The Enlightened Caveman


Are They Too Big To Fail or Are We Too Ignorant To Get It?
April 28, 2010, 10:28 am
Filed under: Economics, Politics | Tags: , , , ,

I try not to get too political these days, since I find that I usually end up in the middle of some holy war between ideologues.  However, this financial reform thing is too big a deal to leave alone.  As usual, the political class has misplaced blame – whether purposefully or not – for why we are where we are, which means the solutions they are advocating have exactly zero chance of helping.  Allow me to offer an alternative.

First, a little backstory.  Those who know me know that I am a libertarian-minded guy.  So, back in 2008, when Bush was in bailout mode, many were shocked that I was in favor of what he was proposing.  How could a free market proponent go along with massive Uncle Sam bailouts of financial institutions that had clearly been making foolish decisions for quite some time?  Wouldn’t the libertarian position be to let them fail and let the market adjust?  Yes, that’s what the free market position would be…in a vacuum.  The reality, however, was that bailouts were the only option.

My reasoning was (and is) less about the reality of “too big to fail” than it is about perception .  In 2008, had some major banks gone belly-up, we would have had a major crisis in consumer confidence, which could have pushed us right off an economic cliff.  In those days, no one had ever considered the possibility that an organization as massive and influential as AIG might go bankrupt.  So, we were faced with the possibility of runs on banks and all of the panic and chaos that would accompany them.  But that was then, and what have we learned?  Nada.

The notion of “too big to fail” is a financial “mulligan,” something you get maybe once in a generation, when you get caught with a general public that is too ignorant to ride out a blip in a financial cycle.  The fact is that, on its face, there is no size institution that is too big to fail.  The only question is what happens when they fail. But no one is talking about this at all.  The default assumption is that “too big to fail” is a legitimate concept.  Consider the following.  Apparently, there are only three real options in the financial reform debate.  As this article in the Washington Post explains it, they are:

  1. No bailouts.  Easy.  If a financial institution fails, it ends up in bankruptcy court, and the chips fall where they may.  Aside from the fact that most companies will not believe that there really won’t be bailouts, the real concern is the panic that could come from massive failures – the “too big to fail” problem.  This is the fallacy I’m addressing here, so I’ll come back to it.
  2. Limit the size of financial institutions.  Don’t let them get big enough to be too big to fail.  The problems with this are numerous, but the bottom line is that it’s hard to define size in a meaningful way, and sometimes size is critical to global competitiveness.  So that one is off the table, too.
  3. Finally, we have the Chris Dodd solution – creating a new power base in the federal government that allows the executive branch to take corrective action with troubled financial institutions.  In principal, this works as an alternative to bankruptcy, but in reality, this is yet another power grab by the politicians.

So there you have it.  Our three options.  I’m a little disturbed that our immensely innovative and creative policy-makers can’t come up with anything better than these three options, but it really doesn’t matter.  Our solution is here.  It’s number 1, despite the fact that it is rejected out of hand by most everyone these days.

But wait!  Number 1?  Aren’t we back to 2008, where we’re balancing libertarian principles against unacceptable realities? No, because we’re not IN THE CRISIS.  We have the benefit of looking forward.  We can examine what would happen if the top 10 financial institutions became insolvent, and we can educate the general public as to how things would play out.  The free market really is capable of dealing with the failure of any size institution.  People just need to understand what is happening under the hood.  This, to me, is THE issue here.

The most important thing to know is that, even in 2008, in the midst of massive bank failures, there were banks that were doing fine.  Wells Fargo just sat back and watched as the other big players imploded.  And then they came along and picked up the pieces – getting massive assets for pennies on the dollar.  That was a good thing, one that should have been shouted from the roof tops. It illuminated one of the most important aspects of the financial world – it really is a zero-sum game.  When someone wins, someone else has to lose, and vice versa.

The point is that just because a big bank or two loses, there’s no need to run to the other banks to empty bank accounts and stuff everything in mattresses until the crisis passes (as if that’s even possible).  Indeed, the ONLY real concern in 2008 was that the general public would freak out and come to eventually realize that the total amount of cash in our society is a small fraction of what is actually on the books.  The whole bailout deal was really about maintaining the public’s ignorance about how the financial world really works.  And back then, with all that was happening, it made sense.  Now it doesn’t.  Now we can pull back the veil and let people know a) how banks really do business and b) what happens when the big ones fail.  Is that really so hard?

Evidently it is.  The government is fired up to educate us about getting involved in the community, but it never crosses the bureaucratic mind that some PSAs about the ins and outs of the financial industry might be of value. Of course not.  What we need is more government.  Unfortunately, where government intervention always causes problems is in distorting the market signals that individuals use to make decisions.  When management knows that the bank will be dissolved if it makes really bad decisions, they will err on the side of caution when it comes to creating investment instruments and/or loaning capital.  Conversely, if a consumer knows that any bank will be bailed out, he or she has no incentive to bank with strong financial institutions with a reputation for stability.

Yet again, we see our politicians asking for the power to do the impossible.  They want the power to make decisions for financial institutions, when they have neither the information nor the expertise to do this as well as the managers of those institutions.  Oh, how the arrogance astounds.  The solution, which has been validated time and time again throughout history, all over the world, is to let the markets adjudicate the winners and losers.   And what is it that keeps a free market running smoothly?  An educated and informed population. We just need to take on the problem of public ignorance.  Ironically, it is that very same public ignorance that will ultimately pave the way for this massive expansion in government power, so I’m not holding my breath.

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Caveman Radio – End The Fed – Wed March 10th 9-11pm EST

Another show in the can.  This one was especially fun because I had David Hillary joining me from New Zealand.  David is a banking and monetary policy expert.  He is the author of the blog, Lost Soul.  Very smart guy.

(Gotta love the Internet – making it possible to do a live call-in radio show with hosts on opposite ends of the planet.  Truly amazing.)

You can download the mp3 here.

I think the show went well.  We tried to use Ron Paul’s book as a hub for a broad discussion on banking and monetary policy.  David has been educating me over the last couple of weeks on the three major points of view relative to these topics.

  • Keynesians – people who believe we need a Central Bank and a strong Federal government to manage our economy
  • Rothbardians – people who believe we should abolish central banks and other prevailing aspects of banking (including the fractional reserve system) and return to a gold coin monetary standard
  • Free bankers – people who believe we do not need a central bank, but we do need a gold standard, and we need to maintain the Fractional Reserve system

Ron Paul is in the Rothbardian camp.  His book, therefore, focuses on all of the terrible things that are the result of the Fed, fiat currency (currency not tied to anything concrete), and the fractional reserve system.  David and I fall into the Free Banker camp.  (This is a position I’ve adopted as a result of my investigations and talks with David.)  So we took the main points of a few Paul’s chapters to discuss the flaws in the Rothbardian approach and to illuminate the value of Free Banking.

Lots of good stuff there.  We covered everything from how banks are supposed to work (it probably isn’t what you think) to what the gold standard is, how interest rates work, and the role of the Fed in our society.  In the end, we conclude as Ron Paul does – we should end the Fed.  However, our reasoning is completely different.  Ron Paul’s big hangup is mostly with the Fractional Reserve system, though he attributes most of the so-called problems from it to the Fed.  Of course, he also is very upset with our fiat currency, so he wants us to return to a gold standard.  That, in itself, is also a good idea.  But doing that without a Fractional Reserve system is frankly impossible.

In the end, David put forward a completely workable way to move from where we are today to a free banking model.  We can get there, folks.  We just need some folks in Washington who are in favor of real change (as opposed to the fake change that was sold to America in 2008).

So have a listen and form your own conclusions.



Pride In Our Prejudice
March 7, 2006, 3:59 am
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Caveman Concept, Politics

The current furor over the Dubai Ports World deal brings to light an important aspect of our nature as human beings.  We’re the purveyors of prejudice, all of us, which is far from the evil thing it is always made out to be.  Indeed, it is the utility of our prejudice that tells us that it is indeed legitimate to argue against the close proximity of Arabs (an ethnicity with a clear record of anti-US sentiment and actions) to our ports.  Let’s consider the idea from an evolutionary perspective.

The ability to group individual entities into categories was of paramount importance in the early days of our species.  For example, suppose your caveman buddy got eaten by a lion.  Then, a few weeks later, you’re cruising through the bush and you see a tiger.  Now, you’ve never seen one before, so you have no frame of reference for this animal.  Or do you?  You know what a lion looks like, and this gigantic cat looks a lot like it, just with stripes.  Two possibilities – you either generalize (that is, invoke some level of prejudice) that this cat is likely to be dangerous (like the lion is) or you give Tigger a fair shake, assuming that he is probably harmless.  Who lives in this scenario?  You got it – the prejudiced caveman, the one who successfully generalizes.  That’s basically where we are today.

Our minds are equipped to generalize like crazy.  It’s an extricable part of the way our minds do business.  Of course, as the cheeky old saying goes – all generalizations are bad, including this one.  So what are we to make of this?  Should we see our tendency to generalize as an anachronistic holdover from our caveman days, an attribute that should be rationally stricken from our mental repertoire?  Or should we be happy that we have it?  I say the latter.

This does not mean that we should embrace all generalization to the detriment of evaluating individuals objectively.  It isn’t an intellectual milestone to suppose that we can both generalize and be objective in evaluating individuals.  Prejudice need not dictate actions.  I can assume when a kid dressed in a “thug” getup approaches that he’s a complete moron (most are), but I can easily hide that assumption and treat him fairly (while secretly waiting for him to confirm my bias).  Is this shady?  Is this being duplicitous?  Maybe, but everyone does it.

Our experiences shape our prejudices.  There’s no way around it.  The more enlightened among us manage to set prejudices aside when dealing with unknown individuals, but that doesn’t mean they go away.  It just means we don’t act on them.  But when the question is about a group, the best tool we have is our ability to generalize.  if we do not for fear of misjudging an individual or two, we virtually guarantee that we’ll misjudge the whole situation.  In other words, if we worry that the tiger we’ve come across in the bush is the one sweetie of tiger in the area, we’re not likely to live to regret it.

This brings us full circle to the political and national security hubbub over the ports.  My take is that it makes exactly zero sense to do the deal.  Sun Tzu didn’t say, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” for nothing.  Even if every worker for the Dubai Ports World organization is an NSA-approved America-lover, the fact is that those who would do us harm in the name of Allah are nothing if not patient – America-lover today; going to home to Allah and 72 virgins two years from now.  So, it’s fair to suggest that giving one of these potential terrorists daily exposure to the affairs at our ports is just about the height of stupidity.

Now, apologists for the deal are saying that the Arabs really pose no threat because they’re only going to be executing stevedore duties.  I’ll confess that I don’t know where those duties begin and leave off, but I’ll hazard a guess that they entail being at the ports all day, right next to the customs offices and the security shift-changes, and so on.  Therefore, we have people with the one completely common characteristic of every terrorist involved in 9-11 (being Arab) potentially being given access to our ports, with the ability to observe our security measures.  Is it me?  What kind of boob buys into this?

The irony of the whole situation is that many politicians who have heretofore decried discrimination (the execution of prejudice) when it comes to racial profiling and the like are now vehemently objecting to the ports deal.  Whether they are being politically opportunistic, seeing an opportunity to bash Bush, or genuine in their concern over the issue, it doesn’t matter.  (We can’t trust them anyway.  Remember?)  The fact is that the basis for any real objection to the ports deal is founded in prejudiced thinking, and that, friends and neighbors, is a good thing.

Too bad the politically-charged landscape (and often a supremely misguided worldview) prevents those who are against the ports deal from recognizing that what works for ports also works for crime.  If three weeks went by and every night on the news, we heard stories about women being raped by a guy in a red sweater, would it be wrong to be on the lookout for men in red sweaters?  Of course not.  It’d be the only sensible thing to do.  Sadly, when it comes to crime, where so many believe the extenuating circumstance (and there always is one) trumps the action, the tendency to discriminate based upon reasonable prejudice is vilified as horrific and unjust.  The result is that the guy in the red sweater never worries about getting caught…or even getting a different colored sweater.

One thing is for sure, whether you’re talking about domestic crime or national security, no law or policy will ever eliminate the human tendency to evaluate the world in generalized, prejudicial ways.  It’s a constraint, as Thomas Sowell would say, and a good one.  Best to try to work with it.  All other options are futile.



Economic Freedom Versus Political Freedom
February 1, 2006, 5:27 pm
Filed under: Books, Culture and Society, Economics, Politics

Original Post (with comments)
Milton Friedman wrote in, Capitalism and Freedom, that it is possible to have economic freedom without political freedom, but that the opposite is impossible. That makes pretty good sense, but what he didn’t talk about was what might happen in a place where economic freedom exists and political freedom does not. It appears that we may soon find out.

Reuters is reporting that some Chinese villages have recently resorted to violence to deal with factories that are polluting rural farmlands. (Click here for the article.)

After chemical plants set up shop in a nearby industrial park, residents of this farming town in China’s wealthy coastal province of Zhejiang pressed authorities to shut them down, complaining that waste was polluting their crops and river. Using China’s centuries-old method of petitioning, they took complaints first to local authorities, then to city officials, and finally all the way to the central government, more than 600 miles away in Beijing.

“None of it achieved any results,” said one resident, who asked not to be named. For five years, frustration built. Then, as the villagers in Huashui, near the Zhejiang city of Dongyang, moved to block the road leading to the plant, their frustration exploded. “Ordinary people don’t have any other way. It was only by not letting the workers in that we could stop the factory from producing,” said the resident. She gestures at the landscape where plants making everything from chemicals to zippers are encroaching on what was once some of China’s most fertile farmland. The blockade escalated into a full-scale riot involving as many as 30,000 people. Thousands of police had to be called in from neighboring towns to put it down. Yet, after years of fruitless petitioning, the riot worked.

Interesting, huh? It looks as if China’s supersonic expansion has extended out of the industrial areas and into the countryside, where many of the new facilities are causing serious problems for the local inhabitants. This, in itself, is not particularly surprising.

Commercial growth is often at odds with people who are resistant to change. Sometimes these people are justified in their resistance. In that case, in politically free places, those people have recourse. They can appeal to their leaders to address their grievances. For example, here in Atlanta, the City Council is considering (and will likely pass) a moratorium on building new residences in much of the city. Click here for the article.

The impetus for this is complaints by many long-time residents that their property taxes are skyrocketing due to the continuous building of “McMansions.” You see, Atlanta is somewhat unique in the sense that there are quite a few nice greenspace neighborhoods scattered in and around the commercial areas of the city. Most of the homes in many of those neighborhoods are fairly small. They’re well maintained, but they’re small. So builders are coming in, knocking them down, and replacing them with larger, more elaborate homes. Some folks don’t like it, so they’ve appealed to their political leaders for help. Putting aside the arguments for or against prohibiting this practice, one thing is clear – our politically free society is working as it is supposed to.

But not in China. In China, the political leaders are all about stability – they’ll do anything to keep from rocking the boat. In this case, that means ignoring complaints and hoping they’ll just go away. This is because the Chinese government is in a very precarious situation. As more and more Chinese people get a taste of the prosperity that comes with economic growth, the ability of the Chinese government to maintain a docile population is deteriorating rapidly. Now they’re seeing what happens when political freedom does not accompany economic freedom.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, I like the idea that the people are starting to take matters into their own hands. However, for now, the need for political expediency on the part of China’s leaders is winning the day, which is why these riots were successful. As this trend continues, things will have to come to a head. The Chinese government will have to decide what they’re willing to do to keep things as they are. The result may be another Tiananman Square, or the result may be capitulation. My money is on the former.

Are we witnessing the beginning of a Chinese revolution? If so, then I hope the people win. Politically freedom is an absolute prerequisite for an enlightened society. Alas, history is not on their side. In any case, keep your eyes on China, folks. It’s gonna get dicey.



Post-Modern Or Grasping At Straws?
August 19, 2005, 3:52 am
Filed under: Culture and Society, Philosophy, Politics | Tags:

I’ve been neck deep in philosophy of late, getting to know some of the most twisted minds of the last two hundred years. Stephen Hicks, Professor of Philosophy at Rockford College, Illinois (named, I think, after the cheekiest of all TV private investigators, Jim Rockford), wrote a book called Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. As the title suggests, the author traces postmodernism (that is, intellectual douchebaggery) from its departure from modernist thought to the present. It’s highly informative, with an unexpected twist or two, but ultimately I found it to be much ado about nothing.

First a twist – here’s a quiz. True or False: the nuttiest of today’s lefty academics are ideologically derived from Immanuel Kant. Most (including myself as recently as a week ago) would respond with a resounding NO. Kant, after all, is heralded as one of the key Enlightenment thinkers, right? Right…and wrong. Although Kant did a lot for reason in terms of advocating its usefulness in establishing logical relationships between entities, he dealt it a devastating blow in saying that reason could never get us in touch with reality.

The Kantian view is that reality, at least what we think of as reality, is something fabricated entirely by our minds. He was enough of a realist to believe that there is some kind of absolute truth, but he believed that our minds are simply incapable of getting anywhere near it. Instead, we create reality according the constructs and limitations of our grey matter. Space and time do not really exist; we create them. Reading this did not shock me – I’ve known for a long time that Kant saw limits to reason, and that he, along with David Hume, officially abandoned it by the end of their lives. However, I was shocked to learn that guys like Hegel, Shopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger all used Kantian anti-reason as a jumping off point for their ravings. Furthermore, that those ravings eventually became the basis for American (and much of European) leftist thinking.

Perhaps I should make a point here. Hicks’ objective, I assume (he never quite says), is to help us understand what informs the mindset of so many of the wackos in our midst, especially those who are pervasive in academia. Ostensibly, once we get this, we can construct arguments (or at least responses) that will be more satisfying than being frozen like a deer in headlights at the sheer lunacy of what comes out of their mouths. On this, I think he’s reaching, but only because this never happens to me, and because he’s giving most liberals far too much credit. First a little more background – I’ll lay out postmodernism’s main tenets and then tie them to contemporary liberal perspectives. (To be clear, my use of the term ‘liberal’ is meant to refer to a modern liberal, like say Barbara Boxer, not a classical liberal, like say Milton Friedman.)

  1. In terms of metaphysics (that is, what is reality?), the postmodernist is strictly anti-realist, which is to say that there is no such thing. Everything is a construct of the human mind. Somehow, these crazies have concluded that we live in The Matrix, but without the Matrix.The modern liberal embraces this wholeheartedly. They refuse to deal in fact and reality. To them, humanity can be perfected and all men are good, if only the systems that organize them were right.
  2. In terms of epistemology (that is, how do we know what we know?), the postmodernist believes in social subjectivism, which is to say it’s all good. Whatever and however you want to come by knowledge is just fine, since you’re creating reality in your head anyway.Here are the seeds of multiculturalism. If any way of approaching the world is as good as any other, then no culture is better than any other. Hence, the PCification of society.
  3. In terms of human nature, the postmodernist believes we are the results of social construction, which is to say that our social and cultural environment creates whatever nature we may have.Again, this is the liberal’s battlecry against exploitative capitalism, gender socialization, racism, blah, blah, blah.
  4. In terms of ethics (that is, who or what is the arbiter of right and wrong?), the postmodernist is a collectivist, which is to say that the individual is always secondary to the group, which can be defined by race, nationality, sex, or religion.Liberals think in terms of groups and abhor those who put the needs and desires of individuals ahead of them.
  5. In terms of politics and economics, the postmodernist is a socialist, which is to say, dumbass.

We can get at this one indirectly by noticing that our society has become more and more socialist over the centuries since 1776, and it has been the liberals, almost exclusively, who have made it so. We can also get at it directly by noting that most lefty causes are joined by communist and socialist groups right alongside the likes George Soros and Michael Moore. (Anyone checked out Camp Casey lately?)

So there you have it, the breakdown of the postmodernist mentality and its modern liberal cousin. One might wonder how it is that I disagree with Hicks when I seem to have validated his primary thesis. Fair enough. Here’s the deal – Hicks’ main argument is that people today who exhibit these thought processes are direct cognitive descendants of the aforementioned philosophers. Though he focuses on four contemporary and well-known postmodernists (Derrida, Rorty, Foucault, and Lyotard), the implication is that most leftists have this philosophical pedigree coursing through their veins. This is where we part ways.

There is a thread that runs all the way from Immanueal Kant to Ted Kennedy, and it isn’t the same philosophical contemplation and subsequent conclusion. It is very simple – none of these people had or have the stomach for reality. It truly is that simple. We don’t need to put on our propeller hats and get down and dirty with Kierkegaard to recognize that, across the board, from postmodernist philosopher to modern-day politician, the mindset is the same – if reality doesn’t look like I want it to, I will deny its existence.

Indeed, in the second preface to Kant’s, Critique of Pure Reason, he asserts, “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” Boom! There you have it – liberalism in a nutshell. (Yes, I realize that libs aren’t heavy into Jesus. I’m talking about the notion of abandoning reality for something you like more.) There are interesting things that flow from this. For starters, if there is no reality and all knowledge is subjective, then there is no such thing as truth. That’s right. So while we pound our fists on the table about facts and honesty, the anti-realist liberal is calculating truth (or what we think of as truth) as a matter of convenience.

You see, as long as realists are in power, they will bash anti-realists over the head with it, and though there really is no reality, getting bashed over the head with faux-reality still doesn’t feel good. Sooo…the answer is to snatch power from the hands of realists, and rhetoric is the most powerful tool for doing so. You getting the picture here? I see folks, usually conservatives, getting so wound up over the dishonesty of liberals, but what they fail to realize is that the libs are playing a completely different game. It’s not about being right (there’s no such thing, remember); it’s about power. Plain and simple.

The problem is that too many people, though they most assuredly do not know it, buy into Kant’s (or Hegel’s, to be precise) ideas about reality – namely, that it doesn’t really exist. I have often wondered what Kant would have said if Bill and Ted had brought him back instead of Sigmund Freud. Given that science has advanced to the point that we can be pretty darned sure about reality until we get down to the quantum level, I wonder if Kant would have been able to find middle ground in his thinking. To him, it was either that the real world gives its impression to the human mind or the mind gives its impression to the real world. When faced with those choices, it’s easy to see how he concluded as he did. In any case, I am a realist, so I acknowledge that we have what we have – some folks deal in reality, and some don’t. Unlike Stephen Hicks, I don’t believe that most of those don’t have any philosophical basis for their approach. I think, in the immortal spirit of Nicholson’s character in, A Few Good Men, they just can’t handle the truth. They’re not postmodern, they’re just grasping at straws.

BTW – I’m not back, I’m still on hiatus. Really – don’t get your hopes up. This one just couldn’t wait.



So You Want To Help Africa?
June 9, 2005, 5:15 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Foreign Affairs, Politics

Original Post (with comments)
Did you ever wonder why Lex Luthor could abuse his henchmen, the man-children who could have easily stomped him into the dirt? If you did, it probably wasn’t for long. He had something over them. He had some form of control. It was either the promise of riches or the threat of physical injury. In the case of latter, how, one might ask, would little Luthor pose a credible threat to a menacing minion? Simple, the rebellious henchman would be handled by upstart henchmen looking to make a name for themselves – key word, themselves – even the biggest guy can be felled by a group. It’s like a circle of fear, with the guy at the top calling the shots. It occurs to me that, though this theme is almost cartoony in the Superman series, it is very real in places like Africa.

I recently watched the movie, Hotel Rwanda. It’s like an African version of Schindler’s List. A hotel manager finagles the safety of 1200 plus refugees during the genocide that took place in 1994. A sobering experience, this movie (but worth watching, for certain). As usual, I ended up focusing on the background, rather than on the compelling story of the main character. I was taken in by the abject absurdity of it all. The whole conflict was based upon the differences between two groups, the Tutsis and the Hutus.

What made them different? If Hotel Rwanda is historically accurate (once again, I’m too busy for good diligence), The Belgians. Back in the days when people bought into social Darwinism, the Belgians were colonizing Rwanda. They segregated the indigenous population based upon physical appearance – the fitter looking people (they measured the bridge of peoples’ noses) were designated as Tutsis. The rest were Hutus.

From there, these European geniuses arranged the economy to have the Tutsis making the decisions while the Hutus executed them. Obviously, over time, there developed a significant resentment on the part of the Hutus toward the Tutsis. The conflict in 1994 was the culmination of that resentment – the Hutus took control and began the systematic removal of the Tutsis from the Rwandan landscape. They purposefully targeted children to eliminate the next generation. And people wonder why Africa has so many problems.

Here we see a classic example of the caveman mentality run wild. The people of Rwanda grabbed onto the notion of in-groups versus out-groups, a standard issue tendency in the caveman mind, and took it to its most heinous ends. The sad irony is that the distinction between the people was arbitrary with respect to any notion of human value. It was based upon looks, which absolutely do not correlate with worth as a person. All it took was the enforcement (by the Belgians) of this distinction for a few generations and the caveman mind was primed to continue the phenomenon indefinitely. Had they only immediately rejected the division when the Belgians left town, all of the bloodshed would have been avoided. Is this not curious?

Not really. Once a certain group has attained a particular standard of living, regardless of who is propping up the fantasy, they are unlikely to relinquish it. So the Tutsis clung to the distinction, which further flamed the fires of resentment in the Hutus. It’s a Pandora’s Box situation, I think, but what are we to make of it?

This matters when we think about the concept of aid to Africa. What exactly do they need? Is it food? Certainly. Is it water? Most definitely. So we should send as much of both as we can? Uh, no. The fact is that the situation in Africa is one in which resources are not exactly distributed equitably. The very same mentality that accounts for the pervasive conflict on the continent accounts for the fact that aid resources rarely make it to their intended destinations. They fatten the wolves and serve as bartering chips with other wolves. It’s a caveman’s world, but there is a solution, a not so pretty one.

If Africa is to truly be helped, force is the only answer, systematic force aimed at eliminating the arbitrary divisions between the people there. A vast marketing plan for human rights, a la Thomas Payne’s “Common Sense,” would have to be put in motion to start. Then, forces would have to be installed to prevent discrimination on the grounds of the prohibited divisions. But, as I said, this is not pretty.

It requires us, and I mean all of us, to acknowledge the notion that our culture is better than the African culture. We are not saying that our people are better than theirs. We’re saying that the way we’ve set up our society promotes the kinds of life experience that every human deserves. Our society is better, but we have no exclusivity on it. There are but two important conditions that must exist to enable any population to experience the fear-free lives that most of us in the Western world experience – firm belief in the validity of human rights and the rule of the law, and the courage to enforce those beliefs. Isn’t our aid misguided if we’re not committed to fostering this in Africa?

Oh, but this sounds very neocon, doesn’t it? Liberals will shriek at coming right out and saying that our way is better, yet they believe it deep down as much as anyone. They’ll recoil in horror at the thought of pointing guns at African power-mongers who’d as soon burn everything down than walk away quietly. But the fact remains, someone has to get dirty if Africa is ever going to break free from the cycle of conflict. Sending $654 million in “aid” is our way of avoiding getting dirty. Let’s at least call it what it is. In closing, read Mark Steyn’s recent column. He’s got it nailed.



The Pair Bond and the Chiiiildren.
March 22, 2005, 5:04 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Caveman Concept, Parenting, Politics

Original Post (with comments)
I went for a run today, a baby-jogger run (i.e. harder than your average hilly run, and sometimes complete with whining soundtrack). Coming off of the flu, a vacation, and a lot of travel for business, I found that the work part of the phrase work-out kept passing across my giant movie screen – it started hurting less than two miles in. Nevertheless, at one point, another runner turned onto the road I was running. Suddenly, my focus was no longer on the discomfort I was feeling with every stride.

Me to Thomas: “Ahh, aren’t we lucky? It looks like we now have a mark (drawn out to indicate the presence of a new word for his lexicon). Now we have someone we can try to chase down and pass. And if we’re successful, it will feel so good that we’ll forget how our fitness has deteriorated.”

Thomas: “Muh.”

Me: “Very good. Let’s get him.”

Alas, my running foe turned off again before I could pass him. (I was gaining, though.) This scenario reminded me of the usefulness of competitive instincts in physical conditioning. Though being competitive is a direct result of the quest for status, and it is often the cause of serious interpersonal problems in life, it isn’t always bad – it pushes me to work harder than I might otherwise. And, to expand the concept a bit, I think many of the caveman proclivities that I usually denigrate and recommend harnessing are actually useful in the right contexts. The pair bond, particularly where kids are concerned, may be another example.

Yesterday on Michael Medved’s radio show, the discussion was centered around an article in the Northwestern periodical, The Oregonian, entitled: “Single mom a sign Rose court grows with times.” Apparently, each year for the last 75 years, during the Rose Festival, a Portland senior has been chosen as the Queen of Rosaria. This year the Queen is Rosa Montoya, a single-mom with a 7-week old daughter. Not surprisingly, Medved was appalled that a girl in such a situation would be honored in such a way. I’m inclined to agree with him, but not for the reasons he gives.

Make no mistake, there’s some substantial liberal diversity/tolerance/devictimization sentiment behind this Rose Queen selection.

Chet Orloff, director emeritus at the Oregon Historical Society and a member of the festival’s centennial committee, thinks Montoya’s election is good for Portland.

“It’s a recognition of something that’s quite realistic,” he said. “Girls are having children in high school. Getting that out into the realm of something as traditional as the Rose Festival is healthy.”

Medved disagreed. He stated that getting pregnant as a single teen is sign of poor character, and that it should not be praised or promoted as anything other than that. In my view, that’s a bit overboard. Kids are kids, which means they often to do stupid things. They have time horizon problems, so it’s hard to think of them as bad people (Isn’t that what people who accuse others of having character problems are really saying?) when they get themselves into predicaments involving pregnancy. To me, the real test of character is what they do after they learn they are pregnant. Every situation is different, so I can’t say which course of action will be the right one. However, I think it’s safe to say that most all situations will offer a hard right and an easy wrong. Which is chosen says much more about the character of the teen than the fact that he or she is dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. But the character issue is not my main concern here. Given the liberal penchant for upending tradition, should we not entertain the notion that the pair bond is archaic and on its way out (or that it should be)?

Is the notion that a standard step along the path through life is getting hitched up to one person nothing more than our caveman machinery driving the bus? It’s hard to say. Evolutionary psychology would seem to suggest that the monogamous pair bond is unnatural. Though the best female strategy in ancestral times entailed selecting males who had good genes and who would make good fathers, there’s really nothing to suggest that females should have stayed with their childrens’ fathers forever. But…this is not the ancestral world.

We have tens of thousands of years of culture that has shaped the way these caveman (or cavewoman, in this case) tendencies translate into behavior. Our genes push us toward love because it promotes reproduction and caring for our offspring, but our culture pushes love towards long-term, monogamous (at least on paper) relationships. Like I said, it’s hard to say. Maybe it’s better to just ask if it makes sense.

Those who are distressed that single parents are not honored nearly enough would seem to be suggesting that two-parent families are no better. Here we see shades of the theme behind multiculturalism – things (cultures, lifestyles, etc.) should not be thought of as better or worse, just different. Are they right? I think not, but not for moral reasons. I think this is a practical matter.

An Urban Institute article entitled, “Poverty among Children Born Outside of Marriage,” says:

Children born outside of marriage are more likely to have a mother who did not graduate from high school than are children born to married parents. They are also less likely to live with a mother who works full-time year-round. While 44 percent of children born to married parents have a mother who is fully employed, this is true for only 26 percent of children born outside of marriage. Similarly, a third of the mothers of non-marital children do not work at all, compared with only a fifth of children born to married parents.

What we can take from this is that being a single parent is a huge financial risk. A shocking revelation, to be sure. Having been raised by a single-mom, I can personally attest to this – my mother worked two jobs well into my college years. In the end, it seems like the usefulness of the pair bond in modern society revolves around the issue of children. If two individuals have no intention of having children, it seems hard to say that long-term monogamy is anything more than a persistent cultural relic. But, the moment kids come into the picture, it becomes a pragmatic extension of the natural propensity to provide for offspring. In that context, genetic love in the hands of monogamous cultural norms is a good thing, a better thing.

Notice I’ve never said the couple should be heterosexual. As the primary component of this equation, at least in my mind, is financial, I don’t think the sex of the parents is relevant here. What is relevant is the probable consequence of having a child out of wedlock. On that, there are mountains of statistics that make it quite clear that kids do better in life when they have married parents. It’s one thing to honor someone for overcoming hardship – one hopes this is what’s really behind Rosa’s selection as Rose Queen – but it’s something different altogether to honor someone just because she’s a single mom. If anything, the difficulties of being a single mom should be in the spotlight. Rosa should not be congratulated for raising a child on her own. If she must be foisted upon her peers, it should be as an object lesson in what not to do.

We can’t (and shouldn’t even consider) ridding ourselves of the caveman need for love, especially where children are concerned. Therefore, given that our culture has discovered that long-term, monogamous pair bonds are the best arrangements for harnessing love where children are concerned, we find ourselves in another situation where the caveman mind in the modern world isn’t a problem at all. Sometimes, I guess, enlightenment means nothing more than knowing that the old way is still the right way.