Via Ta-Nehisi Coates, a review of the film The Help, which in passing says something with which I strongly disagree. The reviewer, Patricia A. Turner, writes:

“Jim Crow segregation survived long into the 20th century because it was kept alive by white Southerners with value systems and personalities we would applaud. It’s the fallacy of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a movie that never fails to move me but that advances a troubling falsehood: the notion that well-educated Christian whites were somehow victimized by white trash and forced to live within a social system that exploited and denigrated its black citizens, and that the privileged white upper class was somehow held hostage to these struggling individuals.”

This is an interesting, and typically overly class-focused, charge to level at To Kill a Mockingbird–both the film and the book–and I have to say that, especially in the latter case, I disagree with it. First of all, while it is a stereotype, I suspect it was true that those who had received an education from the schools–which were largely established by the North during Reconstruction–would be more likely to have more liberal views on race,  and those who didn’t–like the Ewells in the novel–would be less likely to.

Moreover, it is believable that the lower-class whites would be more likely to have to resort to racism at that time. I hate to keep quoting Paul Graham all the time, but once again, he put it very well:

“To launch a taboo, a group has to be poised halfway between weakness and power. A confident group doesn’t need taboos to protect it. It’s not considered improper to make disparaging remarks about Americans, or the English. And yet a group has to be powerful enough to enforce a taboo.”

This offhand comment in Turner’s review is symptomatic of an increase in hostility towards not only the film adaptation, which I suppose is reasonable, but also towards Harper Lee’s excellent book itself in recent years. About a year ago, the Wall Street Journal published a critique of it by Allen Barra, in which he criticized the book for being too simplistic. Barra claims–correctly, in my view–that “[i]n all great novels there is some quality of moral ambiguity,” but then goes on to say that “[t]here is no ambiguity in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird'”. However, Barra does make one interesting point when he compares the character of Atticus Finch to the portrayal of Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons.

Barra’s choice to make this comparison is interesting to me, first because I love both To Kill a Mockingbird and A Man for All Seasons, and second because it sets up an interesting compare and contrast exercise. Take, for instance, my favorite exchange from Bolt’s play, when Roper is demanding that More have someone arrested and More refuses:

 “ROPER: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? 

ROPER: I’d cut down every law in England to do that! 

MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down and the Devil turned round on you–where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast–man’s laws, not God’s–and if you cut them down–and you’re just the man to do it–d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety’s sake.”

Compare the philosophy espoused here by More with the final scene of To Kill a Mockingbird. The sheriff says he’ll do exactly what Roper would do: ignore the law to see what he considers “Justice” done, despite Atticus’s hesitation. Who is right?

Both Atticus and More are what D&D players call “lawful good”.  And both of them pay for it; Atticus’s children get attacked by Ewell, and it is only by the actions of Boo Radley that they are saved. Radley and the sheriff, not Atticus, are the ones who ultimately save the day. In A Man for All Seasons, More pays with his own life for his insistence on adhering to both his conscience and the law.

You can can look at them as exemplary, flawless heroes–or you can look at them as naive, holier-than-thou types who cause needless grief to their loved ones because of their own righteousness. The point is, there’s more moral complexity here than some people realize.  

Having apparently gotten bored of attacking Woodrow Wilson–or perhaps surprised by Wilson’s unresponsiveness–Glenn Beck has decided to turn his attention to George Soros, a wealthy businessman who funds various left-leaning activism groups.

Beck’s much-hyped two-part report supposedly “reveals” that Soros has a five-step plan for destroying countries. It is as follows, in Beck’s own words with my comments in [brackets]:

  1. “Form a shadow government using humanitarian aid as cover.”
  2. “Control the airwaves. Fund existing radio and TV outlets and take control over them or start your own outlets.” [Beck apparently believes that funding Media Matters, NPR and Huffington Post constitutes “controlling the airwaves”.]
  3. “Destabilize the state, weaken the government and build an anti-government kind of feeling in this country. You exploit an economic crisis or take advantage of existing crisis — pressure from the top and the bottom. This will allow you to weaken the government and build anti- government public sentiment.” [An old saying about pots and kettles occurs to me.]
  4. “You provoke an election crisis. You wait for an election. And during the election, you cry voter fraud.”
  5. “Take power. You stage massive demonstrations, civil disobedience, sit-ins, general strike, you encourage activism. You promote voter fraud and tell followers what to do through your radio and television stations.”

The first thing one can do with this is to ask just how much of it describes what the Conservatives do, but apart from that there is also the fact that all the other governments Soros has taken on in the past have been communist governments. That Beck, the man who fears that President Obama is a Marxist, conveniently  fails to mention that reveals–as if there were any revealing to be done–the dishonest nature of his whole operation.

Most of the criticism of Beck’s piece, however, has revolved around allegations that it is anti-semitic. Beck’s use of words such as “puppet-master” and  “blood sucker” to describe Soros, they say, call to mind Nazi propaganda.

The terminology is similar, there’s no doubt, as is the unbelievable and convoluted conspiracy theory. Still, it must be admitted that Beck never said Soros did the things Beck alleges because he is Jewish. Beck’s story is one of a supposedly evil man who happens to be Jewish, and I never felt like Beck was trying to insinuate anything else.

As Beck himself pointed out at the outset of his show, he [Beck] is a more hard-line supporter of Israel than is George Soros himself. For once, I think he’s not lying; this does indeed seem to me to argue against the charge that Beck is anti-semitic. Indeed, the vast majority of Conservatives/Republicans are fervent supporters of Israel, and more to the point, hard-line opponents of the Palestinians. There are exceptions, such as Pat Buchanan, but for the most part this is the case. So, why would Beck even want to encourage anti-Jewish feeling among his Conservative viewers? It appears to be inconsistent with practically everything else that goes on on Fox.

(One possible explanation is that Beck really is as insane as he acts. However, I doubt this because it’s hard to imagine he would even show up at the studio reliably were that the case.)

Frankly, I think that Beck’s problem with Soros isn’t that he’s Jewish, it’s that he funds Democratic-leaning stuff, and Democrats, of whatever religion, ethnicity, sex, and so forth, are viewed by Beck and most of the Fox news crowd as illegitimate, evil and generally undeserving of representation.

Interesting article by David A. Love claiming that the group of female politicians Sarah Palin calls “mama grizzlies” are motivated by hatred of black people.

The problem I see with this article is principally that it assumes (as does almost everyone) that all attempts to paint President Obama as “foreign” are necessarily racist. I believe that, while that may be the driving force of some of those attacks, many of them are motivated by hatred of Obama’s internationalist outlook. He is, after all, something of a “Davos Man“.

Take, for instance, this passage:

 “One loony lady of the right uses the legal system as a platform to express their hatred of black people. Orly Taitz–a prominent figure in the insane asylum known as the birther movement, which claims President Obama is a foreigner–filed a series of lawsuits challenging the President’s citizenship.” 

First of all, Taitz isn’t part of the “Mama Grizzly” crew. Secondly, before proceeding, it is vital that I point out that Taitz is, by all appearances, hopelessly insane. But what I don’t think is proven is that she has a “hatred of black people.” After all, one of her many lawsuits claiming Obama isn’t a citizen was filed on behalf of Alan Keyes.  

But let us leave Taitz to her madness, and examine instead some of the more relevant women the article discusses. If true, the Sharron Angle story is indeed bizarre, and suggestive of a strange worldview. And Palin’s defense of Laura Schlessinger seems to me to be a very bad idea; so much so that one is forced to wonder about just what Palin’s motivations might be in doing so.

However, while these are good points, there is also this:

 “California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman refused to attend a forum of black and Latino churchgoers. And of the $50 million she has spent on radio, TV and print ads, not a penny went to black media. By contrast, the atypical GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina showed up at a Juneteenth event in South Central Los Angeles wearing a kente cloth.” 

Which is interesting, but omits the rather important fact that Palin endorsed Fiorina but, as best I can tell, not Whitman.

But where the article really runs into trouble, in my opinion, is with regard to Nikki Haley. The author says:

“I am stumped on this one, and can only assume that the fair-skinned Nikki Haley is popular because many South Carolina voters missed the memo, and actually think she is white.” 

Now, it is not unreasonable to suppose that most racists are stupid. But still, it strikes me as a bit of a stretch to say that they are so stupid as to allow someone from a race that they supposedly exist to oppress to become a prominent member of their movement. As such, Haley’s candidacy seems to me to argue somewhat against the Tea Party being a racist movement.

But race is always a dangerous and controversial issue, and I welcome any comments you may have on this.

I wanted to look up one of the “death quotes”  from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 about nationalism for a post I’m working on. Unfortunately, I accidentally wound up on a forum at this place. (No, I’m not going to link to their actual site.)

Apparently, they believe that Call of Duty is pushing “globalist propaganda” (which us normal people call “being against insane racists”) and are, of course, outraged by it.

This could make for an excellent ad campaign for Activision: “Fight neo-nazism! Buy Call of Duty!”

One other thing that was fascinating about Robert Weissberg’s “Alien Rule” article was this passage:

“Just travel to Afghanistan and witness American military commanders’ efforts to enlist tribal elders with promises of roads, clean water, dental clinics, and all else that America can freely provide. Many of these elders probably privately prefer abject poverty to foreign occupation since it would be their poverty, run by their people, according to their sensibilities.”  

Now, I could be wrong, but in context this seems to be implying that his view of Obama is much the same. Even if Obama’s administration brought about huge improvements in our quality of life, even if it increased our national wealth, Weissberg would nonetheless object to it, preferring his own “American” way of doing things to Obama’s so-called “foreign” way. (Though, as I explained, there is nothing foreign about it. It’s just not nationalism.)

And it’s hardly a surprising concept. Nationalism and Wealth are not always in alliance with one another. Wealth has a way of destroying traditions and institutions, especially if it grows rapidly. The wealth-generating process of “Creative Destruction” that Schumpeter spoke of is in many ways a threat to the very symbols and traditions which a proud Nationalist holds dear.

When I was a Libertarian, I was forced frequently to grapple with a very similar issue, and indeed I suspect it will very soon confront Rand Paul as well. The issue is: can economic incentives (in the libertarian case, of a free-market) bring about an end to the practice of discrimination based on things like race, gender, etc?

Theoretically, no profit-seeker would engage in discrimination when hiring. He would simply want to get the best person for the job, regardless of race, gender, or the rest. Yet, this clearly does not happen. Some of this can be chalked up, as Jonah Goldberg observed, to the fact that the market itself is interfered with to maintain discriminatory practices. But this fact alone is disturbing; for it means that politicians–and presumably their constituents–were willing to forgo economic well-being in order to keep these discriminatory practices alive.

This is not, I must stress, a veiled attempt to call Weissberg a racist. He says his dislike for Obama is not based on racial grounds, and I take him at his word. Rather, it is merely an attempt to show that adherence to old customs may trump economic advantage for a long period of time. Nor do I wish to imply that all traditions are bad, as racism was, or that upsetting tradition for economic gain is always “good”. After all, who but an Objectivist would hail as “noble” someone who valued money over his own country?

No, my point is simply that Weissberg, and his audience, believe deeply in certain American values. And these values, while they may hold among them Capitalism, and free markets, and through them, promoting the general economic welfare, are not merely these things; but rather a whole collection of traditions, of institutions, of symbols which are of high importance to them. And if forced to choose between mere material Wealth and maintaining their National pride, they will undoubtedly choose the latter.

The Eclectic Iconoclast has a very good post about Libertarianism that I highly recommend. This post started out as a comment I was going to make on it, but it got too long.

EI writes that Libertarians “elevate the rights inherent in property ownership above and ahead of the rights of individuals.” I take issue with this. Most Libertarians certainly do allow that you can’t just kill people for trespassing, for example. The reason they object to government intervention to say, tell white business owners that they have to let black people into their stores is simply as a matter of the precedent it sets. If the state can intervene against a person’s right to control their property in the interest of letting another person occupy that property, it means the government it means, in broad outlines, that the government may violate a person’s rights when it determines that it is in the service of the greater good.

Now, of course, this is a basic function of government. As EI points out, most Libertarians acknowledge this. Everyone would agree that the government can violate someone’s right to move about the country freely if that someone has, for example, murdered a bunch of people. Nevertheless, Libertarians are uneasy with this idea. They certainly would say the government should intervene to stop the murderous activities of the Ku Klux Klan, but should they intervene to say that “you must serve all customers, regardless of race, at your restaurant”?

I freely admit that the ultimate effect of the libertarian policy is to say that in this case, we value the proprietors right over the potential customers right, but this is not actually the Libertarian objective. The Libertarian objective is to minimize government intervention. Why? Because it can lead to giving the government too much power, and that can be dangerous.

The Libertarian logic is basically that government is either (and sometimes both) evil and totalitarian, or at best inefficient, incompetent, and corrupt. Therefore, you want it to have as little power as possible.

Now, the Iconoclast does make a compelling argument that the Libertarians are, in fact, wrong in their view of the role of government. I am unsure about this aspect of the issue myself–on the one hand, I think the government is inefficient and corrupt, but on the other hand, I don’t know that the private market is really any better.