Tag Archives: virtue

Here’s What We’ve Lost in the Past Decade, by Charles Hugh Smith

There’s no arguing with Charles Hugh Smith on his list; life in the US has gotten much uglier the last ten years. From Smith at oftwominds.com:

The confidence and hubris of those directing the rest of us to race off the cliff while they watch from a safe distance is off the charts.
The past decade of “recovery” and “growth” has actually been a decade of catastrophic losses for our society and nation. Here’s a short list of what we’ve lost:
1. Functioning markets. Free markets discover price and assess risk. What passes for markets now are little more than signaling devices to convince us the economy is doing spectacularly well. It is doing spectacularly well, but only for the top .1% of 1% and the class of managerial/technocrat flunkies and apologists who serve the interests of the top .1%.
2. Genuine Virtue. Parading around a slogan or online accusation, “liking” others in whatever echo-chamber tribe the virtue-signaler is seeking validation in, and other cost-free gestures–now signals virtue. Genuine virtue–sacrificing the support of one’s tribe for principles that require skin in the game–has disappeared from the public sphere and the culture.
3. Civility. As Scientific American reported in its February issue (The Tribalism of Truth), the incentive structure of largely digital “tribes” rewards the most virulent, the most outrageous, the least reasonable and the most vindictive of the tribe with “likes” while offering little to no encouragement of restraint, caution, learning rather than shouting, etc.
The cost of gaining tribal encouragement is essentially zero, while the risk of ostracism from the tribe is high. In a society with so few positive social structures, the self-referentially toxic digital tribe may be the primary social structure for atomized “consumers” in a dysfunctional system dominated by a rigged “market” and a central state that no longer needs the consent of the governed.
Common ground, civility, the willingness to listen and learn–all lost.
4. Trust. Few find reason to trust corporations, the corporate media, the tech monopolies or the government. This distrust is reasonable, given these institutions have squandered the public trust to protect the swag being skimmed by insiders and elites.
Rather than earn our trust with true transparency and accurate reporting of data, these institutions spew a false form of transparency that’s doubly opaque, as it’s rigged to mask the skims of the insiders. Transparency: lost. Accountability: lost.
Do you really trust Facebook, Google, and the agencies that are supposed to provide oversight of these monopolies? If you said, “yes,” you’re joking, right?
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Outsourcing Morality, by Robert Gore

Ron Brown and Bill Clinton

All the benefits of virtue without the costs.

Remember when you had to do something virtuous to signal your virtue? Some of the virtuous way back when did virtuous acts and didn’t even tell anyone else about them. If you go into older museums and other civic monuments and look at donors’ names on plaques, you’ll find anonymous donors. They didn’t get a wing named after them, there were no press releases, they just gave to a good cause and that was its own reward. If they were alive today, they wouldn’t have Twitter feeds. Private virtue and public anonymity—incomprehensible!

At least plutocrats who plaster their names where they donate are donating their own money. Perhaps the most odious form of virtue signaling demands everyone’s taxes fund a chosen cause, then claims the same moral stature as the plutocrats. Strictly speaking this can’t be virtue signaling. There’s no virtue, only coercion and theft. The merit, if any, of the cause never justifies the immoral means used to fund it.

Gresham’s law of virtue: phony virtue drives out the real thing. It’s partly mathematical—what the government steals cannot be donated—but it goes much deeper.

There’s an intergenerational understanding rooted in biology: parents take care of children when they’re young; children take of parents when they’re old. Rearing children and caring for aging parents impose inconvenient burdens, but for most of history people had little choice, the only alternative was neglect and abandonment. Enter the state. In most Western countries responsibility for both child rearing and elder care has in whole or in part shifted to it.

Any respectable list of progressive “demands” includes access to day care, either funded or provided by the government. In truly advanced welfare states, day care is already an “entitlement,” like unemployment support or medical care. It’s a comforting sophistry that turning children over to third party caregivers in their formative years doesn’t attenuate the bond between parents and children. Two or three hours a day—always labelled quality time—is not ten or twelve hours a day. Day care personnel attending a group of children cannot devote the time and attention to one child as that child’s stay-at-home parent could.

The flip side of taking care of the young is taking care of the old. Social Security and Medicare are pay-as-you-go transfer schemes masquerading as funded pensions and medical plans. They have, judging by so many aging baby boomers’ lack of assets, nominally relieved individuals of the responsibility to provide for their own golden years. It’s fair to assume that such provision also attenuates for many boomers’ children any obligation they may feel regarding their parents’ support. In fact, the obligation often seems to run the other way, children demanding their boomer parents support them well into adulthood.

People outsource responsibility. but they want to feel virtuous. One way to do so is become an advocate. You may be dropping your own children off at day care, but you can advocate for children’s causes; children at the border is currently fashionable. You personally don’t have to do anything or spend a penny, just advocate that the government do something. You’ll acquire—among the circles you care about—the moral sheen that in days gone by required that you actually do something and spend your own pennies.

That moral sheen is worth less than nothing. Government Programs That Made the Problem Worse is a multi-volume set, each volume over a thousand pages. That’s not a problem for their promoters, what counts is their self-credited good intentions. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then hell fire itself is stoked by self-credited good intentions. The cynics—right about politics more often than anyone else—suggest good intentions often cloak a ruthless drive for votes, payola, and power.

Political funerals are revolting spectacles, the guilty living paying tribute to the guilty dead. It’s a toss-up which is more revolting. The “Humanitarian” epitaph for those who spent other people’s money “helping” the downtrodden of various stripes. Or the “Patriot” epitaph for those who blessed waging war on people and countries that pose no threat to the US. Surely the gates of hell open wide for hybrid Humanitarian Patriots. The Lyndon Johnsons, Bills and Hillarys, and John McCains of the world are alway loathsome creatures who unsurprisingly treat real life humans like shit.

Taken to its logical extreme, a government so big and powerful that it’s responsible for everything leaves everyone else responsible for nothing. If you aren’t responsible for anything, you can’t be virtuous or evil…or human. You can, however, signal your faux virtue: the government actions you advocate; the politicians and media figures you admire; the bumper stickers or lapel pins you sport.

Government has subsumed individual choice, responsibility, and thought at a historical juncture that will require individuals to make choices, take responsibility, and think as they’ve never thought before. Based as they are on coercion and their unsustainable ability to extract resources from their subject populations through force and fraud, governments are dominoes, and they’ve already begun to fall. Only ideologically induced analytical myopia accounts for the failure to recognize the fall of the most statist institution ever erected—the government of the USSR—as the beginning of the end of current statist arrangements, including welfare statism (it’s giving humanity too much credit to believe such arrangements will ever be wholly eradicated).

The energy required to maintain statist control is rising exponentially as information technology and weaponry become ever-cheaper and more widely diffused. Governments have plunged into an abyss of debt and welfare state promises. Soon they’ll lack the resources to keep either themselves or their recipients alive. Those that “contribute” recognize governments as their enemy, and most acknowledge no duty to the recipients. They’re on strike in myriad ways and economic growth rates continue their inexorable descent. Soon those rates will be less than zero. They may already be there, a reality obscured by rising debt and phony government statistics and accounting.

The world was caught by surprise when the USSR fell. It will be caught by surprise when the welfare states go, but in neither case is the surprise justified. Stupid is as stupid does: actions have consequences. The writing is on the wall.

The consequences will be especially severe for those who have outsourced their morality, brains, and very souls to politics and the state. If separated babies or kneeling football players can trigger “vitriolic outrage,” then there is no single phrase that describes the anger, frustration, desperation, hate, violence, lunacy, and outright insanity that will reign when politics and states fail. The resulting entropic atomization will force the atomized to fall back on precisely what many don’t have: their own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual resources.

Within a society, no matter how insane, there are pockets of rationality, true virtue, and wisdom. The wise see what’s coming and have prepared accordingly, to the best of their abilities. The rest will navigate the chaos to the best of their abilities, not an optimistic prospect.

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He Said That? 11/28/16

From Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC), also known by the anglicized name Tully, in and after the Middle Ages, Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul and constitutionalist, Laelius On Friendship (44 BC):

Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem so.

He Said That? 10/26/14

From Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy In America, Volume 1 (1835), which with Volume 2 (1840) are the best and most incisive works ever written on the American experiment:

After the general idea of virtue, I know no higher principle than that of right; or rather these two ideas are united in one. The idea of right is simply that of virtue introduced into the political world. It was the idea of right that enabled men to define anarchy and tyranny, and that taught them how to be independent without arrogance and to obey without servility. The man who submits to violence is debased by his compliance; but when he submits to that right of authority which he acknowledges in a fellow creature, he rises in some measure above the person who gives the command. There are no great men without virtue; and there are no great nations—it may almost be added, there would be no society—without respect for right; for what is a union of rational and intelligent beings who are held together only by the bond of force?

Good question.