Share and Share Alike

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My mother never taught me to share…that is, until she first taught me about private property. It’s a wise insight, which few adults share.

How many times have we seen an adult offer a toy or treat, and place it in the no-man’s-land between two absorbed four-year-olds, admonishing them to “share”? Their eyes light up with wonder; then, the wonder seamlessly metamorphoses into greed. Hands dart, each kid grasping to arrogate the goody to himself. But only one succeeds.

The loser, suddenly realizing he’s missed out, looks around perplexed, weighing his chances of liberating the goody from the other kid. Depending on relative size and age, he either makes a bold grab for the goody or starts bawling loudly in the direction of an adult, hoping for vindication. It’s only natural — the tragedy of the commons in miniature.

Sometimes, the adult has an inkling that one essential step might be missing from the lesson of sharing when it is taught this way; that is, one must own something before one can share it. So the adult adds a necessary but insufficient bit to the lesson: she’ll hand the goody to one child in a pretended ritual of conveyance, while at the same time insisting that he must share it. In other words, the treat isn’t really his — its . . . who knows?

Such mixed signals can only create conflict. The kid, believing the treat is his, refuses to give it up. So the adult intervenes, forcibly taking it from the now-bereft child and handing it over to the other kid, meanwhile lecturing both on the virtues of sharing.

There’s a perverse lesson here. The kid who didn’t originally get the goody learns the benefits of having an authority figure forcibly redistributing largesse from one person to another. The other kid learns — as Jimmy Carter once so eloquently put it — that “life isn’t fair” (not a bad lesson in some other context).

But a necessary prerequisite to sharing is still ownership, i.e., private property. We can see from the above examples that ownership is instinctual; it must not be undermined by taking the gift away after it’s been given.

When a child is given something, the adult should emphasize that the gift is the child’s to do with as he pleases, that no one can take the gift from him. This teaches the child the sanctity of private property; like his own, other children’s things are off limits. This is a lesson much more important than sharing, for it teaches integrity.

Sharing, by definition, is a voluntary act; if it’s not voluntary, it’s simply extortion. The only way to teach a child to share is by example — being careful not to cross the line into guilt — a huge temptation.

It can take a while to achieve the desired results. After all, ownership, as a new experience, must first be savored — for an indefinite period of time — in order to be properly imprinted. Only then can the concept of sharing be introduced. Even then, there is no guarantee that sharing will take place, because sharing is, by definition, a voluntary act.




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The Palin Perplex

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During the recent brouhaha about Sarah Palin's description of Paul Revere's ride, economist Walter Williams commented:

"There are a lot of things, large and small, that irk me. One of them is our tendency to evaluate a presidential candidate based on his intelligence or academic credentials. When Obama threw his hat in the ring, people thought he was articulate and smart and hailed his intellectual credentials. Just recently, when Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy, people hailed his intellectual credentials and smartness as well.

"By contrast, the intellectual elite and mainstream media people see Sarah Palin as stupid, a loose cannon and not to be trusted with our nuclear arsenal. There was another presidential candidate who was also held to be stupid and not to be trusted with our nuclear arsenal who ultimately became president — Ronald Reagan. I don't put much stock into whether a political leader is smart or not because, as George Orwell explained, 'Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.'"

First, let me say this: Dan Quayle was no John F. Kennedy, and Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan. Reagan had a philosophy that guided all his decisions. He did not have to ponder the short-term ramifications of specific small decisions, because he knew and trusted the long-term effects of adhering to laissez-faire principles. He could sleep well at night, knowing he was being true to his philosophy. We need leaders who are willing to suffer short-term pain in exchange for long-term success.

Now, as to Williams' specific point: Sarah Palin may indeed be very intelligent. Yale and Harvard are not the only academic choices of intelligent people, and I would be criticizing myself if I criticized her for starting and stopping and restarting her college career at institutions that aren't considered "the best." Lots of us make unconventional choices. So I won't criticize her choice of Boise State as her alma mater.

I worry, however, about the fact that she considers "What did you learn from your visit?" and "What newspapers do you read?" to be "Gotcha questions," as she calls them. Those are pretty simple "getting to know you" questions, to which she gave surprising answers.

I worry more about the fact that she often spins her stories — such as the ones about the executive plane and the bridge to nowhere, which she had to "adjust" after she became John McCain's running mate.

I also cringe at her delivery — the way she says so many things with a knowing wink, expecting us to "get" her by what she doesn't say, more than by what she does say. Lots of people like her style and consider it folksy. It just puts me off. Simply put: she may be perfectly intelligent, but I, personally, have no confidence in her. Maybe that feeling will change at some point. I'm not burning any bridges. Or building them to nowhere. So maybe I'll make a U-turn at some point and join her big bright bus.

But not while she's still winking at me with that knowing, gotcha smile.




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Bowdlerizing Huck

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Professor Alan Gribben, who teaches at Auburn University in Montgomery, has introduced a sanitized version of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Controversy has gathered around this latest incarnation of the novel because of its substitution of the word “slave” for the “n-word.” Somehow lost in the controversy is the editor’s decision to change “Injun” to “Indian.” At any rate, Gribben’s book has become a media sensation and has resurrected long-buried arguments over the legacy and import of one of American literature’s greatest works.

So much has been made of the words “political correctness” that it is difficult to know just what meaning they retain. If they mean anything, surely they apply to Gribben’s editing, which seeks to satisfy modern taste and decorum at the expense of accurate knowledge about the past. Of course the novel is problematic — American history is problematic — but erasing problems of the past will do little to aid our understanding of history and culture in the present and future. In light of the number of scholars working at the intersection of race and culture, America today hardly risks, as it once did, suffering from historical amnesia. Yet bowdlerizing texts could affect the way we remember racial history.

One thing that Twain probably wanted his novel to do was address the multivalence of racism by viewing it through the eyes of a young boy. Doing so would allow him to critique Southern race relations while avoiding offense. This unfortunate edition undercuts Twain’s critique.

None can challenge the idea that the “n-word” is hurtful and strong. But editing it out of Huck Finn, however understandable and well-meaning the effort may be, simply removes the book from its social and historical context. It is an historical text — not just a delightful work of fiction. It follows that reading the actual text can give us insights into the past.

Twain’s prose mimicked the vernacular of folks in the Mississippi valley. What other word than the n-word would someone in Huck’s time and place have used to refer to black people? Apparently the editor thinks the answer to that question is “slave.” But of course, this is nonsense, as even a cursory acquaintance with contemporary documents will show. Like many if not most of Twain’s contemporaries, the characters in his novel use the n-word casually. Examining its use is more than an exploration of authorial intent. It is studying a way of life in a world in which some people are grappling to overcome the racism that others casually accept. Twain’s book has that overcoming as its goal. Twain’s use of the “n-word” is ironic. He isn’t endorsing the word. He’s criticizing it. The way the n-word is used in Huck Finn shows very clearly Twain himself never would have applauded that word in “real” life.

Of course the novel is problematic — American history is problematic.

If Huck Finn is a narrative seeking out racial understanding — and this is a plausible and common reading — then Gribben’s editing undermines themes of racial and cultural understanding. Jim, a black slave and a principal character in the novel, is a courageous and complex figure. His place in Southern culture — both the fictional culture of the novel and the real one upon which the novel was based — is critically compromised by a whitewashing of the offensive diction that he is forced to confront.

Huck is also a complex character. The n-word may mean one thing to Huck at the beginning of the book, but it means something different to him at the end. At first, Huck never considers what the word might signify to Jim, but as Huck himself develops as a personality, and as his bond with Jim grows stronger, he begins to think, well, differently. Huck decides to “steal Jim out of slavery” despite his belief that he’ll go to hell for doing so (“All right then, I’ll go to hell,” he says). That grave decision seems less morally significant when Huck’s culture becomes, with the sweep of an eraser, less racist than it actually was.

It will not do to pretend that distasteful epithets did not exist in history. Nor will it do to sugarcoat history or historical texts in order to validate one man’s legacy, even if that man is a cultural and literary father figure (Faulkner called Twain the “father of American literature”). Twain hardly needs us to validate his legacy, especially since his sophistication is apparently far beyond that of today’s editors, who seem to miss the irony and criticism with which he loads his words.

I suppose the editor has a point when he claims to want to avoid teaching children that the n-word is OK, because Twain used it. But this little touch up — substituting “slave” for the n-word — risks undoing the racial tension in the novel and in the culture that influenced Twain. The deepest understandings come from investigating tensions. Even Huck learns that, as he challenges racism in subtle and nuanced ways.

We are not products of culture, but we are, all of us, influenced by it. Culture does not excuse our actions or beliefs, but it does help to explain them. Readers of Huck Finn would benefit from understanding the culture of the novel and of the novel’s author. How can we understand the present if we don’t understand the events and attitudes that shaped the present? Rather than altering Twain’s text, we should teach the novel, with all its fraught diction intact, to students who are mature enough to handle it.

The edited version of Huck Finn forces young students to skip over critical thinking about race relations in America. Yet the classroom is the very place where students are supposed to confront harsh realities and to learn from them. Isn't it the point of critical learning to hold social and cultural phenomena under a microscope, so as to understand them better? If students in schools or universities are not allowed to consider harsh truths about the past, even truths about offensive lexica, where will they learn about truths? Contemporary and popular film, television, and music are rarely good sources for learning about the past.

Changing the “n-word” to “slave” does not redeem Twain or Huck Finn — not that they need redeeming — but it does rob students of the opportunity to learn from history. Worse, it robs students of the opportunity to become, like Huck, more racially sensitive as they experience, withHuck, life on and around the Mississippi — as they read, in other words, about Huck’s gradual coming to “terms.”

That’s what this whole debate is about: coming to terms. The particular term at issue is the “n word.” The larger issue is American history. I’m not sure I would say that the bowdlerized novel sets us back, because I’m not convinced we’re moving in the right direction anymore, but I would say that blotting out history never lends itself to social progress.




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Weiner — For What He's Worth

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A few days ago, the modern-liberal media were full of people calling Anthony Weiner “one of the brightest members of Congress.” Yes, really. Google it, and you’ll see.

It’s sobering to think that these people might have been right. Maybe the other congressmen aren’t even as bright as he is. The difference is that he proved his stupidity by his absurd mismanagement of his own life, while his colleagues have proven it by their absurd mismanagement of the country.

Of course, you can be smart; you can be slick; you can be highly verbal, and you still may not be very bright.

But let’s not think about brightness. Let’s think about niceness.

Niceness doesn’t inspire me. Yet it’s worth noticing. A person who has decent manners, cultivates some empathy with other people’s feelings, is ashamed to tell gross lies to other people . . . that’s a nice enough person. That’s a person who is worthy of some respect. Niceness of this kind doesn’t require much effort. And it’s a logical prerequisite for high public office.

Now here is Anthony Weiner, who has no niceness whatever. In fact, he is one of the most obnoxious beings on the face of the earth. Having pushed the wrong button and sent a compromising picture of himself to thousands of people, what did he do? He lied. Not only did he lie, he accused political opponents of victimizing him with dirty tricks. He attacked people who asked him whether he had sent the picture, associating them with pie-throwing clowns.

That was his instinct. That was what he did immediately, without any compunction, self-righteously, aggressively, and determinedly, until he realized that more evidence of his absurdity had been found. Then he told what he regarded as the truth, and cried in public about his “panic” and his bad decisions.

The die-hard supporters of this leftist demagogue now attempt to dismiss his troubles as merely sexual and private in nature. But his strategy — immediately chosen and ardently pursued — was to lie about and accuse other people. Not only did he refuse to answer the commonsensical questions of news people (while holding press conferences supposedly designed to entertain their questions); he ridiculed and insulted them. Meanwhile, he sent messages to one of the women who had the goods on him, carefully instructing her how to lie to the media, and making little jokes about it. At the time, the biggest personal regret that Weiner divulged to the media was his fear that people were paying attention to his own moral problems instead of his attacks on the moral corruption of Republicans.

Weiner rose in the esteem of his fellow “liberals” by acting as the crazed pit bull for the Democratic former majority in the House. He made a career out of charging at the camera, barking and snarling about the scandalous conduct of the Democrats’ political opponents. Ron Paul and a few other members of Congress know how to argue for radical positions without demonizing people who commit the sin of disagreeing with them. Weiner, however, had no argument except demonization. Typically, he appeared in public with his mouth shrieking and his arms scissoring up and down, the image of a 21st-century Jacobin, scourging the Enemies of the People.

He was unsparing in his attribution of foul motives to all who disagreed with him. Here’s a report from Feb. 24, 2010. It’s typical. I quote from newser.com:

"‘You gotta love these Republicans,’ Weiner said. ’I mean, you guys have chutzpah. The Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of insurance companies.’"

Challenged by a GOP congressman, Weiner reconsidered his statements.

“‘Make no mistake about it,’ he said, enunciating clearly, ’every single Republican I have ever met in my entire life is a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry.’ Weiner was unapologetic about the remarks in aDaily Kospost afterward, which, CQ Politicsnotes, also contained a plea for donations and a link to a fundraising page.”

And of course, Weiner specialized in accusations that his opponents were not only wrong, but lying. Speaking of people who questioned the wisdom of Obamacare, he said, “First, they start by making stuff up.”

Then, on June 6, Weiner held a press conference in which he finally admitted, because he was forced to admit, that he had (in his suddenly demure phrase) “not told the truth.” He said of his lies, “It was a dumb thing to do . . . . Almost immediately, I didn’t want to continue doing it.” Yeah? Did you see the famous news conference in which he not only gleefully lied, but gleefully called a news person a “jackass” because his outfit was asking some obvious questions?

No, I do not care what happens, has happened, or may ever happen with now-Congressman Weiner’s formerly private parts. For all it matters to me, he can show them to whomever he wishes, at any hour of the day or night. He can romance anyone he wants to romance, in any way he wants to do it. God bless him as he pursues in peace his goal of pleasure.

But that doesn’t obscure the fact that Congressman Weiner is a total, complete, absolute fool. And that shouldn’t obscure the fact that the modern-liberal media respected him, interviewed him, assiduously quoted him, apologized for him, cultivated questions about the ease with which he might have been covertly attacked by wicked political forces, and so forth and so on, and are still purveying approaches and perspectives and points of view according to which he should not be blamed for the nasty piece of work that he is and always, obviously, was. Alas! that such a warrior for righteousness should fall victim to his private flaw. That’s the chant we hear today. But the real flaw wasn’t private.

What this affair has revealed, besides the congressman’s supposed assets, is how easy it is for people who have more words than brains to advance the careers of others like themselves, representing them as the brightest our country has to offer, for no other reason than that they pander to the political prejudices and hatreds of the allegedly educated class.




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Confessions from China

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I must start with a bit of history. Two years back, I drove a van that I later sold for $150, yes, one hundred and fifty dollars. It actually ran very well, and I never saw a reason to sell, until one person I went to pick up in it almost jumped out. Another person never returned my phone calls.

I discovered that I might have the oldest van in downtown Vancouver. Rusted pieces fell off quite frequently. But it never gave me problems during the four years it was mine. I still regret that I sold it. I realized, however, that I had to go for a better car.

By the time I finally did the purchase, the target vehicle was no longer a new car, but a secondhand one bought after much depressing Indian-style negotiation. It is still a swanky gas guzzler. Nevertheless, I bought it not to show off — who cares about showing off to mindless consumerists? — but to irritate environmentalists who like to tell me how I should live.

Then I thought I must buy a nice watch — I owned none until then. I did that on eBay after hard negotiations. I knew that what eBay was offering had the lowest price when I received the eBay version of "f**k off." I still regret wasting money on that watch.

Anyway, I realized that I was cheap, so I made no more large material acquisitions. Why one should buy things is actually beyond me. I haven't bought a suit for 12 years, and I have just one of them. My formal shoes were bought eight years ago.

I also realized that my cheap van had done a lot of self-selecting of friends for me, and I didn't want people to befriend me because of my swanky car. I am indeed an ascetic by instinct. It's a family tradition. Asceticism is important in Jainism, the religion of my family.

Anyway, my expenses did go up quite a bit after I met a couple from St. Kitts, who taught me to buy high-quality, low-carbohydrate, organic food. I haven't eaten those $1.50 pizza slices for a long time now, and I'm not sure whether to thank the couple or blame them about the food. I do thank them for is the many other benefits their friendship has brought to my life.

When I do personal traveling, I always stay in youth hostels, paying $20 or less a night. That doesn't make me hypocritical when I spend $500 a night when I travel on business — I have told my company that I'm happy with cheaper accommodations, but they still put me up in expensive ones. Ironically, I find low value in expensive hotels, because I want to be able to meet people informally.

A couple of years ago my mom gave me a long lecture on budgeting. I started to budget, but soon stopped. I didn't need it. My real problem isn't saving; it's never spending money. I once tried to force myself to spend by putting half my salary into my checking account, but the money remained unspent. Eventually I had to start transferring it back to my trading account.

I am just not made to spend. This week, I realized that the stupid Canadian government spends several times more of my money (on killing Libyans and other projects) than I do myself. Am I an accomplice in murdering people?

Now I am on a trip to China, my third in six months. I will be here for a month.

I'm currently in Beijing. Before I left, I told myself I must start living like a grown-up. I decided that I did not want to stay in a youth hostel this time. So I booked myself a five-star hotel. The problem is that it is hard to get rid of one's cheapness. I looked for a nice hotel on Expedia, but when I finally got here, I realized that by trying to pay too low for my room, I had found a hotel that's in the middle of nowhere, among the ruins of what was recently Olympics frenzy. It is very posh, but I must take a taxi for everything. No one speaks a word of English.

I continue to believe that in the larger scheme of things this over-building is just noise. China's growth is unstoppable, for many future decades.

But in terms of service it is a true Shangri-la. No non-Chinese face exists here. When I go the gym, I get a huge amount of attention from the servers. They all try to speak whatever one or two words of English they know. I get a cup of warm tea, which keeps getting filled up. But I have decided not to explore the hotel thoroughly. Some of the hostesses are dressed like sluts and there is a lot of drinking going on in the club. I feel self-conscious when two of the skimpily dressed girls escort me around. But then I don't know. . . Chinese do over-drink anyway.

Today I saw a lot of government officials, military personnel, etc., arriving in their Audis and limousines. I laugh at the robotic way these military-men and bureaucrats walk, and I wonder why some people get so impressed. Hope they don't know that there is a Misesian snoop staying here.

I have met a lot of people. The only exposure that many tourists have to China (or any other country) is to touts, pimps, and prostitutes in busy touristic places. I go to none of them except briefly. (To digress, I actually like those touts. They are entrepreneurial people and once in a while I even strike up a conversation with them. It is the losers in governments, who have never done a day of honest work, and who disrupt the free market, who convert those entrepreneurial people into touts.) The Chinese I have met in non-touristic places are friendly and helpful. Unlike other visitors, I find genuine honesty and conscientiousness.

I might change that statement tomorrow. . . I met a Chinese couple yesterday. They are taking me out to show me the Great Wall. Are they going to ask me for money? Am I taking too much risk? I will see, but I guess I know how to discern who is good and who is not. And if I have failings in this area, I must pay to learn. That reminds me that I have only once been swindled out of real money — in Zurich, Switzerland, of all places.

During my several trips to China I have seen hundreds of empty buildings, even towns. But I continue to believe that in the larger scheme of things this over-building is just noise. China's growth is unstoppable, for many future decades. There is truly an ethical and cultural revolution taking place, though not the Maoist kind. The new generation is much more enlightened and confident than their parents — as the result of widespread information technology, as I have witnessed in many other developing countries. I don't care about economic numbers (which are fleeting) but about the changes taking place in the character of the people. This is what will give China a sustainable growth rate. I recognise increased snobbishness and consumerism, but this is part of growing up. I intend to make a huge amount of money from Chinese growth.

It's true that by investing in real estate, the Chinese may be wasting resources, but investing in inflated housing is still a trillion times better than consuming inflation-priced perfumes. Also, it is better that a government should build more roads, even if they lead to nowhere, than distribute free money to losers, thus creating a cascading moral problem. China is an economy of savers. Many people whom I have met share a room with six or seven other people. To a modern-day economist this sounds bad. My grand-mom, a much better economist, though uneducated, would have said that it's a recipe for significant future wealth. I follow her teachings and will bet on China and its commodities.

But this is not just the story of one country. In my travels in the developing world, I see many changes happening in real time, and many cultures opening up. The developing world is indeed at a cusp of a revolution.

On Sunday, thanks to Facebook, I will meet a whole bunch of anti-statist American runaways in a Beijing restaurant. Contrary to outsiders' perceptions, this is possible without any major fear. I will let you know if I get arrested, though in my view some of the worst governments are democratic ones. I find Chinese governance very good in many ways, at least for me as a tourist. Policemen stand in a corner like statues, non-intrusively. I'm able to make out a customer satisfaction survey whenever I cross Chinese immigration or interact with a bank teller. That is true capitalism.

I'm very fortunate to be able to visit overseas several times a year without any worry about money or about the time I must take off from work. I work as I travel, and even if my expenses weren't taken care of as well as they are, I wouldn't be inclined to spend much. I've explained that. But I also want to explain that I am thankful to my family, who not only made me cheap but also gave me the super-concept of compound interest. And I'm grateful to the many people (Doug Casey, Rick Rule, Frank Holmes, and others) who influenced me with their speeches and writings.

Now I am off to my gym and then for a walk to the business district to watch rich Chinese women wearing very short skirts and buying junk. Not long ago, Chinese women were wearing Mao jackets, and there wasn't a lot of junk to buy.




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Who’s on the Inside Track?

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It seems amazing that the mainstream media ignored a recent IMF report that now estimates that China’s economy will surpass that of America in five years. That’s right — China’s real GDP will exceed ours by 2016. This adds to the cloud already hanging over the U.S dollar — because of our twin habits of printing dollars like mad (pardon me, “quantitative easing”) and running massive deficits (pardon me, “investment spending”).

What is really stunning is that only a decade ago our economy was triple the size of China’s.

As the Chinese become dominant, questions arise. How will this authoritarian regime conduct itself vis a vis the other nations in the region? Will it look to expand its imperial reach? Will it look to exact revenge against Japan for past injustices? We can only guess, but given the treatment the Chinese have meted out to the hapless Tibetans, the explosive growth of China’s military, the cynical way China helped Pakistan (the archenemy of China’s perceived rival India) develop nuclear weapons, as well as the missiles to deliver them, and the way China uses North Korea as a thorn in the side of its perceived Pacific rivals Japan and the US — the future looks challenging.

I said that it “seems amazing” that the media hasn’t mentioned the surprising closeness of our economic eclipse by the Chinese. In truth, however, it is not amazing. The mainstream media is the cheerleading squad for the Obama regime, and the fact that China has made such strides is in great measure due to the extended recession and feeble recovery caused by Obama’s policies. Compare America’s persistently high unemployment and anemic growth in this economic recovery to the features of past recoveries, and you will be depressed by the difference.

America has retreated from classically liberal economic policies, even as China has used them to grow rapidly, even in the context of a corrupt political regime. For the results, we have only ourselves to blame.




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Why Won't You Apologize?

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Apologize! Apologize! Partake in America’s national pastime.

The other day I went on Google News and got 13,803 hits for “apology” and 11,696 for “apologize.”

Apologizing has become the nation’s leading means of social therapy. Are you a professional athlete who, wonder of wonders, used a racist or sexist word? You must apologize. Are you a politician who “betrayed” his mate? You must apologize. Are you a businessman who made a silly personnel decision? Hurry up and apologize.

It’s become a social ritual. There are even websites — many of them — devoted to telling you how to apologize, offering letters you can use to make yourself sound original and sincere.

Apologizing has become another one of those secular occupations that have taken the place of religious rituals. My local greeting card dispenser devotes as much space to apology cards as it does to thank-you and I-miss-you cards, and much more than it gives to Easter, Thanksgiving, confirmation, bar mitzvah, first communion, and sympathy cards, combined.

Apologizing is not a feature of my own religion. My idea is this: If you want to apologize, you should do it as Bette Davis does in Old Acquaintance (1943). She’s finally had enough of her old friend Miriam Hopkins, so she turns, strides across the room, and grabs Hopkins by the neck. She shakes her and throws her down. Then she smiles and says, “Sorry.” Now that’s an apology.

Confession, the proverb says, is good for the soul. But modern American apology is different. It’s not about the harm that the culprit did to his soul, or to any specific other person’s soul; it’s about the grievous harm he is thought to have inflicted on the soulless body politic. The assumption is that when Arnold Schwarzenegger had a child out of wedlock (at least one child), he somehow hurt me, not to mention 300 million other Americans, and the inhabitants of any distant planets who can monitor news broadcasts from the earth.

I deny that assumption. Arnold was the governor of my state, but his sex conduct had no moral or emotional effect on me, and my forgiveness, or lack of forgiveness, will have no effect on him, either.

Well, but what about his ludicrous performance as governor? That did indeed affect me. Nevertheless, I have no interest in his apology for that form of bad conduct, even if he were inclined to give it, which he isn’t. If he feels bad about his political career — which I’m sure he doesn’t, but suppose he suddenly read a book and discovered how wrong his ideas about government actually were — I’d appreciate his saying that his course was incorrect, and other politicians shouldn’t follow it. But again, that’s something different from an apology.

The assumption is that when Arnold Schwarzenegger had a child out of wedlock, he somehow hurt me, not to mention 300 million other Americans.

An apology is a personal matter. It solicits a personal response. Individual people can accept an apology or reject it. In either case, it’s an attempt to restore a one-on-one relationship. But that’s not what the current swarm of media apologies attempts to do. These statements try to preserve contracts, jobs, political positions, media respect — all things that I, as an individual, am unable to offer a repentant sinner.

One of the bad characteristics I had as a child was the tendency to demand apologies when I felt aggrieved. I remember an episode — in second grade, perhaps — in which another kid (Mike Thomson) borrowed my pencil and broke it, and I kept trying to make him apologize. Reflecting on my childhood conduct on such occasions gives me irresistible reasons for believing in original sin. In adulthood, however, I did my best to reform. Yes, I’ve had relapses, because self-righteousness never sleeps, but I’ve come to associate demands for apology with childishness of the most annoying kind.

And public apologies are usually even more annoying than the demands that produced them. They are most annoying to me when it is I myself who is alleged to be apologizing. I refer to the increasingly numerous episodes of national and other big-group apologies for historical wrongs. If you are a spokesman for a government or an ethnic group or some religious consortium and feel like apologizing for what the group you claim to represent allegedly did to harm some other group . . . I beg you, do it in your own name solely — and see how you sound. Go tell the American Indians that you apologize because you took their land. Say, “I am sorry. I took your land.” You’ll look pretty funny when they make the obvious response, “So then, give it back.”

Just don’t imagine that you’re apologizing on my behalf, or that of the millions of other people with whom you have illegitimately associated yourself — “Americans” or “Christians” or “white people” or whomever. If you’re apologizing for everyone in such a group . . . well, I suppose you’re apologizing for everyone in the group. But although you may want to include me in the mix, forget it; I wasn’t around. I didn’t take anybody’s land, and I have no intention of apologizing as if I had. Neither do I have any intention of lobbying any group of American Indians to apologize for massacring my family in the Wyoming Valley in the 18th century. The idea of requesting anyone in the 21st century to do such a thing is almost literally insane.

There’s another angle to this. Oliver Wendell Holmes is credited with saying, “Apology is only egotism wrong side out.” Demands for apology let the supposed culprit know that you really care what he says, that you are pining to hear his golden words of self-reproach, that your own spiritual well-being depends upon his repentance or announced repentance. When Jimmy Swaggart wowed his television audience by shrieking hysterically, “I have sinned! I have sinned against thee, my God!”, don’t you suppose that the showman in Swaggart was more gratified than abashed?

Public apologies are usually even more annoying than the demands that produced them.

In one respect at least, modern Americans are like 19th-century gentlemen: they have a code duello, and a self-dramatizing one. The slightest public slip, insignificant in itself, is thought to demand an apology, which must be instantly delivered to the (non?)injured parties. If an apology is not immediately forthcoming, the offender — now spotlighted in the national media — must fight it out with public opinion. In this combat, he has no more than a 50-50 chance of success. Yet to people whose lives are empty of drama, this too can be a gratifying experience, especially if the accused first delays, then finally succumbs to the warm flow of blather and issues an apology. The more cynical among the accused understand that if you first decline comment, then agree to meet the public at dawn (in some kind of press conference, undoubtedly), you can still fire your pistol apologetically into the air. Then the public will do the same, and you will emerge with your income and reputation not only intact but also, quite possibly, enhanced. In the sub-immortal words of Bill O’Reilly, you will have “stepped up to the plate,” and been richly rewarded for it.

So that’s what the media flacks now advise every prominent sinner to do: whether you think you did anything wrong or not, apologize, and all will be well. That’s why Arnold Schwarzenegger, who assuredly never thought he did anything wrong in his life, promptly issued a public apology for anything and everything having to do with his separation from his wife. That’s why an even dopier egotist, MSNBC’s “political commentator” Ed Schultz, couldn’t rest until he’d told everyone who would listen how wrong he was for calling Laura Ingraham a “rightwing slut”:

"I am deeply sorry, and I apologize. It was wrong, uncalled for and I recognize the severity of what I said. I apologize to you, Laura, and ask for your forgiveness."

Finally Ingraham “accepted his apology,” whatever the metaphysical status of that concept may be. And so? So nothing. Yes, the remark was outrageous. Yes, it was stupid. Yes, it reflected all sorts of double standards and invidious stereotypes, political and sexual. But really, who cares? The only result of the episode was to provide Ed Schultz, a miserable nonentity, with a slender proof of his existence. Previously, he was unknown to fame. Now he has been noticed. If his appearance in this column prolongs his name recognition in any way, perhaps I should apologize as well.

Nevertheless, I won’t deny that apologies can be entertaining. Everyone has his favorite smarmy, hypocritical apologer. My favorite over the past few months, which have been rich in apologetical remarks, is Chicago congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Jackson — a chronic publicity hog, always being nominated by himself for high political office — spent 2010 hiding out. Why? The first problem was accusations of an extra-marital affair. The second problem was the Rod Blagojevich scandal. As an Associated Press story put it – delicately, delicately, as the Wicked Witch used to say – “he [Jackson] has repeatedly denied interview requests since 2008, when Blagojevich was charged with trying to auction off President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder.” During the last election campaign, Jackson hardly appeared in his district. Alone among politicians, he didn’t stage an election-night party.

Why? His attempt at apology hadn’t done the job with his media constituents. And why should it? As reported by the Chicago Sun-Times (Sept. 21, 2010), the apology ran as follows:

“I know I have disappointed some supporters and for that I am deeply sorry. But I remain committed to serving my constituents and fighting on their behalf.”

These remarks Jackson combined with statements appearing to deny any political misconduct, labeling all the political charges “not new,” and asking for “privacy” in regard to his relations with his wife and “a social acquaintance.”

But that wasn’t a real apology, so Jackson was more or less booed off the stage. Then, on Christmas Day (when else?), he staged Apology, Part 2. He tried to creep back into the limelight by making an appearance (a double bill with his mountebank father, also in disgrace but still the top bill in the family carnival) at an appropriate location, a prison boot camp. Here JJJ gave what was called a “charismatic” address.

To St. Paul, falling short was a cause of shame. To Jesse Jackson, Jr., it was a reason why you should vote for him.

He spoke (down to) the boot camp convicts on the topic of how “everybody's falling short of the glory of God.” St. Paul said that, or something like that, though to less “charismatic” effect. To the great apostle, falling short was a cause of shame. To Triple J, it was a reason why you should vote for him. The congressman has an habitual inclination, common among our politicians, to use his debts as collateral for new mortgages on power.

"Every one of us,” he said, “has erred in their [sic] personal lives and while I don't claim to be a perfect servant, I'm a public servant. Often times we carry with us the burdens of our personal shortcomings even as we struggle to articulate and clarify a message that helps other people. That [is] what I dedicated my life to."

Ya gotta luv this stuff. Jackson never specified any of his errors. But he roped the rest of us into them: “Everybody’s falling short . . . Every one of us has erred.”

I can’t deny it. But my errors don’t justify my election to Congress. They have precisely nothing to do with any attempt I might make to “articulate and clarify a message.” And the fact that I might have dedicated my life to something (which, by the way, I haven’t, but let’s give the congressman the benefit of the doubt concerning that night, sometime in the distant past, when, according to the picture we are supposed to form in our minds, he knelt in prayer, consecrating his life to the service of various unspecified but assuredly noble aspirations) means absolutely nothing about my success or failure in “serving” that cause.

It’s hard to get more repulsive than Jesse Jackson, Jr.

But look. If you’re caught sinning, you should behave in the old-fashioned way. Either lay it out or brazen it out. Be like Pericles, who when questioned about how he’d spent the people’s money, haughtily replied, “Expended as required.” Or be like John Bunyan (the greatest master of the colloquial English language) who won people’s hearts by writing a confessional entitled Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Meaning himself. But don’t simultaneously apologize and deny. If Bunyan and Pericles are the mountains, Triple J is the swamp, the perfect representative of the Creepy Style in modern American politics.

But now I must revert to the inevitable topic of this month’s column — the apology demanded of “Bible teacher” Harold Camping for his failed prediction that the Judgment and the Rapture would happen on May 21. Liberty readers know that I have been following the Camping story for a long time, so naturally I was interested to see what would happen when the prophecy failed. I was expecting the failure to get some media attention, but I was not prepared for it to become one of the largest news stories of the year. Nor was I fully prepared to see the media’s intense interest in whether Mr. Camping would apologize. “Will he die of shame?” seemed to me a normal question, but that was rarely heard. What we did hear was, “Will he apologize?” — quickly succeeded, as such questions usually are, by, “When will he apologize?”

On May 24, Camping held a peculiar on-air press conference. He began by reciting, at vast and lugubrious length, his peculiar theological conceptions, ideas that very few reporters could make head or tail of. Indeed, it takes some study to do so, but see my article in the December Liberty. But so what? When Camping finally allowed interruptions, the simple demand was, “Will you apologize?” His response was cheerful. “If people want me to apologize, I can apologize. Yes, I didn’t have all that as accurately worked out as I could have. . . . I’m not a genius. . . . Yes, I was wrong; I’ve said that several times tonight. It’s to be understood spiritually, not physically. . . . The world is now under judgment as it wasn’t before May 21. . . . There’s a big difference, though you can’t see it.”

In other words, sure, I’ll play your silly game, so long as you don’t expect me to believe that it matters. I’m tempted to sympathize with Camping on the apology business — though so far I haven’t given in to the temptation.

But having written the above, I need to mention something that you may think I should apologize for. On May 23, I wrote the following: “My own prediction is that Mr. Camping will be ousted from leadership during the coming week by irresistible forces of change in the organization he founded. But this prediction is disconfirmable. Stay tuned.”

That prophecy of mine was disconfirmed. Despite plentiful evidence that most people at Camping’s org, Family Radio, wish that he would go away, its board of directors has, so far, declined to make him do so. The FR website has been purged of almost all his end-time materials, but he is still on the air, Monday through Friday, proclaiming that what he predicted would happen on May 21 will actually happen on October 21. There is more to this story, which I will explore in detail, as it unfolds. But the fact is, I was wrong.

Do not, however, regard this as an apology. I don’t feel bad at all.




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Duh . . . Winning!

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I became a Republican so I could vote, in the 2012 primary, for the most libertarian-congenial candidate. Already I am wondering whether this will do any good.

Do I want to be lectured on morality by serial adulterer Newt Gingrich? Can I trust America will be safeguarded from creeping Sharia law by some moralist like Rick Santorum? May I hope the federal takeover of our healthcare system will be rolled back by Mitt Romney, whose plan in Massachusetts so inspired Obamacare? And behind the wild rhetoric and Bride-of-Chucky eyes of Michele Bachmann, can I be certain rationality reigns?

Both the Republican and the Democratic “teams” are in the same league. The overriding concern of both parties is the league’s survival. Each will win a few, each lose a few. But they are both deeply invested in the league — and in the big show it gives the fans.

When Team Red is in ascendancy, libertarians should probably reach as many as possible of those fans in blue jerseys with the bags over their heads. When Team Blue is back on top, we should peel off as many as possible of their disgruntled opponents.

It’s tempting to think there must be a shortcut — that one entire franchise can be purchased by reason and principle. Some will follow reason and principle, but many will not. In every era, many in the citizenry are simply fanboys and fangirls in red or blue jerseys, rah-rahing for their side.

Libertarians tend to want to change the game. We don’t usually think of politics as a game, which may be why we fare so poorly in it. We view the public square as a place for debate, for the engagement of thinking minds. If we sign up to play on one team or another, perhaps we lose something greater than a game. We may lose the chance to make politics something more than the silly, childish bloodsport it has always been inclined to be.

To win maximum public support, libertarians need players on both teams. I’m becoming less optimistic about the prospect of simply capturing the Republican flag and giving up on the Democrats. When I speak with left-leaning friends and relatives, I find them more willing to listen than many libertarians realize. The term “libertarian” has been tainted for them, freighted with all sorts of nonsense that has nothing to do with who we are or what we believe. But they understand government force, because it has been used against them and they live under the constant cloud of its return.

We have been seduced into hoping the GOP has finally gotten it, because it’s become fashionable for people in that party to call themselves libertarians. Some really do understand what that means, but for a frightful number of others, this is only the latest ploy for winning back power. Once they can take the bags off their heads, they’ll return to calling us dope-smoking hippie peaceniks and accusing us of opposing all that’s holy. They’ve done it too many times for us not to suspect they might do it again.

If we want a clearer picture of where these newly-minted Republican “libertarians” want to take this country, we need to pay closer attention to their presidential popularity polls. If polls can be believed as to the general direction of the party, any one of the players currently enjoying big numbers in the GOP will end this exercise in vanity with a second Obama term. Yet polling also shows that no more than half the population wants that. What do they really want instead?

All the leading contenders peddle the notion that more power will win the game, that if they’re nominated, their team can be champ again. If most Republican voters were not still stuck in this fantasy, they would be supporting very different people. But those who will really decide the contest are in the swelling mass of independents who are disaffected with the very idea of league play.

These people give every indication of being more open to libertarian ideas than they have been in years — perhaps ever. They lean libertarian, but describe themselves — in increasing numbers — simply as independents. They are no longer content merely to root for a team. If we don’t want to lose them, perhaps we shouldn’t join one.




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