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Liberalism is Kinda Boring

Bored Cat

Liberalism has been called a lot of things. Some seem to think that the term is synonymous with good, others think it’s naive, Michael Savage called it a mental disorder, etc.

But the one thing I don’t hear it called very often is boring. And it many ways, it is just kinda boring.

There seems to be a formula with modern liberalism and whatever event comes up, just plug in the formula and, wala, you have the ‘correct’ way to think about it hand delivered with the utmost convenience, like they use to do with milk. And it seems that whoever is in the bigger victim category becomes the one who’s in the right. So for example, an employee sues the company, and the company might as well be named Enron.

Let’s take the George Zimmerman case. George was white and Trayvon was black, so obviously George was at fault. OK, George was actually Hispanic, but that isn’t as high as black on the victim list, which I think goes something like this:

1. Black

2. Jew

3. Middle Eastern

4. Hispanic

5. Asian

6. Pupppies

7. White

And so the headlines go, “White Supremacy Acquits George Zimmerman” and “Open Season on Unarmed Black Kids” and so on. Since when are ‘unarmed’ and ‘harmless’ synonyms for each other? And since when is a 17 year old teenager with a  history of fighting considered a ‘kid’?

It is certainly difficult to make out exactly what happened, and George Zimmerman is obviously not completely innocent. But it’s also quite apparent that Trayvon Martin assaulted Zimmerman. After all, Zimmerman had two black eyes, a broken nose and two lacerations on the back of his head. Other than the bullet wound the only injury Trayvon Martin had was to his knuckles.

The whole Zimmerman thing is a distraction of course. After all, there were 532 people murdered in Chicago alone in 2012! And some 93% of black murder victims are killed by other blacks. Yet, one Hispanic who killed one black teenager who was assaulting him after said Hispanic followed him represents white supremacy because it was ruled self-defense?

I’m not even saying that everyone on the left thinks the same or even that George Zimmerman wasn’t guilty of something (although it certainly wasn’t first degree murder). But the left appears to be like a line. You may be liberal, or you may be really liberal, but with a few exceptions such as Glenn Greenwald and Thaddeus Russell, you’re pretty much just some shade of liberal. Something like this:

So a liberal will be against the war. A hardcore liberal will want to dismantle most of the American military and send reparations to Iraq and Afghanistan. A liberal will be for regulation, a hardcore liberal will be for nationalization, etc. Even leftwing communists and anarchists tend to blur.

Yes, the right can be similarly annoying. I’m a libertarian, more or less, and even roll my eyes a bit when everyone and everything is called a statist. But on the right, not only do you have different variations from moderate to extreme, but you have libertarians and neoconservatives and the religious right and white nationalists and survivalists and paleoconservatives and on and on and on. And from what I gather, the religious right has no problem throwing corporations under the bus, and neither do libertarians for that matter, as long as the corporation is somehow tied to the federal government. To paleoconservatives, free trade is bad, to libertarians it’s good. Drug legalization is good for libertarians, but bad for the religious right. White nationalists obviously oppose to civil rights legislation, neoconservatives (“liberals who were mugged by reality”) usually support at least most of what is currently on the books and libertarians split it on the private vs public grounds. All of these groups are on the ‘right.’ I see almost nothing like this kind of disagreement on the left.* So it looks something like this:

Left - Right Political Scale

This is likely why according to at least one study (and my experience), liberals don’t understand conservative beliefs as well as conservatives understand liberal beliefs. And that leads to such inane name calling as Matt Yglesias, who opened his recent column on Detroit as follows:

Detroit is everything that conservatives hate—labor unions, black people, pensions—so in some quarters there’s almost a kind of glee around this idea that Detroit is a preview of the American future.

Well, it came off to me as an olive branch of sorts.

Anyways, perhaps the ‘right’ became every political philosophy opposed to liberalism. And perhaps that’s to liberals benefit as they can accuse the right of being racist because of the white nationalists and theocratic because of the religious right and anti-labor because of libertarian views on unions. And perhaps that drives everyone but the white men (and the white women those white men enslave) into the Democratic party.

But that does come with some contradictions. After all, when it comes to gender, the victim chart looks like this I think:

1. Transsexuals

2. Hermaphrodites

3. Women

4. Kittens

5. Men

But the liberal reports on Trayvon Martin talked about how black males are stereotyped as being dangerous and thereby could be shot for “the crime of being black.” As President Obama said:

There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

But don’t black women come with the “double oppression” of being black and female?

How can men’s disproportionate crime rates be blamed on male power (even while often overstated) and African American’s disproportionate crime rates be blamed on white power (when not being distracted by things like the Martin/Zimmerman affair)? Then add in that male violence usually comes from the least powerful men and is usually directed at other men of their own race and the simple liberal dichotomy falls apart.

The one obvious exception to this is the government, which the left appears to view ambivalently. Namely, while the left pushes for the government to grow, the government can certainly be wrong if say, they launch a war on Iraq (but maybe not if they launch a war on Libya… it depends how far left on the line you are).  But if someone in one wing of the ‘right’ says maybe those high black crime rates have something to do with the welfare state and the incentives it creates, meh, they’re just racist or something.

While I’d like this to be taken as a warning for everyone (including libertarians and their rush to call people statists), the left is by far the worst offender here. The world is far too complicated to be boiled down to such simplicity. People, especially liberal people, please do not use a formula to figure out which side to be on on whatever issue! Otherwise, it’s just so… boring.


*I should note the one odd exception, which is prostitution. This is one where some hardcore liberals of the feminist variety tend to oppose it (and ironically lock hands with the religious right) and some of the more libertine liberals support its legalization.

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Swift Reviews: Coming Apart

Coming Apart - Charles Murray

5 stars

Coming Apart is the latest book from the highly controversial author, Charles Murray. It is definitely food for thought as well as quite alarming. Murray shows how the upper class and lower class of the United States have diverged in just about everything. He focuses only on white people until the very end to emphasize it’s not a racial problem (in fact, adding race back in hardly makes a difference). While the top and bottom of American society have always been quite different, the trends are pushing them apart into something unprecedented.

The theme, boiled down, is that the “founding virtues” or what Murray believes are the important building blocks of civic societynamely marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosityhave declined dramatically among the lower class, but have thrived among the upper class. In addition, what’s called social capital (the networks and organizations throughout society), while dissipating throughout society, has plunged in the bottom third. This is not a new discovery, Robert Putnam discussed it at length in Bowling Alone. However Murray has expanded on that by showing the drastic contrast between the classes. He also notes how this trend is compounded by primarily technological forces that have made intelligence much more important. 50 years ago, someone who was really good at math and what not would become a math teacher and get by on a decent salary. Today, they go work for a hedge fund, Google or one of those mysterious quant funds and pull in seven to eight figures a year!

Early on, Murray actually hurts his argument by conceding that “real family income for families in the middle was flat” (pg. 50). In fact, the term “family income” or household income” is highly misleading. As Thomas Sowell has pointed out:

It is an undisputed fact that the average real income… of American households rose by only 6 percent from 1969 to 1996… But it is an equally undisputed fact that the average real income per person in the United States rose by 51% over that very same period. How can both these statistics be true? Because the average number of people per household was declining during those years. (Economic Facts and Fallacies, Pg. 125)

So the only reason the lower and middle classes have a “flat” income is because there are less people in each household working. And yet, the “founding virtues” have still deteriorated.

In one of the most bizarre mysteries of our day, he notes what David Brooks has termed the “bourgeois bohemians.” Namely, very liberal people who live very conservative lifestyles. These are typically the elite of society; those that live in the super zips (zip codes in the 99th percentile of wealth). They get married, stay married, work for a corporation usually, have kids, don’t do drugs, rarely drink and more often than you would think, go to church.

If you go outside of San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Washington D.C., those who comprise the super zips are about evenly split between conservatives and liberals. And funny enough, while they’re politics are polar opposites, they’re behavior is basically the same. The elite, or top 20% of society, Murray refers to as Belmont. And whether it’s the tree-hugging or gun-toting sort of Belmont, the people generally adhere to the four “founding virtues.”

At the bottom, things are much different. Charles Murray splits the bottom off at the bottom 30% of white Americans, which he calls Fishtown. Let’s take an example from industriousness:

In the 1960 census, about 9 percent of all Fishtown men ages 20-64 were not in the labor force. In the 2000 census, about 30 percent of Fishtown men in the same age range were not in the labor force. (pg. 216)

Indeed, the number of people on disability insurance has increased by a somewhat significant 900% since 1960! And it should be noted that life and work are getting safer, not more dangerous.

With regards to marriage, it is well established that two parent families do the best in the aggregate. Well, in a truly haunting chart on page 167, Murray shows the percentage of children living with both biological parents in Fishtown when the mother is 40 fell from 95% to 35% in from 1960 to 2005. In Belmont, it stayed put at about 90%.

Murray primarily focuses on the crime rate when discussing honesty. The crime rate is down recently, but is still up a lot (at least in Fishtown) since 1960. I think he again shoots himself in the foot here as I’ve heard of several studies showing a decline in honesty. Here’s one from Britain and I believe the same trend is mirrored in the United States. Still, the crime rate is bad enough, especially given how high the American prison population is.

All this shows a decline in social capital, or the connections between individuals through various civic organizations. This is why Murray finds the decline in religiosity troubling. Although this mostly has to do with the secular (not atheist) poor. It may be the lack of belief in a reason to existence provides no incentive to act or a no moral code to follow. Or it may simply be a lack of social and charitable organizations to take the church’s place. 

Murray does give his prescription, which is similar to mine; the government has usurped the civic institutions at the local level and created dependency through its welfare programs. It needs to get out of the way for civic society to reemerge. I should note, this is basically the thesis of Robert  Nisbet’s great book The Quest for Community. The bigger the government, the smaller the individual… and civic institutions for that matter. It is not the supporters of the free market who are atomistic or whatever. It is the supporters of big government who are.

Murray also chastises the upper class for both their non-judgementalism (which, in my judgement, is just a way to say you’re too lazy or scarred to have an opinion) and their unseemliness. I heard of a guy building a house with 5 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms, 3 kitchens, 2 glass elevators and an indoor swimming pool with a retractable roof. No one needs that. It seems that the upper classes have simultaneously lost their judgmentalism and their shame, and it all just drives the classes further apart. Classes that have been fairly fluid in years past, but are becoming more solidified.

Murray’s central argument is that this class-solidification is not economic, as liberals tend to say, but a separation of values and behaviors. I think there’s some truth to both (corporate favoritism and Federal Reserve policies have driven some of the class divide, and part of it is overstated in my opinion), but from the work of Murray and others, as well as working in and near lower end areas and witnessing much of this self-destructive behavior first hand, I have to agree more with Murray.

But as he cautions, this book is not primarily about solutions. Instead it’s the first step, and that is to simply admit we have a problem.


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