Kevin Williamson’s Smallest World

Avi Woolf

Avi Woolf

3rd class Elder of Zion. Wilderness conservative/traditionalist. Buckley Club alum. Chief editor of @conpathways.

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  1. Avatar Mike Dwyer
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    I think an Ideal form of conservatism still exists, but it is increasingly drowned out by a politicized conservatism that is best defined by gridlock and greed.Report

  2. Avatar North
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    “Williamson has often ranted against the Progressive movement’s desire to break up families and communities so that they can best be maintained as individuals by an enlightened state. ”

    I wonder, in this case, what he’d even be talking about. I’ve traveled in progressive and liberal circles for my entire adult life and have absolutely never heard or read any progressive or liberal even toy with the idea that families and communities being destroyed is, in of themselves, any kind of desirable good. Families and communities, of course, can sometimes be oppressive, miserable and/or abusive things and when that is the case it is good to allow the suffering individuals to dispense with them but to just do away with them en masse as an intentional desire? Lunacy.

    Williamson’s venom isn’t hard to understand. Pure libertarianism has been suffering some pretty heavy duty set backs of late after what had appeared to be an approaching dawn. All through the Obama years the utter and grotesque failures of conservatism under Bush minor sent people fleeing from the label and they piled onto the libertarian side of the alliance. Trumps election demonstrated how utterly tiny the true libertarian contingent of the electorate is and how tenuous their grip on the right is even on the ideological spectrum. Outside of the right wing masses using libertarianism as an opportunistic excuse to complain about the left when out of power and the wealthy elite using them like duck hounds to fetch tax cuts (but emphatically not any of the other fiscal discipline that should go with them); right wingers just don’t have much use for libertarianism any more. Communism, after all, is still dead. The dispelling of the illusion of the supposed coming libertarian dawn had to have stung.Report

    • Avatar JoeSal in reply to North
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      While the libertarian dawn, may have not developed, in the end people are going to wish it had prevailed before this mess gets sorted, as the alternative has been a Authoritative Right dawn.

      As to the families thing, in right circles, it often has to do with the womens lib thing where the career of women becomes superior to a family, and therefore families don’t develop, or are a secondary importance to the priorities of womens focus.

      Also in leftism, there is a preference for children to be raised more by a ‘village’ or social construct of the state/herd than left to individualists.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to JoeSal
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        Ok, but women’s lib exists for the liberation of women; not the destruction of families. Women can have careers and families and do so all the time.Report

        • Avatar JoeSal in reply to North
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          I understand that, I just ask that you read my last comment and put a emphasis on ‘develop’ and ‘secondary’.

          That’s what I hear a lot in rightward circles.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to JoeSal
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            Yes, but to characterize it as a progressive desire to break up families isn’t remotely accurate. It’d be like characterizing a nuclear power plants purpose as being the production of nuclear waste or a hospitals purpose as stocking a morgue. If some families dissolving or not being formed results from women’s’ liberation progressives would probably call that an unfortunate side effect of women’s’ lib, not the goal.Report

            • Avatar JoeSal in reply to North
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              I don’t argue with that either. I will say the social truth of that matter probably does pivot on what the values are from a end goal point of view. You may say it’s a side effect, others don’t have to see that as social truth, they may see it as the original goal of the progressives.

              Did I mention we are going to have problems in social truth, because here we are. Remember those two Overton windows I mentioned before?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to JoeSal
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                You may say it’s a side effect, others don’t have to see that as social truth, they may see it as the original goal of the progressives.

                From Notes From the Underground: “But yet mathematical certainty is, after all, something insufferable. Twice two makes four seems to me simply a piece of insolence. Twice two makes four is a pert coxcomb who stands with arms akimbo barring your path and spitting. I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too.”Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Stillwater
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                There last gift of Objectivism before the plunge into Post Modernism was that there is a difference between social truth and empirical truth.

                Some folks received that gift, others rejected it.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                Personally, I tend to go the other way on this stuff. It’s not social truth people are pushing back on, but the constraints – shackles, really, from their pov – imposed on them by empirical truth. And the mechanism employed is to reduce complex empirical truths to (subjective) social truths grounded in personal or collective self-interest, and oppose them as an unjust imposition. Things like feminism are a good example of how this works, seems to me.

                I will concede, of course, that everyone is free to believe that twice two is five, tho. It just doesn’t seem like a very practical political philosophy, even tho allure of it, for some anyway, appears to be overwhelming.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Stillwater
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                Ayn covered this to the extremes, as she lived it in a previous time. In many ways, we are just reliving her experience on a longer time line..Report

              • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Stillwater
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                I love me some Dostoyevsky in the morning. And that’s the best. I clapped my hands on reading it.

                Well done. Well done indeed.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Doctor Jay
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                Heh. Thanks.Report

            • Avatar veronica d in reply to North
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              The calculus isn’t whether families break up (or never form in the first place), it is what sort of families break up (or are never formed). Likewise, the calculus includes what sort of families replace them.

              For example, a marriage between an abusive controlling partner and an abused partner should break up. By contrast, if a family forms based on consent and respect, that is a positive good.

              Feminism forms families. It also forms communities, just better ones, based on better principles than power and control.

              At least, that’s the ideal. In practice? It’s complicated, but would anyone expect it not to be? “Humans are messy” is true both with feminism and without.

              Of course, there is a type of man who hates this. It is the same type of man who has always hated this.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal
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        Would it blow your mind to learn that until the prosperity created by the New Deal Era, most children in traditional communities were in fact raised by a village or social construct?Report

        • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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          Your going to have to cite some pretty hard empirical truth, something more than leftward wishism, as I am pretty confident that most children were raised by natures construct of ‘parents/granparents’ before and after the New Deal occurred.Report

          • Avatar George Turner in reply to JoeSal
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            I’d also like a cite on any prosperity created by the New Deal, which lengthened and deepened the depression to make it worse in the US than virtually anywhere else.

            Recovery didn’t begin until the Supreme Court struck down most of the economic elements of it.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal
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            “Natures construct” is the extended family and clan. Parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, second cousins, in laws…The nuclear family as we know it in the 20th century is unusual throughout history.

            Most people lived in small towns and most small towns were really just collections of intertwined families and clans.

            This shouldn’t be surprising.
            In a world without police or Social Security or insurance, the only financial and personal security that was to be had, was to seek the safety of a place where everyone knew your name and you were your father’s son.Report

            • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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              If clan and family become a recognized natural construct then social based constructionisms loses authority. Are you sure you want to go down that road? I often wonder how committed you are to the walk away from conservatism, as you tend to want to replace many of its facets with something almost identical to it.

              If natural constructs are closer to the human operating systems, then the liberals may want to also brush up on some of the natural law stuff they lament against so much.

              I think it is true that smaller group sizes and familial tribes did have stronger ties, but they also had a higher degree of each others individual values/constructs, something that is nearly unconsidered in modern liberalism, where the crux of anything involves a social construct.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal
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                Can I share a secret with you?
                I am still a conservative!
                There are all sorts of wonderful things about traditional forms of society, things like community and charity and respect for rightful order that should be kept and preserved and honored.

                There are also things like racism and class hierarchy that were cruel and unjust which should be discarded.

                There are also things which were useful like large extended families which provided financial security, which just don’t apply nowadays.

                When a family consists of a parent or two with a single child, there just isn’t any way that such a family can create financial security; there just aren’t enough bodies and income streams to be viable.

                So we need to be looking for new arrangements, new structures to fulfill the ancient purpose.Report

              • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to Chip Daniels
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                There is an old joke here from my father’s time studying in Greece about how we retain the The Parthenon, but only after centuries of neglect and finding much better places to meet while staring at it in the distance.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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                To conserve subjective value requires a great quantum of recognition to individualism, on that basis, I have serious questions about your brand of conservatism.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Chip Daniels
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                “There are also things which were useful like large extended families which provided financial security, which just don’t apply nowadays.”

                My brother and sister have never paid for daycare due to leveraging willing extended family members. That’s tens of thousands of dollars over a couple of decades. I also think extended family can be a safety net to take risks, like starting a new business.

                There’s also a lot of intangibles that probably make like less stressful which leads to more personal success in all areas of life.

                If you can’t tell, I’m pretty keen on my extended family.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Mike Dwyer
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                Me too!
                We never paid for childcare, since it was provided by my mother.

                But…how many of your peers have enough children to support them in their old age without Social Security? Provide for their medical care?

                Why aren’t people having families of 5, 6 or 7 kids?

                I don’t know. I just know that smaller families are now the norm, and there isn’t any way that the old method works anymore.

                Caring for children and caring for the elderly has always been the central problem faced by societies, and we have to figure something out.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Yeah, I don’t think of family supporting me financially in old age, but our whole family does a LOT for my mom. Cooking meals, cleaning her house, etc.

                The friends I have now with more than 3 kids all seem to be doing it based on some idea that they are creating more good humans to better the world.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Why aren’t people having families of 5, 6 or 7 kids?

                I don’t know. I just know that smaller families are now the norm, and there isn’t any way that the old method works anymore.

                That’s not quite true. We know why people aren’t having so many children anymore: Liberals.
                Liberals with their abortion, and contraception and their education of women… (not that thats a bad thing)Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels
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              I don’t think this is exactly true, at least as far as the West goes. Western families have been more or less nuclear since at least the little ages. The big extended families that existed in other cultures never really existed that way in the West for a long time and even when they existed, they mainly did so in the top layers of society.Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to LeeEsq
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                Citation?

                Plus, it’s not only about “mom, dad, and the kids living under a roof,” it is also about the community in which they were embedded. There was, for example, a shift during the industrial revolution, with the destruction of the commons, the shifts in agriculture, and the move to industrializing cities, that disrupted these family-community structures.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to LeeEsq
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                America was the least “family oriented” country there was from almost the moment Pilgrims got off the boat.

                Here a family was parents and their small children, not a whole clan and not three or four generations of extended relatives living on top of each other.

                That’s probably one of the reasons so many Europeans came over, to get away from their smelly aunt and crazy grandpa.

                Europe didn’t have a good free-market property system, so there wasn’t much new home construction or real-estate development, much less open wilderness to claim. Families would live in the same house for centuries.

                Once they came to America, kids would leave their parents, head west, and carve out their own farm, or move to some small town that was just being founded. Children were expected to get married, move out, and get their own house.

                Some immigrants were a bit slow on the uptake, and we’d comment on their strange old-world living arrangements in Brooklyn or the Bronx, thinking “Do they realize there’s an entire sprawling continent’s worth of empty space here?”

                The same is of course true in Canada, where a Middle Easterner can buy a house with a lawn that’s bigger than the entire village his family had lived in for the past thousand years.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner
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                Lets take your account at face value.

                This is a rather striking assertion then, that America from the get-go, was the place where the liberal vision of destroying the traditional family was realized.

                So it wasn’t hairy legged feminists, not pornographers, not Marxists, no, it was the American ideal itself that destroyed the traditional family.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Well yes, if you consider “the traditional family” to be everyone at one of our family re-unions. In the old world, those people often all shared a house. It was three or four stories tall because they kept building upwards over the generations.

                Our “traditional family” is Bob, Elaine, and their three kids, all living in Palo Alto.

                Oddly, the old concept of family gave birth to Fascism. Mussolini was raised as an ardent communist, and he realized that Marx’s vision of class warfare was not universally applicable.

                Although it might make sense in places like Russia, where serfs labored for feudal lords, or places like England or Germany where vast numbers of people worked for big industrial concerns, it didn’t make sense in Italy where everybody worked for their dad or grandpa in a huge “collectivized” family business.

                So he revised class warfare, a battle between owners and workers, to make it a battle between exploiter nations (the US and UK) and working class nations, and only applying some of Marx’s concepts to Italy’s few major manufacturers (almost all in the north) that made firearms, cars, and the like.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to LeeEsq
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                @Lee-
                Anytime one references “traditional” anything, it encompases everything from antiquity to feudal China to historic Africa and Hindu cultures, so there are plenty of exceptions.

                You are right (and George is too) in that once the economic necessity of communitarian living fell away, people broke up into smaller groups.

                What is interesting, is as we continue to sink into deeper economic malaise, how we as a society will cope with insecurity.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels
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                You are right (and George is too) in that once the economic necessity of communitarian living fell away, people broke up into smaller groups.

                I imagine the inverse is also true: that as economies became more urban-centric, the cost of living in cities and towns compelled people to live in inexpensive, small houses.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Stillwater
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                Yes and the Industrial Revolution changed the relationship of the contribution of family members to the financial well-being of families.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Stillwater
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                Most people lived in small houses even when the economy was very rural. The average rural dwelling was a one room hut because that was what people could afford or what the landowners would give them. Luxuriant housing arrangements were for the wealthy until relatively recently.

                Another constraint on housing size was transportation. When you had to walk or ride a horse everywhere, cities could only spread out so far. Everything had to be within walking or riding distance. Transit and cars allowed for cities to cover more space, land use to be separated by function, and housing bigger.Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to North
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      I feel like I know what is being talked about here.

      For instance, let’s consider Social Security. I have said that what one gets for one’s FICA payments is having your parents not move in with you when they retire.

      Now, this can easily be said to weaken the family bond, and in some sense, that is true. The government is taking over a function (retirement care/funding) which was once held privately.

      But I think it’s highly questionable whether it actually weakens families. Those families who want to hang out together (like mine) will still hang out together. And the ones that won’t won’t be forced to. The libertarian part of me says that an unforced association is going to be a better one. I will be less likely to be infused with some resentment.

      I’m adopted. It’s clear to me that families are a construct, rather than a biological inevitability. All families. I’m in favor of putting in the work to create them, acknowledging that it takes work, and it will always take work.

      So Social Security, in the end, reorganizes how we live in retirement, but it doesn’t really destroy families.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to North
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      @North : “I wonder, in this case, what he’d even be talking about. I’ve traveled in progressive and liberal circles for my entire adult life and have absolutely never heard or read any progressive or liberal even toy with the idea that families and communities being destroyed is, in of themselves, any kind of desirable good.”

      The phrase “sh/she/they they want to destroy families” is almost always a more politically palatable stand-in for “I don’t want them to have a family.”Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to Tod Kelly
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        The phrase “sh/she/they they want to destroy families” is almost always a more politically palatable stand-in for “I don’t want them to have a family.”

        Exactly this. Speaking from the perspective of the LGBT community, the notion that we are against family or community is absurd. We value those things very much.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Tod Kelly
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        I had hoped that it might have been something more than that and, if it was that, to push back on it.Report

  3. Avatar JoeSal
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    I would propose that individualism/individual sovereignty in this nation predates Karl Marx by about 20 years, and Josiah Warren was forming them when Proudhon was still rather young. These distant echoes continue in every vein that has not been completely poisoned by the social supremacists.

    Fusionism could not be destined to hold together. It was attempting to bind above the mean y-axis right conservatism and left libertarianism. It may have resulted in a centrist average, but it could not handle the authoritarian escalation of left libertarians during a period of social authoritarian escalation.

    The left escalates, the right escalates. Those on the lower y-axis, lament a bit at the emptiness of the ideological landscape around us, and can be critical of it.

    I am not sure if this is what Williamson is doing, but without delving into it further, I would blindly wager, it probably is.Report

  4. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    Like I was noting recently, the conservative movement is undergoing some sort of seismic convulsion.
    In my view, it appears that white ethnocentrism has at last turned on its littermates and cast them out off the nest.

    Ethnocentrism can’t tolerate competition from other ideas or principles. The fear of losing dominance is so blinding and primal that nothing can be allowed to impede it. Not fiscal matters, not religious piety, not even national patriotism.Report

    • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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      Dominance by what though? If that answer is leftward Socialism then you probably have no idea what kind of escalations are ahead.Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to JoeSal
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        Avi described conservatives as wanting to conserve something. I am a liberal because I want to change some things. Because I think they will be better. My ideology really doesn’t go much deeper than that. I suppose some might think that a flaw, but I see it as my primary principle is “love people” or perhaps “use money to help people rather than use people to get money”.

        There are, in fact, a bunch of things I want to conserve: Social Security, Medicare, National Parks, wilderness, spotted owls, a free and open Internet and so on. Somehow that doesn’t make me a conservative, though, but a raging socialist. That label doesn’t make any sense to me.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Doctor Jay
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          Socialized factors of production is actually a deeply traditional arrangement of human society, predating the Enlightenment and capitalist theory.

          Common grazing areas, public wells and streams, shared day care of children, common provision of health care are all things with a lineage that stretches back thousands of years.
          The foundation of any of the worlds major faiths is the emphasis on communal ties and responsibility.Report

          • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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            Public streams? I’m pretty sure Ogg, Cassius, and Ragnar went down to the creek without the help of a Department of Water and Public Works.

            And although health care has a long lineage, and was inexpensive, they just hadn’t figured out how to get the costs up. An ax and a tourniquet just don’t cost that much.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner
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              Who owned the creek?Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Whoever amassed enough capital formation to have the technology to do so.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Rome. All property was owned by Rome.

                But under the English system of property, the creek bed is owned by the landowner, and you can’t cross his land without permission to get to the creek (thought you can possibly wade up the creek, depending on whether it’s classed as navigable), but he doesn’t own the water.

                This is because of the beautiful concepts that we have about property. The water is moving through his property, not a part of it. Otherwise he’d have to be at the upstream end doing a constant property transfer with his neighbor, and then to the downstream end to sign the water over to the other neighbor, and then after a flood all his neighbors would sue him because his water flooded their house.

                Dirt and cats are more interesting cases to test our concepts of property. If I take a bag of dirt and dump it on your lawn, is it still my dirt or is it part of your lawn? Is the dirt that washes from my property onto yours my property or your property (this gets into whether the dirt is considered damaging).

                If you keep feeding my cat and it decides it likes living with you better than living with me, is it your cat or my cat? If it’s your cat, why doesn’t the same logic hold for my kids who keep staying over at your place?

                Many of these concepts are very intuitive, involving how we form mental associations of ownership between objects and people.

                And that’s where socialism had a launch failure. The people who dreamed it up and wrote their utopian tombs spent their time looking at “the means of production” or how long-established aristocracies held vast estates where serfs paid rent. Their great thinkers hadn’t taken time to look at functioning, intuitive property systems, and thus misdiagnosed most problems, offered crazy solutions that run counter to human nature, and attempts to implement such systems are almost universally disastrous.

                The best place to dig into the details of property, and all the ways we process it, is case law. Every possible dispute has arisen countless times, from tree roots cracking a neighbor’s driveway to pet goats eating rose bushes to dogs pooping on your porch.

                For centuries, judges and juries have pondered on each one and figured out who is responsible for what, and it’s almost exactly what you’d intuitively expect. This is why we can pop you onto a jury next to Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Chris Mathews, and Sean Hannity, and you’re all going to agree on the case of the tree roots and the driveway damage.

                The more uncertain grounds are in cases like product liability and business liability, where the connections between owner, object, and action are less intuitive, and where proximate cause comes more into play.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner
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                Right, and the water that flowed into Rome via the aqueducts- it was socialized, as were the wells in most towns and cities, as were the public baths and ports and harbors and grazing commons.

                Marx’s innovation wasn’t the public ownership of factors of production- that was age old. What he innovated is the idea of a totalized system wherein everything was subsumed under the public ownership.

                This is why I keep making the argument for using the verb form of socialize rather than the noun form of socialism.

                We can envision a world of socialized healthcare, with privatized pizza outlets for example.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Time your next hospital visit, and then time your next pizza delivery.

                The results are quite telling.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to George Turner
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                The amount of hours spent debating stream navigation within the hunting community is staggering. It’s a popular topic in the duck blind. We used to float through farms, maneuver under tree limbs and try to shoot squirrels so that they would land in the canoe.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Mike Dwyer
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                And it’s interesting how well we can follow the distinctions. The waterway is a piece of geology, a navigable transportation corridor similar to a road, and distinct from a driveway, which is smaller and shallower. It sits on private property, but is not of private property.

                And then you get into right-of-ways, easements, the road crew clearing limbs that overhand the public road that cuts through a person’s land, etc.

                It’s complex, but intuitive.
                Even some dogs seem to understand a lot of it, perhaps more so than Marx and Engels, which is really saying something.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to George Turner
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                From what I understand, it gets squirrely out west where some states use high water marks and other subjective criteria due to the demand for fly fishing spots.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Mike Dwyer
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                Which one of the OT writers, was it Michael Cain, or Burt Likko, who wrote a really terrific essay about Western water rights and how wickedly complex they were?

                Basically the Tl;Dr is that the process by which a cloud of water vapor falls to the ground, runs into a stream, forms into a lake then gets sucked up into a series of pipes to end up as either “Property” (a bottle on a supermarket shelf) or “Public good” (a stream coming out of your tap), is a long and essentially arbitrary web of negotiated agreements and decisions.

                There isn’t anything “natural” about property; its really just what we agree to.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Also, “no shirt, no shoes, no service” signs are bullcrap.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                And all that government is why there’s very little water out West. If they’d gone with the age-old British/Eastern seaboard system of water rights, Arizona would look like the Amazon basin.

                But sadly, that is not the case.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Burt wrote it, it was really good. California makes the rest of us look pretty simple, they’ve managed to incorporate three different water law regimes. Texas has the easiest to understand: somewhere back in time, the state declared that all surface water was the property of the state; assorted boards decide who gets to use how much.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Michael Cain
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                Add that I was disappointed this past June: another SCOTUS term and still no decision on Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado. Among other things, Texas has asked the Court to rule that pumping from an aquifer that is hydrologically linked to a surface river is a diversion from the river. The engineering answer is “Of course, with a multiplier between zero and one.” The legal answer has always been no.Report

        • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Doctor Jay
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          We would have to resolve the two freedoms problem to really get into a baseline of raging socialism.

          That said, one of the factors, (which admittedly isn’t whole cloth) is the consideration of reciprocity, and cost that are imposed for liberal preferences.

          I am admittedly not a conservative, but when I see the escalations/conflicts, it involves the unbalance of reciprocity, and the imposed costs to the social construct of conservatism by the liberal preferences. I think if there were equal balance (at least perceived equal) of resources/expenditures/efforts that were producing the desired outcomes for conservatives then there would likely be less conflict. The ideologies are in too much conflict to cede much in principle.Report

  5. Avatar Pinky
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    I haven’t read the book. This review seems a bit off-base from what I’ve read of Williamson, but what do I know? This book may represent a new direction for him or the culmination of a journey he’s been on. But my hunch is that this review is overstating things.

    Williamson writes with a jackhammer. If he can turn a phrase to indicate a lack of respect, he’ll always do it. But at heart, he’s an intellectual of the best sort. He’ll take on an idea and push it to its limits, testing its assumptions and implications. I don’t always know where he’s going with a thought, but by the time he’s done it will have been fully explored (and roughed up in an alleyway behind the library).

    Williamson’s style elicits strong responses. I’ve read a lot of critiques of Williamson, but they hardly ever fit the actual text they’re critiquing. So I’ll hold off judgment.Report

  6. Avatar Andrew Donaldson
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    says:

    FWIW Kevin Williamson has written this response to Avi’s piece here over at the corner in National Review: https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/amoralists-like-us/Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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      says:

      I really like paragraph two, the one that begins “Part of my argument is that people turn to the social-media-driven phenomenon of mob politics as a substitute for the civil society…”

      I think this is well-observed and worthy of further consideration. I think that mob rule is probably a consequence of, and perhaps a driver of, atomization. (I generally do not express myself as colorfully as Williamson does, but I am not a fan of the Twitter mob either.)

      I find it strange that conservatives blame liberals for this phenomenon, which happens sometimes. I don’t think Williamson is doing that, at least he doesn’t here.

      At the same time, the medium itself drives one toward identity defense, which itself engenders “mob rule”. People are constantly misunderstood in social media, precisely because they are constantly subject to context collapse. A single sentence or phrase can, and is, shorn from the person saying it, with all their history.

      How many tales do we know where someone says something meant to be ironic and darkly humorous, to have it taken as earnest and therefore, highly objectionable? We know lots of these stories these days. I contend it is fundamental to media, and one of the core things that makes politics be the way it is.Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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      says:

      One other note. That passage where Williamson describes Ayn Rand’s morality makes me think of Thanos, of MCU repute.

      Thanos is absolutely sure that he is the prime moral agent of the universe, and that nobody else has the moral vision that he does. He must needs destroy the world to save it. So it is with Rand, dropping rocks on all the wrongdoers (honestly some of them seem to be wrongthinkers rather than wrongdoers, and I wonder just what the distance is between her and the Communists?) in order to bring about her perfect utopian world.

      I fundamentally reject Rand’s moral view, though I get that she has one, if that matters.Report

      • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Doctor Jay
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        says:

        Thanos actions where for the sake of ‘future beings’ which is quite opposite of Rand who would declare no action be taken for the sake of another in a altruistic sense.

        Thanos ideas REQUIRE a Social Objectivity model built upon a social truth.Report

  7. Avatar LisaE
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    says:

    I’m not sure Avi understood the book. He seems to have misinterpreted some things.Report

  8. Avatar PJF
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    says:

    I think you should read it again and probably Ann Rand too. You’ve interpreted both nearly the exact opposite of what they wrote.Report

  9. Avatar pillsy
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    says:

    Kevin Williamson posted a response to Avi’s review at NRO. The thing that struck me was how rose-colored his view of traditional offline social groups is.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to pillsy
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      says:

      Is Williamson a communitarian?Report

    • Avatar JoeSal in reply to pillsy
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      says:

      Could you explain where you are seeing that?Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to JoeSal
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        says:

        Here.

        Part of my argument is that people turn to the social-media-driven phenomenon of mob politics as a substitute for the civil society and other associations Woolf references here. What we call for lack of a better word “globalization” has made us wealthier and better off on most measurable material criteria, but it also has introduced sources of stress and anxiety: We move much more often than we used to (the “we” in these sentences is complicated, I know; you know who you are), change employers more frequently than our parents or grandparents did, put off marriage and children, etc. As a consequence, the community ties and familial relationships that once helped to sustain us and fix us are, for many of us, attenuated. In that situation, people go looking for new sources of meaning and relationship, and many of them have settled, stupidly, on the basest and silliest form of partisan-tribal politics. Twitter is less work than joining a bowling league.

        I think he’s severely underestimating the extent to which offline social groups like bowling leagues can be just as dysfunctional, petty, and obnoxiously political as any Online-mediated subcultural hothouse. It just doesn’t happen in a context that leaves a semi-permanent record which can be easily braodcast for any number of reasons.Report

        • Avatar JoeSal in reply to pillsy
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          says:

          Ah, ok, many thanks for pointing that out.

          That is a issue, and a admitted blind spot of my own. Individualists typically prefer smaller groups and when we see dysfunction it is typically ascribed to disparity in individual constructs instead of some larger political-cultural phenomena.

          It gives the rosy colored view that most people are good in nature, it is just when they get together in large numbers that things get sketchy. This is somewhat a social truth for me, and has a bit of a religious belief component, as I am not certain it can be proven empirically(other than using Twitter as an example, ha).Report

          • Avatar Philip H in reply to JoeSal
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            says:

            You can readily prove the counter factual. There are PLENTY of people who are not good, and not prone to goodness, no matter what the size of their social group. Many of them now run the country as politicians and business leaders.Report

            • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Philip H
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              says:

              Yeah, the thing about that social objectivity thingy your attempting to wield is that the quantity of PLENTY and the term ‘not good’ bites you right in the social truth posterior.

              I am certain that you would have a different social truth to who is good and not good than I would, and quantities differ from there.Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to Philip H
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              says:

              Yep. Plenty of sociopaths out there. But many others are good mainly because they don’t have anything important to fight over.

              Most of the Game of Thrones was written from the sociological perspective of how people are shaped by their situation, and thus their behavior reflects how much there is to lose or gain in their situation.

              Its later seasons are about how people are poorly written Lego characters in a universe devoid of any internal logic.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to pillsy
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          says:

          I think it’s ironic that libertarians (well, this libertarian anyway) blame a medium which, by its very nature, allows unfettered individual public expression – which for libertarians is an apriori good! – for undermining community. It’s the same sense of ironic befuddlement I feel when libertarians who championed free-trade agreements complain about Trump’s policies even though protectionism is what seated him in the Oval Office. It’s that old Lou Gehrig joke about how he died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease: how’d he not see that coming!Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to pillsy
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          says:

          “It just doesn’t happen in a context that leaves a semi-permanent record which can be easily braodcast for any number of reasons.”

          Yeeeeeeeeep

          The thing about social media is not that it makes people be nasty, vicious, exclusionist, governed by mob impulse, subject to fads and memitic contamination. The thing with social media is that the whole world can see it happening.

          People are talking about how weird and impulsive Elon Musk is, but his pattern is familiar; it’s what every kinda-nerdy guy goes through when he first logs on and realizes that his mom isn’t there to stop him saying “boobs and wieners and butts and stuff” and being horny and spinning zany ideas about how society would be better if we lived in trees. The issue is that he did it on Twitter.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to DensityDuck
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            says:

            The net does encourage acting out, because its anonymity mean that there are no consequences. People can be hateful and vile and racist AF and nothing really bad happens, certainly compared to the consequences of expressing that stuff in real life. One of the reasons we have a fairly civil comment section is that we’ve known each other long enough to care what other people think.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Mike Schilling
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              says:

              I don’t think it’s anonymity. I think it’s the ease of exit, and the assurance that there are other communities I can join just by typing a different URL in the address bar. It’s a lot easier to convince yourself to walk away from Omelas if there’s Twomelas and Thremelas and Formelas right next door…Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Part of the problem is that a lot of things suck.

    We’ve got a system. Let’s call it “System A”. System A achieves the following:
    P% of people are not food insecure
    Q% of people are not illiterate
    R% of people are not unemployed
    S% of people get the healthcare they need

    So on and so forth. (In no case do any of those numbers equal 100 or 99 or even 98.)

    The question then comes “well, why are we still using System A? Shouldn’t we use System B?”

    And we switch to System B and some of those numbers go up and some of the numbers go down and advocates for System A explain that System A worked better, just look at these numbers and advocates for System B explain that System B hasn’t fully kicked in yet so it’s not fair to compare it to System A yet, besides, System A sucked! Just look at System A’s numbers!

    And we eventually end up with a fusion of A and B that sucks because, in no case do any of those numbers equal 100 or 99 or even 98. If we’re lucky, we swap out who is in the good part of the percentage and who is in the crappy part of it. Then we can point to the people who are better off and ask “are you saying these people shouldn’t be better off?” to the people who thought it worked better before.

    But where we are now seems to be a place where System B doesn’t even get a chance before we need to switch to System C and System C doesn’t even really get a chance between we switch to System D and it *FEELS* like things used to work better… even if only we weren’t inundated with people telling us, every day, how awful things are and how we need to switch to System H and it’s a moral imperative to do so. (“What happened to System E?” “Main advocate was a sex pest.” “System F?” “Cancelled.” “System G?” “Turned out to be a grift.”)

    And we’re using more and more moral language to describe the imperative that we change without even discussing what it is that we want to be measuring to be able to tell if we’re getting better or not.

    And that, to me, makes me feel like we’re riding a bubble that’s about to pop.

    And that will suck.

    And we’re going to find out that there are a *LOT* of letters that come before A.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Is our current system (system A) better or worse than previous systems, ones that were fused into creating it? (Seems like you think it is worse, correct?, and that every tweak to a system results in worse outcomes?)Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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        It’s worse than that.

        I’m saying we don’t know how to measure it.
        I’m saying we don’t know what “better” or “worse” means.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          If we can’t measure anything, and we don’t know what better and worse mean, then who cares what policy people put in place? More particularly, why do *you* care, since you concede that *you* can’t measure it and you don’t know what better and worse means in this context?Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          If we can’t measure anything, and we don’t know what better and worse mean, then who cares what policy gets put in place? More particularly, why do *you* care, since you concede that *you* can’t measure it and you don’t know what better and worse means in this context? If there’s nothing to care about, then there’s nothing to worry about.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            “If we can’t measure anything, and we don’t know what better and worse mean, then who cares what policy people put in place? ”

            If you don’t know that changing things would make them better, then why are you changing them?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to DensityDuck
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              says:

              I’m not the one who said we can’t measure anything Duck. Keep up!Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I didn’t say we “can’t” measure anything.

                I’m saying we don’t know how to.

                Now, I will admit, “we don’t know how to” is an overstatement. It’s probably more accurate to say “we don’t know what we want to measure” (and, if we did, I’m not certain what we want to measure is even measurable in theory… leaving us to measure proxies for what we want to measure and if we don’t know what the proxies are, that’s bad too).Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            I imagine that we can measure things, but if we don’t know what we want to measure, we probably won’t be measuring it.

            And if we aren’t measuring what we’d want to measure what we don’t know what it is, we will change things and the only measurement we’ll have are “the same as last time” or “feels good/bad”.

            And without knowing anything, we probably will get over the endorphins from “change!” pretty quickly to be left with the ennui of not knowing what we wanted but being pretty sure it wasn’t *THIS*.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      That’s a very insightful comment. (Not that many other comments aren’t also insightful!)

      There’s also technical problems that most people aren’t really aware of, which makes some issues continually resurface. For example, government payments aren’t included in calculating the poverty rate. Under system A the poverty rate is 10%, so you build a movement and switch to system B. Under system B the poverty rate is 10%, so you switch to system C, and then to D, and then to E, before someone finally asks how you define the poverty rate. Come the reply, “It’s the bottom 10% of the income distribution.” “Oh, so how do we change that?” “Um, you can’t, at least in this mathematical universe.” On the bright side, under system E all the poor were kicking back in the Bahamas cashing $250K a year in government checks.

      Now, there’s another way to approach the problem.

      Under system A, 96% of the people are better off and 4% are worse off. So Stalin has the 4% shot, and then 100% of the people are better off. The scheme is genius in its simplicity and effectiveness, unless you go back and count that 4% as being very very much worse off.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      I think its Marx’s ironic triumph that he got everyone to think of politics as systems which produce reliably predictable results.

      Certainly people in the middle ages didn’t think that; people in Asia never thought that way; the people of classical antiquity, or the various indigenous cultures around the world would be baffled by the concept of politics as System A or B.Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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        says:

        Well, it might not be called system A or B, it might be called Lord High Imperial Highness A and Munificent and All Wise Heavenly Leader B. However, there’s usually not any choice involved in making the switch.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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        says:

        (Isn’t that practically the definition of Confucianism?)Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          I don’t know- did Confucianism hold that the outcome of society was more the inevitable result of economic and legal structures, and less the moral and ethical quality of the people involved?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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            says:

            From Wikipedia:

            The worldly concern of Confucianism rests upon the belief that human beings are fundamentally good, and teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal endeavor, especially self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucian thought focuses on the cultivation of virtue in a morally organised world.

            Sounds like everything is tied together.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              But that’s very different than our 20th century debate between Marxism and Capitalism, right?

              The European and American political scientists, both Marxist and capitalist, saw the outcomes of society not as the result of virtue, but as the inevitable result of the system of economic and political structures.

              The thinking was that if you fiddled with the knobs and levers of economic and legal policy, you would get predictable and reproducible results.

              Even here at OT you see this, where its accepted that Stalinist Russia was an awful place primarily because the factors of production were in public hands, and America was delightful because they were held privately.

              As opposed to saying that the Russian people made terrible and unvirtuous decisions.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Oh, I thought we were talking about the people in the middle ages; people in Asia; the people of classical antiquity, or the various indigenous cultures around the world.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Well, yes we are.
                Its only the 20th Century when people started using the Marxist framing of systems instead of virtue.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Why is it that Marxists always make terrible and unvirtuous decisions, every single time?

                It’s like there’s a pattern to it.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                The people you’re thinking about- were they virtuous to begin with?Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Most of the virtuous ones seem to be put up against a wall and shot early on, so I’m not really sure.

                But Solzhenitsyn describes how an ideology takes over their brains, so the ones dying in labor camps for the silliest of crazy infractions believe they deserve to be laboring in a gulag.

                Sergei, who makes the Ushanka Show on Youtube, related some war stories his grandfather told. He was captured twice by the Germans and spent most of the war as a POW. He says the Germans treated him much better than the Soviets did after he got home when the war ended.

                At one point he and his buddies in the Soviet labor camp managed to somehow get some meat in the marketplace, which tasted really strange. Then they found a human fingernail in it and realized they were eating a person.

                The wonders of socialism.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                So the horrors weren’t inevitable result of some change in law or policy, but the result of unvirtuous people seizing command, and enlisting the aid of millions of other unvirtuous people?Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Well, only unvirtuous people would go around collectivizing everybody’s stuff. In the rest of the world that’s always been called “stealing” or “looting”.

                Of course a lot of people object to having all their stuff taken away, so often you have to beat them, shoot them, or re-educate them to death to get them to see the wisdom of the socialist system.

                And then everyone gets in line to enjoy the shared endemic poverty and oppression until they get completely fed up or the system collapses because it never worked.

                There was a black American engineer and hard core communist who moved to the Soviet Union in the 30’s. He eventually wrote a book about his experiences, which is how we know about him.

                Being an engineer, he was a numbers guy, and he spent over a year carefully pouring over reams of productivity figures for their rapid advancements under Stalin’s five year plans.

                What he found was that the US made more productivity and economic gains (home construction in sq feet, etc) every year than the Soviets did in five.

                The Soviet weren’t moving ahead, they were falling behind.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                Which brings us back to Confucius I guess.

                Because governments grabbing peoples stuff is an ancient practice well known to him, predating any of our systems ideas.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chip Daniels
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        says:

        You know Marx’s triumph? People read something like Lord of the Ring and worry about whether Middle Earth makes economic sense.Report

  11. Avatar George Turner
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    says:

    I will mention (because it just occurred to me but has probably been written about at length somewhere), that a lot of our historical problems have stemmed from people who confuse ownership and sovereignty. That of course occurs mostly in people who have sovereignty, who are by definition rulers.

    In the US, when someone is elected mayor, they don’t have any notion that they actually own the city, they merely run it. But historically, that was a very common assumption and one that cause enormous problems.

    “I inherited my father’s earldom. It’s mine! All of it! All those villages and hovels and horses and people are mine!” It virtually goes unsaid in “Game of Thrones”, where only major characters really seemed to own anything, and what they did own was entire kingdoms and any cities they took along their way to taking and owning even more kingdoms. Minor characters may have lived in a house or a hut, but you didn’t get the notion that they really owned their house. They just lived there as a way to get a speaking part.

    Socialism was a reaction to such a system. Instead of the Lannisters owning everything, what if the people got together, killed the Lannisters, and ran things themselves? But without a concept of property that’s distinct from sovereignty, they’ll just put some committee in charge and the committee will, in effect, own everything in the name of the people. Wait. That’s what the Lannisters did.

    One of the reasons socialism failed in Britain and America is that by the time it came along, we had functioning property systems that separated ownership from sovereignty. Everybody owned their own real-estate. They owned their own businesses. Why would we give our hard won property to a bunch of duffuses just because they claim to speak in our name? That doesn’t even make any sense to us because we’re not still living in King’s Landing.

    But some of the confusion is still with us. If we implement some government program, say health care, we have mayors like De Blasio and crazy city councils that thinks that since “they”, in the name of the people, are incurring the costs of hospitalization and health care, that they somehow own part of you. You’re not allowed to slurp that large soda because you would be wasting “their” money. And they easily convince a bunch of formerly autonomous New Yorkers that these soda sippers are somehow ripping them off because everybody owns part of other people’s health.

    Almost every public endeavor creates some fuzzy areas between sovereignty (who runs the project) and ownership, when the concepts need to be clearly distinguished. The US has sovereignty over Guam, but that doesn’t mean we can sell it to somebody else. De Blasio can’t sell the Mahhattan to Toshiba because he doesn’t own it. But look a little further back in history and you’ll see European monarchs wheeling and dealing in territories and regions like they were Monopoly properties. That’s pretty much how we got the Louisiana Purchase. Yet we can’t sell it back because it’s owned by its countless millions of land owners who hold deeds.

    This confusion has been showing up a lot on the left lately. AOC thinks she can just force you to tear down your house and give up your car because climate. It’s not her house. It’s not her car. No amount of sovereignty changes that, and the overreach we already have often stems from prior episodes of confusion. Take universal health care. You own a health plan. You paid for it. Well, not if certain Democrats implement their plan. They seem to think that if they have sovereignty, they own your health plan and can take it away when they want, just as they think they can take away your car and your house as long as they plan to give you better ones. You might as well elect Cersei Lannister and get used to be a propertyless serf, because that’s a conversation that shouldn’t even exist.Report

  12. Avatar Kristin Devine
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    Wonderful piece. Thank you for writing it.Report

  13. Avatar Stillwater
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    says:

    OK, I read finally read linked essay, Father Fuhrer. Whew! It’s really something.

    It [a popular narrative about white working class grievance] is immoral because it perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces. It hasn’t. The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about “globalists” and — odious, stupid term — “the Establishment,” but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.

    If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that.

    Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be. There is more to life in the 21st century than wallboard and cheap sentimentality about how the Man closed the factories down.

    The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.

    This is really something. It’s just an amazing read. I think his critique of the Trumpian white working class is right, and I give him credit for using his … uh … muscular and slightly manic prose to criticize his teammates and fellow travelers. There’s nothing quite as compelling to read as the take-down-from-within. There’s a level of brutal honesty you just don’t get in across-ideology critiques.

    Thanks for posting this essay.Report

    • Avatar veronica d in reply to Stillwater
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      says:

      As pleasing as it might be to see the logic that conservatives wield against minority communities turned around and deployed against the Trumpaloos, we should resist this temptation. Namely, there is an important dialectic between the two folowing positions. The first is, “communities stand or fall according to their internal logic, and thus they bear full responsibility for their own suffering.” The second is, “communities are hapless victims of external forces, and thus those within have zero responsibility for their conditions.”

      Neither is true, and exploring why each is false can give important insight into how social responsibility works. However, this is not how conservatives wield this discourse. Instead, they are relentlessly dehumanizing and awful, even when they turn the guns on their own supporters.

      We’re better than they are.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to veronica d
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        says:

        I don’t think it’s dehumanizing to bluntly state that white working class grievance is a myth and that perpetuating that narrative is a dangerous mistake. The essay was written in 2016, and look where we are now, caging small children, ripping infants from their mothers. I’d say he was on to something early. 🙂

        “the incomprehensible malice”…Report

        • Avatar veronica d in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          You don’t find phrases such as “the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog” as dehumanizing? It is literally dehumanizing.

          The point is, poor white communities suffer similar travails as minority communities do. The difference is that conservatives demonize poor minorities and valorize poor whites. Understanding that both groups experience similar economic pressures is important. The strategy of “let’s just demonize both” is precisely the wrong approach.

          Look, I despise the Trumpaloos, precisely because of their bigotry, not their economic struggles. Furthermore, it is important to note that not all poor whites are Trumpaloos. In fact, Trump did better among wealthier whites — although I believe there was a difference between wealthy whites who lived near poor whites, versus wealthy whites who did not. The former were more likely to vote Trump compared to the latter. In other words (in simplistic terms), there is a sense that the Trumpaloos are responding not to their own impoverishment, but to that of their poor white neighbors.

          The point: bigotry is a different thing from economic hardship. Assigning moral responsibility must work differently between those two things.

          Stop confusing them. Plenty of rich asshole are happy to watch Trump denigrate women and minorities. They love it. It makes them hard.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Stillwater
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      says:

      If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy

      It makes me wonder where all those alcoholics in Eastern Kentucky managed to buy beer or liquor. I never saw a real life beer can till I was in college.Report

    • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Stillwater
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      says:

      It might hold if you ascribed agency in voting their own minimum wages up to a global non-competitive level, but if they didn’t do that as free agents, then the playing field was created unlevel by forces out of their control. That ‘deserve to die’ part is questionable for sure.

      He probably should have went with something along the lines of ‘survival must be earned’.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to JoeSal
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        says:

        That ‘deserve to die’ part is questionable for sure.

        He meant the communities, not the people, but I agree. That’s a bit too harsh for my tastes. I left it in the blockquote because it was the big crescendo the previous three paragraphs were leading up to. Well, the whole essay, really.Report

  14. Avatar Rufus F.
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    says:

    The simple reality is that societies have long needed large masses of people to do the “shitwork”. Maybe it was a large peasantry, or it was colonial subjects, or ethnic minorities, immigrants, the urban poor, etc. etc. etc. But, as a practical matter, warm bodies were needed. It wasn’t always pretty, but there you go.

    What’s (kind of) interesting, though, is that the line of discourse used to justify maintaining a semi-permanent underclass never really changes: you just have to be firm with these people because it’s all they really understand, they’re fairly lazy and unambitious, given to petty crimes and breeding like rabbits, and ultimately their culture is so degraded and their families so dysfunctional that we’re doing them a favor even giving them jobs. I’m paraphrasing a bit there from a french book I just read from the mid-1800s; it was explaining why Egyptian cotton had to be grown by quasi-slaves.

    But you can easily find texts about the English working class that say the same thing, or about the black underclass in America, or immigrants, or shtetl Jews, or poor white trash. The main argument never really changes: it’s not that these people are just the ones stuck doing the shitwork that makes our lifestyle possible- it’s that for people like them, doing shitwork is a golden opportunity- the only one they’re going to get, let’s be honest. Until we don’t need them to do it anymore. Then, we need to start talking about curtailing the birth population.

    I live in one of those industrial cities that was being left to its own devices to deal with the cultural pathologies of poverty and high levels of blood cancer- until it was decided that the living space would be better utilized by social betters from the immediate area. So, now it’s being “revitalized”. And the poor white trash are paying double the rent to arriviste financialized real estate speculators. Because we still need them here to make steel and cook in our restaurants.

    And there certainly are people here who fit the stereotype; I can look out the window and will eventually see a middle aged man passing dressed like a young boy, glaring angrily, and staggering drunk. Those men are everywhere here. Mark Maron described this city as a “ragtag parade of frenetic sadness” when shooting a movie here recently and he is not wrong. Those men- and it’s 90% men- can be frustrating and dispiriting for sure. I tire of them. If anything, they reinforce the classism I’ve internalized from my own upbringing. And I wasn’t born here, so I remain somewhat detached from those Canucks.

    What’s really infuriating, however, are the many friends of mine who did grow up in this city to become passionate, brilliant, open-minded, hard-working, funny, optimistic individuals and are having all of their abilities wasted and good qualities ground out of them by year after year of this shit. They need to leave. I need to leave. We have pockets of white-collar, professional life in this city, but I can say with some certainty that those people hate them, and will never admit them to their ranks. Hell, the booshies have created an entire *mythology* about the poor, who for their part think they’ll be booshie themselves- any day now. So, they need to leave.

    Now, is it the fault of the people who grew up here that this city is quickly transforming from a “shit-hole” to a very expensive shit-hole? Not really. They don’t have enough power or authority to make real changes here. What they can change is how they deal with the situation, which is why they need to leave. Leave the city to the people with money to run into the ground.

    So, to some extent I sound like Kevin Williamson. But, what’s intellectually disingenuous and cowardly about blaming the poor for poverty is that the society extracts a great amount of wealth from the poor. We need them in order to function. If we run out, we’ll just have to import more of them. It’s a little disingenuous to grow trees, harvest them for timber, and then blame the trees for no longer standing- if that makes sense.Report

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