electoral College was partly originally created to integrate the rural and often racist southern states – what would sadly become the traitorous Confederacy – with the more populous northern states. As Pulitzer-prize winning historian J. J. Ellis has said, “I’m virtually certain the Founders would nod their approval if we dispensed with electoral votes and chose our presidents in a popular election.” [1] True conservatives believe in the power of democracy without tinkering. A more justice-oriented higher morality in a post-Marxist yet more and more relativistic modern world should also lament the undermining of trust in elections and the undermining of the press, the latter of which has always been needed to stem the tide and balance and expose Executive excesses. These should be high moral priorities of the true conservatives Anderson so capably explicates. Seeing the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia should fill every conservative with pride in maintaining the vision of the highest moral liberty from elitism and entitlement. When I first saw it years ago with its inscription exhorting to “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”, I was also filled with humility that true freedom also calls for responsibility to maintain liberty unselfishly. This does not mean liberty from vaccinations or liberty from wearing masks, clearly needed to protect ourselves and others. But this liberty has to be inclusive to all regardless of color, creed or identity.


Conservatism is much more than the old familiarity of “if it’s not broken, why fix it” mentation. Reduced to the most common denominators that Anderson has already posited in prior books, where compassion is one of the basic instincts undergirding progressive thinking, Anderson elucidates loyalty as the larger trait of conservatives. Yet loyalty and a concomitant resistance to change – the old comfort of familiarity – is only part of what makes conservatism tick, as Anderson brilliantly develops.



With compelling historical insight Anderson succinctly describes how “morality’ is not only a generic part of our inherent cultural baggage but is in some (still vague for now) way also possibly generated from a tenuous place of deeper instinctive personhood. Of course, some will find it simplistic or even frightening that genetics might shape our political inclinations, but Anderson documents millennia of human identification with just such deeper impulses. As mentioned, one of the impulses he identifies and elucidates as a primary conservative hallmark is loyalty, a fondness for reciprocity and fairness in a tendency to embrace what makes us feel comfortable about our past in a mostly undocumented experience. This conservative propensity to loyalty can be in balance with the progressive trait of compassion. Both of these “instincts” are generally good in themselves with both emotional and intellectual commitments to impact social causality in the right ways and yet each has inherent weakness as Anderson understands. For example, in this study Anderson is all too aware that blind loyalty can look the other way when it is directed to unworthy persons. This last insight leads directly to Gingrich and Trump: Anderson’s criticism of both includes perceptions that polarization, rude tactics and other blunt negative instruments like bullying contribute to extreme partisanship that plagues the Republican Party (e.g., pp.148, 166, 167), which now seems to have lost its way in upholding Conservative virtues and future prospects unless it practices what it preaches about morality with tempered responses to beleaguered value systems and hot button issues like abortion and sexual identity that are not necessarily part of the traditional Conservatism practiced for centuries but have been steamrolled by religious extremism in the past century. Anderson makes valid conclusions about how “21st century elections have damaged Conservative ideology”, and “how Trump’s election threatens the future prospects for the Republican party,” (both 166-7). A true conservative could never support Trump’s authoritarian fascism and disregard for law.

In all, Anderson’s thoughtful book is a must read for anyone who wishes to see the evolution of the American political system as well as its devolution into factionalism and tribalism, partly driven by petty differences as well as major contrasts in being motivated by either loyalty for conservatives or compassion for progressives. If Anderson can make me – a dyed in the wool liberal – think in different ways, this is both refreshing and impressive. 

Notes:

[1] Joseph J. Ellis, “What would founding fathers think of Donald J. Trump”, CNN Opinion, May 6, 2016