Many of my readers may be aware of the fact that, though I live in Florida, I’m pretty well-traveled. My father was in the military, and as a military brat I’ve lived in many different parts of the country, and been to almost all the lower 48 states at some point or another. We spent a couple years in Oregon when I was a teenager, and even back then the law prohibiting citizens from pumping their own gas was in effect. It was one of the stranger features of Oregon.
Now the partial repeal of this law, which only applies to rural areas, has some Oregon residents in a panic. Why, people may just have to get out and pump their own gas! The terror! The horror! I have to wonder if Democrats will get up on podium and tell us that people will die! This is another feature of that parallel (or is it orthagonal?) universe libs live in. Poe’s law may apply to the comments below, but it’s very hard to tell these days.
Either way, this is a very interesting case to dissect. Pumping gas is hardly rocket science, and yet somehow Oregon felt compelled to pass this law, and its partial repeal is engendering resistance. It boggles the mind. How can a people become so dependent as to be unable to pump gas? Never mind the fact that this merely allows for self-service gas stations, it doesn’t mandate them.
Every place I’ve lived has had at least a few bizarre, retarded laws like this one, though. My own Florida has a strange law where liquor cannot be sold between 3AM and 7AM, which is extended in Tampa to 3AM to 11AM on Sundays. On top of that, there used to be a law whereby you could buy a 32Oz and 128oz beer growler, but not a 40oz or 64oz. I am told there is a small town in Texas which has, for reasons I cannot fathom, banned the presence of inflatable gorillas. The specificity of such laws is amusing. You have to imagine there is some kind of story full of human idiocy, corruption, and bureaucratic overreach as to how they came about in the first place.
But Oregon’s law on pumping gas strikes me as one of the most egregious and bizarre of them all. That it has defenders is mystifying to me. I try to think of it in terms of Chesterton’s Fence, but all the reasons I can think of for its existence are ludicrous. Was it another simple make-work scam by the government? Was it a demand for safety that went haywire (the other states get along just fine without such a law). It’s hard to get a clear answer. Probably both, and then some. Either way, the people who erected this particular fence were out of their damned gourds.
It also demonstrates the difficulty of repealing idiotic laws once they’ve taken root. “It will take away jobs,” is the reason the above article cites for where the resistance really comes from, but that is an idiotic assertion. It is the sort of answer that takes into account only first-order effects, avoiding consideration for the fact that these jobs are artificial in nature, sucking productivity from someplace else. It’s a variation of the broken window fallacy. People have “jobs” but aren’t really doing or contributing anything. And they suck down money that could be going somewhere else, someplace actually productive. But now there is a class of people who directly benefit from the law regardless of its lack of utility, and pulling them away from the benefit is like pulling teeth.
It has a similar effect on the citizenry at large. Unaccustomed to pumping gas, you have Oregonians who don’t even know how to do it, and are literally afraid to do it. In some of my earlier writings, I made fun of a guy I saw on the side of the road getting his tire changed by a woman. He’s nothing next to people who say they can’t even pump their own gas. Government dependency is an ugly thing. If the trajectory toward increasing micromanagement of human affairs continues, I wonder if we’ll see a day when wiping your ass requires a special, qualified ass-wiper to do the job. You know, so as to ensure there are no filthy butt cracks in the country, and to provide make-work jobs to some (probably not well-liked) demographic.
Either way, Leftists have lately told us that the recent tax cuts were going to kill people by the thousands, if not millions, and that the Net Neutrality repeal would bring about the digital apocalypse. I guess we’ll see what 2018 brings. Maybe millions of Oregonians will die trying to pump their own gas, right? I mean, who knows?
Sometimes, I wonder if Francis is reading my mind or something. I don’t understand how a curmudgeonly Yankee 2000 miles away can know me so well, but there it is. Today, in Who Has A Hold On You?, Francis brings up the matter of my own bad experience with mortgage debt, documented here. It’s one of those moments that stands out in my memory because when I bought that house, I was a reader of his earlier blog incarnation Eternity Road, wherein I argued that purchasing the property in question was good. Francis was patient with me at the time, and that was a seed that took a little while to sprout.
When things went bad, I had the opportunity to reflect on why Francis had been right all along. Debt is serious business, and Americans today make far too little of it. They do not understand the seriousness of the obligation, and enter into debt casually and with minimal reflection as to the risks and costs associated with it.
It was almost three years ago that I rid myself of that property. The moment I handed the keys to the bank, I was barely clinging on to middle class. In the years since, my income has tripled, my net worth has skyrocketed, and my general quality of life has improved immeasurably. The debt was holding me back that much. The time spent managing the rental property was turned over to productive contract work. Much of my savings was put to work in investments, a couple of which paid off well for me. I paid off all other debt and deliberately lowered my standard of living.
Now I have one remaining mortgage, which is at 50% loan-to-value, and for which I have sufficient assets to cover if I really had to dispense with it. I have one investment which, if it pays off as expected in the next few months, will rid me of that last remaining debt. Even if that doesn’t pan out, the balance will be gone in a year, two at the most, even without liquidating my other assets. I have no other debt whatsoever.
The difference is night and day. No consumer good, not even a house or a car, is worth the level of stress and obligation imposed by debt. Many people will say things like “don’t flush your money down the toilet with rent” or “I can totally make more in the market than the rate I’m paying on my car loan.” Technically, these statements are true. But most folks who have car loans do not have the liquid assets to cover the balance earning interest in the market. Many of those who don’t want to flush money down the toilet by renting end up screwed by a finicky real estate market. They lose much more. These are generally hollow excuses for justifying spending, not sound financial advice that is actually followed.
Since the insurance mess that led to the problem with my old house, I’ve become a lot more sensitive to how debt shackles you in ways you don’t fully comprehend when signing the note. You think you are signing on for a relatively fixed payment on a balance that, after the accrued period, will go down. As long as the payment is sufficiently affordable, everything is okay, right? No. Financial market manipulation, government regulation, and insurance schemes can conspire to lock you into the property and shackle you to a specific geographic region. No longer can you shop for higher paying jobs elsewhere. The albatross is stuck around your neck. The neighborhood can be destroyed by government insurance scams and prevent you from ridding yourself of it if you don’t have assets to cover the note balance. That is only one scenario that can play out – I’m sure many others exist.
Point is, if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t accept any debt like that for anything less than an immediate life-saving emergency for either myself or my family.
I’m not saying debt is always bad. Sometimes playing the spread for investment purposes can be good, if you have the underlying assets to cover it. Sometimes, you would rather borrow money for something than liquidate a productive asset. And in a business, where personal liability is no longer a concern, debt can be considered as part of your overall risk strategy in the business itself. But in this, I consider debt to be rather like a chainsaw: a dangerous but often productive tool when not pointed at you personally. Never turn the chainsaw toward yourself if it can possibly be avoided. Certainly don’t do it because you want a bigger house or a nicer car. It’s not worth it.
Debt can be used as a tool to silence you. It can force compliance with the Overton Window. It can shackle you to a bad job, a lower income, and bad neighborhood.
I will reiterate: since eliminating most of my debt, my income has tripled. And yes, it’s directly related to that increase in income. The elimination of a monthly loss, combined with the need to manage it as a rental property and all that time that took, plus the general stress and the tie to a specific geographic area… ridding myself of the property was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Without debt to hold me back, and with the increase in income, my net worth exploded.
I know not everyone had an experience as bad as mine, but even so consider how much debt might be holding you back. And ask yourself if the stuff is really worth it. Most of my furniture is stuff I purchased second hand for 1/10 the retail price. My car is much more modest than most at my income level, but it’s mine, I don’t owe anybody money on it. I don’t have a particularly nice TV, the latest video game consoles, or a lot of knick knacks and consumer crap. The house is pretty bare compared to most. I have a few luxuries, like a humidor full of some good cigars (that was a luxury I had to give up for a while, back then) and a liquor cabinet with some of my favorite whiskies. And that is good enough for me.
Most people in my neighborhood think my wife and I are rather poor, because we live much more modestly than most of them. A few months ago, one asked me what I made in a year, and when I told him he nearly spit out his beer, and asked why I hadn’t sold the house and moved into one of the new trendy neighborhoods down the street.
No thanks. I like how things have gone these last few years, and I’ve no desire to go back to the way I lived before. It’s a good feeling knowing that, even if your possessions are more modest, and you don’t have the latest trendy whatever, what you do have is yours. If folks think I’m a little poor, or at least not well off, that’s fine too. Substance matters more than appearance, anyway. It’s a nice way to live, and I hope other Americans find their way to it eventually, too.
Poverty is an issue Leftists badger the Right about incessantly. Poor people provide a convenient excuse for government control over your wallet. They need food, shelter, transportation, healthcare, and so on, and why shouldn’t these things be guaranteed by a friendly government? Why rely on the charity of individuals to do this, when it is possible that private charity will miss some people, that some of the poor will slip through the cracks and suffer? Only government can make this a mandate. Let us raise taxes, they say, or reduce funding for the warmongering military, to help our poor people! As one Leftist detractor explained, let’s do it for national pride, compassion, and empathy!
The buzzwords sound great, of course. But they are empty platitudes. You cannot eat compassion, nor will empathy put a roof over your head or supply you with good, inexpensive healthcare. And as we give government our money to do these things for us (or, rather, as it is taken from us), be advised that the bureaucrats and politicians will take their slice of the action. They are the middlemen, and naturally a middleman wants his share of the spoils.
Government inefficiencies aside, many of those who are supported by government anti-poverty programs are, essentially, lifers. They are mired in permanent poverty, never to escape. What percentage, exactly? Well, it’s difficult to tell. But those receiving government benefits in the 37-48 month category (the longest period I could find concrete stats for) stands at around 43% of those on government assistance.
In browsing around these statistics this morning, I came across a Huffington Post article that was using essentially the same data (they differed by a couple percentage points here and there, but were clearly using a similar source). Their conclusion was that a majority of people used welfare benefits of varying types for only short periods of time. This was technically true (after all, 43% is a minority). But nonetheless, we are not far from that magic 50% marker.
In any event, for our purposes 43% of welfare recipients will do. These are people who are essentially in a state of permanent poverty. There are probably some who are too proud to take government benefits for long, too, or who do not qualify for one reason or another. So the actual number of those in permanent poverty is probably somewhat higher than that number would indicate.
Thing is most of us, myself included, have probably experienced some form of temporary poverty. For me, this came during the dot-com bust in 2001, when getting work as a web developer was essentially impossible. This happened to a lot of my friends in the industry, too. Those were tough times for folks in my line of work. I took a job as a Costco stocker for a time. Some friends took various odd jobs, or moved back in with family.
When talking to friends, family, and some of my readers here at The Declination, I can safely say that most of us have experienced temporary poverty. When I was born, my father was broke and just barely struggling to keep the lights on and food on the table. But that, too, was temporary. My wife’s family came from Cuba with nothing but the clothes on their backs, all that Castro permitted them to take with them. But their poverty was temporary, also. My wife’s grandfather quickly landed a job (all physical labor, but that was enough) and he managed to claw his way out of poverty. Her father managed to prosper, working his way up from a minimum wage pharmacy worker job to part-owner in a lucrative pharmacy business.
What is the difference between those who fall into poverty, for whatever reason, and those who stay there?
There is a mindset I’ve seen with people who are stuck in permanent poverty. A family friend, who for sake of anonymity I will call Harry, exemplifies the permanent poverty situation quite well. Harry was a general contractor, and had a set of skills that ought to have made him permanently well off. But when he’d land a good contract, and score some hefty profit, he would quickly burn through money. Harry’s house would be filled with toys, from a new lifted F-150, to boats, RVs, motorcycles, whatever. And then, a year or two later, after going through several lean months, the possessions would disappear one at a time, sold or repossessed by the bank.
Feeling sorry for Harry, my father helped him score a job worth a substantial amount of money. Half was to be paid upfront, the remainder upon completion of the job. But Harry spent the advance too quickly, burning through it at the bars and the strip clubs, and found he did not have enough money leftover to buy all the supplies needed to finish the work. The broken contract cost him his contractor’s license, and he found himself out of work. Things continued to go downhill after that, and he spent several months in jail on some unrelated charge.
Harry has since been released, and is back working in construction, but now as a regular laborer. His lucrative career as a general contractor is gone forever. And even still, after all this, he quickly spends his money on booze, women, and toys, and finds himself in financial pickles. So far as I know, Harry has never taken a dime of welfare money, but he is still stuck in permanent poverty. And all the help my father and I could give him was for naught.
The thing is, you could give Harry a million dollars, and it would soon vanish. Just as you could give some folks on welfare piles of money, and in the long run it would do them no good. The money would not improve their lot, but if taken out of your paycheck, it could worsen your lot. That isn’t to say money can’t help a poor man at all. Those who are in temporary poverty may very well be helped by a timely infusion of cash, or some food, shelter, or otherwise.
Differentiating between the temporarily impoverished and the permanently impoverished is a mission we’ve largely outsourced to the government, and I consider that a mistake. The government is ill-equipped to do this. Some of the temporarily impoverished may be turned away, and many of the permanently impoverished may supplied with money and/or benefits that are, essentially, wasted. Take this story, confirmed by Snopes, of a man using his girlfriend’s EBT card to buy steak and lobster. He then resold the food for cash, 50% of the value of the original food. He was caught and arrested for fraud; for reselling the food and using someone else’s benefits. But this sort of thing goes on all the time. And sometimes the EBT benefits are sold more directly. And let us not forget the FEMA cards after Katrina, often being used for strip clubs and booze, not unlike what Harry did with his profits. Some got caught. I suspect many more got away with it.
The point is, some of these folks have a mindset that mires them in permanent poverty. Even given the food, they will sell the food at a discount and use it for something else. Given the welfare cash to pay bills, they will spend the money on something else. Give them millions, and they will soon be broke again. Such aid only truly improves the lot of the temporarily impoverished. And even then, I’ve never taken such benefits, even when temporarily impoverished, and neither have most folks I know. Most of the time, we can get out of temporary poverty with some bootstrapping and some assistance from family and friends.
How do you change the mindset of the permanently impoverished? I don’t know. What I do know is that if the purpose of government welfare spending is to lift them out of this state, it’s not going to work. It may help the temporarily impoverished, though I’d argue we could do that more efficiently via private means. But the permanently poor are going to stay that way, short of changing their mindset. I’ve spoken at length on the possibility that pain is a good teacher; that maybe making people too comfortable in poverty (the regularity and guarantee of government assistance) may work against learning the habits and mindset necessary to escape poverty. But Harry’s example is also instructive, he’s had every incentive in the world to change his behavior, and he never did. Some people may be beyond our help. It’s an unpleasant thing to contemplate, but it may nonetheless be true.
The question is, if some people are beyond our help, if lifting them out of poverty is beyond our means, what is our responsibility to them? Do we owe the government an ever-increasing slice of our earnings to fail to help them? Where does our obligation end? To those in power, of course, middlemen taking their slice of the action, the answer is that the obligation never ends, and is an essentially unlimited mandate.
This morning, I was parsing through the usual suspects, and noticed a back link to Right as Usual. The author, Linda Fox, is also a contributor for Liberty’s Torch, and so it piqued my interest. Linda reiterates the dangers of debt:
The Declination has an old post addressing this, from January, 2016. Such a long time ago.
How might we survive, both individually and as a nation? Hunker down, pay off debt, and detach yourself as much as you can from dependency.
Failing that, try to diversify your income sources – yes, that means part-time work, freelance work, and under-the-table work/bartering.
If the powerful can control whether or not you have access to money/income/daily needs, they own you. The peasant, who does NOT control his income, is most at risk.
Don’t be a peasant.
It reminds me of an old post here, not the one she was referring to, but on the same subject: Weaponizing Debt: How SJWs Control the Narrative.
If you are familiar with the concept of the Overton Window, you understand that mainstream political discourse occurs within certain boundaries. For instance, if a man started espousing Nazi-like sentiments, like throwing Jewish folks into concentration camps, he would be rightly disparaged and ostracized for them.
A relatively wide Overton Window that encompasses a wide variety of views, but omits the utterly evil and detestable, is generally desirable. It is how free speech is kept alive, while evil is still recognized and treated as such. But, like anything, you have to ask yourself: who gets to decide what is evil? Most reasonable people would probably agree that Nazis are evil. But SJWs have a habit of labeling anyone they don’t agree with as a Nazi or a fascist. That Nazism and Fascism are not, strictly speaking, the same things doesn’t stop them from using the ideologies as synonyms. Fascist leader Francisco Franco, for instance, may have been a ruthless dictator, but he did not have the racial ideology or genocidal inclinations of the Nazis. Either way, however, no matter the label they choose, they wish such labeling to immediately expel you from polite discourse.
All of this is very important, because for the moment the Overton Window is still controlled by the mainstream media, and to some extent the policing and censorship policies of social media. Remember that Facebook curators were caught suppressing conservative news stories. Overt and covert manipulation of the Overton Window is one of the Left’s most important tactics.
But what if a man decides to exit the Overton Window and accept social penalty in the name of what he believes is true? What stops him from doing it, if he is prepared to be called names and otherwise taunted for it?
I went into detail on this in the previous post, and I will repeat here:
But there is something else that is less commonly understood, and that is the relationship between debt and political censorship. It is at the very center of what the elitists are trying to do. Their SJW patsies are, of course, the designated attack dogs.
Consider my own recent case. Yes, I apologize for harping on it excessively, but I do prefer to use practical examples where possible. So someone doxxes you and starts making threats to your livelihood. They will tell your clients, or employer, or friends, family, etc… that you are a big meanie poopy-head Republican, and you say things they don’t like. Whatever.
Point is, if you are debt free, your expenses will be low. You will have to eat, and pay the usual bills. But these can be managed. You can eat a little less, conserve electricity and water, etc… They are at least partially in your control. But what about a car payment? What about a mortgage? What about the credit card payments and installment loans?
That’s a very different kettle of fish. You might be able to juggle some things around for awhile by being creative. But soon you are facing a wall which cannot be moved. You will lose your home, car, possessions and ruin your credit such that you cannot get these things again for a long time. Your family could be ruined with comparative ease.
How quickly would the average person correct their wrongthink and toe the party line? Or, at the very least, self-moderate their own positions to stay within the increasingly-narrow Overton window of the Left? Indeed, this has consistently been one of the most powerful weapons in the SJW arsenal, because they naturally subvert institutions and HR departments to put their men (or transsexual otherkin) into these positions. So help will not be forthcoming from these avenues. You cannot appeal, because the Court of Public Opinion answers to no higher court. And defending yourself is proof of guilt.
You are labeled as a Nazi, or a fascist, and now you are beyond the pale. Any defense is proof of guilt. Only by espousing Leftist social policy can you be freed of the label. If you don’t, they can tattle on you to your employer. They can play a game like they did with Brendan Eich and force your resignation through a PR campaign. I remember seeing a site that was dedicated to “getting racists fired”. I won’t link to it here for obvious reasons.
Naturally, since such courts of public opinion have no legal standing, they also don’t follow the presumption of innocence or allow for the possibility of defense.
Now any debt you are carrying becomes an albatross around your neck. If you have no debt, and live well within your means, the SJWs can damage you. But they can’t destroy you, they can’t force ideological compliance with their dictates. Extensive debt forces a man to keep his opinions within the Overton Window. And then, using media and social pressure, the window can be moved to the position the Left desires, dragging you along with it (perhaps kicking and screaming, but dragged nonetheless).
Whether the promotion of debt was designed to do this, or whether the Left merely took advantage of circumstances, I can’t say. But regardless of whether or not this was intentional, it has happened. Avoiding debt and living within your means is a way to avoid a sort of new variant of slavery.
It is a consensual slavery, mind you, but that is neither new nor unique. In ancient times, selling yourself into slavery was a common practice, and carried with it certain benefits. A slave was likely to be fed and cared for as valuable property, and a freeman who could not feed himself or his family might have no other choice. It is understandable that some would do this, even if very unfortunate.
But today it is different. Most of the people who are selling themselves into slavery are doing so for frivolities they don’t really need, for nicer cars or fancy furniture, for more house than they need, or for vacations to exotic destinations. It is not merely unfortunate, it is stupid. Folks need to take debt a lot more seriously, and minimize it where possible.
As in ancient times, there may have been circumstances where debt was unavoidable, or the consensual slavery was preferable to the alternatives. But give the decision the gravity it deserves. Do not go into it lightly, and know what the real cost is. It’s not just the interest you pay. It’s not just the payments from your future labor, it’s also the right to say what you believe.
After a short break from political posts, I have returned. This morning, I read an excellent piece at Liberty’s Torch, which touched on intimidation in politics. This, in turn, was inspired by another post at The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler. Both got me thinking on the matter of subtle intimidation.
Intimidation is a common feature of Leftist politics, such that most regular folks routinely hide the extent of their true political beliefs.
Leftists have taken it upon themselves to insinuate that this is racism, or some other -ism, and that we are all secret fascists who merely don’t want our horrible views exposed to daylight. But they have it exactly backwards, probably by design. You see, actual neo-Nazis and modern fascists are anything but secretive about their beliefs. Though they are very few, they are also very loud. They want to be seen. They have already paid the social price for it. Calling a Nazi a Nazi doesn’t hurt their feelings any. They know what they are.
In this, SJWs and their ilk are projecting their own behavior onto their ideological opponents. Many SJWs are thinly-veiled Communists, so they presume that we must all be thinly-veiled Nazis. After all, it’s the sort of thing they would do in our place.
In reality, most people on the Right are just scared. Not of physical violence for the most part, though perhaps some worry about that too. Rather, they fear character assassination. They fear being tarred as racist, sexist, or some other thing, and losing their friends, their jobs, and their good names.
Meanwhile the Left continues to increase the number of indications of racism. Eating a plate of Chinese takeout may now be considered a racist act. Wearing a kimono to an art exhibit about a well-known painting featuring a kimono is now cultural appropriation. Enjoying the wrong video game is an indication of sexism. Failing to be 100% convinced by Climate Change activists is proof of… well, some kind of violation against The One True Narrative. The specifics don’t matter. There is always something they can use against you.
In such an environment, many folks do indeed hide their beliefs. They fear that they might be the target of a political witch hunt, that anything they say will be taken out of context by the hostile media establishment and used to destroy them.
In some ways, this has bit the Left in the ass. Donald Trump’s election was unexpected in part due to the fact that people hid their support for him out of such fear. Polls were shifted as a result. The hidden Trump closet proved fatal to Hillary’s campaign.
But nonetheless, the fear is strong. I hear it from many personal friends who read my posts, but do not comment on them out of fear of being identified. One friend told me: “I love your posts. Even when I disagree with them, they always give me something to think about. But I can’t reply. It’s too public. I don’t know how you do it.”
In a Facebook thread that blew up to over 500 replies, I admitted my conservative/libertarian leanings in public view. I lost dozens of “friends” over this, one who spent the better part of the thread calling me a neo-Nazi and suggesting that I wanted to send Muslims to death camps, before he finally blocked me.
The level of vitriol you are exposed to as an open conservative is staggering, and I am not surprised that most regular folks are disinclined to weather it. Indeed, I wouldn’t have even done it, had my financial position been at all insecure. Only from a strong financial position can you weather character assassination by the media.
And I did lose some support in that quarter. The admission cost me one of my long-time DJ residencies. The promoter was an outspoken Bernie Bro, and could not countenance working with someone who as an admitted Rightist. I made up the difference with a new residency (and I maintained one of my other ones – I found out that promoter was a secret libertarian), but it was nonetheless disappointing to me. This was someone I had worked with for several years.
The financial and social penalty for admitted Rightists is non-trivial. Whereas most Rightists I know will continue to work with admitted Leftists. Perhaps this is a mistake. The Left has deployed a weapon against us, and perhaps it is time to use it against them, to expel them from our communities, to price them out of our markets, and to remove them from groups under our control.
For me, however, the price was much smaller than it could have been. By having minimal debt (only a mortgage now, and one that is approaching 50% equity), significant savings, and multiple streams of income independent of one another, it is very difficult for a Leftist to ruin me. The attempt cost me less than 5% of my income, and even that was quickly replaced.
How different is it for a man who has a lot of debt, and only one job? How much fear does he have that a media storm could deprive him of not only his job, but of his employability? I submit that such folks vastly outnumber folks in my position.
But it is always the Left that claims they are oppressed, harassed, bullied and such. The pressure on Rightists is not so obvious, but it is pervasive and everybody knows about it. This is why the Left continues to push the Nazi label. “Do what I want,” says the Leftist, “or I will make the entire world see you as the scum of the Earth.”
Of course, it’s seldom openly stated as such. But we all know it, nonetheless.
It all comes down to the media. Without the power of the media to amplify such nonsensical accusations, nobody would fear the Left. We would laugh at such insults. The stupidity of calling everybody a secret fascist would be readily apparent. But with the media able to pick any random target it wishes, and assassinate that person’s character at will, with little to no possibility of defense… the fear is there.
Incidents like what happened to Justine Sacco reinforce this. Remember Brendan Eich “resigning” (we all know the he was pressured to do so). Remember the media trotting out to the middle of nowhere to find a pizza shop that didn’t want to cater gay weddings. The implication is that anyone could be a target. Being a small business owner in the middle of nowhere doesn’t make you safe.
Nobody is safe from the media. That’s what they want you to believe, but in such a way that no one clearly states it, that nobody clearly admits it, so that they always retain plausible deniability.
Note that since Trump unexpectedly won the election, the media has been dedicating itself 24/7 to doing nothing but assassinating his character. They even tacitly excuse literal assassination, in the case of Steve Scalise.
At some point in the history of this country, the gatekeepers in media and entertainment presumed that they were the true rulers of this country, that they determined what people believed, what they thought, and what they were allowed to say. They presumed to move Presidents and Congressmen merely by leveraging character assassination and establishing the framework of their accepted Overton Window. They could swing whole elections.
The Internet has deprived them of the exclusivity of this framing. People may (and frequently do) bypass them for news and information. But they still retain the power of character assassination, even if a few, like Donald Trump, have remained stubbornly immune to it. They have the funding, the airtime, the audience, and allies among gatekeepers and HR departments around the world.
It is that power which must be broken if we are to step out into the light again. It is not enough that we cast them as fake news, though this must be done also. They cannot be permitted to assassinate characters on a whim.
And if we cannot break them of this power, then we must deploy a similar power ourselves. How much economic damage can we force on them if they do this? How many people can we get fired? How many businesses can we destroy?
I really don’t want to go down that road. I’ve always thought it to be one of the lowest, most scummy tactics a man might use on a political opponent. I hate it, and I’ve always attacked the practice as the worst of mudslinging.
But if they don’t stop it soon, what choice do we have? And maybe that’s the message we have to use: “stop now, we really don’t want to do this back to you, but we will if we must.”
One thing that has become clear to me over the years is that people can reason themselves in and out of pretty much anything. Evidence can be provided for just about any assertion, no matter how ludicrous, and debunking it can lead to an endless rabbit hole of argument and counter-argument that never resolves much of anything. You can test this by googling just about any idiotic idea, and mountains of “evidence” will be found to support it.
So how does a man determine what is true, or at least more likely to be true?
Scott Adams has an excellent method for sifting through bullshit quickly and efficiently. He provides a list of common methods of discovering the truth:
- Personal Experience
- Experience of People You Know
- Scientific Studies
- Common Sense
- Pattern Recognition
Note that each one of these methods contain serious problems if used alone. For instance, personal experience can be narrow and subject to confirmation bias. Experts may lie to you, or be a member of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Intellectual Yet Idiot class. Scientific studies can be twisted, or could be outright fabrications. Common sense, which I actually liken to basic logical consistency, can be wrong on the basis of flawed assumptions.
So a good bullshit filter is taking the list as a whole. A lie will not pass all 6 items. Neither is it likely to even pass a majority of them. Studies and experts may, for instance, tell you that Islam is a religion of peace. But common sense, pattern recognition, and the experiences of people you know would tend to counter the assertion. Where one contradicts another, resolution must be made. If your experience and the experiences of people you know contradict the experts, who do you trust? In that case, I look for a motivation for the expert to lie (like, say, grant money for Climate Change researchers). If I find a blatant conflict of interest, I will usually dismiss the expert opinion on the basis of the other evidence. If I don’t, perhaps I need to reevaluate why my experiences and those of folks I know are different. Maybe there is another factor at work.
Some time ago, I explained that Francis once changed my mind in a big way on an important issue. At the time, I considered mortgage debt to be generally good. After all, experts claimed that it was good debt, studies showed that holders of mortgage debt did better than their fellows, and common sense generally appeared to favor home ownership (I later understood that it didn’t, per se). The experiences of people I knew were good, and I recognized the pattern that homeowners were generally better off than their fellows. Everything lined up for this, right?
Except it didn’t. My personal experience went south in a hurry. And in 2008, the experiences of people I knew turned sour as well. And when I went back and thought about it a little more, even common sense (in line with what Francis originally wrote) suggested that being exceedingly careful with debt was the wiser course. The experts, of course, changed their tune pretty quick, for a while. But one of the things which turned me off to media talking heads and anointed experts was precisely how quickly they turned, backpedaled, and pretended their earlier assertions had never even existed. After that debacle, I’ve been a lot more skeptical of their class.
Point is, when I reran the assertion through the bullshit filter, I became convinced that Francis was right, and I had been wrong.
But you must be very careful with the tool. Some time ago, I had a self-admitted Marxist attempt to convince me that the red states were economically backward, and that the quasi-Socialist policies of the blue states had created economic gains relative to their backward right-wing brethren. He cited some experts that were criticizing Kansas, and some others who were criticizing the South.
Interestingly enough, I am a well-traveled man, at least with respect to the lower 48 states. Having just returned from a trip to Philadelphia, the evidence of my own eyes immediately contradicted the Marxist’s assertions. Most of Philly was terrible. Outside the downtown core, it looked like a bomb went off. Hiroshima probably looked more attractive after it was nuked. And even in the urban core, the sidewalks smelled like piss, there were cops on every corner, and the black panthers were demonstrating right across from City Hall, in an effort to get an Islamic terrorist freed.
The evidence of my own eyes did not show me a fountain of prosperity for Philadelphia. Nor have my travels to other northern cities shown me likewise. Now, one might say that Miami and Atlanta are bad too, and that perhaps this is a trait of big cities, not something unique to the blue states. But even the worst areas of Atlanta and Miami were better than most of Philadelphia. It was that bad.
Nor, I should note, do my friends who live in Chicago and Detroit say any better about those places. Oh sure, each has a limousine liberal urban core. But outside of that, they are all cesspits. And I lived in Los Angeles long enough to know that it is nearly as bad as Philly. No, the blue states don’t get to claim economic superiority, regardless of what GDP numbers say. There is something terribly wrong with blue state cities. And if some red state cities have a similar disease, it certainly isn’t anywhere near as bad.
So the experts can make their claims all day long. I’m not buying it, no matter how well they present their case.
Folks these days put too much stock in some items of the bullshit filter, and not enough stock in others. Where personal experience contradicts the experts, where common sense and pattern recognition contradict the studies, a resolution must be made. Most people would have you rely on the experts and the studies more heavily. But over time, I’ve come to favor personal experience at least as much.
Winston said it properly in Nineteen Eighty-Four:
The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre.
To this day, this remains one of my most frequent citations. Buried in this is a central truth about many ideologies that have been peddled throughout history: they assert the primacy of another’s view over the evidence of your eyes and ears. Once trained to dismiss this, a man might be made to spout any kind of absurdity.
Leftists often assert that the Rightist has a closed mind. But it is the Left that commands us to ignore what we see and hear, and to spout only pre-approved views, without question or critique. Their notion of an open mind is actually a controlled mind. Skip the bullshit filter, believe what you are told, obey.
No thanks. I’ll run everything through the bullshit filter, thank you very much.