Kicking the Can of History Down the Road

Francis Fukuyama, who predicted the “end of history” at the end of the Cold War, backtracks:

Twenty-nine years later, it seems that the realists haven’t gone anywhere, and that history has a few more tricks up its sleeve. It turns out that liberal democracy and free trade may actually be rather fragile achievements. (Consumerism appears safe for now.) There is something out there that doesn’t like liberalism, and is making trouble for the survival of its institutions.

Fukuyama thinks he knows what that something is, and his answer is summed up in the title of his new book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The demand for recognition, Fukuyama says, is the “master concept” that explains all the contemporary dissatisfactions with the global liberal order: Vladimir Putin, Osama bin Laden, Xi Jinping, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, gay marriage, ISIS, Brexit, resurgent European nationalisms, anti-immigration political movements, campus identity politics, and the election of Donald Trump. It also explains the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, Chinese Communism, the civil-rights movement, the women’s movement, multiculturalism, and the thought of Luther, Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, Freud, and Simone de Beauvoir. Oh, and the whole business begins with Plato’s Republic.

It’s difficult to overestimate the damage that his first work on the “end of history” has done to the psyche of our elites.  By making them overconfident and totally unable to handle the adversity that has followed, they are psychologically incapable of handling the rise of authoritarian states such as Russia or China, to say nothing of going postal over Donald Trump.  Fukuyama’s attempt to pin the blame on identity politics won’t work either; it’s the cornerstone of the American left’s idea of life, they’ve even pushed class differences and income inequality to the back of the bus in the name of fulfilling yet another secular nirvana of identity perfection.

Before World War I the chattering classes saw the coming of a new world order, abetted by Christianity’s post-millennialism.  We saw some of that after World War II, but the Cold War put paid to that.  Now our elites have jettisoned Christianity for good, but their longing for a “liberal” utopia is undimmed.

There is only one end to history, and it is the beginning as well: Jesus Christ.  All these other attempts have ended in disaster, and we’re staring another one in the face.  Won’t anyone learn anything?

The Difference Between Donald Trump and UK Labour

This video recently appeared on UK Labour’s Twitter feed:

If we look at this objectively, the major difference between this and what Donald Trump is trying to do is that Trump is using tariffs and Labour wants to use subsidies.  Industrial policy has a long history in the UK and on the Continent; use of tariffs has an equally long history in the US, dating back to the founding of the Republic.  But industrial policy is industrial policy no matter how you set up the government cash flow to accomplish it, and that drives the globalists on both sides of the Atlantic batty.

Had the Democrats thrown the corporatists under the bus and nominated Bernie Sanders, we would have had a contest between two people who agreed on the problem but disagreed on the solution, and the contrast between Trump and Labour illustrates that perfectly.  Left and right don’t define our divisions as well as we would like to think they do.

This video also shows that Jeremy Corbyn–who is taking well-deserved lumps for his anti-Semitism–doesn’t sport a hard hat any better than any other politician.

The Solution Jesus Offered for the Wealthy Wasn’t Philanthropy

Elizabeth Kolbert at the New Yorker has written an interesting article about philanthropy, “then and now.”  “Then” was during the Gilded Age at the end of the Nineteenth century and the beginning of the Twentieth.  “Now” is the age of the Silicon Valley magnates.  In both cases, the recipients of the wealth are a) burdened with guilt over their success vs. everyone else’s failure, b) highly convinced over their moral goodness (the newer ones, unfettered by Christianity’s exhortation for humility, are more obnoxiously self-righteous than their Gilded Age predecessors,) and c) desirous to try to fix the problems of the age.

As someone whose ancestors were part of the Gilded Age (albeit not on the level of a Carnegie or a Vanderbilt) I can take a long view on this issue.  I’ll say from the start that my Gilded Age ancestors and relatives were not, AFAIK, much on philanthropy.  That wasn’t a part of our family idea; the idea of “give back” came much later (unless you count our years in Washington.)

The grandees of both floods of wealth used foundational philanthropy for just that purpose: to “give back” and make society better.  There are several critiques to that method.

The first is the Marxist critique that the wealthy have exploited the surplus value of their workers and thus are always the problem.  That haunted my relationship with the Episcopal Church, and was one reason I took my leave from same.  Many “do-gooders” of the day thought they could solve the problems of the world through personal charitable work, but there’s more to it than that.

The second–and one which occupies much of Kolbert’s article–is the drain on the Treasury caused by the tax-exempt status of charitable giving and foundations.  Again, anyone with the long view of the Internal Revenue Code knows that provisions come and provisions go.  This could be changed; what’s sad is that, when it does get changed, it will be due to the government’s bankruptcy and desperate need for revenue.  This also speaks to another Marxist critique, i.e., that private charity is merely a sop and unnecessary when the ideal state comes, which is why private charity was routinely outlawed in Marxist-Leninist states.  (Tell that to people who wait for FEMA after a natural disaster…)

The third actually came out of the Gilded Age:

William Jewett Tucker, a professor of religion who would later become the president of Dartmouth, was no less horrified. What the “Gospel (of Wealth)” advocated, Tucker wrote, was “a vast system of patronage,” and nothing could “in the final issue create a more hopeless social condition.” To assume that “wealth is the inevitable possession of the few” was to evade the essential issue: “The ethical question of today centres, I am sure, in the distribution rather than in the redistribution of wealth.”

That applies as much to today as it did then.  Yes, these foundations create enormous patronage, patronage that can even transcend race, as the article shows.  Moreover Tucker put his finger on the key: the distribution of wealth.  The growth of this new “Gilded Age” has come with growing income and wealth inequality in a society which should be really good at creating large amounts of wealth for a large number of people, when in fact a few are the primary beneficiaries.  Today we have many campaigns for rights for all kinds of people funded in part by many of these foundations but growing income inequality.  I personally think we’re seeing a shell game, intentional or not.

But Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ had an entirely different answer for the rich young ruler of his day, and one which those in ours would do well to consider:

And a man came up to Jesus, and said: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to obtain Immortal life?” “Why ask me about goodness?” answered Jesus. “There is but One who is good. If you want to enter the Life, keep the commandments.” “What commandments?” asked the man. “These,” answered Jesus:–“‘Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not say what is false about others. Honor thy father and thy mother.’ And ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thou dost thyself.” “I have observed all these,” said the young man. “What is still wanting in me?” “If you wish to be perfect,” answered Jesus, “go and sell your property, and give to the poor, and you shall have wealth in Heaven; then come and follow me.” On hearing these words, the young man went away distressed, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22 TCNT)

The best thing that those who achieve success in this life–and especially their descendants–can do is to impart their method of success (and that’s not easy for most entrepreneurs, because most can’t verbalise it) to others and then get out of the way and leave it to those whom they taught.

My Mention in @CampusReform About Women and the Principles and Practices Engineering Exam

With a new semester starting, it’s only apropos to mention the back and forth I’ve been having about the Principles and Practices Engineering Exam, which probably seems like a pretty arcane topic…until two Kansas State academics noted that women have a lower first-time pass rate than men do.

That occasioned an article by Toni Airaksinen of Campus Reform on the subject.  One of the suggestions of the academics was that the exam itself might be biased against women.  I found this difficult to believe and wrote a response to it on my vulcanhammer.net blog/site, which concerns itself with engineering topics.  While not directly attacking the conclusions, I expressed the opinion that one reason for the disparity may be in the timing of the exam, which is very problematic for reasons beyond this issue and whose fix is an ongoing effort of societies which are involved in this process.

My response was featured in a follow-up article by Airaksinen on the topic, which also includes a response from NCEES (who actually write this exam,) who inform us that they screen the questions for bias.  Having prepared engineering tests for a number of years, I have no idea how one screens exam questions for bias against women, but my female students have done pretty well over the years taking my tests.

Since the 1960’s engineering has suffered attacks from the various movements that exploded during that era, some of which challenged the basic good of technological progress.  The profession has made a major effort to address these objections, but with the “Running Rusty” mentality in the SJW movement, that’s not easy for anyone.  Our society needs to address the reality that, to survive in the world we live in, we need to shift to STEM as the centrepiece of our educational system rather than the appendage.   If that happened I believe we’d see women as a larger part of our profession, and that would be a good thing.  There are signs of progress but we’ve got a long way to go.

Sometimes Our Goals and Those of the Chinese are the Same

In this excellent article about eventual Chinese rule of the Internet, the first goal of China is this one:

Cyberpower sits at the intersection of four Chinese national priorities. First, Chinese leaders want to ensure a harmonious Internet. That means one that guides public opinion, supports good governance, and fosters economic growth but also is tightly controlled so as to stymie political mobilization and prevent the flow of information that could undermine the regime.

That’s not much different from what’s going on with social media these days.  In our case those directives don’t come from the government (although there’s no doubt many in the government are happy with them) but from the relatively small group of Silicon Valley people which control these organisations.  That’s an indication of how power is distributed in our society vs. theirs.

Unfortunately the result in both cases moves in the same direction.  Technology traditionally favours the centralisation of power, and US attempts to diffuse it haven’t quite worked out as expected.  The arc of history doesn’t always bend where we’d like it to.  The good news for Christians is that the One who really bends the arc is still in charge, although the earthly tools he uses for that purpose aren’t always the one we’d prefer or expect.

Banning Infowars is Easier Said Than Done

The efforts so far by most of social media haven’t quite panned out as expected:

Silicon Valley’s coordinated purge of all things Infowars from social media has had an unexpected result; website traffic to Infowars.com has soared in the past week, according to Amazon’s website ranking service Alexa.

Well, that didn’t work, not yet at least.  And their attempt to demonetise Alex Jones’ operations isn’t going any better: by driving people to his site directly, they’ve cut out the “middleman” of social media, which only makes that elusive monetisation even better.

I’m not really a fan of Jones; even Drudge is selective in what he links to on Infowars.  But for someone who has always been leery of putting all of the eggs in the social media basket, it’s good to know that the decree of a few organisations can’t totally make or break someone on the internet.

At least they can claim that they’re not profiting off of Infowars…

“Survival of our Democracy” Depends Upon Who We Are

One can feel the panic come through the screen:

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is calling on other tech companies to ban more sites like InfoWars, and says the survival of American democracy depends on it.

“Infowars is the tip of a giant iceberg of hate and lies that uses sites like Facebook and YouTube to tear our nation apart. These companies must do more than take down one website. The survival of our democracy depends on it,” Murphy tweeted Monday.

To be frank, I am surprised that our constitutional/Declaration structural freedoms have lasted this long.  Revolutions like the 1960’s usually take an authoritarian turn; the fact that we’ve stalled this for fifty years is amazing in many ways.

It’s easy to laugh at Murphy’s logic, but in many places in the world there are “managed democracies,” where access to candidacy–and in some cases the voting franchise itself–is limited by those who really control the process.  The best known of these is Iran, but there are others.  In such a situation democratic process is a mechanism of legitimising the ruling elite, although surprises happen.

Murphy’s phrase “our democracy” is interesting.  Who are “we?”  The people in general?  The plutocracy/kleptocracy who decry and make worse income inequality at the same time?  The Ward Three types?  Answering that question will go a long way to bring clarity to Sen. Murphy’s panicky outburst on Twitter.

Sometimes Doing No Murder Can Get You in Trouble

The Old Grey Lady weighs in on Pope Francis’ death penalty ukase by invoking the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill”:

Pope Francis’s condemnation of capital punishment is simple and unambiguous: It is inadmissible. No exceptions for especially heinous crimes; no loopholes allowing execution when other lives might be in jeopardy, as in past Catholic teachings. No, declared the pope; state-sanctioned killing is always an unjustifiable attack on the dignity of human life, it’s always wrong.

My senior year in prep school, one of my teachers was both a recent graduate of the school (which was not even ten years old at the time) and a newly minted “Sixties radical” to boot.  He brought this up, using the same commandment as the New York Times to oppose capital punishment.  My parish priest (I was a newly minted Roman Catholic) had, in accordance with the teaching of the Church, told us back at the parish that the commandment meant “Thou shalt do no murder.”  (Given the place of capital punishment in the old law, that makes sense.)  I repeated this to the teacher and he did what his kind are best at: he exploded in my face with rage.

Some things never change…as Andreas Killen pointed out, the issues that were at the forefront in 1973 are still with us, and this is one of them.  But now we have a pope, who prefers damage control to solution in the sex abuse crises, going against the teaching of his own church.  Personally I think he’s using the capital punishment issue to deflect attention from the abuse crisis, which only gets worse.

But that illustrates the duplicity of those struggling to hold the “moral high ground.”  Most of those who oppose the death penalty also support abortion and euthanasia, and now explode in our faces on social media with the hope that many of their opponents can be liquidated.  The question is not really keeping people alive but shifting who’s chosen to die from one group to another.

P.S. One of the most impassioned pleas for the restriction of capital punishment except in the most heinous cases comes from Blaise Pascal’s Provincial Letters, but Jesuits like the Pope and James Martin would sooner have us forget this masterpiece, as it shows what happens when you let the Jesuits run wild on issues of faith and morals.