Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Evil of "Junk Food" Taxes

I was reading an article tonight about the Navajo imposing America's first "junk food tax" upon themselves. According to the article, this tax will add 2% to the cost of food "with minimal-to-no-nutritional value", which it makes clear is intended to try to reduce consumption. Similar efforts have so far failed elsewhere, though at times, some areas have banned soda and sweetened juice machines from schools and other locales, and in a few cities, container taxes have been used to covertly achieve similar ends (as well as impose a stealth tax on alcohol).

Of course this is always treated by the press as a good thing, a high minded measure, along with actions such as smoking bans and cigarette taxes, intended to make us all healthier and happier and so on. And many readers no doubt will ask "why object? If they want to stop selling such foods, why do you care?" And we have been so brainwashed by the press perspective, I bet many probably cannot even see the insanity in such a position.

Think of it this way: If you want to stop eating chips and fried foods, what do you do? Simple, you stop eating them. You don't go to the trouble of drafting legislation and forcing it through local government. There is no need. It is the same for smoking. If you want to quit smoking, you quit. Or maybe you get nicotine gum, or some other aid. You don't pass legislation.

Legislation has nothing to do with voluntary measures or efforts to help themselves. A law is all about forcing people, all about those who DON'T WANT to do what you think is best. In other words, the ban is not about people who want to stop eating such things making themselves do so, it is about people who want to stop eating such things forcing everyone else to do the same, whether they want to or not. It is all about one of two things. Either it is about those who resent having to give up something making sure no one else can enjoy it either, or it is about people who think they know best forcing what they think is good on those too foolish, ignorant or unenlightened to see how smart and correct they are.

I find both horrible reasons for passing laws. Laws, as I have made clear, should be about protecting rights, not forcing people to do what you think is right, or protecting them from "making bad decisions", which are always "bad" only when defined by your perspective, not theirs.

Our nation was established on the rights of man, to protect everyone's rights to life, liberty and property. It was not established as a giant day care or asylum where the enlightened few get to tell the rest of us how we should live. And that is why I find laws such as this so disturbing.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Oh So Useful Middle Class

To mangle a quote from Voltaire, if the middle class did not exist, politicians would need to invent them. The middle class is the Swiss Army knife of the political campaign, the tool good for every purpose1. Either party, any ideology, any issue, the middle class provide a sure and easy position for a politician to adopt. You don't really want to cut taxes, but don't want your opponent to win points with his across the boards tax cuts? Say you will cut "middle class" taxes, implying he wants to give money to the rich (if you liberal) or throw it to the poor (if conservative). And when the time comes, should you win, you can fulfill the promise without doing much of anything. After all, no one knows who the middle class are2. You can write in a tax break for those earning $22K to $22.2 K and claim you did what you promised. As I said, the perfect solution for every political problem.

As I have written before3, I have a problem with any political position predicated upon the idea the government has a special interest in any class or category, be it "the poor", "the workers", "the middle class", or even non-financial categories, such as "farmers"4, or "small business"5. The purpose of a proper, free, representative government, predicated upon the protection of rights, is -- quite simply -- to treat each individual as equal. To allow the state to take cognizance of wealth or profession or earnings or employment status or race or sex or anything else6, is to create a state where individuals are not equal, which means that the idea of a minimal government protecting rights is undermined.

Now, some will say that everyone is still equal, those who favor helping the middle class just want to give them some assistance, a helping hand, a leg up, whatever. But that, no matter how it is phrased, is the problem with contemporary government. Aid to one group is identical with disadvantage to another. If you give the middle class a tax break, it means everyone else pays more than they do. If you give a few bonus points in the name of affirmative action, you penalize everyone else. And if you give one company exemption from this regulation or that, you effectively impose special requirements on all other firms7. In other words, granting a favor is to impose a penalty on everyone else8.

But that is an issue I have brought up several times, so let us leave it alone for now. Instead, let us look at the "middle class" itself, and see how problematic it is aside from questions of the proper role of government.

The first, and most obvious issue, is that most people seem to think they are middle class. With the exception of the poorest individuals, a handful of the extremely rich, and a smattering of workers whose political orientation makes them insist on seeing themselves as "working class", almost everyone you will ever meet in the US will see him or her self as middle class. It is an incredibly broad category, at least in terms of those who identify themselves as members.

Unfortunately, politicians don't accept self-identification for membership in the middle class. For them, "middle class" is a certain, often relatively narrow, segment of the population. As my opening example shows, it is a segment which is terribly ill-defined, and which can be redefined as suits the current debate9, but even the most generous definitions never go so far as to include even 50% of the public. And yet, from fast food cashiers to multi-million dollar liability lawyers, well over 75% of the US considers itself a member of this group.

Which is why it is so useful to politicians.

As I described in "Those Other People" (and also "In a Nutshell"), politicians often sell restrictive, even insulting10, legislation by telling voters they are clearly competent enough to not need such laws, but some ill defined "masses" out there are not, and need the law to tell them what to do. And so we have the pathetic phenomenon of a vast majority of people feeling, for example, they could manage their own retirement11, or handle a fire arm responsibly12, but accepting tremendous regulations because "the majority" could not13.

The middle class works in much the same way, with huge numbers imaging they will reap every benefit promised to the middle class, and avoid all the hardships piled upon "the rich", while in truth, the benefits, if any ever exist, fall upon a very small subset of those imagining themselves to be middle class. And yet, despite failing to receive any benefit time after time, the majority of voters continue to imagine they are the middle class about which the politicians are speaking.

But that is not the only purpose the middle class serves, though it is the most obvious. The middle class also serves a psychological function. Promising to do something for "the middle class" is the ultimate safe move. It is even better than promising to aid "the working poor". It is safer than aiding "children in need" or "who go to bed hungry". It is even safer than promising to soak the rich or tax "unearned income"14. In the minds of voters, the middle class is the ultimate virtuous group, hardworking, ethical, believing all the right things, doing all the right things, they are exactly what the voter wants America to be. And why not? As the voter imagines himself to be the ultimate example of the middle class, it is obvious that the middle class must be --for lack of a better description -- pretty much just like him. And thus any promise made to aid the middle class will be seen as a perfectly justified action

All of which serves to explain my opening statement. The middle class is not just "the backbone of our nation", "the source of jobs"15 and "our future", as ever so many politicians have told us repeatedly, they are the ultimate rhetorical device for politicians. And thus, had history not accidentally created such a useful description, politicians would inevitably have been forced to create one.


1. The second best is probably "the working class", who are also adored by right and left -- though the right sometimes worries about your ideological leanings if you mention them too often, or over emphasize the "class" aspect -- and third is probably "the working poor", more popular with left than right, but that "working" makes them at least modestly acceptable to both.

2. A similar useful tool is "the rich", though mostly used by the left, and the more populist candidates on the nominal right. (See "Beware Populist Deception", "Protectionism Right and Left", "Fear of Trade", "Sleight of Hand", "Government by Emotion", "Consumer Protection", "A New Look at Intervention" and "Fear of the 'Big'".). No one worries over-much about taxes on "the rich", as they are sure that they are safely "middle class", and so these sort of campaign promises fly over the heads of most voters until they discover "the rich" means everyone earning over $30K a year. (Well, to be fair, the most audacious redefining of "rich" I can recall succeeding was when Clinton defined it down to around $50K a year, which is still a pretty broad definition of "rich".)

3. See "What About Everyone Else?" For a discussion of the tactic I describe, redefining "middle class" and "working families", see "More Influential Than I Thought?" and "So, What is "Change"?" And to see an earlier mention of the nebulous nature of "the middle class", see "Stupid Quote of the Day (March 10, 2015)".

4. See "Bad Economics Part 19", "The World's Oldest Myth", "The Inevitable Corruption of Protectionism", "Government Cheese", "The Frontier, Green Spaces and Famine" and "The Consumption Curve".

5. See "Bad Economics Part 19", "Small Business Fetish", "When Help Hurts", "The Little Guy Can't Compete", "Fear of the "Big"", "Stupid Quotes of the Day (January 17, 2012)" and "Stupid Quote of the Day (March 8, 2015)".

6. Obviously, in a few specific cases, some of these factors need to be considered. Laws can, in specific cases where relevant, consider sex, familial ties or age, but these are unusual cases, and mostly relate to matters where sex makes a difference in terms of physical capabilities (eg. men cannot become pregnant or bear children), or competence (the question of juvenile competency for consent, contract and culpability, and parent liability for juveniles).

7. Obviously, in an ideal minimal state, many of these would not be an issue (see "Minimal Reforms", "The Case for Small Government", "The Problem of Established Perspectives", "The Basics", "Denying Reality", "The Free Market Solution", "The Cost of Big Government", "In Praise of Contracts" and "There Are Other Solutions"), as taxes would be either flat or handled through some voluntary scheme (see "Two Thoughts on Taxation", "Truths About Taxation" and "The Foolishness of Corporate Taxes"), regulations would be minimal or nonexistent, and education would be private and preferences based on race or other factors an issue for the trustees and not the state. But until we reach such an ideal, to move toward a more perfect state, we should strive to be as blind to any individual differences as possible, unless absolutely essential to the protection for rights.

8. I should discuss this again in the future, as it is also a significant point in terms of subsidies and patronage for arts and business. (See "Patronage", "Patronage Versus Choice", "The Other 99%", "Zero Sum Games" and "Canada, Subsidies, The Free Market and Intractible Reality".) Once you begin to give subsidies to one group, it acts as a penalty to others, who have to provide full funding on their own, while the patronage recipients start out with full or partial funds given to them. So, though described as helping artists, or small business, or what have you, in truth these are impediments to the many others who have to compete against those who are given these subsidies, and thus start at a disadvantage. (To see a simple example, imagine the painter who has to work full time versus the one who is government subsidized and can spend all his time painting, shmoozing gallery owners and and setting up exhibitions. Is it not clear that the "aid" to one is also a detriment to the other, who has to compete for attention with a rival who can spend all his time promoting himself?) For a discussion of possible consequences of such actions see "The War of All Against All", "Government Funding and the Creation of Strife", "Missionary Zeal and Human Discord", "How the Government Corrupts Relationships", "Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "The Consequences of Bad Laws", "Why Freedom Is Essential" and "The Road to Violence".

9. Middle class can be redefined not only to allow broad promises to be applied to narrow groups, it is also useful for manipulating statistics. "Middle class" can be redefined to easily show that any given measure had a benefit which largely accrued to the "middle class".

10. I suppose it is a matter of perspective, but personally I find it insulting to be told I am not competent to plan my own retirement, decide what is a suitable wage or working conditions, and so on. Nor is it simply a matter of economic control, laws control our social and personal decisions almost as closely, the liberal association with "free speech" from the 1960s through 1980s having since died off in the age of political correctness and trigger warnings, leaving no one to limit the expansion of government interference with every aspect of life. (To be clear, even in the period from about 1964 to 1988 or so, the idea that liberals protected social freedoms and conservative economic ones was not accurate, but it did hold a grain of truth. Today, liberals do not even have that much respect for social freedoms, and, sadly, many conservatives have given up on economic freedom as well. -- See "Economic Versus Social" and "The Political Spectrum".)

11. See "Social Security is not Insurance", "Selling Yourself Cheap" and "Not Quite True".

12. See "Arrogance and Gun Control" and "The Weakest Gun Control Argument".

13. An interesting parallel is found in those surveys which ask how individuals think the nation's economy is doing, and how their own finances are. Inevitably, they are largely happy with their own lot, but think the nation as a whole is in horrible shape. Obviously, both the belief in an economic crisis whose evidence they do not see around them, and a belief in general incompetence, they see in neither themselves or their acquaintances, have their origins in mass media, as well as specific political ideologies, but that is a topic for other essays. (Though a broad overview of my thoughts can be found in my, as yet incomplete, "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences". Other example can be found in "Big Government, Arrogance and Part-Time Psychopathy", "For Your Own Good -- The Problem with Subjective Rights" and "Intellect and Politics", among other essays.)

14. See "The 'Lucky' Rich", "Those Greedy Bankers", "Greed and the Price of Oil", "Evil and Greed", "Government by Emotion", "Weasel Words and Hollow Words",  "Selfishness as Reason - "Wants", "Needs", "Fairness" and Other Guises for Arbitrary Decisions", "Misleading Terminology", "Greed Versus Evil", "Brief Discussion of Envy", "Envy and Analogy", "Envy Kills", "Envy Kills II" and "Stupid Quotes of the Day (January 2, 2012)".

15. I would argue that the "idle rich" and "unproductive heirs and heiresses" fit the description better. (See "The Benefits of Inequalities of Wealth" and "The Irrationality of Government Redistribution".) Nor would I agree with the description about job creation, as it shares some of the same problems as similar descriptions of small businesses. (See "Stupid Quote of the Day (March 8, 2015)") Then again, it is difficult to precisely locate what segment of our society fits any such broad descriptions, nor is it really meaningful anyway. But since politicians seem inclined to make such statements, I can't help myself and, from time to time, must knock them down.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Back Again

Normally, when I am going away, I put up a message saying I am going to be away. For some reason, last week I forgot to do so.  I took my son away for a few days last Saturday (after his Christmas piano recital) and just got home today. So, if you noticed a remarkable lack of comments and posts, that is the reason. I hope to post something new tomorrow, but for now just want to say I am back, and sorry for the unannounced hiatus.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Thought for the Day

I know this will upset a LOT of Republicans, but I have to say it: Donald Trump is our Howard Dean. That is, he is the guy who generates a lot of enthusiasm among a fairly large group, whose appeal is an absolute mystery to those outside that group, and whose followers will be quietly disavowing for years to come as soon as the enthusiasm wears off. Or, to put it in another way, he is the guys whose bumper sticker followers are now so proud to display, and which they will hide in embarrassment for years to come.


I was thinking of comparing Trump to other populist candidates. Say, Huey Long, William Jennings Bryant, or Father Coughlin, but it really doesn't fit. Yes, he has a populist base, and often tries to sound like a man of the people, populist type, but he really just doesn't quite fit. Despite all the media mockery, and liberal shock at his beliefs they find outrageous, he really is not your typical populist. The one's I listed had real issues to which they were dedicated. For better or worse (and most of those I listed fall far into the "worse" category), they were candidates with real issues. Trump is more a weathervane of moderate populist, semi-conservative opinion. In that regard, he is more like Ross Perot, or even more like Bill Clinton, than any of those I listed above. Which is why, in the end, I decided he was, in the final analysis, a mirror image of Howard Dean, and, having given it some thought, unless he somehow hands on and wins the nomination -- creating the potential for a monumental embarrassment for the Republicans -- he will probably end up just like Dean. The only difference being Dean had only one embarrassing moment everyone recalls, while Trump will doubtless stick around to give us several.

Definition of the Day

Liberalism: The belief that those who have built up businesses from nothing, creating jobs and wealth are not competent to manage their own affairs, that workers are unable to figure out their own interests, and that the average man in the street cannot know what he "really" wants or needs -- in short, that you cannot possibly run your own life in a competent manner -- unless you are a college educated upper middle class Northeasterner (or movie star or musician), who has never worked outside of government or academia, in which case you are competent to run absolutely everything.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Things To Come

I am off tomorrow morning for a 6 day conference in Los Angeles, so probably will not be writing again until I return.  (Not sure who I am telling as what readers I have, if any, are terribly quiet about it, so I probably lack any regular readers at present.) Anyway, should some silent lurker exist and care about such things, I do have about 5 or 6 unfinished essays I want to finish when I return.

Of course, since I am mostly writing in the hope of some future reader stumbling upon this, and reading back through my old essays, as I have done on many newly discovered sites I enjoyed, I suppose I should include something substantive for those imaginary future fans who don't care about my travel plans.

So, for you, I will leave this brief thought I posted elsewhere recently:

People love to rebut criticism of their favorite film, book, political theory, cult, what have you, by saying others "just don't get it", implying the critics are just not bright enough to see the merit. But, perhaps the fact that so many people "don't get it" should tell them something. In other words, yes, sometimes something profound may be confusing, but it does not follow that everything confusing is profound. The complexity of General Relativity, and of your average 9/11 Truther's conspiracy theory may be equal, but that does not mean they have equal merit.

I don't know if that is enough to make this post count as substantive, but it is the best I can do on short notice.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What About Everyone Else?

NOTE: I noticed this article was cited in a note in my essay "Government by Emotion", and oddly enough, though one of my favorites, on a topic which is also a favorite (though oddly one I address all too infrequently), I never copied it o my new blog. And so, in hopes of inspiring myself to spend a little more time arguing against both parties' silly "pro-middle class" rhetoric (a favorite at election time), I am reproducing this post from September of 2008.

I saw a clip from Obama's new advertisement "Zero" and I have to ask, since when did we decree that the government was in power solely to benefit the middle class? I thought the government was supposed to represent all of the American people, rich, poor and middle class, not just the middle class.

Of course, this ad is just a smoke screen. Obama knows the Democrats have a reputation as the party of the poor and special interests, so he is trying to pretend he is the champion of the middle class. And that is a safe term, as everyone imagines they are "middle class". It means he can say anything and people will think it applies to them. Just as when Clinton said he would tax only "the rich", people thought that excluded them, until they found out "the rich" was everyone earning over $50,000 per year. Likewise, people are going to find out Obama's "middle class" is a pretty narrow group. Just like the "working families" who will see his tax breaks.

And that is the problem when we ask government favor one group. We think we will get the long end of the stick, but we don't know. We want to "soak the rich", but suddenly find out "the rich" is us, at least form the perspective of those below us. But that is the danger of giving in to class envy, unless you are at the absolute bottom, there is always someone who envies you and may offer a few more votes to the politicians than you can.

And honestly, why should we want a government to favor "the middle class" any more than it should favor "the poor" or "the rich"? The government should be blind, and treat all citizens exactly the same. That is the only equitable solution. I know right now there is a lot of populist rhetoric out there about government favoring the rich and about fat cat CEOs and all that usual garbage that its tossed around whenever someone thinks it might buy them some votes. But the solution is not to "soak the rich", but to stop stupidities such as this bailout.

The answer is not to balance out special favors to the rich with special favors to the poor and the middle class. The solution is to end all those special favors. We will never balance out favors, we will just have endless pressure group warfare. The answer is to create a state which is blind to class, to wealth, to all of that. A government which has no favors to hand out, so there is no fight about which group gets them. 

Once we reduce our government to a minimal night watchman, which stops crimes, defends the borders and settles civil suits, there are no longer favors, there are no longer benefits, and no one will care whether the government favors one group, as its favor will mean nothing. And that is the solution, not making the government favor this group or that, but to make the favor of government so worthless that no one cares who has it.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/09/29.

NOTE: In reproducing this, I did clean up a few typos.

NOTE: To be fair to myself, I did discuss some similar topics, though not specifically in terms of the middle class, rather in terms of conflicting systems of patronage, in "The Other 99%", "Patronage", "Patronage and Choice", "The Road to Violence" and "The War of All Against All", specifically addressing the idea of our assumptions versus those of the politicans making promises in "The Inherent Disappointment of Authoritarianism", so I did not completely ignore this topic. But it does need to be mentioned a bit more, especially in election years.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Question of Fairness

NOTE: I was fixing some links in "Children's Programming and Left Wing Thought", which (because I copied them from earlier essays) still pointed to my old blog. In the process, I discovered this essay, which I know I have cited a number of times, had not yet been copied to this blog. So I am posting it now to allow me to go back and fix those old links. (It is not actually the essay itself that maters so much, but rather the single end note, which is my first mention of the lack of meaning for the word "fair", the initial instance of a thought which would develop later into many essays such as "Weasel Words and Hollow Words".)

I am not normally one to decry unfairness, as I believe life is inherently unfair and you have to deal with what comes your way, fair or not. As I said in "Life Is Not Fair - And Trying To Make It So Makes Things Worse" and " Fairness and the Free Market", fairness is not a valid consideration when speaking of the economy*, or of life in general. Things just are, to claim reality is "unfair" is to show a profound lack of understanding of reality.

On the other hand, when it comes to volitional human actions, especially in arbitrary choices, that is those where they can choose any course at all, it is valid to speak of fairness. Of course it is still rather pointless to complain of unfairness, as capricious human acts are common, but at least it makes sense to accuse those people of being unfair, if only to point out that perhaps they should not be entrusted with power over their fellows.

And I think there is a bit of a double standard on the part of some of the press and members of the political left. After all, these people were ready to investigate Cheney for ties to Haliburton, accusing him of being involved in criminal acts simply because he was once employed by Haliburton and, in their minds, Haliburton profited form the war.

Well, by the same standards, isn't Obama a valid target for investigation? He once worked for ACORN and then ACORN profited through his election. In fact, he was elected in part because of the actions of ACORN, which he then rewarded with large sum of money, despite charges of their participation in election fraud. Not only did he give them money, but they were also never investigated, as an organization, concerning their role in election fraud. Charges which their recent illegal activities make more plausible.

Now, before anyone gets upset, let me say I don't think Obama knowingly involved himself in election fraud. I suppose he may have known from his community organizer days that ACORN was pretty much straddling the line of legality, and often coming down on the wrong side, but even given that it would be hard to prove he did anything wrong. No, my point is the opposite. On the basis of very thin evidence, many on the left were ready to hang Cheney, or even Bush, and some in the press even granted them credence, or at least treated their accusations as having some plausibility. However, with much stronger evidence of ties to wrongdoing, the same people are going out of their way to state that Obama has done nothing wrong.

Just something to keep in mind whenever someone says you are crazy to think there is a press bias. Also, maybe something for those on the left to consider before they dive headlong into the next conspiracy theory.


* I include the economy because, though driven by human choices, the market as a whole is largely impersonal. So it is hard to say that the totality of choices made by all our fellows are somehow "unfair". They may not produce the outcome we want, but that does not make it somehow unjust. Then again, the word "fair" has so many meanings in conversation it is almost worthless, as it can mean almost anything. Like "justice" it is a protean word that can be used in deceptive argument, meaning one thing to one audience and something else to another.


For those who have not read my blog before, I am no fan of the theory of "unbiased reporting". I think it is an historical anomaly, and one that has proved itself impossible to maintain in practice. It would be much better for us to admit bias and create a number of competing biased outlets, allowing the public to know the bias at the outset and then use that knowledge to evaluate the news reported. It has to be better than our current "smuggled bias" reporting. (See  "The Death of Impartial Media",  "The Impossibility of Unbiased Reporting",  "The Press Versus The Nation", "Some Thoughts on the Media")

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2009/09/17.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Children's Programming and Left Wing Thought

Today, while flicking through channels, I came upon an animated movie that provided almost a perfect example of the liberal world view. It so perfectly illustrated the liberal mindset I described in "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences" and elsewhere1, that I felt it was worth taking a more detailed look.

The basic plot is nothing new, in fact it is such a pedestrian plot in its broad outlines that it amazes me I never noticed before how many of these children's films follow the liberal view of the state. Well, to be fair, perhaps it is not so surprising, as the liberal view also follows a rather commonplace plot line from any number of juvenile tales, that being the "lone voice in the wilderness" standing up against a popular mistake2. So, I suppose, it is difficult to tell at times if a given book or film is simply reusing a tired, juvenile plotline, or is embracing the liberal philosophy which sadly seems to be based upon that plotline. Since it is hard to tell if the story is pushing an immature fantasy, or an immature political philosophy based on that fantasy, I will, for the moment, not worry about the question and assume, whichever is the primary intent, because the two goals are so close, to embrace one is to embrace the other.

So, back to our film. In "Over the Hedge", a fast talking raccoon tries to steal food from a hibernating bear. In the process, the food is destroyed and the bear threatens to kill the raccoon. The raccoon promises to restore the food by the full moon (in a week), or face the bear's wrath. While trying to find a way to carry this out, the raccoon stumbles across a "family" of various animals (a skunk, some porcupines, a few  opossums, a squirrel and some others), led by a wise, cautious turtle who decides what is safe by the tingling of his tail. This group has led a sensible, safe existence by constantly preparing for winter, dutifully filling up a hollow trunk with food, all under the turtle's sage, but sensitive, leadership.

Seeing an opportunity, the raccoon exposes this group to stolen human food, hoping to tempt them with tasty junk food into gathering up what he needs to pay off the bear. And, as expected, they fall for it, being led astray by superficial wants, rather than fulfill their "true needs." Of course, only the wise turtle understands this, and tries to return them to the "right way", but he is largely ignored3. Of course, this eventually leads to trouble for the family of animals, from which the turtle manages to eventually rescue them. And, in the end, the raccoon comes around and sees the value of "the right way".

I know, not exactly an unusual story, but it is striking how well it fits with the liberal view of reality. After all, what is liberalism but the view that people need to be protected from themselves? That they often place superficial "wants" above "true needs"4? That at times this blindness is exploited by sinister forces? And at others simply misleads the blind, ignorant masses into wrong choices? How often do we hear the left bemoan the workers acting against their "class interest"? Questioning why they are so slow to unionize? Worrying that but for the state, the masses would inevitably make "the wrong choice" on this issue or that? In short, what is liberalism but an elitist philosophy the believes the wise minority must protect the foolish majority from their own incompetence?

And that is, sadly, the message contained in far too many children's films. Of course, as I said, it is not exactly an uncommon plotline. And you can see why. It is a popular fantasy among teens, preteens and their equivalents. To be the only one who sees the truth, who is ignored by others5, and is finally vindicated in the end, it is the stuff of many teen day dreams. What is troubling is how many adults also find this an appealing dream, and, worse, how many have founded a political philosophy based upon little more than this juvenile delusion.

Then again, I have argued many times the philosophical basis of much of modern politics is disturbingly juvenile, so this merely serves to make that case6. I suppose I should not be surprised.


1. See also "The Condescention of Understanding", "Liberalism, "Idealists" and Internal Contradictions", "Humility and Freedom", "Outsider Art", "Eurocentrism? Racism? Liberal Traits All", "I Don't Get It. Actually, I Do, and It Is Horribly Insulting", "Arrogance", "The Essence of Liberalism", "Arrogance and Gun Control", "Apology as Arrogance", "Big Government, Arrogance and Part-Time Psychopathy", "The Problem of Established Perspectives ",  "Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "Man's Nature and Government", "Seeing People as Stupid", "Our View of Our Fellow Citizens", "Individual and Aggregate", "Those Other People", "Another Look At Exploitation", "Common Sense,Philosopher Kings, Arbitrary Law and Dictatorship", "Help and Harm", "Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "In Loco Parentis", "The Case for Small Government", "Harming Society",  "De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est", "The Life Coach Culture", "The Great 'What If?' - Advertising, Gullibility, Education, Capitalism and Socialism" and "For Your Own Good -- The Problem with Subjective Rights".

2. I often think this is why so many liberals are willing to tolerate Churchill, even though the views he held would have been absolutely abhorrent to them. Because he spent such a long time "in the wilderness" he is a perfect fit for their elitist world view, and they can't help but have a soft spot for him, despite his views. And it doesn't hurt that he had a fondness for pithy witticisms that also fit with their idea of what is "clever". (See "The Era of the Cocky Know It All ".)

3. The film is surprisingly honest then the turtle denounces the raccoon, but in so doing is a bit too honest, calling the others "stupid and naïve". It is interesting because it does quite clearly explain the foundation of interventionist beliefs, and, more than that, it also is rather true to life, as, though it works at times to their detriment, those on the left many times simply cannot help but express their true feelings, and end up running down those "other people" for their lack of intelligence. (See  "Intellect and Politics".)

4. See "The Most Misleading Word", "Luxury and Necessity", "Res Ipsa Loquitur", "A Question of Fairness", "Protean Terminology", "One More Meaningless Word and Its Consequences", "Confucius, Aedes Aegypti, Pluto, Sub-Species, Conservatives and Republicans", "Misunderstanding Arbitrary Definitions", "Weasel Words and Hollow Words", "Semantic Games", "Misleading Terminology", "Smoking Versus Sex -- Want and Need Take Two", "Can We Ban the Word 'Scarce'?", "Government by Emotion" and  "Selfishness as Reason - 'Wants', 'Needs', 'Fairness' and Other Guises for Arbitrary Decisions".

5. Is it not the cliché that every teen cries "you'll miss me when I'm gone"? Is it not almost the same to claim "you'll see how right I was"?

6. See "An Immature Society", "The Presumption of Dishonesty", "Deadly Cynicism", "Self-Serving Cynicism and Our Cultural Immaturity", "Life Is Not Fair - And Trying To Make It So Makes Things Worse",  "The Threat of Perfection", "Utopianism and Disaster","Catastrophic Thinking, The Political, Economic and Social Impact of Seeing History in the Superlative", "All Life in a Day, or, How Our Mistaken View of History Distorts Our Understanding of Events.", "Shameless", "In Defense of Standards" , "Addenda to "In Defense of Standards"" , "O Tempora! O Mores!, or, The High Cost of Supposed Freedom" , "A Bit of Clarification" , "Our Unique Age, A Tempting Falsehood" , "Inversion of Traditional Values",   "Cranky Old Man?", "Faux "Maturity"", "Pushing the Envelope", "I Blame the Romantics", "The Adoration of Youth", "Juvenile Intellectuals" and "Trophy Spouses".

A Brief Thought on Skepticism

Generally, I think of myself as a skeptic. (Cf "Some Thoughts About a Specific Conspiracy Theory, or Maybe Two", "GMO Revisited - As Well as Hormones, Soy, Phytoestrogens, and a Host of Other Food Scares", "The Gadarene Swine Fallacy", "The Appeal of Conspiracy Theories", "Backwards Thinking and the Number of the Beast", "Ritual Abuse, Backwards Logic and Conspiracy Theories","False Flag Theories and 9/11", "Backwards Logic", "Maybe Obama Was Born in Gulf Breeze, Florida", "Can Hawaiians Travel Overseas?", "Conspiracies Vs. Conspiracy Theories", "Sleight of Hand", "Self-Sustaining Beliefs", "Mumia, the DaVinci Code, Full Body Scans, and Loose Change - How Conspiracy Theories Arise"and "Conspiracy Theories".) I deny the validity of Birther claims (though initially I gave a fair hearing to claims about the birth certificate, but quickly dismissed them, and never accepted the rest.). I believe Oswald shot Kennedy, and Ruby shot Oswald, all of their own volition for reasons they alone know for sure, but none involving any sort of conspiracies. I believe vaccinations are good. GMOs are safe. 9/11 was carried out by 19 men sponsored by al Qaida, and so on. However, when I look at self-described "skeptic" sites, I begin to wonder. First, the rampant atheism worries me. Not because individual skeptics are atheist, or even personally espouse atheism, but because they seem to set it forth as the only acceptable position, while I thought the question of religious faith was, in philosophical terms, unfalsifiable, and hence not open to scientific inquiry. I have no problem objecting to, say, creationism, young earth theories and so on, but to simply advocate atheism seems outside the remit of proper skepticism.(Cf "Is The Flying Spaghetti Monster From Canada?", "A Bit Disappointed in CSICOP - The Difference Between God and UFOs" and "Atheism's Circular Reasoning".)

But that is small potatoes compared to the other issue. Why are skeptics so quick to assume liberal political belief is "rational"? It started to come to my attention when so many skeptics accepted the disputed "hockey stick" graph and talked about climate change "deniers" as conspiracy theorists. Now, I grant, there are some who find a conspiracy in anything,but to simply question why the IPCC relies on a chart which does not show the historically documented warm and cool periods over the past 1000 years, or models which fail when run over historical data hardly puts one in the category of truthers or those promoting Bilderberger plans for world domination. (See "Why "Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst" is Bad Policy".)

And it gets worse. Just check out the supposed "rational" wiki and look up neoconservative or Dennis Prager and see the venting of liberal bile. And no, I am not saying Prager is correct, or a paragon of truth, but note the same treatment is not accorded, for example, the much less reliable Michael Moore. It seem their skepticism is limited to those who espouse limited government. (And they also seem to equate this with war mongering and all manner of other ills. Buying into a "conspiracy theory" of their own making.)

I could go on, but I realize writing when I am annoyed makes for bad text. So, let me just ask one question: Liberalism is based upon the premise that the state must protect us. However, if we are too incompetent to fend for ourselves as individuals, why do we suddenly gain the ability to make correct decisions when acting as a group? And why are those too incompetent to decide for themselves as private citizens suddenly competent to wield power when elected to office or appointed to a bureaucracy? How is belief in such a mystical transformation from endlessly incompetent to "the magic bureaucrat" a skeptical position? (Cf "Common Sense,Philosopher Kings, Arbitrary Law and Dictatorship", "Socialism, Communism, Democracy, Authoritarianism and Freedom - Is It Possible to Have a Non-Authoritarian Socialism?" and "The Problem of Established Perspectives".)


To be completely honest, I suppose I believe a second "conspiracy" theory. I accept reports of shells filled with ricin and other agents as proof Saddam did have WMDs, even thought they were "old". I also think his dual use pipes and other items were intended for a nuclear program. I don't think he actually had the technical know-how to pull it off, but I think he believed he did. And, I do not accept Foggy Bottom claims he was not intending such, as the same people told us Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program, at least until they admitted they did. People who drop the ball on something that large are not the best guides, especially when they have engaged in rather partisan leaks and the like. So, guess I am a "conspiracy theorist". Then again, the "skeptics" believe in "neocon warmongering", which I find absurd. No one wants war, some of us just recognize it is not the ultimate evil, there are worse outcomes than war.

Beyond this belief in WMDs and my "climate change denial", the only other conspiracy theories I ever entertained were (1) I accepted the idea that FDR may have manipulated us into Pearl harbor, though I was 17 at the time, and a liberal, and decided it was nonsense after a few hours of thought (and even then was only convinced, and only slightly, by my grandfather's tales of unsuccessful evacuation drills in Pearl Harbor during the 1930s) and (2) I agreed with a very limited bit of Holy Blood, Holy Grail (again, when 17 or 18), but only to the extent that I accepted Jesus may have intended the "King of the Jews" bit literally, not figuratively, but even that I accepted only as possible, not certain, and I never bought the rest of the whole "blood line of Jesus/Priory of Sion/everything else Dan Brown ripped off" nonsense. Beyond that, I have a hard time thinking of any conspiracies I have accepted. Though, apparently, being a conservative is buying into an irrational belief, so paint me a conspiracist, I guess.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hypocritical Government

I know I hold a minority view in believing the government exists solely to protect individual rights and should never undertake actions to stop "bad" behavior that does not violate the rights of another (eg. drug use, prostitution, gambling, etc), but I have to say, in many cases, the arguments offered for laws intended to protect citizens from themselves, to try to supposedly save them from their own bad decisions, make absolutely no sense. So much so that even those who do not agree with my basic thesis must see the problem. At least so I imagine, though often discussions have shown me that others sometimes don't quite see what I do.

A great example is to be found in laws about gambling.

For our purposes, let us use the laws as they now existed, and existed over the past three decades or so, in the state of Maryland, as I know them better than any other, and, though perhaps slightly more hypocritical due to the horse racing industry, are neither especially hostile towards gambling, nor especially lenient.

When I was younger, from the 1970s through most of the 1980s, Maryland had laws which it shared with most of the nation. Gambling was illegal, be it a casino, a friendly poker game, a slot machine or an office pool. Obviously, the law was rarely enforced in the smaller cases, with few police ever busting midnight card games or Super Bowl pools, but, at least nominally, all such actions were illegal. And the argument was the same offered in most other states as well. Gambling tempted "the weakest among us", taking their money away, often from those who could least afford it, and thus needed to be banned.

Before I go on, I would like to note how well this argument matches what I have previously dubbed the stereotypical liberal argument*. The problem is the fault of mysterious "other people", the listener is excluded from blame, he and the speaker are part of the wise elite who must guide the less wise to the proper course of action. And, so as not to appear to be "blaming the victim", these people are identified as "the weakest among us". (Which, quite patronizingly, is equated with poverty by discussing how they can ill afford it. A strange position for a supposed liberal to take, though, in truth, condescension is not that unusual on the left**.) The argument implies, though never states, wise souls such as ourselves could choose to gamble, and would do so without harm, but we must forgo this option for the sake of these poor benighted souls.

But let us put aside the patronizing tone of the argument for a moment, and look instead at the simple logic of it. Gambling is in some way a danger to some group of people, something they cannot resist, which does them harm, and thus they must be protected against it. It is a consistent argument. Not one with which I would agree, mind you, nor one I think consistent with either man's nature, or the nature of reality, and certainly contrary to what I believe to be the purpose of government, but on its own terms, if you accept the underlying premises, it is fully consistent.

Until you recall that in the 70s and 80s Maryland law allowed an exception for charities holding casino nights.

Now if gambling is dangerous, a siren song for the wrong sort of people, inevitably crushing them upon the rocks of bankruptcy, what difference does it make who runs the games and for what purpose? If we ban gambling because it is harmful, how does it become benevolent, or at least innocuous, when the money goes to charity? That would be akin to allowing a YMCA crack house, or permitting the Girl Scouts to perform murder for hire. If it is dangerous, it is dangerous, and if that is the logic by which a ban is justified, then the motive of those operating the dangerous activity makes no difference***.

But, some might argue, perhaps the exception is allowed because, though still potentially harmful, most casino nights are one time events, not regular activities, and have relatively small stakes. As such, even someone highly likely to be harmed by gambling could suffer little harm, as he would have but a single night, and strict limits on wagers, and thus the benefits of allowing charities to run such events outweighs the potential harm.

Which would make sense did not Maryland also allow wagering five days a week, all day long, at the state's horse tracks. And run a once a day lottery, later adding a four digit version to the three digit one, and then moving to two drawings a day, as well as a weekly (later twice weekly) Lotto with million dollar or more jackpots. And in the late 80s added a keno game, played in bars, restaurants, nightclubs, stores and elsewhere, with drawings every five minutes. Granted, the funds from the lotteries all benefited the state, nominally going to education***, but still, it is hard to argue such a wealth of gaming options prevented the supposed "weakest among us" from doing themselves harm.  In fact, if you accept the logic of the gambling ban, it is hard to come to any conclusion other than that the state was financing itself -- and the politically influential horse racing industry -- at the expense of those it claimed to protect.

The absurdity of this was most obvious when the debates opened on allowing casino gambling in Maryland****. To hear politicians arguing that gambling would hurt Maryland, would impoverish the citizens and so on, at the same time they were expanding to two lottery drawings a day, was too much for anyone to take them seriously. To say with a straight face "we cannot allow gambling to COME TO Maryland", after authorizing horse races, lotteries, lottos, kenos and the occasional charity casino night, is just absurd*****.

It gets even more absurd. In recent years, losing revenue to slot machines in neighboring Delaware and West Virginia (as well as Atlantic City casinos, which had drawn off revenue for even longer), and with the slot revenue at horse tracks in neighboring states threatening Maryland's racing industry -- the revenues from slots allowing large purses, while attracting bigger crowds -- Maryland finally decided to allow first slots and later some casino gambling, at least in a few limited venues. At first, I took this as a triumph for common sense -- at least a limited one. Granted, the state was still strictly regulating the allowable number of casinos, and thus implicitly treating gambling as some sort of suspect activity, but at least it was confessing, after decades of lotteries and horse racing, casino gambling would not be the end of the world.

Until today, that is. Today, I saw what had to be the most absurd news item yet. Maryland, now allowing not only charitable casino nights, lotteries, horse racing, lotto and keno, but slot machines and casinos, was set to go after on line fantasy football, because it was illegal gambling! In other words, despite all the types of gambling now permissible, Maryland was still bent on enforcing a law predicated upon the idea that gambling is a danger! I cannot think of a more absurd or hypocritical legal stand.


* See "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences", "Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "Man's Nature and Government", "Seeing People as Stupid", "Our View of Our Fellow Citizens", "Individual and Aggregate", "Those Other People", "Another Look At Exploitation", "Common Sense,Philosopher Kings, Arbitrary Law and Dictatorship", "Help and Harm", "Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "In Loco Parentis", "The Case for Small Government", "Harming Society", "Smoking Versus Sex -- Want and Need Take Two", "De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est", "The Life Coach Culture", "The Great 'What If?' - Advertising, Gullibility, Education, Capitalism and Socialism" and "For Your Own Good -- The Problem with Subjective Rights".

** See "The Condescention of Understanding", "Liberalism, "Idealists" and Internal Contradictions", "Humility and Freedom", "Outsider Art", "Eurocentrism? Racism? Liberal Traits All", "I Don't Get It. Actually, I Do, and It Is Horribly Insulting", "Arrogance", "The Essence of Liberalism", "Arrogance and Gun Control", "Apology as Arrogance", "Big Government, Arrogance and Part-Time Psychopathy" and "Intellect and Politics".

*** This ruse always amuses me. It is a subterfuge which fools a surprising number of people, yet one I would normally think would be too obvious to enjoy such success. Even if the law is written in an air tight way (and most are not), even if money cannot be "laundered" into other uses, allocating funds exclusively to education -- at least as long as those funds represent 100% or less of normal allocations -- means nothing. After all, for every lottery dollar "dedicated" to education, another dollar budgeted for education can be allocated to something else. It is surprising how many forget this, but money is fungible, and until the lottery income exceeds all other monies allocated, adding a dollar of dedicated lottery money does nothing but free another dollar from a different part of the budget for other uses. In short, it is meaningless.

**** As I describe in "A Most Dishonest Debate", there was also a political element involved, so some of the dishonesty was deception of another stripe. Casinos were first seriously raised by Bob Ehrlich, our first Republican governor in some time. And, not surprisingly, the Democratic legislature treated the proposal as if he had suggested using cannibals to cater school lunch programs. When he left office, and was replaced by safely Democratic Martin O'Malley, suddenly a fair number of those who decried gambling as worse than murder suddenly saw it as fiscal common sense. However, the reason I mention this at all, is a number of Democrats, despite party ties, did continue to decry gambling, making the absurd sort of arguments I described.

***** In truth, even if we had no gambling, the correct term would have been "return to", as Maryland had once had legal slot machines.



Even before legal gambling came to Maryland, there was quite a bit of small scale illegal gambling as well. For example, when I worked as a bartender in the early 1990s at a small, rather middle brow yacht club, we had a number of video poker machines. The machines, quite obviously, could not be allowed to pay out on winning hands. However, they were set up to award "credits" for each win, allowing the players, when they grew tired, to ask the staff to "refund" their remaining money, which basically worked the same way a pay out would have. And I saw similar subterfuges, as well as a great deal of outright flaunting of anti-gambling laws -- throughout the 1980s and 1990s.


Some may argue that the laws exist because the state worries about "rigged" or "fixed" games, and wants to control gambling to keep games honest. However, the evidence contradicts that. First of all, the words of the politicians themselves are not about the risks of rigged games, but rather the harm gambling does to individuals and families. Second, if that was the concern, then why disallow small office pools and private poker nights? Are these really likely venues for card sharps and other criminals? Third, if the worry is over fairness, then is not the solution* what we currently have? Gambling allowed but regulated and monitored by the state? After all, if cheating is your worry, a regulated, licensed gaming environment is less likely to include cheating than an underground, ad hoc, likely criminal controlled gambling environment such as exists when it is illegal. No, the laws and the words of the politicians do not support this argument.

* In truth, the best solution is to simply allow gambling. The law should be used -- appropriately -- to prosecute for fraud when real cheating is discovered, but for the most part, casinos, or other games, which pay out too infrequently or offer odds that are too long, will quickly develop their own bad reputation and be driven out by less suspect games. It may take time, but then again regulators do not guarantee all problems will be instantly identified and resolved either, so I never see why the delays of free market solutions are held up as flaws. (See "The Free Market Solution", "There Are Other Solutions", "Zero Sum Games", "Government Quackery", "Planning for Imperfection", "Competition", "The Basics", "Greed Versus Evil", "The Free Market Solution", "Two Sided Processes and Claims of 'Unfair' Outcomes", "A New Look at Intervention", "Selfishness as Reason - 'Wants', 'Needs', 'Fairness' and Other Guises for Arbitrary Decisions", "Weasel Words and Hollow Words", "The Limits of "Scientific" Management", "The Case for Small Government", "Fairness and the Free Market", "Capitalism and Its Consequences", "Another Look At Exploitation", "Third Best Economy", "The Gadarene Swine Fallacy", "Denying Reality", "The Threat of Perfection", "Utopianism and Disaster", "Two Examples of "Inefficiency" in Capitalism", "Misunderstanding the Market", "The Secret of Success, or, Why Government Fails", "Imperfect Competition, Abstraction and Anti-Trust", "Technology and 'Natural Monopolies'", "Unfair Advantage and Foreign Trade", "The Importance of Error", "Adaptability and Government" and "Redundancy as a Protective Measure".)

Monday, November 2, 2015

One Sided Perspectives

It is interesting to me how often you hear statements such as "You're a conservative, of course you deny global warming*," while rarely hearing the opposite, that one's liberalism clearly entails specific beliefs. Not only does it imply that conservatism involves, not reasoned positions, but rather knee jerk, irrational, rote beliefs, but it also suggests that the liberal positions, being well reasoned and thought through, are the beliefs of the common man, or at least the educated one**.

The first implication is clearly the most prominent, that being that conservative, rather than thinking through issues and coming to independent conclusions, simply adopt a politicized slate of beliefs, without any thought, the additional implication being that such beliefs would likely not withstand critical analysis. Of course, this is completely absurd for any number of reasons. First, it is quite possible a given belief could be associated with conservatism, not because all conservatives blindly adopt it, but rather because those who believe it tend toward conservative positions. For example, free market supporters tend toward conservatism (or libertarianism, but let us ignore that for now). Thus, it would be absurd to assume conservatives just adopt free market beliefs, as it is far more likely those beliefs drove them to conservatism. Second, it is also possible that, rather than a given belief being explicitly conservative, that instead the contrary belief is a liberal orthodoxy, and thus anyone holding the contrary view is seem as conservative. And that is, at least in part, the case here. It is not so much that conservatives deny AGW, as that a specific set of beliefs have become liberal orthodoxy, and anyone promoting a contrary view is dubbed a conservative "denier".

That second point brings us to the other implication, and one that is a bit troubling.  While it is true that a certain set of, rather extreme, beliefs about AGW are pretty much a litmus test of one's liberalism***, and thus the fact that conservatives hold differing opinions is not so much due to their conservatism, as due to the lack of a need to uphold that dogma, there is another side to the matter. It seems the mainstream also holds to the liberal line, or, at least among those who have no truly strong opinions, who have neither staked out an ideological claim, or undertaken any research into the matter. Thanks to the media, government and much of academia, the most extreme AGW positions have been placed firmly in the public consciousness, at least among those with a casual interest or less.

This is a problem for conservatives, and not just because it shows to what degree the left is winning in the popular culture. It is a problem because, in recent years, I have noticed a growth of what I dubbed the "Angry Right", our version of the angry left we saw so much in 2000 and 2004. This angry right has one serious problem (well, more than one, but one that is relevant here), and that is a tendency to see those holding any liberal beliefs, not as misguided, confused, or potential converts, but rather as the enemy, to assume anyone espousing liberal positions is not wrong, but evil, motivated by dishonest and sinister motives. And thanks tot his belief, a small but very vocal element among conservatives has essentially given up on reaching out to the left, attempting to convince them of their mistakes, and win back those who have accepted left wing beliefs****.

That would be a dangerous belief under almost any circumstances, but is especially dangerous today. As I have demonstrated with AGW beliefs, the left still has a strong hold on popular culture, despite the rise of "the new media", and thus, for the most part, those without a strong political identity tend to accept the left's view on any number of issues. So if we choose to view anyone holding left wing beliefs as the enemy, to circle our wagons and allow none of them in, then that would mean writing off a significant majority of the American public, and condemn conservatism to become an insular minority, one growing smaller -- and politically less relevant -- year by year.


* I won't discuss it here, but it is fascinating how the debate has been framed in terms of "global warming deniers", to place those who question specific conclusions in the same camp as Holocaust deniers and other fringe beliefs. Given how many perfectly reputable scientists, especially among climatologists, disagree with various elements of the doomsday story which dominates the public story about AGW, it seems a bit bizarre to call anyone who disagrees with the media's Chicken Little tale a "denier". I also note there is not similarly insulting term for those pushing the specific, excessively extreme version so popular among politicians and the media.

** It is hard to tell whether liberals imagine their belief is supported by the public at large or some educated elite. Given their tendency to view themselves as an elite within the populace ("Arrogance", "The Essence of Liberalism", "Arrogance and Gun Control", "Man's Nature and Government", "Seeing People as Stupid", "Our View of Our Fellow Citizens", "Individual and Aggregate", "Those Other People", "The Condescention of Understanding",  "Liberalism, "Idealists" and Internal Contradictions", "Humility and Freedom", "Outsider Art", "The Problem of Pornography", "Lying Politicians and "Other People"", "Selfishness as Reason - "Wants", "Needs", "Fairness" and Other Guises for Arbitrary Decisions", "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences""Apology as Arrogance", "Big Government, Arrogance and Part-Time Psychopathy", "Intellect and Politics"), probably the latter, though in truth, by pushing their agenda through the mass media, their position is held by the "unthinking masses" they imagine despise them, rather than their imaginary intellectual vanguard.

*** If you doubt this is true, visit liberal blogs and just note the venom they spew upon "climate change deniers". It seems questioning the hockey stick graph or claims of multi-degree temperature increases in the next century makes one subject to worse abuse than racists, sexists, homophobes and others that normally receive such verbal abuse. It is actually rather shocking to read the amount of abuse heaped upon people for simply holding differing beliefs on a scientific question. (And one that non-politicized scientists agree is far from settled.)

**** See "The Path of Least Resistance" and "Technophobes and Conservatives -- The Risk of Assumptions".