Banned! Techno-Elites Deplatform Alex Jones

The explosive news Monday was that tech giants Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, and Apple banned Alex Jones and Infowars from their respective platforms.  While Jones is a controversial figure who peddles in rumor, conspiracy, and innuendo, the concerted action from separately-owned and -managed Silicon Valley entities is unsettling.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote a piece for National Review arguing that Silicon Valley giants should be regulated—or even busted up—to prevent monopolistic and anti-competitive practices, drawing parallels to the muckraking reformers of the early twentieth century who brought down Standard Oil.   I’m wary of such solutions-by-government, but Hanson was anticipating a problem that has become all-too familiar:  the massive social and cultural clout the unmoored tech giants wield.

Steven Crowder of online late-night show Louder with Crowder often pokes fun at—and complains loudly about—the various murky “terms and services” and “community guidelines” rules that are ever-shifting in continuously updated apps and platforms.  A slight change in a Facebook algorithm—or a Twitter employee having a bad day—can lead to massive reductions in traffic for a YouTuber or blogger.  Reduced—or eliminated—traffic means less revenue.  YouTubers like Crowder who helped build the platform now find their videos demonetized for the most mysterious of reasons.

Candace Owens was kicked from Twitter because she rewrote recent New York Times hire and anti-white racist Sarah Jeong’s tweets by replacing disparaging uses of “white” with “black” or “Jew.”  Razorfirst posted a video some months ago of him literally just talking about nonsense for five minutes… and it was immediately demonetized.

Now Alex Jones is banned across multiple platforms from multiple platforms—which is absolutely chilling.  Jones is certainly not without controversy, and I wouldn’t take his ramblings to heart without a heaping helping of salt, but just because he’s a kinda nutty conspiracy kook who enjoys ripping his shirt off doesn’t make his situation any less terrible.  If we write off Jones because he was “asking for it” by being kooky, then we’re missing the whole point of free speech.

And, yes, the usual objections are inevitable:  “but, TPP, the First Amendment speech protections only apply to the government!  Companies can set whatever guidelines they want!  You can use some other platform!  He still has his website.”  Yes, yes, yes, and yes—all true.  Nevertheless, the arbitrary power we’ve voluntarily—if unwittingly—yielded to these tech elites is staggering.  And this preponderance of power may be where Hanson has a point.

Is not the function of the government to protect the rights of its citizens from threats and violations, both foreign and domestic?  In this case, arbitrary bans—particularly these coordinated attacks on controversial figures—seem to be a powerful means of preventing an individual and/or entity from delivering his message in the public square.  Like the street corner doomsayer, Alex Jones has a right to be heard, even if he’s sometimes insane (for me, the jury is out on Jones; I enjoy the entertainment value of his commentary, and I think he’s probably right about 80% of the time, but then he veers off into crisis actors, etc.—the danger of a man who is charismatic and convincing).

Today, it’s a relatively buffoonish character like Jones.  Tomorrow—who knows?  Do we really want to find out?  “Hate speech” is a code word for silencing conservatives.  It’s better to publish one racist screed from a lonely nut (not referencing Jones here, to be clear) than to muzzle millions because their innocuous, mainstream conservative viewpoint might been interpreted as a “dog-whistle.”

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and it’s often better to give madmen the rope with which to hang themselves.  When we try to silence them, they only gain in credibility (indeed, when I read the news, I immediately went… to Infowars!).

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HSAs are A-Okay

My Congressman, Tom Rice, sends out little e-mail updates on a regular basis.  In his latest newsletter, the South Carolina US-7 representative included a link to a video (below) of his statements before Congress about expanding Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs.

The gist of the proposal is to expand health-savings accounts to allow account holders to contribute more to them.  The current legal annual contribution (in FY2018) for a single individual is $3450, up from $3400 last year and $3350 the year before.  That comes out to $287.50 a month, which can be contributed pre-tax directly from an account holder’s paycheck.

The way the law is currently written, HSAs are excellent both to cover medical expenses before reaching your deductible (and, naturally, most HSA-compliant plans are high deductible ones) and to save and invest for retirement.  You can accrue a qualified medical expense today—say, a visit to the emergency room—and you can submit that receipt in a decade (or longer—there’s no apparent time-limit) to take out that amount.

To give a hypothetical:  let’s say you have a medical bill for $3000.  Yes, your annual contribution to your HSA could cover that.  But, let’s say you’ve built up a good emergency fund, and elect to pay the bill out-of-pocket through that fund.  In, say, five years, you need to tap your HSA funds for some reason.  If you’ve kept the receipt (and credit card statements help, too), you can file that with your HSA and withdraw the $3000.

Why go through the trouble?  Because many HSA administrators—including my own, HealthSavings Administrators—allow you to invest in mutual funds with your HSA contributions.  If you’re making an 8% annual return on those contributions, that $3000 today will be worth around $4100 in five years (investment math folks, please check my numbers; regardless, you get the point—money grows).

Alternatively, if you don’t tap that money for decades—and keep contributing—you’ll have a very nice retirement account growing tax-free for all those years.

My current health insurance carries a $6550 deductible—which I didn’t even come close to hitting in 2017 when I broke my left wrist, although it was still expensive—but I’ve accrued enough of an emergency fund that I could meet that expense should the need arise (I pray it doesn’t).  If my emergency fund were sunk into something else—say, a new car, or a less flood-prone house—then I could tap into my HSA contributions from the past few years.

And here is the other benefit of HSAs, the one that I’m sure Congressman Rice as in mind:  they help you reach your deductible, and bring some market forces to bear on healthcare costs.

I suspect that one of the culprits of high healthcare costs is the lack of transparency—no one knows how much anything costs, and everything is fungible.  When I broke my wrist, I received a hefty ER bill (about $3000) about four months after the fall (I don’t understand the delay on that; it seems like they could just tally it all up and print it out at the time of the accident).  I called the hospital, and they told they were “running a special”—if I paid in full that day, they’d knock HALF of the cost off the bill.  Because I’m an extreme budgeter and have an emergency fund, I could do it, and leaped at the “special.”

Most people don’t have enough money saved up to even meet a $500 emergency, but an HSA makes it more doable.  Even without an emergency fund, if an account holder were making monthly contributions, he’d be able to take advantage of such price reductions.

HSAs aren’t a magic bullet to bringing down healthcare costs, but they would go a long way to addressing the problem.  If we lived in a pre-Obamacare age, you’d be able to get a high-deductible, HSA-compliant plan for probably $50-100 a month, depending on age and health.  Even if you didn’t want to manage the money in various investments, the incentives to save—namely, the pre-tax benefit—are enough that many Americans would likely take contribute to their HSA.

When Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson was running for president in 2015-2016, he proposed transferable, minimally-funded ($5000 at birth, I believe) HSAs be issued for all Americans.  The ability to transfer funds between family members and to grow that wealth over time would be huge.

Similarly, President George W. Bush proposed giving Americans the option to contribute their Social Security contributions into personally-managed investment accounts.  That would reduce the astronomical costs of that federal boondoggle and give Americans much greater returns on their investments.  Naturally, Democrats rejected that plan out of hand, and accused Bush of hating old people.  Yeesh.

The takeaway is this:  whether it’s in healthcare or retirement savings, the American people know best.  Yes, we’d need some additional financial education—which we desperately need anyway—but, c’mon, are you going to continue running the same inefficient, wasteful systems just because a small percentage of people won’t adequately manage their money?

Liberty works in nearly every arena, and it would work in healthcare and health insurance, too.  HSAs are the wave of the future, and I’m glad to see Tom Rice is championing them.

Gig Day II

It’s been a crazy week in my personal world.  As such, the quality and length of my posts have been somewhat diminished.  Today will be no different.  The trenchant political and cultural commentary will recommence Monday.

Tonight, I’m playing a gig in Wilmington, North Carolina, my first true “road gig” as a solo musician.  Due to this past weekend’s flooding, the adapter for my straightforward keyboard, an easy-to-use Casio (I call her “Cassiopeia”) is no longer working.

Fortunately, a local musician friend of mine is a keyboard god, and hooked me up with his sweet Korg SV-1.  It’s a gorgeous instrument with a built in tube for truly retro-sounding tones.  I’ll likely set it on “Grand Piano” and just use the lamest presets available.

Regardless, because of my semi-homeless state, I haven’t been able to practice much, and the only playing I’ve done is a couple of open mics this week.  As such, it’s going to be a very fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants event, but it should be fun.

Enjoy your weekend, and if you’re in Wilmington, stop by the Juggling Gypsy around 9 or 9:30.

–TPP

TBT: Music is for Everyone

I’m playing another gig this weekend—this time in Wilmginton, North Carolina, at the Juggling Gypsy—so I thought it might be appropriate to pull out one of my favorite posts from 2016, one which triggered the so-called “Bitter Progressive” referenced therein.

The crux of this piece:  we should be able to appreciate and listen to the music we want regardless of either our own political affiliation or the affiliation or attributes of the artist.  In a better, vanished time, that was such an obvious point that the need to expound on it at length wasn’t necessary.  Unfortunately, we no longer live in such times.

The essay speaks fairly well for its self; as such, here is 2016’s Music is for Everyone“:

On the opening night of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made the grandest entrance in American political history (as far as I know):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/04b894b6-4d31-11e6-bf27-405106836f96

Pageantry.

Whether or not you love The Donald, hate his guts, or would rather watch reruns of The Celebrity Apprentice, surely we can all unite in acknowledging that his entrance was freaking amazing.  Heck, even The Washington Post thought it was cool.  I was watching alone in my not-so-portly bungalow and began hooping and hollering like a silver-backed gorilla.

Substantive?  No.  Reason to vote Trump-Pence this November?  Hardly.  An awesome display of pageantry?  Heck, yes.

The showman in me–I am, after all, an over-the-top indie musician with delusions of grandeur–had to share my elation with the world.  No thought can be left unsaid these days, so I took to Facebook.

Here’s [a transcript of] my Facebook post, and the exchange that is the subject of this piece….:

TPP:  Whether you love or hate Donald Trump, his entrance at the Republican National Convention just now was EXACTLY how I would have done it–striding in to the strains of a Queen song as a podium rises from the floor. Holy crap…

Bitter Progressive:  Trump opens a party convention that features a platform heavily biased against marriage equality and gay rights by strolling on stage to a song written and performed by a gay man who died of AIDS.

I’m not sure which is stronger, the 2016 GOP’s innate knack for unintentional self-parody (“The national seal should include an AR-15!”) or its total obliviousness to the concept of irony.

TPP:  Maybe a good song is just a good song.

BP:  The cool thing about music is that there’s ALWAYS something deeper.

TPP:  Listen to my EP and you’ll learn otherwise. 😀

(Note how I cleverly defuse the bitterness with self-deprecating humor that also doubles as shameless promotion for my debut solo EP, Contest Winner EP, available now on iTunesGoogle PlayAmazon, and elsewhere.)

For a post about a major political party’s convention and controversial nominee, it was probably the least possible political statement I could make… except that, in our present age, everything is politicized.

“Tolerance isn’t enough; bitter progressives demand total acceptance, even celebration, of whatever happens to be their cause-of-the-moment.”

A quick aside:  I’m going to ignore the “unintentional self-parody” and the GOP’s “total obliviousness to the concept of irony,” except to ask the following:  how exactly is a political party supposed to acknowledge irony?  Do kill-joy progressives want Donald Trump to say, “Okay, okay, that was awesome, and I’m up here to introduce my wife, but first let me acknowledge that ‘We Are the Champions’ was written by a gay man, so let’s take a moment to check our privilege and reconsider our platform’s plank on same-sex marriage”?  I suspect that, even if he did, there’d be a slew of “too little, too late” articles on HuffPo the next day.

(And let me quickly take a moment to acknowledge the irony of writing a post lamenting excessive politicization on a blog that basically has “politics” in the name.)

***

So, let’s unpack the first paragraph of Bitter Progressive’s first post.  He complains that Trump entered to a Queen song, because the Republican Party platform supports traditional marriage, and Freddie Mercury was gay.  While BP intends this statement to be a slam at the GOP–and as a way of virtue-signalling his own support for gay rights–he essentially reduces a talented musician to one dimension, one personal trait.
I wish homosexual Americans all the best, but I, too, question the wisdom of same-sex marriage.  Does this mean I can’t listen to and appreciate Queen, simply because Freddie Mercury happened to be gay?  By this logic, I shouldn’t associate with gay people at all, nor should the roughly half of Americans who vote Republican.
Aren’t we supposed to reach out to people–regardless of their sexual orientation–and treat them with respect, even if we disagree?  How does demanding an effective ban on music by gay artists for half the population help bridge that gap (and what are Log Cabin Republicans to do)?  How does it increase understanding and tolerance?
“None of [Freddie Mercury’s] other qualities matter… until and unless they can be used as a convenient bludgeon to force conformity to the unforeseen priorities of a future age.”
It doesn’t, and that’s not the point.  Tolerance isn’t enough; bitter progressives demand total acceptance, even celebration, of whatever happens to be their cause-of-the-moment.
The logic of BP’s post also dehumanizes Freddie Mercury (and, by extension, all gay men).  No more is he a phenomenal, groundbreaking singer and songwriter.  Instead, he’s defined almost entirely based on who he likes to sleep with, and in turn, our anachronistic opinions about whether or not Mercury can formalize that sexual relationship in a legal forum is supposed to dictate whether or not we are allowed to enjoy his music.  None of his other qualities matter–being a man, having an awesome mustache, possessing an amazing voice–until and unless they can be used as a convenient bludgeon to force conformity to the unforeseen priorities of a future age.
Another pop culture example:  I disagree vehemently with pretty much everything Lady Gaga has ever said or done.  Her live concerts are like modern-day Dianic rituals to some pagan fertility goddess.  She prioritizes sexual libertinism over all else.  But, damn if I don’t like “Bad Romance”–and even “Born This Way,” an (inaccurate) anthem for the gay rights movement.  Should I not listen to her music because I disagree with her political and social views (there are other, better, aesthetic reasons to do so)?  If BP had his way, I suppose not.
A more useful, valid critique of Trump’s epic entrance would point out the danger to a free republic of falling for grand pageantry… as a substitute for responsible self-government.
A more useful, valid critique of Trump’s epic entrance would point out the danger to a free republic of falling for grand pageantry–“bread and circuses,” as one of my colleagues put it–as a substitute for responsible self-government.  I’ll admit that I loved every second of Trump’s approach, but I’m not making an important voting decision based on a fifteen second stroll.  However, some people will love it too much, and make a decision based solely on pageantry.
That’s a legitimate concern.  Freddie Mercury’s sex life forty years ago–which magically makes “We Are the Champions,” an incredibly politics-neutral song off-limits–isn’t.
***
Music should be for everyone to enjoy (songwriters should, of course, retain the rights to their works, but that’s not the issue here).  If we want to build a productive civil society–one with disagreements, but common respect–we shouldn’t criticize one group for enjoying a song because of an incidental personal characteristic of the songwriter.  Some of my best fans are liberals and progressives.  Should I be offended that they listen to “Hipster Girl Next Door” even if it describes their lifestyle-liberalism to a tee (surely some of them fail to recognize the irony)?  Should they shun me from their slam poetry readings and drum circles because I don’t think the government should pay for urine-soaked “art”?

Of course not.  Let’s grow up and just let a good song be a good song.  Maybe we’ll learn something while singing together.

Trump’s Economic Growth Isn’t Due to Farm Exports

President Trump has enjoyed massive economic growth since his election, much less his actual inauguration.  The latest economic growth numbers for Q2 put the annualized rate of growth at a whopping 4.1%.

Naturally, the progressive Leftists are grasping about for any explanation they can to account for this growth, or to downplay it.  One of the more novel proposals is that the only reason growth is so high is because farmers are rushing out their exports to other nations ahead of planned tariffs—and the retaliatory measures they will garner.

While I’m willing to concede these premature exports may account for some of the growth rate in Q2, I doubt very seriously that there are enough additional soybean exports to China in a three-month period to bump the entire economic growth rate by more than a fraction of a percent.

Consider all the factors at play here:  the 2017 tax cut, specifically to the corporate tax rate, created a yuge incentive to companies to repatriate dollars held overseas, and made American companies internationally competitive again (prior to the cuts, our corporate tax rate of 35% was one of the highest in the developed world).  The easing of pressure on corporate rates and individual income tax rates have boosted business and consumer confidence, and wages have increased as unemployment continues to fall.

Even before the passage of the tax cut, deregulation within the executive branch began stimulating the economy.  In his famous Gettysburg campaign speech, in which then-candidate Trump put forth his reform agenda for the United States, he promised an executive order requiring the removal of two regulations for every one new regulation written.  In classic Trumpian fashion, the President delivered—and then some:  in 2017, the Trump administration cut a whopping twenty-two regulations for every one regulation passed.

The one-two punch of deregulation and tax cuts has juiced the engine of the economy with rocket fuel, but the media loves to run with the narrative that it’s all smoke-and-mirrors, and we’re only enjoying this growth because a bunch of farmers rushed out exports early.

They push that story for two reasons:

1.) They can’t give Trump credit for anything positive

2.) It draws attention to the downsides of tariffs, and the cloying sentimentality of the farmer struggling under Trump

I have a great deal of respect for farming and the rural life, but these aren’t Nebraska homesteaders or Jeffersonian yeoman farmers we’re talking about.  Not that that matters—big corporate farms shouldn’t be punished for being big; I’m merely cautioning readers to take such rhetoric with a massive dose of soy (actually, pick something else; we don’t need anymore soy boys).  The mainstream media is going to spin this story in the most maudlin fashion possible.

Tariffs historically have hurt farmers, who often pay the price of tariffs both ways:  they pay more imported goods, and they struggle to access foreign markets competitively when they export their products.  And, as I wrote recently, I don’t think tariffs are without their costs.

That said, there’s no way Q2 GDP growth can be driven solely, or even mostly, by farm exports.  Further, it seems that such robust growth makes tariffs more affordable, in the sense that the United States can spare a few decimals of growth in exchange for greater protections of worker.

Finally, tariffs-as-bargaining-chip seems to be working.  China’s economy is in free-fall, and the Chinese have to eat.  Even with tariffs on US soybeans and other farm products, China needs what we’re growing more than we need what they’re churning out.

In short, stay the course, President Trump.  Rebalance our trade agreements, make the income tax cuts permanent, and keep regulations light.

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!

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.

***

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/.)