Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

Deep thoughts, omphaloskepsis, and other random musings.

Rule Five Eighth Annual Commencement Speech Friday

It’s that time of year again, when high school and college graduates all over the country are trying on caps and gowns and making post-graduation plans. Today, for the eighth year, I will present here my own carefully prepared commencement speech to those grads – presented here because there’s damn little chance of my being asked to deliver it in person to a group of impressionable yutes.

So, here it is. Enjoy.

“Graduates of the Class of 2021, let me be the first to extend to you my congratulations on this, your day of entry into reality.

For the last four years you have been working towards this goal, towards this day. That’s a good thing. One of the most important skills you will ever need, one of the most important ways to achieve success in the world into which you are about to enter, is the ability to formulate goals, to plan how to achieve those goals, and to see things through until you reach those goals. Today you’ve shown you can do that. Congratulations and good job.

Now, before you go out to enjoy the rest of this day, before you go out to celebrate this goal you have achieved, let me tell you a few harsh truths about the world you’re entering. I’m not going to give you any trigger warnings; if you can’t handle what I’m about to say, there’s damn little future for you out there in the real world, so cowboy up. Moments ago I congratulated you on your day of entry into reality, so to get you started off right, here is a hefty dose of reality for you.

In spite of what you may have been told during all your years of education, nobody owes you anything, and you aren’t special. Any perceived ‘need’ you may have does not entitle you to anything – most especially, not to one red cent of the product of anyone else’s effort. If any of your professors have told you that, then they are economic illiterates, moral frauds or outright charlatans.

Our wonderful Constitution, which has stood for well over two hundred years as the founding document of our Republic, guarantees you the opportunity to your pursuit of happiness. It does not require anyone to provide you the means to your happiness at their expense. You and you alone are responsible for your own life. You have no moral claim on anyone else’s productivity. Accept that fact and you are already one step ahead of most of your peers.

You are entitled to what you have earned through your own efforts, and not:

One.

Damn.

Thing.

More.

If you are accepting a degree today in LGBT Studies, or Women’s Studies, or any of the other assorted bullshit Underwater Dog Polishing degrees our universities crank out today, then you have my sympathies. You are the victim of a fraud perpetrated by our university system, a vicious and cynical fraud that has resulted in you spending a lot of money for no gain. But more importantly, you are the victim of your own poor judgement. You decided to pursue a useless degree, and now you’re stuck. Here is another harsh reality: You are responsible for your own situation. It’s not anybody else’s fault. Nobody else is responsible. You are.

Your university experience had one goal – producing a young adult with marketable skills, someone who can provide value to an employer and to the economy. In this your university has failed, and in choosing this degree, so did you. You have relegated yourself to uselessness in the workplace, and when a few years from now you are working as a barista or checkout clerk and crying over your six figures of student debt, remember what I said a few moments ago: You and you alone are responsible for your own life. You made a decision; now you get to deal with the consequences of that decision. Pull yourself up, look around at the other opportunities around you, and figure a way out of this mess your youthful indiscretion has landed you in.

But you still have one thing going for you. You have shown that you can set yourself a goal and achieve it. Do so now.

So, where do you go from here?

Because nobody owes you anything, including a living, one of the tasks ahead of you now is finding gainful employment. If you’re going to find employment, it will only be because you can demonstrate to the employer that you can provide value to him or her in excess of your costs of employment. Employment is an economic transaction. In any free market transaction, both parties have to realize a perceived gain in value or the transaction won’t happen. If a prospective employer doesn’t think you’re able to provide value to his/her business in excess of your cost of employment, which includes not only your salary but all the extra taxes, fees and other various government extortion that you never see in your pay stub – then they won’t hire you. So be able to present yourself as someone who can provide value, in whatever field you have been studying these last few years.

Once you have gained that employment, once you are in the workplace, remember these three rules for success:

Show up a little earlier than the other guy,
Work a little harder than the other guy,
Never pass up a chance to learn something new.

Words that should never pass your lips include such things as “that’s not my job,” and “I don’t have time for that.” Your reputation in the workplace should be, to put it bluntly, the one who can get shit done. Results matter. Be the one that the boss can count on. Be the one who brings things in on time. Be the one who finishes the job. Be the one that produces value and you will never have to worry about where your next meal is coming from.

Bear in mind also that you are entering the workforce as a tablua rasa as far as potential employers are concerned. You’re not going to leave these halls and be CEO of General Motors. You will be working in an entry level job, probably not making a lot of money, probably doing work your longer-term co-workers don’t want to do. Suck it up. There are no lousy jobs, only lousy people. Any work that produces value is worth doing. How do you know if your work is producing value? The answer to that is trivially easy: If someone is willing to pay you to do the work, then you are producing value. Bear in mind also that the job belongs to the employer, not to you, and if you don’t meet the employer’s expectations, someone else will.

How do you meet those expectations? Better yet, how do you exceed them? When you are doing that job, keep these things in mind:

Be known for your integrity. Don’t say anything you don’t believe and don’t make promises you can’t deliver on. Your employers and co-workers must know you as the person who means what you say and who delivers on your promises.

Be known for your reliability. Show up on time, every day, for every event. Show up on time for meetings. Your employers and co-workers must know you as the person who will always be there when you’re needed.

Be known for your responsibility. If you take on a task, finish it. If you commit to a timeline, meet it. If you accept responsibility for something, own it. It’s yours. Don’t expect anyone else to take care of it for you. Your employers and co-workers must know you as the person who, when put in charge, takes charge.

Be known for your dependability. Plan your tasks to bring them in on schedule. If that means long hours, work them. If that means working a Saturday, work it. Your employers and co-workers must know you as the person who can get the job done.

Success isn’t a mysterious thing. It’s not that elusive and it’s not even all that hard. I did it, and you can too, but it does involve one four-letter word:

Work.

Thomas Edison once said “people often fail to recognize opportunity when it knocks, because it usually shows up in overalls and looks like work.” At these commencement events it’s common to be told to follow your dreams, and that’s nice, flowery stuff, but in most cases nobody is going to pay you to follow your dreams. They will pay you to produce value, and that means work. Follow your dreams on your own time.

Finally, I will leave you all with some unsolicited advice:

All through your life, people will promise you things. Most of them won’t deliver. Many of those people will be people seeking political office, and many more of them will be people pushing some sort of supposed business opportunity. Some years ago the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein observed a fundamental law of the universe, which law is represented by the acronym TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Remember that; if someone offers you something for nothing, they are lying. If someone is offering you something at someone else’s expense, they are offering to commit theft on your behalf. The only moral answer to such offers is outright refusal.

There are only three types of economic transactions and only one of those – a free, unfettered, voluntary exchange of value – is morally acceptable. If a transaction is done by force, that is theft. If a transaction is done by deceit, that is fraud. Have no interaction with anyone who advocates either.

Accept responsibility for your own successes. Accept responsibility for your own failures. Learn from both. Rely on yourself. Rely on your own skills, your own abilities. Many other people will let you down, but you can always rely on yourself.

In her epic novel Atlas Shrugged, author Ayn Rand presents the protagonist, John Galt, describing his decision to solve society’s troubles by an epic act of creative destruction. He describes the ultimate moment of his decision process with two sentences, two sentences which I have found more inspiring than any long-winded ethical or political monologue ever delivered since the times of Plato and Aristotle. These words are the very essence of the self-directed man of achievement:

‘I saw what had to be done. I went out to do it.’

Those are good words to live by. Now, today, you graduates see what has to be done.

Go out and do it.

Thank you and good luck.”

If anyone was offended by anything contained in this hypothetical speech, too damn bad.

Animal’s Daily National Geographic News

The October, 1961 National Geographic.

When I was a little kid, I always enjoyed going through the monthly National Geographic, once the Old Man had read it and passed it down through my siblings to me.  It was a quality publication in those days, full of fascinating insights into exotic locales.  Somewhere around here I still have an October 1961 edition, and it’s neat to look through that and see the state of the world the month I was born.

The current National Geographic – currently going by the childishly stupid NatGeo – is none of these things.  Law & Liberty’s Mark Judge describes the fall of this magazine.  Excerpt:

Today, National Geographic, like so much of the rest of the culture, seems gripped in a mania focused on guilt over race and gender. As part of the magazine’s April 2018 “The Race Issue,” editor Susan Goldberg offered this headline: “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It.” Goldberg hired a scholar, John Edwin Mason of the University of Virginia, to dig through the archives and find white supremacy. Interviewed by Vox, Mason announced that “the magazine was born at the height of so-called ‘scientific’ racism and imperialism — including American imperialism. This culture of white supremacy shaped the outlook of the magazine’s editors, writers, and photographers, who were always white and almost always men.” Responding to a 2018 cover featuring a cowboy on horseback, Mason argues that “the image of the white cowboy reproduces and romanticizes the mythic iconography of settler colonialism and white supremacy.”

And then there was the ridiculous hagiographic Fauci, a documentary that gives the impression that the proper response to public authority is unquestioning obedience and unceasing praise.

It’s sad – read the whole thing, because Mr. Judge describes his father’s work and how he met many of the leading lights of the original National Geographic.  But I think this, like so many things, is a sign of the descent of American society into kakistocracy.  There are so many signs that it’s difficult to name them all, but I’ll give an example:  Written English.  In my business I have occasion to read written work, such as work instructions, investigation plans and reports, and so on, written in many cases by recent college graduates but also at times by experienced people with ten or fifteen years of industry experience.  And the average writing skill?  It ranges from middling to absolutely awful, with a few stellar exceptions that I can only assume are self-taught.

National Geographic is just another example.  When I reached adulthood, I had bought my own subscription to this old periodical and maintained it until sometime in the late Nineties.  The last straw was their cable TV channel, the mostly terrible programming thereon, and the descent of the magazine as Mr. Judge describes.  Not to mention the stupid “NatGeo” appellation.

It was once a fine American periodical, professional, fact-based, scrupulously edited and fascinating.  No longer.  And that’s too bad.

Rule Five Golden Years Friday

Some folks writing in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience claim to have found a body chemistry reason for feeling of contentment later in life.  I’m a little skeptical, but have a read.  Excerpt:

Helping behaviors and life satisfaction generally increase after middle-age. Identifying the neural substrates of prosocial behaviors in older adults may offer additional insights into these changes over the lifespan. The present study examines the endogenous release of the neuromodulator oxytocin (OT) in participants aged 18–99 and its relationship to prosocial behaviors. OT has been shown to influence trust, altruism, charity, and generosity, yet the effect of age on OT release has not been well-established. Blood samples before and after a video stimulus were obtained from 103 participants in order to examine the impact of OT on prosocial behaviors. We found that OT release following a social prime increased with age (r = 0.49, p = 0.001) and that OT moderated the relationship between age and donations to charity. We tested for robustness by examining three additional prosocial behaviors, money and goods donated to charity during the past year and social-sector volunteering. OT moderated the impact of age on all three prosocial behaviors (ps < 0.05). The analysis also showed that participants’ change in OT was positively associated with satisfaction with life (p = 0.04), empathic concern (p = 0.015), dispositional gratitude (p = 0.019), and religious commitment (p = 0.001). Our findings indicate that the neural chemistry that helps sustain social relationships and live a fulfilled life appear to strengthen with age.

Here’s the summary:

Our analysis has identified a likely neurochemical impetus for prosocial behavior that remains intact with age. The data showed that older participants experienced the largest change in OT in response to an emotional stimulus compared to other age groups. The correlation between neurochemical changes and four measures of prosocial actions suggest that OT impacts prosocial behaviors more strongly in aging adults for small increases in OT. As in previous research, our data show that individuals who dispositionally have high empathic concern have a larger increase in OT after a video prime with social content (Barraza and Zak, 2013; Zak and Barraza, 2013). This dispositional effect partially dampens the age effect on OT from the prime revealing a trait-state interaction that influences the acute donation decision. The “high oxytocin responder” effect has been found for other stimuli and behaviors (Rameson et al., 2012; Procyshyn et al., 2020) and has been previously reported for the video used here (Barraza and Zak, 2009). Nevertheless, the positive age gradient for age on donations was maintained for both low and high ΔOT responders. Note that while there was no average change in OT for the video as in a previous study using the same stimulus (Barraza and Zak, 2009), in most published research using social stimuli to induce OT release, including studies with very large sample sizes, only about 50% of participants will show an increase (Barraza and Zak, 2013; Terris et al., 2018).

Yeah, that’s kind of thick.  And yeah, there’s some tentative language there, but that’s how science is actually supposed to work – it’s tentative, subject to new data.

I can’t talk for people in general, of course.  But I suspect that, even if there’s something to this, that there are much larger and more important factors.  Like me, plenty of folks I know, including my siblings, take a lot of joy in their families.  One of the greater things about growing older is seeing your kids launch, start their own lives, start their own families.  And grand-parenting is just fantastic.  Being a grandparent, after all, is the revenge we get for having been parents.

Us folks who are contemplating those golden years can look back on a lot.  Folks who have led a productive, thoughtful, well-considered life can look back on decades of personal and professional achievement, and that certainly leads to satisfaction.

What I’d like to see studied is this:  Compare these factors named here for measuring life satisfaction, but break out the study groups to analyze them in terms of professional and personal success.  Compare, say, a guy who started as a carpenter and ended up running a successful contracting company, to a guy who languished on odd jobs and welfare through his life.  Compare a woman who started as a switchboard operator and ended up as a regional vice-president of the company (my sister did precisely this) to a woman who gamed the welfare system by downloading six kids she couldn’t afford.

I expect you’ll find some correlations there, too.  Granted this doesn’t necessarily show causation – people who are focused, who work, who learn, who strive, are likely to be more successful and more pleased with their lives at any age, while the purposeless… are purposeless.

Still – that’s a study I’d read with some interest.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

For some time now, I’ve been looking for a compact lever-action carbine in .45 Colt, to go along with my pair of revolvers in that round.  Wanting a lightweight, slim piece that’s easily portable while woods-loafing, I’ve been looking at the various 1892 Winchester clones out there.  The company that calls itself Winchester nowadays makes one, as does the Brazilian manufacturer Rossi, but both of those are marred with extraneous (and ugly) external safeties.  As I have always held that a gun with an external hammer requires no added safety – and in any case, the only safety a shooter can really rely on is the one under his hat – I’ve been looking at the various clones offered by Uberti and Chiappi, which are made with more care to the original plans.

Chiappi’s 1860 Spencer

Then I had a chance to look over one of Chiappi’s replicas of the 1860 Spencer carbine, likewise modified to shoot the .45 Colt.  It’s a neat little thing, a little different in operation than ‘traditional’ lever guns, as it is fed by a tube magazine in the stock and the side-mounted hammer must be manually cocked for each shot.  But it’s a little different and unusual, and being a little different and unusual myself, I kind of like it.  So I’m focusing my efforts on those at the moment.  Watch this space for more.

And so…

On To the Links!

Peppermint Patty Psaki leaving the Imperial Mansion for MSNBC.  She’ll no doubt double their viewership – from two to four!

Why Have Female Animals Evolved Such Wild Genitals?  I literally, figuratively and in all other ways have nothing to add to that.

They should, but they probably won’t.

No shit, Sherlock.

Sounds like a good idea to me.  Everyone should have some skin in the game.  Alternative idea:  You don’t pay taxes, you don’t vote.

Documenting the ongoing disintegration of New York City.

Rats continue to flee this sinking ship.

Sarah Palin gains a key endorsement.

Colonel Schlichter documents the Dems stepping on a series of rakes.  Best line:

The Democrat’s 2022 congressional polls are dire, with numbers as foul as the interior of Eric Swalwell’s Prius on the way home from a chili cook-off at Fang Fang’s condo. And the Democrats refuse to crack a window. They are hotboxing a Republican wave so mighty that even the Republicans can’t screw it up. 

These people should be prosecuted, but we all know they won’t be.

H.R. 7366. A bill to ban the imposition of any State or local liability insurance, tax, or user fee requirement for firearm or ammunition ownership or commerce; to the Committee on Ways and Means, and in addition to the Committee on the Judiciary, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned.  But we all know it’s not going anywhere.

I wish I could say this was a surprise.  Maybe we’ll succeed in ditching Murkowski this year.

These people should be prosecuted, but we all know they won’t be.

“Amy Schumer” and “funny” are two words that should never be used in the same sentence.

I’ll start believing climate change is a crisis when the people who keep telling me climate change is a crisis start acting like climate change is a crisis.

This Week’s Idiots:

Ladies and gentlemen, the leader of the free world!

Predictably, Gov. Newsom reacts with an idiotic irrelevancy.

The Boston Globe’s editorial board is evidently a raft of idiots.

Vox’s Li Zhou is an idiot.

MSNBC’s Ali Velshi is an idiot.

Slate’s Fanilla Cheng & Yuliya Panfil are both idiots.

Juan Williams continues his sad decline into idiocy.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr is an idiot.

Peppermint Patty Psaki runs cover for idiots.

This Week’s Cultural Edification:

I’ve presented this before, probably more than once, but it bears repeating.  Hank Williams Jr.’s A Country Boy Can Survive has always been an elegy for those of us who live the rural lifestyle, and probably always will be.  The dazzling urbanites (yes, that’s sarcasm, as well as a Blazing Saddles reference) may not understand it, but they don’t have to, just as I don’t have to understand why anyone would choose to live in the hellholes that our major cities are becoming.  But if bad becomes worse, my money’s on rural and small-town folks coming through it better than the urbanites, because as Bocephus puts it:

Because you can’t starve us out,
And you can’t make us run,
‘Cause we’re them old boys raised on shotgun.

Boy howdy.  Here he is.  Enjoy.

Rule Five Evil v. Stupid Friday

Remember Usenet?  In the infancy of the interwebz, right back after Al Gore invented it, Usenet was a text-only series of forums where one could find lively discussion on a variety of topics.  For various reasons I found myself hanging out a lot on such places as talk.politics.animals, talk.origins and so on.

While arguing animal issues on talk.politics.animals, I got to following a guy who, while being very direct and sometimes abrupt, was nevertheless very good at making a point.  After one leftie/animal rights lunatic (but I repeat myself) bragged about blocking conservative posters not because of their behavior but because of their opinions, my acquaintance posted the following:

The reason you do it (block conservative replies) is because you’re intellectually intolerant.

In fact, that absolute unshakable conviction of moral truth applies *far* more to leftists. Leftists just *know*, for example, that people have a “right” to free health care and forgiveness of their student loans, and they simply don’t want to hear – *refuse* to hear – arguments to the contrary.

This gets back, as this debate so often does, to a well-known bromide that oversimplifies the difference between conservatives and liberals, but nonetheless contains an element of truth and goes a long way toward explaining the inherently uncivil behavior of leftists in civic discourse:

Conservatives think liberals are stupid; liberals think conservatives are evil.

The implications of that are huge. Conservatives may think liberals are stupid, but as long as the liberals aren’t brain damaged, they may be amenable to instruction. Thus, conservatives generally don’t naturally start off being uncivil, as doing so would make the listener un-receptive to the lesson. Conservatives tend to see civility as a virtue.

But liberals, with their reflexive belief that conservatives are evil, *start* with incivility, and given their assumption, why wouldn’t they? Liberals see incivility as a virtue when dealing with those whom they sophomorically see as incorrigibly evil.

This would have been posted, if memory serves, right around 1999 or 2000.  So, at least twenty years ago, probably twenty-two or twenty-three.

Now, take a look at that passage with an eye towards the political situation in the United States today.

The central argument here – that conservatives thing liberals are stupid, and liberals think conservatives are evil – is often attributed to the last William F. Buckley, although the reference I’ve always credited for it is the late Dr. Charles Krauthammer.  Dr. Krauthammer expanded on the theme thusly:

Liberals suffer incurably from naiveté, the stupidity of the good heart. Who else but that oracle of American liberalism, The New York Times, could run the puzzled headline: “Crime Keeps On Falling, but Prisons Keep On Filling.” But? How about this wild theory: If you lock up the criminals, crime declines.

And:

Liberals, who have no head (see above), believe that conservatives have no heart. When Republicans unexpectedly took control of the House of Representatives in 1994, conventional wisdom attributed this disturbance in the balance of the cosmos to the vote of the “angry white male” (an invention unsupported by the three polls that actually asked about anger and found three-quarters of white males not angry).

The current state of affairs, which has scribes and commentators on both sides bemoaning the lack of “civility” (and if you think that political vitriol is something new, go read Cicero’s speeches about Mark Antony) but it all seems to come back to this central premise.

This explains a lot – for example, the Occupy/BLM/Antifa riots, with burning, looting, and billions of dollars in property damage – vs. Tea Party events, where the grounds were left cleaner than found, or the peaceful – really peaceful, not “Antifa-mostly-peaceful” trucker convoys in Canada and, now, the United States.  When you are operating on the premise that your opposition is evil, and therefore by definition un-personned, you can justify a lot.  But when you operate on the premise that your opposition is stupid, or, to be a little more charitable, merely ignorant, then it is hard to justify violence.

As my friend said above, liberals see incivility as a virtue.  That stops any meaningful discourse in its tracks.  and, sooner or later, it’s going to bring the Right around to seeing the Left as the Left sees the Right – as incorrigibly, unpardonably evil.  And that won’t end well for anyone.

 

Animal’s Daily 1914 News

Are there parallels between today’s situation in eastern Europe and the Europe of 1914?  History may not always repeat, after all, but it frequently rhymes.  David P. Goldman thinks there are such parallels.  Excerpt:

World War I had no good guys and no winners. France rightly sought the return of the provinces Germany had annexed in 1870. Russia rightly feared that German influence would sever its industrial centers and tax base in the Western parts of it its empire; England feared that Germany would encroach on its overseas empire; Germany feared that Russia’s railroad system would overcome its advantage in mobility and firepower. None of them wanted a war, but each of them decided that it was better to fight in 1914 than fight later at a disadvantage.

Historian Christopher Clark in his 2013 book The Sleepwalkers forever buried the black legend of German aggression in 1914, with proof from Russian archives that the Czar’s mobilization – with French incitement – provoked the outbreak of war. There’s no hero to cheer, no villain to boo in the first tragedy of the 20th century, just mediocre and small-minded politicians unable to step back from the brink.

All of them acted rationally in the pursuit of their vital interests, but at the same stupidly as well as wickedly, and the ensuing world wars undid the achievements of a thousand years of Western civilization. We look back to 1914 in horror, and wonder how the leaders of the West could have been so pig-headed. Nonetheless, we are doing it again today.

That should be an object lesson for today’s Ukraine crisis. Vladimir Putin acted wickedly, and illegally, by invading Ukraine, but also rationally: Russia has an existential interest in keeping NATO away from his border. Russia will no more tolerate American missiles in Kyiv than the United States would tolerate Russian missiles in Cuba.

The United States could have averted a crisis by adhering to the Minsk II framework of local rule for the Russophone provinces of Eastern Ukraine within a sovereign Ukrainian state but chose instead to keep open Ukraine’s option to join NATO. That was rational, but also stupid: It backed Putin into a corner.

I’m not so sure keeping that option open was rational, but I wholeheartedly agree it was stupid.  And I’m not 100% certain NATO is still relevant, although it’s vastly more relevant and useful than the UN at this point.  Frankly, Ukraine isn’t any of our damn business.  Is the Russian invasion a bad thing?  Certainly.  Are there any compelling U.S. interests involved?  Not so that I can see.

Look, Russia is likely due for a scrambling overhaul in any case, and within a generation.  Putin won’t live forever, the Russian GDP is roughly the same as Spain’s, and the Russian people aren’t having babies.  A poor state whose people aren’t reproducing isn’t a recipe for long-term success; at this point it would seem Russia is doomed for the ash-heap of history in time, Putin’s desire to resurrect the Soviet Union aside.  But now we are involved, and without one U.S. soldier involved, we are paying the price – at the gas pump and, with the latest boom in inflation, everywhere else.

Goldman concludes:

In Chinese official media, there is a grim discussion of the parallel between Ukraine and Taiwan. We misjudged Putin, just as he misjudged us. No sanctions or denunciations will hold back the Russian Army. We should not misjudge China. Sometimes an uncomfortable status quo is infinitely preferable to a roll of the dice on peace or war.

Especially when the folks you’re rolling dice with have nuclear warheads on intercontinental launchers.

Rule Five Seeking Beauty Friday

I stumbled across this over at Law & Liberty from Theodore Dalyrimple, one of my favorite commenters, and found it through-provoking indeed:  See Beauty, Not Offense.  Excerpt:

The Art Newspaper recently ran an article with the title “What should we do about paintings with racist titles?” As an example, it gave the Portrait of a Negress by Marie-Guillemine Benoist, painted in 1800 and owned by the Louvre.

The portrait is a splendid one by a female artist, of an elegantly seated black woman in a snowy white turban and gown, semi-naked from the waist up. It is obvious, at least to me, that we are intended to admire her beauty, as indeed we do. There is no doubting, either, the intelligence of her gaze: the artist could hardly have made it plainer.

There doesn’t seem to me anything that is intrinsically demeaning in the title. The term negress was not, in and of itself, an insulting or demeaning one at the time. Art galleries are full of portraits that do not name their subjects but merely refer to some general characteristic or other such as youth, age, country of origin, occupation, and so forth. This does not demean or dehumanise the subject, and no sensible person would take such a title to mean that the characteristic chosen for it—peasant, servant, soldier, or whatever—is supposed to define him or her completely. Portraiture is not caricature, and the anonymity of a sitter implies no disrespect, let alone contempt or hatred.

Note that the painting in question was produced in 1800, at which time the term “negress” was not an insult or a pejorative; it was, in the parlance of the day, merely descriptive, nothing more.  But here’s the interesting bit:

As I usually do at such exhibitions, I read the book afterwards in which visitors leave their comments. I remember one page in particular, written by two women, both of whom described themselves as black. The first wrote that she considered the exhibition a disgraceful exercise in racial stereotyping that should not have been permitted, while the second wrote that she was grateful to God that he had allowed her to live long enough to see an exhibition that showed black people in all their beauty.

These two women had seen exactly the same pictures considered as purely physical objects, of course, but their responses to them were diametrically and dramatically opposite. My sympathies were much more with the second than with the first comment: it seemed to me that all the painters exhibited in their work either a sympathy or respect for their subjects. They were largely free of any suggestion that the subjects were lesser human beings than the artists themselves, with the possible exception of certain paintings in which the slaves were pictured as helpless if terribly suffering victims. Indeed, many of the pictures were clearly admiring of their subjects.

Frankly it sounds as though the exhibit was a beautiful one, and anyone who takes pleasure in art should have enjoyed it.  And I suspect that Mr. Dalyrimple is correct later on, when he presumes that at least a generation separates the two women who signed the book; the younger, likely, being the one that decried the exhibit as racist.  As he presumes:

My guess was that the women were of two generations deeply separated by their sensibilities. My surmise was that the woman who thanked God that He had allowed her to live long enough to see such an exhibition was at least one generation older, possibly two, than the woman who thought the exhibition deeply racist.

And that says a lot about what’s happening in society right now:  The hyper-sensitivity, the overwhelming focus on superficial issues like race, which is largely a cultural construct; it certainly has little basis in biology, when humans have considerably less genetic variability than most large mammals.

For that (presumably) younger woman, the only thing I can bring myself to feel is pity:  Pity that she has been so misinformed, so abused by an educational system and culture that places such emphasis on something as trivial as melanin content, that this is the only lens through which she can view a beautiful and historic exhibit of art.  That’s just sad.

Rule Five Happy Society Friday

In a recent article, The Federalist author Tristan Justice (a pseudonym?) opined that a happy society would have more children.  Happy society?  Well, I’m pretty happy, as is Mrs. Animal, but I can see how some folks might not be.  We have four kids, so I guess there’s at least a correlation there, in our case.  Anyway.  Excerpt:

According to new data from the General Social Survey highlighted by former Washington Post reporter Christopher Ingraham, just 19 percent of Americans last year said they were “very happy,” down from 31 percent, nearly a third, three years before. Twenty-four percent in 2021 said they were “not too happy.”

Americans are also having fewer children than ever before, with the nation’s birth rate falling for the sixth consecutive year in 2020 to its lowest ever. Just 3.6 million babies were born, according to CDC statistics, down from 3.7 million the year before.

There are a lot of reasons why Americans aren’t having more children. Marriage is declining so rapidly that married people will soon be the minority. Faith, the bedrock of a moral society that incentivizes children (and empirically raises levels of happiness) has deteriorated so much that church membership has already dropped below 50 percent, according to Gallup. Americans aren’t even having as much sex, or even engaging in masturbation which signals a lack of interest.

According to the Pew Research Center in November, no baby boom is expected anytime soon. Only about a quarter of non-parents under the age of 50 reported they were “very likely” to have children, down from 32 percent in 2018. Forty-four percent said they were “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to have children whatsoever.

Read the whole thing; there are some interesting points made, but there are a few I’d like to point out.

Faith, the bedrock of a moral society that incentivizes children (and empirically raises levels of happiness) has deteriorated so much that church membership has already dropped below 50 percent, according to Gallup.

While there may be some correlation between church membership and morality, you can color me a bit skeptical, mostly because of my own lifetime experience.  Plenty of non believers are very moral people and good parents to large families; the Old Man, for one, me for another.  That’s kind of a thinly supported blanket statement, and I suspect there are other factors at play.  Correlation, after all, is not causation.  And I think there’s another source of stress; read on.

Only about a quarter of non-parents under the age of 50 reported they were “very likely” to have children, down from 32 percent in 2018. Forty-four percent said they were “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to have children whatsoever.

See, this part is just sad.  I’ve known a few people, not young folks any more but contemporaries of mine, who for one reason or another decided not to have kids.  My worry for them is this:  What happens when you’re old, and one spouse dies, leaving the other all alone, with no family, no kids or grandkids to fill your remaining days?  The only word I can think of to describe that is lonely, and that seems like an understatement.

Still, I’d like to see more numbers here.  I’ve known plenty of folks who, when young, claimed to want to eschew the responsibility of parenthood, only to change their minds as they got older.

I don’t know how to measure the happiness level of a society.  I suspect polls in general.  It’s too easy, and pollsters are too practiced at, wording and conducting polls in a certain way to arrive at a predetermined conclusion.  Certainly in uncertain times like these, with inflation tugging away at our pocketbooks and a sham administration in the Imperial Mansion, with crime spiking in our major cities and the average IQ of most Congresscritters being below room temperature – well, with all that I can see how lots of folks are feeling stressed.

Up here in the valley, though, most folks seem to be doing pretty well.  Maybe what stresses people out, what makes them unhappy, if being jammed together, unnaturally, in big cities that are increasingly unsettled, filthy and dangerous.

For whatever reason, I don’t see why folks would avoid parenthood.  We raised four daughters, and being a father and grandfather is one of the primary things that gives my life meaning.  Our oldest two certainly don’t fit the trend mentioned here, having three kids each; the younger two haven’t started yet but both have indicated the want families.

Maybe this is a short-term trend.  Maybe it isn’t.  Only time will tell, I suppose.  Meanwhile, as I’ve been saying for some time now:  Get out of the cities.

Rule Five Class War Friday

Stumbled across this during the week, and was drawn in; the Claremont Institute’s thinks that America’s class war is just beginning, and he has some interesting points.  Excerpts, with my comments, follow.

With the seeming deconstruction of the Biden Administration proceeding at a rapid clip, many on the right hope for an end to the conscious stoking of class resentments that has characterized progressive politics. Yet despite the political meltdown, America’s class divides have become so wide, and so bitter, that Biden’s presidency may prove more a prelude than a denouement for the future of class warfare.

Under both parties, American society, traditionally egalitarian, at least in theory, has become ever more divided by financial class. Today, the Federal Reserve demonstrates that the top one percent have more assets than the 60 percent who occupy the middle rungs. The remarkable rise of the tech oligarchy has paced this change, creating a gusher of wealth for the chosen few, including youthful, unproven start-up CEOs turned instant billionaires—as well as an unprecedented boom on Wall Street. The pandemic has accelerated this trend, vastly enriching the elites, and raising executive salaries to the highest ever. Meanwhile much of the working and middle classes may become increasingly dependent on what Marx called “the proletarian alms bag.”

Not that the “tech oligarchy” are the same folks who are slapping Derpbook and Twatter bans on anyone to the right of Leon Trotsky.  On the surface, though, this seems like the kind of “distribution of wealth” horseshit you see from the Left, ignoring that wealth is not distributed, it’s created and earned – but read on.

Where will the serfs go politically? They do not have a sympathetic audience among the progressive gentry. A writer at The New Republic  has  called for “blue states and cities to effectively abandon the American national enterprise,” dismissing the rest of the country as “crazy, deadbeat in-laws.” Calling people “deplorables” or “clingers” may well be part of the reason that working people, including many minorities, have shifted to the GOP. Salon recently published a piece that applauds the tendency among young progressives to ostracize and avoid contact with Trump supporters, not just politically but in daily life.

Progressive author Joan Williams has accused the national elites of “class cluelessness,” which leaves them vulnerable to authoritarian solutions. “If we don’t take steps to bridge the class culture gap, when Trump proves unable to bring steel back to Youngstown, Ohio, the consequences could turn dangerous,” Williams avers. What the working class wants, she suggested in a recent episode of Salon Talks, is not more welfare and transfers, as Biden has proposed, but “respect and solid middle-class jobs.”

Bear in mind that nothing – nothing the Biden(‘s handlers) Administration has done to date has been or will be effective at creating solid middle-class jobs.  Note also that what is described here is not a class divide, but a cultural one, and it’s a failing common to both sides; it seems to be human nature to conclude that, when someone disagrees with us, they must be stupid.

Mr. Kotkin concludes:

But sustained anger in the middle and lower classes could also lead, as has occurred in Europe, truly awful nativist and even racist elements into their coalition, something as destructive as the progressive drive to deconstruct the country. A country divided between socialist agitation and resentful yeomanry will not be pleasant. If we do not confront the realities of our class divides, anger on both sides will continue to build, intensifying our current, increasingly uncivil civil war.

While again, Mr. Kotkin offers no policy solutions, I have to give him a pass on that.  I don’t have any policy solutions either.  All around us are the signs of a society in decay, maybe the early stages of collapse:  Not even a pretense of equal treatment under the law, the collapse of common manners and consideration, the rise of a near-all-powerful, unelected, unaccountable shadow government of appointed bureaucrats, and elected imbeciles doing everything they can to turn us against each other.  Can we turn it around?  I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m afraid that, if it is possible, it won’t be easy.  And the alternative will be ugly indeed.

Get out of the cities, folks.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to The Other McCain, Bacon Time, Pirate’s Cove and Whores and Ale for the Rule Five links!

This is an interesting bit on the ongoing culture war, and echoes some thoughts I’ve been having of late.  Excerpt:

Extremes aside, the one culture war that truly matters is the battle between “equality of opportunity” versus “equality of outcome.” The former is a narrative that aims for success and values meritocracy, while the latter frowns upon success and dismisses meritocracy. One side focuses on achievement and aspiration, rather than nihilism and zero-sum thinking.

It’s impossible to not see this trend in both politics and economics. The politicization of income inequality is perhaps the clearest example, in which a static picture of inequality vies with a more dynamic picture of social mobility. Causally (and incorrectly) linking income inequality to social mobility is an idea already very entrenched in our public discourse. In truth, the latter is basically a luxury belief.

When Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders picked a fight with Time magazine’s “person of the year” Elon Musk, the culture war flared up again. Although Musk has shown leadership on so many issues that liberals support, such as climate action, the zero-sum narrative refuses to go away. The rich prosper, you see, at the expense of the poor.

It’s vitally important to note here that Fauxcohantas Warren and the daffy old Bolshevik from Vermont are both economic imbeciles.  In fact, I can probably leave out the qualifier; they are both imbeciles, period.  The article continues:

The war on excellence can also be seen in states and cities that are discontinuing gifted & talented education programs. Ditto for the decision by Harvard University (among other schools) to discontinue SAT scores as a requirement for entry, regardless of the fact that doing so hurts minorities the most. Other examples include the guillotine placed outside of Jeff Bezos’ apartment last year, or the egregious case of the “Whiteness” chart displayed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which framed achievement, hard work, and planning as exclusively “white” characteristics. 

This narrative may be partly responsible for Hispanics and other immigrants moving across the aisle. According to Equis research, after the 2020 election Latino voters are now more likely to be “American dream voters” who believe that hard work pays off. The same can be said of another important immigrant group, Indian Americans, who place values like achievement above much else and for whom the American dream of earned success is alive and well.

Hispanic voters may well be a major deciding factors in the next few election cycles, and they are increasingly leaning towards the GOP.  Plenty of them are from families that have been in the U.S. or in territory that is now the U.S. for a long time – sometimes hundreds of years – while others are recent, legal immigrants.  The de facto open borders crowd on Team Blue isn’t appealing to those folks.

But here’s the onion:

People — Democrats and Republicans — primarily care about living better, richer, and fuller lives. That is the essence of the American dream — a dream of higher social mobility and people improving their lives, despite obstacles and regardless of where they started. But that dream is based on a positive-sum narrative of equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

Let’s promote a culture based on a belief that we are agents in our own destiny — to paraphrase William Henley, masters of our fates and captains of our souls. For that, we need to continue fighting for the values of freedom, responsibility, and hope. What better goal for 2022 than that?

Look, though, at that first sentence:  People — Democrats and Republicans — primarily care about living better, richer, and fuller lives.  Aye, and that’s the rub – a majority (or at least a strong plurality) of Republicans want to be left alone to achieve those better, fuller, richer lives on their own, while a majority (or at least a strong plurality) of Democrats want someone else to provide them with those better, richer, fuller lives with no effort on their part.

That, True Believers, is the root of the whole thing.

Deep thoughts, news of the day, totty and the Manly Arts.