Reverse psychology

2012.12.13.cogitduck023

Michigan’s accession to the right-to-work club made shockwaves for a day or two.  It’s mostly conservative news consumers who learned anything about union thug brutality like that enacted against Steven Crowder, Americans For Prosperity, and their hot dog vendor.  As an aside, the careful reader of this blog will remember Mr. Crowder as the guy who experimented with Halloween candy redistribution.

A couple of days ago Michael Medved highlighted something remarkable about the coverage of Michigan’s right-to-work controversy.  Consider how The New York Times tortures the English language in this story (emphasis mine):

Republicans said they intended to cast final votes as early as Tuesday on legislation abruptly announced last week that would bar workers from being required to pay union fees as a condition of employment, even as thousands of union members planned to protest at the state Capitol and as President Obama, visiting a truck factory outside Detroit, denounced the notion.

The liberal bias couldn’t be any more naked.  We should agree that forcing a worker to pay dues is something less than desirable.  To be “barred” from this coercion is comparable to being denied a root canal.  Not exactly something to complain about, or tape your mouth over in protest, for that matter.

These grammatical gymnastics are hardly distinguished from the cartoon routines of reverse psychology, something I’ve tried to represent with today’s comic.

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The shell game of postmodernity

This week I’m drawing disparate threads together from recently digested media.  Hopefully these will inspire some critical thoughts on worldview, whether it be your own or of those around you.

In anticipation of the first Hobbit movie, my wife and I re-watched The Two Towers and The Return of the King.  This insightful quote by Gandalf struck me:

The old wisdom that was borne out of the West was forsaken. Kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living and counted the names of their descent dearer than the names of their sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry or in high, cold towers asking questions of the stars. And so the people of Gondor fell into ruin. The line of Kings failed, the White Tree withered, and the rule of Gondor was given over to lesser men.

Can you think of a place like this?  Perhaps the ivory tower of the academy.  Or better yet, Europe.  This image captures the predicament of the post-industrial world.  There is a concerted effort among elites of the “West” to unlearn its culture and traditions.  The great project of social democrats in Europe, Canada, Japan, and beyond has built an edifice that’s more a civilizational masoleum than a regime to edify humanity.  This is the modern welfare state.

Rather than be bothered with commitments of marriage, the raising of children, and the fruits of free enterprise, people are more concerned with securing their siestas and thirty-five hour work weeks, to the exclusion of the dwindling numbers of youth annually pouring onto the unaccommodating labor markets.

And even those jobless youth lap up the same tired ideas.  I recently caught a few episodes of Portlandia, the sketch comedy that pokes fun at a city where the young move “to retire.”  The program, often crude and in keeping with the laughing-at zeitgeist of The Daily Show, illuminates nonetheless.  In gentrified cores of our cosmopolitan metropolises an army of grown kids paste pictures of birds on objects to self-soothe and are more concerned for the welfare of animals than of children.

This inversion of priorities gets to some of the news of the day.  We have a citizenry that is more concerned about feeling good than getting it right.  And so the silly story that Obama’s pardoned turkey ended up being euthanized anyway.  It speaks to the lesson that liberal intentions don’t guarantee results.  Take heed the next time a politician proposes to spend some trillions to end poverty, restore jobs, or save the environment.  That which was to be prevented will probably pass, and we’ll only have more debt to show for it.

All the while, the ethic uniting the masses of the well-intentioned is tolerance, or as is often seen on California bumper stickers, the relativistic imperative to “Coexist.”  But everyone’s got a dogma in the fight.  Just look at the controversy of Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s GQ interview.  Being asked what he thought the age of the earth was, he ducked with “I’m not a scientist, man.”  In this day, scientism–a narrow view where science is the only deliverance of truth–is a cudgel secular liberals deploy against any threat to getting absolutely everything they want.

Yes, the 24-7, self-reinforcing materialist culture is ascendant.  To quote another sage of Middle Earth, “What can men do against such reckless hate?”

There are baby steps.  In the hopes of starting an apologetics study group in my church community, I’ve been scouting William Lane Craig’s On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision.  The second chapter launches a reductio ad absurdum, a negative apologetic that comes from asking, what would be the implication of God’s nonexistence?  Dr. Craig notes Jean-Paul Sartre’s concession that life without God has no meaning.  Yet, he took up for himself Marxism.  The choice was subjective and merely arbitrary.   Without an objective point of reference, no life lived can be both happy and consistent in its worldview.

The great work of reshaping society to foster lives both happy and consistent remains before us.  Humanism will only find its logical end in a re-commitment to the sanctity of marriage and a valuing of children.  The partnerless Julia will discover her Obama-daddy culture to be utterly unsustainable.

There is a parallel reformation in showing that fulfilling livelihoods come not from the cold top-down transactions of the welfare state, but from an embracing of free markets under the rule of law.

There are those who will try hard to thwart this course correction.  A culture of relativism enables ultimate shell game.  If we point out the shell that holds objective truth, whether it be policy or morality, the Phrygian-capped ideologue can deny it or question whether there is even a game going on.  The task for the civic-minded will be to figure how to effectively expose and counter such silly moves.

A school–and a state–that’s too cool

Sierra Magazine, a product of the environmental advocacy group The Sierra Club, recently crowned U.C. Davis the “#1 Cool School” for its efforts to conserve energy, resources, and otherwise be sustainable and fight climate change.

A couple of years ago, the student-run ASUCD Coffee House underwent a major renovation.  I’m not sure what the budget was, but hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars went into the project.  The result?  Sliding doors became manual, and a versatile space with moveable chairs and tables gave way to massive dining booths, each typically empty but for one student entranced by her laptop.

In the end, does making a sliding door manual really benefit the campus community?  I’m confident that the electricity saved is more than offset by the germs and viruses spread via frequent grasping of handles by so many young adults.  Also, I can imagine at least one inattentive, returning alumnus slamming into the door, betrayed by the changing ways of an old friend.

And then there are the disposable cornware utensils.  With traditional plasticware, you could cut whatever was on your plate.  Now, your corn fork is likely to get bent out of shape.  And there’s no convenient place to grab your utensil in case you forgot it–it’s usually rationed out with your dish.  How many acres of corn are destined to become crappy utensils, rather than say, by some more natural demand of the market (hint: not ethanol fuel) go to feed a starving mouth in the Global South?

Now, I must confess there is no “Recycle Nazi” at the Coffee House.  This idea is borrowed from the Davis Farmers Market, where, after chomping down on your tandoori treat, you’re likely to confront a cheery dreadlocked twenty-year-old-of-unknowing-privilege, who will gently but firmly ensure you’ve cast your biodegradable cornware cup into the appropriate receptacle.  Only then can you go back to enjoy watching toddlers prance around to a Bob Dylan cover band.  The small tote dogs of even-greater-pampering-and-privilege are fun to watch too.

But back to campus.  The exorbitant charge for paper cups is reflective of the the long-standing reuse movement.  Yes, it’s nice to reuse your mug.  And not all of these eco-friendly changes are derisible. Yet, the guiding hand of the Nanny State is all too palpable on campus.

COMPACT parking

Every space in one recently repainted UC Davis lot was marked “COMPACT.” Cogitatingduck.

Take cars for example.  There have been new garages built on campus, but they are more to the periphery than the core.  And existing parking lots get eroded by the liberal legacy of litigation.  The clearest instance of this comes when spots disappear to make room for more ADA-compliant spaces.

As a part of recent maintenance, one parking area got a new coat of sealant.  The spaces were repaved, and I suspect they’re just a little smaller than they were before.  As if that weren’t enough of a hint against cars, one stretch of the lot was painted with “COMPACT” in every space.  But they’re plenty wide to accommodate those oversize SUVs with multiple Obama stickers on them.  So the commuter is left to scratch his own head: was this a simple painting error or a subliminal hint from Nanny to buy a smaller car?

Well, with tax-hiking Prop 30 passed, there is a little more assurance those lots will continue to fill with cars for the near future.  And all the while, Our Great Bullet Train will move forward.  This despite the Legislative Analyst’s Office finding there are more effective ways to reduce emissions with the carbon tax credits diverted to “backstop any shortfall” in funding for a project unlikely to finish before humans colonize Mars.  An inevitable byproduct of this is, you’ve guessed it: more lawsuits!

Greetings from California.

Ideological values impacted Wednesday’s debate performance

What an incredible event was the first presidential debate.  Going into Wendesday night, there was immense pressure on Mitt Romney to turn in a decisive performance.  He was able to dominate with a coherent message and a sunny disposition.

Anyone who was watching or who caught subsequent analysis knows just how horribly President Obama bombed.  The incumbent spoke four minutes more than the challenger, but wasn’t able to deliver as much of a punch.  If the White House home brew were anything like the President’s debate performance, its slogan would be “less taste, more filling.”

Beyond the optics of performance, or the policy minutia, there’s another take away from Wednesday night: the candidates’ respective ideologies, and their underlying values, clearly impacted the debate outcome.  Romney’s stunning success reflected his high view of work ethic, while Obama’s miserable time grew out of an overinflated sense of self.

Take Mitt Romney’s performance.  The governor showed a profound comfort discussing the intricacies of his past and future policies.  He had done his homework.  Lawyers would say he’d done his due diligence.  Too many academics would dismiss this as a regrettable “bourgeois” trait.

Not only did Romney know his ways around the issues, he knew how to comport himself: he was always smiling and looked directly at those he was addressing.  As job seekers know, good body language is an indispensable element of social capital.  And Romney came off as an applicant who appreciated this.

Contrast Mr. Romney’s preparedness with Mr. Obama’s lack thereof.  As many liberals lamented, the latter completely failed to touch on even basic points of attack, such as the “47%” remark.  Lacking control or mindfulness, he looked down and scowled way too much, and nodded submissively as a child chided by an authority figure.

Al Gore infamously attributed Obama’s poor performance to high altitude.  This blaming of environmental factors is emblematic of a liberal worldview: pinning failure on systemic or external causes rather than on a personal shortcoming of volition or character.

In an amazing encounter with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Senator John Sununu called the President “lazy” for his lack of preparedness.  The journalist was stunned, as if the only motivation for such a label could be racism, or some other unjustified bias.  That one’s attitudes and actions might effect one’s outcome is simply out of the question for the Left.

So how exactly did liberal ideology translate into failing performance for President Obama?  The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is illustrative here.  Progress under Ledbetter depends on whether or not a lawyer can sue to rectify the wrong in your life.  But it’s not as if women couldn’t sue before; the time to file was merely extended by the act.  It was an empty gesture.

In his closing statement, President Obama echoed the sentiment of Ledbetter by reminding the middle class “I’m fighting for you every day.”  Here again, progress requires an external savior to take up your cause.  And as with Ledbetter, this actual  promise to “fight” is a mere gesture.  His inability–through four years now–to even sit down and negotiate with Republican congressional leaders on key issues testifies to the inefficacy of his proposition.

Apparently, President Obama had been biding his time before the debate, as if he himself were awaiting a savior: his own celebrity.  As with Generation Y–a.k.a. the Millennials–who so strongly support him, whether or not Jay Z was on the iPod seemed to take precedence over the grittier details of policy.  And in Millennial style, the President on Wednesday displayed an annoyed arrogance, the kind that rests on the unwarranted belief of one’s own “superior intelligence.”

This is the crux of liberal hubris, that the world gets better because one knows best, and a mere lift of the fingers will make it so.  Even competition is moot, because in a progressive society, a lawyer can sue your competitor or the IRS can collect what the cosmos owes you.  In fact, lugging your own teleprompter to a presidential debate is par for the course, as some Obama fans at UW Madison seem to believe.

In stark contrast, Mitt Romney’s stellar performance testified on behalf of a better set of beliefs: a sober understanding of the hard work, preparation, and effort that he and all Americans must steel themselves for if things are to get better.  This is what real progress requires.  November will be a test of whether, as a whole, America understands this simple truth or not.

Imbibe your worldview

Boy are politics ugly right now.  Let’s take a little break and grab a drink.  Maybe a coffee, a cola, or just some good old H2O.

Some months ago, as I was driving along my usual northern California avenues, I spied a beer delivery truck with a remarkable exhortation on its side: “Follow your folly . . . ours is beer.”  I thought to myself, there is a worldview captured in an advertising slogan.  The words are pithy and compelling to some targeted subset.  Whether they have an immediate, gut impact, or seep into our subconsciousness after repeated exposure, we’re not supposed to think too hard on them.

I thought it’d be fruitful to record more of these kinds of slogans as I came across them.  I haven’t been especially diligent in the task, but I’ve collected a couple more.  For whatever reason, they’re all tied to beverages.

Some mornings when I need a little pick me up, I get a coffee at the student-run campus coffee house.  Who knows how many times I blankly stared past the words on the paper insulating sleeve before they registered: “Brew what you believe.”  In this case, the convictions have something to do with the value of organically-grown products and “fair trade” practices.

Many folks support this kind of enterprise because they want to help impoverished, small-time farmers in the least-developed countries (LDCs).  But these boutique brands often do more harm than good by orienting producers toward transient, unsustainable, and distorted markets.  Accordingly, I am not really keen on the coffee vendor’s slogan.

So is there some drink-related catch phrase to which I might yet give mental assent?  Currently, Pepsi has a nice billboard on my morning commute.  You may be familiar with their latest marketing message: “Live for now.”  There is a certain appeal to this, if you’re at all aware of the “mindfulness” techniques and philosophy that have made their way from Eastern metaphysics and praxis into Western mind-body understanding.  Certainly, focusing on the present has a salubrious effect against anxiety and stress.  But then again, there is great value in looking to learn from the past and planning for the future.  Pepsi needs to clarify their position before I’m sold.

For now, the closest thing I might find to a beverage brand whose mantra I’d endorse would be the Credo House of Theology.  Yes, I visited Dan Kimball’s cool coffee-house-attached-to-a-church a few weeks ago, but from how Greg Koukl describes it, Credo sounds pretty dreamy to me.  So if they would package their own coffee and hatch a clever slogan, I’d go with that.

As for our chicken friend’s new java fix in today’s comic, you might find a little delight in the trademark expression of one civet bean vendor: “Kopi Luwak: Good to the last dropping.”

Can you think of any pithy worldview branding that has managed to capture your allegiance?

The half-life of racism

Attorney General Eric Holder made a bit of a splash when speaking at Columbia earlier this year.  He told the audience at his alma mater that he could not imagine a time when the need for racial preferences like affirmative action would cease.

So at what point does racism stop mattering in American life?  Perhaps you’ve entertained this question before.  If government, civil society and churches have been laboring against this great sin for decades, is there anything to show for it?

Surely, in 300 years, after our great-grandchildren are deceased, the old, nasty attitudes so prevalent before the Civil Rights era will have been expunged.  But if not, there will be sophisticated equipment–maybe like a Star Trek tricorder–to empirically identify any remnants.

For now, we are lucky to have wagging tongues like Chris Matthews to tell us when someone is being racist.  Or, we can just as well heed the dire warnings of speakers at this year’s Democratic National Convention.

Anyone who genuinely seeks a substantive discussion of issues, such as our raging national debt or the proper scope of federal government, has required a little patience in dealing with smokescreens thrown up by progressives and Democrats.  We know these as racism, the war on women, homophobia and so on.

The identity politics fiefdom built on these “wedge” issues is troubling in how it treats people in need as abstractions, not individuals.  The long history of progressive prescriptions affirms the ineffectiveness of promises perennially extended toward these abstracted victims.  President Johnson launched a “War on Poverty” in the 1960s, but the numbers of poor and dependent have reliably increased in the decades since.  Why should we think that President Obama, in spending ever more sums on the same problems, will change that?

While some conditions haven’t improved, there has been tremendous progress on societal attitudes.  Among those born after the tumult of the 1960s, the ideal of “equality” crowns the paramount virtue of “tolerance.”  But many remain beholden to the hope that just a little more money to social programs, a little more Ad Council propaganda, will actually change conditions for the abstraction.

What if these well-intended moves crowd out the healthy habits and cultural capital necessary to the success of the individual?  These, not the wasteful expenditures of federal welfare programs, are what can change conditions on the ground.  But to assess this soberly will require a little distance from the crooning promises of “Hope and Change” or MSNBC’s alarmist cries of “racism!”

Would it be safe to say that, in America today, we’re beyond the half-life of racism or patriarchy?  Existential struggle against oppression need not trump every policy consideration.  As I noted recently, a diverse lineup of thought leaders in media and at this year’s Republican National Convention have given us hope that we’re past that point.  For the sake of true progress, and the issues that really matter, I hope November will reflect a similar move among the population at large.

Shared sacrifice

President Obama unfurled a new school yard taunt this week, calling his challenger “Romney Hood.”  The moniker piggy backs on a study crafted by definitively left-leaning groups that presume to know the details of Romney’s future budget proposals.  Supposedly, Mitt Romney will balance the budget on the backs of the middle class.

But if anyone is taxing the middle class, it’s surely President Obama.  After all, the Supreme Court ruled in June that the penalty component of his Affordable Care Act is for all intents and purposes a tax.  Many who will be paying the new tax will be younger, less-established workers, the up-and-coming who are in many ways at the heart of economic growth.  That is, unless a Republican President and Congress are able to intervene at the start of 2013.

Is the “Romney Hood” label even fitting?  Maybe if you interpret the hugely successful capitalist as Atlas Shrugged pirate Ragnar Danneskjöld, a man who steals from corrupt “people’s republics” and bequeaths gold bars to cloistered industrialists.  However, the “tax cuts” that President Obama perennially refers to are not stealing from anyone.  Continuing with the ten-year-old, boring, existing rate is merely allowing high income earners to keep more of what is rightfully theirs.

If we examine the President’s rhetoric about income and wealth, it’s clear he has little real regard for the deep American tradition of ownership, particularly that which comes from “earned success.”  Consider his 2008 retort to Joe the Plumber, that all he wants to do with the little extra taxed income is “spread the wealth around.”

In 2010, and even into 2012, the President repeatedly sprinkled his speeches with references to “shared sacrifice.”  This is meant to conjure up thoughts of selflessness and nobility: folks who step up and offer voluntarily for a good cause.  But how are new taxes “sacrifice” when they are ultimately collected at the barrel of a gun?  This rhetoric ought to be seen as embarrassing and sloppy by all observers.  The rights to the fruits of one’s own sweat and toil, time and treasure are ultimately discarded by such a line of reasoning.  Utterly chilling.

If what we’re concerned with is a green-hooded robber running around in the woods and seizing wealth, we should be more wary of the man who has spent the last three and a half years in the Bully Pulpit than we should be of his challenger.

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