A Living Culture: Division of Labor

There were people (may still be) who lived under what might be called a flat management structure: there wasn’t much difference in the day-to-day lives of any two adult members of the group. I’m thinking of, for example, the Moriori as described by Diamond, or, really, most hunter-gatherer tribes. There may be some division of labor – men do most of the hunting, women stick to gathering – and the occasional official – medicine man, chief – who might have duties that free him, to some degree, from the hunting and gathering. But, in general, there is little material distinction in the lives of any two members of the tribe.

Image result for moray eel
A moray, not a more. Rather anti-social than not.

This flat structure makes it possible for everyone to be a carrier of the complete culture, more or less. Any man, woman or child could probably adequately explain for all daily purposes all the lore, traditions, taboos and mores as well as the next member, with age perhaps allowing more depth of understanding. With the flat structure comes a degree of homogeneity in cultural understanding among the people.

Once you start farming, things get more complicated. The division of labor soon becomes more extreme and exclusive. Need for craftsmen, soldiers, and, ultimately, government create groups of people whose daily lives are indeed much different from those of people in other groups. A farmer, a blacksmith and their lord pursue different activities, socialize differently, and might even follow much different rules of behavior – a milkmaid might not need to know how to perform a courtly curtsey; a plowman might never handle a broadsword. Perhaps only a tiny class knows how to read and do figures, or fight from horseback, or a dozen other things.

The rough homogeneity of culture seen in hunter gatherer groups  disappears with growing specialization, not to mention fragmentation into classes, specialists, guilds and other groups within which exist different expectations and traditions. In the extreme – here, now, for example – groups within a nation hardly share a culture at all. At best, we retain (most of) a language and some norms for social interactions. Are these enough to say we share a culture?

Nonetheless, specialization has been an inescapable aid to making life as materially good and pleasant as we now find it. Indoor plumbing and hot running water, not to mention penicillin, refrigeration, vaccines and so on, are not luxuries I’m prepared to give up at the moment. Such specialization, even if considered apart from class differences, does fragment the culture to some degree. There are scientific (and pseudoscientific) subcultures with rules and expectations that non-scientists don’t need to concern themselves with very often. In many fields, day to day interactions take place in a jargon that might as well be another language  for all an outsider can make of it.

How is a culture passed on, given that no one can be a master in all fields needed for a complex and living culture? It must be passed on in pieces, so that some piece – the art of bricklaying, for example – gets handed down one way, while the art of writing a good essay gets handed down to a mostly different group some other way. This is not a hypothetical, it is an issue that has been with us for thousands of years. Here I want to talk about one aspect only: how the intellectual and artistic achievements of a culture are passed on.

First, I will assert that, while many people in a society might see no value in art and literature and philosophy, the culture as a whole is healthier when there is a strong intellectual tradition within it. (Not too controversial, I trust.) It is a better place to live even for those who have no interest in it. Admirable cultures of any sophistication have well-established means of passing such intellectual culture down. In ours, until recently, that means was colleges and universities.

Thinking of colleges and universities as existing to serve a societal role in passing along an intellectual tradition would have made as much perfect sense to a Harvard grad 200 years ago as it is perfect nonsense to the people who think everyone should go to college for free. That would be like saying everybody should learn bricklaying at public expense. At least since the 1940s, a college education has been viewed primarily as a meal ticket. (1) Depriving someone of a degree came to be seen as an act of Oppression. Rather than having a somewhat self-selecting group of people, maybe 10% of the population (2), pursue a ‘useless’ degree in Liberal Arts for the acknowledged goal of keeping an intellectual tradition alive, we think it good to try to send a majority of kids to college.

The problem is that a majority of kids, if they are clear-headed enough to want anything from college, want a job. This has become so ingrained that a grad with a [fill-in-the-blank] studies degree thinks she ought to have a job, and that somebody somewhere is doing something wrong so that she doesn’t have it (3), and the bank completely unreasonably wants its money back!

In this context, it’s a weird and inconsistent fact that I got a Master’s in International Business and Finance from a University. Business degrees are vocational training, no different in essence from learning to weld, lay bricks, file papers or prosecute a case in court. Why are such things taught along side Liberal Arts (properly considered, not just a euphemistic catch-all for ‘things that can’t get you a job’) and given the same or higher level of honor?

I’ve long pushed on this blog for a bifurcation of college education into those fields which depend on objective evidence for their validation from those that don’t. Thus, engineering, math, medicine, accounting, chemistry, business and so on would be taught in the ‘real-world’ schools – and get you jobs. Women’s Studies, Sociology, Psychology, Comp Lit, Creative Writing and so on would be taught in faerieland, and not get you a job. Expectations would be forcefully adjusted accordingly.

But this, while gratifying to contemplate, doesn’t solve the challenge of passing on an intellectual tradition. For that, we’d need, frankly, Great Books schools, as well as various institutions passing on the arts. After one has made the acquaintance of the Western intellectual tradition, one would be free to go Vo-tech (4) or even faerieland, if one wished (just don’t expect to suck at the public teat if you do!).

So now we’ve provided for the handing on of an intellectual tradition, and for training people for jobs (and for identifying the people to avoid at parties). What’s left is finding a way to pass on a baseline culture, to make sure as much as possible that the chemist can talk civilly to the clerk, and the auto mechanic to the lawyer. The ancient Greeks (can’t keep them out of an argument for ever) had ephebia – schools that, initially, were for training young men to be soldiers. When a boy turned 17 or 18, he was expected to spend a year or two at this specialized school. Over time, the ephebia became more of a tool for expressly passing on culture, so that Alexander the Great set them up in all the little ‘Alexandrias’ he founded – and allowed the non-Greek natives to attend. This practice continued for centuries, and is part of the background to the books of the Maccabees – what Judas Maccabee and his team are fighting against is the efforts of their Greekified conquerors to inflict Greek culture on them – via, largely, the ephebia (with it’s naked gym  class and all that).

The reason the ephebia persisted for centuries is that they worked. A core of men, who like modern college grads identified themselves with their graduating class, would grow up and gain power together, always sharing an idealized Greek view of the world. They would nurture the following classes, and send their boys – and promising non-Greek boys – in their turn.

My ideal education system might consist of the following stages:

A. Age 0 – 14, 15, 16: Leave them the hell alone. If they want to do sports or take music or just hang out during the day, cool, let’s do that. As for reading, writing and math – any competent adult can show 95% of kids how to do it once they’re ready to learn, in a tiny fraction of the time the schools waste on it. The whole ‘professional educator is REQUIRED’ for these ages myth is exploded once you dip your toe into history.

B. Once they take an interest in joining the adult world, let them take whatever they want. We ran this experiment on our own kids, and guess what? They all started taking classes at the local community college by age 14 or so, and, except for the 12 year old – little early still – all got into great colleges (hey, we want to be part of that 1% that preserves the culture/saves Western Civilization) with no insurmountable problems.

C: Only mandatory schooling is 2 years of an American ephebia, which is pretty much anti-school as it is now practiced: learn about America, how it works, and why you should love it and keep it.

D: Vo-tech all around! Do it now, do it later, just do it.

There, problem solved!

  1. I’m one of ‘them’ – the scion of a family with no intellectual ambitions, but with plenty of jonesing for a better economic future. I’m still a little amazed at my dad’s enthusiasm for St. John’s Great Books Program. It worked out well, financially, but how he thought he could see that escapes me. Heck, *I* could barely see it.
  2. Of which maybe 10% might actually really become Guardians. We probably have to train 10% to get that 1% of the population who will understand and be willing to defend our culture.
  3. The colleges do their best, hiring scads of otherwise worthless intellectuals to teach the next batch of marginal students, thus rendering them unemployable in their turn.
  4. Or before – there’s no reason a 15 or 16 year old should not be trained in whatever they want to do. Delaying such training until after age 18 or 22 is just silly.

 

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When Philosophy Makes a Difference (hint: Always)

Following links around (the ‘who is this who pointed somebody to my blog?’ links), I came across this:

Because of his great reverence for books and intellectuals, Hitler amassed a large personal library during the 1920s. Especially once royalties began to arrive from sales of his 1925 Mein Kampf, he was able to indulge in serious collecting. When he came to political power in the 1930s, visiting foreign dignitaries knew of his passion and presented him with gifts of books, including a set of volumes on Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

And Hitler read them — the Fichte volumes contain “a veritable blizzard of underlines, question marks, exclamation points, and marginal strikes that sweeps across a hundred printed pages of dense theological prose,” according to historian Timothy W. Ryback, author of Hitler’s Private Library, writing in The Atlantic.

(Read more: http://www.everyjoe.com/2015/07/29/politics/how-smart-well-read-was-adolf-hitler/#ixzz4IjoO3TLM)

Ah, Fichte! Ever since I first read him, I’ve pointed out that he was a proto-Nazi, that his ideas carried through logically would call for the establishment of Germany as the ruler of the world. Via von Humboldt’s patronage and role in reshaping the German schools, Fichte’s ideas had become part of the intellectual background of Prussians and all Germans. But here, we find the direct link: Hitler himself was a fanboy!

Who would have thunk it?

I also like the reference to ‘theological prose’ – the Fichte I’ve read seriously is his Addresses to the German People, which is a collection of popular lectures (I have yet to gird up my intellectual loins for the journey through his more scholarly stuff – may I live that long! (I’d be really old…)). In them, God is treated as more an historical force manifesting itself through the self-realization and evolution of the (German, natch) people, rather than as the personal God of Jews and Christians. Fichte was dogged by accusations of atheism during his career, which he denied and which were hard to pin on him, given the ability of a creative mind to frame almost any sufficiently vague concept of God as acceptable within a Lutheran/Protestant framework. (1)

The formula of a divinely blessed supreme state as the means to crush evil and establish Heaven on earth is shared, under a variety of guises, by just about all of our post-post-modern revolutionaries. That capital ‘H’ history as described by Hegel is that History on the wrong side of which no right-thinking person will willingly be found.  Therefore, being told that one is on the wrong side of History is an unintentional honor and might well be worn as a badge of sanity.

Too bad saying someone is like Hitler has become nothing more than a meaningless ritualized insult. Because a lot of people now days are, in their hearts and thoughts, a lot like Hitler.

  1. Hegel himself was known to be a conventually devout practicing Lutheran, which seemed to spare him from the charge of Atheism leveled at both Kant and especially Fichte, even though the God of Hegel’s works is nothing like the personal, almighty Father of Scripture and tradition. The idea of a Spirit that comes to know itself over time and through History (always a capital ‘H’ with Hegel…)  cannot, logically speaking, refer to the Supreme Being. Hegel might call it the Supreme Becoming.

 

Reason #2,836 That I Should Never Look at Facebook

It’s not just the near impossibility of civil discourse. Here’s the ‘thought’ the Brahmins of Facebook suggest sharing today:

E. C. Stanton

OK, before we get to the meat of this, how does the phrase “the history of the past” get let loose onto a page? What other kind of history are we meant to distinguish the history of the past from? So, can we start by observing that we have reason to be concerned about the coherence of the thinker?

Next, “is but one long struggle upwards to equality” could only be believed by a lite Hegelian, after the usage established with ‘lite beer’. Looking at actual history, you know, the accounts of what has happened in the world, one does not come away  with the impression that struggles for equality make up the general thrust of events. The Mongol hordes were not seeking equality when they enslaved thousands of Slavs and sold them to the Egyptians; the various Chinese dynasties were not concerned with making rice farmers their equals; the Aztecs were only rarely equal-opportunity human sacrificers. There’s no indication that the slaves revolting under Spartacus objected to slavery per se – they just didn’t themselves want to be slaves. Islam, in its 1400 years of conquest, has not improved the lot of the less equal in the places they overran.

And so on. No, one must, in the Hegelian fashion, start with one’s conclusion and retrofit like hell to get any sort of general thrust toward equality to appear in the ‘history of the past’. (1)  More fundamentally, in what sense does Stanton mean ‘equality’? We in America used to think that meant ‘before the law’, allowing that there wasn’t any sort of equality evident anywhere else. We’re a stubbornly and often spectacularly unequal lot, we humans. Mostly, we seem to like it that way: Hooray for Thai food, power forwards and jockeys, men and women… These differences were considered – are still so considered by many of us – to be what made life interesting and fun. We wanted them ignored only if and when we get dragged before the Law. Otherwise, viva la difference!

But then, we lost our minds. Ms Stanton is right there in the thick of it. The weird blend of Calvinism, Enlightenment philosophy, hard-headed practicality and evangelical zeal that characterized our Founding Fathers and the American population at large resulted in this new thing under the sun: an actual government built on the idea that Law provides the fundamental framework within which individual rights can be exercised – in fact, government exists in its essence for this purpose.

This should sound familiar, right? Isn’t this what we all believe? What’s missing is a society, a culture: no man exercises rights in a vacuum, nor does any government spring Athena-like fully formed from the mind of Zeus. We inherited traditions – and laws – that recognized and protected families and culture, and built our ideas of individual rights on top of them. Then, along comes Stanton and her besties, and they read the Declaration of Independence, and use it to attack those familial and cultural foundations upon which the very concept of individual rights are built. Ouroboros. (2)

And it all sounds so good! Just like the idea that drunkenness is not a problem best addressed by family and culture but one that should be OUTLAWED by CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT! Yea, that ought to work. Thus, the intellectual and often physical descendants of the Calvinists who fled England to escape religious liberty and set up their own theocracy exercise their righteous zeal to fix the rest of us.

Stanton was a great feminist leader, and seemed at least suspicious of any differences. She is another ideological offspring of the Calvinists (she was raised a Calvinist Presbyterian) she seemed to believe she could fix the world if only she had enough power. Thus, she became an Abolitionist and Temperance leader and, ultimately, a Fabian Socialist. The common thread: the Law and the Government exists to fix EVERYTHING! Slavery, drunkenness and all economic inequality must be solved through law. The power of the Law – ultimately, the power of those who wield the Law – is infinite (3). Divine, even.

So, no, Facebook, I will not be sharing the fine thoughts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton this day. In fact, you’ve given me yet another reason to never open your app again.

  1. Surfing Wikipedia, came across this gem in reference to Stanton’s  The Woman’s Bible: “Lucy Stone determined for herself that the male-dominant interpretations of the Bible must be faulty—she worked to learn Greek and Hebrew and thereby gain insight into the earlier Bible translations which she believed would contain wording more favorable to women’s equality.” So, if the Bible doesn’t say what you want it to, it’s only a matter of getting down to the root to find that, no, it *does* say what you want it to! Start with the conclusion you want, and retrofit. Hegel and Marx would be so proud.
  2. The idea that voting for external political ends isn’t the most important thing in life is totally lost these days. Depriving someone of a family or destroying their culture in a thousand little ways: perfectly OK and enshrined in the law (divorce, farcical government interests trumping free association); Denying anyone the vote: horror of horrors greater than which little can be conceived!
  3. Stanton’s dad was a famous lawyer, judge and politician. As Oliver W. Holmes, Jr., an atheist who never married and another scion of those Puritan Calvinists, said in so many words: the law is whatever the judges say it is.

Today’s Adventures in Brainwashing

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.

Grouchy Old Man or Prophet of Doom?

YOU decide!

Grouchy Old Man

Image result for sodom

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.

Death spiral?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. I’d have said toddler’s meltdown, but toddlers don’t whine about about getting all the sex they want. Otherwise, fits better.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Travel in the Great State of California

Let’s get the whining out of the way, shall we?

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.

640px-Los_Angeles_Basin_JPLLandsat
Looking northeast from out in space off the coast. Mountains touching the ocean on the left are the Santa Monica; above them is the San Fernando Valley of Valley Girl  infamy;  above that are the San Gabriel Mountains.Image from NASA. 

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.

How was your weekend?

Lawyers, Salesmen & Politicians

(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.

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Not this guy. Total piker. 

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.

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The state of our laws, more or less. 

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.

Works, too.

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…)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Which is not fair – it’s mostly only the leadership…
  9. Ditto.
  10. 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).

  11. 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.