Someday, the Last Hick Will Move to Town

And no a moment too soon either: this, another journey of the genre:

My education required a metaphysical moving away, I learned. A professor who could see me struggling through change asked me what scared me about it. I told her that I worried I would lose something, and she reassured me that I would be OK. But she is a brutally honest New Yorker, so she added, “Besides, you can’t unlearn what you now know.” Her words stung.

Having come from Palm Beach and lived in this part of Tennessee for forty years, I can assure Dr. Wilkerson that this place exhibits a complexity that rivals the island’s.  I can also assure her that her beloved trade unions were alive and well in Chattanooga, if she had bothered to come this far down and take a look.  But the elites which engendered the hostility that made this place fertile ground for unions are trying their own burying of the past by going progressive, perhaps for some it will make up for what’s gone before.

The serious sign of initial delusion on her part, however, was this:

Like Dolly Parton’s defenders, I grew up learning the myth that Appalachia was the home of white settlers who weren’t marked by the sin of slavery and thus were not responsible for America’s racism and, conversely, that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery in the first place. My ancestors worked hard as farmers. They built grist mills and lived in log cabins. They are the Appalachians of the American imagination — pure Anglo-Saxon. Dolly Parton rehearses this myth, and I imagine she was raised on it. Her Appalachia is pure and white and heroic; her Appalachia is drained of white America’s sins.

If there’s one thing East Tennessee is not, it’s Anglo-Saxon.  Other than the black people and more recent immigrants, it’s mostly Scots-Irish with a healthy dose of the Cherokee, something Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to claim has fallen desperately flat.  Getting past that myth-making and realising that, like the Asians on the other end, the Scots-Irish put the lie to the whole racial paradigm being promoted these days, is liberating, but I’ll bet that Dr. Wilkerson’s moving to town won’t let her see that for what it is.

I’ll be glad when the last hick moves to town, it will be liberating for me.

The Thing Brett Kavanaugh Won’t Do

Well, it’s over but the shouting, and there’s lots of that: Brett Kavanaugh has become an Associate Justice on SCOTUS, after one of the sorriest episodes in American government since Watergate.  (And there are many to choose from…)  Conservatives have high hopes for him on the Court, which is why the opposition was so vociferous.  But are those hopes justified?  I think there are reasons to doubt it.

One thing that comes to mind is one of Kavanaugh’s more careerist moves: his prosecutorial deflection of the investigation of Vince Foster’s death towards a suicide conclusion.  That alone should endear him with the Clintons, but their gratitude is no better than Tsao Tsao’s toward Kuan Yu in the Three Kingdoms.

But another is an unmistakable conclusion from the last fracas over his social life: Kavanaugh is a party animal.  That in turn leads one to believe that Kavanaugh will never overturn Roe v. Wade outright.  Why?  Party animals, especially preppy ones, need abortion.  At his level in society, such things are not moral issues to be decided but problems to be fixed.  Abortion may be the final option available, but for such things option it is.

And abortion was the core issue for Kavanaugh’s opponents.  Oh, there are others that stick in their craw, most notably the interpretation of regulations.  But this one is the hill to die on for those who oppose Kavanaugh.  It’s indicative of the strange nature of American politics that those whose policies are geared for a society where the highest goals in life are to get laid, high or drunk oppose him, while those who are trying to “bring America back to God” support him.

But American politics these days is a series of unappetising choices wrapped in high moral rhetoric.  SCOTUS is important, too important really, and that’s one of those enduring problems that we cannot seem to implement a way to fix.  Kavanaugh will not disappoint his tenacious supporters on some issues, but on others (especially those dear to religious conservatives) he will fall short of the expectations of both his supporters and his opponents, and some of us will realise all too late that the acrimony, certainly damaging for the country, was in vain.

Amazon.com, the Company that Could Use a Trade Union

Some of my readers are aware that I was involved in our long-term family business for about half of my working career, and still do work in that field.  One thing I left behind, however, is industrial relations, or dealing with a trade union.  Our company had one for many years in Chicago and again in Chattanooga; it outlasted my family’s time in the business, albeit not by much.

It was an experience for both me and the trade union, to say the least.  The complexities of collective bargaining under our labour laws, to say nothing about handing grievances, tried everyone’s patience.  Trade unions are interesting in that many of their goals–and in certain cases their principal goals–are “non-economic,” i.e., working conditions, termination (or lack thereof) and similar ones.  In a broader perspective, I found out that there were many de facto members of the bargaining unit, either by immediate interest, sentiment or both.

In the middle of all this, I’d hear people say that “At one time, unions served a useful purpose to improve working conditions…”  To some extent, trade unions are a victim of their own success, due to their political activity.  Today we have unemployment insurance, workmen’s compensation, OSHA and other government-mandated benefits, many of which were lobbied for by the trade unions.  But the more benefits workers have from outside the contract, the less useful unions are.

Recent events have shifted things around a bit.  What got me interested in this topic from the “other side” was the ongoing campaign by the British trade union GMB West Midlands to organise amazon.com’s distribution facility in Rugeley.  Living in an area with two amazon.com facilities, I know people who have worked there and what comes out isn’t pretty.  To cut to the chase amazon.com is a brutal place to work with fairly draconian work rules.  From the looks of it they’ve extended that to Whole Foods, which they recently acquired, and they’re thinking about organising too.  For the first time in my adult life, I publicly came out in support of a trade union organising a workplace.

That support is buttressed by the actions of amazon.com’s leader, Jeff Bezos.  Today’s tech executives are a highly moralistic bunch, and Bezos is no exception.  He plasters the Washington Post with “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” but his employees are hard pressed to answer nature’s call.  (Wonder if they get time off to vote, like ours used to?  Perhaps it depends on how they vote…)  His company has no problem butting heads with left-wing stars like Seattle city councilwoman Kshama Sawant over the homeless tax.  (It’s interesting how the most fertile ground for socialists these days is in big blue-state cities…)

The blunt truth is that progressives can’t have it both ways: they can’t blithely support social justice warriors on the one hand (well, the ones that are shilling for them) and brutally exploit their workers on the other.  Neither can they claim the moral high ground.  Bezos and his colleagues in the tech community need to stop the duplicity and face reality.  If they’re really going to claim they’re better not only than anyone else but with all who have gone before them, they need to start acting like it and not like the Second Gilded Age magnates that they really are.

In the meanwhile, Bezos has revived the need for trade unions.  I hope and pray they are successful with organising as wide a variety of his operations as possible.

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.

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.

My Last Facebook Post

I know this sounds a little dramatic, so an explanation is in order.

I started on social media nine years ago, all the while continuing this and (later) the other blogs and websites.  I’ve used several techniques to automatically disseminate these blog posts.  I’ve always had a problem with doing every post manually.  Keeping the online presence i have is enough work without adding to it.  It’s a question I frequently ask: is the technology working for us or are we working for the technology?

Well, Facebook, beset by woes of its own making, is going to make that harder: starting 1 August 2018, they will not permit third-party (in this case WordPress) apps to automatically post stuff like this to Facebook profiles (they will do it for Facebook pages, though.)  To continue posting like i have, I would have to do it manually for each post.

At this point, except for special cases or when I’m responding to someone else’s post, I don’t plan to do that.  The main reason is simple: based on the response I’ve been getting, I’m not convinced that Facebook is disseminating my automatically posted stuff very widely, either from this or my other blogs.  The ideological bias of Facebook is no secret, but I’m not really convinced that my Facebook audience has, on the whole, a great deal of interest in the topics I discuss.  The vast majority of the visits come from places other than social media.

I’ve always been leery of putting all my eggs in the “social media basket.”  While it’s important, the problem with any social media platform is that what you put there is basically theirs, and if they don’t like it (or you) they can kick you off at will.  (There are also copyright issues as well.)  That’s always bothered me, and it’s doubtless cost me traffic to not migrate posting to social media.  And that works both ways: any external link out of Facebook deprives them of potential revenue, and I’m inclined to think that they, struggling to maintain earnings, are doing this as a revenue preservation move.

I’ll still be sharing these posts via Twitter, which has its own problems but seems to be working at the moment.  For those on Facebook who wish to continue following this blog, Twitter is an option, and there are email notifications and WordPress following as well.  (I’m also on Google Plus, but that hasn’t amounted to much.)  But, as former Nigerian Anglican Primate Peter Akinola used to say, all things must end someday, and this part of this blog’s story is now done.