Friday, December 26, 2003


I'm listening to some wonderful Russian liturgical music. I love this music because of its texture--the thickness of it and close harmonies--and because it's low. I'm an alto. I'm taken also by the visual arts of the Russian Church--dim religious light, guttering candles and gilded icons. I used to read Dostoyevsky to fantacize that world, where there was this pervasive religiousity and everyone was always at an emotional fever pitch.

The trouble is that the concommitant of all this lovely stuff is filth, ignorance and superstition. Isaac Bashevis Singer describes it in The Slave--the world of Eastern European peasants scraping for minimal subsistance--illiterate, filthy and brutal. Of course we can create a sanitized Episcopalian version of it, with all the appeal of Disneyland or Marie Antoinette's royal cow shed. We can duplicate the aesthetic surface, but unless there are authentic peasants around, lighting the candles because they believe it will give them babies or make the corn grow it isn't the same thing. The cost of that though is having people who are ignorant, bigoted and poor to light those candles in the simple faith or Dostoyevsky's fat merchant's wife.

In the same vein, we'd like to live on the edge of wilderness, in houses on large lots where deer and bunnies come to our gardens. But we don't want our children or pets to be mauled by bears or mountain lions. We want safe, marked hiking trails where we can enjoy old growth forests without the danger of being mauled or eaten, where we can camp in REI tents and sleeping bags.

We might as well be honest and admit what we want--and not impose our decadent tastes on the natives or make them serve as props in our romantic fantasies. It would be a shame if traditional societies were disrupted and wilderness were lost, but the price of romance is too high--ignorance, brutality, predation and the nasty, brutish, short life of people in the state of nature.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

The Vision Thing

We got 'im. Bummer. Now Democrats' ace in the hole has been trumped.

Maybe it's time for liberals to start being honest instead of cranking the Peace message for political ends. Brooks commented last night on the news hour that Dean came off badly vis-a-vis Bush because while Bush had a "moral vision" he only had niggling pragmatic recommendations. The irony is that liberals have a moral vision, articulated in the theoretical literature but are afraid to lay it out for the groundlings whom they wheedle with the tried and true issues they assume will get the troops out: peace, environmentalism and pro-choice.

Maybe Democrats should trust ho demos, a little more because the message isn't that hard to understand: it's just the old time religion of a really, and not merely nominally level playing field. Rig things in such a way that the effects of dumb luck are minimized, so that everyone has the basic resources to survive guaranteed, opportunities to better themselves, and safety nets so that they can afford to assume risk. It isn't hard, it isn't expensive, it isn't socially disruptive and it isn't particularly high tech.

Rhetoric about "working families" doesn't fool anyone--it's an updated attempt to invoke unions' appeal to working men with promises of a family wage. Everyone wants peace and environmentalism--the question is where and how much. Pro-choice is a fait accompli and no matter how much feminists attempt to work up fears that it's being eroded, no one is getting excited.

It's incredible that conservatives have succeeded in exploiting the rhetoric of freedom and level playing fields because that is precisely what they do not offer. Constraints imposed by the state in the US are negligible compared to the constraints imposed by the economic system and by social custom. Freedom insofar as it's valuable isn't the entitlement to hold and express dissident political views or religious heresies. Few people care about ideas or ideologies--freedom of speech, of religion, of the press and the like are luxuries for the elite. The freedom that counts is the freedom to do what you want, be where you want, not be physically constrained. If you are trapped behind the checkout counter in Walmart 8 hours a day because the only other option is living on the street you are not free.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Discount Nation: Is Wal-Mart Good for America?

Probably. At least in the long run when we're all dead.

Walmart is capitalism at its ruthlessly efficient best. It pays its employees minimum wage, without benefits, and extracts unpaid overtime because it can. It drives labor off-shore and wipes out manufacturing jobs because it can. It discriminates against women and hires illegal aliens as janitors because it can. This is as close to laissez faire as we get. If it weren't for minimum wage, Walmart would pay even less.

So much for right-wing nostalgia and the fantasy of a nation of mom-and-pop shopkeepers. Cold War propaganda set that fantasy against the bugaboo of a Socialist mass society where faceless slaves toiled in monumental factories until they were used up and thrown away. In fact that is what we are going to get when other retailers and firms in other industries emulate Walmart.

Maybe at that point, when we're all dead, the American electorate will catch on

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Seeking Balance: Growth vs. Culture in Amazon

Amazonian natives object to the exploitation of oil reserves in their hunting-gathering grounds, fearing that development will erode their Traditional Culture--so the headline suggests. But read a little further: it turns out that what sticks in their craw is the fact that they are not getting what they regard as their fair share of the pie. The state owns the oil reserves

However, without the cooperation of the natives, drilling for oil may not be feasible so savvy natives are doing everything they can to disrupt operations in order to blackmail oil companies and the government of Ecuador. In this project, for the time being, they've enlisted the help of environmental groups. Indeed, some natives run a profitable sideline in ecotourism.

The article ends piously with a quote from a native who affirms "We live barefoot like our ancestors. We like it that way."

Sorry. I'm not convinced. "Little Indian, Sioux or Crow/Furry little Eskimo/Little Turk or Japanee/Don't you wish that you were me!" Of course, not the Japanee--they're doing better than we are, and we're eating sushi and watching Anime.

As good liberal Americans, most of us detest our culture, such as it is, with good reason. For most of our history America was a provincial backwater. Our literature was largely derivative and anyone with a serious interest in the arts went to Europe to study. That's why American history, mandated for study in the public schools, was so profoundly boring: there was Jamestown, the Massachusetts Bay colony, the Stamp Act (whatever that was) and endless, boring politics--because nothing else was happening. Mercifully, however, we are allowed to appropriate European culture as our own, from the Greeks into the 19th century. I'm for according the same mercy to members of Traditional Cultures.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Liberal, Elitist and Angry - RNC chairman: Democrats increasingly 'liberal, elitist, angry' - Dec. 3, 2003

Guilty as charged--and it's about time.

The BBC world news tonight reported that Mugabe's political cronies have been appropriating farms that the local peasants siezed from white landowners in accordance with Zimbabwe's "land reform" policy. Incredibly, they presented this as news.

Populism has always been the last refuge of thugs. The proles have little understanding of their own interests and no concern about anyone elses. Any demogogue can, with little effort, set them against elites that exclude them, whether the elite of white commercial farmers in Africa or the Eastern Liberal Establishment in the US. African dictators, playing the race card, can get the peasants to grab land for them. Republican politicians can count on the American proletariat to vote them into office and support policies that benefit their coterie of plutocrats.

I'm for the elite, and the more of it the better--for people like me with PhDs who read the Times, watch PBS and promote those good liberal policies that would make it possible for everyone to join the club.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


The Supreme Court of Massachusetts has just ruled that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples violates the rights of gay and lesbian people, to much media fanfare, conservative vows to pass a constitutional amendment in defense of the family, and everything everyone could have predicted.

I still do not get why this is all taken to be such a significant issue--why the majority of Americans, including some who support arrangements that would give same sex couples all the legal benefits of marriage, balk at the idea of gay marriage. On the other hand the idea of gay pride celebrations and gay TV networks seem as bizarre as comparable institutions for chocolate lovers, stamp collectors or Mac enthusiasts. However, given that conservatives make such a fuss about homosexuality, I suppose it may be understandable.

Why do they make such a fuss? And why is it packaged as a defense of the family?

The only thing I can think is that they imagine the world will become like the beach during Spring Break, a meat market where they aren't welcome, and that conventional families will become anomalous. On TV families are already a quasi-joke, like mother-in-laws, suitable for cartoons--The Simpsons, King of the Hill. Shows with live actors focus around the office and the after work bar, featuring 20 or 30 something characters, none of whom are married with children.

I suppose I see their point. Almost everyone growing up in the '50s felt odd, and bad, because their family wasn't precisely like Dick and Jane, or Father Knows Best, or the Donna Reed Show. No one had the whole package--white picket fence, paper route, mom who cooked wearing high heels and pearls. We couldn't get it and we didn't want it and we were ashamed and angry about what we felt was our failure because it was so iconic. Maybe that is why the '60s happened.

Now the icon is a world of adults, where no one marries or is given in marriage, working at generic white collar jobs, living in urban apartments, forever 27 with dates every Saturday night. We're angry and ashamed because we can't get it and don't want it, and the "gay lifestyle" is the limiting case--the icon of the new millenium.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Presidential Inauguration

Not US, USD President Mary Lyons.

Faculty in regalia marched in procession behind Iris Engstrand, Emerita of History, carrying the ceremonial mace. Bishop Brom sat with the platform party atired in matching puce cope and biretta. The Choral Scholars in evening dress sang an exquisite Mozart Ave Verum and the ROTC drill team did a routine that involved twirling rifles like batons.There was speechifying, fanfare by the USD orchestra conducted by Angela Young, as Lyons was invested with the Presidential Chain and, audacious choice, a recessional by Chabrier. We exited to the plaza for the reception where there were melting wheels of cheese, wine and loaves of pate. Outside the gate the pickets were carrying signs including one denouncing USD as the "Universodomy of San Diego."

I do like it here.

When I graduated from Lake Forest College during the Revolution, the senior class chose to march in street clothes in order to use money that would have gone to rent gowns to establish a scholarship fund for minorities from the inner city. With all 200 of us kicking in, one faculty member estimated, the proceeds might have paid for about 3 weeks of classes.

Whatever, if anything, was in our heads? No one ever, ever suggested using the money we spent on records or recreational drugs to finance worthy causes. During Kent State the college closed down for teach-ins on the quad. The gist of it was that society as we knew it, including Academia, was over--in the new order to come we would live on communes and universities would be reconstituted as centers for learning macrame, pottery and Native American dances. We would teach oneanother.

I was horrified. Lake Forest college was so enclosed, and I was so naive, that I was convinced it was true--that classes would never start again or, even if they did, that Academia as we knew it would not last long enough for me to be a professor.

In retrospect I'm convinced of what I secretly believed then but tried to avoid thinking. These kids were having fun. By the late '60s college was mandatory for all middle class kids. Most were too dumb to benefit from higher education: they didn't like classes, they didn't like reading, going to lectures, or even talking about ideas and, at Lake Forest College most were so rich that they didn't need to worry about getting credentials for the job market. But they had to be there getting High Culture pushed at them because those were the rules. It would have been more efficient to have them lolling around at the Drones Club pitching spit balls at one another, and using the savings in tuition money to send the intended beneficiaries of our scholarship fund to Lake Forest College.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

So, the WTO has imposed sanctions on the US for tarrifs on steel.

The US steel industry can't compete because it's saddled with expenses for worker benefits and pensions which it pays in lieu of state provided health care, pensions and social safety nets. It looks like it's just as expensive, if not more expensive, for firms to provide these benefits directly to workers than it would be to kick in to the common pot through higher taxes so that the state can provide them. What you gain on the swings you lose on the roundabouts.

The solution is obvious. Fire those spoiled unionized blue collar workers and replace them with a crew of less uppity, non-union wage slaves. Compassionate conservativism isn't any better than bleeding-heart liberalism--to get the benefits, do like Walmart.

Monday, November 10, 2003

PC, WC and the Paradox of Tolerance

Think of it this way:
Those countries with indoor plumbing and flush toilets are pro-Robinson consecration.
Those countries with wells and outhouses are anti-Robinson.
You can thank Sir Thomas Crapper for this fine kettle of fish!

-----------------------from the Beliefnet Anglican Debate message board

While the consecration of Eugene Robinson as the Anglican Church's first openly gay bishop received kudos from the cognescenti in affluent Western industrialized nations, primates from the Global South were not amused.

Liberals, keen to support the interests of the disadvantaged, domestically and internationally, have always been ambivalent about the intended beneficiaries of their programs. When it turns out that the oppressed do not share the vision of the good life that motivates their progressive agenda, they resort to snide remarks about deficiencies in their plumbing systems.

Back in the 20th century, when liberals in the media discovered that the working class supported the war in Vietnam and actively opposed politial policies and social programs intended to liberate them, they invented Archie Bunker. When white upper middle class college students discovered that most blacks wanted the kind of lives their parents enjoyed and were beginning to get it as a consequence of the civil rights movement they castigated Martin Luther King as a sellout and redirected their support to the Black Panthers.

We imagined a secular, egalitarian utopia, untainted by racism, sexism and puritanism, where there would be justice, freedom and peace. As it turns out, the oppressed, whose interests we believed we were supporting, want a puritanical, fundamentalist Islamic hellhole where they can freely perpetuate their cultural customs of sexism, tribalism and violence.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Terry's Law

In Florida, the state legislature hastely passed a low entitling the parents of a women in a persistent vegitative state to reattach her feeding tube. It is being contested in the courts by her husband who insists that she would have preferred to be removed from life support. Once again the case plays as a dispute between the religious right, promoting the enforcement of arbitrary restrictions, and the friends of individual freedom and preference satisfaction.

Is it a normative question or is it an empirical one? The suggestion that rarely surfaces is that Terry might prefer to remain on life-support because the current cultural assumption is that most people would prefer not to have their life prolonged by extraordinary means. That may be so, but I want to survive as long as possible and I don't care how many tubes or machines it takes.

How many of these tacit empirical assumptions drive what appear to be the debates about normative issues--in particular about whether "traditional values" and rules trump personal preferences?

A recent Gallup Poll indicates, for example, that ethnic diversity is becoming the current orthodoxy. 50% of individuals aged 30 and under believe that members of ethnic minorities should remain ethnically distinct rather than "blending in" as compared with 34% of Americans over 30. This is the coming orthodoxy, trickling down from the politically correct elite to the masses.

But no one seriously addresses the question of what members of ethnically "diverse" groups prefer, at at least what they would prefer if they were informed and cooly deliberative. Moreover, ethnicity as promoted in the public schools and mass media, seems so innocuous--a matter of spicy foods, street festivals and ethnic costume--that no one worries about it. And, as popularly presented, there are always escape clauses--the idea that you can choose whether to identify with your ethnic group of "blend in," and that you can choose how, and how much, ethnicity you want.

Maybe ethnicity, reconstructed in this way, is innocuous and unlikely to promote the real thing: ethnicity as practiced in the Balkans or Paterson, New Jersey. Even so, it is depressing that people have so little sense of individual identity and so few interests that they latch onto their supposed ancestral cultures to define themselves.

What is that impulse? Any authentic ethnic affiliation is an unchosen characteristic that constrains.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Money Isn't Everything

Paul Krugman wonders, in
today's column how poor white Southerners, traditionally Democratic stalwarts, could have been bamboozled into voting for conservative Republicans against their economic interests. Answer: the race card.

Yes and no. We all agree that Dean's remark about wanting to get guys who drove pick-ups with confederate flags was a faux pas--but not on the "subtext."

Dean wasn't, as Krugman hints, accusing poor white Southerners of racism--he was implicitely characterising them as that type of person. He might just as well asked support from "housewives who shop at Walmart" or "people who live in trailers"--or for that matter "soccer moms," "Jewish lawyers" or "Baby Boomers who drive Volvos."

People don't like to be a type of person. We think of themselves and our peers as being beyond type--it's outsiders, the people with whom we don't socialize, who are person-types. I have a pop book on class in America which divides the social landscape into 6 classes and describes minutely the decor, dress, cuisine and personal habits of members of each division. At the end there is an escape route for "Class X," individuals who transcend class categories--that is readers of the book who, after tittering nervously at the author's insights about the habits of their demographic group, are assured that they themselves are really out of the box, not people of a certain type at all.

Appealing for the support of a type of person was bad enough, but the class message made it worse. Money isn't everything when it comes to the appearance of class affiliation. Bush's inarticulate pronouncements from the Texas Ranch--our very own answer to Marie Antoinette's Royal Cowshed--win hearts and minds. Even if we don't get no bucks, better a good ol' boy who tawks like us then a damn Yankee professor like Krugman.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The Market Works--So Where's the Beef

"When you don't pay taxes, don't pay Social Security and don't pay workers' comp, you have a 40 percent cost advantage," said Lilia Garcia, executive director of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, a group financed by California cleaning contractors to police fly-by-night competitors. "It makes it hard for companies that follow the rules."Illegally in the U.S., and Never a Day Off at Wal-Mart

Walmart has been hit for hiring crews of illegal aliens through cleaning contractors. Most of the workers, from Eastern Europe, Mexico and obscure parts of Asia and the Middle East don't seem to mind the long hours, poor working conditions or wages which, while low by American standards, are up to 10 times what they could make in their native countries. Walmart customers are pleased because they can buy cheap consumer goods. Walmart managers and investors are also, of course, pleased. So where's the beef?

I'm of two minds about this and one mind may not be strictly in line with the stated purpose of this blog. Most people don't want to market to work--they want blue collar workers to make decent family wages and time and a half for overtime and white collar workers to have "professional level" salaries. They do not even have any serious complaints about the lavish compensation packages of corporate CEOs. Regardless of what the market wants, they want to see people getting the salaries that seem "appropriate" to their sex, race, class and credentials.

Unskilled indigenous males have, for a long time, made good money working at blue-collar union jobs. We think Joe Sixpack should make enough money to support a family and pay the mortgage on a modest suburban home because he's a white guy. Bosses get paid much more than secretaries even though they are far less important to the operation of businesses, but we think guys should get more than gals, and that a college degree, simply because it is a class marker, entitles the bearer to a professional level salary.

As an academic, I'm on the gravy train too--if the market were working I would be lucky to get a job at minimum wage. I was hired out of a field of 350 applicants, almost all of whom could have done my job just as well as I do. I am eminently fungeable. Moreover, the world does not need philosophy professors and, if the market were working, none of us would have jobs. I am one of that great mass of Smart People Who Can't Do Math who has no useful skills and can't do heavy lifting.

Comes the revolution, we're all in the same boat.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Episcopal Chic

It seems students from the University of Durham in New Hampshire, will be protesting conservative protestors tomorrow by staging their own demonstration and calling for "a more realistic and broadminded approach" to the current stance on homosexuality in the Church. One of the students, a 21 year-old woman called Nika with a hard-to-miss silver ring in her bottom lip, told ACNS/ENS that she had never been to church, but was joining the protest. "I am very spiritual," she said, "but I'm not much for organised religion." Asked if she'd consider actually going to a church that took this kind of action, she said, "Yeah, I think I would. Yeah, I'll have to give it a try." [ACNS News Service]

"Muffy," said Skip, looking up from the Times "The Episcopal Church has ordained an openly active gay bishop!"

"Oh, wow," said Muffy, "The Episcopal Church is sooooo realistic and broadminded--not like all the other churches that are against sex! Let's go to church!"

"Wait a minute, Mummy," said Brookstone, their teen-aged daughter, tugging excitedly on her nipple-ring, " this is so coooool I have to go tell the gang!

"Hey, guys," Brookstone shouted to a group of lithe, caramel-tanned, dudes and chickies playing volleyball on the beach, "The Episcopal Church has ordained an openly active gay bishop!"

"Oh, like, wow," said Herrington, so excited that his tongue stud popped out, "that is just like awwwwwwsome! Let's go to church!"


Meanwhile, philosophy faculty at the University of Durham in New Hampshire, at an emergency department meeting, voted unanimously to be baptized en masse.

"The Episcopal Church has ordained an openly active gay bishop," said the Chair, "They are soooooo intellectual! Let's go to church!"

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Voice and False Consciousness

I've been reading about "voice" lately for the section in my book on "Adaptive Preference and False Consciousness." This gist it is that "we" don't hear what the Oppressed have to say because we don't hear their voice or, I suppose more colloquially, understand their language. Moreover, when token members of oppressed groups gain entree to knowledge and power elites they forget their native language since the price of admission is enculturation. African-Americans who have become "white," women who have become "honorary men," and "westernized" indigenous people identify with their oppressors and no longer speak with the voice of their cultures.

This seems to me wrong on three counts

(1) There is a difference between having a voice and having a soapbox. Oppressed people were always capable of articulating their concerns but no one paid any attention. It is uncontroversial that access to political process, to the media, to all the mechanisms for voicing ones concerns and exercising power ought to be more widely available--it's important that priviledged people hear what less priviledged people have to say. But it's quite another thing to suggest that we aren't "really" hearing if we fail to see the wisdom of what they have to say or if, having heard, we conclude that they are naive or wrong-headed.

(2) Concern to hear the authentic voice of the oppressed is patronizing: it fails to distinguish between those who have something to say and those who don't, and systematically writes off the smartest, most educated and most articulate members of traditionally disadvantaged groups as inauthentic.

Educated, articulate members of disadvantaged groups don't need help in finding their "voice"--they need soapboxes, access to media and publicity. Uneducated, inarticulate members of disadvantaged groups don't have a distinctive "voice" that needs to be made audible--they have nothing of interest to say--and attempts to cultivate their voice or render them articulate are comparable to programs that purported to articulate the voices of autistic children through "assisted communication."

(3) Well-meaning attempts to articulate the "authentic" voice of the oppressed ghettoize people and lock them out of the dominent culture. It may be better to be "affirmed" and admired for one's cultural peculiarities then despised or ignored, but it is better still to have the option of shedding one's culture and gaining admission to dominent culture.

Right now USD, like a great many colleges and universities, has developed a "gender studies" program which, some hope, will grow into a major. Women, de facto the clientele for such programs, may gain some benefit through being "affirmed" in such programs, but the overall costs far outweigh any benefits. Gender studies majors are locked into an occupational ghetto. Women should be steered into engineering and the sciences, and given the wherewithall to succeed. "Cultural" studies, bilingual education and "self-esteem" programs for students in the public schools do nothing for students. The assumption behind all the rhetoric is that most are write-offs who cannot make it in the dominant culture, cannot assimilate.

At bottom there is an empirical question: what do members of "oppressed" groups want? Of course, like members of priviledged groups, they want a variety of different things. But the suggestion that, ceteris paribus, all or most would prefer to retain their native cultural peculiarities and only grudgingly assimilate as a price to be paid for priviledge is speculative.

Monday, October 27, 2003

SoCal Burning

There are about a dozen brush fires in San Diego, San Bernardino and Los Angeles county creeping into populated areas. Scripps Ranch and some other upscale suburbs have been evaculated.

Even here, the sky is grey, the sun orange behind the clouds of smoke and ashes floating down. The air is thick and I smell smoke. All schools and most businesses are closed. There is speculation that some of the fires were set intentionally--and I am waiting for the conspiracy theories to get started. If this wasn't planned by terrorists, it should have been since it's the most cost-effective way to destroy property in Southern California: wait for Santa Ana conditions, and set brush fires. Interestingly, I haven't heard of any fires just the border.

Apocalypse now.

30 people were killed in Bagdad, 200 wounded, as the war drags on months after Dubya's swashbucking arrival on the flightdeck to declare victory. Meanwhile the Times Magazine reports that members of paramilitary units are eating their victims in the Congo's ongoing gang violence.

Unemployment is holding steady even as we are told the US is in recovery and Louis Ruykheiser decares a raging bull market. Corporate CEOs on the average earn 532 times the wages of their lowest paid workers in the US (compared to 20 times in Canada). Employees at the three major supermarket chains here are striking as Vons, Albertsons and Ralphs try to cut benefits in order to compete with non-union Walmart, average employee wage: $8.50/hour with no benefits.

The Anglican Church is imploding and the news items on Anglicans Online were all about the "7 day countdown" to V. Gene Robinson's consecration as bishop of New Hampshire and the collapse of the Church as we know it.

The fire may be an act of God and we are certainly doing everything we can to fight it--firefighters are working, shelters have been set up, concerned citizens are sending food and blankets--Dubya himself was on TV pledging all the help and support he could muster. But everything else is what we did to ourselves, pointlessly, and refuse to fix.

Why do natural disasters galvanize people, but not the economic and political disasters that we ourselves create? Why do people send food and blankets, donate to the Red Cross, and make real sacrifices in public emergencies like this one but grudge paying a few more dollars in taxes to fix all the miseries that are so readily fixable by nothing more or less than money?

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Population Exchange?

TLS reports that a number of plant scientists in Britain have fled to Australia after their research projects, including a project on breeding drought-resistant plants for sub-Saharan Africa, were dismantled by bioterrorists.

The solution is clear: what we need is an exchange program through which British plant scientists can swop places with American scientists doing stem cell research.

Americans don't like stem cell research because they imagine that Godless Communists are promoting it in order to grow soul-less mutants in petri dishes. Europeans don't like genetically modified foods because they believe Big (American) Business is producing them in order to poison the population for fun and profit. Americans imagine cadres of mutant zombies, made not begotten, marching on major Midwestern cities to demolish suburban developments, churches and VFW halls and institute a Stalinist dysutopia along the lines of North Korea. Europeans picture SuperWeeds spreading with visible speed, choking off all natural plant and animal life until the entire landscape is covered with ultra-kudzu so that multinational agribusiness can monopolize all food production and rule the world.

I don't know what the moral is. Possibly that we're all equipped with a story template, hardwared into our brains, according to which an evil force creates monsters that devour everything natural, idiosyncratic, and human in scale, and replace it with standardized artifacts that reduce us to soul-less machinery, lacking self-consciousness and individuality--the triumph of mass mechanism. The nightmare took different forms--masses of brainwashed Russian workers or Chinese peasants, identically dressed, chanting in unison under monumental Socialist Realist posters, hordes of suburban commuters, dressed in identical gray flannel suits, carrying identical briefcases heading for advertizing agendies where they would manufacture slogans to stimulate zombie consumers to buy mass-produced products.

The preferred alternative was sweet nature, pretty little villages, compost heaps and organic gardens, happy tribal people and wilderness.

I don't care for that picture, a cardboard stage set masking brutality, tedium, and want. Life in the state of nature is nasty, brutish and short.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The Limits of Management

Well, well...the Primates of the Anglican Communion are meeting at Lambath to preside over the dissolution of the Anglican Church. a casualty of Culture Wars.

Ostensibly Liberals and Conservatives are duking it out over homosexuality. For over 30 years now Liberals have marched from victory to victory in their campaign to accommodate the Church to its cultured despisers--who haven't taken any notice. For over a decade, as part of the program of jettisoning socially embar assing regulations concerning sexual conduct, they have tried to push through a "teaching" on sexuality intended to eliminate "discontinuities" between the Church's doctrine and the mores of the contemporary world--that is to say, they have attempted to p roduce a code of conduct read off of the opinions and behavior of secular upper middle class Americans.

Now, belatedly, Conservatives have drawn the line in the sand, and the battle is on. Liturgical revision seemed too trivial to fight and was, in any case, handled with finesse. Opposition to women's ordination could not rally the troops. The only members of the Church who seriously objected were Anglo-Catholic clergy with mystical notions of priesthood who wanted to be Catholic at all costs. The rea l i ssues were too amorphous and abstract to function politically. But sex was just right--concrete, perfectly suited to elicit resentment and, of course, sexy.

Incredibly, until very recently, Liberals didn't get it. They were convinced that their new p olicy on sexual conduct would get through, with minor protests, and then it would be business as usual. They had, after all, used psychology, employed the best management techniques and played clever politics--producing a fait accompli by ordaining an ope nly active gay bishop. They looked forward to official recognition of their policy, damage control and "healing." Instead, incredibly, Conservatives behaved like grown-ups, organizing meetings, withholding funds and threatening litigation.

What they didn't get was that managment has its limits. You can get people who are already on board with a program, and even people who are indifferent or confused, to go along with your agenda by management, therapy, advertising and other modes of non-rational persuasi on, but you cannot change people's minds. 12-step programs motivate people who are already committed--AA works for people who want to quit drinking. People will put up with a lot of humiliation to get support in overcoming weakness of will. (I paid to part icipate in a Kaiser-sponsored quit smoking group at which participants had to write farewell notes to their cigarettes). Pep talks, workshops, and motivational tapes are fine for people who are already motivated: you can psyche up athletes and pump u p salespeople's e nthusiasm. People who are indifferent can be tipped in one direction or another by advertising. People who are confused can be given direction, and a vocabulary to describe their predicament, through therapy. But you cannot get adults wh o have rationally co nsidered commitments--however wrong-headed--to get on board by manipulation.

At least that is what I'm betting. The Primates are closeted and so far there are no leaks. The Archbishop of South Africa has made the predicted dipl omatic move, suggesting that there be a Study but, according to statements prior to the meeting, Conservatives have rejected the proposal as a ploy to avoid taking any action. But maybe they will bite.

I hope not. Ironically, I completely disagree with Conse rvatives' position on sexuality, and with their views on most other ethical and theological issues. I think they're wrong. But they are wrong and rational, and they have every good reason to object to the arrogant, patronizing, manipulative behavior of Liberals.

It reminds me of the last faculty "workshop" in which I participated. Faculty got $250 and a free catered tablecloth lunch for signing on for a day during winter break. The "facilitators" at this event were a couple of chickies in cute suits who were recent USD graduates. They give us three-ring binders with "materials" on five different colors of paper and set us to playing "relating games." For the first game we were to arrange ourselves in order of how long we'd been at USD, without talking. And so it went. Sometime before lunch, when we were hungry and thoroughly disgruntled, one member of the group--for a change not me--rebelled. As he put it, "We're adults--and we have Ph.D's." The chickies were speechless--we broke for lunch and then went home..

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Conservative Chic

Schwartzenegger, the icon of Conservative Chic, is governor of California.

This may be the beginning of the end. Once a political posture becomes chic, it becomes popular piety, and once it is established as the old time religion it ceases to be chic and, with nothing else to recommend it, withers away.

Radical Chic became a household word when Leonard and Felicia Bernstein invited the Black Panthers, and Tom Wolfe, to their epoch-making cocktail party. In those days, far-left political action of this sort was an extreme sport that only the very rich could afford to play. Young, lower-class black males in street gangs were the great domestic nightmare--paired with the Soviet Bomb, their foreign counterpart. They were the ultimate countercultural symbol, flaunting their rejection of bourgeois folkways and appropriating every feature of the Bad Nigger archetype they could manage for the titilation of the decadent elite.

Radical Chic however did not last. Once it became public it spawned safe off-the-rack knock-offs for Middle Americans. Within a decade, afros were quaint period pieces, along with mohawks, and middle class suburban teenagers affected dreadlocks. "Roots" became an American Epic and it became a pious truism that America was "a salad bowl, not a melting pot."

Like Radical Chic, the liberal piety that replaced it was fundamentally apolitical: it was a multimedia fashion statement. In addition to liberal clothing and accessories, which evolved over the years, there were liberal sports, liberal foods, liberal stationary, liberal medicine and liberal decor. Liberals hiked (they did NOT hunt) and ate whole grains, tofu, vegetarian fare and expensive chocolate. They used hand-pressed unbleached papers for social correspondance. They trusted in the medicinal power of herbs and birthed their babies naturally, ideally in Alternative Birthing Centers with midwives in attendance. They furnished their homes from IKEA where where they could leave their toddlers in nurseries furnished with educational toys, which they imagined simulated enlightened Swedish pre-schools, while they shopped.

Politically, Liberalism was the widest of tents. The only thing about which Liberals agreed was Peace, which they generally held to be a good thing.

By the last decades of the century Liberalism had become so bland and pious, so oppressively "feminine" in the old, unreconstructed sense that the elite, which now included ex-officio the entire 16 to 30 age group, adopted a new extreme sport: Conservative Chic.

Stupid white men, like Rush Limgaugh were the countercultural Bad Niggers of the '90s, titilatting their constituency with quips about "feminazis" and skating close to the edge of racism. Minnesota voters elected Jesse Ventura. George Bush II, a legacy graduate of Andover and Yale who opined that the jury was still out on evolution, was deposited on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Being a guy was in, dumb was cool, redneck was good, firefighters were heroes and the more inarticulate the better.

Then Arnold Schwartzenegger, his very name a joke, became governor of California and Conservative Chic became safe, mainstream and pious. Arnold , pro-choice, a supporter of gay rights and the environment, did not have anything to say about feminazis or affirmative action babies. Carefully coached by his handlers, his only ideological commitment was to cut taxes--the conservative mantra. Conservativism had become boring.

What is next? I hope a cadre of new radicals clamoring for for high taxes and war, for a socialist welfare state, military intervention to squash human rights violations, nation-building and the imposition liberal Western style democracy on all peoples, the legalization of recreational drugs, the abolition of dress codes, affirmative action and the destruction of post-modernism, Continental "philosophy" and multiculturalism. Let us dream.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The BBC reports another case of honor killing--a 16 year old Kurdish girl hacked to death by her father for planning to elope with an 18 year old boy. The father was given the maximum sentence, life, and the judge made it very clear that no "cultural defense" would ever be available for honor killing.

Right that is. But how do we understand the whole affair, and win hearts and minds?

Ideally, members of all cultures should be converted to utilitarianism. But it isn't even feasible to convert all members of our own culture to utilitarianism--people still have entrenched Romantic notions about honesty, virtue and the like. "Honor" is like that: family honor depends on female modesty and defending it is a man's moral duty. Dishonor diminishes him.

I can understand that. I value having a neat, clean organized household--most women do because it is the crown of female accomplishment. If my house is a mess, I am diminished. Emotionally, most women do not, and probably never will, buy the idea that "only boring women have immaculate homes" any more than they will buy the idea that it's ok to be fat or old.

But you can sell the idea that it houses should be "clean enough to be healthy but dirty enough to be happy," the principle that utility trumps personal aesthetic preferences and egoistic concerns, that you shouldn't lock your children into their rooms to keep them from making a mess or beat them up for spilling Kool-aid. So I think you could sell the idea that female modesty, even extending to headscarves is fine, but does not trump goals like education for girls and some reasonable degree of autonomy and does not license beating or killing girls who violate the rules. I'd bet that most Muslims, even most conservative Muslims disapprove of honor killing, even if they might regard it as a crime of passion and punish it less harshly. I would even bet that all things being equal they don't want their daughters to be domestic slaves and would rather see them, modestly veiled, going to (possibly all female) medical schools and marrying nice Muslim boys who won't beat them up.

That's speculation. But I'd like to know the empirical facts of the matter. The assumptions of Romantics who assume that the most exotic, and offensive, practices represent the culture are equally speculative.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Second Coming

Initially this BBC drama looked unpromising--Steve, a working class guy in Manchester, turns out to the the second Incarnation, predicts the Day of Judgement and chaos ensues. A mate becomes possessed, a mother tries to poison herself and children to get to heaven before the Judgement and--inevitably--Steve hops into the sack with Mary Magdalene. Everyone gets religion in earnest, and are worse off for it.

The denoument is interesting. Mary Madgalene "works out" what the scenario is supposed to be: Steve to die dead, not (she says) as Jesus did, to go to paradise, but cease to exist because with his authentic death, God will cease to exist and everyone will be better off. Steve is convinced, and chooses his own death, eating a dish of spaghetti laced with rat poison and dying in agony.

In retrospect, 6 years later, people remember that everyone felt that moment when the world changed, when the demons disappeared, and all the guilt, fear, chaos and melodrama instantly lift. The BBC to its credit did not play "Imagine there's no Heaven" in the background but that was the idea, along the the message that the real sacrifice, the perfect and sufficient one, is the authentic death of God, who brings about his own extinction for the benefit of all people.

It's an interesting juxtaposition of the old message that people are better off without God, in a disenchanted world without either gods or devils, shopping, having children, gardening, living ordinary lives and dying dead--with a novel interpretation of what God's self-sacrifice consists in.

Emotionally I find it more congenial than I would have 30 years ago when I was questing for the Holy Grail, the ultimate, intense, ecstatitic experience and thought that no matter how good the ordinary things of life were they weren't good enough. Now I'm happy to walk to my office, admire the elaborate flowerbeds, enjoy sitting at my desk amongst my books and being in a pleasant familiar place amongst people I've known for most of my adult life. I was happy today to drive to Target with my daughter, discussing Catcher in the Rye with her in the car. It reminds me of "Our Town," that other high school English staple: recognizing how ephemeral these ordinary good things are, I want to get every thing out of it that I can.

But would I get less if I were still on that Grail Quest? It was never attached to guilt or fear for me and there were no demons. It was all this and more, not less, not a poisoned garden.

How did Christianity become so twisted that anyone could imagine that a world without God would be an improvement? Where did that ascetic strain and the idea of sacrifice originate? Where did the spooks and ghouls, the creatures of darkness, come from--and the taste for horror that sells films? It's older than Christianity and more universal, both the idea of the dark side and the taste for it. Not my cup of tea in any case.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Cowboys and Wimps

I'm going for Wesley Clark. Check his website at

For the past 30 Americans have imagined that the only alternative to being a cowboy was being a wimp. It didn't even matter whether you were a real cowboy--what exactly does Dubya raise on his ranch?--so long as you looked like one and weren't one of those self-hating, granola-guzzling sensitive new age guys in birkenstocks. Get-toughism would solve our problems. Even if there was no account of the mechanism, it would work, and if getting tough didn't work it only showed that we weren't tough enough. Conservative was tough--Liberal was limp.

At some point the economic and political committments of liberalism, apart from indiscriminate dovishness, dropped out: liberalism, and conservativism, came to be seen as a styles. There were liberal foods--whole grains, fruits and nuts--and conservative foods--steak and jellybeans. There were liberal hobbies and conservative hobbies: liberals hiked, conservatives hunted. It was all code for the dichotomy we didn't dare mention in public: masculinity and femininity. And voters wanted the guys in office.

Schwartzenegger is the reducio--an actor with no experience in any responsible position and no policy other than cutting taxes who, incredibly, is Republican frontrunner because he was a professional bodybuilder and played toughguy roles in the movies.

Whatever happens, having Wesley Clark visible should be an edifying reminder that real men can be Democrats and, maybe even more importantly, that real guys can be smart.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

L. and I were in an elevator at Heathrow when some large blond people got in chatting voluably in a Foreign Language. We adopted a pose of studied indifference as we strained to understand what they were saying.

After they got out I said: "Could it have been Dutch--or maybe some Scandanavian language." L. said she didn't think so because she caught "Er ist." I had to grant she was right--I had caught "doch." Yes, it was German, our "best language"--the one in which we had passed our grad school language exams.

I suppose this isn't about philosophy, politics or economics--but what a waste: elementary schools offer every conceivable course except foreign languages--the only subject little kids are better at learning than older kids. St. Johns, being a fee-paying enterprise with pretensions, had a French-speaking teacher on staff who ostensibly taught French. But the curriculum was primarily about "French culture" and geography--taught in English. Whatever can the motivation for this assininity have been?

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

I was not enthusiastic about the invasion of Iraq but I am outraged by the non-invasion of Liberia.

Incredibly, here is a country in the throes of civil war where both sides are begging the US to invade. Crowds are demonstrating in the streets, waving American flags. There are no radical Islamicists waiting to pick off American soldiers, no obscure ethnic rivalries, no history we don't understand. This was an American colony established by freed American slaves. They speak English. They are not only our friends; they are our relatives.

This is a hideous, unforgiveable betrayal.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Like Father, Like Son

Election bets are now on, and I bet (though not heavily) that Bush 43 like Bush 41 will be a one-term president.

If the WMD had been found, Americans would have tolerated a botched occupation and ongoing guerilla war in Iraq; if our victory had been decisive and Iraqis had welcomed US forces as liberators we might have forgotten about the WMD. But the war turned out to be folly at both ends: no legitimate motivation and no good outcome.

And then there is the economy, stupid. Will Dubya have the guts to ask Americans whether they are better off than they were 4 years earlier when he campaigns for 2004?

But I won't bet heavily because it takes more than mere empirical facts to dislodge entrenched cultural assumptions. Most Americans remain convinced that get-tough will solve all problems: cutting taxes and waging war are the two great sacraments of political success. If tax cuts haven't jump started the economy it must be because they weren't deep enough; if war doesn't seem to have resulted in decisive victory it must be because we've chickened out. O ye of little faith--the solution is to cut deeper and fight harder. Like all religious dogmas, this one is not falsifiable.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Monarchy: The Final Solution to the Republican Problem

CHICAGO, Illinois (Reuters) -- Self-styled populist Jerry Springer, whose TV talk show features adulterous, brawling guests, took a step closer Friday to becoming a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Ohio.

On his Web site, Springer exhorts the same politically disaffected audience that catapulted former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura into the Minnesota governor's mansion five years ago and that actor Arnold Schwarzenegger presumably would tap if he ran for governor in California.

(Well, at least he's a Democrat.)

This is what we get for combining the roles of Head of Government and Head of State. Let's be done with it--elect a figurehead monarch from amongst the ranks of actors, talk show hosts and basketball players; then hire a manager to run the country. Oprah for Queen and Paul Krugman for Country Manager.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

WMD: Rummy's Monica Strategy

Clinton knew about his affair with Monica, and he knew that eventually everyone would know so, as everyone knows he leaked his confession a bit at a time. By the time he made his full confession everyone already knew, no one was surprised or shocked and he got off scot free. Everyone shrugged: well, that's just our Bill, dear old sleazy Bill. And it wasn't such a big deal really, was it?

Now Rummy is leaking his confession about those Weapons of Mass Distruction. From confident assertions that they're there, we just have to find them, to mini-confessions about possible miscalculation and bad information...eventually the full confession will be out and the hope is that by then no one will be surprised or shocked. Yes indeed we had no good reason to think that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but we wanted to invade and it was a good excuse.

The difference is that Rummy got lots of people killed, spent millions and blew up Bagdad--a much bigger blow job than Bill's.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Where Babies Come From and Where Taxes Go

An early ethnographic study reported that the Tully River People, when asked about how a woman becomes pregnant, gave four reasons. The two that I find most interesting are that the pregnant women went hunting and caught a certain kind of bullfrog and that, alternatively, she may have dreamt of having a child put inside her. In any case, W. E. Roth, the ennographer, concluded that the Tully river Blacks were ignorant of the connection between copulation and pregnancy.

Lawrence Simon, “Rationality and Alien Cultures”

Americans, by and large, seem to be ignorant of the connection between taxes and services.

Middle class Americans struggling to save for their children’s education, put money by for a rainy day, and invest for retirement welcome “tax relief.” But tax relief has a cost: with less money to spend, federal, state and local government can’t provide the services to provide or subsidize education, health care and other services of go provide adequate safety nets. There is no free ride: either you kick into the common pot through taxation and get services, benefits and social insurance or you save up and pay out of pocket.

Paying into the common pot is more efficient. It’s less expensive to pay taxes to the City so that it can maintain a police force than it would be if each family hired its own security guard--and the quality of city police is likely to be better. The common pot system also evens out inequities that are a result of dumb luck. People get laid off or hit with big medical bills and their savings for education and retirement can get wiped out. Without safety nets even people who have worked hard, saved, done everything right can get zapped. Of course other people win the lottery.

The problem is that the pay-your-own-way system is itself a lottery. The common pot provides the services and safety nets that people in most other affluent countries take for granted. I always wondered why Americans, seeing the good life in European social democracies didn’t get it.

I used to think that wanted to be high rollers, to have the bucks to take big risks starting dot-coms and to play the unemployment lottery, the education lottery and the cancer lottery rather than pay taxes to support social safety nets, education and health care. Now the dot-coms have collapsed, unemployment is booming, and Americans have become almost as cynical about business as they are about government. Most no longer seriously believe that they can strike it rich on the internet. They want security and a better life but still aren’t willing to pay into the common pot to get it.

So my current hypothesis is that they just don’t see the connection between taxes and services or understand where tax money goes. People have sex, women get pregnant and babies get born but the Tully River People never quite get the connection. Taxes go down, services get cut and the US goes deeper into deficit, but Americans don’t get the connection.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Welcome to the Enlightenment Project!