Navigation
Powered by Squarespace
Subscribe to my RSS
Friday
Apr042014

“(M)ost people were unwilling to see . . . the similarities of many of the repellant features of the internal regimes in communist Russia and National Socialist Germany . . ..  As a result, many who think themselves infinitely superior to the aberrations of Naziism, and sincerely hate all its manifestations, work at the same time for ideals whose realization would lead straight to the abhorred tyranny.”
–F. A. Hayek
Friday
Feb282014

“The modern state does not understand how anything can be guided by something other than itself.”
–Richard M. Weaver

 

Thursday
Feb202014

“Your really enlightened states protect the Public by prohibiting everybody but the state from operating liquor or gambling businesses.  These businesses are considered Bad if people operate them, but Good if the state does, even though the only real difference is that state liquor stores have high prices, poor selection, and all the charm of unwashed junior high school locker rooms; and state gambling games offer sucker odds and idiot advertisements that appeal most to people who can least afford to throw money away.”
–Dave Barry
Sunday
Feb092014

It's THE LAW!

As most of us are at least vaguely aware, the precise wording used in any sort of advertising or PSA is not selected haphazardly.  Advertisers have a very limited window to get their message across, and so tend to use words which have been predetermined, whether by focus groups or some similar means, to capture a listener’s attention and stick.  It is with this in mind that I notice  the words “It’s the law” have gradually been creeping into PSAs, which tells me the PR firms that craft those PSAs have gone to some lengths to determine that “It’s the law” will make us stand up and take notice. What were once free, independent, self-reliant Americans, skeptical of power and resentful of being pushed around are now, according to their fastidious double-blind, cross-referenced and twice-checked research, the sort of obsequious, kowtowing, biddable peasant minions those in power have so long sought to govern.

It is as a service to those of you inclined to perk up and become attentive little obedient dogs upon hearing “It’s The LAW” that I write these words, for I desire nothing more than for you to get your dignity and–man or woman–testicles back.  So let’s take a quick peek under the hood at what The Law is, shall we?

1.  The product of compromise.  Me: “Let’s compromise.”  Cannibal: “Okay, I’ll only eat half of you.”  We hear “compromise” touted so often as the golden ring that we forget it’s a means, not the ultimate end in itself. And when it is the end sought in the crafting of legislation, the result is a jumble of nonsense pleasing to no constituency whatsoever at least as often as not.

2.  Often unprincipled, and barely majoritarian.  How is it that the mere fact 51% of a very small, unrepresentative group of idiots voted in favor of something affecting every man, woman and child in a population of millions, tens of millions or hundreds of millions gives that thing any sense, logic or moral authority sufficient to make it worthy of the sort of unquestioning obeisance “It’s THE LAW” commands? I say “unrepresentative” because, apart from being every bit as fallible as ordinary people, and often a good deal more so, people who are drawn to careers in politics typically are not ordinary, well-adjusted human beings. They are sad, attention and validation-craving creatures or, at least as often, power-hungry sociopaths, their prating protestations to having devoted themselves to “public service” notwithstanding. P. J. O’Rourke did a masterful job in his semi-recent tome Don’t Vote, It Just Encourages the Bastards of pointing out how a typical politician exhibits literally every trait listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)–the standard reference used by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals–for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. And while most of O’Rourke’s work is either facetious or satirical, this bit was neither. Here I excerpt from the DSM in relevant part:

“A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior) . . . beginning by early adulthood . . . as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

(2) Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

(3) Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

(4) Requires excessive admiration

(5) Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

(6) Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

(7) Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

(8) Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

(9) Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes."

Does the foregoing cause any particular group of people you’re familiar with to spring to mind?

3.  Inexpertly put forth by inexpert, even wildly ignorant policymakers whose cluelessness allows them to be easily manipulated by lobbyists.  As the world becomes more complex and knowledge more diffuse, esoteric and specialized, lawmakers and regulators are less equipped than ever to micromanage in subject areas where their knowledge is often excruciatingly deficient.  Not that this ever stops, discourages or even gives them a moment’s pause when charging in to do so, since the personality defects listed above invariably lead to individuals who, while often wrong, are never in doubt.  This is why laws of broad applicability are typically more effective and desirable than those which are highly specific.  The specifics change too rapidly for the law to keep up, and the futility of its attempts to do so is often equal parts tragic and comical, though nearly always ridiculous. Unintended consequences are often the only consequences of these blundering, half-baked forays into matters the self-anointed have no legitimate business dicking with.

4.  Corruptly enacted/selectively enforced for reasons having little to do with maintaining order, stability and fairness.  More to the point: To pick winners and losers.  Helpful hint: You’re almost never picked as a winner.

Finally, I would be remiss in failing to mention that The Law is, with lamentable frequency, unconstitutional, since legislatures long ago abdicated the responsibility to remain faithful to the relevant constitution (federal, state or both, whatever the case may be) and punted to the judiciary. Apparently it's a judge's job to invalidate laws on constitutional grounds, not a lawmaker's job to avoid violating the constitution (and his oath of office) in the first place.  Of course, it's hard to know when one is supporting an unconstitutional policy when, as is so often the case, one hasn't read the law being voted on, or the constitution, or both.

In short, Dickens’ Mr. Bumble had it right when he said The Law is an ass. I’ll stop acting as though I’m above The Law–casually ignoring, in most instances–should The Law ever evolve back into something reflective of time-tested values, principles and common sense, and should it resume a posture more respective of the rights, freedoms and basic dignity of individuals. When, in short, it becomes something slightly better than utterly beneath contempt. I’m not holding my breath.

 

 

Wednesday
Feb052014

Thoughts and Observations, in Random Order, After Nearly Four Years on Facebook

1.  Selfies: If they can’t be eliminated altogether (the ideal), they should at least be limited to those which are to some degree amusing, quirky, or otherwise remotely interesting. I’m not talking about your profile pic (although those of you who change yours 9 times a week need to be heavily medicated). “This is me right before heading out the door to go to work in pretty much the same manner I’ve done every Monday through Friday for the past 15 years, except this time I’ve dyed my hair a slightly different shade of dark brown and am wearing an off-white scarf rather than a pearl-white one,” for instance, would fail to meet the standard. “This is me half a second before impact/being mauled by baboons/accidentally swallowing a shot glass” would be more the thing.

More broadly, before posting anything, ask yourself the following Very Important Question: Is there even the slightest chance anyone, anywhere–including that hermit I haven’t seen since the sixth grade who hasn’t left his parents’ basement or had his skin exposed to natural sunlight in over two decades–will find this the least bit interesting, or is it merely my inner voice being outwardly expressed for reasons still little understood by behavioral scientists? There’s a reason it’s an inner voice, and I’m old enough to remember a time when it was judged perfectly acceptable to have unexpressed thoughts. See, all of our lives contain mundane, inconsequential details.  It is perhaps the one thing we all have most in common. And what do those mundane details themselves all have in common? They’re uninteresting and unworthy of mention. 

2.  Spelling, punctuation, capitalization and grammar matter, even in social media. You ARE being judged if you’ve reached adulthood without mastering the basic conventions of the written form of the language you’ve been speaking your entire life. Yes, we all periodically misspell words, and avoiding occasional subject/verb disagreement and similar slip-ups is impossible even for the highly educated and punctilious. Sometimes especially for those people. Still, if you can spend 5 minutes composing a post, is there some reason you can’t devote an extra 30 seconds to proofreading it? Yeah, I know–I’m a jerk.  But I’m actually trying to help. Most people aren’t semi-literate oafs, so why come across as one if it can be avoided with a trifling effort? Oh, and while I’m on the subject, please repeat after me: IF IT’S A PLURAL NOUN, THERE’S NO APOSTROPHE. IF IT’S POSSESSIVE, THERE IS. Moreover, quotation marks have only a few appropriate uses. If you don’t know what they are, you’re probably misusing them. It maybe unfare, but peeple think your stoopid if you dont right english good.

3.  Single-subject/one-dimensional/extremely narrow interest range posters: ;qlkjvab;;abjk . . . sorry–that was my head hitting the keyboard as I passed out from sheer boredom merely from thinking about you for half a second. I’m reasonably certain they already have websites, chatrooms, and all manner of web-facilitated venues for you to discuss the internal intrigues and doctrinal rifts developing among the membership of the Capricorn Lesbians for Organic Hemp Now! party, upcoming events for the Associated Southwest Douglas County Methodist Alpaca Breeders, and interior design tips for Men with Red-Green Colorblindness and the Women Who Love Them. Such highly specialized interests don’t really belong on a social network of general applicability. I’d give more specific recent examples of what I’m talking about, but I’ve blocked virtually everyone who does this. You needn’t bare it all in order to show us that there’s something–anything–more to you than your favorite esoteric fetish.

Incidentally I include in this category the folks I’ve dubbed “political nuts,” which are those for whom all is political. And I absolutely include those I agree with a hundred percent of the time.  I don’t care if I think you’re right; not only is there much, much more to life than politics, most of the good bits have nothing to do with that wretched subject. This isn’t to say, of course, that it’s not an important topic. As citizens of a republic where the people are sovereign, obviously we should be having frequent and lively conversations about how best to ensure our government–which, after all, works for us, even if it frequently needs reminding of this basic fact–is as honest, transparent, responsive to our needs, protective of our rights and attendant to its duties as any institution devised and administered by fallible human creatures is capable of being.  But some of you dumbasses take life too damned seriously. Post something else. Something personal, spiritual, cute, funny–ANYTHING but politics 24/7.

Here, for lack of a more suitable place in this narrative, I’ll add that we should all be at pains to avoid letting ideological differences wreck friendships. This is a mistake I’ve made a time or two, to my unending regret. Individuals should always take precedence over ideas, since the former are real and the latter mere abstractions. To blazes with isms. Also, as a Christian, I should add that individuals are immortal, and created and loved by God, and this is why we should do our best to love them too no matter how spirited our disagreements. Ideas are ethereal, man-made and, in all likelihood, every bit as flawed and limited as the minds that conceived them. Besides, left or right (I have no use for “center”), we all want the same basic things out of life: Peace, prosperity, and a better world for our children. We certainly disagree, often sharply, over how to attain those things, but there’s no very good reason I can think of to be a dickhead about it. I really need to do a better job following my own advice in this area.

Oh, and workout/nutrition fanatics, especially Crossfitters and “clean eating” weirdos–I don’t know how else to say this, so I’m just going to say it: You’ve joined a cult. We’ll welcome you back into the fold with open arms once you come to terms with this and decide to return to us, but we understand it’s a decision you alone will have to make, and only after you’re ready. Also, you might want to re-read No. 2 on this list, and in the meantime stop posting descriptions of your diet and exercise routines down to the minutest detail. While your intentions are undoubtedly noble, you’re unwittingly causing people to want to brutally murder you with any heavy, blunt object that may come to hand.

4.  Vaguebookers: Just. Stop.

5.  Food picture posters: Ditto. I will give you money. Perhaps even weirder are posters of “food porn”–stock photos of food not actually in the poster’s possession, but which s/he would like to try someday. Yeah, we all like food. Those of us with the good fortune to live in the developed world eat some quantity of it every single day. Get a life.

6.  Oversharers, meaning those who post between 4 and 400 things in a 24-hour period, share anything/everything they’ve ever read that has an html link (and, closely related, those who exclusively post memes, using them as a substitute for ever having to string together words of their own for the purpose of expressing a thought): I’m literally on my knees begging you to cut it out. Use that filter God gave you. It’s called a brain.

7.  Perpetual sad sacks/criers for help: I think you’re sort of missing the point of Facebook, which is to shamelessly exaggerate how awesome your life is, not how much it stinks. Most of us neither have perfectly dismal lives nor perfectly peachy ones, and I’m guessing you’re no exception. Accentuate the positive, people!

8.  “Shamebookers,” meaning anyone who posts things that say “share this if you love your daughter/son/spouse/parents, or you care about public health, or don’t want puppies to be raped” (implying, of course, that none of these can be true if you don’t): Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I actually find myself wanting to physically harm you from time to time. 

9.  Grown-ups who have finally found True Love: I’m being absolutely serious when I say that we’re all happy for you, and equally serious when I say stop grossing us out.  PDAs on Facebook are just as nauseating as literal PDAs. You’re not hormonal adolescents lacking discretion, or for whom there’s no reasonable expectation on the part of others that you should have, by now, acquired basic impulse control. Act your age.

10.  People (of any age) who publicize what should be the private details/drama of your love life: See No. 9.

11.  Argumentative people: Many of you could use a crash course in how to argue. A by no means exhaustive list of what arguing isn’t would consist of  tu quoque, argumentum ad hominem, antiquam/novitam, misericordiam, baculum and populum,(here I’m hoping you’ll entertain yourself looking all of these up), poisoning the well, setting up straw men, creating false dichotomies, verbal diarrhea intended to obfuscate the issue and change the subject with irrelevancies which are non-responsive to the original proposition, and all similar fallacies, red herrings and rhetorical ploys. 

More broadly, congratulations for having a point of view–it places you in a unique community consisting of every human currently living who isn’t in a coma or chronic vegetative state. But not all points of view are created equal, nor are all equally worthy of serious consideration.  Some are the product of hours, days, even years of serious reflection, introspection and the weighing of innumerable considerations which interact with one another in complex ways.  Others result from blind self-interest, ungoverned emotion, or whether or not their proponent happens to have indigestion at the moment.

12.  Controversialists/people who live to stir up conflict, and who love arguing as an end in itself: Seriously, we need fewer goading jackasses like me on Facebook.