Friday, January 18, 2019

Antifa and German Jews Are Not the Same

In the aftermath of the alt-Right demonstrations at Charlottesville, Donald Trump infamously condemned "hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides." He was lambasted for his apparent soft response to the neo-Nazi alt-Right movement. But his equivocation of the white supremacist alt-Right demonstrators with the allegedly “peaceful” Leftist counter-demonstration was not off the mark.

A New Jersey Star-Ledger letter by Arnold Reisman Nutley, published on 9/16/17, concluded:

If the Jews had taken up arms against Adolf Hitler, President Donald Trump would have criticized the violence on both sides.

Nutley equates the Antifa faction with the Jewish victims of the German Nazi state. But Trump’s wishy-washy response to the white racists aside, he was right. At least two reporters witnessed acts of violence perpetrated by the Antifa-inspired Leftist protestors. As Reason reported:

But for those of us already calling out the violent bigots flaunting Nazi imagery, it's not whataboutism to point out that an alleged alternative isn't actually an alternative at all—it's just another version of the same thing. As New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg tweeted from Charlottesville, "The hard left seemed as hate-filled as alt-right. I saw club-wielding 'antifa' beating white nationalists being led out of the park." She later, understandably, changed "hate-filled" to "violent," since actions are clearer and more important than motivations. And CNN's Jake Tapper commented that "At least two journalists in Charlottesville were assaulted by people protesting the Klan/Nazi/alt-right rally."

“Antifa” stands for anti-fascist. As Reason pointed out, we’re not dealing with fascism and victims of fascism. Both the Leftist Antifa and the alt-Right are two sides of the same thuggish coin. Following is my unpublished rebuttal letter to the Star-Ledger:

A recent letter (Criticism goes both ways, 9/16,17) asserted, “If the Jews had taken up arms against Adolf Hitler, President Donald Trump would have criticized the violence on both sides.”

Trump was referring to the so-called “alt-left,” also known as “Antifa.” Antifa, which masquerades as “anti-fascist,” considers violence a legitimate “defense” against peaceful expression of ideas it disagrees with. From the perspective of supporters of free speech, a bedrock value of a free and open liberal society, Antifa—whose tactics are widely condemned, including by political liberals like Nancy Pelosi and the Star-Ledger editorial board—can legitimately be considered a kindred spirit of the neo-Nazi alt-right.

One may criticize Trump’s “whataboutism” reaction to the alt-right violence in Charlottesville, with reasonable justification. But to equate—even implicitly—German Jews with Antifa is a moral abomination. An armed resistance by German Jews against their Nazi oppressors would have been morally justified. Antifa’s violent brand of “free speech” is not.

I’ve put together a group of press articles that I think clarifies what we are dealing with and the alternative:

  • Punching Free Speech: Anti-free speech radicals are doing violence to American values-- Peter Roff

Whereas the word “violence” has always meant actions that include actual physical violence, progressives have transmogrified “unapproved thought” from a mere difference of opinion into an integral component of the definition of violence.

Therefore, the violence of unapproved thought can now be met with actual violence because actual violence is not really violence if it is committed against someone with the wrong ideas and the gall to speak those ideas aloud.

Related Reading:

Liberal Fascism--Jonah Goldberg

Socialists and Fascists Have Always Been Kissing Cousins
--Bradley J. Birzer for The American Conservative

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

‘Radical Islamic Terrorism’ is Not a Bigoted Term

In a New Jersey Star-Ledger guest column, Trump's unwelcoming message to Muslim Americans like me, Fakhruddin Ahmed wrote:

Muslims immigrate to America not to change the American way of life but to embrace it. Muslims are attracted to America because of the way it is; they have no intention of changing or harming America. Muslims know that if they had settled here first, modern America would probably look like the Middle East, and would not be a welcoming beacon of freedom and innovation. Few Muslims dream of emigrating to China or Russia!

Muslims are traversing the same path of hope trodden by millions of immigrants before them. If President Donald Trump understood these simple truths, perhaps his misgivings about Muslims would subside.

As more Americans decouple from organized religion and embrace tribal and racial identities, some fear that Muslims will fill the religious void. They need not worry.  Muslim Americans are following the same trend that has delivered other religious groups to the doorsteps of secularism.

Ahmed goes on to back up his contention, which I believe is largely true. I think it’s also largely true that “The overwhelming majority of Muslims are on America's side as it fights these terrorists.” But does that invalidate Trump’s (and others’) “rationale for repeatedly brandishing the phrase ‘radical Islamic terrorism’,” which he say “conflate[s] Islam itself with terrorism and offend[s] the world's 1.6 billion Muslims who do not see a link between the two?”

I left these comments:

I sympathize with the sentiments expressed here. Muslim Americans should not be automatically lumped in with and treated like terrorists.

But there is one glaring problem—Ahmed’s rejection of the term "radical Islamic terrorism.” It is a serious mistake, especially for Muslim-Americans, to evade the actual nature of the terrorist movement, which is precisely motivated by a totalitarian ideology rooted in the Islamic religion. If this barbaric movement is to be wiped off the face of the Earth, all people—Muslim and non-Muslim, religionists and atheists—must properly identify this enemy of civilization.

The Star-Ledger recently ran a guest column by John Farmer Jr., doing just that. Farmer informed of a new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center, chaired by Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton of the original 9/11 Commission, which attempted to answer the question of why the Bush strategy failed. Key quotes from the column:

"For all of its battlefield and intelligence successes," the BPC Report notes, "the United States has demonstrated little ability to degrade support for the ideology underlying jihadist terrorism."

That ideology rejects the idea of a nation state as a western creation foisted upon Islam by colonial powers. It advocates a world as a unified caliphate under a single Islamist banner, and rejects utterly the notion of the separation of church and state, believing that "the Koran is our constitution" and that religious law should inform all aspects of daily life.

Just as only Muslims can be effective in countering the Islamist version of Islam, only America and the west can be effective in countering the Islamist totalitarian rejection of our freedoms and way of life.

Ayn Rand Institute scholar Elan Journo makes the same point:

[T]he jihadists have never made their cause secret. Our enemy is defined, not primarily by their use of terrorist means, but by their ideological ends. They fight to create a society wherein Islamic religious law, or sharia, dominates every last detail of every individual’s life, a cause inspired and funded by patrons such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and above all, Iran. In our book, we call this political-ideological movement Islamic totalitarianism.

These are not Anti-Muslim bigots. These are not “Islamophobes.” These are sober, objective intellectuals. “Radical Islamic terrorism” does not mean all Muslims. It does properly conceptualize the faction of Islam we are fighting. Proper identification is the vital prelude to winning. It’s great to know that “Muslim Americans are following the same trend that has delivered other religious groups to the doorsteps of secularism.” They must be explicit. Just as American Christians rejected their totalitarian Inquisitional past by embracing the separation of church and state, so American Muslims must reject the totalitarian branch of their religion and explicitly embrace separation of mosque and state. That will definitively distinguish peaceful Muslims from the jihadists. Freedom of religion and conscience is a core unifying principle of all Americans.

Monday, January 14, 2019

QUORA: ‘What do people misunderstand about Ayn Rand's ideas?’

I posted this answer:

Plenty. But in my experience, the most misunderstood of Ayn Rand’s ideas is her moral philosophy. The Objectivist Ethics, as she calls it, promotes rational selfishness as the natural and proper ethical code for individuals to live by.

Rand’s ethics are not just misunderstood, though. It’s very often deliberately misrepresented by her ideological adversaries. Briefly, Rand rejected both altruism (properly understood as self-sacrifice to others) and the conventional understanding of selfishness (sacrifice of others to self). Rand proposes a third alternative--complete rejection of sacrifice and its corollary, profiteering on sacrifice, as a matter of principle. This is not a “middle ground.” The Objectivist Ethics, a core component of her philosophy of reason, Objectivism, upholds each individual’s moral right to pursue his own happiness, with its corollary The Trader Principle—dealing with others on mutually agreed, mutually beneficial, mutually self-interested terms, neither sacrificing self to others or others to self.

This is not strictly academic. Every individual needs the guidance of moral principles, and a person’s chosen morals have an integral effect on his life and how he thinks about himself; e.g. his self-esteem. Furthermore, a culture’s generally accepted moral principles ultimately determines a nation’s political direction, with profound implications for how we live as individuals and how we interact with one another.

For anyone interested in learning about Rand’s moral ideas, you can start with Rand’s essay The Objectivist Ethics, which opens her book The Virtue of Selfishness. There are several other good resources. You could get a brief overview by visiting The Ayn Rand Lexicon, specifically the posts on selfishness and altruism.  Others are Loving Life, the morality of self-interest and the facts that support it by Craig Biddle, Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics, the virtuous egoist by Tara Smith, and In Defense of Selfishness: Why the Code of Self-Sacrifice is Unjust and Destructive by Peter Schwartz.

Related Reading:

The Fountainhead--Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged--Ayn Rand

* [Quora is a social media website founded by two former Facebook employees. According to Wikipedia:

Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. The company was founded in June 2009, and the website was made available to the public on June 21, 2010.[3]Quora aggregates questions and answers to topics. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to other users' answers.[4]

You can also reply to other users’ answers.]

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Our Alleged 'Climate Crisis' is No Longer, Thanks to Fossil Fuels

A recent New Jersey Star-Ledger guest column, 6 things that will drastically change our lives in N.J. if we do nothing about the climate crisis, highlights a whole bunch of climate-related effects that should lead us to “get the planet on a course toward zero greenhouse gas emissions.” Of course, without greenhouse gasses, which occur naturally, our planet would be a dead frozen world. What the author, Rutgers professor Robert Kopp, one of the lead authors of volume one of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, calls for is curtailment of humanly emitted greenhouse gasses from burning fossil fuels, the main source of energy that powers our lives.

Kopp cites a host of regularly occurring events--cold waves, heat waves, rain, coastal flooding, fish migrations, rising sea levels--all of which have always or long been happening. The problem, Kopp says, is that climate change is going to make them worse. Of course, climate change is a regular occurrence, as well. It’s okay, as long as it’s “natural”. It’s only not okay if it is caused by (unnatural?) life-enhancing human activity that produces greenhouse gasses. Then, it’s so serious that we humans must be forced to drastically curtail our use of still-vital fossil fuels.

Kopp cites Superstorm Sandy. But Sandy was a freak that has long been anticipated as the nightmare scenario for the mid-Atlantic/Southern New England coastal United States, with its wedge-shaped coastal configuration that makes it particularly susceptible to the kind of atmospheric events that gave rise to Sandy. See Chapter Eight, “The Storm that Eats the Jersey Shore” in the book Great Storms of the Jersey Shore by Larry Savadove and Margaret Thomas Buchholz.

I’m convinced that our climate is changing and that human activity is some part of the cause. And there is no evidence for any drastic increase in extreme weather, which is why climate catastrophists keep putting out increasingly alarming predictions of catastrophic climate-related change. Today, every headline-grabbing weather event is blamed on climate change in the same way that a religionist might claim “God’s will” as the cause.

What is increasingly labeled a “climate crisis” is a fraud. It implies that earth’s climate was tranquil and harmless, but human activity is making it increasingly dangerous. The truth is just the opposite. Humans have always dealt with a climate crisis. Using energy and industry in a climate of political and economic freedom, human activity took an inherently dangerous climate and made it increasingly safe and livable. Today, climate related deaths are down 99% from before the Industrial Revolution. Thanks to fossil fuels and other reliable, economical, safe, and clean energy sources like nuclear and hydro, and the great industries that met our demands for that energy, our climate is more livable than ever. Climate danger still exists, of course. But our ability to survive, adapt, and flourish despite them is greater than ever.

To his credit, Kopp calls for adaptation to climate dangers. Adaptation is also not new to human experience. It’s possible that weather extremes are getting marginally worse. But nothing has really changed much. I won’t be suckered by the one-sided view of theorists who offer no real practical solutions to man-made climate change aside from catastrophic curtailment of fossil fuels in favor of essentially useless “renewable” solar and wind farms.

I left these comments:

“Climate change is real, caused by humans and here now.” Well, partially caused by humans. And so what? The catastrophe scenario is pure speculation. What is not speculative is the immense harm that “zero greenhouse gas emissions” will do to our quality of life. The benefits of reliable energy, mainly fossil fuels, dwarf any marginal negative side effects of climate change.

We’re led to believe that earth’s climate was tranquil and harmless, but humans are making it increasingly dangerous. The truth is just the opposite. Humans have always dealt with extreme climate dangers. Using energy and industry in a climate of political and economic freedom, human activity took an inherently dangerous climate and made it increasingly safer and more livable. The real crisis will come when those who want to “do something”--namely, abolish reliable energy and restrict our freedom--succeed at “doing something.”

The government funded Climate Crisis Establishment is a statist political agenda. But it is only half the story, if that. “Managing climate risk” should begin with DO NO HARM. There is a huge body of mostly private sector work pointing to a completely different viewpoint that sees no impending climate catastrophe; that there is no call for crippling forced government curtailment of vital energy from fossil fuels, or of totalitarian, global government-imposed "unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society," as the U.N. urged; and that humans can flourish better by remaining free, continuing to prosper, and adapting to climate change.

To get balance and objectivity, go outside the Establishment to people like energy expert Alex Epstein; Ron Bailey, science expert relating to human progress; and climate scientists like Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. Knappenberger.

Related Reading:

Lukewarming: The New Climate Science that Changes Everything—Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. Knappenberger

Thursday, January 10, 2019

On ‘Rugged Individualism’ and the Welfare State

In response to my answer to QUORA *: ‘What will it mean for policy making in the US now the Democrats have taken control of the House and the Republicans have extended their lead in the Senate?’, a correspondent, Michael Coburn, picked up on the philosophical relevance of a statement I made. In response to my reply to his subsequent comment, Coburn seemed to switch to advocating for the welfare state;

Michael Coburn Replied:

Government can be used to make positive change and raise the quality of life? [sic; I think he meant to say “can’t.”] Systems such as Social Security and Medicare do that in spite of objections from a minority of “rugged individualists”. Left to individualism life would not be so great. In the conceptualization of representative democracy, the “state” is the slave of the “people”. If our “state” is not, then our “state” is broken. We need to fix it and use it appropriately.

I addressed his points with this reply:

Government is the only institution that can legally compel obedience. When you say “use” government, you’re advocating use of force by some people against other people who simply disagree, but have committed no crime. Is that using government “appropriately”? The dirty little secret of representative democracy is that an elected legislature can trample a person’s rights as readily as any dictator. An appropriate government--a representative republic--is one restrained by constitutional protections of individual rights and limited to enumerated separation of powers designed for that purpose. No electoral faction should ever be allowed to use the government as the “hired gun” to impose their values on all others, regardless of the size of the majority or the small number of dissenters. The “people,” after all, is an assortment of individuals, not an omnipotent entity that reigns above and apart from the individuals who comprise it. Each person is part of “the people,” and thus has an equal right to plan for her own life matters such as retirement and healthcare so long as he respects the same rights of others. Both Social Security and Medicare violate those principles. When you say “the ‘state’ is the slave of the ‘people’,” you speak of some people making slaves of other people. But freedom is not the right to vote away other people’s liberty and property or force one’s values on others. Freedom is the right to live your life regardless of other people’s votes.

The term “rugged individualist” is usually used derogatorily to imply some lone wolf who has no use or care for any other person. But that’s a straw man. A rational--that is, truly individualistic--person understands that there is tremendous value to be gained from associating with others in all areas of life, economic, social, personal. But an individualist respects other people, and will only deal with others in voluntary and mutually advantageous terms. The issue is not mutual cooperation and associations, or not. The issue is forced ‘cooperation” and association versus voluntary cooperation and association. Would you think it right to force another person into a church congregation? After all, some people think religion is vital to “the quality of life.” Neither is it right to force that person into financial arrangements like Social Security. Just as some people might prefer secular beliefs, others might prefer mutual funds or other personal uses for their money.

Granted, the welfare state is not full socialism. The so-called safety net leaves room for individual rights and free enterprise, making it tolerable. But the limited socialism of the welfare state is still collectivist, statist, and anti-individualist. It is a “gateway drug” to totalitarianism, as the state of today’s politics indicates. Government should be neither slave nor master. It should be the agent protecting the free choice of all, not just choices of the politically privileged but also electoral minorities and “rugged individualists.”


Related Reading:

America Before the Entitlement State
—Yaron Brook and Don Watkin

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Correcting Michael Coburn: Fascism and Marxian Socialism are Not, Fundamentally, Opposites

In response to my answer to QUORA *: ‘What will it mean for policy making in the US now the
Democrats have taken control of the House and the Republicans have extended their lead in the Senate?’, a correspondent picked up on the philosophical relevance of a statement I made.

Regarding political philosophy, Michael Coburn commented:

This is hilarious “Trump would never go along with any of the more radical fascist-like proposals of the socialist wing of the Democratic Party”

..Fascism [is] the complete opposite of…Marxian Socialism, the materialist conception of history of human civilization can be explained simply through the conflict of interests among the various social groups and by the change and development in the means and instruments of production.... Fascism, now and always, believes in holiness and in heroism; that is to say, in actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect. And if the economic conception of history be denied, according to which theory men are no more than puppets, carried to and fro by the waves of chance, while the real directing forces are quite out of their control, it follows that the existence of an unchangeable and unchanging class-war is also denied - the natural progeny of the economic conception of history. And above all Fascism denies that class-war can be the preponderant force in the transformation of society....

What a hoot!

But the last "hoot" is on Coburn.

I posted this reply:

The basic premise of socialism is the subordination of the individual to the state, which rules based on whatever it deems to be the collective interests. That fits both Marxian socialism (communism) and Mussolini fascism. Differing theoretical manifestations notwithstanding, both forcibly seek “the transformation of society” under an omnipotent, top-down state. Both suppress individual freedom for some greater collective “good.” Both are centrally planned totalitarian states under which men are puppets of a ruling elite.

Look at reality. Western socialists long ago realized that they can sneak in socialism through government control of nominally private business rather than resort to outright abolition of private ownership. That is precisely what we see from the so-called “new socialists” of the American Left--Italian-style state, or fascist, corporatism. Just look at the examples I highlighted. None entail “ownership of the means of production.” All entail top-down government control for some socialist goal. Consider Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act. Warren, like Mussolini, claims to have the “antidote” to socialism. Explains Warren:

Company directors would be explicitly instructed [legally mandated by the state] to consider the interests of all relevant stakeholders — shareholders, but also customers, employees, and the communities in which the company operates — when making decisions.

Explains Mussolini:

When brought within the orbit of the State, Fascism recognizes the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State. [my emphasis]

Like Mussolini, Warren means to put successful businesses under the control and permission of the state. Both are concerned with the interests of groups, not the individuals who comprise the group. Any way you cut it, both fascism and Marxism, while differing in some respects, are top-down impositions of socialist goals.

Mussolini's disingenuousness notwithstanding, to say that “Fascism [is] the complete opposite of…Marxian Socialism” is like saying white racism is the complete opposite of black racism. They are not. Both are different forms of racism. But both are manifestations of the same concept, racism.

Marxian socialism is but one incarnation of socialism. Fascism is another. There is also national socialism and democratic socialism. The collective goals vary. The implementations vary. But the essential, fundamental nature of all these rival totalitarian systems remains the same. All forms of socialism spring from the same basic premises. They are all collectivist, statist, and anti-individualist.

RELATED Reading:

Liberal Fascism--Jonah Goldberg