The conservative obsession with “narrative”

December 22, 2014 – 12:14 pm by John

In response to the execution-style murder of two New York City police officers by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, many conservatives blamed the media "narrative" for inspiring the murders. Brinsley supposedly said his targeting of NYPD cops was motivated by the unjustified killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, and the subsequent exoneration of the police officers who killed them. Given that much of the media's attention on these cases (and others, such as that of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio) has been on the race of the victims and officers—black and white, respectively—I'm not sure how Brinsley's killing of a Hispanic and an Asian officer was directly inspired by newsmedia, but a lot of conservatives are sure that it was:

There was apparently no "racial angle" to Brinsley's murders, either, so it would seem that he was not influenced by the media's "racial" "narrative" at all. But not to worry, conservatives have another narrative to blame: the anti-cop mentality:

I wonder: is Radley Balko part of this anti-police narrative that's to blame for Brinsley's murders? Is his denunciation of the excess militarization of police to blame for Brinsley's murders? I also wonder: was it the anti-cop mentality that also motivated Brinsley to shoot his ex-girlfriend?

Since these conservative commentators are not stupid or oblivious, they know that their claims of "media narrative" can easily be compared with the left's claims that so many rapes occur (and go unpunished) because of a "rape culture" or that so many mass murders are committed because of a "gun culture" in the United States. And despite their rebuttal that their finger-pointing is accurate while that of others is not, I think it's just as truthful to dismiss their claims as it is to dismiss the latter two. The individual is to blame for all crimes.

The term "narrative" as many on the right use it, especially when referring to the (aspects of) stories that print and broadcast journalists focus on, has a specific meaning: that the media are presenting only partial truths or outright falsehoods in order to sway their audience toward believing an untruthful or highly skewed version of reality. The accusation of promoting a narrative does not distinguish between deliberate lies and mere lapses or distortions caused by journalists' bias, incuriosity, and ignorance.

There is no doubt that different journalists and media outlets have their biases and their narratives, and no doubt that the media influence people's behavior and opinions. I'll even grant that some members of the media shamed themselves by trying to provoke conflict at the Ferguson protests. But there is also no denying that the vast majority of the reporting on Michael Brown's death, Eric Garner's death, and the ensuing grand jury proceedings has been truthful. Was Michael Brown unarmed or not? Was Eric Garner choked to death or not? Did he repeatedly say "I can't breathe" or not? Was his murderer's exoneration a laughable travesty of justice or not? Did the Ferguson and St. Louis police throw tear gas on the protestors and set up snipers on tanks or not? The media "narrative" is one of unjustified killings, excessive insulation of police from punishment, growing antagonism between police and (especially, poor) citizens, and non-indictment of officers for actions that would clearly get any private citizen indicted—if the prosecutor didn't skip straight to murder charges to begin with. That isn't a narrative at all—it's the truth.

In fact, the conservatives' claim of "media narrative" is even weaker than that: I submit that the media's reporting on police brutality, police militarization, unjustified shootings, cronyist insulation/protection of police officers, the complete failure of the Drug War, the ruination that the Drug War has inflicted on poor communities, and the deplorably high U.S. imprisonment rate is under-reported by newsmedia. It can't be overstated how central the War on Drugs is to the antagonistic relationship that exists between citizens, especially blacks, and cops these days, and how much the War on Drugs is to blame for the oppression and victimization that poor Americans feel is directed at them by police.

How many Americans who regularly watch and read the news are aware that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, even higher than China and Russia? How many know that over half of inmates in federal prisons are in for drug-related offenses (and that this proportion used to be 63%)? How many know that Eric Garner was not actually selling illegal cigarettes at the time of his murder and that that's not what he was arrested for? How many know that the NYPD banned chokeholds outright in 1993, which did nothing to decrease the use of chokeholds by its officers (they received over 200 complaints about chokeholds per year from 2006 to 2010)? How many appreciate how an excess of laws and overzealous policing trap people in a cycle of poverty while enriching local governments? How many know that federally mandated minimum sentences, in addition to being an objectively terrible idea that unjustly ruins thousands of people's lives, are disproportionately given to blacks (who are 21% more likely to receive a mandatory minimum sentence than white defendants facing an eligible charge)? (I mean, seriously, how often do mainstream news outlets run stories about mandatory minimum sentences? I bet it's rare.) How many know that blacks tend to receive 10% longer prison sentences than whites for the same crimes? How many know that more Americans are imprisoned for drug-related offenses now than were imprisoned for all offenses in 1980? How often do the media highlight the plain fact that the War on Drugs is destroying black America? How many Americans support the War on Drugs, for God's sake? Those people obviously haven't been paying attention, and the media haven't been doing much to dispel their biases about it.

The facts that the War on Drugs continues, that state and local governments (including police departments) continue to benefit from the War on Drugs, and that millions upon millions of people reflexively side with police in controversial cases, saying "Don't break the law or resist arrest and you'll have nothing to fear"—these facts demonstrate that the media haven't been pushing much of an anti-police narrative nor a racial narrative. If the poor and minorities side with the media's "narrative", it is because they have lived it.

In fact, as Conor Friedersdorf has documented, numerous recent examples of unjustified police abuses make the case for police reform much better than Michael Brown's death does. The evidence Friedersdorf cites is limited to videos available on YouTube; who knows how many atrocities we've missed over the decades? I don't even know the names of the victims or the shooters in those incidents, and neither does hardly anybody else, because they were swept under the rug by the police departments and not investigated by journalists, much less distorted into a "narrative". How many people know the name Tamir Rice? Not as many as know the names Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and not nearly as many as should know it.

It's also important to realize how widespread and deep-seated the pro-police mentality is in the U.S., as exemplified by the myriad people who believe that breaking the law is inherently wrong and that Eric Garner and Michael Brown deserved to receive deadly force because they both broke the law and resisted arrest (which is blatantly false in Eric Garner's case). The intuition to side with police and hold them above regular citizens is plenty common in the mainstream media, not unlike the ubiquitous reverence of the military. For example, when a news or opinion piece mentions the danger that police officers face in the line of duty, how often do the journalists point out that a large part of that danger comes directly from the unnecessary outlawing of drugs and the increasingly adversarial relationship between police and citizens that exists because too many things are illegal, not to mention the quotas and expectations that police place on themselves?

One problem in trying to make conservative law-and-order types realize and admit the faults of the Drug War, and more generally overzealous policing and an excess of laws, is that some of them interpret the citing of trends and statistics about the poor and minorities as an accusation that white people and relatively wealthy people are to blame. But they are not to blame. The blame belongs to politicians for passing unjust laws, police departments for overzealously (and often violently) enforcing the unjust laws as well as shielding their officers from punishment, and both federal and local governments for clamoring for ever more laws and funding to enforce them. Conservatives are so used to baseless claims of racism and calls for wealth redistribution from the left that they reflexively reject legitimate arguments that our institutions and laws disproportionately victimize the poor and minorities.

The War on Drugs, the punishment of poverty, and the immunity given to criminal police officers are injustices themselves, even if they affected all races and classes equally; the fact that they do not is only a further injustice upon a mountain of injustices.

So no, the backlash against police officers is not the media's doing, and the villification of cops, especially by black Americans, is not some new thing that started in the social media age or even the 24-hour news channel age. It has been 40+ years in the making, since at least the start of the War on Drugs, and every bit of it is justified. What isn't justified is killing in situations other than self-defense or the defense of another person against imminent threat, which is why the killing of those two NYPD officers was cold-blooded murder by a disturbed, violent degenerate.

A third common claim by conservatives is that all those Ferguson and New York protestors shouting "Kill the cops!" and the like were inciting people to violence and were bound to inspire some nut to act on that impulse. Therefore, the protestors are partially to blame, and their anti-cop movement is part and parcel with the inevitable cop-killing backlash.

Further cementing himself as a respectable, honest, consistent conservative (or conservatarian, as he calls himself) who is an ally to the libertarian movement, Charles C.W. Cooke was having none of that:

(I expect we will see a little more of it, because people who commit murders out in public are usually pretty deranged and sick, and because there is a lot of hatred of cops out there.)

In conclusion, the police reform (or even police-hating) movement is not to blame for Ismaaiyl Brinsley's crimes any more than the NRA is to blame for mass shootings. If the media truly had a racial narrative, we would hear a lot more about actual, concrete, statistically proven inequalities in our criminal justice system, and several more black victims of police violence would be household names. Contrary to the stock conservative complaint about the media vis-à-vis crime, race, and police, the deficiency of our newsmedia is in its reluctance to highlight the full extent and depravity of the War on Drugs, the ubiquity of excessive use of force by police, and the effective outlawing of poverty in many jurisdictions. The War on Drugs and the associated American prison state is the West's human rights atrocity of the 21st century. The protesters are absolutely right to hate the police, and the media are absolutely right to focus on it.

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Will Wilkinson on Uber

December 20, 2014 – 12:46 pm by John

I liked this piece by Will Wilkinson at the Daily Dish on the taxi company Uber, the ignorant reactions to its "surge" pricing, and the calls for it to be dissolved into a worker collective:

There’s something about Uber, the popular ride-sharing service, that brings out the nutty in people. During the awful hostage situation yesterday in downtown Sydney, the volume of people trying to get out of Dodge by beckoning an Uber car kicked the app’s surge pricing into effect. This is most sensible. You see, the increase in demand (and no doubt the dangerous conditions) had reduced the supply of available drivers, leaving many of those desiring a car without one. Surge pricing sweetens the deal for drivers, drawing idle supply into action, helping to ensure that those who want service can get it. This does not amount to the exploitation of a dire situation. It is the best way to ameliorate it. The alternative to temporarily higher prices is a total lack of cars, not a bunch of open cars at normal non-surge pricing.
[emphasis mine]

In response to Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert's suggestion to socialize Uber by dissolving its corporate structure and giving ownership to the workers (drivers), Wilkinson writes,

There’s perhaps a problem or two with this proposal. “It takes an entrepreneur to start up ride-sharing,” Konczal and Covert write, “but not to run it as a firm. A worker collective is the obvious transition.” A system in which entrepreneurship is routinely rewarded with a forced “transition” to a worker collective is a system that is unlikely to continue to producing a valuable of entrepreneurial innovation.

But I really do like the idea of the drivers getting a bigger share of the profits. If it’s true, as they say, that “Newer ride-share ventures can piggyback on Uber’s success and take advantage of these new terms,” then it seems that Uber and Lyft drivers ought to be able to organize, finance the creation of a new app (no big deal, it would seem), and then dominate the market by charging less than those awful, useless, Silicon Valley tech-bro rentiers, all the while getting paid more. Why go through the tumult of trying to socialize Uber when a worker collective would so clearly out-compete Uber? Or maybe it’s not so clear that it would. Maybe organizing drivers, developing, maintaining, and continuously improving an app, doing all the necessary marketing, and managing the whole system isn’t really such a breeze, and by the time you take into account all those costs, which worker-collective drivers would have to cover, they’d end up keeping something in the neighborhood of 80% of their fares, just like Uber drivers. That’s my hunch.

There's nothing wrong with a worker-owned collective, nor with the corporate structure of Uber as it actually exists. I agree with Wilkinson's conclusion that "a more worker-centric Uber seems like a neat idea, and the prospect of developing one from the ground up, no matter how unlikely it may be, seems a lot less unlikely than simply stealing Uber." I wonder: if the worker-collective structure is so much more desirable, efficient, or otherwise better, why didn't a sort of free-agent taxi company arise with such a structure to begin with instead of Uber and Lyft, or why won't one yet arise to compete with or replace them? I don't doubt there are myriad laws making the formation and success of either type of company extremely difficult. We've all heard about Uber's legal battles in its effort to be allowed to compete with "medallion" taxi companies. Maybe a well-funded corporate core with a strong legal team was necessary for Uber to get a foothold in the market to begin with, thanks to the cronyist laws protecting traditional taxi companies. But I fail to see how eliminating all of those laws would put Uber at a disadvantage compared to a hypothetical worker-collective taxi service. It would only be disadvantaged if the drivers could earn more money and/or have more job security in a worker collective...which is already either true or not true, so why doesn't one form? Or maybe those two conditions will become easier to meet as time goes on?

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Great for George Clooney

December 19, 2014 – 1:34 pm by John

It's easy for me to say from my computer chair, but the response of Sony and the rest of Hollywood to the terrorist hack and to the demand that Sony cancel the release of The Interview was weak and cowardly. Giving in to thuggish, censorious demands, even when backed by threats, is sad whether it's Muslims complaining about depictions of Mohammed or hackers threatening "another 9/11" (scarcely credible) or students demanding a speaker be disinvited or anything else. Sometimes it's understandable, but it's still sad. Movie theaters and their lawyers didn't want to be held responsible, in a court of law or the court of public opinion, for a shooting spree or other terrorist attack, so they played it safe. That's the story of this decade, it seems: everyone wants to avoid challenges, avoid risks, avoid controversy, avoid standing up for anything unpopular, sacrifice liberal Enlightenment principles to people's feelings, and accord a heckler's veto to any group that speaks loudly, threateningly, or sanctimoniously enough.

George Clooney stands against this trend, and he deserves heaps of praise for it. I knew there was good reason to like him outside of his characters and movies. Until now, I just had some vague sense that he was cool and likable in an old-fashioned Sean Connery/Gregory Peck kind of way. In an interview with Deadline.com, Clooney has given us much more substantive reason to admire him:

A good portion of the press abdicated its real duty. They played the fiddle while Rome burned. There was a real story going on. With just a little bit of work, you could have found out that it wasn’t just probably North Korea; it was North Korea. The Guardians Oof Peace is a phrase that Nixon used when he visited China. When asked why he was helping South Korea, he said it was because we are the Guardians of Peace. Here, we’re talking about an actual country deciding what content we’re going to have. This affects not just movies, this affects every part of business that we have. That’s the truth. What happens if a newsroom decides to go with a story, and a country or an individual or corporation decides they don’t like it? Forget the hacking part of it. You have someone threaten to blow up buildings, and all of a sudden everybody has to bow down. ...

This was a dumb comedy that was about to come out. With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson; it’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid. This is a silly comedy, but the truth is, what it now says about us is a whole lot. We have a responsibility to stand up against this. That’s not just Sony, but all of us, including my good friends in the press who have the responsibility to be asking themselves: What was important? What was the important story to be covering here? The hacking is terrible because of the damage they did to all those people. Their medical records, that is a horrible thing, their Social Security numbers. Then, to turn around and threaten to blow people up and kill people, and just by that threat alone we change what we do for a living, that’s the actual definition of terrorism.

Here’s the brilliant thing they did. You embarrass them first, so that no one gets on your side. After the Obama joke, no one was going to get on the side of Amy, and so suddenly, everyone ran for the hills. Look, I can’t make an excuse for that joke, it is what it is, a terrible mistake. Having said that, it was used as a weapon of fear, not only for everyone to disassociate themselves from Amy but also to feel the fear themselves. They know what they themselves have written in their emails, and they’re afraid.
[...]
Quite honestly, this would happen in any industry. I don’t know what the answer is, but what happened here is part of a much larger deal. A huge deal. And people are still talking about dumb emails. Understand what is going on right now, because the world just changed on your watch, and you weren’t even paying attention.
[...]
But to distribute, you’ve got to go to a studio, because they’re the ones that distribute movies. The truth is, you’re going to have a much harder time finding distribution now. And that’s a chilling effect. We should be in the position right now of going on offense with this. ... Stick it [The Interview] online. Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie. That’s the most important part. We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all fucking people.
[...]
Everybody is looking at this from self interest and they are right in this sense. I’m a movie theater and I say, “OK, there’s been a threat. Not really a credible threat, but there’s a threat, and my lawyers call and tell me, “Well, you run the movie and you could be liable.” And all the other movies around it are going to have their business hurt. I understand that, and it makes complete sense. But that’s where we really need to figure what the real response should be. I don’t know what that is yet. We should be talking about that and not pointing fingers at people right now. Right now, it’s not just our community but a lot of communities. We need to figure out, what are we going to do now—when we know the cyberattacks are real, and they’re state-sponsored.

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Dogmatic mysticism in the intolerant left

December 18, 2014 – 11:51 am by John

Somewhere around the interwebs, I once read an analogy to the radical-left social justice movement that went something like this: Imagine you have a child of, say, pre-school or elementary-school age. He is playing in your living room as usual, doing nothing out of the ordinary, until he steps across a certain patch of carpet that you have suddenly and secretly deemed off-limits. You admonish the child, grab him, put him in time-out, take away his toys, tell him why he is being punished, make him apologize, make him feel terrible for his mistake, tell him it was his fault, make him promise never to do it again, and tell him his intentions and his ignorance of the rule are irrelevant. You also emphasize that his failure to realize he was making a mistake is also his fault and is further proof of his wickedness.

The child will apologize to avoid further admonishment and to regain the approval of his parents. If the child experiences this first-hand or sees it happening to others often enough, he will come to perceive all living rooms as fraught with unseen dangers, whose invisibility is his own fault, and will come to believe it is his own responsibility not only to avoid further such transgressions but also to admonish others who transgress, despite his vague memory that at some point there was nothing wrong with playing in all parts of the living room. Finally, the child will come to respect—or at least submit to—the capricious and obscure nature of these rules, which can have the effect of either accustoming the child to respecting and obeying capricious and obscure rules or leading the child to disrespect rules both good and bad.

Nowhere have I seen a more apt real-world example of this allegory than in the travails of Smith College President Kathleen McCartney. Her transgression? Writing in an email to the university community,

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:

As members of the Smith community we are struggling, and we are hurting. The failure of grand juries in Missouri and New York to indict two police officers for their use of excessive force, resulting in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, has led to a shared fury – and a deep sorrow. The videotape of Eric Garner spoke for itself – or should have done. In my conversations with you, I hear discouragement as you share how your lives have been disrupted, how you have lost faith in the quest for racial equality, and how you fear for people of color. How you fear especially for children like Tamir Rice, 12 years old, who was shot November 22nd in Cleveland for holding a toy gun in a park.

We gather in vigil, we raise our voices in protest; yet we wake again to news of violence that reminds us, painfully, of the stark reality of racial injustice.

It can be easy to lose hope, but Marian Wright Edelman, who founded the Children's Defense Fund more than 40 years ago, teaches us to remain willing to work for social justice, even amidst our discouragement. She said recently, "I care, and I am willing to serve and stand with others to build a movement." Like Marian, I believe our only choice is to serve and to build, especially in times like this, as the civil rights of our fellow citizens continue to be in jeopardy.
[…]
We will do some of this work on our own and some in community. Thanks to the Concerned Students of Color Committee, we have already begun a series of programs that will continue as long as I am president. Thanks to the faculty, we have already begun a series of conversations about how to address institutional barriers to equality. Soon we will have a new Chief Diversity Officer to support this work.

Most immediately, we will:

  • Focus the readings and prayers of this Sunday's Christmas Vespers services at 4 and 7:30 p.m. in John M. Greene on renewing our commitment to social justice, and include a period of silent reflection during each service.
  • Come together in vigil at 4:30 p.m. Monday, December 8th, on Chapin Lawn, to remember Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others who have fallen; and to recommit ourselves to working toward justice and non-violence in their honor.
  • Organize a panel discussion on police treatment of people of color, particularly Black males.
  • Solicit ideas from all members of our community. I welcome your suggestions.

It is my fervent hope that the lives of Michael, Eric, Tamir and others will inspire a new civil rights movement. There are early signs that this is the case, as demonstrations across the country have illustrated.

What an insensitive, insulated, oblivious, dismissive, callous person, amirite? Any reasonable, halfway-civilized person would realize how offensive her remarks are, especially to people of color.

What's that? Oh, it was actually the last sentence of her email that riled people up:

We are united in our insistence that all lives matter.

Apparently the subject line of her email was also "All Lives Matter". You see, President McCartney didn't realize that "all lives matter" was a dismissive phrase used by some to counter the slogan "black lives matter" in an attempt to divert discussion away from the ill treatment that blacks disproportionately receive from police officers and all other facets of the American criminal justice system. She didn't realize this probably because she is not a hyper-politicized person who is in tune with every fad and fashion of the social-mediasphere.

In an entirely depressing but entirely expected development, she apologized and admitted her "mistakes":

I am committed to working as a white ally, to learning from the lived experiences of people of color, and to acknowledging mistakes, despite my best intentions.

The two student emails she quoted in her apology were thoughtful and respectful, but some comments quoted by the linked article were more accusatory and judgmental:

Two students who attended the vigil, sophomores Cecelia Lim and Maureen Leonard, agreed that McCartney was right to apologize after her original email.

“It felt like she was invalidating the experience of black lives,” Lim said.

A third student at the vigil, sophomore math major Maria Lopez, said McCartney’s first email was poorly received on campus.

“A lot of my news feed was negative remarks about her as a person,” she said, referring to students’ reaction on social media. Lopez added that McCartney, whom she called “President Kathy,” is generally well-liked among students.

“She acknowledged her mistake,” Lopez said.

To review, an eminently concerned, fair-minded, inclusive university president was driven to apologize for failing to repeat a slogan she was unaware existed; her innocent over-inclusivity was "poorly received" for "invalidating the experience of black lives" despite the fact that her entire email was about the injustice experienced by black lives and actions that she would be personally involved in to rectify those injustices; and some students concluded that this ignorance of a Twitter hashtag reflected negatively on her as a person.

This is dogmatic, illiberal, hyper-judgmental group-think. It borders on religious mysticism: you can't know what is right and wrong, so rely on the social-justice clergy to inform you—and absolve you—of your sins. It is the complaining students who are insular, ignorant, and entitled. They can't suffer any deviation from their talking points, and they interpret any such deviation as an insult to an entire class of humans collectively as well as themselves personally. They seek and therefore find slights everywhere, and they think that every transgression against their movement, whether real or imagined, and no matter how small, represents malice on the part of the transgressor and entitles them to an apology.

It would be refreshing to see the target of one of these non-controversies refuse to apologize for doing nothing wrong, just once in a while.

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The default position you take reveals everything

August 14, 2014 – 12:14 pm by John

Since I surely have nothing new to say about the events on the ground in Ferguson, Missouri, I wanted to comment on the attitudes and opinions of a certain type of commentator on this matter: those who pretend to be fair and balanced, who rush to mention that both looters and police can be in the wrong at the same time, who bend over backwards to come to the defense of the poor endangered police officers who just want to maintain law and order.

Some of them may think they are avoiding taking any default position, that their withholding of judgment constitutes carefulness, fairness, and objectivity. But I think that this evasion is itself a default position—a side taken on a substantive matter—and that this overly sensitive faux-objectivity reveals a lot about those commentators. It reveals that deep down, they really side with the (powerful) State against the (relatively powerless) citizen. Deep down, they think that peace, safety, and order come from the State. They idealize our society as one of laws, not of men, so they take a default position in defense of those who enforce the law.

As with the NSA spying scandal, the people whose default position all along has been against police militarization, against expansion of State power, have been vindicated in Ferguson, Missouri. A police state can exist in an American city. Right now Ferguson is by all accounts a police state! If these developments lead you to say, "The police might be overreacting, but the looters are definitely in the wrong too," or, "I'm not comfortable with the shutdown of media, but some type of response to rioting and looting was necessary," or, "Crowds violently attacking cops and rioting and people are surprised cops are responding accordingly? I must be missing something...", then you reveal yourself as an apologist for police militarization, as one of the tough-on-crime law-and-order types who have pushed us in this direction for 30 years. If such hedging and wishy-washiness are your default reaction to the war zone that is Ferguson, Missouri, then you are part of the problem.

Of course looting is wrong, for the same types of reasons that shooting an unarmed Michael Brown in the back, multiple times, is wrong. Of course the private property owners whose stores are being looted and whose convenience stores are being burned down are being severely, disgustingly wronged by the looters, and they must rely on the police to protect them.

But anyone who's been paying attention to the eyewitness accounts, the Twitter feeds, and the livestreams knows that the police (1) created this issue by shooting a defenseless man in the back multiple times ("more than just a couple"); (2) they exacerbated it by being secretive, refusing to release the shooter's name, and not conducting any investigation at all; (3) they made their unconstitutional/martial-law intentions obvious to everyone by blockading media from entering the city, trying to prevent anyone from photographing or filming them, even going to so far as to tear-gas reporters and dismantle their recording equipment; and (4) they exacerbated it further and created a war zone in the Midwest by pointing sniper rifles and assault rifles at protesters and even at non-protesting people just walking in their own city.

Considering such egregious police overreach on the backdrop of a city that has, at least subjectively but also by objective measures, felt wronged by a long history of racially inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system, it is easy to see how the entire town felt wronged by the shooting and abandoned—no, antagonized—by its government, and it saw the murder of Michael Brown as the last straw. A stance that glosses over everything leading up to the looting and even outright excuses the hyper-militarized weaponry and tactics of the local police is antithetical to the protection of individual rights, and is, most importantly, opposed to the protection of the citizen against the State.

The default position I take is to distrust and despise the police, especially given their terroristic and militarized weapons and responses. My default position is to focus on the militarized police forces who drive (who even want) MRAPs and point military-style weapons at unarmed protesters and bar journalists from the city and order everyone to turn their cameras off, rather than focus on the opportunistic criminals who loot and burn down stores. The latter should be mentioned and condemned, but they are not the national story. They are not turning our cities into militarized zones. They are not eating away at our constitutional rights and putting a death-grip on entire cities. They are not locking world-leading numbers of nonviolent criminals in cages for years. They are not the cause of lost rights and growing fear and an increasingly adversarial relationship between citizen and State that has been about 40 years in the making (since the beginning of the War on Drugs).

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The void will be filled

July 20, 2014 – 4:02 pm by John

Gracy Olmstead writes the most perfect and succinct summary I've yet seen of my over-arching socio-culturo-political worldview. If I could distill it into a single sentence, it would be something like: The more a society seeks to—or is forced to—delegate its affairs to the State and rely on the State to protect/manage/take care of it, the more civil society breaks down, the more community is replaced with brutality, and the more cooperation is replaced with politicization. Libertarianism has been slandered as overly individualist and selfish, but Statism is downright divisive and adversarial. True cooperation, community, and civilization are impossible without self-responsibility, self-sufficiency, voluntary associations, and the all-encompassing liberation that individual freedom would allow.

Referring to the rash of news stories about parents who have been arrested for doing absolutely nothing harmful, negligent, or even inappropriate, Olmstead writes,

As Radley Balko notes at the Washington Post, these incidents seem to signal the “increasing criminalization of just about everything and the use of the criminal justice system to address problems that were once (and better) handled by families, friends, communities and other institutions.”

This latter point hearkens back to Robert Nisbet’s excellent book The Quest for Community: Nisbet predicted that, in a society without strong private associations, the State would take their place—assuming the role of the church, the schoolroom, and the family, asserting a “primacy of claim” upon our children. “It is hard to overlook the fact,” he wrote, “that the State and politics have become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only in the family or the church.” In this world, the term “nanny state” takes on a very literal meaning.
[...]
There’s also the question of the three “good samaritans” in these situations—the people who noticed a child unaccompanied, without a parent, and decided to call the police. In the first instance, perhaps, calling the police made sense: the girl was a complete stranger, by herself at the park. In Brooks’ case, however, a person recorded the whole incident and watched Brooks get into her car before calling the police. They could easily have talked to her, reprimanded her, warned her that they could report such activity. Williamson’s child was seen in the dollar store by a customer who recognized him—thus implying that the person had at least some knowledge of the child’s family. Why didn’t they talk to Justin, or call Justin’s parents?

In each case, the citizen jumped first to the State to care for the situation, rather than exercising any sort of personal involvement. This hardly seems to fit the definition “good samaritan”—these actions reveal a more passive, isolated attitude. But here, again, we see the result of breakdown in modern American community—without a sense of communal closeness or responsibility, we act as bystanders rather than as stewards. As Brooks puts it in her article,

We’re told to warn our children not to talk to strangers. We walk them to school and hover over them as they play and some of us even put GPS systems on them, confident, I guess, that should they get lost, no one will help them. Gone are the days of letting kids roam the neighborhood, assuming that at least one responsible adult will be nearby to keep an eye out. I’m told there are still things like carpools and babysitting co-ops, but I’ve never found one. In place of “It takes a village,” our parenting mantra seems to be “every man for himself.”

This is the unfortunate result of living in a world where parenting is no longer supported and bolstered by private association and community. If only there had been a family member, friend, or church member who had volunteered to watch Harrell’s little girl. If only the “good samaritan” at the dollar store had considered calling Justin’s father, or offered to take the boys home. We live in a society that neglects the sort of private stewardship that could foster truly safe environments for our children—and unfortunately, when parents are thrown into prison, it hardly seems to create more safe surroundings for these kids.

Many thinkers of the past two centuries have noted that the Marxists and other atheists of the left simply replaced a supernatural God with a political one of their own creation. They stopped believing in the gods of religion, and they submitted instead to the almighty State. Maybe their deep-seated desire to do the former caused them to do the latter, or vice versa—the void was filled one way or the other. Many humans seem to need an idol to submit to, whether it be an enlightened caretaker to help the helpless and protect the weak, a brutal weapon to wield against detractors, a banner to fight under against any and all heathens, or a creator and soul-giver who will assuage our existential fears and judge all of mankind. They have a void that must be filled, and the invisible hand of market and community doesn't cut it for them. No one can be put in control of such an inscrutable force; it's too democratic, too chaotic. It permits no leaders, no idols, no imposed order.

Until the late 19th or even mid-20th century in most of the Western world, there was a vast space between the private life of the home and the realm of law and government. That space was called civil society, and within it stood communities, charities, businesses, trade, education, cooperation, clubs, the arts, and virtually everything else outside of family and romance that made life worth living. That civil space has vastly shrunk over the last century or so as government has encroached in myriad ways. The functions that friends, families, and acquaintances and strangers in the community used to fill have now been delegated to the State. It is important to note that this transformation has proceeded largely at the behest of the populace of each respective nation—a damning indictment of democracy if there ever was one. If any proof were needed that this rotten politicization originates not from aloof, tyrannical rulers but from the voting populace, observe that the parents Olmstead mentions were turned in by their fellow private citizens.

The people of the United States and, indeed, every developed country have demanded that once-private matters become matters of official governmental concern, and our professional criminal classes have been only too happy to oblige—and to encourage this sentiment every chance they get. What is left where civil society used to be is not a void but an ever-growing adversarial State, ever more brutal, ever more unaccountable. You've heard the saying that if "charitable" donations are taken by force, then that's not charity at all. Well, the same applies to cooperation: when the State is given charge of functions that used to be performed cooperatively, spontaneously, by helpful neighbors, what results is the opposite of cooperation and helpfulness. When functions that used to be performed voluntarily, peacefully, by friends, family, or even strangers, are taken over by the police and Child Protective [sic] Services, the result is the further destruction of families, of communities, of the interpersonal trust and reliance that used to connect free, peaceable people. The dissolution of these bonds has already progressed quite far, or else the reflex to call the police on every minor matter, and the impulse to create criminals where there clearly are none, wouldn't exist. Why has it? Why does it? Statism is a human disease. It is the uniquely human disease. Only a momentous change in our attitudes about government, family, and community, which hopefully can be spurred along by something far less destructive than centuries more of war and impoverishment, can cure it.

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Thirteen miscellaneous thoughts on the Hobby Lobby case and the reactions to it

July 8, 2014 – 11:26 pm by John

"To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."
—Thomas Jefferson

Other than the absurd necessity (and apparent futility) of explaining that a government's failure to mandate something doesn't equate to outlawing it, nor does it enable other people or entities to bar anyone's "access" to it, I had a few more thoughts in response to specific things I've read about the recent Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases, in which the Supreme Court decided in those companies' favor.

1. "Paying twice"
Some commentators on the left object to women now being forced to "pay twice" for certain contraceptives that religious objectors can now opt out of covering in company benefit packages. Their reasoning is that those female employees must pay full price for their monthly insurance premium, a full price that covers every legal contraceptive for some Americans but only covers, say, 16 out of 20 for employees of closely held religious corporations. They pay full price for their insurance and should be covered for everything, but now thanks to the religion of their employers and the Supreme Court's ruling, they have to pay out of pocket for any of the other four contraceptives without getting a discount on their insurance.

I haven't heard this objection very widely or frequently, but we can safely assume it is valid for the sake of argument because it is simple to answer: First, get the government out of the business of mandating insurance benefits, and the market will take care of the supply, demand, and pricing of every insurance plan. Second, uncouple employment from health insurance, and a third party's (your boss's) opinion will never matter again. If a consumer and a supplier can't reach an agreement on the nature and price of an insurance policy, then no transaction will take place. If the two do agree on benefits and price, then the transaction will take place. This happens with all other goods and services where it's allowed to; car insurance is a good example of the ease with which certain types of coverage can be added and subtracted, and car insurance is even heavily regulated—but not nearly as heavily regulated as health insurance, especially now!

If it is illegal or more difficult for an employer to contract with multiple insurance companies to make sure all of the employees are offered all the benefit and pricing options that they want, then the solution is to get rid of those laws, as libertarians have been saying for over half a century. If the coupling of employment to health insurance puts an undue burden on Hobby Lobby's female employees (as it must, because it puts an undue burden on everyone), then the solution is to abolish the tax laws that have made this coupling financially beneficial, as libertarians have been saying for over half a century.

What is sadly ironic about this "now some women must pay twice" objection is that the left-feminists who have made it are among the staunchest cheerleaders for Obamacare, the very legislation that has forced this conflict onto previously peaceable parties. Since they are constitutionally incapable of admitting that Obamacare with its politically decided minimum benefits is the entire cause of the problem, they have no option but to resort to their old standby of using the police power of government to force conscientious objectors to comply. The solution to the contraception conflict is not to use ever-more police power to enforce ever-more laws on everyone; the solution is to let people buy and sell what they want at mutually agreed upon prices, like the free human beings that they are.

It is also relevant that the text of the Affordable Care Act does not mandate any minimum coverage; the bureaucrats and lawyers at the Department of Health and Human Services made those decisions. Since the left-liberal feminist cheerleaders of Obamacare were fine with that, they should be fine with a future Republican president and Christian-conservative secretary of HHS who mandate that no supposed abortifacients be covered under the federally mandated benefit packages (or some other right-wing type of mandate). But they won't be. Because they're hypocrites.

Speaking of hypocrites, one of the main purveyors of the "paying twice" objection is Amanda Marcotte, who had no objection and actually celebrated hundreds of thousands of Americans' insurance premiums going up because of Obamacare:

So to review:
Paying hundreds more per year for an individual or family health insurance plan because the government outlawed your plan: Great! You should thank them!
Paying a few dozen extra dollars here and there for emergency contraception because the very same law supposedly makes you pay twice: WAR ON WOMEN.

UPDATE: Now I learn that not only was my instinct right that women aren't actually paying twice for contraceptives, they might not even be paying once. The provisions of the ACA that went into effect on September 23, 2010 mandate that all new insurance plans cover certain preventive care, including women's contraceptives, without charging a co-payment, co-insurance, deductible, or other out-of-pocket expense. (E.g., see here, here, and here.) So instead of paying for contraceptives through insurance premiums and some type of out-of-pocket payment, the women affected by ACA now pay for them only through their insurance premiums. The pharmaceutical companies and the pharmacies themselves will be paid in full for their products and services, so the employer and/or insurance company is required to cover the rest of that cost. This results in higher costs for everyone except the contraception users, in direct contradiction (surprise) to Marcotte et al.'s claim. Either everyone's insurance premium goes up to cover those formerly out-of-pocket expenses, the employer covers them somehow, or the insurance company covers them somehow. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if some taxes are used to subsidize the insurance companies' losses on these items in some way or another.

So while it is still theoretically possible for some women (e.g., Hobby Lobby employees) to be charged full price for an insurance premium while not receiving all the benefits that employees of other companies get, the facts remain that (1) if this even does occur, it would be the fault of the inflexible, over-regulated health insurance market and the politically entrenched insurance companies, the solution to which is freeing up the market; and (2) millions of other people are over-paying for millions of other women's contraceptives thanks to the ACA, and I don't hear any left-feminists crying "foul" at that.

2. The Hobby Lobby decision doesn't go far enough
This is Sheldon Richman's spot-on interpretation of the ruling and the circumstances surrounding it. His reasoning explains why the solution to problem #1 above isn't more government and more police but rather more markets and more freedom.

I wish the court could have said this instead: (1) No one has a natural right to force other people to pay for her (or his) contraception or anything else (with or without the government’s help), and by logical extension, (2) everyone has a right to refuse to pay if asked.
[...]
A group of politicians cannot legitimately have the power to compel one group of people—employers, taxpayers, or insurers—to pay for things that another group wants. That’s immoral, and it violates inalienable rights. Moreover, when government has the power to issue such commands—always backed by force, let us never forget—it sets off a mad interest-group scramble for control of the government machinery—because control is a license to steal. Is it any wonder that people are willing to spend billions of dollars to influence who makes government policy? If people face the alternative of controlling the government or being controlled by it, those who have resources will buy power and influence, even if only in self-defense.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) say the court decision permits the favored employers to make health-care decisions for women. No it doesn’t. It only prohibits, unfortunately in only a narrow set of cases, women from being able to use government to force their employers to pay for those decisions. When did we start equating the right to buy contraceptives—which hardly anyone disputes—with the power to compel others to pay? It is demagogic to insist that prohibiting the latter violates the former.

Equally ridiculous is the claim that if employers choose not to pay for their employees’ birth control, employers are forcing their religious beliefs on employees. If that were true, it would also have to be true that a non-Christian’s refusal to pay for a Christian’s transportation to church on Sundays would be equivalent to forcing the non-Christian’s religious beliefs on the Christian. That’s ridiculous.

A lot of people on the left have sort of snarkily or sarcastically said, "So now I can just opt out of paying taxes for anything I don't want to pay for?" They thought they were making a devastating point against conservatives by reductio ad absurdum. I don't know or really care how conservatives answer that question, but libertarians say, "Of course you should!" as Sheldon Richman does above. It is incoherent and barbaric to suggest that any person should be forced to pay for or otherwise support an action he considers immoral.

3. Corporations have more rights than individuals
Many people misunderstood the Supreme Court's ruling as giving corporations more rights than individuals, seein's how a corporation's objection to supposed abortifacients now trumps a woman's need to buy them. Well, that's simply not true. First of all, corporations in the U.S. had this right until 2012, when the mandate went into effect and religious employers started objecting to it. Progressives might respond, "Ah, see, that's another of the myriad patriarchal, misogynist insults that women had to endure for centuries, and we didn't even know about it until an enlightened law was passed that these religious troglodytes had to formally respond to." Either way, the Supreme Court doesn't give corporations any new power or right, unless your sense of history only goes back two years.

Second, people have the right to refuse to pay for anything, for any reason or no reason. And corporations are groups of people, who can decide on their policies and actions in whatever way they want (simple majority, plurality, two-thirds majority, etc.). I am not well versed in all the problems that corporate personhood has cause in practice or could cause in theory, but the right of a group to refuse to do something that each individual also refuses is pretty basic, whatever the group is called and whatever its status in other matters of law and business. (I do appreciate the points Jacob Levy makes here, and I wish I had the time and expertise to respond to them. My response would probably boil down to "It's not right to force any group to pay for something it objects to" anyway, regardless of the intricacies of the law and the implications the Hobby Lobby decision has.)

Third, observe what "right" the progressives are claiming by supporting the Obamacare mandates and lamenting the Hobby Lobby decision: the right to force others to pay for something they abhor. It is hard to imagine a more illiberal, thuggish, childish, primitive response to an ethical disagreement than, "Well, we passed a law, so you should be forced to pay for what I want!"

4. Make all birth control available over the counter
As usual, libertarians have been on the right side of this one forever. Birth control, like all medications, should be available over the counter at any store that wants to sell it, at whatever price it wants to ask. The reason it isn't is because politicians and lobbyists have kept its access limited for a century. As usual, a free market would have solved this problem—would have prevented this problem from even existing in the first place. Don't expect many politicians to jump at the opportunity to pass such a thoroughly sensible law. Oh, look, three of them have already proposed exactly that, and they're all male Republicans.

Then the problem for the left-feminists becomes this: Once contraceptives are available over the counter, they won't be covered by insurance plans, so then they'll have to pay for all of them out of pocket. Insurance almost certainly won't cover OTC contraceptives. They won't be able to use the law to force other people to subsidze their costs. Will they still support OTC contraceptives, then?

5. Christian conservatives got the law AND the science wrong!
Some people understandably object that Ella and Plan B and other supposed abortifacients aren't really abortifacients at all. They even provided helpful links to articles explaining for the layman how those contraceptives work, assuring us that they cannot cause abortions, so the entire pretense of Hobby Lobby's objection crumbles.

The science is irrelevant. It is irrelevant whether the contraceptives cause abortions. It might not be irrelevant to you, it might not be irrelevant even to Hobby Lobby's owners (who have no problem subsidizing 16 of 20 legal contraceptives), but it is irrelevant to the rightness of a coverage mandate. It is wrong to force anyone to pay for anything they don't want to pay for, regardless of whether the cited reason holds water. Some lawyers and judges might think the science is relevant, since if it isn't, then any old religious employer can conjure up any old religious belief against paying for any old thing, and as long as he convinces the judges he's sincere, he doesn't have to pay for X, Y, or Z. That could be a relevant legal question, but luckily I am not interested in the law. I am interested in what is right and wrong. It is wrong to force anyone to pay for anything they don't want to pay for. They can refuse for any reason or no reason. This is a simple matter or justice, of fairness.

6. White Catholic men ruled against women
The job of those white Catholic men is to interpret the law, and they did so. They ruled against the Department of Health and Human Services. I think rightly, by my understanding of the Religious Freedom Resoration Act and the excerpts I read of Justice Alito's opinion. True, my interpretation of the law and Alito's opinion (and the brief snippets of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent that I read) might be colored by my notion of right and wrong, which again is not based in any laws, but the parts about sincere religious beliefs and "least restrictive means" seem to leave no room for any other decision.

What does it say about the American left that so many of its members have no qualms about bashing the scholarly judgment and intellectual honesty of certain people based mainly on their class identity? The justices have had privileged lives, so the threshold for attributing their judgment to their class identity is lower than it is for other classes? They are part of a privileged group, so you don't have to be as rigorous or thorough in refuting their opinions as you do for others? Just say, "White? Check. Christian? Check. Male? Check. They're biased woman-haters, then." Why weren't the women who ruled against Hobby Lobby biased because they perceived their class as being threatened? Someone's class identity only invalidates their judgment when they side against left-feminists? How convenient: praise their wisdom and objectivity when they side with you, and bash their white, Catholic maleness when they side against you. The same people who object to the Hobby Lobby decision on the basis of the majority's white, Catholic maleness don't object to the decision in Roe v. Wade on the basis of the Protestant and Catholic maleness of the justices who were on the majority opinion.

The function of the Supreme Court is not to decide what is best for certain disadvantaged groups, or even to decide what is right or fair, but rather to interpret the law. If you don't like that fact, then maybe you're on your way to becoming an anarchist. Or maybe you just want the Supreme Court to be another legislature, making law to promote social justice. Whichever it is, it is invalid to use their class identity to question their judgment, just as it would be invalid to use the dissenting justices' class identity to question theirs.

7. Birth control is a public health issue
No, it isn't. Jonathan Cohn claims it is in this piece for The New Republic. Unsurprisingly, he uses that claim as a justification for national government-provided health insurance. But you could make the same claim for myriad private goods to justify nationalizing them, and they would all be as terrible an idea as nationalizing health insurance (or healthcare...shudder).

If people are starving, then they'll become desperate and resort to violence to get food. Therefore, the State should provide food to everyone! If people can't get to work, then the entire economy collapses. Therefore, the State should nationalize all modes of transportation! In this internet age, everyone is made better off the more people there are to trade and communicate with. Therefore, the State should provide everyone a computer and a free internet connection! It is in the public's interest for everyone to be sheltered and protected from the elements, lest hypothermia, heat stroke, and disease kill off half the population. Therefore, the State should provide everyone with housing! Everyone is made better off by a more educated populace. Therefore, the State should educate children for free ("free")! Oh wait, it does, and it's terrible at it.

8. Progressives have strengthened my commitment to grammatical prescriptivism
I am far from a pure grammatical (or usage, style, whatever) prescriptivist, and much less so than I used to be. The way in which I remain a pretty strong prescriptivist most of the time is in word meanings. I want for people separated by time and space to be able to understand each other clearly and precisely, and to mean the same thing when they use the same words. When words such as "literally" lose their meaning and even come to mean their exact opposite, the expressivity of the English language is reduced, and nothing is gained in exchange for that lost expressivity.

Socialist and socially progressive though he was, George Orwell would have many things to say about modern progressives' contortions of the English language, none of them good. When progressives say that women's "access" to birth control is now lessened, we should not let them get away with it. When progressives say Hobby Lobby and/or the Supreme Court has "banned" certain contraceptives for some women, we should not let them get away with it. When progressives say that their reproductive healthcare is not their bosses' business and then clamor for the power to force their bosses to pay for it, we should not let them get away with it. When progressive pass (and cheer for) a law that ropes their employers further and deeper into their reproductive healthcare than they already were, causing some employers to object, and the progressive say, "Stay out of our reproductive systems," we should not let them get away with it.

9. When they misuse words, they know exactly what they are doing
Sure, some of the more childish members of the American left refuse to listen to any logic or facts, and they genuinely don't understand the difference between banning something and not mandating it. But I think a high percentage of well-known commentators, writers, politicians, and the like, who were all over their blags and social media sites blasting Christian conservatives for "banning" "access" to contraceptives and other such nonsense, knew exactly what they were doing. They knew exactly what the Religious Freedom Restoration Act said (more or less) and exactly what the conflict was with HHS's contraceptive mandate, and they were well aware that they were misusing the English language for their partisan political ends. They just didn't care. Their goal is not truth or justice; their goal is partisan political victories, and they will do anything to stir up fervor and indignation at powerful people who aren't on their side.

10. Those semi-informed writers and commentators genuinely think their followers are stupid
And they're right. I'm not going to pretend to take the high road by not offending the modern leftist hoi polloi and saying, "Those progressive writers whom you follow and adore are insulting you, but I give you more credit than that." No I don't. They're morons.

But the leftist TV personalities and writers and politicians who misuse the words mentioned above, who know they are misusing them but don't care, also think the average left-feminist is a moron. Their progressive readers and Twitter followers eat up the garbage about "banning" "access" to contraceptives, and how conservative Christians want to control their sex lives, and how the Supreme Court just imposed its morals on half the population, and how it's not their bosses' business even though they just made it their bosses' business. They eat it up because they are unintelligent, incurious, uninformed, highly emotional, biased, government-educated idiots. And the prominent progressive feminists take advantage of that fact by stirring up outrage with scare tactics and buzzwords and emotionally charged polemics, leaving out all the facts of the case and avoiding any mention of the issue of forcing someone to pay for something they object to.

11. "Fascism cloaked in the flag and carrying a cross"
The progressives loved quoting this Sinclair Lewis line to criticize the right's victory in the Hobby Lobby case. "Fascism" has a basic, more literal meaning and a commonly used, more expansive and emotional meaning. The word comes from the Latin fascis, "bundle", referring to the concentration of power in a centralized state, as opposed to being spread among and originating from the people. Its basic, more restrictive meaning is nominally private ownership of businesses but State control and direction of their activities. The latter meaning includes extreme nationalism, militarism, and social oppression (especially of those who aren't patriotic enough). Let's review the relevant facts and see what we can make of this "fascism" claim.

From the country's founding until 2012, no individual, group, or business was required to subsidize or in any other way provide contraceptives for any other individual or group, though many chose to do so, especially from the 1940s on.
A law was passed in 2010, becoming effective in 2012, under which the Department of Health and Human Services (not Congress and not the text of the Affordable Care Act itself) required most businesses to subsidize all legal contraceptives under its mandated health insurance benefits.
Some religious employers want to continue not paying for a small subset of these newly mandated contraceptives.
Progressives demand that the employers pay for them against their objections.

A literate and honest reading of history and of the relevant facts exposes the progressive left as the fascists in this case. (It also shows that whatever "fascism" Hobby Lobby and the Supreme Court are supposedly inflicting has been going on since at least the 1700s, so it's certainly not being brought to America just now.) Fascism means concentration of power, suppression of dissent, enforcement of conformity, and central direction of business activity. The nature of Obamacare and the reaction of the left to the Hobby Lobby case (and, indeed, to all objections to Obamacare) fit the mold of fascism perfectly, minus the nationalist, militant, racist aspect of it. (Some people consider the latter the defining characteristics of fascism. I don't. It might explain why they think anything that doesn't actively advance their version of feminism is fascist, but as I've tried to explain here and elsewhere, this isn't a matter of feminism or women's rights but rather freedom of choice and of association.)

12. A new age of Christianity-flavored Sharia law
The law that Hobby Lobby challenged became effective in 2012. For the entire history of the United States, companies were not required by law (federal law, at least) to cover any health benefits, contraceptive or otherwise. There was no stoning in the streets or executions for being raped. All that is needed to refute this incredibly ignorant claim is not to make reasonable predictions, not to invoke well-supported theories, but to cite actual history.

13. Kevin Carson is torn because a large, hypocritical corporation won the case
In his column Hobby Lobby - A Question of Agency, Kevin Carson writes,

In libertarian Internet communities, the decision was met for the most part with unalloyed joy that the good guys had won this time. It’s not at all that clear cut for me. I have at least as many online friends in social justice circles as I do among libertarians, and I don’t blame them at all for their outrage.

There he seems to suggest that libertarianism conlficts with social justice. I doubt he really thinks that. Maybe he means some people's definition of social justice conflicts with some people's definition of libertarianism. Either way, it's not a ringing endorsement of the wider social justice movement as is.

All the contending narratives about the Hobby Lobby case seem to involve personal agency. That’s definitely true on the mainstream libertarian side, which presents this as a straightforward question of whether Hobby Lobby’s owners (the Green family, which hold it as a close corporation) can be forced by the state to provide employee benefits that conflict with their personal religious beliefs. But there are a lot more people’s agency at stake here than the Green family’s. And frankly, the Green family billionaires are pretty low on my list of “underdogs” whose moral agency my heart bleeds for (especially considering they invest in contraceptive manufacturers, and most of the “Christian” knick-knacks they sell are produced by near-slave labor in Chinese sweatshops).
[...]
To repeat, there were a lot of people whose agency was at stake here besides the Green family’s — in particular, the 70% majority of Hobby Lobby’s workers who are women. who may have been having a hard time finding work and accepted employment at Hobby Lobby because they really needed a job, who were glad to get health coverage — and who may someday desperately need “morning after” contraception. I felt sick about these people in a way after Monday’s ruling that I never would have about the Green family.

And questions of free association aside, an economic system in which a small wealthy family can wind up in the one-sided position of exercising their own agency at the expense of 13,000 others is a system that’s broken, sick and rotten.

Even though I, like Carson, don't base my sense of justice on what is legal, and even though I was happy about the Hobby Lobby decision for reasons other than that it upheld the letter of the law faithfully, I feel like Carson goes too far in wanting the Supreme Court to make decisions whose wide-ranging implications are the most agreeable to him and that redress power imbalances between various subsets of the population, rather than wanting the Supreme Court to make the most just decision in this case.

His heart doesn't bleed for billionaires, especially supposedly hypocritical ones. But our sense of justice should not depend on who has more. And especially, our judiciary should not make decisions based on who has more or who has been hypocritical in the past, nor should we want it to. I liken his reaction to the public's reaction after an acquittal in a sensationalized murder trial. After George Zimmerman was acquited of murdering Trayvon Martin, I echoed those who asked, "If every criminal trial followed the same standards that you wanted for the George Zimmerman trial, how would that affect the number of incarcerated Americans?" If the function of the judiciary were to weigh each party's relative power and privilege in the world, taking their likely future prospects and their past crimes and hypocrisies into account, and endeavor to rule in the way that would mitigate those imbalances, then we wouldn't have a judiciary at all, and very rarely would any actual justice come from it. If a past criminal is tried for new crimes and is judged not only on the available evidence and the merits of the defense and prosecution but also on his criminal (or merely shady) history, then we would have a sorry criminal justice system indeed. (Well, sorrier.)

Carson says Hobby Lobby's owners are hypocritical because they have invested in contraceptive manufacturers and engage in the very uncharitable, un-Christian practice of selling knick-knacks that are produced in slave-like Chinese sweatshops. First, Hobby Lobby has covered and still covers 16 of 20 mandated contraceptives in its insurance plans, so I don't see any hypocrisy there unless those contraceptive manufacturers it invests in actually make the supposedly objectionable abortifacients. Second, I'm sure Carson is aware of the work of Ben Powell on sweatshops and either disagrees with or doesn't care about Powell's conclusions. I'm not going to make any new points about sweatshops or be the one to change his mind about them, but I will point out that they're irrelevant to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case. And they're irrelevant to our non-lawyerly assessment of whether it's right or wrong for employees (or their agent, the State) to force Hobby Lobby to subsidize their birth control.

Another reason we shouldn't base our sense of justice on who is and isn't an "underdog" is because the next time, the underdog might be the one who is in the same position that the powerful billionaires were in this time. Such as the Little Sisters of the Poor. Hobby Lobby's sort of co-challenger, Conestoga Wood Specialties, is far from an international corporate behemoth, at 1200 employees spread over three states. How would Carson have reacted to a ruling in favor of a 50-person corporation owned by a religious family who considers abortifacients immoral? Even though a foolish adherence to precedent can cause previous bad decisions to become entrenched, precedent can also protect future complainants who would otherwise be at the mercy of the State. The Hobby Lobby decision establishes precedent that could protect many "underdogs" without the resources or wherewithal to challenge the federal government. In fact, it will almost certainly protect more such underdogs than corporate behemoths in the long run.

If he objected that the next underdog is actually more likely to be a minimum-wage employee who now has even less power against his employer, then I would say that I simply think he has his priorities mixed up. The State is far more powerful and dangerous than a huge corporation, and the State is the source of most of the power that these corporations have. Since we share the goal of reducing the State's expansiveness and intrusiveness into such areas as healthcare, we should both recognize that any new encroachment of the State into private affairs will further perturb the free interactions of peaceable parties, will further entrench this corporatist-Statist system in our lives, and will only invite more powers and more intrusions in the future. As Carson well knows, increased State power tends to increase the power of all the elite classes. It is a defining feature of the pathological system that he has written so much about. Why should we expect this increase in State power (and, importantly, future ones like it) to turn back that tide?

As Carson and all libertarian-leaning people recognize, this entire conflict over contraceptive (and other) mandates was caused by the federal government's overreach, by its expansion of power and intrusion into previously private matters. He and I both know that the optimal solution would be to repeal the ACA and, indeed, every single law that has ever been written about healthcare and health insurance. So why does he allow that a further expansion of State power—an additional way in which the State can be used as a weapon against conscientious objectors—could serve justice in this matter?

He also writes,

And questions of free association aside, an economic system in which a small wealthy family can wind up in the one-sided position of exercising their own agency at the expense of 13,000 others is a system that’s broken, sick and rotten.
[...]
In the case of healthcare, the underlying legal regime that made the Hobby Lobby case possible was a vast, interlocking constellation of power that included the regulatory state, insurance corporations, the professional licensing cartels (including the requirement that some medications be prescribed only by licensed physicians), the patent-based pharmaceutical cartel, and utterly corrupt bureaucratic corporate hospital chains.

Obamacare itself merely touches the finance side of healthcare — basically guaranteeing revenues and profits to the existing institutional healthcare delivery monopolies through a combination of mandates and subsidies — while leaving the institutional economic power and price markups on the delivery side untouched. It cements the control of these interlocking, bureaucratic, authoritarian — and in many cases evil — institutions over our lives, and legally compels us to consume their services on whatever terms they see fit to offer. But it uses tax money to help us feed the corporate coffers if we can’t afford to pay for the monopoly services on our own.
[...]
If all these forms of monopoly and privilege were abolished, no one would be dependent on corporate employers for opportunities to engage in productive labor and transform their skills and effort into access to the necessities of life. And no one would depend on an unholy alliance of the state, insurance corporations, drug companies and professional licensing cartels for contraception or any other form of healthcare.

I get his point here: If we're debating whether it's right for one group (for the sake of argument, simplify it to Hobby Lobby's female employees) to force another group (the Hobby Lobby corporation) to pay for the former's emergency contraceptions (or whatever), then it matters what wrongs have been committed by the latter against the former, and what burdens have been placed by the latter on the former, and how the system is rigged in favor of the latter. Those things matter not because the relatively powerful should be forced to give money or things to the relatively powerless as a matter of principle, but because the relatively powerless are in that position and must rely on the powerful for those things precisely because of the perverseness of the system that created this power imbalance.

But the justice of the entire system wasn't at issue in this case. Well, what was really at issue was a conflict between two laws, the ACA and Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and not morality or justice. But Kevin Carson and I can look at this individual case as an issue of morality or justice and ignore the details of the laws. Two considerations make me think that a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby was better for both my and Carson's senses of justice. First, what I mentioned above: a person or group's past actions, their supposed inconsistencies or hypocrisies, and their position of power and privilege should not carry any weight in the present case, unless they clearly and directly affect the specific details of the present case. I don't think they did, because for all that Hobby Lobby benefits from corporate-state socialism, its owners are decidedly opposed to the contraception mandate. (Hell, probably all of Obamacare, given the politics of your average rich American Christian.) Second, each dent we make in the State's edifice, even when it is nominally on behalf of a powerful, wealthy corporation, advances the cause of freedom just a little. Each invalidation of its decrees, each rejection of its overreach, each embarrassment we deal it, each time civil society maintains a foothold where government tried to supplant it, is a victory for freedom and should be celebrated as such. A billion-dollar international corporation was the direct beneficiary this time, but when a basic freedom is protected against the State, we all win, because next time an "underdog" might need the freedom that was established by that struggle.

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Actually, I think Matt Yglesias is right about this one

June 10, 2014 – 12:39 pm by John

In a much-ridiculed Tweet from 2013, Matt Yglesias said that a higher-taxed company will not charge higher prices than its lower-taxed competitor because "Taxes are paid on profits not sales. It's irrelevant to pricing."

Many conservatives, libertarians, and others make fun of Matt Yglesias for being wrong about everything yet still publishing his opinions about everything, for being a bad writer, and for starting his liberal-shill news site Vox.com with Ezra Klein and claiming they're purely objective, factual, and non-partisan. But if we accept his premise of a tax that only applies to profit and not the quantity of output or sales, he is completely right. This is a standard result from microeconomic theory. Finally, my college Microeconomics class is coming to some use!

The reason basically boils down to the fact that a firm maximizes its profit at the output quantity where its marginal revenue (MR) equals its marginal cost (MC). A tax on profit does not affect MR, MC, or that quantity. And a company's supply-side factors like MR and MC, as well as its profits and taxes, don't affect the consumers' demand schedule. So neither the company's output nor the industry's demand is affected by a tax on profits, meaning the price the company charges to its customers is not affected.

The way a tax on profits (or a lump-sum tax that is levied, say, once a year just for existing) raises the price that consumers pay for a product is by reducing the number of firms that are profitable at their respective optimal output quantities. Every firm is best off producing where MR=MC, but for some companies, "best off" means minimizing their losses, so they exit the industry as soon as their leases and other fixed costs expire. A reduced supply of a good, ceteris paribus, raises its equilibrium price. Unless the tax Yglesias and his interlocutor are talking about forces firms out of the industry (and given the hypothetical scenario of one company being charged a tax and another not, we are assuming both remain in the industry), the tax will decrease the profit of the higher-taxed company but will not affect its MR or MC in the foreseeable future.

The tweet quoted above was part of a longer Twitter conversation about some proposed corporate tax, so I assume Yglesias knew that this particular tax would be on profits and not sales, but who knows, because obviously Matt Yglesias is stupid and wrong about everything, hur hur.

This picture from macrobank.blogspot.com is a good illustration of this principle:

The yellow rectangle represents the firm's profit. Its area is the dollar amount (or amount of whatever currency) of the profit that the firm makes on a certain good. Specifically, that's economic profit, but I imagine the government would tax accounting profit. I haven't gotten this far in my studies yet, but I think a graph of economic profit and the principles underlying it are perfectly suitable to illustrate a tax on accounting profit even if the graph of accounting profit (and a tax thereon) wouldn't look identical. Under that assumption, a tax on (a certain percentage of) profit can be visualized by moving the top side of the rectangle down, reducing its area by, say, 5% or 10% or 20%. The 5% or 10% or 20% that was removed would be the government's take, and the new, smaller rectangle would be the firm's remaining profit.

A lump-sum tax, rather than increasing with the dollar amount of profit, would be a predetermined dollar amount based on the size of the company or its past performance or maybe nothing more than its mere existence. The idea of cutting a part off the top of the profit rectangle still applies to a lump-sum tax.

Also see this PDF file of microeconomics problems that Google found for me. Specifically, question #2 asks, "Would a lump-sum tax affect the profit-maximizing quantity of output? How about a proportional tax on profits? How about a tax assessed on each unit of output?" The answers, respectively, are No, No, and Yes. Since the lump-sum tax (which would be, say, $5000 per year per company) does not affect the profit-maximizing quantity of production (supply), it does not affect where the company's supply curve meets the industry's demand curve, so the price it charges stays the same. Ditto for the proportional tax on profits (which would be, say, 10% of the dollar value of the firm's profit each year).

In contrast, the tax assessed on each unit produced or each unit sold does raise the price that consumers pay, meaning less will be sold at a higher price. The cases of a per-unit-produced tax and a per-unit-sold tax raise the price and lower the quantity in slightly different ways, as illustrated below.

This picture from Pearson Education illustrates the effects of a per-unit-produced tax nicely:

Applying the principles illustrated in that graph to the scenario that the Twitterer asked Yglesias about, one company isn't taxed on each unit it produces, so it produces quantity Q1 and charges price P1. But the other company is charged a tax for each unit it makes, so its MC increases by the amount of the per-unit tax. Its supply curve shifts left (up), so it produces quantity Q2 and charges price P2. For your own edification, the pink rectangle (2+4) represents the government's tax revenue, and triangle 3+5 represents deadweight loss, which is economic wealth (mutual benefit) that is prevented from ever existing by the tax.

The scenario of a per-unit-sold tax, also known as an excise tax, doesn't affect the optimal quantity of the producer, where MR=MC, but it does increase the price that consumers pay and so decreases their quantity demanded.


(source: Thomas A. Garrett and John C. Leatherman)

Again applying the principles illustrated in the graph to the Twitterer's hypothetical, the un-taxed company sells at the price and quantity represented by A. The customers of the taxed company must pay a higher price, represented by B, so they demand less of the good and buy a lower quantity.

It seems counterintuitive and might not make sense at first, but a tax on profit or a lump-sum tax does not affect a company's output and does not affect the price it charges, because it does not affect its marginal revenue or marginal cost; it only affects the magnitude of its profit. In contrast, a per-unit-produced tax does affect the company's marginal cost (each unit is more expensive to produce), and a per-unit-sold tax does affect the price its customers must pay (each unit is more expensive to buy). Both types of per-unit taxes decrease quantity produced and/or sold, and both force the customers to pay more.

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Some thoughts on misogyny, relationships, and blame

June 2, 2014 – 3:20 pm by John

The miswired psychopath who killed six people at UC-Santa Barbara has inspired an outpouring of commentary and social-media "activism", a surprising amount of which has been excellent in my opinion. I'm referring to the commentary on the general topic of misogyny, sexism, and harassment in the modern Western world, not that on the murderer and the murders themselves. The quantity and quality of soul-searching, empathizing, useful commentary I found on the former topics surprised me, for two main reasons, I think: (1) because so much of that commentary is so often shallow, reductionist misandry; and (2) because those issues are only tangentially related to the topic of the UCSB murderer by virtue of the fact that he was driven by misogyny, among other things.

I mean, sure, a certain amount of lazy or outright dishonest, Amanda Marcotte–level, man-hating, man-blaming, collectivist drivel was expected. And a certain amount of discussion forum–level, woman-hating, woman-blaming, somehow Obama- and terrorism- and Benghazi-related drivel was expected in return. (You know exactly the type of discussion forum poster and Twitter user I'm talking about, don't you?) But several of the columns I've read have been great, and here are my comments on a few.

Ever strident in her role of balancing out the Amanda-nuttiness at Slate's XX Factor, Amanda Hess has written multiple fair and thoughtful columns about the UCSB murders and the misogyny that's on everyone's mind this past week. In her column Why It's So Hard For Men to See Misogyny, she notes that, well, obviously, we don't experience it, but we also don't even see or hear most of it because the men who perpetrate it intentionally avoid doing it in front of other men. Her theory is that men respect other men's "domain" and back off a woman when they find out she's taken.

I think the thesis of her two columns was best stated in the last paragraph of that one:

Some men are using this death count [i.e., more men than women] to claim that Rodger’s killings were not motivated by misogyny, but that is a simplistic account of how misogyny operates in a society that privately abides the hatred of women unless it’s expressed in its most obvious forms.

Her second column, “If I Can’t Have Them, No One Will”: How Misogyny Kills Men, fleshes out this thesis and its supporting evidence better. (The former column was more anecdotal and concerned the reasons women and therefore society seem to tolerate so much subtle, sneaky misogyny and harassment, though I question how misogynist or sexist the men in her anecdotes really were. More on that later.)

For example, she writes,

In the wake of the murders, some leveraged Rodger’s death count to argue that, if anything, Rodger’s crimes were an expression of his hatred of men, not women. If he was such a misogynist, why were his victims mostly male?

(I think, honestly, the most accurate answer is that his roommates happened to be male. If he lived with three females, then ceteris paribus, I think the death count would have been five women and one man. Hess doesn't touch on that.)

Women’s issues are often dismissed as a niche concern, but we constitute half of the human population. Once that’s recognized, it’s not hard to see how hating us can inflict significant collateral damage among all people—including the men who are our partners, our relatives, and our colleagues. Misogyny kills men, too.

... But men who loved women also incurred Rodger’s wrath. “I will destroy all women,” Rodger wrote. “I will make them all suffer for rejecting me. I will arm myself with deadly weapons and wage a war against all women and the men they are attracted to.” Rodger viewed women as objects, and he resented other men for hoarding what he viewed as his property. “If I can’t have them,” he wrote, “no one will.”

In her 2007 book Whipping Girl, Julia Serano noted that misogyny is the belief that “femaleness and femininity are inferior to, and exist primarily for the benefit of, maleness and masculinity,” and that’s an attitude that works to police both men and women. It expresses itself in the bullying of insufficiently masculine boys, in the pervasiveness of homophobic slurs, in the suppression of open emotional expression among men, and in overwhelming violence against trans women, who are especially stigmatized for appearing to reject what some consider as their God-given male bodies.

Then there is the male toll from domestic violence against women. Over the past decade, organizations that fight domestic violence have begun to take a closer look at all of the deaths that result from dating and spousal relationships, beyond the victims who are killed by their intimate partners. Women are overwhelmingly the victims of domestic violence murders. But men die, too. Some are killed by their partners, male or female. Others are killed by police after killing their partners, or attempting to. Many kill themselves. And every year, a number of men die at the hands of other men who murder the current partners of their ex-girlfriends or ex-wives. ... Jane Doe Inc., an advocacy organization against domestic violence in Massachusetts, expanded the bounds of its own annual death count in 2005 to include homicides where “the homicide victim was a bystander or intervened in an attempted domestic violence homicide and was killed” and ones where “the motive for the murder was reported to have included jealousy” in the context of an intimate relationship. "The human toll from domestic violence is grossly underestimated,” Jane Doe reported in 2006. “Domestic violence homicides represent just the tip of the iceberg regarding mortality and morbidity resulting from domestic violence.”

Hess also makes the important, underappreciated point that the male-on-male-violence aspect of misogyny often goes unnoticed, or at least unnoticed as being part of misogyny, but it's still there. Male-on-male violence absolutely can and does result from misogynist, possessive, entitled attitudes. In these cases the misogyny mainly manifests as envy or jealousy ("If I can't have hot girls, then I'll lash out at you for having them"). So just because he killed more men than women and seemed to hate men equally as much, his murder spree could still be a manifestation of misogyny (among other things, probably).

It is not uncommon for men who resent women to take out their aggressions on other men, but unlike public violence against women, male-on-male attacks slip more easily underneath our cultural radar. When Jersey Shore reality star Snooki was punched by a man at a bar while cameras rolled, the guy was instantly mobbed by her protective male friends and, later, widely condemned by television viewers. But as Cord Jefferson detailed in Jezebel at the time, violence between men on the show—often enacted in fights over the show’s female characters—was completely normalized. Both scenarios are evidence of misogyny’s societal impact; only one is accepted as such.

A year before the murders, Elliot Rodger used this dynamic to his advantage when he attended a college house party that he later wrote in his manifesto was an attempt to give the “female gender one last chance to provide me with the pleasures I deserved from them.” But the female partygoers failed to satisfy, and, drunk and dejected, Rodger hopped onto a 10-foot ledge and openly attempted to shove off the women he disdained, and the men who had occupied their attentions. When police confronted him about the incident, Rodger claimed that it had simply been a boyish fight between men, who Rodger said had attacked him for acting too “cocky.” This excuse helped Rodger evade immediate punishment and allowed the misogynistic roots of his anger to go undetected.

Backed up by everyday examples and statistical evidence, Hess makes the strong point that yes, a murderer who obviously hated women and saw them as objects for him to possess can still have been motivated by that misogyny even though he also hated men and killed more men than women. She concludes:

Elliot Rodger targeted women out of entitlement, their male partners out of jealousy, and unrelated male bystanders out of expedience. This is not ammunition for an argument that he was a misandrist at heart—it’s evidence of the horrific extent of misogyny’s cultural reach.

Brendan O'Neill would seem to disagree. In a guest column he wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times, Therapy culture and a killer's rage, he posits that the psychotherapy "culture" that emerged in about the 1970's has put so much emphasis on the patient's self-esteem and self-worth that it has become narcissistic and almost (to use my own word) obsequious to the self in all ways, so that if spoiled narcissists don't get their way and can't make people see how great they are, then they can't cope with that rejection and so lash out. O'Neill, noting that the killer was only involved in men's rights/woman-hating forums for a few years but was in therapy for 14 years, hypothesizes that this narcissistic therapy culture is what drove him to blame his shortcomings on others and channel his blamelessness into misogyny and murder.

That could be true in this case, but then the question must be asked: How many other people has modern "therapy culture" saved from hatred, murder, and suicide? Maybe psychologists and psychiatrists have prevented dozens or hundreds of murders over the past few decades and contributed to only a few. Now, psychotropic drugs, on the other hand, could be a lot worse than therapy-induced narcissism, and several mass murderers have been on antidepressants. But again, how many mass murders were prevented by antidepressants? Is it possible to even grossly estimate that? I haven't heard anything about the UCSB killer's medication history, but I think that would be useful information.

My favorite column so far is Jamie Varon's, mainly because it exposes the inadequacy of mere awareness and hashtag activism to accomplish anything, to change anything. Her thesis is that compassion towards boys and young men, the disproportionate committers of violent and sexual crimes, along with a cultivation of their own compassion, feelings, sensitivity, creativity, and individuality, can help them grow into responsible, well-adjusted adults who don't feel the need to lash out at society for their own frustrations. I don't think this is just hippie-feel-good stuff of no consequence. It's clear that nearly all mass murders are committed by men who suffer from mental illness compounded with feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, worthlessness, and blamelessness, so if we even can do anything to prevent such tragedies, short of forcibly institutionalizing everyone with signs of psychiatric problems, it starts with boys and their feelings.

How can it get better? How can we fix this? How can we find ways for men to grow up without shame, without aggression, without pent-up anger? How do we raise men and women to seek help when they need it, to be able to express their feelings and frustrations freely, to go throughout their life without gender normative pressure to be something that perhaps they don’t feel comfortable being? How can we raise children and educate adults on how to allow more freedom and open-mindedness?
[...]
What do people do with all their awareness? Awareness and blame walk the finest of tightropes and depending on a person’s history, can be interpreted in either direction, no matter the intent. Because awareness can easily turn into suspicion which can easily turn into expectation which can easily turn into assumption which can easily turn into fear, then we’re victims and men are the monsters, even before they’ve spoken a word to us.


Because, here’s the thing: in one way or another, we’re all part of the problem, some more than others. But we all perpetuate it and allow it. We are all culpable parts of a nuanced cog.

We say, “Teach your children not to rape,” without offering up reasons for why men are taking out their aggression in this way. In fact, we’re not asking even why men are this aggressive in the first place. ...

And the discussion we are having right now is misguided. We are pointing out the SYMPTOMS, not the root cause of a larger issue. We are ignoring the true diagnosis of what is at the heart of our violence problem. By sharing our stories, we are finding strength in numbers, which is valuable in its own right. However, when the stories and awareness circle around symptomatic experiences, instead of a useful dialogue about how we can move forward as a species, then all we are doing is agreeing with each other and that becomes insular and not helpful.

Because, the men who truly need to be heard and who truly are at the heart of this issue, are the ones who are responding defensively with, “not all men are like this,” and yes, we belabor them and roll our eyes at them, because, “duh!” but that’s insensitive.

The way we treat men is insensitive. Sometimes I feel like we are a group of popular girls at a high school who, if anyone ever disagrees with us or voices an opinion, our answer is to laugh at them, to snicker, to degrade them. Are we better? Do we have the answers? Are women not part of the problem, too?

Do women not profit off the way that men are reduced to their sexual urges? Do women not see opportunity in men that will happily buy their affection, prostitution or otherwise? Do well-known celebrities not experience intense reward and value for being a real-life version of what a man has been taught is his fantasy? Do women not, every single day, profit from their objectification? Do women not buy beauty products and watch shows and movies and consume and consume and consume all sorts of things that are direct propaganda that lead to the symptoms of aggression that they then bemoan on a hashtag?
[...]
Nobody is innocent here. Every single day, whether you are aware of it or not, you and I are perpetuating the same ideas that are leading to aggression. We buy movies where men attack other men who hit on their girlfriends and call it romantic. We immortalize a writer who perpetuates obsessiveness and aggressiveness and call it love. We tell men to pursue us, to come get us, to make us feel wanted, to put us into weaker positions by paying for us and supporting us and making us dependent on them, all the while calling this chivalrous and charming. We want men to be sensitive, but when they are, we make fun of them for being soft and “crying like a girl.”

(Well, certainly more women than ever don't do this but actively, vocally eschew that weak, old-fashioned behavior; the women who oppose it most strongly are, in fairness, the progressive feminists.)

When a man chases us down the street and we’re attracted to him, it’s sweet. When a man chases us down the street and we’re not attracted to him, it’s harassment.

All the while, men know ALL OF THIS that I explained above, plus more confusion about what it means to be a man. We throw everything we can at men and then go, “sort this out on your own and if you have any questions, we’re going to laugh at you.”
[...]
Honestly, I think it’s confusing to be a human being right now. Women have banded together and there’s more of an understanding, because women are encouraged to share their feelings, express themselves, and be sensitive and compassionate. ... At some point, we allow women to be free — albeit, with body image issues, of course, which is a totally separate, layered topic — but we put rules and restrictions on boys. You have never seen more determination than a father who wants his son to play sports, most of which encourage violence and aggression.

Here I think is the only egregious material mistake Varon makes. It is two-pronged.

First, society puts rules and restrictions (and expectations!) on girls, whether consciously and specifically or not.

Second, I have rarely seen so many wrong ideas about sports and youths packed into so few words. For instance, name three sports that any remotely sizable subset of boys play that "encourage violence and aggression". There's football...I think that's literally it. Hockey doesn't, especially not anymore, though it is more conducive to injuries than most sports. Nobody boxes anymore. Hardly any young boys play rugby in America. Never having wrestled, I am still pretty sure both violence and aggression are two of the quickest routes to losing and/or disqualification in wrestling. Every other youth sport I can think of is self-evidently non-violent and non-aggressive.

The fact is that sports are physical without being violent or aggressive, which is exactly why they are one of the best types of activities that boys—and girls, too!—can engage in. Sports are fun, they provide fresh air and exercise, and they let the participants let off steam. Sports teach the value of hard work, self-discipline, responsibility, teamwork, sticking with a commitment, learning from mistakes, and getting better, not bitter, from losing. They teach us that success can only be achieved as the direct result of long effort and devotion. They teach us the value of sportsmanship and healthy competition, because we recognize that every other competitor is in the same boat as us and they are only doing their best to win fairly, just like we are. (Presumably.) They also teach us that working hard, having the drive to win, improving little by little, and giving our best have merit in and of themselves but that they don't guarantee any outcome, and that that's okay.

Of the few things I can proclaim confidently about psychology and behavior, I am nearly 100% certain that substantially fewer boys would grow into violent, disrespectful, bitter, entitled men if they had more and better youth sports experiences. And for the boys who try it and don't like it, other hobbies teach many of the same lessons, such as music, art, writing, making and building things, scouts, gardening, cooking, computer programming, the list goes on. No, hobbies aren't going to solve our mental-health and male-violence problem, but sports would help, not hurt.

Mothers and fathers put much less of a box around girls. They are encouraged to use their imagination — if they want Legos, their parents are not worried about what it means; they simply give her Legos. God forbid, a little boy wants to play with a Barbie — most parents are not evolved enough to see that just because their boy wants to play with a Barbie does not mean he’s anything except curious and imaginative, as children are wont to be. However, this suppression of natural urges is struck down very early on, from how they should play to how they should act to how they should talk to how they are supposed to present themselves to the world.
[...]
And yet, men are encouraged to suppress their natural desires, not in a sexual way, but in a human way, as in their natural desire to be imaginative, creative, loving, sensitive, empathic, compassionate, nurturing, expressive.

Did you notice that as you read the above words you automatically associated them with being feminine? With being a woman? A woman is allowed to be anything and encouraged to do so, but men, and here’s the silent killer, are not. They are not, but we tell them that they are, that they have the world at their feet, that they are privileged and that we are oppressed and all they have is their confusing feelings towards this that they are not encouraged (again, discouraged) from expressing. Yes, there are real issues facing the way women are treated and I am not insensitive to that, but we must stop this blame.

We. Must. Stop. This. Blame. We are blaming and pointing fingers, instead of using the best tool we can use to actually inspire change which is COMPASSION.

We are compassionate when, instead of rolling our eyes and muting the men who say NOT ALL MEN ARE LIKE THIS, we listen. (I am, admittedly, a hypocrite on this, because I’ve rolled my eyes at many men and I can acknowledge this is the problem because I’m a fucking part of it.)

Compassion is asking WHY, not stating facts. Compassion is, instead of blaming parents for raising vicious children or instead of blaming women for wearing lascivious clothing or instead of blaming men in general, we open up a discussion as to how men and women got to this impasse. Why are we here?

I mean, fuck, how are some men growing up into men who then hate women? This is disturbing. But this is what we do, we don’t open up discussions. We point fingers, blame, write our two cents, and then spend the rest of the day muting and blocking anyone that doesn’t agree with us. ON BOTH SIDES. We’ve become people who are so fixed in their views that open-mindedness is not just absent, but it’s a pipe dream at this point. And, in our political correctness of not wanting to ever excuse what someone did, we paint the perpetrator as insane or ill and move on. ...

I want to hear from men. I want their stories, too. I want to know what it’s like to grow up not knowing what to do, because you’ve been told how to be and it’s such a stringent view of life that you can’t reconcile who you are up against who you’re supposed to be. I want to know what it’s like to feel that you must make money in order to earn the right to be loved by someone who you never know actually loves you for you (or if they are loving you for what you provide). I want to know what it’s like to date when you’re told that “no means no” but that also, “persistence is key” and that women “play hard to get.” I want to know what it’s like to grow up being fed messages that tantalize your sex drive, that are designed perfectly to get you to buy things and achieve things, that sell you the idea of women as a reward for hard work and financial success, but then to be told that you must respect that woman who allowed herself to be bought. I want to know what it’s like to have to suppress every natural urge you might have that doesn’t fit within the teeny tiny allowance of who you’re allowed to be, lest you forgo your manliness. I want to know what it’s like to grow up perhaps on the spectrum of sexuality (like women do, but are not demonized to explore, but their curiosity is celebrated by men) but to have to suppress that and fit into gender norms that are archaic, but the same norms you have to uphold or you will be cast out.

I want to know what it’s like to be excessively and overwhelmingly taught to objectify women, but then be demonized for doing so. Do men who have questions and feelings and thoughts on this subject have a million blogs to turn to? Do men have community to talk about these things? ...

I want to know what it’s like to, just by virtue of having a penis, feel pressured to initiate a conversation with a woman he finds attractive — only to be, most times, rejected and humiliated, but then have to do it again if he has any hope for finding a partner to share his life with. Men are supposed to initiate a date, talk to you first, ask you out, pay for everything, suppress their urge to copulate until you’re ready, keep paying for things, hope they measure up, worry that you’ll try to change him, worry that he’s some sort of uncut diamond you want to polish, feel like they have to buy you, and then be made to feel powerless in more ways than you could probably imagine.
[emphasis in original]

This last paragraph, better than any I think I've ever read, encapsulates the romantic/sexual frustration that I and millions of other men felt growing up. Jamie Varon shows quite a lot of insight about the frustrations of being a young man for someone who doesn't have a penis. It reminds me of this passage by Norah Vincent, a woman who disguised herself as a man for 18 months to learn what it's like to be a single man on the dating scene (and to write a book about it), whom I first heard about from Amy Alkon's blag:

If you have never been sexually attracted to women, you will never quite understand the monumental power of female sexuality, except by proxy or in theory, nor will you quite know the immense advantage it gives us over men. Dating women as a man was a lesson in female power, and it made me, of all things, into a momentary misogynist, which I suppose was the best indicator that my experiment had worked. I saw my own sex from the other side, and I disliked women irrationally for a while because of it. I disliked their superiority, their accusatory smiles, their entitlement to choose or dash me with a fingertip, an execution so lazy, so effortless, it made the defeats and even the successes unbearably humiliating. Typical male power feels by comparison like a blunt instrument, its salvos and field strategies laughably remedial next to the damage a woman can do with a single cutting word: no.

Sex is most powerful in the mind, and to men, in the mind, women have a lot of power, not only to arouse, but to give worth, self-worth, meaning, initiation, sustenance, everything. Seeing this more clearly through my experience, I began to wonder whether the most extreme men resort to violence with women because they think that's all they have, their one pathetic advantage over all she seems to hold above them. I make no excuses for this. There are none. But as a man I felt vaguely attuned to this mind-set or its possibility. I did not inhabit it, but I thought I saw how rejection might get twisted beyond recognition in the mind of a discarded male where misogyny and ultimately rape may be a vicious attempt to take what cannot be taken because it has not been bestowed.

Sexual desirability and female attention are, for many men—too many men—their main source of self-worth. For almost all other men, this sexual-romantic prowess ranks a close second in worth-giving behind having a well-paid job that can support an entire family. This isn't women's fault, it isn't men's fault, it's just...all of our fault. Together. Somehow. Maybe biology's or nature's fault.

If that sounds too collectivist and too responsibility-absolving, then fine, it might be, but that's because a collective, societal, cultural, nebulous "blame" is the best I can do because I don't have any clear answers. Neither do you. What is clear from what I've experienced throughout my life and read over the past week is that the relationship between men and women on the whole is too adversarial, too partisan, too combative. A large proportion of people see the other sex as the enemy, or at least the opponent. Most women think they have it harder in the dating/relationship realm, and so do most men. My take is that men have it harder in the dating/relationship/sex realm while women have it harder in the appearance/clothing/attractiveness realm, in addition to legitimately fearing for their own safety much of the time and being too often groped, belittled, or otherwise harassed and attacked merely for being female.

I can now return to Amanda Hess's first column mentioned above, in which she details through anecdotes how women are constantly having to suffer discomfort, annoyance, harassment, or worse but don't usually raise a fuss about it. I said I question how wrong some of the supposed misogyny, sexism, or harassment she recounts really is, so let me quote her at length again.

The night after the murders, I was at a backyard party in New York, talking with a female friend, when a drunk man stepped right between us. “I was thinking the exact same thing,” he said. As we had been discussing pay discrepancies between male and female journalists, we informed him that this was unlikely. But we politely endured him as he dominated our conversation, insisted on hugging me, and talked too long about his obsession with my friend’s hair. I escaped inside, and my friend followed a few minutes later. The guy had asked for her phone number, and she had declined, informing him that she was married and, by the way, her husband was at the party. “Why did I say that? I wouldn’t have been interested in him even if I weren’t married,” she told me. “Being married was, like, the sixth most pressing reason you weren’t into him,” I said. ...

Four years before the murders, I was sitting in a bar in Washington, D.C. with a male friend. Another young woman was alone at the bar when an older man scooted next to her. He was aggressive, wasted, and sitting too close, but she smiled curtly at his ramblings and laughed softly at his jokes as she patiently downed her drink. “Why is she humoring him?” my friend asked me. “You would never do that.” I was too embarrassed to say: “Because he looks scary” and “I do it all the time.”
[...]
Women who have experienced this can recognize that placating these men is a rational choice, a form of self-defense to protect against setting off an aggressor. But to male bystanders, it often looks like a warm welcome, and that helps to shift blame in the public eye from the harasser and onto his target, who’s failed to respond with the type of masculine bravado that men more easily recognize. Two weeks before the murders, Louis C.K.—who has always recognized pervasive male violence against women in his stand-up—spelled out how this works in an episode of Louie, where he recalls watching a man and a woman walking together on a date. “He goes to kiss her, and she does an amazing thing that women somehow learn how to do—she hugged him very warmly. Men think this is affection, but what this is is a boxing maneuver.”

I assure you, men don't think this is affection. Anything less than a kiss is not affection. Anything less than a kiss is not necessarily rejection, which is the point Louis C.K. and Hess are making: that we see polite rejection as non-rejection and proceed boldly under that premise. But you don't need to distort (or misunderstand) the facts to make a point. We know a dodged kiss when we see one, and we don't consider it good. We might not see it as the rejection it is, but we don't consider it good.

My main response to the three paragraphs quoted above is that much of the behavior that women find objectionable results from the pressure men feel to initiate every conversation with a woman, to find out if a woman is interested in him and find out if she wants to go on a date with him, to "go get" a woman instead of waiting to be gotten. (Okay, and alcohol.) Based only on Hess's descriptions of the pushy drunk guy at the backyard party and the aggressive drunk guy at the Washington bar, I'm inclined to say that the worst those men were guilty of was making unwanted advances. As described, it wasn't harassment and it wasn't aggression. If it goes on too long, if there's unwanted touching, or if he doesn't listen to their rejection, that's when I'd say it crosses the line into inappropriateness. Making every unwanted conversation with a guy you're uninterested in, even the drunk ones, into harassment or misogyny or entitlement doesn't do anyone any good.

Hess makes the point that it's bad for women to tacitly allow this unwanted attention out of politeness or fear, and it's bad that their best excuse seems to be "Sorry, I'm taken." But maybe Jamie Varon is more on the right track: Maybe our society at large, including most of both genders, is at fault for putting all the pressure of initiating almost any romantic relationship on the males, from grade school on. Hess makes the point that women do carry some of the blame, for not being more direct and impolite, but I'm saying that a wider, less explicit, but no less acutely felt societal expectation is to blame.

The women that Hess and Louis C.K. describe have had to endure and witness their fair share of inappropriateness, disrespect, unwanted attention, and pushiness, and some subset of it is aggression and harassment. So why do men act like that? Why do they resort to actions and attitudes that women find uncomfortable or pushy? What is the root of that behavior, which they arrived at rationally? The answer isn't just alcohol, and you're not going to stop people from drinking anyway. Why do Hess and Louis C.K. think it's bad (for society, not just the man) that a man interprets a hug as a non-rejection and continues to pursue a romance where none is to be found? Part of the answer could be that men didn't hear enough (any) firm No's in their lives, from women or their fellow men. But I contend that even more of the answer lies in the absolute necessity men feel to impose themselves on single-looking women, whether in social situations or just out in the world randomly, if they hope to ever find a mate.

This is not excuse-making or dodging the issue of real harassment. It's a real problem men face that could explain a large part of the problem women face. The pressure is pervasive, constant, weighing. The expectation is nearly 100% one-way. Sure, more women than ever are asking men out and even asking men to marry them, but the only direction they had to go was up. Men feel the pressure to initiate every relationship, and they feel the sting of rejection more acutely and more often. They rely on liquid courage not mainly to dull the inevitable sting but to enable them to even start the conversation at all.

Many men, especially at first, so fear the embarrassment of rejection that the prospect paralyzes them. Other men try to protect themselves from the embarrassment and the paralysis through alcohol, or they take what I've seen described as the "machine gun" approach: fire 100 bullets (pick-up attempts, not real bullets, calm down) and maybe they'll be successful once. In order to be "successful" in the world of romance—which admittedly often means dating or sleeping with as many women as possible, not finding a wife—many men say that you have to put a rejection out of your mind immediately and not think about it except as a learning experience, and move on unphased. This clearly leads many men, possibly some of the ones Hess has witnessed, to pursue a woman long after she's decided he has no chance, and this comes off as pushy or harassing. They don't see it as pushy, they see it as their role in the dating world. They don't see it as harassment, they see it as necessary. They don't see it as entitled, because that's not how they feel. If they are oblivious to the woman's uninterest, it is because forging boldly ahead, damn the torpedoes, is the only way they've learned to deal with the certainty of a low success rate and the feelings of worthlessness that come from a rejection.

Sometimes, instead of moving on to a different woman unphased, a man continues pursuing the same woman, with varying degrees of directness. The tough-luck nice-guy protagonist who follows this path in romantic comedies is not fantasy concocted to sell tickets; it happens in real life. My co-blagger Kelly is a perfect example of it, and he was successful and remains with that girl to this day. Persistence and boldness, which, sure, can become pushiness and harassment, are successful sometimes. That doesn't make drunk oblivious guys sexual harassers or sexual aggressors. That doesn't put them in the same ballpark, much less the same spectrum, as domestic abusers, rapists, and murderers. It doesn't even make them misogynist, sexist, or entitled. It makes them either sensible or desperate, depending on the situation.

Instead of, or in addition to, chiding women for politely abiding men's unwanted, uncomfortable advances, maybe Hess should question why we allow this one-way relationship-starting dynamic to persist in Western society. How often do women approach men at a bar or social gathering and ask them out? How many women are aware of how one-sided this dynamic is and have tried to do something about it? Oh, that would make people look askance at them and call them slutty or easy? Well, how often do women interject and stop their fellow women from making such asinine, harmful judgments about other women? About as often as men interject and tell their fellow men to stop acting disrespectful, I'd wager.

Jamie Varon is right: In general, men and women both need to listen and understand more and blame less in order to substantially reduce the amount of misogyny and harassment men direct at women.

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Not all women, not all men

May 31, 2014 – 3:22 pm by John

As with so much about Twitter and the rest of the internet, the recent #YesAllWomen movement, which took place in the wake of the UCSB murders but which both legitimately and laughably moved far away from the killer's supposedly misogynist motivation and into the everyday fears and annoyances that women suffer in 21st-century America, was a mix of good and bad.

The #YesAllWomen meme is derived from feminists' derogatory #NotAllMen meme, in which they basically dismissed and ridiculed men who pointed out that most men aren't misogynist, sexist, entitled, or anything approaching rapey. "Pff," these women scoffed, "such a high percentage of you ARE like that that all you can resort to is a pathetic 'not all men are like that.'" With their Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen, feminists supplied retorts to the "not all men" excuse-makers by pointing out that yes, ALL women suffer certain fears and dangers and harassments because some large enough subset of men are violent, dangerous, or at least crass and sexist.

This, to me, seems irrefutable and perfectly legitimate to point out as a conversation-starter in our vicously circular culture war. You shouldn't believe the statistic that 20% or 25% of college women have been sexually assaulted, but the upper range of the other reported statistics (1 in 6 American women) is truly deplorable, if accurate. One in six! It is also deplorable that sexual assault is the most under-reported violent crime, with at least 80% going unreported to police.

So there is no overreaction, no feminist victimizing, no man-hating involved in women's being afraid to walk alone at night, in the discomfort they feel at bars, cons, and other social events, or in the precautions they feel they have to take to avoid groping or verbal harassment. My impression is that it is completely legitimate to say that yes, ALL women are justified in feeling scared or uncomfortable in situations where men don't.

Some of the things that these Twitter warriors claimed applied to all women, on the other hand, are truly ridiculous and laughable. The reason I'm writing about them is not only because ridiculousness deserves ridicule (invites it, in fact), but also because bogus, trumped-up claims can do real harm to actual past and future victims of actual transgressions. Just as a made-up rape accusation can, justifiably or not, damage the (perceived) credibility of the next real rape victim, so can empty complaints about oppression and harassment make reasonable people doubt the validity of other claims and question the general reasonableness of the people who make the bogus complaints.

For those who don't see what complete garbage this is, I'll explain it to you in all seriousness: It casts all men as potential murderers and sows suspicion about all men. This is otherizing, collectivist hatred that reduces an entire half of the species to its Y chromosome and sex organs. Feminists across the world, in all cultures and all languages, should be shouting to this Ashley Sinha: "You're the reason so many men treat all feminists as man-hating 'feminazis'! You're harming our cause!"


This is so ignorant it's infuriating. No, all women aren't victims of the NRA, or guns, or the Second Amendment. Second, men are by far disproportionately victims of gun violence in the West and across the world. Third, and possibly most important, thousands if not tens of thousands of women belong to the NRA, and thousands use guns to defend themselves from rape and other crimes every year.


More reductionist man-blaming and more misunderstanding of the word "all". There are over 100 million women in the United States. Clearly, not all of them will be victims of domestic violence, and clearly "us men" aren't all doing the killing.

"John," you say, "you're taking the wording of the hashtag too literally. He doesn't mean his statistics apply to all women or extrapolate to all women. It's an expression of solidarity."

Yes, I agree, the hashtag was used in dumb, ineffective ways, and Twitter is an awful place to make a serious point about anything or cite any statistics that can't be easily summarized in 140 characters.


Because you just know that some man is going to harass, denigrate, and abuse her, eventually? How enlightened.


Again, they misuse the word "all" to make a political point.


Hyper-concerned misandry gives you the ability to see the future now.


This is simply false. It is so mathematically improbable as to be obviously false without having to take a survey to find a counterexample. I know women, including my wife, who have not been harassed, at least not in such a way that they considered it harassment. I don't doubt that you define harassment to be such a slight annoyance that you see it, hear it, and experience it everywhere and all the time, because that is clearly how some women need to live their lives and see the world in order to feel better about themselves and give their lives some grounding to hold onto. That grounding is good old-fashioned, reliable, unchanging, unquestioned, self-assured, otherizing hatred. But no, not every single woman I know or don't know has been sexually harassed.


Obviously you are not paying attention. Most people, in fact, seem to be very uncomfortable about the telling of rape jokes.


Men (and boys) are told not to harass all the time. In fact, the anti-harassment lesson is pounded into us so firmly that it results in the suppression of not only harmful sexual urges and not only harmless sexual urges but also many males' general rambunctiousness, assertiveness, confidence, and comfort with the opposite sex. I would go so far as to say, with only anecdotal and not statistical evidence to support me, that the hyper-sensitive, hyper-PC suppression of boys' (and girls') natural behavior and sexuality has done far more harm than good on the sex-crimes front.


Not a single civilized human being has said a single nice thing about him. You know how I know? Because saying a nice thing about him makes you an uncivilized troglodyte. It may be circular reasoning, but it's factually correct.


Yes, all women what? Are expected to drop out of college if they get married? I doubt even a large minority of women who get married during college are asked if that means they're done with their education. And I doubt that people even silently wonder that about many women who get married during college. True, all but one of the women I knew who got married during school did it in grad school and not undergrad, but no one in my professional/social/peer group even wondered if that meant they were done with school or career, either at that time or upon graduating. Once again, just because it happened to you or even a lot of people you know does not mean it applies to all women.


So like 1% of women?


Well, that's just the opposite of constructive.


All women? Why wouldn't all men? I have a better question: Why wouldn't you ask that at the job interview—you know, the time you're supposed to find out those things about a company?


And, finally, the most ridiculous, embarrassing one of all the Twittersphere:

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Thick libertarianism and bigotry and public shaming

May 5, 2014 – 11:45 pm by John

This is an email I sent to Sheldon Richman on May 3:

Dear Mr. Richman,

I had a few thoughts about your recent TGIF column "Libertarianism Rightly Conceived" and how thick and thin libertarianism might be applied to some recent news stories, and I hoped you could share your perspective. I don't think I belong squarely in the "thick" or "thin" camp—just libertarian—but I certainly used to lean strongly "thin".

The news stories I refer to are Mozilla's Brendan Eich being forced to resign over a supposedly bigoted political donation, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling being suspended for life and fined by the NBA, and (much less newsworthy) game developer Josh Olin being fired from Turtle Rock Studios for Tweeting, "Here's an unpopular opinion: Donald Sterling has the right as an American to be an old bigot in the security of his own home. He's a victim." One reason I thought it'd be helpful to explore how thick libertarianism applies to those news stories is that your aforementioned column is more about argumentation and the philosophical reasons thick libertarianism is better than thin, and not about how thick libertarians would address any specific goings-on in the world today. I think people would be better able to judge the merits of thick and thin libertarianism if they saw how each would manifest in day-to-day situations. A second reason is that all three of those news stories are notably devoid of any government action or First Amendment issues, and the main way in which thick and thin libertarianism seem to differ, at least in practice, is how they would handle non-governmental, not-directly-rights-violating, social and labor issues.

One widespread objection to the Brendan Eich episode is that only a few years ago, presidential candidate Barack Obama expressed the very belief that got Eich run out of town, and in the same year in which Eich's donation occurred (2008). Another politician who I assume is popular among the left-liberal Mozilla employees who demanded Eich's resignation, Hillary Clinton, only publicly embraced gay marriage in 2012 or 2013. So the point is that Eich donated money to a politician running on an anti-gay-marriage platform at a time when the majority of Californians, the majority of Americans, and, indeed, those outraged employees' darling presidential candidate agreed with Eich. But suddenly, now that the tide of popular opinion has currently (and probably permanently) swayed to their side, everyone who doesn't conform must be eliminated immediately. There was no hint that Eich had ever or would ever treat any Mozilla employee (or, indeed, anyone else) with unfairness or disrespect.

One of the main differences between Eich's toxic political donation and the (illegal) tape-recording that got Donald Sterling ousted is time: If Sterling had made similar comments publicly, even at an official NBA (or NFL or MLB) event in, say, 1950, he would almost certainly not have been punished in any way. That doesn't change how wrong and harmful racism and bigotry are, but it does highlight that the way in which society handles these types of social issues depends on the times and on majority opinion. Maybe it shouldn't depend on the tide of popular opinion and feelings, but it does.

There has been less objection to Sterling's ouster than Eich's because racism has long been recognized as hateful and harmful by almost all Americans, whereas equality in marriage rights has only recently tilted in that direction. (There has also been less objection to Sterling's ouster because of his ostensibly racist actions, not just words, in his real estate dealings. Yet another reason, possibly the best one, that few object to Sterling's ouster is that the voluntarily agreed upon "NBA Constitution" supposedly allows it.)

But libertarians have always been on the right side of both gay-rights and race issues, not just recently. Whether a libertarian limits his notion of libertarianism to issues of government and coercion or expands it to include various issues of social justice such as racism and patriarchy, libertarians have always advocated equal rights and equal laws for all individuals and championed the belief that all individuals are equal in both a moral and a legal sense. Before the NBA and other sports leagues were this politically correct, before Silicon Valley programmers were so "enlightened" by left-liberalism, before game development companies were so sensitive to PR crises caused by any hint of political incorrectness, libertarians recognized and championed the rights of all people to be treated equally, at least under the law. So should libertarians have been demanding the ostracization of homophobic, racist, sexist, misogynist, etc. employees, owners, CEOs, managers, sports figures, and anyone else all along? Should thick libertarians?

If thick libertarians don't demand that others see the light on such social issues or else hit the highway, then how are they different from thin libertarians? Only in the things they write and advocate, and not in the actions they perform and the policies they recommend? Am I wrong in even using these racism/bigotry/free speech/PR examples to try to distinguish between thick and thin libertarianism? They seem perfectly apt for discerning any important distinctions that exist.

It is important to note that even though no government was involved in any of those stories, the issue of free speech (or maybe I should just say speech) was. Does thick libertarianism say that the answer to abhorrent speech is more speech, or does it say that the answer is some form of socially administered punishment in the economic/financial/employment realm? If the former, then it doesn't seem to differ in practice from thin libertarianism. If the latter, then I think thick libertarians could run afoul of exactly what Lew Rockwell worried about but you dismissed in your TGIF column: mob-enforced thuggery that will be hard to restrict to the "right" issues and the "right" cases.

I use the word "thuggery" because I have seen it applied to the recent spate of free speech violations on college campuses, and I think it applies in at least Brendan Eich's case. In Sterling's case, if anyone is the thug, it is Sterling, and I understand that the NBA has a right (indeed, a need) to manage its public perception according to its own interests. In Turtle Rock Studios' case, the trigger-happy way in which Josh Olin was fired seems more like hyper-PC overreaction by executives than mob-enforced thuggery or anything like that. But I think my point remains: If thick libertarianism demands social justice in non-coercion-related, non-government-related ways, then I worry that it rests on a slippery slope that can lead to such thuggery as demanding that hateful speakers not be allowed to give speeches on college campuses and that very good, even brilliant, executives be fired for suddenly minority opinions.

In the Sterling case, he was unwittingly recorded in the privacy of his own home, with no one but his mistress around. I don't know if any political philosophy should have anything to say about how we should treat such a recording, but it just doesn't feel right to lay such a huge, permanent punishment on someone, even a powerful, actually racist billionaire, based on a private and illegal recording, without any type of hearing or defense or investigation. It also doesn't seem right to base any fine or suspension on the supposedly racist things Sterling did in his real estate business, which have no relation to his status as an NBA owner. (I doubt the NBA did take his supposed real-estate racism into account, but many supporters of the NBA's decision have. I also think the NBA almost certainly made the best decision for its own interests.) How do you think thick and thin libertarianism would differ in addressing these two facets of the Sterling case? Punishing people for privately expressed thoughts that were surreptitiously recorded seems awfully Orwellian, but should we be thankful that those thoughts were recorded in this case? If combatting and eliminating racism and bigotry are a central tenet of the thick libertarian philosophy, then it seems that thick libertarians would be much less conflicted about this whole case than thin libertarians, but I think some intellectual and moral conflict is warranted here.

Regarding Josh Olin's case, which obviously resulted from a Sterling-related tweet, do you think libertarianism of any stripe should have anything to say? Olin expressed sympathy for someone who he thought was wronged by a sensationalist media, by an overreactive, overly sensitive NBA commissioner, and by an unfair process (all the way from the secret recording to the swift, harsh punishment). Olin opposes racism and bigotry, but he committed the PC crime of sort-of supporting a racist billionaire, or at least a racist billionaire's rights. But Donald Sterling wasn't punished for actually doing anything racist, only saying something racist privately. Sterling apparently isn't a raging, frothing racist, as his mistress is mixed-race and he apparently doesn't have much problem with her sleeping with black people (!), only with her bringing them to Clippers games. Trying to put the NBA's need to look after its own PR image and finances aside, is there anything really different, in principle, between the NBA ousting someone who merely said something and Turtle Rock Studios firing someone who merely Tweeted something? Both the NBA and Turtle Rock are within their contractual rights. Both needed to look after their own financial interests. Both got rid of someone for saying something that's somewhere between unpopular and abhorrent. But I think Olin was clearly wronged by his higher-ups, Sterling not so much.

Does thick or thin libertarianism have anything to say about whether Turtle Rock should have fired Olin? Whether they overreacted? Whether someone who defends Sterling's rights is on the wrong side of social justice? Whether there is a stark difference between the Sterling and Olin cases? If it was right (again, morally right in a social-justice way, disregarding the NBA's need to maintain PR and revenue) to ban Sterling from the NBA, then isn't it wrong (i.e., counter to the social-justice fight) to oppose that ban? If it was right (morally) to ban Sterling from the NBA, is it also right to ban all players who think like he does? Why or why not? Is it right for the NBA (or owners, or their lawyers, or private eyes) to entrap others in surreptitious recordings of hateful speech and then ban them for life? If it was right for the NBA to use this private recording that fell into its lap, is it that much more wrong to actively engage in such recordings?

Again, if thick libertarians dislike Olin's firing, then in this case they seem to agree with the thin libertarians; but if they don't think it's so bad, then I think they're on that slippery slope to PC thuggery. If thick libertarians think the NBA made the best decision for its own interests but don't necessarily think Sterling's ouster was right or necessary in the libertarian fight for social justice, then again I think they side with some/all thin libertarians.

In general, would thick libertarians simply boycott the bigoted companies or sports teams and not demand that anyone resign or be fired? But thin libertarians have no problem with doing that or in others doing that, either. Would thick libertarians say it depends on the intricacies of the private contracts signed by all involved? So would thin libertarians. (And many self-described thin libertarians even decry various types of oppressive contracts, such as homeowners' associations, end-user license agreements, purchase agreements that prohibit the purchaser from publishing negative reviews, employment contracts that prohibit employees from publishing certain opinions, etc.) Would thick libertarians say they can only decide whether and how racism (etc.) should be punished on a case-by-case basis? Then the social-justice aspects of thick libertarianism don't seem like staunch principles but rather personal preferences, which don't rank as tenets of a philosophy, to me.

I think I'd better end this email now because it's already longer than I anticipated. Thank you for your time,

John Petrie

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Quote of the day

April 17, 2014 – 9:35 am by John

"But in reality the point of free speech is for the stuff that’s over the line, and strikingly unbalanced. If free speech is only for polite persons of mild temperament within government-policed parameters, it isn’t free at all."
—Mark Steyn, "The slow death of free speech"

I suspect that some of my allies in the libertarian movement who have always been more sympathetic to left-ish concerns don't (fully) realize it or admit it, but modern left-liberalism/progressivism/feminism is the staunch, and proud, enemy of free speech. It is the most fervent and dangerous enemy of free speech that free societies face today, and has been for decades. Its adherents are merely becoming more bold and brazen about it recently, as they get more comfortable with their political power (both at the small scale of universities and the large scale of national governments) and more confident that they are winning the culture war.

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