Monday, January 14, 2019

Tell Me How This Ends

Harper's Magazine has published a critique of the last administration's Syrian policies titled "Tell Me How This Ends" - America's muddle involvement with Syria.

This blog has covered Syrian foreign policy in a number of posts. The most infuriating aspect of it all - as usual - has been the media coverage, or lack thereof. And, in a similar vein, the eery silence of the anti-war left that liked to organize international marches when W was engaged in his foreign interventions. The media - being highly liberal - did not want to publicize the incompetence of their Messiah figure, and the media - being highly Jewish - did not want to inadvertently scuttle Israel's ambitions in Syria. (I suspect the latter half is true...the first part is certainly true.) Media coverups are fodder for conspiracy theories. When events that clearly should be reported are not being reported, the intellectually curious grow deeply suspicious. The media always pays a price in credibility when it shirks it's duty. At some point, most of the people who were willing to call out Obama's blunders were also the ones to speak of Anglo-Zionist conspiracies. They became more credible than the professional media, who largely refused to report any inconvenient truths.

The Harper's article doesn't duck any of the contentious circumstances. That Islamist rebels were being heavily funded by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey...all US allies. That US policy initiatives were rudderless, scattered, and ad hoc. That diplomatic signaling was confusing to Syrians on all sides. That Obama's infamous "red line" proclamation set the stage for what was in all likelihood a false-flag operation. That American arms intended for "moderate" rebels frequently ended up in the hands of extremists. That American foreign policy reached a new watermark for insanity when it slipped into a proxy war with itself, with CIA-armed rebels fighting against DOD-armed rebels. That Russia ultimately wielded more influence in the region because they were willing to take decisive action backed by moral clarity.

The article frames Obama's "brain trust" not as sinister schemers pushing a neocon agenda, but as waffling naive do-gooders grappling with the burden of doing the right thing. The reality is nicely summed up by Ben Rhodes, referring to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.
Up to this point, he had argued that Syria was a slippery slope where there was little chance of success. Now he said that something needed to be done even if we didn’t know what would happen after we took action.
Rhodes himself opined.
Even though I had misgivings about our Syria policy, I was glad we were doing something.
Former DNI Director Michael Dempsey (brother of the other Dempsey) opined similarly.
Some of the training programs were options between doing nothing and military intervention. No one was sure it would work, but we had to do something.
No one knew what to do except they had to do something. The article paints the administration as, if anything, non-interventionist. They were a bit trigger shy after their disastrous project in Libya, which they rightfully should have been. (Another fiasco excused by the press.) I would generally offer the advice that, if you don't know what to do, don't do anything. And if you must do something, pick a course and commit to it. The Obama administration handicapped itself by determining it must do something, yet acting timidly under the constant fear of getting embroiled in yet another boondoggle. Trump would have first established himself as a madman who might just nuke the slate clean if he didn't get his way. He's the leverage president. Obama was the feelings & fear president.

Syria wasn't a tactical miscue that can be learned from and added to the book "How to Do Empires Good" for reference in later projects. The fault goes all the way to the core values of President Obama and his base of supporters. When the Arab Spring showed up in Syria, Obama felt bad for the people under an autocrat prone to heavy handedness. Fair enough, but his tragic fault is to assume that the victim is righteous and correct. Perhaps the victim is wrong and a little heavy handedness is what's needed to keep order in that neck of the woods. I don't know the answer, but the thing is that Obama and his ilk always know what the answer is. The guy with power must be the bad guy. So they work against the bad guy and next thing you know a really bad guy shows up and starts exporting terrorism globally. It's the kind of calamity that ultimately ensues in a world where feelings are facts.

The best thing Trump ever did was to label Obama as the "founder of ISIS." It's a hyperbolic claim, in response to a hyperbolic lack of coverage over the mistakes that led to the neo-Caliphate. If you want some good reading entertainment, go to FeelingsCheck.org's review of the claim and witness how pedantic and narrow they have to be to come up with a conclusion of FALSE. (Hint: a Ctrl+F for 'Assad' comes up nil.)

For all it's candor, the article does seem to omit a couple things, as far as I see it.
The triumphs of the Islamic State caused a change in thinking at the White House. One of the Obama insiders I interviewed said, “When I left in 2014, it was game over for dealing with Syria outside of ISIS.”
We're supposed to believe that, after the reality of the ISIS scourge became apparent, the administration fully re-shifted focus from ousting Assad to dealing with ISIS. And yet - as the article fails to mention - ISIS remained stable and healthy all the way until September 2015 - when Russia snuck warplanes into the theater and began its own bombing campaign and quickly turned the tide. Russia's contingent was still small compared to America's. Obama wasn't trying to destroy ISIS; he was determined to push them out of Iraq and towards Damascus, to further weaken Assad's position. He was always using ISIS, a force of pure evil, in pursuit of doing the right thing. I know of no other explanation for ISIS to survive American but not Russian bombing campaigns.

Near the end of the article they quote Phil Gordon, an Obama advisor who is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Once we topple the regime, are the stable moderates going to come to power and govern Syria? I don’t think so. And then you’ve just got a different form of chaos that we’re responsible for.
It sounds great, and it's totally wrong. They were responsible for just that form of chaos in both Libya and in Syria. How can he pretend that ISIS capturing Mosul wasn't chaos? Delusion. And it resulted from the efforts they took to topple the regime indirectly. Further, he omits - and this is the primary glaring omission of the article - that Obama and Kerry actually tried to rally the nation to a full-scale military invasion of Syria in a media blitz that lasted for...a couple weeks, if I recall. They actually tried to topple the regime by force, and failed to muster the political support. And now they pretend they decided themselves not to send in tanks for logical reasons. After that political failure, they tried to arm opposition forces to do the job for them, which ultimately failed, as Harper's nicely sums up.
The result of US meddling in Syria was failure on all counts. It did not depose Assad, who looks like he is set to hold on to power for years. It did not expel Iran and Russia, whose influence and footprints in Syria expanded. It did not break the Syria–­Hezbollah alliance. Nor did it ameliorate civilian suffering, as refugees either stay in exile squalor or return to demolished homes. It had the unintended consequence of turning Turkey from a traditional ally into a regional adversary. Syrian conspiracy theorists claim the US goal was to destroy Syria, as it did Iraq, to protect Israel. Only if that were true could the United States be said to have achieved any objective.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Media Rules for Conservatives

This blog commented on Representative Steve King in August.
The Trump distraction gives conservatives cover to actually, well, be conservative, without being burned down by the media's beam of focused rage. It would appear that not many conservative politicians are making as much use of the situation as they should, but there is still time. Little by little, they will learn that the backlash for conveying "hate facts" and other such mortal sins is attenuated enough that it can be survived. Steve King, the Congressman from Iowa, is a great example. He committed outrageous heresy when he stated that we can't replenish our nation with other peoples' babies. He really drove down to the core of the matter. It's hard to believe he's survived. Had Hillary won, his outlook would likely be grim. He'd be the recipient of constant media outrage, which would fuel all kinds of money from the coasts towards some RINO usurper. But that's not happening. He will coast through an easy re-election. They don't have the ability to mount a sustained assault on him.
I don't believe that opinion has been contradicted, but everything has its limits. [I was wrong about it being an easy re-election, though, with only a 3% margin of victory.] Last week King did an interview with the New York Times where he gave them the following quote.
“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Mr. King said. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
As you can imagine, it has stirred a war cry from the left. For conservatives, the three rules of liberal media should be:
  1. Don't do liberal media. There's no upside.
  2. If you must do liberal media, don't say anything stupid or that can be taken out of context. Independently record the interview.
  3. If the mob still becomes energized against you, never apologize. Wait for it to blow over. The news cycle is short and the Eye of Soros has ADD.
Why Steve King agreed to be interviewed by the New York Times is beyond me. A curt "I don't contribute to the fake news" is all that needs to be said. He agreed to be interviewed by them anyway. And then he said something like that. That is not careful language, to say the least. I'm a Steve King fan. He's a good man and he's an intelligent man. But he stupidly talked to the fake news and then stupidly seemed to defend white supremacy to a New York Times reporter. Uber gaffe. His statement was not only stupid, but disagreeable. I share Mr King's affinity for western chauvinism. I see nothing wrong with white nationalism either. White supremacy is another matter. It reeks of imperialism and fails the principle of universality. If he stood by that quote, then I certainly call it out for its faults.

So Mr King failed rules 1 and 2. (GatewayPundit is suggesting that he was misquoted, but that remains to be seen. I don't put it past them to entirely fabricate a quote, but if he did not independently record the interview then he's still at fault.) How did he fare on rule 3? In his official response he did not apologize, but does grovel before the altar of liberal values, going so far as to ape their favorite term "bigoted." So he squeaks by on that account - I guess - but the whole incident amounts to an epic blunder.

I won't attack Mr King's morality over his statement. I believe he genuinely misspoke or was misquoted. He has issued a statement clarifying his stance on the matter. Of course, the normal suspects from the fake right can't help themselves when there's a heretic to burn. The editor-in-chief of the now defunct Weekly Standard called King an "unapologetic bigot" and leveraged the incident to disparage the entire Republican party. The National Review took the opportunity to explain to it's readers that western civilization is not white.* Ben Shapiro went the furthest and called on Congressional Republicans to censure Mr King, and spearheaded a funding campaign for his 2020 primary opponent. As normal, all the left has to do is call someone a bigot or a racist and these cockroaches go scrambling to outdo each other in their virtue signaling.

Steve King's career is probably over. I stand by him and wish him well, and I really hope conservatives will internalize the lesson that there is no upside to doing liberal media, nor in pandering to them.


*Apparently we can't say western civilization is white because some of the technologies we use were not invented by whites. (Agriculture, for one.) This is the level of social commentary you get from liberals posed as conservatives who get their historical perspectives from video games.

Who We Are as a Nothing

The left is fundamentally a power-seeking entity. It's not primarily or mostly a power-seeking enterprise. No, it is entirely dedicated to the task of achieving political power through whatever means necessary. Leftism, liberalism, progressivism, Marxism - whatever isms they adopt - are not political philosophies, unless the definition of political philosophy is "an excuse or rallying cry to take political power." Even the lower-level isms under the umbrella of the left, the ones seemingly dedicated to a specific goal for improving the world, are mere ploys for power.

One example is environmentalists, supposedly dedicated to the task of protecting our habitats from irreversible harm by human activities. And yet they never acknowledge the arguments put forth by climate skeptics, such as the flawed models that never make accurate predictions, the multiple scandals of political bias in the field, and the ignored costs of peaking infrastructure associated with the wide-scale adoption of volatile energy sources. If environmentalists really wanted to have the best information available to make the most efficient use of their resources towards their goals, they'd consider the inconvenient truths raised by skeptics. Counter to that, the modus operandi of leftists is "those bigots are destroying the world. Give us power and we will stop them." Thus, a leftist can't also say, "actually, those bigots bring up some very good points that we should consider." The bigots must be irredeemable. Environmentalists choose to disparage the opinions of anyone to the right of Al Gore because they are actually interested in political power, and the environment is just an excuse.

Similarly, feminists pretend to represent the interests of women, yet march against a president who promises to stop the importation of fake Muslim refugees from the third world, cry outrage when someone suggests men in dresses shouldn't be permitted in the girls' bathroom, and engage in the most vile, sexist diatribe against women of the right. The whole "how can you be against women?" routine is just a political dance.

The question is to what degree leftists are self aware. The rank-and-file are believers, undoubtedly. Their emotional agitation stems from fervent belief in the Victimhood Scriptures, and the cognitive dissonance in navigating the endless internal contradictions of the belief system. It is generally assumed that the elites are more cognizant of liberalism as a political weapon. We often wonder if they are themselves caught up in the fervor, or if they congratulate each other at private cocktail parties for their shameless employment of Saul Alinsky's tactics. I suspect it's both, and part of playing the game is keeping mental track of who is a true believer, and who is a player.

Nancy Pelosi, now our Speaker of the House, recently preached on morality (as High Priestesses are ought to do).
The fact is, a wall is an immorality! It's not who we are as a nation.
The major premise of Alinsky is to use your enemy's principles against him, and, conversely, to be so unprincipled yourself that you are immune to the tactic. Here Pelosi is, either consciously or as result of her dementia, appealing to a sense of nationalism in order to destroy the nation. The concept of a nation is, of course, racist, xenophobic, and bigoted. For the liberal to appeal to the nation is akin to the mathematician dividing by zero. Furthermore, these are the same people who berate us for being, in fact, an oppressive nation filled to the brim with systemic racism. But these contradictions are perfectly routine for the well-adjusted leftist. Everything is fair game when fighting bigots.

As it turns out, though, I actually agree with the bumbling Speaker. It's not who we are as a nation. Because we are not a nation, and the southern border is not a national boundary. It is an imaginary line which our rulers have decreed give all who cross the right to live in our neighborhoods, vote in our elections, and inherit our public treasury. Whenever the Empire of Columbia collapses, tribal territorialism will emerge. It should be abundantly clear that Nebraska will not share political territory with New Mexico. Unless we intend to Reconquista all the way to the Rio Grande, the southern wall will never be our national border. But, it will help keep us from getting swamped in the meantime.

Pelosi doesn't actually believe walls are an immorality, or she'd tear down the wall on her own multi-million dollar property. She's just engaging in the typical leftist doublespeak. We've always been at war with whatever Trump just said.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Reform is Hopeless

Zman had a sobering post today, which puts into context just how inept our government is. They can't be bothered to provide basic services like border security or protection from phone scammers, but issue all sorts of rules and regulations we must comply with. The FTC has pulled down the website for it's Do-Not-Call list and replaced it with a snide protest of the government shutdown. The FTC has paused their program - which doesn't work - in protest of the president's fight to provide basic border security. The incident gives a nice visual of the extent that the federal government is a system that takes a very large chunk of our incomes and provides little benefit in return, and much harm.

The yellow vest protestors in France have declared that Saturday is Bank Run day. They're encouraging all citizens to withdraw their savings on that day to crash the banks. They understand that their government is a tyrannical monster fueled by money. Kill the economy and you kill the state...and save the nation. It's good to see they're thinking about things the right way, but I'd be pessimistic about the results. The French banks will be bailed out by the government if necessary, or by the European Central Bank. A bank run that threatens the system would have to spill out of France and into the other Eurozone countries. While not impossible that they could cause enough inflation fears to cause some trouble, in seems unlikely they'll have much impact.

The next move in the escalation of nonviolent opposition would be to block industrial transport. If they could stop fuel shipments into Paris for a week, they would force the government to either call up the military or cede defeat. Infrastructure is the soft underbelly of a modern society. The police can't protect all of it.

The government is calling for a national discussion to walk back tensions. Reform is insinuated. The yellow vests know that reform is hopeless. Their rulers are not their fellow countrymen but more like foreign occupiers. It would not take a tremendous number of saboteurs to threaten the government they oppose. As the consensus grows in the west that reform is hopeless, calls for organized resistance against financial and economic assets will become more likely.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

They Only Have to Win Once

In modern liberal democracy, conservatives always lose, even when they win. I discussed that after the elections this fall, when Missouri Democrats had positive results, despite holding very little power in the state. Much of their platform was progressed through referendums, and there were a slew of them this year. Referendums are anti-republican; they undermine representational democracy. Democrats seem to resort to them when they can't get their way through elected leader. It's a bit surprising that politicians - of either party - permit them at all. Why should Missouri's liberals support Democrat candidates at all? They can just win in the referendums. And why should anyone get excited about Republicans winning elections if the minimum wage still goes up over 50%, districts get gerrymandered, pot is legalized, and right-to-work legislation is repealed in the span of a single year? Two things that become clear are (1) liberals always win and (2) there's no point in paying all the expense in keeping these politicians around.

Why should it be that referendums give more liberal-friendly results than the normal electoral process? Some might call it proof that the normal system is biased toward conservatism. I'd say that the normal system is more biased to responsible decision making. Referendums are basically mob rule. Whichever side has the bigger mob turnout gets their way. A random voter is less likely to be informed than an elected official, is more likely to vote emotionally, and - most important - will never be held accountable for their anonymous vote. People like ZMan and Tucker Carlson have noted that there is already an accountability crisis in government, with our politicians being akin to rental mercenaries with little vested interest in the outcomes of their constituents other than getting re-elected. Referendums maximize that. People might know that minimum wage hikes cause all kinds unwanted side effects, and that many low-wages earners will lose hours and maybe their jobs entirely, but voters often don't have the heart to tell Johnny sacking groceries that he can't have more. And besides, one vote doesn't really matter, right? A referendum is a situation where no one making the decision has any skin in the game. They can feel good about their generous vote and not worry about ever being held accountable for it.

Referendums also skew liberal because they are almost always promoting some liberal cause. Perhaps it's because conservatives think referendums are dumb, so they don't pursue it. Or because people with an agenda know it's easier to fool 50% of the general public than 50% of elected officials. So if even one of the half dozen or so referenda on the ballot passes, the left wins. Another reason is that a referendum can be held repeatedly until the desired vote is achieved. Democracy is ratchet strap where, once a liberal policy is enacted, it can't be undone, and there are an infinite number of tries to get the desired result. They only have to win once.

Take Brexit for example. Ostensibly it was a referendum to leave the EU, but in reality it was a referendum to stay in the EU, because David Cameron (who made a campaign promise to hold the referendum) believed Remain would win easily. He advised that citizens should respect the outcome, as it would be the final referendum on the matter. In a surprising outcome, the British voted to leave the EU, which is due to finally occur at the end of March. Now there are articles like this coming out of mainstream media, advocating for a second chance.
LONDON (Reuters) - More Britons want to remain a member of the European Union than leave, according to a survey published on Sunday which also showed voters want to make the final decision themselves.

Britain is due leave the EU on March 29, but Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to get her exit deal approved by parliament, opening up huge uncertainty over whether a deal is possible, or even whether the country will leave at all.

The survey by polling firm YouGov showed that if a referendum were held immediately, 46 percent would vote to remain, 39 percent would vote to leave, and the rest either did not know, would not vote, or refused to answer the question.
One thing we can be sure of: if Remain would have won, there would be no MSM advocacy for a second vote. Modern democracy means holding the vote as many times as necessary until the desired result is obtained.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Tucker Carlson Given Lesson in Surrenderism

Last week, Tucker Carlson gave a monologue that has neocons and libertarians astir. The transcript is here and worth reading in its entirety, but here are a couple juicy snippets.
The goal for America is both simpler and more elusive than mere prosperity. It’s happiness. There are a lot of ingredients in being happy: Dignity. Purpose. Self-control. Independence. Above all, deep relationships with other people. Those are the things that you want for your children. They’re what our leaders should want for us, and would want if they cared.

But our leaders don’t care. We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule. They’re day traders. Substitute teachers. They’re just passing through. They have no skin in this game, and it shows. They can’t solve our problems. They don’t even bother to understand our problems.
That sounds perfectly in line with our mindset. The second paragraph would fit right in with this blog's recent post, Civilization for Rent.
Members of our educated upper-middle-classes are now the backbone of the Democratic Party who usually describe themselves as fiscally responsible and socially moderate. In other words, functionally libertarian. They don’t care how you live, as long as the bills are paid and the markets function. Somehow, they don’t see a connection between people’s personal lives and the health of our economy, or for that matter, the country’s ability to pay its bills. As far as they’re concerned, these are two totally separate categories.

Social conservatives, meanwhile, come to the debate from the opposite perspective, and yet reach a strikingly similar conclusion. The real problem, you’ll hear them say, is that the American family is collapsing. Nothing can be fixed before we fix that. Yet, like the libertarians they claim to oppose, many social conservatives also consider markets sacrosanct. The idea that families are being crushed by market forces seems never to occur to them. They refuse to consider it. Questioning markets feels like apostasy.
To equate libertarians with yuppie liberals requires a certain mindset. Social indifference is benign compared to the left's malignant radicalism, but that's hardly praise. Tucker perceives this. And he shares the same fundamental question we have about conservatives: what exactly have they conserved? It's not clear if he shares a dark enlightenment answer to that question - that liberal democracy is orchestrated so that even when conservatives win, they lose - but Tucker strikes me as the kind of guy who conceals his power level.

He continues on, weaving around a few topics, to make the ultimate point that the leadership of this country - with Republicans as much to blame as anyone - have prioritized economics to the detriment of families and other metrics of societal health.

David French

The National Review has already made a couple rebuttals. We'll consider just the one from David French, since he is a "Senior Fellow" of the organization. His piece carries the bold title of The Right Should Reject Tucker Carlson’s Victimhood Populism, but the more conciliatory subtitle, Carlson accurately identifies certain maladies, but they are maladies that public policy can’t cure. As you can see - if you read Carlon's piece - this whole rebuttal is one big strawman, because Carlson was not appealing to "victimhood populism", he's bemoaning a prioritization of economies to the human condition. In effect, he is stating that materialism is destroying the country and the political leadership has only encouraged it. [See how well this intertwines with the science pieces we've been doing? The same theme permeates through many domains.] Tucker is also not criticizing or advocating for any particular public policy. French, being basically a liberal, can only see any argument as an appeal to what the federal government should or should not be doing.
But he also says false things. He says that manufacturing “all but disappeared over the course of a generation.” It hasn’t. He says, “increasingly, marriage is a luxury only the affluent in America can afford.” Yet a healthy, faithful marriage is often the gateway to affluence. Affluence is not a prerequisite for marriage.
That terse "it hasn't" response might qualify as the stupidest rebuttal in the history of all stupid rebuttals. Here is a screen grab of his own provided link.


See it? It's the third bullet point of article overview, which states that, relative to GDP, manufacturing in the US is well less than half what it was a couple generations ago. Tucker's point is made: manufacturing has gotten slaughtered. But French - the relentless Never Trumper - claims a victory because manufacturing has improved in the past 12 months under the leadership of a man vaulted to the presidency by a wave of "populist victimhood." That is French's leadoff move: a link the proves his opponent's point and makes his political nemesis look golden.

Then, in the same paragraph, he takes on Tucker's claim that marriage is becoming unaffordable to America's poor, with a dogmatic "Affluence is not a prerequisite for marriage." This guy is so square you could frame a house with him. He can only see through the lens of public policy. It doesn't even occur to him what is known by anyone not totally shut off from the general public: couples with children avoid marriage because they'll lose their government benefits. My mother is a nurse and sees it all day long. Does David French not know a single nurse? If so, he might realize that, in the real world, marriage can impose a hefty financial burden. I find it hilarious but also maddening that, in his retort to Tucker's claim that political leadership is completely out of touch with the American family, he blunders into revealing he has no idea what lower class American families face, almost immediately.
He casts American boys as a generation of burnouts, yet the best evidence shows that marijuana use is only on a slight uptick and is still way down from its highs in the late 1970s and early 1980s. (Some evidence even suggests its use has stabilized in recent years.)
Of course the insufferable geek can find some stat which seems to render Tucker's claim as technically incorrect. (Just like technically there is not a fee for marriage.) To do so he has to fly in the face of what everyone outside of cloudland knows to be true: that drugs are ravaging Americans. Meth and opioid addictions are rampant, almost everywhere. His stats do not address that everyone sees it happening, knows people who have died, have seen families ruined. (Well, French himself probably hasn't.) Tucker's point about marijuana wasn't that it by itself is the worst of the drug epidemic, but that it is still a part of the problem and our political leaders are now willing to embrace it so long as money can be made.
But the reality is that responsibilities are reciprocal. Yes, we need public officials to do their best to create and sustain a government most conducive to human flourishing, but the primary responsibility for creating a life of virtue and purpose rests with families and individuals. In fact, it is still true that your choices are far more important to your success than any government program or the actions of any nefarious banker or any malicious feminist.
Again, we see the libertarian mindset in clear view. There are two things: individuals, and the government. All other components of society (the important parts, basically) are ignored. The claim that your own choices are more important than the social environment is so easily countered by example that it indicates French doesn't bother reading his rebuttals, or even take effort to pre-empt them. Your choices are more important than the actions of any nefarious bankers? Not if your retirement was tied up in Enron, or WorldComm, or Bernie Madoff, or you lost your home or investments because of the 2008 mortgage scandal. Than any government program or malicious feminist? Not if a bridge gets dropped on the family sedan. The whole point of that post was that a company's embrace of feminism doesn't just cause risk to that company, and especially not if the company is only kept competitive by government programs, which is exactly what happened in that scenario.

French proceeds with a few paragraphs where he basically agrees with Tucker on this and that. And then he gets to the heart of populism.
The fundamental problem with our current populist moment isn’t that it fails to identify cultural or political maladies. Carlson and populists on the left have accurately identified a host of American problems. Our declining life expectancy alone should be a blaring wakeup call that despite our prosperity, something is seriously amiss in American life and American culture.
Then we agree?? Kinda?
The problem with populism — and indeed with much of American politics — is that it focuses on the political at the expense of the personal. As I’ve argued many times, there are wounds that public policy can’t heal. But populism too often pretends otherwise. It tells a fundamentally false story about Americans as victims of a heartless elite and their “worship” of market economics rather than the true story of America as a flawed society that still grants its citizens access to tremendous opportunity.
Again, he can't think of this in terms as anything but individualism. French believes he is enlightened because he advocates for self-responsibility - a worthy stance in this society - but goes on as if society and culture institutions other than the government don't exist. Tucker's whole point is that the economic health of a country is downstream from the health of its families. He's not engaging in populism...he's raising a warning. French misses this entirely. People who lift themselves up by their bootstraps can do great, so what's the problem? Well, there's a big problem. He engages in the Fundamental Fallacy, to assume we can change society however we want (or, in this case, don't want) and the outcomes - a prosperous society that offers great opportunity to individuals - will remain, unchanged. The reality is that individual success is more associated with our society than our own attributes, French is just too disconnected from his society, and too assured of his own merit-based success (which is evidently not deserved, based on his writing) to notice.

Ben Shapiro

Also responding is our good friend Ben Shapiro, who can usually be depended on to make the libertarian case against the conservative position. I'll just cherry-pick of few of his comments.
But Carlson seems to attribute America’s troubles not to government interventionism, but to government non-interventionism.
No, as with French, Shapiro is clouded by the inability to see issues outside the scope of policy advocacy. Carlson didn't call for government interventionism. He didn't call for anything. He's making the point that materialism is destroying the country and our political leaders have all been only too eager to help. The problem with the people responding to Tucker is that they're so one-dimensional that they misinterpret his monologue as advocacy rather than a vague and meandering rant.
Carlson seems to suggest that our system itself is to blame for individual shortcomings, and that collective restructuring of free institutions will alleviate and cure those shortcomings. This is simply not reflective of conservatism, or of founding ideology.
Here Shaprio sums up nicely why Shapiro no longer gets a pass on this blog, and many others opposed him well before that. I use to lay off Shapiro because I believed he contributed to a "left-to-right" pipeline. That is, he would deprogram liberals a bit, and as they started questioning things they'd inevitably start moving further right. But here we see just how flawed his mindset is, and why he is more likely to mislead people towards a self-negating form of conservatism. Conservatism means not restructuring free institutions? Is he mad? The main reason we're in such a mess is that the neo-communists have proceeded in their "march through the institutions" nearly uninhibited. What is reflective of conservatism, apparently, is to cede the institutions to radical progressives. Can you see why Shapiro is the left's new favorite conservative? This is why, when Newsweek runs five anti-Trump opinion pieces, the sixth is some banality by Ben Shapiro. It's the conservatism they want you to see. Surrenderism, basically.
The goal for America wasn't happiness. It was the pursuit of happiness -- the framework of freedom that allows us to pursue happiness. I do want dignity and purpose and self-control and independence for my children – so, presumably, do you. But I don’t find dignity, purpose, self-control and independence for my children in policy generated by political leadership. I teach my children that they have been given innate dignity by God, that their purpose lies in acting in accordance with virtue, that self-control is both a quality of character and productive mode of entrepreneurship, and that independence must be cultivated so that we can act with dignity and purpose in the world. At no point would I suggest that my child’s sense of purpose or dignity ought to come from government intervention, or that lack of purpose or dignity can be attributed to free trade with Mexico.
An agreeable stance, although I do take note that Shapiro - a lawyer - has not seen his job shipped down to Mexico nor watched any of his children overdose on Fentanyl. Also, he says nothing of Carlson's major point that political leadership has steered a course of material wealth at the expense of other outcomes. He prattles on as if Carlson implored the government to intervene to make people happier, which is not the case.
But according to Carlson, both parties have embraced the idea of free trade and limited regulation as a solution to problems of the soul – and thus both parties have come up empty.
No, he didn't reference those at all. And if he did, I'm sure he'd opine that the supposed free trade hasn't been very free and the limited regulation not very limited.
The Democratic Party, Carlson says, is “functionally libertarian” - a perfectly incredible contention given the fact that the current new wave in the Democratic Party has called for [socialism].
Looks like some ruffled feathers, eh? And no, he didn't say that either. He said, to quote: Members of our educated upper-middle-classes are now the backbone of the Democratic Party who usually describe themselves as fiscally responsible and socially moderate. In other words, functionally libertarian. Carlson is talking about the upper crust rearguard of the party, not the "current new wave" of SJWs. Shapiro is functionally lying. He's a lawyer, he can parse English. He knows an apple isn't an orange, but pretends it is anyway. (The essence of a strawman argument.)

Throughout the article, Shapiro agrees with Carlson seven different times - by my count - and contests a number of points, but never challenges the general premise that the people making the big decisions in this country are blindly prioritizing consumerism to the detriment of the core health of the country. Both French and Shapiro assume Carlson is engaging in some sort of policy advocacy. He is not. He is making a more systemic critique. He probably agrees with them that this isn't something to be fixed by policy changes, but not for the same reason. For them, because they are hyper-individualists who can't offer a social solution, and for him because he engages the non-linear viewpoint of a reactionary. My guess is that he understands the cyclical nature of society and is seeing us as too far along at this point. He's not engaging in policy advocacy or calling for government interventionism. He's issuing a warning, which many cannot even comprehend.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Subprime Science

This blog's ongoing series on modern astrophysics has been intended to demonstrate that even in the highest spires of the cathedral, where only the smartest and most capable gain access, where facts and results are all that matter...even there is the overwhelming stench of the same putrid muck that the dirt-dwelling rubes and barbaric clergymen wallow in. (Plus we get a convenient excuse to digress into an interesting topic.) It has all the trappings of a normal religion. An unproven dogmatic belief system, declarations of logically improbable statements to gain social status, shaming of non-believers, a culture of moral superiority, etc. The most troubling aspect of it all is the stacked uncertainties; one theoretical construct is stacked on another, and another, and another, producing a wobbling Jenga tower of "settled" science. (Perhaps it won't truly be settled until it crashes down.)

It seems reminiscent of what Karl Popper dubbed "promissory materialism" and might be generalized as science debt. Scientists progress under the promise that all outstanding uncertainties and contradictions will soon be paid down, since they are certainly on the correct path. It's what one commenter has quipped as the "one miracle" rule of modern science: give us just one miracle and we'll explain the rest. Except even that is being generous, as the scientific dogma consists of chains of miracles. Star Trek writers operated under the rule of thumb that they could only introduce a single suspension of belief per episode without becoming too fanciful to hold an audience, although a given episode still might incorporate elements previously seen. Science scholarship has thus proceeded in the same manner as science fiction. Each new step is counter-intuitive but said to be mathematically inevitable. After a number of decades what do you have? Infinite curvatures, division by zero, multiple theoretical states of matter, perpetual motion mechanisms, expansion faster than the speed of light, black this, dark that, and infinite universes. It all makes phasers and transporter rooms seem a little pedestrian, don't you think?

I've picked on astrophysics the most because it sets up the strongest a fortiori argument against those who use science as a political weapon against us. Our opponents don't actually refer to astrophysics much in their diatribes. (The reason - I suspect - is that the fantastical universe concocted by modern physics leads naturally to a belief in God.) They invariably pull from the scientific ammo cans of climate studies and biological evolution. Evolution is where you'll find the highest density of intellectual snobbery because it is a concept that most people can easily understand: species rise and fall through iterative changes and natural selection, not from design by a supernatural omnipotent being. (The two aren't really mutually exclusive, but okay. God is certainly not a scientific theory, as He can't be disproven.)

Take the theory of evolution, and walk backwards through time. The tendency is to go from complex to simple. After some time, all animals are invertebrates. Then single-celled eukaryotes. Then single-celled prokaryotes. Then nothing. At the nothingness boundary is where life arose by chance. Some molecule in a primordial sea that formed by a random collision of ingredients in just the right conditions had the property of being self-replicating. From there, everything is a series of small (and random!) improvements. Proteins that tended to be surrounded by lipids had a survival advantage. Thus the cell membrane was born. And so on. All you need is the materials plus randomness, and natural selection takes care of the rest.

The major problem with all that is that none of it has been duplicated. We've never bred a new species into existence. We've not seen life spontaneously generate, even under ideal laboratory conditions. There are no observations of simpler forms of life or chemicals randomly upgrading to a more complex arrangement. We're told that it's just an artifact of the vastness of space and eons of time that cannot be duplicated in a laboratory. But that ignores the reality of the situation. It has been estimated that, given an entire ocean of amino acids under the right conditions, the odds that they will spontaneously generate a single protein molecule within the lifetime of the universe is - rounded to the nearest trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a percent - zero.

Most don't realize just how slight the odds are, or how much remains unknown. The protein folding problem is a big mystery. Most cellular functions are driven by proteins, which operate by changing shape to perform tasks such as pumping ions or contracting muscles. Given a protein chain, how can you determine what shape it will fold into? The answer is that you can't. And given the chain and shape, it can't be determined how it got folded into that shape either. As our technology improves, it becomes clear that we know less, not more. It was once believed that cells were bags of fluid with internal reactions being somewhat random and dispersed. It's now apparent that structure permeates the cell and everything operates as one big (but very small) assembly line. It is interesting that people can be so sure of material randomness as the driver of everything when so many confounding mysteries remain. That is effectively the principle of astrophysics as well. The cosmos are driven by gravity and random collisions. Life is driven by natural selection and random collisions. The commonality is an obsession with randomness.

If the world can be divided into knowns and unknowns, then scientists work at the boundary of the two. These days, science proclaims that it pretty well understands everything in the unknown bucket too, it's just a matter of cleanup work. They don't know what dark matter is made of, but it certainly is there and will turn up soon. Contradictory evidence can be placed aside for now because it is also certain that, as the light shines on more and more of the unknown bucket, new evidence will emerge that shows how the seeming contradiction was just an enigma, and everything pretty much works as expected. The science debt will be paid down because they're holding the winning lottery numbers. All the while, that wobbling Jenga stack grows ever higher.