Bismark on Rice

Late-Victorian economic doctrine answered the need for an intellectual response to the workers’ challenge, to trade unions, to socialism, to the land reform movement, and to Social Democracy. Liberal economists upheld the existing property order and its inequalities. In Western Europe, North America and Australasia, Social Democracy eventually prevailed over fascism and communism, established welfare states, safeguarded the structures of capitalism, and dominated policy during the first three post-war decades. It sustained economic growth and distributed it more equally. To do this, it had to challenge the assumptions of neoclassical economics, and sometimes to reject them. (Offer, Avner; Söderberg, Gabriel. The Nobel Factor (p. 6). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition. https://a.co/foDEAma)

In contrast to the competitive free-for-all of orthodox economics, Social Democratic parties in post-war Europe (and in the English-speaking countries) defined a cluster of collective aspirations:

•  Collective insurance against life-cycle periods of dependency, regulated and administered by government and paid for through progressive taxation.
•  Good-quality affordable housing, by means of rent control, new construction, mortgage subsidies, and public or collective ownership.
•  Secondary and higher education, land use planning, scientific research, culture, sports, roads and railways.
•  A mixed economy with extensive public services, some nationalized firms, but leaving private ownership to manage production and distribution.
•  A special concern for disadvantaged groups.13

The United States also went along with a good deal of this programme, and if it failed to provide universal healthcare entitlement, it did provide one for the old and the indigent.

Offer, Avner; Söderberg, Gabriel. The Nobel Factor (pp. 6-7). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition. https://a.co/cobZtMt

Japan: Bismark on Rice

DURING A DEBATE AMONG THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES in the spring of 2008, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani offered a picture of health care in foreign countries: “These countries that say they provide universal coverage—they pay a price for it, you know,” Giuliani explained. “They do it by rationing care, by long waiting lines, and by limiting, or I should say by eliminating, a patient’s choice.” Judging from that, it seems safe to say that Rudy Giuliani has never visited Dr. Nakamichi Noriaki at the Orthopedic Surgery Department of Keio Daigaku Hospital in Tokyo. (Reid, T. R.. The Healing of America (p. 82). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

In a society that is acutely conscious of hierarchy and rank, Dr. Nakamichi is generally recognized as one of the top orthopedic surgeons in all Japan; his clinic at Keio is perhaps the most respected place in the country for the repair of stiff, aching shoulders like mine. I was first told about him one Thursday morning in Tokyo when I was complaining, as usual, about my shoulder. I called his office to schedule an appointment—and was told to come in that same afternoon. After the familiar poking, patting, massage, and manipulation, Dr. Nakamichi suggested an assortment of different treatments that might work for me; in fact, it was the widest variety of care any doctor had proposed. The treatment available in Japan ranges from acupuncture to injections to manipulation to the total shoulder arthroplasty that my doctor back home had recommended. All the options, he told me, are covered by Japanese health insurance. When I asked how long I would have to wait if I chose the full-scale shoulder-replacement surgery, the doctor checked his computer. “Tomorrow would be a little difficult,” he said. “But next week would probably work.” (Reid, T. R.. The Healing of America (pp. 82-83). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

In other words: no waiting, no gatekeeper, no rationing, and a broad array of patient choice. Prices are low; as we’ll see, the Japanese system has a rigid cost-control mechanism that favors the patient, at the expense of doctors and hospitals. My out-of-pocket cost for an office visit with the prestigious Dr. Nakamichi in his prestigious clinic came to ¥2,060, or $19 (the doctor charged $64, and insurance pays 70 percent of the bill in Japan). (Reid, T. R.. The Healing of America (p. 83). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

(….) It’s worth noting that this happens in a largely private-sector system; Japan relies on private doctors and hospitals, with the bills paid by insurance plans. In fact, Japanese doctors are the most capitalist, and most competitive, that I’ve seen anywhere in the world. (Reid, T. R.. The Healing of America (p. 83). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

(….) Since medical care is so readily available, so easy to get, and so cheap, you might think that the Japanese use an awful lot of medical care. And you’d be right. The Japanese are the world’s most prodigious consumers of health care.1 The average Japanese visits a doctor about 14.5 times per year—three times as often as the U.S. average, and twice as often as any nation in Europe. If you can’t get to the doctor, no problem: Nearly all general practitioners in Japan make house calls, either daily or weekly. (Reid, T. R.. The Healing of America (p. 84). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

(….) “Japan’s macro health indices, such as healthy life expectancy and infant mortality, are the best, or among the best, in the world,” says Professor Ikegami Naoki, the country’s best-known health care economist. “Now, that’s not all the result of health care. Japan has lower rates of violent crime than most countries, less illicit drug use, fewer traffic accidents, lower rates of HIV infection, less obesity. In terms of keeping people alive and healthy, those factors obviously help. But you also have to give some credit to the health care system for providing universal coverage and egalitarian access without long waiting lists, and we need to credit the doctors and the medical schools for providing a high quality of treatment.” (Reid, T. R.. The Healing of America (p. 85). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

The Japanese system, in short, provides care to every resident of Japan, for minimal fees, with no waiting lists—and excellent results. This is a good deal for the people of Japan, and they take advantage of it, flocking to clinics and hospitals. To an American, it seems natural that this formula—heavy demand by an aging population, with almost no rationing of care—would add up to a huge national medical bill. But when it comes to costs, Japan has turned the predictable formula upside down. Despite universal coverage and prodigious consumption, Japan spends a lot less for health care than most of the developed nations; with costs running at about 8 percent of GDP, it spends about half as much as the United States. (Reid, T. R.. The Healing of America (p. 85). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

(….) As we’ll see shortly, not everybody in Japan is happy with the system and its strict cost controls, because the system squeezes cost by sharply limiting the income of medical providers—doctors, nurses, hospitals, labs, drug makers. But if your goal is to provide quality care for everybody at a reasonable cost (which is not a bad goal for any health system), then the Japanese model could be a good one to follow. (Reid, T. R.. The Healing of America (p. 86). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Dr Pangloss’s Economism

It is proved that things cannot be other than they are, for since everything was made for a purpose, it follows that everything is made for the best purpose.

—Pangloss, in Voltaire’s Candide, 1759

THE KEY TO ALL THINGS

This invocation of basic economics lessons to explain all social phenomena is economism.* It rests on the premise that people, companies, and markets behave according to the abstract, two-dimensional illustrations of an Economics 101 textbook, even though the assumptions behind those diagrams virtually never hold true in the real world. Economism is an interpretive lens through which people make sense of reality. Like any such framework, it also implies a certain set of value judgments and policy choices. For example, if a simple supply-and-demand model shows that taxes reduce employment, then it follows that high tax rates are bad and should be lowered. Because it claims the authority of “economics,” economism can be a powerful rhetorical tool. And while superficial economic arguments can serve multiple purposes, in today’s world they most often justify the existing social order—and the inequality that it generates—while explaining the futility of any attempt to change it. (Kwak, James. Economism (pp. 6-7). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

For every well-intentioned proposal to help ordinary working people, economism provides an answer. Raise the minimum wage so the working poor take home more money? That’s a nice idea, but that’s not how the world works. According to Jude Wanniski, one of the pillars of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page in the 1970s, “Every increase in the minimum wage induces a decline in real output and a decline in employment.” Wanniski was an adviser to Ronald Reagan, who echoed, “The minimum wage has caused more misery and unemployment than anything since the Great Depression.” Raise taxes on the rich to pay for services for everyone else? Good try, but, Gregory Mankiw (author of one of the world’s most popular economics textbooks) explains, “as [high-income taxpayers] face higher tax rates, their services will be in shorter supply.” Or, in the words of the 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, “if you want faster economic growth, more upward mobility, and faster job creation, lower tax rates across the board is the key.”16 The examples go on and on. The problems of financial markets, health care, education, and many other fields can all be reduced to economic first principles that dictate simple solutions. (Kwak, James. Economism (pp. 7-8). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

These claims are made so often in the media and by politicians that they appear to be a natural feature of the landscape. But they all come from somewhere. They are based on a lesson that economics students learn in their first semester: the model of a competitive market driven by supply and demand. In this model, the supply and demand for any product determine its price; prices create incentives for individuals and businesses; and those incentives ensure that consumers get what they want, companies are as efficient as possible, and resources are allocated optimally across the economy. As the pathbreaking economist Paul Samuelson wrote in 1948, this basic lesson is “all that some of our leading citizens remember, 30 years later, of their college course in economics.”17 (Samuelson was well aware of the power of introductory courses: “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws—or crafts its advanced treatises,” he once said, “if I can write its economics textbooks.”18) (Kwak, James. Economism (p. 8). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

This elegant model, however, rests on a set of highly unrealistic assumptions. The definition of a competitive market requires that all suppliers offer the same product—there are no differences in features, quality, or anything else—and that each company is so small that its behavior has no effect on overall supply. If this assumption does not hold—such as in the market for cell phone service, or air travel, or automobiles, or books, or almost anything—then supply and demand do not necessarily produce the optimal price, and the allocation of resources may be distorted.19 The argument that a minimum wage increases unemployment assumes that employees are currently being paid the entire value of their work; otherwise, employers would be willing to pay slightly higher wages in order to keep them. Again, this premise is unlikely to be true in the real world of fast-food restaurants or hotels, where workers have little bargaining power and companies are therefore able to claim most of the value that their employees create. (Kwak, James. Economism (pp. 8-9). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Economism ignores these uncooperative facts and assumes the necessary assumptions, reducing all real-world questions to simple models and answering them in the same terms. In this sense, economism is like an ideology. Communism explained industrial society as the product of class struggle, with the inevitable outcome of proletarian revolution. Nationalism, the other great European ideology of the nineteenth century, saw rivalry between groups of people with a common background as the motor of history. Its lesson was that each nation should achieve political unity to promote its interests in the world. (Kwak, James. Economism (p. 9). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

“Economism” is a somewhat obscure academic term, generally used to criticize someone for overvaluing economics—by overestimating the importance of material conditions, focusing exclusively on economic metrics, applying economic methodologies when they are inappropriate, or accepting economic theory too readily.14 In this book, I use “economism” in a more specific sense, as the belief that a few isolated Economics 101 lessons accurately describe the real world. The economist Noah Smith calls this phenomenon “101ism.”15 (Kwak, James. Economism (p. 17). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Commanders of Corruption

[C]apitalism is not a monolithic form of economic organization but rather that it takes many forms, which differ substantially in terms of their implications for economic growth and elimination of poverty. The implicit assumption underlying the idea of a homogenous capitalism, the notion that all capitalist economies are fundamentally the same, reflects something of the mentality common during the cold war when two superpowers, representing two great ideologies, were struggling for the hearts and minds of peoples of the world. On the one side were countries like the United States, whose economies rested on the foundation of the private ownership of property, and on the other were communist or socialist societies, whose economies essentially did not. This distinction seemed to divide the two economic systems, and not much thought was given to the possibility that there is much more to capitalism. (Baumol et. al. 2007, vii)

Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity

Fighting corruption is not just good governance. It is self-defense. It is patriotism, and it’s essential to the preservation of our democracy and our future.

—President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., June 3, 2021

Across the world, leaders of authoritarian governments, and their cronies, are robbing their people. These leaders are kleptocrats and they are pocketing staggering sums of cash, which they move through the world’s financial systems into investments in the wealthiest Western nations. These crimes perpetrated by the kleptocrats governing Russia, China, Iran, Egypt, Hungary, Nigeria, and many more nations not only impoverish their own citizens, but all of us. More gallingly, we are assisting them in their greed and their grand corruption. Even more worrying, we are complicit in their quest for ever greater power. (Vogl, Frank; Vogl, Frank. The Enablers (p. 12). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

Central to Western complicity with kleptocrats and their associates across the globe are the armies of financial and legal advisors, real estate and luxury yacht brokers, art dealers and auction house managers, diamond and gold traders, auditors, and consulting firms, based in London and in New York and in other important global business centers, who aid and abet the kleptocrats in return for handsome fees—these are the enablers. They are motivated not only by the substantial incomes they obtain but also by the widespread failures of law enforcement across the Western democracies to impose punishments that are sufficient to serve as meaningful disincentives. At the major banks, for example, who have been prosecuted at times for multi-billion-dollar laundering of dirty cash, not a single chairman or chief executive officer has personally faced criminal charges for such activities, while the fines that are agreed to settle legal actions appear, quite simply, to be viewed by bankers as just the costs of doing business. (Vogl, Frank; Vogl, Frank. The Enablers (pp. 12-13). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

The short-term maximization of profits is at the core of the corporate cultures at many of the world’s largest banks and multinational corporations. They are giant enterprises and some of these banks have assets under management that dwarf the GDPs of many national economies. The drive for ever bigger and quicker profits, which translate into mounting bonuses for senior executives, push issues of integrity and accountability to the sidelines. Concerns for serving the public interest, which ought to be at the center of the cultures driving vast companies, have increased in recent times as public demands and leading groups of investors have called upon these companies to pay far greater attention to how their business practices impact climate change. Gradually, arguably too slowly, these pressures are generating positive developments. But when it comes to international corruption and the roles that major banks and other giant multinational firms play, then public pressures for reform are few, investor concerns are barely visible, and corporate boards of directors charged with risk management oversight are silent. (Vogl, Frank; Vogl, Frank. The Enablers (pp. 13-14). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

Some of the activities of the enablers are illegal. Many of their actions in service to their kleptocrat clients are legal, but they do not serve the public interests of citizens in democratic nations, and indeed well beyond. By supporting the power of the kleptocrats and their associates, the enablers contribute to risks to international security, to Western democracy, and to the stability of the international financial system. The threats are now so formidable that countering the kleptocrats and their money-laundering operations has to become a leading priority for the Biden administration, the US Congress, the British government, the Commission of the twenty-seven-country European Union (EU), and other public authorities, such as those in Canada, Australia, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These authorities are now doing more to counter illicit finance than ever before, but their combined impact is modest when seen against the full magnitude of international grand corruption and money laundering today. The necessary actions need to embrace fully the roles played by the enablers who reside in our midst, who are subject to our domestic laws and regulations, and whose operations do us so much harm. (Vogl, Frank; Vogl, Frank. The Enablers (p. 14). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

Curbing the activities of the enablers will make it far more difficult for kleptocrats and their associates to launder their stolen loot and invest it safely and profitably. It will make it far harder for authoritarian governments to access the global capital markets and secure formidable sums of cash through new bond issues. Diminishing the activities of the enablers for their corrupt clients will make the financing of terrorist organizations more difficult. It will stymie the rising efforts of some regimes, notably Russian and Chinese, to channel funds to foreign governments and organizations in their quests to disrupt democracies and diminish Western geopolitical and commercial influence. (Vogl, Frank; Vogl, Frank. The Enablers (pp. 14-15). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

The vested interests are well-entrenched, and securing reforms to counter corrupt practices in finance and commerce more generally will be intensely difficult. The starting point is increasing broad public understanding of the activities of the enablers and why these are so damaging. Too many politicians, journalists, and concerned citizens are poorly informed about how the kleptocrats operate, how the enablers serve their clients, how inadequate are current laws and the application of relevant financial regulations, and just how much cash we are now talking about. (Vogl, Frank; Vogl, Frank. The Enablers (p. 15). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

Respecting Truth

When liars lie people die

As America approaches a million deaths from COVID-19, many thousands of families have been left wondering whether available treatments and vaccines could have saved their loved ones. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 230,000 deaths could have been avoided if individuals had gotten vaccinated.

NPR: Their mom died of COVID. They say conspiracy theories are what really killed her, GEOFF BRUMFIEL

Ignorance is the lack of true knowledge. Willful ignorance is something more. It is ignorance coupled with the decision to remain ignorant. In saying this, it is tempting to believe that if one is willfully ignorant then one must know that one is ignorant, thereby revealing a bit of savvy whereby, presumably, one knows that there is some truth out there that one wants to be insulated from. A good example of this might be our suspicion that a vast majority of the people who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 did not actually believe the nonsense that they spouted about global warming, but instead merely pretended to believe it, so that they would appeal to those voters who were actually ignorant. But this is not willful ignorance; this is dishonesty. Instead, to be truly willfully ignorant, one could neither disbelieve in the truth (for, after all, one could simply think that one’s mistaken beliefs were correct), nor affect the mere pretense of disbelieving (for that is to look at the truth with one eye and pretend not to see it). Willful ignorance is instead marked by the conviction to shut both eyes against any further investigation, because one is so firm in one’s belief that any other sources of knowledge are not needed. Here one is not only ignorant but (like Euthyphro) prefers to remain so. One does not in any sense “know” the truth (even with one eye), even though one probably does suspect that there are further sources of contravening information out there. Yet these are rejected, because they might conflict with one’s favored beliefs; if there are other sources of information, they must be ignored. This is why the false beliefs cited in the polling results show more than just ignorance. For when there are such easily available sources of accurate information out there, the only excuse for such stunning ignorance is the desire to remain so; one has actively chosen not to investigate. More than mere scientific illiteracy, this sort of obstinacy reflects contempt. But why would someone embrace such a hostile attitude toward the truth?

Respecting Truth: Willful Ignorance in the Internet Age by Lee McIntyre

At what point does “skepticism” become crackpot? How long before the preference for anecdotal over scientific evidence tips the balance toward a conspiracy theory that ranks with AIDS deniers and those who believe that NASA faked the Moon landing? Conspiracy theories are one of the most insidious forms of disrespecting truth for, even while they profess to be guided by the fervent desire to discover a truth that someone else is hiding, they simultaneously undermine the process by which most truths are discovered. Conspiracy theorists are customarily proud to profess the highest standards of skepticism, even while expressing a naïve credulity that the most unlikely correlations are true. This is disrespect, if not outright contempt, for the truth. (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 47). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

Finally, we turn to the problem of rumor. After the foregoing account, it may seem that belief in rumors has nothing much in common with the set of irrational beliefs that we have dismissed so far as “crackpot.” Yet rumors too can be dangerous and far-fetched. In the absence of reliable sources of information, rumors can tempt us to believe things that in less exigent circumstances we would be highly likely to dismiss. (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 47). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

The best example in recent years is the list of atrocities that allegedly occurred in New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina. Armed gangs were beating and raping tourists in the street. Snipers were shooting at rescue workers. Inside the Superdome—which was home to some 25,000 refugees—muzzle flashes were said to portend mass killings with bodies piling up in the basement. Children’s throats were slit. Women were being dragged away from their families and raped. A seven-year-old girl was raped and murdered. Two babies had their throats slit. (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (pp. 47-48). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

The consequences of these reports were dire. When Governor Kathleen Blanco sent the National Guard in to restore order, she did so with a stark message to the perpetrators: “I have one message for these hoodlums: these troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will.” She and Mayor Ray Nagin called off rescue efforts to focus on protecting private property. Helicopters were grounded. The sheriff of one suburb that had a bridge to New Orleans turned back stranded tourists and locals, firing bullets over their heads. New Orleans had become a prison city. A team of paramedics was barred from entering the suburb of Slidell for nearly ten hours based on a state trooper’s report that a mob of armed, marauding men had commandeered boats. An ambulance company was locked down after word came that a firehouse in Covington had been looted by armed robbers. New Orleans police shot and killed several lawbreakers as they attempted to flee across the Danziger Bridge. (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 48). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

The problem is that none of the reported atrocities just described actually occurred. None. Three weeks after the storm, police superintendent Edwin P. Compass III, who had initially provided some of the most graphic reports of violence, said “we have no official reports to document any murder. Not one official report of rape or sexual assault.” During the alleged six-day siege inside the Superdome, Lt. David Benelli (head of the New Orleans Police Department’s sex crimes unit) lived with his officers inside the dome and ran down every rumor of rape or atrocity. At the final count, they had made two arrests, both for attempted sexual assault, and concluded that the other rumored attacks had not happened.44 (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 48). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

The snipers who were shooting at rescue workers turned out to be a relief valve on a gas tank that popped open every few minutes. The men commandeering boats turned out to be two refugees trying to escape their flooded street. The report of the robbery at the firehouse was simply false. When the giant refrigerated trucks backed up to the Superdome to haul out the bodies, there were only six: four had died of natural causes and one from suicide, with only one dying of gunshot wounds.45 The child who was raped—and indeed each of the rapes in the Superdome—turned out to be untrue. So did the story of the murdered babies. Despite police commitment to investigate, no witnesses, survivors, or survivors’ relatives ever came forward.46 (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 48). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

What was very real, however, was the aftermath of the city’s stalled rescue efforts and the crackdown on all those alleged lawbreakers. The people who were shot by police on the Danziger Bridge turned out to include a middle-aged African American mother who had her forearm blown off. The other was a mentally disabled forty-year-old man on his way to his brother’s dental office, who was shot five times and killed. A teenager was also killed.47 And thousands of people suffered with little food, water, or medical attention for days inside the Superdome. Yes, there were confirmed reports of widespread looting after the storm, mostly for food, water, and other necessities. And there was some violence. But how did such small incidents get so wildly exaggerated? How did we all become so easily seduced into believing the worst about the refugees in New Orleans? (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (pp. 48-49). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

In a city that was two-thirds African American before Katrina hit, and substantially less diverse in the population of refugees who could afford to put thirty gallons of gas in their SUVS and flee the approaching storm, one doesn’t need to take an IAT to understand that racial bias may have had something to do with it. Indeed, many experts now feel that the power of rumor to feed into pre-existing racial stereotypes likely led to one of the most tragic instances of “confirmation bias” ever to play out on the world stage. And the tragedy is that the effect of this bias was borne by the refugees themselves, who had done nothing wrong and were begging for help. They were stranded not merely due to poor federal disaster planning and lack of supplies, but also by the palpable hesitancy of public officials to expose rescue workers to the kind of “animals” who would commit such atrocities. (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 49). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

What to say about those of us who were nowhere near New Orleans? Are we off the hook? Yet how many of us even to this day knew that the reports of violence in New Orleans were untrue? Although the press bears some responsibility for not reporting the retractions with as much vigor as the alleged atrocities, the corrected stories were out there. Yet how many of us read them? How many of us were sufficiently skeptical of such incredible claims even to look? Will Rogers famously quipped that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on.” Yet if we respect truth, isn’t it important to engage our critical faculties and search out better information? (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 49). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

Rumor has the power to keep us from looking for the truth only if we are willing to suspend our critical faculties. In a life-threatening situation, it is probably understandable to take rumors seriously. If we do not know what is going on and we are scared, we may feel that we cannot afford the risk to be gullible. Survival comes first. But when the danger has passed, or we are far removed from it, don’t we have an obligation to try to replace rumor with fact? (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 49). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

Truth may be the first casualty of war, but respect for truth must survive the conflict. We may not like to think of ourselves among the “Seekers,” “Birthers,” “Truthers,” or other conspiracy theorists, but the fact is that we are all probably capable of believing in crackpot theories if the circumstances are right. We demonstrate respect for truth when we are willing to resist such pressure. (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 49). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

~ ~ ~

[B]ullshit results from the adoption of lame methods of justification, whether intentionally, blamelessly or as a result of self-deception. The function of the term is to emphatically express that a given claim lacks any serious justification, whether or not the speaker realizes it. By calling bullshit, we express our disdain for the speaker’s lack of justification, and indignation for any harm we suffer as a result. 

On Letting it Slide: Bullshit and Philosophy

Suppose someone sits down where you are sitting right now and announces to you that he or she is Napoleon Bonaparte. The last thing we want to do with them is to get involved in a technical discussion of cavalry tactics at the battle of Austerlitz. If we do that, we’re getting tacitly drawn into the game that he or she is Napoleon. For those who espouse and believe conspiracist theories they would like nothing better than to drag everyone else down the rabbit hole into fruitless discussions of false claims of pseudo-evidence without a shred of fact or truth (real evidence); they are content disrespecting truth by repeating innuendo, outright falsehoods, rumors, and otherwise parroting hearsay and falsehoods they have heard or read on social media. To go down this conspiracist rabbit hole is to tacitly agree with their fundamental assumptions that there is something there to debate when there is nothing but empty falsehoods. Their goal is to draw you too into their bullshit and to distract you away from the scientific and rational methods of finding truth based upon evidence (fact). Thoughtful individuals who respect truth find such conspiratorial claims ludicrous and the most appropriate response is to treat them as ludicrous that is, by laughing at such falsehood mongering so as not to fall into the trap of giving the impression one takes such conspiratorial falsehoods seriously.

The Lady in Red

People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.

—George Orwell

In the summer of 2009, many in the world’s media suddenly became aware of a new conspiracist phenomenon. A video shot by a citizen cameraperson sitting approximately halfway back in the auditorium at a town-hall meeting in Georgetown, Delaware, on June 30 was put on YouTube a week or so later, and within days went viral. (Aaronovitch, David. Voodoo Histories (p. 296). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 8))

The clip begins with the rangy figure of Congressman Mike Castle, Delaware’s sole representative in the U.S. House, face to the camera, choosing a questioner from the audience. “This lady in red . . .” he says. From the back it is hard to make out anything about the woman who now stands up, except that she seems to wear glasses and have her hair in what might be called a Sarah Palin semi-bun. The woman in red is brandishing something. She announces, “I have a birth certificate here from the United States of America, saying I am an American citizen, with a seal on it, signed by a doctor, with a hospital administrator’s name, my parents, my date of birth, the time, the date. I want to go back to January 20, and I want to know why are you people ignoring his birth certificate.” There is a loud cry of “Yeah!!!” and some applause, and a little booing. The woman continues, without specifying whom she is talking about—perhaps because she does not need to. “He is not an American citizen! He is a citizen of Kenya! My father fought in World War Two with the greatest generation in the Pacific theater for this country, and I don’t want this flag to change.” She waves a small American flag and shouts, “I want my country back!”1 And sits back down. (Aaronovitch, David. Voodoo Histories (pp. 296-297). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Mr. Castle, a moderate Republican, seemingly taken aback by both the sentiment and the support for it, insists that “if you’re referring to the president there, he is a citizen of the United States.” Some catcalls follow. Apparently emboldened, the questioner rises and shouts out, “I think we should all stand up and pledge allegiance to the flag!” Several people yell, “Pledge allegiance!” and one loudly opines that Castle “probably doesn’t even know it!” Surreally, Castle then leads the people of Georgetown in this enforced act of loyalty, as though there had been a doubt about his patriotism that now needed to be expunged. (Aaronovitch, David. Voodoo Histories (p. 297). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

The Lady in Red was many people’s first Birther. But for the next few weeks the question of whether Barack Obama was an American citizen at birth, and the fact that there was a debate about that question, were hotly discussed on mainstream news channels in the United States, and the peculiarity that a significant number of Americans thought that he wasn’t a citizen (and that he was therefore ineligible to be president) was featured widely outside the country. One of the earliest Birthers, the Philadelphia lawyer (and 9/11 Truth activist) Philip J. Berg, observed that until the Delaware eruption, “the coverage has been minuscule” and confined to Internet and marginal radio stations, but that the Georgetown meeting had set off “a vast uptick.” On his radio broadcast, the sonorous CNN host Lou Dobbs, in “only asking” mode, repeatedly suggested that Obama set minds at rest by producing his long-form birth certificate. The more pungent right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh argued that the new president had “yet to prove that he’s a citizen.” (Aaronovitch, David. Voodoo Histories (p. 297). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

At the same time, a group of mostly Texan Republican congressmen sponsored a measure, drafted by Bill Posey of Florida, “to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require the principal campaign committee of a candidate for election to the office of President to include with the committee’s statement of organization a copy of the candidate’s birth certificate,” a requirement that had somehow been regarded as superfluous in the previous 230 years of the republic. By mid-August 2009, a quarter of Americans polled were of the opinion that Barack Obama was not an American citizen by birth, and another 14 percent were unsure, with 10 percent naming Indonesia as his place of birth, 7 percent opting for Kenya, and 6 percent agreeing that it was Hawaii, but a Hawaii that, in their opinion, was not part of the United States in 1961 when Obama was born. Twelve percent, when prompted by the mischievous pollsters, pronounced themselves unsure that Obama wasn’t French. There were political, gender, and ethnic disparities. Sixty-two percent of Birthers were Republicans (44 percent of Republicans believed that Obama was not a citizen, compared with 36 percent who thought he was), 57 percent were “conservative,” 56 percent were male, and 86 percent were white.2 (Aaronovitch, David. Voodoo Histories (pp. 297-298). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Stalin’s Ghost

The warning signs were ample. By the early spring of 1932, the peasants of Ukraine were beginning to starve. Secret police reports and letters from the grain-growing districts all across the Soviet Union—the North Caucases, the Volga region, western Siberia—spoke of children swollen with hunger; of families eating grass and acorns; of peasants fleeing their homes in search of food. In March a medical commission found corpses lying on the street in a village near Odessa. No one was strong enough to bury them. In another village local authorities were trying to conceal the mortality from outsiders. They denied what was happening, even as it was unfolding before their visitors’ eyes.1 (Applebaum, Anne. Red Famine (p. xxv). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Some wrote directly to the Kremlin, asking for an explanation:

Honourable Comrade Stalin, is there a Soviet government law stating that villagers should go hungry? Because we, collective farm workers, have not had a slice of bread in our farm since January 1…How can we build a socialist peoples’ economy when we are condemned to starving to death, as the harvest is still four months away? What did we die for on the battlefronts? To go hungry, to see our children die in pangs of hunger?2

Others found it impossible to believe the Soviet state could be responsible:

Every day, ten to twenty families die from famine in the villages, children run off and railway stations are overflowing with fleeing villagers. There are no horses or livestock left in the countryside…The bourgeoisie has created a genuine famine here, part of the capitalist plan to set the entire peasant class against the Soviet government.3 (Applebaum, Anne. Red Famine (pp. xxv-xxvi). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

But the bourgeoisie had not created the famine. The Soviet Union’s disastrous decision to force peasants to give up their land and join collective farms; the eviction of “kulaks,” the wealthier peasants, from their homes; the chaos that followed; these policies, all ultimately the responsibility of Joseph Stalin, the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, had led the countryside to the brink of starvation. Throughout the spring and summer of 1932, many of Stalin’s colleagues sent him urgent messages from all around the USSR, describing the crisis. Communist Party leaders in Ukraine were especially desperate, and several wrote him long letters, begging him for help. (Applebaum, Anne. Red Famine (p. xxvi). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Many of them believed, in the late summer of 1932, that a greater tragedy could still be avoided. The regime could have asked for international assistance, as it had during a previous famine in 1921. It could have halted grain exports, or stopped the punishing grain requisitions altogether. It could have offered aid to peasants in starving regions—and to a degree it did, but not nearly enough. (Applebaum, Anne. Red Famine (p. xxvi). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Instead, in the autumn of 1932, the Soviet Politburo, the elite leadership of the Soviet Communist Party, took a series of decisions that widened and deepened the famine in the Ukrainian countryside and at the same time prevented peasants from leaving the republic in search of food. At the height of the crisis, organized teams of policemen and party activists, motivated by hunger, fear and a decade of hateful and conspiratorial rhetoric, entered peasant households and took everything edible: potatoes, beets, squash, beans, peas, anything in the oven and anything in the cupboard, farm animals and pets. (Applebaum, Anne. Red Famine (p. xxvi). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

The result was a catastrophe: At least 5 million people perished of hunger between 1931 and 1934 all across the Soviet Union. Among them were more than 3.9 million Ukrainians. In acknowledgement of its scale, the famine of 1932–3 was described in émigré publications at the time and later as the Holodomor, a term derived from the Ukrainian words for hunger—holod—and extermination—mor.4 (Applebaum, Anne. Red Famine (p. xxvi). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

But famine was only half the story. While peasants were dying in the countryside, the Soviet secret police simultaneously launched an attack on the Ukrainian intellectual and political elites. As the famine spread, a campaign of slander and repression was launched against Ukrainian intellectuals, professors, museum curators, writers, artists, priests, theologians, public officials and bureaucrats. Anyone connected to the short-lived Ukrainian People’s Republic, which had existed for a few months from June 1917, anyone who had promoted the Ukrainian language or Ukrainian history, anyone with an independent literary or artistic career, was liable to be publicly vilified, jailed, sent to a labour camp or executed. Unable to watch what was happening, Mykola Skrypnyk, one of the best-known leaders of the Ukrainian Communist Party, committed suicide in 1933. He was not alone. (Applebaum, Anne. Red Famine (pp. xxvi-xxvii). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Taken together, these two policies—the Holodomor in the winter and spring of 1933 and the repression of the Ukrainian intellectual and political class in the months that followed—brought about the Sovietization of Ukraine, the destruction of the Ukrainian national idea, and the neutering of any Ukrainian challenge to Soviet unity. Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish lawyer who invented the word “genocide,” spoke of Ukraine in this era as the “classic example” of his concept: “It is a case of genocide, of destruction, not of individuals only, but of a culture and a nation.” Since Lemkin first coined the term, “genocide” has come to be used in a narrower, more legalistic way. It has also become a controversial touchstone, a concept used by both Russians and Ukrainians, as well as by different groups within Ukraine, to make political arguments. For that reason, a separate discussion of the Holodomor as a “genocide”—as well as Lemkin’s Ukrainian connections and influences—forms part of the epilogue to this book. (Applebaum, Anne. Red Famine (p. xxvii). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Ukraine’s Road to Unfreedom

Soviet Ukraine was the second most populous republic of the USSR, after Soviet Russia. In Soviet Ukraine’s western districts, which had been part of Poland before the Second World War, Ukrainian nationalists resisted the imposition of Soviet rule. In a series of deportations in the late 1940s and early 1950s, they and their families were sent by the hundreds of thousands to the Soviet concentration camp system, the Gulag. In just a few days in October 1947, for example, 76,192 Ukrainians were transported to the Gulag in what was known as Operation West. Most of those who were still alive at the time of Stalin’s death in 1953 were released by his successor, Nikita Khrushchev. In the 1960s and 1970s, Ukrainian communists joined their Russian comrades in governing the largest country in the world. During the cold war, southeastern Ukraine was a Soviet military heartland. Rockets were built in Dnipropetrovsk, not far from where the Cossacks once had their fortress. (Snyder, Timothy. The Road to Unfreedom (p. 120). Crown. Kindle Edition.)

Though Soviet policy had been lethal to Ukrainians, Soviet leaders never denied that Ukraine was a nation. The governing idea was that nations would achieve their full potential under Soviet rule, and then dissolve once communism was achieved. In the early decades of the Soviet Union, the existence of a Ukrainian nation was taken for granted, from the journalism of Joseph Roth to the statistics of the League of Nations. The famine of 1932–1933 was also a war against the Ukrainian nation, in that it wrecked the social cohesion of villages and coincided with a bloody purge of Ukrainian national activists. Yet the vague idea remained that a Ukrainian nation would have a socialist future. It was really only in the 1970s, under Brezhnev, that Soviet policy officially dropped this pretense. In his myth of the “Great Fatherland War,” Russians and Ukrainians were merged as soldiers against fascism. When Brezhnev abandoned utopia for “really existing socialism,” he implied that the development of non-Russian nations was complete. Brezhnev urged that Russian become the language of communication for all Soviet elites, and a client of his ran Ukrainian affairs. Schools were russified, and universities were to follow. In the 1970s, Ukrainian opponents of the Soviet regime risked prison and the psychiatric hospital to protest on behalf of Ukrainian culture. (Snyder, Timothy. The Road to Unfreedom (pp. 120-121). Crown. Kindle Edition.)

To be sure, Ukrainian communists joined wholeheartedly and in great numbers in the Soviet project, helping Russian communists to govern Asian regions of the USSR. After 1985, Gorbachev’s attempt to bypass the communist party alienated such people, while his policy of glasnost, or open discussion, encouraged Soviet citizens to air national grievances. In 1986, his silence after the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl discredited him among many Ukrainians. Millions of inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine were needlessly exposed to high doses of radiation. It was hard to forgive his specific order that a May Day parade go forward under a deadly cloud. The senseless poisoning of 1986 prompted Ukrainians to begin to speak of the senseless mass starvation of 1933. (Snyder, Timothy. The Road to Unfreedom (p. 121). Crown. Kindle Edition.)

In summer 1991, the failed coup against Gorbachev opened the way for Boris Yeltsin to lead Russia from the Soviet Union. Ukrainian communists and oppositionists alike agreed that Ukraine should follow suit. In a referendum, 92% of the inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine, including a majority in every Ukrainian region, voted for independence. (Snyder, Timothy. The Road to Unfreedom (pp. 121-122). Crown. Kindle Edition.)

How GOP Fascism Works

The qualifications of a candidate should not be issue-oriented as much as character-oriented. They should be “able” and “experienced” men of course for the position which they seek. Beyond that, Scripture says they should be men who “fear God, ” that is, they should be Christians, as affirmed by John Jay. They should also be “men of truth” and “wise and discerning” men. This means that they should be Christians with a Biblical worldview–men who reason from absolute truth, not human wisdom. Many candidates may claim to be “Christians,” but do not hold to a Biblical worldview. Former President Jimmy Carter was an example of a Christian whose mind was unrenewed by Scripture and thus reasoned and governed from a “humanistic” worldview. Finally, Scripture says that our representatives must “hate dishonest gain.” This means that beyond a correct worldview, they must have Christian character, a godly home life, and pure motives…. Even if Christians manage to outnumber others on an issue and we sway our Congressman by sheer numbers, we end up in the dangerous promotion of democracy. We really do not want representatives who are swayed by majorities, but rather by correct principles.

— Beliles, Mark A. and McDowell Stephen K. (1991, 265) America’s Providential History
A Demagogue’s Playbook

In book 8 of Plato’s Republic, Socrates argues that people are not naturally led to self-governance but rather seek a strong leader to follow. Democracy, by permitting freedom of speech, opens the door for a demagogue to exploit the people’s need for a strongman; the strongman will use this freedom to prey on the people’s resentments and fears. Once the strongman seizes power, he will end democracy, replacing it with tyranny. In short, book 8 of The Republic argues that democracy is a self-undermining system whose very ideals lead to its own demise. (Stanley, Jason. How Fascism Works (p. 41). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Fascists have always been well acquainted with this recipe for using democracy’s liberties against itself; Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once declared, “This will always remain one of the best jokes of democracy, that it gave its deadly enemies the means by which it was destroyed.” Today is no different from the past. Again, we find the enemies of liberal democracy employing this strategy, pushing the freedom of speech to its limits and ultimately using it to subvert others’ speech. (Stanley, Jason. How Fascism Works (p. 41). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Desiree Fairooz is a former librarian and activist who was present at the confirmation hearing of U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions. Sessions is a former Alabama senator whose nomination to the federal bench had been rejected by the U.S. Senate in 1986 over accusations of far-right extremism, particularly racism (as a senator, Sessions had made a name for himself by fomenting panic about immigration). When Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama declared that Sessions had a “well-documented record of treating all Americans equally under the law,” Fairooz chuckled. She was immediately arrested and charged with disruptive and disorderly conduct. The Justice Department, headed by Sessions, pressed charges against her. After a judge dismissed the charges in the summer of 2017 on the grounds that laughter is permitted speech, Sessions’s Justice Department decided in September 2017 to continue to pursue charges against her; it was not until November of that year that the Justice Department abandoned its attempt to bring Fairooz to trial for chuckling. (Stanley, Jason. How Fascism Works (pp. 41-42). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions is hardly a defender of free speech. And yet the very same month that his Justice Department was again attempting to bring an American citizen to trial for laughing, Sessions delivered a speech at Georgetown Law School excoriating university campuses for failing to live up to a commitment to free speech because of the presumption that the academy discourages right-leaning voices. He called for a “national recommitment to free speech and the First Amendment” (in the week Sessions gave this speech, news was dominated by President Trump’s call for the owners of National Football League teams to fire players who knelt during the national anthem to protest racism, an exercise of First Amendment rights if ever there was one). (Stanley, Jason. How Fascism Works (p. 42). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Grass Roots Fascism

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to terrorize or incite hatred…. Hate speech denigrates people on the basis of their race or ethnic origin, religion, gender, age, physical condition, disability, sexual orientation, and so forth. (Sedler, 1992) Hate speech says much more about the messenger than the target. Hateful words spoken with the blessing of absolute legal protection (based on the supremacy of the First Amendment) have muted minority messages and have resulted in micro-aggressions and other forms of unequal treatment. (Cortese 2006: Preface)

Anthony Cortese (2006) Opposing Hate Speech

America is not imperialistic; that is when you are going to take over by force. Expansionism is a much, much better and more accurate word.

— Don McLeroy, Texas School Board

The qualifications of a candidate should not be issue-oriented as much as character-oriented. They should be “able” and “experienced” men of course for the position which they seek. Beyond that, Scripture says they should be men who “fear God, ” that is, they should be Christians, as affirmed by John Jay. They should also be “men of truth” and “wise and discerning” men. This means that they should be Christians with a Biblical worldview–men who reason from absolute truth, not human wisdom. Many candidates may claim to be “Christians,” but do not hold to a Biblical worldview. Former President Jimmy Carter was an example of a Christian whose mind was unrenewed by Scripture and thus reasoned and governed from a “humanistic” worldview. Finally, Scripture says that our representatives must “hate dishonest gain.” This means that beyond a correct worldview, they must have Christian character, a godly home life, and pure motives…. Even if Christians manage to outnumber others on an issue and we sway our Congressman by sheer numbers, we end up in the dangerous promotion of democracy. We really do not want representatives who are swayed by majorities, but rather by correct principles.

Beliles, Mark A. and McDowell Stephen K. (1991, 265) America’s Providential History

A Kulturkamp may well take place in which rival totalitarianisms clash, violently perhaps, to mobilize consent and enforce political order. Under less dire circumstances, after all, as it was predicted a decade ago, “Christian doctrine, made an adjunct to right-wing and capitalist policies, could provide the necessary self-imposed order that a fascist movement in America would require to maintain control over the country.” And more recently, “a state religion, compulsory in character, authoritarian in tone, ‘traditional’ in outlook,” has been seriously foreseen. “America would be ‘socialized’ not in the name of Marx but of Jesus, not in the name of communism but of Christian republicanism.”

None of these possibilities is inevitable, of course, or even likely. But one thing at any rate seems certain. Whatever shape the creationist cosmos may take at the hands of Protestant fundamentalists, it will break free from its flourishing subculture and hold sway over people and nations only when it is commended in its integrity: not as a mere science among sciences, but as the one religious answer, among uniquely religious answers, to the unfathomable mystery of existence.

Marty, Martin E. and Appleby R. Scott. et. al. Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1993; 2 pp. 62-64. The Fundamentalism Project.

~ ~ ~

Many of those who supported Trump and Trumpism and ilk like Marjorie Taylor Green are so-called evangelical Christians who believe the lie that America is a “Christian Nation” or use other euphemisms like “Anglo-Saxon political traditions.” These are code words for a form of Christian Nationalism rooted in White Supremacist hateful ideology. Let there be no mistaking this is a right-wing nativist nationalism that is an incarnation of the American Taliban. Democracy, our very democratic institutions, are considered dangerous by these ignorant religious bigots. That is why Trump and his sycophants attacked the very foundations of democracy and attacked the heart of democracy on January 6th. What they seek is a white Christian Nationalism aka authoritarian theocracy.

The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.

Evangelical Scholar Mark A. Noll, in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

~ ~ ~

Trump is a wicked demagogue (悪人) whose fruits are rotten evil deeds (悪因悪果). Many of his sycophantic followers know full well what they do. The dystopian Trumpism the GOP has spawned is a symptom of a deeper sickness within American culture and that sickness is racism, xenophobia, and nativist nationalism. Racism and xenophobia have existed in all cultures throughout history as these prejudices are the natural consequences of ignorance of the “other” that one does not know or understand. Ignorance breeds suspicion and suspicion nurtures fear and fear manifests as stereotypes and sometimes even violent hatred. Ignorance born of suspicion is incompatible with the essential attitude of sympathy and love.

Make America Fascist Again

We have seen ignorant racist and xenophobic historical revisionism before, as Don McLeroy’s make plain. Once again it raises its ugly face in ilk like Marjorie Taylor Green and her America First Caucus that promotes ignorant historical revisionism, racism, and xenophobia in the name of so-called “first principles” and American values. Truth has no currency with such ignorant bigots. Just as the Nazis in 1930s Germany poisoned German culture over decades with hateful anti-Semitic propaganda so too AM Hate Radio and Faux News and ilk like Tucker Carlson and Marjorie Taylor Green spread hateful propaganda directed at immigrants, people of color, and the LGBT community. They preach a twisted gospel of exclusion and hate called Eliminationism and Fascist Trumpism.

Nativist Fascist Historical Revisionism aka Rehashed 18th Century White Supremacist Manifest Destiny Ideology

Next week, the Texas State Board of Education will vote on new ideologically driven curriculum standards for the Texas public schools. Elected officials are going line-by-line — deciding what should and should not be included in state textbooks. And as one of the biggest textbook buyers in the country, Texas could influence what kids learn in other states, as well.

Don McLeroy, dentist and active board member, has proposed adding a requirement to study the rise of conservative icons like Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority. There’s also a new emphasis on the role religion played in the founding of the country, and on the constitutional right to bear arms. In all, there were more than 300 amendments proposed to the social studies standards. All these amendments will fundamentally change what kids are taught in school. (Karla Murthy. Is the Texas school board rewriting history? [Web Page]. 2010 May 14)

Karla Murthy. Is the Texas school board rewriting history? [Web Page]. 2010 May 14

Whoever you hate will end up in your family.

Chris Rock, actor/comedian

Our family was living in Japan in 2002 when some culturally conservative/nationalist Japanese bureaucrats decided to rewrite history by cleansing their history textbooks of terms they deemed offensive. They engaged in the same type of historical revisionism that these ignorant fundamentalist Christians in Texas are trying to perpetrate upon American children. Some Japanese nationalists decided that the term “invaded” did not accurately describe what the Japanese did in Southeast Asia when they colonized (another term that would be expunged) Korea and Manchuria. They took some earlier textbooks that in reference to Japan’s invasion of Southeast Asia said “Japan invaded China,” and changed them to read “Japan advanced into China,” as though Japan was merely executing a routine military maneuver while engaging in war. Of course, this hides the fact that the entire pretext for war that led to the invasion of Japan into Southeast Asia was orchestrated by Japan to justify an already planned invasion so that Japan could carry out its colonialist policies in Korea, China, Southeast Asia.

I suspect if McLeroy was asked what Japan did when it invaded Korea, China, and Southeast Asia no doubt he would describe their acts as acts of aggression and “imperialism.” Of course, this is exactly what American did in Cuba and the Philippians too. Based upon trumped up pretext invaded to take control of valuable resources, i.e., engaged in imperialism and colonialism, which was the typical behavior of Western nations under the ideology of “manifest destiny.” Of course, McLeroy won’t be explicit that he still thinks America has a “manifest destiny,” but that is the dirty little secret that lies behind his disingenuous revisionist maneuvers to rewrite history according to his religious ideology when he replaces “imperialism” with “expansionism.” Expansionism can be justified in his mind, for America was only fulfilling her “manifest destiny” in bringing civilization to those poor uncivilized peoples which she invaded and conquered by force.

America has been made great by our diversity. And it will be through this very diversity that we overcome the ignorance, fear, suspicion, and xenophobia that Trumpism represents. We are greater than this; love and compassion, wisdom and understanding are able to overcome evil with good.

But history has sent us a warning. America is not immune from grass roots fascism. It can happen here.

Illusionary Progress

We live in an age of great technological success, in an atmosphere of materialistic philosophy tempered with misgivings and regrets, in a turmoil of social change and of conflicting political ideologies. We are uneasy with forebodings, for civilization may well die in the next war if it comes. We are little consoled by the prospect of dying amid new luxuries. Brilliant progress in the technological application of science stands in sharpest contrast with the social chaos of our generation. Will the critical historian of 3000 A.D. remember us chiefly for our success in one area or for our failure in the other? Can the echelons of science be diverted in part from the sector where they have won us an overwhelming victory to that where the battle turns against us? When and how? In the present article I shall suggest for the physical sciences a diversion of much effort from gadgetry to an extensive study of man himself, and for the biological sciences a keener, more integrative appraisal of evolutionary history as the basis for extrapolating from the past the course of man’s inevitable social destiny? (Williams 1948, 116)

It is scarcely necessary to belabor the point that within the past two centuries man has made unprecedented progress in the natural sciences. Basing action on this newly acquired knowledge he has harnessed steam, electricity, chemical reaction, and, presently, atomic fission to do his bidding. He has tapped field, forest, and subterranean depths for fuel, food, and materials of construction. He has erected towering cities, spanned the continents with rail and roadway, and girdled the globe with wires, radio beams, and swift flights of air armadas. Mechanical power and assembly lines have multiplied a hundred or a thousand fold the yield of goods from his hand and brain and eye. An economy of abundance is at length possible, but:— (Williams 1948, 116)

As ever increasing fraction of the fruits of human toil and ingenuity goes to feed the holocaust of war. The greatest drain on the exchequer of every government is the cost of present and past wars. The waste of ruined cities and scarred countrysides spreads over three continents where rose the most ancient of historic civilizations. More utter devastation looms on the horizon through the latest and most momentous of man’s scientific discoveries. Social progress since Roman times seems almost negligible. If legalized slavery has been well nigh abolished, chivalry has also waned. Conflicting political concepts of earliest history still persist in unresolved modern controversies. Democracy has just disarmed three major tyrannies at great cost but faces still another. The remaining one [i.e., Russian revolution] professes a prophetic vision for all mankind when its aegis shall have spread around the globe. (Williams 1948, 116)

The Russian people do not want war. Most probably the Russian government does not want it. Certainly neither the people nor the government of the United States desire World War III. Yet some inexorable force seems to impel both governments (and peoples) in that direction. Neither the leaders whom the Russians have chosen or accepted nor the leaders whom Americans follow are able to lead in the direction which everbody wants to go. Why? Because Russian thought and American thought are as far apart as the poles with reference to the basic political means which will achieve the universally desired end. There are no universally accepted political principles. Nothing indisputable has been learned in 5000 years of racial history. There is no scientific knowledge about politics. (Williams 1948, 116-117)

In economics the condition is essentially the same. There are almost as many schools of thought as there are thinkers. None will deny the tremendous impact of scientific technology upon our present economy, but beyond that few economic principles are universally accepted. The most elemental matters are in dispute: private property versus communal ownership; personal rights versus governmental sovereignty; economic versus political boundaries. Free trade versus protective tariff is, for example, still merely a matter of opinion. Our social systems are extremely diverse, and class strife of various sorts has rarely been more conspicuous. At best society is static; at worst, and more prevailingly, society moves off in all directions at one and gets nowhere. Fundamentally this is because social science is not science; its foundations are utterly insecure. It has no basis for proceeding from the known to the unknown, for virtually no principles are established beyond dispute. (Williams 1948, 117)

Scientists, however, have no occasion to be supercilious or sacrosanct. The failure of political, social, and economic theory to make progress is an old story. We are doing no worse than in Roman times, merely no better. The prime reason for the contrast lies in this, that for the most part in natural sciences we enjoy the benefits of the experimental method. We guess what should happen by a priori reasoning and then design a careful experiment whereby we verify or confound our prior reasoning. In social science the practice is to reason a priori and then assert the conclusion to be true. The experimental method is not practically available in social matters [except via historical perspective]. We may enact a measure, say the Smoot-Hawley act, but long before the experiment is complete a war, a new technology, a change of administration, or some other country’s countermeasure intervenes to invalidate any conclusion. All our so-called social experiments in domestic economy are fraught with similar hazards. (Williams 1948, 117)

One of the difficulties of the social sciences is that their problems are always problems of immediate concern to large numbers of people. Vox populi raises a distraction to disturb any objective contemplation. Public opinion focuses its attention about some controversial problem, and those who become the political leaders are those whose views are acceptable to the majority. All other contenders are disqualified for the moment though a decade later they may have proved themselves wiser than their opponents. The successful political leader is one who correctly senses the trend of public opinion. As Disraeli once quizzically remarked, “I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?” (Williams 1948, 117-118)

(….) In social problems there is no appeal to natural science, and natural science as such seeks no opportunity to be heard. Yet I beg to submit that human affairs are by no means unrelated to the kind of universe in which we dwell and with which science is so much concerned. The difficulty is that science is prevailingly either preoccupied with isolated phenomena in Nature or with the gadgetry of technology. The direction of human affairs is by common consent relegated to a position outside the field of scientific enquiry. We have already referred to the sad fact that the experimental method is inapplicable to social science. Otherwise we might be more sure footed in our social progress. (Williams 1948, 118)

Physics and chemistry are supreme examples of experimental science. Together with mathematics they account for most of the technical progress man has made. However, there is a large field of true science which is essentially observational rather than experimental. Astronomy and geology furnish us with many significant examples. We cannot turn the stars in their courses to ascertain experimentally the result, so it is necessary to infer indirectly much of what has been learned about their motions, masses, and composition, as well as their past history and future destiny. Similarly, in geology we cannot experimentally raise mountains, divert the course of great streams, or reproduce the conditions of ancient lakes. Yet few would deny that astronomy and geology are true sciences or that their conclusions are broadly trustworthy. (Williams 1948, 118)

Biology as a field lies between those of purely experimental and purely observational science. Many of its problems can be and have been attacked experimentally and successfully. Some of the great problems of biology are set on a time scale so vast that short-lived man cannot deal with them experimentally. Otherwise we might perhaps prove the descent of man from lower creatures by producing him on the sport for evidential purposes. However, the evolutionary process can be observed in the laboratory by the use of short-lived lower organisms and it can be turned to immediate practical account in breeding plants and animals of specifically desired characteristics. In spite of its many debatable regions, biology ranks as a sound science. (Williams 1948, 119-119)

According to my view each of these types of method has a potential application in human affairs. (….) In a thousand ways each person differs form his fellows. What we call personality is an integration of ten thousand traits each determined in part by heredity, in part by training and in part by current habits and ways of life [e.g., culture]. Some of these traits doubtless have a physiological basis if it could be traced. Some are psychological yet have an underlying physical basis, and many fall in the class of spiritual qualities. (Williams 1948, 119)

Personality is a fact of vital importance in our human relations. Yet one could assemble a very imposing array of physiologists, biochemists, psychologists, and physicians only discover that the whole battery of talent could not account for [the nature of personality]. These personality factors are of tremendous importance in many of our social problems. (Williams 1948, 119)

(….) So much for the potential of experimental natural sciences which would be much more significant for future human welfare at this stage than a new plastic, a more efficient freezing unit, a faster airplane, or a flossier automobile. We could get along with what technology already offers in those lines, but we keenly need means of preventing frustrated, futile lives and of raising the whole level of human happiness. These things must be recognized as within the potential field of science. We must get out of our ruts of thinking in terms of a single discipline and in terms of the physical things used for food, shelter, raiment, transportation, or amusement. We ourselves are more important than our environment. (Williams 1948, 120)

There is, however, a whole category of human problems of which the crux lines in the massing of humanity, rather than in the individual. A large group of humans bond together by some real or fancied community of need or circumstances acts differently at times than each of them the component individuals would be disposed to do if acting independently. People divide into groups by race, by language, by flags, by economic level, form of employment, or special intellectual interest or aptitude. Once so divided we are prone to forget our common humanity and place all emphasis upon our national or class interest. It is by the operation of this form of mass psychology that the problems of international antagonisms, political animosities, class and racial hatreds arise. In the present era, war, industrial strife between employer and employee, and racial hatred appear as the most outstanding destructive forces. There are, however, numerous lesser rivalries exemplified, for example, by pressure groups of farmers, manufacturers, dairymen, or what not. The study of individuals will not meet these problems. (Williams 1948, 120)

The most significant contribution which science might make to this category of problems is an emphasis on our common human heritage and the oneness of human life with all the life which preceded it in the evolutionary process. That is the route by which we came to be human and that is the road by which man may grow to greater stature. Biological evolution arrays hundreds of millions of years before us. May not science discern its trends and consider their validity for man today? (Williams 1948, 120)

(….) However, our social trends need to be undergirded by some broad philosophy which, endeavors to estimate results at least a generation hence. No social course which veers abruptly first in one direction then in another can possibly lead us happily forward. Yet that is precisely what we do in civic, political, and national life. (….) We proceed by impulse, not according to a reasoned course which becomes ingrained in the fiber of the people. Imagine a business enterprise succeeding with such a fluctuating policy. (Williams 1948, 121)

A popular philosophy cannot become second nature to a people within a few weeks or months or years. Its culture must pervade our educational processes for decades before the philosophy can ripen and bear fruit. It is, however, high time that such a social philosophy be born and that it have the endorsement of a large element of our most thoughtful people. How better can it be born than out of the womb of science and how will it gather more commanding support than if it comes from scientists. Science today enjoys an unprecedented popular respect, and no voice speaks with as much authority as does the scientist who is backed by the general opinion of his fellows. (Williams 1948, 121)

We had such a philosophy at the time of the birth of our republic, and, in spite of some dissent, we believed in it as a people. In the words of the Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;—” There are other philosophies abroad today. Not long since Hitler thundered “The state is everything, the individual nothing.” Today Russia’s Politburo justifies the dictatorship of a minority by defending its beneficent intentions. (Williams 1948, 121)

The divergent philosophies cannot all be true yet they were or are supported by the mass of scientists, as well as other people, resident in each of the respective countries. This could not possibly be true if science had generally recognized that humanity is a part of Nature and an outgrowth of her works. (Williams 1948, 121)

Some will object that evolution has had no consistent trends; that it has changed direction with climatic alterations as in the successive periods of glaciation. Its fundamental trends and causative factors have, however, in my opinion, maintained a high degree of constancy. The continuity of the evolutionary process has received amazing and unexpected support in the field of biochemistry during the past decade or two. The enzymes and other chemical mechanisms that operate in our tissues are present and operative also in the tissues of lower animals and even in plants and microorganisms for more primitive and far more ancient in their evolutionary origin. If life development has been so continuous that the oxidative mechanisms, for example, of its earliest forms of organisms are still operative in its latest and higher forms, it is scarcely reasonable to think its past trends are not still meaningful for man’s future. (Williams 1948, 121-122)