Category Archives: Libertarian opinion

Mixed Signals

Recycling as a concept is not a bad idea. It is in the execution where things go awry. A logical leap fallacy occurs when assuming that because the recycling of materials A-D makes sense it must mean also that the recycling of materials E-Z makes sense.

Generally speaking the recycling of metals and glass make economic sense because reuse involves less effort than production. Due to the chemical nature of plastics it is practically impossible to recycle them for their original application. And the whole notion of recycling paper to “save a tree” makes about as much sense as not eating tortillas in order to “save corn.” If paper weren’t being used, then tree farmers would not plant trees. Contrary to popular mythology paper does not come from old growth forests – it comes from tree farms. In fact an argument can be made that virgin paper is actually better for the environment than recycled paper. Trees remove carbon from the atmosphere. Recycling of paper just tosses that same carbon back and forth like pitcher to catcher; virgin paper use creates a steady withdrawal of carbon from the atmosphere.

How do we know when recycling is “good” vs just “feel good”? If money is offered or it’s something best not released into the environment are two key indicators. Sometimes those two things coincide as in the case of lead acid batteries. Recycling these batteries creates a “double-whammy” effect: you make money and protect the environment! Who could object to that? The EPA apparently. Read on.

Last year our company had to replace the lead-acid batteries in our corporate power back up system. We had to unload over a thousand pounds worth of them and I was not keen on just dumping them in the trash. Fortuitously enough I was able to locate a company not far from us in Watkinsville that would not only take them off our hands but also cut us a check for them. This provided an incentive for me to stockpile my own used lead-acid batteries at home. After about a year or so and a hundred pounds later I was ready to divest myself of these batteries. Unfortunately that local recycler was out of business. No problem I thought, there is a county recycling station not far on Highway 15. So I drove on over only to discover for some bizarre reason they are not open Tuesday or Thursday, and my luck being what it was, it was Thursday. Artificially constrained hours of operation accompanied by a gate for an open-air facility is truly puzzling. Are they afraid someone is going to steal the recyclables? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Artificially constrained access encourages people to not even bother if they have to make a special trip vs simply taking care of it when most convenient.

However, it turns out the closure did not matter as they don’t accept lead-acid batteries. Ok, so does my curbside garbage service take them in their recycling? Nope. Ok, surely the county dump takes them! Everything ultimately ends up in the dump, right? It’s the trash bin of last resort. So I drove to the Oconee county dump only to be told, no, they can’t accept lead-acid batteries due to EPA restrictions. So, let me get this straight, the EPA, the organization charged with ensuring the environment is protected from harm has set up regulations that prohibit a DUMP from accepting a known environmentally harmful agent (lead) but then provides no alternative to the those trying to properly unburden themselves of this material? EPA “protection” creates a perverse incentive to improperly dispose of it in the general trash. The agent at the dump then suggested I try the local Autozone. Ultimately this is where I took them and they were all too happy to take them off my hands.

So in conclusion, a non-governmental entity, enticed by market forces, helped me do the right thing, whereas when I tried to do the right thing, government (local and federal) thwarted nearly every attempt to do so and actually incentivized me to do the wrong thing. The first rule of behavior modification is provide an easy, not obstructed, path toward the desired end.

False Equality

This year the so-called “Equal Pay Day” was April 12th. It’s “celebration” is a weak attempt at capitalizing on the notoriety of the entirely valid “Tax Freedom Day” (i.e. the day after which a country’s citizens get to keep all their income if they were theoretically taxed at 100% until their tax burden was satisfied). In 1900 in the United States Tax Freedom Day was January 22. Today it is April 24. We have lost a lot of freedom in the interim. Many real injuries to women’s right have been reversed in that same interim; however pay inequality has always been a phantom menace. Equal Pay Day is but a disingenuous mischaracterization of a statistical truth as proof of willful malfeasance.

Yes, if you lump all female workers together and all male workers together the females earn about 79% of what the men earn. But through willful blindness of the trees (different jobs) in observation of only the forest (aggregate salaries) this statistic fails to make the case that it is employer discrimination that robs women of their rightful earnings. To highlight this failing consider another similar statistics. Comparing workers below age 45 against those over age 45 we find a similar gap. Those 45 and under earn about 80% of those 45 and over.  Clearly there must be a bias toward paying older works more. Or consider not pay but rather work place fatalities. On average, for every female workplace fatality there are twelve men who perish.  Again, clearly this must be a sign of a negligent disregard for the safety of men in the workplace relative to women. Oh, what’s that you say? There are obvious reasons why an older worker would earn, on average, more than a younger worker? There are obvious reasons why more men would die in the workplace than women? True (to both), yet somehow the “obvious” reasons that would also contribute to a difference in aggregate pay between men and women are dismissed out of hand whenever issues of gender pay disparity are discussed. Why is that?

If one were to look at wages at a hypothetical hospital where all the men were doctors and all the women were nurses would it not be surprising that the women made less than the men in aggregate? In reality, when numbers are adjusted for age and education, women (pre-child birth) earn just as much if not more than men in several fields. The shift occurs as couples start to have children and women take on the traditional role of staying at home and raising children.  This means they leave the workforce (reducing earnings based experience) or take on lower paying, more time-flexible positions.

Now the strident feminists among us might actually agree and say it is this cultural “patriarchy” that must be changed – by force. I’m not sure what they would have us do though – have the government decide which parent must raise the children in order to keep the distribution of male/female stay-at-homers equal across society? Even though feminists may privately admit that culture is the real reason for this wage “gap”, publicly they persist in casting employers as the scapegoat. This stance though demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of basic economics. Unsurprisingly, the type of person who will loudly clamor for more government intervention in the workplace to ensure “fair” pay for women will also decry the “greed” of the employer in paying them less. The irony of that position is that if the wage gap were employer driven, their supposed vice (greed) would quickly neutralize it. A properly “greedy” employer would seek out every women they can find in order to achieve a 20% discount on their payroll. In turn the unemployment rate for women would be 0%. But of course it is not. This lack of 0% female (or any supposedly discriminated group for that matter) unemployment should put to rest the notion that discrimination is the proximate cause for such pseudo-pay disparities.

Policy by Prediction

Science is supposed to be the domain of testable (and thus falsifiable) claims the evidence for which is a body of empirical studies that have stood the scrutiny of reproducibility. With the advent of computers that method of science seems to be growing increasingly passé. Why, we don’t need to bother actually doing the grunt work of experimentation, we can just sit back, press a button and let a computer model tell us the results. Of course the fault lies not in our machines but in ourselves (with apologies to the Bard). Computers are but tools that make some of that grunt work easier. But computer models are not so infallible that their output should solely be relied upon. They are imperfect not due to some failing of the technology but rather because they can only do what we tell them, and we humans are far from perfect or omniscient.

The flaw in computer models is two-fold: assumptions and unknowns. Assumptions are made about the contributions of certain factors and those assumptions are often wrong or even if close to being right can still introduces tremendous variability in outcomes from small differences in input. Unknown unknowns are an even greater contributor to the phenomenon known as “garbage in – garbage out” of modeling. We can’t account for the contribution of something we don’t even know exists.

Models are supposed to be part of an iterative process where you do the actual experiment, compare the results to your model’s output and then modify your model. To test the model you then change some of the variables and see how well it holds up in comparison to “real world” results. But, as soon as a new variable is introduced or a new unknown comes into play, then the model’s usefulness must be called into question.

Now by this point you might think I’m going to delve into an indictment of the climate models poor record of prediction but actually I’d actually like to talk about nuts. Or rather how we should all expect the price of nuts along with a host of other crops (pistachios, almonds, soybeans, tobacco, peanuts, cotton, lettuce, alfalfa, tomatoes, watermelon and bell peppers) to increase in price in the coming years due to the EPA banning a pesticide known as flubendiamide.  EPA determined that flubendiamide could break down in the environment and potentially cause harm to a few aquatic species. Ok, sounds like some dangerous stuff, fair enough. But, it turns out this alleged harm is not based on empirical studies but is rather based on computer models that attempt to predict toxicology – “predictive toxicology” they call it. BayerCropScience, the manufacturer of flubendiamide, went on record stating that such models “exaggerate environmental risk.”  Well imagine that, a computer model overstates the likelihood of a deleterious outcome in order to justify governmental intrusion into the market. Although science cannot be manipulated to service political interests, models surely can – click, click, here comes the desired result.

This ultimately is the true danger of such models. It is one thing if scientists want to put all their faith in such models, the worst that can happen is that eventually someone is made to look the fool when actual empirical studies prove them wrong. However it is far more dangerous if the cart is pushing the public policy horse by having bureaucrats and our supposed intellectual superiors run our lives and then justify their actions by pointing at selectively funded model-based “research” that can be tweaked to magically provide an outcome that conforms with the policy prescriptions desired. All that is needed to shut down debate is to claim “it’s science” and that it is “settled.”

Party Time

The American political party duopoly is a curious thing. Every other modern democratically run state has multiple political parties that freely compete for votes in order to establish their representative share of the people’s voice within the government. But that’s not the case in America; here we have two parties that share total control of the state apparatus on a semi-regular seesawing 8-year cycle. The curious thing is that no one questions why this would be? Is it that in other countries there are four, five, or six different more nuanced mixtures of political opinion but somehow when you cross the American border human minds undergo a transformation that imparts upon them the capacity to only hold allegiance to one of two political mindsets?

As you might have guessed there is no magic involved at all. Wherever you find constrained or limited options you will find government pulling the strings from behind black cloth. Political parties are not institutions established by the constitution. Indeed they are not necessary at all for our government to operate. Political parties are private institutions, businesses really, and are the product of the natural tendency of people with similar views to work together for common cause. That is all perfectly fine. The problem occurred over time. Whenever one party gained control, they would pass laws (erect barriers) making it that much harder for opposing parties to gain access to the ballot box. If your opponents can’t get their name on the ballot that tends to increase the likelihood you will remain in office.

Simultaneously they made the process of their campaigning that much easier by passing laws (providing assistance) that authorized the government to use public resources to assist with internal party business (i.e. nominating primaries) thereby supporting the illusion that party business is really state business. That is to say, these private businesses (Democrat Party™ and Republican Party™) have the cojones to get the public to pay for their private primary elections that ultimately are entirely pointless, as it is the party delegates that decide the nominee, not the voter. This process is merely an insidious trick to dupe the people into feeling as though they have a voice in the process so that they come to view the primary process as party of “democracy” when it is nothing more than a privately run, and publicly paid for, straw poll. This process has gone on so long that most people are unaware of the distinction and simply view the “primaries” as part of the normal political process of electing someone to office. They are not. They are private events held in public, paid for by that public, masquerading as democracy in action.

These political parties care not one wit about your vote or what you think. Because they are both private organizations they can ultimately pick whomever they want to be the nominee. They prefer to have the blessing of the voters upon their anointed candidate in order to give the people the illusion of choice. People are more easily controlled if they feel like they have some control of their life – if they feel like they have a choice, even the illusion of choice, they will accept a result even if they do not agree with it.

Duopoly control is further assured since most elections do not require the winner obtain a majority of the vote if by some miracle a third candidate appears on the ballot. This rules out runoff elections, which afford voters the ability to rank their choices. The deck is then further stacked against the third party candidate as people make a pragmatic rather than a principled choice to ensure the “most evil” candidate does not win

Political parties have co-opted the authority of government in order to ensure their continued stranglehold on power in this country. This is not democracy. This is not freedom. False choice is not real choice. We laugh at countries with only one name on the ballot and yet somehow only two names on the ballot seems perfectly reasonable. If you truly believe in democracy then you must demand the people be free to choose from all options. Every flavor of ballot access laws should be repealed, campaigning on the ballot (D or R next to the name) should be banned, all winners must have a majority decided through instant runoff style elections, and the Democrat and Republican parties should either have private nominating conventions or pay for their own public elections.

Muh’ Science!

Even among those that profess a belief in limited government there is an ready willingness to join hands with the big-government progressives on the subject of science funding. I mean, any fool can see we need government to fund science – no profit-oriented business would fund basic science research if the probability of a marketable product resulting were unknown. A recent article in Scientific American (Feb 2016, pg 11)  editorializes on this very viewpoint – that “without government resources, basic science will grind to a halt.” The irony within the article is that the author doesn’t realize the evidence he cites to advance his position in fact undermines, rather than bolsters, his argument. He claims private profit seeking businesses would never have an incentive to pursue such research… right after citing how such businesses used to do exactly that (AT&T Bell Labs and Xerox PARC). Gee, I wonder why they stopped? You don’t suppose it had anything to do with the ever expanding growth of government funding of basic science research? Indeed, why would any company make investments into basic science research if some other large entity (the government) is going to do it for them by publicly funding the research and freely publishing the results? The author then doubles down on the cognitive dissonance by calling those who believe that profit-driven companies will altruistically pay for basic science naïve. So people are naïve to believe that something that the author just cited as a past occurrence (privately backed basic science research) could occur in the future? Indeed, although it did snow last winter, now that it is summer I think it is naïve to believe it could ever snow again.

Truly there is no clearer case of the cart pushing the horse. The increase in public funding of basic science research was not a response to declining private funding; rather, it caused that very decline by providing an incentive for private industry to shift the risk burden onto the public.

If one is still unable to imagine a world without socialized science funding, then let’s examine history to see what the future might bring. Not only did we have the private labs of AT&T Bell Labs as well as Xerox PARC as free market models, we also had non-profit philanthropic foundations, such as the now over one-hundred year old Research Corporation for Science Advancement. Research Corporation, while philanthropic, follows a sound business model. They invest in basic scientific research at universities and when that research yields results that can be commercialized they package the technology and transfer the patents and use the profits to support future research grants.

Imagine that, a free market approach to funding basic science research that is both sustainable (success breeds more success) and does not require theft (taxation) in order to fund it. These are but a few examples of how the free market did, and can once again, provide support for basic science research and puts the lie to the assertion of the state-worshipers that such things are impossible without government support.

Land of the free?

Willful ignorance is the ability to be both cognizant of a fact while simultaneously ignoring it. This affords one the ability to derive some measure of comfort from pretending to live in a world where such a fact is not extant. For example, a child may know deep down there is no Santa Claus but derives more psychic comfort in pretending that there is. Any belief system that makes testable claims is susceptible to objective scrutiny and when that scrutiny undermines the belief, willful ignorance typically ensues in order to preserve the comfort of that belief. While the world has many religions, there is one belief system that transcends them all. Nearly every member of our species adheres to it (insofar as it seems to be woven into our DNA). It is known as tribalism or its more common variant, patriotism. This is the belief that ones own arbitrarily defined group is superior to all other arbitrarily defined groups. One can even stack their tribes and believe each is the best (best city, best county, best state, best country). Now while there may be no way to prove or disprove ones estimation of their group’s “greatness” sometimes the patriot will make a testable claim, such as, “America stands for freedom and independence” or “America is the freest country in the world.” The latter is easily disproven by reviewing any of the various indices of freedom (the US ranks very poorly at around 25th). But even if the US is not quite the freest it is still believed by the patriot that America is a “free” country; that we fought the Revolutionary War in order to gain our “freedom”. A close examination of the actual history shows that it was not a war of independence for the peoples of the United States but rather a war of independence for the governments of those states from Great Britain. The individual remained just as ruled after the war as before, all that changed was the accent of the ruler. But the myth persists, that America is all about freedom of the individual against tyrannical governments and that our military fights to preserve “our freedom”. This is where the willful ignorance comes in to play. Let us examine the evidence that puts the lie to that notion of “our freedom.”

Would a free country enact laws restricting the non-violent behavior of its citizens? Would a free country throw people in a cage because they exchanged an unapproved good or service for money? Would a free country throw people in a cage if the exchange were approved but the exchange did not conform to some third party’s idea of the proper conditions for the exchange? Would a free country throw people in a cage because they did not get permission from someone to work for themselves or others? To wit, a recent article in the Morgan County Citizen (3/3/16, pg. 1) or Lake Oconee News (3/10/16) concerning a lake homeowner who faces JAIL TIME for renting out her home for short-term vacations. The horror! Yes, certainly, let’s JAIL this MONSTER who clearly represents an imminent threat to public safety. The point is not “did she do it?” the point is “how can such a law even exist in a supposedly free country?” America the land of the free? North Korea would be proud.

Laws prohibiting or regulating human actions are in an absolute sense anathema to the supposed principles this country was founded on: freedom. If a transaction is voluntary and there is no fraud involved then it can’t be “wrong” in a civic sense. You might morally frown upon some activities but you have no more right to impose your morals on others than they have to impose theirs on you. If you wish to live exclusively among those sharing your exact moral code, then follow the Amish example and set up your own private communities. The public sphere does not become a private sphere just because you happen reside within it. Repeat after me: if violence (or the threat thereof) is the only way society can change the behavior of non-violent actors then there is something wrong with society.

This Gentle Town

According to Wikipedia, gentrification is “the buying and renovating of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by wealthier individuals, which in effect increases property values and displaces low-income families and small businesses.” At face value this would seem to be a positive turn of events: transforming something of low value into something of high value, just as one might transform sand and carbon into a computer or granite into a statue. But leave it to the SJW’s (Social Justice Warriors) to find the cloud in every silver lining. Instead of welcoming improvements (both aesthetically and commercially) they instead decry these changes as destroying the “character” of a neighborhood or town. As though “character” were a tangible, ownable thing that residents had a right to enjoy ad infinitum. This sentiment is best captured in the following quote from a recent article in The Flagpole (an Athens, Georgia local paper):

“There is still a powerlessness that black residents feel against affluent, mostly white 20-somethings overtaking what’s theirs. ‘There’s a certain community ownership that the long-term residents have,” says Ellison. “… They’re feeling squeezed out of the their communities.’ ”

The attitude expressed in this quote demonstrates a fundamentally flawed view of the world that all too often infects political action. Notice the use of the possessive pronouns and homage to notions of communal property. When people take up residence or frequent certain areas they invariably tend to identify that territory as “theirs”: “my” town, “our” city, “our” park, etc. Although usage is colloquial and people understand they do not hold title to the city in which they reside – they often act as though they do own it. For example, zoning laws are the political manifestation of this view of the world: “we don’t want that in OUR town.” Zoning laws are a way for nearby non-owners to behave as though they were owners. It allows them to exert control over something that is not theirs merely because they happen to live in an ill defined geographical boundary around said property.

Fortunately there are few substantive anti-gentrification measures that can be legally attempted. The only effective measure would be a grossly egregious violation of private property rights. It would entail simply prohibiting the sale of any private property in certain areas arbitrarily identified as worth “saving” – unless of course it is to someone the SJW’s approve of. In other words, it would be a direct transfer of ownership en masse from the individual to the collective. That is straight up communism, and fortunately, for now, America isn’t quite ready for that.

The irony is that the SJW’s think they need the state to “fix” gentrification when in fact it is the state that is the proximate cause of the biggest objection they have to gentrification: the pressure to leave. They typically blame “unbridled capitalism,” for these forced expulsions, but, they are taking aim at the wrong entity. This compulsion to exit is predominantly a function of state influence (i.e. the government). Between eminent domain and property taxes the state has done more harm in the way of pushing people out of their homes then any supposedly free market in real estate. It’s certainly not part of a free market for government cronies to condemn properties, give financial aid to private developers, or to extract a tribute (tax) from the serfs who happen to live on the master’s land.

As property values increase during the gentrification process, so do property taxes. This more than anything accelerates the process of gentrification as residents who would not otherwise sell have no alterative but to leave if they can’t afford the higher taxes. Without property tax there would be no coerced impetus to sell. Likewise property taxes compel landlords to raise rents – those taxes have to be passed onto someone (yes, renters pay property tax, all expenses, including taxes, are accounted for in the cost of every good sold). Although it is true that rents may rise due to higher demand for housing, unless you want slums, rent control is not the answer. Ownership is the answer. Unless one owns the property, then no one has a positive right to live in some particular place. To suggest that someone who has rented a home for many years has a right to live there as long as they wish for whatever price they deem is fair is as goofy a concept as it is to suggest that because I enjoy Fruity Pebbles, Post Cereal has a positive obligation to me to never discontinue it or raise its price – gosh darn it, that is “my” cereal after all!

Murphy vs. Block: May Libertarians Accept Government Money?

Tom Woods recently had a debate between Bob Murphy and Walter Block on whether or not libertarians should accept government money (through employment, services rendered, or welfare). You can listen here.

My take on this question takes a bit from both of their arguments as I think they both make good points, however I think Murphy edged Block out just a bit in this debate. Walter’s reductio absurdum don’t really work (roads, currency, etc) because with those things we have no choice It’s like arguing the slave gives his imprimatur of approval to the slaveowner because the slave accepts food, clothing, and shelter from the slaveowner. He doesn’t, he has no choice in the matter (technically there is a choice in the sense that yes one can choose to die, but that’s not a practical nor principled choice).

I think what it comes down to is choice. If one has no choice in the matter then it is acceptable to use such government monopolized service. However, when there is a choice then one can debate principle vs outcome and neither is really “wrong”. Walter makes a good point in that if one can undermine the core mission of the state by working for it/with it then that can be a net gain for liberty (Ron Paul being the most notable example). But Bob also makes a good point in that if everyone withheld their services from the state, it would cease to exist. Of course getting 100% of people to simultaneously withdraw their consent is never going to happen so in the real world we have to make decisions about whether our actions on balance harm or help more people. Now yes, that utilitarian principle is one you can drive a bus through and use it to justify anything practically. But I’m saying we are only concerned with applying that principle in the very narrow question of “should a libertarian participate in state actions voluntarily?”. One can choose to be entirely pacifist when it comes to the state and simply accept all its abuses and never try to get anything back, there is nothing wrong with that. But there is also nothing wrong with defending oneself from the transgressions of the state – proportionate reciprocal responses to aggression being permissible are a cornerstone of libertarian philosophy.

Simply taking money from the state for the sake of doing so such that it has less serves no purpose whether they give it to you for performing a service or you steal it directly. The state is a thief and will simply thieve some more to get back whatever it wants. Thus your taking indirectly harms others via the state as your proxy. So I disagree with Walter on this one. There is no amount you can take that will weaken it, they will always just take more. However, to the extent the state has taken from you, then you are fully in your rights to take an equal amount back (or to be very principled about it, an amount that equals the difference between what the state took and what you believe you would otherwise have paid a free market entity performing the same functions as the state.) So if one can get tax credits, government aid, grants, etc that offset the excess amount robbed from one in taxes, that is ok. If one exceeds what they had stolen from them, then that would be wrong and one must stop.

So in a practical example, Bob should feel fine about accepting payment to give a lecture at a state school if his remuneration never exceeds what he paid in taxes (or should have paid for services received). But Bob should not set up a lecture business that accepts billions of dollars from the state to give lectures. That zero boundary between net tax payer vs tax receiver demarcates one’s transition from capitalist to crony-capitalist.

So in summary, here is the decision tree:

  1. Do I have a choice? If “no”, then it is permissible to use such service, since after all, you have no choice.
  2. If you have a choice then is the amount you are getting less than the excess amount robbed from you in taxes for a given time frame? If yes, then go right ahead, nothing wrong with taking from the thief that took from you
  3. If the amount exceeds the amount robbed from you in taxes then here is where it gets speculative and subjective: on balance are you advancing the cause of liberty by receiving more than you lose in taxes? If yes then this is ok, but… this is a very difficult thing to determine, be cautious. If no, then you should not engage in such activity if you want to remain principled and not open yourself up to the charge of being a hypocrite.

Symbols

Shortly after the horrific Charleston church shooting an arrest was made of the execrable Dylann Roof. The media quickly set about digging into his social media resumé (as it were) and soon discovered photos where he is either posing with a Confederate flag or paying homage to the former flag of apartheid era South Africa. This man-child monster was a hater. He posed with things that (in his mind) were a reflection of hatred. Upon tasting something vile or bitter you immediately spit it out; that was the same reaction society had to everything (well, not Gold’s Gym) associated pictographically with this person (and I use the term “person” loosely).

There not being any strong historical connection in the American psyche with apartheid era flags attention naturally turned to the Confederate flag (or more properly the Confederate “battle flag”  – the actual national flag of the Confederacy resembled America’s revolutionary flag). For simplicity I will refer to it as “the flag.” This flag (until recently) flew in numerous places all across the American south, from both government property and private property. National attention quickly turned focus on this fact and demands were made that these flags be removed — permanently. If ever proof were needed that this flag was a symbol of hate we certainly had it now given Dylan Roof’s deployment of it as a backdrop to his angry-white-trash-loner memes.

As a white man with no cultural connection to the American south (as close as one can get to neutrality on this issue) I’ll offer my perspective. On the one hand, I have friends who I believe are truly sincere when they say for them the flag is not a symbol of hate, that it is a reminder of their heritage, in the same way immigrants might cleave to cultural symbology of “the old country”. For others it is a way to honor their direct ancestors who sacrificed their lives to protect their family from attack. These people are not closet racists just looking for a pretext to trot out passive-aggressive symbols of racism. But – I can see where the other side is coming from. After all, this flag WAS the battle emblem of a nation founded upon the principal that it is perfectly acceptable for one man to own another. Yes, secession was the result of many differences between the south and the Federal government but that doesn’t change the fact that the Confederate States of America’s constitution explicitly protected the practice of slavery. Saying the CSA was about much more than slavery, it was about a way of life, about state’s rights, etc. is all well and good, but that’s like a progressive/socialist arguing that the swastika should not offend anyone because Nazi Germany was about much more than just killing Jews… it was about deploying state programs to put people to work, swelling national pride behind a unified purpose of German greatness, and keeping people safe by outlawing private gun ownership – if but for the Holocaust that Hitler guy wasn’t so bad! (for the tone-deaf, this is sarcasm to make a point)

So to my southern friends I say this: yes, you have the right to display any symbol of your heritage you want, but you can’t feign ignorance about why some people might be offended or upset by it – the CSA’s pro-slavery stance has pooped in the punch bowl that is serving up symbols of your heritage. Sorry – feel free to commiserate with Hindus or Buddhists who had their beloved swastika ruined by the Nazi’s.

To all those that clamored, petitioned, and finally achieved the removal of the flag from state government grounds – congratulations. But now please stop. You’ve won. The movement is now getting ridiculous. People are calling for buildings, roads, and other public spaces to be renamed because they are named after someone who was openly racist, or who might have been racist, or who watched something racist on TV. People are even calling to have the corpses of former Confederate generals and soldiers dug up and removed from state-run grounds. People are also calling for the removal of the Jefferson Memorial because Jefferson owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson! They have a term for this: cultural genocide.

If the general rule used for honoring the dead is that that person never did or said anything bad or that might offend the sensibilities of someone in the future, well then I guess only saints need apply. Who shall cast the first stone? I dare say everyone who has done something memorable or praiseworthy also has had their share of dark moments. Let sleeping dogs lie and move on. You can’t change the past. It is equally important to recall the bad and the good in people – as the saying goes, if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Ignorance is Bliss

Can ignorance be cause for hope? Can ignorance, to paraphrase, deliver society into a state of bliss? Perhaps not bliss, but an argument can be made for progress. About a month ago a noose was found hanging from a tree on the campus of Duke University in North Carolina. To those of us who grew up in the 20th century, a noose on a tree is about as subtle a sign of racism as a burning cross. The specter of the vilest form of collectivism, racism, had apparently poked its head from the cesspool of ideas. There were immediate protests from students, the community and the university administration. They were determined to let those who harbor such beliefs know they are not welcome at Duke or in society at large. To those who have said “nothing has changed” in this country regarding attitudes toward race and racism, I believe this response (among many) if not outright disproves that position, it certainly is an embarrassing incongruity with that narrative.

As it turns out, thankfully, there was no clandestine reemergence of the KKK or anything similar. This week it was revealed that a Duke University undergraduate student was the unwitting culprit. He was entirely unaware of the cultural and historical significance of those two objects juxtaposed against each other. Perhaps they don’t teach much history these days in high school. Perhaps he just wasn’t a very good student (although he got into Duke so he can’t be that much of academic slouch). In a letter to the Duke community he professed that his pun-rich humorous intent was to take a few selfies with the noose and text the images to his friends, suggesting they come “hang out” with him on the beautiful spring day. He then carelessly left it hanging there and went home, blissfully unaware of the firestorm that was about to erupt.

While on one hand we might lament the sheer ignorance of history demonstrated here, I think perhaps there is a silver lining: the sheer ignorance of history. It has often been said by those that have been harmed by someone that they did not know peace until they had truly forgiven their transgressor. Once that was done, they say, it was like an enormous weight was lifted from their soul. They could move on and live their lives. Society must do the same. Although society itself is an abstraction and thus can’t “forgive” anyone, it is capable of collectively forgetting – or not forgetting As long as the memories of old conflicts are passed from the old to the young like an infection, then it becomes impossible to cure the disease. We must forget to be truly free of the sins of our fathers, otherwise like an old scab picked too hard, fresh blood will flow.

This young man’s ignorance may be a hopeful sign that The Open Generation is here. The Open Generation will be blissfully unaware of the racist and sexist anachronistic attitudes of the past and will simply treat everyone the same, not because they’ve been taught that is the proper thing, but because it would not even occur to them to do otherwise. That’s not to say it will be utopia. People will still be jerks to each other, it just won’t be because of their race or sex.

His ignorance is evidence of an upbringing in an environment free of racist ideas or overtones. I myself was also raised in such an environment. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but sometimes it causes you to lose at a game of charades. During my college days a friend of mine (who was black) became exasperatedly dumbfounded during a game of charades when he learned I had no idea “spade” was a disparaging term for a black person. He mistakenly assumed that because I was white I must be aware of such things. Sorry. I just had never heard such a thing.

As Morgan Freeman said in a 60 Minutes interview (to paraphrase), it is only when we stop talking about race and racism that it will it go away. Race is entirely irrelevant when it comes to interacting with others. Talking about it and highlighting it only serves to keep that distinguishing characteristics active in ones mind. It’s like the old mind-trick, “Don’t think about apples.” So what are you thinking about right now?