“Nuance” in Politics and Public Policy? No, Thanks

In 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry called his ever-shifting position on the war in Iraq “nuanced” as a way of explaining why he was for it before he was against it and why his prescriptions for its future kept changing.

“Nuance” pops up frequently in debates on politics and public policy, almost always as an excuse for either non-specificity on a current position or flip-flopping from a past position.

Of all the words in the political lexicon, none makes for a brighter neon DO NOT TRUST sign than “nuance.”

According to WordNet, “nuance” is “a subtle difference in meaning or opinion or attitude.”

Nuance is a wonderful characteristic in painting, literature, music, and the other arts.

In political philosophy and public policy, it’s  a cheat mechanism used for the purpose of creating unwarranted wiggle room.

“Define your terms, you will permit me again to say,” wrote Voltaire, “or we shall never understand one another.”

That’s the whole point of resort to “nuance” in political and policy discussions. The “nuanced” advocate or candidate doesn’t want to be understood, or at least doesn’t want to be understood clearly. He’s trying to create a loophole through which he can escape his position when that position becomes inconvenient.

“Nuance” is the excuse of the civil libertarian who’s all for free speech until someone says something she doesn’t like, at which point we learn that “hate speech isn’t free speech.”

It’s the talking point of the pro-gun-rights politician who announces that a 30-round magazine is too large and must be banned — but that his views on guns haven’t changed.

And yes,  it’s the plea from the formerly anti-war politician who votes to invade Iraq and then wants to be treated as the anti-war candidate.

What it’s not is a desirable quality in politics and public policy.

From our political candidates, we deserve clear statements of principle and position, not “nuanced” attempts to avoid declaring any principles or positions at all which they might later be held to. If a politician changes her mind, we deserve to know — and to know why — rather than just being told she hasn’t and that we just don’t get the “nuance.”

From our laws and proposals for laws, we deserve specificity. We’re expected to abide by those laws. Letting the cops, prosecutors, judges, and bureaucrats who implement and enforce them write post-passage “nuance” into them is letting them make the law up as they go and leaving ourselves at their “nuanced” mercy.

Regardless of one’s position on any given issue, it’s important to define our terms  and then either stick to them or admit that we’ve abandoned them.

In politics and public policy, “nuance” is where truth goes to die.

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Upheaval, Back to School, 1984

Nobody asked but …

A confluence of at least 3 elements brings this blog post to you — it is a mosaic of Jared Diamond, a new school year, and George Orwell.

I got the idea of the mosaic from Jared Diamond, in the intro of his book, Upheaval.  He gives the example of the marks made on the psyches of Bostonians who were victims, or associated with victims, of the 1942 Cocoanut Grove night club fire which consumed 492 lives and crippled 100s of surviving, direct victims.  Diamond was a pre-schooler in Boston then.  I can empathize and I can attest.  Although I was still 5 months from being born, and far away in Chattanooga, my mother hailed from Boston, and my maternal grandparents still lived in Beantown.  I heard about the grisly catastrophe every summer for the next 16 years.  It was a colossal event.  Jared Diamond summed it up by writing that all touched by the occurrence were immediately a mosaic of what they had been before the fire, what they were by the fire’s consequences, and what they would become.

It dawned on me that everyone is at any moment a mosaic of her past, present, and future — a separate, unique, different, and distinguished mosaic.  And the mosaic is a part of all mosaics that are connected by relationships.

In nearly all of my relationships, this is back to school time.  The relationships that are most pressing this year are those having to do with self-ownership and effects on those for whom I care most.  The most critical self-ownership question is, do I understand the consequences of the mosaic mentioned above.  Know thyself is an ancient, wise admonishment.  But to do this, one must understand constant change, affecting not only your own mosaic but those of all relationships.  In the past, I have shared in the all-too-human shortsightedness that wishes to control all events in hopes of maintaining a status quo.  Let go.  Life will go on, until it doesn’t.  In a perfect world, each of us would author our own education — then it makes no difference whether we choose a given vehicle, home school, unschooling, Thoreau-like experiential exposure, public school, or private school.  Grant Allen opined often that one should not let one’s schooling interfere with one’s education.  Mark Twain seconded the notion.  Your responsibility to educate yourself happens 24/7/365, whereas the ritual of back to school is a seasonal thing.  Responsibility and education are biological mandates.  The school year is a statist fiction.

The third element referred to above is that I have just finished reading George Orwell’s 1984.  I saw the chilling movie in 1957, when 1984 was at the end of a telescope reversed.  I thought that the scenario would come true until about calendar year 1985.  Reading the book in 2019, 1984 is way back in the rearview mirror.  And now I know that the predictions have come true in a far more profound way.  They were true in these ways in 1949, the year Orwell’s vision was published.

At any rate, Orwell is an author with stunning power over words and narrative.  He is a philosopher of the first water.  He is an irresistible intellect.  Needless to say, it is time to continue your education.  Get a copy and read it ASAP.

— Kilgore Forelle

 

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Reverse Birth Control: A Thought Experiment

Some prominent sociologists argue that teen pregnancy, when it occurs, is functional.  Teen pregnancy is a foolish life choice for middle-class teens, because they’re sacrificing bright futures.  Lower-class teens, in contrast, don’t have bright futures to sacrifice, so why wait to become a parent?  I’m skeptical of the underlying counter-factuals, but never mind that.  Frank Furstenberg’s “Teenage Childbearing and Cultural Rationality” (Family Relations, 1992) rebuts the functionalists with a thought experiment that is as powerful as it is concise:

[I]f they had to take a pill for a month in order to become pregnant, relatively few teenagers, especially those of school age, would become parents. And, if they had to obtain permission from their parents to take that pregnancy pill, very few parents would give their consent.

In other words, the main source of teen pregnancy is just impulsiveness.  If youths act on their immediate feelings, pregnancy swiftly follows whether they want to get pregnant or not.

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The History of Private Schools: How American Education Became a Political Battleground

“He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” – Adolf Hitler

Public schools are so ubiquitous and ingrained in American culture that one could easily be forgiven for thinking that we, as a nation, have always had them. However, public schools are a relatively recent invention. Federal funding for public schools is a recent anomaly, dating back to the days of President Jimmy Carter. His successor, President Ronald Reagan, famously tried to dismantle the Department of Education to no avail.

Public schools being an arm of the state are indoctrination centers. This becomes increasingly true as basic skills such as the old “three Rs” of “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic” are jettisoned in favor of climate changecritical race theory and gender ideology – all of which are now part and parcel of a public education in the United States. As if this weren’t troubling enough, public schools are largely funded by property taxes on housing. These taxes, which are paid generally on a bi-annual basis, are confiscated from people whose children do not even attend public schools. What’s more, these taxes require people to effectively pay rent on owned property under penalty of losing their homes.

We do not have to look far for an alternative to the world of public schools. Throughout most of American history, education has been the purview of parents, the church, and other private institutions. The rise of public education in the United States is a story of violence and coercion that is largely hidden from the public record. After reading this, you will never view public schools in the same light ever again.

Continue reading The History of Private Schools: How American Education Became a Political Battleground at Ammo.com.

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Why Culture Matters

What is Culture?

As individuals, people experience consciousness (identity, intelligence, soul, conscience), develop character (will, agency, behavioral patterns, habits), and demonstrate preferences of style (taste). Biological traits and tendencies both enable and limit perceptions and abilities, but all people have the ability (and unavoidable responsibility) to shape their character and develop to their potential.

By natural extension, groups of people also experience a sort of shared consciousness (shared identity, values, perceptions, language, epistemological orientation), develop a shared character (ethics, norms/rules, priorities, organizations, obligations, expectations, group dynamics, reputation), and express shared style preferences (aesthetics, dress and grooming, design, cuisine, music, humor, communication patterns, leisure activities, rhythm of life). Culture is an umbrella term for the shared identity, values, perceptions, perspectives, knowledge, beliefs, organizations, practices, and preferences of a group.

Culture is Fundamental

Culture is about much more than just style. Style is a very visible part of culture, but it is also comparably superficial and inconsequential. Style differences rarely cause significant conflict (except, perhaps between significantly shallow people). On the other hand, differences in things like ethics, rules, and behavioral patterns are at the heart of very serious conflicts, indeed. In fact, many conflicts that on the surface appear to be motivated by ethnic identity, political ideology, or religious affiliation are fundamentally cultural.

But understanding culture is not just about conflict; it’s also about the progress of civilizations and quality of life for people everywhere. Key adjustments in culture can have profound effects on group dynamics and future generations.

Cultural Advancement and Decline

The word “culture” comes from the latin cultura referring to the care, development, and protection required to develop something, as in “cultivation” and “agriculture”. The weeds and rocks have to go and the soil has to be prepared in order for precious seeds to be carefully planted and become a beautiful garden that bears fruit and is worth preserving.

In other words, a culture must be both conservative and progressive in order to develop. That is, its members must conserve positive elements while also abandoning negative ones and adopting additional positive ones. All cultures should embrace the best practices of other cultures while conserving and promoting their own.

Here are some examples of elements of high-performing cultures that have proven their value and are worth adopting: coherent philosophy, individual self-determination, reciprocity ethics and natural law, clear and noble grand narrative, private property norms, freedom of association, monogamy, incest avoidance, courtesy, hygiene, industriousness, low time preference, precise and high-minded language, appreciation of / participation in / contribution to sophisticated pursuits.

Cultural decline is marked by the abandonment of such elements and their replacement with corrupt and perverse ones.

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Prefer Consequences to Revenge

If your idea of a good time is to vandalize someone’s home, I have no sympathy for you no matter what consequences result.

Last year a relative’s home near Clovis was burglarized and cleaned out. Through the ruthless determination of his granddaughter, all his belongings were discovered on the property of the burglar (or an accomplice) and recovered.

Now, someone has decided it was a good idea to try to destroy his whole house. The house he built with his own hands more than half a century ago.

If you think this makes me angry, you’d be on the right track.

When a person makes the choice to violate life, liberty, or property they’ve lost their humanity in my eyes. Their reasons or justifications never matter.

I understand spur-of-the-moment bad decisions, but to make a conscious decision to violate someone? That’s where I draw the line.

No, it doesn’t mean I want to see the law used against them. In fact, the law does more to protect bad guys from consequences than it does to protect their victims.

Nor am I calling for punishment, which I oppose as revenge. I prefer social consequences. Real justice. Including — specifically — shunning.

There are people out there who know these and other criminals who make a habit of victimizing residents of the community. I doubt either they or the violators they know are literate enough to read newspapers or anything else, though. Maybe someone can read this to them.

If you know someone who habitually violates others, and you choose to continue associating with them, you are as guilty as they are. Violators should be left to die alone in the elements, naked and starving. There’s no excuse to sell them food, water, fuel, clothing, shelter, or medical care once you are aware of their choice to violate.

If you continue to trade products and services with them you are spitting in the faces of all their victims; past, present, and future.

I’d rather see their pictures, addresses, and crimes posted on social media or on public flyers. Let everyone know who they are and what they do. “Innocent until proven guilty” is only the standard for government courts. If you know the truth, share it.

Consequences of this sort would do more to promote civilization than all the laws you could ever write and enforce. Violators survive only because otherwise good people help them, even if it’s accidental. Stop enabling them to live to violate again.

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