Tracing consequences both seen and unseen.
Justin M. StoddardFirst, Do No Harm
Posted at 11:30 pm on August 3, 2012, by Justin M. Stoddard

Just as the Kony 2012 phenomenon swept through the Internet earlier this year, so now does the current Chick-fil-A kerfuffle.

Don’t worry, this post isn’t about Chick-fil-A specifically, but instead about some things I’ve learned and observed over the past few weeks as I followed (and often commented upon) the controversy.

The comments Dan Cathy made about same sex marriage didn’t greatly disturb me apart from the notion that they were completely wrong-headed and just blatantly silly. After all, the president of the United States pretty much expressed the exact same opinions up until recently when we learned that his views had “evolved.” One can be cynical about that, as he is up for re-election and the timing of that “evolution” was, how do I put it, convenient. But, one can also be charitable about it. We tend to admire a person who is willing to change their mind on an issue.

Still, the comments in and of themselves were enough to dissuade me from doing business there. Truth be told, this was not anything near a huge sacrifice for me as I’ve only been a patron there less than ten times in my entire life.

When it came out that Chick-fil-A had given millions of dollars to groups who actively advocate for and use the power of government as a means to deny basic individual rights, it brought up the level of ire I had towards the company. If Chick-fil-A were to go out of business tomorrow, that would be just fine with me.

But, things rapidly got out of hand, as the issue became more inflamed. A call for a general boycott turned into calls for government action against Chick-fil-A. Various mayors and city council members vowed that they would not allow any new franchises within their cities. State-funded universities began campaigns to ban the stores from their campuses.

I must give credit where credit is due, as many liberal minded people opposed these actions. But there were (and are) plenty of people who support these measures.

This, of course, set off a counter-protest where people flocked to Chick-fil-A to show their support. I like to think of myself as a rather incredulous person, so I’m not overly impressed with many of the claims that this was a counter-protest in support of “free speech.” I’m sure there were people involved for whom that was their primary motivation, in that they were protesting an obvious overreach and stated threats from clueless and bumbling government officials.

No, this was a counter-protest that wrapped itself in the moniker of “traditional family values,” which the people involved believed were under attack.

The obvious point that needs to be made here is, one is not very credible if they say they are protecting “free speech” with one breath while advocating against another basic human right.

Thus, during and after the counter-protest, those who opposed Chick-fil-A began to ratchet up the issue. I received two private messages from friends on Facebook informing me that they noticed that I had “liked” Chick-fil-A’s page. They were sure, they said, that this was done in the past, but they wanted to point it out to me so I could correct that error.

Now things were getting downright creepy. It was then that several things occurred to me.

I witnessed very few people (on either side) being intellectually consistent about this issue. I decided to test this theory out by asking (on various threads and in person) this question, as can be seen in this blog post:

“Chick-fil-A gives money to groups that advocate against individual rights. That’s bad. It’s why I won’t be doing business there anymore. You seem to be showing a great deal of outrage over this, so allow me to reframe the problem on a larger scale.

The president of the United States actively assassinates people in other countries. He reserves the right to assassinate American citizens by way of secret committee. He reserves the right to keep any of that information from you. He maintains a prison on an island where no average American is allowed to go, where he oversees a program of torture and secrecy. He actively rejects the “will of the people” by violently shutting down marijuana dispensaries in states that have democratically elected to allow them. He has deported more people from the United States than any president in U.S. history, and he still does not actively campaign for same-sex marriage.

In my estimation, the president of the United States has done inestimably more damage to humanity than Chick-fil-A could ever hope to accomplish.

Will you be withdrawing your support for him this coming election?”

Only one person said yes to that question, and he made that decision long ago. The responses ranged from (and I’m paraphrasing, here):

  • Romney would kill more people.
  • Not voting would only add to the problem.
  • The president wouldn’t do those things if it wasn’t for the Republicans.
  • It’s not a fair analogy.
  • You have to work within the system if you want to change it.

It seems to me that these are very unsatisfying answers. My reply to these assertions would be:

  • Should I eat at Chick-fil-A because another restaurant would be more homophobic?
  • Would boycotting Chick-fil-A only add to the problem?
  • I find it hard to believe that a president who gives himself the authority to assassinate Americans couldn’t also find the authority not to assassinate Americans.
  • It’s an apt analogy in that you’re holding a restaurant up to a higher moral standard than the president you vote for.
  • If that’s the case, you should be spending your money at Chick-fil-A in hopes that they will change their stance.

Those are specific examples. The overall gist of the counter-arguments was that Romney will do all those things but also fight against same sex marriage, abortion rights, women’s rights, and financial regulation.

The counterpoint here is obvious.

The price that some people are willing to pay for same-sex marriage, abortion rights, women’s rights, and financial regulation is assassination, torture, deportation, murder, and misery elsewhere.

I rephrased the question:

“If the president of the United States were successfully able to completely change the policies in Russia so that same-sex marriage were legal, women’s rights were enshrined, abortion rights were protected, and there was complete universal health care coverage and drastic financial regulation, but actively targeted Americans with drone attacks, tortured them without due process, and randomly inserted heavily armed soldiers into metropolitan areas, would you still vote for him?

If not, why?”

I’ve received no answer to that question.

The inherent contradiction between the answers to those two question (though they are the same in every way, except for the people affected by the policies) is this.

People delude themselves in thinking that the first choice is at best virtuous, and at worst necessary, and recognize that the second choice is murderous.

But, in fact, both choices are murderous.

The last question I ask is, what’s the threshold? What act would the president have to do that would be so vile, so evil that you would not only withdraw your support for him, but actively oppose him?

If targeted, secret assassinations of American citizens by way of secret committee and operating a secret prison where people are tortured without due process on an island where no average American can ever visit isn’t enough for you to oppose him, where are you willing to draw the line?

I’m not overly optimistic about the answers I would receive to that question for this reason: Groupthink, identity politics, and the idea of “collective rights” makes us do incredibly stupid and evil things.

There are many people still alive who not only actively apologize for, but support the tens of millions of deaths that occurred under the Stalin and Mao dictatorships. There are many more who still claim that dropping two atomic bombs on Japan was “the right thing to do.”

Today, there are people who explicitly support assassinations, murder, and torture for ideological reasons. There are also many who implicitly support it because of their ideology.

Meaning, the concept of gay rights or women’s’ rights or class rights are more important to them than individual rights, namely the right not to be murdered or tortured. They are choosing the group they identify with over the individual. So long as the president perceived as working for these group rights, individuals elsewhere pay the price.

They are just as bad as the people counter-protesting in the name of “free speech” while advocating for the rights of Christian values. As long as Christian values are being upheld, the individual does not matter.

Groupthink clouds judgement. Mob mentality destroys it. The group infused with overwrought emotion and righteous indignation discourages dissent or reason.

I’ve known people in my life who have said bigoted things. Some of those people I love dearly. I know, to the deepest depths of my soul, that most of them are not bad, bigoted people. They have expressed mistaken views, which can change. If I didn’t believe that, I would not associate with them.

If I am intellectually honest, I must admit that others have the same qualities.

Acknowledging these simple things decouples you from what the group thinks and forces you to relate to individuals qua individuals. When you’re facing an individual rather than ideological groupthink, it tends to tamp down the anger a bit.

Which brings me to my conclusion.

The concept of rights based on identity politics is a ridiculous notion. I don’t believe in gay rights or women’s rights, or rights for the poor, rights for the rich, for the handicapped, men’s rights, transgender rights, American rights, terrorist’s rights, or for any other group rights.

There are only individual rights.

I fight for same-sex marriage not because I have many friends who are gay and have a personal stake in the matter. I fight for same-sex marriage because it’s a fundamental right, left up to only the individuals involved. I fight for the free movement of people across borders not because I identify as an immigrant, but because it is a fundamental individual right to go where you please, so long as you’re not hurting anyone. I fight for the rights of children not being murdered in Afghanistan, not because it gives me an ideological advantage over someone else, but because it is a fundamental human right not to be murdered from the sky.

I cannot and will not make a choice between them. I’m not willing to shrug my shoulders at one issue to gain an ideological victory on another issue.

People tend to get very indignant when I tell them I do not vote in national elections. Whatever reason I give them, it only makes them more angry. I’ve been told that I’m apathetic (clearly not true), that I have no right to complain (ironically ironic), that I am contributing nothing (obviously false) or that I should be ashamed (I’m not).

Countering these points almost always leads to more conflict.

That’s understandable. When it comes down to it, it’s a religious debate, and people tend to get very uncomfortable and defensive when their beliefs are challenged.

But the real reason I don’t vote is simple. I’m an individual. I try to face the world on those terms. I try to identify with everyone (regardless of gender, race, or country of origin) on those terms.

Voting is a mob action. Voting makes people view the world through a collective lens. It’s always an issue of “us” against “them.” When it’s “us” against “them,” the end result is always someone else suffering so you can get what you want.

Nobody should suffer because of my preferences. Nobody need die for abortion rights or the right to get married to whomever you please.

That’s why I am completely disengaged from the political process.

I don’t ever want to be put in the position where I hold the restaurant I eat at to a higher moral standard than the president I vote for.


Filed under: Culture, Foreign Policy, Public Choice
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Justin M. StoddardNobody Believes What They Say They Believe
Posted at 9:20 pm on August 1, 2012, by Justin M. Stoddard

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 46% of Americans believe in creationism over evolution. That is, they believe that the earth was formed roughly 10,000 years ago and was first inhabited by Adam and Eve. Another 32% of Americans believe that evolution was/is theistically guided; meaning that life took millions of years to evolve, but God guided the process. This fits in line with the intelligent design argument.

These numbers are often referred to with great shock and concern from the scientific community. Many on the left of the political spectrum are also very anxious about the implications. Evolution, after all, is a scientific fact. It’s been proven to a degree of certainty which leaves no serious scientist in doubt. We know via empirical evidence that the earth is billions of years old. We have a rough, but fairly good, understanding of how life was created. We understand the evolutionary process. Nearly every field of science confirms at some level that evolution is a hard fact.

When people get together and insist that creationism or intelligent design be given time in the classroom, there is always a loud and ferocious cry of protest. In recent history, nearly every single proposal to do so has been soundly defeated. Intelligent design took such a beating in the first decade of this century that it’s not seriously considered by much of anyone, anymore. Creationists have taken their education outreach to the confines of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.

Atheists, in particular, make a much concerted effort to pile onto creationists. They are derided, made fun of, insulted, mocked, slandered, and generally reviled at conferences, in various fora, etc. One need only make a brief visit to any serious atheist or left-leaning website to see what I’m talking about.

Now, it may be that creationists often overreach and deserve some of the criticism. There is, after all, the pretty well defined Exclusionary Clause of the First Amendment. Regardless of what people believe or don’t believe, people generally don’t want other people to push their beliefs on them or their children.

Being a creationist may also signal other intentions to people. You may be against stem cell research, or gay marriage, for example. People make assumptions. Some assumptions are right, and some are wrong. It all just depends.

Regardless, those who don’t believe, or don’t believe as strongly seem to view those who do as extremely irrational, if not just plain stupid. I suspect there is more than just a bit of class warfare going on, here, but the basic point remains. For the most part, nonbelievers loathe the irrationality of those who do believe.

I think atheists and those on the left often overstate their case for alarm on the issue. There is good evidence to suggest that even though 46% of people say they are creationists, a good portion of them don’t actually believe it. Here’s where it gets tricky. They may believe they believe it, but their actions often belie those beliefs. Many creationists are taking a literal interpretation of the Bible, after all, but clearly nobody actually literally follows the tenets of the Bible. You don’t see people taking and killing slaves, or murdering their children, or adhering to the abstinence of shellfish or woven cloth because the Bible dictates it.

If people actually literally believed in the tenets of the Bible or the Koran, then there would be an incredible amount of bloodshed, violence, and anguish in this world. Also, there would never be any such thing as “interfaith” dialogues. If your way is the only way to heaven, what’s the point in understanding other beliefs?

People like Sam Harris are extremely alarmed that the former head of the Genome Mapping Project and current head of the NIH is a person who has a “close personal relationship” with God. It seems to me, however, that Francis Collins is a brilliant doctor and scientist regardless of his personal religious beliefs. In other words, his belief in God has nothing to do with how he conducts his job, regardless of what Sam Harris thinks.

I perceive religion in America as something that’s been tamed. As Bryan Caplan says in The Myth of the Rational Voter:

Given the separation of church and state, modern religion has a muted effect on nonbelievers. Scientific progress continues with or without religious approval.

There’s more to that quote, which I’ll reveal in a bit.

There was a time when I would have seen these poll results as extremely troubling, but not really anymore, given the reasons I’ve explained above. The problem isn’t usually with religion, but in how government sometimes favors religion over the individual.

Here are the results of another recent poll taken in New York State. Regardless of political allegiances, nearly 70% of voters from every region polled favored raising the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $8.50 per hour. Certainly more Democrats than Republicans agreed with the proposal, but even 58% of Republicans were in favor.

Just as with creationism (as pointed out above), the case against minimum wage laws has been definitively made. They don’t work. It has been empirically proven that minimum wage laws increases both unemployment and poverty. They adversely affect African Americans and teenagers the most. They quite literally shut people out of the workplace.

It can be argued that creationism is wrong and irrational, but in today’s modern society, you’d have a harder time proving that it was overly harmful. Contrast that with minimum wage laws, which are clearly very harmful.

My question is, why does one belief get so roundly derided by the public at large (even when the majority of the public believes in God), when the other belief gets pretty much a free pass?

In fact, it’s more than a free pass. People who believe in minimum wage laws are afforded an elevated social status. Don’t believe me? Go to work tomorrow and say the following: “Minimum wage laws hurt the poor, cause more poverty, and create unemployment.” What do you think the reaction will be? You’d be perfectly correct in saying it. Facts would be on your side. You could cite countless empirical studies and refer to most any economist (left or right) on the subject, and they would back you up.

Creationism is banned from the classroom, but incredibly harmful economic beliefs aren’t. Why?

I suspect it’s a bit of psychological projection. Voters may think they are being rational about a subject, but they most likely aren’t. As the rest of Bryan Caplan’s quote goes:

“Thus, it is in mind set, not practical influence, that voters resemble religious believers. Given the separation of church and state, modern religion has a muted effect on nonbelievers. Scientific progress continues with or without religious approval. Political/economic misconceptions, in contrast, have dramatic effects on everyone who lives under the policies they inspire–even those who see these misconceptions for what they are. If most voters think protectionism is a good idea, protectionist policies thrive; if most believe that unregulated labor markets work badly, labor markets will be heavily regulated.”

And if voters think that minimum wage laws are good idea, then minimum wage laws will be implemented, regardless of whether they actually work.

This is because voters have no incentive to be self interested in the voting booth. Votes are free, and a person’s chance of swaying an election one way or the other may be anywhere from one in millions to astronomical. This means that a person can vote socially and enjoy the social benefit of doing so.

If voters were really as self-interested as everyone insists, they would be spending much more time determining the truth of the matters they are voting on. For example, if a single vote cost a person $10,000 and only affected him and his loved ones, he’d probably get it right. Since votes are free, effect everyone equally, and have little to no chance of making a difference, you are free to skip self interest and vote socially instead. Minimum wage is popular, so that’s the way you go. Being against gay marriage is popular, so that’s the way you go.

As with creationism, it’s my opinion that even though people say they are enthusiastically in favor of minimum wage laws, they don’t actually believe what they say they believe. If minimum wage laws really did help the poor, helped alleviate poverty, and were inclusive for all minorities, they would be advocating for even higher wages. Why not more than $100 per hour?

Currently, we have very smart people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Neil deGrasse Tyson advocating for income redistribution, the idea that robotics will eventually cause mass unemployment and poverty, a call for mass “investment” into NASA, and governmental health care reform.

These ideas go from pretty silly to economically horrible. Sam Harris shows little understanding or depth in his arguments. Neil deGrasse Tyson makes horrible errors in logic, and Richard Dawkins just gives us feel-good rhetoric without understanding the economic ramifications of what he’s espousing.

Compared to these ideas, creationism is the very least of my worries.


Filed under: Culture, Public Choice
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David M. BrownWhat if there were deficit thinking, thinking deficit, on a desert island?
Posted at 1:43 am on August 9, 2011, by David M. Brown

Let’s attempt the program of “economic stimulus” on a desert island. Five persons have survived the shipwreck. Joe is good at gathering berries and reeds, and dressing wounds; Al is good at fishing, hunting and basket-weaving; Bob is good at making huts and gourd-bowls; and Sam, who wants to spend all his time sharpening sticks, and who regards any other kind of employment as beneath him, cannot produce a tool of any usefulness.

Let more and more of the resources that would have been exchanged in life-fostering and productivity-fostering trade between Joe, Al and Bob be confiscated by a fifth person, the king (who happens to have the only gun, a Kalashnikov that he grabbed from the ship before it crashed; elsewise no one would listen to him). And let this confiscated wealth (after a suitably large finder’s fee for the king has been deducted) be given to Sam to subsidize his slow and pointless blunt-stick production, since it would allegedly be unacceptable for Sam to have to accept alms in accordance with the sympathies and judgments of his fellows. And let the king perpetually demand more and more “revenue” to distribute and perpetually bray that criticism of his taxing and spending policies by “economic terrorists” is undermining confidence in the island’s economy.

What are the effects of this confiscatory and redistributive process on the prospects for the islanders’ survival? Discuss.

[Cross-posted to Davidmbrowndotcom.]


Filed under: Culture, Economic Theory, Efficiency, Finance, Food Policy, Gains From Trade, Government Spending, Health Care, Labor, Law Enforcement, Local Government, Market Efficiency, Nanny State, Philosophy, Politics, Property Rights, Taxes, Trade, Unintended Consequences
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Christine HarbinThe Show-Me State Needs More Snooki*
Posted at 6:32 pm on November 9, 2010, by Christine Harbin

A Saint Louis production company is planning to focus on reality television series, and it is looking into tapping the Missouri film tax credit program to do it. According to an article in the St. Louis Business Journal:

Coolfire Media, the St. Louis production and design studio behind Budweiser, Maybelline and Verizon Wireless ads, has spun off a separate company to develop ideas for reality TV shows and scripted comedies.

The minds behind Coolfire Originals say they will specialize in offering Midwest storylines, characters and actors as a niche — and a cheaper alternative — in a world of coast-centric programs. […]

Coolfire Originals hopes to tap into some of the $3.5 million in Missouri tax credits still available this year for the TV and film industry and the $4.5 million in state tax credits available next year, Breitbach said.

First, there is a fiscal problem. The state government in Missouri is facing historically low revenues, and has to make cuts to services that are arguably more important than reality television — such as education and public safety.

Second, there is a fundamental problem: This program diffuses the cost of reality television production onto the taxpaying population, and concentrates the benefits on reality television producers. Missourians will pay a marginally higher amount of taxes as a direct consequence of this policy.

I have many questions. Will Brett Michaels ever find love, and will he find it in Missouri? How much money in state incentives will it take for the “Rock of Love” bus to park in the Central West End of Saint Louis?

Additionally, what is the economic multiplier on reality television production? I know that contestants on dating shows like “The Bachelor” and the “The Bachelorette” purchase a considerable number of restaurant meals, so I suspect that it may be high. Similarly, if Kate brought her gaggle of Gosselins to Missouri, she’d probably buy a lot of diapers and children’s clothes in state.

Coupled with a lower marginal tax rate on income relative to other states, will this policy incite reality television stars to move to Missouri? Perhaps Snooki would consider moving to Missouri because the top marginal state income tax rate in New Jersey is 8.97 percent, whereas it is only 6.0 percent in Missouri.

Could a producer receive tax credits for making a reality television show about an activity that is also financed by state tax credits? Perhaps “Extreme Home Makeover: NorthSide Saint Louis” could feature a large private development that uses tax credits for historic preservation, low-income housing development, and/or brownfield remediation.

For the purpose of this post, I tried to brainstorm a list of titles of Missouri-specific reality shows that the state could subsidize with its film tax credit program. I encourage our blog readers to leave additional ideas for titles the comments section of this post.

  • Who Wants to Marry a Missourian?
  • Mississippi Shore
  • The Hill**
  • Pimp My Tax-Exempt Yacht
  • The Real World: Chillicothe, Mo.
  • The Real Housewives of Osage County
  • Grundy County’s Got Talent
  • Top Chef: Kansas City Barbecue
  • Iron County Chef
  • Are You Smarter than a Saint Louis Public School Fifth Grader?
  • East Saint Louis High School Musical
  • I’m in the Missouri Bootheel, Get me Out of Here!
  • Poplar Bluff’s Next Top Model
  • Survivor: Lake of the Ozarks Party Cove***
  • Branson Idol

* Title reference here.

** A reality show that follows the personal lives of several Italian-American young adults living in the Hill neighborhood of Saint Louis.

*** David Stokes tells me that a reality show about the Lake of the Ozarks’ Party Cove would make the stars of Jersey Shore look like participants in the Algonquin Round Table, and I concur.

[Cross-posted at Amateur Philosophy.]


Filed under: Culture, Government Spending, Politics, Taxes
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John W. PayneSome People Are Just Assholes
Posted at 9:44 pm on October 1, 2010, by John W. Payne

I’m sure by now many of you have heard the story of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate broadcasted him making out with another man. A video by Ellen DeGeneres speaking out against the bullying and mistreatment that apparently led to the suicide of Clementi and three other gay teens in the past month has been making the rounds on Facebook the past couple days. Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, and Molly Wei, another student who allegedly assisted Ravi in spying on Clementi, have been charged with invasion of privacy, and police are considering bringing hate crime charges if the two appear to have been motivated by anti-gay bigotry. Some of Ravi’s friends have claimed that Ravi is not a bigot:

“I think he’s a good person,” said Michael Zhuang, 17, a neighbor and former classmate. “I don’t think he’s a homophobe. It would’ve been no different if it was a girl in the room.”
Let’s take Zhuang’s statement at face value. Does that make what Ravi did any less reprehensible? I actually think it makes it worse because that means that Ravi doesn’t discriminate–he’s just an asshole to everyone. Granted, there is a high correlation between being an asshole and being anti-gay, but there are plenty of assholes out there who aren’t particularly anti-gay, just as there are quite a few anti-gay people who aren’t complete assholes. And that’s the rub.
Assholes are vicious monsters to anyone and everyone provided they believe they can get away with it, which means they will lash out at individuals and groups who are marginalized by society. Fifty years ago, that usually meant harassing racial minorities, but in most parts of the country, those views are now thankfully considered unacceptable by almost the entire non-asshole population. If an asshole calls someone a “nigger” or “kyke” these days, he immediately reveals himself for what he is. However, it is still acceptable to bash gays–both verbally and physically–to huge swaths of the American populace (25%? 30%? More?), and that is what allows this kind of abuse to go on. Assholes are the only ones who do things that are this malicious, but it’s the tacit acceptance of certain kinds of hate that enables them to hide amongst us.
In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Tom is sold to Simon Legree–the epitome of an evil slave master–and Southerner attempts to defend the institution of slavery to a Northerner on the grounds that most slave owners treat their slaves well, to which the Northerner responds,
Granted…but in my opinion, it is you considerate, humane men, that are responsible for all the brutality and outrage wrought by these wretches; because, if it were not for your sanction and influence, the whole system could not keep foothold for an hour. If there were no planters except such as [Legree] the whole thing would go down like a mill-stone. It is your respectability and humanity that licenses and protects his brutality.
The same can be said today about the respectable and even kindhearted people that nevertheless condemn gays as wicked. They are good people and may even love their gay neighbors as themselves, but their soft bigotry makes gays a target for the truly wicked and depraved.
Cross-posted at Rough Ol’ Boy.

Filed under: Culture
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Sarah BrodskyBodies
Posted at 1:39 pm on September 14, 2010, by Sarah Brodsky

The company behind “Bodies… The Exhibition,” which is coming to Missouri in October, has received a lot of criticism for displaying cadavers it obtained from the Chinese Bureau of Police. At least one Missouri congressman has tried to prevent the exhibit from appearing at a mall in his district. But the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that “Bodies” will take place as planned, because Missouri’s Attorney General is letting the company get away with a wimpy disclaimer:

“Premier cannot independently verify the complete provenance of the human remains in this exhibition,” reads the disclaimer, which must be displayed at the mall and on the exhibit’s Web page.

It can’t verify the provenance? Are we talking about oil paintings and wine bottles here, or human bodies? The disclaimer would be clearer if it read, “We have no clue whether anyone would have wanted their body parts to be displayed here, but since they can’t speak for themselves, we’re happy to cash in.”

It seems particularly jarring that this company is allowed to blithely collect admissions fees when you think of all the people who would like to purchase human organs from consenting donors, but are forbidden by law. There are people who would sign and notarize all the consent forms, and who are not Chinese political prisoners, and who would receive some personal benefit from the transaction. So why don’t we let them go ahead and sell their organs, with a disclaimer that they can’t verify… what? Their own free will?

No, that’s illegal, because the government has decreed such a transaction so morally hazardous that even saving a life doesn’t outweigh the danger. But when someone wants to tack human remains up on a wall and sell tickets, they can do that if they just mouth the right words. After all, the show must go on.


Filed under: Culture, Health Care
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John W. PayneThe Oppressed Heterosexual Male
Posted at 11:14 pm on August 6, 2010, by John W. Payne

Back in April, Cato Institute executive vice president David Boaz wrote an article for reason castigating some libertarians for looking to a supposed libertarian golden age–usually sometime in the late eighteenth or late nineteenth century–and claiming that we have become dramatically less free since those halcyon days. Boaz conceded that the government has grown in terms of GDP and interferes with many aspects of our lives that it did not in the past but argued that many Americans are freer now than they were then: both slavery and Jim Crow are dead; women are far more autonomous than they once were; gays and lesbians are now capable of loving whom they choose fairly openly; etc. These changes are partly attributable to government policies but also owe a great deal to radically different cultural norms. In a similar vein, I would like to argue that heterosexual men have actually lost some of their freedom because of a more restrictive culture…but probably not in the way that you think.

Until the late nineteenth century, the concept of sexual orientation did not exist. Homesexual acts, especially those between two men, were harshly condemned and punished, but those acts were not part of a broader identity. At the same time, marriage did not have the central role that it does in our culture today. Extended family, communities, churches, political parties, fraternal orders, and intimate friendships all demanded far more loyalty from individuals than they do currently. It was commonplace, and sometimes even expected, for these intimate, same-sex friendships to be emotionally closer than marriages. Writing in the New York Times a few years ago, historian and author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage Stephanie Coontz explained the vastly different sociological terrain:

From medieval days until the early 19th century, diaries and letters more often used the word love to refer to neighbors, cousins and fellow church members than to spouses. When honeymoons first gained favor in the 19th century, couples often took along relatives or friends for company. Victorian novels and diaries were as passionate about brother-sister relationships and same-sex friendships as about marital ties.

The Victorian refusal to acknowledge strong sexual desires among respectable men and women gave people a wider outlet for intense emotions, including physical touch, than we see today. Men wrote matter-of-factly about retiring to bed with a male roommate, “and in each other’s arms did friendship sink peacefully to sleep.” Upright Victorian matrons thought nothing of kicking their husbands out of bed when a female friend came to visit. They spent the night kissing, hugging and pouring out their innermost thoughts.

Similarly, Neil Miller, author of Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present, wrote that romantic–but not necessarily sexual–relationships between young men in nineteenth century America were relatively common and considered to be “rehearsal for marriage.” During the Civil War the situation was such that when Walt Whitman–who would almost undoubtedly be considered “gay” by contemporary standards–worked as a nurse at Armory Square Hospital in Washington D.C., he openly showed physical affection to the soldiers under his care. In a letter to a friend from the hospital, Whitman wrote of one soldier that he had grown deeply attached to: “Lew is so good, so affectionate–when I came away, he reached up to his face, I put my arm around him, and we gave each other a long kiss, half a minute long.” I have no idea if this kiss was platonic or sexual for the young soldier, and that’s really beside the point. What is remarkable is that physical affection between two men was pedestrian enough that it raised no eyebrows in a crowded army hospital. I’m fairly certain that today, a public 30 second kiss between two men in a military setting would not only lead to harassment from other soldiers but also a possible undesirable discharge from the service.

If we look back even further in our cultural history to Elizabethan England, Shakespeare’s plays celebrate friendships between men that strike many modern readers as, well, a little gay. Most famously there is Hamlet’s address to the skull of his friend Yorick, “Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft,” but this is hardly an isolated case. For another example we can look to deep friendship between Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice. As Shylock attempts to take his pound of flesh from Antonio, Bassanio declares that he loves Antonio above everything in the world, including his wife:

Antonio, I am married to a wife
Which is as dear to me as life itself;
But life itself, my wife, and all the world,
Are not with me esteem’d above thy life:
I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all
Here to this devil, to deliver you.

Most contemporary readers likely find something unusual about Bassanio’s love for Antonio, but until the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, this kind of deep, same-sex friendship was celebrated as equal to or greater than married love.

So what changed? Obviously, such a massive shift in cultural norms has multiple causes, but I think one critical factor was the emergence of sexual orientation as a concept. Once people started speaking about the love that dare not speak its name, people could no longer deny its existence, which immediately made all physical affection between men (and to a lesser extent women) suspect. When there was no concept of homosexuality, only sodomy was verboten, and that was hard to prove. However, once homosexuality became an identity, almost all non-violent physical contact and even most emotional intimacy between men could be seen as evidence that a man was “like that” to his peers.

Once that was established, almost the only socially acceptable place for a man to find emotional intimacy was in a romantic relationship with a woman–a complete historical anomaly. Of course, there were never any laws passed that prohibited intimate friendships between men, but the social stigma of even being perceived as gay has served as a severe limitation on the liberty of men to form deep, lasting friendships and express physical affection with each other throughout the twentieth century and to this day.

In the last decade, however, American culture has once again come to celebrate intimate friendships between men, albeit without most of the physical affection common over a century ago. The most obvious example of this phenomenon can be seen in many of the so-called “frat pack” movies such as Old School, Superbad, and I Love You, Man. While the male characters in these movies are primarily heterosexual and pursue women in the films, the heart and soul of the movies is in the deep friendships they form between each other. I Love You, Man is the most overt about this theme, suggesting that even if a man has found a woman to marry, he is still incomplete without a male best friend.

This is no doubt a positive development, and we can hope that the stigma attached to male-male intimacy will evaporate as quickly as it first appeared. Still, it is a great irony that that anti-gay social opprobrium arguably restricted the emotions and behavior of gay men less than straight men. In much the same way that slavery binds not only the slave to the master but also the master to the slave, bigotry constrains the liberty of both its target and the bigot.


Filed under: Culture
Comments: 5 Comments
 

Justin M. StoddardA Flagging Stupidity
Posted at 4:23 pm on May 10, 2010, by Justin M. Stoddard

“The essential difficulty of pedagogy lies in the impossibility of inducing a sufficiency of superior men and women to become pedagogues. Children, and especially boys, have sharp eyes for the weaknesses of the adults set over them. It is impossible to make boys take seriously the teaching of men they hold in contempt.” — H.L. Mencken

For the most part, the out-of-proportion response to the suspension of five juveniles for wearing clothing emblazoned with American flags to school on Cinco de Mayo is all over but the shouting. Though this incident serves as incredibly effective fodder for the ever increasingly silly (and almost wholly invented) culture war being waged at the fringes, it also reminds those of us less prone to “the vapors” to recognize what’s important in cases such as these … and it is a central libertarian theme.

Sometimes we are put in the position where we feel obligated to defend stupidity.

Let’s not be coy about it. The act of donning over-the-top patriotic garb on Cinco de Mayo was an act of adolescent sophistry. Not that I’m opposed to such actions, were it aimed in the proper direction. But this was not an act aimed against an authority or unjust policy. It was simply aimed to, well … disrupt. Being such, it was impolite, uncouth, and a bit stupid. Certainly not an action that would elicit my sympathies. Until, that is, the Man stepped in and screwed everything up.

When the principal of the California school got involved, things got a bit surreal. Telling the students that they were welcome to wear such accoutrements any other day other than Cinco de Mayo, said principal immediately made himself out to be a bit of a buffoon. When he suspended the boys for the day and sent them home, he unwittingly thrust himself and the entire brouhaha into the national spotlight, proving to everyone in America what children have known for ages: A school administrator wielding arbitrary power is an irresistible recipe for ridicule.

Don’t let’s get caught in these culture war traps. What these boys did was silly and unwarranted, a feat begging to be ignored. Any intelligent school administrator would have recognized this stunt for what it was, and acted appropriately — that is, not at all. What we have now is a principal (and the school administrators who backed him) worthy only of ridicule and censure.

Race and immigration policies are tangential, here. This is about restraint (the wisdom of knowing when to wield and when to yield the power you have) and personal responsibility, two capacities for which individuals could stand to develop more.

[Cross-posted at Shrubbloggers.]


Filed under: Culture, Education, Nanny State
Comments: 2 Comments
 

Henry Hazlitt"[T]he whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson
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