Owning the Past

Nobody asked but …

My excellent fellow writer and contributor here at EVC, Kent McManigal wrote a piece recently in which he pointed out that racism is not a permanent affliction.  It is only enduring when the holder of racist views continues to stoke that fire.  I believe, for instance, that the Governor of Virginia has tried to dodge the bullet instead of owning his past.  It appears that he has given no evidence that he is no longer a holder of racist views.  Please be aware that I know that a negative cannot be proven, but a preponderance of evidence can support a change of sentiment.  So far, in my opinion, the Governor has not shouldered his burden of persuasion very well.

Kent used himself as an example, and I was inspired by it.  I grew up in the middle south, in the “border state” of Kentucky.  But as with every place else, human stupidity ruled the roost.  A racist atmosphere blanketed daily life.  Black people were ignored and separated.  The only counter influence I ever had was from my mother, a native of the Boston, Massachusetts area — she was an egalitarian generally, but she was saddled with preconceptions of a Boston sort — one group of snobs may be believed as better than some other group of snobs.  As for myself, the established order was set so I hardly even knew that black people existed.  But my purpose today is not to recite details of my personal trip from biased state A to biased state B.  As regards race, however, state B is far ahead of state A.  Everybody is on a journey from biased to unbiased in any particular area.  I have a bias against hominy, but I have grown to like grits, corn nuts, hoppin’ john, and pozole.  I have a bias against a collective of human beings, but I have grown to like voluntaryists, individualistsanarchists, entrepreneurs, libertarians, agorists, philosophers, Austrian-school economists, objectivists, and empiricists.

— Kilgore Forelle

 

 

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Why Steve Jobs, not Bill Gates, Was the True Education Visionary

When it comes to education reform, there are generally two camps: those who want to improve the existing mass compulsory schooling system through tweaking and tuning and those who want to build something entirely new and different. Not surprisingly, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was in the “think different” camp, advocating for school choice and vouchers, while Microsoft’s Bill Gates backed the Common Core State Standards and other incremental reforms within the conventional mass schooling model.

The Efforts of the Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into K-12 education over the past 20 years, including $280 million toward Common Core, which people of all political persuasions came to despise for its standardization and government overreach. Earlier this week, the Gates Foundation announced an additional $10 million to train teachers on “high quality” curriculum. The charity is on track to reach its goal of dedicating nearly $2 billion dollars to K-12 education by 2022.

These huge philanthropic efforts, combined with the nearly $700 billion a year that US taxpayers spend on K-12 mass schooling, means Americans spend more on education than any other country but with far more dismal results. Chipping away slowly at standard schooling may not be doing much good.

Jobs Saw the Need for Disruption

Steve Jobs recognized this. He saw that true educational transformation requires disrupting the entire mass schooling model. As he did with his revolutionary Apple products, Jobs envisioned an education system that is innovative, experimental, and individualized for each learner. In a 1995 interview with the Smithsonian Institution, Jobs asserted his support for vouchers and entrepreneurial educators:

 I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for forty-four hundred dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school several things would happen. Number one, schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students. Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting…You could have twenty-five-year-old students out of college, very idealistic, full of energy instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they’d start a school. I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would. The third thing you’d see is, I believe, is the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise. Some of the schools would go broke. A lot of the public schools would go broke. There’s no question about it. It would be rather painful for the first several years…But far less painful I think than the kids going through the system as it is right now.

For Jobs, vouchers were only one piece of the education transformation puzzle. He realized that an incremental approach to reforming the existing mass schooling model does not work because of the power structures and bureaucratic tendencies inherent in conventional schooling. In the same Smithsonian interview, Jobs said:

I’d like the people teaching my kids to be good enough that they could get a job at the company I work for, making a hundred thousand dollars a year. Why should they work at a school for thirty-five to forty thousand dollars if they could get a job here at a hundred thousand dollars a year? Is that an intelligence test? The problem there, of course, is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.

Two Different Experiences, Two Different Outlooks

The vastly different education policy approaches favored by Gates and Jobs may be due in part to their own childhood schooling experiences. Gates attended a private day school, Lakeside School, in Seattle, Washington, and said in 2005: “Lakeside was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

Jobs, on the other hand, had a far less favorable reaction to his public schooling. He recalled:

School was pretty hard for me at the beginning. My mother taught me how to read before I got to school and so when I got there I really just wanted to do two things. I wanted to read books because I loved reading books and I wanted to go outside and chase butterflies. You know, do the things that five-year-olds like to do. I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.

While both of these tech moguls dropped out of college to start wildly successful businesses, their opinions on K-12 education policy reflect many of the differences that came to symbolize their respective companies. Apple’s visionary motto of “Think Different” challenges the status quo, while Microsoft’s “Empowering Us All” may just capture the next incremental change on a well-trodden path.

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Appeasing Robin Hanson’s Critics

Appeasement is greatly underrated.  As I’ve explained before:

Didn’t the Munich Agreement prove for all time that appeasement doesn’t work?  Hardly.  Despite its well-hyped failures, appeasement is an incredibly effective social strategy for dealing with the unreasonable and the unjust… also known as 90% of mankind.  Whenever someone makes bizarre demands upon me, my default is not to argue.  Instead, I weigh the cost of compliance.  If that cost is small – and it usually is – I let the babies have their way.  If you bump into me in the grocery store, I say “Sorry.”

Doesn’t that open the floodgates to additional demands?  Not in my experience.  One symbolic gesture is enough to placate most of the unpleasant characters I encounter.  After my concession, we usually go our separate ways.  And even when I repeatedly interact with the same unreasonable, unjust person, at least my appeasement makes it hard for them to imagine that they have to get back at me for my past wrongs.

Despite their scorn, almost everyone knows that appeasement works.  How do I know this?  Because everyone appeases to cope with social realities.  Recall your day.  Did you experience some unreasonable, unjust treatment?  Probably.  If so, did you escalate the conflict until reason and justice prevailed?  Probably not.  Why not?  Because it would be a Pyrrhic victory, likely to leave you unemployed and alone.

But I have to confess: When Twitter lashed out at Robin Hanson last week for asking a perfectly reasonable question, my emotional reaction was, “These people cannot be appeased!  We must not yield a single inch to this mob!”  And it wasn’t hard to construct a superficially solid argument to support this emotional reaction.  Namely:

1. Robin’s question was reasonable.

2. His tone was not only polite, but friendly.

3. Virtually everyone who knows Robin personally vouches for his sincerity and kindness.  Several (including me) were happy to publicize this information.

4. His critics’ main reaction was still personal abuse, condemnation, publicly “taking offense,” etc.

5. Faced with people so unfair and so unreasonable, isn’t escalation the only viable option?

Could I be wrong about (1), (2), (3), or (4)?  I doubt it.  But on reflection, there is so much that (5) is missing.

First and foremost, it forgets about the audience.  In any debate, you’re officially talking to your opponents, but it’s quixotic to imagine you’re going to persuade them.  In reality, you’re trying to persuade spectators.  And as the story of Jesus so famously reveals, calmly enduring abuse, returning good for ill, looks good to spectators.  I don’t know how many people Robin persuaded, but he would have persuaded far fewer if he lost his cool and treated his opponents the way they treated him.

Second, the argument against appeasement ignores long-run persuasion.  You’re not going to persuade people when they’re upset.  But eventually, many people will calm down.  Once they do, they’re more likely to reconsider their original position if you acted nobly throughout.

Third, long-run persuasion is especially important in the face of a moral panic – and the social justice movement seems a prime example.  In such situations, (a) many people are only upset because other people are upset, and (b) many current abusers will eventually find themselves among the abused (as in “The revolution devours its young.”)  I would not be surprised if some of Robin’s more prominent critics eventually find themselves on the wrong side of “their side.”  By appeasing these critics today, returning good for ill, you raise the likelihood that when they’re unfairly treated, they’ll consider the possibility that they treated others unfairly in the past.

If that ever happens, I’ll welcome them with open arms.  Knowing Robin, he’ll do the same.  Appeasement is far from fool-proof, but commitment to it really does pay off.

P.S. Wouldn’t real appeasement just be to lie, “What I fool I was, you’re absolutely right” – or just to remain silent in the first place?  The answer, of course, is that appeasement is a continuum.  When I say appeasement is overrated, I’m not claiming that you should go to the endpoint.

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On Politics V

Politics is the use of violence in society. Which is the greater evil: 1) the vices you may oppose, such as drug use, alcohol use, sex work, praying to the wrong god, sketchy business practices, et cetera, or 2) threatening violence and imprisonment against those who engage in whatever it is you consider vice? How you answer that question will determine what kind of person you are. Are you the kind of person to consider vice the bigger evil than violence? Or are you the kind of person to recognize the myriad evils of vice, but prefer non-violent methods of eradication, methods such as persuasion, ostracism, boycott, public protest, deplatforming, and shaming? Whichever type of person you are, how willing are you to personally engage in your preferred type of eradication, violent or non-violent? Or are you too much of a coward to do it yourself? That speaks to your character as well. Think long and hard about what behaviors you dislike and what you’re willing to do about them. Then remember that as you sow, so shall you reap. Good luck. And that’s today’s two cents.

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Trump’s Foreign Policy War on Americans

Beyond any reasonable doubt, in substance if not in appearance, Donald Trump is a thoroughly conventional American politician. It’s a wonder that anyone requires proof at this late date.

This couldn’t be more clear in foreign policy. Some of us who understand the links among freedom, durable prosperity, and a noninterventionist foreign policy always doubted the sincerity of Trump’s occasional renegade soundbites during his presidential campaign. But some fantasists fell for them, and they refuse to let go of their tissue-thin hope that this execrable man will liquidate the American empire. Nothing will convince them, so efforts at persuasion are futile.

The funny thing is that Trump himself seems to be working hardest to persuade those supporters that he has no intention of changing U.S. foreign policy. He would no more liquidate America’s global empire than liquidate his global business empire. Alas, America is not going anywhere. Sure, he may hector imperial allies to spend more on their militaries (while insisting he respects their sovereignty), but that’s just a show. He’s an all-in imperialist, so we shouldn’t be fooled by the staged populism that sometimes is mistaken for come-home-Americanism. America First in practice embodies George H. W. Bush’s summation of America’s foreign policy: “What we say goes.”

As Glenn Greenwald writes about Trump’s disgusting relationship with Saudi Arabia, it’s “a perfect example — perhaps stated a little more bluntly and candidly than usual — of how the U.S. has conducted itself in the world since at least the end of World War II.”

Forgive me for repeating myself: Trump is a caricature of a conventional American politician — which is why the political establishment despises him so. He lacks the diplomatic costume that makes brutality acceptable or at least enables people to live comfortably with their heads in the sand. But he’s just another faithful defender of the empire, and as such, he needs an enemy. In fact, he has plenty; take your choice: China, Iran, — and, yes — Russia. If someone thinks North Korea is a counterexample, I can only laugh. He has friends too: Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, assorted right-wing politicians. (He is indifferent to what appears to be the barbaric state murder of Jamal Khashoggi, giving the crown prince an out by calling Khashoggi an “enemy of the state” and a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer. He also praises the kingdom for lowering oil prices. Does he not know how stupid and naive that sounds? Or does he merely believe his fans are stupid and naive?)

Markers of his devotion to the empire include big boosts in military (please, not defense) spending; his doubling down on the endless Middle East wars; his insane withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which Reagan and Gorbachev struck in a major step away from the Cold War; continued expansion of NATO (which he pretends to disdain), and his arming of the fascist-infested Ukrainian government.

The latest exhibit in the case confirming Trump as a conventional American politician comes from the New York Times. It reported yesterday that the current White House occupant is doing what presidents have done at least since the onset of the Cold War: insisting that countries have no choice but to side with the United States or with one of its perceived enemies, in this case, China.

“The rivalry, which has reached a new pitch and scope, is now centered on the trade war that President Trump started this year [which is actually a war on Americans],” the Times reported. “But tensions have also sharpened over a broad range of diplomatic and military issues, like Taiwan, the South China Sea and economic sanctions on North Korea and Iran.

“Across the globe the United States and China are jockeying to build alliances or partnerships and shut out the other power.”

That China plays such games is not a good reason for the Trump administration to do so. The Chinese want to sell to us, not annihilate us. However, China’s moves are easily seen as responses to Trump’s aggressive measures in its neighborhood. For every pro-detente member of the administration, there seemingly are two members who think war with China is inevitable. For Trump, trade has nothing to do with individual freedom and prosperity. It’s just part of the arsenal with which to wage war against perceived rivals and reward friends. A charge of “unfair trade practices” is one of the first refuges of scoundrels.

Viewed as a whole, Trump’s foreign policy is nothing but inimical to individual liberty, peace, long-term prosperity, and the right of Americans and others to pursue their private lives beyond the reach of meddlesome rulers. As the Jeffersonian Abraham Bishop said in 1800: “A nation that makes greatness its polestar can never be free.”

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Anarchism and Kavanaugh

Regarding Brett Kavanaugh, I’ve been wondering how I can blame the state for what we’ve endured these past weeks. I can safely say that without the state, we would have been spared the Kavanaugh episode.

Natural-law, pro-market anarchists are not utopians. To paraphrase the old hit: we beg your pardon; we never promised you a rose garden. Anarchism refers to a set of means — persuasion, consent, and voluntary cooperation — and not an end. It permits the emergence of solutions through a range of cooperative activities as opposed to the state’s imposition of one-size-fits-all alleged solutions from on high — from, say, Capitol Hill, our Mount Olympus.

But some things are less likely to occur in a stateless society than in a state-saturated one. And the Kavanaugh problem is one of those things.

Let’s start with the basics. Kavanaugh has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Supreme Court justices have lifetime jobs. While an impeachment process exists, it is close to impossible to remove a high official. Second, the Court’s rulings are the “supreme law of the land.” It takes just five of nine justices to set binding precedents, which lower federal and state courts obviously must apply. Third, parties who elect to take cases to the Court are stuck with whoever happens to be on the Court at the time. If a party has doubts about the character of one or more of the justices, tough luck. (This doesn’t mean the government’s courts are unavoidable for some people, as the popularity of private arbitration demonstrates.)

In light of these facts, I can’t think how a situation like the one created by Kavanaugh’s nomination could arise in a stateless society. No supreme court would exist because no monopoly legal system would exist. (See my “Of Bumblebees and Competitive Courts.”) Judges would not have guaranteed lifetime jobs. Nor would their rulings serve as binding (as opposed to persuasive) precedents. (On the emergence and downside of stare decisis, the doctrine of binding precedent, in the common law, see Todd Zywicki’s “The Rise and Fall of Efficiency in the Common Law: A Supply-Side Analysis.”)  Parties to disputes would, through mutually agreed-to procedures, choose anyone they wanted to hear their cases. This could happen ad hoc in one-off disputes, but the more common practice would likely be prospective arrangements among associations of various kinds, insurance, defense, and so on.

As I say, it’s hard to imagine how the Kavanaugh situation could arise under anarchism. Parties looking for members of an arbitration panel usually could strike from consideration anyone about whom they had any doubts whatever. Other parties who had no concern about someone under a cloud like Kavanaugh’s could choose that person, subject to the conditions agreed to with fellow disputants. But, crucially, the choice to include or exclude such a person would have implications for only the parties to the specific dispute.

Obviously, prospective arbiters’ reputations, especially for fairness and honesty but not only those traits, would matter immensely. In effect, prospective arbiters would face a confirmation review — by disputants or their representatives — every day. A Supreme Court nominee does so just once. If the Senate errs, too bad. As mentioned, under the Constitution, justices “shall hold their offices during good behavior.” But in 229 years, Congress has never removed a justice. Only one, Samuel Chase in 1804, was impeached by the House, but he was acquitted by the Senate. in the 20th century, William O. Douglas and Abe Fortas escaped House impeachment votes, though hearings were either held (twice in Douglas’s case) or almost held (Fortas). Under anarchism, no impeachment process would be necessary because no one would be appointed to any judicial role except by parties to their own particular cases or by the associations or communities with which they chose to affiliate.

So a big advantage to anarchism is that it would blessedly spare us from the sort of repulsive spectacle we’ve lived through these last weeks — repulsive in an assortment of ways. I’m thinking now of that band of self-righteous frauds called senators and that amoral boor with the “really, really large brain” who imagine themselves to be guardians of the people’s welfare when in truth they are impediments to it. Imagine a society in which, for most of us, nothing much hinged on whether Brett Kavanaugh or Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth.

Anarchism’s looking pretty good now, isn’t it? I know that some people are frightened by that word, but they ought not to be. Rather, they ought to think of anarchism as Roderick Long presents it in his critical look at the recent exchange over anarchism that took place at Reason. Long tells us that anarchism amounts to little more than an expansion to all areas of life of the manner in which we typically deal with one another today, thereby shrinking the sphere of coercive relationships until it disappears. He draws on earlier thinkers to make the point:

Recall Gustav Landauer’s famous formulation: “The state is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another.” And another anarchist, Paul Goodman, has noted: “A free society cannot be the substitution of a ‘new order’ for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of social life.”

So, just imagine a world where you could ignore, among many others I could name, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, Dianne Feinstein, and Donald Trump. To quote Louis Armstrong, “What a wonderful world it would be.”

(For discussions of law under anarchism, see Roderick Long’s essays “Why Objective Law Requires Anarchy,” “Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to Ten Objections,” and “Market Anarchism as Constitutionalism”; John Hasnas’s “The Myth of the Rule of Law,” “The Depoliticization of Law,” “Toward a Theory of Empirical Natural Rights,” and “The Obviousness of Anarchism”; and David D. Friedman’s “A Positive Account of Rights.” Also see the chapter “The Constitution of Anarchy” in my America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited. and Gary Chartier’s Anarchy and Legal Order.)

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