Alarming News: I like Morgan Freeberg. A lot.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: We were following a trackback and thinking "hmmm... this is a bloody excellent post!", and then we realized that it was just part III of, well, three...Damn. I wish I'd written those.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: ...I just remembered that I found a new blog a short while ago, House of Eratosthenes, that I really like. I like his common sense approach and his curiosity when it comes to why people believe what they believe rather than just what they believe.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is an intriguing guy...[he] asks great questions and answers others with style, flair, reason and wit. On the blogroll he goes. Make him a part of your regular blogospheric reading. I certainly will.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is brilliant.
Common Sense Junction: Misha @ Anti-Idiotarian never ceases to amaze me. He keeps finding other good blogs. I went over to A.I. this morning for my daily Misha fix and he had found this guy named Morgan Freeberg in Fair Oaks, California, that has a blog, House of Eratosthenes. Freeberg says its "The Blog That Nobody Reads" but it may now become the blog that everybody reads.
Jaded Haven: Good God, Morgan, you cover a topic from front to back with a screwy thoroughness I find mind boggling. I'm in awe of your thought proccesses, my friend, you're an exceptional talent. You start by throwing in the kitchen sink, tie in someone's syphilitic uncle, bend around a rip tide of brilliance and bring it all home in a neat, diamond dripping package of an exceptionally readable moment of damn fine wordsmithing. I love reading you.
Mein Blogovault: Make "the Blog that No One Reads" one of your daily reads.
Philmon: When Morgan meanders, stick with him - he's got a point and it'll be worth it in the end. He's not a hit-and-run snarky quip kind of guy. The pieces all fall into place like tumblers in a lock and bang! He's opened a cognative door for you.
Rightlinx: Morgan at House of Eratosthenes is one of the best writers out there. I read him nearly every day because he manages to provide an interesting perspective, even though I don't always agree.
Poetic Justice: Cletus! Ah gots a laiv one fer yew...
Lefty political activist and columnist David Sirota is angry at Ayn Rand fans. It’s pretty clear I am to be included in this. Looks almost like I’m being singled out.
To be a Rand groupie is to flaunt your immaturity, your ignorance, your desperation to justify greed or your lack of international travel. It is, in other words, to admit your blindness to how so much of the world already lives, and to ignore what America would look like if “Fountainhead Shrugged” was seen as a public policy manual rather than what it really is: a dangerous farce.
Okay, message received. I’m immature and ignorant, not well traveled internationally, and I need to just shut up and go away. But don’t forget to leave my money behind before I do.
If I’m reading his argument correctly, what he’s saying is: Ayn Rand’s philosophy is popular in America not because it has been seen to work well here, but because Americans tend not to be well-traveled. We do not understand the effect ultimate effect of a Galt’s Gulch. When things work that way, people suffer to such an extent that we can’t even dream of it…because we haven’t flown overseas to look at it.
And the example he offers to prove this, is Communist China.
There are other problems with his reasoning, but before I get into those let’s compile a list of things I’m seeing here, as well as in a lot of other lefty arguments.
The most obvious is the anger. I’ve never understood this. We have the statist argument, which is “Let’s elect a bunch of really smart people and then put all our money (or more money) in a community pot, and have the smart people we elected spend it on taking care of us.” Challenging that is the small-government argument, or we could call it the Libertarian argument, which essentially amounts to “Um…let’s not do that, okay?” The former get angry and upset with the latter. Why is that? I don’t know if it applies to Mr. Sirota, but I’ve noticed a great many of these people are fond of monologuing to excess about “those darn stupid evil politicians, can’t trust ’em.” In those cases, the proposal offered ends up being one of, we know these sneaky slimy crooks cannot be trusted so let’s turn everything over to them.
I suppose I should not presume this is what he’s trying to say. I don’t know that about him. Just because he generalized recklessly about his opposition, doesn’t mean I have to follow suit.
But I see, also, the elitism. It is, evidently, a constant in lefty thinking that the plan must be imposed universally, there cannot be any opportunity for anyone to get away from it — it is not to be tested in a sandbox anywhere, we’ll do it right out in “real” life. Very much like a patch for some crucial web application being rolled out in production because, hey, we’re pretty sure it’ll be alright. No opt-out possible, it is to be implemented all across the fruited plain, and from sea to shining sea…but…this part is even more important: Only a few among us are to say what it is, or define any of the details.
Seems to me the contentiousness starts with that disparity, and is thus avoidable. But I never see any lefties trying to avoid it. They embrace it. The plan is to impact the many, but it is to be defined by only a few. It seems so contrary to the lefty vision, since nearly all of the time, the bad situation that makes the plan desirable in the first place, has to do with similar disparities vis a vis wealth, income, educational/career opportunities, and the like. It’s as if they’re working hard to replace one disparity with another disparity.
Anyway, the “you haven’t flown” butt-hurt seems to be coming out of that: “We’re going to decide in this room, here, how the thing is going to work, but this is grown up talk. Don’t let the doorknob hit. Leave your wallet.” Sirota’s editor evidently didn’t make note of how peculiar it looks, when “greed” is on equal footing with “lack of international travel,” and both must be “justified.” I’m sure it felt good to him to write that sentence, but it comes off looking eminently thoughtless and hastily put-together. I need to justify my lack of international travel? To whom? What are they going to do to me if I don’t justify it? How long do I have?
I’m seeing — yet again — the tired old argument about cops and firefighters. This point is so painfully obvious that I chafe at the idea of having to write it down, but if any Ayn Rand fans out there are objecting to the continued funding of a fire department or police force, it’s probably not accurate to regard their viewpoint as an average suitably representative of all the others. And it isn’t an honest statement of the conflict, frankly. Round me up some real exchanges, preferably heated ones, about stimulus spending plans or other issues that cause conflict between statists and small-government types. In fact, go bundle up a hundred. Is there any squabbling in there, anywhere, about “Yes we should have a fire department or no we should not”? Probably not. The points of contention are along questions like, can the government grow the economy by spending lots of money.
Which, by itself, is rather curious when you think about it. If it worked, we’d probably say “Well that’s settled, let’s make it work that way from now on.” But when the studied economists favor the statist solution, which they actually do quite often, after you look into it awhile you see they aren’t favoring it because of the evidence, but in spite of it. Businesses are not inclined to put money where the growth is unlikely to happen, because…why would they? And government, once handed the money the businesses would have put someplace to foster this growth, but can’t because the government took it, is not inclined to put the money in these other activities more conducive to growth because…well, how would they? Ever wait in line at the DMV? Ever watch Congress decide something on C-SPAN? You seriously mean to tell me, in those settings, there’s more know-how than in the executive offices of a company that has grown and succeeded in an industry, employing people who have spent their lives in it? Government’s going to ride in and say “do it this way, not the way you’ve been doing it up until now, and since we’ll stop you from making that mistake from now on, stand back and get ready to see some real growth”?
If there was an example to present of it happening that way, how exactly would it have come about?
I’m seeing the charge of hypocrisy against Ayn Rand fans, and other proponents of the small-government model, who have been caught making use of government services. You have to go clicking through links in order to review all the examples the author brings, and from the best I can make out, not a single one among these offer any kind of an active choice. Um, if that’s the case, then how do they count? Isn’t it just silly to say things like “they are more than happy to drive on taxpayer funded roads”? Would not some government agency retaliate against us if we were to destroy a guardrail so we could leave the public road and do our four-wheeling on a hillside? Why yes, I believe they would. And isn’t Social Security supposed to be a fund that was built up by our “contributions” in the first place? Sirota sees a consistency problem in an argument he hasn’t taken the time to properly understand: If one objects to his earnings being plowed into the Social Security fund over the course of his lifetime, but is compelled by law to allow it to happen nevertheless, then getting the money back again at the end of it is just the sensible thing to do, right? Where’s the problem?
I’m seeing passive platitudes, such as “literary giant George Saunders.” That’s just mildly annoying, I guess, since it’s pretty clear that what the author means to say is “George Saunder has espoused opinions similar to mine, so to fortify what I’m trying to say I’m going to give you instructions to think of him as a literary giant.” Is it an honest statement? Probably not, since, whether Sirota likes to ponder this part of it or not, Ayn Rand has just as much claim to being a literary giant as anybody else. But this is also a frequently-recurring chestnut in lefty sloganeering: Such-and-such is a “giant,” possessing godlike abilities and attributes…which are never quite defined anywhere. You’re supposed to just “get it,” the giant is a giant.
As far as the reasoning deficiencies, the most glaring one is the Fox Butterfield fallacy.
“Who’s Fox Butterfield?” is one of this column’s most frequently asked questions. Answer: Butterfield was a reporter for the New York Times–he seems to have retired in 2005–whose crime stories served as the archetype for his eponymous fallacy.
“It has become a comforting story: for five straight years, crime has been falling, led by a drop in murder,” Butterfield wrote in 1997. “So why is the number of inmates in prisons and jails around the nation still going up?” He repeated the trope in 2003: “The nation’s prison population grew 2.6 percent last year, the largest increase since 1999, according to a study by the Justice Department. The jump came despite a small decline in serious crime in 2002.” And in 2004: “The number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department released yesterday.”
In that last story, Butterfield made reference to “the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population.” The Butterfield Fallacy consists in misidentifying as a paradox what is in fact a simple cause-and-effect relationship: “Of course, the huge increase in the number of inmates has helped lower the crime rate by incapacitating more criminals behind bars.” That quote is from Butterfield’s own 1997 story, but it is a to-be-sure throwaway line, which he seems to have completely forgotten by 2004.
The Butterfield Fallacy is rooted in ideological prejudice. The typical New York Times reporter does not like the idea of sending people to prison, because, among other reasons cited in Butterfield’s reports on the subject, they think it is racially discriminatory (in 2004, “almost 10 percent of all American black men ages 25 to 29 were in prison”), and it diverts tax money away from what they think should be higher priorities (in 1997, “already, California and Florida spend more to incarcerate people than to educate their college-age populations”).
Sirota, being ideologically pre-disposed to believe people are much smarter when they see things his way, misunderstands the cause-and-effect relationship: Americans are more susceptible to Ayn Rand’s ideas than they normally would be, because we are not very well traveled internationally. As far as the reason for Americans not to be well traveled internationally, he doesn’t seem to be very curious, nor should we expect him to be, because the objective of establishing intellectual superiority within the statist dogma has been accomplished. They have passports and you don’t, so shut up. But if he ever does show some curiosity about it, I have an answer to suggest: Americans do not travel much compared to subjects & citizens of other countries, because they haven’t much reason to do so.
Oh, I’m sure that is an oversimplification. But that’s fine, because I mean it in the general sense. We’re talking statistics and averages, right? And since we are, and I mean it in the general sense, isn’t it a generally bad idea to say “Oh my, look at all those well-traveled people from foreign countries, I see a bunch of them are traveling here, let’s do things the way they did them in those other countries they couldn’t wait to leave.” Also, Americans are practical. Traveling is expensive. So yes, we’re going to need reasons for doing it. I’m not inclined to go sailing around the world just to win arguments with David Sirota’s type. Heck, that would be two steps back before the one step forward, wouldn’t it, since those are the same type who will criticize me and call me a bad person for emitting all that carbon into the atmosphere. Pass.
If I disagree with Sirota because of my ignorance, I’m afraid a jaunt to these poor regions in China is unlikely to fix the problem anyway. It isn’t clear to me what exactly it is I’m supposed to be learning. We know Galt’s Gulch is a bad way to go, because old women in the poorest districts of China have to work hard, and at night? Since when has China been emblematic of the way Ayn Rand wanted things to work? The lesson I’m seeing here is, don’t go commie, because once you do it screws things up for a long, long time. Was I supposed to get something else out of it?
You know, I’m not going to disagree with the idea that there is something to be learned from seeing things first-hand. And I don’t doubt for a minute that somewhere in that experience, there are valuable nuggets of information that Saunders and Sirota have, that I’m lacking. Nevertheless, the case has not been stated, unless the case to be stated something like: “Ayn Rand’s ideas appear to be for children, if you pretend Ayn Rand’s ideas are something entirely different from what they were.” Sirota incorrectly identifies Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead to be essentially the same story, teaching the same things, replicated in the latter tome “in order to double Rand’s profit.” Oh, dear. Yes, I’ll accept that Sirota started these right after the front covers, and worked through until he reached the back covers…his progress in between those two is suspect, therefore so is his methodology in reading.
So he has had experiences I have not had, yet he labors under a demonstrable difficulty in absorbing information. What, therefore, do I care of what experiences he has had? With this revelation, some two-thirds of Sirota’s essay become entirely irrelevant. Yet he seems eager to show off how little he comprehended of what he did manage to read.
I recall jotting down last summer a pithy and simple idea, which invited challenge in spite of its simplicity. That’s a good thing, because this is a worthy question for us all to ponder, I think:
Given the choice between a sound knowledge base of verifiable & verified factual information, and the ability to think logically, I would choose the latter.
If I have a good understanding of how to figure out what a fact means, but my head is crammed chock full of silly “factoids” that aren’t really true even though they may be repeated by others verbatim, I should be able to ultimately determine some of these conflict irreconcilably with others. From there, I should be able to figure out which ones are suspect and, eventually, which ones should be questioned, and then reconsidered.
If I have a good solid repository of verified fact, but I don’t know how to figure out what these facts are really telling me, I might as well have nothing.
Fact is merely foundation. You can’t live in a foundation.
All who see some value in dismissing this with haste and without looking back, would do well to read Sirota’s column from top to bottom, and with greater care than that which Sirota is able to bring when he reads Ayn Rand. His flaws are precisely what I had in mind when I wrote down what’s above. He knows stuff…he thinks very highly of himself for knowing these things, apparently for no better reason than he perceives a great many of his countrymen do not know them. But when he ponders what it all means, it ends up being an exploding mess of Butterfield fallacies.
It’s as if the object of the exercise has shifted, without his being consciously aware of it, from improving the lives and economic conditions of some strangers, to feeling smug & superior to other strangers. Somewhere in the implementation, there’s been some scope creep, but it isn’t entirely clear to me that this would bother him much.
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