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December 30, 2016

The time has come for a self-loathing white male superhero who laments the fact that he isn't a female minority

Clickhole brings us the following "news" from Marvel:
Image credit: Clickhole
It’s time to get excited, because Marvel Comics just announced a new superhero that advances diversity in comics in a major way. The series is called Luminary, and it tells the story of a mild-mannered Caucasian man named Percy Pendleton who gains incredible superhuman powers and constantly expresses his regret that he was blessed with those abilities instead of a Latina woman, who could be a role model for young Hispanic girls in addition to merely fighting crime.
[...] While working as a nuclear physicist at Stark Industries, Percy is caught in a particle-accelerator explosion. A surge of neutrinos floods his nervous system and transforms him into the incredible Luminary, a hero whose amazing powers of flight, super strength, and energy manipulation make him concerned that as a white man he does nothing to reflect the face of a changing America, which is increasingly Hispanic and female.
I was heretofore unfamiliar with Clickhole, so it took a few minutes of research to reassure myself that this was satire.  In these troubled times, I wouldn't put it past Marvel to infuse an established superhero with some white-privilege angst, but I doubt that they're ready to make such an idea the basis of a superhero.

You privileged white men are so judgmental!

Image via Meoso

December 29, 2016

Stacking the deck: "White Privilege" theory in a nutshell

In a world where everybody plays by the same rules and is judged by the same standards, racism would describe any action or attitude that shows favor for one race over another or displays overt contempt for members of a particular race.  Similarly, sexism would describe any action or attitude that shows favor for one sex over another or displays overt contempt for members of a particular sex1

The "Progressive" Left, however, is not interested in everybody playing by the same rules and being judged by the same standards.  Adherents  have produced out of whole cloth the notion of "White Privilege".  As you can see in the image below, here is how White Privilege theory answers the assertions that anybody can be racist or sexist:
Minorities2 cannot be racist and women3 cannot be sexist, because they "do not hold political, economic, and institutional power".
In essence, whites (especially white males) have a stranglehold on political, economic, and institutional power, and whites employ that power to oppress women and ethnic minorities -- even without consciously meaning to.  The oppressors enjoy all of the privileges of being in the oppressor class, and they jealously guard all of the privileges they enjoy.

So you see, if you're white -- especially a white male -- the deck has been stacked against you.  These terms have been subverted to exclude the possibility of any opposing viewpoint.  Suggestion: if you find yourself in a debate with a Progressive over one of these issues, let them know you refuse to engage them until they prove to your satisfaction that White Privilege is an actual thing.

Images via "The Safest Space" on Twitter

1 Progressives are pushing hard on the notion of gender fluidity4 nowadays, and that would seem to render the whole notion of sexism moot...wouldn't it?  Sexism seems to imply binary gender.

2 Many Progressives exclude Asians from the ethnic minority status (witness the active attempts to discriminate against them in California public universities), because for the most part they refuse to act like they're oppressed.

3 White women have the dubious honor of being both oppressor and oppressed, depending on the topic of the moment.

4 (Wow, a footnote on a footnote!) Many Progressives define the "oppressor" class as white heterosexual males to allow white sexual minorities to be counted as oppressed in some circumstances.

December 28, 2016

Farewell, Dr. Thomas Sowell

"If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today.  -- Thomas Sowell"

Dr. Thomas Sowell, who announced this week that he is retiring, has been a tremendous asset to the national conversation on race and equality.  He will be dearly missed, but I wish him a happy, healthy retirement.

November 12, 2016

Election 2016: Dealing with reality as it is, not as we wish it had been

As the popular internet meme went, the thing that frightened us most about Election 2016 was that one of the two major candidates would win.  And sure enough, one of them did.

I must admit that my least unfavorite of the two candidates won, but I continue to harbor the ill feeling that I've had for months: that any positive accomplishments a Trump administration might see (and I expect I occasionally will have reason to cheer) will be overshadowed by a variety of policy train wrecks.  It remains to be seen whether or not the GOP can survive its stunning victory up and down the ballot.

I have often counseled my son that we need to deal with reality as it is, not as we wish it had been. It's tempting to bang my head against a wall until I fall unconscious, but this is no better than any other reality-avoidance technique that has been invented -- reality would wait patiently for me to come to again.

I don't know whether or not constitutional conservatism has a future in this country, but I can do no less than to stay true to my principles.  I commit to doing this, even if it means standing against the standard-bearer of the party with which I've identified for over 35 years.  But let me be clear: for me, standing against Trumpism will never mean allying myself with any of the -isms that plague the other party.

November 11, 2016

Most people don't really believe in free speech

Here is the Churchill quote in context:
Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.

June 18, 2016

"A well-regulated militia": the Left's delusion about the Second Amendment

This image, which is making its way around Facebook in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre, zeros in on the part of the Constitution's Second Amendment that is the most confusing to modern eyes.

Before we, too, zero in on this phrase, consider for a moment what the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) actually was.  Why were these amendments added all at once, and so soon after the adoption of the Constitution?  Because they were adopted as a condition of the approval of the Constitution by several of the states.

There was widespread suspicion that the proposed Constitution didn't go far enough to explicitly curtail the powers of the central government. The dissenters felt that individual rights would quickly fall prey to expanding government power in the absence of explicit declarations of the inviolable rights of individuals.

The Bill of Rights is the answer to these concerns, and the promise of these was sufficient to get all of the states to sign on to the Constitution.

Here, then, is the complete text of the Second Amendment:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Noting the neighboring words "security" and "State", many on the Left would have us believe that the phrase "well regulated Militia" is referring to the military and to state and local law-enforcement agencies -- that this amendment guarantees the government the ability to undertake any and all efforts necessary to protect the country (military) and maintain public order (local law enforcement).

But why, in the midst of a collection of amendments designed to guarantee individual rights, would the Founders drop in a grant of government power that, in essence, had the potential to render the rest of the Bill of Rights moot?

Does anyone honestly think that the dissenters would have gone along with this new government if this were the case?  All of human history testifies that when the people of a country have no means to resist the tyranny of their government, their government will sooner or later drift into tyranny.

So what, then, did the phrase "well regulated Militia" mean to 18th-century American eyes?

The militia were the ones who were expected to grab their guns and take action whenever the need arose.  Most importantly to the contemporary debate, though, all able-bodied males, regardless of occupation, were considered part of the militia, whether or not they had ever served in the armed forces.  This in itself argues for the notion that this amendment was not a restrictive one.

What about "well regulated"?  Surely this phrase shows that arms-bearing must be done under the supervision of the government, doesn't it?  Actually, no.  At the time, the phrase "well regulated" was used interchangeably with "well trained" or "orderly".

Well, then, what about "security of a free State"?  In context, "state" is obviously referring to the nation itself, not to the government.  There are two ways of seeing the phrase "free state": (1) a nation as a whole free from the control of other nations (this is the modern understanding of the term), and (2) a nation comprised of individuals who are free from the oppression of their government.

If we accept the notion of the entire Bill of Rights being a Bill of Individual Rights, that second interpretation of "free state" gains a considerable amount of weight.

So. Taking the Second Amendment as a whole, I see this paraphrased declaration: A nation of citizens in the possession of and well-trained in the use of firearms is an effective bulwark both against conquest by other nations and against oppression by that nation's government.  Therefore, the central government shall take no steps to interfere with the right of the citizens to keep and bear such firearms.

A well-armed, well-trained citizenry is necessary to secure the freedom of said citizenry.

February 24, 2016

On the all-too-common phenomenon of assuming one's ideological foes to be ignorant, immoral, or insane

Aaron Ross Powell has written a mostly-excellent essay on the extreme tribalism (although he doesn't call it that) which underlies the emotions aroused by virtually every contentious issue of the day.  As I opined in a previous post, the positions we take so earnestly are the rational end of a long chain of propositions that go all the way back to the one or more foundational propositions that form the foundation of our worldview (and are usually accepted without question).

Because our conclusions about the issue of the moment are so mindbogglingly obvious to us, we don't see how anybody could come to any other conclusion. If they do, it's a sure sign that they're ignorant, that they know better but are just too morally corrupt to embrace the right view, or that they are genuinely mentally ill.  I don't think I am amiss in assuming that most of us have felt this way about our ideological foes at one time or another, or have been the target of such speculation.

Here's how Powell illustrates the conflict:
Say we believe that Policy A, which we support, will lead to good Result X. We encounter someone who instead advocates for Policy B. Because of our certainty about the evidence and how to interpret it, too many of us too often see that person’s support for Policy B coming not from a good faith and reasoned belief that Policy B is a better way to get to Result X. Because if what we believe is both correct and obvious, then the advocate of Policy B must know that it will undermine the achievement of X. And if X is a good result, then this person doesn’t just disagree with us, but actively wants something bad to happen.

Unfortunately, this all-too-common way of thinking about political debate leads to serious problems, because it means that our empirical beliefs are essentially closed to critique unless that critique comes from someone who already shares our policy preferences. If our interlocutor doesn’t share our policy preferences, then before the conversation can get off the ground, we’ve already decided he is either stupid (he’s too dumb to see his error) or immoral (he maliciously prefers evil outcomes). But, of course, if our empirical priors or interpretive framework are wrong, then someone with better priors will likely come to a different policy conclusion.

Thus individual policy preferences exist as a signal of their holder’s intelligence or moral worth—and a challenge to one’s policy preferences gets interpreted as an attack on the holder’s smarts or basic goodness. Because we believe that certain policy preferences signal moral worth, we adopt our policy preferences based on how we would like to be perceived. And we hold to those policies regardless of their actual, real-world outcomes, or pay so little attention to their outcomes that we never feel the need to revise our political preferences.
If you see nothing wrong with this phenomenon, and your chief goal in any ideological conflict is to vanquish your foes, there's not much left to talk about.  Just carry on doing what you've always done.  The current chaos that is the 2016 presidential campaign is the world you live in and apparently enjoy.

If, on the other hand, you wonder if it's even possible to coexist with people who hold points of view that bug you so much, hoping that it is possible, stick around.  Understanding this ingrained human tendency to organize into tribes is, I believe, the only alternative to putting the maximum distance possible between all human beings.  I also believe that understanding our tribal thinking is the first step to finding a way to knowing how to bring others around to our point of view. 

This is going to be a running theme on this blog as I continue to ponder the riddles of human interaction.  I hope you'll find it worth the read.

February 22, 2016

The FBI v Apple

I'm not a big fan of Apple in general, but props to them for their principled refusal to open Pandora's Box by creating a custom version of the OS that bypasses the security features on the San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone.

There's no such thing as a one-time crack.  Even if the government itself doesn't exploit the cracked version of the OS (and they'd hardly miss an opportunity to exploit it), it's not unlikely that it will escape into the wild somehow.

Image Source

February 10, 2016

Why most online arguments about politics and religion end in a stalemate

Image source

Scenario: Two people are engaged in mortal ideological combat on Facebook.  Each person argues their point passionately, genuinely baffled that what is manifestly obvious to them does not register at all with the other.  Since The Truth™ is so obvious, each combatant starts wondering why their opponent refuses to concede the point, eventually attributing such incorrigibility to bad character or, even worse, to mental illness. 

What is actually going on here?  Why do most skirmishes like these end with nobody persuaded and with bad feelings all around?

I believe this happens because the actual conflict usually does not lie in the topic itself, but in the long chain of presuppositions that lead rationally and inexorably to each person's view on the topic.  Within the closed system of a person's worldview, the point they're arguing makes complete sense to them, flowing logically from the worldview's foundational principles (i.e. the collection of assumptions forming the filter through which reality is interpreted), many or most of which are accepted as givens.

You won't get them to budge on the topic being debated unless either (a) you can convince them that the point they're arguing is inconsistent with the foundational principles of their worldview, or (b) you can somehow erode their confidence in the foundational principles themselves.

Strategy (a) is possible, but only those who embrace the same worldview are likely to see any success.  If someone of an opposing worldview tries this strategy, the natural reaction is to question the aggressor's motives (thus allowing the target to ignore the argument being made).

Even if strategy (b) has any chance of eventual success, the foundational principles aren't even part of the current debate, so forget about that.

Image source
Imagine a worldview as a tree.  The trunk and roots are the foundational principles; the opinion being argued at the moment is more akin to a cluster of leaves at the end of one of the tree's branches.  Everything between the cluster and the trunk is the chain of presuppositions connecting the opinion to the foundational principles.  Even if someone succeeds in damaging or lopping off that cluster, it'll grow back in due time -- nothing really gained or lost.

Facebook is where I'm most likely to encounter people of significantly differing worldviews.  I've developed an instinct for recognizing when, for my potential opponent, an opinion represents a leafy cluster or something closer to the trunk.  If the former, I'm more likely to refrain from joining the fray, because the most likely outcome is bad feelings and nothing else.  If the latter, I might cautiously engage, in the hope that something worthwhile might transpire.

With the leafy-cluster topics, I will occasionally come across a viewpoint that baffles me so much that I step back and ask myself, How could someone possibly hold such an opinion?  Then, over time, through observation and sometimes through tactfully-worded questioning, I will attempt to discern that opinion's chain of presuppositions.  As I analyze the presuppositions, I usually am forced to reanalyze and reaffirm the presuppositions of my own worldview.

While very rare, the process does occasionally lead me to soften or change my opinions (or at least stop thinking of my opponent as insane).  But -- and this is the point -- I came to this conclusion on my own, not as the result of being outmaneuvered in an online argument.