Why I’m Optimistic About Venezuela

If there were mass protests against the government of Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. decided to recognize the opposition as the legitimate government of Saudi, I would expect disaster.  Why?  Because…

1. Supporters of the Saudi monarchy remain powerful and confident enough to aggressively fight back, plunging the country into hellish civil war.

2. If the monarchy loses, it’s most likely replacement will be a revolutionary Islamist dictatorship.

3. Even if the new Saudi government sticks to democracy, the median Saudi voter probably favors even worse policies than the Saudi monarchy now imposes.  In particular, government enforcement of Islamic fundamentalism would tighten, and economic policies would move even further toward socialism and populism.

And now you know why I am optimistic about the constitutional crisis in Venezuela.

1. Supporters of Maduro are too weak and demoralized to aggressively fight back, so I put the risk of hellish civil war below 10%.  (Indeed, since there’s a high base rate for civil wars in situations this dire, it’s quite possible that the risk of civil war has actually fallen due to the crisis).

2. If the Maduro regime loses, its most likely replacement will be a moderate pro-Western democracy.

3. If the new Venezuelan government sticks to democracy, the median Venezuelan almost certainly favors better policies than Maduro now imposes.  In particular, government enforcement of socialist ideology will crumble, and economic policies will move sharply away from socialism and populism.

If you’re too young to remember the collapse of Communism, this is a tiny taste of the sweetness of 1988-1991.  When’s the last time you had reasonable hope of dramatic peaceful pro-freedom change in the world?

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Parkland and Covington: Two Schools, Two Causes, One Lesson

“You’re not interesting because you went to a high school where kids got shot,” comedian Louis C.K. said at a New York gig in December, addressing Florida high school students who trafficked on their credentials as “school shooting survivors” to shill for the gun control movement. “You didn’t get shot. You pushed some fat kid in the way and now I gotta listen to you talking?”

America’s “left wing” went ballistic. How dare this man mock kids who’d been through something so horrible?

On January 19, a group of students from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School found themselves targeted as bigots after social media (quickly followed by mainstream media) carried video clips that appeared to show them harassing and mocking an American Indian activist participating in the Indigenous People’s March.

The story quickly fell apart as it became apparent that the kids were waiting for buses, not counter-protesting the Indigenous People’s March, that they were themselves the targets of harassment by a racist group (the “Black Hebrews”), and that the conduct of Nathan Phillips, the Indian activist, was either itself confrontational or else easily perceived as such.

America’s “right wing” went ballistic. How dare biased media actors frame these kids?

The two incidents may seem at most tenuously connected, but taken together they constitute teachable moments for young political activists — and for those who rush to decry perceived mistreatment of those activists.

In a statement responding to the controversy, one of the Covington Catholic students, Nick Sandmann, writes:

“I never understood why either of the two groups of protestors were engaging with us, or exactly what they were protesting at the Lincoln Memorial. We were simply there to meet a bus, not become central players in a media spectacle. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever encountered any sort of public protest, let alone this kind of confrontation or demonstration.”

The first part of that statement is naive. The second part is flatly false.

It’s naive to expect a bunch of people, congregating in the vicinity of “left-wing” protests, wearing  US president Donald Trump’s signature accessories  (“Make America Great Again” hats), to be perceived as anything other than “right-wing” counter-protesters.  And when protesters and counter-protesters meet, there WILL be uncomfortable “engagement.”

Sandmann falsely — or, to be charitable, perhaps again naively — characterizes himself as never having encountered public protest before. In fact, at the time of the confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial he had just finished participating in exactly such a public protest — the “March for Life,” an annual anti-abortion demonstration — after having traveled 500 miles for the specific purpose of doing so.

As Finley Peter Dunne wrote, “politics ain’t beanbag.” Those who enter the public square in support of a cause — ANY cause — thereby open themselves up to  mockery, misunderstanding, the whole panoply of unpleasant “engagement.”

Which is not to say that young people shouldn’t engage in political activism. But when they do, they’re acting as adults and implicitly asking to be treated as adults.

Thus endeth the lesson.

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Rainwater’s Motivated Reasoning

Lee Rainwater was one of the most prominent liberal sociologists of the Great Society era.  He spent 23 years at Harvard; here‘s the Harvard Gazette‘s memorial to his work.  To be honest, though, I never heard of him until last week.  Yet after I stumbled upon his 1966 Daedalus article, “The Crucible of Identity: The Negro Lower-Class Family,” I was surprised that any academic would so candidly admit to motivated reasoning.  When I discovered that he was an intellectual leader of his generation, I was stunned.

Here’s what stunned me; Rainwater’s in blockquotes, I’m not.  He starts off promisingly enough:

The first responsibility of the social scientist can be phrased in much the same way: “Tell it like it is.” His second responsibility is to try to understand why “it” is that way, and to explore the implications of what and why for more constructive solutions to human problems.

Then he runs right off the rails:

Social research on the situation of the Negro American has been informed by four main goals: (1) to describe the disadvantaged position of Negroes, (2) to disprove the racist ideology which sustains the caste system, (3) to demonstrate that responsibility for the disadvantages Negroes suffer lies squarely upon the white caste which derives economic, prestige, and psychic benefits from the operation of the system, and (4) to suggest that in reality whites would be better rather than worse off if the whole jerry-built caste structure were to be dismantled.

If you wanted to “tell it like it is,” of course, your goal would not be to “disprove” any ideology, but to fairly evaluate it.  Similarly, your goal would not be to “demonstrate” that responsibility lies squarely upon anyone, but to accurately apportion responsibility.  In any case, it’s hard to understand how both (3) and (4) could be true.  If whites would be better-off if the system were dismantled, how can the “white caste… derive economic, prestige, and psychic benefits from the operation of the system”?  I suppose you could treat “the white caste” as the subset of whites who profit, but then the claim is almost tautologous.  Or you could be really defensive and say, “He means ‘gross benefits,’ not ‘net benefits.’”

Are Rainwater’s words really so damning to his own intellectual tradition?  Well, imagine I wrote:

Social research on the situation of the American immigrant has been informed by four main goals: (1) to describe the disadvantaged position of immigrants, (2) to disprove the nativist ideology which sustains the caste system, (3) to demonstrate that responsibility for the disadvantages immigrants suffer lies squarely upon the native caste which derives economic, prestige, and psychic benefits from the operation of the system, and (4) to suggest that in reality natives would be better rather than worse off if the whole jerry-built caste structure were to be dismantled.

Would any judicious reader trust my work on immigration after this declaration?  No.  Why not?  Because I’m talking like a trial lawyer who wants to win a case.  The whole point of research, in contrast, is to stay open to the possibility that you’re wrong.  Sure, you’ve got suspicions.  But you’re supposed to not only verify your suspicions, but energetically look for counter-evidence!  Furthermore, you’re supposed to not just follow these standards yourself, but monitor your intellectual teammates.  The fact that your intellectual subculture wants X to be true urges self-scrutiny, not self-congratulation.

Speaking of that, how’s this for self-congratulation?

The successful accomplishment of these intellectual goals has been a towering achievement, in which the social scientists of the 1920’s, ’30’s, and ’40’s can take great pride; that white society has proved so recalcitrant to utilizing this intellectual accomplishment is one of the great tragedies of our time, and provides the stimulus for further social research on “the white problem.”

What’s most striking about Rainwater’s article, however, is that he provides a wealth of empirical evidence against his own point (3).  Indeed, most of the article is standard “culture of poverty” sociology, documenting high levels of irresponsible and criminal behavior among the underclass.  How then does Rainwater reconcile his theory with the facts?  Again, by the power of motivated reasoning.

Yet the implicit paradigm of much of the research on Negro Americans has been an overly simplistic one concentrating on two terms of an argument:

White cupidity———–> Negro suffering.

As an intellectual shorthand, and even more as a civil rights slogan, this simple model is both justified and essential. But, as a guide to greater understanding of the Negro situation as human adaptation to human situations, the paradigm is totally inadequate because it fails to specify fully enough the process by which Negroes adapt to their situations as they do, and the limitations one kind of adaptation places on possibilities for subsequent adaptations. A reassessment of previous social research, combined with examination of current social research on Negro ghetto communities, suggests a more complex, but hopefully more vertical, model:

White cupidity creates

Structural Conditions Highly Inimical to Basic Social Adaptation (low-income availability, poor education, poor services, stigmatization)

to which Negroes adapt by

Social and Personal Responses which serve to sustain the individual in his punishing world but also generate aggressiveness toward the self and others

which results in

Suffering directly inflicted by Negroes on themselves and on others.

In short, whites, by their greater power, create situations in which Negroes do the dirty work of caste victimization for them. [original punctuation]

Notice: As an ethnographer of black poverty, Rainwater offers little or no data on “white cupidity.”  Furthermore, a straightforward reading of his own evidence is that irresponsible and criminal behavior is, as usual, maladaptive.  All he directly documents is the final clause – the intra-racial “dirty work of caste victimization.”  Only motivated reasoning allows Rainwater to casually interpret these facts as proof of that the “white caste” is to blame for anything.

You could naturally protest that Rainwater is right for the wrong reasons.  Maybe so, but this protest misses the meta point.  Namely: If a brilliant, eminent, and mainstream scholar of the 1960s could be right for such wrong reasons, the brilliant, eminent, and mainstream scholars of today could easily be mired in their own brand of motivated reasoning.  Indeed, so could you.  Or me.  There’s no easy remedy, but the first step is being hyper-aware that we have a problem.

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False Narratives, Propaganda, and Political Tribalism

In 2013 people rose up around the world to oppose the war in Syria being promoted by Obama, Clinton, Kerry, many European leaders and maybe most obviously, the neocons. Since then, the war slowly squeezed its way into existence anyway gradually though apathy, propaganda, and other bullshit.

I remember back in 2013 thinking that something really cool happened. However, today, you really get to see the full effect of tribalism and propaganda. Many of the people who so vehemently opposed the war in 2013 are so saddened and outrage by our exit. It makes it seem even more Orwellian and crazy for the people who remember the anti-war protests of the Bush years.

I think people believe all these sorts of things are natural conditions of people over time. Protests are the emergence of the people’s true feelings welling up into grassroots political causes. However, the vast majority of it is best understood as false narratives, propaganda, and political tribalism. The anti-war movement died when the democrats took power over the military. The Tea Party died when Republicans took over the budget.

All of this really should make people grow insanely cynical of the political machinations of our society, but, it largely doesn’t. People just buy into the new narrative and fight a new enemy to the benefit of their perceived political ally. Several years ago I grew surprised with how fast a political movement could support a cause, organization or person that they just opposed several years before, but that is worn down for me. I don’t think this will ever really change. This is the state of man. However, it grows and shrinks along with the power of government.

From my perspective, it is a really interesting time to observe it all. Insane levels of debt in society. Markets are slipping back into recession. Donald Trump is President, and it just feels like there’s an air of chaos about. It is interesting to follow the news and it feels like everything is happening so fast.

Anyway, just some thoughts that came to mind.

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The French Yellow Vest Protesters’ Demands (22m) – Editor’s Break 120

Editor’s Break 120 has Skyler giving his commentary on the list of demands published by the yellow vest protesters in France and rating them as libertarian friendly, or not.

Listen to Editor’s Break 120 (22m, mp3, 64kbps)

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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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