Category Archives: Personal Responsibility

La Classe È Mobile?

University of California, Davis, Professor Gregory Clark has released a study of social mobility, focusing on class in England, with some reference to other countries, including the United States. He looks in particular at English surnames over a period of the last thousand years. His conclusion is that there is a tendency to regress to the mean, no matter how high or low in social rank a family starts out. That means that the poor tend to float upward over generations to the middle class, while the rich sink into the same.

This should come as no surprise to those of us who read old books. Plato discusses this idea in his dialogues. We’ve also heard the old line about how the first generation builds wealth, the second spends it, and the third returns to mediocrity. It’s interesting to see that the poor tend toward the middle, as well.

The study is detailed, while its conclusions are tentative, but for social policy, we can draw our own:

1. The middle class is not a bad place to be. We’ve told ourselves that being on top is the only prize worth winning, and the truth of that is a matter of debate, but life in the middle can be lived. Population studies tell us that most people are in the middle, anyway, with regard to ability.

2. The study suggests that the efforts of the wealthy to provide opportunities to their children often do no good. The implication is that the children aren’t necessarily born with their parents’ abilities. That latter statement would seem to be true about children born to lower than average parents–often they are born with more potential. This suggests that we should give up on forcing every child to be equal in academic performance. There are basic skills and areas of knowledge that every citizen needs, but when it comes to more advanced levels, children will sort themselves out, and schools should let them. Trade schools after high school would be of much greater advantage to many students, and universities could return to academic pursuits. Schools should provide the opportunity for students to rise to their level of ability and be satisfied with that.

3. Another set of social policies supported here is the combination of a safety net and inheritance taxes. The poor need time to rise to the middle, while the rich will benefit little in useful ways from having wealth passed on to them. (In the latter case, it would be simple to make an exception for family farms or small businesses.)

There is one final point to make. We should know this, but the tail ends of the bell curve are tiny in terms of the number of people in them. Social policy for decades has been aimed at creating a Lake Wobegon world in which all children are above average, but that’s unrealistic. Instead, we end up with something more like Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “Harrison Bergeron,” a world that weighs down people of ability in the name of equality. We should celebrate ability where we find it–and go looking for it everywhere.

Advertisements

Sing to the Tune of a Different Choir

According to a poll released yesterday (9 October 2012) by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Americans in increasing numbers do not affiliate with any particular religious organization. The results are published here. There are a lot of data in the survey results, but the overall trend is that not belonging to a group is becoming more common among young people. That group tends to lean left in American politics. There’s no concentration in any one ethnic group, income level, or, surprisingly, education level. Almost seventy percent of the unaffiliated believe in God (or gods?) in some fashion. All told, one person out of five in this country now does not identify with an institution.

I see this as a good trend. As I’ve said before, I don’t trust large groups. Human beings, taken individually, are often good, but put them together, and they sink to the lowest level of behavior and mentality and stay there. This is true in businesses, academic institutions, governments, and religions. The megaphone of association magnifies the worst in us.

This is also a continuation of the Protestant movement that began in Europe in the late Middle Ages. The assertion of that movement was that an individual is responsible for and capable of communicating with the divine directly without the need of another person. That view was a heresy in the best sense of the word. Heresy comes from a Greek word meaning “choice.” In that way, Protestantism fits in nicely with the general trend toward individual rights that has been working its way through the minds of thinkers in the West for thousands of years. Institutions are often the antithesis of choice, and it’s good to see more and more Americans either loosening or leaving those institutions.

The trend here is reminiscent of a book by Martin Gardner, The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener. Gardner was a noted skeptic on matters of religion and the supernatural, and yet in that book, he identified himself as someone who believed in God and the afterlife. He did this on his own, as a result of his reading and thinking and also of his personal nature. He made a leap of faith, and that leap had to be done out of his own choice, not at the calling of an institution.

In summary, this is the distribution of power that is necessary for a functioning democracy. The more of us who take on intellectual and spiritual responsibility for our own lives, the better. Carry on, my brothers and sisters in personal faith.

Whose Business Is It?

The recent shooting incident in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado raises a question of basic rights. According to the reports that I’ve seen, the theater in question bars the carrying of firearms. Of course, we see how well a sign declaring a “gun-free zone” worked, but that’s another matter. I want to consider the broader point about the boundaries of rights.

Take my home as an example. It’s generally agreed that I have a large measure of a right to privacy within its walls. Under our laws, if the government wants to come in, there must be a warrant issued by a judge to allow that, minus a small number of exigent circumstances. Our government violates that all too often, but many of us recognize that to be a violation. In addition to privacy, I have the right to say who gets to come in and what my guests get to do while visiting.

But what about a business? If I own a business, how much control over the behavior of visitors do I have? A business operates in public. We’re not talking about private clubs here, so we’ll leave aside questions as to whether a golf course can bar blacks or women. The point is what rules a store that is open to the public can have.

It’s here that we need to distinguish between passive and active rights. Take the case of a woman walking into a store while wearing a hijab. She is practicing her religion in public, but that’s a passive practice. If she walks around speaking to customers about her beliefs or if she calls out a prayer, she’s moved into action.

I chose the example of Islam first precisely because it’s the one that many Americans will have difficulty with. But the same question applies to a Jewish man who wears a yarmulke.

As I said above, a public business is just that. It has to be open to everyone who comes to participate in the business. A store owner has the right to remove someone who is disrupting that business, but the passive expression of a person’s basic rights–in the examples given, the right to exercise of religion–is not a disruption.

How does this apply to the events in Aurora? The handgun that I carry concealed on my person is not a disruption to the normal activity of any business. Unless I’m in imminent danger, it won’t be visible. I don’t cross over into active expression of my right to self defense on a whim. Since I am passively exercising my right, the business has no justification in banning what I do, any more than it would have to ban a yarmulke or a hijab. The laws in some jurisdictions don’t comply with rights in this regard, and those need to be changed.

What this points to is how much freedom we each may have in public. As always, I seek the most freedom that we all can have while we’re together.

Presidential Endorsements

This election season, we have an embarrassment of riches. There is a candidate on the right, and there is a candidate on the left, and both of them offer a clear statement of their respective sides.

And yes, the Democans are also running candidates.

Confused? Don’t be. Have a look at these two:

Gary Johnson

Jill Stein

Johnson is the Libertarian nominee for president, while Stein is running as the Green Party candidate.

O.K., I know the argument against voting for a third party. That’s said to be a throw-away vote. Uh huh. Unlike the vote that too many of us throw away to the Democrats and the Republicans? I hear a great deal of yammering about how money influences politics, about how the Citzens United decision will destroy America, about how the sky is falling and it’s all their fault, whoever they may be. The fact is, though, that no matter how much money candidates spend, they still have to get votes to get into office. Who then has the responsibility for that?

We do.

If you really believe that giving tax breaks to multinational corporations makes sense, that government intrusion into our private lives makes sense, that a foreign policy based on knee jerks rather than leadership makes sense, that handing more and more control of our healthcare to insurance companies makes sense, that a lot of talk about the environment without any action makes sense, that handwringing over immigration makes sense, that spending money that we haven’t earned makes sense, and on and on, by all means, vote for the Republicrat Party. Pick your candidate based on whose wife is prettier.

Or you can educate yourself and make a good choice. Here’s a place to start: OnTheIssues.org. If you’re looking at the election and feeling that you’ll have to hold your nose when you vote, why aren’t you demanding someone better?

Regular readers have seen me go on about this topic before. I’m going to do so until people wake up. You should, too. A democracy is a form of government in which citizens have to be active participants. If you want your government handed to you, North Korea is available. Otherwise, you have to speak out. You have to attend meetings and make comments. You have to talk to those around you.

Or you can just vote for America’s next Idol. Like this fellow.

Words Fail Us

Weer’d World today informs us that Harvard University has hired a BGLTQ director by the name of Vanidy “Van” Bailey. That in itself is worthy of comment, and I will offer one soon, but it must be noted that The Harvard Crimson posted a correction on 3 July to the article reporting this hiring. Apparently, Bailey prefers to eschew “gendered pronouns” in reference to herself. The article and correction can be read here.

I am on record here on this weblog and in many other places in support of human rights, including specifically the right to be attracted to others as our natures dictate. I don’t care whether you’re gay, straight, or mix-and-match. As long as you act only with other consenting adults and as long as you have the discretion to get a room before you get to second base, you and I have no problem.

But it’s a biological fact that multicellular life, in the vast majority of species and particularly for mammals, is divided into male and female. That’s not a value judgement, nor is it a political or moral characteristic. Denying this only serves to make Bailey look foolish. She has succeeded in that, given the various comments posted to the article and correction (including two of my own). What I hope she comes to understand is that not all the comments are necessarily anti-homosexual. There are people in this world who wish to retain logic and science, while at the same time valuing personal liberty. I include myself in that group.

What Bailey is doing appears to be an effort to erase our awareness of the differences between men and women. What are those differences? There are the obvious biological ones, expressed in anatomy and physiology. Folklore suggests many others, but science hesitates to study those for political reasons. I am reluctant to take sides in that discussion, especially since it is also a fact that there is more diversity within a group than between groups, speaking in biological or sociological terms. But the XX genes do create structures that are visibly different from the ones created by XY. To put the matter another way, I would like my bank to use the term, millionaire, in reference to me, but facts are facts.

But what of BGLTQ? It stands for Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered, and Queer. That’s a mouthful, and its tastes will elicit different reactions, depending on the mouth, but I am curious as to why Harvard University feels the need for all of that to be directed. Harvard’s only job is to be an institution of higher learning. Matters of housing, civility, and law can surely be handled by the Dean of Students (or whatever strained title he or she is given) and the campus police. Students ought to be able to form such clubs as they wish, and members of the faculty ought to be allowed to organize discussions with their colleagues and with students, but the institution should have only one purpose: education.

My Fellow Americans. . .

We have heard and are going to hear a lot about money in elections. The Citizens United decision declared that a corporation has the same free speech rights as an individual, a really rich individual. So be it. Money has flooded the political system for a long time. But all the proposals to restrain the influence of wealth on government come from an old view of the world. In the past, a candidate needed money to gain support. Campaign staff had to be paid. Air time had to be bought. Ballots for stuffing boxes had be purchased, and some people had to be bribed.

But no more. These days, anyone who can afford an Internet connection or who is near a public library can be an informed voter, and any candidate with the same access can be effective. The names of candidates can be written on ballots at the day of the election. The campaign can be done entirely on-line.

It’s time for voters to take control of their democracy. With that in mind, I propose a new party, provisionally to be named the Union Party with the motto, E Pluribus Unam. I’ll entertain better names, though.

The guiding principle of this party will be liberty in the small and cooperation in the large. With that in mind, let’s go through the typical list of political matters in this country today, as given by OnTheIssues.org:

Abortion:

Abortions in the first two trimesters will be solely the choice of the pregnant woman without irrelevant tests or burdens. During the third trimester, abortions will only be allowed if the health of the woman is in jeopardy. That determination will be made between her and her doctor. The government health program (see below) will pay for abortions. Other plans may choose to do so or not at their discretion.

Budget and the Economy:

1. Debt is dangerous. Getting out of debt must be a goal of every administration until the debt is gone.

2. Tax rates will be 30% on the highest bracket, 20% on the upper middle, 10% on the lower middle, and 0% on the poor, income levels to be added later as needed. Some variation will be permitted in the upper brackets to achieve debt reduction or other goals.

3. The tax code must be written in English, not Ligature Rouge. Deductions must be eliminated.

Civil Rights:

1. Race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other such categories are part of a person’s nature and are not legitimate for consideration in hiring, in acceptance into schools, in legal matters, or in other similar areas of public concern. That goes both ways, of course.

2. Marriage is a matter for religious institutions to decide. Governments should issue civil unions only that will cover taxes, insurance, finances, and similar.

3. Voting districts should be based on geography and population, not on race or political party affiliation.

Corporations:

1. Corporations will be free to operate, provided that they are honest about the products that they sell and that they can show that their effect on the environment is acceptable.

2. Unions have the right to organize if the workers agree to join and to bargain with employers.

3. Any corporation that gets a bailout from the government will be required to operate according to the best interests of the workers and the community.

Crime and Drugs:

1. Usage of drugs will be legalized, and dealers will be required to label their products honestly.

2. Financial criminals will have to spend their sentences paying back their victims, rather than enjoying a state-funded vacation.

3. Violent criminals will be put away for a long time.

Education:

See my previous articles on this subject. To summarize, class sizes will be reduced, total school size will as well. Add to that a rational funding system–in other words, not property taxes. In addition, children will be required to attend only half a day in public schools. They will be taught civics, mathematics, reading, and critical thinking. Their parents may then choose to educate them for the rest of the day at home, at private schools, or in public schools.

State colleges and universities will provide quality education at a price that everyone can afford. Private schools and for-profit schools may do as they wish, so long as all terms are made clear from the beginning.

This will require funding. That’s life.

Energy and the Environment:

America has large reserves of natural gas, and we grow a lot of corn that can be made into fuel. Those two will be temporary sources until wind, solar, and other types of clean energy are in place. Getting from the former to the latter will be a constant goal and action.

Foreign Policy and Free Trade:

1. Europe must learn to defend itself. America will maintain only such bases as are needed to conduct surveillance of the region.

2. There must be a solution to the Israel-Palestine question–likely a three-state solution. If any party in this dispute is unwilling to negotiate, the United States will withdraw support.

3. Iran and China are primary threats to our security for various reasons. Our policy will be one of containment and reduction.

4. North Korea is a pissant little adolescent state. Anything that they throw at us will be paid for twentyfold. No more aid will go to them unless they promise total obedience.

5. Worker rights and the enviroment will be a part of all trade deals, but free trade is the ultimate goal.

Gun Control:

I’ve also written about this, but in principle, in small arms, it’s not the device that matters; it’s the action. The only restrictions will be on those deemed a danger to others after due process of the courts. Cities may also require that weapons remain concealed within their borders and may restrict discharges to self defense shootings. Property owners may do as they wish on their own land, but businesses are public accomodations, as are colleges. Children may use firearms under the supervision of an adult.

Healthcare:

The government will create a national system for anyone who wants to participate–call it Medicare, since we already have that in place. Medicare will be able to negotiate payments the way that any other health company can. Fees will be determined on the basis of a person’s income. Private companies may continue to operate, and people may choose them as desired.

Immigration:

Anyone who wishes to become an American and who will adopt our values of responsibility and freedom is welcome.

Social Security:

Social Security taxes will be assessed on all income, not capped as they currently are.

Technology:

One valid use of public funds is to promote the development of new technologies. This applies particularly to energy and to space. We must have active programs of research, development, and exploration. Corporations, schools, and private individuals may also do their own work, since competition is healthy in this field.

Welfare:

The goal of welfare must be to make the recipient self sufficent. Programs that create dependency will be eliminated. We must be willing to help, but we must also require growth on the part of those who are helped.

That’s the list, more or less. I’ll gladly consider any other items that my readers wish to offer. Of course, one elected official alone won’t be able to accomplish all of this, but much can be done even so. A president, for example, could get cooperation from Democrats for some of this and Republicans for other parts. A president could speak to the people regularly, creating a lot of pressure on Congress. So can anyone else elected on this platform.

With all of this in mind, if nominated, I will run. If elected, I will serve. I will continue to write in any case. Who’s with me?

Suing You for What I Do

There’s a lawsuit afield. The Oglala Sioux are suing (no smirking, please) beer manufacturers for $500,000,000 in damages supposedly caused by the selling of beer near their reservation. More can be read about it here.

This action is disturbing on several grounds:

1. This lawsuit is like suing Ford for painting the Pinto the wrong color. The native peoples of this continent have been treated badly by European settlers. After more than two centuries, we can’t simply hit the reset button and put things to rights altogether. What we can do is take steps to solve poverty, one of the main causes of the problem here.

2. At the same time, we also have to hold individuals accountable for their own actions. Does a beer brewer force anyone to drink beer? Is anyone–outside of a fraternity house, that is–forced to consume alcohol? Perhaps I should sue Motown for producing decades of bad music that has been played to me in many contexts in my life. Should I sue cows for making all of that addictive cheese possible? Tobacco companies deserved to be sued because they lied about their product. That’s not what happened in this case. If a company can make a product without causing undue harm in the manufacturing process and then can sell the product with accurate labelling of the contents, that’s the end of the company’s responsibility. My choice to buy it or not is just that: my choice.

3. There is apparently a total prohibition of alcohol on the reservation in question. Would someone please inform me as to a time and a place in which prohibition has stopped the sale or use of any product or service?

I do not wish to diminish the terrible effect that alcoholism has on a person or a community. What I do say, though, is that this suit is a hugely blunt instrument and is likely to fail in the end–after costing a lot of money, that is. Drinking alcohol is a choice, and this suit denies the reality of that choice.