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Kvetch, Part Two

with 11 comments

So, here’s the thing, I should be clearer about what I mean by “stupid,” and what I mean by “genius.” 

I’m not, in either case, talking about actual IQ.

To get back to the books I noted yesterday, the “stupid” involved in sometimes the craziness of runaway conspiracy theories, or “alternative” medicine, or that kind of thing, and sometimes it’s things like Cribs and My Super Sweet 16. 

It is, in all these books, a matter of how far the ordinary choices of ordinary people are from making anything like sense in the real world. 

And I think that planting the blame–or at least partial blame–on consumer capitalism makes a certain amount of sense.

I don’t mean that consumer capitalism causes the kind of stupid I’m talking about.  That kind of stupid is inherent in human nature.  Consumer capitalism simply enables it in two ways that outdo any other system ever yet found on this planet.

The first of these is the opportunistic.  Consumer capitalism is, as far as we know, the greatest engine for widespread prosperity every invented.  People who are scraping along barely getting enough to eat do not have the resources of the time to devote themselves 24/7  to figuring out how Clinton hit men killed Vince Foster or to devising multimedia punch fountains so that Daddy’s Little Girl can make a big show about who isn’t get asked to her birthday party.

Yes, as the man said, the poor are always with us, but even the poor in the US have more resources than they would have had two hundred years ago, and they have a lot more resources than they would have if they lived in, say, Ghana.  So consumer capitalism has created an economic situation in which many more of us–in fact, the majority of us–have the luxury of having obsessions, conpiratorial or material or otherwise.

The other sense in which consumer capitalism is responsible for this, however, is that it, by definition, feeds the beast. 

I think that it’s always been the underlying assumption of all of us who sincerely believe we want freedom to think that, if left to themselves, people would make admirable choices.  Surely the desperate need to believe that the Freemason are controlling the Fed, or that your life will be worthless if you don’t own an “I’m With Stupid” t-shirt–well, surely those things are manufactured by The System, fake wants and needs and beliefs that would not exist if people were free to choose.

And don’t imagine that it’s only one political wing or the other that feels like this.  It really isn’t.  Both sides are convinced that the people who want and believe things that they themselves don’t want and believe to be silly are victims of “false consiciousness.”  It’s just that the right calls that “brainwashing.”

So here’s my first point–I think that it’s simply true that, if you give people the freedom to make choices, large honking numbers of them will make really bad choices.  They’ll convince themselves that The Da Vinci Code is nonfiction.  They’ll buy pet rocks.  They’ll spend their week-ends drinking Thunderbird and watching videos of Paris Hilton doing badly the one thing you’d think she’d be able to learn to do well.

And that’s where you hit the problem.  There are ways to minimize the extent to which people make stupid choices.  And every society must minimize them to one extent or another.  That’s why we have police departments, health inspectors, and an educational system.

And it’s certainly the case that if we tighten up the controls, the average person on the street will be less likely to be a full-blown lifestyle loon than if you do not.

But.

I’m beginning to wonder if that isn’t a Pyrrhic victory–that when you minimize the stupid (instead of just regulating the outer fringes of it that become physically dangerous to the rest of us) you also minimize the chances that your society will produce a Bill Gates, or a Steven Spielberg, or even a Henry Ford.

Ford being one of the most remarkable combinations of genius and stupidity in the history of the United States.

In other words, I think I’ve been wrong to be yelling at the extent to which Americans are anti-intellectual in the sense of being anti-intelligent, or anti-knowledge.

I think I’ve missed something.

More tomorrow, with complaints about Benjamin Barber.

Written by janeh

April 21st, 2010 at 8:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

11 Responses to 'Kvetch, Part Two'

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  1. The Bill of Rights doesn’t prohit (unless I’ve really missed something) making bad choices not harmful to others or in violation of federal, state or local laws. Eating entire bags of Dark Chocolate Milky Way bars, drinking six six packs of Budweiser, smoking in your own home, reading and believing the content of an issue of National Enquirer, singing 67 choruses of “99 bottles of beer on the wall,” in public, or pledging allegiance to the Confederate flag are all legal and mostly idiotic as far as I’m concerned. Would I want to stop anyone from doing those things? No. Would I want to witness someone doing those things. Probably not. Recent example of invasion of privacy or encouraging self improvement for someone hasn’t requested it: Gabourey Sidibe (leading actress in 2009’s “Precious” received a phone call or email from Acai Supply offering to help her lose weight using their product, naturally. Nothing illegal on her part. Not their business. Her decision. Another situation, more complicated: yesterday’s Supreme Court decision allowing the promotion and advertisement via video of organized dog fighting events which are illegal in all 5k0 states. Stupid example of freedom or speech or physically harmful? If the act itself is illegal, why should promoting it be legal? Producing child pornography is illegal and so is promoting it. God knows, I’m no big fan of dogs but this is wrong.

    jem

    21 Apr 10 at 1:50 pm

  2. That would be 50 states, not 5k0.

    jem

    21 Apr 10 at 1:54 pm

  3. Well, in the first place, child pornography is only illegal of an actual child was used in producing it. The SCOTUS has declared that you can write stories about child/adult sex and even make animated movies about it and it’s all protected speech. So are web sites for organizations like NAMBLA, which do advocate legalizing something that is at present illegal in all fifty states.

    If free speech was abrogated whenever we made something illegal, I don’t see what point there would be in it. Alcohol was once illegal in all fifty states, as was abortion. People not only wrote in opposition to those bans, but produced how-to manuals for making liquor and doing abortion on your own in spite of the law–and those things were protected speech.

    janeh

    21 Apr 10 at 3:13 pm

  4. OK, on to stupidity and craziness. Here I’m with Jane. We may have a lot of stupid behavior going on, but regulating behavior tends to make it worse. Only consider some bureaucrat enforcing his own nutcase theory by way of “protecting” someone. There have been some pretty bad cases already, and there will be more and worse.
    And, of course, the more minutely behavior is regulated, the more money is to be made in adjusting or interpreting the regulations. There’s a reason our income tax code is 6,000 pages and the new health care “reform” just under 3,000, and it’s not a reason our politicians would like to discuss.

    That said, how far you can have a welfare state and not regulate behavior gets interesting. Such a state exists, along with other reasons, to mitigate the effects of stupid behavior. Spend all your money on lottery tickets, and you still won’t starve. But if everyone behaves stupidly, the system collapses–which is the rationale behind helmet and seatbelt laws for adults.
    Since I’m mostly on the other side, let me cite two instances which seem to be working well–at least in part because they were very simple. Texas escaped much of the “housing bust” by forbidding mortgages covering more than 80% of the value of the home. Singapore has a mandatory percentage of income which must be put aside for old age. And as one of their cabinet ministers said, “I would advise people not to try to cheat on this, because our back-up provisions are very poor.”

    But the other thing to keep in mind is that this is how progress is made. Not from buying 50 lottery tickets stupidity, but from “power lines cause cancer” craziness. In Jefferson’s day, rocks did not fall from the sky. Educated people knew this, and Jefferson was a bit huffy with Harvard professors who reported a meteorite. In the mid 19th Century, a physician in Vienna announced that the “odor of death” lingered on the attending physician–but could be scrubbed off if surgeons would wash their hands between operations and nurses would change bedsheets between patients. Clearly the man was out of his gourd, and his recovery rates some sort of statistical fluke.
    Line up 50 bits of craziness today–MMR injections and autism; spina bifida babies conceived in brick homes–and come back in 50 years. My guess is 48 will be gone, but two will be science.

    Does anyone else remember George C. Scott in THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS? “To know that windmills are giants is madness–but all the progress that mankind has ever made comes from considering that they MIGHT be.”
    Indeed.

    robert_piepenbrink

    21 Apr 10 at 4:46 pm

  5. Lets not forget the role of the web and media. The US had 150 million people when I was in High School. Now it has 300 million. So I assume the number of people who have odd ball beliefs has doubled.

    But now they have the Internet and can set up web sites and Google will point to their sites and news media with 24 hour coverage is looking for “human interest” things to report.

    I’m with Robert – most of the odd ball ideas are wrong but a few will turn out to be right.

    jd

    21 Apr 10 at 5:26 pm

  6. I assume Jem was thinking of http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/21/us/21scotus.html?hpw when she referred to dog fights.

    This doesn’t seem to be promotion and advertising of organized dog fights, just videos of dog fights.

    jd

    21 Apr 10 at 5:30 pm

  7. Were the videos promoting commercial dogfighting simulation or actual dogfights showing animals hurting each other because their trainers urged them to do so? Does NAMBLA promote sexual abuse of minors by adults and depict it visually? Is it merely free speech when films depicting child pornography but not actually using children are downloaded and the person viewing them goes on to download actual child porn? Seems to me that in these situations both children and animals are placed in harm’s way to justify promotion of an illegal act that harms these same children and animals who can’t fend for themselves. Free speech doesn’t extend to:
    disturbing the peace, which can involve making excessive noise after 10 at night. What if I want to do that and the law prevents it, isn’t my right to free speech denied?
    Cursing at police officers can get you arrested. What happens to the right to free speech in that situation?
    United States Code Title 18, Section 871 states that threatening the president with harm, death etc is a class d felony with penalties involved.
    It is illegal in Florida to threaten, stalk, harrass another person, either online or in person. Where is the right to free speech for the one making those threats, etc?
    Obviously, there are limits to free speech. Promoting harm to animals and children should be among those limits.

    jem

    21 Apr 10 at 5:48 pm

  8. Okay, let me see if I can answer this. Jem says first:

    >>>Does NAMBLA promote sexual abuse of minors by adults and depict it visually?

    Yes. Except that they don’t call it abuse, because the purpose of their organization is that sex between adults and minors is a good thing, and beneficial to the minor.

    >>>Is it merely free speech when films depicting child pornography but not actually using children are downloaded and the person viewing them goes on to download actual child porn? >>

    Yes. Except that there’s no “merely” about it. Free speech isn’t mere. It’s the most important right we have, and a right is a limit on government power.

    >>>Free speech doesn’t extend to:
    disturbing the peace, which can involve making excessive noise after 10 at night. What if I want to do that and the law prevents it, isn’t my right to free speech denied?

    Free speech is a right, and a right is a limit on GOVERNMENT power.

    The government can’t stop you–but if you attempt to intrude on somebody else’s property, the property owner can.

    In other words, you have no free speech rights on somebody else’s property. So if you’re blasting your radio in such a way as it intrudes on my bedroom, I can demand that you remove that intrusion.

    If you’re bothering nobody on anybody’s private property, the government can’t, in fact, make you turn off the radio.

    >>>Cursing at police officers can get you arrested. What happens to the right to free speech in that situation

    Protected. If there is no probable cause that you actually mean to commit a threatening ACTION against that police officer, any good lawyer could get you off any attempt to penalize you for cussing him out.

    >>>United States Code Title 18, Section 871 states that threatening the president with harm, death etc is a class d felony with penalties involved.

    Yep, that’s it–the one actual exception to the right of free speech that the courts will allow, and it’s virtually never prosecuted, for the reason that juries don’t like it.

    < <>>Obviously, there are limits to free speech. Promoting harm to animals and children should be among those limits.

    First, I don’t think there should be any limits to free speech at all–not even the one about the President.

    (NOTE–that thing about no freedom of speech on somebody else’s property is not a limit on free speech. It protects you from having a John Birch Society placard planted on your lawn–that is, it protects YOUR free speech from intrusion by government or other people.)

    Second, “harm” is in the eye of the beholder. NAMBLA does NOT think it is promoting harm to children. It believes it is suggesting something that will be to the benefit of those children.

    That’s a difference of opinion–and all opinions, even the ones we don’t agree with, have the right to be free of government restraint on their expression.

    Freedom of speech is not freedom of speech if it only applies to what we approve of.

    janeh

    21 Apr 10 at 6:13 pm

  9. Ok, let me make sure I understand you: harrasment, verbal harassment, isn’t speech? Are you saying that a stalker just quietly walks along with sealed lips while following his victim? Yes, indeed, speech is involved.

    ” …harm” is in the eye of the beholder. NAMBLA does NOT think it is promoting harm to children. It believes it is suggesting something that will be to the benefit of those children.
    That’s a difference of opinion–and all opinions, even the ones we don’t agree with, have the right to be free of government restraint on their expression.
    Freedom of speech is not freedom of speech if it only applies to what we approve of.”

    So, apparently, it was exercising free speech when the nine students in Massachusetts verbally harrassed and theatened Phoebe Prince to the point that she hung herself. Why don’t we blame the victim here and just say she should have had a thicker skin and just ignored those nine people? God forbid that they shouldn’t be able to say whatever the hell they please and screw the consequences.

    Re the NAMBLA doctrine: what if someone decides that cutting off the hands of thieves–which is just as illegal as adults touching children to arouse them sexually–and sets up a website to promote it. Free speech? BS, promoting violence!

    Making noise at night on your own private property and having that noise disturb someone not on your property is not intruding on someone else’s property. IF you believe that, then you are saying that one person’s right (the right of the person on his own property to make noise no matter who it disturbs)ends when it intrudes on someone else’s–in this instance the right to peace and quiet.

    And as to NAMBLA’s “opinion” that man/boy love is beneficial: wasn’t it “opinion” at one time that a man was exercising his right to beat his wife as a means of disciple (rule of thumb, anyone?) and so was beneficial. Is it also “opinion” that cutting off a man’s penis will keep him from committing rape again and benefit him in the long run? Or is everything opinion when right to free speech is involved, no matter who gets hurt as a result of it?

    jem

    21 Apr 10 at 8:12 pm

  10. It’s not clear to me what point you are trying to make, jem.

    I agree with Jane in principle on this issue and do so particularly because we have no constitutional right to freedom of speech down here in Australia and have suffered, and continue to suffer, the consequences since Federation in 1901 when our Constitution, largely modelled on that of the US, was adopted.

    The idea that people should be able to call on the government to legislate to limit somebody else’s freedom of speech just because they don’t like what somebody else is saying is a recipe for totalitarianism and tyranny. This should have become increasingly obvious to everyone in the English-speaking world with the recent goings on in Canada, the UK, and now – to our shame – in Australia where people are using the anti-discrimination laws not only to shut down debate about public policy, but also to enforce preferential treatment for self-selected “disadvantaged” groups.

    In this, people in the US are truly blessed in having the First Amendment and a Supreme Court willing to defend it. The problems of NAMBLA and the like relying on it to protect their aberrant behaviour are trivial compared to the alternatives.

    Mique

    21 Apr 10 at 11:08 pm

  11. Okay, let’s see what I can do here.

    >>>Ok, let me make sure I understand you: harrasment, verbal harassment, isn’t speech? Are you saying that a stalker just quietly walks along with sealed lips while following his victim? Yes, indeed, speech is involved.
    >>>

    Which is irrelevant. What is criminalized in harrassment isn’t speech.

    To become harrassment, the issue isn’t what you say, but how, under what circumstances, and in what particular pattern of behavior you say it.

    Your speech is protected. Following somebody around, going out of your way to confront them, persistantly bringing a private citizen into public notice in a derogatory way–

    Note–PERSISTANT, PUBLIC, CONFRONT.

    We don’t criminalize the speech here, but the pattern of behavior.

    If ALL you did was tell somebody off, your speech would be protected, and IS protected.

    That’s why “verbal harrassment” cases are nearly impossible to win–your behavior (NOT your speech) has to be very extreme to constitute legal harrassment.

    < <>>Re the NAMBLA doctrine: what if someone decides that cutting off the hands of thieves–which is just as illegal as adults touching children to arouse them sexually–and sets up a website to promote it. Free speech? BS, promoting violence!

    Free speech nonetheless–and fully protected by the US Constitution.

    So, for that matter, is promoting violence–you can write and speak all you want about how you think there should be a violent overthrow of the US Government (see Brandenberg vs Ohio) and they can’t touch you unless you make ACTUAL MATERIAL preparations for committing such violence.

    There are web sites and books out there right now that advocate for wife beating, husband beating, cutting off the hands of thieves and other Biblical forms of punishment for wrondoing–and they’re all protected speech.

    The SCOTUS has said so.

    >>>Making noise at night on your own private property and having that noise disturb someone not on your property is not intruding on someone else’s property.

    Yes, it is–and the courts have said this, too.

    If I can hear you in my bedroom, then YOUR speech is occupying MY property.

    < <>>And as to NAMBLA’s “opinion” that man/boy love is beneficial: wasn’t it “opinion” at one time that a man was exercising his right to beat his wife as a means of disciple (rule of thumb, anyone?) and so was beneficial. Is it also “opinion” that cutting off a man’s penis will keep him from committing rape again and benefit him in the long run?

    Yep. and these things are protected speech, and there are people in the US right now speaking in their favor, writing books about them and putting up websites about them, and starting organizations to advocate them.

    And the government may not interfere with their efforts.

    And the courts have said so.

    >>>Or is everything opinion when right to free speech is involved, no matter who gets hurt as a result of it?

    Yes.

    Free speech is free speech.

    The government may not interfere with my right to state my case ON ANY SUBJECT AT ALL.

    The only way to protect my right to say that sex between adults and minors is wrong is to protect their right to say that it is right.

    Because once the government can forbid some opinions–because we all “just know” they’re wrong–it can forbid other opinions once a new party gets into power.

    janeh

    22 Apr 10 at 3:06 am

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