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Know Your Friends, Know Your Enemies, The Difference Isn’t Always Clear

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Yesterday, I had a lot of running around to do, of the drive three hundred places, eat up seven hours and get very little done variety. 

And during that, I took some time off to sit down in the Barnes and Noble cafe and have one of those silly frappacino things, just to sort of sit there to take a breather.  And while I did that, I read through some magazines.

One of the magazines I looked at was the lated (July/August 2010) edition of The Humanist.  Mostly, that’s something I read to give myself a chance to roll my eyes.  I’ve said this here before, but the problem with The Humanist–and the entire American Humanist Association, as far as I can tell–is not that they’re “liberal” or “progressive” or even “left,” but that they’re stuck in 1968 in the worst way possible.

And this edition had a really good example of what drives me so crazy.  It was a special issue on climate change, and it contained the requisite set of articles all proclaiming that there are Rational People Who Accept Science and who therefore not only accept the popular version of climate change but believe we must drastically alter human behavior to reverse it and save the earth–and irrational capitalist ideologues and religious fanatics who deny that reality.

Then there was another article on the ideas of Freeman Dyson–scientist and atheist and rationalist–whose basic idea is that climate change isn’t the issue.  Human well being is the issue.  We should do whatever it takes to make sure everybody is fed, housed and clothed and if that means higher temperatures–so be it.

So, what?  It turns out that you don’t have to be a “capitalist idelogue” or a “religious fanatic” to think that the political prescriptions coming out of the climate change issue are wrong?

Imagine that.

Maybe they should let the rest of their writers in on it.

But it isn’t the climate change stuff I was really caught by.  It was a little sidebar about a project called “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day,” which started as a poster by the cartoonist Molly Norris in response to the censoring of images of and mentions of Mohammed on a South Park episode.

The poster led to an actual campaign for an actual day–May 20, 2010–to draw Mohammed on the Internet.

The sidebar consisted of quotes from a number of people who supported the project, and one of those people was the comedian/commentator Bill Maher.

Now, let me be clear here.  Bill Maher drives me crazy. I think he’s a pompous, bullying  jerk.  Religulous was just as much of a hatchet job as I’d expected. 

As to the content of the politics, we agree on some things (abortion, for instance, probably gay marriage) and disagree on others.

But there’s disagreement and disagreement.  What Maher was quoted as saying was this:

“I’m very glad that Obama is reaching out to the Muslim world and I know Muslims living in America and Europe want their way of life to be assimilated more, but the Western world needs to make it clear:  some things about our culture are not negotiable and can’t change.  And one of them is freedom of speech.  Separation of church and state is another–not negotiable.  Women are allowed to work here and you can’t beat them.  Not negotiable.  This is how we roll.  And this is why our system is better.”

There was more, but nothing that changed the thrust.  And I could have said it myself.

And this is what I meant, a while ago, when I said there were libertarian socialists–people who supported, say, a wide welfare state but who still supported freedom of speech and all the rest of it, and who would resist attempts to make the welfare state into an instrument of violating individual rights.

If I’m in a room full of people who all agree with me and Maher up there, then whether they’re free marketers, welfare staters, or whatever, we’re all friends.  All that other stuff is policy.

The real fight is between people with attitudes like Maher’s and mine and–well, the people who were in my meeting the other day.

Maher is not a danger to my way of life, in spite of being so ideologically extreme in some ways he could make my teeth bleed.

The people in my meeting, though, are a time bomb under everything I hold dear.

P.S.:  By the way, when I said that these people in the meeting weren’t the typical English department, it wasn’t because I thought the typical English department would have thought differently than they did.

It was because no matter what the typical English department thought, it would NOT have been made up of the people in that meeting, most of whom did not have the kind of credentials to qualify.

I need tea.  And Martha Grimes.

Written by janeh

August 1st, 2010 at 9:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

15 Responses to 'Know Your Friends, Know Your Enemies, The Difference Isn’t Always Clear'

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  1. You say “policy” as though you meant “details” or “irrelevant.” And you’ve broadened “socialist” to include mere advocates of a welfare state. One more time: when the government is wrong, free people get to say so, very loudly. Free people choose who they work for, and conditions of employment are settled between willing buyers and willing sellers. That is not compatible with state-owned news media, nor with a single-employer state. As you move toward socialism, you move away from freedom. You can argue that the trade off is worth it, but let’s not pretend it isn’t there. And Rand was certainly right that it CAN only be worth it up to a point–beyond that, you’ve given up freedom AND lost security and prosperity.

    The funny thing is, I’ve never met a socialist who could see that point. They (mostly) aren’t supporters of Pol Pot’s or Stalin’s famines, but they can’t see a moral line with communists on the other side, or say a government ought not to have that much power. They think it’s just “policy.”

    As far as English departments go, if a better-credentialled English department would have shown the same willful ignorance and illogic, you might want to rethink the whole credentials business. Tell me again the point of a liberal arts education?

    robert_piepenbrink

    1 Aug 10 at 10:01 am

  2. I think we’re defining “socialist” differently. I’d say Sweden was definitely socialist, and France probably so.

    In both places, free people get to say their government is crap, people choose who they work for and who works for them, and there’s private media as well as the state owned kind.

    I’d say your description is Communist, not socialist, and there is a difference, quite a big one.

    Think of it as a sliding scale–with no government anarchy on one end and total government control on the other–and in the wide middle of that scale you’ll find varieties of government that are all compatible with what I’m talking about.

    And WITHIN that section of the continuum–yes, whether the government provides universal health care coverage or not is policy, not principle.

    janeh

    1 Aug 10 at 11:07 am

  3. True. Though you could also define France and Sweden as capitalist and your reasoning would be equally sound. Both have back-pedaled in recent years after seeing just how well state-run industries operated. The operating range of liberal democracies today is roughly Singapore to Sweden–not a wide range if you consider the spectrum of human political and economic programs.

    But if all you want is a welfare system, you aren’t a socialist as any of their founders and organizers used the term. And the persistent problem with socialists–as opposed to advocates of a welfare state–is that they DON’T see “quite a big difference” between them and the communists. They tend to see communism as a noble ideal–and an objective.

    Try them on governmental power. Should a government have the power to own an entire industry? Yes. Should it be able to tax people to put on “news” programs? Certainly. Should it be able to take property, setting whatever price it wants, or paying none? Yes. What fruits of a man’s labor should be off limits to the state? None. So what keeps a government from confiscating the food, leaving the people to starve and hushing it up in the state-controlled news media? Well, we wouldn’t do such a thing.

    Many of them wouldn’t. But when your freedom relies on the benevolence of your masters, you are no longer free. Except for capital punishment, I have NEVER hears a socialist object to any extension of government power. Yes, there is a broad middle range–but that’s not the socialists’ fault.

    robert_piepenbrink

    1 Aug 10 at 1:28 pm

  4. I think you have your question set wrong.

    For instance, the issue isn’t whether or not the government should be allowed to tax people to put on news programs.

    Every single country in the West does that, including us.

    The question is whether or not the government should be allowed to restrict and/or forbid any other news programs.

    And as to confiscating property at whatever price it wants–that’s eminnent domain, pretty much, especially after Kelo.

    But the difference is in the exclusivity and in the ability to protest, organize and change.

    So I’d ask your self-proclaimed sociatists if government should be allowed to shut down competing sources of information, for instance, and if they should be allowed to forbid their people to leave.

    And I always did think that last thing was the most important.

    I don’t have the time to research everything and everywhere, but I do know that the single thing I have to know about any government is if it punishes its people when they try to leave.

    That, really, tells you what you want to know.

    janeh

    1 Aug 10 at 1:50 pm

  5. Well, after all, they owe the State for the “free” education. Can’t have them skipping out on their debts. And Kelo and PBS are both very bad signs–way stations on a road I have no desire to travel.

    But you don’t need to formally ban protests and competing news. Set up a news people HAVE to pay for, and squeeze them enough financially, and non-governmental news will go away. Restrict private fortunes enough, and no one’s going to have money enough to start private media anyway. As for protesting and organizing–well, once you control news, you’ve largely got communications. No one’s going to hear about a rally you don’t approve of. Toss in a few “hate speech” laws, and a ferocious set of applications for use of “public spaces.” (There won’t be any large private ones.) Breaking a free people is done in small steps. Many, many small steps.

    You think because they have the right accents and attended the right schools that these people are your friends. Many people have made that sort of mistake. The love of human liberty is not in ANY socialist. That’s why he is a socialist. And why I distinguish them from mere advocates of a welfare system.

    Restrictions on leaving are actually in fourth place for signs that it’s time to flee a country. The first three are:

    1) large statues of the ruler.
    2) the ruler has a title all his own.
    3) things are named after the ruler.

    In those cases, flee immediately. If it’s just guards at the border, you might try to sell the farm first. But when Joe Smith declares himself the Enlightener, renames the capital Smith City and starts putting up a 90′ statue of himself, get out with your life and call yourself lucky.

    robert_piepenbrink

    1 Aug 10 at 5:26 pm

  6. I’m always mildly suprised at hostility towards publically-funded news media, not only because I’d be at a loss without CBC and BBC. The current Canadian government (and quite a few of the past ones) have been actively trying to eviscerate CBC – partly for ideological reasons, at least with Harper, and partly because CBC does these annoying and embarrassing investigative-type stories. Private news media, on the other hand – well, I shouldn’t comment because I tend not to watch them because they mostly did little snippets of packaged stories with no local coverage and little in the way broad (or international) coverage or in-depth analysis. I believe one of the, if not the, biggest private group dealt with their narrow coverage by contracting with CNN, presumably to provide broad international coverage.

    Political systems run along a continuum, and what is meant by various names like ‘socialist’, ‘communist’ and even ‘capitalist’ seems to vary according to the speaker. Yes, requiring exit permits and setting up a leadership cult are very bad signs. I don’t think having a public broadcasting system is. Eminent domain without appropriate restrictions on its use probably is.

    Does anyone still consider communism (I mean, the real thing, not something a bit left of the US political centre) a viable option? I have’t heard anything about it. Even the various competing student Marxist groups I remember from my youth seem to have vanished.

    Cheryl

    1 Aug 10 at 6:15 pm

  7. Australia has an election on 21 August. I’ve just been looking at the list of candidates for the senate for this state. Its very long (a lot of no hope parties) and 2 of the candidates list themselves as Communist.

    jd

    1 Aug 10 at 7:14 pm

  8. John, you inspired me to Google rather than write off the top of my head, and Canada does in fact have a registered Communist Party of Canada (which apparently has branches in all of two provinces) AND a Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada. I’m astonished to discover how many parties that I never heard of which are registered with Elections Canada. There’s even The Libertarian Party of Canada, and my old favourite, the Rhinoceros Party seems to be making a comeback.

    The only parties that actually won a seat at the last General Election were the usual: Conservative Party of Canada, Liberal Party of Canada, Bloc Québécois,
    New Democratic Party and ‘Independent/No affiliation’, so I don’t think we tend to consider all the rest as viable options.

    Cheryl

    2 Aug 10 at 6:21 am

  9. Cheryl, I think if the government takes your money to found a church, the appropriate question is not “How good are the sermons?” but “Is this something which should be done with tax money?”

    I enjoy RED DWARF and “Car Talk” as much as the next man, but ask yourself whether it’s a good idea for the government to be taking the citizenry’s money and then deciding what you should be told by way of news or given by way of appropriate entertainment. That can be news and entertainment at a very high price.

    Or is it OK to take from everyone as long as you enjoy it?

    robert_piepenbrink

    2 Aug 10 at 4:06 pm

  10. I don’t have any particular objection to the government spending my money on TV and radio. It’s not as though they have actual editorial control – as evidenced by the complaints of various governments about some stories, and attempts of others to eviscerate the whole system, partcularly the local options. The government doesn’t decide what I should watch. How could they? Most channels and shows come from private companies. The government channels are a handful among the total available.

    Of course, private news media simply means you get what some businessman wants you to know, not what some government wants you to know. That used to be blindingly obvious here, back in the days when newspapers were so profitable we had two of them. Everyone knew which one supported which which political party, even though the political parties didn’t pay their bills. Some people seemed to think that this meant the one producing news slanted their way was more accurate. I figured it meant both papers were probably equally – but differently – inaccurate.

    I’m less fond of government money going to support sports facilities, especially convention centre/arenas which never never even break even, but I guess I have to put up with that as part of the never-ending give and take over what should be government funded and what shouldn’t be.

    Cheryl

    2 Aug 10 at 4:33 pm

  11. Certainly privately-operated news can be slanted. But it can’t insist that I pay them when I disapprove of the slant. But “government” most certainly chooses the editorial slant of government broadcasting. It has, after all, decided who the governing board should be, and how new members should be chosen. And notice the slant of all the “independent” state-owned media is pretty much the same–and always in favor of more government? It’s not an accident.

    There are, sometimes, other voices. But that’s not state media’s fault.

    Keep fighting the sports stadiums.

    robert_piepenbrink

    3 Aug 10 at 4:08 am

  12. I don’t know anything about PBS, but if the Canadian governments – as long as I’ve been aware of them – influences the editorial slant of CBC in any way, they do a poor job of it, since they mostly seem concerned with reining it in by cutting funding – but without losing votes, and the CBC still has some voter support even though most people actually watch and listen to private media instead.

    For quite a while, our current provincial premier refused to be interviewed by any CBC reporter on the grounds that they were too anti-government (or rather, anti-him; he does take things personally).

    CBC is accused of being left-wing by right-wingers; I think left-wingers tend to think it far too middle-of-the-road and stodgy. I haven’t had the time recently to listen to their political shows like ‘The House’, but when I did they tended to try to show all sides of various issues. I miss ‘Ideas’ and ‘Tapestry’ which simply have no equivalent in the private sector, but life has gotten really busy over the last few years.

    Sure, it’s funded by the government with my money, but as I said, I don’t have any particular problem with that as long as I and the lovers of sports stadiums all get to lobby as to what is done with our money.

    I’m even, well, not reconciled to, but less annoyed by that white elephant downtown even though all the warnings by me and others about the financial sense of building and running such places in such a small centre have been proven accurate.

    Cheryl

    3 Aug 10 at 6:23 am

  13. There’s a difference between “government” and “administration” and in this case it’s a serious one. State media may well disapprove of an administratrion, but when it comes to government, they cover it the way the Washington POST covers the Redskins: it’s their team, and they’re in favor of it. Watch or listen to any state media–US, Canada, Britain; it really doesn’t matter–and try to catch the least implication that the nation might be better off without somem extension of domestic government.

    And you’re welcome to spend your money on whatever TV or radio program strikes your fancy. The problem is that both you and the stadium people want other people’s money for your hobby. Everyone has wonderful ideas about what can be done with someone else’s money. Make them spend their own, and reality sets in.

    robert_piepenbrink

    3 Aug 10 at 3:16 pm

  14. We’re not going to agree on that, but I can see where you’re coming from. I tend to think that we all throw the money into the pot and then argue over what to do with it. The government is merely the instrument.

    I’m now trying to track down the author of a book I was leafing through which I stupidly did not either take or write down the title and author of. I wondered if it was something Jane had read because something in it reminded me of something she said. This author wants to improve the world by eliminating the family, property rights..there were five things, and I’m forgetting them already. Membership in a nation by birth. The setting up of a group to take all property of a dead person and re-distribute it where needed was what reminded me of something Jane said.

    This is going to drive me crazy until I track it down.

    Cheryl

    3 Aug 10 at 5:57 pm

  15. Got it. Jacqueline Stevens (it helps if you remember to put the ‘s’ on the name). ‘ States without Nations’. We need to eliminate:

    * birthright citizenship
    * inheritance
    * marriage
    * land rights

    I don’t find her convincing in the least – from my preliminary glimpse, she doesn’t seem to be taking human nature into account at all. I’ve found a favourable review, though, so someone thinks she should be taken seriously

    Cheryl

    3 Aug 10 at 6:19 pm

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