A third rail in politics is so named because the real third rail in an electric rail system is the one that carries the high voltage. Social Security and Medicare have long been considered the epitomes of such untouchable third rails in American politics, given that reform often results in fear-mongering directed at the elderly who happen to be the most likely people to vote.
Given that Social Security is set up on an original construct for which existing workers pay into the program for existing retirees, the inevitable demographic plunge beyond the baby boomers was always going to create the conditions for unsustainability for a system that many assume works more like a funded account over time rather than the hard to sustain and largely middle class and age-based wealth transfer scheme that it actually is. As the graph below indicates, there has been a precipitous decline in the number of workers per existing Social Security beneficiary. Alas, there are two immutable forces that will colossally collide unless leadership and reason is discovered on this issue: one force that indicates that Social Security will be out of money by the 2030s, and the other force that indicates that current beneficiaries will not politically allow downgrades to their benefits. This prompted one tax professor that I had while in graduate school to provide the personal advice to the class to err on the side of caution and assume that our deductions for Social Security as simply an income tax that we would never see again.
Enter a reform proposal from the American Enterprise Institute that addresses both immutable forces by largely shifting to a system based upon what they call a flat benefit. While there have been many calls for means-testing benefits (i.e. people above a certain income threshold get no or much less benefits) this proposal calls for a reduction in the complexity of the tiers and calculations for benefits with a flat rate for all above a certain level of income, some subsidization for the poor into retirement, changing of the retirement age proposals to make 401K contributions more favorable form a tax and regulatory standpoint, eliminating the payroll tax after the age of 62 to incentivize work into older age, and a few other rather wonkish details to make Social Security more solvent and more market based while throwing in enough sweeteners to the current beneficiary to make it politically palatable.
While I would much prefer that we as individuals be freed up to make the investment and saving decisions that fit our own goals and be freed entirely of the nannying arm of the state while eliminating the giant middle-class and age-based wealth transfer scheme that Social Security largely is, this proposal has a lot going for it as it relates to creating a more clear and level-playing field while also pushing more retirement saving and planning at the margins to the private investment market, particularly for those that make more than the flat-benefit provision – in essence means-testing by another form and removing the upper middle class and wealthy largely out of the middle class wealth transferring. If throwing a few sops to the elderly is what is required to actually enact reform, then so be it. This is a good reform proposal that is a step in the right direction.
This holiday and festival season gives us a time to pause and reflect on all that we are grateful for. For those of the Christian faith, the season is a remembrance of the bounty we have been granted but not necessarily deserved as well as a celebration of a central tenet of the faith: the birth of Jesus Christ on this earth. Indeed, many of us have much to be thankful for, and it is proper to pause and reflect on these things in a spirit of modest gratitude. This season has given me a great amount of reasons to think on those that have much less reason to celebrate, chiefly in that this season I have been exposed to an inordinate amount of friends and acquaintances that are facing personal loss or dealing with unspeakable and hard to understand tragedies. Indeed, a sense of fairness and justice would indicate within our hearts that people should die old after a life well-lived, that marriages that began with such harmony and joy should not end abruptly with one party seemingly going off the deep end, or that parents should not have to suffer the loss of a child in the prime of their life, that children should not starve or suffer, or that children should not be abused by heinous adults that have guardianship over them. And of course, there are the senseless acts of violence that we seem increasingly subjected to, with domestic terrorism at home with the drumbeat of lone-wolf attackers of schools and theaters and the depravations of ISIS and the jihadist attacks that continue apace, most recently in Paris and Beirut. Aside from evils that befall us in the form of human hands, there are the seemingly random forces of nature that destroy human civilization as well as life. The Indian Ocean tsunami a few years ago that killed hundreds of thousands is a case in point.
What is a person to make of such tragedies? Indeed, the fact that human evil and random suffering from natural forces exists is one of the hardest criticisms leveled at faith to intellectually rebut. The argument that evil and human suffering disproves God’s existence can follow trains of thought that a Creator that is powerful but creates evil in the world and allows it to happen can’t possibly be good, or further if such a creator exists that can’t stop evil, then he must not be powerful. It is recent events that compel my authoring my own beliefs on the subject matter. As a preface, longtime friends won’t confuse me with someone that deals frequently in matters of theology or metaphysics, as I tend to gravitate towards fields one might group into rationalistic aims. I have long not considered myself a theologian qualified to wade into such matters and have long left this sort of discourse to the “experts.” Alas, I was recently reminded by a pastor in my church at Texas that, “everyone is a theologian, they just differ on their views and how good they are at defending them.” Recent events make me feel compelled to record my own views on the critique of human evil and suffering invalidating belief in God, if for nothing else to consolidate into one place for my own historic viewing on the subject. If it so happens to help someone also grappling with this topic, then all the better.
Beginning with the concept that a good God could never allow evil, I draw upon the writings of C.S. Lewis, who focuses on the concept of free will. In his chapter titled, The Shocking Alternative within the wonderful book, Mere Christianity, Lewis discusses why evil is allowed to exist and as the title chapter belies, why the alternative to evil existing is a ‘shocking alternative’ while also subtly pointing out that evil is not actually in God’s will. Within the chapter, Lewis uses one analogy of a parent that knows their children must learn to tidy their room. The parent’s will is that the children learn to be self-sufficient, which is a necessary condition of eventual life as an adult. The conditions that the parent has duly set in place create the conditions for the child to grow and learn, but also creates the conditions for the child to leave an inkwell turned into the carpet, forever staining it. The latter event is hardly the parent’s will, but their designed framework did create the conditions for that to event to be possible.
This type of freedom to choose wrong or right is the order of human nature. We have free will. We can go wrong or right. Thus, free will has made evil possible, but instances of evil are hardly in God’s will. So the question becomes why did God give us free will? Lewis’s answer is that, “…because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating.” Further, Lewis elaborates on how remarkable we are as a creation – we have the great power to do good as well as evil through our remarkable composition, “The better stuff a creature is made of – the cleverer and stronger and freer it is – then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong.”
All of this begs the question of what God did do in order to mitigate our descent into unchecked evil. Lewis points out that he left us with a conscience that is powerful in determining right from wrong whether we are Christian or not and he sent Jesus as the ultimate bridge between God and Man, so that those that follow him would have an even greater reason to do good and vitiate evil wherever it is found.
This then gives the reader something to ponder on the nature of evil, but what about random natural forces, accidents, and disease that maim and kill or take lives from us much too soon? There is little logic or solace that I can provide save for what has been previously offered – that a fallen world based upon free will is also going to have its natural forces that are allowed to move and occur and that will inevitably impact us all. If there is any solace that can be given, it is in the sense that the Christian views the life perspective in terms of immortality rather than the short time we spend on earth. As the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer observes in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, “Time is short. Eternity is forever.” Indeed, when viewed in this perspective, a few short years on this earth will pale in comparison to a life of joy spent in eternity, and perhaps how we respond to tragedies in the short run will provide the mark of our character. Will we collapse in the face of tragedy? Will our faith wane due to the personal impact of tragedy? Or will we remain strong in the hope and knowledge of immortality? Will we use this tragedy to help others that have also been impacted by similar tragedies? Bonhoeffer’s own life experiences makes the quote above quite appropriate and show the mark of character, as his was a life that ended in the prime of his career. At the relative young age of 39 and at the height of his theological writings and impact, and while engaged to be married, Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis for taking part in a plot to kill Hitler. Even before that fateful decision, Bonhoeffer took courageous vocal stances against the evils of Naziism.
Even within this lifetime, time can heal much pain and give us great perspective on evils and sufferings. While we may fail to ever truly understand them or comprehend them, or indeed praise God for them in this lifetime, there are some of those that we can see from the vantage point of time passed as useful for refining us into who we are as people. Sufferings can make us equal parts more modest, patient, empathetic, loving, prudent, wise, courageous, and divining. I don’t mean to indicate that this is always the case, and indicating to someone in the throes of pain that the tragedy is somehow God’s will or that they will learn from it in the long run is as insensitive as it is theologically unsound. I only mean to indicate that the passage of time can have both healing and a positive effect on one’s outlook. Even when events are too painful for us to bear or understand, the Christian faith provides the example of Jesus, who himself endured tremendous sufferings in his own death on the cross. Thus, if nothing else, we can point to a Creator that can wholly enter into and empathize with our deepest moments of despair. This concept is echoed in Tim Keller’s Reason for God in which he states that, “Christianity alone among the world’s religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment.”
Still, there are some human sufferings that we will fail to see perspective on or that time will fail to heal completely. There are admittedly some things in this life that we are exposed to that seem so profane and so tragic that we will fail to grasp them. Our human faculties may fail to completely reconcile them or in our human frailty, we may fail to see what possible good can come from them, and this can grievously wound our sense of human order and thus our faith. For this, I can only think that just because we fail to see the good in sufferings does not mean that the good is not there. Further, I am drawn to the writings of Dostoevsky, who ironically uses the conflicted agnostic character Ivan in the book The Brothers Karamazov to declare,”
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
What are the practical implications of all of this? One is to not descend into inescapable despair and loss of faith in the face of tragedy while affording ourselves the proper time and feelings of mourning. Unfortunately, evil and sufferings are part of this world and are a necessary component of a free will and allowing us to develop the highest form of love for our fellow man and God. A further implication is to view mankind in terms of immortality and that our time here is remarkably short – we must be busy about serving and loving our fellow man, and using trials and sufferings to those aims wherever we can. When confronted with friends and family that are going through their own tragic circumstances, we need to pray for them to receive comfort and grace, pray with them for healing, mourn for them, and mourn with them. As Matthew 5:4 indicates, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Bonhoeffer indicates that part of this mourning is reflective of the evil that exists in this world and suffer from it. Finally, in this season, I would submit that it is proper to focus on our spiritual and relationship blessings and that it is misguided to speak too much in the presence of others of material ‘blessings.’ I have come to the conclusion that material gains probably matter but little to the things of God, and can even detract from them, particularly if we interpret their gain as God’s favor and the converse, their absence as a sign of his lack of favor. The life and experiences of the apostles on earth, that ended with penury and in most cases death would indicate that God’s desire for our lives can often involve endured hardships. This is the concept embodied in Bonhoeffer’s costly discipleship rather than the soft and weak cheap grace that seems to be embodied in many modern day practitioners of a prosperity gospel. We need to be exceedingly careful not to indicate to those around us that our new house, our large salary, or new car are somehow favors from God. There is a extremely fine line between gratitude, which is appropriate, and self-centered gloating that seems to indicate we have a higher worth or value than others. I would argue that God is often closer to us and more concerned with our tragedies and the tragedies of those around us than with our comfort and ease. In essence, we have a faith based on comfort in the face of tragedies, an immortality that can help us draw timeline perspectives, and a faith that exhorts us to love our fellow man as we love God, meaning we can draw on our tragedies to empathize with and love others. I part with I Corinthians 13:13 – So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.” – Abraham Lincoln
Every so often I see a post or hear someone ranting on the television that Syrians should stay and fight for their country. I recently read a quote from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity that I find apropos: “Ever since I served as an infantryman in the First World War I have had a great dislike of people who themselves in ease and safety, issue exhortations to men in the front line. As a result I have a great reluctance to say much about temptations to which I am not exposed.”
The great irony in some of the supercilious comments that I see and hear relate the Syrian fleeing masses to the American founding fathers and how the latter stayed and fought for their country, the irony being that many of these founders had ancestors in large part that fled Europe in search of a land in which they could live more free. Never mind that warfare in those days was a “gentleman’s” affair that happened in the field away from civilians. I can only speculate that if Lord Cornwallis employed barrel bombs and sarin gas on Ye Olde citizens of New York City that we would have seen a lot more internal displacement and refugees, including sturdy men trying to protect their families by fleeing.
While I would wholeheartedly argue for personal integrity, character, and love as critical elements of human interactions and the human experience, the essay Everybody Loves Mikey by Mike Munger humorously and concisely reveals that what makes the world function from an economic perspective is the impersonal and unknown forces of the market – in essence the profit motive trumps love, but is nonetheless beneficial to society. This essay echoes and adds modern examples to concepts developed by Adam Smith, who is known to anyone who has begrudgingly taken Economics 101 as the author of the capitalist manifesto The Wealth of Nations and the coiner of the term the “Invisible Hand.”
What may be less well known is Adam Smith’s moral philosophy work in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a book that explores the “impartial spectator” within us that keeps most individuals from straying too far outside the bounds of acceptable behavior and that guides us towards treating fellow man with love and respect where it is due and reviling and justice for evils done when it is deserved. While Smith may be revered or reviled based upon perceptions of authoring a work that ushered in the concept of impersonal laissez faire economics, Adam Smith was very much concerned with and authored a powerful work on how morality within us prevents the majority of mankind from harming one another, given that gaining the love, respect, and admiration of our fellow man is something that “Providence” (to use a frequently used term of Smith) embedded within us and which most of mankind effectively pursues in their individual interactions with one another.
Thus, I would submit that any serious reader of Smith, and I would argue any defender of capitalism needs to complement their understanding of Smith’s “Invisible Hand” (and Munger’s essay provides a great effective Cliff’s notes to the tenets revealed in Wealth of Nations) with the understanding of morality regulated by the “Impartial Spectator.” On the former, we are presented with impersonal and at times destructive forces (recall Schumpeter’s creative destruction concept since in this blog I seem fond of terms coined by economists and philosopher) that describes how large and complex systems are most effectively governed by the informal pricing mechanisms required for an economy based upon freedom of choice and liberty, in essence indicating that no government or board of experts could ever match the effectiveness of the pricing mechanism as defined by the free market. Within his Theory of Moral Sentiments, he makes the case for why in our individual interactions and dealings at a micro level should be and in many cases are subconsciously guided by a moral compass. The conclusion of reading both works by Smith is that for a free society to function in the long run, moral underpinnings are essential. The intertwining of the impersonal free market with morality is eloquently articulated with the statement of political scientist James Q. Wilson that,
“Free-market systems require, obviously, certain personal qualities, including trust in those who borrow from you, a willingness to invest (that is, to defer present enjoyments for future benefits), and a readiness to take the demands of customers seriously. This social capital arises from long-sustained competition, from a culture that assigns a high value to making human character decent, and from a political system that refrains from rewarding people for their power rather than for their performance.
Capitalism alone cannot produce sufficient social capital. Culture and government must add their share by giving people incentives to be civil, by rewarding savings, and by encouraging trust. Because culture and government are so important, successfully capitalistic nations tend to be democratic states with a strong culture. This is why democracy and capitalism together make some nations so much richer than others.”
This begins my attempt to provide my quote of the week, hereafter published every Friday. This week, I present a quote from F.A. Hayek on his definition of liberty in his book, Constitution of Liberty.
Clearly, a slave will not become free if he obtains merely the right to vote, nor will any degree of “inner freedom” make him anything but a slave – however much idealist philosophers have tried to convince us to the contrary. Nor will any degree of luxury or comfort or any power that he may wield over other men or the resources of nature alter his dependence upon the arbitrary will of his master. But if he is subject to the same laws as all his fellow citizens, if he is immune from arbitrary confinement and free to choose his work, and if he is able to own and acquire property, no other men or group of men can coerce him to do their bidding.
Only a few short years ago, insurance executives were lining up in support of the Affordable Care Act in the form of public and vocal support as well as through lobbying efforts. The Faustian bargain these insurance companies were making with the government was that in exchange for more price and product offering controls they would receive a massive influx of young and healthy customers, who by virtue of the individual mandate and tax penalties for not purchasing coverage would be forced into the market. Fast forward to the predictable unintended consequences of such a government intervention, and the cascading ills and errors (that I also attempted to capture in another blog post) are creating the problem of adverse selection for insurance companies in which the preponderance of those rushing to the exchanges are those most in need of coverage and usage of medical services while the healthy people are largely simply deciding to pay the penalty. UnitedHealthcare is but one of many in days to come that will resign themselves to the challenge of coverage for those that are the relatively few that actually opted for insurance on the exchanges. Ah, beware of the Faustian bargain in which the devil will come to receive the payback, which in this case will ultimately be a growing crescendo that this is more evidence of the need for a single payer health system and that insurance companies should be abolished altogether. Of course, the only thing this course of action might solve is government price controls that may serve as a temporary palliative, but access, choice, and quality would inevitably suffer in such a system.
I should add that I am certainly no fan of the way health insurance market works in America, either now or the decades preceding the Affordable Care Act, so this post is not a defense of the industry. Insurance should serve as place for catastrophic coverage. Much of the bloat and cost in the industry is a direct result of insurance coverage that covers everything we do, in much the same way oil changes would spike in cost and usage if auto insurance was forced to cover these mundane and routine services. It is true that insurance companies are more about administration of claims and processing of paperwork than they are about value added services and counseling. I would argue that these are the behemoths that are the direct consequence of the system that has been created with government intervention, not due to the lack of intervention. What is it that ails the health industry? I believe economist John Cochrane lays out as concise and effective view as anyone in a recent essay published out of the Hoover Institution. The excerpt on health insurance and healthcare is below:
The ACA, thousands of pages of law, tens of thousands of pages of regulations, and even more decision-making power by newly empowered regulators, such as the thousands of waivers given to individual companies, represents an enormous increase in Federal intervention in the market for healthcare and health insurance. Like finance, health was already highly regulated. And like finance, most of the ACA simply doubled down on the same basic regulatory structure that had caused so many pathologies before.
The central problem of preexisting conditions was an artifact of regulation. In the ideal form of health insurance, you buy cheap catastrophic insurance when young, but the insurance policy can follow you as you age, change jobs, and move from state to state, and does not radically increase premiums if you get sick.
Why don’t we have that ideal insurance? Because previous rounds of regulation outlawed it. In the 1940s the US government allowed tax deductions for employer-provided group insurance, but not employer contributions to individual insurance or individuals’ contributions to such insurance. By laws, insurance is not portable across state lines. Thus, there is no reason for anyone who might get a job or move to buy long-term individual insurance that protects against the emergence of pre-existing conditions. In response to the preexisting conditions problem, the ACA forces community rating — everyone pays the same price—tries to mandate healthy people to buy insurance, and steps up pressure on employer provided group plans, which are the source of the problem.
Similarly, once insurance was tax deductible, there was an incentive to salt it up. You would not buy car insurance that “paid for” oil changes — especially if you had to deal with insurance paperwork each time. But with a tax deduction it’s worth buying health insurance that “pays for” routine small expenses. Then the government (state and local too) instituted mandates that insurance must “pay for”—and, of course, charge premiums to cover—all sorts of additional procedures, which makes insurance too expensive.
We need to allow simple, portable, largely catastrophic, lifelong, guaranteed-renewable health insurance to emerge. Right now it’s illegal. To the extent that the government wishes to subsidize health insurance—and it should—then it should give straightforward vouchers, which people can use to buy insurance, or to fund health savings accounts. Such vouchers should take the place of Obamacare, Medicaid, and Medicare.
Healthcare and insurance is not just distorted from the demand side—too many people paying with someone else’s money. The supply side is ossifyingly restricted as well. New hospitals, new clinics that specialize in cheaply providing one service well, new doctors, new nurses, new insurance companies, all find a wall of laws, regulations, and officials blocking their path. For a reason: To maintain the profits of and cross-subsidies provided by the existing incumbents. Non-profit status itself blocks efficiency: you can’t take over an inefficient non-profit, and non-profits can’t issue equity to make important investments. In reducing the cost and improving the quality of healthcare, efficiency is far more important than trying to avoid a competitive rate of return to owners.
Alas, the offshoot of all of this will inevitably be more government intrusion to cure the ills that government in fact created.
I believe in general that America needs a more open form of immigration laws that allow for more immigrants, spanning from refugees seeking asylum and low-skilled workers through employment visa programs that allow more cross-border commerce and freedom of movement as well as more economic based paths to lawful work and citizenship granted through programs such as the H1B visa. This presents an opportunity to both tackle economic as well as moral benefits. As it relates to refugees, finding ways to alleviate suffering and finding ways to grant asylum is the moral obligation of a free and prosperous society, and if those of us on the right side of the ideological spectrum want to claim our nation is founded upon Judeo-Christian values, then we should be able to put our money where our mouths are and facilitate goodwill, charity, and the safety of persecuted populations in any form as they seek asylum on our shores.
That being said, in the face of the Paris attacks, where it is known that at least one attacker used Syrian refugee status to slip into France, it is in fact appropriate to pause and urge restraint while we collectively create sound and comprehensive strategies that allow us to vet and prioritize refugees while starting to deal with the root problems that create the mess in the first place. After all, one of the chief raison d’etre of government should be to protect and ensure the safety of its citizens. This should be one of its chief aims. The recent swath of governors rushing to close off their states may be a bit hasty and rash in my opinion, but it reflects the genuine and well-founded concerns of U.S. citizens. I believe that American citizens at large and those in the middle ranging from center-left to center-right can serve as the basis of a persuadable coalition to support refugees in this time of global crisis. However, the moralizing hectoring of President Obama to take on refugees that is completely decoupled from sound strategies to ensure America’s safety or to address the actual root of the problem and chaos in the Middle East will naturally leave much of the nation’s citizenry skeptical that this same President will implement sound strategies to vet incoming refugees and keep American citizens safe. With Obama’s moralizing, I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite novels, Augustus by John Williams, in which one of Augustus’s key advisors, Gaius Maecenas, admonishes one of his friends that, “It seems to me that the moralist is the most useless and contemptible of creatures. He is useless in that he would expend his energies upon making judgments rather than upon gaining knowledge, for the reason that judgment is easy and knowledge is difficult. He is contemptible in that his judgments reflect a vision of himself which in his ignorance and pride he would impose upon the world. I implore you, do not become a moralist; you will destroy your art and your mind.”
A more responsible strategy would in fact be to couple refugee resettlement plans with clarity in how we are going to join and lead a global coalition of the willing to eradicate (not contain) ISIS, promote the reform of Islam at large, and promote the peace and stability of Syria and Iraq. Plans to deal with refugees and support of refugee areas in countries closer to Iraq and Syria such as Jordan and Turkey should also be part of this strategy. We should also be willing to prioritize refugee status for communities that suffer the most at the hands of ISIS and the Assad regime, including Yazidis, Christians, moderate Sunnis that have fought on the side of moderate forces, and secularists. The ability to vet inbound refugees with whatever means we have at our disposal, admittedly a difficult task, coupled with enhanced intelligence capabilities with monitoring of metadata that Obama has done much to gut, should also be part of the mix.
So by all means, bring in the huddled masses. Accepting the battered refugee is an action that lives up to America’s finest ideals and follows a precedent of accepting refugees during the Bosnian conflict and the Iraq War, not to mention European refugees that came in large numbers during both World Wars. In times where America was at our worst were times of not accepting enough of those in need, such as Jews fleeing the depravations of the Holocaust and broad European pogroms perpetrated on them in the early 20th century. I would also argue refugees do much to add to the unique fabric and narrative of American diversity and the American story. Grateful refugees and their descendants make some of the finest citizens this country has ever known. However, given the safety imperative is the highest responsibility of any government, let’s craft the refugee plan alongside comprehensive strategy that includes in the long-run eliminating the source of the cancer itself rather than simply addressing its symptoms as well as a plan for vetting incoming refugees and ways to prioritize them. Once that plan is laid out to the American people, then fears can be allayed and the support of the majority of American citizens will follow.
I am fascinated with the events going on at Yale and University of Missouri and the questions that arise from them: what does this mean for proper ways of engaging with humanity, how do we properly show the Christian concept of love of one’s neighbor, and what ails our institutes of higher learning that these clashes are occurring? I will admit here as a preface that one of my life’s guiding principles and beliefs has always been that America is the place where one can work hard and get ahead and that regardless of one’s birth circumstances the opportunities to improve one’s lot is easily within reach for those that want to grab hold and take them. Thus, I have long believed that grit and gumption are critical factors that determine happiness and success, much more so than any other measure of intelligence or inheritance, although I will admit that to some degree those things certainly help. My biases in life revealed, I also find myself working to achieve balance and understanding of issues in brotherly love before landing and espousing forceful opinions. A true form of courage is standing up for right in the face of evil regardless of where it comes from. People and their lives are inherently valuable, and standing up in the face of oppression is certainly a mark of bravery and virtue. Where there are grievances aired, it is best to explore those grievances and address them where they are well founded while separating real grievance from opportunist grandstanding that trends towards intolerance in the name of tolerance which feeds into mob and headhunting mentality, which ultimately upends and is counterproductive to the ultimate goals.
That preface concluded, it is with this video that I am increasingly convinced that evidence is mounting that the protest movement, specifically at Yale, has now entered the zone of a privileged class so out of touch with reality and so unused to confrontation with opposing views that it has no idea of what respect and tolerance actually means and is thus descending into that mob mentality more than high-minded debate and reform.
A warning that the video is full of foul language as the student at Yale pours vitriolic bile on an Administrator over an email that was sent from a Yale Master (someone that resides on campus to foster student community). I believe a reasonable interpretation of the email would conclude its contents included a mature encouragement that the students act as adults and handle amongst themselves the proper custom conduct and norms for Halloween. The linked Atlantic Article does a great job of expressing the heart of the matter at Yale. What these students seem to want is a complete closing off of any dissenting views or any responsibility to handle things that they disagree with in adult ways, which would mean conversations and development of social mores amongst a community without the forceful hand of an administrator. Notice the language of the student leading the rant against the Yale Master – “it is your job to create a place of comfort and home…you should resign…you are disgusting,” among other accusations laced with ad hominem attacks full of foul language that I won’t write here. Another student chimes in, “you are supposed to be our advocate.” Hardly the voices of reason and tolerance here.
Have our American campuses become so intolerant of dissenting views and free speech that we can’t bear to hear other viewpoints or tolerate that there are others among us with different viewpoints that don’t fit into the narrative of incessant grievances that require a unified view? I would argue that yes, for the most part the lack of any dissenting views and the overwhelming majority of college faculty members adhering to the leftist bent have denuded our colleges of what they should actually exist for – creating citizens capable of the highest order of intellectual thinking and leadership with the ability to logically reason through issues and discuss them from their own viewpoints, without resorting to hateful attack speeches and muzzling of opposing views (recall the strange episode of the University of Missouri professor calling for muscle to remove a reporter from the protest events.) The linked research confirms this reality. The article indicates that for every conservative faculty member, there are 14 liberal faculty members. 73% of them admit that they de facto give hiring preference for those that agree with them politically. The great irony here is that students demanding resignations and muzzling of school administrators is an example of getting eaten by one’s own ideological children. When there exist no alternative views on a campus, all one gets is a heavy dose of confirmation bias that goes unchallenged.
The result is intellectual atrophy and the closing of the mind. Yale and University of Missouri just happen to be in the spotlight at the current moment. Such intolerance could have happened at hundreds of campuses across the nation.
Meanwhile, in the real world, we all have to deal with unsavory people, ideas, and things that we vehemently disagree with in mature and adult ways. Sometimes that means speaking up and saying no. Sometimes that means building a coalition of people around you and leading them to change things. And yes, sometimes that means ostracizing or just plain ignoring and excising from your life people that are just not changeable. In the real world, what does not work is demanding someone listen to you, agree with you, or kowtow to your demands. Should not our colleges be laboratories in creating leaders for the leadership challenges they will face in the real world? Is providing, a “safe” and dissent free environment preparing them for that leadership? I would tend to think not.