Civilization is Worth It

The New Criterion, which I have touted before on this site, is an excellent, conservative publication dedicated to the arts and culture in all their forms.  I picked up a subscription (since lapsed, sadly) a couple of years ago at a deep discount, and enjoyed its strong, engaging writing immensely.  I don’t know anything about—nor have I ever seen—an opera, but the critics at New Criterion make me want to attend one.

One great resource at New Criterion is their “Media” page, which includes all of their audio articles.  These are articles read aloud by professional readers, and they make for wonderful listening while you’re going about your day, from painting walls to picking through the soggy remnants of your life.

Monday evening, New Criterion posted an audio article written by the publication’s editors.  It’s title:  “Is Civilization Overrated“?  Their conclusion, by way of reductio ad absurdum, is that, no, it isn’t, but I highly recommend you give it a listen; there’s a lot of John-Jacques Rousseau bashing, as the piece explores the destructive philosopher’s impish assertion that we were all better off foraging for berries and getting killed by saber-toothed tigers.

That question, though—is civiliation “overrated” or “worth it”—is an interesting one nonetheless.  I suspect that most everyone would say, “Well, sure,” and not give it much more thought.  But the contra argument is, at least fleetingly, interesting.  It’s also highly instructive of the thought-process of the modern Left.

I occasionally adjunct teach at a local technical college, and some years ago I had the opportunity to teach the first portion of Western Civilization survey course.  That course, naturally, started with a quick overview of prehistoric times and people in the Near East, and what pre-agricultural societies were probably like.  We then looked at the Neolithic Revolution and the rise of settled or semi-nomadic agriculture.

It was at this point that I caught a subtle but distinctive bit of the “civilization-isn’t-worth-it” mindset.  The textbook—which, sadly, I cannot quote from directly because flooding displaced me from my humble, scholarly bungalow—featured a section that went something like this:  with the advent of agriculture and settled societies came social hierarchies (true); that increase inequality (true enough, but the book makes it seem like an inherently negative development), including inequality between genders (that probably existed before agriculture); and settled agriculture began environmental degradation (again, probably true, but it also meant more human lives entering the world).

The whole passage—which I will have to quote at length when I have the book back in my possession—heavily insinuates that civilization was a raw deal; that the whole thing was a sham to bamboozle the weak into following the strong; and that men and women somehow existed in a mythical state of equality that would make the most strident radical feminist cry tears of pure Subaru Outback engine oil.

This mindset, I suspect, pervades a chunk of the modern Left, who un-ironically decry global warming (or is it cooling, or climate change?) while jetting around in gas-guzzling private jets to climate conferences.  There’s a certain naturalistic fallacy at play that is highly seductive, but ultimately facile.

I remember a conversation with my father when I was maybe seventeen, an age full of angsty brooding and doughy fatness.  I basically said, “Dad, I feel like I shouldn’t have to worry about trigonometric functions, and instead should let those motivated to solve them do it while I live in a state of naturalistic ecstasy” (okay, that wasn’t verbatim what I said, but you get the gist of it).  At seventeen, such an idea is seductive, and largely reality—someone else is bringing in the money while you play Civilization II instead of doing your math homework—but you grow out of it.

Except, apparently, for academics, the only folks educated enough to believe in fifty-three different genders and that “democratic” socialism works.  I (thankfully) grew out of my whining, which was really just an elaborate scheme to avoid doing any actual work myself—which might be the motivating factor behind Leftism after all.

Regardless, civilization seems imminently worth it.  Just ask anyone who has ever had a loved one saved through the miraculous technology of modern medicine.  Consider, too, that you’re probably reading this piece while streaming music from your phone, checking the weather, and eating a breakfast you didn’t have to kill with your bare hands after running it down for eight hours.

Are you wearing glasses right now?  At one point, you probably would have been left in the cold to die—your weakness was too costly for the rest of the tribe.  Do you have weird, probably made-up gluten allergies?  Well… maybe you would have been okay in a pre-agricultural age, but they still should have shunned you.

Ultimately, I’d much rather live in a world that produced J.S. Bach than a Stone Age pit full of atonal grunting.  It says something about the state of our civilization that the atonal grunts are back in vogue.

Hyper-dependence on technology is not without its pitfalls, and we should work to improve civilization to work more efficiently and to put humanity first (only after God), but a base reversion to an anarchic, Rousseauian “state of nature” is a fool’s dream.  It would only result in more death and heartache.

So get out there and compose some sonatas.  Civilization is worth it!

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Deluge

My little bungalow—a 525-square foot cottage—flooded late Saturday night.  I was out of town visiting family; my landlords called and texted me during church Sunday morning to let me know.

As such, I spent Sunday afternoon making a grueling drive through torrential rainstorms back home, then spent the remainder of the evening picking through the soggy remains of my life.

This flooding is the second time; the first was during Hurricane Matthew.

All that being said, a normal post isn’t in the cards for today.  Hopefully we’ll get back on track Tuesday—and keep pushing to reverse the alleged “Blue Wave.”  My little place is expendable, as are most of my meager possessions—but a flood of Democrats into the House and Senate in November would be far more destructive.

See you Tuesday!

–TPP

Dissident Write

I possess the bad habit of reading constantly.  That might seem like a virtue—or a lame rhetorical device to get your attention—but it has developed into a minor problem.

My tendency towards bookishness doesn’t just limit itself to the classic “chubby-bespectacled-kid-reading-in-the-car” stereotype, although that’s true.  Ever since I got my first smartphone (a beautiful Lumia I picked up for $32.23 running the Windows Phone OS, well after Windows lost any kind of developer support) in 2016—I was very late to the game there—I can’t stop reading articles, op-eds, news stories, fiction, eBooks, and the like wherever I am.

That doesn’t make me particularly more intelligent (or interesting), but it has exposed me to some writers who are.  More specifically, I’ve come to learn of a number of writers and websites whose writings are provocative, engaging, daring, and fun.

So much of what we read and consume online and in print media is dull, predictable, and morally indignant.  There’s a great deal of lifeless writing and commentary, and it’s frustrating to read writers—on the Left and the Right—who fall into the same grooves.

The Left is full of examples, as they doctrinaire Leftists aren’t allowed to say anything outside of the fashionable-for-the-moment-until-we-condemn-it-in-a-few-years orthodoxy.  If one of them ever-so-slightly speaks out of turn, they’re kicked out of the club.

The ones that bother me the most are writers on the Right who have fallen into predictable patterns (the biggest offender that pops immediately to mind for me is National Review‘s David French, the most noodle-wristed combat veteran I’ve ever read; with all due and much-deserved respect to French’s heroism and service, he’s grown increasingly lame and ineffectual as a writer).  I understand writers have to carve out their niche, and that they shouldn’t violate their principles just to be different, but I want to see some gutsiness.

On that note, and in the spirit of my 2016 TPP Summer Reading List, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite writers, the ones that I clamor to read when I see they’ve written something new in my RSS feed (disclaimer:  I don’t agree with all of these writers’ conclusions—of course!—which should go without saying):

1.) Patrick J. Buchanan – Pat Buchanan was President Trump’s John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness at the dawn of a globalist era, warning of what was to come, and foretelling the coming of one greater than himself (please, don’t think I’m comparing Trump to Jesus; the metaphor breaks down at that point).  Buchanan was calling out the shortcomings of massive free-trade zones and the like since the early 1990s.  His book Death of the West is a must-read for every American—if you’re not worried about massive, unchecked immigration now, you will be after reading this prophetic tome.

Buchanan is more isolationist than I would be on foreign policy, but he brings an important perspective to the discussion of international relations.  Buchanan has colored, if not entirely changed, my views on tariffs, family policy, immigration reform, and foreign policy.

He’s nationally-syndicated and appears on a ton of websites, including Taki’s Magazine, the home of several writers on this list, such as…

2.) Jim Goad – Holy crap.  Talk about a gutsy, controversial, in-your-face writer.  After reading one of Goad’s acerbic pieces, you practically have to wash your brain with holy water.  But, damn, can he write.

Goad is the grandfather of modern dissident writers.  He cut his chops as an ultra-edgy zine publisher in the early 1990s, back when weirdos who couldn’t fit into mainstream society could publish bizarre stories and borderline-pornographic material and become part of a cool counterculture.

Goad doesn’t pull any punches—he wrote a whole book called The Redneck Manifesto—and I can’t do better than to recommend you read him for yourself.  Just make sure you’re not at work.

3.) Ann Coulter – I cut my l’il conservative teeth reading Ann Coulter, who was a hard-hitting conservative polemicist before it was cool.  She completely and unabashedly called the 2016 election with an audacious level of confidence.

Coulter catches a lot of flack because she’s a.) super conservative and b.) incredibly caustic.  Her writing is so satirical and witty, most Lefties often miss (or willfully misinterpret) her clear-as-a-bell message.  I once got into a minor Facebook dispute with an ultra-hip progressive musician (buy his music; he’s an amazing songwriter) who drew the conclusion that Coulter was racist, even though she was denouncing racism in the very paragraph he posted.  It was to no avail (but you really should buy his music).

Yes, she’s a bit prickly.  Yes, she gets carried away with her political endorsements sometimes (she’s publicly stated her regret for being an early fan of disgraced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—it’s okay, Ann, me, too).  But, like Goad, she doesn’t pull any punches, and she will take the conservative message into the lion’s den and back—fearlessly.

Coulter’s two chapters on the French Revolution in her book Demonic consist of one of the best overviews of the topic I’ve ever read.  Written in typically Coulter-ish style, she goes into macabre detail to illustrate how truly evil the French Revolution was.  There are many excellent scholarly works on the French Revolution, but few offer so much intense, damning clarity to the calamitous 1790s.

4.) Gavin McInnes – current CRTV host and Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes is my hero.  He’s single-handedly made traditional family values punk.  McInnes possesses a boyish, mischievous spirit that public schools and soy-rich diets have bred out of modern men.  His memoir, Death of Cool, had my sides splitting with every paragraph.  If you want to know how to live hard and survive, pick up a copy.

McInnes is the son of Scottish immigrants to Canada, and he grew up pretty much doing whatever he wanted in a poorly-supervised suburb of Toronto.  When his first child was born, he became a Christian—he’s Roman Catholic—when he saw her heel.  He asked, “How did that come about by accident?”  That was after a life of founding and losing several fortunes; sleeping—in graphically depraved ways, according to his telling—with what seems to be hundreds of women; taking lots of drugs; and fronting several popular Canadian punk bands.

And everyone says conservatives are boring old white dudes.

I don’t know if McInnes is writing now that he’s with CRTV, but you can find his archives on Taki’s Magazine.

5.) Christopher DeGroot – Rounding out our list is Christopher DeGroot, another regular at Taki’s Magazine.  I don’t know much about DeGroot’s background, but he’s one of the best writers on issues of gender relationships out there.  There’s a whole “manosphere” dedicated to promoting and discussing ideas of traditional masculinity, but a great deal of that world is dominated by pick-up artists (PUAs) and sex addicts—and even racists (real ones, not just normal conservatives who get called racist because we want people to have less government intrusion into their lives).

DeGroot is a wordy, philosophically-minded writer, and you can tell he thinks deeply about everything he pens.  Most contributors to Taki’s write—I would guess—around 700-800-word essays, maybe hitting 1000-1200 now and then.  I’m pretty sure everything DeGroot has written is at least 1200-1500 words.  Talk about getting more bang for your buck.

Again, all I can do is recommend you check him out.

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That finishes up this list.  It’s certainly not exhaustive—I will have to do a “Part II” at some point—but it’s a good, quick look at who I’m reading on a daily or weekly basis.

One parting warning:  I’m not responsible for blown minds from reading the works of the above writers.  Draw your own conclusions, and share your favorite writers—non-fiction, fiction, poetry, etc.—below!

TBT: There is No General Will

Yesterday’s post about the Electoral College—and why the American constitutional system generally eschews raw majoritarianism at the national level—reminded me of an essay I wrote in 2016 about Rousseau’s idea of the “general will.”  It was probably the least popular post of the summer, but it highlights the dangers of succumbing to “mob rule,” a system of radical egalitarian democracy that inevitably results in tyranny and violence.

It was Rousseau’s notion of the general will—and the idea that “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains“; therefore, men must be forced to be free—that unleashed the horrors of the French Revolution and, by extension, the destructive, totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century.

The essential idea behind Rousseau’s political philosophy is that, in the absence of social constraints, man would be inherently noble—the “noble savage” idea.  As such, society exists as a way to keep the elites ensconced in power.  Whereas Lockean empiricists (that’s pretty much all Americans in the Anglo-American philosophical tradition) argue that property rights are necessary to protect the weak from the strong, and that human nature is inclined toward sinfulness (especially in the absence of law and order), Rousseauean idealists argued that property rights oppress the weak for the benefit of the strong.

Therefore, society needs to be tweaked—legally, socially, culturally, economically, etc.—until the desired outcomes are achieved.  Naturally, the “desired outcomes” shift constantly, as they would inevitably have to under a regime purportedly based on the fickle whims of the people.  Regardless, the Rousseauean view is that man, at bottom, is perfectible, and that changes to external factors will make him truly free.

Thus, we see the never-ending arguments on the Left for adopting this new policy or that new right.  Sometimes, of course, policies need changing, adopting, or repealing, but the Left doesn’t seem to have any end-goal in mind; rather, it marches on a perpetual track of “progress” that, we’re told, will one day immanentize the eschaton and bring paradise on Earth.

The conservative is naturally skeptical of these claims.  Evangelical and traditional Christians understand well man’s “sin nature,” and hard experience has taught us that, in the absence of social and legal order, life would become an orgiastic free-for-all in which the strong oppressed the weak and took what they could.  Believers also understand that paradise on this world is impossible (although that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve our world; it just means that, ultimately, we’re fallen, and only Christ can make us whole—what civilization we do enjoy, and the tolerant form Western civilization has traditionally taken, is a product of Christianity).

(For a related illustration of this phenomenon, consider how much dating and marriage have changed since the advent of the Sexual Revolution, which “freed” men and women of traditional social boundaries regarding sexuality, courtship, and marriage.  Sixty years ago, a relatively meek “beta male” could more or less be assured marriage, as promiscuity was frowned upon and women were encouraged to take one partner; now, an “alpha male”—the “strong” of the Sexual Revolution—cultivates multiple partners, while bookish “betas”—the “weak”—struggle to find mates.)

I always come back to G.K. Chesterton’s fence:  before you tear it down, you need to know why the fence is there.  It may very well serve a useful purpose that, to your eye, might not be immediately apparent (an endorsement for studying history!).  Or it could be useless and in need of discarding.  Either way, do your research first, and be wary of swift, radical changes.

With that, I give you 3 August 2016’s “There is No General Will“:

I’ve been watching the television series Wayward Pines (don’t worry; no spoilers), which raises tons of great questions about how a society–particularly a closed one under duress–should function.  What’s the proper balance between freedom and security?  How much should governing elites reveal to the folks, and what should be concealed?  Should people fulfill specific roles in a society to benefit the greater goals of that society, or should they be free to choose their professions (and, for that matter, their mates, homes, schools, etc.)?

These are interesting and complicated questions.  Indeed, the question of the proper balance between freedom and security has puzzled republics since Periclean Athens.  The question itself is misleading, I would argue—and likely will in a future post—that the two are not mutually exclusive.

“[T]here is no such thing as the general will.”

But I digress.  All of these questions seem to pose a larger one:  what is the “general will” or “greater good” of a society, and how should a society go about pursuing it?  My answer is that there is no such thing as the general will.

Now, to be clear, this statement does not mean that I think there’s no merit in a society pursuing some common goals, or that I deny that sometimes in a majoritarian system there will be policies that some people don’t like, but that are beneficial for society as a whole.  Our whole constitutional system in the United States is carefully balanced to make sure that the “will of the people” is well-represented at the local, State, and national levels, while still guaranteeing and protecting the basic rights of individuals—even when those rights aren’t particularly popular.

But here’s the rub—while our constitutional order protects against the tyranny of the majority, the broad notion—from French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau—of the “general will” acknowledges no such limiting principle against the power of the majorityIt is against this sense that the “will of the people” is the be-all, end-all of social good that I stand.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Philosophical Super Villain.
(Image Sourcehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jean-Jacques_Rousseau_(painted_portrait).jpg, portrait by Maurice Quentin de La Tour)

The people, as a whole, are fickle.  It’s very difficult to get ten people to agree about what to eat for dinner; note how difficult it is for 330 million to agree on even the most basic of issues (in South Carolina, we still haven’t reached any kind of consensus about how to pay for and fix our roads, something virtually everyone wants done).

Even if you can get ten reasonable people to agree to, say, a long-term weekly dining schedule, at some point one or two will start to say, “Well, maybe we could have spaghetti on Wednesday nights instead of tacos.”  Imagine that conversation happening loudly and angrily across fifty States.  It’s a recipe—pardon the pun—for disaster.

Raw majoritarianism—what Rousseau appears to be calling for when he argues that society should be based on the “general will” of the people—is an unworkable scheme on anything but the smallest levels of society.  Rousseau’s chilling dictum that men are “forced to be free” reveals the inevitable consequence of unbridled democracy:  ultimately, the inexpressible “general will” becomes expressed through a demagogic tyrant, or through a legislator uninhibited by any restraints on its law-making authority beyond what the people want.

“[T]he ‘general will’ acknowledges no… limiting principle against the power of the majority.”

I’ve long viewed Rousseau as one of the great villains of modern philosophy, and I would argue that one can draw a more-or-less straight line from Rousseau and the French Revolution through fascism, communism, and totalitarianism, all the way to modern illiberal progressivism.  Rousseau—like modern progressives—believes in the mutability of human will, arguing that laws, not human nature, make people bad or good.  Get the laws right–or tweak the system enough–and you can spit out completely virtuous people.

Thus we see the conceit of the modern Left that no one commits crime out of greed or evil; instead, they’re “victims of circumstance” or subject to “systems of oppression” that cause them to do evil.  If only we created more programs or redistributed more wealth—or, if taken to the logical extreme, if only we did away with private property altogether, since the state and its laws exist to protect it—then, finally, man would be perfect.

Such notions are not only absurd; they are hugely injurious to both individual freedom and the health of society at large.  A virtuous society is one that cultivates a virtuous culture, which is only sustainable if it educates its people to live virtuously, recognizing that there will always be failures because, after all, to err is human.

(Note:  I do acknowledge that sometimes people are driven to commit typically immoral deeds out of necessity; however, I believe our society hugely exaggerates the extent to which such motives drive criminality and wickedness; just ask any wealthy person who’s ever been convicted of shoplifting or embezzlement why they stole, and you’ll quickly realize that even people with plenty of material safety are tempted to sin.)

“Raw majoritarianism… is an unworkable scheme….”

Expecting pure perfection is dangerous and unrealistic.  Mistakes are the inevitable price of freedom.  You can ignore reality for a time and get by with it, but eventually it will catch up.

Rather than idealistically seek after a non-existent “general will,” we should instead govern ourselves—and resist tyranny in the process.  To do so requires decentralization of power (and more local decision-making), a shared understanding of American values, and an education rich in morality, virtue, and philosophy.

(To read more about Rousseau’s thought–and, perhaps, to correct my errors and oversimplifications, read more at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rousseau/.)

Numbers Don’t Lie – The Electoral College

Pollster Scott Rasmussen writes a brief, daily post for Ballotpedia called “Number of the Day.”  It’s an excellent, bite-sized chunk o’ statistical knowledge that gives an enlightening view of our nation from one of America’s great polltakers.

Monday’s “Number of the Day” was “49.5% of the U.S. Population Will Live in Eight States by 2040“—and continued with a discussion of the Electoral College.

For the unfamiliar, the Electoral College takes a lot of heat, usually from progressives (and especially so since President Trump won the 2016 election in the Electoral College, but lost the popular vote by margin of some millions).  There have been multiple attempts to abolish the Electoral College throughout American history, with the most successful effort coming after Richard Nixon’s electoral victory in 1968 (of course, that effort failed—fortunately).  Critics argue that the institution is “undemocratic,” as it seems to violate the principle of “one person, one vote.”

Fortunately, the Framers of the Constitution were wise enough to realize the pitfalls of popular democracy, which they believed devolved into mob rule and, ultimately, tyranny (see also:  the French Revolution), and also anticipated the dangers of a small group of urban voters being able to swing presidential elections at the expense of voters in rural States.

It is precisely this fear that Rasmussen’s demographic data highlights.  Rasmussen writes that nearly half of the nation’s population will live in one of eight States by 2040:  California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Illinois, and North Carolina.  That means that, in a popular system, those States could nearly swing a presidential election themselves.

Some readers might object that those voters are not uniform, and a popular vote would put a State like Wyoming more into play (as those ~600,000 voters—projected to be around 688,000 in 2040), but that assumes a level of individuality that, while attractive to the libertarian-minded, is not realistic.

Rural sections of the country have different goals, values, and concerns than urban centers.  A State with one or more major metropolitan areas would dominate national politics.

Rasmussen touches on this dynamic in Congress, too.  Currently, large States enjoy a huge advantage in the House of Representatives, the most “democratic” chamber at the federal level.  Small States, on the other hand, possess greater leverage in the Senate, where every State gets two Senators, regardless of population.  California—with its fifty-three Congressmen—can run roughshod over Wyoming in the House, but California’s Senators have the same clout as Wyoming’s two.

In essence, then, the different sections of the country have to reach some level of compromise to accomplish anything.  Rural States have to throw urban States a bone to get legislation passed in the House, and urban States have to support some rural State measures.

Indeed, this is largely how the farm bill and food stamps get passed:  rural Republicans vote for food stamps for the urban poor, and urban Democrats vote for corn subsidies for rural farmers.

That’s all Civics 101, but, as Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”

A final thought:  what happens when rural-urban compromise breaks down?  The values of the rural portions of the country—chiefly the South and Midwest—are increasingly at odds with the values of the bicoastal elites and their scattered archipelago of continental metropolises.  In that case, shouldn’t we throw out the system, as we’ll just get gridlock?

To quote the Apostle Paul, “God forbid!”  That divide highlights the necessity of separation of powers.  I’d rather not have a demiqueer otherkin alternative poetess-programmer (that’s the most ridiculous caricature I could conjure up) and xyr pansexual two-spirited Wookie life-mate ramming ultra-leftist progressive policies up my butt like a hamster at their next vegan pottery party, just as I’m sure the Wookie life-mates wouldn’t want me dictating my rustic Biblical morality to them (but, just so we’re clear, you people have lost your way).

The only major threat, as I see it, is that Congress has so abdicated its responsibility to the executive branch and its unelected bureaucracy of careerist swamp creatures, that we could see the further rise of executive overreach.  That’s why progressives howl at the moon in protest to President Trump—they think he’s going to wield the sword of executive power against them the way President Obama did against us.

But with the Deep State so ensconced in our national life, I sometimes fear that we’re living in pre-Augustusean times.  In the meantime, let us hope President Trump can correct the course; that Congress will once again jealously guard its prerogatives; and that the Electoral College stands for centuries to come.

Democrats Show Their True Colors

Over the weekend, Democratic congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared on a video with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  The two self-styled democratic socialists were campaigning for Brent Welder in Kansas City.  In the video, the telegenic young Marxist boasted that “We’re gonna flip this seat red in November,” accidentally confusing the Republican Red for the Democratic Blue.

A minor gaffe, to be sure, but it’s interesting to consider the political party colors, which were reversed not too long agoRed has traditionally been the color of Communist, Marxist, socialist, and other leftist movements since the nineteenth century.  According to a piece from The Smithsonian (linked above and here), the media’s first usage of different colors to demonstrate presidential election results occurred in the 1976 race, in which Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter won when Mississippi went “red.”  Apparently, media outlets used the colors interchangeably until the 2000 election; we’ve stuck to red for Republicans and blue for Democrats since then.

In retrospect, though, the red coloring fits more with the ideology, goals, and history of the Democratic Party, and particularly its progressive wing (which, I would argue, is most of the party at this point).  Lately, Democrats have been flaunting their true colors unabashedly.

Take Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, for example.  She won a much-discussed upset in the Democratic primary for a New York congressional district against a powerful incumbent, Joe Crowley.  Her politics are stridently Leftist:  she supports Medicare for all, the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the forgiveness of all student loan debt, and a plethora of other unrealistic, expensive causes.

She’s also a much more appealing—and, therefore, more dangerous—face for “democratic” socialism than its other ubiquitous standard-bearer, Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders is an aging, old-school socialist of the Trotskyite variety, much like his British counterpart, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.  He’s never held a serious job outside of politics (which he entered in his forties), and he now looks like a kooky mad scientist who could disappear in a pile of dust and bones if a strong wind hit him (or if the deal he made with that necromancer is broken).

Ocasio-Cortez, on the other hand, is 28, and has the sort of Millennial profile that is common for my confused generation:  she worked as a bartender until a year ago; she’s passionate about many subjects, but not well-versed in any of them; she’s over-educated to the point of uselessness (see the previous phrase).

She’s also super telegenic and—except for some unfortunately-timed photos—a babe, and a Latina at that.

That’s a combination that Democrats can’t resist.  Like President Barack Obama—who was cool, African-American, a community organizer, and had a messiah complex—Democrats want a candidate who parrots radical ideologies while also validating them emotionally.  The hope is that an attractive young candidate will help them in future elections; thus, the constant touting of Ocasio-Cortez as the “future of the Democratic Party.”

Never mind that NY-14 congressional district that Ocasio-Cortez will soon represent (there’s not much chance of a Republican challenger succeeding in this district, which is a +29 D district) is nearly 50% Hispanic.  “Hispanic” is a tricky term, because it covers a number of different groups, but these aren’t your third- or fourth-generation Texas Hispanics (the ones who make up about half of the ICE agents Ocasio-Cortez wants out of a job); these are likely recent immigrants who, regardless of race, traditionally vote Democratic.  Some of them no-doubt originate from countries accustomed to leftist populist politicians.

Regardless, the Left is stripping down the last pretenses of being “moderate” or in favor of “common sense,” although you’ll still hear some use that phrase.  In the wake of President Trump’s election and administration, the Democratic Party has become increasingly open about its desire to soak the rich, redistribute wealth, take on a host of burdensome social and economic responsibilities, and generally move the nation further along toward socialism.

Outside of some parts of the South and the Midwest, the idea of the old-school “conservative Democrat” is long dead; it’s only now that the Democratic Party is showing its true colors.

To the Moon!

Before beginning today’s post, a quick note about last Friday night’s concert:  the whole thing came off smashingly.  My buddy John and I gave a 90-minute performance at a coffee shop in Hartsville, South Carolina, Crema Coffee Bar, where we’ve played a number of such shows in the past.

This show was, easily, the most fun I’ve had playing this particular venue, our home-away-from-home in Hartsville.  John and I took turns playing original tunes, and we both unveiled new selections, John debuting an Irish tragedy entitled “The Sailor,” and I introducing my latest irreverent comedy tune, “Private Lessons (Goth Chick).”

We also enjoyed an excellent turnout, which is not to be taken for granted.  Live music doesn’t always have the appeal it once did, and sometimes promoting a show can come across as a bit needy—“please come listen to us!”—especially as everyone you know is in a band these days.  Fortunately, our friends and fans were hugely supportive, and it seemed like a capacity crowd at the height of the show.  A YUGE “thank-you” to everyone who came out.

My next tour stop is the Juggling Gypsy in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Friday, August 3, starting around 9 PM.  You can learn more at www.tjcookmusic.com or on my Facebook page.

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I’ve written  a bit about space exploration and the formation of Space Force on this blog, and I’ve long been an advocate semi-publicly of expansion into space.  Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs when I still subscribed to the globalist rag that had me jumping for joy.  The essay, “The Case for Space,” is one of the best apologias written for the benefits we would reap from funding additional space exploration.  Tyson is a poor political pundit, and his fanboyish acolytes are so annoying, they reflect poorly on him, but he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to space.

I’m a fiscal, as well as a social, conservative, but I’m all about spending gobs of government cash on space exploration—and colonization.  I realize I’m committing the same error everyone does—“don’t spend my tax dollars… except on all this stuff I personally like or agree with”—but I see a role for the government in space exploration that makes sense constitutionally and functionally, in a way that, say, free bus fare for war widows isn’t.

Like Newt Gingrich—the other great modern essayist on space exploration—I see expansion into space as akin to westward expansion in the nineteenth century.  There were a lot of hardy pioneers that took the risks and were “rugged individualists”—but the government granted generous loans and tracts of land to railroad companies to open up those lands.  The government—largely Republican-controlled after the American Civil War—played a role in catalyzing western expansion.

Similarly, we see a mix of entrepreneurship and government support today, although the government seems bogged down in its usual bureaucratic inefficiencies, while the hot-shot mega-billionaire flyboys are taking the major risks.  Nevertheless, Gingrich wrote over the weekend about this very topic, marking the 49th anniversary of the moon landing.

As usual, the Trump administration, as Gingrich writes, is thinking “big league” when it comes to space, and Vice President Michael Pence is heading up a revived National Space Council.  The NSC is charged with exploring placing bases on the moon to reduce the costs of launches, which would be much more fuel-efficient in the moon’s reduced gravitational field (which is one-sixth that of Earth’s).

In a larger, cultural sense—since I’m not versed enough in the technical side of this subject, I’m deflecting to where I can bloviate on slightly more solid ground—I don’t understand the disinterest in, even hostility toward, space exploration.  In general, I’m dismayed by the lack of pioneering derring-do and spirit in American culture today.  Aren’t we descended from rugged frontiersmen and women who crossed oceans, forded rivers, climbed mountains, and endured dysentery to get here?

A few years ago, I stumbled upon one of those writers I love—a slightly fringe character who writes about weird, just-outside-of-the-mainstream topics.  The author in question is James D. Heiser, a bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America and a founding member of the Mars Society, a group that aims to put Americans on Mars.

I first stumbled upon Heiser after reading a review of his book “The American Empire Should Be Destroyed”:  Alexander Dugin and the Perils of the Immanentized Eschatology, which is about the titular figure, an eccentric, Rasputin-like character who advises Vladimir Putin in some capacity.  That book led me to another Heiser work, Civilization and the New Frontier:  Reflections on Virtue and the Settlement of a New World, a collection of essays—mostly his introductory remarks at various Mars Society annual conventions—about the settlement of Mars.

The basic argument is that the quest to settle new worlds will stretch Americans not just scientifically, but spiritually:  in striving for the stars, we’ll cultivate the classical virtues that make civilization possible, and, in the process, reinvigorate our earthly civilization.

I believe there’s something to this thesis.  Struggle—be it the struggle to survive on the hostile Martian plains, or to make ends meet here on Earth—breeds growth.  Adversity is the heat that tempers the iron of the soul.

Space has much to offer:  abundant natural resources, the thrill of discovery, hot alien babes (just kidding about that last one).  But it also has the potential to inspire future generations of Americans to reach for the stars—both physically, and spiritually.

Gig Day!

Happy Friday, TPP Readers!  In lieu of my usual politically-charged antics, I thought I’d give you a brief glimpse into my non-political life.  Normally, that wouldn’t be very interesting—a hairy man watching YouTube videos in his underwear—but today is different:  it’s Gig Day!

When I’m not molding minds, I’m rocking faces.  “Rocking faces” is a relative term; my music is mostly piano-based pop-rock, and I shout out at performances, “Are you ready to soft rock?”  My music has been compared to Elton John, Meat Loaf, Ben Folds, and “Weird Al” Yankovic (how’s that for a mix).  Click those last two links to listen on Spotify, and I’ll earn ~$0.00011 per stream.

Anyway, that’s enough shameless self-promotion.  Because I’m writing this after a late night at an open mic, and because I’m excited to play my first major show since breaking my wrist last November (“major show,” again, being a relative term), I decided to take you on a tour of Gig Day rituals, and give you a break from politics.  We’ll get to how President Trump didn’t commit treason when he declined to diss the leader of a major nuclear power during a joint press conference next week.

The day of a show is always a bit electric.  I’ll spend this morning painting the floor of a boys’ locker room, but the tension and energy will be building even as I’m slopping paint.  The real magic happens after that.  I’ll come home and begin my elaborate pre-show rituals.

First, I’ll “sweat lodge it” in my little cottage for a short period.  This technique involves not running my flimsy air-conditioning units, while my body sweats out the impurities.  I’ll drink copious amounts of icy water, and probably run through some tunes.  I’m a very physical performer, and I get hot when I play, so the A/C will come on at some point during this phase.

After that, if all is good, I’ll begin packing everything into my twelve-year old minivan.  For a coffee house show like this, I’ll bring the following:

  • Keyboard (duh), mic stand, my beautiful Sennheiser microphone, and any necessary cables
  • A couple of tip jars
  • Merchandise, including my album and some sweet Tyler James Cook “Flamin'” t-shirts
  • A few Sharpies to sign autographs—because my fans deserve my signature immortalized in permanent marker

Next, I’ll take a purifying shower that will start off hot, then end ice-cold.  There’s no physiological reason for this method—I just like to cool down dramatically in the heat of the summer.  The A/C will be blasting pure frostiness by this point.

Then, I dress.  Tonight’s duds include this shirt:

Star Wars Shirt

My usual attire—even in the summer—consists of a long-sleeve button-up, jeans, dress-casual shoes, a sports coat, and tie (I used to play outdoor gigs in this get-up, minus the sports coat, but that was insane in South Carolina summers).  I’m sporting the above short-sleeve button-up because one of my weight-loss goals was to fit into it comfortably by the time I played this show.  I’ll probably still wear a tie with it.

Once everything is packed and ready to go—and after I’ve inventoried to make sure everything is packed (I once played a pool party gig without a mic stand; we had to suspend the mic from its cable over a support beam in the pop-up tent I was under)—I hit the road.  For today’s show, I’m picking up my buddy John, who will be joining me on this bill.

I like to arrive a solid hour before showtime, if not earlier.  It doesn’t take long to setup my minimal rig, but you never know what you’ll find.  I’ve played shows where the stage doubles as a dining area during normal business hours, and have had to move furniture just to set up my gear.  This timing also allows for a decent soundcheck, and gives me a chance to get my tip jars arranged as I want them.  Most importantly, it provides time to sort through music, tweak my setlist, and generally calm down before it’s showtime.

Finally—I play the gig!  Obviously, my favorite part, usually followed by some post-show camaraderie with friends and TJC mega-fans at that great, modern Southern institution, Cook Out.  John and I typically do a post-mortem of the show during our meal.

That’s a lot of navel-gazing, to be sure, but we’ll be back to our normal programming Monday.  I don’t play nearly as many gigs as I used to play, but it’s a decent way to earn a few extra bucks doing something I love.

If you’d like to learn more, visit www.tjcookmusic.com.

***

A final, parting coda:  I’m toying with the idea of doing a sort of “reverse house concert” later in the fall.  Unlike a typical house concert, where a host invites an artist to play, charges admission to friends, and puts the artist up for the night (usually with a free meal), I’d host a super-exclusive, very intimate show in my little place.

For context, I live in a 525-square foot cottage that’s packed to the gills with books, keyboards, and the like.  I’ve recorded a few “Kitchen Concerts” with John and another pal, Steve O (not the one you’re thinking about), a la NPR’s “Tiny Desk” concerts.  John and I would post up in the kitchen, and I’ll sell maybe six-to-eight tickets, with people piling in super-close.  We’d have some light h’ordeuvres, then commence a-rockin’.

The idea is that it’d be the ultimate fan experience, but we’d also livestream the concert on Facebook or Periscope for those unable to attend.  It would certainly be a unique experience.

What do you think?  Good idea?  Stupid to shove a bunch of people into a lonely man’s bungalow?  If you were interested in such an event, how much would you pay for a ticket?  $5?  $10?  $15?

Thanks for your feedback—and rock on!

TBT: Capitalism Needs Social Conservatism

On Tuesday, I wrote about the “Human Toll of Globalization“—the dire consequences, both economic and moral, that befall a community when its primary economic engine is gutted through a naïve faith in unbridled free trade and globalization.  Another title for that piece might be almost a mirror of this essay’s from 2016:  “Civil Society Needs Cash.”

I don’t want to take that argument too far, though.  In the case of Danville, Virginia—and countless other American towns that have seen their prosperity flee abroad, or to bicoastal urban cloisters—a decaying economy wrought decaying morality, civil society, and civic pride.  That would suggest that prosperity, in and itself, cannot sustain true morality and virtue.

Indeed, as I argue in the essay below, “Capitalism Needs Social Conservatism,” excessive prosperity and material comfort breed a kind of moral complacency, what Kenneth Minogue likened to widespread Epicureanism (an excellent essay, and well worth reading if you don’t mind subscribing to The New Criterion, which is also worth the price).  Richard Weaver—one of my intellectual heroes—compared the material comfort of the then-mid-twentieth-century West to a drunk who, having grown addicted to alcohol, and requiring ever-greater quantities of it, no longer has the capacity to obtain the very substance he craves.

Milton Friedman famously argued that economic liberty is a necessary precursor to political liberty.  Similarly, I would argue that morality and virtue are necessary pillars to sustaining economic liberty for any length of time.  Indeed, George Washington argued that religion and public morality were “indispensable” to a self-governing republic.

In my mind, the orthodox libertarian (in the political sense, not the “free-will” libertarianism of the free-will-versus-determinism debate in modern philosophy) commits the same error as the orthodox Marxist in relying too much on economic analysis of behavior.  The idea of the “rational man” or “man as a rational animal” is a uniquely modern concept, and while Westerners have tried hard to shoe-horn themselves into that mold, the inner, teeming depths of our souls are still pre-rationalist.  We need God, and we still live according to symbols, rituals, and virtues.

As I wrote in 2016, “Without moral common ground and shared values that stress self-control, liberty rapidly turns to libertinism.  Libertinism without a great deal of wealth leads to shattered lives, which in turn wreck families and communities.”  I’ll explore these ideas further in my upcoming eBook, Values Have Consequences.

***

For the past week, I’ve written about the decline of the nuclear family, with follow-up posts about divorce and sex education, and about the negative impact of the of the welfare state on family formation.  These post have generated some wonderful discussions and input from followers, and I’ve been surprised by their popularity.

As I wrote in “Values Have Consequences,” I’m devoting Friday posts to discussions of social conservatism.  Social conservatism is increasingly the red-headed stepchild of the traditional Republican “tripod” coalition that also includes national security and economic conservatives (with the rise of Trump, populist nationalism could count as a fourth leg).  Politically, this marginalization makes some sense, as it’s not likely that fifty or sixty years of cultural attitudes and values will be changed at the ballot box.

Nevertheless, social conservatism is an important leg of the tripod.  Indeed, I would argue that the three coalitions are not at odds, but create logical synergies that allow each leg to stand.  The stool is much more stable when the three legs work together.

Economic conservatism–by which I mean the belief that freer markets, fewer and lighter regulations, and lower taxes, or what is more properly called neoliberalism (after the classical liberalism of the 18th-century thinkers like Adam Smith)–is wonderful and hugely important.  It’s led to massive gains domestically and globally, lifting untold millions off people out of poverty.  It allows people to enjoy a greater variety of goods and labor-saving devices, and provides more leisure time (and plenty of things to do during that time).

But free markets unmoored from guiding principles, strong and stable institutions, and the rule of law can morph into mindless Mammon worship.  Without a shared sense of trust and belief in human dignity, capitalism becomes cold and abstract.

Further, full-fledged economic liberalization without the limiting principles applied by constitutionalism and a morality supported by strong families and a robust civil society can lead to socially-destructive disruptions and behaviors.

As I’ve argued many times, making mistakes or bad choices is the necessary price of liberty.  But for self-government to work effectively–and to avoid social instability–a healthy dose of social conservatism is the best medicine.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee wears the most socially conservative outfit ever; later, he played bass on Fox News.
(Image Sourcehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Huckabeemike.JPG; photo by Craig Michaud)

To offer an illustration from recent history, contrast the post-Soviet experiences of Poland (and most of Eastern Europe) with that of Russia.  Despite decades under Communism–an ideology that was aggressively atheistic, stressing loyalty to the state and Communist Party over all else–Poland roared back into the West.  It adopted neoliberal (modern conservative) economic policies, and was one of the few European nations not to suffer severely during the Great Recession.

Russia similarly adopted “shock therapy” after the Soviet Union collapsed for good in 1991.  Rather than experiencing a huge economic boom, however, well-connected former Communists and others close to the old regime made off like bandits, leaving most Russians left holding the bag.

What’s the difference?  For one, the Russians lived under Communism for nearly a generation longer than the Poles, meaning there were several generations of downtrodden, state-dependent Russians by the time the USSR collapsed.  Many of these Russians were unable to adjust to a free-market system after living in a closed economy for so long.

Another key difference–and one that I think is extremely significant–is that Russians lost any scrap of civil society they might have possessed prior to the Bolshevik takeover in late 1917.  Civil society–the institutions between the basic family unit and the government, like churches, schools, clubs, civic organizations, etc.–was automatically preempted when every club, organization, or activity became part of the Soviet government.  The severely crippled (and, as I understand it, collaborationist) Russian Orthodox Church was unable or unwilling to push back against Soviet rule, providing little in the way of a spiritual alternative to the totalizing influence of Communism.

“[F]ree markets unmoored from guiding principles, strong and stable institutions, and the rule of law can morph into mindless Mammon worship.”

Poland, on the other hand, managed to maintain its deep Catholic faith.  The Catholic Church as an international organization (and with powerful, influential popes, most notably the Polish anti-Communist John Paul II) could never be wiped out completely by Soviet Communism.  Further, the Poles formed the Solidarity trades union movement, which offered an alternative to official Communist organizations.

Thus, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Poland emerged with a strong civil society anchored in a richly Christian worldview and ethic.  The shared sense of morality–one that stresses mutual respect, the dignity of human life, and the importance of honesty–allowed the complex deals and uptempo economic exchanges of capitalism to occur smoothly and rapidly.  From these civil and religious values came a firmer grasp of and respect for the rule of law, making predictable economic activity and long-term planning possible.

Russia, on the other hand, devolved into a fast-paced, nationwide run on the national cupboard.  Those with good connections grabbed whatever public funds and goodies they could.  Normal Russians couldn’t figure out why their government checks and free lunches stopped coming, and couldn’t understand why (or how) to pay taxes.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, all civic organizations ceased to exist, because they were all part of the Soviet government.  Without any civil society or other enduring institutions to model good behavior and to stress and enforce moral values, Russia struggled–and continues to do so–to adapt to global capitalism and democracy.  Not surprisingly, they’ve turned to a dictatorial strongman for guidance.

***

What of the American context?  As I’ve written before, I’m skeptical of full-fledged libertarianism–what I would broadly define as the marriage of economically conservative and socially liberal views–because it fails to acknowledge the need for strong moral values to uphold its own economic assumptionsLiberty and self-government can only really work when coupled with self-imposed order and restraint.  Without moral common ground and shared values that stress self-control, liberty rapidly turns to libertinism.  Libertinism without a great deal of wealth leads to shattered lives, which in turn wreck families and communities.

Eventually, unbridled, unchecked lasciviousness–even among (formerly) responsible adults–results in social chaos, requiring a dwindling number of hardworking, honest, and thrifty individuals to pay for the ramifications of poor moral choices that have been magnified many times over.

“[L]ibertarianism… fails to acknowledge the need for strong moral values to uphold its own economic assumptions.  Liberty and self-government can only really work when coupled with self-imposed order and restraint.”

Capitalism’s blessing of unparalleled abundance is also a potential curse.  Without a strong civil society that stresses good moral values–and without proper historical perspective–it becomes easy to take that abundance for granted.

That abundance also allows, for a time, more and more individuals to pay for the price of bad decisions.  Prior to the modern era, few people were wealthy enough to risk the negative consequences of immorality.  Now, Americans and Westerners enjoy a level of material comfort and well-being that can absorb at least some of the unpleasantness of questionable choices.  Over time, however, that security breaks down.

Richard Weaver likened the situation to an alcoholic who is so addicted to his drink, he’s unable to do the work necessary to pay for his addiction.  The more he needs the alcohol, the less capable he becomes of obtaining it.  Likewise, the more individuals become addicted to luxuries, the less able they are to work hard to maintain them.

To avoid the fate of Weaver’s drunk, we must recognize the importance of social conservatism.  While we should maximize individual liberty as much as possible, and within the bounds of the Constitution, we should also stress the moral and religious underpinnings that make that liberty both possible and responsible.