Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Strike the Root article

I apologize for the sparseness of posting lately. And now, an embarrassing admission: I had a new article up on Strike the Root two weeks ago, and I neglected to link to it. Here it is.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

The pragmatic fantasy

Over at Distributed Republic, Brandon Berg wonderfully captures my own attitude towards mainstream politics:

The problem with pragmatism is that it's just not practical. Ideal pragmatism is great--freed from ideological constraints, you can just do what works!--but ideal pragmatism isn't an option.

What we actually get is real-world pragmatism: People's beliefs about what policies produce the best results are driven more by ideology and cognitive bias than by actual evidence. And those are just the people who at least make a good-faith (if weak) attempt at intellectual honesty...

Check out the whole thing.

Never trust anyone who says he wants to get away from ideology and just do "what works." He's lying- perhaps to you, more likely to himself.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Culture and choice

Will Wilkinson has an excellent post, “The World is Not a Zoo,” on multiculturalism and the desire to force people into certain cultures.

The "zoo" metaphor strikes me as a very good one. Actually, on one of Russ Roberts' EconTalk podcasts, Michael Munger used the term "human zoo" to describe what he saw as one of the driving forces of opposition among Western liberals to free trade with the Third World: we like having strange foreigners with exotic folkways to gawk at, and that might be ruined if the Exotic Foreigners gain access to the same wealth and consumer goods Westerners enjoy- they might start wearing Nikes or eating at McDonald’s, which would make them boring and of no use as a source of entertainment for us.

Now, I like the idea of a world of diverse cultures, and I certainly have no objection to people choosing to keep their traditional culture, or seeking to revive cultural elements that have been lost. Indeed, it’s important to keep in mind that many extinct or near-extinct customs, traditions, and languages got that way through government oppression and centralization, not as a natural outgrowth of people’s free choices; for instance, many dead or near-dead languages were the victims of centralizing nation-states trying to enforce a uniform “national” identity. I suspect that, in a fully free society, the elimination of centralizing states and particularly centralized compulsory education would result in both greater interconnection and greater diversity at the same time. But I abhor both attempts to use compulsion to force people to remain culturally static, and attempts to pressure or guilt people into it.

In the United States, the multiculturalist mentality sometimes seems to have an interesting result that seems counterintuitive, in light of the doctrine’s popularity on the Left. White heterosexual Americans, who aren’t perceived to have any meaningful cultural identity of their own (as Rad Geek has sardonically commented on), are relatively free to be what they want, whereas anyone identified as a minority is supposed to be “true” or “authentic” to whatever group the are born into. I am not a practicing Lutheran, I prefer Irish beer, and I own not a single pair of lederhosen. Nevertheless, multiculturalists aren’t going to mourn the fact that I have forsaken my heritage or chastise me for doing so. Freedom of choice and identity is for whites only- a curious result for a leftist philosophy.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Imagine you’re walking down the street, minding your own business, when a stranger attacks you without provocation. He rains blows upon you until finally, desperate to protect yourself, you spot an opening and give him a single crack on the jaw. Shocked, your assailant staggers back, looking hurt and offended and asks, sanctimoniously, “When did this relationship become violent?”

American politics is like that sometimes.

As long-time readers know, one of my pet peeves is when someone claims to be apolitical or non-ideological even as they prove otherwise. Today’s example comes from the letters page of the Chicago Tribune, in a letter from one Paul Owen. Mr. Owen described his “sadness” and “disgust” with the anger displayed in recent letters to the editor attacking a Tribune editorial calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment. (Actual, official repeal of the written Constitutional amendment that is, rather than the de facto repeal that is usually advocated by gun controllers.) He then said:

With terms like "you liberals" spewing out like venom, it made me realize how divided our country is.

When did this issue get so political?

From there, he goes on to advocate greater gun control.

So, apparently, the issue wasn’t “so political” when, year after year after year, gun control advocates were waging a relentless legislative, judicial, and ideological attack on the right to self defense. It isn’t even “political,” apparently, to call for abolishing part of the Bill of Rights, as the original Chicago Tribune editorial did.

It only gets “political” when people who don’t want a fundamental right stripped from them have the temerity to object.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cheerleading for rapists

Warning: Please note that the first and third links in this post lead to written descriptions of rape, and may be disturbing or upsetting. For those interested in this topic, a listing of all posts at The Superfluous Man concerning sexual violence and related issues can be found by clicking here.

Over at Pajamas Media, I had the bad fortune to encounter what is probably the most disgusting congregation of human vileness I have ever personally encountered on the internet, which is saying something. There are acts more despicable than ridiculing and belittling a rape survivor, but not many.

Helen Smith had an article about the little-discussed phenomenon of female-on-male rape. She recounted the story of the pseudonymous “Mike,” who was raped as a young man by a woman who mounted him while he slept, then extorted his submission by threatening to falsely accuse him of rape, likely sending him to prison, if he resisted.

“Mike” eventually spoke on his own behalf and identified himself in the comments as the very courageous libertarian writer James Landrith. You can read Mr. Landrith’s own thoughts about his experience here. There's also some good discussion of the issue at this Toy Soldiers post. I would also like to put in a good word for Wendy McElroy, who has been a very positive force in this area.

The public’s attitude towards men raped by other men (in prison or otherwise) is almost uniformly dreadful; raped men are either a punch line or objects of contempt, to the extent they are acknowledged at all. This is not surprising, since many supporters of both traditionalist/patriarchal sex roles and many supporters of feminism have an interest in ignoring, denying, or belittling the issue. Well, the attitude towards victims of female-on-male rape actually manages the difficult feat of being worse. To the extent that people were willing to even admit the possibility of such a thing, the response was ridicule or outright contempt and disgust for the victim. It’s interesting to note how much of the belittling of the importance of the rape described (and the character of its victim) boils down to one of these:

1. He must have wanted it, since he remained erect (I guess women being raped never experience lubrication, either), or he was somehow “asking for it” in one way or another, such as getting drunk or sharing a room. Any of this sound familiar?

2. Men, being on average the more sexually driven sex, don’t mind being raped and aren’t traumatized by the experience. Another parallel: Though less often said openly nowadays, one still sometimes hears it suggested that raping a promiscuous woman or a prostitute is in some sense a lesser crime than raping a “decent” woman, on the theory that it wouldn’t be as big a deal to the victim.

3. It serves him right for being such a weakling. The frequency which with this one was repeated is interesting because in traditionalist/patriarchal morality, strength/power is often considered the prime virtue of a man, just as chastity is considered the prime virtue of a woman. In other words, we have here a masculine parallel to “The slut had it coming.” Violate the expectations placed on your sex, and there will be no compassion for you.

Thus, we have a nearly perfect recapitulation of the traditional ways of denying, minimizing, or condoning the rape of women. In fact, there were a number of women in the comments saying stuff like this. That initially surprised me, but it shouldn't have.

It’s worth noting how people can suffer from positive stereotypes about their sex. Much of the indifference to crimes like this (By no means all- there are also “progressive” reasons not to care, which sometimes overlap), or to men being raped in prison, or to male victims of domestic violence, and so on, can be attributed to the traditional belief that men, who are supposed to be the strong, stoic sex, don’t let themselves be harmed or abused by others, don’t (or at least shouldn’t) feel pain the way women do, and certainly shouldn’t admit it to it if they do. A perusal of the comment thread at the linked article will certainly testify to that, as will observing attitudes on the issue of men being raped in prison. A crying woman inspires compassion; a crying man inspires contempt. It’s drilled (or beaten, as needed) into everyone from an early age. God only knows how much injustice and misery has happened through the years because of this mentality, and how much we’ll continue to see.

And I don’t think it’s ever going to end.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Entire minutes of work, down the drain!

You know what's frustrating about the universe suddenly relieving itself on you without warning? You have all sorts of notes about news stories compiled and ready to use, but then you're suddenly feeling too rotten to get some proper blog posts together, and by the time you're back up and running again it's all too old and out-of-date to use even by my rather generous standards.

In lieu of actually producing anything myself, let me direct you to the most recent EconTalk podcast with Russ Roberts and Mike Munger. They're discussing a rather prosaic subject- private provision of mass transit- but in the process Munger provides one of the most interesting political insights I've heard in some time.

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