Prior administrations have foolishly attempted to purchase North Korean cooperation with carrots: thousands of tons of free oil, a light-water nuclear reactor, and so on. What those administrations failed to realize was that once the oil, the reactor, etc. had been delivered, their power to maintain the agreement lapsed. But a credible threat of invasion and regime decapitation has enduring influence over the mind of the satrap of a lesser power…even one with some notional nuclear capability.
Foolishly, liberals have long sought to purchase not merely cooperation, but approval also. There is a subtle difference. Satraps of lesser powers, as Francis describes them, may be made to avoid troubling us through judicious application of leverage. Stop waving around your nukes, or we’ll kill you all. However, this does not purchase likability. The enemy will resent you and hate you (not that I particularly care – he’s the enemy, after all).
Leftists often lament that America is not well-liked by various powers and peoples around the Earth. We are supposed to care about how much the French approve of us, or the Pakistanis, or even some random country in the middle of nowhere. The approval of the Muslim world is of endless importance to Leftists. And so, when dealing with tyrannical regimes, the Left requires a solution that theoretically will both work, and make the other side like us more. Bribery of the sort Francis and Kurt describe is the oft-used tactic. After all, who doesn’t like being given heaps of free shit?
Naturally, the tactic fails to achieve a long term balance of power. Foreign aid money must continue to flow to purchase cooperation and approval. Disapproval becomes leverage the other country may use against us. “Sorry, America, our people just don’t like you much anymore. Perhaps if you gave us more, they might approve of you once more.” The market price for political approval grows, the incentive to crap on America likewise grows. Few get heaping piles of money and free reactors by being our friend, after all.
Incentives are such that it is more profitable to disapprove of America. Indeed, America-hating is so profitable now that Americans themselves are agitating for a slice of that action. Yell from the rooftops that America is the worst nation since Nazi Germany, and you’re likely to get a cushy gig as a political adviser, a journalist, or as a tenured professor. On the other hand, wave an American flag, and you’re the worst bigot since Leonardo Dicaprio’s character in Django Unchained.
The obsession with approval runs deep in Leftist circles. Tolerance of homosexuality, for instance, was a good and decent thing to ask for. After all, it is not us who are inclined to exterminate gays by throwing them off of buildings (see the people Leftists want to suck up to for examples of that behavior). Yet tolerance was insufficient for the Left. They required approval also, a wholly different affair. To tolerate you means that I must merely leave you alone to do as you will so far as you likewise leave me alone. Quid pro quo still applies. Smoke the sausage if you want, but do not cause trouble for me because I do not share your proclivities, nor have any particular wish to be involved in them. Yet the “bake the cake” and “cater the pizza” examples show us that tolerance was not their game. Approve of it, they demand. Participate in it or you are a bigot and we will ruin you.
Approval is everything to them, because approval is the high; the aphrodisiac of politics. One is made to feel popular, loved, and worshiped by such. Feelings like those reinforce a notion of superiority, the idea that one is better than everyone else. In reality, it merely makes the narcissistic wimp vulnerable to sucker tactics. Power flows the other way. The person expressing disapproval controls the entire situation, and once the great big pile of free shit is accepted, the disapproval begins anew. Bake the cake, they will say. Next it might be “gays should get an oppression discount on the cake.”
It is no different from the Oppression Olympics in our domestic politics. The offended person possesses all the power. Thus we get more offended people, not less. Similarly in international politics, we get more posturing assholes demanding free shit from America, not less.
Trump, at the very least, has restored some level of balance to this. He is willing to brandish the Stick, long covered in cobwebs and dust. And what’s more, his enemies know well his willingness to use it. They will grumble, they will not approve of us. But what does that matter? Toleration is all that is required. That Kim II ding-dong whatever doesn’t love us certainly doesn’t bother me. That China is probably irritated with Trump’s trade negotiation tactics is irrelevant. I don’t even care if NATO members like us. I’m not losing any sleep over any of this.
Remember your Machiavelli:
It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.
Just shy of a year ago, in cooperation with Tom Kratman and a few others, I put together this bit of memetic homage:
Francis Porretto reminded me of it in a comment this morning. It’s crazy to think that it’s been nearly a year since Trump took office. It has been a year of triggered SJWs, helicopter memes, and media self destruction. The hatred for Donald J. Trump is beyond anything I’ve seen directed at a political figure in my lifetime. Not even Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon engendered such vitriolic hate.
This, naturally, is all coming from the peace-love-tolerance crowd. Peace-love-tolerance, of course, only applies to political conformists, Overton Window adherents, and proper Socialists. The level of cognitive dissonance demonstrated by the political Left is staggering to witness.
Trump is supposed to be an evil reincarnated Hitler, or something like that. And yet his daughter and grandchildren are Jewish. And, furthermore, he has done something no President has dared to do: called for the move of the American embassy to Jerusalem. Trump was widely hailed as the harbinger of economic apocalypse. Trickle down won’t work, they said. As a businessman he his a bankrupted failure, they claimed. And yet the economic growth of the last year hasn’t been seen since, perhaps, the Reagan administration. They said he wouldn’t last a year before impeachment or resignation, and yet here we are.
The reason for all this is simple. Trump is blunt and open about his beliefs, occasionally to a fault, something that drives the politically correct into conniption fits. With the politically correct Overton Window adherents, all language must be monitored for proper tone, current “in fashion” political jargon, and otherwise. They aren’t illegal aliens, they are undocumented immigrants. They aren’t stupid, they are intellectually challenged. Whatever. In some cases the meanings of PC jargon shift so fast, it is difficult to keep up with them. Cisgender is a great example. Until a couple years ago, I’d never even heard of such a term. Now it’s ubiquitous on social media, added to such SJW jargon as white cisheteropatriarchy.
Trump, meanwhile, calls Haiti a “shithole” and garners a media shitstorm for it. What of it? Haiti is a shithole. Perhaps he was somewhat vulgar and less than presidential in his delivery, but here’s the important question: is he wrong? To the politically correct, appearances matter more than substance. They don’t want to call Haiti a shithole, regardless of the fact that it is one. They say racism, but how can something be racist if it is true? Must we embrace “non-racist” lies in favor of “racist” truth? To the politically correct, that answer is obvious.
Donald Trump has done us one great service, above all other things: he has exposed the politically correct as dishonest, superficial, egotistical liars. #AllYourBaseAreBelongToUs indeed. We have witnessed a year of collective PC meltdown. I don’t know that it is enough to reverse course in America, much less the rest of the world. I remain pessimistic on our long-term future. And we still need that border wall Trump promised us. The illegals must go back. Our immigration system must be radically overhauled. At this point, I’m not sure we’re going to get that.
But in the short term, the PC meltdown has been epic to witness. It’s a thing I never thought I’d see. If, a few years ago, you had told me Donald Trump would run for office, get elected in one of the greatest upsets in political history, and bring journalists to tears on live TV, I’d have laughed in your face.
Weaponized Empathy is a chief weapon of the Left, and we need to deprive them of it. To do so will impose a cost. Namely, many Leftists will hate you, and say the worst about you. But its a cost that must be lived with if the truth is to prevail. Indeed, the longer the cost is deferred, the worse it is likely to be.
On Monday, Francis penned an interesting post which touches upon the idea delayed gratification, something most Americans do not practice. By pushing instant gratification, and kicking the cost can down the road, our civilization has incurred an enormous amount of debt, and not merely financial debt (though that too).
The perverse incentives of our political figures has made this possible. But the citizenry itself cannot avoid responsibility either. After all, Americans have been voting en masse for short-sighted, destructive policies as long as I’ve been alive. The money quote:
We the People have earned a certain suffering-debt for our previous sociopolitical sins – never mind that we were set upon our sinful courses by an earlier We the People, who passed their accumulated suffering-debt down to us – then our choice is simple:
We could accept the penalty, endure it, and come out healed;
We could reject the penalty, which would compound the ultimate suffering.
Since World War II at least, the public has preferred politicians who will “kick the can down the road.” In consequence, government has gone ever further astray and our accumulated debt of ultimate suffering has compounded year by year. At some point, though the moment is difficult to predict, the debt will be paid. If it’s grown large enough, it will destroy our society completely.
But a payable sociopolitical suffering-debt is like a prison term: it’s finite. It will end. It can and should be endured, especially if the alternative is to raise it to an unpayable level. Our unwillingness to accept and endure the penalties that have already accrued is propelling such debts toward the threshold of sociopolitical bankruptcy.
Note, when Francis speaks of sociopolitical bankruptcy, is essentially discussing the fall of the United States as a functional, intact nation. And the longer we kick the can down the road, the more likely that outcome becomes. Indeed, I’m not even sure we can still avoid it.
On a positive note, Trump managed to push tax cuts through. They are not anywhere near as extensive as I would have liked, and I am sorely disappointed with the behavior of the GOP (more with the Senate than the House), but this is something.
Tax cuts used to be a sort of bread-and-butter of GOP politics, alongside strong foreign policy. The various factions within the party would jockey and argue over everything else, but low taxes and strong military were generally always agreed upon. That this much infighting was required to get the GOP to push through a tax cut – any tax cut at all – is disturbing. It demonstrates the slow evolution of the GOP Establishment away from the base, and toward a more Fabian Socialist agenda, agreeing with the Democrats in principle if not in time frame.
Still, this was why many folks chose Trump over Hillary. We knew we weren’t getting what we wanted, but a tax cut is better than a tax hike. Still, some Dems are going off the deep end telling us the tax cuts will literally kill people. They’ve clearly left sanity behind.
Every good capitalist is on the look out for imbalances in the market, opportunities to earn a profit off of a thing that either the market lacks completely, or current businesses do very inefficiently and ineffectively. You can consider it a form of arbitrage.
Today’s politicians, media talking heads, celebrities and the like are moral capitalists, even though they are economic collectivists. That is to say their morality is a form of arbitrage, always for sale to the highest bidder, where each statement they issue is calculated to profit them personally.
Take Marco Rubio, who today issued a series of tweets condemning Donald Trump for suggesting that the Charlottesville attack, and other similar incidents between Antifa and White Supremacists, was equally the fault of both parties. Donald Trump’s position is that both are hate groups, and both are quick to resort to violence to further their political goals, and that putting them together like that was surely going to stir up violence.
Personally, I think Trump is somewhat understating the case. White supremacists are exceedingly rare, even if they’ve received a shot in the arm from SJWs harping on white people all the time (hint: that tends to manufacture more supremacists, not less). What happened in Virginia may very well represent peak white supremacism, the very most such groups are capable of. Antifa and militant Marxists, meanwhile, enjoy far greater support from media, financiers (oh, the irony), and society-at-large. Antifa dwarfs Klansman and Neo-Nazis. Militant Marxists are, by far, the greater threat currently.
But that being said, Trump did put his finger on the central point: both groups espouse violent ideologies that are incompatible with freedom.
Marco, meanwhile, in his own words, pins 100% of the blame onto the supremacists.
This argument is remarkably similar to Antifa and other Marxist groups saying that mean words justifies violence, that speech they don’t like justifies burning down cities and attacking people. It is okay for them to violently shut down anybody right-of-center on college campuses around the country, but it is not okay for anyone right-of-center to speak.
Marco is on a continuum with the SJWs on this matter. He concedes the central point, that violence is an acceptable response to speech deemed offensive. Yes, in the case of Neo-Nazis and Klansmen, the speech actually is offensive. But it is still speech. Until it isn’t, anyway.
But if you’re a regular reader of The Declination, you already know my position on freedom of speech, and how speech alone does not justify violence.
To be fair, a lot of people are saying this, though, so let’s analyze this a little differently. Why does Marco denounce the white supremacists so readily, yet lets militant Marxists off the hook? As a man of Cuban ancestry, he ought to be very familiar with the depredations and dangers of Marxists. Why is he so willing to assign them 0% of the blame?
There is moral arbitrage here. When some politician or celebrity denounces Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and other assorted white supremacists, he is cheered. He is called stunning and brave. He is bashing the fash, taking a brave stand against the most evil ideology of man. In other words, he gets a huge moral bonus in the eyes of the media. It is easy to denounce white supremacists, who probably represent less than a tenth of a percent of the population. And it is profitable to do so, as well.
If it’s cheap and profitable, expect everyone to jump on the bandwagon. The explosion of Nazi denunciations is like the proliferation of those little fidget spinners that cost 10 cents to make and sell for $7.99 in every convenience store from here to Seattle. Everybody wants a slice of that action.
Meanwhile, taking a similar stand against Marxism is expensive. If a politician or celebrity stands up and denounces Marxism as a hateful, murderous ideology that is at least as evil as Nazism, he is often shot down. Real Marxism, of course, has never been tried. Real Marxism is a good theory, a good idea that maybe just hasn’t been implemented quite right. It’s morally true and righteous, and even if it has some problems, surely bashing the fash has to take precedence, right?
Except Marxism has a much higher share of the population. Marxism is celebrated openly on college campuses around the country. Marxists trash cities, riot, commit acts of violence with frightening regularity, and Marco assigns them 0% of the blame, because somewhere, there is an inbred Neo-Nazi off his meds tweeting from his mother’s basement.
Marco obtains a moral profit from denouncing white supremacism. He incurs a moral cost from denouncing Marxism. Playing the moral arbitrage for profit thus demands he pin the blame for political violence on only one participant. Then he is “stunning and brave” in the eyes of the body politic.
Marxists have been doing this as long as I’ve been alive. It is correctly seen as stupid and disgusting to wear an Adolf Hitler t-shirt. Yet somehow Che Guevara t-shirts are absurdly common. The Nazi swastika is correctly seen as a hate symbol, yet the Soviet hammer & sickle is given a pass. It is a historical tragedy that Communism was not discredited with the same vigor as Nazism was.
It is socially cheap to oppose Nazism. It is socially expensive to oppose Communism.
Donald Trump, whatever his other faults, possesses enough moral courage to speak the truth: both groups are hateful. And he paid the price for speaking that truth. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, lacks the stones, even though as descendant of Cubans, he ought to know better than most.
I’m very disappointed in him. I expect this from Democrats who have lacked moral courage as long as I’ve been alive, I even expect it from Republicans who have no history with Marxism. But I do not expect it from a Cuban Republican. Of all people, Marco, YOU should know better. Stop playing the moral arbitrage and speak honestly.
After all, even Donald Trump is showing more honesty and integrity than you are, right now.
Well, if you’ve been a regular reader of The Declination, you are no doubt aware that I’m not exactly in the Tom Nichols fan club. Some folks might be under the impression that my disdain for him is rooted in his status as a NeverTrumper. But that isn’t the case. My good friend Nicki is a NeverTrumper, and I take no issue with that.
The difference between Tom and Nicki is instructive. Nicki merely disagrees with a political choice, which is part of a long tradition in America, whereas Tom actively disdains Trump voters, and views them as something akin to a teeming mass of idiots ruining his intellectual utopia. Consider this article:
Just the title of this article is sensationalist clickbait. Tom pulls no punches in his disdain for the Trumpist peasantry. But if you expect the article to take a more moderate tone, you’re about to be disappointed.
President Trump’s record in his first 100 days, by any standard of presidential first terms, is one of failure. Aside from the successful nomination of the eminently qualified Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, there are almost no accomplishments — and a fair number of mistakes.
Now, don’t add me to the “Trump is perfect” fan club either. I’m rather irritated at his handling of Syria at the moment. But Tom wants us to believe that by “any standard” (he really means by his standard), Trump’s record is terrible. Worse, probably, than any other President. Yet he admits right away that Trump nominated a qualified and decent candidate to the Supreme Court.
That, in itself, is an immense thing. Many of us viewed Trump as a lesser evil precisely for this reason, because we were very concerned about what another liberal justice would do to the Court. Irrespective of his other failures, this was a huge achievement, and Tom just brushes it aside as an afterthought.
The president’s first national security adviser had to quit after a record-setting tenure of only 24 days. The administration’s first major legislative initiative, on health care, crashed and burned in a spectacular political wreck. Foreign policy has lurched from alienating China to relying on China to help us with North Korea. A rain of cruise missiles on a Syrian air base led to a brief moment of hope for those who care about humanitarian intervention (and a moment of despair for Trump’s isolationist base); less than a month later it is all but forgotten by supporters and critics alike because no actual policy emerged from this stunning use of American force.
So he held his National Security Adviser to account when the man screwed up, and this is deemed as a failure. Tom is misunderstanding how a man like Trump thinks. Trump is not thinking of political image (indeed, the idea is laughable), he is thinking in business terms. If you don’t trust a subordinate, dismiss him. Tom’s experience as a former Senate aide may be clouding his view here. If one of Obama’s advisers screwed up, Obama’s first inclination would be to cover it up. When one of Trump’s advisers screws up, Trump’s first inclination is to fire the idiot.
As for China, this is partly a recognition of a geopolitical truth: China is a “frenemy.” In some situations, we must treat them as something akin to an enemy. In other situations, we are best advised to work with them. This isn’t rocket science.
Lastly, the idea that Trump’s supporters suddenly forgot about his attack on Syria is absolutely ludicrous. My feed absolutely exploded with Trump supporters who were angry at him for this and it hasn’t stopped. No, Trump’s supporters may still be largely behind him, but they were not happy with this.
Meanwhile, almost every day produces a cringe-worthy moment of messaging failure, from spokesman Sean Spicer’s bizarre comment about how Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons on his own people to Trump’s claim that his ratings on a television news program were bigger than 9/11.
A spokesman makes a messaging mistake. And Tom puts this on Trump. But this is a Catch-22, because if Trump fired Sean Spicer for doing something stupid, Tom would undoubtedly call that a failure, too. “Trump had to dismiss his press secretary, he’s such a failure!”
Not surprisingly, Trump is at this point the most unpopular new president in the history of modern polling. What is bewildering is that at the same time, 96% of Trump voters say they have no regrets about their choice. How can this be? Is it just partisanship, with Americans so divided that they will simply cheer on their own team and stay loyal beyond all rational thought?
You’d think people like Tom would have learned to take these polls with a huge grain of salt, at this point. I mean, it’s not like they were all wrong about the election in the first place, right?
Anyway, Tom again is misunderstanding what’s driving the support for Trump, what’s been driving it all along. People are sick of being lied to by Washington. They know they are being lied to. They know 2+2 is not 5. You can tell them that water is not wet until you’re blue in the face, but they know you are lying.
Now, they may not be geopolitical geniuses. If you asked them about the capital city of Zimbabwe, or something, they probably won’t know. But they are intelligent enough to realize that they don’t want to send millions of their taxpayer dollars there.
The wide disagreement among Americans on the president’s performance, however, is more than partisanship. It is a matter of political literacy. The fact of the matter is that too many Trump supporters do not hold the president responsible for his mistakes or erratic behavior because they are incapable of recognizing them as mistakes. They lack the foundational knowledge and basic political engagement required to know the difference between facts and errors, or even between truth and lies.
They don’t know the difference between truth and lies, facts and errors. They have no political foundation. So, perhaps, they ought to just let their betters run things, right? If other Senate aides have this much disdain for the American people, it would explain an awful lot about DC.
As the social psychologist David Dunning wrote during the campaign, “Some voters, especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes.” In other words, it’s not that they forgave Trump for being wrong, but rather that they failed “to recognize those gaffes as missteps” in the first place.
I’ve about as much confidence in the pronouncements of a social psychologist as I do in the local astrologist, delivering palm readings out of her trailer home.
This was most evident during the campaign itself, when candidate Trump’s audiences applauded one fantastic claim after another: that he saw Muslims cheering the 9/11 attacks, that the United States pays for over 70% of NATO’s costs, that he knew more than the generals about strategy. When he became president, he continued the parade of strange assertions and obsessions.
NATO documents show that a majority of NATO members fail to meet NATO’s guideline, established in 2006, that defense expenditures should amount to 2 percent of each country’s gross domestic product. The median spending in 2015 is just 1.18 percent of GDP, compared to 3.7 percent for the United States, NATO says. Just four other countries currently exceed the 2 percent guideline.
“The volume of the US defense expenditure effectively represents 73 per cent of the defense spending of the Alliance as a whole,” NATO says in a discussion of indirect funding. “This does not mean that the United States covers 73 per cent of the costs involved in the operational running of NATO as an organization, including its headquarters in Brussels and its subordinate military commands, but it does mean that there is an over-reliance by the Alliance as a whole on the United States for the provision of essential capabilities, including for instance, in regard to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; air-to-air refueling; ballistic missile defense; and airborne electronic warfare.”
NATO concedes this imbalance has been an issue since the start of the alliance: “The combined wealth of the non-US Allies, measured in GDP, exceeds that of the United States. However, non-US Allies together spend less than half of what the United States spends on defense.”
It depends on whether one is discussing the direct contributions to NATO, or the overall share of military expense by members of the alliance. Of course, Tom knows this too. So I’m not sure why he’s being dishonest in this respect.
To be sure, some of Trump’s voters, like any others, are just cynical and expect the worst from every elected official. Others among them grasp Trump’s failings but fall back on the sour but understandable consolation that at least he is not Clinton. But many simply don’t see a problem. “I think I like him more now that he is the president,” Pennsylvania voter Rob Hughes told New York Post writer Salena Zito.
So Tom picks a single quote by a single voter to a single publication, and then sees this as some indication that Trump voters are somehow blind to his mistakes. Clearly, Tom travels in different circles than I do, where Trump supporters are angry about Syria, and very impatient for the Wall. It’s all over social media, easy for him to see if he even bothered to look. Ann Coulter even publicly chastised him for this, and she was among his most ardent supporters. No, Trump voters are watching him like a hawk. There are exceptions, of course. But does anyone really see Trump getting a second term if he doesn’t produce the requisite Wall? I sure don’t.
There is a more disturbing possibility here than pure ignorance: that voters not only do not understand these issues, but also that they simply do not care about them. As his supporters like to point out, Trump makes the right enemies, and that’s enough for them. Journalists, scientists, policy wonks — as long as “the elites” are upset, Trump’s voters assume that the administration is doing something right. “He makes them uncomfortable, which makes me happy,” Ohio Trump voter James Cassidy told the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale. Syria? Korea? Health care reform? Foreign aid? Just so much mumbo-jumbo, the kind of Sunday morning talk-show stuff only coastal elitists care about.
The elites, the journalists and policy wonks have very strong disdain for the hoi polloi. It’s utterly obvious. I remember when GamerGate first became a thing, and gamers were shocked about the articles from game journalists explaining that gamers were racist, sexist, homophobic monsters. And then said journalists were surprised that the people they were insulting suddenly didn’t like them very much.
The American news media, policy wonks, some scientists (most notably involved in climate change research) and otherwise have been doing this for decades. And now Tom is surprised that some Americans who may not even like Trump very much are nonetheless not overly concerned when he attacks those people.
In my own circles, I’ve seen a number of people who didn’t even vote for Trump nonetheless sprouting “schadenboners” at seeing how the Left and the news media are collectively melting down over his election.
There is a serious danger to American democracy in all this. When voters choose ill-informed grudges and diffuse resentment over the public good, a republic becomes unsustainable. The temperance and prudent reasoning required of representative government gets pushed aside in favor of whatever ignorant idea has seized the public at that moment. The Washington Post recently changed its motto to “democracy dies in darkness,” a phrase that is not only pretentious but inaccurate. More likely, American democracy will die in dumbness.
Who defines the public good, Tom? That’s always the question. We haven’t had a representative government for as long as I’ve been alive. It’s been an oligarchical farce, masquerading as a democracy. Occasional exceptions like Ronald Reagan were never enough to right the ship.
Tom’s fascination with calling everybody who disagrees with him stupid may be a rather extreme form of projection.
Those of us who criticized Trump voters for their angry populism were often told during and after the election not to condescend to our fellow citizens, and to respect their choices. This is fair. In a democracy, every vote counts equally and the president won an impressive and legitimate electoral victory.
Even so, the unwillingness of so many of his supporters to hold him to even a minimal standard of accountability means that a certain amount of condescension from the rest of us is unavoidable.
In every election, we must respect the value of each vote. We are never required, however, to assume that each vote was cast with equal probity or intelligence.
So the conclusion of your whole rant is exactly nothing, Tom. All it serves to do is provide you with some rationalization for why you can act condescending to Trump voters, and call them stupid.
Look, I’m not exactly Trump’s number one fan, Tom. In fact, I said some months back that in better times, I’d want to keep a man like Trump as far from the levers of power as humanly possible.
But what you’ve been missing, while putzing around political circles, is that middle America is falling apart. And the whole time it’s been falling apart, the media, the policy wonks, the politicians, celebrities, and talking heads kept telling us: “you need to sacrifice more, you need to give up more.”
Stop driving cars so much, they said. Pay more taxes, they said. Give up your nice home and comfortable energy budget. Black Lives Matter and yours don’t. You’re racist, sexist, homophobic, hateful, and bigoted. You’re stupid, they said, and so we’re going to tell you how to live. We’re going to micromanage your life for you. Then, if we decide to get in a war in some third-world shithole, you need to go die for us. And if we feel like throwing away the victory bought with your blood, too bad, because we’re smart, and you’re stupid.
After decades of this mistreatment, men like Tom are surprised that the American electorate flipped them the bird and said “fine, fuck you, enjoy Donald Trump, assholes.”
Tom, you sit there talking about how American democracy will die in dumbness. You’re wrong. American democracy is already dead. It was dead when the Democrats cleared the field for Hillary Clinton’s anointment. It was dead when the GOP tried to force Jeb down our throats. It died as the GOP establishment gained all major levels of federal power and still surrendered to the Democrats on almost every point of contention they thought they could get away with. What the people want is irrelevant to Washington. There is no democracy here. Not much of a republic either.
What the layman in the street sees is a steady expansion of government power, and a steady erosion of his fortunes. He sees more of his liberty disappearing, and more of the politically-connected getting whatever their hearts desire.
He may not be learned in the way some of us are. He may be a regular Joe, scratching a living, who never had the time and money for college. But that doesn’t mean he’s stupid. That doesn’t mean he can’t see what’s going on right in front of him. He may not necessarily understand why this is all happening or be able to articulate the exact mechanisms behind it. But he can nonetheless see the effects.
You’re pissing down his back and telling him that it’s raining. And then you’re wondering why he doesn’t trust you anymore.
I once had dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant with a fellow who insisted on eating there instead of my selection of a casual Greek taverna with a friendly owner operator, his second cousin as a manager and his third cousin once removed as a receptionist. The other customers seemed, as we say in Mediterranean languages, to have a cork plugged in their behind obstructing proper ventilation, causing the vapors to build on the inside of the gastrointestinal walls, leading to the irritable type of decorum you only notice in the educated upper classes. I note that, in addition to the plugged corks, all men wore ties.
Dinner consisted in a succession of complicated small things, with microscopic ingredients and contrasting tastes that forced you to concentrate as if you were taking some type of exam. You were not eating, rather visiting some type of museum with an affected English major lecturing you on some artistic dimension you would have never considered on your own. There was so little that was familiar and so little that fit my taste buds: once something on the occasion tasted like something real, there was no chance to have more as we moved on to the next dish. Trudging through the dishes and listening to some b***t by the sommelier about the paired wine, I was afraid of losing concentration. I costs a lot of energy to fake that I was not bored. In fact I discovered an optimization in the wrong place: the only thing I cared about, bread, was not warm. It appears that this is not a Michelin requirement.
It’s fascinating because it’s so true. Most high-end restaurants I’ve been to operate more or less as Taleb describes them. The server will spin a line of bullshit about the wine pairings, lecture us on the acidity of this or that, and attempt to sell us on the exclusivity of the place. Everything is unnecessarily complex.
There have been exceptions, of course. There is a high-end steakhouse near where I live called Bern’s Steakhouse, and it apparently has some renown, given that out of town friends often gravitate toward it. In that case, the place lived up to the hype. The steak was excellent, among the best I’ve had, along with what is probably the best french onion soup I’ve ever tasted. But the building itself is sort of run down, and the wait staff doesn’t lecture you on the menu, or the pairings, or any of that garbage (this despite having one of the largest wine collections in the world). And the menu is simple. You go there for steak, and the accompanying sides, and that’s pretty much it.
But such unassuming high end restaurants are the exception, not the rule. For the most part, be prepared for a lot of pretentious bullshit about why complex ingredient lists and overpriced wine is proof that you have an elevated palate, that you are special in the way those dirty unwashed masses aren’t. As Taleb puts it, they have corks plugged up their asses. It must be uncomfortable.
I couldn’t imagine living that way.
As Taleb tells us, this extends beyond food, however. When people get to thinking this way, everything must be complex, special, expensive, and out of reach of the unwashed masses. It’s about differentiation, thinking yourself better than others.
When people get rich, they shed their skin-in-the game driven experiential mechanism. They lose control of their preferences, substituting constructed preferences to their own, complicating their lives unnecessarily, triggering their own misery. And these are of course the preferences of those who want to sell them something. This is a skin-in-the-game problem as the choices of the rich are dictated by others who have something to gain, and no side effects, from the sale. And given that they are rich, and their exploiters not often so, nobody would shout victim.
It’s not just when they become rich, however. It’s when they start to climb above the teeming mass of humanity. Remember when Hillary Clinton looked positively baffled by a beer tap, when looking to do some kind of misguided blue collar photo op? There she was, with a fake smile and a beer glass full of foam, looking for all the world like she would rather be anywhere else.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton hoists a beer during a tour of at Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse, Wis., Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Beer, you see, is the peasant’s drink. Unless you’re becoming a beer snob, I suppose. Either way, though, it’s too simple and plebbish for a refined power broker like Hillary. I bet she’s one of those women who sniffs the cork repeatedly before deigning to pour a glass of wine. Oh hell, silly me, what am I saying? She probably pays somebody to pour the wine for her.
I think most Americans daydream on occasion about what they would do if they were supremely wealthy. I asked one of the redneck gearheads at the local muscle car meetup about what he’d do with a few million bucks.
“I’d buy a GT350. Supercharge it,” he replied.
Simple needs for a simple man, I suppose. No Ferraris or Lambos for him. He just wanted to go fast, and to hell with the rest of the bullshit. There was no talk of servants, or mansions, or outings to the fanciest French restaurants. It was all about the go-fast.
Nicholas Nassim Taleb explains that even if the costs were reversed, he’d prefer a pizza over the bazillion-course microscopic servings at the fancy place:
Let’s return to the restaurant experience and discuss constructed preferences as compared to natural ones. If I had a choice between paying $200 for a pizza or $6.95 for the French complicated experience, I would pay $200 for the pizza, plus $9.95 for a bottle of Malbec wine. Actually I would pay to not have the Michelin experience.
Of course, this isn’t to say that if you genuinely liked the complex food that it’s somehow wrong to eat it. Neither, should it be noted, should you forgo the Ferrari if you can afford it, and if you really want one. The key is to avoid the artificial narrowing down of your options, in some misguided attempt to signal your superiority:
Many have been mistaking this idea for an advocacy of Spartan choices rather than something about the restriction of freedom.
If you’re poor, you can have the pizza, or nothing. If you’re rich, you can choose the pizza or the fancy food, as you prefer. You should not say no to the pizza just because someone is trying to sell you on the superiority of complex food. Neither should you deny yourself the fancy shit, if that’s what you really want.
But whose desires are you satisfying at that point?
I’ve found in my short time on this Earth that most people espouse things that aren’t them in spades. I used to think it was a drive toward artificial conformity, you know, the traditional cliquish high school behavior writ large. But I find that this operates in reverse, too. At times they choose something precisely because they don’t want to be associated with some group. Ask any Mustang guy what he thinks of the Chevy Camaro. Buying a Mustang is as much about avoiding being a Camaro driver (jokes about mullethead, Miller Lite drinking GM guys abound). And the wealthy patrons of Michelin’s don’t want to be seen crawling around some neighborhood pizzeria. That’s for plebs!
It’s funny, because the virtue signalers often spout cliches like “be yourself!” You first, asshole.
All of this is artificially restrictive of choice. Becoming wealthy is supposed to grant you more choices, not take them away, not pigeonhole a person into the sort of vapid, petty-tyrannical, I’m-better-than-you snobbery espoused by our political class.
And it makes you think. How much of what they say or do isn’t even based on their own preferences, but based on some kind of desire to signal superiority? Social Justice is signalling moral superiority. Food snobbery signals superiority of taste. And then there is the sort of Dunning-Kruger-esque desire to signal intellectual superiority by barfing word salad like the privileged cisnormative heteropatriachal conspiracy, or some bullshit. I mean, if you don’t like white guys, I’d actually prefer if you just said that. You’re still a racist shit, mind you, but at least you’re not a pretentious racist shit.
Put simply, if you like well done steak, order away. If you prefer pizza to Michelin’s, get yourself a pizza. And if all your friends are virtue signalling their food superiority, you probably ought to get new friends.