Way back in the early eighties it was, and I read a book by Reagan’s treasury secretary, a gent named William Simon. The book was called Time for Truth, and somewhere in the course of that book he explained (compellingly, in my view) why so many on what might be called the hard right have such a vulnerability to conspiratorial views. He said, Simon did, that this was the result of a charitable attribution of intelligence to their political foes.
Here is how the reasoning goes. Since it is plainly obvious that the progressive policies that are being foisted upon us are policies that amount to the ruination of the republic, and since it is assumed that the people doing the foisting are intelligent and well-educated and can therefore see what they are doing, it follows, as night follows day, that they are wrecking in the country on purpose. They must be in the pay of the commies. Since they are doing all of this on purpose, they must be doing it on purpose all together, and that is where you get the assumption that nefarious conspiracies are driving the whole thing.
Simon’s riposte to this was telling. He simply gave his personal testimony. He said that he had been involved in decision-making at the highest levels of government for some time, and could testify that many of those who were making the destructo-decisions were absolutely clueless about the consequences and ramifications of what they were doing. No, it wasn’t purposeful and malevolent destruction of all that ordinary people hold dear. Rather it was, in Sowell’s great phrase, “self-congratulation as the basis for public policy.” Cluelessness firmly established on the foundational bedrock of invincible conceit.
The fact that such individuals are high-performance persons in many other areas of their lives matters not at all. They did not need to be idiots across the board, although idiocy does need to be given pride of place somewhere.
In fact, it is a peculiar form of idiocy to think that genuine expertise in one area of your life automatically transfers to any other—as though a man skilled in running a hedge fund, say, would thereby be automatically equipped to repair some circuits inside your malfunctioning smart phone, choosing for his only tools a pair of oven mitts and a couple popsicle sticks.
And this brings us to the somewhat dark assessment given by Ambrose Bierce.
“Idiot – A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot’s activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but “pervades and regulates the whole.” He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.”
The Devil’s Dictionary
What we are dealing with, in many cases, is a peculiar configuration of the idiot savant, one with the ratios reversed. The traditional idiot savant is someone who excels in one area while being severely disabled and helpless in most others. By way of contrast, our pestilent ruling class is one which excels in many areas, is helpless in one, and assumes to itself the absolute right to dictate to all the rest of us from the crazed assumptions of that one area.
In other words, you have somebody who scored big time on his SATs, got into Harvard, graduated into a six-figure job, is tech savvy, married well, is a connoisseur of fine wines, and thinks that minimum wage laws are a good idea that will actually help the poor.
And the conceit is incorrigible. The ignorance is adamantine. It doesn’t matter how many times the policy bursts into flames whenever it is applied. It doesn’t matter how many thoughtful economists show by rigorous argument that the policy is both wrong-footed and wrong-headed. It doesn’t matter that a casual ten-minute analysis can reveal the fallacy. It doesn’t matter.
But let me give three examples of things in this category that should be obvious—because hope springs eternal.
I do not think that everything will become clear to everyone as soon as folks read what I write. But there will come a time—because thundering stupidity is never a sound long term policy—when the frenzy is passed, when cooler heads have prevailed, and the insanities of our generation have outlived their warranty. Future generations will look back at what we were doing and ask themselves “what were they thinking?”
All we conservatives ask is a place in some future scholar’s footnotes. “Not everyone went along with these notions . . .”
The Rich and the Poor
The received wisdom is that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. You have heard a great deal about income inequality, and about what an awful business that is. Now my point here is not to focus on the ulcers of envy that make people say things like this. No, my point is the simple statistical blunder that is being made.
I will make some numbers up to illustrate the point. Suppose someone points out that forty years ago there were 10% of Americans living below the poverty line, and that 10% of Americans were upper middle class, and that the average income disparity between the two groups was 100K. And then today, a generation later, let us suppose that 12% of Americans were below the poverty line, 8% of Americans were upper middle class, and the average income disparity between them was 120K. Let us also suppose that these numbers are accurate, and not fudged in any way.
There is plenty here for a demagogue to work with. The Democratic nominee for president could fill stadiums up talking about this kind of stuff.
There are also cogent responses that I can’t resist touching on before getting to the main point of silliness. Who calculates the poverty line? And in terms of actual purchasing power, are the people below the poverty line today better off than the people in the same status a generation ago? How many of the poor have smart phones compared to a generation ago? Is there a difference between absolute poverty and relative poverty? And so on we go, asking many salient questions.
But here is the central chicanery, the legerdemain, the conjuring trick. There is a difference between statistical categories and actual people. There is a stark difference between a statistical underclass and a permanent underclass. A generation ago, a bunch of the student couples below the poverty line—the Smiths, Murphys, Talcotts, and Peabodys—are now in the upper middle class. And some of the people in the upper middle class have drifted downward out of it.
In a society that contains as much upward mobility as ours does (which is to say, a great deal), to compare income disparity between statistical groups a generation ago and statistical groups now, as though we were talking about the same people, is the height of absurdity.
Did you know? Did you know that a generation ago there was a ten year differential between the graduating seniors and the second graders? And today, a full 40 years later, in a country that has put a man on the moon, did you know that the second graders are no closer to graduation than they were back then?
I would be willing to wipe away a tear for these abandoned second graders if that were warranted, but it isn’t. They’ll be fine.
We need a second example, so maybe we should talk about this strange weather god cult that all the authorities want us to join. They want us to dance around the great altar of the state, separating recyclables from regular trash, having our hotel towels not washed every day, and cutting ourselves with knives.
Ah, good old climate change.
When it comes to events that drive climate and weather, I wonder how much actual knowledge there is to be known. And I wonder also what percentage of that knowledge we currently have in our possession. In short, what does God know about all of this, and what fraction of this total amount of knowable knowledge do we know? Then you also have to throw into the mix the troublesome element of the things that we currently know that “just ain’t so.” That’s an additional complication, right there.
Here are some relevant questions somebody should ask. Is the climate in fact actually changing? If it is changing, is this a bad thing for us, a good thing, or a net wash? If it is changing, and if it is a bad thing, are we in any way causing it? If we are causing it, is there any reasonable expectation that we might be able to reverse the effect we are having? And last, if there is a possibility of our action reversing this climate change, should the state have anything whatever to do with it?
Now of course there is obviously a possibility that the correct answer to every one of those questions is identical to what the most alarmed of all the alarmists might say. It is not as though anthropogenic climate change is a logical impossibility. However, comma.
A giant meteor headed straight toward St. Louis would be a great natural disaster, but it would be a-simple-to-understand disaster. A big rock is going to create a crater in the heartland the size of Rhode Island. And it would be a threat with one variable. All the amateur astronomers could be invited to look at it coming, and to do the math themselves. Hmmm, we would say to ourselves. We had better mobilize.
But a weather system has millions of variables, not one, and climate might be understood as a “weather system” of weather systems. How many variables are we talking about? How many inputs into the system? How complicated is the question? Do we even know what we are talking about?
Consider my earlier questions and apply them to the Medieval Warming Period. Was the climate in fact actually changing? Yes, it did, undeniably. If it did change, was this a bad thing for us, a good thing, or a net wash? From all the reports, it was a good thing. Greenland was actually a fun place. If it changed, was this caused in any way by the activities of men? This was long before the industrial revolution and so it is hard to imagine how we might have contributed. If man caused it, was there any reasonable expectation that they might have been able to reverse the effect they had? No. And last, if there was a possibility of our action reversing this climate change, should the state have had anything whatever to do with it? No. If we had given plenipotentiary powers to Sven the Marauder, so that he might give himself fully to the task of fighting climate change, caused by bad Vikings who had their hotel towels washed every day, the chance are pretty good that he would have used those powers, not to crack down on the hotel towel travesty, but rather to do some more marauding.
Chicken Little alarmists have been predicting the end for quite some time now. “If we don’t take immediate action, within five years it will be too late.” Well, then, since we have apparently missed all the deadlines, established for us by Men of Science, then there is clearly nothing for it but to shrug our shoulders, and enjoy whatever time it is we have left.
“Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified.”
Is. 41:23 (ESV)
Some weather god.
The Transexual Phantasmagorithon
I saved the fruitiest one for last. The final and utter frozen limit is the mass hallucination that has taken a firm hold throughout our intelligentsia. Remember that these are people who, in most areas of life, do well for themselves. They know when to buy and sell their stocks. They have drivers’ licenses. They do not shovel their walks in summer, and they do not mow their lawns in winter. So everything seems fine.
And yet somehow . . .
They have bought into the supposition—hook, line, sinker and the fisherman’s waders—that someone can simply decide that they are not actually the sex that God assigned to them. In addition, they have marshaled the full force of the law in order to demand that this authoritative decision must be respected by all and sundry, in the teeth of the evidence. Further, it has been determined by the enlightened one that those who refuse to go along with this naked-emperor-charade will be deemed to be the “anti-science” faction.
A dude can have trillions of cells with XY chromosomes in his body, with each one of those cells testifying to the fact that this is fact a dude, and yet, if he applies some bright red XX lipstick to his XY lips, this somehow changes everything.
As the old Southern proverb has it, some folks’ corn bread ain’t quite done in the middle.
There is a common saying or riddle that comes in many forms, but the essence of it is this. How many legs does a dog have if we call the tail a leg? The answer is four, because calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it one.
We are just about at peak frenzy with this one, but the nature of the frenzy is different depending on whether we are talking about the secular world or the Christian world. The secular world is in the grip of a delusion; confusion has them by the throat. This is not the case in the Christian world. We are not confused the way they are. We know that the girls are girls and the guys are guys. Not confused on the issue at all. We are just cowards. Cowardice has us by the throat.
Today’s Giveaway Deal
Today’s deal is another book I wrote on the intersection of faith and politics, that book being Empires of Dirt. Here is the link.