All Cases Make Bad Law

(Half-formed thoughts, subject to revision. More than usual, I mean.)

Two anecdotes:

As a  young man, worked briefly in the insurance industry, for a while as a personal lines (auto, home, that sort of thing) underwriting analyst. The particular company I worked for had a marketing strategy by which they would approach certain groups – the California Teacher’s Union being the biggest – and offer them some special deals if they’d agree that we were their official insurance company and let us market directly to their members that way. A very interesting business model, and how I came to have a small bit of personal contact with the uppity-ups in the Teacher’s Union. One part of the typical deal was an appeals board that included some actual union members, that people insured could make appeals to if they didn’t like how the insurance company treated them. (1)

One task we with the Underwriting Analyst job title would do is look over the more crazy, out there claims and issues, including stuff that had been appealed to these boards. One time, we were discussing a case where a dreaded Young Male Driver was appealing non-renewal (when the insurance company says ‘no thanks’ to another year of coverage). Over the previous year or so, he had multiple moving violations to the point where his licence was near being revoked, and had made a couple of claims (those things do go together). He was shocked and claimed it was totally unfair of us to not renew his policy – that his driving record was no worse than anybody else he knew. For all I know, he was completely sincere.

Now, an underwriting analyst has access to much accumulated insurance wisdom. Using this wisdom, I know I am a fairly typical driver: in 40 years of driving, I’ve had 2 at fault accidents (both in the first year of driving, when I was a dreaded Young Male Driver myself) and 1 moving violation. That averages out to 0.05 accidents and 0.025 tickets per year. Having more than one ticket in a year is very unusual, and raises a lot of red flags, because getting tickets and costing the insurance company a lot money do go together. This kid was a phenomenal outlier and probably a menace. But he was sure he was typical, and no amount of information could convince him otherwise.

Second anecdote:

Almost the last time I listened to NPR was years ago, a Terry Gross interview of some legal scholar. They were addressing the issue of how real life changes faster than laws can get written, so that judges are faced with cases laws never anticipated and for which there are not any really valid precedents. Their conclusion: of course judges must make the law! With a strongly implied ‘how could anybody seem so stupid as to imagine otherwise?’

Instead of discussing the need for balance – the need for the written law to be respected and weighed against the occasional need to rule on a situation that lies outside the written law – we just chuck the written law! What could be simpler?

A common thread in the above is how a a thing, a ‘this’ in Aristotle’s way of talking, presents itself for consideration. In insurance, a thing might be a claim; in law, it might be a case. As a claims adjuster or a judge, the units of interest to you arrive to your awareness prepackaged, as it were, by rules and laws, assumptions and theories – as facts, as things made, in a traditional configuration. Yet what’s missing, what is critical to making wise decisions, is the knowledge of the wide cultural and moral context within which the claim or case is made.

Such a moral and cultural context is not strictly objective, in the sense that it’s not something to be learned merely by looking at how things are at some time and place. It includes, at least in the West, recognition of imperfectly realized ideals. Without this cultural context taken in the widest possible sense, a sense that includes Jewish reverence for the law of God, Greek logic, and Christendom’s ancient sense of salvation history, not just hard cases, but all cases make bad law.

This is where case law gets tricky. If we look to precedent, what we are doing should not be just sussing out how other judges judged and seeing if their judgement applies to the facts in this case. We should also try to to understand that constellation of moral and cultural beliefs that made that judgement seem just to that judge.

Image result for oliver wendell holmes supreme court
Righteous mustache, I must admit. 

I’m not a lawyer, and have felt only the slightest attraction to that profession(2). But I love philosophy. I’ve read just enough (very little) of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr to be dangerous.  OWH Jr assures us that law is, in its essence, philosophy (3). Well, then! Here we go.

If I understand justice to be essentially something eternal and unchanging, along the lines of a Platonic form, more or less, I will look at case law as perhaps revealing something true about justice. At least potentially, all those decisions will reflect all the judges’ best cogitations on the same truth. Like science, it would be acknowledged up front that all such attempt are provisional, that something that comes along later might require reexamination of assumptions. But the basic shape of the process is also like science – it assumes the existence of an objective reality to which our best efforts are an approximation. Over time, we should hope that the approximation gets better. In the meantime, we get useful gadgets and useful rulings.

Hegel, whose influence, fell and dread, was strong on OWH Jr, teaches that the methods of science is not suitable for true philosophers. By this, he does not mean the (real and true) limitation of modern science to things that can be measured. Rather, he refers to the logical processes that underlie not only science but all prior philosophy. Science works by ‘propositional logic’, moving step by careful step from premises stated and restated to be as clear as possible, using logic as beloved by Aristotle and Thomas to reach valid conclusions. Hegel dismissed such efforts as something engaged in by the little people – not by true philosophers like himself.

True philosophers use speculative reason, a phrase redefined away from its traditional meaning by Hegel to mean insights gained by whatever it is that Hegel does to get insights.

The most fundamental of all realities to Hegel are not immutable truths, but Progress. The Spirit reveals and comes to know itself through an endless series of revelations. Reason that relies on logic as an immutable foundation is thus never going to get it right – people wedded to logic, to the notion that true things need to make sense on some level, will reject the latest revelation on the grounds that it is irrational – that it is self-contradictory. To Hegel, this is both of the nature of revelation – it wouldn’t be a revelation if it made sense – and the reason to reject *logic*, at least in philosophic discourse.

Human beings struggle to come to grips with these revelations, struggle to shed the previous rigid thinking we’d settled into after we’d incorporated the last revelation into our consciousness. Those who cannot incorporate the new revelation – those unable to suspend the contradiction within a dialectic synthesis – are left behind, are on the wrong side of history, or, worse yet, are trying to turn the clock back.

Hegel has never been accused of being clear.

We see a meeting of soul-mates. This is not a coincidence. Hegel was a conventional Lutheran. For 300 years, Lutherans and Calvinists and Protestants in general had asserted the rational superiority of their beliefs to Catholicism. Yet both Calvin and Luther famously denigrated reason – ‘that whore’, as Luther called it. I suppose that’s one of those contradictions subsumed in a synthesis, a contradiction in creative tension.

If you define ‘rational’ as ‘falling under the purview of the methods of Aristotle and Thomas’ the teachings of Calvin and Luther will lose that argument (4). That’s why Philosophy since 1630 or so has been exclusively devoted to dismissing or ignoring Aristotle and Thomas. Just as Holmes’ inherited convictions from his Harvard crowd about how the good and holy Puritans Unitarians secularist progressives should be in charge survived his rejection of the God upon the understanding of Whom such claims of superiority were initially based, the efforts to find some other way – any other way! – to think about reality than using Aristotelian logic survived the Academy’s rejection of all things theological. The lust for power survives any particular justification for it.

To be continued.

  1. Aside: you’ll sometimes hear an insurance company tout its 97% customer satisfaction rate with its claims services. Duh. About 97% of the time, the claim is obvious and any half-way respectable insurance company will promptly pay it – reasonable people are pretty satisfied with that. The other 3% includes the very rare hard case,  where it’s not clear at all that the insurance company should pay, a few fraud cases, but mostly, I’d guess about 3% of the population simply does not want to be satisfied no matter what. I suspect we all know people like that, and thus suspect anything over a 97% satisfaction rate doesn’t include a representative sample of humanity.
  2. Taking my father’s oft-stated belief that education was for getting a better job, I couldn’t see law as anything but a job that claimed to be a vocation that has no justification outside of working for justice. In other words, a lawyer making money is a sell-out by definition. Of course, a couple of my college roommates became a judge and a worker’s rights lawyer, which kinda works…
  3. And, in the course of assuring us of this, dismisses the vast bulk of lawyers as just journeymen of a craft, with no real understanding. This goes back, I would think, to his bedrock Harvard/Boston/essentially Puritan roots, institutions founded on the belief that people like him – the smart, good people – should be in charge of the less smart, less good people. Even losing his faith in God didn’t damage his faith in his own Brahmin class’s meritocracy and fitness to rule.
  4. The Catholic Encyclopedia, whose side in this dispute should be obvious,  says of Robert Bellarmine: “In 1576 …the lectures thus delivered grew into the work “De Controversiis” which, amidst so much else of excellence, forms the chief title to his greatness. This monumental work was the earliest attempt to systematize the various controversies of the time, and made an immense impression throughout Europe, the blow it dealt to Protestantism being so acutely felt in Germany and England that special chairs were founded in order to provide replies to it.” Thus began Catholic attempts to make sense of the mish-mash of Protestant claims and arguments. That there are so many conflicting claims and arguments has always testified against them – Does human will count for anything? Does a plowboy need any help understanding Scripture? Do we need baptism or not? Once, or more than once? What, if anything, does the Eucharist represent? And on and on and on. It is obvious that, if these claims represent superior rationality, that rationality cannot be based on the belief that the Truth is One. Thus, Aristotle and Thomas must be rejected.

Free Speech

 

Started another long winded post, decided to cut to the chase: Opposition to free speech is a necessary and standard position of Marxists, for 3 main reasons:

  1. Marxism relies for its truth claims on enlightenment, not argument. No one becomes a Marxist because a carefully-constructed string of logically valid and compelling arguments have convinced him it is true. Rather, one merely has one’s consciousness raised – gets woke – which really is a lot less trouble.
  2. Marxists believe there is no such thing as human nature. (1)  This is the bedrock belief that lies under modern feminism and gender theory, but is present in all critical theory.
  3. Thus, Marxists do not believe in inalienable rights. Individual rights, insofar as they can be said to exist at all, accrue to a person only insofar as that person has attained enlightenment, which enlightenment is measured solely by how well their beliefs agree with mine, so long as I’m a Marxist. Not a Marxist? Then you have no rights.

The first point is nothing more than Hegel viewed through Marx’s prism. Hegel, after surveying the logical wreckage of the line of philosophies beginning with Descartes (2) and ending with Kant, concluded that no philosophical progress could be made going down that road. He did admit that logic continued to be very fruitful as applied to science and math, for example, but thought it doomed to failure when applied to philosophy.  Thus, human knowledge was bifurcated: the little people, who were not capable of true philosophy, would continue to use logic to make the sort of real progress seen in applied science and math, while true philosophers would engage in a dialectic wherein logical contradictions are subsumed in the synthesis. In English, that means true philosophers are freed from the requirement of making any sense, but can just blithely plow ahead with their work, counting on the Spirit to validate the greater truth in which the contradictions of thesis and antithesis are held creative tension in the synthesis. Again, in English, the positions of true philosophers cannot be attacked for being unreasonable. That a true philosopher’s positions are self-contradictory is a feature, not a bug.

Marxists merely took this whatchamacallit – insight? Self-delusion? – and ran with it.  You can see this rejection of logic most clearly in the refusal of Marxists to consider any science that contradicts their positions. Instead, science, when it contradicts Marxism, is branded a social construct and a tool of patriarchal oppression, no more valid in its conclusions than any other social construct of oppression. The irony of making such statements over the internet, for example, is lost on them.

The idea of free speech, as in talking things over or even, goodness forbid, arguing out positions, is utterly incompatible with Marxist ideals. On a theoretical basis, it will not move the ball forward on the right side of History to let the unenlightened yammer on about the ideas they hold due to their false consciousness. More important, on a practical level, encouraging people to consider alternative points of view, even merely as an exercise in shooting them down, is far, far too dangerous for Marxists, who rely for their power on vast numbers of people accepting their premises without understanding them in the least. They need useful idiots, and rational discussion will only make them less idiotic – and therefore, less useful. Sure, most of those people will need to be purged once the glorious revolution is complete. But for now, they are indispensable.

The second point falls out naturally from the first. Human nature is the name we give to that collection of characteristics that define what a human being is. This includes both physical and behavioural characteristics. Thus, science concludes that Man is a bipedal, omnivorous mammal exhibiting strong sexual dimorphism. This dimorphism is necessarily both physical and behavioral: men and women, as observed in the real world, both look and behave differently in many important respects.

A feature of human nature as defined by observation of actual human being in the real world is that there is a very wide range of physical and behavioral characteristics found in any sizeable population of people. Nonetheless, generalizations are possible, both globally and in particular sub populations. There are, for example, roles and tasks across all cultures that are typically performed by either men or women, and for which physiologically, men or women are better suited. This observation remains non controversial in practice to this day – except to Marxists.

To appeal to human nature is to appeal to a shared reality against which one can measure one’s ideas. That is a path down which no Marxist will willingly go, as it requires logic and moves away from the primacy of enlightenment.

Finally, given the above, there’s no way a Marxist will support and believe in a right to free speech. The only necessary and allowed speech is speech required for the promulgation of dogmatic Marxism. Everything else is useless and worse than useless.

So Marxist are striving now to label any attempts at open discussion hate speech, and are desperate to keep it off the college campuses which are their strongholds. The useful idiots – and I, at age 19 or 20, was as much an idiot as today’s college students – must be kept useful. Letting them get into the habit of hearing out non-Marxist, let alone anti-Marxist ideas expressed logically is about the worst thing that could happen, as it tends to make them less idiotic and thus less useful.

As is so often the case with Marxism, the vehemence of their reaction to challenges is wildly out of proportion to what they claim to believe. The revolt of the masses and the coming of the Worker Paradise are supposed by Marx to be the inevitable result of the turning of the wheels of capital ‘H’ History. So, what’s to get all worked up about? Don’t Marxists trust their own dogma? I suppose that’s just another contradiction subsumed in a synthesis.

With their rejection of reason and their lightning-quick resort to violence both verbal and physical, Marxist reveal that what they’ve really embraced is not a coherent philosophy – Marxism is hardly that – but a childish revenge fantasy. The possibility that other people are not outraged not because they are not paying attention, but because they have better things to do is, itself, something they find outrageous.  There is also a very strong daddy issues aspect to every Marxist I’ve ever known personally. Still waiting to meet my first pleasant, happy-go-lucky Marxist.

We need to insist on and fight for free speech rights now, while the bulk of people have only unconsciously absorbed Marxist analysis and prescriptions. College student, who are not even aware that they have only heard one side of the story – and that their self-proclaimed betters are desperate to keep it that way – think the problems of the world are entirely the result of oppression, and that the solution to all the world’s problems is to simply remove the oppressors. They think this is a reasonable position held by all reasonable people. Free speech truly practiced stands a fighting chance of disabusing them of this nonsense. That’s why it is hated by Marxists, and why we have to fight for it now more than ever.

  1. This is why one so often finds Marxists flapping their arms and flying to the moon, holding their breath for months on end, and engaged in other activities that demonstrate the non-existence of human nature.
  2. Or maybe William of Ockham. I have not read him, but I hear he’s an anti-Realist or even Nominalist of some sort. Or with Luther and Calvin, who, while hardly philosophers, did start movements that people like Hegel felt a deep need to justify. Since the positions held by the great reformers cannot survive logical analysis, logical analysis has to go. Hegel just formalized the process.

 

 

Peace, Love and Misunderstanding

Stating the obvious this morning.

1. The name is not the thing. Focusing on the political side of things for now, calling a nuclear missile a Peacekeeper or thousands of pages of unread federal laws and regulations the Affordable Care Act, for example, does not automatically keep the peace or provide affordable care. It matters both what the thing is, and how it is used. What its proponents call it, not so much.

Yet, judging by what one reads, some people are convinced that questioning anything about the ACA is the same as not wanting affordable care, and is, in fact, indistinguishable from tossing sick poor people out of their hospitable beds to die in the street. Others, aware enough so that the (predictable and predicted) failure of the ACA to in fact provide affordable care has gotten past their defenses, seem baffled or betrayed, even, that the thing isn’t exactly what it was called. (1) These reactions reveal a charming innocent faith that the name is the thing, that voting for the right name is the same as voting for what the name says it is.

This magical belief differs from the traditional belief in the power of names, in that, under the traditions of many peoples, the true name, the name that is bound to and reveals the true nature of the person or thing named, is something to be discovered, or bestowed with great care. Under the modern practice described here, the process is reversed: simply by naming something, we make it what we’ve named it. So, not only is a muddled mess of a bill affordable care, but a man is a woman is the Eiffel Tower.

2. Along the same lines, what a politician says he is or is doing does not necessarily conform to what he actually is and is doing.  This one is bifurcated: politicians on my team are who they say they are and are doing what they say they’re doing, while politicians on the other team are never who they say they are, and are always lying about what they’re doing.

If forced to choose – and we are not – I’d go with filter B: they are all lying, power-hungry hypocrites and require evidence to the contrary before believing anything a politician has to say.  The party affiliation hardly matters, in general, except for times (like now) where one party is so wedded to profound unreality and the tyrannical enforcement thereof, that a sane man can conclude that anyone promoting that line is proven, at best, the victim of long-cultivated delusions or, in the case of politicians,  more likely a lying tool. See, for example, the positions of major politicians on gay marriage 10 years ago versus now.

3. That the other side is wrong has no bearing on whether your side is right or not. Both sides can be wrong. In general, that’s probably the most likely situation, as there seem to be many more ways to be wrong than to be right. The existence of a two-party system (or, frankly, a system of parties of any number) all but guarantees that, on most issues, both sides will be wrong. Why? Because parties take positions as a function of getting support, or at least of not alienating constituents too much. If a position arrived at by cooking up such a stew happened to be right, it would be a happy and unlikely accident.

4. Properly speaking, the terms right and wrong apply to principles. Terms such as effective or ineffective, prudent or imprudent and the like apply to policies or courses of action, and the bills, programs, departments, cabinet secretaries and so on instituted to carry them out. Thus, the principle that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights may be true or false, right or wrong, while the Constitution instituted to promote and protect a nation embodying that principle may be wisely or unwisely wrought, or well or ill executed.

shrek
Ya – Like that’s ever gonna happen.

An exception might be the case where a law, etc., is proposed that violates a principle it is said to promote and protect. Such a law would be wrong in principle, or, at least, its proponents would be making a poor (or, more likely, dishonest, sad to say) decision or argument.

Thus, we voters, to do our jobs, would need to understand the principles underlying a proposal (or candidate!) and how it is that the proposal (or candidate) is designed to better realize those principles. Then we make a judgement call. To do otherwise reveals us for posers and rubes.

5. Finally, I’m not sure whether the bigger problem is seeing what we want to see or refusing to see what we don’t want to see. Take Bernie – please. I see what is irrefutably true: Bernie is a rich white man – richer than me, that’s for sure. He is nearly in the 1%. He and his wife owns 3 houses, at least two of which sit unused at any given time. His family net worth was conservatively estimated at about $1.7 million (2). He has far better healthcare and retirement benefits than me or anyone I know. According to his tax returns, he gives next to nothing to charity – way less than I do, at any rate.  With all that wealth, several times more wealth than an average American, he and his wife support only themselves. By comparison, I, like millions of Americans, support a family with several children with my income.

Now, I’m totally cool with this – Bernie has largely lived the American Dream, he and his wife – mostly, his wife – worked for a lifetime and have some security and stuff like houses to show for it. I hope to do as well.

But his attacks on rich people ring more than a little hollow. Is ‘rich’ defined merely as ‘has more stuff than me’?  Bernie is richer than 98% of Americans.

Why are these facts not relevant? I’ve never heard them discussed at all by Bernie’s supporters. How about this fact: just as every wannabe tyrant in a democracy for the last 2500 years – Greeks, Germans, Italians, Latin Americans – everywhere there has ever been a democracy – Bernie explains to all the little people – you know, the 98% that aren’t as well off as he is – how the *real* problem is those *other guys* who, by having stuff, ruin it for the rest of us! If only I ran things! If only I  had the (of necessity, by definition, totalitarian) power, I’d get those guys! I’d take their stuff! I’d fix everything! Skittles and beer all around!

All tyrants begin as friends of the people – Plato.

A result – an intended result – of the systematic destruction of American education over the last century or so has been the elimination of the kind of learning that would allow people to hear Sander’s rhetoric as the demagoguery of a typical wannabe tyrant. (3) If you come to appreciate Plato and Aristotle as great repositories of wisdom, you are likely to notice; if they are just dead white(ish) males, then they are easily dismissed, and their observation cannot serve as warnings.

  1. Then there are the cynical Alinskyite types, who knew it wasn’t going to work, didn’t want it to work, or, more accurately, were counting on its failure to provide the crisis under which yet more power would be centralized. Present yourself as the only solution to a crisis you caused or exacerbated  – a playbook any number of ancient Greek tyrants would have recognized 2500 years ago.  Those would be the true architects of the bill, and those most willing to lie to get it passed, all the while patting themselves on the back over how brave and progressive they are to say and do whatever is necessary to get the poor slobs – that would be the rest of us – to do what’s good for us. Thus, presumed moral superiority goes hand in hand with a willingness to lie, cheat, manipulate and even resort to violence to get their way – a topic for another set of musings, perhaps.
  2. Nobody really knows the Bern’s net worth, they back into it based on required Senate disclosures, which provide wide enough ranges as to be almost useless. And his wife is most likely the major source of family income over the years – she was a college president, among other things. The Sanders did recently drop $600k on a lakefront vacation home, something he can afford to do, I imagine, because his Senate pension is *nice* – no need for the Sanders to pinch pennies for old(er) age.
  3. Worse than a tyrant, actually – a savior. As C.S. Lewis points out, when a do-gooder starts in fixing people, there is no end to the misery he may cause, because he’s doing it for our own good, and  with a clear conscience.

Science! Secret Science Reform

It’s been too long since we’ve done any Science! here at YSotM. Let’s get to it!

Over at the grave and ponderous, yet jig-dancing John C Wright’s blog, a discussion broke out over Secret Science Reform:

“Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) reintroduced a bill known as the Secret Science Reform Act that would prohibit the EPA from “proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based on science that is not transparent or reproducible.”

Now, an appealingly innocent person, still moist aft of his auricular helices, might wonder why such a law would be needed, let alone controversial. Ha, we old guys gently guffaw. Here is what I posted there:

Eisenhower’s farewell address is remembered for his ‘military-industrial complex’ warning, a warning beloved in my youth by all opposed to any military growth or action, but strangely forgotten in the age of cruise missiles and drone strikes – at least, when it’s their guy doing the bombing. But in the very next section of that address:

“Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocation, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet in holding scientific discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.[1]”

In less flowery terms (if only our presidents spoke even this well!): he who pays the piper calls the tune. That’s why citizens should insist on honest, open and tested science, and carry an extra dose of skepticism toward the claims of government-funded science. While privately-funded science has its risks as well, there’s just vastly more money and power and thus more temptation and opportunity for abuse with government funding.

Image result for knife to the throat movie
Funny how suddenly logical and convincing your Science! has become, now that you can kill me. Or at least, kill my career.

Some, whose good intent we will of course assume, tried to make the point that transparency, and therefore replicability, is often not possible for areas where the EPA is called upon to rule. To this I replied:

I hardly know where to start, so let’s start at the beginning: an honest man owes loyalty to the truth, and thus owes a provisional loyalty to scientific findings because the represent an honest, open, tested effort to get closer to the truth of things.

Insofar as ANY of those conditions fail – the effort is not honest, or open, or tested – an honest man owesd NO loyalty to the claims. There is too much detail involved in showing how a nonspecialist can still offer criticism and judge the validity of a claim made in the name of science to cover in a comment, but let it suffice for now to point out that a little bit of philosophical education allows an honest man to judge the overall structure and nature of any claims made in almost all science even if he may not have the technical expertise to judge the details. There are things that might be true, but require X, and things that can’t be true because of Y. Our host has often explored issues of this type.

So, calling science on a claim when a) the political climate is charged (bringing honesty into question); b) the methods are hidden; and c) your critics cannot duplicate your results is, simply, FRAUD. No, personal and financial records don’t enter into it, as others have pointed out. No, you don’t get a pass because your work is so, so important that we need to act NOW. Tyrants always need to act now.

If the EPA is doing stuff where they HAVE TO make rulings but CANNOT reveal the science behind it, then those are exactly the activities an honest man and patriot wants stopped. Now.

So, still waiting for anything like a serious argument why the EPA needs the ability to, effectively, enact laws and bring the police power of the state to bear on people without having to first back it up with actual science. Then I remember (think I might have even blogged on it) a case where a True Believer rejected technological solutions to CO2 accumulation on the grounds that then we wouldn’t need a global totalitarian government – not in those exact words, of course, but that was the gist of the nub. I’m expecting that an argument along the same lines will be made for the requirement that the EPA show its cards and submit to scientific rigor before passing bans and shutting people down – because then it would not be able to ban stuff and shut people down unless they can prove it is necessary! Oh no!

Progress versus Progress

Progress with a small ‘p’ is like a certain kind of good story, one with a clear beginning, middle and end, where things are left better in some way than they were at the beginning. A protagonist is faced with a problem or challenge – the beginning – and takes action and faces challenges – the middle – until a state in some way better is achieved – the end.

An example – and it is typical of such small ‘p’ progress that the example is small and personal – is my front porch. The Beginning: the 1940s vintage concrete slab that lead from the driveway to the small concrete porch had been lifted a good 4-5 inches by walnut roots, making it something of a trip hazard. The porch itself is ugly, if inconspicuously so. The Middle: plans were made – we could take out the concrete path and replace it with brick (after removing the ancient walnut tree that caused the uplift) and clad the porch itself in matching brick. It would be much more level and attractive. Of course, this involved Plot Complications: hiring professionals to take down the tree, gathering bricks (with Craig’s list, and a lot of elbow grease, bricks are ‘free’) and taking out the slab (21 year old son, a strapping, clean limbed and clean living young man, volunteered and did it, Abe Lincoln style), cleaning out the offending roots, for which the 13 year old son volunteered. (Daddy is pushing 60 hard – my sledge and axe swinging days are behind me. To 21 and 13 year old suburban punks, it sounds like fun – which it is, in small doses, when you’re young).

IMG_3808
The Caboose, swingin’. This path/porch thing is a sub-project to the grander 4 year Front Yard Project, of which the foreground bricks and potting soil are a further sub-project.

The End, which I’ll need a week or two more to finish, will be a pretty and more useable front walk and porch.

That’s how small ‘p’ progress works. Somebody notices a problem or opportunity, enlists the aid of others in finding and executing a solution, and then executes it. Having fixed one thing, people will then have the opportunity to work on something else. Multiply this process by millions and spread it over centuries, and you have accounted for much of what sane people mean by progress – things getting a little better over and over again. Small ‘p’ progress doesn’t solve, and doesn’t pretend to solve, giant problems. But it gets a septic tank put in, a road paved, a house built and a garden laid out. It is of such things as these that real progress is made.

Small ‘p’ progress is the only sort of progress that works.  Capital ‘P’ Progress, on the other hand, doesn’t have a Beginning, a Middle and an End. Problems to be addressed by believers in Progress are always described in the most vague terms possible: the problem is Injustice, or Oppression, or Bigotry or some other amorphous and fluid thing. No end is really an end, but is rather only another step on a road to – someplace. A Progressive is in favor of making Progress without making much of anything else.

Example – and it is typical of such capital ‘P’ Progress that the examples are large, the goals vaporous but high-sounding, and the end indefinite and unmeasurable – health care reform. Eight years ago, something like 42 million Americans did not have health insurance, and the cost of health care was increasing every year. Note that often the problem or challenge was phrased, not as “how do we provide health insurance to these 42 million people?” but rather as “Healthcare is broken and we must do something!”

It was continually asserted that one way healthcare was broken was in ever-increasing costs. Note that ever-increasing costs are also characteristic of education, and of government in general. Somehow, schooling and government are not characterized as broken, at least, not by the same people who describe medical care that way. No serious attempt at controlling education or government expenses is ever made. In those cases, the only solution is to add more money – this is the simple historical fact.

Thus, the year the ACA took effect, when we had our annual health insurance review at work (we’re an odd company – we bring in a pro every year to explain to us what’s going on with our health insurance), the woman whose job it is to understand what’s going on mentioned in passing that there were, effectively, no cost control measures in the ACA. Events have since shown this to be true.  Just as with education and government in general, the solution to increasing costs is to merely shovel more money at the problem. This creates a moral hazard, to put it mildly- why not see how high you can raise prices, when the buyer is likely to pay you no matter what? That’s how you end up with $60K/yr undergrad education and $1,000 hammers. Under what theory would healthcare be any different?

We start  with a gigantic ill-defined problem, propose actions which do not address even the problem as defined, and end up – where, exactly? With better healthcare, in general or in particular? How? For whom? The number of uninsured people has decreased less than a third, leaving nearly 30 million uninsured. Costs continue to rise. And this is setting aside that only the seriously math impaired could believe this model is sustainable.

There seems to be a counterexample for every example of improvement. For example, the people in my company were well satisfied with our insurance coverage, yet had it yanked out from under us and changed into something we like less. This seems to be a common occurrence. We weren’t being asked to sacrifice for the common good – there’s no logical connection between making coverage people were happy with illegal and providing coverage to the uninsured. If there were, then all those union and government plans exempted from the ACA rules would need to change as well – and they weren’t. (1)

A practical person in favor of small ‘p’ progress would first ascertain *why* people don’t have insurance, to see if, in fact, people not having insurance is ever or always a problem that can or should be solved. Maybe it’s a bunch of different problems, maybe it changes over time for different people. Maybe some people don’t want to pay for health insurance. Maybe there are lots of different causes that cannot be addressed with a blanket solution. Small ‘p’ progress could be made by identifying and addressing as many different problems as could be addressed with comparatively small projects with definite ends. At that point, we’d stand a better chance of seeing what, if anything, is left that requires vast action.

But such an approach would never be tolerated, even though it has worked – it is very nearly the only thing that has ever really worked – repeatedly throughout history. The mere existence of healthcare is the result of some medieval men and women deciding to care for the sick right there in front of them, organizing others to help, getting some buildings, and – caring for the sick. The descendants of these men and women brought this concept to America, where it spread. That’s how we get so many Mercy or St. Mary’s or St. Luke’s Hospitals, Methodist, Baptist and Jewish Hospitals, and how the major clinics got founded. As we got richer, collectively, and technology improved, hospitals became more professional – and more expensive. (Something rarely noted: if we would accept 1960s level health care, then providing it to all uninsured people would be a simple and cheap program. It’s the fancy stuff that costs, almost all of which has been developed in the last 60 years.)

But as in all things made by man, even the best things, healthcare falls short. It is rarely noticed that it mostly fall short where it has fallen away from its roots. The poor are made to wait in the emergency rooms of the county hospitals, when the Sisters of Mercy used to take in everyone who showed up; fancy clinics with state of the art care charge vast sums to whomever can pay them, drawing their customers from distant lands – a feature as much of English socialized healthcare as of American private healthcare.

In a flat moral universe, failure to be perfect is perfect failure. Thus, America can have the best health care for the largest number of people of any nation in the history of the world, which it objectively does, yet that’s not good enough. (2) The methods by which we got the best healthcare in the world have not produced perfect healthcare, and thus must be abandoned in favor of methods that brought the world Soviet health care (3).

To the true believers and useful idiots, the ACA is Progress. The ACA *IS* affordable healthcare, and opposing or even questioning the concrete law is, to them, hating the poor and wanting them thrown out on the street to die. It simply doesn’t matter what the details are, or even if they actually do anything that they were sold as doing. Pelosi understood her audience when she said we’d need to pass the law to see what’s in it. To supporters, the ACA was not just some bill that would do some particular things in good or poor ways – the ACA was in fact affordable healthcare itself! For doers, for the little people who make small ‘p’ progress every day, such a claim is sheer insanity. But years and years of government education and concomitant social pressure has made the insane seem real to an alarming number of people.

Finally, the small people doing small things that add up to big improvements over time require the freedom and rights to do those things. My little porch project is improving my house, yes, but also my neighborhood. Judging by comments I’ve gotten while laying bricks out front, these little projects can help inspire others to undertake their own little improvements. It’s not much, but, over time, a million such projects end up making for a prettier, neater place to live. Capital ‘P’ Progress invariably consists of forcing many people to do things they would rather not do. To Progressives, this trade-off is invisible: millions of small acts are wiped out in order for a big thing to happen, in the same way that the $20M spent by a million individuals $20 at a time is invisible, but the $20M in tax dollars spent on some pet project or other is a triumph. To a Progressive, there is simply no trade off at all! Individuals are assumed to waste their money, while sweetness and light rule government expenditures.

Orestes Brownson’s observation about the inappropriateness of government schools applies here as well: such behavior would be acceptable under the premise that the wisdom of the nation resides in its leaders, but is wholly unacceptable in America, where the nation is founded on the principle that the the wisdom of the nation resides in the people.

  1. For the sake of this example we’re pretending the ACA isn’t just a massive governmental power grab. Described that way – honestly, in other words – it works just great.
  2. Healthcare is not fungible. Getting your health care at John Muir or Stanford medical center is not the same as getting it in a county hospital, let alone the same as getting it in a clinic in Brazil.
  3. And before throwing Sweden out as the counterexample, note that wealthy Americans go to the Mayo Clinic, or John Hopkins or Stanford when they want the best care, not to Stockholm. Follow the money.

In Search of More Grounded Bumper Stickers

It’s still Easter – He is Risen! – so trying to keep it light(er). Yet my brain is full – it’s the getting stuff out and into words part that’s the challenge. Have been reading Lafferty’s Fall of Rome. Wonderful, wish I had had it years ago to read to the kids – it’s that entertaining, even an 8 year old could get into it.

Writing about Lafferty a) requires some effort, and b) would be more than a little premature, as I’m only a few dozen pages in. Instead, how about some catchy phrases suitable for bumper sticker use, that reflect a more, shall we say, reality-based approach to life than the ones I’m currently seeing out here in Northern California?

For your possible amusement. Feel free to use and share however you see fit:

BS #1

BS #2

BS #3

Creatures of Progress – 1

I’ve sometimes wondered if the relief the English Protestant leadership felt at the failure of the Gunpowder Plot was any greater than the relief they felt finally getting the enemy that they needed.  Guy Fawkes could very easily be portrayed as the murderous wild-eyed radical Catholic bent on the destruction of England – because he in many ways was. Not the ways, exactly, he was portrayed, but he was willing to blow up Parliament, the king and much of the nobility if that’s what it took to end the violent persecution of Catholics.

Image result for guy fawkes maskAnd that is pretty violent and extreme. Before Fawkes and his conspirators, the English Protestants had to content themselves with torturing and murdering the likes of Thomas More, John Fisher and Margaret Clitherow – the one honest politician and the one faithful bishop in all of England, and a young, charming mother. They also did unpleasant things like torture and murder aging abbots and nail their heads to the monastery doors, and torture and murder people who were known to their neighbors as solid Englishmen who meant none harm. These kinds of executions could backfire – people could get sympathetic, start wondering what side they were really on in this.

But after Fawkes, the game changed. Sure, the people getting hanged, drawn and quartered after Fawkes were still pretty much without exception much like More, Fisher and Clitherow and not much like Fawkes, but that hardly mattered. The type had been cast, and every Catholic who refused to go along was made to fit the mold, no matter how outlandish the Procrustean exercise required.

This is how capital P Progress progresses. As the self-appointed agents of change keep ratcheting up the rhetoric, then the violence, then the murder, eventually they end up creating the enemy they need.  All that is required is for some small number of people to decide one might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, and start acting out what they are accused of being. You don’t need many, just a few high-profile cases, and you can get back to murdering young moms, people who don’t hand over their priests fast enough, and the priests themselves.