Saturday, June 18, 2005

Column on a tiny bit of progress

Tiny Progress, But Some

Tibor R. Machan

Nearly ten years ago I left Auburn, Alabama, to move to Southern
California and take up a new and more exciting line of work?actually
several lines. During the ten years I lived in Auburn and taught at the
university there?with some short visiting stints elsewhere?there had been
some unique little tyrannies I used to fume about, if only to make the
point that despite being minor, they should be stopped. One of these petty
tyrannies was that stores were prohibited from selling any alcohol on
Sundays, even wine and beer.

I kept forgetting this ban routinely and sometimes loaded up my cart with
a bit of booze only to be turned away at the cash register and ordered to
get rid of the stuff. Which then gave me the opportunity to deliver an
eloquent speech about fascism, both petty and massive, to the annoyance of
all the other people attempting to get through their Sunday shopping and
the staff who had no interest in any of this. They all, like so many
millions of people, were perfectly willing to put up with this minor but
true police state policy, even if now and then they too were annoyed with
the pushy authorities and the coercive policies they imposed on us all.
But, well, it wasn?t Auschwitz, nor the Soviet gulags, not even South
Africa, so why make a fuss!?

Not me. I figured one value of having been raised under Hungarian
communism, even of the more or less ?Goulash? variety, as well as by a
Nazi father, is never to accept that it?s OK for other people, especially
governments, to limit one?s liberty, never. So, I made my impassioned and
eloquent protest each time I got the chance.

I visited back in Auburn a while ago and, lo and behold, massive progress
became evident to me. Now the government forbids you to buy alcohol only
until about Sunday noon in Alabama, not throughout the entire day. Wow.
Talk about gains in human liberty! No, not massive gains, perhaps, nor all
that significant ones but even this minor progress should be welcome, I
believe. Of course, it is interesting to consider why there was liberation
for human beings only for Sunday afternoons, not the whole day. And even
the health center has to be closed until the afternoon, so it isn?t just
alcohol purchase that suffers from restraint of trade.

The reason, of course, is that people must be ?encouraged? to attend
church in Alabama, via the forces of the state. The fear among the
faithful political class is that if they were to be able to purchase some
liquor on Sunday mornings, sure enough no one would show up in church.
Thousands would be standing in line for alcohol and the churches would be
empty. And this is not to be tolerated. Not only that, but health
conscious citizens, who may not be hell bent on an early alcohol buying
spree, would, however, be out there exercising to their hearts? content
and miss church that way, so the health club must also be kept out of
reach. Such temptations must simply be eliminated or the good people of
the state of Alabama would all fall prey to temptation?or that is what the
thinking appears to be down there in Montgomery.

It is sad, a kind of confession of desperation, all this prohibition, if
you ask me. If Alabamians aren?t sufficiently devoted to forego alcohol
purchase and physical workout on Sunday mornings so they can attend
service, what does their faith amount to anyway? If they must be coerced
into church attendance it bodes rather ill for the state of religion in
this Bible belt community. What kind of commitment does all this evidence?

Or perhaps the politicians and minister who decided on this policy, in
the famous blue law tradition that has been with America from way back,
maybe drastically underestimating the strength of faith of Alabamians.
Perhaps the good religious folks down there would not only have no trouble
resisting any temptations to miss church for the sake of booze and
exercise but they very likely aren?t even tempted to do any such thing.
No one can be sure, of course, since they aren?t being trusted with the
matter by those politicians and others who support all this.

Still, we should probably celebrate the tiny progress made in Alabama
whereby adult men and women are now free to make their own decisions as to
whether to buy liquor or work out most of the time and, now, even on
Sunday afternoons. In the past, after all, they were cruelly deprived of
this liberty for all of Sunday. That, at least, is no longer so.

Column on Two Serious Disconnects

On Two Terrible Disconnects

Tibor Machan

It?s not the first, second, or third time I have reflected on this but
each time there just a slight difference in focus. So there is now. I am
talking about the terrible disconnection between how the bulk of the
official intellectual community versus most ordinary folks see two aspects
of human affairs. First, I am talking about how most people accept, as a
perfectly normal aspect of human life, that people can make basic choices
between right and wrong conduct and that they do this all of the time. It
infuses our ordinary understanding of politics, history, crime,
child-raising, marriage, romance, professional conduct, war,
friendship?you name it, it occupies virtual center stage. Just read any
decent novel, be it a classic or some best seller pulp fiction.

I have recently been reading through works produced by Daniel Silva, but
have also just finished The Jury by Steve Martini, a legal thriller. But I
am also working through Karl May?s In the Desert, a classic European tale
published back in 1912. The themes of human moral choice, of
responsibility, guilt, desert, triumph or negligence are all central to
these, as they re to the daily news about young women being murdered,
business professionals or politicians or doctors being brought to trial
for malpractice. Fiction or non-fiction, crime, diplomacy, history,
education or politics?they are simply replete with unending stories about
how men and women have done either the right or the wrong thing or some
combination, how others are treating them in consequence of this and so

At the very same time, however, intellectuals everywhere are churning out
massively researched works, in physics, biochemistry, molecular and
evolutionary biology, psychology, sociology, economics, political science
and philosophy propounding yet another theory about how everything we
believe and do is the result of forces that operate upon us?our brains,
emotions, minds, memories, what have you. If these works are to be
believed, we are all merely highly complicated machines that produce
behavior that we have absolutely no personal control over, although, of
course, the behavior is, in fact, ours, but no more so than the behavior
of a dog biting the child is the behavior of that dog. Yet no one thinks
that dog is guilty, morally responsible or whatever?the dog just does what
it must, given the forces impelling it. And that is just what the bulk of
the educated world now thinks about what you and I and the rest of us do
and have done all along through out long human history.

This, I contend, is a terrible disconnect, a chasm that is wreaking
massive confusion upon us, our various institutions, the law, or wherever
else human affairs are being addressed. It is a colossal mess and, oddly,
very few forums through the media host any discussion of it.

There is also another such disconnect afoot, one that?s of similar scope
and produces comparably great confusion, namely, about values. On the one
hand we have most people in the world believing that there really are some
standards of right conduct that hold for everyone. That is how they raise
their kids, how they view the history of their own community and its
leaders as well as ordinary citizens?soldiers, doctors, doctors,
scientists, and everyone else. Some have run afoul of those standards,
some have excelled in terms of them and many others have fallen somewhere
in between. That is what most ordinary folks think, there?s little doubt
about it, as they go through their lives and in what they read in their
novels, view on their television programs or at the movies, even as the
give some lip service to ?it?s all relative,? ?different cultures have
different standards,? etc. But they do not believe that for a moment in
their day to day conduct.

In contrast, again, the world of academe, the scholarly community, the
erudite among us, tend, in the main, to scoff at all this. The bulk of
them are skeptics from the word ?go.? For most of them values are either
complete fabrications of primitive people or charlatans, or the inventions
of communities or religious leaders, myths through and through. Or if
there be anything to them, they are all over the map, none of them
applicable to us all, none having relevance beyond some community or
region of the world or a period of history. It?s all in fact relative or
culturally based for most such folks (which is why even ordinary persons
buy into this when they wax theoretic now and then?they get it mostly from
their teachers).

All of this, too, has terrible consequences for how people think, how
they handle personal, community, or world affairs, how they address
problems of human life in every possible area. Are all the ills we witness
concoctions, are they ills at all or just ills for some, not others and no
one can be right about any of it? It?s just a mess. Yet once again the
forums throughout the media hardly focus on any of it but carry on as if
no such disconnect existed.

All I am doing here is making an observation. I do know many of us try to
address the matter but it?s lamentable that so few prominent and visible
people make any attempt to deal with it up front, before the reading and
viewing general public.

Column on Morality, Individualism & Liberty

Individualism and Obligations

Tibor Machan

The ethical basis of a free society is not often discussed because any
genuine morality, be it Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, atheistic,
agnostic?any serious, plausible answer to the question ?How should human
beings conduct themselves in their lives??requires individual freedom.
That?s because morality or ethics involves choosing to do what?s either
right or wrong and without individual freedom there cannot be such a
choice. The institution of the right to private property may be thought
important for purposes of economic activity but it, too, is vital to
morality and ethics because without a personal sphere of authority?what
the late Harvard University philosopher Robert Nozick called one?s ?moral
space??one has no chance to make significant ethical choices. A prisoner
is powerless to choose other than on some minimal matters, such as what he
or she will think and attempt to do, but rarely concerning extensive plans
of action. And those in tyrannies suffer Draconian demoralization, loss of
their human dignity, something that amounts to being in a position to make
choices for oneself. It?s vital to note that even communities with milder
tyrannies?for example, with massive government regulations and meddling in
people?s lives?undermine moral choice.

Still, it is not only the very general precondition of morality that
matters for the basis of a free society. It is no accident that the
American founders listed the pursuit of happiness as a crucial,
unalienable individual right. A sound morality concerns what our proper
goals are and how to achieve them, at least in a very broad sense. From
the time of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, one very serious candidate for
why we need morality has been that happiness is our goal in life and
virtues or principles of good conduct are the best guides to it. If we
are routinely honest, prudent, courageous, generous, moderate, temperate,
honorable, and so forth, this is how we are going to become happy or
successful in living a proper human life. (This kind of happiness isn?t
the same as that which so many modern thinkers keep pooh-poohing, namely
being continuously cheerful or pleased with oneself.)

Of course, this emphasis on linking morality with our happiness in life
has also been hotly disputed by many who hold that morality is about
unselfishness, sacrifice, having mainly obligations toward others or
serving humanity, the poor, the helpless and so forth. The main reason for
this different emphasis of such contending ethical or moral outlooks has
been the underlying belief that human beings are naturally greedy,
anti-social, selfish, and mean. The doctrine of original sin seems to
suggest this, as does the influential idea of human nature put on record
by the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes; it is also implicit in
the famous Venetian political thinker Niccolo Machiavelli?s teachings.
Freud, too, added to this, with his doctrine that we have basic instincts
that drive us to do bad things, especially where it concerns others.

Perhaps the most influential thinker who opposed the idea of the
connection between morality and happiness was the German philosopher
Immanuel Kant who believed that we need to be ethical or moral just
because, not for any purpose but because it is the right way to be for
rational creatures?virtue for its own sake alone, that was his message.
Others, like Auguste Comte and Karl Marx, also stressed that we ought
first of all to be devoted to others. Comte made it clear that ?This [?to
live for others?], the definitive formula of human morality, gives a
direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence, the common
source of happiness and duty. [Man must serve] Humanity, whose we are
entirely.? And as Marx put the point early in his career, ?When we have
chosen the vocation in which we can contribute most to humanity, burdens
cannot bend us because they are sacrifices for all. Then we experience no
meager, limited egoistic joy, but our happiness belongs to millions, our
deeds live on quietly but eternally effective, and glowing tears of noble
men will fall on our ashes.?

Most religious moralities also advocate that people?s first obligation is
to others, but they do offer a personal reward for doing this all through
one?s life, namely, everlasting salvation. And that?s pretty close to the
idea of one?s happiness, although in their case not in this but in the
after life.

Even if one doesn?t contend that people need to live for others?and it
was W. H. Auden who found the idea trouble when he exclaimed: ?We are here
on earth to do good for others. What the others are here for, I don't
know??there is a nagging concern that a highly individualist ethics or
morality may not even motivate one to respect other people?s rights to
life, liberty and to the pursuit of their happiness. This has been
suggested as a problem with some efforts to deploy such an ethical stance
in support of freedom?how could one insist on freedom for all if we have
as our primary task to promote our own happiness?

An answer to this has been offered by some. It goes, mainly, that an
individualist morality implies that when one has chosen, mainly to achieve
happiness in one?s life, to live among other people (that is, in human
communities), one must realize, as a reasonable person, that one?s own
striving for happiness is something everyone else also shares?namely, that
very same responsibility?and that realization gives rise to the firmest
possible obligation to respect the rights of all. Otherwise one would have
no rational grounds to insist that one?s own rights be respected, nor for
a system of law that, in the words of the American founders, aims to
?secure [our] rights.?

Be this as it may, in fact morality, whatever is to be its substance, its
basic edict, is impossible without human liberty. And in a free and
diverse human community, where people with different moral convictions
must live in peace, that is what must be kept in mind, first and foremost.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Column on Varieties of Conflict

Varieties of Conflict

Tibor R. Machan

Much of human history has involved conflict among various people of
different convictions on innumerable topics. One topic, of course, has
been religion?to wit, which of it is the true one. In our day such
conflicts continue and there is no reason to think they will ever end.
That?s one of the difficulties about belief systems based on faith?even
the hope for resolution is misplaced since faith is not grounded on
publicly accessible evidence or the methods of rational reflection that
all human beings are capable of. Even in the more mundane areas the means
of seeking resolutions to conflicting ideas success are often very
difficult to achieve?consider child-raising or economics, as examples.

Despite the evident hopelessness of finding solutions to conflicts,
especially where the source is faith, but also where more mundane
approaches are deployed, some relief may be found in the way human beings
can go about dealing with conflicts. One example will illustrate the
source of such possible relief.

In the USA there are roughly 4200 different religious groups, some nearly
indistinguishable from others, some drastically different in what they
believe. Yet America hasn?t been host to massive religious
strife?substantial peace reins among these numerous religious groups. How

I suggest that one answer lies in the institution of private property
rights. Unlike in many other regions around the globe, religious groups in
the USA do not fight violently about who is to rule the public square.
Each group has its own sphere where it conducts worship and other
religious activities and so there are few occasions when they would get
physically in one another?s way. The remaining areas of conflict have to
do mainly with attempts to win over converts, not by force of arms but by
means of persuasion, advocacy, proselytizing, and similar measures. (The
exception is in the schools, where there is plenty of political power
wielding so as to get to rule that primarily public sphere.)

But the property rights factor is one of a cluster contributing to the
relative peaceful co-existence in America and elsewhere in the Western
world?which goes far beyond the West, to New Zealand, Australia and the
like?of different religious and other groups. Another one is the influence
of the classical liberal tradition of tolerance and mutual respect, not so
much for all the varieties of viewpoints but for the principle of
individual decision and choice. Yes, in America and all those societies
influenced by this liberal legacy both custom and law have guided us not
to impose our outlook on others but to try to handle our conflicts in a
civilized fashion. In fact, this liberal legacy has moderated many
religions that had been quite ruthless about trying to get everyone to
follow their ways. It has trumped the fervor, tamed the zealotry, and
restrained the enthusiasm.

Of course, members of different religious and other groups still consider
their position superior to those of others. Jews, Roman Catholics,
Baptists, Moonies, atheists, Darwinists, and the rest haven?t caved in on
that point?they all take it that they are right and the rest are wrong.
What has made the big difference, though, is that thinking oneself right
does not imply that one has any authority to coerce others to one?s ways.
The liberal tradition of individual sovereignty simply moderates the way
one ought to go about bringing others into one?s own flock. They must do
it of their own free will, as a matter of personal choice. Otherwise any
conversion is worthless. What good does it do if people follow even the
truest of viewpoints, religions, or ethical codes because they are made to
do so? What good does it do for their conscience? They are then mere
sheep, following orders. The idea that this is a sound approach to getting
them all to join the flock is, indeed, the hallmark of barbarism.

Sadly in many places around the globe this liberal legacy hasn?t taken
root, nor has the institution of private property rights. When it does,
the ruthless and violent conflict among different sects will change from
the barbaric to the civilized. That is the most, I think, that can be
expected. Consensus on matters of belief, however, is a naïve dream.

Column on Darwinism

An Omission of Darwinism

Tibor R. Machan

No, no, I will not reenter the debate about whether Darwin set us on the
right course for understanding the development of life on earth. The point
I wish to stress it that one particular problem faces those who think he
has. This is that there appears to be little room left for genuine
morality in the story Darwin and his students tell about human life.

Darwin himself worried a bit about this. He wrote on the topic in The
Ascent of Man and affirmed the uniqueness of homo sapiens on that score,
namely, that for them there is a special task in their lives of having to
get things right. But, admittedly, Darwin, not unlike other modern
thinkers, had a difficult time with making room for the phenomenon of
moral choice. David Hume, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Herbert
Spencer, among others, with varied philosophical and political positions,
saw the same difficulty, mainly because modern philosophy was hamstrung by
a certain popular and appealing materialist outlook that seemed to
everyone to demand determinism.

The idea, since at least the time of Galileo and Thomas Hobbes, was that
everything that happens has to have been produced by some prior event,
which itself had to be so produced, ad infinitum, in an everlasting chain
of causal connections. The earlier, Aristotelian notion that it isn?t only
events but beings, too, that can be causes, had been discarded for a
variety of (ultimately not every good) reasons. That, however, rendered it
theoretically incoherent for free will, a basic ingredient of bona fide
morality, to exist. No choice, well, then no choice between right and
wrong conduct, period.

Nothing, however, in Darwinism implies this?it was an earlier proposed
reductive materialism that led to this result. Indeed, Darwin?s theory of
evolution opened the door to the possibility of the development of a
living being that has free will. After all, one thing Darwin is about is
how through the process of natural selection new and different life forms
emerge. The highest of these, Homo sapiens, could well possess quite
unheard of attributes and capacities, not excluding that of free choice or
initiative. Whether human beings do have this attribute or capacity is a
matter of discovery, not of metaphysics.

Materialism, by the way, is a metaphysical position that has many
problems?first of all, with what exactly is matter anyway? It seems matter
is a formal concept, meaning no more than anything that has mass, is
quantifiable. But the units of quantity aren?t specified and depend on
what kind of matter something is; so if the matter happens to be human, it
all depends on what that comes to, that is, on whether it has certain
attributes like the capacity to initiate some of its conduct, not on the
fact that it is material, which, of course, it is but tells us virtually
nothing about it.

Anyway, unfortunately many who have found Darwin convincing on the score
of natural selection also believed he is a metaphysical materialist, which
by no means follows (mainly because that is an empty idea). He is, of
course, largely a naturalist, although Darwin himself had some deistic
inclinations, thinking?actually, like some contemporary defenders of
Intelligent Design?that God got the whole shebang off the ground but stood
back ever since to let the laws of, among other things, evolutionary
biology do the rest. In any case, none of what he argued rules out free
will and morality. But those who champion Darwin often think so.

It is this fact, not so much natural selection and the rest of
evolutionary biology, which makes many people queasy about evolution?it
seems, in the hands of many of today?s Darwinians, to preclude morality.
Yet, morality is such a firmly entrenched aspect of human life that any
viewpoint will be widely shunted which makes no room for it.

It is sad. We need a coherent account of how the world got to be where it
is, especially regarding the life in it, and Darwin certainly is a good
beginning toward making sense of it. No one can reasonably expect
Darwinism to be a finished story?only God, if He exists, could have a
finished story in any field of human interest; for us it would require to
have managed to get a peak at the end of it all to come up with one. With
contemporary challenges of Darwin we get, in fact, greater mysteries than
anything Darwinism includes?like, how can intelligence exist prior to
everything else when, in fact, intelligence requires a living brain that
can produce it (and the activity of designing something).

If Darwin?s defenders spent some time figuring out how human morality?and
its prerequisite, free will?fit into Darwinism, I am sure the position
would fare much better with ordinary men and women, most of whom know that
morality matters and also might give a naturalist view a chance that makes
room for it. As to God, well that must be left to faith and not science,
if faith is to have a role in any of this.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Column on "Marketplace" Follies

Marketplace Follies

Tibor R. Machan

No, I am not about to lament some supposed failures of the free market,
even if I am a supporter of it who doesn?t argue that it?s perfect. Market
places are human realms and, as is likely, will contain human follies.

My focus is on the radio program, usually following NPR?s ?All Things
Considered,? produced, I believe, by RPI, Radio Public International, that
manages each evening to chime in on various aspects of the highly mixed
economic market place we have here in the USA and around the globe?we
might call it, markets with petty dictators regimenting everyone about.
This program is one I once was invited to join as a commentator, back in
the late 80s, but when I sent in some sample commentaries they were
rejected because I had been too fervent in my support of, you guessed it,
the free market place.

Anyway, with full disclosure behind me, let me tell you what caught my
attention on their program Wednesday afternoon, June 15, 2005. There was
an interview with one Ruth Epstein, a former Wall Street trader, I think
they said she was, who had gone to Hollywood to produce a movie, ?The
Deal,? about the oil business, a movie in the making, she told the
interviewer, for five years.

From what I learned in this interview, this movie pretty much buys into
the Michael Moore theory of the international oil business?it?s all pretty
conspiratorial, underhanded, and generally harmful to everyone but all
those bad guys in the industry.

OK, what else would one expect from a Hollywood movie about oil trade,
coming out of the same culture that produced Wall Street and dozens of
other pictures, including David Mamet?s Glenn Gary Glenn Ross (the current
Broadway hit that?s a major relentless and tiresome put down of those who
work in the real estate business)? Business bashing is the name of the
game in tinsel town, even while the main activity there is, of course,
business. Just goes to show you how wrong Marx was in thinking that
people in business will routinely promote their self-interest!

No, what was most noteworthy in the Marketplace interview is how few
challenges Ms. Epstein heard from whoever it was who interviewed her. It
was all a classic instance of throwing the Christians to the Christians.
Every question was a soft ball, a veritable support group type chit chat,
with both parties ganging up on big oil and capitalism.

Just now this is especially disgusting since during the last few days
various news services have finally published reports that point out that
oil prices are actually relatively low. Mark J. Perry, professor of
finance and economics at the University of Michigan-Flint and an adjunct
scholar at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, made this
clear in a recent essay in USA
Compared to earlier times, the amount people spend on gasoline is a far
smaller percentage of their income than it is today.

Judging by what transpired on the Marketplace interview, however, the idea
that gas prices are way over the top figures in heavily in the plot of The
Deal. It functions as major and decisive evidence for how Big Oils is
screwing the consumer around the globe, especially in America.

Well, it isn?t so, but did the interviewer raise it as a possibility? Of
course she did not. Marketplace, like its fellow programs on NPR, is
nothing if not a piece of the unending Leftist propaganda, partly funded
by extorting money from citizens via taxation. This is just the sort of
policy the US Supreme Court, with the enthusiastic support of one Justice
Antonin Scalia, supported as fully constitutional in a recent ruling that
upheld using tax monies for government public service and special interest
support messages. As I wrote in connection with that case, ?Justice
Scalia, writing for the majority in the 6 to 3 decision, explained:
?Compelled funding of government speech does not alone raise First
Amendment concerns.? He added: ?Citizens may challenge compelled support
of private speech, but have no First Amendment right not to fund
government speech?.?

This, of course, protects NPR and Marketplace from any legal challenge
concerning their use of tax monies to proselytize whatever they wish. So,
please remember: to find any kind of hard-hitting interview with the likes
of the producer of The Deal, you will have to go elsewhere than
Marketplace, where they always love to diss the market, never praise it.

Column on the Menace of "Imperialism"

The Menace of Imperialism

Tibor R. Machan

You?d think history would have taught us that empires are a menace. In
their name more murderous killing has taken place than for any other

Yet, in some ways, imperialism is very much part of the contemporary age.
It may not amount to the sort of vast military missions with which it is
so prominently associated, although, sadly, much of that continues today.
Another type of imperialism temps too many people who would never think
themselves followers of the imperial tradition.

Take, for example, all those folks who believe that their pet projects
must gain state support so as to be spread around the world, to be
preserved in granite, if you will, so everyone will know how superior
these are in the history of a country, the world, in one?s city or county.
Historical preservationists who insist that we all be taxed so as to keep
around various monuments or buildings at everyone?s expense?they are
imperialists. They want everyone to be subjugated to what they believe is
important; they refuse to acknowledge that importance is a matter of
individual and special concern, very, very rarely one of universal
significance. Few if any concerns of people are actually, really, proper
concerns for us all and even those few that are, ought to gain support via
the civilized method of persuasion, not the barbaric one of coercion.

A prominent movement today that utterly fails to see this point is that
of environmentalism. By embracing the false doctrine that matters
designated to be ?the wilds? are of superior significance to all others,
that only what is wild is part of authentic nature, they have ended in the
trap of imperialism. They have convinced themselves that what isn?t of the
wilds isn?t natural and, therefore, does not deserve respect and a place
in the world. So, for example, all housing developments are treated as
evil, unnatural, never mind that they are the nesting places for human
beings who are every bit a part of nature as is, say, the beaver or the
swallow. But whereas the beaver and the swallow are deemed precious, thus
deserving all the coercive powers of government behind them, human beings
are treated by environmentalists as some kind of fungus or virus. Why? Not
one good reason has ever been offered, none. It turns out to be no more
than the personal preference of environmentalists, their malicious
imperialism that they?ve decided to lord over everyone.

Of course, environmentalists aren?t alone, only they have managed to
accrue to themselves the tone of moral superiority by way of producing
reams of literature in which they promote the myth that only the wilds
qualify as Nature?or Gaia?and since human beings have left the wilds more
prominently than any other critter on the globe, they have no moral

Such an insidious attitude is, sadly, treated with sympathy and
understanding even by those who do not quite go with the flow, mainly for
reasons of impracticality. As if the environmentalists really did have a
hold of a true ideal but, alas, it just cannot be had, not in the measure
they demand.

But the environmentalists haven?t gotten hold of an ideal, not by any
means. They have, instead, perpetrated a grand ruse, namely, that their
imperialistic mission is a holy crusade.

Yes, some of the wilds is and will always be of importance to most
people, just as are decent housing, transportation, science, education,
art, commerce, and even athletics. But it is whatever matters to us that
ought to determine the measure of environmental concern that makes the
best sense, not what matters to other living things in the world. And even
that proper measure must be something promulgated in a civilized,
non-coercive fashion, which is to say, via the private, non-governmental
sector, without the meddling of the most imperialistically tempted
institution in human history, namely, government.

All in all, let us leave behind the imperialist temptation once and for
all. Let us not assume that our pet projects must be everyone?s or that
our pet peeves must be shared by all. Human beings are a highly diverse
lot and no one?s best need be everyone?s best, or worst everyone?s worst.
Certainly imposing these notions on everyone is no more than that menace
of imperialism that history shows to be such a malicious force.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Column on the Jackson Verdict

Racists or Just Sick of the Charade?

Tibor R. Machan

Before making some observations connected to Michael Jackson?s court room
triumph the other day, let me remind everyone that in Spain, today, in the
21st Century, if a 19 year old guy has sex with a consenting 13 year old
gal, it?s all legal. Is Spain some Neanderthal country? Or what?s going on

Many kids who commit crimes in the good old US of A?twelve, fourteen year
olds?are prosecuted as adults. What is that all about?they cannot vote,
sign contracts, get married without parental permission but when they do
the crime, they must do the adult time. Weird, is it not?

Michael Jackson has been weird for a long time but, hey, in a free
country it?s no crime to be weird. He may even like the company of
youngsters too much, even tussle and bustle with them now and then as if
he were still a kid. But is that child molestation? Perhaps not, if we
look at it with Spanish eyes?if they consent, no problem.

So when I saw around eight black employees at a McDonalds?where I had my
once-a-year-dosage of French fries?shriek with joy upon hearing the
announcement from the jury leader that Jackson isn?t guilty and can go
free, I thought, maybe this isn?t racial solidarity at all but simple
empathy and relief. Fans jumping from joy that justice won out over
trivial pursuit.

My own take is that I have no take when I am not part of the jury. That,
indeed, was my take with the O. J. Simpson verdict as well. I wasn?t
there, hour after hour, day after day, listening and watching and then
considering the charges and the evidence. I saw bits and pieces and heard
a lot of rather questionable late night humor. I am still committed to my
non-commitment. Ignorance may not be bliss but it?s better than prejudice.

Of course, some of the young blacks who yelled from joy when they heard
Jackson go free may have had a tinge of racist attitude mixed in with
their relief and vindicated sense of justice. But I think not much. They
didn?t turn on me, the only white in the place, and yell at me gleefully.
Instead they had smiles on their faces and no sooner was it all over on
the TV set, they went back to work.

Mind you, even that tinge of racial attitude may well be quite
reasonable. Many blacks, especially in the Deep South?the scene took place
in Auburn, Alabama?still often feel demeaned by whites, not out of
paranoia but from clear cut evidence. This and quite a few other regions
of the USA haven?t quite left behind the widespread belittling of blacks
that has been part of the country?s history for a very long time. When a
group of people is grouped by others and picked on for traits over which
they have absolutely no control, they will quite naturally huddle
together, at least until the picking has stopped. And maybe longer, just
in case it should start up again.

The solidarity felt by many blacks toward O. J. and Michael need not be
an insidious type of racism at all. Not that it justifies blanket
support?after all, just as I wasn?t one of the jurors, neither were the
blacks who were cheering the verdict. But there was a certain measure
emotional sense to their delight??So, you see, you will not get yet
another chance to deride us, to think badly of us because of some black?s
misdeeds, something you do a lot even if it is quite irrational to make
such generalizations.?

So, I admit, I felt quite good about the verdict too, not because I had
any opinion about the matter but because I, too, felt that had it gone the
other way, it would probably have fueled some racist sentiments across
parts of the USA. These sentiments certainly ought to vanish anyway, but
with Jackson acquitted this may accelerate somewhat now.

But then what about the laws that enabled the prosecution to go after
Jackson, actually to hound him for nearly ten years? Are these laws good,
just principles for a free society? Are we to dismiss the Spanish as
barbarians, ones who give credence to the consent of 13 year old girls?

I am not sure. I do know that where I was born parents regularly let
their young children drink a glass or two of wine at dinner, do not have a
fit when children have a beer or go to a bar where 16 year olds can drink,
smoke and dance. I grew up completely immune to the temptation to
repeatedly get plastered, in contrast to many of my friends in American
who had to wait until they reached 21 before they could freely decide to
drink alcohol. And what about Holland, where pot smoking is legal and you
can go to cafes and order up a joint? Are they nuts or is it possible that
this land of the free isn?t really so free and that here and there some
other parts of the world outshine us where that?s concerned?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Column on Miseducation

Schools are Making Students Sick

Tibor R. Machan

So many kids are afflicted with various maladies in school today that one
has to be suspicious about the diagnoses being advanced throughout the
educational community. The varieties of Attention Deficit Disorders in
records boggle the mind, even as many of us have managed to pass through
the system reasonably unscathed. Or have we?

There are those who do not buy into this medical approach to assessing
the problems with contemporary education. I am one of them. Although not a
specialists in the relevant fields of psychological and cognitive
disciplines, I have a bit of experience with schooling, if only my own
education?from kindergarten to the end of graduate school?and my teaching
career?starting in the fall of 1970 and still going strong (not to mention
the educational history of my own three children). Maybe the ideas
garnered throughout this history of experience, observation, and
reflections qualify me to have formed some measure of reasonable insight,
if not strict scientific hypotheses (if such is really available in this
realm of human interest).

For one, in America there is a pedagogical ideal afoot that?s worth some
skeptical consideration. This is that every solitary child deserves and
requires the nearly identical educational experience, from age 6 to at
least 18 (graduation from compulsory schooling), if not all the way to 22
(graduation from college, now treated as everyone?s virtual natural
right). Elsewhere around the globe education is not treated all that
differently as regards its various stages but the egalitarian element is
missing?not all are thought to be fit for such schooling. If we combine
this egalitarianism and the one-size-fits-all aspects of education, the
very reasonable possibility arises that millions and millions of children
are getting miseducated.

Just consider that children, like adults, are individuals, not all the
same?their psychological, temperamental, and related constitution is
highly varied. Although some matters may be required for them all?a bit
like in the fields of nutrition and medicine?on many fronts they have
drastically different needs. Their talents and aptitudes aren?t at all the
same. Their interests begin to diverge early in their lives, especially in
the modern era when opportunities are so plentiful for most of them.

Yet they are essentially given the same ?education.? They are coerced to
attend the same pre-school programs, elementary schools, and high schools,
with the nearly identical courses spoon-fed to them whether or not that?s
what they need, with hardly any attention paid to the fact of their
individuality, their highly varied pedagogical requirements.

Do they really all benefit from being taught nearly the same way, the same
subjects, at the same pace, in the same kind of environments, with
virtually identical administrative methods? That?s simply highly
implausible, even preposterous.

Instead, however, of promoting an educational system that adjust itself
to the immense diversity of the student body, everyone is regimented to
conform to the nearly identical schooling process. Is it, then, any wonder
that a lot of kids are deemed unfit, even afflicted with maladies, within
such an educational system?

Consider that students who are completely mismatched to what the system
has to offer turn their minds to other matters as they are forced to sit
in class being ?taught? by someone serving as a teacher. So they fail to
pay close attention. Instead their minds drift?they gaze out the window
and imagine animals forming from clouds, ?hear? music in their minds, wish
for experiences drastically different from the one with which they are
forcibly confronted.

So, upon doing so such students are declared sick, suffering from ADD of
whatever, then plugged full of some drugs or sent for counseling or
therapy, instead of the much more reasonable conclusion that they are
being totally miseducated, mismatched to the system in place. It?s like
beating someone to a pulp and then complaining that he is sick?what else
do you expect? Whose fault is this? Is their malady natural or most likely
artificially induced?

I think it is the system that is creating a bunch of sick kids and the
kids are fine unless they are subjected to the system. That makes much
better sense than the other way around.