Category Archives: FREDERIC BASTIAT

Bookworm Beat 5/14/20: Pent up posting about the current scene

I am exploding with pent-up posts going back two weeks, so I thought a Bookworm Beat might be the best way to do a mental download onto the blog.

A good Obamagate overview. During their Russagate heyday, the leftist media had it easy because they could roll with a single message: “Russia! Russia! Russia!” And failing that, “Climate! Climate! Climate!”

Obamagate is harder because it is, in fact, an actual conspiracy. The nature of conspiracies is that they hide away in the dark, and involve serpentine steps to achieve nefarious goals. When brought to light, the malfeasors scurry away like cockroaches surprised by light. Then, investigators laboriously gather up the Raid and your roach motels to unravel the conspiracy and bring the conspirators before the law.

What I just wrote is a helpful analogy, but the actual facts of Obamagate are a bit harder to explain. That’s why I appreciated John Daniel Davidson’s masterful overview of Obamagate. He carefully avoids getting caught in the weeds of endless dates, actors, and lies, and focuses instead on the broad-brush outlines to reveal “the biggest political scandal of our time.” I actually disagree with that statement. I think that, as far as American politics go, it’s the biggest political scandal ever.

Anyway, if you’re struggling to get a handle on the two different narratives (FISA and Flynn) and the way they dovetail into a single concerted attack on the Trump campaign and then the Trump presidency, Davidson’s article is an excellent way to start.

Matt Taibbi continues his lonely journey as an honest progressive journalist. One of the things I didn’t get to blog about while my site was down was an article two law professors – one from Harvard and one from the University Arizona — wrote for The Atlantic about censorship. If you’re expecting to hear that they wrote a rousing defense of free speech, you’d be wrong. Instead, the professors advocated for abandoning constitutional free speech in favor of Chinese-style censorship, complete with tech giants giving the government the help it needs.

Taibbi does not agree, either with the professors or with other so-called “liberals” advocating for wiping out both the First and Fourth Amendments. While Taibbi doesn’t go back as far as Tom Friedman and his love affair with Chinese-style control, he does round up a few recent examples of how the Wuhan virus has been an opening for “liberals” to let out their inner fascist.

(By the way, I never use the word “liberal” to describe Democrats, progressives, or leftists. It is an obscene misnomer, and I won’t countenance it.)

Taibbi using that leftist drive for censorship as an opening to discuss covers the leftist love for “expertise,” its relentlessly scolding tone (think: Karen), and the severe limitations that hamper even good journalists. It’s a tour de force and deserves a read. Indeed, anyone, especially a progressive, who writes this deserves to be acknowledged, and that’s true even if Taibbi’s leftism still blinds him so that he meekly accepts as accurate the canard that Trump told people to inject over-the-counter disinfectants:

We have a lot of dumb people in this country. But the difference between the stupidities cherished by the Idiocracy set ingesting fish cleaner, and the ones pushed in places like the Atlantic, is that the jackasses among the “expert” class compound their wrongness by being so sure of themselves that they force others to go along. In other words, to combat “ignorance,” the scolders create a new and more virulent species of it: exclusive ignorance, forced ignorance, ignorance with staying power.

The people who want to add a censorship regime to a health crisis are more dangerous and more stupid by leaps and bounds than a president who tells people to inject disinfectant. It’s astonishing that they don’t see this.

Bastiat and the problem with the leftists’ apocalyptic world view. Years ago, I read, and fell in love with, Frédéric Bastiat’s famous economic essay, “What is seen and what is unseen.” In it, he examines the fallacy of those who say that even a broken window is a good thing, for it brings work to the glazier. Bastiat, however, points out that fixing something broken is a dead end. The window’s owner might have spent the same money on something more useful and necessary for him. This lost buying power is the “unseen” part for those who can see only a broken window and a glazier. Or, as Bastiat wrote, “Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”

Leftists have this limited “unseen” thinking about gun violence (they see only those 30,000 who die, not the hundreds of thousands or even millions whose lives guns save). They also have it with abortion, where the focus is on women (who can be seen), rather than on the millions of babies who never got the chance to grow up to be women (or men).

For an example of a “seen” woman’s suffering, think of Michelle Obama, who was very explicit about what a terrible choice it was for her to have children:

“My relationship with Barack was all about our equal partnership,” Obama recalled. “If I was going to have a unique voice with this very opinionated man, I had to get myself up and set myself off to a place where I was going to be his equal.”

[snip]

“The thing that really changed it was the birth of our children. I wasn’t really ready for that. That really made it harder,” the first lady explained. “Something had to give and it was my aspirations and dreams.”

“I made that concession not because he said ‘you have to quit your job,’ but it felt like ‘I can’t do all of this so I have to tone down my aspirations, I have to dial it back,’” she added.

I didn’t particularly want children, but I knew it was a necessary thing to do to further my development as a mature human being. I realized that I’d miss the selfish life (and I did miss it), but that life also frightened me because I saw that it was preventing me from fully growing up. Now that my children are themselves grown, the pay-off for having had them is huge because they are delights to have around. For me, despite the lost sleep, boredom, and frustration, it was a win-win.

But back to Bastiat, progressives, and the Wuhan virus. Actually, I won’t spell out the argument in this post because you can read it here.

San Franciscans are paying the price for subsidizing vice. For a very long time, San Francisco has been subsidizing vice. First, it decriminalized crime. Drug taking, public drunkenness, public excretory functions, stealing (as long as the thief took goods worth less than $950) . . . they’re all allowed in San Francisco. For people who like engaging in those crimes, especially stealing, San Francisco is the place to be.

San Francisco has also been subsidizing substance abuse for quite a long time. Under the banner of decency, it’s made clean needles available to IV drug users and provided them with food, shelter, and other benefits. San Francisco’s progressives say that this is right and proper because drug users are victims too.

It’s true that many homeless people are mentally ill. Of course, it’s a chicken and egg question whether they had pre-existing issues and self-medicated, making themselves worse, or whether the substance abuse itself created the mental health issues. It’s also true that tossing junkies and mentally ill people in jail is not a solution.

These are real problems and require thoughtful approaches. However, you’d also think that someone in San Francisco might have realized that it’s a bad idea to create what is effectively a Utopian environment for disruptive, dangerous, dirty, disease-ridden druggies and other people with anti-social behavior.

Tax-paying, working San Francisco residents have been complaining about the homeless problem for a while now. Still, it’s hard to take their complaints seriously when they elect Chesa Boudin as the town’s DA, the man who promised to decriminalize everything. They also elected London Breed, another hard leftist, to be their mayor.

This is what happens when genuine lifestyle issues (such as being able to walk the streets safely or run a business) crash into virtue signaling. Virtue signaling always wins.

Anyway, the Wuhan virus (or, if you like, the New York virus) has put the whole San Francisco problem on steroids. Daniel Greenfield has a hard-hitting look at what’s happening on the streets of San Francisco:

“People are coming from all over the place, Sacramento, Lake County, Bakersfield,” Jeanine Nicholson, the first lesbian head of the San Francisco Fire Department, grumbled. “People are getting released from jail in other counties and being told to go to San Francisco, where you will get a tent and then you will get housing.”

The people coming to the City by the Bay weren’t wearing flowers in their hair, they were homeless junkies who had heard that they were going to get free hotel rooms, along with pot and booze.

And it was all true. Every word of it.

San Francisco was spending $200 a night to house the homeless, or as the current politically correct euphemism insisted that they be called, the ‘unhoused’, in hotel rooms at a cost of over $100 million.

You have to read his article to believe it and, even after reading it, you might not believe it.

San Francisco always had a wacky edge, but it was an aesthetically beautiful and still functional city. Those days are over. Large parts of San Francisco are sewers with homeless people camped on the streets and affluent citizens hiding in their homes. My old neighborhood, once a working- and middle-class bastion, is the brothel center of San Francisco. The City that Herb Caen always boasted “knew how” is dying.

Go to college; get therapy. Three years ago, I wrote a post about Macalester College, a small and expensive liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minnesota, and its proud boast about having multiple therapy dogs. I was revolted.

If you look at the photo for that post, which is simply the cover of Macalester’s magazine for parents, you’ll see that it shows girls crowding around the therapy dog. That was a familiar sight for me. When I was on a small liberal arts college campus several years ago, one that had a therapy dog, I noticed incoming freshman crowding around the dog, not in a “What a cute dog” way, but in an “I desperately need help way.” I also noticed how highly feminized the boys were, whether they were gay or straight.

Heather MacDonald, who’s a smarter, more knowledgeable, and a better writer than I am, has just written a lengthy article about the therapeutic culture at Yale and other American colleges, something that fuses feminism with mental illness. She describes how students are never told to buck up and embrace their experience. Instead, they are encouraged to revert to toddler-esque panic and equally immature means of relieving that panic. This instruction in helplessness is paired with the bizarre feminization of the therapeutic college culture:

For the last 40 years, men have been an underrepresented minority in higher education, reports American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark Perry. Since 1982, females earned nearly 14 million more college degrees than men. Colleges began a “desperate” search for women faculty in the 1970s that eroded the “intellectual rigor of elite higher education in the U.S.,” says Camille Paglia, the feminist professor and author. “Due to that sudden influx, academe’s entire internal culture changed,” she says. As the female presence has grown, so have claims of a crisis of collegiate mental health.

Nationally, about two-thirds of the students who sought treatment for mental-health disorders in the 2018–19 academic year were female, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health. At Yale, therapy use is heavily female and LGBTQ, according to students. “There are few straight men using therapy,” one self-identified “queer” girl in the GLC said. “It’s stigmatized for straight CIS men. Almost all my friends who go to therapy identify as gay or trans.”

I sent my college-attending children links to MacDonald’s article. I think they’ll recognize their classmates, especially their unstable, highly neurotic, angry, and dangerous female classmates, in the article.

You have to read this. Dov Fischer, a lawyer and rabbi, has written an extraordinary article entitled A Time to Hate. He explains how he, like other conservatives during the Obama years, hated Obama’s policies and corruption, while still accepting that Obama was the duly elected president. That is, conservatives understood that Republicans ran lousy candidates and paid the price. It was up to conservatives to step up their game at election time if they wanted something different than the Obama presidency.

Now, however, after three years of unmitigated hysteria, corruption, lies, coups, and other attacks on the core of the Trump presidency (that is, three years of attacks on our constitutional notion of the executive office) Fischer has changed his mind. He has learned to hate.

As I said, the article is extraordinary, and I highly encourage your looking it over.

That’s enough for one day. By the way, as you can see, I’ve changed my “woman writing” picture for a new one that better suits my blog’s format. When you see that image at the head of a post, you’ll know that the post is one that jumbles together a whole lot of things that interest me.

Leftist politics and the power of visual images

Leftists know that people respond strongly to visual images and use them to great effect. If Republicans want to win, they need to start doing the same.

A picture is worth a thousand words. — Newspaper/advertising adage.

Some years ago, in a post I wrote about the Second Amendment, I noted the fact that one of the advantages the gun-grabbing crowd has when pushing its message is that it has the intense visuals of dead bodies (something the Left used with special force in the wake of the terrible Sandy Hook massacre). This means that these same anti-gun people are completely resistant to any data that doesn’t create powerful images.

When it comes to guns, the gun grabbers suffer from a very bizarre limitation: Their mental horizons allow them to see only those who died because of guns, not to recognize those who did not die thanks to guns. This myopia creates the giant intellectual chasm that separates those who oppose the Second Amendment from those who support it. The former see only the people who died in the past while the latter also see the ones who will live on into the future.

I then introduced Frédéric Bastiat’s magnificent Parable of the Broken Window, which the French economist wrote in 1850, to make the point that destruction doesn’t benefit the economy but instead has money flowing in a fairly meaningless loop. Thus, Bastiat noted how people consoled someone whose window had been broken by pointing out that the repair meant work for the glazier and the contractor and so on. These people, said Bastiat, saw positive economic energy without ever understanding that it was actually lost economic energy because the money could have been used to create, rather than repair. What appealed to me about Bastiat’s essay was the final paragraph (emphasis mine):

But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, “Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”

It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.

After quoting the Parable, I dragged the issue around to the war that the Left is constantly waging against the Second Amendment:

Just as is the case with the economic illiterate who cannot imagine that money might be spent on something more useful than fixing a broken window, a gun control advocate’s world view “is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.” He counts those who have died, but cannot even begin to imagine those whose lives were saved or never threatened.

Point such an advocate to a story about an off-duty deputy who was able to stop a mall shooter, and he will say only that, “The gun still allowed the shooter to kill one or two people, and there’s no way to tell if the shooter intended to kill more people, so the armed deputy is not relevant.”

To the gun-control proponent, a story without dead bodies is no story at all and it certainly has no statistical validity in the debate over the Second Amendment. To one who believes in the Second Amendment, however, stories about people using concealed-carry guns to stop mass shooters matter because we, unlike the gun grabber, are able to take account of those people who survived what would otherwise have been a mass shooting.

Dead bodies resonate in our imagination. The absence of dead bodies, even when reported at excellent sites such as Ammo.com, which tracks stories about defensive gun use, is an empty space in the imagination. This is especially true because the media, even before it became fanatically determined to destroy the Second Amendment, always operated on the principle that “if it bleeds, it leads.” If it doesn’t bleed, it will at most be a feel good story in the last 30 seconds of the news or a squiblet on the last page of Section C in the local newspaper.

With no blood and no bodies, those who support the Second Amendment find themselves limited to statistics. The statistics, frankly, are spectacular, with an Obama-era study showing that people across the U.S. routinely and successfully use guns to defend themselves between 500,000 to 3 million times per year. Statistics, however, are not visual. Instead, they’re dead numbers on a page, exciting only to wonks and people who work well with abstract ideas.

The abortion debate has also been intensely visual. Before modern science allowed us to peer into the womb, the visuals of abortion were about the women: Pregnant women dying in back alleys from coat-hanger abortions, pregnant women whose cruel families cast them out on the street in the dead of winter, pregnant women chained to wife-beating husbands even as 13 other children were clinging to their aprons, brilliant pregnant women forced to drop out of school to become brood mares, and so on. No wonder that Obama announced to the world that he didn’t want his daughters “punished with a baby.

The rise of more pro-Life Americans coincides with the rise of windows into the womb. (And yes, I know correlation and causation are not the same thing, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen articles pointing to studies that show that 3D ultrasounds make people less supportive of abortion.) Suddenly, it’s not just a bump in a woman’s belly until the moment it’s born; instead, we see inside — in 3D yet! We see the fingers and toes, we see it sucking it’s thumb, we see that it is a baby. It’s visual.

The pro-Life movement also went visual when it started showing graphic photographs of aborted babies. The pro-Abortion movement hates those images. While dead bodies work in their favor in the Second Amendment debate, they do not help in the pro-Abortion debate. No more hypothetical women are dying in back alleys; instead, lots of actual, quite obvious babies are dying in Planned Parenthood clinics.

Apropos the abortion debate, Scott Adams, without touching on the merits of the new abortion limitations passed in Alabama, simply said that the fact that it was primarily men who voted on the law is a very bad visual, never mind the fact that a woman proposed the law and that a woman governor signed the law.  Because pro-Abortion people have framed the issue as “control over a woman’s body,” it looks bad when men make policy. The fact that nine men created a right to abortion out of whole cloth back in 1973 is irrelevant. In the here and now, the Left points to Alabama’s legislature and says of the men, “they’re gonna put y’all woman back to being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.”

I was reminded of the power of visuals when I read an article in Los Angeles Review of Books’ blog, entitled Heterosexuality Without Women. The premise for the article is an image. This image:

Buttigieg time magazine cover

The essay’s author — Greta LaFleur — urges us to take in every aspect of that image, not just because of the white house behind them (the “White House” metaphor . . . get it?), but also because it shows a sweet domesticity of husband and wife except without an actual female wife. After all, who needs real women to promote heterosexuality when you have this perfect gay heterosexual couple? If you’re saying “huh?”, you have to read the article. I’m quoting the pertinent parts (for my purposes) here:

There’s a lot to look at in this image. At first glance, one sees the anonymity of Norman Rockwell’s mid-century America: the house-unparticular porch, the timelessness of the couple form. Take another look and the pillars supporting the unseen roof of the porch start to resemble the Ionic columns of the White House, the background becoming a gesture or a promise of possibility. You begin to see the image in the aggregate, and the couple, girded by a backdrop literally overwhelmed by the household, becomes the timelessness of the entire image. This photo also tells a profound story about whiteness, above and beyond the fact that almost everything in this photo is, itself, white. It’s such an all-consuming aesthetic, here, that it practically resists interpretation; like the generically familiar (to me, a white person) porch, the cover photo claims that there’s nothing to see, because we already know what it is. We have seen this image, we know this couple, “we” should be comfortable. My “we” is particular to me, but then again, I am more or less exactly who this photo is aimed at. As a queer person, I also notice the quasi-uniform-like aesthetic of Pete and Chasten — I wondered, for a second, if they were actually wearing the same pair of pants — marveling for a moment at the sartorial doppel-banging that at first seems to claim center stage in this photo, before realizing that, instead, there’s actually no sex at center stage, here. And that is part of the point.

LaFleur goes on to point to new age scholarship that says, if I understand all the jargon correctly, that “whiteness” is now some sort of conceptual thing without the necessity of anybody being white. And why not? If gender, which is hardwired in every mammal at a DNA level, is now a mere concept, why can’t whiteness be a concept too? (Of course, blackness cannot be a concept, because that’s claiming unearned victim status not to mention racial and cultural appropriation. It’s always a one way street with these things. Likewise, homosexuality, which is a behavior, not a DNA thing, is also hard wired. Again, go figure. The new rules don’t have to make sense.)

Using this “conceptual whiteness” thing as a springboard, LaFleur makes the obvious leap: If “whiteness” is merely conceptual, than so is heterosexuality. Get enough heterosexual images piled into a single photograph and who cares if there’s not an actual heterosexual within a hundred miles?

This is a record with deep grooves. If you need more to convince you of this than the huge, literally white “FAMILY” emblazoned across Chasten and Pete’s well-muscled, Ralph Lauren-clad chests, then perhaps google “queer” and “focus on the family” and read a number of important and importantly-aging articles on the strategic deployment of homophobia (not to mention a host of other forms of animus) under the auspices of protecting “family values”; for  conservatives of all stripes, the family was the antidote to the homosexual. The flip side of that effect is, of course, the distinct but twinned use of “family” in queer communities, first to name ties to other queer people that exceed socially-approbated forms of kinship, and, second, the reproduction of the hothouse family by queer people used to shore up the recognizability and respectability of queer love, connection, parenting, and marriage. (We really don’t need anything more than Cathy Cohen’s 1997 “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens” to teach us about how this works.) Queer theorists and queer communities have coined terms like homonormativity to describe this effect, but this recent Time cover left me wondering: is this homonormativity? Or just heterosexuality? If straight people can be queer — as so many of them seem so impatient to explain to me — can’t gay people also be straight?

To be clear, I have no intention of relegating “family” to the realm of the heterosexual or the straight, for a number of reasons that reflect things like the fact that most queer people have strong ties to family, given and/or chosen. What I am saying is that the unmistakable heraldry of “FIRST FAMILY,” alongside the rest of the photograph — the tulips; the Chinos; the notably charming but insistently generic porch; the awkwardly minimal touching that invokes the most uncomfortable, unfamiliar, culturally-heterosexual embrace any of us have ever received — offers a vision of heterosexuality without straight people.

Frankly, I think most of the above is gobbledy-gook, but I actually respect the way LaFleur is trying to reframe people’s visuals. Democrats know that this is how you win arguments.

While conservatives spout statistics about the number of illegal immigrants crossing into America, the burden they place on our welfare system, and the American workers they displace, Leftists create images: “Dead children.” “Children in cages.”

Statistics don’t touch the power of those images. After all, it was a photo of a single dead child in the sand that caused Europe to open its doors to every Muslim across in the Middle East and North Africa, something that threatens to destroy the last tendrils of Enlightenment, Christian Europe. If that poor little boy hadn’t died, the European open borders crowd would have had to kill someone to create that type of powerful persuader.

The same image problem exists when it comes to vaccinations. Once upon a time, Americans had powerful images associated with epidemic diseases. Small pox ravaged America in the 17th and 18th centuries, so much so that people embraced variolation (a dangerous vaccination process with a live virus) because, while it carried risks, the risks were infinitesimal compared to the devastation of epidemic small pox. One of the geniuses of George Washington was to order the mass vaccination of his American troops — a tradition that continues to this day, as every human pin cushion who’s ever served in the American military will attest.

You don’t have to go back as far as Washington to find epidemic diseases. My uncle had the Spanish Influenza, which killed 50-100 million people worldwide. My mother had diphtheria, a childhood scourge for hundreds of years before vaccinations became available. My father had scarlet fever, which was, as one site explains: a very bad disease in a pre-antibiotic era:

Simply hearing the name of this disease, and knowing that it was present in the community, was enough to strike fear into the hearts of those living in Victorian-era United States and Europe. This disease, even when not deadly, caused large amounts of suffering to those infected. In the worst cases, all of a family’s children were killed in a matter of a week or two.

There’s no vaccination for this strep infection, but we nail it today with antibiotics. (And are rightly concerned that antibiotic abuse might give the infection an unbeatable edge in the near future.)

We also had a family friend who lived out his days walking on two canes, in great pain, because he was one of the last children to get polio before Salk developed his vaccine. Before that vaccine, polio swept through the U.S. several times, killing children and adults, and leaving many survivors with paralysis or even locked forever in iron lungs.

My point is that, within the lifetime of people I knew very well, infectious diseases were incredibly visible. People died from them. People were left permanently invalided by them. People were left crippled because of them. In that world, the risks inherent in any vaccination, while real, was easily disregarded compared to the much greater risk of epidemic, pandemic, or endemic infectious diseases.

Nowadays, of course, none of these diseases are visible. Ebola is probably the main exception, for it still has the power to frighten. We’ve very quickly become accustomed, though, to Ebola’s politely staying in little corners of Africa, with saintly aide workers putting their lives on the line to confine the deaths to hundreds, rather than millions. Even AIDS, a scary contagious disease in the 1980s, has been shoved away, thanks to antiviral treatments and condoms.

The invisibility of epidemic diseases is why fewer and fewer young parents are willing to expose their children to the risk of vaccinations. We don’t see the diseases, but we do read the random articles about that inevitable unlucky person — that 1 in 1,000 or 1 in 10,000 person — who died following a vaccination. That in-your-face story, that “there but for the grace of God” visual is way more scary than some hypothetical epidemic — or at least, it’s more scary right up until people teaming with infectious diseases pour unchecked across our border and are dispersed throughout the United States. That’s when, as they say, “shit gets real.”

I just got myself a measles booster because I’m at the perfect age to have had an ineffective booster when I was a child. A lot of others are doing the same thing because they can now envision a measles epidemic, something they could not before.

I could go on and on making the point that, because people are visual, the best persuasion creates images, whether in the form of actual pictures or in the form of vivid phrases (e.g., “children in cages”). If Republicans want to take back the culture generally, and take back Washington D.C. specifically, they would do well to keep the statistics in the background and push the punchy, catchy, visceral, memorable images and word pictures to the foreground. (Of course, as matters now stand, when innovative conservatives do try to make powerful visuals, social media tech overlords instantly shut them down. Indeed, in California, they prosecute people for powerful images.)

The post Leftist politics and the power of visual images appeared first on Watcher of Weasels.