Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Intellectual Refusniks and Renegades


By Ben Shapiro
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Two weeks ago, philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris had Ezra Klein, who is Vox’s editor in chief, on his podcast, Waking Up. The topic: Klein’s website had labeled Harris a participant in “pseudoscientific racialist speculation” because Harris had had the temerity to host social scientist Charles Murray on his program. Murray, you’ll recall, is the co-author of The Bell Curve, a book that discusses IQ differentials among population groups, among other topics. And Murray himself has been cast out of the good graces of the Left for having the temerity to discuss inconvenient data; last year, a crowd of Antifa hoodlums broke up Murray’s lecture at Middlebury College and injured a fellow professor.

Harris, like Murray, was cast out of the good graces of the intersectional Left just a few years ago, in 2014, when he pointed out that Islam is more of a threat to the peace of humanity than Christianity is. Harris stated, “Islam at this moment is the motherlode of bad ideas.” Ben Affleck responded by calling Harris’s statement “gross” and “racist.” Harris, by contrast, explained, “We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia where every critique of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people, and that’s just intellectually ridiculous.”

Harris isn’t the only leftist to have found himself intellectually homeless — but with a growing population of followers. Bret Weinstein, an Occupy Wall Street–supporting, “deeply progressive” professor at Evergreen State College, has become a popular man on the intellectual right despite his politics. Why? Because Weinstein refused to bow to identity politics by taking a day off of class in order to comply with the so-called Day of Absence at Evergreen — a day on which white students and faculty were supposed to leave campus. This led to Weinstein’s exit from the university.

Those who have been cast out of the good graces of the liberal intelligentsia include others, such as Jordan Peterson, who until quite recently was appreciated as a scholar in psychology and the author of a difficult and complex tome, Maps of Meaning. But he came to prominence in Canada in 2016 because he refused to abide by politically correct strictures regarding the use of transgender pronouns. He stated in the National Post, “I will never use words I hate, like the trendy and artificially constructed words ‘zhe’ and ‘zher.’”

All of these people have built serious audiences, at least in part because of their refusal to comply with the diktats of the Left. What do they have in common? First off, their refusal. They are case studies in what I’ve been terming the Bartleby Effect.

Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” tells the tale of a clerk, Bartleby, hired by a Wall Street law firm. At first, Bartleby works diligently for his supervising lawyer. But one day, the lawyer asks Bartleby to inspect a document, and Bartleby answers simply, “I would prefer not to.” Soon, Bartleby begins stating that he would “prefer not to” examine any of the lawyer’s documents. While the supervising lawyer attempts to keep paying Bartleby, and even offers him a place to live, by the end of the story, Bartleby is imprisoned and starves to death when he “prefers not” to eat.

The story has been interpreted various ways, but the most fascinating aspect of it is the supervising lawyer’s growing fascination with Bartleby and loyalty to him. Why doesn’t the lawyer simply cast Bartleby aside?

Here’s one answer: Human beings are drawn to those who are willing to risk everything to say “no.” Society pushes us to embrace a variety of causes — and particularly today, in the era of mass media and social networks, we are expected to abide by the standards of our peers. If individuals refuse to do so, we immediately ask the question the lawyer asks of Bartleby: Why? Why are individuals willing to risk so much to speak the truth as they see it, to avoid conforming with the crowd? Perhaps they have allegiances to principles that are deeper than those of our postmodern culture, with its emphasis on relative truth and on identity above argument. Perhaps those principles mean something.

And they do. Human beings are drawn to truth. They resonate to data. They want to hear arguments rather than character assaults. That’s why the same incidents that cast Harris and Weinstein and Peterson out of the fold have built them newer, stronger, more interesting audiences.

We live in a society that embraces the totalitarian rule articulated by T. H. White: “Everything which is not forbidden is compulsory.” But those who refuse to abide by that rule must have discovered something worth fighting for. And perhaps we have something to learn from them, if freedom means triumphing over the kindly-hearted totalitarianism of the intersectional Left.

Democrats’ Universal Job Plan Would Be A Socialist Disaster


By David Harsanyi
Tuesday, April 24, 2018 

Sen. Bernie Sanders is set to announce a plan that guarantees every American “who wants or needs one” a lifetime government job paying at least $15 an hour, with health insurance and other perks. This new progressive workforce will then build glorious “projects throughout the United States” that are “aimed at addressing priorities such as infrastructure, care giving, the environment, education and other goals.”

It would be one thing if the nation’s leading socialist — and perhaps the most popular Democrat in the country — were the only one interested in creating a state-run workforce to “compete” with the private sector. A number of other allegedly moderate Democrats and prospective presidential candidates, including Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker, favor a universal job guarantee, as well. It’s rapidly becoming a mainstream idea.

One imagines that a quixotic proposal like this polls quite well. I mean, who doesn’t want everyone to have a job? You don’t possess a skill-set that enables you to find productive work? You don’t want to learn a new trade? You don’t want to attain a better education? You have no interest in moving to an area where your work might be in demand? You don’t want to start your career with a lower wage even if the long-term prospects of doing so might be worthwhile? Don’t worry. The government’s got an incentive-destroying job opportunity just for you.

And if you’ve been fired for a poor work ethic or for stealing or for making women uncomfortable with your creepy behavior, fear not, Bernie’s got your back. In the rare event that a state worker does misbehave, he or she will be summoned to the “Division of Progress Investigation” (a relic of our 1930s stab at socialism) to “take disciplinary action if needed.” If the DPI runs anything like major public schools systems do, you can imagine this will be a study in meritocracy.

“Job guarantee advocates,” according to The Washington Post, make the absurd claim that Bernie’s plan would drive up wages by significantly increasing competition for workers, “ensuring that corporations have to offer more generous salaries and benefits if they want to keep their employees from working for the government.”

Corporations are concerned with profit. If the minimum wage kills jobs, why should we believe businesses (especially smaller ones) would compete with government-funded projects that can print money and create salaries (and benefits) that are wholly untethered from the real cost of labor? Businesses will simply hire fewer Americans — especially those Americans first getting into the labor force.

Of course, it’s more likely that our state-run workforce will be deployed for ideological and political priorities rather than economic ones. If history is any indicator, it will be used to prop up politically useful projects and keep failing industries afloat, undermining creative destruction, innovation, and long-term growth.

You do have to wonder what would happen when local communities that share President Trump’s “priorities” demand to utilize this state labor? What if they want to build sections of a wall on the southern border rather than make solar panels, or whatever progressive priority Sanders has in mind? We’d be hearing about rise of fascism in no time.

Then, there is the mission creep. No doubt, the DC bureaucracy that emerges to run this project will be both nimble and competent. But why only $15? Who can live on $15 an hour? Well, not a lot of people. Surely these hard-working public servants who keep the infrastructure from crumbling around us deserve a genuine living wage. How about better pensions? As this workforce grows, it won’t possess any special ability other than being able to corral huge numbers of people to demand more.

Most of all, making government responsible for every American’s job prospects would change the dynamics of governance, forever. Not only would politicians be expected to help create the economic conditions that make growth possible, but now they will face another unrealistic expectation. Unemployment will no longer be a function of economic conditions, but rather heartless politicians who fail to create jobs for voters.

This is exactly what left-leaning economists who obsess about inequality and push zero-sum fantasies about wealth and growth want. It’s why they wanted the federal government to control the structure of the health-care system, and it’s why they want to create a “public” job option. Most of them openly argue the universal job program would let them control wages and benefits in the private sector.

Democrats have yet to tell us how they plan to fund this massive workforce idea that doesn’t generate any profit. I have a strong suspicion it will have something to do with the nefariously wealthy not paying their fair share. I’m not sure, however, that even the Koch Brothers could afford to bankroll this idea. But it’s not really meant to pass. Not yet. Republicans would never go for it, after all. Democrats see this as a promising campaign issue. In the meantime, they continue to normalize destructive socialistic ideas in political discourse.

The Misanthropic Mrs. Clinton


By Kyle Smith
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A curious dualism emerges in New York Times reporter Amy Chozick’s book Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling. As I noted yesterday, Chozick makes it clear that she was rooting for Clinton. But she also thinks Clinton hates her.

Chozick shouldn’t take things so personally: Clinton hates everyone. You can’t relate to people you despise. Her inability to master the basics of being a politician inspired one of the great underreported witticisms of the 2016 campaign, when Donald Trump was asked about his comparatively loose debate preparations. “I don’t need to rehearse being human,” he said.

As a college sophomore, Clinton once described herself as a “misanthrope.” Her inability to hide that made her an amazingly poor candidate, one who would have had difficulty capturing a seat on any city council on her own. Dealing with the populace standing between her and power was never anything but a chore.

Chozick and the other reporters covering Clinton in 2015–16 were pulling for her. You could hear it in the questions they asked. Chozick makes it obvious in her new book. Yet Clinton was convinced this gaggle of liberal women was somehow out to take her down, and she barricaded herself off from them. She was a glum loner, not a happy warrior.

After the election defeat, Chozick met with a Democratic-party stalwart who was a major Clinton supporter in an apartment with a panoramic view of Manhattan and walls covered with Monets. (Chozick doesn’t identify this person.) “Look around,” the big shot told the reporter. “I’m not a loser. Hillary is a L-O-S-E-R.” Then the person made an L sign with one hand.

Chozick got little access to Clinton during either the 2016 campaign or the 2008 one (which Chozick covered for the Wall Street Journal). At one point she says the only real interaction she had with Clinton was when the latter barged in on her in an airplane lavatory. When Donald Trump calls her in the fall of 2016, she tells him that Clinton has never called her in the nine years Chozick has been covering her.

That inability to schmooze was a noxious gas, the flammable hydrogen that doomed Clinton’s two Hindenburg-like presidential campaigns. Bill Clinton once told Chozick that Hillary had told him back at Yale Law School, “Nobody will ever vote for me for anything.” Her husband tried mightily to help, but charm can’t be lent.

Glimpses of Clinton caught on the fly confirm that Clinton despised campaigning. In Iowa in 2015, as the press is hurling fangirl queries at her (“Secretary! Can you believe you’re back in Iowa!”), Hilary pretends to flip a steak, unable to hide her revulsion. “The image screamed all at once, how long do I have to act like I enjoy this [sh**] and Why the [f***] am I back in this state?” writes Chozick. When Chozick shared Clinton’s amazingly light August schedule with an editor at the Times, the latter responded, “Does she even want to be president?” Clinton spent much of that month holed up with her rich friends in the Hamptons.

Clinton “suffered from a chronic inability to crack a simple joke,” Chozick writes. Even at special off-the-record drinks events specifically designed by her staff to allow Clinton to let her guard down and banter with reporters the way Barack Obama did, Clinton excoriates the journos for having big egos and little brains. On one such fence-mending effort in New Hampshire, Chozick writes, “She exuded a particularly icy aloofness and a how-long-do-I-have-to-talk-to-you-a**holes demeanor that made me feel as if I’d never been born.” Reporters felt so abused by the Big She during the 2008 campaign that when Clinton made an 88-second visit to the press bus proffering bagels and coffee, there were no takers. This is a bit like throwing raw filet mignon into a tank full of piranhas and watching it descend slowly to the bottom untouched.

You might expect Clinton to at least be sensitive to sexism. Instead she was a source of it. “She told aides she knew women reporters would be harder on her. We’d be jealous and catty and more spiteful than men. We’d be impervious to her flirting.” (Side note: Chozick actually thinks flirting with Hillary Clinton is something men want to do.) A running joke had it that the unofficial motto of Clinton supporters was, “I’m With Her . . . I Guess.” This, even though Chozick and other female reporters were sympathetic to Hillary based on gender solidarity: “I still felt some kind of feminine bond with Hillary then,” she writes of her early months on the beat, and later describes her coverage as “neutral to positive, with plenty of wet kisses thrown in.”

Clinton’s poor political instincts infected the entire campaign. One aide ripped a sign saying “I [heart] Hillary” out of a little girl’s hands in Phoenix because “Brooklyn [the site of Clinton’s headquarters] thought it best that Everydays hold professionally produced signs that displayed the message du jour rather than something made with love and some finger paint.”

As for larger strategic moves, Chozick notes dryly of a March excursion, “That was Hillary’s last trip to Wisconsin.” Team Clinton in its waning days was spending money in Utah, Indiana, Missouri, Arizona, and even Texas while the Upper Midwest was begging for more resources. Bill Clinton was meanwhile going “red in the face” warning his wife’s team “that Trump had a shrewd understanding . . . of the white working class,” Chozick says. Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, responded by spoofing Bill behind his back, as one would Grandpa Simpson: “And let me tell you another thing about the white working class,” he’d say, mockingly.

Clinton mangles the easiest bits of politicking: After voting in Chappaqua in the New York primary, reporters toss the usual softballs (“Secretary! How are you feeling about tonight?”) and she snaps, “Guys, it’s a private ballot” and “Can we get the press out of here, please?” Later, Chozick adds, “Hillary was still following the Mitt Romney Playbook, not realizing that she was the Romney in the race.” On the stump, Clinton wouldn’t stop talking about how much she loved Hamilton, as though the median voter were a New Yorker who could afford to spend a couple of thousand bucks on an evening’s entertainment.

Bill Clinton’s instincts turned out to be absolutely correct, and he had a typically folksy and endearing way of explaining what was happening in America in 2016. He’d tell people that there’s a Zulu greeting that goes, “I see you,” to which the response is, “I am here.” Clinton knew a lot of people thought Trump saw them. Hillary couldn’t stand even glancing in their direction.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Canada Is Attacked Again

By J. J. McCullough
Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Media coverage of yesterday’s monstrous van attack in Toronto, which as of this writing is responsible for ten deaths and more than a dozen other casualties, was punctuated by political press conferences of the sort that are now an inescapable part of the dark theater of public tragedies. At his first appearance before the microphones, Mayor John Tory took the opportunity to declare that “these are not the kinds of things that we expect to happen in this city,” adding that “we hope they don’t happen anywhere in the world but we especially don’t expect them to happen in Toronto.” He was later joined by Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, who stated matter-of-factly that pedestrians being slaughtered en masse by homicidal lunatics “is not emblematic of who we are as a city or a province.”

Well, the tourism board can rest easy then, I suppose. Hearing this surprised, defensive pleading, which will no doubt increase regardless of whether the apprehended perpetrator of Monday’s attack winds up being a terrorist, a lone wolf, a lone nut, or whatever else, I was reminded of the aftermath of Canada’s last incident of mass public violence, the 2017 massacre of six men at a Quebec City mosque during prayers. That, too, Canada’s political class insisted, should not be taken to reflect poorly on the country. “It feels as though it doesn’t belong in Canada,” as Green Party leader Elizabeth May put it, shaking her head in parliament. Before that, it was 2014’s botched mass shooting on Parliament Hill by a self-radicalized ISIS sympathizer that was supposed to shock all good Canadians by being so brazenly out-of-character. And a few months before that, it was the assassination of three RCMP officers by an anti-government fanatic in Moncton, New Brunswick. And before that . . .

Many assume that violence, especially violence of the most sensational kind, obeys some kind of political logic. Progressives of the sort who dominate Canada’s governing establishment and news media seem to hold tightly the idea that mass, senseless killings are the type of thing that happens only in countries less perfect than their own, where worse social policy and a less wholesome patriotism spawns inevitable consequences. Proponents of this line of thinking learn to come up with tidy cause-and-effect theories that attribute blame to whatever monstrous variable they think their nation has skillfully avoided — guns, racism, imperialistic foreign policy — though this can often descend into embarrassing nonsense when stated openly. Here in Vancouver, I recall one of our former mayors blaming an uptick in gangland shootings on the “Americanization” of Canadian culture. When he first heard news of the Boston Marathon bombing, Justin Trudeau infamously speculated that whoever did it was surely “someone who feels completely excluded” from America’s mainstream.

The point is not to argue it’s impossible to diagnose “root causes” for certain styles of violence — to quote another thing Trudeau implored we do with Boston — nor that targeted laws can play no role in quelling them. Crimes have motives and social conditions can help foster them. The reason France doesn’t have Sri Lanka’s problem with Tamil separatists is obviously a byproduct of distinct political realities. There’s no shortage of politicians willing to vehemently insist that gun bans reduce shootings. Framing public violence as a sort of righteous social punishment, however, or forming an identity around a supposed talent at avoiding it, is a pride doomed to collapse in trauma the first time a killer doesn’t follow the script.

The evidence, easily gathered from all countries and cultures, suggests there is a certain degree of mass violence destined to strike, unprovoked, in any community of large enough size simply due to the tragic diversity of the human condition. There is an inclination, even attraction, of certain badly wired brains to treat other human beings as meaningless objects to destroy, and the sheer law of numbers suggests every nation, eventually, will wind up on their receiving end.

In the United States, which houses more human minds than all but two nations, there’s a growing, guilty numbness to public violence that citizens often struggle to properly process. Social media’s demands for performative empathy and politics coexist with lectures from number-crunchers about how the statistics don’t justify the sensationalism. There are constant demands to “do something,” but also a growing resignation that certain acts of homicidal psychopathy are simply too nihilistically random, cunning, and creative to ever be fully eliminated from the free society America aspires to be.

In nations like Canada, however, where it’s important to the national psyche to consider monstrous public violence a distinctly “American” thing, the limited capacity of ideology, culture, or public policy to explain the senseless is a lesson not yet learned. “It could never happen to us” is a logic that can help rationalize the terror of others, but it quickly turns into unflattering, chauvinistic shock once it’s discovered that no nation on earth has yet invented immunity to evil.