Prisoner’s Dilemmas- XXV: Social Justice (Part B)- The Left Cannibalizing Their Own (Sam Harris)

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

Part A

There are times when Social Justice rhetoric and Wokism are weaponized and used again another contemporary liberal/progressive public figures. Few instances of this have been as underhanded as how the progressive tastemakers disparaged public intellectual Sam Harris. For years, Harris has exalted liberal values, including economic equity. This has been elicpsed by the fact as he has committed the cardinal sin of attempting to be logically consistent when professing to be a liberal.

Harris has been an instrumental voice in the New Atheism movement, a philosophical movement that perceives irreligiosity as crucial in advancing human progress. It would appear that a growing number of liberals agree, considering there was a ten percent decrease in belief in God among liberals polled over the past several years. To be critical of religiosity requires that all religions to be criticized, including Islam. Despite the conservative quiddity and its virtual incongruence with progressive values, many socially conscious commentators believe Islam is above reproach. For an atheist to give Islam a pass in the name of “tolerance” is intellectual dishonesty.

Harris is one of the few left-of-center thinkers audacious enough to critique Islam; he paid the price with accusations Islamophobia. The Southern Poverty Law Center attacked Harris for being critical of Islam. Social Justice rhetoric, Wokism, and political correctness caused liberals[1] to start cannibalizing their ideological fellow travelers. Almost utilizing obtuse adherence to the muddled logic of the far-left as a litmus test, separating the wheat from the chaff. Placing social pressure on academics and other intellectuals to tow the party line, regardless of its inconsistencies.

What the left has done is create a Prisoner’s Dilemma by creating no room for “dissenters” in the realm of intellectual thought. This has forced thinkers like Sam Harris and Bret Weinstein to seek intellectual companionship in the most unlikely of places. Does Ben Shapiro in any other universe seem like a potential ally for Harris? What the progressive wing of the left has failed to recognize is that they have only created odd bedfellows coalitions through attacking figures like Harris. If his fellow liberals will not tolerate his earnest commentary, perhaps conservatives will.

The reward for Mutual Cooperation: R= .5

If free-thinking liberals like Harris and the Progressive elites come to an understanding, that would be the best scenario. Odds are Harris will not persuade them nor vice versa; it is best for the Progressive with a political agenda to avoid commentary on the work and opinions of Harris.

Punishment for Defecting: P=-0

Both parties have their audiences (Sam Harris is a best-selling author and hosts a popular podcast), but it is unlikely that Harris or Progressive influencers, public intellectuals, or pundits will lose fans over doubling down. 

·  Temptation to Defect: T= 1

Since the political interests of Progressive political actors have strong incentives to cancel anyone who violates the norms of political correctness, Sam does not have much choice but not only to continue with his work but also to align himself with other pundits who will not attempt to de-platform him.

· Sucker’s Payoff: S= -1

If Sam no longer produced content after the accusations came out, it would have been the death knell for his career.

Condition 1:

· T>R>P>S

· 1> .5> 0 > -1

Condition 2:

· (T+S)/2<R

· (1+-1)/2 <.5

· (0)/2 <.5

· 0 < .5

Conclusion: 

Essentially, the uncompromising nature of the New Left has left open-minded intellectuals like Sam Harris with no other choice but to defect and find flatforms and other pundits who have no incentive to cancel him for criticizing Islam.

Even more concerning is the suboptimal results of stifling intellectual debate through defacto censorship projected by cancel culture. In the arena of advancing knowledge this is poisoning the well. Many brilliant thinkers might prefer to remain quiet than get canceled. 

Notes

  1. Liberals in the contemporary sense of the phrase, not to be confused with Classical Liberalism.

Prisoner’s Dilemmas- XXV: Social Justice (Part A)-College Admissions

Progressive pundits and advocates for social justice often hold conflicting views in the name of upholding political correctness. Analogous to other manifestations of inconsistencies, proponents of contemporary progressive ideals will be backed into a corner by their logically incompatible beliefs. This is not an underhanded jab at modern liberalism; but an observation that suggests that hyper-woke social justice is rationally untenable. The grabbled jargon of critical race theory has only served to muddy the logic behind defending the disadvantaged based on sexual, racial, religious, and gender identity [1]. 

The burning question for every wide-eyed young adult is which discriminated group deserves a privileged status in society. The ideal answer would be every non-white, non-male, non-Christian, and member of the LGBTQ+ community. But this is not a perfect world with cleanly delineated categories. The social justice crowd has tried to rely on intersectionality as a heuristic to make this determination. However, activistic pursuits, like other resources, are finite and best allocated to the most productive use. Activists have ascertained that not every minority group is entitled to the same degree of reparative policies. Some of the most salient evidence is the Asian college admission (e.g. Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College) controversies. Are Asians too successful for us to treat them like a minority in the United States? What about the racial discrimination Asian Americans have faced in recent years since the COVID-19 outbreak? These are some of the precarious questions that social justice advocates need to answer, when does an ethnic minority group’s success place them outside of minority status? 

The reverse discrimination of successful minority groups creates Prisoner Dilemma-like social dynamics. After all, these individuals came to America, followed the law, contributed to their communities, and independently achieved economic success. Harvard’s college admissions practices are a slap in the face. It is not likely that these individuals will lose their work ethic and start slacking off all because of this double standard. It will have other unintended consequences, such as individuals not wanting to fully participate in American public life and choosing to keep to themselves in their ethnic communities. Potentially fostering distrust of non-Asians, regardless of their intentions.

Condition 1:

· T>R>P>S

· 1> .5> 0 > -1

Condition 2:

· (T+S)/2<R

· (1+-1)/2 <.5

· (0)/2 <.5

· 0 < .5

Notes

1.)   In the opinion of the author of this essay, Critical Race Theory was never intended to enter public discourse. It was a highly technical and wonkish framework that was purely academic. There is a danger of unsavvy SJWs misinterpreting the theory and incorrectly applying it in activism. Many of the core assumptions of CRT are inherently flawed.

Focal Points V: Popular Culture

Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com

Futurist and businessman Peter Schwartz in his book The Art of the Long View (1991,1996) suggests that firms should attempt to navigate uncertainty by constructing possible scenarios depicting the best- and worst-case scenarios for the business. Schwartz’s proactive and unorthodox approach to business suggests that we accumulate market information from an array of various sources to formulate a model that has the greatest degree of acuity possible.

One unlikely taproot for market information and patterns per Schwartz is popular culture. From Long View:

“… You may think popular music affects only kids. But those kids are all over the planet, and the effects last their entire lives. I once went to a Paul McCarthy concert that was, in effect, one big Beatles sing-along with people in their forties. The psychedelic mindset of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, and the delicious view of the world in “Here Comes the Sun” deeply affected the culture.

Today, I pay attention to rap music and world music –­ the fusion of ethnic threads from all over the equatorial world. I don’t think that business people will have to start putting “rap-speak” into their employment applications, but rap music will dramatically affect business nevertheless. These are not love songs; they are songs of anger. That rage begins to surface, with some still unknown racial event as the final trigger. ( This book was written several years before the Rodney King riots in L.A. that gave expression to that anger)….”

It seems as if Schwartz may have inadvertently stumbled upon a focal point or Schelling Point when he justifies utilizing contemporary culture as a potential bridge for the information asymmetries in consumer markets. Pop culture is a point of convergence for us all, whether for productive uses or purely entertainment. Being ignorant of pop culture can impact your social life; celebrity culture, sports, current music, and obscure references from popular movies; dominates topical conversations among Americans. It even has a hand in shaping circumstances in domestic politics. This statement is substantiated by the shrewd observation made by Andrew Breitbart: “Politics is downstream from culture”. It might be worthwhile to be aware of the newest pop culture trends.

The Pragmatic Solution to Gender Pronouns

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

The convergence of gender and politics has been an enduring fixture in public discourse, pre-dating (the women’s suffrage movement). the modern feminist movement. The politics of gender are more opaque than merely debating the gender wage gap. Since the mainstream acceptance of transgender people, the bifurcated distinction between males and females has become murky. This makes social issues related to gender much more complex. In this gust of normative creative destruction, it is possible that feminism in itself is an anachronism that clings onto an outmoded perception of gender.

One issue that has made gender politics more bewildering has been the focus on using the proper gender pronouns. Many American corporations recognize non-binary gender pronouns and encourage their employees to indicate their preferred pronouns in their email signatures. Not everyone has the time (the list is long), interest, or congenial worldview of non-binary people to learn or use the correct pronoun. However, are our social interactions (such as work) doomed to become a prisoner’s dilemma between transgender people and Conservatives? Will the grammar aficionados forever wince at referring to a single person with plural pronouns (they/them)? There is a positive-sum compromise between non-binary individuals and those predisposed to accept the binary model of gender identity; that is, use proper nouns only.

No need to remember a litany of confusing pronouns, use their first name. For example, Jim. Even if Jim looks like a sultry female model in a bikini, still refer to this individual by “Jim”. It doesn’t matter if their name was Tiffany last week, just proceed by calling them “Jim”. This individual cannot take issue with you addressing them by their preferred first name. It enables Canadian residents to circumvent the hideous assault on free speech that is Bill C-16; by not forcing people to use gender pronouns they disagree with for political or social reasons, but concurrently adhering to Canadian law. This suggestion should be considered a pragmatic compromise, not a commentary on non-binary gender identification.

Conspiracy Theories- The Lazy Man’s Cult

Photo by Mitchel Durfee on Pexels.com

The literature (p.93-94) paralleling conspiracy theory culture with the social dynamics of religious cults is starting to accumulate. In the post-factual world, there has been an explosion in the amount of research and commentary surrounding the psychological and sociological implications of conspiracy-mongering political sects such as the alt-right and QAnon. Outside of the grand edicts of Alex Jones being profane (non-spiritual in nature), there is another notable difference between the microcosm of conspiracy land and a religious cult; commitment costs. 

In theory, a fan of conspiracy theory media can participate in this sphere without paying a dime (outside of the cost of electricity and monthly bills for internet access). Sure, our good friend Alex might be slinging some bogus supplements, but there is no requirement to purchase any Infowars products. Anyone with internet access can still access his web-based content. In contrast, a religious cult not only lays claim to all your earthly possessions and assets, the leader expects that future earnings are directed to the “church’s” coffers.

 Beyond the differences in direct monetary costs, there are also drastic disparities in the nonmonetary costs of participation. In the conspiracy community, there is a large spectrum of various commitment preferences; no formal obligations to increase your level of commitment. The range goes from sitting consuming conspiracy media and frequenting conspiracy Reddit pages; even partaking in political activism predicated on conspiracy theories. Even if you are under the spell of the false prophet peddling tin-foil hat tomfoolery, there is still a degree of choice. To be a member of a religious cult, the costs of participation are extraordinarily high, and there is no gray area. A prospective member is fully obligated, or they are out. They must give up or share (their spouse or sexual partner), job, family, friends, hobbies, and contact with the external world. Alex Jones nor David Icke are not pressuring people to cut all ties with family to worship in their bugout bunker in rural South Dakota. 

Essentially, conspiracy theories are opium dreams for the lost and disillusioned, like religious cults. But subscribing to conspiracy theories is the lazy man’s version of being a cult member. The commitment expectations and financial costs are much lower. Theoretically, a conspiracy theory adherent can live normally; hold down a square job, and raise a family. However, once they are off the clock, then their double life begins. 

Puritanism and How H.L. Mencken Got It Partially Wrong

Photo by Athena on Pexels.com

The great American writer dubbed the Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, was not completely accurate in his famous definition of puritanism.  

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, maybe happy.”

Mencken’s observation is correct. There is an aspect of puritanical posturing that does take perverse pleasure in denying happiness to others. He is only identifying a symptom of the disease. Puritanism extends deeper than the passive-aggressive jealousy of the bitter and homely spinster or the staid minster.  There is a deeper pedagogy entrenched in the panoply of behaviors and norms encompassing Puritanism. Less obvious implications of puritanism are only apparent to those who have grown up in New England. Even the era of the pilgrim has withered away with the sands of time,  Puritanism has never left Massachusetts. Only the behaviors considered morally criminal and the means of enforcement have changed. The Pillories of the Massachusetts Bay Colony are now figurative. Public derision is now expressed on cyberspace in the comment section of the local paper’s arrest log.

Mencken misses the mark on Puritanism by overlooking is its focus on “education”. Education in New England has historically manifested itself in many forms.  Ranging from the derisive finger-wagging of a  neighbor, the lectures of the schoolhouse, and even rapturous sermons being shouted from the pulpit. The eye of judgment has always been pervasive throughout the region. Education has always been tacitly viewed as served a “civilizing” function. Like a missionary imposing his beliefs and customs on tribal society. The assumption that most sinful transgression is the byproduct of ignorance rather than wickedness. Once the empty-headed fool has been properly informed, they will conform to the norms of adequate deportment. A corollary of the progressive concept of the perfectibility of man.  This lofty goal cannot possibly be attained, but that does not mean quixotic do-gooders will not try. The overarching assumption being that each step forward is unquestionably an improvement. Moving upward towards the next graduation of progress cleanses us of our past sins resulting from our ignorance. Implying that education has a purifying effect that brings us closer to what ought to be. Such idealism runs astray of the fallibility and true nature of humans.

The idea of salvation through social, academic, and theological education shares common ground with statutes that enforce victimless crimes. Both are designed to save people from themselves. This attribute better describes the defining features of puritanism. Many of the “blue laws” still on the books in New England do little to promote the vague notion of “public interest”. Serve as nothing more than a safety net insulating people from making “bad decisions”. The element of choice even to make an imprudent decision is an immutable attribute of a free society. Even in the name of safety and securing the ignorant the practice of enforcing victimless crimes is questionable at best. Some pragmatists may cite the potential of externalities being justification for upholding laws that prohibit victimless crimes.  Spillover effects are never guaranteed. Anticipating the adverse consequences of gambling, adultery, and prostitution is merely speculation. Similar crimes are not going to disappear just because there are criminal penalties for engaging in these behaviors. To pretend that an omnipotent legislator can save people from themselves is at best foolish. For most crimes where the state is the victim, the statute can be regarded as a government-imposed safety net.  A parameter was established to protect people from their unfortunate proclivities.  The human affinity for intoxication, games of chance, and promiscuity will not cease because the law deems it punishable. The illusion that laws prohibiting vice protect people from harming themselves and others are grossly out of touch with reality. The greatest examples of the inherent shortcomings of Puritanism must be the abject failures of the War on Drugs and Alcohol prohibition. Both flawed social experiments served only to further erode the civil liberties of the American people.

Laws regulating intoxicants, sexual activities, traffic safety laws, etc. may act to save people from the perils of dangerous behavior, what does education save the ignorant from? In most cases, being ignorant of arithmetic or history will not present an immediate and overt danger. Nevertheless, New England led the charge on proliferating public education and the nation’s first compulsory education laws. A clear crusade to protect the general public from their lack of knowledge and understanding. From the perspective of the progressive white knight, levitating people morally and intellectually is an ethical quest that is above reproach. Educating the populous hypothetically creates informed voters. A point that Mencken himself was extremely skeptical of.  Despite the increase in minimum mandatory education requirements over the years, the general public has become less enlightened. Distracted by an endless array of entertainment options, no one possesses the attention span to delve into the intricacies of complex political issues. Validating the observations of H.L. Mencken back in the 1930s. Considering how people have become profoundly more ignorant over the years, he must be rolling over in his grave. Yet, the proponents of public education still crusade to fight this uphill battle. Whether their convictions are rooted in a hopelessly naïve optimism or personal gain is difficult to ascertain.

Over the decades, Puritanism has merged with political progressivism forming a secular cadre of moral crusaders. Shifting from saving the average person from evils of the excesses of inebriation and fornication to more abstract transgressions. Some of these initiatives have been integrated into formal education. The lofty campaigns centered around fair-trade produce, inclusion, and diversity, and aggressive attempt viciously stomp out prejudice.  Once again, saving people from the excesses of what is deemed ignorant. If you do not purchase ethically sourced coffee you are complicit in the exploitation of third-world coffee farmers. The education efforts have evolved beyond merely inform the ignorant. Now also encourage the newly initiated to proselytize to their ill-informed peers. Operating with the evangelical zeal of door-to-door Bible salesman. Each new person that you have properly informed has been saved from the darkness of their ignorant ways. Leading bands of crusaders to even police language, placing the First Amendment in their crosshairs. Placing so much strain on the language we use, humor is starting to become joyless. Hollowed out by the sanctimonious finger-wagging of droves of woke-social justice warriors.

Success By Default is Not Truly Success

Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com

In terms of formulating effective rules, one needs to have a panoramic understanding of the potential consequences. Even the downstream outcomes are not easily foreseen. Providing some validation of F.A. Hayek’s notion of the Pretense of Knowledge. No one person, organization, or collection of governing institutions has all of the information required to plan for every scenario. Making it foolhardy to enact inflexible rules that operate as if the definite outcomes can be methodically calculated. Treading down the path of the socialist calculation debate is fruitless as the refutations on both sides of the aisle have already been exhausted. The fall of the Soviet Union alone should serve as a historical anecdote of the fallacy of planned economies.

It should be noted that information asymmetries and unforeseeable outcomes are a natural consequence of having limited information. Explaining phenomena such as cobra effects, because certain repercussions cannot be known until it is too late. These distorted outcomes as the result of flawed rules can happen on a much smaller scale than that of the national economy or a country’s legal system. Something as mundane as a birthdate cutoff to participate in youth hockey can spur some surprise inequities in the trajectory of young hockey players. This example springing from the pages of Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers gives us some keen insights into the potential for implicit flaws in rule formulation. Gladwell details the observations of psychologist Roger Barnsley (p.22-23) upon perusing the program of the Canadian national youth hockey championship. Barnsley noticed that the majority of the players had birthdays ranging between January and March. Is it possible that there is a certain qualitative factor distinguishing children with birthdays earlier on in the year? If we examine the zodiac symbols of those born in January and February there are characteristics that are conducive to success. However, there is little scientific merit to astrology anyhow. Barnsley had another explanation for this discrepancy between Canadian Hockey players born in January versus July. 

Barnsley astutely directs us towards the factor of birthday cutoffs for eligibility to play youth hockey in Canada. This fact was substantiated when Barnsley discovered that roughly 40 percent of all elite hockey players were born between January-March, 30 percent between April-June (p.23) Demonstrating the role of the individual player’s birthday in determining success. Having a January first cutoff, privileged prospective players born in the earlier months of the year (p.24). The main difference being that the boys born in earlier months were more physically mature. In turn, received more attention from the coaches lending this dynamic to an early delineation between talented and untalented players (p.25). Due to the difference in age eligibility cutoffs in American youth football and basketball leagues, they did not exhibit the same distortions in the distribution of talent (p.26). Engendering a Matthew Effect or what is otherwise known as an accumulative advantage. Adam Smith even points to the concept of accumulative advantage in The Wealth of NationsExplaining how in a sense the poor pay the price for the poor decisions of their forefathers. 

Many proponents of meritocratic social arrangements may scoff at the idea of making rules that are fair. However, if the rules are providing a lopsided advantage to one group, are the results truly the result of superior performance or the distortion created by the rules? Few would ever view the occurrence of instances of regulatory capture or rent-seeking as a triumph of free-market competition. Rather just the opposite, it is an example of interest groups bending the rules to suit their own needs. Careful consideration needs to be made in how we set and enforce rules to avoid distorted effects that handsomely benefit a few and harm a great many. Gladwell succinctly sums up this point very eloquently: 

“Because we cling to the idea that success is a simple function of individual merit and that the world in which we all group up and then we choose to write society don’t matter at all.” (p.33)

While variables such as luck, talent, ingenuity, and hard work can all have a role in success, we cannot forget that how the rules are written can also have an inseparable impact on outcomes. Even rules that are inadvertently written in a manner to favor one group over another without consideration of merit is a flawed rule. Marred by an unforeseeable blind spot that nevertheless has generated distorted outcomes. These outcomes are not truly the byproduct of talent or work ethic but by technicalities that create illusory perceptions of actual skill. 

Romeo and Juliet – A Story About Wanting What We Can’t Have

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

After watching the documentary I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth V. Michelle Carter I came to a fairly superficial conclusion. I initially chose to watch this HBO mini-series for potential legal analysis. I plan to address those concerns in a later blog entry. Oddly, from a legal standpoint, this case is quite interesting. There wasn’t any previous case precedence in Massachusetts state history. Making this case one that explores uncharted waters.  However, my observations are not about the legal facts of the case.

Conrad Roy III and Michelle Carter were two Massachusetts teens who had a highly toxic and co-dependent relationship. Both suffering from various forms of mental illness. Carter lived in a quasi-fantasyland. Blurring the line between romantic comedies and dramas with her relationship with Roy. Drawing parallels between their relationship and the ebbs-and-flows of numerous works of fiction. Even drifting down the perverse road of suicidal ideation. Hence, here aggressive attempts to coax Roy into killing himself. Carter almost took glee in the concept of the attention she would receive in the climatic event that Roy or Roy and herself had committed suicide. Her vision of being showered in attention was almost like a linear plot twist in play. The act of Roy killing himself was the divine Deus ex Machina to free him from the deepest depth of depression. Having the potential to satisfy the psychological pathology of both teens.

In one text message string, Carter details the romanticized depiction of the climatic end of Shakespeare’s Rome and Juliet. As we all, know both of the star-crossed teens end up dying in the end. Lying dead, right next to one another in the ultimate display of catharsis. Demonstrating to the quarreling families how petty their disputes truly were. It would be quite likely Carter saw some highly embellished similarities between the protagonists of the play and her relationship. Upon the documentary reviewing this string of text messages, my mind began to wander. I started to realize that the story of Romeo and Juliet if we strip all the emotional entrapment of romance is nothing more than an extended narrative detailing the Forbidden Fruit Effect. This phenomenon is also known as the Paradox of Temptation. Essentially, we desire what we cannot have.

This has economized instances of prohibited commodities. This principle is not confined merely to the illicit drug trade. During the cigar boom of the late-1990s and early 2000s, the U.S. demand for Cuban cigars skyrocket. To the extent that there was a major slump in quality. The one centralized tobacco producer for Cuba had to resort to using green tobacco and inferior quality control procedures to keep up with demand. It should be noted that the United States has had a trade embargo with Cuban since 1962. It’s hard to believe that much of the mystique of Cuban cigars to Americans isn’t influenced by them is a restricted product. We have seen a similar phenomenon with the legalization of recreational marijuana. What has been referred to as the “Green Rush”. A surge of sales for a product that has been legal and demonized in America for decades, that is now finally legal. To the naïve Cannabis user, the mystery behind its pharmacologic effects is enough of a draw to purchase Marijuana-related products. Would this romanticized image exist to the same capacity if Marijuana use was as ubiquitous as drinking beer? Most likely not. Most of the buzz and hype is levitating around pot because we have treated it as an unholy and deplorable vice for so long. Has only recently become fashionable (in the mainstream sense).

The story of Romeo and Juliet is if reduced to its most base level, a story about wanting what you can’t have. Due to the fact we steeped the narrative in a cloak of riveting romanticism, we forget that this isn’t purely a love store. Would Juliet be as appealing to Romeo if she was a member of a rival family? Couldn’t the same be said for Romeo? Granted, most of these pointed questions are a mix of a priori reasoning and loose conjecture. However, considering the flaws of human nature and the unfortunate fact we are attracted to what we can’t have. Analogous to a moth witlessly fly towards a flame. This seems to be an enduring characteristic of the human condition. Doesn’t matter whether it is two lustful teenagers in the Shakespearean-era or a 1920s Flapper enjoying an illicit gin-and-tonic. We want what we can’t have. Getting beyond the compelling drama of the vibrant and rebellious love affair between two teens, what are we left with? An engaging allegory fixated on desire. The drawbacks of pursuing everything we desire to possess.

Tocqueville and The Free Press

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

Over the past couple of years, the issue of media bias has become a regular talking point in public discourse. Contrary to popular belief, “fake news” has existed long before the advent of the 2016 election cycle. However, some may cite the work of William Meckling and Michael Jensen and claim that left-wing media has existed since at least the late 1970s (P. 49). One only needs to read Barry Goldwater’s 1988 memoirs to see how media coverage mispresented him during his 1964 presidential campaign. Media bias is not relegated to only left-wing media outlets. Conservative publications also suffer from distorting the facts when reporting the news. Liberal media bias is just more salient since liberals dominate the media. When ideologically loaded editorials start being presented as information this is problematic. Regardless of which political proclivities of the author or correspondent. This is nothing more than clear deception. A snake oil salesman presenting opinions as information. Talk about being sold a false bill of goods!

Alexis De Tocqueville reveals to us in Democracy in America that media bias also existed in the 19th century.

“What the latter look for in newspapers are knowledge and facts; only by altering or distorting these facts a journalist can gain some influence over his views (Tocqueville, Transl. Isaac Kramnick, P. 216-217)”.

Tocqueville didn’t dwell on the biased nature of American journalism. This is because he viewed news publications as not so much as vehicles for disseminating information. Rather, as a form of networking. Individuals who share the same values will invariably read some of the same books and obtain their information from the same sources. While it tempting to blame social media companies for indirectly creating powerful echo chambers through data aggregation to maximize user engagement; this problem predates modern technology. Due to confirmation bias, it is always easier to read publications that reinforce our prior beliefs. Converse with people who already agree with our perspective. Considering this quirk of human nature it isn’t surprising that Americans of the 19th century would levitate towards certain publications. Naturally, journalists of the era would either inject their own opinions into news stories or manipulate the facts to make their article more enticing to specific demographic.

This counterintuitive observation regarding the American press bucks our conventional understanding of the intended purpose of news media. Conventional wisdom would dictate that news is purely designed to inform.  Tocqueville obliterates the myth of a journalistic “golden age” in the mid-20th century. Romanticized images of smoke-filled greenrooms and hardnosed reporting epitomized in the likes of Edward R. Murrow. The notion of the news being fact-driven back in the early years of television is an illusion. Per Democracy in America, even in the 19th century, the line between fact and opinion was blurred. Making Tocqueville’s suggestion that the press represents institutions of political association more than they do sources of information a sizeable argument. Presents a hard reality check for those entranced by the tidy and staid conservatism of the 1950s. The news correspondences may have been more eloquent and professional, but were still imparting bias in their reporting.

If media organizations are nothing more than a collective association of like-minded content producers and readers, how do these coalitions form? This a profoundly difficult question to answer. Did ideology bring the members of the media outlet together? Did the political leanings of the content consumers influence what the organization produces? It is hard to say. However, there is certainly an interconnected relationship between content consumers and producers. Tocqueville expounds upon this co-dependent relationship stating:

“… a vital connection between association and newspapers; the latter creates associations which, in their turn, creates newspapers. If it is a truism that associations must multiply as social conditions become more equal, it is no less certain that the number of newspapers increases as associations proliferate. (P. 602).”

While it may be fair do disagree with Tocqueville’s assertion that political associations are the impetus for the establishment of publications, he does touch upon an important aspect of this dynamic. That is  if one media outlet of a specific political disposition is established more will follow. One just needs to look at the history of network television to see this principle in action.  Back when network television was first established in the 1980s the 24-hour news channels were all left-of-center. Conservative media was essentially relegated to AM/radio talk shows. Then in 1996 the Fox News Channel was launched and provided a conservative presence on network television. The proliferation of conservative media shifted from the dying platform of network cable to the wild frontier of cyberspace. Leading to the development of outlets such as Newsmax, The Blaze, Breitbart, The Daily Caller, The Drudge Report, The Daily Wire, etc. All platforms whose success was propelled by the internet. One can’t help but wonder if Fox News had never been established if these outlets would have ever achieved their present level of success. Especially when you consider The Blaze was founded by former Fox News personality Glenn Beck.

The above example details this relationship of associations and the growth of media outlets for conservative publications, this rule most likely applies to any ideology imaginable. Just think of all the political movements that have spurred by the zealous distribution of literature by pamphleteers.  This ranges from movements as diverse from the American Revolution to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. What is the first thing any wide-eyed college kid at a protest does when you approach them? Offer you a pamphlet detailing the rationale for their outrage and indignation. If a movement becomes large enough eventually formal media outlets fixated on the political movement are established.

Polemics such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and the Cato Letters may provide the rebel-rousing fodder for revolution. What sustains these political movements and their various supporting publications? It is easy to see that ideas spread through collective association and the proliferation of related literature/media. As enthusiasm, wanes momentum starts to sink. Convictions and commitment among supporters start to dissipate. Making the role of publications much more important.

“ This association can be more or less strictly defined, more or less restricted, more or less numerous but at least  the seed of such an association must exist in men’s minds to ensure the survival of the newspaper (P. 603).”

Tocqueville believes that the conviction conveyed by journalists only continues to live on if supported by the readers. From a business standpoint, this makes sense. If no one is buying your newspapers or magazines your firm will go out of business. In terms of the transmission of ideas, the intertwined nature of content publisher and consumer is much more co-dependent. Yes, the passions of the readers need to remain resolute for the publisher to keep their lights on. But,  the publisher needs to keep putting out engaging content to further perpetuate the movement can keep the movement from getting stale. It may be bold to argue with a thinker as brilliant as Tocqueville, however, let’s say he is only half right on this account. Fostering strong political coalitions requires both the publisher and the reader.

Some observant readers may be wondering, how does this model apply to local newspapers?  After all, they tend to be more provincial in their scope and less politicized.  The less politicized part may be a false assumption, due to the fact the local paper tends to conform to the political leanings of the region. If hypothetically there was a local or regional newspaper that was completely objective it still would provide a form of collective association. The news stories and editorials would focus on local issues.  Presumably, all the readers would have interests in the commentary about new ordinances and municipal taxes. Readership and the employees of the publication bound by a mutually shared self-interest in local affairs. A cohesion that sometimes breaks through partisan barriers and transcendent party affiliation. National and international publications look to sow a connecting ideology among its viewers and readers. The local media outlets unite its staff and audience with universal concerns about daily affairs.

Did Alexis De Tocqueville Predict “Cancel Culture”?

Photo by Tim Savage on Pexels.com

Alexis De Tocqueville was arguably one of the most insightful writers to ever detail the intricacies of American Democracy. Tocqueville’s journey sounds like an unlikely one. Something analogous to an intellectual version of the excursions taken by Lewis and Clark. A royal magistrate from France traveling throughout North America in only nine months. Even spending some time with local tribal nations. Based upon his keen observations of American political culture Tocqueville made many predictions. Some of his lofty inferences fell flat and resulted in nothing more than faulty speculation.  What was truly impressive about his insights is what he got right.  He did possess an uncanny aptitude for being able to foreshadow various political and societal shifts in America. Much of his writing was quite prescient.

Any modern reader of Democracy In America can’t help but wonder if Tocqueville predicted the phenomenon of “cancel culture”. The present trend in which individuals guilty of engaging politically incorrect speech is de-platformed. Whether it be shadow-banning on twitter or having their radio talk show pulled from the airwaves. Tocqueville shared many of the same concerns that James Madison voiced in Federalist Papers #51. Both men understood how the collective passions of the people could veer into the territory of authoritarian mob rule. That is precisely what “cancel culture” has morphed into, figurative lynching-mob. Relishing the downfall of anyone transgressive of the virtue of political correctness. Resorting to de facto censorship to prevent such subversive individuals from having the ability to transmit any more socially intolerable ideas.

Tocqueville shrewdly points how often any minority must contend with institutional barriers when it comes to seeking justice. The outcry for prohibiting offensive speech targets individuals who are out of lock-step with the majority opinion, effectively infringing upon their First Amendment rights. The true intention of codifying protections for free speech is meant to protect the expression of unpopular opinions. Where is an individual to turn their right to free expression is violated, but their views are perceived as being reprehensive by society?

“My main complaint against the democratic government as organized in the United States is not its weakness, as many Europeans claim, but rather its irresistible strength And what I find most repulsive in America is not the extreme freedom that prevails there but the shortage of guarantees against tyranny.

When a man or a party suffers from an injustice in the United States, to whom can he turn? To public opinion? That is what forms the majority. To the legislative body? That represents the majority and obeys it blindly. To executive power? That is appointed by the majority and serves it as a passive instrument. (Tocqueville, P. 294-295. Transl. Isaac Kramnick).”

He could easily see that those with unpopular opinions could very well have little recourse in enforcing their liberties. It’s easy to defend someone’s right to denouncing racism. It is profoundly more difficult to defend the right of someone to publish racist literature.  This is mainly due to societal pressures. In the present climate defending the First Amendment rights of a bigoted person is tantamount to be racists. While this assumption rests on a rickety premise, public opinion only seeks to promote this fallacy. Due to public passions being more concerned with social justice, there is a willingness to mischaracterize people and to even dispense with critical rights if they do not comport with the grand objective of “tolerance”.  Both Madison and Tocqueville intuitively understood the social dynamics of crowds which would later be expounded upon by social psychologists. Not only to members of the crowd feel a decreased sense of individual responsibility, but there is an emotional amplifier effect. Having either attribute present will make an individual less apt to rely on reason and more apt to go along with the mob. Even if their outrage and indignation are hyperbolic.

The shrewd Frenchman not only understood how popular passions would overwhelm sound reason and effectively alienate minorities, but he foresaw the development of Progressive ideology. Tocqueville noticed that democracy had a proclivity for drifting towards equality. He wrote at length detailing the lack of social stratification in the United States. Even noting that the capitalistic tendencies of America could provide a man from a poor family with the opportunity for exorbitant material success if he is willing to work for it. Democracy as a whole has an equalizing effect on society.  The people elected officials that represent their will. The whole notion of “the government works for the people”.  An idea completely foreign to continental Europe in the 19th century (foreign in practice, not so much in theory). Tocqueville audaciously claims that disposition towards equality implies perfectibility within human nature.

“As classes disappear and grow closer, as a tumultuous mass of mankind, it practices, customs, and laws alter, as new facts emerge, as new truths come to light, as old opinions disappear and are replaced by others, the image of perfection in an idealized and fleeting form is offered to the human mind.

….. Some changes improve his lot and he concludes that, in general, man is endowed with the faculty of indefinite improvement. . (De Tocqueville, P. 522-523. Transl. Isaac Kramnick).”

It is the tendency towards  “indefinite improvement” that lays the groundwork for Progressive ideology. Progressivism generally holds that people are capable of constant betterment. The goal is to keep striving towards an idealized world where all the ills have been neutralized. Most adherents of Progressivism do not mind using the levers of government or other institutions to help lead people in the right direction. One of those corralling techniques would be punishment for veering off the path of social improvement. Such as making a culturally insensitive joke. This would explain the functionality of “cancel culture”. The de facto censorship is one of the means utilized to keep people on the straight and narrow.  If you say something offensive you will be ostracized and have your career ruined. The logic being you will avoid making such a social faux pas when faced with the severity of the consequences. Why? Because followers of the Progressive movement believe that you can do better. Some even sincerely believe that a world without prejudice could exist. Unfortunately, is nothing more than a pipe-dream. Nothing more than good intentions knocking on the door of utopianism. If man is fallible, the odds of offensive speech dissipating is unlikely. Such an assumption demonstrates an unrealistic perception of human nature. We can mold people into the image we desire through social pressure and coercion.  Rather, they need to come to their conclusions not to be forced into socially desirable opinions. There may be immorality in racism. However, there is also immorality in weaponizing social conventions to callously achieve social goals. Especially when innocent parties have their comments taken out of context and are used against them. Making these innocent bystanders nothing more than collateral damage.

Bootleggers and Baptists: Part XI: Workplace Diversity

Diversity awareness programs on their surface appear to be noble endeavors designed to provide equal opportunity employment to historically disadvantaged groups.  Over the years, there has been some controversy over the conclusive impact and application of workplace diversity programs. Due to claims of only marginal success in increasing the diversity of the workforce. One major shift has been to couple diversity with “inclusion”, having a diverse workforce is not enough. The company now needs to also provide a welcoming environment.  This is a profoundly difficult task considering the subjective evaluations of what is defined as “welcoming” may vary wildly depending upon the perspective of the individual employee. There is a growing prevalence of what is known as “diversity fatigue”. Many managers and H.R. personnel succumb to the stress of attempting to fulfill lofty and unstandardized goals.  Making the achieving the goals of diversity and inclusion an ever-present uphill battle. Especially with the hyper-dynamic and ever-changing trends in what is deemed as being politically correct by the intellectual upper crust.

The move for diversity for its very sake is not without adverse consequences. Beyond merely making aimless strides towards an arbitrary and idealistic goal. If mismanaged minority employees may feel alienated or there may be an increase in the incidence of conflicts between employees. Two downsides are often not accounted for in the application of diversity programs. Neglecting these variables not only determines the purported objectives of diversity programs but the inevitable flaws of human nature.  The old expression “… you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink…” comes to mind. Prejudice cannot be eradicated by the edict of corporate policy nor by the stroke of a lawmaker’s pen. Freewill and personal perception have a massive role in fostering and maintain prejudice. A naively wide-eyed and idealistic diversity awareness program provided by an employer will not inculcate the virtue of tolerance into their employees. These are conclusions that the individual must independently arrive at deep introspection.

These lofty expectations mirror the Holier-than-thou virtue signally exposited by contemporary Progressives. Modern Progressive has firm ideological roots dating back to the early 20th century. A careful examination of history will lead any thoughtful observer incredulous of the true aims of the diversity movement. Many of the moral objectives of the Progressive Era were nothing more than circuitous means of rent-seeking. Making the whole notion of workplace diversity truly about diversity dubious at best. Few employees ever question how their employer benefits from promoting diversity programs. A business enterprise exists to provide a product or service not to proliferate the virtues of tolerance. What do they stand to gain through attempting to cultivate a culture of hyper-tolerance?

What emerges from this situation is a potential example of  Bootleggers and Baptist coalition.  An internal coalition between the human resources department and upper-management. Typically, the individual representing the moral argument for a diverse workplace is the “Diversity Ambassador”.  A role within the company that carries quite a bit of prestige, yet how this position direct benefits day-to-day operations is questionable at best. Even when employees who are crucial to daily business are laid-off the Diversity Ambassador gets to keep his job.  Although such a role is nothing more than a luxury. This actor is undoubtedly our Baptist due to his incessant persistence in exalting the values of diversity and inclusion. His rhetoric comes just short of mirroring a political propaganda campaign. Boldly asserting that everyone possesses some degree of prejudice or implicit bias. His obtuse repudiations make countering his claims (regardless of the accuracy of his claims)  a futile endeavor. Below details a scenario witnessed by the author that demonstrates the zero-sum nature of the accusatory discourse of the typical Diversity Ambassador:

Diversity Ambassador:

“ I have conducted this exercise for over twenty years and not once has anyone ever mentioned that I was black. I told you all to list the inferences you can make from just looking at me. No one even mentioned the most obvious characteristic of me. I am black. Why is this? None of you have followed my instructions! Why?!

Audience Member (Attempting to answer his question):

“ Because none of us see color.”

Diversity Ambassador:

“ Don’t ever tell a diversity and inclusion coach that you don’t see color!!”

The above conversation between a corporate Diversity Ambassador and an hourly employee exhibits the perverse quiddity of this wanton advocating for diversity. This is not the tone of a man who wants to educate, but rather who wishes to indoctrinate. Pedagogically and condescendingly force-feeding us the moral imperative of admitting our own biases. Versus attempting to foster understanding or attempting to provide us with the genuine precepts for being more tolerant. The man was simply describing our sins without truly prescribing a means of reconciling them. Paralleling the fervor of an Evangelical preacher, we can do no right. We must fully accept that we are in the wrong with no hope of ever being right. Presenting a situation where the participant can only lose. Generating such a compelling moral narrative for the imperative to proselytize the virtue of diversity that it also doubles as an impenetrable smoke-screen that insulates the company from accusations of discrimination.

The Bootleggers in this dynamic are the individuals in upper-management.  There are two main benefits of this variety of moral rent-seeking are deflecting the possibility of having a hostile work environment and social currency for appearing to be forward-looking. Over the years the United States has become quite a litigious society. Considering the increased sensitivity towards various minority groups, the opportunities for discrimination lawsuits have only become expanded. Providing a sizable incentive for those at the helm of the company to avoid any transgressions against their employees that could be viewed as discriminating in nature. By painting the opposite picture, even if this image is illusory, diverts, or weakens claims of discrimination. Not only does promoting diversity and inclusion have monetary incentives, but it also fosters a positive image for the company. It creates the facade of being open, progressive, modern, and may lead to the company to earn accolades for their culture. All of which will benefit the company and make the jobs of the CEO, CFO, etc. more secure. The reputation of the company for inclusive will attract talented young professionals that will only add value to the organization. One only needs to look at the example of Google to see how company image matters when it comes to acquiring skilled employees. Work culture almost operates as a form of non-monetary compensation. It is another variable that may sway top-notch young professionals towards one company versus another. Merely operating to the benefit of those in the top-tiers of management.

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

Substance over Style

person holding a chalk in front of the chalk board
Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

 

 

Just a random thought. As I have gotten older I have begun to realize how you arrive at your answer is more important than what your answer is.

Anyone can get lucky with incidentally contriving a profound insight. However, your method of arriving at such a conclusion cannot be the byproduct of chance.

Rather, it would be the byproduct of sounding thinking. Replicating the feat will eliminate the potential it was a happenstance fluke.

The Paradox of Atheism

 

photo of person holding a bible
Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

Introduction:

 

Many proponents of Atheism hold it as the only perspective on religion free of dogma. The irony is that Atheism has it’s own orthodoxies that are held as strongly as a fervent belief in a higher power. Not all  Atheists fall into the “free thinker” or the “enlightened individual” trap, however, there is a number that does. Failing to see some of the parallels between devout atheism and organized religion.  The one characteristic shared by an atheist and a Baptist Minister is their immutable stance on religious faith. Being easily disposed to write off any contrary perspective as being false and ill-advised. The three main commonalities between atheism and religion are a collective association, possessing fixed views on belief in a higher power, and the proclivity to proliferate their religious perspective.

 

Rarely is atheism criticized from a neutral standpoint? Meaning generally it is critiqued concerning some form of religious precepts. This essay is not intended to be a polemic defense of religion over atheism but rather aims to observantly point out areas of inconsistencies. Atheism is presented as a dynamic belief system. The natural gradation in the development of human understanding and a departure from the ancient proclivities of magical thinking. It still suffers from many faults. Unbending commitment to a set of beliefs. Atheism even exhibits attributes of tribalism which can have dangerous consequences. One needs to look no further than the present political climate to witness the venomous repercussions of in-group conformity.

 

Collective Association:

 

Humanist groups are collectives of nonbelievers that meet periodically. Generally focusing the social gathering around discussion or other social activities. The number of activities that could encompass one of these gatherings are endless. Ranging from meeting at a coffee shop to bowling and beyond. It is reasonable to suggest that these groups are merely a surrogate for the religious communities previously forfeited by non-belief. Religion does provide a cohesive glue that voluntarily keeps communal bonds intact. This was an observation that the great political theorist Alexis De Tocqueville made back in the nineteenth century.

 

Considering that many atheists still grew up in a religious background, it isn’t surprising that many yearn to be a part of a community of like-minded people. Without the formal institution of an organized church, this endeavor has previously been difficult. In the age of the internet, many of the logistical costs of organizing have been minimized. Technological advancement coupled with a decline in religiosity in the United States has created fertile ground for the spread of humanist groups. As America continues to shed its Christian identity with declines in religious observance the societal acceptance of such associations increases.

 

The most perplexing aspect of these groups they are essentially church groups. Yet, few if any of the members of a humanist group would call it a congregation. It is a group of people drawn together by the commonly shared religious convictions. Those convictions may be a lack of faith in God, nevertheless, still are religious beliefs. It is merely the reciprocal of the traditional beliefs of a religious association. A humanist group is a community of nonbelievers. It is the embodiment of the church community that they had abandoned with losing their faith.  Somewhat analogous to converting to another religion and joining a different community of believers. Minus the immense amount of formal ceremonial procedures.

 

The Irreverent Dogma: The Freethinker Paradox 

 

Much of the rhetoric shrouding atheistic thought is fixated on purportedly on free thinking. Atheists by definition hold an inflexible view of the existence of a higher power. They have also seemed to have substituted faith in religion for an unquestionable belief in the authority of science. To be an atheist you must hold the rigid stance that there are no deity/deities that exist in the universe. If you do not conform to this crucial pillar of atheism you cannot be a part of the club. It is important to acknowledge that this argument is tautological. However, that is not grounds for disqualifying this point.  Anytime we opt to adopt a specific label whether it is a political designation, sports team affiliation, etc. there are certain characteristics we are expected to conform to.  Can an individual be a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and not even like the team?  No. Therefore, to be a part of this subset of society you must conform to this virtue of group identity. To be an atheist you must capitulate some of your capacity towards freethinking. If you question the doctrine of non-belief you are no longer categorical an atheist. This parallels the fact that a Christian cannot be a Christian without believing in god. It is merely the same premise, just inverted.

 

Another issue that the free thinker designation that many nonbelievers adorn themselves is that their lack of belief mirrors the intensity of the belief of religiously observant individuals. It takes a lot of faith to make a definite claim about something that cannot be falsified. This goes back to the conundrum presented before us in Pascal’s Wager.  We really can’t prove or disprove the existence of God, therefore the possibility of a higher power existing is fifty-fifty. The odds are no different than that of a coin-flip. As we are presented with two potential outcomes. Because atheists are armed with the precepts of science the inability to falsify the existence of God already disqualifies the possibility of existence.  A corollary of this idea came from the infamous atheistic polemicist Christopher Hitchens in the form of Hitchens’s Razor. Succinctly put claims made without concrete evidence can be refuted without evidence. Technically, this argument could also be applied to atheism. The enigmatic nature of the God question is one that is cloaked in uncertainty. We have no means of proving or invalidating it. Either position is a leap-of-faith. Even the exalted dismissal of religion by science is still a leap-of-faith. With no means of testing the veracity, we will still run the risk of invaliding something true. As improbable as the premise may be.

 

Spreading the Word:
Atheists are just as incline as Jehovah’s witnesses to spread the good news. The attempts of atheist to proselytize their beliefs is somewhat underscored.  The author of this essay knows from anecdotal experience members of humanist groups will go to great lengths to persuade you to join their congregation.  It is not uncommon for nonbelievers to engage in heated debates over religious doctrines. In a futile attempt to persuade their religious opponent they are wrong. Making many atheists agents of transmission for their position on religion.  The vocal atheists who engage in this domestic missionary work have a clear agenda of making the world less religious. Pointing out the faults in reasoning synonymous with religion and atrocities committed in the name of God. Analogous to those spreading religious doctrines highlighting how the absence of religion leads to moral decay and sin.

 

Just about every religious tradition has it’s philosophical defenders and intellectual apologists, the same is very much true in atheism. The number of books, pamphlets, websites, blogs, and podcasts designed to persuasively defend atheism is dizzying. These substantial efforts have been particularly evident among the New Atheist intellectuals. Minds ranging from Richard Dawkins to Sam Harris and even the previously mentioned late Christopher Hitchens provide the fodder for the growth of this movement. Their polemical treatises against religion are widely read. Mirror the popularity and purpose of many books designed to promote religiosity. Both Joel Osteen and Sam Harris are best-selling authors in the United States. Proving that those in the ranks of defending atheism are starting to exhibit similar notoriety as those who defend the faith.

 

Conclusion:

 

This essay is not intended to be a personal attack against atheists or a moral judgment of atheism. It is merely expressing curious commonalities between atheism and organized religion. Intriguingly, atheism’s uncompromising nature does lend itself to having some peculiar similarities to strict forms of religious practice.  A conservative Christian is as equally invested in the promotion of their beliefs as of any atheist. Psychology and sociology most likely have some answers to why this is true. It is important to remember the Horseshoe Theory of Politics.  This theory asserts that the political extremes have more common characteristics than they do with the centrists. Leading one to speculate that this theory could be extrapolated and applied to other belief systems. Ranging from religion to positions on ethics issues.

 

 

 

 

Bootleggers & Baptists VIII: Can The Bootlegger and The Baptist Be The Same Person: A Drive-Thru Revelation

photo of man holding a mcdonald s paper cup
Photo by Alexandro David on Pexels.com

 

 

 

This morning I felt particularly stir crazy from being cooped up in the house, so I decided to go to pick up some coffee. When I finally reached the drive-thru window, I was met by one of the employees. He began to detail to me how several local restaurants had employees who had contracted COVID-19. Even blatantly pointing out the window to the adjacent establishment. Claiming that the franchisee owner was going so far to cover it up to prevent a loss in business.  Naturally, I was initially shocked by this individual’s candor. However, he made one fatal error which led me to start questioning the integrity of his accusations. He revealed the fact that he was a former employee of the adjacent building.  Informing me that he knew both the owner and the manager well. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why this individual would have the incentives to levy such claims against the other business. For anyone out there that has been fired or layoff, you aren’t going to have too many kind words for the former employer that released you.

 

The employee I was conversing with stated he obtained this information from speaking with the present manager of the neighboring eatery. As implausible it may seem for the manager to disclose such information to an employee of a competitor will have to be dispensed with. It degenerates into nothing more than he said/ she said scenario. There isn’t enough evidence on either side to make a definite claim. So I will be charitable and give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume that his statement about the other establishment was true. There may have been multiple motives for him informing me of this development in the local culinary scene. He may have felt some unbridled compulsion to inform of the potential hazard of dining at the other restaurant.  He may have had personal moral code that would not allow him to withhold such information from innocent parties. Such as adhering to Kantian morality or having strong religious beliefs. Perhaps he is an admirer of George Washington. The conviction to want to shield innocent parties from exposure to COVID-19 is certainly a laudable objective. I would perceive this as the behavior of a Baptist.

 

Assuming the information was true and he possesses pure intentions for proliferating this news, he can be considered a Baptist. However, it is also possible for him to simultaneously be the Bootlegger as well? I would argue yes. As individuals, we can have multiple motives for engaging in an action. It isn’t outlandish to assume that he had subordinate motives for detailing to me that the neighboring establishment’s staff had tested positive for COVID-19. How does he benefit from disclosing knowledge to me? What are his incentives for doing so?

 

There are two potential self-seeking motives for his actions. The first reason would be attempting to enact vengeance on a former employer. Doing so by creating a rumor that damages their credibility in the community.  If the purported facts are completely fictitious the Bootleggers and Baptists dynamic dissolves. Any pure intention is no longer present. The second reason for his shocking candor that sways into the territory of defamation would be increased job security. The pandemic has likely chewed into the profits of his current employer. To avoid getting laid off for budgetary reasons, he is attempting to divert business to his restaurant. Done out of self-interest and exhibiting behavior that is in line with that of a bootlegger.

 

Bruce Yandle’s concept of Bootleggers and Baptists was intended to demonstrate how unlikely coalitions are formed in the political arena. Considering we as humans can have multiple reasons for advocating for a policy or engaging in various forms of rent-seeking, it is possible for an act to severe in both roles. Providing they are being honest about their moralistic motives, but also stand to benefit from their attempt to influence public opinion.  For instance, I could advocate for a ban on smoking in public parks. Truly feel that I am attempting to save others from the health effects of secondhand smoke. At the same time also be advocating for a smoking ban because I dislike cigarette smoke.  The roles of Bootleggers and Baptists are not always mutually exclusive.

 

It is analogous to the ID and Superego allying. Both are satisfied with the cause and both are the deep-rooted psychoanalytical manifestations of the Baptists and the Bootlegger. When an individual strikes a balance between their hyper-moralistic inclinations and darker impulses they can assume both roles. When avarice and morality align themselves in the intentions of one person this phenomenon becomes possible. Yes, this application of Yandle’s trope does exercise a bit of artistic license. However, Yandle never said that individuals couldn’t form coalitions within themselves.  Doing so by combining various rationals for advocacy and then vocalizing them. Typically under the guise of concern for the moral imperative of the situation.

Being Plagued by the “What ifs”

 

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

One of the bittersweet aspects of the pandemic has been having more time to think. As any reflective thinker can tell you this is a double-edged sword. While this allows you the time to contemplate new insights, it also provides you the unfortunate opportunity to dwell on the past. Plaguing yourself with a multitude of “what ifs”. Excruciatingly examining every lost opportunity.  Every single faux pas firmly under the microscope. Self-reflection soon descends into an unrelenting trial and you are judge, jury, and executioner. One can only cringe when confronted with the prospect of innumerable instances of time wasted. Ranging from a misspent youth to the stagnation of mediocrity. Taking responsibility for all of your missteps is a sharp pill to swallow. Much of this self-reflection has been fruitless and has done nothing more than to rob me of more time.  Creating a bit of cosmic irony. Painfully reflecting upon the past is in turn mimicking the behavior of the past, wasting time. This is self-perpetuating cycle is nothing more than a prison.  A self-made prison.

 

The Stoic philosopher Seneca succinctly describes how we often take time for granted.

 

People are frugal guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy

 

While personal property and money should not be consumed frivolously, we can always acquire more physical goods.  Once a moment is squandered we can never get it back. It is the one nonrenewable resource that few people genuinely are concerned about conserving. It almost seems tempting to veer into destructive patterns of wasting time. Humans have an almost universal proclivity for being fixated on the negative. How often at work do your co-workers relish engaging in a venting session? I am willing to wage more frequently than they are apt to expound upon the positive aspects of their job. Too frequently negative restaurant reviews are more salient to us than the positive ones. The allure of reality television is wholly based on negativity. Millions of Americans are entertained daily by drama and conflict depicted in this variety of programming. Even our escapism is marred with this time extracting parasite.  Like a moth to a flame, we find ourselves drawn to it.  Why do you think network news outlets love being the peddlers of doom and gloom? Not because they are overtly morbid organizations, but because it sells. Like any other business, you need to provide customers with what they want. Even if it isn’t good for them.

 

Unfortunately, life is rife with distractions. Frequently our wills are tested, but the temptation is too great to capitulate to their influence. The countless hours the average person squanders on social media is a sobering realization. It is estimated that in 2019 the average person spent 144 minutes on social media a day.  That is over 2 hours a day and over 14 hours a week.  Social media consumption adds up. The 14 plus hours a week wasted on social media is gone forever. This lack of mindfulness of time may not immediately lead to regret. However, give it time. Many of the young people today will reflect upon their misspent youth much as I have and feel a gripping sense of melancholy. How could have been so stupid?!  I could have been out experiencing life instead of relegating myself to a screen. The only difference was I squandered my teen years drinking, listening to music, and talking smack with my equally misguided friends.

 

A few weeks ago a finished reading a book written by Ari Kiev, The Psychology of Risk which provides some interesting insights into risk management. Granted the book is geared towards day-traders, but the strategies offered for coping with uncertainty are universal. Whether you are a business owner, or you manage a household. Life while always have risk. Every decision has negative and positive consequences. Every decision will have some implied risk. Kiev provides a powerful realization of being cautious. To succeed you need to assume some risk. Many traders suffer from losing out on good opportunities due to being too cautious. This is one of the many ghosts of the past that haunt me in my phases of intense introspection. I always tried to play it safe and attempted to be realistic. Through doing what I believed to be prudent I ended up limiting myself. Much how choosing not to act is still an action, paradoxically, in an attempt to avoid risk I was still taking it on. Now I am at times immobilized by the regrets.  A little bit of risk could have resulted in rewards much grander than my apprehensions.  I am trying to make strides away from this cylindrical, revolving, echo chamber of the past.  To focus on what I can have control over.

 

A few years back I wrote a derisive essay criticizing Barry Schwartz’s TED Talk on the Paradox of Choice. I must embarrassingly admit I have never read his book. Ironically, I was given the book as a Christmas gift and intend to read it soon. Within several years after writing this essay I do not 100 percent agree with all of my previous assumptions.  While I do not believe we should as a society restrict choice. After all, options are the hallmark of any health modern economy. Schwartz wasn’t wrong about the phenomenon of choice paralysis. If offered a myriad of different choices most people are prone to become overwhelmed. Even worst, if we choose that we are unhappy with psychological distress is difficult to reconcile. Because any form of decision making has implied risk, there is always the potential that we made a bad decision. The direct risk of decision making. Kiev reminds us that it isn’t the mistakes we make, but rather how we react to them. That axiom isn’t confined to the trading floor. We need to learn from our errors and move forward. To a certain extend invoking Stoic philosophy. We only concern ourselves with what we have control over. Anything else isn’t worth the stress.

 

To quote Epictetus:

 

“I have to die. If it is now, well then I die now; if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived – and dying I will tend to later.”

 

 

Let’s be present and in the moment. That is what we have control over. The demons of the past will forever be.  Let’s all look towards the new horizon.