Category Archives: Totalitarianism

Thomas Sowell: Social Justice Philosophy Is a Blank Check for Government Power

Forcing an equality of outcome for disadvantaged groups requires enormous outside interference.

“In politics, the great non-sequitur of our time is that 1) things are not right and that 2) the government should make them right. Where right all too often means cosmic justice, trying to set things right means writing a blank check for a never-ending expansion of government power.”

This key passage from Thomas Sowell’s 1999 book, The Quest for Cosmic Justice, frames Sowell’s thoughtful analysis and rejection of arguments advanced by “social justice warriors,” or more briefly, SJWs.

Although written nearly 20 years ago, Sowell’s insights are especially relevant today, when you consider the heights of influence social justice activism has reached—especially on college campuses—in 2018.

For a blueprint to understand and refute today’s increasingly vocal SJWs, Sowell’s book proves to be an indispensable resource.

What Is “Social Justice”?

First, Sowell provides clarity to the concept of social justice, which he labels “cosmic justice.” Social justice seeks to “eliminate undeserved disadvantages” for selected groups. Sowell explains “undeserved disadvantages” by quoting Thomas Nagle, a professor of philosophy and law, as akin to an “unequal starting point” certain people have through no fault of their own.

For the social justice warrior, equality of treatment under the law is not a sufficient condition to achieve justice.

These conditions—be it race, gender, family income, etc.—are from mere chance of birth. Sowell prefers the term “cosmic” to represent a random factor—beyond anyone’s control—landing different groups in different conditions.

But given we can’t change the conditions we are born into, nor erase past injustices, the real concern boils down to what actions and policies are prescribed to mitigate these “unequal starting points” that people occupy.

For the social justice warrior, equality of treatment under the law is not a sufficient condition to achieve justice. Citing philosopher John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, Sowell asserts that SJWs insist “having everyone play by the same rules or be judged by the same standards” is found to be lacking. True equality of opportunity, in their view, means “providing everyone with equal prospects of success from equal individual efforts,” and “putting segments of society in the position that they would have been in but for some undeserved misfortune.”

What Do Social Justice Warriors Want?

To make this a reality, processes need to be put in place, according to social justice theory, so that outcomes—such as income level, unemployment rates, leadership positions, etc.—are equalized regardless of one’s starting point or demographic trait. Any deviation from “equalized” outcomes is proof positive in the eyes of the social justice movement that some form of social injustice—be it racism, sexism, or capitalist greed—must be the culprit.

The quest for social justice “focuses on one segment of the population and disregards the interests of others.”

Sowell takes issue with such thinking. He believes it is the actions and policies in search of equal outcomes, along with their results, that need to be judged by an ethical evaluation of justice.

At this point, Sowell begins to expose the injustices involved in this process. “This conception of fairness requires that third parties must wield the power to control outcomes, over-riding rules, standards or the preferences of other people.”

Indeed, the quest for social justice “focuses on one segment of the population and disregards the interests of others who are not the immediate focus of discussion, but who nevertheless pay the price of the decisions made.” Such processes, it turns out, necessarily involve treating people unequally.

But at What Cost?

In classic Sowell style, he reminds readers that there are no perfect solutions, only trade-offs. Trade-offs involve costs as well as benefits.

“Costs of achieving justice matter…What, after all, is injustice but an arbitrary imposition of a cost—whether economic, psychic, or other—on an innocent person? And if correcting this injustice imposes another arbitrary cost on another innocent person, is that not also an injustice?”

These costs of attempting to advance social justice are not only borne by these innocent third parties, but also by society through changes in behavior of the supposed beneficiaries.

“Those given legal entitlements to various compensatory benefits have, for example, developed a sense of entitlement,” Sowell explains. Entitlement sows seeds of division among the givers and takers while blunting the recipients’ incentives to work. The productive are punished to serve the non-productive.

Promoting a vision of social injustices can also create a sense of helplessness among those labeled as “victims” of cosmic injustices. “Why study and discipline yourself in preparation for the adult world if the deck is completely stacked against you anyway?” Sowell asks rhetorically.

According to Sowell, aside from evaluating the costs involved, the key question in addressing the “unequal starting points” of different groups involves deciding between either political actions or voluntary individual cooperation.

With his typical precision, Sowell favors the latter.

“One of the crucial differences between political and non-political ways of dealing with undeserved misfortunes is that the non-political approaches do not acquire the fatal rigidities of law nor require either the vision or the reality of helplessness and dependency. Nor does it require the demonization of those who think otherwise or the polarization of society.”

A Misdiagnosis

Problems abound even with how SJWs diagnose current hot-button issues like income inequality and racism.

For example, Sowell contends most income statistics are crude aggregates. The implicit assumption that the mere existence of income disparities is evidence of racial discrimination is unsubstantiated. Simply examining the average age differences among different demographics can explain away a portion of the income inequality that SJWs proclaim exists due to discrimination. Adding factors like education level and personal career choices explains much of the rest.

The real issue, Sowell concludes, is not with income inequality itself, but with the processes put in motion in hopes of eliminating inequality.

“To allow any governmental authority to determine how much money individuals shall be permitted to receive from other individuals produces not only a distortion of the economic processes by undermining incentives for efficiency, it is more fundamentally a monumental concentration of political power which reduces everyone to the level of a client of politicians.”

Moreover, the culture of envy created by income inequality obsessions can harm the very groups SJWs purport to want to help. Attributing the “greater prosperity of others to ‘exploitation’ of people like themselves, to oppression, bias or unworthy motives such as greed, racisms and the like,” makes those people feel that self-improvement is “futile” and paints “the less fortunate into their own little corner, isolated from potential sources of greater prosperity.”

How Can You Be a Hero if No One Needs Saving?

Finally, Sowell holds no quarter regarding the motives of the self-anointed saviors of the downtrodden. As if anticipating by two decades the rampant “virtue signaling” consuming left-wing social media accounts, he writes,

“Like so much that is done in the quest for cosmic justice, it makes observers feel better about themselves—and provides no incentives for those observers to scrutinize the consequences of their actions on the ostensible beneficiaries.”

Social justice warriors too often value ego gratification over actual benefits. Sowell continues, pointing out that those invested in the social justice narrative create for themselves a “vested interest in the incapacity of other people,” while developing a “tendency to see people as helpless and not responsible for their own actions.”

All the better to gratify their own egos as self-styled “rescuers” of the purported helpless victims. Such attitudes, however, produce policies that fail to generate desirable results, while instilling a defeatist mindset among those being labeled victims, inducing them “to accept that image of themselves.”

“This is only one of the ways in which the vision of morally anointed visionaries’ ministers to the egos of the anointed, rather than the well-being of the ostensible beneficiaries of their efforts,” Sowell concludes.

The author finds that the corrective “solutions” for perceived social injustices involve costs that most often will outstrip any benefits, and invariably create real injustices at the hands of centralizing government power. Such insights explain why The Quest for Cosmic Justice is a valuable tool for understanding the social justice movement and how to confront its arguments.

Republished with Permission – Source: FEE.org – Social Justice = Big Gov

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The 2nd Amendment Really Is an Essential Safeguard against Crime and Tyranny

How many people might be saved if they had the means to protect themselves with a firearm?

For millions of Americans, the Second Amendment and its guarantee of the right of the individual to bear arms appears irrelevant and practically anachronistic. It seems a throwback to those earlier days of the Wild West, when many men, far from the law and order provided by the town sheriff and circuit judge, had to protect their families and land from cattle rustlers and outlaw bands. Such people are wrong.

If in our contemporary world, where the law fails to do its job of seeing that the guilty pay for their crimes, we take solace in the fantasy of extralegal solutions. We imagine that somewhere there is a Clint Eastwood on a metropolitan police force who uses some “magnum force” to see to it that the perpetrator of a crime doesn’t go unpunished. Or we want to think that there is a Charles Bronson occasionally roaming the streets of a large city at night fulfilling the “death wish” of the street criminal whom local law enforcement is not able to punish.

This popular conception of the legal system suffers from two fundamental flaws.

The crime once having been committed, it is some breakdown in the judicial system that prevents justice from being served. If only the law didn’t coddle the criminal or allow his defense attorney to use “loopholes” in the law, no criminal would ever escape his just deserts.

This popular conception of the legal system, law enforcement, and government, however, suffers from two fundamental flaws: first, it focuses on the legal process (and any supposed weaknesses in it) only after a crime has been committed; and second, it ignores completely the fact that it might be the government itself that is the potential perpetrator of crimes against the American citizenry.

The Tragedy of the Unarmed Victim

Locks, bars on windows, and alarm systems are all useful devices to prevent unwanted intruders from gaining entrance into our homes and places of work. But what happens if an innocent victim is confronted with an invader who succeeds in entering his home, for example, and the safety of his family and possessions is now threatened? What if the invader confronts these innocent occupants and threatens some form of violence, including life-threatening force? What are the victims to do?

Critics of the Second Amendment and private gun ownership never seem to have any reasonable answer. Silent prayer might be suggested, but if this were to be a formal recommendation by the government it might run the risk of violating the separation of church and state.

Even in an era promoting equality among the sexes, it nonetheless remains a fact that on average an adult man tends to be physically stronger than an adult woman, and most especially if there is more than one man confronting a single woman.

Several years ago, economist Morgan Reynolds wrote a book on the economics of crime. The following is from one of the criminal cases he discussed. It seems that four men broke into a house in Washington, D.C., looking for a man named “Slim.” When the occupant said that he didn’t know where Slim was, they decided to kill him instead. One of the defendants later testified,

I got a butcher knife out of the kitchen. We tied him up and led him to the bathroom. And we all stabbed him good. Then, as we started to leave, I heard somebody at the door. Lois [the dead man’s girlfriend] came in…. We took her back to the bathroom and showed her his body. She started to beg, ‘don’t kill me, I ain’t gonna tell nobody. Just don’t kill me.’ said we all could have sex with her if we wouldn’t kill her. After we finished with her, Jack Bumps told her, ‘I ain’t takin’ no chances. I’m gonna kill you anyway.’ He put a pillow over her head, and we stabbed her till she stopped wiggling. Then we set fire to the sheets in the bedroom and went out to buy us some liquor.”

Would either of these two victims have been saved if the man had had a gun easily reachable by him in the house or if the woman had had a gun in her purse? There is no way of knowing. What is for certain is that neither was any match for the four men who attacked and killed them with a butcher knife. Even Lois’s begging and submitting to sexual violation did not save her. How many people might be saved from physical harm, psychological trauma, or death if they had the means to protect themselves with a firearm?

Equally important, how many people might never have to be confronted with attack or murder if potential perpetrators were warded off from initiating violence because of the uncertainty that an intended victim might have the means to defend him- or herself from thieves, rapists, and murders? A gun can be a great equalizer for the weak and the defenseless, especially if an intended victim doesn’t have to waste precious seconds fumbling with the key to a mandatory trigger lock.

Tens of millions of people were murdered by governments in the twentieth century.

But what is an ordinary man to do when he finds that it is the government that is the perpetrator of violence and aggression against him and his fellow citizens? How do you resist the power of the state? Tens of millions of people were murdered by governments in the twentieth century. They were killed because of the language they spoke or the religion they practiced. Or because those in political control classified them as belonging to an “inferior race” or to a “social class” that marked them as an “enemy of the people.” Furthermore, the vast, vast majority of these tens of millions of victims were murdered while offering little or no resistance. Fear, terror, and a sense of complete powerlessness surely have been behind the ability of governments to treat their victims as unresisting lambs brought to the slaughter.

But part of the ability of government to commit these cruel and evil acts has been the inability of the victims to resist because they lacked arms for self-defense. However, when the intended victims have had even limited access to means of self-defense it has shocked governments and made them pay a price to continue with their brutal work.

The Power of Armed Resistance

Many have been surprised by the lack of resistance by the European Jews who were killed by the millions in the Nazi concentration and death camps during the Second World War. For the most part, with a seemingly peculiar fatalism, they calmly went to their deaths with bullets to the back of the head or in gas chambers. Yet when some of the people were able to gain access to weapons, they did resist, even when they knew the end was most likely be the same.

The following is from historian John Toland’s biography of “Adolf Hitler,” in reference to the resistance of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943:

Of the 380,000 Jews crowded into the Warsaw ghetto, all but 70,000 had been deported to the killing centers in an operation devoid of resistance. By this time, however, those left behind had come to the realization that deportation meant death. With this in mind, Jewish political parties within the ghetto finally resolved their differences and banded together to resist further shipments with force . . .

“At three in the morning of April 9, 1943, more than 2000 Waffen SS infantryman—accompanied by tanks, flame throwers and dynamite squads—invaded the ghetto, expecting an easy conquest, only to be met by determined fire from 1500 fighters armed with weapons smuggled into the ghetto over a long period: several light machine guns, hand grenades, a hundred or so rifles and carbines, several hundred pistols and revolvers, and Molotov cocktails. Himmler had expected the action to take three days but by nightfall his forces had to withdraw.

“The one-sided battle continued day after day to the bewilderment of the SS commander, General Jürgen Stroop, who could not understand why ‘this trash and subhumanity’ refused to abandon a hopeless cause. He reported that, although his men had initially captured ‘considerable numbers of Jews, who are cowards by nature,’ it was becoming more and more difficult. ‘Over and over again new battle groups consisting of twenty or thirty Jewish men, accompanied by a corresponding number of women, kindled new resistance.’ The women, he noted, had the disconcerting habit of suddenly hurling grenades they had hidden in their bloomers . . .

“The Jews, he reported, remained in the burning buildings until the last possible moment before jumping from the upper stories to the street. ‘With their bones broken, they still tried to crawl across the street into buildings that had not yet been set on fire…. Despite the danger of being burned alive the Jews and bandits often preferred to return into the flames rather than risk being caught by us.’ … For exactly four weeks the little Jewish army had held off superior, well-armed forces until almost the last man was killed or wounded.”

In the end, the Germans had to commit thousands of military personnel and in fact destroy an entire part of Warsaw to bring the Jewish ghetto resistance to an end.

What if not only the Jewish population but the majority of all the “undesirable” individuals and groups in Germany and the occupied countries of Europe had been armed, with the Nazi government unable to know who had weapons, what types, and with what quantity of ammunition? It would be an interesting study in World War II history to compare private gun ownership in various parts of Europe and the degree and intensity of resistance by the local people to German occupation.

Revolts Against Tyranny

In the early years of the Bolshevik takeover in Russia, there were numerous revolts by the peasantry against Communist policies to collectivize the land or seize their crops as in-kind taxes. What made this resistance possible for many years was the fact that in the countryside the vast majority of the rural population owned and knew how to use hunting rifles and other weapons of various kinds.

Acquisition of firearms during the Second World War as part of the partisan movement against the German invasion of the Soviet Union enabled active, armed resistance by Lithuanian and Ukrainian nationalist guerrillas against Soviet reoccupation of their countries to continue in the forests of Lithuania and western Ukraine well into the early 1950s.

It is hard to imagine how the people of the 13 colonies could have ever obtained their independence from Great Britain at the end of the eighteenth century if the local population had not been “armed and dangerous.” It is worth recalling Patrick Henry’s words in arguing for resistance against British control before the king’s armed forces could disarm the colonists:

They tell us . . . that we are weak—unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? . . . Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? … Three million people, armed in the holy cause of liberty . . . are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.”

The taking up of arms is a last resort, not a first, against the intrusions and oppressions of government. Once started, revolutions and rebellions can have consequences no one can foretell, and final outcomes are sometimes worse than the grievance against which resistance was first offered. However, there are times, “in the course of human events,” when men must risk the final measure to preserve or restore the liberty that government threatens or has taken away.

The likelihood that government will feel secure in undertaking infringements on the freedoms of Americans would be diminished if it knew that any systematic invasion of people’s life, liberty, and property might meet armed resistance by both the victim and those in the surrounding areas who came to his aid because of the concern that their own liberty might be the next to be violated.

Though it may seem harsh and insensitive, when I read the advocates of gun control pointing to incidents of private acts of violence against children, I think to myself:

How many more tens of thousands of children were killed around the world in the last century by governments? And how many of those children, victims of government-armed violence, might have been saved if their families and neighbors had possessed the right to bear arms against political aggressors? How many children have been saved because their families have had weapons for self-defense against private violators of life and property? And how many could have been saved from private aggressors if more families had owned guns?

Guns and American Liberty

The argument that virtually all other “civilized” countries should neither prohibit nor severely restrict the ownership and the use of firearms in general—and handguns intimidate Americans. America has been a free and prosperous land precisely because of the fact that as a nation we have chosen to follow political and economic avenues different from those followed by other countries around the world.

As a result, in many areas of life we have remained freer.

As a people, we have swum against the tide of collectivism, socialism, and welfare statism to a greater degree, for the most part, than have our western European cousins. As a result, in many areas of life, we have remained freer, especially in our market activities, than they. The fact that other peoples in other lands chose to follow foolish paths leading to disastrous outcomes does not mean that we should follow in their footsteps.

America was born in revolt against the ideas of the “old world”: the politics of monarchy, the economics of mercantilism, and the culture of hereditary class and caste. America heralded the politics of representative, constitutional government, the economics of the free market, and the culture of individualism under equality before the law. It made America great.

If in more recent times there has been an “American disease,” it has been our all-too-willing receptivity to the European virus of political paternalism, welfare redistribution, economic regulation and planning, and the passive acceptance of government control over social affairs.

We need not and indeed should not fall victim to one more of the European ailments: the disarming of the people under the dangerous notion that the private citizenry cannot be trusted and should not be allowed to have the means of self-defense against potential private and political aggressors in society. Let us stand apart once more and not fall prey to the false idea that somehow our European cousins are more enlightened or advanced than we on the matters of gun ownership and control. They are not.

Instead let us remember and stay loyal to the sentiment of James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution, who praised his fellow countrymen when he said, “Americans [have] the right and advantage of being armed—unlike citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

Let us remain worthy of Madison’s confidence in the American people and defend the Second Amendment of the Constitution upon which part of that confidence was based.

Reprinted from the Heartland Institute.

 

Republished with Permission – Source: FEE.org – 2nd Amendment – Tyranny

 

Escape the Moral Matrix with the Red Pill of Intellectual Diversity

Intellectual diversity can free us from our moral blinders and foster creativity and innovation.
by  Aaron Tao

Back in 2012, before the ascendance of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency and before neologisms such as “trigger warnings,” “microaggressions, and “safe spaces” became part of regular college campus discourse, New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt published a groundbreaking book titled The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

Today, America’s political polarization is deeper than ever. But there is hope and a way forward.

As a bibliophile who reads extensively on a wide array of subject matters, I can declare without hesitation that Haidt’s book is by far the most fascinating and important work on social science that I’ve read within the last five years. It is a book that I have given away to a dozen of my friends working in the political realm or who are regular politicos, and one that I’ve recently reread given the profound insights of its central thesis. Today, America’s political polarization is deeper than ever. But there is hope and a way forward.

Intuitions Come First and Reasoning Second

Haidt’s tireless efforts through his book and other writings provide a promising path towards understanding the psychological causes behind our tribal politics. Drawing upon his background in social psychology and twenty-five years of original research on moral psychology, Haidt shows how evolution is responsible for shaping people’s morality that both binds and divides and how politics and religion create conflicting communities of shared morality.

Most profoundly, moral attitudes and judgments originate from intuition, not calculated logic. In his 1739 magnum opus A Treatise of Human Nature, the philosopher David Hume mused that, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” According to Haidt, the findings of modern social psychology research have largely vindicated Hume.

To illustrate his point, Haidt uses the metaphor of a rider and an elephant. The rider represents the conscious mind with its rational functions and controlled processes. But the domineering elephant is everything else outside the rider’s control: automatic processes that include emotions and intuitions. Although the rider can do “several useful things” such as planning for the future and learning new skills, ultimately “the rider’s job is the serve the elephant.” As a result of this one-sided relationship, the rider mostly “fabricat[es] post hoc explanations for whatever the elephant has done, and it is good at finding reasons to justify whatever the elephant wants to do next.” In short, “conscious reasoning functions like a lawyer or press secretary.”

What does this mean for political discourse? If people are asked to believe something that conflicts with their intuitions, you can almost certainly expect them to reflexively find an escape route – any reason to doubt the argument or conclusion they’re confronted with – and they’ll usually succeed. Haidt takes pains to emphasize that:

Moral judgment is not a purely cerebral affair in which we weigh concerns about harm, rights, and justice. It’s a kind of rapid, automatic process more akin to the judgments animals make as they move through the world, feeling themselves drawn toward or away from various things. Moral judgment is mostly done by the elephant.

Thus, if you’re trying to change someone’s mind, especially when it concerns a moral or political issue, you have to “talk to the elephant first.” [Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People is a good pairing with Haidt’s book and is referenced in the latter’s work. It contains many psychological insights that remain relevant today and in fact, are reinforced by modern findings.]

Moral Foundations Theory

Through his interdisciplinary research, Haidt and his colleagues uncovered six moral foundations that are shared across human cultures:

1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”
4) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

6) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor. We report some preliminary work on this potential foundation in this paper, on the psychology of libertarianism and liberty.

Most intriguingly, Haidt found that left-liberals and progressives recognize primarily the first two moral foundations, Care/harm and Fairness/cheating. For the political Left, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity, are perceived not as proper morals at all but base human traits responsible for patriarchy, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression. However, this stance is an outlier compared to most other parts of the world.

Haidt provides many examples from ethnographies and cross-cultural studies that show that in “Western, educated, industrial, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) cultures,” the moral spectrum is “unusually narrow” and largely limited to the ethics of individual autonomy.

Given that human nature is tribal, people automatically form teams when they share values and morals.

In contrast, many non-WEIRD societies and conservatives use all five moral foundations that include embracing the ethics of divinity and community. Libertarians or (classical) liberals in the European sense are a truly unique political species and are not easily placed on the Left-Right political spectrum in that they prize the last moral foundation, Liberty, above all other values.

These are extraordinary differences and would explain the growing political polarization in the United States and why liberals can’t understand conservatives (and vice versa). In today’s political discourse, partisans often seem to argue not so much against each other, but past each other (an observation that forms the basis of Thomas Sowell’s eye-opening work A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, also alluded to in Haidt’s book).

Given that human nature is tribal, people automatically form teams when they share values and morals. While morality can “bind” people together through benefits such as group cohesion and unity, it also “blinds” them to the possibilities or even the existence of other legitimate perspectives akin to The Matrix. This kind of “moral matrix” can be so strong that it “provides a complete, unified, and emotionally compelling worldview, easily justified by observable evidence and nearly impregnable to attack by arguments from outsiders.”

As challenging as it may be to see through one’s own ideological blinders, empathy is crucial for successful outreach, acts as an “antidote to righteousness,” and has the added benefit of expanding one’s own intellectual horizons.

Why Intellectual Diversity Matters

Because of the inherent limits of human reason, Haidt reminds us that “we should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play.”

However, under the right circumstances and conditions, people can use their reasoning powers to check the claims of others. Furthermore, when people “feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system.” Thus, it is especially “important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth (such as an intelligence agency or a community of scientists) or to produce good public policy (such as a legislature or advisory board).”

Embracing intellectual diversity is of paramount importance to companies that wish to attract top talent and stay innovative.

Universities, most of which are still committed to their timeless mission to search for truth and push the boundaries of human knowledge, in particular must embrace complete freedom of speech, open inquiry, epistemic humility, and tolerance for the most radical and eccentric. Championing viewpoint and philosophical diversity goes hand in hand with these fundamental principles that form the bedrock of a liberal education.

Speaking as an entrepreneur, I would further add that embracing intellectual diversity is of paramount importance to companies especially if they wish to attract top talent and stay innovative in an increasingly competitive world. Haidt’s findings from moral psychology are consistent with research from other fields highlighting the value of those who “think different.”

Saras Sarasvathy at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business profiled some of the most successful entrepreneurs and found them to be spontaneous contrarians who have “confidence in their ability to recognize, respond to, and reshape opportunities as they develop” to the point that they “thrive on contingency.” Unsurprisingly, entrepreneurs relish bucking conventional wisdom whether it be following standard management practices or any other kind of defined linear process.

Adam Grant at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has extensively researched how “originals” move the world. Startups, which by their very nature are nonconformist, have a special obligation to hire originals who can seed a resilient culture, anticipate market movements under conditions of extreme uncertainty, and repurpose dissenting ideas in alternative ways. Grant emphasizes how originals can mitigate the risks every company faces:

Conformity is dangerous – especially for an entity in formation. If you don’t hire originals, you run the risk of people disagreeing but not voicing their dissent. You want people who choose to follow because they genuinely believe in ideas, not because they’re afraid to be punished if they don’t. For startups, there’s so much pivoting that’s required that if you have a bunch of sheep, you’re in bad shape.

Launching a startup requires boldness, imagination, and a contrarian streak. Perhaps then, it is not surprising that immigrants, individuals who leave the land of their birth for the unknown, have had a disproportionate impact on American entrepreneurship and may even be predisposed towards creativity. In trying to pin down the “secret of immigrant genius,” Eric Weiner speculates that intellectual development is stimulated when one’s world is turned upside down:

Many immigrants possess what the psychologist Nigel Barber calls “oblique perspective.” Uprooted from the familiar, they see the world at an angle, and this fresh perspective enables them to surpass the merely talented. To paraphrase the philosopher Schopenhauer: Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.

Beyond Identity Checkboxes

Broad liberal attitudes towards risk-taking, unorthodox thinking, and entrepreneurship are among the reasons why the United States is still the richest country in the world. In his wide-reaching book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, science writer Matt Ridley traced the origins and spread of economic prosperity. He credits voluntary exchange and specialization, specifically what happens when different ideas meet, mate, and recombine to create new ideas, for being the main drivers of human economic and social progress.

As summarized by John Daly at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business:

Innovations often happen when you combine two or more things in unexpected ways. When you have a diverse group of people working on something, magic often happens because each person brings a different perspective and experience to the table.

Authentic diversity must go beyond identity checkboxes to fully include diversity in ideas. Viewpoint diversity drives creative tension, cross-cultural understanding, and the ability to identify and solve problems from multiple perspectives. Creativity and innovation ultimately depend on people stepping outside of comfort zones and trying new things including getting exposed to radical and unorthodox ways of thinking.

Companies that actively work to prevent the dangers of groupthink and foster a welcoming culture for weirdos and mavericks are better positioned to become more resilient and innovative environments. Cultivating the right processes and organizational norms may make the final difference in stronger financial returns. Whether it’s a feisty little startup looking to challenge the dominant players or an established Fortune 500 company looking to defend its position, any company can gain an edge over its competitors by unleashing the “gale of creative destruction.”

Moving Forward

Intellectual diversity creates awareness of our own blinders.

Besides its obvious economic benefits, intellectual diversity creates value that extends beyond material gains. A marketplace of ideas is one of the key underpinnings of a free society. Truth can emerge when views are freely exchanged, challenged, and refined. People’s individual reasoning have inherent limits but through our collective intelligence, we can achieve the impossible.

Even though our intuition-based morality divides our allegiances into different tribes that seemingly cannot coexist with others, accepting and encouraging intellectual diversity creates awareness of our own blinders and provides a possible escape path out of our moral matrices. Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind is an invaluable starting point. He and other courageous “heterodox” scholars working to advance viewpoint diversity, mutual understanding, and constructive disagreement fill me with hope.

If we were to understand the moral foundations on which all our moral interests are based, we just might be able to restore civility, learn how to disagree more constructively, promote genuine tolerance, and ultimately advance human progress on every front.

 

Science tells us this is all true

October 9, 2017

Sovereign Valley Farm, Chile

On April 30, 1934, under pressure from Italian-American lobby groups, the United States Congress passed a law enshrining Columbus Day as a national holiday.

President Franklin Roosevelt quickly signed the bill into law, and the very first Columbus Day was celebrated in October of that year.

Undoubtedly people had a different view of the world back then… and a different set of values.

Few cared about the plight of the indigenous who were wiped out as a result of European conquest.

Even just a few decades ago when I was a kid in elementary school, I remember learning that ‘Columbus discovered America’. There was no discussion of genocide.

It wasn’t until I was a sophomore at West Point that I picked up Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States (and then Columbus’s own diaries) and started reading about the mass-extermination of entire tribes.

Columbus himself wrote about his first encounter with the extremely peaceful and welcoming Arawak Indians of the Bahama Islands:

“They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron…They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

And so he did.  

“I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.”

Columbus had already written back to his investors in Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, that the Caribbean islands possessed “great mines of gold.”

It was all lies. Columbus was desperately attempting to justify their investment.

In Haiti, Columbus ordered the natives to bring him all of their gold. But there was hardly an ounce of gold anywhere on the island. So Columbus had them slaughtered. Within two years, 250,000 were dead.

Now, this letter isn’t intended to rail against Columbus. Point is, I never learned any of this information in school. Decades ago, no one really did.

But today, people are starting to be aware of what Columbus did. And our values are vastly different today than they were in 1937. Or in 1492.

Decades ago… and certainly hundreds of years ago… the idea of a ‘superior race’ still prevailed, endowed by their creator with the right to subjugate all inferior races.

This readily-accepted belief was the pretext of slavery and genocide.  

Even as recently as the early 1900s, there were entire fields of ‘science’ devoted to studying the technical differences among various races and drawing data-driven conclusions about superiority.

Phrenologists, for example, would take precise measurements of people’s skulls– the circumference of the head, the ratio of forehead to eyebrow measurements, etc.– and deduce the intellectual capacity and character traits of entire races.

Jews could not be trusted. Blacks and Asians were inferior. These assertions were based on ‘scientific evidence’, even in nations like Sweden, the United Kingdom, and United States.

Today we’re obviously more advanced than our ancestors were. We know that their science was complete bullshit, and our values are totally different.

There are entire movements now (particularly among university students) to remove statues, rename buildings, and re-designate holidays.

Frankly this is a pretty slippery slope. If we judge everyone throughout history based on our values today, we’ll never stop tearing down monuments.

Even someone as forward-thinking as Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. And that’s a LOT of elementary schools to rename.

More importantly, there will come a time in the future when our own descendants judge us harshly for our short-sighted values.

Fortunately we no longer have faux-scientists today writing dissertations about racial superiority.

But we do have entire fields of ‘science’ that will truly bewilder future historians. Economics is one of them.

Our society awards some of its most distinguished prizes for intellectual achievement to economists who tell us that the path to prosperity is to print money, raise taxes, and go into debt.

Economists tell us that we can spend our way out of recession, borrow our way out of debt, and that there will never be any consequences from conjuring trillions of units of paper currency out of thin air.

They created a central banking system whereby an unelected committee of economists possesses nearly totalitarian control of the money supply… and hence the power to influence the price of EVERYTHING– food, fuel, housing, utilities, financial markets, etc.

Economists have managed to convince the world that inflation, i.e. rising prices, is actually a GOOD thing… and that prices quadrupling and quintupling during the average person’s lifespan is ‘normal’.

They’ve also succeeded in making policy-makers terrified of deflation (falling prices) even though just about any rational individual would naturally prefer falling (or at least stable) prices to rising prices.

Economists make the most ridiculous assertions, like “The debt doesn’t matter because we owe it to ourselves…” as if it’s perfectly acceptable for the US government to default on its citizens.

Or that the US economy is so strong because the American consumer spends so much money, i.e. consumption (and not production) drives prosperity.

The public believes all this nonsense because the ‘scientists’ say it’s true.

The scientists also come up with fuzzy mathematics to support their assertions. Last Friday, for example, the Labor Department reported that the US economy lost 33,000 jobs in September.

Yet miraculously the unemployment rate actually declined, i.e. fewer people are unemployed despite there being fewer jobs in the economy.

None of this makes any sense. Fewer jobs means lower unemployment. Spend more money. Print more money. Borrow more money. Debt is wealth. Consumption is prosperity.

All of this is based on ‘science’.

We may rightfully take umbrage with the values and ideas of our ancestors.

But it’s worth turning that mirror on ourselves and examining our own beliefs… for there will undoubtedly come a time when our own descendants wonder how we could have been so foolish.

Reposted from SovereignMan

A Simple Question

 

Are those so eager to tear down various monuments willing to do so to the fullest and logical extent of your reasoning? Are you?

If indeed, historical monuments, erected decades or more ago, are so offensive due to their ties to slavery, segregation and all its vile wretchedness, then are those of you so willing to demand with equal fervor that every Democratic Party member who promoted or defended slavery, who refused to support desegregation, aided and abetted “separate but equal”, who had been members of the KKK, who resisted every legislative effort to literally remove the physical and political shackles from  people of color also have their names and likenesses removed from the sight of all?

Only one party literally has blood on its hand for the stain of bigotry and racism. One. It fought to keep slavery, segregation and institutionalized racism as a lawful right. That party used every means possible both legal and illegal, force and coercion, the courts and police, to take rights from people of color. That Party has a long and vivid history of legislators, jurists, congressman, senators and Presidents who, with vigorous conviction of the rightness of their view, denigrated people of color. But they would have us ignore that, vigorously pointing fingers in the direction of their political opposition whether it means distortion of facts, outright fabrications and vacuous verbal character assassination at any opportunity.

It is even said that the welfare state was designed to keep folks enslaved in the new plantation of the national state. One thing for sure, the Great Society of LBJ, not known for his racial fondness, was not put forth as scheme to bolster the lives of those he looked down upon (“they’re getting uppity”). One has only to look at the societal harm done by those legislative efforts. (See: https://goo.gl/yZEXfG)

For those so eager to denigrate a sitting President, who over his entire public life has denounced white supremacy (please understand this phrase to be as expansive as it need be to cover every possible iteration or group) in general as well as specifically, this outrageous display moral self-righteousness is utterly and distastefully repugnant.

Look at us! We are literally tearing at one another due to a misrepresentation of what someone said, over misrepresentation of the facts of events, due to either an unwillingness to hear the plain spoken words of an individual or the prejudice of mind that precludes the ability to listen without casting personal perceptions and feelings on them. How did we become such a hateful, spiteful and ruthlessly intolerant society? Neither white supremacists or Antifa are without blame. For that matter, how does a Governor and a Mayor come off so high and mighty when clearly they exacerbated events by their dereliction of duty regarding the appropriate implementation of law enforcement in the prevention of conflict.

And yet, all the uproar over what is not said? To quote someone far better than I, “Let he who has ears to hear, hear. Let he who has eyes to see, see.” The same person said, “If you would remove the thorn from your brother’s eye, you must first remove the beam from your own.”

How can we survive as a society when a news reporter is threatened for recounting events accurately? Even after she modified her report, she was still castigated (see: https://goo.gl/FXyxfD). How is this anything but mob rule and anarchy? Is this the kind of nation you wish to leave your children and grandchildren? I don’t.

The way out of this mess and bile, is first to step back and take a deep breath. Then to merely respect that we will all differ in our views on a whole host of subjects and issues. But to treat each other as idiots or less than human, then to resort to verbal and physical abuse on account of disagreement? Really? So much for a civilized society! So much for a lawful, much less, society! As for using law to compel others to get their minds right one need only look to Stalin, Mao, Che, PolPot and ISIS to appreciate where that leads. Even within our own recent history here, the FBI undercover testimony disclosed that the Weather Underground estimated that up to 25% of the population would have to be eliminated because at least many would not be “re-educated”. Is that what we really want?

We are at a crossroads, a watershed moment.

Will we embrace respect and deference when we disagree? Or will we devolve into mongrels and devour ourselves?

Why, when our nation was founded on the preeminent ideal of equality for all would we permit the desire, the pursuit and the means of potentially achieving it, cast it aside for the mob and despotism?

Robert Frost wrote: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.”

I for one choose the less traveled road of liberty and respect. You’re more than welcome to join me. Those who choose otherwise: leave those of us who love life and liberty, respect our fellow man, even when we disagree, who will not use force to compel another individual’s loss for their own benefit, but seek justice against those who would….those who prefer another way of life, leave us alone.

You may choose to grovel with the mongrels of the mob who would bite and snip at every difference natural and learned. What a pitiful lot. All the best to you. Just leave the rest of us alone and quit meddling in our lives.

 

Shame On Us

Shame On Us

Shame on us for believing it is somehow compassionate to take the hard-earned resources of one individual and giving it to another.

Shame on us that we’ve forgotten that the “Government” is us, that whatever monies it has is our friends, our neighbors and individuals we do not know.

Shame on us for permitting legislators to throw about our earnings like so much candy to buy votes, to curry favor and seduce us into supposedly good things, all the while doing little more than spend money that is not theirs without regard of the costs to us.

Shame on us for assuming that because we think it’s a good idea to do such-and-such that every should be compelled by law to support it, even if they disagree.

Shame on us for daring to believe that what is our neighbors is ours to direct and allocate under penalty of law.

Shame on us for permitting our own self interest to pervert law into the means by which we take from others to line our own pockets (subsidies, credits, socialized healthcare, etc.).

Shame on us for daring to blindly throw about the hard-earned monies of each other as though it were ours to control and not the ones who earned it.

Shame on us for eagerly endorsing law that amounts to little more than theft.

Shame on us for forgetting it is NOT government but us, WE the People, that are the solutions.

Shame on us for being suspicious of anyone suggesting something could be better accomplished without doing so through government.

Shame on us for distrusting each other so much as to bind each other in the chains of legislation blindly believing that coercion and forced re-allocation will some how redress inequities.

Shame on us for refusing to resist the temptation to use law to coerce others to doing only what we approve of; for criminalizing rudeness and offensive behavior.

Shame on us for lacking the will and determination to win hearts and minds by example and persuasion and deeming ourselves the moral conscience and judge of our neighbors when they disagree with our particular views.

Shame on us for decimating the rule of law in favor of the rule of the mob.

Shame on us for preferring chains over liberty; for what we leave the next generation.

Shame on us.

 

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The Systematic Errors of the Man (and Woman) of System

I found this article by Don Boudreaux on July 12, 2017

in Adam Smith, Health, Man of System

In my latest Pittsburgh Tribune-Review column I join Adam Smith in denouncing the man (and woman) “of system”‘s pretensions and as well as that arrogant person’s unflattering view of ordinary people.  A slice:

In short, the “man of system” forgets that ordinary people are active, reasoning, creative individuals. They generally do not need government prodding to take actions that improve their lives. When they are so prodded, it is almost always to press them to take actions they would prefer to avoid. Conflict thus arises between ordinary people and those men (and women) “of system” who arrogantly fancy that they’re entitled to order others about.

Consider today’s brouhaha over repealing parts of ObamaCare, whose fans treat the typical American as a mindless, inert blob. If this American loses government health-insurance funding, he’s believed to have no ability or wish to find private insurance. And private insurers are believed to be so uninterested in his business that they refuse to make him attractive offers. The “man of system,” therefore, concludes that all individuals removed from Medicaid rolls are doomed to live the rest of their days not only without health insurance, but without health care itself. It’s a short step from there to the accusation that those who wish to scale back government’s role in the health-care market are little better than homicidal maniacs.

Of course, real people are not mindless, inert chess pieces whose only principle of motion is government’s guiding hand — or, more accurately, kicking foot. The awful irony, alas, is that when government treats people like witless chess pieces, too many of them do eventually lose the ability to think and act for themselves.

Professor Boudreaux’ full Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Article

A Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith (free PDF)

It continues to amaze me, the abject arrogance of many today who consider thinkers of prior generation invalid for today’s issues on the premise they couldn’t understand modern society. Our gadgets today may vastly exceed what they may have imagined possible. However, when one reads paragraphs such as these written many years ago, it cannot but expose the modern arrogance of presumption they we are so much smarter that our predecessors.

“The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.” –Paul Johnson