Friday, April 25, 2008

Multicultural Nonsense

Tibor R. Machan

As an avid reader of Science News magazine I never miss anything offered up by the editors. I often purchase a book they recommend and peruse the letters of the editor routinely. (I’ve had several of my own published over the years.)

In the April 12, 2008, issue a letter appears that puzzled me quite a bit, both for its content and because it was published. Here is what it said:

“I feel that Rachel Ehrenberg was entirely too glib in ‘Digging that Maya blue” (SN:3/1/08, p. 134). The description of an ancient Mayan religious ritual as ‘plucking the hearts from humans and tossing the bodies into the sacred cenote’ is disrespectful. I am sure that Science News would never describe any contemporary religious ritual in this manner. Here is hoping that the editors and writers adopt a more dispassionate eye.”

So now human sacrifices are supposed to be dealt with respectfully! Give me a break. Next we will read from some multicultural fanatic that slavery, female circumcision and other atrocities from the past, and perhaps even the gassing of the Jews by the German authorities just a few decades ago, need to be handled respectfully. Or perhaps just because the Mayan atrocity was at the behest of a religious sect it deserves our respect. Why? Can religions not manifest gross evil just as ideologies often do?

Not all matters from the past can easily be evaluated, that is true. Sometimes the context and circumstances are complicated and the behavior being examined may not fit clearly within moral categories. But human sacrifice? Come on, surely here we can say, with sufficient confidence, that those folks back there did something utterly contemptible. If not, then I suppose the multicultural thesis would imply that we must not pass judgment on anything, including the practice of chattel slavery in the not so far off past of the United States of America.

The irrationality of this viewpoint is obvious just from the fact that advocates of the multicultural viewpoint endlessly moralize about those who refuse to accept their position. Just consider the Science News letter writer who freely chided the editors instead of regarding their stance, well, an alternative cultural stance, one that freely condemns various religious practices of the past. If these editors can be criticized for what they did, so can the Mayans, otherwise what is being done is actually insulting to the latter. Mayans and others in the past were human beings, ever bit as we are, and various moral standards are applicable to understanding how they conduct themselves, just as such standards apply to the editors and writers of Science News.

The intellectually fascinating feature of multiculturalism is just how incoherent it quickly becomes. If one fails to accept multiculturalism, well then one is acting badly; but if one accepts multiculturalism, then no one can be blamed for anything at all since from some, however obtuse, cultural standpoint any conduct can be “justified.”

It would be far more enlightened to figure out some basic standards of human morality and then apply them to any society and culture carefully. The nihilism of refusing to judge is simply unavoidable to us--even that refusal is a judgment and in need of rational support.

The multicultural stance exhibited by the Science News letter writer is not the only one that has the problem of incoherence, of course. All relativist positions face it, as do subjectivist ones. Implicit in all such purportedly tolerant and nonpartisan ethical positions is an intolerance of making moral judgments. Yet for some reason those who advocate these doctrines do not seem to realize it or hope that others won’t notice the problem.

I agree with one thing in the letter from Science News. Being glib can be dangerous when it comes to judging people. But it is also understandable that journalists would toy with glibness--after all they need to make their copy a good read, not simply accurate and relevant.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wesley Snipes, A Victim

Tibor R. Machan

The actor Wesley Snipes, known mostly for so called “action pictures,” was reportedly sentenced to three years in prison, on tax evasion charges, on Thursday, April 24th. This was deemed to be victory for prosecutors by some in the media--so much for objective reporting--because prosecutors “sought to make an example of the action star by aggressively pursuing the maximum penalty.”

And there are those who argue that taxation is voluntary! Bah. It’s extortion and Snipes’ case demonstrates this quite clearly. “If you don’t pay us some of what you earn, we will destroy you.” That’s how extortionists announce themselves as does the tax man.

Of course Snipe is guilty of something. That is being na├»ve and imprudent. No one who isn’t it dire straits ought to go up against the government blindly, given how powerful it is (mainly because it can arm itself easily with all that money it has extorted from us). If you oppose taxes you are especially misguided to fail to pay up since you are likely to be watched. (Some of us of course don’t matter since we earn too little. Snipes obviously isn’t among those.)

The sentence handed down wasn’t anything related to justice, needless to say. It was a warning by the extortionist to all those who might be considering resisting the extortion. And this is clear from the prosecution’s reported intention to “make an example of the action star.”

Justice isn’t about making examples of the guilty but about punishing them for their crimes. If Snipes were really a criminal--if he were guilty of having violated the rights of some innocent people--there would be no concern about making an example of him. Genuine crimes need to be punished, lesson or no lesson. The role of criminal prosecutors isn’t to make examples of anyone but to convict people who are bona fide criminals. That is the end of it. Snipe’s case goes to show how arrogant are these folks who have the power and legal rationale backing their mendacious conduct.

My advice to the likes of Mr. Snipes is to keep paying but also start supporting all efforts to abolish taxation. As I have been pointing out for a long time, that public policy is akin to serfdom and belongs, with serfdom, in the age of feudalism where kings, queens, tsars, and other thugs lay claim to a country and everyone who lived there. Taxes were collected as payment for the “generous” privilege of living and working in these regions ruled by the thugs.

What has changed is that now the narrative laid out in support of governments extorting us is that we are paying it voluntarily, to ourselves (the government is, you see, us!). Sheer sophistry! In fact nothing but the form of rule has changed. Now it is “democratic,” meaning the majority gets to extort from anyone they want to. (If the majority were only interested in paying its way, there would be no need for taxation--those in the majority are plenty and could easily pay what they think they should.)

Every revolution is costly. Abolishing serfdom was, as was abolishing slavery. These all involved some people confiscating the lives and earnings of others too weak to defend against the thugs. Abolishing taxation will also take some sacrifices. And just as the lords of the serfs and the masters of slaves had to find some other way to get the work done that their victims were made to perform for them, so all of what taxes go to fund will need to be funded in proper, peaceful ways, without resort to extortion. Are there such ways? Well, when serfdom and slavery got abolished it was quickly discovered that paying people got the job done. Free labor amounted to paid labor. And productivity improved, too.

Taxation supports some functions of governments that are proper, even though paid for in criminal ways. Those functions can be funded without those criminal ways. Fees and such can cover the cost, as I have argued in several places (see my “No Taxation With or Without Representation, Completing the Revolutionary Break With Feudalist Practices” in Robert McGee, ed., Taxation and Public Finance in Transition and Developing Economies [New York: Springer, 2005]).

If a way to do something important is a moral abomination, a new way that’s not must be found. Sorry Mr. Snipes that you got caught up with all this. Most of the rest of us haven’t escaped either.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wandering About the East Village

Tibor R. Machan

It was a very mild, pleasant Sunday afternoon and my older daughter and I were spending a couple of hours walking about in her New York City East Village neighborhood. After a bite of lunch we took in some of the shops, not so much to spend the required $20 I heard everyone is likely to part with once leaving home in this part of the world but to do what I like to call museum cruising. Yes, even when I have no interest in shopping, I do enjoy checking out all the goodies offered for sale in the hundreds of places that feature thousands of items that come from the commercial motives of people. Not just commercial motives, of course. A goodly portion of what's for sale is probably born out of a sense of creativity, with the idea of selling following as more of an afterthought. Like all those paintings and sculptures in Soho. Or the jewelry on display in the umpteen boutiques.

While I have no objection to malls and often use them, as I do other places of commerce, for purposes of spying on the creative genius of humanity, these little neighborhood market places in New York's innumerable corners are especially user friendly. I once lived in the City, back in the winter of 1965, when the great black-out occurred and I had to walk nearly a hundred blocks to attend classes at NYU every day of the week. Ever since then I have realized that New York's alleged tough guy reputation was a crock. Yes, when riding the subways few people smile at one another. Who has time and emotional energy for spreading oneself thin among the mass of humanity rushing about on the subway system?!

But when you visited small stores next to your apartment house in the West 80s or East 70s, a distinctive atmosphere of village life emerged and still does. Folks talk to each other easily, pleasantries are by no means shallow but specific to the interests of those who encounter each other while breakfasting, lunching, dining, shopping, looking for knickknacks or necessities.

At a plant store we entered, for example, the man who was helping my daughter find some herbs spotted the wristwatch I was wearing, a huge, black face/white hands Chottovellie e Figu number, made in Torino , so he brought out to show me his $18,000.00 diamond studded wristwatch he received from his girlfriend recently. We, total strangers, chatted it up a good bit and then said a friendly good bye.

One of the main objections to commerce, voiced by the likes of Karl Marx and his contemporary fans is that commerce is vile, or as Baudelaire says, "satanic," because it is egoistic, because it is motivate from self-interest. Commerce is also supposed to involve exploitation, alienation, fraud, trickery, and such, lacking in anything ennobling. What a crock all that is!

Instead, of course, even at its most ferocious commerce is mostly peaceful, civilized, and even friendly, albeit focused more on fulfilling one's own rather than other people's interests. Sure we all want to make a deal. But just as in competitive sports everyone would like to win even as most parties are good natured--"sportsmanlike"--so in the market place, unlike in politics and diplomacy, folks tend to keep in mind they are engaged with others human beings who share their own concern for getting ahead in life, for making a decent living. And this does not usually lead to resentment but to empathy.

On our walk about the East Village I just found it very encouraging that while Senators Obama and Clinton were showing the nasty fallout of even the most democratic of national politics, the commerce being conducted seems to have nothing of that kind of acrimony about it, quite the contrary. Not that there aren't people who can undermine the utter humanity of the free market place. No human institution is free of villains. But contrary to how the literati among us depict it, commerce does not seem to be filled with the least appealing of human tendencies, quite the contrary.