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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American Politicians Use Jews as Pawns to Excuse Their Meddling in Israeli Elections

On July 23, the US House of Representatives passed (the vote went 398-17, with five voting “present”) a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

The resolution was an outrageous condemnation of the freely chosen economic actions of millions of Americans.

Worse, that condemnation was made on the express behalf of not just a foreign government but the specific policies of one foreign political party (Israel’s Likud Party and its leader, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu). Its intended purpose is to give Likud and Netanyahu the advantage of perceived US support in Israel’s upcoming election.

Worst of all, the resolution’s proponents made — and now that it’s passed, will continue to make — extensive use of overt, undisguised race-baiting, posturing as defenders of Jews while smearing their opponents as anti-Semites.

What are the purposes of the BDS movement?

To pressure the government of Israel to meet “its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully compl[y] with the precepts of international law by: 1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

Who supports BDS?

Yes, some BDS supporters oppose the existence of the Israeli state as such, and some of them are anti-Jewish bigots. Go figure.

Other BDS supporters are Jews, including some Israelis. Being Jewish or Israeli no more entails supporting one political party’s agenda than being American does.

BDS harnesses the consciences of individuals — individuals of all religions, nationalities, and ethnicities — to voluntary action pressuring the Israeli government to abide by the same standards of international law that the US  government routinely, and with great pomp and circumstance, imposes coercive sanctions on other governments for supposedly violating.

The anti-BDS resolution is a far more overt, and likely far more effective, instance of US government meddling in Israel’s elections than anything the Mueller Report credibly accuses the Russian state of doing vis a vis the 2016 US election.

That’s disgusting.

But not as disgusting as its supporters’ virulent resort to racial politics and their abuse of Jews as, to steal a phrase from a recent New York Times op-ed by Michelle Goldberg, “human shields” to distract our attention from what they’re actually up to.

Shame on the House.

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Yes, Parents Are Capable of Choosing How Their Children Should Be Educated

At the heart of debates around education freedom and school choice is the subtle but sinister sentiment that parents can’t be trusted. They are too busy, too poor, or too ignorant to make the right decisions for their kids, and others know better how to raise and educate children. Never mind that parents have successfully cared for and educated their children for millennia, ensuring the ongoing survival and continued success of our species.

Distrust of Parents

As economist Richard Ebeling writes in the introduction to Sheldon Richman’s book Separating School & State:

The parent has been viewed—and still is viewed—as a backward and harmful influence in the formative years of the child’s upbringing, an influence that must be corrected for and replaced by the “enlightened” professional teacher who has been trained, appointed, and funded by the state.

We see this distrust of parents play out in a number of policy areas, including most recently with the implementation of universal government preschool for four-year-olds (and increasingly three-year-olds) in cities like New York and Washington, DC, and in academic reports arguing for “Cradle to Kindergarten” government interventions. These efforts are nearly always framed as helping parents, taking the burden off of low- and middle-income families, and addressing inequality and achievement gaps. But the message is clear: parents, and especially disadvantaged parents, can’t be expected to effectively raise their children and see to their education without the government’s help.

Some researchers say this outright. In an article published in this week’s Washington Post about alleged summer learning loss among schoolchildren, Kelly Chandler-Olcott suggests that to fix the problem, we need to stop expecting parents to nurture their children during the summer months and instead rely on experts to do it for them. She writes:

Also troubling is the assumption that families, not educators, should promote learning in specialized areas such as mathematics, reading and science. Although families from all walks of life promote varied kinds of learning in everyday life, most parents lack preparation to address academic subjects, and their year-round obligations don’t end just because school is out for their offspring.

This is during the summertime, mind you, when parents have long been responsible for the care of their children. Apparently now the academic crisis is so dire, particularly for low-income children, and parents’ “year-round obligations” are so huge, that we should entrust others to do throughout the summer months what seemingly didn’t work well during the academic year. As I wrote at NPR, we need to ask ourselves if kids can so quickly forget during summertime what they purportedly learned during the school year, did they ever really learn it at all? And if “most parents lack preparation to address academic subjects,” then what does that say about the education they received through public schooling?

“Perennial Force” of Parenthood

The idea that parents get in the way of children’s education and can halt their flourishing is nothing new. As he was designing the architecture for compulsory mass schooling in the 19th century, Horace Mann argued that education was too important to be left to parents’ discretion. He explained that strong parental bonds are obstacles to children’s and society’s development, writing in his fourth lecture on education in 1840:

Nature supplies a perennial force, unexhausted, inexhaustible, re-appearing whenever and wherever the parental relation exists. We, then, who are engaged in the sacred cause of education, are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause.

Mann goes on to say that “just as soon as we can make them see the true relation in which they and their children stand to this cause, they will become advocates for its advancement,” supporting the complete shift in control of education from the family to the state. It’s for the good of all, Mann said—except for parents like him who homeschooled his own children while mandating forced schooling for others.

The solution is for parents to push back against creeping government control of education and child-rearing. Don’t be wooed by the siren song of feigned empathy for your burdens of work and family. Don’t be convinced of the false belief that you are incapable of caring for your children and determining how, where, and with whom they should be educated. Don’t let your “inexhaustible” parental instincts be weakened by government guardians who think they know what is best for your child. Demand freedom and choice.

Parents are powerful. They are not perfect, and they do fail, but they are more perfect and fail much less than state agents and government bureaucracies intoxicated by authority and ego. They should take back control of their children’s education by advocating for parental choice and resisting efforts to undermine their innate capacity to care for their children’s well-being.

Place trust in the “perennial force” of parenthood, even when—or perhaps especially when—others distrust it.

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Against Tu Quoque

War crimes trials often weigh on the consciences of the conscientious.  Aren’t such proceedings mere “victor’s justice”?  The hypocrisy is usually palpable; after all, how often does either side in a violent conflict walk away with clean hands?  Unsurprisingly, then, one of defendants’ favorite legal strategies is to tell their prosecutors, “Well, you guys did the same.”  It’s called the tu quoque defense:

An argument from fairness, the tu quoque argument has an enduring appeal to the human conscience. Simply put, tu quoque is the Latin rendition of “you too”, with the argument built-in, though often unstated: “Since you have committed the same crime, why are you prosecuting me?” Cast in more affirmative terms, the argument is that if one side in a conflict has committed certain crimes, it has no authority to prosecute or punish nationals of the other side for the same or closely similar crimes. Whatever effect a decision-maker may choose to give it, the argument troubles the human soul, when it is presented in a fitting situation.

To be honest, though, I have trouble seeing why this argument has any appeal, much less “enduring appeal.”

Consider: If a law is unjust, the less you enforce it, the better.  This remains true even if 99% of violators get punished, because sparing 1% is less unjust than sparing 0%.  To quote one of the best things Murray Rothbard ever said about ethics:

[T]he justice of equality of treatment depends first of all on the justice of the treatment itself. Suppose, for example, that Jones, with his retinue, proposes to enslave a group of people. Are we to maintain that “justice”  requires that each be enslaved equally? And suppose that someone has the good fortune to escape. Are we to condemn him for evading the equality of justice meted out to his fellows? It is obvious that equality of treatment is no canon of justice whatever. If a measure is unjust, then it is just that it have as little general effect as possible. Equality of unjust treatment can never be upheld as an ideal of justice.

By the same logic, if a law is just, the more you enforce it, the better.  This remains true even if 99% of violators are never punished.  Giving 1% of monsters what they deserve is less unjust than giving 0% of monsters what they deserve.  If you have the chance to inflict retribution on 1% of the camp guards at Auschwitz, why not go for it?  Sure, if you’re a war criminal yourself, we should urge you to submit to punishment as well.  If that’s not going to happen, though, why not take whatever justice you’re willing to dole out?

Justice aside, the consequentialist case against the tu quoque defense is also solid.  Since victory is never assured, it’s good for people on all sides to know, “I will be harshly punished for my war crimes… if my side loses.”  While it would be better if people knew they would be punished regardless of the outcome of the war, conditional deterrence is better than no deterrence at all.

Isn’t it possible, though, that people will commit additional war crimes to avoid prosecution for earlier war crimes?  The answer, of course, is: “Sure, it’s possible.”  Most obviously, fear of war crimes trials provides an incentive to murder witnesses ASAP.  Yet the same goes for any law.  Laws against murder create an incentive to murder people who witness your murders.  Yet this is a flimsy objection to laws against murder, because shrewd consequentialists focus on overall net effects, not worst-case scenarios.

What’s the best case against war crimes trials?  Simple: War crimes trials might delay peace – or reignite a war – and war is hell.  Indeed, war is often hellish enough to overcome the intuitive moral presumption in favor of making violent criminals suffer for their misdeeds.  When countries adopt amnesties to prevent future bloodshed, I keep my mind open.

When you firmly have the upper-hand, though, I say retribution dulce et decorum est.  Letting Soviet war criminals off the hook in 1991 was defensible, though it would have been safe and wise to permanently bar former Communist Party members from holding public office.  In 1945, though, defeated Axis war criminals were sitting ducks.  Making tens of thousands of them pay in full for their offenses would have been easy, just, and instructive.  Punishing all the war criminals on both sides would naturally have been even more just and instructive, but anything but easy.

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The Fallacy Fallacy Redux

Nobody asked but …

Just because someone argues about a thing by using a logic fallacy does not make the thing itself untrue.  In fact, citing your antagonist’s logic slip, then claiming victory thereby is just another instance of the appeal to authority.  The authority in this case are the tandem of your fallacy guru and your argumentation guru.

Firstly, you cannot “win” an argument, since an argument is a process for testing fact, not a pissing match.

Secondly, it is impossible to make a sound argument by citing a fallacy.  Such would only get you and your debate partner to a logical starting point for addressing any remaining fallacies.

Here is an example: some will insist that global warming is climate change that will come true, because … science.  But an open-ended reference to science is no different than an appeal to magic practitioners.  It is an unsupported assertion in the form of an appeal to authority.

BUT — and this is a big “but” — the fallacy makes the original assertion, that global warming is coming, neither true nor false.  There are no authorities who can know the future.

— Kilgore Forelle

 

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Morality is Based on Consent, Government is Not

At its core, morality is about consent. What is the difference between sex and rape, employment and slavery, or trade and theft? In each case, consent is what differentiates voluntary, peaceful interaction from coercion and violence.

Consent is also what is conspicuously absent from all forms of government throughout human history.

The great lie that is frequently embraced by conservatives, constitutionalists, and even some Libertarians is that the American “system” of government was once good and fair and legitimate, and that it only became problematic once it was corrupted. Nothing could be further from the truth. The U.S. federal government has, since the ratification of the constitution, been a criminal cabal, illegitimately claiming authority over the lives and property of individuals.

A simple review of the constitution will reveal this claim to be true.

Among other troubling claims, the constitution asserts that “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises…”; “To borrow Money…”; “To regulate Commerce…”; “To declare War…”

Did you consent to any of these things? Did you consent to have your property stolen, your trade regulated, money borrowed on your credit, and war declared in your name?

I certainly did not!

That the state continues to perpetrate these violative actions without your consent reveals the state to be every bit as criminal as the rapist, the slaver, and the thief.

Respect for individual consent is not only the defining component of morality, it is the key to peace and prosperity. This is equally true at every level of human existence from personal relationships to world affairs.

We understand at a fundamental and basic level that rape, slavery, and theft are wrong. These aren’t things that have to be outlawed before our consciences tell us there is a problem. Likewise, we can recognize that all violations of consent—even when they are perpetrated by the state and its enforcers—are equally problematic.

This is why a system of government can never be fixed or perfected. It is foundationally, fundamentally, and inescapably immoral for some people (even if they represent a majority or are elected by a majority) to impose their preferences on others without their consent.

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