Science Fiction

Materialism vs Purposeful Life: Trump, Bannon, and Teilhard de Chardin

Lots of interesting reading today as Trump’s victory has focused attention on the assumptions that led to underestimating his chances.

The media spin is working toward delegitimizing him further by casting his advisor Steve Bannon as an alt-right, antisemitic, neo-Nazi éminence grise. This isn’t backed up by much evidence other than guilt-by-association, with Breitbart the junkyard dog of new media flouting the rules of political correctness. But having rabid commenters and hosting some incorrect writers like David Horowitz does not make a media conglomerate or its managers antisemitic, antigay, misogynist, or otherwise the spawn of the Devil, which is what is being implied.

Alan Dershowitz went on MSNBC to decry the antisemitism charge:



The reliably rational Scott Alexander marshals the evidence that Trump is racist-sexist-etc and finds it wanting in his post, “You Are Still Crying Wolf.”

Bannon spoke and answered questions in 2014 at a conference hosted by the Human Dignity Institute at the Vatican. It’s a worthwhile read which dispels much of the simplistic narrative being spun by the New York Times and others. Here are some good bits:

I want to talk about wealth creation and what wealth creation really can achieve and maybe take it in a slightly different direction, because I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian west, is in a crisis…. It’s ironic, I think, that we’re talking today at exactly, tomorrow, 100 years ago, at the exact moment we’re talking, the assassination took place in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that led to the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the bloodiest century in mankind’s history. Just to put it in perspective, with the assassination that took place 100 years ago tomorrow in Sarajevo, the world was at total peace. There was trade, there was globalization, there was technological transfer… Seven weeks later, I think there were 5 million men in uniform and within 30 days there were over a million casualties.

…180 to 200 million people were killed in the 20th century, and I believe that, you know, hundreds of years from now when they look back, we’re children of that: We’re children of that barbarity. This will be looked at almost as a new Dark Age.

But the thing that got us out of it, the organizing principle that met this, was not just the heroism of our people — whether it was French resistance fighters, whether it was the Polish resistance fighters, or it’s the young men from Kansas City or the Midwest who stormed the beaches of Normandy, commandos in England that fought with the Royal Air Force, that fought this great war… capitalism really generated tremendous wealth. And that wealth was really distributed among a middle class, a rising middle class, people who come from really working-class environments and created what we really call a Pax Americana. It was many, many years and decades of peace. And I believe we’ve come partly offtrack in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe, strongly, is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism….

I’m a very practical, pragmatic capitalist. I was trained at Goldman Sachs, I went to Harvard Business School, I was as hard-nosed a capitalist as you get. I specialized in media, in investing in media companies, and it’s a very, very tough environment. And you’ve had a fairly good track record. So I don’t want this to kinda sound namby-pamby, “Let’s all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ around capitalism.”

But there’s a strand of capitalism today — two strands of it, that are very disturbing.

One is state-sponsored capitalism. And that’s the capitalism you see in China and Russia. I believe it’s what Holy Father [Pope Francis] has seen for most of his life in places like Argentina, where you have this kind of crony capitalism of people that are involved with these military powers-that-be in the government, and it forms a brutal form of capitalism that is really about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people. And it doesn’t spread the tremendous value creation throughout broader distribution patterns that were seen really in the 20th century.

The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, I’m a big believer in a lot of libertarianism. I have many many friends that’s a very big part of the conservative movement — whether it’s the UKIP movement in England, it’s many of the underpinnings of the populist movement in Europe, and particularly in the United States.

Bannon is clearly a Catholic and is defending the value of his religious feeling in a world of brutal materialists. The entire discussion is worth your time, but I’m going to take off from there to connect some dots on materialism vs. purpose in life, and why the current danger to human progress is thoughtless Progressive emphasis on collectivist social services and expanding the number of government employees and clients.

Why do we strive? The biological and evolutionary imperative is to reproduce, and underlying all of our humanity are the behaviors encoded by the DNA of ancestors who survived and reproduced. Humans were bred to cooperate and compete for resources, love and fight for a place in the tribe, and war on other tribes. The addition of language and culture to humanity’s animal heritage meant additional threads of evolution of memes, religions, and cultures were added to the mix.

We have big brains and consciousness — what for? Some provocative theorists suggest it’s entirely a fitness display to attract better mates. But our brains help us survive in a competitive social environment by manipulating it to our advantage just as our motor skills let us defend ourselves from predators and hunt and gather food from the physical environment.

Our evolutionary heritage explains why humans will generally strive to give their children the best chance of success. But the culture component gives even the childless a secondary motivation: one can contribute to the cultural heritage of mankind and thereby do everyone’s children a service. Your seed may not survive, but your intellectual children — your books, plays, art, contributions to the body of knowledge of science and technology — may carry on doing good for others long after you are gone. And we are all cousins, in the end, and every human is carrying our genetic heritage.

So survival comes first, and when your and your children’s survival is threatened you will be entirely focused on escaping the threat. Which is why the first technique used in propaganda is to paint a picture of threat — to make you afraid, and to point you toward taking action which suits the propagandist’s purpose. This can be anything from the small — swaying your vote toward candidate A instead of B — to the murderous, getting you to cut your neighbor’s throat because of his tribe.

Fear is the enemy of rational thought. Threats overrule reason, and since good decisions come from a mix of feeling and logic, fear leads to irrational actions.

Religions are an attempt to explain the world and create a framework for deciding what is moral behavior. Early religions mixed science with moral guidance — what made the world, what do we need to do to placate the gods who determine what happens in it? The gods could be cruel and demand sacrifice, as when Aztecs tore the beating hearts out of living victims, or the Carthaginians (apparently) sacrificed children to the fires of Baal.

Religions, too, evolve. Temporal power mixed with spiritual authority corrupted the universal (Catholic) church which continued the heritage of the Western Roman Empire. Catholic dogma retreated from explanations of the physical world as the competing explanations of science expanded and discredited some early Catholic writers — Christ himself said very little in the Bible about science, so this was not fatal to the corpus of Christian doctrine. Jesuits in particular were able to reconcile science and faith by viewing God’s hand as visible in the workings of Nature; the micromanaging God who would intervene by changing the workings of the laws of nature to produce miraculous outcomes was deprecated, but the sense of His power in arranging the universe as a demonstration and test of faith remained.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit priest and scientist who eventually got into trouble with the Church for his attempts to transcend Catholic teachings to grasp a broader purpose — to explain what God was about, in other words. As a paleontologist and priest, he tried to reconcile evolution with his faith and introduced the concept of the noösphere, the body of all knowledge and culture created by humanity. He went on to hypothesize that God intended humanity to evolve and grow so that the noosphere would merge with the mind of God at the end of time. This led to a lot of serious science fiction like Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 The Star Maker and parodies like The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide series. De Chardin imagined a mystical union with God that would be a sort of Rapture and second coming of Christ as reconciled with the cosmology of scientists.

The Catholic Church now honors him as a thinker ahead of his time, though wrong on many details. His “heresy” was another attempt to outline a religious purpose for life — with the search for knowledge and understanding elevated to a calling of his faith. And this search for meaning and truth is at the heart of both science and faith.

I was brought up to be Southern Baptist and enjoyed the history lessons of Vacation Bible School. But my father was literally a crazy Bible-thumping Pentecostal preacher, and his irrational fervor (he heard from God directly!) caused me to react against all religious doctrines. He spent the rest of his life in and out of mental institutions after he left us when I was five, and I refused baptism when I was eight. Today I am neither religious nor denying the value of religion; I think personal religion can be a valuable guide to good behavior and useful habits of thought. All religious communities have good and bad people in them, and the good generally outweighs the bad, as in most human communities. My religious training, stripped of its specific doctrines, serves me well in helping me find my way to the Golden Rule and empathy for others.

Jews in America have tended to support a completely secular government, remembering the scars of European pogroms and antisemitism as the tribal impulse to use government to suppress and expel them. The Founders were quite supportive of a secular framework for governance, with the Bill of Rights prohibiting direct support for any single religion. This did not mean religious values were to be ignored — but law was not to be based on any sect’s singular view of morality, and the rights and liberty of individuals trumped all religious proscriptions. Many states retained established churches for years after 1787, but the live-and-let-live ideal won out, tying the different founding nations together and allowing free settlement between the regions. Americans learned to get along with their neighbors regardless of religion, and that made us a world leader in tolerance and freedom of belief.

There are still poisoned, prejudiced hearts that retain the hatred of people solely for their race or religion, but far fewer of them, and they are not in power — even under President-Elect Donald Trump. Bannon is no simple hater, but Breitbart’s tolerance for ugly commenters and attacks on political correctness can easily be seen by the paranoid as tarring both Bannon and Trump by association. Feeding this contamination theory of morality where failing to condemn the bad actors often enough makes you guilty by association suits the propagandists of the crony capitalist machine, which has gained nearly complete control of public education and the media in the West. The populist movements that have sprung up are indeed reactionary — reacting to the suppression of dissenting thought and speech. While some of the people supporting them are “deplorable,” the majority are not — and half the US voted for Mr. Trump despite all his flaws, wanting a change from the business-as-usual machine which systematically loots the middle class to support its credentialed nomenklatura and increases the fortunes of the financial industry and the 1% while pretending to care about income inequality.

What those voters want is an end to the condescension and being told what to do by people who think their education entitles them to direct the lives and even the simplest behavior (plastic shopping bag and lightbulb use, for example) of other less enlightened people. We now know from Wikileaks that Obama’s first cabinet was almost literally dictated by a Citibank employee, that Clinton campaign operatives hired people to disrupt Trump rallies then blamed Trump for inspiring violence, and that nearly all media broke journalistic ethics to try to elect Hillary Clinton after they had given Trump so much exposure that he won the Republican nomination. This story quoting a long-time New York Times editor gets at their behavior: the Times wrote to promote a narrative, selectively choosing facts to support it. Stories which did not support their desired narrative weren’t reported at all or were consigned to back pages.

The administrative state has malfunctioned and produced a bureaucracy that cannot build anything at a reasonable cost, or provide the best standard of healthcare for veterans or anyone else. There is little accountability, with even criminal and negligent employees shielded by government employee unions and Civil Service rules. The union of administrative state apparatchiks and the media elite has controlled what the people are allowed to see, but social media now reveal the lies and inconsistencies.

Which is the source of the anger that fed Breitbart’s growth. Citizens who strive to make a living for themselves and their families find themselves denigrated and blocked by bureaucrats. They want to see a return to rewards for the intelligent application of labor and an end to bailouts for losing bankers, subsidies for connected businessmen, and government-enforced monopolists charging too much and limiting their choices.

To quote Douglas Adams:

The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.

Donald Trump may end up being a terrible president. But what’s clear from the hysterical reaction to his victory is that the media-academic-bureaucratic forces will sacrifice their credibility to demonize him and try to erode his legitimacy even before he takes office. The new administration would be doing the citizens of the country a great favor if they help Congress take back much of the rule-making and enforcement authority delegated over the years to the executive branch agencies, staffed largely by partisans and entitled hacks. Reforms to Civil Service and government employee unions are necessary to reduce their corrupt and deadening influence on government productivity. Citizens are not getting their money’s worth and are getting tired of the agencies ruling against growth and business, which has created the stagnation that has half of our youth underemployed and the lowest rate of new business formation in post-Depression history. The return of accountability and popular control of government means some incompetent bureaucrats, teachers, and law enforcement personnel will have to find other things to do.

As for me, I retired from running a family office for a wealthy high-tech friend around 2003, when I realized none of the extra money I was making for his family by clever investment was going to do the world any good. Quite the opposite — his wife began donating large sums to causes like the National Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Democratic politicians. More than likely they gave a large sum to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Emily’s List. These organizations actively harm the people and the future of humanity through promotion of anti-free-market and anti-limited-government propaganda, and are staffed by lawyers living well by doing good, if good is defined as blocking other people’s projects and regulating some businesses to death while awarding others that support their agenda monopolies and subsidies. Because the core support for the Progressive bulldozer is elite, educated people who work in academia and government jobs, where business is seen as a threat likely to lift the Wrong People up to threaten their comfortably class-ordered existence. The ultimate conservative is the cloistered academic or bureaucrat, who sees danger in the freedom of others to act out of their control, and whose income is secure no matter how slowly the economy grows.

And to connect this to my attachment theory works, I should point out how many of the those so shocked by the election result appear to be substituting belief in progressive government for religion and personal attachments. The failure to get what they want — be it election results or attention from attractive others — makes them angry or despairing, as if they were personally insulted. About 20% of the adult population — and closing on 40% of the unmarried population — is anxious-preoccupied, tending to be insecure in their relationships and demanding reassurance from partners.

Followup post expanding on the crony capitalism-libertarian comment: Followup: Materialism vs Purposeful Life


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. 

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


For more reading goodness:

The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Unrealistic Expectations: Liberal Arts Woman and Amazon Men

steve-bannon

Death by HR: Pink Collar Ghettos, Publishing and HR

Women Dominate HR - Worldcrunch.com

Women Dominate HR – Worldcrunch.com

This is a followup to Death by HR: Who Staffs HR Departments? Mostly Women… motivated by Virgina Postrel’s query asking when publishing became a female-dominated field.

In Sisters of Perpetual Grievance: Gender Pay Gap we described how the “women make only 77 cents on the dollar” aggregate statistic is due to women’s choices of field, type of work, and desire to take time off for raising children. One of the counter-arguments is that female-dominated fields are paid less because of some sort of systemic discrimination. The Patriarchy has decided to pay less in those fields because they are dominated by women…!

Aside from the impracticality of such a conspiracy — implying the free market in labor somehow fails, forcing workers in those fields to accept lower pay instead of moving on to more lucrative opportunities — there’s some truth hiding in the claim. Fields dominated by women do tend to pay less. And there are a few examples where fields once male-oriented or at least balanced became female-dominated, and the average pay level dropped. Cause and effect? Or did the declining pay and improving security of these jobs lead them to become relatively more attractive to women looking for flexibility and more social workplaces?

Some examples of the phenomenon: 1) Public elementary school teaching, 2) Non-tenured higher education teaching, 3) Medical administrators, 4) HR administrators and staff (as we have seen).

The female dominance of elementary school teaching in the US was complete by 1900. Women were paid much less than men for the same teaching jobs — a result of real discrimination, and the sense that women would leave to marry and raise a family so their commitment was temporary. As a result, employing mostly young women as teachers became a cost-saving mechanism, and males left the field as salaries dropped and better opportunities with higher status and possibilities for advancement became available:

The drive for universal education increased the demand for teachers and the associated costs of instruction, giving an advantage to schools that hired female teachers. Female teachers were paid about half as much as their male counterparts in standardized schools (Grumet, p. 39). In fact, some scholars attest that “feminization occurred because school districts were unwilling or unable to pay the rising costs of retaining male teachers as school terms became longer and teaching became less attractive to men.” The wage gap between the genders was smaller in rural schools, possibly because there were fewer qualified candidates to fill teaching positions. Rural and southern areas tended to have more informal teaching with less discrepancy between the salaries of male and female teachers, and had mostly male teachers or an equal balance of men and women (Strober and Lanford). In the 1800s, male teachers tended to remain in their positions longer than female teachers, which may explain some of the wage gap. Women often used teaching as a way to earn an income between their own adolescence and motherhood. Teaching began as a job that was expected to cover living expenses for a young, single person or to supplement other sources of income. As teaching became a women’s career, the salary remained low even though a good number of female teachers never married and continued to teach.[1]

The era of young woman teaching for a few years before marrying and leaving the job market ended when mothers generally began to work outside the home. For some period during that transition, female teachers were expected to leave teaching when they married even when they wanted to continue, which led some to hide their marital status. Primary-school teachers were never of high status, but their status dropped further when men almost entirely abandoned public school teaching (many male teachers continued to teach at private schools, where their autonomy and status was greater.)

By 1850, the feminization of teaching had taken hold, especially in urban areas. Feminization was not a preference of schools at first. “School committees often searched in vain for men teachers before finally hiring women…. One major concern was discipline,” but separating classes by age in larger urban schools made discipline easier. The cost savings of female teachers may have been a result of feminization, rather than its cause. It was difficult for schools to find enough male teachers to fill all positions. “Teaching paid poorly compared with other jobs that men could get in urban areas, and the demands of teaching in big-city school systems–with eight months or more of school each year–precluded men teaching as a part-time job. Simultaneously, the nineteenth-century ideology of ‘domestic feminism’ limited the range of occupations to which young middle-class women could aspire.” There was a dearth of willing men and a plethora of educated, young white women qualified to teach for low salaries….

Teaching became formalized, and the percentage of women increased from 1850 to 1900. Schooling in the more urban North was more formalized, with more female teachers and sharp pay differences between men and women. When schooling became formalized, female teachers were seen as very desirable because they were seen as cheap, as better teachers of young children, and as more willing to conform to the bureaucratization of schooling. Male principals were employed to deal with disciplinary problems that their female teachers were unable to handle….

The feminized state of teaching has been both a boon and a burden to the women who teach. Female teachers historically postponed or hid marriages to maintain their careers. It was not until the mid-1900s that married women were allowed to continue teaching, but when they did, it was a career that integrated relatively well with childrearing. The teaching schedule has excellent “mommy hours,” with afternoons and evenings free, plus summer and winter vacations that correspond with children’s vacations. Since there is less of a hierarchy among teachers, it is easier to take time off and then re-enter the workforce than it is with other careers. Unfortunately, the salary and prestige of teaching are very low, and the mother-friendly benefits of teaching may contribute to maintaining it as a low-prestige career. The teaching hours and part-year schedule are well suited to women with children, making the profession fit easily into traditional women’s lives, but this has contributed to the feminization of the profession, leading to lower salaries and prestige. Teaching also has a relatively low retention rate compared to other occupations, especially for women. “Those who defected were mainly wealthier, smarter, and more often married than those who continued to teach[2].

The bureaucratization of a profession — with limited autonomy but greater security and reduced and more flexible hours, plus the ease of taking time off and moving between positions allowed by certification requirements and uncompetitive salaries — encourages female dominance. Highly-competitive, high-paying, performance-oriented occupations remained more difficult both to enter and succeed in, so the path of least resistance for a woman wanting a family-friendly career remained entry to one of the regulated fields where cooperative skills and consensus were more important than measurable productivity, and the pay reflected that.

Publishing is another field where women have come to dominate an industry — as in teaching, by the 1960s “There was a dearth of willing men and a plethora of educated, young white women qualified to [do editorial work] for low salaries.” Publishing had always employed large numbers of women in clerical and lower-level positions though men dominated editorial, managerial, and sales jobs. This began to change rapidly in the 1960s, and by the 1990s publishing was dominated by women, until today every part of the industry is female-dominated, from agents to editors to even authors. It’s often noted that the reading of books also became a primarily female-associated activity during that period, with women buying and reading far more books than men to the point where female-favored genres like romance outsell all other fiction.

Job Queues, Gender Queues: Explaining Women’s Inroads Into Male Occupations by Barbara F. Reskin and Patricia A. Roos has a detailed history of the rapid evolution of publishing from a male-dominated to a female-dominated industry, tracing it to factors including the increasing size and commercialization of the consolidating publishing companies and the historically low pay in the industry which discouraged men from entry while allowing upper-class educated white women to take it over from below:

Caplette observed that “the gradual increase of women editors in the last decade [the 1970s] has, within the last few years, become an upsurge—nearly half of trade and mass-market paperback editors are now women.” Confirming her impressions are those of more than forty industry informants who agreed that the 1970s brought dramatic progress for women in editing and other publishing jobs.

Although women advanced in many occupations in the 1970s, their gains in editing outstripped those in most other occupations…. I found that changes in the publishing industry and the editorial role set the stage for women’s gains by altering both the supply of male would-be editors and the demand for women….

For most of this century, publishing’s glamour and its image as a “gentlemen’s profession’ were sufficient to attract more than enough qualified recruits. Then, although industrial expansion heightened the demand for editorial workers, the concomitants of that growth reduced the industry’s attractive­ness to its traditional workforce: talented young men from high socioeconomic backgrounds.

Dwindling attraction for men. Publishing’s primary draw for such men had been entree into the world of culture without the taint of commerce. But commerce is exactly what outside ownership meant. At the same time, as we have seen, editorial work lost many of the features that had compen­sated nonwealthy workers for low wages. To make matters worse, commerce was supplanting culture without conferring the usual economic incentives of commercial careers. Although editorial wages had always been low, there were other compensations. One editor said, “I consider the right to publish books which don’t make money a part of my salary.” Just as some editors lost that right, wages may have actually declined. In 1982, entry-level pay for editorial assistants was as low as an $9,000 a year, and several people I interviewed noted that it is increasingly difficult, perhaps impossible, to survive—much less support a family—in Manhattan on editorial wages. An industry expert said, only partly in jest: “Only college graduates with rich parents willing to subsidize them can afford to work in editorial jobs any more.” In the face of society’s growing emphasis on a fashionable life-style and the increasing tendency to use income as “the measure of a man,” pub­lishing’s low wages further deterred men from pursuing editorial jobs. Better-paying media jobs (technical writing for high-tech companies, corporate public relations, film) and graduate school lured away talented men interested in communications.

With declining opportunities for mobility and challenges to the traditional promotion practices that had given men a fast track to the top, little remained to draw men to editorial work. A woman editor…in 1978 remarked, “The average man thinks that he has a God-given right to start in as an editor.” To the extent that this was true, entry-level iobs as editorial assistants (often a euphemism for secretary when these were women’s jobs) attracted few men, and the industry increasingly relied on women as editorial assistants.

Increasing supply of women. The gentility that had rendered publish­ing jobs appropriate for upper-status men did so too for “respectable” women whom traditional values encouraged to pursue cultural and aesthetic pursuits. As a long-time assistant at Harper & Brothers said, “Young women getting out of college were so anxious to get a job in something they could be proud of that they would go into publishing and work for practically nothing.” Gender-role socialization further enhanced women’s qualifications for publishing by schooling them in verbal and com­munications skills that equipped them with the facility and inclination to work with words and predisposed them toward the interpersonal work that editing often involved. One female holder of a master’s degree said of her secretarial job in the mid-1950s, “I thought it was an honor to read books and write… flap copy.” Working in an intellectual and cul­tural industry situated in one of the metropolitan publishing “capitals” offered an added incentive to women graduating from prestigious eastern colleges, particularly before the 1970s, when few alternatives presented themselves to career-minded women.

The massive influx of women into the labor force during the 1970s expanded the pool of women available for editorial jobs, and the women’s liberation movement encouraged women to consider occupations customarily reserved for men. Publishing attracted women also because it reputedly pre­sented fewer obstacles than many other industries. Moreover, male occupations in predominantly female industries—particularly growing industries­—tend to be more hospitable and hence more attractive to women. Thus, although women knew they faced discrimination in publishing, they probably realized that other commercial fields were worse. Publishing’s low wages were less likely to deter women than men because their socialization had not encouraged them to maximize income. Because women lacked access to many better-paying jobs, they did not have to forgo more lucrative opportunities for jobs as assistants or editors, and their limited alternatives presumably also explained their willingness to accept the changes that were making editorial work less desirable to men. As a result, the supply of female applicants remained unabated or grew, while that of males declined. Moreover, several interviewees contended that because publishing could no longer attract the most qualified men, female applicants often had better credentials than the males who did apply. If publishers chose the best applicant {as the new emphasis on profits dictated), it would probably be a woman….

In other words, women became attractive to publishers because of their literary and interpersonal skills, their presumed ability to read for a largely female readership, and their expertise in growing segments of the industry—and because they would work cheap. These factors, combined with their avail­ability as a surplus labor pool that could be readily drawn into the workforce, made women an acceptable solution to publishing’s economic fluctuations[3].

As publishing grew to be dominated by upper-class white women, it also came to be dominated by progressive feminists — of both sexes. Not all women in publishing are third-wave feminists, but many are, and like the Ivy League males they replaced, they view their power to get politically-progressive but uncommercial books published as a partial compensation for their low-paid and otherwise low-autonomy jobs. The industry relies on a cheap labor pool of new graduates hoping for an entry into more stable, higher-paying tenured editorial jobs, much as academia now relies on low-paid, abused adjunct teachers. The last of the older generation of editors and managers is leaving now, which leaves the legacy publishing industry with few editorial workers who understand more typical American families and blue-collar or male values. Those small and contrarian publishers who put out books of more interest to mainstream readers and men, like the Hollywood producers that made a bundle on the movie American Sniper — which respectfully told the morally-complex story of a Texas-based sniper in Iraq and the aftermath of his service — have discovered that big publishing’s neglect of this large audience makes it much more profitable to serve it.

Jason Pinter, bestselling thriller writer, discovered this downside when, working as an editor, he could get no support for a male-attracting book:

In an essay…, Pinter describes how (during his days in publishing) he attempted to acquire a book by professional wrestler Chris Jericho. His efforts almost failed for lack of men in the acquisitions meeting, he says–if one colleague’s 15-year-old nephew hadn’t been a wrestling fan, the book wouldn’t have made it through. It was “the fault of a system in which in a room of 15-20 people, not one of them knew what I was talking about…”

The same type of less-competitive, bureaucracy-tolerant, socially-oriented person has gone into HR as a field, studying sociology, psychology, and diversity, while employing personal relationships to make their way up in a field where results are very hard to quantify. The lower salaries in HR keep more effective thought-leaders from entering, yet companies continue to increase HR staff without realizing that they are bringing in people who don’t highly value excellence or competitive success. And the result will be emphasis on diversity and harmony over long-term growth and profit. Companies that carefully screen their HR staff and keep the focus on necessary business activity will have a competitive advantage and avoid the long-term decline a politicized HR department will cause.


[1] “The Feminization of Teaching in America,” By Elizabeth Boyle, MIT Progam in Women’s and Gender Studies – Kampf Prize, 2004.
https://stuff.mit.edu/afs/athena.mit.edu/org/w/wgs/prize/eb04.html
[2] “The Feminization of Teaching in America,” By Elizabeth Boyle, MIT Progam in Women’s and Gender Studies – Kampf Prize, 2004.
https://stuff.mit.edu/afs/athena.mit.edu/org/w/wgs/prize/eb04.html
[3] Job Queues, Gender Queues: Explaining Women’s Inroads Into Male Occupations by Barbara F. Reskin and Patricia A. Roos, Temple University Press, March 3, 2009. http://amzn.to/2b4vuCq

 


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


More reading on other topics:

Death by HR: Who Staffs HR Departments? Mostly Women…
Death by HR: The Great Enrichment to the Great Slackening
Death by HR: Good-Enough Cogs vs Best Employees
Death by HR: EEOC Incompetence and the Coming Idiocracy
The Justice is Too Damn High! – Gawker, the High Cost of Litigation, and the Weapon Shops of Isher
Regulation Strangling Innovation: Planes, Trains, and Hyperloop
Captain America and Progressive Infantilization
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

Starting Over: The Multi-Career Notes

Kayaking on Howe Sound

Kayaking on Howe Sound

Most of my posts are about researching issues, even the “relationship science” posts — I’m trying to be objective and not insert too much of my own experiences and feelings. This one will be subjective — what it’s like to be me, and to have been me in all those different careers.

When I arrived at Libertycon in Chattanooga as a freshly-minted author (three books? Is that enough to qualify?) at the age of 59+, I felt a little dissociated — no one knew me, and the few people I “knew” from online were busy with old friends they knew well. Children moving to a new school know how this feels — people may be friendly but their attention is on known others that are already part of their social systems. If you don’t have a lot of self-confidence, you will feel that sense of being judged and rejected or ignored by people.

I’m a confident old person so this feeling doesn’t bug me too much, and it soon passed. I made a few friends and connected enough to feel part of things fairly quickly. This ability to context-switch socially is especially valuable when you change careers frequently. People who tend toward narcissism will react with the “Don’t you know who I am?” response, which doesn’t endear them to anyone. Others will react by withdrawing, sufficiently dispirited to stop even trying to interact.

I have friends who knew when they were 15 exactly what they wanted to do, then did it — every step was planned, and they spent their lives climbing steadily in their chosen profession. The concentration on one field brought them job and material security quickly, and a lifetime of their achievements advanced their chosen field noticeably — they would have been missed. I’m thinking in particular of my MIT next door neighbor, who started out wanting to become — and became — a world-renowned expert in electronic and computer design. After a brief stint in industry, he ended up on the Stanford faculty and headed up the EE&CS department, was instrumental in the first MIPS processor designs, and founded a company that made him wealthy. When I would visit, he would sigh and tell me he envied my ability to try new things and take up living new lives — the things he could not do. He saw glamor in change, where others would envy his accomplishments — while not being willing to work so hard and so long in one field.

Meanwhile, I had left my first steady jobs in systems programming and dropped out of a Ph.D. program to escape Boston for British Columbia, where I did land development and outdoor activities. I dabbled in object-oriented language design, simulation and game programming, and early web development — starting work on a matchmaking website before any of the others, for example. Failing to stick with any one thing, of course, meant none of them succeeded. Undisciplined and more interested in learning I could do something than actually succeeding at any one thing, I dabbled my way through life. The one thing I was forced to stick with was the subdivision scheme I had tied up much of my savings in — I had to make myself stick with it for five years until it was settled and I could cash out. That was how I learned that the enemies of progress would tie you down with regulations and politics unless you had paid them off and supported their power — other developers had the officeholders in their pockets and could magically get action where I got the big stall. This kind of corruption has existed in urban real estate development since the advent of zoning and building regulations, which addressed some abuses of the formerly free market but ended up throttling production of new housing in the most desirable locales.

Never let the bastards win. What those who have never left their academic or career track never learn is that they may have been free to achieve in their narrow lane, but others not so lucky work in fields that have been hamstrung by regulation so that they couldn’t succeed without paying off politicians — the zoning board, the health inspectors, the city council, the FDA, the FCC, the FAA…. the PC industry thrived unregulated because it appeared to be small and unthreatening. As it has grown to be the central element of communication, politicians have taken note of its ability to reach voters and have started to threaten its freedom — so now the big companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook are spending big on lobbying and cooperating with government efforts to regulate speech and prop up the oligopoly of cable networks and content distributors.

I had been an undisciplined student for my first 30 years, a mostly failed businessman and dabbler the next ten, then landed in Silicon Valley to manage a friend’s money — the Stanford professor I mentioned before. I routed around the Establishment by studying on my own for the Series 7 exam that would allow me to charge for investment advice and started my own company to manage other people’s money. The SEC’s 1930s laws made speaking openly as an investment advisor dangerous — all communications are supposed to be vetted and hedged with warnings, and in practice it is better not to communicate at all since the law is vague enough to be abused to punish advisors for saying anything the authorities find threatening. In fact, publication of investment newsletters had to be freed of SEC regulation by a court case — but those who were licensed to manage other people’s money were still at risk of being punished for freely communicating opinions. As for many New Deal-era regulatory schemes, Constitutional rights were trampled on to give regulatory agencies more power, in service of “the greater good” (for politicians.) Which is why farmers were not allowed to grow their own feedstock, broadcasters could be punished for showing a flash of nipple, and the Federal Election Commission could try to prevent the advertising of a film that criticized a public figure who happened to be a candidate for office.

So I restrained my public comments and tended to my private affairs. When I retired and gave up my registration as an investment advisor, I was free to speak and I started blogging more. Starting over again at square one, armed with knowledge and more self-confidence and enough money to retire on safely — but still minus allies and much social support, since my friends are mostly employees of tech companies who have never once run their own business or dealt with bureaucracies without a government or corporate umbrella protecting them. It rarely occurs to them to question the conventional wisdom or wonder how those highly-regulated industries (real estate, medicine, mass communications, finance) create so much concentrated wealth for the few who have favored positions in them, or how tribute from those industries is fed back to the politicians who maintain barriers to outsiders who might otherwise compete. And so progress slows, and our politics gets dumber and dumber. More mindless promises of “100,000 new cops” (Clinton) or “No child left behind” (Bush) or “Millions of new green jobs” (Obama, Hillary Clinton) — whatever simplistic and unachievable fairy tale you want, I can give you!

I can tell you that starting over — and over and over — makes you resilient. I’m pretty tired now at 60 and don’t have the kind of energy to throw myself against a wall that I used to, but then again I’ve got guile (to use P. J. O’Rourke’s title phrase, “Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut.”) — which means choosing your battles wisely and not taking up every challenge. So I’ve retired to writing, where I’m doing okay at self-publishing — my relationship books have helped people around the world, sell steadily, and provide an income sufficient for trailer-park-level living if I actually needed it, while the fiction is well-reviewed if disappointingly low in volume.

So is it time to change again? Maybe.


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


More reading on other topics:

Death by HR: Good-Enough Cogs vs Best Employees
Death by HR: EEOC Incompetence and the Coming Idiocracy
Regulation Strangling Innovation: Planes, Trains, and Hyperloop
Captain America and Progressive Infantilization
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

The Justice is Too Damn High! – Gawker, the High Cost of Litigation, and the Weapon Shops of Isher

The Weapon Shops of Isher - Thrilling Wonder Stories

The Weapon Shops of Isher – Thrilling Wonder Stories (1951)

Gawker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to avoid paying the bond which would otherwise be necessary to appeal the $140 million judgment against them in the Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit. (It’s a good thing I don’t have to explain that sentence to a time traveler from the last century — would take a long time.) There have been plenty of stories and hot takes on it, so I’ll reach back to discuss what the real problem is — the cost of justice is too damn high.

Meanwhile, the Orlando massacre has been used opportunistically to try to re-open the gun control debate, with Administration and Democratic efforts aimed at diverting outrage from Islamist terrorism to domestic political targets.

A. E. van Vogt’s classic science fiction novel The Weapon Shops of Isher (1951) commented on both issues: the lack of practical access to justice in an increasingly corporate-dominated imperial society and the value of the right to bear arms as a counterweight to a domineering government. While the novel was by today’s standards not very well written, it exploded with ideas and commentary on a corrupt society and individual rights of defense and access to justice for the private citizen. From a review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke:

…[T]he Weapon Shops’ credo could be adopted by the gun lobby today without much fuss: “The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.”

Thousands of years from now, humanity is locked into the solar system, having colonized the planets but able to get no farther without faster-than-light technology. The solar system is held tightly in the iron grip of the Empire of Isher, currently headed up by the young, arrogant and impulsive Empress Innelda. The Empire itself is, however, dysfunctional at best, riddled with graft and corruption. Corporations run rampant, pulling scams and illegal takeovers left and right, gouging the helpless citizenry and government agency alike — no matter that most corporations are owned either wholly or in part by that same government. Enter the Weapon Shops… ready and willing so sell all manner of destructive power dirt cheap to the people who want it. And what power it is! Guns that instantaneously teleport to the owner’s hand with a thought, casting up defensive screens that protect the wielder from any and all power the Empire can bring to bear.

There’s a catch, though. Soldiers, government agents and others in the service of the Empress are not allowed entrance to the shops, much less the ability to buy weapons. Likewise, no one with malice towards the shops and their makers are allowed access either. And just to make sure a “Saturday Night Special” factor never comes into play, the fantastic weapons can only be used for hunting, self-defense or suicide. When turned against another human being or used for crime they will not function. If only the same could be said of today’s street level arsenals!

Today’s United States resembles the Empire of Isher more than a little — a relatively prosperous population, but with layer upon layer of accreted law, regulation, and bureaucracy, with ideals of justice corrupted in practice so that only the wealthiest can afford government-sanctioned courts. Everyone else — even a wealthy and famous citizen like “Hulk Hogan” (real name Terry Bollea) — has to appeal to some organization or government agency for relief. Hogan’s sex tape lawsuit against muckraking new media giant Gawker could not have gone forward without secret financing from billionaire Peter Thiel, who is said to have kicked in $10 million to finance this and other lawsuits against Gawker. As Thiel told the New York Times:

Mr. Thiel added: “I can defend myself. Most of the people they attack are not people in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can’t defend themselves.” He said that “even someone like Terry Bollea who is a millionaire and famous and a successful person didn’t quite have the resources to do this alone.”

Mr. Thiel said that he had decided several years ago to set his plan in motion. “I didn’t really want to do anything,” he said. “I thought it would do more harm to me than good. One of my friends convinced me that if I didn’t do something, nobody would.”

Mr. Thiel has donated money to the Committee to Protect Journalists and has often talked about protecting freedom of speech. He said he did not believe his actions were contradictory. “I refuse to believe that journalism means massive privacy violations,” he said. “I think much more highly of journalists than that. It’s precisely because I respect journalists that I do not believe they are endangered by fighting back against Gawker.”

Plenty of ink has been spilled on this verdict, mostly by writers for publications afraid that billionaires will crush media outlets that dare to offend them. But the real problem highlighted is the lack of justice for everyone else. Gawker had already willfully trampled on the privacy rights of hundreds of citizens in a manner that might easily have resulted in damage awards had any of those victims had the financial resources to pursue claims against it in the court system. But none did, and the abuse of privacy and copyright by clickbait publications like Gawker had become a highly-profitable industry, selling ads for thousands of articles that more responsible media would not have touched for legal reasons.

This is not unlike the “tragedy of the commons” seen in junk calling — a small burden on every phone customer converted to big bucks for the junk callers through mass violation of both good manners and the Do Not Call Registry law. And similarly, there is a call for government regulation — to create an agency to get justice for the little guy when the court system is impractical. In Britain, schemes to create arbitration agencies that would reduce costs to all parties in defamation complaints are being discussed, with the goal of allowing people of more modest means to pursue valid complaints while reducing costs to the press. In the US, there is no similar movement, although anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) laws exist in some states to allow targets of lawsuits by well-funded interests to have them dismissed more easily — but there is still little assistance for either plaintiffs or defendants in civil court.

In civil cases, most individuals are forced to represent themselves, as in this case from “We don’t need fewer lawyers. We need cheaper ones,” an article by Martha Bergmark of Voices for Civil Justice:

Unable to afford representation, more Americans are going to court alone, and they’re losing. In 2014, a Louisiana woman, J., landed in court after a dispute with her landlord over a $25 parking fee. J., 52, was suffering from cancer and did not have an attorney. The court ruled against her and ordered her to vacate her home within 24 hours.

J.’s case, which was later taken on by Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, sounds extreme, but for someone who can’t afford legal counsel, the outcome isn’t surprising. The sad reality is that many Americans facing the loss of a home, family or livelihood are going it alone in civil court, and they’re losing.

In well over two-thirds of critical cases in America’s civil courts, people appear without a lawyer, even though the stakes are often just as high as in criminal proceedings. Many people suffer crushing losses in court not because they’ve done something wrong, but simply because they don’t have legal help….

In 70 to 98 percent of cases in America’s civil courts today, one or both parties are not represented by a lawyer. One report found that civil legal aid programs must turn away almost two-thirds of the people who seek their assistance in critical civil cases, despite research showing that in many such cases, access to legal help makes all the difference. In evictions, for example, two-thirds of tenants who go to court without a lawyer lose their homes, while two-thirds of those represented by an attorney are able to keep them. In complex areas of the law, legal help is essential to enable people to understand and defend their rights. But legal help has become so expensive — about $200 to $300 an hour on average and drastically higher at the largest law firms – that it’s unaffordable, not just for those struggling to make ends meet, but even for most middle-class Americans.

There have been some efforts at reform in civil courts. CLASP (Center for Law and Social Policy) outlines the civic legal aid system and some efforts to assist defendents representing themselves in court:

Civil legal aid in the United States is provided by a large number of
separate and independent staff-based service providers funded by a variety of sources. The
current overall funding is approximately $1.34 billion. The largest element of the civil legal aid
system is comprised of the 134 programs that are funded and monitored by LSC…. there are a variety of other sources, including local governments, other federal government sources, the private bar, United Way, and private foundations.

Over the last 12 years, the civil legal aid system has begun in earnest to utilize innovations in technology to improve and expand access to the civil justice system. As a result, low-income persons have access to information about legal rights and responsibilities and about the options and services available to solve their legal problems, protect their legal rights, and promote their legal interests. Technological innovation in virtually all states has led to the creation of Web sites that offer community legal education information, pro se legal assistance, and other information about the courts and social services. Most legal aid programs now have Web sites with over 300 sites.

All states have a statewide website, most of which also contain information useful both to advocates and clients. Most of these statewide web sites were made possible by the Technology Initiative Grants program of LSC. All of these state sites can be accessed through http://www.lawhelp.org. Half of the sites are hosted on one platform operated by Pro Bono net. Dozens of national sites provide substantive legal information to advocates; other national sites support delivery, management, and technology functions. Many program, statewide, and national websites are using cutting-edge software and offering extensive functionality. I-CAN projects in many states use kiosks with touch-screen computers that allow clients to produce court-ready pleadings and access to other services, such as help with filing for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Video conferencing is being used in Montana and other states to connect clients in remote locations with local courthouses and legal services attorneys.

In criminal cases, indigent defendants are appointed counsel from a public defender’s office, usually an agency of the state. These attorneys are of uneven quality and assigned too many cases, often resulting in less-than-adequate defenses for the poor who rely on them. Then other non-profit organizations sue the states for providing insufficient resources for public defenders, and the game is on — more lawyers contend to paper over the real problem of a costly and antiquated justice system by calling for more tax money instead of reforming the system’s processes to save money by using new technologies and streamlined procedures. The same phenomenon has left us with failed urban schools at very high cost, and inflated costs and lowered quality in every government-run or heavily-regulated service. This absurdity reaches its peak in California’s death penalty expenses — prosecution in a death penalty case costs about $1.1 million more than a similar life sentence case, and the state pays $90 thousand yearly per death row inmate in incarceration costs, plus another $85 thousand yearly in public defender costs to deal with ongoing mandatory appeals. Legislators and judges created a slow and complex process, then both prosecution and defense attorneys are funded with taxpayer money — justice is delayed for decades and both victim’s families and perpetrators get no closure.

Alternative dispute resolution methods — including regulatory agencies, class-action entrepreneurs, and binding arbitration of consumer disputes — have been created to deal with the impracticality of enforcing the law and contracts via the court system. None of these are entirely satisfactory.

Regulatory agencies like insurance commissions, banking regulators, and the alphabet Federal agencies (FTC, FDA, EEOC, DoL, etc.) tend to be captured by the industry they regulate, and the revolving door providing cushy lobbying jobs for retired regulators gives them an incentive to rule for the most powerful. These agencies can perform a valuable role in mediating and screening out groundless complaints, but the higher the level of government they operate at and the larger the industry revenues involved, the less likely they are to be approachable and helpful for average consumers. State-level health insurance regulators, for example, vary widely in quality, but in many cases went to bat for consumers to rectify the worst health insurance company abuses, while the Federal takeover of individual health insurance markets via the ACA has left consumers with limited choices. State insurance regulators dare not threaten the few companies remaining in many markets with loss of their licenses.

Class-action lawsuits combine the small grievances of many consumers into one lawsuit against offenders. This is called “mass tort litigation” or “multi-district litigation” (“MDL”). While these suits can result in effective punishment for egregious mass violations of law or contract, more commonly they are settled by big companies regardless of actual guilt as a cost of doing business, and they have created an ecosystem of law firms that extort settlements returning little to the injured and enriching primarily the law firms involved. Judges will occasionally push back when the attorneys from both sides fail to propose much of a return to the supposedly injured parties, but more commonly will accept a token effort while most of the settlement goes to fund the lawyers involved. Elizabeth Chamblee Burch of the law school at U Georgia comments on recent trends in MDL settlements which show widespread self-dealing by plaintiff attorneys:

I’ve spent the better part of the past year and a half analyzing the publicly available nonclass aggregate settlements that have taken place in multidistrict litigation alongside leadership appointments, common-benefit fees, and, where available, recovery to the plaintiffs. This has given me an in-depth look at what’s happening (or has happened) in Propulsid, Vioxx, Yasmin/Yaz, DePuy ASR Hip Implant, Fosamax (2243), American Medical Systems pelvic mesh litigation, Biomet, NuvaRing, and Actos…. This endeavor has been deeply unsettling for a variety of ethical, doctrinal, and systemic reasons…. I had no idea how widespread the problems were or how they had evolved over time from deal to deal until now.

Propulsid appears to be the primogenitor, for all subsequent deals in the data replicated some aspect of its closure provisions. But Propulsid is extraordinarily troubling: 6,012 plaintiffs abandoned their right to sue in court in favor of settling. Only 37 of them (0.6 percent) recovered any settlement money through the physician-controlled claims review process, receiving little more than $6.5 million in total. Lead lawyers, on the other hand, received over $27 million in common-benefit fees through a deal they negotiated directly with the defendant (and had the court approve). Sadly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg…. [R]epeat players on both sides continually achieve their goals in tandem — defendants end massive suits and lead plaintiffs’ lawyers increase their common-benefit fees. But this exchange may result in lower payouts to plaintiffs, stricter evidentiary burdens in claims processing, or higher plaintiff-participation requirements in master settlements.

Even worse is the collusion of tort bar attorneys with state Attorneys General to target entire industries for shakedowns. The first major example was the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement, where many states and law firms cooperated to extract $billions from tobacco firms, then tried to limit new entrants into the cigarette industry to allow the settling companies to extract enough revenue from addicted smokers to pay the hefty settlement fees. Currently, a similar effort (conspiracy?) is underway to target oil companies and dissenting voices for their failure to warn investors and citizens about the risks of climate change.

So not only is justice through the courts too costly for all but the wealthiest individuals, the system can be systematically abused to extract rents from targeted groups, unjustly enriching certain attorneys and furthering political corruption.

Binding arbitration clauses now appear in most contracts between consumers and businesses. This protects the business against tort bar extortion while in theory allowing a low-cost, streamlined adjudication of consumer claims. The Federal Arbitration Act outlines conditions allowing mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts to supersede class action or other lawsuits in US and most state courts. This was most recently upheld when the Supreme Court overruled a state court ruling and disallowed a class action lawsuit against DirecTV in California:

The decision is consistent with a series of rulings in recent years that have given corporations a legal way to bypass the courts. Company lawyers say arbitration can be a faster, less expensive and fairer way to resolve disputes.

Consumer-rights advocates and plaintiffs lawyers mostly disagree. They say that many consumer complaints, including over unexpected charges and fees, are too small to justify someone going through an arbitration hearing. The DirecTV fee, for example, could be as high as $480. If consumers cannot join a class-action suit, such complaints will go unheard, advocates say.

“This is another troubling day for American consumers who are ripped off by corporate greed and malfeasance, whether it’s a satellite TV system that doesn’t work, unlawful credit card fees or a defective vehicle,” said Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog, and one of the lawyers who represented consumers in the litigation. “The Supreme Court has taken away Americans’ only right to obtain justice: their day in court.”

Of course it is also impractical for consumers to individually dispute corporate actions in court, and the real skirmish here is between class-action lawyers (who want more of a cut in the settlement proceeds) and the companies who prefer arbitration (who want lower costs and predictable remedies.) Even arbitration is impractical for small consumer injuries — which is why the remedy of taking one’s business elsewhere is so important, and why use of regulation to limit consumer choice and prop up monopolies in utility and telecomm sectors is so damaging to consumers, who end up paying more and have little recourse for bad service and abusive charges. And while it’s true arbitration schemes will often favor the big firms who select the arbitration agencies and pay the costs, the tort bar and big companies also cooperate to reach settlements that favor them jointly and neglect compensation for the injured parties.

The impractically-high cost of the court system has been a problem for decades. As early as 1983, thoughtful observers in a New York Times story worried that courts were too costly and were accessible only to the wealthy, and that the burden of slow and complex litigation was too great:

Experts as diverse as Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Attorney General William French Smith, Griffin B. Bell, the Attorney General in the Carter Administration, and Derek Bok, the president of Harvard University and former dean of the Harvard Law School, argue that the country suffers from too many laws, too many lawsuits, too many legal entanglements and, at least in Mr. Bok’s view, too many lawyers.

While such complaints are not new, they are being voiced with increasing urgency by many pillars of the legal establishment as well as by outside critics.

In his most recent of many complaints about the Supreme Court’s swollen caseload, a May 17 speech to the American Law Institute, Chief Justice Burger declared that the nation was plagued “with an almost irrational focus — virtually a mania – on litigation as a way to solve all problems.”

Mr. Bok, in his annual report to the Board of Overseers of Harvard College, said the United States had “developed a legal system that is the most expensive in the world yet cannot manage to protect the rights of most of its citizens.”

Warnings about increased litigiousness alternate with expressions of concern that most citizens cannot afford to hire lawyers to press legitimate claims and defenses against, for example, landlords and creditors.

Lloyd N. Cutler, one of Washington’s most prominent corporate lawyers, has written of large law firms like his own: “The rich who pay our fees are less than 1 percent of our fellow citizens, but they get at least 95 percent of our time. The disadvantaged we serve for nothing are perhaps 20 to 25 percent of the population and get at most 5 percent of our time. The remaining 75 percent cannot afford to consult us and get virtually none of our time.”

Thomas Ehrlich, a former head of the Federal program of legal assistance to poor people and now provost of the University of Pennsylvania, says that because “private wealth is the primary criterion for access to the legal system,” justice often eludes the poor.

But Mr. Bok stresses that “the wealthy and the powerful also chafe under the burden” of regulations, delays, legal uncertainties and manipulations. Some landlords, for example, complain that federally subsidized legal aid lawyers use technicalities to help poor tenants avoid eviction while they refuse to pay rent.

The chorus of concern about justice in America masks great diversity in the views of the critics, whose diagnoses often reflect opposing political views and whose prescriptions for reform often conflict.

For example, the contention by Chief Justice Burger and others that the legal system is being overwhelmed by excessive litigiousness has been questioned by scholars and others who are wary of any proposals to make it harder for individuals to bring lawsuits.

Marc Galanter, a University of Wisconsin law professor specializing in social research on the legal system, says overblown rhetoric about the increase in litigation distracts attention from more severe problems, such as the undue complexity that makes the system so costly and incomprehensible to lay people.

But reform efforts were intermittent, and overwhelmed by the incentives in the system to pass increasingly long and complex laws authorizing agencies to write even more regulations to micromanage every aspect of life. Improvement in some areas, like limitations on tort liability damage awards and increasing use of private arbitration in commercial contracts, were more than countered by production of new and more complex regulations by a bureaucracy needing to keep its staff busy by identifying more targets to regulate. Thirty-odd years later, the problem is worse, and the sense of powerlessness against monopoly services, schools, and governments has reached the boiling point.

Businesses are weighed down by the costs of litigation and the efforts to forestall it, like those undecipherable product manuals heavy with warnings meant to defend against lawsuits. Liability costs in the US are much higher than in most competitive countries. This chart from the US Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform’s June 2013 update “International Comparisons of Legal Costs” shows comparative costs as a percent of GNP for the US versus Europe:

Liability Costs, US vs Europe -- Institute for Legal Reform

Liability Costs, US vs Europe — Institute for Legal Reform

The “Litigation Cost Survey of Major Companies,” a statement submitted by Lawyers for Civil Justice to the 2010 Conference on Civil Litigation, cited the outsized cost of liitigation to US companies:

Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure frames the purpose of the Rules: “the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” Every day, corporate and defense counsel must confront the fact that although well‐intentioned, the Rules are falling far short of this goal. The reality is that the high transaction costs of litigation, and in particular the costs of discovery, threaten to exceed the amount at issue in all but the largest cases….

Key Survey Findings

Litigation costs continue to rise and are consuming an increasing percentage of corporate revenue. Litigation transaction costs on average and as a percent of revenue have risen substantially over the past nine years. The amounts of judgments and settlements are not included in these figures.

• The average outside litigation cost per respondent was nearly $115 million in 2008, up 73
percent from $66 million in 2000.  This represents an average increase of 9 percent each year.

• For the 20 companies providing data on this issue for the full survey period, average outside
litigation costs were $140 million in 2008, an increase of 112 percent from $66 million in 2000.

• Between 2000 and 2008, average annual litigation costs as a percent of revenues increased 78
percent for the 14 companies providing data on average litigation costs as a percent of
revenues for the full survey period.

• Increases in hourly rates do not appear to be driving the increase in litigation costs, as the
available data show relatively little change in outside legal fees over time.

The U.S. litigation system imposes a much greater cost burden on companies than systems outside the United States.  As a percent of revenue, multi‐national company respondents to the survey spend a disproportionate amount on litigation in the United States relative to their expenditures in foreign jurisdictions.  Depending on the year, relative U.S. costs were between four and nine times higher than non‐U.S. costs (as a percent of revenue).  This disparity will inevitably influence decisions by corporations about where to invest their resources.  Global competition for foreign investment is increasing, and the changing dynamics of the global economy are affecting the United States’ ability to remain a leader in this area. The International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce has found that “many foreign investors view the U.S. legal environment as a liability when investing in the United States.”

What could improve this situation? Streamlined courts using modern technology to gather facts and judge cases. Smart contracts and online arbitration services for smaller cases. A thorough overhaul of the antiquated and expensive court system with its well-paid lawyers and staff to improve productivity and speed while lowering costs. Simplification of laws and a pruning of regulatory agencies to the minimum required to maintain a just society would also help.

The Weapon Shops of A. E. van Vogt’s novel were a long-lasting counterweight to oppressive governments, providing both smart weapons and low-cost courts. When written in 1951, smart guns and AI judges were far-future ideas, but real versions of both are likely in the near future. Current smart weapons are still impractical and too unreliable and complex for acceptance (when seconds count, do you want to find out your gun’s batteries have died?) but it won’t be long before personal weapons usable only by the owner and smart enough to detect improper use become available.

The book’s view of a complex society saved from tyranny by multiple power centers and the accessibility of both personal defense weapons and low-cost courts is more relevant now than when it was written. A few excerpts — first, a naive shop owner discovers how little he can do when he has been treated badly by a bank and tries to represent himself in court:

His high sense of duty rightly done lasted until mid-afternoon, when the bailiff from Ferd came to take over the shop.

“But what—” Fara began.

The bailiff said, “The Automatic Atomic Motor Repair Shops, Limited, took over your loan from the bank and are foreclosing.”

“It’s unfair,” said Fara. “I’ll take it to court.” He was thinking dazedly: If the empress ever learned of this, she’d… she’d–

The courthouse was a big, gray building; and Fara felt emptier and colder every second, as he walked along the gray corridors. In Glay, his decision not to give himself into the hands of a lawyer had seemed a wise act. Here, in these enormous halls and palatial rooms, it seemed the sheerest folly.

He managed, nevertheless, to give an account of the criminal act of the bank in first [loaning] the money, then turning over the note to his chief competitor, apparently within minutes of his signing it. He finished with, “I’m sure, sir, the empress would not approve of such goings-on against honest citizens.”

“How dare you,” said the cold-voiced person on the bench, “use the name of Her Holy Majesty in support of your own gross self-interest?”

Fara shivered. The sense of being intimately a member of the empress’s great human family yielded to a sudden chill and a vast mind-picture of the ten million icy courts like this, and the myriad malevolent and heartless men — like this — who stood between the empress and her loyal subject, Fara. He thought passionately: If the empress knew what was happening here, how unjustly he was being treated, she would–

Or would she? He pushed the terrible doubt out of his mind — came out of his reverie with a start, to hear the [judge] saying: “Plaintiff’s appeal dismissed, with costs assessed at seven hundred credits, to be divided between the court and the defense solicitor in the ratio of five to two. See to it that the appellant does not leave until the costs are paid. Next case.”

Fara makes his way to the local Weapon Shop, where he is transported to a different kind of court, and is told to get in line:

The man, a heavy-faced, blue-eyed young chap of around thirty-five, looked at him curiously: “You must know why you’re here,” he said. “Surely, you wouldn’t have been sent through here unless you had a problem of some kind that the Weapon Shop courts will solve for you; there’s no other reason for coming to Information Center.” Fara walked on because he was in the line now, a fast-moving line that curved him inexorably around the machine; and seemed to be heading him toward a door that led into the interior of the great metal structure. So it was a building as well as a machine. A problem, he was thinking, why of course, he had a problem. A hopeless, insoluble, completely tangled problem so deeply rooted in the basic structure of Imperial civilization that the whole world would have to be overturned to make it right. With a start, he saw that he was at the entrance. He thought with awe: In seconds he could be committed irrevocably — to what?

After showing the reader an example of the independent Weapon Shops courts in operation, the author hints that they enforce their judgments by directly taking from the bank accounts of the wrongdoers — the Weapon Shops operate in symbiosis with the government of the day, no matter what its form, by using advanced technology to rebalance the scales of justice. The current government, the Empire of Isher, is run by the willful and arrogant Empress Innelda, who plans to use a new technology to destroy the Weapon Shops and gain full control of her people. Some of her officers, seeing the danger in undermining one of the balancing pillars of Isher society, refuse to participate, and Innelda confronts one officer arrested for desertion:

At half past ten, free of urgent correspondence, she had the officer-deserter brought in. He was a man of thirty-three according to his file, country born and holding the rank of major. He came in; a faint cynical smile on his lips, but his eyes looked depressed. His name was Gile Sanders. Innelda studied him gloomily. According to his file he had three mistresses and had made a fortune out of a peculiar graft involving army purchases. It was a fairly typical case history. And the part that was difficult to understand was why he, who had so much, had given it all up. She asked the question earnestly. “And please,” she said, “do not insult me by suggesting that you were concerned with the moral issue of the war. Tell me simply and plainly why you gave up all your possessions for dishonor and disgrace. In one act you disinherited yourself. The very least that can happen to you is that you’ll be sent to Mars or Venus permanently. Were you a fool or a coward or both?”

He shrugged. “I suppose I was a fool.” His feet fumbled nervously over the floor. His eyes did not evade her direct stare, but his answer left her dissatisfied. After ten minutes she had got no real explanation out of him. It was possible that the profit and loss motivation had not influenced his decision.

She tried a new approach. “According to your file,” she said, “you were notified to report to building eight hundred A and, because of your rank, it was explained to you that at last a method had been found to destroy the weapon shops. An hour later, after having burned your private papers, you left your office and took up residence in a seaside cottage which you had purchased secretly — you thought — five years ago. A week later, when it was clear that you did not intend to do your duty, you were arrested. You have been in close confinement ever since. Is that picture fairly correct?”

The man nodded but said nothing. The empress studied him, biting her lips. “My friend,” she said softly at last, “I have it in my power to make your punishment anything I desire. Anything. Death, banishment, commutation—” she hesitated— “reinstatement.”

Major Sanders sighed wearily. “I know,” he said. “That was the picture I suddenly saw.”

“I don’t understand.” She was puzzled. “If you realize the potentialities of your act, then you were very foolish.”

“The picture,” he said in a monotone, as if he had not heard her interruption, “of a time when someone, not necessarily yourself, would have that power without qualification, without there being anywhere to turn, without alleviation, without — hope.”

She had her answer. “Well, of all the stupidity!” said Innelda explosively. She leaned back in her chair, momentarily overcome, drew a deep breath, then shook her head in irritation. “Major,” she said gently, “I feel sorry for you. Surely your knowledge of the history of my family must have told you that the danger of misuse of power does not exist. The world is too big. As an individual I can interfere in the affairs of such a tiny proportion of the human race that it is ridiculous. Every decree that I issue vanishes into a positive blur of conflicting interpretations as it recedes from me. That decree could be ultimately mild — it would make no difference in the final administration of it. Anything, when applied to eleven billion people, takes on a meaningless quality that is impossible to imagine unless you have studied, as I have, actual results.”

She saw with astonishment that her words had not touched him. She drew back, offended. It was all so crystal clear and here was one more obstinate fool. She restrained her anger with an effort. “Major,” she said, “with the weapon shops out of the way we could introduce steadying laws that could not be flouted. There would be more uniform administration of justice because people would have to accept the judgment of the courts, their only recourse being appeals to the higher courts.”

“Exactly,” said Sanders. That was all. His tone rejected her logic. She studied him for a long moment, all the sympathy gone from her. Then she said bitterly, “If you’re such a firm believer in the Weapon Shops, why didn’t you protect yourself by going to them for a defensive gun?”

“I did.”

She hesitated; then asked coldly, “What was the matter? Did your courage fail you when it came to the point of using it to defend yourself from arrest?” Watching him, she knew she shouldn’t have said that. It left her open to a retort which, she realized, might be devastating. Her fear was justified.

Sanders said, “No, Your Majesty. I did exactly what some of the other — uh — deserters did. I took off my uniform and went to a weapon shop, intending to buy a gun. But the door wouldn’t open. It appears that I am one of the few officers who believe that the Isher family is the more important of the two facets of Isher civilization.” His eyes had been bright as he spoke. Now they grew depressed again. “I am,” he said, “in exactly the position you want to put everybody into. I have no way to turn. I must accept your law; must accept secret declarations of war on an institution that is as much a part of Isher civilization as the House of Isher itself; must accept death if you decree it, without a chance to defend myself in open battle. Your Majesty,” he finished quietly, “I respect and admire you. The officers who deserted are not scoundrels. They were merely confronted with a choice and they chose not to participate in an attack on things as they are. I doubt if I could put it more honestly than that.”

She doubted it too. Here was a man who would never understand the realistic necessity of what she was doing. After she dismissed him she noted his name in her check-file, commenting that she wanted to hear the verdict of his court-martial…. She realized that it was now time to go to the Treasury Department and hear all the reasons why it was impossible to spend more money. With a tired smile, she went out of the study and took a private elevator up to the fiftieth floor.

After writing the Weapon Shops stories, A. E. van Vogt moved to Los Angeles where he met L. Ron Hubbard in 1945 and briefly headed up Hubbard’s Dianetics organization, which later evolved into the Church of Scientology. His interest in overarching meta-systems to explain everything was apparent in his writings, which as a result became less readable. Philip K. Dick cited him as an influence — “Van Vogt influenced me so much because he made me appreciate a mysterious chaotic quality in the universe which is not to be feared.”

The impunity with which Gawker operated for years while stepping on the privacy rights of people for profit is just one symptom of the inability to get justice at a reasonable price. The simmering resentments of citizens made unknowing scofflaws while going about their lives (see Radley Balko’s Reason piece, “We’re All Felons, Now”) and the increasing regulatory overhead to start and run a small business are slowing growth and damaging the careers of young people who have been trained to ask permission before trying anything new.

Meanwhile, the Party of Government, like Empress Innelda, sees only good in its efforts to limit the right of self-defense and increase the revenue and authority of government at every level. They mean well, after all, and this chaos of unmanaged freedom and unregulated commerce must give way to those who know what’s best for all the little people. America was a good idea once, but it’s too dangerous to continue the experiment started in 1776….


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


Walter Olson’s Overlawyered: Chronicling the High Cost of Our Legal System is a good source for news on justice system excesses and the negative side-effects of its high cost.

More reading on other topics:

Update: California High-Speed Rail Nearly Dead
Regulation Strangling Innovation: Planes, Trains, and Hyperloop
Captain America and Progressive Infantilization
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism
Orlando and Elite Bigotry: Come Out as an American
Progressive Displacement and Social Media: Gun Control Edition

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

I’ll Be At Libertycon July 8-10 in Chattanooga

The Substrate Wars

Planning to attend Libertycon to see the people and hobnob with some greats. I think they’re almost sold out of tickets, but you might check. My schedule:

Scheduled Programming Events Featuring Jeb Kinnison

Day Time Name of Event
Fri 01:00PM Weaponized Artificial Intelligence
Fri 05:00PM Opening Ceremonies
Sat 01:00PM Perspectives on Military SF
Sun 10:00AM Kaffeeklatsch

You might also be interested in these…

Shrivers

Nemo’s World

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Captain America: Peak Superhero?

Superhero Google Trends Graph

Superhero Google Trends Graph

I only enter a movie theater a few times a year, preferring to view everything a few months or years later on the HD screen at home on my own schedule. But I did get out to see Captain America: Civil War, which I highly recommend if you can stand the shaky-cam battle scenes with their low frame rate — visually disturbing to many. Deadpool, which I saw via Amazon streaming a week ago, also fired on all cylinders, with a foul and funny script and good characters.

As Marvel productions are capturing more and more of the total box office revenues, are we approaching “peak superhero?” The above graph shows how several franchises have peaked and then declined. I couldn’t fit vampires in, but they peaked earlier, then were followed by zombies, which are now in gradual decline as saturation has been reached, with over a dozen movies and series having thoroughly explored most of the possibilities.

Superhero stories could at first be simple, with cardboard characters, since the novelty of the superhero / supervillain conflict could carry the story for a less jaded audience. But now everyone has been exposed to many generations of Superman, Batman, and X-Men, and stories have to be more character-based. The action scenes can still be exciting, though we’ve already seen peak CGI and after spectacles like 2012 and San Andreas, which did well in overseas markets despite simple stories and shallow characters, there’s not a lot of hunger for more raw CGI destruction. Without humor, romance, and a good script, future big-budget CGI movies will do poorly in the US unless they are involving in some other way.

Tomorrowland was a major flop, for example, because its story and script were murky and unsatisfying. Few viewers came away from it wanting friends and children to see it despite some delightful set-pieces — it started out bemoaning the defeatism of our dystopia-loving age, then reinforced it with a murderous cardboard bad guy, chase scenes, and a “hopeful” ending of Apple-ad-style androids sent to Earth like missionaries to direct humanity toward the correct technocratic path. To hell with that, I thought… (See Tomorrowland: Tragic Misfire.)

The most recent Marvel superhero movies have been well-acted, well-written, and thoughtful, and they have made so much money that Hollywood copycats will be getting greenlights on more and more superhero productions. But between TV and movies, the genre has been mined out — or has it?

Deadpool was especially enjoyable because it had interesting characters and bucked typical blockbuster movie censorship conventions — and as Deadpool himself points out in voiceover, it’s a love story! Kick-ass women and less conventional men make for a fun mix.

The highest-grossing vampire movies, the Twilight series, were also romances and attracted major female audiences. I don’t know of a successful zombie romance and it’s easy to see how that would be tough — zombies make for unattractive love interests, since major parts may fall off at critical moments and lovemaking and brain-eating don’t mix, though we’ve seen good zombie comedies (e.g., Shaun of the Dead).

Major flops occur when old franchises are rebooted without respect to the iconic characters’ existing symbolism — for example Batman vs Superman, a stinker because not only was it implausible (how could Batman, a tech-assisted human, really fight Superman, powerful enough to move mountains and spin the earth backward to turn back time?), but it clashed with Superman’s deeper image as embodiment of the American Way.

Marvel has not made this mistake, and Captain America has been developed as a slightly-updated version of his original WWII comicbook persona. His American idealism, once cliched, is now refreshing, and his willingness to go against the grain of bureaucracy to fight for Good resonates in a population tired of increasing nanny-state rules and regulations.

Identifying with a superhero protagonist enables a fantasy of independence and power for individuals. Boys are stereotypically fascinated by stories of finding a way (technology, magic, a spider bite!) to become independent and powerful fighters, but the appeal is broadening to girls, women, and everyone else as more and more our life-choices are dictated by those who believe they know better than we do what is best for us. Putting ourselves in their place lets us fantasize that we can make a difference, while in our real lives we wait on hold to deal with health insurance companies and pay the IRS whatever it asks since it is too hard to figure out their computer-generated letters.

More reading on other topics:

FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegregation Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

Captain America and Progressive Infantilization

Captain America speaks

Captain America speaks

Amanda Marcotte is generating clicks with her complaint about the new Captain America: Civil War movie. Complaining being the primary mode of progressives, because everything is “problematic” unless one of their fellow travelers made it.

In her piece, “Captain America’s a douchey libertarian now: Why did Marvel have to ruin Steve Rogers?”, Marcotte is upset because the Cap didn’t knuckle under to “reasonable, common-sense” restrictions on his freedom to act for good. It’s not worth a detailed fisking — generating clickbait articles for a living doesn’t allow much time for careful writing — but she does reveal the mindset of those who believe every decision should be made by a committee of the select. The “unregulated” and “uncontrolled” are too dangerous to tolerate. Some key bits:

Steve Rogers is an icon of liberal patriotism, and his newest movie turns him into an Ayn Rand acolyte…

Most corporate blockbuster movies would cave into the temptation to make the character some kind of generic, apolitical “patriot,” abandoning the comic tradition that has painted him as a New Deal Democrat standing up consistently for liberal values. Instead, in both the first movie and in “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” we get Steve the liberal: Anti-racist, anti-sexist, valuing transparency in government and his belief that we the people should hold power instead of some unaccountable tyrants who believe might makes right.

Steve is All-American, so he is classically liberal: believing in the rule of law, equality of opportunity, and freedom to do anything that doesn’t step on someone else’s rights and freedoms. Amanda does not believe in individual freedom — she believes in “freedom,” approved by committee, with individual achievement subordinated to identity politics aiming at equality of outcome. No one should be free to judge the morality of a situation and act without lobbying others to achieve a majority and gaining approval of people like her.

Which is why I was sorely disappointed that the latest installment of the Marvel cinematic universe, “Captain America: Civil War,” decided that, for no reason whatsoever, Steve is now a guy who believe it’s cool to belong to a secretive paramilitary that rejects oversight and accountability to the public. Because while we all know and love them as the Avengers, hero squad, the brutal truth, which the movie does admit, is that is exactly what they are: A mercenary group who has resisted even the most basic oversight from democratic governments, oversight that would allow the people that the Avengers are supposed to be protecting some say in what this militaristic police force is allowed to do.

So she thinks the Avengers’ business model is to take the side of the highest bidder in any conflict (the meaning of “mercenary.”) Marcotte is already pretending that not voluntarily agreeing to bind yourself to be commanded by a murkily-governed international group that has demonstrated an inability to act to deter the worst human rights-abusing states is just like going to war for money.

Quick recap: In “Civil War,” the Avengers are facing growing international criticism for the way they handled the events in “The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. Many people are arguing that they are operating without government oversight and innocent civilians are getting killed in the process. While it’s true that those civilian casualties are not the fault of the Avengers — they were fighting off serious threats and unfortunately, in war, civilians get killed — there are nonetheless growing demands for some kind of accountability and oversight.

These issues aren’t just about a silly comic book movie, which is why this is all so irritating. In the real world, right now, we are awash in arguments over accountability and oversight when it comes to both the police and the military. From the Black Lives Matter movement to questions over the military’s drone program, our country is embroiled in debates over just these issues.

The liberal position, the one that the Steve Rogers of the past two movies would hold, is extremely clear: The police and the military are accountable to the public. If people die on your watch, there needs to be a hearing. The military’s powers should be held in check. We sure as hell don’t want a mercenary organization that answers to no one crossing international borders and fighting wars without any input from democratic systems of government.

I think Steve would agree that the police and the military are accountable to a properly constituted government which operates in accordance with constitutional principles. Once one has taken the oath of public service, one has agreed to serve under those terms. Steve stops short of taking that oath and signing on the dotted line precisely because he realizes the government he would be agreeing to serve is not a proper one, and that he would be kept from doing the right thing in the future by so binding himself.

Marcotte’s analogy to current issues of police misbehavior and drone warfare is just wrong. To adequately capture an analogy would require that she acknowledge that the UN is corrupt like Chicago is corrupt, and that, like US police, the new Avengers would be protected by a union which would prevent punishment of any of its members for all but the most egregious offenses. After, say, destroying a small city to pursue a personal vendetta, the Avenger responsible would be suspended and then put back to work a few months later in another district despite a record of misuse of authority.

The demands being made by various governments and the United Nations in “Civil War” are more than reasonable. They want the Avengers to stop being a privately run paramilitary organization that answers to no one. They want them to sign a treaty agreeing to transparency and some government oversight. This is common sense and what we would expect the standard liberal position to be in a world where superheroes exist.

Like the President, Marcotte thinks her view is always “common sense,” and dissenting views are simply nonsense, illogical error. Why would any right-thinking person disagree with common sense?

More importantly, for consistency’s sake, this exactly the position that Steve Rogers has expressed before. In “Winter Soldier,” the entire debate between Steve and Nick Fury, which is resolved firmly on Steve’s side, is over how much power military forces should have without democratic oversight. Nick argues that SHIELD, a fictional international organization that is basically the world’s police, should have broad powers to spy on citizens and take unilateral military action in secret. Steve disagrees, pointing out that he fought in WWII specifically because he opposes strong-handed, dictatorial powers of that nature. In the end, Steve wins, dumping all of SHIELD’s secrets onto the internet and turning the power over to the people.

But now, in this movie, Steve is singing a different tune. He seems to believe that because he knows the Avengers mean well, that’s good enough. He doesn’t want to have justify his behavior or include democratic governments in the decision-making process.

How many of those governments are truly democratic? Marcotte makes the classic error of the illiberal thinkers: democracy is good, even when it’s 51% agreeing to violate the human rights of individuals. She can’t imagine actually turning power over to the people as individuals, to direct their lives as they see fit; no, every decision must be made by a government or it’s illegitimate.

Connecting the dots, this is the same tendency seen in the Special Snowflakes on campus: find everything problematic, and look to a nanny state or school administrators to take your side and punish those that offend you. In this child’s view of the universe, any disagreement with the perfect utopia of equality is not to be tolerated or compromised with — open debate is too stressful, so exaggerated grievances and calls for authorities to suppress the disagreeable are the new campus sport. Jonathan Haidt has written on this effectively.

Given the alternatives, Captain America acting in a wider world realizes his only moral alternative is to go without the safety net of government oversight, until such point as there is a legitimate world government. Having seen what unquestioning obedience to the wrong hierarchical organization can lead to, he chooses to remain independent.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. — Luke 12:48

Agreeing to be bound by an authority already demonstrated to be corrupt is lazy and immoral. Working without a net is harder. But Marcotte’s view of responsible adulthood is to always give up your own moral agency to some group.

We are all to be slaves to each other.

PS — Vanity Fair thinks Cap and Bucky exude too much “heterosexual virility.” Where’s my eyeroll emoticon?

Twitchy coverage here.

Lots of useful discussion on the Salon piece here (Reddit.) Someone needs to point out how douchey Amanda Marcotte is for implying that a) all liberatrians are douchebags, and b) somehow Cap is acting like Ayn Rand.

PPS on the publication that employs Marcotte to attract clicks: “Salon has been unprofitable through its entire history. Since 2007, the company has been dependent on ongoing cash injections from board Chairman John Warnock and William Hambrecht, father of former Salon CEO Elizabeth Hambrecht. During the nine months ended December 31, 2012, these cash contributions amounted to $3.4 million, compared to revenue in the same period of $2.7 million.” I’m surprised they don’t get government grants! I used to do some business with Hambrecht and Quist. John Warnock ran Adobe, which employed many of my friends…[edited after I realized I was confusing Gordon Eubanks with Warnock!]


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


More reading on other topics:

Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegregation Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy