Saturday, December 15, 2012
First, it should go without saying that our chief focus and concern here should be for the innocent victims -- the little kids, the adults on the school staff, and their many grieving families. When somebody commits an atrocity like this, it's too easy for him (and it is almost always a "him") to get the lion's share of the attention -- which is one main reason why these creeps do such things. The media always comply with their desire for instant attention-by-atrocity by spending inordinate time on them rather than the many victims, whose names vanish quickly into obscurity. I won't give the dead killer that posthumous satisfaction here. I'm instead filled with sorrow for the families and friends who lost so much yesterday, including the irreplaceable, budding lives that now will never be. And many more than two dozen lives were extinguished yesterday: The lives of many survivors and loved ones will never be the same, and we also can count them as having suffered fatal wounds. I grieve for them all.
Second, regarding the killer's motive, which my friend asked me to discuss: It's hard to know what the story is here without knowing more about him -- whether he was psychotic (the sort that hears voices in his head), or a psychopath (just a nihilist). Pure psychotics are largely dysfunctional in the world, and incapable of the kind of long-term fantasizing, planning, and secrecy that such a crime usually requires. Whenever we find that a true psychotic is involved in mass killings, he seems to be a paranoid schizophrenic acting more on impulse, using whatever weapons are available and not having thought out things very clearly. But most of the time, these crimes are pre-planned and carefully prepared for -- which indicates the functioning, criminal calculation of a psychopath (aka "sociopath"). Occasionally -- as in the "Dark Knight" killing spree in the Colorado movie theater -- it appears that there's a mixture of mental illness and conscious, nihilistic cunning and calculation involved. I don't know enough in this case to hazard a guess as to what "type" the killer may be.
Once that can be determined, however, then the next question is what lame "provocation" set off this specific killing spree. There's usually a triggering event: some slight or disappointment or personal disaster that the perp regards as symbolic of his wasted life -- as a symbolic end of the road. If the person is otherwise sane, but nihilistic/psychopathic, he almost always has been nurturing such real or imagined "grievances" for a long time, building them to a slow boil. Sociopaths/psychopaths (and criminals generally) always have some rationalization for what they do. (In the age of terrorism, those rationalizations are often ideological.) They always have shaky self-esteem, coupled with the belief that their lives have been somehow "spoiled," or denied some justice or "entitlement" to the happiness that others enjoy. They always feel envy toward those hated "others" and fantasize about getting revenge, about "getting back" at those responsible for (or who remind them of) their blighted lives. And so in these crimes there is always a scapegoat class of people, who symbolize for the killer why his life has been spoiled, why some grave injustice has been committed against him, and why those "others" deserve "payback."
You have to understand this to grasp that, for the mass killer, murder is an empowering event. He is playing God with other human lives, and gets a tremendous "rush" of power and control by treating other humans like playthings. A perfect example was the case of Ted Bundy, who was kidnapping, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering dozens of young women...while simultaneously working at a suicide-prevention hotline! Nothing for me better symbolized the mass killer's addiction to the feeling of power he gets by controlling the fate of other human lives.
While both serial killers and mass murderers are motivated by the desire to experience power and control over others, "mass murders" (where a lot of people are killed in one event, or in a "killing spree" over a few days) are somewhat distinct, motivationally, from serial killings (where three or more people are murdered in sequence over a considerably longer period).
Sociopathic serial killings are usually sexualized crimes of power, control, and sometimes anger and revenge. Their nihilistic perpetrator seeks power and control, or to express anger and the desire for revenge, against a certain "type" of victim, through sexual domination, pain, and humiliation. The victim "type" symbolizes for him something deeply personal, tied emotionally to his own anxieties. The perpetrator, usually feeling that he has a blighted, empty, or inadequate life, feels the thrill of empowerment by these crimes, in which his victims are reduced to the status of toys. The serial killer is not "attention-seeking" in the sense of wanting everyone to know his name, because he doesn't want to get caught, and he takes great pains to avoid apprehension. But he usually loves hearing about his crimes in the media, getting an additional cocky "rush" by putting something over on the police, and perhaps on those around him, who don't know about his grisly secret life. Sometimes serial killings aren't overtly sexualized -- e.g., the "Unibomber," the "DC snipers," hospital nurses who poison patients, etc. But the thrill of "playing God," of exerting ultimate power and control over lives, is a constant motivational theme. And so is their wellspring and source: feelings of living inadequate, flawed lives, alienated from a society where "everybody else" seems happy, wealthy, and content.
In contrast to serial killings, sociopathic mass-murders are almost always attention-seeking devices -- nihilistic crimes intended "to show THEM" (the scapegoat class, or society at large), to "get back" at the symbolic tormentors. The killer usually wants his name to be broadcast far and wide; he seeks infamy, because he's "making a statement" against the society that (in his fantasy) has irreparably ruined his life. The key word here is "irreparably." Because he thinks he can never find solace and happiness, his killings are usually "suicide missions" planned with military precision; he often dresses up in quasi-military garb for the "mission" and fantasizes himself as being a "soldier" conducting an "operation"; and he usually expects or intends to "go out in a blaze of glory" -- to die during the killing spree, either in a hail of bullets from the cops, or by his own hand.
Obsessive fantasizing and mental "rehearsal" are two other necessary ingredients to mass murders and serial killings. These types of people live, day and night, in a world of nonstop fantasy: revenge fantasies, sadistic sexual fantasies, fantasies of nihilistic destruction. They "rehearse" their crimes constantly in their heads, long before they actually commit them. They also frequently "rehearse" their crimes in slowly escalating forms. Serial killers often begin with sadistic porn, graduate to being "peeping Toms" and stalkers, then perhaps burglars -- invading private homes where their targets live, and stealing and collecting intimately personal "trophies," such as underwear. As they start to act out their fantasies, they carefully prepare "kits" with abduction items and various sadistic tools or sexual toys. Similarly, mass murderers often stockpile weapons and military "camo" garb, conduct "advance recon" on target sites, carefully plan their "missions," and practice shooting at firing ranges or on video games while imagining that the targets are their intended victims.
This explains how killers can commit horrific crimes. Just as surgeons have been given a rationale for cutting into the human body, and are then trained through endless rehearsals to "get used to it" -- just as soldiers have been given a patriotic rationale for committing mayhem on "the enemy," and are then trained through endless rehearsals to "get used to it" -- so too do mass murderers and serial killers prepare themselves with rationalizations and excuses, and then engage in obsessive fantasy and rehearsals, to "get used to" committing monstrous acts against innocent others. In their minds, their "targets" are anything but "innocent," you see.
In this particular case, you might wonder, "How could classrooms of little kids be regarded by the killer as his tormentors or as perpetrators of injustice against him?" In fact, of course, they can't be. But again, these crimes are symbolic.
One media report suggest that the perp was a "loner" who played lots of video games and lived with his mother; a friend described him as "very thin, very remote and [he] was one of the goths.” Reports are that the killer first murdered his mother, who was a teacher or teacher's aide at that particular school. That seems to be a significant "triggering event," and a likely link to a possible motive. If I had to guess at this point, based only on paltry evidence, I'd suspect that this killing spree was probably about hatred of his mother and/or "getting back" at her -- about a nihilistic desire to "show HER" by destroying the kids to whom she was paying a lot of attention, "rather than ME." Or perhaps he had been a student at that (or a similar) school, and was either tormented by other children or felt miserably alienated from them; and now, at age 20 and with an empty life, blamed the school for his misery. [UPDATE: It's now uncertain that his mother had any direct connection to the elementary school. I have read that she removed the perp from high school and home-schooled him. In some fashion, school seemed symbolic to him, but we'll have to await more information.]
Again, these are only wild guesses, based on paltry preliminary information. But it wouldn't surprise me if something like that was going on in this guy's head. It would fit the pattern of so many similar crimes.
One thing I do know: Gun control won't stop crimes like this. Mass killers would only use other means -- and they do. The same day that this blood bath was occurring in Connecticut, we read of some similar monster in China stabbing dozens of kids in a school. It is also noteworthy that the worst such mass-killing in an American school occurred in 1927, when somebody used three bombs to blow up a school.
So, what do we do -- outlaw knives, or the many simple household chemicals that people can use to make bombs? Then they'd turn to poisoning food in the school cafeterias -- or dumping toxins into public water supplies -- or chaining building doors shut and burning them down, with their occupants. Or driving cars along sidewalks, mowing down pedestrians. Or hijacking airliners and slamming them into buildings. Or dumping acid over the balconies at sporting events onto spectators below. Whatever. The destructive possibilities for nihilists who fantasize obsessively about such things, 24/7, are boundless.
The fact is that objects don't murder. Murderers do. Given the ingredients of blighted lives, social alienation, revenge fantasies -- and these days, an "entertainment" culture that glorifies sadistic brutality, plus "empowerment" ideologies that give millions of followers moral rationalizations to commit violent mayhem in response to various alleged "injustices" -- we will always have mass nihilistic crimes.
Depriving ordinary people of the means of defending themselves won't do anything...except to increase the number of vulnerable sheep for society's roaming wolves to prey upon. Those predators will always find the tools and means to kill. But the one constant in all of their unspeakable crimes is that their victims were not allowed to possess and carry the means to fight back against their victimizers.
Who knows what the outcome might have been if the school principal or a teacher in Newtown, Connecticut, had been allowed to carry a handgun?
Friday, November 16, 2012
I’m thrilled to have Mr. Koloff’s first-rate legal representation, and I’m also happy to report that he has been aggressively promoting HUNTER to the trade in Hollywood. Anyone interested in learning more about Mr. Koloff, or in contacting him concerning the TV/film rights to my thriller, can reach his law office through his website.
Sunday, November 04, 2012
From my current vantage point, however, if I could go back in time to restart my career, I would have begun writing fiction much sooner. Even if "changing the culture" still had been a high personal priority, my recent epiphanies about the relative cultural power of Narratives (as opposed to abstract philosophy/ideology) imply that any fiction I may have written probably would have had far greater cultural impact than all of my nonfiction proselytizing.
But in truth, I no longer desire to invest myself in a vocation of "cultural change." At best, that is a dubiously ephemeral and constantly frustrating enterprise, in which progress is impossible to quantify. What would "success" look like? And if I can't tell whether my actions are making "a difference," then what's in it for me? In short, "changing the culture" is a woozy objective that is both subjective and selfless.
The writing of HUNTER taught me that I could do such work, and do it well. The joy and fulfillment that I experienced during the process taught me that I should do it. But I'm getting a late-life start in this new career. I have a lot of catching up to do. I waited until the end of this pivotal election campaign to give my new career the focused attention it deserves and requires. Now is the right time to turn a new page...both symbolically and literally.
This radical restructuring of my personal priorities may cheer some of you and disappoint others. I would be a liar if I were to tell you that either prospective reaction weighed heavily in my decision. I'm doing this for me, no one else. I offer these words only to explain to you, my good friends, why you will see changes here and on my other online platforms.
Thanks in advance for your understanding and, I hope, your continued interest and support.
Friday, October 05, 2012
"Why Let the Rich Hoard All the Toys?"
So asks New York Times's columnist Nicholas Kristof, in an op-ed that constitutes a perfect, and revealing, distillation of the progressive Narrative—the Narrative that has become the central, if unacknowledged, issue of the 2012 presidential election.
Imagine a kindergarten with 100 students, lavishly supplied with books, crayons and toys.
Yet you gasp: one avaricious little boy is jealously guarding a mountain of toys for himself. A handful of other children are quietly playing with a few toys each, while 90 of the children are looking on forlornly—empty-handed.
The one greedy boy has hoarded more toys than all those 90 children put together!
“What’s going on?” you ask. “Let’s learn to share! One child shouldn’t hog everything for himself!”
The greedy little boy looks at you, indignant. “Do you believe in redistribution?” he asks suspiciously, his lips curling in contempt. “I don’t want to share. This is America!”
And then he summons his private security firm and has you dragged off the premises. Well, maybe not, but you get the point.
That kindergarten distribution is precisely what America looks like. Our wealth has become so skewed that the top 1 percent possesses a greater collective worth than the entire bottom 90 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
This is America—according to the Narrative accepted and advanced by progressives like Kristof. It is the Narrative that has guided Barack Obama throughout his entire career.
And it is the reigning social Narrative that should be challenged during the waning days of this election campaign.
The progressive's Narrative is erected on a zero-sum, tribal socio-economic model. In this model, the tribe's wealth ("national income," "Gross National Product," etc.) is collectively owned, and exists in a limited quantity. Those premises are illustrated in standard economics texts by means of "pie charts" indicating various "shares" and "distributions" of "national" wealth.
Given these premises, it follows that any one tribal member's "excessive" accumulation of personal riches could not have been individually produced ("You didn't build that!"), but was instead swiped from the tribal pot of wealth, and thus acquired at the expense of everyone else. It further follows that the moral task of the tribal leaders (the President, Congress, regulators, etc.) must be to tax away that "excess" (stolen) wealth and pour it back into the collective pot, so that everyone in the tribe will have access to his equal "fair share."
It is appropriate that Kristof chose a parable of children in a kindergarten to illustrate the progressive worldview. For progressivism is not a mature, adult philosophy, but a juvenile story—an immature, childish Narrative about how the market economy supposedly works. More specifically, it is a primitive Narrative, one rooted far back in mankind's distant tribal past. This timeless Narrative has been resurrected and propagated endlessly in classic myths, allegories, and parables, such as Robin Hood, the Sermon on the Mount, Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," and Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life." It remains the central plotline of endless novels and films in which rapacious (more recently, carcinogenic) corporate tycoons crush the souls, jobs, and lives of hapless, hard-working "little people." Arguably, it goes back to the Prometheus myth in ancient Greece: After all, Prometheus didn't create fire as his gift to man, but stole it from the gods (Zeus: "Prometheus, about that fire—you didn't build that!")
Here, we see this same primitive, childish mythology put forth on the op-ed page of the New York Times, by an educated, pampered, and (hypocritically) wealthy member of the elite progressive media. In his parable of a schoolboy "hoarding" all "the" toys, the unstated premises are: All the toys are collectively owned by the kindergarten; they exist to be shared equally and in common; and this one greedy kid's "hoarding" of contents taken from the collective toy box imposes losses on all the other kids.
Kristof's juvenile myth reveals, by implication, another tacit premise of the "progressive" Narrative. Observe that in this zero-sum social world, the kid hoarding the "toys" had nothing to do with the toys' production, or with their presence in the kindergarten. ("Kid—you didn't build them!") Yet, somehow, the "toys" are just there. The kindergarten has been magically, mysteriously, but "lavishly supplied with books, crayons and toys."
Supplied...how? and by whom?
From before the days of Marx, the left's zero-sum Narrative evades those questions and their answers. It evades the issue of production and those who make it possible: individual producers. In the progressive Narrative, they simply do not exist. Goods and services are simply here, like the fruit that appears each year on apple trees. As liberal pseudo-economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote decades ago in The Affluent Society, "the problem of production has been solved"; the real problem now, he said, was "fair" distribution of what was produced. Likewise, to Barack Obama, since business people "didn't create that" wealth, the goal now is to "spread the wealth around." (Note: "the" wealth, not somebody's wealth.)
So what, exactly, is "the problem of production"? What was the "solution"? Who solved it? Don't they deserve to be compensated handsomely for solving it? And by what moral right does the tribe—which did not solve the problem of production—come in and seize the fruits of those who did?
None of these questions are raised or answered by progressives. Liberalism, socialism, "progressivism," Marxism, fascism—i.e., collectivism of any variant—all begin with the unexplained presence of wealth in the world; those who actually created it are causally irrelevant. After all, if "the" wealth is here causelessly, then those who have acquired a lot of it must be takers, not makers.
Morally, so-called "social justice" represents a negation of justice plain and simple. More fundamentally, it constitutes a war on causality. It is an effort to seize effects (goods and wealth) while denying their cause (individual producers). Of course, it never occurs to "redistributors" that when you do that, you remove all incentive for those unacknowledged producers to continue producing—and that you will create a society with an overall shrinking "pie" of wealth. In short: a society such as the one we are experiencing today.
But to those mired in this Narrative, facts do not matter. Real-world consequences to real people do not matter. The only thing that matters is affirming, advancing, and protecting the Narrative.
Now, it was understandable that our primitive ancestors would accept a zero-sum, tribal Narrative about wealth. In their hunter-gatherer world, basic needs were filled mainly by scavenging from nature, not by producing goods. Facing myriad threats, vulnerable individuals grouped together in tribes as a matter of survival. Threats also came from other tribes, which were competing for access to the same natural resources. It was a brutal, zero-sum world of privation, of a limited "pie" of wealth—fostering an ethos of kill or be killed, eat or be eaten.
It was not until the Agricultural Revolution that men began to break free of the zero-sum existence of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. For the first time, production allowed men to increase the food supply—to expand the size of the "pie." No longer did one person's gain entail another person's deprivation. With the gradual increase of production under a division of labor, and with free trade among those producing specialized goods, the "pie" of wealth began to grow rapidly. With the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, living standards, which had remained at subsistence levels since the dawn of man's presence on Earth, suddenly began to soar, and so did life expectancy.
But while the zero-sum social world was disappearing, the zero-sum Narrative did not vanish from the minds of men. People still tried to fit the events and changes around them into a familiar explanatory matrix, and to populate the morality play in their heads with new casts of heroes and villains. As centuries passed, tribalism morphed into feudalism, then nationalism, then various forms of ideological collectivism: socialism, communism, fascism, racism, Nazism, not to mention collectivism's religious-based variants. Whatever their differences, all still clung to the basic plot of the story: of a brute conflict among individuals and classes for limited wealth in a zero-sum world, and of the need for the tribe to suppress individual greed, for the common good.
Capitalism—which rests on individual productivity and voluntary, "win-win" trading—clashed with the zero-sum, "win-lose" Narrative in every key respect. Capitalism also represented a dire threat to those whose values, thinking, institutions, and lifestyles remained mired in the zero-sum morality tale. So, they tried to interpret capitalism and capitalists within the framework of that Narrative. Not grasping that wealth made by production and trade did not come at someone else's expense, they bitterly clung to the notion that wealthy entrepreneurs must be like the ruthless "robber barons" of the feudal period, and that having wealth was in itself proof of grand-scale theft from the tribe—a worldview summarized by 19th Century muckraker Henry Demarest Lloyd in the title of his book Wealth Against Commonwealth.
And so it remains, even now. Despite the fact that the capitalist system of individual freedom, private property, and free trade has led to the greatest explosion and broadest distribution of wealth in history, it clashes with the interpretive story that gives many people a profound sense of meaning and worth, and with the multitude of social institutions in which that worldview is deeply embedded.
In this, the Twenty-First Century, it is ironic that a Narrative drawn from mankind's primitive, brutal, tribal past is labeled "progressive."
And it is a sad commentary on the current state of philosophy and politics that individuals who bitterly cling to this childish, atavistic Narrative occupy editorial offices of our major newspapers, positions of leadership in our cultural institutions, and, of all places, the Oval Office of the White House.
That this election race is even close is appalling. An abundance of dismal facts and ominous economic statistics ought to weigh decisively in voters’ minds against rehiring Barack Obama. But the Romney campaign, for the most part, simply recites and repeats those facts and statistics as if they “speak for themselves.”
However, facts never speak for themselves. Facts always must be put into some context—some interpretive framework.
Team Romney has amassed—and in my opinion, has been squandering—millions of advertising dollars hammering away at the terrible economic statistics…statistics that every voter already knows. Meanwhile, Team Obama has been spending its money telling a story about those statistics, providing voters a matrix for interpreting them. In this competition, the supposed Romney cash advantage over Obama is irrelevant. As pollsters Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen warned Team Romney a few weeks ago, “Message beats money every time.”
The 2012 election ought to offer a clear choice between two campaign Narratives. But for too long, Team Romney has abdicated on the responsibility of presenting its own Narrative, and passively let itself play the villain role in Team Obama's Narrative.
The Democrats were first to “position” Romney’s image with swing voters, by advancing a fabricated-but-toxic personal Narrative about the candidate—and by tying him to a broader-but-equally-toxic philosophical Narrative about the Republican Party. A Reader’s Digest–style condensation of that storyline would go something like this:
Barack Obama is not responsible for today’s horrible state of affairs. The Republicans, led by George W. Bush, created the terrible economy that's making you suffer. You are poor because the Greedy Rich, which the GOP champions, are stealing from you by not paying their "fair share" of taxes and by outsourcing your jobs to China. And Mitt Romney is the poster boy for all of this evil: He’s a cold-blooded rich guy whose Bain Capital outsourced jobs, and who thus made obscene wealth at your expense. We must repudiate Romney and his greedy Republicans, and compel the thieving rich to pay their “fair share”—by re-electing Barack Obama and endorsing his policies of “fairness.”There is the leftist “social justice” morality play, complete with heroes and villains—a philosophical Narrative also tied to personal Narratives about Romney and Obama. Of course it is a ludicrous distortion of reality. But thanks to the default of the Republicans, it has been the only explanatory Narrative out there for voters to consider.
Month after month, the Democrats unleashed an unending barrage of attacks on Romney’s personal character, on his days at Bain Capital, on insinuations of tax-avoidance and secret off-shore accounts. The aim was to paint a portrait of a rich swell who made money off the suffering of Little People—a callous, greedy, rapacious bastard without a hint of compassion.
The smears have largely worked, because of how deeply ingrained the zero-sum mindset has become. It provides millions with a simplistic explanation of the world. Those who hold that outlook, especially those ideologues who purvey it, cannot conceive of "win-win" economic relationships. The plot structure of their economic Narrative demands that each cast member play an assigned role either as rapacious villain or exploited victim. Independent creators? Peaceful traders? They are not part of the class-conflict morality play.
And in response to all of these smears, the Romney camp did…exactly nothing. One year ago, most Americans knew little if anything of Mitt Romney; in their minds, he was an empty suit. Yet Team Romney sat idly by as the Democrats filled that suit with the image of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Sadly, the Romney camp still has not responded aggressively to this Narrative with one of its own. The zero-sum Narrative has been allowed to dominate the national conversation, unchallenged. And in the absence of a counter-Narrative, it continues to win by default. That is because you can't beat something, even a childishly absurd "something," with nothing.
Now, ask yourself the following: Do you think the typical voter has any clue what Bain Capital is and actually does? Has Team Romney ever made an effort to explain it? Or has it tried instead to avoid—evade—any mention of Romney’s private investment company, thus lending credence to the suspicion that he has something to hide?
Yes, Team Romney has facts, events, and logic on its side. Team Obama, by contrast, has only a campaign Narrative: a scary personal Narrative that it concocted about Mitt Romney and his past, wedded to a broader philosophical Narrative that blames all our current woes on past Republican ideas and policies. And in the battle between Republican purveyors of facts, and Democrat purveyors of a Narrative, the storytellers have been winning.
What Team Romney should and must do is better articulate an optimistic, modern counter-Narrative that is rooted in our nation's unique values: the Narrative of American Individualism.
In this Narrative, prosperity comes, not as "fair shares" doled out from a zero-sum, collective tribal pot, but from individual creativity. The American individualist Narrative is one of personal productivity and free trade. It is an inspirational Narrative of private economic growth and expansion. It is an aspirational Narrative of seeking opportunity—not subsistence. It is a harmonious Narrative of peaceful, voluntary, win-win market exchanges—not of ruthless gang warfare over fixed chunks of wealth. It is an uplifting Narrative filled with the names of heroes: of Edison, Eli Whitney, James J. Hill, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Wright Brothers, and all the great inventors and achievers of today's Information Age.
Team Romney has yet to clearly articulate this vision, or to paint the alternatives in stark terms that will be clear to voters. To do that, they must challenge the basic premises that lie at the root of Team Obama's own Narrative: its primitivism, its tribalism, its zero-sum view of wealth-creation-and-distribution, and its ugly assumption of inherent, irreconcilable conflicts of interest among people fighting among themselves for subsistence shares from a limited store of wealth.
In addition, they must tie a personal Narrative about Mitt Romney to the philosophic Narrative. Ads and personal appearances should celebrate his life and his career at Bain Capital as an American success story. He must publicly, proudly declare that he has earned every penny of his wealth, through hard work and fair dealing—that Bain Capital succeeded by spreading success, not by exploiting and destroying others—and that unlike Barack Obama, all of his investments and charitable works have been done with his own money, not the taxpayers'.
This proud repudiation of guilt for his own wealth would completely deflate Team Obama's toxic personal Narrative about him. And without that Narrative—or the broader zero-sum, tribalist Narrative on which it rests—Obama would have absolutely nothing to say.
Properly articulated, the positive, upbeat Narrative of American Individualism could inspire voters to reject, decisively and perhaps permanently, the Narrative of Zero-Sum Progressivism. Consider: Voters consistently tell pollsters that they regard themselves as "conservative" over "liberal" by a two-to-one margin. Affirming the individualistic inclinations of the electorate, recent polling by Rasmussen confirms that only 31 percent of voters think the government should help troubled mortgage-holders; that only 20 percent of American adults believe it is possible for targeted government programs to help the housing market; that an overwhelming 64 percent of adults think there are too many Americans dependent on the government for financial aid; and that a whopping 83 percent favor a work requirement as a condition for receiving welfare aid.
Does that seem like an electorate philosophically primed or personally motivated to endorse the progressive, zero-sum Narrative and to rehire Barack Hussein Obama? Or rather, does it seem like an electorate ready for the inspirational appeal of a philosophical and personal Narrative rooted in American Individualism?
This election should not be merely a clash of politicians, but of basic cultural Narratives. For hundreds of centuries, the Zero-Sum, Tribalist Narrative gripped people in privation, conflict, and tyranny. It is the Narrative of primitivism and the past. By contrast, within the course of little more than two hundred years, the American Individualist Narrative established the greatest, freest, wealthiest nation in the history of the world. It is the Narrative of modernism and of the future.
We should, and we must, decide whether our country's future should be shaped by a Narrative appropriate to the centuries ahead, or by one from the darkest days of centuries past. That is what should be debated during the final month of the 2012 election campaign.
Now, it is up to Mitt Romney to seize this historic opportunity.
For some background and previous thoughts on this topic, see my earlier essays, "The Narratives That Guide Our Lives" and "A Meditation on the Progressive Narrative."
UPDATE: This essay proved sadly prescient, as Team Romney failed in every respect to grasp the importance of the "Narrative" issue, and thus sank to resounding defeat in an election that could have been won. On November 11, 2012, little more than a month after I wrote the preceding, Greg Sargent of The Washington Post published an extraordinary article, "The Secret to Barack Obama's Survival." It confirms, in stunning detail, how explicitly Team Obama crafted precisely the "Narratives" I described above. For those who think I am misguided in my theory, or exaggerating the power of Narratives, Sargent's article will prove eye-opening.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
You can listen to a five-minute sample of the story on each of these sites -- the scene where Annie Woods meets Dylan Hunter for the first time.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Armstrong's subsequent refusal to hog the public limelight -- his withdrawal into a completely private life, because he didn't want to take exclusive credit for an achievement that he felt (rightly) was the product of many brilliant, dedicated, unsung individuals -- is one of the things that, in my mind, most marks him as a hero. And certainly, as an individualist.
His post-Apollo career -- in which he repelled every offer to exploit his status for glory or money -- is completely opposite the typical course followed by the vacuous instant "celebrities" of our morally bankrupt Reality TV era. His life, to the contrary, was the triumph of private substance over public "celebrity." He simply refused to sacrifice a personal life and its independence to become some sort of collective "role model."
Armstrong had begun his career as an engineer's engineer, as a brave test pilot -- a man for whom the substantive rewards of conquering Nature were infinitely greater than the illusory rewards of conquering Society. He later became a teacher and a businessman. All of these were the professions of someone whose focus was on the facts of reality -- not winning the approval and adulation of others.
Neil Armstrong's greatness was not that he was the first to make that "one small step for a man" that became such "a giant leap for mankind." His real greatness is that he grasped, at the core of his being, what it was to be a man.
And in that unsung role, as one commentator just put it, his passing is truly "one giant loss for mankind."
Friday, July 20, 2012
EXECUTIVE ORDER #3,425,786
FROM: THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
Given the principles I enunciated in Raleigh, NC, I hereby issue this executive order compelling you to add two hours of closing credits to all future films.
[signed] BARACK OBAMA
President of the United States
[Handwritten message by the President to his personal secretary:]
Anita: Plz send following memo, my private stationery, to Academy Awards show producers:
"Guys, you're gonna have to allow enough show time for MUCH longer 'thank-you' speeches. In future, figure on two-week Oscar TV show, minimum." -- s/ Barack
Also, dash off reminder memo, again my private letterhead, to my Hollywood filmmaker friends (use Clooney's distribution list):
"You didn't produce and direct that." -- s/ Barack
Thursday, June 28, 2012
This is especially true when considered in the wake of the Court's much earlier 5-4 "Kelo" decision, which permits local governments to claim "eminent domain" as an excuse to seize private property from some individuals and transfer it to other private individuals (political cronies).
If the U.S. Constitution can be construed so as to permit government to force you -- under penalty of law -- to buy designated products from crony-capitalist companies, or allow it to simply take your private property and hand it over to politically connected cronies, then the Bill of Rights is a dead letter. Any way you cut it, today's ruling affirms the premise of collectivism over the rights of individuals. In essence, it says that the government, through legislatures, is in principle unconstrained in its power over the individual.
That this latest ruling was made possible only with the complicity of a pragmatic judicial "conservative," Chief Justice John Roberts, only underscores the philosophical chaos reigning in the nation today. It is so symbolic that the Court's left was united in their support of the mandate, but that the conservatives were philosophically fractured: That, in a microcosm, has been the case throughout our modern political history, which is why we see steady, inexorable triumphs by the political left.
I said before this morning's decision that the Court was likely to "split the difference" between conservatives and liberals in their decision. I was too optimistic: This decision was a complete surrender to the united far left of Court. The reason is this: Conservatism has never been a coherent political philosophy, rooted in a defined, consistent set of principles. There are as many varieties of "conservatives" as there are vegetables in a supermarket. Without any definite grounding in specific principles, conservatives in practice typically wind up compromising and "splitting the difference" with the left...which is committed to a specific principle: to the subordination of the individual to the state. Statism is the uncompromising principle of the left; statism is the principle underlying the "individual mandate"; and statism is the principle which Chief Justice Roberts joined the Court's liberals in championing today. (See my award-winning essay "Up from Conservatism.")
The only thing that could have spared America this sorry day would have been a commitment by a Court majority to the premise of individual rights: to the view that individuals are ends in themselves -- not mere means to the ends of some tribal collective, ends imposed by the brute power of the state. That was the Enlightenment view held by our nation's Founders, and by the Framers of the Constitution, who intended that document to be a barrier to the unlimited exercise of power by the state over individuals. Well, that view, and that document, have been obliterated today.
Do we still have liberties that we can exercise? Yes, in many respects, but only by sufferance of our rulers and by the accidents of the political process -- and no longer by legal right. The only thing that we can do now is to fight endless political and legislative battles for supremacy over the statists, but unsupported by the legal framework and precedents bequeathed to us by our forefathers.
We can begin those battles in earnest this November.
UPDATE. After having a day to peruse many commentaries about the decision, I wanted to add this about the legal travesty that just occurred.
During the legislative debate, Obama and the Dems explicitly denied that the individual mandate penalty in Obamacare was a "tax." They always referred to it as a "penalty" and a "fine." They knew that, politically, passing a giant "tax" on the middle class would be suicidal. And in fact, they never used that term anywhere in the bill.
Moreover, on the first day of oral arguments before the Supreme Court, the government lawyer, the Solicitor General, also denied that it was "a tax" under the Commerce Clause. Why? Because on legal grounds, if it was a tax under the Commerce Clause, it would run afoul of another federal law: the Anti-Injunction Act. That Act would render such a tax illegal, and therefore, Obamacare would have to be rejected as unconstitutional.
But...on the second day of the hearing, the government was also permitted to argue that it was "a tax" -- under the "taxing power" clause of the Constitution. In other words, the government was allowed to argue, simultaneously, that the "fine" was not a tax, but also that it was a tax!
In his Supreme Court opinion, Chief Justice Roberts discarded all those facts. Even though the Congress that passed Obamacare had explicitly, repeatedly denied that the fine was "a tax," and Obama (who signed it) explicitly, repeatedly denied it was a tax, Roberts arbitrarily seized upon the cynical last-minute argument from a government lawyer that it was a "tax" in order to rule that Obamacare's individual mandate was permitted under the Constitution.
Here is what Roberts actually wrote: "Under [my] theory, the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance. Rather, it makes going without insurance just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income."
That the federal government could tax inactivity?
This is the same John Roberts who -- earlier in his same opinion -- wrote: "The Framers gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it, and for over 200 years both our decisions and Congress's actions have reflected this understanding."
So, like the government attorneys, Roberts also was arguing out of both sides of his pen. He argues that government has no power to "compel " commerce with a "fine"; yet a few pages later, he says the government has the power to do exactly that: force people to engage in "commerce" (buy insurance) or else be hit with a whopping fine (which he arbitrarily calls a "tax").
This was a breathtaking, completely unjustified, fraudulent stretch of law and logic that nobody anticipated. And Roberts's "reasoning" incensed the four dissenting Justices, as a potent Wall Street Journal editorial points out:
In their brutal (and, in a rarity, jointly signed) dissent, Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito write that the Chief Justice's logic "is not to interpret the statute but to rewrite it.... One would expect this Court to demand more than fly-by-night briefing and argument before deciding a difficult constitutional question of first impression." They score the Chief Justice for carrying 'verbal wizardry too far, deep into the forbidden land of the sophists."
In other words, as Rush Limbaugh put it, "the whole thing is a fraud." Trickery was used at every turn to push Obamacare through Congress; fraud was now used to uphold it in the Supreme Court.
And no less a figure than the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has made the fraud possible.
The U.S. Constitution has been left in tatters. In Limbaugh's term, no longer is there a legal "backstop" to protect individual rights. If courts can simply invent, out of cloth, language and arguments that don't even appear in the laws they are adjudicating, and if those laws can swipe and transfer property, or compel you to buy government-mandated products, with no legal recourse or Bill of Rights protections, then the Constitution is -- just as I said -- truly a dead letter as a limitation on governmental power over the individual.
UPDATE #2: Chief Justice Roberts actually was AGAINST the individual mandate before he was FOR it, according to reporting by CBS. Along the way, he changed his mind, sources tell CBS, because he was worried about "public opinion" -- meaning: what politicians and the media would think of him and the Court. Read this and weep. Specifically, this is truly sickening:
"Over the next six weeks, as Roberts began to craft the decision striking down the mandate, the external pressure began to grow. Roberts almost certainly was aware of it.
"Some of the conservatives, such as Justice Clarence Thomas, deliberately avoid news articles on the Court when issues are pending (and avoid some publications altogether, such as The New York Times). They’ve explained that they don’t want to be influenced by outside opinion or feel pressure from outlets that are perceived as liberal.
"But Roberts pays attention to media coverage. As Chief Justice, he is keenly aware of his leadership role on the Court, and he also is sensitive to how the Court is perceived by the public.
"There were countless news articles in May warning of damage to the Court – and to Roberts’ reputation – if the Court were to strike down the mandate. Leading politicians, including the President himself, had expressed confidence the mandate would be upheld.
"Some even suggested that if Roberts struck down the mandate, it would prove he had been deceitful during his confirmation hearings, when he explained a philosophy of judicial restraint.
"It was around this time that it also became clear to the conservative justices that Roberts was, as one put it, “wobbly,” the sources said.
"It is not known why Roberts changed his view on the mandate and decided to uphold the law. At least one conservative justice tried to get him to explain it, but was unsatisfied with the response, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation....
"Roberts then engaged in his own lobbying effort – trying to persuade at least Justice Kennedy to join his decision so the Court would appear more united in the case. There was a fair amount of give-and-take with Kennedy and other justices, the sources said. One justice, a source said, described it as 'arm-twisting'....
"The fact that the joint dissent [by the conservative Justices] doesn’t mention Roberts’ majority [opinion] was not a sign of sloppiness, the sources said, but instead was a signal the conservatives no longer wished to engage in debate with him."
Folks, what Roberts did is the complete antithesis of the rule of law -- the premise that we should be a nation "of laws, not of men." The "absolute" governing his ruling was not his oath of office "to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," but public opinion.
But if public opinion is to govern the nation without limit, then why bother having a Constitution or a Supreme Court at all? In pandering to public opinion, Roberts achieved precisely the opposite of his apparent goal: He has delegitimized the reputation of the Supreme Court.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Critics have said that. So, I'd like to address their claim that America is unjustly over-incarcerating legions of minor offenders, and even many actually innocent people. Are we truly "overly punitive" and "over-incarcerating"? Is it therefore true that we could safely release thousands of inmates, thereby saving millions or even billions of taxpayer dollars on unnecessary prison cells?
I took on the belief that huge numbers of people are in prison unjustly in my nonfiction book Criminal Justice: The Legal System vs. Individual Responsibility. Leaving aside, for the moment, the much-smaller federal prison system (where there are indeed a higher proportion of prisoners serving sentences for "crimes" that shouldn't exist), state prisons are quite another matter. The "Excuse-Making Industry" that I exposed in that book has played numerous games with definitions of crimes. One of their games is to define "the inmate" based solely on the current offense for which he is imprisoned -- ignoring the rest of his criminal history, and even other current crimes for which he may be serving concurrent or lesser sentences.
For example, under reigning definitions, "non-violent" or "first-time offenders" behind bars include many individuals who have been arrested in the past but not convicted for violent crimes, solely because plea bargaining minimized the charges against them -- or because records of serious juvenile crimes have been sealed or even expunged -- or because they received a "diversionary" sentence rather than a prior term of incarceration. "Non-violent prisoners" also include individuals whose past incarcerations include crimes of violence, but whose current incarceration may be for a property or drug crime. Similarly, "drug offenders" may be inmates whose past records include property and violent crimes, but whose current offense is for drugs. Likewise, some inmates later found to be innocent (say, via DNA testing) of their current conviction offense have criminal histories for other crimes; yet when released, they are portrayed as wholly "innocent" people. Etc.
By such deviously selective definitions, Excuse-Makers paint a picture of prison cells crammed with thousands of unjustly incarcerated choir boys -- claims that the liberal media are only too willing to echo.
In truth, it's actually very hard to get into prison in these days of "alternatives to incarceration." Usually, you have to be a chronic criminal, arrested many times, and be stupid enough to get caught a lot, so that the judges get tired of seeing you in their courtrooms and finally lock you up. Or you must commit a particularly serious crime. Most convicted criminals are, in fact, serving their terms under "community supervision."
In 2010, the latest year for which statistics have been published, "about 7 in 10 persons under the supervision of adult correctional systems were supervised in the community (4,887,900) on probation or parole at yearend 2010, while about 3 in 10 were incarcerated (2,266,800) in local jails or in the custody of state or federal prisons." In other words, the overwhelming majority of convicted adult criminals -- nearly five million -- are being "managed" on the streets, not behind bars.
In the early 1990s, when I was deeply involved in researching crime, the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics provided a host of eye-opening reports about the exact composition of the inmate populations. But as the gods of Political Correctness have taken over the federal government, those stats are now hard to come by, while today the BJS is compelled to collect data on such leftist hobby-horse issues as racial composition of the inmate population, and incidents of rapes and HIV in prison. Still, by diligent digging, you can find at least some interesting data.
From the BJS document "Prisoners in 2010": "In 2009, the most recent data available, 53% of state prison inmates were serving time for violent offenses, 19% for property, 18% for drug, and 9% for public order offenses." In other words, only about 1/5th of state prisoners are behind bars for a current conviction offense that is drug-related. Appendices 16a, 16b, 17a, and 17b give some idea of the composition of state prisons by current conviction offense. But again, this does not mean, for example, that those currently convicted of drug crimes may not also have serious property or violent crimes on their records.
And even if we assume that all drug and many "public order" offenders could be safely released, and thus reduce the need for so many prisons and prison beds, the document "Probation and Parole in the United States, 2010" ought to put that fantasy to rest. Check out Appendix Table 10 on p. 38, a chart of "Adults on Probation, By Most Serious Offense, 2010." You'll find that 447,000 individuals convicted of violent crimes, plus 669,000 property criminals, are free on probation (an alternative to incarceration) -- in other words, well over a million criminals. And to that whopping total you also can add parolees (inmates released early from their prison terms): Check Appendix Table 20 on p. 48, and you'll find an additional 200,000-plus violent criminals and 185,000 property criminals.
In sum, about 1.5 million violent or property criminals are being "managed" on our streets by hopelessly overburdened parole and probation officers who can't possibly keep track of them or their activities. We could release all of the 300,000 or so state and federal drug criminals from prison, and immediately refill all their cells from the legions of convicted violent and property criminals now under "community supervision," and still need over a million additional new cells to house the rest.
And what do these convicts do when they are released back onto our streets? BJS statisticians, tasked with compiling data for their liberal masters, haven't released a fresh study of criminal recidivism (i.e., return to crime) in a long time. But the data they publish on their website are chilling:
* Of the 272,111 persons released from prisons in 15 states in 1994, an estimated 67.5% were rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years, 46.9% were reconvicted, and 25.4% resentenced to prison for a new crime.
* These offenders had accumulated 4.1 million arrest charges before their most recent imprisonment and another 744,000 charges within 3 years of release.
* Released prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74.0%), larcenists (74.6%), motor vehicle thieves (78.8%), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4%), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70.2%).
* Within 3 years, 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide.
Is this evidence that our biggest criminal-justice problem is the "unjust" incarceration of multitudes of "minor offenders"?
So, why are so many dangerous individuals are being "managed" on the streets, rather than behind bars. In 2005, I wrote a two-part piece about the "Excuse-Making Industry" of criminal advocates, many of whom also double as "sentencing consultants." Part I is archived here; and Part II is here. It shows how and why "progressive" advocates of "social justice," who have manipulated definitions and distorted statistics pertaining to economics, have done the same thing with statistics concerning crime and punishment.
Their portrait of an overly punitive justice system is an ideologically driven and financially self-serving fantasy, whose widespread acceptance has led frequently to tragic and horrifying consequences. That was the deadly reality that I meticulously exposed in Criminal Justice? and then dramatized in HUNTER.
Saturday, March 31, 2012
But why? Why did so many liberal/progressive scholars and media denizens arrogantly assume that ObamaCare would be ratified by the Supreme Court in a "slam dunk"? Why were they so stunned to hear potent counter-arguments emerging from the justices? One commentator offers this:
What can explain liberals’ widespread failure to anticipate the Court’s wariness of the mandate? Research conducted by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests one possible answer: Liberals just aren’t as good as conservatives and libertarians at understanding how their opponents think. Haidt helped conduct research that asked respondents to fill out questionnaires about political narratives [emphasis added]—first responding based on their own beliefs, but then responding as if trying to mimic the beliefs of their political opponents. "The results," he writes in the May issue of Reason, "were clear and consistent." Moderates and conservatives were the most able to think like their liberal political opponents. "Liberals," he reports, "were the least accurate, especially those who describe themselves as 'very liberal.'"
The article is well worth reading in its entirety, because it shows how liberals view everything through the filter of politics--and now assume, based on their political Narrative, that the Supreme Court's opposition to the individual mandate is nothing more than "partisan politics." In fact, though, that charge is nothing more than psychological projection. Commenting on this reaction by the left, some have opined that liberals just don't seem wedded to simple logic. That is true, but it doesn't go far enough in explaining the liberal mindset.
As subjectivists, liberals do not believe in the objective reality that is the basis of logic. To subjectivists, logic (like everything else) is merely an arbitrary social convention. That same subjectivism is the root of their multiculturalism (no culture or society is better than any other), of their moral relativism (there's no objective basis for ethics, so "do your own thing"), and, in this instance, of their doctrine of "the living Constitution" (a document that is as elastic and flexible as their own whims).
But if everything is mere subjective opinion, and opinions clash, then logical persuasion is without merit as a means of resolving disputes -- and the only thing left that can decide disputes is force. Hence, the liberals' view that everything in society consists of "conflicts of interest" and "power relationships"; hence, their quest for unlimited power to dominate, rule, and control others; and hence, their efforts to transform everything that we are, have, or do into a political issue: into a matter to be decided by wielding coercive political power over others.
But why should they, the liberals, be the ones wielding that power?
That's where their "Narrative" comes in. The liberal Narrative is rooted not in the logical, but the psychological. In their morality play, they have cast themselves as "progressives" -- as the smartest, most educated, most culturally sophisticated, most sensitive, most enlightened people on the planet, in contrast with the vast, crude masses of rubes, idiots, bigots, and know-nothings (i.e., the rest of us). The liberals' motive in holding and advancing this Narrative is the indispensable role that it plays in inflating their egos and self-regard. In their self-flattering psychodrama, they cast themselves as the Ruling Class, the social elite that -- by virtue of intellectual, moral, and esthetic superiority -- is entitled to lord it over their inferiors (i.e., the rest of society).
If you want a clear glimpse of the self-congratulatory "progressive" worldview, try to dig up a copy of the old H.G. Wells film "Things to Come." Wells was a socialist, and in his dystopian, sci-fi fantasy, he imagined a benevolent technocratic elite taking over a world that had descended into tribes of savages. Now, there's a lot I like about the film on a metaphysical level: Its no-limits view of human potential reminded me of "Star Trek" ("to boldly go where no man has gone before"). But its view of society is unadulterated "progressive" arrogance: A small, educated in-group of sophisticated geniuses takes total political power, becoming a new Ruling Class to civilize the savage masses...for their own good.
That's the essence of the liberal/progressive Narrative. And philosophical subjectivism allows them to use any means they wish to achieve that total power over the rest of us "savages."
If you now take all of this and apply it to the ObamaCare debate before the Supreme Court, you'll understand at once what was going on, and why the left is so shocked and indignant over the skeptical questioning by the justices. Their legal subjectivism was being challenged, at root. The justices were asking them what "limiting principle" existed upon the power they wish to assume over private economic relationships, and they couldn't answer because they don't have one, or believe that one should exist. Their arguments were transparent sophistry, attempts to provide legalistic excuses to grant them UNlimited power over the lives of the savages. That they should be required to justify this quest clashed with their entire Narrative, and the subjectivism that rationalizes it.
And so how do they respond? Only as they can, through their Narrative filter: Since to them, everything is a "political power relationship," they could only besmirch the alleged political motives of the skeptical justices as being "partisan" and "pro-Republican." This, to the liberal, is a necessary substitute for an argument based on the merits -- on facts and logic -- because the latter don't count in their subjective universe, except as tools of political manipulation.
There are broader, pessimistic conclusions to be drawn here, for example, about the possibility of persuading people wedded to the progressive/subjective Narrative, or about how we ought to engage and fight them. I've argued in my previous essay here on "The Narratives That Guide Our Lives" that the best approach is to advance a compelling counter-narrative. But what that is, and how it might be advanced, are topics for future development and discussion.