Showing posts with label Myths. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Myths. Show all posts

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sowell A Go Go

If you are having a discussion with a conservative these days (at least the ones that think they are intelligent), it won't be too long before the name of Thomas Sowell comes up. I've never done a post about Sowell so this is way past due. He certainly has the credentials of a brilliant man and is highly regarded in the community of higher education but there are key problems with his core philosophy which I will illustrate below.

Dr. Sowell is an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher and author. Currently he is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution out at Stanford University. His book, A Conflict of Visions, is the work most frequently noted by conservatives as to why there is so much conflict between liberals and conservatives. To hear them proselytize about it, one would think it has as much regard as The Bible or Atlas Shrugged. Sowell's text defines two competing visions of political thought. They are summed up nicely in this table. 

There is also this excellent summation.

The Unconstrained Vision 

Sowell argues that the unconstrained vision relies heavily on the belief that human nature is essentially good. Those with an unconstrained vision distrust decentralized processes and are impatient with large institutions and systemic processes that constrain human action. They believe there is an ideal solution to every problem, and that compromise is never acceptable. Collateral damage is merely the price of moving forward on the road to perfection. Sowell often refers to them as "the self anointed." Ultimately they believe that man is morally perfectible. Because of this, they believe that there exist some people who are further along the path of moral development, have overcome self-interest and are immune to the influence of power and therefore can act as surrogate decision-makers for the rest of society. 

The Constrained Vision 

Sowell argues that the constrained vision relies heavily on belief that human nature is essentially unchanging and that man is naturally inherently self-interested, regardless of the best intentions. Those with a constrained vision prefer the systematic processes of the rule of law and experience of tradition. Compromise is essential because there are no ideal solutions, only trade-offs. Those with a constrained vision favor solid empirical evidence and time-tested structures and processes over intervention and personal experience. Ultimately, the constrained vision demands checks and balances and refuses to accept that all people could put aside their innate self-interest.

Conservatives continually assert that they are in the constrained vision column whereas liberals are in the unconstrained vision camp. Sowell himself has always been quick to point out that labels should not be applied or equated to his vision. Yet, I have to wonder...why would he set up such a dichotomy in the first place if that was not his intent? Couldn't he have saved a lot of time by simple saying "Liberals are stupidly naive and conservatives are intelligently grounded in reality?"

Our nation unfortunately has to live with Sowell's sort of hubris and bloviation every day (at least for the next seven years or so:)). Being the author of this preposterous ideology, Sowell is, of course, the most responsible. I say preposterous because, as a black man in the United States, it was the unconstrained vision that allowed him to become who he is today. Someone with Sowell's constrained vision would have ignored the injustices of civil rights and likely even slavery, dismissing them as the flawed nature of man and, oh well, there's nothing to be done about it. The constrained vision sees itself as grounded in reality yet how can equality be achieved without freedom of choice?

The biggest flaw, however, in Sowell's philosophy is that he rejects John Locke (in so many ways the original father of our country) stating that humans are naturally prone to error, are selfish and will never change. Locke believed (as do I), that people are born with the inherent right of freedom, liberty and property. From that point, the tabla rasa is filled in with an individual's unique nature and the environment in which they are socialized (both nature and nurture). Not every person is exactly the same, as Sowell posits.

The correlary between conservatives and the constrained vision is really a giant pile of crap. Their vision is so ridiculously unconstrained it's laughable. They have a utopian fantasy of the free market that solves all problems and in which people magically behave themselves without regulation. Further, they don't rely on empirical evidence on the major issues of the day. If they did, they would not have built The Church of the Climate Skeptic or be ass hats about gun violence. They are extremely loathe to compromise as is evidenced by the latest budget negotiations. Ironically and in many ways, they are the ones who are naive about human nature, thinking that the less laws there are, the better!

In contrast, I look at the unconstrained vision and don't really see much of myself at all and, again, see conservatives. Human nature is certainly malleable (we are in a constant state of evolution, after all) but not perfectible. And who gets to define who is the "strongest" and "most capable?" And what is the metric for this? One look at our leaders in Washington will illustrate that many are not the strongest or most capable. That could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you want to look at it. There is plenty of human action that is motivated by selflessness and sincerity. I am assured by many of my conservative colleagues that this is at the core of their ideology. This is especially true of Christians, right?

Not every bad thing has an explanation (poverty, war, crime) and sometimes it is best to simply try and manage the complexities. Of course, this doesn't mean that all bad things are a giant question mark (again...why have laws?...conservatives seems to always ask these days). I don't see market economies catering to a particular interest and don't think that most of them should be tailored to serve the public interest. Some of them, like health care for example, need to have more government regulation due to the inefficiencies that arise based on fundamental economics. The free market does work out in markets where there is more elasticity and many buyers and sellers.

In looking at these competing visions, one has to wonder if Sowell really thinks these things or if he is simply trying to make money in the willfully ignorant market of true believers. I think conservatives like to use him to make themselves seem smarter than they actually are. Perhaps they should take an honest look at the competing visions and reflect a little while on where they truly fall in terms of the characteristics. Then we can leave Thomas Sowell behind and engage instead in less restrictive thinking.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Welfare Myths

I'm pretty sick and tired of all the myths being spread out there regarding people on welfare. Thankfully, this piece torpedoes nine of them quite well. Here are three that stand out.

Myth: “People on welfare are lazy and sit at home collecting it while the rest of us work to support them.” 

Fact: The welfare reform law that was signed by President Clinton in 1996 largely turned control over welfare benefits to the states, but the federal government provides some of the funding for state welfare programs through a program called Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF). TANF grants to states require that all welfare recipients must find work within two years of first receiving benefits. This includes single parents, who are required to work at least 30 hours per week. Two-parent families are required to work 35 to 50 hours per week. Failure to obtain work could result in loss of benefits. It is also worth noting that, thanks to the pay offerings of companies such as Walmart, many who work at low wage jobs qualify for public assistance, even though they work full-time.

Right. People that get assistance are already working. Their jobs simply don't pay enough. And bitch all you want about federal spending on food stamps but the states are the ones that largely control aid to the poor.

Myth: “There’s a woman in Chicago. She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards. … She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000″ – Ronald Reagan

Fact: Ah, the “welfare queen.” Ronny loved to tell his stories, and his welfare queen story is one of the most popular. The only problem is, the woman he talked about didn’t exist. There is some evidence that elements of this story may have been based on facts, but the descriptions of abuse by an actual woman were wildly exaggerated by Reagan.

The Right loves to make shit up (see: lie). This would be a great example.

Myth: “Most welfare recipients are minorities and illegal immigrants.” 

Fact: TANF benefits were paid out to roughly the same percentage of white and black recipients in 2010, according to the HHS report. In fact, the percentage of black families receiving welfare benefits has declined by almost 7 percent since 2000. Regarding illegal immigrants: those who are in the United States illegally are ineligible for benefits other than emergency Medicaid.

Many of those white folks are rural poor in deep red states. If they could only realize that the people they support are essentially lying to them with religion and are actively trying to fuck them, every state would basically be blue.

Welfare falsehoods really piss me off. Spread this post and the included links around and don't let the Right continue their lying.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Unhijacking The Founding Fathers

Usually I put up a Bill Maher final New Rule without comment but this one needs a second audio track. How about we start with...It's about time someone did this!

For too long, conservatives and libertarians have cloaked themselves in the founding fathers and the Constitution. Much like they interpret the Bible (my way or a lake of hellfire for you), their view of the formation of this country is filled with delusions. Maher points out one of these when he describes Glenn Beck's propensity to dress up like Thomas Paine. In fact, if you want to know how close Glenn Beck is to playing with his own poo, read his 'version' of Common Sense. As I mentioned the other day, events that took place in the latter half of the 18th century have an historical context. Paine's Common Sense was written from the point of view of someone taxed by a monarch. Barack Obama is not King George III. This is going to be one of my new mantras, b to the w.

The other thing that Bill points out in this commentary is yet another sad (and tragic) making of a myth. Take a look at the photo at left. Somehow this image is historically accurate for a large segment of our country. There are a couple of my regular readers who have said as much in comments. The image here is so far from reality that I can't help but call it for what it is.

It's a child's fairy tale.

Many of you will jump to the conclusion that I am being mean or snarky. Quite the contrary. That's Maher's job. Mine is one of profound frustration and great sadness. The founding fathers were products of the Age of Enlightenment and the big ones (Washington, Paine, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Madison, Monroe) were Deists. Paine and Jefferson believed in the teachings of the morality of Christ and did not believe that he was holy nor resurrected. But somehow, through a very sad delusion, they were conservative and would've tarred and feathered any liberal or progressive. This is a sad perception that honestly causes so many problems that they are too numerous to list here.

Maher has some pretty great quotes from our founding fathers in this clip that more or less prove that, if they were around today, it's pretty clear that Sarah Palin would be accusing them of blood libel.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Sad Making of Myths

Sit back for a moment and think about Rosa Parks. What are the first images that come into your head?

Tired, old black woman...wouldn't give up her seat in the front of the bus to a white man...poor old woman beaten down by oppression...right?

Wrong. There is nothing in the above sentence that is factually accurate.

Rosa Parks was, in fact, 42 on December 1, 1955 when the bus incident occurred. Now some of you may think that is old but I'm 43 and, so if you do, fuck off! She wasn't tired from working either. She had two jobs. One was the job at the department store. The other was the secretary for the NAACP. In fact, the entire event was a planned protest and not the simple bus ride that myth making has made it into. Parks received training in peaceful resistance and had been planning for some time to not move if asked. Others had planned similar protests if the issue cam up. That seat, by the way, was in the back of the bus in the black section not the front of the bus. The law back then stated that if the front was full, blacks would have to make room for white people in the back. She was asked to stand up and didn't when a white man walked to the back to try to take her seat.

Many people believe that this famous photo (left) is an image from the incident. In fact, it was a staged photo. The man behind Ms. Parks is a UPI reporter and not some evil white man. Ms. Parks is also shown here in the front of the bus. During the actual event, she was in the mid back section of the bus and the driver came back, when the bus got more crowded, and moved the sign 'Whites Only' behind her and asked her to get up.

Over the years, the story has been simplified because people in this country need to have easy to swallow caplets. They can't take the time nor do they have the patience to think about the complexities of situations like this. They hear a few catch phrases, some pretty words, see a bright shiny object, and, before you know it, a myth is born.

This is also true of the Tea Party.

It frustrates me to no end the manner in which the Tea Party got its name. In fact, it would be one of those delusions, not opinions, that the conservative movement of this country holds. The Boston Tea Party was an event that occurred due to taxation without representation. On December 16, 1773, colonists, outraged by paying taxes to a monarch and an aristocracy an ocean away as well as the monopoly created by the East India Company, dumped three shiploads of tea into Boston Harbor.

The current Tea Party got its name from Rick Santilli who, in a CNBC broadcast, called for 'tea party' in the Chicago River on February 19, 2009. There had been planned protests before this but this is when the social movement was truly galvanized. And, as with the Boston Tea Party, the current Tea Party's cry is "Taxation without representation." Much like the story of Rosa Parks, we are seeing a myth being woven right before our eyes.

It is a delusion to say that we are taxed without representation. We all have representatives in Congress. We may not like them but, unlike the Boston Tea Party, we have the power to change that. Unfortunately, this requires time and dedication-two things people in our culture today are very reticent to embrace. Some have made Tea Partying a full time job but most are just pissed off and don't want to invest the time or attention to detail to actually solve any problems. They have heard their catch phrases, seen a few pretty words (the rebirth of the Don't Tread on Me Flag-another out of context myth), and marveled at their bright shiny object that is currently the latest social movement.

This myth has actually done a great deal of damage to the perception of our government. Barack Obama is not King George III. Nor is any other representative, Republican or Democrat. There is, however, an aristocracy but those in it are martyred by the Tea Parties as being oppressed by the socialists/fascists/nazis/communists that run our government. Yet the perception is twisted and we are left with this myth thanks to the Tea Party

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

A perfect summation courtesy of Paul Kruggman. I'll be talking more about his recent column in the future because I found it to be largely accurate but for now let's look at this statement. It's a complete myth. There are no tyrannical impositions on their liberty that come close to the ones we saw in the 18th century. It's not an opinion, it's a delusion and this is what I meant by not coddling these sorts of perceptions anymore.

Conveying historical context with the Tea Party is about as easy as pushing a 200 ton boulder up Mt.Hood. Seriously, have any of them read the Constitution which they hold up as a bastion of liberty?

Section. 8. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

This is what the US Constitution says. Do they just skip over this part or do they have their own special interpretation of it?

I'm hoping that people look back on this time 55 years from now and they have not embraced the same myth that has been created around Rosa Parks. I'd like to see people wonder why on earth an organization called itself the Tea Party when the historical reference is completely inaccurate and totally out of context.

The cynical side of me is saying that I am being too naive. I wonder what lie teachers will tell their students about the Tea Party in 55 years.