0401. on differing opinions, the Superficial Socialist podcast, & feminism

Regardless of your political inclinations, everyone should download and listen to The Superficial Socialist podcast, in which two millenials relay in universal and understandable terms the modern movements of the political left, discussing culture, politics and the media in society. The episodes are generally short and snappy, and if you’re feeling particularly uncharitable you can play at 2.2x speed on your chosen podcast app, for a listening time of less than ten minutes. (2.2x is the fastest speed that I find I can still safely consume most — but certainly not all — podcasts). As you can guess, they speak from the point of view of the left, and sound with low tones and knowing condescension like two middle-class white champagne socialists, but that need not affect the points they make, and in fact lends a much-needed perspective.

As noted by the mainstream media recently, there are consumer-friendly algorithms on social media to the point where if you click like on some articles and not on others, in no time at all you are only being shown the perspective that you agree with. Juana Summers, a political editor for CNN politics, said that social media is in effect an enormous marketplace for ideas, where every idea will come up against every other one, and the truth will be found for the betterment of society. But this has not been happening. For all the fuss about censorship on Twitter, my recommended feed is now almost entirely one-sidedly right-wing. Make a habit of buying the opposite newspaper one day, or subscribing to a dissident mailing list. I do not mean to infer the argument that the left is wrong; the right is wrong; the truth is somewhere in-between, but, for example, if you consider yourself right wing, you must understand and explore that which you disagree with, otherwise you’re just as bad as a group of 65 year-olds reading exclusively Marxist economics and barking about the Virgin Fields.

Anyway, the new episode is an exploration of pop culture and feminism, with the question Can a pop star ever truly be a feminist? I had to take it down to 1.2x speed for this one. About halfway through, Marxine seemed to define a feminist as a woman being a woman, which I think holds some credence. A woman who, though society may have moulded her in some way in the same way that society moulds any man, does what she wills in the purest way. A female, feminist artist, for example, is not necessarily her who takes up the banner and cause of feminism in its crudest definitions, but simply she who rises above such influence and drama to create the art that she wants to. This necessarily involves a stark realism, and is not a value judgement at all. This does not define feminism as a good social movement, but instead implies that a feminist — or egalitarian — society is one in which a woman can will. If a female, feminist artist created, in all honesty, a terrible piece of work, judgement could only be upon her, and it would still be an expression of a woman’s right to create. This is in contrast to the commonplace phenomenon of viewing a certain movement as progress — and therefore good — then being forced to justify its worst outcomes [the second part of that article], because of the umbrella term.

The conversation then drifts to familiar territory; misdirected fawning, negative energy and disdain for modern consumerism, the latter of which is of course an important topic, if a bit tired.

XXXIX. on cultural isolationism

A short plugging of the American Conservative University Podcast, first, which is a fountain of knowledge. It is rarely “fair”, as “both sides of the argument” are not considered on much of the excerpts that the podcast publishes, but if you have an interest in truth and justice (and parenting. I am 24 and I’ve got a number of years before raising children, but I have listened to probably ten hours of parenting tips over the past few months just because they are so radical and intriguing), you should listen to the podcast.

Anyway, cultural isolationism in all forms is harmful to a people, a society, and ultimately all of civilisation. All cultures nowadays are amalgamations of a traditional essence of a people (of which there are many forms) and a massive number of borrowed traits. Most of the time these traits can be mixed up and switched out depending on their effectiveness. For example, if an immigrant to another country can swallow his pride enough to learn the language and culturally appropriate the mannerisms of that country, while also keeping his own culture in his heart, he is more likely to succeed in that new home (look at the Jews, the Chinese or the Lebanese). This is not to say that one culture in essence is better than another, just that there are more preferable and less preferable traits within those cultures, an understanding which is ignored or intentionally suppressed in modern society.

The data is out there—for anyone interested, please read Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective by Thomas Sowell—but I will give just one obvious example of cultural isolation: Spain translates more books into Spanish in one year than the sum of all the Arabic nations have translated books into Arabic in the last thousand years. This wide dispersion of culture teaches tolerance within western society over the past two hundred years has brought overwhelming equality, respect and insurmountable progress, things which a number of Arabic nations do not have, and even vehemently oppose. Nowhere is this clearer than in America, where positive cultural traits were adopted by all and negative traits were forgotten, in the Melting Pot, that experiment which has led to human prosperity, well-being and freedom the like of which no one on the Earth ever thought possible just one hundred years ago. The trick, which America (and all of humanity) is still learning, is how to know which cultural traits are good and which cultural traits are bad. The fact that there are drawbacks with this system (lost culture, diffusive minorities) does not always mean there is a better option.

XXXVIII. on changing conservatism

This post was conceived to be mainly about British politics, but really applies to conservatism everywhere. In short: America has saved the world.

At a medium length: the explosion of positive, fact-based conservatism that has arisen from America’s classic liberalism has created in the world a widespread revolution in conservative thinking. Conservatism in most places, Britain being my firsthand example, until very recently in history, meant royalism, elitism, and a return to class systems—the latter arising from the others; social mobility was very difficult if not impossible for most.

Then came liberalism, and the American way, and the Great Experiment, and individualism, and self-rule, and the world’s first modern republic arose. There were inalienable rights that were universal for all men (eventually). For a long time, rights were understood to be given to you by the king, or by the law, or by your keepers, but rarely by a creator (take from that what you will, of course). And then over the next two centuries, America, through agriculture and industry, became the greatest nation to have ever existed (in terms of economy, welfare, culture and militaristic benevolence).

Then Marxism gripped the world, or tried to, three or four times (1890s, 1930s, 60s, and now), and anti-historicity became the way of the world; what was old was unjust, and tried, and there must be something better. There was no individual, only community; no individual rights, only the welfare of the society. And this new idea was not conservative. In fact, somehow, it became liberal.

Over the years, then, classic liberalism became known in America as conservatism, and socialism became known as liberalism. American conservatism, in its best incarnations, is still as radical and moral as it was almost two hundred and fifty years ago; perhaps more properly seen as constitutionalism. And this conservatism, perhaps because of its historical context and economic validity, or perhaps because of its compatibility with other historical, economically valid principles: free market capitalism and freedom of the press, has gradually seeped into worldwide culture.

The royalism of old conservatism has receded into arguments about tourism, the elitism has become solidarity, and the class warfare has become class-blindness. At least in the modern strains of conservatism, those newer parties or those smarter leaders, those following the American brand, politics is being saved. My point becomes clear when we compare that to modern liberalism, where there are a number of truths that are not true: all royals are inbred and ancient: evil and corrupt, all elites are right-wing: they control the media, all the upper class are pigs: eat the rich. By these mantras and a few others, socialism is once again rearing its ugly head, but it seems that American values have safeguarded us to some extent, and may still yet save us.

XXXVII. on the current state of the GOP nomination race

I come at this with a certain amount of what some might call bias, — I, of course, would say that it is a political philosophy built only on facts about the welfare of humanity and the world — but if the American people elect a Democrat next year, or maybe even an establishment Republican, they deserve what is coming to them: a shrinking workforce, no more meaningful allies on the world stage, a proxy war with Russia, trade capitulation to China, and a much stronger north-south secession argument inside the country.

For me, it is between Cruz and Trump. Cruz would be a dream come true for the country. I’m not sure they deserve him after electing Obama twice, but everything I see of him just makes me like the man more. Carson is levelheaded and seems a “good man”  but has the dodgy connexions, Rubio seems sincere but is for amnesty and illegal sanctuary cities, Christie is about as two-faced and yellow-bellied as a politician can be, Fiorina seems good with numbers and rhetoric but light on policy.

Trump is a wildcard. He will do what is best for Trump, and always will, but Smith’s Invisible Hand comes into play here. For 8 years (he has hinted he wants two terms), he will give the American people what they want in order to become more adored and to boost his ego even more, but what’s really wrong with that? He will look at being President like being CEO of a business: he will make decisions as if the American people were his clients. There are a number of slippery slope arguments that can be made against this, but I don’t think they have much ground. He wants to be the best President ever, that means numbers, that means jobs created, better trade deals made, security maintained, borders secured, international strength grown, economy balanced, and most of all, it means he wants the People happier, and feeling like the government they pay taxes for (goods and services, remember) is worth it, so they will firstly re-up in four years, and then look back fondly on him, and buy his (endless, I’m sure) books about his time in office.

On stage he rambles and obsesses with polls and rhetoric, but he has no Teleprompter, each sentence is true when he says it, and he seems sincere.

Cruz is a straight arrow. He will act according to his principles. His whole career he has been steadfast and moral, and acting first to what the Constitution says, and then to what his God says. He plays the game, of course; he knows exactly how many times to say “tedcruz.org, tedcruz.org”, how long his pauses should be, how to phrase a point, and where best to pool his (substantial) resources, but again, what’s wrong with that? If there are undecided voters, or Reagan Democrats, he needs to get their attention, to get his name and face recognised, but more importantly, to get his personality and policies recognised.

This seems a very important election, and I would have liked this to be the first American election I could vote in, but no luck. But sometimes this election does seem like a foregone conclusion: Republicans win this time… surely?

My last point is between Trump and Cruz: although Trump would be a net good for the nation, he might continue the pattern of American presidents ruling, as opposed to leading. This is an important philosophical difference; while in theory there are only flowery, superfluous differences, in practise it can be the difference between deciding what kids should learn, or leaving it to the parents; between deciding drugs laws, or leaving it to the states. I do not know enough about Trump to say he fully falls into the supremacy trap of “knowing best”, but he does seem like he would step in to appease a crowd during a crisis, rather than relying on history and fact.

XXXVI. on the Sino-British trade deal

The deal has been announced, a £40bn deal concerning exports, imports, £40bn, steel, nuclear power plants, worth £40bn. It is rumoured to be worth £40bn. The trade deal signed between Britain and China — between David Cameron and Xi Jinping — has just been announced, and it is given the value of forty billion pounds. Immediately, there are two obvious and ignorant questions posed to the P.M. for making this deal: 1) They are the bad guys, what about their human rights? 2) What about British industry?

1; their human rights record is atrocious; indentured servitude, widespread abuse, life is cheap, infamous working conditions. Mr. Cameron‘s own answer is valid — that you can have a trade deal while continuing a frank discussion about human rights — but truly, and perhaps callously, it is irrelevant. The question implies that we not only have a responsibility to improve their human rights that includes sacrificing our own country’s wealth, but also that their human rights problems are a black hole which cannot be fixed through friendship. Take Russia, for example; after the Cold War, with connectivity, the emerging market, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, their human rights have improved drastically. Now, most would argue that there is still room for improvement, but they are on the right track. The same will happen with China.

2; the understanding that economics is not a zero sum game goes some way to argue against this, but the main problem is our (ever increasing) minimum wage. Jeremy Corbyn made a fuss about this. British industry has been an impossibility for decades, now, even before Labour‘s insane push to try to prop the mining industry up. The bottom line is that industry will move forward, and if the law literally disallows the people of this country to compete with international labour costs, then unskilled industry will move forward without us.

XXXV. on tipping

I think the practice of tipping is generally good. When I have a sit down meal I always tip. There are times when I eat a meal and feel that my server has increased the value of my experience past what my money (to keep the restaurant and their job going) provides. In England in most restaurants a tip of probably 10% is most common. Some places declare that they charge a 12.5% service charge, mostly in London and big cities.

When it comes to America, though, I hear constantly that servers live off their tips, that their employer doesn’t pay them and so their tips are their only source if income. Now, as an outsider reading your law, it seems tips can only be used to offset the minimum wage, which employers still have to meet. It’s illegal for the restauranteur to only pay someone in tips unless the tips they make amount to more than minimum wage.

At least, that’s how it reads. Is it widespread practice for restauranteurs to break this law, age it goes unreported? Or is that not what people mean when they say that their employer doesn’t pay them?

Unskilled service is a hard job, but there are many hard unskilled jobs that earn minimum wage. And from personal experience in England, it is very easy to find a place to learn silver service, which pays upwards of £10 on ten hour shifts. (Once again, it is a very small percentage of people who earn minimum wage for a significant amount of time.)

Finally, about 40% of U.S.A. tips go undeclared as far as tax is concerned. I go back and forth on this, but at the moment I don’t think avoiding to pay taxes is an acceptable thing in the long run, either for personal gain or intentional sabotage of the state.

XXXIII. on Donald Trump — II.

And the political climate has shifted, and the prevailing (if you read the news) belief that Donald Trump would gradually fade away — or sell out his narrative, or crumble to pressure, or be shunned by scandal — has been replaced by a widespread confusion.

As the summer of Donald Trump came to its end — and the prospect of a springtime for Trump no longer seemed like a gag — the quest to explain the billionaire’s runaway clown car went into overdrive.

Now, Frank Rich spends a lot of his NY Mag article chastising the man himself, or just making light of the individual as a politician, but he does concede that regardless of your perspective, Trump is doing something quite remarkable. If you can make your way through the snark, he makes a good point. / I am really starting to believe that Trump is here to stay. He became serious to me when he signed the pledge not to run independently if he didn’t make the Republican candidate. He could do a lot of good, I think. And even if he can’t radically change much policy (which, judging by the current president, is impossible — presidents are pretty much dictators now) he will show that he can stop the cronyism — even just for a little while. And that means something.

He is, as many say, making a mockery of the entire political process with his bull-in-a-china-shop antics. But the mockery in this case may be overdue, highly warranted, and ultimately a spur to reform rather than [a] crime against civic order.