Sunday, September 30, 2012

Religion and Reform: Behold These Ten Comments

Religiosity is no guarantee of good behavior and may even distract people from the (highly educational) earthly consequences of their (un)ethical decisions.  And yet: religion provides an important enough socializing function for many people that we should not throw out the community-building and morals-inculcating baby with the superstitious and myth-spewing bathwater. 

That’s one of the cautious thoughts that makes me in some sense a social conservative of sorts even while being an atheist (and anarchist, etc.).  The question, then, becomes whether I should put my money where my mouth is by joining one of those churchlike-without-God sorts of organizations like Ethical Culture or some Humanist Society or something (forgive me if I’ve completely misrepresented their views, but you know what I mean).

Unfortunately, those organizations, judged from afar, appear to tend to be embarrassing mushy liberal/socialist New Agey Unitarian sorts of affairs – another argument for traditionalism, though not ultimately one strong enough to overcome the fact that there is no God.  Also, I’m busy.


1. Tomorrow (Monday, Oct. 1) 7pm sees the NYSalon crowd (including some reformed Marxists) discussing the reformed-or-mushy state of American “spirituality” – with all its “I’m not into religion, but I’m very spiritual” weirdness – at a panel discussion at the New School (55 W. 13th, 2nd floor), and I’ll check that out. 

2. Dawn Eden’s talk at the First Things HQ a couple weeks ago was ecumenical in its own way, given her Jewish upbringing and rock n’ roll reporter past, despite what an admirable job she does of hewing to the rules of her adopted Catholic religion (no relativist she). 

But that was during this blog’s now-ending “Month of Reform,” whereas October shall be: a “Month of Media.”  That means more rock, less talk (well, also several interesting movies, so let’s focus on those instead of the exhausting election, in a surprise bit of counter-programming).

3. Eclectic in his own way – and bearded – is Dawn’s pal, First Things editor David Mills, who started out leftist and union-affiliated before going all Gandalf.  I suspect you will hear of him again on this blog as it navigates an increasingly strange and kaleidoscopic future.

4. Happily for the Jews (converted to Catholicism or otherwise), Sukkot tonight coincides with the Fox Animation Domination season premieres, as G-d wants humanity to celebrate, or would if He existed. 

5. Like many people, I highly recommend the gently and quietly Scientology-parodying movie The Master, which certainly captures the tension between the dangers of gullibility and the benefits (at least for those adrift) of structure, almost any structure.

6. Amidst Middle Eastern craziness from the Muslim folk,

Friday, September 28, 2012

BOOK NOTE: The Moynihan Report (blacks, gingers, and more)

The Moynihan report I refer to in the headline is not this week’s report that Michael C. Moynihan has gone from Reason to Vice to Beast (which sounds like a three-phase descent into Hell) – but he too would likely find the 1965 “Moynihan Report” (officially The Negro Family: The Case for National Action) interesting (and is not to be confused with a white supremacist also named Michael Moynihan without the C. in the middle). 

Today’s Moynihan has libertarian acquaintances (some of whom I spoke to last night) who, like so many of one’s acquaintances, ostensibly have the same basic political principles but end up at each other’s throats half the time over little sticking points on which I wish people would learn to compromise. 

(Some reading this likely think me absurdly libertarian, for instance, but might be amused to know I was likened to a fascistic condoner of rape yesterday online by a libertarian – a fine fellow in his own way – who was offended because I think we can reasonably deplore vandalism on public property as opposed to thinking all public property essentially an inherently-unprincipled no man’s land.  This debate arose as a side effect of my friend Pamela Hall getting spray-painted on the NYC subway while trying to defend a pro-Israel poster from a vandal, as you may’ve seen in a dramatic video clip.)

In similar fashion, most decent people were agreed in 1965 that America had to correct its gigantic, historic mistakes on race – yet it’s interesting how quickly after the 1964 Civil Rights Act the fissures appeared on what to do next.  I find myself fascinated again and again by moments in history where factions suddenly appear because no one had quite noticed that numerous conflicting principles had long been bundled together as if they were a single thing.

(To take perhaps my favorite example, look at the way nineteenth-century radicals worked happily together without seeming to notice that some of them were statist-socialists, some left-anarchists, and others capitalistic proto-libertarians.  When you’re a united front against the aristocracy or slave-owners [or whatever the enemy happens to be], you can overlook internal divisions for decades.  “Liberalism,” plainly, is a similar story – and more recently, “conservatism.”  If the numbers of “libertarians” increase enough, they will plainly be ready to replicate the phenomenon and sometimes already do.)

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, at the time a sociologist and an Assistant Secretary of Labor (under Kennedy and LBJ, later working with Nixon and Ford), released a report in 1965 – mere months into the modern legislative Civil Rights era, really – that already contained within it three profoundly different and plausible views on how to approach race in America. 

Out of (1) compassion and with a Democrat’s basic belief in the appropriateness of using government to address large-scale social problems, Moynihan nonetheless drew (2) the rather neoconservative conclusion (before affirmative action and the Great Society had even had set in) that the real problems of the black community were more rooted in sociology and family breakdown than in any remaining legal barriers that the government could fruitfully address, and (3) most libertarians at the time, had there been enough of them to bother asking for advice, would likely have concluded that government should stay out of the whole issue and let the market subtly steer people toward productive and socially-harmonious habits, as it tends (eventually) to do. 

The report indeed sparked great controversy (much

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

BOOK NOTE: Free-market environmentalism, animals, and comics

•I confess – though I am not really a collector anymore – that I checked out some of DC’s relaunched comics over the past year, finishing up (for me) with a few of the Zero Month issues (all numbered #0) they put out this month.  My main conclusion is that they’ve nicely simplified most things (almost like the whole universe is one big pilot episode for an animated series now, probably not by coincidence). 

There are already some bungles in the new continuity, such as both Dick Grayson and Tim Drake being the first person ever to deduce Batman’s secret identity, but on the bright side poor Hawkman, for example, seems to have a single, simple origin for the first time in twenty-seven years.  I wish them well.

(And for those wondering, no, I really will not even try to find out what this Trinity War they’re building up to is – I leave that for the young.  If my favorite comics writer, Grant Morrisonwho is a strange man – actually finishes his miniseries Multiversity and his Wonder Woman graphic novel, though, I’ll probably come back a year from now to check those out.  If those don’t happen, there are literally ten major superhero movies coming out in the next two years, so I should be sated.)

•On a more serious note, the latest issue of Critical Review (Vol. 24, No. 1) contains, among other interesting things, Jonathan Adler’s article “Is the Common Law a Free-Market Solution to Pollution?” which presents some evidence that in the past the market didn’t always arrive at the hypothetical problem-solving means free-market environmentalists envision.  Sorting out who to sue when there are multiple effluent sources, for example, can very complicated.  No doubt true – but usually it’d be just as complicated for regulators as for class-action-suit lawyers, it’s important to note. 

Adler steers clear of the (almost “God of the gaps”-like) leap of assuming that what is complicated for markets is easy for government, though – and even notes, for instance, that the financial pressure from lawsuits can create purely market-based incentives to add things like tracer chemicals in effluent to prove you aren’t one of the polluters in a given area. 

As with countless other institutions such as mutual aid societies for poverty relief, industrial capitalism was only working on these issues for a very short time before government usurped the problem-solving mechanisms involved – and environmental issues weren’t as high a priority or as easily dealt with technologically in the past.  As with so many things, I think we can do even better in the future without resorting to government. 

There is no reason to do anything rash like declaring ourselves “crunchy conservatives” (as Rand Paul does in his new book) or resurrecting nineteenth-century-style agrarian Toryism with its disdain for industrialism (at the same time, after yesterday’s entry, I’ll end the paleo-bashing, I promise – it’s just such an uphill battle to get people to make econ calculations as it is). 

•Love ’em or eat ’em, animals are mighty entertaining, so here are:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BOOK NOTE: Helen Rittelmeyer, Straussians, and 25 Reasons to Atone

[This entry was about that ex of mine from the CSPAN2 appearance going on to criticize utilitarians -- and about Straussians like historian Edward Banfield as well -- but it’s been a few years, I think she’s not only moved to Australia, gotten married, and matured but grown a bit more libertarian in the process to boot, so don’t waste any more time reading my comments about that old conflict. Read her more recent work if you like, and, our differences notwithstanding, I’m sure it’ll be smart and witty.]

Friday, September 21, 2012

International Day of Peace (and an evil computer)

Before I go off to dine with warmongers on this International Day of Peace, here’s an awesome five-minute 1970 sci-fi reminder (that works as a self-contained bit) that some prices (such as being enslaved by a super-computer) are too high to pay for world peace, from the film Colossus: The Forbin Project.

Peace-by-Colossus would also be an unacceptable form of reform (in keeping with this blog’s theme this month).  More next week on cures worse than their diseases.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Occupy Wall Street’s one-year anniversary warrants a Tea Party at Muchmore’s (but no dancing!)

Remember, both Tea Partiers and Occupants are welcome at tonight’s 8pm Dionysium gathering at Muchmore’s (2 Havemeyer St. on the corner of N. 9th in Williamsburg, one easy stop into Brooklyn on the L – just walked three blocks east of the Bedford Ave. stop).

I’ll be hosting a “summit” aimed at finding common ground between these two activist movements spawned by the Financial Crisis.  Creating a “post-Crisis reality,” if you will, may require fusing these alternate worlds – especially if we are to get beyond right and left and, as I think necessary, cope with the messier and far more technical problem of the elaborate overlap between corporation and state created by a century of regulation built upon a pro-centralization Progressive legal foundation.  What began with a misguided reformer’s impulse to perfect things through a multiplicity of rules now requires us to intelligently discard most of those rules and the web of subsidies and bailouts and too-big-to-fail favors that go with them. 

What better time than today – both Citizenship Day and Constitution Day in addition to Occupy’s one-year anniversary – to explore those issues?  But you can also show your support for Muchmore’s amidst another legal battle if you join us tonight: The place was just given a summons for ostensibly violating the oft-derided cabaret laws, yes, the archaic New York City laws against dancing that have been so often mocked here.  So join us – just please, for Muchmore’s sake, don’t dance. 

I guess I’ll have to hope local Tea Party-supporting rapper Toots Sweet doesn’t show up and bring this bevvy of dancing girls.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Feminism vs. Naomi Wolf

I've been saying for many years that a good way to predict whether something or someone on the left will be condemned by the rest of the left is whether I start sympathizing with the person or thing.  (Not asserting causality, just amusing correlation.)

No sooner do I start thinking Naomi Wolf -- who is undeniably odd -- shows some admirable transpartisan and libertarian tendencies (not to mention a willingness to talk to me and diverse others) than she is condemned for obsessing over personal sexcapades and anger instead of serious politics -- as if countless farther-left feminists (especially young Third Wave types, many right here in NYC) aren't even more guilty of that.  

But the real reminder (in this piece by Wolf critic Laurie Penny) that the default feminist agenda these days is not liberty-friendly (despite its desperate attempt to co-opt the language of liberty) is probably this passage: "Our autonomy and freedom are being attacked on all sides by a neoliberal consensus that venerates sexual repression and the bourgeois family even as it celebrates fiscal feudalism and cuts vital services." 

If, unlike Wolf lately, you condemn "fiscal feudalism" and "cuts" to the budget, I strongly suspect your fellow feminists will let you vent and talk about your vagina all you want without ever declaring you shallow for doing so.

P.S. Speaking of objectification, though, I was honestly looking for that old Snickers ad where the disgruntled stadium groundskeeper says “Great googly moogly!” and I found it...but not before finding this item of lesser art (and the weird thing is, you have to suspect the first item had some real influence on the second).

P.P.S. And for all my griping about David Brooks, at least he takes note of one analysis of women’s rise that ditches the usual oppression/affirmative action/everyone’s-the-same narrative.  (I predicted a couple decades ago things would work out this way, but I was at Brown, so no one listened.  Don’t pity me.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Top Ten "Conservatism for Punks" Notes of the Week

1. An enthusiastic Jeff Goolsby says Peter Schiff “rocked it” at the debate I hosted yesterday, seen below (and our Federalist Society hosts sounded happy, too, which is nice).  There will at some point be video from the Schiff folks, I think.

Interestingly, though it did not come up during the debate, Schiff’s (friendly) opponent, law prof Richard Carnell, is a conservative Christian – and perhaps far more surprisingly, also an avowed Christian is leftist writer Chris Hedges, who I saw debate shortly afterwards yesterday, criticizing “black bloc” protest tactics within Occupy Wall Street against the objections of a representative of the anarchist group CrimethInc.

I found myself sympathizing with Hedges (much as I criticized his book Death of the Liberal Class), and me sympathizing is almost always a sign that someone or something on the left is about to be turned on by other leftists (sorry to be a canary in the coalmine that way – remind me to blog about Naomi Wolf).  Some people at the back of the CUNY Graduate Center kept shouting and swearing at Hedges (but the members of the mighty Occupy Poughkeepsie seated in front of me seemed pleasant enough).  There was some macho bellowing of disagreement when Hedges argued that black bloc tactics are troublingly hypermasculine.

CrimethInc’s B. Traven (who noted that his fellow punks have gotten much more political over the past decade) argued that violence doesn’t only begin when a non-government individual does it – and any self-respecting libertarian must find that logical.  Hedges’ argument, though, as he repeatedly stressed, was more tactical than narrowly-moral: You don’t build a broad-based, MLK-sized movement by scaring (possibly injuring) apolitical average citizens or inviting a police state crackdown.  Some at the event had no sympathy for that line of argument. 
Interestingly, even though I’m something of a Tea Party sympathizer I thought one of Hedges’ best arguments was that if his fellow leftists encourage black bloc tactics, they’re going to end up very unhappy if the Tea Party – or even outright proto-fascist groups – adopt the same sorts of tactics.  It could be Berlin 1930 all over again, with opposing political gangs fighting in the streets.  Politics looks more and more like the early twentieth century lately, not the usual 1950s/1960s redux. 

That’s more stuff to sort out on MONDAY (Sept. 17, 8pm) at our Dionysium summit about Occupy and Tea Party commonalities, at Muchmore’s (2 Havemeyer St. in Williamsburg).  Strange as it may look to some, this summit is really another means of continuing my ongoing fusionist project, of which the essay “Conservatism for Punks” (in the anthology Proud to Be Right) was a part two years ago.

2. Emilio Quintana was nice enough to translate that essay into Spanish, which I don’t speak.  If you do, though, check it out on the website Contrautopia.  (And just vow to check with me on the accuracy of the translation before you angrily ask me why I want to paint all clowns orange or something like that.)

3. Speaking of punks, above, in addition to Goolsby’s photo of Schiff et al, is a blurry photo I took of other panelists on that Rew and Who? broadcast I was on recently – and a less-blurry picture I took of what was on my table as I waited to appear: one bunny rabbit noisemaker from that pivotal day’s Pussy Riot protest, one Partisan Review anthology (a legacy of the C-SPAN ex, now living on a new continent and blogging at a new URL, both without scandal, to the delight and approval of all), one Justice League issue in which Superman and Wonder Woman kiss, and one Johnny Walker Black, neat.

4. And speaking of Christians, I’ll see rock reporter turned religion advocate Dawn Eden speak at the First Things offices (35 East 21st) today at 6, and that reminds me that even though I often mistakenly think of my interactions with serious Christians as something that only began in the late 90s via political channels, in fact I must admit that many of the smart and studious kids in my high school were Christians. 

Even though I was a solidly atheist enough teen to argue with them occasionally, I didn’t really care enough (or take these things personally enough) to remember vividly how many of them were Christian.  It’s almost – dare I say it – as though me remembering them as smart made me forget to file them under Christian.  But it happens – even in secular New England. 

5. Meanwhile, in Australia, the awesome Nick Cave has written the current bootleggers-vs.-cops movie Lawless, which I’m told is rather libertarian. 

6. If so, it’s a good month for anti-authoritarian movies,

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

BOOK NOTE: "Yankee Reformers in the Urban Age" by Arthur Mann

This entry is about Victorian-era Bostonians wrestling with issues of radicalism and reform – but if you want to watch your contemporaries do it, remember that you can:

(A) watch me moderate a free Peter Schiff vs. Richard Carnell debate on the financial crisis today at 4pm at Fordham Law School’s moot court at 140 W. 62nd

(B) join me (if I get in) in the audience of a free Chris Hedges vs. CrimethInc debate about Occupy tactics today at 7pm on the lower level of the CUNY Grad Center at 34th and 5th

(C) watch me moderate an Occupy/Tea “summit” at Muchmore’s at 2 Havemeyer St. in Williamsburg as our Monday (Sept. 17) 8pm Dionysium (by all means spread the word and join us, members of both movements).

Now it’s a trilogy!

I mentioned the publication of Utopia in a prior entry.  Utopia is also mentioned in one of the two epigram quotes at the start of Arthur Mann’s 1953 book Yankee Reformers in the Urban Age: Social Reform in Boston 1880-1900.  The quote, about unapologetically seeking “the road to Utopia,” comes from an 1890s volume on socialism – though it’s juxtaposed with a passage from the libertarian but far less rosy-eyed analyst William Graham Sumner.

Yankee Reformers is a great overview of the tensions within the booming community of Boston intellectuals just prior to the Progressives’ takeover of politics – nearly all socialists of some sort, nearly all religious, mostly upper-crust, and struggling to figure out how to reconcile those tensions and how far to go if they were disinclined to embrace Marxism or Nationalism outright. 

I couldn’t help thinking as I read it, “Ah, this is the origin story of the sort of elite modern-liberalism you found throughout the Ivy League in the twentieth century.”  We so often look to England for the story of (essentially libertarian) classical liberalism transmuting about a century ago into (essentially social-democratic) modern liberalism, but for that distinctive Northeastern-U.S. blend of well-meaning missionary zeal, high-minded slight contempt for the lower orders even while longing to work with them for their betterment, willingness to reorganize society to get rid of commerce, and confidence that respectability can be maintained throughout, look to Victorian Boston.

2012 is not a year full of utopian optimism, but it is a year when the candidates of both major parties are Harvardians – as is the Green Party candidate, while the Libertarian Party candidate, for whom I'm voting, Gary Johnson, has a current Harvard professor as his economic advisor.  That means we can probably expect at least a dash of utopianism's blander, less ambitious New England cousin, reform – even if a recent mass-cheating scandal (in a government class, no less) raises questions about Harvardians' right to reform the rest of us. 

(Unlike some conspiracy theorists and moviegoers, I don’t worry that Obama mentally-metaphorically comes from Kenya; I recognize he comes from the Northeast.  I will not deny that the Northeastern blend of attitudes likely influences my own stoic, moralistic thinking, since I grew up in New England myself.)

Mann, a University of Chicago man, broadly describes the reformer impulse long present in Boston as being rooted in dissatisfaction with the world as it is and the moral conviction needed to try making it more nearly as it should be.  That impulse could be driven by (among other things) secular-liberal or religious-puritanical beliefs, and in Boston it has historically been driven by both. 

Near the start of Mann’s account, we meet Brooks and Henry Adams, wanting to make the world a better place but by the end so pessimistic about the prospects for improving humanity that Henry Adams wrote a novel about a would-be reformer longing to ditch democracy and live in an Egyptian pyramid.  Adams began to look admiringly upon medieval France. 

But other social reformers were more optimistic – buoyed by Kodos-like slogans as “Look up and not down; look forward and not back; look out and not in; lend a hand.”  And they were not prone to Adams’ lack of faith in the American tradition –

Additional debate: Schiff vs. Carnell (9/12), moderated by Seavey

In addition to the Occupy/Tea event coming up on Monday the 17th (described in my prior blog entry), I'm also moderating a debate today, one which has no official connection but does address a closely related topic:

Fordham Law School
September 12, 2012 - 4:00pm - 5:30pm

Peter Schiff (CEO, Euro Pacific Capital Inc.)
Prof. Richard Carnell (Fordham Law School)
Debate: “What Exactly Caused the Financial Debacle?”
moderated by Todd Seavey
with deluxe kosher Chinese buffet
Fordham University School of Law
Owen T. Gordman Moot Court Room
140 West 62nd St

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

DIONYSIUM (9/17): Occupy/Tea Party Summit

Monday, Sept. 17 (8pm): The one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street will be marked with an OCCUPY/TEA Summit (hosted by me) at Muchmore’s (2 Havemeyer St. on the corner of N. 9th St., three blocks east of the Bedford Ave. L stop, first into Williamsburg from Manhattan).  All are welcome, but among the guests will be:

Andrew PaladinoDanny Panzella, and Michael Valcic, who’ve done free-market anarchist outreach to both movements, and Wall Street analyst turned Occupy writer/filmmaker Karanja “Speshul K” Gacuca.  I'll moderate.

•Let us begin my “Month of Reform” with blog entry #1516 (I’ve been blogging almost-daily for six years).  Fittingly, that number is the year in which Utopia was published, and reform, after all, tends to be what people settle for after realizing utopia is not an option. 

•And that brings us to the gridlock and bickering between right and left, a problem which this month I will honestly try to help solve by hosting the event noted above (being quieter and more diplomatic hereafter) and also by unveiling my own theory – in essence that the Progressive Era activists and politicians of both parties wanted highly centralized collusion between government and corporations and we got it.  And now we don’t like it.  And trying to shove the ugly mass rightward or leftward as if the other team owns it isn’t really going to unravel it, so to speak. 

•You can understand why such musings – akin to those of historian Marty Sklar, whose work was recommended to me by Ronald Radosh – might make me more sympathetic to establishment-fighting radicals across the board.  Heck, I might even be more sympathetic to the group Anonymous today than in years past had they not taken down this blog and hundreds of thousands of others yesterday. 

Civility and dialogue – gonna aim for those even more as the elections approach and everyone gets crazier. 

•As they do, I admit that long-term, I will mainly still be rooting for Sen. Rand Paul to exercise a growing influence in the GOP, but I may also try to think of that party as his messy problem to solve and ignore it for at least a couple years unless something positive happens.  Interestingly, in addition to being almost-completely libertarian, in his new book he calls himself a “crunchy conservative” (a la Rod Dreher and others on the right concerned about the environment).

Hawks may still be getting used to Rand Paul, but, hey, he seems to be the only senator conservative enough to wanna cut off the Pakistanis due to their punishment of the doctor who helped us get bin Laden.  That should silence both conspiracy theorists who think the Pauls secretly believe bin Laden wasn’t responsible for the events commemorated today and the neocons who think the Pauls are some sort of al Qaeda sympathizers.

Now if only something would make Paul Krugman shut up about how much he dislikes the gold standard and something – perhaps more people like Rand Paul who’ve been hassled by the TSA – would put a stop to the government tracking everything we do. 

•Meanwhile, the ex-Republican I actually plan to vote for for president this year, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, is also an interesting exercise in hybridization and fusionism (love those, always) in that he has spoken at both Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party events – and is known for both budget-cutting and pot-smoking.  He has also climbed Mt. Everest. 

There has never been a better time to rack up Libertarian votes and attract the public’s attention to liberty as an alternative.  Let’s do this.  It will matter far more than Obama-vs.-Romney.  Whoever sits in the White House in 2013 (and deals with the legal fallout of the mandatory deficit-cutting measures about to kick in), we libertarians will trudge on, a bit wiser than we were in 2012. 

•And tomorrow on this blog, a bit of a prequel to how the Progressives got us here, in the form of the book Yankee Reformers in the Urban Age, looking at Boston in the final two decades of the nineteenth century – and finding upper-crust radicalism.