Monthly Archives: January 2022

You are browsing the site archives by month.

NYC is Alive and Well …

With apologies to some of my pals at The Atlas Society, who recently posted a video saying that “New York City Is Now The Biggest Sh*thole In America“, this city will never die! We’ve been through civil unrest and riots, crime waves, antiwar protests, 9/11, Superstorm Sandy, and the trials and tribulations of a pandemic. We have given birth to some epically awful politicians. We even survived a “bomb cyclone” (which wasn’t even near the record for snowfalls in this town). In Washington Square Park, in the heart of Greenwich Village, in the shadow of my alma mater (NYU), a fun and peaceful, good ol’ fashioned snowball fight broke out. And nobody was hurt or killed. The people of this city are its lifeblood. You can roll your eyes over this video but it’s just a small sign that the New York spirit is alive and well.

Postscript: In the Facebook discussion that followed, a few issues came up. I reproduce them here for Notablog readers.

I’m born, bred, and still living here. I love it, always will, and have enjoyed life here through good times and bad. But to each his own. Either way, to call this city “the biggest sh*thole in America” was an exercise in outlandish, disgraceful overkill. … This city survived 2000+ murders a year back in the early 1990s. Even with the uptick in crime in 2021, there were a total of 485 murders, unheard of for a city of nearly 8.5 million people.

NYC remains one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Its strength has come from its neighborhoods—in all their magnificent ethnic diversity. I have seen so many ups and downs throughout my 60+ years living here and every time I thought this city would never recover—be it a terrorist attack that destroyed downtown Manhattan, killing nearly 3000 people, and leaving all of us in shock for eons, or a superstorm that caused nearly $20 billion in damages, destroying whole neighborhoods throughout the 5 boroughs—with a tsunami-like storm surge in which the Hudson River met the East River at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and killing hundreds of people… NYC came back from the edge. I have lost close friends and family in that terrorist attack, that superstorm, and the recent COVID catastrophe.I have absolutely no reason to doubt this city’s resiliency—no matter how many people have left or how many politicians have stayed.

Another commentator said that The Atlas Society had made a rightward turn in its politics and that on those metrics, even the Ayn Rand Institute was better. The commentator said that Yaron Brook was even cordial to Nathaniel Branden at a party. I responded:

The ARIans are still holders of the flame and of the Ayn Rand Archives, and though they’ve opened up their archives more than in previous years, there are still many of us who will forever remain on the outside because we don’t pass their litmus test. Sadly, Yaron Brook, in this podcast, refers to Nathaniel Branden as a “second-hander”, “not a good guy,” and a “scumbag”, who “betrayed” Rand and Objectivism, and “stabbed” both in the back; he has “zero” respect for NB. He refers to him as a “mystic”, “bizarre”, “weird”, “anti-reason”, and so forth. He claims NB “faked Objectivism” and “never understood” it. To me, these comments are just beyond the pale.

Moreover, the ARIans won’t even engage with literature that was written by people since “purged” but that was part of the “authorized” canon of Objectivism, as stated by Rand herself, which included essays by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden. In the post-Rand years, folks whose essays were held in high esteem for years—from George Reisman to David Kelley—were slowly airbrushed from existence. The ARI record speaks for itself.

DWR (3): Rhetoric Right and Left

Back on November 23, 2021, I posted a dialogue I had with my friend Ryan Neugebauer (the third in my ongoing DWR Series) prompted by a Les Leopold article asking if F. A. Hayek was really a Bernie Sanders socialist in disguise. This week, we’ve had some additional discussion, prompted by a Matt McManus article, “To Beat the Right, We Have to Understand Their Arguments.” McManus focuses on the work of Albert O. Hirschmann, who has examined The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy. As McManus puts it, Hirschmann argues that

conservatives use three rhetorical “theses” to make their case: the perversity thesis, the futility thesis, and the jeopardy thesis.

The perversity thesis holds that when the Left tries to produce some beneficial change, “the exact contrary” occurs; their aspirations backfire, done in by the law of unintended consequences. In his Considerations on France, Joseph de Maistre went so far as to argue that God would punish the French revolutionaries and bring about the “exaltation of Christianity and monarchy.”

The second argument Hirschman analyzes is more sobering. It is the futility thesis, or the claim that “any alleged [progressive] change is, was, or will be largely surface, façade, cosmetic, hence illusory, as the deep structures of society remain wholly untouched.”

As Corey Robin has observed, the futility thesis is the most effective against the Left because it bears more than a passing similarity to the structural analysis that radicals favor. If the ambition is to fundamentally reshape the institutions and power dynamics of society, and the best progressives can do is make superficial alterations, conservatives will be on hand to declare: “I told you so.” The result is a sense of powerlessness and, well, futility, on the part of the Left.

The last reactionary trope is the jeopardy thesis. While the perversity and futility theses are “remarkably simple and bald,” the jeopardy thesis takes a more elliptical approach to combating left politics by asserting that a “proposed change, though perhaps desirable in itself, involves unacceptable costs or consequences of one sort or another.” In other words, our desire to have it all jeopardizes what we’ve already achieved.


In the discussion that followed, I remarked:

I’ve read Hirschmann over the years, and he’s very good on these issues.

In truth, however, these arguments—especially those that highlight the important role of unintended consequences and the boomerang effects that happen such that policies enacted achieve the opposite of their alleged intentions—have been and should be used effectively against any “top-down” state planning, be it that of the “right” or the “left”. They are applicable not only to the genesis of “state capitalism” and “state socialism” but even to the rise of the regulatory state, the national security state, and the permanent war economy, each of which taken in isolation, and all of which, taken organically, have produced a host of consequences, both intended (typically, by the ruling elites) and unintended (by those same folks), that have fundamentally undermined the radical, progressive agenda.

Ostensibly, regulation was supposed to rein in the “excesses” of markets, but it typically enriched the very industries being regulated (that’s the history of the Progressive era and everything that has happened since). This is how regulatory capture by corporatist “planners” has panned out. Even the building of a national security state and a permanent war economy were justified to keep the citizenry both “free” and “secure”—and have achieved neither freedom nor security. This was, indeed, “the triumph of conservatism”—as Gabriel Kolko and scores of historians have argued.

Rhetorically speaking and historically speaking, one can turn the tables on the “conservative tropes” by pointing out that “top-down” planning of any political hue typically leads to the entrenchment of the most reactionary elements in global political economy.

The very last sentence in the article hits on a crucially important issue: “This should give the Left confidence that, even if the arc of history doesn’t inevitably bend our way, our ideas will convince more people in the long run. And that’s because they are the right ideas.”

To me, this strikes the most significant chord in the symphony that constitutes progressive social change. It means that the triumph of genuinely progressive social ideals can only happen because more and more people have been convinced of their efficacy—at which point, fundamental change, through a cultural shift from the “bottom up”, rather than the “top down,” will indeed bend “the arc of history.”

Ryan responded:

I think there are weak forms of the theses/arguments that are legitimate. For example, Bastiat’s “the seen and unseen” is an example of how statists often don’t factor in unintended consequences or the ways in which their policies can have negative consequences. So it’s important to not naively think you can just tinker from the top-down and everything works out as intended like so many seem to assume.
 
Furthermore, as you point out with Kolko, there’s the issue with regulatory capture and regulations being used to benefit major corporations. Therefore, any actions will likely be filtered and constrained by the crony system.
 
That said, given that we have the system that we have where business and the state grow closer together and mutually benefit from each other, people like the author and Hirschmann believe we should still try to take actions to reign in the problems that come out of the very imperfect system that we have. This is what the strong versions of the theses/arguments seek to undermine. They want hands off and no regulation, at least in their preferred areas. As you note, the right-wing has their own favored regulations. But we don’t have a non-crony free market system and we can’t just sit around waiting for things to potentially correct themselves.
 
The response “just take away all of the benefits/regulations” that Classical Liberals and Right-Libertarians love is just lazy. It’s like “cool, but that’s not on the table”. I like what you said your Marxist dissertation supervisor Bertell Ollman once said (I’m paraphrasing): “Libertarians act like someone who wants to order Chinese food at a steak restaurant. It’s not on the menu!” Heck, I’m not even convinced we can have literally zero regulations anyways, even if it’s not a nation state implementing them. The Montreal Protocol comes to mind as a clear example of the need for swift action that didn’t just depend on markets eventually shifting things.
 
Ultimately, I think the article’s arguing against the theses was more about opposing the strong versions (which you and I would too) than the weak versions (which you and I would see as necessary).

I replied:

I know Ryan is traveling, so he couldn’t look up the exact quotation from Bertell Ollman, my mentor and long-time colleague and dear friend, but the exact quote is even more stinging. I’ll take it from Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism:

In a 1981 debate with libertarian theorist Don Lavoie, [Ollman] opined: “Libertarians are a little bit like people who go into a Chinese restaurant and order pizza.” The issue here is: What’s on the menu, given objective conditions and constraints? There may be lots to choose from, wildly different meals that one can order in a Chinese restaurant, “but pizza isn’t one of them.”

(As an aside, it is my hope to finally digitize that debate between Lavoie and Ollman and to put it on my YouTube channel before too long. We’ll see how it holds up to the transfer, but it’s full of many such gems.)

We may not like and have not chosen to live in the societies into which we have been born and within which we all live. But given that these are the conditions that exist, there is not a single person alive who can function outside that context. We are a part of the societies we seek to change. Even as we try to influence a society, we are embedded in it and its institutional constraints will, by necessity, shape the choices we make.

I have argued time and again that fundamentalist “libertarians” have dropped the ball on so many issues that I’ve lost count. The libertarian response to the pandemic could be extended to any number of other huge “externalities”, be it climate change, a tsunami, an earthquake, or any other natural or human-made disaster. We try everything we can to check the powers of states from using ’emergencies’ so as to augment their power and to simultaneously enrich the eiltes to which they are beholden. But given that these are the conditions that exist, every one of us is put at a comparative disadvantage if we choose to completely ‘opt out’ of the political give-and-take. The “strong” versions of the conservative ‘trope’ arguments are self-defeating and utopian; they apply, literally to ‘no-where’ (that’s what ‘utopian’ means). We all live some-where, in the world, as it exists, and if we don’t act to counter the forces that oppress us, thinking that ‘hands off’ is going to take care of itself, we’re conceding all political action to those who are most adept at using it—which is why, as Hayek said—the worst always get on top. If fundamentalist “libertarians” opt out of all politics because they think it “sanctions” actions that are immoral by definition, they will forever marginalize themselves to the point of total and complete irrelevance.

This is not just a battle against high taxes and regulations (whether they are endorsed by the tankie left or the nationalist right). It is a battle against laws that are never neutral; and sometimes, advocating a ‘rollback’ on one regulation, as Kevin Carson has argued, will not lead to a net decrease in state and ruling class power, but actually a net increase. That’s why one cannot opt out of the political battles; sometimes, you might eke out a change that alters the balance of power on an issue-by-issue basis that will benefit the most oppressed classes among us, even if it does not change the system fundamentally.

We have a very profound cultural problem. If we don’t do the hard work that is necessary to change the larger culture—a necessary precursor to fundamental social change—the battle is lost.

Finally, on the issue of political labels. I’ve had a lot of issues with words like “socialism” and “capitalism”, which mean so many things to so many people that it’s almost impossible to have a civil discussion about them anymore. I fear that the term “libertarian” is nearing the point of uselessness for the same reasons. Its first use as a word was in the debate over “free will”; but its first use as a political term was by left-wing European anarchists in the nineteenth century. I can live with that, proudly.

I retain the term “libertarian” to describe my politics and approach to social theory only because I always, and without fail, place the adjective “dialectical” before it; it modifies it sufficiently to keep me out of the fundamentalist camp. And it’s mysterious enough to some folks with thick skulls who are still asking me: “Now, what does ‘dialectical’ mean again?”

I’ve spent the bulk of my professional life fighting for the right to conjoin the words “dialectical” and “libertarianism”, and perhaps I’ve got so much intellectual energy invested in it that I won’t give it up, on principle. I won’t surrender either the terms “dialectical” or “libertarian” to those who are not sufficiently one or the other. The terms require each other because together they are integral to the larger project of human flourishing and human freedom.

Though Ryan and I come at this from different places, he agrees

that we are definitely on the same page and think similarly. As for the label “libertarian”, like Chris, I can’t use it in isolation. I say “Dialectical Left-Libertarian” on my profile to speak to accepting Chris’s wonderful approach and the more leftist variants like you get with Kevin Carson, David Graeber, Kropotkin, Proudhon, etc. It can also be seen as some synthesis of left-wing and libertarian thinking more broadly, not just anarchistic ones.

Sheldon Richman once wrote an article on how you can’t escape regulation but rather it comes down to how it is coming about. So he opposed government/community regulation but supported the kind of regulation that comes about through the market process. Sheldon never really shed his right-libertarian thinking even in his most supposedly Left-Libertarian days. Nonetheless, I liked the point on regulation of some sort always existing. What we are usually talking about is in the legislative and community senses, which Sheldon and most typical libertarians oppose or are very uncomfortable with.
 
Personally, I’ve become more comfortable with regulation of that sort and see it as necessary. I don’t think we can have a peaceful and healthy society without at least some of it. That said, there will always be an ongoing battle with reigning in its excesses and making sure it is done when it needs to be.
 
The typical libertarian hears that description and wants to solve it by eliminating the ability to regulate in the first place. Ha! Then there’s nothing to capture! Ha! And as tempting as that picture is (I ate it up for a short period many years ago), I ultimately think it is wrong. Yes, I’d like to see different governance than the state. But it’s not going away any time soon and may never go away. So, we have to do our best with the context we are in. Furthermore, even if it did go away, there would still be some form of community or federation style regulation. It is just how we operate. Then the question becomes “how” and in what way?
 
Unlike the typical libertarian, I want to deal with the difficult situation, not by eliminating any ability to regulate in a legislative or community sense, but rather seek to produce a situation where we don’t need to regulate as much and have a healthier mechanism/arrangement than the state to achieve it.
 
One more comment on tHe FrEe MaRkEt before I go skiing. We can clearly have freer and freed markets that open up competition and make things cheaper. Those still can exist in an environment with at least some regulation. So, I prefer “freer” and “freed” as descriptors over “free” which sounds so absolutist and “perfect”. That said, markets are not magical things. Just like governments are not magical things. Both are mechanisms or tools that operate with humans and all of their problems. Neither mechanism is equal to morality. It produces what the sum of the humans involved happen to push towards. A market where people overwhelmingly support sexual relations with children will likely give those people exactly what they want. Same for a government. Which speaks to the necessity of culture in the equation as you both wisely noted. That said, I don’t think any of us wants sex with children permitted, so then we have to ask how that is to be achieved. This is where I strongly oppose fundamentalist free-market thought that says “let the market decide”. The market is not a moral agent. It’s not a thinking decider. It’s a process engaged in by human thinking agents with all of their faults/imperfections and incentives. Therefore, it cannot be counted on to simply bust out what is moral. So what do you do then other than fight for some sort of government or community regulation with consequences for violating it?
 
This is not an easy conversation for someone like myself, who came from the free-market libertarian tradition, and in the fundamentalist Ancap sense. But it’s important to have.

In my JARS review of the Yaron Brook-Don Watkins book, Free Market Revolution, I too argued in favor of “freed markets”—markets liberated from their statist and authoritarian political and cultural structures of oppression, and from the history of state violence that has been the foundation for “capitalism: the known reality,” so unlike the Weberian “unknown ideal” projected by Ayn Rand.

All in all, this was a good conversation, which I wanted to preserve on Notablog, for those who don’t have access to Facebook.

No Time to Die … Wow

I won’t put any spoilers in this post, but I finally got to see “No Time To Die“—having avoided reading anything about the film, miraculously, and was totally shocked and blown away by this 2021 entry in the James Bond franchise.

So I’ll just say this much … whether or not there will be “time” for a reboot, I found that last quote from Jack London—which is discussed here—very poignant. The full passage from which it comes was unearthed from an interview with London that appeared in San Francisco’s The Bulletin (2 December 1916). It’s worth repeating here:


I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

Whether you’re a Bond fan or not, I think this was certainly one of the best films in the series, and a worthy finale to Daniel Craig‘s run as 007.

Da Bomb Hits Brooklyn …

A “Bomb Cyclone” is hitting the Northeast. We’re expecting continued high winds (50-60 mph gusts) and about a foot of snow here in Brooklyn, New York. A big snowfall typically covers the cars—but the winds are simultaneously wiping them clean! Should be a lot worse for my neighbors in New England and out on Eastern Long Island.

Well, this one doesn’t come near the blizzards of 2006, 2016, and 1947, all in excess of 26 inches. Since they plow to the right, if you were parked on that side, you were lucky if you could move your car again by April!

Pastis Casts Pearls Left and Right

Comics Flash! Stephan Pastis continues to trigger folks left and right in “Pearls Before Swine“!

And as pointed out on my Facebook thread, the creator of “The Family Circus” (Bil Keane, and now his son Jeff) and Pastis are friends and collaborate on parodies. Others have pointed out the obvious link to George Carlin‘s famous monologue …


Song of the Day #1903 & #1904

Songs of the Day: Dawgma / Swing ’39 [YouTube link] are two songs that were performed back-to-back on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in support of the 1978 quintet album, “Hot Dawg,” featuring David Grisman on lead mandolin, Mark O’Connor on guitar, Mike Marshall on rhythm mandolin, Rob Wasserman on bass, and the immortal Stephane Grappelli on violin. The September 13, 1979 show can be seen in its entirety [YouTube link]. The artists even play the gypsy jazz classic, “Minor Swing“, as an encore (previously highlighted in 2013 as a “Song of the Day“) over the closing credits [YouTube link]. “Dawgma” was composed by Grisman in that characteristic style of his, merging jazz and bluegrass; “Swing ’39” was composed by Grappelli and his old bandmate, the legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, with whom he formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France back in 1934. He was 71 when he appeared on “The Tonight Show“, and is as fleet of finger as he ever was. I was privileged to see him in-person with David Grisman at Avery Fisher Hall (now “David Geffen Hall“) on October 2, 1981 and again, with his own quartet, at The Bottom Line in Greenwich Village, on April 25, 1983. On this date, in 1908, Grappelli was born. He was born in Gaie Paris—pun intended; when he passed away at the age of 89 in 1997, he left behind his life partner of 25 years, Joseph Oldenhove. The virtuoso violinist also left behind an extraordinary musical legacy, having recorded with everyone from Yehudi Menuhin and Yo Yo Ma to Paul Simon and Pink Floyd [YouTube links].

Remembering Hiromi Shinya

Back in December 2021, I shared my very personal thoughts on Hiromi Shinya, a trailblazing doctor who saved my life—and the lives of countless numbers of people through his remarkable innovations in endoscopic medicine. Today, his daughter, Erica Shinya Kin, posted an obituary through legacy.com on the New York Times. It is a wonderful tribute to this great pioneer. Check it out here.

Hiromi Shinya, 1935-2021

Another Side to Eric Fleischmann: Soy! Live!

My friend Eric Fleischmann has published widely at the site of Center for a Stateless Society, including, recently, some very fine, original essays on the thought of individualist anarchist Laurence Labadie. I have previously written about his work on Notablog, here and here (where he critiqued my monograph, “Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation“). In addition to his developing scholarship, he’s a regular rabble-rousing activist anywhere he goes!

Not many people know of yet another side to Eric. His “secret” was safe with me—until now. Check him out tonight with the band Soy, which will run a live show, taped on January 2, 2022. He is a roaring lion on stage! It’s at 7 pm (ET) tonight! Don’t miss it!