How We Think

This might be one of the more obscure posts I’ve written, but hopefully you’ll bare with me.

After 36 years of living on this planet I’ve had a bit of an epiphany about my thought processes and how the fact that humans process information differently makes a big difference in our communications. This is probably nothing that psychologists and other smart people haven’t figured out already, so pardon me for being late to the party.

I’m one of those people who thinks, for lack of a better word, logically. I’m no Vulcan, but I’m more of an a-b-c thinker. I tend to place things in categories and think through matters in sort of a progression. When I was practicing for the GRE I regularly scored perfect or near-perfect scores on the logic portion of the exam, and then on the actual test I scored either a 790 or a perfect 800. I say this not to brag or to say that “HA HA I’m smarter than you,” but to show that my brain works on that sort of wavelength. Other people think in more of a circular pattern, abstracting to a greater level than I am capable of. There are probably other categories, and no one (or few people) belong to any one category, but there is a dramatic difference in how our brains process information. Again, no particular way is superior, it’s all just different.

This certainly influences our given professions, and why some of us are more mathematically inclined while others might excel at engineering, and others still at poetry and art.

I also think this influences our reading habits, or at least it certainly influences mine. I recently re-read The Great Gatbsy for the first time since high school. I certainly enjoyed it and do think it is an excellent book; however, to me it does not belong to the pantheon of greatest books ever. This is of course a subjective value judgment, but what influences my impression of the book is how my brain works and what stimulates it. Gatsby is all about the style and the prose. The plot is naturally important, but what seems to draw people to it is Fitzgerald’s quasi-poetic style. He paints a beautiful picture with lots of subtext. That’s great, but I’d rather read Dostoevsky. It’s not that Dostoevsky’s prose style is bland – far from it – but his novels move in a much more a-b-c direction. Sure there’s subtext and all the qualities of great fiction, but he works on a different level than Fitzgerald, and it’s a style that is more appealing to me.

This works similarly for non-fiction. I admire Chesterton but much prefer C.S. Lewis. The latter’s writing style is much more straightforward. It perhaps lacks the art of Chesterton’s prose, but as a reader Lewis leaves a greater impression. I feel the same way about Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They are both incredible theologians, but the latter is more accessible, and I think it’s because he writes in that a-b-c logical style, whereas the former tended to be a little more abstract. Yet I’m sure there are others who feel quite the opposite, and that’s fine.

I’m genuinely curious if anyone else has thoughts to share on, well, thinking.

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A Hero or A Criminal

Last week Kevin Williamson did something I have often dreamed of doing, although to people talking or texting on cell phones while driving and not in a movie theater.

The show was Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, which was quite good and which I recommend. The audience, on the other hand, was horrible — talking, using their phones, and making a general nuisance of themselves. It was bad enough that I seriously considered leaving during the intermission, something I’ve not done before. The main offenders were two parties of women of a certain age, the sad sort with too much makeup and too-high heels, and insufficient attention span for following a two-hour musical. But my date spoke with the theater management during the intermission, and they apologetically assured us that the situation would be remedied.

It was not. The lady seated to my immediate right (very close quarters on bench seating) was fairly insistent about using her phone. I asked her to turn it off. She answered: “So don’t look.” I asked her whether I had missed something during the very pointed announcements to please turn off your phones, perhaps a special exemption granted for her. She suggested that I should mind my own business.

So I minded my own business by utilizing my famously feline agility to deftly snatch the phone out of her hand and toss it across the room, where it would do no more damage. She slapped me and stormed away to seek managerial succor. Eventually, I was visited by a black-suited agent of order, who asked whether he might have a word.

The reaction has been fascinating. While a great many have applauded Williamson for his bit of cell phone vigilantism, others have been far less sympathetic and indeed think he should be brought up on charges. Personally, I called him a hero on facebook.

But is he really a hero? Technically this was destruction of personal property. While the woman was certainly rude, lack of social grace does not negate the right to property.

On one level, it’s difficult to disregard that Williamson did act in an almost (or maybe not even almost) illegal fashion, and he himself was guilty of causing a disturbance. At the same time, the absolute lack of proper etiquette is becoming a growing concern in modern society. My wife and I rarely attend movies largely due to the fact that we have small children and babysitting is expensive. Yet were it not for the children we still would likely have cut back on our movie-going as it had become something of a tedium. I vividly recall attending the third installment of the Pirates of Caribbean franchise. The sheer awfulness of the film was compounded by the sheer awfulness of the crowd attending, largely populated by shrieking girls gawking at Orlando Bloom. Cell phone abuse was hardly the biggest issue with this crowd.

All the same, the reason that so many view Williamsom with admiration is that he confronted rudeness head-on. Instead of bellyaching later in a blogpost about the obnoxious woman sitting next to him, he actually did something about it. Though the action itself is of dubious ethical value, it was an action, and in world of words any actions taken to tackle social problems seem much more meritorious.

There are obvious concerns with Williamson’s actions being replicated on a larger scale, so we should probably not completely encourage such behavior. That being said, I have a difficult time not applauding Williamson for doing what so many of us have yearned to do.

The Myth of the Scientifically-Minded Leftist

Folks on the left love to castigate conservatives as being “anti-science.” It’s a mindless trope that nonetheless is often repeated, often with shrieking glee by a generation of young urbanites who think Jon Stewart is the apex of journalism in America. As it turns out, leftists are just as guilty – if not more so – at ignoring scientific findings that don’t suit their ideological agenda.

The policy world was rocked recently by a New England Journal of Medicine study showing that Medicaid doesn’t improve the health care outcomes of uninsured individuals.

The study compared the health status of adults who were randomly enrolled in Oregon’s Medicaid program with those who weren’t. It found that two years after patients received Medicaid, “no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes” such as hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes resulted. Coverage did, however, lower depression rates and reduced financial strain.

How should a scientifically-inclined liberal have reacted? By acknowledging that if the findings hold in subsequent years, Obamacare’s plan to use Medicaid to achieve its universal coverage goal — at half-a-trillion-dollar price tag over a decade — would need to be reconsidered.

Some liberals such as Ray Fisman of Slate did just that — but they were the exception. Most liberals either dissed the study’s methodology after praising it previously (Kevin Drum, Mother Jones) or ignored its core findings and reported the good news (Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic) or attacked Obamacare’s opponents as heartless fools (Paul Krugman of The New York Times).

Dalmia brings up global warming climate change and other issues where the left shows a penchant for refusing to believe the evidence that is before their eyes. One issue is left out of the discussion, though this being Reason I can understand why: abortion. Leftists and all pro-aborts, for that matter, have to deny all understanding of human biology (or at least severely twist it) in order to justify abortion. But this will do.

In a similar vein, leftists like to mock dumb-dumb conservatives, all the while demonstrating that they aren’t exactly up to speed on all the issues. James Taranto catches Timothy Egan calling Senator Ted Cruz all but an imbecile and notes that it is Egan who demonstrates a manifest lack of knowledge on the issues.

The only problem is that Egan has completely misunderstood how sales taxes work.

A sales tax is a tax on the consumer, not the retailer. Just as the federal government requires employers to collect income and payroll taxes by withholding them from workers’ paychecks, state and local governments require retailers to collect sales taxes by adding them to the customer’s bill.

In theory, a consumer is supposed to pay sales tax on purchases from out-of-state retailers. In practice they usually don’t, because states lack the legal authority to compel out-of-state retailers to collect the tax. Only Congress, which under the U.S. Constitution has sole authority to regulate interstate commerce, can do that.

Egan has it exactly backward, whereas Cruz gets it right. If the bill became law, Texas retailers would have to collect sales taxes on behalf of California, Illinois and New York from customers ordering merchandise to be shipped to those states. If Cruz made purchases from businesses in those states, they would have to collect Texas sales taxes.

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the sales-tax debate, but really, if you’re going to make fun of somebody for being a know-it-all, you ought to make sure you know what you’re talking about.

 

Hoping for Incompetence

Charles Johnson of the Midwest Conservative Journal has a rundown of the recent spate of Obama administration scandals, and closes with a sobering thought.

Here’s where we are.  The United States of America is in serious trouble when the kindest explanation for stories like these is that Barack Obama’s presidency is the most dangerously incompetent administration that this country has ever known.

I will hopefully have more if time permits, but there really isn’t any room for even a bit of schadenfreude-ish joy. This is just pathetic.

The Center of It All

There was a time probably not too long ago where I would have agreed with the notion that New York City was the center of the universe. Like any good native New Yorker, I was never bashful about proclaiming the greatness of the most excellent city in the history of human civilization. I pretty much spent my entire four years of college venting about how awful Atlanta was in comparison. (In fairness, it really is pretty terrible in comparison.)

Now that I’m a bit older and things have changed in my life I no longer view New York with such affection. Sure, there are some things that are unsurpassable. For instance, all pizza outside of the area is just a pale imitation. And even though I will likely live the rest of my life away from New York, I will never become a fan of any sports teams not located in the five boroughs, unless they play in a shared football stadium just outside the five boroughs.

But as I said, things are different now. One thing that’s different is that when I do go home it’s not to the city and to its many bars, but rather to Long Island to see my family. More than that, there’s something about New York and its environs that seems so old and decaying. Sure, the city still has a vitality and life to it, but for some reason it feels different. Maybe it’s the pack of hipsters that I drove through in Williamsburg that made me see the city differently. This is an area of Brooklyn that not even ten years ago was . . .  shady at best, but is now inhabited by horn-rimmed glass wearing white people who are predominantly not from New York City. I’ve never been one to lament the cleaning up of New York, but I sort of miss the old neighborhood.

All that being said, it was good to be back in the city a few days back. For the first time in my life I actually got to spend a night in a New York hotel room. When I made the reservation to stay at “The Milford,” I have to say it didn’t ring any bells for me. Then when I walked up to the building and saw the sign for the Milford Plaza, that’s when it hit me:

If you are over the age of about 35 and grew up in New York, you no doubt are well acquainted with this commercial. If not, well, you missed out on a classic.

Needless to say the lobby didn’t quite look as fancy, and the room was . . . quaint. Throw in a bathroom roughly the size of a closet, and the hotel had a rather cozy feel. Mind you this is not a complaint, as this is what one expects of a hotel located on Broadway.

So New York may not have the same pull for me that it once did, but it’s still a nifty place to visit now and then.

A Question for the Driver In Front of Me This Morning

I’m specifically referring to the guy who had multiple bumper stickers decrying war and climate change, but who most noticeably had a bumper sticker decreeing “Bradley Manning: Whistleblower for Democracy.”

Just curious – what are your thoughts on the Benghazi whistleblowers? Are you still championing whistleblowers for democracy, or is there nothing to see here?

Funny how a press still crowing about taking a president down four decades ago has suddenly lost interest in digging deeper into stories.

Bias? What media bias?

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

This has bad idea written all over it.

Internet radio host Adam Kokesh is planning a Washington DC  protest march that will cause quite a scene if it comes to fruition.

According to Salon, Kokesh is trying to get 1,000 people to march from the Virginia side of the Potomac River into DC while openly carrying loaded rifles. The march would take place on July 4th, 2013. The protestors may not face problems in Virginia where gun carrying laws are less stringent, but they would likely run into problems in DC, where carrying guns openly is illegal.

“This will be a non-violent event unless the government chooses to make it violent” Kokesh says on the event’s Facebook page.

Yeah that last sentence couldn’t possibly have bad portents.

 

Misappropriating Burke

One of the most tiresome and repeated tricks I see in political discourse is right-leaning moderates using Edmund Burke’s name in justifying big government conservatism. The latest to use Burke’s name to justify political moderation is Peter Berkowitz in his book Constitutional Conservatism: Liberty, Self-Government, and Political Moderation. Here’s a blurb from the book.

The first entrenched reality is that the era of big government is here to stay. This is particularly important for libertarians to absorb. Over the last two hundred years, society and the economy in advanced industrial nations have undergone dramatic transformations. And for three-quarters of a century, the New Deal settlement has been reshaping America’s expectations about the nation-state’s reach and role. Consequently, the U.S. federal government will continue to provide a social safety net, regulate the economy, and shoulder a substantial share of responsibility for safeguarding the social and economic bases of political equality…..the attempt to dismantle or even substantially roll back the welfare and regulatory state reflects a distinctly unconservative refusal to ground political goals in political realities.”

And here’s a blurb from Harvey Mansfield.

Peter Berkowitz makes a match between Edmund Burke and the American Founders to give ‘political moderation’ a good name on our partisan battlefield. A short, effectual book with shining prose, a telling argument, and a lasting message. –Harvey C. Mansfield, Harvard University

Jeffrey Lord takes on Berkowtiz as well as Jennifer Rubin, Joe Scarborough and others who are preaching the value of capitulation moderation. As usual, Lord does a fantastic job of eviscerating the case for moderation. First, addressing the blurb quoted above, Lord writes:

So the New Deal is now the Founding principle of America? And attempts to “dismantle or even substantially” roll back the New Deal “reflects a distinctly unconservative refusal to ground political goals in political realities”?

Really?

Even Bill Clinton waxed Reaganesque when he said in that famous 1995 State of the Union message that “the era of Big Government is over.”

Berkowitz’s thinking — which Rubin shares — is a pluperfect example of what led a couple generations of American leaders to believe the Soviet Union was here to stay. Those were the folks rolling their eyes in their supposed sophistication when President Reagan insisted the Soviets were headed to the “ash heap of history.” Only to watch astonished as the Berlin Wall came down followed shortly thereafter by the Soviet flag over the Kremlin. Precisely as Reagan predicted.

Lord further examines how this bedrock principle and the programs created by the New Deal are crashing around us. As he writes:

The fact of the matter is that the New Deal is imploding all around us. With all manner of experts repeatedly warning the U.S. is being relentlessly driven towards a financial cliff, with entitlement spending on track to eventually consume first the defense budget before polishing off the entire federal budget. The fact that Democrats are tying themselves to the equivalent of an unexploded political IED is their decision.

But what, pray tell, is moderate, Republican or conservative about accepting the idea that America is headed irrevocably to bankruptcy and chaos?

There’s much more at the link as Lord explains how the social consensus keeps moving the left. “Moderation,” therefore, will only lead to more government control and, eventually, less freedom.

Jeff Goldstein also discusses Lord’s article and has more insights as well.

Lord and Goldstein both do great jobs of explaining the problems with Berkowitz’s position, but I want to focus on the admittedly more academic point, and that’s Berkowitz’s misappropriation of Burke.

Those who urge a more “moderate” approach to politics think that Burke is a model for their point of view. After all, Burke preached the values of prudence and political temperance. Indeed one of the guiding principles handed down by Burke is the rejection of hasty change. As he wrote:

But one of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated is, lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were their entire masters, that they should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail or commit waste on the inheritance by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society, hazarding to leave to those who came after them a ruin instead of an habitation – and teaching those successors as little to respect their contrivances as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers. By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than flies of a summer.

But citing Burke’s prudence as the center of his philosophy is a severe mistake. Berkowitz is divorcing Burke’s innate conservatism and fear of change from the context in which they developed. Burke advocated a conservative approach to governance precisely because he believed that the nation he lived in and the system of governance it inherited were basically good. Burke was a loyal patriot, and his writings ring with glowing words for the nation he loved. He lamented what happened in France and the revolution because he feared the same thing would happen to Great Britain if the radicals carried the day. As he wrote in the Reflections:

They [the British people] look on the frame of their commonwealth, such as it stands, to be of inestimable value, and they conceive the undisturbed succession of the crown to be a pledge of the stability and perpetuity of all the other members of our constitution.

Therefore Burke’s prudential politics was essentially preservationist. One can’t simply rip that aspect of his philosophy from its context and apply it to the current situation. Burke was trying to preserve the blessings of liberty that he believed the Great Britain of his time promoted and celebrated. He repeatedly warned about schemers who would rip apart the edifices of society in attempt to create some kind of utopian social order. Would Edmund Burke have countenanced or approved of leftist social engineering? Would Edmund Burke have countenanced a leviathan government that interfered in almost every aspect of life? Moreover, would Edmund Burke have tolerated an expansive federal government that overawed the state and local governments? This is the man who wrote,  “to be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.” That Edmund Burke would have been okay with the New Deal and massive growth in the government it wrought?

As was written of Burke by an astute scholar:

Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is the work of a Whig who cherished freedom and, in the name of individual liberty, sought throughout his long parliamentary career, in battles with the Tories as well as with fellow Whigs, to limit the political power of throne and altar. But to limit is not to abolish, and can be consistent with cherishing, as it was in Burke’s case. He saw that within proper boundaries, religious faith disciplined and elevated hearts and minds, and monarchy upheld the continuity of tradition, reflected the benefits of hierarchy and order, and provided energy and agility in government. Both institutions, in his assessment, encouraged virtues crucial to liberty’s preservation.

Indeed. And the author of that paragraph – Peter Burkowitz – is spot on.

Unfortunately Berkowitz sees Burke’s innate political conservatism as the guiding principle without seeing that Burke’s political conservatism worked to serve a larger cause. Burke feared the French radicals not simply because they were radicals, but because they were destroying a system of government he felt was superior to the one they erected, and because they were completely overthrowing the social order. The idea that Burkean conservatism can be applied today as a means of critiquing the tea party movement or, dare I say “extreme” conservatives is a terrible misapplication of Burke’s guiding philosophy.

Further, as Lord says, the New Deal edifice is crumbling. We can’t afford to simply stay the course or veer it just a little bit more to the right. We have reached the point where it will take significant change to preserve our society and our constitution. As Burke himself wrote, “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation. . . Without such means it might even risk the loss of the part of the constitution which it wished the most religiously to preserve.” Burke didn’t preach stasis, and he certainly would not have advocated moderation if moderation meant the slow death of the nation.

It’s disappointing that someone as astute as Berkowitz whiffed this badly. Jennifer Rubin and Joe Scarborough are intellectual lightweights with no hint of being able to think beyond conventional wisdom. Berkowitz, on the other hand, should know better. It’s unfortunate seeing him enlist Edmund Burke in a cause he undoubtedly would have shunned.

“Pregnancy is a Choice, Not a Disability”

This and other pearls of wisdom can be found on the comments of this thread. Yes, pregnant women deserve no extra consideration, and it’s really up to them for other people to give up their seats.

Actually, the latter point isn’t totally off the wall. There is a part of you that worries that offering a seat to someone you deem to be pregnant can backfire if that woman is in fact not pregnant. And sometimes passengers don’t pay attention to other riders getting on that deserve the seat more than they do. But that doesn’t excuse the boorish behavior that some are either defending or even exemplifying.

The comments are truly revealing about a certain mindset among urban hipsters. At least this time no one has used the phrase “f$%^ trophy,” though there’s still time.