It’s what they do

October 4, 2016

A few months back, a young student at the University of Texas was walking back to her dorm after a late rehearsal (she was studying dance) and a mentally disturbed, homeless teenager killed her. It was a sad and tragic event for everyone involved.

But of course, the response of a bureaucracy to everything is to Do Something™. So now the building where I work is covered with posters.


I don’t know how much it cost to print these posters and attach them to all the walls, but I’m sure we can all agree it was money well spent.

Write in

July 26, 2016

I’m thinking of starting a write-in campaign for Michael Jordan. Or maybe for Dallas Police Chief David Brown. Either one strikes me as an improvement over anyone who’s been nominated.


July 19, 2016

One of the issues that has helped Trump win the nomination is immigration. Immigration isn’t the problem, though, it’s the failure to assimilate. Instead of expecting people who come here from other countries to embrace American ideals and values, most of the leading voices in our nation tell them that such an expectation is racism or imperialism, and that immigrants should cling tightly to their foreign identities. This sort of thing just enhances the tribalism I worried about in my last post.

In contrast, consider this by Sarah Hoyt, an immigrant from Portugal:

Here’s the thing: acculturation is not easy.  As much as I was in love with American ideals, getting used to the way people do things every day; getting used to the way people interact, when I came from a highly formal gender/class divided society; getting used to the food; learning the history; learning the popular culture; learning why and how and when things were done — all that was massively difficult.  Not intellectually but at a baseline, gut level.  It was important and difficult, and sometimes I felt as if I were being mentally torn about.  There weren’t many days the first five years that I wasn’t homesick to the point of pain for the familiar sights and the big city I’d left behind, while I was stuck in Rock Hill South Carolina.  (And yes, part of that is that I am and will always be a city girl.)

If there were any way to avoid acculturating while reaping the benefits of being American, I’d have done it.  But I wanted to BE American and so I put myself through untold pain.

Change is hard, but if you make a change in where you live you should also expect to make other changes. Why did you leave, if you didn’t see something better in the place you left for?


July 10, 2016

3 Nephi 7:2–3:

And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land.

And every tribe did appoint a chief or a leader over them; and thus they became tribes and leaders of tribes.

It feels like our society is following the same path as the Nephites. We’re relating to people more according the identity groups they belong to than as fellow human beings. This won’t end well unless we reverse it.

We see this in the tragic shootings this past week. There are bad cops out there, in two different senses of “bad”. There are evil cops, people who enjoy asserting authority over others, or who are corrupt, or who judge people by their skin color or other characteristics. There are also incompetent cops, people without the temperament or training to choose well in the kind of stressful situations police often find themselves in. There are undoubtably cops that fall into both categories. The burden of bad policing, like most bad things in this imperfect world, falls disproportionally on the Black community, but if we treat all cops as oppressors the resulting chaos and lawlessness will also disproportionally harm the Black community. The appropriate response to bad policing is to improve policing (as the Dallas police chief—who is black—has been trying to do) and not to target cops indiscriminately.

Another example of tribalism is what I was discussing in my last post. Too many Democrats see Republicans as the enemy, and support Hillary Clinton out of fear that their rival tribe will come out victorious. Too many Republicans support Trump for the same reason, with the tribes reversed. Neither side sees the other as fellow humans and judges them as individuals by their actions instead of by their affiliation.

There’s a famous Peanuts cartoon where Linus says, “I love mankind. It’s the people I can’t stand.” However, we need to love people as individuals, and see them as more than just members of groups.

Rule of law

July 8, 2016

It’s pretty clear from what Director Comey said that the evidence indicates that Hillary Clinton violated the law in ways that would get almost anyone else indicted and probably convicted. After consideration, though, I think he made the correct decision to not actually indict her. There’s no way that whole thing wouldn’t have become horribly politicized by both sides.

It’s a pretty sad commentary on where our country has ended up, though. Once upon a time people looked for integrity in political leaders, and didn’t make excuses for crooks just because they happen to be on “our side” of the political divide.

If you’re considering voting for Hillary Clinton, realize that you’re at least partially endorsing the idea that powerful politicians should get a pass on obeying laws that apply to everyone else. And think also how demoralizing it will be to the brave people who actually risk their lives to protect their country to be led by someone who places her personal convenience and ambition ahead of their safety.

[Update] Jonah Goldberg has a similar take.

Law and Gospel

July 3, 2016

Our text in Sunday School today was Alma 13–16. One of the things noted was about how many people, in response to the preaching of the gospel, try to use the law to persecute the preachers. This hasn’t happened much in the United States, but that seems to be changing.

Current popular legal theories seem to require, in fact, that believers be forced to change their beliefs:

It’s not that the New Gnostics are an especially vindictive bunch. It’s that a certain kind of coercion is built into their view from the start. If your most valuable, defining core just is the self that you choose to express, there can be no real difference between you as a person, and your acts of self-expression; I can’t affirm you and oppose those acts. Not to embrace self-expressive acts is to despise the self those acts express. I don’t simply err by gainsaying your sense of self. I deny your existence, and do you an injustice. For the New Gnostic, then, a just society cannot live and let live, when it comes to sex. Sooner or later, the common good—respect for people as self-defining subjects—will require social approval of their self-definition and -expression.

I recommend reading the entire article. Note, also, that if your defining core is the self you choose to express, then calling for repentance is similar to advocating suicide.

That this attitude is becoming more common is not an accident:

Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement. Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts — whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about — have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings. The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctible outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists in high school. It is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide. The end of history for our students signals the End of History for the West.

The result is a tribe that doesn’t realize it’s a tribe, and looks down on all other tribes:

Genuine cosmopolitanism is a rare thing. It requires comfort with real difference, with forms of life that are truly exotic relative to one’s own. It takes its cue from a Roman playwright’s line that “nothing human is alien to me,” and goes outward ready to be transformed by what it finds.

The people who consider themselves “cosmopolitan” in today’s West, by contrast, are part of a meritocratic order that transforms difference into similarity, by plucking the best and brightest from everywhere and homogenizing them into the peculiar species that we call “global citizens.”

This species is racially diverse (within limits) and eager to assimilate the fun-seeming bits of foreign cultures — food, a touch of exotic spirituality. But no less than Brexit-voting Cornish villagers, our global citizens think and act as members of a tribe.

They have their own distinctive worldview (basically liberal Christianity without Christ), their own common educational experience, their own shared values and assumptions (social psychologists call these WEIRD — for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic), and of course their own outgroups (evangelicals, Little Englanders) to fear, pity and despise. And like any tribal cohort they seek comfort and familiarity: From London to Paris to New York, each Western “global city” (like each “global university”) is increasingly interchangeable, so that wherever the citizen of the world travels he already feels at home.

Have a happy 4th of July, while you still can.

on Brexit

June 25, 2016

If I were British, I would have voted “Leave”. The E.U. is a poor response to a misdiagnosed problem, and has shown itself impervious to change, even in response to events that have demonstrated its problems.

After the traumas of World Wars I and II, European leaders tried to figure out how to prevent similar wars from recurring. They decided the problem was nationalism; probably some of them saw democracy as part of the problem too. (After all, both Hitler and Mussolini were democratically elected, at least initially.) Now, while nationalism certainly played a part, and was used by the people who started the conflicts (as well as by those who resisted them) it was not really the problem. As I said in my last post, there are always those who choose evil, and when they get in power, whatever excuse they use, bad things happen.

Anyway, these people decided the solution was to put power into a supranational bureaucracy. Because bureaucrats always know what’s best, right? And the bureaucracy they created had few mechanisms for accountability, so when problems arose those bureaucrats, who after all always know what’s best, have doubled down on the very things that caused the problems.

This is why the “Leave” vote is so threatening to people here in America who believe in the wisdom of professional managers: it’s a rebuke to the idea of ever-increasing bureaucratic control.

Megan McArdle wrote a good article about this:

In many ways, members of the global professional class have started to identify more with each other than they have with the fellow residents of their own countries. Witness the emotional meltdown many American journalists have been having over Brexit.

A lot of my professional colleagues seemed to [take it personally], and the dominant tone framed this as a blow against the enlightened “us” and the beautiful world we are building, struck by a plague of morlocks who had crawled out of their hellish subterranean world to attack our impending utopia. You could also, I’d argue, see this sentiment in the reaction of global markets, which was grossly out of proportion to the actual economic damage that is likely to be done by Brexit. I mean, yes, the British pound took a pounding, and no surprise. But why did this so roil markets for the Mexican peso? Did traders fear that the impact on the global marmite supply was going to unsettle economies everywhere?

Well, no. This was a reflection of sudden uncertainty, not a prediction about the global economic future. But the sheer extent of the carnage made me wonder if one of the uncertainties traders were newly contemplating was when the morlocks are going to be coming for us outward-looking professional types with pitchforks.

As the saying goes, read the whole thing.

The professional classes, on both sides of the Atlantic, have been treating their fellow citizens with disdain and contempt for quite some time, and people are, not unreasonably, finally pushing back. You can only tell people to shut up and call them names for so long before they stop listening to you. That’s how you end up with candidates like Donald Trump.

(I think Trump is a con man who’s only saying what he thinks people want to hear, and the few times he’s actually advocated policy solutions they’ve been ones that are likely to make the problems worse, but at least he is acknowledging real concerns that conventional politicians have ignored. Although I’d have to classify myself as a #NeverTrump Republican, most of what others in that camp have been saying strikes me as completely tone deaf.)

Nations, economies, and such can’t actually be “managed”. They can be directed by leaders with vision and compassion, but they are composed of people, not automatons, and trying to manage them like a bunch of factory machinery only leads to disaster in the end.