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Sunday, September 30, 2018

America's "Manichaean Choice"

The academic trends on the left have been on a collision course with American and western principles of law, civil liberties and individual rights. You cannot have the nation’s intellectuals espousing collectivist identity politics, speech codes, and the violent suppression of dissent without it manifesting in the culture and ending in some cataclysmic legal or political battle. Trump and his supporters merely accelerated this trend as the left realized it could no longer count on the unwashed masses to deliver milquetoast opposition while on their “long march through the institutions.” They will continue to try and overthrow the country democratically, and if that doesn’t work, they will turn even more explicitly to violent revolution. 

The past two years has exposed this state of affairs for anyone willing to see. The complete breakdown of mainstream journalistic standards in favor of the left, the hysterical coarsening of political debate, and mob-rule purges are symptoms of a culture ripening to totalitarian control. The attempted deep state coup against Trump and the Kavanaugh circus are political manifestations of the same fundamental post-modern anti-American philosophic climate.

The Kavanaugh hearing's brazen contempt for civil and constitutional norms may be the moment this conflict finally crystallizes for mainstream Americans who to this point only sensed something was seriously wrong.  Victor Davis Hanson writes: "The “process” of memorializing Ford’s testimony involved a strange inversion of constitutional norms: The idea of a statute of limitations is ossified; hearsay is legitimate testimony; inexact and contradictory recall is proof of trauma, and therefore of validity; the burden of proof is on the accused, not the accuser; detail and evidence are subordinated to assumed sincerity; proof that one later relates an allegation to another is considered proof that the assault actually occurred in the manner alleged; motive is largely irrelevant; the accuser establishes the guidelines of the state’s investigation of the allegations; and the individual allegation gains credence by cosmic resonance with all other such similar allegations."

As he noted in a recent interview, the nature of such an extreme breakdown necessarily forces Americans into choosing one of only two sides - a "Manichaean choice” as he describes it.  At this point, either you advocate western jurisprudence, individual rights, and the American Constitution or you advocate mob rule and dictatorship.

In Godfather II, Michael Corleone witnesses a revolutionary blow himself up in order to kill two cops and is asked what it tells him. He replies, “It tells me they can win.”  In other words, when one side demonstrates their willingness to go to maniacal extremes, it shows they are beyond rational persuasion and hell-bent on winning at any cost despite the odds against them - which makes them formidable.  To not let them win, first, we need to appreciate the seriousness of this moment. Second, if you are worried about supporting an imperfect candidate (just about any Republican) against a horrible candidate (pretty much any Democrat) because of some theory about "long run consequences," realize, at this point, there are indeed two sides, because if the left succeeds in erasing basic civil liberties and the rule of law, there will be no long run.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Immigration Policy: A Floating vs. Integrated Approach (excerpted from prior post)

The following is excerpted from my longer post on out-of-context thinking and rationalism, Objectivists Disintegrating?:    


Contextual Principles Related to the Immigration Debate

In a recent immigration post where I criticized Dr. Harry Binswanger's open-borders position and argued for a an objective policy of immigration restriction, I claimed the main reason that the immigration debate has metastasized into a full blown intellectual battle is the lack of contextualized thinking with regard to the government's role in protecting individual rights in the context of a sovereign nation. 

1) Immigration Policy: Out-Of-Context, Rationalistic Approach

I have observed that most advocates of the "right to immigrate" argument start with an out-of-context, rationalistic assertion of individual rights from which they proceed to deduce conclusions. "Everyone has rights" they will begin, "and therefore, any immigrant should be able to immigrate here freely at any time for any reason."  This argument commits the fallacy of context-dropping on a massive scale, and more fundamentally, it fails to grasp that the concept of individual rights exists within a broader philosophical framework.  

If you take this rationalistic approach to upholding rights, consider how you would answer the following questions. Readers of this blog likely uphold freedom of production and trade, so should a private company have the right to sell advanced military technology or weapons to North Korea or Iran? Private property owners have the right to voluntarily trade and meet with other individuals, but can a private property owner bring in foreign nationals who carry a deadly virus?  Can a private property owner bring in and house thousands of communists who wish to overthrow the government - even assuming they don't have weapons on them right now? Could a private property owner who owns ocean frontage allow an enemy nation to dock its nuclear submarine fleet and board its military personnel? What if a group of property owners decide to import fifty million Islamic radicals who seek to take over local jurisdictions and impose Sharia law?  Should we allow China, India, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Somalia, and Syria to relocate half of their populations to the United States if they so choose?

2) Practical Consequences of Non-Contextual Thinking Method in Immigration Debate

In the case where rights are asserted as a floating abstraction, one cannot answer the questions I posed except in a way that ends with bizarre and contradictory conclusions.  "People have the right to movement," utters the out-of-context rationalist, "so anyone can come here at any time without restriction."  "People have the freedom to produce and trade," says the rationalist, "so anyone can sell anything to anybody, even to dangerous enemies."  Well, what if they have disease?  What if they are criminals?  What if fifty million third world migrants wish to come to a state that has three million people with the goal of imposing Sharia law?  Is that fair to your neighbor citizens?   

When faced with these types of questions, the rationalist, sensing something wrong, will often revert to a contradictory position where they advocate some minimal restrictions for "disease or criminal record."  But, if you drop the context of citizenship and sovereignty, how can that position square even with their floating notion of rights?  If their position is "everyone has the same rights" then how could they justify stopping someone with disease?  After all, can an American citizen be stopped or deported for disease?  Can an American with a criminal record be deported?  On the other hand, if you do support the idea of immigration restrictions, in principle, then how can you assail or smear a fellow proponent of immigration restrictions who may just have a different standard of restriction than you?  

Again, not only does this contradictory position amount to an admission of the need for immigration restrictions, but, such restrictions imply the need for a means of enforcement, a border with controls!  You cannot say "I don't believe in any border control" but, at the same time, claim, "I want to keep out diseased terrorists." How?! 

Consider another example of rationalistic context-dropping. Often the open border advocate asks, "if a person peacefully immigrates which right of yours is violated?"  Note that the question smuggles in the assumption that all immigration is peaceful. Of course, the entire question revolves around what is peaceful immigration and what is not. Screening is needed precisely to ensure that all prospective immigrants are, in fact, peaceful.

3) Immigration Policy: An Inductive, Contextualized Approach\

Of course, those who simply hold the "people have rights" principle as a floating abstraction either cannot answer these questions, or must answer them in a way that flies in the face of common sense.  Instead, let's consider the question inductively, i.e., let's ask what facts give rise to the concept of government and sovereignty in the first place so we can apply the concept in practical situations and easily answer the questions posed above.

Individuals possess rights, by virtue of being human, but the fact is that individuals must take specific actions in order to protect those rights in a social context.  Rights are not respected out of thin air by some mystical universal tribunal.  People must create and sustain the actual means through which they attempt to protect the rights to which they are entitled.

When a group of property owners and individuals agree to form a government to protect each other's rights and provide for the common defense, they create a sovereign "nation" by virtue of that agreement (like the thirteen colonies did under the U.S. Constitution).  They grant the government certain enumerated powers, and that particular government is created by and for those particular people - the citizens.  That particular government can take many different forms but, in essence, it is the framework by which those particular people choose to protect their rights.

Those people and their government are a sovereign nation, and one of the primary functions for which individuals voluntarily create a government in the first place is to protect themselves, collectively, from foreign threats or invasion.   Therefore, they freely elect and grant power to government to represent them in order to deal with laws, treaties, and military affairs as it pertains to foreign nations or foreign nationals. The threats and various conflicts stemming from foreign relations can take different forms and a foreign policy must be defined and implemented, to fairly and objectively deal with foreign threats while respecting the rights of their own citizens.

Note the flow here.  It starts with property owners and citizens seeking to protect their rights by forming a government within their lands.  The people, through their representative government, then look out at the world and say "how do we protect ourselves from the rest of the world's bad guys (who are not part of our nation), while dealing beneficially with good guys?"

4) Practical Consequences of Contextual Thinking Method in Immigration Debate

Now consider the answer to the original questions from the perspective of an integrated, contextual understanding of individual rights. 

Recall, the whole reason for setting up a government is to provide the citizens an agency of self-defense against domestic criminals and foreign invaders, the latter being the subject of immigration.  The need to define and implement policies to protect citizens from foreign invasion is the purview of the elected government and its foreign policy. 

One of the primary functions of the national government is the protection of the country from foreign threats.  When immigration is rightly seen as part of our nation's foreign policy, it becomes obvious that to advocate protecting ourselves from enemies abroad based on rational foreign policy concerns, while not concerning ourselves with potential enemies crossing our own border, is a wild contradiction.  Both aspects of defense are crucial and complementary.

I discuss immigration specifically in this context here (all of my immigration posts are linked here).  In those posts, I define "threat" in the foreign policy context, and stress the necessity to identify such threats contextually since the nature of any given threat changes over time.  Any nation, group, or individual that has both motive to destroy us (e.g., communists, Islamists, etc.) and the means to accomplish it, constitutes a real threat.  Consequently, a reasonable and desirable goal of foreign policy is to identify objectively hostile ideologies which serve as motives for attack, and to assess other nations' or groups' military ability to achieve an attack. That is the job of the defense and intelligence agencies.

In discussing this issue, one must consider the fact that immigration can change the very composition of the electorate and thus change or overthrow the very institutions empowered to protect its citizens, and so occupies a special category which overrules purely economic considerations.  As I did in my post, one must consider the types of threats contextually in different parts of the world over time, the issue of mass migration versus individual migration (which involves aggregate vs. individual considerations), cultural assimilation, the context of the modern mixed-economy, and so on.  Additionally, this issue should be explored not only with these facts in mind, but integrated with facts from our nation's history and founding which further inform the discussion.

Such an approach was taken by Dr. Peikoff, in a podcast from several years ago, where he advocated for restricted immigration due the fact that third world migrants stand to empower the left further if they get the vote.  This is exactly the type of real world threat that should be considered by the citizens of a country in directing its own government to protecting the existence of their government. 

Failing to consider these facts and conditions and asserting something to the effect of "people have rights therefore open borders" is a complete breach of rational epistemology.  To further compound the error by leveling charges of bigotry or xenophobia at rational opponents, involves an even more egregious and vicious default.  Yet, this is exactly what has happened within the Objectivist movement.    

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Judging Historical Figures

The preposterous academic trend of judging historical figures, out-of-context, by today's standards (the standards themselves largely a result of many of the historical figures’ own intellectual, political, and military achievements!) should not be seen merely as a childish or na├»ve interpretation of historical events but, rather, as a deliberate attempt to rewrite history and to devalue and purge the icons of western civilization from the culture.
For example, rather than rationally seeing the Founding Fathers as iconic heroes who risked or gave their lives to liberate themselves and the colonies from oppressive monarchy, and whose political philosophy of liberty and individual freedom actually set in motion the very trends that inexorably led to the abolition of slavery and to the most free, prosperous nation in the history of the world, they attack and dismiss these men, because they themselves held slaves - despite the fact that most of the world practiced slavery at that time, including Africans and Native Americans.
Whether it’s Aristotle, Columbus, Galileo, Shakespeare, Jefferson, or Robert E. Lee, not viewing any historical figure in the wider historical context, for good or bad, is not only scientific and academic malpractice, it is evil. Applying a kind of binary “good or evil” stamp on historical figures, not only by today’s ethical standards, but particularly from a Marxist perspective, is an attempt to undermine rational standards of intellectual inquiry in favor of rote leftist propaganda.
Of course, rational standards of intellectual inquiry, which necessitates a contextual understanding of how knowledge grows and ethical standards change over time, is not the goal of these academics. The Marxist lens through which they categorize historical figures into "sinner or saint" is a means to shame, disarm, and ripen the culture for their utopian revolution.
In a brilliant examination of recent cultural and political trends leading us toward civil war, Victor Davis Hanson writes:
Universities grew not just increasingly left-wing but far more intolerant than they were during the radicalism of the Sixties — but again in an infantile way. Speakers were shouted down to prove social-justice fides. “Studies” courses squeezed out philosophy and Latin. History became a melodramatic game of finding sinners and saints, rather than shared tragedy. Standards fell to accommodate poorly prepared incoming students, on the logic that old norms were arbitrary and discriminatory constructs anyway.
The curriculum now was recalibrated as therapeutic; it no longer aimed to challenge students by demanding wide reading, composition skills, and mastery of the inductive method. The net result was the worst of all possible worlds: An entire generation of students left college with record debt, mostly ignorant of the skills necessary to read, write, and argue effectively, lacking a general body of shared knowledge — and angry. They were often arrogant in their determination to actualize the ideologies of their professors in the real world. A generation ignorant, arrogant, and poor is a prescription for social volatility.
Western civilization and its foundational values of individual freedom, private property, and representative government required hundreds of years of intellectual and military battles to achieve and maintain. The ideas and the culture of the west should be understood and criticized within that context and should be valued consciously and rationally as a body of life serving principles and achievements that have created the most advanced and noblest civilization in history.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Trump Derangement vs Trump Zombie is Rationalism vs. Empiricism


Would you vote for a gangster?

Of course, this question cannot be answered out-of-context.  What if all the candidates are gangsters and there are no other choices?  One must ask further questions such as what is the current form of government, i.e., will their power be limited by checks and balances?  Will they be tasked with making appointments to other federal agencies?  What if the political position does give the power to regulate the market, Gangster X is known to take money from a free market group, Gangster Y takes money from communists, and the only major issue during their term is regulating the market?  What will the likely issues be over his term?  Is the economy collapsing, are there serious foreign threats emerging, is political correctness threatening civil liberties?  Who are his close advisers?  What types of people will he put on the supreme court or in the federal judiciary?  What kind of people will he pick to head the military and intelligence services which speaks to both foreign policy and civil liberties.  Is he a cheerleader for good ideas even if he doesn't or can't implement them (like Reagan was)?  Does he have a positive spirit when advocating for America overseas, i..e, what message does he send to the world about America and American interests?  Does he provoke fear in our enemies or does he project weakness and appeasement?

It would be a grave mistake to simply declare, "Gangster X is a gangster," then proceed to dissect the implicit philosophy of an abstract gangster qua gangster (irrational, dishonest, violent, etc.) and subsequently deduce that any decisions emanating from a particular gangster (because all gangsters are irrational, dishonest, violent, etc.) must be bad. This latter approach is a textbook case of rationalism.  It represents an attempt to obtain knowledge through deduction from concepts in your head rather than from the full set of facts.

On the other hand, dismissing this larger context, and concluding, without qualification that Gangster X is an all-around great guy that is impervious to error, just because you heard him give a nice speech or observed him doing a few good things, would also be an error - albeit, an instance of empiricism.  Such an approach would render any attempt to forecast or project what a candidate is likely to do in a given situation impossible.  The empiricist is a prisoner to the last observed data point.  Perhaps you like the way he makes you feel at a rally, or his brash style resonates with you or you like the way he belittles his opposition because he seems tough and in command.  While all these factors are relevant data points, they must be integrated with a full appraisal of the candidate's wider philosophical outlook, and that must be integrated with the larger political context as described above.  Toughness and brashness were also characteristic of Mussolini and Castro.   

If you want to advocate a position, you need to integrate political philosophy with political facts. The full context involves myriad factors and can require a fairly detailed understanding of the various factors involved as it relates to your own self-interest, including the history of the candidates, recent political history, the nature of the current government, the major issues at stake, the term of the appointment, and so on.  In general, we should never judge a candidate in a moral vacuum as if we are judging his candidacy for heaven.  Ayn Rand, in her essay, How to Judge a Political Candidate, said:
One cannot expect, nor is it necessary, to agree with a candidate’s total philosophy — only with his political philosophy (and only in terms of essentials). It is not a Philosopher-King that we are electing, but an executive for a specific, delimited job. It is only political consistency that we can demand of him; if he advocates the right political principles for the wrong metaphysical reasons, the contradiction is his problem, not ours. [emphasis mine]
As a great example, recall Ayn Rand's consideration of the Nixon candidacy (The Ayn Rand Letter, “The American Spirit,” page 136).  Despite Nixon's flaws (which could be analyzed out-of-context), she weighed the importance of his supreme court picks which would outlive his presidency - a totally rational and pertinent factor:
We may hope that Nixon might gain time for the nation, by granting some relief (i.e., removing a few chains) to the private sector of the economy and by arresting the growth of the public sector. But, in view of his record, we cannot be certain. There is, however, one promise of his 1968 campaign – perhaps, the most important one – which he has kept: the appointment to the Supreme Court of men who respect the Constitution. It is still too early to tell the exact nature of these men’s views and the direction they will choose to take. But if they live up to their enormous responsibility, we may forgive Mr. Nixon a great many of his defaults: the Supreme Court is the last remnant of a philosophical influence in this country.
From The Ayn Rand Letter, November 6, 1972, "A Nation's Unity,” Rand said she didn't like either candidate, but that McGovern would kill the country for sure, so to vote for Nixon.  From The Ayn Rand Letter, November 20, 1972, “The American Spirit,” page 133: “The election was a triumph of the American sense of life, a demonstration of its survival.” From The Ayn Rand Letter, November 20, 1972, “The American Spirit,” page 133: She said the results of the election were not because Nixon was popular or because Americans approved of his policies. It was because people rejected McGovern who stood for statism.

An integrated approach to a significant election requires knowing a lot about politics (political facts) and political philosophy.  Given this complexity, even following a rational, integrated method is difficult and fraught with the potential for honest errors and mistakes - while open to debate among reasonable people. However, engaging in purely rationalistic or empirical arm-chair arguments for politicians is a much bigger and more insidious problem that should be understood and avoided.   


As an example of pure rationalism, consider Onkar Ghate's article titled "The Anti-Intellectuality of Donald Trump: Why Ayn Rand Would Have Despised a President Trump."  Despite being unwilling to "speak for the dead," Ghate goes on to speak for the dead, and professes to know what Rand would have thought. He writes :
My wager is that were Ayn Rand alive today, she would condemn the whole Trump phenomenon. Far from seeing him or his administration’s actions as even partially influenced by her ideas, she would see Donald Trump as the kind of political figure whose rise she had foreseen and warned us against.
And despite admitting that she surprised her followers (as geniuses tend to do continually, although that irony seems lost on him) by not endorsing Reagan shortly before her death, as an "expert on Ayn Rand’s philosophy," he feels qualified to speak for her.  Regarding Trump, he claims:
Trump’s salient characteristic as a political figure is anti-intellectuality. Because Rand saw this mentality as on the rise (she called it the anti-conceptual mentality), she had a lot to say about it, and it’s illuminating how much of it fits Trump.
"To be an intellectual," he writes, "is a demanding responsibility. To be intellectual requires real independence of judgment and enduring honesty and integrity." And in case any of us were considering likening Trump to the Founding Fathers, he notes, "It’s not just that Trump lacks these virtues; in comparison to, say, Jefferson, Washington or Madison, most of today’s politicians do. It’s that Trump projects disdain for these virtues."

Note, that this self-proclaimed expert on Ayn Rand, while decrying Trump for not being an intellectual, forgets to mention that Rand herself told us: "It is not a Philosopher-King that we are electing, but an executive for a specific, delimited job."

So, what's the upshot of all of this?  Ghate tells us that when the anti-intellectual mind replaces fidelity to truth with "loyalty to the group," it leads to "a profound tribalism" which, in turn, leads towards "authoritarianism and dictatorship."  Ghate regards Trump as an amoral pragmatist with a penchant for lying.  His anti-conceptual mind demands loyalty to "Him" and this represents an ominous trend towards "authoritarianism and dictatorship." Evidently, Ghate tells us, we are nearing the stage where "pseudo-intellectuals will eventually be replaced by their progeny: people who more openly dispense with the intellect and who are more explicitly boorish, brutish and tribal, i.e., by anti-intellectual mentalities."  In this regard, Trump is a Cuffy Meigs type character, but instead of a "gun in one pocket and a rabbit's foot in the other," Trump "carries the nuclear codes in one pocket and Infowars in the other."

Note that Ghate ignores every possible contextual factor outside of his isolated analysis of Trump's moral and psychological pathology.  What about the Supreme Court and appointments to the federal judiciary?  What about the Cabinet agency heads, particularly the EPA which has a stifling affect on American manufacturers and energy?  What about our military, Israel, and the UN?  What about immigration policy, taxes, the economy, etc.?  What about the authoritarian leftist PC movement who would have found a friend within Hillary's administration and a brash enemy in Trump?  Can the checks and balances of our system prevent him from unleashing his supposed authoritarian tendencies while leaving him room to initiate his better policy proposals?

Of course, virtually any politician today could be subjected to an isolated dissection of their philosophic pathology.  Imagine such an analysis of Hillary Clinton (which might require volumes), Bush, Bernie Sanders, or Joseph Biden?  They are all the progeny of a collapsing culture and a bankrupt post-modern intellectual climate.  However, focusing on Trump's particular philosophical pathology outside of the larger political and cultural context is pure rationalism.  Yes, maybe he is anti-intellectual (although, I think he is more unintellectual), but that might be ok, for example, if his opponent is a cunning philosophical evil genius bent on overthrowing America.  In stark contrast to Trump, who were the other choices?  Were the candidates Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and James Madison?  Does Hillary lie?  Is Biden an intellectual?  Is the socialist Bernie Sanders an authoritarian?  How do those characteristics relate to the current political context?

Ghate's article is a rationalistic exercise that fails to appreciate factual complexity and impugns the character of many thoughtful, intelligent people that see the situation very differently. You don't have to love Trump to see this.


What is the largest threat facing defenders of individualism today?  In my view, the biggest threat is post-modern philosophic trends that are threatening free speech, violently stifling dissent, whitewashing the threat of Islamism, purging western culture from the university curriculum, causing the balkanization of Americans into racial and victim groups, justifying wanton violence towards law enforcement, and breaking down the rule of law - not to mention the left's various political programs of environmentalism, socialized medicine, and confiscatory taxation. 

The popularity of Trump is in large part an American backlash to this threat and despair over the seemingly endless corruption of politics in Washington.  Would it be nice to have an articulate, reasoned, opponent of these trends?  Yes, but Trump's crudeness and unwillingness to apologize to the PC police is exactly what resonated with ordinary Americans fed up with, not just the PC left, but milquetoast Republicans who kowtow to these trends at every available opportunity.  Trump's macho demeanor is anathema to many, but it is a projection of a certain American sensibility - a sense of confidence and moral certainty.  A cowboy wouldn't win the Yale debate club, but he would project confidence, swagger, and ability - important qualities in an executive that most Americans admire.

As Americans watched in horror as Dallas cops were gunned down in the street, watched Antifa thugs beating up conservatives on college campuses, and witnessed more and more victims of yet more Muslim terror attacks, all we heard from the leftist shills in the mainstream media was PC propaganda that "Islamophobia" or "white privilege" is really what we must fear!  In an age of "Blame America First," Trump's unabashed "America First" mantra is the first time in a generation or more that a politician has expressed this sentiment.  And, even if this is the product of an "anti-intellectual boor," he means it - and most Americans love it.

Hillary Clinton is a corrupt megalomaniac who has spent her life crushing her opposition in a ruthless quest for political power.  As we have now found out, she spent her years under Obama as Secretary of State selling out American foreign policy for cash.  As we have found out since, her tentacles stretched not only into the DNC (which threw the primary for her), the media (which openly campaigned for her), but to the former Attorney General, the FBI Director, and elements of our intelligence agencies who appear to have conspired to undermine his campaign and presidency.

She was not pursued for brazen obstruction of justice when she and her cronies deleted tens of thousands of emails, while others rot in prison for 1/100 of an offense.  FBI Director Comey went on national television to cite a litany of obstruction violations under federal law, only to tell us that he would not seek prosecution.  Of course, that is not his call, it is the call of the justice department and attorney general, but, oh wait, AG Lynch had already recused herself due to a mysterious meeting with Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac.  This is the stuff of Banana Republics!  If she had won, perhaps Clinton would have worn epaulettes, ceremonial medals, and smoked a pipe at her inauguration.       

Where was Ghate's philosophical analysis of this creature? 

I would have voted for virtually any of her opponents, simply to rid the federal government, as much as possible, of the Clinton machine's cronies and allies, her cabinet heads, her justice department, her FBI, her intelligence agencies and state department, to say nothing of her economic and tax advisers.  In the same way, I'd like to see Chicago shorn of the Democratic machine regardless of what replaces it for a few years.

Meanwhile, under Trump, we have gotten a conservative Supreme Court justice, which is to say we avoided a liberal justice, we have some cabinet agency heads that are dismantling their agencies, notably the EPA and the Department of Education and we are getting non-Hillary types at all levels of his administration.  Due to Trump's and the Republican's inability to think or act in principle, we have not had a repeal of Obamacare, but we don't have full socialized medicine yet.  Trump shows no concern about the escalating budget deficit  which is horrible, but hardly worse than what would have happened under Clinton.  Trump's crony capitalist instincts along with his seeming praise of ruthless dictators is troubling, but how has this tendency manifested in his policies?  Is he injecting poison darts in his enemies?  No, he seems to have scared the North Koreans into submission (for now), which I analyzed here, and has imposed crippling sanctions on both North Korea and Russia, while taking an aggressive posture towards the Communist Chinese.  In his own hamfisted way, he is forcing a healthy rethink of NATO's purpose and budget. I expect the political achievements of Trump to be minimal, but not devastating.   

More important than policy matters right now, Trump's election has brought to the surface clear fronts in a broader cultural war between PC left progressives and Americans - something that would never have happened as starkly under a Clinton presidency.

The left and the media have been totally exposed.  Liberal democrats and the left are at war (#WalkAway).  The left, on full tilt over Trump's election, have exposed themselves as fully anti-American fascists, willing even to shout down speeches given by the ACLU!  If it's not clear that the mainstream media is openly biased, then it never will be.  The main news networks and large metro newspapers openly campaign against Trump and the Republicans on a daily basis in the most brazen way.  The major social media companies openly worked with the Hillary campaign, and now are openly trying to stifle right wing social media platforms on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and others. 
The PC left is an authoritarian movement that seeks to purge Western civilization in favor of Marxism and identity politics.  This is the biggest danger advocates of free markets and civil liberties face right now.  America does need clear, articulate defenders of Western civilization and western values of reason, individual rights, and capitalism.  Some of those people have been emboldened by the left's hostile antics, and are now winning in the marketplace of ideas.  People like Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin (none huge fans of Trump), and many others have emerged as articulate defenders of free speech and western civilization on campus.

We should call Trump out for bad policies or bad ideas, but, also, place his presidency in the broader context of the intellectual and political battle we are waging and the alternatives we actually face in the here and now.  More importantly, proponents of freedom and individual rights should focus their attacks on the real enemies of civilization rather than rationalistically attacking Trump for not being the Thomas Jefferson of politics.  No shit. 


In a broad post examining Objectivist rationalism, Objectivists Disintegrating?, I wrote that the candidate example demonstrates the need for an important distinction: method versus conclusion.  I would never say that my analysis of every concrete political issue is absolutely correct.  On the contrary, I would expect a lot of rational debate over the nature and weight of the evidence given that I am not omniscient.  However, the validity of the contextual method of approaching ideas is an epistemological absolute.

For example, two parties both acknowledge and understand the full political context, including being open to new evidence as it is presented, but one party claims, "you're wrong about political candidate X, because the real important factor is not his Supreme Court nominees, it's his foreign policy goals and his views on the actions of the Fed - that is far more dangerous in the long run as compared to candidate Y."  This is reasonable and arguable since we share the same fundamental context.

However, if you said, "you're wrong about political candidate X, because he is a Christian and mystics are bad because they are anti-reason" I would not even consider such a claim.  If you could explain or show how the fact of his Christianity could affect or has affected his decisions and compare and contrast that to the other candidates, maybe you'd have something, but stating such a fact, out-of-context, is worse than useless - it's dangerous since you might come to the utterly wrong conclusion as it pertains to your own values.  What if he is mildly religious and otherwise pro-individual rights while his opponent is an atheist Marxist who wants to seize the means of production and imprison dissenters?     

This scenario helps to explain the level of anger and intransigence displayed by the out-of-context thinker.  He believes that he knows the unassailable formula, e.g., "mysticism is anti-reason and anti-reason is anti-life so a mystic is always and everywhere as bad as any other."  No amount of facts or context can shake this "dogma in a void" as Peikoff puts it, because his judgments are not tied to the full set of facts and reality - they are tied to disconnected abstractions.  Whereas the contextual thinker can be reasoned with, because other facts can be presented to alter the conditions of his judgment, the floating out-of-context rationalist cannot be reasoned with, because his mind only contains unassailable universal abstract formulas. 

This does not only affect Libertarians and Objectivists.  Consider the leftist who assails his opponent with the formula "you don't want to ban all guns, therefore you want to kill kids, therefore you are an evil person that deserves threats or worse" or "you don't believe in government welfare so you want the poor to die in the streets." Or consider the anti-abortion activist who declares "you support abortion rights, therefore you want to kill babies, therefore you are an evil person....."  These types are virtually unreachable because no amount of facts, explanation, or nuance can be integrated into their out-of-context formulation which translates into emotional appraisals and even violence against their opponents.

If you want to advocate a position, you need to integrate political philosophy with political facts.  We would love to have a bunch of George Washington's, who are principled in both theory and action, overseeing a constitutionally limited republic, and we should advocate the principles that hopefully will result in more George Washington's in the long run, but even if this were possible, you always have to advocate for politicians within a context.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Immigration Package-Dealing

I recently read a Reason article from 2012 titled "Ayn Rand Was an Illegal Immigrant" by Shikha Dalmia.  This post will analyze some of the major flaws in that article, and I offer a permalink to my various immigration posts which, in a nutshell, argue that immigration policy is a perfectly necessary subset of national defense that a sovereign nation must define and implement based on numerous contextually significant factors. 

I define “open borders” as the position that rejects both the concept of a border and the concept of sovereignty, in principle.  All others necessarily and rightly accept the concept of sovereignty and the necessity of a border, in principle, but they argue over the extent and scope of those restrictions.  The author of the Reason article introduces the term "restrictionist," which I infer from context means: one who opposes all immigration, regardless of context.

Although Dalmia seems to be considering only this "small band" of restrictionists, who supposedly ignore the difference between "serious criminals" and "petty violators," her article is actually an exercise in conflating restrictionists with any advocate of immigration restrictions.  But let's back up.

As I detail in my posts, open borders is an anarchic position which flies in the face of the most basic principles of government and should be rejected.  The citizens of a country form their government, in part, to protect their self-interest collectively in matters of foreign affairs.  Immigration policy, as a subset of national defense, is a contextual policy that should be objectively defined based on numerous factors under the special proviso that immigration policy affects the vary composition of the electorate that forms and maintains the institutions of government in the first place.  While rational people can disagree marginally on how to weigh these factors at any given time, there is never a basis for arbitrarily declaring “all immigration is good, or all immigration is bad” regardless of the context.  As I detail, once immigration is rightly seen as a policy under national defense, the factors informing that policy at any given time under varying circumstances follow logically.   

In my experience, most of the confusion in this debate surrounds those who feign support for sovereignty while rejecting the means to enforce it.  In other words, when pushed, most liberals will claim they believe in some kind of border control, but only as a catch-all to obfuscate and rationalize their "fuzzy open borders" position.  In other words, they overtly claim to favor some kind of control, but, in practice they reject almost every actual border restriction, and, often reject any actual means to police the border.

This last category is exemplified by those who argue that we should only arrest or deport illegal aliens if “they violate someone’s rights.”  Of course, such an argument ignores the essence of immigration policy, which is to identify bad guys before they are allowed entry, which, in turn, necessitates border control and objective laws for dealing with foreign nationals.     

Because liberals, like Dalmia, claim to support sovereignty but implicitly do not, they open themselves to opponents who rightly characterize their position as open borders.  Often, these fuzzy open borders types respond by conflating opposition to open borders with so-called restrictionism, i.e., opposition to all immigration regardless of context.  Of course, opposing open borders, or to put it positively, supporting an objective policy of border control under the principle of sovereign national defense, does not entail opposing all immigration at all times, regardless of context.  It is simply the means and process by which a sovereign people collectively agree whom and under what conditions to allow foreign nationals into their country.  To see how Dalmia conflates these positions, consider this passage from the article:
But today we live in a world where a small band of immigration restrictionists have acquired an air of legitimacy by loudly repeating their views. They have created a false moral equivalence between serious criminals and petty visa violators. They wield words such as “illegal” and “law breaker” like assault weapons. They deploy an arsenal of tropes (such as “What part of illegal don’t you understand?”) to quash rational immigration reform. And they have turned “amnesty,” which Ronald Reagan proudly embraced, into a four-letter word that conservative presidential contenders shun
The point of any policy is determining who is a "serious criminal" and who is merely a "petty violator." How would we know without a strict policy and comprehensive enforcement?  Therefore, while it may be true that restrictionists don't consider any differences, ironically, fuzzy open border advocates also grant moral equivalence by implying that all immigrants are to be trusted. Sovereignty advocates are actually the ones who want to make the distinction.  In fact, that is the point of all immigration policy!

It in this context that she cites Rand's immigration status which is a red herring ultimately serving only as an instance of false generalization.  Given the title of the piece, she clearly intends to elicit sympathy from Rand admirers.  She cites some facts related to Rand's attempts to stay in the U.S. with the implication that "your crazy policies could have restricted Ayn Rand!" Of course, her argument is an instance of context dropping.  Immigration policy at that time was or should have been based on factors evident at that time.  Whether it was or not, we don't know, nor does the author attempt such a case study.

I can only assume that a rational policy, based on factors known at the time, should have concluded that she posed no threat and allowed entry. However, while Ayn Rand's escape and her subsequent work bestowed a massive benefit on the world, the possibility that we might exclude a future Ayn Rand or some other genius, is not a justification for open borders nor is it a justification for abdicating our national defense.  In a foreign policy matter, there is always the potential for collateral damage.  How many potential Ayn Rands did the Allies kill when they firebombed Germany or nuked Japan in World War II?  What if we had gone to war with the Soviets and had to consider bombing Leningrad?  Would they argue, “but, we could kill a potential Ayn Rand!" The same argument applies to any other country deemed a threat.  There are millions of potential Ayn Rand's out there in hell hole dictatorships, but it is not our duty to save or protect them if we are acting to defend ourselves.  It is our government's job to protect American citizens from foreign threats first.

Later in this passage, Dalmia accuses restrictionists of "wielding" words such as "illegal" or "law breaker" in yet another colossal context drop.  Once the facts are known, any legal matter does involve the concept of degree upon which distinctions can be made about consequences, but the author's intention is to take the other side of a false alternative.  Illegally entering the country does break the law and until we know the facts of the case, any given person does represent a threat (are they a doctor or MS-13?).  Stating a fact is not an "assault weapon," unless you arbitrarily regard every immigrant as good.  Therefore, even non-restrictionists could use these terms in many reasonable contexts. 

Assailing those who regard "amnesty"as a "four-letter word" is an even larger context drop (plus she throws in an argument from authority).  Amnesty for whom? Under what conditions?  What are the unintended consequences of such an action today?  All of these factors are contextual, and yet she cites Ronald Reagan's policy, as if all amnesties are equal for all times and necessarily all good.

As I stated earlier, these fuzzy open border types always claim they believe in borders while actually implying they don't.  She writes,
Yes, every nation has the right to control its borders. But both liberal and illiberal immigration policies are consistent with that right. Precisely because there is something inherently arbitrary about where the line is set, lawmakers can’t maintain a posture of absolutist intransigence regardless of the ground-level response. 
Notice that while acknowledging the validity of border control, she immediately undermines that claim by asserting that any policy is "inherently arbitrary."  This is false.  As stated earlier, the purpose of immigration policy is a contextual policy of national defense that should be objectively defined based on numerous factors.  Any foreign policy does involve some amount of discretion, such as with whom to seek military alliances or whom to regard as an existential threat, and immigration policy is no different.  But that discretion does not render any policy to be "inherently arbitrary."  It is up to the citizens of a sovereign nation to enact that policy through their representatives and hold them accountable if they act unjustly or non-objectively.   

To truly grasp the author's actual ideology, consider this passage in which she writes:
Just as unduly high levels of taxation encourage tax evasion, unduly tight immigration restrictions encourage illegal border crossings—not to mention illegal hiring. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh points out that conservatives would never make tax cutting conditional on first ending tax cheating. Yet they see no contradiction in demanding the erection of a Berlin Wall on the Rio Grande as a condition for immigration reform.
Taxation is an unjust seizure of private property by the state.  While we accept it today in the context of a mixed economy, it is unjust in principle.  Immigration policy and border control is not unjust in principle, but that is exactly the implication of this passage.  We would never say that passing laws against burglary only encourages secret middle-of-the-night burglaries so we should relax the law on burglary.  Similarly, because people will break the law in the context of immigration, it does not imply we should relax immigration restrictions.   In fact, if we were trying to prevent Jihadi terrorists from pouring across the border, it would be a reason to strengthen enforcement.

She concludes with the following:
Something is grossly wrong when lawmakers, who are powerless to prevent individuals like 9/11 mastermind Mohammad Atta from entering the country, act like macho men against the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It shouldn’t take a John Galt to knock some sense into their heads.
Yes, something is wrong if lawmakers are powerless to prevent terrorists from entering the country.  So, is that reason to have less strict immigration policies or more strict policies?  Surely she means to imply that we should restrict the bad guys and let in the good guys, but didn't Atta appear to be one of the "huddled masses yearning to breath free," or did he wear a sign on his forehead that said "terrorist?"  That is the problem with fuzzy open border types.  Their mushy altruistic desire for open borders, which fails to consider the consequences of open borders and ignores the self-interested foreign policy of sovereign people, is a rationalistic and suicidal fantasy.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Kim Summit in its Proper Context: A Non-Hysterical Analysis

Recall ancient history, August of 2017, when Trump, "facing a growing nuclear threat from North Korea, warned the country...against any new provocations and issued his own threat of 'fire and fury like the world has never seen.'"  He added, "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States.” In September of 2017, Trump mocked "Little Rocketman" in a speech to the U.N. that nearly sent the mainstream media running to psychiatric hospitals.  In October of 2017, Trump moved a third U.S. carrier strike group into the western Pacific, a move that North Korea dubbed a "rehearsal for war." In September, North Korea admitted that "international and U.S. sanctions were causing a 'colossal amount of damage,' but the regime insisted they would not work." Here is a full timeline of events since Trump took office through the end of 2017.

Tensions were so high that the left warned us that Trump's bellicose rhetoric, crippling sanctions, and military operations threatened the world with nuclear annihilation. When a false nuclear bomb alarm sounded off in Hawaii in January of 2018, "multiple celebrities — including Jim Carrey, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Jeffrey Wright — criticized President Trump:" Jim Carrey tweeted:
I woke up this morning in Hawaii with ten minutes to live. It was a false alarm, but a real psychic warning,” Carrey tweeted. “If we allow this one-man Gomorrah and his corrupt Republican congress to continue alienating the world we are headed for suffering beyond all imagination.
Unhinged Jamie Lee Curtis rage tweeted:
This Hawaii missle scare is on YOU Mr. Trump. The real FEAR that mothers & fathers & children felt is on YOU. It is on YOUR ARROGANCE. HUBRIS. NARCISSISM. RAGE. EGO. IMMATURITY and your UNSTABLE IDIOCY. Shame on your hate filled self. YOU DID THIS!
Actually, Kim started this, and someone screwed up and sounded an alarm, but let's not split hairs.

While Hollywood celebrities and mainstream media talking heads wept, ARI's Trump deranged intellectuals were relatively quiet despite Trump's hawkish posture which I thought would elicit some begrudging praise (instead, we were treated to denunciations of Trump as an anti-intellectual authoritarian whom Ayn Rand's ghost surely disapproved).  Carl Svanberg documented the history of America's appeasement of North Korea by linking to Elan Journo's 2006 op-ed in which he rightly observed that "the pattern of America’s suicidal diplomacy is clear: the North threatens us, we respond with negotiations, gifts and concessions, and it emerges with even greater belligerence." In September of 2017, Svanberg reminded us that killing millions of people in a nuclear war of self-defense is not our fault, pointing readers to Onkar Ghate's 2002 op-ed "in which he addressed this very question."

In November of 2017, ARI board member Peter Schwartz, writing in The Hill, urged us to properly define the meaning of "America First" in terms of self-interest, rhetorically asking, "are we to make decisions by the standard of America’s self-interest, or are we to surrender our interests for some other, 'higher' objective?" According to Schwartz, America should define its interests in terms of how to protect American's freedom concluding: "The ultimate goal of American foreign policy — the end to which all alliances and confrontations are the means — is the preservation of Americans’ freedom against attacks from abroad. 'America first' is a policy of taking action to defend the individual rights of Americans — the rights to their property, to their liberty, to their lives — when they are physically threatened. Concomitantly, it is a policy of refusing to sacrifice those rights by elevating the needs of other nations above our own."  (This was a good piece of theory, and while Schwartz makes sure we know he is "repelled by Trump", next time he should tell ARI to apply the same self-defense principles to immigration policy.)

In the real world, Trump agreed to meet with Kim in a summit held in June, an event which sent ARI's usual suspects, along with Craig Biddle of TOS, into a hysterical rage.  Although a few minutes ago, ARI told us we are not supposed to care about "higher objectives," and we should only focus on protecting America's self-interest (our freedom), while not caring about nuking millions of people, ARI's Ben Bayer's revealed his main concern to be that Trump's summit betrayed the victims of North Korea's dictatorship.   In an op-ed titled, "Trump-Kim Summit Betrays Victims of Dictatorship," Bayer quotes a Korean woman concerned that "no one cares about their plight."  Ok, but I thought the highest priority was America's plight? As to Trump, Bayer wrote:
Some might argue that Trump’s reticence and flattery were merely part of his diplomatic cunning. But a real statesman would realize that we have nothing to gain from North Korea. If he wanted them to stop threatening us and our allies, he would realize that the threat they pose is itself entirely fueled by decades of material and moral concessions of the type Trump has now delivered in bulk.
What exact "material concessions" has Trump delivered "in bulk?"  Bayer doesn't specify, but besides a hotel room in Singapore, I'm pretty sure it's nothing.  Bayer quotes Ayn Rand's thoughts related to Nixon's China talks concluding, in perfect rationalist form, that "every word of this applies to Trump’s meeting with Kim." Every word? More on this later.

Not to be outdone, Craig Biddle posted an image of creepy Trump and Kim dolls holding machine guns (don't ask where he got this) writing that Donald Trump and Kim are "enemies of human life."  Yes, you heard that right.  According to Biddle, the man who is threatening to nuke Kim into oblivion and Kim, the man who enslaves and tortures his population, are morally equivalent monsters.  Biddle tells us that "the only legitimate justification for meeting with a creature such as Jong-un would be either to kill him or to abduct him for political leverage." Granted, this would be a really cool Chuck Norris style move, but I fear that might create some thorny precedents for future American diplomats.  Biddle then tells us:
Regardless of what happens in the short term, Trump’s appeasement of this monster will lead to more human suffering, more torture, more starvation, more slaughter. This expansion of human suffering and death might happen in North Korea, or it might not. And we might hear about it, or we might not. But it will happen. It will happen as surely as we live in a causal world.
Wait, he says "it might happen or it might not" but "it will happen," because "we live in a causal world."  I'm confused.  (And, related to causality vis-a-vis human beings, someone might want to tell him to read the chapters on free-will.)  Nixon met with the Chinese, Reagan met with Gorbachev, and now Trump met with Kim.  How did it all work out?  Did these meetings absolutely cause more death and suffering as Biddle tells us it must (because of causality)?  He doesn't say. Anyway, he goes on:
President Trump has made America morally complicit in the future evils of Jong-un’s regime—and in the future evils of any other tyrants who are emboldened by Trump’s presidential appeasement of tyrants. 
This is a low point in American history and Western civilization.
So, according to Biddle, anytime an American meets with foreign bad guy, even if its for us to assert our own interests under threat of military action, unless the American diplomat shoots the bad guy in the head or "abducts" him, America is complicit in the future evil of that regime along with "any other tyrant" emboldened by such non-killing and non-abductionery.

I fear that both of these gentleman suffer from a condition I analyzed in depth here: context dropping leading to acute rationalism.

In this particular case, their formulaic method consists of the following: 1. Dictators are evil 2. Kim is a dictator 3. Here is the way we always deal with every dictator in every situation.    Recall Bayer claiming that "every word" of Rand's writings related to Nixon's China meetings were applicable - not general principles that must be applied contextually to a given set of facts - but "every word."  As further demonstration of my point, note they don't offer any actual analysis of the factors that actually exist in this particular situation.  Bayer simply laments the plight of North Koreans who have been "betrayed" by Trump.  And, if we "abduct" Kim as Biddle suggests, who would replace him?  Maybe someone worse?  Kim fired three generals before the summit, perhaps indicating that he is fighting an internal battle against his own military.  What if they are even more of a threat?  If we attack Kim, how many missiles could he launch at the U.S. or our allies before we annihilate him?  What would be the response of China be to our actions?  Does any of this enter their thinking?

Furthermore, what is Bayer and Biddle's actual solution?  "Moral condemnation." Remember Trump's speech to the U.N. where he morally condemned North Korea and threatened them with total annihilation?  "Don't give him a propaganda victory."  Really?  The North Korean people are immersed in propaganda 24 hours a day in a way that would make Orwell blush.  Does anyone in the world, outside of North Korea, not know this guy is a fat little communist thug?  It almost seems the goal of these authors is the administration of some kind of "cosmic justice" on these tyrants.  But it is not the job of the U.S. government to police the world, it is their job to protect America's interests, right?  We should isolate and starve him.  I agree, we have isolated and starved him, so much so that he is now virtually begging for his own life, but that strategy is not an end in itself - now you must begin to dictate terms and force him into compliance.

Given the hysteria expressed in these posts, you'd think that Trump just granted Kim the Sudetenland ala Neville Chamberlain or sent him billions of dollars in cash to Iran on pallets like Obama/Hillary (btw, the same Hillary these ARI intellectuals urged us to vote for).  Of course, as I noted in my post, Objectivists Disintegating, this kind of hysteria is the hallmark of the rationalist:
This scenario helps to explain the level of anger and intransigence displayed by the out-of-context thinker.  He believes that he knows the unassailable formula, e.g., "mysticism is anti-reason and anti-reason is anti-life so a mystic is always and everywhere as bad as any other."  No amount of facts or context can shake this "dogma in a void" as Peikoff puts it, because his judgments are not tied to the full set of facts and reality - they are tied to disconnected abstractions.  Whereas the contextual thinker can be reasoned with, because other facts can be presented to alter the conditions of his judgment, the floating out-of-context rationalist cannot be reasoned with, because his mind only contains unassailable universal abstract formulas.   
So what was the context of this meeting? First, we must understand that North Korea is a classic example of a hostage situation, with "Seoul the hostage and the North Korean artillery the guns pointed to the hostage's heads," to quote a friend. As my friend further points out, "the morality of negotiating with an evil person or persons is CONTEXTUAL. If there's a bank robber in a bank with no innocent bystanders, the police would send in the SWAT team immediately and kill him. That's obvious. But if the bank robber was holding a bunch of innocent people hostage, the SWAT team would ONLY go in if they had credible evidence that the hostage takers were going to start executing the hostages. If there were no evidence of this, and there was evidence that the hostages were safe for the time being, the cops would negotiate, play for time, try to convince the hostage-taker to come out on his own."

Keep in mind, North Korea has real weapons pointed at Seoul which is a short distance away, and China is a formidable ally to the DPRK.  Any action we take against them could wind up killing not only North Koreans, but innocent civilians in South Korea, Japan, and maybe even Guam or Hawaii.  Our first priority is protecting the United States from ballistic missile threats.  The second priority is our allies in the region, and the third priority is the treatment of North Korean slaves.  Negotiation does not mean giving in to Kim's demands, and there is no evidence that Trump has done so other than temporarily ceasing war games in the area.  Unlike Obama, who sought anti-American compromise on principle, is there any doubt that Trump/Bolton/Pompeo would return to a militarist posture at the first sign of substantive North Korean duplicity?  Writing in The National Review, Matthew Continetti asks:
Does anyone doubt that the mercurial Trump won’t restart the maneuvers at the first sign of North Korean intransigence? This is the same president, after all, who called his new friend “little rocket man” at the U.N. last year and who backed out of the Singapore confab just weeks before it ended up taking place." 
Rather than approaching this "hostage situation" with appeasement, Matthew Continetti notes:
Trump altered the formula. Vowing “fire and fury” and implementing drastic sanctions, he reestablished a military deterrent that had eroded during the Obama years. Instead of following his predecessors along the circuitous route of multilateral negotiations, however, he went for bilateral, personal diplomacy to coax Kim out of isolation. Then, rather than having the North Koreans commit to precise actions, he settled for vague aspirations that, by their nature, are harder to break. And he did so without lifting a single sanction.
In other words, like any good hostage negotiator, the Trump administration has threatened and starved Kim into talking, instead of lobbing missiles at Japan, without reducing the sanctions or really giving them anything in return except some flattery.  Daniel Greenfield goes further in this article, distilling "Trump's 5 Rules for Ruling the World," in a fascinating analysis that sheds some light on why Trump has been effective in this context.

Finally, if Trump starts caving to the North Koreans like his predecessors, I will be the first to criticize him, but Trump's unorthodox approach should not be dismissed or attacked because it does not fit some rationalistic universal formula for international relations. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Guest Post Re Tommy Robinson

Editors Note: Those dismissing Robinson's imprisonment based on a superficial analysis of the legal technicalities of the case are context dropping on a colossal scale (a major fallacy on the right which I discussed at length in this post). For a so-called free speech advocate to take this view, he must completely omit particulars about Robinson’s history and the state's persecution of him due to his outspoken views, the anti-speech climate in UK, the larger PC inspired war against Muslim critics, the circumstances of the case, the disproportionate sentence imposed on Robinson given his actions, and the morality of the law itself to name a few. If an outspoken critic of a local police department was suddenly sentenced to 20 years in prison for having a flake of weed on him, would these same people argue, “well, that’s the law?”  Would these same people, asserting property rights out-of-context, claim that the tea was not really the property of the colonists when they dumped it in the harbor? This method of thinking is an example of total disintegration.

With that in mind, I asked the author of the following post if I could re-post here as an excellent example of contextual analysis as it relates to the law.  While others have detailed other contextual factors, like those cited above, Mazlish considers the case by evaluating the law itself.  He doesn't simply accept the current law or Robinson's imprisonment as a metaphysical given, but stresses the importance of addressing these legal issues in a way that recognizes and acknowledges the importance of free speech.    

GUEST POST by Ed Mazlish 
When the government acts to stop a peaceful person from disseminating true and factual information mixed with the speaker's critical opinion about a government policy, that is quintessential censorship.

It does not matter whether the government muzzle is authorized by a statute. It does not matter whether a judge imposed the gag by court order.

If the government is going to silence speech, it needs an extraordinary justification to do so. Maybes don't cut it. The government needs real, credible evidence that some paramount government interest is threatened before it may properly muzzle a speaker - and muzzling the speech needs to be the least restrictive way to protect that paramount government interest. Especially when speech critical of the government is involved.

The British government has muzzled Tommy Robinson for the "crime" of reporting truthful, factual information mixed with Tommy's opinion criticizing the British government's policy of open immigration for Muslims. No real defender of free speech rights should tolerate or abide that absent an overwhelming explanation from the British government. But none has been offered.

Defenders of the British government - or those "agnostics" who want to "evenhandedly" evaluate the law and the British government - hypothesize that the truthful reporting and offering of Tommy Robinson's opinion will, *somehow,* create a mistrial for the other Muslim defendants who have been given a separate trial. This claim is arbitrarily asserted - but even if it were true, how would it bias the future trials? By inflaming the British public through criticism of Britain's open immigration policy for Muslims.

Speech that criticizes contentious government policies is at the highest level of need for protection from censorship. If the above "problem" truly exists, it needs to be dealt with in some other way than by muzzling Tommy Robinson and throwing him in jail while conducting a secret trial not available to the public or press. Muzzling speech critical of the government because it inflames fellow citizens is not acceptable.

The government could, for example, instead conduct the trials simultaneously and sequester the jurors. If there is some legitimate risk of poisoning the jury pool, simultaneous trials with sequestered jurors is far less intrusive on speech rights than censoring Tommy Robinson.

Muzzling Tommy Robinson and conducting secret criminal trials not open to public reporting is not ok. Protecting the British government from criticism is not ok. Protecting Islam from criticism is not ok.

Whatever your view of open immigration, whether generally or for Muslims, what the British government has done to Tommy Robinson should not be ok. Not if you value free speech and not if you value open, public criminal trials.

*Ed Mazlish has been a practicing attorney since 1994. He has litigated constitutional cases and defended businesses and private citizens since 1994.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Dear Ghate, It Needs More Cowboy


Onkar Ghate is a "senior fellow and chief content officer at the Ayn Rand Institute," and "the Institute’s resident expert on Objectivism," so his articles are an important gauge of thought leadership within Objectivist circles.  Last year I wrote a post titled, Onkar Ghate Loses the Plot, criticizing his article wherein he channels Ayn Rand's ghost to warn us about the rise of Trump.  More recently, I wrote a post identifying a more fundamental epistemological error that aims to both explain the flawed method underlying his Trump article and generally account for the hostility and controversy on political issues within Objectivist circles.  Am I being hypercritical of Ghate?  Yes.  These are not musings from some random person but articles that carry the imprimatur of the estate of Ayn Rand, and as such, they deserve heightened criticism.

In his latest piece, Ghate "shares some thoughts on the tribalist nature of American society today in light of the 75th anniversary of The Fountainhead."  Once again, this article displays a recurring error: context-dropping and rationalism.  As his very first example of "American tribalism," Ghate writes:
Cable news outlets now routinely support their side, right or wrong, and level strong criticism only at opponents. Imagine the vitriol Fox News would have directed at Obama had he bashed the U.S. intelligence services and FBI the way that Trump does.
In making such a claim, notice that he disregards important context and facts.  Through the work of investigative journalists like Sara Carter, Kimberley Strassel, and John Solomon, Congressional committees in both the House and the Senate, and Inspector General Michael Horowitz, it has become obvious that Obama weaponized the FBI and the intelligence services (as well as the IRS and the FISA courts) to serve his political agenda and Hillary's presidential campaign.  During the campaign, and since Trump's election, Obama appointees and holdovers like Loretta Lynch, James Comey, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Rod Rosenstein, and ex-intelligence big-wigs like James Clapper and John Brennan have been engaged in an ominous shadow campaign to prosecute, undermine, and delegitimize the Trump administration which is tantamount to a virtual coup d'etat on an elected President.

Now, if this is true, and it is, Trump has every right to bash the U.S. intelligence services and the FBI.  In fact, one of the most important reasons I voted for Trump was in the hopes that, if nothing else, he'd begin the process of dismantling this Deep State rogue's gallery which threatens to undermine civil liberties by hijacking these supposedly non-partisan agencies to spy on and persecute innocent Americans.

Yet Ghate, in seeming ignorance of these facts, equates the two sides, as if legitimate and warranted public accusations of government corruption are equivalent to the vitriol of those who obfuscate and lie to protect that corruption.  By covering these investigations, Fox News among many other conservative outlets have heroically helped to push back on the mainstream media's onslaught of anti-American propaganda.  Is Ghate really equating the likes of Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, Joseph DiGenova, and Alan Dershowitz to Joy Reid and Morning Joe - or equating a Rep. Trey Gowdy to a democrat shill like Rep. Adam Schiff? Does he even know who these people are?    

Ignoring facts and context, and leveling a tribalist charge at both sides, as if the two were nothing more than mindless warring collectives, is a dramatic example of context-dropping and rationalism that undermines the cause for political freedom.  Ignoring that one side is right and one side is wrong, at least in this particular context, also feeds the relativist narrative that both extremes are nothing but "ideologues" who stand in the way of "progress" (we know what that is).  In the very next paragraph, he writes:
Our elections are increasingly discussed in terms not of ideas but of how the white, black, Hispanic, old, young, male and female vote will fall. We then watch as white supremacists and Antifa members battle in the streets.
Here, notice how he implicitly grants Antifa some amount of credibility by implying they are a group who battles white supremacists.  Of course, Antifa doesn't just fight with white supremacists.  They are a violent fascist movement that attacks everyone who is not Antifa, including conservatives, Objectivists, Libertarians, and even liberal free-speech advocates.  The actual white supremacist movement is a small, fringe lot of nut jobs, whereas the cultural Marxists, and their Antifa brown shirts, dominate the universities and the mainstream media while propagating the vicious theory that "whiteness" is white supremacy - a chilling precursor to real fascism and genocide.

While Ghate tries to make the reasonable point that tribalism leads to these sorts of violent political factions, by dropping the context of the nature of Antifa and the larger identity-politics movement, he obfuscates the fact that it is primarily left-wing academics who are formally Balkanizing American society into victim groups and animating violent groups like Antifa.  Antifa uses the existence of these paltry fringe alt-right groups, who one rarely sees or even hears about, as a red herring to justify a broad attack on western civilization under the premise that western civilization is nothing but a fascistic regime of oppression and genocide (see Spike Lee's latest rant), which is why they quickly moved from tearing down statues of confederate generals to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  

These Marxists conflate defenders of actual individual freedom with literal Nazi's, proceeding to justify the use of fascist tactics against free speech and individual rights activists.  And Ghate plays right into their hands.

Once again, by ignoring today's political context, and by taking a seemingly neutral stand with respect to today's right and left, he implies that today's right are nothing more than mindless partisans, represented by Fox News and "white supremacists," lashing out at their soulless mirror images on the left.  I can hardly imagine a more complete acceptance of a vicious left-wing false alternative (e.g., see this articleHow Freedom of Speech Warriors Mainstreamed White Supremacists).

Ayn Rand said that freedom of speech was the last line of defense on the way to despotism, and it is under attack in a way I have not seen in my lifetime.  Virtually every western country besides the United States is prosecuting "hate speech" which today, I guess, means criticizing Islam and tomorrow, could mean criticizing the President, Nancy Pelosi, or the Party.  While I do not endorse the entirety of today's right and its various constituencies, which includes even liberal civil libertarians like Alan Dershowitz, they are the ones who are fighting for freedom of speech and the rule of law.  What unites and animates this movement is opposition to the growing power of the left, who act through the universities to inculcate legions of students into cultural Marxism, which then seeps into media, corporate policies (which many Objectivists fervently defend), and ultimately laws that promise to stifle individual freedom and violently suppress dissent.


While Ghate's intention seems to be to emphasize and distinguish the power and importance of individual reason and judgment against rampant ethno-centric identity politics, it's important to understand what collectivism is and isn't.  First, he seems to imply a false alternative between collectivism and political movements, or groups as such, as if identifying with or acting as part of a movement within a given context, in this case fighting against the left-wing progressive agenda, is somehow contrary to the ethos of individualism.  This could be seen when he equated the validity of Fox News (the right) with Obama's corrupt cabal or when he implicitly equated opponents of Antifa to white-supremacists.

He then arbitrarily dismisses cognitive psychologist, Steven Pinker, as a collectivist who "teach(es) a lethal collectivist doctrine: that each of us is a product of our heredity and environment, unable freely to think or act." Does studying or being informed by a scientific view of the brain's physiology, cognitive bias in aggregate populations, or factors of psychology or culture automatically kick one into the pure determinist camp (see Pinker on his actual theory of free will)?   Claims like this, made outside the context of facts or even a reference of some kind, undermine his credibility.  Later he even seems to imply that any link to culture is a form of collectivism.  He writes:
Instead, too many of our schools teach students that their identities come from their “ethnicity” — an irrational stew of the unchosen and the passively accepted, such as the place they happen to have been born, the genes they inherited, the religious dogmas they follow, the clothes they wear, the foods they eat, and the traditions their ancestors practiced.
While it's true that identity should not be tied inexorably to ethnicity or cultural tradition as such, it's important not to endorse a false alternative.  Collectivism is the idea that you are determined by your membership in a group, i.e., that your fate is sealed by your class, the geography of your birth, or some factor beyond your control.  Individualism holds that each person possesses free will and reason and thus can make independent judgments.  However, rationality is not automatic - it is a potential.  People are influenced, by a myriad of complex factors including their evolutionary biology (facts studied by scientists like Steven Pinker), their family, and the culture around them, where culture is defined as the dominant ideas and customs prevailing in each country or geographical area.

It seems that Ghate, like many Objectivists, in the name of opposing collectivism and upholding individualism, regard the ideal individual to be, in some sense, impervious to factors such as biology, family, culture, etc. as if acknowledging that such external factors influence people (for the better or worse) is an implicit endorsement of collectivism.  Of course, this is a fallacy. 

Could a boy growing up in a communist dictatorship or an Islamist theocracy independently conclude that dictatorship is evil and that he is living in a hell hole?  Yes, it is possible, but it would take a heroic level of intellectual ability and fortitude to overcome the influence of his conditions not to mention a practical means to hear and learn better, albeit outlawed, ideas. That is precisely why we revere Ayn Rand, who amazingly recognized the evils of Bolshevism at a young age and could escape to the west.  It is why we marvel at Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others who heroically maintain fidelity to their independent judgment against the influence of their family, their culture, their government, and even physical torture.

This is not a denial of the potential of individualism, it is a statement of fact regarding the difficulty of practicing rationality and why we regard it as a virtue.  Moreover, it is an affirmation of the nature of human cognition.  It takes time and effort to learn and integrate new knowledge.  Broad ideas about the nature of man, reason, individual rights, the proper role of government, etc. are not self-evident.  They are complex concepts developed over hundreds of years, the results of which are woven into the fabric of our culture through education, law, custom, language, art and so on.

However, while independent rational judgment can overcome biology and cultural customs (except in extreme cases), and we uphold reason as the primary tool for achieving individual success, we should not dismiss the influence of outside factors or regard those who study these influences to be "collectivists," unless they wrongly hold that we are inexorably determined by these influences.

These facts are part of the very basis for why we regard political freedom as necessary to the proper life of the individual, and why family is so important in serving to educate young people to value and uphold reason and individualism from an early age.  It is precisely why we say we are fighting for the culture - the dominant ideas prevailing in our society.  We want the value of reason and individual freedom to be widely spread in such a way that these ideas naturally impact and affect every aspect of our lives.  

We can both exercise independent judgment and welcome inspiring cultural achievements while disparaging objectively awful cultures that espouse slavery and superstition.  Americans should admire the genius of Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and the great industrialists.  We should be swept away by the uplifting art of Fred Astaire and Walt Disney.  We romanticize the Wild West and the rugged life of the American pioneers and the cowboys who symbolize the American spirit of hard work, freedom, and independence.  Growing up in a certain region deeply attaches one to his family, his ancestors, and his community, and the traditions of those groups - positive customs related to family life, holiday traditions, food, dance, art and the like.  This is an observable scientific fact that should be studied, understood, and embraced where it is positive - particularly if you have Italian ancestry like me and love pasta.

Dismissing the relevance or importance of primary cultural and genetic factors as merely "the place you happen to grow up" or "the genes you inherited" is an evasion of reality and, in my view, undermines the case for reason.  Even if we think these factors are usually marginal relative to the power of reason, the case for reason and the potential of rationality must be made within the context of these known scientific and qualitative factors.  While likely not his intention, Ghate's whole article and description of Roark in the Fountainhead, left me wondering if he sees the ideal man as a kind of wooden Platonic Mr. Spock-like vessel of reason pitted against a folk dancing robotic automaton.  The "resident expert on Objectivism" needs to do better.