Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Connection Between Conservatism And Stupidity?

By Manifesto Joe

I put a question mark on that title because I think it's a proposition that may go a bit too far. There are definitely brainy conservatives, and I have had the misfortune of knowing a number of very vapid, ungrounded and ironically intolerant liberals.

But a new study does seem to establish a certain connection among factors of low IQ, social conservatism and prejudice. This story made the rounds on the Internet, but in case you didn't see it, here's a link.

Even before this study, this was not entirely new as a general observation. The English political philosopher John Stuart Mill routinely referred to British Conservatives, the Tories of the 19th century, as "the stupid party." A famous quote from Mill was something to the effect that while not all conservatives are stupid, most stupid people are conservatives.

But after 55, going on 56 years on the planet, I've also seen that advancing age does make many people more "conservative." That's not connected with stupidity, despite the inevitable loss of brain cells with age. One does become more cautious and circumspect. Some 35 years ago, I was a hard-core social libertarian, believing that any human activity in which a direct and arbitrary victim cannot be identified should be quite legal and tolerated.

I can't say I'm there anymore. I've never been to Vegas, but I've been to a few casino spots closer to here. Looking around, it was pretty easy to see the very grave social costs of legal gambling.

As for hookers, I have absolutely no personal experience with them. But I've heard of areas of the city in which I live where families have said their teenage son was approached and propositioned, in the front yard of their home, by a local prostitute. Not cool.

While there's still the argument that people are going to pursue gambling and sex-for-money anyway -- they always have -- I've come to see that it's not a bad idea to give communities the option of at least zoning such activities, so that they are legally restricted to specified areas. Over decades, I suppose I've become what could be described as a social moderate.

So I would hesitate to say that there's an entirely direct link between social conservatism and stupid people. It's characteristic of more liberal types to be cognizant of ambiguity, so I'll be "liberal" here, in that way. It's not nearly that simple, and never has been.

I would go so far as to say that, among people I am now aware of who do things like call the president "Barack Osama" and doggedly allege that he was born in Kenya, they are indeed pretty fucking stupid. I think the study is quite on the mark that there is a connection between prejudice and stupidity. And incidentally, virtually all such people are "social conservatives."

I grew up in a libertarian-style, Goldwater-Republican conservative family, so the grounding I had was much more related to neoliberal capitalist economics and a sort of 19th-century rugged individualist way of thinking about the world.

It has been asserted that people's politics and religion are generally fixed by the time they are, say, 10 years old. That was never true of me at all. To me, public philosophy is a quest that one pursues for a lifetime, and the behavior of forever thinking only what Dad and Mom taught you to think -- well, that is the true hallmark of stupidity. Whether it's a "red diaper baby" rebelling against Marxist ideas as an adult, or a Southern reactionary becoming a liberal after going to college -- that shows that at least the person is actively thinking about the issues, rather than smugly hanging onto family platitudes.

In my case, I noticed that my friends were usually more tolerant, liberal types, and that I didn't get along as well with the small-minded philistines I usually found among conservatives. Later I spent much time dwelling on economic questions -- well into my 30s, when I spent three years editing college economics textbooks. After reading all sides of such questions, I came to view laissez-faire as one undesirable extreme, and Marxism-Leninism as the other. The neo-Keynesian, mixed-economy model was the one that made the most sense to me, both historically and theoretically. It seems to be the one that truly delivers the goods to the many, not just the few.

Since libertarian-type conservatives are usually what could be described as civil libertarians, once my economic view had changed it was a very short walk toward liberalism. But I remain reluctant to wear that label. Liberals believe certain things that I do not, and am unlikely to ever embrace.

But as the American political scene has become so stupifyingly reactionary since around 1980, that simplifies things quite a bit. The bottom line has become that anybody who can't watch Fox News for 15 minutes without telling himself/herself that this is bullshit propaganda -- you become a liberal by default.

I personally prefer the term "progressive." That's a label that differentiates one from the capitalist neoliberalism that has become despised the world over, but also from the more knee-jerk sort of leftism that one sees so often among "conditioned" liberals.

In his 1953 book The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk put forth six "canons" of conservatism that can be summarized as follows:

1. A belief in a transcendent order, which Kirk described variously as based in tradition, divine revelation, or natural law;
2. An affection for the "variety and mystery" of human existence;
3. A conviction that society requires orders and classes that emphasize "natural" distinctions;
4. A belief that property and freedom are closely linked;
5. A faith in custom, convention, and prescription, and
6. A recognition that innovation must be tied to existing traditions and customs, which entails a respect for the political value of prudence.

Kirk had no use for libertarian thinking, which he associated with 19th-century classic liberalism. His most enduring book touched very little on economics at all, so what he was describing was the phenomenon of "social conservatism," which has become a powerful force in contemporary U.S. politics.

Let's take these "canons" one at a time. Some of them seem to make good sense, so why would an intelligent person take exception?

1. Muslims also believe in a transcendent order, as do Hindus. There's quite a bit of diversity on this point among Christians, and there appears to be that among other major world religions as well. Who's got the right formula? I have no idea. And I suspect that anyone who claims to have the right one is either delusional or a liar. That's one thing experience has most decidedly taught me.

2. Hard to argue with that one. In fact, it appeals to the liberal habit of seeing the world as an ambiguous and complex place, rather than a simple, structured and absolute one.

3. Ever suffered a stupid and/or foolish boss? With the world being the kind of capricious and dicey place that it is, it's not uncommon to see the most silly kinds of people sitting in exalted positions, lording it over people who are vastly superior to them on many levels. Conservative canon No. 3 has no relationship to merit, that seems certain.

4. What conservatives -- and libertarians -- routinely forget is that property is a purely human construct. It's a legal artifact that exists on paper, and routinely protects weak from strong. That's great, and I'm all for it on that level -- but then don't hypocritically turn around and argue that it exists because of any kind of natural law. It exists in spite of natural law. NATURAL LAW is survival of the fittest. If I can get the drop on you and yours, murder all of you, bury all of you in the back yard, and take all the property -- according to natural law, it's now MINE. Property rights, as enforced by society's laws, are the very rights that prevent me from doing that.

In other words, property rights are not, and have never been, absolute. They are conditional.

5. There are plenty of "customs" and "traditions" in the Roman Catholic Church. Need I say more?

6. This is another one that's hard to argue with at first. But today's conservatives seem totally out of touch with that. They want to take U.S. society back to a time (the first Gilded Age) in which 1 out of 3 Americans lived in poverty -- and that was 1 out of 2 among the elderly, since there was no pension system. In contrast, they seem to demonize the era from 1935 to 1980, in which poverty was greatly reduced and the U.S. saw its global power multiplied with the creation of our great middle class. Exactly what is "conservative" about their current position?

I suppose I've covered enough ground here for one post. Suffice it to say that I see much wisdom in the J.S. Mill quote mentioned earlier. I've known a few brilliant conservatives in my time. But I've known many more imbecilic right-wingers.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Boss Hogg Wins Big In South Carolina!

By Manifesto Joe

Well, shut my mouth! He's popular in the South!!

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who bears a resemblance to actor Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg in The Dukes of Hazzard), didn't merely win the South Carolina Republican primary Saturday. He administered a serious ass-kicking to former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, with about 40 percent of the vote to Romney's distant second at about 28 percent.

It's not that Gingrich winning in South Carolina was surprising. It was the margin of victory that was stunning. With news from Iowa that former Penn. U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum was the actual winner of the Iowa caucuses, it's now definitely still a three-person race. (U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas will carry a loyal libertarian following all the way to the convention, but he has no real chance at the nomination.)

The GOP dilemma

All of this seems to leave the Republican Party in a quandary -- some conservatives are calling on their peers to unite behind one candidate, namely Romney, if they are to have a good chance of voting President Barack Obama out of office. But the stalwarts on the far right aren't buying that.

They keep bolting to Gingrich and Santorum. There's a sentiment among them of anybody-but-Romney, as Romney is widely perceived as much too "moderate" for them to stomach.

Also, the questions about the money Romney has squirreled away in the Cayman Islands are likely to come back to haunt him for the duration. As one all-too-representative of the 1 percent of the superrich who've been getting ever richer at the expense of the rest of us, he has little appeal to the working-class redneck element in which the GOP has made such powerful inroads since 1980.

Santorum doesn't seem terribly sullied, but that sweetheart real estate deal will come back to haunt him, too. And then there's all the quid he's made as a lobbyist since leaving the Senate. It's not exactly the resume of a Washington outsider.

Gingrich isn't exactly a Washington outsider, either, but his reign as House bad boy began 17 years ago, and he's been out of elective office for over 13 years. His sins may be the most forgivable of the GOP contenders.

The worst of it, for evangelical types, is that he's a serial adulterer. Yes, many Americans forgave Bill Clinton for that, over and over. But there are a few differences. Clinton, for all his indiscretions, has had only one wife for decades. Boss Hogg goes through them like cars, trading in the old one for a new model after 100,000 miles and repair bills.

First he married one of his high school teachers, a woman 7 years his senior, after he graduated and became eligible. There's nothing very unusual about that age difference anymore, but one can expect a woman with a 7-year head start to show some age eventually. Boss Hogg's first wife, I've read, was hospitalized with breast cancer when he served her with divorce papers.

Then he married his second wife, erstwhile his mistress during the first divorce. Years later, he became involved with an aide who is now the current Mrs. Gingrich. Wife No. 2 now alleges publicly that Boss Hogg asked her for an "open marriage" so that he could have both her and the mistress. Eventually he asked her for a divorce -- by telephone.

It turned out that Wife No. 2 came down with some nasty illness like multiple sclerosis, which she says was exacerbated by the stress of the divorce. Seems like Boss Hogg dumps 'em just as soon as there's a problem like that.

It's the big head that's the problem, not the little one

As cold-blooded as Boss Hogg's behavior has been, that's not what personally bothers me most about him. Having a philanderer for a president doesn't disturb me much -- a few presidents regarded as "good" or "great," namely JFK and FDR, are now almost as well-known for their extramarital affairs as for their performance in office.

It's the schmuck stuff that comes out of Boss Hogg's mouth, like wanting to replace union school janitors with part-time underage kids, that I find far more disturbing. As president, I suspect that he would try to get batshit insanity like that written into law.

There's also the hypocrisy problem. Boss Hogg was going around the country giving speeches on traditional morality and family values at the time he was alleged to be pursuing an open marriage and/or divorce from Wife No. 2. And, after leading the charge to chase House Speaker Jim Wright out of office on an ethics rap over some petty book deal, Boss Hogg later gets hit with a monumental ethics judgment over -- guess what, a much bigger book deal!

In any case, Boss Hogg seems to be largely forgiven and very much back in the fray. But it's looking like anybody that the Republicans are looking over now will have a tough time taking out Obama. They've all got baggage that the president simply doesn't have.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

As South Carolina Nears: Just When You Think He's Found Bottom, Perry Digs Deeper

By Manifesto Joe

Texas Gov. Rick "El Pendejo" Perry is staying in the presidential race even though few people take him seriously anymore. With his latest ploy, it looks as though he's trying to outflank Romney by being a Republican Party bottom-feeder, scraping up as much of the right-wing Gothic vote as he can.

This time, El Pendejo seems to be defending the four Marines shown, in a widely circulated video, peeing on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

These were just kids who made a mistake, he says. Here's a link to a story on the subject.

Well, at least the Marines in question didn't piss on these bodies until after the enemy fighters were dead. Perhaps in certain fraternities, this is a hazing practice that occurs while the freshman pledges are still very much alive.

El Pendejo saved his criticism for the Obama administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who condemned this asinine video. Their condemnations, he said, were "over-the-top" and show disdain for the military. While he seemed to stop short of endorsing urination on corpses as a display of patriotism, it seemed more than a bit twisted for him to direct his stream toward those condemning this sort of desecration.

On a mission from God?

Right before the Iowa caucuses in which he fared so poorly, El Pendejo told reporters that he would abandon his presidential bid if God tells him to do so. I suppose we are to gather from this that he and God are on regular speaking terms.

Come off it, El Pendejo. Some key Religious Right figures recently met here in Texas and voted to endorse Rick Santorum for president. Evidently, God whispered to these holier-than-thou types that a sleaze bucket with a brain is better than a sleaze bucket without one.

Anyway, it looks like God told him to forge ahead, and his utterances seem to reek more of desperation with each new one. It looks like one more hammering, in South Carolina, will be needed for El Pendejo to finally hear "the Voice."

I can't say whether God is talking, but I am, and so are a lot of other embarrassed Texans. El Pendejo -- please, please quit.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, January 9, 2012

You're Embarrassing Texans: Time For Rick "El Pendejo" Perry To Quit The Race

By Manifesto Joe

I'm very embarrassed that "we" even elected him governor. (I use the editorial "we," because I would never have voted for him even for dogcatcher.) Rick "El Pendejo" Perry has regularly and predictably embarrassed himself in debate after debate, against competitors who -- let's face it, there are probably no Mensans among these dolts. No, not even Gingrich. (He's been aptly described as a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like.)

Rick Perry didn't make quite as gaping an asshole of himself as usual in Saturday night's debate, from all accounts. But he still managed to look the most stupid among a rather dim group.

Calls Obama "a socialist"

I can see now why this fool made a D in intro-level economics at Texas A&M. He doesn't appear to know what a socialist is.

The dictionary definition of socialism is: "any of the various theories or systems of the ownership and operation of the means of production and distribution by society or the community rather than by private individuals, with all members of the society or the community sharing in the work and the products."

What Governor Goodhair seems to base this on is that Obama advocates a system of progressive taxation at the federal level, and the idea that "Obamacare" entails a sort of government takeover of the U.S. health-care system.

Regarding progressive taxation, Obama is on record as advocating a return to the Clinton-era rates of income tax, which featured a marginal rate of 39.6% at the very top bracket for the richest Americans.

If this makes Obama a "socialist," then Dwight Eisenhower must have been a Maoist revolutionary. There was a marginal rate of 91% during his very staid 1950s Republican administration. And Dick Nixon must certainly have been a Marxist-Leninist of some sort. There was a 70% marginal rate while he was president, and he actually had some good words for the idea of a guaranteed annual income for Americans.

Redistribution of income is a trend that works in more than one way, you see, with the rich usually faring much better at it, especially at the state and local levels. It does not define socialism, not in the least.

And "Obamacare" is essentially "Romneycare" implemented at the national level. Private insurers, and private, self-employed doctors and other health professionals, are at the core of such a system. The House of Representatives, then Democratic-controlled, actually voted narrowly for a "public option," but that couldn't get through the Senate, thanks to the faux Democrats who held the balance of that "majority" at the time. Single-payer, the closest thing to "socialism" that has ever been discussed, wasn't even on the table. And even if it had been, doctors would have remained private and self-employed, not government employees as one finds in certain national health-care systems in other developed countries.

So, this falls vastly short of any reasonable definition of "socialism" as well.

It's a huge embarrassment to Texans to have such a drooling Aggie boob attempting to grab some of the limelight at the national level. Come home, El Pendejo -- things are going to go badly enough for you over the next three years.

Wants to send U.S. troops back to Iraq? Why don't we just send his moronic ass there?

He has often seemed to want to be president of his own little separate fiefdom of a country. Let's send his ass over there and let him run for office! When thanking the voters of that unfortunate country, I suspect it would go like, "I'd like to thank the voters here who cast ballots for me -- the Shiites, the Christians, and -- oh, what's that other bunch?"

I don't know what he's hanging on for over here, other than that he might want to be named secretary of one of those federal departments he wants to eliminate. Maybe then he could remember all three.

Give it up, El Pendejo, and just come home and serve out your term, if the courts will let you. You've brought enough shame to a state that already has far too much imbecility to answer for. Quit now, and come home.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Thoughts On The New Year: How Quickly Libertarians Forget

By Manifesto Joe

Ironically, they got bailed out, too

It's been three years, two months and five days since Jacob Weisberg's essay "The Libertarians' Lament" appeared in Newsweek magazine's edition of that date. On that day -- Oct. 27, 2008 -- the country had gone into an economic recession that could easily have been a worldwide depression, but for the meddling of the federal government.

Now, as 2012 is dawning, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, the Libertarian Party nominee for president in 1988, appears to have a good chance of at least placing second in the Republican Iowa caucuses. And, his ideology of "free markets" and absolutely minimal government seems to have as many adherents as ever.

Not much more than three years ago, Weisberg mordantly commented:

The best thing you can say about libertarians is that, because their views derive from abstract theory, they tend to be principled and rigorous in their logic. ... "Let failed banks fail" is the purist line. This approach would be a wonderful lesson in personal responsibility, creating thousands of new jobs in the soup kitchen and food-pantry industry.

Here's a link to the entire Weisberg article. The Daily Beast got it early and ran it online on Oct. 17.

I was agreeing wholeheartedly with everything Weisberg wrote as I first read this piece. Now, unfortunately, it's clear that he was wrong in his last paragraph:

The worst thing you can say about libertarians is that they are intellectually immature, frozen in the worldview many of them absorbed from Ayn Rand. Like other ideologues, libertarians react to the world failing to conform to their model by asking where the world went wrong. Their heroic view of capitalism makes it difficult for them to accept that markets can be irrational, misunderstand risk and misallocate resources — or that financial systems without vigorous government oversight constitute a recipe for disaster. They are bankrupt, and this time, there will be no bailout.

I wouldn't say he was wrong at all in his assessment of libertarians. It was actually his last sentence in which he erred.

The federal bailout of the big, floundering banks was not, as it turned out, merely that. It was also a bailout of "free market" ideology, even as the government's action belied that worldview.

We didn't get to see the reality of what would have happened had the "free market" been left to its own devices, as the Hoover administration did in 1932. Not that things didn't go badly for a lot of people -- but we didn't see 25% unemployment, mass evictions, soup kitchens, widespread hunger, food riots, or any of the other symptoms of economic disaster on the scale that Americans saw back then.

It now looks as though it will be necessary for people to see such things, yet again, for the lesson to be learned, at least for another 75 years. Talk to many Americans now, and it's as though the events of the past few years never really happened.

Ideologues tend to shape their worldview based on preconceived ideas, rather than on observable facts. The world can behave as it will -- no matter to libertarians. I'm reminded of a scene from the movie Citizen Kane, in which Kane is being told off by Boss Jim W. Gettys. "You're going to need more than one lesson," Gettys tells Kane. "And you're going to get more than one lesson."

Sadly, this time the libertarians didn't endure the lesson they so richly deserved. And the reason they didn't get it is that too many other people throughout the world would have suffered at least equally, and probably worse, for libertarian follies. It was their insistence upon deregulation of financial markets that pretty clearly caused the debacle of 2007-08.

But, how soon most people forget, especially the victims of ideology. Markets do not regulate themselves, yet Americans are once more being implored to let them do that voodoo that markets are alleged to do so well. Many are buying it, despite the repeated lessons of history.

There are some simple reasons for this. The financial industry is very powerful, and certain people are making as much money as ever off a relatively unregulated system. For obvious reasons, they want to keep it that way, and will twist the necessary arms.

But perhaps the most frustrating reason is that, generally, a full-fledged disaster has to happen before people will modify their worldview. That happened to many Americans in the 1930s, but this time the debacle wasn't profound enough to have that effect on enough people, and certainly not on economic libertarians. Bailouts gave them the opportunity to rewrite history in their own way.

Once more, the mixed system of regulated welfare capitalism appears to have become a victim of its own success. Shielding people from the worst excesses of "free-market" capitalism has ironically worked against the mixed system, not in its favor.

The libertarians were due for a lesson that they didn't get. Apparently, it's going to take a far more profound disaster than the Great Recession to make realists out of ideologues. The Great Depression II?

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.