Smart people saying smart things

Smart people saying smart things December 10, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt, New Nationalism speech, Aug. 31, 1910

Our government, National and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics. That is one of our tasks today. Every special interest is entitled to justice — full, fair, and complete — and, now, mind you, if there were any attempt by mob-violence to plunder and work harm to the special interest, whatever it may be, that I most dislike, and the wealthy man, whomsoever he may be, for whom I have the greatest contempt, I would fight for him, and you would if you were worth your salt. He should have justice. For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.

The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being.

There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?

For African Americans, war commenced not in 1861, but in 1661, when the Virginia Colony began passing America’s first black codes, the charter documents of a slave society that rendered blacks a permanent servile class and whites a mass aristocracy. They were also a declaration of war.

Over the next two centuries, the vast majority of the country’s blacks were robbed of their labor and subjected to constant and capricious violence. They were raped and whipped at the pleasure of their owners. Their families lived under the threat of existential violence — in just the four decades before the Civil War, more than 2 million African American slaves were bought and sold. Slavery did not mean merely coerced labor, sexual assault, and torture, but the constant threat of having a portion, or the whole, of your family consigned to oblivion. In all regards, slavery was war on the black family.

African Americans understood they were at war, and reacted accordingly: run­ning away, rebelling violently, fleeing to the British, murdering slave-catchers, and — less spectacularly, though more significantly — refusing to work, breaking tools, bending a Christian God to their own interpretation, stealing back the fruits of their labor, and, in covert corners of their world, committing themselves to the illegal act of learning to read. Southern whites also understood they were in a state of war, and subsequently turned the ante­bellum South into a police state.

Richard Beck: “Are Christians Hate-Filled Hypocrites?

“Christianity” has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed “spiritual” substitute.

I stand by that statement. As would, I think, most of the Old Testament prophets. And Jesus.

Leonard Pierce: “The Skids And How To Hit Them

America has fallen into a depressingly cruel period of withholding aid from its unfortunate stumblers at a time that there are more of them than ever, but it is still a country of unprecedented wealth (though increasingly concentrated in only a small and grasping number of hands) and unparalleled opportunity.  It is quite possible to be down and out in a way that seems unconquerable, and to be back in the game within a month’s time.  It is even possible to go through this cycle of boom and bust over and over again — indeed, aside from the generationally wealthy, this is more or less the way we live now.  But the worst thing about poverty is that its edges are so sharp, they leave scars that never heal.  The desperation and paralysis that accompanies being at your wit’s end is so terrible that even when one is comfortable, one lives in fear of ever being in that position again.  And, as Hannah Arendt eloquently put it, the more society degrades its small men with poverty and humiliation, the more it trains them to accept any job rather than return to the bottom — even the job of an executioner. …

I have been here before, and I know how to live in this world.  Hopefully I won’t be here long, and hopefully, if I rise, I won’t fall again.  But every day I am here, I am striving to get out.  The voices that hiss and seethe from the comfort of newspapers, computer desks, and television studios that tell me I arrived here by my own faults, and that I stay here because it affords me a largesse of taxpayer fat:  these are the voices of class warfare.  Anyone who has been here is not eager to return, and not happy to stay:  those who tell you differently pour poison in your ears, and when you’re relying on your own sharpness to survive, you need to be able to hear clearly.

Devilstower: “Conservatives Want to Go Back to the Golden Age of the 1880s

The truth is, there are real Libertarians out there, people who place a very high value on individual rights and who believe this government — like most every government — too often interferes with those rights. Of course, actual Libertarians realize that for individual rights to have any meaning, they require the presence of a body that can ensure those rights.  They know that freedom can’t be maintained in an absence of information, and that there must be agencies that create the transparency needed for effective individual action and ensure there are consequences to dishonesty. Real advocates of the free market realize that term has no meaning unless the market is free from coercion and the law is not defined by “might makes right.” They know that individual freedoms are incompatible with a system where corporations are treated as super-citizens and that Libertarianism requires that workers be more valued that abstract entities that live only on paper.

The difference between actual Libertarians and Republicans hiding from their tarnished name is quite easy. Actual Libertarians are concerned about the freedom of individuals. Conservatives use Libertarian as a code word meaning “I want to continue to enjoy all the privileges I do now, but I don’t want to share them with you and most of all I don’t want to pay any taxes.” Push come to shove, they’re happy to abbreviate that to “Screw freedom. I just don’t want to pay taxes.”


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  • Lori

    Richard Beck’s discussion of Bradley Wright’s book shows (again) why we need to be doing a much, much better job teaching people how to read and understand the basics of study data. Wright’s apparent inability or unwillingness to see the limits of the General Social Survey is annoying. The fact that he apparently didn’t notice that the data was, if anything, proving Beck’s point is just depressing.

  • The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.

    Someone ought to make a bumper sticker of that!

  • Anonymous

    Two girls saying smart things, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppOpOv_kv2s&feature=share

  • Roosevelt’s quote is now over a century old. 

    … why the hell are we still in this situation now? 

  • esmerelda ogg

    “they’re happy to abbreviate that to “Screw freedom. I just don’t want to pay taxes.”

    This morning’s Philadelphia Inquirer quotes a would-be Republican candidate for the Senate as saying about taxes “That’s our money. They are taking money out of our pockets to invest in what they want, not what we want.”

    Clearly, she has no concept of the public good, no concept of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” (For you non-US Slacktivites, that’s a quote from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – quasi holy in traditional US politics.) I would say this person – her name is Laureen Cummings, btw, in case you see her on a ballot – wanted to do away with governmental responsibilities like defense (only the Right already would prefer to cede that to private contractors: Halliburton) and education (only the Right has persuaded itself that public schools are eeebil and kids should be kept home with their mommies, whether they learn anything or not). But she also, presumably, doesn’t want roads, doesn’t want bridges, doesn’t want anyone making life difficult for those who might rob or rape or murder her, doesn’t want food that’s safe to eat or water that’s safe to drink or any way of cleaning up water that’s been, ah, used.

    Or else – and this sounds awful plausible – she and the other Tea Partiers are So. Very. Childish. that they truly think somebody out there will just wipe their bottoms for them and give them whatever else they may need, for free.

  • Roosevelt’s quote is now over a century old.  
    … why the hell are we still in this situation now?

    Pendulum swings.

    On one side you have the brink of total destruction and ruin for all, on the other side you have, “I guess it’s not that bad, but we still have a long way to go,” and the state of the country goes back and forth between those two positions like a pendulum.

  • ako

    Yeah, it should be pretty clear that “We surveyed them and they think they sure are nice and compassionate people” doesn’t prove anything about Christians treating people decently. 

  • I would not actually mind giving corporations the vote, provided each corporation only got one, as opposed to the system we have now, where they just buy the result they want, will of the people be damned.

  • Anonymous

    I have a theory that in 1917 and the start of the Anti-Bolshevik movement in the USA economic thought went into stasis.  Just look at the language we use, almost all of it is strait out of the 19th century.  Anytime anyone had the temerity to question how the ‘Free market’ works or even worse Capitalism, they were pilloried as Socialist/Communist.  What is worse, the progressives bought into it, accepting the idea that only Communist critics of Capitalism could exits.

    I submit that the stasis of economic thought is thawing in the 21st century and the ideas TR championed are now being thought about again. 

  • I suspect many authoritarians of all stripes think they are decent compassionate people.

    The thing is, in an authoritarian worldview those who aren’t in your tribe are not worthy of your compassion or decency, and really aren’t so much people as obstacles.  So because Christianists* treat other Christianists with some level of decency and maybe even compassion, they are, in their own heads, decent and compassionate.

    Well and then there’s that (I think fairly small) group that actually believes that harassing people somehow will save them from hell, and thus it’s the compassionate thing to do.

    (I have to credit The Authoritarians for a lot of this, as I think it’s an excellent book that really helped me understand the mindset I had grown up around; and had been increasingly alien the older I got.)

    *I admit I like this term – I feel it’s better than just Christians because there are good Christians out there – genuinely decent people who don’t believe or act on awful things.  I don’t want to discourage such people; I want to discourage the asshats.

  • Maybe because the only real ‘communist’ country that could be a reasonable threat to the US – if it even wanted to be – is China; and the odds of us fighting China anytime soon are pretty limited for a whole lot of reasons.

    Not to mention China isn’t really communist – they can wave red flags and claim they are, but communism is supposed to be about workers and their rights – and I think it’s easy and obvious to see that China’s government does not give a shit about said.

    Er, the point of that being – when you had a big giant enemy communist country to point at and say “BE AFRAID, TRAITORS ARE AMONG US”, the label had some bite.

    After nearly a century of overuse combined with the fact that such a threat no longer exists… it’s just no longer something that has as much sting among anyone who’s actually going to be convincable really.

  • friendly reader

    Well, it certainly didn’t help that Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive Bull Moose Party lost the next year…

    My dad is a self-described Teddy Roosevelt Republican, and I think he’d also fall somewhere in what Devilstower calls an “actual Libertarian.” He hasn’t voted republican in a while.

  • friendly reader

    Er, not the next year, two years later, 1912.

  • It’s not just that, it’s that the author’s question actually includes the label “hypocrites”.

    “They’re not hypocrites because they say [whatever],” is an incomplete thought.  If you don’t know what the words mean then you might think it’s ok because the grammar is fine, but if you know what the word means it’s as wrong as, “As I was coming up the road.”  It’s not finished.  There’s something missing and every logical part of your brain cries out for the rest of the sentence.

    It has to be, “They’re not hypocrites because they say [whatever], and act in a manner consistent with [what they have said]” otherwise it’s meaningless.  The whole meaning of hypocrisy is tied up in there being a disconnect between what is said and what is true.  Disproving it cannot be done by pointing to claims alone because … well because that’s exactly what a hypocrite would say, that’s what hypocrite means for fuck’s sake.

    It’s absurdly wrong to think that saying something of the form, “Their actions totally match their words because their words are X,” and then stopping there is in any way a sensible thing to do.

  • vsm

    and, now, mind you, if there were any attempt by mob-violence to plunder
    and work harm to the special interest, whatever it may be, that I most
    dislike, and the wealthy man, whomsoever he may be, for whom I have the
    greatest contempt, I would fight for him, and you would if you were
    worth your salt.

    Considering how American trade unionists were treated during the period, I don’t find this part at all impressive.

  • Chunky Style

    I don’t know if “real Libertarians” exist as described in the quote.  Is it possible that Libertarianism, as a philosophy, is as fundamentally flawed as, say, supply-side economics?  It’s nice to think that “real Libertarians” understand that the government has a role in preventing the strong from dominating the weak, but once they make that leap, I imagine they cease being Libertarians and turn into Democrats.

    The Libertarians I’ve encountered are of only a few stripes: Republicans who are vaguely aware that their team is idiotic so they profess to belong to a smarter and more elite team; people who want to justify their own assholery; and people who just don’t understand how the world works and think that simple models are adequate.

  • Chunky Style

    I haven’t had the opportunity to argue it yet, but next time someone gripes about taxes I want to say: “You don’t like paying taxes, but your taxes cover only, say, one mile of road.  What gives you the right to drive on MY mile of road?”  Assuming they come up with the right answer, it also explains why taxation isn’t theft.

  • esmerelda ogg

    Agree, agree, agree. Has anybody EVER liked paying taxes? I don’t like it myself. I don’t like flossing my teeth either, but I understand why it’s a good idea, so I do it. Same with taxes.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know about ever, but there are Egyptian Hieroglyphics showing Scribes (Tax collectors) accompanied by solders when they are toting up the Pharaohs share. So I’d say we have 4000-5000 years of not liking to pay taxes.  

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Income tax is automatically deducted from my pay before it comes to me, so while I don’t think “yippee, let’s pay tax for fun” I don’t actively dislike paying it because I don’t notice it.

    The one thing I do actively dislike is a ‘levy’ that was added to our income tax a number of years ago and which is now a permanent fixture. Making it a levy means the government that introduced it could (half-arsedly) claim “we didn’t raise income tax” but it also means that the amount is not deducted from my salary like the rest. So at the end of the year I’m potentially up for a bill, if I don’t have enough deductions to offset the balance. That sucks. I wish they’d just roll the whole thing into the income scales.

  • Anonymous

    How you recognize the definition of feminism: is it that women are recognized as people, or is it that man are inferior to women? Both kinds exist, and the latter ones tend to be louder than the former, and causes many people to shrink away from those who would describe themselves as feminist. The same idea is true for “Libertarianism,” (which is, itself, a wide range of ideas, some of which even frown upon capitalism.)

  • Chunky Style

    I can only go off my experiences as to what sorts of Libertarians can be found in nature.  Maybe somewhere on this earth there is a real living Ron Swanson libertarian, and I shall forever dream of nesting in his luxurious moustache.  But until the evidence for one is stronger than that for, say, Bigfoot, I’ll consider him a hypothetical creature.

  • FangsFirst

    While I did like your comment (in both senses), Ron Swanson is often emblematic of the…hmmm….a little 2, a little 3.

  • Anonymous

    How you recognize the definition of feminism: is it that women are recognized as people, or is it that man are inferior to women? Both kinds exist, and the latter ones tend to be louder than the former, and causes many people to shrink away from those who would describe themselves as feminist.

    I’ve never encountered the latter kind. I’m actually convinced that the ‘women are superior to men’ feminist is a scarecrow designed to warn people off becoming the ‘all people are equal’ feminist.

  • Linnet

    Both kinds exist?  You want to in any way back up that there are *any* public figures in the second category, let alone that they are “louder”?

    Professing that you find feminist strawmen scary seems an odd way to defend libertarianism.

  • Well, to hear the dishonest likes of Rush Limbaugh imply things, every woman politician with a (D) after her name is a men are inferior feminist. (>_<)

  • Chunky Style

    True, Ron Swanson often is very “real world” libertarian, most notably in that he is willing to suckle from the government teat while doing as little work as possible, and then complain about the inefficiency of government.  (Ron Swanson was actually based on a real-world libertarian that the producers know, and said libertarian is perfectly aware of the hypocrisy of a libertarian on the government payroll.)  But they also imbue Ron with traits that you wouldn’t ever find in real-world libertarians:

    1) He offered to be fired in Leslie’s place because he feels that Leslie makes government work.

    2) He is paying for Andy’s college education on the very off-chance that Andy will benefit from it.

  • vsm

    There were some radical feminist groups in the 1960’s and 1970’s that spoke of men as the enemy and wanted to establish a matriarchal society, like a New York group calling itself The Feminists. Such influence can still be seen in the radical feminist blogosphere. Someone from that milieu became the target of a viscious online hate campaign some years ago after a post of hers went viral. If memory serves, she regretted not aborting her son after she caught him looking at porn.

    However, these are and were really marginal people, even within radical feminism, and certainly not louder than egalitarian feminists. There are questionable tendencies in every single political philosophy, and if we look at its actual effects, this one is really quite harmless. If you can call yourself a liberal despite the internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII and the war in Vietnam, a few old pamphlets shouldn’t keep you from calling yourself a feminist.

  • Tonio

    However, these are and were really marginal people, even within radical
    feminism, and certainly not louder than egalitarian feminists.

    The sad part is that anti-feminists have been very successful with their straw woman, convincing others that the radicals represent mainstream feminism. It’s very common to hear younger women say things like, “I’m not a feminist, but I support legal and social equality for women.” When I’ve responded with, “But that is feminism!”, they usually insist that feminism is about man-bashing or about doing away with gender distinctions, sometimes invoking the sexist stereotype of feminists as butch lesbians.

    The thing is, in an authoritarian worldview those who aren’t in your
    tribe are not worthy of your compassion or decency, and really aren’t
    so much people as obstacles.

    They probably perceive outsiders as threats to the tribe who have to be controlled or limited. That’s my impression from listening to the terms they use.

    The
    Libertarians I’ve encountered are of only a few stripes: Republicans who
    are vaguely aware that their team is idiotic so they profess to belong
    to a smarter and more elite team; people who want to justify their own
    assholery; and people who just don’t understand how the world works and
    think that simple models are adequate.

    That’s been my own experience as well. It involves people who support the same philosophy but for different reasons, and those reasons exist because it’s a fundamentally flawed philosophy.

  • American Health Insurance Continues Stiffing People.

    tl;dr a person with a history of legitimate disorders plus a suicide attempt was denied health insurance by Kaiser Permanente (no surprise really, in the 1990s it seems like once a year the nurses at a Kaiser hospital would have to go on strike to get any reasonable redress of grievances – if they stiff their workers this badly it’s no wonder they stiff their clients even worse).

  • I have encountered precisely one of the latter type, and it was in college when everyone’s views can be a  little ultra-radical*.  They exist, but to say they are almost as rare as live jackalopes isn’t even enough.  And since it was college I’m not convinced said person wasn’t just trolling in RL.

    *I considered myself a communist then.  (Well and I still have a fondness for ushankas. >_>)

  • Guh… 2014 can’t get here soon enough.  I know it won’t solve everything but it will help.  (And my hope is that after the initial “Wow this is so much nicer…” wears off, and people see there’s still some problems, maybe we can get some single payer here >.<  I can dream can't I?)

  • Anonymous

    He didn’t say anything about “Public figures.” But, if you want someone well known, I would say Charles Moulton would a good example. He was a psychologist and inventor in the beginning of the last century, but you would probably know him as the creator of Wonder Woman.

  • William Moulton Marston, actually.

    I have met a few of the misandrist-type radical feminists. They were not louder than other feminist, and certainly nowhere near as loud as Rush Limbaugh and his ilk proclaiming that all feminists are man-hating pit bulls.

  • Anonymous

    Hmm, maybe I could revise myself and say “Extremists get more attention because they are sillier, and so affect public perception of their peers.”