So the Caboose, otherwise known as Youngest Son, age 12, signs up for a week-long summer camp in Berkeley/Oakland. It involves running around outside and stuff that sounded like fun. So far so good.
It also, as became evident yesterday, involves attempted brainwashing, to wit: children and counselors are instructed to introduce themselves – and state their preferred personal pronoun. Then, if one were to slip up and use the obvious correct pronoun when somebody had stated he wanted some other pronoun, you are instructed to say, not ‘sorry’ but something along the lines of ‘I will try to do better.’
Now, the flaw, from the perpetrator’s’ perspective, is that, even in such an Orwellian wasteland as Berkeley, any remotely random set of kids of any reasonable size is going to consist of boys and girls who, you’ll be shocked to hear, understand that they are, respectively, boys and girls. And thus they stated their names and preferred pronouns.
Since this would obviously not do, as the goal of the perpetrators is to enure their tender young charges to sexual reality insofar as won’t get them righteously sued, jailed or driven out of business, one of the counselors said his preferred pronoun was ‘they’. Right. Such a brave pioneer.
I didn’t see this personally – my wife filled out the paperwork – but evidently the sign-up package includes epic, eye-roll inducing, just how clueless can you be ‘we will not tolerate intolerance!’ language.
So, of course, yesterday, my son is relaying part of a story told by Mr. They to another counselor, and referred to esteemed Mr. Plural Pronoun, correctly, as ‘he’.
Ah! A teaching moment! A very nice young lady (by my son’s account) stopped and ‘corrected’ him, and instructed him to say that he would try to do better.
To my son’s eternal glory and my endless fatherly pride, he said ‘no’. After a little light wheedling, the counselor gave up – called for a temporary cease fire, more likely – once it became apparent that my son was getting upset and wouldn’t budge.
Upon hearing this, I of course told my son he was free to drop the camp (we’re huge, in our family, on giving our kids the opportunity to work stuff out themselves, so I didn’t go all ‘you’re never going back to that P.C.cesspit again!). To my surprise, he said that the program itself was getting good, and a couple of his friends would be there and he didn’t want to abandon them, so he’d go today and see what happens.
So we will see this evening when he comes back how it went. Since Social Justice Zealots tend to be as implacable as they are clueless, I’d say there is only a tiny chance they will let it go. We will see.
There will, I am told, be post-camp evaluations to fill out. If so, I will post my reply here. It will be as epic as I can make it.
Now, a more serious topic via a couple trivialities : I’m not really complaining, here, because I do get how blessed we are that I have a job that lets us send our kids to excellent Catholic colleges and live a comfortable suburban life. And, in general, our company spoils us worker bees rotten – excellent bennies, good vacation policy, well-stocked free snacks. But life at work has gotten slightly less pleasant over the years due to a very trivial thing: the coffee drinkers here, without any fuss or falderol, used to make a new pot if they emptied the old pot before about 11:00. Just a tiny, thoughtful thing among a bunch of geeky guys.(1)
Sometime in the last year, this practice started to fade, until, now, it’s as likely as not the pot will be empty in the morning. One or more people have decided, it appears, that making another pot is beneath them. So a small, almost always anonymous, communal gesture of consideration has ceased, and we’re all a little less blessed because of it.
Twice in the last couple days, I’ve watched people simply run red lights, clearly on purpose. They just thought they saw a clearing, and went for it. This is not the ubiquitous running of red lights and stop signs to make a right turn, which has become so common I hardly even expect people to slow down, let alone make a rolling ‘stop’. Nope, this was somebody approaching a red light, taking a quick glance for traffic, and then just gunning it. One dude did this on three consecutive red light as we watched.
Stupid and dangerous, yes. But more important, illustrative of a defining trait of our post-post-modern world. For any culture to survive, the people in it must *voluntarily* observe all kinds of restrictions. For most required behaviours – required for the functioning and continuation of any society worthy of the name – there are few if any immediate negative consequences. Eventually, perhaps, whatever serves the function of polite society within a culture will enforce some sort of censure, but that most often takes some time. You may be a cad and a bounder, but people need to figure this out and promulgate it before start not getting invited to parties, not welcomed in homes, and shunned in public.
Your desire to be part of a functional and, insofar as possible, pleasant culture was what drove your behavior, in the event that your sense of right and wrong, especially in the Christian sense of loving one’s’ neighbor, was not sufficient to make one civil.
All this social pressure is before the law enters into it. American culture was built on the idea that law was just to cover egregious, outlying cases. Nobody would be so foolish to think that the law defined the boundaries of acceptable behavior. It’s not like assault and murder were lines a person could legitimately approach so long as he didn’t cross them; or libel and slander the unacceptable points in otherwise acceptable behavior. No, society was in some senses a reflection of family life, in which one has duties and enjoys benefits outside and prior to any legal considerations.
This sense of social duties in the merely day-to-day interactions of polite people in America has been under attack for a couple hundred years now. The real progress in this regard seems to have been made since the end of WWII. (2) I have growing sympathy with those who thought rock and roll was the Devil’s music, if only because it became the premier vehicle for rejection of existing culture behavioral norms. The Summer of Love (sic) was also the summer of some of the best rock music ever – not a coincidence.
After WWII, Americans began raising hippies.(3) Hippies are characterized by choosing their dress and behavior precisely because it was an affront to established social norms. Liberation was indistinguishable from indulgence. As is always and often tragically the case, mixed in with the narcissistic self-indulgence of sex drugs and rock-n-roll were several real issues – the war, civil rights – which, frankly and in retrospect, for many if not most of the people involved, merely provided cover for what was, in essence, a prolonged adolescent melt-down. (4)
The hippies got older (I won’t say grew up) and, as they obtained power, ushered in the Age of Greed, during which only a few people bothered to pretend that their actions were not totally selfish (“Greed is Good”) – most merely Got Theirs, just as they had earlier gotten their share of sex and drugs irrespective of the effects their activities had on others. Less talented or focused people may have failed to seize power and wealth, but the wreckage around us says they didn’t fail to incorporate the attitudes.
How do such people raise their own children, when they failed to abort them? Short answer: mostly, they don’t. Mostly, such children are bounced around between divorced parents, raised by day care workers or teachers reduced to day care workers. As their parents show no loyalty to or even awareness of social obligations and little if any to even family obligations, we’ve now raised millions of children who have learned with their mother’s formula that they are on their own and in it for themselves. Their unhappiness is their problem. When they cry about daddy going away, or being shipped off to day care, they learn quickly and harshly that those feelings of abandonment are their problems. (5)
And so, in increasing numbers, they kill themselves. Or turn to drugs or some other numbing elixir. What they don’t do is see any obligations to anyone or anything that can’t be rejected and ignored the minute they feel like rejecting them.
Which brings us back to running red lights and making coffee. Why should a post-post-modern person stop at a red light, if he thinks he can make it through and there’s no cop? It’s just a dumb law. If I don’t cause a wreck, I’ve kept the spirit if not the letter. Why should he make more coffee? Anybody who wants to can just make his own.
A functioning society worthy of the name (6) relies on the willingness of the people in it to behave well without any immediate enforcement. The key expectations are not and cannot be laws. This body of social requirements includes, at its roots, the ideas that you get married and stay married, you raise your own children, you take care of your own responsibilities while not interfering with the next guy’s efforts to take care of his, and that you look out for each other and support each other’s efforts to keep the society going (e.g., no homewrecking).
Chesterton points out somewhere that people keep seeking freedom in society and law that is only ever realized in private: that the place to be eccentric is the home, not the public square. But this assumes (perhaps a safe assumption in 1930?) that people would typically have a home in which to be eccentric. Now, we’ve reached the point where, for many people, the idea of a home in any but the gross physical sense is foreign. Do you mean the place mommy hangs out, or daddy, or some other place? Grandma’s? Thus, all acting out has to be done increasingly in public, all acceptance must be public acceptance.
And all rules must be public rules. Everything must be expressed in laws.
Except, now, obeying laws is optional except when the cops are around.
The cops are almost never around.
Because I’m a coffee snob, I’d even wash everything in soap and water once in a while when I’d be on for making the next pot. Brewing Peet’s in a dirty pot is a crime! But I knew that was just me, and didn’t mind at all. Hey, it’s an office of geeky guys.
One of the things I’ve always loved about Guys and Dolls, which is set in the ’20s or ’30s, is how polite (and well-dressed!) the low-life gamblers and petty gangsters are – even Big Jule, who is hardly more than a thug, wants to be thought socially acceptable. Part of the humor, of course, is listening to dialogues between such riff-raff as they attempt with mixed success to sound like the upper crust they aspire to be. They key is that even they did aspire – they wanted to be respectable.
Catholics began raising the future priests for whose retirement – and, we hasten to add, replacement by young, orthodox priests – we fervently pray. As well as raising the Nuns on a Bus crowd and their equivalents. Not a good record for the Greatest Generation.
I’d have said toddler’s meltdown, but toddlers don’t whine about about getting all the sex they want. Otherwise, fits better.
Ask any school administrator for stories about parent-teacher conferences where the single parent on their 3rd live-in lover wants to know what the school is doing to cause their boy to act out so much. This reveals 2 key assumptions: that the school is raising their kid, and that their own chaotic lives have nothing to do with it. That last is DOGMA. Cross it at great risk.
I keep throwing that ‘worthy of the name’ stuff in there because I’m thinking of what would have to happen if our Marxist or Alinskyite comrades manage to burn this society down: they need to destroy the social underpinnings to create the level of chaos needed to seize power, but once in power, they need, somehow, to enforce their rules. History shows us how that works. Which is why I mostly feel pity for the True Believers – they are headed to the guillotine or the gulag right after me and mine, and they just can’t see it. They think *they* will be in charge! Insert bitter cackle here.
The LA basin is bordered on the north by a series of mountain ranges: the Santa Monica Mountains divide the city proper (if one can rightly say LA even has a ‘city proper’) from the San Fernando Valley, which ends with the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Interstate 5 traverses the very bowels of the City, crosses the Valley and enters the mountains, becoming ‘the Grape Vine’ for the next 50 or so miles as it gradually rises to 4,144′ at the Tajon Pass, after which it plummets down into the Central Valley where it becomes mostly flat, straight and boring.
There are a couple of cities along the Grapevine, Santa Clarita being the largest, but soon, as it continues to head north, the number of exits peters out until there’s one maybe every 4 or 5 miles. Despite what Hereclitus might have said, the road up and the road down are not the same: due to the terrain and the unfettered creative genius of 1960’s traffic engineers, rarely do the up and down lanes lie side-by-side. Instead, they wind their separate ways through the mountains, once even switching sides so that opposite traffic is on one’s right, English style.
Why, the unhealthily-interested or bored reader may find himself asking at this point, is he mentioning this? Say some nasty accident happened north of Santa Clarita, like a big rig tangling with a SUV pulling a trailer, with overturned trailers that blocked all 4 lanes and injuries that required airlift out? That would be bad. Traffic would be stuck for HOURS, even!
4 and a half hours, to be more precise. Might have been longer, since, while the people and even the wreckage were gone, they hadn’t reopened any lanes when we reached the scene of the accident about midnight and inched past on the shoulder. We, along with thousands of other travelers, were trapped – couldn’t get off the road, couldn’t turn around, couldn’t go forward. 4 lanes of traffic, including hundreds if not thousands of semi-trucks, along California’s major north-south artery had to be condensed down to one lane and scutched past on the shoulder.
So, of course, you are encouraged to say a prayer for the 4 people involved. We did. But we also got in at 4:40 a.m. Sunday.
Our 11 hour round trip to drop our son off at Thomas Aquinas College for his sophomore year turned into a traffic nightmare.
(Still alive. Longest gap between posts since my first year of doing this. Sheesh. Then I start rambling and can’t stop, which means it takes days to post this.)
I learned first hand (1) of a standard trick or ploy used by lawyers during discovery, the phase of a case wherein each side requests materials from the other related to the case. For example, if the case is over claimed illegal billing practices of a certain company, the side making the claim would request a look at the billing records of that company. The law (in the US at least) is intended to make the trial about the facts known to both sides, not some sort of Perry Mason last minute surprise evidence or witness drama, which might be good TV, but is bad law.
Anyway, in theory, if you have nothing to hide, you just hand over what the other side wants to see according to the rules of discovery. But if you do have something to hide, or just like to make life miserable for your opponents, you might hand over a mountain of documents and data that might possibly be related to the discovery request, such that the other side is now looking for a needle in a haystack. (2) We’d like to think that lawyers would be able to sort through all the piles of documents and find the needle, but the reality is that they are working under time and budget constraints like everyone else. By overwhelming the ability of the other side to process information, you score points and win cases – that’s the idea, anyway. It’s a form of disinformation.
I’ve spent much of my working life around salespeople, and have even done a bit of it myself. Good salespeople are a breed apart. Everybody knows about their A-type personalities and drive. They are the type of people who think only about the close – a closed deal = winning, everything else = losing. They hate losing. (3)
The smarter the salesman, the more analysis he performs. Talk among good salesmen is like talk among war veterans, battle stories about figuring out the one guy who needed to be convinced, shooting down the key objection, getting the key decision-maker on your side. But day to day, the smart salesmen I’ve worked with think about the strategic relationships. The salesperson knows that it will take solid personal relationships built over time to get people to bet their careers on buying his products. As a rule, salesmen don’t lie anymore than people in any other profession, perhaps less, because if they were discovered as a liar, they’d destroy all the trust they just spent months or years building up, and wouldn’t win – they wouldn’t close the deal.
Great salespeople really know their customers, in the sense of understanding their motivations and fears. In order to establish that long term repeat buyer relationship that makes them, the salespeople, heroes, they must make the decision-maker feel like a winner, too. They learn to use their customer’s hopes – and fears. The degree to which this is heartfelt concern or crass manipulation is often fuzzy.
Bottom line: Great salespeople truly do understand their customers, and truly do look out for their customers’ best interests – up to a point. This is *most* great salespeople, as I’ll get to in a moment.
The one last thing, for which I only have anecdotal and hearsay evidence: Law and sales careers tend strongly to attract sociopaths (4). Sociopathology exists across a range, from utterly crippling to hyper-competent. What I mean is that some sociopaths have so little grip on how others experience reality and the sociopath in particular that their ability to function in the world is seriously compromised. Others, however, us their intelligence to figure out how a normal person behaves and what people expect, and can then pass as completely normal, only uninhibited by any empathy, remorse or need for truthfulness. Only in extreme situations would it become evident that such a high-functioning sociopath is in fact emotionally and morally crippled. Generally, such high functioning sociopaths are highly successful, after the manner of Plato’s hypothetical man who is believed to be virtuous but lacks all virtue.
Politics, at least on a national level, is people almost exclusively by salesmen, lawyers and useful idiots. The most sincere and patriotic volunteer will, I think, soon find himself forced into one of those roles by political reality: your candidate/program can only do all the good things you dream about if he or it gets past the voters. The other side is presumed to be dishonest, manipulative and otherwise uninhibited by any moral constraints. Therefore, even if you have not read Alinsky, you will be pushed (sometimes by those who have) into behaving as if you had.
In short, even people with healthy emotional lives will find themselves acting like sociopaths, or, clinking to their sense of humanity over their sense of reality, become useful idiots to real sociopaths.
Back to lawyers and salesmen: Lawyers understand the value of obfuscation as described in the discovery example above. If you need to get something past your opponent, the combination of way too much stuff to dig through plus a time deadline is very useful. This is one reason that Obamacare runs over 10,000 pages and 11,000,000 words. Supporters were in favor of the *concept*, and so didn’t care what the laws said. Those who wanted to know how it was supposed to work in practice were effectively thwarted.(5) A reason we have warehouses full of laws and regulations is that we’re not supposed to understand them. It often takes years for the targets of laws to figure out what they are, sometimes when a government regulator is standing at the front door explaining it.
The great salesmen are planning strategically and tactically to close the deal and set up a long-term relationship (6). They are identifying who they need to get past, who they need to make into heroes, and how they are going to lock in the ‘customer’ for the long haul. FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt – is what a salesman wants to instill in his customer about his competitors. Thus, we are told that every Republican candidate is the embodiment of evil, is stupid beyond reason, and is an absolute tool of business with the goal of enslaving working people everywhere. (7) Democrats want to destroy America (8) are a bunch of closet commies who hate the military and police, apple pie and the flag. (9) And so on – the point is to instill such FUD about the other party as to render even considering them unthinkable.
I view politics through the lens of salespeople and lawyers, with a healthy suspicion that we are often seeing true sociopathy at work. I know, first, that the message has been thoroughly vetted, the behaviors completely scripted (neither a lawyer nor a salesman would ever bring someone before a judge or prospect unless he was certain what that someone will say) and the commitment to victory among the worker bees established as absolute. Only the immediate goal is shared – to get this guy elected, or get this bill passed. The longer-term strategic goals, in the best Progressive tradition, will be argued over later (10) Neither party works too hard to make sure everybody is on board with long term goals, because if they were honest, chances are they are not and cannot be. On the Republican side, the long term goals of some faction is a smaller, less powerful, less corrupt government. Others, a much smaller but much more powerful group, want policies favorable to big businesses, which are often unfavorable to small businesses, yet another not entirely overlapping group. Some are desperate pro-lifers, evidently willing to accept almost any positions on almost any other issues if only they are told (with no measurable effect to date) that the party stands with them. All kinds of Venn overlaps and outliers.
Democrats have (delusional) union support – Unions seem to think, despite NAFTA and the unionization of federal employees (which enables the government to court itself, in effect, and ignore all those messy non-government unions), that the party cares about them – total FUD. The bone Obamacare threw them in exempting their healthcare programs is about all they’ve gotten in years besides kicks in the face. Then there are the children through the great, great, great grandchildren of immigrants, for whom Tammany Hall or the Chicago Machine got some ancestor a job fresh off the boat – they can’t imagine voting for the other party, as they have now heard for years about how great it was that the Machine funnelled a tiny bit of its graft their way in the form of a job as a cop or trash collector for great-great grandpa. Smaller but more virulent groups of real Communists and Alinskyites want to use the siren song of free goodies to bring the system down so that they can seize control in the flaming wreckage. They will go along with anything that promises to increase government control. And then there are the classic bleeding hearts, who can’t do math and are convinced by the syllogism: we must do something; this is something; therefore, we must do this. These folks vote Democrat as mindlessly as they buy Priuses – the actual outcomes in good stuff/saved planet matter not at all, so long as they can feel good about the effort. And, again, so on and so forth, with lots of overlap.
Neither party will ever have an end in view around which all of their partisans can gather. That’s how you get Rorschach slogans like ‘Hope and Change’ or ‘Make America Great Again’ – we are invited to fill in the details with whatever we want, and not talk too much about how our ends and the ends of others in our party are mutually exclusive.(11)
(Stopping in the middle, more or less, so that I publish *somethng* in my life time…)
My wife was a legal assistant when we were first married, and got to spend days at a time crawling through files in a warehouse doing discovery for some cases.
My understanding is that the requesting side tries to be specific in its requests in order to avoid this tactic, but in practice that can be hard. I’m not a lawyer, there’s all sorts of rules here that are outside my expertise, so pardon my broad generalizations.
No, the guy trying to sell you a used car is almost certainly not a great salesman. If he were, he’d have a better gig. So don’t think of that guy – think of the sort of person who works for months or years to get a huge company with layers of bureaucracy to sign a contract to buy millions of whatever it is his company sells.
Grabbing the first thing that came up on Google: “A sociopath is someone who exhibits an antisocial personality disorder, along with antisocial behaviours, little understanding of social norms, and lack of conscience. A high functioning sociopath is someone with identical traits, however tends to be more intelligent, and better at integrating with society. Their disorders are harder to notice and diagnose. They can pretend they care about other people and they can commonly evince less antisocial behaviours at will.” According to the literature, sociopaths make up about 1% to 4% of the population. That means about 3 to 12 million sociopaths in the US alone.
More fundamental and important: supporters differed, it seems, on what ‘works’ meant for Obamacare: Some (the hopelessly gullible, I’d say) though that Obamacare would make more and better healthcare available to everyone at lower relative costs. That was certainly the advertised goal, the one that makes us more prosaic types throw our hands up in despair. For other, more Machiavellian politicians, ‘works’ meant bringing 1/6th of the economy and hundreds of thousands of jobs under government control – they were indifferent, at least in the short run, if care got better or worse, more or less available, or more or less expensive – Obamacare worked just fine, for them, if all that money and all those people were now fully political chips to be used, like the military, for political ends. Just as every new weapons program of any size has components developed in every state so that congressdroids can wave how much bacon they have brought back to their voters, now healthcare spending could be subject to the same process. But most important are the true Alinskyites, for whom ‘work’ means straining the system past the breaking point to bring about the chaos needed for seizing all power. The first group are the ones getting a wiff of the coffee at the moment; the second have what they want, almost, for the time being. The last group is eagerly watching the kindling get lit under the world.
LBJ’s alleged quote, selling the Civil Rights package to a Democratic governor:“I’ll have those n*****s voting Democrat for two-hundred years,” while perhaps apocryphal, is not uncharacteristic of LBJ and illustrate a truly great salesman in action, executing a tactic to achieve the strategic end.
In my lifetime, these sorts of things have been said of everyone from Reagan to Mitt Romney. Thus, when a Trump comes along, many people are enured to any criticism of him. If a milktoast like Romney is supposed to be Hitler, how is anyone supposed to take such critics seriously when they attack Trump with effectively the same language? This is not to say that these criticism don’t have some basis (the ‘he’s an idiot’ one is pretty evenly distributed among all partisans, however) – of course they do. At most, it seems corruption has a different flavor for each party.
Which is not fair – it’s mostly only the leadership…
As in:Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good–” At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.
G.K. Chesterton – Heretics (1905).
My favorite example from a couple elections back: I had one friend who ridiculed the idea that Obama was a socialist, and another who was voting for him because he was a socialist. They were looking at the same guy and same campaign, just seeing what they wanted to see.
Regarding that IOC rule allowing ‘transgendered’ men to compete in women’s events at the Olympics:
Here’s one of the greatest female athletes around, 6’8″ Brittney Griner, dunking a basketball against other women:
Here is a fairly unknown 5’5″ tall highschool kid dunking a basketball over two defenders:
The kid is 15″ shorter than Ms Griner, yet gets higher over the rim and throws the ball down with greater force. He moves much more quickly, and it would be surprising if he were not about as strong as she.
There are only a handful of women who can do what Ms. Griner does. There are probably 10 boys across the two teams in the other video of a nothing special high school game who could dunk as well as she, and 5 who would block her dunk attempts into the next county.
A good high school boy’s team could beat the women’s professional All-Star team. Because of kids like this 16 year old…
…who is bigger, stronger, faster and can jump higher than any professional woman basketball player. There’s lots more where he came from. If you made a list of the top basketball players in the world, the top 20,000 or so would be men and boys.
Couple more points:
The boys don’t just have better records, the women’s records wouldn’t likely qualify for the boys state championships – and men college athletes are much better than high school boys, and the Olympic level is way better than that in most cases.
Conclusion: a middling male athlete would utterly dominate just about any women in just about any event where speed and strength are important.
So, as I mentioned in a note to my last post, this should be interesting. Because, as we all know, the reason all the 6’5″ 350 lbs left tackles who can bench press a Buick and yet move like cats in the NFL are male is because of discrimination.
Stray thoughts while I avoid the massive pile of drafts that, you know, are my good writings … (1)
Orphans used to more or less promptly die. Widows, too. Up to perhaps 200 years ago everywhere, and in some places even now, being a parentless child or a woman who’d lost her husband meant that their was no one to help you get enough food to survive, let alone protect you from violence. The scriptural admonitions to care for widows and orphans is in part a recognition of these cold facts.
This grim fate is part and parcel of the historian’s grim euphemism ‘harvest sensitive’: When there’s plenty of food around, even the widow and orphan may get fed; when the harvest is bad, the weakest – that would be widows and orphans – get to starve first. Sure, we’d like to imagine, in our plenty, that the extended families of the widows and orphans would take them in, and that probably did happen sometimes. We underestimate the difficulty and sacrifice that generosity might entail: the food supply doesn’t magically expand to accommodate more mouths. As a peasant (about 90% of people across all but the most recent history) I couldn’t just put another acre under cultivation and simply catch more fish. Those scriptural admonitions are a call to real sacrifice, more often than not.
Once read about Charlemagne that he, as is appropriate for an emperor, tended to take a dim view of any attitude or behavior that might threaten his reign. Unlike his ancestors and contemporaries, he is remembered for his mercy – he didn’t just automatically kill people, but would use less bloody ways to remove them. For example, he would banish anyone who offended against the Frankish empire to distant monasteries, where they were to reevaluate their decision making paradigms. Such reevaluation might take the rest of their lives – oh well. (2)
The thing about Charlemagne is that this practice of his is no different in concept from the practices of any vigorous king or, for that matter, any vigorous culture. What defines a culture as vigorous is its ability to promote that which strengthens it and suppress that which destroys it. Mostly, this action of suppression and promotion has not been controversial: murder and theft must be suppressed, and family and commerce must be promoted.
Those who refused to support the efforts of the people of a culture to sustain and propagate that culture found themselves, at the very least, outside the bounds of polite society. Thieves and murderers were most often executed. But other acts of defiance to the cultural norms were also punished. Homewreckers – think Don Juan for an extreme literary example – were dragged to Hell by the Stone Guest, often not too figuratively. The shotgun wedding is a delicate refinement of merely being shotgunned.
And so on – if you violated the expectations of the people you lived among enough, you weren’t going to get a job or a spouse or a place to live. At best. (3) Then, without family and position, your fate would stand to be determined by that same harvest sensitivity mentioned above.
These two thing – the need to support or at least not tear down the culture, and the often fatal results of not being tied in to a family – tended strongly to winnow out certain behaviors that were destructive to a culture. This didn’t really start to change anywhere until the middle of the 19th century, (4) when food production and storage finally started to ease the threat of starvation from the most civilized countries. Not coincidentally, that’s also when Marx published Wage Labour and Capital (1847) and Communist Manifesto (1848). Marx attacks the culture that produced him just at the moment when it was just becoming possible for a common man to live the sort of dissolute and irresponsible personal life Marx lived and still stand a decent chance of survival. That train has kept rolling on, so that, today, a person with no family ties to speak of and who lives in constant defiance of all traditional social norms not only does not die, but lives to reproduce and, sometimes, vote.
The winnowing fan is in ashes. This is not entirely a bad thing – we really don’t want widows and orphans to starve. But what has happened is that our current desiccated and anemic culture has absorbed all sorts of bad ideas, ideas that do not support this or any other culture. (5)
And so we run a grand experiment upon the ashes. What if no man must raise and care for his children? No woman need be married to be a mother? No child need even know who his father is? No recognition that society, and especially political society, is a result of families, not a cause ot definition of families? Heck, what if we punish any who claim otherwise?
Already the non-controversial actions of the culture – suppressing theft and murder, for a pertinent example – have been made controversial. We ask who is doing the stealing and killing and from or of whom before we are allowed to disapprove, and judgement is to be based on the group, not the individual actors. Whipping up hatred of one group for another is not loathsome and despicable, but just good politics. And those who would only keep their culture alive are persecuted from the high places of government.
So we will see. This should be interesting. (6)
Chesterton says something like this about a book he hadn’t gotten around to writing: like everything I haven’t written, it was the best thing I ever wrote. Beautiful potentiality is always the theoretical winner when compared to any brute actuality. Sigh.
One hopes flatterers would get this treatment.
It is odd to contemplate that a medieval village was in most ways more tolerant of oddball behaviours than we are. See Don Quixote, for examples.
In the early 19th century, the rules still seemed to hold. I’m thinking of Mary Shelly and her crowd and how much death and misery resulted from their free thinking. That part tends to get glossed over, or, worse and more dishonest, blamed on the society and not on the idiotic adolescent fantasies of the perps.
Marx wastes no ink describing how the new paradise is to arise in any practical sense – it just does, once you’ve killed enough Capitalists. That it hasn’t yet is not seen as proof that it’s a dumb idea, but merely as evidence you’ve not yet killed enough capitalists. The solution is to increase your efforts and broaden the definition of Capitalist until it includes, say, kulak farmers or, today, anyone who makes more money than you and fails to get in line.
There are some potentially funny developments – funny, unless you’re a woman who has spent a lifetime training for the Olympics only to lose to some mediocre guy who says he’s a woman and takes steps for 12 months to suppress his testosterone levels. My prediction: in 4 years, there will be few world record in women’s Olympic sports held by women. There are enough unstable guys who are decent athletes who will ‘become women’ just long enough to snag a gold medal or two.
Now, to be fair, you’d also have to shoot the trolley driver with (at least) a fast-acting tranquilizer dart. For that to work, you’d also have to add, hypothetically, that you – the moral philosopher with job anxiety – are also a crack shot. Unless the trolley is parked, which then adds yet further hypotheticals…
This is getting complicated. You come across a trolley car sitting at a stop on a track that soon branches, driven by a perfectly alert and capable operator. No one is tied to the tracks. Using the above picture as a reference, in order to create in the minds of the gullible a picture of morality that permits, nay, demands that we make choices to slaughter some people for the benefit of other people, you’d need to, at least,
back up the trolley to get up a good head of steam as it heads into the switch;
render the operator unconscious, dead or absent;
tie assorted people to the tracks;
if anyone else is on the trolley, they must be likewise incapacitated to remove the possibility that they might notice the lack/incapacity of the operator and might therefore be able to pull the brake at a moral-quandary-spoiling moment;
set it all in motion as you sprint to the switch lever.
This may seem extreme, but remember, jobs are at stake! Which is Very Important, unless they are coal mining jobs or jobs for which no one is willing to pay minimum wage. Those sorts of jobs deserve to die, even more than the one guy tied to the tracks along the spur, who is just one man, and one man should die to save 5.
You did pick the right guys to tie up, right? The one guy should be some sort of ragged looking dude, you know, to assuage any pesky guilt that might arise from deciding to kill him. But what if you screwed up? What if, hypothetically, that one guy is a Nobel Prize winning genius saint, while the five normal-looking people tied up on the other track are just bankers? Shouldn’t the bankers die? Running them down is really just cutting to the chase.
But what if two of those bankers work in funding projects in underserved areas, routinely give blood and work as volunteers in the third world a month every year? Is that enough to outweigh a Nobel Prize?
Let’s expand on this: That Nobel Prize winner has just recently converted to Christianity and is know to think Islam is not quite as peaceful as a Carmelite monastery, so maybe he should die after all. But those bankers who volunteer every year are known to hold unpopular views about human sexuality, so they should probably die. Except that the other three bankers have attended the gay wedding of a coworker, and wrote thoughtful and comforting things in the guest book, which means we should spare them, even though all three of them are in the 1% and thus by definition deserve to die for their crimes.
Even Vizzini would have trouble with this! Best if I just spread my mutant wings, swoop down and lift the trolley off the tracks to safety! Hey, it’s my hypothetical! And, frankly, there’s nothing about me having mutant powers that is any more preposterous than me having instantaneous perfect knowledge of the state of affairs in the trolley car and on the tracks. Noticing how ridiculous this whole set up is defeats its purpose, which is to convince us that people with better knowledge than us may need to decide that some people must die for the good of the other people.
What does this parable mean? We are the people on the tracks. Our betters see a Crisis with perfect clarity. Some people must die to mitigate the Crisis. Our betters get to decide.
It is never our betters tied to the tracks, at least until the Committee for Public Safety decides they’re not our betters after all. The Trolley Problem is not just a parable of Socialism, it’s a metaphor for the French Revolution!